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Masks
A Valentine's Day Fic by Rowena

"Oh, erm, guten Tag Fräulein Ororo."

"Hello, Kurt," Ororo nodded regally, her blue eyes distant. "Lovely day today. It's been so long since we've seen the sun, I'd almost forgotten how uplifting it can be!"

Kurt nodded, casting his golden eyes down to the corridor's carpeted floor as he nervously wrung his three-fingered hands. "Ja—I mean, yes. The day was quite lovely." But not as lovely as you… His long tail twitched uncomfortably as he swallowed the words before they could leave his throat.

"The temperature reached almost fifty degrees."

Kurt nodded again, leaning casually against the wall as he pretended to glance out the window at the end of the hall. "Yes. It melted most of the snow that was left from the blizzard last month."

Ororo smiled, causing her serene face to brighten and Kurt's thumping heart to skip a beat. "And February is usually such a gloomy month," she commented. "Today almost felt like spring!" She straightened then, shifting the small stack of papers she held in her arms. "Well, I've got essays to grade. See you at breakfast?"

Kurt's eyes widened and he nearly jumped in alarm as he realized, "You are going so soon?"

Ororo shot him a curious look, causing Kurt's posture to shrink and his scarred blue face to flush all the way to the tips of his pointed ears. "Only to my office. Are you feeling all right, Kurt?"

"Ja! Ja, fine! Never better. It's only…" He trailed off, his stomach clenching as an anxiety he couldn't overcome held him back from completing the thought. Ororo took a step closer, which only increased his discomfort.

"Only what?"

Kurt quickly shook his head, his scarred cheeks burning as he took a few steps back on his bare, dinosaur-like feet. "Nothing. It is nothing, Fräulein. Please, enjoy your evening."

Ororo opened her mouth, but before she could say another word the indigo mutant was gone with a BAMF of sulfurous smoke.


"Dummkopf! Dumm, dumm, dümmlich Dummkopf! Ich bin ein—"

"Hey, Mr. Wagner! What's that you were saying?"

The long-tailed teleporter nearly jumped out of his skin as a young girl poked her smiling face through his office door. A moment later, the rest of her followed, phasing through the wood as effortlessly as wading through a pool of water.

"Ach, Kätzchen!" he gasped, resting a hand over his heart. "Mein Gott, you gave me a fright!"

"Sorry," the perky brunette said unapologetically as she folded herself into the wheeled chair in front of his small, cluttered desk. "But I have something for you."

Kurt straightened in his own chair, his tail swaying curiously behind him as he tilted his head. "What is it?" he asked. Kitty Pryde flashed him a secretive grin.

"It's a letter," she said. "I found it on my way to the library after dinner."

Kurt looked startled. "Are you sure it's for me?" he asked.

Kitty shrugged. "Well, it's got your name on it. See?" she said, holding it out. Kurt took the small, red envelope from her hand and looked it over with some wonder. Sure enough, the name Kurt Wagner was neatly printed in block letters on the front.

"There is no stamp," he observed, "and no return address. Where do you think it could have come from?"

"Well, I found it in your mailbox, so—oops!" Kitty blushed slightly and clapped a hand over her mouth, shrinking into her chair. Kurt raised an eyebrow, part amused and part annoyed. He shook his head, unable to suppress a small smile.

"Kätzchen, have you not heard that tampering with the mail is a federal offense?"

Kitty's eyes widened. "I didn't tamper!" she protested, drawing herself up with practiced indignance. "I just assumed the role of mailman. Since it doesn't have a stamp or an address it's probably from someone who lives at the mansion anyway." She grinned then, her blue eyes twinkling. "Besides," she said, a sly note creeping into her voice, "tomorrow is Valentine's Day and that is a red envelope, so you can't blame me for being curious!"

"Hm," Kurt responded. Then he frowned. "But who would send me a Valentine's card?" he asked in confusion. "Last time I checked, I wasn't exactly Hugh Jackman, ja?"

Kitty rolled her eyes. "Come on, Elfie! You don't have to be a movie star to get noticed! Take it from me," the girl said knowingly, "you're a lot better looking than you think."

Kurt shot her a skeptical glance, but his expression began to brighten just the same. "You know, back with the Munich Circus, I had quite a following. The girls would literally chase after me when I tried to escape to my trailer after a show."

Kitty's jaw dropped and she giggled. "Really?"

Kurt chuckled at her expression. "Would I lie to you?" he said, but his golden eyes dimmed slightly as he recalled the memory. "They would gather outside the tent every night, begging for autographs. But what they were really hoping for was to find out what I looked like under all the blue make-up and creepy scars."

Kitty winced. "Ouch," she sympathized. Then she straightened. "But who cares about them? All the girls here know you're really a mutant and you're still the most popular teacher in the school. You wouldn't believe how dull this place used to be before you came. No fencing, no gymnastics, no German tongue twisters or dirty Latin jokes—and no one to tell us all the wacky trivia behind those great old movies you've introduced us to. It was awful!"

Kurt ducked his head to conceal a bashful grin, deeply touched by Kitty's words. But popularity with the students was one thing. Winning the heart of a mature, intelligent woman was quite another…

"So you see," Kitty went on with a decidedly cheeky grin, "that letter there could have come from any number of adoring females. But we won't know who until you open it!"

"All right, all right," Kurt smiled, "you've convinced me!" He considered the bright envelope for a moment, then picked up his letter opener and sliced it open with a flick of his wrist. "Now watch this be from some kind of charity organization," he said as he fished out the card. He would have said more, but his voice seemed to leave him once his eyes fell on a cute drawing of a brown teddy bear in a Zorro mask holding a red rose between his paws.

"It is a Valentine!" Kitty exclaimed, running straight through his cluttered desk to look over his shoulder. "Quick, Elfie, open it! I've got to know who it's from!"

Holding his breath, Kurt offered up a quick prayer, hoping against hope that the name inside would read—

"Hey," Kitty whined in his ear. "It's not signed! What a total bummer! Now we'll never know who sent it!"

"That is not necessarily true, Kätzchen," Kurt said, his scarred brow furrowed. "Listen to what the card says.

"TOMORROW EVENING AT SIX BE ON THE STEPS OF ST. PATRICK'S CATHEDRAL. COME IN DISGUISE, WEARING THIS MASK. YOU WILL BE MET THERE BY ONE YOU LOVE. DON'T BE LATE."

Kitty scrunched up her face. "Mask?" she said. "What mask?"

Kurt poked his thick fingers back into the envelope and pulled out a folded scrap of black cloth. Shaking it out, he held the hand-sewn mask over his eyes, blinking out at Kitty with a smile.

"So, how do I look?" he asked.

"Like Bandit Smurf, only without the cheezy mustache," Kitty smirked.

"Hey!" Kurt quickly lowered the mask. "Not funny, Kätzchen. 'Elf' I can deal with—even 'Elfie'. But 'Smurf'? If that gets out I'll never live it down!"

Kitty snickered, but conceded the point. "OK, Elfie, the Smurf gag stays between us. But what about this letter? Are you going to go?"

Kurt narrowed his eyes thoughtfully, carefully examining the block lettering on both the letter and the envelope.

"I'm not sure," he said slowly. "It looks innocent enough, but since my…my abduction by Stryker and my subsequent experiences with the X-Men, I have learned that such things are not always what they seem."

He stood, pushing his chair back from his desk. "Come along, Kätzchen," he said, pulling open his office door. "Let's go see Hank. He may be able to help us uncover some clues as to the identity of my…secret admirer."


"Well, Kurt, the block lettering makes the handwriting nearly impossible to identify, but I can tell you one thing," Hank McCoy, the mansion's resident doctor said, looking up from his magnifying glass. "This letter was most likely written by a man."

Kurt's expression twitched. "By a what?" he asked, not sure he'd heard correctly.

"A man," the large mutant repeated, adjusting his glasses on his nose. "Right handed, I believe."

Kitty blinked. "Why in the world would a guy send a Valentine to Mr. Wagner?" she asked. "And one with such a weird message?"

"That, my dear Katherine," the doctor replied, "is a mystery I'm afraid my lab is not equipped to solve. If you wish to learn more about the author's identity, I would suggest you employ the services of an investigator who can draw on a more…extrasensory approach."

"What do you mean?" Kitty frowned.

"Ask Charles," Hank translated. "But I'd wait until morning if I were you. It's getting rather late."

Kurt glanced at the clock, then sighed. "You are right, mein Freund," he said. "It is already twenty minutes past curfew. I must see Kätzchen to her room. Thank you for your help, Hank."

"Let me know how it all turns out," the doctor said, his main focus already returned to his notes as Kurt and Kitty left the cavernous, subterranean laboratory.


Professor Charles Xavier munched a croissant as he held his hand over Kurt's mysterious Valentine.

"Well," he said, pausing for a moment to swallow, "I'm not sensing anything sinister behind this letter. Whoever wrote it had no dark motives in mind—at least, not as far as I can tell."

"Do you have any idea who it was?" Kitty asked eagerly, dunking a strawberry into a small bowl of yogurt and popping it in her mouth.

Charles shook his head, talking discreetly through his last bite of croissant as he lifted his coffee mug to his lips.

"I'm afraid not," he admitted, taking a long swallow.

"How about the person referred to in the letter?" Kurt asked, rolling his last sausage in a small pool of syrup that had collected at the edge of his breakfast plate. "The one who's supposed to meet me. Is there any way to tell who that might be?"

Xavier held his hand over the Valentine once more, closing his eyes in concentration. After a few tense moments, he shook his head again.

"I'm sorry, Kurt," he said. "It looks like if you want to find out who's behind all this, you're just going to have to do what the letter says."

Kitty tried and failed to hold in a snicker. "So, Elfie, you're going to have to wear that mask after all!"

"I'd recommend taking your image inducer along as well," Xavier suggested, skillfully maneuvering his electric wheelchair towards his office door. "It was a pleasure sharing breakfast with you both, but it's nearly time for first period. Good luck, Kurt."

"Danke, Herr Professor," Kurt acknowledged, but to tell the truth, he didn't really feel all that grateful. What he felt was apprehensive.


The hours had passed both too slowly and too quickly until all at once the hour of six o'clock was upon him. Kurt stood awkwardly on the front steps of the stone cathedral, feeling a perfect idiot as the throngs of New Yorkers and tourist groups rushed by. None of them gave his holographically shielded features or his mask a second glance—or even much of a first one for that matter—but that didn't stop him from feeling uncomfortably exposed and extremely self-conscious. He was so absorbed in his own discomfort that it took him a moment to register the cautious voice that sounded just behind him. Turning around, he came face to face with—

Another mask! This one concealed the wearer's entire face. It was black with happily grinning features and above it sat a broad-brimmed, black hat.

"Hello," a muffled female voice said. Whoever she was, she sounded at least as uncertain and self-conscious as he felt. For some reason, that realization calmed Kurt somewhat. "I…I got your card. Telling me to meet you here. At six o'clock?"

"My card?" he said with some surprise, fishing in his pocket to pull out his own Valentine. "I'm afraid I didn't send any card. But I did receive one." He held it out to her.

"Why, this is identical to the one that was sent to me!" the woman exclaimed, and he could hear the frown in her voice. "If you didn't send it, who did?"

Kurt shrugged. "I've been trying to uncover the answer to that mystery since yesterday, but without success. To tell you the truth, I was rather hoping you'd know." He paused. "Or that I'd know you. The letter did say that I'd be meeting someone I…someone I loved."

"It's these ridiculous masks," the woman said with annoyance. "I can't tell who you are and you can't tell who I am. It's really quite absurd!"

"I agree," Kurt said, so relieved that she felt the same way he did that he forgot to be nervous. "Yours in particular must be quite a hindrance. May I help you take it off?"

The woman backed away, suddenly defensive. "I do not require any help," she said stiffly. "Actually, I'm not sure I want to take it off quite yet."

Kurt nodded his understanding.

"OK," he said. "That's fine. Actually, there is something rather liberating in wearing a mask like this, isn't there. There are no expectations we must conform to because no one can see us for what we truly are."

It was impossible to tell behind the mask, but for some reason Kurt got the impression that the woman was smiling at him. "Well, we've found each other at least," she said after a moment. "And even if we don't know who we are or why we're here, that doesn't have to stop us from having a good time, does it?"

"Most assuredly not," Kurt grinned, holding out his arm for her to take. "Where would my lady wish to go? A restaurant? A play? All of New York is out there, just waiting to sweep us off our feet."

The woman chuckled, low and muffled, reaching out to twine her arm with his. "I don't know about you," she said, "but I am starving. Where do two strangers go to eat on Valentine's Day?"

"Never having been in a situation like this, I'm afraid I couldn't tell you," Kurt admitted with a smile. "But I'm certain we'll find something suitably romantic."

He waggled his holographically shielded eyebrows over his mask, prompting his companion to laugh out loud. It was a warm, rich laugh, unreserved and—to Kurt's ears—perfectly charming. All through dinner and the movie that followed, Kurt kept his Valentine laughing and at her ease just by allowing himself to be himself for the first time in far too many years. Their conversation was so natural, by the end of the evening the two of them felt as though they had known each other forever. It was this strange sense of comfort and trust that ultimately prompted Kurt to bring up the subject of their masks once again.

"The Valentine did imply that I already knew you," the woman said softly as they walked arm in arm in the moonlight along the outskirts of Central Park, "and there are so many things about you that seem familiar. Your accent…the way you duck your head when you smile…"

She stopped then, turning slightly so she could look into his holographically blue eyes. "Yet in many ways you are a complete stranger to me. I have never known anyone who can make me laugh as you do. Who seems to know me so completely…without actually knowing me at all." She turned away then, shaking her head with a laugh. "It is terrifying, yet thrilling. But I've been a solo act for so long, I could never change enough—I couldn't adapt to—"

She sighed, unable to bring herself to even finish the thought. "I could fall in love with you so easily," she admitted with just the slightest hesitation. "Yet I don't even know your name."

Kurt swallowed, blinking back a strange stinging in his eyes. "I could take off my mask," he said thickly, "but I'm afraid it wouldn't do much good. The real me…" he trailed off, a bitter set to his mouth as he shook his curly head. "Let's just say it is not a pretty sight."

The woman in the mask tilted her head then, reaching out to touch his pale cheek. He caught her hand in his before she could make contact, looking at her slender, brown fingers for a long moment before slowly bringing her knuckles to his lips for a tender kiss.

"I am sorry, Fräulein," he whispered hoarsely, "but I can't ask this of you. It was a wondrous evening…possibly the best of my life. Let us keep it that way. We will part as we met: faces hidden and hearts alone."

Letting go of her hand, Kurt gazed at her mask, memorizing every detail, then slowly turned on his heel and began to walk away.

Barely had he taken four steps when the woman tore off her mask, tossing it over the park wall where it crashed and shattered against the boulders below. The chill, February wind skidded her hat along the gravel-strewn sidewalk and whipped her long hair out behind her as she ran after her Valentine.

"Kurt!"

The despondent man turned in surprise just in time to catch Ororo in his arms.

"Your mask—" he started, but Ororo cut him off by tearing off his own mask, then reaching down to press the button on the tiny holo-emitter strapped to his belt. The holographic illusion that had disguised his deformities and scars flickered and faded away, leaving only the truth.

Ororo pressed closer into Kurt's startled embrace, reaching up to run her slender fingers along the intricate scars that marked his indigo skin. His golden eyes were wide with uncertainty, his dark lips parted ever so slightly…

But when Ororo kissed him all his uncertainty melted away. The façade had cracked, the veneer was gone. Nothing stood between them at that moment—not his appearance or her fears. All that was left was the undeniable truth of their love for one another, a love that would only continue to grow now that they had finally discarded the masks they had hidden behind for so long.


A tall, well-built man under a weathered baseball cap pushed his peculiar, red-lensed shades up his nose as he stuffed the shattered remains of his old Halloween mask into a paper bag. Looking up, he caught a glimpse of a touching silhouette—two lovers locked in a passionate embrace, the woman's snowy hair limned with moonlight. Slowly, he turned away, the slightest hint of a smile softening his stony expression, lightening the pain in his hidden eyes. He couldn't be with his loved one this Valentine's Day, but by writing those letters he felt he had managed to honor her memory nonetheless.

"My lovely Jean, wherever you are," the man whispered to the twinkling stars as he walked slowly back to his car. "Happy Valentine's Day."

The End