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X2/Brimstone: "Human" PG-13

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  • teland@teland.com
    Human by Te June 12, 2003 Disclaimers: Not even close to mine. Spoilers: X2, but only vaguely. Summary: Like calling to like. Ratings Note: PG-13. Author s
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 11, 2003
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      Human
      by Te
      June 12, 2003

      Disclaimers: Not even close to mine.

      Spoilers: X2, but only vaguely.

      Summary: Like calling to like.

      Ratings Note: PG-13.

      Author's Note: A crossover I never would've *thought*
      of, but the Spike said Brimstone/X2, and it all just clicked.

      Acknowledgments: To the Spike and Jenn for audiencing
      and inspiration.

      Feedback: Most welcome. teland@...

      *

      It's the scars he notices first, even with everything else. Like
      calling to like, perhaps, because, really....

      There are all sorts of things to notice about Kurt. Starting
      with the blue skin, startling even in the dark, moving to the
      golden, flaring eyes and oddly menacing claws. Oddly, because
      there's nothing very menacing about Kurt at all.

      He met him in a church -- not the one he usually frequents,
      as he's far up the coast in one of those Spanish-named towns
      that smell more of oranges and water than anything else. The
      church is disconcertingly modern, all blond wood and airy
      spaces. The stained glass is nice enough, though it doesn't
      really *fit*.

      And that much pure sunlight tends to make the Catholic
      churches and their accoutrements faded and alien. Still,
      Catholic churches will always feel vaguely *right* to him.
      Incense and anachronistic faith. Ritual and calm.

      And churches... Zeke's found a lot in them, over the years.
      Priests who look at him with that odd mixture of hunger
      and pride when they learn what he is, and what he does.
      Quiet and rest away from the Devil -- and it isn't as though
      the man, the *thing* that he is can't enter them.

      The lack of earthly power meant the lack of earthly
      punishments, even for a creature such as him. It amuses Zeke
      that the Devil has such a *human* source of discomfort. That
      love still stings the unholiest of holies.

      To be honest, the priests often make *him* uncomfortable.
      All that need in them for proof, and the chance to touch the
      infinite, even at its darkest and dirtiest edges. But it's the
      sort of discomfort he likes, and maybe even needs. Years
      walking dead on the earth, and he thinks that if he isn't
      careful, isn't very careful indeed, he could, perhaps, forget.

      Every lost tattoo makes the power surge in him, to the
      point now that sending one of the escapees back to Hell
      makes him fall to his knees, makes him curl up around
      himself and weep and come and shake from the pain of it.

      Every moment in Hell's domain is an increase in power.

      Every sinner who dies by his hand is something for *him*.
      "Power always finds itself," the devil had said, and Zeke
      hadn't been able to move enough to see more than the
      shine on the devil's assumed shoes. He hadn't been able
      to see the devil's expression, though there'd been
      something... different in his voice.

      Something of possession and tenderness, and Zeke has
      his suspicions about the remaining tattoos. One of them,
      perhaps, will be his own. The crescent or the spiral or...
      something.

      Something that will burn and scream its presence when
      there's no one left but him, and beg Zeke to put out his
      own eyes.

      He knows how this will end.

      But for now...

      He watches Kurt from the back of the church, from one of
      the bare few shadows the sunlight is allowing. Watches
      him take communion, watches him bend his head, watches
      him return to his pew.

      Kurt doesn't know he's here, yet.

      Zeke isn't as informed on the 'mutant problem' as he could
      be, but he knows that, somewhere out east, Kurt is some
      sort of soldier in the undeclared war. Knows this *only*
      because Kurt had told him, whispered it to him in
      something like amused embarrassment while he traced
      Zeke's tattoos and offered his scars for perusal.

      There is nothing in the man right now that speaks of
      anything but that certain peaceful faith. Emphasis on the
      certainty, even before he met Zeke. Even after.

      Sometimes, Zeke wonders how Kurt stays alive out there.
      The man has a near-perfect musculature, and Zeke has
      seen the way an incautious motion with the tail can chip
      stone. And, of course, the claws, the teeth, and the
      inhuman speed and flexibility. But Zeke has seen all of it
      before, if not necessarily in any form quite like Kurt's.
      Usually, it led to wounds that healed with a quiet
      efficiency.

      He can't see any of that harm in Kurt.

      And certainly, soldiers have no place in church, at least,
      not any of the ones he's known and killed (again), and
      anyone would shake off as much as the dirt and violence
      of the world as they possibly could before coming into
      church, but...

      But.

      Kurt could be a seminary student, a boy raised by Quakers,
      a... something pure, and untouched. Unscarred by
      anything but his own hands, and... beautiful. Zeke thinks
      there's a church within the man, sanctuary and peace,
      even from a distance. From the shadows.

      He knows Kurt would deny it with a smile, look up at him
      through sooty lashes and tell him something about pride,
      or perhaps love. The kind that only God can give. The
      kind Zeke will leave behind when he heads back to L.A.,
      or wherever else the devil will send him.

      But that's, again, for sometime later.

      Right now, he watches for awareness. The stiffening of
      the back of that blue neck, a turn of the head, something
      that will let Zeke know that *Kurt* knows he's here.

      What he gets, instead, is a moment's vision of dark blue
      smoke and warmth at his side. Of course. Teleportation.
      Zeke smiles to himself and leans a little closer.

      "You should have come up with me," Kurt says in a voice
      of gentle chiding. "Father McGann wants to meet you."

      "I'm sure he does."

      A cluck of the tongue, incongruously old and womanish.
      "So cynical you are. I have only told him that I have
      made a friend here, yes?"

      Zeke closes his eyes for a moment, two. "I'm sorry. I've
      known... a lot of priests."

      He can feel Kurt's gaze on him, and looks up to find him
      serious, eyes wide and quietly lambent. "I live in a world
      of secrets, yes? Just because I have had... little use for
      them, myself, does not mean I do not understand."

      Zeke has to smile again. Seriousness on that scarred,
      dark face makes it seem young, younger even than
      laughter or smiles. "I think you understand a lot."

      A shrug. "Enough to know I understand very little, in
      the grand scheme of things, Ezekiel."

      "You know, you *can* call me Zeke." Right now, there's
      only one... person other than Kurt who calls him by his
      full name.

      "'God will strengthen.' I think your name is very
      appropriate, and beautiful besides. 'Zeke' is... very
      American."

      Zeke thinks of power, of the stink of Hell and the wonder
      that the rest of the world can't smell it, feel it pouring
      off his skin like wet heat and death. He shakes it off
      internally. "Was that an uncharitable thought, Kurt?"

      A laugh, no, a *giggle*, and Zeke feels something tear
      itself apart inside himself. "I have been known to have
      such things."

      It's a strangely pleasurable feeling, like breaking a
      rusted-out lock, or stripping off stained and stinking
      clothing. "You don't say..."

      There's a pause, just long enough for Zeke to settle
      back against the pew and watch the sunlight eat away
      at the last of his patch of shadow. He thinks Kurt
      must be... praying, or perhaps thinking of all seven of
      the other uncharitable thoughts he has had over the
      course of his lifetime, but... "You are thinking about
      more than you are saying, yes?"

      Zeke shifts, tries a shrug. "It happens. Churches give
      the mind room to play."

      "Perhaps too much?"

      Zeke turns to find another serious look, this one open
      and ready for... him? It's nothing he can entirely deal
      with, not right now. "Tell me a story," he says, and
      has a moment to wonder exactly when his brain had
      been taken over by a dull and needy child.

      Kurt just stares at him for a long moment before smiling.
      A sly one, with a few more secrets behind it than Kurt
      maybe even knows about. "Shall I tell you of the circus,
      Ezekiel? Do you want me to whisper about tumbling acts
      and clowns and all of my wonderful costumes while
      they pass the collection plate? Did your mother not tell
      you to behave yourself in church?"

      "My mother didn't have anyone to tell her stories."

      "Ah, that is very sad, I think."

      Zeke smiles and shrugs with a little more meaning and
      strength this time. "She had her own."

      Kurt nods as if he's said something important. "So. I will
      tell you of a boy."

      Zeke lets his head fall back against the pew, stares up at
      the rafters and plain, stucco ceiling. "I'm listening."

      "He was a very strange boy, this one. Always laughing
      and making fun like other boys, yes, but when he jumped
      he was like something on a spring, and when he laughed,
      everyone could see his long, sharp, white teeth. And it
      made the people afraid."

      "Not a happy story, then."

      "I thought you were listening, Ezekiel -- *I* am the
      storyteller here, yes?"

      Zeke grins despite himself, waves to tell Kurt to keep going.

      "Where was I? Ah, yes, the frightened people. The boy
      was very young, but he had lived with these people all of
      his life. They had raised him, and included him in their
      songs, and took him with them all over the country, and
      into others. They were a people of colorful clothes and
      colorful lives, and when people -- *other* people -- told
      stories, there was often a place in them for the boy's
      own people."

      "The Gypsies."

      "That is what you call them, yes, but not what they called
      themselves. But... yes. They had very much history, and
      very much pain in that history, but they were not a sad
      people. Life was for living, they said, and living was to be
      made of as much laughter and fun as could be had. The
      only things to fear were large things, *dark* things full
      of evil -- and the world, for all its sins, had little true evil."

      Zeke thinks he could point out that he has evil written all
      over his flesh, *into* his flesh, but it doesn't seem like the
      time. He folds his hands over his chest and closes his eyes,
      and tries to make a picture of Germany as Kurt had known
      it, green and wide and no wilder than his own life.

      "So, they were not a people who feared easily, and when
      the boy saw how they reacted to him and his games... it
      was *ugly* on their pretty faces. He didn't want to make
      them afraid, because it was wrong, but he didn't know
      how to stop it. The boy knew he was strange, and perhaps
      fearsome, but there was nothing he could do about it.
      The color would not come off his skin, and his tail could
      not be hidden without pain."

      "What did the boy do?"

      "Well, there was much thought, and much pain, but finally
      the boy realized that he had to run away."

      Zeke shifts a little. "To the circus."

      "Eventually, yes. First there were many towns, and many
      big cities full of people with their faces full of fear and
      their hearts... the boy did not know their hearts, but they
      seemed very strange to him, and very frightening. But yes,
      eventually he found his way to a great circus, and even
      though the people there found the boy as strange-looking
      as everyone else, they laughed when he jumped and
      tumbled, and made him colorful clothes with holes cut
      out for his tail, and announced him with pride to the
      audiences. The Amazing Nightcrawler, yes?"

      "Why 'Nightcrawler?'"

      "I thought... the boy thought it had something to do with
      his color, or perhaps just sounded more theatrical than
      anything else. The boy *could* crawl, but he didn't do it
      very much."

      Zeke steals a glance, and finds Kurt staring off into the
      distance, strange, thick fingers curled around the pew
      ahead of them, dark and powerful-looking in the sunlight.
      Kurt looks down, and squeezes at the wood a little.

      "The boy was not happy. He grew older, and stronger,
      and he was well-fed and made much money, but the
      world... the world seemed full of faces that could only
      see him two ways: with fear or with wonder for what the
      boy *did*, as opposed to who he was."

      Zeke puts his hand on Kurt's knee, feeling faintly the
      raised scars just beneath the thin fabric. A little higher and
      there's the flex of muscle, and one of Kurt's hands over his
      own, warm and sure.

      "It could have been very bad for the boy, yes? To have
      such anger, and such hate -- it was hate, I think -- for the
      world that didn't understand him, and did not care to do
      so."

      "I imagine so."

      A quick smile. "But... he *was* the Amazing Nightcrawler,
      and even if he didn't crawl very much or very well, the
      night was a place where the boy could blend in, or blend
      in just enough. He would wander the cities after dark, and
      see the places where the people would be in the day.
      When he was in the country, he would walk through fields
      and sit with the animals. The animals did not seem so
      frightened by his appearance, though the boy *was*
      chased by the occasional dog."

      An image of Kurt up a tree, harried by some shaggy farm
      mutt... it's a little too funny for the moment, but
      compelling just the same. Zeke runs his free hand over
      his face and gets a smile from Kurt for his trouble.

      "You can laugh, Ezekiel. When you have been menaced
      by poodles, life is much funnier, I think. But... the boy."

      Zeke nods.

      "One day, the boy saw a church. It was large, and stone,
      and looked very old. Very rich. The boy, of course,
      decided to break in."

      Zeke snorts and blinks. "You broke into a *church*?"

      "The boy I was... many bad habits, yes? I was a teenager
      just like you, Ezekiel... Yes, just like you, I think. Anyway,
      there I was with my picks and tools, working at the door,
      when it was opened by a priest."

      "Whoops."

      "Yes, very much 'whoops.' Father Stuttgarten was
      approximately seven feet tall and built like a very solid
      piece of furniture. I think he could have picked me up in
      one hand and tossed me for distance."

      Zeke grins. "And did he?"

      Kurt smiles back. "Ah, the story, it would have had a
      very different ending if he did, I think. No, he ushered
      me inside and made me tea and demanded to know where
      my parents were, and what school I went to, and when
      I had last been to confession. I think policemen give
      gentler interrogations than Father Stuttgarten."

      He has to laugh. "What happened?"

      "Well, the Father... he was less than impressed with the
      fact that I was a famous circus performer, and kept
      asking me about my parents. I think... I think he was
      maybe the first person who had looked at me since I
      had grown those last few inches and saw a child
      instead... instead of a mutant, yes?"

      Zeke nods.

      "So. When I had finally convinced him that I had no
      parents to speak of, and that the circus was my home,
      he agreed not to call the police on me -- on one
      condition. I had to come see him three times a week
      while the circus was in town. After that, he would call
      ahead to every parish we went to and make sure I
      reported to the local priest *there*."

      Zeke blinks. "I didn't know they could do that."

      Another smile. "I do not think they *can*, Ezekiel, but,
      well, the boy I was... he did not know that. So. I
      received an extensive education in the church. I learned
      catechism, and Latin, and whatever topics the priests
      were expert in. I still remember quite a lot of physics,
      and can identify most species of European birds."

      "That's... useful?"

      "Not in the *slightest*. And oh, I was very resentful,
      but... it was something. Every church I went to, every
      priest had been instructed that I was a willful boy who
      needed schooling. That I was very strange-looking, yes,
      but also... bright. That I had the potential to be
      something other than a mutant criminal who knew how
      to juggle. The priests... they treated me differently than,
      perhaps, they treated other boys, but..."

      "They looked at you."

      "Ja. Yes. They looked at me, and they did not care that I
      could do tricks, and while they were not all so...
      sanguine about the way I looked, they... I could be a
      child with them, and I could learn things, and imagine I
      was just like the other children. Going to school and
      doing homework and saying insulting things about the
      teachers. Like television."

      A pause, and Zeke knows what he wants to say, but also
      knows that he doesn't want to say it badly. This is... he
      doesn't think many people have heard Kurt tell this
      story. It's too unpracticed and rambling, even if the
      point of it seems obvious. "I guess anyone would become
      religious after that," is what he finally manages.

      "Do you think so?" Kurt looks honestly curious. "I
      suppose it makes sense. But... I did not find God until I
      was much older than that, and had left the priests
      behind. It is true, though. They gave me... a language for
      it. Words to share the feeling inside me, rituals to carry
      that feeling forward..."

      Zeke frowns. "So... you don't... I mean, Catholicism is
      just the framework for you?"

      "The framework. Mmm, I like that a lot." Kurt's turn to
      rest his head and stare at the ceiling. "Perhaps most
      religion is just... construction, yes? The churches just
      physical manifestations of what can have no feeling,
      no... solidity, perhaps?"

      "That seems a little blasphemous."

      Wide, sharp smile. "I do a little of that, too, my friend."
      A shift, and Kurt's tail waves above his head, stretching
      and flexing. "No. As Jesus said to the Samaritan woman,
      'the hour is coming, and now is, when true worshipers
      will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the
      Father seeks to worship him.' Many people interpret
      that as Jesus saying that the only true place of worship
      is within the soul, and that the only true churches are
      ones of the mind, and the spirit."

      "And yet you're very much a part of the Catholic church."

      "Ah, but... it is something of a flaw. I need this, this
      ritual, this *togetherness*. I have been much alone,
      Ezekiel, and there is... comfort here. You understand this,
      yes?"

      Zeke feels himself frowning more, and shifts a little
      uncomfortably. It's too much like what he'd been thinking
      before, and also not quite enough. "I suppose..."

      "My God, man. You have... you have something even
      the most pious of priests would sin most terribly for --
      absolute proof of worlds beyond this one, of the nature
      of evil and the love of *God*."

      Zeke closes his eyes again. "I don't know much about...
      that kind of love, Kurt."

      Not even a pause. "Don't you? Here you are, walking
      the earth when you have sinned most terribly, able to
      feel, smell, *taste* the world in all of its glory, given
      the power and the *duty* to rid the world of evil... ah,
      but that's *nothing*. Nothing to what you know, what
      your body remembers, what your soul *knows*.
      Ezekiel --"

      "Kurt." Zeke moves his hand, and has it caught again
      immediately.

      "I... I am sorry. I think, perhaps, you would tell me
      that ignorance is bliss, yes?"

      A breath, heavy in his chest. "Something like that."

      And Kurt is nodding, moving closer until the only thing
      between them is their clothes. "I think... I think perhaps
      you can understand that that is something... that is
      something I would need to see for myself, yes?"

      And Zeke thinks about that, about the hungry-eyed priests
      and Kurt's calm and confidence. "You never... you don't
      look at me the way they do. The people who know who I
      am."

      There it is, right there -- Kurt dips his head and smiles and
      looks up at him and says... "They do *not* know who
      you are, Ezekiel. They know what you do, and where
      you've been, but... they do not know you."

      And that's... "And you do?"

      A shrug, and Kurt squeezes his fingers. "Perhaps a little.
      Maybe more, someday." Kurt turns to look at the priest.
      "The service is ending. You will come back to my hotel
      room? Or do you have to leave?"

      Again, that loosening within him. "I have at least a few
      hours." Would the devil find him with Kurt? Show himself?
      What would he do with someone who carried every church,
      every bit of holy ground within him?

      "Good."

      And then he was being gently shoo'ed and led out the door,
      into the sun and the scent of the ocean a few miles to the
      west, orange groves to the east. Cries of sea gulls over the
      traffic sounds. A beautiful day, and Zeke paused to breathe
      it in. Fill his undead lungs and try to feel the warmth of the
      day as something more than an abstraction -- the
      discomfort or comfort of the living.

      When he opens his eyes again, Kurt is watching him and
      smiling, still with that same loose-limbed ease that makes
      Zeke want to keep him away from his life with these
      'X-Men,' and all kinds of danger. "I think we will order
      room service. Something rich and unhealthy and terribly
      expensive."

      Zeke shakes his head and smiles. "I'm not hungry."

      "But you will enjoy it just the same, yes? I want to see
      that."

      "You make it sound like I don't enjoy myself, anyway."

      An elaborate gesture of impatience, a strangely noticeable
      incredulousness in the snap of Kurt's tail. "This from a
      man who says he knows nothing of love. No, while I
      have you, I will spoil you, and there is nothing you can
      do about that."

      Zeke puts his hands in his pockets. "I suppose I'll just
      have to put up with it."

      A firm nod as they stand at the bus stop. "Yes, or I will
      be forced to tell you more than any man should know
      about the life cycle of sparrows."

      "Heaven forfend."

      "Indeed."

      And they wait in silence, Zeke watching the clouds move
      across the sky like something in a movie, Kurt staring at
      the cars passing by with something like childish delight.
      Zeke wonders if European cars are still as staid and
      boring and boxy as they looked on the British television
      shows.

      "You know... I did not tell you the story to make you...
      to proselytize."

      Zeke blinks. "I didn't think you had."

      A small shrug. "Many people... they are uncomfortable
      with talk of religion, yes?"

      "All the more reason to make friends in churches." Zeke
      watches Kurt out of the corner of his eyes, watches his
      expression lighten again, and doesn't resist when Kurt
      wraps his tail around one of his wrists and pulls his hand
      from his pocket.

      Catches it in his hand and kisses the palm once, again.
      Three times, and then he simply holds it, as if it was
      nothing for a demon and a mutant, both male, to hold
      hands in the California sunshine outside of a Catholic
      church. "I think you have lived very hard, Ezekiel. But...
      you have not let it harm you as much as you might think.
      That is a very fine thing."

      And Zeke can't think of anything to say to that, but... it
      isn't a bad feeling. To be recognized as something similar
      to, familiar to the man beside him. Something fine and
      desirable as a beautiful day, something as wonderful as
      humanity.

      He squeezes Kurt's hand, and doesn't think about anything
      beyond the afternoon ahead of them, and whatever
      innocent hedonism Kurt will provide.

      End.
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