Editor's Note: This is the first story in a continuing series of "life after X2". Obviously, there's the usual disclaimers to go along with this. Mainly, I don't own these characters, and I'm not making money.
Ororo had been enjoying her afternoon on the veranda when a gaggle of students came to her, lead by Siryn. Ororo set her iced tea on the table and gave the group her full attention.
Without waiting for her teacher to speak, Siryn asked, "Miss Munroe, do you know where the new guy is?"
"The 'new guy'?" she asked back. "We've had several new students enroll this semester, can you be a little more specific?"
"You know, the blue guy from Germany?" Siryn looked back at the rest of the group, and they at her. "We've only seen him a little."
With all the reconstruction going on, that was hardly surprising. Kurt had been utterly overwhelmed when they first met him last week, generally keeping to himself while he adjusted to an entirely foreign world. Once the contractors came in to fix Stryker's damage, Kurt disappeared completely, shunning company even during mealtimes.
"Mister Summers doesn't talk much anymore, and Mister Logan said he was busy," Siryn went on, her voice dropping in volume as if afraid of being overheard. "And the professor is talking to someone, so we didn't want to bother him. We just wanted to know where the new guy was. I hope Judy didn't make him feel so bad he wants to leave."
"If she did, I'll light her up like a Christmas tree," Jubilee snarled. "Judy's such a whiny princess sometimes, I swear."
Yes, he had inadverdently scared poor Judy half to death the day after he arrived, hadn't he? "His name is Kurt Wagner, and I don't think Judy is keeping him away. He told me that he's... used to that sort of reaction." Not that it makes it any easier to bear.... "I think he's making himself scarce because of all the workers we have repairing the house. If one of them sees him and calls the police, he could be in very big trouble. You know that."
The kids nodded. Oh, yes, they knew. As unfair as it was, Kurt had an arrest warrent for assault, battery, terrorism, and God only knew what else, thanks to Stryker's manipulations. Whether President McKenna chose to read the information Xavier gave him or not, that warrant was a fact of life for poor Kurt.
"However, I don't think he'd mind company," Ororo continued. "You should be able to find him somewhere out on the north side somewhere. I've seen him from air a few times, reading in the trees."
"Thanks, Miss Muroe!" several said, their replies scattered and uneven.
They took off to the north side of the property. Ororo sat there for a few moments, wondering what it was they wanted to ask Kurt about. She was about to go back to her indolent sunbathing when Rogue called her name. She was standing at the French doors, waving frantically to get Ororo's attention.
"Storm, y'all gotta get in here!" she called, breathless. "You ain't gonna believe this!"
Kurt had been in one of the many oak trees on the school grounds, enjoying the autumn afternoon with a book, when the small group of students came up to him. These were the younger ones, mainly in their pre-teens. He glanced down and ran the ribbon across the page to mark the book as he closed it with one hand. The students were all looking up at him, curious and expectant.
"Mister Wagner?" one of the asked. "Can we ask you something?"
He had only been at the school for a week, studiously avoiding the construction crews as they repaired the damage to the upper floors of the mansion. There were so many students that he found it impossible to remember all their names, and only six of them were here. He remembered the speaker because of her voice and her nickname, Siryn. On the others he drew a blank.
"Ask what you wish," he said.
He set the book down and leapt to the ground, ten feet below him. A couple of the boys backed off as he landed, eyes wide with awe, "wooaaahhh"s on their lips. He smiled a little, careful not to show any teeth. Siryn, the dominant one of the group, crossed her arms and shifted from foot to foot as she spoke. She was nervous, but apparently determined not to show weakness.
"Well, we were sort of wondering?" she started, with a soft Irish brogue. "When did you figure out you could teleport? I mean, what happened the first time you did it?"
"And the first time you got your tail?" another child asked.
Kurt glanced back at his tail, which he curled over his shoulder. This time his smile showed just a little teeth.
"I'm afraid I always had my tail," he confessed.
Another student elbowed the one who asked about the tail. "Told you he always had it."
"Could you always teleport?" Siryn asked. "I just started with this screaming bit. I didn't used to have it. And Miss Munroe says she can remember everything about the first day she discovered her powers."
Kurt nodded and sat against the tree, his tail resting on the ground. The other students automatically followed his lead, sitting in a semicircle around him.
"Yes," he said at last. "I remember every second of that day. I do not know how you discovered your powers, whether the experience was good or bad."
"I found out when I fell off my bike," one boy volunteered, excited. "It was like, I'm riding, and then I caught my jeans in the chain, and I fell in the dirt, and then there's like three of me, and everyone's screaming and yelling and running all over the place."
That prompted another to give his story, about how he discovered he could teleport short distances when his older brother got him in an uncomfortable headlock. (But nothing like *you*, Mister Wagner, he ended with an awestruck smile. Miss Munroe says you can go for *miles*!). Siryn was attacked by a nasty neighbor's dog; her scream killed it in mid-leap. The others verbally jostled for position. All of them were happy, even eager, to tell their stories, no matter how violent or frightening. They were a source of pride. Kurt listened with both patience and interest.
'How wonderful,' he thought. 'Not one of them is embarrassed or guilt-ridden. Considering what I've learned about Rouge, it's good to see that not all talents are so traumatic.'
"It would seem that all of your powers came out under some sort of stress," he observed. "Mine is not so different."
"So, like, were you at school or something when it happened?" a girl asked.
"Well...in a way. I lived in a traveling circus. I was tutored there, so, yes, you could say I was at school, but not like this school."
"You lived at a circus? Cool!"
Then he was peppered with questions about his life there. Did he work with the animals, did he work for Barnum and Bailey, did he like cotton candy? At this point Siryn took command again.
"Look, do you want to hear about how he first teleported or not?" she demanded, hands on her hips.
"If I am to tell the story right, I will have to start when I woke up that day," Kurt began. "I was thirteen, and I was already working up with the adults on the trapeze. One thing you must understand is that we lived in trailers, often two or three to a room. You get used to people walking in and out so much that you can sleep through it."
The group nodded silently, watching him.
"One day, as a joke, one of my dearest friends, Drennel, stuck horns to my head while I slept." He gestured a distance of about three inches between his thumb and one finger. "They were about this long, the same color as my skin, and rather realistic."
Some of the students laughed. In retrospect, it did sound like a funny practical joke. Kurt did not smile, though, and his somber face silenced the ripple of giggles before it got started.
"What Drennel had no way of knowing," Kurt went on, softly, "is that I had been having nightmares about this for weeks. Over the past few years, my body went through the changes of growing up like all of yours, but with some differences. My baby teeth were a little sharp, and I had hopes my adult teeth would be 'normal'." He bared his sharp teeth for a second. "No such luck, as you see. And then the cute little triangle at the base of my tail was turning into this monstrous spade." He lifted his tail for show, then let it rest back on the ground. "And my nails were turning as hard and thick as hooves, and they were turning yellow--" He threw up his arms in frustration. "Ach! It was a mess, and so was I. I was convinced that I was finally turning into a demon. I was having nightmares about growing wings and horns, and the devil coming and dragging me into hell where I belonged. And then one day I woke up, alone in the trailer, and when I went to the bath I saw horns in the mirror."
Now every student was cringing in sympathy.
"Oh, man," one moaned.
"I bet you seriously freaked," another said.
"I would say I panicked, but panic maybe wasn't strong enough," Kurt replied. "At first I was so scared I couldn't speak. I just tried to get rid of the horns. Maybe if Drennel had used something else to put them on with things would have been all right. They would have popped off, and I would have only felt foolish."
"What'd he use?" Siryn asked. "Superglue?"
Kurt nodded. The other students gasped in horror, intermingled with cries of "you're kidding!".
"He wanted to make sure they stayed on if I rolled over," Kurt continued, shrugging. "He was not being cruel. He simply did not think of the consequences. So I pull at the horn, and it hurts to try and take it off. Now I start screaming."
For the students, Kurt imagined this must have been like hearing about a horrible accident. They squirmed with discomfort, but they didn't want to miss a word. He would act out the scenes with simple, but graceful, hand movements.
"People come into the trailer, I lock myself in the bathroom, they start pounding on the door, I'm pulling at the verdammt horn, which does come off with a bit of skin. It leaves a painful ring, which only proves that it was part of me, yes? Now I'm so scared I can hardly breathe." He quickly pulled his arms and legs in and whipped his tail around him. "I'm like this, curled up in the corner, hoping the devil cannot find me there." He uncurled and pantomimed banging his fist against a door. "In the meantime my mother is pounding on the door, 'Kurt! What is it? Open the door!'. More and more people are trying to get my attention outside the bathroom window, but it is too small to climb through, and I am underneath it. The only thing going through my mind is the fact that the entire circus -- my entire family -- will see me when I am dragged down to hell, and it is more than I can bear. I'm hysteric by the time my mother unlocks the door. It takes her some minutes to calm me down enough to make me look inside the horn and see it is plastic."
His arms fell to the ground, a gesture of disgust and exhaustion. "Now I feel stupid. I feel stupid that I believed plastic horns were real, and embarrassed that the whole place knows I was screaming and crying over it like a baby with my mother. To look back, everyone was with sympathy for me, but then I just wanted to crawl into a hole and die."
His defeated demeanor abruptly shifted to something a bit more menacing and angry. He pushed at his sleeves as if to pull them up.
"In the meantime, so I am told, Papa Bashalde is moving through the crowd like a shark looking for food, demanding to know who did this little 'joke'. He is picking the other kids up and shaking them if he thinks they look guilty, until he finds Drennel on the other side of the camp." He pointed over the heads of the students with a furious look. " 'A-HAH! YOU'RE the one, Drennel! I should have known!' He grabs him by the elbow and marches him right back to our trailer, where the entire world has gathered." He made a sweeping motion with both arms, as if clearing a path in the air. "They part for him like the Red Sea. No one gets in Papa Bashalde's way when he is angry.
"Now there are two upset boys in the trailer. I refuse to come out of the bathroom while mother loosens the glue with nail polish remover. Drennel is tripping over himself, he is so sorry, I'm angry at myself for being so stupid, and we have a performance that night.
"I tell you this so that you know what had gone on before that night's act. I'd had the scare of my life, I was moody all day, and the adrenaline never really left, I don't think. But I had already been very childish that morning, and I wasn't about to be childish that night. I had responsibilities, and I was going to perform with everyone else."
"Didn't they try to get you not to perform that night? If you were that upset?" a student asked.
"They asked me many times if I was sure I wanted to go on, but they did not forbid me. Everyone in the team is important, and you do not miss a show unless you truly cannot go on. I was not ill or hurt, a little makeup covered the ring on my forehead, and as I said, I did not want to look like a small child sulking in a corner. One of the things you learn very quickly as a performer is that the audience has paid to forget their troubles, not to see yours. I went on that night."
He gave a mischievous grin and pointed to the circle in children, moving his hand in a slow arc. "I know what you're thinking. I was so upset that I missed something and teleported to save myself, no?"
The students looked at each other. A few nodded, but they were looking doubtful.
"That would make the most sense, wouldn't it?" Kurt continued. "But, no, the mistake was not mine. My form was as good as it had ever been. I was so focused on what I was doing, to forget that morning, that I did very well. And remember that the best trapeze or highwire artists can miss. Such a thing once devastated the Flying Wallendas."
"Yeah, but don't they have nets for that now?" Siryn asked.
"Usually. In America, I think they always have nets. But some do not like them because they think it makes them sloppy. If you think there is a safety net, you do not give the heights the respect they deserve. So it was with our leader. He believed the net made one too comfortable and lazy, and we did not have one."
Another group wince. They could see where this was going.
"So here we are, 100 feet off the ground, doing our routine, and Eric slips. He is a ways from me, and I am swinging towards him, so I leap to try and get him. The idea is to grab him with my arms and the swing with my tail. The problem is that I am too far away. He will fall too far for me to grab by the time I get there. Everyone else can see that but me. I leap, and suddenly I am right next to him, and I try to do everything I was planning on doing. Unfortunately, now I am too low to grab the swing, and the ground is getting closer." Kurt sighed and leaned against the tree, looking up through its branches. "I used my power twice that day, and from what Xavier tells me, I was lucky to survive it. I teleported once by myself, only a few feet, and immediately again with another person, sixty feet down to the ground. Absolute suicide. I would not recommend it to anyone. I don't remember much after the second 'port. I was on the ground, I hurt, the world was spinning, people were screaming. I was told that I looked as pale as the sky when I reappeared on the ground, and that I kept asking after Eric."
"Was he O.K.?" Siryn asked.
Kurt laughed a little before turning his gaze back to her. "Eric lost what was left of his lunch, and he was shaky for a while, but that was all. I avoided broken bones, but I did not land well. My entire side was one long chain of bruises. I would not be out of bed for days. It would be months before I teleported again."
At that point, they heard someone walking through the dry leaves and underbrush. Ororo came into view. The children turned to face her, as did Kurt, and all was silent.
"Are you here for me, or for them?" Kurt asked politely.
"Everyone," Ororo replied. "There's something on TV that you ought to see. Especially you, Kurt."
Kurt stood up in one fluid motion, using only his legs. His tail twitched, his heart pounded in his chest, and he hoped the others did not notice his trepidation. His face had been entirely too popular on the news, lately.
"Have they put my face next to Osama's in the post office?" he asked. It was not entirely a joke.
Ororo smiled "No. This is good news, for once."
The students got to their feet with noticeably less grace and headed toward the mansion, thanking Kurt for his time and story. Ororo deliberately hung back a little, making it clear that she wanted to speak privately with Kurt.
"I heard that story you gave them," she said quietly as they walked. "Everything about the horns. Did that really happen?"
"Do you have reason to doubt?" Kurt asked back, his voice just as soft.
"I just thought your best friend would be more sensitive, that's all."
"We made jokes about my appearance often. I didn't let him know how his words sometimes hurt me. I didn't want to make him feel bad. Only my mother and the occasional priest knew about the nightmares. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone else."
"Did you stay friends after that?"
Kurt smiled and looked away. "Oh, yes. I think I forgave him more readily than he forgave himself."
"And do you still have those nightmares?"
Kurt's smile faded, replaced by a troubled expression. "Not that kind. Something much closer has taken their place."
Ororo sighed and faced straight ahead. "You're not the only one. Maybe this'll help."
Kurt opened the door to the mansion and bade her enter first. He subconsciously adopted a stoop as he passed the threshold himself. The rich opulence of mahogany and leaded glass was still overwhelming for him, and he felt very much the interloper.
Everyone had gathered around the big-screen TV, which meant it was standing room only. Without thinking, Kurt crawled up the wall, toes comfortably gripping the ornate molding. Everyone just watched him as he made his way up the wall and into his spot. He looked back at them with a half-smile as he settled comfortably in the corner.
"I promise not to leave footprints," he said.
As there were commercials for some brokerage firm on, he had no idea what the actual program was, let alone the station. Kurt cocked his head, confused, while every student was silently grinning up at him.
He turned to Xavier, who was one of the ones with a front row "seat". "What are we watching?"
"Give it a moment," the Professor replied, the hint of a smile in his voice and his eyes.
Soon the commercial was over, and Kurt realized they were watching CNN. His heart did that pounding thing again. If everyone was smiling about this, it had to be good news, and if they were staring at him.... Could it be...?
The news anchor, a blond woman in her 30s, calmly addressed the camera. "Recapping our top headlines of the last hour, the warrant for the arrest of the so-called 'Oval Office Assassin', Kurt Wagner, has been rescinded."
Kurt couldn't breathe. Sketches of him appeared in the upper right corner as the woman continued.
"In a surprise decision, President McKenna has, without comment, removed Kurt Wagner from the list of top ten most wanted fugitives and canceled the warrant for his arrest. The reasons behind this are unknown, though Washington is rife with speculation."
They switched to a consultant, who was listing several of the current theories floating around, but Kurt didn't even hear him. His arrest warrant was gone. What else could possibly crowd such words out of his mind? He had been praying for this for the past week, and now it was here. He had never felt such relief in his life. His face grew hot and his breath came in short gasps. He ducked down and put his trembling hands over his face as tears rose to his eyes. He couldn't let them see him like this. It was unseemly for a man to cry so. He choked out something he hoped was close to "excuse me", and was gone in a puff of blue.
Behind him, in the crowded room, some of the younger students' faces fell.
"I thought he'd be happy," Artie said. "He really looked upset."
"He was happy, Artie," Xavier told him. "He was very happy."
"I bet he left footprints," Siryn said, pointing to the wall.
"I'm sure he'll clean them up later."