It only takes a moment for everything to come crashing down.
That was the thought running through Rhane Sinclair's mind as she watched her adoptive mother work feverishly to save Pete Wisdom's life. It had been only a few short hours ago that Excalibur had been at the pub, laughing, talking, even dancing, heaven forbid. Being, for the first time in a long time, friends rather than just team-mates. Now that camaraderie was gone, smashed as easily beneath Colossus' fists as Pete Wisdom's skull.
"Another swab, lass," Moria instructed, her surgical scrubs splattered crimson across the front.
"Are you all right, Mum?" Rhane asked, seeing Moira's hands tremble as they handled the scalpel.
"I will be, Rhane love, once I get this spaleen's head pieced back together." Moira spared a moment from her work to meet Rhane's concerned eyes. "Don't fret lass. A strong coffee will see me right."
'And a cure for Legacy.' Rhane didn't voice the thought, choosing instead to ask; "Will he be all right?"
"God and his own stubbornness willing." Moira laid the scalpel in the instrument tray with a clink. More crimson pooled against the stainless steel. "I've relieved the pressure on his brain; the rest is up to him. If he survives the night, he's got a good chance. Sutures, if you please, love." Moira's brow furrowed as she began stitching. "I've done what I can. It's in God's hands now."
Rhane glanced towards the door of the medlab, where a small pale face hung framed by the observation port.
"Poor Kitty. She must be going through all kinds of hell."
Kurt paced uneasily up and down the corridor, tail swishing in an agitated arc behind him. He spared another worried look at the girl - no, young woman now - standing so still at the door to the medlab, her fingers white as they gripped the edge of the port. She paid no attention to Kurt's pacing, her whole existence focussed almost completely on the battered body almost hidden by the array of medical equipment.
"Nightcrawler." Captain Britain's return halted another circuit.
"How is Meggan?" Kurt asked in a low voice with another glance at Kitty.
"Better for being out of range. Kitty's anger, her despair… well, you can imagine how it affected Meggan." For a moment the hero mask slipped, and Brian Braddock was simply a man concerned for his empathic beloved - and his friends. "Any news on Wisdom's condition?"
"Nothing yet. Moira and Rhane are still working on him." Kurt ran a three-fingered hand through his hair. "Poor Katzchen. After everything they went through during that Black Air business, to have this happen…"
"It didn't just 'happen', Wagner. Wisdom was deliberately attacked. By one of your ex-team mates." Kurt shushed Brian with a gesture.
"Don't start that now. Not here," he said with a nod towards Kitty. "At least wait until we have news of Wisdom's condition."
"I doubt that will change the situation…" Brian began, but then Kitty spoke.
"Why not here and now?" she asked suddenly, turning from her vigil. Her face was white, but composed, and her eyes were red-rimmed, burning in her thin face. "Why shouldn't we discuss this now?"
"Katzchen, you are hardly in a fit state…"
"'State'? I'm perfectly rational. Rational enough, considering my lover has practically been beaten to death by the man who dumped me years ago."
"But…" Kurt tried again, but this time it was Brian who cut him off.
"Let her speak, Wagner." Giving Kitty a long appraising look, he added; "So, tell us what you think should be done."
Kitty's normally warm brown eyes were hard as she turned back to the window. In a clear, precise voice, she said; "I want him charged."
"'Charged'?" Moira gave voice to the shock they all felt. Leaving Pete under the careful observation of her staff, she was looking tired and wan even after a shower and one of her special brews of coffee. The tension in her small study was palpable. Even Douglock looked uncomfortable. "Are you sure, lass?"
"More sure than I have been of anything in my life." Kitty sat apart from her team mates, the armchair seeming to engulf her suddenly fragile-looking form.
"But, Kitty, to involve the police… What will the X-Men say?" Rhane ventured timidly. She'd always been a little uncomfortable around the other girl, who, despite being of a similar age, had been a superhero for many years. Shades of the old rivalry between Kitty and the X-Babies, she supposed.
"Right now I don't give a shit what the X-Men say." Anger kindled in Kitty's eyes, burning brighter than the fire in the fireplace. "Piotr deserves to be punished for what he's done, and you know as well as I do that he's not going to get it from the X-Men or Professor Xavier." Rhane flushed at the tone, and the language.
"Now Katzchen, that's not fair…" Kurt protested from his perch on the arm of the sofa.
"Neither is what happened to Pete!" Kitty retorted, her voice rising. "Do you think it's fair that he's lying in the medlab with his head smashed in?" Despite her best efforts to remain in control, tears were burning in her eyes. "All he did, all he wanted, was to love me. And for that he could die!" Kitty's voice turned bitter, and Meggan winced, turning her face to Brian's shoulder as they sat side-by-side on the sofa. The emotion stung, like acid across her psyche. "So don't tell me what's fair or not, fuzzy-elf."
"I'm sure he didn't mean it that way," Moira said, soothingly, her Scots accent like thick honey. "It was a terrible thing Peter did, but d'ye really think the police are the best people to deal with it? After all, Peter is an X-Man…"
"Was." Brian had made it clear from day one he thought Wisdom was vulgar, uneducated, a boor, but now he seemed to be supporting Kitty. "He left them to join Magneto and his Acolytes, remember? And he chose to remain with them, even after Moira treated the head injury everyone blamed for his defection. He has committed a criminal act, broken the law. Why should we treat him differently to the other mutant criminals we have apprehended?"
"Would you really want that for Peter, Kitty?" Kurt asked softly. "He could go to prison." If he had hoped to appeal to her sense of compassion, he failed.
"It's for his good as much as anyone else's," she replied. "Don't you see, Kurt? It's not the first time Piotr has almost killed someone because he lost his temper - we've only let him get away with it because they were 'villains'. And he's gotten worse since 'Yana died. The X-Men haven't helped him, because they keep pretending nothing is wrong. And if he keeps getting away with it, he'll never stop. What happens when he loses it with an ordinary person? He could kill someone - are you willing to allow that?" Holding Kurt's eyes with her own, Kitty added. "He needs help, and the X-Men aren't going to give it to him."
"Self is confused," Douglock's somehow flat electronic voice broke in. "Designate: Spoor did wrong, and has been punished. Why is Designate: Colossus different?" There was no malice in the question, only simple curiosity.
"It's complicated, Dougie," Rhane said hesitantly.
"It shouldn't be," Kitty added. "Kurt, I need to do this, and I need the team to support me."
"Katzchen, understand this is difficult for me. Piotr is my friend…"
"Then be his friend, and help him! It's gone beyond patient words and patting his hand. This could be the wake-up call he needs!"
"It could also destroy him. Are you willing to accept that?" In that moment, it was as if only the world had narrowed down to just the two of them, holding its breath.
"If I have to." Kitty's face grew hard. "Your religion preaches forgiveness, Kurt, but it also preaches justice."
"The line between justice and revenge is very fine, Katzchen. I can only hope you know on which side you stand. But… I will do this. For Peter's sake." With a defeated sigh, Kurt stood and crossed to Moira's desk. "If I may?" he asked, indicating the phone. Silently, the doctor nodded. All eyes were on Kurt as he dialled the number.
"Hello, police? I wish to report a crime."
The detention cells of the Muir Island complex had been designed to house mutants of all kinds, of any power level. They were state of the art, incorporating technology both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial, gleaming scientific wonders of stainless steel and white tile. They could almost be mistaken for hospital rooms, if it weren't for the low hum of the energy-shielded doors.
Colossus lay on the too-small cot, staring up at the ceiling, his impassive metal features disguising - as they had always done - the tumult of human emotion within. Moira's skills had repaired the damage done to his spine by Wisdom's hotknife, but the wound in his heart was still there. His Katya. Kissing another man. A coarse, rude excuse of a man. It was almost beyond comprehension. All through the dark times, when he had wandered lost and alone, the knowledge that his Katya was there, would always be there, had been his beacon. To finally return to her and find another had taken his rightful place…
A small sound interrupted his spiralling thoughts. A slow turn of his head revealed Kitty standing at the entrance of his cell, pale and lovely.
"My Katya!" The twinge of pain reminded him of how close he had come to paralysis, and he carefully levered himself upright so he could cross to the doorway. "You came at last!" He raised his hands as if to take hers through the glowing bars. She took a step back, out of his reach.
"Don't call me that." Her voice, the same voice that had whispered in his dreams, was cold now. "I'm not your Katya, or don't you remember? You broke it off. And then you went and joined the enemy."
"I was foolish, a boy too afraid to be a man. But I have returned, Katya. To be with you." The first tiny seed of doubt began to grow inside him. Why did she look at him so, with barely concealed contempt? Surely that puny weed of a man had meant nothing to her? "Katya?"
"Stop calling me that!" She turned the full force of her anger upon him, brown eyes fairly flashing with fury. "You stupid man! Don't you see? It's over, it's been over for years, and I'm not the naïve school girl whose heart you stepped on! You're chasing some dream that doesn't exist, that won't ever exist again! I. Don't. Love. You. I love Pete Wisdom, and you might have killed him! And you don't even care about that! You haven't even asked! All you care about is your precious selfish self!" She paused for breath, panting with the force of her words, and her anger. Then in a slightly calmer voice, she continued: "Moira says Pete will probably live, if he makes it through tonight. You'd better hope he does, because otherwise the charge will be more than grievous bodily harm. It'll be murder." She turned away, crossing to the intercom on the wall. "Okay, they can come and get him now. I'm finished."
"Kat-- Kitty? What is happening? Who did you speak to?" Colossus' brow couldn't wrinkle in his armoured form, but the confusion was plain in his face nonetheless. "What do you mean, 'charge'? What have you done?"
"Something which should have been months ago," Kitty replied. "I'm sorry, Piotr, but I couldn't let you get away with it again." She moved aside, no longer blocking his view of the corridor, to reveal several uniformed police, led by a slight, red-haired man in an ill-fitting grey suit.
"I'm Detective Constable McLeod. Is this our man?" he asked Kitty, his Scottish accent almost impenetrable, it was so thick. She nodded.
"Kitty? What is happening?" Colossus asked again, more bewildered than aggressive.
"Piotr Nikolovitch Rasputin?" DC McLeod said, coming forward, stumbling over the unfamiliar Russian syllables. "I'm arresting you for assault occasioning grievous bodily harm. You don't not have to say anything, but anything you do say will be taken down in evidence…"
"Kitty?!" Even as the uniformed police stepped forward and placed the inhibitor shackles on him, all Colossus could do was seek out his former love. His face, all-too-human now as his powers left him, was the face of a child who finds himself in trouble for something previously tolerated.
"Good bye, Peter," she said, and went up the stairs without turning back.
"I can't believe you allowed this, Kurt."
As always, it was difficult to read Cyclops' expression behind the ruby-quartz visor, but the disapproval in his voice was clear, even long distance over Muir's vid-screen. "You've put us all in a very awkward position."
Cyclops. Always the tactician. Inwardly, Kurt winced.
"Think of the precedent you're generating. If Peter is found guilty, every time we go into the field we'll be at risk of arrest. And with the poor image the public has of mutants, and the X-Men in particular…"
"Don't you think the lawlessness of the X-Men is part of their poor image?" Kurt cut in. "The fact they are above the law, causing any amount of property damage, and worse, and never taking responsibility for it, has more to do with the X-Men's poor public image than any nefarious plot to discredit them." Kurt's words cut like his swords, and he pressed his advantage. "And as for Peter himself… he's a loose cannon, Scott, don't you see? It's taken him almost beating a man, an ally almost to death to make us realise that. Are the X-Men willing to take responsibility for what he's done? Or are you going to simply slap him on the wrist and send him out to play again?"
There was a moment of long silence; Kurt struggled to read the impassive expression on the screen before him.
"Storm, Jean and I will be leaving shortly. We should be at Muir in about six hours to see him."
Kurt hesitated slightly. "He's not here."
"What do you mean?"
"He's been taken to Edinburgh - the local police station doesn't have the facilities to deal with mutants, and since Peter has no fixed address, he was remanded in custody…" Kurt took a deep breath and made the final plunge. "He's in the mutant containment cells at the Edinburgh Metropolitan Police Station."
Scott Summers had learned his lessons from Charles Xavier well - there was no indication of what he was thinking. "I see." With that, he cut the link, and the picture winked out. Only then did Kurt let himself sag into his seat and drop his head into his hands.
"Kurt?" Kitty's voice was soft, almost hesitant; a contrast to her earlier passion. After Peter's arrest she had been keeping vigil by Pete Wisdom's bedside. Kurt wasn't sure if she had slept at all, and looking at the dark circles beneath her eyes and the weariness sunk into the lines of her face, he knew she had not.
"How is Herr Wisdom, Katzchen? Has there been a change?"
"He's still unconscious - Moira thinks there might be some brain damage. She chased me out of the medlab so she could do some more tests." Kitty left the doorway, crossed the small space of the communications room to stand beside him. "Kurt, I heard… Thank you."
"'Danke' for what, Katzchen?"
"For supporting me in this. For helping Pete. For doing the right thing. It wasn't easy, I know." Tears brimmed again in her brown eyes, fatigue winning out over her control. For a moment she looked much like the scared young girl Kurt had met in Chicago so long ago, and wordlessly he enfolded her in his arms, her tears wetting his fur. "Oh Kurt, I'm so worried. What if he dies?"
Kurt patted her back gently as she sobbed, making meaningless sounds of comfort. But he couldn't answer her question.
The hush of the small room, broken only by the hiss of the respirator and the beep of the heart monitor, reminded Meggan of a church. Not that she herself was in any way religious, but Brian was, and the metamorph had grown if not to enjoy their occasional visits, then to tolerate them. Pete looked strangely vulnerable beneath the white sheet, his hair shaved away in patches for the surgery, his slack face somehow corpse-like in the harsh light. Meggan frowned and switched on the lamp beside the bed, before moving to the main switch and turning that off. The movement stirred the room's only other occupant out of his inhuman immobility.
"How is he, Douglock?" she asked as the techno-organic being raised his head from the medical instruments.
"Designate: Wisdom is currently stable, although there still remains some concern for the injury to his brain - there was much trauma." Douglock's voice, as flat and electronic as always, managed to somehow convey a degree of sympathy. "Medically all that can be done has been done; we must simply wait and allow his system to repair itself."
"He's not like a computer or a machine, Doug," Meggan reminded gently. In the absence of strong emotion, Meggan's form had reverted to as close to normal as it usually got, and she brushed the long blond hair out of her face. "He's human."
"Self is aware of this." There was a long pause before Douglock spoke again. "Query: why did Designate: Colossus inflict this damage? He is an ally, is he not?"
"It's hard to say, with him joining the Acolytes, but I felt no evil in him," Meggan replied slowly. "Simply confusion, betrayal, and hurt. He hurt Mr. Wisdom out of his love for Kitty."
"'Love'? Self is confused. How can this be caused by love? Love does not injure others, or so the media shows." A shadow flitted briefly across Meggan's face, and her body responded to her momentary fear by growing almost imperceptibly taller and more muscled.
"What the television and the movies and the books tell you isn't always the truth, Douglock. Sometimes… sometimes love makes people vulnerable, and they do things they wouldn't normally do because they are afraid of being hurt by that vulnerability." In her mind, Meggan briefly felt the force of Brian's fist in a long-ago memory, and flinched. "Colossus was afraid of losing Kitty, so when he saw her with Mr Wisdom, he reacted badly."
"Although he had ended the relationship years earlier?" Douglock sounded almost puzzled.
"Just because someone says a thing, doesn't mean it's true. Especially when it comes to emotions," Meggan explained. "I know that better than most. People lie, even to themselves."
"So because Designate: Colossus acted out of love, his actions were correct?"
"No, Douglock." Meggan lay her hand briefly on Pete's pale forehead, wincing at the chilly skin. "Nothing makes this right."
"Rasputin, you've got visitors." The voice, gruff and no-nonsense, belonged to the guard Piotr had come to known to be called, somewhat improbably, George MacSporran. The Russian raised himself from the bunk somewhat stiffly, and made his way to the door. Like the cells at Muir Island, this one was barred not with steel and cement, but by a glowing energy field. Security was further enhanced by the inhibitor collar around his neck; one side effect was that his body was much slower to heal when kept in his human form, the recent surgery on his back restricting his movement.
"Do you know who it is? A young girl perhaps?" George looked not unkindly at his prisoner.
"Sorry, mate, I can't tell you that. Only that there's three of them. Now you know the drill. Face the far wall while I open this thing." Obediently Piotr did so, his heart filled with hope. Perhaps Kitty had forgiven him after all?
The hope died as soon as he was led into the visitor's room.
"Scott, Jean, Ororo. What brings you here?" he asked as he carefully sat down at the small wooden table.
"Little brother…" Ororo rose to take his hands in hers, but a curt "No touching," from a guard saw her hesitate, and then return to her seat at a glance from Jean.
"We came to help, Peter. You may not have been with us for some time, but you're still one of us." Ever security-conscious, Scott chose his words carefully, acutely aware of the two guards standing by the door, the only other occupants in the large room. Because Piotr was a mutant, the rules had been relaxed to allow him his own visiting hours. "We look after our own." The unspoken criticism of Excalibur's decision hung in the chilly air.
"Have they been treating you well, Peter?" asked Ororo, pushing away the discomfort the thought of being locked up in this place gave her. "Your injury?"
"I have no complaints; I have been taken to see the doctor, and he is pleased with my recovery. They treat me better than I would have expected." Piotr looked down at his hands, clasped before him on the table. "You know what I did?"
"I'm sure there was a reason for it, little brother," Ororo said. "Some kind of danger, some kind of threat. He is a mutant also, and I am sure…"
"There was no danger, Ororo. I attacked him because I saw him kissing my Katya. I lost my temper…" Piotr spoke slowly, as if realising for the first time the enormity of his actions. "He was unarmed, and unprotected, and I attacked him as I would the Juggernaut."
"Enough, Peter," Scott broke in, glancing again at the guards. "Save it for your lawyer. The less you say now, the better - this is only going to hurt your case."
"My case? I don't understand. What they say I did, I don't deny it…" Scott cut him off:
"I've got Warren working on his contacts to find you a good criminal lawyer, one qualified to practice here. We'll do our best to get you out of here, and then we'll take you back to the mansion. It's where you belong. Even if you can't plead self-defence, I'm sure we'll find some loophole. Mitigating factors, the stress you've been under…"
Piotr nodded, too confused to speak.
"In the meantime, sit tight and don't say a word. Your first court appearance is tomorrow morning?"
"Yes. They take me to the Sheriff's Court for my plea."
"That's not enough time for the lawyer… You'll plead 'not guilty' and then we'll have the time to organise your case. Other than that, don't tell them anything." Satisfied Piotr understood, Scott rose. "We'll be there tomorrow, to give you moral support."
"One moment… The man I… this Wisdom… how is he?" The question caught Scott by surprise, and for a moment an almost embarrassed look flashed across what features weren't obscured by his sunglasses.
"I… didn't ask." At a look and an obvious telepathic message from Jean, he added defensively, "There was so much going on, I didn't even think of it!"
Jean frowned. "I'll find out for you, Peter," she told Piotr, her disappointment in her husband obvious. "We'll see you tomorrow."
"Thank you." Piotr watched them leave, thinking. He barely noticed when the guards came to return him to his cell.
"All stand." There was a rustle as the packed court room obeyed the direction of the court officer. The Sheriff's Court of Edinburgh was much more elaborate then the tiny office where the bail justice had remanded Piotr in custody the night of the assault. Piotr stood in the heavily carved dock, shackled and wearing the inhibitor collar. Two prison guards flanked him; the court had strict security procedures when it came to mutants. Among the crowd that filled the court, he could see the three X-Men, Ororo's hair a beacon against the dark panelling. And over there, in the corner near the prosecutor were several members of Excalibur, drawing the attention of the journalists who hadn't expected such celebrities on what had looked to be an ordinary court day. Kurt looked uncomfortable, but resolute, and he met Piotr's look with one that was both stern and concerned. Brian's face was impassive, and Kitty… Piotr drank in the sight of her like a man lost in the desert does a draught of water. He frowned, noting the paleness of her face, the dark circles under her eyes, the pinched look of worry, the drooping head; she looked as if she had not slept much these past two days. As if feeling his eyes upon her, she looked up, and the expression on her face cut him to the quick. It wasn't the righteous anger of their last meeting, nor the hatred he half-expected, or the forgiveness he still hoped for.
Kitty looked sadder than he had ever seen her look before. Sad and tired and afraid.
"The matter of Piotr Rasputin is now called," announced the court officer, and at a nudge from one of the guards, Piotr stood. "Piotr Nikolovitch Rasputin, you are hereby charged that at Muir Island you did assault one Peter Wisdom, occasioning actual grievous bodily harm. How do you plead, guilty or not guilty?"
All eyes turned to the figure in the dock. Peter glanced once at Scott and Ororo, and Scott nodded at him. Then his glance fell on Kitty again, and her words returned to him, as they had done so many times in the isolation of his cell. ~I'm sorry, Piotr, but I couldn't let you get away with it again.~
"Defendant, how do you plead?" asked the bewigged judge somewhat querulously - they had a long list of cases to get through this morning, and this was supposed to be a relatively simple remand for a further hearing. Piotr looked up to the bench, and his voice was steady as he answered.
"Guilty, your Honour."