Note – The X-Men are the property of Marvel Comics and are used without permission.
"If you keep this up, Katya, you will be in no shape for tomorrow night. You're making yourself sick."
"I can't help it, Peter! I'm nervous. This is my first dance recital. There's going to be, like, three hundred people attending."
They were walking by the shores of the lake. Kitty had been in a pensive mood all day, her temper short and brittle, and Peter had invited her to walk with him after dinner in an effort to relax her. So far he had not succeeded, but he still had some hope. He glanced at her, an affectionate, amused smile flickering briefly across his lips, his eyes admiring. She was dressed for summer, wearing white shorts, sandals and a powder blue tee shirt that bared her belly. On her shirt was a dragon, recumbent in the shade of a tree, its stomach distended and a look of contentment on its face, pieces of plate armor, a broken lance and a shattered sword lay scattered about it. Sometimes The Dragon Wins was printed in bold letters beneath the print. Kitty looked fit, healthy and very attractive.
Peter halted and stooped to pick up a stone. He juggled it once in his hand then threw it sidewise, skipping it across the water and right to the opposite shore with ease.
"Wow. Nice throw," commented Kitty. Peter's strength in both of his forms always impressed her.
"Thank you. I still don't understand why you are so nervous about this. It is not as if you haven't had people watch you dance before. Everyone in the house has seen you perform at one time or the other."
"That's different, Peter. Everyone here is my friend. You guys don't mind if I forget a sequence or klutz out. But the people attending the recital, they won't know me from Eve. They're gonna be... judgmental." Kitty shivered. Her face became very pink. She licked her lips nervously and began to speak very fast. "What if I trip up during my routine, or move all jerky and stuttery, and they think I'm a geek? Or what if I don't get a chance to perform at all? With all those people watching me, I may just freeze up. Or maybe I'll start my routine and think I'm doing all right and then all of a sudden they start booing, catcalling me right off the stage. Or what if – "
Peter could not help himself. He started laughing. It was honest, good-natured laughter, coming from deep within his chest. Kitty was not amused. She glared hard at him. "If you really were my friend you wouldn't laugh at me," she pouted.
Peter reined his laughter in, letting it subside to a chuckle. "I am your friend, silly goose. And I am sorry. I should not have laughed. It's just that I find this to be so... what is the word... incongruous."
Kitty's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
"I just find it amusing that in your short time as an X-Man you have faced off against demons, mutants and worse, all with incredible aplomb and bravery. Yet something as... as mundane as a simple dance recital at Salem Center has you almost incapacitated with nerves." Peter started to laugh again. Kitty continued to glare at Peter, but, despite herself, snorted and started to giggle. When they both finally calmed down Kitty wiped her brow with the back of her hand and sighed.
"Okay, you win, Peter. It is silly, me being worried about this." She suddenly frowned and plopped down on the ground. "But even so, I still am."
Peter looked at Kitty affectionately and sat next to her. He wrapped his muscular arm around her, and she leaned against him, resting her head against his shoulder. "You will be fine when the time comes. Your performance will be wondrous."
Kitty looked up at Peter, her eyes large and bright. "You really think so?"
"I know so. You are a wondrous person, Katya."
Kitty grinned. "You say the nicest things, Peter."
Kitty's grin vanished. Her golden-brown eyes became slightly unfocused, filling with a familiar, yearning light. She closed them, reached up and kissed Peter softly on the lips. He hesitated for a moment before kissing her back. He turned his body towards her and gathered her up in his lap. He heard her sigh, felt her arms slip across his sides, encircling his body, her hands resting on his broad back. She started to kiss harder and Peter reciprocated, though not with equal fervor. He stroked her back, felt her lithe form shiver against him. Kitty opened her mouth and pressed her tongue against his lips. Peter hesitated again before opening his mouth slightly to accept it.
And then like a breeze she was out of his lap, phasing through his embrace. Startled, Peter nearly fell over. He blinked several times, wondering what the hell happened. He recovered his poise, looked about, and saw Kitty standing right next to the water. Her back was ramrod straight, her shoulders tensed and bunched up and her tiny hands were curled into tight fists. Peter slowly got to his feet, feeling confused. Had he done something to offend her? He did not think so, but her temper was often mercurial. "Katya, what is wrong?" She did not answer. He walked up to her, reaching out to touch her, then decided against it. "Katya, please talk to me."
"...Why do you hold back?" she asked in a whisper. Peter blinked.
"I do not know what you mean."
"Don't patronize me, Piotr Nikoleivitch!" Kitty whirled around to face him, her face flushed a deep red. She glared hard at him, no longer merely pouting but now righteously angry. "Every time we kiss, or we hug, you hold back. I can feel it. You keep something of yourself behind... behind walls I don't know how to phase through. I want to... to give you, to show you everything that's me, but you won't accept it, won't come out from behind those walls you've built." The flush drained out of her face and her eyes became fearful. She looked down and away to her right. "Is... is it me, Peter? Is it because you don't find me attractive in... that way?"
Peter immediately took hold of her shoulders, gripping them gently. "I am very much attracted to you. You are beautiful, Katya. Never think otherwise."
"Then why?" she demanded. Peter inhaled deeply through his nose. His countenance was stoic, but his heart was beating hard and his stomach clenched and rolled.
"You know very well why," he said very carefully. "We've discussed this before."
She looked up at him sharply, her eyes brimming and her mouth pursed in a tight, unhappy frown. "It's not fair! As an X-Man I risk my life just as much as you or any of the others. I have adult responsibilities, so why can't I have adult privileges?" She hugged Peter fiercely, burying her face in his chest. She started to sob against him, her hands clutching tightly at the back of his tee shirt. Peter took in another deep breath and embraced Kitty, gently rubbing her back in an effort to sooth her.
"Shhh, Kitty. Shhhh," he said softly. "Do not cry. I am not worth crying over."
"Yes, you are," answered Kitty, her embrace tightening. She was strong for her size, and very passionate. Peter kissed her softly on the top of the head, stroked her long brown hair. Eventually she stopped crying and relaxed, nestling against him. They stood silently for a while, holding each other, listening to a soft breeze ripple across the lake. Then Peter picked Kitty up effortlessly, cradling her in his arms. He carried her away from the lake, sat down in the grass and settled her down on his lap, facing towards the setting summer sun. They continued to hold each other, her arms around his neck and shoulders, his hands resting on her hip.
After a while Peter spoke, choosing his words with deliberation. "I remember you saying, not too long ago, that us, together, scared you."
"I also said that I didn't care that I was scared," she answered. "I still don't. But I'm not as afraid as I once was. With each passing day I'm less and less afraid, and I think very soon now I won't be scared at all."
Peter nodded, then brushed his lips across her forehead. She shivered pleasantly at the contact. "I see... I also think you made a very good point, a little while ago. It is... hypocritical, expecting you to act as an adult in some ways and trying to keep you a child in others. But I can't help the way I feel about this. I am conflicted. I desire you very much, but you are so young..."
"I'm not that young, Peter," Kitty cut in. "And you're not that much older than me. I'm gonna be fifteen in three months, and you just turned nineteen. Four years isn't that much of a difference..." Kitty hesitated. "Is it?"
"It is right now," Peter answered frankly. "But, like your fear, it matters less with each passing day. In two, three years it won't matter as much. In five years it won't matter at all." Peter gave her a quick peck on the cheek. "Still, for right now, I can't help feeling like I'd be taking advantage of you. I do not want to be a Humbert Humbert."
Kitty blinked. "Who?"
"A character from Nabokov... From Lolita."
"Oh... Oh! I never read that book. I think I know the story, though, and I know you're not anything like Huey Louie, or whatever his name is. If I remember right, he was a selfish, nasty man. You're the kindest, most giving man I know." She gave him a mischievous look. "You know, for a guy your size, you're very well read."
"Such a compliment. Thank you, Katya" he deadpanned, and kissed her on the mouth. He still held back, but not as much as he usually did. He let her feel a little of the fire and steel he kept deep within himself, and when they finished their kiss she looked at him closely, wide-eyed and trembling. "Did I scare you?" he asked, concerned. She smiled at him and shook her head. She kissed him again, gently and briefly, then nestled into him. They quietly watched the sun set.
"Will you always love me?"
"...Yes. One way or the other, I will always love you. And no matter what, I will always be your friend..."
In the sweltering heat of the fire cavern Nikolai the Deathless gasped, his eyes snapping open as he emerged with a jolt from his meditative trance. The brown-haired girl from the museum haunted him. He could not remember her name, but she haunted him. He could still feel her lithe form pressing against him, her soft, full lips crushed against his mouth. Nikolai's breath came in great rasping gasps and his blood surged with the lust of dragons. Eventually, in more time than it should have, he calmed himself, buried this vision beneath the glacial ice of his sorcerous soul. But he knew the effort was futile – her memory was but shallowly covered and would no doubt erupt forth the moment he closed his eyes. "Who is she?" he whispered as he slipped back into meditation, trying to still the turmoil within himself. In his thoughts the brown-haired girl danced gracefully, slipping effortlessly pass the barriers he raised.
I don't know if I did very well with this. Had the plot floating around in my head for a few weeks and I finally managed to get it out in about one sitting. More of a vignette than a true story – a romantic slice of life from Peter and Kitty's halcyon days, before Jim Shooter told Chris Claremont to knock it off. Bloody prude...
Anyhow, this turned into a side-story for my work-in-progress, Deathless, but it stands by itself fairly well. Just ignore the last paragraph and you're all set.
Lia Fail – This gives you more reason to hate Koschei, I guess. Thanks for all your kind words about Deathless Chapter 3. I had fun describing Kitty's room and glad you liked it. And I'm also glad that I'm a good enough writer that I can get you to tolerate Scott and Emma. I, personally, always had a soft spot for Cyke, but I still can't help but wonder how he got together with someone like the White Queen. Oh well, if I can deal with Kitty having a romantic relationship with a cousin of John Constantine, I can deal with Scott boffing a somewhat reformed villain.
Oh yeah, more Nikolai/Kitty to come in the next chapter of Deathless.
B – Thanks for your praise (Jeeze, do I sound like a broken record or what?). I'm trying my best to keep everyone in character. Glad you're enjoying the little comments to past stories. While I'm not a Kurt Busiek or Mark Waid with encyclopedic knowledge of every Marvel comic ever printed, I like throwing in Easter eggs, and I'll keep doing so as the mood strikes me.
Kirayoshi – I've heard it said that a good villain is one who makes the audience hate him with a passion. I guess I'm succeeding with Koschei, and he's only been on stage for a prologue and two-sixths of a chapter!
Marvel is trying to hook the Scarlet Witch with Cap? This reeks of the loving, well-crafted prose of Chuck Austen. I've never read any of his X- Men work, but that first arc he did for Avengers, the one that introduced the new Captain Britain, was an incoherent mess. Thank goodness he's leaving Marvel.
As for Kitty and Russian folklore, more shall be revealed in the next chapter.
Next up, more Deathless.
Thanks for your time and tolerance,