Body and Soul I: The Body Snatcher
Chapter 3: With Friends Like These...
The world weighs on my shoulders
But what am I to do?
You sometimes drive me crazy
But I worry about you
I know it makes no difference
To what you're going through
But I see the tip of the iceberg
And I worry about you
-Rush, Distant Early Warning
Erik felt claustrophobic in the extreme as the X-Men trooped upstairs from the Blackbird's hangar to the mansion proper, with him in the middle of them. He felt as if they were deliberately surrounding him, deliberately walking slowly to pin him so he couldn't get the medical attention he needed and the sleep he longed for. Physically he was too exhausted to push past them, even if he'd dared when they had powers and he did not.
As they exited the bowels of the mansion, Erik could hear Henry McCoy's booming voice. "...extremely foolish of you, Charles. You're far from recovered, and I must say it is extraordinarily ill-advised of you to go flitting about the mansion at the moment..."
Xavier came through the door, apparently paying no attention at all to the Beast. He was propped against the back of his hoverchair, resting his head, which was bandaged, against a large pillow. The bandages covered one eye, angled over to cover his ear and the entire left side of his head, running down his neck; they also wrapped around both temples, encircling the head there. The bandages didn't appear to indicate an impairment in his power, though; Erik felt the briefest of brushes against his mind, and then Xavier's good eye focused on him, his face lighting up.
"Magnus." The chair hummed over to where Erik stood, the X-Men stepping smoothly out of its way as if they'd practiced the move. "The circumstances could be better, but you have no idea how glad I am to see you're alive."
Xavier's hands reached out for him, as if to grasp his forearms or shoulders. It was a gesture they'd performed with one another a thousand times, a gesture of friendship, but Erik stiffened and pulled back before he could stop himself, before he could reassure himself that it was only Charles. Stupid, stupid. He'd always steeled himself before facing the body snatcher so he wouldn't try uselessly to pull away and thus humiliate himself, but it hadn't occurred to him that he'd need to steel himself against flinching from Charles.
He saw some emotion flicker across Charles' face- sorrow? pity? probably pity, he thought bitterly- and disappear just as rapidly, composing back into the calmly pleased expression he'd worn before. His hands came to rest on Erik's own, clasping him there rather than the upper arms. That, Erik could allow and respond to without fear, though Charles' grip seemed stronger than what he was used to feeling.
"Are you?" Erik asked. He meant it to come out acerbically, but he was too tired, and more of his bitterness showed than he'd intended.
"Our last meeting has haunted me for months, Magnus. I hoped you might still be alive, though there was no evidence to believe so, because I wanted a chance to try to put things right, to resolve our differences. It's as if, the last time I saw you was at your trial, and after that, when you vowed to take my students for me. The next time I saw you, you attacked me and made horrible accusations." He shook his head, and then winced in pain. "Ow. I shouldn't do that."
"No, most assuredly you should not," Beast said. "Charles, you should be resting. Horizontally. In a bed."
"What happened here?" Cyclops asked.
"Magneto's enemy blew up the power core, in my body," Xavier said ruefully. "I really didn't know that if you hit a Shi'ar power core with a fire extinguisher often enough, it blows up. Fortunately I was able to force her out of my body before the explosion, so I was able to get mostly out of the way, but it was a near thing."
"Wait," Erik said, cold fingers of fear sliding up his spine. "She took your body from mine? She told me she couldn't do that!"
"Apparently, she can- at least when a telepath attacks her." Xavier frowned. "We'll discuss this in the morning at a full debriefing. At the moment, my head feels as if I've been using it for a cannonball, and you, my friend, look as if you need sleep desperately. Jean's briefed me on the situation with Davies; I can say for certain that Davies had already fled, and had pulled over to the side of some small local road, when I probed her, and she used a pulse attack after I'd regained my own body. So it's very likely she's still there, as incapacitated as you expected, Magnus. She isn't going to kill anyone tonight. So we have time to get some rest."
Charles' belief that the body snatcher was, in fact, crippled, and that there was a logical explanation for why she hadn't been at the house, gave Erik a small sense of relief, though he was far too tired to track Charles' explanation completely. Something else Charles had said bothered him, though. "How much did Jean tell you?" he asked harshly.
"She briefed me on your efforts to capture the body snatcher." /She didn't tell me anything else, Magnus./
/If she didn't tell you anything else, how do you know there's else to be told?/
/Firstly, you're broadcasting anxiety linked to "Jean" and "telling me things", which leads me to the belief you told me something or she read something in your mind in confidence. Secondly, though... I wasn't able to read Lee Davies in any detail, but what I did read, simply on a light surface scan, told me that she's extremely ill, or else quite evil, or perhaps both. I know she abused you sexually, because it was in the top of her thoughts when I scanned her. I'm sorry./
/You're sorry. Every damned telepath who invades my privacy is always sorry. It doesn't help, Charles!/
/You saw me when Stryker had broken me and reduced me to a gibbering religious fanatic determined to murder those I loved most. In comparison, you're tired, injured and cranky, but your will is still strong and, despite what she tried to do to change it, you know who you are. You've resisted better than I did... you don't need to be ashamed of what happened to you./
Erik wasn't in the mood for Xavier's transparent manipulations. He firmed his mindshield, blocking further conversation. "I am too tired to stand here talking, Charles. I wish only a private visit to the medical bay, a shower, and sleep. Does any of this present difficulties?"
"Er... the private visit to the medical lab does, yes," Beast said.
Erik glared at him. "What, do you fear I'll switch the labels on the medications in an effort to poison you all, or something? I assure you, until I have my body back I have no desire to harm my allies."
"No, no, that's not the difficulty at all. I fear that with the power core down, all Shi'ar equipment in the mansion is currently non-functional."
"But you have non-Shi'ar medical tech-"
"No longer, sad to say. You see, we didn't foresee any need for it, so we donated it to Columbia University Hospital. Everything we currently have is Shi'ar state of the art, to be sure, and far superior to any Earthly technologies we used to possess- except when the power core goes down. And while we did retain a small amount of quite elderly backup equipment, it wasn't electromagnetically shielded, and therefore is as non-functional as the rest."
"So you have no medical equipment at all?" Erik's voice came out far shriller than he'd intended.
"No, no, I didn't mean to say that. But what we have requires simultaneous advanced knowledge of medicine, mutant biochemistry, Shi'ar glyphs, and the idiosyncrasies of the technology. All the computer assistance we normally find so helpful is sadly offline, the end result being that I am the only person in the mansion knowledgeable enough to use the technology."
"I'm sure I can figure it out."
"Magneto. With the assistance of your powers, when you are fully alert, and when you are not the patient, I have no doubt but that you'd be capable of handling it. With no powers to assist you, however, and in your current state of exhaustion and medical need, I consider it sufficiently unsafe that, on my authority as the X-Men medic, I am not going to let you try. I may be able to do little about Charles abusing his health, but at the moment, my small talents are more than sufficient to pick you up and carry you if I were to find you attempting to use the equipment unwisely." McCoy grinned, an expression that was probably supposed to mark what he said as humor. Given that he was at least three times Erik's current mass, however, and that he was one of the original X-Men, the staunchest enemies he had here, Erik could not take the threat as anything other than deadly serious. He fought back a shudder at the fear Beast's threat to bodily manhandle him evoked.
"That won't be necessary," he said sharply. "It isn't important."
"Really, you needn't be concerned. I'm more than willing to assist you- I do take the Hippocratic Oath quite seriously, so you need not fear that our past differences should create problems in your medical care."
"It isn't necessary, I said." He couldn't keep it from coming out as a snarl. "I'll simply go to my room and rest. Or is there some reason why that will not be possible either?'
"Of course you can do that," Xavier said. "Rogue, take him to his old room, the suite near mine. See if you can find him a change of clothes after you've got him squared away."
"Sure thing," Rogue said, and turned to him. "C'mon, sugar, let's get you a place to stay."
When he'd moved in last time, Charles had given him one of the suites because he had a live-in lover- Lee- and because it was a trust issue. By putting him near himself, when he was too ill to defend himself, Charles was saying that he trusted Magnus, that he was not expecting an attack in the night. Perhaps giving him that room now was intended to remind Erik of those pleasant times, when true reconciliation seemed possible, as a way of manipulating him when he was weak. Or perhaps it was a reverse of that initial gesture, intended to tell the X-Men that he was harmless because he was under Xavier's watchful eye. You never knew, with Xavier. But it wasn't as if Erik had a choice.
Rogue seemed stiff, uncomfortable, as they headed to the room. Perhaps the implications of his female body were finally hitting her viscerally. Erik didn't attempt to make conversation. She guided him to the door to the suite. "Ah'll bring you up some clothes from the basement," she said. "Maybe some stuff of Kitty's might fit you."
"This body isn't that short," he said incredulously.
"Maybe not- Kitty was a skinny li'l thing. Ah'll bring up the box, and we'll find something for you, sugar. Ah promise."
"It's not that necessary. These are ill-fitting, but clean. What I need most of all is sleep."
"Ah'll bring it and leave it, then. You can go through in the morning and pick something out."
For a moment she stood there in the doorway, poised as if there were something she wanted to say, but not saying it. Erik couldn't quite bring himself to close the door on her, though he desperately wanted a shower and rest. "Was there anything else?" he finally said.
"Ah just- Magnus, Ah-"
He took a deep breath. He didn't want to be rude, not to Rogue at least, but he was at the end of his patience. "Rogue, I'm sorry, but I'm very tired. If you would like to discuss something, this is a poor time."
"Ah just wanted to say how Ah'm real glad you're alive. Ah- ah didn't like the way things ended, back there. Ah mean, truth was, Ah was pissed off at you for mucking with mah mind. But Ah kinda know what you're going through, and Ah'd never have wished this on you, Magnus, ever."
"You know what I'm going through?" It took an effort to control his temper. She meant well, he had to remember that. "When have you switched bodies, Rogue?"
"Other way around, sugar, remember? They switch into mine. And for a while Ah'm them as well as me, and if they're strong Ah can feel what they feel, and a lot of times they're right disconcerted to be in me. So it never happened to me- but Ah'm the one who gets to keep their memory of it when they switch back. Ain't the same, Ah know, but it's not too far off, and if there's anything you need... anything you want to talk about..."
"I'm fine, Rogue. I only need sleep."
"Okay. Well, you just let me know if there's anything Ah can do, okay?"
And she was gone.
As he was getting into the shower, the thought occurred to Erik for the first time that Lisa Davies' power did seem related to Rogue's. With a touch, either of them could steal a soul, entombing it in their own form while they used the powers of their victim. The difference was that Rogue didn't leave her own body, and Davies' did, which made Rogue considerably more dangerous; if Davies obliterated him as Rogue had destroyed Carol Danvers, she would not have the ability to grow in power and take more into herself. Davies could only take one body at a time, and if she destroyed the one he occupied, she would be bound forever to his. Still, even the superficial resemblance disturbed him. He wondered if this was what Rogue had seen and feared in him- the potential for one you cared about to become a monster.
Hot water sheeted over his body. He continued to think about Rogue. She irritated him in a way he couldn't articulate. It wasn't just the oversolicitiousness- simply being near her set his teeth on edge. He didn't think it was guilt- she had had the choice to go with him, and had instead stayed with her team to fight him again, so he didn't feel that he had treated her overly badly by brainwashing her with the rest of the X-Men. Not given the provocation her team had offered him. It was something else, something he found slightly frightening. Which was absurd. Frightened of Rogue? Yes, she was powerful, but in his current condition, the least powerful of the X-Men was still such a grave threat that adding so much power as Rogue's was irrelevant; she was realistically no greater a danger to him than any of the X-Men were, and she was the least likely to harm him of any of them. They had almost been lovers, after all...
...something about that. Afraid of Rogue harming him sexually? The thought was absurd enough that it actually made him laugh, a short sharp bark. No, not that. What then?
And then he realized it. Once he had wanted Rogue; his memories of her recently were colored with tenderness and intense desire. But when he looked at her now, the desire was entirely absent. He still felt the tenderness, but he had less than no desire for sex with her... not only did he feel no physical desire, but actually the thought of sex in any context made him ill. And because his memories were so colored with that, when he looked at her now he could not help but remember, on some level, what he used to feel, and what made him sick to think of now. Escaping the body snatcher had not freed him from what she'd done to his mind and his sexuality; even the thought of making love to a woman he'd recently found beautiful nauseated him.
That was hardly Rogue's fault, and it enraged him that he was so weak. It should be over. The body snatcher had not been the first to rape and dehumanize him; he'd recovered before, why should he have to do it again? Why could he not remember the lessons he'd learned last time? He remembered convincing himself, and then Magda, that sex between lovers was a sacred, wonderful thing, that it bore no resemblance to the experience of rape. Intellectually he still did believe that, but emotionally he had lost it, was once again conflating the two. Why? Hadn't he already learned?
It would be different with his body back, he told himself, scrubbing his sore genitals hard enough to make them bleed again, and not entirely able to make himself stop. Part of him wanted to scrub them off, to wear down the opening until it was closed again, smooth and sexless. But that wasn't what he truly wanted, no, not to be neuter- everything would be fixed if only he were male again. This body was naturally designed to get its pleasure through receiving intercourse, a means of sex he'd never found pleasure in or had any interest in experiencing. Of course he couldn't want anyone or imagine wanting anyone. The anatomy he would want them with was absent. Once he was male again, he could recover and put it all behind him.
He stepped out of the shower, hurting but finally feeling clean. When he'd showered in his prison, he'd known the cleanliness was only temporary; the very air was filled with her, a miasma settling on him, and there was no way to keep her out, keep her off him. She was gone now; he would never need to wash her away again. That was worth a bit of pain and blood. Rogue had thoughtfully left some feminine products on top of the box of put-aside X-woman clothes; he could use that to keep from bleeding onto the bed.
Except that what she'd left were tampons. Erik stared at the things, feeling sick again. A pad hadn't bothered him; it had been uncomfortable but he'd worn things far more uncomfortable in his life, and the weight of it against his vaginal opening had felt like armor, somewhat reassuring. Tampons, however, went inside. He couldn't do that. The one time he'd tried it had been sheer agony. The idea of perpetrating on himself another violation, even with something so small and thin as a tampon, made his gorge rise. He took the bag of tampons and threw it in the trash, and then put back on his underwear from the police station, with the bloody pad still in it. That was filthy, but better to endure a bit of this body's natural filth being pressed against him than to dirty clean sheets with it.
He threw himself on the bed. It was big and too soft to be comfortable; in his own body he'd had a bad back and had learned to love extra-firm mattresses. The mattress in his cell had been worn out, though, and this was an improvement over that. Feeling as if he would be vaguely unsafe if he wrapped himself in blankets, thereby making it impossible for himself to leap out of bed on short notice, he lay on top of the bed and closed his eyes. The moment he did, sleep started to wash over him in dizzying waves, like a tide suddenly becoming a tsunami. He didn't fight it.
Pain woke him, as it often did- the need to urinate pressing painfully against his injuries inside. This body woke him to urinate two or three times a night as a general rule; he didn't know whether that was normal for it or due to the damage the body snatcher had done it. For a moment he was disoriented, wondering why the bed seemed larger and softer than he was used to, until he remembered where he was.
He should not have to endure this pain. Not anymore. The X-Men had the technology to heal him; even if McCoy was telling the truth, and he probably was, about being unable to use the equipment in the medical lab without the ability to read Shi'ar fluently, there was a device that could do the job in the Blackbird. Rather than hunt through the box for clothing that would fit, he put on the shapeless sweatclothes again, and left his room.
The house seemed dark, but that could be misleading- it was a sufficiently large mansion that there could be any number of pockets of activity that couldn't be seen or heard from here. He had no idea what time it was. The multiple naps he'd taken today had entirely ruined his time sense. But it had to be late, late enough that he could risk it. He slipped down the hallway and down the stairwell. The main passages to different floors were elevators, in deference to Charles, but additional stairwells had been installed for speed, out of the way and to the sides of the house, and because they were out of the way they weren't commonly used. Most people either used the main stairs, the main elevators, or if they could fly they'd flip open the top of the elevator and fly up the shaft. Kitty Pryde had commonly walked down through the ceiling. The side stairs never got used. So they were perfect for him.
On the basement level he left the stairwell more confidently, since it seemed unlikely anyone would be hanging around down here late at night, and headed for the hangar. Just as he neared the doors, however, a menacing shape seemed to melt out of the shadows. Involuntarily Erik took a step backward. "What are you doing down here?" Archangel asked. His voice seemed to have deepened and harshened with his transformation, or maybe just through age; no longer did he sound like the pretty-boy preppie with the golden tenor voice. There had been a time when Erik had found it impossible to take Angel seriously- the poor little rich boy with the Aryan-dream looks and the too-pretty swan wings, a useless advertisement for Xavier's happy vision of equality who played at being a superhero because it was more fun than being a bored playboy. He had often singled Angel out in those days, seeing the rich boy as the potential weak link. Now-
-well. Now was not the circumstance under which Erik really wanted to have a run-in with Apocalypse's blue-skinned protégé, the Archangel of Death with his killer wings that would be nothing to Erik, metal as they were, if he had his powers. Since he didn't have them now, he had to take Archangel entirely seriously. "None of your concern," he snapped. "My business is personal and will not affect the X-Men in any way."
"That's what you say." Archangel stepped forward, forcing Erik to back up again. "But we all know how honest you are, Magneto, so excuse me if I find it a little hard to believe you." The wings flexed slightly. Erik backed up again, wondering if he was going to have to flee for his life. Of all the X-Men, Archangel probably hated him the most.
"What you believe doesn't concern me. I am Charles' guest here, and I'd hardly be such a fool as to antagonize him. Let me pass."
"I don't think so. You might have suckered Charles- you've done it before. But whatever it is you're really after, you're not going through me to get it."
Ah yes, the dread danger of allowing me medical equipment! But he couldn't say that, couldn't admit weakness to Archangel of all people. "Tell me, Archangel, were you sitting about in the shadows waiting for me to try to approach the hangar? I can't see any other reason for you to be here."
"This is my house, in case you hadn't noticed."
"The last time I checked, actually Charles' name was on the deed, and yours was not. I'm sure he's grateful for all the monetary assistance you've given him, but that hardly entitles you to own his house. And since I am his guest, not yours, I do not see what right you have to restrict my movements."
"What right? A murdering sociopathic supervillain wants to know what right I have to stop him from prowling around in my own home?" The wings flexed again, this time powerfully enough that Erik quickly took two steps backward. "You've got a hell of a lot of nerve, Magneto!" He stepped forward and grabbed Erik's collar, shoving him toward the wall.
Utter panic hit. Erik kicked Archangel in the stomach and tore free, throwing himself to the floor as deadly sharp wings swept through the space where a split second ago, his head would have been. He tried to scoot backward, out of range, and hit the wall. Archangel came toward him with a deadly look in his eyes, the wings dipping low, as if to slice an opponent on the floor. Sick humiliation warred with terror, as Erik stared up at the man who was about to kill him.
And then Archangel staggered backwards several steps, his wings pushed back. Cool air ruffled Erik's hair, blowing in an impossible bending pattern along the wall and then out toward Archangel. "Warren!" Storm's voice cut through the rush of wind. "Stand aside!"
"The son-of-a-bitch just attacked me, Ororo!" Archangel shouted. "Why the hell are you defending this piece of trash?"
"Attacked you? With what powers?" Storm's voice was like ice. "What right have you to use your wings against a powerless opponent?"
"He should have known better! I can't control the wings all the time- you know that. They respond to my emotions, not my conscious mind. I wouldn't ordinarily have used my wings on an unarmed opponent, but this is Magneto we're talking about here!"
"Who is here as our guest, to assist us in tracking down the serial killer in his body. It is not an excuse, to attack or kill because your emotions had control of you! My emotions govern my powers, and I can refrain from killing. If you truly cared so much for the X-Men's ideals as you say, you would not attack a powerless opponent no matter who he is."
"I didn't mean to. I said that. But you don't have any clue what this bastard's done to me. He's tortured me, sucked out my life force, kidnapped my parents for Christ's sake- do you really expect me to keep control when he kicks me in the stomach? Would you be that forgiving, Ororo? It isn't like I meant to kill him, or attack him."
"You forget so easily, Archangel," Erik said, dry-mouthed. "I also saved your life."
"Yeah, so you could use me, lie to me about who you were and turn me against Ka-Zar to protect yourself. I haven't forgotten."
"You seem to have a habit of being rescued by supervillains for that purpose," Erik said. "Of course, I only wished you to stop Ka-Zar from attacking me. Apocalypse wanted to make you a mindless killing machine, and it seems he was more successful at turning you than I."
The wings swept out again. Erik screamed as they caught his leg, gashing it before Ororo's winds threw Archangel across the room.
Archangel threw his hands out in a peace gesture at Ororo. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I shouldn't- I shouldn't have lost control. I just..." He trailed off.
"Magnus is under my supervision now," Ororo said coldly. "Go. Leave here. Since you do not have the ability to control your emotions, and your killing wings, around him, you are not to approach him for any reason."
"And if I find him prowling around the house?"
"You tell me, or Cyclops. You stay away from him at all times." She knelt by Erik, inspecting the wound. "It's not pleasant, but we can heal this easily enough."
"Fine. That suits me. I don't want to be anywhere near him. But if I find out he's plotting to murder us all in our beds, don't expect me to stand around while you lecture me about self-control." Archangel turned on his heel and left.
"Magnus, it was terribly foolish of you to provoke him like that. Why did you?"
"Hypocrisy enrages me," Erik said, breathing hard. The wound was actually several short, deep, parallel slashes where each individual feather had cut, and it hurt like hell, far worse than being cut on his leg should hurt. "He hates me so terribly, yet he sold his soul to Apocalypse to get his wings back. At least all the crimes I have committed, I did believing I was doing the right thing. He thought nothing of the right thing, only the loss of his powers. Yet he claims to stand on higher moral ground than I?"
"He was badly hurt, and deeply depressed, and betrayed. We cannot hold his actions in such a moment of duress against him. Let me help you to the infirmary."
"Why? There is medical equipment on the Blackbird, and it's closer."
"Of course. You're right, that is a better choice."
She helped him to his feet. He swayed, feeling cold and dizzy. "I seem to recall his wings are poisoned?"
"There will be an antivenin for it on the Blackbird. Here, Magnus, let me-" and she lifted him. The dizziness and numbness in his leg was severe enough that he let her. Despite the fact that the last person to so carry him was the body snatcher, the panic didn't arise. He was surprised that she could, but then, his new body was a small woman, and Ororo was a tall woman, who exercised and built up her strength all the time.
This wasn't the way he'd wanted to come to the Blackbird, or use the equipment. Ororo injected his leg with the antivenin for Archangel's neurotoxin, explaining that he had received a very small dose of it and should be fine, and then ran the regenerator over his leg. He sat quietly, letting the medicine and the regeneration take effect.
"I must ask, though, Magnus... why were you down here? I cannot imagine what you intended to find in this hangar."
"Medical equipment. On the Blackbird," he said, breathing raggedly as the medicine warred with Archangel's venom, giving him alternating sweats and chills. "Weren't you searching for the body snatcher?"
"I was. I could not find her, so I returned home. Jean advised me that Charles believes her to be incapacitated, and I am not so young as I once was, to go all night without sleep." She smiled.
"If I recall, you're not yet 30. You can start complaining about your age when you're 40, Ororo, not until."
"Oh, hush. I can complain about getting older if I wish. It's a woman's prerogative." She laid a wet paper towel on his forehead. "The side effects will soon pass."
"You're welcome." She looked at him quizzically. "You said you wanted the medical equipment in the Blackbird, and I don't understand. We had you here in the Blackbird for some time today. If there were any medical treatments that could be done here, why didn't you request they be done while you were here?"
"My reasons are personal, Ororo, and I don't wish to share them. I give you my word, all I wanted was medical equipment."
"But Hank would treat you without prejudice. You do realize that, don't you?"
"I don't care! My medical problems are not things I wish to share with the X-Men, any of the X-Men!"
Storm took a step back, as if taken aback by his unexpected vehemence. He put a hand to his forehead, taking the paper towel off. "My... apologies, Storm. I didn't mean to shout at you. I've just had a very trying day."
"Magnus..." She sat down next to him, and took his hand. He looked at her, surprised. "My friend. I am so sorry I didn't realize. All of us have behaved insensitively to you, haven't we?"
She knows. Once again he'd given himself away. He turned his head away, angrily. "There's nothing to be ashamed of, Ororo. I didn't want you to know. Any of you."
"Still. I'm a woman, I should have guessed. You told us of your enemy's proclivities, and yet it never occurred to me- I never thought-"
"Leave it, Ororo. I don't wish to discuss it."
She stood up. "I think I know what you want."
Storm opened the cabinet with the medical supplies, and took out the thin rod-shaped regenerator. "If you're satisfied that you know how to use this, I shall be checking to see if the refueling is done. Call me if you need any assistance." She handed him the device and swept out of the medical bay.
It was painful and incredibly difficult, far more than he'd thought it would be, to get the regenerator inside where it would do any good; his vaginal opening seemed far tighter than usual, or perhaps it was just that Davies had never minded tearing him and causing pain when she entered, whereas he was being much more careful. Inside, it burned, but he knew that to be a side effect of regeneration. It would burn, and then itch, and then all such sensations would pass and the tissue would be healed, scarred perhaps but healed. He concentrated on that, reminding himself that this would end the pain, that the thing inside him making its presence so palpably known was the healing device he'd risked his life against Archangel for, not another violation.
When it was done, he put his pants back on, washed off the regenerator carefully, and walked back out. He still felt a little wobbly, a combination of the venom/antivenin battle and the stress of regeneration. Ororo was sitting on the stairs down from the Blackbird's door. She turned as his footsteps sounded at the top of the stair. "Everything attended to?"
"Yes. My thanks."
"There's a matter we should discuss, that I hadn't thought of before." She flew up to the top of the stairs before he could descend any further. "Come inside with me?"
He saw no reason not to, and stepped inside. "What's the matter? Something to do with the body snatcher?"
"No, more to do with your health."
"I've dealt with it."
"There are things no regenerator we have can deal with." She looked at him intently. "Magnus, this is a difficult question to ask, but... is there any possibility you are pregnant?"
His face burned. Damn this body and how easily it showed humiliation. "What does it matter?"
"It matters a great deal. Firstly, none of our equipment could detect it; our health care is calibrated to deal with life-threatening injuries, not natural life processes. There are simpler tests, of course, but we'd actively have to get them for you. And if you are... it must change how we deal with the body snatcher. We could not simply hand her over to the authorities once she was back in her own body if that body was carrying your child."
"It wouldn't make any difference." Because he'd kill her once she was in her own body, and if this body was carrying a child of rape, better it die anyway. He didn't want to be tied by blood to such a monster. But he couldn't tell Ororo that. "The first switch was... traumatic. I suspect a pregnancy would miscarry, if she switched back into this body."
"Then it's even more important to know. Is there a chance of it?"
"I don't know."
"I understand you wouldn't know for certain, but I ask only if we should test you for it. If you've had a very recent menstrual cycle, perhaps we wouldn't need to worry about the possibility. But if the cycle has been delayed-"
"I was married, Ororo. My wife bore me children. I know how female biology works; there's no need to condescend to me."
"So then when was this body's last menstrual cycle?"
"I don't know! I've been bleeding sporadically for the past four weeks! How am I supposed to tell the difference between injury and nature in a body that isn't even mine?"
Her eyes widened, stricken. "Oh, Magnus... I am sorry."
"I said, leave it. It's over now."
"No, it means we don't know. And if there is a chance... there's another possibility as well, which the working equipment wouldn't reveal, that of disease. We don't know what might be present in this body, that she'd possibly have infected yours with."
"I'll deal with that when I get my body back."
"You can't wait that long to find out if you're pregnant, though. Not if switching might cause a miscarriage."
"Why should I care?"
"Why should you care if there is a miscarriage? Am I mishearing you, Magnus? You've always been concerned with the innocent, particularly mutants, and you must realize that the child of two mutants would be far more likely to be one."
He took a deep breath. "If I am carrying that monster's child I will abort it. I did not consent to mix my genes with her and I don't want to see my line muddied with the genes of a rapist. I myself, terrorist and sometime madman, am bad enough."
"You speak as if you take eugenics seriously. But you know a child of rape is no more likely to be a rapist than anyone else. There's no gene for that. At least not for Lee Davies' particular brand of evil."
He didn't want to be having this discussion. He would not carry the child of rape in his body, like a parasite. Kill it before it had a chance to evolve into a child, before he grew emotionally attached and started thinking of it as an innocent victim. If it existed at all. "It's irrelevant, Ororo. I will get my body back, and then it won't matter."
"Would you not even wish to know?"
To know it wasn't true? To know he would never have to look back with the murder of his own child on his conscience, if something in his mind shifted years later? That would be helpful. It would not be at all helpful to confirm that there was a pregnancy, but he'd be willing to take that risk to know for sure that there wasn't. "I believe they sell tests for that in drugstores now, don't they?"
"Yes, they do. But I have had another thought, given the risk of disease... and also, the fact that you simply can't be as familiar with a female body as you would be with a male."
"What thought was that?"
"Do you remember Dr. Wilder?"
He thought back and couldn't remember the name. "Give me a context. Who is he?"
"She. We X-Women have been going for our gynecological needs to Dr. Wilder, in New York City, since I joined this team. She's not a mutant, but she specializes in treating mutants and superhumans. I thought you might remember her since the female New Mutants also used her services."
"I left the New Mutants' medical care in Sharon's hands unless it was serious. I've never heard of this doctor."
"I'm not surprised." She laughed. "Firstly, you're a man, and secondly, you don't tend to notice humans who work for the benefit of mutants. Dr. Wilder is very good. Because she specializes in superhumans and is familiar with the strangenesses of our lives, we could tell her that you are a man in a woman's body, and she'd be able to advise you in everything you need to know to properly care for that body while you're in it."
"I doubt I need much information along those lines at all. I also doubt I need a gynecological exam, now that I've healed myself."
"She's very gentle. I imagine they examined you in the hospital, but Dr. Wilder has a great deal of empathy for her patients. She's never hurt me or the other women on the team. In fact, I had no idea that most women find such examinations unpleasant until Jean and I both had an appointment and Jean commented about much gentler Dr. Wilder is than most gynecologists, even the female ones."
He was tired, and he wanted to go back to his room. And a gynecologist might be able to help him find a reputable abortionist, if it came to that, without having to approach any of the X-Men with the problem. "Very well, then. Give me her number and I'll make an appointment."
"No need. I'll call tomorrow and arrange an appointment; I need an examination myself. There's a matter I wish confirmation on."
That was even better. He wouldn't have to do any of the work of setting up the appointment or arranging transportation to the city. Trains still unnerved him after all these years, and a cab ride, stuck in a car with a cabbie who wanted to make small talk for forty-five minutes or longer, would be hell right now, but without proper fake ID he couldn't rent a vehicle, and he doubted Charles would let him borrow the Rolls.
"Thank you. That will work well. Now, if you don't object, I'd like to return to bed; if we spend tomorrow searching for the body snatcher, I'll need to get up early and there'll be much to do."
"Of course. Shall I walk with you to your room?"
He thought of Archangel. "I wouldn't object."
This time, with Storm as an escort, he returned to his room via the main routes through the house. It was 1 am by the clock in the X-Men's main hallway. Use of the regenerator had as a side effect made him irresistibly sleepy, so he had no trouble falling asleep.
Something woke him, some indefinable sense of horror. It was too quiet, even in a house that should be full of silent sleeping people. Erik's heart pounded as he lay in bed, terrified of getting up, terrified of what he might find out of this room. But if there was a danger, it would find him even if he hid in his room. He forced himself out of bed, and went to the door to the room, where he hesitated. Surely it was nothing. He'd look foolish if he left his room for some vague fear he couldn't even define.
Besides, he was too frightened to open the door.
Resolutely he opened it and walked through. The halls were silent, even more so than they'd been when he'd been prowling through them before, but he couldn't say exactly how they were silent. They'd been quiet before; he couldn't quite identify what sounds there had been before that there weren't now. It was as if he were walking through a sonic muffle zone. Every step made his heart beat faster, every corner he turned startled him, and the lack of any horrors on the other side of the corridor didn't reassure him at all, somehow. Something horrible had happened. He knew it, and didn't know how he knew, but he had to find out.
The hallways went on forever, and at no point did he find any sign of life at all. It was as if he were completely abandoned in the house. But that by itself was no reason for terror; the X-Men could have been called away to the Shi'ar Empire or something in the middle of the night, that was nothing new. Yet the sense of fear mounted. By the time he actually reached the stairs, he was almost too frightened to head down them. They were too open, too wide. Anything could see him.
No. That was cowardice, and he had to know. Clinging to the wall, knees weak from fear, he descended the stairs to the X-Men's living room. Still no sign of anyone. That was normal, of course, at this hour. But he had to know. He went to the front door and opened it.
Outside, the moonlight shone down on the grassy field in front of Xavier's mansion, the smooth surface of the lawn marred by dark lumpy shapes sprawled all over it. His vision adjusted to the moonlight, and he recognized the nearer of the dark lumpy shapes. There was Rogue, sprawled with Wolverine's adamantium blade in her throat. Wolverine himself lay next to her, skull deformed and crushed into a tiny round pinhead, his mouth wide open and full of spilling gray matter. Storm was pinned to the ground like a bug by a metal I-beam. The remnants of his magnetic senses told him that there was a power field over the entire front lawn, that the metal that had killed all the X-Men was all magnetized.
Erik slammed the door and ran desperately for his room. He could hear the door smash down behind him, could hear her laughing. "Thought you could get away, sweetie? I'll kill anyone who tries to protect you, I told you that."
No. There had to be a way. He'd get to his room where Storm had given him the mutant neutralizer gun that had taken her powers, long ago. She was Forge's lover and she'd given it to him to protect himself from the body snatcher, he remembered that now. He ran with hysterical speed, lungs burning, heart slamming, his feet breaking and bleeding on the broken glass strewn throughout Xavier's destroyed mansion, but he had to get to his room, get to the gun and stop her. She'd killed all the X-Men and he was next. He could still hear her laughing, smashing walls in with bolts of power. All the doors he slammed behind him couldn't stop her. He reached his room and dove for the bed, where the gun should be underneath.
It wasn't there.
Now he remembered. Storm hadn't given him anything. Why had he thought she had?
And then the body snatcher was there, still laughing. She loomed over him, crackling with power. He tried to get to his feet, to run, but before he could even stand up she was on him, grabbing him and lifting him with one power-enhanced hand, and flinging him on the bed.
"I told you not to run away," she said, an iron club with spikes on it floating behind her head. "You're mine." Her hand was on his throat, pinning him to the bed. "Guess I'd better make sure you can't run this time."
He screamed, "NO!" but it didn't stop her. The iron club swung through the air and landed with full force on his legs, smashing them, as she laughed.
Erik opened his eyes, trembling violently.
Not real. It was a dream. Not real.
He stared at the ceiling for several long minutes, willing his pounding heart to slow, his ragged breathing to even out. He was ice cold, the sweat of the dream evaporating in the coolness of the room without so much as a blanket to block it. The need to get up, to verify for himself that the X-Men were in fact quite well and it had been only a dream, warred with the equally irrational terror that they weren't, in fact, all right, and that getting up and leaving his room might expose him to whatever was out there. She had attacked Westchester. She'd been inside Charles Xavier's body. She knew where the mansion was. He tried to convince himself that his fears were ridiculous- the X-Men had shown themselves more than capable of defeating him, and he had far more experience in combat and skill with the powers than the body snatcher had- but that was a rational, daylight belief, and this was a dark bedroom after a nightmare.
There was a knock at the door. Simultaneously, before he had a chance to feel more than the first twinge of startled terror, Charles' mind helloed him, a touch so quick and light it could serve only to alert him to Charles' presence, not carry any information back to Charles.
Erik swung off the bed and stumbled to the door, opening it to face Charles. "What is it?"
"I couldn't sleep," Charles said. "Probably due to the rest Hank enforced on me earlier today- there's only so much sleeping I can do, and I seem to have run out. And I'd gotten the impression you suffered the same affliction, so I wondered if you might like to join me downstairs for a drink."
"Please do not patronize me, Charles," Erik said stiffly. "You didn't get the impression I wasn't sleeping; you overheard me having a nightmare."
"Well, yes. You were broadcasting."
Erik felt even colder than the room and the sweat warranted. "Broadcasting? Did Jean and Elizabeth-"
"They're asleep." At Erik's look, Charles smiled wryly. "Yes, I did have something to do with that. I suspect you would have woken them if I hadn't been already awake and able to compensate- I blocked you from them, though that ruined any hope I might have had of blocking you out myself. I've rarely seen you broadcast with such power, Erik; you should learn to harness that in your waking life."
He was never that frightened in his waking life. Erik didn't point that out. "It doesn't do much good to salvage my dignity if you must brag about doing it, Charles."
"You did ask."
"I did not."
"You most certainly did. I don't need to read beneath your shields to interpret that particular facial expression."
Erik sighed. He was irritated, but at the same time, it was pleasant to see Charles behave like his usual, irritating, entirely-too-willing-to-argue self rather than the Charles of before, who had walked on eggshells around him. "I need to change clothes."
"Go ahead, and meet me downstairs in the kitchen. I'm planning to try hot chocolate with rum. Henry swears by it, though I suspect if he knew I was awake and drinking he'd swear rather more profanely."
"I'll refrain from telling him."
It took Erik a good ten minutes to find something to wear. Rogue had brought up a box of clothing that included women's and girls' things previous female X'ers and New Mutants had left behind. Unfortunately, not one of them had anything remotely approximating his body type. Women of the X were generally slender and busty, and the New Mutants had been children, so even though several had actually been taller than he was now the hips and breasts of their clothing didn't accommodate this form. Besides, he was fat. Well, all right, by the standards of his childhood he'd merely have been seen as healthy and well-fed, let alone the standards of Auschwitz, but he had acquired different standards in the forty-odd years intervening, and measuring by the average superheroine he was short and plump. Besides, the women of the X liked to wear skintight clothing that showed off their magnificent, well-toned physiques... since, to be honest, most male superhumans and mutants he knew liked to do the same thing if they had the bodies for it, including himself, he could hardly condemn them, but it made it much harder to fulfill his desire to look completely asexual. Eventually he put on a pair of jeans that were hippy enough but far too long, rolled up the pant legs just barely enough to not step on them, put on a turtleneck of Kitty Pryde's and a large sweater, found a pair of gloves Rogue must have discarded, and brushed his hair down to cover his ears and neck as thoroughly as he could. What he really wanted was a helmet and a cloak, but that was likely overkill.
Charles was waiting for him in the kitchen with an extra cup. "Try this. It's delicious."
"I don't like chocolate."
"I can't very well make you coffee at this hour."
"Just pour me a vodka."
"Women have a lower alcohol tolerance than men, and you've got much less mass now into the bargain. I'd stay with the weak drinks if I were you."
"You're not me. Where do you keep the liquor?"
"You have a briefing tomorrow."
"So do you."
"And, you see me sedately drinking a mixture of rum and chocolate. Besides, I think you could use a warm drink."
"You're quite right. Do you have any rice wine?"
"I didn't know you drank sake."
"I don't as a general rule, but unlike vodka, it's not disgusting when heated."
"Have the chocolate, Magnus. I really shouldn't be drinking two of them, and I know you wouldn't want it to go to waste."
"You're blackmailing me with my neuroses again. Give me the damned hot chocolate so you will shut up and give me some peace."
"Now, where's the vodka?"
Charles sighed. "In the liquor cabinet, where else?"
"Which you have moved where? It used to be in your office."
"There still is one in my office, but now it has a Shi'ar telepathic lock on it. After I came home to find that someone had drunk everything I had, I took some precautions. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"
"There were still a few bottles left when the New Mutants and I parted company. Is there another cabinet, which would be implied by your statement that there is 'one' in your office?"
"If I didn't know better, old friend, I'd swear you have a drinking problem."
"I have a very dire drinking problem, Charles. I am trapped in a woman's body, while a madwoman roams free murdering innocents with my own, and my old friend is serving me little boy's drinks."
"Very funny. I'm glad to see your ordeal hasn't impaired your sense of humor." Charles' garish yellow chair floated over to the cabinet next to the refrigerator, which he pulled open and extracted a bottle of vodka from within. "Here. Happier?"
"Much." He poured a shot of the vodka into the hot chocolate and sipped at the warm liquid, frowning slightly at the overly sweet taste. The trouble was, as Charles knew, he couldn't bear wasting food, and his recent capture had only exacerbated it.
"So, tell me, Charles. What did happen today with the body snatcher? She told me she couldn't take anyone's body if she wasn't in her own."
"Yes, that's consistent with her beliefs. Lee Davies has never had any formal training in the use of her powers, though, so it's not surprising that she doesn't know the full extent of them herself." Charles sipped his own hot chocolate. "After I talked to you on the phone, I immediately started searching for Davies, and made contact almost immediately- she's a powerful mutant, both in her own right and most especially with your powers- and I attempted to immobilize her telepathically. This turned out to be a mistake."
"If she is such a powerful mutant as you say, why did you never notice her before?"
"There are getting to be more and more mutants, Magnus. Davies is of an age with my first X-Men; Cerebro wasn't as sophisticated then, and I had many responsibilities, so I would easily have missed her first manifestation, and if you don't get a mutant at first manifestation then you have to depend on their power levels to spike sometime in their post-manifestation lives. Davies used her power relatively rarely, I think; like Rogue's, it's simply not the sort of power you can use often. I could find her if I knew specifically to look for, but without that information, it's simply random chance as to whether I can get a reading for any given mutant or not. Did you think I had a map of all of them?"
"I know you have an extensive database of mutants who've refused your offer to come to the school, or who you deemed unsuitable for the X-Men to begin with."
"Yes. But it doesn't begin to cover them all. I didn't even know about the Morlocks until the X-Men's first encounter with them, and they had been living for at least twenty years practically under our feet. Cerebro's a useful tool, but it's not omniscient."
"Very well then. You say attacking her telepathically was a mistake. What happened?"
"To be honest, I've tried to reconstruct it and I'm still not sure. She switched bodies with me, but I am not sure how- it happened with such unbelievable speed I had no chance to resist. I suspect her power works like Rogue's- Rogue is an entity of negative psionic force, with such phenomenal power that very, very few have the ability to resist her pull. Such a mind would instantly implode on itself, absorbing its surroundings and collapsing under the weight, if it were telepathically open- that is, if like myself and other telepaths it had the ability to forge telepathic links of its own. For survival, Rogue can only use her psionic powers when touching a person- that forges the link. I think Davies' power is fundamentally very similar. Her psionic ability, like Rogue's, depends on touch for the most part because it lacks the ability to forge a link without touch. But if a foreign telepath forges the link, her power can work unfettered. With Rogue, there's always been the difficulty in trying to work with her powers that, even without the mental static from Carol Danvers, any attempt to directly enter her mind runs the risk of triggering her power and being sucked in. Davies, I think, can do it deliberately. She somehow knew- perhaps she has a sense of minds when they are vulnerable to her- that she could swap with me, and she did it."
"And so you were left powerless? In my body, or where?"
"No, I wasn't powerless. I was extremely ill- for quite some time, I was so badly disoriented with nausea and migraine that it was all I could do to muster the strength to strike back. But I never lost my powers. Apparently in Davies' specific type of body snatching, telepathic powers remain with the mind- which makes sense, because otherwise she'd lose her own psionic powers when she switches, and her victim would gain them. You don't have her powers, I presume."
"If I do, I haven't found the way to activate them. Believe me, I have tried."
"It makes sense. Her body has the ability to forge the channel- that's a more or less physical power, not psionic. But without the psionic ability that goes with it, the forging of the channel means nothing. If you weren't so blocked, you might be able to use your own psionic abilities in that body, but they wouldn't be Davies'- you'd be a touch-telepath, not a body thief."
"I am still utterly unconvinced that I am a telepath of any stripe, Charles. Everything I've done can be explained by my control of electromagnetism in the brain."
"Except for your mindshields, because you have them still at full strength."
"You've mentioned that the occasional human has such shields."
"I mentioned that of Madelyne Pryor, who turned out to be a clone of Jean."
Erik blinked. "So that's why there was such a strong resemblance. Whatever happened to her?"
"She went mad, tried to enable demons to conquer New York-"
"She was behind that? I thought that was Illyana's fault."
"No, it was Madelyne. Which you might have known if you had been in the slightest involved in the lives of the students I entrusted to you, at that point-"
"A bit difficult, when they spent all their time running off and trying to get themselves killed!"
"And your ambitions in the Hellfire Club had nothing to do with it?"
"I was trying to safeguard their future. Illyana refused to have dealings with me; she started routinely teleporting away rather than talk to me. I thought it was merely her grief over her brother- who, at the time, we all thought dead along with the rest of the X-Men; then when the demons attacked New York I thought she was the reason, since they were techno-organic, like the demons of her Limbo. Why are you bringing this up now anyway?"
"Perhaps I shouldn't." Charles stared down at his drink. "But... I feel I have the right to an explanation, and I don't think I've ever gotten one from you. I left you with healthy, obedient students. I left you as a practicing member of the X-Men, who had actually agreed to stand trial for his crimes. And when I came back... my students were scattered to the winds, three of them were dead, several had turned terrorist, and you were not only known for a villain again, but when we first encountered each other, you brutally attacked me and Moira on the word of a man you'd only just met, and behaved for all the world as if you were the one betrayed by me, not the other way around."
"And what would you call it but betrayal, to have your mind and soul toyed with when you were helpless by one you trusted?"
"I'd call it old history, among other things. Whatever Moira did or didn't do to you, it obviously didn't take."
"How am I to know that? How can I know that I am myself, that I have had any free will since the moment I awakened in her laboratories?"
"Oh, for God's sake, Magnus. If Moira had taken away your free will, I'm sure she would not have allowed you to attack my students, let Proteus run loose, then attack my students again, kidnap and torture them because you were humiliated by Mutant Alpha, leave them in a volcano to die, and then later come back and try to conquer the world... given your actions after you were re-aged, how can you possibly believe Moira had a damned thing to do with any of your decisions? And why on Earth did you assume I had anything to do with it?"
"Moira is human. You're a telepath. I find it hard to believe that Moira could keep secrets from you."
"Moira is my ex-girlfriend. I avoid reading her mind as much as possible. Besides, she was a continent away from me for the most part, and besides that, whenever I would come to check on your progress you would wail hysterically. You were terrified of me, and I didn't want to inflict that on you, so I stayed away." His eyes bored into Erik's. "Besides. Do you seriously think that if I had decided to modify your mind, I would work on you at the genetic level? The genetic level isn't where your problems are, whatever Moira thinks. If I had decided to modify your mind, you would currently be a happy American Jew who believes the Holocaust is a horrifying historical event that matters to him culturally but not personally. I would not have attempted to alter your physical body, Magnus. That's not what I do. I'd have erased your memories and implanted consistent false ones- or, given that you were an infant and would be raised with new memories, more realistically I'd simply have completely erased you, and there'd have been no Magneto for Davan Shakari to resurrect."
"You are no God, Charles. You would have had no right."
"Why do you think we're having this conversation? I seriously considered erasing you, you know, for your own good. You had the mind of a six-month-old and the memories of an adult man who'd been through unimaginable horror, and you had no defenses, no way to protect yourself from the trauma. Moira actually did ask me to erase you, because she was convinced you'd die. You weren't feeding properly, you were crying constantly, you wouldn't sleep, and your health suffered terribly. The other infants, the rest of the Brotherhood, seemed happy and content- only you were tormented. And I rejected her request, in the end, because I'm not God, and I had no right. I put a state-dependent block on the memories so your infant mind couldn't access them any longer- you'd have gotten your memories back as an adult, slowly, at a rate you could handle and with the feeling that they happened in a past life, because you'd have established so many more powerful childhood memories by that time, if Shakari hadn't re-aged you- and I did that much only because it was endangering your health. And I truly resented that you immediately jumped to the conclusion that I would do such a thing to you, both that I would commit such a moral transgression- when I was presented with the opportunity to and I rejected it, even though it would have been safer for the world if I had- and that I would do so by playing with your genetic code. And that anyone would try to brainwash you, or change your outlook on life, by modifying your genetic code. Moira was trying to cure what she thought was a biologically based insanity- to restore your free will, not to take it. And you tortured her for it, and you tortured me, and this after you betrayed me by abandoning my students and my dream. I think I have the right to be angry."
"Then why have you taken me in? If you are so enraged at my crimes, why play at being my friend?"
"I am your friend, you idiot. I saw your madness suck you in and there was nothing I could do about it- I tried, and you attacked me, and I thought I'd lost one of my best friends forever. I had to demonize you, in my own mind and to my students, because I knew there was next to nothing of my friend Magnus left in mad Magneto. And then you recovered, years later. You became the man I remembered again, and I realized I'd do anything in my power to keep you from falling again."
"Then why did you swear me to a task you knew I'd fail?"
"I knew no such thing. When you weren't mad, you had some of the fiercest paternal instincts I'd ever seen- I was sure you would protect the children, at any cost. There was no reason for me to believe you'd fail."
"Except that I have driven away my own children-"
"-when you were insane. I don't think that would have happened otherwise."
"And, Charles, what you fail to understand is that I take 'at any cost' seriously, and you don't. And you had already trained these children not to take it seriously. I wanted to protect them at any cost. But the cost ended up being your Dream- which, by the way, still doesn't work, and I now have the absolute authority to say so, because I have tried it- and they wouldn't accept that. They considered it more important to be heroes than to follow my directives, and live. And I couldn't convince them otherwise, no matter how I tried. In the end, the best I could do for them was to drive them away, so I could maneuver within the Hellfire Club to try to ensure the safety of all mutants without risking them specifically to Frost's machinations and so that they wouldn't be tainted by association with me. Two of them were already dead by that time, and I hadn't had the power to save either of them- both chose heroic self-sacrifice over life, and I wasn't there to stop it, because the New Mutants never asked for my help, never involved me in their lives, never seemed to think I could be a source of valuable advice outside of combat training. Their lives revolved around sneaking out behind my back, even after one of their number was dead! There was nothing I could do, Charles, nothing. And in the end, I was right the first time. I should have refused you, I should have run away. The whole thing was absolute nonsense- I have no aptitude for dealing with teenagers. Why you chose me and not Scott Summers, I'll never know."
"Scott had quit the X-Men."
"He came back, just long enough to challenge Storm for leadership, and lose. Which led to him somehow deciding to join the rest of his fellow original students in inflaming the public opinion against mutants to the point where a teenage boy killed himself, and he's only the one I knew about- I don't doubt there were others."
"He and the others were led astray by Cameron Hodge. Their heart was in the right place; they were simply misguided. As for me choosing Scott as headmaster... Scott was going to be a father. He had told me he was permanently retired, that all he wanted was a quiet normal life with Madelyne. I couldn't, in the light of that, drag him back in." Charles shook his head. "It was all a mistake. A series of colossal mistakes on all of our parts. Storm should never have decided to let you and the New Mutants think the X-Men dead. I should have returned to Earth when I had the chance, and not trusted that you could safely handle matters. But I don't know how any of it could have been done differently. We all made the best choices we could, given the facts we had at the time."
"As did I, Charles. I never meant to fail your students- I never meant to let any of them die. I tried my best- God knows I tried- but it wasn't enough." Good God, was he going to weep now? He took a deep drink of the vodka-laced hot chocolate, now cold chocolate, intending it to fortify his defenses against the encroaching tears.
"I'm sorry," Charles said. "I shouldn't have brought up all these old resentments at a time like this. I- I should know you tried-"
"But you don't," Erik said harshly, " because it wasn't good enough. The world does not care about tried, Charles; it cares about what was actually done. And what I actually did was worse than useless. If I had run off to my tropical island to eat grapes and dally with Lee, I would have done less damage to those children than what I did by caring and trying." He was tottering on the edge, exhausted and probably a little too drunk. "And I blamed you for pushing me into a position where I had to try to be you, because I am not you, I could never be you, and I hated you for every failure I made, because you'd been dying and you put me in a box and I couldn't escape your dying wishes, and the truth is it should have been myself I hated all along. My failure. My stupidity, in following the wishes of a man I thought dead rather than doing what I knew to be right. My insecurity, after having my sense of what was right for me to do totally upended. I was in pieces, a lost man desperately trying to pretend he still had some bearings, some dignity, and if anyone had known how totally incompetent I felt, perhaps they could have given me the help I needed to succeed. But Magneto cannot be incompetent, Magneto cannot be undignified. I couldn't beg. And so I failed the greatest trust I'd ever been given, because my pride- my pride-"
He threw himself against the refrigerator, pressing against comforting cold metal rather than let Charles see his face crumpling, the tears welling in his eyes. Goddamn Charles. Of course he didn't have the emotional wherewithal to handle accusations over his greatest failure at 4 in the morning the night after he'd been rescued from a month of rape and torture. Damn himself, too, for drinking so much. He'd wanted the vodka to help him sleep, but he hadn't expected Charles to start attacking him.
"I'm sorry," Charles said. "I'm so sorry, my friend. For bringing this up, for putting you in that position, for everything." He could hear Charles' voice suspiciously close to breaking as well. That was all he needed. "We had no chance to talk, when you attacked, when you thought I betrayed you- I was so angry at you, over everything, and then I thought- I thought you were dead. I thought we'd never have a chance to try to resolve anything ever again, and then you turned out to be alive-"
His Acolytes. In the horror of the past month, he had almost managed to put them out of his head, the mangled bloody corpse of Chrome pulped to bits by the crash-landing, the others frozen forever as statues with Chrome lost to restore them, dead, all of those who'd trusted him, dead-
"Don't," Erik strangled out, "don't," and then he was on the floor, doubled over with agony. Alive, when those who'd trusted him were dead. Doug, Illyana, Warlock. Anne-Marie, Delgado, Velasquez, Chrome. Anya. Peter. Mother, Father, Marya. The victims of the body snatcher. The ones he'd taken the bags from, he'd guided to the showers, he'd carried dead to the furnaces. Alive, surrounded by death, and even more powerless to stop it than usual.
He sobbed hysterically on the floor of Charles' kitchen, trying and utterly failing to get control of himself, the blackness sweeping over him in waves. Distantly he was aware of Charles' hand on his back, stroking it, of Charles' voice in the distance saying he was sorry. Under other circumstances the touch might have made him go rigid with fear; now he simply didn't care. The blackness was too huge, too overwhelming, to feel anything else.
The truth was, his problems had started long before Lisa Davies had stolen his body. It felt like he'd been on a downward spiral since Douglas' death, at least. But then, could you even call it a downward spiral when it was simply your life resetting to normal, free of the aberration of happiness and a feeling of accomplishment? His life consisted of a series of spectacular failures, punctuated by occasional brief moments that lulled him into thinking he might succeed, might do something with his life that didn't make matters worse, might stave off the inevitable darkness. And then the smashing of the hope produced far more pain than if he had never hoped in the first place. He had been completely focused, for the past month, on getting free and getting his body back, and now Charles' words reminded him that even when he got his body back, there was still no escaping the fact that his life was spiraling down into the darkness again, and had been for some time, and there was no way out.
No. No, he rejected that. He had had a plan, before Davies had taken him down. He had a specific goal that he was working toward, an iteration of what he'd tried before with the bugs worked out this time. All he had to do was get his body back and put his plan back into motion. He had failed before, again and again, and some of those failures had left innocents dead, and some of those innocents had been the children he'd sworn to protect. No matter. If he let his failures destroy him, however grievous they were, he would never be able to atone for them by succeeding, never be able to make them worth the sacrifice.
His Acolytes had died for a cause. He had to make their deaths mean something by continuing to fight for that cause. And as soon as he had his body back, he would continue the fight. No matter how many died. It had to be worth something, in the end, or it never would have meant anything.
There was a glass of water by his head. "Here," Charles said. "It'll help."
He took the water and drank it, gulping rapidly at first, then slowing as he got control. Slowly he got to his feet. "I... apologize for that," he said, getting himself under control. "I fear you were right; this body's alcohol tolerance is simply not what my own's would be, and I am quite tired."
"No apologies needed. You've been under tremendous stress lately. I'm sorry I pushed you; I meant for us simply to talk, tonight, and instead I seem to have created a problem for you."
"It's all right," he said tiredly, setting the glass down on the counter. "Certain things... needed to be said, between us." He looked at Charles. "And I am not sorry for what I did to Moira, because performing genetic manipulation on a child with no family to consent for him is an abomination, whatever her goals may have been. But I am sorry for bringing you into it."
Charles sighed. "I think you have a lot more than that to apologize for, but I'll take what you can give right now. But we are going to have to continue this discussion when you're stronger. I'm willing to forgive a great deal, but brutally attacking a friend of mine, a human with no powers to protect herself, for having the temerity to try to keep you from going insane is something I'll have to work very hard at forgiving, you understand. But we don't have to go into it now."
"Some other time, then." They had pushed a great deal under the rug when he and Charles had worked to rekindle their friendship, the first time. Erik had to admit that a lot of what had been pushed aside and never dealt with had been his own crimes and misdeeds; Charles simply didn't have as many things to atone for, and they both had recognized this, and Charles had granted him a pass on a lot of it because Charles thought it was more important to reconcile than to rehash old grievances. Perhaps Charles had changed, or, plausibly, simply wasn't willing to grant him blanket absolution for recent offenses. To be honest, he could never understand why Charles was as forgiving as he was; had someone done to Erik the things he as Magneto had done to Charles, he could never have forgiven. He did owe Charles an explanation, at least. But it would be impossible to make it clear to Charles how absolutely disgusting and horrifying what Moira had tried was while he was still so raw and emotionally uncontrolled. They would have this discussion when Erik was powerful again, and maybe his grim prediction that the next time they met it would be as earnest enemies would not have to come to pass. If he could make Charles see why his plans must be carried out for the sake of mutantkind... if he could earn Charles back as an ally, or even simply get Charles to agree not to get in his way... he couldn't have expected Charles to do such a thing when he wanted to take over the world, but that wasn't what he wanted anymore. All he wanted to create was a safe sanctuary for mutants. Surely Charles couldn't object to that, if he truly understood the need.
"If we have a briefing tomorrow, then I should go back to bed. I am very tired."
"Of course, Magnus. I should do the same myself, before Hank has my head."
The last and final time he returned to bed, his mood recovering from black despair only by sheer force of will, he was sufficiently tired and sufficiently affected by the vodka that he was finally able to stay asleep all the rest of the night.
He was facing all of the X-Men again today. Not in combat, but in some ways worse- he would be talking to them of his experiences of the past month, speaking of his weaknesses. He needed armor.
Clean underwear. He wanted boxers, but apparently all they made for women was briefs- he'd live. Clean socks, the thick athletic kind. Instead of the shapeless, overlarge boots he'd been issued at the police station, he had a pair of slightly-too-large purple short boots with floppy tops that folded down which had once belonged to Psylocke in her old body- he'd have to hit the X-Men's costume machine to get footgear that actually fit, but for now these would do. A clean sports bra that belonged to someone bustier but thinner than he was, which pretty much covered every woman who'd ever been an X-Man. The jeans from last night, a clean white turtleneck, an overlarge black sweater he could wear as if it were almost a cloak. He brushed his hair- fine mousy brown strands, they served only to soften and weaken him, not like his own rich thick mane- and pulled it back into a severe ponytail. For a few moments he struggled with trying to make it into a bun, but he had no idea how to do such a thing, so he settled for the ponytail, and for folding the collar of the turtleneck up so it completely covered his neck, exposing none of his skin.
It wasn't steel mail, but it would do for now. He looked at himself in the mirror and still couldn't see himself. There was a frightened young woman with wide doe eyes and a soft, deceptively gentle face looking back at him. Erik hardened his expression, and still couldn't manage to look much more sophisticated or in control than Kitty Pryde, despite being physiologically about ten years older than she was. There was nothing he could do about it. For a fleeting moment, he wished he knew how to apply makeup- women knew how to make themselves look older, stronger, tougher, a talent he'd never needed because his own body had always had plenty of those qualities. If he couldn't look like Magneto he'd at least like to look like a mature, powerful businesswoman. But he wouldn't have the body long enough to need to know such things. And the X-Men would look beyond appearances to see him as he truly was. He hoped.
As it was, he was one of the first there- only Cyclops, Jean and Bishop had already arrived. Cyclops, who probably had been the first one there, nodded at him. "Magneto. What's your opinion on recruiting Polaris to help find the body snatcher?"
"My opinion? Quicksilver is on Polaris' team, is he not? Is there a way to bring her in without notifying him of the situation?"
"Is there a good reason not to tell him?"
"How pleased would you be at the thought of telling Corsair you have been turned into a woman, Cyclops?"
"Corsair's my father. Quicksilver's your son. It's not the same thing."
"That makes it infinitely worse, trust me. I have no reasons for wanting to keep Polaris out aside from my entirely personal desire not to involve Quicksilver; she certainly has the abilities needed to find the body snatcher and probably could defeat her in single combat. The body snatcher's more powerful but has far less training than Polaris... although she's willing to kill, and as one of Xavier's trainees, I imagine Polaris is not. She would need backup. Not Havok, his ionic discharges are useless against me."
"She'd have the X-Men. I wouldn't involve the rest of X-Factor if I can help it- Lorna's an old friend and for all intents and purposes my sister-in-law, so I can probably bring her in to this privately without having her tell Val Cooper what's going on. Or Quicksilver, though I personally am much more concerned with keeping the government from finding out than keeping your son out of it."
"Why are we so concerned with keeping the government out of this?" Bishop asked. "The X-Men have an outlaw status, but since we're discussing liaising with X-Factor, not an entity such as SHIELD, is that really a concern?"
"The concern is, I don't want to let government agencies know there's a powerful mutant serial killer out there. Even if they kept it secret- which they probably wouldn't- it doesn't help our cause if the government thinks of mutants as primarily criminals and deviants. And every time a new mutant supercriminal turns up, it reinforces their beliefs and that of the general public. Well, learning about a mutant serial killer who likes to rape and murder powerful men is likely to bring out a severe overreaction against mutants in general- a lot of the guys in power are in the body snatcher's target group, and spooking them is not a good idea for mutantkind in general."
Charles entered the room, arguing with Henry McCoy about his health again, accompanied by Storm, Rogue and Gambit. "...perfectly fine today," he was saying. "In fact, as soon as we finish here, I intend to try to repair Cerebro enough to locate the body snatcher."
"Given what happened last time, I would have to call that a singularly bad idea, Charles," Hank said. "We certainly don't need her zipping about in your body again."
"Since she couldn't acquire my telepathic powers, I strongly doubt she'd wish to. Besides, I don't intend to attack her, just locate her."
Storm walked over to Erik. "Magnus, I have made an appointment for 12 o'clock today. If our work against the body snatcher demands it, we will postpone, but from what Charles has said it seems likely that she may be disabled for a while."
"How does he know?"
"He has a lengthy report to make; I've heard some of the highlights, but I will rely on him to tell the full story."
"How're you feelin' this mornin', sugar?" Rogue asked.
"As well as can be expected. Why is there no coffee in this briefing room?"
"Dere's a coffee maker right there," Gambit said. "What, de Master of Magnetism can't operate a coffeemaker by himself wit'out help from his powers?"
Erik scowled. "I hadn't actually seen the coffee maker until you so graciously pointed it out," he snapped. "Besides, I am hardly the X-Men's amanuensis, to be making coffee for the lot of you."
"Amanuensises no longer do that sort of thing," the Beast said. "Instead, as a general rule, they type up cheery little notes reminding everyone that they are not our mothers and will not make our coffee for us, and tape them to the coffee maker."
"Pardon mah stupidity, but what the heck is an amanuensis?"
"A secretary," Charles said. "Good morning, Wolverine, Colossus."
The big Russian hadn't yet seen Erik's new form. Erik saw his eyes go wide with shock, and felt irrationally angry. Of course Peter was going to be shocked. It was a natural reason. No good reason to want to fling him into orbit.
"Ah- Magneto," Peter said, not hiding his shock well at all. "Ah, how are you feeling this morning?"
Rather less like killing all of you than I did yesterday. "Reasonably well. I would like to get on with this briefing, and I would like some coffee. Is anyone going to bother making some, or do all your mutant powers make you immune to caffeine?"
"Ah'll do it," Rogue said. "Ah ain't right in the morning without at least two cups mahself. Cyke, next time you call an early morning briefin', can't you remember to make some coffee?"
"We did. Then we drank it all," Jean said. "You need to get up earlier to get to the first batch."
"Fortunately," Psylocke said from the door, "we've already had ours." She walked in with Archangel, who was studiously not looking at Erik, and Iceman, who was carrying a bowl of cold cereal and eating it as he walked.
"Good, everyone's here," Charles said. "Let's begin."
Cyclops nodded. "Firstly, Magneto. Can you tell us about your escape yesterday? You mentioned that you thought she'd be disabled. We need to know what time you escaped and when, in your opinion, she was most likely to have started reacting to that escape."
"I was in the kitchen, and I found a newspaper article talking about her activities as the Electrokiller," Erik said. "She had effectively prevented me from escaping by raping and murdering a young man in front of me, and threatening that she would do it again if I attempted escape again."
"Why was she so concerned with your escape? Is there something she fears you can do?" Cyclops asked.
He was not going to tell the X-Men what use he'd been to Lisa Davies- Xavier, Storm and Jean already knew, and that couldn't be helped, but he'd be damned if he let the others know. "Because she needs to keep her physical body under her control. According to what she told me, she can switch with anyone she touches with this body," pointing at himself. "Once she's in a target body, however, she can only switch back to this one. So if I'm under her control I'm her backup in the case that someone successfully injures my body severely or fatally; she can switch back to this one and leave my body to die. If I'm free of her, she has no control- if she needs to switch back to this body, she'd be in the midst of enemies with little way out."
"Do you have the ability to use her body-switching power?"
He gave Cyclops a disgusted look. "If I did, would I be here before you?"
"Good point. All right, she'd told you she was going to kill people if you ran away. And you read about the Electrokiller in the newspaper, so I assume you realized at that point she was killing people anyway. How could you be sure it was her?"
"The modus operandi. Lisa Davies hates men. She believes us to be beings of power who need to be humbled somehow. When I realized someone was raping and then electrocuting men, I knew it had to be her. She'd been going out in the evenings a great deal and would return with newspapers from all up and down the Northeast Coast of the United States. The likelihood of anyone else traveling up and down the coast and murdering men that way was vanishingly small. So I decided I would escape. I struck her in the head with a glass bottle and then beat her senseless with a cutting board, and when she was fully unconscious I gashed her ankles so she would lose a great deal of blood when she attempted to walk. Then I ran into the woods, where eventually I made my way to the highway and called Charles."
"Whoa." Iceman stared at him. "You beat her up with a glass bottle and a cutting board? That's unreal."
"I told you. My lack of powers does not mean a complete lack of resources. I know the vulnerabilities of her powers better than anyone, and she was more interested in trying to humiliate me by making me a menial kitchen servant than she was in keeping me away from weapons made of wood and glass. If she hadn't threatened to kill mutants, or if I'd been willing to kill my own body to escape, she could never have held me so long."
"In your opinion, does she have any true combat experience whatsoever?" Bishop asked.
"In my opinion, no. She has experience holding helpless people captive; she does not expect anyone to resist, certainly not to do it successfully. I think she was extremely frightened by my escape, recognizing that I'd call on superhuman allies- she left me a threatening letter in which she as much as admitted that she fled the house with all her possessions because she was afraid of my allies and their powers."
"Where is this letter?" Bishop asked.
"I threw it out," Erik said.
Bishop's expression darkened. "It was evidence. You should not have been so short-sighted."
"I've already told you everything relevant it said. The rest was worthless threats and posturing."
"He's right," Wolverine said. "Bitch was scared. You could smell it in the house. She ain't gonna be much to take down, if she spooks so fast moment she thinks we might be showin' up."
"She must have packed very quickly," Erik said, "because she spent at least an hour, perhaps longer, looking for me. She went right past me in the forest- fortunately, she had raised enough power that I felt her coming long before she could have spotted me, and I hid well- probably an hour or two after my escape. I think it might have been another two or three after that when I called Charles."
"You contacted me at 2 pm. I immediately used Cerebro to try to locate her- I'd already picked up a reading I thought was might be her, a reading that seemed very similar to you except for some odd quasi-telepathic elements. I had no difficulty reaching her, and so I decided to attempt a telepathic attack to hold her in place.
"I need to try to reconstruct what she did after the fact, because it all happened so fast I had no awareness at the time of exactly what she was doing. I touched her mind, read her surface thoughts and began to go deeper- and suddenly I found myself yanked psychically and anchored into a different body. No sooner had I realized that I had been pulled off the astral plane and into a different body than I began to feel extremely ill- violent nausea, severe migraine, and intense vertigo, severe enough that I could barely lift my head."
"At that you were luckier than I was," Erik said. "I was unconscious for several hours and suffered from nausea and headaches for hours after that."
"I'm much more accustomed to being in different bodies than you are- and we should also note that I was in your body, which is probably much less different from my own than Davies' body is from yours. I'm not at all sure how long this lasted, but I was able to observe my surroundings- I was in a truck, pulled over to what looked like the back of a shopping mall or perhaps business complex, and I was in your body, Magnus. Attempting to use your magnetic powers made me considerably more ill; I had to meditate and try to retreat away from the influence of the physical in order to regain access to my own powers. Once I'd successfully regained control, I reached out across the Astral Plane to try to find my own body again. I could plainly see a connection between myself and Lee Davies, and I followed that connection to return to my body, where I found Davies hitting the Shi'ar power core with a fire extinguisher. She'd cracked the crystal, and I could see that the energies within were about to explode outward, so I attacked her; she switched us again, and this time I could see what she was doing.
"While there is such a thing as a disembodied mind on the Astral Plane, such as the Shadow King after I killed him, most minds on the Astral Plane are linked to their bodies through a virtually unbreakable cord. What Lee Davies does is to rip the cord free from her target, detaching her own, and then re-attaching them both to the opposite bodies. It seems that the process of her detaching from her own body and attaching to the new one is primary; the fact that she pushes her victim out of their own body is a side effect. In effect, she kills her victims for an instant, leaving them forcibly disembodied before pushing them into the body she's moving from. This might cause the severe physical side effects both Magnus and I have noticed. This is a very specific psionic ability, not something any telepath could imitate, and as one might expect when she's detaching astral forms from their original bodies, it seems that telepathic powers stay with the minds. Thus, Magnus doesn't and can't have her power despite having the genes for it, now. It also seems quite apparent to me that, while ordinarily she needs to make physical contact with her victim, from within her own body, that isn't necessary if a telepath touches her mind. She needs her body to forge the psionic link that allows her to displace a mind, and if a telepath creates that link by attacking her or even touching her mind, she doesn't need to be in her body to swap... although it doesn't seem to be much to her advantage to switch with a pure telepath like myself, because my telepathy goes with my mind, it does mean she can at least incapacitate and severely inconvenience any telepath that attacks her."
"It's far worse than that, Charles," Erik interrupted. "Davies has extensive experience with suiciding and then jumping back to her origin body. Apparently she did that the first time her power manifested. If a telepath attacks her there is nothing to stop her from killing that telepath; she might even have killed you if she could have figured out how to do it with a fire extinguisher, but I imagine that, being trapped in a wheelchair, she lacked the mobility to go get a weapon to kill you with."
"I see." Charles nodded slowly. "My recommendation was going to be that we avoid touching her telepathically if we can help it, but to use it in an emergency. Your information makes it seem that we need quite a severe emergency to take the risk. I will be attempting to restore Cerebro anyway- the current version is dependent on the Shi'ar power core, and I don't have the ability to contact Lilandra and ask for a new core until I've got a Cerebro, but I will be rebuilding an earlier version that runs off household current. But I don't think we should use Cerebro to try to locate Davies, except in its purely passive, telepath-less mode. And I may not even be able to build that mode in without access to the Shi'ar computers."
"How do you recommend we locate her?" Storm asked.
"I've had an idea," Cyclops said. "I'm going to contact Lorna after this meeting and ask for her help. I want to keep it private- Alex and Lorna can know what's going on if they have to, but I don't want X-Factor coming and involving themselves in a case of a mutant serial killer. Mutants need to try to keep this one secret from the government and the media if we can. But Lorna's magnetic powers ought to be able to quickly pinpoint the body snatcher- she doesn't travel farther than the Northeast Coast, apparently."
"Clearfield wasn't exactly on the coast, Scott," Iceman said. "Lorna's good and all, but she isn't exactly a Magneto-locator; if she could do that we'd've asked her to do it a lot more often, wouldn't we have?"
"Magneto had a bad habit of hiding out in the Southern Hemisphere. Lorna's not that good. But if Lee Davies is in DC, I'm sure she'll know about it if she's paying attention. I'm actually a little surprised she hasn't gotten involved already, but maybe she was busy when the body snatcher was in DC."
"There's another possibility, should Lorna prove to be a less than efficacious alternative," Hank said. "But as I am not certain I will be capable of actually invoking this alternative, I'd prefer to discuss it with you privately, Scott and Charles."
"What kind of alternative?" Erik asked.
"The kind that involves technologies useful for the purpose of locating you, and therefore, our positions being what they are, I shall say no more about it to you. Rest assured I shall preserve the privacy of your current circumstances, but it would be sheerest folly for me to reveal anything more."
"You're talking about Richards' magnetic array, I take it?"
Hank blinked. "You... know about that?"
"Please, Beast. Richards is a legitimate scientist, who publishes in all the best journals, and I read everything pertaining to magnetism even when I haven't got time to keep up with the rest of physics. He would not be able to do the kind of research he describes doing without an extremely sensitive magnetic array. As well, do you seriously think I wouldn't have noticed the effects of an array designed to read electromagnetic fields? Unfortunately for him- and, in our current circumstances, all of us- I've bollixed his device."
"How? You haven't been in contact with the Fantastic Four- I'm sure they would have mentioned it to us."
"I control- or controlled- the Earth's magnetic field, Beast. I've simply arranged for there to be numerous powerful sources of magnetic flux in the Northeast area of the United States, and several other places it would be rather inconvenient to get to now. Richards' device can't detect the sort of localized power fields I put out because it's being affected by power fields that are much closer to it."
"Can you reverse these effects?" Cyclops asked. "I had gotten the impression finding this woman was important to you."
"It's vitally important, but without my powers, no, I can't. I couldn't even reliably tell you where they are; I fly by the Earth's magnetic field, not by landmarks, so I'm not sure I could find them without being able to sense the fields."
"You get hoist on your own petard a lot, don't you, Maggie?" Wolverine asked. Erik ignored him.
"There is a telepathic possibility, but it's a strange one," Jean said. "If Rogue took the powers of a telepath, and used Cerebro... it seems that Rogue's power is similar to Davies'. If Davies' power works by trying to move her into a new host body, and only secondarily displaces the host, Rogue's power could handle that without Rogue being displaced. We'd have her trapped."
"Uh, no." Rogue shook her head violently. "Ah am not havin' that bitch in mah head. First off, Ah'm too powerful. She gets into mah body and gets control- and the people in mah head, they can get control, Carol always used to- and we're fucked. Second off, Ah ain't takin' the risk that with both her power and mine workin' together to put her in mah head, the transfer might be permanent. And third off, we don't know that mah power works faster than hers, or that mah power works for sure on a telepath at all- usually Ah just have static in mah head, it ain't like Ah make a habit of absorbin' telepaths who try to read me. So her ability might work, and then Ah'd be Magneto and she'd be me, and how the hell would that help us?"
"I doubt she'd want to remain any length of time in a woman's body," Xavier said. "Part of Davies' illness is an overpowering desire to be male. She's not a transsexual- it's not that she believes she is male deep down inside, so much as that she believes that women are weak and that the only way to have power is to be male. So she won't stay in a female body, however powerful, longer than she has to. That being said, Rogue's concern about the ways the plan could go wrong are very valid, and so I can't recommend that course of action."
"We are wasting time," Erik said. "She could be out killing people right now. Let us contact Polaris immediately."
"Do you really think she'd be up and about this soon?" Charles asked. "She struck us with an EMP from her location near Clearfield no more than twenty minutes after she'd switched back to your body, and I can only imagine what a strain such a long-distance, localized pulse could have put on her."
Charles, of course, knew his weaknesses far better than the X-Men did. He sighed. "I don't know. Yes, it would have been a terrible strain. Yes, if I'd done it at most points in my life, it probably would have left me out of commission for several days. But the power amplification Cortez inflicted on me never went away. My body is much more powerful now than it used to be. Who knows how long Davies will be out of commission? I know she'd have been struck down for at least a day, but it's been almost that- she could be out killing people tonight."
"But she's scared," Jean said. "She pulled up everything from her home and ran rather than face us. She attacked the mansion, destroyed the power core and then EMP'd the conventional equipment, but she has no way of knowing how much damage that would have done us- she can't read minds, right? So I don't think she's going to go using her powers tonight. I think she'll lay low. It'll take her a few days to get her nerve back."
"And you know this because? Have you intimate familiarity with serial killers that the rest of us lack?" Erik asked sarcastically.
"I'm a telepath, and I've read a lot of minds, and studied psychology. You pick things up, defending the world from scumbags. Professor, what do you think?"
"I think we are likely to have at least a day's respite before she strikes again, but obviously let's get her located as soon as possible."
"Right." Cyclops stood up. "I'm going to go call Lorna. X-Men, consider yourselves on standby; if she's able to find the body snatcher for us, we'll be going out as soon as she's got a fix."
Erik followed him out of the briefing room and into the communications center. Storm did as well. The rest of the X-Men trooped off to get breakfast, or whatever other morning tasks awaited them.
Alex Summers' face appeared on the viewscreen. "Scott! Hey there. What can I do for you?"
"Is Lorna around?"
"Afraid not. She's down with the flu- it's been going around here. Is there something I can help you with?"
"Damn," Cyclops said. "We really could have used her help. We're tracking a mutant with powers similar to Magneto's, who just took out Cerebro and has the ability to attack telepaths who probe her mind. I was hoping to call in Lorna to help track the mutant down."
Alex shook his head. "Right now Lorna's doing well if she can open the mini-fridge I put in the bedroom and levitate a stainless steel water pitcher out of it from next to her bed. I could call in help from Val, though- I'm pretty sure the Feds are working on a project to track Magneto down, and if-"
"Sorry to interrupt, but don't tell me anything else about it. This-" he pointed at Erik- "is a pal of Magneto's. She's helping us with the investigation, but don't tell me what the Feds are doing about Magneto in front of her."
"You know, you could have warned me before I spilled something. You're working with one of Magneto's allies?" Havok studied Erik intently. "What's going on, bro?"
"It need be none of your concern, Havok," Erik said. "We no more wish to share information about the Acolytes' troubles with agents of the US government than you would wish to tell us of the measures you are taking against Magneto. Suffice it to say that people are dying, innocent people, and Magneto may be blamed for their deaths unless we take quick action. But if Polaris is unavailable, there is no help X-Factor can give."
"I thought Magneto was dead." Havok narrowed his eyes. "Pietro's going to be interested in hearing about that. What'd you say your name was, lady?"
"I didn't. You may call me Erika Masters, if you must call me something. And you may indeed tell Pietro that Magnus is not dead, if it would matter to him."
"It seems we'll have to look elsewhere for assistance," Storm said. "Alex, please give our best wishes to Lorna and any other teammates afflicted with the flu. My prayers will be with her."
"I'll tell her you said so. Thanks, Ororo." He looked over at Cyclops. "Scott, how bad is this thing? I understand Ms. Masters over there doesn't want to give her boss's secrets out to the Feds, but we can be discreet if you need the help."
Cyclops shook his head. "It's something I really don't want the government brought in on, Alex. Thanks anyway, but this is definitely a job for outlaw renegade mutants." He smiled slightly when he said the last, as if it were a private joke. "Lorna could've been helpful enough that we could take the risk, but if she's flat on her back, then let's just leave it at that. If we still need her help in a week or so when she's likely recovered, we'll call. Who else is sick?"
"Guido and Multiple Man. Rahne and I had it, but we got better, and Pietro claims he had it for a few hours, but the rest of us were asleep at the time, so who knows. And Val's had it for a week and a half, so at least we know it isn't singling the mutants out. Just the usual equal opportunity flu."
"That's good to hear. Tell Lorna I said get better soon, and I'll see you later."
The viewscreen went dead. Cyclops turned on Magneto. "Acolytes? They lived too?"
Bodies frozen forever in metal. Chrome, bloody, broken, unrecognizable. "They are dead. Not that it's any of your business, Cyclops. But since you told your brother I am Magneto's ally, I thought it best to use the name of my most recent allies."
"I'm... sorry to hear they're dead. Not that I expected anything else, but... they didn't deserve to die."
Cyclops had been one of the ones he'd brainwashed to his cause briefly, one of the ones who'd befriended his Acolytes. "I have sworn to avenge them on Fabian Cortez, eventually. Right now, though... do you have any other plans, since Polaris will be unavailable?"
"Yeah, but... it's a plan I really, really hate. Let's get everyone back together. I'm hoping someone will have a better notion."
Once the X-Men had gathered back together after breakfast, Cyclops outlined what had happened in his conversation with Alex. "Without the ability to track her directly by a magnetic array, like Dr. Richards' device, or Cerebro, and with Lorna out of commission... I'm afraid we're going to have to do this one the hard way. And I only know of one way to do that, but I'm hoping someone else has another suggestion, because it's a very, very dangerous idea."
"Hey, dangerous ideas are our specialty," Iceman said.
Cyclops turned his flat, expressionless visor in Iceman's direction. "Not like this one, Bobby," he said. "Magneto. You told us that this woman prefers to prey on powerful men. That she likes mutants. The most effective way I can think of to hunt her down is to lure her in. She picks up her prey in gay bars... what if she knew there was a mutant who was going there? What would she do?"
"No, Cyclops." Erik saw Cyclops' plan- it was audacious, and might even work, but he would not allow it. The risk was far, far too great. Even if the body snatcher didn't have the chance to kill her chosen victim, these sheltered X-Men would not likely have any experience of sexual molestation. "I won't permit it."
"It's not really your decision, Magneto."
"Scott, are you actually suggesting that we have X-Men stake out gay bars and hope she tries to rape one of them?" Jean's tone was as horrified as Erik felt.
"No, no. We'd set things up so that we could come to the rescue the moment she took the bait. Remember, we know what Magneto looks like; she doesn't know what we look like." He looked around at the assembled X-Men. "Given her powers, and what we know about how she chooses her targets, I think there's only a small handful of us who could actually do this. Wolverine, Colossus and Archangel are all out because of the dependence on metal. Hank's image inducer is also made of metal, and he's far too easily recognizable as an X-Man without one. The women can't do it. So the only possible candidates are myself, Bobby, Bishop, and Gambit."
"Euw," Bobby said. "I mean, if this is gonna stop a serial killer, I'll put on lipstick and swish my way into a gay bar, but- euw. Can I go on record as saying euw?"
"Worse dan you t'ink, Cyclops," Gambit said. "Your glasses make you vulnerable- you can't take your visor wit' you wit'out warnin' her- and Bobby, I just don't t'ink he's got de actin' skills. I don' know about Bishop- if I really trained you in de future, Bishop, you know how to do dis kinda t'ing- and me, I can do it, no problem. Wit' my eyes, I can even advertise de mutant t'ing wit'out givin' away my powers. But dat reduces it to two."
"This is absolute foolishness!" Erik said. "The danger is far too great!"
"The danger to myself would be minimal," Bishop said. "Her powers will not work on me if she doesn't know what I can do. And I have no doubt that Remy LeBeau can successfully infiltrate any community he chooses. My concern is that this seems a long-range strategy, and we have little time."
"Why not conduct an actual investigation?" Psylocke asked. "We can visit gay bars with photos of Magneto out of costume, and ask around to see who's seen him. The gay community is likely to respond very well to an investigation of the Electrokiller, given how many of them have been killed by the body snatcher. They should give us plenty of aid. We may not need mutant stalking goats."
"I much prefer that plan," Xavier said. "Gambit, Bishop, if the two of you wish to try your hand at being bait, I'll outfit you both with small devices to amplify your psionic output so you can call for help immediately, if required. But rather than wait for such a strategy to draw her to us, let's look for her at the same time. I have a contact in New York City I can ask to keep an eye on things, and we can send paired teams to the other cities to impersonate the FBI and directly investigate the Electrokiller murders. We have an advantage in that we know what she looks like, and the actual FBI does not. This would let us make use of all of our resources, instead of the only two men we have with no metal on their person who have training at this type of infiltration." He shook his head. "I also won't allow either of you two, Gambit and Bishop, to do this unless you're both comfortable with your ability to blend in, able to handle yourself should any situations of a sexual nature arise, and absolutely willing to volunteer. Sexual infiltration operations are not work the X-Men generally do, for a good reason, and I didn't train any of you in such work because, frankly, we're not the Hellfire Club and I have no wish to be."
"I am not comfortable with such a task," Bishop said. "I come from a different time; I don't have experience with the sexual mores of your time period. I would be better suited to assisting in a traditional investigation."
"Well, den it's down to me," Gambit said. "I don' have a problem wit' work like dis, and I'm pretty good at it. So I'll take it on. Ain't like anyone's goin' believe I'm FBI, anyway." He grinned. "I get into trouble, you goin' come rescue me, Roguey?"
"You are trouble, swamp rat." She was grinning too. "Ah'll shadow Gambit. Ah got infiltration trainin', too, and in mah experience, plenty of women go to gay bars to enjoy the company without havin' to deal with the lechery. Ah'll go with him as his gal pal, and make sure he's got plenty of backup if the body snatcher takes the bait."
"Well, I feel a little better about the plan if Gambit's experienced with this kind of work, and you're backing him up, Rogue," Cyclops said. "But I'm glad we have an alternative in place as well."
Erik still couldn't stand the plan. "And if the body snatcher overpowers Gambit and kills Rogue? Are you prepared for the logical consequences, Gambit?"
Red on black eyes met his evenly. "It ain't goin' to come to that. I'm very experienced at getting myself out of trouble, and I doubt the body snatcher could take Rogue and me on, not unless she's got a lot more trainin' than you said. Rogue's trained by Mystique and de Professor, and both of dem have taken you down. We got not'in' to worry about long as we're careful."
"And as long as you don't blow your cover by flirting with each other."
"Mon dieu, you don't know anyt'in' about gay men, do you?" Gambit's smile was mocking. "I go to a gay bar wit' Rogue, and flirt wit' her and everyone else, everyone goin' t'ink eit'er I'm bi or I'm flamin'. It won't be a problem, trust me. If you really want your body back, I'd t'ink you'd want someone as strong as Rogue on de front line, non?"
"It seems we are settled on a plan, then," Storm said. "I will make arrangements to create false identities for all of us who will be participating in the investigation. Remy, what city will you be targeting?"
"Well, we got NYC covered wit' de Prof's contact, and flu or no, Lorna's probably goin' notice Magneto's body runnin' amuck in DC. Where you t'ink, Mags? Boston, Philly, Baltimore or somewhere else?"
"I'd recommend Philadelphia. It's where she captured me and where her post office box is- it's likely to be her primary base of operations. Failing that, Baltimore is actually closer to where she was holding me captive than anywhere else."
"Let's do Philly," Rogue said. "It's got more of a nightlife."
"We will break into teams of 2," Storm said. "Professor Xavier, are you well enough to maintain telepathic contact with us?"
"I am indeed. I will also be working on rebuilding the version of Cerebro that isn't dependent on the Shi'ar technology, if for no better reason than to contact Lilandra and ask for replacement equipment."
"Very well. Magnus, you and I have an appointment in the city we will need to leave for shortly. After Magnus and I return, X-Men, we will divide up into teams and go to the different target cities." Storm stood up. "Come, Magnus. We've an hour and a half, and I had planned to take the car today. It would be best to leave soon."
"All right." He followed her out of the room, grateful she hadn't announced to the assemblage what his appointment was for, although probably some of them could guess.
CHAPTER THREE TO BE CONTINUED
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