1963-09-03 - The Masks We Wear
Summary: Keith checks on Piotr following the events at Coney Island, and an accord is reached.
Related: Escape From Coney Island I and II
Theme Song: None
vorpal piotr 

To say it had been a completely insane day was an understatement. Sinking bases, psychic clone blondes, and Logan. All in all, it had been a level of weird that even Keith found a bit too much.

It wouldn't be surprising for Piotr to find the cat outside during one of his own walks. But the way Keith appears out of thin air indicates that the reason he is out and about was probably to look for Piotr in the first place.

"Hey, big guy…" the cat says, looking quite tired but otherwise miraculously unscathed from the events of the day. "Out woolgathering and such?"


It is not much of a walk — Piotr had intended to go only as far as the benches out by the pond and then park for a while, once again wearing his uniform long after the mission had ended. When a cat crosses his path, as it were, he stops where he is and cracks a tired smile.

"I am… decompressing," Piotr says, having to take a moment to think of the right word. "It helps." He gives him a worried looking-over, his brow furrowed. "And you? You did well. Again. I do not know what we would have done without you there."


"You would've gotten your sister to teleport everybody out like you got them in, you silly goose," the cat smirks and begins to walk towards the benches, hands in his jacket pockets.

"How are Jean and Kitty?" the cat asks. After exerting himself, he may have been too tired and unfocused to notice anything that happened afterwards and, of course, as not—a-member-of-the-team, he wasn't there at the debriefing…

Okay. So he may have passed out. He did so bravely and in a very manly fashion.


"Despite what she may tell you, Illyana has limits," Piotr says with a wry smile that almost — almost — reaches his eyes, and the big man falls into step with Keith to head for a bench.

As Piotr drops down to sit, he stretches his arms out in front of himself with his fingers interlaced and lets out a tired sigh. "Katya is fine. No medbay this time," he reports with a chuckle, looking down as he drops his hands into his lap. "Jean is…"

Piotr's face falls. "…I am sure she will be fine."


Which means she might not be. The cat slides onto the bench next to Piotr and pulls up his knees to his chest. It's a position he finds comfortable. He looks over at Piotr and asks quietly, "And how are you? Piotr?"

He waits for a second, before adding "Be honest with me. You don't need to put on a front for me."


It might come as a surprise, but Piotr does not hesitate before he answers: "Exhausted. And very grateful to have gotten the business card of a psychiatrist yesterday." With a groan, he slouches back into the bench and lets his head loll back, both of his hands coming up to cover his face.

Yeah, there's no front being projected here.

"I am… furious. To find Jean, Logan made a deal with a demon," Piotr mumbles into his palms. "Who does that?!"


Keith stays silent for a few seconds and then says very slowly, "Someone for whom Jean is the whole world?"

He knows nothing of Logan's relationship to Jean, if there is any. But he assumes there must be one. Nobody would make a decision like that lightly.

"I would like to think if there were someone I loved that much, I'd probably do something like that." And then he smirks, reaching over to put a hand on Piotr's shoulder.

"Are you going to tell me you wouldn't have done that for Kitty?" he fixes his yellow-green eyes on Piotr. "No lies."


The answer is one Piotr seems to find deflating. He just groans again and drops his hands from his face, letting them thump onto the bench next to his hips.

"I would have considered it," he grudgingly allows, watching Keith out the corner of his eye. "Probably. Yes. But I would at least be willing to admit it was foolish. And that I would not be the only one it would effect. He owes it a favor now," he says in a low, worried tone.


"That is his cross to bear now. Demons can be tricked, it has been done before," Keith points out. "Demons aren't necessarily intelligent. They can be clever, but not particular -brilliant-. The thing about favors is that requests can always be interpreted in different ways."

"Depending on how they're worded. I mean, Djinni have made a practice of granting wishes with an ironic twist at the end, you know. Your friend Logan could do some studying."

Seeing Piotr deflating, the cat sighs and leans in to give the man a hug. Well, as much as he can. It's like trying to hug a Sequoya. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry you've got to deal with this crap, Pete. You're too young to get an ulcer."


"I hope you are right." From his tone, Piotr seems confident that Keith is not. Whatever demon Logan made his deal with has him very, very concerned.

And then he is being hugged. Piotr doesn't protest this development at all, initially due to surprise, and then simply because he doesn't actually mind.

The comment earns a tired-sounding laugh and Piotr shifts to sit up a bit straighter — makes it easier to hug the cat back. "I am glad someone else thinks so."


"You make it very hard to leave, y'know, big guy?" Keith chuckles, hugging Piotr and patting… well. His arm. Because he doesn't have rubber arms and cannot reach the man's back. He sits back and exhales.

"I thought maybe this would be a good time to head out. But you're a headcase with stress and Jean's… gonna be fine. In a while."

Keith laughs and looks ahead, at the lake. "I kind of fit here like a round peg in a square hole, but I like you guys. I'm not comfortable heading back out again until you guys aren't going insane."


That note has Piotr snickering as he follows Keith's gaze out towards the lake. "In that case, you might never leave," he tells him. "This last month has been… extreme," he allows, nodding his head to the side. "But it is never quiet. Someone is always missing, or something is on fire, or…" He gestures towards the mansion itself, where a second story window is in the process of being replaced.

"But, as I said before… if you would like to stay, you should." Piotr looks over at him and offers a warm smile, and this one does reach his eyes. "I will go with you to speak to the Professor, if you like. After all you have done, I do not think he would turn you away."


Keith smiles back, but after a few seconds he returns to look back at the lake, growing quiet.

"Pete. what are you afraid of? Like, deep down inside?"


Once again: no hesitation at all.

"Failure," Piotr replies, lifting his shoulders in a shrug as he lets his gaze drift back to the lake. "Not in small things, those are normal, help us grow. Important ones. Like today."


Keith nods and stands up, walking over to the shore and kicking at the water with a bare foot. "I can understand that. You have people in your life you care about. They depend on you. It's a heavy load."

He looks over at the water, sticking his hands in his jacket. "But you also have the upside, right? The people in your life?"


The Russian rumbles an affirmative, clasping his hands and watching Keith with a small, worried crease to his brow. "Right. And you are included in that," Piotr notes lightly, inclining his head towards Keith. "It can be… difficult. Frustrating. But the good makes up for it."


"People, Piotr," Keith says over his shoulder, rolling up his jeans up to the knee and wading into the lake up to them. "I'm afraid of people."

He smirks and turns around int he water and spreads his arms at his sides. "It sounds so stupid. But it's true."


"It does not sound stupid," Piotr replies with an odd smile, holding up his hands. "To be honest, I am, too. It's a reasonable fear." Particularly for people like them.

Piotr pushes himself up to his feet so that he can wander closer to the lake, though he doesn't go any further than the shore. "Did something happen?" he asks carefully. "Or are you worried about what might?"


"Reasonable, I guess. You know, people don't wear their real faces outside in the sun."

Keith walks a little around the shore, sloshing water here and there. "There's the mask you wear for your family, there's the mask you wear for your friends. Your co-workers. Team-mates. Even the mask you wear for your enemies, isn't there one?"

"So what happens when you take it all off and there aren't any masks in the way? Sure, if someone doesn't like your mask, you can adjust it. Tweak it. Change it a little bit and voila, new one. But when you get down to the face?"

A splash with his foot. "That's the problem."

The cat shrugs and looks at the surrounding area. "When you're standing there naked and you get pushed away. You get thrown out. You get shafted. Doesn't matter how many masks you put on, yer face just keeps *stinging* underneath all that.""… does any of that make sense?"


Ahhh. Something happened, then.

"It makes sense to me," Piotr confirms quietly, loosely clasping his hands behind his back as he stands at the edge of the water, shifting his weight slowly from foot to foot.

"Masks are… comfortable. Easier. As you say, you can change them," Piotr murmurs, tilting his head slightly as he watches him. "But even though who we are underneath them will change over time, it is… harder. And you do not necessarily want to change it, even if people do not like what they see."


"That's… a fair interpretation, yeah." He turns to face Piotr across the shore.

"I like men, Piotr. I haven't made a big show to hide it because I can't exactly lose anything at this point. And out there… most people will hate me for it. Heck, some 'a them will want to kill me for it. I've heard about it."

"Here, you guys don't seem to mind. My dad did, though. Threw me out and wrote me out, into the street as you please, not a cent to my name."

He smirks, "Except I went back, after I changed into this. I went back and I raided the family safe and that's how I've paid my way. That's how low I am. Stealing from my own father- that's like, how many commandments broken already?" He brushes some stray hair out of his eyes, "But that's not the worst of it. The worst of it is what came after I changed. You remember when we were in Louisiana? What the Professor did to neutralize the dudes we were fighting?"


The news that Keith likes men does not come as a surprise to Piotr. He remembers what happened when they first met, after all. All it does is draw a small, sympathetic smile from the Russian.

"Your father is an idiot," he replies in an oddly warm, gentle tone of voice. "And had I known you then, he would have had worse to worry about than having his money stolen." Yeah, no condemnation at all will be coming from present company. Not for all of that.

Piotr's brow knits together and he tilts his head. "I… am not entirely sure what he did," he admits. "Only that they were no longer a threat." That's one way to put it.


Keith smiles a little. "Thank you, Peet. But…"

"He reached into my mind. I told him he could do it. And then he linked it to -them-." The Cheshire cat looks down at the water and digs his toes in the mud. "Those dudes were knocked out cold or went stark raving loco. I made them like that, you know."

"I don't know if they had Alice in Wonderland over there. But I -am- the Cheshire cat… what's left of him, anyways. He and I are one soul now, and that line about how we're all mad here? It's true."

He walks a little bit further into the water, until it's just about waist deep, and turns around.

"I remember things that shouldn't be, that wouldn't really exist here. Geography that couldn't possibly be real in a universe with four dimensions. The world just melting to desires and reforming accordingly. What's more, I can sense it right under the surface. The kind of mind that's required to survive in a universe like that. Over there, it's perfectly normal. Over here? It'd be completely delusional. So here I am, bobbing just above the surface, but underneath…"

His voice grows quieter, smaller. "I'm scared. I'm scared of people. Maybe I'm scared of mysef, too. Maybe someday the balance will go tits-up and the crazy will come out on top. Maybe I'm afraid of what I'd do then. To myself. To people near me. To anyone I've ever allowed to get that close."


Judging by the understanding that flashes over Piotr's face, they either do have the story where he grew up, or — equally like — he's read it more recently.

"…I am not sure what it says that this is not the strangest thing I have ever heard," Piotr admits, his brow still creased in worry as he looks out towards Keith where he is in the lake.

He stays at the edge of the water, thoughtful… and, after a long moment, he extends an arm towards Keith and crooks his fingers to try and beckon him back towards him, and the shore.

"It is okay to be scared. That sounds terrifying to cope with," Piotr tells him, his lips twisting to one side. "But you do not have to do it alone. Half of the students here… hurting those around them would be easy to do. It has happened before. But at least here, there is support. And everyone here has…" He pauses, searching for the right word. Damnit. "…volunteered." Not quite what he was looking for, but close enough.


"I don't recall volunteering," Keith says, with some humor in his voice as he begins his return to the shore, slowly. "I just gave girl a ride and suddenly I'm knee-deep in bullets."

He eventually gets to the shore and stands there, with water up to his ankles, facing Piotr.

"You have no idea how much I want to go and grab Brunhilda and just… ride until I don't know anyone."

"But that'd be kinda rotten thing to do, wouldn't it?"


Even though he hears the humor in Keith's voice, that still makes Piotr wince. After all, he isn't wrong. "Ah. That… I suppose that is true," he mumbles awkwardly, fighting the urge to take a step back. Nope. Stay put.

"When… when I lost my parents," Piotr begins slowly, his eyes focused on a spot near Keith's feet. "Last month. I… I almost did not come back," he admits, curling one arm around himself. "If I had known Illyana was safe, I do not know if I would have." And, if he's honest, he's not entirely sure why he's telling Keith this. He hasn't told anyone this. A confession for a confession, maybe.

"It would not be rotten," Piotr says tiredly. "But it would be very lonely."


Keith's face falls and in an instant he is out of the water, reaching out to grab Piotr's hand with both of his.

"I'm so sorry," he says. "I know some of it. I lost my mother."

"You ever need to talk. Ever need to… y'know, cry. You can come to me. Won't tell a soul," Keith squeezes Piotr's hand and looks back over his shoulder at the lake for a few seconds.

He looks back at Piotr and says, "I guess we make a pact now. You don't run, I don't run. That's how it goes, right?" he says, letting go of Piotr's hand.


Well, at least it got Keith to come out of the water.

"That seems like a reasonable pact to make," Piotr rumbles with a very small smile. Keith may have released his hand, but that just means that he's close enough for Piotr to try and wrap a friendly arm around his shoulders, instead. "And I promise I will come to you to talk if you will do the same."

He raises his eyebrows at him, smiling hopefully. "Fair?"


The cat allows himself a smile and a slow nod. "Yes. Fair. So I guess that once Jean is better and things have calmed down some… we can go talk to the Professor." Because there was no need to bother the man right away when he had to watch over the special case that was Jean at the moment.

"We should sleep. I mean, you need to head to your room and actually sleep. And I can crash in one of the empty rooms."

He looks down at himself. "After toweling myself dry so I don't drip over all of the floor."

The tiredness finally hits him. It has been a long, long day.

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