Cool. Calm. Collected. Kitty felt rather alliterative as she walked through the hall, intent on marching right to Peter's room. There was a bit of a spring in her step and music in her heart.

She was going to confront him. Another hard C to the list. Caring and comforting, yet controlled.

Maybe he was frightened. She was, after all, a very scary individual. She grinned in spite of herself.

She made her way through some of the students- who were milling about in anticipation of making their way to the cafeteria for a late dinner- or perhaps congregating for a run into town on a Friday night. She dodged left and right, resorting to simple brush blocks to slip by some of the larger, more oblivious kids. It still amazed her, their total lack of spatial awareness, and the dumbfounded looks on their faces- when they found their momentum used to propel them slightly off their path- amused her.


"She's going to him."

Emma shrugged, "I don't see that it matters. Give the brat a moment of fun before we tear it all away from her."

"No." The voice was flat, clinical. "If they speak now, tonight, it jeopardizes the plan. She may trust him again, and you may not be able to overcome that."

"You don't trust me."

"I know you, dear. Better than you know yourself. And you know her. Everything depends on a certain gulf between them. Now what are we going to do about this?"

"I suppose I could use my authority to make the child do her chores. Scott is off with Henry, so he won't countermand me. And I do need those results to elevate the stature of this place. Mutancy is so plebian, sometimes."

There was a pause. "It's a start. Meanwhile, let's poke around the boy's head and see if there's something there to use."

"If you wish. But he's as much a boy scout as Scott was. And I don't think I am willing to ruin everything I've accomplished here to spend the time corrupting him."

"Nothing so trite. Look there, in his genetic memory. Isn't that interesting?"

Emma's eyes narrowed, "What? Let me see- really? It seems our insufferably virtuous Shining Knight has something rotten in his core. Can you bring it out?"

"It's almost free anyway, but I can nudge it to the forefront. It's been haunting his dreams as it is."

"Good. With his insecurities and lack of self-confidence, I think we can nip any intimacy- and trust- in the bud." With a twirl of her cape, she left her office and strode towards the stairs. Students parted before her almost magically, scrambling to escape the look on her face. Not even the most obsequious of the children wanted to be given a task when she was projecting this attitude. "Oh, Katherine!" she called, echoing it with her telepathy.


Peter felt it again, the darkness creeping in his brain. Stronger, this time. Was he going mad? He knew he should be mad, after his ordeal at the hands of Ord. That he wasn't was more a testament to his stubbornness and the care and comfort of his friends.

Still, with his head pounding like this, and the shadow clouding his thoughts, he was in no condition to talk to Kitty just yet.

He glanced at the card on the dresser. Scott had given it to him, but he had just tossed it aside. Leonard Samson, Psychiatrist. He did not like the idea of seeing such people, who twisted your memories and told you who you really were. Yet Rahne had spoken highly of him, and for all Kitty's patience, he knew that even she had not come close to expunging this blackness in his mind. It was a separate pain, somehow, and yet still permeated his other anxieties.

He picked up his cell phone.

He put it back down. Maybe he could relax himself through his painting.

He easily picked up the large, full-length mirror and carried it over by the easel. He'd been meaning to do a self-portrait for a while now, ever since he was freed. He needed to see what changes he'd undergone, to discover what the canvas revealed about himself. He started with the main line… it flowed in a curve, depicting more of a crouch than he expected. He continued for a few minutes, with a sort of morbid fascination as to the basic outline forming. Not what he expected at all.

There was a knock on his door. He tossed a sheet over the canvas and crossed the room.

"Peter?" A soft voice called.

It was Kitty.


Rachel had popped down to the walk-in freezer after her conversation with Kurt and Logan, snagging the pint of ice cream she'd promised her best friend. She flew- quite literally – up to the second floor, basking a little in the attention she was drawing.

She walked to their room, passing X-23, who had put on a gi and was heading in the direction of the exercise room. She gave a fairly cheerful wave, and ducked inside.

"Who wants ice cr-?" She realized that Kitty wasn't there as much from the absence of her thoughts as the emptiness of the room. She did a quick cursory sweep, and found her en route to Peter's room.

"Good girl!" she smiled.

She felt the condensation forming on the Ben & Jerry's in her hand, stuck it in the minifridge, just as her x-link went off. She glanced down, and sent the thought out to Storm, What's up, boss?

Cyclops suggested that we investigate the scene of your earlier fight, and I agree. Suit up and meet us in the hanger in five minutes.

She sighed audibly. I'll be right there…

She scribbled a note to Kitty explaining things, tossed on her costume and headed to the nearest elevator to the subbasement.


"Peter?" She asked again, a little louder. "Do you have a moment?" The butterflies had gathered in her stomach like swallows at Capistrano, but there was no stopping now. She pondered inviting him to take a walk with her on the grounds, perhaps down to the lake. To get them away from this house and all of its entanglements, get on some neutral ground. Just not, you know, that hill. But what if he said no? What if he gave another "Oh no, Katya, I would not trouble you so." Don't be so damned cynical, Pryde! She scolded herself.

"Da," came his voice through the door. There was an odd quality to it, even muffled as it was by the wood. "Just one moment."

Her heart skipped a beat as the door swung slowly inward. It skipped another at the sight of this man she'd loved – yes, she admitted it now – for so long, standing there in sleeveless undershirt and paint-splattered sweatpants. His bare feet, she noted absently, were in serious need of a pedicure. Her eyes trained upwards, finally meeting his, where she was taken aback by the haunted look she encountered there.

"Can I," he stammered, uncharacteristically, "can I help you, Katya?" He was blinking rapidly, as if the light was hurting his eyes. He looked so different from the man she'd espied just a short time ago in the memorial garden. And he looked afraid.

Of her?

A line from a song played through her head – "We'll see how brave you are. We'll see how fast you'll be running." Where the hell did that come from?

Her heart sank a bit. She pressed on, "I was wondering, since we're not going to go out tonight after all, if maybe you'd like to take a walk, get some air…"

Katherine.

She had ignored the first call, and pondered ignoring the second. And then realized that Emma was probably listening in as she pondered it, which made it all a bit pointless.

Quite. Now, I believe I have been more than patient as you have gallivanted about today, and I do expect a reasonable level of compliance from my staff.

She thought back, And this has to be done tonight?

You can play with your cuddle toy later, Kitten. The normally friendly nickname was used with a tangible sarcastic stroke . From the looks of his mind, I doubt you'd find much entertainment there tonight.

You leave him alone!

Temper, temper, my dear. I just want what's best for everyone concerned. Emma had a light touch, but it still felt foul to Kitty. Obviously he was busy when you interrupted, and you do have your own homework to do. For me.

"Katya?" Peter looked at her… she seemed distracted. And irritated. Perhaps her patience with him had run out, as Ororo and Kurt had warned.

"Fine," she said aloud. "Whatever." She rubbed her temples and choked back the urge to retch. "Listen, Peter, I had hoped we could talk tonight, but I see that's probably not going to happen. I have this thing I have to do. I do want to talk – and soon, ok?"

His own heart dipped. "As you wish." He was too late. All of today, all the soul searching he'd undergone, and he was too late.


"As you wish?" Kitty muttered to herself. "What the hell does that mean?" Was it resignation? Remembering the look in those eyes- how the blue had seemed tinged with some unknown, indescribably malevolent shade, she was sure he wasn't making a Princess Bride reference.

She was seething as she walked back to her room. Emma was right in that he did not look like a man who was up for company. At least, not her company. Fear gripped her as she wondered if this had been their one shot; for all she knew, their next mission might be their last. She'd accepted that- her will had been written ages ago, even updated a time or two.

But he'd come back for her, hadn't he? Damn it, he had, he'd returned from the dead, returned for her to find. That couldn't be a coincidence, could it?

She got back to her room. God, she needed to talk to Rachel.

"Hello?" she spoke as she phased through the door. The lights were off – X-23 was gone, out with friends perhaps. Or, more likely, off training somewhere. Did the girl even have friends aside from Logan?

She flipped the switch, and immediately saw a scribbled note on her bed.

Had to run – duty calls – hope things went well with Pete! B&J's is in the fridge, just in case– Love, Me

Oh Rachel, things didn't go at all with Pete! They may have gotten worse!

She cursed out Emma, and threw on her pajamas, while her computer booted up. She got out a spoon and the ice cream and sat down to build her query.


Every time he slept, it was the same dream, the same nightmare. He was a boy, falling down into a deep chasm, begging for help. Peter tossed under the pressure of this recurring nocturnal assault on his sanity, sweat breaking out on his brow. In the dream, he gave into his rage, pounding at the rock with all his might… there was a sense that now it was the room- his cell at Benetech, where he found himself alone- every day – in the dark, pushing himself to his utmost, using all of his strength as Colossus in a desperate attempt to break free of this hell…

…And then he was falling. He fell down one story to the ground, landing in front of the mansion.


Kitty was radiant in her gown- everyone had said so. The sun shown brightly down on her as she gazed out at the forest of chairs, all filled with loved ones. Her worries that she would be shown up by her bridesmaids had faded, for while Ororo was as regal as ever, Rachel as stunning and Illyana as gorgeous, today was her day, and for once, all eyes were on her. Except for that teenaged second cousin from Riverton who was totally checking out Illyana's bodice.

One by one, the groomsmen had walked up the aisle to escort their respective bridesmaids. Logan looked odd balanced with Storm, but Doug and 'Yana were clearly sharing a joke as they walked together. Finally Kurt, dashing as always, led Rachel the remaining distance, where Rabbi Weinstein waited under the chuppah with her future husband, who was looking resplendent in his tuxedo.

"Shall we, dear?" She was ever so glad that her father had been able to make it back from Genosha for the wedding day- she knew how difficult it had been to make arrangements. He was looking rather debonair himself – you almost didn't notice the decomposition in his face, and his own tux managed to camouflage the fact that his lower ribcage had been completely blasted away.

She smiled at him, and took his proffered arm. She gazed warmly upon the congregation, all her friends who had come to this, the happiest day of her life. Scott and Jean sat with the twins, Rachel and Christopher, next to Professor Xavier. There was Larry Bodine – oh, it was so nice he could come. Pete Wisdom looked grumpy in the sunlight, but he looked kinda cute next to his date, Sage. She was a bit peeved about that Zsaji bitch attending, but it would be good to rub it in. Brian was clearly trying to explain some aspect of the ceremony to Meggan, and the rest of Excalibur were seated nearby. Feron had even found his dress habit, apparently. Jamie Madrox had taken up two rows all by himself, but Rahne was scolding him for that. Her mother was in the front, teary-eyed.

Moving gracefully to the strains of Felix Mendelssohn's Wedding March. she walked forward towards her new life with Peter. All the months of meticulous planning was coming to fruition, when, per the program she'd spent long hours slaving over, the villains attacked. It was, after all, a superhero wedding, and there were traditions to uphold.

Magneto was floating above, laughing maniacally. He was flanked by some Brood flyers, and Juggernaut was charging in from the west. There was Deathbird, and Ogun, and, wow, was Nimrod always that pink? They all fired their respective energy weapons or punches or whatever at the mansion, which obligingly blew up.

With a start, Kitty jerked her head off her keyboard, disengaging the screen saver. That sound wasn't part of her dream – it was real. Was the mansion under attack? She hated fighting in her jammies, but she poked her head through the wall and looked around. A flash of light bouncing off metal directed her attention over to her left, where she saw him crouched on the ground.

Instantly, she sprang forward, phasing at a sprint in a direct line to the crouched form. "Peter! What happened?" she called as she ran.

Peter was down on one knee, one hand holding his head. "I thought… I thought I was back there, Katya." His voice was pained, even as he reverted from his armored form. He accepted her embrace of support and held on tight.

"It's all right now, Peter. You were dreaming." She thought to herself that it seemed to be the night for it, but then she hadn't done any fundamental structural alterations to her room from hers.

"Some dream," Logan said, standing there in nothing by his jockey shorts. He was looking at the large, circular hole in the wall of the house. Scott and Emma, also in their nightclothes, stood by.

Kitty heard them talking, but was more focused on the man in her arms. She may not have been an empath, but his anguish was palpable.

Suddenly he tensed even more. He stammered out, "Emma… she's…"

Realization and vocalization were simultaneous. "Get out of his head!" she screamed. How dare she?

Emma was nonchalant. "Just trying to help."

Kitty glared at her nemesis. "Don't."


Sunlight streamed through the window, lighting up the room. Kitty responded by squirming her way further under her covers. Normally an early riser, she was just not prepared to face this day. She'd managed to get Peter to a spare room, as his was a bit too well ventilated, what with that huge hole he'd made. But soon after, he'd shooed her out, indicating that he was better off alone. That blow to the gut she hadn't needed, especially coming on the heels of the fierce way he'd held onto her outside.

She'd made it back to her room, exhausted and shaken. It was just a terrible ending for a roller coaster of a day. She'd gone to her computer, where her results had finally come up. She slapped them into a file and e-mailed them to Miss Frost, not even bothering to include a sarcastic comment. She had been too tired at this point.

The sunlight persisted in its unyielding and unreasoning goal of waking her up. She wriggled around to create a little porthole to survey the world outside. X-23's bed was empty, and had been made with almost military precision. Rachel's, on the other hand, was slightly disheveled, but had not been slept in. Apparently Storm's team had not returned from whatever mission they'd gone on. Kitty was half-tempted to try to see if she could raise her over their telepathic link, but if the bad guys had a mutant scanner, that simple act might be enough to expose the team, and she wasn't going to let her own silly personal issues endanger her friends. She dove back under the covers.

She snaked a hand out to flip on her clock radio- it was set to WNYC, one of the NPR stations available in Westchester. Yeah, she was a nerd too. She knew it was late in the morning, but instead of Weekend Edition or Studio 360, there was an emergency news flash indicating seismic tremors were being reported in the city.

"Let the Avengers deal with it…" she started to mumble, before her x-link on the side of her bed buzzed. It was blinking too, she was sure, but she hadn't extracted herself from the comforter enough to see it.

All members of my squad please report to the hangar in five minutes. Scott's "voice" beamed into her head, courtesy of Emma. Louder than it needed to, of course. She hesitated for a moment, wishing she had time for a shower, as she detested the feeling of heading into battle unwashed. Then she sank into the floor, straight down, still in her pajamas. She reached the subbasement and ran to the locker room to change into the yellow and black outfit so reminiscent of her first costume. Pulling on her boots, she sprinted to the hangar where the rest of the team was waiting.


Peter hadn't slept at all. How could he? The spare bedroom was smaller than his, and right now, he was feeling very, very confined. He had wanted nothing more than to have Katya stay with him, to hold him and comfort him all night as she had out on the lawn. But his nightmare was still reverberating within him, and he was concerned that it may start taking hold of his waking life. So he had begged her pardon, feigning a tiredness he did not feel and that he needed to try to gather his thoughts before trying to talk them out.

After she had left, he had wandered the halls a bit, catching that young girl from the Danger Room – Hailstorm - in a rec room with a laptop, viewing some of those Japanese cartoons that Kitty tried to get him to watch from time to time. He'd suggested that perhaps she should be in bed – it was four in the morning after all – but didn't make any further attempt. It was the weekend, and the girl was young, full of vitality and her whole life ahead of her; he found he could not begrudge her a little fun. He wished that Kitty had been able to come to the school as it was now, had not been forced to grow up so quickly.

Mostly he racked his brain, trying to understand what was happening to him.

He ended up in the gym, where he put himself through a draining workout, lifting weights, running on the treadmill, going toe to toe with the heavy bag, all trying to push himself to the limits of endurance, praying for a dreamless sleep. Finally, exhausted, he took a cold shower and went to the room to lie there for the rest of the night.

He'd only closed his eyes for a moment when he heard the buzz of the commlink and heard Cyclops's telepathic summons.

He was up and in the nearest lift in a flash. He ran to the locker room and threw on his new costume. It would be good to get out there and do something, instead of being alone with his ghosts. It would be good to get out there and hit something. He wasn't sure he liked that thought.


Kitty burst into the hangar at full speed, leaping off the monorail car. "What's the sitch?" she asked of Cyclops when she reached him. She brushed a stray lock of chestnut brown hair from her eyes as she noticed a second car carrying Peter and Logan arrive.

"It's super-hero time," Scott began, to the sight of Logan's rolling eyes. "There's a multi-story creature that just dug it's way up in Manhattan, and we're going to go send it back."

"Ain't this the Fantastic Four's thing?"

He almost smiled behind his ruby quartz lenses, "Well, it's good that we've got you around, Wolverine. You used to be a member, right? " He turned to the entire squad, "So mount up. We're on the clock."

Peter walked up to his team leader. "May I ask a favor?"

"Pete, I know you had a rough night, but I really need you out there on this."

"It's not that," the big Russian said, "I was wondering if there was a way I could go, but not in the plane. After last night especially, I am feeling rather… claustrophobic."

Cyclops looked at him closely. "Let me talk to Hank. I think we can swing something."

A minute later, the Blackbird came screaming into the sky, with Colossus, in armored form, riding on top.


Epilogue

Several months later...

"Y'know, I still can't believe that Scott told Hank to let you surf on the jet…" Kitty said as she snuggled a little closer. "Beast was all, 'Do you understand what that will do to the aerodynamics?' and Scott said that he didn't care, that you needed some space. And then Hank said that it was easy for you to say it, because your armored form would survive the upcoming crash."

She made a little sigh of contentment. She knew they were late for a picnic with Rachel and Kurt, but these last several weeks since their return from the Breakworld had given her a new appreciation for sleeping in, or at least staying in bed. "You don't seem to need so much space now."

Peter cradled her in his arms, "Nyet, not so much. This amount seems just right," he said as he pulled her into a deep, sensual kiss.

"Works for me, too." Kitty smiled.

Finis


In case you were wondering, all of this takes place between issues 6 and 7 of Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon, as well as in the midlde of Uncanny X-Men #460 by Chris Claremont. Marvel owns all of these characters, except a couple of students that were mine. I'm not trying to make anything off them.

The scene with Peter's dream and it's after effects is taken largely from Colossus: Bloodline Issue #1 by David Hine and Jorge Lucas. I've taken some liberties with the story – there's no timeframe given, other than we know that Peter goes to Russia post-Dangerous. The will thing I lifted from X-Men-First Class. I've borrowed liberally through the entire story from Joss Whedon's run on Astonishing X-Men, and really have been trying to fill in the blanks between those few wonderful moments he's given this pair. The very end is AU.

Well, it's been a labor of love, sometimes more labor than anything, but I really appreciate everyone who stuck with me through it all, especially my reviewers. I hope you liked it.