Happier Times

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: Thanks go out to my beta, kaly, who has been amazingly accommodating throughout this rush of fic.

Ororo was sitting on a stone bench, watching Kurt play some sort of tag with the children, when Professor Xavier pulled up next to her. They were playing "with powers", which made it the strangest game she'd ever seen.

Kurt seemed to be disappearing and reappearing at random. So far the only one who'd caught him was a little girl with blond pigtails and about 15 seconds of prescience. Evan and Jesse had just teamed up, though, and between one's enhanced spatial awareness and the other's superspeed, they were giving Kurt a real run for his money.

"He makes them forget they're training," Charles said, smiling.

"Are they?" Ororo asked, taking another look. "I thought it was a game."

"It is. But those are also the students I sent to Kurt for help controlling their powers."

"I've forgotten what Nadia's mutation is," Ororo said. She nodded towards a brunette teenager bearing a fierce scowl, who made no attempt to run after the others.

"She's telekinetic," the Professor reminded. "And potentially quite powerful, if she'd just learn to concentrate."

Ororo laughed softly. "She certainly seems to be concentrating now."

The words had no sooner left her mouth than Nadia darted over to tag Kurt, who she'd frozen in place. The look of surprise on Kurt's face was downright comical. "Got you," Nadia said smugly.

"So you did," Kurt nodded, eyes twinkling. "Which means...you're it!"

"Isn't that backwards?" Ororo wondered aloud even as the chase went on.

"They learn more by chasing than they do by being chased," Charles explained. "Watch. Kurt will catch her soon enough." And he did, though the tap of victory was almost apologetic. Still, Kurt's quick recovery seemed only to energize the students.

"It's strange," she said, watching the game. "It seems like one moment he was new and different, and the next everyone was taking him for granted."

"I suspect we all turned inward in our grief," Charles murmured. "Kurt made a place for himself while you, Scott, Logan, even myself were...looking the other way."

"I'm glad he's here. The students need light like that in their lives."

Xavier caught her eye. "They aren't the only ones."

Ororo only shook her head. "I'm not one of your children anymore, Charles," she said gently.

"Does that mean I'm not allowed to worry about you?" Charles asked, and smiled. "I shall find it difficult to stop." As he spoke the game of tag dispersed and Kurt caught sight of the two of them. Waving to his students, he made his way across the lawn.

"Guten Tag, Ororo," Kurt said and then, with a respectful nod, "Professor."

"Good afternoon, Kurt," Ororo responded. Looking up into his sparkling eyes, she couldn't help but smile. "Who won the game?"

He waved dismissively but grinned at the same time. "They were all caught once. It must have been a tie."

Ororo arched an eyebrow. "As I recall, you were caught three times." She hardly even noticed when Professor Xavier quietly moved on.

Instead of making a return quip, Kurt's smile dimmed a little. "I have had more than enough practice."

"I'm sorry, Kurt," Ororo said, concealing a wince. How insensitive, she chided herself. "I didn't mean to unearth bad memories."

But he was shaking his head. "It's not that," the German said, and seated himself on the bench beside her. He curled one foot underneath himself but left the other to dangle alongside his tail. "It is just that in Munich, in the circus, my abilities were a part of my act." Kurt smiled, but it was a distant smile. Wistful. "This was some time ago. Before knowledge of mutants was widespread. People didn't know what I was, when they saw me in the act. It was just a good trick, then." He half shrugged. "I was remembering happier times."

Ororo couldn't help feeling a swell of something very like jealousy. Aren't these supposed to be the happier times? she wondered. The 'good guys' won. The President is making his decisions on a more informed basis, if nothing else. And we have the school...

On the other hand, we lost Jean. And John, in a way. Magneto is out in the world again. Despite all our work, we're still hated and feared.

Aloud, she asked, "Isn't it better not to have to hide?" But Ororo wasn't certain of the answer herself.

Kurt only laughed. "You think that when I go out there," he waved at the school gates, "that I don't hide this?" Now he gestured towards his own visage. He paused, and a strange sort of peace fell over him. One of his fingers brushed the rosary he wore always at his waist before he went on. "I will always have to hide, mein Fruend. That much progress cannot be made in one lifetime."

"Somehow I never thought of that," Ororo said, and found that she couldn't meet Kurt's eyes. She looked out over the lawn instead, though it was empty now.

A thick, warm finger brushed her cheek lightly, prompting Ororo to lift her dark eyes to meet Kurt's golden ones. "And that is why I like you so much," he said, eyes twinkling once again.

"I suppose I wish you could be happy here," Ororo murmured.

"Did I say I wasn't?"

Her brow wrinkled. "You said 'happier times.'"

Kurt chuckled. "I didn't say what they were happier than, did I?" Ororo could only shake her head, a smile creeping onto her own lips. He all but bounced to his feet. "Here I have a captive audience," Kurt waved towards the school, obviously meaning the students, "and a beautiful woman with an amazing tolerance for my excesses." Now he placed a hand over his heart and swept a bow. "What more does a man need?" And then he vanished, literally in a puff of sulfur-smelling smoke.

Ororo smiled, though there was no one left to see. "Running again, Kurt?"