It was a pretty guest room, painted a cheerful bright daffodil yellow, with a simple white quilt on a dark Mission double bed. Kitty sat up in the middle of the bed, still in her pink pajamas, though borrowed jeans and a teeshirt hung on the doorknob.

Her knees were drawn up, and her loose chestnut brown hair veiled her face as she shook with the force of her sobs.

Piotr went to her, sitting on the edge of the bed.

"Katya, Katya, I am here. It's all right, there's my girl..." he soothed. She straightened up, only to fling herself into his arms. He turned, awkwardly bringing his legs up, stretching out on the bed and allowing her to bury her face in his shoulder.

He patted and rubbed her back, combed through her hair with his fingers, and made wordless comforting noises until the tears slowed and she looked up at him.

"Peter...that was Cerebro."

"Da." He wiped tears away and kissed her cheek, tasting salt and sorrow.

"That was Cerebro on overload," she brushed her lips against his.


"That's...not good, is it?"

"No," he kissed her. "It is not."

They lay there for a little while, holding each other, kissing lightly. Piotr kept running his hand through her loose hair, and nibbling at her full lower lip with his own. The cold, shocky terror Kitty had felt was quickly being replaced by a warm, breathless feeling. Especially as Piotr licked her just below her ear, and took her earlobe gently between his teeth.

"Peter?" she asked, panting a little. "Are you comforting me, or are we making out?"

He pulled back and looked deeply into her eyes. "Do you want me to stop?"

Kitty considered it and announced firmly, "I want you to take off your shirt."

Piotr smiled, and pulled his shirt over his head, tossing it to the floor. He deliberately stretched, flexing, making muscles ripple. He rolled onto his side, tucking Kitty close beside him.

She ran a hand down his chest, then reached up for his arm. He obligingly made a bicep for her, and she squealed, wrapping her hands around his arm and finding her fingers wouldn't meet. "OoOoh!"

"You like my muscles, yes?" he asked, just a little smugly.

"That's almost the first thing I noticed about you, the first time I saw you," Kitty agreed. "That you were so huge and kind of neat-looking. I never saw anybody so buff and ripped in real life before."

They kissed a few times, and then Piotr offered, "the first time I saw you I thought you looked like a fawn. So delicate and graceful, all long legs and big dark eyes. Beautiful."

They kissed again, and then again. More passionately, tongues touching tentatively. Growing bolder with each kiss. Kitty kept tracing light, aimless patterns on his bare chest and stomach, kitten-scratching with her fingernails, fingertips gliding over smooth skin and sculpted muscle.

Piotr had his arm draped across her, and he rubbed her from shoulder to elbow, every so often. His fingertips barely brushing the curve of her breast, every so often.

Kitty giggled, nervously, and traced the defined abdominal muscles with a fingertip.

Piotr began to nuzzle at the nape of her neck, and Kitty let her hand slide down to the hard bulge in the front of his jeans. She groped him clumsily, patting and stroking and squeezing gently. Piotr moaned approval, and began rocking his hips, rubbing himself against her palm.

Encouraged, she unfastened the button at his waistband, pulled down the zipper, and slipped her fingers into his fly. She could feel him better through the thin cotton, but she had barely measured the length of him when Piotr jerked back with a yelp, almost falling off the bed.

"Nyet," he panted, chest heaving. "Not...not yet. Katya, stop!"

"It's okay, Peter," she reassured him with a quick kiss. "I want to," she giggled with nervous anticipation, and stroked him again, eagerly. "and wow, you really want to."

"Daaaaaaaaaaah," Piotr's agreement faded into a sigh of pleasure as she continued to tease him with her fingertips. He caught her by the wrist and pulled her hand away. "Katya, we can't. This is not the proper time or place."

He was almost trying to convince himself. He was excited. It had been so long, and Kitty was staring up at him, trustingly, flushed, eyes dark and liquid with desire, hair tumbling over her shoulders soft as silk. Wanting him, and all he had to do was tug at her pajama pants and she would phase so that he could pull them free and then they would...



He closed his eyes and shook his head, trying to shake off the mental image, and the tactile memory of her warm and gentle fingers.

Kitty was looking at him with confusion, and a spark of anger ignited in her eyes. "We might not get another chance. Peter, they have Cerebro and the Professor, or another telepath, and they're learning to use it. All Cerebro does is find mutants. They're going to hunt us down. The others are probably already dead."

"You don't know that."

"You don't know that they aren't," she countered. "I don't want to die, Peter." Her voice trembled. "Not when we've just...we haven't..."

Piotr sighed softly, and gingerly did up his fly. "We are all dying, Katya. Every second of every day from the moment of our birth brings us closer to our natural end. What matters is how we live."

"We should live our lives to the fullest?" she tried, smiling wryly.

"We should," he agreed. "But we cannot do this, Katya."

She pouted. "What do society's stupid rules matter when you're doomed?"

"You don't know that we are doomed. Perhaps that was the Professor looking for us, and the soldiers changed Cerebro's settings. If we did this, I would not be able to live with myself. I know that you are willing, Katya, but it would still be statutory rape."

The ugly words hung in the air between them.

Kitty heaved a sigh. "Gee, I wish I was older."

"As do I," he paused, and his dry and slightly offkilter sense of humor surfaced unexpectedly. He let his voice deepen, go as dark and soft as black velvet. "But we do not have the time or the privacy I would prefer now, in any event. When you are eighteen, my Ekaterina, and we make love, I wish to take my time about it. I want to romance you, seduce you on satin sheets scattered with rose petals. I will know every inch of your body, I will lick every inch of your body. If it does not offend your vegetarian sensibilities, I will eat caviar from between your breasts."

She was looking at him with very wide eyes. Her lips parted, and her breath quickened. He hid a smile.

"When I take you for the first time, I will go as slowly and gently as I can bear. I don't want to hurt you, deflowering you, though I am large. And we will make love again and again, until we are both exhausted, sated, and our voices hoarse from screaming with pleasure."

Kitty's eyes were slightly glazed. "...ohmigawd..."

Piotr leaned close again, captured her chin and kissed her lightly, sweetly, on the lips, and drew back, tracing her full lower lip with his thumb.

"Have I never told you that my family name was once Novykh, Katya? Rasputin was meant as an insult to my infamous ancestor, for it means debaucher. He took it as his own. And I am a Rasputin. Why trade the anticipation of our night of ecstasy for a quick, unsatisfying screw?"

Kitty closed her eyes and shivered. She was blushing almost the same shade of pink as her pajamas. "Um, yeah, uh, I, yeah. We're right. We should wait." She sidled off the bed. "I'm um, I better get dressed before the bathroom's taken."

Gathering her clothes, she fled out into the hallway through the closed door.

Piotr leaned back on the bed and waited for his arousal to fade, shutting his eyes. "And when I can speak to you of lust without scaring you, Katya, you will be ready to come to my bed."


Kitty stopped on the other side of the closed door, and took a deep breath, blowing it out slowly in a gasp.

"Whoa..." she sighed aloud.

She had thought that she was ready to go farther than kissing. So sure that this might be their last chance to be together, to give herself to him. And she'd been frustrated and confused and angry when Piotr refused her.

But then he started telling her what he wanted to do with her, when she was older, when she was ready, when they could do everything together, explore each other like that. His voice was like warm honey. She wondered, with a sudden spark of jealousy, whether he had already done any of that. The thing with caviar. With Irina. Or maybe he'd just been reading the romance novels Tabitha left lying around the mansion, the ones with the good paragraphs highlighted in purple.

It had given her conflicting feelings, like she wanted to pounce on him, and hide under the bed, both at the same time.

And suddenly she wasn't so sure she was ready, after all.

Kitty lingered over her shower, not really wanting to face Piotr again yet. Or anyone else. At least until she was sure she wouldn't blush redder than an apple. She tried running the water cold because of all the cold shower jokes, but that was just uncomfortable, so she turned the heat back up and carefully read the little aromatherapy label on the spearmint and eucalyptus shower gel. Clearing the mind and warding off evil spirits sounded like just what she needed right now.

She washed her hands thoroughly, scrubbing the one she'd touched Piotr's thing through his underwear with. She made sure both hands were very clean, then finished bathing. She dried her hair and put it up in a neat ponytail after getting dressed.

Piotr wasn't with the kids in the living room when she came out. GNN was on for the hourly update. For once they were catching up on news in the rest of the world. A ferry between Madripoor and the mainland had sunk, and two hundred people were missing, presumed drowned. Critics were panning Alison Blaire's movie debut in the semi-autobiographical Dazzle, new troop movements along the Latverian borders. The world kept turning.

Irina was walking across the living room when she cried out, and crumpled like a rag doll. She siezed, tremblers starting in her arms and legs, hitting harder until she was jackknifing on the floor like a landed fish.

"Irina!" Tabitha yelled. "Cerebro again, dammit."

"Olga," Sam started for the kitchen and the service rooms beyond. "Auntie Olga was gonna run some laundry."

Kitty hurried to their hostess, and helped Tabitha hold her still. Irina's eyes were glazed, blank and mindless with dull animal pain, then she went still and took a deep, shuddering breath.

"Ow," she said, meditatively. "That was just as unpleasant as it looked."

She sat up slowly, pushing tangled honey blonde hair out of her eyes. She looked Tabitha and Kitty in the eyes. "This Cerebro...this is the machine at your school, in enemy hands, that your professor uses to find new students. To find mutants."

It wasn't really a question.

Kitty answered her anyway. "Yes."

Irina wet her lips, and tried to swallow. "I think I arrange transport to Canada. Soon."

The three girls met each others' gaze grimly, and Tabitha and Kitty helped her up.

Sam was coming out of the kitchen, supporting Auntie Olga, who was unsteady on her feet.

Kitty went out onto the terrace, and leaned against the railing, looking out at the trees and the cityscape beyond, then closed her eyes and lifted her face up to the sun.

In the last 48 hours, she had survived an armed assault on the school, hid out in the woods, met Piotr's rich ex girlfriend, almost got her brain smooshed by Cerebro, and offered Piotr her virginity while feeling him up. Now she was going to be smuggled into Canada, the next step toward a life on the run. She'd never be able to see her parents again. She'd have to use a new name. And every time she closed her eyes at night, she'd be afraid she would see a man in black camouflage standing over her when she opened them again.

48 hours ago...she'd been bored. Kitty began to laugh, with the slightest tinge of hysteria to it.


Piotr lay back and waited for the urgent ache to fade, trying to keep his mind blank...occupied with anything else. He'd come very close to taking Kitty, making love to her, and the lure of lesser pleasures still called to him. Her impulsive questing fingers would be fuel for his fantasies to feed on...he could close his eyes and let his own fingertips retrace her path...

But not now. He really didn't want to have to explain why he was changing the sheets. It didn't take long to cool his ardor.

Just a stray thought that he was glad none of the resident telepaths were around. It was embarrassing enough to pass the Professor or Doctor Grey in the hall first thing in the morning, trying not to think about the wet dream he'd had, or think about the special sketchbook he kept hidden between the mattress and box spring and only took out when he was absolutely sure Jamie was sound asleep.

But the reason why there were no telepaths to be paranoid about intruded like a bucket of ice water.

Piotr got to his feet, adjusted himself and checked his fly, and went back out to the living room. That was when he learned that Cerebro had been reset to normal humans and activated again, that both Irina and Auntie Olga had been affected.

He settled down to talk to a crying Jamie, and tried not to worry that Kitty had been right.



At Alkali Lake.

Jean could take care of herself, Ororo had to trust that, as much as she hated leaving the other woman with Magneto and Mystique.

She hurried through the dim and dark corridors, heading for the cells Mystique had shown her on the blueprints. Kurt Wagner kept pace with her, tail lashing back and forth anxiously as he ran.

They reached the cells, set into the floor along a walkway. The first six were empty, the seventh held the children.

"Jubilee," she called out.

"Miss Munroe!" There were excited cries from the other children. "We're down here!"

"I know. I'm sending a friend down to get you out." She looked at Kurt. He nodded, and disappeared with a bamf! of displaced air rushing in to fill the void of where he'd been. Startled squeals from the cell announced his instantaneous reappearance below.

"Miss? Miss Lady, Ma'am?"

Ororo looked into the adjoining cell. A blond boy, ten years old and dressed in child-sized surgical scrubs in red and black. He wasn't an Xavier student.

"Could ya let me out too?"

"Of course. What's your name, child? What are you doing here?"

"Wade. Getting 'sperimented on, mostly. The doctor guy told my foster parents it was 'cause of my cancer and they maybe could cure it. The others here...before the 'speriments killed them, they said it was 'cause we were already sick, we were expendable."

Storm's mind went blank with rage. On the surface, clouds darkened, gathered, and it began to rain. Kurt appeared beside her with the first of the children. Teleporting with a passenger was a strain on Kurt, he needed to rest between rescues. That gave them plenty of time to talk to the kids, and hear about the raid on the school from more points of view from those who'd lived through it.

They were worried about their friends, she was able to reassure them a little, that Bobby and Rogue and John were waiting in the Blackbird, that Logan had seen the rest of the students out through the emergency escape tunnels under Piotr's protection.

Jubilee snorted. "Where'd they go, though? Petey ain't exactly inconspicuous. Especially in his undies, yum."

Ororo caught her eye and shook her head slightly. "Piotr's taking care of the other students," she repeated, and prayed that it was true.

Once everyone was free, they hurried back to the rendezvous point, falling short of it when the faux-Cerebro was activated, dropping all the mutants in their tracks. Ororo came to a few seconds later, the boy Wade shaking her. "Miss, don't die! I don't wanna win the deadpool again and be the last one alive the docs didn't even shoot you up or nothing, please, somebody don't die!"

She sat up, gathering him close and cooed, rocking him, calming him down. She ran a hand through his fine blond hair, frowning as several strands came loose in her fingers. They said they would cure his cancer...Jean would have to examine the boy back at the mansion's medical lab.

She abandoned the plan to meet back at the control room and headed straight for the faux-Cerebro. They found Scott and Jean there, Scott supporting a limping Jean.

"Jean, what's going on?"

"The Professor's inside. With another mutant, a very dangerous telepath. There's some kind of illusion. Magneto's reversed the Cerebro. It isn't targeting mutants any more."

"Who is it targeting?"

"Everyone else."

"We have to get in there."

"Opening the door now will kill the Professor."

"Kurt, can you get me inside?"

"I have to see where I am going, or else we could wind up inside a wall."

"I have faith in you."

Kurt wrapped his arms around her and began to pray quietly. There was a nauseating lurch---an odd sensation of falling sideways---and a sharp and sulfurous smell. And suddenly they were inside the Cerebro chamber.

The Professor wasn't there. Just a little girl with reddish brown hair and mismatched eyes, one green, one brown. She stood barefoot on the platform, in a simple white nightgown. She looked innocent. Harmless. She smiled. "Hello."

Ororo ignored her. "Professor. Charles, can you hear me?" she called out.

"Are you looking for your friend? He isn't here."

Ororo took a threatening step forward. Kurt caught at her shoulder. "She's just a little girl."

"No." The mismatched eyes betrayed her. Ororo knew Jason Stryker was looking at her through them, through the illusory avatar. "It isn't. Nothing you see here is real."

"I've got my eye on you," the girl chirped menacingly.

Ororo glared back. "Kurt, it's about to get very cold in here."

The temperature dropped like a rock. The girl began to shiver as frost beaded on the walls, silvering over the tiles.

"It's so cold, you're hurting me," the girl cried out. Storm ignored her, and let it grow colder. She pulled the moisture out of their breath and used it to make snow. The girl cowered against the blizzard winds and wailed, "he's going to be so angry..."

And just like that, the illusion was shattered. Two wheelchairs were parked, face to face, the Professor and Jason.

"Now!" Ororo shouted, and Kurt grabbed hold of the Professor and vanished, as she hit the control for the door.

There was an ominous rumbling echoing through the facility as they fled toward the spillway entrance. Wolverine appeared from one of the side corridors. "Trust me darlin', you don't want to go that way."

As if to underscore his words, the rumble increased to a dull roar, accompanied by a earthquake that knocked a few of the children off their feet.

Following Logan's lead, they made it to the surface...on the other side of the ridge. But to their mingled horror and relief, the Blackbird was coming. Skimming barely above the treetops, wobbling. One of the children was trying to fly, relying on a handful of simulator sessions as their only experience.

The Blackbird made a hard three point landing, dropping like a brick from twenty feet above ground. No permanent damage was done, but the plane landed in the soggy, boggy mud and stuck fast.

Ororo ushered the children inside and took a moment to lightly ruffle Rogue's hair as she passed. "You did good."


Scott deposited Jean in the seat nearest the door, and hurried up to take Rogue's place at the controls. The engines sputtered a few times, and wouldn't start.

As they all found seats and buckled in, Bobby asked suddenly, taking a headcount, "Where's John? He went to look for you guys."

Jean cast out telepathically, and closed her eyes, wearied beyond measure by what she found. "He left with Magneto and Mystique. He's decided to join the Brotherhood."

It shocked them all into silence.

"Cyke." Logan's voice was tight and urgent.


"Dam's buckling."


"Alkali Lake's coming down on our heads."

The Professor was busy trying to calm the children. Jean knew what she had to do. Using her teke to glide through the air, she slipped out of the plane. Bracing herself against a sapling, she reached out for the water and blocked it, lifting the struggling Blackbird with the last of her strength. She couldn't hold back the water forever. But she could hold it for just long enough.

The Blackbird came free of the muck, thrusters blowing clear, and the aircraft moved under its own power.

Goodbye, Scott. I love you. I'm sorry. I love you all, Jean sent telepathically, and the deluge broke through her telekinetic shield, engulfing the valley.

There is something in us all that denies oblivion. In her death throes, Jean blindly sought out some last desperate chance to survive.

Jean Grey saw a light at the end of the tunnel, and it was a phoenix.

Omnipotent, incorporeal, the energy creature known as the phoenix force had been watching Earth for a long time. Fascinated by these strange animals, humans. It began looking for a body it could inhabit, to experience. The failures were called spontaneous combustion. Phoenix began watching the different ones, the mutants, in the hope that one of these could contain it.

And in Jean Grey's psychic death-cry, the Phoenix found an invitation, and a body it could wear.


Perhaps it was a bit cold-blooded, but Xavier telepathically surpressed the grief and shock his students were feeling at the death of one of their own. Though it pained him to do so, they could not afford Scott breaking down now. Stryker's insane mutant genocide plan might have been thwarted, but he greatly feared the current political situation and that events had outpaced him. There was time enough to mourn their dead later. What mattered now was the fate of the living.

They brought the Blackbird back to the mansion, Xavier scanning the premises from the air and carefully putting the remaining soldiers to sleep before landing. One of Xavier's spare wheelchairs was kept in the Blackbird hangar beneath the basketball court. Scott helped him transfer into it, numbly, and they checked the damage to the school while collecting the soldiers to be placed under guard.


Things that could be replaced. Some of the furniture had been destroyed. Bullet holes in the walnut paneling. Plants and panes of glass in the conservatory and greenhouse. A hall flooded and left to soak, Bobby blushed and confessed to the ice shield that he'd made. Bloodstains in various places. A gaping hole in the wall of Theresa Cassidy and Kitty Pryde's room, mute testament to the folly of enraging the Colossus.

At last, Xavier entered the Cerebro chamber with a touch of unease. He examined the mechanism carefully for signs of tampering and found none.

He still hesitated over donning the headpiece. That was the true horror of the late Jason Stryker's particular brand of was how Jason had driven his mother to suicide.

Down the rabbit hole, peeling layers of reality like an onion, never quite able to trust the world around you was real.

That way led madness.

Xavier pulled the headpiece into place and let Cerebro open the world to him, searching for the children.

He found them quickly, a bright cluster of mutants together in the city, lightly skimming surface thoughts to be sure. His children, safe and sound. Relief washed over him, as well as bemusement at the children's plans to flee, and at the latest romantic entanglement among his charges.


Professor! Where are you?

Back at the school. Are you unharmed?

Only frightened, sir.

You've done very well taking care of the children, I'm proud of you, Piotr. If we may presume upon Miss Vassilov's hospitality for another day...we'll be coming to collect you and Kitty in the Blackbird momentarily for a small errand in Washington.

Yes sir. Is everybody all right? The kids the soldiers took?

The...children...are all right, yes. We'll be there shortly.

Piotr opened his eyes again with a sigh...letting out a breath he hadn't even realized that he was holding. A breath he'd been holding since he'd stepped into Kitty and Theresa's room.

From the happy relieved murmurs of the other kids, Professor Xavier had communicated with everyone, privately. Irina had a vaguely shellshocked expression after her first experience with thoughtspeech.

"That was your Professor?"


"Interesting man."

"Isn't he?"

Kitty was bouncing a little. "A small errand in Washington. That means a mission, right?"

Tabitha rolled her eyes. "Yep. Now, with all that's going on down in DC, I wonder why the Prof would want the Man of Steel and The Kat Who Walks Through Walls for a mission?"

"I dunno. Think we'll get uniforms? Because Peter, in leather pants?"

Piotr, who happened to be facing the wrong way, turned in time to catch six pairs of adolescent female eyes examining his butt.

He blushed a little. "Katya is very good at sneaking into places. I can walk through walls too, only it is much louder," he joked.

There was a great deal of speculation on the subject, how the Professor had escaped, where they had been taken and what happened to the others, how long Pyro was gonna be grounded for blowing up Bobby's front yard, whether they were going back to the school or going on the run with their teachers in charge, and why Piotr and Kitty were going to Washington.

And then the doorman was calling up because Miss Munroe and Mister Logan were there.

Irina buzzed them up. The younger kids swarmed Ororo, eager for the comfort of her motherly concern. Logan flicked a glance around the apartment, the kids, and Irina, who had tactfully retreated to straighten up comic books and DVD cases on the coffee table.

The Wolverine met Piotr's eyes and nodded. "Ya did good, kid."

Piotr squared his shoulders and nodded back, then excused himself quietly, going back to Irina's bedroom to collect the gun, cellphone, and ATM card. Irina followed him, going to her dresser and removing the locket from the egg box.

"I should give this to you, in case I don't see you again." she explained.

Piotr took the silver heart shaped locket and gently rubbed his thumb over the enameled flowers. They'd carefully cut out their school pictures and put them in over the miniature portraits of Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra. Piotr wondered if they were still inside.

"I gave this to you with no strings. Just because we aren't together, doesn't mean I want it back. The locket is yours." He tried to give it back.

"It is a family heirloom, Piotr, and a piece of history. I accepted it expecting to marry you, now that we won' should stay in your family. Your heart does not belong to me. It never did."

Her lip curled, and Piotr knew they weren't talking about the locket any more. "Irina...I did love you."

"And I loved you. We care for each other, Piotr, and we will always be friends. But we were never in love."

Piotr sighed, and admitted it. "No. We weren't."

She took his hand in hers, and curled his fingers around the locket. "So. Save this for Illyana, or give it to your future wife, something old for the wedding, eh? Silver is your Katya's color."

"We haven't even been out on a date yet," he muttered, and tucked the locket into his pocket. "Irina, I don't know how to thank you for this, for taking all of us in when we had nowhere else to go."

"It was nothing, Piotr. I wish it could have been under better circumstances, but it was good to see you, and I enjoyed meeting your friends. You know if you ever need anything, you can come to me. Even if it's only to speak to someone in your own language."

"I won't forget this, Irina. And I won't let so much time pass before I see you again. I've missed you."

"And I you," she reached up and gave him a brief, chaste kiss goodbye. "Now, go off to be a hero. It suits you much better, you know."

He pulled her close and held her for a moment, then let go.

Irina waited a few minutes, until she was sure they were gone, before composing herself and going out to see to the celebrating children.


"Couple'a things Chuck didn't tell ya," Logan started to say in the elevator.

Miss Munroe said, "Logan," quietly, warning.

"They gotta know, 'Ro. I know you wanna break it to 'em gently, but these two are coming on the 'Bird. If they say something, it's too raw for the others."

"What happened?" Kitty asked in a small voice.

Ororo put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Jean...Doctor Grey...Jean died while we were escaping from Stryker's base."

"Bozhe moi," Piotr closed his eyes, remembering the lovely teacher. Mister Summers must be shattered. He felt a little unsteady on his feet.

He'd been sketching tourists in Brighton Beach, both for the practice and the pocket money he earned when he managed to sell a sketch to the subject. Doctor Grey approached him and asked him to draw her, speaking to him telepathically while he worked, telling him about the school and reassuring him that they could arrange for him to quit working for the Vassilov family without fear of reprisal.

Doctor Grey had framed that charcoal sketch and hung it in her office in the school infirmary. He'd seen it during his physicals.

And now she was dead.

"And that punk Pyro defected on us, went over to Magneto," Logan growled.

"John did?" Kitty gasped, eyes wide.

"Yeah. Things kinda went to hell on us at the Drake place. Kid lost it."

"We saw on the news," Piotr nodded slowly. "Pyro blew up police cars."

Piotr had never liked John Allardyce. The boy had a wild glint in his eye during powers practice, whenever he was manipulating flame. Pyro was supposed to be short for pyrokinesis, the name for his power, but Piotr had known an arsonist and he recognized that taint in the boy. Pyro loved flame, and didn't care who might be burned.

"So, Cyke's holding it together. Rogue and Drake are too. I just didn't want you two asking about either of 'em. Wounds are too new, y'understand?"

Fire and Ice. John and Bobby had been best friends. Bobby's stolid boy next door personality balancing John's wilder side. And John had always been able to make Rogue laugh. His defection must hurt them almost worse than Doctor Grey's death. He left, willingly, turning his back on his friends and knowingly joining the enemy.

They reached the lobby and left the building. Headed into the park for the Blackbird. The plane had attracted a small crowd of tourists, curiously wondering if a movie was being filmed. The crowd parted quickly as the mutants came up and the hatch opened for them.

Piotr and Kitty took seats behind Bobby and Rogue for takeoff.

It was a short flight to Washington DC, and Professor Xavier briefed them on the way. They needed Kitty's phasing and computer hacking skills to break into Stryker's office and find proof of his unauthorized operation. The illegal experiments on mutants and the terminally ill. His intended plot of genocide.

Piotr was going with her in case someone tried to stop her.

They didn't get uniforms. To any observer, there was simply a tall youth walking with a much shorter girl down the sidewalk in front of the office building. Blink, and they were gone.

Kitty and Piotr hurried through the corridors to Stryker's offices.

It was after normal business hours, so they only had to worry about security and janitors, and just average security at that. Hiding in plain sight, Stryker hadn't wanted to draw attention to his activities with high clearance upgrades.

The computer system was state of the art, though. It took a while for Kitty to find her way through the passwords and security systems. Piotr hovered, nervously, keeping a lookout and watching Kitty in action, although he didn't understand half of what the screen was saying.

"Got it!" Kitty crowed triumphantly. "The most damning evidence is printing out to give to President McKenna, and I'm copying some other stuff that looked interesting to disk. Five minutes and we're out." She grinned up at Piotr as he leaned over her shoulder to look. "Impressive, ain't I?"

"You're amazing," Piotr agreed solemnly, and leaned closer for a kiss.

They spent the five minutes pleasantly, and when the disk was ready and the printer tray filled, Kitty pulled away a little breathlessly. "Okay. It's totally Sydney Bristow to be making out with a hot guy while committing espionage and all, but we'd better get moving."

"The Professor wanted to catch the President before the scheduled press conference," Piotr nodded, and they borrowed a few file folders to organize the printouts, then left as silently and undetected as they came.

Someone had to stay with the plane while it was parked in the Rose Garden, and Piotr and Kitty volunteered. They weren't officially X Men yet, without uniforms, and neither one of them was comfortable with the thought of meeting the President.

Kitty was still pouting over the fact that Rogue and Bobby got uniforms when they returned to the school. It was something to distract herself from their losses.


Time heals all wounds, life goes on, and things slowly went back to normal at the Xavier School. The mansion was renovated and redecorated. Some parents had removed their children from the school in the aftermath of the attack. A few new students were enrolled now that their beleaguered parents knew of it's existence. A few of the old ones returned again, when no other school would take them.

Scott Summers was gone. After the memorial service for Jean, he'd arranged to take a leave of absence with the Professor, and Logan silently offered the motorcycle back.

Scott was still Scott, even in his grief. Terse postcards updated them on his whereabouts. The latest one was from Florida, and said he'd hired on a fishing boat.

Logan stayed, taking over Scott's shop class. So did Kurt Wagner, adding German, Gymnastics, and Religious Studies to the curriculum.

The school needed a doctor on premises, and given the nature of the student body, no ordinary MD. Doctor Henry McCoy, Harvard geneticist, joined them.

Ororo Munroe returned to the school from running into town to do a little shopping. She flinched slightly as a falling body plummeted to land at her feet in a heap on the marble tile of the foyer. Wade lifted his head to shout, "Yep! Broke 'em both!" and grinned at her sunnily. "Hi Miss Munroe. S'okay, almost all better."

She stepped over him. Theresa Cassidy passed her on the stairs, already reading Wade the riot act. "Och, ye daft fool! When I said if you fell off the bannister you'd be sure to break both your legs, I wasn't meaning for you to try it! Hello Miss Munroe."

"It's a beautiful sunny day children, " she laughed. "Why don't you take some of that energy outside?" She took her personal purchases up to her room. No sign of Wade or Terry when she came back down to pull the truck around back, or else she'd have pressed them into service. She'd had a good day at Gaia's Garden Organic Nursery...there was a lot of planting to be done.


Piotr hummed to himself as he sorted through the spare parts bin, picking through the debris on the potting bench. A length of new tubing had already been spliced in to replace the leaking section, and now he just needed to fix the timer.

The door from the conservatory opened, and he heard Kitty gasp as the heat hit her. The greenhouse was hot and humid, which was why Piotr had left his shirt on one of the chaise lounges in the conservatory. Kitty was dressed for the weather, in white denim shorts and a pink bikini top.

"Hi Peter. Can you come out and play?"

"I have to finish repairing the watering system first."

"Oh," her face fell a little. "Can you take a break? I want to show you something."

Piotr put down a washer, and smiled, giving her a long slow once-over, letting his gaze linger. "Mn. I can see from here."

She grinned. "Not the bikini. I was down at the pool earlier. C'mon Peter. It'll only take a minute. And this is really really neat."

"Very well," he picked up a rag and wiped his hands quickly.

"Just step out into the conservatory for a minute, there's more room."

"This is not going to be involving remote control toys? Or small furry animals?" he asked warily, following her.

The conservatory ran the length of this wing, potted plants and orange trees, padded chairs, and french doors looking out at the formal rose garden, the small greenhouse at one end.

"That would have worked if Bobby hadn't left an ice slick there. And Mister Squeakers didn't even fall off." Kitty scowled, leading him to the middle of the floor. "Okay, put your hands on my shoulders, hold me, and close your eyes."

He obeyed.

The hands at his waist moved around to his back, she stepped closer...and the hands slipped down to his buttocks and squeezed.

He yelped, "Katya!" as his eyes flew open again.

She giggled. "Sorry. Irresistible impulse, couldn't help myself, really. That wasn't it. Close your eyes again, I'll behave, I promise."

He closed his eyes again, grumbling. "Something tells me I'm going to be regretting this."

"Don't get all hyper. And hold on, I hafta concentrate."

He waited, curious, but patient. He half expected another goose, or for her to do a vertical entrechat up into his arms to steal a kiss. He felt lightheaded and his stomach turned over. The heat. Maybe he should take a break, get out of the greenhouse for a while.

Nothing seemed to be happening. He started to shift his weight from foot to foot, and realized his feet weren't touching the ground. He panicked, opening his eyes looking down. "Kitty, what!"


They were floating, about two feet above the floor. He kicked instinctively, and started to tilt backward. They hit the floor with a thump, Kitty sprawling on top of him, knocking the breath out of him. She pushed herself up with a sheepish smile, brushing her hair back out of her eyes. "Sorry. I've been practicing with weights that weigh as much as you, I thought I was ready to show off."

"You can fly now?" he asked, wonderingly.

"Yup. Sort of. When I'm intangible. Professor Xavier explained it, but I don't have the physics to follow half of what he said," she ducked her head. "Pretty neat, huh?"

Piotr smiled. "I don't know the difference. I always feel like I'm walking on air when I'm with you."

Her face lit up, and she leaned down and kissed him.

"Want to make out a little?" he asked, when she pulled away.

"I don't want to get you in trouble..."

"Isn't that my line for when we stop?"

She swatted him, with a snort of laughter. "I mean the greenhouse. You're supposed to be working."

"I am taking a little break. I would rather be smooching with you than going to the kitchen for a soda," he leaned up for another kiss.

They kissed for a while. Piotr was very aware of Kitty straddling his lap, and the teensy-tiny bikini top she wore. He lowered his head and planted a kiss between her breasts. That was farther than they'd gone since she fondled him at Irina's. She murmured, and he moved back to the nape of her neck again. They kissed some more, and then Kitty pulled away and gazed down at him happily.

"I just made up a dirty joke," she informed him smugly.

He raised an encouraging eyebrow.

"Hey Peter. I know you get big and hard. But what's your power?"

"Minx," he chuckled, and pulled her down for another kiss.

A genteel cough interrupted them a little later. Kitty sprang off him, rolling over to face Miss Munroe, who was looking down at them with an amused expression.

"Oh geez," Kitty gasped. "We were...I'm...I'm so embarrassed I could sink through the floor."

"Don't you dare!" Piotr hissed, face flaming.

"Piotr, I believe you were supposed to be repairing the irrigation system in the greenhouse. Are you finished?"

The teenagers hurriedly got to their feet. "Almost," he admitted, squaring his bare shoulders and ready to take the blame.

"Why don't you get back to it, then? Kitty, I have some new plants out in the truck. Why don't you help me with them?"

She put a hand on Kitty's shoulder to guide her out the door.

There were several trays of seedlings that would go into the greenhouse. Some herbs. Ororo picked up a flat of yellow violas and led Kitty to the row of great stone urns lining the small terrace outside the conservatory. She pulled a trowel out of the first urn and handed it to Kitty as she worked the first viola out of the plastic eggcrate without breaking the roots.

Kitty dug a little hole in the dirt already in the urn, and she popped the plant into place.

Ororo sighed. Teachers weren't supposed to play favorites. Or at least, should try not to show favoritism. And these two were her favorites. Piotr...with his criminal past and deep-rooted connection to the land and growing things, not unlike her own. Kitty's quick wit and sunny nature. They were both very dear to her.

"So. You've been chasing Piotr since the day you met. It seems you have finally caught him."

"We're dating. It was the raid, y'know, how I was seperated from the other kids, and Yuri came and got me and took me to Irina's place the next morning. It made Piotr realize that he likes me like that. As much as I like him."

They worked in silence for a few minutes, and then Ororo forced herself to ask, "are you sexually active?"

Kitty looked at her and blushed. "Ro! No! We just kiss and stuff. Neck. Peter says we have to wait until I'm eighteen before we do IT...go all the way. I think he's seen, like, one too many after school specials or something. He's got this whole thing in his head that I'll get pregnant and it'll ruin our lives, because I won't be able to go to college and he'll go to jail and then get deported back to Siberia and my parents will lock me up like I'm Rapunzel or something, and remind me how much I've disappointed them if I even look like I'm doing anything but taking care of the baby and working at a fast food job. And Piotr will be working two or three crappy jobs in St. Petersburg trying to save up enough to come back to the states as an illegal alien to look for me and little Anastasia Petrova." Kitty sighed. "He's totally been reading Tabitha's romance novels and denying it, I can just tell."

Ororo laughed softly. "It is good that Peter understands that actions have unintended consequences," she noted.

"Yeah, I know." Kitty ducked her head and concentrated on patting soil around the roots of a viola. "I know, I wouldn't want a boyfriend that was pressuring me to go farther than I'm ready to. And I know I'm not ready for anything more serious than kissing."

"Very sensible. But Kitten, I'm afraid that there are school rules about public displays of affection for a reason," she reprimanded the girl gently. "It is only luck that it was I who found you in a somewhat compromising position..." Ororo frowned. "If I had been escorting a new student and her parents on a tour of the school, I'm sure you can see how awkward it would have been to walk in and find you and Piotr in such an embrace. By rights I should issue you each ten demerits and ground you."

"Oh no! Please, Ororo, I promise we'll keep our hands to ourselves from now on. We're gonna go see the new Justice League movie tonight with Bobby and Rogue and Tabby and Sam. It's gonna be so cool! Denis Leary as Guy Gardner, Michael Rosenbaum as the Flash, Eliza Dushku as Wonder Woman, and Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as Booster Gold and the Blue Beetle! We can't miss it."

"Well," Ororo relented. "I suppose being alone in the conservatory doesn't count as a...public...display of affection. This time. Consider yourself warned."

"Yes ma'am," Kitty nodded earnestly. "No more smooching on school property."

Ororo raised an eyebrow at that, well aware that Piotr would soon be moving off school property, starting his studies at art school, and made a mental note to keep an eye on Kitty's unchaperoned visits to the city in the future.

Kitty helped her finish planting the row of urns, and then she released the girl to enjoy the rest of the afternoon. She had Piotr help her unload the rest of the flats into the greenhouse and she had a little chat with him as well.

Speaking with Piotr reassured her, he definitely was one of the most responsible of the teenagers and quizzing him on his intentions toward the younger girl yielded satisfactory answers. Though he was as hormone-addled as any healthy youth, he was trustworthy and Ororo approved of the romance.

She let Piotr go off to find Kitty and finished cleaning up the potting bench, stacking trays and flats, sweeping up loose soil and seeing that everything was in the proper place.

After the humid heat of the greenhouse, she conjured up a cooling breeze, ruffling leaves and sending shed petals dancing in the air. Ororo lifted her face to the sun, and breathed in floral perfume and the green scent of growing things. Kurt had asked her about her anger once, but there were times her soul was at peace. Times like these.

She took a walk though the grounds near the house. The pool was crowded with squealing, splashing kids. Not far away, a snowball fight was in progress, Bobby Drake cheerfully arming all sides.

Artie and Rhane---in full wolf form---were playing frisbee, the lycanthropic mutant making spectacular leaps to snatch the spinning disc in midair.

It was good to see the children back to normal.