El Diablo del Oesto
An X-Men Evolution Fanfic by Quill N. Inque
I do not own X-Men.
"But the West of the old times, with its strong characters, its stern battles and its tremendous stretches of loneliness, can never be blotted from my mind."-Buffalo Bill
Chapter 1: Left for Dead
Wyoming, 1853, three hours ago…
The teeth-jarring rattle of the stagecoach's wheels made Catherine Pryde's jaw ache as she gently pulled aside the curtains that, despite their intended purpose, did little to block out the heat of the midday sun. Its warm, glowing rays made the skin on her face tingle pleasantly, and her eyes widened in admiration at the scene that lay before her.
This was America's last, unspoiled wilderness, one of the few places that remained untamed and wild on a map whose edges were steadily being filled in. The snow-capped mountains jutted skyward, monoliths of granite topped with tiaras of swirling clouds, and their primeval yet regal presence dominated the land for miles around. Uncounted multitudes of trees of every shape and size covered the hills and valleys with their vast, arboreal hordes whilst the air was laden with the fresh scent of pine and oak. The harsh, solitary call of a lonely crow made the skin on Catherine's neck stand upright with its eerie dirge as she pushed a strand of dark hair out of her eyes.
This almost alien land, with its glory untouched by man's machinations, was utterly foreign to her. Catherine was a city gal, born and bred in the thriving metropolis of New York, and raised in a house with all the modern conveniences of the day. This primitive environment was certainly far out of her comfort zone, to say the least.
Despite the fact that she dearly wished to be back in the crowded streets and bustling lanes of the city she called home, Catherine knew that this was not an option. The carriage in which she rode was ferrying her to the up-and-coming boomtown of San Francisco, which had exploded following the discovery of gold four years prior. Immigrants from Asia had flooded to the Northwest coast in hopes of employment in the mines, and it was in one such facility that Catherine's parents had invested their savings. As far as she knew, the Pryde quarries were doing quite well under Mother and Father's stewardship, for the venture had already paid back more than twice the family's investment. And unlike many of the greedy money-grubbers who so ruthlessly exploited their immigrant employees, the Prydes had established a reputation for fairness with all who worked under them.
The only drawback was that Catherine's parents rarely, if ever, returned home to see her.
Since she was small, Catherine had been raised by a succession of strict or uncaring nannies and maidservants, each of whom cared more for their wages rather than Catherine's childhood. But now, at the age of eighteen, Mr. and Mrs. Pryde had sent word that she was to join them in San Francisco and leave New York behind. Catherine had jumped with joy at the thought of seeing her parents for the first time in years, and the stage had set out for California that same day.
Now, what seemed like an eternity later, Catherine didn't seem to be making any progress whatsoever. This vast, wild country seemed to stretch on forever, and San Francisco had never seemed so far away. The rough, unpaved road that was little more than a glorified goat trail made the wagon bounce and jounce so badly that Catherine's back began to ache abominably. And though she had been happy and eager to set out on her journey, Catherine now mourned the absence of the creature comforts that she had long been accustomed to.
The driver cracked the reins with a satisfying snap, and the stagecoach continued on its way.
But neither driver nor passenger could have expected what happened next.
The sound of gunfire echoed deafeningly off of the surrounding mountainside, and the hapless man who had held the reins only moments before slumped over sideways as a bullet penetrated his heart amidst the force of the crash jolted her forward, and from somewhere in the cliffs above a second round shattered one of the wagon's wheels into splinters. The force of the crash jolted her forward, and Catherine's entire world tumbled as the entire structure toppled sideways. The impact was so harsh and that her vision went momentarily gray, and Catherine's blood pounded in her ears as the horses whinnied in panic. But even in such a disoriented stated, the young woman felt her blood run cold at the sound of the bandits' wild yells.
Catherine felt her heart thunder in her chest as the outlaws surrounded her, and she tried to make herself small as the brigands plundered the carriage of everything they thought worth taking. Catherine's clothes, her personal effects, and even the horses' saddles were pillaged in a crazed fervor of bloodlust-
Someone stamped on the upturned door, hard, and Catherine shrieked at the scarred and bewhiskered face that leered back at her through the cracked window. The robber wrenched the carriage open, standing upright on the ruined vehicle's side and laughing callously as he dragged Catherine from her hiding place.
"Lookit 'ere, Slim," he cackled. "I think we go ourselves some privileged comp'ny!"
The one called Slim, a lean, sallow-skinned sort with a ropy scar on his face, mockingly touched the brim of his greasy brown leather hat. "Do excuse th'interruption, miss," he said, his eyes glinting with malice. "We 'ate to call on ya so sudden-like, but we jest couldn't find the time to send a letter."
The assorted rabble snickered, and Slim's expression became less jovial. With almost unnatural speed, Slim drew the black-handled revolver that hung at his side and aimed it at Catherine's abdomen. "A shame it is, t'waste somthin' so fine, but we caan't 'ave ye goin' around and shootin' yer mouth off about this here incident, can we?"
There was a blinding flash, and the stench of spent powder stung Catherine's nose as she clasped her belly and moaned before toppling over. The pain was indescribable as the remorseless piece of lead hit home, and the young woman's dress became stained with dirt and mud as she collapsed into the dark, wet loam.
The bandits, apparently, thought that the single bullet Slim had fired had been more than sufficient to snatch away Catherine's life, but they were wrong. The wounded girl, through some miraculous circumstance, retained enough of her coherent thought processes to try and blot out the agony of her wound and pretend to be slain. The ground became sticky with the crimson ooze that seeped from the hole in Catherine's abdomen, and she tried to make her breathing as shallow as possible until the bloodthirsty brigands took their leave.
And leave they did, but so great was Catherine's panic that she continued her façade long after the thunder of hoofbeats had receded into the far-off horizon. She began to slip in and out of a daze, dizzy from blood loss, and the sun's relentless heat made Catherine's throat parched and dry. That golden orb, which had seemed so beautiful earlier today, was now a remorseless, sadistic tormentor whose unbearable heat only added to Catherine's enormous suffering.
The young woman couldn't help but sob. I'm going to die, Catherine thought fearfully. I don't believe it.
A noise, just out of her peripheral vision, made Catherine almost burst into tears. The sound of horse's hooves on the dry ground was unmistakable, and she immediately concluded that her assailants had returned to finish her off.
If she'd had the breath to do so, Catherine would have gasped in fear at the pitch-black, yellow-eyed stallion that stopped just short of her broken body. The steed snorted, rolling its head as it gazed down at her, and its rider's black boots sent up a small cloud of dust as he dismounted, his spurs glinting in the noonday sun. Primal terror unlike any she'd ever known washed over Catherine in a nauseating wave as the man towered over her, and the black, ragged hat he sported gave the girl momentary respite from the unbearable heat.
Oh, my God.
He seemed to exude menace. Most of his face was concealed beneath a scarlet hankerchief, and its blood-red shade mirrored the gore that had long since puddle around the wounded lady that stared back at him. Upon his shoulders he wore a black duster that had seen better days, and the ragged and torn edges of its hem made it seem as though he had a pair of batlike wings sprouting from his shoulders. He wore a white shirt that, like the rest of his garb, was the worse for wear, and a pair of curiously malformed gloves concealed his hands. The black pants he wore were held up by a meticulously polished, shining silver buckle, and his feet were shod in a matching pair of embroidered, midnight-black riding boots. He was armed, too: a menacing pair of Colt revolvers hung at his waist, and their leather straps, lined with bullets, made a fashionable x-shape as they crossed over his hips. A Bowie knife with a handle carved of deer horn hung in a sheath tied about his neck, and a Winchester rifle was slung across his back.
The only part of him that Catherine could see were his eyes, their narrow pupils dark and brooding in a sea of yellow fire, and she quailed with heart-wrenching fear as those unnerving eyes turned their gaze upon her.
If she'd had the strength, Catherine would have tried to run, but as it was she could only utter a harsh croak as this mysterious stranger stared at her.
He said nothing, so Catherine could only make wild guesses as to what this ruffian was planning to do to her. The great black coat that he sported trailed across the earth as he sank to his knees, and Catherine squeaked hoarsely in protest as the newcomer picked her up in his arms. She was certainly not used to being handled like this, but then the pain of her now-festering wound made tears squeeze out of the corners of her eyes. The man carried her as if she weighed nothing, and an animal-like smell assailed Catherine's nostrils as he dumped her unceremoniously on the flank of his horse. That done, the stranger rummaged in his saddlebag and waved a small, glass vial of pungent-smelling herbs under her nose. The sharp fumes made Catherine's vision swim, and the last thing she remembered hearing was the soft clip-clop of iron-shod hooves as the rider nudged his steed forward…
"Hoot! Hoot! Hoot!"
The eerie screeching of a nearby owl roused Catherine from her stupor, and it took a moment for her brain to banish the grogginess that blurred her eyes and dulled her senses. The first thing that came to mind was that it was now late in the evening, and the soft, orange glow of a crackling fire cast a myriad of dancing shadows upon the surrounding local flora. The air was thick with the ceaseless chirping of crickets, but even though the insects' mating calls screeched like a thousand violins, it was only one section of nature's glorious symphony. The bass croaks of frogs and toads made the damp night air throb with their continuous beat, and the occasional howl of a lonely coyote or solitary wolf made Catherine's skin break out in goosebumps.
She tried to rise, but gasped in pain as her wound sent arcs of pain shooting across her chest. The young woman clutched at the afflicted area-
-Only to find that it was swathed in a layer of bandages that had apparently come from what was left of her dress. Catherine gasped, clutching the blanket close to her-
Blanket? She thought fearfully. What had this man done to her while she lay helpless and sick? Had he…?
As if sensing her enormous discomfort, the mystery man turned from his seat by the fire, and the crackling flames made his amber eyes seem to glow with a light of their own. "I wasn't sure that ya'd wake up at all," he said simply. "You were wounded purty bad, ya know."
"Where am I? Who are you? And where are my clothes?" Catherine demanded. "Are you so low a man that you'd take advantage of a helpless woman?"
"I dunno where the hell I am half the time," the cowboy replied. "So as to where we are, yer guess is as good as mine. M'name ain't of any importance right now, and lastly, I didn't do anythin' like that. I ain't a saint or nothin', but even I draw the line somewhere. If I wanna woman, I'll head into town an' git myself one. "
Catherine gasped in shock at the nonchalant way that her supposed rescuer spoke of such things, but he paid her no mind as he continued speaking. "I knocked ya out back there because I didn't wan' ya t'feel me diggin' that bullet out o' yer side. Hurts like the devil, it does, an' I'm speakin' from experience. Yer welcome, by the way," he grumbled. "I coulda jest left ya there, with only th'buzzards fer comp'ny."
"Why…why do all of this for me?" Catherine asked. "I don't even know you."
"Don't matter," the man said gruffly. "And don't move about so much. That could reopen yer wound, an' I don't fancy havin' t'dig a grave this late at night. If ye needs some clothes, by the by, then there's a spare shirt and trousers in Shadow's saddlebag."
The black stallion rolled his head at the mention of his name, and Catherine reached hesitantly for the leather satchel that lay by his hoof. "He is beautiful," she admitted. "How did you break him?"
"I didn't," the cowboy said curtly, averting his head as Catherine changed into the outfit he'd offered her.
Her stomach rumbled cavernously, and Catherine blushed as she gingerly tugged the collar of the loaned shirt over her head. "Is there anything to eat?" she asked, embarrassed.
The man didn't even look at his companion as he stretched his arm out towards her, and clutched in his gloved palm was a piece of dried meat reminiscent of jerky. "Here," he said, again in that same gruff tone of voice. "While yer eatin' that, why don' ye tell me why someone or other put a price on yer head."
"What?" Catherine was clearly confused.
"Whoever attacked yer stage wasn' jest lookin' to steal," the stranger said. "They left most o' the valuable stuff, like that gold locket yer wearin' about yer neck. Th'only things missin' were pieces o' paper, letters and such like. That means that them bandits didn't jest wanna kill ye, they were lookin' fer somethin'. I bet someone hired 'em t'kill you an' retrieve whatever the hell it was that they was searchin' fer. So I say agin, who was it that tried to have ye put six feet under?"
"I...I have no idea," Catherine said, her voice hushed. "I did not possess anything of great monetary value."
"Where was the coach goin'?"
"San Francisco," Catherine replied, her mouth full of the tough, leathery meat. "I was going to join my parents there, but…" she sniffed. "I have no idea how I am going to get there now."
"Ya got money?" the cowboy asked bluntly.
"Why should I tell you?"
"Because fellas like me are always lookin' fer a chance to make some green," he stated.
"You're a mercenary," Catherine spat, realization dawning on her. "A gun-for-hire."
"Among other things," the stranger shrugged, and he made no attempt to refute her claim. "I ain't picky about the jobs I do, an' I don't judge them that pay me."
"I have no money," Catherine replied, her tone flat. "If anyone would meet your price, it would be Mother and Father."
"So yer folks'd pay me, then?"
"I cannot say for certain," Catherine told him. "But yes, I think they would. And for all I know, they might think me dead already."
"Fair enough," the cowboy nodded. "I ain't one t'take payment on faith, but I can't very well leave ye out here like this."
"I bet you would, if someone paid you enough," Catherine said acidly.
"I ain't gonna try changin' yer opinion," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "Don' much care, either, t'tell ya the truth."
"Will you not, at the very least, tell me your name?" Catherine asked, her tone somewhat more level. "If we are to be traveling, it will be awkward if I do not to know what to call you."
He was silent for a moment. "Kurt," he said simply. "Kurt Wagner."
"Catherine Pryde," she responded, introducing herself in turn.
"Charmed," he grunted.
"Why do you hide your face like that?" Catherine asked curiously, trying to change the conversation.
"None o' yer damn business."
What a jerk, she thought, offended. He's about as friendly as the bandits!
"Go to sleep, Catherine," Kurt told her. "You'll need it. We can't stay here fer very much longer, in case those men are still wand'rin' 'round here. We'll ride out at dawn," he concluded, curling up into a ball upon the bare soil and pulling his duster around himself.
Catherine gingerly stood. "Is there a latrine or something near us?"
"Nope," Kurt's eyes danced with unholy amusement. "But there's a clump o' bushes o'er that way."
She stared. "You can't be serious."
"Yer problem, not mine," he said gruffly, turning on his side.
Catherine felt her face crinkle in disgust. God, I miss New York City…
A/N: Hey, everyone! To new friends, welcome! And to old friends, welcome back! ^^ For those of you not familiar with my series thus far, I shall take a moment to fill you in so as to avoid confusion. First off, the Kurt Wagner depicted in this story is very different than how he appears on the show, as you've seen. The differences in his personality will be quite common throughout this series. Secondly, Kurt lacks his powers of teleportation but retains his demonic appearance. This, too, will be a constant throughout the stories in this saga. But what will happen to Catherine as she struggles to get along with her new companion? Who had a motive for trying to kill her? And what dark secrets are concealed behind Kurt's hidden face? Find out in coming chapters! And PLEASE REVIEW! If you have any ideas or suggestions on how I can make this story better, LET ME KNOW! ^^
Your humble servant,
-Quill N. Inque