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Wesley Knight

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Wesley's Backstory (Thanks to Electra for turning my ramshackle of ideas into a coherent history :D)

People say you can never go home again, but in some cases, that's truer than others. In Wesley Knight's case, it's words to live by. He grew up in a tiny town called Tunnel Hill, about an hour north of Mobile, a tiny flyspeck on a map full of them. Tunnel Hill's only claim to fame was the auto parts factory, which employed about half the people in town, and drew folks in from miles away. It drew in Wesley's parents, Marlon and Marie Knight, when Wesley himself was no more than a baby. They weren't a comfortable fit in town, being just about the only people of color in a ten-mile radius, but the factory gave Marlon a job, and it was enough to support the family. Marie helped out with a garden and doing some housekeeping for the wealthier folks in town, and they got by just fine. They didn't make a lot of friends, but these were more enlightened times, even in Alabama, and they didn't have much trouble, either.

As for Wesley himself, he didn't even realize he was different until he got to school. He went to daycare with the white children, played with them at the park, and if no one ever came over to his house or invited him over, well, he was too young to realize that wasn't normal. On the television, white children and black children played together like it was nothing, and that's what he came to expect. It wasn't until he reached elementary school and began spending six hours a day with white kids that he realized he was never going to really fit in. No one was especially cruel, not at first, but he was never a part of any group. At recess, he played kickball but was never picked first, after school, he walked home alone. Sometimes groups of older boys called him names and tried to goad him into fights, but that wasn't really Wesley's nature. Instead, he grew very close to his parents, and made plans for one day finding a better place than this to live.

Years passed, and Wesley got used to being an outcast in school and town. He made a few friends, mainly other kids who weren't socially acceptable for one reason or another, or who wanted to rebel by being friends with someone their parents said to avoid. They had some fun times out by the old railroad tunnel or scrambling through the swamps outside of town when their parents weren't watching. They played at being superheroes, as all young boys did, saving the day with the powers they saw heroes using on television, becoming rich, famous and so beloved that everyone in town wanted desperately to be their friends. It made school a little more bearable. Wesley was a decent student, though he never tried to stand out, and he coasted pretty easily through Tunnel Hill Elementary.

Things changed, though, when he went to the County Consolidated Middle School for sixth grade. There were a lot of new kids there, even a few Hispanics who'd come up to pick fruit and cotton with their families. It was a new world to navigate, with new friends and new enemies. Most importantly, though, Wesley fell in love, the way you only can at twelve. Her name was Elaine, and she was twelve like him, and beautiful. And she was white. Even at that age, both of them knew what a problem that was, but that only made it more exciting. They passed notes in the hallway and held hands when no one was looking. He gave her flowers he found out along the highway as he walked home, and even a kiss once, on the cheek because he was a gentleman. It was a very fine love affair, indeed.

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That spring, after they'd been "dating' for several months, Elaine invited him to come over and meet her family. There was an Easter picnic at the very small church that her father was pastor of, and it would be a lot of fun if he would come. There would be games, and plenty of good food, and she was sure that her family would like him, because he was so polite and well-spoken. Against his better judgment, which was always a little clouded when it came to Elaine, Wesley agreed to go. The moment he arrived at the Easter Picnic, dressed in his best suit and a bow tie, he knew it was a mistake. He didn't know these people, who were from a town even smaller than his own, and they all looked at him like he'd fallen out of space like the Centurion. Elaine intercepted him just as someone was coming over, undoubtedly to ask what he thought he was doing here, and guided him over to her family. Scared and uneasy, he held her hand tightly, a fact that didn't go unnoticed even for a second. Elaine scarcely had time to say "Daddy, Mama, I want you to meet my friend Wesl-" before her father was rising from his seat at the picnic table.

Elaine's daddy was a tall man, and to Wesley at that moment, he looked like a giant. "Elaine, I don't believe you were allowed to invite anyone to this picnic. It's for church members only," he intoned, staring at the childrens' joined hands. They dropped hands immediately.

"But Daddy," Elaine protested. "Wesley's my friend. I really like him, and I think you will..."

He cut her off again. "It is not right for the unequal to be yoked together!" he boomed, loudly enough to catch the attention of everyone nearby. "One cannot come into the presence of the Lord until one has been washed clean as the snow, pure white by the blood of the Lamb! It is our faces that show our inner natures, not the clothes we wear or the folks we try and make nice with!" He stared Wesley down. "There is a Natural Order of Things, boy! We all keep to our kinds, like to like! Anyone who doesn't, is a freak of nature and should be treated as that! A freak!" He took a menacing step forward and Wesley, terrified and humiliated in equal parts, turned and bolted. He ran all the way home, tearing the shins of his best pants on a thornbush and ruining the polish on his good Sunday shoes.

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After that experience, it was very hard for Wesley to even show his face at school again, though pride and pragamatism forbid him from playing hooky and courting punishment at school and at home. Elaine tried to offer a stammering apology on behalf of her family, but Wesley was in no mood to hear it. She'd led him into an ambush, and hadn't even given him a warning. Besides, she'd been forbidden to speak to him anymore, and her older cousins were everywhere, keeping an eye out. The romance, and the love, was over. He told his father just a little bit about what had happened, because he had to tell someone, and he trusted his father more than anyone. Marlon reminded him that it was pain that inevitably came before strength, and that just like a sore back and blistered hands led to muscle and callouses, a hurting heart now would make him a better man later. "If you don't know pain, you can't feel compassion," he told Wesley. They finished out the lesson with apple pie and ice cream which, while not exactly a cure, made him feel a little bit better.

Whether or not it made him strong, Wesley liked to think that the experience with Elaine had at least made him smarter. He avoided females and their wiles, even as all the girls in his class suddenly began growing, seemingly over the space of a single summer, into women. By concentrating on his friends and his schoolwork, he got by all right, and eventually made it through sixth, seventh and eighth grades, and into the big county high school. Here was a whole new world of people and opportunities, even if they came with new dangers and pitfalls as well. The high school was where all the sports were, for one! Wesley wasn't big enough for football, but he made the baseball and basketball teams both, and ended up starting point guard for the sophomore team when he was fifteen. His parents attended every home game, and even the people who didn't like him still cheered his name when he represented the school! A winning season for the sophomore team did a whole lot to boost his rep around the school, and even brought the girls around again. Although sorely tempted, Wesley didn't indulge. He had more important things to think about, and he wasn't about to risk his shooting or pitching arm getting beat up by someone's older brother.

Wesley was riding high at the start of his junior year. Easy classes and guaranteed passing grades because of his sports prowess, and maybe even the possibility of a scholarship or two coming his way. He knew people were looking his way from some of the state colleges, but he was starting to think he could do even better. He could be on the television in two years, with a little training and luck, leading a college team instead of a backwater high school team. Heck, there he'd be in the majority, instead of the only black kid in the whole damn school!

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All those beautiful dreams shattered, though, on an icy night in the winter of 2006. While Wesley celebrated another victory on the bus with his team, his parents followed them back through the unusually cold night towards town. As they neared the school, a silver Chevy Cavalier hurtled through a stoplight behind the bus, plowing at near sixty miles an hour into his parents' little hatchback. Wesley didn't see it happen, but the sound of it became embedded in his brain, to play in his dreams again and again. The whole team piled out of the bus, and for once there was no thought of skin color or cultural barriers as they tried to pull Marlon and Marie from the destroyed car, but it was too late. Neither of them ever made it to the hospital. The teenager who had been driving the car, a kid named David that Wesley knew slightly, was woozy but only scratched up, and spent most of the rescue effort on his cell phone, trying to tell his parents why the crash wasn't his fault. He barely seemed to realize he'd hit anyone.

What came after that was nothing but an unending nightmare for Wesley. His family was gone, his house was empty, his life seemed over. His friends on the basketball team grieved with him, but they didn't understand. They didn't know what it was like to be alone! They only stared from the sidelines, like he was some kind of curiosity in a zoo. "Watch the loneliest negro, see him cry real tears, just ten cents a look!" No one really understood him, no one really cared. His grief began to coalesce into a cold rage that needed an outlet. By the time the funerals were over, he needed a target, and there was one readily available.

The day after he buried his parents, Wesley found David after school, standing in the parking lot next to his new car and talking with his friends without a care in the world. He'd only wanted to talk, Wesley would swear it later. Wanted to hear the apology, wanted to see some goddamn remorse from the man who'd destroyed his family. But by the time he'd crossed that endless expanse of parking lot, there was blood in his eyes and he wasn't thinking about any talking at all. With the speed and grace that had made him a star on the basketball court, Wesley slammed into the murderer, mercilessly driving fists into flesh and listening to the so-familiar sound of bone hitting metallic car body. The attack was so fast and unexpected, everyone around was stunned for a minute, and David never even had a chance. By the time four guys ganged up to pull Wesley off, David was on the ground, bleeding and unconscious. The sirens started wailing a minute later, an ambulance for one, a police car for the other. Rather than spend that first endless night in his empty home, Wesley spent it in jail.

His parents had died without making wills, so although the house and everything would eventually be his, at the moment, Wesley didn't even have five hundred dollars to hire a bail bondsman, much less an attorney. He didn't realize until he saw the paper the next day how bad it was. David was still in the hospital, with bleeding in his brain. The doctor didn't know when he was going to wake up, or if there would be permanent damage. A lot of people in town, including David's father the mayor, were up in arms and looking to make an example of the perpetrator of violence in the schools. Some people even talked about gangs encroaching into their town, as entirely ridiculous as the idea was. Though Wesley's public defender was dedicated and competent, the public sentiment was such that the best he could do was to get Wesley an eighteen month sentence in juvenile detention. "I'm sorry," he told Wesley, "but it might be for the best. People are really angry right now, and you don't have a lot of folks on your side. It's wrong and it's not justice, but if you keep your nose clean and get your GED, you'll come out all right. I know the guy who's handling your parents' estate. He's honest and he'll do right by you. I'm damn sorry about all this, Wesley."

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Wesley was damn sorry too, but he could see the wisdom in his lawyer's words. He just hoped no one burned down his house while he was gone. And it wasn't like he had anything to go back to now, anyway. He'd surely be expelled from school, off the team, with no hope of scholarships anymore, and no friends. And his parents were gone, a yawning hole inside him that still ached every second. At least going to juvie meant food and a place to sleep. It wasn't easy being inside, for all that he was no longer nearly so much a minority. Most of the guys he met were a lot rougher than he was, and his normally peaceful nature didn't serve him well. He had to learn fast how to defend himself and stick up for himself. No one turned and ran here, you either defused a situation or you fought it out, because there was no place to go. He wound up with his share of bruises and stolen items before he found his place, precarious as it was, in the hierarchy of juvenile offenders.

It wasn't all bad, though. He'd always had a knack for making friends in unusual places, and this was no exception. He met some people almost like himself, good guys who'd had bad luck, or who'd made one bad decision that screwed up their whole lives. One of the guys he met was Leroy, a seventeen year old tattoo apprentice from Mobile who was in for being caught with the stash of drugs his cousin had given him, all unknowing. "I was stupid to take it," Leroy acknowledged ruefully, "I knew he wasn't no good. Live and learn." They didn't have any equipment in juvie, and Leroy eschewed the rough tools of the prison tat trade, but he was more than happy to describe the business in intricate details to a fascinated Wesley. Wesley had always been a good artist, but that hadn't seemed to be a skill that would take him anywhere. Now, though, it seemed like an avenue. Good tat artists made good money, and it was a hell of a lot better than working in the auto parts factory. Soon he was drawing designs on any spare piece of paper, and ordering in books from the library system on how to be a tattoo artist. He picked up his GED, and started to feel like he might be going somewhere with his life again.

As it turned out, thanks to a cut for good behavior and a sympathetic review board, Wesley got out six months early, just about the time Leroy was aging out of the system too. Leroy invited him down to Mobile, and since Wesley didn't feel ready to go home, he was happy to take him up on that. He interviewed at the shop Leroy worked at, and impressed them enough with his knowledge and drawings for them to take him on. By the end of six months, he'd progressed from sweeping the floor and dumping old needles to tattooing himself and his friends, and was just about ready to go into the business. Right about then, though, he turned eighteen, and was faced with old business to take care of. He was of age, and now all that had belonged to his family was his. He'd have to go deal with it.

The guys at the shop gave him a little advice on what to do, though they weren't exactly lawyers themselves. Wesley decided to hope his PD had been telling him the truth, and that this attorney was a guy he could trust. He made arrangements to meet the estate trustee in late May, since that was the soonest he could catch a ride to Tunnel Hill. Getting back was going to be a challenge, but he figured he'd have at least some money by then, enough to buy a bus ticket. It was weird coming back into town after all this time, and seeing how very much the same it all looked. He got some double-takes and some hard looks as he walked down Main Street, but he figured that was normal. He'd been gone a long time, and he'd always been sort of a remarkable figure in town. Some of the looks didn't seem at all friendly, but he was used to that, too. He could ignore it and go about his business.

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Mr. Jacobson, the attorney, was a tall man in his late fifties, with a wood-paneled office and a pretty secretary in the waiting room. He pretty much looked like every lawyer Wesley had ever seen on TV. He sat Wesley down in his office and opened a thick folder of papers, then began going carefully through each one, describing exactly what it was, and exactly what it meant to the estate. As his parents' only chick and child, Wesley was the sole beneficiary of their estate, and entitled to complete ownership of the house, the bank accounts, all the contents of the house, and his father's pension plan from the factory. Even after the family debts were settled and the funeral expenses were deducted, it was more money than Wesley had ever had at once! "I also took it upon myself as trustee," Mr. Jacobson said, rather diffidently, "to settle with the family of the young man who caused the accident. There seemed certain to be legal unpleasantness, so in exchange for not filing a wrongful death action on behalf of your parents, they have refrained from filing any civil action against you for damages to their son. I realize it's not an ideal solution for anyone, but such lawsuits are costly and time consuming, and would only stir up further bad feeling in the town."

"So all this is mine," Wesley asked, putting his hands on the paper, "and nobody's gonna sue me, but David just walks away without paying anything?"

Mr. Jacobson winced at that choice of words. "I should have realized you haven't been keeping up with the local news," he said, somewhat apologetically. "David won't be walking anywhere. He's been in a wheelchair since the incident. The doctor doesn't believe he'll walk again." That information was enough to set Wesley back on his heels. He hadn't known. Maybe it was justice, but it didn't make him feel any better. It certainly explained some of the looks he'd been getting.

Mr. Jacobson went on to offer his services in the sale of the house and its contents, for a reasonable fee of course, since his services as trustee were now completed. "In fact," he added, a little bit urgently, "as your attorney, I would advise you to allow me to handle all the details and contact you at your new address. That would be a much wiser course of action than staying in town. In fact, leaving today before dark is probably the smartest thing you could do. I don't like the whispers that have been going around town."

Wesley didn't like the sound of that, either. "I don't have a car," he admitted. "I was planning on riding the Greyhound out tomorrow morning. Is that going to be dangerous?"

The lawyer folded his hands thoughtfully, looking troubled. "I'll tell you what," he said. "I have a nephew going to school down at University of Mobile, and I have my old Ford Taurus that I've been planning to send down there to him. Why don't I have you deliver it to him? You'll have a way to get back home, and I'll have saved myself a chore, and there won't be any unpleasantness." He looked at the clock. "But we'd better hurry and finish all this business. I lost track of time."

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That idea sounded very good to Wesley, who hurriedly agreed. He had no illusions of what might happen to the only black man in a town of stirred up folks after dark. The two of them completed their business, then Mr. Jacobson closed up his shop and drove Wesley over to his place. The car was not much to look at, and it coughed a little as it started up, but it was transportation. Mr. Jacobson gave Wesley a friendly handshake and the folder of papers along with the keys, and told him to call any time with more questions. The sun was just beginning to sink behind the trees as Wesley turned his car onto the road, heading for Mobile. Part of him wanted to go home and see everything one more time, maybe pick up a few mementoes, but it wasn't worth his life.

He'd left the city limits and passed the high school by the time he saw the first car in his rearview mirror. It was coming up really fast, far faster than the little Taurus could go. Before Wesley could take evasive action, it had pulled in front of him and slowed way down, pinning him in on the narrow road. More cars quickly joined it, hemming him in and forcing him to a stop. Wes's mouth went dry when he realized he couldn't see the faces of any of the drivers, because they were all wearing white hoods. He locked the doors as they approached, but one already had a Slim Jim in hand, and in a moment, he was being dragged out of the car by his legs, his head dragging in the gravel. "We been waitin' for you, boy," one of the hooded men growled, crouching next to him. "You laid hands on what you shouldn't oughta. You gonna wish you'd been in the car with your mama and daddy."

Everything was a confused jumble as Wesley was dragged across road and turf off the side of the road, into a dense copse of trees. He struggled as hard as he could, which just made them laugh, at least a half-dozen men, he was sure, though he couldn't tell how many. They lifted him up and slammed him against a tree, binding his hands roughly, measuring his neck with their hands. "And lo, the good book says that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission," a deep voice intoned piously. A shock ran through Wesley as he recognized that Scripture-blaspheming voice from the past. "But if the right hand offend thee, cut it off, that it shall not lead thee to sin!"

A sea of white fabric surrounded Wesley as he jerked and twisted, unable to escape the rough noose of rope as it was dropped around his neck. He felt it tighten, and felt the acid wash of fear inside his mouth. How could it all end like this? It wasn't fair, it wasn't just! They were all monsters in human form, and he wouldn't let them win! Wesley opened his mouth, even as hands pushed him up a ladder and the rope began to tighten. "NO!" he screamed. And everything began to change.

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At first it was something more felt than seen, a ripple through his body, down his arms, into the air. It felt... it felt horrible, malicious and spiteful, like all the rage and fear and hatred in his body had balled up and released itself in tangible form in these last moments of his life. Then the leading edge of the wave hit the first of them men, and the carnage began. The rope around Wesley's neck loosened as the man holding it doubled over and fell backwards, making choking noises under his hood and clutching at his chest. The ones pushing Wes up the ladder were in the same state, wheezing for air and falling to the ground. All around him, they ripped off their hoods, grabbing at their throats and hearts as their faces turned red, then blue.

No longer were they faceless demons, but men, men he knew. Some guys he'd gone to high school with, the mayor, Elaine's father, all of them choking just as they would've done to him. He watched as the pastor turned his blue face up to heaven and collapsed, still mouthing supplications. Standing on the ladder and looking down on them was like peering into hell, and there was nothing Wesley could do about it. In minutes, it was all over. He stood alone in the sunset clearing, noose in his hand, staring at seven brand new corpses, their faces bloated, their eyes staring. He knew he'd done it, but he had no idea how. And that was almost as terrifying as the lynching party had been.

When the edge of the terror faded, reality began to assert itself. He knew he couldn't be caught here, or he'd be in even worse trouble than before. He climbed down from the ladder, hauling both it and the noose into the swamp and throwing them in, likely where they'd planned to toss his body. Going back to the road, he found a pair of driving gloves in the lead car and, putting them on, he methodically parked each car just off the road, as though they'd all pulled off without any intent to block the road. Someone would find them, and people would suspect what they'd been up to, but there was no proof of anything! How could the town accuse him, without accusing itself? With his work done, he climbed into the Taurus and drove it to Mobile, shaking all the way there. Once he arrived and dropped off the car, he holed up in his apartment for days, obsessively scanning the news. A story came out of Tunnel Hill about a strange mass poisoning at a Klan meeting, but there were no suspects. Even so, he couldn't breathe easy.

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He made his way through the rest of his apprenticeship, working his ass off with long hours and after-work study, trying to get through a two-year apprenticeship in half the time. Wesley knew he wouldn't feel safe until he was out of Alabama. He also wouldn't feel safe until he knew more about his powers, which he explored very tentatively on weekends, far away from people he might hurt. Never again, he promised himself, would he kill someone with the strange forces he seemed able to channel. The people he'd killed were in self defense and he could live with that, but he never, ever, ever wanted to see anything like that again.

At the end of his apprenticeship, he started casting around for places to go from here. One of his bosses knew a guy out in Freedom City who had a shop with an open chair. That sounded good to Wesley. It was far away, it was someplace to work, it was a place that was out of the goddamn Deep South, finally. And everybody knew that Freedom City was lousy with superheroes. Maybe there'd be a place he could learn more about his powers and what they would do. He was in a good position to move out. He had some money, from the sale of the house and from his folks' investments, and he had a good used car with a big trunk to hold his stuff. Maybe, if he were careful and thrifty, he could even build a rep and open his own place. It was worth a try, anyway. He packed up his car with a sleeping bag and all his worldly possessions and headed out one morning, never once looking back. Who needed home, when he had the whole world to look forward to?

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