Mixed Feelings

BY : Panduki
Category: X-Men - Animated Series (all) > Slash - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 1078
Disclaimer: I do not own X-Men Evolution or any characters contained therein and no profit/money is being made from this story, much as it would be delightful to! My OC, Kiro (a.k.a "Ghost"), however, is definitely mine!

Author's Note: Welcome to my story! Please read, enjoy (hopefully!) and review!


"I don't think there is any doubt, professor. That's him." Valentina said, her voice soft, as she offered the photograph to him. It wasn't a portrait, per se, but it was a group picture of what the professor could only assume were... "Gypsies?" He asked, brow furrowed. Valentina nodded, before gently correcting him, "Romas, or Romani people, as they prefer to be called. There are many of them in Romania, professor. They are not exactly treated well, but the people have come to accept them, somewhat begrudgingly. Though there are still some groups who choose to live in the old way, even today, and it looks like his parents were part of one such group."

It was a little after 8 AM on Saturday morning, and Charles was once again in the Romanian embassy at the State Department's office complex, his chair resting in front of Valentina's desk while the two spoke. Valentina had surprised him. From their brief meeting weeks ago, he had assumed that she would simply have written Kiro off as just another orphaned street urchin with no name or records, and leave it at that. But the government had asked her to use "all due diligence" in attempting to track down if the boy did, indeed, have any family to speak of.

It was somewhat of an exercise in futility, at least legally speaking, as he had already been effectively adopted by Charles Xavier and given permanent residency in the United States, but Valentina's boss, a stern man named Gavril whom Charles nonetheless got the impression cared a great deal deep within, had told her that "family should not be so easily given up for lost. Keep looking." So Valentina had.

It had been a stroke of luck, really. Or perhaps fate? But Valentina had, once again, browsed through old records in the major cities, and after fruitlessly looking through police records, hospital records, and census reports of a country which had nearly half of its population scattered out in rural communities in the wilderness, had decided to try looking through newspapers instead, hoping to find some notice about a missing child, perhaps left by parents or family. She had not, but had instead stumbled across a newspaper article from May of 1990, a column about the plight of the Roma people who had yet to "fully assimilate" and instead chose to live on the fringes of society. One such camp, on the outskirts of a rural village of Dragus, had been chosen by the author to form the basis of her report.

As the professor watched, Valentina brought up the scanned microfilm of the newspaper on her computer screen, and brought up the article. Sure enough, there in black and white, was the same picture. A small gathering of gypsies was in their camp, while off to the side, back near one of their tents, was a small, lovely woman, with long black hair down past her waist, and a child at her knee, almost hiding behind her. The long, white hair and pale face were unmistakable, even on a face so young. Perhaps 4 years old?

"My goodness, I do think you are right," the professor said, leaning forward to get a closer look. "But I understand that the Gyps-.. er, Roma people, please excuse me, are quite nomadic in their nature, and you mentioned that they were not treated well? Was there some persecution?" Charles asked, looking back toward Valentina, who was searching through some papers on her desk.

Valentina nodded, and said bluntly, "There is always persecution of the Romani people, professor. They are similar to the Jews, in that respect, but number far fewer, so the persecution is far less likely to draw any ill attention on the perpetrators of it. Did you not read the article?? Oh, wait, yes, of course, sorry professor," she began to ask, and then corrected herself with a small smile. Leaning forward, she started muttering softly in Romanian before she began to read the section she was looking for, in English, for the professor's benefit, "'While Keppet and I talked, we noticed a mother and her little child nearby, apart from the rest. I began to approach them, but Keppet told me no, it was bad luck. She is a vrajitoare, a witch, and even the others are frightened of her, though they respect her for her wisdom.'"

Charles' eyes narrowed, as the word went through his mind. vrajitoare? A witch? He began to get a feeling of foreboding in his chest, but nodded for Valentina to continue, and she did so, reading, "'So you see, even here among the Roma people, there is fear and persecution. The fear that drives people apart, even a people as close-knit as these traveling Roma. Only later in the evening could I approach the mother and child secretly, and she begged me to keep my voice quiet as we spoke. Her fear was clear in her eyes, as she clutched her little child, so strange and yet so beautiful, in her lap. They worry whether the villagepeople, who also fear Lilliana and her little child, Bela, will decide to drive them away, or attack them somehow. I asked if she and her husband might choose to leave, and perhaps go somewhere else, but Lilliana's eyes were so sad when she told me, 'I have no husband, and nowhere to go. But I am so frightened, especially for my little Bela.'"

The professor frowned, and leaned back in his wheelchair as his eyes once again went to the photograph. The one that Valentina had on her desk was a large color picture, and was obviously either the original itself, or a copy received from the reporter. He said, "'Bela,' so that was his birth name, perhaps."

Valentina nodded, and she, too, looked back at the photograph even as she held a paper in her hands. "And his mother, Lilliana. The reporter, Miruna Rusu, sent over all of the notes she could find from her research. She had stayed there a week to write her article, and had then left, but she had noticed that the people in the village were already rather hostile towards the Roma living on the outskirts, and that they were particularly frightened of Lilliana, as the article mentioned, and Kiro.. or Bela's, unusual appearance. They thought him some sort of devil-child, or cursed one, I can only guess. The fact that Lilliana had no husband to speak of certainly did not seem to help."

The professor frowned, and shook his head. Such a kind, gentle child as Kiro, treated not unlike Kurt had been. All because of something completely out of his control: his appearance. It sickened him. He nodded, "Do you have any contacts in the area, who might go there and try to find out what happened?" He asked, hope in his voice.

Valentina nodded, "We actually have a small office in Vistrea, the central village there. Dragus is one of the outer villages, like a ring, around the area, up in the mountains," she said, pointing towards the Romanian map on the wall. Charles followed her gaze, and nodded. Right in the midst of the Carpathian mountains, an area almost lost in time. He remembered it being called the "last great wilderness of Europe" and he could certainly imagine why, and understand Lilliana's fear at being possibly forced to flee the village alone, with her little child with her.

"One of our agents, Nikita, is on his way to Dragus as we speak, and when he arrives he will start to ask the people there about Ki- or, Bela, and his mother Lilliana. He knows that there is still a couple of camps outside the village, even today, but he isn't sure whether they are the same bands of Roma living there," Valentina explained, and Charles nodded. Part of him desired to go there himself, but he knew it would be an exercise in frustration at best, and downright dangerous at worst, given his lack of knowledge of the language. He would probably end up being branded as a "witch" in his own right the minute he tried to communicate telepathically.

"As for young Kiro, well," Valentina said, sliding the picture back over to Charles. "I leave it up to you whether or not you want to show him. As old as he was in this picture, I am sure he must remember some things, but something tells me they will not be very happy memories," she supposed, and Charles found himself nodding in agreement. Miruna had written a heartfelt letter to the office, promising whatever support she could give. She had apparently been quite fond of Lilliana and her child in the brief time she spent in the village, and her heart had gone out to them in seeing them so ostracized, even among their fellow outcasts and wanderers.

Valentina had written to her and told her about Kiro's story, how he had been found by the nuns in the town of Viscri at around 5 years of age, about a hundred miles away, alone, starving, and frightened, and taken into their abbey. Charles could only imagine how the woman, now retired from her work as a reporter, must have felt upon hearing the news. It seemed things had not worked out well for the mother and son, not at all.

Charles steepled his fingers, though, as he once again fell into thought. Kiro had always had nightmares, the mother superior had told him. And Kurt had mentioned him being rather frightened of fireworks and similar sounds. Could there perhaps be another reason behind the boys fears..? That might also explain his otherwise seemingly unexplainable silence?

-----------

Kurt hadn't given much more thought to Kiro's fears the night before. Kiro had recovered soon after and was gently tugging him up the stairs with a particular gleam in his violet eyes as Kurt had followed behind him, smiling. Once in their room, Kiro had surprised him by once again taking the lead, and the two had made love again. For the second time in as many weeks, since Kiro's abduction and subsequent return.

It was still difficult for him, Kurt could tell, but Kiro's determination made his heart ache even as he felt his blood burn pleasantly from the pleasure and desire that coursed through him. At Kiro's silent urging, Kurt had gently begun to become more active, thrusting up into Kiro while the boy had once again rode him. It was a careful dance, and Kurt had kept his eyes on Kiro's face the whole time as he did so.

"Even if it takes a while, mein engel, we will go as slow as you need," Kurt had promised him, and Kiro's tear-filled smile had melted his heart all over again before they had continued their lovemaking. They had come together, and then gone for another round after, much to Kurt's delight, as Kiro had accepted Kurt's offer to 'take charge' once again. Their progress, he hoped, was a good sign. They would have to tell Liz on Monday!

Saturday morning, however, found the two slumped in bed, curled against one another and sleeping soundly. Kiro had woken once during the night from a nightmare, but at Kurt's question as to whether he was alright, he had just shaken his head and hugged Kurt tighter until the two of them had once again drifted off to sleep. Kurt's eyes lazily opened as he peered down at Kiro against his chest, the smooth ivory skin a delightful contrast to the blue fur of his body. As he smiled, Kurt noticed their clothes, discarded on the floor of their room, and couldn't help but chuckle a bit, mentally. Kitty would probably yell at them for not hanging such fine garments up where they belonged.

Kitty. That reminded him, he had been meaning to ask her about how things had gone with Tristan last night. She had certainly looked rather giddy when they were driving back from the dance, but then, Kitty always looked like that after a party. Well, hopefully things were ok. Kurt glanced over at the bedside clock. 9:39 AM. Wow, they had slept later than he thought. But then, they had stayed up snuggling for a while after they had made love again, and Kurt found himself smiling at the thought of it. Even with Kiro's difficulties, they were doing it. They were taking it back, a small piece at a time, and Kurt felt optimistic that some day, hopefully soon, they would be back where they were when they first made love.

Kurt frowned as his stomach growled loudly, and he felt Kiro stirring against him as a result. "Verdammt stomach," he said, and smiled as Kiro's eyes slowly opened, bleary from sleep. Leaning over, Kurt gently kissed his forehead before whispering, "Guten morgen, mein engel." Kiro smiled back up at him, and leaned up to return the kiss in kind. Kurt was about to ask Kiro how he slept, when a soft knock at the door made both of them jump a bit.

"Kurt?" It was Hank's voice, "Kiro? Are you awake?" Kurt groaned softly and rolled his eyes, muttering, "Well, we are now." Kiro giggled silently against him and nodded, even as he rubbed at his eyes and let out a yawn, trying to wake up. Kiro gently worked his way out of bed and called, "Ja, one moment please, Dr. McCoy."

Fumbling around in one of his drawers, and silently cursing his hard erection (both from Kiro's powers and from his own teenage hormones), Kurt hastily pulled on a pair of boxers and pajama bottoms. Making his way to the door, Kurt worked the lock and then opened the door a crack, smiling out at Dr. McCoy. "Morning!" He said, a bit more chipperly than he felt at the moment.

Hank chuckled softly in reply, "I'm sorry about the, er, somewhat rude awakening, Kurt, but the professor's just returned from a meeting in the city, and there's something he wants to discuss with Kiro, and you, if possible. He'd like you both down in his office once you've both had a chance to wake up," he explained. Kurt suddenly felt immediately awake. Something about the tone in Dr. McCoy's voice got his attention, to say nothing about what he said. A meeting in the city, about Kiro? Hadn't the State Department just finalized things? Was there some problem?

Kurt managed a smile and nodded, "Jawohl, Hank, we'll be right down," he said, silently glad they had both still had enough energy to wash one another thoroughly in the shower last night after their romp. With a nod, Hank departed, and Kurt shut the door behind him. Kiro, meanwhile, was sitting up in bed, and his expression held the same worry. Apparently, he had heard their discussion loud and clear. Kurt met his gaze, and smiled bravely, "Well, beloved, let's get presentable."

------------

"Kiro, once again, I would like to assure you that this isn't meant to hurt you, or be difficult. But the Romanian government had been wanting to discover any information they could about your family, for their records, especially since they are still working on your documentation," the professor continued, as Kurt and Kiro sat across from him two comfortable chairs in his study.

"You mean that they found something?" Kurt asked, surprise clear in his voice. He, as well as the professor, had been under the impression that there was nothing to find. No records at all, from such a rural part of Romania, as well as with the recent unrest in the region. The professor nodded, a small manilla envelope in his hands, "It would seem so, Kurt. Kiro, I would like you to look at this picture, and see what you think, alright?" The professor asked, and Kurt watched in mingled curiousity and nervousness as Kiro nodded.

The professor withdrew a large photograph from the envelope, and handed it to Kiro. Beside him, Kurt leaned over to look at the photograph in curiousity. It looked like something out of a national geographic magazine, with a group of people in a small, wooded field. Covered wagons were all around, as well as many tents. But based on their style of clothes, and the mood of the picture, Kurt raised a brow. Romani? There were Roma people in Germany as well, all over Europe, really. And their presence always brought mixed feelings to the local population. They unfortunately were rather unwelcome in most places.

Kiro, however, had begun to tremble beside him, and Kurt looked up at his face, surprised to find Kiro's eyes tearing up. He mouthed something, silently, and touched part of the picture. Kurt followed his gaze, and saw a rather beautiful woman off to the side of the picture, behind the main group. And there, huddled against her, almost hiding, was a small child. A pale child with long, white hair. Both of them looking nervously at the camera.

"Oh mein Gott.." Kurt whispered.

Across from them, the professor nodded. He smiled, though it was a somewhat strained smile, and said softly, "It seems.. Bela.. that we have found Lilliana, your mother."

Kiro nodded silently, and tears began to fall from his cheeks in earnest.

Kurt looked back and forth between them in utter shock. Bela? Lilliana..? His heart leapt in mingled joy and fear. Kiro might have just discovered who his mother was! "This is wunderbar, professor! Amazing! Have they found where she lives? Maybe we cou..." Kurt's voice trailed off, as he saw Kiro shaking his head repeatedly, and clutching the photograph to his face, sobbing silently. Kurt reached over to gently touch Kiro's leg, feeling his heart crack as a realization came to him.

The professor's expression softened, and he asked, quietly, "Kiro.. does this mean what I think it means?" The professor wheeled forward, and gently reached out to touch Kiro's arm. "Is she..?"

Kiro silently nodded, and as the professor touched Kiro's arm, the flood of images was immediate, and even Kurt gasped as their physical contact caused him to receive the same impressions...

"Bela, you mustn't make a sound! Not a sound! Please, my child!! Promise me!" His mother whispered, fright clear in her voice, as the two crouched among the bushes and she desperately tried to shush his sobs. He was such a small child, such a quiet child already, but still she worried for him. He was huddled beside her, his hair and face covered with one of her scarves, hoping desperately it might keep him safe. Overhead, the fireworks continued, and each time a blast happened, the sharp, angry wasp buzz of a bullet zipped by them. They were using the fireworks to hide the sound of their gunfire.

It had been a festival that day, they weren't sure for what, and in the evening, the village had decided to have a spectacular fireworks celebration. It was beautiful. So beautiful. Bela had danced around his mother's side as they watched them in the streets near the outskirts of town, out of the trees so they could see the sky clearly. But that was when she had been hit.

At first he had not realized anything was wrong, but she had just suddenly snatched him up and started to run. Swift and far, into the trees near their camp, and deep into the woods beyond. Behind them, the angry shouts could be heard. Voices he could not quite make out over the constant rumble of the fireworks overhead, but their tone was clear. They were angry. They hated him.

The same people who would beat him if they caught him without his mother beside him, like the old man had, who had caught him playing with the other children. They had been so nice, and they were having so much fun, just chasing one another in the street. But then he had been grabbed by the old man, who had hit him, so hard that he had been shocked. No one had ever hit him before. He stared at the man blankly as he had screamed in his face, yelled at him to leave their village and go back to his mother, his vrajitoare mother! Back to the witch!!!

He had been so frightened that he had run without a second thought, back into his mother's arms, where he had wept, remembering the hatred in the man's eyes.

They feared her. But they hated him.

Why? He did not know why. What had he done wrong? Wasn't he a good boy? Didn't his mother always tell him so? Especially when he helped her cook their dinner?

They had run from them, but they could not run anymore. His mother's leg was shaking, and she was visibly in pain. He touched her leg, crying silently. It was wet to his touch, and warm, like soup, at first, until he had caught a glimpse of the red liquid on his hands under the light of the fireworks. He cried, and clutched at her in fear as they heard the men coming closer. But she told him no, he must be silent. "Silent, Bela! Not a sound, or they will come for you!!"

It was only when they were close enough for him to see them through the trees and the brush that his mother begged him to flee. "Promise me, little Bela, you won't make a sound! Not a sound!!" She had said, and when Bela had nodded, hugging her tightly, she gave him a last kiss on the forehead before she pushed him away into the nearby thicket, ordering him to run, as fast and as far as he could, and not to look back. The thorns had scraped his face, but he had been too terrified to disobey her. Down among the mud and the dirt, he crawled away as fast as he could, as he heard them yelling now. Yelling at his mother.

She let out a cry, and then a sudden peal of fireworks drowned out the sound of them all firing at once...

... he wandered, aimlessly, sobbing into the scarf he clutched at, heedless that it, too, was soaked in her blood. His mother's blood. He knew, as surely as he knew anything, that she was dead. And he had run away. Like a scaredy cat.

But he had done as she begged him, he only ever wanted to make her happy. She was always so sad. Couldn't he help her smile if he was a good boy? She had such a beautiful smile.

The days all blended together as he continued to walk. Silently, he cried. Not a sound left him. Not a sound. Hungry, cold, and tired, he stopped to drink from a river...

The first time he had stolen in his life, he was so hungry he felt that he would faint. He had been huddling in the street corner, just at the mouth of the alley, rubbing himself to try to keep warm beneath his frayed clothes. The man behind the little cart had seen him. He knew he had. He was watching him.

But, he was so hungry..

He crept forward while the man was talking to a mother and her child. Her little girl had looked at Bela pityingly, seeing him in his rags, filthy and hungry. But she had smiled, while she trod on the baker's foot suddenly, giving him the chance he needed.

Bela had snatched the bread loaf from the man's cart with an excited shiver, giving her a grateful smile, before he dashed back into the alley and dove into the small crawlspace beneath one of the buildings... he he would eat today, at least. He did, and shared half of the food with the stray dog huddled beside him in the dark, whining piteously..

... More wandering. The life his mother had talked about, while they huddled by the fire. Always on the move, never staying in one place for too long. It was their way of life. But he had nowhere to stay. No camp, no horse, no band to walk with. He went from one village to another, hiding on a cart here, or shadowing behind a caravan there. Stealing to eat, when he could, and starving and suffering silently when he couldn't. Always silent. Not a sound...

Until finally, as it began to grow colder each night, he felt as though he had no hope. The  cold wind seemed to find every hole, every rip in his clothes, and he shivered, so thin beneath the garments. The shepherd had struck him, hard across the face, when he had caught him outside, trying to reach through the window of their cottage and steal some of his family's food.

He had been about to chase the boy away, perhaps even beat "the little thief!!", when the man's wife had come out. She whispered harshly to her husband, and finally she had taken Bela's arm, and pointed up the mountain. Go there, she had said. Follow that path out of the village, and go to the sisters. They will be able to help you, surely.

And after one, last, cold walk, his feet bloody from the rocks on the path, and his arms clutched tightly around his middle to try to ward off the chill, he had stood on the cold stone of the monastery steps. He was far too short to reach the heavy iron knockers, and never could have lifted one of them even if he did reach. But he had knocked, by raising a fist and pounding on the wood with all his strength. Even then, it had been soft, almost like a kitten scratching at the door.

He felt so weak.

But then the door had slowly opened, and there she was. Mother Agatha. Her eyes were wide with shock as she looked down at him, and she knew, immediately, what had come to their doorstep. "Oh by the merciful Mother Mary.. what has happened to you, little one? Come, come in," she ushered, drawing the crying boy into her arms. It was as he sobbed into her shoulder that the flood of memories ended...

Back in the present, Kurt drew away from Kiro with a gasp, and the professor, too, looked stunned by what they had just seen. It had all taken barely a few seconds, but the memories were as real, as raw, as if they had just experienced them. Not searched for by the professor, but projected, by Kiro, across the professor's link, perhaps even unconsciously, due to the pain of the memories flooding him as well. Glimpses of that horrible night with his mother, and the months, yes, it had been months, that had happened afterwards, as he had wandered in grief, alone and starving, through the Romanian countryside.

Kiro was sobbing silently, still clutching the picture, and Kurt shivered, both in fear and sympathy, as he said quietly, "Dear God in heaven.. Kiro." Should he call him Kiro, still? Bela? He wasn't sure anymore. All he knew was that he was on the verge of tears as well, and he felt his heart breaking at the look on Kiro's face, as he again looked at the picture in his hands.

Charles sighed, rubbing his forehead, and he said, "I had had a feeling that your early memories would not be pleasant ones, Kiro, but.. I had never realized. I am so sorry, Kiro, truly, I had not thought it would affect you so profoundly," Charles apologized, his voice sincere as he looked at Kiro, who was again shaking his head.

The albino reached forward to touch the professor's arm once more, and this time Charles did not flinch at a flood of memories. His face changed, and he said, "I understand, Kiro. Still, I am sorry." He leaned back in his chair, as Kurt went over to Kiro's side and knelt beside him, hugging his lover tightly. "She was so kind to you, so loving, wasn't she, mein engel?" Kurt asked, and Kiro nodded. Kurt felt both happy, and deeply saddened at the same time.

He, as the professor well knew, had the opposite for his birth mother. Mystique was about as uncaring and callous as one could be, and even if she weren't, Kurt still hated the thought that such a wicked woman had somehow spawned him. Used him, in such a manner. Her attempt to reconnect with him and Rogue had been met with a flat refusal, and even though it stung his heart to have to say that, she had showed, plenty of times before, the kind of darkness was in her heart. Darkness he wanted nothing to do with, even if, he realized with a small current of fear, he surely had some of it inside of him, too.

"Well, that certainly explains your fear of fireworks, and your distaste for firearms," Charles mused softly. Perhaps even the reason for his silence, as well. After a moment, he sighed and reached into the envelope to pull out a small printout. The newspaper article they had found. "I'm.. not sure if you want to, but here's the article by the woman who took that picture, Kiro. Ah, sorry, did you still wish to be called Kiro?" The professor asked, as Kiro took the papers from him. The boy smiled, and nodded, giving Charles a thumbs up, with only the slightest tremor from his hand.

Kurt watched in quiet respect as Kiro read through the article. It was written in Romanian, so Kurt could not read it, but the professor had written some notes on the top. Bela, Lilliana, Dragos -> persecution? They were simple notes, perhaps brainstorming while they had been in their meeting, but Kurt's heart did another flip flop. Bela. Kiro's name was Bela. Almost like.. Bela Lugosi? From the old Dracula film? And his mother's name, Lilliana. Such a beautiful name, for a woman who had been so beautiful and kind, so gentle and caring. Even sacrificing herself to ensure her only son could have a chance to escape, after she had already endured what must have been years of torment, for being a 'vrajitoare,' a "witch." Had she been a mutant, too, perhaps?

'I do not think we will ever know for sure, Kurt, but clearly she was a caring, wonderful mother, and perhaps the only reason Kiro survived in a village that would otherwise have seemingly not thought twice about killing him,' the professor's voice said in his mind, and Kurt quietly apologized for broadcasting his thoughts once again. He still felt raw, sad, from the brief glimpse into his angel's life that he had just witnessed. There was still so much about Kiro that he didn't know. Getting such a look into his life was both fascinating, and heartbreaking, all at the same time. How, Kurt wondered, did he still manage to be so kind? So gentle? So loving to all of them?

Kiro had tears in his eyes once more when he finished reading the article, and he handed it back to the professor with a grateful nod. Lilliana, his mother, had been a brief participant in the article, a small interview conducted in secret, and little Bela had been quite silent, even back then, huddled in his mother's lap, while they had spoke. But Charles got the impression that Miruna, the reporter, had cared quite a lot about them, and they, as well as families like their's, had been the driving force behind her writing such an article, hoping it would help people accept the Roma people more into their communities.

"Valentina, at the embassy, do you remember her, Kiro?" Charles asked, and Kiro nodded as he wiped his eyes. "She has sent an agent into Dragos to ask around, and see if perhaps there is anyone who might remember what happened that night, and also check to see if anyone who knew your mother still lives there. It sounded as though your mother was something of a pariah, even among her fellow Roma," Charles said with a frown, "But perhaps you have some family there. Or someone who knew her, and could help tell you more about her."

Kiro nodded, and gave the professor a kind smile, even though both he and Kurt could see the sadness behind Kurt's face. Kiro had never mentioned his mother before, or having any memory of her. Not that he could, of course, but Kurt had almost been convinced that Kiro simply had no memories of his parents. Now, it seemed, he had simply locked them away in a secret part of his memory, perhaps because they were too painful. And he could certainly understand why.

"She hasn't promised anything, Kiro, as you can imagine. But, well, it's a possibility," the professor finally said, and smiled. He then reached over and handed Kiro the small manilla envelope he had been holding, explaining, "These are the notes and her letter that Miruna sent over, as well as the other pictures she took. No others of you or your mother, unfortunately, perhaps out of respect for her wishes, but still, maybe they will help you remember some more. I'm also sure she would love to hear from you, if you chose to write her. That's her current address, on the envelope."

Kiro took the envelope reverently, and nodded, before he slipped the picture back into it and closed it. Kurt, beside him, leaned up to gently kiss his cheek, and Kiro's arms slipped around him to hug him tightly in response. Charles smiled at the two of them, and said, "Well, that was all I wanted to meet with you about today, boys. I think Logan had mentioned a Danger Room session later this afternoon, so I would suggest you relax until then. The minute I hear anything more from Valentina, I promise I will let you know."

Kiro thanked the professor with a tight hug, and Kurt expressed his thanks as well, before he slipped an arm around Kiro's waist and walked with him to the door. The professor watched them go, and sighed softly. Logan had been right. Quite correct, indeed. He shook his head at the man's perceptiveness, and sighed, saying softly, "Sometimes, my old friend, I wish you were wrong."

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Nikita, as it turns out, was a shrewd investigator, and he combed through the town of Dragos with a quiet charm and an earnest desire to just discover the truth. Many of the people in the village were old, but their memories were sharp, especially in regards to their fellow villagers, and mention of the Roma camps outside the village had been more than enough to start tongues wagging and the gossip to flow.

Lilliana, as it turns out, was indeed considered a vrajitoare, or a "witch," by the people of the town, and every mention of her name, or even of her indirectly, was met by the sign of the cross and hushed whispers. And what, Nikita had asked, of her son? The boy who was all white except for his violet eyes? The people had been even more fearful, and begged Nikita not to even talk about him.

Nikita was familiar with their suspicions, and had brought a bible with him, which he set upon the table in the tavern and said, quite firmly, that God would let no harm come to them, as he was here in good faith, simply trying to solve a mystery at the behest of the government. Hands had come to rest on the bible, and then the stories had begun to flow in earnest.

It was the night of the harvest festival, just at the turning of the seasons from summer into autumn, and they had just celebrated one of the townsfolk's hundredth birthday. She was such a kind and gentle and pious woman, they had said. A credit to their village. But then some of the men had gotten to talking about the gypsies outside of their town, and particularly the vrajitoare who lived among them, the dark haired woman whom even the other gypsies seemed nervous around, and who always had the strange, little white child beside her. The child who never spoke, but whose eyes were so piercing whenever they looked at you.

"The devil's eyes!" one elderly woman had whispered, and shivered, "You know she had no husband, they say! That the devil must have lain with her to spawn such an evil looking child!" Another woman had agreed, pointing out that her hair was uncovered. Among their people, that meant she was still unmarried! Unmarried and with child! Such a wicked woman! Nikita, despite his inward disgust at the superstition of the villagers, had nodded in pretend sympathy and urged the people to continue.

Well, as it turned out, the men of the village had been drinking to excess, and they had seen the woman in town, there with her little devil child beside her, skittishly trying to enjoy the festival with some of their fellow gypsies. As long as they didn't cause trouble, the town elder had said, they were welcome. But if they did cause trouble, roust them out!

Well, the men had decided not to give her, or her child, that chance. He had been caught with some of the village children, a time or two, playing with them. But they all knew better. It was the devil trying to corrupt their children, they were sure of it! Ilie, the tailor, had done the Lord's work though, when he caught the little white child and struck him across the face, yelling at him to run back to his vrajitoare mother. The boy had not cried out, not said a word. He had just looked up at Ilie with a blank face, and run.

Ilie had been frightened, they said, and had used that as yet more proof that the boy was unnatural. The other children had been gathered into the church and prayed earnestly over by the priest, before being sent home to their parents and urged never to talk to the other boy again. It was Ilie who had finally roused the villagers and said that they should do the Lord's work, and drive the wicked woman and her devil spawn from the village.

Done in secret, so as not to alarm the rest of the village, they had fetched their rifles and crept out of town while the celebration continued, and confronted Lilliana and Bela where they danced in the street, near the outskirts of town. A rifle had fired, nobody quite knew which, first, and she had been struck, but she had grabbed her child and run, almost inhumanly fast, out into the darkness.

The men had finally found her, but the child was nowhere to be found. She was already hit once, and Ilie had said that she would be dead soon. The devil had left her, Ilie had said, because she was no more used to him. Then he had struck her with the silver cap at the end of his rifle buttstock, and doused her with holy water.

They had killed her then, and had buried her somewhere in the woods. They never said where. But the ground had been salted, and they prayed that it would keep her taint from their village. Apparently it had worked, one of the women said, because their village had been spared from the bloodshed after the Soviet Union had collapsed, and had prospered ever since. They had all agreed at the gesture.

Nikita had written it all down dutifully, and had thanked them for their gracious donation of their time, even as he had privately cursed each and every one of them for murdering a poor mother and very nearly condemning her only child to a slow death of starvation and exposure. He had then gone out of town into the outskirts, where even now there were several gypsy camps. One of them, as it turned out, was part of the same band that had once contained Lilliana and her son, Bela, for a few years. The Hedge Witch Band, they were jokingly called, and Nikita had asked about the name curiously.

"It was because of our vrajitoare," Keppet, the elder, had said. He was old, now, and almost blind, but still quite well respected among the Roma band for his wisdom and kindness. He had brought Lilliana into their band when they had found her wandering, a few years before she had disappeared. Her belly had just begun to swell with child, and he supposed she had been driven out of her village because of it, though he never knew for sure. He guessed she had never married, because her head was uncovered, and the Romani women only wear their head scarves when they have married. "She was a private woman, though, she never really liked to talk about things like that. Or talk much at all," he continued, "Even when her child was to be born, she let only Ileana, my wife, in to help her with her labor."

In spite of it all, she had struck him as a very kind woman, even if she made him nervous, like the others. She was an odd one. Very quiet, very strange, and often wandered the woods in silence, to come back with many herbs and plants she had gathered, always with little Bela at her heels, holding another basket, as soon as he could walk. She would make tinctures and potions with them, and the other women of the camp would often muster their courage to ask her for advice on ailments, for their husbands or children.

Though his mother had a beautiful voice, especially when she sung to Bela at night, Keppet could not remember ever hearing Bela talk. In fact, now that he thought about it, Keppet had only seen the boy whisper occasionally to his mother now and then, always too shy to speak to anyone else. And considering how his appearance seemed to unnerve them, even at camp, he could not blame the boy. But he had seemed like quite a kind and gentle soul, that little one. Always helping his mother with this or that, and huddled by her side at the fire, playing with a toy while she wrote in what he guessed was her diary.

But that had all changed one night at the festival, Keppet had explained. They had been invited into the village as a gesture of good will, he had said, and their camp was empty. Even Lilliana and her child were there, though they still had stayed in the outskirts of the village. But when they came back to the camp later that evening, once the festival had concluded, they were gone.

"Gone as if they'd never been here. Her and the boy both. All their things were still there, but they weren't. We had suspected maybe they had been hurt, but we found nothing to suggest it," Keppet said, shaking his head with a sigh. "It is a shame, too. She had such a gift with the plants, you know. She could whisper to them and they would grow so vibrantly. Our vegetables never grew so large, so quickly, or tasted so sweet, as when she would tend to them. We called her a green thumb in secret, though yes, she probably was a vrajitoare as well, despite her good heart. Where else do you get such gifts?" The man lamented. "I just hope they are ok, wherever they decided to run off too."

Their possessions, meager though they were, had been kept in the band, in case they ever returned. But Keppet had supposed that if they were to ever return, they would have done so by now. It was then, though, that Nikita had chosen to reveal his real intent, and shown Keppet a picture of Kiro, taken at the Institute. "The boy still lives," Nikita had told him, "But the mother is apparently long dead. Won't you allow me to send their things back to him?"

Keppet had heartily agreed, and soon enough, their belongings, which, in the Roma fashion, could all fit into a single trunk, had been loaded onto the back of Nikita's jeep. Keppet had also written a brief letter to Bela (Kiro), which Nikita had placed in the chest, and he had returned to Vistrea with mixed feelings. He had never met Kiro, but had become intimately familiar with the boy's story over his discussions with Valentina and this assignment to what had, essentially, been the boy's home town. He found himself hoping it would bring some measure of peace to both the boy, and his mother's spirit.

Soon enough, however, he had compiled a complete report and sent both it and the trunk of belongings off to join Valentina at the embassy in the United States.



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