Years ago, it seemed a simpler time back then. The choices clearer, the consequences more easily determined. Although they have been together a fair while, and gone through quite a gamut of adventures, the X-Men are still learning about one another, their characters, their history, their capabilities. True, they had their share of victories, in some cases against considerable odds. But the death of Jean Grey not so long ago, like that of Thunderbird before her, is a constant reminder of the ultimate price that could be demanded of them. Logan is determined there not be another.
The Adirondack Mountains: ‘Have any trouble finding the place, Elf?’ Wolverine a.k.a. Logan asks his friend and teammate Kurt “Nightcrawler” Wagner. ‘You left a good trail, my friend’ Kurt replies from where he is perched in a tree above Wolverine. He asks his friend why the summons, and Logan explains that he has been watching the youngsters and that he figures it is time to see if they are up to snuff. Kurt back flips out of the tree and replies: ‘No offense, Logan, but I’m just as much a “youngster” as Piotr’. Logan tells Kurt that he is young in body, but old in spirit. ‘Today’s about him. You’ll get yours later’ Logan adds. Kurt frowns and asks why that makes him feel very nervous. ‘Haven’t a clue’ Logan grins.
Kurt asks Logan what he has in mind. Logan explains that he is setting up a challenge for Petey. Suddenly, Ororo “Storm” Munroe drops down from above, ‘Against the Hulk? Logan, is that wise?’ she asks her friend. Logan points out that it is a more real test than going at it in the Danger Room, and adds that Colossus won’t hurt the Hulk, and he doubts that the Hulk will even dent Petey’s armor. Kurt frowns and tells Wolverine that whatever happens, they cannot put their friend in danger. ‘Kinda late for that, don’cha think?’ Wolverine points out. ‘Logan, I think we need to remind Kurt of who we are - by donning our uniforms as X-Men…we have chosen to place our lives at risk’ Storm declares. ‘All the more reason to think before we act’ Nightcrawler remarks, adding that in the case of Piotr, he agrees with both of them - ‘I am far more worried about him hurting his adversary’.
‘Trust me, Elf, that’ll be the day’ Wolverine remarks. Storm smiles and tells Wolverine that she will take that bet. ‘Consider that part of the test - to see how well we all cope. But I figure we’ll tag along, to keep a watchful eye on things’ Wolverine smiles back. Storm asks how they get started, and Wolverine announces that that little detail, he has already set in motion.
Elsewhere in the vast expanse of the Adirondack Mountains, Piotr “Colossus” Rasputin, in his armored form, has come to a stop, atop a ridge, looking out over more hills, forest and a river, gleaming under the sun. Most people think of New York in terms of the city. What they forget is that a fairly short drive north, a couple of hours, max, can put you deep into a mountain wilderness, mile after mile of virgin forest, where casual human contact is as rare today as it was when this part of the continent was still the frontier. For Colossus, this country is unlike any he has known. Back in Russia, home for him was the Ust-Ordynski Collective, still named as if it was in the Soviet era, richly productive farmland that stayed relatively flat for as far as the eye could see. Perhaps that is why two of the things he has come to love the most since joining the X-Men are access to the ocean and to these mountains.
Out here on his own, literally miles from “anywhere” he can hike in his armored for, which gives him more speed, more strength, more endurance. There is so much to see and he wants to reach out to it all. His swimming still leaves something to be desired, but hiking through this seemingly never-ending wilderness is a delight he never tires of, and it provides an opportunity to exercise his drawing hand - and to think. He sits down in some long grass and starts to sketch as he sees a mother grizzly bear playing with her two cubs. ‘It seemed like such a simple question, when Professor Xavier asked me to join the X-Men. Such an easy choice to make. Since then, I have seen - and done - so much. We X-Men stand in defense of the world. But is that all I will ever be -?’ Colossus thinks to himself, when suddenly, ‘I do not believe this’ he calls out, as he shifts to his human form, smiles and waves at someone approaching him.
‘Kitty! What are you two doing here?’ Piotr smiles at Kitty Pryde a.k.a. Ariel and her pet dragon, Lockheed. With a backpack over her shoulders, Kitty tells Piotr that they heard he was on a stroll through the woods and figured he would like some company. ‘Okay, so maybe I also wanted to show Lockheed the neighborhood. So sue me’ Kitty smiles, before asking Peter if he minds some company, and if they can tag along. Piotr asks Kitty if the question should be “can we keep up”, and calling her “Katya” assures her that he meant that as a joke. ‘Come on along’ he tells her, so Kitty sets out alongside Piotr, her form dwarfed by his, even if he isn’t carrying a large pack on his back. Examining her surroundings as Lockheed flies alongside, Kitty tells Piotr that this is so different from back home outside Chicago. Piotr replies that, in that, they are very much alike - explaining that the Steppes surrounding the Ust-Ordynski Collective are very much like the Great Plains, except, of course, they don’t have the Cubs.
‘Don’t you dare make fun! One day, buster, mark my words, my hometown team’ll win!’ Kitty declares. ‘It’s good to dream’ Piotr replies. The two of them have perhaps a moment for their laughter, then it seems like the world comes crashing down upon their young heads. Of course it isn’t really the world. It’s actually something far more dangerous. Or rather, someone. His real name is Robert Bruce Banner. But most people in the world know of this green-skinned behemoth only as the Incredible Hulk. Colossus slams into the ground, and Kitty phases just in time, while Lockheed is tossed about in the air as the massive Hulk drops down onto them.
Colossus, taken by surprise, hammered by the giant’s arrival, drops his backpack and gets to his feet, quickly shifting to his armored form, His reaction is immediate and instinctive, as he moves forward and punches the Hulk in the face, believing this to be an unprovoked attack by a creature he knows of solely as a monster. Unfortunately, the Hulk only gets angry. The Hulk roars, and clenches his fists. ‘This is not good. All I’ve done is make him angry!’ Piotr realizes. Colossus ducks as the Hulk punches forward, ‘I do not want to let him hit me’ Piotr thinks to himself, before punching the Hulk in the stomach, realizing that the harder he hits his foe, the less he seems to notice. Suddenly, the Hulk manages to punch Colossus backwards, ‘OW!’ Colossus shouts, before quickly returning to punch the Hulk in the face, ‘I have never fought anyone like this’ he tells himself, while realizing that none of his punches seem to have any effect. He grabs the Hulk by the neck and lands some punches on his face, before shoving his elbow into the Hulk’s neck, he wonders if the creature has no weaknesses.
Colossus is about to elbow the Hulk again, but the Hulk grabs his arm. ‘This is so not good’ Piotr thinks to himself. ‘Puny tin man attacks Hulk’ the Hulk grumbles, before smacking Colossus through the air, sending him careening towards a boulder, which is shattered as Colossus slams into it. ‘Hulk will smash puny tin man!’ the Hulk booms.
Suddenly, Kitty appears over Colossus, ‘First things first, buster - the big guy’s organic steel, not tin!’ she exclaims, adding that she kinda likes him the way he is, although a few less kilos of mass right about now would definitely be appreciated, and as the Hulk lands before them, Kitty phases herself and Colossus part way into the ground. ‘Hulk does not fight girls!’ the Hulk booms, while Lockheed starts circling overhead, and Kitty calls out to her pet, asking him what he thinks he is doing, as the Hulk can’t hurt them while she is phasing. ‘What is little dragon doing?’ the Hulk asks, before Lockheed suddenly roars, and flames pour from his mouth down onto the Hulk.
The Hulk screams in agony. ‘It burns! It burns!’ he cries as he turns and rushes away, but in the process, the Hulk smacks Lockheed with his fist. Lockheed falls to the ground and Kitty and Colossus rush towards him. ‘Oh my God! That monster hit him so hard!’ Kitty cries out. Lockheed is lying so still, so she can’t tell if anything is broken. Tears streaming down her face, Kitty touches Lockheed, ‘C’mon, little dragon, open your eyes, give me a sign you’re okay!’ Kitty pleads. ‘Professor X - why aren’t you there? I’m mentally telling as loud as I can - why won’t you answer my mayday, we need help!’ Kitty exclaims.
Colossus puts a hand on Kitty, while thinking to himself that all he has learned, all his skill, and that monster took him down with a single slap. He decides that he is no good to Katya here, and tells her to stay with her dragon. ‘I’ll be back’ Colossus assures her as he takes off.
Nightcrawler, Storm and Wolverine are high up in a tree, and Nightcrawler reports that they are in a “cellular dead zone”, that he is unable to contact the Professor. ‘Do you think I should teleport -’ he begins, but Wolverine tells him that this is the world they choose to live in, and asks whether he thinks any of their enemies will play any nicer. ‘The Brood damn near killed us all, remember?’ Wolverine tells his friends. ‘Logan, she’s a child!’ Storm declares as she starts to take flighty. ‘She’s an X-Man, ‘Ro. By her own choice!’ Wolverine replies. ‘So am I - and I choose to go to her aid’ Storm announces. ‘What about us, Logan?’ Kurt asks. Logan tells him that they will go check up on Colossus.
Rushing through the forest, Colossus wonders if he should call in help, but worries that the Hulk might attack someone else or escape, before help gets here. He realizes that the problem is that he does not know very much about the Hulk, except that he is not a mutant, and he is incredibly strong. ‘More so I think even than me’. He notices something up ahead, and realizes that it is the Hulk, that he hasn’t gone far at all. Colossus thought he would have to follow the Hulk for miles, but as the Hulk is kneeling at the river, putting water over his body, Colossus realizes that Lockheed’s fire must have hurt him. Deciding that the Hulk looks so disorientated and weak, Colossus doesn’t think he can go through with defeating him, but realizes he will never have a better chance to finish this, and lunges at him, both men topple into the water.
The Hulk stands up and looms over Colossus, who realizes that perhaps the Hulk is not as weak as he thought, as he is reacting fast. However, his moves all seem instinctive, and Colossus dodges a punch, deciding that the Hulk’s strength is so great that he needs no finesse. Colossus tells himself to use the skills that he has been taught by Wolverine, Nightcrawler and Storm, for perhaps that will make a difference. He drops down and kicks out a leg, tripping the Hulk up, causing him to fall over with a huge splash. ‘Use your assets, they tell me - take the terrain… combine it with your skill…and your strength…not simply how to hit your adversary, but how hard’ Piotr thinks to himself as kicks the Hulk in the chest when the Hulk attempts to get up, falling back, creating another huge splash.
The Hulk is stunned, and Colossus starts to drag him up, grabbing the Hulk by his legs, Colossus knows that what matters most is keeping up the pressure, and he starts to swing the Hulk around and around, ‘I cannot give him even an instant to recover’ Piotr thinks to himself as he releases the Hulk, sending him flying backwards through the air, crashing into a cliff-face nearby. ‘Have I done enough? Is the creature beaten?’ Colossus wonders as he rushes over to check. ‘Is this battle over? Looking at him now, I suddenly wonder - is this a battle that should have even started?’ Colossus wonders, looking upon the motionless Hulk, his body embedded into the rocks. Piotr asks himself if the Hulk really attacked them, or if the threat was solely in his mind. ‘The product of my own fears, and insecurities, my need to prove myself?’
Colossus tells himself that he was running solely on instinct, but wonders what if his instinct was wrong. Suddenly, the Hulk opens his eyes, ‘Did puny human think a few punches would finish Hulk? Bet now, puny human will have to think again!’ the Hulk roars, before punching Colossus into the air. ‘Will I never learn? I slacken my guard for an instant - and see what happens?’ Colossus tells himself that things just go from bad to worse, as he lands not in mud, but in quicksand. He swiftly moves his body so that his head is above the quicksand, but he is still sinking. Colossus switches to his human form, and sees that the Hulk looms over him. ‘Has he come to gloat- or just watch me die?’ Colossus wonders, while telling the Hulk to stay back, as the ground here is not safe.
‘I bet that confused him. Serves me right, what’s happening to me. I attacked Hulk without thinking’ Piotr tells himself. ‘This is the least I can do… to try to make amends’. He is almost consumed by the quicksand and decides that it is time to take his last breath. His head is gone, and with his body now completely submerged, thinks that he should switch to his Colossus form, the weight can pull him down, and once he reaches the bottom, can try to dig through the solid ground to make his way back to open air. ‘By then, with luck, the Hulk should be -’ Colossus thinks to himself, before realizing that something is happening, someone has grabbed hold of him - and indeed, a green arm reaches down into the quicksand, and the Hulk pulls Colossus free. ‘He’s coming to my rescue!’ Piotr tells himself.
The Hulk drops Colossus to the ground, and Piotr asks himself ‘What have I done? I call myself an X-Man, yet I violate one of our most fundamental rules - think before you act’. He admits that he jumped to conclusions, and that it almost brought about disaster. ‘It is the Hulk who is supposed to be brainless, what then is my excuse?’ He reminds himself of the line he always hears: “With great power, comes great responsibility”. He knows that one careless mistake can have unimaginable consequences, and turns to the Hulk, seeing that something is happening to him - the Hulk reverts to his human form, Dr Bruce Banner. ‘Can one good deed perhaps inspire another? From such a beginning, who knows what might come’ Piotr thinks to himself, smiling, he and Bruce shake hands, as Bruce introduces himself and asks Piotr if he is okay.
‘Ororo - there they are!’ Kitty calls out as she, Storm and Lockheed arrive on scene. ‘Will you look at that - they’re both in human form!’ Storm points out, while Piotr looks at his friends, admitting that he had forgotten they would most likely follow his trail. Colossus shifts to his steel form and holds a hand out, ‘My friends, please hear me out - the Hulk is no threat - he is a man!’ Colossus declares. Lockheed prepares to release more fire, while Kitty holds him, and tells Colossus that it is easy for him to say, as he didn’t see the poor dragon’s bumps and bruises. Kitty then tells Lockheed to scale back the fireworks. ‘Trust me, tovarish, Banner has his share as well. But he has no friends to offer sympathy and care’ Piotr tells his friends. He turns to Banner and tells him that he is sorry for all that has happened.
Colossus continues, informing Banner that his friends and he carry food in their packs. ‘Perhaps you would care to share a meal with us? And take some rest?’ he offers. ‘That, my friends, is the best offer I’ve had all day’ Bruce smiles as Wolverine and Nightcrawler arrive.
And so, after a pleasant night, Bruce and Colossus shake hands, as Bruce sets off into the sunrise. ‘Peter, you gave him your pack, all your clothes and stuff’ Kitty points out. ‘He needs them more than I, Katya’ Piotr tells her. ‘And if he has to change into the Hulk? What then?’ Kitty asks. ‘Perhaps he can take them with him. At least it’s a start’ Colossus tells her. He asks ‘Just because we all possess super-powers, does that mean we always have to use them? Sometimes, Katya, the thing we have to learn is when to turn away from violence’. He tells Kitty to think about it a moment, and asks her if when he is seen as Colossus, whether she, and other people, judge him by his face or by his deeds. ‘How do you judge yourself - really?’ Colossus asks.
He smiles at his friends and tells everyone that they have to try to be better than that, otherwise, why else are they here, among the X-Men? Nightcrawler tells Storm that Colossus makes a very good point. Storm replies that she suspects that is very much why Logan set this up - to allow Piotr the opportunity to come to such realization himself. ‘Both men, I suspect, did very well’ Storm adds, while Nightcrawler holds up some cash and remarks that Logan lost the bet. ‘He merely lost money, Kurt’ Storm explains, adding that Logan is now explaining it to them. Kurt looks and sees Logan talking to Colossus and Kitty, and observes that Colossus is taking it well, but that Kitty doesn’t look at all pleased.
‘Logan knew the risk’ Storm reminds Kurt, adding that as far as this confrontation is concerned between the X-Men and the Hulk, in terms of how their youngsters behaved and how it ended, she actually believes that in all the ways that truly matter, Logan won. They see Colossus crouches down and talk to Kitty, then Kitty leaps into the air as Colossus spins around and punches Wolverine to the ground. Logan sits up and rubs his head, while Colossus reaches down to help him up, and Storm smiles at a frowning Nightcrawler, who hands her his cash.