Body and Soul I: The Body Snatcher
Chapter 1: The Fall of the Tower
And returned, in a roaring of light and pain, as someone pressed against his abused chest, making him cough and gasp. For a moment, totally disoriented, he thought he was looking up at his father. Then the figure spoke, and he remembered.
"Welcome back," the body snatcher said sardonically. "Did you really think I'd kill you?"
He didn't answer. He couldn't. His lungs hurt far, far too much to try to speak. It was enough of an effort simply to breathe.
"That answers me one question, though. You don't want to die. No one fights that hard and long against suffocating if they actually want to die. So let's not have any of the stupid suicidal shit, all right?"
He felt broken. The rage and the terror and the desperation had drained him as much as the torture had, and now he was numb. He'd been like this when he'd escaped from his family's grave, and the guards had found him and dragged him off to Auschwitz-- as if all feeling had been burnt out of him, and something inside him was dead. It had reawakened then, just in time to be brutalized all over again by what he then suffered in the camps. He didn't know if it would reawaken now, or if he wanted it to.
The body snatcher dragged him back to his cell, stripped him and forced him into the shower. "You're filthy." His hands were free now-- she'd released the cable when she'd taken his blouse off-- but he couldn't make his arms move. They hung uselessly at his sides, as he sat crumpled in a ball in a corner of the shower. She turned the water on, and hit him when he wouldn't stand up and step into it. Passively he let her, unable to muster up the energy to fight back any more.
"You asked for it," she snapped. The cable grabbed his wrists again, and this time dragged them over his head, suspending him upright. He screamed, having no strength left to resist the pain or hide it. She released him again, and he fell, sliding on the bathtub tile. She caught him with her hands. "You going to wash yourself up, or do I have to string you up and do it myself?"
"My arms..." His voice was a hoarse, thready whisper. "I can't move them... think you dislocated... shoulders..."
"Oh well. Guess I'll have to do it then."
She strung him up again and scrubbed him brutally under painfully hot water. He kept blacking out from exhaustion and pain, and when he was conscious he couldn't quite stop himself from moaning weakly with the pain, or more precisely no longer cared enough to bother stopping himself. When she was done, she dragged him, soaking wet, over to the bed. "It does look like these are dislocated. Too bad. Guess I'll have to fix them." The body snatcher grinned ferally at him. He didn't care. She was going to torture him, he knew that, and he knew that in his current condition he wouldn't be able to resist her. He was going to scream, and possibly worse. It didn't matter. His pride was shattered, and he no longer cared much about anything anymore.
She shoved his arms back into his shoulder joints, possibly tearing the ligaments and certainly causing more pain than he was able to handle right now. He came very close to blacking out, and swam back to full consciousness to find her raping him. Well, that he expected. Sooner or later that had to happen. When she was done, she shoved him off the bed, making him fall to the stone floor hard.
She grabbed his hair and dragged his head up to face her. "Listen to me," she said quietly. "Everything that's happened tonight has been your fault. You tried to resist me, you tried to escape, so you had to pay for that. That's why I killed that kid, that's why I made you bury him, and when you attacked me that's why I buried you along with him. I could kill you. I could put a breathing mask on you and bury you alive for days if I wanted to. I don't actually need that body except as insurance. But I'd rather not-- so any time you defy me, I'm going to kill someone else. I'll fuck them to death, or bury them alive, and you'll know it's your fault. Do you want that?"
He didn't answer. She shook his head, tugging his hair painfully. "Do you want that, Magneto?"
"Okay. So here are the new rules. You do what I tell you to do. You don't bargain with me, you don't snipe at me, you don't act like you're so all morally superior. You are, from now on, my slave, and you're going to act like it. And if you don't, I'll hurt you, and I'll kill someone else." She shrugged. "I really don't know what upset you so badly-- you've killed before. But I can't deny that it did upset you, badly enough to try some really stupid stunts I thought you were too smart for. So, that's the way it's going to be." She released his hair. "Any questions?"
"No," he whispered dully.
"You do believe me, don't you? You know I'll kill someone else if you push me to it."
"Okay. So as long as we're all on the same page. Get some sleep-- you've had a rough day."
She left. He didn't sleep. Auschwitz had taught him to weep silently, even when he was weak and despairing and no longer really cared if he was overheard. After a long time of staring into the darkness with tear-blurred vision, eventually his weakness overwhelmed him, and fitfully he did sleep.
The morning sunlight awakened him more slowly than usual. Everything hurt, and he felt sluggish, almost drugged, torn between the nightmares sleep had brought and the waking nightmare his life had become. Even after wakefulness won, he didn't feel alert. For a long time he lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, hurting too badly to be able to escape back into sleep again. His lungs were still raw from suffocating yesterday, and his arms lay like leaden weights at his side, and there were all the usual host of aches and pains as well.
A hot bath was the only anodyne he had for muscle aches. The hot water usually made whatever pains she'd inflicted on his genitals hurt worse, but for once, today, that wasn't where the worst of the pain was coming from. He lurched out of bed, dragging himself to the bathroom, and ran a bath. To let the hot water reach his strained shoulder muscles, he had to sink into the bathtub as low as he could go without getting water on his face. The water was warm and soothing, dangerously so in his exhaustion. He might fall asleep, slide the rest of the way down into the tub, and drown.
Actually, the thought was tempting.
Dispassionately, he examined the option. He knew the fact that it could tempt him at all came from temporary phenomena-- or at least he hoped they were temporary. He was still drained, apathetic. A night's sleep hadn't miraculously restored his perspective. He'd kept dreaming of the dead boy, all night. In one particularly horrible variant, the victim had somehow turned out to be Wanda, and the killer was himself in his days of madness, and the himself that was dreaming had to stand outside his body and watch horrified as the himself in the dream raped and murdered his daughter. Erik had awakened from that weeping, pleading in a confused state of half-sleep for Xavier to kill him, though whether the self he'd wanted dead had been the observer or the perpetrator, he wasn't sure. He rarely had nightmares about his own crimes-- when he did, it usually indicated a level of disturbance and emotional pain far greater that what he normally lived with. Intellectually he knew that even when he had been at his absolute worst he had never done something akin to what the body snatcher had done last night, never even contemplated it. But it was impossible to avoid seeing himself in her, blaming himself in some part for her crimes, when she wore his body and killed with his powers. And when he reflexively tried to twist away from the guilt and the self-hatred, there was nothing else there, nothing but utter emptiness.
If he was in better emotional shape, even the fact that he could be tempted by the thought of suicide would horrify him. At the moment, though, he felt so empty that the knowledge that he should be horrified wasn't compelling. He thought of slipping under the warm, soothing water and letting it grant him peace forever, and wondered if he had any good reason not to. The usual reasons-- the sense of destiny, the responsibility to those who had died so he could live-- weren't working.
He remembered the nightmares, and he thought of a reason. The body snatcher had promised not to kill again if he served her. If he didn't-- if he fled under the water-- she would. Xavier didn't seem to be in any big hurry to investigate, and if she never did anything on the scale of raising the Leningrad or rebuilding Asteroid M, the magnetic flux detectors that people like SHIELD and the Russians used to track him would never pick her out of the Earth's background EM noise. Most of the superheroes he knew of that were capable of taking him down were not the sort who chased serial killers-- there were, thankfully, awfully few Omega class serial killers in the world. If he didn't live and escape, to warn someone or take his body back and end the threat, she would kill again, and again. And if he lived, and served her as she demanded, she wouldn't kill. She'd said so, and so far she had generally kept her bargains with him.
A lifetime ago he had sold his soul to survive. Everyone in the camps was a slave-- everyone had worked for the Nazis, because the alternative was death. But there were different kinds of work, and different degrees of the evil one collaborated in. He had been Sonderkommando-- the special squadron, assigned to the machinery of death. He had carted bodies from the gas chambers to the furnaces, had sorted through the belongings of the dead, had helped to kill his own people. Even among the others of the Sonderkommando, he had stayed alive at the expense of his compatriots-- he'd been good with machines, even then, and he'd been classified as essential personnel, not to be liquidated, because he could fix the furnaces when they broke down. He could keep the engines of death going, to buy more time for his miserable life.
He didn't have the right to kill himself now. His continued existence, his servitude to the body snatcher, could save lives as his life and servitude to the Nazis had helped end them. It didn't matter that she had finally pushed him up against a line he found he'd rather die than cross. He had sold the right to kill himself for such a selfish reason when he'd let them make him Sonderkommando instead of choosing to die.
The door opened. He couldn't see her from where he was in the tub, but he could hear the sound of the door swinging open, her footsteps on the stairs. Erik climbed out of the tub, clumsily, as he was still very tired. There was no time to get dressed, not that it mattered. She'd want him naked anyway. He toweled himself off quickly, so he was still wet but not dripping, and stepped out of the bathroom just as she came within two feet of it.
She smiled insolently, looking him up and down. "All nice and clean?"
Anyone who sought power over another would speak the language of gestures. Erik didn't trust his voice. After last night he hated her more profoundly than he ever had, but until he could escape-- if he ever could-- she owned him, and lives rode on the degree to which he submitted to that. Wordlessly he went down on his knees before her, bowing his head in a gesture of submission he had never before willingly performed.
He couldn't see her face with his head bowed, but he imagined a look of shock on her face in the moment of stillness that followed. The stillness passed, and he felt her hand ruffle through his hair. "So last night really did teach you a lesson," she said, her tone half amused, half amazed. "I gotta admit I didn't expect it to work quite so well." She leaned down and tilted his head up with a hand under his chin. "Is that all it took? Threatening to kill people? I thought you were supposed to be a big badass terrorist."
They'd had this discussion before, and last night she'd forbidden him to "act morally superior," so there was nothing he could say to that. She ran a finger lightly around his eyes, stroked his cheek and lips. "Tell you what, I give you permission to get me off however you want to. You want to make it easier on yourself by sucking me off instead of getting fucked, you can."
He took the invitation as an order, and obeyed it. She seemed excited by his submission; lately her interest had only seemed engaged when she was hurting him, or the time she had made him take control and pretend to like it. If his submissiveness would serve as a substitute for his pain or humiliation to arouse her and finish her quickly, he wished he'd thought of it before-- and realized that of course he wouldn't have implemented it, before. Before, he'd have preferred the pain. Probably, if it were still an option, he still would.
The task was done quickly. She stepped back and pulled her pants up. "Get dressed. I've got a job for you."
After shaking out as much of the dirt from yesterday from his clothes as he could and dressing, he followed her upstairs to the kitchen. "Let's see how serious you were about agreeing to be my slave," she said, grinning. "Do the dishes."
The majority of the dishes were three or four days old, caked with hardened filth. He had them done in fifteen minutes, and put them away at her direction. She made him wipe down the counters and table, and sweep the floor, which was in dire need of it-- it looked like she hadn't swept it in weeks. Then, under her supervision, he vacuumed the living room, dusted around all the clutter of expensive bric-a-brac, and did the same for the den. Upstairs she made him clean the bathroom, picking up all the glass from the window he'd smashed-- this wasn't difficult, since most of the glass had fallen outside, not in. Finally, she handed him the past ten days' worth of clothing for his own body that she'd bought and worn, and made him wash all of it. He washed the clothes he was wearing with them, too, at her direction. Funny; she had no problem torturing him until he wished he was dead, but she wanted him to keep clean. Her priorities were bizarre, to say the least.
"From now on, you're my housemaid too. You figured out last night that you can't get any of the windows or doors open, and I think you know better than to try to get away now, anyway. Am I right?"
He lowered his head, this time more to keep her from seeing the dawning hope in his eyes than out of genuine submission. "Yes."
"Peachy. So I'm gonna let you upstairs in the morning and give you orders on what to clean." Her smirk grew, sprawling lazily across her face. "I hope you're a good housekeeper, Magneto, 'cause if you do a crap job keeping stuff clean, you're gonna suffer for it."
It was clearly another of her humiliation plots. It was also completely and utterly misguided. Erik had been an orderly in a psychiatric hospital, had kept house for himself for years after he lost Magda and before he'd learned to build robots to do it. He was quite accustomed to, and unbothered by, housework. Perhaps Magneto's stiff-necked pride would have been hurt at the thought of being a menial servant, but while Erik hadn't managed to overcome all of that pride, and didn't want to, he could quite honestly feel pleased rather than humiliated by his new role. An opportunity to wander around her house, even under supervision, was an opportunity to get information about her, and an opportunity to do something other than exercise and pace, to see something other than the walls of his cell. The despair he'd been feeling since last night began to lighten slightly. It was only a very tiny bit of added freedom, but still it was more than he'd had yesterday, and it gave him some hope.
That day formed the pattern for the routine of the next two weeks. She would drag him upstairs in the mornings, usually after feeding him, and make him clean and do chores for her. Sometimes she demanded that he do this naked, or wearing some sort of fetishistic lingerie; most of the time, though, she let him wear his one set of clothes, which by now were worn and stained, although he had taken to washing them in the sink every night and had the opportunity to toss them into the wash with her clothes on several occasions. She would then mete out punishments for anything she thought he'd done wrong. Some days she'd let him outside to exercise; on other days she would deny him the privilege, as a punishment or because it was raining. He was allowed some degree of freedom within the house-- he could walk about without her direct supervision while he was doing his chores-- although she would give him assignments to be completed by a certain time, and if he didn't make the time limit there would be punishment. As nearly as he could tell, she spent her evenings going out-- she would lock him in the basement then, and she'd reinforced the door with steel, so he couldn't hope to break through it again. He used her absences to dig, for far longer than he'd dared do while she was in the house all the time.
The greatest advantage of this new routine was that it gave him access to newspapers. She seemed to have a habit of collecting newspapers from various cities-- one day it would be the Washington Post on the kitchen table, the next day it would be New York's Daily Bugle, and then the Philadelphia Inquirer would turn up. Having nothing to read, no way to learn anything about what was going on the world, had been driving him nuts in a subtler, more insidious way than being cooped up in the basement had. He didn't usually have much time-- she would order him upstairs, set him to work in the kitchen, and disappear for several minutes. If the dishes and whatever other kitchen tasks were set for him weren't done by the time she got back, there would be punishment later, and she was eager enough to punish him that she generally cut it awfully close. But he often had long enough to scan at least the front page while he washed the dishes, propping it up over the sink so he could read it. He also often had an opportunity to steal food from the refrigerator-- he was never incautious enough to take something she could easily count, never a whole apple or a roll or something else easily quantized. But a mouthful of applesauce, a bite of cheese sliced from a cheddar brick, a quick drink of milk or fruit juice-- that he could manage without drawing her attention.
After she came back, he'd be set to work in other rooms, where the opportunities for stealing food or information were considerably less, but if she disappeared again he sometimes had a moment to run back to the kitchen and read a bit more of the newspaper before she returned. And, on one occasion, he found several pieces of her opened mail stuck under the cushions of the couch. This was a truly valuable find. From the names on the bills, he deduced that her name was either Lisa or Lee Davies-- probably Lisa, and Lee was the male pseudonym she used in stolen bodies. From the address, he could see that they were in Clearfield, Pennsylvania, though he hadn't a clue where in Pennsylvania Clearfield might be. From the bills themselves, he was able to determine that before she'd kidnapped him and stolen his credit cards, she had probably been used to a comfortable middle-class standard of living. For the first time, he wondered what she did for a living-- she couldn't very well go to work in an office if she was wearing someone else's body. Whatever it was, it had to be a source of income that she was still getting, as she couldn't pay her bills with his credit cards. One of the upstairs rooms was sealed off, locked all the time, and he could smell paint through the door. Perhaps she was a freelance artist or something? It was hard for him to imagine that such a lout could have an artistic gift, but then, artistic talent did sometimes go along with twisted mentalities.
She didn't catch him with the bills, and he didn't let on that he knew her name now. She did, frequently, catch him reading the newspaper, or watching the news on television as he vacuumed the den, with the sound turned off and the closed-captioning on. She punished him when she caught him at it, but since she never threatened to use the one real lever she had on him to make him stop, he put up with the risk of punishment as acceptable. Apparently she didn't classify such behavior as real disobedience.
For real disobedience-- attempting to escape or commit suicide, resisting sex, balking at direct orders, talking back to her-- she had warned him that she would murder innocents. He didn't dare try. It didn't matter that he had to choke back bile and fury as well as the defiant replies he wanted to make, when she said something particularly degrading or untruthful. It didn't matter that bowing his head to her and obeying her idiot whims was one of the hardest things he'd had to do in recent memory. He would not be the one who suffered, if he failed. And as willing as he might be to break a few innocent eggs in the making of the omelette of mutant freedom, the one thing that separated him from a monster-- the one thing he had to cling to, to define his morality, to let himself believe that he could be a good person in any way at all-- was that he had never, and would never, hurt the innocent for personal pleasure. Which also translated into pushing the body snatcher into hurting the innocent because his own pride could not bear what she required of him. He would not, could not, do that-- as horrible as he found it to feign subservience, he had done it before when nothing more than his own life was at stake. He had bent his head before the Nazis, worse horrors than the body snatcher by far. He couldn't do it again to save his own life, but to save others-- he had no choice.
So the small disobediences, the stolen food and the snatched paragraphs of news, were all he had to assert himself, and she allowed those because she enjoyed punishing him so much. When he failed to complete work on time or she caught him doing something she'd forbidden, the punishment generally involved something from her twisted arsenal of sexual fetishes. These were sickeningly humiliating, and often very painful, but rarely involved any kind of serious damage-- for instance, she usually beat him with a belt rather than a whip, which left wide, sore welts but hardly ever broke his skin or left a scar. The rapes themselves left him bleeding almost all the time, but never seriously-- not that he had much experience to gauge what a "serious" level of vaginal bleeding was, but she assured him that what he was suffering was less severe than menstrual bleeding, and that based on her experience in torturing this body, making it bleed and then occupying it again, it wasn't dangerous or permanently damaging. And anything that didn't damage him permanently, he could endure. It was a calculus he'd first learned in Auschwitz-- the fine art of trying to disobey just enough to make your life endurable, not enough to get you killed. In Auschwitz, the disobediences had centered around acquiring food and not dying of overwork, while here they were considerably less vital to physical survival, but the principle was the same.
Her sexual tastes had changed-- simply raping him wasn't enough for her anymore. Most of the time, the rapes had taken on a surreal, hyperbolic quality, involving role-playing, outrageous costumes and bondage in various bizarre positions. The punishments tied into that, although she would find excuses to hurt him, or hurt him without bothering to come up with an excuse, if she wanted to. Occasionally she videotaped the goings-on as well, after she'd figured out how to use her powers around a videocamera without erasing the tape. On one particularly horrific occasion, she'd made herself a replica of his costume and impersonated him, doing a frighteningly good impression of his speech patterns, while keeping him gagged so he couldn't protest and spoil her illusion. Fortunately, she hadn't videotaped that one, or repeated it-- yet.
Erik could understand all that, though. He had never known desire for power to be sexual himself-- in him, they were two entirely separate issues-- but he could imagine how a sufficiently twisted person could be aroused by a victim's subservience and humiliation. There were other occasions that were far less explainable-- the times when she seemed to show him a weird sort of tenderness, when she kissed and caressed him and held him as if she thought he really was doing this by choice. That, he truly didn't understand. How could you get pleasure out of hurting and humiliating your victim, and then turn around and pretend to make love to them as if you were fantasizing that you actually cared for them? She would also frequently treat him with a bizarre imaginary tenderness after a session of "punishment", which made even less sense.
Her attempts to feign affection during rape disturbed him, but they left him in much better physical shape than her sessions of sadism did, so he did what he could to encourage them. While she was perfectly capable of demanding that he take initiative to give her pleasure, she seemed to get a particular thrill when he did it unprompted, and since he wanted to encourage her not to hurt him, he was careful to give her that when she hadn't deliberately caused him pain. Unfortunately, she sometimes seemed to take that as an invitation, or perhaps challenge, and would try to give him pleasure in return. He was having a hard enough time dealing with the fact that she'd brought him to the point where he would actively seek to please her, regardless of what his coldly rational reasons for doing so were. The fact that she could make him climax, even if it took her an hour of work and was only possible because she knew this body's wiring as well as he knew what to do to her in his own body, was more than he could endure. After the fourth time she'd done it, he learned how to fake orgasm, to make her quit before she'd actually made him betray himself.
He no longer had any notion how he was going to escape. He still believed he would, but it was a belief that had no real force behind it, something he was believing for the sake of his sanity. He couldn't keep going, if he didn't believe that somehow, some way, he'd get out of this. And history did bear out that he always had. Nightmares told him how close he'd come to despairing in Auschwitz, but at the time he hadn't let himself acknowledge that, had concentrated entirely on surviving another day in the belief that if he survived enough of them, someday, somehow, he would be free. And he had won free. He could do it again. Someday, somehow. If he applied the tactical knowledge and the realistic assessment of odds that experience had given him the ability to use to this situation, he would die, because realistically he had no hope. But then, realistically he'd had no hope of escaping Auschwitz, either. Or conquering the world. Or surviving, the hundred times he should have died. He had a great deal of practice at not being a realist, when he needed not to be. So he continued to dig his tunnel to the outside, though the odds were overwhelming that he'd never make it to the surface before she caught him, and he continued to mark off the days, as if just by keeping track of how long he'd been here he could accomplish something constructive.
Body Snatcher: Chapter One Part H
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