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. email@example.com
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...
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."
"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?"
"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."
"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."
"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?"
"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."
"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?
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."
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.
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