Celeste Greenwood's deep grey eyes opened suddenly when she heard a loud crash outside the house. Celeste sat up in bed, her straight deer-hide blonde hair mussed by sleep. She was somewhat confused because it was not her bed. It took her a brief moment to remember that she was in England, house sitting for Emma Davies. Mrs. Davies was a widow on a four month cruise around the world. Celeste was using the the time between graduating from college and entering the workforce by spending some time abroad; since she was also earning a bit of money through house sitting she figured it was a pretty good deal. Celeste thought she was being paid well for the chore, though she hadn't yet figured out the conversion from pounds to the American dollars she was used to earning.
Celeste slipped on her fuzzy white slippers, grabbed her thin white robe, and tromped out to the small back yard of the house in New Brighton. She hoped it was a problem for a neighbor but she knew her luck wasn't usually that good. She expected a racoon. She took a broom all the while wishing for a gun; she hated racoons.
Once upon a time a family she had been living with had allowed a family of raccoons to move in with them. They had pestered Celeste every night for a month. The irritating animals had been forcibly removed from the house after breaking into her bedroom one night.
She turned on a light and edged out of the back door, shutting it tightly behind her so she didn't let any pests into the house. It was bad enough there was one in the yard. She sighed when she saw that something had crash landed in the flowers. She doubted Mrs. Davies would have left a raccoon in the yard without telling her. On the other hand, Celeste looked harder, it was too big to be a raccoon. Celeste's courage failed her and she stood as still as a statue. She had been especially bright and had read Watership Down as a child; at this precise moment she found herself going tharn. Her blood felt like it had frozen in her veins and she couldn't move.
Even though panic had Celeste frozen like a rabbit in headlights she was still smart enough to notice that the-whatever it was-was furry. She wondered whether England had mountain lions like they did back home. It didn't look like a mountain lion, though. Smiling, and thinking of mountain lions in New Brighton, she approached cautiously. Celeste was thinking to herself that this was one time in which her unending stupidity would probably put her in the hospital. But she was a curious person and got as close as she dared.
She intentionally made noise as she approached; she was loathe to surprise anything as big or bigger than herself. She eventually edged close enough to realize that the shape was human, not feline, despite the fur. Cautiously she reached for the person's shoulder and gave it a shake. The person before her did not move and then a deep fear struck her. More than the fear for her own safety was the fear for another person's life and this person, she realized, was injured.
She did her best to move him without hurting him further. As soon as she got him into the light she realized what was wrong. He had an arrow sticking through the side of his torso that was easily twenty inches long. During a bout of insomnia she had watched an episode of Zena: Warrior Princess where they had pushed the arrow all the way through and broken off the blade on it before pulling out the rod. She was thankful this arrow had gone all the way through without her help. She had a little medical training; Celeste had thought to become an emergency medical technician before the idea of riding around in an ambulance lost its novelty and she realized the stress would send her to an early grave. She went to get the first aid kit. She was lucky Mrs. Davies was paranoid enough to have shown Celeste where the first aid kit was before the trip.
Celeste used clean cloth to put pressure on the entry wound and wrapped it around the arrow. She repeated the procedure on the other side. She briefly considered taking him to the hospital but she wasn't stupid. She knew what mutants were and how they were treated; a recent act had been passed that almost guaranteed he'd be sterilized or worse before he got out of the hospital, if he did get out. A man who was blue and fuzzy stood about as good a chance in the hospital as a snowball in hell-she'd be damned if she'd help someone hurt the poor man even more. Celeste grabbed a hacksaw from the garden shed, hoping and praying the fuzzy blue man wouldn't die while she was figuring out how to help him. He still hadn't moved or made any noise. She held her hand over his face; only the warmth of his breath on the back of her hand told he was still breathing and still mostly alive. She cut through the arrow to get the wicked sharp tip off. She looked at him one more time, sent another prayer out, and went to grab the other end of the arrow. She jerked it as fast as she could. His body jerked with the movement and he cried out. Strangely, that one noise made her feel immensely better. Responsive to pain, she thought, and she went to pack even more bandages on and around the wound. After she had done the best she could to keep him from bleeding out she sat back, unsure of what to do next.
She thanked her lucky stars that she had invested in the fancy new phone right before she'd taken off of work for her house sitting vacation. Her magic box of a phone allowed her internet access even though Mrs. Davies had no internet access and a computer that was easily twenty years old. Based on what limited information she could find-because most website would give only basic instructions and advise that more serious injuries be taken to the emergency room-she cleaned his wounds with hydrogen peroxide once and stuck to soap and water after the first time.
She slept for short periods of time during the morning and afternoon but mostly she cared for her new patient. Celeste wanted to change his bandages every twenty-four hours. On the first evening it occurred to her that she should probably bathe him as well. She did not look forward to that particular chore. She did a half-hearted job of it; another thing that would have made her a poor emergency medical technician was her bashfulness. She changed his bandages each night when she attempted to bathe him. A web search for how to best bathe a furry creature found her only an amusing anecdote about cleaning a cat in the toilet so she was on her own in that area. After she washed him as best she could she dried him and applied all new bandages.
Three times each day Celeste cleaned his wounds and applied the basic first aid antibiotic ointment. Altogether, Celeste spent three days caring for the man while he slipped in and out of a sort of unconscious consciousness.
At the end of the third day Celeste sat back, her back up against the bottom of the sofa, and watched him. She hoped that he would wake up and be fine but she knew it was unlikely.
She must have fallen asleep again because she woke to the man's murmuring. It wasn't English but she thought it might have been German from how guttural he sounded.
"Keety," the man called out and then, "Rachel."
Celeste answered him, "Yes?"
"Keety, it is not safe. It... is... not..." and he dropped back down, though he put up a valiant effort.
"It's okay," Celeste whispered, holding him, "It's okay." She knew she was a sucker for an underdog but she also knew it wasn't in her to do anything but help him. She knew what it was like not to be safe. Celeste's life had led her to the conclusion that "safe" may have been a lie people invented just to stay sane.
Just a few hours after he'd woken briefly to warn someone named "Keety" there came a loud knock at Mrs. Davies door. Celeste opened the door cautiously and kept the opening as narrow as she could.
"Hello?" she asked.
"Mrs. Davies?" the man asked, his blue eyes suspicious and doubtful. Celeste suspected he already knew the answer.
"No," Celeste answered, "My name is Celeste." She watched as the man's brow furrowed.
"You have a house guest who is a friend of ours," he said, frowning deeper.
"I'm sorry," Celeste stammered, "There's no one here but me."
"That's a lie," he said, pushing the door open. Celeste tried to stop him but he was so strong it was useless. As he pushed past her Celeste saw for the first time that there were others waiting behind him, two women who entered after him.
"What did you do to Kurt?" the younger woman asked. Celeste noted a Jewish Star of David at the hollow of her throat.
"Kitty," the man said the young woman's name sternly.
"You're Kitty?" Celeste asked, hoping that these people might be able to help after all.
"Yes," the woman said suspiciously.
"Are you a mutant, too?" Celeste asked, bluntly. Suddenly the already thick tension boiled over as the red-haired woman exploded into flames in the shape of a giant bird.
"He's here and she knows what he is," the red-haired woman revealed. Celeste kept a fairly level head considering she was thinking her death could be imminent.
"I found him bleeding and unconscious in the backyard a few days ago," Celeste told them, and as the entire story spilled out she felt tears start to stream down her face. She didn't mean to cry but she couldn't help herself. The man and the red-haired woman went to the spare bedroom that Celeste pointed to as she spoke.
"You're exhausted and the stress has worn you down," Kitty comforted Celeste, "It's okay to cry. You did an excellent job taking care of Kurt and you were right not to call the police or take him to an emergency room."
Celeste sniffed, "I did the best I could. Will you please tell me if he is okay? I really want him to be okay."
Kitty smiled, "We'll be in touch. Kurt's a strong person and he's survived worse than this before."
Celeste meandered through the grocery store a little more than a month later. She liked how much of New Brighton was small-sized; the small shopping cart that kept her from buying more than she could reasonably carry back to the house on the bus. She took bus route one, which conveniently stopped directly in front of the market, almost the entire way back to the New Brighton house but as she got off the bus a man stopped her.
"Bitte, let me help you with die groceries," he told her. A lock of blue black hair fell into his hazel eyes. His hair was beautiful but she thought the combination was odd. He was charming when he smiled at her.
"Oh, thank you," Celeste replied, allowing the man to carry one of her bags for her.
"My name is Kurt," he introduced himself, "I was told we met a weeks ago when I was injured."
"Oh!" Celeste was shocked, "I'm surprised to see you. You look so different."
"Ja, I have ways to pass as a non-mutant," he told her, "I wanted to say danke... for helping me. Many would not have been so kind."
"You're welcome," Celeste said, after a pause where she decoded his accent and the sprinkling of German words, "I am more surprised to see you since I expected it would take some time for you to be out of bed. Are you well enough to be out and about after only a month?"
As she asked the last question her eyes went to the brown bag of groceries that she had allowed him to take before she'd known who he was. Celeste opened the door to the house as quickly as she could.
"Ja, zere are some benefits to having zee X-gene," he replied, seemingly amused, "I recover quickly. Once zese groceries are put avay would you like to join me for a coffee?"
"Absolutely," she agreed, "I think that would be nice."
They walked to a coffee shop not that far away. They chatted for a while, ordered coffee, and chatted more. She asked him about when his powers had developed and found that he had been born blue and fuzzy but had become a teleporter as a teenager.
Celeste made a face, "Part of me wants to tell you how lucky you are to be so special and unique but I know it must have been hard at times."
"Ja, but I wouldn't change who or vat I am. I have abilities that help me to help people, protect my friends, and save zee world," he smiled, "Sometimes all in one day."
"Everyone has a different path to follow. No one path is without its own unique lows and its own unique highs," Celeste was thoughtful, "Even people that have no reason to be unhappy can be unhappy. Someone who others think should be sad about life can still be happy. Someone else's life may have its own difficulties and no one can say that difficulties are better or worse than another person's difficulties. I suppose, it is all a matter of perspective."
Kurt smiled and changed the subject, "Zey tell me you are visiting. Your accent says you are an American, yes?" The conversation paused as Kurt stepped up to the counter to order them both coffees. He turned to Celeste to ask what she wanted.
"A small mocha, please," Celeste smiled, thinking it had been a while since a man had instinctively stepped up to pay for a coffee for her.
"A small mocha for the lady," Kurt smiled charmingly at the barista, "And a small black coffee for myself." The girl handed him his coffee as he paid since it required no special preparation and then went to make Celeste's chocolate coffee.
The pair chose a seat near a window and continued the conversation.
"You pegged my accent correctly. I grew up in San Francisco, California. I just graduated from university recently. I am house sitting for a friend of the family for now. It is a little bit of a vacation and the money will be nice when I first start out," Celeste told him as they sat down, "You have an accent, too, are you originally from Germany?"
"Ja, I vas raised in Germany as a child of the circus," Kurt replied, "After I left the circus I went to school in New York where I met other mutants like myself."
"So you haven't been back to Germany to live since you were a child? Do you miss it?" Celeste asked, thinking she would be too sad to stay away from the states for long.
"I rarely miss Germany, but if I did it's only a weekend vacation away now that I am with Excalibur," Kurt noticed her frown and rightly knew she felt sad for him being away from home so he changed the subject back to her, "Surely housesitting isn't a career for you?"
"I am probably going to be looking for a job as a Medical Technologist," Celeste said, remembering his original question, "but I may go back to school to study genetics. What about you? Being a superhero doesn't seem like it would pay well."
"Working with Excalibur is more of a calling than a job," Kurt replied, amused, "I translate German to English and back again for money. I am able to work freelance through courier, phone, and the internet working on translations. The flexible nature of the job allows me to often drop everything and respond to emergency calls."
"That's brilliant, actually," Celeste said, impressed, "I wondered why you still had such a strong accent after all of these years but it makes sense is reading, writing, and speaking German is how you pay the bills."
"You mentioned that you recently graduated. Vere did you go to school?" Kurt asked.
"I moved to San Francisco with my mother after the divorce so I went to De Anza College for my Associate of Biological Science. After that I transferred to San Francisco State to get my Bachelor of Science in Biology and my Certificate in Clinical Laboratory Science. My concentration was in Physiology, which you probably don't care about," she lowered her voice as she said the last part mostly to herself.
Kurt sounded like he was laughing when he responded, "You are very accomplished. What about studying genetics?"
"I am really good with genetics," Celeste said, "I took Molecular Genetics and Human Genetics as electives and I was the top student in both classes. I was told after working with the professor that teaches genetics at my university that I was really gifted with genetics. She asked me to change my focus to genetics instead. At the time I said no. I'm very big on following through on my commitments and at the time I thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life."
"But now you are at a crossroad in your life and so you vonder about pursuing another path," Kurt added.
"Well, I don't know. I could go back to school to get my Masters and a certificate in Genetic Engineering. The insanity and media attention regarding the X-gene has made genetics a really hot topic and it is very interesting to me. That is part of why I came to New Brighton to house-sit for Mrs. Davies. I wanted to take some time to consider what I want to do next," Celeste shrugged and sipped her expresso.
"Vat do you think of mutants?" Kurt asked, cautiously, "I find your treatment of me largely refreshing. There are some who may have taken the opportunity to do me harm."
"I'm an American," Celeste said instantly, almost angry, "We are all created equal in the eyes of the law according to the U.S. Constitution. Treating people with special abilities differently may be required but all people deserve to be treated with equal respect and dignity at the very least."
"Vy should mutants be treated any differently?" he asked, seeming genuinely perplexed and curious about her answer.
"It works the same way for people with special needs; sometimes a person with special needs may require special accommodations," she explained, "Reasonable accommodations are often required by law in the United States for people with special needs at school, in public buildings, and on public transportation systems. Even employers have to accommodate special needs employees. Discrimination against those people is illegal. It ought to be the similar for mutants. Special abilities may require special accommodations as well."
"Such as?" he prompted her. She sighed and thought for a moment. He smiled at her frustration. She seemed to be trying to explain something she thought was obvious. In fact, she almost sounded as if she'd had similar conversations before with more aggressive debate partners.
"Well, for instance, what is a special ability of yours?" she finally asked.
"I teleport," he answered, "I can scale valls. I have much more flexibility than most. My tail is prehensile, so it is almost as if I had a third hand..."
He sounded like he might go on for some time so she waved her hands to interrupt him.
"One ability was enough," she said, amused, "Okay, so let's say that you a very bad man or a very bad man had your ability to teleport. Would a typical jail cell be able to hold a teleporter?"
"No," he laughed, "Probably not. If I can see outside zee bars I can be outside zee bars."
"There you go," Celeste hoped she had made her point, "In order for the law to treat you just like anyone else they would have to put you in a cell where you couldn't see outside."
"But only if you had committed a crime worth putting you in jail," she added quickly.
Kurt grinned at her momentary discomfort, "Vile a non-teleporter who committed zee same crime might get a cell with a view."
"Exactly," she agreed, "Actually, as I think about it I believe indefinitely putting someone in a cell where they can't ever see outside might be considered inhumane treatment by some people. In the case of a law breaking teleporter it might be the only way to properly jail that person but if you applied the exact same treatment to a non-teleporter it would be unfair and possibly unethical."
"And zis is similar to a person with special needs?" Kurt asked, interested in the way her mind worked.
"The analogy works for me. I'll explain. I once heard a lecture on fairness from a professor once where she talked about some teacher somewhere who had objected to giving dyslexic children colored screen overlays for textbooks. Reading the pages through the blue, pink, or yellow overlays helps dyslexic children to read better. The teacher alleged that giving the dyslexic children special tools gave them an unfair advantage over the other children."
Celeste paused and Kurt snorted derisively.
She nodded her agreement and continued, "The lecturer compared it to having a child stop breathing in the middle of class and denying that child CPR. Letting a child suffocate to death because it would be unfair to provide CPR to one child and not the entire class would be ridiculous. When she put it like that everyone agreed that fair treatment does not always mean equal treatment. Treatment must be fair first, in my opinion, and equal second."
She sounds as if all of this is completely obvious and everyone who doesn't understand is a dunce, Kurt thought to himself. He was caught between amazement and bafflement.
"I vish there were more like you in the vorld," Kurt told her.
"I know. Sometimes I think there are more people like me but they are just scared of standing up and doing or saying the right thing," Celeste told him.
"It is difficult," he admitted, "Supporting mutant rights puts a person on the wrong side of anti-mutant organizations. Some of those organizations can be militaristic or violent."
Celeste knew what she wanted to say but it came out slowly, hesitantly. "There's a popular quote by a German pastor about the reaction of German intellectuals to Hitler's Nazi regime that applies. 'First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.'"
"Martin Niemöller," Kurt said, thinking that Hank McCoy would really like this girl, "It is often cited as a poem."
"It's often cited a lot of different ways," Celeste added, with a roll of her eyes, "It was something that the man himself revised repeatedly over the years. I read a lot and I liked the quote so I tried to look up the original once. I wasn't very successful in finding any one original source."
"There are a lot of excellent literary vorks vere the original source or author has been lost or is unclear," Kurt replied, "The author of a piece of literature is not so important as the meaning or message. Although modern day copyright legislation doesn't support my view."
"Copyright laws are bunk," Celeste said, "The laws were initially established to protect corporations from other corporations but they are most often used to hurt the public or the individual. It affects all aspects of our lives, too. If it weren't for copyright laws and trademarks prescription drugs would be cheaper. I'm referring to the United States, though. I've only been in Europe for a few weeks."
Kurt smiled, "I understand. You are an American and most Americans know very little about the rest of the vorld."
Celeste thought about being offended but realized it was true and stopped herself from saying anything.
"You seem very well-read and intelligent," Kurt added, saving himself, "Are your parents to blame for your love of learning?"
Celeste made a face again, "Not really. My mother taught me to read at a very young age, before I started school. My home life drove me to read a lot when I was very young. It was an escape mechanism. Ultimately it was far better for my mother and I after the divorce. My mother remarried when I was seven. Victor, my step father, has relatives in the Netherlands which is how I know Mrs. Davies. On one of the trips to Europe my mother met her and they became friends."
Kurt avoided asking about what she had needed to escape from as a small child. He expected it had something to do with the father she seemed reluctant to mention.
"Do you have any siblings?" Kurt asked.
"I have an adopted sister and a step-brother," Celeste smiled, "Baptised Roman Catholic as Olivier Victor Beringer-Forêt and Josephine Alexis Beringer-Forêt. Everyone just calls them Ollie and Jo."
"Ollie is the boy," Kurt said slowly, to make sure he had it right, "And Jo is the girl."
"Yes. They are Victor's children from his first marriage. He was a widower when my mother met him. Victor and his first wife, Carina, adopted a French-Vietnamese girl because they thought they couldn't have children. Ollie was a surprise baby when Jo was seven. Ollie is the epitome of my favorite quote by Thoreau, 'If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.'"
"I like that quote as well. Are your siblings much older than you are?" Kurt asked.
"Ollie and I are both twenty-five, actually. He's a few months older than I am," Celeste told him.
"You light up when you talk about them," Kurt observed aloud.
Celeste smiled wider, "The two of them are amazing and funny. I thought Jo was crazy when I first met her. She told me that we were going to be friends the way a general gives marching orders. She was right, though. Jo is still the first person that I call when I need help or advice. She is the one person who knows all of my secrets. Ollie was a lot more shy in the beginning. For weeks he would follow Jo and me around, acting like a spy, but he was really bad at it. He used to jump behind things when I would turn around, thinking that we wouldn't notice him. Eventually, Jo chased him and dragged him back to meet me."
"Do you have any siblings?" she asked Kurt, "You mentioned growing up in the circus in Germany."
"Nein, no siblings as far as I know," Kurt told her, "I was found by my unofficial foster mother, Margali Svardos and raised by all of the members of the circus. My mutation made me a star acrobat and my fans thought I was merely a boy in a fantastic costume. Margali had two children of her own. They were around my age so we were very close when I was a child."
"Not anymore?" Celeste asked.
"I haven't seem Jimaine in some time," Kurt said, sounding wistful, "She goes by Amanda now. Stefan died years ago."
The two of them paused as the girl working the coffee shop came around the counter to approach them.
"Closing time?" Celeste guessed.
The girl grinned, "Normally I'm easy, but you lot are full of beans and I'm just knackered."
Celeste gave the girl a blank stare. Kurt was obviously amused as he thanked the girl and promised they would be off soon.
"Moments like that," Celeste shook her head as her sentence trailed off as the two of them rose to leave.
"Ven she said she was easy she meant normally she doesn't care," Kurt explained, as he held the door for Celeste, "Saying vee are full of beans is saying vee are full of energy, which probably is a common saying in a British coffee shop. Knackered means tired."
"Oh, good," Celeste said, "I thought she was saying she would sleep with us except we had too much gas."
Kurt burst out laughing and had to stop walking for a moment. He chuckled all the way back to the Davies house.
"I certainly did not mean to keep you out so late," Kurt said, still grinning.
"I talk too much," Celeste admitted, wrinkling her little nose.
"On the contrary, Miss Greenwood, I ask too many questions," he put his hand on her arm when he reassured her. He realized at once that he had completely forgotten his rule about not touching people. Too often even people who knew what he looked like would forget when he wore a holo for long periods of time. It was often discomforting or a surprise for them when he touched them. His holo could not change the feel of his hands or his fur.
Celeste put her hand over his and smiled at him, "I enjoyed your questions, Mr. Wagner."
"Perhaps you vould permit me to interrogate you again over dinner some night," he proposed, charmed.
"I would be delighted," Celeste smiled, "Good night."
"Gute nacht," he said, as the door shut behind her.
Kurt was terribly pleased as he walked north toward the lighthouse.
The next morning Kurt woke late and joined the other members of his team after they had already finished breakfast.
"Well, well," Kitty said, happily teasing, "You were out late last night. Did your reunion with the good Samaritan go well?"
"Ja," Kurt replied, immediately heading for the coffee. He said no more, simply listened with half an ear to the conversation of his teammates.
"Well?" Kitty prompted him, and he realized he must have missed a question somewhere.
"Vell, vhat?" he asked.
"What happened?" Kitty asked, not for the first time.
"Kitty leave the man alone. Kurt has a right to his privacy," Brian interjected, "He seems like he doesn't want to talk about it."
"Thank you, Brian, but I am simply tired from a wunderbar evening out," Kurt admitted, smiling.
"What was so wonderful, Kurt?" Kitty asked, peering at him suspiciously, "Should I be defending her honor? Or yours?"
"Nein," he responded, "I did not get a good night kiss but she did say she vould see me again for dinner."
"Kurt that sounds lovely," Meggan said, happily, "Congratulations."
Kurt looked at Meggan oddly as he drank his coffee. He didn't know what reaction he had expected of her but his ego took a hit at her happiness.