Disclaimer: I own none of the characters within.

Author's Notes: Although I've never read the comics, I know quite a bit about them, so this probably won't make much sense to people who have only seen the movies. But for all you comic fans out there, this is a little something that popped into my head that takes place a while after Mystique's little episode in Wolverine's tent, but before everyone else wakes up and boards the X-Jet. I hope you enjoy.

Shades of Blue

The firelight does little to expel the quenching darkness around it. Its' flickering illumination bounces off the trees above, reflecting off the many leaves and giving the air an almost green haze. The crickets chirp in reverent muffled tones.

It is very late, or rather, very early, as the night crawls on into the wee hours of the morning. All have adjourned to the X-Jet or their tents for sleep and rest, gathering strength for the battle to come.

But not all souls can claim rest that night.

A lithe figure stretches before the fire, arching his back and shaking his head vigorously. Long blue tail snaps at the air behind him. He has never needed much sleep to feel rested. A few hours nestled in the tree branches have given him all the refreshment he desires. He's already spent one hour in this solitary darkness saying prayers for the battle.


He hasn't fought in so long. Vague flashes of a run through the White House haunt him, but that had been someone else using his body. He remembers brawls in the circus, friendly exercises to keep your wits about you. Farther back, he can recall genuine fights for his life in a world that hated him.

But all in all, he is a bit rusty.

Whipping his tail around sharply, he curls it up into the air and studies it, contemplating its' use in combat. Spinning lightly on his feet, he gives the nearest tree branch a swift crack with the pointed end. It makes a satisfying whip noise in the silence. Grinning, he pivots and slaps the other tree with the same effect.

Springing up into the air, he dissolves midway there, reappearing back where he had started, landing behind his invisible opponent and dealing him a sharp kick in the back. He drops into a crouch when an unseen fist pummels the air over his head, swinging his legs around to sweep the feet from under his enemy.

Up, around, jumping clean over the fire, he kicks and spins in an intricate dance, light and deadly, his tail whistling through the air like a sword.

A flying swing suddenly connects with a block, forearm to forearm with an opponent that has appeared from nowhere.

The sleek blue woman from earlier stands there, combat ready.

"Nightcrawler." She says smoothly.

"Mystique." He says with a bit more uncertainty, remembering what they had called her.

"Let's dance."

Her invitation catches him completely off guard, until she is suddenly behind him, dealing two swift strikes to his back. Bamf, he is gone, bamf, he is across the fire from her.

"I don't want to hurt you." He shakes his head.

"It's just a little friendly sparring. What's the matter? Do you think I can't take it?"

"It's not that, but-"

A ripple runs over her body, and there stands a mirror image of himself. Her voice comes out of it.

"Bring it on."

She comes flying over the fire, bringing the tail around smartly in the same move he had been practicing earlier, slapping him right across the face. Ducking, he brings his body up under her, bucking her backwards and into the darkness.

Back up on her feet, she is suddenly in the form of Wolverine, charging right at him and meeting thin air. He is already behind her, grabbing her arms and twisting them around, gasping and releasing her when she becomes herself once more.

"That all you got, tough guy?" she grins.

He hates to admit it, but he enjoys the exercise. The circus had brought many opportunities for brawling and releasing all that energy, but of late he'd been residing in a lonely old church, no sparring partner to be found. Now here is a real match, just begging to be challenged.

Around and around the flames they move, up, down, in, out, weaving gracefully like a pair of wild cats. She shifts images as easily as shifting the gears in a car; she is herself, she is her opponent, she is Wolverine, always switching on him right when he had perfected a technique with the latest form.

At last, in a flurry of movement, she knocks his guarding arms to the side, spins him one hundred eighty degrees so that she is behind him, and latches a surprisingly powerful forearm around his throat. Tight, but not smothering. He chuckles hoarsely.

"All right, all right, mein fraulein, you win! You win!"

Slipping her arm away from him, she uses the gesture to turn her body towards the fire, where she settles down to watch the flames, laughing also and breathing heavily. He sits down next to her, completely invigorated.

"Wonderful!" he claps his misshapen hands. "Wonderful! You fight beautifully!"

"Danke, mein herr." She smiles. "You're not so bad, yourself."

"But, where did you learn? How?"

"Ah, lots of different places. Mostly through trial and error. Early tensions in the Vietnam War had a lot of people itching for a fight with a mutant…"

"Wait, what?" He is confused now. "The Vietnam War? But you are so young…"

Her sudden outburst of laughter startles him into silence, and he gives her questioning looks until she calms herself sufficiently to answer.

"Young? Hardly! I'm just a few years younger than Erik, actually…"

Now he is utterly bewildered.

"But… but…"

"Hey, if I can generate flesh to imitate people, who's to say I can't generate myself younger and younger as time goes by?" A wistful sigh, directed at the sky. "I'm practically immortal… I just keep refreshing myself over and over. And Erik just keeps getting older…"

"Age is a race that very few of us end up winning." He agrees solemnly. "We all must go in time."

"I suppose that's very true, but that doesn't mean I have to acknowledge it."

"You cannot ignore God's plan. When it is time to die, you die. There is no way out of that."

"There's a way out of everything. I know that by now."

Abruptly, something brushes against her back. She turns and sees that his tail is twitching, thrashing in agitation as he finds himself drawn into an argument against his faith. Glancing behind him, he notices it as well and blushes a dark indigo, snatching the tail back against his body almost defensively.

"So sorry." He mumbles apologetically. "It has a mind of it's own, sometimes."

"It's beautiful…" she breathes. Extending a hand, she quirks an eyebrow at him. "May I…?"

Shy, timid, he nonetheless allows his tail to drift into her lap, so that she can hold it in her hands. She feels the muscle, feels it pulsing and strong as steel, like a snake, a boa constrictor. Her fingers stroke along the rich blue, coming at last to the elegantly spaded tip, admiring its' fine point.

And suddenly, into her mind flashes the image of when this tail was only as long as her index finger, when that handsome spade was nothing more than a misshapen lump on the end of it.

A hand flies to her mouth in realization, as a long-buried memory rises from the dead.

"Are you all right?" he says, concern in his voice.

But she isn't.

Because she knows.

But she must compose herself. Her expression is pulled into neutral, and then into one of polite curiosity.

"I suppose it must have been difficult growing up like this. It was… very hard for me, so I assume you had your troubles…?"

At his sullen look, she immediately bites her tongue.

"I'm not probing, am I?"

"Nein, nein." He assures hastily. "Yes, I had my troubles. But not as many as I would have expected, which is thanks to God."

"Your parents? They were especially helpful?" Easy girl, don't rush him…

"Ah, I had no real parents."

Her breath hitches in her throat, but she tries to disguise it.

"I was found and raised by gypsies, and they were the only family I ever knew. They never… never judged me by how I looked. For that I was always glad. They taught me how to be an acrobat, and I performed in their circus with them. Ah, but they were strange people, in a good way. All the elders had such funny nicknames for people… they always called me 'Moses', but whenever I asked them about it, they laughed and promised to tell me someday."

He shakes his head, smiling at the fond memories.

"I never did figure that one out."

Fished from a river! She wants to scream. Pulled from a river, like Moses was from the Nile!

 "And you?" His glittering eyes rest on her curiously. "You made it through in one piece?"

"Obviously." She says bitterly. "But I went through a real rough time before I met Erik. In fact, I cam very close to death by an angry mob, which is something I always thought only happened in movies and horror stories. But then again, life is a horror story when you look like you belong in one. And then…" Her gaze drifted to the ground in guilt and shame.

He, on the other hand, supplied a completely different cue.

"Then you met Erik." He prompts, in attempts to be helpful.

"Hm? Yes." A genuine smile graces her lips. "I met Erik. I was in a lot of trouble, a lot of turmoil. He was just so calm and collected all the time… he made everything make a lot more sense. We've been traveling together ever since."

"Ah, that is good. That is very, very good. I think that life would be a lot easier to go through with someone else to go through it with you."

"You think, but you don't know."

His smile is forced, painful.

"I don't know. I've never had anyone to go through it by my side. Only God, and He is sufficient company for me. I don't exactly have a lot of other choices."

"I know."

The guilt rises and threatens to strangle her, blocking her throat and making her eyes water from the pain. Or are those tears? Without even realizing it, an absent hand of hers lifts up and settles on his cheek, her thumb rubbing the raised marks with an odd tenderness.

My poor baby.

The tail wriggles briefly in her lap as he reels it back to rest on the ground behind him, his yellow eyes practically glowing in the firelight as he stares at her with a shocking and sudden intensity.

"Who are you?" he whispers painfully, one hand reaching up to rest over hers. "Who are you, really? I know you… my heart tells me we've met before…"

Look how handsome you've grown.

She smiles bitterly, wanting to say a thousand things and unable to even form half the words in her mind, let alone get her suddenly useless lips to form them and communicate the thoughts to him.

I'm so proud of you.

"I'm…" she gropes for the words. "I'm…"

"Tell me." He chokes out.

I'm so proud of the man you've become.

"I'm sorry..."

…for allowing my own cowardice to separate us.

She can feel his breath rush from his body, his heart resuming to it's normal rhythm as he pulls his face from her touch, his head dropping to his chest and his eyes glistening with disappointment.

And she will always curse herself for losing her nerve.

"Danke." He says hoarsely. Then, glancing about, "Ah, it is late. I am sorry for keeping you out of bed."

"I needed the exercise." She murmurs.

I wish I could have known you as you grew.

She rises to her feet, but he remains hunched in front of the fire, staring at it fixedly. In a burst of impulse, she allows her hand to brush over the top of his head, allows her fingers to become briefly entangled among the soft indigo curls, feeling for the first and last time that warmth that she has been missing all these years.

There are a thousand things I wish I could have seen with you.

"You fight well." She chokes out, feeling a need to compliment him on something, to make an excuse for this touch.

But nothing can change what's already been done.

"And you also." He responds dutifully.

There's only one thing that you need to know, something I have known all these years, something that has been true all these years, and will always be true until the day you die.

One final stroke through his lush hair, and she must pull herself away. Walking back to her tent, she casts a look over her shoulder at him and projects her thoughts to him with a desperate desire that he might know that one simple truth.

I love you.

The sun is rising.

The night is over.

A new day is beginning.

~ End