This was my first fanfic ever as well as the first fic of any kind I had written in somewhere around 12-18 years. I partially re-wrote it and added to it last summer with the intention of continuing and developing it further, although I'm not actually planning on coming back to it (other than the occasional note) until I finish my current project. I didn't want to post this version, however, until Playing With Fire got far enough along to tie in with the end of this. Now that I've reached that point, I decided to post this as, among other things, some parts of Playing with Fire will make a bit more sense if you've read this first.
I'd love any insights anyone can give me on style, pacing, dialogue, etc... Basically, anything. Go ahead, rip me a new one. I'm a big girl, I can take it.
Titles from a poem by William Ernest Henley.
Disclaimer: don't own 'em, wish I did, just like to play with 'em.
Telepathy and thoughts are in italics. I'm sure you can figure out which is which. ;)
OUT OF THE NIGHT THAT COVERS ME
Fifteen year old Kurt Wagner crouched, cat-like, in the shadows at the very apex of the circus big top. His gaze was riveted on the milling crowds far below. He watched from his hidden vantage as families jostled up and down the tiers of bleachers, jockeying for the best seats. Small children clutched cotton candy or bags of popcorn to their chests as they were dragged unresisting in their parents wake. Only the perimeter of the one large ring was lit, as some of the troupe's clowns tumbled and capered for the crowd's amusement.
The stands were filling rapidly and it was clear from his perch that tonight's performance was indeed a sell-out. Considering the size of Winzeldorf almost the entire population must be here tonight, as well as a significant percentage of the population of the two or three villages in the immediate vicinity. The crowd was almost settled now, and, as he watched, the clowns completed their final pre-show skit and headed for the curtain at the far end of the ring, their antics unabated. Children laughed and fidgeted, but as the house lights dimmed, parents quickly hushed them as everyone below realized the show was about to begin. In the shadows of his aerial hiding place, Kurt found himself holding his breath along with the rest of the crowd, waiting for the moment when the first spot-light would flame to life and illuminate the Ring Master standing center stage, when his booming voice would echo to the farthest corners of the giant big top and the magic would begin.
He could no longer count the number of times he had sat in just this place, waiting for just this moment. Still, he had never lost the sense of wonder, of possibility, that the expectant hush before the center ring sprang to life had instilled in him on his very first visit to a circus as a child of six in a small farming village in the Bavarian Alps. It had been a different circus he had watched that night, a very small regional show which toured only through Bavaria and some parts of Switzerland and Austria, but to him it had been a miracle. The lights, the music, and the antics of the clowns and the courage of the animal tamers – he had been riveted from the first moment. But it was when the aerialists had performed – flying through the air with the grace of angels and the agility of monkeys – that he had been bewitched.
Now, nine years later, he perched in much the same spot as he had that first time, hidden in the shadows of a much larger big-top, waiting for the lights to blaze and the show to begin. Waiting also, and much more importantly, for the entrance cue for his farewell performance as the star aerialist. He shifted his grip slightly on the guy lines he was using for balance and settled his feet into a more comfortable position on the narrow spar beneath him, suddenly overcome with a fit of nerves - not for the show about to begin, which he was reasonably confident he could perform half-asleep, but for the future which awaited him after it was over. Tomorrow he would leave behind everything he had ever known – his family, his friends and the safety and acceptance he had found in the melting pot of the circus tents – and depart, alone, for the American school his parents assured him was the best place in the world for one with his...unique...talents and abilities.
He realized with a start that what he had thought was only a moment's distraction had been sufficient to allow the show to begin. The music was swelling and the lights were focused center ring as the cast, arrayed as pious church-goers, glided into the ring beneath him. As the first chords of devotional music began to fade his cue was rapidly approaching. Now all thoughts beyond tonight's show were driven from his mind as the euphoria of performing took over. He rapidly checked that all the elements of his costume were in place – the fake horns glued to his forehead, blue hair still rigidly spiked and dyed at the tips with scarlet, glittering claws sewn into the tips of his three-fingered gloves. He shifted one last time, looked down intently as the rest of the cast hit their marks and began their petition to God Almighty, then, with a blood-curdling scream, launched himself unhesitatingly into space.
The show had been an unqualified triumph! There had been not a single hitch – no missed cues, no missed lines, not a single fall or miscatch. Kurt could think of no better night to end his career as an aerialist. Now that it was over he could look down from the perch he'd resumed during the finale and watch the again milling crowd as he thought about the turn his life was about to take. He had met Herr Professor Xavier and Herr Logan for the first time that morning, after his morning chores and practice session were over. Herr Logan made him slightly uneasy with his constant watchfulness and gruff demeanor. The Professor, on the other hand, had put him at ease almost immediately. He had spoken of the trip across the Atlantic on their plane, the Blackbird, of the school he would attend, and of the two other students already living at his Institute. Kurt's mother had already shown him the letters from the Professor and another person, a Frau Munroe, inviting Kurt to attend the Xavier Institute. She had told him of the phone calls, the existence of other mutants, of the arrangements for him to travel to the United States. Today, however, he had met the people who would control his future for the first time and he was more than a little afraid.
His glowing yellow eyes blinked slowly once, then twice, and his tail struggled to switch within the confines of the wired sheath that held it immobile, a part of his "costume" for the show, as he contemplated the changes to come. He would miss the circus. He hated to leave what degree of acceptance and peace he'd found there. He would miss the months in winter quarters working out new routines and perfecting old ones. Friday night movie marathons in the common room of the apartment he shared with Wilhelm and Reinhardt, two of the tumblers and acrobats in the show; and two of the few people who had ever truly gotten over his freakish appearance and bothered to get to know him as a person.
He ran his hands through his thick blue-black hair and felt the crunch of the styling gel he'd used to spike it up for the show. He reached one long, three-fingered hand down the neck of his glittering spandex costume and tried to rearrange where his dense, velvety blue fur had been uncomfortably rucked up by the clinging material. After only limited success he decided that he could unzip and peel the top down to his waist while he waited for the crowd to disperse before coming down. He would definitely not miss spandex, especially in summer. Even on this cool fall day his fur was plastered to his body with sweat in all sorts of uncomfortable places.
He hated the idea of leaving behind the aerial displays that let him come as close to a fully functioning use of his unusual body as was possible without causing mass hysteria and a demon hunt. But he couldn't honestly say he would miss being introduced as a demon 10 times a week. He knew it was a fantastically successful act for the show, he knew it was virtually the only role he could be cast in because of his appearance – that or a gargoyle, imp or animal – but it still hit too close to home. And, being honest, there were some memories that he would be more than happy to walk away from.
His tail tried to lash again and he impatiently reached back and used one sharp, claw-like fingernail to rip a hole in the seat of his pants and snake the appendage out. He then entirely ripped off the offending portion of costume and tied it around the pole he was crouched next to. He ignored the brief flash of guilt at destroying an expensive costume - it wasn't like he was ever going to need it again. Freed from the restraints of wire and spandex, his tail lashed restlessly beneath him until he wrapped it firmly around the nearest rope and leaned out over the crowd below, using his fifth limb to support his weight while he looked down in concern.
He had just realized that the sounds he heard below were not the normal crowd noises he'd come to expect at the end of a show. Somewhere during his reverie the laughter and jostling of the exiting audience had begun to be replaced by shouts of fear as people tried frantically to shove their way to one of the exits. The smell of popcorn and candy floss was being overwhelmed by the smell of burning wood, straw and canvas and, as Kurt looked down, he saw smoke licking rapidly up the canvas wall of the tent near the north exit. God only knew how it could have started, but it was spreading rapidly in both directions from there and was also catching in the straw that was spread along the ground as well as in the wooden bleachers the crowd was trying to vacate.
Even in the few moments Kurt had been watching the flames had spread to the guy ropes supporting the huge tent and were racing from there to the poles, platforms and spars that both held up the tent and created the superstructure the aerial performers used. The air where he was perched was rapidly becoming hot and thick with smoke and the fire was racing upward. He looked below for a clear spot into which he could leap. He couldn't risk using any of the aerial equipment to aid his descent, not with the fire racing through the ropes, but then he didn't really need any of it. He could drop from where he was perched with little risk of serious injury if he had to, although though such a fall would likely kill a 'normal' human. But he couldn't see a single sufficiently clear space.
There was total chaos below now as almost everyone in the big top became aware of the inferno that was raging at the north end of the tent. Bits of burning canvas were floating through the air and setting straw, props and even clothing alight. There was a crash and screams as one of the burning big top poles began to topple, it support ropes completely burned through. Kurt looked on with mounting horror and rising fear as people were knocked down and trampled by their neighbors in the frantic rush to reach the safety of the exits and his original plan to jump down and run for safety was abandoned. There were too many people and the fire was moving too rapidly. He could see that most of the circus personnel were trying to calm the crowd and keep them going smoothly for the exits, but they were being mostly ignored and pushed aside. Many people were helping their neighbors, lifting children above the crush, helping the injured to their feet or even carrying them, but even more were shoving blindly. People were going to die here today and his stomach clenched in sick horror at the thought.
The golden eyes took on a look of fierce determination and then with a slight 'bamf' of imploding air and a cloud of sulphurous smoke he simply disappeared, only to reappear below in a similar cloud near a young man who was trying to guide his pregnant wife and small child through the jostling crowd. He placed a hand on each adult's shoulder and wrapped his tail around the boy's waist and before any of them could react all four of them disappeared. Kurt had deliberately chosen to reappear in an isolated spot between the circus wagons and away from the big top. He knew there would be nothing and no one there after a show, especially under the circumstances. Even so he had been terrified that he might teleport himself and the people with him into someone or something and kill or maim them all.
Before the trio could even register what had happened Kurt 'ported again, this time to the roof of one of the midway booths overlooking the west entrance of the huge tent. From there he could see that the north side of the tent was entirely consumed by flames and sections of canvas and spars were collapsing rapidly. Crowds were still streaming out of the other entrances, but there had been at least 1,500 people inside for the show and there was only a fraction of that number outside. Emergency crews were just arriving on the scene and he realized with a start that it had probably been only about 10 minutes since the end of the show, perhaps only 5 minutes since the fire began. Crushing the terror rising in his gut and triggering a wave of nausea, he deliberately closed his glowing yellow eyes and disappeared again with a 'bamf' and an acrid cloud.
'Bamf', he was in the air about 20' up at the south end of the ring. Before he had even had time to begin to fall 'bamf' and he was behind a stout older woman with 2 little girls in tow, straggling at the back of the crowd, where the fire was rapidly advancing and ropes and timbers were falling the thickest. 'Bamf' the four of them reappeared in a clear area of the midway and 'bamf', he was gone again. He lost track of how many times he teleported into and out of the conflagration, always concentrating on the old, the young, the injured, or those trapped at the back of the crowd. He took care to always 'port to a different area of the midway or circus camp so as to minimize the risk of landing on, or worse yet in, anything or anyone. Besides people he collected a bleeding gash across his left temple from a piece of falling trapeze, a vicious burn across his lower back from where his still hanging costume top caught fire and burned right down to the skin and through his fur before he could roll on the ground to put it out and, most recently, he'd managed to bite entirely through his own bottom lip with razor sharp fangs when he was knocked face first into a section of bleacher by a large man dragging his equally large family through the crowd.
He was rapidly becoming exhausted from the smoke and injuries and the strain of repeated teleporting with passengers in tow. He hadn't even been sure it would work when he first tried it; he had just known he had to at least try. It was amazing how exhausting it was. His head was throbbing and he ws fighting the urge to heave up every meal he'd ever eaten.
Now he found himself perched once more on top of a concession stand overlooking the big top. His eyes were watering and burning from the smoke, his head was pounding fit to burst, his breathing was labored and his stomach was knotted up in cramps that became worse each time he 'ported. There were multiple fire engines on the scene now, as well as ambulances and police cars, and at least eight fire hoses were showering water down on the rapidly disintegrating tent. His last trip inside had revealed that, amazingly, most of the people had managed to escape. He assessed his condition and briefly considered leaving what was left to the professionals, but he knew he couldn't stop so long as he was able to get in and out safely if there was anyone left inside and he knew, from his last trip, that there were still dozens of people inside – including some children.
He blinked pupil less golden eyes rapidly to clear them of smoke, took one last deep breath and 'bamf', 'bamf' he was again twenty feet above the big top floor for the fraction of a second it took his keen eyes to spot a small girl, no more that five, unconscious on the ground at the edge of the west bleachers. The few people left were being herded by rescuers through the exit, but the child had been missed where her small form lay huddled in the shadows. 'Bamf', 'bamf' he was struggling with nausea and exhaustion to lift her. Her body hung limply in his arms, her head lolling back loosely, and he could see a large purple swelling just at her hairline. He had the sick feeling that he shouldn't have come back one more time. He didn't think he had the strength left to 'port to any secluded areas in the midway or camp, he just couldn't make it that far. Actually, he wasn't sure he could make it anywhere at all that way.
He could taste the salt tang of blood filling his mouth and running down his chin from the gash his fangs had made as he licked dry lips, hunched himself protectively around the girls body and ran for the nearest exit, ash and detritus falling all around them. They were still at least 20 feet from the exit when Kurt realized they weren't going to make it. The whole tent was coming down above them. He stopped short, took one more labored breath and then, with an abbreviated prayer and a clenching in his gut, he tried one last 'port, as far as he could manage.
'Bamf' - 'bamf'. Kurt and his small burden appeared in a cloud of smoke right in the midst of a small but panicked crowd outside the rapidly collapsing big top. He was gasping for breath, his mouth filling again with blood as he grasped the unconscious child tightly to his chest, his head bent protectively over her small body. The darkness combined with the flickering light from the flaming big top cast an eerie light over everything around him and he could barely see between the blood running into his eyes from the gash on his forehead and the lingering sting of smoke. He was just beginning to think of finding someone in the confusion to care for the injured child when he realized that the tenor of the crowd had changed upon his arrival.
"Oh my God, it's a monster!"
"It's killed that little girl!"
"My God, look at the blood on its fangs – it's ripped her throat out."
Kurt belatedly realized that he was panting, mouth wide open, fangs bared. But… ripped her throat out? He licked his lips and tasted again the metallic tang of blood from his shredded lip, felt the steady, hot cascade of it down his chin, and realized with sick dread that his blood had pooled and run on the pale throat of the child as he'd crouched protectively over her limp little body. His smoke addled brain was just working this out, his stomach clenching both from the after effects of his last 'port and from horror at the situation, when he felt a giant fist close around the back of his neck as a pair of arms roughly ripped the girl's limp form away from him.
"Be careful," he tried to scream, "She's hurt." But it came out only as a hoarse, smoke roughened croak.
He was having difficulty processing the ragged shouts around him, most calling for the death of the "demon." The hand on his neck shifted its grip to tighten around his throat and he was lifted from the ground and shaken like a rag doll by a huge figure he couldn't quite bring into focus. The horror of his predicament was finally replacing the horror of the fire in his fogged brain, worry over the little girl's life being replaced by terror for his own. Despite this, he couldn't muster the energy to do anything about it – he was burned, battered and exhausted from both the evening's performance and the struggle against the fire. He simply had nothing left.
"Someone get a stake!"
"Kill the monster!"
"Watch out for its fangs!"
The voices echoed in his ears from every direction as he felt himself jerked roughly by a myriad of hands. He was pulled and twisted, punched and gouged, but thankfully that one huge hand had lost its grip on his throat somewhere in the scuffle and he could at least draw in some ragged, shuddering breaths between blows. The dislocated shoulder and wrenching pain in his left knee seemed a small price to pay in exchange for those few, agonizing breaths of smoke-filled air.
He knew he was going to die when he heard one voice, louder than the rest, triumphantly announce, "A stake, I have a stake! Hold the creature down."
He was thrown roughly to the ground and spread-eagled by a dozen eager hands. He knew he should be able to escape somehow, but his brain simply wouldn't function, wouldn't provide the answer he needed. He just wanted this nightmare over, he wanted it to end. Tears streaming down his cheeks, eyes closed, he did the only thing his battered body had the strength left for.
"Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name…" he managed to grate out in a harsh croak, but even this last solace was taken abruptly from him as an enraged voice shouted above him, "Don't you dare defile God's name with your filthy tongue demon." Something connected sharply with his left temple and the world exploded into a thousand shards of agony and then darkness.
Kurt didn't see the short, burly figure that rounded the dark corner of the Midway at a run moments later; didn't see as the man, enraged, shoved his way through the crowd without slowing down, shouting obscenities in American English whose meaning was not lost on the crowd, even if they didn't understand the words.
Charles, do something!! Logan yelled silently, still keeping up his tirade against the bodies in his way. I'm not gonna get there in time, they're about ta stake the runt!
Abruptly, the forty or so people surrounding the dark, still form on the ground at its center froze, suspended. People who had been in mid-motion fell without making any effort to catch themselves, to lie motionless in the dirt. Logan looked and saw a sharp, filthy stake from one of the surrounding midway tents held directly over the motionless boy's heart by a now frozen man of middle years, a hammer ready to descend and drive it home held in the hands of an equally still man of sixty or more. The silence as all the frantic voices stilled was eerie and the flames behind cast flickering shadows over the motionless crowd. Logan never slowed his pace, but wove rapidly through a sea of living statues.
Hurry Logan he heard, I can't hold this many people for long, especially when I must wipe their memories when you are done.
Gotcha Chuck, almost there, he thought back as he covered the last 20 feet in a rush, weaving through the now silent mob. He barely slowed down as he knocked the stake away from the boy's chest, casually kicked the hammer wielder in the crotch, Logan! We do not attack an incapacitated foe! Correction Chuck – you don't, but you ain't here, and I am! This sack of shit deserves it! and with surprising tenderness lifted the still form of the injured boy into his arms. He was gone as quickly as he'd come, though with considerable more care for the fragile burden he now carried, back to the safety of the circus camp beyond the Midway. He paid no attention as the frozen figures behind him stirred back to life, mumbling in confusion, wondering why they were here instead of running farther from the collapsing inferno behind them.
The camp was almost deserted except for the three people awaiting his return. A well-dressed, dignified man in a wheelchair, a look of concentration on his face and a sheen of sweat on his bald head; a plump, matronly woman with graying hair and many lines of laughter on her now frightened and tear-stained face; and a tall, sturdy man with the look of a farmer in his sun browned face and work-roughened hands, hands now clenched into fists of rage as he watched Logan return with the battered body of his much-loved, mutant, son. With a choked cry the man surged suddenly forward and carefully gathered the still form to his chest, turning as he did so and heading back to a small trailer almost at the far end of the encampment, where only a few baggage trucks separated it from the expanse of empty field between the city and the surrounding forest, the woman close on his heels.
"I don't like this Logan," the Professor said with an edge of concern warring with the fatigue in his voice, "there was something odd in that mob, but with so many minds to control at once I couldn't spare the concentration to investigate.
"Want me to go back and check it out Charles?" Logan asked quickly.
"No, Logan, we have other things to worry about for the moment, just leave it for now," he responded, rubbing wearily at his eyes.
"Okay, Chuck, but whatever it is, let's hope it doesn't come back to bite us in the ass. Let's go get the runt patched up."
Two men watched silently from the shadows at the farthest edge of the midway abutting the troupe's camp, then, as they disappeared into the warren of the troupe's caravans, turned to collect a third where he sat, shaken and pale, with a high powered air rifle clutched in shaking hands.
"Up Masters," the taller of the two said in American English to the obviously disoriented man, "we gotta get back to base and report on this fiasco. Apparently someone else found our little prize before we did."
"Shit," said the other, with a look of disgust on his face, "imagine what kind of power that teep must have to have managed that many people with a mind wipe thrown in?"
"That's why we're leaving them for now, dipshit! Who knows what else they've got with them if they've got a mindbender with that kind of power. Boss ain't gonna be happy though, he really wants that little freak of a teleporter." As he spoke he reached down and commenced to haul 'Masters' to his feet, staggering a little as the larger man lurched up.
"Shit yeah," responded the smaller, almost boyish man, "imagine what he'll be good for once they get him collared and trained. Probably no security system made can keep demon-boy out, he's worth a freakin' fortune to whoever gets their hands on him."
"Yeah, whatever." Responded tall and skinny, "I don't think money's what the higher ups have in mind for the freak, though. Now let's get the hell out of here before any of the crews or cops get around to this side." He glanced once back at the smoldering remains of the big top and muttered, to himself, "what a fucking waste of effort."
Then the trio turned, still talking, and made their way along the edge of the deserted midway until they came to the darkness at the edge of the meadow surrounding the entire circus complex, and, cutting across the darkness towards the trees, they disappeared.
Kurt woke to silence and diffuse sunlight. His entire body felt like one raw nerve. His head was throbbing angrily at even the tiny modicum of light seeping through his tightly closed eyelids and his ribs protested painfully with each labored breath. He couldn't even begin to catalog the other protests his abused body was transmitting to his fogged brain. He stifled a groan and felt a few hot tears leak from his eyes as it sank in that he was still alive to feel the pain. He wondered briefly why the mob hadn't killed him yet – maybe they wanted their demon awake and alert to meet its fate?
He lay absolutely still and prayed that no one had heard that one, involuntary groan, not wanting to alert anyone to the fact that he was coming round. The sunlight was coming from his left – they must have him in a room with a window to the outside. A surge of hope had almost given him the courage to crack one eye open to gauge his surroundings when the sound of footsteps and voices outside sent him into a panic. He prayed for the voices to pass by, but then the room was flooded with light as the door clicked open and the footsteps and voices entered his room. Ignoring the protests of his body he reached out left handed to find the wall w/the window immediately to his left and without hesitation he 'ported five feet left and five feet up. He could only hope that aiming high would leave him outside and above anything that he might otherwise have landed in – but even that would be better than staying to meet his fate at the mob's hands.
His plan worked as far as it went – he found himself outside with the dim light of dusk lancing through his skull like lasers and dropping rapidly from a height of five feet onto hard-packed dirt. There was a sickening pain in his right shoulder as well as his ribs and his left knee screamed in protest as he landed on all fours, but he struggled to ignore it as he began to run as fast as he could directly away from the building he'd just escaped. Each step was an agony and he was forced to run three legged as his right arm simply wouldn't bear his weight. He wanted to collapse, but terror gave him strength as he heard the door behind him burst open and voices begin to call urgently from all directions.
He was running almost blind at the screaming agony behind his eyes as he opened them the merest crack. He swerved around a bulky object in his path that appeared only as an indistinct blur to his watering eyes then lunged through a gap between two large, unidentifiable objects. He couldn't make out what the voices around him were shouting and he didn't want to – didn't want to hear "monster" or "demon" or "kill it" again. He just heard voices and feet pounding after him. He felt a hand graze his shoulder just as he cleared the gap and his leg nearly gave out, but fear gave him speed and he burst free into a large, clear space. Opening his eyes further caused his head to pound and the world to spin sickeningly, but he had to find an avenue of escape and he couldn't do that blind.
He was running across a large flat area of packed dirt sloping up to a grassy hill topped by what looked like trees. His heart was pounding and his breath was coming in burning, labored gasps, but he felt a surge of hope when he saw the trees. He knew that if he could just reach the forest at the edge of town he could virtually vanish into the trees, if he could just get to them. He put his injured arm across his face, closed his eyes tight and kept running toward the trees, hoping that his head and stomach would settle sufficiently to allow him to teleport the distance if he could just shut out the excruciating pain of the light. Then, with a jerk, he was brought up short by a huge hand on his shoulder. He couldn't stop a scream of pain and fear as he was hoisted upright and then gathered tightly into a pair of iron hard, unyielding arms.
"Oh God, please, don't kill me. I'm sorry, I didn't hurt her, I really didn't. Please, please don't kill me…"
Logan clutched the struggling boy to his chest as gently as he could, smelling the stark panic rolling off the kid in waves that made him almost gag. He couldn't make out much of the rapid, panicked German the kid was babbling, but he could tell from the tone and the repetition of "bitte" that he was begging, probably for his life. His normally gruff, closed face was twisted in rage as he thought of the people who had reduced the shy, gentle boy he'd first met just yesterday morning into a panicked animal unable even to tell friend from enemy and expecting only pain. His voice, however, was surprisingly soft and his arms gentle as he tried to get through the panic and reassure the kid that he was safe, that he only wanted to help. He could tell, however, that nothing was getting through as he began to walk back towards the edge of the circus encampment. Logan was completely unprepared when he abruptly found himself holding a writhing bundle of blue fur, fangs and claws and briefly loosened his grip when he found those fangs buried deeply in his left shoulder. Then suddenly there was the muffled 'bamf' of air rushing in to fill a vacuum, a small cloud of sulphurous smoke and he found himself standing in the field holding – nothing.
"Bloody fangs!" he snarled with feeling.
Kurt heard a deep voice rumble something above him, but he was too terrified to even try and make sense of the words. His stomach lurched and his head threatened to explode as the man carrying him began to move and he realized that he no longer knew what direction the trees were in. Something in him snapped and fear was replaced by fury, pain forgotten for the moment as he bit, clawed, writhed - anything to make those arms let go. Abruptly, the grip on his body loosened and with a surge of strength born of rage and terror he teleported blindly, his pain, nausea and fear of appearing inside a solid object overwhelmed by the need to get away, as far away as possible.
There was a fraction of a second of intense cold and deafening silence followed by an eternity of screaming agony as he promptly vomited up everything he'd ever eaten in his life and then collapsed. Every muscle and nerve in his body abused beyond endurance, shaking with huge, racking sobs, he never knew how long he lay there, unable even to open his eyes before blessed darkness claimed him.
It had all happened in a matter of moments, the kid had appeared running out of smoke and thin air, almost been captured and disappeared again with a muffled 'bamf' and more acrid smoke in less than a minute. When Charles Xavier's wheelchair rolled around the corner of the last baggage truck he was met with the sight of a large crowd of confused and worried circus folk. They were milling around in consternation at the young man's disappearance. A little farther on stood Logan, in the midst of a rapidly dissipating cloud of sulphurous smoke, with a look of intense irritation mingled with fury on his face and a long smear of blood down his left arm from the already healed wound where Kurt had used his fangs to rip a chunk of flesh from the man's shoulder.
"Ya didn't tell me the kid could do that Chuck! Why didn't you stop him?"
"I'm sorry Logan, I was not aware of his ability to teleport until last night, and that knowledge was based entirely on rumors passed by panicked 'demon hunters'. I would have tried to stop him had I realized he had the reserves to attempt it. Interestingly, his parents don't appear to have been aware of this ability either. That's beside the point now, though, we must locate him quickly, Logan, he's badly injured, and with night coming on…"
"I know. The cold at this time of year could do the runt in, fur or not, if we don't get to him fast. Ya know Charles," he snarled in agitation, "I'm starting ta think the little squirrel is gonna be more trouble than he's worth.
Xavier ignored both the words and the tone, sensing as he did the concern and frustration behind the outburst. "Logan, there is nothing you could have done to hold onto him once he found the strength to teleport, there is no purpose served in blaming yourself," he murmured just loud enough for the other man's acute hearing to pick up.
"I know, Charles, I know. But that ain't gonna stop me from doing it now, is it? So point me already, which way'd the runt pop off to?"
"The only thoughts coherent enough for me to pick up on were to get as far away as possible and an image of trees as safety. I am scanning the forest up the hill right now, but there is no sign of him close to hand. We've no idea what distances he might be able to cover when he teleports, but we can only hope he didn't manage to go far."
The two men ignored the chaos around them as people called out for Kurt in German, Russian, English and French, even Chinese - the heterogeneity of the circus world never more evident than when a crisis reduced all its members to their native tongues. Voices fading into the distance, the frantic searchers disappeared up the hill or amongst the trailers, not able to believe what they'd seen and searching for the boy's hiding place in the rapidly encroaching dusk. All except his parents, who stood, in shock and terror, watching the only people present they truly believed had a chance of finding the missing boy.
Logan stood stock still, only his head moving as it swiveled slowly, a feral glint in his eyes and his nostrils flaring as he tested the air for the unique scent of fur, brimstone, terror and blood that characterized the target of their search. He knew Charles had said he wasn't nearby, but he had to do something while he waited. Charles Xavier, on the other hand, sat completely motionless, eyes unfocused as he stretched his formidable telepathic abilities outward into the falling night. He ignored the nearby flares of consciousness as he passed over the searchers, looking instead for a disoriented mass of terror, pain and self-loathing that was currently the only manifestation of conscious thought left in the mind of one lost and injured fifteen year old boy.
Suddenly Xavier's head swung up to look south and west into the forest above them. "There," he said, pointing. "About two miles directly that way. I briefly touched his mind before he lost consciousness again."
Before he'd even finished speaking Logan had disappeared into the now total darkness, heading unerringly in the direction Xavier had indicated, never noticing the two men watching with night vision goggles from the tree line farther on. He may have been short-legged, but he had a steady, ground covering gait that left camp, searchers and meadow behind in short order. His unfailing sense of direction kept him firmly on course despite the repeated need to detour around obstacles. He paid no attention to the damage caused by running at break neck speed through dense underbrush, he simply bulled his way through any obstruction less solid than a tree, rock or cliff and let his healing factor take care of the rest. When he had gone approximately one and a half miles in the direction Charles had set him he slowed down and began to check the air with both ears and nose, searching for clues to the boy's location.
I'm almost there Charles, any more sign of the kid?
No Logan, he's still unconscious and his mind seems to have shut down almost entirely from the shock. All I can tell you is that he hasn't woken or moved, so you should be very close. I wish I could bring the Blackbird to pick the two of you up once you locate him, but…
Yeah, the terrain's too rough fer a landin'. Don't worry Chuck, I'll get the runt out fine, there's hardly enough to him ta matter.
Less than a quarter of a mile later Logan increased his pace as he caught the scent he'd been searching for, mixed with the stench of stomach acid, blood and even less pleasant things. It took him a bit longer to find Kurt, collapsed at the base of a tree in a small hollow created by the roots. In the darkness the boy had disappeared completely into the shadows, his dark fur seeming to soak up the darkness around him. If he hadn't been able to smell him and then hear the sound of his labored breathing as he came closer, Logan never would have found him at all. Anyone without his heightened senses could have walked within feet of his position, even in broad daylight, and never suspected there was anything in the shadow of the great roots.
"Aw crap, he's heaved all over himself," Logan muttered as he looked down at the huddled, bleeding form. "Oh well, I've smelled worse and been covered in it too," he growled as he bent and wrapped his own fleece lined leather jacket around the half naked form, "but you're still gonna hafta buy me a new jacket when ya come outa this, 'cause this one's gonna be a total flamin' write off." He then gently gathered the boy into his arms, adjusting his grip to cause the least damage to the battered young man. "Come on Elf, we're takin' yur sorry carcass home."
He hadn't been joking when he'd told Charles there wasn't much to the kid. He was solid as a rock from the constant physical training required for his profession, but he was slightly built none the less. Slabs of muscle packed on over a very light bone structure, broad shouldered only by comparison to his narrow hips and waist. Logan carried him with ease and made his way much more slowly and carefully back along the route he'd just traveled.
Got him Chuck, what's left of him anyway. He don't seem to 'ave aggravated anything to the point it's life threatenin', but he's pretty much just a bag o' raw meat tied up in raw nerves and coated in blood. He's gonna take some serious puttin' back t'gether. Inside and out.
I know Logan, I know.
Logan was only about a half a mile from the edge of the meadow leading down to the camp when he caught a strange scent in the trees ahead – men, two of them, mixed with the scent of tension, excitement, metal, gun oil and other things he didn't bother to try and place.
This can't be good, he thought grimly. Citizens looking for the 'demon' from last night's fire, maybe?
Charles had managed to handle the mob that had attacked the kid, but it appeared that there had been quite a few people who'd seen him 'bamfing' in and out of sight, including, but unfortunately not limited to, the people he'd apparently rescued. Now there were stories all over town about the 'Demon of Winzeldorf'. The rescue stories were being largely overlooked in favor of mass hysteria, paranoia and superstition. The police dogs had found the same traces of accelerant at the north end of the former big top that Logan had noticed when poking around earlier, but the locals were largely ignoring the verdict of arson and instead blaming the fire on this elusive 'demon'. Apparently demon hunters were even taking to the streets and the surrounding woods.
Charles had expressed some concern that afternoon that, with the outside stimulus, some of those he'd mind wiped last night might begin to recall the incident and add to the fervor. It certainly wouldn't help the situation that the little girl Kurt had been carrying when the crowd caught him had subsequently died of her injuries – no doubt aggravated by the mob's rough handling when they snatched her away. She was one of, amazingly, only three confirmed fatalities attributable to the inferno which had consumed the big top.
Logan had run through all this in the time it took him to lay Kurt gently down in the hollow behind a small boulder and get a fix on the two waiting men. He could hear them now that he was listening – small noises only, the faint rustling as one shifted his feet slightly amongst the fallen leaves, the slow, steady breath of the one on his left, the slightly quicker, nervous respirations of the one on his right. They were lying in wait to either side of the path he'd taken, obviously waiting for his return with the kid.
Shit! Shit! And FUCK! he thought, feeling particularly bloody minded. I think it just came back to bite us in the ass! He knew he should've checked out Chuck's suspicions last night, but patching up the Elf had come first. Speaking of which, I'd better get this over with, he ain't gettin' any healthier lyin' around out here.
He moved forward silently, feet not even stirring the leaves underfoot – an impressive feat for a man with a metal plated skeleton who weighed in at over 300 pounds. He followed his nose and ears to the hunter on the left – he not only sounded calm, he smelled it too. Calm and waiting. He was probably more of a threat (not that either of them were likely to be much of one) so Logan'd take him out first, go for the Nervous Nelly after.
He circled around the man until he could see him through the trees. He paused momentarily in surprise. This guy didn't look like a local. He was wearing very up to date military camo and carrying a high powered air rifle rigged for tranquilizer darts held loose but ready in his hands. He was also sporting some pretty high tech night vision goggles, a hefty sidearm and a tiny communication headset.
Shit! Shit! And FUCK! AGAIN! Logan thought with a silent snarl, Talk about getting bit in the ass with a vengeance!
It was even more important to take him out quick and quiet now. Couldn't give him or his buddy a chance to call for any back up that might be in the area.
He waited, making sure the man was thoroughly focused on the trail he'd expect Logan to come back on and then, with a silent rush he was on him from behind. The man didn't even have time for his scent to register his surprise before one large, adamantium laced fist connected solidly with the side of his head. Logan had judged the force of his blow carefully and caught both the man and his weapon as he fell and lowered them silently to the ground.
He recognized a certain bitter amusement welling up at his situation. He knew there'd been a time, not long ago, when he would've used his claws here, not his fist. He marveled at the fact that he hadn't even really had to think about the choice tonight.
Man, am I ever going soft, or soft in the head, for Chuck and 'Ro and these kids they're collecting. he thought with some chagrin.
As soon as the first watcher hit the ground he was on the move for the second. He'd rely on speed here, not stealth. He couldn't risk number two noticing number one was down while he circled round.
It was just as well because as he shot across the path he looked right into the terrified eyes of hunter number two and the smell of the kid's fear was almost overwhelming. Apparently he'd just been leaning out to check on his buddy as Logan rose and now, as he closed the distance he slipped his claws with a solid, metallic 'snikt', hoping to buy some more time with the added shock value and keep the kid, obviously a rookie, from developing the presence of mind to use that headset he was wearing to summon help.
It worked even better than he'd hoped. He watched with satisfaction as the kid went dead white, his eyes rolling up in his head, and he smelled the choking terror the guy was sending out in waves, accompanied by some rather unpleasant bodily effluvia. The guy dropped like a stone and Logan didn't even bother to catch him, just gave him a quick, clinical kick upside the head to make sure he didn't wake any time soon, then went back for Kurt, still huddled where he'd left him in the lee of a boulder, and headed down the hill to the camp.
He'd come back for these losers once he'd seen to the kid. He didn't have time to deal with them now, but they weren't going anywhere for awhile after the way he'd clouted them. He should have plenty of time to patch the Elf back up and then collect them for a little 'one on one' time.
Hey Chuck he sent, smiling nastily at the other man's irritated mental shudder at his use of the hated nickname, you ain't gonna like this, but we seem to have us some hunters – the professional variety.
Logan had been more than a little ticked when he went back into the woods less than an hour later only to find that someone had been there before him and removed his trophies. They certainly hadn't come 'round and staggered off on their own, they'd been collected, by at least six others judging by the mingled smells as well as the tracks.
Shit! They must've missed a check-in and their back up came looking, he thought with profound irritation.
Couldn't've been helped though, he added with a resigned mental shrug. He'd had to get the kid back and patched up before he lost any more blood, and that had taken a while. The little shit had been leaking at his ears, nose and mouth, and had managed to pull out almost every stitch Logan had so carefully sewn into him the night before as well as to dislocate his damn shoulder again. Good thing he wasn't planning on going back to the trapeze, because it sure as hell wasn't going to be an option any time soon with the shape he was in.
He toyed briefly with the idea of trying to hunt down the 'hunters', but quickly abandoned the idea. He had no doubt that there were still some in the area watching them, or that he could easily find them if he chose, but they knew he was aware of them now, so he wasn't likely to surprise them again and he didn't want to risk an open battle with the cops still nosing around the fire and Chuck and the kid effectively alone and unprotected in the circus camp. He'd no doubt that Charles Xavier could handle most things with his awesome mental powers, but that wouldn't do him a damn bit of good if someone managed to put a tranquilizer dart or a bullet in him first. No, he'd better get back and help Charles convince the runt's folks to let them take him and get the hell out of Dodge, before things got even more interesting.
They were, understandably, none too thrilled about letting their 'little boy' out of their care in his current condition, but given the situation Charles and Logan were both convinced that it was essential to leave, with Kurt, as soon as possible. The demon hunt was bad enough – if someone decided to search the circus caravans the kid was dead – but they were more concerned with the 'professionals' Logan had encountered tonight. They were obviously neither locals nor spur of the moment bounty hunter types. They were well equipped, probably well trained, and definitely well funded and they'd been after either him or the kid – and Logan wasn't sure which bothered him more. Hopefully they had no idea about the Blackbird concealed outside of town and they certainly shouldn't be able to track it once it took off, but they needed to be gone before anyone got any bright ideas about moving in on them before they could escape.
He kicked viciously at a pile of brush in frustration and then, without a backward look, he trotted through the trees back in the direction of the camp.
Masters had never even seen what hit him, and when they finally managed to bring Newcombe around, the only coherent thing they could get out of the kid for a long time was one phrase, repeated over and over in a tone of absolute terror and disbelief.
"Holy shit, it was the Wolverine."
For the record, yes, I do know that in episode one of Evolution Kurt shows up at the local train station to be collected by the Prof. and Storm. I decided to blow that off for a reason – supposedly in the Evo-verse at this time mutants are not 'out of the closet' so to speak. So, how in the heck is Kurt supposed to have traveled from Germany to Bayville on commercial transport? There's the whole passport and customs thing that I just can't get my head around and I can only suspend so much disbelief, even for a kids' cartoon. As for the rest of the circus bit – well, I haven't seen all the episodes, but my kids insist the show has Kurt being raised by farmers or something like that, but we're all just enough 'Crawler fans to be morally offended by Kurt w/o a circus background so…this is an AU.