by Becky Tailweaver
Chapter 1: Adventures in Christmas Shopping
The cheery voice echoed through the corridors of the Xavier Institute for Gifted Children. Everyone living at the Institute knew that voice, knew its owner, and knew what he was capable of when his happy shout held that tone.
Kitty Pryde heaved a deep, knowing sigh into her pillow. "Ugh...like, here it comes..."
Rogue rolled over and covered her head with her blankets. "Somebody just shoot 'im now, before he--"
"Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauties!" A brimming bundle of morning energy bounced into their room, throwing the door back and almost knocking posters off of walls. "First day of Christmas Vacation--how can you miss a beautiful morning like this? Ahhhh, the sweet smell of freedom!"
"Kurt, knock it off!" Kitty lamely chucked her stuffed cat at him. "Like, who cares how great it smells? It's vacation so we like, want to sleep in!"
Kurt Wagner dodged the ill-thrown toy with ease. He was wearing his holo-projector, grinning crazily through his human face. "Lazy Kitty, you're no fun!"
"Good. So like, leave."
Rogue peeked out of her comforter, bleary eyes focusing on her clock. "Aw, good Lord...it's seven blinkin' o'clock in the morning."
"Yup yup yup!" Kurt smiled as he bounded between the two beds. "And it snowed some more, too! Breakfast is cooking--come on, let's go!"
"Kuuurt!" Kitty whined. "Like, why are you always so stupidly cheerful at like, the butt-crack of dawn every day?"
"An' why do y'all gotta share that damn cheer with me an' Kitty first?" Rogue groaned, yawning.
"Vas? Miss waking my two favorite girls and seeing their shining faces every morning?" Kurt looked wounded.
Rogue finally sat up. "Kurt, if ya don't get yer butt outta here right now, I'm gonna show you what my shinin' face looks like!"
"Jawohl; I can take a hint. I'll go bother somebody else." Kurt hopped out the door. "But if you're not up, I'll be baaaack!" He pulled the door shut loudly behind him.
Kitty was sitting up and rubbing her eyes as Rogue flopped back down. "Okay. I'm like, never gonna be able to get back to sleep anyway. Not once he gets everyone into like, a totally huge ruckuss."
They heard another door thump open down the hall somewhere.
Rogue rolled her eyes. "Three...two...one..."
"Arrrrgh! Kurt, get the hell outta my room before I fry your hairy butt!" Wham! Zzzzap! "Hey! Gimme back my blanket!" Bamf--bamf! Thud! "Put it down! I said--hey, come back here with that! Kurt, dammit--!" Crash!
"Poor Ray," Kitty giggled. "Like, 'Guten morgen, mein freund,'" she said, doing a not-quite-passable imitation of Kurt's German inflections.
"I swear," Rogue muttered. "One of these days I'm gonna sneak in the night before and tie him to his bed, just so I can sleep in some weekend."
"Like, tie down Mister Rubber-Bands-For-Bones? Shyeah, right. If he couldn't just wriggle out he'd like, teleport straight here." Kitty climbed out of bed, blinking sleep from her eyes. "You gotta admit, though, it's like, kinda sweet how he wants to see us first thing in the morning."
Rogue snorted. "That's just 'cause he likes to hang around. Once he wakes up the others he's gotta keep movin' or they'll nail him. Logan and Ray get their mornin' workout chasin' him outta their rooms."
Kitty paused in the middle of pulling on her shirt. "He actually gets Logan? Wow, I'd like, be way too totally freaked to do that!"
"Whatever." The other girl turned over, facing the wall. "I'm gonna catch a few more Z's. If ya hear screamin' later, don't worry--it's just Kurt as I pull his tail out by the roots."
"He like, totally deserves whatever you do to him. I'll let the others know--see ya!"
Kitty phased through the door and out into the hall, heading for the bathroom. Quite a few of her comrades were up as well, though most of them weren't looking particularly happy with that fact. Evan Daniels, for one, had a few new holes in his pajamas--presumably from shooting spikes at Kurt--while Bobby Drake's robe sported a bit of frost around the edges. She could only hope she wouldn't come around a corner and find charred and broken furniture, courtesy of a few of their more...er...aggressively powered peers.
Her hand was nearly on the doorknob of the bathroom door.
"Achtung! Vorsicht! Gangway, Kitty!"
"Get 'im!" "There he goes--nail the sucker!" "Woof!" "Quick, we're losing him!"
Like, here we go again...
Hearing pounding footsteps--and in particular, a certain galloping rhythm--she whirled, ready to phase out of the way of any stampede of non-morning people bent on atrocious revenge. Her instincts proved correct; Kurt was headed her way--and he looked extremely weird wearing his holo-image and running on all fours at the same time, his incongruous blue tail waving behind him. Half of the younger kids of the Institute were on his heels--and half of them only half-dressed. Their usual number was increased by a few, as more than one pajama-clothed Jamie Madrox was chasing the blue mutant.
Oh God, he was heading straight for her--and he had a rather annoying habit of hiding behind her when there were mad mutants on his tail, necessitating either of the usual games: "Chase the Fuzzball Around Kitty" or "Hell With It And Jump Them Both; She's On His Side Anyway."
Alarmed, she held up her hands. "Like, leave me out of it, Kurt! I'm going to the bathroom and like, nothing is going to stop me!"
He grinned devilishly at her, and as the herd approached, she began to feel that nagging sense of self-preservation return. "Kurt--!"
He didn't even slow down. He was practically at her feet when, with a loud shout of "Aufwarts!" he jumped straight up, disappearing suddenly from her line of sight. She blinked, looked up--and there he was, running along the ceiling back the way he'd come, having leapt over nine feet straight up to the Institute's high hall ceilings.
The pack of angry mutants skidded to a halt before her, abruptly reversing direction. "Damn, there he goes again!" "Jubes, go left this time!" "Rowf!" "I'll cut him off at the dining room hall!"
When the hallway grew silent again, Kitty found her voice once more. "Now that was like, totally weird."
"Those guys never learn," Scott Summers said from behind her, startling her. "They should wait 'til after breakfast and he's stuffed himself on sausage and bacon. An over-full belly really slows him down."
"Scott!" She stared at him. "I didn't know you were like, out to get him, too."
"After the nice wake-up call I got last Saturday?" the older boy said wryly. "I almost gave my room a skylight. He deserves whatever he gets."
"That guy is in like, so much trouble."
"He wouldn't be Kurt if he wasn't."
Kitty giggled. "I guess not. But like, why was he wearing his watch while he was roughhousing around? I thought he was like, paranoid about breaking that thing."
"Yeah, you're right. I don't know." Scott thought a minute. "Come to think of it, he's been wearing it a lot lately... Hm, something to think about." He gestured at the bathroom door. "After you?"
"Like, yeah. Thanks."
By the time everyone made it to the dining room, clean, dressed, and in one piece, the adults had already nearly finished their breakfasts. Kitty, Evan, and the older students--with the exception of Kurt--were sedately eating the last of their meal. The younger kids wearily plunked themselves down in their chairs and began loading their plates. They devoured the food hungrily, barely sparing the mouth-time to speak.
Logan looked up from his newspaper, a slightly wry look on his face. "So, I take it you punks particularly enjoyed training with the Elf this morning."
Ray Crisp looked up from his plate sharply. "Training? Logan, if you put him up to this 'Good morning' crap, I'm gonna--"
"Relax, kid. The Fuzzball came up with that one all on his own." He leaned over the paper a bit. "That's not to say I discouraged him."
"Aw, man..." Bobby groaned.
Roberto DaCosta frowned. "Maybe if we just ignore him, he'll go away."
"Small chance of that," Amara Aquilla snorted.
Rahne Sinclair snarled a bit as she tore at her breakfast like...well, a starving wolf. "Kurt's like a bad smell--ye gotta work te wash 'im away."
"Say, where is the K-man, anyway?" Evan asked.
Jean Grey concentrated a bit. "Still upstairs? And he's moving pretty fast."
"Yeah, the Jamie crowd is still after him," Bobby informed them. "I think there's about five of him now, but I lost track. Kurt stole Roberto's shoe and dropped it on Jamie's head to wake him up, and then we kinda had some spills while we were chasing Kurt, so there's a few more."
Professor Xavier chuckled softly from his end of the table. A laugh from the quiet man wasn't common, so everyone's head cranked around. He raised an eyebrow at them. "There are six Jamies now," he informed them, correcting Bobby's count, "and they're trying to corner Kurt in the south wing."
Ray coughed. "I didn't think Jamie was that upset about the shoe thing."
The Professor shook his head. "You misunderstand. Jamie's the only one who considers Kurt's 'morning exercises' a game, besides Kurt himself. They're having a high time of it right now. You kids should really lighten up--Kurt doesn't mean anything bad by it."
"You honestly can't say he means anything good by it though," Jubilation Lee said, a bit grumpily. "Some of us need our beauty sleep."
Bamf! A flash-puff and the smell of sulfur announced the arrival of their previous target. He landed near the table, behind Kitty's chair. She rolled her eyes when she realized that he was hiding behind it.
"Honk honk! Hello, Kitty." He grinned sheepishly at the various glares directed at him. "Uh, good morning, my friends."
"Good morning my butt..." someone muttered.
"Kurt, glad you could join us," the Professor greeted. "Pull up a chair and eat--you must be famished after all that activity."
"Ja, you bet!" Relinquishing the relative safety of Kitty's chair, Kurt hurried to his spot on the other side of Logan. "Pass the bacon, bitte!"
There were a few mutterings to the effect of starving the blue menace, but in the Professor's presence such a mean-spirited concensus would not be tolerated. Soon, Kurt was eating with as much gusto as he had earlier displayed in bidding them all good morning. Jamie--his group of stragglers now down to three--showed up a few minutes later, necessitating a few more place-settings at the table.
Logan wondered to himself why they bothered to feed Jamie's multiples in the first place, since they all disappeared into nothing after a while anyway.
When the meal was eaten, and most everyone had gone their separate ways to begin entertaining themselves through the winter holiday, the Professor quietly asked Kurt to remain seated so he could speak to him. Kitty, Jean, and Logan--the only ones still at the table--hung around to listen.
"Ja, Professor?" Kurt asked, looking a bit guilty. "Is it about this morning? I know I caused quite a mess...maybe I'll be a little less enthusiastic next time."
"It's not that, Kurt," Xavier replied. "Your morning game isn't a problem, as long as no one is seriously upset or uses their powers destructively."
Kitty had to hide a laugh at that--with all the "destructive" powers directed at Kurt, it was a wonder he showed up to breakfast without a mark on him. At least, that she could see--the hologram did a good job of hiding that. There were rules at the Institute, however, that essentially boiled down to, "No mutant powers may be used for the purpose of trashing the house." It was all about safety, but it put a big crimp in the Kurt-chasing of those individuals with particularly destructive abilities. Say, Ray or Amara.
"No power problems, Professor," Kitty put in wryly. "But like, 'upset' is another story."
Kurt smiled at her. "Yeah, maybe I should wait until eight o'clock from now on..."
"Kurt, it's about your watch," the Professor told him seriously.
The young man flinched. "Oh."
"I know you prefer to wear the holographic inducer in public situations, Kurt," Xavier went on. "And the rule about having the inducer on in the front rooms still applies. But the majority of the house is hardly public, and you are among friends here. There is no need to be wearing it around the hallways."
"I understand, Professor." Kurt fidgeted in his chair, uncharacteristically hesitant. "I just want to...you know...fit in a little better."
"That's fine," Xavier said. "But the holo-watch is both delicate and difficult to repair, and it already 'goes on the fritz' a lot more often than any of us would like it to. It takes Hank or I a great deal of effort to fix it when it stops functioning. And when you are roughousing with the others, there's a good chance the watch could be broken--and even damaged beyond the point of taking only a few hours to fix."
The Professor's warning hung heavily in the air. Even Kitty found nothing to smile about.
"Y...yes, Professor," Kurt responded, his voice a faint shadow of his usual sprightly tones. "I'm sorry...but..."
"You've been wearing that watch an awful lot lately, Kurt," Jean said gently. "Is something wrong?"
"No! I...I..." Kurt looked down, obviously embarassed.
There was a moment of silence before both Jean and the Professor said, "Oh..." at exactly the same moment. Kurt's wide eyes flew up, flicking to both of them.
Kitty blinked. "I like, totally missed that."
"I understand, Kurt," the Professor said with a nod. "You can continue to wear the watch if you feel you must. Have the batteries checked regularly, and take it to Hank immediately if it starts to fail. And if you decide to play boisterous games with the others..."
Kurt nodded rapidly. "Jawohl, Professor, I understand perfectly. Thank you!"
He vanished in a cloud of smoke before anyone could say more.
Kitty looked around at the people left at the table. Jean and the Professor were exchanging glances, and Logan had this knowing look on his face. She frowned; they knew something she didn't, and if there was anything Kitty hated, it was being left out of the loop. "So like, what was that all about?" she asked. "All that telepathic stuff like, literally went over my head."
"It's not my place to tell you," the Professor responded gently. "This is something that Kurt is dealing with right now and if he feels he can tell you, he will." He quietly wheeled away, leaving Kitty still curious.
"It's personal, Kitty," Jean said, getting up and excusing herself. "I'm kinda sorry I overheard."
"Mr Logan? I swear you like, know exactly what they're talking about."
Logan was already heading for the door. "Sorry, Half-Pint. I knew before, but I ain't talkin' either. Honor among men and all that." He caught the frustrated look on her face and smiled wryly. "It's guy stuff, kiddo. The Squirrel will tell you when he's ready."
Kitty was left sitting in an empty dining room. "This like, totally sucks!" She crossed her arms and pouted. "I hate secrets. Especially blue fuzzy ones."
Since it was the first official day of Christmas Vacation--weekends were weekends, and therefore didn't count as vacation--everyone was of a mind to go shopping. Last-minute gift shopping, to be specific. And since the hallowed definition of "shopping" differed between the genders, they decided to take off in two groups.
There was Christmas shopping to be done! The men could never stand around waiting while the women tried on everything in the store and then wheedled them into carrying it for them; the women would never tolerate the "grab-and-go" and "window-drool over cool car stuff" methods of the men. So six girls borrowed Scott's car--he didn't like it, but Jean had a way with him--to head for the mall and its associated department stores. Eight guys piled into the van--a rowdy ride, to be sure--and made for the very same mall, with the sports stores and arcades it contained.
Fourteen mutants at the Bayville Mall already all but guaranteed chaos. Heaven help the establishment if the Brotherhood happened to go mall-hopping today.
While Jean was sifting carefully through a selection of expensive watches, Kitty and the younger girls hung out in the purse-and-hat section and tried out various accessories. Kitty had just finished filling them in on the events that had taken place after they'd left the dining room. They were all conversing happily enough, but the subject of their discussion was a well-known blue furrball and the close-mouthed adults at the Institute.
Since Jean was older and also happened to be one of the close-mouthed people, she was thrown in with the adults. The traitor.
"...and so Mr Logan like, totally brushed me off too. Can you believe it? I was like, so ticked off."
"They are big on secrets, aren't they?" Jubilee commented, nodding in agreement.
"I really couldn't care less what's wrong with Kurt," Rogue snorted, hanging back from the purse-sampling clique. "As long as he ain't dyin' or anything, his problems're his problems."
"I wonder if we could find out what he's hidin'," Rahne said, smiling slyly. "I can sniff 'im out anytime."
Kitty giggled. "We all know you've got like, the best nose next to Mr Logan's, but I don't think that's the problem. It's like, something about his watch."
Amara's brow wrinkled. "Are you sure? From what you said, it might even be what's under the watch."
"What, is he going bald or something?" Jubilee asked, looking a bit horrified.
Kitty stared at her, askance. A part of her was horrified at the idea, too. "Like, not! That's like, totally impossible."
"Is it?" Amara said, apparently amused at Kitty's expression. "You yourself said he seemed terrified at the idea of taking his watch off. What are men more afraid of than baldness?"
Rogue snorted again. "If it was anyone else, maybe. I think Kurt would give his pointy little tail to be bald. An' pale-skinned. Then at least he'd be normal."
Kitty glanced at her. It was easy to imagine Kurt "normal" and pale-skinned--the hologram did that. But a Kurt that didn't hang from that snaky tail, bounce around on those spring-loaded legs, scamper up the walls--and occasionally the ceiling...now that she couldn't imagine. He just wouldn't be Kurt.
Jubilee crossed her arms and frowned. "Hm...what if he's changed colors or something? Maybe he turned green."
"Or pink!" Rahne giggled.
"Like, no way!" Kitty couldn't help giggling too, along with the rest of them. Girlish laughter was infectious, and it soon turned their collective conversation away from Kurt. Rogue was right--he wasn't dying or anything. His problem was probably one of those minor Kurt-insecurities that cropped up every now and again. He'd get over it soon enough, and they'd all have a good laugh like they were having now.
Kurt was always good at laughing.
Contrary to the opinions of the girls, Kurt was not presently obsessing over his situation or his watch. He and Evan had teamed up--among the gaggle of other little two- and three-man teams--to shop around for any stragglers on their Christmas lists. For a guy, getting their guy pals stuff was easy--car goodies, sports items, designer shoes, camping conveniences for use during any of Logan's little "outings"--that sort of thing.
However, when the guy decides to start shopping for a girl, the playing field does an abrupt right-angle tilt and even the most well-prepared of young men is thrown for a loop.
Evan was definitely feeling the effects of entering the world of "Shopping For Female Friends." Getting the occasional hair goodie or piece of jewelry for his aunt or mom was one thing; this thing Kurt was doing--shopping for a girl--was something entirely different.
"Wow, man," he whispered, feeling more than a little intimidated by the womens' clothing section. "How do they even get this thing on?"
Kurt glanced at the thin, many-strapped...tube top? Halter top?...whatever-it-was on the summer clearance rack and shrugged. "No idea. But relax, dude--wrong season, and I'm not looking for anything that complicated."
Evan sighed in relief, nervously following his friend deeper into the store's womens' department. "I dunno what that was, but I don't even wanna imagine what Kitty would look like wearing it."
Kurt could, and did, but forcibly removed his mind from the subject while glaring at his friend. "Shhh! Klappe!" he hissed, glancing around. One thing he did not want was for Kitty to know he was shopping for her. It was supposed to be a surprise. "Who knows if they're around here somewhere? This is the girls' section, dummkopf."
"Aw, jeeze..." Evan glanced around as well. "I don't even wanna be caught dead in here!"
"So halt den Mund--and help me look."
They rummaged about for a while, feeling clueless--and more than a bit embarassed every time a passing saleslady looked at them. They pawed through racks of blouses, shirts, jeans, dresses, and other such, trying to find something they thought Kitty might wear. Although Kurt tried to project an air of calm, unhurried assurance, he was nervous as hell and his heart was pounding to beat the band. Apart from the fear that the other guys might catch them here, there was utter terror that Kitty would find him.
That, and he was still unsure of what to get her for Christmas. Clothes? Toys? Jewelry? Music? What could he possibly get that would coax that brillant smile from her?
Evan nudged him, holding up a fuzzy sweater from a winter garments rack. "Hey, man, here's a good one. She'd flip over this."
Kurt eyed the item, one eyebrow quirked. "I will kindly assume, mein freund, that you have gone temporarily nuts and have no idea what you're talking about. Ach, put that thing away right now!"
"Aw, c'mon dude, it's just right. You'll match!"
The woolly sweater was, indeed, almost indistinguishable from his own dark shade of blue--and it was fluffy enough to approximate fur. However, Evan's joke was not going to be considered funny today.
"Evan..." Kurt frowned at him. "I want to get her something nice, not insulting. You get her that if you want. Besides, she doesn't like blue--she likes pink."
Evan hung the sweater back up. "So maybe if you were pink, she'd--"
"For the sake of our friendship, do not even go there." Kurt turned back to the rack of blouses, leaving Evan snickering behind him.
While Evan was trying not to pass out from the effort of holding in his laughter--Kurt's expression upon seeing the sweater was priceless--he spotted something out on the main aisleway heading for the mens' section that made his blood run cold. "Kurt--duck!" he hissed, grabbing Kurt and pulling him down behind a rounder of clearance shirts.
"Vas? Evan?" Kurt got his balance back and stared at him. "What's wrong?"
Evan was looking both shaken and angry. "I just saw Pietro Maximoff heading for the Levi's across the way there."
Kurt's eyes widened. "Vas? Der Brotherhood?"
"Yeah, man, and I think Todd Tolansky was with him."
"Unglaublich...Toad and Quicksilver, at the worst possible time!" Kurt groaned. "The worst big-mouths of all of them."
"This is just sick," Evan said. "I mean, we're in the womens' section, dude! How are we gonna get out of here without them spotting us?"
"Like this--let's bail." Kurt glanced around, finding no one nearby. He grabbed Evan's arm and--bamf!
They landed in a stall in the mens' bathroom. A jarring re-entry--Evan stumbled out the stall door and Kurt almost fell into the john--but their dignity was intact and their reputation was secure. They stared wide-eyed at each other for long moments before they suddenly burst out laughing, falling against each other in hilarity.
"Man, that was so close!" Evan managed between guffaws. "If I had ducked a second later Pietro would'a seen me!"
"Mein freund, if you had not warned me, he would've seen me!" Kurt tried to stand up straight again, still chuckling.
"So instead of dying of embarassment in the blouse section, we're cracking up in the john." Evan was finally able to stop laughing. "Man, I think this is just as twisted as getting caught by our worst enemies in the gals' part of the store."
Kurt led the way out of the bathroom. "We have an interesting life, ja?"
"No kidding. But it'd be pretty boring otherwise."
"Jawohl! Wouldn't have it any other way."
Evan nudged him as they headed back out into the mall proper. "Now all we need is to spot the Blob at the food court--and jeeze, Tabby could be anywhere! And I bet we might find Lance Alvers in one of the sporting goods stores..."
Evan had to stop hard and whirl around, surprised; Kurt had halted abruptly in the middle of the younger boy's sentence. His face had gone alarmed and focused. "Kurt? Dude, what's up? You look like you just saw a ghost."
Kurt finally focused on him. "Lance is here?"
"Dude, I dunno. I didn't see him, just Tolansky and Pietro. But if they're here--"
"Verdammt...I have to find Kitty."
"Man, a minute ago you just--hey, wait up! Kurt!" The older mutant had suddenly bolted off, and Evan had to hurry after his friend or be left far behind. Even as he ran, he felt a growing weight in his chest; this did not bode well. Whenever the X-Men and Brotherhood crossed paths, mayhem was soon to follow.
And the look Kurt had on his face when he took off...
|stronger "Yes," or "Yes sir."|
|"Beware! Look out!"|
|"Idiot" or "Stupid."|
"Halt den Mund."
|"Shut your mouth."|
|less polite "Unbelievable."|
|"Damn" or "Dammit."|
* * * * *