Child of Fire
Disclaimer – Colossus is the property of Marvel Comics and is used without permission.
Sitting alone on the hillside he watched the sun set through half-closed eyes, his legs drawn up to his chest, arms and chin resting on his knees. The sun's rim had just touched the horizon, its radiance burning the few wisps of clouds near it a brilliant crimson, transforming the sky to an opalescent purple, creating a chiaroscuro with a skill infinitely greater than any meager talent he possessed. Once upon a time he would have been enraptured, savoring its glory as he tried to impress what he watched on his visual memory, so to attempt to recapture this beauty with canvas and paint.
Now it was naught but shadow and ashes, and the whole wide world stretched before Piotr Rasputin, the hills, the copses of woods, the winding state route, felt more cold and suffocating than Ord's torture cell ever was. Where was she now, he wondered. How far had the Breakworld missile that was her tomb traveled in the month since her sacrifice, moving through space at trans-lights speeds, out of phase with the universe around it? Scott, Stark, Richards, all of them said nothing could be done to save her.
Piotr inhaled, taking a deep, shaky breath, and buried his face against his forearms. Pain beyond pain… pain without measure… is this how you felt, Katya, when you thought I was dead? I hope not… He sifted through his thoughts, each memory of Kitty Pryde a bittersweet thorn thrust into his soul. Her laughter, her sorrow, her friendship, her passion… His hands clenched into hard fists while his blood burned with the remembrance of the two times they had made love – the feel of her beneath him, above him, the fire of her kisses, the feel of her hands on him, of his hands on her. The taste of her lips, her breasts, her most intimate self. To never know such joy again, never to see her again, to have children with her, to grow old with her… to never achieve long cherished dreams he had briefly believed, miraculously, once again possible. He wanted to howl like a dying dog, but refrained, clenching down hard on his teeth and swallowing, shivering in the warm summer twilight as he waited for the pain to pass.
He wanted to die. He had tread that path before, though freak circumstances made it but a temporary sojourn. Yet Piotr held away from the act, knowing it the ultimate insult towards Kitty's sacrifice. Somehow he would endure.
The sun was three-quarters set when Piotr finally rose and made his way down the hillside to his van, parked at the shoulder of the road. He decided to continue south, until whim or circumstance changed his mind – one direction was as good as another. Vaguely he felt a small ache in his stomach, hidden beneath the larger burden of his grief. He could not remember the last time he ate. It was hard to muster the energy to care.
She looked bedraggled, dirty and tired-looking, but despite that and the encroaching twilight Johnny and his friends could tell she was good looking. They watched her as they smoked outside the front doors of MacReady's Saloon – a pretty little tomboy maybe fifteen or sixteen years old, dressed in faded denim and old sneakers, small and slim, her small breasts stretching the black tee-shirt she wore under her coat, her heart-shaped face framed by golden-red hair cut in a pageboy style. She walked down the state route that wound by MacReady's with stolid, weary determination, head bowed, her eyes concealed by the bill of her Atlanta Braves baseball cap. The backpack slung over her shoulder confirmed for the men watching her what the girl's rumpled appearance declared. Johnny looked at his friends and grinned, revealing twin rows of nicotine-stained teeth. His friends smiled back and they laughed together coarsely as they stamped out their cigarettes and paced after the girl. There was not much more than dark woods and hills for three miles around the Saloon, and its owner and his staff knew how to keep quiet. As for the few others patronizing the bar tonight... well, Johnny was Big Butch Roark's one and only son, and Roark owned the county.
The girl was lost in her own thoughts, and did not notice the attention she attracted until she was surrounded, Johnny stepping in front of her, blocking her way. She looked around with eyes the color of gold-tinted emeralds, lambent and shining in the dimming light, and though she paled slightly her expression was stoic.
Johnny started the game, as was his right. "Hey sweetheart," he drawled, mouth still stretched in an obscene leer. "Howya doin'? Out a bit late, ain'tcha?"
"Just walking," the girl replied softly. Her voice would have been musical if not for the effort she made to keep it calm making it taut.
"That so?" Johnny's eyes seemed glazed with a filthy heat. "Don't seem right to me, a young girl walking by her lonesome out here. Never know what sort of people you could run into in these dark woods." Johnny's friends sniggered and his leer grew wider. The girl again looked around at these men. Her lower lip trembled briefly, and a lone drop of sweat ran a cold trail down the side of her face, but otherwise she remained composed – almost eerily so. She returned her attention to Johnny, and for a brief moment he felt his enthusiasm flag. He had never seen a girl he and his boys had taken an interest in remain this calm. She should be starting to go into hysterics by now. It was outside his usual experiences. Johnny shrugged his doubts away. Her stupid bravery would make what was coming all the more satisfying.
Johnny canted his head to one side, snapping his fingers as if struck with a sudden thought. "Where are you heading for, babe? The boys here and I are more than happy to give you a ride, if you want."
"Yeah, Johnny, I'll let her ride me as long as she wants," one of his friends quipped, and the lot of them laughed uproariously at his alleged wit.
"I don't need a ride. I'm fine with walking." The girl tried to step pass Johnny, but he blocked her and grabbed her by the shoulder. He leaned closed to her. She flinched as a miasma of nicotine, bad liquor and halitosis washed over her face as he spoke.
"I think you need a ride," Johnny said quietly. His heart and breath were quickening, and he felt an excited churning in his stomach, spiraling downward to stir him nice and hard. "And after we take you for it, you're gonna show us just how grateful you are to us being so charitable, ain't you baby?"
The girl's face flushed and contorted with rage. She knocked his hand off her shoulder and shoved him away. To his surprise he staggered back a few paces – she was stronger than she looked. "Leave me alone, asshole!" she screamed. She tried to run pass, but he recovered his balance and slapped her hard across the face, sending her sprawling. His friends were on her in an instant, shouting and laughing with excitement. She tried to get away but they were too strong and too many. They hauled her up, pining her arms behind her back to hold her still. Johnny slapped her again to quiet her, then thrust a hand down her shirt, squeezing one of her breasts viciously. "Well hot damn, you're not wearing a bra! Ain't you a little slut? You feel nice and soft. You're lips look soft, too. They're gonna look good wrapped around my cock, slut." He pulled away his hand, grabbed her by the hair and led her to around the back of the Saloon, his friends helping hustle her along, practically carrying her as she desperately kicked and thrashed, screaming with all her breath.
Peter spotted the commotion as he drove down the road, a bar coming up on his right, but could not make out what exactly was happening until he passed the sign advertising the place as MacReady's. He brought his van to a crawl when he saw a group of men dragging a small, struggling figure around the back of the ugly box of a building, then jerked it to a hard stop when the high-pitch screams came rushing through his open windows. He left the van idling at the roadside and raced across the saloon parking lot, swearing as he noticed despite the howling cacophony behind the place no one was coming out to investigate. He rounded the back corner and came to a stop, feeling nearly paralyzed by the incandescent rage that burst through him, kindling his blood to fire. Six men, laughing and crowing, crowded around a young girl. They had her on hands and knees, one man kneeling in front of her holding her arms down, another behind her, his shins down across the back of her calves, pinning her legs as he worked to get off her belt. One of the onlookers let out a loud whoop. "I want her ass, Johnny."
"Fine by me," said the man behind her as he finally yanked her belt out of her jeans and tossed it aside. "But I get first crack at her cunt. Bet you're still tight as hell, even if you are a slut. Ain't you, you little bitch?"
"GET OFF OF ME!" the girl screamed as she tried to pull free. The man in front of her twisted her arms. Her scream became a sob as she started to cry. The man named Johnny started to pull her jeans down past her hips. For a moment it seemed she was haloed with a dim, orange light, but no one seemed to notice.
Then Peter was upon them like a lion amongst jackals.
He scattered them off the girl, grabbing Johnny by the shoulders and heaving him away. He flew through the air, landing hard and sprawling on the packed dirt. The man holding the girl's arms gaped in surprise. Peter kicked him in the face, the man's nose crumpling beneath his heel like a wad of dry paper mache. He dropped on his back, holding his face and howling. The remaining four back away in surprise, getting ready to run but then realizing it was only one man attacking them. They watched him warily. Peter glared back at them, standing protectively over the girl. She looked up at him in an odd way, as if she could not comprehend what he was doing, then scrambled up to her feet, hitched her pants up, grabbed her belt and put her back against the wall of the saloon, tears running down her face as she gasped for breath.
Johnny had regained his feet. In any other situation the look of outrage on his face would have been comical.
The man Peter kicked rolled over and scrabbled slowly away. "Ah. Damn it! My nose is broken. God, Johnny."
"Shut up, Tracy!" Johnny shouted.
"My nose!" Tracy wailed. He stood up clumsily and staggered away, wailing and leaving a trail of blood. He did not return.
Johnny glared murderously at Peter and spat on the dirt. "What the fuck did you think you're doing?"
"What does it look like?" Peter replied in a low rumble, his voice deep and menacing. Johnny continued to glare, then suddenly he snickered and looked around at his friends. "Look what we got here, boys – a hero. A goddamn knight in shining armor." He spat again. "What do you think this is, a fucking movie? You really think you can beat all of us, just 'cause you got muscles on your muscles? You look like one of those asshole gym-fags, boy." Peter did not answer, but simply stared at Johnny, his ice-blue eyes glittering like blades in the dying sunlight. A brief chill crawled up Johnny's spine, but he laughed it away. "Let me tell you how this is going to go down, boy. We're gonna beat the shit outta you for kicking Tracy in the face and interrupting us. Then we're gonna fuck this little slut 'til she's bleeding outta every hole in her body. Then, after we're done and if the boys and me are feeling generous, we'll let you go instead of cutting your throats and dumping your carcasses in the river. What do you think of that, faggot?"
Again Peter did not answer. He stood in tense motionlessness, like a wound steel spring waiting for release, his face as expressionless as a granite massif. He glanced around at the five men encircling him, their mouths twisted with evil leers, then looked at the young woman trembling against the saloon wall. Peter looked back at Johnny and bared his teeth in a smile utterly without warmth or mercy. Again a chill clutched at Johnny, sinking deep into his flesh. He could not shrug it away.
"Well then," said Peter, "if my fate is ordained, let us not waste anymore time." And as he finished speaking he lunged at the man closest to him, standing at his left, moving with an almost blinding speed and hitting his opponent across the face with a forearm strike before he could even flinch in surprise. He slammed back against the saloon, bouncing hard off the brick wall and collapsing face-down in the dirt. Peter sidestepped to the right and thrust-kicked a second man in the stomach, doubling him over and almost breaking him in half. He fell on his side and rolled away gagging.
Peter settled into a wide, stable stance. His opponents were finally reacting, two of them rushing him, one from the front, the other behind, trying to catch him between them, while Johnny reached into his pocket. Without looking Peter lashed out with a back elbow, catching his third assailant between the eyes, breaking his nose and knocking him senseless. The fourth thug threw a clumsy, looping haymaker at his head. Peter easily slapped aside and hammered the man with a right-left cross combination that sent him to the ground clutching at his face. Peter jumped over him and made for Johnny. Johnny back-peddled away, shock and fear etched sharply on his goatish face. He pulled his hand out of his pocket, flipping open a gravity knife and making a pass at Peter's throat. Peter wove back, avoiding the cut, caught Johnny's wrist on the backhand and twisted hard. Johnny let out a high-pitch, whickering cry and dropped the knife. Peter considered briefly breaking his arm, but relented and kicked him in the pit of the stomach, just above the groin. He did Johnny no favors – Peter's boots were steel-capped, and in his human form he could leg-press almost half a ton. Peter released his wrist and Johnny fell on his knees gagging. "If you puke on my boots I'll kick your head off," Peter warned him mildly. Johnny just managed to roll away before noisily vomiting.
Peter looked around, checking if anyone wished to continue being belligerent. None seemed so inclined. He turned to the girl; she was still pressed against the saloon wall, breathing hard and fast, her cheeks flushed a deep red. "Are you all right?" Peter asked. She looked at him, her eyes gleaming brightly in the gloom, and nodded. "Do you wish me to call the police?"
Johnny had stopped throwing up and managed to get up on his knees. "You stupid fuck, my family owns the cops around here. They're gonna throw your fucking ass in stir for jumping us."
"Shut up," said Peter, waiting for the girl's answer. She shook her head. "Okay. Do you wish for me to take you away from here?"
"Yes..." she whispered.
"Very well. My van is in front of this cesspit, on the curb of the road." The girl looked around warily at her attackers before snatching up her backpack and baseball cap and running. Peter followed at a more casual pace.
"This ain't over," Johnny wheezed out as Peter passed him. His two friends still conscious were slowly, carefully trying to rise, groaning loudly. Johnny was still on his knees, twisting around to watch Peter. His face was colored a ferocious red and he was spitting as he spoke. "This changes nothing! The cops will haul you to jail and beat your stupid ass to death. But before you die I'm gonna make you watch me split that slut's cunt in half and slit her throat. You're both dead, ya hear me? FUCKING DEAD!"
Peter stopped and looked back. "Then I guess there's no reason why I should not kill the whole lot of you here and now." Johnny and his friends froze like small animals under a predator's gaze. Peter had spoken softly and without heat, as if he were contemplating a distasteful but necessary chore. He had beaten all of them in less than ten seconds almost without effort; they knew that if he wanted to kill them, there was nothing they could do to stop them.
Peter strode to Johnny and grabbed him by the throat with his left hand. Johnny tried to break away, but Peter shook him sharply and lifted him off his feet as he started to blubber. Peter slapped him hard then drew him close, forcing him to looking into pitiless eyes cold and hard as Siberian ice. "Be wise," he said. "Forbear. Forget you ever saw either of us." He dashed Johnny down to the ground like so much trash, turned sharply on his heel and walked to his van where the girl waited. The men still conscious stared down at the dirt, beaten, empty, emasculated, their bodies aching. Sun and light vanished, leaving Johnny in darkness, crying in fear and shamed relief.