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Alhazred - [email protected] - www.almasymarquis.com/~stairway

X-Men and all related material are © Marvel.

Smack.

"Put your back into it."

Smack.

"No really, I'm serious. Use your shoulders more."

Thud, thud.

"Better," Mystique said, relaxing her posture and putting her arms down, the pads on her hands going with them. "I think it's safe to say you're getting more agile than strong. We'll build on that."

Pyro chuckled amid trying to catch his breath, but Mystique hadn't broken a sweat. Of course, she could very well have shape-shifted her pores closed, but that was a train of thought Pyro was too tired to pursue. Mystique hadn't been kidding when she said she'd teach him how to fight.

So far, it was more painful than being smacked around by that pickpocket he'd run after a week or so ago. Not to mention the biblical level of awkwardness brought on by being taught who-knew-what kind of martial arts by a blue naked woman. And having to borrow workout clothes from Toad, because Sabretooth was just not his size.

"I dunno, I'd like 'strong' better," Pyro grabbed a towel, "there's a guy I knew at Xavier's, he turns into metal. He pokes you and you fall."

He turned to sit down until his breathing returned to normal, and as soon as his eyes were away, Mystique pounced.

Before Pyro could look at her again, she grabbed his arm, twisted it up and to his back, and yanked it down to get the leverage to jump over him. Still holding on, Mystique pulled Pyro over her shoulder, letting him crash unceremoniously to the ground. As he finally had it in his right mind to react, she put his weight on him and yanked the same arm around in an extraordinarily unnatural fashion, pulling farther until he cried out. She smiled. "I move, and you fall. If you're not 'strong,' you're fast enough to make everything count."

"Uh-huh," Pyro nodded, message received. She was still in the process of breaking his arm in two and he really wanted her to stop doing it. In fact, Pyro wanted her to just plain get off of him.

"Your wall moves have been improving well over the last few days," she added, "you'd be surprised how many people don't learn that so easily."

Pyro noted, however, that she was not letting him go. "I fell on my ass four times out of five-ow."

Pyro's situation hadn't improved when the door opened, Magneto walking in without having touched it. "Now, Raven, don't maim him yet."

"Aw," she mock-pouted, finally letting go. Pyro collapsed the rest of the way to the floor, and he knew Mystique found it amusing that he was back at square one, trying to breath.

Magneto offered him a hand up - one he graciously took - along with the words; "I've said it before, St. John. She's good."

"Uh-huh," Pyro said once more, still recovering from the shock.

"And I certainly never learned this," Magneto smiled, a bit sad despite his penchant for disturbing Mystique-related innuendo invading the conversation.

Pyro grabbed his towel once more and finally wiped the sweat from his face, following Magneto and Mystique to the rec room out of curiosity. Sabretooth and Toad were already sitting in front of the TV, their attention focused on the large screen television and the current news on CNN. He started following the news anchor in mid-sentence. "...still our top story is news of the formation of the first organized anti-mutant protest group. Dubbed the 'Friends of Humanity' by Chairman Graydon Creed, parts of the first official meeting were recorded earlier..."

The shot cut to a purposely-timed spot in said recording. Graydon Creed stood at a podium in the meeting hall he'd booked for his followers.

Watching without paying attention, Pyro knew everything that was being said. It was the same old rhetoric; the same old prejudices...the same things mutants had heard a thousand times over.

At least, it was all the same until Sabretooth threw the remote at the television so hard the screen exploded in a shower of glass, sparks, and that noise TVs tend to make when they break.

"Sabretooth, not again," Magneto sighed. "Mystique, in light of these events, perhaps you should leave tonight instead of tomorrow?"

Mystique was already looking at herself in the mirror, seeing Senator Edward Kelly stare back. Shape-changing her suit's tie to a different color, she gave herself a once-over. "Yes, I think there's going to be a need for a public voice of reason. Toad, coming?"

"Ribbit," Toad actually spoke the word, hopping off of the couch to follow her.

Magneto sat back, contemplating something; Pyro felt strangely out of the loop. He watched as Magneto stood up and walked off, the luster and dignity of his presence no longer there.

Sabretooth, meanwhile, was busy wheeling the spare television out of the closet. "Bad day for him."

Pyro knew that Sabretooth never talked much. He'd learned that just from being attacked by him which, if Pyro thought about it, now felt a little like a hazing ritual. It was creepy. But then, Sabretooth liked being creepy.

~~~

An hour later, after Pyro had taken a shower and reverted back to a state of not wearing Toad's clothes, Magneto was still in the same place he had walked off to.

Of course, Pyro had only found this out by asking Sabretooth where their fearless leader had gone off in the first place. And Sabretooth had added the extra information of his own volition.

Magneto had never shown him this chamber. Looking around, Pyro was reminded vaguely of Cerebro. The caves were rounded at the top before giving way to sky, and though the walkway sat on top of flowing water near a waterfall at the edge of the island itself, it ended in a massive platform of some kind at the end. This one, however, looked strangely empty.

Magneto sat in a metal chair around the center between the door and the platform, lost in thought. One leg was crossed over the other knee, his face resting in one hand...and Pyro didn't doubt he could hear the lighter in his own hand flicking back and fourth, on and off.

Not moving otherwise, Magneto said, "Curious, St. John?"

"A little." Pyro flicked his lighter closed. He wasn't sure if Magneto thought he was curious about the chamber or about something else.

"Hmm," Magneto chuckled, shaking his head in amusement, "you young people. Us old folk can never have a moment to mope without you noticing, eh?"

"Not really," Pyro answered. He sat down cross-legged on the walkway, next to Magneto's chair, staring at the pedestal. "What was here?"

"The machine."

The answer had been simple and nondescript, but Pyro didn't need to guess what machine. He wondered if Magneto was testing him every time the subject of his friends came up. Especially Rogue. Wondering if the new recruit would run back to Xavier at the reminder that his new family did not-nice things to achieve their goals.

Pyro never budged. "Y'know...I think...she forgave you for that."

He didn't know why he'd said that; he doubted Magneto particularly cared.

"Really," Magneto replied, knowing full well who they were talking about. Pyro thought he could see one of his eyebrows raise even from the floor. "She shouldn't have. I imagine she couldn't forget quite as easily as she usually does after touching someone else."

"I remember looking at her for the next few days, she had Wolverine in her head before and it was like...she pitied him," Pyro said. "Knowing what she saw was all he could see, too. With you, it was different. She just turned really quiet for awhile...then her boyfriend said something not nice about you and she told him not to be angry with you. Just like that, nothing else. The next day she acted like everything was back to normal again; when we asked her about it, she said she hadn't forgotten, she'd just 'understood.' Today's the day you were taken, wasn't it?"

The last part caught Magneto as off guard as he was ever caught these days. "Did she tell you that?"

Pyro smiled a little. "No, but I figured you wouldn't be so bummed out if it was the day the Allies came."

"Quite right, my boy," Magneto laughed. "Actually close. Today was the day we arrived after being taken. At least, I think there was about a day's difference between the two...but arrival was worse for children. Most of us, myself included, didn't realize why we were being culled out from the older parents at Birkenau until we wondered why they never came out of the 'showers,' before we were registered, numbered and sent on to Auschwitz; you could say it was just across the street. They were really the same place anyway."

At this, Pyro stopped talking. He didn't feel he had any right at all to even discuss this and he didn't want to bullshit either of them into thinking he could possibly sympathize, despite the simple fact of being a mutant, of being a persecuted minority himself.

He didn't want to know how long it had taken Magneto to get to the point where he could talk about these things with a straight face, either. He could still hear the pain of it in his voice.

It was almost funny; Pyro could remember, during the days when he still passed as normal, being at public school and watching other students laugh at World War II history lessons.

Pyro had known what he was even then. At the time, it had been saddening to know that this was what people were like, what they would be like towards him if anyone found out his secret. Looking back, it merely made him angry.

And then at Xavier's, the students actually took it seriously. Apparently all it took was a persecuted minority to understand a persecuted minority after all. Maybe he knew more than he thought. Pyro swallowed hard. "Can I see it?"

Magneto was wearing a short-sleeve shirt, and his gloves didn't go far enough to cover it. Pyro could've simply looked if he'd wanted, yet it didn't seem right to just stare.

But Magneto didn't mind, twisting his arm around so Pyro didn't have to get up, and Pyro found himself staring at the fading numbers, upside-down from where he sat on the floor and from how Magneto had turned his arm.

"Why did you come with me, Pyro?"

Now it was Pyro's turn to be surprised. Looking away from the number, he said, "You never asked me that before."

"Because I already know the answer," Magneto said. "But I wonder if you know."

And Pyro realized...he'd never really thought about how to explain it before. "Because...it felt right."

For better or for worse, Magneto didn't comment on that. "I had it worse off than most. I had made a spectacle of myself by nearly tearing down a fence before I knew what I could do. When a certain doctor took 'personal interest' in me and made it clear to his subordinates I wasn't to be harmed, it probably saved my life. And to this day it's haunting to know I could've stopped it all if only I'd understood what I was. Can you hold flame, St. John?"

Surprised again, Pyro flicked his lighter on. "Yeah. It burns if I hold too tight, though."

Just to prove it, he took the flame into his other hand and let it rest on his palm, clearly sitting on his skin and not burning him in its current state. The problem with holding onto it, Pyro had discovered, was that flame almost had its own survival instinct and would turn even on its master to get air. The passion in fire made it all the more beautiful as far as he was concerned.

Standing, Magneto stared at the short pedestal, all that remained of his last great idea. "Burn it down."

"What?" Pyro blinked.

"Make a chain. Melt through the metal and bring it down," Magneto said. "Pull it with your hands."

Pyro stood and walked in front of Magneto, still resting the fire in his palm. He tipped it out of his hand like water and formed it into links, dozens in seconds as the chain grew longer.

Once it was long enough, Pyro grabbed it lightly in both hands between his thumbs and forefingers and flung it up, manipulating the chain to wrap around the pedestal. Melting through it wouldn't be as difficult as it appeared, since it was hollow in the middle and wasn't an entirely solid shape to begin with.

He pulled; the chain tightened, but it wasn't nearly enough.

"Burn it, Pyro," Magneto's voice sounded from behind him. "Now."

"No joy, or pain," Pyro mumbled. He wrapped his hands around the chain, not quite tight enough to smother it, but tight enough to pull harder. The metal started to scorch and warp under the flames; it was a start.

Pyro held on tighter. He flung the chain over his back for more leverage, squeezed the links in his fist as hard as he could, and backed up. He could feel the flames burning his hands and trying to escape but he didn't let go.

He turned so the chain stayed wrapped around his waist and pushed forward, pulling as hard as he could and holding on for dear life. It hurt so much, it burned so much, but he didn't let go even when he could smell the scent of cooking meat from his hands.

And then the metal gave, and the chain melted clean through to the center in under a second.

Pyro fell and banged his knees when the resistance holding his weight vanished, but he managed to hold his hands up from hitting the floor even as the flames vanished. His hands were shaking, the palms burned black in a chain-link pattern, it hurt so much that he couldn't catch his breath, but he didn't care. He didn't care about the pain or the scars it would likely leave. He'd accomplished something he had no idea he could do five minutes ago and it was worth it.

It was worth it to know he could do something no one else could, and it was worth it to know that no one was going to take that away if he had anything to say about it; certainly not Hitler's number-one groupie, Graydon Creed.

"Why did you come with me, Pyro?"

Magneto bent down and wrapped a hand around Pyro's forearm to help him up. But Pyro had other ideas and he clamped his hand down on Magneto in the same way.

Magneto flinched; Pyro's hands were still hot, probably too much so. He was still shaking, and now, Magneto made no move.

But Pyro finally answered his question. "Because I don't want history to repeat itself. And I don't have to let it."

Magneto smiled. That was the simple truth of it, Pyro realized. He didn't have to let it. Wasn't Magneto the one who had called him a god? Gods didn't have to let anything happen.

Pyro stood with Magneto's help and let go; Magneto's skin had lightly burned, enough to sting a little for the next few days, right over his number. But he didn't seem to mind. "I want you to try something like this every so often. I think you'll find it will cause you less and less pain...and that you can do wondrous things you never dreamed of."

As if to demonstrate, Magneto raised a hand and slowly squeezed his fist together. Pyro looked back; the cut across the pedestal was reforming as Magneto manipulated the metal on the smallest scale possible. The top half was not only reattached by the time he was done, but the burns were gone and the entire thing was solid. "Come. Let's find ourselves some bandages."

Looking at his hands again, Pyro thought the marks made a better tattoo than a number.

~fin~

Refs:

The title is, if you haven't guessed, the number of Magneto's tattoo. I think. It was annoyingly faded and I'll promptly feel like an idiot if I saw it wrong.

"No joy, or pain" is from Lexx, spoken by a character representing the devil as he falls to Earth.