Opa gave a slight start and his golden eyes flew open. “Wha—was? Oh—oh, Kurti.” He sighed. “What is it?”
Kurti was standing over Opa’s chair with his arms crossed. “Opa, what are you doing falling asleep? You promised to tell me more story tonight!”
Opa blinked twice to clear the cobwebs, then yawned hugely, showing every one of his sharp teeth. Kurti’s frown grew deeper. Opa had to suppress a chuckle at seeing such a disapproving, grown-up expression on such a young face.
“Ach, mein Liebling, I do apologize,” the old man said. “You’re right, I did promise, and I shouldn’t have fallen asleep.”
Kurti’s expression softened and he lowered his arms. “Yeah, well, that’s OK,” he said, climbing over the arm of his Opa’s chair and settling into his lap. “I guess we did have kind of a big day today, huh.”
Opa smiled and hugged his grandson closer with his long, spaded tail. “We did have fun, didn’t we.”
“Yeah,” Kurti grinned. “That village is like something out of a book. And it was so cool getting to see how they make pretzels, and that pie—remember?”
“Ach, ja.” A distant, dreamy look came into Opa’s yellow eyes. “The sour cream apple pie with the streusel topping…”
Kurti giggled. “And the cakes with all the sugar flowers on top, and those awesome sausages we had at that little restaurant!”
“I can certainly see what held your interest, mein Junge,” Opa smiled. “All this about the food—do you remember nothing of the statues in the square, or the little museum with that painting of the horse you liked?”
“Yeah, they were good too,” Kurti acknowledged. “But you wanna know my favorite part?”
“Even better than the pie?” Opa teased.
“Way better,” Kurti said.
“Then I must know. What was it?”
Kurti suddenly looked a little bashful. Ducking his head, he mumbled his answer into Opa’s shoulder. Opa knitted his brow.
“What was that, Liebling?”
Kurti shrugged, his eyes still lowered. “Goin’ all those places with you,” he mumbled, and hid his head again, as if ashamed. Opa’s expression melted into a soft, tender smile. Kurti said, “Those people really liked you, Opa. Everywhere we went, they kept smiling and waving and stuff. It’s like…you really are a hero. And being with you…it sorta made me feel like I’m special too.”
“Oh, Kurti,” Opa said, gently smoothing the boy’s hair, then dropping a kiss on the top of his head. “You are special, and all by yourself. You know that, ja?”
“Yeah.” Kurti sighed a little and rested his head on the old man’s shoulder. “Will you tell me a story now?”
“Anything you want to hear,” Opa smiled.
“Will you tell me about when you first knew you wanted to marry Grandma Alice?”
Opa glanced down at his grandson. “You are a regular little romantic, aren’t you,” he said. Kurti smirked, and the old man gave him a quick hug. “All right,” he said. “You’ve earned it. Now, where should I begin…?”
*******“Although Alice and I were both foreign transplants, I’d long ago learned to think of the Xavier Institute as home. Alice, though, she never fit in with the group as I did and she was often homesick for England. After graduating from Bayville High, she started out at NYU, but after what was supposed to be a semester’s study abroad, she decided to stay in England to complete her undergraduate degree. Her decision was very hard on us as a couple, and it forced us to really think about our relationship and what we really wanted. The problem was, we were both still so young and searching…we didn’t know what we really wanted. So we tried to put off the question. I accepted Professor Xavier’s offer to become a language teacher at his Institute, and I began a correspondence course to earn my Master’s degree in Education. For years, Alice and I were both very, very busy, but nothing could take our minds off the bleak fact that we were apart for months at a time…”
Kurt glanced up from his stacks of papers with a sigh and just stared at the wall. His brain felt stretched and his eyes were so tired and dry he could barely focus on the colorful old movie posters he’d taped up in place of wallpaper.
“Ach, who ever knew grading essays was so difficult,” he whined to himself. “And I thought it was rough having to write these things! Next time I teach a class, it will be all multiple choice! But who am I kidding, that is no way to learn a language…”
Prying himself up from the bed with a groan, Kurt stretched, then stood and padded past his over-stuffed bookshelves to his dresser. Dropping into his chair, he leaned forward and let his eyes rest on a photograph of a young woman with light, copper skin and dark hair that was stuck into the mirror’s frame. He tilted his head, regarding the picture as he would a painting at a museum. The girl’s nose might have been a little too large and her teeth were just the slightest bit crooked, but somehow when taken together those minor imperfections only made her look all the more charming. Kurt caught himself admiring the slightly impish glint in her dark eyes, the playful quirk to her broad smile, the confident way she held herself as she looked at the camera, and he sighed. The photograph was stunning, but it was nothing compared to the real thing. Kurt missed the silk of her hair, the warmth of her skin… Suddenly needing to hear her voice, he plucked her photo from its place so he could read the neat script on the back.
“My darling Kurt
”, he read, “I know I told you to try not to miss me too much. Just to make certain you don’t actually succeed, I’m sending you this photo. I do hope it works. Love you! ~Alice.
It was a salve, but not a cure for the ache in his heart. It had been weeks since Alice had returned to her college studies, weeks since they’d last touched, and her absence made Kurt feel strangely empty. Slowly, he slid the photograph back into the mirror frame, his eyes growing distant as he imagined Alice’s return home to the Institute, and to him…
Kurt was snapped out of his warm thoughts by a sharp knock at his door.
“Hallo?” he called out. “Who’s there?”
The door opened and Logan strode in, a slight smirk on his rugged face. “Hey, Elf,” he grunted. “Saw yer light was on. It’s past midnight, you know.”
Kurt looked over to his bedside clock and was stunned to see it was 12:47 AM. Where had the time gone? Realizing he hadn’t yet answered Logan, he said, “Oh? Well, I was just grading papers.” He indicated messy stacks that covered his bed. Just looking at them made his eyes hurt. He raised a hand to his forehead, suddenly feeling enormously tired.
“Somethin’ wrong, Elf?” Logan asked, coming up beside him with a concerned look on his face.
Kurt shook his head. “Oh, no. Nothing is wrong, danke. I’m just tired. Long day today.”
Logan stared at him for a moment, then, to Kurt’s surprise, he started to chuckle.
“What?” Kurt asked, furrowing his brow. “What’s so funny?”
”You are,” Logan stated bluntly. “Alice is going to think you’ve completely lost it when she comes back home this weekend.”
”What do you mean?” How did Logan know he’d been thinking of Alice? Was he that transparent?
“Just relax, Elf,” Logan smirked. Then he shook his head. “Don’t tell her I told ya, but I remember she used to do the same thing back when she was waiting for you to come home from college. She’d get herself so worked up the night before that she’d stay awake all night watchin’ TV or rearranging her room or somethin’ like that. Countin’ the minutes, you know? Then, when you showed up at the door she’d act like she was surprised to see ya.” He snorted. “Crazy kids. S’not like yer not in constant contact or nothin’, what with yer cell phones an’ yer internet.”
“But, Herr Logan—“
Logan just grunted, then reached out to clap him on the shoulder. “Look, kid, it’s only December. You two’ve got the whole winter break ahead of you. No use goin’ crazy now. What you need is to take your mind off things. Wanna split a six-pack? I’ve got some Molsons chillin’ in the fridge.”
Kurt smiled, but shook his head. “I would say yes, but…” he glanced apologetically back at his unfinished work. “I did promise my students I would hand their papers back tomorrow. And it is hard enough to concentrate as it is.”
“Duty before drinkin’, right. Another time then,” Logan agreed, striding from the room only to turn back with his hand on the doorknob. “’Night, Elf.”
And with that, he was gone, pulling the door shut behind him. Kurt stared after him for a few moments, then sighed deeply, leaning against the dresser for one last look at Alice’s picture before he forced his brain back to work.
Two hours and a meager five essays later, Kurt was awakened from a dozy dream by the sound of something scuffling outside his window. His instincts kicked in even before his mind was fully awake, lending to his keen senses years of stealth training. Pushing the half-graded essays aside, he first leapt to the edge of his bed, then teleported outside to perch on his balcony railing. As he did, the intruder, who was clearly trying to pick the lock on his balcony door, gave first a startled gasp, then a squeal of delight.
—“ Kurt started, only to be cut off when the intruder enveloped him in a powerful hug.
“Hello, love,” she smiled, stepping back just far enough so he could see her flushed, grinning face. “Miss me? I just couldn’t take the waiting so I decided to come home early. I was done with exams anyway, so there really was no point leaving it until the weekend to catch my flight. You can help me bring my bags up from the garden shed tomorrow.”
Kurt straightened, his head whirling as he hopped down from the railing to stand beside her. “Ah—Alice?” he stammered. “But…but…”
”If you’re wondering why I came up here,” she said, leaning in close and brushing her nose against his with a wicked smile, “all the doors were locked, so I climbed. There’s a very convenient drainpipe just beside your balcony, didn’t you know?” She giggled, her grin broadening as she pulled him closer. “Very romantic, don’t you think?”
Kurt could only stare at her, at a complete loss for words. He shook his head slightly, his mouth opening and closing like an asphyxiating fish. Then, he looked into her bright eyes and suddenly, without warning all the feelings in his heart—his weeks of loneliness, his anger at her for choosing a school so far away when NYU was right there, his annoyance at being startled out of bed (and failing to finish reading through all his exams)—all of it melted away, leaving him only with that moment, with his beautiful Alice warm and smiling and safely in his arms.
“Kurt?” she frowned, concern marring the brightness of her eyes. “Love, are you all right?”
”I’m fine, Liebchen,” he smiled warmly, pulling her close to him and ’porting them both out of the cold of night and into his bedroom. Planting a kiss on the top of her head, he said, “Now that you’re here. Welcome home, meine Liebe.”
Her grin was back, as was the playfulness in her expression. “That’s what I was waiting to hear,” she said with a low chuckle. She held him tightly, resting her head against his shoulder and taking in a deep breath. “I’ve missed you so much. The odd mission, school holidays, and summer break…it’s not enough.”
“It’s just one more year, meine Liebe,” Kurt assured her, gently tucking a stray wisp of shiny, black hair behind her ear. “And then you’ll graduate and come to work here and before you know it we’ll be sick of the sight of one another and fighting over the most trivial things.”
”Mmm,” Alice said, snuggling even further into his shoulder. “Something to look forward to.”
“Absolutely,” Kurt agreed, kissing the top of her head again, then reaching out with one thick finger to raise her chin so he could look into her eyes.
“I love you,” he said softly.
Alice smiled, her coppery cheeks flushing prettily as she leaned forward, running her slender fingers up the back of his neck to tangle in his short, wavy hair.
“If you love me so much,” she said, “then why don’t you kiss me?”
“Why did you take so long to ask?” Kurt chuckled, resting his fuzzy forehead against hers.
“Why do I even have to—“ Alice started, but she was cut off as Kurt pressed his lips to hers in a sweet, passionate kiss. It was a long time before either of them even thought to come up for air.
Alice sighed, then kissed his fuzzy cheek, breaking away from the warm circle of his arms and tail to sit on the side of his bed. Kurt walked over to crouch beside her on the floor, taking her hand in his.
“Are you still planning to throw that masquerade dance for the students next Friday night?” she asked, running her thumb slowly over the fine, velvety fur on the back of his hand.
“Definitely,” Kurt nodded, looking up at her with bright, yellow eyes. “Are you still planning to wear that lovely eighteenth century gown with the powdered wig?”
“Only if you’re still planning to wear that wonderful pirate costume I love so much.”
“What, that old thing?” Kurt said, making a face. “Are you certain you wouldn’t rather I go as Zorro? I can do the accent, you know. Or, perhaps as Scaramouche with his painted mask?”
Alice raised an eyebrow. “You go as a pirate,” she said, “or I return that gown to the shop from whence it came.”
Kurt laughed, causing Alice to lose her haughty demeanor as she laughed along with him.
“Never fear, meine Liebe,” he assured her. “I was only teasing. For you, I shall be the most dashing, the most dangerous pirate who ever sailed the seven seas. No man shall be safe from my sword, and no woman will be able to resist my,” he winked, “devilish good looks.”
“As handsome as all that, are you?” Alice teased.
“Oh, yes,” Kurt nodded solemnly. “And I’m charming too. You’re going to have a rough time of it, beating the crowds of adoring young women away from me all night.”
“And if I don’t? What if I just step aside and leave you to be smothered?”
Kurt smiled, rising up to sit beside her on the bed. “Then I’ll just have to tell them to find somebody else to lavish their affections upon,” he said, kissing her hand. “My heart already belongs to another. A woman superior to all others in looks, talent, brains, wit--”
”Careful,” Alice interrupted with a smirk. “If you put me up so high, I just might lose my balance and squash all the hot air out of your pretty compliments.”
”You needn’t worry about that, meine Liebe,” Kurt smiled broadly. “I’d be certain to catch you and teleport you safely to your rightful place at the top once more.”
Alice snickered, shaking her head in defeat. “Well, in that case, Herr Wagner,” she said, taking his hand, “I shall allow you to escort me to my room. The night is waning and I’m afraid I must to bed before I fall asleep right here, in your arms.”
”Would that truly be such a bad thing?” Kurt teased, scooting closer to her side.
“No,” Alice allowed, “as long as you’re willing to explain the situation to Mr. Logan in the morning.”
“Ah,” said Kurt, leaping to his feet with a slight bow as he gallantly helped the yawning Alice to rise. “In that case, it would be both an honor and a pleasure to escort you to your chambers, milady.”
“Let me assure you,” Alice smiled, leaning in to peck his cheek with a quick kiss. “The pleasure is all mine.”
Kurt smiled back, then swallowed, his heart suddenly too full to keep up the game. Alice tilted her head, recognizing something serious was simmering behind his golden eyes.
“Alice,” he said, “Alice, I cannot even tell you what it’s like for me when you’re away. I…it is like I am only half here. The other part, the better, smarter part, it always leaves with you.” He ducked his head. “But I sound silly…”
“No,” Alice said, cupping his cheek with her hand. “No, Kurt, it’s the same with me. And it’s not just because I miss your sexy bod—“
“Alice!” Kurt exclaimed, blushing under his fur. Alice smirked, but her eyes were dark and serious. “No, Kurt, it’s because I love you. You’re always in my thoughts and in my heart. It’s not just a physical thing that I miss, like a look or a touch or a smell. It’s not even your smile. It’s just you. Who you are…and what you mean to me.”
Kurt’s heart melted and he held her close, rocking her gently as he wrapped his tail around her waist. “I’m going to marry you someday, Alice Dhoraji,” he sighed, his velvet cheek resting against the warm silk of her hair. “I swear it by all I hold dear.”
Alice smiled, her eyes still closed as she tightened her arms around him. “You mean by your special edition boxed set of Errol Flynn DVDs?” she teased lightly, tilting her head up for a peck on the lips.
”Definitely,” Kurt nodded, obliging her unspoken request without argument.
”And by your Rafael Sabatini novels?”
”And your swords? Do you swear by your swords?”
This time, she really kissed him, smiling as she felt his tail tighten around her waist.
”Meine Liebe,” he said, breaking the kiss with a grin. “I swear by my swords before you, before me, and before God Himself. If you are willing to be my wife, I will treasure your heart to the end of my days.”
“If that’s an offer, Kurt Wagner,” Alice whispered, kissing his cheek right next to his ear, “then I accept.”
“And just like that,” Opa said, “your grandmother and I were engaged. I don’t think we fully realized it at the time, but it wasn’t long before it dawned on us both that it had happened, that it was real, and let me tell you, it was the best feeling in the world.”
“So, what happened next?” Kurti asked. “If you were so happy and everything, how come you didn’t get married right away?”
Opa sighed. “Well, Kurti, it wasn’t as simple as all that. We did announce our engagement at the masquerade ball that Christmas, and we did have a tentative sort of idea that we wanted to be married in June. But, Alice still had a year of school left. And beyond our little problems, in the world outside things were getting pretty bad for mutants.”
“You mean the war?” Kurti asked.
“It wasn’t war yet,” Opa told him. “Back then, the battle was still contained to the Senate. You see, many people didn’t like mutants in those days. They were afraid of us, of what we looked like and what we could do. And I must admit, we X-Men did do a lot of damage ourselves with our far-too-public fights against cruel mutants like Magneto and his group. So a movement started up among the non-mutant population urging the government to force all mutants to be registered. This was the beginning of what came to be called the Mutant Registration Act.”
Kurti tilted his head. “What does that mean?”
“Well, it means that every mutant in America would have their name and address and job on a list, and they would have less privacy than everyone else. If anything bad ever happened, like if there was a murder or a building blew up, or even if there was a car accident on the highway within two miles of a mutant’s house, the government would have the right to arrest the mutants on that list and hold them in jail for as long as they wanted, and they wouldn’t even have to tell them why they’d been arrested! By doing this, they were trying to suspend our right of habeas corpus, and this was very, very wrong.”
“Yeah, I’ll say,” Kurti frowned. “But what’s all that stuff got to do with you and Grandma Alice getting married?”
“Well, remember I told you we’d planned to be married in June?” Opa said. “As it turned out, we didn’t have that long. Professor Xavier, Jean, and Doktor McCoy were spending most of their time down in Washington D.C. trying to convince the Senate to vote against the Mutant Registration Act. But while they were doing their best to appeal to the Senate’s reason and conscience, another group led by Rev. William Stryker was appealing to their fears. He appeared on television every night speaking of the dangerous, unpredictable nature of mutant powers and warning of the anti-human feelings of powerful mutants like Magneto. His speeches really got to people, and when he was found dead one night outside his apartment, people quickly jumped to the conclusion that he’d been murdered by a mutant.”
“Was he murdered by a mutant?” Kurti asked.
“Nein, mein Junge,” Opa told him. “It was discovered much later that he’d been killed by a human man who had a mutant son. The man was so ashamed his son was a mutant, that he killed the Rev. Stryker hoping to start a war so he could wipe out all the mutants in America. He was a very sick man.”
“Sick in the head, you mean.” Kurti made a face.
“Indeed,” Opa nodded. “But the sad thing was, his plan worked. The murder of such a prominent anti-mutant figure forced the Mutant Registration Act through the Senate. It was a very slim majority, but even so it got past the President’s veto. By that time, civil war had already broken out between humans and mutants and the rest of the world was poised to join in and help lay waste to the United States. The Supreme Court, which should have crushed the Act as unconstitutional, made an exception for wartime, and the Act became law. They stooped so low as to cite Abraham Lincoln as a reason for doing this thing. All this had happened by May. By June, the whole world was fighting.”
“Wow,” Kurti frowned, looking somewhat subdued. “From Christmas to May…that’s, like, five months. Who’d think the whole world could go crazy like that in just five months?”
“That is the way of things, Kurti,” Opa sighed. “You can never truly know what lies ahead. You can just pay close attention and make your decisions according to your best educated guess.”
Kurti wrinkled his nose. “That kind of stinks,” he said. “So that’s why you and Grandma Alice put off your wedding? Because of the fighting?”
“We couldn’t make such a commitment in such an uncertain time. We didn’t know if we would survive the war, and we certainly couldn’t risk bringing children into a world where mutants were shot on sight. Also, if one of us went missing, I wanted Alice to be free to find another man. I didn’t want her to waste her life waiting for a husband who might never come home. Alice was very much against that line of reasoning, needless to say, but I could not in good conscience marry her under those conditions. It just would not be fair to her.”
“So you waited,” Kurti said.
“We did,” Opa nodded. “And I still believe it was the responsible choice. Especially when, a few years later, I was captured and held prisoner by the enemy.”
Kurti narrowed his eyes. “Yeah, that’s right,” he said. “Isn’t that how you got those scars on your arm? All those funny numbers…”
Opa stood up and straightened his back, the chill of the past causing his tail to shudder. Kurti looked up at him in surprise.
“I think that’s enough storytelling for one night,” Opa said, and the look in his golden eyes warned Kurti not to protest. “We can continue the story another day, but tonight…”
Kurti nodded, but didn’t say anything. After a quiet moment, he said, “Hey, Opa?”
“You wanna play some chess? I could make us some hot chocolate and…well…that is, if you want some, and—”
Opa looked down at his grandson, a warm light shining through the painful memories in his eyes. “A game of chess would be lovely, mein Junge,” he smiled, lowering himself back into his chair with a grunt. “You fetch the board and pieces from the closet in the hall, and I’ll wait here for the hot chocolate.”To Be Continued…
[Edited on 10/8/2010 by Rowena]