Her name was Margali.
This was a Fundamental Truth. She always put that in capital letters in her mind, because she had to. She had a whole list of Fundamental Truths About Margali, and she recited them every morning into the mirror, with all the conviction one could muster when the sun was just peeking out over the horizon, and one of the acrobats was being sick behind their caravan not ten meters away.
Her name was Margali.
She was born in Paris.
She had black hair and brown eyes and caramel skin.
She could not sing.
She could dance.
Every morning, like clockwork.
Some of the other members of her new family, this circus full of secrets, thought she was touched in the head. They thought she was dangerous, and should be cast out, like her mother had been. They never said it, of course, and they hid it well, trying to be welcoming, trying to be what they knew she needed.
But that didn't mean she couldn't hear their thoughts, feel their fear, see their dreams.
It was this wandering in and out of their minds that led to the List of Fundamental Truths, the most base truths about herself that she could think of, a touchstone. It kept her grounded, stopped her from forgetting who she was, like her mother had, all those years ago. Poor, mad Selene, dead in a gutter when she'd been struck by a car a year ago, convinced it would pass right through her, convinced she was another mutant, someone she had met long ago.
Margali would not go down that road.
So every morning, she told herself who she was.
“My name is Margali,” She recited. “I was born in Paris. I have black hair, brown eyes, and caramel skin. I cannot sing. I can dance.” She breathed out to the count of ten, as these facts settled themselves, dug in deep, driving out the fleeting remnants of the others around her, like the acrobats sleeping in the caravan over who could flip through the air, or the lion tamer stretching in the weak light, who could sing, rather well.
She was not them, she reminded herself. She was Margali.
“I am Margali,” She said again. “I am twenty-four. I have no children. I am not married. I am Catholic. My confirmation name is Florentina.” These were all true. These were all hers, and no one else's. It was a good morning then.
A pop in the air, and the strong smell of smoke in her nose, ruined that thought, for now beside her stood Azazel, in all his black clad glory.
“Good morning, Margali.” He greeted, the cigarette he was smoking giving off a foul odor. “You're looking lovely today.”
“Uncle Azazel,” She said, respectfully. “You look well.”
He smirked, and she tried not to recoil. It was not her maternal uncle's devilish face that made her do so, but rather personal experience with him. He was an unpleasant, frightening man, who carried two swords like they were toys.
“I was disappointed that you weren't at the funeral.” She said, almost lying, but not quite. Her mother had been very fond of this brother of hers, even if he didn't seem to return the sentiment, and it had left a bad taste in Margali's mouth when he shirked his familial duties by not attending. The entire circus had come to see her mother placed in the ground, and Azazel had not even bothered to take a few minutes out of his day to express sympathies.
“I had heard about Selene's accident. Unfortunate.” He replied, shrugging, angering her a little more. “But then, Selene was always a little mad, even as a child. I imagine she only grew worse with age.”
“Imagining is the best you can do, I suppose, since you were never around to see for yourself.” She snapped, rising to her feet. “You're obviously not here to give your condolences. What do you want?”
“Watch your tongue, girl.” Azazel warned, his unnaturally bright blue eyes narrowing. “I am your elder, and you will show me some respect.”
“Yes, uncle.” She said, through gritted teeth. “I am sorry.” She didn't mean a word of it, but she was afraid of Azazel, with good reason. The whole circus spoke about Azazel in hushed tones, when they spoke of him at all, and only her mother had any warmth left for him, as far as she could tell.
“I am sure.” He said, smirking again. He knew it was a lie, was just her going through the motions of the respect she should actually have for him, her last living relative. He didn't care though, as long as she bowed her head like a good girl and did what he said. It wasn't as though he had much love for her anyway. He never did like telepaths, and Selene's bastard was more than just that, wasn't she?
I am Margali, she thought forcefully, as she realized she was seeing her uncle's thoughts, feeling his emotions. I am Margali, and I am angry at this bastard for being such a terrible brother to my mother, for not helping her. I am Margali. I was born in Paris.
“How can I help you?” She asked.
“Do you have any children, Margali?” He was still smoking, the pungent smell of the black-papered cigarette turning her stomach just a little in such close quarters.
“No.” She answered.
Around her, the circus was starting to wake, and the ones near her were taking notice of Azazel. Some, most really, thought of him in a neutral sort of way. They weren't sure they believed all the stories they had heard, but nor did they care to confirm one way or the other. The less neutral ones knew more, knew Azazel was just as dangerous as rumored, and they were afraid to have him among them, afraid of what he wanted.
“Do you want one?” He asked, exhaling a cloud of acrid smoke.
“I suppose.” She said, confused by the specificity of the number.
He smiled, a curl of the corner of his mouth that showed just the smallest hint of fangs.
“You see, my niece, I have found myself with a child that needs a home. Almost a year old, a boy.” He spoke carelessly, as carelessly as he spoke of her mother, and indeed, in his projected emotions, there was not a shred of affection. The boy was instead being thought of with annoyance, as though he were a problem. “He's unfortunate enough to take after me. I cannot just drop him on a doorstep.”
But you considered it, you asshole. She thought, viciously.
“He's your son?” She asked, curious, despite herself.
“A bastard of mine, yes. Your cousin. He's becoming a nuisance, and I need to promise his mother he will be safe where I leave him, or she will make my life...difficult.” He hand-waved the word as he sneered, as though the mother being concerned over her child was a petty thing. “I have been at a loss, but then I remembered you were the right age, and thought perhaps you would do.”
Margali was tempted to ask what would happen if she refused, but she already knew, could see his other plan already coldly calculated in his mind. She drove it out with a hard push instead of lingering on it, letting it infect her mind.
“He is my family. I will do it, if I am needed.” She said, resolved. He is not an unwanted kitten, she thought. And you will not discard of him like one, not if I can save him from you.
“Perfect,” He practically purred, looking pleased. “Wait here.”
He was gone in a puff of smoke, leaving Margali shocked. Did he mean to hand over the infant right now? Did he really care so little for the mother's comfort?
And they claimed her mother was the mad one in the family. At least Selene had been harmless, a danger only to herself.
“Margali, what is happening?” One of the acrobats, Tansy, asked. Her twin, Pansy, hovered over her shoulder, still groggy with sleep, but mind just as alight with curiousity. “What is Azazel doing here?” She said his name in a tone reminiscent of awe, with just a little fear mixed in as well.
“I'll explain in a moment,” She said, waving them off, as her own heart pounded in her chest. “Go on, please, before he returns. He won't want an audience.”
Despite that, they had one, as seemingly the whole of the circus gathered around, hiding behind each other and the caravans, waiting, watching. She could feel their thoughts, their emotions. Fear, curiousity, worry. What was Azazel doing among them again?
Azazel reappeared, but he was not alone this time. Now he had a man with him, dark skinned, though he was lighter than Margali, with black hair bound in a queue at the nape of his neck. In his arms, a half-swaddled infant sat, gurgling at him.
A blue, three-fingered hand was clutching the man's dove-grey shirt, the other hidden, while a tail curled through the air. The infant had bright golden eyes that looked at Margali curiously out of a dark blue face.
For a moment, they held each other's eyes.
Then he smiled at her, scrunching in on himself, and squealed, his little tail going right into his mouth, where she could just see the flash of a few white teeth coming in, fangs included.
Her heart melted, and before she knew quite what she was doing, she had held her arms out to him.
The man with the black hair looked at her, his eyes tired and sad, before he briefly squeezed the child, then he handed him over.
The moment Margali held him, she knew he was hers. She could see it, in her mind's eye, this baby as a toddler, following her around, as a young boy, hanging from a tree. Just a quick flash, but enough to let her know that this was her future, that this was right.
“His name is Kurt,” The man said, after he'd waited for a good minute for Azazel to say something. She could feel his sorrow about the boy, and his bitterness towards Azazel, a sour taste like a lemon in her mouth. He felt betrayed, for more than one reason. “He was born on December fifth.”
“Hello, Kurt,” Margali cooed, as he smiled at her. Yes, there were indeed two little fangs poking out of his gums. “Hello, my sweet boy.”
The man was watching her with regret in his heart, but bittersweet resignation as well. He knew this was for the best, though why, she could not discern from a periphery look. Gently, she looked deeper, and saw the swirling complication of emotions that had Azazel at its center. Love, hate, distrust, hope, betrayal.
He did not trust Azazel with this child's safety, she saw, to her horror, but still, he stayed by his side. What kind of man was he?
A foolish one, she saw, by his own assessment. A foolish man who no longer knew what the right thing was.
Still, in his heart, there was hope for this child to have something better. A promise made to a crying woman that he didn't know how to feel about, that he would not let any harm befall her son. That he would at least be a decent man for this boy.
“That's settled then. Let's go.” Azazel said, breaking in to her inspection, as he reached for the man. But the man drew away, much to Azazel's obvious frustration, and he approached Margali instead, his arms crossed over his chest.
“He's a good boy,” The man said. “A very good boy.”
“What a pretty color,” Margali said aloud, stroking Kurt's baby soft face with her thumb.
“His mother is the same color. He has her eyes too.” The man said, his face full of despair. Margali felt a wave of sympathy for him, as she continued to read his emotions. He truly did not agree with this decision, and though the child wasn't his, he still cared for Kurt. He wanted to see the boy grow up, wanted to see him have a good life. “She loves him very much. He must understand that, as he gets older. She loves him, and she's doing this for him. So that he will be safe. Promise you will tell him that?”
“Of course.” Margali agreed, as she saw his memories, a blue-skinned woman with bright red hair sobbing against a woman in white, as he took Kurt in his arms, to the waiting Azazel. Affection for this woman, despite their unhappy connection through Azazel, his jealousy of her, his anger with Azazel.
But still, that undercurrent of distrust towards the both of them, an inability to believe they could raise a baby.
“Please, be his mother for her.” The man said, more quietly, and she realized he didn't want Azazel to hear his plea. “Please love him.”
“I promise.” Margali said, holding Kurt a little tighter. “I'll do my best for him.”
The man bit his lip, and nodded.
“Janos, let's go.” Azazel growled, his eyes looking around, at the circus people. “We have work to do.”
“Just a moment.” The man, Janos, snapped, his eyes narrowed. His tone actually made Azazel withdraw, and though he was no nicer in the air he was giving off, he did not say anything else.
Janos leaned over, and kissed Kurt on the head, before he stroked his errant baby curls one last time. Margali could feel his regret, his guilt over ever being involved in this mess. His friendship with the blue-skinned woman, his love for Azazel, his self-hatred for being weak enough to still love Azazel. His emotions ran deep, and none of them were happy.
“You are loved by your mother, and others,” He said, with great solemnity. “Never forget that. Never forget that people love you, little one. You were wanted. Your mother, she wanted you, despite everything. She wanted you so much, she couldn't bear this.”
A favor asked, in a moment of desperation, she saw. Janos was not supposed to be doing this task. Kurt's mother was. But to hand over her baby had been more than she could bear, and it had been Janos she trusted to deliver Kurt safely.
“Janos, I want to be gone,” Azazel said, impatient, despite his wariness of Janos' temper.
Janos ignored him, and pulled off something, a necklace of some sort. When he held it out to her, she realized it was a rosary, beautifully made and obviously expensive.
“Give this to him, when he is older.” He instructed. “So that he knows he was precious to some people. That to some, he was more valuable than anything in the world.”
Margali took it respectfully, and slipped it into her pocket.
“Thank you,” He said, inclining his head. “Even if he,” He jerked his head towards Azazel, “Is not grateful, the rest of us are.” The rest of us, she saw, included the woman in white, a woman with fluttering wings, and that blue-skinned woman, the tears in her face filling Margali with mourning. She clutched Kurt tighter, knowing him to be as precious as a basket of stardust to that woman.
“You're welcome.” She replied, as Kurt's thick fingers tangled themselves in her necklace. “And thank his mother, for trusting me with him.”
Carefully, she reached out to the man with her free hand, and touched his arm. She tried to communicate a feeling of peace to him, but he rejected it with a soft push. Surprised, she raised her eyebrows, but he only thought of the woman in white. She was like Margali then, someone who could walk through the minds of others.
She glanced at Azazel, still smoking and staring off at nothing.
“It doesn't have to be this way,” She said, quietly. “She could come here. We would take care of her. You could stay as well. We're a family.” The offer was well-meant, but he rebuffed it with a shake of his head.
“I made my bed.” He replied. “And so did she. We've accepted that.”
She could see violence, loud as a firework in his mind, and see blood, hatred, war. A life he had chosen young, and was now coming to regret. A life he could no longer walk away from.
How pitiful, she thought, to have accepted a half-life, and a halfway, selfish sort of love that wasn't really love at all. To have accepted the loss of your own child, and another sort of half-life, just as unfulfilling. What kind of life did her uncle lead, she wondered? Was it this life that had caused the circus to all but declare him an outcast from their family?
“Good luck, Cielo,” He said, looking at Kurt.
He looked away from Kurt and smiled at her, though it was not a happy one, then turned away from her, towards Azazel.
Without looking back at him, Azazel's tail wrapped around the man's arm, and just like that, they were gone.
Kurt abruptly started to cry.
“Shh,” She soothed, unsure of what she was doing exactly. “Shh, little one, it's alright,” She bounced a little, because she'd seen others do that. “Mama is here, it's alright,” The word was strange to say, applying to herself, but she supposed she'd get used to it.
Kurt wailed louder, twisting in her arms, and Margali was at a loss. She could feel his fear, his frustration with her, and his want for the familiar people back, not a stranger. The dark-haired man, that he thought of with the scent of a summer wind, the woman in white that tasted like snow in his mind, and most of all, the blue-skinned woman. With her, there was the thought of comfort, like a warm blanket, wrapped around a person on a cold night. He wanted her, and he did not understand why she was not here.
“Poor baby,” Margali said, trying to adjust her grip on his squirming body. “It is awful, I know, but I promise I will try,”
“Here, now,” Mercy, the tattooed woman, stepped forward and held out her arms. Margali gratefully handed Kurt over. Within moments, Kurt quieted in her more experienced hold, his tangled mind relaxing warily as he looked up at Mercy. “There now, hush, little one. That's no way to be behaving.”
“Well,” Wagner, the Boss, had appeared at last, frowning behind his walrus mustache. “Suppose we've got ourselves a new member of the family, don't we? What's his name?”
Margali could feel his easy acceptance of the matter, his dismissal of Azazel's random appearance and just as sudden disappearance. He had grown up with the man, after all, and she supposed he knew Azazel better than she did.
“Kurt,” Margali answered, as various others finally stepped forward, the spell of fear cast by Azazel's presence broken now. They fussed over Kurt, admired his color and his tail, as Margali looked on with Wagner beside her, fighting the urge to take him back already. Was this that maternal instinct people spoke of?
“He'll need a surname, I suppose, unless you want him to have Azazel's.” The Boss said, twirling the end of his mustache in a learned mannerism that made him look like the very picture of a ringmaster.
“No,” Margali replied quickly. She herself had left that name behind with her mother's grave, no longer wanting to be one of them, if this was who they were. Of madmen and killers, she was neither. She was only Margali, and that was good enough.
“Hm.” Wagner said. “Well, I could give him mine, if you like. Then he'd be Kurt Wagner, eh? Good history to that name.” He laughed at his own joke, and Margali smiled in return.
Mercy helped her hold Kurt, showed her how to support him even as he tried to crawl out of her arms. This time, he didn't cry, merely looked up at her with puzzled eyes. He didn't understand, she saw, why he was here, but he sensed no wrong. As far as he knew, after all, the world was full of people with the best intentions towards him at heart. All he knew was love.
She held him close, and prayed she could live up to his expectations.
His mind hummed at her, full of childish trust.
“I am your mother now,” She mused to him, later that night, as he lay on his back on a blanket, batting at the necklace she dangled over him. “How do you feel about that?”
He smiled up at her, the spade of his tail back in his mouth. He drooled as he chewed on it with his tiny fangs, and somehow, it was cute. This had to be maternal instinct.
“I suppose we'll make the best of it.” She said, agreeably enough.
The next morning, Kurt awoke her with his cries. She changed him, then fed him a bottle of goat's milk and the smashed sweet potatoes Mercy had helped her make the night before. After that, he was content to lie on his belly on a blanket beside her as she brushed her hair out.
“I am Margali.” She recited. “I was born in Paris. I have black hair, and brown eyes and caramel skin. I cannot sing. I can dance.”
Beside her, Kurt made a sound like a bird's cry, as he somehow managed to push himself up and tumble over. He giggled at this, and she laughed too.
“I am Margali,” She repeated. “My son's name is Kurt Wagner.”