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In His Eyes

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 In His Eyes - Chapter One


 

After three months of living at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, most students had managed to get accustomed to living amongst mutants and amongst friends. But if there was one thing Warren Worthington III could say about himself, it was he was not most students. At this point, he still hardly even considered himself a student in the first place. He hadn't wanted to move to the school, but then, he'd been giving in to things he didn't want since the day he was supposed to have died. When he'd been pulled from the plane wreckage, close to death and even closer to unconsciousness, wings mangled with bent feathers jabbing him from all angles, he'd been sure that that would be the end, the final blow in a series of devastations that had brought him to that plane crash. But the light, the sweet release of nothingness he'd decided to embrace never came. Instead, he faced muffled yelling, people poking and prodding him and asking him questions his concussed mind couldn't comprehend.
And pain. So much pain. Pain that screamed in his bones and writhed under his skin, for hours and hours until he was finally put under. When he woke again, the pain continued, its sting dulled but nowhere near quelled by rounds of painkillers and months of rehabilitation. He had to hand it to the Institute: they knew how to heal up a mutant, even when said mutant hardly made it easy for anyone trying to deal with him.

Now, three months after that day and a week after moving into his own room, the sun is rising, tendrils of light reaching over the horizon and through the gaps in Warren's curtains. He squints, shunning the beam and holding up a hand to block it out, stumbling from the windowsill to his bed. The clang of empty bottles accompanies his uneasy steps, and his head swims through last night's beer, churning his stomach and threatening to spill. He had no trouble procuring the drink: Peter was always glad for an excuse to get his hands on something he hadn't paid for. Though lately even he had been growing hesitant, asking Warren if he wouldn't prefer soda instead.
It isn't long before Warren hears a knock at the door, and at first he hopes he can get away with pretending to still be asleep. But when the knock comes again, along with a timid, thickly accented, "Warren?" he knows that this one can't be avoided.

The first time Kurt had approached Warren was three days after the crash. He remembered seeing the blue face from underneath swollen, bleary eyes, and thinking that it had to be a fever dream. This face from his past, the reason he'd lost his wing, his one remaining morsel of freedom. Kurt had introduced himself, not as Nightcrawler, as Warren had remembered him, but as Kurt Wagner, and almost instantly, Warren had shoved him away, spitting and cursing that he was the reason he had ended up like this, broken and pitiful. The day his wing had been fried on the electrified cage was the day he had been set on this path. And why would he ever want anything to do with the monster who was responsible for that?
It had surprised him when Kurt had appeared again a little over a week later, this time having subdued his smiling, cheerful demeanour in accordance with Warren's mood. Warren's memories were fuzzy, a result of the steady stream of pain meds, and all he could remember was Kurt apologising, over and over apologising for what he had done. What the fuck are your apologies worth, Warren had thought, when you've already led me to this? And yet, despite the swearing and the insults and the yelling, Kurt kept coming. In truth, he thought he sensed a softening in Warren's resistance each time he attempted to speak with him: from week to week, he hesitated a little longer before tossing out a cutting remark or demanding to be left alone, and every week the verbal abuse got a little less poisonous. A step towards the reconciliation he hoped for, and the friendship he fantasised about.

"What do you want?" The winged boy finally tosses out, after being lost in thought for what could have been moments or minutes.
"I just wanted to say good morning," Kurt justifies. "How are you feeling today?"
"Peachy." Warren's retort is dry, weary. Silences set in, and neither is sure how to continue, or whether they even should.
"You can come in if you want. Or whatever." Warren picks at a section of chipped paint on his bedhead as he speaks, digging the talon of his reformed wing into the surface of the wood. A couple of seconds pass, and in a cloud of deep blue-purple smoke, Kurt appears in the centre of Warren's room. He tries on a smile, the corners of his mouth flicking to the side self-consciously. He does his best to ignore the state the room is in: empty bottles scattered on the floor near the window, clothes strewn across the floor. Pants, mostly – Warren didn't much like the struggle that it took to put shirts on. Dust whirls in the air, dancing in the sunlight. It looks like the window hasn't been opened in days, and Kurt wonders how Warren can manage to breathe in a room so stuffy.
"How did you sleep?" He asks politely. He does everything politely, Warren thinks with a surge of irritation.
"I didn't."
"Oh."
The blue boy's eyes skirt around the room, tail twitching restlessly across the faded carpet. He opens his mouth, pauses, and then closes it again. There are too many things he wants to say but now, he feels, is not the right time for any of them.
"Breakfast is finishing in ten minutes," he says finally, his tone resigned. "I thought I'd let you know. Hank said you should keep your energy up." Warren nods absently in response, his eyes pointedly on the ground.

When Kurt had first seen the Angel in the underground infirmary, only days after the coming back to the school, he had felt the same sickness in his stomach as he had that day in the cage. The sound stuck like glue in his mind: a dull thud accompanied by a buzzing that had made Kurt's skin crawl for a fraction of a second. Then, the screaming began and the stench of burnt feathers and singed skin overwhelmed him and made his head spin. When he saw Warren again, thrashing in pain in the hospital bed, he swore he could almost smell that foul scent again. He wanted to help, but the moment Warren's eyes had locked onto him, he was incensed with rage, and Jean had calmly informed him that it would probably be best if he left Warren alone for that time. So he had left, and returned when he could. Though his attempts at apology fell on deaf ears, he hadn't given up. The guilt drove him to keep trying: all he wanted was to relieve the pain he felt upon seeing Warren, to help him.
The recovery process had been long, and though Kurt hadn't been part of it physically, mentally he struggled to keep from thinking about it. Hank had quickly grown annoyed with how often Kurt had asked about Warren's progress, and his thoughts drifted often during meals and classes. He had given quite the impression to his new friends at first about being as absentminded as they came. But when Ororo had snapped her fingers in front of his face one night at dinner and demanded to know what was happening in his head, he decided to come clean and tell them about what had happened that day in East Germany. Once he had told the story, to a table that had fallen silent and formed a pocket of stillness amongst an otherwise loud and bustling dining room, their irritation turned to sympathy. It felt nice to Kurt to have people know and understand – he had been keeping it inside so long it had begun to take him over. Once it was out there, the others began to tell their own stories, and when his mingled with theirs, it had begun to feel not smaller, but at least more manageable. More human.

Without any response, the chance of a proper conversation withers.
"I- I'll leave you be now," Kurt relents. "Sorry to disturb you."
And before Warren can push past his pride to thank Kurt for thinking of him, the boy is gone, leaving only a fast-fading puff of smoke and the faint smell of sulphur in the stale air.

Chapter Text

After another week of solitude and self-contained angst, Warren's reluctance had begun to wear away. Not through any fault of his own, of course – he had kept up his rough and unwelcoming exterior as much as he ever had. The students at the school were just far too damned persistent with their kindness.
Inch by inch, little by little, Warren found himself getting comfortable around a few of the students his age. Admittedly, they all had their irritating quirks, but then, Warren imagined he must not exactly be a delight to be around, either.
It started with simple, little things: meals, mostly. He would come down to breakfast and sit silent and solemn with his bowl of cereal or slice of lukewarm toast, and the group would move to join him. At first he stayed stubbornly silent when they tried to start up a conversation, but as the days wore on, the temptation to throw in a contribution here and there grew too much to bear. He would never say so in so many words, not even to himself, but deep down he knew that he enjoyed their company, found their gossip and their laughter to be a comfort.

This morning, Warren fills his bowl with cereal and milk, and sits at a table near to the window, watching the room and picking out the group he has come to count on. Like clockwork, they rise, and Warren quickly suppresses the urge to smile – baby steps, he scolds himself, don't get ahead of yourself.
"Morning, Warren," Jubilee says cheerfully, setting her tray down next to Warren's and sitting down. Warren bobs his head in response. Jean follows suit, then Scott, Ororo, Peter, and finally, Kurt. But unlike the others, Kurt does not join the chorus of greetings, sitting down silently on the edge of the table. His eyes raise, hesitant, and he smiles meekly at Warren, who can only blink back, face neutral.
"The Professor says we can try the Danger Room again this afternoon, if we get through everything we have to do today," Jubilee grins, tearing her piece of toast, laden with far too much jam, in half.
"Why do you always sound so excited when you say that?" comes Scott's unimpressed reply. "You know it's never as cool as you make it out to be. All they ever make us do is kiddie stuff. It's basically gym class." Jean rolls her eyes, and Warren watches her formulate a reply as she gulps down a mouthful of juice.
"They can't exactly let us act out a fight like the one in Egypt straight up," she says dryly. "This is still a school, you know, they have to put our safety first. Work us up to that level."
"Then maybe they shouldn't call it something as misleading as 'the Danger Room,'" Ororo counters, and Peter's voice jumps up in agreement.
"Yeah. Maybe something more fitting. Like, 'the nursery,' or 'the lame room where nothing cool ever happens.'"
Warren rolls his eyes with the others, and plays along with the conversation from the background, as he usually does. His thoughts drift when there is a lull in the chatter, and almost subconsciously, he twitches his wings, tentatively reaching them out and away from his body. Though all too soon, a deep stab of pain in both appendages snaps him back to reality.

For weeks in that infirmary, he'd been completely featherless – they had had no choice but to remove all the razor-sharp metal for how much it was bent, and how much it had already sliced into him in various places. And when finally, his feathers had begun to regrow, he was surprised –pleasantly, he thought, though he wasn't sure– to see the plush, pure white plumage cover his wings once more. Those who had seen him told him they liked it better that way. They said it was more natural, and more fitting of the 'Angel' moniker which Jubilee had insisted on keeping around when she'd heard about it. He had to admit, it was much more comfortable this way. Though that didn't make up for the fact that it still hurt to move them more than a few inches. Hank had said that the pain was normal. Trying to fly, or even to stretch out his wings before they had properly healed was like trying to walk on a broken leg. Which, as he'd seen during Peter's recovery, was not exactly a good idea. Still, the idea of attempting to use what had once been his most prized possession tempted him. The stiffness in his wings, the cramped sensation was akin to what he felt when he sat in one position for far too long, only far, far worse. His heart throbbed with a need to feel wind through his wings; whistling between his feathers and whirling under each swoop and circle. Freedom seemed so close now, so painfully within his reach as it hadn't been for months upon months, and yet every time he ventured to grab it, the pain brought him back down.

When the others leave to get ready for class, Warren takes himself back to his room, wondering how he will waste his time away until lunch, when he can use the excuse of hunger to be among people once more. The same routine takes place in the hours before dinner, and once that too is over, the boy retreats to his room. Kurt watches from just by the door to the dining hall as Warren stands, somewhat reluctantly, from the table. Almost subconsciously he notes that, as usual, Warren is the last one to leave, yet also the quickest to do so. Another student passes in front of Kurt, obscuring his view, and when he cranes his neck to see the table again, Warren has vanished, and Kurt is left staring at his now empty seat. An hour after everyone is asleep and the main lights have been turned out, in a moment of weakness, Warren creeps from his bedroom down the hall and downstairs to the largest living room in the mansion. The ceiling is high: high enough that exposed beams line the space below the roof with enough room in between for someone to fit quite comfortably. Silence surrounds him, the furniture of the living room no more than slightly differing layers of grey upon grey in the dark. Warren takes in a breath, and the sound fills the whole room. His eyes remain trained on the beam directly above him, lit just slightly more than the rest of the room in the weak moonlight from the window. Just one wingbeat, he coaxes himself. Just one, and you'll be up there. Moving slowly, diffidently, Warren forces his wings out, wincing through the searing pain. As much as he pushes himself, he can only manage to extend them halfway, but that, he thinks, might just be enough. Steeling himself, as he knows this part will hurt much more, he clenches his fists, and beats his wings towards the ground.
For one, glorious moment, Warren can feel himself lifting, rising, the outline of the beam coming closer. His heart soars, but just as quickly, it plummets through his stomach when he realises he will not make it. Trying to move his wings, he finds that the agony now is far too much to bear, and instead of gliding gracefully to his target as he had envisioned, he scrabbles for the length of timber, just barely managing to get a grip strong enough to pull himself up and prevent himself from falling to what would have been a very unpleasant landing.
Panting heavily, with his chest beating furiously after the close call, Warren leans to his side on the support beam that sits perpendicular to his perch and drags a hand through his mess of blond curls. He curses himself, curses his own arrogance and brashness, and tries to push aside the voice asking just how he planned to get his smart ass down, thanking the gods that at least nobody had been present to witness his humiliation. Though halfway through this thought, as he surveys the ceiling space around him, his eyes lock with two glinting yellow orbs in the corner, and he almost falls backwards off the beam before his mind clicks and his shoulders slump even further.

"Kurt," he says simply, the word coming out shakier than he had meant it.
"Warren," comes the uncertain reply.
Neither boy speaks, and Warren watches the yellow globes flick in and out of existence as Kurt blinks. Finally, Kurt moves, and though Warren squints to see him, he can make out nothing but Kurt's eyes until he settles directly next to Warren.
Kurt breathes, and then, so does Warren.
"You were trying to fly?"
"Yeah."
"…That was stupid."
"Yeah."
Warren thinks he should say more, feels compelled to fill the strange silence, and in the absence of anything fitting, he forces something out.
"I thought I could make it up here alright," he says, looking downwards at the 30-foot drop below him.
"But Hank said you shouldn't–"
"I don't care what Hank said."
Kurt pulls his knees to his chest, movements steady and unhesitant. He is at home up here, that much is apparent to Warren, much more than he himself is.
"It must be hard, not being able to fly like you used to," the boy muses, keeping his voice low. Warren nods, and for a moment wonders if Kurt can see the gesture in the dark, but just as quickly makes the assumption that, with those eyes, he probably can.
"What about you? What are you doing out here?" he asks.
"I like to come out here alone sometimes," Kurt answers. "I think better at night."
"Yeah, well. Guess it's right there in the name, huh?"
Kurt gives a half-hearted laugh, one that leaves Warren unsure if he has just crossed some sort of line. But Kurt speaks on, so he pushes the question from his mind.
"Back when I was with the circus," he begins, "I would only leave the camp at night. With my skin, I'm almost invisible in the shadows. It was the only time I could be out and not fear being seen by people outside the circus."
"So what if you were seen?" Warren shrugs, though even as the words leave his mouth, he knows the answer. Kurt's breath shakes as he inhales.
"They thought I was a demon," he says. "I was hunted."

The word hangs in the air, thickening the tension between the two. Something about the way Kurt speaks hints to Warren that although he has practiced these words many times in his head, he has never before said them out loud. There is a small part of Warren's mind that tells him to say something sympathetic, to apologise. But that part of him is small, and withered, a mere echo in the background of a sullen, hostile cavern.
"How long had you been fighting in that cage before our fight?" Warren is grateful to Kurt for changing the subject, and shakes himself back to reality, forcing his throbbing wings shut to they rested flat against his back.
"About three months. But while I was there I lost track."
"How did you get there?"
"I was on vacation with my parents in France. I went out one night after a fight with my dad. I– I just wanted to find a place I could stretch my wings for a while."
He falters, the words giving away and his many insecurities flooding back in. He waits for a few seconds for Kurt to tell him to continue, but there is only a calm, patient silence. Given enough time to gather himself, Warren begins to feel the strange compulsion to keep talking.
"I thought I was alone out there, but apparently not. I circled around a field for a while, and the moment I touched back down –bam– I was knocked out. Next time I woke, they were forcing me into the cage." Something is immediately different when he finishes speaking. The air tastes different, feels different in his chest. It surprises him how sudden it is, how refreshing to have the words out of his head.
"I'm so sorry," Kurt breathes, heavily. "Those people… they have no morals. No sense of human dignity."

Kurt watches Warren nod vaguely, eyes glazed with tears he would never let out, and feels yet another pang of empathy for this complicated boy. He doesn't expect it when Warren speaks again, addressing him directly this time.
"And you? How did you wind up in that hellhole?" Kurt shrugs in self-deprecation, as though any story involving that horrible place could be mundane.
"The circus I grew up in treated me well. I was a gymnast."
"Which explains all the jumping and swinging."
Kurt cracks a droll smile and nods.
"Yeah. It was nice there. But then one day, the ringleader was bought out. The new owner was… not so nice. He wanted me to stay on, but only as a… what's the English word… a sideshow. A freak."
"And then what happened?" The words are out of Warren's mouth before he can think about them.
"When I refused, he decided I was more trouble than I was worth and sold me. That is how I ended up in that cage."
The small part of Warren's mind steps forward, presses him, wants him to say the words that have lined up at his lips. When he realises he won't do it, can't do it, a pit opens in his stomach that makes him curl in on himself. Why not now? he demands of himself, digging his fingers into the skin of his chest. There couldn't possibly be a better scenario than this. Then, with more resignation: Why not ever?

"Would you like me to help you down?" Kurt's voice is jarring to Warren, and he almost doesn't hear the question at all.
"Hm? Oh, right. I guess I'll have to get down sometime."
"Touch me."
"What?"
Kurt chuckles.
"Touch my skin. That way I can teleport us both down."
"Oh. Right. Of course."
Warren reaches out, but hesitates, hand stuttering to a stop.
"It's okay," Kurt assures him. "It might make you feel a little sick, but it's over quickly."
His fingers twitch, still resisting, but he forces himself to lay a hand on Kurt's arm. Before he can ask when Kurt is going to do it, Warren is on the ground once more, dizzy, staggering backwards and just barely keeping his feet. The teleporter laughs at this, and despite himself, Warren's lips pull to the sides in a feeble smile.
"Wow. That was… that was a trip," he breathes.
"You get used to it. It's like blinking, only you move."
"I think I'll stick to actually moving for now."
Kurt nods, and Warren yawns deeply.
"We should go to bed," Kurt says finally, and Warren doesn't fully understand the pang of resistance in his stomach.
"Yeah, I guess."
"Goodnight, Warren."
"Night, Kurt."
Warren turns around, takes a step couple of steps, and Kurt, after watching for a moment, is about to teleport himself back to his room when Warren speaks again.

"Hey, uh, Kurt?" He ventures.
"Yes?"
"…Thanks." Kurt smiles.
"You, too."
The blue-skinned boy disappears, and this time, it's Warren who is left to watch as the wisp of smoke dissipates in the space he had been.

Chapter Text

After his talk with Kurt that night, Warren can’t help but feel different. Not in any big, profound way, but enough for it to catch him off guard. When he goes back up to his room, the stuffiness that he has always been indifferent to hits him anew, and for the first time he can recall, he feels the need to open the window. The night air is not at all unpleasant on his skin and in his lungs, and for a long while he stands, staring out at the moonlit fields and wondering why he can’t stop thinking about Kurt’s story. The words “demon,” and “hunted,” roll around in his head, teasing him with more details of a life story he does not know. He wants to hear more about Kurt’s time in the circus. He wants to give Kurt his own story, wants him to know exactly how he become this screwed up. He wants to tell Kurt the exact words his father had used the day he had told him that he would not have a mutant for a son. Shaking the thought from his head, he forces himself to pull back the covers on his bed. There must be something in that smoke the blue boy made whenever he teleported, because these thoughts were not his own. They couldn’t be. Warren Worthington III did not talk about his feelings. None of the Worthingtons did. Not his mother when she’d found out about his father’s mistress. Not his uncle when his grandfather had excluded him from his Will. Not Warren or Warren’s cousin when, on advice from his father about taking charge and being more assertive, Warren had pressured his cousin into joining him to steal one of his father’s cars for a joyride, and upon driving it off the path and into the pond in the middle of the estate, had stood by and let his cousin take the full brunt of the blame and the punishment.
A knot had tied itself in his stomach that day, one that held him firmly in place and yanked his tongue back into his mouth every time he tried to speak up and save his cousin. It was the same knot that had only grown bigger with time and with each attempt Warren made to fight it, which was why he no longer tried. But with Kurt, he had somehow managed to find a loop in the knot; one Kurt had painstakingly pulled him through. And while it was refreshing, the further he got from the moment and the more its effects faded, the less comfortable he felt. By the time he slipped into bed, lying on his stomach and winding his arms around the pillow below him, he fought a loosing battle to keep the memory positive in his mind, to prevent the knot from tightening again.

Four weeks passed. Warren kept himself closely guarded, though as usual, this was ignored. As well as being pestered into attending a few classes (which he did, sometimes, but never paid much attention to), he even ventured out of the mansion once or twice with the others, completely without the trench coat he had gotten so used to having to wear when he had been living with his father. It had felt strange, like he was naked, but once he had walked into the mall, at first hiding himself in the centre of the group of students and gradually venturing further out on his own, he found the feeling of being out in the open as his whole self to be utterly intoxicating. Sure, they got stares, but the looks were more akin to wonder than to the scorn and disgust Warren had come to expect. With the relief, however, came an overwhelming surge of deep-seated anger: if he had only known that it would be this easy, he would have run from his father years sooner.
In addition to replacing his routine of drinking and moping with drinking, moping and occasionally going out, he had found his wings becoming gradually less and less stiff. Soon, he was even able to extend them fully, feathers twitching with joy as he revelled in the feeling of blood pumping along the bones and into veins that hadn’t felt life in months.

All of that has led to this day, the day that Warren has been dreaming of since the day he'd first been caged. With the approval of Hank and of the professor, today is the day that Warren will try flying once again. He knows it is coming – this morning he wakes up with a bubbling in the pit of his stomach he hasn’t felt since he was a child on Christmas Eve. Feeling strangely jittery, he rises, dresses, and eats with the others, though he struggles to keep the food in his heaving stomach. The other are excited, too: they have been watching Warren’s long, painful recovery since the day he arrived at the school. And hard as he tries not to let it show, they still notice the way his eyes linger longingly whenever one of them uses their powers. After breakfast, there is no question about whether they should go to class first; even Hank is out the door before some students have even come down to breakfast, eager to see how his treatment regime has worked for the boy. The sun is bright that day, and Warren welcomes the warmth on his skin, drinking it in and wondering when was the last time he had felt this vividly alive. The group crowds around him, eagerly jostling him and slapping his back, for once not worried that they will be shoved back.
“Ready?” Ororo asks of him, raising her eyebrows in anticipation.
“What do you think?” Warren answers, and he surprises even himself with how different his voice sounds when he is not being dry or sardonic, or speaking in any way about the past year of his life. His eyes slide across the faces around him, sticking involuntarily on Kurt, whose grin is, as it often is, the widest of the lot. When Warren spreads his wings, the crowd dissipates immediately, spreading to give him the room he needs. Already, there are small cheers as they finally see the Angel in his full glory. Kurt, however, does not say anything, cannot say anything. The sight of Warren before him, pure white plumage almost glowing in the sunlight, steals the breath from his lungs, forces the smile on his face to pale in wonder.

Warren’s feathers quiver, each muscle begging him to just go already. But as precious moments pass, he hesitates, and at first he is unsure why. But as he looks around at the people all rallying around him, feels the sun on his wings, feels life in his chest, he realises that it is because this is a moment that, unlike so many in the past year, he will not soon want to forget. With an inward, indulgent smile, and only a twinge of nervousness, Warren’s wings twitch, and before he or any of his spectators know what has happened, he is in the clouds. He hears from below him the distant sound of an almighty cheer, though it is drowned out by wind whipping in his ears. Warren’s wings ache, unused to having to carry him like they used to, but the sensation is welcome, and Warren lets out a breathless laugh, heart surging in his chest. He feels as though a piece of him has just clicked into place after months of trying to force it into a space it didn’t fit. He beats his wings, lifting himself higher, to where he can see for miles in every direction and the people below look like brushstrokes in an impressionist painting, like the ones that hung in the galleries his parents had so often dragged him to as a child. The grass and trees and even the distant town are a tapestry below him, and he is not part of it: he is just an observer. He is the sole beholder to this vast work of art. He twists, tucking his wings in against him, and in response his body cuts through the air with ease, spinning him like a dancer before his wings extend once more and take him in another upward arc. A familiar thought comes to his mind, the same thought he had had the first time he had taken to the skies: this really was the way he was meant to move. For what feels like a lifetime, Warren's mind is focused on nothing but the sensation of flying, of slicing through the air with all the grace and ease he remembers from before all of this, when he was just a rich man’s son who snuck out at night to fly in the moonlight. When finally he touches down, flustered and dizzy with the ability he’d gained back, his reception is glowing. All Warren registers is smiles and shouting; the words, in his state, are beyond his comprehension. There is pure electricity flowing through his veins, and if some cosmic force had for some reason decided that this moment was to be his last, he is not even sure he would mind.

By the time the afternoon comes, the excitement has died down, though a few people remain outside after attending the rest of the day’s classes, and Warren remains in the air as he has been almost all day.
Scott emerges into the open air of the garden, having spent a while inside flicking through TV channels and finding nothing of interest. He looks up to see Warren’s silhouette stark against the sky. And when his eyes drift to the ground again, he spots a shape in the grass, a differing shade of red in his tinted vision. Frowning a little, he walks over and lies down in the grass opposite Kurt, his head next to –but not too close to– Kurt’s. Above them, Warren turns lazy circles in the air, falling and rising in something that almost resembled a choreographed routine.
“What’s up?” he asks simply.
“Not much,” is Kurt’s reply. His eyes follow the outline above him.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Warren,” he admits, and Scott nods.
“You guys are pretty weird around each other,” he says. “It's like you can't decide whether you want to avoid each other or watch each other's every move. Is there something going on between you two?”
Kurt just shrugs, though he knows that Scott can’t see it from where he is lying.
“It is complicated,” he sighs.
“How so?” Scott sits up, leaning back on one hand and pulling one knee up. It is only then that he sees the expression on Kurt’s face as he watches the angel; the way his eyes follow Warren’s twists and turns, closely, carefully, with a softness in his gaze that Scott has to wonder if he is imagining. 

“Do you think about Warren a lot?” He asks finally, on a whim. He and the others all know there is history between the two, and all of them pick up on the tension between them, even now that Warren’s initial hostility has died down. Instantly, Kurt sits up at the question, knees bent and pulled almost to his chest.
“Huh? What do you mean?” Kurt is defensive in his response, and Scott’s brow furrows, puzzled.
“You guys seem weird around each other. Nobody can figure out if you’re still enemies or what.”
He watches with careful eyes under his glasses as Kurt looks down, fidgeting with his three-fingered hands, his tail flicking behind him, agitated.
“It is… complicated,” he answers again, though he doesn’t seem satisfied with the words. His eyes sneak another glance upwards, and Scott feels pressed to continue, sensing there is something bigger to be found somewhere under Kurt’s discomfort.
“I wanna ask you some questions,” he says decidedly, in a tone that Kurt can’t find a way to disagree with. “And you gotta be totally honest.”
Kurt swallows deeply, and very nearly gives in to the temptation of teleporting away, but eventually gives a hesitant nod.
“What do you think of Warren?” The thought of answering the question makes Kurt squirm, but part of him thinks that maybe this could be good for him: he’d been suppressing so much confusion lately that it might be refreshing to speak to someone about it and have it sorted out as clearly and as concisely as Scott’s demeanour seemed to promise.
“I think he has a lot of problems,” he begins. “But I think he can be helped. It isn’t easy to get through to him, but when you do, there is a good person inside. A vulnerable person.”
Head bobbing slowly, Scott tries to categorise Kurt’s answer, even to work out where Kurt is getting all this sappy crap about the boy who once threatened to punch Scott in the face because he had asked whether he wanted to come out of his room for dinner.
“And when you look at Warren, how do you feel?”
This one is much harder to answer, so much so that Kurt lies down, averting his eyes from Scott and trying to pretend that he is just talking to himself. Even so, it takes him a long while to think of his answer.
“I feel bad for him. I want to help him with the things he’s going through.”
That isn’t all. Far from it. Kurt knows it, and he senses that Scott knows it, too. “I suppose when I’m talking to him, I just want him to feel happy. When he smiles because of something I say to him, I am happy for the rest of the day. You know? And when he is sad, it’s like there’s something inside me squeezing my stomach and I just want to make everything better for him right away.”
Silence hangs between the two, and Scott is left with a lot of piecing together to do. The feelings he gets from Kurt’s somewhat rambling answer remind him in an eerie way of how he feels being around Jean, and the more he thinks about it, the more he fits Kurt’s answer with the morsels of evidence he has already gathered, and the more he becomes certain of his suspicion.

“Kurt, do you think there’s a chance that what you feel for Warren isn’t just friendship?” He can tell he has struck ground from the way that Kurt’s whole body goes stiff, as though he has been paralysed by fear. Seconds tick past, and gradually, the boy lifts himself up to face Scott, his face hot and his eyes panicked.
“Wh-what do you mean?” he stammers. He has heard the words that get tossed around, the insults on TV and in the hallways, and he knows what they mean, and all confusion about his own feelings aside, he is suddenly struck with horror at the thought of Scott using those words, using that same tone with him.
“Hey, it’s okay, buddy. It’s fine,” Scott assures him, holding up his hands. “If you like him like that, it’s no big deal.”
“R-really? You mean it?”
“Dude, we’ve got kids here who can change the weather, run at the speed of sound, and throw people across the room with their mind. You think anybody’s really gonna be weirded out by a guy liking another guy?” He dismisses the thought with a screwed up face and a wave of his hand, and suddenly, Kurt is all right again. Better than all right, even, because now he knows that having his new, disorganised, convoluted feelings out in the open isn’t nearly as scary as he pictured it. He gives a wide, relieved smile as he stands, and Scott can’t help but to smile back as Kurt offers him a hand and helps him up.
“Thank you,” Kurt laughs as the two begin across the grass towards the door to the mansion. “This feels good.”
“Any time, man.”

The pair reach the door just as Warren touches back down, taking a deep breath of the cooling afternoon air and shaking out his wings before tucking them neatly against his back. They will be sore tomorrow from the strain he has put them through, but he doesn’t care: the dull, throbbing ache will be a welcome change from the sharp, stabbing pain he has been dealing with for so long.

Chapter Text

“Remember, your aim here is not offence. It is defence.”
The professor’s voice rings out through the cavernous metal hall, echoing off the walls as his class stands before him. It is Thursday night, seven thirty-seven in the evening, and with dinner just barely digested, the class of hopefuls are lined up in uniform, some jittery with excitement and others just ready to go to bed. Peter is neither: though he is not exactly excited at the prospect of another boring defence simulation, this at least gives him something to do to fill the time.
“Collect the dummies, deposit them in the safety zone, keep them away from the sentinels’ attacks.”
Jean’s mind is focused, her face drawn and eyes scanning the room that will in just a few moments’ time become a war zone. She is quietly serious, as she is about all her classes. Where the others are vocal in their excitement or criticism, she appears stoic and stern.
“You have forty-five minutes. Good luck.”

 The professor wheels himself out of the room, taking his place on the bridge above to watch the exercise. Warren eyes him as he does, still unable to make a call just yet on what he thinks of the man. While he really has no intentions of ever joining the X-Men, he wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to show off his newly recovered skill, and so, when the lights go dark, there is a soft whoosh as his wings sweep outwards and stretch to their full breadth and the others take their stances. When the room lights up once again, they are surrounded by chaos, numerous towering sentinels advancing towards their area, which now appears as a derelict old lot littered with hunks of crumbled buildings and helpless mutants needing their assistance. Instantly, the most eager students are on the move: Jubilee has made a break for the nearest civilian to her within moments, and Peter really has no choice but to be the quickest to take action. The others take another moment or so to assess the situation, filtering through the tactics they’d been taught, the formations and strategies for “maximising efficiency,” as the professor so eloquently put it.
“Cyclops!” Ororo shouts over the rumbling of the sentinels. “The one on your left, attack its legs, throw it off balance. Jean and I can push it over from the top.” She is already in the air by the time her sentence is finished, wind whirling and whipping around her in a vortex that takes her twenty feet upwards in two seconds flat. Jean is slower to follow: she has still not quite gotten the hang of self-levitation under pressure.
“What? We’re supposed to be on defence,” Scott calls back. “Focus on getting the dummies to safety, not on taking the sentinels down!”
“This is defence!” Ororo retorts. “If we take out the sentinel, that’s one less threat to worry about!”
Kurt listens to the bickering continue, even as Scott relents –though not without great verbal resistance– and goes along with Ororo’s orders. Kurt knows what his purpose here, and he focuses on doing it well, ferrying dummies to the safety zone with Peter working alongside him as the others held off the Sentinels. Many a time this sort of exercise has ended in the two attempting an impromptu race – the speed of thought versus the speed of, well, Peter.

 There is a thundering crash, the whole hall shaking as a sentinel falls, and for one very jarring moment, all of the students forget that this is a simulation. Though stuck very solidly in their minds is the fact that this simulation can still cause very real pain. As Kurt appears beside his next target, he is just in time to witness Warren swoop down beside him and scoop up a dummy from between two cement blocks, his movements reminiscent of a great bird of prey. For a moment, Kurt cannot help watching Warren arc back upwards, then shakes himself out of it to continue his work.
“Jubilee, fry it! It’s getting too close to that group there!”
“I have too many here, guys! Someone lend a hand!”
“Quicksilver, if you run into me one more time, you’re spending the next week with a permanent storm cloud over your head!”
Gradually, the action begins to slow. The dummies have been “saved,” and without anything else to do for the remaining few minutes, the others take down the remaining sentinels, having a bit of fun as they do, showing off and cheering or jeering at each other. Scott carves out his initials in the side of a felled robot, gaining a decent round of applause from the room and a quiet sigh from the professor. Ororo and Jean find themselves in a game of volleyball with a severed sentinel head. Even Kurt decides to get in on it, swinging himself up the branches of a tree, adding a few flips and flairs for good measure. When he reaches the top, he wants to continue, and takes himself in a blink to the shoulder of the last standing sentinel, which Jubilee had previously insisted on taking down herself. The group whoops and laughs as he teases it, dodges it, hangs by his tail from its arm.
However, Kurt soon takes his routine a step too far. Midway between leaping off the sentinel’s head and landing safely and gracefully on the ground (complete with closing flourish and bow as he used to do when he ended his circus routines), the great lumbering robot almost manages to catch up to him, his sweeping hand just barely clipping Kurt’s heel. However, it is still enough to throw Kurt off, and though he teleports himself to the ground, he hits the ground awkwardly, his ankle giving way and sending him into a haphazard roll. Jubilee is there to help him up, fussing over him the whole way to the edge of the hall as Jean and Scott take care of the offending sentinel. Kurt insists he is fine, but he can’t mask the limp in his walk, or the wince on his face: his ankle burns with pain and already feels like it is swelling.

 In the end, the team leaves the Danger Room with equal parts praise and criticism. Judging by his tone, it seems even Professor X knows that the lack of seriousness is not a problem he will soon have solved: kids will be kids, he supposes, sighing as he dismisses them to clean up and go to bed. He cannot expect to make full-fledged X-Men out of teenagers in just a handful of sessions. One by one, the kids disappear into the showers, the ruckus dying down but not quite finished. Losing himself for a moment in the buzzing atmosphere, Warren grins and laughs as Peter and Jubilee mock Scott and Ororo’s bickering, unable to catch himself before the others do.
“Enjoyed yourself after all, eh, Angel?” Jubilee gloats, digging Warren in the ribs. In an instant, the smile retreats, replaced by his default flat expression and an eye-roll for good measure.
“Yeah, yeah,” he dismisses. “Don’t go reading into it. It was just funny to watch you all running around like idiots.”
Peter chortles.
“Way to cover it up, feathers.”
“Shut up.”
Kurt’s mouth twitches up as he hears the defensive remarks from inside his shower cubicle, setting his neatly folded uniform down on the bench before running the water. He feels a certain swell of pride in his chest, spurred on by the thought that he has seen underneath the sharp and unyielding exterior Warren keeps otherwise unbroken. Part of him can’t help but to feel special that he is the only one to have an experience like theirs on the rafters that night. After Scott’s words to him a couple of weeks ago, something had changed in Kurt’s mind. The part of his brain that held his feelings for Warren was no longer fenced off and topped with barbed wire. Instead, he lets his thoughts wander, even going so far as to consider the possibility of Warren returning his, well… fondness.

 When he steps under the water, his ankle throbs, reminding him to keep the majority of his weight on the other leg. It isn’t anything serious: a minor sprain at worst, he thinks, recalling a history of jarred joints and painful landings from trapezes and highwires. He showers quickly, and takes himself to his bedroom, thankful as he often is that he does not have to go the long way as his friends do. He flicks the lock on the door –Peter had a habit of rushing in without remembering to knock– and pulls out a pair of flannelette pants and a white singlet. Adjusting to American clothing had taken a while: he was used to having just a few outfits to switch between, and the endless racks of identical garments in differing sizes confused him to no end. But Jubilee had insisted on taking him out and giving him a “proper wardrobe,” and with her expertise, and a little funding from the professor, he had ended up with a selection of outfits he was quite happy with. Though of course, despite his clothes now coming from a store, he still had to retain his knack for sewing – Levi jeans didn’t come with holes for a tail.
Once he is dressed, he unlocks the door, leaving it open as grabs the novel Jean had recommended to him a week or so earlier. He sits on the window seat, ankle propped up on a pillow to keep the swelling down. He reads in the yellow light of his bedside lamp for a few minutes, once in a while eyeing the empty bed opposite his and wondering what Peter could be doing that was taking so long. Nonetheless, he is happy to have a little peace and quiet in which to get lost in the pages of his book. In Germany, he would read whatever he could get his hands on, mostly from second hand markets and from his fellow performers. Upon arriving at Xavier’s, the rate at which he burned through books had doubled, then tripled, until he was scarcely without something to read. He liked almost everything, from thrillers to period dramas, though his current novel, an addictive crime novel laced with romance, had particularly captured his attention.

 Warren had almost passed straight by Kurt’s door as he made his way to his own room. He had never taken notice of it before, certainly. But this time when he walks past, the glimpse he catches of the boy sitting on the windowsill makes him stop. After two or three seconds, he opens his mouth to explain his presence. But Kurt has still not looked up, so he says nothing. It seems he is far too absorbed in his book to take in anything that is happening around him, his shoulders hunched forward as though to bring himself closer to what is unfolding on the page. Curiosity overtakes Warren as he watches Kurt, bathed in warm, incandescent light, one hand raised to his lips and brow knitted in deep focus. His tail moves as though with a mind of its own, swaying listlessly back and forth over the faded carpet. Without thinking much about what he is doing, and in fact with part of him resisting the whole way, Warren’s eyes slide over the details of Kurt’s face that he has never bothered to take in before. The sharp curves of his chin and his nose. The way his eyes catch the light and throw it back out. The markings on his face, intricate swirls and angled lines, all of which are clearly visible in the shadows thrown out by the lamplight. He wonders if Kurt was born with those markings. He wonders if he really wants to know. These thoughts, ones that still feel alien to him, are quickly caught by those closer to the surface and banished back to whatever strange corner of his mind they came from. They don’t belong in his head – they are strange and uncomfortable, and not part of the Warren he knows how to handle. Though thankfully, the swell of frustration that follows is familiar. There is still something in him that he understands.

 “Warren! You scared me.”
The exclamation itself makes Warren jump as he realises that Kurt has looked up from his book long enough to notice him.
“Can I help you?” asks Kurt, closing his book but keeping one finger wedged in between to mark his page. Warren scrambles for a response slightly less uncomfortable than “I was just thinking about your eyes.”
“How’s your ankle?” he blurts, and the two of them look down to Kurt’s raised ankle.

“It’s fine,” he shrugs in response. “Just a little sore. It’ll probably be better in a couple of days.”
Warren nods, only having taken in half of Kurt’s words.
“Thanks for asking,” he adds, and Warren notices a bright smile: Kurt once again feels that small tide of specialness rising.
“No problem,” Warren replies.
“It looked like you enjoyed the Danger Room. Even though you denied it to the others.”
“Well. Yeah. I guess so. I just like flying.”
Kurt notices the disjointedness in Warren’s words and smiles softly.
“It’s okay,” he assures the boy standing in his doorway. “You don’t have to do that around me anymore.”
“What? Do What?”
“You know. The whole distant, angry thing. I think we’re past that now, aren’t we?”
Those particular words hit Warren the wrong way, striking a chord in him feels off-key. The familiarity with which Kurt speaks, the assumption that he and Warren are on the same page brings a frown to his face.
“Who says?” he snarks. This confuses Kurt: it feels like he is once again speaking to the Warren he knew months ago. He takes his finger out of his book and sets it on his nightstand, sitting up straight on the windowsill and pressing his lips together tightly. Warren kicks himself mentally for letting himself notice the action. The fire inside him grows, fed by confusion and discomfort and fanned by fear and frustration.
“I just thought–”
“What, you thought we were best buddies or something? Just coz we had a little midnight talk?”
Kurt feels like the carpet has just been pulled out from under him, and now he is falling, flailing, his stomach thrown into his throat.
“Well, no, but I– I figured we were a little closer than you were with the others. I mean, aren’t we?” He sputters, standing now and ignoring the protest his ankle puts up. The more he thinks, the more he stews under the heat of Warren’s glare, the more his specialness shrinks, turning poisonous and churning up his insides. You’re an idiot, he curses. He’s right. You had one little talk and suddenly you think you’re the apple of his eye, just because you have a little crush? His hands clench, fingernails digging into his palms hard enough to break the skin.
Warren can’t believe what he is hearing. He isn’t ready for this, isn’t prepared for any of this to be verbalised, and hearing Kurt trying to do so anyway angers him. Part of him knows Kurt can’t be blamed, but it is easier, so much easier to let that part be drowned out.
“Why the hell would you think that?” Warren spits. “We’re not closer than anyone.”
“I’m sorry.” There are tears in Kurt’s eyes now: he had not invited them, but he stood no chance of fighting them back. Warren huffs in reply.
“Same thing you said when you tore up my wing.”
Immediately, Warren’s eyes go wide. He hadn’t meant to say that. Even in his state, he knew that that topic should have been out of bounds. But there is no way he will take it back. Instead, he keeps the scowl on his face and turns on his heel, trying not to look like he is fleeing as he hurries to the sanctuary of his room.

 When he closes the door behind him, an unexpected tidal wave of anger hits him, surges through his veins so quick and burning hot that he feels it might tear him apart. He whips around and slams a fist into the wall, letting out a cry like a wounded animal. The talons that tip his wings dig into the wall, tearing up plaster and leaving small holes, scars, like many he has left on this room. How could he have done that? How could he let himself treat Kurt that way, when Kurt had done nothing but apologise and put up with his shit for months? One more pound on the wall, weaker this time, and he forces himself to stop: the last thing he needs right now is someone coming to ask if he is alright. Muttering curses to himself, he reaches between his bed and his nightstand, finding only a half-empty bottle of gin. It would have to do. Pulling the cap off, he drinks deeply, welcoming the intense burn in his throat. He deserves it, for what he has done.
Should’ve known I’d find a way to fuck this up, he thinks. A perfect chance to open up, to let himself heal, and he throws it away because he’s too scared of a few thoughts he doesn’t understand. Maybe it’s for the best, he laments. Kurt deserves better, anyway.

 Kurt’s fingers are numb. His mouth feels heavy, and his head is spinning with the number of conflicting thoughts vying for his attention. The bed catches him when he falls, and for a long while he just sits with his head in his hands, catching his tears and trying to make sense of what has just happened. This is what happens when your fantasies get the better of you, he chastises, driving his palms into his closed eyes and rubbing away his tears. Suddenly conscious of what will happen if Peter comes hurtling in to find him all teary-eyed, he switches off the bedside lamp, welcoming the dimness in the few seconds it takes his eyes to adjust to the dark. He peels back the covers and retreats underneath, covering himself completely and trying to pretend that it had all just been a bad dream. Warren didn’t hate him, he hadn’t just made a fool of himself, he hadn’t just shattered the tentative dreams he’d been putting together over the previous weeks.
When Peter finally comes upstairs ten minutes later, finished with his talking and joking with the oblivious others, he finds his roommate seemingly asleep in their dark room. He does his best to be quiet as he slides into bed, wondering why Kurt isn’t still up reading as he has been every night for the past two weeks. Kurt keeps his mouth pressed to the duvet, muffling the sounds of his still shaky breaths. He listens as Peter’s breathing grows slow and even. It never takes him long to fall asleep. When Kurt is sure he is alone, he shifts, staring up at the ceiling and wondering if now he will have to act like he and Warren had never been anything more than former enemies. The thought pains him, twists the knife already lodged in his gut. He hopes beyond hope that Warren will come around. There is always the possibility that this was just another defensive moment, and that he will feel differently in the morning. Or maybe he even feels differently now. Still, Kurt cannot see Warren giving up the pride needed to apologise, or even to respond well to having the subject raised over breakfast or during class. Maybe it’s just better this way, Kurt relents, turning over and cocooning himself in his duvet. It’s not like there’s any chance for us in the long run. In friendship or otherwise.

Chapter Text

The clock has read 12:41 for the last fifteen minutes. That’s what it feels like to Scott, anyway. The professor drones on at the front of the classroom, and his voice is a sedative, slowly draining Scott of the little energy he had. His classmates seem to be in the same state of trance as he is; students slump over their desks, not one of them able to hold their head up unassisted. The day is warm, and the heat inside the stuffy study-come-classroom only highlights how tantalising the view from the window looks, crisp green lawns below a vivid blue sky promising freedom from the stifling tedium of class. Absentmindedly, he taps his pen on the side of his desk, suppressing a yawn: the professor may have told his students that he had a policy against reading his students’ thoughts, but he didn’t need telepathy to decode Scott’s lack of enthusiasm for basic physics. Evidently, he is not the only one who finds the class tedious, as he soon feels the sharp jab of a ballpoint pen in the side of his leg.
“Hey! Do you mind?” he hisses, and Ororo rolls her eyes, slouched and leaning back in her chair. As usual, the combination of her striking hair and black-and-leather clothing choices give her the image of a perfect punk-rock icon, like an image straight from a magazine. In reality, though Ororo presented herself as uncaring about her appearance, even her nonchalance is part of a carefully cultivated image. Like Jubilee’s bright, colourful persona or the uncaring bad-boy style Scott tries to emulate. Or, more accurately, tried to emulate until it was revealed just how much of a stickler for the rules he was.
“Toughen up,” comes Ororo’s chiding response.
“What do you want?”
“I’m bored.”
“So?”
So, I’m trying to not be bored.” 

Scott rolls his eyes, thankful at least that they are in the back row and out of the professor’s main focus.
“And what can I do for you, your majesty?” Scott sighs, an unimpressed mocking in his tone.
“Tell me what you know about what’s going with Jean,” Ororo demands. Her demeanour is determined, with a hint of brashness, and Scott nearly pushes her away then and there. However, he has little else to fill his time with, scarcely little, until the minutes ticked over to lunch and he can escape the confines of the classroom. So, he gives in to Storm’s insistent tone.
“Jean?”
“Yeah. Everyone’s talking about it. Her weird dreams. Some of the other kids say her powers are driving her crazy.”
The accusation brings a frown to Scott’s face, eyes narrowing under red-tinted glasses. In the seat next to him, Ororo’s face remains flat and expectant. She knows as well as any student in the school that there is a thing between Scott and Jean. Rumours are passed around the hallways and classrooms, speculations ranging from one student catching the pair holding hands under a tree in the grounds to another (albeit not very widely believed) claim that someone had walked in on them ‘getting intimate’ in Scott’s bedroom.
“Jean’s not crazy,” he says, slowly and firmly. “It’s just hard for her to control her powers. Same with you. Same with me.”
“No duh. How’s the pinkeye, lasers?” The girl sees Scott’s fists clench, and she smirks, having gotten the response she had been looking for.
Shut. Up. You know why I wear these glasses,” he huffs, shoulders slumping and arms folded across his chest. There is a beat of silence before he gives in and speaks again, this time in nothing more than a mumble. “And they’re not lasers. They’re optic blasts.”
There is a small snort of derision from the girl next to him.
“Give it a rest, wastoid,” Scott snaps, earning both he and Ororo a swift scolding from Charles at the front of the classroom. After a reluctant and begrudging apology, the two go right back to bickering.

“For real, though. Don’t go bringing me into this. I have control of my powers,” Ororo gloats, earning her a hearty, if muffled, laugh.
“Yeah. That’s why whenever you’re in a bad mood, the kids in your class have to carry umbrellas.”
Unable to find a reasonable retort, the girl can only scowl at the boy beside her, her anger fuelled by his cocky smirk. Their eyes are still directed towards the front of the classroom, books open and pens in hand to create the illusion of engagement, or at least compliance. It is like this often for both of the two – neither has ever been much into academia, and neither plans to pursue a career outside of the X-Men. It has always just felt right to them after settling into the mansion to dedicate themselves to furthering the rights of mutantkind. To Ororo after her years trying to scrape by in Egypt, and to Scott, who grew up watching his brother campaign as part of the pioneering X-Men, reminding him near daily that a life not spent fighting for what was right was a life wasted.

 “It’s not like anyone here has perfect control of their powers,” Ororo defends.
“I dunno. Look at Peter. I don’t see him screwing up or forgetting how to run.”
“Peter’s different,” Ororo insists. “His power’s simple. It’s natural to him. Like Kurt’s.”
Scott’s face scrunches in confusion and disagreement, but Ororo stands by her argument. “Maybe the more mutant you look, the easier it is to use your powers.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Well how do you know it’s not true?” she queries, growing indignant under Scott’s constant dismissal.
“Because. Kurt doesn’t have full control either. He can’t take that many people at once, and he only goes where he can see.”
She shrugs, twirling her pen between her fingers with the deftness and effortlessness that can only come from a childhood spent picking pockets and stealing to survive.
“It’s probably just his problem. He’s not exactly the most confident guy out there.”
“Hey, how would you feel if you got the looks he did in public?”
“Fair,” she concedes, a pensive frown overtaking her well-defined features. She pauses a second or two, as though piecing together her own thoughts. “Has he seemed strange to you lately?”
The memory drops into Scott’s mind of the day of Warren’s first flight: he bears a secret, and though he would sooner die than admit it, Scott often liked to indulge in a little gossip. The temptation is strong to share what he very strongly suspects.

“Strange how?”
“Usually he’s everyone’s friend. Never has that smile off his face. Past week he’s been acting like a whole different person. Doesn’t want to talk to anyone.”
The tension between them has dissipated completely. With something else to focus on, it’s as though their rivalry never existed.
“What about Warren?”
“Warren?” Ororo screws up her nose. “What about him?”
“Have you noticed him acting weird?”
“Isn’t he always weird?”
Leaning back on his chair, Scott ponders for a while. He doesn’t want to give away what Kurt had told him – while they had never explicitly stated it, he assumed Kurt would want him to keep it to himself. Though, the pull of gossip is strong. Very strong. With no one else to talk to, he is not even sure of how to think about what Kurt told him. How was he supposed to know he wasn’t reading the situation wrong? Maybe Kurt doesn’t feel romantically connected to Warren at all. Maybe he just feels connected to the boy because of what they went through in Germany? 

Though at heart he knows this isn’t true, his conscious mind has already taken the excuse and run with it. He sits forward, all four chair legs on the ground once more, and leans in towards Ororo. Intrigued by the sudden change in Scott, the girl leans in as well, and Scott speaks in a mumble just barely loud enough for her to make out above the professor’s rambling.
“I think there’s something going on with him and Kurt.”
“What do you mean? Is Warren being a douchebag to him again?”
Scott sees a fire ignite in Ororo’s eyes – Kurt gives off a vulnerable vibe at the best of times, and Ororo isn’t the type to hold back from defending any one of her friends, especially those she views as unable or unwilling to do it themselves.
“No, no. Not that. I think Kurt’s got a… a thing for Warren.”
“A thing? You mean like–?”
Scott nods his head once, definitively.
“So you think Kurt is–?”
“Almost sure of it.”
Ororo raises her head, glancing up at the ceiling and pursing her lips as she considers the possibility. And the more she looks back through the sides of Kurt she knows, the more the pieces fall into place. Something about Kurt she just hadn’t been able to put her finger on, something she just assumed had to do with his outer appearance, now made perfect sense to her.
“Hm. I think you’re right.”
Reassured, Scott decides to let loose the rest of what he knows, taking Ororo through he and Kurt’s talk, the way he had seen Kurt look at Warren, and through the whole recount, the girl seems to agree more and more with Scott’s initial judgement.
“So why do you think Kurt’s upset? You think he told Warren and got rejected?”
“No, if that had happened, Kurt would be more obviously upset,” Scott says, shaking his head. “Maybe they just had an argument or something.”
Ororo shrugs, and before she can formulate a reply, the bell rings, and the discussion is forgotten in the rush to finally escape the classroom. 

It is a Friday, and the house is almost empty by evening. The only ones who remain are the younger students who for whatever reason cannot or do not go home to their families for the weekend, those who are still too young to spend time off-campus without a chaperone. It was Jubilee who suggested they go out for dinner to a pizza place at a strip mall near the mansion. It was no surprise she wanted to go out somewhere they could spend money – she had recently landed her first part-time job at the movie theatre on that very same strip mall, and having just received her first paycheck, was eager to find a way to burn through it. As for the others, all those aside from Jean, who earned a bit of money tutoring the kids from the nearby elementary schools, they had their own ways of getting money for the occasional outing, whether it be sent from parents or “borrowing” off someone else in the group.
As usual, the night is stolen by the more outspoken members of the group, though everyone seems to find a way to enjoy themselves. At least, everyone except a certain pair who sat silently and picked at their slices of pepperoni or cheese pizza. Kurt tries to laugh along with the others, to keep up the illusion that he doesn’t want to disappear back to his room and abandon the outside world in favour of another book. Warren, meanwhile, gives no effort to concealing his bad mood. He slouches in his chair and every so often casts a very deliberate glare to one of the others, making quite sure they know he is holding a grudge against them for making him come.

 Hours pass, scraping by like sandpaper, and finally, they decide to pay their bill and leave. Ororo finds herself glad that Warren chooses to mope so far behind the rest of the group, and slows herself to match his pace as the others stroll along the strip of shops, contemplating whether or not they should stick around to spend some time at the arcade. Before Warren can muster up another scowl to give Ororo for what he assumes is an attempt to stick around and make conversation, she cuts in front of him, forcing him to halt abruptly, a glower of her own adorning her face.
“What did you do to Kurt?” she demands, and Warren is so taken aback that he can only blink, mouth ajar, expression vacant. The way she speaks, so certain and direct, his chest thumps, horrified at the thought that Kurt might have spilled everything to her. But no, that doesn’t sound right at all: Kurt isn’t the type to do that. He is the type who keeps his pain to himself, and instead of letting it seep out as anger and pettiness like Warren does, he gathers it up and sweeps it under the rug. Warren begins to wonder how and why he thinks this with such certainty, but the thought is half-formed, and Ororo is speaking again.
“Well?” she prompts, sharply. “What did you do that has him acting like this?”
“What the hell are you talking about? What’s your damage?” Warren growls, trying to push past her only to be blocked by a strong, solid form and a stare so hard it could cut diamonds.
“You know damn well what I’m talking about. Tell me what you did.”
“What makes you think it’s any of your business?” Warren snarks. He regrets this immediately when he sees the resulting look on Ororo’s face, and starts to feel a little worried for his life. He now knows just what the others mean when they talk about how messing with anyone Storm cares about is a very bad idea.
Just when he finds himself wondering if his wings could provide enough agility to dodge a lightning bolt, he is saved by the sound of Peter’s voice, calling back to them and urging them to keep up. Ororo assures him they will be right there, and the moment Peter’s eyes are off them, whips back around to Warren.
“I’ll make this easy for you,” she says. “Apologise. Fix this. And don’t do it again.”
With that, the encounter is over, and Warren is left to catch his breath and catch up to the others, now confused as well as moody. 

He is still thrown off when they return home after dark, splitting off into singles or pairs and retreating to their rooms. He has felt horrible since saying what he had said to Kurt. The more time that passes, the less angry he feels at Kurt, and the more furious he feels with himself. But he hadn’t planned to say anything. He had resolved to leave it be, believing that Kurt would be better off without any more contact with him at all. But after Ororo’s little ‘talk,’ he begins to consider that talking might be the only way to make Kurt feel better, and the only way to ease his own conscience.
That is why, as Kurt passes Warren in the hallway on his way to the bathroom, Warren stops him, voice timid and tentative.
“Kurt, can I talk to you?” he attempts, feeling horribly out of his depth. He’d never been on the giving end of the “we need to talk” encounter before.
Kurt’s brows furrow, wary of what could be happening. He does not want to repeat what happened a week ago, and yet the look in Warren’s eyes, a sort of weak and watered down version of what might be compassion, causes him to rethink his instinctual ‘no,’ followed by a hasty escape.
“I suppose so,” he shrugs, and follows Warren the short distance down the hall and into his room. The window is cracked open just enough to let a small draught wander in, though Kurt can tell he is breathing the same air Warren has been for at least a few days.

Time passes, and neither talks, both waiting for the other to start the conversation neither knew how to have.
“Look, about the other night…”
“Yes?” Kurt asks presently.
“Well. When I– you know. It wasn’t what I– I didn’t mean–”
It is clear he hopes Kurt will intervene, put him out of the misery of trying to push words out of a mouth that only knows how to be sullen and self-pitying. But Kurt stays stubbornly silent, cynically curious to see if this will lead to anything substantial. Warren sighs, heavily, and hopes that a new lungful of air will make some sort of difference.
“I didn’t say what I said to upset you,” he says finally. “I don’t really think that stuff.”
The words hit Kurt’s ear roughly, their hollowness reverberating through him, making his heart sink.
“Sorry.”
And just like that, he is lifted once again. Certainly not too much, not enough to make him soar on the gust of one simple word, dropped awkwardly into an awkward conversation. But nonetheless, the addition of that one little syllable brings a new hope to Kurt: maybe in time, it will grow easier for Warren to do these sorts of things. And, he cannot deny it, he wants to be there to see that happen. 

Warren doesn’t know how to feel when he sees Kurt instantly shift at his one word. His shoulders rise, stretching and straightening as though a weight has been lifted from them, and his tail swishes with life. Relief washes over him, the sudden drop in tension making his legs feel a little weak and sending a shiver through his wings, but at the same time, it feels a little too easy. He wonders if he is taking advantage of Kurt’s forgiving nature. If he deserves a second chance with the boy, after months of abuse during his recovery, followed by weeks of apparent improvement only for it to be pulled out from underneath him one week ago. Perhaps he really should just give up and leave the boy be, let him try to find some way to move on from Warren’s pushing and pulling. But something about the buoyant, optimistic look on Kurt’s face makes him sure that he couldn’t stay away.
“It’s alright,” Kurt says. “I understand.”
Both boys seem lost for a moment, each one drinking in the sensation of having a week’s worth of pent-up tension release with a mere few words. There is still a block there: neither one feels as close to the other as they had that night on the rafters. But right now, this is the best outcome they could get.

 Finally, Kurt casts his eyes around the room, noting a few new bottles on the sill and on the floor. Beer, mostly, but he can see the edge of the label of bottle of gin on Warren’s nightstand, and the tall neck of a bottle of vodka on its side in the corner. He hopes the amount that Warren consumes is less than one would first think on entering the room: he has never seen Warren clean his room, and suspects from the thin layer of dust that coats some of the bottles that they may have been there quite a while, a small shrine to the issues Warren has yet to even attempt to think about.
“Do you think maybe you should try to cut back on the drinking?” Kurt asks, very wary that this could start the fight all over again. Though thankfully, Warren seems too emotionally drained to be defensive, and instead gives a vague shrug.
“It’s fine.”
“Are you sure? It’s not a problem? Because if it is, you can get help for it.”
“It’s fine. I don’t need help.”
Taking the hint, Kurt backs off, nodding.
“Alright. I should get to bed, then.”
Warren nods in response, and just like before, he does not say “goodnight,” until it sounds forced and disjointed, when Kurt is already halfway out the door. And, just like before, Kurt accepts it, giving a small, tired smile as he looked back over his shoulder at the boy in the room with the empty bottles and the mostly-closed window.
“Goodnight, Warren.” 

When Kurt slips into bed a few minutes later, teeth brushed and pyjamas on, Peter gives him a quizzical look at his sudden change in attitude: the past few days, he has been dragging himself through his bedtime routines, though tonight the spring is back in his step.
“What’re you so happy about?” he asks, one eyebrow raised in suspicion. Kurt lets himself smile for a moment before he reins it in and reduces it to a small quirk of his lips.
“It’s nothing,” he assured the boy, shaking his head. Peter shrugs, tossing Kurt a casual “night,” before rolling over and pulling up the covers.
Kurt is content as he falls asleep that night. Not ecstatic, not even too happy. Just content. He and Warren have taken a few steps backwards, yes, and he is still unsure whether he wants to continue down this path if it means having to endure this sort of back and forth forever. But all that can wait. For now, he takes solace in the fact that things are better now than they were when he had woken up that morning.
And that was really all anyone could ask for from a day, wasn’t it?

Chapter Text

It is early in the morning, the sun still lying in wait deep below the horizon, and Warren wakes in his room still drunk from the previous night. He is disoriented, dizzy, and on top of that, horribly confused by the dream that has woken him. Even as he lies there in the dark, breath hitching in a dry throat, the details of the dream slip away like smoke through his fingers. He can still latch onto some of what happened in the dream, even though he isn’t sure he wants to. For a moment, as the dream had taken place right there in his room, the line between reality and fantasy had blurred, especially within the walls of his liquor-addled brain, leaving him bewildered, arms feeling around him for something that he knows is not there, could not have been there. Once his mind has slowed and he makes sense of his surroundings, Warren begins tentatively to open the gates and let the dream back in, little by little letting it wash over him until it covers him completely.

In his dream, he is lying in bed. He has woken from a nightmare, one like many he has experienced before, all fire and sparks and scraping metal screaming downwards, downwards, and always cutting out at the moment of impact. It strikes Warren as somewhat pitiful that these nightmares have become so routine to him that they have begun appearing within other dreams. He is frantic, as usual, and tries to calm himself, as usual. But the sharp turn away from reality comes when he hears a soft voice rise from next to him, hushing him, soothing him.
“It’s okay,” the voice says, and Warren believes it.
In the dark he can scarcely see anything, just shapes moving and sheets rustling, and soon enough, he feels a hand on his waist, running up and down from the base of his wing to the ridge of his hip. The voice continues, whispering words of comfort from lips that Warren could not see, though they seemed mere inches from his ear. The sound is like a lullaby, calming the stormy seas that churn in Warren’s veins.
“Come here,” the voice instructs, and Warren bends to it.
The hand on his waist firms, pulling him forward, and he obliges, finding himself pressed into a warm chest and enveloped in strong, steady arms that he still cannot see. A sense of peace comes over him, one so intoxicatingly pleasant that Warren finds himself instantly addicted. His hands move without his permission, wrapping around the body next to him as though they had made the same motion a thousand times before. His wing wraps around both him and his companion, and the same hand that had pulled him in now strokes his feathers tenderly, a movement so intimate and unfamiliar that it rouses a flutter in the bottom of Warren’s stomach even now as he remembers it. The memory of the dream dissolves like this, with Warren melting into the unseen body beside him, its words still echoing in his ear.

The dream disturbs him, and all traces of the perfect calm it had brought him have vanished. The deepest part of him knows exactly whom it was he had imagined next to him, but his conscious mind refuses to let the thought enter. The resistance is in vain: how could he deny that voice, those hands, those fingertips against the parts of him no-one had ever touched without the buffer of painkillers or surgical gloves? And yet, he knows himself too well to expect anything but rejection. The thought of the dream is a splinter in his skin, hard to ignore and even harder to remove, and it only buries itself deeper the harder he tries to shake it. In an attempt to drown it out, he pulls out his headphones and Discman, turning the volume up as high as it would go and letting the screech of guitars and the scream of the vocals penetrate his mind. It hurts his ears and makes his head throb, but he doesn’t care. He would rather endure the pain than try to process the thoughts that brew in his head like dark clouds before a storm.
It is going to be a long wait until morning. 


“Come on, Jean. You’re not being any fun!” Jubilee groans, falling back into the couch with her signature melodrama. The school day is over, and the two girls sit in the living room with a scattering of other students, MTV blaring away in the background.
“I don’t care about being fun. You asked me down here to help you with your homework,” Jean reminds her, eyes still stubbornly down at her book.
“Excuse me if that’s the only way I can get you to hang out,” Jubilee mumbles in response. “Just give me an answer. I’m curious.”
“Fine. Ororo.”
What?! No way! Why Ororo?
She is met with a shrug.
“I just think it’d be cool to be able to make lightning.”
I can make lightning! …Sort of. You’re telling me you wouldn’t switch powers with me?”
“I don’t know, I just think Ororo’s powers are more my style.”
Just think Ororo’s powers are more my style,” Jubilee mocks, muttering under her breath and earning herself a warning glare from Jean.
“Oh, come on,” the dark-haired girl huffs, sitting back up. “My powers are cool too, y’know. People used to give me good money when I performed at the mall.”
Giving a nod like a disinterested parent, Jean scribbles down a note in the margin of her textbook.
“My powers are cool, too…”
Minutes wear by, and Jubilee opens her mouth to ask Jean if she’d ever used her powers to cheat on a test before, but freezes when she sees the boy enter the living room and sit down on the couch next to her. She has never seen Warren outside of his room in the afternoon before, not to mention has never seen him look so… un-angry. The ever-present scowl on his face is gone, and in its place is a vacant, pensive expression. 

“Warren,” Jean greets, as coolly as though this was an everyday occurrence. At first Warren seems put off by this, but he soon seems to relent, sinking into the couch.
“Hey.”
“What are you doing here?” Jubilee asks. “Aren’t you usually back in your room by now?”
She’s right, of course. Warren knows it. But in truth, he couldn’t have stood another minute alone in his room with nothing for company but his own warring thoughts and feelings. He shrugs, a gesture Jubilee is beginning to get used to.
“Got lonely?” Jean asks him, a slight bend in her voice suggesting that she was asking the question deliberately to provoke him.
“No,” comes Warren’s sharp, predictable response. Jean gives a small ‘hm,’ sound and nods.
“So how do you like Mutant Academy so far?” Jubilee pipes up. “I feel like I’ve never gotten a chance to actually ask you. You’re always off in your room or cutting class or something.”
The question catches Warren off guard, and not only because he didn't expect anyone to care. How did he like the school? He hasn’t given it much thought: to him, the school had always just been the place he’d ended up at. An outside factor. Not temporary, but not permanent either.
“I guess it’s fine,” he says. “Classes are stupid, though.”
“Just because they’re not like the classes you’re used to at those fancy private boarding schools where they let you get away with anything?”
That got Jubilee an eye roll.
“What? Just saying. Rich kids always end up in cushy schools with cushy rules. Trust me, I know.”
“Yeah, well. I’m here now. And probably never going to live the rich lifestyle again.”
“Don’t feel bad,” Jean coaxes. “You’re far from the only one of us whose parents want nothing to do with them. I’m one of the lucky ones.”
A moment of silence takes over the group, as Warren scans the room of kids, most of who look decently happy. He has never considered that the kids who filled the halls and made it hard for him to navigate to classrooms and the dining hall and his bedroom might have the same family problems that he did. He’d always assumed himself to have the worst of the problems, but as for the first time in almost six months of being at the school, he takes in the figures around him as people with their own motivations, their own stories, their own troubles, he begins to feel something he thought he would never feel again. Something new and comforting.

When he tunes back into the conversation, Jubilee and Jean are still talking about family, comparing all the vastly different lives their friends have led so far. He sits by, half listening and half in his own head, lingering in the middle where thoughts come and go from his mind like waves washing lazily against a shore. Presently, he feels a hand reach into his chest and seize it, when he hears the name he has been trying to keep out of his mind since the earliest hours of that morning.
“I feel bad for Kurt sometimes,” Jubilee muses. “He hasn’t seen his family in, like, a year.”
“His family?” Warren’s voice acts without consulting his mind first, and he joins the two girls in the stunned silence that follows.
“Uh, yeah. His family back in Germany,” Jubilee confirms at length, frowning a little in confusion. “He talks about them all the time. Haven’t you heard him?”
He hasn’t. Ever. An unpleasant sensation cooks in the pit of Warren’s stomach, an unfamiliar blend of uncomfortable feelings that make him want to squirm in his seat. If he didn’t know any better, he would swear there was a shred of jealousy churning away in the concoction.
Why hadn’t Kurt told him about his family before? Did he not feel comfortable sharing that sort of thing with him? Didn’t he want Warren to know about his family? All these thoughts came in one short, sharp burst, before the reasonable part of his mind steps in to remind him that his relationship with Kurt was tenuous at best, and tattered at worst. Kurt owes him nothing in the way of knowledge about his past, and there is no surprise that he would feel more comfortable sharing personal details with someone like Jubilee, who oozed friendliness from every pore. Or really anyone in their group who, compared to Warren, are as open and as welcoming as a mother’s arms. Kurt had every right to keep his life private from Warren, and yet Warren finds himself yearning to know how to navigate into Kurt’s affections to the point where he can be given the answers he has wanted to know for so long.
“Right. With the circus, I guess,” he says, eyes unfocused and directed at the ground in front of him.
“Yeah. He says this place kinda reminds him of them. A whole bunch of people who everyone else thinks is weird who find each other and make another big family.”
Another thought manages to thrust its way into the hostile scape of his mind. Am I part of that family? It takes a lot of conviction for him to force the next question out.
“How did Kurt end up in the circus, anyway?” 

The girls are incredulous at first, in disbelief that Warren is not only present, but is in fact leading a conversation. Once they overcome their shock, Jean manages to answer his inquiry, telling Warren that Kurt really didn’t know: all anyone had told him was that he had just been found one day by a member of the circus and taken in immediately. There is another pause before Warren asks the next question, about Kurt’s childhood, but after that, the satisfaction of having the holes in his timeline filled is too much, and the questions start coming thicker and faster. His mind takes the answers he gets and begins piecing together a scene in his mind, a little blue boy raised by gypsies and performers, travelling and living free-spirited and happy. Sleeping in caravans or under stars, accepted and loved by those who surround him. Spending his childhood being praised inside the circus tent but hunted outside of it. Eventually, he begins to feel an inkling of the same intoxicating feeling he experienced that morning. The hole that has been left since he stopped speaking with Kurt, the hole that had been slowly growing larger as they have grown further apart fill in just slightly, just enough for him to wonder if he can satisfy his cravings by learning all he can about the boy who has plagued his thoughts, feelings and dreams for weeks. He doesn’t stop until the answers turn to ‘I don’t know,’ and the girls begin to look confused as to why Warren would be so interested in one particular person. When he stops, when he fully realises what he has done, a surge of self-consciousness takes over, and he clenches his teeth shut to stop any more questions from spilling out. Though it is pointless: the questions have dried up in his throat, and now any trace of his curiosity has dissipated. All he can think about is what these two girls now think of him. Who they must now think he is. Some obsessed maniac, probably. He can almost see them gossiping furiously the moment he is out of sight, jeering about his questions and the way he leaned forward a little more every time he got an answer, almost like each little added detail reeled him in further.
“Are you guys… close?” Jean requests, one eye narrowing in tentative curiosity. She has never seen this side of Warren before; no-one has. Part of her wonders if this is a different person altogether, showing real, unfettered interest in another human being. But she is reassured by Warren's sudden return to his usual demeanour as he draws his shoulders up and averts his eyes, muttering something about going to his room and standing abruptly. His feathers ruffle uncomfortably behind him as he stalks from the room.
Jubilee waits until she knows he is out of earshot before she speaks, though she keeps her voice to a stunned whisper nonetheless.
“What in the…”
“I know. He’s a mystery.”
“He’s wiggin’ out is what he is. Why is he so interested in Kurt all of a sudden?”
Jean is still watching the doorway where Warren had vanished.
“I don’t know,” she says softly, solemnly. 

Idiot! Idiot, idiot, idiot. Idiot with a capital ‘I.’ Fucking Idiot. Warren has been restlessly circling the grounds of the school for over an hour since dinner had ended, trying to make himself think about anything but the mistakes he made that afternoon. He should never have asked that first question. Now they both knew—no, they both thought he had some weird hang-up about Kurt. And it was only a matter of time until that little piece of gossip spread. And what if it ended up getting back to Kurt himself?
Goddamn Idiot.
Even flying wasn’t helping in the way it always did. His troubles never usually followed him up into the clouds, never tailed him as he swooped and twisted and dove with increasing agitation until his flight pattern resembled that of a fly on its last wings after being sprayed with insecticide. Finally, he gives up, returning to his windowsill and to his open window, top floor, third from the corner.

 A little under an hour earlier, while the boy is still outside, the door to Warren’s room creaks open. Kurt is fairly sure that Warren is out, but part of him still half-expects something to jump out and yell at him for daring to break the seal between the real world and Warren’ little containment of angst and anger. No such something comes, and he steps carefully into the room, feet falling softly as snowflakes on the carpet. He has missed Warren – he is big enough now to admit that to himself. Ever since that night on the rafters, small, albeit idealistic hopes had taken root in the cracks of his mind, and only in the past few days had they begun to sprout into his conscious thoughts. Even after his talk with Scott he hadn’t been sure, but now he knows there is no denying it. Needless to say, it had taken a lot of soul-searching and a good deal of prayer to confront the reality that was his attraction, but Scott’s words had stuck with him: if Kurt believed wholeheartedly that his God loved him mutation and all, what was the big deal about being attracted to men? So there he is, taking a decidedly more active approach to bridging the gap that has formed between he and Warren, standing in a bedroom that isn't his. It is reassuring to see Warren’s window open, but as Kurt approaches the window and catches sight of Warren out there in the air, he can tell something is wrong. The usual grace in his movements is missing, and something new and erratic has taken its place. Kurt is worried, and lets himself watch for a few moments, wondering what thoughts must be marring the boy’s usually seamless routine, but he quickly becomes paranoid about being caught, and continues what he has come to the room to do. After all, he had called in favours from almost all of his friends to be able to pull this off the way he wants to. 

At first glance, when Warren reaches his window, landing haphazardly on the too-small outside sill (he has still not quite figured out how to make that landing), he thinks he has come to the wrong room. It is only when he sees the small notches in the poster of his bed, born of uncontrolled rage and piercing sharp talons, that he realises this is in fact, the same room he had left from. But it definitely isn’t in the same state it had been when he had left. The scattering of empty bottles he has grown used to, grown to rely on has vanished. Instead, the floor is neat, the rug has been straightened, and the discarded clothes that had littered every surface in the room have been folded neatly into a pile on the end of his bed. But those are far from the only changes he can see. The drab grey duvet cover on his bed has been switched for a newer, much brighter sky blue-colour, one that makes the room seem instantly more open, more lived-in, not just slept-in. Warren feels as though he should be mad, should be irate at the thought of someone taking it upon themselves to remodel the room. But something, whether it be the sheer shock or the fact that he had a hunch as to who was behind this new look, stops his anger in its tracks, keeping him in a state of emotional vacancy as he takes in his new surroundings.
The holes on the walls, small but numerous, have been covered by posters that look like they were taken from the types of magazines Jubilee and Peter like to read. The posters depict rock bands and horror movies, the ones he likes, and knows that Ororo likes as well. On his nightstand, next to his Discman and Walkman, he finds an assortment of new tapes and discs, some of them copies of original tapes with titles in black marker denoting albums he had heard Scott talking about before. His desk, once a mess of discarded papers and late homework, is now clean and clear, with folders separating each subject and drawers indicating what work was late and what he still had time to do. The whole display looks as neat and as logical as if Jean had overseen their organisation herself. The whole room looks new. Not much has been changed, but Warren is struck by how much more inviting it looks now. This is a room like those he has seen others in, those who have made themselves their own compact homes within four walls and a few dozen square feet.
But perhaps most intriguing is a stack of books left on his new bedspread, just below the two new pillows. They look old, worn; each one has been read many times over, that much is clear. On top of the pile is a small folded note with his name scrawled on it in short, untidy letters. Feeling as though this had to be another dream, Warren reaches for the note and unfolds it in slightly numb fingers, reading the equally messy text with a puzzled, thoughtful frown.

Thought your sanctuary could do with a little more colour. Don’t worry – the bottles that weren’t empty are in the cupboard below your nightstand. I hope you won’t need them as much as you think you do.
Help is waiting for you whenever you want it.
–Your friend  

Warren still does not know where to direct his thoughts. The words on the note, the way the note is written, only further confirm what he had first suspected. He knows who has done this, or at least coordinated it all, but he is not sure how that makes him feel. He falls back onto his bed, sifting through the titles of the stack of books, assessing each one before placing them one by one on his nightstand. The feeling of having so much done for him, of having so much thought and effort put in solely for his comfort, is humbling, and something that he can scarcely remember feeling ever before. Again, he feels what he had felt for just a moment that afternoon: he feels like he is part of something. Yes, there is a small voice inside him that is throwing a toddler’s tantrum about having his space invaded, his room changed around and his personal belongings handled behind his back, but that part is now so drowned out that he doesn’t even know if it is really there or if he just expects it to be there. After a period of time, the length of which Warren cannot be sure passes by, Warren is hit by a wave of incredible fatigue. Something inside him that has been holding on, tensing itself for weeks, months, years on end, has just let go, and it leaves him weak and disoriented. Nonetheless, there is a sliver of comfort shining through like light through the crack in closed curtains. Or through the gap in the window that Warren leaves ajar before he strips off his clothes and slides into a fresh, newly-laundered bed for the first time since before he can remember.

Warren does not dream when he falls asleep that night. And for reasons he is beginning to accept, he is vaguely disappointed about that.

Chapter Text

Kurt is walking on air.
When he had woken up that morning –hell, when he’d finished school that afternoon– he had had no clue that the evening would turn out so well. Warren had approached him as he sat alone on the grass, back pressed up against the concrete wall as other students ran and played in the field in front of him, and asked him out.
Well, not out out, he reminds himself sternly, thinking back on the reality of the conversation. 

When had Warren last felt this nervous? He can’t remember. His wings feel weak, legs shaking as he approaches Kurt outside, hands balled into tight fists in his pocket. He is a sham, a quivering coward hidden underneath an unimpressed glower, heavy combat boots and a studded leather jacket. Why is he even doing this? Especially out here, where everyone could see him! Is it too late to back out? Can he still pretend he is just out here to stretch his wings? Nope, he says to himself, insides deflating even further as he sees Kurt look up at him and smile. God, that smile. Such friendliness shouldn’t be able to be so concentrated into one person. He can’t begin to imagine how much hurt Warren’s past mistreatment must have caused Kurt, and yet that smile stays just as pure and inviting as ever. With a smile like that, he could just…
“Is there something I can do for you, Warren?” The voice is soft and inviting, lilted pleasantly by his accent. This thought flashes in Warren’s mind for a millisecond before it is overtaken by panic: Kurt has asked him a question, and questions usually require answers.
“No,” he says, short and abrupt. “Well, I mean… it’s stupid. It’s nothing, really.”
“Oh. Well, tell me anyway,” the blue boy urges, closing his book and laying it politely in his lap, as though to purposefully show Warren that he had his full attention. This only makes it harder for Warren to keep going down the path he had set: the road to his intended destination is steep and unused, and it would be so easy and so familiar to let himself slide back down into one of his usual routines. He digs his heels in deeper and presses onwards despite the temptation.

 

“I don’t feel like hanging around here tonight,” he says simply. “I want to go somewhere for dinner. Do you… want dinner?” The proposition is jilted and misworded at best, but at least the words and their message are out there. Not in his mind or stirring at the back of his throat, but out in the world and already being met by their target.
Kurt has to fight through his elation just to get an answer out. An offer of dinner! To him! From Warren! His legs tense and he barely suppresses his tail as it fights to twitch and twirl with glee. This is the olive branch he’d always wanted, the thing he’d dreamed would one day come. Though admittedly, over the weeks that dream has changed shape quite noticeably. What was once the vision of a friendly and mutual reconciliation now takes the form of a more private, more intimate affair, a nice place and nice outfits and nice words exchanged over good food. Of course, Kurt does not translate any of these thoughts into words. Instead, he says,
“Dinner sounds good. I wouldn’t mind eating out.”
“Okay,” says Warren with a nod, feeling the weight of the world lift off his chest. “We’ll go in a couple hours.”
“Meet out the front at seven?”
“Sure.” 

Though Kurt’s eyes return to his book when Warren walks away, he does not take in any of the words that lay on the page. Instead, his mind is racing through every possible outcome for the night, as well as every way it could go wrong. While part of him is a little curious as to why Warren wouldn’t have mentioned his bedroom at all, that concern is an echo, drowned out by questions much closer to the surface: had Warren asked him just because he wanted dinner, or because he wanted dinner with him? Where would they go? What would the others say if they found out about this development? When he comes to realise that he will not get through any more of his book at that moment, he picks himself up and takes himself up to his room, to sort through his wardrobe for anything to wear to this… dare he call it a date? He allows himself a small, private smile as he wonders, fully aware that his more fanciful side has begun to take over once again. Well, he supposed, as long as it didn’t get past his thoughts and out his mouth, there is no harm in that. No harm at all.
Even while Kurt sorts through his drawers of neatly folded clothes for something to wear, Warren himself is having a hard time preventing his mind from drifting. Beyond still being in disbelief that he had actually managed to get through the conversation in once piece, he finds himself digging up an emotion he hasn’t felt in years. He feels nervous. Not apprehensive, not wildly defensive, but innocently, childishly nervous. It is almost overwhelming to experience so many things he is unused to, some of them familiar and some of them completely new. By the time he has found a decently clean shirt and managed to wrestle on a jacket, the sun is beginning to set. In the waning light, he sits down on the edge of his bed, allowing himself a moment for his eyes to slide over the surroundings he has now become used to. It takes him a good long moment to realise he is smiling as he takes it in, and instinctively he rids his face of the expression, forcing himself to stand and leave his room. Maybe he can kill some time flying before he met Kurt for dinner. 

The diner is not busy. There are only a few groups filling some of the booths that line the interior, and a few lonely looking people picking at a dinner at a table for one. So when the two enter, a boy with blue skin and a tail alongside a leather-clad angel, nearly every head is turned, seeming to stutter and stop on them like a scratched record. Warren is instantly wary, ready to take the defensive or throw out a scathing reply to any abuse that might come their way, but in time, he realises their stares will not grow to anything more: they just want to look. Kurt has already shrunk a little under their eyes, smiling sheepishly in a way that Warren can’t help but notice. If he didn’t know any better, he would have sworn the word cute had run through his mind, as fleeting as a small breath of wind, and yet it catches him off guard so much that he almost trips in trying to slide into their booth.
“You never really get used to it,” Kurt says bashfully, and Warren’s heart seizes up, heat surging to his face with the thought that Kurt has seen right through him.
“Huh?” he squeaks.
“The staring. You learn to deal with it, but it’s impossible to ever really be used to it. Right?”
“Oh. Right, yeah. It’s a strange feeling.” 

Quiet falls over both of them as they browse the menu, each one hiding his face and his thoughts from the other as they tried to find something to eat. It isn’t long before the silence begins to grow uncomfortable, and Warren’s tongue tugs at the inside of his mouth, willing him to fill the void with something. He knows what he is about to say, but the moment his mouth opens, a waitress approaches and asks in a synthetically friendly voice if they were ready to order. Kurt happily asks for a hamburger and a cherry soda, and Warren mumbles out a request for cheese fries and a coke. He sees the dirty look the waitress gives him as she makes her way towards the kitchen, and taps his foot under the table, impatient with himself, the silence more agitating every second.
“Thank you,” he finally blurts, and Kurt’s yellow eyes frown at him in confusion.
“You don’t need to thank me, Warren. It’s just dinner. I was happy to come.”
“No, not that. I mean thank you for, you know, what you did. The room. My room.”
The feeling that bubbles in Warren’s stomach when he sees Kurt’s face light up is one he cannot describe. All he knows is that he doesn’t want the feeling to leave any time soon.
“You liked it?” Kurt gushes, hands clasped together beneath the table.
“Yeah. It was nice.” That isn’t enough. Warren wants to say more. He wants Kurt to understand how his gesture had made him feel. But how could he communicate to the boy sitting across from him that he felt more accepted and wanted and cared for that night than he had his whole life? Certainly not in those words, or any others that would intimate any of his weakness or any hint of his past. “I guess… my room kinda feels like home now.” Warren takes some solace in the fact that his words, as detached and impotent as they are, still seem to have some effect on Kurt.
“I’m glad,” he says. “We– I want you to feel at home at the mansion. Like all of us do.”
A second passes, and then another, and after one more, the two realise their eyes are still locked onto each other’s, and both look away in unison, smiling their nervous smiles and fidgeting in their seats. 

This time, when the conversation stops, nothing comes up to start it again, and quickly the atmosphere that had been cautiously optimistic turns panicked. There is little said until their food is brought, and even then, it begins to seem like their chances are withering. But Warren’s impulsiveness comes to the rescue just as Kurt is beginning to get embarrassed.
“I started reading one of the books you gave me.”
With those simple words, the two both feel life enter their booth once more. As though someone has flipped a switch, they can hear the music from the diner again, and the low din of others talking in the background flows once more. Kurt sits up straighter, ears pricking with interest.
“Really? Which one?”
“The one set in the hotel.”
Kurt nods in recognition, and launches into the story of how he’d managed to scare himself stupid reading the book too late at night. His companion follows the story intently, letting himself laugh when he wants to and picking at his cheese fries without ever looking away from the mutant sitting across from him. When they run out of comments to make about the book, a miracle occurs: the conversation evolves, from books to movies to Warren’s elementary school plays, and there is scarcely a few seconds of silence between then from that moment until their arrival back at the mansion. The night air is cool, and their breath comes out in puffs of mist that disperse and mingle, glowing in the orange light of the streetlight. Kurt shrinks into the scarf he is wearing, shoulders raising from the chill as they approach the front stairs of the school. When they do, they both stop, turning wordlessly to face each other.“This was…” Kurt doesn’t know what word to slot in, to sum up the way he is feeling. But apparently, the silence is enough, because Warren nods as though he has understood.
“Yeah. It was.” 

A careful smile playing on his lips, Kurt walks in the doors beside Warren, wondering who will still be downstairs watching TV or finishing homework. When the thought occurs to him that he might be seen returning from a private dinner with Warren, a flurry kicks up in his chest, part nerves and part anticipation.
But the flurry dies instantly when, as he enters a sparsely filled living room, he realises that Warren is no longer beside him. His head turns to the side just in time to see the boy walking hurriedly away from the people and towards the staircase that took him up to his room. For a moment he is left numb, unable to do anything but watch his perfect night slip away as the last sliver of Warren’s wings disappear from sight. There is a small spark of anger in him at once again being strung out and played for a fool, but mostly he is filled with a sickening disappointment, one that lingers at the back of his mind as he joins the others on the couch and sits down, defeated, to watch the last half of a movie he had seen before.

 Three days pass. Warren and Kurt see each other at meals, in the hallways, at classes, but nothing is said of their night together, and no one is suspicious. Kurt is beginning to suspect that with the last instalment, their saga has come to a dull and unsatisfying end, but that afternoon as he sits on his bed and tries to make himself complete his history homework, he sees movement in the corner of his eyes; a familiar shape in the doorway that brings him a sinking feeling.
“Can I help you?” he asks, and the indifference in his voice surprises both him and Warren. The boy in the doorway is caught off-guard for a moment, words catching in his throat before they spill out.
“Do you wanna go catch a movie or something?”
Kurt expects himself to be elated and even opens his mouth to say the ‘yes’ he expects to come out. But seconds pass, and instead of joy, it is anger he feels, and it takes him no time at all to understand it. How dare Warren pull this act again? He feels like a yo-yo, pushed and pulled, toyed with by Warren without the slightest consideration for how it made him feel. His hands ball into fists, and a defiant frown settles on his features.
“You really think I’m going to do this all over again?” he baulks, voice tight and uncomfortable. He sees Warren stagger at the question, obviously not having received the answer he had wanted.
“Do… Do what?” The reply, frantic and dumbfounded as it is, sends Kurt further down his path of frustration. For once –for the first time with Warren, in fact– he feels like he is bigger, like he is in charge of the conversation and Warren is the one left to fumble around for some way to salvage his intentions.
“I’m sick of the way you treat me.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Fists clenched, Kurt sits forward on his seat, a thousand words itching at his throat and all trying to get out at once.
“Really? You don’t see the way you always pull me in then push me away right after? What about that night after dinner when you ran away the second we got home?”
“That wasn’t– I didn’t mean that to–“
“What about when you yelled at me for trying to be your friend?” 

Something in Warren snaps when Kurt brings that incident up. Some defensive mechanism steps in and takes over his mind and his body, turning it hard and hostile and familiar. Rage floods in and washes away the puddles of doubt, and the few drops that still remain to insist that Kurt is right are far, far outweighed by the pull of the anger.
“Is it my fault that you’re trying to slot yourself into my life and take over?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know damn well what I’m talking about. What you did to my room, all that bullshit you keep telling me. Don’t be too proud to ask for help, Warren. It’s always there when you need it,” he mocks, taking a step further into the room with fists bared at his sides. “You think I don’t know you’re trying to play saviour? I don’t need you to come in and pull your little do-gooder charity act with me.”
“Then why do you keep coming back?” Kurt bursts. “Every time you get angry at me, I think it’s the end, but every time you come right back and make me go through it all again.”

“Make you go through what, exactly?” challenges Warren, eyes narrowed on Kurt like a predator on prey. Kurt feels vulnerable, unable to find a response that bears saying out loud. He can tell Warren is much more experienced at confrontations like this than he is. Warren knows what buttons to press, what weaknesses to exploit so that he can come out on top, as unscathed and unembarrassed as possible. The thought flickers across his mind that this feels like Warren’s natural method of communication. It is like he is speaking his mother tongue once more, a feeling Kurt is all too familiar with: communication is more efficient, flows faster. While usually, he would have allowed himself to feel the pity and sympathy for Warren for the fact that most of his interactions with his family probably took place in this language of cutting remarks and withering glares, in this moment he can only take a step forward to match Warren, accenting the move with his next point as it comes to his head.
“Through you. Over and over. I try to help you and you push me away. I leave you alone and you want to go out to dinner. Just pick already – do you want to be around me or not?!” 

Out in the hall, Jean and Storm are on their way to their room to deliver a load of clean laundry when they hear raised voices from down the hall. Wary of being seen but unable to resist the temptation of gossip, they approach the room, the door still half open, and surreptitiously crane their necks around the side of the door to get a peek at what is happening. Only one glance is exchanged between the two, but both know what the other is thinking: the tension between Kurt and Warren has finally come to a head, as had been expected by most of their group. When they turn back to the room, they find Kurt staring back at them in horror; bright eyes open wide and frozen like a deer in the headlights. It takes Warren a long moment to realise that Kurt is no longer listening to his rebuttal, and when he too turns to see the two girls, the door is very quickly and very forcefully shut on them, leaving them to quickly abscond from the situation having gained a story to share with the others.

The argument stagnates for a long moment, each boy stewing in his own hurt, fear and frustration. It is Warren who finally speaks up again, no longer able to bear listening to the voices inside him that are only audible in the silence.
“Did you really think you were going to ‘fix’ me? Did you think all it would take was a few sappy words and some stupid gesture and I’d be your fixer-upper?” The words are poisonous, and Warren spits them out as though each one leaves a foul taste in his mouth. There is three feet between them now, though Warren still has the advantage in height, holding a good inch or two over Kurt and giving himself the illusion of dominance.
“Maybe next time I’ll leave you alone,” Kurt shoots back. “Serves me right for trying to help a jerk like you!”
“I don’t want your help!” Warren cries, throwing his hands out to the side, his wings subconsciously bristling, feeling almost electrified by the anger surging through his veins. Anger not just for Kurt’s insistence being his self-appointed babysitter, but anger that he could not have just let this go on like it was, like Warren was comfortable with it being: if they weren’t fighting, they could have been halfway to the mall on another perfectly nice night by then, no explanations and no arguments required.
“That doesn’t give you permission to treat me the way you do!”
Kurt steps in again. Two feet.
“There’s nothing wrong with the way I treat you! It’s you who feels like I apparently owe you something!”
Warren’s turn. One and a half feet. He can see every detail of Kurt’s face now, the fiery eyes, set in a field of perfect blue, marked by those strange, still mysterious symbols. No longer can he hear Kurt’s words under the beating in his chest. His attention is focused only on the fact that Kurt has stepped in once more, and is now standing so close that Warren can feel the heat emanating from him. It dizzies him, filling him with a sensation that he can’t compare to anything he has ever felt before. The tips of his fingers are on fire, and before he has a chance to think better of it, he has acted on one of the many impulses that push at him from all angles. 

Warren’s lips hit Kurt’s haphazardly, teeth colliding when they first touch. Immediately, Kurt seizes up, quickly becoming as stiff as a mannequin with the sheer shock. He has scarcely let his wildest dreams roam to possibilities like this, deeming them too ridiculous to even fantasise about. His heart is racing a mile a minute, neck-in-neck with Warren’s, and the feeling is at once a thrill and a comfort. To Warren, the feeling is akin to the day weeks ago that he had first taken to the skies from the grounds outside, and to Kurt, it feels as though he has become instantly drunk. It isn’t long before the intoxicating feeling gets the better of him and begins to melt away his stiffened muscles, even if it barely lasts a few seconds before Warren grows too terrified to continue and pulls away. When he does end the moment, though, the magic is lost immediately. Now that he confronts his action, eyes open and looking at the boy in front of him, he sees a face that is not joy and not relief, but terror, laced with embarrassment.
And then, he sees nothing at all but the back wall of Kurt’s room. A wisp of smoke is in his place, dissipating just as quickly as any trace of the exhilaration Warren had felt mere moments ago. No part of him wonders where Kurt might have gone, and no part wants to find out. All that matters is that he is no longer there, and that Warren now feels worse than ever. He slinks out of Kurt’s room after standing dumbly for at least a minute straight, walking with his head down and his shoulders up until he reaches his own door and locks himself inside where he, at last, allows himself to wipe the tears from his eyes.

Chapter Text

The night is cold. Cold enough that when Kurt exhales, the air billows out in front of him in a small, translucent cloud. His legs are drawn in close to his chest, his tail hugged tightly around him, and after twenty minutes he has only just lifted his head from where it has been buried into his knees. The moon’s light is weak and milky, but with his eyes he can still see the wind meandering through the tall oak and pine trees that pepper the grounds below him. His lips still feel strange: numb, and not just from the cold. It is as though he can still feel Warren on them, warm, desperate, unexpected, and… welcome? Unwelcome? Kurt still cannot decide. During the brief, fleeting moment they had been locked together, Warren’s hands firmly grasping each of Kurt’s arms just below the shoulder, Kurt’s muscles had turned to melted butter, and he had wondered whether everything was fixed, if everything after the kiss would be the fairy tale he had always secretly wanted he and Warren to be. But the moment the warmth began to fade, the moment the magic was broken, the all-swallowing pit in his stomach had assured him that no, this wasn’t the part of the story where the protagonist and his love interest finally confessed their true feelings to one another and embraced and kissed and laughed about how foolish they’d been trying to hide it. Instead, it was the part of the story where the protagonist, filled to the point of nausea with a sudden embarrassment and terror, fled the scene, and hid on a roof for twenty minutes to avoid confronting his own feelings, and the feelings of the boy he’d been pining over for months. And now, here he is, huddled against the bitter night, feeling the wind turn the tearstains on his face into small streams of concentrated cold and wondering how he is ever meant to look Warren in the eyes again. Is Warren upset with him for running away? Is he hurt? A sick feeling kicks up in the hollow of Kurt’s chest. Is he angry? He tries to picture Warren in his room, surrounded by the things Kurt had left for him, the evidence of a gesture that now seems childish and unwise. Kurt himself feels childish and unwise. Too unequipped to be in this situation at all. Of course it had burned to the ground.

Fix. Warren had asked Kurt if he thought he was going to fix him. The word lingers in Kurt’s mind, unfolding and reshaping into new and unhappy realisations. Warren thinks of himself as broken, as in need of fixing. Warren thinks that Kurt thinks of him as broken. That, above all, is enough to erase the last of Kurt’s anger, and replace it with something even harder to swallow: regret. Deep, dark, horrible regret, the claws of which tease at his insides, pulling strings now and then to make him remember another cutting remark or lamentable retort he had thrown out in the moments his temper had taken control. He should have stayed. He should have talked to Warren, calmed him, and calmed himself. He should have found a way to defuse the situation.
He considers prayer: that is what has always assisted him through these tough situations in the past, steering him towards redemption and reconciliation. But for some reason, he knows that tonight it will be of no help to him. Instead, he lets out a deep sigh, watches the mist of his breath dissolve in front of him, and allows his muscles to relax a little. He will be out here for a while yet, simply because he cannot imagine making himself move from this still, silent reverie. At least here, in the almost ethereal, surreal atmosphere of complete isolation, he can pretend he has only imagined all the events that now plague his thoughts. 

You are a fucking idiot.
The voice in Warren’s head has been repeating those words, occasionally with different, more scathing words added in. He lies on his bed, splayed uncomfortably on top of his wings and looking up towards the high, faded ceiling. Now and then, another surge of frustration hits him, and he slams a fist into his forehead or kicks the heel of his foot into the wall in anger. The heat of the moment, and the rush of emotions that had come with them have long since passed, leaving him with nothing but a desolate feeling in his stomach. It is as though there is a hole somewhere inside him, and the more he thinks about what he has done, the more he remembers the look on Kurt’s face in the instant before he vanished, the more empty he feels, and without any way to react, the sensation consumes him until it lights every nerve in his chest and fingertips on fire and leaves him to burn alive. The image of Kurt’s face will not leave his mind. His eyes, frantic and defensive, like a cornered animal. He could almost see Kurt searching through his mind and trying to figure out what angle Warren would take now to continue his side of the fight. The look that assumed that whatever Warren had done had to be some new tactic designed to find crueller and more unusual ways to put him down. Imagining the look alone was enough to defeat Warren, to leech all the anger out of him. The idea that Kurt would see him as an assailant, and would see the kiss as some strange new way to hurt him, seethes within his mind and forces him to confront everything he has said to Kurt over the months, every way he had pushed and pulled and otherwise abused the boy’s kind, forgiving nature. If only he had it in him to be able to tell Kurt the truth: he has captivated Warren for months, aroused feelings in him that have confused him to no end. And the kiss? Well, the kiss was the result of too much repressed emotion bubbling over and taking over his conscious mind. Warren drives the heels of his hands deep into his damp eyes, welcoming the pain that blooms out from beneath the sockets. Once more he hears it: you are a fucking idiot.
That is the last he can remember before falling into a restless, uneasy sleep.

 

When the next morning comes, both boys dread facing the real world again. The realm of friends, of amicable teasing and complaints about the usual things like breakfast and homework, seems so far away, and the prospect of pretending to be fine in light of the previous night’s events feels hopeless. Even outside of that, both are acutely aware that part of their argument had been heard by two of their friends, neither of who would have had any qualms in sharing the juicy piece of gossip. And yet, they have no choice, and to avoid arousing suspicion, Kurt forces himself to rise from his bed and dress himself in anticipation of a long, hard day. Warren can get away with not leaving his room: it has been a long, long time since anyone but Kurt has stopped trying to rouse him on the days when he decided he would not face the world of the living. But Kurt has a reputation to keep up. Kurt approaches the table where his friends sit a little later than usual, and immediately knows his efforts to seem light and carefree have been for nought: they are speaking rapidly in hushed tones, talk that ceases the moment Jean catches sight of the blue boy drawing near and chokes off her story mid-sentence. His stomach constricts: how much do they know? He cannot ask – or rather, he will not ask. He does not have it in him to start such confrontations. And so, he sits down with his slice of buttered toast and quartered orange, and tries to tolerate the nausea that accompanies his dread of Warren appearing. Mercifully, in a small reprieve, the meal passes without any sign of him, and Kurt is able to finish eating and slip away from the table before anyone can work up the courage to ask him a question.
Scott watches carefully as Kurt leaves the dining hall, tail almost literally between his legs, reminiscent of a hurt puppy in demeanour. He loses himself to thought and speculation, and Peter has to repeat himself twice before he finally gets any attention.
“He didn’t show up in our room until late last night,” he says, gaze shifting from the closing doors back to Scott.
“No?” Scott replies.
“Nope. Had no idea where he was. He was gone when I fell asleep, there by the time I woke up.”
“Hm.”
“Any idea what might’ve happened?”
Scott frowns, eyes still stuck in the middle distance
“No. None.”

It is almost not a lie. While he knows as much as anyone else at the table about what specifically took place between Kurt and Warren the previous night, he is at an advantage being the only one to know about the subtext between the two, at least from Kurt’s side. In his mind, a scene takes form: Warren accusing, insulting, denigrating, and Kurt cowering, meekly defending, wishing he had just stayed quiet. As the conversation at the table turns to wondering just what the pair could have been fighting over, Scott rises from his seat and sets his sights on the door. 
Past the crowd, through the doors, up the main stairs as his footsteps echoed through the empty, cavernous foyer, and along the hallway towards Warren’s room Scott takes himself, fuelled by a deep-down desire to protect his friend. The sound of a heavy bass line and screaming guitar grows louder as he approaches: a clear sign that Warren is in no mood to attend classes today. As he goes to reach for Warren’s doorknob, he feels a momentary breeze, and Peter is next to him, leaning back against the wall on the opposite side of the door.
“What are we doing?” he asks casually.
“Get lost, burnout.”
“Whoa. I’m not the one messing with other people’s private affairs. I’m Kurt’s roommate and you don’t see me trying to fight his battles for him.”
“You don’t get it.”
“What’s there not to get?”
Scott drops his arms to his sides in annoyance.
“It’s nothing. Not my place to say.”
“Ah, come on, tight ass. Let me in on it.”
His insistence brings on a sigh. A deep one. He can tell Peter is not about to let up: for someone who can get most things done in a fraction of a second, Peter is relentlessly patient when it comes to gossip.

 “Kurt has… a bit of a thing for Warren,” he says carefully. Instantly, Peter’s eyebrows rise with the new revelation, a smile spreading across his face like a child who has just successfully snuck into somewhere they do not belong. In the pause before Peter speaks again, the screeching and wailing of the music stops, leaving a brief moment of silence before the next song begins and the two boys are afforded the cover of noise once more.
Really? What sort of thing?”
“I don’t know,” Scott says shortly. “Just a thing. He told me about it the day Warren started flying again.”
“So you think this fight they’ve had is about that?” Peter asks, turning to face the doorway as Scott folds his arms and shrugs in response.
“I don’t know. That’s what I’m here to find out.”
“God, please tell me you’re gonna go in there and try to intimidate him into talking to Kurt. I so want to see that.”
“What?” Scott frowns under his glasses, and Peter is already on thin ice. The boy across from him grins, daring Scott to argue the point, and demonstrate himself as not just a “stick-in-the-mud,” but uptight about it as well. Left at a stalemate, Scott gives a heavy sigh and knocks firmly on the door. Predictably, there is no response, and Scott knocks louder. When more time passes and the two boys are still left waiting, Peter decides to take matters into his own hands.
“Warren! Open up, jerkface!”
The music dims, the bed creaks, and heavy footsteps sound as Warren approaches the door, swinging it open with a look that instantly shatters all Scott’s hopes of appearing imposing. He says nothing, instead shifting his eyes from Scott to Peter expectantly. His eyes looks sunken and slightly out of focus. If his visitors didn’t know better, they could swear the redness and puffiness in his eyes suggested tears. 

Peter looks from Warren to Scott pointedly, cocking an eyebrow in an attempt to remind Scott of his purpose. Scott shakes himself out of his own thoughts and clears his throat, trying to scrape together the conviction to seem authoritative.
“I want to know what happened with you and Kurt,” he states, emulating his best teacher voice. Warren rolls his eyes and goes to shut the door, but Peter’s foot blocks his path. He makes a mock tutting sound, smirking like the whole situation was a game.
“Come on, Angel,” he jostles. “We just want to help.”
“I don’t want you guys to help. This isn’t your business.”
“You made it our business when you did something to hurt Kurt,” rallies Scott, glad to have found a place to revive his original intention. But the surge of confidence is short-lived when Warren scoffs.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he dismisses in little more than a mumble. The idea that Scott would have the gall to come to him as Ororo had previously, and to talk to him like a concerned school counsellor, ignites a small flame of anger in Warren, and considering the unfamiliar and uncomfortable rollercoaster the past day has been, it is at least a comfort to return to something he is used to.
“So why don’t you tell us what we’re talking about?” Peter cuts in before Scott can reply, and all this suggestion earns him is a harsh glare from Warren, a wordless answer to his question.
“Look, I don’t know what you assholes think you’re doing letting yourself into me and Kurt’s business, but you’re not going to play mediator with us. Stay the fuck out of it.”
Scott’s eyes narrow, and in a movement that comes off as slightly childish and unconvincing, he steps forward towards Warren, lowering his tone to one that he hopes is at least a little threatening.
“Listen, buddy,” he begins, and even Peter has to suppress as smirk at how obviously put together the line sounds. “I don’t give a damn about you or your side of this. I care about Kurt. And since, for reasons I still can’t find, he wants to keep trying to bring out whatever worthwhile thing he sees in you, I’m making it my job to make sure he doesn’t get hurt more than he already has been.”
Silence sets in. None of the three boys seem to know how to continue without breaking the roles they have set for themselves. Eventually, Warren lets out a heavy, tired sigh and closes the door in one sharp, jerky movement. After a beat, the music is turned up once more, and Scott and Peter are left standing outside the door as though they had merely imagined Warren’s entire, brief appearance. 

“What a jerk,” Peter finally says, in a tone so casual and blasé that even Scott has to smirk.
“You gotta wonder what Kurt sees in him,” he replies, shoving his hands into his pockets as he begins down the hall. Peter gives a shrug as he follows.
“Maybe it’s just physical.”
“Can you imagine Kurt liking someone just for their looks?”
“Yeah, you’re right. He’s too goody-goody for that sort of thing.” 

In Warren’s room, far from the unfeeling and uncaring brick wall Scott and Peter have just spoken to, Warren is wearing a thoughtful, solemn frown, replaying Scott’s words over and over in his head. The anger at his overconfident and under-practiced demeanour has subsided, or rather has been eclipsed by an intense need to know just what motivated Scott’s words. Kurt wants to keep trying. Kurt sees something worthwhile in him. He dimly wonders whether he should change the words in his mind to wanted and saw, but he does not want to approach the thought directly. In the time since the previous night, he must admit he has spent an amount of time planning words he never truly intended to say to Kurt, scripting apologies and explanations and confessions that were supposed to make things better, or at least earn him a second –no, it had to be fiftieth by now, at least– chance. Now, however? While he still believes he could never say out loud the exact words that had been part of his fantasy conversations, the prospect of speaking to Kurt begins to drift back into the realm of possibility. After all, wasn’t it the persistently happy, forgiving, fluid and flexible nature of Kurt that had fascinated Warren in the first place? And couldn’t he try to replicate that, to try and earn Kurt’s trust back? It still seems optimistic, something that hardly fits into the complex puzzle that forms Warren’s psyche, but maybe that is what he needs right now. An action that defies all the rules set by his previous self, that marks a real change into something better than himself. Into something that maybe, just maybe, could be deserving of Kurt’s time and –dare he say it– his affections.

But, unsurprisingly, these thoughts are soon beaten down by the same dark force that has kept him from deviating from his usual ways for years. Just as always, Warren is left in the purgatory between wanting to act and being too scared of the outcome to make a move. He writhes on his bed in indecision for lengths of time he cannot know, then paces his room back and forth, reaching for the doorknob a thousand times but never going further. The music he had been playing has long since run out as he perches on his desk chair and restlessly bounces his leg, pent up emotions and desires festering and itching under his skin. By the time lunch finally comes around, the build has become too much, and Warren moves quickly, decisively, leaving his room with the door still open behind him and striding down the hallway with long and slightly hasty steps. There is an extremely small window of opportunity here, and if he misses it, he knows his willpower will be doomed to disintegrate altogether. He reaches Kurt’s door, slowing down subconsciously as he nears it. As the inside of Kurt’s room comes into view, the lines in the script he has frantically written in his head suddenly become jumbled and inarticulate. The door is open, and when he takes one more step forward to peer in and sees that he has made it, his heart still clenches anyway. Peter has already been and gone, depositing his books carelessly on his bed and whizzing off down to the dining hall for lunch. Kurt, however, takes his time, setting his books on his desk and sorting through what work he will have to do that afternoon. He does not notice Warren behind him, observing the way he moves, taking in every detail. There is something missing from him today; he moves more reluctantly, without the energy or fluidity that usually drive his gestures. Even his eyes seem to be duller today, and Warren’s heart plunges through his stomach at the realisation that the reason for his expression is Warren’s own actions. As the seconds wear on, and Warren hears the telltale sound of footsteps climbing the stairs, he shakes himself from his thoughts, and takes the plunge, clearing his throat to alert the boy opposite him to his presence.

Kurt jumps, shocked from his thoughts by the realisation that he is not alone, and for a moment he teleports instinctively away, reappearing in his room after spending a split second outside on the lawn. He looks through his own cloud of deep purple smoke, seeing the figure of Warren in his doorway, and feels a dizzying mix of hope and dread. It is plain to see that Warren is agitated, too, and Kurt is unsure how exactly to react to his sudden presence. He opens his mouth, but no words come out, and it takes an eternity for Warren to realise that he will have to offer an explanation himself, since Kurt has no way to request one.
“Wanna talk?” he mumbles, hands balling into fists and shoved into his pockets. As he speaks, his eyes flick repeatedly between Kurt and the floor, between where he wants them to be and where his instincts direct them. Kurt does not know exactly what it is that makes him nod, that makes him point to his neatly-made bed and close the door behind Warren as he slinks into the room and sits down on the edge of the bedspread. His wings shift nervously, settling and resettling against his back, unable to find a position that would relieve his discomfort. Kurt hesitates before he sits down, shifting over to put a little more distance between himself and Warren. Both boys look forward, finding a patch of wall or carpet to stare at in lieu of looking at each other.
“You been okay?” Warren asks presently. Kurt lifts his shoulders in response.
“I’ve been fine.”
“Good.”
There is a certain insincerity to Warren’s tone, and he knows Kurt can hear it, but he does not know how to make it go away. Neither comments on it, lacking the conviction or the willpower, or both. 

“So… You want to talk. Let’s talk,” Kurt sighs, breaking the thick silence.
“Where do we start?”
At being given a direct question to answer, and at being spoken to with the manner of a lost schoolchild, Kurt summons the drive to give a direct reply, and to make a solid demand for answers to the many questions he has been agonising over.
“Why did you kiss me?”
Though taken aback at first, Warren is glad to surrender his part in directing the conversation, and sinks a little further forward, forearms on his knees, in preparation to respond. Willing his words past the dam in his throat, he speaks.
“Because I wanted to.”
“Because you wanted to what?”
“Because I wanted to kiss you.”
Kurt makes a soft humming sound.
“Your timing was a little off.”
Surprisingly enough, his remark draws a faint laugh from Warren, a mere sharpened breath of a laugh, but a laugh nonetheless.
“Yeah… No shit.”

 Outside, the sky is above the mansion is dark, heavily overcast with only sparse patches of blue between the cloud cover. When Warren looks up at Kurt and sees him gazing into the sky outside, he turns his head to face the window as well, and with a newfound resolve, scrapes together a few words from the many mental essays he has written for Kurt.
“Look, I’m an idiot. You know that by now, right? You have to.”
An uneasy frown takes over Kurt’s sharp, angular features, but as he opens his mouth to reply, Warren holds up a hand to stop him.
“I’ve treated you like crap. I’ve treated you worse than crap, and you didn’t deserve any of it.” Warren allows himself a private smile, and with his eyes in his lap he is unable to see that Kurt is now staring intently at him. “Hell, you’re probably the one around here who deserves to be treated the best.”
Already, something is different. The light in the room takes on a new quality, polished and crystallised by Warren’s forthright words. No longer is there a haze of uncertainty between the two, intertwining with and distorting their feelings and intentions. Kurt feels as though he is seeing Warren anew, just as he had on the day that he had first seen him take to the sky. Though he wants to speak, Kurt stays silent, sensing that there is still more Warren wants to say. Sure enough, with a deep breath to support his sudden surge of sincerity, the winged boy continues.
“I’m so sorry, Kurt. I should have been upfront with you from the start. I’m just… I’m like poison, I guess.” Warren clenches his fists, and squeezes his eyes shut for a moment. Kurt has never before noticed just how striking Warren’s eyes are. A pale, milky blue, with small flecks of darker grey towards the centre. They are pained now, sorrowful, and Kurt’s heart aches as he quickly finds himself getting lost in them and in the mournful sadness in his words. “Any time I get close to people I just end up hurting them. I’ve never been able to make a friend or have a relationship that didn’t go to shit because of me freaking out about them getting too close. Ever since I was a kid, from my asshole father to everyone after.”

It takes a long time for Kurt to find the proper words to reply. He has always known that Warren took the sort of image of himself that belonged in an angsty teen drama, but to hear him say the words out loud is confronting, and it hurts Kurt as deeply as any of Warren’s insults. His instincts tell him to do whatever he can to soothe Warren, to take him into his arms and comfort him, but his conscious mind knows that this is not what Warren needs right now. Coddling will do nothing for him – it is real, genuine talk that stands a chance at helping him. Warren, meanwhile, feels a magnificent weight lift off his chest, leaving him feeling free in the same way he did in the air. Never had he imagined that the one thing he had always detested, always avoided as though it would be his death, would feel so fantastic. The sensation is addictive, and Warren suddenly feels the intense urge to spill out every last word that lies within his still extremely full mind.
“I’ll admit that the way you treated me hurt,” Kurt begins softly, breathily, and Warren returns to reality immediately. “It hurt a lot. But that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a second chance. You’ve been through a lot. You still need help with some things.”
“Would you still be willing to offer that help?” Warren feels foolish for asking, especially in such a pathetic, sentimental tone. But this shame evaporates when Kurt gives a small, inward smile that sets off an involuntary flutter in Warren’s chest. Gradually, Kurt begins to realise that the space he had put between he and Warren is too much, and quite diffidently, he shifts over the bedspread, stopping with just a little more than an inch between his own leg and Warren’s.
“Would… Would you be willing to accept it?”
Too distracted by the sudden closeness of the boy he’d been all but obsessed with for weeks, Warren cannot reply in words. His throat goes stiff, and all he can think about is the fantastic warmth radiating from the boy, and how badly he wants to feel more of it. He musters a nod, a slow but assured gesture. Moments pass, though to the two boys on perched on the edge of Kurt’s bed, they may as well have been on a different planet, one completely their own.

It is Kurt this time that closes the distance between them and presses his lips to Warren’s. Softly, tentatively, nothing like the unplanned and haphazard kiss of the previous night. Kurt slips his hand into Warren’s, who responds by lacing his five fingers snugly into Kurt’s three, his eyes still closed as he returns the gentle, tender pressure. A shudder ripples down his spine and along his wings as he feels Kurt’s other hand against the back of his neck, grazing against him so lightly before it lands that it sends tingles sprawling across his skin. Feeling the intuitive desire to return the gesture, he lifts his free hand and, with eyes still shut tight, lets it feel its way across the bedspread until it finds Kurt’s side. It moves upwards painfully slowly, caressing Kurt’s arm and bringing out an intensely satisfying shudder from the boy as he softens further into the kiss. 

When at last the two part, each one is giddy and smiling, and neither one has any intention of fleeing the scene for any other reason than to run to the nearest rooftop and yell to the world what has just happened. Both too caught up with each other, neither knows how much time passes before one of them finally decides to break the quiet.
“I never thought you’d actually…” Kurt breathes, his fingers still tightly knitted with Warren’s. He does not even need to finish before Warren nods in agreement.
“Me neither.”
The two share an open, breathless smile, cheeks flushed hot, and in Warren’s case, bright red. The skin on the back of his neck is cold now, already missing Kurt’s touch. He is struck by another impulse, and acts on it with a smile, leaning in and placing a kiss on Kurt's temple. Kurt smiles in response, the expression as bright as a star and as warm as the sun. He lays his head on Warren’s shoulder, his tail subconsciously curling around Warren, the spade gliding back and forth over the place where Warren’s hip meets his thigh. Left undisturbed in Kurt’s room, the two of them sit for as long as they can together, savouring the perfection of the moment and hoping that nothing would come to end it before they were good and ready to leave each other’s side.