El Diablo del Oeste

An X-Men Evolution Fanfic by Quill N. Inque

I do not own X-Men.

Chapter 13: Home at Last

The burgeoning metropolis of San Francisco had never seemed more welcoming than it did to a thoroughly bedraggled and tired Kurt Wagner as he nudged his exhausted horse through the unpaved city street. The animal's head hung low, as if weighted down by invisible chains, and the slow clip-clop of its hooves mirrored its master's weariness.

The journey had taken its toll, to be sure.

Kurt Wagner stank. After the final clash with Deadpool, he'd pushed himself and his horse hard. The need to complete the last leg of his exodus to San Fran had been so great that Kurt had never stopped in any one location for more than sixty minutes. Catherine's arrival at her family's home was of utmost importance now that she was no longer in danger from Deadpool and his cohorts, and so Kurt had almost broken himself in his last, final push. Unfortunately, now that the wilderness and all the dangers contained within were behind him, Kurt was now paying the price for his hurry.

His clothes were scorched, tattered and torn, his black duster reduced to nothing more than a rag, and his trousers bore a variety of slashes and cuts from the enormous wear and tear they'd born in the Prydes' service. A noticeable chunk of the brim of Kurt's hat was conspicuously missing, and the red bandanna that had resumed its position over his face threatened to fall apart at any moment.

Kurt's body had fared even worse than his accoutrements.

He was tired, and Kurt's arms and legs hung heavy with a leaden exhaustion that seemed to seep into Kurt's very bones. His legs and arms bore a variety of half-healed bruises and lacerations, and the scorched, charred skin on Kurt's forearms was still wrapped in filthy bandages. Kurt now bore a new scar above his left eye and another one just above his chin, and he had no doubt that these were not the only souvenirs of Deadpool's hospitality. In addition, Kurt had practically starved himself during the frenzied exodus into California, surreptitiously giving Catherine most of his food so as to keep her own strength up. This had worked, for she was now as healthy as a newborn foal, but Kurt now hung perilously close to serious malnutrition.

He didn't care. Kurt would have gone smiling to his grave if it had been for Catherine's sake. She was everything to him. Nothing else mattered to him anymore.

What earthly pleasure could buy the happiness he felt when she was by his side? What currency of paper or metal could purchase the love Kurt felt in his chest when he looked into her eyes? Money, which Kurt had spent most of his life trying to acquire, now seemed paltry compared to what he now possessed.

For the first time, Kurt loved.

Be not misled by the massive overuse of that word in today's society. This was love in its most natural and untainted form, the extraordinary and all-consuming fire that for time immemorial has driven one man to take on armies and emerge victorious all the same.

He'd never been so happy before, but Kurt's joy was tempered with unfathomable sorrow.

He knew, deep down, that this was where he'd have to let Catherine go.

Rebellious tears made his vision blur, and Kurt felt anguish pierce his soul with red-hot needles as he imagined Catherine, his Catherine, in the arms of another. It was more than likely that Mr. and Ms. Pryde already had some nice young businessman lined up for her, and Kurt scrubbed furiously at his face as Catherine's angelic tones sounded in his ear.

"We made it," she said.

"Yeah," Kurt said, trying to smile, but his mind was somewhere else. "Where's yer parents' place at?"

"Give me the reins," Catherine snorted, but there was no anger in her tone. "I'm driving."

Kurt handed the strips of leather to her without protest, his eyes sparkling with amusement at how strong Catherine had turned out to be. It was not everyday a person strutted about giving him orders, after all.

Meanwhile…

At the singe-story, solid little wooden building that housed the headquarters of the Prydes' mining company, Catherine's parents went about the day-to-day task of keeping their business running without the usual enthusiastic zeal that had for so long characterized the workday.

Mr. Pryde slouched at his desk, its varnished surface covered with papers, but the pen he held in his hands doodled aimlessly in the corner rather than fulfilling its intended purpose. The man was far too anxious to get any kind of work done right now, for a single, powerful thought made his head buzz like an angry beehive.

Catherine was coming home.

It had been almost a week ago that a strange old man, a Native American by his dress, had ridden into town at the head of a mighty warband, a gnarled staff clutched in his wrinkled fingers. The citizens of San Francisco had panicked and run, convinced that this was a raid or some kind of attack, but the elder had instantly held his hand out in the universal gesture of peace.

An uneasy silence had pervaded the townsfolk, and the old man had ridden calmly through the city street until he came to the doorstep of Catherine's parents.

Mrs. Pryde had shouted with alarm at the Native American chieftain who so suddenly had come to call, but the old man's gentle expression had been sufficient to convince her husband to open the door a fraction.

"I am not here to harm you," the Chief had intoned. "I bring a message for he who bears the name of Pryde. Are you the man I seek?"

Catherine's father spoke somewhat reluctantly, fearing for his life but knowing he had no other choice. "I am," he said in a shaky voice. "What is this message?"

"Your daughter is coming," the old man had told him simply. "The mercenary called Wagner is escorting her. They will be here soon."

"How do you know this?"

"Because it was Wagner who asked me to pass this word on to you," the Chief had replied, his eyes honest. "He says that her safety will soon be assured, and that vengeance shall come on swift wings to the one who caused your daughter to suffer so."

"He didn't say who this man was, did he?" Mr. Pryde snorted.

"Nope," the Chief had grinned. "He is an introverted fellow, I believe, but a good man nonetheless. May the spirits and the seasons smile upon your daughter's future," he'd added, clambering back up onto his horse. "For she has found joy in the love for another."

With that statement, the Native Americans had departed as suddenly as they'd arrived, and the days and nights until Catherine's expected arrival had seemed to drag on forever as Mr. Pryde and his wife slowly came to terms with what the Chief had said.

Mrs. Pryde seemed to sense what he was thinking. "You think she's fallen for the gun-for-hire, this Wagner fellow, don't you?"

"I do," he admitted. "And I can't say I relish the idea of our Catherine marrying off to one of his breed, but still…"

"…He doesn't seem that bad a sort, does he?" his wife finished.

"No, he doesn't," Mr. Pryde agreed. "I'm not fond of bounty hunters and mercenaries, but it would not be fair or right to dismiss Wagner after everything he's done for our daughter's sake. I'll hear him out, and then we'll decide what needs to be done."

"I'm sure he'll appreciate that," Mrs. Pryde said warmly, kissing him on the cheek. "And you're a good man for treating him fairly, love."

"I do try," he agreed, smiling back at her. The patriarch of the Pryde family turned once more to his work-

Knock, knock, knock.

Beneath the sign that displayed the adage, "Pryde Mining Incorporated," Kurt Wagner shuffled nervously as he heard feet pounding within the dwelling's walls. He vainly tried to make himself appear somewhat presentable, but the dirt and grime that had accumulated on Kurt's body made this an exercise in absurd futility. A nervous gulp made his Adam's apple rise and fall, and the blunt fingers on Kurt's hand twitched restlessly.

Catherine placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and squeezed in silent reassurance as her friend slowly removed the last remnants of that hateful mask. "Don't be nervous," she said, taking his hand in hers. "You're just meeting my parents, not the President or anything."

"I may as well be," Kurt muttered. There's no way yer father'll gimme 'is blessing, not when 'e sees what I really look like…

The door opened suddenly, and Catherine flew into her father's arms as tears spilled of happiness spilled down her face. There are no words in English or any other language to describe the joy of the reunion between parent and child that day.

"My sweet, precious daughter," Mr. Pryde said hoarsely, running his hands through her hair and holding her tightly. "My little girl….Welcome home!"

"Catherine? Is that you?"

"Mother!" Catherine shouted before Mrs. Pryde gripped her in a bear hug.

"Don't you ever scare us like that again!" she scolded, though there was no hint of fury in the housewife's words. "What took you so long? Your stage left New York weeks ago!"

Catherine's smile shrank a little. "There were…complications, mother," she said, gesturing to the man who stood awkwardly under the veranda.

Kurt, for his part, felt distinctly out of place in such a joyous family atmosphere. Having never known such feelings in his own home, the sight of Catherine and her parents reuniting made him feel very uncomfortable, almost as if one such as he were not worthy to witness such a simple yet powerful display.

Then he realized that Mr. and Mrs. Pryde were staring at him.

Kurt's tail thrashed around his ankles, and he touched the brim of his ruined hat respectfully as Catherine's father spoke.

"You're Kurt Wagner?" Mr. Pryde asked, surprised.

"Yes, sir," Kurt replied, trying to keep his tone formal. "I am."

"You're certainly…not what I expected."

"I git that a lot, sir."

"It is my understanding that Catherine hired you to escort her for the remainder of her journey," Mr. Pryde continued. "Is that correct?"

"It is, sir."

"Then follow me into my study, and you'll receive your payment."

Kurt cleared his throat. "I don't want yer money, sir."

"Beg pardon?"

"I don' want any money fer doin' this here job," Kurt said. "Keep it."

"It's a hefty sum," Mr. Pryde warned.

"It ain't nothin' compared to what I gained on this here job, if only fer a liddle bit," Kurt's tone turned slightly melancholy, but he kept his eyes front and his face straight. "Keep the fee, sir. Use it fer Catherine's dowry when she gits married to some'un. I think it'll do more good that way."

Mr. Pryde felt his heart soften at Kurt's quiet admission of his affections and his sad yet firm resignation to losing Catherine to another. Clearly, Mr. Pryde realized, Kurt had fully suspected to be given his payment and turned away, never to see Catherine again. This obviously caused the misshapen man a great deal of pain, and yet Kurt was willing to forsake his own happiness in deference to the wishes of Catherine's parents!

Newfound respect for Kurt settled on Mr. Pryde's shoulders. He'd known many so-called "gentleman" who'd bribed and stolen and even killed each other in duels over a woman, and this Wagner fellow showed more honor than all of them combined.

Catherine's father glanced downward as his only child gripped Kurt's hand in silent affirmation.

"Come with me," he said, beckoning to Kurt. "I'd like to have short word with you, Mr. Wagner."

Kurt's expression crashed to the floor and his tail drooped as he followed Mr. Pryde indoors. Catherine's father didn't speak a word as he led his guest into his office, and after taking a seat in his chair, he said, "You really are smitten with her, aren't you? Don't deny it," Mr. Pryde warned. "I can see it in your eyes, you know. It's the same look I had when I met my wife for the first time."

"Yes," Kurt rasped, his throat suddenly dry with fear. "I…I love her," he said finally, shame in his voice.

"She feels the same way, you know," the older man replied.

"I'm aware o' that, sir."

"It would have been painful for her if you had ridden off so suddenly."

"She deserves better'n me," Kurt whispered, his voice mournful

"No, she doesn't," Mr. Pryde said flatly. "Talking to you for only five minutes was enough to convince me of that."

Kurt's eyes grew despondent before the old man's expression grew warmer. "I'm now convinced of the fact that you are indeed worthy of my daughter's hand. Though your appearance is…unique, to say the least, that brief exchange outside was more than enough to persuade me that you have only honorable intentions toward Catherine. And while I may have known you for only a moment, Catherine is astute and smart, and I trust in her judgment, as well as in yours. You risked your life, on multiple occasions, apparently, to keep her safe, and your actions on Catherine's behalf speak for your character."

Mr. Pryde reached into his desk and pulled out a velvet box before gently placing it into Kurt's hands. "But if you're going to propose to her, do it properly," he teased. "The band of that ring is made from the first ounce of gold that came out of this mine, Mr. Wagner. I can think of no better way to give you my permission than this."

"Sir…I…" Kurt's voice broke and cracked as tears poured down his face. "Thank you," he said finally.

"If anything, you're the one who should be thanked," Mr. Pryde told him.

Kurt pocketed the ring and nodded after regaining his composure. "You did get the letter I sent ya, didn't ya?"

"The forgery? Yes, and it worked spectacularly," Mr. Pryde said, his tone triumphant. "And I have suspicion as to who's been behind all this."

"So do I," Kurt replied, heading for the door.

"Where are you going?"

"To propose t'Catherine."

"You'll be joining us for dinner, then?" Mr. Pryde asked jovially.

"Count on it," Kurt said. But before suppertime, I intend to end this. Forever…

Kurt's boots clomped loudly on the wooden floorboards, and his chest was tight as he nerved himself for what he was about to do. The ring in his pocket seemed to weigh as much as anchor, and Kurt felt beads of sweat gather on his face as he approached Catherine, who was still chatting with her mother outside.

"Would you mind givin' us a moment?" Kurt asked respectfully.

"Of course," Mrs. Pryde said, bustling inside. "I need to start on dinner anyway. You look like you could eat a horse!"

Catherine's mother disappeared into the small kitchen, and Kurt cleared his throat awkwardly as he looked his beloved in the eye.

"Catherine?"

"Yes?"

"Can I ask ya somethin'?"

"Anything, Kurt," she said, her gaze love-struck.

The mercenary, so hard and cold before, now swallowed his fear and slowly, unsteadily, got down on one knee as his blunt fingers fished the small box from the pocket of his duster.

"Catherine…" Kurt began. "I...I ne'er dared t'believe that there'd be some'un out there fer me, an' I never was convinced that there was folks out there worth trustin' anymore. But…" Kurt swallowed and continued, "Then I found ya lyin' along th'road that day, an'…an' ya showed me that I was wrong. I ain't ne'er felt really happy until I met you, Catherine, an' I…" Kurt's voice broke. "An' I'll ne'er be able t'really repay ya fer that. I…don' ever wanna go back out there, not if'n it means that yer not wid me."

"Catherine," he finished, his voice quietly sincere, "Will ya marry m-ooomph!"

Any further emotional outpouring on Kurt's behalf was cut off when Catherine seized his arm, pulled him upright and kissed him right on the lips.

After a moment's embrace, Kurt realized that he needed to breath and reluctantly broke away.

Catherine's smile was playful. "What took you so long?"

Epilogue

The setting sun cast its blood-red rays through the windows of Boss Platt's personal office as the unscrupulous businessman woke from his nap with a start. The chair that had housed Platt's sleeping bulk creaked ominously as its owner surveyed the pen that had fallen onto the floor, and it was the clatter of its impact that had roused Platt to begin with.

The villain went to pick up the writing instrument-

-CLICK.

Something cold and hard pressed against the back of Platt's head. He'd paid off too many outlaws not to know what it was.

"Deadpool?" Platt asked, his voice trembling.

The shadowy figure that had stood behind Platt's chair whispered in the fat man's ear in a tone that brought to mind a freezing Arctic wind. "Yer stooge is as dead as 'is name."

"Then who…" Platt's eyes widened. "Wagner," he breathed.

Kurt silently wrapped his finger around the trigger of his revolver. "You tried to hurt Catherine," he said quietly, like a condemning judge. "And the name…is Nightcrawler…"

BANG!

A/N: Geez…looks like Platt got what he deserved, huh? XD But before I go any further, I'd like to send a BIG thank you to all of my reviewers! To AmuletSpade, rockster0810, Anahbell, Blanc Expression, Gabry, Caprichoso, Dragoncat, ObsessedwithNightcrawler, Bells1o, Indigo-Night-Wisp, .mess, EvanescentDream93, and nightpwnsjoo, thank you so much for all your feedback and warm reviews! It was and shall continue to be my utmost pleasure to write for you, and I hope you all enjoyed reading this tale as much as I enjoyed writing it! I sincerely hope to see you all at the debut of my Danny Phantom fic, "Shadows of the Past!"

Your humble servant,

-Quill N. Inque