Unidentified Human Remains & The True Nature of Love: Part 5
by Amanda Sichter
Blood creates patterns.
Clearly identifiable, easily definable patterns.
Wisdom traced the patterns on the walls, where blood overlaid blood overlaid blood.
Here, the spatter of arterial flow where the carotid had sprayed wildly. There, the arc where blood had flown wide as an arm was torn from a torso. Over there, a bloody hand-print sliding down the wall where it had been pressed and then fallen to the ground. Whether it had been attached or not at the time was a moot point.
Blood creates patterns. Patterns of pain, patterns of fear, patterns of rage and terror and death.
If he looked at the blood he didn't have to see the other things.
Pete didn't want to look at the other things.
Kitty's voice behind him - distant, hard, trying to control her terror by standing back from it. 'What did it take this time?' she asked, and he suddenly felt the weight of her gaze on his back, knew she was looking at him so she didn't have to look at the other things.
'Heart. Lungs,' replied Pete dispassionately. You couldn't feel. Couldn't let yourself feel. Cold, empty spaces in the heart where the horror fell in and was covered over and never surfaced again - except in the night and the dreams, and you didn't let yourself think about them.
'Why?' asked Kitty, her voice softly wondering. 'Why his?'
'He was a cyclist,' replied Pete, his voice equally soft. 'A bloody good one - Olympic-level. You don't find anyone with better heart and lungs than a cyclist. I guess it knew that.'
It had known that. It had opened him up, sliced him wide, taken his heart and his lungs and carried them away with it. It had also taken out the other things. Those it had left behind.
'We need to find it,' said Kitty, her voice suddenly resolute. 'We need to stop it.'
Pete nodded. 'We have to get back home,' he said. 'See if Strange has called. See if we can work out who's doing this.'
Light fell through window onto blood, stippling it with another overlay.
Patterns of blood.
Patterns of sorrow and loss.
If he looked long enough at the patterns, Pete hoped, he would see the hand that had drawn them.
* * * * *
Kitty's face was bleak when she walked into the room and Pete braced himself.
'I'm not goin' to like this, am I?' he asked.
Kitty perched herself on the lounge next to him, her body rigid. 'No, you're not,' she said, her voice harsh.
Pete sighed. 'It couldn't be that simple, could it?' he asked, rhetorically. 'What did Strange say?'
Kitty's voice became even harsher. 'He said - no-one,' she replied.
'No-one?' asked Pete.
Kitty nodded. 'I asked him who on the Winding Way could do what the murderer was doing. His answer was - no-one.'
'Fuck,' said Pete quietly and then repeated it more loudly. 'Fuck!' he half-shouted. 'It just couldn't be that easy, could it? Couldn't be that friggin' simple. It just - god, Pryde, I need a drink.'
'Not yet, you don't,' said Kitty gently. 'There's more.'
Pete looked at her suspiciously. 'Good news or bad news?' he asked.
She shrugged. 'Depends on your point of view,' she said.
'My point of view is that of someone who really wants to catch this murdering arsehole before it rips out someone else's fucking face. So what sort of news is it from that point of view?' said Pete, his voice angry.
Kitty didn't respond to the anger, nor did she try and answer the question. 'Stephen said that there was no living person who could possibly command the level of magic we're looking at.' She stopped speaking abruptly, allowing Pete to work his way around all the nuances in the sentence.
'The level of magic,' he repeated slowly. 'So he agrees it definitely is magic.' Kitty nodded. 'But no living person could command that amount of it. Excluding dead people, and I'm assuming here that they can't command any more magic than live people,' Kitty nodded again, 'then we're talking about - oh, no. No, Pryde. No, absolutely not. You can't be serious.'
But Kitty was deadly serious. 'Not a person, Wisdom,' she said. 'It can't be a person. So it's got to be . . .'
'A magical being.' Pete finished the sentence before she could. 'A fucking magical being. You know, Pryde, I'd almost rather it was aliens.' He buried his face in his hands.
Kitty patted his shoulder gently. 'It's not as bad as it seems,' she said. 'There's only two things it could be. A lot of the usual suspects like banshees and kelpies and bogles just can't do this kind of stuff.'
'So what's it down to?' asked Pete, turning mournful blue eyes on Kitty.
'Well,' she said, her voice circumspect. 'It could be Faerie.'
'What, like Meggan?' asked Pete, incredulous. Kitty nodded. 'Someone like Meggan could do something like this?'
'Yes and no,' replied Kitty. 'Someone with Meggan's level of powers but not someone like Meggan. She just couldn't do anything like this - the empathy backlash alone would kill her. There are some Faerie who don't have the same level of empathy and they would be a possibility but apparently Faerie are very restricted in what they can do with their powers. Murdering humans isn't in their jurisdiction. Maybe swapping the odd baby to bring in new stock, but nothing like this.'
'So it'd have to be bad Faerie,' said Pete and then shook his head. 'You know yer life's gone totally screwy when you hear yourself saying 'so it'd have to be bad Faerie'.'
'Screwy, but true,' said Kitty. 'But if you did get some Faerie turned bad, the Court of the Sidhe would have got hold of them before now. You can get bad Faerie, but you don't get them for long. The Court would have stripped them of power by now.'
'So it's not Faerie,' said Pete. 'What's our second option?'
'You know how I said it could be good news or bad news?' said Kitty and Pete nodded. She winced slightly and continued, 'Well, this is the bad news.'
'C'mon, spit it out, Pryde,' said Pete, impatiently.
Kitty's words were dragged from her. 'If it isn't Faerie, there's only one other option. The only other magical being that could do anything like this is a demon.'
Pete didn't explode, as she had half-expected him to do. 'Demons,' he said instead, his voice very calm. 'Cloven hooves, horned heads, nasty, smoky denizens of Hell kind of demons?' he asked.
'Those kind of demons,' confirmed Kitty.
'I really didn't want to hear that, Pryde,' said Wisdom. 'I really don't want to have to track down a demon.'
'It doesn't look like there's a lot of choice,' replied Kitty. 'Stephen said there really wasn't anything else it could be. Only a demon - and just to make it even better, a fairly high-level demon - would have the kind of power necessary to do what's being done. The kind of power, the right mind-set to rip humans into little icky bits and the possibility of motivation.'
Pete turned a confused look on her. 'Motivation?' he asked. 'What sort of motive could a demon have for stealing someone's body parts? I mean your everyday rip-'em-to-bits-and-laugh-while-gorging-on-flesh I can understand in a demon. But body parts?'
Kitty sighed. 'Two choices,' she said. 'Either the demon has been raised and is under the control of a magician who needs the body parts for some reason. Or else, somewhere in London is a dead magician and somewhere else in London is a demon that's escaped and wants body parts for its own perverse purposes.'
'Oh, god, so now we're looking for Franken-demon.' Pete frowned at Kitty. 'You seem to know a lot about 'em all of sudden,' he observed.
Kitty shrugged. 'Stephen gave me a crash course over the phone. Just the major points - someone somewhere has to have raised it, if the raising or the banishing went wrong then the demon is free to do pretty much what it wants - a few other things. Hierarchy, power levels, personal hygiene habits. You know, the usual.'
'I don't even want to think about the bathroom habits of a demon,' shuddered Pete. 'All that sulphur and brimstone - a vindaloo is bad enough.' He sobered slightly as he thought about Kitty's news. 'So basically we're looking for someone who's stupid enough to go round raising demons,' he said.
'If it is a demon,' protested Kitty. 'Maybe it's not magic - not a demon. We haven't got any real clues yet.'
Pete looked at her - a long, steady look. 'Do you really believe that, Kitty?' he asked, gently. 'Do you really think it's something other than a demon?'
She took a long time to answer and Pete let the silence grow between them as Kitty thought about what she had seen. 'No,' she said finally, her voice very small. 'Nothing - nothing with a soul could do what it's been doing. It's a demon, Pete.'
He nodded. 'It is, Pryde,' he said. 'Everything points to it - now all we've got to do is track it down and find out how to stop it. Oh goodie,' he continued, suddenly sarcastic. 'I do so enjoy a challenge.' He rolled his eyes, exaggeratedly.
'So how do you track down a demon?' asked Kitty. 'I wouldn't even know where to start.'
'I do,' said Pete. 'We're not tracking down a demon, Pryde. What we're hunting is the magician who raised the damned thing in the first place.'
'And how are we going to do that?' asked Kitty. 'Raising a demon isn't like being a sorcerer. You don't have to be on the Winding Way, you don't even have to be a practitioner. So long as they've got the right instructions any idiot can raise a demon. And I don't have access to a register of idiots.'
'Pity,' observed Pete. 'Imagine the kind of money you could make with a register of idiots. You could just tell 'em where an idiot was and, hell, I'd pay you shitloads to be able to avoid 'em. Anyway, I don't have that kind of information either. But I do know someone who might.'
'Oh, yes,' said Kitty. 'Do tell, Wisdom. Which wonderful and oracular blonde chick might have this sort of information?' She painted a fascinated look on her face.
'C'mon, Kitty. One blonde. One blonde in the whole time you've been here. Surely I'm allowed just one beautiful, unattainable blonde?' Pete gave her a hopeful look.
Kitty harrumphed. 'Okay, one,' she said. 'But only if you tell me where we can track down someone who raises demons.'
'Remember when you met me, Kitty? Remember I was working for that charming little organisation known as Black Air? Remember they'd taken over a lot of the functions of WHO - including registering supernatural activity and magical practitioners - as well, I might add, as the location of most of the grimoires and spell-books in Britain? Remember all those things?' Pete raised his eyebrows at Kitty.
'I do remember,' she replied. 'I also remember that they tried to take over the world with the help of the Hellfire Club and a rather large demon. I also seem to recall that they were closed down, discredited and half of them arrested and Alistaire was given the responsibility for all their functions again. Black Air is dead, Pete.'
Pete shrugged uncomfortably. 'Technically,' he said.
'Technically!' yelped Kitty. 'What do you mean, technically? They're dead, finished, pushing up daisies, gone to meet their maker, an ex-organisation. Please tell me they're dead, Pete.'
Pete shifted on his seat. 'Did you keep in touch with Alistaire after you went back to the States?' he asked.
'What's that got to do with anything?' asked Kitty. 'I tried to, but there was, I just - well, no,' she said somewhat defiantly.
'Well, Alistaire did take over,' said Pete. 'But - the government couldn't sack all of Black Air - with at least half of them there was no evidence they were implicated in any conspiracy and most of them were damn good at what they did, so Alistaire had to take all of those on as well. And, quite frankly, he didn't deal well with the responsibilities. Gettin' hunted by Black Air that time - his nerves were shot to pieces. He got more and more paranoid and started going pretty weird. It all ended up in some kind of scandal. I don't really know the details.' He did know the details - he just didn't think Kitty would want to know about the harassment charges, or what Alistaire had been caught doing with love-spells. 'Anyway, he went off to Shaw Industries to work with Rory Campbell on some kind of research and his 2IC was promoted. And his 2IC just happened to be an ex-Black Air operative.'
'So Black Air are back?' breathed Kitty. 'I can't believe that - not Black Air. I mean, don't the government have a clue?'
'They're not the same Black Air - for a start they're not even called that now,' said Pete. 'They've had their wings clipped. They're still a nasty fucking bunch of people but they've lost almost all of their firepower and have a hell of a lot more accountability for what they do. But they still track down weird happenings. It's what they do. It's what they always did.'
'Well, if they're a legitimate government department then we can just go and ask them for the information,' said Kitty, her mind tumbling. She couldn't believe what had happened with Alistaire.
'Ah, well, that's where it falls down,' said Pete. 'They're accountable to their Minister and that's it. Other than that, they're still frigging paranoid. No-one gets information out of them. No-one.'
'Except for you,' said Kitty. 'I don't know if I like this, Pete. They may have changed their name and half their staff and they may have a legitimate face now, but they're still a nasty bunch of people. Getting information off them? I have to say in this case "better the devil you know" might be really appropriate.'
'No, not in this case,' replied Pete. 'Not in this case. In this case I'll use anyone and anything I can to stop this thing.'
'But Black Air?' said Kitty. 'What are you going to do - go up and knock on their door and say 'hi, it's me I know it's been a while and all, but I'm working for the cops now and, by the way, do you know anybody who might be raising demons'? I don't think it's going to work, Pete.'
'Of course it won't,' said Pete, somewhat scornfully. 'That's not exactly how I go about getting information from paranoid organisations, Pryde.'
'So how are you going to get the information off them? I don't think they're just going to hand it over. They're bad guys, Pete, black hats - I don't care if they've had their wings clipped, I don't care if they're nearly legitimate now - they're still not going to help anyone if there's nothing in it for them.' Kitty's voice was loud with frustration.
'Kitty,' said Pete, soothingly. 'I'm not the only one, you know, that ever got sick of being part of Black Air, that got tired of the shit they pulled. There are more human beings - real, true human beings - in Black Air than you'd think. But not all of them did what I did - not all of them ran away. Some of the people that went into Alistaire's department didn't have anything to do with the nastier stuff that happened. Of course, a lot of them did and managed to conceal it - but some of them are genuine. I know some operatives who are willing to give me information. Just because they can. Just because it's something that would piss Black Air, and the people who still believe in it, right off. Just because it's the only way they can think of to pull the whole nasty, shitty machine down from the inside - or at least stop it from going back to the way it was. They're the people I'm going to ask, Pryde.'
'Oh, god, it's the spy who came in from the cold,' groaned Kitty. 'Can't you ever do anything without being devious, Pete? Is there one - just one - organisation that you haven't got some sort of contact in?'
'The answers to that would be no and I don't think I know anyone that works for the RSPCA. Would that be in my favour or not?' He ducked to avoid the casual back-hand swipe Kitty aimed at him. 'Anyway, I've got a couple of people I can talk to. They'll give it their best shot.'
'Good,' said Kitty. 'Anything to stop this, Pete. Even Black Air, I s'pose.'
'It's going to take a while, though,' said Pete, screwing up his eyes in thought. 'Neither of them are in the right section for this sort of stuff. They're goin' to have to do some underhanded work. It'll be a couple of weeks at least before I can get anything useful.'
'A couple of weeks,' groaned Kitty. 'Pete, we need information quicker than that. How many people could get killed in a couple of weeks?'
'A few more,' replied Pete quietly. 'Just a couple more deaths to go round. But there aren't any choices, Kitty. There's no other way to get this sort of information - not from here.'
'I could try hacking into their databases,' suggested Kitty, desperately.
'And look for what?' asked Pete. 'We don't have anything to go on. We don't know what we're looking for. No clues, no names, no nothing. We don't even know if any of this stuff is on their databases. And their encryption systems are world-class. It might take you as long to crack the encryption alone as it would for me to get the information.'
'I don't want any more people to die, Pete,' said Kitty, twisting her fingers together in her agitation. 'I don't want to have to see anyone else's innards. I really don't.'
'Neither do I,' said Pete, grimly. 'But I don't see we have any choices at this point in time.' He looked down at his hands, picking bits of imaginary fluff from his trousers. 'It is going to take a while, Kitty, and there might be more dead bodies. If you don't want to stay - if you want to go back to the X-Men for a while, I'd . . .'
'NO!' Kitty's answer was so immediate and so vehement it startled both of them. She turned wide brown eyes on Pete. 'No,' she repeated more quietly. 'I don't want to go, Pete,' she said. 'If you'll let me stay - if you want me to stay - I'd rather be here.'
'Of course I want you to stay,' said Pete and wondered idly how many levels there were in that statement. 'I just thought you might like to go back and see everyone again, that's all.'
'I know,' said Kitty and smiled, or at least made a feeble attempt at a smile. 'It's just - I need some space - to think. You give me that space. When I'm back there, with them, there's so many of them and they're always around you and there's always someone telling me what I need to be doing and I can't - there's never any space in the X-Men. Never. They never told me giving up my personal headspace was part of the price for "The Dream".' Kitty's smile twisted into something that was nearer a bitter grimace.
'You can stay,' said Pete softly. 'As long as you want - as long as you need. And I'll give you all the space you need.'
Kitty's eyes were luminous when she looked at him, the sheen of unshed tears. 'I like the space, Pete,' she said. 'But what I really need is a job. You can gallivant around with your 007 buddies as much as you want, but can I please have something to do?'
He grinned at her, a slightly feral grin. 'What - aside from becoming my personal housemaid and kitchen servant? Among other things.' He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively at Kitty, who promptly responded with a cushion to the back of the head. Pete rubbed his hair. 'For that, Pryde, I think I'm going to have to punish you. I sentence you - to several weeks on the computer asking Goth geeks everything they know about demons.'
Kitty's put her hands to her cheeks dramatically, her mouth an O of surprise. 'Oh, no, Pete,' she said in her best Scarlett O'Hara impersonation. 'How could you punish sweet, innocent little me like that? Anything but that.'
'Well,' said Pete, grudgingly. 'If you're a very good girl I might let you try and break Black Air's encryption as well.'
'Oh, I am a good girl,' said Kitty. 'Very, very good.' She put a lush, seductive purr into her tone.
Pete was better at sleight-of-hand than Kitty. She got the cushion full in the face.
* * * * *
'How many?' asked Kitty, her voice dull. She shuffled through the photos on her lap almost aimlessly.
'Three,' replied Pete and his voice was just as lifeless. 'Three in two weeks. It's speeding up, Pryde. Taking more of them. If I didn't know better I'd say it was mocking us.'
'If we didn't know better,' said Kitty. 'It's got a purpose, Pete. It's driving towards something - and the more body parts it gets, the faster it goes. This is starting to turn into a race.'
'A race against what?' asked Pete, and if his voice was quiet his whole body was a shout of frustration. 'What is it aiming for? Other than a whole body - I mean even I've managed to work that one out.' He stood up and began to pace. 'Is there anything you can tell me?' he asked. 'Anything come up in your research that can tell us what it's trying to do?'
Kitty shuddered slightly, almost imperceptibly. 'I know more about demons, Pete . . .' she started and trailed off. 'I've got information about every kind of level of Hell and demons and what they do and how they work. I've trawled pretty much every database I can think of - I even hacked into the X-Men's system and pulled out all of Illyana's old files to see if that could help. Stephen gave me access to everything he's got on file.' She waved at a heap of books piled haphazardly in the corner of the room. 'I've been to half a dozen of the strangest book-stores I've ever seen and got a whole bunch of grimoires. Do you know the ingredients you need for some of those spells?' She made a face. 'I never even knew newts had testicles. I've spent enough money on Net access to sites relating to magic to put a dent in the Scotland Yard admin budget. And all I've got out of it in terms of what we're looking for is a big fat zero. Nothing - nothing - about why a demon would want body parts. And if it's a magician - I can't help, Pete. I'm sorry.' She turned her attention back to the photos in her lap.
'What about Black Air's encryption? How's that going?' asked Pete.
'Slowly,' replied Kitty. 'I'm getting there, but you were right. They've got the best encryption I've ever seen. It's going to take me at least another week to hack in.' She looked up at Pete, her brown eyes full of pain. 'Do you think you'll have anything for me to go on by then?'
Pete ran his fingers through his unruly hair. 'I don't know,' he hissed. 'I just - they're trying hard for me, Pryde, they really are. But they're not getting anywhere - or at least they hadn't the last time I talked to them.'
'And as long as they're not getting anywhere, we're going to have to keep seeing this,' said Kitty, looking down at the photo in her lap. Like an image of Hell from some particularly vivid Biblical text, the blood shouted from the photo, red horror splashed wide - and in the sea of blood, the pieces.
'They'll come through, Kitty, they will,' said Pete, very gently.
Her voice, when she spoke, was cracked, crazed with lines of pain and fear like porcelain too long under stress. 'I can't stand the smell, Pete,' she said. 'I can look at it now, but I can't stand the smell. It smells like blood, always like blood, everything smells like blood and death and it gets in my clothes and my hair and I can't get it out and I scrub and I scrub and I can't stand the smell of the blood . . .' Her voice rose, higher and higher at each word until it teetered on the edge of hysteria.
But before she could topple over the edge, Pete was kneeling in front of her, his arms wrapped tightly around her, stroking her hair with his hands. 'There, there, it'll be alright,' he murmured over and over again as Kitty let the tears that had been building for so long finally slip free and trickle down her face until they soaked the shoulder of Pete's shirt.
Neither of them knew how long they stayed there. Kitty lost herself in her tears, sobs wracking her throat, her hands clutched tightly in the back of Pete's shirt. Pete simply held her, one hand holding her close to him, the other stroking her hair gently, murmuring meaningless nonsense that he hoped would soothe. Finally her tears quietened but Kitty didn't pull away - instead, she allowed herself to sink into Pete's embrace, to hold him tight to her as she let the tension slowly drain from her body. Pete held her and waited.
Eventually, Kitty cleared her throat and disentangled her hands from Pete's shirt. She leaned back, but only a little - only enough that she could frame Pete's face with her hands. She smiled at him, a tearful, quavery smile. 'Thank you,' she said, softly. 'I needed that.'
Pete shrugged. 'No problems, Pryde. We all need to release that pent-up tension sometime.'
Her smile grew stronger. 'So do I get to return the favour one day?' she asked, and her voice was nearly impish.
'Doubt it,' said Pete, somewhat gruffly. 'I go down the pub and get drunk when it all gets too much. And I pick fights. It's not a pretty sight. I tend to swear a lot, too,' he added, in a moment of candour. 'Lots of swearing. Really loudly.'
Kitty's smile turned wistful. 'Can't be any worse than Logan,' she said. 'I think he actually makes up words.' She slid her hands from Pete's face down onto her lap and turned the photos over until she came across the one she was looking for. An identification photo of the last victim, her lovely face smiled up at Kitty - who had seen her since then and knew that she was no longer lovely. Her breath caught in her throat and she clutched at Pete's hands suddenly. 'She had such pretty eyes,' she said.
Pete grimaced. 'Guess that's how we'll be able to pick the Franken-demon when it's put itself together,' he said. 'It'll be the one with the really pretty eyes.'
Kitty frowned at him. 'That is just soooo tasteless, Wisdom,' she said, her voice disapproving.
He shrugged. 'No-one ever accused me of good taste,' he said.
She frowned even harder at him. 'Hey,' she said. 'I'm starting to feel insulted here. You went out with me, remember?'
He grinned. 'My only lapse,' he said.
She smiled at him then and he suddenly realised that he was only inches away from her and her eyes were shining at him and he was clutching her hands tightly and her mouth was so lovely and all he would have to do was lean forward and he would be . . . and then his thoughts kicked in.
~Hello,~ they said. ~This is your sanity calling. This is the girl who - and I apologise for the metaphor - ripped out your heart and left you bleeding. You are both under a great deal of stress and have been thrown together in a confined space. This has engendered a feeling of closeness. At moments like this one, strain is running high, libidos are rising to match and you are about to start thinking thoughts about comforting each other and how it would just be so nice to be held by someone. So, your sanity would just like to say - LET GO OF HER HANDS!~
The mental shout was so unexpected that Pete's hands spasmed open and Kitty's hands dropped into her lap. He saw the look of startled confusion on her face and then he had stood up and turned his back on her so he wouldn't have to see what look she gave him next. He cursed himself mentally but he couldn't turn around until he had schooled his face into something more normal - something rather less frightened.
'Sorry,' he said when he turned around again - and found that Kitty, too, had managed an expression of indifference. 'Just remembered - I've got an appointment with one of my contacts - I was supposed to meet him - gotta get across town - long way - have to go now.' And then he was walking for his room and shrugging into his coat and walking out the door and down to the car and thinking ~Oh, that was good, Wisdom, really eloquent there and now you've got to hang around in a cafe out in the big, dark, scary real world for four hours waiting for your actual meeting-time to come up. Jerk.~
And back on the couch, Kitty put the photos on her lap aside and clutched a cushion to her tightly and thought, ~All you had to do, you just had to lean forward, you were so close, just had to lean forward, girl. Idiot.~
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