AN: Dear lord I'm sorry for such a long delay.
Without further ado, Working Without a Net Part II: Nightcrawler
He waits on the platform, poised and eager, his arm raised in a salute to the cheering crowd below. He does not hear them. Through the corner of his eye he sees the trapeze sailing lazily upwards; he does not need to turn his head to catch it. Vision is a luxury; timing is necessity. The only thing Kurt Wagner is hearing, right now, is the beat.
One. Two. The catch. Three. Four-and-flip-catch, Five-and lift, one-handed stand, pose. Six. Hold. Eight. Release, flip and reach—
The bar is not there.
Nine. Ten. The bar is not there.
The sawdust floor rising before him—where is the net? God, where is the net? Eleven, twelve, his heart accelerating against the steady beat, and he suddenly all he can hear is the shocked hush of the crowd—
x X x
Stilling his heart against the nightmare, Kurt lifted a cautious eyelid. White and steel; a few cheerful snapshots pinned to one wall to break the cold monotony. The infirmary, he realized—and with it at once the pain returned to remind him of the previous night—a blunt agony in his chest, salt and iron blood welling in his throat, and over all the sheer animal panic of suffocation. That slow heaviness pressing on his chest—he could almost feel it again now, a dead weight that beat steadily against the agitation of his own pulse, and—
Screwing his nose against the effort, Kurt lifted his head enough off the pillow to see past his own chin; then let out a long sigh, which ended in a rather ignominious cough.
"Kitty," he said, when he could manage it; but then his voice came out so thready that he had to try again. "Kitty. Katzchen. Wake up, please. I don't mean to be rude, but, ah, you're crushing me."
Her head was up with a start; a little bit of drool in the corner of her mouth. The slept-on side of her hair was so frazzled it stood an inch higher than the hair on the other part.
"Wha… Oh! Sorry, I'm so sorry… I didn't hurt you did I?" she said hurriedly, sliding off the cot and into an orange chair. She did not, he noted, let go of his hand.
"Not at all," he assured her. "I am only lightly crushed, I promised." He attempted a rakish grin.
Kitty's face fell.
"All right; I admit, not one of my better efforts, but was it so bad as all that?" he teased; but then suddenly she was beside him on the cot again, her arms enfolding him, her face buried in his shoulder as she sobbed.
"Oh, fuzzy," she said. "I was so scared. I was so scared and you weren't even there to cheer me out of it! Please, please don't do anything like that ever again."
He was shocked for a moment; then, gingerly, he laid his hand on her shoulder. For a moment, he considered making a joke; something along the lines of "not if I can help it", or maybe "sure, but you should see the chair," but he didn't have the heart for it after all. So he said instead, somewhat wryly, "You have my solemn promise, Kitty. I do not want to do anything like that ever again."
For once earnestness seemed to have won out; she laughed against his neck—a pleasant sort of tickle—then she sat up again, recomposing herself. "I think I snotted your neck a little," she said.
"Ah—how are you feeling? Oh god… I should have asked that first… are you in pain? Do you need me to get the Professor?"
"I'm fine, Kitty. A little… worse for wear?" he grinned. "But I think I shall find it in me to recover."
"Oh, thank God."
"Yes, thanks to Him."
She was still for a moment.
"Not that I mind so much, but… why do you not let go of my hand?"
x X x
"I understand your objections, Mr. Wagner," said the professor, "but until we can discover the cause of your, ah, misbehaving powers," (Kitty coughed), "… I'm afraid Ms. Pryde's solution is not silly at all. Rather the opposite, in fact."
They had managed, between the three of them and a profusion of pillows, to prop Kurt up to a half-reclined position, which made his chest ache fiercely. He regretted having insisted on it, but there were few things more vexing than being utterly prone in the face of a lecture.
"But Professor, when I am awake I have never jumped without meaning to. Anyway, right now I can hardly sit up, much less teleport about the room." He closed his eyes. "Is it really necessary for her to keep a hand on me all the time? Even when… you know…"
"Surely you've noticed the catheter by now."
"Ew," commented Kitty.
Kurt found himself extremely glad that blushes could not be seen beneath his fur.
"If Ms. Pryde had seen fit to come to me with this problem earlier--" now it was Kitty's turn to blush—"I might have been able to diagnose the problem earlier and saved you some not inconsiderable pain. Don't worry too much, Kurt. If you will allow me, I would like to observe you telepathically while you sleep; it's entirely possible I can ascertain the trigger for your nighttime teleportation, even if you don't have the energy to actually teleport at present. Then you can have your privacy back."
"All right…" Kurt scratched at the edge of his bandage. Kitty slapped his hand away. Oh, this was going to be fun. "but must we really…"
Professor Xavier turned to Kitty, who had turned, nonchalant, to arranging the bedding. "Kitty, he's right, you know," he said. "The chances of an accident at present are low. If he wants his privacy, we should respect his wishes." He reached out to touch her shoulder, but his hand passed through.
Kitty continued to fluff pillows with her other hand
"Ms. Pryde," said the Professor, "I am impressed by your growing control over your selective phasing ability, but please, let's not be childish."
Kitty's lips pressed together. "Childish? Trying to do my best to protect my best friend's life—and that's childish to you? I guess it must be, because you sure did a faaaabulous job keeping him safe. You want to be the adult with me? Well, yeah, right."
"Katzchen, please," Kurt said. "I'll be fine, I promise. Calm down, go and sleep, and then tomorrow we can play Battleship and Parcheesi, ja?"
"Ms. Pryde, I am warning you."
"What? Or you'll what, hack my brain, like you did last night? Because there is no other way you're getting me to let him go. I am protecting my friend."
"I am going to pretend I did not hear that." Xavier's voice was quiet and dangerous. "You must trust that I only interfered in your mind to save this young man's life, and that nothing less could induce me to do so. That furthermore, I only acted to aid you, and never to coerce your will. You are a child," the word verged on a snarl, "and your emotions are understandable, but you are not so much a child as to not know what you are accusing me of. Think on that, Ms. Pryde." He wheeled from the room.
Kitty's hand was tight and trembling against his. "I don't care," she said. "I don't care what I said to him."
Kurt laid his hand against his eyes. He was exhausted; his chest throbbed, and his head was beginning to ache. Xavier had given him three days' bed rest; that meant, he decided, rest. "Katzchen, I have got to get some sleep."
"I'll be here when you wake up."
He peered from under his hand. She stood there straight and strong, her face white and composed. She seemed to have passed through the hysterics, steeling herself against something he did not quite understand. Her hand was firm in his now, the tremors over. He closed his eyes again.
"Listen," she whispered, as he began to drift away. "Kurt, I never realized before… how fragile you are. Not just you… everyone here at Xavier's. Everybody but me. Me, I'm safe; I just phase right through. But seeing you like that made me thing of something for the first time. With the lives we lead? The danger, it seems more every day? I saw you, and Rogue, Jean, Scott, the Professor, all of you hurt and injured, a hundred different fights. You washed across me in ruin, but the ruin couldn't touch me; so I just kept going on. I walked on air while the rest of you fell. I hate it, Kurt. I can't bear it. And I won't let it happen."
Oh, Katzchen. And so you leave the confession until I am too far gone in sleep to answer; and then tomorrow will you be cheerful as ever, and pretend that I dreamed you saying this? No, the two of us are too much alike.
"You can't save all of them, Katzchen," he whispered; then felt her lips against his forehead.
"But maybe I can save you."
x X x
In the morning she was gone.
"Awake at last, Mr. Wagner?" The Professor sounded uncommonly pleased; almost jolly. "You have a number of visitors who'd like to see you. But in a moment. I am happy to note that I was able to find the trigger for your nighttime jaunts—a disturbing dream about falling, perhaps dredged out of memory?—at any rate, I have dissociated it from the reflex. Your dreams are as safe as any man's now."
Kurt yawned. He felt groggy—perhaps an aftereffect of telepathic manipulations? Or, more likely, of the painkillers being pumped through his I.V., he thought.
"Well, how about a little breakfast?" he smiled, and clapped the young mutant on the arm.
"Ouch," said Kurt.
As the professor pushed open the door, Kitty came through it bearing an enormous breakfast tray—three glasses of juice, three plates of eggs and toast.
"Rogue wanted to eat with you too," Kitty said. "She said it's a family thing, whatever. Anyway, she's on her way."
"I heard you're all better, so I thought I should give your hand a rest."
"—About last night—"
"Tsh!" she smiled. "Eat your breakfast, fuzzy. I was just a little upset." She waved a hand airily. "Slept. Felt better. Just stay away from wooden furniture or I might get a little jumpy again."
"You aren't untouchable, Kitty," he said. "Maybe it's a little harder to impale you on the furniture, but you don't have to protect us. We all know the risks. We risk our skins more than you do; but you risk your heart."
She stood still; the silly grin she'd been wearing hung on her face for a moment, out of place against wiser eyes, which met his briefly, wavered, then vanished again under the mask of cheerfulness. For a minute, though, she had looked older; not the steel but the willow, the rebounding strength of her good humor, the fierceness of her compassion—the face of a leader of men or mutants.
"Where's that brother of mine?" Rogue's voice hollered down the infirmary corridor.
"Eat your breakfast, Katzchen," he said; and this time he treated her to the full-on Wagner grin.