'Cast Me Gently Into Morning'
By Lia Fail
To my boyfriend, who showed me what it feels like to truly be in love.
Disclaimer: The X-Men are property of Marvel Comics and are used without permission, but with much affection. The title is taken from a Sarah McLachlan song.
Notes: This takes place directly after Astonishing X-Men 12. I hadn't read the issue when this was written, so please excuse any discrepancies between this and Joss' awesome book.
The air smelled of smoke and misery. Serpentine shadows twisted and coiled with the breeze, making their way through the hushed, vacant grounds. Below the acrid wisps of darkness, stone and mortar remains lay scattered across the ruins of the south wing of the mansion, flanked in the silhouette of the detached dormitories that stood tall and erect amidst the wreckage, like the last bastions of a fallen kingdom.
Kitty Pryde was yards away, on the edge of Breakstone Lake's modest wooden quay, her back turned from the rubble. Her slender dancer's legs were pulled up tightly against her chest; her arms hugged her calves tightly and she rested her forehead against her knees, sobbing quietly into the yellow Kevlar of her uniform.
To Kitty, the world felt very far away. She sat lost in her own grief and self deprecation until the sound of the dock creaking and swaying softly under the weight of familiar footsteps brought an ephemeral stir of warmth in her heart. There were few people who carried themselves so heavily; few who were encumbered by such weight. If Kitty would have turned she would have found that, while Peter was never light on his feet, the added clumsiness to his heavy stride was being caused by a small purple dragon tugging at his sleeve, dragging his large frame down the dock while he desperately tried to balance himself and the two Styrofoam cups being crushed in his strong hands.
Lockheed let go of his companion halfway down the dock and fluttered ahead, toward his pet girl, coming to rest on her shoulder. Kitty reached her hand back and scratched the little alien's chin, disheartened to realize the heavy footsteps behind her had stopped. Lockheed cooed sympathetically and nuzzled his beak against her, settling comfortably against her before sneaking a quick glance at the young man he had brought to cheer up his Kitty.
Peter was standing back from the edge of the quay, gazing at the woman sitting before him. The dullness in his blue eyes faded away at the sight of Kitty, wearing her blue and yellow uniform, so much like the one she had worn so proudly when she had first joined the team, her brunette hair pulled back into a messy ponytail that shimmered under the rays of the setting sun. She looked younger, smaller than she was, and all the more innocent; the way she had looked when he had loved her best. Watching her, a ghost of a smile tugged at the corner of his lips, followed by a twinge of pain. It hurt to smile. It had been too long.
Seeing her like this brought back the memory of a story Kurt had once read to him from his worn Germanic bible, shortly after he had left Avalon for Muir. It was a story that had been new to Peter's ears, about a man named Job, who had everything and everyone he ever loved taken away from him only to have it all returned in the end, when he had proved himself worthy. Peter knew that would never happen to him. His parents, Illyana, and so much more were forever lost to him. All he had was his Katya, footsteps away, with gentle golden eyes that shimmered and danced like the lake under the warm hues of the sunset light. And for him, that was enough.
Peter closed the distance between them and settled down next to Kitty, placing the Styrofoam cups on the wooden laths between them and offering a nervous smile. Lockheed rose and turned towards him, giving Kitty's cheek a nudge to turn her in the Russian's direction. The little dragon liked Peter. He wasn't like the puny bad man who always wore the silly suits. That man smoked smelly little white twigs that made him breathe fire. Lockheed knew that only dragons were supposed to breathe fire; the bad man was just using the twigs to steal his place in his Kitty's heart, just like those mean old Bamf dolls that pretended to be cute and cuddly only when his girl was around. But Peter knew how to share, and he could make his girl's little heart go pitter-pat. The bad man just made her cough a lot.
Lockheed watched the two humans eagerly, his little face scrunching up in confusion at the uncomfortable silence between them.
"CooOooO?" he asked Kitty, nodding energetically in Peter's direction. She sniffled and raised her hand to wipe the tears from her face, turning away from the man next to her. Lockheed craned his head and glanced at the Russian. Peter's face turned hard and stoic the moment Kitty had turned away, but quickly softened. His shoulders slumped in near defeat, and his gaze remained fixed on the setting sun, his eyes unblinking despite the glare reflecting off the water.
The purple dragon looked quickly from human boy to human girl, his bewilderment and impatience growing with each turn of the neck.
"Phuii," he grunted in exasperation, puffs of smoke escaping from his nostrils as he turned to fly away, leaving the two X-Men alone.
Kitty watched her dragon leave, new tears welling in her eyes. She succeeded in holding most of them back, ignoring the sting, but still drops found their way down her face and into the water below, leaving Kitty to wonder how it was her tears could feel so heavy against her cheeks, then plunge silently into the lake and disappear into the calm blue without causing as much as a ripple.
Peter sat patiently at her side, knowing she couldn't face him until the tears were dry and fighting back the urge to take her into his arms every time her body quivered from a stifled sob. He knew she was nearly ready when she reached behind and tugged her hair tie loose, letting her chestnut curls fall across her shoulders and veil parts of her tearstained cheeks.
Kitty shifted herself towards Peter, glancing hesitantly at him. Their eyes locked fleetingly and she looked down, quickly running the back of her hand across her cheek to wipe away a stray tear.
Peter bit down on the inside of his lip and steeled his courage, startled to find his hands trembling as he picked up on of the Styrofoam cups at his side.
"I brought you tea," he offered, the coarse timbre of his voice prompting him to clear his throat.
"Thanks," Kitty said quietly, accepting the tepid drink and holding it close to her body. They lulled back into a long silence. By the time Peter spoke again, the warm hues of the early sunset had given way to the dusty glow of twilight.
"The children are all safe and accounted for. There were some minor injuries, but mostly they are, I think, just a bit shaken. Henry says the Danger Room is…he says it cannot hurt anyone anymore. He also said he would like to examine you further, as he did with me. He worries that Josh Foley's abilities may not have fully healed-"
"-I'm fine," she interrupted, her eyes locked on the horizon. "I'm not the one who died today."
"-I watched a student die here, did you know that? His name was Jacob. His mutation broke down his body little by little until he finally just…he faded away. And I tried, but he just kept fading, until he was just a memory." Kitty sniffled and turned her face towards Peter, staring past him with a furrowed brow. "You did that once. I let you go. I saw your ashes carried away, and for a moment I thought I saw you too, in the wind. And I wanted to let myself go; I wanted to float away with you. But it wasn't even you."
She turned away and grimaced. "Wing was right," she said flatly, the familiar sting rising in her eyes once again. "I am a fucking retard."
"I don't understand, Peter. You died, and it was hard, but I did everything I needed to do to move one. And after all that, you came back. And so did Rachel, and maybe Betsy, and Jean, in the last six months she's died, come back, and died again, and Scott choose Emma over her. And I suck at teaching, Peter, and I don't know what I did wrong. I wanted to help them, and I tried, I tried so hard, and I don't understand why students are begging to be on Emma Frost's squad, and two of my kid's are…It's not fair! I tried. Why didn't Jacob? Why didn't Wing?" Kitty sobbed, kicking the lake with her boot, sending up a spray of water. "That's what you're supposed to do," she said softly, her voice growing calm. "You're supposed to try; to fight, and keep fighting until the end, like my dad did. You're not supposed to give up."
"I don't think they did," Peter explained gently. "Sometimes, the battle ends long before death claims you."
"You would say that," she muttered darkly.
Peter squeezed his eyes shut and hung his head. When he spoke, his voice was hard. "What is it that you wish me to say?"
"I don't know."
"Then what is it you want?"
She tilted her head and regarded him searchingly, her wide, doe eyes filled with confusion and hope. Peter fidgeted under her gaze, afraid of what she might find, aware that she was one of the few who always seemed to know what he hid inside himself. After a moment, the doubt in her face began to ebb.
"Did you really mean what you said, about me not crowding you enough?" she asked softly.
"Da. With all my heart."
"Hmm." She looked away, her lips pulling into a slight smile that quickly faded as new thoughts filled her mind.
"Do you remember when we fought the Brood?" she asked quietly, staring back at him. Peter nodded and Kitty looked away, then continued with her story. "I've been scared a lot as an X-Man, fought some pretty evil, hideously ugly creatures in my time, I mean, just look at Emma, but, um, that time it was different. I was more scared than I had ever been, and I felt so helpless. Hopeless, even. You came in my room, and you listened to what I had to say, and then you made a joke. I hated you for that. And I let you know it. I screamed at you, and I yelled, and I pouted, and when I was done you held me in your arms, and you let me cry. And I forgot about the Brood, and Storm, and dying, and that you had seen me in my stupid green kiddie nightgown. Somehow, you made all the bad things go away. That's what I want; for the bad things to go away again.
"I am here now. I will make them go away."
Yeah," she whispered, shaking her head. "Sure."
"Katya," he spoke up firmly, his voice a rich, soft growl as he tenderly entwined his hand in hers, "I am here. Scream, yell, pout; do whatever it is you need. I will still be here."
Kitty stared down at their intertwined hands, her heart beating faster each time Peter stroked her skin with his thumb.
"I don't need to do any of those things," she explained quietly. "I just need someone to hold me while I cry."
She looked up at him, her lower lip trembling. He gave a slight nod and reached out to pull her towards him. Peter draped his arms around her and held her tight, stroking her golden hair as she cried into his chest.
Kitty placed her arms around his neck and snuggled against him as whimpers and sniffles turned into heavy sobs, until the tears ran dry and she had cried herself to sleep.
Peter looked down at the slumbering woman in his arms, not ready to let go. Holding Kitty close had made him feel more real, more whole than he had in years, even those before he was captured by Ord. Kitty, his Ekaterina, was the best link to his past, and his only dream of the future. Being near her made him believe he could once again become the man he had once been.
He let out a sigh and held her sleeping body closer. The irrational part of him, the part that had thrived and dominated his mind those early months in Ord's prison before the hope ran out, wondered if he could keep her this way if he never let go. Peter dismissed the thought quickly; he may have been one of the strongest men on the planet, but Kitty was the one girl he could never hold in his grasp.
With a heavy heart, he bent down and placed a gentle kiss on the crown of his Katya's head. The young woman stirred, then stilled. Peter gathered her in his arms and lifted her gently, cautiously crossing the ruined grounds as he made his way to her med lab so Hank could examine her in the morning, careful not to wake her from whatever dream had put a smile on her sweet face.
Author's Notes: Thank you for reading; I hope you enjoyed it. Comments are greatly appreciated, both positive and negative. I've had this story sitting on my computer for awhile but I've been gone from the fan fiction world for awhile, so hopefully posting this will be a kick in the butt to get me to keep up on the work I've started. Anyway, minus trying to sort out the recent X-continuity,this was a very fun story to write. Thank you for reading. I hope you liked it.