TITLE: Beauty Of The Beast

AUTHOR: Sharkbait

RATING: PG-13 for violence

TEAM: Excalibur

DISCLAIMER: Every mutant herein belongs to Marvel. The rabbit is mine, but I don't think you'll want it after this.

NOTE: Wow, is this old.

Such a fine night for haunting.

The moon, great pendent orb, looked on starkly white, impassive, impartial. It regarded land, sea, and wood alike in shaded azure, indigo, lazuline, and sky. Details were sketched in imperfect clarity, like the one black corner of a room brilliantly lit.

She prowled, close to the forest floor and the smell of rich, living earth. Drinking in the feel of mud and grass and cool, wet air, such simple pleasures were like sweet rose mead, and she was powerfully thirsty for it.

She absorbed, awareness overflowing with stimulation. Her senses were razors, sponges, piercing the world around her, soaking it up, and she cast them about her like nets, willing them to expand as never before.

She exulted, in every sight, every taste, every scent, every touch, every sound, with the fervent intensity of a wild thing, ever craving more. Sensation was a lush, perfumed plum, and she devoured it ravenously, sinking her teeth in deeper and deeper to make it weep nectar, its juices gushing over her in streams, in rivers, in oceans.

She ran, mind, body, and spirit singing of rhapsodic, sacred liberty. Heady freedom supplied her with seemingly unending energy, pouring verve and vigor and vim from a bottomless chalice into she, the willing vessel.

He watched from the hillside, in darkness, eyes pinpoint stars.

She didn't see him, or didn't care. It didn't matter.

A soft breeze whispered through the long grass. It cradled the deceptively gentle sound of her padded feet and hands, drumming against the ground in a counterpoint rhythm to his heart.

Naked, except for her fur, and without shame, she was a creature untamed, unswayed by law or inhibition. Light flowed over her, grazing a shoulder, a haunch, the curve of her spine, touching here and there like an insect skimming the surface of a lake.

Such a fine night for chasing.

He had been a statue, viewing her in perfect stillness, but something stirred within him, an irresistible urge to GO. And so he began to move, covering the land in long strides, following along with her while she bound purposefully and without destination, together though tens, maybe hundreds of yards separated them.

They raced until his lungs felt seared and his sides ached, yet he kept pace, driven by serene mystification and awed fascination and something curious and fey he didn't have any name for, that perhaps no man had ever had a name for, something that was empyrean and gossamer and ethereal and alien.

And she flew ebullient over earth, root, and stone, giving herself over completely to instincts. She was electric, wired to forces of visceral resplendence the likes of which a very fortunate few experience, and so incredibly alive, the very air around her nearly sparked and crackled with it.

Something rustled in the brush. She stopped dead, sniffed the wind, and turned a hypersensitized ear towards the sound. He stood frozen in place, spellbound, gaze intent and somehow remote, as though he were looking through her eyes, too.

The sound came again - quiet, hesitant, suspicious. She inhaled deeply, seeing as much as feeling as much as tasting as much as smelling, and a picture formed in her mind like smoke trails.

A rabbit, emerging from its den to feed.

She smiled, baring slick fangs of flawless ivory. Perfect.

Such a fine night for killing.

It was bitterly cold, and the dampness snaked tendril hooks of glacial moisture deep inside him, making him shiver. A sensible person would have retreated to the inviting warmth of Indoors by now, and he had always credited himself with being quite sensible.

He didn't care. Right then, at that exact instance, he wouldn't - couldn't - have left for his heart's dearest desire. He was rooted to the spot, engrossed, oblivious to the world outside his narrow scope of attention.

Crouched low, she was stillness made flesh and fur, every inch, every centimeter of her body taut. As centered as he was on she, she was on her prey.

A movement, a twitch, the smallest of motions. The rabbit was cautiously stepping out, nose working furiously, trying to scent any danger.

She stared at it, waiting in silence for the right opportunity, that perfect moment. He felt something wrench inside himself looking at her, something sharp and delicious.

The rabbit moved forward, coming reluctantly into the open to nibble at the sweet, sweet spring grasses.

There. The moment was now.

She tensed, then sprang, striking leopard and fiercest Valkyrie made as one - but the rabbit had sensed her intent, and fled at the last second, darting in panic not towards its home, but away from it.

A foolish mistake, and a fatal one.

Breathless, he watched her pursuit, enraptured by the symphony of muscles at play as she pumped her arms and legs determinedly. She was all deadly grace and speed and ferocity and strength and purpose. It was one of the most magnificent sights he'd ever witnessed, and he beheld it with unguarded reverence and wonderment.

The hunt was over mere heartbeats after it had begun. The rabbit squealed shrilly as, in one powerful motion, she seized it, and tore its throat out with her teeth, almost before it realized what was happening.

Blood sprayed in all directions, spattering trees and brush and huntress equally, shadowy cerulean under the moon's eye. Holding the still twitching carcass to her mouth, she drank deeply of the salty coppery tang, its essence spilling down her chin in rivulets. When the streams became trickles, she threw her head back, arching her entire body, and howled in triumph, high eerie coyote and regal baying wolf.

She was savage and violent and terrible, a true Beast Queen, and he nearly wept at her beauty.

He saw her feed with reckless abandon, and shuddered, feeling sick and knowing it was because he wasn't sickened at all by the brutal, gory display, but mesmerized.

He remained long after, too, observing her in captivation, and didn't quietly disappear until the sky had begun to grow light.

When he finally did slip inside, his toes were frozen, he couldn't feel his nose or fingers, and he was exhausted, but filled with such strange, gentle peace, he didn't mind.

Had it been real? A dream? A vision? He wondered as he removed his scarf and parka, hanging them carefully up, and trying to be silent as she as he crept down the hall towards his room.

"Hey," a voice called out. He turned to find Kitty standing behind him, looking rumpled and semi-awake, wearing a man's white button-up shirt and some running shorts.

"Hey," he replied, blinking to try and moisten his tired, aching eyes.

She smiled sleepily. "Where were you?"

He opened his mouth, then paused, and halfway returned her smile, expression distant, soft, and mysterious. "Nowhere special."

"Um, all right," she squinted at him, but shrugged, deciding to respect his privacy. "See you later, then."

"See you," was all he said, and walked away.

Kitty shook her head, puzzled and sort of amused. "Weird, definitely weird."

o o o

She awoke with the sun in her eyes, and groaned, sitting up slowly. Her fur was a mess; sticky, matted, full of various forms of indigenous plant life...and it was all that she was wearing, apparently.

Okay. That's odd. She looked around her surroundings, trying to jog her memory as to, oh, say, where she was, how she got there, and what she'd been doing. Trees, field, hill, bloody pile of unidentifiable meat and bones-

Wait a minute, bloody pile of what?

The previous night's events abruptly came rushing back to her, all in one big, startling chunk.

She blinked.

Well, that explained the funny taste in her mouth.

She shaded her eyes, gazing at the sky. By its position, she could tell the sun hadn't been up long. Probably should go inside now (and brush her teeth fifty times, and take a nice, long shower), before the others woke up and came looking for her. It had been much too long a night and it was far too early in the morning for the explanations they'd want, if they found her out here.

Pity to have to leave so soon. She stretched languorously, enjoying the feel of sunlight on generally fairly private parts of her, and climbed unsteadily to her feet.

Shifting back to her human form, she spared one last guilty look at the rabbit's remains (she refused to feel too badly, though. Death was, after all, a part of life, and a part of Nature), and quickly made her way back to the Center.

Sneaking in through the front door wasn't too hard, her being a naturally quiet person and all. It was early yet, so chances were good she wouldn't come across anyone if she hurried. She started heading in, thought twice, and ran back to grab a coat first (Pete's downy parka, as it happened), just in case she didbump into anybody.

She tip-toed down the foyer, and peeked into the hallway leading to the bathroom. Oops! There was Kitty, coming straight towards her.

Better do something fast. While Kitty had her back turned shutting her bedroom door, she hotfooted past, and kept going 'til she reached the kitchen, ducking inside.

Whew, that was a close call. She closed her eyes, and just concentrated on breathing.

"Guten Morgen. It's beautiful out today, yes?"

She jumped, and spun around so fast it made her dizzy. Head reeling and knees feeling mushy, she leaned back against the door for support.

Enter Kurt, smiling pleasantly, sitting and reading a book while having his morning coffee. Her heart nearly stopped beating, right then and there. "Er...um...hello," she fumbled, just knowinghe was going to ask questions and dreading having to answer.

His brow furrowed in concern. Uh oh. Here it comes. She squeezed her eyes shut, as if he were about to fire a rifle at her. "You look tired, liebling. Did you sleep well?"

That was it? No 'where were you last night' or 'what's with the coat'? She opened one eye, saw him patiently waiting for an answer, and popped the other open hastily, before she started looking weird. Well, weirder, anyway. "Oh...uh...yes," she replied intelligently, and swallowed, getting her head together enough to elaborate. "I mean, yes, I did sleep well. But I don't think I rested enough, so I think I'll just, um...go back to bed for a little while."

He nodded, sympathetic. "I think you'd better. Pleasant dreams, then," he said.

Mumbling a 'thank you,' she managed to stumble her way out of the kitchen, without dying or breaking down and confessing everything or something embarrassing like that.

She never did notice that Kurt's book was upside down, or that there was fresh mud caked on his shoes, or that he was wearing the same outfit he wore the day before.

Kurt sipped his coffee, smiling a little to himself. Today was going to be a very long day, but it had been worth it, to be part - no matter how distant a part - of such an experience.

Besides, he could always take a nap later. Mmmmm, a nap. His tail traced happy little circles on the floor just thinking about it.

o o o

After a scalding hot, twenty minute shower, with all evidence of blood, dirt, and all the other gunk she'd been practically coated in scrubbed away, she finally felt a bit more under control, and certainly a lot more human.

Wiping steam from the mirror, she hesitated, searching the green eyes that stared back at her deeply for...something, then gave up and put on her bathrobe.

She padded down the hall to her room, and turned the knob as far as it would go, noiselessly shutting the door behind her. Her hand slid off and away, hanging limp at her side, and she stood, silent and still. Troubled.

Last night hadn't been the first time she'd went feral like that. Many nights came and went with her roaming all over Muir Island, celebrating in her own way that she was still alive, despite the odds.

And she had to relieve the stresses of her everyday life somehow. She was only human, after all. Just because she was gentle and kindhearted didn't make her some kind of saint. She got angry and frustrated, too.

Letting the robe puddle around her feet, she shivered, and slipped into bed, cuddling up next to the large, warm body already lying there.

Sometimes she had to blow off a little steam, that was all. Meggan laid her head on Brian's chest, wrapping one of his arms around her, lost in her thoughts.

It wasn't a big deal or anything.

Everybody has to go a little wild sometimes...right?