Acts of Contrition

2: All Through the Night

"... for sex!" Ororo was exclaiming as Piotr entered the kitchen. She was sitting at the table with Henry with her feet in his lap and cradling a mug of hot chai in her hands. Piotr wrinkled his nose at the too-sweet smell. "I mean, the Professor."

"You sound as if you are more aghast that the guy accused the Professor of being sexually active than anything else," Henry replied with patient amusement, not looking up from the Times crossword open in front of him. It was Thursday, which meant that Henry could probably finish almost all of it without resorting to randomly attacking unsuspecting teammates and demanding seven letter words for a type of Indonesian curry that had an O as the fifth letter.

Piotr smiled a greeting as he headed toward the refrigerator to make lunch. He had heard this story before from Scott, who had heard it from Jean, who had heard it from one of the principals. Post-human existence had not evolved past gossip, obviously.

Earlier in the week, Ororo and Xavier had headed into the city to try to recruit someone for the team. The young man in question was apparently of the right age and power level, but hadn't been interested despite, according to what Scott's had reported, any sign of alternative options.

"You yourself have been the receiver of unwanted attentions," Henry went on when Ororo only pursed her lips in mute disapproval. "Say the young man has been on the streets for a long time, especially here. He's probably seen enough of the unsavory element to have earned the right to some suspicion."

The event had happened days ago but Ororo, seemingly forgetting her own initial reluctance to join the team, was still offended by the exchange and Piotr, the longer he thought about it, wondered why. Ororo, as an attractive female quite used to traveling alone through life, should have been sympathetic to the young man's wrong-but-plausible conclusion. But she hadn't been, nor was she willing to forgive the anonymous fellow for his lack of trust.

"It's just..." Ororo sighed eloquently, holding out a hand in silent demand for a stalk of the celery Piotr was holding. He pointed it toward the sink to indicate that he'd wash it first and she put her hand back over the lip of her mug. "The Professor's famous now. Everyone knows who he is and what he does."

"Like being famous ever stopped anyone from being a perv," Bobby pointed out as he entered the kitchen holding a magazine. Piotr was sure that Bobby had some sort of tracking device to monitor when three or more people congregated in the kitchen - it kept him from ever having to make lunch for himself. Bobby dropped himself artlessly into a chair across from Henry and stuck his tongue out when Ororo made a sour face at him. "He could have seen you and the Professor and thought you were part of the harem or something. Like Hugh Hefner."

"Robert," Henry intoned. "Please."

Piotr finished washing the celery stalks and handed one to Ororo, who accepted it with a smile.

It was a sunny day and the south-facing windows from the kitchen let the light stream in. Moments like these were almost odd for their ordinary nature. Housemates enjoying an afternoon off, although technically Ororo and Bobby both had lessons this afternoon and studying to do in preparation for them. There was nothing about the scene that screamed 'mutant militia at play,' no invisible weight bearing down upon them in the form of the hate and fear of the world they strove to protect and better. They were eating lunch and doing crossword puzzles and Scott was off traipsing through the park with his Boys & Girls Club charges and Jean was out shopping after having spent the morning with her FBI files on missing children. It was all perfectly normal and actually rather nice and almost familial in a way the house rarely was and nobody was thinking about the bloody fetus of an aborted mutant baby that had been mailed in a plastic bag to the Professor yesterday morning.

The Professor usually ignored such 'presents' from the anti-mutant groups and disposed of them without comment, but this time he had ruefully commented about how Rusty had finally stopped being the focus of the rabble rousers and could rest in peace now that the X-Men were back to being the targets.

It hadn't taken long for Gatling to be all but been forgotten by the masses, dropped by the newspapers like the old news it was. Piotr, too, had managed to push it back in his mind after seeing Magneto. Rusty was dead, the prime time television live proceedings from the courtroom cancelled, and there were new, more glamorous things to report. Especially as the feds seemed to be going to great lengths to cover up what happened. As far as the public knew, Rusty had been killed by nervous, overanxious guards after his power had spiked out of control during his recreation hour outdoors.

There had been no mention of the X-Men busting in to the prison and taking out a dozen guards - Cyclops's optic blasts had single-handedly funded the retirement of some lucky orthopedic surgeon specializing in knees - before storming the main building itself and getting Rusty out, but only as far as the courtyard before the cavalry had arrived. Even though he had been in his metal form at the time, Piotr still carried the bruises from the machine gun clips that had been emptied into his chest as he had carried the drugged Rusty toward the plane. His attempt to provide shielding had been imperfect, however, and Rusty had been hit in the thigh. The shock and pain of the wound had caused Rusty to lash out, without control and without intent, and that was when the inferno had erupted.

"So what's for lunch?" Bobby asked hopefully.

"Tunafish," Piotr replied, placing the can he had retrieved from the cabinet in front of Bobby. "Open it over the sink so that it can drain."

Bobby sighed at the indignity and Ororo pointed imperiously toward the sink with what was left of her celery while Henry finally looked up and chuckled at the situation.

"Why don't we have an electric can opener here?" Bobby asked rhetorically as he rummaged through the drawer. "We have a VR training room, our own medical facility, our own Blackbird, and no electric can opener. There's something majorly wrong with that."

Rusty's immolation had been almost instantaneous and absolutely uncontrollable. The bricks themselves had started to melt, the fences reduced to pools of liquid and chunks of slag, and the X-Men had had to stop running and start rescuing the guards from the blaze. Ororo's rain and Jean's telekinesis and Henry's agility and, most importantly, Bobby's unpanicked work had been enough to prevent fatalities, but only just. It had been Piotr's job to run with the hysterical Rusty, the boy too delirious from the drugs and the pain from his wound and the euphoria of such unbridled use of his powers that he couldn't do much more than sob in Piotr's arms about how this was why he deserved to die for what he had done.

The courtyard had become completely obscured by smoke by that point, the ground littered with debris, but while the guards' bullets wouldn't kill Piotr, they could slam into him with enough force to knock him down. He'd managed to twist so that he landed on his back instead of on Rusty, but he'd been stunned by the impact and then overcome by the acrid smoke and Rusty had crawled away, slurring an apology before disappearing. Rusty had been about Bobby's size, but without the litheness. Drugged and wounded, he shouldn't have been able to get far, let alone escape Piotr's search. But he had and Piotr hadn't found him again until one of the searchlights had cut through the smoke and found Rusty swaying on his feet, alone in his anguish and begging over and over again to die. And the guards had obliged, riddling the boy with bullets and Piotr hadn't been able to look away, even as Jean was screaming telepathically in his head to bug out, to get back to the plane before the guards realized that there were others still around. And just before Jean had resorted to commandeering his limbs as she had in Finland, Piotr had finally turned to run, idly noticing that the fire was no less out of control for its creator's death.

"You're putting carrots in it?" Bobby asked, eyebrows raised in that skeptical way he had as he cranked the hand-held can opener. But for all of his griping, Bobby finished opening the can and then flipped it over in the sink smoothly, squeezing the lid down to expedite the process and making a disgusted face as the tuna juice dripped from his fingers.

"If you don't like it, you can always make yourself something else," Piotr told him calmly as he sliced the carrots in quarters lengthwise.

"I didn't say that," Bobby replied easily as he put the drained can next to the cutting board Piotr was using. "It's just that that's not how my mom makes it. Hers is all smooth and mayonnaise-y. But change is good. I like change. We're X-Men and we're all about change."

Behind them, Henry made a noise too complicated to decipher and when Piotr turned to look, Ororo gave him an expression filled with both regret and affection.

"Go get some toast out of the freezer," Piotr said, shaking his head to clear out the memory of Gatling and instead focusing on Bobby's terminal laziness. It was charming in its own way as he wasn't malicious about it and he never let it get too obvious. The Professor often said that if Bobby ever realized how much work he put into getting out of work, he'd be dumbstruck at the inefficiency.

"Bread, Piotr," Bobby sighed tiredly as he went to the large refrigerator. "It's bread, not toast. That's why we have a toaster. It turns bread into toast."

"That bread is only good for toast," Piotr replied, making a face at the pre-sliced, factory-produced loaf. "It should never be used as bread. It shouldn't even be called bread - it is disrespectful to the real thing."

Bobby sighed extravagantly and indulgently and turned to poke around in the freezer. "Oooh, we have those onion roll thingies. How about that?"

Lunch itself was anticlimactic after the fuss involved in making it - Bobby's decision to defrost the rolls in the microwave before putting them in the toaster was met with meteorological disapproval from Ororo, who didn't want the microwave smelling like onions. Bobby in turn froze her tea and further retaliation was only averted by Henry's suggestion that he and 'Ro try out the new deli that had opened on the main road into town. Jean returned to the mansion bearing takeout containers as Piotr watched Bobby deposit their dishes in the dishwasher ("I prepared, you clean." "But..." "If you had wanted to make lunch, I would have let you." "I hate loading the dishwasher." "Then don't eat.") and set herself up comfortably in the space Henry had abandoned.

"See, that's what I should do - takeout," Bobby told Piotr as he wiped off his hands. "No dishes. Or maybe paper plates."

"Uh-huh," Jean snorted. "Takeout means you'd have to pay for your meals, genius. And tip the delivery guy because nobody's driving you into town three times a day."

"It's an idea with potential," Bobby insisted, sitting back down at the table and pulling one of the newspapers out from under the one Jean was reading; she had brought the stack from the living room. The Professor had all of the local newspapers delivered daily and the team was expected to read at least one of them. Henry went through them all and although Piotr had his doubts about how much 'Ro got through, the rest of them had no problems following Xavier's dictum. Piotr tried to avoid the Times, as did Bobby, although for different reasons. Bobby just didn't like their sports section.

As was his wont, Piotr made a pot of tea. He knew Jean would take a cup - with two spoonfuls of sugar - and Bobby would make a face before declining. The three of them were sitting at the table reading when they heard the door that lead from the garage open and close loudly.

"What do you mean 'it broke'?... Alex, you are such an idi... I don't think so, but I'll ask," Scott was saying with some aggravation into his cell phone as he appeared in the doorway. He had a bag full of groceries in one hand and the phone in the other, which meant he had closed the door with his foot and which in turn explained the slammed door. Scott was usually hyper aware of slamming doors and closing drawers too loudly - a legacy from the time right after his power had manifested, the Professor had once explained vaguely. Piotr had never gotten any further details.

A quick check of the clock and simple addition told Piotr that it was not quite dinnertime in England, where Alex was in his third term at Oxford. The Professor had produced fake documentation - Alex was now barely eighteen and, while courtesy of his school's course load he had technically been weeks away from completing all of the requirements for graduation in New York State, he had still been a year from actually getting his high school diploma when he had been forced to abandon his life.

Scott held the phone away from his mouth. "Anyone seen Henry?"

Piotr, teacup to his lips, shrugged his ignorance. Bobby answered "with Ro" and waggled his eyebrows lasciviously, and Jean tilted her head in that 'I'm being a telepath' way.

Alex was still a touchy subject for the team and that was no small part of why he had only been back to the mansion once since his arrival. Scott's relationship with his brother was very much a work in progress, but while both he and Alex were quick to admit that they were best with distance between them, there seemed (most days) to be a genuine basis for some sort of place for each other in their futures. Of the others, Piotr got along with Alex the best - a fact both brothers made use of and Piotr too often found himself listening to one gripe about the other. Henry was rather pragmatic - not to mention pleased with his own role in developing the equipment Alex used to control his mutation - while both Jean and Ororo were at best coolly civil when Alex became the subject of conversation. The girls, Piotr knew, had not forgiven Alex his past as a lieutenant for the Friends of Humanity. Bobby, on the other hand, had seemingly forgiven all. The youngest of them, he was also the least jaded and had had the most protected childhood - it gave him an optimism about human nature that even his time with the X-Men hadn't cured. Alex had been bad, but so had Piotr and Logan and they turned out all right.

"He says that the chain wasn't important," she reported after a moment, the fogginess of her expression clearing as she returned her attention to her chopsticks and leftover pad thai.

Piotr turned his head to see Scott's reaction. When wearing the light visor that was little more than a set of fortified sunglasses, Scott's features were visible and Piotr caught the minute furrowing of his eyebrows and the accompanying tightness around the eyes, both gone in a blink. He had never asked Scott about the telepathic link he shared with Jean, but Piotr sometimes wondered how much Scott wanted it versus how much Jean did.

"You're safe," Scott told his brother and leaned against the fridge where he had just taken out a bottle of iced tea. "But next time tuck it in if you're going to be all British and play rugby. Or take it off... No... I'm not telling you what to do..." A sigh that Piotr knew was Scott realizing that a quarrel with Alex was inevitable and Scott pushed off the fridge and headed out of the kitchen, the sound of protestations fading into the distance.

Alex was the only family member who knew of what had really happened with Weapon X - Bobby's and Jean's parents had been outright lied to - and had taken the news with characteristic outrage. Scott had joked about how Alex was simply proprietary over his brother's unhappiness ("He's just jealous that someone else got to run me through the wringer before he did"), but he knew - and Piotr knew as well - that Alex had been genuinely worried about the disappearance. He was even more upset that nothing had been done to prevent that sort of thing from occurring again. Alex was proactive by nature - the FoH had been just one example of his wanting to do instead of watch and wait. He didn't understand Xavier's and (by extension) Scott's reluctance to either seek revenge or send out some sort of warning that mutants weren't there to be plucked up and used like a sheep or a pig. It was a passionate discussion when Piotr exchanged emails with Alex, but it was a guaranteed screaming match should the brothers get into it on the phone.

Jean and Bobby were gone by the time Scott returned to raid the fruit bowl. Piotr looked up from the Sun and waited.

"The word for the day is 'fratricide,'" Scott groused, sitting down heavily in the chair two seats away from Piotr. He put the apple down on the table and took off his glasses, holding them in his left hand as he massaged the bridge of his nose with the right. He put them back on before speaking again. "I don't know why I let him get under my skin like that. It's like arguing with Magneto. At least he's on our side now and I don't have to worry about him trying to kill me any more."

Piotr nearly choked on his cookie. Did Scott know?

"What?" Scott asked, looking mildly embarrassed. "Yeah, yeah, knowing better doesn't mean squat if I don't apply it. I'm supposed to be the big brother."

Reaching for his teacup without looking at it, Piotr tried to cover up the surprise Scott had obviously misinterpreted as disapproval. Scott didn't know and Piotr wasn't sure if he was glad for it. Scott's ignorance was just that much more evidence that Xavier wasn't being as forthcoming as he should be, and while that was disappointing, it wasn't surprising by this stage. On the other hand, had Scott known that Magneto was alive and well and living in Queens but hadn't said anything, then Piotr would have had cause for concern. The Professor keeps secrets from them; Scott shouldn't. Not about things like this.

And yet he couldn't bring himself to hold himself to the same standard.

He should tell Scott about Magneto. Scott was their field leader - a position Scott seemed to take more seriously than did the Professor - and he was his friend. As close to a friend as Piotr had here. Scott was also a very good strategist, a much better planner than he himself was and yet... and yet. Scott was an optimist by nature, but a pessimist by nurture - something in his childhood had forever robbed him of the ability to see the glass as half-full and still Scott could never look at the world with truly cold calculation. That was precisely what made him so good in the field and it was also what Piotr feared could hamper any discussion about the Professor - he doubted that Scott would see danger where he himself did unless there was evidence that couldn't be dissected any other way because the message itself was so terrible. Scott did not trust easily or well, but he was still the one who had forgiven Xavier for messing with his mind and sending him off to Magneto. Piotr knew himself incapable of such magnanimity and appreciated the depth of the connection between Scott and the Professor; from what he knew, the time at the mansion when it had just been the three of them - Jean, Scott, and Xavier - had been a much more intimate time and bonds forged then would take effort to break. Experience told Piotr that there was going to be only one chance to express his reservations to Scott and be believed, one chance to sound concerned and lay out why before he was labeled as paranoid or overly suspicious and any further revelations dismissed. He had to get this right.

That was why he let Scott slap his hand on the table, stand up, and take his apple out to the back porch without so much more than a grunt of acknowledgement at the departure.

Knowing that he would be up late for patrols, Piotr took a nap in the afternoon and was still working the grogginess from his body when Xavier summoned him into his office to discuss the plan for the night. With the Wolverine still elsewhere, there was only him to cover a lot of ground. The other hero-type vigilantes (Jean had balked at the term, but Scott had pointed out that as long as they were operating without a government mandate, they were vigilantes, too) tended toward the more glamorous Manhattan and Piotr and Logan had usually taken spots in the Bronx and in Westchester itself.

Within limits, the Professor let them chart their own courses. For Logan, that usually meant scouting out neighborhoods where he was guaranteed a brawl or two, but Piotr preferred to work as a deterrent without force. He didn't crave destruction the way the Wolverine did and certainly didn't have the taste for conflict that the smaller man had. He could fight well and would do so without hesitation if provoked into action, but he didn't enjoy it. It was why, despite the perfect opportunity to indulge his slow-simmering crush on Logan, Piotr usually opted to work alone. He tended toward neighborhoods on the edge - those teetering on the abyss and those trying to climb out of it. It was where he felt he could do the most good and provide the most effective use of his energies.

Unsurprisingly, Xavier hadn't asked him to change his modus operandi while Logan was away. Even before his suspicions of the Professor had grown too heavy to ignore, Piotr had known that Xavier wasn't a fan of brute force, certainly not the aggressive pursuit of using such. Logan had a need that required exhausting before it could be purged, Xavier had said to him once, in the tone of a secret divulged. Piotr had nodded at the time without saying anything and had privately wondered what observations about himself the Professor passed on to his teammates.

Dinner was a group affair with everyone's presence required. They ate later than did most Americans, well after the evening news had finished. It was a legacy of having lived in Europe for many years, Xavier had explained at the beginning, but it also worked from the post-human standpoint. Half of the team had accelerated metabolisms and that meant a second lunch in most cases and the more common dinner hour would have been too early to eat after that additional meal.

As such, Piotr had time only to watch a little of the Detroit-New Jersey game on television as he finished his post-meal coffee before he had to suit up and leave. After an early misadventure with the radio he was supposed to wear in order to contact the police to pick up any miscreants apprehended, Piotr had been given a much smaller device with a much stronger clip. Henry had even wired in a tiny radio receiver so that Piotr could listen to his hockey games or to music while on patrol.

The Red Wings had won 3-1 before Colossus had been required to put in an appearance.

Emma Frost was tired. She was also mildly hung over, if the dehydration and slightly feverish ache were any indications. Reaching with none of her usual grace toward the glass of water on her nightstand, she groaned at the numbers glowing on the clock and at the fact that alcohol turned to sugar and she was never going to be able to get back to sleep.

The after-party for the movie premiere had featured a spectacular amount of champagne - one of the key scenes in the (tiresome, unremarkable, uninventive) flick had taken place over snifters of brandy and involved an allegedly witty discourse on champagne that had been key in uniting the couple and had been referenced in the saccharine-sweet ending. And post-premiere parties being marketing events, that was only one of the tie-ins to the to the romantic comedy that was neither romantic nor comedy. The goody bag was still on the table by her couch, crammed full with trinkets and free passes and little souvenirs that were meant to bribe her into speaking well of the film and its creators but would in fact be given to the hired help - Frosts didn't use gift certificates and Emma wasn't going to wear any perfume that was cheap enough to be given out.

There had been a spectacular amount of champagne and Emma liked to drink. Not so much as to appear unladylike - she hadn't had all those lessons in deportment and endless pleas from her beleaguered parents and nannies for nothing - but enough. Enough to make her forget about how much she hated most of the other people in the room, the men concerned only with improving their self-image by getting photographed with the right star and sleeping with the right socialite and the women obsessing with their looks and pondering botox and whether the little spotty rash around their eyes from puking their dinners up was showing through their foundation.  Enough, in other words, to stop remembering that there was nothing worse in the world than being a telepath in a room full of shallow people.

Emma was under no delusions as to her own depth. She was a child of privilege - Frost Industries hadn't had a fiscal year in the red since the Great Depression - and lived the life thoroughly and well. If it weren't for her telepathy and the introspection that came with it, she'd be no different from Adrienne and all of the other scions of society their age. She was at all the right parties, had attended all the right schools, gotten into the right kinds of trouble, and did all the other things that being a young, beautiful heiress required. She did them so well that she and Adrienne had transcended "heiresses" and were known in their own rights - they were celebrities, 'it girls,' staples of gossip magazines in New York and London and everywhere else that mattered, identified by their own names and not "daughters of." But it was a status that took work to achieve and even more to maintain.

Being a socialite was a job, in a sense. A mostly enjoyable if occasionally tiresome one, but a busy one. It took energy to live a life of luxury, to spend all your time doing things that had the only purpose of proving that you had nothing important to do. Like earn a living. On the tax returns that she only saw when they were presented to her to sign, Emma was always tempted to put "object of envy" on the line for listing her occupation instead of whatever euphemism the family's accountant had devised to sum up her days.

It would probably have been a happy existence of blithe unconcern, meaningless sex with actors, and the occasional photo of her dancing on tables if it weren't for the damned telepathy, which seemed intent on engaging her conscience by exposing her to the innermost thoughts of people she'd never have known well enough to ask after. She wasn't supposed to notice other people - let alone the people who worked for her and her family - and yet she could not avoid them.

Hiding her telepathy wasn't hard - not even her own family knew. Or at least they pretended they didn't. Emma was sure it was really just denial on her parents' part; early on, when her control had been nonexistent and she was reacting to unvoiced thoughts, it would have been hard to pass her behavior off as the same sort of 'hearing voices' that had consigned Great-Aunt Katherine to a spinster's life out of the public eye on Cape Cod.

Now, for the most part, she could control it; it had been years since she had lived with the terror that she would be drowned by the never-ending waves of consciousnesses crashing down upon her. In fact, after years of self-taught control and exercise, she could not only comfortably mingle in crowded rooms, but she could also make use of her abilities. Making people see what they wanted to see was easy, plucking information out of people's head even easier. It was a resource, however, and not a crutch. She was Emma Frost and she didn't need to toy with someone's mind to make them realize just how special she was.

It was just as well that hiding her telepathy was easy since proper society wasn't ready for mutant debutantes. Mutants weren't like blacks and gays and other minorities that were causes to raise money for but not to bring into the family; mutants were dangerous. Magneto and his merry band of homicidal freaks had posed a much greater threat to the order of things than any political scandal or outing or any of the race-baiting demagogues cashing in on WASP guilt that New York seemed to produce with such ease. He had killed and was continuing to do so from beyond the grave - the Brotherhood was still doing its bloody best to continue his work. Even the good guys weren't. The X-Men were an army of youthful misfits no less terrifying for their aesthetic advantages over the Brotherhood, taking the laws into their own hands instead of breaking them and extorting their way to acceptance through 'good deeds' that were really clean-ups of problems they were mostly the cause of.

Emma found the whole mutant question something of a farce, an elaborate con game constructed by the next wave of opportunists. She didn't self-identify as a mutant, not even when the Sentinels had been prowling the skies and she'd had good reason to fear for her life. She happened to be a mutant, but it didn't define her and she found herself cynically suspicious of those who did.

'Homo superior' was a most presumptuous phrase and, like 'master race' before it, only left the bearer open to ridicule. Being a mutant didn't guarantee that you would be smart or good or talented or useful - or, conversely, evil and dangerous, which had been the justification of the Sentinel program.

Mutation didn't give you anything that automatically meant that you should be able to breeze through the rest of civilization like someone with an American Express Black card at Bendel's. It was an accident in most cases, and shouldn't be rewarded - or punished - as on par with breeding or brains or bank accounts. All of the privilege that came from being a Frost was the interest paid on the backbreaking work done by one of her forbearers, not the result of her parents standing too close to a nuclear power plant. Entitlement because of genetic structure was no more palatable than because of color or race or gender - it cheapened everything it touched.

She had done research and reading - all on the sly, away from anyone who might want to know why a Frost was interested in mutation. Research was still too new to be conclusive, but mutancy seemed to be a dominant trait, impossible to wash out of the family bloodline even after a few generations, and there was not yet a correlation between the mutations of parents and children. All the more reason to make damned sure she never forgot her birth control - one little accident and she could have a child who could not only not pass as human, but could also expose her as well.

Getting exposed doing her latest reading wasn't going to be much of a fear - Charles Xavier and his utopian ideas were all over the magazines. Emma felt sorry for Xavier, a well-intentioned man who obviously didn't realize that he was being laughed at and not with. She had read his earlier works on mutation as it applied to mental abilities and it was by far the best in the field, so much clearer and with such resonance that Emma was quite sure that Xavier himself was a mutant with some sort of psionic powers - not all of his theories could have arrived on the back of that little white trash telepath Jean Grey.

But if Xavier's earlier work was notable for its sharpness and focus and simple utilitarianism - some of the articles had almost been written as guidebooks for closeted mutants - it was all gone now. The Times Magazine had printed an excerpt and Emma had at first thought it a parody. Instead of genetic research explained in layman's terms, there was now a "post-human" recreation of the world in Xavier's image. It wasn't even advocating tolerance or the acceptance of mutants into society - it was an all-out declaration of a new world order, as if by being a mutant alone was enough to qualify Xavier to speak authoritatively and expertly on everything from economics to agriculture.

The resentment and suspicion had been immediate - except among the hard-core liberals, Xavier's cache of goodwill had been spent and he was viewed as a joke, an entertainment for breaking up the winter doldrums.  Especially with Magneto dead, "Post-human" anything was being taken no more seriously than macrobiotic diets and the kabala studies of movie stars. Unlike other rich dotty folk, however, Xavier didn't have a support network to fall back upon. New York society knew who was one of theirs and who wasn't and Xavier, despite the impeccable manners and estate up in Westchester, wasn't one of theirs. He was 'found money,' not made money and not old money - the Frosts were members in good standing of the Hellfire Club and it was known that some of the other club members (most of them prone to pseudo-mystical fads and fashions) had given Xavier money for some project, probably to see if they couldn't be made into mutants or something silly like that. Sebastian Shaw was one of them and Emma knew him well enough that he'd spend any amount of money for a good joke - and setting Xavier up to fail so spectacularly and so publicly would be exactly the kind of joke Shaw loved.

Thinking of Shaw made Emma remember his son Shinobi, the result of some affair Sebastian had had during some business trip to Tokyo. Shinobi had been acknowledged and served his father as the bastard heir to the Shaw fortune, displaying all of the business acumen and animal magnetism that made Shaw père such a force, all wrapped up in a stunning package of grace and sleekness where his father was burly and solid. But Shinobi was a shark, a cool, smooth, dangerous, beautiful young man who intrigued Emma greatly. He didn't play the society games the way Emma did, never appearing at celebrity events except when absolutely necessary and certainly never frolicking with the young, beautiful, and famous. He had taken to bed just enough women in their circle that his heterosexual proclivities were known (prodigious talent and knows it, along with a rather pronounced disinterest in conversation before or after), but he seemed to fill his needs elsewhere. Emma found her fascination with him amusing and was sure its persistence was due to its lack of resolution - the minute she got a moment to skim his thoughts, he'd stop being nearly so interesting. Just another pretty face.

Another pretty face was not what Emma was going to be if she didn't make a better effort to get some sleep. Relying on nature to take its course was all well and good, but being a telepath had its uses and she had picked up a few tricks along the way and was soon back to a light doze, which would be sufficient.

Piotr found himself looking at his watch and sighing. Patrol normally ended at three, but he had agreed to stay out until four while Logan was gone - not that an hour more of his lurking presence was going to make much of a difference, but it made Xavier happy. Criminals liked to stay up late, but not usually all night and as the minutes dwindled down, Piotr mused that all good bad guys must be home safe in their beds.

The evening had been slow - it was that part of the fall where the days clung to autumn but the nights had already welcomed winter with open arms and it had felt like nobody had wanted to be out in the cold - there had been a couple of foiled attacks in dark alleys, but between the weather and the bright light of the full moon, there hadn't been a lot of action.

He had started on the Grand Concourse, looking especially out of place with his pale skin and tremendous bulk as he had moved among the pedestrians, turning onto Fordham Road as his footsteps fell into accidental rhythm with the merengue blaring out of car stereos and the boomboxes that were perched, regardless of weather, in front of storefronts and on windowsills alike. Merengue had a pace meant for an energetic dance - it sounded like a gallop to Piotr's foreign ears, too quick for the footfalls from his long legs and yet he couldn't shake the cadence; he'd pass from one audio source to another, each one a different tune but all in the same tempo and creating a cacophony that had melted together seamlessly as he had climbed the slow hill up toward Fordham University.

The blocks by the Concourse had been busy with commercial concerns, cars double-parked even as the hour had crept toward midnight and kids could be heard laughing and yelling even though it was a school night. Little take-out joints with handwritten signs in block-printed Spanish offering the best of whatever national cuisine they had. Piotr had wished he was better able to identify flags - those were usually the only indicator of whether he was smelling the mostly tantalizing aromas of Peruvian or Ecuadorian or Dominican food. He had taken this route before and had stopped in a couple of these places. It was hearty food, prepared by the same principles that had governed food preparation back home - enough starch (here it was plantains and saffron-tinted rice) could cover up the paucity of whatever the main dish actually was. It was cheap, certainly by the pound with the large styrofoam containers brimming with rice, and hot and greasy and good. But Piotr hadn't stopped in any of the restaurants tonight; on his last tour through the area he had noticed a Jamaican eatery on Tremont that was open all night and had decided to try it out.

The taste of jerk chicken and beef patty, washed down with homemade ginger beer was long gone now, though, and with the circuit of his patrol almost complete, Piotr walked quickly up the street, turning sharply at what ended up being a glass bottle falling out of an overloaded garbage can. It had been a slow night and the energy he had stored in anticipation of action was frittering away inside him, mixing badly with the caffeine from his last cup of coffee to make him edgy and a little restless.

"Well if it isn't the X-Men's own housebroken Siberian husky," a familiar voice sneered as it breezed by. Too late, Piotr put his arm out in an attempt to swat at Quicksilver.

"What do you want, Pietro?" Piotr sighed, standing still. Without turning his head, he looked around. Wherever one twin was, the other couldn't be that far away.

"I'm right here," Wanda said with a smile, stepping out of the shadow of a recessed doorway. "And we came here to talk."

Piotr didn't bother to hide his skepticism. Not tracking him down at the mansion, instead waylaying him in the middle of the Bronx in the middle of the night... "About what?"

"The future," Pietro said as he came to a sudden stop right in front of Piotr. "And plans for it."

Wanda stepped gracefully down the stairs. For all of Pietro's kinetic buzz, the tension that seemed to vibrate through him even when he stood still, Wanda's was cultivated poise, the not-quite-natural elegance of a woman who had been raised in the company of men and had come to understand her feminine charms later than might be expected.

"I'm not going to join the Brotherhood," Piotr said flatly, looking down at Pietro, who made a face.

"Hear us out, Piotr," Wanda implored with a half-sigh, circling around him to lean against the limestone banister. She moved in counterpoint to Pietro, Piotr realized. He had had time to study the ballet of confrontation from his time at Boris's side, both on business calls and the endless days and nights spent sitting in restaurants that served as offices. The twins kept in motion because they didn't want to be pinned down by his gaze; it kept them from having either to meet it or to squirm out from under it. A subtle dishonesty that was nonetheless coupled with an honest anxiety; there was something they truly wanted him to hear and understand and they were worried that he wouldn't.

Piotr had never gotten a good sense of the twins' personalities and had difficulty reading their motives, something that made him edgy in their presence. They were their father's children, but was their father Erik or Magneto - or did they not distinguish?

Scott, who had known them during his time in the Savage Land, had not spoken ill of them (apart from his obvious discomfort at being used in the drama between Pietro and Magneto and Wanda's crush). He had said that dealing with Pietro could be like dealing with Jean or Henry when they were being their most self-absorbed - her telepathy and his brilliance could make them cranky and impatient with everyone else's limitations. So it was with Pietro's speed - everyone else took too long to live - with the added twist that the one person Pietro desperately wanted to acknowledge his skills made a practice of not doing so.

"How much do you know about Xavier?" Wanda asked from his right side. She was looking at him thoughtfully. Piotr had always imagined her as some sort of Shakespearean character - an Ophelia or a Violetta or a Hero or a Juliet, trapped in the stories of the men in her life, a victim of fate and chance both. But Wanda looked to be no victim here. A Beatrice maybe, or a Katherine - responsible for her own situation and confident of her own mind. "About where he gets his money or what his 'dream' really is?"

He tilted his head. Money had never really been a consideration; there had never been a shortage and no talk ever of a budget. If they didn't have the usual complement of domestics and visible trappings of wealth that were par for the course in marble-coated Salem Center Hills, it was for security reasons - getting a maid for a mutant paramilitary unit wasn't exactly as easy as placing an ad.

"He's an opportunist," Pietro said to his left. Pietro talked quickly, although not too fast to be understood, his words clipped as if he were impatient getting them out. "A grifter. He doesn't come from money - he gets in tight with those who do."

"But..." Piotr didn't know what to make of the news - if it was in fact news and not just misinformation; he didn't know if the twins were being truthful and to what purpose if they weren't.  Xavier acted like Piotr had always imagined wealthy people to act - real wealthy people, not the over-funded boors raised to princedoms that the Russian mafiya produced. The Professor was more than erudite; he was cultured and knowledgeable about all sorts of things that were genuinely irrelevant to the working classes. The mansion had obviously grown old in someone's family and Piotr had always assumed that it had been Xavier's.

"How do you know? You must have been just children when your father was friends with the Professor."

A siren could be heard in the distance, the Doppler effect making audible just how fast it must be traveling on the largely abandoned streets. In a neighborhood such as this, the streets were quiet in the middle of the night except where they weren't - almost any noise was a bad one, at least in these last few hours before people rose for early-morning shifts and returned home from overnight ones.

"Children see a lot more than adults think," Wanda said with a not-so-casual shrug. She was not being blasé, but instead stating facts and hoping, it seemed, that Piotr would accept them as such. "We practically grew up with him and Uncle Charles was not the financier for the expeditions to the Savage Land. He was the brains, perhaps, the practical one where Father was a dreamer. But he was betting with someone else's chips. Father shared his ambitions, but we knew who the bankroll was coming from."

"We weren't supposed to know," Pietro added bitterly, his lips pursing as if the words were sour. He was standing in place now, if not necessarily still. "Or, at least, it wasn't supposed to matter. That's what Father and Uncle Charles said. Post-human society has more than its fair share of socialist tendencies and money was only a concern so long as we were living in the human world."

Piotr snorted; it never failed to entertain him when anyone, especially those with money or power or both, failed to learn from the Soviet object lesson. But it wasn't really funny, not at all, and Piotr again wondered why the twins had come looking for him. Revenge? Or a deeper concern - if they were half as observant as they said they were, they would know much more about the plans Xavier and Magneto had created together. To Piotr, already realizing himself predisposed to look for the worst in the Professor, it was enough to keep him paying attention.

"You know," Pietro went on, the scorn in his voice only partially aimed at Piotr. "You read the book. Or have you? It's a dreadful bore; it manages to be both turgid and fantastical all at once. Like a really bad science fiction novel. Or a dissertation on Star Trek. Worst five minutes I've spent in a while."

"Uncle Charles's charisma doesn't translate well into the written word," Wanda agreed, absently twirling a long, curling tress around her index finger. It was a surprisingly coquettish gesture considering her message. "He could charm a snake out of its basket in person, but..."

Behind Pietro and across the street, Piotr could see a man walking and staring openly at them, presumably wondering what three white people were doing standing on a street corner in this neighborhood in the middle of the night. While Wanda and Pietro were in street clothes - Wanda's costume would have drawn more than just a stare from a passerby - Piotr's own black uniform was anything but innocuous.

"So who do you think is helping the Professor now and why have you come to me about it?" Piotr finally asked, turning back to Wanda as the pedestrian disappeared from view around a corner. Piotr wasn't worried about him calling the cops on them.

"New York is full of the rich and gullible," Pietro answered him. "But the silent partners, if they're foolish enough to get involved with dear Uncle Charles, can wait."

"We came to you because of Finland," Wanda said, pushing off of the banister she had been leaning against and shrugging her coat back into place. Piotr frowned involuntarily both at the memory of what he had nearly done and the fact that the twins - the philosophical opposition - had remembered it even as his teammates and nominal boss had not.

"You're not cowed into pacifist jelly like the others," Pietro elaborated with a dark look that Piotr couldn't interpret. "You're not blinded by Xavier and can still see."

"See what?" He was starting to lose his patience with this little three-way tango. Especially since it was becoming obvious that whatever they wanted would be unable to be granted casually. Not with anything to do with Finland serving as a positive reference. The suspicion that he was being played was rising and he quelled it, for now.

"What's going on around you," Wanda replied, letting go of the tress twisted around her finger. "What's really going on."

"You want me to spy," Piotr finished flatly. "I won't betray the Professor." He spoke with a conviction he didn't feel, a loyalty that tasted plastic and wrong on his tongue.

"For all you know, he's already betrayed you," Pietro retorted and Piotr looked at him sharply. "Come now, don't look surprised. We're speaking of a man who abandoned his wife and son to pursue his dreams and then killed the man he once held closer than a brother."

The angry retort died on Piotr's lips as he was reminded, yet again, of the secret he bore and his own conflict. If he had wondered about the rightness of keeping the twins ignorant of Magneto's survival, what now with the two here before him trying to throw his perception of the Professor into doubt -- and succeeding?

"What wife?" he asked instead.

Piotr knew that he was listening to them because they were saying things he wanted to hear. If not necessarily the specifics, they were providing the external cause for doubt where Piotr had only been left with his own private concerns. He wanted someone else to be suspicious, too. He wanted someone else to share his unease, to provide the good reason why he was looking this gift horse in the mouth - for what was this life of freedom from both Boris and Sentinels but a gift? - and make it not about his own inability to muster faith. But as much as he wanted an easy excuse for his lack of constancy, he couldn't let himself be swayed by the twins' siren song. Even if what they were saying was true, they were no better than the Professor in that they were operating on a personal agenda. They weren't there to make sure he was informed and truly happy with his situation.

"You didn't know?" Pietro almost beamed in delight. It was a full moon and they were near a streetlight and Piotr could see everything. "Moira and David. They live in Scotland. Moira was the money in that relationship. He left them when he ran off with our father. Of course, Father took us with him..."

"He's up to something, Piotr," Wanda said quietly. "He's up to something and we don't know what it is and we're sure it isn't good."

"What do you care of 'good'?" Piotr asked sharply, covering up his own disquiet with a disdain that was just as valid. "The bomb in Tokyo. The bomb in Madrid. What you did to the EU assembly hall. You are terrorists, your father's children. You could have stopped when your father... There's nothing holding you to that life now but your own interests. How can you talk of 'good'?"

"There's nothing holding us to 'that life' but the alternative," Pietro snapped, his voice rising sharply. He looked around at the quiet street; all of the lights were out in the apartment buildings, all the shades were drawn. This was a neighborhood where most people put their mattresses on the floor to better avoid bullets coming through the window; peeping out at an argument was avoided at all cost.

"According to Uncle Charles, with Father dead, there is no good reason for us not to join his little band of merry mutants," Pietro continued in a quieter voice. "For once in our lives, we'd like to be free."

"So you kill people to buy your freedom?" Piotr asked incredulously.

"They're only humans," Pietro answered with a slight shrug. "But who are you, of all people, to pass judgment?"

Piotr stared.

"He brags, you know," Wanda answered the question that must have been written all over his face. "He bragged to Father and now to us. About how even the most dangerous mutants, if given free choice, side with him and his 'dream.' He's especially proud of you, Piotr, the mafiya enforcer turned charming spokesman, and the Wolverine."

He must have looked wounded as Wanda reached out and gently touched his arm. "The Wolverine is his masterpiece, the assassin he swayed through preaching his gospel -- Uncle Charles has a bit of a Messiah complex. He thinks he's the harbinger of the new world and that his book will be the clarion call and the X-Men his Apostles. The Wolverine is his Paul, the assassin turned missionary. You are his Thomas."

"And Father was John the Baptist," Pietro added bitterly. Piotr could hear the genuine regret in the other man's voice. For all of Magneto's cruelty, he had been their father and they had loved him and that made the secret in his heart burn hotter. "Sent to pave the way and destined to die for the cause."

Piotr closed his eyes so he wouldn't have to look at Pietro's face. He felt ill, both from what the twins were saying about Xavier and from his own role in this drama.

"He's up to something," Wanda repeated, this time making it sound not like an entreaty and instead like a pronouncement. "He helps us... Don't look surprised. He helps us and pretends to the world that he doesn't. He knows we're behind the Brotherhood, that we've been a part of it all along. And not only does he not turn us in to the authorities, but he also discusses strategy. Occasionally obliquely and always with the pretense that he disapproves, but..."

"You were almost witness to the last time," Pietro continued. "At the Guggenheim? You went off to the Frick, but had you stayed, you would have been party to the discussion."

The nausea increased; that was, of course, the day he had been brought to see Magneto. Piotr hadn't known what sort of conversation he had missed by not accepting the Professor's invitation to join the trio's progression through the museum. All of them knew of Xavier's history with the Lehnsherr family; Piotr had assumed that the afternoon was going to be spent reminiscing about gentler times and making polite discussion, not comparing strategy between the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants. If what the twins were saying was true, the Professor had gone directly from aiding and abetting two terrorists to taking Piotr to see his own pet murderer...

"He thinks he still has sway with us," Wanda said, laughing lightly at the irony. "He thinks that he is still our Dear Uncle Charles and that we take him as a source of wisdom and authority now that Father is dead."

"He thinks he's controlling the Brotherhood through us," Pietro snorted. "Guiding us gently and subtly, using our 'baser inclinations' toward his purpose. Like he does with you and the Wolverine. But instead of being showpieces like you two, we are the weapons doing all of the dirty work you're all too famous for now, the nasty tasks that would break all of his fragile alliances should it be known that he's behind them. He's the one who passed on to us the information that it was Galtidex that had the patent on the gene-tracing technology that's used in Sentinels."

Piotr stared. The bomb the Brotherhood had set off in Tokyo's financial district had gone off in front of Galtidex's Japan headquarters.

"Disappointing, isn't it?" Pietro asked with a rueful smile. "Post-human solutions are supposed to be so enlightened."

There was a silence then, a pause to absorb - for Piotr the news and for the twins his reaction - and the quiet was shattered by the beep of the radio clipped to Piotr's jacket.

"Yo, Colossus, you there?" Jean's voice sounded tinny in his earpiece. "It's a half-hour past when you're supposed to call in and say you're coming home. Answer me or I send Scott out to find you and he's going to be cranky that I've woken him up..."

Piotr nearly coughed with relief. Not only at the interruption, but also at the fact that Jean had used the radio system instead of just barging into his mind. Her telepathy could have found him even at this distance, but that was only because she was familiar with his mind. She hadn't been able to early on in his X-Men career and had needed to use the radios same as everyone else. For some reason, she had never switched from the walkie-talkies.

"I'm here, Marvel Girl," Piotr responded after he activated his microphone. "All is well and I'm on my way. I just got distracted."

Wanda made an amused face at him that would have been charmingly flirtatious were they not who they were.

"Okay. Marvel Girl out, then." A pause. "If you want to pick up some bagels on the way home..."

"I'll see."

"I like strawberry cream cheese."

"I know you do. Colossus out." Piotr turned off the microphone.

"Good doggie," Pietro commended, but his voice held no rancor. Piotr glared at him anyway.

"Take this," Wanda said, reaching into her right coat pocket and retrieving a CD. She held it out to him.

"What is it?" Piotr asked, not taking it.

"All of the news that's not fit to print," Pietro answered. He sounded darkly gleeful. "Our side of the story, more or less. A few documents, some emails, some theories."

"Each file is encrypted," Wanda warned, extending the hand with the disc. Piotr took it. "The password to the encryption key file is 'Kharlamov' - Use the Russian typeset. I'm sure you have access to it."

Piotr looked at her face, making sustained eye contact for the first time. "Why?"

"Because he's up to something," she said simply. "Because just because my brother and I don't want do live among humans doesn't mean that we want them eradicated. Because you have both the strength and the courage. Because somebody has to."

Piotr looked at her closely and could see past the sincerity to the edge of desperation that she hadn't shown before. He had played his hand close and now, with no clear win, the twins had to hold on to hope.

"We'll be in touch," Pietro promised and then he embraced his sister and the two of them disappeared in a breeze into the darkness.

Piotr put the disk in his pocket and, as the full realization of what had happened and what could happen settled upon him, he finished his tour and went to the hidden garage where he had parked the car.

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