Cat and Mouse

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Cat and Mouse

Postby Slarti » Sat Jan 10, 2009 11:55 pm

[i]I wrote this probably eight years ago and it was archived on my fanfic archive - Sanctuary. While I always regretted never finishing it, I figured it was long gone and unmissed. Until I got a message from an old reader last year. With my old archive gone as well, it turns out this story had pretty much vanished from the Internet and she wanted to see it again. I did look for it, but couldn't find an electronic copy that wasn't in an outdated html editor I could no longer open. Search over. Until this morning, when I was checking out an old hard drive. Surprise.

For you, Innis.

Original author's notes: This is set after Kurt, Kitty and Peter's return to the team from Excalibur, but before the Hunt for Xavier began. Operation Zero Tolerance -- the U.S. government-sanctioned attempt to eradicate mutants -- wasn't that long ago and the mansion is trashed as usual.
[/i]


"I bet you never thought we'd be back here, huh, 'Heed?"

The small, purplish creature snorted his response, giving Kitty Pryde a sarcastic stare with one dark eye. He settled deeper into Kitty's pillow, looking around at her room in the mansion pointedly.

Kitty laughed, picking a shirt from a cardboard box to hang in the closet. "Yeah, I know, 'once an X-Man, always an X-Man.'" She flopped beside her draconian friend on the bed, scratching his ear ridges as he purred his content. "It looks ... so bare..."

Lockheed nodded his affirmative, cocking his head to urge Kitty to scratch his chin. She smiled, using her free hand to push her shoulder-length chocolate brown hair from her eyes. He could care less that everything she had left at the mansion had been stripped during Operation Zero Tolerance, so long as he got petted.

"It's not just the house. It just doesn't feel the same around here since we came back. I don't feel the same. Do ya know what I mean?"

"Uh-huhn," he replied, a mischievous expression on his lizard-like features. "Doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo..." he hummed, wheezing a laugh.

"'Twilight Zone,' yeah, you're right." Rising from the bed, she returned to her unpacking. "I wish the professor was here."

Down the hall, Peter Rasputin watched one of his closest friends balance on his mattress. Kurt Wagner held a sword in each hand, crossing them against the wall at the head of his bed.

"Howzat?" He questioned, keeping his teeth locked on a pencil.

"They're swords, Kurt. They look the same wherever you put them."

Kurt flashed him a look, his yellow eyes glowing in the slanting shadows of the afternoon light. "Where's your artistic appreciation, mein fruend?"

Peter ignored the shorter man's jibe, watching him transfer the pencil to his prehensile tail. He adjusted the swords again, just so, and then started marking points around them with the pencil.

Looking out the bare-silled window, Peter noted the wind blowing the leaves of the mansion trees, turning the pale leaf bottoms to the sky. A storm was coming, the low clouds on the horizon building high knurled tops against the heavens.

"It's going to rain soon," he said darkly, turning back to his friend just as the blue-skinned mutant took a few jumps on his mattress as if it were a trampoline and executed a short backflip. Kurt landed perfectly, neatly tucking a hand to his stomach as he bowed to his one-person audience.

Peter smiled despite himself. "We need to get the rest of the beds in, da?"

"Ja. I feel so used, but we make such convenient packhorses," Kurt said, straightening from his bow with a mischievous, secret smile. Peter's brooding had gotten on his nerves and he had known some of his famous antics were a sure cure.

Peter raised a dark eyebrow and rose to the bait. "You feel used? Who has to rearrange them four times each according to every feminine whim in the house?"

Kurt splayed a dramatic hand across his heart. "Ach. Who has to teleport the wretched huge things upstairs? It makes me nauseous."

"Why don't you both quit your bitching?" The familiar voice from the door brought a grin to Kurt's face while Peter shut his mouth with a click of teeth on Kitty's entrance, the humor again draining from him. She stood in the open door, hands on her hips as she inspected her former Excalibur teammates. "Sooner started, sooner done, boys."

"As you wish, Kaetzchen," Kurt replied, flashing his bright teeth at her again before following her out the door. Peter brought up the rear, a dark cloud trailing the sun.

The trio's footsteps echoed down the stripped hallways, booming off the walls as they made their way downstairs.

Kurt slid a glance at Kitty walking beside him. She looked troubled, a slight frown creasing the smooth skin between her eyebrows. He sighed internally. Great, another brooder.

"Are you enjoying your unpacking?" Kurt asked her, trying to pry her thoughts from whatever was troubling her.

"Yeah, whatta blast," she deadpanned. "You know, I had to use a broomstick from the boathouse in the closet just to hang up my clothes.

"Ah, well, just think of it as a camping trip. It's fun to rough it, no?" He grabbed her shoulders, jostling her a bit playfully, and pulled back in surprise as she glared at him in real anger. They descended the stairs in strained silence.

"How many are left to bring in?" Kitty asked as they stopped in the empty foyer.

"Hmm... just Rogue's I think," Kurt said, peering up at the flapping tarp covering the huge hole in the mansion's roof. "We'd better secure that if it's going to storm."

"Make Cannonball do it," Peter replied without an upward glance. "He should learn not to knock in other people's roofs."

"You're so sympathetic, Peter," Kitty smirked. "I'll go tell 'Ro you're almost done." She cast a significant look at Kurt while Peter's back was turned. Kurt shrugged as she rolled her eyes at him.

"Ach, what a mess," Kurt commented to his hulking friend as Kitty went to find Ororo. He idly kicked at a chunk of the roof lying on the floor, glancing up at the glowering Peter.

"Happy homecoming, eh, tovarisch?" Sarcasm dripped from Peter's voice as he eyed the bare wood walls, avoiding Kurt's gaze. It would take years for the X-Men to replace everything stolen by OZT. Years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars that they didn't have with Charles Xavier gone.

Kurt glanced at Peter, feeling another flash of annoyance at the man's tone. "Yes, in fact, I think it is a happy homecoming. All this," he gestured to the walls, "is just a building. Home is with our friends, and they are all here, and well. So, yes, Peter, it is happy. Are you not happy to see everyone again?"

Peter didn't immediately answer. "Yes, and no."

Kurt cocked his head at a clap of distant thunder. "The storm's coming. Let's go."

Kurt headed for the front door, not noticing Peter's expression. "The storm is already upon us," Peter muttered, scowling.

"Of course it is," Kurt said sarcastically, his hand on the doorknob.

Peter obediently followed him outside and Kurt paused a moment to think about Kitty's odd reaction to his joke.

"Kitty is acting odd," he said conversationally, trying to change the subject as he positioned the mattress to teleport it upstairs. "Had you noticed?"

Peter glanced at him, his scowl deepening. "She does not talk to me so much. Maybe it is coming back here that is getting to her."

Kurt paused. He hadn't thought of that. "I thought she'd be happy to get back with the rest of the team."

"You're the only one happy to be back."

Temper finally reaching its limits, Kurt snapped at the hulking man. "I did not hold a gun to your head! Go back, if you hate it here so much. I'm sure Moira would be happy to have a human forklift! Your endless moping is getting most old, mein Freund."

Peter looked as if he's been punched. "I-i am having a difficult enough time being here, without you to attack me!"

"What is exactly wrong with you? Ever since we set foot in the mansion you've been acting like a whipped spaniel!"

Peter's voice dropped dangerously low. "We had a wonderful home here. We were fellow adventurers in an epic quest. I had family, real and adopted, and I had the love of Kitty, my Katya. Now, here we are again, but with none of these things. This house itself is dead. My family is dead. The professor is gone. There's nothing left here. I think Katya sees it as well. If you don't, then you are blind."

Kurt blinked, trying to decide how to respond to Peter's outburst. He didn't have a chance as the tall man turned on his heel and walked away. The fat drops of rain dotting the concrete driveway increased, the clouds choosing that moment to open up to a deluge. Without a sound, he teleported himself and the unwieldy mattress away.

>*<

"Oh, come on, you can do better than that!" Kitty whirled in a roundhouse kick, bringing Bobby Drake down yet again. They had been at it for a quarter of an hour as the raging storm outdoors had kept them all pinned inside. The oppression of the empty mansion and rising humidity had put them all on edge and Kitty had thought practicing in the former Danger Room would help them work off frustrations and aggressions.

Well, Kitty thought, it's helping me. But I don't think Bobby likes hand-to-hand combat without powers too much. She stepped back from the Iceman, waiting for him to regain his feet.

"I wasn't trained in this crap, Kitty," Bobby puffed, trying to regain a fighting stance. "I build ice slides and whiz around giant steel ping-pong balls. Not this."

"Oh bull, you just fight like a girl."

"You just fight like a psycho!"

Kitty grinned wickedly in agreement, assuming a simple defensive stance. "Look, since we don't have a Danger Room anymore, we gotta make do. Here, do what I do."

Bobby copied her pose, eying Kitty with suspicion. "Okay. Now what?"

"Now you try to stop me," she replied, switching to offense and startling him with a cuff to his ear.

"Ow!" Bobby ducked, just a hair too slow, and reeled back from her. "Hey! I wasn't ready." Bobby turned to their audience of Marrow and Kurt and spread his hands in entreaty. "Can I get a little backup here, guys?"

"Moron." Marrow rolled her eyes, sick of watching. "I don't know why you have to practice this in my room." She fingered a bone, grinning evilly. "Besides, I could just skewer you all before you come at me with that kung-fu shit."

Kitty relaxed, turning her attention to Sarah and ignoring the Morlock's comment about her possession of the former Danger Room. "What if you can't use your powers? You could have inhibitors on, then what?"

"I'd still gut you, pretty Kitty," Sarah sneered.

Kitty stamped on her temper. "Then why don't you try?" She smiled sweetly, ignoring Kurt's warning glare.

"I just mi-"

"I just... want... the Danger Room back," Bobby wheezed, placing a hand on Kitty's arm and grinning pathetically. "Come on, girls, can't we all just get along?"

Kitty laughed, deciding to ignore Marrow's antagonism and break the tension. "Wuss. We didn't need no stinkin' Danger Room in Excalibur, right Kurt?"

"That's true," Kurt laughed, straightening from his crouch against the wall. "Let's show them how we do things across the pond."

Kurt traded places with Bobby, who slumped against the wall gratefully. "Good, I wanna see you kick his ass now," he chuckled, wiping his face with a towel.

Kitty eyed him dubiously. "No 'porting, Fuzzy."

"I wouldn't dream of it," Kurt replied, bowing to her in the traditional Japanese style, but with a slight foppish flourish of his hand. "My honor would permit no less than complete compliance."

"Right," she grinned, returning the bow. She took up an offensive stance, trying to remember if she had ever really sparred with Kurt before. Even though they shared the same martial arts background, while in England she had generally only practiced with Rachel, or later, Meggan and Cerise.

They started simultaneously, circling and watching for opportunities. Kitty rushed him, hoping to bowl him over like she had Bobby. He didn't bother with a defense, just sidestepping her attack and allowed her momentum to carry her past him. Then he attacked.

Kitty forced him back, but didn't gain much ground. She was very good, her discipline ingrained in by Logan and years of practice. But Kurt had also been trained by Logan, and he had a natural advantage in his agility.

Looking for an opening, she remembered the time she and Meggan had come home from a day of shopping to find him beating the hell out of some practice targets outside Excalibur headquarters. He had told her that day that just because he didn't usually use offensive martial arts didn't mean he couldn't.

A few weeks later he had waded through a roomful of British government Warpies, without his powers, to save her and Cerise from the force-mutated creatures. She had seen him and the losers afterward and had been amazed he could be so vicious. "I sometimes forget how good at this you really can be," she panted.

He grinned, backing off from her for a moment to puff himself. "Danke. Had enough then?"

"Not even close."

"Hah! Then let's go!"

She kicked, missing her mark as he jumped back from her. He returned her kick as she spun around to regain her balance. She phased instinctively, allowing his foot to pass through her and overbalance him. "Oops!" She laughed.

He turned his fall into a controlled tumble, coming back up to grab her arm faster than she thought he could. "Oh, so no powers only means me, eh?"

He flipped her before she could phase free and she decided phasing wasn't as fun as taking him down with her. She caught his ankle with her free hand, jerking as hard as she could. He went down on his back with a startled yelp and she scrambled up, tackling him before he could sit up.

He caught her, using his greater weight to flip her onto her back and pin her arms, pressing her into the mat. "Gotcha, Kaetzchen," he laughed, planting a loud kiss on her forehead. "Now what you gonna do?"

"What indeed," she replied, contemplating her next move. She had a leg in between his, but was disinclined to knee her friend in the groin and turn the play serious. His thigh was pressed tight against her groin though, and she felt an unexpected thrill run though her. She was suddenly very aware of his chest heaving against hers and his face just inches from hers. Her gaze locked on his smiling lips and her impulse was to kiss them. Hard.

[i]No! What the hell's wrong with me?[/i] She struggled for control, wrenching her eyes to his. Kurt's playful grin melted away and she saw confusion turn to hurt in those eyes as he misread her expression. "Wait," she started, but he was gone in a puff of sulfur.

He reappeared standing in front of her as she sat up. He offered her a hand up, his lips tight and eyes remote. She stared at the proffered hand for a moment, trying to think of an explanation. His face hardened further and she grabbed his hand, belatedly realizing she had just made the situation worse.

"I'm sorry," he said, not meeting her eyes. "I got carried away a bit."

"N-no, that's not it..." She trailed off, unsure of how to continue.

"It's okay. I... I should be helping Peter clean up, anyway. I'll see you later." And he disappeared in another cloud of brimstone.

Kitty stood still for a moment, her eyes locked on the spot where Kurt had been. "Goddammit!" She yelled, her voice echoing against the bare metal walls. She turned on her heel and walked stiff-legged to the door without a backward glance at her two startled spectators.

"That was smooth." Sarah snorted at Kitty's back.

Bobby peered at her from under his towel, his eyebrows hovering near his hairline. "So that's how they did things across the pond, huh?"

>*<

After a long, and very cold, shower, Kitty was feeling more like herself and even more guilty. She dripped water from her hair onto the slick floor all the way to the new elevator from the re-installed Danger Room showers, not caring a bit. Her costume was rolled into a ball in her arms and she choked off the desire to throw it in the nearest trash can.

[i]What the hell is wrong with me?[/i] She knew Kurt had misread her expression as fear of him and there was no way she could tell him the truth.

For herself, she had to figure out why she had reacted to him that way. Was it just natural? Maybe his leg just hit the wrong -- or exactly right -- spot, and her reaction had been all biological? She hadn't had a lover since Pete Wisdom, the ex-spy she had dated in England, and maybe she would have reacted with excitement to anyone. That frightened her. Why wasn't she in better control of her impulses than that?

In all the years she had known him, she didn't think she had ever been attracted to Kurt; but he was dear to her, and male, and had been very, very close. Perhaps that was enough. [i]But surely I'm more than just an animal.[/i] Surely.

Her confusion was one matter, but the more pressing need was to make things right with her friend. When she had first came to the X-Men as a confused teen years ago, she had been terrified of Kurt. He looked like a demon right out of myth, and the circumstances of their first meeting hadn't been the best.

She had almost been killed, run down by the flunkies of the Hellfire Club. Phoenix had saved her from the men by crushing them alive in their car. Cyclops, shaken by Jean's behavior, had ordered Kurt to carry Kitty to safety. Kurt had sounded perfectly nice on the phone earlier that evening, but to a traumatized child on a dark city night he had been a nightmare.

Appearing from nowhere, he had thrown her over his shoulder and taken off straight up a wall. She didn't get a good look at him until he turned her loose on the building's roof. That was when she lost control. Screaming her lungs out at the monster who had seemingly kidnapped her, he could say nothing to calm her. She had phased through the roof by accident, losing control of her newly-born powers, but had been happy to be away from him.

It had taken months for her to not cringe if he came near her. He had showered her with kindness and understanding, but she knew his patience had been wearing thin. It took another trauma for her to accept him, and when they were wounded and left teamless and alone in England all they had was each other.

He had become one of her closest friends during their time in Excalibur, and she had regretted her behavior intensely. She had apologized to him, and put it behind her until today. [i]And now what, Pryde?[/i]

The elevator's ding broke her reverie and the doors slid open silently. She would go to her room, to think and talk to Lockheed, and seek Kurt out later. On her way to the stairs she paused at a familiar deep, gruff voice.

She smiled despite herself. Logan. She had missed his advice and reassuring presence during her time in Britain. Maybe, now that they were reunited, he could help her deal with this new problem.

A softer, accented voice answered Logan's and her heart sank. Kurt was with him. Phasing, she lifted herself a bare inch off the floor to avoid Logan's detection. He may have already scented her, but she wouldn't give him the chance to hear her as well. Feeling only a bit guilty about listening in, she drifted closer to the doorway.

"-was over that long ago," Kurt finished, and a hard lump formed in her throat. They were talking about her.

"I know she is, Elf. I'll bet there's another explanation."

"I hope so. I could care less about strangers, but Kitty? ...It still hurts, Logan. And after all that time together in England I thought..."

"I know, Kurt, and she knows too." He pitched his voice louder. "Right, Pun'kin?"

Kitty's heart almost stopped, her breath seizing in her throat. She should have known better. Feeling like a scolded child, she phased through the wall and solidified, setting down in front of Logan. "Hi."

"Hiya, Kitty." He enveloped her in a rough hug. "How ya doin'?" Over his shoulder she looked at Kurt. He didn't look at her and stared off into the room, a muscle in his jaw ticking under his dark skin.

She closed her eyes, pressing her face into his neck, her costume crushed between them. "I've been better."

"I'll bet." He released her, eying her up and down critically. "Well, I'm starvin' and you two have something to settle."

He turned to the door, looking back before he exited. "Have a beer later, Elf?"

Kurt nodded, waving half-heartedly to Logan, and backed farther into the gloom of the room. He was only half visible to Kitty now, his power making him slide into the darkness.

"I don't know what to say, Kurt, except it wasn't what you thought it was," she said, only able to see his blink.

"What was it then?" His voice was tightly controlled. Kitty cursed herself and Logan.

She took a deep breath. "I'm not afraid of you. You know that."

He didn't reply, but he looked down, the glow of his eyes diffused by his eyelashes.

[i]Oh, this is ridiculous, I can't even see him![/i] Kitty felt a flash of annoyance and reached behind her, flipping on the light switch. "There. I see you and I'm not running."

"It's okay, Kitty," he said, looking at her for the first time. "I should be accustomed to it by now. I just expected more of you."

"Don't you pull that on me." She stepped closer to him, but stopped short of touching him. She satisfied herself by glaring up at him. "I'm not lying. I haven't been afraid of you since I was fourteen years old... and I shouldn't have been then."

"Then, you were a child. That I can forgive, and did."

"What can I say to make you believe me?" She almost shouted it. She remembered the costume in her arms, throwing it to a chair as if it burned her. "Dammit, I just... I haven't been that close to anyone since Pete Wisdom. The situation scared me."

It was vague, and a half-truth at best, but it was better than her alternatives. It seemed to work, as she looked up at his surprised face from the corner of her eye. "It wasn't you," she repeated.

"The situation?" The surprise in his eyes turned to suspicion. "Did something happen to you? Did Pete do something to you?"

It was her turn to be surprised. "What? What does that mean..." She trailed off as realization dawned on her. [i]Oh hell, what now, genius?[/i]

Her silence confirmed his fears and he forgot any anger at her. "Kitty, what happened? Was it Pete?"

"N-nothing, really, you just startled me," she stammered. Any denial now would make the situation worse, she knew, but what else could she do? [i]No, Kurt, I wasn't raped. Your knee just really turned me on and I flipped! Yeah right![/i]

"If he hurt you, you have to tell me," he pressed, forcing an evil grin. "You know, the North Sea should be nice and cold..."

"No!" She shouted, not wanting to lie to him, but unwilling to tell him the truth. "No, Kurt, Pete never hurt me. I swear. Nobody hurt me. I just... I just don't want to talk about it anymore."

He looked doubtful. "You're sure?"

"Yes. Please?" She forced her most charming smile. "Honest, I'm okay. Are we okay?"

"Of course, but -"

"I'm fine, great," she babbled, wanting to get away from this conversation before she dug her hole deeper.

"All right..." He studied her with narrowed eyes. "But if you need help, or need to talk-"

"I know where you are," she cut him off again, giving him a quick hug and kiss on the cheek. "Thanks, Fuzzy."

He returned her hug. "Kaetzchen, I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions."

"No harm, no foul," she said, fluffing her wet hair with a hand. "I better go do something about this mop." She picked up her costume, turning to go and clutching it so hard she felt a seam pop. "See ya later," she said lightly over her shoulder, itching to go to her room and scream. She forced another smile and left, keeping to a slow walk until she was out of his sight. Then she ran.

[i]Now he doesn't hate me, but he thinks I'm lying to him. And he thinks I was attacked and will tell Logan all his suspicions. Ugh! Why does life have to be so damned complicated?[/i] And she still hadn't figured out why she reacted to Kurt the way she had either. [i]Something else to keep me up at night,[/i] she thought. [i]'Heed'll love this...[/i]

>*<

She had expected the knock on her door later that night. "You might as well just come in," she called before the first knock faded from her hearing. She had recognized Logan's familiar booted footfalls before he had even reached her door.

His wiry-haired head poked around the door. "Hey, Pun'kin, let's talk."

"Sure," she said, her voice flat. She shut down her computer with a tap of a key. Lockheed burbled happily and rose from the bed, winging his way to Logan and settling on his shoulder.

Logan scratched the dragon's chin. "Hey, 'Heed, you keeping my girl in line?"

The dragon snorted. Logan obligingly laughed, then leaned against Kitty's desk to look down at her. "Kurt just told me something, Kitty."

She glared up at him defiantly. "Did he."

"Yeah." He crouched, looking into her eyes at her level. "But I don't think I believe it."

She sighed. "Look, I told Kurt the truth. Nothing happened to me. No one has ever so much as touched me without consent. Not Pete. Not Peter. No one." She looked away. "I wish you two would just believe me and not go off on some damned blind macho trip."

"Oh, I believe you about that – nobody could get close to you if you didn't want it." He said, grinning when she whipped her head to look at him with wide eyes. "I just don't know why you let Kurt believe otherwise."

"I... I had no choice. Besides, he jumped to the conclusion. He never really trusted Pete anyway."

Logan chuckled. "I didn't trust Pete either, but he isn't the raping kind. Why did you have no choice?"

Kitty looked away from him, wishing she could go back in time and redo the entire day. "I don't want to -- I won't -- talk about this. I told Kurt I wasn't afraid of him. I told him the truth. That's the end of the story."

"Darlin', I'm tryin' to give you a chance to tell me what I already could smell on you."

Damn. She felt her face burn. She should have known. But she had taken a shower...

"Kitty, what you do is your business, but Kurt's worried about you now. He doesn't quite believe Pete ever hurt you either, but that makes him think you really do have a problem with him."

"Great. Well, I'll just have to take that chance. I'll make it up to him. Somehow."

Logan leaned forward, laying a callused hand on her arm. "Why not just tell him the truth? Obviously he's clueless about this."

Her voice rose, startled he would even suggest she tell Kurt of her reaction to him. "Yeah, right! He'd freak out. Hell, I'd freak out!"

"Darlin', what exactly are you feeling for him?"

"I don't know."

"There's no shame in feelin' something..."

"I don't know! Dammit, Logan, just leave it alone!" Lockheed rose from Logan's shoulder, giving Kitty a disgusted snort at her outburst. They watched the little dragon flap his way to her bed and flop onto a pillow.

Logan stared at a spot above Lockheed's head for a moment, gathering his words. "You and Kurt, you're some of the closest friends I've got. You're family. I don't want to see this hurt either one of you." He finally looked at her, his blue eyes earnest. "Pun'kin, if you're hiding something from him, he'll know it. Eventually, the secret will eat you both up if it's not told."

Kitty returned his stare, feeling her anger at him build. "Like you have any room to talk! One word, Logan: Jean."

He blinked once and looked down, his hand dropping from her arm. Slowly he stood, looking down at her with a blank expression.

He walked to the door, pausing before he left. "I'm not gonna say you're wrong. In fact, look at me and Jeannie as proof of what I said." The door closed with a click.

>*<

The following days passed slowly, with the gray sky threatening more storms and the atmosphere in the mansion as oppressive as ever. The team worked almost around the clock, salvaging and restoring the house to livability as best they could. Three busy days after her run-in with Kurt and Logan, Kitty had found an out-of-the-way window seat early in the afternoon and had wasted the day reading and avoiding them.

Logan made that easy. An hour ago he had left on his motorcycle after staring for a long moment at her window. She would have to apologize eventually, she knew that, but at the moment she couldn't force herself to. She had a bigger problem.

She had tossed and turned over that problem every night. Her few dreams had been filled with images of Kurt's eyes just inches from hers. In some dreams she fought her urge to kiss him, in others she didn't. His reaction sometimes woke her with a pounding heart, and sometimes with tears.

She set the book down, realizing she had read the same page three times. Tucking her knees under her chin, she watched the wind play through the trees. [i]I can't keep avoiding him forever,[/i] she thought. [i]There has to be a logical explanation for this, a reasonable way out. First, I have to act like nothing ever happened while I'm around Kurt. After all, according to my story, nothing did. I have to convince him I told him the truth. Second, I have to know why I reacted that way to him at all. That's where things get tricky...[/i]

"Kitten?"

Kitty jerked, so wrapped up in her thoughts that she hadn't even heard Ororo's approach. "Are you here to give me unwanted advice too?" She snapped, immediately regretting it.

Ororo lifted one white eyebrow. "No, I need to talk team business."

"I'm sorry, 'Ro, I've just been a little on edge today," she smiled apologetically. She certainly was doing a lot of apologizing lately, she thought bitterly. "I didn't sleep well last night."

"Should I come back later?" Ororo asked, turning to go.

"No, just ignore me. What can I do for you?"

Ororo nodded, taking a seat beside Kitty in the window seat. "I know you've only been back a bit, but I'm afraid I need you to do something for me. As you know, until we can locate Charles we have no real funds to refurbish or operate the school or the team. We couldn't even get the electricity turned back on without Warren's assistance. He has helped us tremendously, but there are limits to his wealth and I hate to burden him so."

Kitty listened carefully, tamping a lid on her personal problems. "And you want me to get a part-time job at Burger King, Right?" she grinned.

Ororo laughed softly. "Maybe, but I have another plan first." She sobered before continuing. "Warren has been in contact with a man in Oregon. Kenneth Manhaven is his name, and he tells Warren that he'd be willing to give the school a grant to get operations running again."

Kitty nodded, hearing the unspoken trepidation in Ororo's voice. "What's the catch?"

"Our benefactor would like to meet some, ah, newer products of the school. He has offered for some of us to visit and stay at his home while the papers are drawn up."

"Sounds like a reasonable request on a big investment," she shrugged. "What does that have to do with me?

Ororo smiled. "I would like for you to meet this man, and tell me what you think of him and his offer."

It was Kitty's turn for raised eyebrows. "I'm certainly not the most recent example of a 'graduate' around, you know. Sam is, if anyone. Plus I'm no financial planner."

"You don't have to be, Kitty, Warren will be there for that. And though I love Sam dearly, you are more polished than him and I trust your judgment more. He is too naive."

"So I just have to go and smile and act innocent and watch him like a hawk while Warren takes care of all the money. No problem." She grinned. "I could use a vacation."

"Well, I would not want to send you alone though," she continued, a brief flash of uncertainty marring her pretty features. "Warren can only be there for a short time. I originally planned for Kurt to go with you, but..."

Kitty felt a stab of panic in her chest. So Ororo knew too. Was her personal life the talk of the mansion now? Probably. "That's great," she said a little too quickly. "He could use a vacation too. When do we leave?"

"Logan told me-"

"Well, he was wrong," Kitty snapped. Ororo closed her mouth, pursing her lips at the outburst.

"If you two are fighting I need to know. Now." Her voice was cold, all her patience gone.

Kitty recognized that tone. She had pushed Ororo too far with her irrational behavior. [i]Act your age, Pryde,[/i] she admonished herself. "Logan doesn't know the whole story," she lied, amazed at how good at it she was getting. "Kurt and I had a misunderstanding. It's settled, and in fact I think it would do us good to spend some time together. I was rotten and I'd like to make it up to him." There, that had been true. [i]Mostly.[/i]

Ororo looked relieved. "I'm glad that it is nothing serious. I'll go talk to him."

"Nah, let me do it. If that's okay?"

Ororo smiled. "Certainly, Kitten, let me just give you a few more details."

>*<

"Ah'll be right back, Kurt," Sam said, taking off from the roof to get more nails.

"Sure," Kurt muttered under his breath as the young mutant blasted away. Not that he really cared, anyway. He knew he wasn't the best company at the moment. Brooding was something Kurt didn't do often, but sometimes the situation just called for it.

He crouched low against the damaged roof, hoping the wind wouldn't dislodge him. He held a sack of nails clenched in a loop of his long tail and pinned a huge sheet of plywood over the jagged hole with one hand. Selecting a nail from his bag and a spot along a roof beam, he pounded the hapless nail into the wood with more force than seemed necessary. [i]Maybe Peter is right,[/i] he thought. [i]We should not have come back. Nothing is the same here. It's affecting all of us.[/i]

Ever since their argument, Peter glared at him with dark eyes every time he spoke to him, and now Kitty was avoiding him too. Since the other day -- well, after whatever it was that happened in the Danger Room -- she hadn't spoken one unnecessary word to him. She was polite, she was quiet, she was certainly not acting normal.

He settled back on his heels with a sigh, squinting up into the overcast sky. Her explanation three days ago had been less than satisfactory. She had told him the situation had scared her, not him. They had just been playing, something they had done for years, until that look of confusion and abject terror had come over her face.

He felt sick to his stomach just recalling it. The idea that he had scared her so badly made him ill. The mere thought that she thought he could hurt her made his skin crawl. But was it him that had scared her so? He half wondered if he should go hunt Pete Wisdom down and throttle him, but Kitty swore the British spy had never harmed her. He even believed her. But then, if as she claimed no one had ever hurt her, was it him? Had all those years of apparent friendship been a lie?

The argument was circular, and he had chased his tail with it many times over the last days. Praying for guidance provided only temporary comfort. Logan's secret looks and mysterious smirks weren't helping his state of mind either. The man knew something, of that he was sure, but was keeping his chops shut.

[i]Oh well,[/i] he thought, trying for the umpteenth time to clear his thoughts. [i]All I can do is wait. Until then I'll just let her do what she wants. I'll kill her with kindness, and just hope that she tells me -- or someone -- what's wrong.[/i]

With that shaky resolution, he returned to work. He lost himself in the mindlessness of his task, pounding nail after nail into the innocent board.

"Hey, Fuzzy, need some help?"

He missed the nail, twisting to glare up at the intruder. Kitty! Despite himself, his face split in a grin as she passed through the roof and settled to the shingles. Maybe his patience was paying off. "Hey, yourself, Kaetzchen. I thought you were Sam. He's supposed to be helping me, but the twerp disappeared a while ago." He settled on his haunches again, holding the wood down with his knees.

Her nose wrinkled. "How'd you get stuck doing this?"

He shrugged, the silly grin still plastered on his face. "I believe it went something like this, Ororo asked Rogue to do it and she said: 'let Kuht do it. He sticks tah walls, foh Gawd's sakes, he won't fahl off.'" Kitty laughed at his bad Rogue impression, complete with batting eyelashes. "She didn't want to disturb her brooding, in other words. The girl thinks too much." [i]And so do I,[/i] he didn't say.

"I'm sorry," she said, still giggling. "Logan says she hasn't been quite the same since Antarctica. I guess losing your love will do that..." Kitty trailed off suddenly, looking off at the dark clouds still stretching across the horizon.

Kurt noted her silence, setting his hammer down across the pitch of the roof with exaggerated care. "So, you were looking for me," he tried to regain his grin. "Whatever for?"

Kitty shook herself. "Ororo has a job for us." She explained the situation, taking a seat on the plywood sheet to help hold it down.

"Why us?" Kurt asked after listening to Ororo's request. Did she know about their troubles too?

Kitty blinked. "Well, she trusts us to see potential problems Sam might not, we're less threatening than Logan, and, right now, more emotionally stable than Rogue or Peter."

[i]We are?[/i] "Less threatening?" Kurt snorted, looking away from Kitty. "Has she looked clearly at me lately?" He kept his tone light, but it came out sounding bitter. He winced. He hadn't intended to say that.

"Yes, she has." She scooted closer to him, careful of splinters, and touched his shoulder. He looked at her hand and then to her face, his expression somber. "You have better manners and more common sense than half of the rest of the team, and she trusts you not to make an ass of yourself in front of someone we need."

He flinched slightly. "Ouch. I deserved that one, ja?"

She smiled sadly. "No, you don't deserve any of it. It's my fault you even had that thought. I'm sorry I was a bitch the other day."

Trust her to see right through him. "Nien." He sat up and almost hugged her, but thought he better not press his luck. "There's nothing to forgive." He smiled ruefully, surprising himself with his next words. "The thought is always there -- that people will always fear me. I'm just usually better at hiding it. I don't like to wallow in self-pity, unlike some of our, ahem, esteemed, teammates."

"But I'm still sorry." She lunged at him, unafraid he might not catch her, and hugged his ribs tightly. "You shouldn't have those fears at all. You, my fine Fuzzy Elf, are a total sweetheart."

The sick knot in the pit of his stomach loosened. "Danke, Kaetzchen. I can always count on you to cheer me up."

She clung to him for a moment longer before releasing him with a small sniff, wiping her eyes surreptitiously.

He saw her red eyes, raising an eyebrow and deciding to not comment. Now what? He forced his tone to stay light. "So, when do we leave?"

"Tomorrow."

"Gut. The question then is how do we leave? The Blackbird's scrap, remember?"

"That's the trick." She pulled two envelopes from her pocket, tossing one to him.

He turned it over in his hands, noting his name written on the outside in Warren's neat businessman's script under a familiar airline logo. "Oh, no."

"Yep," Kitty grinned. "We get to fly the friendly skies with the rest of the folks without supersonic jets. Be happy Warren sprang for first class."


[Edited on 10-1-2009 by Slarti]
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Title: Damn Not Given
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Cat and Mouse

Postby Rowena » Mon Jan 12, 2009 2:25 pm

I remember this story! It's one of the best, most well-written fanfiction works I've ever read! All the characters are so well drawn, and I especially liked the way you dealt with Kurt and Kitty's transition from Excalibur back to the X-Men. That kind of thing is always so hard, when you've gone off on your own and done so much and changed so much until, when you go back home, you're not sure just where you fit anymore. I also admired the tactful and completely in-character way you had Kurt handle Kitty's "weirdness"--especially after he discovered what was behind her odd behavior. :) This is a fantastic story, and I'm so happy you're putting it up here! Thanks!!! :D
"There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea's asleep and the rivers dream, people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice and somewhere else the tea is getting cold. Come on, Ace, we've got work to do."
~The Doctor, Survival

"There's no point in being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes."
~The Doctor, Robot

"If this isn't civilization, why am I standing in a bomb crater?"
~Hawkeye Pierce, M.A.S.H.

Rowena Zahnrei's Stories: http://www.fanfiction.net/u/526713/Rowena_Zahnrei
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Cat and Mouse

Postby Slarti » Tue Jan 13, 2009 7:09 pm



"Hah, got a point!" Kitty pumped the air with her fist as her balled napkin sailed into Kurt's empty coffee cup.

"Bored again, Kaetzchen?" Kurt asked, peering into the depths of his cup with an amused expression. He fished the paper out, flinging it back at Kitty.

She caught the crumpled paper in mid-air, sticking her tongue out at her friend. "And you aren't?" she replied. She readjusted her headset, stealing a glance at a passing stewardess.

"Of course I am, I just wear it better." Kurt sighed, loosening his shirt collar with two image-induced fingers. His own eyes scanned the other passengers on the crowded commercial flight.

After two hours of tic-tac-toe, interspersed with staring out the window, at other passengers and each other, both Kitty and Kurt were ready to scream.

"I forgot how much I hated to fly," Kitty said, picking at a frayed spot on her jeans. "The Blackbird spoiled us."

"Mmm... it certainly did," he answered, crossing his arms across his chest and sinking deeper into the cushy seat.

"I like driving, why couldn't we have dri-" she started, her heart skipping a beat as he looked up at her with smiling eyes. "-ven?" She recovered her composure quickly, then hoped he hadn't caught her slip. Snap out of it, she thought, willing the giant butterflies flapping around her stomach to stop.

"Honestly, I would have preferred to drive too, then you can stop whenever you get bored." He said, turning his attention to the opening cockpit door. Kitty did the same, and they sat in silence for a few minutes. The stewardess leaned into the cockpit, offering coffee to its occupants. Bored again, Kitty's attention returned to her friend.

Watching the stewardess chat with the co-pilot and check her cart, Kurt didn't notice Kitty for a long while. She watched him grin devilishly and wink at the attractive stewardess as she wheeled her cart past him on the way to coach. The woman returned Kurt's smile with lowered lashes and Kitty smirked. [i]Flirt.[/i]

Her eyes, still on him, unfocused. Her thoughts were far away, and she didn't realize Kurt was watching her back out of the corner of his eyes for a full second. "Ja?"

She jumped, feeling guilty that she had been caught staring, and tried to laugh it off. "Sorry. I was thinking."

"Thinking hard, I guess," he replied, brows arched. "Penny for your thoughts."

"Well," she scrambled to think of something, finally jerking her chin toward the cockpit. "When I'm hurtling through the air in a giant tin can I prefer to be the one doing the flying, you know. Ever since I learned to fly myself I don't trust other people to do it properly." She noted his eyebrows crawling higher. "Present company excluded, of course."

"Of course," he replied archly. "Or you were watching me smile at that woman and giving me the patented 'men are pigs' look." A slow grin spread across his face as Kitty's jaw dropped.

"No!" She floundered as his grin turned into an evil laugh.

"No? If you say so." His giggles subsided as he unfastened his seat belt. "I'm just teasing you, Kaetzchen. Lighten up! I'm going to the restroom. Feel free to think up a witty rejoinder while I'm gone."

He edged past her from his window seat as she continued to sputter. The plane chose that moment to drop, the sudden turbulence knocking him off balance and into Kitty's lap.

Kurt yelped as he inelegantly tried to regain his feet and Kitty smothered a nervous snicker. "See that's what you get-" she started.

The smug grin slid off her face as she looked up at Kurt's tense expression. He was looking past her, back into the coach section. Kitty twisted around just enough in her seat to see what he saw. The pretty stewardess was almost running up the center isle, a worried look on her face. She kept shooting nervous glances to the right side of the plane as other stewardesses calmly instructed passengers to close the window shades.

"Oh, hell, this isn't good," she muttered as the plane lurched again. She scrabbled to unlock her seat belt, hearing the faint click the second before the plane dropped what felt like several feet.

She heard a cry and then felt all the air rush out of her as Kurt's knee bounced sharply off her stomach. She panted for breath, looking up to see what happened with eyes filled with black spots.

Kurt was in the isle, holding up the panicking stewardess, who had apparently tripped when the plane lurched.

"Urrghh, it... figures," she grunted, hauling herself to her feet as Kurt righted the woman.

"P-please get in your seats, fasten your seatbelts," the woman babbled, not quite looking at Kurt as she spoke.

He shook her gently as Kitty regained enough breath to speak. "We're both pilots. Is there anything we can do to help?"

Her eyes focused on him, then Kitty. "N-no. Well, we'll see. Um, I'll ask. Please just take your-"

"-seats, yes, we know. Just let us know if we can help." Kurt released her arms, ducking his head to look into her eyes. "You okay?" The woman calmed enough to nod. "Gut. Just be calm, everything will be okay." He smiled at her reassuringly as the plane jumped again and she opened her mouth again. "Ja. We'll sit down."

The woman continued on her shaky way to her station near the cockpit as Kitty collapsed back into her seat. "Engine failure?" she guessed, trying to look out the window.

Kurt made it back into his seat without further mangling her, peering out the window as he went. "That'd be my guess. I think the right side is out."

"Crap. We can't do anything about that, can we?"

"Unfortunately not."

Kitty refastened her belt, gripping her armrests as the plane jumped again. The public address system popped into life as the pilot began instructions for emergency landing. Kitty turned to Kurt, pausing when she saw his eyes squeezed shut and his lips moving slightly. He was praying.

"If this gets ugly, you know what we're going to have to do," he said quietly, not opening his eyes.

Kitty nodded. "Yeah, but there's so many people on here," she whispered, looking around at the frightened faces. She looked across the aisle at a young mother, her eyes full of fear as she tried to quiet her wailing baby. [i]I'll take them[/i] she decided. [i]Them and whoever else I can grab.[/i] She could only phase a few people at once, regrettably, but she would push herself as far as she could to save as many as possible. She glanced at Kurt, knowing he was coming to the same conclusions as she.

"I'll take this side of the aisle, you that," he whispered, opening his eyes and pointing subtly with his holographic fingers. "And we'll pray we don't have to make these verdammt impossible decisions."

Kitty nodded, exchanging a nervous glance with him. Her hand found his, her fingers snaking between his as much to comfort herself as him.

The plane lost altitude for some time, the terrible ups and downs settling into an ominous shaking. Finally banking into a turn, Kitty felt her stomach drop as she saw the ground rise up through the window. She released Kurt's hand, readying herself to phase. She heard the pilot's reassurances and stewardesses' instructions dimly as she focused her attention on the passengers closest to her. They would be making an emergency landing at some airport, she heard. She didn't recognize the name.

She stole a glance at Kurt. His jaw was clenched so hard she could almost hear his teeth creak as he listened to the sounds of the plane. She tensed herself, ready to spring as her ears popped from the rapid pressure changes. Together they waited for the moment they would have to act, to save themselves and whomever else they could.

But that moment didn't come. The plane descended to the ground, still rattling as the remaining engines tried to compensate. Kitty felt her ears pop again, painfully this time, and the roaring of the engines intensified. The roar rose to a metallic whine as the plane touched down with a jarring thud. [i]Thank God,[/i] she thought.[i] Now we just have to stop.[/i] She held her breath as the whine rose to a screech and suddenly died as their speed dropped to a crawl, then rolled to a stop.

Kitty thumped the armrests, shaking off reaction stress with a loud sigh. "See, that is why I hate flying!"

The intercom popped again. "Well, ah, welcome to Dubuque, Iowa. Remain in your seats, please, we'll be out of here in a few minutes... Uh, sorry about that."

Kurt expelled his own held breath, sliding down into the seat. "I don't think that last bit was in his script."

"Did he say Iowa?"

"Uh-huh."

"Great."

"Uh-huh."

>*<

The airline was most apologetic, however there were no flights out until the morning. After phone calls back to New York and ahead to Portland, a couple cups of coffee and a hotel voucher they were almost calm again.

Now, trying to relax in a small restaurant down the street from their hotel, neither felt inclined to talk about their experience. Kurt ordered an imported beer while Kitty perused the menu, eyeing the beer list herself. After the last few days, she was dying for a drink.

Kurt looked at her knowingly as the waitress disappeared, speaking as soon as the woman was out of earshot. "Get a round of that wretched Bud Light you and Logan swill if you want."

Kitty wrinkled her nose. "How? I'm a little not legal in this country, remember?"

He waved his hand dismissively. "You don't still have that fake ID Wisdom got you?"

She froze. "What ID?"

"Kaetzchen, I know about it. I always have," he said, a wry grin creasing the corners of his eyes.

She sputtered for only a moment. "Y-you do- you did?"

"I found him talking to one of his old cronies about getting American identification and I jumped him. He told me."

"You didn't care?"

"You Americans have always had some funny ideas about age and alcohol," he shrugged. "You're almost 20, Kitty, and I'm not your father."

"He didn't give it to me so I could buy alcohol."

"Ach, I know. That's just a perk, ja?" His grin spread further. "Pete said you were homesick, and complaining that you didn't even have a driver's license. So he got you one. No big deal."

Kitty laughed at the recalled memory. "An Illinois one, no less! I was so impressed! And angry when I saw he made me older! 'That way I don't feel so fucking old around you,' he said."

Kurt snickered. "I remember he told me he thought about giving you a ... ah ... larger chest in the photo and I threatened to drop him out of the Midnight Runner."

Her expression sobered. "You and Brian were unfair to him."

His smile faded away.

"He thought you both hated him, you know. As much as he denied wanting approval from others, he needed it in his own way as much as anyone. That wouldn't have been so hard, would it?"

They were both silent as the waitress came back with their order. After the woman left, Kitty toyed with her silverware and Kurt took a drink of his beer, finally setting the mug down before he spoke. "Kitty, I know this is none of my business, but are you still in love with Pete?"

Why should he care? She was silent for a long moment, deciding finally to tell him the truth. "I still love him, just like I still love Peter. But in love with him? No."

"Ah, I understand. It is much the same with Amanda and I. Love lives are hard to maintain in our line of work, ja?" He took another sip of beer, gazing contemplatively into the dark foamy liquid. "You know what?" He deadpanned, setting the mug down carefully. "This is awful. I will never find a decent beer in this country."

Kitty couldn't help but smile at his quick change of subject. "So don't drink beer. You know, while in Rome... drink tequila!"

"I don't think that's how the saying goes," he laughed.

Her eyes twinkled with an evil light. "It does tonight," she said.

>*<

"Oh, come on, tell the truth now! You loved rescuing that stewardess!" Kitty pointed at him, her finger only wavering slightly. "There's nothing like playing the knight in shining armor for a poor, frightened wench."

Kurt refilled his makeshift plastic shot glass with tequila. The stuff wasn't too bad after the first shot tore all the skin off the tongue. "Not to tarnish my reputation, but honestly, it's not as much of a thrill as you seem to think." He ignored Kitty's snort of derision as she shoved her cup to him for a refill.

"That woman was beautiful," he said, pouring the clear alcohol with care. "She was also a babbling idiot when things got rough. I prefer brains and nerve over a fainting damsel in distress."

"Really?"

"Really. I prefer a partner, an equal, not a wilting flower. If that had been 'Manda up there, she would have taken charge and done her duty to calm passengers, not have one calm her. Cerise would have done the same," he paused to chuckle, "though she probably would have just carried the plane down all by herself. "

"Huh." Kitty ripped open a salt packet, sprinkling it on her tongue and downing her drink before popping a lime wedge in her mouth. He chuckled at her performance, taking his shot straight with only a slight wince. Kitty spit out the lime indelicately. "You're not doing it right," she complained.

"I can't believe I'm doing it at all," he replied.

Kitty stuck her tongue out at him. "So you're saying you like tough women, like miss kick-ass Shi'ar Amazon."

He laughed, picking up a lime section. "Don't get me wrong, a little softness is great too. Cerise was almost frighteningly strong. She didn't need me for anything. It's good to be needed a little, you know? But, as I was saying, just look at how you reacted. Calm. Focused. You knew what we had to do without conferring. We were partners, equals. That's what I'm talking about."

"Yeah, I got you," she giggled. "You want a damsel that you can save occasionally, and who can occasionally save you. Sounds like you need to date another teammate-" She stopped short, her alcohol-clouded brain finally catching up with her mouth -- and ears.

He laughed. "Exactly!" He dramatically smacked his forehead with the heel of a hand. "Why didn't I think of that before?" He waggled his eyebrow at her. "Busy later, Kaetzchen?"

She tried to laugh, ignoring the painful tightening of her throat. Luckily he didn't notice her behavior as he opened a salt packet.

"Okay, I'll do it your way," he said, tapping a neat pile of salt on his hand. She watched him do the shot, lingering over the lime. "That was actually better." He turned to Kitty with a broad grin. "Danke! You learn something new every day."

Her expression froze as something dawned on her. "You know, I think that's what I loved about Pete."

"Was? Tequila?"

She balanced her cup on her knee, considering her new thought. "You said you wanted a partner. Well, Pete was the first man to treat me like a partner instead of a sidekick or student."

Kurt looked slightly hurt. "Ah."

She noted his expression with interest. "Much as I loved Peter, he always treated me like a child. Our relationship was never real, except in my imagination."

"You were a child, Kitty. And in more than just dating Peter." He was quiet for a moment. "Do you know how many times I argued with the others about the ethics of putting you in danger?"

"And I appreciate that, but as I got older I usually felt I was being smothered. Pete didn't do that. He trusted me to be his equal, to be as competent as he was despite my age."

He smirked. "He's an equal opportunity offender, ja?"

"You're being a jerk again!" Kitty's voice rose, tired of this same old game. "Why did you dislike him so much?"

He sighed. "You were right earlier, Brian and I were unfair to him. I regret that," he pursed his lips, acting as if this admission was costing him a great deal. "If Pete made you happy, I should have left it at that that and accepted him. You know, in a way he was good for you."

"He was?" Kitty was stunned. Kurt was many things, stubborn being one of them. She had never figured to hear that. "I mean, he was, but I never thought I'd hear you say it."

"He was good for you because he wasn't Peter. He let you see another side of life. Perspective is good in all things."

Kitty felt her eyebrows lift in surprise.

He took her silence as a cue to continue. "Honestly, I don't know why I didn't like him. At first I just didn't trust him. Then, I thought he was taking advantage of you. Mostly, I guess, I just didn't want to see you hurt, so I played protector."

Kitty's heart clenched at his earnest tone, then she remembered she should still be mad at him. "See what I mean? You were smothering me, not letting me grow up and make my own choices."

"You're right," he said quietly. "I'm sorry. It wasn't my place." Silent for a moment, he finally picked another lime out of the plastic grocery sack and attempted to cut it with the plastic knife they had filched from the restaurant.

Kitty watched him from across the small table, still amazed at what he had just said. And what he hadn't.

Pete had put a huge wedge between her and her teammates when she had started dating him. Kurt had considered the man, actually about his age, too old, too dangerous and too obnoxious for her to date. And while Kurt and Brian had been as discrete as superheroes got in their threatening of Pete -- both swearing to kill him if he hurt her -- Peter had simply beaten Pete nearly to death. She still hadn't forgiven Peter for his jealous rage, but she had forgiven Kurt his overprotectiveness long ago.

But, she now wondered, was it just overprotectiveness? Had he been jealous? She felt the familiar lightening bolt shoot through her nerves. Why did that thought excite her? Did she want him to be jealous?

Here, in his hotel room, he had turned off the image inducer and she stared at the face she had known for so long. With her liquid courage, she was willing to admit she was attracted to him. In an abstract sense, she had always known he was an attractive man. He was different, yes, but not grotesque, as she had thought at fourteen.

Women had always thought Kurt handsome, something which had amused her to no end in Excalibur. Though his anatomy differed from the norm with his three-fingered hands and tail, his mutations and training gave him as sculpted a physique as any other hero. His dark blue skin and thin European features gave him a devilish, slightly sinister look that was more exotic than disturbing.

So attracted? Yeah. Perhaps she always had been. Perhaps that was what had frightened her about him so long ago. She had thought she was evil because she was drawn to someone who looked like a demon. But with time, she had seen real demons, and they looked nothing like Kurt.

"Kitty, I-"

She jumped out of her reverie, her cup flipping from her hands to the floor. She watched dumbly as Kurt retrieved it, looking at her with concern.

"Are you okay?" He handed the cup back to her, a tiny worry crease wrinkling the fuzzy skin between his eyebrows.

She looked into those deep, glowing eyes. "I-i think I've had too much to drink." She sat up straight, startled that the room did rotate slowly around her. "We've got to get up early anyway. I better get to bed." She stood carefully, heading for the door.

"Okay," he said, rising from his own seat. "Do you need any help?"

"Nah," she replied, deciding to just phase through the door instead of fumbling for the doorknob. "This was fun though -- very enlightening. We'll have to do it again."

"Ja, I'm sure we will. Goodnight, Ki..." He trailed off as she disappeared through the door with a wave. He opened the door just in time to see her phase though her own door down the hall.

He furrowed his brow, staring after her for a long moment. "'Very enlightening?' What does that mean?"

He had caught all her little odd sidelong looks at him throughout the day. He knew she was still hiding something from him. Their unexpected layover had given him a golden opportunity to figure out what was wrong, and he thought he had been making progress. Landing on the assumption she was pining for Pete, he had intentionally brought it back up. He meant what he said, though. He did regret the way he had ridden the Brit. Pete, though he had his rough spots, was a good man.

Apparently, Pete wasn't the problem though. She was more angry with him for mothering her than for antagonizing Pete. Anger he could handle. If she ranted and raved at him, if she told him he had treated her like a child, he could understand it. Kitty had always had a temper; it was part of her charm. What he couldn't handle was her silence.

He resolved to go to her room. He would flat-out ask her what was wrong then, and end all this subterfuge. He took a step and stopped cold. But if her problem wasn't Pete, then what was it? What if her problem [i]was[/i] him? Her silence -- she had acted the same way when she was a child, when she thought he was a demon. Did he really want to know she still secretly thought that? He cared for her very much, sometimes more than he cared to admit. He was very afraid to find out she didn't feel the same, he realized.

So once again, the argument returned to him. He swore under his breath and spied the tequila bottle still on the table. Snagging it with his tail, he flopped onto his hard bed. He took a pull from the bottle, savoring the burn. What else could he do? He was out of ideas.

>*<

[i]What [/i]am[i] I feeling for him?[/i] Back in her room, flat on her back and with the ceiling slowly spinning above her, she turned Logan's question over and over in her mind. Before a few days ago, she had never really thought about her relationship with Kurt, beyond what they already had.

It was funny, now that she thought about it. Spending her confusing, formative years with so many beautiful men she had on occasion daydreamed of relationships -- purely romantic in her younger, more naive days and sexual in her later teens -- with all of them -- except Kurt. Why not? Why, until now, had she never even considered him as a lover?

His looks? No, she didn't think so, not anymore. Her stomach tightened as she remembered the early evening. It wasn't just the tequila that had made him look attractive to her. The warmth and humor in his eyes, his smile, his easy charm -- it was as intoxicating as the alcohol.

Her eyes slid closed, but she held the image of him in her mind. It bothered her that Kurt's looks should matter that much, but she needed to consider it. It always took her time to adjust to extreme mutations and see the person beneath. She thought briefly of Caliban, the frightening-looking mutant Morlock who had professed his undying love for Kitty years ago.

She had never had feelings of any sort for Caliban, aside from fear and pity in the beginning and empathy in the end. She had always assumed her inability to completely accept him as a friend -- or as a person -- was because of his obsession with her.

But maybe that wasn't it at all.

[i]Maybe that's why I never thought about Kurt this way before,[/i] she thought. [i]I was always attracted to people who looked like me, people who could pass for 'normal.'[/i] She winced at the thought, but it was true. Her two lovers, Peter and Pete, both looked as completely human as she.

[i]My God, am I that shallow?[/i] The frightening truth was that she suspected she had been. For years, she had relegated him to the status of a safe male - -- almost as much of a father figure as Logan. He was the object of her fumbling flirting, which he had always graciously returned. He was the shoulder she cried on when things went sour. She had shared her hopes and dreams, her insecurities and failings with him. He was her best friend still living, or in this plane of existence at least.

In all that time, rarely had she considered his feelings. [i]How selfish,[/i] she thought.[i]I've taken him for granted for so long. I still do.[/i]

For a moment, she considered getting up and going back to his room. She would tell him the truth about that day in the Danger Room. But how would he react to that?

She didn't know, and that uncertainty followed her down into restless sleep.

>*<

Their flight to Portland went smoothly, despite Kitty's reluctance to get back on a plane not piloted by an X-Man.

The car that picked them up at the airport could have come from Charles Xavier's own garage. The gray Rolls Royce floated down the busy urban highways and meandering rural parkways, ending up at the front gates of an estate almost frighteningly like Xavier's.

Kitty exchanged glances with Kurt. He had been surly today, and she suspected he was hung over. His eyebrows lifted as he indicated the car and house with a nod and a shrug. He had noticed the creepy similarities too.

The house was impressively large and ornate, but its resemblance to their home ended there, thankfully. Their luggage was taken and they were led through hallways that would have given Charles fits. Kitty honestly didn't care for the bright abstract paintings and industrial-looking carpeting and paneling. To her, it looked more like an office building than a home.

The butler knocked quietly on a door, announcing their presence before entering. A deep voice called them inside and Kitty heard the telltale rustle of feathers as Warren Worthington met them at the door.

"Hey, finally made it, did you?" Warren beamed, greeting them both with hugs. "I hope your flight here today at least was uneventful."

"Ja, thank God," Kurt replied, following Warren into the room and to a large desk.

The middle-aged man behind the desk rose, coming around the desk and shaking Kitty and Kurt's hands as Warren made introductions.

"I'm so glad yesterday was nothing serious," Ken Manhaven said with a polite but warm smile. "I once was in a plane crash myself. They're certainly not a pleasant experience."

"What happened?" Kitty asked politely.

"Well, it was in the war." He motioned them to their chairs, retaking his own. "But that's a tale for another day." He turned his attention to Kurt. "Mr. Wagner, you may turn your image inducer off, we have no secrets here."

Kurt started for a split second, then looked at Warren, who didn't have his inducer on either. "Very well," he said. "But I will warn you I tend to shock people at first sight."

"I am shocked by very little at my age," he chuckled.

Kurt snapped the inducer at his belt off with a click, looking up at Manhaven's mild blink with glowing eyes. "Feeling shocked?"

"Not particularly. You are quite striking though, like something out of Dante."

Kitty nearly choked, afraid Kurt would take offense to Manhaven's comment. To her surprise Kurt and Warren both laughed.

"I've afraid we've both heard that before, Ken," Warren said, lifting his impressive white-feathered wings for emphasis.

"And things far less flattering, I'm sure. I imagine you've both had a rough time getting seats on the bus, front seat or back."

Warren shrugged. "I haven't had much trouble. I wasn't always blue, and my wings are easy to hide, even without the inducer." He laughed again at Manhaven's incredulous look, running a hand through his wild blond curls. "No really, they are. They smoosh well. Kurt's had a much tougher time than me."

"I worked in a circus, so not so much there. I also owned many, many hooded shirts," Kurt said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "It's not so bad."

[i]Except when I make it bad for you,[/i] Kitty thought guiltily, tearing her thoughts back away from her troubles as Manhaven addressed her.

"And you Miss Pryde? What is your mutation, if I may ask?"

She leaned forward, passing her hand through the ceramic pencil holder on the desk. "I phase -- pass through solid matter, that is," she said. "It's handy when I lock myself out of the house."

"I imagine so," Manhaven said with a chuckle. "Well, I've detained you enough. Warren and I have most of the arrangements made, we just have to wait for the paperwork now. I am granting the Xavier Institute ten million dollars, to be used as Xavier's headmaster sees fit, to restore your school to operating condition." He paused for Kitty and Kurt's expressions of gratitude. "I only ask that I be allowed to learn your training methods. It would be nice, someday, for the Institute to have satellite schools, no? I ask for priority when that happens."

"Like franchise rights?" Kitty was stunned that someone would [i]want[/i] franchise rights, let alone pay that much on a school that was mostly rubble.

"Essentially, yes, franchise rights."

"That's a most generous offer," Kurt said. "You realize it may be some time before we get the school up and running again?"

"Of course," Manhaven said, planting his elbows on the desk and steepling his fingers. "I'm willing to wait, to insure quality. I have a background in education, so I know quality takes time. I also have many other business interests to insure continued funding for that quality, if you should need it."

Warren stepped in. "He also realizes the school is not the most profitable thing in the world. I think we've covered all the bases. It's an equitable deal, all the way around."

Kitty and Kurt took the hint, merely agreeing with the blond millionaire.

Manhaven studied them all for a second, then stood and motioned to them to precede him to the door. "I agree, most equitable. And now, I'm sure you two are tired. The rest of the day is yours. Feel free to explore the house and grounds. Robert will show you around and to your rooms. I planned a dinner for us at seven o’clock. I invited a few people, just family members and friends, to meet you. It's nothing too formal, I want you to have fun." He opened the door, calling for the butler with a buzzer near a light switch. "Oh, and don't worry, everyone here is mutant friendly."
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Postby The Drastic Spastic » Thu Feb 12, 2009 2:07 pm

Yo, where's the rest of it? It's been almost a month!

Is this like a round robin? Can I finish it?

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Postby Slarti » Thu Feb 12, 2009 2:44 pm

Oh, oopsie. I got distracted. :shifty
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Postby Cyntosis » Thu Aug 26, 2010 9:45 pm

How mean to have it end like this. I liked what I read so much, I couldn't help but necro this. To tell how much I enjoyed it. Your characterisation is quite a delight.
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