Ha ha, I did it! At long last, the concluding chapter of The Midnight Aviator is complete! I hope you enjoy it and I apologize for the long wait!
Eating with the enemy. Drake shook his head, peering at their prisoner through a scowl. This had to be some kind of breach of protocol. If it wasn't, someone really ought to make it one.
The Aviator had led them safely out of the path of the German patrols, just as he'd promised, and for several minutes after that he'd been intense and watchful, the epitome of soldierly professionalism. But as soon as they were far enough from the road, it was like he became a different person. He was flippant and playful, teasing the Captain in ways no one at the British air base would dare. Drake found it unsettling that he could change his mood so drastically, but what disturbed him most was that the Captain actually seemed to like it. He liked this irreverent blue German, this demon in enemy uniform. And he was making no effort to hide it.
They'd come to a stop beneath a closely clustered copse of trees, where Captain Logan gave the order for Drake to break out the emergency rations. The portions were depressingly scanty being shared three ways, and it irked Drake to realize he was apparently the only one bothered. His one reassurance was that Captain Logan seemed unwilling to untie their prisoner long enough to eat.
"Drake," he grunted instead, smirking through his teeth. "Our guest is hungry. Why don't you give him a hand with that food."
The Aviator smiled. "No need, mein Freund," he assured Logan. In one smooth motion, he brought his tightly bound hands around his tail and under his legs until he was sitting with them folded on his lap. Drake nearly dropped his bread, but Logan simply raised an eyebrow.
"Looks like we can add contortionist to your list of talents," he said wryly. "You'd be right at home in the circus, bub. Who knows—could be where we all end up, after this."
Aviator laughed, struggling to swallow a mouthful of cheese so he could talk.
"Funny you should say that," he said at last. "My mother owns a small circus in Bavaria. It is where I grew up, and it is where I plan to return, should it be God's will that I survive this war." He lowered his eyes for a brief, somber moment, but when he looked back up, his haunted expression had been replaced with an impish grin.
"As we already have the greatest flying Ace in Europe lined up as headliner—namely myself," he teased, "I'm afraid we won't be needing your…singular skills. But if you are ever in need of a job, Logan, mother is always on the lookout for a good spotter. As for your young friend there, I'm sure I could get him a fine position cleaning up after the horses."
Drake shot the German a harsh glare. "So, what's she like then, this mother of yours?" he sneered. "If she looks anything like you, it isn't any wonder she ended up in a circus. That's where you both belong."
Logan seemed to stiffen at that, but the German just shook his head with a small, dark smile.
"She is a woman of many faces, my mother," was his cryptic retort. "But you are certainly one to talk, mein Junge. After the stunt you pulled today?"
"I didn't do anything!" Drake exclaimed, starting to get defensive. "I don't know what happened to your plane, all right? It wasn't my fault!"
"Oh, but I think it was," the Aviator frowned, turning a significant look to the piece of bread Drake was squeezing between his hands. "The evidence is there, whether you accept it or not."
Drake glanced down, only to jump to his feet in alarm, dropping the bread as if it had bit him. It landed on the grassy ground with a solid thunk: frozen solid.
"What is this?" Drake demanded, trembling despite himself as he stared at his pale, slightly blue-tinted fingers. "What's going on? I don't understand what's going on!"
"Calm down, kid," Logan winced, rubbing at his ear. "You're gettin' shrill, and I don't like shrill. Just sit down and shut up. That's an order."
"Yes, sir," Drake said weakly, sinking to the ground with his eyes still fixed on his hands. Logan and the Aviator shared a glance before Logan spoke again.
"I knew there was somethin' different about you kid," he said. "I smelled it on ya from the moment we first met. It was only a matter of time before it manifested. And now, it looks like it finally has."
"What do you mean, manifested?" Drake frowned. "Are you saying I smell?"
"Did I give you permission to speak?" Logan scowled. Drake shook his head. "Then shut up," the Captain said. "I'm tryin' to tell you something important, here."
"Perhaps," the Aviator spoke up, "it would be easier to show him? I am not sure if, in his current state, your words would penetrate."
Logan regarded the German for a moment, considering, then reached into his pack for a knife. Drake watched—first confused, then alarmed—as the rugged soldier drew the knife across his palm, leaving a deep gash in the flesh.
"Hush!" Logan snapped. "Just watch."
Before their eyes, the bloody gash miraculously began to knit itself back together, the flesh closing and the skin healing over without leaving so much as a scar. Logan flexed his hand, then let it fall to his side with a satisfied grunt. Drake gasped.
"Wh-what are you?"
"The question is," Logan corrected, "what are we. There's a lot of folks out there that have peculiar abilities. Some might even go so far as to call them 'powers.' Most look relatively normal, like you an' me. But then there are the real monsters, like Herr Midnight over here."
"I beg your pardon," the German frowned. "But there are plenty of young Frauleins out there who believe my appearance is quite dashing."
"Prolly thought you were wearin' a costume," Logan retorted dryly. The Aviator shot him a dirty look.
"Not all of them," he assured him, a far more characteristic smirk spreading across his fuzzy face as he spoke.
"So, this is why you wanted to talk with me?" Drake burst out, appalled. "Because you think I'm a freak like you? Well, I'm not, all right? I don't know what kind of trick you're trying to pull, but I'm through playing along!"
"This ain't a game, kid," Logan frowned, glaring him back into subdued silence. "And it ain't a trick, neither. You saw my hand. That was real blood seeping out there. And what about that bread, huh? Bread doesn't spontaneously encase itself in ice. You've got a power, kid. Accept it."
"But—But how?" Drake asked with a frightened, involuntary sob. "Why me?"
"Why any of us?" the Aviator retorted. "I believe there is an American saying: You must make due with the cards you are dealt. Ja?"
"Close enough," Logan nodded.
"What about you, then?" Drake demanded, turning on the Aviator. "You hide in that coat like it was some kind of protective shield. You're so desperate for acceptance, you've betrayed your country and gotten yourself captured just so you could chat with another freak!"
The Aviator straightened his spine, his tail lashing dangerously behind him. "I have betrayed nothing," he stated darkly. "I told you why I am here. My plane was frozen, forcing me into a crash landing. I wanted to find the cause."
"Well you found it," Drake snapped. "And you're still a prisoner! And now everyone's going to know what you really are. You'll be on display, in a cage!"
"Drake!" Logan snapped, staring the young man straight in the eye. "That's enough!"
"But, sir, why is he helping us?" the young man exclaimed, too upset to care about insubordination. "He led us away from those German patrols. If he hadn't warned us, we'd be his prisoners right now. How do you know he doesn't have something planned?"
"The way I see it," the Aviator volunteered, "we are all flyers here, knights of the air. This is not our battlefield. Here, on the ground, we are just men. Men who share a common experience. Perhaps, instead of railing against this like a frightened child, you should take this opportunity to learn something."
"Yeah?" Drake sneered. "And what could I learn from you?"
The Aviator opened his mouth to speak, then cocked his head with a frown. "Listen," he said. "Do you hear that?"
"Trucks," Logan confirmed, rising cautiously to his feet. "British trucks, by the sound of 'em. Two, maybe two and a half miles away?"
"They are coming for you," the German said. "This is our final chance to speak together before the walls of nationality and allegiance are raised once more. Ask me your questions, and I will answer."
"I have a question," Logan said. "You never told me how you managed to walk away from that crash."
The Aviator grinned, fully displaying his pointed teeth. "I was hoping you'd ask me that," he said, his spaded tail twitching impishly behind him. "Observe."
Jumping to his feet with theatrical grace, the Aviator held out his bound hands--and promptly vanished in a BAMF of sulfur-scented smoke, the knotted rope dropping to the ground as both Logan and Drake stared with their mouths open.
"Where'd he go?" Drake exclaimed, spinning around in an awkward circle.
"I am here, meine Freunde!"
The Aviator waved to them from his perch in the tree above their heads. Grinning like a roguish elf, the blue German swung off the branch to hang upside down from his tail, his hands hidden behind his back.
"So, now you know my secret," he said through his inverted smile. "I warned you there were no bonds that could hold me."
"Why you slippery little—"
The Aviator cut the Captain off with a playful tut. "Young Drake was right about one thing," he said. "I did allow myself to be captured. But it was not merely to chat. While I have enjoyed this opportunity to know my enemies better, my true objective was to obtain this."
Lowering his arms, he dangled Logan's camera several feet above the ground. The Captain let loose with a furious snarl, making a swipe for the bulky machine with the three sharp, bony protrusions that extended out from each of his fists--startling Drake even further.
"Drop that camera, you filthy German thief!"
The Aviator drew in a sharp, wincing breath, apparently considering Logan's demand. "Well, I could drop it," he allowed. "But I think it would be much more fun simply to do this!"
Vanishing with another theatrical flash, the Aviator reappeared briefly at the base of the neighboring tree, then vanished again, returning to his previous dangling position. Logan blinked, then gaped, then roared.
The Midnight Aviator had teleported his camera, with the plates containing all his hard-won pictures of the German lines, into the trunk of the tree. Even if they had an axe, it would be impossible to retrieve it in one piece. His mission was a shambles. His beloved plane was a flaming wreck, his pictures were lost—and so, it seemed, was his prisoner.
"Well, that's my mission done," the blue imp chuckled from his tree branch. "Until we meet again, ja? In the skies!"
And, with a final upside down salute, the grinning German BAMFed away, the smoke dissipating even as the first of the trucks pulled up beside the copse.
"That bastard," Logan rumbled, sounding at once both angry and pained. "That cheeky, blue-skinned, pointy-eared circus freak of a Hun bastard! I'll find him…I'll tear his smug, fuzzy throat out…I'll—"
"So there you are!" the driver called out with unwelcome cheer, waving them over to his truck. "Alive after all! Saw your kite go down—old man Xavier called on us to pick you up on our way back to base. Did you manage to get any pictures?"
Logan growled, fixing the soldier with a fiery glare of death. The soldier shrank back in his seat, giving the Captain plenty of room as he clambered up into the seat beside him. Drake took his place in the back, subdued and thoughtful.
"Just drive," Logan ordered, his dark eyes fixed on the dusty road ahead.
"Yessir," the driver nodded, shifting into gear and rejoining the convoy without another word. For several minutes, they rode in bumpy silence. And then, Drake spoke up.
"I'm sorry, sir," he said.
"Huh?" Logan frowned, his own train of thought derailed. "What's that?"
"I said, I'm sorry, sir," Drake repeated. "The Aviator was right. I acted like a child back there. I was frightened, and I didn't want to listen. And I'm sorry. If you're still willing to teach me after all this--"
"Eh," Logan waved it off. "No need to apologize, kid. You were right about that creep. Still can't think why I trusted him."
"Well, as Germans go, he really wasn't so bad," Drake allowed. "Actually sir, if you'll forgive me, in many ways, he reminded me of you."
Drake tensed as soon as the words were out of his mouth, afraid he'd offended the gruff Canadian. But when he finally turned his head, Drake could see the Captain's dark eyes were gleaming not with hatred, but with grudging respect.
"I have to admit," he rumbled. "That cheeky sneak-thief won this round. Beat us fair and square. But take my word for it, kid," he smirked, reaching into his pocket for a cigar. "Next time, he won't be so lucky."
Drake blinked. Us... Captain Logan actually used the word us. Almost as if...as if he considered them a team...
Drake smiled and sat back in his seat, turning his eyes to the vast, blue sky. "Yes, sir," he said.