Unidentified Human Remains & The True Nature Of Love: Part 1
by Amanda Sichter
Disclaimer: All Marvel's (except the villain and a whole host of supporting characters who are mine). I am making no money and am frankly not worth suing. I nicked the title from a play but can't remember the playwright's name to give a disclaimer.
This story is dedicated to Luba Kmetyk - who waited so patiently for me to have the idea, who has nurtured and nagged me <g> through every step of this story, whose hum-yum sighs of approval made it all worthwhile even as it burgeoned out of my control and who has never failed to say just the nicest things about my works (and who isn't allowed to archive this story without having this bit on the top!). Many thanks also to Acetal for help with the name and to River (and Mother) for the Yiddish.
He stared at the telephone, willing himself to pick up the receiver but unable to make his hand move.
~What was it about pride?~
~More to the point, what was it about Pryde?~
Pete Wisdom grinned mirthlessly at himself. ~Shit, Wisdom, you're making puns. You have got it bad.~
For another long moment he stared at the telephone, quietly explaining to himself all the reasons why picking it up and calling her was an incredibly bad idea. But then his eyes strayed to the photos that littered the table next to the phone and he knew he had no choice.
His hand didn't even tremble as he picked up the phone and dialled the number.
'Xavier's Institute,' said the voice at the other end, and Pete sighed in relief as he realised he didn't recognise it.
'Can I talk to Kitty Pryde, please?' he asked.
'Just a moment,' replied the voice and he could hear the phone being laid down.
There was silence and then, 'Hello?'
Her voice. Her beautiful voice, the same but different, more American now, a little warier. He wrestled down the catch in his own voice and then said, 'Kitty.'
'Pete?' she half-shouted, and then, 'Wisdom? Is that you?'
'It's me,' he replied. 'I need your help. I need you to come to England.'
She was silent then, shocked at the request. Then her voice came back. 'After how long, Pete, you ring up and just expect . . .'
He cut her off. 'I can't explain it, Pryde. Not on the phone. But I need your help and I need you here.'
'Pete, I've got responsibilities, things to do . . .' she began, but he could hear that she was wavering.
'Trust me, please,' he said, and his voice was suddenly harsh with - something. 'People are dying, Kitty. Good people. Young people. I need your help.'
The silence seemed to stretch like taffy as he waited, hoped. Finally she said, 'Give me a number where I can contact you. I'll get back to you.'
He gave her the number and hung up without saying goodbye. He hadn't said goodbye when he'd walked out of her life - he wasn't about to start now. He sighed and ran his fingers through his already unruly hair, reached for the tumbler of Scotch sitting next to the photos. He took a sip, but it still tasted sour, unlovely.
The reason why even Scotch tasted vile stared up at him. Wisdom reached out and picked up the photos again, going through them, trying to find some clue, some reason, some connection between the corpses that screamed up at him in far too vivid Technicolour. Different ages, different sexes, different counties - the only thing they had in common was the blood that spilled from them, the horrendous wounds - and the missing pieces.
He shuffled through them like the Devil's playing pack until he reached the last, the worst. She was the only one that had anything left of her face. The others had been obliterated, their faces ripped apart by the same massive force that killed them. But whatever was killing them had misjudged with her, had swiped across her neck and jaw instead. She was still just as dead - but above the ruin that was her nose, her pretty, vivid blue eyes looked out, fixed wide in horror, and they asked the question that Wisdom would not rest until he could answer.
* * * * *
For various reasons she had had to take a commercial flight, so he waited now outside the Customs area for her to be cleared. Waited far enough away and behind enough people that she would have to look for him, so that he would have long enough to get over his first sight of her before he had to speak to her.
And then she was there, walking through the gates, looking around for him, and he had to shove his hands deep within the pockets of his coat and close his eyes and count to twenty before he could push through the crowd towards her.
She was different to how he remembered. In his mind she had never changed, not in all the time he had not seen her. However long that was - five years? ten years? - somewhere in between. Too long - not long enough. Her hair was shorter, her frame a trifle heavier, there were faint lines around her eyes. Had he missed her? He wasn't sure - he didn't let himself think of her often. A tiny white scar decorated the corner of her top lip. Was she married, engaged, divorced - had she and Fallon - little sodding fuckwit - ended up together? God, what if she and that idiot Rasputin had got back together? He'd have to kill himself just to escape the horrid fucking irony of that.
All these things and more swirled and clashed in Pete Wisdom's brain and used up all of his available thought processes - so there were none left to monitor what came out of his mouth when he finally stood in front of Kitty.
So the first words he said to her were, 'You're older.'
The look she gave him was half horrified annoyance, half amusement. 'Nice to see you too, Pete. Gosh, you look well. How've you been? Missed you, too.'
'Okay, so I'm not very sodding polite,' growled Pete. 'It's not like you didn't know that, Pryde.'
She shook her head, just a little, a smile flirting across her lips. 'Thought time might have changed you, Wisdom. Guess I was wrong.'
'Guess you were,' he responded. 'Time doesn't change things anywhere near as much as stupid sods think it does.'
Kitty dropped her eyes down, fiddled with the strap on her carry-on luggage. She glanced obliquely up at him and wondered what sort of message Pete was trying to give her - or whether there was no message at all. 'What am I here for, Pete?' she asked, her voice low so others didn't hear her.
The look he gave her was as close to anguish as she had ever seen in him. 'Back at the flat, Pryde. I'll tell you then. I've got things I need to show yer and they ain't suitable for the middle of Heathrow airport.'
Kitty shrugged her carry-on higher on her shoulder. 'Lead on, Macduff,' she said. 'We've got to pick up my bags.'
'Bags?' repeated Wisdom. 'How many suitcases did you bring?'
Her eyes were wide and very innocent as she said, 'Only three.'
'Three. Sod,' said Pete, with real feeling. 'Haven't you learned about travelling light yet?'
She gave him her best bambi-eyed look. 'I had to have plenty of room for souvenirs,' she said, breathily.
Pete looked at her for a long moment, muttered something under his breath and stalked off in the direction of the luggage carousel. Kitty followed him, grinning quietly to herself.
* * * * *
He didn't need any special rapport to interpret the pleading look in her eyes. He had reacted exactly the same way when he had seen the first corpse.
'Down the hallway, door at the end on the left,' he said, quietly, and a flash of gratitude passed across Kitty's face before she ran down the hallway to the bathroom.
Pete looked at the photos and pretended that he couldn't hear her retching.
When she finally walked back to him she was very pale and the hair around her face was wet where she had splashed herself with water.
'Better?' asked Pete, gruffly, and she nodded.
'Sorry,' she said, very softly. 'I didn't think they would affect me so badly, but that . . .' she trailed off into silence as she looked at the photos again.
'But that is what I'm trying to stop,' replied Pete. 'The old Bill are totally baffled by this one, Pryde. There doesn't seem to be any connection between the victims. If it wasn't for the method - Christ knows if they'd even have worked out it was one murderer.'
'The method is?' asked Kitty, picking the photos up again and starting to go through them, her face still pale but resolute. Her eyes scanned over each picture, trying to analyse, trying to find clues.
'Obliteration,' replied Wisdom, his voice rough to cover the pain he felt. 'Their faces are just - annihilated. Some massive force that rips them apart. It's too effective - there's no way of working out what does it.'
'Looks like what a chainsaw would do,' replied Kitty, her voice coldly analytical. She winced and gulped suddenly as she realised what she had said and tried very hard not to see the mental picture it conjured up. She continued to shuffle through the pictures.
Finally she pulled one out, a longer range picture that showed the lounge-room of one of the victims. Across it lay the dismembered pieces of her body. Kitty tapped the photo at the bottom. 'What's that?' she asked, her finger indicating the two shapeless lumps of flesh that lay on the floor.
Pete winced as he looked. 'Whatever's killing them,' he said, 'takes a part of the victim with them. A different part each time. With her, it took bits of her skeleton. Her shin and leg-bones to be precise. Those things,' he tapped on the photo again, 'were what was left of her legs after it took the bones out.'
'Oh,' replied Kitty and her voice was very small. A green tinge spread across her jawline but she fought it down hard. She desperately tried to think of something else and allowed another bit of the photo to catch her attention - a sodden, black and white furred lump. She touched her finger thoughtfully to the photo again. 'What's that?' she asked again. 'Looks like a blood-stained fur or something. What she was wearing when she got attacked? Maybe there are clues there.'
Wisdom's voice was very old and very grim as he replied. 'No,' he said. 'We figured out - she had a dog.'
This time, when Kitty ran for the bathroom, she didn't bother with the doors. She ran straight through the walls instead.
* * * * *
Her face was rapt, pure delight transfiguring her features as she looked through what the computer was offering her. A memory capacity as large as anything she had seen and speed that had to be seen to be believed. This was a beautiful piece of machinery and she wondered where Pete had got it.
He watched her, watched the way her hands moved, the gentle caressing motion of her fingers, the pleasure on her face. ~This is not good for you,~ he thought as his mind turned back to a previous time when that expression had danced across her face - but not for a machine. He remembered when her fingers had caressed him as gently as she now caressed the keyboard and his mind fell into black grief.
But none of it showed on his features when she turned to look at him, and her question dragged him back into the present. 'What do you want me to do?' she asked, her voice gentle, her fingers lingering on the keyboard, enjoying the tactile sensation.
'I need a database,' replied Wisdom. 'More than one. As many as you can come up with. I need everything about the victims input and cross-referenced. I need a clue, Pryde. A pattern. Whatever you can give me.'
Kitty frowned slightly. 'Couldn't the cops do this? They've got CrimeNet and a couple of other good programs - surely they could run this sort of stuff.'
Pete shrugged. 'They can do some of it - but I don't think they can do enough. These aren't ordinary crimes, Pryde. There's gotta be something - some reason behind what's happening and I don't think the plods will be able to find it. You've seen weird stuff, Pryde. You're able to think . . .'
'Laterally?' interrupted Kitty, her voice whimsically light.
'It'll do,' replied Pete. 'Can yer do it?'
'Of course,' replied Kitty, not proudly - just a matter-of-fact acceptance of the fact that she was good. Very good. She tilted her head slightly as she contemplated Pete's face. 'Why are you in on this, Wisdom?' she asked. 'How come you're doing this sort of stuff? It's obvious you're not one of the cops.'
Wisdom turned his head slightly so he didn't have to look her in the eyes. 'After - Excalibur disbanded,' he said, skirting neatly around what he wanted to say. 'I had to find something to do. I still had a lot of contacts in a lot of places - so I started a consulting business. Keeps me in booze and fags.'
'A consulting business?' asked Pryde, puzzlement furrowing her brow. 'Consulting on what?'
Pete waved at the computer, at the photos piled beside it. 'This sort of stuff,' he said. 'Crime. Serious crime, generally. Let's just say I help the police with their enquiries.' A sudden smile flashed across his features, the first Kitty had seen.
She chuckled to match the smile. 'So you're a private eye, then?'
'I bloody am not,' replied Pete, outraged. 'I'm a consultant.'
'Oh, come on,' grinned Kitty. 'You're a private detective, Wisdom, and you know it. Wisdom PI - tracking down crime and saving the world from the bad guys,' she said in her best TV-announcer voice.
'I am not a bloody private dick, Pryde, and you stop saying it.' Pete waggled a finger threateningly at her, but her answering smile was utterly unrepentant.
'You're a private eye,' she said. 'You've already got the trench-coat, the booze and the fags, all you need is a grey fedora. You'd be positively gosh-darned cute, too.'
She knew it was a mistake as soon as she said it and Pete's face confirmed it. From half-enjoying the mockery his features suddenly went utterly still as he closed himself off from her completely. ~Too soon, too soon,~she berated herself. She had seen his eyes when he first looked at her, knew how desperately hurt he still was. Heck, she'd known it herself long ago - the way she had ended their relationship had been cruel, horribly painful. Distance and maturing had told her that, but even after she knew what she had done she had been too scared, too cowardly to try and find Wisdom again, to try and make up for what she'd done.
It had been too easy, too seductively easy, to believe that none of it had mattered, that she wouldn't have to say anything, that Pete would just understand how desperately she wished she hadn't hurt him, how much she wanted to say sorry. It was too easy to fall back into their old, uncomplicated, flirtatious ways. But it was too soon, and the closed, still look on Pete's face told her that more completely than any words could.
Kitty half-opened her mouth, tried to think of something to say, but nothing seemed to be the right thing - not even sorry. So she closed her mouth and turned back to the screen, her fingers suddenly numb.
'Let's get started,' she said to the cold silence behind her.
She sighed in relief when, after a long moment, he moved up beside her with a handful of files and started to sort them out for her.
* * * * *
She leaned back in her chair and rubbed her eyes, suddenly aware of how sore they were. Behind her, Pete sat on the couch, sorting through the files, trying to create some order to make it easier for her to input information onto the numerous databases she was setting up. At one point he had taken over the typing from her, to give her a rest, but he had been so painfully slow in comparison that Kitty had eventually booted him off again. And so he sat and sorted files as per her instructions and slowly demolished a bottle of Scotch.
Kitty was pleased to see it. She had never been able to persuade Moira or Kurt or Piotr of the fact that Wisdom wasn't a raving alcoholic. But then, she had been working against the man's natural inclination to deception and subterfuge, his need to appear weak to conceal his own strengths - and his not inconsiderable acting skills. Oh, there were times when he had drunk himself into stuporous oblivion, when drowning his sorrows and his past had led to his legendary hangovers - but they were far fewer than the other members of Excalibur had thought.
What they had failed to realise, Kitty thought, was that Wisdom took being not-a-morning-person to the level of an art-form. He had never needed a hangover to be a foul-tempered brute with a low tolerance for noise or light before 11am. Kitty had seen it, though - considering they'd shared a bed, she'd had little choice. But she'd also kept an eye on how much he actually drank - and despite the fact Wisdom was rarely seen without a Scotch on hand, only she realised how few times he actually had to top it up.
She had worried, however, that his drinking may have increased since she had - been gone. She was pleased to see that it hadn't.
'Wisdom,' she said, softly.
'Pryde?' he responded.
'I wouldn't mind a drink, myself,' she responded.
'What do you want?' asked Pete, levering himself off the couch. 'We got Coke, mineral water, orange juice . . .'
'Some of that Scotch would be nice,' she interrupted him.
The silence was exquisite and Kitty grinned at her screen as she visualised Pete's shocked expression. She didn't turn around even as his disbelieving voice said, 'You? Pryde? Scotch? What is the world coming to?'
Kitty shrugged one shoulder. 'Maybe I developed a taste for it, Pete. Maybe I've grown up a bit.'
Clattering, shattering silence again, but this time she winced. ~Fool, fool,~ she hissed within her mind. ~Couldn't find a better way of putting that. Oh, yes, Pete, let me just remind you of why I dumped you - let me just put another few wounds in your heart. Stupid, stupid, stupid girl.~
While Kitty mentally slapped herself about the head a few times, Wisdom went and got another glass, poured a stiff tumbler-full of amber liquid and put it beside her motionless hand. She barely noticed, staring at her own reflection in the screen, hating herself.
So his words when he finally spoke seared through her, jolted her back to the outside of her skin. 'Did you ever get together with Rigby Fallon?' he asked, quietly.
'No,' she replied. 'I haven't seen him since - you left Excalibur.' She didn't, couldn't, add the rest. ~No I never saw him, no I never tried, no he was too young, no I was stupid, no I was wrong, I should have come and seen you, I should have tried to say I was sorry, I'm so sorry, Pete, I'm so sorry.~
'Oh,' said Wisdom, and then, 'What about you and Rasputin?'
'Yes,' replied Kitty shortly.
'Are you still?'
'When did you . . .'
'I don't want to talk about it.' She cut him off brutally. She didn't want to be reminded of a relationship that could only bear comparison to a natural disaster. 'What about you?' she asked, trying to escape bad memories.
He wondered whether he should mention the string of meaningless one-night stands, the two-week debacle with a law student, the one-week debacle with her tutor. 'No-one important,' he settled on. 'No-one that mattered.'
'Oh,' said Kitty, and reached a shaking hand for the glass that stood beside her. She drained half of it and the shock of the alcohol hitting the back of her throat made her wince.
The sound of the gulp behind her, and the clink of the Scotch bottle hitting the rim of a glass made her wince even more. This bottle wasn't going to be demolished slowly any more.
~You never even saw him,~ thought Pete. ~You left me for him, the promise of him, the youth and bright bouncy bloody freshness of him and you didn't even bother to see him afterwards. Christ, Pryde, why not rip a guy's heart out and leave him bleeding just for the hell of it next time?~
~No-one that mattered,~ thought Kitty. ~No-one ever mattered to you, Pete. No-one but me. You let down your defences and let me in and I used what you gave me to make you suffer. Oh, Pete, I'm so sorry.~
She kept her eyes firmly on the screen in front of her, so he never saw the tears that brimmed within her eyes.
And because she didn't turn around, she never saw the tears that glimmered in his.
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