Thirty minutes later, the middle of Times Square…

Piotr had managed to wash off the majority of the ichor from fighting the monsters using a ruptured fire hydrant, but couldn’t shake off the impending feeling of dread. Television crews had caught images of his X-Men teaming up with the Future Foundation; Crystal conjuring a mini-tornado to sweep up the clutches of eggs that had been laid by the lizard creatures, whilst Sunfire set it aflame; himself, Juggernaut and the Thing decimating the larger beasts side-by-side; Flood and Mastermind keeping children calm while Arachnid and Torch kept the last of the kangaroo creatures away from them. It seemed only natural that they’d practically insisted on interviewing the X-Men along with the Future Foundation.

“Logan never warned me about this,” he muttered under his breath.

“Don’t over-think it,” grunted Ben. “Used to hate these things too. Kinda felt like a waste of time, y’know? Why’d anyone wanna know what’s goin’ through my head after I just clobbered a bunch of monsters?”

“I don’t understand it,” replied Piotr. “We saved lives, they see that on the news… that should be enough, da?”

“I getcha,” nodded Ben. His expression changed, becoming more solemn. “Y’know, Reed was my best buddy. Sure, he’s the one who was kinda responsible for me bein’ as attractive as I am now, but he was always my best buddy. He’d always handle these kinda things– talkin’ to people and makin’ nice for the camera. Now he’s… well. You know how it went down. You were there, right? You saw?”

“Da,” said Colossus softly. Seeing Reed Richards disintegrated by Iron Man before their very eyes or over and over again on the news or the internet – it wasn’t something anyone was likely to forget in a hurry.

“It broke us,” he continued. “It’s the part that your Joe Public ain’t allowed to see– they ain’t allowed to see us as bein’ anythin’ other than super-human. Anythin’ other than heroes. Suck it up and get on with it, right? Don’t matter that Reed died. Don’t matter that Sue’s a wreck and won’t leave the Baxter Building, that she won’t let the kids leave it, neither. Don’t matter that Johnny’s breath’s almost as flammable as him nowadays, or that the only two people we could get to round out the rest of the team are one of Johnny’s exes and a Spider-Man clone who was stuck in a Skrull spaceship for nearly four years. None of that matters, not to anyone ‘cept us. We might know the truth, might know how much we’re breakin’ apart right now, but you can never let them see that,” he said, gesturing towards the crowds of people assembled in Times Square, cheering for the people who saved them. Piotr repressed a smile as he saw Avalance offering autographs, and Flood and Arachnid posing for pictures together.

“That’s what you have to let ’em see,” said Ben softly. “If we fall apart, if we break, if we lose a fight– they see that. And it ain’t that they’ll stop lovin’ us;” he paused. “Well, the ‘us’ that ain’t mutants, anyway… but it’s that they’ll see that we’re just people after all. And that’d scare the bejesus outta them.”

“So, we go, we make nice for the cameras, put on a show for them,” nodded Piotr.

“Yup,” agreed Ben. “Wait ’til you get home before ya let that soul-destroyin’ darkness hit.”

“I never got the chance to say,” began Piotr. “About Reed. I didn’t know him well, but I’m deeply sorry for your loss. I know how it feels to lose a brother.” A small pang of guilt as a memory of Illyana sears its way through his mind, to accompany those of Mikhail. “And a sister.”

“Appreciated,” nodded Ben, looking away. He cleared his throat. “You good to go?”

“We should probably get this over and done with,” sighed Piotr, shifting to his flesh form. Ben looked him up and down.

“I get it,” he snorted. “The mutant wants to look more human than the non-mutant on TV? Never had ya pegged as the vain type, Russkie.”

“What, no,” exclaimed Piotr. “I meant no offence by–”

“Relax, ya mook,” grinned Ben. “I’m messin’ wit’ ya. If I could switch back an’ forth from this to looking like that,” he said waving a hand towards Colossus. “I’d do it for the cameras. Besides, ‘least I know that you ain’t got the personality to back up your CK model looks. An’ personality’s what the ladies go for.”

“I don’t doubt that for a moment,” laughed Colossus.

“Also, you’re a Communist, so really all ya got goin’ for ya is your looks…” continued Ben.

“I’m starting to regret stopping that monster from charging you into the side of a building now,” sighed Colossus.

“I get that a lot,” smirked Ben.

The duo approached the camera crews. Piotr glanced at Ben and saw that he was smiling widely as he waved to the crowds of people cheering them on. He followed suit, hoping that his smile seemed genuine– after all, despite everything that he had seen in his career as a hero, adoring fans and applause was something of a novelty to him. He was far more used to having to make a hasty retreat while avoiding projectiles thrown by mutant-haters, even though they’d just saved their lives. I suppose this was to be expected now that the world knows that a mutant was responsible for stopping the leader of the Skrull invasion, he thought. Still, the crowd made him feel nervous. He kept glancing over at his team; Juggernaut was righting a toppled van in order to clear the road, whilst Regan was standing with Crystal. He had to suppress his feelings of amusement as he watched a teenage girl embrace Regan, seeing her momentary confusion before plastering a clearly fake smile across her face and awkwardly patting the girl on the back. He was about to turn away before he noticed her eyes glaze over for a second. She gingerly placed her hand to her left temple, before shaking it off. She made eye-contact with him briefly.

Later, okay?” she said to him telepathically. He nodded, before returning his attention to the gathered press. He felt a small amount of nerves lifted as he recognised a familiar face in the crowd of reporters– Trish Tilby, former girlfriend of his ex team-mate, Beast.

“Thing, Colossus!” called out Trish, extending her microphone. “Is it true that the X-Men and Future Foundation are merging to form a new super-team?”

“Hope you’re ready for this,” muttered Ben through his smile.

“Probably not,” replied Colossus.

“Well, time to lose your interview virginity,” he said, before turning his attention towards the reporters.