Body and Soul I: The Body Snatcher

Chapter 1: The Fall of the Tower

I wore the clothes you wanted
I took your name
If there is some confusion,
who's to blame?

I sequenced your arrival
I sealed your fate
I pushed the button
and erased your master tape

If there is some confusion
who's to blame?
-REM, "I Took Your Name"

For him, standing on a street corner in the middle of a big city was rather akin to a normal person walking into a stadium full of cheering, screaming fans, all yelling something different, usually at the top of their lungs. The magnetic fields around him were a cacophony composed of car engines and traffic light switches and electrical wires and radio/TV waves cauterizing the air, howling in his head. He could stand New York City, he could stand Paris, and that was about it- the cultural opportunities both afforded compensated for how irritating he found cities in general. Philadelphia, however, was probably fairly high on the list of least pleasant cities to spend his time in. What passed for culture here was provincial American glorification of their ridiculously recent past. In general, he preferred Americans when they didn't try to pretend they had a past... fortunate, since in his work, he had to deal with a lot of Americans, and most of them were completely myopic about history. Not an endearing trait, that, but better than their patriotic glossing over of the genocides they'd committed and the assassinations they'd caused, the litany of their crimes. It wasn't as if the Americans were actually any worse than any other nation, of course, but they were so damned self-righteous about it.

Whereas you, of course, haven't a single self-righteous bone in your body.

He smiled thinly, recognizing the hypocrisy. But then, he didn't pretend to be anything other than he was- a terrorist fighting for the freedom and security of his particular minority. A freedom fighter by any other name. History would decide whether he was a visionary or a madman on the basis of whether or not he won.

And right now, whether or not he won probably depended on how well he prepared for the inevitable battle, which was what he was doing in Philadelphia in the first place. His supplier- an import/export company dealing in bulk foods, a very discreet business that had so far never asked him why he wanted enough food to stock a small city- had moved to Philadelphia because the superhero insurance was a lot lower. Ironic, that, considering that one of their biggest customers was a wanted supercriminal who might well accidentally draw a battle down onto them simply by standing in their office. But then, the world thought he was dead, so Magneto considered the chance of this happening to be reasonably slight. The meeting had gone well, the next shipment of food to his staging ground in the Pacific had been arranged, and now all he had to do was get out of this accursed city without attracting the attention of Cerebro, 140 miles to the north. It wouldn't do for Charles to know Magneto lived, yet. Mostly because he was still too weak from his fall from the heavens to withstand a battle with the X-Men, and after the catastrophe their last meeting had turned into, he knew that no matter how reasonable his words, however sensible his beliefs, the X-Men would still attack him, simply for being alive and for not kowtowing to almighty Charles' vision of ideal human/mutant relations.

So he stood on a street corner, impatiently waiting for the light to turn, though he was perfectly capable of reaching out with his power and throwing the switch himself, because any use of his power this close to Cerebro would probably be rather like sending Charles an engraved invitation. That, and he felt like a bull in a china closet here. Cities were such delicate things, to one who perturbed magnetic fields simply by existing. A simple use of his power to change a traffic light here might send a flux through nearby power lines that might electrocute innocent people, and he was still trying to avoid hurting the innocent. He might have to kill civilians in his war for a mutant homeland, but he considered it morally imperative to make the casualties as low as possible. Certainly he didn't want anyone to die just because he wanted to cross the street in a hurry. Thus he held back, waiting.

Words didn't do justice to how much he hated cities.

As he waited, a young woman approached him, a frantic and distracted look to her face. "Excuse me, sir, can you tell me how to get to City Hall?"

He glanced at her. "I'm not a native of this city. You'd do better to ask someone else."

She looked around at all the people bustling past. "Are you sure? I mean, you don't have any idea at all?" she asked in a lost voice, as if she considered him her only hope.

As it happened, he did have some idea of what she was talking about. "I believe that you can take a subway there. Or no, I believe here they call it an elevated train. There are stops all along Market Street-" he pointed in the general direction of Market Street. "Cross over to that street and ask a native where the nearest El stop is. I don't recall the cost of the fare, but it's probably inexpensive, and there is a stop for City Hall, I believe." He didn't take subways himself- taxis were considerably more anonymous, and rented cars better still, for one who considered money no object- but he tried to know as much as he could about the rapid transit systems of any given city he visited, as he could cause serious damage by using his powers too near a subway's third rail if he didn't compensate for it. And also because, in general, he liked to know his way around. It wasn't inconceivable that he'd have to hide from pursuers in a subway. Certainly preferable to hiding from them on a boat, something he actually had done and regretted every minute of.

She smiled broadly. "Thank you," she said effusively, and reached to clasp his hand. "Thank you so much-"

Startled, but not wishing to be rude, Magneto let her touch his hand. He didn't imagine for a moment she might be a threat, until the world exploded, and then it was far too late.

The first thing he noticed was that his head hurt worse than it had in twenty years, when the migraines he used to get had finally tapered off. The second thing he noticed was that he was in some kind of vehicle, being transported somewhere, and that he was leaning against something warm and large and human-shaped. And the third thing he noticed was that he didn't know where he was.

This was actually quite terrifying. Magneto's sense of the geomagnetic field ensured that no matter where he was, no matter what had been done to him, he always knew where he was. The talent was not always as useful as it could be- when he'd been kidnapped by the alien Stranger and taken to another planet, all his powers had been able to tell him was that he wasn't on Earth, which he'd known already. But even then, there wasn't this terrifying absence, this total blindness and numbness to the electromagnetic fields around him.

He tried to summon power. Nothing came. Not even pain, which usually accompanied unsuccessful attempts to invoke his magnetic abilities. It was as if his powers were simply gone. Even the passive ones- he hadn't been able to wield magnetism until past his 24th birthday, but he'd had an internal compass since he could walk far enough to get lost if he hadn't had one. Even under the effects of power suppressant fields, even when Zaladane had stripped him of almost everything he had, he had always had that. Now it was gone, and the surge of fear he felt gave him sufficient energy to open his eyes.

The light was blinding, additional agony to go with the pain in his head. Involuntarily, he moaned, shutting his eyes again and trying to lift his arm to block his eyes, so he could open them with better control of the light flow. But his body was sluggish and unresponsive.

"You're waking up already? I'm impressed."

The voice was strangely familiar. A man's voice, deep and resonant, with an American accent. He knew that voice. It was coming from right beside his ear, presumably from whoever he was leaning on. Magneto turned his head toward the sound- moving slowly, as any sudden movement made it feel as if his head was about to fall off- and cautiously opened his eyes again.

And stared at his own doppelganger, silhouetted in red afternoon sunlight.

Afternoon? It was early morning when I lost consciousness...

For a moment he floundered in confusion. Could he have managed to mistake afternoon for morning? Without his power to tell him what direction they were traveling, he couldn't know that reddening sun was setting instead of rising... but no, he didn't feel as if he'd been unconscious through an entire night and toward a new morning. And the sun had been higher and brighter when... whatever had happened had occurred. Had the woman attacked him? It was the only possibility, but then what was the significance of the man who looked just like him? Shapechanger, perhaps?

He felt a hand on his leg. It felt as if the hand was touching bare skin, though he 'd been wearing pants when he lost consciousness. "Well, I'm glad to see you waking up so promptly," the voice said, and now he knew where he'd heard it. It was exactly like his own, except that the speaker had an American accent and cadenced his words very differently than Magneto would have. Like a different person, speaking in his voice. Not a perfect doppelganger, then. "It hasn't been any real fun with you asleep."

The hand moved up his leg, stroking it. The sensation was irritating and overfamiliar. Magneto looked down, and stared stupidly at what he was seeing for several seconds, unable to process it. The hand on his leg was grotesquely huge, even though it looked just like his own. No, it wasn't huge. It was just bigger than it should be against his leg. His leg was too small, too thin, and shaped wrong. And the wrong color. It was still white, but with a more sallow tinge to it than his own extremely pink flesh. And why was he able to look directly at the flesh of his leg, anyway? Where were his pants? Whatever shirt he was wearing, it was too light, too cool-feeling to be his shirt, and there was something constricting around his chest, and his socks and shoes were gone, replaced with wooden clogs and bare skin, and instead of pants he seemed to be wearing something blue that bunched up around his waist and upper thighs and left all the rest of his legs bare. And the hand lying limply beside his leg was far too small, and...

He looked back up at the doppelganger. "Who... are you?" he forced out, past a dry and hoarse throat- and froze in shock. The voice speaking those words was cadenced as his own was, did have his own accent- but it wasn't his voice. It was a woman's.

"Isn't it obvious?" the doppelganger said, and smiled broadly, an expression that would never have made its home on Magneto's face. "I'm the Master of Magnetism. And you... are nobody."

Suddenly he knew what had happened. Painfully he looked down at the hands that probably belonged to him, focusing on trying to move them. They twitched, proving his theory. Delicate female hands; the strong masculine hand that should have been his and wasn't was still running up and down the leg that shouldn't have been his and was.

"My... body..." he said hoarsely. "You... took..."

"You are quick on the uptake," the other said. "Yes, I took your body. And a lovely body it is, too. Why, I can control almost every aspect of this car without even having to think about it hard. We ran out of gas two hours back, and it just doesn't matter."

Car. Yes, that fit. The ride was too smooth, too quiet to be a train or plane. He was in a car, in the back seat, sitting next to the body snatcher, leaning on her in fact since he didn't seem to have the strength to support his own weight. It was a taxicab. He could see someone in the front seat, driving the car. But that didn't make sense; she had said she was controlling the car, with the powers she'd stolen from him when she took his body and left him in hers. Did she leave him in hers? That made sense; he hadn't been able to see what this body looked like very well, but the blue thing bunched around his waist could very well be the denim skirt the young woman on the street had worn. Of course, there were no guarantees that that had been her real body, either. She might be serially jumping from body to body, dumping her new victims into the bodies she'd just vacated.


"Oh, you're concerned for the driver? Don't be. He's quite beyond your concern." She smiled cruelly at him. "If I were you, I'd be more worried about what I'm going to do to you."

His head hurt so much, and he was starting to feel nauseous. He really was in no condition to deal with this. Not that it mattered. "Taking me... where?"

"Someplace safe. Someplace far removed from civilization, where no one's likely to come investigate." She grinned again.

This was not promising. "I've... allies... find me... stop you..." A lie. His Acolytes were all dead, murdered by Cortez's manipulations and his own blind foolishness in succumbing to them. He still didn't fully understand why he had lived, why once again he'd been the sole survivor. But he had vowed not to let anyone else flock to his banner until he was prepared, until he had once again raised Asteroid M and made all the necessary provisions for its inhabitants' safety. Right now, he had no allies, no one who would notice if he lived or died. Most of the world thought him dead already. He hoped, though, that perhaps the lie would give her pause.

"I doubt it," she said cheerily. "If they come looking for you, what they'll find is me. And I'll seem to them to be you. I don't think any of your allies would be overly concerned about one human woman, now would they?"

"I... will stop... you..."

"I'm sure you will. One fragile, feeble, powerless female against the Master of Magnetism. I'm already trembling with fear."

Her voice- his voice, her tone- was amused, as if he were so little threat to her that his posturing couldn't even make her angry or defensive. Which, in his current condition, was very likely the case. Magneto cursed the impulse that had let the woman touch him. Lost his edge, not paranoid enough by far. He should at least have thrown up a biomagnetic shield. But the damage Cortez had done him had weakened him enough to make such subtle operations difficult, and who expected a slightly pudgy, ordinary girl with mousy hair, asking for directions on a Philadelphia street, to be a threat? Stupid, stupid. He'd been in this business long enough to know better. Never let down your guard. Well, he wouldn't make that mistake again, if he survived this.

The car, which had been making its way up a pebbly dirt trail through forest, now came to a rest beside a small wooden house, nestled in a small clearing amongst the trees. "We're home. I suggest you take a good look at the outdoors while you still can. This is going to be the last breath of fresh air you get for a very, very long time."

She got out of the car. Frantically he tried to make his borrowed body work, fighting the pain and the sluggishness, trying to crawl away from the door. This didn't faze her in the slightest; she simply walked around the car, opened the other door, reached in, and pulled him out, using nothing more than his stolen body's physical strength. Weakly he tried to resist, but this body simply had no strength- he desperately hoped that was a temporary aftereffect of the transition, not a permanent state. She lifted him, and now he could see that the driver was dead, springs from within the seat driven into the back of his neck, holding him in place. Fury welled. The body snatcher had murdered an innocent with his powers. But there was nothing he could do- he hadn't the strength to escape her grip as she carried him into the house and down a flight of stairs into a basement.

"Your body is so magnificently strong. I can carry you with hardly any exertion at all," she gushed. "This is wonderful! Oh, I'm so glad I went into Philly yesterday. To think I'd have missed this opportunity!"

There was a bed in the basement, also a bathroom with no door. The body snatcher dumped Magneto on the bed. "You're still entirely too out of it," she said. "Take a nap, relax. The weakness you're feeling will pass. Then we'll begin the real fun."

She floated back up the stairs, chuckling gleefully. At the top of the stairs, he heard the door close and an iron bolt slide shut on its other side.


He didn't know how long he had before she came back, and he was fairly certain he didn't want to be around for it if at all possible. If he was going to escape, it would be best to do it now. He forced himself to sit up, kicking the wooden clogs this body was wearing off his feet. The world swayed dizzily, and the nausea increased severalfold. With a terrific effort of will, he forced himself not to throw up right there, and tried to stagger off the bed, heading for the washroom. He was too dizzy to stay upright, though, and fell to hands and knees as soon as he was off the bed. The skirt tangled around his knees as he tried to crawl; he had to keep stopping to pull it free, and every brief delay to do so made him think he wasn't going to reach the washroom in time. But he was practiced enough at fighting nausea that he did indeed make it to the toilet before finally letting this rebellious borrowed body have its way.

Even after he'd emptied the contents of his stomach, he was racked with dry heaves for a minute or two more. Eventually he got them to stop, and by leaning heavily on first the toilet and then the nearby sink, got himself upright. He stared at the mirror over the sink. It was the young woman who'd wanted directions, all right. Smallish, maybe 5 foot 4 at most, with thick, somewhat greasy light brown hair, shoulder length and straight. She had brown eyes, set slightly too close together, and a nose a little too big to be attractive, and she weighed a little too much- it showed in the puffy roundness of a face that should have been more like a triangle. Not a tremendously attractive girl, which made him think that this was her original body after all. Why would a body snatcher steal such an ordinary looking body? And if that was the case, that placed her age- this body was somewhere between 23 and 27, he was fairly sure. So the body snatcher was young, possibly inexperienced. Advantages for him. He needed all that he could get.

When he tried to drink some water, to compensate for what he'd just lost, his stomach rebelled again, and he retched. Obviously he couldn't put anything in his stomach now. He settled for rinsing his mouth out with the water without swallowing, to wash the taste of the vomit out of his mouth and fool his dry and acid-burned throat into thinking he'd drunk something.

Though much of the nausea had passed now that there was nothing left in his stomach, the headache had if anything gotten worse, and he still was too dizzy to stand unassisted. There were ways to deal with headaches. Close your eyes and let them unfocus under your lids. Rub your temples. Breathe evenly and deeply. None of it worked any better than it had the last few times he'd had truly severe headaches. Magneto opened his eyes, giving up on the attempt to conquer the migraine. He lurched from the sink to the doorjamb- the bathroom had once had a door, it had just been removed, apparently- and from there fell to the floor and crawled back to the bed, again wrestling with the skirt as he did so.

In this condition, it was unlikely he was going anywhere. Magneto scanned the room, looking for anything that might mean a weapon or a way to escape. The windows were the kind you found in basements- small, looking out just over the dirtline, and they were glazed with safety glass and barred. The bars were the sort to keep burglars out, not prisoners in, but the effect would be the same. No escape there. The top of the stairs might be possible, if he were stronger- the door had been bolted, he'd heard that clearly, but perhaps he could break down the door, or smash a hole in it. But he'd only be able to do that if she left the house, as she'd certainly hear him trying to escape that way, and she'd probably think to reinforce the door with steel, given that she had his powers. He'd already seen there was no exit from the bathroom, so unless there was a hidden door someplace, he was not going to be able to escape anytime soon.

The question was, what would that cost him? The fact that she hadn't killed him immediately didn't mean she wouldn't kill him at all. Serial killers often kept their victims captive for hours, days or weeks before killing them. Which was it? If she was going to kill him quickly he had to keep struggling to find an escape route, regardless of how sick he felt and how little chance he had, because he couldn't simply give up and allow someone to kill him. On the other hand, if she was planning to keep him alive for some time, he could take the chance that there would be a better opportunity to escape later, when he was rested and this horrible sickness had worn off. Whatever she chose to do to him could be endured, as long as it didn't kill him.

He considered. If this was her original body, she might be reluctant to kill it, perhaps even unable. A fragile thread to hang his life on, but there was more. She had said he wouldn't be seeing the outside world again "for a very long time," implying that she intended to hold him captive for a very long time. If she had intended to kill him, it was most likely that she'd have said "ever."

To hell with it. He was probably rationalizing, trying to convince himself that she wasn't going to kill him so that he could excuse trying to sleep off the sickness. He really didn't have sufficient evidence one way or the other. But he couldn't escape right now. He was entirely too sick, and if he used one of the very few opportunities he'd be given to escape, in his current condition he'd just end up wasting it. If she intended to kill him, there was absolutely nothing he could do. He curled up on the bed and closed his eyes, trying to force himself to sleep despite the tension he felt. It was not that hard a thing to do- he'd become practiced at sleeping the night before battles, or sleeping the night before the Germans made their selections and condemned people to the gas chambers, when either way he might not live to see another sunset.

The sound of the door opening awakened him. He pulled himself into a sitting position, feeling considerably better, at least physically. The nausea and dizziness were gone, and his head only ached slightly, nothing he would ordinarily even take notice of. As she came down the stairs, he struggled with himself to remain calm, not to visibly clench his fists or position himself for a battle. It was very unlikely that there would be a battle, at least in the physical sense. Whatever she wanted to do to him would most likely occur, no matter what he tried to do about it. But it was all but impossible not to prepare himself to fight back.

She was carrying several steel cables as large loops. "I hope you're all rested up. I brought us some presents."

The cheerful, almost gleeful tone in what sounded so much like his own voice grated far more than the same tone from an unfamiliar voice would. "Why are you doing this?" he asked evenly. "I understand the motivation to steal my body well enough, but why not simply keep me captive? Or let me go, for that matter, since it's hardly likely I could do anything to force you to give me back what you took?" Another lie. He had several ideas as to how he might accomplish that, once he was free.

"No, that isn't how it works," the body snatcher said. "You've had power all your life. It's time for you to learn what it's like to be powerless."

He almost retorted that this was hardly a lesson he needed to learn, but bit it back. If she had somehow managed to miss the fact that he'd been a prisoner in the Nazi death camps when she'd learned whatever she had about him, he wasn't going to give her the satisfaction of knowing about it.

The steel cables moved suddenly, arrowing toward his limbs. Magneto leapt off the bed to avoid them, trying to get past her. He'd miscalculated his own strength, though, and landed short of where he'd meant to, still short of her. When he tried to dodge around her, she grabbed him.

Unlike a man born, the body snatcher was probably not trained to protect the more vulnerable points of a male body, and since she was still wearing his clothes in their civilian style, she was effectively unarmored. He drove his knee into her crotch. As she gasped and doubled over, Magneto bent, scooped up one of the wooden clogs he'd kicked off when he'd been first imprisoned, and struck her in the head as he straightened, hoping that the blow to her groin would prevent her from concentrating enough to protect herself from wood. She went to her knees. He hit her again, trying to use just enough strength to knock her out without damaging his body seriously, and she went down all the way. Magneto dropped the shoe and ran for the stairs, trying to leap up them three at a time to put as much distance between her and him as he could.

Unfortunately, he didn't know how to leap steps reliably in a long denim skirt. It went down to mid-calf, loose enough that it hadn't interfered with him running or kneeing her, but jumping three steps at once was beyond what it would allow. Near the top, his knee got caught in the skirt and slammed down against the nearest stair, and he fell half the flight before managing to catch himself. He started up the stairs again, this time one step at a time, but had only gotten four more steps when a steel cable wrapped around his chest and dragged him off the staircase, carrying him over to the bed and dropping him on it.

The cable remained wrapped around him, tight enough to impair his breathing. He couldn't get loose, and couldn't get off the bed. Magneto looked over at the body snatcher, who was kneeling on the floor, rubbing her head and breathing heavily. He'd hurt her, but clearly not enough to keep her from using the powers, or to knock her out as he'd thought he had. He was starting to feel dizzy and faint from the constriction when it finally released, the body snatcher sitting up on the floor and looking at him. One of the cables caught his leg before he was able to scramble off the bed again, and dragged it to the other side of the bed fast enough to wrench muscles. He winced in pain, and continued to struggle grimly against the rest of the cables, trying to keep his wrists and remaining leg free of them. The body snatcher remained on the floor, watching him intently, directing the movement of the cables without getting to her feet. Galling, that she should have such control of the powers, so quickly. How the devil had she done it? He couldn't have done this a day after he'd first discovered his powers.

The outcome was really never in doubt. Within a minute, he was lying flat on his back on the bed, arms and legs bound spread-eagled to the bed's legs with the steel cables. He stopped struggling, recognizing that at this point it was worse than useless, as all it would do would be to please her, and stared over at her with hate-filled eyes.

She got to her feet and walked toward the bed, slowly. "You really shouldn't have done that," she said, rubbing her head again. "You hurt me."

"You're the one that wished to have a man's body," he said coldly. "Besides, I'm quite certain you intended to hurt me from the moment you entered this room, if not the moment you stole my body. I don't see myself as having a great deal to lose."

Her free hand fell to his neck, stroking it. "I could hurt you a lot worse than I'd planned," she said, and began to tighten her grip.

"You... might also... kill me," he gasped, not out of fear but because he couldn't breathe. "You're not... experienced... might... accidentally..."

"I might also kill you deliberately," she said, and her hand tightened further.

He couldn't speak anymore, or he'd have pointed out that if she'd wanted him dead, she could have saved herself a lot of time and effort by killing him before she'd tied him up with cables. Desperately he concentrated on trying to breathe, sucking in as much air as he could get. It wasn't enough. The world was starting to darken around the edges when she released him.

"The next time you try to attack me, I'll do far worse than that," she warned.

Very well. The next time he attacked her, he'd make sure she was disabled by it. He breathed deeply, hungry for air, and didn't waste any of his precious breath on a reply.

"Of course, now it doesn't really matter," she said, her voice- his voice, twisted by her- dropping. "Too bad for you that you didn't hurt me badly enough to spoil my plans."

That surprised him a little. He'd expected the blow he'd delivered would have made what she clearly intended out of the question for hours. He must be much weaker than he used to be, more than he'd imagined. "I intend to have that body back eventually; I had no desire to castrate it," he snapped back at her, and then realized what he was doing. His pride was hurt by the way she'd defeated him, by the ease with which she'd stolen his body and the fact that, with it, she had near-total power over him. He was justifying his failure, trying to sound more threatening than he felt himself to be. Foolish, that. If he had a chance at all, it would lie in her underestimating him now that he had no mutant powers. He resolved not to answer her goads again.

She unbuttoned the blouse this body was wearing slowly, stroking his neck, his breasts and belly. Not his. He had to concentrate on that. Nothing of his would be affected by this. But he could feel it, and despite the fact that he could see his own body doing this to him, it was very difficult to think of the body he now wore as something completely alien to him. The bra had a front clasp; she unsnapped it and moved the cups off him entirely. "I can see what men like about this," she murmured, cupping this body's breasts in her hand and squeezing, at first gently, then painfully hard. She smiled at him maliciously. "You never expected this could happen to you, did you? To be used for someone else's pleasure? No man ever expects this."

Her misconceptions would almost be funny if she weren't using them as some sort of twisted justification for her acts. Magneto had expected exactly this. There was nothing surprising and nothing new about any of what she'd done to him thus far, nothing he hadn't endured before. He felt humiliated, yes, and enraged at his own helplessness, but it wasn't as if he'd never felt such things in his life. There is nothing you can do to me that hasn't been done already, in worse ways. It was ironically one of his greatest strengths in his chosen career- no matter what happened to him, he'd always endured worse.

The denim skirt was apparently a wraparound- she untied it and peeled it entirely away from him, leaving his legs exposed completely. With the clogs off, his feet were bare as well. The underpants were scanty and had Velcro side fasteners, so she was able to peel them away as well without having to untie him. Magneto realized that she'd intended to do this when she'd gotten dressed in the morning- she might not have known he was the mind she'd entrap in her body or that his body would be the vehicle for her to do it, but she had gotten dressed with every intention of taking a male body and raping her own. The thought sickened him. How many others had she done this to, or was he the first?

She removed his own clothes from the body she'd stolen the hard way, using stolen power to undo the buttons but apparently unaware that the entire suit was made of metallic fibers, such that she could simply disassemble it and cause it to fall off. Presumably her control over his powers extended to obvious magnetic operations- moving steel cables, driving a car forward- but she didn't yet seem to know the non-obvious ones.

He was cold, with all but his arms naked in the chill of the basement, but that was preferable to the warmth of her body heat, when she climbed on top of him. Her weight was oppressive on him, making it hard to breathe, since of course she wasn't considerate enough to take her weight onto her elbows. He felt her fingers probing his new female anatomy- a very strange sensation, not quite analogous to hands on the male equivalent- and then her penis penetrate and start thrusting, a sensation of painful stretching and friction. It was not quite as painful as what he'd expected and remembered, probably because female anatomy really was designed to take this kind of assault better than a young boy's body could. It had been a lifetime ago, but he still remembered being a pretty child in the camps, remembered the terrible bargain he'd made for his life, and the sensation like being torn apart from the inside. As badly as this hurt, it wasn't as bad as that had been. He held as still as he could to minimize her pleasure, gritted his teeth, and endured. At first he stared at her with the stark rage in his face, but it was too obscene to see what looked like his own face contorted with pleasure as she raped him, so he stared at the ceiling instead and imagined killing her.

When she was done, she slid off him, running an entirely too familiar hand up and down the body she'd trapped him in. "I think I really enjoy being a man," she said, her voice still thick with pleasure. "It's so intense for you, and it builds so fast. In my own body it takes forever."

"You might want to consider that most non-psychotic men get even more pleasure out of having willing partners," he said acidly.

"You, a terrorist and mass murderer, are going to give me a lecture on the morality of rape? Don't make me laugh."

"What I have done, I have done for the sake of my people, not for my own twisted pleasure. You have no cause but your own desires."

She released the cables. He sat up and rubbed his wrists, trying to restore circulation to them. "I have a cause," she said. "I've spent my entire life being weak and powerless, at the mercy of men and other people with power. My cause now is to teach those with power what it means to have none. Society grants you men all the power in this world."

"Has it escaped your notice that society also denies mutants any power whatsoever?"

"Society doesn't need to grant you power. Mutants have it. You personally had more power than almost anyone in the world. Now I have it instead. And I intend to use it to do whatever I want."

"How noble an ambition," he sneered. "Someone victimized you, so you plan to victimize others, just because you can."

"That's pretty much it," she agreed. "I wouldn't get on a moral high horse about it if I were you. You've done worse."

"Not for such a trivial reason. And I have never committed rape."

"No, but you've murdered. Does that mean you think rape is a fate worse than death?" she mocked.

"It is a question of motivation. All other things being equal, I would prefer being raped to dying," he said dryly. "However, I have killed only for the sake of my cause, or in self-defense. The ends, to some degree, do justify the means. You have no ends worth speaking of, which makes you far more evil than I."

She shrugged. "Believe that if you want. I'm sure you'll need something to cling to."

There was really no answer he could make to that. He ignored her and set about trying to rub circulation back into his ankles as well.

"You still think you're going to get through this with your dignity intact, don't you?"

That got his attention. He turned his head to face her. "If you expect me to grovel and beg simply because you have the power to kill or harm me, you don't know me very well."

Her eyes narrowed. "A challenge. I like that."

"No you don't. You haven't been doing this long enough to enjoy a challenge. You want me to validate your beliefs by cringing and whining in fear, and it bothers you that I don't."

"How do you know how long I've been doing this?"

"Because you're untutored and naive. Your conversation reflects the fact that you expect the simple presence of your power to have some great effect. I can tell you now, from personal experience, it doesn't. People will be as ready to oppose and defy you because you have power as when you didn't, perhaps more so."

"That's ridiculous. People aren't that suicidal."

"The ordinary man on the street won't oppose you, no. You'll get a higher caliber of opponents. And without my knowledge and tactical skills behind those powers you so prize, they will defeat you. If I were you, I'd play less of a high-stakes game. Give me back my body, and take one of lesser power, one the entire world won't conspire to destroy." As if he wouldn't destroy her the instant he had his body back. But it would hardly do to mention that.

She shrugged. "I don't plan on running out and trying to conquer the world, so I doubt they'll even notice me. We're quite some distance from major population centers here."

"Indeed? Where are we?"

"Nice try." She shook her head. "You aren't as good as you think you are, and you aren't as right as you think you are. I've been doing this much longer than you think. You're just the best prize I've caught." The body snatcher grinned. "In fact, I think I'll keep you."

"Keep me? For how long?"

"Well, that's what I mean by 'keep.'" Her grin broadened. "I killed all the others, you see. After I was done having fun with them, I killed their bodies and jumped back. But who would want to go back to that-" she poked him- "when they could be this?" She gestured at herself in his stolen body. "No, Magneto, I think I'm going to keep you forever. Which means I have plenty of time to make you 'grovel and beg,' as you put it. By the time I'm done with you, you will."

On that note, she left, taking the wooden clogs with her, while he was still trying to muster up something more intelligent to say than "We'll see about that" or "I'll die first" or some other cliched defiant comment. What she'd said relieved him on a certain level- given plenty of time, he would escape, he was sure of it. The reassurance that she wouldn't kill him was good news, from that point of view. On the other hand, it also made it even more imperative that he had to escape. She was right in a sense- given long enough as a helpless captive, with no one to interact with but his tormentor, eventually even he would break. He was no psychologist, but he'd studied what happens to prisoners. Prisoners confined with other prisoners could maintain their hatred of their captors, as he and his fellows had in Auschwitz, but someone kept in solitary confinement and subject to certain elementary brainwashing techniques would eventually come to identify with and seek to please the captor. His resistance to such things was probably much greater than most people's, but he wasn't so arrogant as to believe he would be completely immune.

So. He had to get away before that happened. Painfully he levered himself off the bed. His wrists and ankles still hurt, and his thighs and hips were bruised, and there were wholly unfamiliar internal pains that might have seriously frightened him if he'd still been in a male body, since in male anatomy they would have to reflect some sort of deep internal injury. In a female body, however, it was probably no more than the aftereffects of a rape. She hadn't been terribly brutal- he'd survived worse in a body designed to deal with it less well, so he was fairly sure he wasn't seriously hurt. It was simply the unfamiliarity of the pain that was bothering him.

He limped to the bathroom again and did his best to examine himself. As nearly as he could tell, his initial guess was right- no serious injury, just bruising and soreness. He also had a better chance to examine the amenities the body snatcher had left for her victim. A fairly civil psychopath, from the looks of it- she had left him toothpaste and toothbrush, a hairbrush, a towel, a washcloth, shampoo and soap. No razor- at first he thought this was a precaution against suicide, and then realized that it was more likely because women didn't need razors. There was some sort of horrible-smelling depilatory cream that would have been utterly useless against a man's beard, but might do passably on a woman's legs. Not that he had any intention of using it, but perhaps these were actually her toiletries, the things she used on this body when she was occupying it. Most of the items were sufficiently poisonous that he could kill himself with them if he had any desire to, which either indicated she knew more about him than she'd thus far seemed to, or she was really quite naive about keeping prisoners. Just because he would never resort to suicide to escape captivity if there was any other alternative didn't mean other men might not try.

A long, hot shower with plenty of soap and shampoo did not quite wash away the humiliation or the tactile memory of her hands on this body. But it helped. Afterward he dressed- the only available clothes were the ones she'd been wearing when she captured him, which was deeply annoying. He despised the long skirt, most especially after having tripped and tangled in it so many times. But it was chilly in this basement, this late at night. The stone floor was particularly cold on his bare feet, and he rather wished she hadn't taken the clogs, though wooden shoes that wouldn't stay on his feet were an uncomfortable reminder of the camps.

Systematically Magneto explored his prison, ignoring the pain of bruises as he searched everywhere for any other conceivable exit. There was none. Part of the floor was packed earth, so it was possible he might be able to dig his way out, but there were no tools in the basement. No old clothes, either, nor old furniture, nor anything except a wall of stacked cans and the items that went with his cell- the bed, bedclothes, the steel cables she'd left behind, and the bathroom with its toiletries. He might be able to smash the safety glass of the basement windows by throwing cans at them, but the bars didn't look as if he could bend them without specialized tools, even with his own body's physical strength, much less this weaker form. Plus, it turned out he couldn't even reach the basement windows. The windowsill, such as it was, was set just above his eye level, and when he tried to pull himself up to it he discovered quite how feeble this body's upper arms were. He literally could not lift himself off the ground even so much as a fraction of an inch; he could rise to the tips of his toes, but could go no further. When he exerted himself heavily to do so, he ended up with shaking, trembling arms and legs, but didn't get any closer to getting off the ground than before. Physical fitness had obviously not been the body snatcher's forte before she'd captured him.

That brought a malicious grin to his lips. She'd learn the hard way that she couldn't let his body go to pot the way she'd let this one and still expect to use his powers at their full level. Even when he'd been doing the equivalent of desk work in zero gee for two years, Magneto had always made sure he kept his body in shape as a matter of survival. There had been times in the past, before Isabelle had died and he'd focused on world conquest as a reason for living, when he'd grown despondent and escaped into a bottle for weeks at a time. The effect was always the same. When he went long periods of time without exercise, when he gained a significant amount of weight as fat instead of muscle, or when he skimped on dietary iron, his powers grew markedly weaker, and to attempt to use them at higher levels brought heart palpitations, violent headaches and flashes before his eyes. His powers placed enormous strain on his body, and only by being at the peak of physical health could he dare manipulate their upper limits. If the body snatcher didn't take up a physical fitness regimen, she was in for a nasty surprise.

Of course, if he was lucky, she wouldn't have long enough in the body to be surprised that way. He intended to escape as soon as he could, and there was, perhaps, the possibility of rescue. She'd been using his powers in Philadelphia, most likely- unless she'd been able to operate both his stolen body and her original at the same time while he'd been unconscious, she'd have had to do something about the fact that she'd have been dragging an unconscious woman's body around. Probably hailed a cab, and then killed the driver and took control. Magneto himself had been trying to avoid using his powers in Philadelphia because of the risk of attracting Charles' attention... if she had used them, perhaps she had alerted Charles. Perhaps he would send his X-Men to attack her, and thus find Magneto... but no, no. Charles had never been proactive. It was one of the man's greatest failings- not only did he think humans and mutants could get along, not only did he think that creating an all-mutant strike force would help humans and mutants get along, but he actually didn't even manage his strike force correctly. Charles had generally never sent the X-Men after him unless he was actually and actively engaged in a plot. If she didn't "plan on running out and trying to conquer the world," as she'd said, Charles might never bother to send his X-Men to investigate. At least, that was the way Magneto's life worked- the one time he actually wanted X-Men interference, they wouldn't show up. No, he couldn't rely on the hope of rescue. Which was just as well, considering. The X-Men had betrayed him quite horribly last time, Wolverine gutting him while he still had thought they were allies, still remembered the friendship and tried to answer their accusations reasonably. Reason had had no place in that last battle. He didn't want to think about what the X-Men, and Charles, might do with him if he had no powers at all. No, he could trust no one but himself.

So, concentrate on what he needed to do to escape under his own power. This body had to be gotten into shape. He had to learn its limitations, stop overestimating its strength, increase that strength as much as he could, and get a feel for the way it balanced. It felt very odd to walk about in this body, with his center of gravity completely shifted and his gait forcibly altered by the limitations of anatomy. If he did manage to escape, his life might depend on how far and how fast he could run- the odds that he could defeat her in a fight were not encouraging, given that he didn't dare maim his own body. So he needed to know this body as well as he possibly could, and improve it physically as well as he could, in order to have a chance at all.

Stripping off the skirt - it would only get in the way- he began stretching cautiously, something necessary before one began an exercise regimen for the first time. Interestingly, he noted that this body, despite being ridiculously out of shape, was inherently more flexible than his own. He had forced a greater degree of flexibility through his exercise regimens, but his own muscles were naturally enormously tense; he'd always thought that was mostly due to personality, but even now, when he was a captive with no good prospects for escape, under tremendous stress, the physical tension in the body he now wore was less than he usually found in his own. That was a good sign. Not that being flexible would help him fight off someone with his powers particularly well, but it indicated at least that this body wasn't completely without physical advantages.

And it would probably help save him from injury during the inevitable future rapes.

He pulled his mind away from that particular dark contemplation of his future here and back to what he was doing. Since this body was out of shape, he couldn't overdo it. Half an hour of stretches, then another half hour total, interspersed with several five-minute rests, of simple calisthenics- pushups, sit-ups, the like. He tried benchpressing a wooden board with cans stacked on it to create a weight, but the cans kept falling off. There wasn't much beyond that he dared do without knowing when she'd next feed him; exercise increased appetite for a reason, and if he didn't get food reasonably soon, he would suffer for every bit of exertion. Of course, he had endured such suffering before, but that wasn't any reason to set himself up for it if he didn't have to.

With nothing left that could be constructively accomplished tonight, and his hair mostly dry, he stripped off his clothes, used a small amount of soap to wash them in the sink, and hung them in the bathroom to dry overnight. There were enough blankets that he shouldn't be cold, and quite aside from the fact that he was used to sleeping in the nude, if he was going to be allowed only one set of clothes to wear, he was going to have to establish a routine of washing them at night or they'd get unbearably filthy.

He took a can with him to bed, putting it under the pillow. Since she'd taken the clogs, he wanted something else that might conceivably work as a weapon. Not that he seriously expected to be able to use it, but the fact that she hadn't disassembled his body's clothes might mean that she hadn't yet learned to see the fields, or not well, anyway. He would be able to see a metal can coming if he were in his body, but perhaps she wouldn't. Or perhaps he could stun her and then use the can. She'd never leave him an opening for a groin strike again, but unless she bound him every time she raped him, sooner or later she'd leave him an opening for an eye strike, and then while she was stunned he could hit her with the can. Or she'd simply be too distracted to pay attention to him grabbing a can and hitting her with it until it was too late. It was probably the best chance he had, anyway.

It was much harder to sleep this time than it had been before, when he'd been so exhausted and nauseous. This time he lay awake a long time, his mind racing, trying uselessly to formulate escape plans. He knew better; he needed sleep more than he needed to waste time running down the same tracks he'd gone over and over today, especially when he had a weapon and a plan that might conceivably work already, but it was almost impossible to stop himself. And when he finally did sleep, it was restless and nightmarish.

It was the sound of the door unbolting again that dragged him fully out of his uneasy sleep. He ached far worse than he had last night, this body reacting to both the rape and the unaccustomed exercise. Light streamed in through the basement window, indicating it was probably about 10 am or so. He started to push aside the covers, and realized belatedly that he'd made a tactical error in leaving his clothing in the bathroom, out of reach.

The body snatcher came downstairs with food on a tray, floating behind her. Her eyes lit up when she saw him. "You got ready for me? How sweet of you!"

Magneto clenched his fists in fury, fighting not to make a retort. She knew perfectly well he wasn't naked for her sake; to say anything would be to admit that she'd humiliated him. But the body snatcher continued, as the tray set down on the floor. "Why don't you just push those blankets aside? You haven't got anything I haven't seen before; I used to occupy that body, you know."

"You're welcome to do so again any time you wish," he said coldly.

"No, no. I plan to occupy it in an entirely different sense," she said, grinning. She walked over to him and tugged the covers off. "Did you know that 'occupy' used to be a euphemism for sex a few hundred years ago?"

"I don't collect historical euphemisms for sex, as I don't share your rampant obsession with the subject."

"'Rampant obsession.' I like that." She stroked her groin through the pants- they weren't still his pants; she had changed clothes. "It's rampant, all right. You know, I have to thank you again for providing me with this body. I'm sure one of your girlfriends must have told you this, but you're pretty well hung. I like that."

"I don't tend to date women with such crude mindsets," he retorted.

"What, well-hung is crude? Your tender sensibilities would just shrivel up and die at what I consider crude, then."

"I suppose someone must play the role of uneducated lout. And you do have a well-suited personality for it."

She laughed. "Am I supposed to be insulted?"

"In an ideal world, yes."

"This isn't an ideal world." She pushed him back against the bed, leaning on it herself and looming over him. "Though it'll get a whole lot more ideal after I fuck you." She started to undo her pants, kneeling over him.

Magneto waited until her pants were partially off, restricting her physical movement. Her shields weren't up, and he wasn't quite able to believe she was leaving him this opening again, but he wasn't going to waste it. As soon as she was vulnerable, he struck, bringing his leg up into her groin. She folded with a hoarse gasp, falling to the side, trying to pull away, but that still left her open for another strike. He punched her in the groin, and when she weakly squirmed away, trying to block him, he hit her in the stomach, as hard as he could manage. The pain didn't seem to be forcing her out of the body. Too bad about that. He grabbed the can from under the pillow, and swung it down at her head, but it jerked out of his hand and went flying before it got there as she instinctively summoned power. All his hair stood on end in the center of the magnetic field, but her control was crude in her extremity of pain, unable to affect a human body. He hit her in the stomach again, and in the crotch again, and then slammed his fist into her temple as hard as this body could, several times. There was no need to hold back out of fear of damaging his own body- this body simply didn't have the physical strength to permanently damage that one. He could use every bit of strength this body had in disabling her, and he did.

By the time he was done he was breathing hard, his muscles ached fiercely, and his hand hurt like the devil, but she was unconscious. Her pulse was still strong when he checked it, but she was plainly down for the count. Good. He ran to the bathroom, ignoring strained muscles, grabbing the still slightly wet clothes and throwing them on as he ran up the stairs. There was no time to manage putting on the bra or underpants- the only reason he even bothered with the clothes themselves was the fear that running around outside in a nude woman's body would be an invitation to assault by other parties. The door to the kitchen was open, and from there it was three steps to the back door, and outside.

The house was nestled into the woods on the top of a hill, enclosed on three sides with no signs of neighbors. The home of a serial killer. He wondered if the ones she'd bragged about killing were buried on the property. The taxi was still sitting on the pebbled driveway, but the engine had been partially disassembled- no doubt she'd been experimenting with the powers. So, no getaway car. He'd have to do this on foot. The driveway, unfortunately, was covered with small rocks. Magneto ran parallel to it, skirting it on grass and then the edges of the woods, with long, wild grasses lashing at his running legs, until the pebbles ran out and the road became bare dirt. That, he could run on. It wouldn't be pleasant- these feet had few calluses, and those not of the sort conducive to running barefoot outside- but he'd managed worse. He hiked the skirt up to above his knees with one hand and went into full bore down the hill, running awkwardly because the center of gravity was lower and his arms kept flailing at his sides without the weight he should have to balance him. It didn't matter. The muscles he'd strained yesterday were badly pulled with the length of his stride, far too long for what these legs should naturally do, and the bruises she'd left inside him with the rape ached as the running muscles tugged at other muscles, connected to the ones inside. There was a painful stitch in his side. He was getting out of breath. None of it mattered. He sprinted down the dirt road as fast as this body could go, using the downhill slope for momentum, almost falling over with the imbalance of it but keeping onward, until the dirt road and the hill both ran out and he skidded out onto paved road.

It was a narrow road winding through the woods, one lane on each side with a double gold line running down the middle. No cars passed by here. A rural road in the middle of nowhere. Inwardly Magneto cursed. His plan had been to hitch a ride with the first passing car, figuring that a disheveled and desperate-looking woman shouldn't have difficulty inspiring sympathy and aid, but this road looked largely untravelled. He glanced both ways, but the road simply disappeared into the trees, bending out of sight, on both sides. Arbitrarily he went right, figuring that if he was fortunate, she'd have neighbors in this direction, and instead of hitching a ride perhaps he could escape onto their property and ask their aid. They'd think she was her. He could always claim a dangerous crazy had attacked him- no, she was a killer; if he said that they'd send the police and she'd kill the police with ease. If he said a dangerous mutant, though, people like the Avengers might be summoned and then how would he get his body back? Perhaps he could just hide. He ran down the road, unable to go quite so swiftly this time since he was no longer running downhill. By now his breathing was coming in labored gasps. This body was not used to running. It wanted to slow to a walk and cool down. Magneto had other plans, and drove it as ruthlessly as he would his own. He had to get off the road and to safety before she-

The hair on his arms stood on end. Static electricity lifted this body's hair and tangled it into his face. The smell of ozone, as familiar a scent as his own, tinged the air. Desperately he glanced up, and saw her hovering in the air, some distance behind him on the road.

How had she recovered so fast? He probably would have, but that was a function of his willpower and experience- wasn't it? Was it only his body that allowed him to recover so quickly from being beaten into unconsciousness? She couldn't have willpower equivalent to his, or nearly the experience he had in being physically attacked. Magneto threw himself to the side of the road, hoping against hope that she hadn't seen him yet, hoping he could hide in the woods and she would pass by, never noticing-

No. The tingling and the static electricity increased, and then something hard and heavy and agonizingly painful hit him in the back, and he fell. The blow winded him, and bruised his spine and the muscles of his lower back badly. When he tried to force himself back to his feet, to keep running, he couldn't get up. He could see what had hit him, a can of green beans, rolling up against a bush to lie there uselessly. Frantically Magneto crawled forward, half-dragging himself by the arms, willing himself to move, to escape into the woods where he could hide from her.

He heard her land behind him, and rolled over to face her. She was glowing. Quite aside from the fact that she would undoubtedly wish to punish him for hurting her and trying to escape, he realized suddenly that she might be unaware that she was charged, that simply touching him now might electrocute him. It also meant that he had no effective way to fight back- he'd planned to try to kick her, the only move he could manage from his position, but with her charged it would certainly hurt him worse than it would hurt her. He tried to back away, as best as he could when he couldn't stand up. "Wait- don't-"

"I warned you," she said harshly, leaned down, and grabbed his arm before he could pull away.

Magneto had never actually experienced an electric shock. Even when he'd been young, before he'd manifested his full power, his body had absorbed electricity and converted it into personal energy; he'd found that out the hard way, by being thrown into the electric fence by Nazi guards who'd expected to see him die for their amusement, and were themselves rather shocked to see him survive it. He had inflicted this particular pain on others without ever knowing quite what it felt like. Now he knew. It was just like it had been when the child Kitty Pryde had disrupted his natural magnetic field by phasing through him, except much, much worse. He felt himself convulsing as a rather distant awareness through an enormous amount of pain, and when the pain subsided, his body was still stunned, numb, twitching and unwilling to move, with a sensation like pins and needles throughout him.

The body snatcher pulled him to his feet while he was still convulsing, and then threw him to the ground again, face down. She stepped on his head, grinding his face into the dirt. He was still too numb to move, to even try to struggle, when he felt his wrists and ankles being bound together behind his back by something, most likely the steel cable again. He tried to breathe, but all he could get was dirt. Her foot released his head, and the power picked up his hog-tied limbs, levitating him and turning him to face her. Now he could get air, at least. He breathed raggedly, the body still spasming and twitching in the aftermath of the shock.

"That was good," she said, hissing angrily. "That was very good. None of the others ever even tried something like this. I hope you're glad of how far you got, Magneto, because you're never going to get that far again. And you're going to learn not to try to hurt me."

"You could try... protecting yourself better," he said, his voice still weak.

She hit him. It was a hard, solid blow, dizzying him further. And then she shook her head. "No, no. You probably get beaten up on all the time. Big occupational hazard of being a supervillain, right? We're going to think of something else to teach you not to fuck with me." She reached her hand under the skirt, sliding her hand between his thighs despite his best efforts to keep his legs pressed together. "No undies? That turn you on?" The power pulled his bound ankles back sharply, bowing him- he gritted his teeth to keep from screaming at the pain this caused his bruised back- and forcing his legs apart under the skirt. The body snatcher slid two hard fingers into him, probing him roughly, and then shocked him. As he gasped with the pain, fighting not to cry out, she let him drop to the ground, where she kicked him in the stomach. When he managed to twist onto his stomach to prevent her from kicking it again, she yanked his skirt up and drove a booted foot between his legs in a vicious kick.

The pain was not as bad as if he'd had a male body and she'd done that, but this was rather like saying that the pain of being beaten senseless was not quite as bad as the pain of being burned alive. It was true, but awfully little comfort for the victim of the beating. Her power lifted him again. "There's a lot more where that came from, but we'd better get you home before we start your lessons. Can't have someone coming along and seeing the evil Magneto beating the crap out of some poor defenseless woman, after all."

She kept him turned face down as they flew back to the house, and the pain of having all his weight coming down on the bindings that held wrists and ankles together, as well as the cruel strain on his damaged back, was almost enough to make him black out. He fought to remain conscious as she carried him downstairs, where she undid the ties that held the wraparound skirt on and pulled it off him. Still levitating him face down, she forced his knees apart and stepped between them. He expected rape, and wondered how she could even think of sex after he'd hit her in the groin several times. But she was, apparently, not ready for that just yet- she played with him, using her fingers to probe all his exposed sensitive places and deliver occasional sharp shocks for several minutes. Then she flipped him over, undid the blouse, and squeezed and fondled his breasts for a bit, pinching and shocking the nipples. Involuntarily he jerked with the small shocks, his muscles convulsing and pulling against his bonds hard enough that he'd likely end up with bruises on wrists and ankles. He was breathing in short hoarse gasps, all his concentration on fighting not to scream.

She turned him over again, dropping him face down on the bed, and pulled the blouse off, bunching it around the bindings on his wrists. Then she released the bindings, allowing his legs to drop to the bed, pulled the blouse all the way off his arms, and flipped him onto his back again with physical strength. He was too weak from the shocks to resist her. The cable she'd used to bind him, and the rest of the ones that had remained behind in this room, rose up, locked to the bedposts and then around his wrists and ankles again, pulling him spread-eagled.

"Now," she said, "I'm going to go take a nice, long, hot shower and take some pain medication for these bruises. When I get back, we're going to get into your lessons on What Not To Do. I want you to spend the time until then thinking long and hard about what a stupid fucking move that was, and how completely useless it was, and how badly you're going to hurt to pay for it."

She left. He lay quietly for several minutes, breathing, regaining air and strength. When he felt he'd recovered sufficiently, he started to try to work his wrists free, pushing aside the fear of what would inevitably happen if he couldn't. Unfortunately, the cables that bound him were not cuffs- he could have possibly dislocated his hand to slip out of cuffs, a trick he'd heard about but never actually had opportunity to try. The cable was rather more like rope, wrapped firmly around the wrist, chafing the skin, but magnetically welded to itself rather than knotted to form the bond. Even if he chafed against the metal hard enough and long enough to draw blood, the lubrication still probably would not allow him to slip free. The cable bound the wrist tightly enough to constrict it, to slow circulation to the hand, and when he tugged as hard as he could the cable did not slip up to the lower edge of his hand and catch there- it stayed put where it was around his wrist. The other side was no better.

There were bonds you could work your way out of if you struggled, and there were bonds you were stuck with. These were plainly the latter. Which meant he wasn't getting out of this.

She won't kill me. She said she plans to keep me alive.

That didn't prove anything. She'd said that before he'd attacked her. What reason did she have to keep him alive? If she needed this body alive, perhaps that would be sufficient reason, but if it were only that she wanted him alive to play with while she ran about with his powers... that probably wasn't enough reason for her not to kill him, after what he'd done. Surely she would realize, now, he was too dangerous to let live.

No. No, he couldn't think that way. If she killed him, she killed him, and there was nothing he could do about it, but he had to assume that wouldn't happen. He had to assume he would live, and focus on getting out of this.

The minutes dragged on. He kept looking at the window to try to gauge how long it was. Hours. The cables were not pulled so tight as to strain his muscles further- he had a tiny bit of motion range. But they were wrapped closely enough around his flesh to be limiting circulation. He couldn't feel his hands or feet anymore. And he was thirsty. Dear God but he was thirsty. He hadn't had anything to drink since waking up this morning, and the exertions he'd gone through had left his mouth parched and sore. Oh but what he would not give for a glass of water right now. To make matters worse, he could see the food she'd brought him this morning, lying on a tray by the stairs- soggy cold cereal in milk- and the thought of the cool milk on his dry throat was impossible to shut out, impossible to stop longing for. He was also hungry- he hadn't eaten since he was taken captive, and he'd thrown up whatever this body had eaten before that time-but that he could ignore, whereas the thirst refused to be pushed aside. Ironically, he also had to urinate, a need that grew steadily worse as the time wore on. By the time she finally came down the stairs, boredom and dread and physical discomfort had brought him to the point where her appearance was actually a relief. Finally this would be over with.

"Thought about it?" she asked.

"I'm impressed, actually," he said, his voice hoarse and slightly cracked from thirst. He wasn't impressed, really- disturbed was more like it- but perhaps if he played a bit to her ego, she would give him more information. It was a trick that he'd realized some time ago worked distressingly often on himself. "I expected you to be unconscious for far longer. And your control of the powers is far greater than I'd assumed. It's obvious that such a simple trick as what I tried won't work on you. How have you gotten such control, so quickly?"

The body snatcher laughed, and fell into his trap. "I've impressed an internationally infamous terrorist killer. Should that make me jump for joy?" She sat down on the edge of the bed. "I get echoes. Anything your body knew how to do, I guess. So I'm not up on the location of your secret bases and your world conquest gizmos, but if you knew how to play the piano, I could sit down and put my fingers on the keys and the fingers would remember how to play, even though I personally don't know shit about piano playing. Good thing you trained so very hard with these powers of yours, huh? Got it all at the unconscious level, the body level, where I can get at it. Thanks."

"Well, in the light of that-" it wasn't very hard to force himself to sound defeated, even though he wasn't a very good actor, and he didn't want to think about why that was- "it's clear that there would be no point to my attacking you again." He turned his head from her, trying to feign resignation. "You were right the first time. You have me. There's nothing I can do."

She ran a hand up his leg, across his belly, up to breasts sore from the shocks she'd inflicted earlier. "You're right about that. Glad to see you know it."

He turned his head to face her, swallowing his pride. If he could just make her think she had defeated him, if he could just make her think he had already learned his "lesson," perhaps he could get out of this. There was no way to avoid being raped, most likely, but if he could get water and be freed to use the bathroom, that would be enough of a victory for now. And she'd given him information, and he could use it to come up with another plan. All he had to do was humble himself for a moment now. "Please... could you let me free? I won't resist you, whatever you want. I swear it. But my hands are going numb, and I've had nothing to drink all day..."

She looked at him for several seconds. "Oh, sure," she said finally, in an oversolicitous voice. "Of course I'll let you get up and get your drinky-poo. You only tried to beat the crap out of me this morning, but we can let bygones be bygones, riiight?" She laughed harshly, dropping the sugary tone. "You must think I'm either very soft or very stupid, Magneto. Did you think I was just going to forget the lesson I promised you? That after I'd had a chance to shower and relax, I was just going to go, oh, you tried to beat me up but it's okay?"

He dropped the submissive act. "I'd hoped that you'd be big enough to tell when an opponent is beaten, and when you can afford to be magnanimous," he said acidly. "I see I was wrong. You are simply a thug."

"Oh, right. Advice on how to be a good supervillain, from a past master? I'm sure you were always so generous to your enemies when they were beaten. That why you never conquered the world, huh?" Her hand fell on his breast, squeezing painfully, twisting the nipple cruelly between her fingers. "I thought I had you beat this morning. You proved otherwise. So I'm not going to take for granted you've learned any lessons till I teach them to you."

With that, she channeled electricity through her fingers into the nipple she was tormenting, shocking him badly, far worse than what she'd done this morning. He gasped, jerking in his bonds, pulling every muscle painfully again. When he could speak again, he said, "You don't... know what you're doing. Even if... you know how... you don't know the limits of what's safe. Electricity is dangerous, woman. You could end up killing me by accident."

"You said that last time. You're really convinced I don't want you dead."

He tried to shrug, but with his arms bound over his head to either side of the bed, it was pretty much impossible. "If you do want me dead, no doubt you'll kill me. But if you don't want to kill me, I'd rather you didn't by accident."

She laughed. "You're right. I don't want you dead. So let's find out the limits of your tolerance gradually, shall we?" Her hand toyed with the other breast. "Nipples are extremely sensitive, especially for women. But then, you probably figured that out already. So if you can take it there, you can take it anywhere else."

It was like Zaladane again- torturing him for personal amusement, reveling in what she'd taken from him. Except that against Zaladane, he'd had allies, and some slight hope of rescue. Here he had nothing, no powers, no allies, not even the physical mobility to escape. Nothing but his own strength of will, and his pride.

He had no clear idea of how long it went on. The thirst and the hunger and the numbness in his extremities disappeared into the welter of pain. The pressure in his bladder solved itself a different way; he'd known that would happen, known there was no way to avoid it with the convulsions the electricity was inducing, but knowing was no antidote for the sick humiliation. Curiously fastidious, she stopped the torture to get a washcloth and towel, cleaned him off with an expression of disgust, and put the towel underneath him. Then she returned to her experiments, slowly increasing the intensity of the shock with each terrible pulse.

Desperately he fought to keep from screaming, and only later realized what a fool he'd been to do so. She was testing his limits. He should have let her see his agony, shrieked, begged for mercy, feigned unconsciousness, anything to make her think the intensity of the pain and damage caused by the shock was worse than it was. But his pride was too great, and it went against everything he'd been trained in by his harsh existence. In his experience, weakness caused people to hurt you worse; in Auschwitz, if you cried out or complained, you were likely to get shot outright. Only those who could grimly endure would survive. So he'd held out as long as he could, biting back his cries of pain until the agony became too much for him to do so, trying desperately not to writhe, to fight the convulsions and hold as still as he could. Eventually he realized that this left her with far too close a notion of what his upper limits actually were, but by the time he realized this, he was already pushed to the point where he couldn't stop screaming, and it was too late to do anything at all.

At some point she seemed to decide that playing with his nipples was boring, and moved down to lower, even more sensitive regions. Causing him pain there seemed to excite her tremendously; shortly after moving the site of the shocks, she stripped naked and climbed atop him. His first reaction was actually an exhausted relief, assuming that while she was raping him, he would be spared the shocks.

For the first time in a very long time, Magneto's imagination for horrors failed him. He was taken totally by surprise when she channelled electricity through her genitals and shocked him inside. His convulsions and hoarse screams seemed to thrill her, and she did it again, and again, her face twisted with sick pleasure, until he was clinging to consciousness by the barest of threads, convinced that the torture would kill him, and desperately trying to hang onto consciousness as a way of staying alive. By the time she finished, he was utterly lost in a haze of pain, having forgotten where he was, why he was hurting, and very close to forgetting why he was trying to survive this.

Slowly he came out of his pain-wracked daze to find her stroking his body and the steel cables undone. Not that it really mattered that she'd untied him. He literally could not move; the convulsions against the unyielding steel had strained every muscle he had, and completely cut off the circulation to his hands and feet as well.

"Why?" he whispered hoarsely, barely audible.

"I told you," she said. "Because I can. And I like it."

She stood up. "Maybe next time you'll think twice about hurting me," she said. "Although that was so much fun, I'm not sure I'd need an excuse to try it again. You wouldn't believe how good it feels to have someone going into spasms under you like that."

Most men achieve the effect by pleasing their partners, not torturing them until they're half-dead

, he wanted to say, but his voice was far too hoarse, and he was too weak, and it didn't matter anyway. She liked being a monster. It didn't bother her in the slightest.

Several minutes after she left, he was able to force himself to move. It was hideously painful, but at least now the muscles were obeying his commands, and they weren't going to get any less stiff and strained if he just laid there. He crawled into the bathroom and ran a bath as hot as he could stand it. As the tub filled, he reached up to the sink, grasped the cup in numb hands, and filled it with water from the tap, again and again, downing five glasses before he felt he'd drunk enough. Then he painfully pulled himself up over the lip of the tub and into it. The hot water did something toward soothing his tortured, overstretched muscles and his bruised back, but couldn't touch the terrible pain in his genitals and breasts, and couldn't begin to wash away the feelings of humiliation and helpless rage.

He stared down into the water. Fool, to believe he could escape so easily. He was used to being one of the special ones, the people who were hard to kill, hard to imprison, hard to defeat. To be held captive, tortured, used as a plaything, with no realistic hope of escape... that was something he would have sworn could not happen to him. Not anymore. It didn't fit the definition of Magneto, the self he had carefully built for himself over the past twenty years. Something like this belonged to his childhood, when he was easily rendered helpless, when he was only an ordinary human with an ordinary human's resources.

As he was now.

No. He shook his head, denying that. It was different now. He had extensive combat experience, had endured and survived horrors that had killed countless others. Even without his powers, he was still formidable...

...was he? Against an opponent with his powers? When had an ordinary human, however well-trained, ever defeated him? It had generally taken entire teams of super-powered beings to take him down...

But he didn't want to take her down. Once he was free, he could worry about that. All he wanted to do was escape...

...but his certainty that he'd be able to do that had dissipated, and he couldn't recapture it. He hurt so much, and she hadn't even worked up a sweat defeating him. He had hit her as hard as he could, taken advantage of her vulnerability, done everything he could... and not only hadn't it worked, it had nearly killed him. The hot water eased the aches only slightly. It would be sheerest agony to try to exercise in this condition... and she'd liked it. She might do it again, any time she wanted to. The slightest desire to gratify lust, in a body with, as he well knew, entirely normal male appetites, and she could do it again. Two or three times a day, if it pleased her to.

He couldn't take that. He wouldn't take that. If there was truly no hope of escape, nothing but the unbearable pain as often as she wanted to inflict it, he really did see no other way but to kill himself. He'd always thought of that as the coward's way out... but if that was all there was for him...

No. He wouldn't consider that. Not yet, anyway. He had suffered a setback; these things happened. He had been tortured; well, he'd been tortured before, and he'd lived. There had to be a way to escape. He just had to survive long enough to find it... and prevent her from damaging him as she had tonight. It would take some days to heal from this; he couldn't allow her to do it to him on a regular basis if he was going to be in any condition to escape.

Which meant open defiance was no longer an option.

The thought sickened him. It was not what he did, not him. The Master of Magnetism did not cooperate with his enemies, did not degrade himself to escape pain.

But Erik Lehnsherr had.

Water dripped from his hair and nose as single drops, disrupting the smooth surface of the water. The woman's body that stretched out before him in the water dissolved and rippled with the drops, changing and blurring. It was alien to look at, but the pain it felt was his pain. The sore overstretched muscles, the agony in its particularly female parts, these were not alien sensations. They weren't familiar, but they were as much a part of him as his magnetic senses had been, and those hadn't been familiar all his life. The awakening of his sexuality, the awakening of his mutant power, the transformation from an old man to an infant and then to a man in the prime of his life... all had involved shifts in his self-definition, transformations of who he was, accompanied by sensations unfamiliar and yet very much a part of him.

He couldn't be Magneto. Magneto was nothing without his powers. That self, that collection of strategies for life, involved being powerful, virtually undefeatable, dangerous even when beaten within an inch of his life. He could afford to be defiant, uncooperative as a captive, since who could hold him for long? That no longer fit, and wouldn't until he got his body back. The arrogance that had characterized Magneto was only going to get him hurt. And Magnus was the same as Magneto, only slightly more human, less a facade of invincibility. No, he'd been cast back to being Erik again, the name he had dispensed with as belonging to his human self, the person who could be victimized by Nazi evil and who couldn't even save his daughter's life. The helpless man, the man who'd had to resort to begging, lying, stealing, even prostitution, to stay alive. That was who he was now.

And he hated it. But there was no other way. Pretending he was still Magneto was a luxury he didn't have if he didn't want to be tortured into immobility again.

Slowly, painfully, Erik climbed out of the tub and dried himself. He was still very weak from the effort his muscles had expended in straining uselessly against his bonds during the torture, and he still hurt terribly, but the hot water had loosened things up enough that he could stand up, even get dressed. Clearly he no longer had the luxury of being able to go naked, and besides, the cellar was especially cold in contrast to the hot water. He managed not to stagger as he walked back into the bedroom.

The food was still there, a congealed mass of green that had turned to a porridge-like consistency. It was some awful ultra-sugary concoction for children that had turned the milk bright green and tasted like it could bring on an instant diabetic attack. He ate it ravenously, and drank down all the milk, licking the bowl to make sure he'd gotten everything that was remotely edible. The sugar on his empty stomach hit like a drug, making him restless and twitchy, desperately needing to move despite the pain it caused to do so, and he used the sugar high to do some exercises. There wasn't much he could do, aside from basic stretches- he hurt too much. Trying to do just one sit-up brought a wave of nausea as his stomach muscles, abused from the convulsions, informed him of exactly how unwilling they were to contract. Running was a little more successful, but there was little room to do it in- he ended up half-running, half-staggering to one end of the room, slamming against the wall with arms out, pushing back and reversing to repeat it. Not a great exercise, but it was something.

Predictably, the sugar rush wore off and left him exhausted, shaky and hungry. Erik crawled back into bed to conserve his energy until she fed him again. Hopefully it wouldn't be sugar this time.

In fact, she was not demanding about the second feeding - the position of the sun indicated it was perhaps 4 or 5 PM when the door opened, the tray with empty cereal bowl levitated up the steps, and a second tray levitated down, to set down on the floor of the cellar. Two open cans of dog food, stale and petrified Italian bread, and half a bar of moldy cheddar cheese constituted his lunch. The intent was probably to humiliate him, but it failed miserably; Erik could still remember when a chunk of bread this size was a prize to be coveted and meat, any meat, was a delight unheard of. The dog food tasted terrible, of course, but that wasn't the point. It was meat, and under circumstances like this, he couldn't take meat for granted. The bread became edible, though still not tasty, when he got a cup of water from the bathroom and soaked pieces of the bread in it until they became soggy, and after he used his fingernails to scrape the moldy parts off the cheese, the largely intact interior was actually very good. Overall it was actually a better meal than the sugary cereal, satisfying his hunger more, although it didn't taste as good. Something his wealth had largely managed to conceal from others was that, although he enjoyed good food and ate well whenever he could, which was most of the time, in fact Erik could and would eat anything that wouldn't make him ill if he had to. It was impossible for him to entirely take food for granted.

There was little to do in the cell- more exercise, more napping, more useless exploration, and somehow he managed to kill time until the body snatcher came down the stairs with what appeared to be dinner, around 9 PM. He tensed immediately. The food was something he was looking forward to, but he was already conditioned to expect pain and humiliation when she entered his cell.

"Din-din," she said mockingly. "You hungry?"

He didn't answer, watching her face, not the food. He might have to give in far more than he wanted to, but he didn't need to play along with obvious attempts to verbally humiliate him.

"Well, if you're not hungry, I can always send it back," she said, and the tray started floating up the stairs.

He'd have let it go, but he needed the food. He could have disregarded the hunger- he'd gone hungry before- but that same experience had taught him not to go without food needlessly, and he needed to keep his strength up. "I'm expected to beg for my dinner? Is that it?"

"That's a start," she said.

"Then yes, I'm hungry. Please give me the food."

"I don't know. I don't think that counts as begging. I want to see some serious groveling here."

Erik forced down his pride, hating her. And himself, for giving in to her. "Please. I beg of you. I need food, please." And she had better be satisfied with that, because he wasn't going to do any more than that. He could go without one night if he had to.

"Let's see quite how badly you want it," she said, as the tray lowered to the ground. She knelt, took off a bowl of canned mixed vegetables, and dumped it upside down on the floor. "Eat that, and I'll give you the rest of it."

Again, a transparent ploy to humiliate him. Like the dog food, this bothered him less than it might have. He sat on the floor, folding his legs Indian-style, and picked the vegetables off the concrete with his hands. At some point while he was eating, he realized that the position he was sitting in allowed her to see his crotch, and that she was staring at his underwear. He shifted uncomfortably, suddenly painfully aware again of what she would probably do to him when he was done eating, and changed the way he was sitting so he was more kneeling on the ground. That hurt, but he didn't like being stared at and vulnerable.

After he finished, she grabbed his arm and dragged him to his feet. "You can have the rest of your dinner later," she said, pushing him toward the bed. "This time if you try kicking me in the crotch again I'm going to shock you senseless and then fuck you with the shocks again. I wouldn't try it if I were you."

He was still in a lot of pain from the assault this morning. The idea of enduring another one was almost unbearable, bad enough to make him consider bargaining. "Wait. Please."

"Why should I?"

"I-" His mouth had gone dry. This was sickening him, but he had to do it. He'd been bleeding slightly all day from the injuries he'd received this morning. He had to try to protect himself from worse damage, whatever it took. Erik swallowed and forced the words out. "I have an... alternative proposal."

The body snatcher's eyes widened. "You've got my attention. Go on."

"I... am aware, now, that it's pointless to resist you. I didn't intend to fight you... but I'm-" No. His pride would not allow him to admit that he was still hurting from this morning. He couldn't give her that much satisfaction. Instead he took a deep breath and skipped the justification entirely. "I was wondering if you would accept... an alternative."

"Like what?"

She was not going to make this easy. In fact, she was clearly enjoying his humiliation. "I could perform oral sex on you instead," he said, trying to hide how deeply it bothered him to offer.

"Don't you ever use words like 'blow job'?"


"Well, I want to hear it. No more of this prissy 'perform oral sex' shit. Make your offer again, but I don't want to hear these faggy weasel words anymore."

"Very well. I could give you a blow job instead. Is that what you wanted to hear?"

"Instead of what?"

"Instead of..." He realized then what it was she wanted him to say. Well, the hell with it. His preferred sexual terminology was less earthy than what she wanted, but he knew the ruder words in English well enough. "Instead of fucking me."

She smiled broadly, her face a little bit flushed. She hadn't yet learned how to use her magnetic powers to hide how ridiculously fast skin that fair would blush or show any sort of excitement. "Still all bruised up from your stupid stunt this morning, huh, poor baby?" The body snatcher laughed. "Sure, I'm game. But no half-assed jobs. Give me a really good blow job, and I'll leave your poor little cunt alone tonight. Do a shitty job, and I'll still fuck you. That sounds fair, doesn't it?" Her voice hardened. "Take off all your clothes first, though. I want you naked."

He obeyed, and did as he had said he would. It was not the first time he'd performed that particular service on a man, though it had been many, many years ago. Since then, he'd acquired considerable experience doing the equivalent for women, and being the recipient himself. Since the body snatcher was in his body, he knew exactly what she would like, because it was what he had liked when women had done it to him. At least, he assumed that was how it worked, and her reaction seemed to bear the hypothesis out. Remembering her warning, he set out to do as good a job as possible, ignoring the nausea and the part of his mind that screamed in horror at what he was doing. He managed to make her cry out, more than once, and by the time he was done she was gasping, sated.

"Well." She ran a hand through his hair. "You even swallow. I'm impressed. You get a reprieve tonight, sweetheart." As she pulled up her pants and stood, she grinned mockingly at him. "Where'd you learn to do that? Your sexual history a bit more checkered than I guessed?"

He shrugged, dully. He hadn't moved from his kneeling position by the bed. "You have my body. I know what I like."

"Good point. Well," she ruffled his hair again, "you're never going to get what you like again. So I suggest you learn to like what you get."

On that note she left the room again. He remained where he was for several long minutes. Eventually he mustered up the willpower to go over to the tray. There was an empty bowl where the vegetables had been, cold macaroni and cheese, and a slice of steak, burnt on the outside and incredibly fatty inside. He ate, chewing the steak methodically, welcoming the taste of cheese and burnt meat and slightly congealed blood to drive out the foul taste from his mouth. He'd completely forgotten how bad the taste was- when he'd tasted himself by kissing a woman who'd just pleasured him, it hadn't been nearly as rank-tasting as this had been. Maybe circumstances had a lot to do with it. He'd probably have been a lot more inclined to find anything pleasurable while lying with a woman he loved than while being degraded for a captor's enjoyment.

He had to get out of here. The thought that he could fall so low, that he could willingly offer to degrade himself like that to avoid pain, disgusted him beyond all measure. He had cast aside the person he wanted to be, the person he had built himself into, to be the person he had left behind years ago, but his emotions were still Magneto's. Erik had eventually learned to shut off most of the horror and disgust, to accept what he had to do to survive and not to think about it much. Magneto had forgotten how to do that, a persona created by pride. There were things he had done as Magneto that horrified him, but they were crimes against his current moral standards, not bendings of will and pride. And he didn't want to relearn how not to be horrified, didn't want to have such familiarity with degradation that he barely noticed it anymore.

The next few days passed with the kind of non-time one felt when one was a captive with nothing to do. Erik exercised frequently, showered or bathed twice a day, and slept a lot. The body snatcher fed him three times a day, mostly leftovers, dog food, and the stuff in the cans, and demanded sexual favors at least twice a day, sometimes more. As long as he obeyed her demands, she didn't torture him. It was more bearable a captivity than Auschwitz had been- no hunger, no forced labor, little risk of death. If it weren't for the rapes, his situation would be almost tolerable, and even they were easier to deal with when he cooperated- when she didn't bind him, he could shift his body to minimize the pain.

"Not as bad as Auschwitz" did not by any stretch of the imagination constitute "good," however, and thoughts of escape occupied his every waking moment. An inch-by-inch examination of his cell turned up a somewhat rusty nail file, half-buried between the baseboard and the tiles of the bathroom floor. He tried the file on the bars of the cell, but it was softer than they were- all that happened as he sawed away was that the file itself wore down.

However, the nail file could help him implement a different plan. He had been reluctant to start digging, because it would be obvious. The nails this body had come with were not long by female standards, but certainly longer than his had been, and the extra length made them useful as digging utensils and possible weapons, so he hadn't bitten them short. However, if he'd used them to dig, he'd get enough dirt under them that the body snatcher, if she had any powers of observation at all, would probably notice and ask questions he wouldn't be able to answer. Having a nail file would enable him to get around that. So he rearranged the cans in the back so that they were no longer flat against the wall; instead, they allowed a slender passage behind them to a region wide enough for him to kneel down and dig in the dirt floor, using his hands and an empty can he'd stolen off his dinner tray one night. After digging, he'd bathe and use the nail file to eliminate all the evidence of his activities.

It was slow going- he couldn't risk being back there when the body snatcher came down the stairs to feed him or demand sex, and her schedule was erratic. Breakfast could occur anytime between early morning and noon, dinner came between late afternoon and long after sunset, and she brought him lunch whenever she felt like it. And sometimes she demanded sex between feedings, so even that wasn't a reliable guide. The only time he knew she would not be coming in on him was an hour or so directly after the rapes. So instead of showering directly afterward, as he had before, he would eat if she'd brought food, and then, without dressing, channel the rage he'd had to force down during her assault into attacking the dirt floor for an hour and a half or so. It usually hurt to kneel on the hard floor and dig after his body was cramped and sore from the acrobatics she demanded, but his motivation to escape was at its highest then, and the shower afterward to wash the dirt from his naked body cleansed her touch away as well.

Still, he couldn't fool himself. At the rate he was able to dig, he'd have a tunnel to the outside of the house in several months, and he was sure he'd go stir-crazy before then. He needed to get outside. He could live in an Antarctic wasteland, or in space, or any number of other hostile environments with recirculated air and somewhat claustrophobic quarters, as long as he knew he could leave any time he wanted. Being trapped in a basement with no fresh air, his only exposure to the outdoors a pair of narrow windows overlooking the dirtline, was driving him mad.

Erik broached the subject with the body snatcher one night, while she was still lying in the bed after raping him, stroking him as if she were trying to pretend he was her lover rather than her victim. "I was wondering if you'd consider a request." He hated asking her for anything, but it was clearly the only way to get what he needed, and at the moment he would rather do a bit of begging than remain trapped here.

"Maybe. If it entertains me to grant it."

"I'm going insane from being trapped down here. Please, could I be allowed outside to exercise on occasion?" If he didn't beg, she wouldn't grant it. His only hope was to entertain her. It didn't make the sound of his diffident plea any easier to bear. "It's not as if I could get away from you, I understand that. I don't expect to escape, I only need fresh air and some free space to run for a little while. Maybe an hour, half an hour, whatever you can manage." Whatever she could fit into her busy schedule of spending outrageously on his credit cards, he thought sarcastically. She'd bragged to him about how his money was financing a complete redecoration of her house. Fortunately, since he'd had a habit of accidentally denaturing his cards, he'd only kept two on his person at any given time, and he was wealthy enough that she could spend to the limit on those cards without significantly impacting his finances, but on principle it galled.

She laughed. "You know, just about a week ago you told me you'd never grovel to me, and now here you are, begging to be let outside like a doggie on a run. Who'd have thought?" There was nothing he could say to that. The body snatcher levered herself up on an elbow and looked at him, running her free hand over his knees and inner thighs. He held himself still, tolerating it. "What do I get in return for this favor?" she asked, grinning.

He stared at the ceiling, not looking at her. "I'd assumed sexual services," he said quietly.

"Nice idea," she said, her hand slipping between his legs, fingers exploring his sore female parts. It was very uncomfortable, but he forced himself not to squirm. This was what he'd bargained for, after all. "Trouble is, you already bargained that away. I can fuck you whenever I like, however I like, and you already do whatever I want because you know I'll hurt you if you don't. So you actually haven't got that to bargain with anymore." An involuntary gasp escaped him as she pinched a particularly sore spot. "No, you'll have to think of something else."

He hesitated. "I could give you the number of one of my other credit cards. One of the ones I wasn't carrying."

"Thanks for the offer. When I run out of what I've got, I'll consider it. But that's not what I want." She withdrew her hand abruptly and rolled onto her back, gesturing with one hand. Several cans rose into the air- fortunately, not enough to expose his digging work. "I can play games with metal objects until the cows come home. But there's a lot about these powers I don't know. I want you to teach me."

As if he would do anything to help a murderer and a rapist become more powerful. "No."

"Then you don't get to go outside." She smirked.

He sat up, folding his arms over his chest. "Then I withdraw my sexual cooperation."

She looked at him hard. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"I can't stop you from raping me. But I can refuse to cooperate. You seem to get a lot of pleasure out of the fact that I'd more or less voluntarily try to please you. I do that because it makes my life easier, not because I quake in terror at what you can do to me."

"If you don't, then you're an idiot," she said dangerously. "Maybe you need a little reminder of last time you defied me?"

She put her hand on his knee and shocked him. The leg kicked convulsively, without volition, but he refused to cry out. "I don't deny that I fear what you can do," he said hoarsely. "But I have never let fear rule me. You are not the first to threaten to torture me. Do what you will, but remember that if you cripple or kill this body, you'll be trapped in that one forever." She had admitted that to him one night, perhaps unaware of what a weakness she was revealing- the reason she was keeping him alive was that when she was in a foreign body, the only body she could switch to was her own. "I am over 60 years old. I'll guess you are under 30. As well-kept as my body is, it's not going to last as long as yours could. Kill me, and I'm free of your tortures, but you have just lopped 30 years off your own life." This wasn't strictly speaking true. After Mutant Alpha had made him an infant, the Shi'ar agent Davan Shakari had restored him to adulthood at a physiological age of 30 or so. Physiologically, his own body wasn't much older than the body snatcher's own. But if she didn't know he'd been in the death camps of the Nazis, she probably didn't know the rest of his history either.

"Who's talking about killing you? All I need to do is hurt you."

"Which will, eventually, kill me."

"Not for a good long time."

"It doesn't matter. I will resist until then if I must." Her casual possessiveness toward him, the way she made free with him and expected no objections, her gloating over his degradation and his willingness to beg, all had boiled over and left him with a furious determination. If he died under torture in order to prove that she could not own him, that all she could do was make it worth his while to obey, so be it. He was terrified, and some part of his mind was screaming that challenging her was impractical and stupid, but none of that mattered now. She didn't own him, and she never would, and he would die to make her understand that if he had to.

"All right," she snarled. "Let's see you put your money where your mouth is." She shoved him back down against the bed, pinning him with her weight, straddling his chest with her legs crushing his arms and her genitals thrust toward his face. "Suck me."


The charge went through him where her legs and groin touched his body, and shot down from his chest to his feet. He screamed, bucking.

"Ready to suck it yet?"

"Guarantee... that I can go outside... and I'll do whatever you ask."

"You're not going anywhere. Suck it or I'll hurt you."

"Then hurt me," he gasped defiantly.

She did. Again and again. At some point his struggles became frantic enough that he was able to buck her off him. He rolled for the edge of the bed, blindly seeking freedom, but he was uncoordinated and weak from the shocks, and it was no effort for her to capture him and bind him.

This time she suspended him in midair over the floor, the cables around wrists and ankles pulling him spread-eagled as if he were stretched on a rack, almost upright. She raped him in the anus, shocking him there while her hands roamed the front of his body, delivering shocks and cruel pinches to sensitive places. He screamed, stretched too tightly by her power and the cables to even writhe with the pain. Over and over she shouted in his ear, asking if he gave in, promising she'd stop hurting him if he'd agree to suck her. When he had breath and presence of mind to do so, he cursed her in reply. The rest of the time he just howled. By now he no longer cared about going outside, but the fact that she would do this to him enraged him. He hated her so much. He would never give in. Repeatedly Erik screamed for her to stop and repeatedly rejected her offer to stop if he'd give in, sometimes in the same pain-wracked breath.

As she became too excited to concentrate on the cables, he fell to the floor, and she threw herself on top of him and finished in a few grunting thrusts. By then he was crying with the pain, hating her all the more for that. He hadn't cried with physical pain since he was a child. Even Zaladane hadn't been able to make him cry, not with physical pain, anyway. Someday she would pay for this. Someday. Oh dear God he hurt, he hurt so much.

For several seconds she lay on top of him, panting. The shocks had stopped, but he was still sobbing weakly. After a moment, she got off him and flipped him onto his back. Through the tears he couldn't control, he glared up at her with as much hatred and rage as he could put into a look.

"Still refuse to suck me?" she asked.

It took a few seconds to understand the question. When he did, he nodded furiously. Yes, he still refused. "Don't... own me," he choked out past the sobs and a voice too hoarse from screaming to talk. "Never... own... me..."

"Let's see about that." She lifted him with the cables and stretched him out on the bed. With her sexual arousal at his pain satisfied, she was able to focus all her attention on torturing him, and did so. Eventually he blacked out. She revived him the first time it happened. The second time, he thought he was dying, and welcomed it. He had won. She could kill him but she couldn't own him. He was free.

When he woke up, he wasn't anywhere he recognized. It looked like a private bedroom of some sort. He was alone in the room, and he hurt terribly. There was a strong smell of antibiotic cream; when he looked down at his naked body, he could see that some sort of substance had been applied to his nipples and a few other places on his body that hurt very much from the electrical shocks. In one or two places there were even band-aids.

Slowly, painstakingly Erik dragged himself out of the bed and over to the window. This was the second floor. He could see outside; the woods were not far from the house, maybe forty or fifty feet. Directly underneath the window were leafy bushes. If he could get the window open and jump, chances were he wouldn't hurt himself much. At least no worse than he hurt already. Trying to flee the house naked might not be a brilliant idea, but it was summer so he was unlikely to die of exposure, and if he got scratches and bug bites and poison ivy from fleeing through the woods, it would be a small price to pay for freedom. He reached down to the insets in the wooden frame of the window where hands were supposed to go to lift, and started to try to open the window.

The body snatcher came in. Quickly Erik dropped his hands to his sides so it wouldn't look like he was trying to escape. "How do you feel?" she asked, her tone strangely subdued.

That was an amazingly stupid question. He turned and glared at her. "I live, no thanks to your idiocy," he snarled.

"Of course you're alive. I wasn't trying to kill you," she snapped. "Believe it or not, I do have some notion of how much you can take." She walked over to him. He backed up against the window, instinctively trying to get away from her, though intellectually he knew there was no point to it.

"Indeed? And how did you come by this knowledge?" he sneered. "I doubt I'd have known precisely how much electricity a person could survive when I first came to my power, and I suspect I was far less sheltered than you."

"You were there when I did the research, remember? Or did you think I was too stupid to remember how much electricity it took to make you scream without killing you?" Her hands reached out for him. He stiffened, pressing himself against the window, and when she tried to lift him he struggled, pushing away from her. She dropped him.

"Stop fighting me," she said, rolling her eyes. "You'd think you'd know by now you're just going to get hurt if you struggle."

Which was true. He did know that. After what she'd done to him last time, though, her presence was sending a shrieking fight-or-flight response through his nervous system, and it was all he could do to control it, to let her touch him, although realistically he knew that if he fought she'd just overpower him. The body snatcher lifted him again and swung him up to be carried in her arms, like a perverse parody of a man carrying his wife over the threshold. He let himself go deadweight, not helping by putting his arms around her neck or anything else to make her load lighter. Not that it mattered. He knew perfectly well that even without using power, his own body was physically strong enough to carry the one he was in now, no matter what he did.

She carried him down the stairs, through the living room. The furniture looked new and expensive, and there were an absurd number of overpriced knickknacks cluttering every available surface. They were heading in the general direction of the basement door, and he tensed. It seemed obvious that she'd been keeping him in her bedroom, to keep an eye on him while he recovered. Now that he was conscious and clearly not dying, she was going to lock him in his subterranean prison again, and probably rape him while she was at it. If there was any possibility of escape, any at all... but dear God, he hurt far too much to handle a punishment for a failed escape right now. What she undoubtedly planned to do now would be horrible, but he could endure. If he tried to escape, and failed- and he would fail, there was no way in this condition that he wouldn't fail- that didn't bear thinking about.

But she didn't turn toward the basement. Instead she headed into the kitchen. The door to the outside of the house swung open under her power, and she walked outside, still carrying him.

Outside. It was somewhat overcast, hot and muggy with the sky mostly a shade of white and the sun visible only as a hazy smear. It didn't matter. He was outside. He took a deep breath, savoring the pollen and the perfumes of flowers and the woodsy smell of trees and the fresh scent of the mown grass. The impulse was overwhelming to leap out of her arms and bolt for the woods, but he knew better. Not only would he never get far, but it would prevent her from ever granting him this much again. He looked up at her face, unable to understand why she was doing this, but her expression was unreadable.

She set him down on the stone stoop. "You win," she said. "Congratulations, Magneto."

He stared at her. "Are you letting me go?"

"No!" She laughed. "Don't push your luck. No, I'm giving you what you asked for. You wanted to go outside, here you are."

Erik had honestly never expected her to capitulate. Had he been in her place and it had been an issue he cared about, he would never have. But then, obviously, she wasn't him, however much she might look the part. He wanted to gloat, to rub her face in her capitulation, the first victory he'd won from her. That would be foolish, though. "Thank you," he forced out, though after the torture he'd endured to get here he didn't feel in the slightest grateful. Or didn't want to feel in the slightest grateful, anyway. It was almost impossible to avoid feeling gratitude for the warm fresh air and the diffuse sunlight and the soft grass under his bare feet. A slight wind stirred, cool and refreshing against his naked skin. Infuriating that he could have fallen so far that this, which he should be able to take for granted, was something he would actually feel grateful for, and grateful toward a torturer and rapist at that.

"I'll give you half an hour every day," she told him. "You can exercise if you want or whatever. Then you pay me, and it had better be worth my time, do you hear me?"

He nodded. "I understand." And promptly pushed that part of his bargain with her out of his head. He couldn't enjoy this properly if he thought about what he was going to have to do to pay for it. Painfully Erik stood, wobbled, fell onto his hands and knees and forced himself upright again. He had to walk. There was no way he could run or do any sort of exercise today, but he knew from harsh experience that he'd heal faster by pushing himself, and he wasn't going to pass up an opportunity to be outside, to walk about unrestricted in an area so much bigger than the cell he'd been living in for over a week now. This would be easier with a walking stick to help support him, but he couldn't find anything that would suit and wouldn't ask the body snatcher for anything now.

The grass was cool under his feet, not cold like the packed-earth floor of his cell. He walked slowly, taking small, painstaking steps, his muscles stiff and terribly sore and not entirely willing to support his weight without protest. Though he knew he wouldn't be able to range very far, he did walk around the corner of the house. The stolen taxi he'd been brought here in was gone, in its place a beautiful, expensive sportscar. The dirt driveway that had led to the house had been repaved with blacktop, flowers planted along either side of it. Clearly she hadn't been lying when she'd talked about all she'd spent on his credit cards.

As he turned to walk back, he noticed that she'd followed him- which was no more than he'd expected, but the appraising stare she was giving him reminded him suddenly and painfully of his nakedness, and of the price he'd have to pay for this privilege. He shuddered slightly before he could stop himself. Erik was not one to hide from frank appreciation of his body- if he'd been, he never would have adopted the skin-tight costume he usually wore- but there was an enormous difference between seeing women, even women he was uninterested in, appraise him when he was incredibly powerful, male and in his own body, flattered by the attention and in no danger from it at all, and having a captor who'd raped him repeatedly look at him like he was something good to eat, while he wandered around outside stark naked. He tried to turn away, tried to forget about her and concentrate on the freedom of the outdoors, but it was too late- he could feel her eyes burning into him, exploring him as her hands would later. What a narcissist. Did she really think this body was so attractive? He wouldn't have given it a second glance. It was still a little puffy, though the limited diet and the constant exercise had worn away some of the fat, at least. Maybe it was a little bit more attractive now that he'd had it and had been working to improve it for a week, but certainly not worth staring at like that. Why couldn't she find other partners? His body was attractive enough; she should have no shortage of attentions if she wanted them. What was her fetish for him?

He couldn't take the suspense anymore. Erik turned around and walked toward her as purposefully as he could given his weakness. "I'm done here for the day," he said harshly. "What would you have from me?"

A smile started to spread across her face. "That eager? You've only been out here twenty minutes."

"I'm tired, and I want to get this over with. Well?"

She reached for him, pulling him in close against her chest, one hand wrapped around his waist and the other running over his body. He couldn't keep from wincing as she touched his breast, with the nipples still aching from the shocks. "Oh," she said, and released him. "Oh, of course, you're injured. It must still hurt a lot." Her tone was solicitous, but he wasn't at all sure he believed it. "I guess if I fucked you now it would leave you in a lot of pain, wouldn't it?"

That much was obvious. If given a choice he'd far prefer to use his mouth right now, and it looked as if perhaps she'd let him. "It would," he acknowledged. "Would you prefer a blow job instead?" The degrading gutter language she wanted him to describe sex acts in still irritated, but he used it because it was what she would accept.

The body snatcher grinned broadly. "Actually, no. I want to fuck you."

She shoved him, and he fell to the grass, twisting to catch himself with his hands. He wasn't fully successful; the impact bruised his hip and leg. "Get on your hands and knees. I'm going to fuck you right here."

He obeyed, breathing deeply, bracing himself for the pain. When she entered, he gritted his teeth until his jaw started to ache, fighting to keep from screaming. She seemed to be trying to cause him pain, deliberately slamming herself against sore spots. Eventually he did scream, which seemed to excite her further and bring harder, more painful thrusts.

She finished finally. He turned over slowly, trying to face her without having to sit down or otherwise put any pressure on his groin. It felt like something might be torn inside. "That's what you get for trying to dictate terms to me," she told him as she got dressed. "You win your little victory, Magneto- you get to go outside, as long as you do whatever I want sexually. And if it hurts you, too fucking bad."

She carried him inside, down into the basement, and threw him to the earth floor of his prison, knocking the wind from him. He didn't manage to recover and get to his feet until after she'd departed.

In the bathroom, he drank three glasses of water, trying to moisten a throat sore from screaming. Then, as best as he could, he examined himself for damage. He was bleeding, heavily enough that it frightened him. It was possible that it was menstrual blood, but given the brutality of the rape he'd just suffered, that didn't seem like the most likely possibility. But he doubted he could summon the body snatcher by pounding on the door to his cell, and even if she came who knew if she'd allow him to see a doctor? She'd be more familiar with the sorts of injuries women could suffer, and she might well laugh at him and tell him this was nothing, hardly life-threatening, gloat about the mighty Magneto panicking over a little blood. If it persisted until she came to see him again, he'd tell her, but he wasn't going to act like it frightened him. No, mild concern at best, that was the tone to take. Or better yet, ask her offhandedly if she'd expect this body's time of the month to occur now, and if she said no, suggest she get him a doctor, acting like it was her problem and not his.

In the meantime, he found supplies in the cabinet where the other toiletries had been. First he tried a tampon, but with the pain he was in that was simply unendurable. A pad was mildly irritating, but he felt he needed something to keep the blood from running free and couldn't imagine that he'd be able to bandage the actual injuries, assuming the bleeding came from injuries at all. He then went and lay down, dressed only in his underpants since, after the shocks, clothing on his body was irritating and painful, with his feet propped up on pillows to elevate his pelvis and let gravity help stanch the bleeding.

It was difficult to sleep with the pain he was in. He began once again to run over all the possibilities for escape. They were very few. Being allowed to go outside might make his captivity slightly more bearable, but if she continued to demand sexual favors that caused serious pain and some degree of damage in payment for going outside, in the long run it wouldn't be worth it. He couldn't afford to let himself be badly damaged, or he'd never be able to escape.

The thought occurred to him of using the blood to try to write a note and smuggle it out with a doctor- if he could get her to get him a doctor- but there were a number of things wrong with that. Write a note to who? Police coming in here would be decimated by her power. Heroes like the Avengers wouldn't be particularly eager to see Magneto get his body back, and while they would probably not recognize him if he didn't tell them the truth, and therefore they would treat him decently, it wouldn't help him a lot if the body snatcher was captured and imprisoned. She would either switch, giving him his own body back but leaving him a captive of the US government, who would undoubtedly take steps to ensure he didn't escape, or she wouldn't, in which case he still wouldn't have his own body. And he refused to turn to the X-Men for help. Not after the fiasco of their last meeting. He had considered them friends and allies, and they had attacked with intent to kill. To say nothing of what Xavier had allowed MacTaggert to do. No, he would never allow himself to be helpless in the hands of the X-Men, either. The body snatcher was almost preferable. She could torture him physically, but couldn't rip his heart to shreds with betrayal.

His Acolytes were dead. His children, last time he checked, blamed him for taking advantage of Wanda's mental breakdown to "force" her to join him- apparently so charitable a thought as the notion that a father should look after his daughter and give her emotional support when she was mentally ill had never occurred to either of them. Lee had decided that even just being friends with a mutant terrorist was a bit too much of a strain on her hectic lifestyle- not that she'd be any help anyway. Excalibur might be willing to help- if he recalled correctly, that team had Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, and Rachel Summers on it, all people he'd parted with on good terms- but they were in Britain, and he hadn't the faintest idea where, exactly. Besides, he'd parted with Storm, Psylocke and Wolverine on good terms, too, and Wolverine had tried to gut him. No, there was no one he could turn to for help, even if he could smuggle a message out- which was only what he expected. He'd never been able to rely on anyone other than himself.

What had he missed? There had to be something he had overlooked, some key he could use, some method he hadn't thought of to get out of here. Assuming he hadn't been unconscious longer than a day after the torture she'd inflicted, this was his eighth day of captivity, and he was no closer to getting away than before. He had to focus on that, had to devote the resources of his mind entirely to working out a way to escape, because if he started to think about what he'd just been through or the pain he was in, he would be overwhelmed with rage, and there was no outlet for it. He wanted her dead so badly the hunger choked him- but even if she was powerless and bound before him, as long as she was in his body he didn't dare seriously hurt her, and he couldn't imagine how to make her switch back if kicking her in the crotch and braining her with a shoe hadn't done it.

It was late when the body snatcher interrupted his increasingly frustrated and morbid thoughts with dinner. "Lying around in bed? I'm surprised at you. I thought the Ubermensch didn't believe in resting when he could be working out instead," she said mockingly.

He shrugged. "When was this body's last menstrual cycle?"


"I'd like to know whether I'm simply menstruating, or hemorrhaging to death," he said in as off-hand a tone as he could manage.

It worked. Her eyes went wide. "What?"

"Well." He turned to face her. "I'm bleeding, and inclined to think you've caused some sort of internal damage with your little power games. On the other hand, this could be perfectly normal. I don't really care all that much which- while I don't particularly wish to die, the thought of your stupidity causing the death of your body and trapping you in mine, to die much younger than you'd have otherwise, is actually attractive."

She was over at his side in a second, the tray of food lowering quickly to the floor behind her. "Let me see."

"I can't stop you."

"Take the goddamn panties off and stop being an asshole."

"Or what? You'll hurt me?" He looked up at her with his best sardonic expression. "That would certainly improve this body's health no end."

The body snatcher made a snarling noise and tore the underpants off him, roughly grabbing his legs and pulling them up to allow her to look at his genitals. He didn't resist, though she was ungentle and her fingers on his sore places were quite painful. After a moment she released him, sighing in relief. "That's nothing. I thought you might be reacting like one of the others did."

"One of the others?"

"Yeah, I hurt him pretty bad. Ended up having to kill him and take the body in for medical attention- I claimed he raped me, and the medical exam confirmed it of course. But that was big gouts of blood. This is barely what I get when I get my period. You're not going to die." She smiled cruelly at him. "Relieved? Or are you so upset with my hospitality you actually wanted to die?"

"Somewhat relieved. I don't want to die, but I'd be delighted to see you dead, and without this body as backup and with my reputation hanging over your head, my death would mean yours as well before terribly long." He kept his voice casual. "Tell me, if I had been bleeding- 'big gouts of blood,' I think you put it- would you have killed my body and switched back?"

"Hell no!" She shook her head vehemently. "Where am I ever going to get a body as good as this one? Handsome, strong, well-hung, and one of the most powerful superbeings on the planet. No, Magneto. I told you I'd keep you forever, and I plan on it."

"So you would have allowed your own body to die?"

"No, I'd have taken you to a doctor."

"Ah." He nodded. "Thus begging the question of how such damage was caused, as well as running the risk that someone would recognize you as me. Sounds like a very risky proposition. You must be quite relieved it wasn't necessary."

"It'd almost be worth it, though. If it became public knowledge that 'Magneto' had brutally raped a mutant woman, your rep with your own kind would be shot to hell. People can respect a terrorist, though God only knows why, but even you feel like you've got some moral high ground to condemn rape."

He ignored the second half of what she'd said entirely. "You are a mutant?"

"Do I look like the kind of person who gets the right to go up in space and get superpowers from cosmic rays?" she asked bitterly.

"Stranger things have happened. In the past, I assumed everyone with powers was a mutant unless proven otherwise. Now I try to be more cautious."

"Oh yeah, I'm a mutant. At least I assume so, since I started being able to do this when I was about 16." She grinned ferally. "My older brother used to fuck me when my folks were drunk, which was all the time. Last fucking mistake he made. He was the first one I did." Her expression grew fierce. "I showed him what it was like to be the girl, to be the smaller, powerless one. Then I went and told Mom and Dad what he'd been doing, as him, and then I blew his brains out in front of them. Kinda dumb of me, since I didn't know I'd be able to jump back, but-" she shrugged- "it all worked out."

Erik hadn't wanted to hear that. He hadn't wanted to hear of anything that made the body snatcher more real, more understandable, abused and human instead of a remorseless born psychopath. Horrified, he asked, "Did they- what was your parents' reaction?"

"Well, what would your reaction be if your baby boy, the apple of your fucking eye, came up with Dad's .45 and confessed he'd been fucking your daughter, and then blew his brains out?"

"That would never happen to me," he said strenuously. "If I'd been allowed the gift of raising my own children, instead of losing them to others before they were born, I would never have practiced such neglect that any son of mine could rape his sister with impunity- nor would any child I raised think of such a disgusting idea."

"I'm sure you'd be a peach of a dad, Magneto. You'd be too busy indoctrinating the kids in how to kill humans to let them develop any unhealthy pastimes like raping their kid sister." She sat on the bed. "If it did happen, would your reaction be to beat the shit out of your daughter for driving her brother to do such a thing?"

"They knew you'd killed him?"

"No, of course not. No fucking clue. No, they just knew their precious boy was dead, and they needed someone to blame." She shrugged. "I got the fuck out of there. Didn't kill either of them. My dad died of a nonexistent liver five years later. My mom's still alive. Hooray for me. You see, I do have some self-control."

"People like that should be shot before being allowed to procreate."

"How very pro-eugenics of you. You sure you still aren't into breeding a Master Race?"

He forced down his rage. "If a failure of eugenics produced you, it might be worth considering. And sadly, if you're a mutant you are what I would have called the master race, ten years ago. Another example of how bankrupt my notions of mutant supremacy were."

"Sucks to be you." She got off the bed, the mood of self-revelation apparently past. "Now. I seem to recall you made a bargain with me?"

"I have no intention of reneging. But if you don't want this body to die, and you'd rather not take me to a doctor, might I suggest you avoid anything that might cause more damage?" He sat up. "If you keep tearing at an injury that isn't life-threatening, you might make it such."

"So you don't want me to fuck you? Poor baby scared he's gonna bleed to death?"

"This isn't about what I want. I'm not fool enough to believe what I want matters to you. Yes, I hope you can manage to get your priorities straight for once, since I don't enjoy pain. But if you kill me, it's your problem."

"Seems to me like it would be your problem too."

"It's out of my hands. I won't waste time worrying about what I cannot control. You, on the other hand, can govern your actions... so I suggest you worry."

The body snatcher smiled maliciously, then moved suddenly, pinning him down against the bed with her weight. Her mouth pressed against his, insistent and probing. After a moment of resistance, he went limp, allowing her to do as she wished.

And she released him, grinning broadly. "You really, really hate that, don't you," she said, her face an inch over his, eyes boring into his. "You can try to play casual all you want, but I know there's something inside you shriveling up and dying every time I fuck you. You hate it so much, and there's nothing you can do to stop it."

"Quit gloating and get on with it," he said harshly.

"I tell you what. I got a deal for you." She leaned back slightly, her face no longer quite so close to his and her body no longer crushing him. "You're the one who made a bargain- you're the one who decided to whore for me in exchange for what you want. This isn't about rape any more, you admitted that last night. I could still pin you down and fuck you if I wanted to, but you promised to sell yourself if I let you go outside. And I did that. So I want you to whore for me."

"I don't understand what you're asking."

She released him completely, sitting down on the bed. "You take the lead. You do whatever you think is going to get me off. And you act like you want to do it, like a real whore. So you can give me a blow job if you want to spare your poor bleeding little cunt, but you better act like you're going to come the moment I shoot in your mouth."

Erik shook his head. "I can take control, that's hardly a problem, but if you want me to pretend to like it we do have a problem. I'm a notoriously bad actor. I very much doubt I could put up a convincing performance if I tried."

"Well, then you have a problem. Because if you can't give me that, I'll just fuck you." She grinned. "If you're so bloody and sore in the cunt, maybe I'll fuck you in the ass instead."

Since that was where she'd electrocuted him last night, he considered almost anything preferable to that. And she undoubtedly knew it. "Very well," he said, sitting up. His body was sore and stiff, and it hurt to move, but it was clear to him what he was going to have to do. "I accept your bargain."


Before she finished the word, he was on her, pressing her against the bed with the smallest fraction of his pent-up rage and aggression. She wanted him to take control? She could have it. He would dominate her completely, make her writhe and beg with pleasure because he couldn't give her pain, and take whatever pleasure he could from controlling the situation for once. He kissed her as aggressively as she had him a few minutes ago, his hands ruthlessly seeking out the places his most knowledgeable lovers had used to make him lose control completely, when the body had been his. She used power to scoot them both into a better position on the bed, but otherwise let him do as he saw fit.

Erik's sexuality was about as far disconnected from violence as it was possible to go. The things he'd endured in the camps had left him terrified of hurting people as he had been hurt. While he'd been known to be somewhat domineering in bed, he had never understood the concept of the sexual thrill of domination. The only reason he was controlling in bed was that he was controlling everywhere. But his rage had no other outlet, and she wanted him to pretend he liked it, and that meant he had to find a part of himself that did because he couldn't feign enjoyment any other way. And he found it, a core of himself so deeply buried he'd never before acknowledged its presence, which could enjoy dominating an enemy in bed, inflicting pain that was pleasure and pleasure that was pain. He tried things with the body snatcher that he'd always before rejected when a lover suggested them, because he thought they were too degrading to his partner. Her, he wanted to degrade, and for once she let him.

When he was done, his jaw hurt, there was a horrid taste in his mouth, and his muscles ached all the more for being forced into activity, but she'd climaxed twice and he hadn't been damaged any worse, a victory of sorts. She ran her hand down his side, a relatively harmless activity as he had no open sores or damaged skin in that area. There were bruises, but a light stroke hardly disturbed them. "That was impressive. Are you like that in bed when it's by choice?"

He smiled fiercely. "Of course not. That is the way I treat pond scum I happen to be in bed with. If that's what you enjoy, I wonder if it says something about you."

"But you wouldn't have done it if you hadn't thought I'd enjoy it. You wouldn't have dared." She grinned. "So whatever you can say about my sexual tastes, we can say that you have no choice but to cater to them." The body snatcher turned to look at him. "Although, unless you're a much better actor than you claim to be, I think you were really getting into that."

"You misread me."

"I don't think so."

"I do. That isn't the sort of sexual activity I enjoy."

"What kind do you enjoy?"

"The kind with women partners," he shot back.

"So you treat your women partners like that?"

"No, of course not. I treat them with the tender care they deserve. It may be impossible for you to imagine, but some men actually enjoy giving pleasure to women as a sign of affection or love. And no, I will not imitate that for you, whatever you demand."

"Oh, I didn't want it. I liked what you did just fine." The grin grew broader. "In fact, I liked it well enough I think that for once I'll return the favor."

He immediately tensed. If she did to him what he'd done to her, it would hurt, a lot. He'd used levels of roughness that a person who was highly aroused would find pleasurable, and a person who was bruised and injured would find quite painful. The body snatcher laughed, stroking him as she pushed him onto his back. "No, don't get all uptight. I meant it. You gave me a lot of pleasure by doing something I like, so I've decided I'll actually let you come for once, and I'll do it the way you just said you like."

"No." He tried to sit up, to pull away from her.

"No? Did I just hear a 'no'?" She shook her head. "You're not allowed to refuse me, remember?"

"This isn't necessary. I gave you what you bargained for. There's no need to return any favors."

"Why Magneto, I do believe you're scared shitless." She pressed him against the bed. "Why? I've fucked you brutally, and you haven't tried to get out of it- you just submit and spend all your time trying not to show any reaction. But I actually offer to give you some pleasure in return for once, and you go all panicky. Scared of liking sex with a man's body? Is that it?"

That had nothing to do with it. The idea of being made to enjoy a rape was what he found unbearable. But now that she'd seen his fear, she would never let go of the idea. He damned himself for being so weak, so close to the edge that he'd actually let her see a fraction of how much the idea bothered him. Now there was no getting out of it. "Do what you want," he said dully. "I can hardly stop you. But don't expect me to enjoy it, whatever you do. I'm not the sort of person who finds any enjoyment in being molested against my will."

"We'll see about that."

She kissed him gently, tenderly, sickening him. He'd preferred the brutal kisses from before; they didn't pretend to an emotion that was the opposite of what was really there. Her hands roamed lightly over his body, avoiding most of the sore places. When she kissed his neck, he shuddered involuntarily. As little as he wanted to admit it to himself, part of him had enjoyed what he'd done to her- he had deliberately tapped into the tiny part of his psyche that could enjoy dominating an enemy that way- and despite the fear and disgust he felt, he was still keyed up from that. It had been a very long time since anyone had touched him with intent to give pleasure. He tried to hold himself still, to show no reaction whatever she did, but he'd never been nearly as good at hiding pleasure as hiding pain.

Instinctively he flinched as she touched his clitoris, conditioned to expect a shock. None came, and the touch was gentle. But even when she was making an effort to be gentle, the shocks she'd inflicted on him there last night left him far too sore to feel anything but pain. Erik welcomed that, letting it drive out the arousal he didn't want and couldn't stand. Pain he could endure. Forced pleasure was more than he could bear.

Then she replaced her hand with her mouth. He jerked and tried to squirm away. That wasn't painful anymore. She grabbed his legs and held them down as she continued, and he couldn't stop feeling it, couldn't keep from relaxing into it as wet warmth soothed and aroused the sore place. "Stop it," he whispered, utterly humiliated, far more broken by this than he would be by any torture. "Please, stop."

She raised her head. "Would you rather I fucked you instead?"

He didn't care about the damage. He couldn't endure this. "Yes, anything."

"You know, that could mean you don't like it," she said. "But the last time you asked me to stop something, you'd been screaming with pain for five minutes before you started begging, and even then you weren't serious about it since you kept refusing to do what I wanted. And now here you are, not screaming, begging me to do anything to you instead of this. I think that means you do like it and you hate that you do. Am I right?"

"You've made your point. You don't have to finish this."

"Oh, yes I do. I want you to know that a male body made you come."

He wanted to scream. I don't care about the male body! You are the problem! But it wouldn't make matters any better. Almost better for her to think he was that terrorized by homosexuality than that she had such emotional power over him. As she returned to what she was doing, he tried to concentrate on something else. Think about the periodic table, think about the food stocks he had at his secret base, think about anything other than what she was making this body feel. No one had ever done anything like this to him. He had suffered rape as a child, but no one had ever made him like it. I don't like it! It's just the body responding- it has nothing to do with me... And if he could actually make himself believe that, he'd be fine.

He didn't beg again. Since she wouldn't pay attention anyway, he could cling to his pride in some small ways like that. But despite all the effort he was putting into not writhing, into not feeling, he couldn't stop himself from whimpering, from shuddering with pleasure and nauseated disgust.

It went on for entirely too long, winding him tighter and tighter while the disgust and humiliation kept him from any actual release. He was drenched with sweat, his muscles so taut it was painful. The ability to feel pain at all flickered in and out, at times the pleasure being strong enough to make the pains he was feeling everywhere fade, at other times the sensations being purely painful in and of themselves. He wanted to weep, or scream, or hit her. He wanted release. He wanted her to stop, just stop. The heat had become oppressive, even though the basement was usually chilly, and he knew that had more to do with the stillness of the air and the heat he was generating. He couldn't get his breath, and she wouldn't stop. She seemed to know all the places that this body responded to- and of course she would; it was her original body, after all. Occasional wrong notes, but for the most part she had mastery of the instrument she was playing. Eventually, exhausted and emotionally battered by what she'd already made him feel, he gave up, no longer trying to fight it. As if she could tell he'd given in, she stepped up her assault, stroking his body and playing with his breasts while her mouth ravished him. He couldn't make it stop. He no longer even had the strength to try. The sensations finally peaked, and the body arched, twisting.

She lifted her head and sat up. "There you go," she said.

Erik had never felt so humiliated in his life. He fell back motionless against the mattress and wished he was dead. The body snatcher stroked him. "See, if you play your cards right, you get to have some fun too."

He didn't respond, feeling no particular compulsion at the moment to move, or speak, or remain alive for that matter. After a moment she stepped back, disappointed that her new toy was broken. "You can give the walls the silent treatment, then. After all I've done for you. See if I care." She got dressed. "There's your food. Better eat it, keep your strength up."

He wasn't going to eat it. He never wanted to get up again. After half an hour of lying there trying very hard to stop thinking entirely, and failing, however, he realized that if he didn't eat, she'd realize quite how badly she'd gotten to him, and do it again. That was unacceptable. So he got up and choked the food down, slowly regaining some range of motion as muscles stiff from too long being tensed gradually unlocked. He then went over to his escape tunnel and dug ferociously until the light of dawn started to trickle into his cell, then showered and scrubbed his skin raw. Only then, hours after the incident, did he even bother to try to sleep.

It was late in the day, 4 or 5, when he woke up- a side effect of digging all night after being injured and weak. The body snatcher hadn't left him food, nor had she attempted to awaken him. By the time the sky went dark and the stars started to come out- about 8 PM, if he was in the latitude he thought he was- he came to the conclusion she wasn't going to.

He needed food to compensate for his injuries. If she took to starving him, he wouldn't heal. Erik took a can of pork and beans from the stack of cans, and carried it over to the bed. Painstakingly, he lifted the bed, set the can underneath the bed's leg, and dropped the bed onto the can. It took four or five tries before the can tore open, splattering beans all over the bed's leg.

He closed the drain to the sink in the bathroom and dumped the contents of the can in that to use the sink as a makeshift bowl, since the can itself was too damaged and was spilling all over. The repeated lifting had started the bleeding up again, so as soon as he was done he washed and laid back down again.

It wasn't until late afternoon the next day that the body snatcher showed up. He'd begun to wonder if she ever would, and now a sense of relief swept over him along with the usual fear and tension at her appearance. While he'd opened two more cans since the first one for his meals, the procedure of lifting and dropping the bed repeatedly was stressing the very muscles that needed most to heal, and if she'd abandoned him down here he didn't know if he would ever heal properly.

"Feel any better?" she asked, floating his meal over to him- several tinfoil containers of cold Chinese food, clearly leftovers.

"Somewhat. There's been sporadic bleeding over the past 24 hours, though, so I doubt I'm healed," he warned.

She shrugged. "I'll live. I don't have time to wait around for you to eat- if you want to go outside, you'll have to eat after I let you back in."

Since the food was cold, there was no reason he couldn't wait for it. "Very well."

The body snatcher gestured. One of the steel cables split into pieces, four of the pieces flattening and wrapping themselves around his wrists and ankles. He watched the process warily. The cuffs weren't linked to anything, so he wasn't bound, but he couldn't figure out why she was doing this if she didn't plan to bind him.

"You can pay me in advance," she said. "I've got a lot to do and I can't be bothered babysitting you. Those cuffs'll let me track you while you're outside, so I don't have to watch."

"What is it that you need to do?" For the first time, he realized that she looked tired.

"I'm going out." She sat down on the bed. "Why should I stay cooped up in the middle of nowhere when I've got money, power and a gorgeous body? I bet you didn't stay locked up in buttfuck nowhere."

In fact, if "buttfuck nowhere" translated to "a distant, isolated locale," he had spent most of his life in voluntary hermitage in such places. He didn't say that. "I'd wondered why you seemed sexually obsessed with me," he said. "Surely you should have no difficulty finding willing partners. I never did, when I chose to look for them."

She laughed. "I like you because you're Magneto. It's a kick and a half, having someone the world's terrified of as my personal sex slave. But you're right- you're getting hurt, and I've gotta give you time to heal, since I plan to keep you your entire life. So it's time to play with some new toys."

"Well, I would not want to keep you from your new toys," he said acidly. "Perhaps you should simply let me go outside, and finish your preparations. You'll hardly find a partner looking as haggard as that."

"I'm tempted. But we made a deal. You want to go outside, you pay up. Come over here and get your knees dirty."

Her interest seemed barely engaged, perfunctory- clearly she was only demanding this because it was their bargain. That angered him unreasonably. If she was going to degrade him, she could damn well pay attention to it. He would not be ignored. Angrily Erik threw himself into his task with all the intensity and focus he was capable of.

And he did get her attention. "Very nice," she said when he was done, stroking his hair. "You know, I think you're beginning to like this."

It struck him then what he'd just done, how far from his normal psychology he'd drifted. He had just actually set out to please a captor who wished to degrade him because it upset him that she was bored with him. He should have been glad of it, should have done everything in his power to encourage her lack of interest. Instead, he had actively cooperated with her, sought to please her, because his pride was stung.


is what will keep you here, old fool! You're still thinking like Magneto, without a fraction of the power to back it up! Did you learn nothing from Auschwitz? Never cooperate unless you must, never work harder than they demand, never think you can appeal to their compassion or a common humanity. If you want to live, if you want to be free, swallow that thrice-bedamned pride of yours!

He bit back any response to her taunt and sat silently. After a moment she grew bored with waiting for a reaction, and stood, pulling up her pants. "Let's go."

After letting him out, she went back into the house. Promptly Erik tested the limits of her remote monitoring, heading straight for the woods. As he neared the edge, he got a sharp shock from the metal cuffs and was roughly dragged about six feet backward by them, falling on his backside. A few more tests in different areas of the yard mapped out the range she would allow him, at the expense of several painful falls. Within that range he was able to do a good bit of exploring. He found where she'd buried his predecessors, in a garden plot on the other side of the house- at least he assumed so, since it was the only area where the soil was loose enough to reflect recently dug graves underneath. The plot was thoroughly choked with weeds, but he did find two fresh tomatoes and some fresh zucchini to snack on- he hadn't eaten yet, and fresh vegetables had become a wondrous luxury.

There were several pathways leading into the woods. He couldn't follow them, but he got as close as he could and looked down them, trying to see if he could see a road of any sort in the distance, preferably a different one than the deserted back road he'd found when he'd briefly escaped. No luck- the paths were twisty and quickly disappeared into the trees.

There were a few trees within the perimeter of his allowed movements. Erik chose one with relatively low branches, including one branch he could reach without strain even in this short body, and practiced chin-ups. The exercise he'd been doing for a week had improved upper arm strength a little- he was actually able to pull his body all the way up to the branch twice before his arms started shaking too badly for him to manage it again. He wanted to run, but with the healing injuries inside he didn't dare- he wasn't entirely sure whether running placed stress on vaginal muscles or not, but it certainly made sense that it might. Better to concentrate on his upper body for now- it needed more work anyway. He waited a few minutes until his arms had stopped shaking, then repeated the exercise, this time not pulling himself quite as high so as not to exhaust himself as quickly.

She allowed him outside for hours, much to his surprise- it was getting dark when she finally came out to pick him up. He stared at her in disbelief and shock. She was wearing skin-tight leather pants that made the most revealing of his costumes look positively modest, studded collar and gloves, and a Y-shaped set of studded straps across the chest that turned into an X in back. And an earring. The absurd costume was, in its own way, probably no more ridiculous than the short-sleeved outfit with the M on it that he'd worn to give his healing arms free range of motion, and not incidentally show off in front of Lee. But the earring seriously bothered him. He'd worn one himself, once, but the cultural context had been very, very different. Here in America, an earring worn by a man in a getup like what she was wearing tended to mean one thing. Up close, he realized she was also wearing lipstick and a masking foundation, and that only confirmed his fears.

"You- aren't going out to pick up women, are you," he said. It wasn't a question, quite.

She laughed. "Just because I enjoy fucking men in my own body doesn't mean I like to fuck other women, no. Women don't deserve it. It's men who need to be shown who's on top." She leered at him. "Don't like what I've done with the body?"

"It's rather far removed from my style."

"Yup. No one in their right mind is going to look at me and think, 'hey! that's Magneto!' I recognized you in a business suit, but I really doubt I'd've recognized you in a gay bar."

She had a point. "Since you plan to remain in my body indefinitely, I hope you have the sense to use condoms. When I take the body back from you I have no desire to have AIDS."

"Don't be a worrywart. It's hard to get AIDS from topping."


"I'll do what I want, Magneto. I'm not answerable to you. And since you're never getting your body back, I don't see why you're worried." She pushed him into the basement, lifting him with her powers by the cuffs still on ankles and wrists, and dumped him on the bed. The cuffs melted off and fell to the floor as shapeless lumps of metal, and she shut the door and bolted it, locking him away for the night.

He waited, eating his Chinese food, until he heard the front door shut, heard the car start and drive off. She was gone, and he didn't know how much time he had. He started throwing himself against the door to the basement, trying to break it down. It was impossible to get the leverage he needed- what he really needed was a running start or room to kick, but the stairs started immediately upon entering the basement, so there was nowhere to stand but a narrow step that gave him no room to lean back. He couldn't kick or swing with any real force from there, and having to run up steps cut his momentum considerably. After about twenty times running up the steps to slam against the door, he was seriously out of breath and the door had budged only slightly.

All right. He went down and got one of the steel cables, doubled it over in his hands into a kind of blackjack, and attacked the door with that. With all the strength he had, he struck and kicked at the area between the bottom and the midpoint of the door.

He'd been working on it for what seemed like forever when the wood finally splintered. The hinge gave, and he was able to shove the wood aside and squeeze out, just barely.

The door to the house was locked. She'd done something magnetically to the doorknob, so he couldn't unlock it. The window proved to be similarly sealed. He smashed the window and tried to push the screen mesh behind it out of the frame. It didn't budge, even when he kicked it, even when he picked up one of the pieces of expensively cheap pottery knickknacks that cluttered every available surface of the living room furniture and slammed it into the mesh with all his strength. He went into the kitchen, grabbed a knife, and attacked the screen mesh- and didn't manage to so much as put a tiny rip in it. Obviously she'd done something to the screens, strengthening them and welding them to their frames. The strands of the mesh seemed to be entirely metal, not metal-coated nylon like most screens, and were thicker than most screen mesh strands would be. Perhaps she'd used his powers to replace all the screens with these more secure pure metal ones. That didn't bode well for his chances at finding a window to escape through.

He went back to the kitchen again, took a hammer out of one of the kitchen drawers after a quick search, and smashed the glass panes of the kitchen door. Since he had to crawl out that way, he was thorough about it, leaving no glass fragments left in the frame. There was a screen door after that, fastened with a simple hook latch.

A simple steel hook latch.

After several fruitless minutes of standing on a chair, reaching through the shattered door pane and shoving at the screen door in the hopes that the metal latch would simply break off from the door, he gave up and went on a search for windows that had no screen behind them. The screen in the screen door was done the same way as the one in the living room, steel and unbreakable. He had to assume all the screens in the house would be like that. If he didn't find any without screens, he could probably, eventually, work a kitchen knife into the mesh and bend it enough to let him out. But that would take time, and he was short on that.

He found the right kind of window in the second floor bathroom. It was a high, tiny window- he would barely be able to fit through, even in this body. By now enough time had passed that he was getting very nervous. The window, like all the others, wouldn't open- he had to smash it, which he did quickly and cleanly by flinging the bathroom scale through it. The remainder of the glass he knocked out with a shampoo bottle, and then stood on the toilet and clambered up to the window, squeezing himself through the narrow opening. What was left of the glass scraped long scores against his arms, ripping the fabric of the blouse. He twisted, getting cuts across his abdomen, and backed out carefully, clinging to the bricks in the wall to support himself as he pulled himself out backwards, standing precariously on the window sill. Carefully, cautiously, he turned around-

-and saw headlights pulling into the driveway.

He swore and bent at the knees, almost falling over. He couldn't rush. If he rushed, he was lost. But if he didn't move fast enough, he was equally lost. Erik grabbed the windowsill and tried to lower himself off it- he could drop the distance more safely and quietly if he could lower himself the length of his body before dropping.

But he overestimated his arm strength again. When his weight came down on his arms, they refused to hold and buckled, dropping him noisily into the bushes below instead of the more controlled descent he'd planned. He hit the bushes, scraping himself against sharp little branches and getting the wind knocked out of him.

He couldn't afford to be winded. The body snatcher would find him at any minute. He dragged himself to his feet, staggering out of the bushes, and limped toward the woods, trying to force his legs to go faster.

Several lights around the outside of the house lit up, flooding the yard. Erik broke into a run, desperate to make the woods before she saw him, before she caught up with him and-

-Something tangled in his legs. One of the steel cables. Frantically he tried to extricate himself from it, tried to keep going, though by then he knew it was too late. The cable bound his ankles together and dragged him across the ground, over to the side of the house and the kitchen door.

The body snatcher stood there, her face grim. "Well. You've made quite a mess."

He glared up at her defiantly. "Rather short for a night on the town," he said, forcing a calm he didn't feel.

"When I sensed you setting off the alarms, I decided to bring my date home." She smiled cruelly. "What happens next is all your fault, Magneto."

"Alarms? I saw no alarms..." Concentrate on that. Concentrate on learning, so he could change things, do things differently next time. He would live through this. That was all he needed to concentrate on.

"Don't be a dumbass. I've been playing with electric wiring. Ran a circuit through the door to your cell when you were unconscious in my bedroom, just in case you got any bright ideas like this one. When you smashed the door down, you broke the circuit."

And he'd had no idea. No more could he have- he couldn't see current anymore. It had never occurred to him that she might have devised such a baffle- he had underestimated her, assumed her to be stupid. A wave of utter despair swept over him. If he couldn't outthink her, how could he escape? He had no other advantages...

The cable released his ankle, and twisted up around his body, binding his arms behind his back and shoving him forward. It pushed him up the stairs and into her bedroom.

"I want you to watch this. I don't know if you even give a fuck, but you whine so much about using your powers to kill only in a cause and rape is wrong and all that shit, I think you will. Keep in mind this is your fault." She opened a door, and shoved him into the open, empty closet within. The cable dragged his arms up and bound them to the clothesrack. From a drawer she took a ball gag, cuffs and metal hooks. Her power drove the hooks into the floor by his feet, and fastened the cuffs around his ankles, locking them to the hooks and binding his legs apart.

When she tried to push the gag into his mouth, he kept his mouth closed tightly, resisting her. Her hand went between his legs, bunching the fabric of the skirt. "Open your mouth, or I'll shock you until you scream and then shove it in."

Or until he lost consciousness from the torture and she was able to force his mouth open. Even if he kept from screaming, there was no way to avoid the second fate. It wasn't worth it. He slumped slightly in his bonds, defeated, and allowed her to gag him and bind the gag in place with a metal strap around his head.

And then she stepped out of the closet.

He was thrown off balance. Hadn't she been just about to torture him? Not that he wasn't grateful for the reprieve, but he didn't understand. If she was going to chain him up in a closet and then walk off, what was the point to the elaborate bondage setup?

She came back a few minutes later with a young man in tow. The fellow was slim, dark-haired with one side of his hair cropped close and the other overlong, and pretty in an effeminate sort of way. He also was terrified, his eyes wide and bright with tears, his arms bound behind his back with more cable, and Erik realized suddenly what the body snatcher's purpose was. She meant to rape the boy in front of him.

"Please," the young man was begging- he couldn't be older than 22, not much older than Sam would be now, Erik thought with a mixture of pity and rage. The bitch would pay for this. He had already sworn to kill her for the humiliations she'd subjected him to; this crime only sealed her doom. "Please, please don't hurt me. I'll do anything. I swear. I haven't done anything to you, you don't have to hurt me, please, what have I done to you?"

"Sorry, dear boy, this isn't about you," the body snatcher said coldly. "I need to teach someone a lesson, and he doesn't do real well at learning from personal experience."

The boy looked over at Erik. His eyes seemed to plead, help me, save me, get me out of this, though to his eyes Erik had to be as much a victim here as he was. Perhaps, despite the pronoun difficulties, he had figured out that Erik was the person this "lesson" was aimed at. Erik met his eyes, trying to- what, reassure him? He was powerless here. He could offer no reassurance, only sympathy and the promise of vengeance. The body snatcher forced the young man down on the bed, stripping him, binding him. Erik couldn't look away. He struggled futilely with his bonds as the body snatcher raped the boy, needing to stop this, to do anything, even if it meant killing his own body. But there was nothing he could do. He tried, uselessly, to convince himself that he didn't care- humans were constantly being killed, tortured and raped, and he'd long ago decided he wasn't going to worry about their species' problems, as long as they left his own alone. But the boy was an innocent, and for all that Erik had killed men this young when they wore uniforms and came at him with guns or nuclear missiles, he had never heard their screaming pleas for mercy, had never seen their young faces as they died. And he'd certainly never raped any of them. He was sick at heart, and so enraged that it was hard to see for the red haze over his vision.

For a moment, after she'd finished and the only sound was the young man's sobs, Erik thought that that would be the end of it, and was relieved. Rape could be survived. He'd survived selling his body for protection and a better work assignment at a much younger age than this boy; what mattered was that the boy was alive.

And then the body snatcher took him again, using the electric shocks. But she didn't hold back as she did when she tortured Erik himself that way. Erik heard the animal screams of pain, saw the young man's body convulsing as arcs of blue-white power crackled around the two, and knew long before the boy's convulsions stopped that he was dead.

The body snatcher dressed, and came over to the closet. As she removed Erik's gag he lunged forward as far as his bonds would let him, trying to bite her throat out. She belted him in the face, knocking him backwards.

"Your fault, Magneto," she said before he could say anything.

"My fault? I am not the person who just raped someone to death! I am not the one who kills for sick pleasure! Monster I may be, but I have never- have never- I will kill you for this..."

She hit him again, dispassionately. "Shut up. I might have just fucked him and let him live. I might even have taken him to a hotel room and let him have a good time too. But you made me have to return, and I wasn't going to give up my prize. He would have willingly gone with me, but since I had to fly the car back in order to deal with your escape attempts, I had to kidnap him, and once I took him here I couldn't let him live. Your escape attempt necessitated this."

"No!" He shook his head furiously. "You chose to do this. You chose to hold me captive, you chose to torture me, you chose to murder an innocent for your pleasure. Nothing you can say-" Another blow struck his face. He rocked back with it, but would not be silenced. ."..nothing you can say changes that-" And another blow. This one caught him in the temple, dizzying him. "Do you think you will change my mind by hitting me?" he demanded, and got another punch for that.

"Maybe I won't change your mind. Maybe I need to kill another half dozen faggots before you realize I'm not taking this shit from you anymore. You do what I say, Magneto, and you talk when I give you permission, because maybe I can't kill you, but I can kill them. And if that doesn't work, I'll go find me some muties and fuck them to death. You want me to go kidnapping little mutant kids and fucking them in the ass till they die? Is that what you want?"

"No, of course not. But if you do it, it's on your conscience, not mine. It is not 'my fault,' you fool."

"When are you going to learn? I don't have a conscience." She grabbed his chin. "I'm going to fuck you any time I want, and you're not going to give me any backtalk anymore, and you're definitely not going to try to escape. Because you do any of those things, and I'll kill someone. And then it will be your fault. You could have prevented it by shutting up and doing what you were told, and you didn't." She stepped back from him and gestured. The bonds that held him released, pushing him backward. He staggered, stumbling backward into the closet, falling against the far wall. "Pick up his body and bring it downstairs."

"And if I don't?"

"I'll go out and find someone else to kill. If you don't care about me attacking men, I could go after women. Or little boys. Or babies. Want to watch me fuck a baby to death?"

No. He didn't want that at all. With great effort, he lifted the boy's corpse, staggering under the load. He simply wasn't strong enough. "Let me have a travois. Something I can carry him with that grants him a little dignity."

"He's dead. He doesn't give a shit about dignity. Carry him, Magneto, or he won't be the last one to die like this."

He did his best to carry the body instead of dragging it. It required a stop every three steps, and when he tried to negotiate the stairs he almost fell twice. The second time he dropped the body, and it fell to the bottom of the stairs. Sick fury at himself and his own clumsiness warred with hatred toward her for her casual indifference toward her victim. He wanted to wipe the sneer off her face as badly as he'd wanted to kill when the Nazi engineers had talked about the difficulties the buildup of ash and fats was causing in the crematoria, as if these were minor obstacles to efficiency and not the remains of murdered human beings they were talking about. And, as he'd been then, he was completely powerless to do anything about it. Painstakingly, with tremendous effort, he carried the body out to the side of the garden plot, at the body snatcher's direction.

She gestured toward the house with her head. A moment later a spade came floating out of the garage, to land at his feet. "Dig."

The spade was obviously made of iron. If he swung it at her head, all that would happen would be that she'd deflect it. He remembered his best friend and mentor, an apparently young doctor named Peter Jansen, being shot for smuggling food- how close he had come to being shot himself, how Peter had managed to grab the contraband away from Erik and conceal it on himself without the guard noticing as soon as it looked as if they might be caught, the blood staining the frozen ground as his friend fell over dead. Most of the bodies were cremated, even back then, but it had amused the officer who'd shot Peter to make Erik bury him, as a punishment. The SS man had stood over him with a gun, forcing him to dig Peter's grave out behind the camp, the ground frozen and hard as he'd chopped at it with all the strength in his small starved body, digging with a spade just like this one. He'd been too terrified to cry, too certain that as soon as the grave was dug he too would be shot and dumped in beside Peter's body, and when he'd been allowed to go back to his work squad afterwards, alive, he had been too tired for relief, too tired for tears. The memory rose up with terrible vividness, choking him with bile, grief and fury. Oh God he wanted her dead. Didn't care any more if his body died, didn't care if he died for that matter, so long as she did. If he brained her and she jumped, would he have a moment of life and consciousness left to him once in his own body that he could electrocute her?

The spade rose up and struck him in the leg, falling back to the ground again. "I said dig. Did you hear me?"

Erik turned slowly and stared at her with a look that had inspired hardened military men to panic and demand his death immediately. She took a single, almost involuntary step backward, and then scowled at him. "Do you have a hearing problem?"

"No." Erik lifted the spade and began to dig. The murdered youngster deserved a grave, at the very least. Someday Erik would track down his family and tell them where their son was buried, but for now all he could do was bury the boy, granting him more dignity than the body snatcher had allowed him. He was neither as weak as he'd been in Auschwitz, nor was the ground as hard; it didn't take the eternity he remembered before a ragged hole, six feet long and four feet deep, took shape. He was too short to dig it much deeper than that and still be able to get out. Almost involuntarily, he whispered the first line of the mourner's Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, as he had done for Peter, as he and his fellows had done for the bodies they burned. It had been so terribly long since he'd thought it meant anything, and yet it felt disrespectful to say nothing, to be silent in the face of wrongful death. When he was done he leaned out of the grave and gently lifted the boy's tortured body, lowering it to the floor of the grave.

He started to remove his skirt, intending to use it for a shroud, or as much of one as possible anyway. "What are you doing?" the body snatcher asked sharply.

"He needs a shroud."

"He doesn't need any such thing, and that's my skirt. You don't get to dispose of it."

"You have murdered this young man for no better reason than your personal pleasures, and you begrudge him even so much as a shroud to be buried in?" His voice rose shrilly, ragged with fury and exhaustion.

"Yep. You're done here. Come on out."

With icy focus, he climbed out of the grave, carrying the spade, knowing what he had to do. He remained on his knees on the grassy earth for a moment, as the body snatcher turned her attention away from him to start tossing dirt into the grave. Her mistake. He stood, reversed the spade so that the wooden handle was pointing toward her, and without warning shoved the wood at the back of her head, aiming for the intersection of head and neck.

Something tipped her off- the motion of the metal parts of the spade, pointed away from her body? Some small sound, some sight of him in her peripheral vision? She turned, and the spade handle glanced off the side of her head instead of striking the vulnerable back of the neck. Then the spade rose, tearing out of his hands, and struck him in the legs, edge-on to draw blood. He fell to his knees, but refused to cry out.

"How stupid can you possibly be?" she asked. "Don't you know you can't kill me? At this range I'd just jump back into my own body, and you'd be the one to die. Are you actually that suicidal?"

"Even with a severed spine, I'd have enough power left to me to kill you!" he snarled. "I will stop you, whether it costs me my life or no. After what you've done, you murdering, selfish witch, I will pay any price to destroy you!"

"Stupid." She shook her head, and winced. "Ow. Damn, that thing hurt. You're going to pay for that."

She strode over to him and started to pull him to his feet. He slammed his head into her stomach. The body snatcher wasn't prepared for that. She gasped, doubling over, and he did it again, and then stood up rapidly and shoved his knee into her groin, and then started punching her in the face. He was smaller than she was and without a great deal of upper arm strength, but unlike a typical woman he knew how to hit, and he was half-insane with fury. She went down. He kept hitting and kicking her until the spade slammed into his back, knocking the breath from him and driving him to the ground.

In the moment that he lay stunned, she regained her equilibrium, and knelt on his back, pinning him. "All right," she said, breathing hard. She got to her feet, keeping one foot on his back. "You want to play that way? We'll play that way." He struggled, trying to get to his feet, but he was flat on the ground and had no good leverage against the foot pressing down against his spine. "You want to die so badly, I can oblige."

"You're bluffing," he gasped, the breath crushed from him. "You don't dare kill this body."

"Watch me."

"If you do it'll be the first intelligent thing you've done since capturing me. Because if you let me live I will kill you, I swear it."

"You really do want to die." She laughed, and kicked him in the side, hard. He rolled with it, coming to his feet, but stepped backward directly into a floating steel cable, that bound his hands behind his back before he could fight it. Erik flung himself at her uselessly, snarling, trying to slam his knee into her stomach or bite her throat out. The effort was futile, of course; her shields were up, and after a second she dragged him back by the bindings on his wrist, throwing him sideways and flinging him into the open grave, on top of the dead boy.

He was winded from his fall, but too hyped on rage and terror to really notice. Erik turned over in time to see a metal wheelbarrow full of dirt hovering over his head. Panicked now, he scrambled to escape the grave, difficult when he hadn't the use of his hands. The dirt started pouring down on him, choking him. He stumbled backward against the dead boy, the young man's hands reaching for him like his family's had, trying to pull him back down with them, stay with us, you belong with us, lie down and be dead with us, only this time his hands were bound and he couldn't reach the edge of the grave in time. More dirt poured on him, and her power tugged downward on the cable around his wrists, dragging him down, flattening against the bottom of the grave and pushing down as if she didn't know where the bottom was and just kept pushing. His hands were being driven into the earth, and she kept pouring on more dirt.

He screamed, inarticulate and half-hysterical sounds of rage and panicked fear, and choked when he did, without the breath to draw for screaming. Desperately, mindlessly he tried to pull free. The grave was only four feet deep. He could force his way out if she would only release his hands, but his hands were being crushed against the hard earth by the inexorable push of the power she'd stolen from him, and he couldn't breathe, and his shoulders were dislocating as he tried to stay doubled over so that he'd have a pocket of air protected from the dirt by his head. If he could have reached his hands to try to gnaw them off and free himself, he would have.

It took an eternity of air running out and dirt clouding into his lungs and his arms being nearly torn loose from his body by the force of his own desperate struggles before, finally, those struggles weakened. There was nothing in the world but the pounding of blood in his ears and the leaden weight of his body, and he no longer had the strength to keep fighting, though he fought anyway. He had escaped so many years ago, and now things came full circle and the ground opened up and swallowed him again, and this time he wasn't getting away. So much he'd wanted to do, left undone, and this monster who would destroy his reputation and murder the innocent with his body when he was dead was let to run free, and there was nothing he could do.

Erik focused what little energy he had left into a single thought, aimed at a telepath who might or might not receive it. Xavier... stop her... I cannot...

The world dimmed and faded around him.

And returned, in a roaring of light and pain, as someone pressed against his abused chest, making him cough and gasp. For a moment, totally disoriented, he thought he was looking up at his father. Then the figure spoke, and he remembered.

"Welcome back," the body snatcher said sardonically. "Did you really think I'd kill you?"

He didn't answer. He couldn't. His lungs hurt far, far too much to try to speak. It was enough of an effort simply to breathe.

"That answers me one question, though. You don't want to die. No one fights that hard and long against suffocating if they actually want to die. So let's not have any of the stupid suicidal shit, all right?"

He felt broken. The rage and the terror and the desperation had drained him as much as the torture had, and now he was numb. He'd been like this when he'd escaped from his family's grave, and the guards had found him and dragged him off to Auschwitz- as if all feeling had been burnt out of him, and something inside him was dead. It had reawakened then, just in time to be brutalized all over again by what he then suffered in the camps. He didn't know if it would reawaken now, or if he wanted it to.

The body snatcher dragged him back to his cell, stripped him and forced him into the shower. "You're filthy." His hands were free now- she'd released the cable when she'd taken his blouse off- but he couldn't make his arms move. They hung uselessly at his sides, as he sat crumpled in a ball in a corner of the shower. She turned the water on, and hit him when he wouldn't stand up and step into it. Passively he let her, unable to muster up the energy to fight back any more.

"You asked for it," she snapped. The cable grabbed his wrists again, and this time dragged them over his head, suspending him upright. He screamed, having no strength left to resist the pain or hide it. She released him again, and he fell, sliding on the bathtub tile. She caught him with her hands. "You going to wash yourself up, or do I have to string you up and do it myself?"

"My arms..." His voice was a hoarse, thready whisper. "I can't move them... think you dislocated... shoulders..."

"Oh well. Guess I'll have to do it then."

She strung him up again and scrubbed him brutally under painfully hot water. He kept blacking out from exhaustion and pain, and when he was conscious he couldn't quite stop himself from moaning weakly with the pain, or more precisely no longer cared enough to bother stopping himself. When she was done, she dragged him, soaking wet, over to the bed. "It does look like these are dislocated. Too bad. Guess I'll have to fix them." The body snatcher grinned ferally at him. He didn't care. She was going to torture him, he knew that, and he knew that in his current condition he wouldn't be able to resist her. He was going to scream, and possibly worse. It didn't matter. His pride was shattered, and he no longer cared much about anything anymore.

She shoved his arms back into his shoulder joints, possibly tearing the ligaments and certainly causing more pain than he was able to handle right now. He came very close to blacking out, and swam back to full consciousness to find her raping him. Well, that he expected. Sooner or later that had to happen. When she was done, she shoved him off the bed, making him fall to the stone floor hard.

She grabbed his hair and dragged his head up to face her. "Listen to me," she said quietly. "Everything that's happened tonight has been your fault. You tried to resist me, you tried to escape, so you had to pay for that. That's why I killed that kid, that's why I made you bury him, and when you attacked me that's why I buried you along with him. I could kill you. I could put a breathing mask on you and bury you alive for days if I wanted to. I don't actually need that body except as insurance. But I'd rather not- so any time you defy me, I'm going to kill someone else. I'll fuck them to death, or bury them alive, and you'll know it's your fault. Do you want that?"

He didn't answer. She shook his head, tugging his hair painfully. "Do you want that, Magneto?"


"Okay. So here are the new rules. You do what I tell you to do. You don't bargain with me, you don't snipe at me, you don't act like you're so all morally superior. You are, from now on, my slave, and you're going to act like it. And if you don't, I'll hurt you, and I'll kill someone else." She shrugged. "I really don't know what upset you so badly- you've killed before. But I can't deny that it did upset you, badly enough to try some really stupid stunts I thought you were too smart for. So, that's the way it's going to be." She released his hair. "Any questions?"

"No," he whispered dully.

"You do believe me, don't you? You know I'll kill someone else if you push me to it."


"Okay. So as long as we're all on the same page. Get some sleep- you've had a rough day."

She left. He didn't sleep. Auschwitz had taught him to weep silently, even when he was weak and despairing and no longer really cared if he was overheard. After a long time of staring into the darkness with tear-blurred vision, eventually his weakness overwhelmed him, and fitfully he did sleep.

The morning sunlight awakened him more slowly than usual. Everything hurt, and he felt sluggish, almost drugged, torn between the nightmares sleep had brought and the waking nightmare his life had become. Even after wakefulness won, he didn't feel alert. For a long time he lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, hurting too badly to be able to escape back into sleep again. His lungs were still raw from suffocating yesterday, and his arms lay like leaden weights at his side, and there were all the usual host of aches and pains as well.

A hot bath was the only anodyne he had for muscle aches. The hot water usually made whatever pains she'd inflicted on his genitals hurt worse, but for once, today, that wasn't where the worst of the pain was coming from. He lurched out of bed, dragging himself to the bathroom, and ran a bath. To let the hot water reach his strained shoulder muscles, he had to sink into the bathtub as low as he could go without getting water on his face. The water was warm and soothing, dangerously so in his exhaustion. He might fall asleep, slide the rest of the way down into the tub, and drown.

Actually, the thought was tempting.

Dispassionately, he examined the option. He knew the fact that it could tempt him at all came from temporary phenomena- or at least he hoped they were temporary. He was still drained, apathetic. A night's sleep hadn't miraculously restored his perspective. He'd kept dreaming of the dead boy, all night. In one particularly horrible variant, the victim had somehow turned out to be Wanda, and the killer was himself in his days of madness, and the himself that was dreaming had to stand outside his body and watch horrified as the himself in the dream raped and murdered his daughter. Erik had awakened from that weeping, pleading in a confused state of half-sleep for Xavier to kill him, though whether the self he'd wanted dead had been the observer or the perpetrator, he wasn't sure. He rarely had nightmares about his own crimes- when he did, it usually indicated a level of disturbance and emotional pain far greater that what he normally lived with. Intellectually he knew that even when he had been at his absolute worst he had never done something akin to what the body snatcher had done last night, never even contemplated it. But it was impossible to avoid seeing himself in her, blaming himself in some part for her crimes, when she wore his body and killed with his powers. And when he reflexively tried to twist away from the guilt and the self-hatred, there was nothing else there, nothing but utter emptiness.

If he was in better emotional shape, even the fact that he could be tempted by the thought of suicide would horrify him. At the moment, though, he felt so empty that the knowledge that he should be horrified wasn't compelling. He thought of slipping under the warm, soothing water and letting it grant him peace forever, and wondered if he had any good reason not to. The usual reasons- the sense of destiny, the responsibility to those who had died so he could live- weren't working.

He remembered the nightmares, and he thought of a reason. The body snatcher had promised not to kill again if he served her. If he didn't- if he fled under the water- she would. Xavier didn't seem to be in any big hurry to investigate, and if she never did anything on the scale of raising the Leningrad or rebuilding Asteroid M, the magnetic flux detectors that people like SHIELD and the Russians used to track him would never pick her out of the Earth's background EM noise. Most of the superheroes he knew of that were capable of taking him down were not the sort who chased serial killers- there were, thankfully, awfully few Omega class serial killers in the world. If he didn't live and escape, to warn someone or take his body back and end the threat, she would kill again, and again. And if he lived, and served her as she demanded, she wouldn't kill. She'd said so, and so far she had generally kept her bargains with him.

A lifetime ago he had sold his soul to survive. Everyone in the camps was a slave- everyone had worked for the Nazis, because the alternative was death. But there were different kinds of work, and different degrees of the evil one collaborated in. He had been Sonderkommando- the special squadron, assigned to the machinery of death. He had carted bodies from the gas chambers to the furnaces, had sorted through the belongings of the dead, had helped to kill his own people. Even among the others of the Sonderkommando, he had stayed alive at the expense of his compatriots- he'd been good with machines, even then, and he'd been classified as essential personnel, not to be liquidated, because he could fix the furnaces when they broke down. He could keep the engines of death going, to buy more time for his miserable life.

He didn't have the right to kill himself now. His continued existence, his servitude to the body snatcher, could save lives as his life and servitude to the Nazis had helped end them. It didn't matter that she had finally pushed him up against a line he found he'd rather die than cross. He had sold the right to kill himself for such a selfish reason when he'd let them make him Sonderkommando instead of choosing to die.

The door opened. He couldn't see her from where he was in the tub, but he could hear the sound of the door swinging open, her footsteps on the stairs. Erik climbed out of the tub, clumsily, as he was still very tired. There was no time to get dressed, not that it mattered. She'd want him naked anyway. He toweled himself off quickly, so he was still wet but not dripping, and stepped out of the bathroom just as she came within two feet of it.

She smiled insolently, looking him up and down. "All nice and clean?"

Anyone who sought power over another would speak the language of gestures. Erik didn't trust his voice. After last night he hated her more profoundly than he ever had, but until he could escape- if he ever could- she owned him, and lives rode on the degree to which he submitted to that. Wordlessly he went down on his knees before her, bowing his head in a gesture of submission he had never before willingly performed.

He couldn't see her face with his head bowed, but he imagined a look of shock on her face in the moment of stillness that followed. The stillness passed, and he felt her hand ruffle through his hair. "So last night really did teach you a lesson," she said, her tone half amused, half amazed. "I gotta admit I didn't expect it to work quite so well." She leaned down and tilted his head up with a hand under his chin. "Is that all it took? Threatening to kill people? I thought you were supposed to be a big badass terrorist."

They'd had this discussion before, and last night she'd forbidden him to "act morally superior," so there was nothing he could say to that. She ran a finger lightly around his eyes, stroked his cheek and lips. "Tell you what, I give you permission to get me off however you want to. You want to make it easier on yourself by sucking me off instead of getting fucked, you can."

He took the invitation as an order, and obeyed it. She seemed excited by his submission; lately her interest had only seemed engaged when she was hurting him, or the time she had made him take control and pretend to like it. If his submissiveness would serve as a substitute for his pain or humiliation to arouse her and finish her quickly, he wished he'd thought of it before- and realized that of course he wouldn't have implemented it, before. Before, he'd have preferred the pain. Probably, if it were still an option, he still would.

The task was done quickly. She stepped back and pulled her pants up. "Get dressed. I've got a job for you."

After shaking out as much of the dirt from yesterday from his clothes as he could and dressing, he followed her upstairs to the kitchen. "Let's see how serious you were about agreeing to be my slave," she said, grinning. "Do the dishes."

The majority of the dishes were three or four days old, caked with hardened filth. He had them done in fifteen minutes, and put them away at her direction. She made him wipe down the counters and table, and sweep the floor, which was in dire need of it- it looked like she hadn't swept it in weeks. Then, under her supervision, he vacuumed the living room, dusted around all the clutter of expensive bric-a-brac, and did the same for the den. Upstairs she made him clean the bathroom, picking up all the glass from the window he'd smashed- this wasn't difficult, since most of the glass had fallen outside, not in. Finally, she handed him the past ten days' worth of clothing for his own body that she'd bought and worn, and made him wash all of it. He washed the clothes he was wearing with them, too, at her direction. Funny; she had no problem torturing him until he wished he was dead, but she wanted him to keep clean. Her priorities were bizarre, to say the least.

"From now on, you're my housemaid too. You figured out last night that you can't get any of the windows or doors open, and I think you know better than to try to get away now, anyway. Am I right?"

He lowered his head, this time more to keep her from seeing the dawning hope in his eyes than out of genuine submission. "Yes."

"Peachy. So I'm gonna let you upstairs in the morning and give you orders on what to clean." Her smirk grew, sprawling lazily across her face. "I hope you're a good housekeeper, Magneto, 'cause if you do a crap job keeping stuff clean, you're gonna suffer for it."

It was clearly another of her humiliation plots. It was also completely and utterly misguided. Erik had been an orderly in a psychiatric hospital, had kept house for himself for years after he lost Magda and before he'd learned to build robots to do it. He was quite accustomed to, and unbothered by, housework. Perhaps Magneto's stiff-necked pride would have been hurt at the thought of being a menial servant, but while Erik hadn't managed to overcome all of that pride, and didn't want to, he could quite honestly feel pleased rather than humiliated by his new role. An opportunity to wander around her house, even under supervision, was an opportunity to get information about her, and an opportunity to do something other than exercise and pace, to see something other than the walls of his cell. The despair he'd been feeling since last night began to lighten slightly. It was only a very tiny bit of added freedom, but still it was more than he'd had yesterday, and it gave him some hope.

That day formed the pattern for the routine of the next two weeks. She would drag him upstairs in the mornings, usually after feeding him, and make him clean and do chores for her. Sometimes she demanded that he do this naked, or wearing some sort of fetishistic lingerie; most of the time, though, she let him wear his one set of clothes, which by now were worn and stained, although he had taken to washing them in the sink every night and had the opportunity to toss them into the wash with her clothes on several occasions. She would then mete out punishments for anything she thought he'd done wrong. Some days she'd let him outside to exercise; on other days she would deny him the privilege, as a punishment or because it was raining. He was allowed some degree of freedom within the house- he could walk about without her direct supervision while he was doing his chores- although she would give him assignments to be completed by a certain time, and if he didn't make the time limit there would be punishment. As nearly as he could tell, she spent her evenings going out- she would lock him in the basement then, and she'd reinforced the door with steel, so he couldn't hope to break through it again. He used her absences to dig, for far longer than he'd dared do while she was in the house all the time.

The greatest advantage of this new routine was that it gave him access to newspapers. She seemed to have a habit of collecting newspapers from various cities- one day it would be the Washington Post on the kitchen table, the next day it would be New York's Daily Bugle, and then the Philadelphia Inquirer would turn up. Having nothing to read, no way to learn anything about what was going on the world, had been driving him nuts in a subtler, more insidious way than being cooped up in the basement had. He didn't usually have much time- she would order him upstairs, set him to work in the kitchen, and disappear for several minutes. If the dishes and whatever other kitchen tasks were set for him weren't done by the time she got back, there would be punishment later, and she was eager enough to punish him that she generally cut it awfully close. But he often had long enough to scan at least the front page while he washed the dishes, propping it up over the sink so he could read it. He also often had an opportunity to steal food from the refrigerator- he was never incautious enough to take something she could easily count, never a whole apple or a roll or something else easily quantized. But a mouthful of applesauce, a bite of cheese sliced from a cheddar brick, a quick drink of milk or fruit juice- that he could manage without drawing her attention.

After she came back, he'd be set to work in other rooms, where the opportunities for stealing food or information were considerably less, but if she disappeared again he sometimes had a moment to run back to the kitchen and read a bit more of the newspaper before she returned. And, on one occasion, he found several pieces of her opened mail stuck under the cushions of the couch. This was a truly valuable find. From the names on the bills, he deduced that her name was either Lisa or Lee Davies- probably Lisa, and Lee was the male pseudonym she used in stolen bodies. From the address, he could see that they were in Clearfield, Pennsylvania, though he hadn't a clue where in Pennsylvania Clearfield might be. From the bills themselves, he was able to determine that before she'd kidnapped him and stolen his credit cards, she had probably been used to a comfortable middle-class standard of living. For the first time, he wondered what she did for a living- she couldn't very well go to work in an office if she was wearing someone else's body. Whatever it was, it had to be a source of income that she was still getting, as she couldn't pay her bills with his credit cards. One of the upstairs rooms was sealed off, locked all the time, and he could smell paint through the door. Perhaps she was a freelance artist or something? It was hard for him to imagine that such a lout could have an artistic gift, but then, artistic talent did sometimes go along with twisted mentalities.

She didn't catch him with the bills, and he didn't let on that he knew her name now. She did, frequently, catch him reading the newspaper, or watching the news on television as he vacuumed the den, with the sound turned off and the closed-captioning on. She punished him when she caught him at it, but since she never threatened to use the one real lever she had on him to make him stop, he put up with the risk of punishment as acceptable. Apparently she didn't classify such behavior as real disobedience.

For real disobedience- attempting to escape or commit suicide, resisting sex, balking at direct orders, talking back to her- she had warned him that she would murder innocents. He didn't dare try. It didn't matter that he had to choke back bile and fury as well as the defiant replies he wanted to make, when she said something particularly degrading or untruthful. It didn't matter that bowing his head to her and obeying her idiot whims was one of the hardest things he'd had to do in recent memory. He would not be the one who suffered, if he failed. And as willing as he might be to break a few innocent eggs in the making of the omelette of mutant freedom, the one thing that separated him from a monster- the one thing he had to cling to, to define his morality, to let himself believe that he could be a good person in any way at all- was that he had never, and would never, hurt the innocent for personal pleasure. Which also translated into pushing the body snatcher into hurting the innocent because his own pride could not bear what she required of him. He would not, could not, do that- as horrible as he found it to feign subservience, he had done it before when nothing more than his own life was at stake. He had bent his head before the Nazis, worse horrors than the body snatcher by far. He couldn't do it again to save his own life, but to save others- he had no choice.

So the small disobediences, the stolen food and the snatched paragraphs of news, were all he had to assert himself, and she allowed those because she enjoyed punishing him so much. When he failed to complete work on time or she caught him doing something she'd forbidden, the punishment generally involved something from her twisted arsenal of sexual fetishes. These were sickeningly humiliating, and often very painful, but rarely involved any kind of serious damage- for instance, she usually beat him with a belt rather than a whip, which left wide, sore welts but hardly ever broke his skin or left a scar. The rapes themselves left him bleeding almost all the time, but never seriously- not that he had much experience to gauge what a "serious" level of vaginal bleeding was, but she assured him that what he was suffering was less severe than menstrual bleeding, and that based on her experience in torturing this body, making it bleed and then occupying it again, it wasn't dangerous or permanently damaging. And anything that didn't damage him permanently, he could endure. It was a calculus he'd first learned in Auschwitz- the fine art of trying to disobey just enough to make your life endurable, not enough to get you killed. In Auschwitz, the disobediences had centered around acquiring food and not dying of overwork, while here they were considerably less vital to physical survival, but the principle was the same.

Her sexual tastes had changed- simply raping him wasn't enough for her anymore. Most of the time, the rapes had taken on a surreal, hyperbolic quality, involving role-playing, outrageous costumes and bondage in various bizarre positions. The punishments tied into that, although she would find excuses to hurt him, or hurt him without bothering to come up with an excuse, if she wanted to. Occasionally she videotaped the goings-on as well, after she'd figured out how to use her powers around a videocamera without erasing the tape. On one particularly horrific occasion, she'd made herself a replica of his costume and impersonated him, doing a frighteningly good impression of his speech patterns, while keeping him gagged so he couldn't protest and spoil her illusion. Fortunately, she hadn't videotaped that one, or repeated it- yet.

Erik could understand all that, though. He had never known desire for power to be sexual himself- in him, they were two entirely separate issues- but he could imagine how a sufficiently twisted person could be aroused by a victim's subservience and humiliation. There were other occasions that were far less explainable- the times when she seemed to show him a weird sort of tenderness, when she kissed and caressed him and held him as if she thought he really was doing this by choice. That, he truly didn't understand. How could you get pleasure out of hurting and humiliating your victim, and then turn around and pretend to make love to them as if you were fantasizing that you actually cared for them? She would also frequently treat him with a bizarre imaginary tenderness after a session of "punishment", which made even less sense.

Her attempts to feign affection during rape disturbed him, but they left him in much better physical shape than her sessions of sadism did, so he did what he could to encourage them. While she was perfectly capable of demanding that he take initiative to give her pleasure, she seemed to get a particular thrill when he did it unprompted, and since he wanted to encourage her not to hurt him, he was careful to give her that when she hadn't deliberately caused him pain. Unfortunately, she sometimes seemed to take that as an invitation, or perhaps challenge, and would try to give him pleasure in return. He was having a hard enough time dealing with the fact that she'd brought him to the point where he would actively seek to please her, regardless of what his coldly rational reasons for doing so were. The fact that she could make him climax, even if it took her an hour of work and was only possible because she knew this body's wiring as well as he knew what to do to her in his own body, was more than he could endure. After the fourth time she'd done it, he learned how to fake orgasm, to make her quit before she'd actually made him betray himself.

He no longer had any notion how he was going to escape. He still believed he would, but it was a belief that had no real force behind it, something he was believing for the sake of his sanity. He couldn't keep going, if he didn't believe that somehow, some way, he'd get out of this. And history did bear out that he always had. Nightmares told him how close he'd come to despairing in Auschwitz, but at the time he hadn't let himself acknowledge that, had concentrated entirely on surviving another day in the belief that if he survived enough of them, someday, somehow, he would be free. And he had won free. He could do it again. Someday, somehow. If he applied the tactical knowledge and the realistic assessment of odds that experience had given him the ability to use to this situation, he would die, because realistically he had no hope. But then, realistically he'd had no hope of escaping Auschwitz, either. Or conquering the world. Or surviving, the hundred times he should have died. He had a great deal of practice at not being a realist, when he needed not to be. So he continued to dig his tunnel to the outside, though the odds were overwhelming that he'd never make it to the surface before she caught him, and he continued to mark off the days, as if just by keeping track of how long he'd been here he could accomplish something constructive.

Twenty-six days into his captivity, he knew how to tell when the body snatcher was angry, and that, even if her anger wasn't directly at him, it would end up being taken out on him. She was screaming at the telephone, "What do you mean, denied? It can't be denied... put it through again!" as he came in with the beer and sandwiches she'd told him to bring. The tone of her voice made it obvious that, even if she solved whatever problem this was, she'd still most likely take out the anger she'd suffered on him. His stomach clenched, and he had to fight to keep the look of hopeless rage off his face.

"Goddamnit!" She slammed the phone down, and turned toward him, her face suffused with fury. "Your credit card just got declined," she told him nastily, as if expecting him to be able to fix it, or blaming him for the situation.

"I do not have an infinite line of credit," he said, trying very, very hard not to let his tone go sardonic, not to show what an idiot he thought her. "How much have you spent?"

"Enough, apparently. Put that down here!"

He obeyed. "How much money do you have?" she asked, magnetically removing the cap on the beer bottle and swigging some down.

"A great deal."

It was the wrong thing to say. Power shoved him toward her, and her hand reached up and grabbed him by the throat. "I didn't just hear you wising off to me, did I?"

"No, sir." In his own mind, he counted her as female, since he counted himself as male; however, she seemed to want to be thought of as male.

"That's funny, I could have sworn you just said something sarcastic to me. Are you calling me a liar?"

She was looking for an excuse to punish him. There wasn't going to be any way to get out of this. He lowered his eyes. This little scenario had played out enough times that he didn't even need to choke down bile anymore when he said, "I'm sorry, sir. I didn't mean to."

The body snatcher flung him to the floor. "We'll have to do something about that wise mouth of yours," she said. "Later. Right now, though, you get a temporary reprieve, if you answer the question. How much money do you have?"

"I'm not sure. Over a million, perhaps two million." This was another lie- he was worth something like a hundred times that. He hadn't actually checked the figures in quite some time. Even after he had his accountant create a foundation to disburse the seed capital, the gold he'd stolen from HYDRA, back to as many of its original owners as were still alive, his other sources- investments, the interest he'd made while he'd had the whole thing, and additional gold he'd pulled out of asteroids in the course of building yet another Asteroid M- had left him with over 200 million last time he checked. There was no way he could finance rebuilding Asteroid M, or acquiring the non-ferrous materials he needed for his bases, or paying for food for an entire small city, without that kind of money. However, the body snatcher had no way of knowing that, and two million would sound fabulously wealthy to her. He hoped.

It worked. Her eyes widened. "Two million dollars?"

"I haven't checked my accounts in months. It might be less than that by now."

The body snatcher grinned maliciously. "Well, here's what we're going to do. You're going to take all that money, and you're going to transfer it to me. If you don't, you know what will happen."

The murder of innocents. He lowered his head and let his expression go dull, resigned. It wasn't hard. He'd done it far too many times in the days since she'd killed the boy, and most of those times it had been real. "Yes," he said softly. "I know."

"A guy like you, wanted mutant terrorist, I figure you must do a lot of your banking by remote. Letters with notarized signatures and whatnot. We aren't going to have to go anyplace in person to do this, I don't imagine." Her tone indicated that they'd better not have to.

Erik looked up. "I'll need a pen, paper and a fax machine. I'll also need a name for you to deposit a check under. I'll simply write a letter to my broker telling him to cut a check for the balance of the account and make it out to a new name- I've done this several times, so he'll hardly question it."

"You're taking this well."

"When I get my body back, I can raise more funds easily enough," he said sharply, unwilling to let her pursue that line of thought to its logical conclusion. "You've stolen things I value far more than money; why should I care that you've made a pauper out of me, when I'm still your prisoner?"

She laughed. "I love you, Magneto. You're still clinging to this fantasy that you're going to get your body back, even though you and I both know it ain't gonna happen. Here." The body snatcher pulled a pad out of a drawer under the phone, and handed it to him with a pen. "Write your letter. Have the check made out to Lee Davies, and send it to PO Box 559, Philadelphia, PA 19104."

"Philadelphia? Isn't that rather far away?"

"At the speeds this body can fly? You know better than that." Another cruel smile spread over her lips. "Oh no, I know. You were trying to get me to tell you where we are again. I think I'll have to punish you for that too."

She had never forbidden him to try to get her to tell where they were. He bit that protest back, knowing it would be pointless, and bent over his letter, wondering if there was any way he could slip in a coded message for Aaron. The accountant was a very old friend of his, a man he'd known in Auschwitz, who almost certainly had to know who Erik was but had so far carefully managed to avoid ever asking any questions to which "Magneto" might be the answer. Which meant that there was no way to quickly and cleanly explain to Aaron what had happened, and Erik couldn't risk dragging him into this- he had never involved his old friend in his bizarre lifestyle before, and he couldn't take the chance that doing so now might make him a target of the body snatcher. Instead, he simply requested that account number 178493-20 be cleaned out, and the entire balance put in a check made out to Lee Davies, to be mailed to the address the body snatcher had given. He signed it, with the pseudonym he generally used with Aaron (Aaron knew his real name, but Erik felt safer with that name kept off paper everywhere), and wrote the fax number in the lower margin.

"Peachy. I'll fax this off today. In the meantime, you told me you have some other credit card numbers memorized? Give me one."

He gave her one of the ones with, for him, a low credit limit, and she called up and completed her transaction, whatever it was she was buying. When she was done, she appeared to be in a much better mood; she didn't even punish him when she discovered that her beer had gotten warm, but simply sent him to get another one.

After she finished her food and her beer, she ordered him to her bedroom. He obeyed, keeping his head as high as he dared without triggering a beating for being arrogant, and his face as expressionless as possible. He shouldn't be afraid. He'd endured far worse than what he was about to get. Zaladane's tortures, the mental violation so much worse than any physical one, less than a year ago. Wolverine's claws tearing through the flesh of his belly, slicing through ribs. Dozens of beatings by assorted superheroes, in combat. The terrible headaches that used to plague him, the pain he lived with for most of his early career. Auschwitz. No, he should be immune to pain and humiliation. Ridiculous that he might fear what a jumped-up punk kid who didn't want him dead might think of to do to him. The dryness in his throat, the nausea churning in his stomach, the tension and hyperawareness all through him, these were foolish reactions, unworthy of him. All she was going to do was rape and beat him. He'd been through so much worse. This shouldn't affect him at all.

When she ordered him to lay down on the bed on his back, spread-eagled, and then the shackles came up from the iron posts of the bed and locked around his wrists and ankles, he actually had to fight to keep visible signs of the fear off his face. She rarely bound him unless she planned on causing a lot of pain. This one was going to be bad.

It was.

Afterward she lay next to him, tracing with a light finger the bruises and welts she'd left on his skin. Erik stared at the ceiling and tried to pretend he was anywhere but here. It didn't work very well. It had been easier to escape into fantasies when he'd been a child, when the possibilities seemed as if they would be infinite if only he could survive long enough to get out of there. Unrealizable dreams had stopped being enough for him years ago, when he'd made the decision to actively pursue his dreams, however outrageous they seemed. He'd lost the ability to lose himself in fantasy, becoming entirely too focused on practical planning to make his daydreams come true, and right now the only thing he could bring himself to try to plan was his escape from here... and he hadn't the vaguest idea how he was going to do that.

"That was nice," she said, making no move to release him from his bonds. "You're shaping up well, you know. A year from now, and you'll have forgotten you ever were anything other than my obedient sex slave."

He wished he could dismiss that possibility with as much as confidence as he'd have had two weeks ago. "Will you want me to finish the chores now?" he asked dully.

"Oh, no no. We're not done here. I've got a new trick to show you."

Not done here. The despair he felt must have shown on his face, because she laughed. "No, no. You'll like this, I promise. Well. Maybe you won't, given your weird hangups, but it won't hurt, anyway."

If anything, that made matters worse. He focused on a small blotch of plaster on the ceiling, trying to keep his breathing even, trying to keep his face empty of all expression. Her hand stroked the side of his head. "Tell me what you think."

The world exploded, brilliant light and migraine pain kaleidoscoping across his consciousness. Erik screamed, trying to double over, trying to press his hands to his head, the fact that he was bound and couldn't do either of those things not entirely registering through the pain. And then it faded, and he felt an uncontrollable twitchiness, his body jerking in tiny tic-like movements despite all his efforts to hold still. There was a taste of cherries and spinach and his mother's noodle soup, all at once, in his mouth. "What- what are- my God, you're trying magnetic induction on my brain, aren't you?"

She grinned down at him. Her image reversed, flipped upside down, went through several distortions. Erik twisted his head, trying to move out of her range, and heard voices, a deafening chorus from his past, screams and lullabies and Xavier arguing with him and Anya's childish voice, drowning anything the body snatcher might have said. And then he was saying something, babbling, words pouring out of his mouth but he couldn't even hear what he was saying, much less censor it.

His head was caught in a vise-like grip. The intrusive hallucinations faded, and he realized that she'd actually caught his head in a metal vise, preventing him from twisting it. Erik stared up at her. "You can't do this," he said, horrified to hear the pleading note in his voice. "This isn't something simple, something my body would have any reflexive knowledge of doing. If you don't know what you're doing you could cause a stroke, or an epileptic seizure, or permanent brain damage. I experimented on animals for years before I dared try this."

But of course he had tried, eventually experimenting on humans because he'd needed to know how, needed to induce people to tell him the truth, and if they could resist the manipulation of their speech centers to make them babble everything that came into their heads, then he had to know how to cause them pain. The Nazis he'd been hunting had been hardened men, resistant to the terror his powers could inspire, resistant to torture. He hadn't been able to do them serious damage, not if he was going to turn them over to the Israeli authorities- not that the Israelis would care if some Nazi war criminals suffered, but it would make them look bad to the world court. So he'd experimented with magnetic induction of the pain centers, to make them suffer and break and tell him everything he wanted to know about where their compatriots were hiding without causing them any overt damage. And if he lost one or two... well, they resisted arrest.

The memories of his own inhuman actions, of studies in the art of torture that had culminated in using his abilities on fellow mutants, rose up and sickened him. For a despairing moment, he felt that he deserved this, everything she was about to do. He'd used this power to torture others exactly as she was about to do to him. And he hadn't known as well as he could have what he was doing, either. He'd accidentally killed some or done their brains serious damage before he'd gotten the process right. Exactly as she might now do to him.

"I can do anything I want to," she said, her voice hard. "Have you forgotten? You don't give orders here, Magneto."

Perhaps he deserved this. But he had to try to keep her from doing it regardless. "No, I- I only meant, you wouldn't wish to damage this brain. You might end up destroying your own mutant power, so that if you ever do need to switch back, you'd never be able to leave again."

She stroked his forehead. "Oh, admit it. You're terrified. You don't want me to do this because you can't imagine that anyone else could have learned to do something in a month that took you a long time to learn, and because you think I'm going to hurt you. Isn't that right? You're scared, aren't you?"

There was really no point in denying it. With her fingers stroking his forehead, she could feel the sweat that was pouring from it, the clamminess of his skin. If she was monitoring his heart rate- which she was, hopefully, as if she started to interfere with his autonomic nervous system and she didn't catch it, he would die- she could surely see that his pulse had skyrocketed. "Yes," he whispered. Maybe begging would save him this time. Sometimes it did. "Please, don't do this."

The body snatcher laughed. "Don't worry. I've practiced. But you'll have to tell me exactly what it feels like- otherwise I might mistake pain for pleasure. As long as you cooperate, you won't suffer. In fact, it'll feel quite good."

So she was going to try magnetic induction of the pleasure centers, then. Ironically, he himself hadn't seriously used that until he fell in love with Aleytys, and had used it once or twice to enhance her pleasure- he'd known how to do it, he'd tried it on animals and captured Savage Landers, but he'd never actually used it until then, and had never used it as a weapon. Uselessly he tugged at his bonds, tried to free his head.

"Oh, stop that. You know you can't get away. Now tell me how that feels."

There was no pain, or pleasure, or any somatic sensations. But his vision had whited out, to be replaced by a shifting kaleidoscope, like what one saw when one pressed against one's eyes. He was silent. The thought occurred to pretend that this was significant, but no, she was probably monitoring his heart rate. She'd be able to tell.

"Don't want to tell me what that one does? Oh well, I can see it doesn't do much for you. How about this?"

And he was burning alive, what felt like every nerve ending flaring with pain. Erik screamed, thrashing, and the pain stopped. "Didn't like that, did you?" He continued to be silent, breathing hard with reaction. "Did you? I mean, we can go back to that one if you liked it-"


The word came out almost without volition. He damned himself, damned his weakness and his fear. She smiled. "How about this one?"

Insects were crawling all over his body, a horrible itching everywhere. Again he struggled, trying to free his hands so he could scratch, trying to scrape as much of his body against the bed as he could to relieve the itching. "Do you like that one?"

"Please- please, stop-"

Her free hand ran over his breasts. Maddening. If she would only scratch instead of stroking, it would be such a relief, but the stroking was only making the itch worse. "You're not screaming, and you're twitching and writhing, and begging me to stop. This must be it."

He should let her go on thinking so. He should endure the horrible itch, letting her think he was feeling pleasure, so she wouldn't be able to humiliate him by making him climax. She pinched his nipple, making it flare with itching as her hand moved away. "It isn't, please, stop, please..."

"Isn't what?"

"It isn't whatever you were wanting me to feel!" Her hand was on his hip. Oh God scratch there please it's driving me mad don't know how much longer I can go without begging you for release what am I talking about? I'm begging now, can't make matters worse, doesn't matter she's going to bring me down as low as she can, can't stop her oh please make it stop "It itches. Terribly."

"Oh." She looked surprised. "Really? I thought that one was it. Well, how about-"

He had once been sufficiently driven by sexual need too long unfulfilled that he'd changed his plans, decided to call off an attack on a base he was going after so he could kidnap and seduce one of the superheroines who'd attacked him. It was not one of his finer moments, and it was the only time in his life that he'd been ruled by his desires rather than ruling them. Until now.

There was nothing to compare this to. It was as if he'd been dipped in a cauldron of pure sexual heat. Every part of the borrowed body was afire with need, to be touched, aroused, fulfilled. All of his willpower wasn't enough to keep him from moaning, from writhing, though he managed not to beg.

"There we go. That's better, isn't it?"

He stared up at her, hatred, rage and humiliation at war with desperate need. She ran her hand over his body, along his side back up to his breasts, making him shudder involuntarily with pleasure. The first time she'd made him feel pleasure he'd begged her to stop. Since then he'd learned that there was absolutely no point to that- she wouldn't. All he could hope to do now was keep from begging for her touch. A lifetime of mastering his own desires, and he was reduced to that, that all he could do was not beg to be raped, and even that was starting to dissolve under her ministrations. She could be a cruel tease rather than a brutal rapist when she chose to be. Orgasm racked him, and didn't satiate at all, the stimulation to the brain keeping him in a state of frantic arousal. Most of him was horrified- she could keep him like this indefinitely then, needing and never being fulfilled, climaxing and never truly achieving release, until he finally did beg or she got bored with the sport. Part of him, however, was weaker than the rest, and embraced the torment hungrily, and that part was unfortunately mostly in control of the body. When she kissed him, all the willpower he had wasn't enough to keep him from responding, from pressing himself against her and grinding his hips, seeking stimulation desperately.

The induction faltered when she took him, her concentration no longer sufficient to maintain such a focused magnetic field, but the unwanted arousal didn't dissipate. Unlike pain, which was usually strictly a matter of nerves either firing or not, pleasure was a synergistic thing, stimulation releasing hormones which prolonged and intensified arousal, so even without the direct stimulation of his brain to generate sexual desire, the arousal that the stimulation had already caused was enough to carry him. For the first time, the sensation of her thrusting inside him was pleasurable, desired, needed. He hated the pleasure, but couldn't stop feeling it. The orgasm, when it finally hit, was strong enough to white out the world for a moment, and without the induction continuing it was actually a genuine release this time, leaving him strengthless, every muscle as limp as overcooked pasta afterward. The body snatcher finished a few thrusts later, while he still lay shell-shocked and weak underneath her, and pulled out.

"See? Now wasn't that nice?" she purred at him.

At the best of times he was somewhat subject to post-coital depression, and this was hardly the best of times. The lessening of resistance caused by the orgasm, and the utter humiliation of what he'd just been made to do and feel, crashed in on him. He managed not to sob, but he couldn't stop his eyes from welling with tears.

"Poor dear." She kissed his wet eyes, a parody of comfort. "Someday you'll learn to like that; you'll live for it, beg for it, do anything if only I'll fuck you like that. We've just got to get you over this arrogant belief that you can control what you want and feel, and get you to accept that you're going to be a slave no matter what you do, so you might as well relax and enjoy it."

"I'll kill myself first," he whispered.

"Naah. You're too proud. You won't admit defeat. And when the pride's finally broken, you'll realize how much pleasure you could get out of this life, if you just didn't let your pride get in your way. Think about it, Magneto." She ran her hand through his hair, releasing the vise and moving it with power away from his head. "I'm going to fuck you every day whether you like it or not. But imagine if it was like that every time. Imagine if, instead of being a painful rape, it was the best fuck you ever had in your life, every night."

He was imagining it. It was one of the most horrible things she'd threatened him with since he'd been captured. Sex was sacred, something to be shared between lovers, an act of love and total trust. It was bad enough to be raped, but to be made to enjoy it that way violated the essential nature of what sexuality should be, turned pleasure itself into something disgusting and sordid, the way he'd thought it was before he'd learned to see the transforming power of love. For the first time it occurred to him that even if he managed to escape before she broke him completely, he might have suffered irreparable psychological damage- not that he hadn't suffered plenty of that in the past, not that he hadn't overcome everything life had thrown at him so far, but if she kept doing things like this to him, he doubted he'd ever be willingly able to make love again, once he was free. And wondered if it had already progressed that far. Right now the thought of sex disgusted him beyond belief. That might just be a temporary reaction to what she'd done to him... or it might be more permanent.

And that itself assumed that he would really get away.

She let him get up and finish his chores, fed him, let him go outside for half an hour, made him watch as she picked out more outrageous leather clothes for her night on the town, and finally locked him in his basement cell for the night. He'd managed to shut off the horror of what had happened as long as she was watching him, the same way he'd learned to shut off the horror of the dead bodies, of the endless procession of the dead from the gas chambers to the furnaces, the child who'd known her fate and challenged him, demanding to know why he was helping to kill his own people. A temporary shunting, blocking off the memories until he was no longer in immediate danger. In Auschwitz he'd always been in immediate danger. The temporary block had turned permanent, and he'd gone through what he had to do while thinking about it as absolutely little as possible. He'd lost that skill. When he stepped into the shower to try to wash her away, the memory of what she'd done to him and his own helplessness to stop her came back, overwhelming anything else he could think. He tried to fight it off, tried to concentrate on soap and shampoo, but the touch of the warm water, his own hands on this body scrubbing it, brought back vivid tactile memories, and with them the despair that he'd felt at the time. Sheltered by hot water, with no one to hear him over the sound of the shower, Erik collapsed to his knees and sobbed brokenly, for long minutes convinced that he really never was going to get out of here, that things had come full circle and now he would pay for surviving the first time, for all his crimes since, by being a slave for the rest of his life.

He'd kill himself first.

No, that wasn't even an option. She was malicious enough to carry out what she'd threatened even when he was no longer around to see it. She'd threatened to torture innocents to death if he tried to kill himself, and he didn't doubt that she'd do it even if he succeeded, and escaped her that way.

There was no way out.

Erik leaned his head against the tile, utterly spent. The water washed over him in a steady curtain of soothing heat. He wasn't beaten yet. He refused to believe that. Though he had no faith in any rescuers and still less in the one he was thinking of, it was becoming painfully clear that he had only one hope.

Charles had always thought Magneto was a latent telepath. Erik still considered the idea unlikely. His magnetic powers had allowed him to imitate some of the trappings of telepathy, that was all. Magnetic induction on the brain could produce mind control effects, and electromagnetic amplification of a non-telepath's mental radiation could mimic the telepathic application of broadcasting one's thoughts, to allow him to contact sensitives (such as true telepaths) at a distance. It wasn't truly relevant in either case, since even if he had had latent pools of telepathy buried under the weight of his natural mind shields, that would have gone along with his body, he was sure. In either case, however, he had, in the past, joined his mind to Charles,' in an attempt to amplify Charles' power to the point where he could telepathically contact Galactus. And even before that, they'd always been sensitive to each other- he'd been able to detect Charles using his power in San Marco, and Charles had frequently been able to zero in on him without Cerebro's help.

He closed his eyes, trying to empty his mind of anything except his mental image of Charles Xavier. If he could only contact Charles... it hardly mattered now if Charles betrayed him, rewrote his mind to conform to his wishes. Better to be Charles' slave than the body snatcher's, and with his own body back he'd have a much greater chance of escaping any such control that Charles might exert. Shut out the intrusive memories, shut out the humiliation and the lingering remains of pain. Shut out everything but the driving need to contact the one person who might be able to save him now, and save the innocents who the body snatcher would kill if Erik failed. The white noise of the falling water and rhythmic warming pattern as it cascaded over his body aided in achieving the trance state he needed, as he focused everything he had on a desperate call to Charles, calling out over the distance between them, pleading for help.

Eventually he realized that his body had stiffened up, that the water washing over him was cold now, and that there had been no response from Charles. Whatever power had enabled him to contact Charles at a distance before, it had gone with his body. He had to have been calling for hours, the way his muscles were cramped from kneeling in the tub, and there hadn't been the faintest touch of a response. It was entirely possible that they were out of Charles' range. He himself had altered the Earth's magnetic field to inhibit Charles' long-distance communication ability, years ago.

Hoist on his own petard. Again.

He shut off the now-cold water and dragged himself out of the shower. His fingertips had gone numb from waterlogging and he could barely stand. There was no hope left. If he couldn't reach Xavier, and he couldn't escape or even suicide without the body snatcher murdering innocents... oh, there was still some chance that she'd accidentally run into someone with a grudge against Magneto, who'd take her down because she didn't have his experience with the powers. But since that was most likely to happen while he was in his cell, and no one who took down Magneto would expect "him" to have a prisoner locked up in the basement of a house somewhere, if it happened Erik would probably starve to death. He wasn't at all sure he could dig his tunnel to the outside before running out of cans, if they were all he had to eat. And he'd lose his body and his powers, and anyway, what was most likely to happen was that she'd switch as soon as she was losing badly, leaving him in the middle of a fight, disoriented and possibly even unconscious from the switch, and so he would die and she would stay alive to kill and rape again. No, realistically he couldn't even hope for help from that quarter. There was to be no help, no hope, no freedom again.

Despite his exhaustion, it took a very long time before he could make himself sleep.

He was awake when the body snatcher came for him the next day; he'd slept fitfully and finally had awakened near dawn, unable to make himself fall asleep again. Exhaustion dragged at him, but with leaden eyes and leaden feet he forced himself to begin the morning round of chores. Work would give him something to occupy himself, something to turn his mind away from the despairing thoughts of last night.

She didn't try anything spectacularly horrible that day, as if recognizing how close to the edge of despair she'd pushed him and granting him a reprieve, though he very much doubted that that was her motive. The routine allowed him to fall back into a numb, mechanical mode of existence, going through the motions to stay alive and as unhurt as possible. He was actually almost starting to recover a little of his emotional strength back- and then it came nighttime, time to mark off another day he'd survived on his little tally. Twenty-seven days.

Tomorrow was day 28. Four whole weeks. And a normal woman's menstrual cycle was 28 days. While the sporadic bleeding from injury had been going on for three weeks, there had been no flow so steady and so unrelated to painful and damaging rapes that he could point to it with certainty as a menstrual period. Without knowing this body, there was no way to know for sure, but from what he knew from being intimately involved with women, it was very likely that he'd missed a cycle. He'd been shoving that particular fear to the back of his mind, but the date made it impossible not to notice it anymore.

Two days later, that fear, along with all the others, was still weighing on him, dragging him down and dulling his will to live again, when she brought him upstairs to the kitchen in the morning and set him to work. A Daily Bugle was lying folded on the kitchen table, next to a half-eaten buttered bagel. That raised his spirits very, very slightly- though if he thought about it, he'd be horrified that an opportunity to pilfer food should make him feel better, it was something he worked very hard at not thinking about. Food she'd abandoned was fair game; she didn't even punish him for that, clearly enjoying the notion of him being her human garbage disposal. He grabbed the bagel and devoured it in three mouthfuls while flipping the newspaper over to read the headlines. The bagel turned to chalk in his mouth as he read the top headline- ELECTROKILLER STRIKES AGAIN. Mouth dry and a growing knot in his stomach, he read the article.

A serial killer was preying on young men in New York City, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Baltimore and Boston. Eight young men had been raped and electrocuted. Seven of the victims had been homosexuals; the eighth had been a 26-year-old millionaire, a stock market advisor on his way up in the pathways of power. His home showed signs of forced entry, his window smashed, the iron bars on his windows twisted and torn free, his burglar alarm shorted out and his phone lines destroyed from a power surge. The other victims turned up dead in hotel rooms or their own apartments with no signs of forced entry, indicating to the police that they were letting the killer in, that he might be someone they knew, or possibly a casual sexual assignation for the night. Police weren't even sure that the stockbroker was killed by the same person- the modus operandi was the same, rape and electrocution with the marks of shackles on the body, but they couldn't see a reason why a serial killer who preyed on gay men that invited him home would suddenly force himself on a heterosexual man that hadn't exposed himself to the danger.

Erik, privy to rather more information than they had, saw the connection immediately. All men were potential targets of the body snatcher- she saw all of them as powerful beings who needed to be hurt and humbled. But the homosexual victims were easy targets, people she could seduce and lure into her clutches. The stockbroker, on the other hand, had been a genuinely powerful man. Presumably her sexual tastes ran to young men, or there would be a whole host of raped and murdered elderly and middle-aged men in those cities.. dear God, one of the cities in her range was the capital of the United States. Senators and Congressmen were likely to start turning up dead. And while mutant involvement had not currently been confirmed- New York was full of non-mutant crazies who did things like build electrified suits and commit crimes with them- sooner or later it would be. In fact, if she left fingerprints on any of her victims, the killings would quickly be blamed on Magneto, whose fingerprints were on file from the time he'd surrendered to stand trial.

The body snatcher was still killing innocents. He had humbled himself, had bent his head and his knee, gone as low as he could go, to keep her from murdering innocents, to let her take out her rage and her perverse lusts on him instead of innocent men. And she'd lied to him. She'd brutally humiliated him, in ways she never could have without his consent, because he'd thought she would spare others. And she hadn't.

White-hot rage swamped him. For a moment, all he could think of was an overwhelming need to kill her. He began scanning the kitchen, looking for weapons. Why were so many kitchen utensils made of metal? Oh how he would love to pick up the carving knife and drive it into her guts, but his experience with trying to hit her with a can and a metal spade told him that he couldn't use anything ferrous on her any more than it could have been used on him. She might not be as expert as he was, but she was good enough. There was little in the kitchen that wasn't metal. Wooden breadboard, wooden spoon, plastic spatula, plastic plates and cups. None of it had the weight, the strength he wanted. But perhaps something would. He went to the refrigerator and smiled grimly to see the beer bottles, sharp glass just waiting to be invoked with a blow, full of liquid that would sting and blind, and, except for the caps, totally non-metallic. Easy enough to fix. There was a can opener with a bottlecap remover sitting on the refrigerator; he reached up, grabbed it and yanked the bottlecap off the nearest bottle of beer.

"Stealing my beer?" He hadn't heard her come in. Her voice behind him held a mocking tone, arrogantly sure she was still in control. "I'm going to have to-"

It didn't matter what she would do. He pivoted, with his hand wrapped tightly around the middle of the bottle, and swung the liquid inside at her face.

She flung an arm up, uselessly. He couldn't tell if she'd tried to shield; it took serious power and skill to shield against liquid. The body snatcher screamed and staggered back as the cold liquid hit her eyes. Erik followed up with a blow from the bottle itself to her head, and then kicked her in the stomach, while she was blinded. The rattle of glass behind him alerted him, and he leapt out of the way with desperate speed as the refrigerator toppled forward, almost crushing him. It managed to slam into his shoulder on the way down. He wanted to scream with the pain, but he didn't have long. Had to take her out now, while she was hurt. Her eyes were still closed, she was still doubled over, but the door to the kitchen had slammed shut- no escape- and the contents of the silverware drawer flew out. Once she got her eyes open, he was dead. He grabbed the breadboard- heavier, stronger than the bottle- and lunged forward. Just as her eyes opened, fixing his position, he slammed the breadboard down on top of her head, as hard as he absolutely could. The silverware flew at him, but fell from the air before more than a handful of the forks and butter knives could hit him as he brought the breadboard down again and again, shrieking in inarticulate rage. She went from her knees to sprawled on the ground, and it didn't occur to him that he actually didn't want to kill the body she was in until he saw blood under his blows, bright red welling up and matting the thick white hair.

He stopped, breathing hard, and stared down at her unconscious form. And she was unconscious. She had moaned weakly, struggling, as he'd kept hitting her- now she was silent, and he couldn't even hear her breathe. He knelt down and checked the pulse at her throat. Still strong. He hadn't killed her.

Did he want to?

The fact that she hadn't jumped yet, after a brutal beating like that, made him think she needed to be conscious and aware to make a jump. If he killed that body now, he would probably survive, and it would be her that died. It would be quick, and ensure that no more innocents fell to her. It would be sure.

And it would leave him powerless, trapped in this body forever.

Bile rose in his throat. He had never seriously contemplated that thought before- had never considered killing her and living on in this body. He'd thought about killing them both to take her down, not about surviving like this. A wave of violent hatred for this body, for its puny size and its vulnerable puffy breasts and the fat on it and its lack of strength and the female organs so easy to hurt, so easy to invade, swamped him. He'd been entirely focused on the thought of escaping here, on using this body as a tool to flee and then get his own powerful, male body back. The depth of disgust he felt for this body when he even contemplated being stuck with it was overwhelming. No. No. He would make sacrifices to save innocent humans, yes, he would do what he could to save them, even though they'd condemn him and his out of hand. But he would not sacrifice his power and his manhood for them forever. Bend his knee for a while? He could do that. Yes, though it filled him with rage and horror and it had been slowly eroding his strength of will, he had done it. But there were limits. He was hardly one of the X-Men, to sacrifice everything he held dear for a world that would spit on him for his troubles, and he would not kill his own body. There were too many ways he could imagine to get it back, and then kill her. He wasn't going to be shortsighted out of fear now, and destroy everything that was valuable to him.

The nausea the thought of staying forever in this body had brought abated as soon as he made the decision not to kill her, and his head cleared. He did have to do something. The last time he'd had this chance, he'd punched her hard enough that it should have left her out for an hour or two. She'd woken up and pursued him in ten minutes. Which he probably should have expected, since a punch that would leave an ordinary man cold for an hour was something he himself would wake up from in ten minutes, in his own body. Though the blood matting her hair disturbed him, her pulse was strong enough that he expected she'd be out for an hour or less this time, maybe much less. He had to do something to slow her down.

Erik grabbed the paring knife- the sharpest kitchen knife she had- off the floor, pulled up her pant leg, and swiftly cut a deep slice into her leg, on the inside surface just above the ankle. Blood welled. He did the same for the other leg. The paring knife was sharp enough, and the cut quick enough, that there would be little pain, not enough to wake her up and not much, in comparison to her head, when she finally did awake. But she would lose blood, and the moment she stood up, the blood flow would increase enormously. And since people didn't look at their feet and the blood would be soaked up by her socks and hidden by her pant legs, it might be a while before she realized it. It was a risk- if she remained unconscious for too long, she could conceivably bleed to death- but he didn't think she would stay out that long. And if she panicked at the sight of the body she occupied bleeding, perhaps he'd switch- he knew how to use his powers to slow the flow of blood and rapidly force clotting, but since she hadn't been cut up in this body before it was unlikely that she did. Even if she didn't switch, it would slow her down- particularly in the long run, as that body would steal iron from the electromagnetic channels to repair a blood loss, which would leave her powers severely weakened if she didn't know to stoke up on iron afterward.

Time to get out of here. He considered stealing the car, and ditched the idea immediately. If she'd thought to put any kind of magnetic signaler into the car, so she could easily locate it, it would be a deathtrap the moment she woke up. He could drive like a bat out of hell, and it wouldn't prevent her from tracking him. There was no guarantee that she had put such a signaling device in- it wasn't something he'd have thought of to do within a few years of developing the powers, much less a month- but she had consistently shown creativity in implementing the powers. It was probably understandable- when he'd first come to his power, there were far, far fewer electromagnetically active devices in the world. In a world of radar detectors and infrared burglar alarms and cellular phones, the thought of implanting alarms might simply be much more obvious than it had been to him. So he couldn't take the risk. By the same token, he couldn't use the road to escape- it would be entirely too easy for her to track him on the road, just as it had been last time. No, it would have to be the woods, where her ability to fly would give her no real advantage, where the electrical auras of so much riotous growth would prevent her from picking him out at a distance, and where his small size would allow him plenty of hiding places and passage on trails that a large man simply couldn't take.

All of this ran through his mind in seconds, as he raced out the door and headed for the woods at full speed. He hit the dirt path running. It was narrow and badly overgrown, so the underbrush lashed at his legs and immediately entangled the skirt. Quickly he yanked the skirt off and twisted it, winding it into a rope as he kept running forward, and awkwardly tying it around his waist as he plunged on through the woods. This afforded absolutely no protection to his bare legs, but at least the skirt wouldn't get caught and slow him down. He ran with one arm over his face, so that when branches and twigs slapped against him, they wouldn't catch him in the eye. His blouse, already damaged from sharp glass from his last escape attempt and weakened from rough use and too many washings, tore as branches whipped at the rips already in it.

It was probably a good ten minutes before the stitch in his side became too painful to endure any longer and he had to slow down. Erik glanced back at the way he'd come. No. Fool. His headlong rush might have put distance between him and her, but he'd left plenty of evidence of his passage. If she had the most rudimentary tracking skills, she could follow him. He grabbed the nearest tree branch that he could reach, and climbed up onto it- he wasn't actually strong enough to lift himself onto the branch, so he ended up having to use his legs to shimmy up the tree. It turned out that bare human legs were great for bracing against bark, if you didn't mind scraping said bare skin raw. The trees were close enough that if he walked carefully out on one of the main, low branches, until the point where it began to sag dangerously under his weight, he could jump and catch a branch of the next tree, there to carefully lower himself onto a lower branch of that tree and circle around until he could find a route to climb higher again. He deliberately angled away from the pathway he'd been on, into the thick of the woods where there was no pathway. Let her try to track him now.

After using seven trees to put distance between himself and the pathway, he carefully lowered himself to the ground, and began pushing his way through the thick growth. He stepped on sharp fallen branches and bracken, almost constantly; it was a good thing he'd been walking about barefoot on a stone floor for a month to build up calluses. His feet would be bleeding and swollen tonight. It didn't matter. As long as they carried him to freedom, he didn't care what price he had to pay.

The pace was too slow. He was carefully pushing branches out of the way so he left little sign of his passing, and that slowed him down far too much. Every sense screamed at him to move as fast as he could, put as much distance between her and him as he was able. Surely he was in deep enough that she could not have followed his trail here. He started to run again, or at least as much as he could in the thick of woods like this. Even with an arm protecting his face, there was no way, here, to prevent the branches lashing and scratching him, on the face, the arms, the legs, tearing the sleeves of his blouse nearly in two, catching in his hair. Rocks and sharp plant matter jabbed into his feet. It didn't matter. He had to run, had to move. Deeper into the woods, further from her, closer to freedom. Every painful stride took him closer to safety. He just had to keep going. This wasn't harder than running on frozen or snow-covered ground with starved stick legs and bare feet. His feet had bled into the snow then, when he and Magda had run, as far and fast from Auschwitz as they could. This was nothing. It was warm out. He couldn't hurt himself all that badly.

Eventually he broke out and onto another path. If he was reading his position right- and he was going by the sun, with difficulty, being used to an internal compass- he had been heading more or less north. East was the direction of the driveway, the direction where he'd intersect the road. North, therefore, should eventually hit whatever larger road the smallish rural road he'd found on his first escape attempt intersected with. The path went east, with a northerly bent, and west with a southerly one. He chose the northeast direction and put on a serious burst of speed, fairly flying down the pathway, breaking off to head north again as soon as the stitch in his side became unbearable again. If he never actually stopped, if he pushed on through the areas where he had to go slow when this body forced him to slow down, he could keep making distance. Sooner or later he had to hit the road. Even in Pennsylvania, the woods didn't last forever.

He went on this way for an hour, maybe two. Sometimes he went east, but mostly he kept heading north. He was on the path again, and hadn't encountered any roads yet. Erik was beginning to wonder if he'd miscalculated somehow, when he felt the hairs on his arm stand on end.

It was an awfully familiar sensation, as it invariably accompanied his own raising of power unless he compensated. Terrified, he spun around. No sign of her- no, there, in the trees far off, a faint blue glow. He found the thickest, deepest stand of bushes around, and drove himself into them, pushing through their welter of branches from the angle behind the bush, facing toward the path, until he was behind and sheltered in them, bush branches jabbing into him everywhere. A scent of ozone, another terribly familiar sensation, wafted through the air, and the blue glow in the distance brightened. He caught up the loamy dirt from the ground and smeared it in patches on his face and legs, folding up the denim skirt to cover his chest because dark blue was closer to the brown and green of the bush than the dirty white of the blouse would be. And then he went absolutely, completely still, barely daring even to breathe, as the blue glow approached closer.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are," she was saying. "Here, little terrorist. Here, little terrorist. Come to papa."

He could see her now, floating past on the path. She wasn't wearing his boots; instead, she was wearing socks over bandages. So his plan had worked, but not well enough to utterly incapacitate her. After that kind of blood loss, she would suffer for any serious magnetic effort she put out... but she'd suffer hours from now when it caught up with her, not right now when it would save him. A stream of varied and polyglot expletives ran through his head, but he didn't dare so much as mouth them- he couldn't move a single muscle, couldn't risk the motion attracting her attention. Oh God, but he wished he could believe prayer would do him any good. At this range, if she'd shifted her vision to the electromagnetic patterns of force instead of the visual light spectrum, there was no way he could hide. Plants generated electrical fields, but the field put out by a human was much stronger and more complex than that of a bush. If he was recaptured- don't think about it, don't think about it! Don't see me. Please, please don't see me. Dear God, don't see me. He closed his eyes to bare slits, imagining that it would make him less visible- the fierce glow she was putting out had to be easily reflective off eyes- and over and over again, silently begged whatever powers there might be not to let her see him, though in his more rational moments he didn't believe there were any powers that listened to human prayers. All he could see through his scarcely-open eyes was the brilliant glow in front of him.

And her voice became more distant, drawing away.

For a moment, he didn't want to dare open his eyes all the way- not for the rational reason of the reflectance making him visible, but because of the fear that she was standing right to the side with her powerfield shut down, looking at him, pretending to have moved off as a mind game, waiting for him to open his eyes before she pounced. But that was ridiculous. He refused to be that much of a coward. Grimly, he opened one eye fully, rolling it from side to side without moving his head, looking. No sign of her. He opened both eyes and glanced down the path. There was the blue glow receding into the distance.

It was several very long minutes after the glow was no longer visible in the slightest before he could make himself get out of his hiding place and start walking again. His knees had gone weak with terror and relief and the added terror that the relief was false, and he could barely stand. Everything that hurt, hurt far worse now, and he felt a draining exhaustion dragging at him. He couldn't keep going. But he had to. Erik forced himself onward, leaving the path and heading forward into the woods, pushing his way through the underbrush again.

Before long he came to a shallow stream, no deeper than his mid-calves. There were large, flat stepping stones that led halfway into the stream, and then stopped. He took them as far as he could go and sat down on the last one, soaking his aching feet in the cold rushing water. Water got the dirt off his face and legs and hands, and he managed to drink a good bit of it from cupped hands before it occurred to him that it might not be safe. He had no guarantee this was potable water. Oh well. At this point he hardly cared if he came down with dysentery in a few hours, as long as he'd gotten to civilization and safety by then. The water refreshed and strengthened him, and he waded in the stream, heading north- last he'd seen, the body snatcher was heading south. (And how had she gotten ahead of him, anyway? Had she gone directly to the road to check for him and swept her way inward?)

After close to an hour of following the stream, he reached the end of the woods. Up above him there was a road of some sort, at the top of a steep grassy embankment. Erik clambered up the embankment. A major road of some kind. It was completely divided, with two eastbound lanes, and the westbound lanes invisible behind a stand of trees dividing the two directions. Erik untied his skirt and wrapped it the normal way around his waist again, covering his legs. He walked the eastbound direction, keeping well to the grass on his side of the shoulder, for another half hour or so. Cars whizzed past him constantly. He considered trying to hitchhike, but considering how wild he must look- hair a mess, clothing ripped, skirt a mass of wrinkles, no shoes, face scratched by branches- he suspected it wasn't a great idea.

Half an hour later, he encountered a sign marking this as Interstate 80, and not long after that, a placard informed him there would be an exit in two miles. The thought of civilization, telephones, someplace to eat, energized him, and he began to jog, unable to drive his abused body into an actual run.


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