Disclaimers: Marvel owns all. I'm just borrowing them for a bit of sport.
AN: This takes place after the current Schism arc, which is separating the X-Men into two teams with different agendas, led by Cyclops and Wolverine respectively. From the looks of it Colossus and Kitty end up on opposite teams, which bugs the hell out of me for obvious reasons. Not to mention the whole Juggernaut/Colossus hybrid thing. I thought Kitty's fishbowl helmet thing looked bad until I saw Colossus in Jug's metal dome! How lame can you get? So naturally, I had to write this little AU storyline, which takes place a few months after Schism. All spoilers for Schism and Fear Itself apply, natch.
Rating: PG for now, but you know how it is when two crazy kids like Peter and Kitty are in love. May change at a later time, who knows?
Synopsis: Team Cyclops? Team Wolverine? Try Team "Screw this, we're outta here!" Look out, Chicago, you're about to get your own superheroes!
Shadow and Steel
I've Got Soul But I'm Not a Soldier
"I wanna stand up, I wanna let go.
You know, you know - no you don't, you don't,
I wanna shine on in the hearts of men,
I want a meaning from the back of my broken hand.
Another headaches, another heart breaks,
I am so much older than I can take,
And my affection, well it comes and goes,
I need direction to perfection, no no no no,
Help me out.
Yeah, you know you got to help me out,
Yeah, oh don't you put me on the backburner,
You know you got to help me out."
"All These Things That I've Done"
Six months ago;
"You sure you got everything you need, Kitty?" Logan asked as he escorted the young woman through the main concourse of JFK International Airport. "You got enough clothes to last for the next few days?"
"Logan," Kitty complained as she hauled her carry-on bag over her shoulders, "I'll be fine. Once I get my housing situation squared away at campus, I'll send for the rest of my stuff."
"How you fixed for money?"
"I still have the trust fund my dad set up for me before he...before he died," she replied sorrowfully. "75 grand, enough to at least start up on and pay for college. I'll be okay."
"Yeah, I know," Logan harrumphed. "I just wanna be sure. I mean, you've been through the wringer this year."
"Tell me about it," Kitty groused, remembering the terrible year that had passed. After months trapped aboard the Breakworld Bullet, she finally returned to Earth, only to watch as her family fell apart. Differences in policy, differences in opinion regarding the future of mutant-kind, broke the X-Men into two, in a bitter schism that still hasn't healed. And seeing her beloved Piotr side against her caused her heart to schism just as violently.
She kept a brave face, dealt with the loss and soldiered on for as long as she could. Which turned out to be roughly two months. It was during a pitched battle with a squad of Sentinel robots, purchased by some military group in Eastern Europe to perform some "ethnic cleansing" of the local non-human population, with a very wide definition of "non-human"(specifically, not white-skinned). Wolverine took the main team to the main battle site in Kosovo, with Kitty taking point to take down the lead Sentinel. For all its sophistication, a Sentinel was just a giant robot, with the Central Processing Unit located in its head. All Kitty had to do was run a few phasing passes through the CPU and the Sentinel would be out of commission.
The battlefield was strewn with the corpses of innocent people. Men, women, children, infants, all guilty of only one crime, not being the right skin color. The stink of rotting human flesh, combined with gunpowder, burning tire, cordite and a hundred other stenches of the battlefield assailed her nose, as greasy smoke stung at her eyes and lungs.
She had fought in battles before. In downtown New York, the fields of England, the depths of space, she had fought before and never froze. So why did she freeze in Kosovo? She had racked her brain for the answer since that fatal day, and she still didn't know. One minute she was on the field as a Sentinel came rocketing toward her, and the next she was in the Blackbird heading back to the States, as Logan chewed her out and Rachel yelled at Logan to show an iota of empathy toward her. It was only by a miracle that her inability to act didn't result in injury or loss of life to herself, her teammates, or any civilians in the crossfire.
The next day, Logan approached her in her bedroom. He told her that what happened wasn't her fault, but he had to consider what was best for the team as a whole. He informed her that she was suffering from PTSD, and ordered her to take a few weeks off.
"I was thinking along those lines as well, Logan," Kitty intoned emotionlessly. "But longer than a few weeks." She turned to her mentor, regarding him with an ice-cold stare that even Logan could not argue against. She threw her old yellow-and-black X-Men uniform at Logan and said plainly, "I quit. I already made the plane reservations to Chicago. I'll be packed and out of here in a few hours."
Logan stared back at her, his face set in stone, unreadable. Finally, he answered, "Let me know when you're ready. I'll drive you to the airport." He turned and left, and Kitty started to fill her suitcases.
For Kitty Pryde, it was over. Xavier's dream. Scott and Logan's war. It was all over.
"Flight 426 to Chicago, now boarding at Gate 23," the voice announced over the PA system, dragging Kitty's thoughts back to the here and now.
"That's your flight, Kitty," Logan informed her. "Looks like this is it."
"Yeah," Kitty replied, trace tears beginning to well in her eyes. Without warning, she hugged her longtime mentor figure fiercely, whispering, "I'm sorry I let you down."
"You never let me down, Punkin," Logan assured her, his arms instinctively encircling her waist in a fatherly embrace. "This just wasn't the life for you. I'm sorry it went down this way, Kid."
Kitty backed away from Logan and headed for the gate. "Just do me a favor, Logan. Try and mend fences with Scott. Otherwise, no one's going to survive much longer."
"I'll try," Logan promised. "But he's as stubborn as I am"
"Take care of yourself," she said sadly as she passed through the gate, waving a final farewell.
"You too, Punkin," Logan whispered long after she was out of earshot.
Kitty was surprised at how composed she felt as she found her seat on the plane. She didn't even bother to tell the rest of the team of her departure. No one but Logan was there to see her off. And that's how she wanted it. A quiet ending to her tenure as an X-Man.
She paused briefly to wonder how Lockheed was doing. That ornery dragon hated being carried around in a pet-carrier, and certainly hated wearing that image inducer that disguised him as a Siamese cat. She made a mental note to make it up to him with a large sushi platter when she checked into her hotel in Chicago.
She glanced at her watch; 4:45 pm. Her flight was scheduled to take off at 5 pm. She figured she had enough time to check her email on her smartphone before being told to turn the phone off by the stewardess. Switching her phone on and placing her finger on the the email icon, she nodded as she noticed the new emails in her inbox. Mostly ads, but there was one whose return address she recognized. She immediately pulled up that mail and began to read;
My dearest Kitty;
Logan had contacted me to inform me of your decision to retire from the X-Men. I regret to see you leave with such a heavy heart, but given the directions the X-Men have taken as of late, perhaps it is for the best. I have endeavored to maintain a level of neutrality, hoping to perhaps serve as a bridge between the two sides, but I fear that any efforts I would make at helping to achieve a détente between them would be met with hostility at this time, so I have chosen to remain silent.
I have at recent times questioned whether my long-standing dream of mutant/human coexistence is something that should be abandoned. After all, how can mutants be expected to live peacefully among humans if they can't even live among themselves? But I still feel that the dream is alive. Will it be achieved in my lifetime? It seems unlikely. But in you, in your desire to abandon the increasingly isolationist policies of both Scott and Logan, I see hope yet. Through you, to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., I have been to the mountaintop.
I have taken the liberty of contacting the administration of the University of Illinois, Chicago, where you had attended class for over a year before returning to the X-Men. I still have some clout as a professor, and they were more than happy to accommodate my request. A full scholarship awaits you there, including texts, lodging and a modest stipend. As one of my most outstanding students, you have certainly earned it. If you decide to pursue your education elsewhere, by all means contact me if you need any assistance.
I wish you all the success and happiness in life that you most certainly deserve.
Professor Charles Xavier
The email also contained a phone number, physical address and email address by which he could be reached, as well as contact information for the UIC administration.
She smiled as she re-read the letter. Typical of Professor X, she thought, always looking out for his students. She switched off her smartphone, pulled out her copy of "And Another Thing" from her duffle bag and began to relax, preparing for the plane to take off.
He opened his eyes, only to clamp them shut again as bright light shone through the window directly on his face. He struggled weakly to rise from his bed but initially his body wouldn't obey him. "Relax, young man," a stern, yet soothing voice urged him.
"Ororo?" he stammered. "Where am I?" He glanced to his right and saw the familiar and welcome face of one of his oldest friends, Ororo Munroe, gazing at him with maternal concern.
"You are in the medical bay, Piotr," Ororo replied, "after nearly succumbing to darkness at the hands of Cyttorak. Fortunately, I was able to contact a friend." Piotr Rasputin placed his hand above his face, shading his eyes, and turned toward the unfamiliar figure standing next to Ororo.
The slender figure regarded him with intelligent ice-blue eyes. His saturnine face was framed with jet-black hair, highlighted by silver streaks at the temples, and an immaculately trimmed beard and mustache. He wore a blue turtleneck with a black sportscoat, but even in such conventional threads, the young man recognized him.
"Steven Strange?" he asked, scarcely believing his eyes.
"At your service, Piotr," the former Sorcerer Supreme answered. "It is fortunate that your friend Storm contacted me when she did. The Crimson Bands of Cyttorak are not to be used lightly. Another few minutes and your soul would have been destroyed by the demon, and your body nothing but a shell for Cyttorak to use to blight the world again."
"When you took on the power of the Juggernaut," Ororo explained in strained but patient tones, "it seemed that your strength of will was sufficient to hold Cyttorak's influence at bay. But it was slowly consuming you. And I fear that he had an ally in his efforts to corrupt you."
"We found some scrolls on the base," Strange took over the explanation from Ororo. "Powerful magicks designed to bind the Juggernaut to someone else's will, to make you a mindless engine of destruction. Indeed, the Juggernaut had wrought considerable damage on Utopia base before I was able to restrain him."
"Let me guess," Piotr answered, his heart falling in his chest with a sickening finality. "Illyana tried to bind me, to allow Cyttorak full control of my body."
Ororo nodded somberly. "I'm so sorry, Little Brother."
"Do not apologize, Ororo," Piotr replied. "It was my own folly that brought this on myself. Tell me, Strange, am I free of the Juggernaut's curse?"
"That you are, my friend," Strange assured him. "I was able to remove the bands of Cyttorak from your wrists, and their power is trapped within."
"She disappeared after Strange freed you," Ororo responded, a sharp bitter edge to her voice. "She had betrayed us, for reasons that we still don't understand. Scott is leading a team to apprehend her."
Piotr shook his head sadly. "So it is as she warned me," he muttered to himself. "She is not the sister I remember. Katya was right about her. If only I had listenend." He attempted to rise from the bed, but found himself back in a sitting position abruptly.
"I would advise against overexertion," Strange warned him. "You may find your own strength somewhat lessened from what it was before, but your natural armored form is still most formidable."
"Thank you, Dr. Strange," Piotr replied sullenly as he slowly rose from the bed and stood on legs that were growing less shaky with each second, "but I fear I am not powerful enough for Scott's plans. Even if I was, I find that I have no interest in carrying them out. How soon before Scott and his team returns?"
"A few hours, I believe," Ororo answered.
"Then I had better move quickly," Piotr replied as he made his way to his quarters. "I have no desire to be here when Scott returns. He wants soldiers for his crusade. And I have finally realized that, although I may be a fighter, I am no soldier. Let me start packing. At least a few days' worth of clothing. I can purchase anything else I require later."
"On what, Little Brother?"
"After our time in Australia," Piotr explained as he entered his bedroom and located a suitcase, "when we fell into the Siege Perilous, I had enjoyed a few months as a fairly successful painter named Peter Nicholas. I had sold several of my paintings during that time, enough to live fairly comfortably and set up a respectable savings account. When I returned to the X-Men two years ago, Emma Frost helped me sell some of my other works and parlayed my savings into a sizable portfolio. Worry not for me, Big Sister," he smiled wanly, "I'll not want for basic necessities. Please inform Scott that I have resigned from the X-Men, and do not wish him or any of his team to contact me at this time. Or indeed ever again in my lifetime."
"That may prove difficult," Ororo answered darkly. "For I have no intention of remaining her a second longer that I absolutely have to myself. The X-Men, for all intents and purposes, no longer exist, and I cannot in good conscience remain here. I had agreed to stay behind to see that you were well and say my goodbyes."
"Were you planning on flying out?" Piotr asked.
"Dr. Strange was kind enough to offer to transport me away from here. He will take me to Avengers' Mansion in New York, and from there I will travel to Wakanda. I have spoken with my husband, and T'Challa agrees with me that I would do greater good there, helping our people until he is able to return to the throne."
"I would be happy to take you to the mansion as well, Piotr," Dr. Strange offered. "Or anywhere else you desire."
"Thank you, Strange," Piotr replied as he closed his suitcase. "Avengers' Mansion would be fine. Perhaps I can contact Logan while I'm there."
"Did you wish to join his team?" Ororo mused.
"No, merely to touch bases," Piotr answered. "I find that I don't agree with either side in this terrible feud which the X-Men have become. All I wish is to know that my friends are well. That Katya is well," he admitted, blushing slightly. "I doubt she will see me again, but if I know she is well, then at least I can move forward with my life."
"And what of Scott?"
Piotr smiled sardonically. "I'll leave him an email."
Ororo nodded, recognizing the wisdom in her friend's words. "Be happy, Little Brother," she told him as she embraced him one last time.
"And you, Big Sister," he responded.
Strange interrupted the touching moment. "Are you ready to go?"
"My suitcases are in the hall. You, Piotr?"
"This is all I need for now," he answered, lifting his case. "I travel light."
"In that case, let us away." Holding his forefingers steepled in front of his nose, Strange muttered a complex string of arcane syllables of a language unspoken by man for millennia. In a twinkling the three heroes had departed the headquarters of Cyclops' X-Men.
And two of the world's most powerful mutants began to chart their own destinies.
End of Prologue