BY MADRIPOOR ROSE
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction done solely for entertainment purposes, not financial gain. These characters belong to Marvel Comics. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note: Canon purists may want to pass this by. This is from the a la carte menu, I'm taking bits from Evolution, Ultimate, 616, and just plain making some of it up to fit the story I'm trying to tell. OC casting: Introducing Mercedes McNab as Irina Vassilov.
In the Grand Gallery of the American Museum of Natural History, Piotr Rasputin craned his head back to look up at the skeletal remains of a tyrannosaurus rex, and nodded again, with greater certainty.
"Da. I think I could take it."
Standing at 6 foot 8, the young Russian wasn't used to having to look UP at a potential enemy. Or at one he was unsure of defeating in unarmed combat. Even if he was joking. He glanced down at his companion as she giggled.
Kitty Pryde tossed her long brown hair and pointed to the informational placard before them. "Peter, the teeth are like eight inches long."
"But it would not be expecting metal when it bit me," he explained, lowering his voice. The museum was fairly crowded for a weekday afternoon, several other school groups in attendance. "Some teeth would break and I would have the element of surprise."
"Moot point," Kitty shrugged. "It's not like you're ever gonna get a chance to fight dinosaurs anyway." She opened her notebook and dutifully began copying down the information on the placard.
Knowing he could copy her notes later, Piotr unfolded the floorplan map he'd printed out from the museum website back at the school.
"Is that a map? Can I borrow it, Pete? We don't have one," Marie Caldicott, who preferred to go by her codename Rogue, called out in her soft southern drawl, as she came around from the other side of the dinosaur with Bobby Drake and John Allardyce trailing behind her.
Smiling to himself, Piotr handed it over. Rogue took the map, turned it around, and around, and looked up with laughing eyes. Piotr had taken the option to print it in his native language.
"Well, Cyrillic is surely a pretty alphabet. We're gonna ditch the rest of the tour," she looked over to include Kitty in the conversation. "Y'wanna go down to the food court?"
Kitty shook her head. "I want to look around some more. This place is just as cool as the Field Museum back home in Chicago."
John snorted at the idea that anyone could think a museum was cool. Bobby elbowed him in the ribs, and Piotr and Rogue just glared.
"Thanks, but I want to check out the gift shop. I don't know if the teachers will give us time there." Piotr collected toys and small souvenirs for his little sister Illyana at every opportunity, saving them up to bring home on vacation.
He showed them the way down to the main food court near the subway station, and the trio moved off. He headed in the other direction, slowing his step so that Kitty could keep up with his longer stride.
The gift shop was almost empty, just a dark haired woman at the register paying for a silk scarf. Piotr went directly over to the children's section. Kitty browsed for a bit, then joined him. She helped him decide between a wind-up plastic dinosaur bath toy and a story book and stuffed animal combo about desert foxes, and Piotr bought the plesiosaur. Kitty tucked it into her purse for safekeeping.
Back in the museum proper, they hurried to catch up on the worksheet. There were three more exhibits they were supposed to view, to be quizzed on later.
"Did you ever come here when you lived in Brighton Beach?" she asked innocently.
Piotr was consulting his map again. "No. I didn't spend a lot of time in museums," he said vaguely, uncomfortable.
He didn't like lying to Kitty, even by omission. But only the teachers knew about his past. His friends knew that he had been born on a remote farm in Siberia, one that was struggling under privatization and the collapse of the collective. That he had left at age ten, brought to the States by a distant relative. In America, he'd be one less mouth to feed, and he could work, earn strong American dollars, hard currency, to send home.
They just didn't know that the family business was a...family...business. Or what his Uncle Dmitri did for a living. Mafiya. The Vassilov family.
As a child, they used him for a lookout while they unloaded trucks and emptied warehouses. Boris took a liking to him, and he became Irina's playmate and bodyguard and boyfriend.
He collected protection money, but had never really had to hurt anybody. Much. One of the advantages of his height and the muscle he'd put on at the end of adolescence, no longer a lanky colt all elbows and knees. All he'd had to do was be very large at debtors, and they would pay up.
Boris had been talking about letting him sell a shipment of Kalishnikov rifles when Professor Xavier found him with Cerebro, and Mister Summers and Doctor Grey came to get him.
Sometimes he wondered if Doctor Grey...did something...to Boris, because he was allowed to leave.
Professor Xavier paid him a little allowance for working in the mansion's gardens. Enough to have a little pocket money, and he still saved up to send most of it home. It wasn't much, but it was honestly earned. And his ill-gotten gains had repaired the barn roof and paid for a new tractor and irrigation system. His parents were still struggling, but no longer in danger of losing everything. And they were very relieved that their son was out of the thieves' world.
The Xavier School For Gifted Children was giving him a fresh start. He no longer had to do questionable things, he no longer had to hide his mutant nature, and was exploring the limits of his organic steel transformation. In steel form, he was seven feet tall and weighed five hundred pounds, and he did not need to breathe, though the instinct to try made him uncomfortable. It dulled his sense of touch and made him clumsy. He could lift more than triple his own weight, and ten year old Jamie Madrox had proven that fridge magnets would stick, on a dare.
If they knew he had been with the Russian Mob, the shy Canadian duplicator wouldn't look at him as a big brother. He would not have friends like Bobby Drake or Kitty Pryde, who aside from their mutations had grown up in families much like those shown in situation comedy television programs.
Kitty would probably be afraid of him. The thought disturbed him. He was the first person she'd met at the school when her parents dropped her off, and since that first day she was always at his side.
Like she belonged at his side...
"Hey, Snuffleupagus here is from your neck of the woods," Kitty announced, stopping in front of the woolly mammoth display, "says here they found it frozen in Siberia. Frozen with food still in it's stomach. Brr! And I thought Chicago got cold in the winter, with the lake effect snow. Do you get lake effect off Lake Baikal?"
"I do not know," he admitted. "It does get bitter cold and the snow can drift very deep."
Kitty flipped open her notebook and took down the information on the mammoth.
They caught up with the rest of their classmates in time for a video presentation on Neanderthal Man. Mister Summers frowned, an eyebrow rising over the rim of his special diffuser sunglasses. Piotr gave him a sheepish one shouldered shrug, and made a point of paying attention. Even opening his own notebook and writing down the main points of the narration. What he thought the main points were. He added a much more detailed sketch of a Neanderthal's sloping forehead in the margins, and the rough triangular wedge of an axehead. It was the artist in him, visual images came to him much easier than words.
He was vaguely aware that Mister Summers had moved away, and glanced up. Mister Summers had gone across the hallway to meet Doctor Grey. She looked ill, pale and tired. Piotr watched her reach up to massage her temples as they spoke, and Mister Summers embraced her. Piotr turned his attention back to the video screen, feeling that he was intruding on a private moment.
He didn't notice when they left. Just a few moments later, there was the familiar and yet still undeniably odd thoughtspeech of a telepathic announcement. Professor Xavier telling them to meet at the bus in the parking lot. The field trip was being cut short.
It took about two hours to make it from New York City to Xavier's School in Salem Center in rush hour traffic. Scott was making much better time. Jean sat back, closed her eyes, and let her telepathic shields flex for a moment, as she had at the museum.
Maelstorm of minds...the Professor's shields smooth and as opaque as a pearl. Scott's love encompassing and warm. The younger children, bright silver flashes of excitement after their day out. Piotr was looking through one of his sketchbooks from his bookbag, a delicate pencil drawing of the Firebird of Russian folklore, shaded in carefully with reds and yellows, oranges and greens. It filled his mind's eye. It was beautiful, it was...
...ancient power my power if i claim it fire and life incarnate eternal light in eternal darkness emptiness alone no more you are mine if i claim you let me let us burn so brightly so brightly eternal and incarnate fire and life you are i am we are...
Shaken, Jean wrapped her shields around herself tightly and opened her eyes. The children...don't think about it, concentrate on the children.
They hadn't been told why they were leaving the museum earlier than planned. Bobby, Rogue and John knew, they had been in the food court when the press conference had preempted regular programming. Professor Xavier planned to announce it after dinner.
The younger children would be all right, they would only understand that something important enough to preempt their favorite television programs had happened.
It was the older children they had to worry about, the ones old enough to understand what this could mean for the future, for the Mutant Registration Act. They were the ones who would be frightened by the news of a mutant involved in an incident at the White House.
The teaching staff...the four of them...would have to reassure the children, and tell them that the government would never blame the actions of one disturbed individual on the whole sub species of mutantkind, that justice would win out over prejudice, and that everything would be all right.
They would have to lie.
Meals at the Xavier School were handled by a local catering company. As part of their standard contract, they used kitchen facilities at mealtimes, cleaned up, and restocked supplies. If the student body ever increased into triple digits, a permanent chef and kitchen staff would be hired.
As it was, the standard menu provided three hot nutritious meals a day. Children were allowed to store snack foods as an earned privilege, and the older children were allowed to prepare their own meals if they wishes, for credit in Household Skills class.
Kitty finished dicing plum tomatoes for her cucumber tomato vinaigrette, scraped them off the cutting board and into her Tupperware container. She drizzled oil and vinegar over the vegetables, put the lid on the Tupperware tightly, and gave it a good shake.
She stuck the vinaigrette in the fridge, then rinsed off the cutting board and paring knife, crossing the large gourmet kitchen to hop up onto the countertop near Piotr. She filched a handful of potato chips before he could crush them into topping for his tuna casserole, and idly swung her legs, drumming her heels against a cabinet door.
"Rogue's a little freaked out by the White House thing. Think Magneto's behind it? Like, maybe he had more followers than the ones at Liberty Island? He'd kinda have to, wouldn't he? And you shouldn't bring everybody on a covert mission anyway. Unless you've never read the Evil Overlord list."
"Which you of course have."
"Yuh-huh. It's a good thing I'm good 'cause if I was evil, I'd be efficient," she quipped.
The humor fell flat. Kitty couldn't help thinking about the Mutant Registration Act and the subcommittee meetings on C-Span. Senator Kelly describing her by power and asking what stopped her from walking into Fort Knox if she felt like it.
The faint impression in the back of her mind that she probably could take over the world if she really put her mind to it bothered her a little bit. But mostly it was knowing that humans were afraid of mutants, so they wanted mutants to be afraid of humans, and the circle never ended.
"Peter," she said in a small voice, trembling suddenly on the verge of tears.
He looked up, and took a step closer, seeing the expression on her face. He frowned in concern. She leaned forward and kissed him.
It wasn't their first kiss. He'd kissed her on the cheek, and the forehead, in farewell. Vacation and parting for Siberia and Deerfield. Last year she'd caught him under the mistletoe during the Winter Dance and made him wait there while she got a stepstool.
It was their first real kiss. His lips were warm and silky against hers. She slid a hand around the back of his neck and let her fingers toy with the dark hair curling over his collar.
He pulled away, murmuring her name, just enough to rub his cheek against her hair. "Katya, Katya, it's all right..."
"It isn't," she sniffed. "I'm trying to be brave, but I'm scared. This is one more excuse for the people who hate us, and it might start up the Mutant Registration Act again, and, and," she gulped air. "and you're going away next fall," she finished in a smaller voice.
Somehow the thought of not seeing Piotr every day was almost worse than being labeled a second class citizen and losing most of her rights.
"Just to art school in the city," he soothed. "Not so very far away that we cannot visit."
Kitty didn't voice her fears. That he would get so involved in his new life that he would forget about her, that he would meet someone else, someone his own age. That he would never look at her the way Mister Summers looked at Doctor Grey, never love her as much as she loved him. That to him she would never be anything more than a younger friend, a tagalong tomboy with a silly crush.
She just held onto him, as hard as she could.
After the announcement and dinner, the children scattered. Some went to play outside, or for walks in the gardens. Others retreated to their rooms. The studious and the seriously in danger of flunking took over the library.
The Common Room and the Game Room were the two most popular destinations. Kitty and Piotr had separated, Kitty going to the Game Room to call dibs on the new Star Wars game and one of the computer stations before someone else got to it. Piotr went up to his room for sketching supplies, knowing that the table in the Common Room had good light until sunset.
He'd been inspired by the museum, and he needed to get the images burning in his imagination down on paper.
A smoky volcano in the background. Pterodactyls in the sky. The foreground filled in with palms and ferns and small dinosaurs.
He was deliberately drawing in a stylized yet realistic comic book form. Smiling a little to himself, he added a busty cavegirl in a fur bikini, carrying a spear. To make it a bit more exotic, he gave her a mohawk trailing down to waistlength beaded rattail braids, and scrollwork armbands.
He paused, and looked over his work. Not bad. It reminded him of the Dinotopia books. Maybe he should try a series of drawings that told a story, if he could think of a story...
He put down his pencil and stretched, taking a look around.
Almost all of the kids in the room were clustered around the large TV, on the sectional sofa or plopped on the floor on large lounging pillows. Some Japanese Anime was on the screen, Piotr didn't recognize the characters.
At least it wasn't The Iron Giant again.
Rogue and Bobby were sitting at the far end of the couch, smiling and giggling as they thumb-wrestled for possession of the popcorn bowl. Gazing deeply into each others' eyes. Sitting as close as they could without touching...
Bobby got a lot of locker room ragging for dating a girl he couldn't actually touch. Piotr considered it a failure of imagination, and considered having a private word with Bobby and offering a few suggestions.
He fell into a pleasant reverie. Irina had been teasing him about his no longer getting to watch the girls dance at the Golden Bear now that they were dating, and offered to make it up to him. She gave him a lap dance, fully dressed, but with years of ballet lessons and dressage riding...she had done things to him through layers of denim that he still dreamed about.
The roar of a motorcycle engine drowned out the DVD soundtrack for a moment. Jubilee, who was sitting on the windowseat and painting her toenails called out, "hey, it's that Wolvie guy bringing back Cyke's bike."
Rogue squealed, jumped to her feet and raced out to the foyer. Bobby, abandoned, passed the popcorn bowl to Dani, and followed.
Piotr rolled his eyes. The Bobby Marie Logan Doctor Grey Mister Summers love pentagon was back in play. Made him feel lucky that all he had to deal with was being the object of Katya's crush. That was difficult enough.
She'd outgrow it eventually, find a nice boy her own age and with less emotional baggage. But right now her feelings were real, and he was trying to respect that. He took puppy love seriously. It was a great gift, to be someone's first love, and an innocent young girl's tender heart was fragile, all too easily broken. He would not hurt Katya for the world.
She was a remarkable girl. Sweet and intelligent, brave, with a wicked sense of humor. She was growing into a lovely young woman.
It would be easy to forget that she was only fifteen years old.
He shouldn't have kissed her. He shouldn't have allowed her to kiss him. She was frightened, and with good reason. No Russian understood how quickly the political winds could shift and what would be lost in that tempest better than a Rasputin. She was frightened, and he was simply something solid she could hold on to.
Her first kiss shouldn't have been a moment of desperate terror. He hoped she counted the brush of their lips under the mistletoe at the dance as her first kiss. That would be a sweeter memory. Even if it had been merely a brief and chaste touch of their lips, unlike...
She'd been sitting on the counter, and wrapped her arms around his neck, hooked her feet around his legs, clinging to him tightly. So tightly that he could feel the small swells of her budding breasts pressing against him as she trembled in his arms.
Her lips had been soft and warm, silken as a rosepetal and he breathed in the sweet lemony scent of her shampoo as he buried his face in her hair, comforting her.
He moistened his lips, realizing he could still taste the peppermint oil in her Burt's Bees lip balm, and then squirmed uncomfortably, realizing something else. He flushed faintly, embarrassed, and got to his feet. Nonchalantly packing up his art supplies and carefully carrying them in front of himself.
Idiot boy, he swore at himself silently. You know it's been a while since you've had any...privacy. Getting yourself all worked up...
He sighed, and headed upstairs to take a shower. A cold shower.
And completely failed to notice that his brief memory of Irina had left him with a fond regretful smile, that it was reliving a simple kiss that had so excited him.
Logan hadn't known what to expect when he returned to the mansion. The one lead Xavier had pulled out of the tangled mess of his memory had proved to be a dead end. Alkali Lake was shut down, cleaned out. No answers there, only more questions.
He'd needed the Professor to read his mind again, dig out something he could work with. A place, a name.
He didn't even know if Logan was a first name or a last name.
But the Professor's telepathic help in recovering his identity wasn't the only reason he'd come back.
She was waiting for him to come back. That was different, new. In the years since he woke up on the side of that abandoned logging road, he hadn't had a place to go back to. Hadn't had anyone waiting for him. Hadn't had a place he belonged.
It wasn't a home, but it was close enough.
He hadn't got two steps in the door when Rogue came flying down the hall. It gave him a pang to see her pause and tug down her sleeves, tug up her gloves, in mid-charge. Kid shouldn't have to be so careful all the time. Then he had an armload of warm teenager.
He gave her a quick hug, then ribbed her, "Miss me?"
"Not much," she teased back, stepping away and flipping her white streaked hair back out of her eyes. Xavier's School had been good for her. She looked a helluva lot different from the skittish stowaway he'd found in the back of his truck in Loughlin City. It was good to hear her laugh, see her smile. There was more confidence in the way she held herself. And she'd put back on a few pounds her time living rough had burnt off. All in the right places, too. Safe, fed, and happy. The way all kids oughtta be.
Her face lit up again as a boy her age with curly dark blond hair came to the same doorway she'd erupted from. "Bobby," she called out to him quietly.
The boy came over, and Rogue introduced him, full of shy joy and proud possessiveness, the wonder of first love to someone who'd given up on ever having it.
"Logan, this is my boyfriend, Bobby."
Boy shook his hand with a polite, "Nice to meet you, sir." Good, clean-cut boy. Hand was a little cold. Logan tightened his grip a little, and held the boy's eyes for a moment longer than necessary. Using body language to say; hurt her sonny and I'll rip your liver out and feed it to ya with onions and hot sauce.
He flexed his fingers as the kid let go, trying to shake off a chill that bit bone deep. Must be the boy's power.
Footsteps on the stairs above, and a warm contralto voice greeted him, "Logan. Just in time."
He looked up as Ororo and Summers came down the stairs.
"We need a babysitter," Summers smirked at him.
"Jean and I have to make a pick-up," Ororo explained.
"And I'm driving the Professor to see an old friend," Summers finished. "We need a responsible adult to stay with the kids."
Logan was sure there was an insult in there somewhere, but it had been a long ride and he was too tired to dig it out.
"Hey, half of us are old enough to babysit," Rogue protested. "There's only like twenty kids here and nine of us are teenagers. It'll be easy."
Logan nodded, and pulled the keys out of his jacket pocket, tossing them to Summers. "Bike needs gas."
The keys came flying right back. "Get 'er filled up. Professor's Downstairs if you want to see him before we leave."
Logan pocketed the keys and headed for the elevator. Home. What was that saying? That it was a place that would always let you in when you went there? He could feel the weight of the keys in his pocket as he walked.
The Professor fed him the same psychobabble about letting the memory resurface in it's own time as the flatscan headshrinking quacks he'd already seen. Logan wasn't so sure of that...but since the Professor stirred his head up, he knew something was floating to the top.
He'd been having nightmares. Couldn't remember anything about them when he woke up, at least nothing that made any damn sense.
Terror. Heat. Pain. Blood. Screaming. Dark endless hallways. Running. Maybe it would make more sense, maybe if he remembered more. Maybe.
The babysitting wasn't so bad. Rogue caught up with him, he told her some tall tales about the trip to Alkali Lake and back. The kids were pretty much gathered in two rooms. They'd already been fed, and now they were watching TV, playing games, or studying. Quiet, well-behaved. Around eight the older kids started chasing the younger ones upstairs. At ten, the older kids said goodnight.
Awake and alone, Logan took over the big screen TV and flipped channels for a while. He watched the news, more yapping about the blue demon attack. Watched for sports and weather. He flipped through the channels again, then did a patrol. Checked the ground floor exits and the alarm system, then headed upstairs, listening in on the occupied floors. Just checking to make sure the older kids weren't taking advantage of the situation.
He couldn't hear or smell anything suspicious, so he hit the rack.
And woke up a few hours later, gasping for breath. Pain. The smell of hot metal. Faces in the shadows, watching. Watching him. Running.
Logan was starting to get sick of this.
Two o'clock in the morning, and he was wide awake. And thirsty.
He got up and went downstairs. Muted electronic babble from the Common Room caught his attention. Did he turn off the TV? He thought he had...he stopped in the doorway and leveled a medium glare at the sandy haired bespectacled ten year old in front of the tube.
"Shouldn't you be asleep?"
"I don't sleep." The remote was on top of the TV. The kid blinked and the channel changed.
"Okay," he continued on his way to the kitchen, and found Bobby at the table eating ice cream from a pint carton. "doesn't anyone sleep around here?" he muttered, irritated.
Logan opened the fridge and peered blearily at the contents.
"Got any beer?"
"This is a school," the kid pointed out, sounding amused.
"Got anything other than milk, soda, juice and water?"
Bobby looked at him for a long moment, then pointed to a row of cabinets running along the high ceiling. "Pete's vodka is in the third cabinet."
Logan stared at him, then went and looked in that cupboard. Yup. Nearly a full bottle too. "Pete's vodka?" he repeated.
"Piotr's eighteen, Russian, and Mister Summers said it was safer to keep a bottle here because this one time Pete snuck out to the Auger Inn and got drunk and beat up a biker gang. He only has a supervised shot on special occasions now."
Oh, that Pete. Logan casually walked back to the fridge and snagged himself a Pepsi.
"So. You and Rogue, huh?" He sat down at the table. "How do you, uh..."
Boy actually blushed a little. "We're...working on that."
Logan took a swig of his soda pop. What the hell else did you talk to teenagers about? "You like going to school here?"
"It's great. Y'know, not having to hide our powers. My parents think this is just a prep school."
It was easy after that. Kid wanted to talk, all Logan had to do was make sympathetic noises at the right time and listen. He might get the hang of this responsible adult crap after all.
In a lull in the conversation, he heard a noise. A heavy footstep. More. "Stay here," he ordered, and went to investigate.
Two men. Black Ops combat gear. Automatic weapons. "You picked the wrong house, bub," he snarled, and lept.
At the same moment, an earsplitting howl rang through the late night silence.
Theresa Cassidy's scream woke everybody in the mansion. Codenamed Siryn, the nine year old redhead was able to emit a sonic blast that rivaled the legendary bhean sidhe of her native Ireland. If it wasn't for her training, special soundproofing, and the general architectural excess of the Xavier ancestors, she might have woken most of Salem Center.
Piotr sat up, clapping his hands instinctively over his ears. Jamie Madrox startled, fell out of bed, and scattered all over the floor.
Piotr threw his covers back and swung his feet over the side of the bed.
Stepping over Jamie, Jamie, Jamie, Jamie, Jamie, and Jamie on his way to the door, he marched down the hall to the stairs and went up a flight to the girls' floor.
Maybe it had just been a nightmare, or maybe one of the other boys had taken their teachers' absence as invitation to play some stupid prank. Either way, it was much too late for that kind of noise.
The scream faded into silence as he approached. He opened the door, and for an instant couldn't understand what he was seeing. Kitty's bed was empty. She roomed with Theresa since her phasing power could protect her from the sonic subharmonics. Two heavily armed men in black stood over Theresa's limp form. Piotr armored up as the first man turned, and his lip curled up as a tranquilizer dart clattered against his organic steel chest and fell uselessly to the floor.
He reached out, grabbed a man in each fist, and cracked their heads together, stunning them, then threw them into the wall.
And right through it, through plaster and paneling. Piotr winced as they landed back out in the hall. Anger always did make him forget his own strength. Transforming back to flesh, he bent over Theresa's bed. He could not rouse the child, found her pulse slow but steady. A dart was sticking out of her bare arm. He pulled the dart free, gathered the girl up protectively, and stepped out through the wreckage.
It seemed like everybody was up and running around in a panic now. The regular emergency drills were for fire, not armed incursion by hostile forces.
Automatic weapons fire sounded downstairs, almost drowned out by the increasing thrumm of hovering helicopters. "Chort," Piotr swore to himself, then raised his voice. "Come with me!"
He led all those willing to follow down the hall to one of the secret passages, and spotted Pyro headed for the stairs.
"John," he called out to him.
"Pete, you seen Rogue and Bobby?"
"Right. We'll meet by the boathouse," and John disappeared.
It figured that the boy codenamed Pyro remembered fire drill procedure.
"Help, Pete, I cain't get the door," Sam Guthrie was already at the secret passage, pushing uselessly at the entrance. "It's stuck!"
He passed Theresa to him, and gave the trigger a solid thump. The panel slid up obediently. They all froze as there was a burst of gunfire and a scream from around the corner.
Then Logan appeared, carrying Jones. Jones was unconscious. Jones didn't sleep, he was probably up watching TV when the men got in. Jones never slept. Piotr wondered what being drugged was doing to the poor kid. Was he still aware, and paralyzed?
"Take the kid," Logan was already tossing Jones into his arms as he spoke.
Piotr caught his eye. "I can help you."
Silent communication passed between the two men. Then Logan nodded at the kids still clustered around him. One or two were crying quietly. "Help them," Logan said simply, and headed back into the fray.
Right. "Come on," he'd get the children out and safe.
He led them down the hidden stairs, keeping them moving, quick and quiet. They reached the tunnel. The emergency lights were on, lighting the cinderblock passage with dim gray light. They ran, putting distance between themselves and the house. The concrete floor was cold under bare feet.
The tunnel exited in a fake hillock in the woods by Breakstone Lake. There were lockers here, lockers they'd passed during the fire drills.
"Wait here a moment," Piotr ordered as Sam started to open the tunnel hatch. He took a quick headcount.
Kitty wasn't with them. Neither was Bobby, Rogue, or John. Jubilee was missing, as was Roberto DeCosta, Artie Maddox, Danielle Moonstar, Ray Crisp, and Rahne Sinclair.
Piotr tried not to panic. There was another escape tunnel to the south. They were probably all with Mister Logan. They probably went out that way, and John had remembered about meeting at the boathouse. They would circle back around the house, and join them.
Piotr had to force himself to believe that. He had to believe it or he would abandon the children and go back for Kitty.
Piotr resolutely turned his back on the tunnel. He heard Amara whimper that she was cold, and glanced at the skimpy baby-doll pajamas the girl wore. He started going through the lockers. They had to be here, in an escape tunnel, for a reason.
His faith in the Professor did not fail him. Packaged sweatsuits, in every size. The same brand the school used for gym class, but these were curiously unlabeled with the Xavier encircled X logo. He passed 'em out, setting aside the one labeled with his XXL Big And Tall size.
Tabitha Smith, one of the more practical girls, possibly because she admitted to a background not unlike his own, had opened another locker and was passing out sneakers. "Whoa," she exclaimed, holding up a pair of sneakers that obscured her face. "Size 13? Here's your stompers, Pete."
He took them gratefully, and dressed before opening more lockers. Vaguely aware of Sam and Tabby making the kids give each other privacy.
In one locker he found a cellphone, an ATM card in the name of John Smith with the PIN number on a postit note attached to it. A spare visor for Mister Summers, and a holstered 9mm semiautomatic and a spare clip.
Piotr looked at the gun for a long moment, bit the inside of his cheek, and took it.
"All right," he fastened the holster around his ankle, and pocketed the rest of the items. "Let's go."
A nearly full moon lit their way to the lake boathouse. It would also make it tougher to evade capture. They reached the boathouse and milled around, waiting.
"Pete?" Sam lowered his voice so the younger kids wouldn't hear. "What're we gonna do?"
"We wait. For the others, see if anyone else made it out." Kitty. God...please...Kitty. "If noone comes, we get to safety. I know someone who'll help, hide us."
They waited, as long as they possibly could, as long as it was safe to wait.
Noone else came.
So Piotr made his phone call.
The phone was ringing. Irina Vassilov sprawled asleep in the middle of her king size bed, rolled over and over to the nightstand and sat up, pushing sleep-tangled honey blonde hair out of her eyes so she could see the clock. She groaned. Middle of the night phone calls were never good news.
"Hallo," she answered, and yawned, reaching under the covers with her free hand to tug at the satin skirt of her nightgown, bunched up under her hip and pulling taut across her legs.
"Irina, it's Piotr..."
"Piotr? Shto...what happened and how much bail money do you need?"
He chuckled a little at that. "Not bail money but I do need your help."
She'd missed him terribly since he'd gone upstate to go to school, though she was glad that he'd gotten out of The Life relatively unscathed. Piotr was her only friend. There were a few girls she hung out with at school, but there is something important you had to know to understand Irina, and it was this: She was very aware of who and what her father was. She had grown up in an ocean of power and fear. This made her very careful, and very kind.
Piotr reported what had happened at the Xavier School in a few terse words, and it had her almost spitting with rage.
"Soldiers in the night," she said bitterly.
"Is familiar, da?" Piotr asked, with grim humor.
"Da. Hide yourself, they may be searching. We'll come for you all."
"Papa is in Vladivostok," she snorted, "and I am allowed to have a sleepover if I wish. Be careful, Petya, and make your way to the road. We're coming."
"I know. Go, Piotr. We'll be there soon."
She hung up and rubbed at her eyes with the heels of her hands, mind racing as she made her plans, then lifted the receiver again. Yuri first. Yuri she trusted, and he could get other things in motion while she made arrangements here.
Piotr managed to herd the kids closer to the road with a minimum of tears and hysterics. There was a small gate set into the wall here, a service road for landscapers and servants, from back when the mansion was built in the early 1900s. They huddled together in the underbrush and waited. They could see lights in the air back up at the school, the helicopters in the distance. Piotr tensed, feeling the weight of the gun.
Sooner or later the soldiers would realize that they were missing, and start searching the grounds. They might be able to evade troops on foot for a couple of hours, but the helicopters...
Tabitha's power was offensive. So was Amara's. Jamie might be able to cause some confusion...Sam could ram them...and he had the gun. It wasn't much of a plan. He hoped it wouldn't come to that. Irina was sending someone. If they could just stay hidden, and hold out long enough.
It seemed an eternity before a large sized RV came creeping down the service road. It stopped a few yards off, and Piotr felt weak with relief as he recognized Irina as she climbed out and stood in the headlights, peering into the trees lining the road.
"It's all right, these are my friends," he called out to the cluster of younger children, and led them out of hiding.
Piotr greeted Irina with a quick shoulder-clasp hug, and grinned at Auntie Olga, who was driving the RV. Smart choice, the Vassilov housekeeper was a gentle, motherly woman that would help with comforting the younger children.
His eyes widened slightly at the third member of the rescue party. The kids convulsively moved back a step toward the edge of the road as he came out of the shadows, and Jamie tripped, tripleting.
"Yuri?" Piotr exclaimed, incredulously. The burly figure dressed in black pulled a ski mask down and adjusted it.
"Fight fire with fire, boy." the former KGB agent laughed. "I'll go have a look at your school, see what there is to see. Maybe I fetch out a few more of your friends."
Yuri disappeared into the shadows, and Piotr began loading the kids onto the RV, very gently tousling Jamie's hair after the boy collected himself. He could see the question in Irina's eyes, and silently promised her an explanation later.
Auntie Olga fluttered around Theresa and Jones, still out cold, as they were brought into the RV and taken back to the bed. "Oh, the poor little dears, come, come, lay them down here..."
Tabitha carefully set Theresa down on the bed, then made her way to one of the bench seats, muttering to Piotr as she passed him, "Geez, Pete, you called your Grandma?"
Piotr was moving back up to the front, pausing to fasten seat belts and pat shoulders, murmuring reassurance. Tabby's eyes narrowed a little as he stopped behind the passenger seat with the blonde chick. The blonde's hair was in a thick braid down her back, and she was wearing blue jeans and a coral-orange spaghetti strap tank top, beaded and embroidered with flowers. The fashion statement was pretty much, 'I have big boobs'.
Part of being a successful con artist was being able to read people, read their body language. That was one thing that her old man taught her. Tabby watched Piotr and the blonde chick.
Watched the way they stood so close. Watched the way they looked at each other. Watched them smile. Watched Piotr reach out with a fingertip and trace the chain of the silver heart locket she wore.
"Kit-Kat, I hope you're safe, but I'm glad you ain't here to see this," she muttered under her breath as the couple turned to address the group."
"This is my friend Irina," Piotr announced. "I haven't seen her since I started at school, so noone should know that we know each other. We're going into New York and staying at her apartment until we can figure out what to do next."
"My father's top security man is staying. He will watch, for any other students who made it out, and for your teachers' return. If any of you want to call your parents, you can do that when we get home. I think we should get going, before we attract attention. Everyone belted in? Let's go."
She took the driver's seat, and they started off into the night.
The roads were quiet at this time of night. Piotr felt like he was holding his breath until they got out of Salem Center. "No roadblocks or checkpoints?" he asked quietly.
Some of the kids had fallen back to sleep. Exhaustion and terror. Irina had put the radio on low.
"Nothing like that. This was definitely black ops, covert stuff. Piotr...that boy fell and split into three. He's a mutant, like you?"
He'd risked armoring up in public once. A drive by shooting by one of her father's business rivals. They were eleven, walking back from the comic book shop. If there was one thing to be said about the relentless pragmatism of the Mafiya, or at least Boris' part of it, there was little room for prejudice. All that mattered was if you were useful.
"We all are. That's why they came for the school."
"Bastards! Idiot racist bastards," Irina hissed. "You'll be safe with us, Piotr. You are all under my protection for the duration."
"And what if the duration is the rest of our lives?" Piotr asked bleakly.
To Be Continued.