Wolverine faced the woman across a curtain of crackling magnetic energy. The scent of ozone lay thick over everything, but didn't disguise her scent from him. Her helmet obscured her face, but he didn't need to see anything but her eyes, right now.
"Don't do this, darlin'," he said. "I don't want to have to fight you."
"Nor I, you," she said. "But this is not your fight, Logan. You can walk away."
"Can't do that and you know it, Erika," he said. "If yer gonna go through with this, I gotta try to stop ya."
"You saved my life," the Mistress of Magnetism said, her voice rough with emotion. "You spent a year trying to lead me out of hell on Earth, and took a bullet to the head for your trouble. I owe you more than I can ever repay... but not more than I owe mutantkind. Don't force me to kill you, Logan. Please."
"Funny, that's what I was gonna say to you," he said. "You were a sweet little kid, Erika. I am so fuckin' sorry I couldn't finish the job... I couldn't save you..."
"You tried. That meant more to me than you imagine. I survived the camps because I believed you had died trying to save me, and I chose to live, in a place where death was easy and often preferable, for your sake."
"But it doesn't change anything."
He shook his head sadly. "How'd it come to this, Erika? You know you're breaking poor Charley's heart."
Her face hardened, her scent changed. She hadn't liked that. "Charles is a fool, and you are twice the fool. You know what the world is, Logan. You've seen far more of it than Charles has." She shook her head. "Charles believes that if we are peaceful and gentle and show that we mean no harm, it will save us. Tell me, when you found me in my family's grave, what harm could I have possibly done anyone? What harm were the mothers with infants, the elderly scholars, any of us? We were unarmed, deprived of nearly all our rights by the laws the Nazis made, and still they rounded us up and slaughtered us like animals. What good did it do my family to be harmless?"
"You can be peaceful without being harmless. Charley never said to lay down and be a doormat. You train mutants to use their powers, sooner or later they're gonna use their powers, and if someone's tryin' to kill them I'm pretty sure that's gonna be a good reason to do it." He took a step forward. "But there's a difference between packin' a gun, and firing the first shot."
"They will come for us if we wait, and they will come for us if we strike pre-emptively. But in one of those scenarios, we have the tactical advantage, and they are forced to react to us. In the other, we are helpless, forced to react to them."
"Waitin' for an attack that might never come, and training to deal with it if it does, ain't bein' helpless."
"It's not likely to be effective, either."
Xavier hadn't been able to convince her, and he was her husband. Wolverine didn't even know why he'd thought he had a chance. But he'd known Erika when she was a child. He'd hoped that would make a difference.
For years he hadn't even been sure it had happened, if his fragmentary memories of months spent deep behind enemy lines trying to rescue one little girl during World War II were too implausible to be anything other than a memory implant. What he'd remembered was that he'd been sent to Germany to find a Jewish scientist named Joseph Lehnsherr. Lehnsherr had written a paper several years ago about a child he'd called "Little Eva", who at age 3 had been able to point in the direction of her home no matter how far she went from it, and who had been able to detect a light being on even through an opaque lampshade. Lehnsherr had done a number of harmless experiments with the child to confirm that she was detecting magnetic fields, and had concluded by suggesting that perhaps humanity was taking the next step in its evolution, developing new abilities.
The men behind the Weapon X project had known he was right. "Little Eva" was clearly a mutant, and if she was showing any level of ability at the age of 3, possibly an extraordinarily powerful one. Only powerful mutants seemed to have any abilities in childhood. So Logan had been sent to Germany to rescue Lehnsherr and his family, and offer to get them out in exchange for the true identity of "Little Eva."
He'd arrived, literally, ten minutes too late. The Nazis were still shoveling dirt and quicklime onto the mass grave that Lehnsherr, his family, and dozens of other Jews had just been dumped in after being shot. Logan hadn't had his claws then, or the adamantium; it had taken him a lot longer to kill all the Nazis than it would nowadays.
And after he'd killed them all, he'd seen a small hand, sticking out of the grave. Moving.
The girl had been 12, perhaps, or 13. Badly undernourished and in utter shock, but physically unhurt. It had taken her a week to speak a single word. When he'd finally fed her well enough and gotten her trust enough that she was willing to talk to him, he'd learned that she was Erika Lehnsherr, his target's youngest child... and had also been Little Eva.
They'd started by trying to cross through Germany to make their way to the border and escape into Belgium. But Belgium surrendered before they could get there. They aimed for Switzerland instead. Then Erika started insisting that they had to try to rescue her cousins. The cousins and their families had disappeared, no evidence whatsoever of where they'd gone. Nearly a year of sneaking through the countryside, a couple of weeks away from Switzerland, and Logan didn't even remember the circumstances of how they were betrayed... but the Nazis found them, and identified him as an American spy (which was bullshit; he was Canadian). They'd shot him in the head. The last thing he'd heard was Erika screaming his name.
For years he hadn't even been sure that any of that had ever happened, that he'd ever been sneaking around through the Black Forest of Germany with a teenage girl as pale as a ghost under his protection. It hadn't been until years later when James Hudson had called in Charles Xavier and his wife to deal with the feral mutant with metal bones running around in the Canadian back woods that he'd learned that another person remembered it. Charles had found him, but couldn't read or control his mind; Erika had been the one to rescue him, offer him food, and lead him back to his humanity... the way he had done for her, years ago.
He hadn't recognized her, even when he regained his memories. She was an adult, and his last memory was of a girl who hadn't even hit puberty yet. But she'd recognized him. He hadn't, apparently, changed at all in all those years. And when he'd regained his ability to act like a human being, she'd told him who she was. Her whole life, she said, she had clung to her memory of him as evidence that anyone in the world could be a good and noble person. She'd thought he was dead - the Nazis had shot him in the head, and she'd never had opportunity to see just how good his healing factor was.
Xavier told him that she had manifested her powers then, taken all the Nazis' guns and tried to kill them, until one had clubbed her over the head with a wooden cudgel, and she'd ended up being one of Mengele's experimental subjects at Auschwitz. Erika herself never talked about that.
"Yer settin' up a self-fulfilling prophecy here, kid." He only called Erika "kid" when he wanted to irritate her... or remind her of the year they'd spent together in her childhood. "Maybe they'll attack and maybe they won't, but if you attack them first you make sure they will. No one's saying you gotta be an X-Man and rescue humans from burnin' buildings, but if you're gonna attack humanity you know we gotta take you down."
"And how do you propose to do that, Logan?" Erika asked. "Your bones are laced with ferromagnetic metal. You cannot threaten me."
"Maybe I can't." He took another step forward. "Maybe there's nothing I can do. But maybe I can talk you out of this. You know civilians always get hurt in a war, and you don't have an army. You're just you. It's gonna be guerrilla action, and it's gonna be terrorism, and that targets the civilians. The moms with babies. The kids, who never hurt anyone. All the people you just described that the Nazis killed. You're gonna end up killing them, too." Another step. Two.
Erika sneered. "You think so little of my abilities, Logan? I intend to make my war on the military forces of the great powers. Not the civilian populations. I am not a bomb; I can choose my targets with precision."
"Even the military guys have wives and kids. You know yer not justified in doing this. Pre-emptive strikes only work when war is really inevitable. Just 'cause you think it is, doesn't make it so."
She stepped forward, meeting him. "Logan. Have you ever acknowledged that I am not a teenage girl?"
"Haven't thought ya were since I met you again in Canada," he said. "But I knew you when you were a kid, and I don't want to see you turning into this. You're gonna be the enemy of the entire world... and they'll be justified. Six billion people are gonna call you their enemy. I can't believe the kid I knew would ever want that."
"I was more naive then. My family had died... but I hadn't yet survived the camps. Or any of the other things I've survived." She looked down at him. "How many more young mutants will die before Charles acknowledges that they have already declared war? Logan, I don't want this... I didn't choose to become humanity's enemy. They have already declared the war. And eventually, I fear, all of you will either join me as active combatants... or you will be dead."
"A couple of lawless mobs don't make a full-scale war."
"That is what we thought on Kristallnacht." Erika shook her head. "Please. Logan, don't fight me on this. Join me, or at the least, stay out of my way. I don't want to fight you."
He put his arm around her, a hug like he'd given the much shorter little girl she'd been, and laid his head against her shoulder. "Darlin', I don't want to fight you either. You know that. Can't ya wait? See if Charley can make any progress doing it his way? Give us a couple of years, at least?"
Her voice was hoarse. "I have watched, and waited, as long as I can bear. The war has already begun, and I will not go to the slaughter peacefully, nor let those I care for be marched there. I'm sorry. There is no other way."
"I'm sorry too, darlin'," he whispered roughly, and extended the claws from the hand that was holding her close, pressing against her back right behind her heart.
Or he tried to, at least. They extended less than a centimeter, and stuck.
"Wolverine." Now her voice was harsh. "How big a fool do you think me? Your claws are magnetic. I've been watching them, expecting this, this entire time." She pulled him closer in their embrace. He realized he was paralyzed, that she had control of his entire skeleton and was holding him immobile. Panicked, he struggled - paralysis had never meant anything good, for him - but his bones would not budge.
"I should kill you," she whispered in his ear. "I know what you are, I know what you do. If you've decided to kill me, then I must sleep with one eye open until you're dead, and it would be far, far easier to just end it now." She stepped backward, away from him. "But I... cannot. Not today. I must fight humanity, Logan, they've already declared war on our people... but I can choose not to fight you. Today."
"You know there's gonna be a tomorrow," Logan said.
"And when that day comes, if you stand in my way, I will kill you." She lifted into the air. "I am truly sorry. But if you oppose me, you draw your own fate down on yourself."
And she was gone.
Wolverine took a deep breath. You got what you needed, Charley?
Yes. Many thanks for distracting her, Wolverine. It was hard enough to get into her mind before she'd declared war on us all; it's nigh-impossible now unless she's under emotional stress and distracted and I'm not physically near her, reminding her of what I can do. But I've learned her plans now, and I don't think she sensed me at all.
You know I want to shower out my brain with lye now. It ain't right, usin' her feelings against her like that.
He "heard" Xavier's impatience clearly. She was your protege, the girl you protected and trained for a year, much as you've done with Kitty. But she was... and still is... my wife. Don't tell me how dirty it makes you feel to use those bonds of emotion against her as if I have no trouble with it myself... but you know what we have to do. Without knowledge of her plans, we can't save the lives she'd end up taking, and we can't contain the damage she'll do.
Hey, I agreed to do it, Chuck. I knew what I was getting into. Just don't expect me to pretend I'm happy about it.
No one's happy about any of this. But if we bring the newer X-Men in against her, the ones she didn't help to train, along with Scott and Jean and the others... and we know her plans... maybe we can stop her.
Ain't no stopping her until she's dead, Xavier. I know Erika. She doesn't stop.
Neither do the X-Men, Logan. Neither do we.
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