Disclaimer: The characters are the property of Marvel with the exception of the Bauers and Bianca. This is a work of fiction set in the main universe (616) approximately a month or so from now.
Chapter 2: Frayed Seeming
Now this was enjoyable; Kurt grinned, brandishing his swords.
The man who used the code name "Nightcrawler" launched himself with lightning speed towards his attackers -- three well armoured, well armed assassin units. Teleporting midway through his leap, he reappeared perched on the shoulders of his first target. Kurt ducked and maneuvered himself out of the line of laser fire that erupted from the opposite side of the room, then narrowly avoided the bladed metal arm of his neighbor as it whizzed past his ear. Swinging his foot in a devastating kick to the face of the assassin next to him, he managed to cause it to lose balance, and gave himself the few seconds he needed to finish off his temporary roost and move on to the next.
He vaguely heard the clang of a now headless robot hit the floor as he materialized on the shoulders of the third villain, tossing the sizzling head of his former "friend" to the floor. Disabling this new fellow's weapon with a flashing strike of his sword, he chose to dispose of him with a bit more style. He used a downward strike of steel whilst similtaneously hurling his remaining sword with deadly accuracy towards the now recovering final 'bot, impaling it in a shower of sparks. All of this occurred in under two minutes.
Kurt grinned and rolled his shoulders, going to retrieve his sword from the still smoking robot. Without looking up to the observation window, he gave the hand signal to increase the difficulty level and prepared himself for some real fun after this little warm up.
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Wolverine and Kitty Pryde observed the danger room exercise from an overhead booth with varying degrees of interest. Logan watched with the attention of a leader, whilst Kitty watched with a flat expression, wishing she hadn't had to come here, to Cavern X, to have a private "pow wow" with the school's headmaster. The less she saw of this savage imitation of her dead friend, the better.
Though the new generation of danger rooms did not require the safety precaution of a second person to control the program settings any longer, Logan still found it useful to observe his team members as individuals, as well as in a group, on occasion. It helped him pin down strong points, and points that could mean a weakness of performance for the team. In their line of work, weakness could mean death.
He found it a challenge to try and keep X-Force in any kind of cohesive team structure. Because of the nature of what they did, the team was comprised of members who tended to have baggage, and lots of it. All of them were accustomed to a certain amount of solo work, some more than others. He figured he and Wade were the biggest Mavericks in the outfit, but none of them were innocent of the mindset. It made working together, and trust, an especially big issue...not like the X-Men he'd first joined so many years ago. X-Force wasn't family; they felt more like partners in crime most of the time. Logan shook his head to dismiss that thought. That way of looking at things sure as hell wouldn't do anybody any good. X-Force was necessary, as much as any of the other teams, maybe more. They just had a different way of going about things.
He watched Kurt Darkholme with an analytical eye. Some of the moves -- many in fact -- he knew from the thirteen years he'd fought alongside Kurt Wagner. Same basic execution and speed, same preferences for order of attack on multiple opponents, same drive for perfection. Yet there were some notable differences. Logan's friend had been a performer at his core, and anything he did had more than a smattering of the dramatic added in for effect.
Logan smiled to himself. He'd tried to bust Kurt's chops once about that showmanship thing....told him, "Fancy footwork's fine for a show Elf, not combat," to which his friend had replied, "How I do my job Wolverine, is my business, so long as that job is properly done. If I choose to do it with style, a little panache, a lot of fun, where's the harm?" *
Watching the man in a danger room session sometimes had felt akin to watching a choreographed movie scene.
Kurt had also preferred to stun or temporarily incapacitate his opponents; he never fought to kill. Not like the man Logan watched now.
Darkholme had a lot of the same flare; no doubt about it, he was as much of a show-off in his own way as Logan's old friend. The main difference was the deadly earnest with which his moves were executed. No movement was wasted. No quarter given. Everything he did was utterly controlled and calculated for the deadliest effect. He made a highly effective killer.
He also appeared remorseless, or rather simply without reaction to it. Numb to it maybe, Logan thought. Darkholme -- at least from what Logan had seen -- generally didn't give up much emotion over anything, that is, aside from pissin' an' moanin' an' shootin' off that smart ass mouth....he did all that well enough.
Even when the man had convinced him -- against Logan's better judgment -- to help the citizens of Otherworld, Kurt'd had a self-righteous poker face about the whole thing. For all his pretty speech, he might've been talking about the weather, though Logan had had little doubt at the time that Darkholme would've helped them regardless of what the rest of X-Force was ordered to do. That alone made him believe that this man and his lost friend were cut from the same cloth somewhere deep down.
He heard Darkholme give a gleeful cackle as he decapitated another opponent in the danger room and muttered to himself, "Way deep down."
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Kitty took Logan's continued silence to mean he was in a mood and let him be for the moment. She wasn't the most patient person, but Logan's moods were well known. Talking to him when he was like this was a study in futility. She debated on postponing their discussion, but decided against it; she'd traveled all the way out here to this god forsaken base - he could damn well talk to her. Surely when this session was over, she could grab his attention for a short while.
Logan's moods had been growing worse of late. She suspected it was due to the major increase in responsibilities her friend had taken on. The man really was burning the candle at both ends. Kitty sighed and shifted restlessly, turning her attention back to that cold-blooded echo down below of someone she'd once known and loved as well as a brother. Her gut wrenched, as it did every time she looked at Kurt Darkholme.
If she squinted her eyes, she could almost believe it was the "real" Kurt she was seeing, back from the dead; but then that just made it worse. Instead, she decided to try and pick out as many differences as possible -- something, anything, to keep him from seeming so much like a twisted caricature.
He was thinner, that was distinctive. Her Kurt had had the healthy, robust, musculature of someone who'd grown up on a trapeze; this man was sinewy and whip thin. Whether it had been caused by deprivation or hardship, Kitty didn't know, and truthfully didn't much care.
Darkholme's blue-furred skin stretched taunt over the bones of his face as well; it made the hollows of his cheeks, along with his nose and chin, even more prominent than they'd been on her friend. To her eye, the harsh, angular contours of that face made him look even more demonic than he might otherwise. Of course she was a bit biased against him she supposed. Kitty shook her head. She'd not seen Kurt Wagner as "demonic" in so many years now. However, she could still remember how afraid she'd been of him because of his appearance when she'd first joined the X-Men...and how hard he'd worked to alleviate her fears. She sighed and an image came to her mind of Kurt's smile. Those glowing yellow eyes that she'd found so frightful at first now looked like twin candle flames in her memory, twinkling with amusement, warm with affection. Kitty swallowed the lump forming in her throat and tried to turn her thoughts to other things -- like why she'd come here to start with.
"Logan, I know you're busy, but really....about the thing with Rogue...", she started, stepping closer to him. He looked over to her at the same time the computer signaled the conclusion of the current danger room session. Kitty ground her molars in frustration as smoke and the acrid stink of brimstone signaled Darkholme's arrival into the observation room.
His slightly arched brows were the only indication that he was surprised to find a non-member of X-Force in the base watching him train. Kurt cast his baleful yellow gaze on her and inclined his head in a greeting, "Katherine, I believe it vas..?"
Her name came out sounding like "Kazerine". Kitty nodded a greeting, and mentally noted that another difference was the accent; this man's was more pronounced. Having no wish to talk to him, she remained silent and willed him to go away.
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Ach, it was the Fräulein with the hard eyes. Kurt hated the way she was looking at him; as if he were something she'd found stuck to the bottom of her shoe. Of course, he silently admitted, he might deserve a certain amount of coldness from her, given their initial meeting.
That first day he'd arrived, she rushed to embrace him, believing he was a dead man returned. Kurt disliked spontaneous displays of affection from people he knew, let alone from strangers (unless of course they were buxom and long-legged and....nevermind).
He'd reacted to her emotional greeting by shoving her roughly away and pointing out -- well shouting out, if he was honest -- that he was not her friend.
Turning away from her, he looked with dry amusement at Logan, "So, after this little game, is there something you believe I need to vork on, Herr Leiter? Perhaps mein Purzelbaum?"
The shorter man looked at him with a hard eye. "Don't know what the hell a 'poozelbawm' is, but if it means attitude, then yeah, ya need ta work on it. This ain't meant ta be playtime Kurt. Ya know what we go up against. Ya know what's happened lately with the team." Logan leaned his arms on the console.
Kurt tilted his head, replying, "I assure you I am avare of vhat ve do, mein Freund. Ve kill people." He smiled thinly. "You have my apologies for enjoying myself vith this computerized sport. I vill try and avoid it in the future, ja?" Glancing between the two of them, he added, "If that is all...?." He indicated Kitty, still obviously waiting on the other man's attention. Sighing, Logan waved him away. "Yeah, yeah."
"Then guten Abend to you both", Kurt said with a small, sarcastic bow. With that he left, disappearing with a "bamf".
Kitty looked at Logan and folded her arms, "You know what kind of a creepy asshole that guy is right?"
"Yer preachin' ta tha choir darlin'." He made a noise and shook his head. "Darkholme's alright where it counts -- he gets tha job done. Anyhow, what was it on yer mind again?"
After changing out of the hideous uniform he'd been given -- these people really had no taste in clothing whatsoever -- Kurt teleported into the kitchen to see if he could find something appetizing to turn into a meal, preferably a quiet one.
"Yo, angry Elf, just the guy I needed to talk to!" Wade declared from behind an impressive pile of processed snack food. He dropped his treasures onto the kitchen table, most of them remaining there (verses the floor), and flopped down in a chair.
"I have told you not to call me that. I find that particular appellation offensive....Idiot," Kurt returned.
"Nah, you said don't call you Elf; I didn't, I called you Angry Elf. See the difference? It's all in the emphasis. How can the name "Elf" make you feel all girly-like if it has "angry" in the front? Personally, I think you look more like a goblin though." He crunched thoughtfully on something covered in orange powder.
Kurt enunciated his words carefully and spoke slowly, "Elf is not my name."
"Oooh, Arnold Schwarzenegger in slow-mo.....hey can you do that 'I'll be back' line? He smiled hopefully, then waved his hand. "Nevermind, it just wouldn't be right coming from a blue fuzzball." Wade ripped into another pack of cheese doodles.
Clenching his jaw in irritation, Kurt contemplated teleporting the moron's head off again, but knew from grim experience that it wouldn't work to shut him up. Instead, he turned his attention back to the freezer and continued to look for supper. Lasagna? No, he hated Italian. Stroganoff? Ugh, it looked like dog food in the photo on the box. Ach, who did the shopping for this place? Whomever it was, their taste in food was similar to their taste in uniforms. If it wouldn't require spending even longer in this kitchen with his annoying team mate, he'd just cook something. He decided to opt for a sandwich -- not much could go wrong with that, and best of all, he could take it and leave quickly.
The fool was still blathering on, "So me and my best bud Logan were talkin' while we were kicking goat butt in Otherworld, and we decided that everybody on X-Force was screwed in the head, you know? I mean the boss man is a poster child for a half dozen or so psycho disorders....personally I think he's got narcissistic personality disorder, but mind you, I ain't a professional or anything."
"Nein, you're an imbecile," Kurt muttered, his back still to the kitchen table.
"Betsy is all kinds of co-dependent, I mean look at that shit with Warren and now with Le Pew. Bad news, that chick. And the French fry....don't even get me started on him. The guy has more than one brain and neither of 'em work right! Hey, back off those cocoa snaps, those are mine!"
Kurt tossed the cookies back into the cabinet with disgust and prepared to take his dinner and leave.
"Yeah, so that leaves you man. What is your major malfunction? What are you so pissed at everybody for?" Wade looked at him with interest.
Picking up the knife he'd used in making the sandwich, Kurt looked over to his kitchen companion with a deadly smile. He flipped the knife lightly, replying, "Vhy, I am pissed vizh people not sharing their cocoa snaps, of course." With a deft flick of the wrist, he pinned a bag of Wade's potato curls to the table, half an inch from the man's hand.
As Kurt exited in his characteristic cloud, he heard Deadpool mutter in hurt tones, "Dude if you got the munchies that bad, take 'em."
He reappeared in his sanctum sanctorum, or at least the closest he had to one in this world.
"Malfunction? Mein malfunction? Gott, vhat an idiot," Kurt snarled under his breath. "Vhy am I so angry he asks, vell he has not lived my life - vatching those I love die, vatching a vorld die. Do this und see just how full of joy he is! Dummkopf!"
Placing dinner, such as it was, on his desk, he switched on the lamp and moved to look for music to calm his irritation and at least give his humble abode some atmosphere. Bach or Liszt? Hmmm, how about a compilation? Finding the disc he wanted, he loaded the player. There, that would do. The soothing strains of Goldberg Variations filled the room as he sat down to eat and switched on his computer.
Finishing his sandwich, he checked the various programs he'd installed to collect data regarding violent or disruptive mutant activity - villainous mutants frequently made the news worldwide - and finding little of interest, sat back to just enjoy the music. The CD had moved on to Liebestraum, and he closed his eyes, remembering where he'd first heard the melody.
It had been as a very young child in Germany. One of his earliest memories in fact. Uta Bauer was her name. She was the combination housekeeper, nanny and cook that his mother had employed since -- well the old woman and her husband, Dieter, had been around all of his life, as far as he knew. She would play on an ancient, out of tune piano in the sitting room. His mother was still present fairly often back then and Victor was no longer in their life (thankfully). The evenings when Uta played the piano - or perhaps Dieter would come inside to sit by the fire and play his violin - were bright, pleasant lights in his memory. He'd sit curled on his mother's lap, wrapped up in the beautiful music and her arms. She always seemed in a good mood when the music played; that was probably why he'd loved it so. She'd had an unpredictable streak even in those days, but with that gentle accompaniment, she was just his mother.
He had always treasured her being there, but at the same time dreaded the next time she would leave him. He'd been too young, then, to understand just the sort of work his mother did, or the difficulty she must have faced in safe-guarding a son that looked like him. It could not have been easy.
They'd lived in an old rambling farm house, tucked away in the Bavarian countryside. It was freezing in the winter and wretchedly hot in the summer; it had peeling plaster and warped frames, but it had been home. It was the only one he'd known until he was nearly grown.
The property was isolated; the nearest village had been several miles away. There was a high, crumbling stone wall that surrounded the house garden, and a small servant's apartment over the kitchen. That was where Uta and Dieter had lived, though during his mother's absences, Uta had stayed in the main house with him. He wondered, not for the first time, where his mother had found a couple willing to care for a "demon" child so loyally.
He hadn't realized during his youth just how different he was. How could he have? He looked like his mother more or less; surely that was how it was suppose to be. He never saw other children, and the only adults he saw were the Bauers; they had certainly never indicated that he was unusual in any way. Now Victor, he was a different story. Victor had referred to him as a devil and other, more unflattering names that he hadn't understood, but his mother had said Victor was an idiot, and Kurt had agreed at the time.
So why had the Bauers been so willing, and how did his mother know she could trust them with her hidden child? A former lover of his mother's, Bianca, had once told him she thought it was because Raven had information on Herr Bauer from the war that he didn't want the authorities to have. Perhaps that was why she could trust them; she was skilled at using blackmail after all. However, Kurt preferred to believe that they might have cared for him, at least a little.
The music switched to Tchaikovsky's Serenade Melancolique, and his memory switched with it, to a bright attic playroom, almost a decade later. Uta and Dieter had been gone for several years by then; dead of old age. He'd been through two other "nannies" and was working on the third - and as it turned out, the last - after unsuccessfully trying to convince his mother he was well enough on his own.
It was a hot day in mid-summer. The sun had painted the faded wooden floor with a golden hue, making it almost seem cheery. He could still feel the rough rafter beam underneath him as he'd lain propped on one elbow, looking down below. Tchaikovsky played on the antique gramophone they'd found amidst the mountain of junk in the attic; the tinny sound had echoed beautifully there....and he'd watched, mesmerized, the klein Tänzerin, twirling in a sunbeam.
Kurt stood and turned off the music. He removed the disc and broke it in half absentmindedly, throwing the pieces into the waste bin. Perhaps he was not yet ready to retire for the evening. He'd go check the more extensive news feed in the complex's main communications room.
Herr Leiter - "Mr. Leader" (putting "Herr" before a man's name or title denotes respect)
Purzelbaum - "somersault"
guten Abend - "good evening"
Dummkopf - "fool" (literally "stupid head")
klein Tänzerin - "little dancer"
* The conversation referenced took place way back in Classic X-Men #4, "The Big Dare".