Echoes of the Fallen- YAHF
Losing a bet to Willow, Xander was forced to dress up as a Jewish character for Halloween. She should have been more specific.
Xander Harris stared down at his arm, his face slack with shock as he slowly reached out, tracing his fingers along his right, inner forearm. Touching the faded inked of a tattoo that had been aged more than three times his own life span. The cold, messy numbers that marked an occupant of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The numbers that marked a man who had been one of the sonnderkommando, forced to help dispose of the slaughtered bodies of his fellow inmates.
Numbers so very much like the ones he'd seen once before, on the forearm of his best friend's grandfather. The look that had been on the man's face, the distant sadness, the numbed gaze. He hadn't recognized it as a boy, but now, as he looked into the mirror, he could see it there in his own eyes. The look of a man who's soul had died slightly because of the horrors he'd seen.
As he closed his eyes, he could remember the choking, consuming smell, haunting him. The looks of horror and fear that sparked in the children, and the souless resignation in the eyes of so many adults, flashed in front of his eyes. The feeling, of his own body consuming itself in hunger, drained and near broken from one of the worst places humanity had created.
He could feel the memories of hatred, fear, anger, pain, and such a myriad of emotions that he could never fully understand them. Mostly at himself, for escaping while others were left behind, to suffer even more. The fevered, soul binding pledge he'd made to himself, not to let it ever happen again, not if he had the power to prevent it. A guilt and pain that shaped everything he would be for decades to come.
Shaking his head softly, he could feel the memories of what happened next begin to form in his mind. Anya, the beautiful daughter, and the fire that had taken her life. Of the mob that had stopped him from saving her, and the first, explosive manifestation of what he was.
Max Eisenhart had died along with his daughter that day, when his wife had fled in terror at what he'd suddenly found himself capable of.
Erik Lensherr had risen for a time, searching through out Europe for his missing wife, desperate to find her. The same Erik that had met a man by the name of Charles, and engaged into a long philosophical debate. A debate each argued with a passion, not knowing the other was the same as they were.
Then, that time had passed, and Erik faded, to give way to the name by which he would be known, and feared by the world over Magneto.
Xander shook his head, to escape the fog of memories as he felt the tears streaming down his cheeks. A part of him, a part his true memories flashed with a glimmer as he recalled the words he'd read being said by the X-man Psylocke in the first issue of the second volume of the X-Men, "The sheer force of the man."
Not his physical strength, the strength of his mind, of his will. It almost threatened to overwhelm him as at the same time, he could feel it an odd comfort. Max Eisenhart had become a force that shook the very world itself. Ripples of his actions affecting in so many ways, both good and ill as he had struggled to walk the fine line between protecting his people, and becoming like the monsters he hated so. A difficult path he hadn't always been able to follow.
And now, the memories of a man who'd lived a life so far beyond his own running through his mind, Xander Harris stared at the cheaply painted magenta and purple helmet he'd worn only hours early and wondered. If a man as strong as Magneto could fall prey to becoming the thing he feared the most, what did that say about an ordinary boy like he was?
A sudden shot of anger raced through him, a burning, consuming then as he took the cardboard and tinfoil helmet, throwing it across the room with a silent scream as it struck a wall with a dull, near silent thud, the fell, listlessly to the floor.
How could he have done it? How could he have fallen so far? It ate at him, that gnawing realization that the man had betrayed himself and never saw it. Why?
Turning his head, he rose up from his bed, and quietly made his way to an wrinkled cardboard box seated near his decrepit bookshelf. Stacks of comics lay within, years of collecting, savoring the stories with Jessie, the tales they told of heroes, their adversaries and the forces they faced. Almost savagely he would rip through the stacks, searching, desperately until he found what was searching for.
The Age of Apocalypse.
Fingers dimly traced over the weathered cover as he shook his head, flipping through the pages as he fell quietly back down on his bed. A Magneto shaped by one last tragedy that had never happened in the main timeline. A Magneto who took up the dream of the friend that died in his arms at the hands of a time travelling madman who had come to kill Magneto himself.
A madman who was wiped from existence by killing his own father before he'd been born.
On that day, Magneto had changed, taking up the banner of Charles Xavier's dream. And in that reality, he had as Apocalypse had created concentration camps the likes of which staggered the one he'd endured in his youth. He'd risen up to become a hero, a beacon against the darkness of Apocalypse's madness.
That potential was always there. There had been glimpses of it, seen in the past he remembered. Times where he stood against the dark, stood with the heroes as they had been known. But, too often, that glowing spark of hope, had been crushed by the fear and stupidity of people who had more power than they should have.
Across the room, he could see a shining gleam of the busted padlock he'd picked up from where a vampire had ripped it from a door. Temptation lifted through him, as memories of a gesture, a pull, of tapping into a power that was more powerful than most ever realized. A temptation that he fought down with a rising swell of fear.
What if he couldn't do it? Or, more frightening to him, what if he could? What if, along with the memories, along with the tattoo, he'd been touched so deeply by the man, that he left everything behind?
Shaking his head, he tossed the comic in his hands aside, and closed his eyes. For a brief moment, he entered into a blissful nothingness. Then, the dreams began.
"Ugh," Xander groaned softly as he looked blearily up at the light streaming through the library windows, "Remind me again why I had to be here so damned early?"
"Because of last night maybe?" Buffy Summers suggested, a blonde brow arching up as she shrugged just a bit, fighting back a yawn, "You know, when you went all Big Baddie and tore apart the warehouse district?"
"That wasn't me!" he protested, hands held up, "That was Magneto!" he paused a moment, before suddenly grinning back at Buffy, "Or, are you saying that it was you that was running around, calling cars Demons and being about as useful as a sack of potatoes?"
"I'm gonna go with the Hey!" the Slayer glared back at her friend, sticking out her tongue playfully.
"As much as I'm sure this is quite the fascinating discussion," Rupert Giles spoke up as he walked up to the pair, "Buffy has already told me that her… occupation has had lingering effects on her."
"French test is in the bag," the girl nodded happily.
"Yes, well, that's well and good, but," Giles coughed softly before he turned his attention towards Xander, "I was curious to know if you too had noticed any lingering after effects? Considering what I've been told about the man who possessed you…"
While Giles left the words hanging, Xander took a slow, long moment to swallow, a chill running down his spine as he wordlessly pulled down the sleeve of his shirt, to reveal the faded tattoo, "Just… a few Giles."
"What is… Good Lord!" the British librarian paled slightly as he stared down at the faded numbers on the boy's arm, "Is that…?"
"Its… That's Magneto's Auschwitz tattoo, isn't it?" Willow Rosenburg squeaked quietly as she stared at her friend's arm, "I mean, its just like my grand father's! All faded and… Oh my god, oh my god…"
"Auschwitz…?" Buffy spoke up, the confusion written on her face as she stared at the extreme reactions of the others present.
"The concentration camp Buff," Xander answered her, his voice struggling to remain nonchalant, "During World War II, where, when Magneto was younger than us, was forced to be one of the sonnderkommando."
"Good Lord!" Giles slumped down in his chair, staring at the haunted look in the young man's eyes, "And… and you remember it?"
"All of it," Xander spoke so softly, "The smell most of all."
"Oh Xander…" Willow leapt up, quickly wrapping her friend in a tight hug.
"Um, could someone make with the explanations for Slay-girl here? Kinda clueless…" Buffy spoke up, her hand raising with her words, before visibly flinching back at the suddenly outraged glare Willow shot at her.
"Wow, easy there Wills," Xander reached up, putting his hand on her shoulder, "Not everyone has had a grandfather that survived, or is a historian type person like you and Giles…"
"But…" there was anger there in those eyes, as she looked back at Xander.
"Seriously, she doesn't know," he reassured her gently.
"I'm gonna guess its of the bad then?" Buffy offered, a slight hesitance in her words.
"Right then," Giles spoke up, his face drawn and pale, as he shakily put his hand on the back of a chair, "The sonnderkommando were Auschwitz prisoners that were forced to dispose of the bodies of their fellow prisoners who had died or been executed. The estimates by some reports, put the death toll for Auschwitz alone at over a million."
Paling herself now, Buffy turned her hazel eyes back to Xander, "And… you remember it?"
"All of it," Xander's voice came out in a half chuckled rasp, "I remember Auschwitz… I remember how he married and tried to put it behind him. I remember the joy he felt when he became a father for the first time.. I remember the fear, the pain, the rage that lead to him first manifesting his powers as he was forced to watch as building his infant daughter was in, was burned to the ground by a mob that forced him to watch…
"I remember the look of fear and horror on his wife's face when she realized what he'd done," he continued, his voice soft, subdued, " I remember how that look stabbed to the heart of him, ate at him, how she forsook him because he was different. I remember the years he spent wandering Europe, hoping, desperately to find her… I remember the friendship he formed with Charles Xavier, and how badly it hurt him to face off against his closest friend time and time again."
"Good Lord… I… Good Lord," Giles slumped into the chair, staring at the boy sitting before him, that remembered a life not his own. A life of pain and misery like nothing he could find himself imagining, "Xander…"
"Everything he did, he did because he wanted to protect his people," the boy spoke softly as he looked into each of his friend's eyes, one by one, "He did everything in his power to try and prevent them from learning the pain he'd learned. You have know idea the sheer strength he had… Not his powers, not his physical strength… But his will, who he was, he… Its frightening."
"Xander, I know it can be difficult to come to terms with what you've been through…." Giles watched as Buffy had moved next to the boy, hugging him along with Willow, "And I know having the memories of such a dangerous, powerful man can be traumatic…"
"You don't understand, Giles," he spoke up, his eyes shining with unshed tears as he met the Watcher's gaze, "He was so strong, stronger than any of us… Who he was, and he was determined to protect them all… All that strength, all those intentions and he STILL came so close to becoming what he hated, what had hurt him so badly. THAT'S what scares me."
The boy took a deep, shuddering breath before he looked across the table at the man, "If someone that strong fell to the darkside, what chance does a weak, ordinary kid like me have?"