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A memory. A dream. A possibility. All she knew was it wasn't true but also that it could be.
The two woman bowed their heads slightly to one another.
"Father wishes to see you, Marie."
The redhead turned away.
"We all know I am his shame. Polaris is his pride; Quicksilver, his heir and you, his joy. I am just the human child born of an affair which meant nothing to him. And then my children who are fatherless and powerless. At least William and Thomas have inherited your and Pietro's gifts. My own gift is only to make the humans content. After all, if I wasn't in your family, maybe Father would have exterminated them all. It was only luck that you recognised me as your sister."
A hand on the shoulder.
"Father wants to speak with you."
"Wanda, we know Father would much rather my other sister was his daughter. A telepath and telekinetic worthy of the Royal House of Magnus. All he can do is place Eloise on the Red Guard and give her great honour. He wishes I was Eloise Magnus."
"Marie, there is no truth in that…"
The woman in blue turned to her sister.
"Wanda, I see the disgust when he looks at me. He keeps me hidden from the public. I only appear when the whole family is together and Pietro can shield me behind him. Lorna has nothing but contempt for what I am. And…"
She fell silent as the proud green-haired woman walked past, the long dark green robe trailing on the ground.
And then she was gone. Marie stared at Wanda.
"See. She doesn't even call me by my name."
Wanda looked away in sorrow.
"You know I would trade places with you in an instant."
"Really? You would give up your power and prestige to be kept a virtual prisoner by your own father? I do not even know where my mother and her husband are or even whether they're alive. My only contact with outside is through my family and the Red Guard."
She fell silent and looked away. Wanda touched her shoulder.
"Why do you never say who your children's father is? The only reason I keep my marriage secret to the public is to protect my husband. You won't even tell Father…"
Marie raised a hand.
"He does not matter. He has sworn himself to secrecy and we are lucky that the children do not resemble him."
But the human member of the House of Magnus had marched ahead, ignoring her sister's pleas. She pushed both doors into the throne room open.
"Marie. Leave us."
The men walked out as father and daughter sized each other up.
"You know of my plan to unite Pietro and Queen Ororo."
"Yes. I do not approve. Pietro loves her but she does not care for him."
"You have no telepathy, Marie. What makes you so sure…?"
"Because I don't need telepathy to read people, Father. I may not be one of your precious mutants or have inherited any powers from you but I have gained your ability to take the measure of my opponents. I can read them as easily as a book. Eloise has protected me all these years but it wasn't her who planned the attacks and defences. It was me, Father. I may not be a mutant but I have inherited your ability to strategize and plan ahead. Ororo will never love Pietro and by attempting to force a relationship, you will just hurt him."
"SILENCE! You always speak with insolence. Remember, child, it was only my claiming you as my daughter that saved you from the life of a sapien."
"I would rather live in Sapien Town than be your daughter!"
He moved quickly and cuffed her face. She brought her fingers up to the cut caused by his ring. And then she demurely dropped her gaze.
"You called me here for a reason, Father."
"Yes. The Atlantian Prince has expressed an interest in meeting you at this year's celebrations."
Marie stepped back.
"I will not be a bargaining chip in your political power plays!"
"You will listen to me! You will go to the celebrations and meet the Prince! You will do this for me and the honour of our family! He will be the only one of few who will show interest in you, as no one even knows who your children were fathered by! I should have a telepath force it out of you!"
"I'd like to see you try, my dear father. In case you haven't recalled, I grew up with a telepath. Eloise has shielded me from a multitude of psychic backlashes. I also happen to be very adept at creating shields, even if I am but a mere human."
Father and daughter glared at each other, knowing that this was yet another of their fights that could not be avoided. Then her eyes flashed dangerously and they both knew she was about to overstep herself.
"In fact, I shall be purposely rude to the Atlantian Delegation to the point of making fish jokes."
His temper snapped and the delicate iron chain she wore tightened around her throat. Fingers scrabbled but to no avail. Magneto advanced towards his rebellious offspring, eyes hard.
"I saved you from a lifetime of pain and suffering and made you a princess, a queen and you repay me like this? With insolence and cheek?! You shall behave with propriety and grace to the Atlantians and most especially to the Prince. You could do no better than the man who shall one day rule three-quarters of the globe and who is willing to overlook your many faults."
The chain loosened and she dropped to the floor.
"You mean my humanity? Or maybe the fact I have illegitimate children? I am simply following your lead, Father."
"No, I refer to your stubbornness and refusal to listen. Why the Prince chose you over Lorna, I do not know but-"
"Loran, Lorna, Lorna! It's always Lorna with you! Never mind that Pietro would die for you, a million times over! Never mind that Wanda faced an entire army in your name! No, you only care for Lorna; precious, metal-manipulating Lorna! Never mind I saved Wanda's life before I even knew her, by whacking that man over the head with a spade! All you care about is Lorna!"
The men rushed into the room. Magnus's eyes were cold as he stared at his middle-child.
"Take my daughter to her rooms and ensure she does not leave until the celebrations. Restrict all entry and exits."
Hands clasped around her arms and she glared at him.
"Grounding me like a child now, Father?"
"Since you are behaving like one, yes."
"You know that forcing me into a political marriage will only turn me against you?"
"My child, who said anything about marriage? I simply believe that you and Prince Fennis should spend some time together, as the Prince asked so graciously."
She glared at him before pulling her arms free and regally stalking out. Magnus collapsed in his throne. That actually went surprisingly well.
Marie stormed from one end of her room to another.
"The stubborn, righteous, self-centred-"
"You know, that's what he calls you."
"Hello, Wanda. Now, did you ask to get in, or did you magic yourself here?"
"What do you think?"
"Father will still be mad at me, therefore you are not meant to be here."
"You know the reason you fight with him all the time?"
"He's an insufferable git?"
"No. You're too alike. You're both pig-headed and far too stubborn to compromise. What was it about this time?"
"He wants me to marry Prince Fennis."
"Fine, spend the celebrations with him and be so sweet and charming that he proposes and I better say yes. Father's so insufferable! He acts like he has the right to live my life for me."
"Well, you do like Atlantis…"
"I like visiting Atlantis. Father is so ashamed of me that he wants me miles underwater where he need not look at me."
"Marie! You know how to stop this, don't you?"
"Enlighten me, oh most wonderful sister."
"Get engaged to Curtis and Eva's father! Simple!"
Marie shook her head.
"It isn't simple. It's anything but."
Wanda didn't say anything, just stared at her sister until Marie cracked.
"Okay, okay, I'll tell you! You know how I'm always careful to wear a headdress that covers my face in public, and even when I'm just wandering about the palace?"
"The reason I've been doing it is so I can take off the headdress and the robes and I'm not Marie Magnus anymore. I was pretending to be Maria Circena, one of the staff and I met him and he was so lovely and kind and Eva covered for me…"
"You trusted Eva over me?! Your own sister?!"
"Eva had to know. I was running off whenever I could to be alone with him-"
"Who is he?"
"I… I cannot divulge that… But he'd met me as Maria and he loved me as Maria and I felt so good that here was a man who loved me for who I am, not as Father's daughter. So I didn't tell him…"
"Marie, you idiot!"
"I know, I know. By the time I felt I had to tell him, it was too late. I didn't know how he's react. But I loved him and we were so happy…"
"And let me guess. You got careless."
"I… I realised I was pregnant and had to tell him the truth. I did it the wrong way around. I should have told him then announced I was going to have a child. Instead, I told him about the pregnancy and he immediately offered to marry me. And I blurted it out. No tact. Nothing. Just 'I'm Marie Magnus'."
"How did he react to that?"
"Badly. He accused me of leading him on and lying. When it came down to it, he could love Maria Circena but not Marie Magnus, daughter of Magneto. He agreed to forego all rights to his child and to never breath a word of our affair in exchange for my promise not to reveal him to Father. You know why. Father would have him killed or order him to marry me. He would. He'd marry me and hate me for the rest of his life."
"Marie, you can trust me. Who is he?"
The amber eyes dropped low, almost in shame.
"Wolverine?" A hand flew to her mouth. "Oh, Marie. I'm so sorry."
"Look, I know he's sleeping with Mystique…"
"No! Oh, Marie! Wolverine…Wolverine was killed in the field three days ago. I was there when Father was informed."
"No… It's a mistake… It has to be!"
"Marie, I saw his body with my own eyes! Wolverine is dead!"
Tora jerked awake, sitting bolt upright in the bed. She blinked for a second then rose, heading for the clothes lying on the chair. Dressing swiftly, she reached for the door when a voice rang out.
"That's it? No note, no anything? You just leave silently in the night and never come back?"
She turned back to him.
"They haunt me. The faces. In my sleep. I need… I need to speak with her."
The shadow rose.
"Speak with who?"
And Tora's eyes dropped.
"Oh, how sweet, running for help from the one woman no one trusted."
A.N. The next chapter includes what I think the Life Force is, although it probably won't have anything to do with what it turns out to be.