"I’m sorry, Ororo," Professor Xavier said gingerly, "but Scott has asked if you wouldn’t mind taking over his mathematics class today. He is… not feeling well… and would like to have the afternoon to himself."
Ororo Munroe sighed heavily.
It had been nearly a month since the disaster at Alkali Lake. To be more precise, three weeks, five days, and an odd number of hours. Scott could probably calculate it down to the minute. After all, wasn’t that why he was the math teacher?
A month after they lost Jean, Scott was still skipping classes, haunting his room like a ghost. Ororo was getting frustrated. She felt deeply for his pain—understood he had lost much more than the best friend that Jean had been to her—but he couldn’t go on like this. Qualified teachers for mutants were in short supply. Some classes were even being relegated, for the moment, to older students like Bobby and Rogue; the rest were stretched thin between the Professor, Ororo… and Scott when he chose to work.
Xavier was eyeing her intently, and addressed her thoughts without her having to speak. She didn’t think he had needed his telepathy to read her mind just then.
"I know," he said softly. "I know this is difficult and tiring. But Scott is getting better." He paused. "He’s the walking wounded, Ororo. Losing the connection he shared with Jean is as real as any physical injury. His mind must heal at its own pace, just as his body would."
"I know that," Ororo protested faintly, angry at herself for feeling a twinge of guilt. "It’s just—there’s so much to do. We need him."
"He knows that. And he’s trying." Xavier gazed at her compassionately. "I’ll manage the class. You should rest."
Ororo shook her head, irrationally challenged by his offer. "No. You’ve got classes of your own all day. I’ll do it." She forced a smile. "I’ll be fine."
The Professor’s expression said that he didn’t believe her. His eyes said that he saw through her reaction of pride. His words, however, were of acceptance. "Very well."
Her eyes lowered from his, Ororo nodded, rose from her seat in front of his desk, and quietly slipped out of the room.
In one of the downstairs hallways, she found Logan and Bobby laying down new carpeting. The old carpet, hopelessly peppered with blood and fragments of shattered glass during Stryker’s raid on the mansion, had been discarded immediately—but it had taken them this long to work down to replacing it on the priority list. Things like broken windows and the bullet-sprayed kitchen had come first.
Ororo paused in front of Logan, regarding the hairy Canadian with a vague sense of gladness that briefly overcame her weary depression. It might be a while before they had him fit to teach any classes—outside of self-defense, perhaps—but it felt good to have him around. It felt… safe. Even the kids were as comforted by his presence as they were intimidated, knowing what he had done to the bad men who came into their house to hurt them.
After she had stood watching him work for several moments, Logan looked up at her, his questioning frown studded with the row of carpet tacks held clenched between his teeth. Ororo couldn’t help but smile at the image.
"You’ve never taught a math class, have you?" she asked absently, thinking out loud.
Logan’s right eyebrow lowered, but the nails in his mouth limited his reply to a reasonably polite-sounding rumble of "Rrrmmph?"
Bobby stifled a chuckle. Logan shot him a glare, and with a suddenly petrified expression he swallowed his mirth, a thin layer of ice creeping down the handle of the hammer in his hand.
"I thought not," Ororo sighed, and continued down the hall, feeling the weight of responsibility press in upon her again.
Like a living shadow, Kurt Wagner moved quietly between rooms, building maps in his mind.
It was late in the evening, and the school was quiet, so he felt confident he would not disturb anyone as he practiced teleporting about the great house. Each room he committed to memory, not just seeing but feeling the arrangement of walls and furnishings. His acute sense of space and distance had taken long years of practice to develop, both in teleporting and on the circus trapeze.
Already a month at this remarkable place, and he was sure he had seen hardly half of it. So much vast space within the mansion, with secret doors and gaping lower levels that tickled his spacial-sense with curiosity. It seemed it would take him an eternity to explore and memorize it all.
Satisfied that he had done all the measuring he wished for the night, Kurt skipped back in rapid succession through the rooms he had explored, a final test to settle his confidence that he could navigate them.
Bamf—here a library. Bamf—here an empty classroom. Bamf…
The instant his senses solidified, Kurt’s hearing registered a gasp and a ruffling of papers, followed by a curse that made him blush—especially because it was uttered by a woman. He turned to find Ororo frozen in place, halfway risen from behind a desk, staring at him. Papers lay scattered across the floor in front of the desk, and it took Kurt only an instant to understand why.
"Oh… entschuldigung! …I’m sorry," he said swiftly. "I didn’t know there was anyone here."
Where exactly was here, anyway? After so many rooms, he’d lost track. A quick golden-eyed glance about him confirmed that he was in one of the office-classrooms, which—twenty minutes before, at least—had been empty.
Ororo relaxed somewhat, and with a sigh she straightened the rest of the way. "It’s alright, Kurt. I guess I’m just jumpy." Then she stretched—not with the feline grace that would have looked natural in her, but with the wince and scowl of someone who felt much older than her years. She began to move around the desk, ostensibly to pick up the papers she had scattered when Kurt appeared.
His conscience smitten, he hastily sprang forward and began to gather the papers for her. He recognized them vaguely as completed history tests of some sort, but did not look at them closely. He didn’t want to be seen as prying.
"Never mind," Ororo said wearily, slumping against the edge of the desk and staring down at him. "They’re all out of order now, anyway."
Perhaps they were, but at least now they were neatly bundled into a single stack, which Kurt lifted and set atop the cluttered desk. "I’m sorry," he repeated, his head lowered contritely.
"Just what are you doing in here, anyway?" Ororo asked—but Kurt detected no anger in her tired voice. Merely uncertainty.
"I was… practicing," he answered inadequately. "To learn the rooms. You know? So that I can move safely here… Oh." He paused at her dubious look, and hastily added, "I mean, if I need to. I don’t want to frighten anyone… the way I just did."
Slowly Ororo’s frozen expression thawed into a smile, and she shook her head. "What you do isn’t half as startling as what some of the kids do. We’re just not used to it yet." Her smile faded as she looked down at the stack of papers waiting to be reorganized and graded. "I’d better get back to work."
"Are you alright, Ororo?" Kurt startled himself with the sudden question. He wasn’t quite sure why he had asked it; perhaps it was the way she looked. The shadows under her eyes, the tension in her face.
She looked equally surprised, and a bit disconcerted. "I’m fine." With another, much more forced smile, she turned and sank back down into the uncomfortable-looking desk chair.
"It’s late." Kurt gripped the edge of the desk with his three-fingered hands, leaning forward slightly. "You can surely do this work in the morning. Why don’t you go to bed now?"
"Would you just leave me alone?"
Kurt started back slightly, but any hurt the words might have caused was negated by Ororo’s expression, as she gaped in surprise and dismay at her own outburst. Seemingly out of reflex, her hand reached out for his. "I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just… I have so much work to do."
Leaning closer again, Kurt tightened his hand around hers. "I think you have done more than your share already."
"There’s no one else to do it." Ororo withdrew her hand from his, to run her fingers through her long ivory hair. "Scott can’t pull himself together, and Logan has no responsibility. It’s just me and the Professor left to do everything now."
Kurt gave her an innocent smile. "What about me?"
She stopped tugging restlessly at her bangs and leaned her head on her hand, giving him a doubtful stare. "We’re not teaching Sunday school, you know."
This time, the stab of hurt lingered, and Kurt turned away. It seemed so often that Ororo saw nothing in him but his faith; she had only to look at him to see it written upon his skin. A humble heart guided him—but he had a clever mind as well. His beliefs did not limit his thinking. Yet Ororo did not understand that. She had seen past the color of his skin, but not past the sacred symbols he had inscribed there.
After a moment he felt a touch upon his hand, and heard her voice, soft and apologetic. "I’m sorry."
He turned back to her, his moment of frustration melting away at the sight of her face—so beautiful, yet so unhappy. Tilting his head, he blinked his yellow eyes. "I only want to help you."
"You have helped." Ororo abruptly rose from her chair and stepped over to the window, gazing out into the night. The sky had been clear for three days now, a sign that she was coping better lately—or perhaps the storm simply raged on within her now. "You’ve helped by talking to me. Everyone else is too worried about Scott to notice me."
Kurt closed his eyes for a moment. Oh, he had done so much more than notice her. He was aware of her the moment she stepped into a room. He felt as though he wouldn’t need to see where he was going to teleport himself to her side, anywhere, at any time. That was what it was to feel safe with someone, and he hadn’t felt that in a very long time… if ever.
A distant rumble of thunder caused the window panes to shudder, and Kurt sighed.
"It’s only that you have deceived them," he said softly.
Ororo turned sharply from the window, her slender figure backlit by a flash of lightning that filled the sky beyond. The thunder rolled and faded away, as Kurt stared steadily into the luminous white eyes of Storm.
He didn’t think she knew they had changed. He wondered if she was aware that it happened at all.
"You wanted to be strong," he said quietly, rising from the corner of the desk. "So you pretended that you needed no one. Are you so surprised that they believed what you wanted them to?"
The empty whiteness of her eyes slowly faded, as they darkened to their natural state. She squeezed them shut, and the rain began to fall—but not from the rapidly dispersing clouds outside. For the first time since the loss of Jean Grey, Ororo shed her own tears, glistening droplets of moisture spilling down her cheeks as she hung her head.
"Oh, Liebling," Kurt crooned softly, moving forward to take her into his arms.
When he embraced her, he felt the tension go out of her body. She buried her face against his chest, and her body shook with silent sobs, the warm wetness of her tears soaking into his shirt. He held her, laid his cheek against the top of her head, and stroked her hair. He whispered soothing words in both English and German, for seeing her in pain upset him too much to keep his languages straight.
As her sobs began to die down at last, he put his arm around her shoulders and guided her to the loveseat at one side of the room. She curled up at his side, leaning against him in silent need, and he continued to hold her until her tears had finally faded to weak sniffles. Then he gently pried her away, lifting her chin, and wiped the dampness from her cheeks with his large gentle fingers.
She stared into his eyes with a touching expression of wonderment.
"You don’t need to pretend to me," Kurt said softly. "When you need someone… let it be me."
Then something extraordinary happened.
Ororo looked at him, as though she were seeing him for the first time, and pulled him closer. Her lips met his, soft and sweet and trembling, and stole his breath away.
It was the purest, most innocent, and most perfect moment he had ever experienced.
Kurt hesitantly returned the kiss, holding her more tightly as his tail curled around her waist. Her fingers trailed through his dark hair, tracing the point of his left ear as her hand cupped his face. Pause for a breath, and then she sought another kiss, harder and more heated.
Her hand moved down his cheek, his neck, to his chest, and he felt a tug at the buttons of his shirt.
It wasn’t innocent anymore.
With a soft gasp Kurt flinched away, placing a staying hand over hers. His heart was thumping madly in his chest, and his blue skin felt hot and too tight. He fought an intense urge to teleport across the room, to give himself distance from the heat of her nearness.
The hurt confusion in Ororo’s eyes did not help at all. He sent up a silent prayer, and took her hands in his. "I’m sorry, liebchen."
She blinked and shook her head slightly. "I… I thought…"
"That I want… this?" Kurt closed his eyes for a moment, trying to still the swell of pain in his heart. Oh, how he wanted—deeply, desperately…
He drew a breath to steady himself, and looked up at her again. "It would not be love."
The pain of losing her friend Jean had left emptiness in Ororo’s heart, and Kurt knew she was looking for something to fill it. Throwing herself into her work had not succeeded—and neither would empty passion. What she felt for him was not love, and without that, to surrender to lower impulses would only hurt them both. Regardless of his beliefs, he valued her friendship far too much to damage it for the sake of one night of comfort. As her friend, he could give comfort continually, if only in smaller ways.
Ororo was staring at him with glazed and bewildered eyes, and Kurt suddenly wondered how long it had been since she last slept. It dawned on him that she might be so exhausted, she didn’t even know what she was doing. Would an alert and wakeful Ororo have shown him tears?
No, of course not. It was vanity to think that she would bare her soul to him.
So many sins in so short a time.
Feeling a pang in his heart, unsure whether it was for her sake or his own, he drew her close against him. As he had before, he held her like a child. He caressed her cheek and her hair, and in his own tongue he prayed for them both, in little more than a whisper.
Gradually her body relaxed, and he knew she was asleep. With slow and careful movements, he gathered her into his arms and lifted her, without waking her. Then, because he knew the sensation of teleporting would disturb her, he silently carried her out of the room.
Down the hall, Logan was sitting at one of his favorite lurking-spots, the window at the top of the staircase. On seeing the unconscious Storm in Kurt’s arms, he raised an eyebrow with a quiet snort, but said nothing. Kurt smiled shyly and passed him by, headed for Ororo’s room.
Finding the door shut, Kurt twisted the knob with his tail, and smoothly shouldered it open. He stepped in and laid Ororo on her bed.
As he was tucking her in, she made a small sighing noise, and her eyes opened halfway. "Kurt?"
"Sleep now, liebchen." He bent down to kiss her lightly on the forehead. "Gute Nacht."
Another sigh, and she turned her head, sinking easily into the depths of slumber. Kurt padded silently to the door, but before shutting it, stood for a moment gazing at her sleeping form. He wondered how much she would remember in the morning.
Closing his eyes, he thought of that first kiss, and knew she would remember everything.
Perhaps that would not be so bad.
With a wry smile and a shake of his head, he soundlessly shut the door, and walked down the hall to where Logan sat. Receiving the acknowledgement of a brief nod, he stood beside the Wolverine for a moment in companionable silence, likewise looking out at the night.
"Do you know what it feels like, Logan… to want to take care of someone?"
Logan uttered a nearly inaudible sound which might have been a distant, rueful chuckle. He turned from the window where he so often kept vigil, his watchful amber-hazel eyes meeting Kurt’s solemn yellow ones. For a single moment, there was so much pain in that gaze, filled with reflected memories of the one Logan had not been able to take care of; the one whom he had loved, and lost.
"Yeah… I do."
Then his head tilted slightly, and something more speculative came into his eyes, appraising and seemingly approving. He glanced down the hall toward Ororo’s room, and gave Kurt a bitter smile.
"You’re a luckier man than I am, Blue. Take care of her."
Kurt smiled sadly, inclined his head, and walked on, toward his own room. He had some serious thinking to do. Mainly on the subject of alternative forms of penance—because if tonight was typical of what it meant to take care of Ororo, he would have no more unmarked skin within a week.
© 2003 Jordanna Morgan - send feedback