Editor's Note: Ironically, after I finished this piece, Dave Cockrum himself came down with septicemia, and was admitted into the hospital, on new Years Eve, 2003. It's a very nasty, very fast-acting bacterial infection that gets into your blood, and it can kill you literally hours after you contract it. Worse, it's hell to isolate. All too often, by the time the doctors realize what you have, it's too late to counteract it. Though Dave (thank GOD) is on the mend now, this disease killed Jim Hensen in the early 1990s, and it killed him in just two days…. :(
Behind Glass, part 1
Just two hours ago, Kurt was fine. He was up and around, walking, talking, laughing. Now, as Ororo opened the door into his room, he seemed a man on the edge of death.
He laid in bed, on top of the sheets, stripped to his boxers. He laid on his side, facing away from the window, an arm across his eyes and his rosary in his loosely-clenched fist. He laid limp, drenched with sweat.
Two hours ago, he was fine.
She knew Regis was behind her. He was the one who asked her about Kurt in the first place. He was worried because Kurt was a half-hour late in meeting him for practice. If he saw Kurt now, he'd be terrified. She turned back to the tow-headed boy.
"Regis, I need you to go get Dr. Hank," she told him firmly. "Right now."
Regis swallowed and nodded. His form blurred quickly, like a hologram being disrupted, and was gone in a yellow flash. Ororo moved into Kurt's room and closed the door behind her.
"Kurt?" she asked. "Are you awake?
"Sturm?" he asked back faintly.
"Yes, it's me."
She moved to his bedside. He mumbled something in German. Come to think of it, he'd spoken her name in German as well. He knew she didn't understand much of his native tongue.
"English, Kurt," she said, running a hand through his short hair.
"Could you please... close the drapes," he murmured. "The light hurts."
Kurt seemed to have a knack for falling into situations that required medical aid. Just two weeks ago, during an ambush, he wound up nearly electrocuted. The attack burned his right arm and blew both his eardrums, forcing Dr. Henry McCoy to reconstruct them. Hank performed a double tympanoplasty that night, and Kurt was not certain to regain all of his hearing. But over the course of four more days, even with the cotton in his ears, it became clear that Kurt's hearing was as good as ever. All heaved a sigh of relief.
Unfortunately for Kurt, that was hardly the end of it. Besides a regimen of antibiotics, he had to "take it easy" during his recovery. Forgoing some of the things, like drinking through a straw or swimming, was easy. But the restriction also included activities such as teleporting, working out, or even hanging upside-down. Within a single day of this restriction, the normally very active Nightcrawler was literally climbing the walls.
One night, Ororo found him alone in the rec. room, sitting in front of the currently inactive TV and looking through a stack of DVDs.
"Can't sleep?" she asked.
He glanced up. "I have never needed much sleep. Now that I am 'on restriction', I need even less."
"And you're bored out of your mind," she finished for him.
"Oh, yes. Very bored. I must have read everything interesting in the library. Because I do not want to read the boring things, I am now looking for something that I've only seen ten or fifteen times."
She sat by his side and looked at the selection he'd pulled. They were all action movies, half of them swashbuckling adventures like Captain Blood, Robin Hood, and Sinbad. She'd never gotten into the "rope swinging, sword flashing" genre of which Kurt was so fond. It all seemed so fake, somehow, as if a man wouldn't be shot or run through six times while he was making witty remarks.
She picked out Raiders of the Lost Ark. "If you watch this one, I'll be glad to make some popcorn and watch with you. As long as you sit on the couch and not the wall."
He smiled. "Thank you. I'd like that." He then sighed theatrically and leaned his head against the back of the sofa, staring at the ceiling. "And don't worry about me sitting on the wall. Hank put a stop to that, too."
"Oh, yes. No more climbing. The only exercise I get now is jumping to conclusions."
She laughed and tousled his always-unruly hair as she stood up. "Poor baby, forced to take it easy for the duration. Do you know how many of the kids would give their right arm to be in your place?"
"Yes, and they're all in my gym class," he replied, grinning. "I can direct, but I can't give examples. That leaves so much more time for me to run them ragged."
"Well, they'd be run ragged more often if you didn't let them sweet talk you into giving performances to eat up time."
He gasped and stared, forlorn, at that same ceiling, a hand over his chest. "I feel so... so used...."
The two of them met for a movie in the rec. room every night after that first time. Kurt had seen everything in Xavier's ever-expanding library. Many movies he'd seen to the point of being able to quote lines from memory, but only if prompted. He made a deliberate effort to accommodate her, even to the point of sitting "correctly" on the couch instead of his usual edge perch. Unlike practically ever other man she'd known, he didn't object to romances, something she discovered when she chose Sleepless in Seattle, a "chick flick" if there ever was one.
Or maybe he just won't object to anything I pick, she thought as she leaned against him, legs up on the armrest, idly nibbling on popcorn. I wonder which it is? Aloud, she said, "Do you mind if I ask something a little strange?"
He looked down at her. "Go ahead."
"Do you actually like romance movies, or are you just being gallant again?" she asked, smiling.
"Ah, you are used to little boys whining about the 'kissing parts', yes?" he asked back.
"I'm not sure I'd ever call a grown man a 'little boy'. Most of the men I've met break out in a cold sweat at the mere mention of a film like this."
" 'Little boy' is not a physical age, it is a mental age. Little boys think that just admitting emotions exist makes them a sissy. Little boys also do not recognize the subtle difference between 'that is a nice dress' and 'did you paint that on'."
She smiled a bit at that last comment. She'd heard many calls like that from men outside the estate grounds. The polite way Kurt said it reduced a maddening, chauvinistic hoot to something she could actually laugh at.
"There is always something to learn from well-done romances," he added, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Besides. A gentleman must take others' wishes into account, especially when they come from his lady."
It was the first time he'd ever referred to her that way. From anyone else, she would have glared them into submission for such presumption. From him, she rather liked it.
"You're such a smooth talker," she said. "You must have had the ladies curled around your fingers back home."
"Well, no. In the circus, we were family. I did not get much chance to court."
"So you 'studied' to make the most of your chance when you got it?" she asked.
"Does it show so much?" he asked back, his voice loaded with spurious disappointment.
"Yes, it does. And in my opinion, that's a good thing."
Ororo went to Kurt's window and drew the curtains. The room was much darker now. She looked back at Kurt, specifically at his tail, which would move even when he was asleep. It was just as limp as everything else, draped over the side of the bed and laying flat on the floor. It almost didn't look like it was alive. She went back to his side and touched his shoulder. His skin was burning hot. High, quick onset fever, light sensitivity, lethargy.…
Please, tell me this isn't what it's starting to look like, she silently pleaded.