Heart's Desire

What is your heart's desire?

No, no, not your pat replies again. I'm not interested in your altruistic dreams, your oh-so-noble cause. What is your most personal, most private, most selfish dream? Not for your cause, not for your people, not for your friends, but for you and you alone.

What do you want more than anything else in the world?

To have it, would you be willing to die?


--He's not responding.

--I don't understand it. You'd think he of all people would be able to resist. But we all broke out of it, and he...

--Most of us had help, kitten. Psylocke?

--His mind has enormously powerful barriers. Not quite as powerful as Rogue's, but...

--But there's no one in there with him to tell him what's goin' on, like Ah had.

--Exactly. Plus, I do not know him well, nor he me. Professor Xavier or Phoenix might have had a better chance if they were here...

--Which they're not.

--But wouldn't you think he'd be able to break out of it on his own?

--Mebbe. Mebbe not. 'F I was plannin' ta hit a superteam, I'd nail the guy with the most raw power first an' hardest. Could be Maggie just got hit worse'n any of us.

--Can't you just use Cerebro or something?

--I'd really rather not be electrocuted, Rogue. I'd much prefer to use gentle persuasion.

--And if gentle persuasion doesn't work? What then?

--Then, elf, I s'pose we get Betsy a real good insulated suit.

--It almost seems a shame...

--A shame?

--To wake him.

--You mean we should just let him stay in a coma? And die?

--Nyet! No, Katya, you know I would not wish that. It is only...

--Only what?

--That he looks... peaceful. I have never seen him so.

--The dead generally look pretty peaceful too, Petey.

--I know. Only I wonder... does he not wake because he cannot, or is it that... he does not want to?

--I suppose we'll find out, if I can ever get past his shields.

The wind blew fiercely, whipping snow in front of it so thickly that he could not see, though he was able to walk straight through the heart of the blizzard. The wind didn't touch him, the snow fell around but never on him, and the cold did not bite at his bones the way other winters had, like the winter he and Magda had wandered through the woods, starving and ragged and desperate. Or the winters he had shivered in threadbare rags he'd long outgrown, clinging to life, harboring hate as if it could warm him, and hoping desperately a man with a blanket would die so he could take it. The cold would never bite into his flesh that way again-- his strange new powers assured that. It didn't need to. He had more than enough of it deep inside, biting painfully at his heart.

He bumped into a tree, unable to detect its faint aura until too late, and unable to see it at all in this blinding blizzard. In this season, trees grew sluggish, and the faint glow that all living things possessed died to the faintest of embers within them. Another reminder that these powers didn't make him infallible. If he needed a reminder. He had been searching nine months, maybe ten, and had not yet found her. All the power in the world could never console him for that.

Erik sat down with his back against the tree, wearily. He was tired. More accurately, he hurt. Except when he'd overdone it, he never felt the lack of energy that used to accompany exhaustion-- even when he had walked for two days straight without food and only a little bit of water, he had still felt that he had the energy to keep walking. When he'd been without sleep too long, he still felt sleepy, but never felt as if he hadn't enough energy, so long as he hadn't overused his powers. What would happen instead was that his muscles would ache, screaming at him until he simply couldn't make them move anymore. Apparently this strange new power he had could give him a near-infinite supply of energy, but couldn't prevent him straining his muscles if he tried to use that energy. Or something. He really needed a better education. The books he'd devoured in the library of Vinnitsa and the dim recollection of his father's science lectures was not enough to help him understand what was happening to him.

When he closed his eyes, the other world automatically jumped into focus, the world where everything was patterns of interlaced light. It tended to do that whenever he closed his eyes. He could close it off as easily as he closed his eyes, of course, but it was beautiful and fascinating to look at--

--what was that?

Some distance ahead, a faintly glowing shape. He focused on it, as if narrowing his eyes, filtering out the distance and the ghostly weak auras of trees. An animal-- perhaps food. Erik had had an enormous appetite for red meat of late-- eating a great deal of it, or of certain leafy greens like spinach, seemed to lessen the pain and weakness his newfound powers caused. Besides, in the dead of winter there was rarely anything else to eat anyway. It was worth checking. He levered himself up, ignoring the protests of his strained muscles, and began walking, navigating around the trees he couldn't really see by making the invisible bubble around himself larger, so it would hit the trees before he did.

As he got closer, disappointment coursed through him. It was a human-- the patterns around the head were far too complex to be an animal, and that meant it wasn't dinner. For a moment, Erik considered abandoning the person to die in the snow. He was under no obligation to go about rescuing ordinary people-- too many of them looked at him with fear and suspicion, the way the gypsies in his home village had treated him for his fair coloring, the way Magda had-- no. He refused to think about that. Reluctantly, he decided he had an obligation. He had stood by in silence and let so many die-- he remembered Peter Jansen, the older man who had nursed him through a bout of hepatitis and shared food with him when the older, stronger inmates of the camp had stolen his, and how he'd had to stand in silence as the Nazis shot Peter, how he'd been forced to dig a grave for the man who'd protected him and hadn't even had the energy to cry. Peter would have used wondrous powers like Erik's to help people; Erik owed it to his memory.

As he knelt by the figure, extending his invisible bubble around it, he realized it was a woman, and felt glad he hadn't abandoned her after all. Not that it had mattered in the camps, where the sexes had been segregated, but Erik believed it was a man's job to protect and care for women. He stoked the energy patterns inside her, warming her, and reached out his hand, turning her over so he could see her face.

And felt as if someone had just kicked him in the chest.

It was Magda.

Suddenly the rage and the desperation and the coldness in the depths of his heart all melted away, and all he could think was that he'd found her, found her at last, and she needed him. He would protect her, save her from the cold as he had so many times before, and she would awaken and realize he had saved her, he and the powers she feared. And then she would realize there was nothing to fear, and would beg for his forgiveness, for hurting him so. And he would grant it-- he never could deny her anything-- and they would never be parted again, never.

Erik lifted her half-frozen body, shocked at how light she was. How long had she been wandering withut food? She had never had his knack for finding food in the dead of winter. So terribly light... He had to get food for her. But first, shelter.

He cast his mind out, ranging through the woods, looking with the other senses he didn't understand, until he found something the dense, sparkling color of iron, something whose spirit leapt at his touch. Actually he was fairly sure it wasn't a spirit-- his father the schoolteacher had been a man of science, and had taught Erik to eschew superstition, but without any better education than he had Erik couldn't imagine what it was that made the iron respond so eagerly to his touch, except its spirit. It was a stove, and where there was a stove, there was shelter. This time he wouldn't waste time walking the distance. With his wife in his arms, Erik rose through the trees, carefully negotiating his way around the branches, until he hit open sky, and then flew straight toward the iron stove. In a city he would never be able to perceive an iron stove so far away, but out here anything that wasn't buried deep in the ground was clear to see from miles away.

Even from above the cottage, he could clearly see there was no life in it-- no shimmering patterns of light beneath him. The door was bolted with a stout wooden bolt, nothing he could have touched were it not reinforced with iron at the ends. Though Erik had no idea why his powers only worked on certain substances, extensive experimentation had taught him that it was so. He slid the door open and stepped inside with his burden, locking the door behind him.

Inside was a simple one-room cottage-- a bed, a stove, a chamberpot, some kitchen utensils, and little more. He set Magda down on the bed, tenderly brushing wet strands of hair away from her face as he concentrated on warming her.

When her body temperature was normal and her skin temperature in the comfortable range, he tucked the blanket around her and left. He'd discovered the hard way that his powers wouldn't protect him from the cold while he slept, and they certainly wouldn't protect her, and he couldn't stay awake forever. They needed wood for the stove, and they needed food.

Lightning was a useful tool for felling a tree, but once he had felled it, lightning was fairly useless for chopping it into firewood. Instead, he dug up iron ore from rocks deep within the Earth, and reshaped it into an iron axe without a handle. His powers gave him better leverage than the best axe handle could, and could move the axe from one position to another, chopping, far faster than his muscles could have done. In minutes, he was done, an entire tree converted into cordwood for the stove. He and Magda wouldn't need that much, but he'd leave it behind as a gift for whoever owned this cottage, payment for the use of the place. Erik carried some of it inside, with his arms since his powers wouldn't affect wood, put it in the stove, and generated sparks off the iron stove until he'd set a merry blaze.

The next item on the agenda was food. Magda probably couldn't stomach uncooked meat, perhaps not even cooked meat if all he did was broil it. In her condition a warm broth would be best. He carried the largest pot the cottage had out to the snow, scooped handfuls of snow into it until it was brimming, then carried it back in and set it on the stove to melt and boil while he hunted.

Before he'd had these powers, he'd been a decent hunter. With them, prey simply didn't stand a chance. He found the glowing pattern of a warren full of rabbits, nestled snugly against one another, not far away. Tiny electric shocks panicked three chosen victims, waking them from their sleep and terrifying them into burrowing away from their fellows. Erik waited until they'd gotten some distance, then cleaved the dirt to get to them and shocked them into swift, painless death.

His makeshift axe became a pair of knives, with which he quickly skinned and cleaned his prey. The rabbit skins, once cured, would be good material to make a warm hat and some gloves for Magda, but right now he was more concerned with the meat. The knives sliced all the meat off the bones, more precisely and cleanly than his hands could have made them do, and the meat went into the boiling water to make rabbit stew. Greens would be nice, but he didn't have any. He and Magda would have to make do with just this. The larger of the bones, he cracked open and placed at the bottom of the stewpot, for flavor and some additional foodstuff; the smaller ones, he cracked open and sucked the marrow from himself. Blood and bone marrow were especially good at staving off the weakness his powers sometimes brought, and he wasn't cheating Magda of anything-- three rabbits would be plenty for them both, and later he'd find more food.

She moaned softly. Erik's attention was immediately drawn away from the soup he was stirring. He went to the bed and knelt by it. "Magda? Can you hear me?"

She opened her eyes. "Erik?" she said sleepily. "I dreamed--"

And froze, her eyes widening in horror. "Erik," she whispered, as if it were the name of the devil himself.

He tried to pretend he hadn't heard that, that he couldn't see the terror in her eyes. That everything was normal between them. "I have soup for you," he said. "Rabbit. You must be starved."

She stared with wide horrified eyes. He couldn't look at those eyes. Their gaze was like twin nails being driven into his heart. "I'll get you the soup," he said inanely, and turned away, scooping broth and tender, well-cooked rabbit meat into a metal bowl he'd made from the same material he'd previously used as an axe and skinning knives. He brought it over to her. "Here, Magda. It's food. You need to get your strength up."

"Get away from me," she said weakly, her voice shaking with terror. "Please. Go."

Anger flared. He had saved her life, and this was how she treated him? "You would have died if I hadn't found you," he said sharply. "I've been looking for you for months. I won't turn my back on you now."

She shrank into herself. "What are you going to do to me?"

"Feed you. Eat the damned rabbit soup. I made twice as much as I need for myself and I won't see it go to waste."

Hesitantly she took the bowl from him. In the camps you took food where you could, even if the person giving it to you might kill you or hurt you in the next few minutes. That was clearly Magda's motivation-- hunger, and perhaps fear that he would hurt her if she disobeyed, as the Nazis would have. He was sick to the heart-- he had saved her life, and it hadn't changed anything. She still thought him a monster.

For a single vindictive moment he thought of proving it. She thought him a monster? Very well, then she wouldn't be surprised when he carried her back out into the snow and left her to die, as she would have had her monstrous husband not rescued her. But he couldn't do that. He would sooner gouge out his own eyes than hurt her. Hurt her permanently, anyway. The rage was building in him, and he wasn't entirely certain he would not hit her. You didn't hit women, but then women weren't supposed to treat you like you were an evil demonic creature for avenging your daughter and theirs. Part of him hated her for that. But the love was still there, and a desperate need to make her understand, to see that he wasn't a monster, to make her love him again. He could less easily kill her than kill himself.

He heard a clatter. Erik turned, and discovered that Magda was trying to get up, that her soup bowl had fallen to the floor. "You're ill," he said. He went and put a hand on her forehead, trying very hard not to notice how she shrank away. "Look, Magda, you're feverish and barely recovered. You can't go anywhere."

"Will you hurt me?" she whispered.

"No," he said, exasperated, "but if you keep trying to crawl out the door when there's a raging blizzard going on, I may chain you to the bed to keep you alive. I swore I'd protect you, and I will. Even from your own idiocy, if it comes to it."

"And who will protect me from you?" she asked bitterly.

"You don't need protection from me!" he exploded. "I'm not going to hurt you! How many times do I have to say it?"

"Then what do you want?"

I want you back. I want you to love me. "What do you mean, what do I want?"

"They used to say they wouldn't hurt me. It always meant 'if I did what they wanted'. What do you want?"

She was comparing him to the Nazis who had raped her in the camps. For a moment, Erik saw only white. The urge to hit her was overwhelming, or to strike out at her with the power he felt suddenly racing through his veins. To hurt her, to make her beg and apologize. She had shrunk all the way back against the bed, her face a rictus of terror. Erik forced down the power and grated out, "What I want is for you to treat me like the man you married and not a demon. But that would seem to be out of the question, wouldn't it?"

"The man I married?" Her voice was still hoarse from terror. "The man I married does not throw lightning from his eyes! The man I married does not glow, and throw off sparks! I don't know what you are, but you aren't the man I married anymore!"

"Then everything we had was built on a lie," he said harshly, "because I haven't changed. Not in any way that matters. I have power where before I had none. There is no other difference."

He wanted to say, My heart hasn't changed; I still have the same feelings as the man you married did. He wanted to say, I still love you. I would do anything to keep you from hurt. But he was far too afraid that she would still reject him, that he would plead with her and open his defenses to let her touch his naked heart and she would crush it. Besides, why should he be the one to crawl and beg? She had wronged him; he had done nothing to hurt her. She was the one who should be begging for forgiveness rather than the other way around. No, he would not humble himself by opening himself up to be hurt. She would understand, or not.

Probably not, the way things were going. He should have known better than to think things could work out in his favor.

They didn't speak for several minutes. There had been a time when that wouldn't have bothered Erik, when companionable silence was all the two of them needed to derive the reassurrance the other's presence brought. But now the silence was driving him mad. He could not sit here, after looking for her so long, after he'd finally found her, and say nothing. Finally he forced out, "Why?"

She said nothing. He turned to face her, and cringed inwardly at the fearful expression on her face, as soon as she realized his attention was back on her. "Why?" he asked again. "Why do you fear me so? I've done nothing to you."

Magda looked at him as if convinced he'd lost his senses. He persisted. "Magda, I haven't changed. I am still the man who swore to protect you. I have new powers now, yes, but why can't you understand, I would only use those powers to protect you, never to hurt you. Why do you fear me?"

For a long time she said nothing, only stared at him with fear-filled eyes. As he finally grew disgusted, and started to turn away in bitter pain, she spoke. "You don't know why I fear you?" she said softly. "Then you have changed, whatever you say. My Erik wasn't such a fool."

"A fool, am I?" He shrugged. Maybe if she was insulting him it meant she was a little less afraid. "Perhaps I am. Explain my foolishness to me, Magda. When we swore vows, I distinctly recall that 'until death do we part' was in there, not 'until you develop strange powers and I run away from you in hysterics.' No doubt you have a very good reason for breaking your vows to me; please enlighten me."

"You truly don't understand, do you?" she whispered.

"No! No, I truly don't understand. What will it take for you to realize this, and tell me what it is I don't understand?"

"You murdered all those people!"

For a second he thought this was a nonsequitur. Then he realized it was her answer. "You fear me because I killed? I've killed before, Magda, and you didn't fear me then. You went with me when I saved you from the butcher who'd have killed you, don't you remember? How is it different that I killed men with lightning instead of bludgeoning them to death with a stick?"

"That was different--"


"Erik, you truly can't see it?" she cried. "Don't you have a conscience? Did you ever? You killed innocent people! If you had only killed those who were hitting you, that would be forgivable, that was self-defense, but you killed them all!"

Rage welled, that she would judge him so harshly. "Those innocent people stood by and let our daughter burn to death! Is that the act of an innocent person? They heard a child, screaming hysterically for her parents to save her; they saw the two of us, being restrained and beaten for the crime of wanting not to be cheated, being held back from saving her... Magda, they murdered her just as surely as the ones who set the fire!"

"And when they took the men in your camp off to the selections, and you did nothing, were you innocent?"

All the blood drained from Erik's face. He lunged forward and grabbed Magda by the front of her dress, making her shrink back and whimper. "How dare you throw that up in my face? You were there-- you know as well as I there was nothing we could do! I hadn't the power to stop it, then-- I hadn't the power to do anything but survive! Now I have the power to protect myself and those I love, and I will be damned before I hold back from using it! If that makes me a monster, so is every man who has ever killed in defense of his country, his wife or his children!"

Abruptly he realized what he was doing, realized how terrified she was, and released her, stepping back. "I-- I'm sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you. It's just-- I cannot believe you would blame me for saying nothing in the camps, when you were in the same situation!"

"I... I'm not blaming you, Erik." Her voice was very tiny. "How could I? You're right, I did the same thing."

"Then why bring it up?"

"You didn't... you didn't understand me at all." She took a deep breath. "Those people were powerless, Erik. They couldn't have stopped the men beating you. Those men were police. If anyone had come forward to stop it, they would have disappeared."


"Yes. The secret police would have taken away any who defied them. Including anyone who stood up for us. Why should they have risked their lives for us, a pair of strangers in the city?"

Erik stood stock still, horrified as the import of her words sunk in. He shook his head reflexively. "It wasn't like that. Were they beaten? Starved? Held under guns, behind barbed wire? They were free people. They could have said something."

"They couldn't have."

"Yes, they could."

"They were frightened people, keeping their mouths shut like you and I did in the camps, and you killed them all."

He shook his head again, refusing the vision her words evoked in him. He hadn't thought of it that way, hadn't considered for a moment that those people might have had as little choice as he'd had, when they'd shot his best friend in front of him and he'd dug the man's grave, or a thousand other times when total strangers had been killed in front of his eyes and he'd said nothing. It was not innocence, exactly; he could never truly forgive himself his inaction, even though logically he knew he could have done nothing for the victims, that all he could have accomplished was his own death. But it was not guilt, either, not the guilt he'd been placing on the heads of those he'd killed. He had thought them cowards, or worse. He had thought--

--He had thought they were glad. That they stood there, enjoying the spectacle of a stranger's daughter's death. That the fact that none of them came forward to stop it, or made any move to help him or Magda, meant that they wanted this. They had all murdered his daughter. They all had to pay.

But Magda's words evoked another possibility, far more horrific in the light of what he'd done-- that they had been the powerless uninnocent, as he had been in the camps. That they had been no worse than he himself. And that meant that by killing them, he had essentially become a Nazi-- blaming an entire group of people for the sins of a few, murdering helpless, powerless people.

"Dear God," he whispered-- a reflexive expression of horror; he didn't actually believe in God, had lost all faith in a benevolent deity the day he clawed his way out of his family's grave. He put his hands to his face as if he could blot out the vision Magda had given him, the righteous anger at her abandoning him draining away. "What have I done?"

"You've killed innocents, Erik. That is what you've done. Is that what you mean by protecting me?"

He shook his head. "No-- no, I never meant--"

"You meant to kill them! I saw your eyes!"

"I meant to kill them because I thought they wanted our daughter to die!" he shouted hoarsely. "I never meant-- I never thought-- I saw only that they didn't help us, it never occurred to me that they didn't have a choice."

"It never occurred to you. So you struck them dead, because it never occurred to you."

"Yes-- yes. I... I made a terrible mistake, and innocent people paid for it."

"A mistake?" Her voice was harsh. "A simple mistake? What will you say to the people who lost loved ones because of your 'mistake'? 'I'm sorry, I made a mistake?'"

"What do you want me to say? There would be nothing I could say. I-- I was mad with rage, Magda. I wasn't thinking clearly. And until I spoke to you just now, I didn't realize-- I didn't understand that those people were innocent, until you made me see it."

"Now do you understand why I fear you?"

He did. But he understood something else now as well. "I won't let it happen again," he said. "I swear. But I need your help, Magda."

She stared at him. "My help? For what?"

"To keep it from happening again. Don't you see?" He couldn't quite find the words he wanted, and flung his hands up, frustrated. "I-- you have always been the better half of me. My moral compass. I swear to you, I will not kill unless it's to defend myself or you. But... you know I have a temper, and you know how quick I've always been to defend you. When I was just a normal man, I could let myself be like that, because I couldn't go around hurting people easily. But I have a responsibility now, not to misuse these powers I have... and I don't know if I can do it without you. I need you."

"You don't need me, Erik. You're just saying that because you think that if I think I can keep you from becoming a monster, you can keep me. But I can't stop you from doing anything you want. You've always been stubborn, and I won't stand by a man who murders the innocent!"

"You think I wanted to do that? Magda, they murdered our daughter! Do you think I go about thinking, well it's been a while since I struck anyone dead with lightning, I should find a new victim today? Do you think it gave me any joy to kill those people? I thought they had participated in Anya's death, and I was mad with rage. I-- that will never happen again." He knelt by the side of the bed where she lay. "I swear this, Magda. I will never use these powers in rage again."

"Would you give them up entirely?"

He blinked at her. "Why?"

"You can't swear to me you'll never use them in rage, because everything drives you into a rage, Erik. Stupidity, venality, watching a man beat his horse more than he should-- you are angry at every evil in the world, and once I loved you for that, but that was before you had the power to strike those you were angry at dead. You say you did it because they killed Anya, but how can I know you wouldn't kill because you saw a man beating his children? Or because some shopkeeper tries to cheat you? Or because they tell you you cannot have papers to go back to Poland?" She shook her head. "Everything makes you angry, Erik. If you use these powers at all, you will use them in rage. You must give them up completely."

"That isn't the solution."

"You don't want it to be. You like having power more than you like being a good person."

"That has nothing to do with it! The power responds to what I want. If I tried not to use it at all, it would build up and come out in rage, as you said. I need to practice with it, to train myself, so I can learn how not to use it."

"How can that be so hard? You just don't use it."

"Suppose someone asked you to just not use your hands. That seems an easy thing, doesn't it? And yet it's almost impossible to just not use your hands. That's how it is with me. Now that I have these powers, they're like hands, and using them is as natural to me now as moving my hands is. I need to understand them and learn how to control them so I don't use them by instinct, and hurt someone. I can't give them up."

She curled up small again. "What if you use them by instinct, and hurt me?"

"That could never happen."

"Yes it could. You could fly into a rage. My father used to fly into rages against my mother all the time."

Erik took a deep breath. "Have I ever hit you, Magda?"

"No, but that doesn't mean you--"

"Have I ever even threatened to hit you?"

"You clenched your fists. Before, when your eyes glowed."

"Yes. When you more or less called me a Nazi and a rapist. Even before I had these powers, I'd have beaten a man to a pulp for saying that. But I didn't hit you, nor did I use my powers on you. If you can make me that angry, and I can hold back from hurting you, I think that's all the proof you should need that I would never hurt you."

She shook her head. "The only way I can trust you is if you don't use the powers at all."

"Then you'd have died in the snow just now," he snapped. "These powers you so despise saved your life, Magda. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"

"If I had died, it would have been God's will. You are interfering in something you weren't meant to be."

"How do you know that? How do you know God didn't give me these powers so that I could do good works, such as saving your life?"

"Erik, don't talk to me about God. I know you don't believe."

"I did not say I believed God gave me these powers, and if I believed in a God, I would hate Him even the more for giving them to me too late to save my family, or my daughter, or the friends I buried or saw go up in smoke. But you believe in God, and for some inexplicable reason believe He is benevolent, despite the horrors He's allowed to come to pass. So I ask you again, how do you know my powers weren't given to me by God? If God exists, didn't He give me my intelligence? My appearance? Every good and bad thing about me, don't you believe that came from God? So why would you believe my powers would be any different?"

"Because they're unnatural," she whispered.

He snorted. "Dressing in clothes and living in cities is unnatural. What would be natural would be for us to live in jungles in darkest Africa swinging from trees."

"That isn't true! Erik, you're only saying that because you don't believe in God."

As circular arguments with Magda went, this one had an even higher degree of circularity than usual. "I don't want to argue with you about religion, Magda. The point is that there is nothing unnatural about my powers, just because no one else has them. They either came about because, as I believe, I am part of the next step of human evolution, or, as you believe, because God gave them to me. Either way, I am meant to have them, and to use them. They are not evil in themselves; it's the uses I put them to that are either good or evil. Magda, if I owned a gun, would you be terrified that I'd shoot someone out of rage? You didn't complain when I had an axe-- I could have used that to kill someone, if I'd wanted to. But... I have done wrong. I understand that now, and I swear to you it won't happen again. But giving up my powers is not the answer. The answer is for me to learn to use my powers properly, so they don't go out of my control like that, and for me to atone for the crime I committed with them by using them to help and aid people, the way that I saved you. Don't you understand that?"

"I understand that you are in love with these powers of yours, and that you won't give them up any more than a drunk will give up his bottle. And that means I have nothing more to say to you."

He wanted to cry. He wanted to scream, or throw things, or shatter some rocks bearing iron ore into very tiny pieces. How could she be so dense? How could it be that she would allow no compromise? He could keep from hurting anyone else, he knew it. And he would. He had made her a vow. But to give them up entirely-- it would be just as if, when he'd told her he wanted to go to Vinnitsa to study at the university, she had said no, you have to stay here and be a simple peasant farmer for the rest of your life, you must never be anything more and if you try to reach for anything greater, I won't love you. How could she say that to him, if she loved him? She had let him take their family to Vinnitsa; why wouldn't she allow this?

Was it because of where his last dream had led them? Vinnitsa had been cold and impersonal and cruel, and it had murdered their daughter and tried to kill him. Perhaps she had grown frightened of his dreams, since then. But the fact that things had gone terribly wrong didn't make his dreams wrong to begin with. He had to try to realize his dreams, had to become everything he was capable of becoming, or what was the point to him having survived? If he was just going to be a simple peasant farmer like so many other simple peasant farmers, when he was capable of being so much more than that, then why had he lived when so many others had died? It would be disrespectful to the memory of the dead for him to shirk the life their deaths had granted him. He would give up his dreams if it would bring the dead back to life, but it would not.

The same applied to Magda, of course, but Magda had no great ambitions. Magda did not, apparently, grow tired of their simple life, or ask herself questions about the why's of everything, or stare at the ceiling at night and think to herself, "Is this all I am? Is there nothing more?" And that was fine. If Magda had no great ambitions for herself, Erik could hardly ask her to be what she was not; all he had wanted was that she suppport his ambitions, as he would have supported hers if she'd had any. Wasn't it she who had wanted to be married, who had wanted children? And he had gladly stood beside her and made her dreams his own. Why would she not do the same for his dreams?

He headed for the door. "Where are you going?" Magda asked suddenly, fearfully.


"There's a blizzard outside."

And does that mean you care? If I did freeze to death, would you mourn, Magda? Or is the love in your heart as dead as our daughter? "My powers will protect me. I'll find more food for us, and come back. When the storm abates, you can go if you wish."

He bolted the door behind him as he left, momentarily thinking he should fasten it in some way that she could not undo. Otherwise she might run off into the storm anyway, despite her weakness. But a moment's consideration told him it wasn't a good idea. If something happened to delay him, or if anything happened to him-- he had debilitating headaches on occasion, and who knew, perhaps he could have a seizure, or something-- the thought of her trapped in there to starve horrified him. Better to take the chance that she would do something stupid and flee, than the chance that his precaution to save her life would kill her. At least if she did something stupid, she would not die thinking that he had tried to kill her.

The blizzard raged as fiercely as it had before. Erik flew straight up into the storm, surrounded by swirling masses of frigid fog, congealing around him as if drawn to his invisible bubble of protection. Here in the heart of the storm, he could see absolutely nothing at all with his eyes, but when he closed his eyes the other world shone around him as traces and eddies of light. It was beautiful, and might have been soothing once. Now he saw only how stark and merciless the beauty was, a counterpoint to the darkness of his mood.

There were only two possibilities, and both were terrible, and Erik would have done anything to make them go away, to find a third alternative, but he could not. The first possibility was that she'd never truly loved him as he loved her, that all their life together had been a lie. She had been using him for protection and support and stud service to father the child she wanted, that was all. Everything they had shared was empty. The words she had whispered during lovemaking were lies. If that were true, he felt he almost might kill her; the betrayal felt unendurable. But the other possibility was actually worse.

If she truly loved him, or had loved him, the way that he loved her, and yet had turned from him and cut him to the heart the way she had, just because of his power... then what else could he expect? Humans hated and feared what was different. His father had gone from being a schoolteacher and a respected member of the community to being a pariah, the object of scorn and torment, because he was a Gypsy married to a Jewess and once the Nazis came, both were declared non-people. How much more would humans hate beings who didn't seem to them to be human at all? Erik had received more than his share of beatings from the other schoolchildren for being brighter than they were, before he'd learned to fight back-- his childhood, though it seemed a wondrous halcyon time in comparison to the hell that came after, had been no paradise. And that had only been when they had hated him for being smarter than they. How would they feel about him now, when he could fly, and throw lightning from his eyes, and move things about with his mind?

If Magda, who loved him so much, could turn on him with such hatred and fear, what could he expect from the rest of humanity? Wouldn't he have to hide his gifts for the rest of his life, never able to share them with even a wife or a child, for fear they would turn on him in hate? Wouldn't he constantly have to fear that his neighbors might be plotting his death, that they would set upon him and try to kill him? Wouldn't he be isolated from all humanity, never able to have so much as a close friend, for the rest of his life?

--He's growing agitated.

--How so? He still looks peaceful.

--Not in his mind. I still can't read any specific thoughts, but I'm getting an overwhelming sense of despair and rage. Whatever he's going through, it's not making him happy anymore.

--Oh boy, this is bad. Look at the life signs. His life energy's being drained at a faster rate as well. Psylocke, we have to do something!

--I'm open to suggestions, Kitty.

--Perhaps now would be the best time to try to force him out of it again.

--His defenses aren't any lower, Storm.

--No. But underneath them, his motivation to remain in the dream state should be less. Magneto may work with you now, Psylocke, rather than against you. If you can only penetrate his shields with a signal from the outside, now he may respond.

--It's certainly worth a try.

Completely lost in his morose thoughts, he was oblivious to his surroundings, to the faint changes that might have indicated a danger looming ahead, until suddenly a terrible pain stabbed into his head, startling him, and he refocused on the world around him.

There was a perturbation of the fields directly ahead of him, caused by something huge and looming. Horrified, Erik realized he was seconds away from slamming headfirst into a mountain. Violently he changed course, heading upward with a sickening jerk, trying to evade the sheer face ahead of him--

--and slammed into an outcropping of rock, hard enough to stun him, though it was only his shields that took the blow and not his body. It was as if his shields were extensions of himself, and if they struck som ething that hard, he felt it. Too stunned to continue flight, Erik dropped like a rock and hit the mountainside several times, shieldless, before bouncing off another cliff and falling down to the forest below.

Despite the pain and dizziness he felt, he concentrated desperately, summoning up his shields again, trying to slow his fall and break it when he hit. He had managed to slow himself some when he fell, shields first, into a very deep snowbank at the bottom of the mountainside. The snow gave, and he kept falling, sinking deeper into it as it closed over him.

If he hadn't had shields, he would have panicked. His oldest recurring nightmare was that of being buried alive, of the struggle that had brought him to Auschwitz instead of dying in a mass grave with his family and all the "undesirables" of his village. As it was, he thought he might have cracked ribs when he hit the mountainside, and he definitely had a massive and nauseating headache, and he couldn't breathe properly, and the snow was settling on his shields, weighing on him, trapping him--

NO!! With an explosion of power, he flung himself into the air, leaving the snow scattered in his wake, and this time nearly hit a tree. Desperately Erik managed to evade the tree and reach the ground again without further mishap, this time standing safely within the tree line where the snow was not deep enough to bury him. His head spun, and he clung to the tree he'd almost hit for support. Stupid, stupid, there he'd gone thinking he was invulnerable and he didn't need to watch what he was doing, he could lose himself in his dark and horrible thoughts, and the moment he'd let down his guard the universe had tried to kill him. Should have known better. Would serve him right if he died here, if he fainted from the concussion he was fairly sure he had and was covered over with snow while he was unconscious and unable to protect himself. He staggered forward, no longer able to spare the concentration for shielding himself from the snow and the punishing wind, needing all the mental energy he had just to stay upright and stay moving.

He had to get back. Magda would worry about him. Wouldn't she? He seemed to remember some reason why she might not, but the thought seemed absurd and whatever it was, he didn't want to remember it. Of course he had to get back to her. She needed him to protect her. After all, she couldn't hunt for her own food in this blizzard, now could she?

Erik actually managed to walk the mile or so through the forest back to the cottage, buffeted by the storm and frozen by the cold and growing increasingly dizzy from the pain in his head. He would have had no idea where he was going, except that his internal compass seemed to operate on such a deep level he didn't need to think about it, didn't need to do anything except tell his feet to take him back to Magda and, as long as he kept them moving, they would keep the right direction. When he saw the lights of the cottage ahead of him, he smiled happily, convinced he had reached his goal, and pitched forward unconscious into the snow a few feet away from safety.

--That's only made matters worse...

--What's happening?

--I managed to penetrate his shields, but I've hurt him in doing so, and he's woven it into his dream as some kind of catastrophe. His life signs are weakening further.

--Maybe... maybe Ah should try? Maybe if Ah used mah power, then once he came out of it he'd of been shocked back to the real world, or somethin'...

--Or you might kill him, in his weakened state. Or be reabsorbed into the dream world yourself. It is not yet a risk I'm willing to have you take, Rogue.

--Then what can we do, Storm?

--I don't know, little brother. I can only think... Psylocke?


--Perhaps it is time to seriously consider getting you an insulated suit.

Someone was shaking him, trying to wake him.

"Erik! Erik, for the love of God, wake up!"

He tried to say that he was awake, that she should stop shouting, but it was so difficult to muster up the strength. It was so cold. He didn't want to wake up. Better to stay asleep, where it was warm.

"Erik, please!"

It was only Magda. If it had been the guard's voice, in harsh and hateful German, he would have gotten up immediately, since to do otherwise would mean death. But surely Magda would forgive him if he slept just a little while longer, wouldn't she?

"Ah, dear God, Erik, don't do this to me... wake up, I can't carry you, please wake up..."

Someone was tugging at his legs, and began to pull him slowly across something that was powdery and caught in his nose, choking him. In sudden panic, Erik forced himself awake, tw isting his body away from whoever was pulling him. "le'go..."

Magda dropped down in the snow next to him, her arm around his shoulder. He could feel her shivering with the cold. "Erik, we have to get inside. Inside, where it's warm. Do you understand? You have to wake up."

He blinked at her. Why were they outside in the snow? "Tol' you... don' go outside. Blizzard."

"Yes, that's right, there's a blizzard, we have to get inside. I'm cold, Erik, please, let's go in, can't you get up?"

Magda was cold. He had to get her inside. Erik staggered to his feet, under the sincere impression that he was helping Magda to hers when in fact she was supporting him, and let her guide him inside. Once they were in the warmth, Magda helped him to the bed. He heard her bolt the door against the wind and snow. Then she was back. "Your clothes are soaked. We have to get them off you or you'll catch your death."

The thought struck him as extraordinarily funny. He, the next step in human evolution, near-invincible possessor of vast powers, to be struck down by pneumonia. Erik laughed, weakly, as Magda got his wet clothes off him and laid him in the warm bed, wrapping blankets around him. He tried to explain to Magda why this was funny, but he couldn't seem to make his tongue work with any eptitude, and finally he gave up and let her do as she wished, which seemed to involve tucking him in like a child and feeding him some of the warm rabbit-flavored broth. After a few spoonfuls had warmed him, Erik fell asleep.

When he awakened, the first thought he had was that he was luckier than he had any right to be. He was fairly sure he'd had a concussion from hitting the mountainside, and people who slept on a concussion might well never wake up. He'd seen that happen often enough in Auschwitz, people who were beaten toward the end of the day and hit in the head never waking up for roll call the next morning. Of course, it had sometimes happened the other way too. It was possible to live through sleeping on a concussion. But it was still greater fortune than his stupidity warranted.

His second thought was to wonder why he was in here, who had taken off his wet clothes and wrapped him in warm blankets. Or for that matter who had dragged him in from the snow. He remembered someone doing that...

And then he remembered.

Magda was curled up sleeping by the fire, his now-dry clothes stretched out beside her. Erik got up, ignoring the sudden throbbing in his head, and went to get his clothes. The room was a little bit chilly for bare skin, but a night's sleep had given him back control of his powers-- it was a simple thing to warm himself long enough to get the clothes on. Then he knelt by Magda and shook her lightly.

She blinked up at him. "Erik? Are you all right?" she asked, a little sleep-bleared.

"You should sleep in the bed," he said. "You were very weak before, and you can't have improved your condition by coming out after me."

"I'm awake," she said, shaking herself slightly.

For several seconds they sat like that without speaking, staring into each other's eyes, him kneeling beside her and her sitting up. Finally Erik asked, "Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why did you save me?" he asked hoarsely.

"Was I supposed to let you freeze to death?" Magda stood. "Or would your powers have 'protected' you? They didn't seem to be doing a very good job."

"No, they don't work when I'm unconscious. I... did something immensely stupid, knocked myself senseless, and passed out in the snow before making it back to the cottage. I would have died out there, if not for you." He stood up as well. "So, why?"

"I told you. I wasn't about to let you freeze to death."

"I thought you hated me."

She shook her head, bewildered. "How could I hate you?"

He stared at her. "You... seemed to have made it fairly clear, in the past day, that you do."

"I never hated you."

"Then why..."

"You murdered innocent people, Erik. I didn't know you weren't going to strike me down next. And you were saying insane things about how they deserved it and how you were better than human... You've still committed a horrible crime, and I don't know if I can ever forgive you. But I never stopped loving you-- or at least, the you I remember, the good man whose side I've stood beside the past six years. And if there was any part of that man inside what you are now... how could I leave you to die?"

"If you truly thought I would kill you, that would seem the only sensible course of action," Erik said, his throat dry.

"I didn't think you would kill me. I thought that at first, when I woke up here. But you wouldn't have saved my life... you wouldn't have treated me as if I was still the wife you loved if you'd come to hate me or want me dead."

"You believe me, then?" To his shame, tears welled across his vision, disbelief mingled with hopeful joy. He wiped his face, forcing them away. "You do believe that I would never hurt you?"

"I don't know," she said. "If you were thinking about it, no, I don't think you would. But you still have a temper... and you still refuse to give up these powers of yours."

"Yes, I refuse!" Sudden fury welled at the disappointment, the dashing of hopes. "I will never give them up! They're a part of me, Magda, as much as my hands or my eyes, and I see no reason to give them up because your superstitions tell you they're something horrible! Do you forget that before the police started beating me, I used my powers to keep the roof from falling in on us?" His eyes welled with tears again, and this time he didn't try to stop them. "I would have used them to save our child if they h adn't kept hitting me and keeping me from concentrating. That wouldn't happen now. I didn't know how to use the powers properly yet. Are you telling me that if we could go back in time, if we could stand there right now, you would say no, it's wrong for me to use my powers to save Anya? Or to save you and I? Would you have preferred us to burn too?"

"I don't know... I don't know."

"It's an easy question, Magda. If you had powers like mine, and Anya stood before you right now, would you or would you not use those powers to save her?"

"I..." She took a deep breath. "I would. Yes. I would."

"So how can you say I should never use them?" Erik asked triumphantly. "You admit that there are times when you, too, would use power like mine. You admit there are good uses. So isn't it best that I learn how to use the powers, so when the time comes that I need them to defend us, I know how to do it?"

"Yes, but..."

"But? You concede I'm right. So what is the problem?"

"I don't know if I can trust you."

"Magda, you've always trusted me. Why would you not, simply because I have power? I'm no different a man than I was before."

"You think you're better than human now," she said. "I'm only human, Erik. If you think you are better than me, perhaps you might try to rule over me. We would no longer be partners. Instead I would be your servant. And I won't have that, I won't live that way!"

"Magda... Magda, I wouldn't do that. I... Listen, I've always been smarter than you, and I've always been stronger than you, and I've always known how to hunt and how to survive better than you have. Have I used that to enslave you? Haven't I always sought your consent on any decision that affects both of us, even though, as your husband, I have the right simply to make the decision and have you obey?" He sat down on the bed. "You have always been my anchor of sanity. You've kept me from flying off into senseless rages at every injustice we encounter. You've supported my dreams, but you've kept me from having my head in dreams all the time. There are many things you can do that I can't, that I need, and that won't change just because I have powers now."

"Won't it?"

"Can't you give me a chance? Stay with me after the blizzard ends, at least a little while. I'll find us a place to live, and I'll get work, and you'll see. It won't be any different than before. Except we'll make more money, because I'll be able to do more work. Maybe we can fly to Paris together--"

"How are we going to afford to get to Paris, even if we could get the travel papers?"

He laughed. "Magda, I can fly. I'll pick you up in my arms, and we'll fly to Paris. No travel papers, no money needed. No human power could stop us, if we wanted to go." He leaned forward. "If you'll just give me a chance, you'll see. I'd never hurt you, or try to control you."

"I don't know, Erik. I... If I decided to leave, and you didn't want me to, you could stop me."

"I won't."

"How do I know?"

"After the blizzard is over... if you truly don't trust me, you're free to leave. I won't stop you. I would never stop you from leaving me... hunt you down to ask you why, hunt all over the Balkans for you, yes I might do that, but stop you? What would be the point? If you don't care for me, what good does it do me to hold you to me?"

She sighed. "I don't know..."

"Only a chance. That's all I ask of you. And... you needn't make a decision until the storm breaks." He was utterly worn out; the rest he'd had wasn't quite enough to compensate for his exposure to the blizzard, nor the emotional storm he'd been enduring since he found her. "Tomorrow I'll go out again and get us something to eat. And then when the storm ends... you can go, if you wish. In the meantime... I plan to get some sleep, and I think you should as well."

She nodded, and walked over to the bed. Erik checked the fire, to make sure it had enough fuel to bu rn until morning. His powers couldn't protect him while he slept, as he'd been reminded rather unpleasantly today, and since he planned to sleep by the fire, and there were no blankets to spare, he'd find his sleeping arrangements rather cold if it died.

As he curled himself into a ball, trying to conserve warmth, he heard her voice. "Erik?"

He rolled over to face her. "Yes?"

She was lying in the bed, the blanket pulled over her. "I... until I decide whether or not you are my husband still, I... we cannot..."

"I didn't ask," he pointed out. "I know you would not."

"Yes, but... it seems absurd to have you sleeping on the floor. We have shared a bed, or a place to sleep anyway, many times without making love. If... it seems to me that you will be cold..."

He would be cold, in fact. The only reason he hadn't made the eminently practical suggestion Magda was making, of sleeping together to share warmth, was that he was afraid she would take it as a sexual advance, and he would far prefer to freeze to death than make her fear him in that way. Not that she should have any reason to fear him. He had always taken the utmost care to be sure she really wanted to and that she enjoyed it as much as he did, and through all their marriage he had never tried to push her when she didn't feel like it. But she was afraid of so many other things he would never do, he couldn't assume she would know better. Now that she had made the suggestion, he was free to take her up on it. "I... thank you. It is cold, out here."

"This doesn't change anything," she warned him as he climbed into the bed. "It's just absurd for one of us to be cold when the bed is big enough for two."

"Of course," he answered.

As much as he wanted to, he didn't put his arms around her, fearing she'd take that wrong too, though all he wanted of it was the comfort of holding her, nothing more. But simply having her warmth next to him was a balm after so long and so terrible a time of being alone. He was asleep in moments, soothed by her presence, and for the first time in months he slept without nightmares.

--I feel absurd...

--Cerebro's a piece of electronic equipment, and Magneto's first reaction to being invaded by a telepath is likely to be--


--Oh, Kurt, that's so bad.

--That one smelled worse'n your teleports, elf.

--I try.

--As Nightcrawler says... shocking. Elizabeth, you haven't known us very long... there is no reason you must take this risk for us, if you'd rather not. Even with the insulated suit, you may not be safe.

--No, no. I recognized a long time ago that danger rather comes with one's birthright, when one is born with power. I don't mind the risk. I merely mind how absurd I will look if I end up convulsing and dying in a rubber suit.

--So don't get yerself killed.

--Ah wonder...

--Yes, Rogue?

--Ah wouldn't ask, ordinarily, but, well, Ah can probably take gettin' electrocuted better'n Betsy can... Betsy, do you think maybe Ah should...?

--Take my powers and do it for me? A sensible idea, Rogue, except for two problems. The first is that, despite the fact that you would have my memories, you still might not have the bone-deep experience that I have. This will be difficult. The second is that you suffer mental turmoil of your own, enough perhaps to create problems if you attempted this sort of telepathic rescue mission. No, it has to be me.

--Ah understand.

--With Cerebro boosting my power, I'll try what I was trying before at first, and see if I can sneak through his shields rather than smashing them open. If I need to try a more direct assault to wake him, I will. This may take several minutes; I recommend that no one touch me, just in case.

There was something very different about the world when he awoke.

It took him several seconds to place the difference, and to recognize what it was different from. He was lying next to Magda, wrapped in blankets with her, and this was in fact highly unusual for his life nowadays. Erik closed his eyes again, smiling, and resisting the temptation to cuddle her or stroke her hair. He was with her at all; that was enough, at least for now.

There was something else odd about the world. He didn't realize what it was until after he had reluctantly dragged himself out of bed to get the food he had promised Magda, and opened the door. Outside, the world was brilliantly lit, sun shining through the tree cover and blazing off the thick drifts of snow. The blizzard was over.

Which meant that when Magda awoke, she would decide.

Quickly he searched for food, unwilling to waste any of what might be the last precious few moments he might get to spend with her. He acquired another pair of rabbits because it was easy to, given that he knew where their warren was already, and hurried home to put them on the fire.

Magda was already awake, sitting on the edge of the bed. "The blizzard?"

He hesitated. He could lie. But there was no sound of howling wind outside the windowless cottage, and it would be easy enough for Magda to go to the door and look, if she hadn't seen already when he came in. "It's over."

"Then you'll let me go, if I wish."

"If you wish," he said tonelessly.

Erik walked over to the stove, heavy-hearted, fearing what her decision would be. He started to place the rabbits on the spit, and then realized he might be making too many. "Will you eat with me?"

"You're still a good hunter," she said softly.

He interpreted that to mean that even if she left, she would be a fool to turn down food he'd found, given that her own food-finding skills were far less than his, and put both rabbits on. "I didn't look for any sort of greens-- if they aren't completely dead, they're buried under a foot or more of snow. We'll have to find a town where we can work and buy grain. I could probably do well as a tinker in this season-- I can easily repair pots and pans, and it's unlikely a tinker would be spending much time on the road, in this winter."

"You can hunt, too. Most towns would probably willingly part with some grain stores for venison."

"There is that."

"I might be able to offer services as a we-- as a nurse... Otherwise there doesn't seem to be much I could do that people would be willing to part with their grain for, in this season."

"All you have to do is stay with me. I can provide for you; you needn't worry about anything."

"But if I cannot stay with you?"

"It would be foolish of you not to. You said so yourself."

"It might be more foolish to."

He sighed. He wouldn't know her decision until she told him-- she seemed determined to drag this out.

When the rabbits were done, he handed her hers, and they ate in silence. He was entirely too afraid to ask her what she was going to do; the small pessimistic voice in the back of his mind that insisted that happiness wasn't possible in this world was convinced it knew the answer already, and whispered it to him again and again. She will leave. She will leave. She will leave.

And when she was done with her food, she said, "You truly won't make me stay?"

The rabbit meat turned to lead in his stomach. "No," he whispered harshly, fearfully. "I will not."

"Then I'll leave."

It was exactly what he'd expected, and it still hit him like a blow to the stomach. "No," he whispered, this time horrified. "No, please-- Magda, reconsider, please. Let me have a chance. I beg of you."

"Did you lie when you said you would let me leave?" she asked, looking up at him challengingly.

"I didn't-- no--"

"Then why are you trying to block me?"

He realized with some shock that he was standing in front of her, blocking her path to the door. Reluctantly Erik stepped aside. "I won't stop you," he said. "But... please, don't go. Please."

She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Erik. I cannot trust you."

She pulled the door open and went out.

He stared at her departing back for several seconds, numb with shock. The thought occurred to him that he could stop her, that he could run out and plead with her again, that he could use his powers to make an invisible bubble around her and pull her back to him. Almost, he reached out to do it. But what would be the point? He would be breaking his word for no purpose, proving that she was right about not being able to trust him, and what would it gain him? He was right the first time. If she would not love him, how could he try to keep her by force?

Tears welled in his eyes as he watched her go. But he was stronger than that. He didn't crumple to the floor and start sobbing until long after he couldn't see her anymore.

Exhausted by his grief, he didn't notice the door opening behind where he'd fallen to the floor. He sensed the presence of someone behind him only after hearing a footstep on the packed earth floor, but he didn't bother to turn. Even if it was the owner of this cottage with a heavy wooden club to kill him with for intruding, he found he didn't really care that much. He'd had an opportunity to win back the thing he most wanted in all the world, and he'd failed. He'd failed.

The person knelt on the floor behind him, and gently touched his arm. "Erik?"

Unbelieving, he spun around, coming back up to his knees as he turned to face her. "Magda??"

"Yes." She smiled. "It's me, Erik."

He couldn't speak. He couldn't understand. A hundred desperate words fought with one another in his throat, until the only thing he managed to force out, at the end, was "Why?"

"I had to see if you were telling the truth," she said. "I had to see if I could trust you. If you would use your superhuman powers to try to force me to stay with you... or if you were truly, still, the man I loved."

The sudden reversal of fortune was as much a shock as her leaving had been-- perhaps more. He felt the tears welling again, and wiped them away angrily. "It was a test? That was all?"

"It was a very important question," she said softly.

"Magda-- you told me you were leaving me. You said you couldn't trust me. Are you saying now you lied? That you always planned to come back?" He wanted his voice to sound angry-- he felt angry, he felt betrayed, but the only thing that was coming out in his tone was hurt bewilderment.

"No. I only planned to come back if you let me go." She put her hands on his arms. "Erik, I'm so sorry I had to hurt you like that, but I had to know. You have such terrible power-- it wasn't enough to hear you say you would treat me as an equal, that you would let me go if I wished. I had to see if you truly would."

"And if I didn't?"

"Then I'd have run the moment you slept. You told me yourself your powers don't work then," she said with brutal honesty. "But I don't need to... do you see? You proved that." Magda's hands slid up his arms and around to his back, holding herself close to him. "I had to know before I could let myself love you again. Please... can you ever forgive me?"

"Forgive you?" His voice was hoarse, and he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close and burying his face in her hair. "Of course I forgive you," he whispered, trembling. "How could I not? You came back, didn't you? You came back..."

For the second time that day, but a far different reason, he found himself weeping, holding her almost painfully close. She guided him over to the bed and let him cling to her. She stroked his hair and murmured reassurrances, telling him she would never leave him again.

Eventually he stopped crying, and simply held onto her, unable to quite believe that he was allowed to have this, that he was allowed to be with her. Surely the fates had never meant to let him win her back, and yet, he had fought so hard for this, he couldn't help but believe it. This time the silence between them was nothing fearful, nothing uncomfortable. The most important thing they had to tell one another could only be spoken by this kind of contact.

Finally, he broke the silence. "So. Shall we go to Paris after all?"

"Not before we... we have something else to do, Erik." She smiled broadly at him. "Some people to pick up."

"People?" He frowned. "Why would we need to pick anyone up?"

"Some very small people."

At his look of total incomprehension, she laughed. "Erik... when I left you, I was pregnant, though I didn't know it. We have two babies, a boy and a girl. I left them with... a midwife... on Wundagore Mountain... it's not far from here, and it wasn't very long ago. We have to pick them up before we go to Paris."

He sat up fully. "We have children? And you didn't tell me?"

"I couldn't know if it was safe to let you know until I knew if I could trust you or not," she said softly. "Erik... you know that when I ran, I feared you'd become a monster. I left our children with a midwife because I had a premonition you were searching for me... that's why you found me out in the snow, I was still too weak from the birth to travel far." She shook her head. "You have still done a terrible thing, but I can't help but forgive you, and I do believe you when you say it will never happen again. So it's safe for us to have a family, now."

He should be angry with her for hiding this from him, and found he couldn't be. The fact that she had finally allowed him back into her trust and her heart made up for all transgressions. "They'll have everything," he promised her passionately. "You'll see, Magda. Our children will have everything we never did, and they'll never need to fear that their world will be ripped apart as ours was."

"And we will go to Paris?"

"To Paris, or America, or anywhere you want." He held her close to him. "All that matters to me is that you--"

--and there was pain, hideous blinding pain, stabbing deep into his head--

--the world wavered, faded, in the crackle of electricity and the sound of his own voice screaming, and he was somewhere else--

--" MAGDA!!!"

As Psylocke flung herself from the sparking wreckage of Cerebro, Magneto jerked to a sitting position on the bed, his eyes wide and unseeing, and screamed a woman's name.

"Magnus!" While Storm no longer had her abilities to channel electricity, through her lightning, the fact that she once had made her largely fearless of his deadly potential in his distraught condition. She grabbed his arm and shoulder. "Magnus, can you hear me? Do you understand?"

He turned, still with glazed eyes, and stammered something in Russian. Colossus translated. "He asks, where is Magda?"

Probably Magneto still understood English, and was just too disoriented to speak in it. "She isn't here, Magnus," Ororo said gently. "Do you know where you are?"

"She was just there," Magneto said, in English this time, but a lost and bewildered tone she had never heard from him. "I was... I was just speaking to her... where is she?"

"She was never there," Ororo said. "You've been dreaming, Magnus. You were in a coma for a day and a half."

"No-- I couldn't have-- it was..." He looked around himself. "It was so real," he whispered.

"Yeah. That's how it gets ya," Logan said gruffly. "Shows ya yer heart's desire, and then when you wake up, feels like the world's come to an end."

"That is... rather what it is like," Magneto agreed, his face still entirely too pale but his vision finally focused. "I... am awake, X-Men. My... thanks."

"I'm sorry," Psylocke said. "You would have died otherwise."

"Yes... I understand." He lay back against the bed, staring at nothing. "I would... rather be alone, just now."

"Of course." Storm started for the door. "Come, X-Men. He will recover better if left in peace."

It was late at night before she returned to the room. Sharon had checked on him a few times, and reported that physically, he was only slightly weakened from being in the coma almost a day longer than any of the rest of them. Ororo was sure that was true; it was his emotional state that she was worried about. Magneto really had no confidantes here, no close friends; he would have talked to Charles if Charles had been available, but he wasn't, which left it to Storm.

She knocked on the door gently. "Are you awake, Magneto?"

The door swung open. "I am. As I'm sure you expected."

He looked horrible. Magneto's pale skin didn't hide the ravages of tears at all well. But his voice was perfectly composed, and there were no tears in his eyes at the moment. "I thought perhaps... you might wish to talk."

"Did all of you... what did the rest of you see?"

"I had my powers," she responded simply.

"Ah. That... would qualify. I wondered... if what you all saw was... as enticing as what I did."

"I take it you saw your wife?" She sat down on the edge of the bed.

"It was not only that I saw her... I might not have believed that." Abruptly he smiled, not a pleasant expression-- something more than a little bitter and self-mocking. "I don't believe in easy victories, Storm. Had the vision given me one-- my life with Magda before our daughter's death, some idyllic peaceful time-- I would never have believed in it enough to sink so far that I might have lost my life."

"What did it give you?" she asked softly.

"A battle." His voice was just as quiet. "I found Magda again, in the days when I was searching all over Europe for her. And if she'd simply flung herself into my arms and declared how terribly wrong she was for leaving me... undoubtedly I would have woken up. No, I had to fight for her, Ororo. I argued, I begged, I pleaded, I did everything in my power to convince her that I was no monster, that I was still the man she had married.

"And in the end, after much hardship and heartbreak, it worked. I won her back.

"And then you woke me."

"I'm sorry."

"It is nothing you need apologize for. You saved my life," he said bleakly. "I would never have escaped such a convincing dream on my own."

"I know. I do not apologize for saving your life," she said. "But... when Psylocke awakened me... for a moment, after they told me I'd have died if she hadn't... I wondered if perhaps, for that dream, I might not be willing to die."

He looked at her hard, then nodded slowly. "For a moment... yes."

And then glanced at the timepiece on the opposite wall. "It is late. Perhaps you'd better go back to bed."

"Yes," Storm said, recognizing a dismissal when she heard one. "Try to sleep, Magnus." If he wan ted to say anything more about it, he would, sooner or later; there was no point to pushing him.

As the door shut behind her, Magneto stared into the empty space where she had been.

"Perhaps for longer than a moment," he whispered.