Note – The Astonishing X-Men are the property of Marvel Comics and are used without permission.
For Lia Fail, my sweet Lia, for believing in me. And for OldPrydeFan, who knows me now, and who inspired me to start this monster.
Chapter 14 – To Live
It took him a while to find it, for he could not precisely recall where it was. His mind contained the shattered memories of two lives, struggling to reconstruct themselves, the shards fitting back together like pieces of an ill-cut jigsaw. But eventually he remembered, and found what he wanted – a lonely headstone in a lonely graveyard.
Peter Rasputin kneeled before the grave of his parents. He touched the granite with a gauntleted hand, tracing the flow of Cyrillic scrip. A shiver poured through him as coldness sharper than that of the Siberian autumn bit at his flesh. Grimacing he gripped the top of the headstone and bowed his head. "Mother…" he whispered. "Father… I'm sorry… so sorry." He shut his eyes tight, wishing he could cry. But what need did the dead have for tears? Tears were for the living, for their own comfort and healing. Nikolai and Alexandria Rasputin were dead, and their youngest son was worse than dead… he was zalozhiny… unhallowed.
Peter kneeled for a time, contemplating bitterly the ruin of his life, then rose, scanning the sky. They would be coming soon. She would be coming… and he did not want to treat with them here, and he still had much to do. Koschei's legacy must be dealt with, before he took his final rest. He covered his face with a hand, wishing he could visit Illyana, but complete command of the hellgate was something Koschei had not taught him. The improvisation of diverting it to Ust-Ordynski had almost totally drained what little strength he had left. Forcing it to the Xavier Mansion was beyond his scope. As Nikolai Black Sun he never questioned this gap in his lore before, but now recognized it for what it was – another method of control to insure his dependence on Koschei.
"All for naught, sorcerer…" Peter whispered. He took his hand away, let it clench into a fist as bitterness, shame and hate flooded mind and soul. "All for naught…" Peter let out a breath. The hellfire gate sprang to life before him, and unflinching he stepped through.
"Are you sure you want to do this, Kitty?" Scott asked quietly. Kitty nodded.
"But by yourself? That could be dangerous." Hank remonstrated.
"No. There's no danger. What he did back on the Siberian Plateau is proof that he won't hurt me." She grimaced. "At least not physically." Scott was about to speak again, but Kitty cut him off with a sharp shake of his head. "No more arguments. We've been discussing this ever since we got on the Blackbird and found out where Peter teleported to. I know that you're just trying to protect me, but I'm a grown woman. I can do this by myself. Koschei's death doesn't finish this. I… we need to know what Peter intends to do now."
The five X-Men were gathered at the shores of Lake Baikal, at the location of the hidden entrance to Koschei's Hall Danila Volkevich had shown them a scant two days before. The moment after Peter had vanished in a blast of golden fire they had raced to the Blackbird to determine his location. First he manifested at Ust-Ordynski, then teleported to the Hall. After some brief, indeterminable actions there, he had not moved in hours.
Scott frowned, then tried again. "You're right, Kitty. We need to know what's going on with Peter. And you're also right about the odds of him attacking you. But Koschei may have left some defenses down his lair, and we have no way of knowing if Peter has shut them off. It's better if we all go with you, to give you support." Kitty shook her head again. Scott scowled, and was about to continue when Emma interjected.
"Scott, please. Her mind is made up, and she's not going to change it in the face of any argument. She wants to do this alone." Emma frowned and looked down at her boots. "You, of all people, should understand why."
Scott looked at Emma steadily, then looked back at Kitty, his disciplinary scowl softened to a concerned frown. "I don't like this."
"Me either," growled Hank.
"I know guys. I… don't like it much either. But…" she shook her head, then smiled gently at Scott and Hank. "Thank you for caring, guys." She then looked at Emma. "And thank you, too." To her surprise, the words did not stick in her throat.
Emma just snorted. "I'm just assuming my usual role of being the practical one in this menagerie of dreamers, Miss Pryde. God knows you lot need all the common sense you can get." She wrapped her arms around herself and chaffed her arms. "Besides which, it is cold out here and the sooner we finish this the sooner we can return to warmth and civilization."
Kitty laughed softly. "There's an obvious remedy to that problem, Miss Frost," she answered, eyeing Emma's scanty white uniform. She turned to Logan. "Do you have anything you want to say?"
"No. I know how stubborn you are, and I also know you don't need anyone to hold your hand, pun'kin."
Kitty looked away from Logan, staring out over the azure expanse of Lake Baikal. "I'm scared, Logan," she whispered.
"Like I told you, life is scary. There's no question about that. The question is how you deal with it, whether you let fear rule your life, or face up to it and live as best you can."
Kitty smiled sadly, tears prickling in her golden brown eyes. "Peter also said something like that to me, long ago, on Muir."
"Petey was never a fool."
"You're right. Foolish at times maybe, but who here hasn't been? But a true fool… never." Kitty wiped her eyes with the back of her glove and looked around at her teammates one last time. "Here I go…" Taking a deep breath, she shifted out of phase and descended into the Hall of Koschei.
The first thing she noticed, when she phased into open air, was that the dim lights that once illuminated the Hall were extinguished. Kitty had not been sure what to expect beneath the earth, so she had brought an emergency kit from the Blackbird with her. She took out its compact maglight and switched it on, lighting her way. She found herself at the top of a stairway; it descended to a corridor that ran straight away and beyond the range of her light. She followed the path laid before her, neither turning left or right when she came to intersections, always going forward. She had no particular plan in mind to find Peter, willing to trust luck or fate or whatever power that ruled her life to bring her to him. She quickly noticed that the sense of vertigo that had plagued her the last time she walked through the Hall had not returned. Neither did she hear whispers, or feel her skin creep from the sensation of unseen eyes watching her. She did not find this change reassuring - in a way, the implications of this abandonment frightened her more than the ghosts and demons that had once haunted these catacombs ever could have.
After five minutes walking Kitty saw a dim light glowing up ahead. She stopped for a moment, contemplating it, then marched forward with determination. She passed through an ornate archway and entered Koschei's Great Hall, and there, illumined by weirdly wrought brass lanterns that seemed to cast more shadow than light, was Peter. He was at the top of the dais of carved onyx, sitting in Koschei's throne of malachite, his head resting back, his eyes closed. He was dressed entirely in black – black greatcoat, black trousers, black slippers - each article of clothing shimmering with the gloss of fine silk. His long black hair hung unbound, and a band of silver cloth decorated his pallid brow. His skin was as white as driven snow, against which the black tattoos on his face contrasted starkly. He sat motionless, a statue hewed from ivory and jet.
Kitty stared up at Peter, clad in his somber finery, so very silent, very still. He seemed to her like some prince of old set to rest. She clenched her hands hard at that thought, biting down on her lip. Tears prickled and welled in her eyes again, and she shook her head, swallowed hard, took a breath, trying to make it not sound like a sob. She would not cry, not yet. Later perhaps, but she did not have the time now. She had to make sure, once and for all, and not let fear and sorrow make her jump to a hasty conclusion. She took a step towards the dais, then another, her eyes locked on Peter as she forced herself towards him. With each foot closer she drew, the more convinced she became that he was gone, would never move again. She wondered if she would be able to tell how he died, whether he had committed suicide by some unknowable means, or if the punishment he had suffered at the claws of Gorynytch and the sorcery of Koschei had been too much for even his incredible endurance to overcome. Kitty tried to stop this line of thought, compartmentalize it away, but could not. She felt herself trembling, as if fever struck. She set foot on the first step of the dais and began to climb, and with each step she ascended she felt the scream gestating inside grow a little longer, a little louder. When I am finally at the top, she thought, standing before him and looking into his face, I will scream. I will scream because my heart will have finally died, irrevocably slain, and I will never be whole again. Losing him once was almost more than I could bear. Peter… oh Peter…
By the penultimate step she was crying, unable to check her grief. She halted, nearly stumbling, and violently scrubbed the tears off her face and out of her eyes. She gazed blearily at Peter for a moment, then stepped onto the top of the dais and walked to him, coming so close to him her knees were nearly touching his. I will look into his face now and see that he is gone. Then I will scream. She leaned towards him.
Peter's eyes opened.
Kitty gasped, heels of her hands leaping to her mouth. Shadows and light whirled around her as all her breath left her lungs and her knees buckled. Kitty fell, and she then heard a whisper like the sigh of distant wind. She stopped falling, and Peter's face was close to hers. Her senses cleared, and she regained her coherence. He was half raised from his throne, his left arm hooked around her shoulders. He had caught her as she was falling.
Golden-brown eyes, filled with tears and wonderment, started into ineffably tired eyes of azure-blue. "Peter…" she murmured.
His eyes became unfocused for a moment, as if he were recalling a memory buried deep. "Yes," he finally said, his voice barely a whisper. "Yes," he repeated, a little louder. "That is my name… my true name. I remember it now, at last." He blinked, and his eyes focused on Kitty. "I knew you would come, Katya. I had hoped that you would not, but I knew that you would." He raised his right hand to her face, his fingers hovering over her cheek. "You have been crying. I am sorry for that. You should not cry for me, Katya. I am not worth tears."
Strength returned to Kitty. She took hold of Peter's sleeve, straightening herself. "You're wrong, Peter," she said quietly, her voice hoarse. She swallowed to clear it. "You told me that once before. You were wrong then, and you're wrong now. You are worth tears. You will always be worth tears…" She phased and stepped backwards, slipping out of his hold. Peter held his position for a moment, then his left hand closed and he settled back down in the throne, watching Kitty with half-closed eyes. Kitty stared back, wondering what to say to him next, but unable to find the words.
The silence between them stretched for a time, before Peter finally broke it. "How did you find me, you and the others, out there on the Plateau? For that matter, how did they find the Hall?"
Kitty took a breath before answering. This was a question she had not expected, but at least it was a beginning. "When we captured you in San Francisco, we weren't certain of how long we could hold you, so Hank took the precaution of implanting a tracking device in your side."
The focus of Peter's gaze seemed to turn inward, and he pressed his hand against his left side. "Ah," he murmured. "So simple, yet beyond the reckoning of Koschei. Beyond mine too. Technology of this sort was alien to us." He shook his head. "Perhaps if he had not so thoroughly buried my true self, I could have perceived it." He chuckled bitterly. "But in that case, I may have not been as tractable a pawn, eh?"
"Why did you run from us, Peter?" Kitty demanded. "After what happened, why did you run from me?"
"I did not run from you, Katya. I needed to finish what I started when I slew Koschei, and in order to do so I had to return to the only place on Earth now fit for me."
A dread more terrible than what she felt when she first saw Peter upon Koschei's throne clutched at Kitty. "What do you mean by that?"
"Koschei is gone, but he has left much behind that could be a danger to the world. It needed to be dealt with, and so I have. His librams, his chambers, his treasury and his armory – all these I have sealed with the power I command. As Koschei's heir my will within these Halls is paramount, and cannot be overthrown. The servants I have dismissed, much as did with the druzhina. Zalozhiny and kholop, all have gone to what ever rest they can find. The Halls are now empty of all ghosts and demons." He leaned back in the throne, resting his head against the back and closing his eyes. "All but one."
"I am ghost, Katya. Let this place be my tomb."
"NO!" Kitty shouted at him, her eyes bright with fear, her face flushing with anger. "How can you even think that? Damn you, after all we've been through, fighting against you, fighting for you, working our hardest to free you from Koschei, how can you even think of doing such a thing?"
Peter shook his head. "You do not understand, Katya."
"I understand perfectly. You're a coward, Peter. You're giving up again, just like you did before when you took the Legacy cure!"
Peter's eyes snapped open; they were blazing pools of gold. His tattoos shimmered and ignited. He slapped his hand down on the armrest of his throne, the impact of the heel of his palm cracking the magically wrought and fortified malachite. "ENOUGH!" he roared, his voice booming through the hall like a cannon blast, and Kitty, hands clasped over her ears, reeled back as if she had been punched. She blinked through tears of pain and saw that Peter had stood, his arms held out from his sides, his black clad form wreathed in a nimbus of golden hell fire, comely and terrible, like a demon prince called from Hell and aroused to wrath. "Do you not yet perceive, Katya," he hissed, "that the being standing before you is not the man you once knew?" He brandished a hand, clenching it violently into a fist. "Koschei changed me, Katya – mind, body and soul. This isn't the substance of a mortal man. My flesh is dust, my muscle stone, my bones steel, and my blood venom. My soul has been blackened, stained by cosmic crimes and a terrible destiny. And my mind, my memory… it is shattered. My thoughts move in alien ways…" he took a deep, shuddering breath, letting his arms drop. The shroud of fire abated, but did not quench, and his eyes remained molten gold. "I am not human anymore, Katya. I am zalozhiny… one of the unhallowed dead. Let the dead be… it is safer that way, for all concerned."
Kitty stared at Peter, her complexion pale, her mouth slightly parted. A fresh tear ran down her cheek; she wiped it away with the back of her hand. She started to speak, paused as the words refused to leave her, then tried again. "For most of what you said, Peter, I don't know how to answer it. But for your flesh being dust, how does that make you different from any other man on earth?" Peter did not answer. The hell fire had now banked, his tattoos shining bright gold. His golden eyes seemed to soften. "You say Koschei changed you, Peter. I cannot deny that, at least not when it comes to your body. But your heart he couldn't touch. Bury it, yes – trap you in a prison of amnesia and conditioning, but its purity is something that even a sorcerer of his power could never corrupt. I saw that when you were Nikolai, in the way you acted, in the way you treated Danila and me. And on the Plateau, when you looked up at me after Koschei scourged you and I looked into your eyes, that despite all you have been through and the chains you had to wrench yourself free of, you were still the same Piotr Nikolievitch Rasputin I cared for all these years… my dear and best friend."
Peter shook his head. "It… it feels good to know you feel that way about me, and that you had such trust, but you still don't understand. In the years that I was his heir, Koschei twisted me, turned me into an exact opposite of what I once was. He needed a weapon, and he forged me into one that well suited him. I am the Black Sun, Katya - the Doom of Mortal Men, Deathless and Eternal. That is what he made me, and it is what I remain. You cannot understand what it is like…"
Kitty smiled sadly and stared at Peter in silence. Peter blinked, his stern demeanor becoming one of perplexity.
"Ogun," whispered Kitty.
Peter's tattoos darkened to jet, his eyes deepened to azure blue. That one terrible name, spoken softly, extinguished the last of his wrath. "Katya…" he murmured. "I…"
Kitty shook her head. "It's not exactly the same, I know. Hell, far from it. Ogun was nowhere near as ambitious as Koschei, and he didn't invest in me power of a scale anywhere close to yours. But being turned into a weapon against your will? I'm very familiar with that." She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. She felt so cold, and very tired. "Life is hard. You're one of the people who taught me that, Peter. But you also taught me that it is worth living, despite the difficulties. I know that to be true." She turned away from him, head bowed. "You have a second chance. I can't make you take it if you don't want to. I know how tired you are, and how you must be hurting. I honestly don't know what I'd do in your place. But Peter… I believe in you. I trust you. I wouldn't have fought and struggled the way I have if I did not." She began to descend the dais.
"Katya…" Peter called out. She paused and looked back. Peter had reached out with his right hand, his face taut with emotion. The shadow play of the lamps made his eyes lambent sapphires. He stared down at her, his mouth opening and closing as he sought the means to express himself. Suddenly he shivered. His opened hand clenched, his eyes shut, and he dropped to his knees, bracing his hands against polished onyx to keep from collapsing completely.
Kitty raced back to the top of the dais, kneeling down by Peter, reaching out to help him in whatever manner she could. "Peter! Oh God, I'm sorry. I didn't mean –"
Peter shook his head and raised a hand to cut her off. "No, don't apologize. You did, you said, what you believed. There is no fault in that. This is but a momentary weakness; it will pass." He looked down at his hands, then out into the gloom of the Hall. "It is peaceful, to be one with the dark. It embraces you in a gentle lassitude, in which all burdens and cares are forgotten." He sighed and shook his head again. "Yet, despite that, I do not think I am one for the dark. Not yet." Kitty said nothing. She knelt in silence, watching Peter as he thought. He sighed a third time and looked at her, a sad, half-bitter smile on his lips. "I am a fool, Katya." Kitty bit her lip, to keep from objecting. "That much about me has not changed. But I am not so much a fool to throw away your trust and your friendship. For you, Katya, I will return to the mortal world and try to live again."
"It can't be just for me, Peter," she said earnestly. "You can't live just for me. It has to be because you want to live for yourself."
Peter looked away. "Do not ask for what is beyond my strength." He covered his eyes with a hand. "One day, perhaps, I will find that strength. But not now."
Kitty looked at him closely, then nodded. "All right." And if I can, I'll help you find your strength again. Laboriously, Peter rose. Kitty took his arm to help him.
Logan canted his head. "I hear someone coming towards us, moving beneath the ground."
Hank's nose wrinkled. "I do, too."
"Can you tell who it is, how many?" asked Scott.
"No," answered Logan. "I can just make out movement – that's all." Hank nodded in agreement. Scott looked over at Emma. She shook her head.
"The Hall's nature is still blocking my telepathy. I don't know who it is."
Scott nodded, accepting these reports, and started at the spot in the earth Kitty had phased through, his fists clenching and unclenching as he waited for the news of the final fate of his student and friend.
"…I am afraid."
The ground by Lake Baikal shuddered, and a gate in the earth yawned open, revealing polished stone steps. Up from these steps emerged Kitty Pryde, and behind her, moving slowly, almost reluctantly, was Peter Rasputin. He had changed out of his funerary black, and into an outfit a practical, rustic nature – white peasant's shirt, durable brown trousers, sturdy leather boots. A sheathed dagger depended from his broad leather belt, and in his right hand he carried a leather satchel. The X-Men stared at him, in disbelief and wonder. He climbed the final step, and the gate grumbled shut behind him. He stood before them, blinking in the sunlight, looking around at the wilderness surrounding him as if this was the first time he had ever been outdoors, his expression one of almost awe. He then looked at his friends, and smiled at them shyly.
"Hello my friends," he murmured. "I am back."
According to my best reckoning, it has been two years, eight months since I started this story. I've written almost one hundred thousand words, and in the process made the acquaintance of some very interesting people, including the love of my life.
Needless to say, I'm bushed. I'm not going to write much in explanatory notes here – Deathless will stand or fall on its own merits, and anything I say won't have much effect on that. I may delve deeper into my thoughts on this novel over at the Kiotr Live Journal site. It can be found at http://community. . If you have any questions for me, or are interested in anything Colossus or Shadowcat related, it's a great place to hang out. We're all friendly there, and promise not to bite.
Some thank yous are in order.
First, thank you to Lia Fail, my past partner in crime in writing, and who became the love of my life. You're the best thing ever to happen to me, sweetheart.
Thanks to OldPrydeFan, who's Paper Flowers got me interested in writing fan fiction again. I wish I knew you better, OPF, and I hope one day you'll find the energy to continue with Paper Flowers. But even if you never do, thank you for inspiring me.
Thanks to Kirayoshi, a fine writer in his own right, for being the first to comment on Deathless all that time ago, back when I was very frustrated with the lack of response to it, and staying patient enough to see it to the end.
Thanks to Amokitty, for her endless enthusiasm for all things Peter and Kitty related. She truly is a gem of a person.
Thanks to Madripoor Rose and Xakko, for their enthusiasm for Deathless and for flattering me for listing me as an influence and inspiration for their own writings.
Thanks also to Joss Whedon, not that he probably would give a damn for some amateur's piece of fan fiction or thanks. I'm not the biggest fan of his works, but I think his Astonishing X-Men is very good, and if it wasn't for him writing it, I'd never had gotten interested in X-Men again. I don't like to think much about that.
And finally thanks to everyone who's read this, whether they've commented or not. I hope you've gotten enjoyment out of this story.
Take care of yourselves,