Just for future reference, the [] are German translations. There is *some* English, so that will be without them =) OK, I finally finished this. It strays off a *little* from canon, but is mostly my own takes on his canon origin almost completely from the Nightcrawler V3 mini-series. One part, though, is exaggeratedly evil and time durations are really screwed up. This was an entry for the Nightscrawlers May/August/June Movie writing challenge but it's not really a movie... more like a novella on which a movie could be based.



Any tale must have a beginning. It was a rule and forever would be a rule. Beginning, middle, end. Yet this certain tale, a tale of a life, begins *with* an end. This, Raven knew as she ran with a still-swollen stomach through unforgiving woods, as she stumbled with heavy breath and sensitive pains between her legs through cutting thorns and jagged branches that sliced past her skin and her face, only the omnipresent glow of the moon and the distant orange light of torches lighting her way. An end was near, that was certain, but of what, Raven did not yet know, and so she clutched the bundle to her swollen breast tighter, too tightly, and it cried through the whole journey, soft wails that she tried to silence against the cloth of her dress.

One end that she was indeed aware of now, for which awareness came in the form of aching feet and distant cries of "[WITCH!]"Was her cushy life here as Baroness. That was surely over now, now that the child that was not her husband's, the bastard child borne of stupid, irresponsible passion was out of her and real, crying and clinging to her like the one thing he'd ever known. That baby, the one that had hurt so much to expel from inside of her, the one that made her change back to blue from the stress, the one that's eyes glowed against the night looking up at her asking:

'Where are you going? Will you leave me?' That baby was the source of her pain, the end to the one life she'd grown into, fit into well. They'd seen it, and then seen her, and now she was running.

She looked back down at it now, as the cliffs became nearer, rushing river coursing underneath them with a powerful roar, as she moved fast enough to slightly mute the mob-cries to her ears, met its yellow eyes with her own, those questioning eyes.


She stopped for a moment, and wrapped the cloth tighter around the newborn's tiny body. Wagner was monogrammed onto it, but she did not notice that. She did not notice much now. All she saw was the baby, and all she felt was pain. Pain from birthing, from running, from hearing the incessant mob-cries getting louder and louder as they progressed. The tiny child, too young to yet properly move, made no effort to reach out to her, and she looked to it, then down at the cliffs, then back where the orange glow was becoming ever clearer. It was clear to Raven, then and there.

There was another end here. The end to this child's life. Shakily, she dangled the baby over the falls, wind blowing her skirts and hair akimbo, and she exchanged one final look with him, the unnamed child, still bloody from birth, and to her, there was another end evident here. The end of the life of the boy that would never be her son, on the same day he began. Raven stepped forwards ever so slightly, took a final shaking breath...

and released her hands. The bundle, the baby, fell over the cliffs, a tiny black wailing clump, until, both from view and sound; it disappeared, beyond wet, murky death.



~Two hours old~


There was something in the water. Damned if she knew what, and damned if she knew why, but as Margali looked towards the river trailing past her camp, she saw it, a brown, sopping piece of cloth, floating along the water. On her left, Stefan was washing his face and hands, as did everyone, and the water was sparklingly clean, beautiful. There was no polluted river here in Winzeldorf, and occasionally fish would be seen here swimming, frolicking. So she shouldn't pay any mind to the fact that there was something there, something floating down the stream. It was probably unimportant and she shouldn't care.

But damn it, what *was* that? She squinted, trying to make it out, and then noticed something, a sound that pierced her to the bone, that rang through her brain like ricocheting debris against the inside of her skull. A baby's crying. Margali, saying not a word, ran into the cold river water, skirts billowing behind her like a mermaid's hair, and ignored her young son's calling out to her. The water made her slower, but she pushed on, grabbed the bundle, pressed it to her chest, and waded out as quickly as she could.

"[Feur!]" She called, not really knowing much beyond the fact that there was something small, wet, and crying in her arms. "[Get a blanket! NOW!]" She watched the fire-eater give her a confused expression before running off as fast as his legs would carry him towards the camp. She tried to hush the bundle, but its hoarse wails were adamantly consistent. Hoarse from a raw throat, she noted. Feur was back too quickly, and by then, Stefan and a few other select circus folk were crowded around Margali, watching her lay the blanket down. She placed the bundle down gently, ever so gently, and then peeled back the sopping folds of cloth to get to the person beneath.

Margali gasped and froze for a moment, letting the child be exposed to the elements and those who crowded around her. The baby, evidently a boy, was wet-yes, that was to be expected, but what Margali had *not* expected as she pulled the bundle out of the river, was how damp blue fuzz covered the child's body, slicked down from the water. In fact, there were many things she had not expected from the baby. His ears, relatively large for a child, were pointed like an elf's, and that his eyes, tightly shut from crying, would open stark and gold, to name a few. The infant shivered, and his hands curled listlessly around himself, tiny three fingered hands, trying to get warm, somehow. The child looked back towards Margali, and his eyes widened in perpetual newborn curiosity.

'Can *you* make me warm?'They were asking, imploring, and a blue forked tail reached out to her, almost as if purposely. She looked at the freezing, crying boy and wrapped the blanket tightly around his strange little body, discarding the wet cloth.

'Yes'. She took Stefan by the hand and walked to the camp, preparing to ready a bath of water, warm water and... shampoo? Feur followed her, heavy arms at his sides, infant's wailing quieter now that there was some aspect of warmth. Feur, not a slight man himself in any sense of the word, had no idea as how to broach gentle subjects and so licked his lips and tried.

"[Wagner was written on the other cloth.]" he said. Margali did not reply. "[His name. It's Wagner.]"

"[So what?]" she asked. "[Now we know the name of the person who threw him off of a cliff.]"

"[Well, Margali... you're not planning to *keep* him, are you?]" In a brief flash of time, that of a question being asked, she made a decision that would impact the rest of her life and said nothing, walking towards the gypsy camp. Feur took notice. "[Oh, lord, you're planning to keep him.]"

"[Well, what would *you* do?]" She snapped. "[Bring him back to them to finish the job? Find an orphanage? You've *seen* him, who would take him in?]" Feur met her eyes for a moment, and looked down at the shivering bundle in her arms.

"[All right, Margali.]" He finally conceded. "[All right. But *you* enjoy explaining him to the rest of the troupe.]"


When the little boy was bathed and warm, it was evident that he'd hit something, by the swollen condition of his tiny, strange paw- leg, and also that he had been in that cold water for far too long. His throat was raw and hoarse from cold wails, and his tiny nose ran constantly, soiling the fur directly under it. He was breathing through his mouth for the most part, and it was open slightly in a constant awe. The thick blanket around him made only his face visible, and tiny golden eyes were closed at the moment, sleeping. Around him, the majority of the circus troupe leaned over, taking in the sight.

"[Where did you find him?]"

"[In the river, poor thing.]" Margali answered.

"[Are you going to take him in?]"

"[Well... yes. Yes, I am.]"

"[What *is* he?]" Stefan asked, having joined the crowd to see whatever it was that had caught their attention so.

"[...Your... foster brother.]"

One of the female animal handlers spoke now, leaning towards Margali in a question, eyes on the little furry boy. "[Is he... an *elf*?]"

"[Psshhhh No.]"




Margali sighed. "[He's just...]" The child sneezed in his sleep, face contorting for a moment, little nose wrinkling before awaking and beginning to wail at consciousness itself. She picked him up, cradling him to her chest, and the crying slowly stopped, turning back into the tiny sounds of slumber. Her mouth twitched in a tiny, rewarded smile. "[A boy. Who happens to resemble some sort of...]"

"[Elfin imp-demon?]" The handler offered. Margali sighed, and there was a distinct beat of silence before another question permeated the air.

"[What's his name?]"



~Eleven months old~


"[That's it, my little one, that's the way.]" Margali crouched, calves aching, arms outstretched as she coaxed her child to come towards her. He made a decent effort at a step, and kept himself balanced, coming forwards with an impossible grin on his face."[*Good*. Good boy, a step at a time.]" He made a final step, feet moving almost paw-like, and then stumbled towards her open arms, releasing a happy laugh as he did so. She picked him up then, and commended his work.

"[You learn to walk first— then to fly – on the trapeze. You'll become the greatest acrobat of them all.]" He laughed again, tail swishing back and forth, while his brother watched on from the shadow, observing the scene, listening to their interaction.

"[How does *that* sound, my littlest boy?]" She cooed, oblivious. "[My most special boy.]" Stefan walked over to the two, and tugged at his mother's skirts.

"[Mama, when do the shows start?]" He asked, indicating the sunset colours of the trees; an autumn occurrence.

"[Twelve more days, Stefan.]" She answered, beginning to walk towards her home, infant child in one arm, and hand of a young one in the other. "[Why?]" He shrugged as he watched her place Kurti down on a table, and walked over and initiated a crude thumb war-esque game with his tail.

"[Just curious, that's all.]" Kurti's tail wrapped around his thumb and the small boy laughed gleefully at his victory. Stefan engaged in a rematch and his eyes darted between the game and Margali herself. "[I thought maybe... I could be a part of it?]" the end of his sentence curled up in a question, voice growing higher with uncertainty. Margali's mouth twitched in an amused smile, and she bent down for a moment to kiss the boy's head.

"[Oh? And what would you do there?]" She asked, her voice drowned out by clamour of metal on metal as she removed various cooking implements from where they were held, readying to prepare. Stefan busied himself in the game, and shrugged his shoulders, not quite embarrassed.

"[You said that when Kurti learns to walk, he can be on the trapeze, and I already *can* walk, so...]" he looked back up at her, implications lacing every word he said. To his surprise, Margali burst out into musical laughter, and placed her pans down to look at him. Bosom and stomach rumbling with merriment, she crouched down to his level and smiled.

"[Oh, Stefan...]" she giggled. "[I didn't mean as *soon* as Kurti could walk. No one starts real training until they're at least... I don't know, eight.]" Stefan puffed his cheeks. "[All right, liebchen?]"

"[OK.]" He grinned, cheeks bubbling up underneath his eyes. Margali rose from her crouch, joints cracking painlessly from immunity brought on by the common exercises of motherhood.

"[Maybe you can help me with some *magic*, hmm?]" At this, Stefan's eyes twinkled with a childish hunger, and he went off to sit on the counter next to his foster brother. He took Kurti's hands in his own and the two found unspoken ways to amuse themselves, mindless sibling interaction enough to make the elder brother smile, and the younger one laugh and stumble over speech that he had not as of yet mastered. Margali cooked in relative silence, and then was interrupted by a meek exclamation.


"[Yes, Stefan?]"

"[Why are Kurti's teeth coming in all pointy?]"

"[Kurti's teeth already came in, liebling. There won't be any more until he's about two.]" She recited, well educated in the verses of childhood development.

"[No, look.]" He stated, ever adamant, trying to contort himself to an angle such that he could look up at his infant brother's top teeth as he perched somewhat clumsily on the counter. "[There's new ones. And they're coming in pointy.]" Sighing, Margali looked at her pot, watched bubbles straining to reach the top of the water in her pot, but fizzling out midway through. She wiped her hands on her apron and took a step towards her son.

"[All right, Stefan, where?]"

"[*There*.]" He said, one finger extended towards Kurti's mouth, the unashamedly satisfied look on his face stating that it was impossible to miss the accusedly pointy teeth he was presenting to her. She bent to Kurti's level and coaxed him to open his mouth, placing one hand around the chin and one on the top of his head. The child obliged with a light purring sound and she tilted his head back, looking at where the 'pointy teeth' should have been.

Margali gasped. Canines that shouldn't have been there for at least another year were protruding from soft pink gums, gleaming white, looking slightly intrusive, surreal. Evidently, they were not fully grown, but rivalled all his other teeth in length, clearly striving to be longer. And to Margali's utter confusion, they were... for lack of a better word, pointy.

"[*See?*]" quipped Stefan. "[Pointy. They look like the tigers'.]" He noted. And he was right. The fangs were pretty much the same. Margali allowed Kurti to close his mouth and looked over at her older son.

"[Well, I don't know why. That's just the way Gott made him.]" Stefan seemed satisfied with that answer, and growing bored with sitting by his mother's side as she worked, he lifted Kurti up unsteadily and carried him off with the announcement that they were going to go play.

"[OK, Kurti.]" Stefan said, holding up a ball as the two sat outside of their own house. "[Catch.]" He rolled the ball along the ground and Kurti's head followed it until it landed between his own legs. He held the little coloured rubber sphere with six fingers and looked to his elder brother quizzically for approval.

"[Now *roll* it back to me.]" He directed, gesticulating exuberantly with his arms. Kurti looked to the ball, then to his brother, and his face lit up in understanding. He pushed his arms forward with all the strength he could muster, and the little sphere propelled towards Stefan, who caught it easily and almost immediately threw it back, far too hard and high. It fell in a slow arch towards the ground and bounced on the soil, propelling upwards, until landing on top of the house, blocking out the sun. Kurti, smiling with adventurousness, turned onto his stomach and walked on all fours until he reached the building. Stefan, turning his head for the nearest adult, did not notice his brother's new discovery and then turned back towards him, and gasped.


Margali was sifting out the right amount of salt onto her spoon, slowly shaking her container until the white crystals slid out, ever so slowly.

"[Steady...]" she mumbled. "[a little more...]" The large, silver spoon was nearly full now, the mountain of white threatening to spill over the edges. "[Almost full...]"

"[MAMA!]" Margali jumped, fumbling with her utensils, and cursed as half the total container poured relentlessly into her cauldron. She sighed, and pinched the bridge of her nose. {I suppose today's soup will have to be extra salty.}

"[Yes, Stefan?]" She said, coating her voice with so much sweetness not to sound annoyed it made her mouth feel thick.

"[Um... come here.]"

She sighed, and hastily added some sugar to the concoction, shrugging as she did so. It wouldn't be ready for a few minutes. Wiping her hands again, she walked outside, only to see Stefan standing outside the house, mouth open, staring towards the wall adjacent to him.

"[What, Stefan? What is it? Where's Kur-]" Now mother and child both stared at the wall, equal expressions on their faces, and watched as Kurti, with tail wagging behind him like a joyful dog's, climbed up the wall, holding onto the *wall* itself. They watched in stunned silence as he made his way to the top, scampered onto the platform of the roof, and grabbed the ball, throwing it down at Stefan with a squeal.

"[How is he *doing* that?]" Margali asked as he slowly made his way down the wall, head first. Stefan looked back at her.

"[That's just the way Gott made him.]"



~Five years old~


"[Supper's almost ready!]" Margali called to her three children, one hand stirring a large pot while the other held it in place. "[Be here in *fifteen* minutes.]" She poured in about half her container's worth of salt; since four and a half years ago, that combination got great reactions out of most of the troupe.

"[But, mama!]" She heard a small girl call from somewhere behind her. "[I can't find Stefan *or* Kurti!]" Margali sighed and lifted a tit of soup into her mouth, taste-testing.

"[Feur!]" She called. "[Go help Jimaine find Stefan and Kurti.]" The strongman grinned as he rushed past Margali and hefted her daughter up onto his shoulders.

"[All right, liebling, do you see anyone *now*?]" He asked. The girl narrowed her eyes in preparation for a hunt and scoured whatever grounds she could see from her position with them. There was naught but tents and trees and houses for now, and she could see the trapeze setup, towering above it all, a circus guardian, with a touch of a red bandana peeking out from behind one of the columns...

"[There!]" She pointed to the bandana and her fire-eating consort dutifully stalked over and pulled Stefan out by the scruff. Pouting, the boy looked up at Feur, dangerously twinkling eyes accusing him a traitor, and the man simply shrugged. "[Found you!]" Jimaine shouted, grinning all the while. "[Now come on, help me find Kurti.]"

The three walked around the entire perimeter of the grounds before unanimously deciding that Kurti was *inside* something, and rather, not behind it. Sabu, who had been watching their hunt with growing amusement, decided to partake in the sleuthing along with the children and Feur.

"[What could he be inside of, children? You all outgrew those all little hiding spots, remember?]" Stefan shook his head.

"[No, Kurti can still do it. We found him inside the *soup pot* once.]" Sabu searched Feur's face for traces of a lie.

"[Really? How'd he get *in* there?]"

"[Kurti can kind of fold himself up to get inside *anywhere*.]" Stefan recalled with growing spitefulness. "[I don't know, he puts his legs around his arms or something and he's *three* times smaller!]"

"[*Really?*]" asked Sabu. "[Now that is interesting.]" Then, after a moment's pause, Feur asked:

"[Have you checked the trees?]" Jimaine looked up at him, and Stefan grinned.

"[No, actually we haven't. Let's go.]" And the group made their way towards the trees that surrounded the circus grounds and their homes, a gate of forestry.

"[Where can we start looking?]" Jimaine asked, suddenly intimidated by all the huge, towering plants. "[There so *many*.]"

"[Knowing Kurti...]" Stefan said, gazing upwards with a speculative brow. "[We look *up*.]" Taking the boy's example, Sabu craned his head up, trying to see between the twining branches of the trees, separating them with his eyes, a mental surgery.

Jimaine, of course, not yet patient enough to sift through the forestry, claimed it all looked the same, as did Stefan, after a while. Feur saw a deep shadow between two of the trees, mere black against the wood, but squinted his eyes to see a branched part in the sunlight, where a thick blue rope was wrapped securely about.

"[I see you, Kurti!]" Feur said, pointing at the boy with a thick finger. "[I see your tail.]" The little crowd from below all took notice of the appendage and waited silently for some development, gazing upwards. Suddenly, out of nowhere, two glowing lights penetrated the darkness, and looked down towards the tail wrapped around the branch.

"[*AW*, I was *sure* I was all in the shadows!]" A voice came from the lights. And then a figure popped out from the blackness, now visible in the light. The figure unwrapped his tail from the branch and perched himself on it, grinning like a fool, fangs now visible as well in the shrouding blackness. "[Did I win?]" He asked, looking to Jimaine. She sighed and hung her head, blonde hair falling in waves around her face.

"[Yes, you won... But it's not fair, you can't hide in *trees*.]" Kurti made a face of utter disagreement and then climbed down the tree skilfully before jumping off from halfway down the height, turning in the air slightly to land in a perch.

"[Yes, I can! You never said 'no hiding in trees'.]" Feur smirked.

"[That's true, Jimaine. You never said 'no hiding in trees'.]" Bested, she conceded and Kurti stood upright, beaming from a victory.

"[Do we have time for one more?]" Kurti asked, looking at Feur hopefully. The man turned back to Margali, who looked hard at work, and shrugged.

"[I don't see why not.]" The children cheered and Stefan set to closing his eyes and counting downwards from seventy seven (their predetermined number).

"[Feur,]" Sabu started, an air of inquisitiveness around him. "[Has Kurti been practicing that wall-climbing that he does? He's gotten quite good.]" The larger man nodded.

"[Yes, he has.]"

"[And what about the way he jumped down? Impressive stuff for a five year old.]" Feur shrugged, not knowing where the elder man was heading with his observations.

"[I guess so.]"

"[...Four, three, two, one! Here I come!]" Stefan called and then took off running towards the cluster of homes, bandana flying behind his head like some sort of superman. Soon enough, he turned a corner, disappearing from the adults' view, and a moment later, he came out with a grumbling Jimaine behind him and a grin plastered on his face.

"[Ok, now we look for Kurti.]" After a moment's pause: "[Let's check the kitchen first.]"


The kitchen was a small square room with one stove, a huge cupboard beneath it for supplies, and various other fixtures strewn across the walls. Translation: A perfect hiding spot. First, Stefan commanded everyone, with the prowess of both a showman and an army general to look *around* the building *and* on top of it. Jimaine, very much enjoying the charade and the prospect of her foster brother as enemy, gave a mock salute and bounded off.

"[Mama, did you see him?]" He asked, appraising Margali as she intently stared at a pot of soup, wooden spoon in hand, preparing to strike if the need arose. Keeping her lips in a tight line to withhold smiling, she shrugged.

"[I can't say.]" She said, and let out a snort of laughter before quickly regaining her composure, avoiding his eyes. {Just look at the soup... not at your weirdly entertaining children... only the soup.} Stefan snaked around the kitchen, eyes squinted, deadly. All the cupboards, at the top and bottom of the kitchen, had curved ceilings, kind of domed, allowing lots of room for anyone, *especially* amateur contortionists like Kurti.

Stefan furrowed his brow. But which of them was he in? So he began opening and closing all of them, starting with the large pots and pans one under the sink. But that one was completely filled with... pots and pans. So he looked through each and every one, climbing inside, and seeing nothing.

Next he moved large things out of the way, looking behind them in case Kurti had developed the ability to make himself flat. Margali watched this all with passive amusement, and watched until everything had been moved and moved back, every cupboard had been thoroughly climbed into, and Stefan was going through them all again.

"[Supper's ready!]" Margali then called, apologetically waving her spoon at Stefan's forlorn expression, an exchange made subconsciously, food for peace. Jimaine, along with Feur and Sabu, and one of the local acrobats made their way into the tiny kitchen. "[Everyone who wants soup come *now* before it runs out!]" They made their way to grab a bowl for themselves, and then Sabu and Stefan watched, entranced, as the first cabinet opened again, ghost-like.

From above the pots and pans, a spine that had actually bent itself to the groove of the top, straightened out, and golden lights opened, before the figure crawled, from above the pots, out of the cupboard, fell onto the floor, and somersaulted slowly as not to hurt himself, grabbing a bowl out of Stefan's hands at the end of the trick. Kurti flashed a grin at Stefan, Sabu, and then Margali before turning to her with pleading eyes.

"[Can I have some soup?]"



"[But, Margali, please just listen, I-]"


"[Can I just have five minutes to-]"

"[To what?]"

"[To explain to you that this is really a good idea and-]"


"[Why? Why is it a good idea? OK, um, first off, there's less people coming in every year, and the acts are getting stale and I think that if you think about it, he's really-]"

"[It's dangerous.]"

"[That's what I'm saying, I think that for him, it'll actually-]"

"[He's too young.]"

"[Yes, he's young, but he shows more ability than-]"

"[It's still a no.]"

"[But *I'll* be the one who's-]"

"[What part of no don't you understand, Sabu?]"

"[...Are you going to let me finish a-]"


Sabu sighed, massaging his forehead with the tips of his fingers as he rested his elbows on his thighs. Margali sat across from him, face set in stubborn resilience, and looked as if she was holding her own quite well, flicking a piece of black hair behind her head idly.

"[Ok, Margali, just hear me out. PLEASE?]" He nearly begged.

Sigh. "[*Fine*. I'm hearing you-]"

"[No, no, *actually* hear me out.]" Margali waved her hands in surrender, and then gestured an introduction for Sabu, 'Please continue.'

"[All right, firstly, I understand that Kurti's only five as of now-]" Margali opened her mouth to say something, but then shut it quickly, true to her word. "[And I know that that's very young. But I think he's shown a lot more talent *already* than some of the acrobats we have. Performing. Honestly.]"

Margali licked her lips, trying to hide the fact that she was the slightest bit proud of this, if anything.

"[Now, while even if I saw talent, I would usually not recruit a five year old to start training. Because it's usually dangerous. But there are many reasons why I think that it won't be NEARLY as dangerous for Kurti, all of which I have thoroughly thought out before I came here trying to convince you.]"

Margali raised a brow. And then the second.

"[All right, first off, he has a tail. That can grab on to things. Ergo, 25% more grip. I'm not including the fact that his feet can grab as well as his hands, mind you. Next off, he can *stick* to *walls*. If that's not an advantage on, say, the trapeze, than nothing is.]"

Margali readied to say something, but Sabu cut her off.

"[Third, he's lean and fast and has perfect balance. Perfect physique for an acrobat, and... well, balance. And then there's his *spine*.]"

Margali, getting antsy, now looked slightly confused.

"[What about his spine?]" She asked, though she was pretty sure she had a vague idea of the answer.

"[Margali, his spine can bend unlike anyone's I've ever seen. He made a reverse arch today WHILE sticking. To walls. Inside a *cupboard*. And then he did a somersault after coming out.]" Margali looked away now, because this all was true.

"[But he's so *young*..." Sabu leaned forwards, having the upper hand in the discussion now. His eyes were twinkling with eagerness, and he took a wide breath through his nose.

"[Think about it, Margali. He can be great. Maybe become the greatest acrobat of them all.]" Her eyes flashed to Sabu's now, meeting them, hearing her words back to her. "[Well?]" He pressed. "[Will you let me train him?]"

She opened her mouth to argue, but the decision had already been made.



~Eight years old~


Swing, swing, flip.

Two, three.

Flip, catch, four, freeze, hold, tail, five, six, drop.

Seven, fall, fall, bar.

Twirl, flip, fall, eight, nine, hold, jump.


Grab, twirl, straighten, eleven, release, tail, twelve, swing back.

Bar, balance, balance, thirteen, fourteen, walk.

Walk, walk, walk.

Fifteen, sixteen.

Bridge, hold feet, walk, careful... seventeen.

Fall off side, fall, eighteen, flip, catch, handstand, nineteen...

Around, flip, twirl, change position, feet, land, hold...


Kurti straightened himself up; arms extended to the sky, and, panting, turned to his family, watching from the sidelines. Sabu glared at his mother with a kind of vengeance in his eyes, and Kurti's cheeks ached from grinning, and his arms and legs and tail were on fire.

"[Was that any good?]"

And they all burst into applause.

Margali just stared in shock. Sabu had not let her sit in for any practices since the very first few three years ago, when she had insisted, and she evidently missed quite a bit. The routine was clean, cleaner than most routines she'd seen. Sabu rushed up to him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders.

"[Very good, lad, very good indeed! In fact...]" he said, looking at Margali all the while. "[I think you're ready for your first show.]"


"[Sabu... let's talk.]" Margali said, and Sabu looked over at Kurti, who was still puffing and blowing, and beaming with praise. Sabu followed, and Margali recruited Feur and one of the acrobats, an Annelies Kauffmann to come with her. They sat on the grass as Kurti tried to drink his weight in water while Jimaine and Stefan made comments from the side.

"[OK, that was good.]" She admitted, and at a look from Sabu, reprimanded to "[*great*, even.]" He leaned back in his seat, appeased. "[But *how* is he going to perform in a circus production?]"

"[Well, we'd have to make him a costume.]" Said Annelies, referring to the mercilessly tattered shorts Kurti wore now, held up only by the collective willpower of everyone around. She then added, nervously twirling her claret curls: "[One with a tail hole...]"

"[With all due respect, Annelies, I don't think Margali was referring to the costume.]" Annelies turned a shade to match her hair before muttering an affirmation.

"[Right, remember what happened when I tried to get him into that school with a photo?]" Margali asked, Kurti constantly in her peripheral vision as he galloped after Stefan with Jimaine on his back, some sort of imaginative chase. Feur gritted his teeth.

"[Well, why did you let Sabu train him if you're not going to let him perform?]" Sabu had the sense to look slightly abashed.

"[I convinced her.]" Feur cracked his fingers absently in thought.

"[I'm afraid for what would happen if he was sent out in front of people.]"

"[Yes,]" Annelies confirmed, "[he's not cute anymore.]" This response got a look of shock out of the men and one of liquid death from Margali's steel grey eyes.

"[What? My son is not *cute* enough for your tastes, Annelies?]" The girl's face grew in redness, freckles around her cheeks dimming out in the heat of embarrassment. She shifted positions, trying to escape the sorceress' gaze.

"[No, it's not that, it's just... OK, remember when Elli, eight years ago, said that he resembled—]"

"[An elfin imp-demon? Yes, I remember.]" Annelies nodded.

"[Right, well, when he was a baby, and had those pudgy cheeks and huge eyes and the big ears and all that, he kind of *did* look like a cute little elf.]" Margali narrowed her liquid death gaze, adding precision. "[That's not a bad thing,]" Annelies hurriedly blathered on, "[but it was easy to get used to the... general blueness and all that when he was a cute little elf.]" The girl bit at a nail.

"[So what are you saying?]"

"[Well, he was kind of... different looking to begin with, you can't disagree with that.]"

"[And you said it yourself,]" added Feur "[No orphanage would take him in.]" Annelies continued.

"[But it wasn't really because he was *scary* looking then, wouldn't you agree?]" Her eyes begged, please, please agree.

"[Are you saying that he wasn't scary looking then, but he *is* now? Does Kurti's 'general blueness' scare you, Annelies?]" Her voice dripped with something cleaner than venom, but stung all the same.

"[Well, no- no, of *course* not,]" the girl said, fumbling over linguistics. "[But now, it's just, he's outgrown the pudgy cheeks, he's more of a growing up little boy, lean and that. And so- so you wouldn't call him *cute* now, would you? I mean, not you, but anyone, because he's more of a handsome boy now, rather than cute, growing and such. And so, he has fangs now and is grown, and blends in with shadows, and not to us, but to some, maybe it's a little unnerving, you know- the- um-tail and such- and, well, the pudginess is gone-]" Annelies looked as if her head would explode.

"[Spit it out, girl!]"

"[- and he's getting closer to looking like the demon part.]" The small crowd went silent, and Annelies' cheeks were cooling down, and now were back to their pale hue. Margali, however, let out a deep exhale.

"[That's what the teacher said when I tried to get him enrolled.]" Margali confessed. "[Is that what Kurti looks like to other people?]" Sabu peeked out from underneath his hat, and spoke.

"[If so, it's not a good idea for him to be performing.]" The next line was directed at Margali. "[*You* shouldn't have let me convince you into letting me train him.]" Margali turned her gaze to the bearded man, and he cringed.

"[All right,]" she said, and her expression went into a blanker slate. "[But *you* enjoy explaining that to Kurti.]"


When Sabu walked into Kurti's room, he was a flushed violet, doing a handstand with one arm, and Stefan sat beside him, tapping his finger. Kurti's crucifix necklace bumped against his nose.

"[You can't do it, Kurti.]" He said, looking over at the clock placed on the floor. "[Maybe if you learn some *magic*, like me, you-]"

"[Stefan...]" Kurti warned, eyes frantically searching around the room while sweat trickled down his fur. "[I have *forty* seconds left. I'll do it. *Without* any magic.]" He added with the hints of an ego.

"[Trying to become as good as your older brother, huh?]" Stefan asked, unashamedly taunting.

"[Stefan, please. If I was trying to be *as good* as you, I'd have quit 300 seconds ago.]" He said with a strained, sarcastic tone.

"[...Shut up and do it for 11 more seconds. ... Ten.]"

"[Nine.]" Sabu popped up, entering the room, and Kurti grinned, new determination. "[Eight.]" Now both trainer and brother were unanimously announcing a countdown, and Kurti relished in the glory of it. "[One.]" They whispered, and Kurti fell down onto the floor, eyes glistening with humour and exhilaration, arms throbbing in glorious pain. Sabu leaned over him as Stefan sighed.

"[I did it.]" He said. "[*500* seconds. That's 8 and a third minutes.]" He clarified, face flushed purple with pain, pride, and victory.

"[Yes, Kurti, very good. Now come, I want to talk with you.]" He said, radiating gentleness from every pore. Kurt stood, arms throbbing, a Cheshire grin on his face, and followed Sabu as they left the room to go into Sabu's. He stopped for a moment then, and went back in.

"[Let me change first.]" The door closed and Sabu stood outside, planning an epic speech. Kurti called out to him from behind it, though. "[*How* good? Good enough to... start performing in the show?]" His voice went up so high at the last word with excitement, that Sabu twitched an eye.

"[Yes, well, that's what I wanted to talk to you about.]" Kurti opened the door, still grinning in bright orange pyjamas, and Sabu sighed... {This is not going to be easy.}


"[What do you mean, you don't want me to perform?]"

"[Well, it's just-]"

"[Is it my age?]"

"[No, not really, but we all-]"

"[Have I not been practicing enough? I'll practice more if you want me to.]" Sabu sighed. The boy had picked up his mother's annoying little argument habit. He was surprised if he was permitted to get a word in edgewise.

"[Gott, no. You're been practicing very well, my boy. Any more and I'm afraid you might kill yourself. We just-]"

"[Is it because I'm not good enough?]" He asked sadly, and Sabu lost his edge in the conversation.

"[Of course not, Kurti. It's just...]"he shifted positions, now facing the boy directly and they both sat down on the bed. "[It's like this. Some people might not be... *ready* for your...]"



Kurti blinked and tilted his head to the side.

"[...You know, Kurti... some people are not ready for the... way you... *are*.]"

"[The way I am? What way am I?]"

"[Different.]" Now it was Sabu's turn to blink. "[Don't you see it?]" Kurti shook his head. "[Some people will not like that you are... special.]"

"[So you and mama think I shouldn't go in the show?]"

"[Yes.]" The boy seemed to be understanding. Good.

"[Because I'm...]" he leaned his head forward. "[different.]"

"[Yes.]" Kurti looked down.

"[So you and mama don't like that? Don't like... me?]" Sabu's eyes went wide. {No, no, no, no, no. *Not* good.}

"[Of course not, Kurti. We love you.]" He put a hand on the boy's shoulder, careful to keep the fur from going the wrong way.

"[But you don't want me to be in the show.]" {Damn it. Misinterpretation.}

"[Well, it's not me and your mama that are going to be watching-]"

"[Stefan and Jimaine and Annelies and the circus people don't seem to mind me.]"

"[Well, yes, they love you too, of course.]"

"[And,]" he looked at himself, trying to see himself clearly for the first time. "[*they* don't care about whatever differences I have. They didn't ever, even when they met me for the first time, when I was a baby.]" He looked up to Sabu, turning the statement into a question.

"[*No*, they didn't- don't,-]"

"[So how do you know the audience people will?]"


Sabu crept out of Kurt's room with the utmost silence, feet pressing onto the floor gently as a breath, and closed the door silently. When he turned around, it was dark out, the black of a late night, and he went off to find Margali. He found Feur instead, waiting outside the house, enjoying the calm of the moon. The larger man turned around at his arrival.

"[Well, Sabu? Did you tell him?]" Sabu bit his lip and shrugged; failure.

"[I *tried*,]" he said, holding his arms out in exasperation, sincerity. "[But I swear, it's as if the boy never noticed he was blue.]" Sabu walked over to Feur, and the two men sat down on the thick grass, feeling change on the horizon, sweeping over them like fog, creeping up onto their shoulders.


"[So we're going to have to get him fitted for a costume.]"

Feur smiled.

"[I already have.]"


The conversation took place in the middle of the night, inside a crowded, too small circus tent that looked bleak on the outside in the dark, but sang with life on the inside, with the smell of coffee and debate and family filling it up. There was Margali, Annelies, The Seamstress Gaia, Feur, Sabu, and Stefan, now twelve.

"[So, what you're saying is: We need a way to make Kurti seem like a regular performer.]" Stefan summarized, bringing a steaming cup of too-hot liquid to his lips, unwilling to admit it burned his tongue.


"[...Makeup?]" Everyone stared at Stefan.

"[*No.*]" said Feur. "[Besides, how do you get makeup on fur?]"

"[... We could *shave* him.]" This time, Stefan's comment was politely ignored.

"[OK, so no makeup. We couldn't hide the fur anyways. Or the eyes. Or the-]"

"[Yes, yes, Gaia, there's a lot to hide.]" Margali agreed. "[Maybe we're playing this wrong. What did *you* first think when you saw Kurti?]"

This released a lot of different answers, all sounding at the same time.

Sabu: "[I don't know, I guess I was a little shocked at first... but I just reacted like people react when there's a baby.]"

Annelies: "[I wondered what that purring thing was... then I thought he was cute.]"

Stefan: "[I don't remember.]"

Feur: "[I wondered if he was real at *first*, I guess.]"

Gaia: "[I was wondering how to make pants for a tail and gloves for three fingers and...]" Margali blinked, taking this in.

"[Feur.]" She said, then, and everyone shut up. "[If he was real?]" The large man nodded an affirmation and gulped down half of his cup, smacking his lips.

"[Well, only at first, I thought perhaps it was a costume.]" Everyone looked at him then, and he recoiled.

"[What?]" ... "[*Oh.*]" Gaia spoke.

"[You want everyone to think it's a *costume*?]" She hissed the last word, steam from her beverage seemingly flying out of her mouth

"[Why not? We won't say a thing to them or Kurti, he can just be happy people like his act, and they'll just assume he's a costume. No one will know how he dresses like that; it might become a famous performance.]" Margali crossed her arms, satisfied, and smiled, motherly, accomplished. Then her smile fell as Stefan decided to pipe up.

"[What about the tail, mama?]" Annelies pursed her lips.

"[Can he wrap it around his waist or something?]"

"[*No*.]" Sabu said, looking appalled at the very notion. "[It's a huge part of his performance. He needs it for balance and he grabs on to things with it a lot. It's a *huge* part of his routine.]"

"[All right,]" said Gaia with a smirk. "[Let the audience try to figure out how we made the tail. I'd *love* to hear some of the rumours that get created.]"

"[There's just one problem, though.]" Margali interjected. "[People will be really confused if we suddenly have a performer in a... Kurti-costume for no reason.]"

Then there was a pause, and the smell of caffeine grew stronger.

"[Why don't we have some kind of story prepared for Kurti?]" Asked Gaia. "[We used to do acts with plots.]"

"[What kind of story would have a character that looks like Kurti?]" This from Stefan.

"[An elf story.]" Answered Margali, presenting one option to the others. Stefan shook his head, and took another sip of his scalding beverage.

"[That won't work, no one will get that.]"

"[How do you know?]"

"[Because the elf thing is only in the ears. He looks... a little scarier than an elf.]"


"[I'm sorry, but it's true! *Elves* don't stick to walls or have little devil-tails, or blend into shadows.]"The boy crossed his arms over his chest. A pause and Feur spoke up again, in all seriousness this time.

"[Now everyone, remember... this is a... *delicate* situation. No one tell Kurti they think he's a costume. I *doubt* he'd take that very well.]" Eyes all around were set downwards. "[He'll never know.]"


"[I don't understand.]" Said Kurti. "[You want me to be *summoned* by witches?]" Feur rubbed the back of his head. When said out loud, it did not sound like the best idea. "[What am I supposed to be, a little demon-boy?]" Annelies blushed.

"[Kurti.]" said Sabu. "[It's a very interesting routine. I wrote it just for you. And its *hard*. Do you think you're up to it?]"

"[Well, yes.]" the boy defended, indignant in his change of posture. "[But *why* a little demon-boy?]" Margali flinched. She *really* wished he would stop phrasing it like that. It made her feel like a terrible person for even agreeing to it, and each time he called himself a demon-boy, she nearly jumped at the chance to take back the suggestion, stop following through with this idea.

"[Because... we think that it'll give you a good excuse to go into shadows.]"

"[Oh.]" He seemed pleased with this. "[And because of the tail.]" Sabu blinked. "[I'm starting to notice some... differences.]" Kurti whispered. "[But I'll do the show.]"

"[Great! We start training in a week. Now go off and do something fun.]" He said, pushing the boy away, and Kurti went off to find his foster-siblings, running off on all fours to leave Sabu completely mystified.

"[Why in a week?]"

"[I need to write the routine.]"


Kurti and Stefan were sparring in the grass, staining clothes and fur and not caring in the least because there were so few days perfect like this for sparring, and clothes and fur could always be washed again. And Jimaine, little six-nearly seven year old Jimaine, watched with a kind of glee as her blonde hair shone in the sun, and her brothers rolled on the grass before her. Currently, Stefan was bending Kurti's leg back so that it neared his head, and Kurti appeared to be in light pain.

"[Ah, little brother, you are still *too* small. Like Jimi.]" Jimaine giggled. Kurti strained and flushed his face, and then grinned.

"[Small, yes.]" He said, and then flipped under him, pushing him off with a handstanded thrust. Then he went on Stefan's back and sat on it, twisting his arm behind his back. "[But flexible.]" He pushed Stefan's head onto the grass with his foot, and Jimi cackled.

"[BMLRF!]" He said and then they were rolling again.

"[I'm going to be in the show next time the circus is in town. That's a little more than a year.]" The boy suddenly said, proudly.

"[Really?]" Stefan gawked, proud and surprised and jealous all at once. He was still an *amateur* at any sorcery whatsoever. "[What story did they go with?]" Kurti was wriggling out of Stefan's grasp as they spoke. Jimaine, choosing to be on Stefan's side, was helping by throwing small fistfuls of grass onto his face, and taking immense pleasure in the activity.

"[I get to get summoned as a demon.]" Stefan smiled and tightened his grasp a little tighter, and Kurti grunted.

"[Suits you.]" Kurti spat out clumps of grass and looked to his brother, wide golden eyes a little hurt.

"[What?]" He tightened his grip more, and flipped Kurti over, crushing his tail under his weight.

"[Ow, Stefan...]"

"[Well, don't you see it?]"

"[See *what*? ... ow, can you get off my tail?]" He kept his position.

"[I just mean the little tail and blue fur and eyes and all. Demonic, no?]" His eyes singed with a type of stinging malice, and Kurti looked up at him, now plainly insulted.

"[Stefan... I—you think I look demonic?]" His voice was hurt. Then the malice disappeared as quickly as it came and Kurti was released from his grip, much to Jimaine's dismay.

"[Sorry, brother. That was mean; I don't know why I said that.]" Kurt slowly stretched out his tail and rubbed at his arms. "[Of course you don't.]"

"[It's ok.]" A pregnant pause engulfed the children, before Jimaine, whom they had assumed was oblivious to the conversation, piped up.

"[What's your stage name going to be, Kurti?]" Both boys looked over at her with a quiet surprise, before Kurti picked her up onto his shoulders and gave her a faint smile.

"[I don't know.]" he said. "[But it should be something cool... and maybe kind of ominous.]" He dropped his voice at the end, the effect making Jimaine laugh.

"[Superkurti?]" she suggested, in all seriousness.

"[I don't think so, Jimi.]"

"[How about I write your introduction?]" Stefan asked, amusement cropping up.

"[No- I don't think so.]" Kurt chided.

"[Oh come on!]" He said, posing himself, every inch the ringmaster. "[Ladies and gentlemen, beloved audience of Die Zirkus Gelhaar, allow me to introduce to you our finest attraction.]"

"[Stefan...]" but he was grinning too.

"[... an acrobat from the depths of hell himself, the most *vicious* elf in all of Winzeldorf, no, in all of *Germany*!]" he continued. Kurti was laughing now.

"[And of course,]" he held up Jimaine to the world. "[His lovely assistant, Jimaine Szardos!]" He threw her up and caught her, not quite easily, and then put her down as she twirled around, delirious with fantasy.

"[The lively damsel, lovely maiden, beautiful Jimaine will perform on the *death* defying trapeze with our very own creature of the dark, the prowler of shadows, the *scourer* of the night, the *crawler* of the walls, the-]"

"[Did you just come up with those?]" Kurti asked and his brother beamed.

"[Yep. Why, do you like them?]"

"[Yeah, I do like them, actually. Not really the first one, but the other three, yes.]"

"[Wallcrawler, Nightscourer, and Shadowprowler?]" Kurti grinned.

"[Yes, those. Maybe I'll make one of them my stage name. What do you think? They're pretty evil sounding.]"

"[All right, but which one?]"

"[I honestly don't know.]" Kurti then leaped suddenly, bending in the air, and landing on his arms, spine straightened out.

"[Hmm... they all sound cool. Which one do I do more, then? Scour, prowl, or crawl?]" He flipped back onto his front and bounded back towards his sister, perching to join her. He waited on Stefan's answer.

"[Define crawl.]" Kurti thought about it, eyes traveling upwards in thought.

"[Travel on four limbs.]"

"[Crawl, then.]" Kurti seemed to agree by the arch of his brows, and then grimaced.

"[But *wall* crawler? Like that, it doesn't sound very... evil.]"

"[You're right. What would you prefer to crawl, then? The shadows or the night?]" Kurti's eyes sparkled with a kind of reminiscence, a private elation, and he prepared his title, breathed it in.

"[The night.]" Stefan clapped him on the shoulder, and the sun set on the two brothers, standing amongst a darkening world.

"[Nightcrawler it is.]"


The needle wove in and out of fabric, and Gaia's able hands flew and moved material around the figure of the squirming boy standing on her pedestal, preparing a costume that would soon be his.

"[Stand still, Kurti!]" The seamstress commanded, ripping a piece of thread apart with her teeth, and he felt another prick in his skin, which made him squirm more, away from her grip.

"[But you're *pricking* me.]" A blue tail coiled anxiously behind him, and slapped her on the shoulder; narrowly she avoided stabbing him with another tiny silver spear. With a grim, stoic determination, she continued her crusade over the costume as Kurti's arms were growing sore and tired from standing straight out and cruciform. He squirmed.

"[It'll hurt *more* if you squirm.]" her tone added 'I'll make sure of that.' and Kurti stilled, smartly so. He closed his eyes for a moment, imagining himself flying through the trapeze, cheers background music to the symphony of his performance, and he tried to see himself dressed the way the picture had looked. The picture Gaia had shown him, that he'd worked with her to make and he knew it was right, when it was done, he just knew this was the one. 'I want it just like the picture.' He'd specified. 'Just like that.'

"[How's it turning out?]" He asked, impatient, turning his head back around to address her. "[You're making it just like the picture, right?]" Gaia grabbed his tail and placed it in his hand roughly, clearly agitated by the limb's incessant movement.

"[For the last time, yes. Now hold *still*.]" and then he felt another prick. He was starting to think they were on purpose.

"[It's looking great.]" Margali assured him. "[You'll be my little blue lightning.]" He smiled at empty air.

"[Nightcrawler, mama.]"


"[I want to be called Nightcrawler. Do you think it sounds good?]" He looked at her, eyes glowing from inside a frame of wide lashes.

"[It's a little... dark, isn't it?]" She shrugged.

"[Margali,]" Gaia chided, directing Kurti to cinch a bundle of cloth. "[If you're going to give the boy a demon's role to play, he's going to have to stay in character.]" Kurti beamed, triumphant, and Margali exhaled.

"[All right, but I don't want you to-]"

"[There!]" Gaia shouted, standing and arching her back, joints creaking. "[Finished! Here you go, 'Nightcrawler', you can go and see.]" His arms flew down in relief, and jumped down from the pedestal, turning to the mirror in the room. He looked down at himself, all black and red and dark blue, ominous colours that did seem ready to blend in to the night, and he knew this made him look more frightening indeed, and so he grinned, fangs flashing, eyes alight.

"[Thank you, Gaia.]" he said, looking in the reflection towards the woman. "[It's perfect.]"



~Nine years old~


The audience cheered and their faces flushed, exhilarated from the last performance, and when their clamour fell silent, and a hush descended like a fog amongst them, the ringmaster was in the spotlight again. All eyes were on him. "[Ladies and gentlemen,]" he built his voice up, a crescendo. "[Boys and girls, tonight we have a new act for you, never done before in Circus Gelhaar. It is a trapeze act, one that will chill you to the bone and have you holding your breath, one that tells a tale.]" The audience began to murmur in the pregnant pause, tension building; this had not been advertised.

"[It is the tale,]" he said, topping the dull roar of the crowd, "[Of a *demon*.]" the temperature dropped as thousands of eyes twinkled in anticipation, and the ringmaster continued. "[Unlike any act you've ever seen, any *acrobat* you've ever seen in the history of the entire circus!]

"[Our acrobat, a boy of just nine years, will perform feats that defy death itself, will revolutionize the trapeze, redefine the word fantastic, all without the safety of a net.]" Another building murmur, an air of worry.

"[I present to you, ladies and gentlemen, Circus Gelhaar's newest act, Kurt Wagner, the Incredible *Nightcrawler*!]" And the spotlight went out, darkness enveloping the crowd, and applause and cheering was the only presence. And when the lights went on again, there was nothing but a cauldron in the centre of the ring, and three 'witches' gathered around it.

They moved their arms and danced over the cauldron, and a soft drum played in the background. With bated breath, the audience watched as Margali, the lead witch, raised her arms to the drum's increasing speed, and said a chant. With a percussion flourish, the chairs in the crowd creaked as the circus-goers leaned forwards in their seats.

...and then gasped as they saw a flash of blue and red and black shoot out of the cauldron, straight up, and then it went black again. When the lights reappeared, the crowd blinked back against the brightness and there was a spotlight on a ledge, where the back part of it was cloaked in shadow. The audience vaguely registered the glowing eyes, and there were whispers of excitement, approval.

"[I call out to you...]" a whisper carried across the crowd. "[...Nightcrawler...]" and then from out of the shadows, Kurt stepped forwards and the show began.

People gasped and stared, in awe, in horror, in wonder. The birth of Nightcrawler came in a series of intricate bends and moves and a soft ominous drone of notes sounded out from the background though no one was listening to that. At one point, Nightcrawler pounced from one of the very back bars with eyes of fire straight towards the crowd and they gasped even though they *knew* he was too far away to reach them. And then when he'd surpassed the very closest bar and their heads were pressed back against their seats, he caught the bar with his feet and flipped over, landing on top of it triumphantly and they cheered for this little monster who'd stolen their hearts.


When he'd taken his bow from the floor, he'd given a flash of teeth and felt the sweat rushing down his body and it felt wonderful. The lights had turned on, and when they turned back, Nightcrawler had hidden in the shadow, invisible to the crowd and they'd cheered in a deafening roar of applause for the mysterious character that unknown to them, relished in every moment of it.


"[Kurti, my boy, that was amazing!]" Sabu praised as Kurt, still in Nightcrawler uniform, poured water down his throat and made little nods instead of thanks for the commendations. Jimaine rushed to his side and tackled his leg in a hug. He settled for stroking her hair with a tail as more people flooded in to his small circus trailer.

"[Oh, liebling, they cheered so loud! All for you!]" Finished with the water, he looked back up at his mother.

"[So it was good?]" he grinned, unsuccessfully feigning self-consciousness. He just wanted more praise and Margali knew it.

"[Good? It was one of the best acts *here*!]" She leaned in. "[Even Annelies didn't get as much applause.]" she joked and Annelies faked hurt. Kurt giggled and looked over at no one in particular, still breathing heavily.

"[So I can perform more this year?]" Margali passed him another bottle of water.

"[Of course! Every show for the rest of the year, you will be in.]" Eyes shone and sweat dripped and blood boiled with excitement.

"[We might even have to give you your own admission booth; so many people came.]" Kurti nearly choked on his water and it fell all around him and the fur on his chin matted down and dripped.

"[No, mama, you can't do that! That's only for the *lead* acrobats.]" Sabu smirked.

"[My boy, you're well on your way.]" The pride that glowed from the boy at that one simple statement filled up the small room and its occupants like a wraith and he turned down to his sister.

"[What did you think, Jimi? Did you like the performance?]" She looked up from his leg with impossibly wide eyes of blue and crooned.

"[It was *coooool*. I want to learn to flip like that too!]" She buried her face back into his leg and muffled: "[But you looked so, *scary*, Kurti!]" He laughed out loud at that as the adults cast their eyes down almost shamefully at the floor. When Sabu looked up, however, Kurti's eyes were on him and they were both a year ago as his answer directed squarely at the man.

"[Really? Because the crowd didn't seem to think so.]"



~Almost Eleven years old~


The boy with the hair spiked green that looked like that of a living bush shook his head from side to side and bush-head's friend moved his arms in wide gestures in an effort to convince him. The second boy, slighter than the first by a head or so had batman bandages covering his arms. "[Listen, I'm serious!]" Batman arms held up the poster and directed his friend to the pictures. "[This is their last visit, and there's Gypsies and everything!" One of them told me that some kind of hurry would bring... um... 'consequences'.] Bush-hair looked sceptical.

"[And?]" Batman arms displayed his arms.

"[I got these from rushing a red light on a bike.]"

"[So what you're saying is that you're an idiot, and a gypsy told you this in cryptic words.]"

"[Look,]" Batman arms said, pointing at the poster. "[I know what I heard, and besides, the Gypsy's not the main point. We should *really* go.]" Bush hair sighed.

"[Why? Why should we *really* go?]"

"[Because.]" he pointed to a figure on the poster, in the corner, taking up a respectable amount of space. "[Because of him.]"

"[Is *he* telling you to go to the circus?]"

"[No, you idiot! He's a new act, and he's getting really famous and Fredrick said we have to go see him.]"

"[OK, I'll bite. Why does he look like that?]" Batman arms blinked and addressed Bush hair like he was missing the most obvious thing in the world.

"[He's called Nightcrawler. It's a big theme thing. He's supposed to be a demon that gets summoned in the show and does all these tricks. And he's only *eleven*. Well, eleven this year, that's what the gypsy said.]"

"[... OK, that does sound cool.]"

"[You're damn right it sounds cool! And he apparently looks really real and they do some trick where he, like, sticks to walls. And that tail? He uses it to swing around. *Nobody* knows how he does it.]" Bush hair looked at the poster and blinked.

"[He uses the tail?]" Batman arms nodded vigorously. "[*Fine*.]" Bush hair breathed out. "[Let's go to the circus.]"


Fame had its perks. This is what Kurt Wagner was beginning to learn. His origin routine gradually began increasing in length due to Sabu since there'd been line-ups forming to see his act and now it had somehow increased by one hundred and twenty-two seconds in length. He also noted that the posters for Circus Gelhaar that were drawn by a young foreign woman who called herself Keba had slowly included a bigger and bigger space for a mural of himself to be in. At first, he'd been crawling up the side of the letter 'l' but now he owned about two thirds of a corner and was pouncing towards the crowd.

Poster domination and acrobatic timeslots aside, Kurt was fully starting to appreciate how much the circus had changed since Nightcrawler had first been born two years ago. Jimaine, now almost ten, was soon to be starting her own training in acrobatics and magics as well. Margali had said that she would be good at the former, but *great* at the latter. She'd developed as more of a friend to Kurti over time than a sister by sheer happenstance and their relationship was stronger than ever. Stefan was doing quite well in terms of sorcery, or so he'd heard, and there was no surprise that he was pestering Margali incessantly to learn more complex material. Life was good.

"[You've gotten taller.]" Stefan said after much deliberation. Kurt turned to him through the sheet hung up in his room and proceeded to shimmy out of his clothes as he thought about this observation. Stefan was just a silhouette on the other side, a black shape of a boy that sat at a bed and was holding up the black outline of what could have been a book.

"[What makes you say that?]" Kurt asked, throwing his clothes on the other side of the sheet. The black Stefan outline put down his book and turned his head.

"[You just have. It's weird.]"

"[How is it weird?]" his legs went into the uniform and he winced as his fur went against the grain.

"[It just *is*.]" Then he gave it some more thought. "[You were always really small. And short. Now you're catching up to me. It's like... you're a not-so-little brother now. Foster brother, whatever.]"

Kurt barked out a laugh. "[That's not that weird a thought. Soon Jimi will be your 'not-so-little' sister.]"

"[And by then, even *she'll* be performing before me.]" A pause. A distinct stiffening of the silhouettes.

"[Don't think that, Stefan. Mama says you're getting quite good at the magics she's teaching you. Aren't you?]" The silhouette of Stefan moved his hands around like they were on a display and sighed before letting them fall back to his lap.

"[I *would* be, if mama would let me *do* something.]" Kurt waited for his brother to continue, a silent listener.

"[I mean, she taught me such *basic* stuff, even where magic is concerned. She won't let me *do* anything else.]"

"[Did you ask her?]"

"[Of course I have, but she keeps saying something weird like I'm not ready or I won't be able to—]" {snort} "[ –handle it. Even *Jimaine* knows more than me.]"

"[Jimaine's learning magic??]"

"[Only a little... but soon she'll know more than me.]" He pouted and curled up his knees but to Kurt it looked like he just collapsed into a ball. Stefan changed the subject.

"[You haven't just gotten taller... you've gotten *older* looking.]" As Kurt came out. Kurt scoffed, still thinking of what Stefan had just said. "[Makes for a *much* better costume, now that you're darker.]"


"[You know, the audience. They'll think you look cooler. More... Nightcrawler-ish.]"

"[What does that have anything to do with my costume?]"

"[You know,]" Stefan held out his palms. "[They think you... ]" he gestured up and down with his arms. He didn't finish.

"[They think my...]" Kurt followed Stefan's gaze around the room. "[Tail and stuff... *differences* are a costume?]" His tone was disbelieving.

"[Yeah, of course.]" *His* tone implied obviousness. Kurt was not impressed.

"[Oh, come on, you're not serious.]"

"[...Yes. I am.]"

"[Why would Sabu never tell me then? Or mama?]" His voice rose slightly with the faint hysteria of self-doubts.

"[Because you'd get upset.]" he answered, now uncomfortable.

"[No, I wouldn't!]"

"[...Yes, well, he made them all think it's a costume so that some people don't think that you're *actually* Nightcrawler.]" Now the self-doubt was gone, and disbelief was back.

"[OK, now I know that's not true. No one would think that.]"

"[I didn't say *all* the people.]"

"[Yeah, but no one would think I'm an actual... Nightcrawler.]" Stefan's eyes roamed up to down and then back up to scan over Kurt's body. Half shrugging, he readied to say something, but it was time for the show.


"[I told you it was worth it, Falk!]" Falk and Alwin made their way through the rows of seats, the latter consciously shielding his damaged arms from splinters that protruded from the seats.

"[I have to admit, it does look like it's going to be cool.]" The two adolescents planted themselves in their seats.

"[So, I was right to make you come?]" Alwin asked, raising a brow.

"[That has yet to be determined.]"

"[But...]" *sigh*.

"[But it looks that way, yes.]" The lights dimmed and the two continued talking.

"[You should say a prayer now.]"

"[There's a pre-circus prayer?]"

"[No, so that the guy playing Nightcrawler doesn't get hurt.]" Falk considered this for a minute, fingering his rosary.

"[That's actually a good idea, Alwin.]" The teen grinned and unconsciously picked at his bandages.

"[Wow, two in a week.]" They both bowed their heads, muttering soft words, and then were interrupted by the ringmaster's pleasant bass.


"[...The Incredible Nightcrawler!]" Kurt said a quick prayer that he would not get hurt, jumped out, heard the gasp and then the flash of light, and made his way onto the beam, into the shadows. The lights were on again. His mama chanted and called him forwards, and all-too willingly, he obliged. Some gasped, some cheered, and all eyes were on him. He leaped forwards and the count began.



"[...That...was...*awesome*.]" Alwin turned to his friend, grinning like a fool. The green spikes of Falk's head were matted with sweat, and drooping close to his scalp like a tree weighed down by snow. It was entertaining to watch.

"[So you li- WHOA.]" Nightcrawler was standing on the bar... upside down. While swinging. He leaped onto the next one, and Alwin's sentence was completely forgotten. Nightcrawler jumped downwards, and caught something by his hands and was now spinning around on it, before grasping it with the (what has to be animatronics) tail and flipping onto another bar. In this process, he bent backwards and placed his head between his two feet.

"[How is he *doing* that?]"

"[I don't know; I told you, it's a mystery.]"

"[Well, – ACH! How did he do *that*? Do you see that tail??]"

"[I'm sure it's a robot tail.]"

"[Really, you think?]" Alwin shrugged.

"[What else could it be?]"


Fifty seven, hold, spin...

Flip, fifty eight, reverse, hold, bend...


"[You know, we *could* find out.]" Falk suggested and his eyes glowed like the stage-monster's and his hair drooped even forwards.

"[How?]" Falk turned to Alwin.

"[We'll go to his little trailer-thing after the show, and get in and meet him.]"


The applause lasted a good two minutes after Kurt had snuck safely out. He could hear it as he stalked to his trailer and he could hear it *in* his trailer and he wouldn't have it any other way. He sat inside and guzzled tons of water and tons of food because he'd been getting really hungry lately after the shows and he ate it all with immense satisfaction. There would be no more shows for another year or so, less really. This made him sad but also happy because now he had time to get better at what Günther was teaching him in his spare time. Fencing. Fencing and acrobatics would make him the new Errol Flynn. That was his plan.

Two young men, no older than twenty, were making their way towards his trailer. He saw them through the tiny window, the one that looks out but never in. He just sat in his chair and stared at his mirror. The men had bottles of *something* with them, though they did not appear intoxicated in the way they walked, talked, laughed. Perhaps it was beer; or something light. Then three raps on his trailer broke him back to reality, and he stood, unsure of what to do.

"[Um... Is this Kurt... whatwashisnameagain??]"


"[Yeah, Kurt Wagner? The, um, 'Incredible' Nightcrawler?]" Kurt smiled.

"[Yes, it is. What do you need?]"

"[We loved your show, Kurt— can I call you Kurt?]"


"[Yeah, Kurt, so we *loved* your show a lot and, is it true you're eleven?]"

He grinned. "Yes, it is."

"[Wow, ok, so anyways, we just wanted to meet you, maybe get a picture with you, maybe not, whatever. Could you, um... could you come out so we could meet you?]" This reminded Kurt too much of how his mother would tell him never to open the door to strangers if she wasn't home; and here he was, on the other side of a door with two strangers asking for entry. But they were his fans. Stupidly, he opened the door. One was green-haired, he noticed that. The other was brown haired and skinnier, and green-hair towered over him. Kurt stepped into the light.

"[We prayed that you wouldn't get hurt, you know?]"one of them babbled stupidly. "[And uh— why are you still blue?]"

There was a deathly silence as the babbling stupid one with the green hair made his way closer to his skinny friend. "[Why... why are you still wearing the tail?]"

The two men went pale as Kurt opened his mouth to speak; to tell them he wasn't *wearing* any tail, and that he was always blue, but the message seemed painfully clear.

"[...He's real?]" Skinny, bandage-arms squeaked out, and Kurt froze as the other boy nodded, eyes suddenly cold and malicious.

"[Oh, yeah, he's real all right.]" Kurt wanted to go back inside, he was uncomfortable, but green-hair leaned over him and shut the door and his face was too close to Kurt's and he could smell the alcohol that was wafting over his face, that was stinging his nose.

"[A real, live, demon.]" Kurt looked around the circus trailer grounds for *someone* to be there, anyone. But there wasn't and the next few words resonated in his ears for years to come. Green-hair downed the rest of his beer in one go, and then smashed the bottle on the ground and held the jagged remainders in his now seemingly very-capable hands.

"[Not for long.]" and his fist hit Kurt to the face lightning-fast and sent him caterwauling to the ground with a primal grunt of pain. From there, Kurt saw green-hair look to his friend, who was fingering a rosary, like the one Kurt had, in his pocket at home. The friend looked up momentarily, finished whatever he was muttering, and gave a signal.

Then the bottle was jammed into his ribs. He could feel it go through skin and feel the blood begin to come. His eyes bulged. Kurt howled as the second bottle was broken on his feet with white hot force, and debris stung his tail and he felt blood tinting the fur down, colouring a grotesque purple. He coughed as a kick landed in the stomach, hard, and a messy spray of blood was vomited out in a glob of crimson retch. He tried to scream, but he'd been kicked in the throat. He tried to crawl away, but there was nowhere to go.

"[This isn't a sin, right? This isn't bad?]" Anwil asked either Kurt or his friend or both, and let no one finish. "[I mean, killing a...?]"

"[No.]" said Falk. "[Why would it be?]" The tiny droplets of alcohol that'd gotten onto him were seeping into his cuts. Alwin picked up a sliver of glass and held it to his throat.

"[It's kinda funny...] he said. [we wanted to *meet* you, but we're ending up killing you.]" The boy's voice held no cruelty, just simple statement and mild regret. Kurt's breathing went erratic. He balked and his mind went to a billion different places as his hair was pulled and his head craned back, exposing the skin of his throat. He tried to move, but any movement would dig the sliver into his veins, and that was not what he wanted. He was imagining running away from here and then telling Stefan about it and the two would sit on the hills near the forests and talk for a while, maybe laugh at the absurdity of the whole thing.

But it wasn't funny now. Not when he was lying on the cold ground and the pain was pulling at him. How he wished he could be somewhere else. He tried one last time to kick at the boy who *wasn't* holding something sharp to his throat, but all that resulted in was a rather unceremonious slice of glass shoved through the sole. He screamed in what could have been frustration, pain, fear, or some sick combination. Judging by how wet he felt, the injuries were more serious than he'd seen. And then there was the vision of the grassy knoll, and it was so clear in his mind. The glass began to slide across the skin of his throat.

And then Kurt screamed an animal scream as something inside him awoke for the first time, and the glass slashed across empty air... and purple smoke. Kurt felt a moment of pure terror and then everything at once was pulling, pulling at him, pulling his insides out through his skin and he wanted to retch and there was heat and pain, just those two existing alone, and then there was the sulphur smell that burned his nose and the disorientation that swallowed him like a beast. It was a second, but it didn't *feel* like a second and then he thought he was going to die.

Then it was over, and Kurt grasped the solid land now beneath him like it was his long-time lover, and tears and blood stained it like dew. There was green and red and purple and blue and too much of it, and it was everywhere until Kurt retched blood and bile on the grass before rolling down the hill and finally, there was just black.


Awakening was not fun, to say the least. Kurt could, with surprising clarity, feel everything in his body, and it all felt thick and like it was condensing to his head. There was pain, yes, but also some nausea, and he felt how hoarse his throat was and imagined the squawking croaks that would come out when he tried to speak. There was a foul taste which he unsuccessfully tried to spit out, in his mouth and some fur, though not very much, had gone rusty and stiff with dried blood. Worst yet, his stomach felt like it was trying to consume itself. *So* *Hungry*.

Worst. Feeling. Ever.

He looked around for the first piece of good news since his eyes had opened.

Somehow, he was on the grassy hill he'd known so well. And his throat was whole instead of slit open. This was good. But how did he get here? Some part of his mind told him it had something to do with the purple smoke. He'd just been attacked by those two, and the next second, he'd been here. Kurt's mind, very smartly, told him it was not in the mood for figuring things out and needed to get home.


He knew *where* he was, that was a start. He knew how to get home, but it was fifteen minutes at normal walking speed. Which he was *not* up to. And there was something in his leg. He bent himself, wincing as he did so, to see the glass protruding from his sole, between his hock and his toes. He grasped it with his hand, grit his teeth, and *pulled*. And then screamed as it slid out of his foot, fire around the edges. He threw it away as soon as it came out. Then he turned the direction he needed to go, pointedly ignored the throbbing agony he felt where the glass had been, and started walking.


Feur had just been walking, paranoid, and searching for Kurt, who'd been missing for a few hours, when he heard a rustling through the trees. He turned to it, and there was clearly something walking towards him on four legs through the forestry. It was making pitifully hoarse noises of pain, and its eyes glowed in his direction. They were the only things visible of whatever it was.

"[*Kurti*?]" he whispered and the boy climbed out of the forest, and look to Feur with crazed eyes. He picked the boy up. "[Mein Gott. What *happened*, boy?]" His head fell into Feur's chest and his leg dribbled blood. Feur heard a growl, but Kurt's lips hadn't moved.

"[Food...]" he whispered, voice crackly. And Feur took off running with a five foot tall demon-boy in his arms.

He found his way to Margali and she turned and gaped. Neither of them made coherent words.

"[??]" Margali said.

"[!!]" Feur answered and the both took off running, towards the circus doctor. Some people that spotted them decided to follow and then were quickly discouraged by Feur and even Kurt himself, in incoherent speech. Thomas Erlichmann looked up from his little desk to see the fire-eater and the resident gypsy sorceress barge in with her son. The resident injured boy.

Erlichmann stood up immediately, and directed Kurt over to the examination table. They lay him down on his, but from his hips down, he was turned to the side and looked entirely comfortable like that.

"[Kurt.]" he said, gloves snapping on. "[Kurt, can you open your eyes for me?]" The boy obeyed. "[Kurt, do you know who I am? Where you are?]" Kurt seemed to consider this as Erlichmann measured his pulse, took his temperature.

"[Doctor Erlichmann.]" he said as an answer. It hurt to talk. His voice crackled and coughed and Erlichmann did not like that sound.

"[Right, it's me. And you're in my medical room.]" Kurt swallowed, grimacing, and nodded again. Checking his eyes for a concussion would be pointless, so he had to take his word.

"[Don't talk, Kurt, but did you get hit on the head?]" He shook his head. And coughed up a bit of blood. That was when Erlichmann noticed the rest of the red around the boy's mouth and elsewhere.

"[Kurt, are you bleeding anywhere?]" A nod. "[More than one place?]" Kurt paused and blinked a couple times. Another nod and a waggle of the hand.

"[It means he thinks so.]" Margali translated, holding the boy's other hand. "[Where are you bleeding, Kurti?]" she asked gently, stroking his hair. With his tail, he pointed down to his foot. At some point, a nurse had been called in.

"[Kurt, this is Gisa. She's going to do your foot, understand?]" Kurt nodded again and even tried to give the girl a weak smile. He showed the doctor the place where he'd been stabbed by the beer bottle, and a bit of the fur there was shaved away so a bandage could be applied. The next while was spent finding all the tiny little cuts on his feet and tail amongst dark blue fur. Gisa suggested shaving it all off. Kurt, though weakened, gave her a death glare.

"[What happened, Kurt?]" Erlichmann asked when he noticed Kurt's eyes were closed and that in sleep, his tail had the annoying habit to move around, which made it increasingly difficult to bandage. "[Why don't you tell me how you got these injuries?]" Margali handed him a pen and he began to write. The doctor read over what he had written.

[TWO BOYS CAME TO MEET ME AFTER THE SHOW.] "[And they *attacked* you?]" Margali asked, horrified. Kurt nodded at her.

"[They came to meet you so they could attack you?]" Kurt shook his head.

[THEY JUST WANTED A PICTURE OR SOMETHING.] Margali did not like where this was going.

[THEY THOUGHT I WAS A REAL MONSTER.] He glared over at Margali as she read the next line along with Erlichmann. [WHEN I PERFORMED, THEY THOUGHT I WAS WEARING A COSTUME.] Margali looked terribly shamed and looked down away From Kurt's gaze. The boy was not pleased, but then his stomach growled louder than Erlichmann had ever heard, and he clutched it.

"[I don't know why...]" Kurt rasped out. "[But I'm *so* hungry.]" Margali was quick to respond.

"[We'll get you some food soon, son. I promise.]" She looked up To Erlichmann. "[How much longer are you going to be, doctor?]"

"[I'm essentially done...]" he said, and ripped apart one more tuft of bandage. "[There. Although I am curious about this one...]" he said, pointing to the bandage on Kurt's neck. Kurt looked away from the man. "[It's considerably deeper than the others...]" Kurt shrugged but still met no one's eyes. The doctor let it drop."[You can take him home now, Margali.]"

"[Thank you, Thomas.]" Feur lifted him again and he was nodding off against his chest, but jerking himself awake. When they exited, approximately the entire circus was standing there, confused. Their eyes went to the doctor's medical area, to Margali, to Feur, and then finally landed on Kurti with a collective gasp. He looked up at them all then and groaned forlornly. He was *never* going to get the food.

"[The price of fame.]" Feur mumbled as way of explanation and passed through the crowd with surprising efficiency. He took Kurt to Margali's quarters and the boy sat down at a table. Margali passed him the first helping of chicken and watched as he awoke fully and dug into the food with ravenous indulgence. Eight helpings later, Margali was summoned by Kurt while he was in bed.

"[Hi, Kurti.]" She said and sat down beside him.

"[Hi, mama.]" He was a little angry at her, this she could tell. And she was ready to talk about it with no interruptions. But his voice was still so *raspy*. Didn't it hurt to talk?

"[Your voice is still hoarse, Kurti. It should be better by now, maybe we could ask the doctor about angina or—]"

"[I was kicked in the throat, mama.]" He said. {Ouch,} Margali thought.

"[All right, Kurti, I'm sorry we never told you that they thought it was a costume.]"

"[But *why* did none of you tell me?]" His voice cracked and he grimaced.

"[We thought you'd get upset.]" Kurt blinked. "[And so you are."] A pause."[Were we wrong never to correct them? Maybe if we did, you wouldn't have anyone now to hate?]" Kurt thought about it.

"[I don't hate them, mama. *koff* I've kind of forgiven them. Really. I feel a little bad for them, actually.]" At the silence, he went on, despite Margali's prying look. "[They're never going to be able to *koff* learn anything. Change. And we can. It's a little sad." "If you had... corrected them...]" He continued, his voice low now and he looked deeply pensive. "[Most of them would have probably reacted like the two boys... right?]" Margali reluctantly confirmed.

"[And I might have actually been killed... because they'd think I *was* a demon.]" he looked up at her. "[Like the two boys.]" He rationalized. "[Most people *would* think that...]" His eyes went colder now.

"[No, mama, it was the right thing not to correct them. But... It's *wrong* that that's true.]"




Stefan waved his hand and focused all his power. He concentrated and concentrated and his hands shook with the exertion. He mouthed an incantation because he still needed to and the apple before him turned purple. He picked it up, took a bite, and contemplated that that might just have been the most useless spell in the world. He turned the next page in Margali's book just as she walked in the door.

"[Stefan! What are you *doing*?]" He attempted to hide the book but she picked up the purple apple and dangled it as evidence. "[I told you not to read ahead of what I teach you.]" She threw the apple back and he caught it easily.

"[But, mama, you haven't been teaching me *anything*. Just the most *basic* things; I think Jimaine knows more than me and she's twelve. I'm sixteen!]" He bit into the apple for emphasis. "[I can do more complex things, mama, look! If we plant seeds from this, more purple apples will grow. And I turned a shard of glass back into sand yesterday. I *deserve* to learn more!]"

"[Firstly,]" she said, "[You *deserve* nothing.]" He flinched. "[*I* agreed to teach you, and you should be glad I am. Secondly, Jimaine knows as much as you. Exactly as much.*Not* more. Third, why, after I *explicitly* told you not to read my books, you went and did just that?]"

"[Because I *asked* you to teach me more!]" he said, but the voice was somehow less animated.

"[And I said no.]" The reply was like stone.

"[Why?]" he asked, voice smaller. "[I can *do* it, look.]" and he focused on the apple before she slapped him across the face. His eyes went wide as he looked over at her, shocked.

"[*Stop* that!]" her eyes had a crazed protectiveness to them and Stefan was reminded of two years ago when Kurt was attacked how her eyes glared. And then were the same now though he couldn't imagine why and something about them made him listen to what came next.

"[Stefan... it's not *safe* for you to be learning so much magic so fast.]"


"[It's...]" she sighed. "[complicated to explain.]" She sat down with him and took a bite of the purple apple. "[You know, not everyone can take a book and do magic just like you did.]"

"[What do you mean?]" Stefan had curled up on his knees and was listening intently now.

"[I mean, if, say... Gaia picked up this book and tried a spell, she wouldn't be able to do it. The magic is... it's something you're *born* with. I was born with it, and you and Jimaine share my blood. You were both born with it.]"

"[So what?]" he asked.

"[So I'm afraid that you won't be prepared for it... I'm afraid one of you will become... *corrupted*.]"

"[Corrupted?]" he whispered and Margali turned to him with those crazy eyes.



Kurt was lying in bed on his side and thinking of how long to wait before sneaking out. There were still a few noises five minutes ago that could have been someone walking around, awake and he didn't want to take that chance. For two years, this had been his secret vice and he thought about that in the darkness of his room. For two years, since the first time he did it, he had been going out into the woods at night and practicing.

Practicing that thing he was NOT SUPPOSED TO BE ABLE TO DO. The first time he went out and practiced, he had still been in bandages, but his curiosity got the best of him and he was compelled to sneak into the forest in the middle of the night. He'd stood there for a good hour, not really knowing what to do until he tried closing his eyes and concentrating on a spot. Just a spot, an image. And then it felt like a muscle he didn't know he had flexing for all it was worth and suddenly he was at the spot.

The nausea this time had been *almost* unbearable but he closed his eyes and sat down and breathed in and out, in and out until it passed. And it passed quickly. So quickly that when he had gotten up and realized he'd done it again he'd barely been able to catch his breath before he did it again. Two times had not been a good idea, even over a short distance and Kurt immediately had gone back to bed with a queasy feeling in his stomach that had nothing to do with the nausea, but rather the sneaking suspicion that those boys, the ones with the beer and the strange hair and the tempers, had been right.

This became a regular ritual, sneaking out in the night to practice that thing and it scared him and enthralled him at the same time. He didn't know how or why he could do it, but he loved it and he was gaining control. After his 'practices', though, he'd sneak into the kitchen and eat all the food. The blame-placing debates in the mornings were always a pleasant bonus.

One night, he'd tried to do it, to teleport (he'd found the name in a book) *up* into a tree. He'd climbed the tree, gotten a good perspective on what it was like up there and which branch to land on, and then jumped down, preparing to jaunt. It was a high tree, and in the dark he imagined he'd look like something from a horror film, an appearing silhouette in the moonlight, up in the forest, surrounded by wafting purple smoke. The jaunt, this time, had been agonizing and there was too much of a strain for him to bear. Kurt had passed out and had since been more careful in practicing vertical jaunting.

But tonight, that was exactly what he'd planned to do. When there'd been a long enough time with no noise, Kurt stood up and silently opened his door. He left the lights off; he didn't need them. He could see in the dark. He exited his home and walked towards the forest and when he was inside the comfort of the woods and was surrounded by the familiar trees, he heard a voice.

"[What are you doing alone here, Kurt?]" He froze. Stefan.

"[Stefan! I—I, nothing, I was...]" Stefan raised a brow. What secrets did his brother have?

"[What?]" Kurt sighed and hung his head. He was going to have to tell him. He would have to *show* him and hope that he didn't care. The crickets chirped in the night.

"[I... want to show you something. Something I can do.]"

"[...What?]" the elder boy's mind was trying to guess what kinds of things Kurt could show him here, in the forest. A new acrobatic move, perhaps? Kurt was staring at him now, trying to find the best way to explain.

"[When I... concentrate. And imagine myself going to another place...]"

Stefan gasped as the place where his brother had stood was replaced with a faint 'BAMF' noise, a heavy smell of brimstone and a drift of heavy purple smoke. He spent a near-second running his hand through the smoke, which disappeared at his touch. And then more came from above him, and he looked up and tripped. Kurt hung from his tail, upside down on a branch, eyes and teeth visible, the rest of him barely discernible in the black.

"[I go there.]" He came down from the branch.

"[Gott in himmel... the tricks of the devil! But how? *Why*?]"

"[I don't know.]" Kurt answered. "[Just something I can do.]" And so Stefan told him. Told him everything Margali'd said. Told him of his own fears, notions of corruption, destiny. And Kurt listened and when he was done, stared in wide-eyed dread as Stefan continued. By now, they'd made their way indoors.

"[...I'm *afraid*, Kurt. What if that part of me— of our family—... what if that makes me or Jimaine evil? Corrupts us?]" Kurt pressed a hand onto his shoulder, hard and thought of the blonde haired girl, quickly becoming a young woman, and her playful gait, beautiful smile.

"[Not your sister, Stefan. Not her. Not ever.]"

"[Me, then.]" The younger boy was momentarily stunned.

"[Brother...]" he said, low voice. "[Why would *you* turn evil?]" Stefan's voice grew animated and loud and it scared Kurt, how he talked, what Margali could have said to him.

"[Do you ever think, Kurt... are you afraid that you've been chosen for something terrible, but you don't know why?]" A pause. A glare. Eyes like fire. "[You don't even know if you'll be able to stop yourself when the moment comes?]" Kurt shook his head too fast and swallowed.

"[Never, no... Stefan...]" He turned and grabbed Kurt and pushed him against the wall.

"[Promise me, brother.]" He said. "[If I ever change, if I start... hurting people... promise you'll stop me whatever it takes.]" Stefan was acting strange. Strange and unnerving and Kurt didn't know what to say. The way he phrased it just now, the *finality* scared him.

"[Stefan, I can't—]"

"[*Promise me*, brother.]" He repeated. Kurt wanted to get off the wall and he wanted Stefan to return to normal.

"[I... All right. I promise.]" "[No matter what, I'll stop you.]" The two brothers stood there, in the dark, held in place by the weight of a vow too heavy for them to ever hope to carry.



~fifteen years old~


Jimaine Szardos, fourteen, was an acrobat rapidly growing in popularity. She had no stage name, no gimmick, merely the simple elegance of the way she flew across the bars and the skill level at which she performed. People came to watch her almost every day, and she was thrilled by the prospect. She and Kurt had been practicing together, and there had even been talks of a duet routine between the two. They'd become closer than ever over this, and that led to shared lessons with Sabu, and lots of fun. Sabu, however, after getting over the initial glee of Jimaine's success, had been complaining that Nightcrawler needed a new act.

Stefan had just been acting weird. He was far more solitary than he ever had been, and always appeared to have dark bags under his eyes. Everyone attributed it to being seventeen and the subject was rarely discussed amongst the circus folk. But all those things didn't matter now, as Kurt watched from behind the curtains, as Jimaine was being introduced by the ringmaster, the one with the booming voice that had first brought the name Nightcrawler into fame.

Stefan sat next to Kurt and observed gold eyes shining with awe and affection as Jimaine stood at the ready on the platform of the trapeze. This look in Kurt's eyes was not one of brotherly affection or friendly love and Stefan quirked a brow, mood darkening. Jimaine began to perform.

"[You think she's beautiful, Kurt, don't you?]" he asked. At his expression, he added. "[My sister?]"

"[Stefan, I—]" his cheeks hinted purple. "[I do, yes.]" His eyes wandered back to Jimaine's grace on the bars and he missed Stefan's sneer, more demonic than Kurt could ever hope to appear.

"[More's the pity, then, Kurt.]"


"[If you think Jimaine would ever do *anything* with you... look at yourself— you're a monster.]"

"[Stefan...]" he gasped out.

"[Well, aren't you?]" He said, mock pity stinging. "[Isn't that why my mother's so kind to you? Because she pities you?]"

"[Stefan...]" his voice trembled with hurt and confusion. "[Why are you saying these things?]"

And then the rope snapped with a powerful crack and the conversation was forgotten. "[Jimaine?]" They both called as she fell from the high rung down, looking all the world like a stream of blonde followed her head like a halo.


And then Kurt jumped.

"[Hold on!]" His eyes were on her, her falling, her screaming, and her resting in his arms as they fell through open air together and she clung tight to him and whispered his name like a question and a thank you all at once. "[Hold your breath.]" He replied, ignoring the cries of the crowd.



And he groaned as he fell, Jimaine in his arms, to his knees.

"[Are you—]"

"[Fine,]" he replied. "[it just hurts a bit whenever I teleport more than just me.]"

"[...teleport??]" the tone of her voice startled him immediately and he launched into a full-blown babbling recitation.

"[I don't know how or why I can do it, but I think that I was born with it, that there's something inside me—]"

"[But Kurt—]"

"[Don't—don't be scared, Jimaine,]" he so desperately wanted her not to be and his voice stammered and broke with rapid speech. "[It doesn't mean I'm a monster or a demon or—]"

"[No, Kurt, listen—]" she inched closer.

"[And I've been meaning to tell you but then I told Stefan and—]"

And then Jimaine crushed her lips onto his own and wrapped her arms around his neck and there needed to be no more explanation as they both savoured the taste of each other's lips. When the two broke apart, Sabu was spotted standing there, a very serious expression. For a minute he said nothing while the two stared, Kurt's tail still around both of their thighs, and then he spoke.

"[Teleport, huh?]" And Kurt nodded slowly while Jimaine blushed. Then the man's face broke out into a huge grin. "[Well, I think we've found Nightcrawler's new act.]"



~Fifteen years old~


"[Here's *my* idea.]" said Jimaine. Sabu went silent and she spread her hands. "[The story is me fighting off an army of Kurts, and each time I 'kill' him, he teleports and it looks like he explodes. Then, from wherever he teleports to, that's where he's 'reborn'.]" Sabu stroked his beard. Kurt twiddled his thumbs.



"[How about a fighting act, though?]" Kurt asked, his arm around Jimaine. She swatted at it playfully. "[I'm *serious*. There wouldn't be any actual fighting. Just... acrobatic fighting. *Possibly* with swords.]"

"[...No.]" said Jimaine. "[You still have to be Nightcrawler, though.]" Sabu continued stroking his beard and then said:

"[Kurt, remember those two boys who attacked you four years ago?]" Kurt blanched a little.

"[Yes... what does that have to do with anything?]"

"[You want me to attack Kurt?]" Jimaine asked, flabbergasted. Sabu shook his head.

"[No, no. I was thinking a love story.]" His eyes zoned out to a private thought and he receded into his imagination. Jimaine and Kurt exchanged confused glances.

"[Are we thinking of the same two boys?]" Kurt asked. Sabu held up a finger and then closed his eyes and stayed like that, frozen for several seconds.

He opened them again, suddenly, and both youths jumped a little. "[Here's what I'm imagining.]" he said. "[We get two other acrobats to... guest star.]" he shifted. "[It starts like this: Nightcrawler here sees Jimaine, out lovely princess or something along those lines, and flips down to her. She screams and runs away. Nightcrawler is upset.]" Kurt blinked angrily. Twice and Sabu held up his hands.

"[Hear me out, he appears more and tries to win her attention, but she runs away. Then, one day, something happens, I don't know, she falls from the bar, and Nightcrawler teleports her to safety.]" Jimaine leaned in, curious now.

"[We'll have love music and she'll start to return his feelings.]" Kurt smiled a little.

"[I like where this is going...]" Jimaine slapped his face, not too hard. He, in return, kissed her palm. Sabu continued.

"[Then, at some point, she's with her two friends playing around and he comes to visit her. The two men proceed to chase him around the trapeze, and eventually catch him, which I can make into a beautiful routine. Then they tie him in a net and leave. He's injured at this point.]" Kurt was looking vaguely intrigued by this.

"[What next, she gets him down?]"

"[And then there's a love scene, and you both teleport away, and the lights go black.]"

There was a lengthy pause in which Jimaine and Kurt both proceeded to think it over and imagine it themselves in their minds. Kurt turned to the man then, and licked his lips.

"[Sabu, you're a genius.]"



~Sixteen years old~


The costume that Gaia had made was some sort of strange mixture between a disco ball and a flamingo. That was the only way Kurt could thoroughly describe it. The pink and white sparkles all over her body that were supposed to resemble the garb of a princess had been Gaia's idea, and when Jimaine came out of the sewing room wearing her costume for the first time, she could not stop laughing.

Neither could Kurt.

Or Stefan.

Or anyone else.

The first practice, for mostly that reason, had not gone well. But over time, the teleportations became neatly timed and cleanly executed, her costume lost some of its shock, and the two found their dynamic and began to work together quite well. Sabu had been pleased. This act was supposed to have been the circus' revolutionary, the most original thing since the Nightcrawler act seven years ago.

Now the act had been fine tuned to the point of seamlessness. Practices late into the night were part of the cause for that, and the two young men who'd agreed to be Kurt's captors certainly had added some excitement to the late night excursions. Their names were Nickolaus and Sören and they were childhood friends who had moved into the circus recently and they alleviated Kurt's anxiousness at being kept in a net.

At the time of the debut performance, all four of them were sitting around behind the curtain, giving last minute directives to the music people and trying to mask their nervousness before they were announced and Jimaine took her cue on the high point.

"[...we present to you a tale... of demon love.]" And the ringmaster walked off.

The show began with Jimaine twirling around smoothly and not too fast on the bars while soft music played in the background. Shortly after, Kurt appeared, in his own costume, and when Jimaine spotted him as he flipped to land next to her, the music abruptly changed and she began to flip away in fear. Sabu gazed into the faces of the audience and he smiled, satisfied that he had created a success once again.


By the end of the show, when the music sweltered to an unbearably clichéd climax and Jimaine touched the cheek of the injured Nightcrawler, the crowd was ready to applaud. And when both disappeared in a flash of smoke and the lights went black, the sound of deafening cheers carried throughout the entire grounds, and it was a sound that they would all remember for the years to come. Stefan came by to congratulate them both that following night and the three rejoiced and celebrated, praising each other and themselves and enjoying the success of their lives.

So when Margali told them, a few days later, of an American businessman that wanted to take them to his own circus in America, all they could do was balk and embrace each other in the very primitive feeling that was utter joy.

"[What's his name again?]" Jimaine asked, voice filled with glee.

"[Jardine. Amos Jardine.]"

"[And he's American?]"

"[Yes.]" Margali answered. Kurt spoke next.

"[And he wants to take Jimaine or all of us?]"

"[*All* of us. Anyone who'll come. He's especially interested in you, Kurt. He says your act is... howdidhephraseit... unique.]" Kurt grinned widely.

"[Can we meet him?]" Margali nodded, excitement in her voice.

"[He's coming tomorrow.]"


The round man was sitting on a stool inside one of the huts they called homes. It wasn't too dirty but he refrained from touching anything nonetheless. He was here for a purpose; he had a plan and when the plan was executed, he would be making a *lot* more money. He imagined himself holding it all between his fingers, the women and the power that would follow. He wouldn't quite be able to bathe in his earnings, he knew that, but he would take what he could get and he would get a considerable amount if it worked out. The stool creaked under his weight and he checked his watch again and the hand had only moved a little but he didn't want to wait any longer.

Then the gypsy woman came in and she gave him a warm look and he gave her one back because that was what men of business did; they gave nice women warm looks and they were polite.

"Mr. Jardine," she said in her accented English and he stood up because he was a professional. "I'd like you to meet my children." The round man had greasy hair. He adjusted his shirt because it wasn't very businesslike and kind of greasy around its hem and then a boy walked in, around seventeen. He was ordinary, with stubble decorating his cheek and a piercing in his ear. "This is Stefan Szardos."

Jardine stuck out his beefy hand and shook the boy's. The boy had a strong handshake.

"How do you do?" Jardine asked.

"Nice... to... meet you." The boy squawked out, proud of his mediocre vocabulary. Next came a girl of about fifteen with blonde hair and brown eyes. The hottie acrobat he wanted to recruit.

"And you're... Jimaine Szardos." He said, taking her hand.

"I am. Pleased to meet you." Jardine kissed her hand. Her accent was better than her elder brother's, less noticeable. Yes, she would do well in show business. A third figure walked out now, and Jardine gasped softly. This was what he'd been waiting for; what he'd come for.

"And this is my foster son, Kurt Wagner. Though you might remember him better as—"

"The incredible Nightcrawler. How do you do?" He stuck out his arm towards the boy and felt the strange hand that gripped his palm and shook it, not reacting. The bizarre fingers and the fur felt strange under skin but Jardine didn't say anything because that was impolite, especially to someone he wanted to convince to come to America. And good businessmen didn't say things that were impolite so he introduced himself instead. He was never impolite.

He was a *very* good businessman.


~Seventeen years old~


The last performance of demon love took in almost twice as many people as it usually did because some of them were willing to stand instead of sit in the audience just to watch the show. The performance was six hundred and forty three seconds. By the end, there were members of the audience and of the troupe itself that were leaking tears that went unnoticed in the massive wave of applause.

When the act was over, instead of passing by the Nightcrawler's quarters as the audience did every day, most slipped something under the door; a flower, a card, a note, something heartfelt and personal. Kurt kept them all in a tiny plastic box that he packed into his suitcase for the journey to America. His family and friends had left him something as well. A bible, from Margali, so he would always remember the faith he'd adopted. Jimaine had given him a photograph of the two of them together that she had somehow acquired and an embarrassed confession about how she didn't know what else to get and that she wished she could come with him. Very few people could, none that Kurt was particularly close to.

He pulled the suitcase with him to the private plane with the wheels dragging behind him on the grass, and he waved over to Jardine, the man who'd take him to America, the man that'd make his dreams come true. He was dressed in greasy clothes, but they looked comfortable, so Kurt didn't say anything. Instead, he went to meet his family, who waited outside the plane for him and when he came closer he saw that the women were crying and he feared he might start crying too. Jardine looked at him with a kindly smile and hefted his bag onto the plane for him, and with a few words, several hugs, kisses, and many tears, Kurt made his way onto the unfamiliar territory of the plane and the door closed behind him, sealing him off from one part of his life and sending him into the next.



~Seventeen years old~


The grass in America *felt* different beneath his feet. Coarser, he could call it, but not worse. The air smelled spicier and tasted exotic on his tongue, and the sky looked paler. It was not home, but perhaps it was better. Perhaps the way the sun shone brighter, too bright, was a good thing, perhaps America was not covered in a veil of darkness the way Bavaria had. He hoped he would not become different too, in America.

Like Jardine had.

Jardine had changed, too, the minute that they stepped off of the plane onto the coarse land of this country, it was all in his face. His eyes glowed now with a darker air, and the way he looked over at Kurt with his dark eyes unnerved him. The way he talked, too, was ruder, like the pretence of politeness had been lifted from his face. And his face had changed as well. Jardine had been a round man since Kurt had first met him and nothing had changed that, yet the way his face was always in a cruel smile in this foreign air, like he was laughing at some hideous joke, made him seem less attractive than his usual disposition, distorting his features into an imitation of the Jardine Kurt had always seen.

It made him miss home. So when Jardine stopped suddenly and announced: "Home, sweet home." Kurt turned with a hopefulness to see a trapeze or his living quarters or something that would appease his thoughts of home, and then his face fell and the air felt spicier inside his mouth and the sun shone too bright. "Welcome, 'amazing Nightcrawler'." Kurt didn't like the tone of his voice. Less did he like the tiger-sized, pecan coloured wagon that stood in front of him, the one with metal bars on the top and three sides, and frighteningly thick wood on the back, the cage that had his name on it like a claiming or a reservation. Home, sweet home.

"But..." his eyes scanned frantically over the wood, the bars, the murals that decorated the inside of it and the straw that lay inside, a bed. NIGHTCRAWLER, it announced on the top. The inside had a crude drawing of himself with, tail included, baring his fangs and his eyes glowing, perched in a menacing crouch. DEMON OR HUMAN? It said on the bottom in intruding colours that hurt his eyes. MONSTER OR FREAK?

"I'm not a *freak*, Mr. Jardine." He said, angry and grossly disappointed. "And I *don't* belong in any cage—" His words were cut off as he felt the needle stab into his neck and a pressure build and leave instantaneously, before there was time to react, to scream, to run. He rubbed at the spot, Jardine's next words barely registering as Kurt began to stumble back and forth on his feet. The sun was too bright suddenly and the air too thick, too hot, and then he was on the ground, breath was knocked out of him completely, and the last thing he heard was the sound of a cage door being opened, the sound of his lost freedom, the door of youth never to be reclaimed, the gateway to hell.


His eyes were crusted over and opening them pulled at his lashes. Everything was thick around him and it pushed at him and pulled at the same time, so much that he almost went under again, but then he *remembered* and forced himself to get up, if only to see where he was. Getting up was hard enough with the drug in his veins, and he wiped his mouth of drool. His head felt thick. Gold eyes scanned himself first, to see that he was unharmed, if lying on straw, and wearing an old pair of grey shorts and nothing else. The huge mural of himself startled him into awareness, and bile went up his throat as he saw the streaking shadows across his body, and the dark bars that stood tall as pillars, surrounding him from all sides.

He tried to stand, but there was not enough room, and the drugs pulled him down, back to the straw, back to sleep. He flexed, tried to teleport, but he recalled something Jardine had said about... mutant suppressants? What was a mutant? "JARDINE!" he slurred, stumbling and leaning on the bars heavily. His voice cracked with fear. Fear that grew as the round man came over to the cage and gave him a chilling smile full of taunting... laughter.... victory. "What have you *done* to me?!" Kurt's struggled to maintain his English and struggled to stay upright as the cage swam around him and the bars and Jardine were everywhere at once with that chilling look. The wind blew into the cage and he shivered.

"You, Nightcrawler," he spat the name. "Are going to be my newest attraction starting tomorrow." Kurt suddenly envied him that jacket, and wrapped his arms around himself, shivering and slurring.

"Jardine... let me out of here." Give me my clothes, he thought and looked at the straw, the water dish. Give me my dignity... The man shook his head and smiled.

"I don't think so, Nightcrawler. You are going to make me a lot of money. A *lot*." At Kurt's expression and slow slide to the floor, he added: "Don't worry; I'll give you all you need. Clothes, water, food. The animal trainers will take good care of you."

"I am not an animal!" he yelled, and slammed against the bars, and his head spun again. Jardine suddenly looked very serious.

"Oh, but you are. And you damn better well act like one, Nightcrawler." He said and then began walking away. "Because you're going to be here a *long* time." Kurt shivered and leaning against the cold steel bars made it worse. The feeling of nausea was still there and he blanched as the man began to walk away.

"Jardine!" he called him back. He kept walking. "*Jardine*!" his eyes began to fill with tears, and he slammed as hard as he could on the bars. It was too blurry to see and his eyes were too hot, hot with tears, with delirium.

"JARDINE!" he sobbed out in a howling wail, but he was gone by then, gone into the night. Kurt saw the room spin and fell onto his straw, onto his side so he was facing the mural of himself. Was that what Jardine saw him as? The drawn-on fangs shone in the night. That animal on the wall? Kurt's face was solemn now, but tears still flowed, hot down his face and he was tired, so tired and overwhelmed. The mural stared back, roared.

{I guess it's just you and me.} He thought before the drug resurfaced once more and the bars mercifully faded from his view.


When he awoke the second time, it was because of the loud clanking of the opening cage door and the light that seemed to have formed outside of the bars. The bars were coated with a thin, ratty, purple sheet and the sunlight made it glow fuchsia on him.

That was the first thing he was aware of. Jardine was the second.

The two large men in animal trainer uniforms were the third. Instinctively, he got up into a crouch and his head still swam with any movement. Teleporting still didn't work and so he tried to back into the corner. They followed him there. The two men held him easily while he made a vague attempt to struggle and watched with horror as Jardine prepared the needle, and then as he stabbed it into his neck and pulled the plunger down.

The disorientation hit instantly, and he slumped back down to the floor. He felt dizzy again, and like something was restraining him from movement. Jardine looked down at him and the two men exited. Kurt looked up with the sting of humiliation and glared white metal flames. Jardine began to talk.

"Here are the rules, Nightcrawler." He said and Kurt narrowed his eyes, unable to stand up. "The water's over there; it is for drinking only. You'll get food once a day if you cooperate, and this sheet stays on during the night, it comes off during appearances, one of which is in... two minutes." Kurt tried to respond, but the drug made it require an immense amount of concentration. Jardine glowered down and added one last thing before disappearing outside of the cage. "Speaking is forbidden." And then Kurt heard him on the outside, announcing him. The straw prickled and scratched at skin and tangled in fur as he couldn't help but listen to the man's booming voice.

His voice sounded like that of the ringmaster, back in Winzeldorf. Kurt almost barked out a laugh at the cruel irony. The ringmaster's voice had been with him and announced his rise to the top, and almost that same voice was here again to announce his fall towards rock bottom.

The sheet was peeled off with a dramatic flair to reveal nothing whatsoever but an empty cage filled with straw. When Jardine left the cage, Kurt had made his painstaking way to the back of it and lain down in the thin strip of shadow. When he'd closed his eyes, the patrons were stricken with confusion before they turned on Jardine with angry glares and empty wallets.

"Ladies and gentlemen, no worries, he's merely hiding in the shadows. Let's shine a bit of light on the situation, hmm? "and a huge spotlight turned on like a camera flash, one that could really steal a soul. Kurt felt the warmth on his face and saw the light from behind his lids but when he heard the gasps and sounds of children crying... he peeled open his eyes and shed a tear.

It was driving him insane. The humiliation, the cold, the gaping eyes and loud flurry of noise every time he moved of blinked. All he could do was lie there like a helpless animal and stare back into the gaping eyes. When a child came up and threw a piece of his cheap circus hotdog into the cage, Kurt snapped and moved forwards towards the bar with all the effort he could muster under the weight of the chemicals in his veins. People scurried backwards like frightened pests and Kurt came forward, planning to speak to the child's mother and tell her of this injustice.

When he opened his mouth to speak to her, the only sound that could come out was a strangled snarl that resembled a weak roar. The woman gasped and dragged her son away from the sound of an angry beast. Kurt groaned in exasperation, the hopelessness of the situation weighing on him, unfortunately, that groan came out only as a stronger roar, and then the show was over and Jardine put the sheet back over the animal in the cage.

That night, when he lay on his straw and attempted to go to sleep under another drug-induced exhaustion, he took the sheet off of the bars and wrapped it around himself to protect him from the cold. From there, he looked around at the gleaming metal bars that surrounded him, at the sheet that scratched on his skin, at the untouched bowl of food Kurt had refused to eat; he had not stooped that low yet. Lastly, he looked over at the huge mural, the mural that resembled the animal in him he'd sounded so much like that day it scared him; the animal he'd never known was inside him, the animal Jardine was determined to make him become.

Kurt fell asleep.




There was no sheet covering him at night anymore. He'd been caught sleeping with it one night and because it no longer covered the cage, potential patrons got a free show of Nightcrawler from the fenced off entrance of the circus. There was no sheet anymore. Only heightened security around the perimeter of the freak show. The weather had also chilled to a cool American spring, so he was cold without it, all the time. He was quickly becoming filthy and his fur felt tangled and clumpy all around him. The bars were becoming ingrained on the backs of his eyelids.

The crowds were still the worst part of the whole thing. The way they'd stare at him with repulsion in their eyes and point with accusing fingers, and they'd fear him for things he had not done. And he was human, just like them, not a demon, a freak, a monster like the signs said in that accursed cheery lettering on his cage. *They* were the monsters, not him, and yet they got to live amongst normal people while he looked like that animalistic mural behind him and got to live in cages. He didn't know which thought frightened him more, really: The fact that true monsters were the ones who walked amongst the normal people of this world, or the fact that they would never know.

Recently, they'd taken to a new game; one he hadn't wished to play. He'd been huddling near the back of the cage, trying to not be seen, and they'd begun throwing things at him one day. Popcorn, peanuts, *rocks*. He'd scampered into the corner when the first rock was thrown, and they attacked him there, and each one stung a little but their laughter stung more, and he cradled his knees to his chest and cried and prayed, please Gott let him out of here, please. They'd laughed and pummelled him with various things when he was in that corner, and he'd cleaned it all out, *every last piece* until Jardine came by and shooed everyone away, and then stuck him with the needle like he did every night. He never fought the needles anymore, there was no point. Why would he? It was the only way that he could sleep.


Kurt stalked over to the bowl of slop Jardine had given him, and picked some up with his hands before eating it all in a feral gorging. He'd relented about the food and hated himself for it after almost four days, and when the crowd had gone and before Jardine came in to give him his nightly injection, Kurt had dug into the bowl ravenously and then cleaned the fur on his face as hands best as he could on coarse straw, telling himself that whole time through humiliated tears that any human would have done the same.

Any human...

Any *human*...

The one good thing about the fact that he'd been in the cage for five weeks was that he had things to think about that would last *years* more, he was sure of that, and there was no chance this cage, that man would make him lose his sanity. It was that, and the fact that he'd started gaining a type of resilience to that awful drug Jardine pumped into him each day and each night. A noticeable resilience. It was getting easier to speak, if not move. So he'd been practicing at nights, talking to himself because there was no one else to talk to, and soon he'd had a plan: He'd speak to someone, ask them to help him, to set him free.


~Two months since capture~


There were small changes happening now, ones that disturbed him and ate away at him as he went into his slumber every night. The bars on the backs of his eyelids had been ingrained into his memory, and it was no longer a shock to see them there in the mornings. He saw them everywhere now, even in his dreams. And the straw, the straw that used to hurt him and the straw that itched against fur and skin, no longer bothered him. He slept on it now and woke up accustomed to the feeling and it just didn't bother him anymore. Few things did. Jardine had gotten the brilliant idea from the rocks to clear them all out of the grounds of his Circus of Hell and sell small bags of them, all for a tidy profit.

Business was booming.

Kurt was no longer as filthy, he'd been *washed* by the trainers. That had been the worst day of his life. They'd dumped cheap smelling soaps onto his head and he spread them throughout his body before they pummelled him with the highest pressure level on the hose. He'd *refused* to remove the shorts. They were the only thing that was still his. He'd had to air-dry for hours that day and in the night, when his teeth chattered from the cold, he'd not wept, not cried a single tear, because the cold was better than the filth. His fur and hair were long and bordering on shaggy, but at least they kept him warm when he was dry. He resembled the mural more and more each day.

He kept track of the days with a tally he made on the back wooden wall, one low to the ground that he covered with straw, one that told him it'd been two months since he'd been here, and that was how he kept track of time. He'd reached the day he'd set as a goal for himself finally; the day he'd ask for help with his freedom, using the voice he'd been practicing control of for the past two months. He did it sometime when the crowd was focused more on other attractions, the later hours when the freak show lost appeal and when his floor was sufficiently covered in the rocks. There was one boy there, who looked to be around nineteen, roughly Stefan's age, in a cap and jeans with rips in the knees and shoelaces that trailed behind him like a child's failed kite.

Kurt crawled his way over to the front of the cage, and rested himself as comfortably as he could, with one arm and his tail hanging out between the bars, touching the earth, and swaying slightly. The boy jumped back due to the closeness, and when he saw Kurt's eyes, those eyes with not enough light in them, look at him, he somehow saw that the—thing—would not harm him and came closer.

"Please." Kurt said, and the boy jumped into the air. He was surprised by the sound of his own voice; spending two months speaking almost all German had strengthened his accent considerably. Kurt pressed on.

"Don't run away. My name is Kurt Wagner." The boy stood still and looked around; extinguishing all hope that 'Kurt' could be talking to someone else.

"You can talk?" he said, and Kurt flinched. *Yes*, damn it, he could talk!

"Yes." He rasped, trying to enunciate his English. "Help me, I need to get out of here."

"Um..." said the boy.

"Please... Just pick the lock."


"Please!" his voice was getting strained now. "Before he gets back... before..." he stopped talking.

"Before who gets back, Nightcrawler?" Jardine asked, walking up to the two, and Kurt suppressed the urge to burst into tears right then and there. Jardine turned to the boy.

"It can talk, man!" the boy exclaimed, pointing to Kurt, who slowly made his painstaking way back deeper into the cage.

"Yes," agreed Jardine. "It can. But no one can know. Do you understand?" the boy's eyes widened.

"But..." Jardine reached into his pocket and pulled apart a series of crisp green bills, his thumb squelching across the paper, and handed them to the boy.

"No one must know this, boy. Do you... *understand*?" The boy's eyes lingered between the bills and Kurt and Jardine doubled his amount. "Do you?" Kurt had one final moment of hope in humankind before the boy took the bills and avoided his gaze entirely.

"Yes, sir." He said and Kurt slumped down. "I understand." When the boy was gone, Jardine kneeled down and looked him in the eyes.

"I told you not to speak, Nightcrawler." He said, and held up one beefy finger. "And this was the first time, so I'm going to ignore it because nothing happened." Kurt curled tighter into himself. "But one more, and there'll be a penalty." And then he left and let Kurt comfort himself with empty words.

"[I'll try again...]" he whispered into the cage, out loud if only to hear someone say it, instead of painting the picture silently in his head. "[And the next time, someone will help me and take me away from here.]" He lay down on his side. "[I can't be here much longer... I won't be.]"


Three months since capture

~Eighteen years old~

The first time that Kurt disobeyed Jardine and spoke out to a spectator, with his voice barely maintaining control of the slurring and wooziness, Jardine paid off the boy and left Kurt with a warning, one that he thought had left him trembling into obedience. The second time, he'd merely upped the dosage of the already abused substance into Kurt to the point that he could barely make a sound at all.

The third time, he'd taken away his food and water for almost four days and he'd gotten the trainers to keep him cuffed to the top bars. He'd found him after that time, nearly dead from dehydration and the hard effects of a fast and demanding metabolism. That with a deep threat, and he'd thought he had discouraged him from disobedience, he'd thought that was the end of all that.

The fourth time, he'd had to use the whip.

And so here was Kurt, with his arms chained to the top bars again, knees pressing into the straw, eyes running with tears.



He howled out and wailed, the sound distorted by the thickness of his voice. The trainer, whom Kurt had never seen actually train, swung his arm back and then propelled it forwards, moving his arm with an audible grunt. Kurt closed his eyes.


His tail lashed, mimicking the whip itself and his voice pierced the air with a deep scream that stabbed into the ears of those nearby, even his own.


Again and again it came over to his back, and he could see little tufts of fur fall down to his feet with every strike. The barb at the end whipped at his stiffened form, tearing flesh apart, ripping the flexed muscle and inflaming the nerves as it cut and cut in swift lines down his body. swsshh-CRACK and there was a new separation, a new wound that poured blood freely like tears down his back, sticking and drying to him where it stopped, ruining the one scrap of clothes he owned. It tore at random places, nicking at the arms, the neck.


Kurt opened his eyes from the tight seal in which they'd been closed, and stared at what was in front of him, wanting it all to go away and seeing between all the bars he rested his head against before the pain made it crane back. There, on the other side of the bars, the usual crowds had gathered, and all gazed upon him with a look of bemused disgust. He'd not screamed for the first series of lashes, he'd held back so that these people who were here and watching his suffering would not have too much of a show. But then the whip changed directions and criss-crossed against the first gashes, nicking them open further when they passed down the sides.

The audience watched now because they'd paid to see a freak, and here he was in all his freakish glory, being punished by the normal people for believing he was anything but. They stared and watched, and Kurt gave them a bit more credit for not having children there. Their eyes were open wide as possible, and they bit their nails and shuffled their feet. He tried to close their eyes to the whispers and noises.

"What is it?"

"*I've* seen it twice."

"Why are they whipping it?"

"I think he did something wrong."

"Like what?"

"I don't know, man."

"My dog does things wrong all the time, but we don't *whip* him."

The cuffs were removed and the murmur died down as Kurt fell against the ground and curled his head into the crevice between the bars.

"Maybe now you understand," Jardine said. "that animals are not supposed to speak." Kurt hated that fat man. He hated him like he'd never been able to hate before, not even those two men that had attacked him all those years ago. He wanted to kill him but settled for an agonized howl through clenched teeth. He wanted to rip him apart. And then he left and the crowed slowly dispersed, and there was the nightly drugging. And he lay on his front, head turned towards the mural, back stinging and throbbing almost unbearably.

The mural roared and howled, the image jumped out of the wall at Kurt, and he knew it was speaking, that it was the animal they all saw him to be, inviting him to its side, teasing him. Maybe Jardine was right. There was no purpose to speaking anymore; there was no purpose at all. There was just pain and humiliation and memories he clung onto for dear life. He was tired of the punishments for speaking; starving, whipping. Tired for pleading for help to those who didn't seem the least interested at all in saving a creature. The mural snickered.

{Shut up,} he thought and turned his head away. {It's all your fault, anyways.}



Seventeen days later


He'd remembered the words he's managed to read of Margali's bible, and he recited them over and over, for something to do. Jardine would be coming soon, in maybe fifteen minutes. It was a schedule now, expected. He'd almost lost all hope by now for ever leaving, hope of living outside of this cage, especially of ever returning to the circus, the *real* circus, not this Hell. There was a little boy coming towards his cage, and he recognized him from the earlier crowd. The boy smiled at him.

"Hi, I'm Philip." He shone his light into Kurt's eyes, and he squinted against it. "Nightcrawler, right?" Kurt nodded. "You can't talk, can you?" he concluded. "It's ok; you don't have to, 'cause I know what you are." Kurt groaned. What was he now, a vampire? "What you *really* are, I mean. A mutant—right?" Kurt jerked up at this as the boy made his way towards the lock. "Like they show on the news. It's OK, I am too." Kurt recalled Jardine saying something about the drug all those months ago; it was a mutant suppressant. Kurt vaguely felt confused that he didn't have the faintest idea what exactly a mutant was, and why Jardine needed a drug to suppress one, but then Kurt heard a noise that made him want to dance and laugh and cry all at the same time. The lock clicked.

"That's why I came back tonight. Cause we have to help each other." Kurt watched the door click open and he stepped put temperamentally. He cleared his throat, silent for too long, and stepped upright for the first time in months onto the grass.

"Thank you." He choked out, and then, just like that, his prayers had been answered and, he was free.


After escape


Walking on two legs had never felt so good before. It had been something he dearly missed inside the confines of that cage, and so he hadn't dared go on all fours through the empty circus he now traversed unless he was hiding out during the day and had to fit in small areas. He now was staying in the circus, far away from the cage, but close enough that he knew where he was. He'd stolen food from vendors at night, a welcome change from what he'd suspected had been blended leftovers. He'd been trying to rapidly regain some of the weight and muscle he had lost while he'd been there. Margali would certainly give him hell for it.

He couldn't wait.

The moonlight was gleaming and bright and Kurt roamed the grounds under it on his fourth day since the escape. That was how long it took for the effects of the drugs to fully be flushed from his body but when Kurt stopped under the luminous moon and was sure he'd wore off, he closed his eyes and did what he'd been aching to do for months. He took a breath, flexed, and teleported.

When he reappeared, next to the cage, and with a bright exhilaration, grinned and jaunted again, once just because he could. The grin on his face felt rusted and slightly strange, but wonderful and comfortably familiar and he breathed in the air, relished the feeling of the grass, comparatively soft under his feet. He jaunted around the grounds until he found someone's trailer and snuck inside, rifling through clothes until he could find ones that were roughly his size. He slipped them over and winced as they passed over his scarred, tender back. The sensation of clothes again were wonderful and he left the shorts there, in the person's quarters and he didn't know why he did it, but it felt good to.

Then he started to wonder: who else worked here at this Circus Of Horrors, and how many were here like him? He'd seen no other cages here and that was a good thing, but that didn't mean there weren't people trapped here. People that had no way to get out.

So he jaunted to Jardine's office and then right behind him as the man sat at his desk. He wrapped his tail around his neck and by the way he stiffened, Kurt assumed that he'd been recognized.

"Don't turn around, Mr. Jardine." He said and it sounded menacing, even to him. Jardine seemed uneasy more so than afraid, but Kurt was prepared to change that. It would have been easy to flex and squeeze the man's neck to the point where his eyes bulged out, but Kurt couldn't bring himself to, and so he squeezed just enough for Jardine to feel the pressure on sensitive bones and pipes, and then threatened him.

"I could kill you right now, fat man, and no one would care. No one would mourn you." He rasped. And it was true, he could. But yet, he couldn't.

"You won't, though." He said. Kurt gritted his teeth.

"Not tonight, no. Because, Jardine... I believe in redemption. I believe people can change."


"*You.*" He loosened his grip, just a little and his fangs were bared with every growling breath. "I'm giving you two weeks to... discharge any employees you're keeping here against your will, to stop mistreating the ones that stay. To become a *decent* person, Jardine."

Jardine looked up while Kurt looked down at him, and the roles were reversed for just a second, before Kurt promised to return within two weeks and then released his tail and disappeared.

He'd wandered through the unfamiliar lands of Florida in his new clothes, and made it to a pay phone, the sweetest sight he'd seen in too long. He reached into the pockets of the trousers he'd liberated and felt his fingers close against small, cool metal. The coins he pulled out, gleamed white against unkempt fur that was near invisible, and he sighed a breathy sigh and smiled with what energy he had left, that his luck was turning around. He slid in the coins and dialled, and when the phones connected, and he knew it was Jimaine on the other line, he cleared his throat and spoke in a clear voice.

"[Jimaine? Jimaine, are you there?]"

"Kurt, thank God. Where *are* you?" The way she spoke, in English for some reason, was like they've been separated for four days rather than four months. Kurt assumed Jardine had gotten to her, made up some story. It didn't matter if she was worried about him right now, that the connection was broken and he could only hear half of what she said, just that she was *there*.

"Jimaine, why—" a realization. "Why are you whispering?"

"It's our *brother*, Kurt! ...Stefan, he's—... oh, Kurt, however troubled he was before, it's ...worse now." Her voice was scared.

"Worse how?"

"He says *demons* are after him. He says they're stalking ... telling him ...terrible things..."

"Mein Gott..."

"I can't talk for long," she said and he felt a tinge of disappointment. "But please ...please come home, my love."

"Jimaine, listen to me—stay as far away from Stefan as you can, do you understand? And I'll be there *soon*, all right? As soon... as I can get myself to Germany."




He'd promised to get to Winzeldorf, and he was intent on keeping that promise and get there immediately. Jimaine needed him there, Stefan evidently needed help, according to what Jimaine'd said and he needed to get home and start putting the whole damned experience behind him. He needed to heal from the small, but persistent nagging tinge of self-doubt his days there had planted in his mind, and get back, and more importantly, he needed to go help his brother.

The only problem was that Kurt had no idea how to get there. He had no money, passport, no documents. He couldn't go out and get them, let alone ever use them or buy tickets to a plane. He had nothing with him whatsoever; he didn't know what Jardine had done with his luggage. He was, quite simply, stranded. *And* filthy.

And that was starting to bother him more than the stranded part, but it was fortunately one problem he could easily solve. So that night, after much moral debate and the sudden overwhelming urge to cleanse himself body and soul, he stole a bottle of soap, a brush, and a pair of scissors from a souvenir shop somewhere nearby, and eventually found his way towards a lake. Fortunately, the circus had been close to one, and it was not long before he was bathing and trimming himself almost properly in the lightless night. He trimmed away some of the fur while thinking of how to get home, but his hands were not made for scissors and kept slipping, so he settled for merely trimming select areas, hands and feet particularly, so he could better manoeuvre them, and then used half the bottle of the soap and covered himself in it, so that his back stung anew but it was worth it for the feeling of being clean, returning to humanity.

When he was soaking in the water and tolerating the mild cold of it, he saw a light passing above him and his eyes jerked upwards. A plane, identical in every way to Jardine's, save for the colouring. It was flying relatively low for a plane, and then Kurt got an idea when he saw that said LUFTHANSA on it in huge letters. A *German* airline. It was his closest chance. And it had been departing from an airport that was *close* by. *Really* close by.

He'd found it after a while, and snuck inside, finding the airplane he needed and noting that it, too, looked exactly like Jardine's.

He set his mind to remembering the cargo hold Jardine had put his luggage in, and he'd pictured it well until it was crisp and clear in his mind, and though it was dangerous and stupid and poorly-thought-out, he closed his eyes and focused all his energy, all that he had, and then he disappeared and reappeared dangerously close, too close to something and he thought he'd gotten inside it until he saw that he was in the cargo hold he'd imagined a second earlier, nose to nose with a suitcase.

He curled himself up between the piles of cargo and used a lighter one as a type of blanket, and worried about Stefan and about Jimaine and about his mother, thought of taking Jimaine into his arms and embracing his mother and his friends, and helping Stefan get through whatever it was he was getting through; he thought of home and love before he fell asleep to the sound of the plane taking off from the ground.



Arriving and walking down the streets felt like reacquainting oneself with an old friend. Both had changed and been beaten down with some time, but they remembered each other quite well and once they'd gotten past the initial awkwardness and unfamiliarity, they'd reacquainted over old memories. It had been night when he arrived and he seemed to live in night now; not just crawl it. The streets passed him by and he greeted them and recognized them with a strange kind of glee and then he kept walking, and began imagining his arrival back, once Stefan had calmed down.

He'd sleep in his bed, not on straw or ground or the floor of a cargo hold, and they'd all ask him how it went, his rise to fame in America; he'd edit out the details but give them the general truth and they'd hold him, help him forget it and he would get to a point where he would learn to laugh about it, once he could stop crying.

And they'd all be together.

He approached a fountain at a corner, and then froze at the familiar figure, unmistakable even for the beard. He was cradling a child.

"Stefan?" The man's eyes, which tinted red now, looked dazedly up at the sky.

"Brother... the amazing Nightcrawler. Home, home, home..."

The child was unmoving and Kurt motioned like he was about to approach, but his eyes turned to the fountain and froze in his tracks. Water poured and slewed red as small bodies floated listlessly, some facedown and oozing still, some face-up, broken like porcelain dolls, empty, milky eyes staring at nothing and no one, unbothered by the water that poured down onto them and ran down their face in place of the tears they couldn't produce, crying still even in death.

"What..." his eyes were wide with horror. "What have you done?"

"I killed them." He answered as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, and threw the child back down onto the floor. "I needed to. They told me."

"You... killed them?" Kurt could not grasp the meaning. "*Why*? Why would you do this, brother?" Stefan stood from his crouch, revealing a knife that glowed red off the reflection of the rippling water, shimmered with death. He walked over closer to Kurt.

"They told me to." He said again. Kurt thought back to what he'd caught of Jimaine's phone call, the distress she'd had, but he'd not even considered something like this...

"Who told you to?" he asked gently and Stefan's head jerked towards him sickeningly fast.

"The voices. In my head. They *all* told me to."

"Gott in heimel... these were *children*." And then Stefan smiled, his filthy beard and crazy, offset eyes chilling.

"No, Kurt, don't you see? These were demons. *Pretending* to be children. I was protecting us all. Don't you understand, Kurt? Don't you?"


"Ok, brother, I understand, now please give me the knife. Please? You don't... you don't need it anymore." The man that walked up to him slowly and cautiously held out the dagger, with his shirt stained with children's blood, was not Stefan, but some distorted version of him. Kurt reached to grab the knife, exhausted from it all, and then the sound of a tiny groan, a whimper of pain made them both stop and turn towards the child, the one Stefan had left dead—or rather not dead, on the cold ground.

"There's one left!" he called out, and the knife was no longer within Kurt's reach. He towered over the child as he approached and raised the knife. "You will die with your coven, demon!" and then he lunged for the child.

_Promise me you'll stop me, whatever it takes._

At the same time Kurt lunged for him.


"DIE!" And his arms reached out, reached to pull the deranged man back, and his fingers curled and ached to push him to the ground, and then they did, all too hard, and Kurt heard the distinct noises: The blunt sound of two bodies smacking into each other to the ground, the clink as a knife falls to the ground, the crack of bones, the breaking neck,

the sound of life whooshing out of a body,

the anguished cry from his own lips,

the sounds of a brother's betrayal and the call of death.



~Two hours later~


He'd sent the child home and he was long gone, and the town was silent, save for the sounds of tears falling on the floor as a man leaned over his brother's corpse and mouthed I'm sorry over and over again until his lips lost feeling. His eyes shut against the visage of his brother's red eyes, still somehow crazed, staring back at the sky like the eyes of those he'd killed just hours ago.

His brother's red eyes...

His brother...

Who he'd killed.

His own eyes barely glowed any more, too much had put out their light, and so he couldn't register the approaching glow of light in the distance, the orange hue of flame, and his ears were deaf to the clamour that came with it until they all stood mere feet away from him, and he looked up to see them staring, staring at him just like the circus, but here he couldn't escape.

"[It killed the children!]" someone cried. "[And then this man! This man who'd tried to stop it, it had killed him too!]"

"[The demon...]" Kurt's eyes went slowly up at this, but he did not respond.

"[Don't just stand there!]" Someone shouted. "[Kill it!]"

They advanced.

He couldn't react with anything more than an inhuman cry as someone struck him with something, something hard. He only watched as the others were encouraged, with hatred in their eyes, and followed suit.

"[Come on, men, crowd around it!]"

"[KILL IT!]"


They held him to the ground and cut and bruised his skin until he'd regained his speech. He didn't teleport away. He was tired. Much too tired... A knife went in to his back, his tail was struck midway through with a rock to the ground and it flailed like an injured worm.

"[Stop... no, please...]"





"[KILL IT! BURN IT AND SEND IT BACK TO HELL!]" And then he raised his voice to match their own as waves of men came around and waved flame close, too close to his skin.

"[*I AM NOT A DEMON*!]" The men gave bitter laughs.

"[Your tail, your fangs, your *eyes* speak otherwise, freak.]"

"[No, you're wrong! I'm not a demon, I'm a... a man!]"

"[A *MAN*?]" His arms were held tight behind his back and chains dug into them with rusted, serrated metal and he was hefted to his feet, fire threatening him at every turn, and it was hot, so hot and he couldn't think straight, couldn't move. "[*Men* do not murder children in cold blood, men protect them! Like that man, the one you killed. Men do not kill other men, either. And now you will *burn*!]"

A stake had been brought from somewhere and Kurt watched it with wary eyes, a weary gaze, and his body throbbed as he finally took it upon himself to struggle and writhe in his captors' grips. It was positioned to the ground sturdily and he was carried to it. He kicked and his tail wrapped around the people's feet before someone stabbed something through the barb and Kurt screamed raw and throaty. His back was placed against it and it dug in.

"[Please! Stop, you don't understand! He was my *brother*!]" his voice was full of pain so raw, he roared it, and the crowd grew more and more inflamed.

"[Your brother?]" He spit at Kurt's face. "[Servant of the devil! *Men* do not kill those they believe to be their brothers, *monsters* do! Men have hearts and love their brethren, they do not snap their necks when they protect innocent children!]"

"[No! I did not kill those children! He did, I was--]"

"[lies...]" they hissed. "[LIES!]" "[SINS AND LIES!]"


"[The animal LIES!]"

"[I AM NOT AN ANIMAL!]" he roared, and chains wrapped callously around his body and thick leather belts chafed at fur and skin and held him fast and tight, so that he couldn't breathe, couldn't think, only cry and scream.

"[You are, demon! Now *burn*. BURN!]"

"[If you are no animal, how do you roar so? Men cannot roar. I am a man; I cannot roar. If you are one, of course you'd kill your brother, you kill anything that moves. But if you are a man, what is your excuse? What *sort* of man would slaughter so? So tell me now, what are you then, a man with the soul of a demon, or the animal we know you are?]"

"[No, I'm... I'm... just a—]"



"[*NO*!]"the wood and straw was piled at his feet, and he could not move, he could not speak like a normal person, couldn't reason. He'd killed Stefan. STEFAN. He disappeared in bursts of brimstone. Maybe they were right, maybe he deserved it all.

They set the fire down on the branches and it reflected in his eyes, orange on gold, and in all of their bloodthirsty ones, and he spoke no more. It rose and rose and grew hotter, and then it hit and he felt it climbing up his legs, singing fur and turning it black. It curled, red hot, against his skin and fire lapped at the exposed flesh and it began to bubble and peel, explode into small cysts of agony, and they continued crying out:





The fire grew in heat and he could not contain the writhes, the cries. Fire climbed up to his thighs, and his skin rubbed raw against the leather as it singed, and singed.




It lapped up.






"[STOP!!!!]" he cried out, rising in volume above them all, and miraculously, they did.


The people were all still, too still, and he barely registered that as the fire climbed to the tops of his thighs. The soles of his feet were pretty much gone. But why were they all not moving? Their mouths were stopped in mid-jeer and arms frozen above them. The fire burned and from the veil of smoke, a figure came out, rolling along on wheels through the mist. He couldn't see, he couldn`t force himself to stay in one place. And then he was vaguely aware of another figure, this one flying down to him with white hair streaming. An angel, perhaps?

Then rain poured down on him, heavily, suddenly, and the fire was gone. He gritted his teach and groaned when the cold water touched his burnt flesh, but then he merely hung his head, glad for the pain to be gone. The angel was behind him and he breathed heavily, head hanging down, sweat and tears falling to the ground below him. She removed the chains and pried them off of him, and then did the same with the belts and the thing around his wrists.

"[Thank you.]" he coughed out and then fell to the ground, crying out as his burnt knees touched the ground. The fur was nearly all gone, and what was left looked black and charred. The man in the chair looked American.

"Who are you?" he asked in his best English, not bothering to try to fix the accent.

"Me? Well, Kurt—" the German boy looked up sharply. "I'm a mutant, just like you."

"Like me?" he asked, confused. This man was nothing like him. His skin was pale and smooth and he looked normal. Like all these people, like Jardine, Philip, Jimaine...

Oh, Gott, Jimaine.

He'd killed her brother. She'd never want to see his face again.

"You don't know what I am." He said, voice low and pained. And then the man's lips stayed still and Kurt heard inside his head:

/Oh, but I do./

He tried to scamper back but his legs were demolished. His tail wasn`t in the best shape either, and he couldn`t teleport. So he just stayed still.

"How did you do that?" He looked back to the men, and their now-extinguished torches. "Are you doing *that*?" The American's lips quirked up into a small smile.

"Yes, I am. I was born with it, like all mutants, just as you were born like you are now."

"You..." his voice strained. "you know what I am? What I really am?"

"Yes." Said the American. "And if you come with me, I can teach you." Kurt's eyes brimmed with the prospect and with the snaking doubt that followed.

"You don't care that I look like this?" The man shook his bald head. "You won't try to kill me? Or put me in a cage?" The angel stood beside the man now; she was about his age.

"No, Kurt. That won't happen to you anymore." He extended his hand and Kurt looked back to Winzeldorf, looked back at the body of Stefan lying there, the fountain of children's blood, the demon-burning a few feet back.

"What is your name?" he asked and the man answered, calm and honest.

"My name is professor Charles Xavier." Kurt licked his lips.

"OK." He said, and took him by the hand.


And as Kurt Wagner`s tale, so many years ago, began with an end, so must it end with a new beginning.