From the road, the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning had a comforting look. A manicured lawn, a neatly stenciled sign, and an impressive-looking mansion offered a proper New England image for passers-by. A very exclusive school, they said. Operated by the nationally famous Charles Francis Xavier, political activist and philanthropist. He was a bit of an odd duck, but what of it? If he wanted to cater to the children of his wealthy philanthropist friends, that was his business.
Up close, especially at night, the mansion was intimidating. It loomed. It cast a long shadow in the moonlight. It looked a bit more like the hacienda of some Central American drug lord. One almost expected to see guards pacing their rounds, armed with automatic weapons.
In truth, it was far more dangerous than any such place.
The visitor to the grounds that evening had been on dozens of excursions into hostile territory, including the tropical strongholds of third world warlords. He'd stealthily infiltrated Antarctic science outposts and Siberian radar installations. He'd blown up missile siloes in eastern Europe and destroyed biochemical labs in southern Africa. He was a dangerous man.
On those trips, he was accustomed to travelling with trusted soldiers, and he usually carried enough ordnance to deal with any number of hostiles.
That night, he was armed with a set of paintbrushes.
He made his way quietly across the back lawn, careful to check the wind direction. Sounds and scents could carry in the night, and he particularly did not want them carrying to a small cabin beside the house.
At last he came to his destination, a section of the lawn that was carefully fenced off. He had not brought low-light specs, but the moonlight was bright enough to throw the letters on the gravestones there into sharp relief.
The man glanced at the clutch of stones, and his brow furrowed. The name that he was looking for wasn't there.
Maybe the man had been cremated.
There... that name was familiar. Perhaps a sister. Illyana Nikolovna Rasputin. He sighed, and seated himself in front of the grave.
"Miss Rasputin, I never met you." he said softly. "In fact, I barely knew your brother. I came here tonight looking for him, but he's not here. Maybe they haven't buried him yet. Maybe they cremated him. I don't know."
"He's not here." a voice said harshly from the trees, jarringly loud. A female voice. He didn't recognize it.
The man stood. "I just came to pay my respects."
"And you weren't welcome at the funeral?" she said. "That makes two of us."
"Step out of the trees." he said.
"Fuck you. What do you want with Colossus?"
"I owe him my life."
"They cremated him." she said after a while, stepping out of the trees. His breath caught. Her body was twisted with eruptions of bone. They distorted the curve of her spine and encrusted her face. Her mouth twisted at the expression on his face. "Get a good look." she said. "You can tell your kids about me."
"Sorry." he said. "I mean, for staring. A few days ago, I looked a hell of a lot worse than you do."
"Congratulations." she said nastily.
He shrugged, and sat back down. "Legacy virus. I had a terminal case of it. I was looking at the pine box hotel before Rasputin did what he did. That's why I'm here."
She shrugged back. "He missed his sister." she said baldly.
"Sarah, right?" the man said.
"Yeah. What's it to you?"
"Nothing. I'm David."
"How do you know who I am?" she asked.
"People talk. I'm a listener."
"How can you listen when you talk so damn much?" she said.
"I don't, usually." he said.
They lapsed into silence for a while, listening to the night sounds. She shuffled from foot to foot.
"Did you know her?" he asked.
"No." she said wistfully. "Just heard about her from him. He called her 'snowflake'."
"She died of Legacy, too." David said. "Or, so I understand."
"Yeah, that's the way it was."
He paused. "Where is he?"
Sarah snorted. "That prissy bitch Pryde took his ashes back to Russia."
He nodded. "I wanted to tell him how much I appreciated what he's done. I guess I won't get the chance."
"A corpse is a corpse." she replied.
"True." he said patiently. "But I owe the man, so I wanted to do something for him."
"What could you do? He's dead. His parents are dead. His brother and sister are dead. The whole family's gone." she said angrily. "You can't bring back the dead, can you?"
"Then you're just being sentimental." she said.
"True." David replied.
"What good are you to him? None. He can't appreciate what you're doing."
He carefully placed the paintbrushes on Illyana's grave and stood up. "Maybe he can't. I don't know if there's an afterlife or not."
"Sounds like a comfortable lie to me." Sarah said.
"Why are you so angry?" David asked. "You miss him, and you feel badly, and you want me to hurt like you do. I can't. I'm too happy to be alive."
"What's so great about that?" she spat.
"Maybe nothing when your life's in the toilet, like mine was last week. I doubt your life's great. But I can tell you're a fighter."
"You don't know anything about me."
"True." he said, and starting walking slowly toward the trees. "But I'll bet you're a romantic. They always hurt the worst when bad things happen, and you're really hurting."
"What made you so fucking smart?" she said, following him furiously. His ears pricked up at the sound of grinding bone. "You can't say shit like that to me and just walk away! Turn around!"
He kept walking.
"I said, turn around!" she cried. She lunged forward, a sharpened blade of bone clenched in her fist. He spun on his heel and grabbed her wrist. A negligent flick of his hand sent the weapon spinning into the grass.
She kicked him in the stomach, in the groin, but he didn't flinch, or even change his facial expression. She jabbed her fingers toward his face, but he just grabbed her other wrist and bent it. She smiled at him nastily. He was expecting her to sink to her knees, but the pain was less than nothing. Instead, she brought her heel down on the arch of his foot with bone-breaking force. Nothing happened.
"Good night." he said, releasing her.
"Fight me!" she shouted.
"Get Logan to give you a few lessons, first." David replied. "I'm off to Russia."
"Why? To talk to some ashes?"
"No." he said shortly. "I'm going to find out if Rasputin has any living family there. If he does, then I'm going to make sure that Flagwatch doesn't get a hold of any of them. If they've already been taken, then I'll get them out. It's the least I can do for the man who gave me back my life."
"A government agency that identifies mutants and presses them into service if their powers have useful applications. Rasputin was lucky that Xavier got him out. His older brother wasn't so fortunate."
"You think you can do that?"
He shrugged. "I evaded Flagwatch myself. I've also broken mutants out of Russia before. It's not impossible."
"You're not Russian." she said. "Your accent's wrong."
"East German." he replied. "Back when that meant something. Good night."
"Wait!" she said.
She stared at him angrily. "I want to come with you."
"Why?" he repeated.
"None of your business."
He turned. "Not good enough."
"Because I want to do something for him, you piece of shit!" she yelled. "Is that so hard to figure out?"
"Not really." David said.
She growled. "Are you going to take me with you?" she asked deliberately.
"I'm waiting for you to get your stuff." he said.
Her grimacing mouth twitched a little. "I don't have any."
"Good enough. Let's go."
They walked around the side of the house. "I can't be seen in public, you know." she said. "People will scream."
"Pretty sensitive, are you?"
"I'll get you some armour to wear." he said. "I've got a good dealer."
'I don't like my movements being hampered."
"Don't worry about that." David said.
"You've got a pretty face under those eruptions." he remarked.
"Can you say something that _isn't_ stupid?"
"That's why I don't talk much." he joked. The only thing he could make out of her reply was 'idiot upworlders'. She stalked ahead.
It was a beautiful night, and he'd saddled himself with another troublesome young woman with a chip on her shoulder. Life was good.
"Night, Logan." he said as he walked by the cabin.
"Night, Maverick." his old friend replied sleepily from inside.
Definitely a good night to be alive.