In the Spotlight

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: Thanks go out to kaly, who helps me iron out all those awkward little sentences that trip over themselves.

Ororo rolled her shoulders as she approached the gym. Despite all the training she did with the team, there were still moments when she desperately needed a little exercise to loosen up her muscles. Particularly after a Monday full of classes. There was something about a room full of teenagers that made tension crawl into her shoulders and settle there.

She opened the door and was halfway to the changing room when a puff of air drifting by the back of her neck made her pause. Strange, she thought, I could have sworn the gym was empty. Almost as an afterthought, Ororo glanced up. And gasped.

A small part of her remembered that Kurt had asked for some kind of modification to the gym. Distantly, Ororo even remembered that the workmen had been in this past weekend. Staring up at the results of their efforts, it was all she could do to remember to breathe.

The high ceiling of the room now sprouted a network of bars, poles and hoops of a dozen different shapes. The clean, finished quality of the metal told Ororo that these pipes were not meant to carry any kind of utility. But then, their very shape made that obvious.

Up amongst this jungle of metal was Kurt. For the first time since Ororo had met him, the German was not covered from neck to ankles. Clad only in a snug pair of exercise shorts, he was barely covered at all.

An 'oh' of surprise rounded Ororo's lips as she watched him launch himself from bar to bar with fluid ease. Every now and then he'd throw in a mid-air somersault, a twist or a back flip, apparently just for fun. The sound of laughter drifted down as he swung completely over a horizontal bar and picked up speed on the downward curve. At the apex of the next circuit he let go and went sailing through the air, but he seemed to be angled wrong to catch any other grip.

Ororo caught her breath, waiting for the fall, but instead Kurt's tail whipped out further than his arms could reach. It curled momentarily around a vertical pipe, changing his trajectory just enough to bring him within reach of another horizontal bar. Kurt caught hold from below -- with his feet. Letting momentum carry him around and above it, he stopped himself without any help from his hands and simply crouched there.

In that moment of stillness, Ororo could see that he was breathing hard and grinning broadly. Sweat sheened his indigo skin and the moisture caught against the ridges of his scars, making them shine like silver. He must have been like this in the circus, Ororo thought, mesmerized. So full of joy... I don't think any of us really understood what he meant when he said he was an 'aerial artist.'

The muscles of Kurt's thighs bunched visibly and then he was off again, launched towards a bar that hung, swaying, from a pair of ropes. The force of his impact sent the swing rocketing towards the ceiling. Mere moments before it seemed the two would collide, Kurt let go with his hands and hung for an instant, mid-air.

Gravity reasserted it's grip and he began to plummet, but Kurt was one step ahead, his tail already locked tight around the swing. His change in momentum jerked the bar back the way it had come, whipping Kurt towards the far wall. Suspended by his tail alone, he laughed as he lined up his body into a living arrow and let go. Perfectly aimed, Kurt passed through a circular hoop so narrow Ororo knew some who'd have had trouble getting through it from a standstill, never mind an aerial, swinging start.

On the other side, Kurt seemed only to tap another set of bars as he changed his direction. In the next moment he'd laid his body out horizontally, his shoulders on a vertical line, and was spinning smoothly around a vertical bar. As he slowed, Ororo waited breathlessly for his form to droop under the demands of gravity.

The moment never came. Though he came to a complete stop, Kurt never stopped looking like a handstand turned sideways. Body tension, Ororo had a moment to think before he let go. Kurt fell past two levels of bars, using each to crank up his speed. At the last he released just barely on the upswing and rolled into a ball. His tucked form made two complete turns before he uncurled, just in time to absorb his impact -- with the floor, this time -- in his hips and knees.

Kurt straightened up not three steps from Ororo, grinning, and spread his arms as if to say, So?

Ororo found herself applauding for a moment. "How long have you known I was here?" she asked.

"Since you came in," he answered, eyes twinkling.

Ororo folded her arms across her chest. "Were you showing off?"

"Ja, perhaps a little," Kurt chuckled, not the least bit subdued.

"Well, if you were trying to impress me," Ororo said, her lips curving a little. "You may have succeeded.

"I will have to try harder next time."

Ororo just hook her head, amused.

After a moment Kurt turned and went to get a robe he'd left draped over a bench on one side of the room. He shrugged into it and was almost lost in the folds of fabric. Ororo caught herself sighing a little. That thing practically drags on the floor! She could just imagine him slipping into the gym and looking around for observers before discarding the voluminous garment.

"Kurt," Ororo stopped him as he moved towards the door. He paused and looked back at her attentively. "Why do you always cover up so completely?" she gestured at the robe. Kurt looked down at himself self- consciously, fingers tightening visibly on the fabric. Ororo went on. "You looked incredible up there. You ought to be able to relax that much all the time."

Kurt lifted a finger to scratch uncertainly along the edge of his jaw. Finally he shrugged one shoulder. "I suppose it is only habit," he said. "Even in the circus I had to be careful of where and when I let my guard down. In the spotlight, when I was performing," he gestured over his shoulder to the tangle of pipes gracing the ceiling, "I was safe."

"Why don't we try to break that habit," Ororo said, touching his arm gently.

A slow smile stretched Kurt's lips. "We? You are proposing to help?"

Ororo tilted her head, as though considering. "My schedule's pretty full," she began, "but I'll see what I can do."

Kurt smiled and ducked his head briefly. "I will leave you to your exercise for the moment," he said, "but perhaps I will see you here again tomorrow..."

Ororo looked after him for a moment, smiling, then turned back to the gym.

Now...why was I here?