Title: Already There
Word Count: 2311
Summary: Kurt Wagner's journey from visiting stranger to part of the family.
Disclaimer/Author's Notes: I own nothing -- I am a Textual Poacher. This was written as a gift for Jordanna Morgan.
The flight back from Alkali Lake was a sorrowed and speechless affair; there were no words the occupants of the Blackbird could exchange to encompass the shock and loss and horrible pain of what they had lost beneath that wall of water. So there was no conversation; only the muted roar of engines and the sound of muffled sobbing from the far back of the cabin, where Cyclops was curled into himself, leaning hard into the wall as if he wanted the curved metal surface to open and swallow him up.
Scott Summers wasn't the only one weeping; the cluster of frightened children they had come to rescue all had tears streaking their faces, and even Professor Xavier's eyes were not dry. They were mourning, all of them – a teacher, a student, a teammate, a friend.
And Kurt Wagner could do nothing but watch them, murmuring prayers for them and for the soul of the brave woman he had only just met, feeling the unfathomable gulf of loss that yawned between himself and everyone else on the plane. Not that he didn't feel the loss of Jean Grey – far from it. She had been kind to him, had helped him recover what Stryker had taken, and in only a short time he had come to admire her, to think of her as someone he could trust.
But the loss of – what? A rescuer? An almost-friend? – paled in comparison to the loss that these other less-than-comrades-more-than-allies felt.
And so he prayed, the German and English versions of the Rosary getting muddled as he did, watching as Storm – Ororo – surreptitiously wiped away tears the others studiously pretended not to see, wondering where they were going and what would happen when they landed.
Kurt wasn't paying close enough attention to see how it happened, but suddenly there was a tiny boy with disheveled hair and a tear-streaked face leaning against his side, watching his hands as they ran over the decades of the Rosary. He paused, glancing down at the top of the boy's head; and the child put small fingers out and touched the space between beads directly in front of Kurt's fingers.
"Glory be," the boy whispered, in a voice that was thick with tears both shed and unshed, "To the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit . . ."
"As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever more shall be," Kurt joined him instinctively, "World without end, amen."
The boy took a deep breath and touched the next bead. "Our Father . . ."
And as they went on like that, murmuring the prayers together in that sorrowed, silent space, Kurt began to wonder if the gap between himself and these people was such a wide one after all.
He had half-expected them to take him back to Boston, once they had met with the President; and even as the jet plane had plowed through the sky he had been trying to think of how he would frame his goodbyes when they landed in some empty lot near the abandoned church where they'd found him. He had been wondering what to say, by way of thanks, by way of apology, by way of benediction or farewell.
And had been wondering so intently he was shocked when, instead, the plane returned to their home, their School.
"Jea . . . Bobby, show our guest to a room, won't you?" The Professor had asked, quietly ignoring the almost-name he had called on first; and the young man – Iceman – had done so.
Kurt had not even had to ask if he could stay. Maybe the Professor had read the question in his thoughts.
That had been a week ago. This morning they had buried Jean Grey, or rather buried the memory of her – a box of trinkets and photographs, things the children and their teachers wanted to lie entombed as a memorial. They had gathered in the School's gardens, in an open, grassy spot, and lowered the box into the earth, and wept again for what they had lost.
Kurt had added the blood-stained cloth Jean Grey had used to bind his wounded arm. It had seemed like far too small a thing, compared to the small treasures the children had surrendered, the gold ring Cyclops had dropped, the polished black stone whose significance was known only to Ororo. But it was all he had, his one tangible memory of Jean and her vanished kindness; and nobody had seemed to mind.
It had dawned a bright day, but it clouded over as they buried the box and was raining soon after the mourners dispersed. Kurt suspected that was Ororo's doing, but he didn't ask. His questions – what the black stone meant, and how she and Jean had met, and whether she consciously made it rain every day now – would wait for some other time.
It did not occur to him until hours later, after the rain had subsided to a gentle mist and the School lay dark and asleep, that he had never stopped to question whether there would be another time.
A month passed, and then most of another; and Kurt Wagner woke up one morning to discover that – entirely without meaning to – he was coming to think of this place as home.
That was due mostly to the way the children had responded to his presence, accepting him quickly and easily as a part of the daily life of the School. It had started with the small boy – Jake – who'd joined him in his prayers on the flight back from Alkali Lake. The experience seemed to have stuck with the child; he'd taken to claiming the seat next to Kurt at mealtimes, and had given him a child's-eye-view tour of the School (the tour Xavier had given him had failed to cover the best bushes in which to hide when skipping classes, the attic window that gave access to a secure perch on the roof, or the floorboards that would creak when trod upon late at night).
Jake's friends and classmates had quickly followed suit, perhaps sensing that in Kurt they had one adult ally who had been relatively unscathed by the terrible grief of losing Jean Grey. For whatever reason, they had warmed to him, and he to them. It wasn't the unsettled, mostly-solitary life he'd lived in the circus, but it was comforting and happy, and he was growing fond of it.
The only trouble was, he wasn't entirely sure he was supposed to be growing so fond of it.
Kurt knew the other adults – Logan, Scott, Ororo, even Bobby and Rogue and a few of the other oldest students – had taken up a schedule of drilling in the lowest levels of the mansion, preparing to once again fight as the X-Men; and classes had resumed, life slowly returning to something like the routine it must have had before Alkali Lake.
Though he had a place as a friend and bystander, Kurt Wagner was neither teacher nor X-Man.
Since the day he'd first arrived at the School and the Professor had wordlessly assumed that he would stay as a guest, Kurt had not spoken to any of the other adults about how long that wordless invitation would extend. Even if it was as open-ended as it seemed to be . . . well, one couldn't be a guest forever. Pleasant as life at the School was, the thought of having to leave made even pleasant moments bittersweet.
And then there was Ororo . . .
The white-haired woman stirred emotions in him that he was utterly unused to feeling. The thought of having to leave her – and those emotions – behind was an entirely different thing, terribly bitter and not at all sweet.
He wasn't sure he belonged here; but even after so short a time, he could not imagine belonging anywhere else.
All of these thoughts were roiling in Kurt's head the morning that Professor Xavier's telepathic call came to him as he perched on the peak of the School's roof.
Kurt – may I see you in my office, please?
Of course. With a muffled bamf, Kurt vanished from the rooftop and reappeared just outside the door of Xavier's office – to keep the brimstone-smelling smoke from infiltrating the room – and knocked cautiously before cracking the door open and poking his head in.
Xavier was sitting behind his desk, his fingers steepled; he smiled slightly. "Come right in, Kurt."
Kurt did so, realizing as he did that Ororo was also in the office; she nodded in greeting as Kurt pushed the door closed behind him. "You wanted to see me?"
"Yes, I did." Xavier gazed thoughtfully at some of the papers on his desk for a moment, then glanced back up at Kurt. "You've been with us for some time now." He remarked placidly.
"I . . yes. A little more than two months." Kurt shifted his weight a little and glanced at Ororo, hoping that this meeting did not mean what he thought it would mean.
The Professor nodded. "You seem to have settled in very well. I know the children all speak very highly of you." He paused for a moment, drumming the fingers of one hand lightly on the arm of his wheelchair. "I've put off raising this question for quite some time now, but I feel the time has come for us to ask . . ."
Kurt's heart sank slightly, and he took a deep breath – steeling himself with the phrases he had reluctantly prepared against this moment. I understand, of course, I can leave right away . . .
Ororo cleared her throat. "Kurt, we – Professor Xavier, the other teachers and I – would like you to stay on with us. Permanently."
"Ja, I understand that . . . vas?" He stopped short, staring at Ororo. "Permanently?" He turned to the Professor. "I . . . you mean, as one of your . . . X-Men?"
Professor X chuckled. "We've seen your abilities in combat, Kurt, and they would make a valuable addition to the team." He paused. "The truth is, the School is shorthanded with . . . with Jean gone. If you feel there's anything you're qualified to teach, you'd be a great help in that area as well. Even if you don't, the students all like and trust you. You'd be welcome simply as another adult living on-campus."
Kurt, still somewhat shocked, took a long moment before replying cautiously, "I . . . I am not sure what to say."
The Professor smiled. "I realize it's not a simple decision – and I don't need your answer right now. If you like, you can certainly take a day or two to think it over."
"Yes." Kurt nodded, relaxing. "Yes, I think that would be best."
"There's no hurry." Xavier answered. He spread his hands. "Just let me know what you decide."
Kurt turned for the door, then stopped. "I . . . thank you, Professor. Ororo. Whether I stay or . . . or not, I am very honored that you've asked."
Xavier nodded, then glanced at Ororo with an unreadable smile. "And we would be very honored to have you accept."
Kurt accepted that with a wordless nod, then slipped out of the office and pulled the door shut behind him. His thoughts whirling, he turned blindly down the nearest corridor and started walking – until he heard the door to Xavier's office once more open and close.
At the sound of his name he turned and paused, waiting for Ororo to catch up with him. She strode down the hallway to his side, cocking her head inquisitively. "You're going to stay, aren't you?"
He frowned slightly and shrugged. "I . . . do not know. I need to think about it."
"What's to think about? The kids love you, I've seen for myself how happy you are here. And . . . we really could use your help." She raised one white eyebrow. "Why wouldn't you stay?"
"Because . . ." Kurt hesitated for a long moment. "Because to be a teacher . . . to be an X-Man . . . they are very great responsibilities. Much greater than any I've ever had."
"Maybe." Ororo's lips quirked in a crooked smile. "Don't you think you're up for a challenge?"
He laughed, almost in spite of himself. "I think it would certainly be just that – a challenge."
"One you're up for." She said firmly. Then her voice softened. "I . . . we need you, Kurt. Please stay. Stay with us."
He couldn't tell whether he imagined the note of pleading that had crept into her voice, or the silent implications of that I; but imagined or not, they touched his heart. "Give me a little time." He said gently. "To . . . to think. To make sure this is what I am meant to do."
Ororo smiled, perhaps just a bit smugly. "So you already know the answer."
He felt himself smile in return. "I know I told the Professor I would think about it. And that is what I am going to do." He bowed slightly to her, still smiling. "Until later, Ororo."
Kurt turned and advanced a few more paces down the hall, then stopped again and glanced over his shoulder. "Do you know what I think, Ororo?"
She raised an eyebrow. "What?"
He chuckled. "I think that if I were meant to leave, I would have before now."
And before she could reply, he vanished with a muffled bamf and a puff of indigo smoke. He was headed back to his rooftop perch, to do that thinking and praying he had talked about; but in his heart, he knew it didn't matter where he went.
He was already home.