This is it. The last chapter of Even Angels have Scars. I hope you like it. If you've been reading this and haven't posted a review, it would be really great if you posted one. I'll have the sequel up soon. Thanks for your comments and support everyone!
Chapter 55: Psalms
"I hope you can forgive me Lord, for what I am about to do."
Kurt covered his head with a towel as he left the tent and wiped the sweat out of his hair. He was going to have to cut it. He usually kept it a little on the longish side to cover his ears, but this was getting ridiculous. He hadn't had it cut since the spring and it was too thick and curly to let grow for more than a month or two. Plus he couldn't believe how completely out of shape he was. A little more than an hour of messing around with Sven and Lars on the trapeze rig and he was ready to collapse.
Everyone had told him to start slowly and at first that had been easy since he wasn't even sure if he wanted to go back to performing at all. But after a few days of watching the Olsons practicing, it was like being six again and he was dying to join them. And at first he'd felt like a complete klutz, even missing catches, something he never ever did before. But that phase had passed quickly and now after a few days of regular practice ,the trapeze was starting to feel natural again and he was once again at home in the air.
Kurt looked around their encampment and sighed. It had been such a long summer and now that he was back, doing what he had always done, with people he'd known his whole life he wondered what it had all been for. Had God planned this for him? Was God even real? At the time it seemed as though he would never find his way back and now that he was here, the memories were already fading so much so that it seemed that he'd never been away.
He thought about that night in Father's Dietrich's church, how he'd come to realize that the things that he believed were the work of God, his unique appearance and abilities, Margali finding him and bringing him to live with the circus, all the things that made him special, were actually the work of Azazel. But was that true? Kurt had always believed that God had worked through Margali, but what if God had worked instead through Azazel?
He ran the tips of his fingers over his face. His hands, which were normally very callused, had gotten softer during his long hiatus from performing and he could feel the raised scars that Martuska had made him cut into the skin of his face. It was still hard for him to picture himself doing such a thing and Kurt preferred to imagine that they'd gotten there by some other means.
There was the sound of footsteps behind him and Kurt turned quickly.
"Where are you off to so fast?" Lars asked.
Kurt shrugged. "I don't know," he said. "To take a walk maybe."
"Can I come? The Wolleck's took over the highwire so we won't be able to practice again until later."
Kurt gave a non-committal nod as he started towards the woods so Lars followed..
Lars had been Kurt's first official visitor after his return to the circus. Wolfgang had woken him from a strange dream he couldn't quite remember, something sliding out of his hand and being told to pick it up again; the images driven from his memory even as Kurt had opened his mouth to describe them. He could tell had fallen asleep with his hair wet from the way it was sticking out all in different directions, but he was too tired to care. And as strange as it was to be back, he realized that he wanted the company. Maria had brought a bowl of soup and some bread and Wolfgang had brought Lars as though they knew the combination would heal both body and soul.
Lars had obviously been briefed on the state of Kurt's face because he'd carefully avoided the topic during his entire visit. And then afterwards none of his other visitors had said anything. In fact, since his return not a single member of the circus had mentioned a single word. If Kurt hadn't been able to see the cuts on his face in the mirror himself, he would have thought there wasn't anything remarkable about his appearance at all. Despite the collective effort to pretend the marks didn't exist, Kurt wondered if he would ever get used to them.
"I think you're getting better," Lars said, "I told you you wouldn't forget. How are your hands?"
"Huh? Oh, my hands are fine," Kurt said as he held them out. Sven had taped them earlier since standard gymnastics grips didn't fit and skin rips were a common injury after long breaks. Lars looked at the worn spots in the tape appraisingly and nodded as though satisfied so Kurt let his hands drop to his sides without a word.
They walked for a while in silence, leaving the circus' grounds and taking a narrow but well worn path into a small wooded thicket.
"What was England like?" Kurt asked as they reached a clearing, swatting the branches away with his hands. Sunlight cut through the trees in bright rays, like spotlights on a floor of dried leaves.
Lars shrugged. "It was okay. Brighton was the most fun, I mean before… you know." He was silent for a moment. "The best part was when we took a break in London," Lars said. "James took the band into a recording studio and they recorded all the music from the show. We even got to go in one of the days and sing all the back up vocals. But mostly we wandered around looking at all the tourist stuff. We went to the British Museum and then Wolfgang took a bunch of us to the Tate Gallery, which was cool because he actually kind of knows about art. And I think we saw the Queen's car."
"Really?" Kurt said. He tried not to sound jealous, knowing that even if he had been with the circus at the time, they wouldn't have let him wander around London anyway. But still, he'd never seen London except in pictures. "Why did they record the music?" He asked, desperate to change to subject before Lars started telling him any more about their London adventures.
"Some kind of deal Wolfgang put together. They're going to release the music as a soundtrack and then later, some film company is going to film the show." Lars said.
"They are?" Kurt asked in surprise, "when?"
"When you can perform again I guess." Lars said. "Pretty cool huh?"
Kurt nodded. "I think I'll be nervous," he admitted.
Lars laughed. "You're never nervous," he said.
"I've never been in a movie," Kurt said.
"We'll be famous!" Lars said.
Kurt laughed. "Who will watch it I wonder."
Lars shrugged and they stood in awkward silence for a few minutes. Lars kicked at the dirt with his foot. Finally he looked up. "Did it… Did it hurt? You know, your face…" He gestured at his face with his hand.
Kurt shook his head. "I don't remember it happening."
"What about now?" Lars asked.
"No, I hardly notice it. Only if I look in the mirror or touch my face," Kurt said.
"Oh," Lars sounded uncomfortable, "sorry. I didn't mean to ask. I just…" He trailed off. "Sorry," he said again.
"It's okay," Kurt said. "I guess I've got to get used to them. I don't mind. Really," he added when Lars didn't look convinced.
"I think they're kind of cool looking," Lars said.
"Do you think so?" Kurt asked. He didn't think the marks looked cool at all.
"I suppose it doesn't matter one way or the other." Kurt said. "It could be worse. It could be like, rude messages or a recipe for cookies or something."
"What are you talking about?" Lars asked with a laugh and Kurt realized that no one besides him and Margali knew that they had meaning.. For the last few days he'd been walking around imagining that everyone could see a life time of sin exposed on his skin. He had been ashamed of the marks, ashamed of what they meant and how they had been put there. But Lars didn't know, to him they were just designs.
"I'm going back," Lars said, "coming?"
Kurt shook his head. "In a few minutes," he said.
"Are you all right?" Lars asked.
"I'm fine," Kurt said, a little too quickly, as though he was making an excuse even though he really did mean it. He was tired of everyone looking at him like he was about to explode at any minute or asking him if he needed anything. He just wanted to be himself, for everything to be normal again.
Lars shrugged. "I'll see you later then."
Kurt watched his retreating form weaving its way through the trees until he was staring at an empty path. He wasn't sure why he'd wanted to stay behind except that it was a nice place to sit and think and he'd had so little time alone since he'd gotten back. It felt like his life had been a puzzle where, over the course of the summer, the pieces had been scrambled. He'd spent the last week or so putting them back; Margali, Amanda, Wolfgang, Lars, the circus… It was actually starting to look like his life again. But there was still one thing missing and it was maybe the most important piece of all.
He had no idea how God fit into the puzzle anymore.
It had been so easy before that day Azazel had suddenly appeared and introduced himself. Kurt shook his head. He wished he had never kissed that girl. Not that it would have changed things. But now that he had freed himself from Azazel's watch did that change things? Did it matter in the eyes of God? Had it ever mattered in the first place?
He thought of the beginning of the sixth psalm:
"Do not reprove me in your anger, Lord, nor punish me in your wrath.
Have pity on me, Lord, for I am weak; heal me, LORD, for my bones are trembling.
In utter terror is my soul-- and you, Lord, how long...?
Turn, Lord, save my life; in your mercy rescue me."
Was that what he was? Weak? Did he need rescuing?
Kurt sighed. Somehow, he didn't think so. He had been absently picking at the edge of his taped hand and without thinking he started to peel the tape off. He was surprised when he saw blood running down his fingers and it took a moment for him to realize that the tape had pulled the scabs off of the cuts on the back of his hand.
He clasped his hands and pressed the towel that had been draped over his shoulder, against it. He was fairly certain that nothing would happen if his blood dripped on the ground without Azazel's sigil there, but given the cost of hiding, he didn't want to take chances. It made him see the irony of it all. Why did it have to be so easy to contact Azazel and so difficult to reach God?
Kurt picked the towel off his hand and looked. The bleeding had already stopped. The cuts didn't go very deep and they rarely bled anymore, but as he unclasped his hands he realized that he hadn't prayed since the morning he'd left the rectory. How strange that he had simply abandoned something that he did every day, something that was as natural to him has breathing, without even realizing it. Kurt dropped to his knees.
"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." The gesture was familiar, like walking into a room he hadn't been in since he was a child and suddenly remembering what was inside of every drawer and every cupboard. Kurt closed his eyes.
"I've always tried to be your most humble servant, Lord. And I've never once questioned why you made me the way I am or asked you why I was put here to do what I do. I've always had faith that whatever your reasons, whatever your plan, they are just and good.
"Which is why I hope you'll understand why, at this time in my life, I'm not sure if my faith was justified." Kurt felt a fat tear slide down his cheek and hit the dry leaves on the ground. "I'm sorry Lord, that I am in doubt, that my faith in you is shaken, but I hope you can understand. And I hope that you can forgive me for asking, just this once, for a sign. I need to know that you're still watching, that you're still here. I need to know that you love me as much as I love you."
Kurt stayed on his knees in silence with his eyes still shut. The stillness of the woods was like a roar in his ears punctuated by the occasional bird song or creak of branches. Without opening his eyes Kurt rose to his feet. He spun around in place a few times until he didn't know what direction he was facing. He took a deep breath.
"I hope you can forgive me Lord, for what I am about to do," he said. Then he teleported.
Kurt had never teleported with his eyes closed and so for a moment he was disoriented, unsure if he had "arrived". He opened his eyes slowly, not sure what to expect. At first he wasn't sure what he was seeing, why the world suddenly seemed so dark. Was he inside something? Kurt reached forward and his hand came to rest on the rough bark of an oak tree. With a gasp he backed away. He wasn't inside anything, he had been so close, just inches away, to the tree's broad trunk that it had completely filled his vision. It had been an illusion.
He wasn't sure how long he stood there, staring speechless at the tree, one hand still resting on the bark, the only sound was his shaky breathing. How could he have been so reckless? Who knew what might have happened if he'd been just a few inches off. He was lucky he wasn't dead.
Or had he just received what he'd been asking for?
Kurt was surprised when he started laughing. It started as a low chuckle, deep in his chest and almost silent, that built until he was laughing out loud with his head thrown back and gasping for air.
There was no way to know!
And that was what faith was all about wasn't it? He'd never known for sure why Margali had driven past the house he was born in that day; never known whether it was because Azazel told her to, as he described, or because she wanted to take a short cut like Wolfgang had, or because God directed her to. And it didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was what he believed.
Kurt backed away from the tree, staring through the branches at the sky and at last he had his answers.
He was still smiling as he pulled the door to his trailer open. Margali was inside, standing on a chair. She was reaching up and hanging a large swag of luminous purple fabric along the ceiling, tacking it to the wall with a staple gun. They had only had the trailer a few years and Kurt was happy to see that Margali was slowly converting the inoffensively dull beige interior to something that looked much more like their old home. He was equally pleased to see that as each one of the overly bright 12 volt light bulbs that lit the trailer burnt out, it wasn't replaced with a new one. Instead an oil lamp was mounted in its place. The trailer, which had seemed so foreign to them at first, was finally starting to look and feel like home.
"Do you like it? It's from India," she said as she shifted the fabric to show the color change in the light. "Sari fabric."
Kurt nodded in approval. "How did you get sari fabric from India?" he asked.
She shrugged. "From Wolfgang, where else? His sister is traveling there and he had her send it general delivery to the post office. Nice huh?"
Kurt picked up the trailing edge to admire the embroidery along the selvage line. "I like it. You should cut a bit off and make a skirt for Amanda." Kurt said.
"Ooh. Good idea. Hand me that knife would you." Margali motioned to a pearl handled ceremonial knife on the table. Kurt picked it and was overcome by déjà vu, dropping a knife because his hands were slippery and being told to pick it up and begin again. But Martuska had promised him he wouldn't remember. Though he wasn't sure what was worse, remembering or not remembering.
Margali's voice startled him out of his reverie. "I'm sorry," he said, "I was just thinking about… about what happened." He said.
Margali stepped down from the chair and put her arm around Kurt's shoulder. "This knife belonged to my mother," she said. "There were two. She gave one to me and another to my sister."
"It looks familiar," said Kurt. "Most of it I don't remember, but I remember the knife for some reason."
"What you did was very brave. I'm proud of you," she said as she gently took the knife from Kurt's hand. Kurt said nothing as he watched Margali nick the silk with the knife. Then gave a quick tug and they tore in a perfectly straight line.
"There," she said setting aside the smaller piece, "that should make a nice skirt for Amanda. I'll be sure to tell her it was your idea." Margali folded the fabric and put it on the table with the knife sitting on top.
Kurt smiled and then bowed his head, his fingers unconsciously tracing the lines on this cheek.
"You'll get used to them," Margali said, brushing his unruly curls aside.
"I know," Kurt said. "I just keep thinking of that day, the one where Lars showed me those pictures and Stephani called me a demon. You said they were wrong, but they weren't were they?" Kurt could feel his eyes welling up with tears again and he brushed them aside quickly.
"Oh, Kurt, of course they were wrong," Margali said putting her arms around him and drawing him in close.
"Azazel means nothing. I've always told you that it's the choices that you make that make you who you are," Margali said.
Kurt sighed and buried his face in Margali's shoulder. He thought about that tree in the woods, his little "test". "It was my choice to be baptized," he said.
"I know it was," Margali said. "Speaking of which, you have a package too. Hans sent you something. Wolfgang picked it up when he went to get the fabric."
Kurt leaned back to look at Margali, his grief and confusion momentarily forgotten. "Hans? Oh, right," he said. Kurt always forgot that Margali referred to Father Dietrich by his first name.
"How did he know to send it here?" Kurt asked.
"I called him and told him you were here. He's been very worried about you," Margali said.
Kurt nodded. "Did you tell him about the… my…" he gestured to his face. He was fairly certain that Father Dietrich was not going to understand why he had made the markings on his face and body.
"We'll explain it too him together," Margali said.
"Okay," said Kurt, feeling uncomfortable already. Father Dietrich didn't know about any of this, Azazel, his ability to teleport, none of it.
"Here you go," Margali said as she handed Kurt a small parcel wrapped in brown paper.
Kurt took it and slid a nail through the tape to open it. He unwrapped the paper. Inside were his bible and his rosary. It was like seeing two dear old friends walking through the door and Kurt couldn't help but smile. On a small note card Father Dietrich at written, "I thought you might be missing these." Strange how a few minutes ago, he hadn't been.
"It's perfect," Kurt said. He closed his eyes. His blind teleporting stunt that had nearly gotten him killed had been a wasted effort indeed. He pulled the rosary out first, feeling its comforting weight in the palm of his hand as he gazed at the once faceted beads worn smooth from use before he tucked it in his pocket.
"Why did you leave those with Father Dietrich?" Margali asked as Kurt lifted the bible out.
"I was afraid to bring them," Kurt said. "I thought that if I had to follow Azazel…" Kurt let his voice trail off, shivering unconsciously as he remembered the bone chilling cold as he passed through Azazel's realm. Margali gave his shoulder a squeeze but said nothing.
Kurt opened the bible and looked inside the cover at its familiar inscription.
"Never forget that your uniqueness is God's gift to you. However you chose to use it is how you will love and serve Him best. – Your friend, Hans Dietrich"
It was strange how those words had guided him almost as much as the words of the book itself; both a call to arms and a reminder that even during the darkest times it was the choices he made that were important, even if the results didn't always turn out the way he expected. Kurt stared down at his hands, so different than everyone else's. It had taken him so long to realize that he didn't belong here. But he didn't belong with Azazel either.
So Kurt had made his choice, regardless of the cost, regardless of the risk he chose to break contact with Azazel. He would forever be a stranger among men just as he'd always been. Long after the cuts on his face and body healed and they were just another aspect of his appearance that set him apart from everybody else, it would be his choice that made him human. And that's what God would see.
And, he hoped, there would be others too, those willing to look past his demonic appearance, past the scars, past the tail and see who he truly was. That they would see that God loved him because as everyone knows demons are angels and that even angels have scars.