Body and Soul I: The Body Snatcher
Chapter 2: Crawling from the Ruins
I'm not crawling around looking for a friend
I'm not thinking the big I am
I'm not down on the ground looking for a cure
I'm not saying I'm the man...
I'm trying to hide my scars
I'm talking to you like a shadow in the dark
I'm just trying to survive...
And I'm not asking you for emotion
I'm not asking for the sky to mend
And I'm not asking you for nostalgia
I'm not asking for the world to end
I'm not asking for your opinion
I'm not asking for a miracle
And I'm not asking you to remember me...
--Gary Numan, Scar
The interstate exit descended down a hill, breaking from the cover of roadside trees down to a main road, which ran under the interstate in one direction. In the other direction, there was a strip of roadside services, starting with a McDonald's and a BP gas station directly off the exit, and leading up half a mile to the top of a hill, where a Wal-Mart sat squatly, dominating the landscape. Reluctantly, with a quick glance at the sky, Erik left the semi-cover of the trees alongside the road and bolted down the exit, forcing his exhausted body into a brief run, down onto the road below and across the street to the gas station. He limped toward a stand of pay phones between the McDonald's and the gas station, and fell against the closest one as if trying to melt into it, and thus disappear from under the pitiless open sky.
The heat was getting to him-- it was midsummer, and without his powers to block the sun, the past hour and a half or so of trudging and then jogging along the side of the road had sapped him terribly. The fact that he had no water, hadn't had anything to drink since he left the stream and he'd been in the sun near-constantly since, didn't help. The smell of the food from the McDonald's was making him lightheaded with hunger-- this body couldn't endure hunger as well as his own, he thought. Blood sugar fluctuations, perhaps. Small women tended to be more subject to that than tall men. But he didn't relish trying to beg one of the truckers or tourists who came in and out of the McDonald's for money to buy food and drink, not when there were telephones right there. He was only a phone call away from his money, and once he had that, he could eat all he liked.
There was a more important call to make first, of course.
He glanced nervously up at the sky as he punched in his calling card number and then the phone number he was trying to reach, attempting to conceal himself under the pay phone stand's top as much as possible. It couldn't be done; it was a stand, not a real phone booth, and there wasn't enough room to hide his head under its top. The phone rang twice. On the second ring, a woman's voice answered pleasantly. He recognized the voice as Jean Grey's. "Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters."
"I need to speak to Charles Xavier, please."
"May I ask who's calling?"
No, you may not. "It would take too long to explain and we don't have time. It's a matter of life or death."
There was a click as Jean transferred the call-- to her credit, she didn't argue over his identity-- and Xavier picked up immediately, probably having been telepathically alerted by Jean. "This is Charles Xavier speaking."
"Put the recorder on, Charles, I've little time and I don't want to repeat myself. There is a rapist-serial killer loose in Pennsylvania someplace, inhabiting the body of Magneto. I believe the Daily Bugle have taken to rather sensationally calling her the 'Electrokiller'--"
"How do you know this? Magneto's alive? What's happened to him?"
"Irrelevant, except that the serial killer in his body isn't him. She's a woman, one who believes that all men should be tortured for having more power than women. To this end she's taken up raping and murdering young homosexuals and young men of power. She's likely to prefer mutant victims if she can get them. You must take all precautions to ensure none of your X-Men fall into her hands, but it's vital that you stop her before she kills again."
"Who is this? Magnus, is that you?"
Damn the man. "Her real name is Lisa Davies; she uses the pseudonym Lee Davies, perhaps others, and lives in Clearfield, in western Pennsylvania. Her address is a rural route, it won't help you, but the place is no more than five or ten miles from exit 19 on I-80."
"Magnus, talk to me. I'll get the X-Men out to help you. If she's after you, we can protect you. I think I've already got a fix on her with Cerebro, unless that's you, but you have to give me more information. How did this happen?"
"Your ability to jump to conclusions on next to no information has never ceased to astonish me, Charles."
"So it is you! You are alive! Thank God. I--"
"Why 'thank God?' If you'd wanted me alive so badly perhaps you shouldn't have had Wolverine all but murder me." No. He was sidetracking, getting into the old feud, and he didn't have time for that. "What are you picking up via Cerebro, exactly?"
"I've been getting a blip that looks like you, only with limited telepathic powers of some sort, appearing and reappearing randomly across the Northeast."
"And you did nothing?"
"I take it that that's her?"
"She's been murdering people--" tortured me, humiliated me, all but broke me-- "and you've been sitting on your hands? Why?"
"I thought it was you."
"With telepathic powers? And when have you hesitated to attack me?"
"Since you supposedly reformed, and most especially after what happened when I sent my X-Men to talk to you last. As for the telepathy... I hoped it was you, Magnus, but given that I saw Asteroid M explode, I thought it reasonably possible that it wasn't. Polaris isn't quite that similar to you, but I've seen such similar signatures in different people before, particularly related ones. If it was you I wasn't going to push myself on you when you weren't doing anything, and if it wasn't... I haven't had time to approach new mutants in a while."
"When I wasn't doing anything?" His voice cracked shrilly, sending a wave of humiliation and fury through him, that Charles should hear him like this. "Charles, she was raping and murdering innocent young men, and you think she wasn't doing anything?"
"And how was I supposed to know that someone with your body was raping and murdering people? It's not exactly the sort of crime I'd have accused you of. Actually I just heard about it yesterday, since they're beginning to speculate on mutant involvement since that poor stockbroker was killed."
"Well, now you know. So stop her."
"Magnus, wait! Don't hang--"
Erik hung up. If Xavier could track her with Cerebro, he'd hunt her down-- but he was far too much a bleeding heart to kill her, particularly now that he knew she'd stolen the body from Magneto. That would neutralize her, would give Erik time to build a device to force her to switch. Getting her free of Charles to force the switch might be difficult, but then, Charles and his X-Men didn't know what Erik looked like right now... oh, but that assumed that both the body snatcher and Erik himself retained Magneto's natural mental shields. If Charles could read either of them, he'd know exactly who Erik was. Well, it couldn't be helped. He'd figure out a way to handle it-- later. Right now he had another call to make.
A pleasant young woman picked up the phone on the first ring. "Schonfeld, Stein and Hersch, how may I direct your call?"
"I need to speak to Aaron Schonfeld, please."
"And who shall I say is calling?"
He leaned against the side of the phone stand. What had ever happened to phone booths, the kind you could enter and close the door and sit down? The heat was terrible, and when a breeze did come along and cool him off a bit, it also kicked up dust from the bare ground under his feet, blowing it into his eyes. He supposed that that was better than concrete or blacktop to stand on in bare, injured feet, but why was there no grass planted here? Did Americans deliberately go out of their way to make everything as ugly as possible? Anxiety started to build again as he was left on hold, and he moved back to hide under the phone stand as much as he could. This area was too open; too easy for someone flying to spot him, no cover, nowhere to hide or get away.
And then Aaron's voice, age doing little to rob it of its robustness. "Erik? Is that you?"
"Never mind the way my voice sounds, Aaron, yes. It's me."
"Good God, what's happened to you? Your voice-- no, don't tell me, I don't want to know. Are you-- are you all right?"
"It's a temporary thing, and a long story. I'll tell you what I can. Have you got the passwords?"
"Yes, yes I do. Go ahead."
"The current password is bushah. Last password is choshech."
Aaron sighed. "So it's you, all right. My God, Erik, you sound terrible."
He did, actually, even for the borrowed body. His voice was hoarse from the dryness in his throat and the exertions he'd gone through this day. "Did you send out that two million dollar check?"
"Yes, I did, as soon as I got your fax. We overnighted it to you. Didn't you get it?"
"Put a stop on it."
"You didn't get it? We had insurance on that overnight package! And they called us to let us know it was signed for!"
No. No, wait. "Was your address on the overnight package?"
"Yes, of course it was, but Erik, someone signed for it. It didn't simply get lost."
So he couldn't put a stop on the check-- she had Aaron's address. She could threaten him if the check was stopped. "I've changed my mind. Don't put a stop on the check. But I want you to trace it. Find out what bank it clears through as soon as it does. I also want you to track my credit cards-- the MasterCard and the Visa in the name of Edmund Stern, and the Visa in the name of John Wassermann."
"Erik, can I ask what's going on, or is this one of those things I don't want to know?"
He closed his eyes against the glare of the sun and the sweat dripping down past the barrier of his inadequate eyebrows. "Some of it you should know. I've... there's really no other way to say this. My body's been stolen. Currently I look like a woman, while the woman who should be in this body is running around in my body. She also took my credit cards and all the cash I had on me, and she forced me to send you that fax."
"She took your body."
"Yes, that's what I just said."
"Is this... um. Is this one of those things that happens all the time to people in your situation, or...? You sound very... well, calm about it. I mean, if I had just been turned into a woman I don't think I would be so calm!"
"I'm going to get my body back, Aaron, don't worry about me. As for being calm, well, you know me. Nothing shocks me anymore. I've certainly been through worse."
"Oh, I know, I know. I was there too, after all. It's just... well. Let's take care of business. Are you sure you don't want me to stop the check? If this, this body thief has it--"
"It's too dangerous. I'm positive. Besides, it's only two million, and once I have my body back I'll recover it from her."
"It's actually 2.7 million. Some of your investments paid off."
"It doesn't matter. Can you put a trace on this call?"
"Can you just give me the phone number you're calling from?"
"The weather's faded it. Looks like are code 814, 765-1243. I need to know the nearest Western Union, or anyplace else you can wire me money."
"I'll have that for you in a minute. What kind of ID do you have on you?"
"Aaron, she took my ID."
"Yes, but wasn't she carrying any ID for her own body on her?"
Of course. Aaron didn't know he'd been a captive for a month; as far as he could know, the body snatcher had taken his form and forced him to send that fax three days ago, and then let him run loose. "I don't have any of her ID. She took it."
"Well, that's a problem. Most places you wire money to, they want ID. But I think we can use a password instead. Let's not do Hebrew this time, they won't be able to spell it."
"'Pride goes before a fall.'"
"A little strange for a motto for you, but fine, that'll make a good password. I'll need to give them a physical description, too. What do you look like now?"
He moved back to look at himself in the reflective surface of the phone. Not that he didn't know far too well what he would see by now. "This body looks about 26 to 28, somewhere in there, and about five foot four. Weighs about 145-150 pounds or so. Light brown hair, slightly below the shoulders. Brown eyes. Fair skin. Smallish frame. Do you need anything else?"
"No, that should do it. How about a name?"
Damn. He could come up with a new, different male pseudonym at a moment's notice, but he wasn't used to having to create female ones. "Uh... Michele Roth."
"All right. I have an address for you. The closest Western Union is in the Wal-Mart at 100 Supercenter Drive in--"
"Aaron, I'm at the bottom of a hill. At the top of the hill there's a Wal-Mart. Is that the one?"
"What's the name of the road you're on?"
"I don't know; it's right after exit 19 on interstate 80."
"Let me put you on hold and check."
A minute later Aaron was back. "Yes, it's the one. How much do you need?"
"Give me two thousand; that should be enough for me to get to New York and pick up spare credit cards."
"It's done. Do you need anything else? You want me to get the credit card agencies to send a rep out to you, give you the cards directly? Anything I can do, I'd be happy to help."
"No, I don't want to stay here that long. You've been a tremendous help, Aaron. I'll call if there's anything else I need. Leave messages on the usual voicemail if you successfully track her through the money. I don't think she'd be fool enough to use the credit cards now, but..."
"Of course, I understand. And tell me how it turns out!"
This was probably one of the very few times in his career when he really could tell Aaron how it turned out-- at least, in the sense of letting him know when he had his body back. He saw no need to ever burden Aaron with the knowledge of how the body snatcher would die, once he got his body back.
As soon as he was off the phone, he limped over to the gas station, heading for the bathroom. He'd have preferred the bathrooms in the restaurant, but since he had no shoes and looked wild and disheveled, he doubted they'd let him in the door. The bathrooms at the gas station were outside, although under an overhang that provided shade and a small sense of greater security, and he didn't have to interact much with people to reach them. Automatically he turned toward the men's room, stopping himself short just before he went in. Damn, he was never going to get used to this. He headed toward the women's room instead, tried the door, and found it locked.
The hell with it. The men's room door wasn't locked, so he went there instead. It was dark inside, even when he turned on the tiny dim light, and it smelled awful. The floor would have been repulsive enough to walk on with boots on; in bare, bleeding feet, he considered it an active health hazard, and snagged some paper towels to step on and shuffle around in. The toilet was clogged, and there was an overpowering scent of excrement. There were also no rolls of toilet paper. Annoyed, he grabbed more paper towels before hiking up the skirt and sitting down to relieve himself. This was not going to be pleasant.
It was worse than he thought, actually. He hissed when he saw the fresh bright stains on the underwear, glistening wet and red in the dim light. Too much to hope for that this could be the body's desperately awaited menstrual cycle, at last; it could be, but that wasn't the way his life worked. Far more likely, from the pains he felt, that his wild flight had torn open half-healing vaginal injuries. A women's bathroom might have had supplies-- he had no idea if in fact women's bathrooms carried such things, but it made sense that they would-- but a men's bathroom certainly didn't. He folded a paper towel and inserted it into the crotch of the underpants, wincing at the roughness of the paper against the sore flesh. That wouldn't prevent the blood loss, but hopefully it would keep the skirt from staining until he could finally replace the damned thing. There wasn't much he could do about the bleeding except hope it went away on its own until such time as he could rent a hotel room and lie down for a while. Preferably in New York City if he could, far, far away from here. If the blood flow didn't slow or stop, however, he was probably going to have to hole up here in Clearfield for a day or two until he recovered.
He washed as best as he could, wetting his hands and running his fingers through the tangled hair, trying to comb the leaves and twigs out of it and reshape it into something resembling a civilized person's hair. It wasn't as thick as his own body's hair, so it took to the reshaping rather better than his own would have. The bloody score marks across legs and face from branches and bracken couldn't be bandaged or healed, but he could wash them with soap and hot water-- amazing that there was actually soap in the soap dispenser, a piece of good luck he hadn't expected-- and clean off the blood, so the marks were less visible. When he finally was done and ready to leave, he looked superficially normal-- when he kept his arms at his sides, the tears in his blouse disappeared, and the clothing, though overwashed and permanently stained in places, was clean enough. The real problem was his swollen, bloody bare feet, but hopefully no one would look down.
For a moment he hesitated, his hand on the doorknob. It smelled horrible in here and it was cramped and if an actual man came along and found him here, the best he could hope for was humiliation; he didn't want to think about what the worst would entail. And yet he didn't want to leave. The sun beating down had sapped him, but it wasn't the sun he feared; it was the open sky, and what-- or who-- might be lurking in it, ready to swoop down on him and carry him back to his prison. But this was ridiculous; he couldn't hide out in a bathroom. Particularly not a men's room. All he had to do was get to the top of the hill, to the safety of the Wal-Mart, and disappear into the crowds within. And then he'd get his money, and food, and shoes, and he'd be safe.
He opened the bathroom door and stepped out.
Ten minutes later he'd trudged to the top of the hill, observing that distances always looked much, much shorter when you were looking down on them from the top of the exit ramp than when you actually had to walk the distance yourself. He'd alternated between running, jogging, and slogging exhaustedly the whole way up, unable to bear being in the openness, and too tired to move as fast as his screaming nerves told him to. Getting inside the building was a tremendous relief. He half expected someone to try to stop him from entering the Wal-Mart with his bare feet, like the security guard/greeter immediately inside. No one paid any attention. The tile was cool on his feet and pleasant after so long walking on dust or overheated blacktop, and he was finally able to slow to a walk and stay that way, now that he was no longer visible from the sky. He found a water fountain directly inside, and drank deeply, only stopping because a small child behind him whined about wanting a drink.
There were far too many people about, pushing, ambling along with their carts, parking hugely fat bodies in the middle of the aisle and blocking his path. He had never been in a Wal-Mart before, and would rather be elsewhere now if he had a choice. Any time a store employee looked at him, he had to control the impulse to jump, afraid they'd see his feet and throw him out. There was no way the body snatcher could find him in this crowd, but the presence of a crowd aroused far older anxieties. He couldn't throw up a force field to protect himself from these people, to keep them out of his personal space. With effort, he wove his way through the crowd, picking out quick getaway routes and pathways involving minimal people contact, circling around some distance out of his way rather than be trapped with other people in a narrow aisle. It was five minutes before he reached the Western Union.
"Excuse me. I believe that someone has wired me money here, and I need to pick it up?"
What had he said his name was? Think, think... "Michele Roth."
The woman gave him an odd look, as if she was puzzled by him, or perhaps didn't believe him. "Can I see some ID?"
He sighed. "I don't have ID. I was robbed. There's a password that should have been sent with the money, and a physical description."
"We wouldn't have a physical description. I can't do anything for you if you don't have ID."
"Look, there's a password. I worked this out with my accountant ahead of time. I don't have any ID because I was robbed. They took my credit cards, they took my money. I just want to get my money so I can get something to eat."
She looked at him hard. "I'm going to have to call my supervisor."
He sat down in one of a row of hard plastic chairs on the wall to the side of the Western Union. Dear God but he was tired. And hungry. He'd drunk a good deal at the water fountain, and the cool air-conditioning of the Wal-Mart was a balm to his sweat-soaked body, but all the added comfort seemed to really have given him was a sharpened appreciation for just how tired and hungry he was. There was some kind of awful snack bar in the Wal-Mart. Visions of hot dogs danced before his eyes. Slather enough mustard and relish on it and he wouldn't be able to tell that it was made of no-name meat. And then get a cab, and get a hotel room, and sleep. Maybe a hot bath, and then sleep. No, a hot bath would worsen the bleeding. Just sleep.
Erik waited for what seemed like a minor eternity, while other people came up and wired money, while assorted people passed him, and while a small boy repeated to his mother insistently that "that lady has no shoes on!" After that he folded his legs under himself, which was extremely painful but didn't leave him as exposed to the potential of store security coming along and throwing him out for having no shoes on. When was this mythical supervisor going to come talk to him anyway? The longer this took, the more his nervousness mounted; until he had his money, he was trapped here, with no safe place to go and no way to go there should the body snatcher or anyone else come after him. No one was going to come after him. No one even knew who he was, except the body snatcher, and she'd never find him in here. He told himself that again and again. It didn't help.
He complained to the employee manning the Western Union booth. She repeated that her supervisor was on the way, and it shouldn't be too long. Bored out of his mind, and restless from the mounting anxiety, he got up, went to the cash registers to get a US News and World Report, and returned to his seat. It was hard to focus on the words when he so much wanted to be buying shoes and socks and food and getting the hell out of here, going someplace he could get some rest, someplace safe. His legs had started to itch fiercely, and a rash was starting to come up on them. Probably he'd stepped in some poison ivy or something. Dammit. His attempt to focus on the magazine to distract himself from the itching and boredom was so intense, he didn't even notice the people approaching him until one asked him, "Miss Davies?"
The name of his hated enemy jolted him back to awareness. His head jerked up, and he saw two uniformed policemen standing in front of him. Police, as a general rule, had always made him nervous-- even before he'd been a wanted terrorist, he'd had too many bad experiences with police in his life. But he had nothing to be nervous about this time, did he? He wasn't breaking any laws, aside from possibly the sanitation code by not having any shoes.
But they'd called him by her name...
"Excuse me, I think you have a case of mistaken identity," he said, trying to sound calm. "My name is Michele Roth."
"You got ID to prove that, Miss 'Roth'?" the same cop asked, a nondescript young man with brown hair.
"No-- no, I'm afraid not," he said, knowing it was the wrong answer, but what else could he say? "I've been robbed. I had my accountant wire me money, with a password so I could prove that it was me."
"Where did you say you were robbed, Miss?"
For a second, he thought he had said, and couldn't remember where he'd said, and almost panicked. Then he remembered he hadn't said anything of the sort. "Out on the highway."
"So, you brought your car here after you were robbed?"
"No, of course not. They took the car too."
"Uh-huh. So let me ask you, Miss Roth, how exactly did anyone manage to carjack you out on the middle of the highway? People get carjacked in parking lots, when they're stopped. They don't usually get carjacked when they're cruising along at 55 miles an hour."
He was not a very good liar, and his few talents there did not lie in the area of improvisation. Why would someone be carjacked on the highway? How could a criminal lure them into stopping so they could be threatened? Then the obvious answer hit him. "Well, I pulled over to help them. It looked like their car had broken down."
"And you figured you'd help out."
"Yes, of course. I didn't know they were going to steal my car and my ID!"
"Tell me, Miss Roth, you an expert on cars? We normally don't see young ladies pulling over to help people with their cars."
"Well-- yes, as a matter of fact. I'm a qualified mechanic." And he was, so they could hardly trip him up on that.
"Uh-huh. So what's a mechanic doing having $2,000 in spare change she can just have her accountant wire her?"
The other cop, a short blond man, spoke before Erik could try to come up with an answer to that one. "You're dirty, Lisa. We've known you were dirty for months. We just haven't had anything we can nail you on until now. You can insist you're Michele Roth all you want, but it won't change the fact that your real name is Lisa Davies and you've just committed wire fraud."
"I have not! And I am not! My name is Michele Roth and that's my money! I don't even know who this Lisa Davies person is."
"That why you jumped when I said her name?" the first cop asked.
"I jumped because there was a policeman at my elbow saying something, and you startled me!"
"Tell it to the judge, Lisa," the second one said, producing a pair of handcuffs.
This was not happening. This simply was not happening. His voice grew more frantic. "Look, you can call my accountant. He can confirm my identity. I don't have time for this-- I've got an important business meeting I've got to make it to, and I have to get my money and get changed and go, and I haven't done anything!"
"A mechanic's got an important business meeting?" the first cop asked.
Damn. "A business venture my husband and I are setting up. I don't want to be repairing cars for the rest of my life."
"Oh, so you're married? Where's your ring?"
"Well, they took it, of course!"
"Yeah? Where's the tan line, then?"
"You just keep digging yourself deeper, Davies," the second cop said, forcing Erik's hands into the cuffs. "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to talk to an attorney..."
The rest of the words blurred. Erik had been arrested before, of course, twice surrendering himself to the authorities as Magneto. But he'd been a VIP prisoner, to be handled with extreme and special care, and because it had been his decision it had been impossible to humiliate him. Even when Mystique had done things designed to humiliate him, like insisting that he might be carrying weapons in his business suit and demanding that he be put through a strip search once they had him in the secure facility, it hadn't, much-- he understood her too well. She'd taken his identity, not in the sense she usually took people's identity but in the sense that she'd declared herself leader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, the group he'd originally founded, and everyone compared her to him. And she'd just sold out. She was taking out frustration at being compared to him and self-loathing for being a sellout on him, and that merely made her pathetic. She couldn't humiliate him. The second time he'd surrendered, to Captain America, there hadn't even been that degree of minor indignity. And the times he'd been captured against his will, he'd been handled with kid gloves, like a live wire who could burn everyone if not treated cautiously. They had taken exaggerated precautions against the danger he presented, and even in the midst of his fear and rage at being taken captive, he had at least known they were taking him seriously.
This was different. Whatever they thought Lisa Davies was involved in-- and he doubted very much they had the faintest inkling of the truth-- they didn't consider her a serious threat. They treated him like a very, very small-time hood who'd just made a really stupid mistake, and he found that incredibly humiliating. He was Magneto, dammit, he made entire nations tremble in fear, and they were treating him like he was no more threat than a teenage shoplifter... because, of course, at the moment he wasn't a threat at all.
An hour later he was in an interrogation room at the police station, seated across from a plainclothesman behind a desk. As interrogation chambers went, it wasn't terribly threatening; there was a window and they didn't even have the stereotypical bare light bulb, instead using a circular fluorescent tube for illumination. His hands and feet were free, but there was a uniformed officer standing behind him.
"Look, Lisa. I want to help you." The plainclothes officer had apparently been assigned the role of Good Cop. He was youngish, in his mid-thirties and fit looking. "I can tell that you're in some kind of trouble, and I want to help you out here." How remarkably observant of you, Erik thought, desperately fighting the urge to scratch the rash on his legs. Perhaps the bare, swollen feet and the torn blouse had finally given these apes a clue? "But I can't if you don't cooperate."
"I've told you eight times who I am, and I'm rather tired of you insisting that I'm lying." He hadn't been told one way or another, but he assumed the Western Union cashier must have recognized him as Lisa Davies, that that was why she'd been so surly and why she'd called the cops on him. Clearfield did not seem to be a very large place. He regretted, now, not having used Lisa Davies' name in the first place. But what if they'd called her home to verify his identity, or something? Well, no, that didn't seem too terribly likely, but... it had just seemed dangerous to use her name, too likely that it would get back to her. Who could have predicted he'd be arrested, and on a ridiculous charge like this?
The man sighed. "Lisa. We fingerprinted you on the way in. You remember that, right? Now, why do you think we wouldn't match the prints up to verify who you are?"
He hadn't, but he had hoped the body snatcher had been clever enough not to be fingerprinted in the past. "All right, since you insist I suppose I must use that name. But why have you arrested me? You know as well as I do that 'wire fraud' is an absurd charge. If I dislike my name, why is it fraudulent to wire my own money to myself under a name I prefer?"
The policeman behind him loomed menacingly, hand on his shoulder. Erik was once again painfully reminded of how very small and delicate the body he now occupied was. "If you didn't have anything to hide, why'd you be using a false name and lying about it? You wanna tell me that, miss smarty pants?"
"Don't, Stevens," the plainclothesman said. It was Good Cop, Bad Cop all right. Did they get this script out of a bad movie? The police shows the New Mutants used to watch had less transparent playacting. "I think it's obvious Miss Davies is in some kind of trouble." He leaned forward, clearly trying to look sympathetic. "Boyfriend trouble, maybe? You afraid the guy at your place is going to beat you up worse if you tell us what's going on? Lisa, we can protect you, but only if you cooperate."
No, Erik thought, you cannot. It was almost tempting. "There's a powerful mutant who's been holding me prisoner..." But what could that accomplish? Erik himself had already called the X-Men; these people would call in the Avengers or the Fantastic Four or SHIELD, all people Erik very much did not want knowing that someone who looked just like Magneto was holding helpless women prisoner. If Charles had a brain in his head, the X-Men were on their way, and they'd handle this with outlaw discretion, taking Davies down and giving him a shot at his body back without ever letting it get out into the superhero community that "Magneto" had somehow turned into a homosexual rapist and serial killer. He was willing to put up with a lot more annoyance from these clods before he let things go that far.
He hadn't demanded a lawyer when this farce first started, hoping he could simply argue his way to reason. As suspicious as wiring money to himself under a false name might be, he was quite sure it wasn't really illegal, and if he'd just been able to talk them into calling Aaron and verifying his right to the money he'd thought they'd have to let him go. But they weren't really interested in the money. They seemed to have cooked up some scenario, based on Lisa Davies' habit of disappearing for days or weeks and being replaced by a man who drove her car and spent freely, and based on his current abused appearance, that Davies was involved in prostitution or drug smuggling or was a con artist or something, and that the big spender she was currently living with was some sort of criminal big dog. How big, they had no clue. At least the name "Magneto" hadn't come up in conversation yet, for which Erik was grateful. But the wire fraud had been nothing but an excuse to take him in for interrogation, and he wasn't interested in trying to feed their fantasies. "I wish to speak to my lawyer."
"That's fine," the plainclothesman said. "You can call your lawyer. But you won't mind if we pick up your boyfriend and ask him a few questions while you're talking to your lawyer, would you?"
All the blood drained from Erik's face. The man probably had no idea how effective a threat that was. Horrifying visions rose to his mind of the police going to the body snatcher's home, confronting her, telling her "We have your girlfriend..." and thus revealing to her exactly where he was. Nothing in this tiny town could stop her from coming in here, causing wholesale slaughter, and taking him back, and the X-Men might very well not arrive in time to stop her. "No," he said, his voice a hoarse whisper, angry and humiliated that he'd been forced into playing their game, but without any choices. "No, don't. Please."
The plainclothesman smiled, undoubtedly convinced that now he was getting somewhere. "Are you afraid of him, Lisa? He can't hurt you if you press charges against him. What's he into, drugs?" He did the sympathetic look again. "We can protect you from him, but you have to give us something to go on."
"He's not involved with anything."
"Then why are you so scared that he'll come after you if we pick him up for questioning?"
"You don't have anything to question him on! I haven't done anything, and you have no evidence that anyone I'm associated with has done anything, either. So what right do you have to question anyone when there's been no crime?"
"You got money wired to yourself under a fake ID," the cop behind him growled. "You don't think there's anything suspicious about that?"
"Suspicious enough to warrant arresting me, keeping me without legal counsel, and arresting everyone associated with me? I think not!"
"You can have legal counsel. That's no problem," the plainclothesman said. "And we wouldn't be arresting your boyfriend. Just asking him a few questions. I think the situation warrants us asking him a few questions, don't you? Especially since you were found with no shoes and a ripped-up shirt and no ID. It looks like you were trying to run away from someone or something in a big hurry. You think that doesn't warrant us asking your boyfriend a few questions?"
"You have no idea what you'd be bringing down on yourself. For your own sake, for the sake of everyone in this town, I beg of you. Don't go there, don't ask him questions. And he is not my 'boyfriend'."
"Then who is he? And why shouldn't we question him? Lisa, I want to help you here, but you've got to help me out some first. Right now, the way it sounds, the guy's abusing his girlfriend-- or sorry, you're not his girlfriend-- abusing the woman he lives with, and you're terrified of him. I mean, I can hear it in your voice. This guy scares you completely, Lisa. I can tell." Was it really that obvious, Erik wondered, or was it just a guess based on what the plainclothesman thought was going on? Not that it wasn't true. The body snatcher frightened him more than anyone had since Zaladane, or perhaps even the Shadow King. "If he's beating up on you, that's a crime. You have the right not to get beaten. You have the right not to have to run away from home in bare feet and have money wired under a false ID so he won't catch you." He leaned forward again. "Maybe you're trying to protect him because you're afraid of being prosecuted? Lisa, if you're in something over your head, we might be able to cut some kind of deal with you. You don't have to get nailed for his crimes, if he's involved in something big and you help us. But you've got to help us."
Erik didn't know whether to be grateful that the policeman was so far off the truth or offended that the man thought he would be silent out of fear of retribution. "You don't understand the smallest fraction of what's happening."
"Then tell me. Help me understand."
"If I tell you what I can, will you refrain from trying to go after him and question him?"
"That depends on what you tell us."
"But if I told you nothing, you'd go seek him out."
"You wouldn't be leaving us much choice, Lisa."
Erik took a deep breath. He did not want to be doing this. Not with the X-Men hopefully on their way. But he couldn't take the risk that they'd go to question the body snatcher and thus let her know where he was. He couldn't endure falling back into her hands again, X-Men or no X-Men. So, no choice. "All right. This much I can tell you. He's an enormously powerful mutant, one who has killed before. I've already contacted one of the New York superhero teams-- I did that as soon as I got away from him-- and they're on their way. If you try to question him, you're signing your own death warrants, and mine as well-- he can't afford to leave witnesses who might tell the superheroes where he is. Right now he doesn't know where I am, but if the police come to question him, he'll guess I'm in custody, and nothing you have in this town can stand against him."
The plainclothesman had listened intently throughout the statement. When Erik finished, he shook his head sadly. "Lisa, do you really expect me to believe that?"
"It's true!" He had feared they'd insist on calling in the Avengers or the FF, or-- god help him-- X-Factor, the governmentally sponsored team Pietro was on. It had never occurred to him that they wouldn't believe him at all. Fear boiled over, and he tried to stand up, only to have the ham hand of the policeman behind him push him back down into his seat. "I swear to you, the man you've been calling my 'boyfriend' is a mutant criminal. For the love of all you hold holy, I beg of you, don't make contact with him. Don't let him know where I am. I beg of you."
"I'm not disputing that you're scared of him, Lisa," the plainclothesman said. "But really, a mutant supercriminal here in Clearfield? Doesn't that strike you as just a bit unlikely?"
"He was in Philadelphia when I met him."
"Uh-huh. Plenty of mutant supercriminals in Philly this time of year."
"It's true!" Why wouldn't they believe him? He'd always used the blindness of humans toward the superpowerful ones in their midst toward his advantage-- Lisa Davies had been the first person outside the superpowered lifestyle to recognize him as Magneto in civilian guise in years-- but they couldn't be this dense, could they? To disbelieve that Magneto walked among you was one thing-- an effect he'd carefully cultivated with his costuming and his aura of power, to make people think he could not possibly have an ordinary life-- but to refuse to believe that there were superpowered people in Philadelphia was ridiculous. "I swear it!"
"Yeah, and you swore you were Michele Roth, too," the man holding him in the seat said.
"Lisa, why would you need to fake your name if you were merely the helpless victim of a mutant criminal?" the plainclothes man asked in a tone of long-suffering patience. "And why wouldn't you have told us right away?"
Erik took another deep breath. Don't call them fools. Whatever you do, do not lose your temper and call them subnormal imbeciles, no matter how obvious they make it that they are. "I falsified my name because I didn't want him to find me," he lied. "If I had money wired to Lisa Davies, he might have found out about it. And I didn't tell you because I didn't want you risking your lives, or summoning extraneous superheroes when I've already called some."
The plainclothes man shook his head. "That's really thin, Lisa. You just aren't a very good liar, are you?"
The ironic thing was that the real Lisa Davies was a brilliant liar. But Erik was not, unfortunately, and especially not in an improvisational situation under pressure like this one. "I'm not lying," he said stubbornly, concentrating on the fact that the body snatcher really was a powerful mutant criminal and so that part wasn't a lie at all. "Believe me or not, as you wish. But if you go there and try to question him, you'll kill us all. Do you truly wish to take that risk?"
At that point, the hair on his arms stood on end, harbinger of magnetic charge that he could sense even in this body, and the power flickered and went out. The room, lit now by only the tiny window, plunged into semi-darkness.
"What the--" a policeman started.
Erik knew what, too well. Wild, immediate terror surged, and drove him out of his seat. He ran for the door, aware of nothing but the need to get away. She was coming, she was here, had to be here with a power surge that strong, she'd take him again and he wouldn't let her have him, never again. Angry shouts echoed behind him. He skidded out into the corridor, running for the back of the police station, where hopefully there'd be a back door and safety, someplace to hide from her. Someone tackled him, bodyslamming him into the floor. He screamed, struggling madly. "Let me go, let me go, damn you, she'll kill you all to get to me, I won't go back, I won't let her have me, let me go!"
In his own body, even without powers, he would have had a chance. In this one, berserker or no, he didn't. Several of them took his limbs while the one who'd slammed into him held him pinned to the floor with superior weight. They forced his hands into cuffs behind his back, held him hand and foot as he struggled and kicked wildly, and put him back in the chair, where they locked his wrists and ankles to the legs and sides. By now it was useless to keep fighting, but he couldn't make himself stop. The touch of hard strangers' hands on his body, the uniforms, the cuffs, all overloaded him with a torrent of memories, the body snatcher's brutal games and the Nazis and the secret police who'd beaten him and beaten him as Anya burned and he couldn't save her, couldn't save her... He howled with rage and pulled against the cuffs with all the strength left in the small body, scraping his skin raw, but he didn't even notice the pain. "Let me go! Damn you all, let me go, I'll kill you, won't let her have me, I won't!"
Distantly he was aware of the lights coming back on, though he could hardly see for his haze of terror and rage. Every time a large male shape moved in front of him, he was sure it was her, and pulled harder, as if he could free himself of the cuffs by simply breaking every bone in his hands and feet through his struggles. Concerned voices spoke rapidly, and someone was being hustled into the room, a slim blonde someone who knelt in front of him and spoke in a female voice. "Lisa, calm down. Calm down. No one's going to get you. It's all right. We aren't going to let anyone get you, all right?"
Female voices had always comforted him. Though the body snatcher was a woman, she spoke in his stolen voice, and though there had been enemies like Zaladane and Selene and bright terrible Phoenix, they'd been far, far outnumbered by the men who'd done him evil in his life, and the women who'd done him good. The voice, gentle but firm, penetrated through the berserker haze across his mind, sinking in. He stopped struggling, giving in to it, his whole body slumping with exhaustion as the adrenaline rush wore off. If the body snatcher was here in the building it was already too late, and if she wasn't, his best hope lay with his current captors. "i'm telling the truth..." he whispered hoarsely, head spinning, so exhausted he could hardly form the words. "get some superhero team... in here. avengers or someone... please, don't let her take me..."
The woman's eyebrows rose. "Her?"
The shock of his mistake and the fear of what it might do to his credibility jolted him, another pulse of fear giving him a bit more strength. He'd said "her" many times in the middle of his fit of terror; he could only desperately hope that if he corrected himself now, they'd let their preconceptions color their memories, and assume they'd misheard him. "Him. The man... living at my home."
"We won't let him get you," she assured him, which made him realize precisely what he was doing. He was so terrified of the notion of falling back into the body snatcher's power that he was actually pleading with ordinary humans, and police at that, to save him. The humiliation made his face flame, and he tried to draw himself upright in the chair, to sit straight and proud and draw his dignity back about himself, but quite aside from the physical exhaustion he felt, the cuffs were still holding him in a vulnerable position.
He gathered strength, wanting to do this without any chance of his voice breaking or the helplessness and fear he still felt showing through. "Could you remove these, please?" he asked, gesturing with his head at the cuffs.
The policewoman-- he assumed she was that, though she was in plainclothes too-- looked at him hard. "You just tried to make a break for it, Lisa, and then you had a hysterical fit while the officers were trying to restrain you. It took three of them to do it, and you almost broke Officer Detweiler's nose. I'm not sure I can trust you."
"I... It was a momentary lapse, I assure you. I thought-- the power going out-- I thought it meant he was here. Why did the power go out?"
"No one knows yet. Just one of those glitches. So you going to be all right now?"
"Yes. Yes, I believe so. I won't try to run again. Please, could you release me from these?"
"In the light of what you've been through, I'd like to do that, very much. But can you do something for me?"
He tensed, warily. "What?"
"I'm going to have to search you. It's procedure. Now, I'd like to be able to do it without having you restrained in any way. I think you've been hurt enough, don't you?"
"What do you need me to do?" he asked tiredly.
"I'm going to take off the restraints, and we're going to shut the door. It's just going to be you, me, and Officer Bierlein--" she gestured at another woman, with short dark hair, wearing a police uniform and standing by the door. "No men. I'm going to need you to take off your clothes so we can search you. All right?"
The exaggerated care the plainclothes woman was taking with him was starting to infuriate him, all the more so because, after his panic attack, it was clearly justified from her point of view. In her eyes, he was a pathetic loser of a woman, some small-time criminal who'd gotten involved with an abusive man into bigger crime. It was better than being recognized as Magneto, but still it enraged him that they'd see him as someone so small and pitiful... and yet, when he opened his mouth to voice his outrage, to say something cutting that re-asserted his status as a powerful person who just happened to be having a bad day, he found he didn't have the strength. He was too drained to do anything more than nod and mumble, "Very well."
"Good." The plainclotheswoman released him from the restraints. He stood up slowly and shakily. "I'm sorry to have to do this, but it's procedure with a prisoner who's been violent or tried to escape."
He removed the blouse and bra as quickly as he could make fingers numbed by exhaustion work the buttons and snaps, wanting to get this over with. When he undid the skirt and dropped it, he drew an involuntary sharp breath of surprise as he saw his legs. The paper towel he'd put into the underpants to absorb the blood had apparently either shifted in the hours since he'd done it, or been overwhelmed; small amounts of blood dappled his inner thighs, and the underpants were wet with it. "I'm sorry. I seem to need some sort of menstrual pad as well," he said, his tone clinical and utterly devoid of the humiliation he felt, as if he could push it aside and not feel it if he didn't let it into his voice.
"We'll get you something. I think we can probably get you new clothes, too."
Erik wondered why the woman was trying so hard to be kind. Guilt? Was she afraid her comrades could be indicted for police brutality for their treatment of an abused woman?
The search was brisk and clinical, thankfully-- he was amazed at how badly he wanted to hit the woman touching him to make her stop. When they tried to do a cavity search-- procedure, again-- he screamed involuntarily with pain. "I think we should send you to the hospital to have that looked at," the policewoman said. "It looks like you're in a lot of pain. Are you having your period? Is this normal for you when you do?"
He had no idea. "I don't know, and I don't think so," he said weakly. "A hospital is a good idea."
She nodded. "Let's get you some new clothes. We can take these away."
They got him shapeless, well-worn and overwashed, baggy sweatclothes two sizes too large-- he felt like a small child playing dress-up-- and new underwear in a plastic package. No new bra, but he didn't really care; the shirt was loose enough that if he pulled it out a bit there was no cloth rubbing against his sore nipples or the abrasions and welts on his breasts at all, and that was blissful. They also got him a menstrual pad, some lotion for the rash on his legs, a can of Coke and a vending machine package of cheese and crackers. It wasn't very substantial food, but he'd specifically requested something filling and non-sugary, and it was probably the best the vending machine had to offer of that type. As he ate, the blonde plainclotheswoman sat down in front of him.
"I'm going to get the paperwork filled out to have you transferred to the hospital. But I do need to ask you a few questions, is that all right?"
Not this again. His gut clenched. "I said I wanted a lawyer."
"Not those kind of questions. It's obvious to me that you're the victim here, Lisa; I just want to ask you a few questions so I can get you properly taken care of, all right?"
If this was Good Cop, Bad Cop again, this good cop was putting up a much better performance. Intellectually he guessed it was likely an act on her part to get cooperation, but emotionally he was having a hard time not responding. She had given him food, and drink, and itching lotion, and new clothes that had none of Lisa Davies' taint on them, even if he did suspect the sweats had been worn by dozens of female victims before him. And she was female, perhaps the most important point in her favor. His instinctive fears of people had been honed and trained in a place where there were no women; the sexes had been segregated at Auschwitz, and although Magda had spoken of evil women guarding the women's camp, the only women Erik had ever encountered there had been fellow victims. Men were harsh words and boots kicking him; women were gentle soft voices and delicate hands stroking his hair. He knew women could be as great a threat, but the visceral fear wasn't there. "Ask what you like. I'll answer what I can."
"Some of these questions may make you a little uncomfortable, but I hope you can answer them, because they'll help us to help you. Did he rape you, Lisa?"
Someone else using the word, someone else knowing his nightmare, his helplessness, and the rage welled up again. "What do you think? I told you I wasn't bleeding from menstruation; did you think I accidentally managed to cut myself there? I should think it would be blatantly obvious!"
"We just need to ask. I'm sorry. I saw you had a lot of bruises on your body. Did he beat you?"
He glared at her. "Shall we cut this short? Yes, I was raped. Yes, I was beaten, repeatedly. Yes, I was tortured, and fed dog food, and held prisoner in a basement, and forced to perform nearly every degrading sex act you can imagine, and had everything I own taken from me, and--" He cut himself off, breathing hard. He had not meant to do that, hadn't meant to tell her half of that. What was wrong with him? Where was his distance? He'd been through worse than the body snatcher had inflicted. "Does that answer your questions? May I go now?"
"I'm sorry." She put her hand on his, gently, not pinning it. "It must have been awful for you. And then to be brought in for questioning like that... well, I'm going to have to talk to the guys who were questioning you before. It's just terrible that you've been treated like you have."
The words mollified him, loosening the knot of rage just a little. "I-- thank you. I haven't done anything-- I was only trying to escape he-- uh, him, and they've treated me like some kind of small-town hoodlum."
"Well, that isn't going to happen anymore. We're all really on your side, Lisa. We want to see the man who did this to you pay for it."
I can take care of that myself if you'd just let me go. "So I am free to leave?"
"Well, you're hurt. I think we should take you up to the hospital, don't you? And we'll need to get some evidence to really nail this guy, especially if he's a mutant like you say. Obviously we can't risk going out there to pick him up until we get one of those superteams down here, but we'll need something for them to go on, don't you agree?"
He was so tired, and he hurt so much. The words washed over him, and he only caught about half of them, but he did note "hurt" and "hospital." He had desperately wanted to flee this place since the pulse of EM disruption had hit, yet he'd been here for at least half an hour since then, and she hadn't shown. Maybe she hadn't been on her way after all. Maybe that had been her fighting off the X-Men, and the fact that no pulses had occurred since meant that they'd taken her down. Medical attention would be very nice right now. And he'd caught the policewoman talking about mutants and superteams, too. So they believed him. They weren't going to send a team of powerless humans out to deal with the body snatcher; they'd call in the non-mutant superheroes, or perhaps X-Factor. At least they would be open to the concept of body snatching, and they knew him well enough to know he'd never be involved in crimes like this. Some of the sick fear eased. "Yes, all right."
"Officer Bierlein and I'll drive you up to the hospital, and I'll stay with you until the examination, all right? I'll make sure you get the care you need. If you want me present during the examination, I can stay then too. Is there anyone you'd like to call to come with us? Friends, family, anyone you might want for emotional support?"
"No." He frowned at the plainclotheswoman. Why was she bending over backwards for him? "Who are you?"
"I'm sorry. I introduced myself while you were too upset to hear me, I guess. I'm Detective Karen Devoe. I'm the head of the sex crimes division."
"Oh. Why did they call you in? I wasn't brought in because I was raped; they arrested me. For no good reason."
"Yes, I know. I told you, we needed to search you after you became violent, and since we suspected sex crimes might have been involved, that's why they brought me in. Would you like me to call in a volunteer from the rape crisis center to help you instead?"
"No. I want this over with. Quickly."
"I can understand that. Let's go."
He immediately hated the hospital. He never liked hospitals much at the best of times; the antiseptics couldn't conceal the smell of sickness and death, and his associations with hospitals were unpleasant ones. But a large man got treated far less dismissively than a small woman; the last time he'd been in a human hospital, he'd been the bane of the nurses because he kept trying to push himself to get well and get out of there faster, but at least they'd shown him respect. Here, the moment Devoe told the emergency room nurse that he'd been raped, he could see himself being redefined as a pathetic, useless victim in the woman's eyes, and one who was wasting her time at that. "We deal with real emergencies here," the nurse said loftily, when Devoe demanded that Erik be given immediate access to a doctor.
"Look, this woman's been traumatized. She doesn't need to spend four hours waiting around for a doctor. I want her at least set up in a private area while she waits, so she can lie down while your doctors deal with their 'real emergencies.'"
The nurse allowed that she could do that, and so, rather to his annoyance, Erik was left with Devoe in an examination room that was currently not being used. He would have preferred to get rid of the policewoman entirely, and get some sleep. She seemed insistent on interviewing him, however.
"I'm sorry, but I do need to take a detailed statement about what occurred. I thought we could use the time while you're waiting for the doctor to do that, so you don't have to be concerned about anyone at the police station overhearing if you were worried about that."
"I wasn't, particularly."
"According to the statement you've already given, you were in Philadelphia when you encountered this mutant. Can you tell me what happened then?"
He was far too tired to lie convincingly. "I don't want to talk about it."
"All right. We don't have to talk about what he did when he captured you. But you say he held you prisoner in the basement of your own home for a month, is that correct?"
"Yes." He lay on the cot and considered the merits of closing his eyes, rolling over and ignoring Devoe completely. However, she was probably his gateway to immediate medical treatment. The bleeding wasn't life-threatening, but there was no way he wanted to try to go to one of his bases, and the high-tech medical equipment he kept there, before it had been stopped. The only base he had right now with the good stuff, the Shi'ar tech he'd gotten off the X-Men, was in Antarctica. The rest of the bases had the equivalent of emergency kits, things he could use to patch himself together until he could get to Antarctica, but he admitted to himself that he knew so little of proper gynecological medicine, he hadn't the faintest idea if any of his emergency kits would work for internal vaginal bleeding. Most involved applicators with flat surfaces, to be pressed against wounds; what he had for internal injuries were drugs to slow blood flow, which would hardly work if he was going to have to trek to Antarctica. His base was in a mountain range, inaccessible by any means but climbing and super-powered flight; no vehicle could negotiate the treacherous air currents and narrow spaces between outcroppings that a flying person could easily slip through. He needed, essentially, to be at peak health before he chartered a flight there and tried to make his way into his base. Which meant using ordinary humans' medical tech.
"What sexual acts did he perform on you besides vaginal penetration? Was there oral or anal intercourse?"
He rolled over and stared at her. "Why the devil do you need to know that?"
"The physician is going to need to know, to properly examine you for injury. And we need the information in order to be able to charge the perpetrator."
You won't need to charge the perpetrator. Leave her to me. "I already answered the question. What part of 'every disgusting sex act you can imagine' did you not understand?"
"I'm sorry. I know this is painful for you to deal with--"
"No! It isn't painful, it's annoying. It's annoying, and very, very tiring, and I am very tired. I want to sleep, Detective. I ran through the woods for four hours today trying to evade the madman who'd held me prisoner, and just as I was about to get my money, get something to eat and go rent a hotel room to sleep in, you people took me captive, interrogated me, and you haven't left me alone since. Interrogate me about my experiences after they examine me, if you must. But please, I am very tired..."
"Of course. We'll talk after your exam. There's just one thing I need to know, first, and I'm sorry. Have you taken a shower since the last time he raped you vaginally or anally?"
That question struck him as even more absurd than all the others, but he was really too tired to protest. If answering that one would buy him peace and quiet, so be it. The last time she'd raped him had been this morning, before bringing him upstairs to do the chores. He hadn't had a chance to shower since. "No. Not vaginally, anyway. The last time for... for the other, was five days ago, so yes."
"All right. That's actually a good thing. You go on and get some sleep now."
But of course he couldn't sleep, too tense and aware of his vulnerability, despite his exhaustion. So he was groggy, but thoroughly unrested, when they finally came for him. For some absolutely incomprehensible reason that no one explained and he was too tired to ask, a nurse made him give her a sample of his hair, which she sealed in an envelope, and then asked him to run a comb through his pubic hair and let any loose hairs fall into another envelope. She took several blood samples and a urine sample, and told him they'd have the results of the pregnancy test in a few hours, the venereal disease tests in a few days. Then the nurse left, leaving him in a different room, where he couldn't go back to sleep because there was an imminent expectation of a doctor. Some minutes later, a male technician arrived with a black bag.
"You're still the only forensic photog?" Devoe asked the man disbelievingly. "I thought they'd hired a woman for cases like this."
"They did. Then the budget cuts hit. The HMOs are killing us." The man opened his bag and removed photographic equipment. Erik had only been mildly irritated at the interruption until he saw that.
"Why do you have a camera in here?" he asked, his voice far shriller than he'd meant it to come out.
"We have to photograph the injuries," Devoe said in that infuriatingly calm tone of hers. "I'm sure the last thing you want right now is to have pictures taken of you, but we need them as evidence to make a clear case against your assailant. Once it gets to court, lawyers for the defense often try to say things like the sex was consensual, or there was no sex at all, or the injuries were inflicted because the attacker was trying to defend himself. We have to be able to counter those accusations with hard evidence. So we take pictures of the injuries. Don't worry, the photographs will never be seen outside the courtroom or the police station."
It wasn't him. It wasn't his body. He shouldn't care if photographs were taken of it, and he could think of no rational excuse for refusing-- "I don't want it" wasn't a rational excuse, and while "It'll never get to court because I'll take my body back and slaughter her" was quite rational, it was also not something he could exactly use here. Numbly, he undressed and let Devoe and the photographer take pictures of him from all angles. They took a set of eight of his full body-- two each of front, back, and both sides-- and then a number of close-ups of the specific injuries. This involved close-up pictures of genitals, buttocks and breasts, as well as more innocuous places like his back and neck. The photographer was professional, saying and doing nothing that indicated he had an opinion of Erik as a person one way or another, but the entire process was more humiliating than anything else he'd faced today. He felt like a whore, or a pornographic model. He wanted to kill the photographer. And Devoe. And everyone in this miserable hospital.
He was allowed to put his hospital gown back on afterward; he suspected it was pointless to do so, since the doctor would probably make him take it off again, but it made him feel a little bit better. Devoe started to explain to him again why it had been necessary to do that; he gave her one of his looks, and apparently she correctly interpreted it even through the lens of the wrong body, as she promptly apologized and shut up. It was nice to know he hadn't entirely lost that ability, at least.
When the doctor arrived-- a somewhat overweight blonde woman with her hair pulled back severely-- she asked him if he wanted Devoe with him for the examination, and when he said no, kicked her out to wait outside. That was a small pleasantness. The doctor examined his entire body again, taking note of the numerous welts, bruises, cuts and small burns on him. He thought of telling her to refer to the photographs that had just been taken and so avoid duplicating effort, but he was very much afraid his voice would come out in a shrill whine again. She then made him lie down on a table, put his legs in stirrups, and expose himself completely to her. Panic nearly overwhelmed him again; the body snatcher had bound him in such a position more than once, and used the greater access to his genitals the position gave her to cause him extraordinary pain. He found himself freezing twice while getting onto the table, his muscles refusing to put him in such a vulnerable place, and only by gritting his teeth and forcing himself to go on could he actually arrive at the position the doctor wanted.
Erik stared at the ceiling, the clinical white tile a more soothing place to put his eyes than the ceiling of his cell, the wooden supports and the floorboards of upstairs that he'd spent hours staring at in the body snatcher's cellar while she'd grunted over this body. It's not me. It's not my body they're looking at. This slab of meat she victimized has nothing to do with me. And I've been through far worse than this. If he kept repeating the words to himself, he wouldn't leap out of the stirrups and try to kill the doctor. He hoped.
"Take a deep breath and relax," the physician instructed. She was brusque and rather cold, unlike Devoe's excessive solicitousness. He found he didn't like the brusqueness nearly as much as he'd thought he would after putting up with Devoe.
How can I relax in this position? he wanted to ask, but didn't. Apparently this was normal for women. Apparently they did this kind of thing all the time-- the physician had asked, when he'd been so clumsy getting into the stirrups, if it had been so long since his last gynecological checkup that he'd forgotten what it was like, in a tone as if she was trying to joke with him. What he'd gotten from the statement had been an understanding that this was normal procedure for a gynecological exam. Which meant he didn't dare ask what they were doing or why; a real woman would know.
Something smooth and metallic was pressed against the opening to his body. He did break, then, trying to kick free of the stirrups and the whatever it was with a sharp cry of fear. The doctor gave him a look he interpreted as absolute disgust. "It's just a speculum," she said. "You've had these exams before. You know what it's like. Now, you want me to take a look and see how badly you're hurt, don't you?"
He would not give in to irrational terror. He would not. This was normal for women. Nothing to be afraid of. "I'm sorry," he said harshly, trying to hide his shame and fear. "Go ahead."
The thing, whatever it was, hurt only a small amount at first, as anything at all touching him there hurt. Then the pain increased dramatically, and there was some sort of clicking noise and she was doing something to the device, but he couldn't follow it, couldn't see it with his body in the way and couldn't track the metal in it with the magnetic senses he no longer had. It felt like she was stretching him, making the vaginal canal wider, and it hurt horribly. He gritted his teeth and tried very hard not to scream, though an occasional groan escaped him and he couldn't seem to help that. This could not be normal. No woman would ever get a gynecological exam if it hurt this much. The pain must be due to the damage the body snatcher had done him.
"There seems to be some old scar tissue," the doctor said, sounding obscenely calm, as if she didn't even notice the agony she was inflicting on him. "Were you ever raped before this incident?"
He remembered the body snatcher telling him how one of her victims had bled "gouts of blood." "Yes," he managed, breathing hard, his voice strained from the effort of resisting the pain. "I was hurt very badly and I had to get medical treatment."
"That explains it," she said, undoing and withdrawing the speculum. He relaxed slightly with the relief of the pain. "Relax, the really bad part's over. Now I'm going to do something a bit different. Or if you got medical treatment for rape before, you might remember this."
"I don't remember any of it. Please, tell me what you're doing?"
"I'm just going to squirt a little bit of warm saline solution into you. It won't hurt. Then I'll aspirate it back out again with a needleless syringe. None of it should hurt at all."
"Why are you doing it?"
"To try to get a sperm sample from the alleged rapist. Since you didn't shower since the last time, the chances are good we'll be able to get a sample, and that will help when it's time to prosecute. They can do a DNA matchup between the sample and the suspect and see if he's the one that did it."
The words, and their implications, finally penetrated his fogged brain. He pulled out of the stirrups again and sat up. "No!"
The doctor looked at him as if he were terminally stupid. "It's evidence, Lisa. How do you expect them to prosecute anyone for raping you if you won't let me take the evidence?"
Given that he was a mutant, he was quite sure that his specific DNA fingerprint would be extremely distinctive, distinctive enough that, with the clue he himself had given that his assailant was a powerful mutant, it might very well positively identify his original body as the attacker's. Horrific visions of newspapers headlined "MAGNETO FOUND TO BE RAPIST" surfaced in his mind's eye. "I know who he was. I don't need samples taken."
"You might know who he is, but in court there'll need to be more evidence than your word for it. You don't want him going free, do you?"
"I don't care! All I wanted was medical treatment! I don't want to be interviewed, I don't want evidence taken from my body, I don't care if they prosecute or not!"
"Oh, all right. You have the right to refuse that evidence be taken if you want, but you're shooting yourself in the foot. It's not going to hurt at all to take the sperm sample. The speculum hurts, I know it does. You're tense and you're injured and most of the women I see in my practice don't like it much when they're healthy and relaxed. But you were brave and you stuck that one out. Why are you so scared of this? It won't hurt you."
"Hurt me? No. It will hurt my people. Do you think I want to see a high-profile trial of a mutant rapist? Don't you see what damage that would do us?"
Belatedly Erik realized that at no point in his cover story had he admitted to being a mutant himself. Well, to hell with it. "Mutantkind."
"You mean like the man who allegedly did this to you? Why would you want to protect people like him?"
"How dense are you, woman? I am a mutant myself! The public perception is that we're all criminal monsters who use our gifts to destroy the lives of ordinary people. I haven't been able to use any of my own powers since he attacked me, so in the eyes of the newspapers and the courts and the public perception, I will seem like an ordinary person, a helpless victim set upon by a slavering genetic freak, and it'll just add fuel to the fires of hatred toward my people. I never wanted to tell the police that the rapist even was a mutant, but I had to warn them so they'd let the professionals deal with it instead of going and getting killed themselves. But I am not going to allow what happened to me to be used to destroy my people, and if that means the rapist never goes near the courts... well, my people take care of their own. He won't go free."
"You're a mutant."
"I believe I said so. Several times."
"Why didn't they warn me before bringing you in?" the physician demanded, in an aggrieved voice. "I'm not a mutant specialist. You need trained personnel for that!"
"Obviously no, you don't. If I were the sort of mutant who uncontrollably bursts into flames or absorbs the minds of any who touch me, I would have notified the police before they brought me here, yes. However, did you miss the part where I said I don't have my powers? Even if I could do those things, I can't right now. My attacker took my powers from me. It will be days, most likely, before I get them back."
"What can you do? When you have your powers?"
The outburst had left him exhausted again. "What does it matter?" he asked tiredly, looking at the floor. "It didn't save me from being captured, did it?" He looked up. "Is the medical portion of the exam done? May I go?"
"No, we're not done. Since you've refused the collection of evidence, I'll note on your record, you've refused. I still have to perform a few tests for the sake of your health, nothing to do with evidence. It's just the standard stuff you get in a gynecological exam."
"Then do so."
She did. They involved putting latex-gloved fingers, slick with some sort of lubricating jelly, into him, probing first the vagina and then the anus. It hurt badly, though not as badly as the speculum had. When she was done, she let him put the underwear with the menstrual pad in it back on, though he was still expected to wear a hospital gown in lieu of the baggy sweats Devoe had gotten him. "You've got some internal lacerations. Nothing life-threatening, but you'll need stitches, and you've already eaten today so we can't do the surgery until tomorrow. I'm going to recommend that you spend the night in the hospital, with pain medication and a salve suppository to promote blood clotting, and tomorrow we can put you under anesthesia and get you stitched up. All right?"
The idea of entrusting himself to humans for surgery, particularly in such a delicate region, disturbed him terribly... but he'd already determined that he needed to do so before he could get to his main base. And the humans had done all right when he'd been in his own body and fallen into the Atlantic Ocean from space, and he'd needed to spend two weeks in traction without the use of his powers. "Very well."
A nurse put salves and bandages on him, and offered him the pain medication the doctor had authorized. His first temptation was to refuse, since any such drugs would likely impair his functioning and if the body snatcher showed up he couldn't afford to be drugged and helpless before her. So he told the nurse he was uninterested in anything that would make him drowsy or dizzy or otherwise impair him. She nodded and and said that the doctor had included the option of analgesic medication instead, painkillers that would work by lowering inflammation and blocking pain signals from the nerves rather than acting on his brain. Try as he might he couldn't come up with any reason to object to that. Besides, the fact that there had been no pulses after the one encouraged him greatly. Chances were, the X-Men had already gotten her. They weren't incompetent, after all. And he really did hurt an absurd amount. So he accepted the analgesic and the offer of a hospital bed for the night.
Of course, when she told him it wouldn't make him fall asleep she probably hadn't taken into account how exhausted he was. It didn't matter that it was an analgesic rather than an anesthetic; the pain was one of the main things keeping him awake and alert at this point, and when that eased he started to crash. This got rid of Devoe for him, at last. She had been waiting for him outside the hospital room; he was sure that she wasn't normally so careful with rape cases, and that in this case it was more her desire to see him testify about whatever high-stakes crime they thought Lisa Davies' assailant had been involved in that kept her glued to him. But when he stopped being able to fight the encroach of sleep, shortly after they'd given him the meds, he told her so, and, as sincerely as he could, told her that he'd come back to the police station in the morning after his surgery, trying hard to believe it for the minute or two it took to say it so she would be fooled. She told him she'd check up on him in the morning after the surgery, and then, blissfully, left him alone.
The nurse fed him hospital food, which was no worse than institutional food ever was, and then let him alone as well. He slept, but not deeply. Even if they had kept him in the private room, so he would not be awakened by nurses passing by his curtained cot to attend to his roommates frequently, the nightmares would still have tormented him. Time after time as he started to drift off, the dream that seized his mind was one where the body snatcher came into the hospital after him and recaptured him, and he'd jerk awake in terror before ever having been truly asleep in the first place. And even when he managed to achieve deeper sleep, there were still terrible dreams.
The body snatcher had massacred the Morlocks, who were all boys and young men that one interested in such might find attractive, and they were piled all over the tunnels, and somewhere in here were the New Mutants, but he couldn't find them. Storm was supposed to help him look but she was doing something else. He tried to be respectful in picking up the bodies, but he was too small and weak and without a partner to help him lift them, they were too heavy, and Moishe had died yesterday so he didn't have a partner anymore. Every time he looked at one he felt a sense of dread that it might be a New Mutant. They never were but that didn't mean the New Mutants weren't dead. Roberto and Doug and Sam and Pietro were all potential targets of hers. He'd told them to stay at the base but they hadn't listened because they never listened and now maybe they were dead.
Psylocke knocked on the door where he was wading through the bodies. He looked up at her. "You changed your butterfly," he said.
"It's a butterfly knife." It was the real Psylocke, not the Asian woman the X-Men had acquired with her name who he'd fought last time he met the X-Men. She was wearing the Asian's outfit, though, and holding a purple knife in her hand, that used to be a butterfly. "Magneto, can you tell me where you are?"
He looked around. "All these bodies and you need to ask?"
"You're asleep, aren't you?" she said. "This psychescape is disturbed even for you."
Was he asleep? The idea brought a profound sense of relief. If he was asleep then the body snatcher wasn't real and he really had his own body and all of it had been a bad dream. "Then I'd rather wake up."
"Go ahead. I'll be there directly."
He opened his eyes and lifted his head to look at his body. It was still a woman's. For a moment the disappointment was profound, until the dream had faded enough that he was able to adjust.
For several minutes he lay awake, looking up at the ceiling. When he glanced over at a clock he saw it was 7:30-- and he'd gotten up at what? 8, 9? It was too early to go to sleep for the night, pain relief or no. Perhaps he should use this time to construct a more coherent false story in case Devoe cornered him tomorrow after the surgery.
He spent long minutes doing that, until footsteps approaching his cot startled him. Erik rolled over to face whoever it was as they pulled the curtain aside. An Asian woman with hair to her waist looked down at him. Though she looked like a nurse, there was something wrong with the picture, and while he was trying to figure it out he felt a slight twinge against his mind-- what Charles called the "hello", a telepathic query as to identity. Instinctively he hardened his shields, and the Asian woman came into sudden focus. Her hair was dark purple, her clothing was scanty, and she no longer looked anything at all like a nurse. Though she also looked nothing at all like the woman in his dream, the "feel" of her mind helloing him made it clear that despite the changes in her body-- changes, after all, rather less profound than those he'd been through-- it was not just a woman calling herself Psylocke. It was, in fact, Elisabeth Braddock, his former ally and recent foe.
"Psylocke?" he asked, startled.
"He's here, Ororo," she said at the same time.
A moment later Storm, co-leader of the X-Men and one of the few he might still call friend after the debacle of last time, came over to the cot. "Magnus, is that truly you?"
"What are you doing here?" he asked the women harshly, sitting up on the bed. Were the rest of the X-Men going to turn up here in the medical ward? Take him captive, perhaps? He tensed, all too aware of his vulnerability. It felt as if he still had his mental shields-- he'd been able to block Psylocke's "I look like a nurse" projection and shut out her hello-- but she was a formidable martial artist who could beat him to a pulp with hands and feet if she chose, now that he had no powers. And Storm had been hard to defeat when he'd had full power. If they decided to take him in, he'd have no chance to resist.
"Rescuing you, foolish man," Storm said, a teasing note to her voice. "What does it look like?"
"It looks as if you're wasting your time, failing to pursue the real enemy. What have you done about the body snatcher?"
"We can't find her," Storm said simply. "We need your aid, Magnus. And, since I can't imagine you truly wish to be waiting in a public trauma ward for whatever treatment you need, it looks as if you may need ours as well. Can we not work together, then?"
He didn't want to be working with the X-Men. He wanted nothing to do with them. They'd hurt and betrayed him in ways he'd thought himself immune to, and the idea of seeing them again brought nothing but pain-- to say nothing of the humiliation of having them see him like this. But... they were here. With them on his side, the body snatcher would never be able to retake him. And they had advanced medical equipment, very likely even better than what he had at his base, since Charles seemed to have come home from the Shi'ar homeworld with a whole collection of new toys, judging from the hoverchair he'd acquired. Not that Erik wanted the X-Men performing medical procedures on him either-- considering that the nature of his injury would make it obvious how the injury was acquired, he'd almost prefer total strangers-- but he knew how to work their equipment to heal himself, and he doubted they'd been able to root out the back door password he'd put in their system to allow him to override functions such as the medical logging system. In light of all that, he would be a fool to refuse... especially since they probably did need his aid in finding the body snatcher, if for some reason Cerebro wasn't working.
"If you can keep your teammates from trying to kill me, I see no reason why not." He stood up quickly, suppressing a wince of pain. "I need to get dressed." The battered, well-worn sweats weren't what he'd have chosen to face the X-Men in-- full body armor was more like it-- but they were better than this hospital gown.
"Of course. Meet us outside your room."
No one attempted to stop him from dressing, removing the plastic bracelet from his arm, and leaving. There was a bored-looking policeman sitting on a chair across from the ward-- he remembered Devoe saying something about making sure he had police protection, though he'd been too tired to pay attention-- but the policeman didn't appear to notice Erik joining the two women. Both of whom were in costume, and the policeman didn't appear to notice that, either. Sometimes telepaths made useful allies.
"What's the situation?"
"We haven't been able to locate her," Psylocke said. "Jean, Charles and I have all searched. Three hours ago, while we were still in transit, Charles apparently did find her, with Cerebro. She did something to incapacitate him-- Hank isn't sure what, except that Charles is still unconscious-- demolished Cerebro, and then attacked the mansion with a pulse wave which destroyed all the conventional electronics and damaged some of the Shi'ar systems."
Erik frowned. "That isn't possible."
"Perhaps there is someone else who might have used an electromagnetic attack on the mansion?"
He scowled at the sarcasm. "Firstly, your electronics are shielded. I could take them down, at close range, but it would be a non-trivial exercise. And three hours ago, she was here. The power failed in the police station."
"That was probably part of the same attack," Ororo said. "Our own electronics failed, in the Blackbird, although we were successfully able to make a landing."
"But I don't have that kind of..." He trailed off, a feral smile slowly spreading across his face. "Oh, but she doesn't know, does she?"
He looked up at Ororo, rather annoyed that he had to. Both of them were taller than him. Even Psylocke's new Asian body was considerably taller than the one he was in now. "In theory, I have the range to assault a location as far from here as Salem Center is. In practice, my range is much more severely limited. Experience has taught me that if I try to generate a pulse wave across such distance, it will cause severe and incapacitating pain as soon as I release my hold on the fields... but she doesn't know that." The feral smile broadened into an evil grin. "She might well have performed the pulse wave, since the pain wouldn't have hit until after she stopped. And now she's crippled herself, Ororo. In the condition she must have left herself, I can defeat her, let alone you. She's undoubtedly lying at home, in agony, simply waiting for us to come for her."
Oh yes. He could taste his vengeance now-- confront her, terrorize her into switching, and then. And then no one would stop him from making her pay. The X-Men could spout mealy-mouthed platitudes all they liked, but Lisa Davies was going to die in swift agony before the day was out, after suffering hours of excruciating migraine that she'd brought on herself through her stupidity. The pain would affect him too, of course, but he could muster up the willpower to deal with it for the moment or two it would take to wrap one of those steel cables around her head and crush. Let the X-Men be horrified; none of them had the power to stop him... well, perhaps Jean Grey, but if she stood in his way he'd just knock her out, and besides, he was certain he could kill Davies faster than any of them but Wolverine could react, and if Wolverine dared stand in his way, he'd learn how foolish it was to fight a man who could control his very bones. He'd pay, too, for the deaths of the Acolytes and the betrayal of trust, if he gave Magneto the slightest excuse. Then, with Davies dead, Erik could wipe away all the pain and fear and humiliation of the last month, as if it had never been.
"Do you know where she might be?"
He nodded, still smiling evilly. "Yes. The place she held me prisoner is actually her home. She's most likely there. I can show you the way."
By the time they got outside the hospital, though, he'd realized it wouldn't be so easy. He had no idea how to get to her house. His directional sense was gone-- he couldn't find his way back to a place he'd once been by following the magnetic fields anymore, and there was no way he could retrace his steps through the woods.
They met with several other X-Men outside, in the hospital parking lot. It actually looked like the entire team, minus Colossus, the Beast, and Xavier himself, and plus a new recruit. "Found him," Psylocke said. Her tone of voice made it clear that they'd been looking for a while.
Erik tried very hard not to notice the double takes, the amused grins Gambit and Iceman were sporting, Rogue's look of startled shock. The new recruit, a large black man carrying a gun and with an "M" tattoo on his face, was scrutinizing Erik as if expecting him to suddenly burst out of this female shell and start throwing power around again. Angel-- or no, wasn't he Archangel these days?-- was studying him with an ice-cold, remote expression that would have been at home on a Nazi commandant's face. Jean Grey was looking at him with pity. Pity. The woman hated him, yet she was pitying him. He'd almost rather a hate-filled coldness like Archangel's. And the look on Rogue's face, once the shock passed from it, almost broke his control.
"Sugar, you all right?" she asked, her voice full of pity for him and a desire to bundle him up and not let him fight his own battles, now that she was powerful and he was not. He wanted to cringe from the weight of the concern in her voice.
"As well as can be expected," he said distantly, looking away from her and at Scott Summers instead. The man was a professional, he would give Cyclops that. No double takes, no smirks, no looks of horror, and if his eyes had widened in shock on seeing his old foe so reduced, who'd have been able to tell through the visor? Wolverine, too, was keeping his face professional and unconcerned, but it hurt too much still to recall Logan's betrayal. Erik would prefer to pretend the man simply wasn't there.
"Does he know where to find the killer?" Cyclops asked.
Mildly annoyed that the question was directed at Storm and Psylocke instead of him, Erik spoke. "She should be at her home, crippled from attacking Westchester from here if that's indeed what she did. Unfortunately I never approached her home from the road, so I'm not sure how to get there, but since the local police were recently questioning me in the belief that I was her, it shouldn't be difficult for a telepath to get her address from them."
Cyclops nodded. "All right. Jean, that's your department."
Too late Erik realized that any police she mindread to get the body snatcher's location would probably know of both his panic attack and everything he'd told Devoe. A sick wave of humiliation rose through him at the thought of the X-Men learning what had happened to him. To admit he'd been held captive was nothing; they'd all been held captive far too often for anyone to be humiliated by that alone. It was par for the course in their lives. To admit he'd been tortured was worse, but Rogue had seen him after Zaladane and Brainchild had finished with him, after all. But for them to know he'd been raped and treated as a sex slave was nearly unendurable... only, the words were already out of his mouth, and there was no way to call them back.
Jean looked at him, and he heard her voice in his mind. //Is there a problem?// She was trying to keep emotion out of her mindvoice, but unlike Xavier she'd never been good at it-- he could "hear" pity and anger and dislike all twined around the words.
But there was no other way to find the body snatcher. And as sick as the thought made him, if the X-Men learning of his shame was the price of getting his body back, he had to pay it. //Do what must be done,// he sent back at her, trying to strip his own mindvoice of the telltale emotional overtones, and painfully aware that he was likely failing miserably.
"Right. I'll take care of it," she said aloud-- mental exchanges went by so fast that there hadn't been a noticeable gap in the conversation-- and flew off.
Cyclops turned to Erik. "Professor Xavier's asked us to help you get your body back," he said, still in the professional soldier voice but with just enough of a hint of disapproval that Erik knew Cyclops would have preferred a different plan. "You're the expert on the enemy. How do her powers work?"
"She's far from expert with mine. And she's likely crippled herself by attacking Xavier at this distance. As for her own power, she can only jump back into this body I occupy. From here, she can take anyone she touches."
"So it sounds like Jean should be guarding you, since she'd be able to sense the switch and immobilize her once she's in her own body."
"I concur," Storm said. "As for the rest of us, assuming she is not crippled, our goal is to persuade her to switch without harming Magneto's body."
"Without doing it permanent damage, anyway," Cyclops said.
"But non-permanent damage is all right?" Iceman asked.
"Bobby, this is a bad situation and you ain't helpin'," Rogue snapped.
The idea of the X-Men doing "non-permanent" damage to his true body bothered him terribly, but there was no help for it-- that was the only way to take down the body snatcher. "He's right," Erik said sharply, the fact that he had to agree with Iceman in this matter making him irrationally angry. "If she is not incapacitated, then yes, non-permanent damage is exactly what you will have to do. If she is unconscious or stunned, she cannot switch. If she isn't hurt badly enough, she won't. I've tried both."
"How?" Iceman asked. "No offense, but even without powers, the body you've got now doesn't look like it could fight its way out of a wet paper bag. I mean, I could beat you up without powers, and I'm not exactly as buff as your real body is."
Erik smiled tightly. A brief fantasy of breaking Drake's nose flitted through his head. That would shut him up. "You'd be welcome to try, Iceman. Physical strength is only one part of fighting prowess, and I retain all my skills." He looked back at Cyclops. "She must be made to fear for her life, but think that taking this body back would afford her an escape route. Also, I feel I should point out that if you actually do cause fatal damage to my body and thus force her to jump... I will ensure that I am not the only one who dies today. Our alliance is predicated on your not doing my body permanent damage, am I understood?"
"The threats are hardly necessary, Magnus," Storm said sternly. "We have no intention of doing your body permanent damage. Charles has very specifically asked us to aid you, not harm you."
He thought of pointing out that Charles had, most likely, not ordered Wolverine to try to kill him last time, but decided that it would only sound petty. He'd made his point. "Very well. But all of this is moot regardless, because if she isn't crippled, then she's in Westchester."
"How do you know?" the black man asked.
"Range. If she incapacitated Xavier, and took out the mansion's electronics, then either she's near there, or she's here and suffering terribly for the effort. There is a reason I don't choose to use my powers over such great distances."
"What is your effective range, then?" the man asked again.
"Cyclops, Storm-- have you failed to make your newest recruit read up on me? Foolish of you."
"Bishop is familiar with your file," Cyclops said. "We prepare new X-Men thoroughly; you've been thought dead too many times for us to take that as indication you won't be a threat again."
"I'd be happy to stay here and make nice with terrorist murderers all day," Archangel said, "but don't we have a job to do?"
"We're waiting for Jean," Cyclops said. "Whether the killer's crippled or not, we can't afford to let her switch without having someone that can grab her without touching her. Iceman or Gambit or I could knock her unconscious easily enough, but in order to handle her if we're taking her captive, we need TK. Or Storm, but I don't think trying to use wind to carry her into the Blackbird is all that feasible. Bishop, I want you front. If she's not incapacitated, your power will come in handy. Storm, I'm thinking you, me, Rogue, Iceman and Gambit can move in to harry her and set her up for Psylocke to make the final strike, what do you think?"
Storm nodded. "If we strike within a house, I will be less useful, but Psylocke will have more cover and the killer's flight advantage will be negated. We should attempt to force her into a building if she is not already in one. I can make the outdoors less than hospitable to her."
"Why do you want Bishop front?" Erik asked. "I'm not familiar with his powers."
"And it's going to stay that way," Cyclops said. "Last time I checked you were an enemy, mister. You don't want to tell us your actual effective range, so what makes you think we want to tell you anything you don't already know?"
"Fair enough." At least Cyclops was honest. He could respect that.
"What about me?" Archangel asked Cyclops.
Erik said acerbically, "You and your metal wings should run to the Blackbird and hide, along with Wolverine. I said she was all but crippled, but that might change if a ready supply of light, sharp, ferrous blades comes within her view."
The metal wings flexed slightly. "Would you like to find out just how sharp these light ferrous blades really are?"
"Warren--" Storm began.
"I am not taking orders from him. Or her. Or whatever it is."
"That was way uncalled for, Warren," Rogue said hotly. "Ah know you don't much like Magneto, but he's our ally in this and there ain't no call to insult him just 'cause a woman stole his body."
"He's also right," Cyclops said. "The two of you would be most effective if we were out to kill her. We're not. So I want you two bringing up the rear, behind Jean, and only coming into play if things go rancid."
"Then what the flamin' hell did you drag us all the way out here for, Cyke?" Wolverine scowled at Cyclops. "We coulda stayed home an' played poker with Petey and Hank if you didn't need us."
"Oh, I need you," Cyclops said, a grim note to his voice. "With Jean guarding Magneto, the most likely way for things to go south would be if the killer gets Jean's body. And if that happens, we need to terrorize her into getting out. Fast."
"You don't expect either of us to actually hurt Jean's body, do you?" Archangel asked disbelievingly.
"Of course not. But if she has any familiarity at all with the X-Men, she'll guess that any of the rest of us would hesitate. You two have reps. She doesn't know you can control yourselves if it's someone you care about." His visored gaze seemed to fixate on the two men as if pinning them. "You can control yourselves, right?"
"I would not stake my lover's life on it," Erik muttered.
"Shut up, Magneto. Of course I can control myself," Archangel said coldly. "I'd never hurt Jeannie."
"Ya gotta ask, Cyke?"
Further discussion was cut off by the object of the discussion returning. "Got it," Jean said. "They called in the Avengers, so I sent to Hank and had him call them off. No sense in making things complicated."
"What took you so long?" Iceman asked. "I don't know about you, but standing around shooting the breeze with one of our oldest enemies is just not on my top ten list of favorite things to do."
"The feeling is assuredly mutual," Erik snapped. Dear God, but he hated being dependent on these people. The analgesic was wearing off, and the pain was returning in dull waves from his feet and legs and shoulder. He wanted his powers so very much. Attack them all and fly away.
A thunderclap rolled, startlingly loud and near. "Enough!" Storm shouted. "X-Men, we have work to do. Professor Xavier has asked us to ally ourselves with Magneto, and if any of us find that unbearable, I suggest he or she remain behind on this mission." No one moved. "And you, Magnus, I expected better of. Now, can we all not attend our mission without sniping at one another?"
"Yes, Mommy," Iceman said cheerily.
Between Jean, Storm, Rogue and Archangel, the entire group was able to fly over the woods, a journey that had taken Erik four hours of grueling travel taking the group ten minutes. He had never seen the house from the air, but years of practice at extrapolating aerial views into landbound ones and vice versa enabled him to immediately recognize the place. "That's it."
"I'm not sensing her in there," Jean warned. "Or anyone."
"She may have some unusual kind of mindshield," Cyclops said.
Jean was levitating herself, Erik, Cyclops, and Iceman in a TK bubble, while Archangel carried Wolverine, Rogue carried Bishop, and Storm, Gambit and Psylocke all rode Storm's winds. The wind made it impossible to hear X-Men outside the TK bubble, but all the X-Men appeared to be using radios nowadays. Inside the TK bubble, the howl of the wind was muted to a dull roar, so it was quite easy to hear the X-Men in the bubble. "All right!" Cyclops said to his radio. "Rogue, take Bishop and go in, hard! Storm, Gambit, go in from the left; Psylocke, hang back. Bobby, you and I will go right, after Rogue and Bishop hit. Jean, you and Magneto go in behind after everyone else has gone in; Psylocke, you're with them. Archangel and Wolverine, bring up the rear. Let's go!"
Most of the X-Men dive-bombed the house, following the mental map Erik had sent to Jean of the interior layout. Jean let Cyclops and Iceman out of the force bubble-- a great relief, as Iceman's presence was making the air in the bubble considerably cooler than was comfortable as the day approached its end-- and then shook her head as she lowered herself and Erik to the ground. "She's not there," she muttered.
"She has to be," Erik said, frustrated. "The X-Men's location is a secret, is it not? She wouldn't have known to go to Westchester. Besides, the pulse hit here, Westchester and struck the Blackbird in transit. Where else could she have been?"
Behind them, Archangel and Wolverine landed. "This whole place stinks of ozone," Wolverine said. "I'm gonna see if I can find a trail. Warren, you wanna come with? I might need air transport."
"And what will you do if you find her?" Erik asked. "Aside from die horribly as she uses the metal in your bodies as weapons against you?"
"Yell for help, of course," Wolverine said. "We ain't stupid, Maggie. 'Sides, if she's around here, she's crippled, right? Or didja get that wrong too?"
"She's crippled, yes. But she may not be completely helpless. After such a display of power, I would be incapable of doing much else but lying down with a migraine-- unless a collection of weapons such as you present come upon me. Do you have any idea how easy it would be for her to destroy you?"
"So how come you never did it?" Wolverine asked. "And don't gimme that 'I don't want to kill fellow mutants' crap. There's been plenty of times you've been out for blood."
"Yes. After you pushed me to the point where taking you captive seemed no longer an option. She will not need to be pushed so far. You're men of power-- she'll delight in killing you."
"I'd say go," Jean said. "You won't find her. But maybe you'll find a trail we can all follow."
"How do you know we won't find her?" Archangel asked.
"Professor Xavier sensed her, with Cerebro. She isn't invisible to mental scans. But there's no one around here but the neighbors and a lot of woods."
"So you and I wouldn't seem to have much to do," Psylocke said, coming up to join the group.
"No. Come on. While Archangel and Wolverine look around outside for her trail, maybe the three of us can find some evidence inside. Travel brochures, a map, anything to indicate where she might have gone."
Erik considered it highly unlikely, but he followed the two X-Men into the house, tensing. He had nothing to be afraid of-- ten X-Men seemed overkill even for a battle against him, and as resourceful as the body snatcher had proven herself to be, still she lacked his skill and experience. He was as safe as one ever got in a combat zone, safer by far than he usually was when surrounded by ten X-Men, but this house itself held far too many unpleasant memories for him.
His eyes widened, startled, as they entered. This was the kitchen, the place where he'd defeated her and won his freedom, and there was nothing in it. Oh, she'd abandoned some of the crockery, but her elaborate collection of kitchen toys was gone, as were the annoying little knickknacks that used to sit on every open surface. Cautiously he opened the door to his cell and peered down into the basement. The bed was still there, and the stockpiled cans. He didn't see the metal cables, but then remembered that the last place she'd used them on him had been upstairs. Quickly he turned away, heading into the living room.
It had been stripped bare. She'd taken all the furniture, all the knickknacks, all the surreal and disturbing art by no one he recognized. All she'd left was the ancient, worn, light green carpet. Several times she'd complained to him about that carpet, declaring that the next thing she ought to do with his stolen money was buy a new one, but she had never gotten around to it.
Why had she packed and left? He didn't understand it. This was her home. Judging from the police's behavior, she was a long term resident here. Why leave?...
He met Gambit by the stairs to the upper floor. "Your friend, looks like she left in a big hurry," the Cajun said. "She know we were coming, maybe?"
"If she did, I didn't tell her."
"No great big villain speeches 'bout how you goin' make her pay an' all dat."
Erik scowled. He didn't feel it necessary that Gambit know how lightly Lisa Davies had ever taken his promises of vengeance. "Perhaps she simply realized from the beginning the simple truth, that if ever I won free I'd see her dead."
"Didn't know the plan was for her to be dead, Magneto. Way I heard Cyclops, we takin' her captive. You got other plans?"
"Cyclops' opinion is of little concern to me."
Jean Grey came over, her face ashen and something crumpled in her hand. "What've they found?"
"Not'ing so far. Dis woman, she cleared de place out good. You got somet'ing, Jeannie?"
"Menu from a pizza delivery place," Jean said. "Could you go help Rogue out upstairs? I think she's in danger of wrecking some of the evidence."
Gambit grinned. "You t'ink it be better if she wreck poor Gambit's face instead?"
"Well, you do seem to have some power to distract her," Jean said, grinning back.
Distract her? Erik tried very, very hard not to get angry at the implications of that. Rogue was not his. He had let her go, twice. But... Gambit?
After Gambit was gone, he asked in what he hoped was a disinterested voice, "So those two are together?"
"Is it any of your business?" Jean asked tightly, and he realized his first impression had been correct-- she was badly shaken by something. She'd been acting for Gambit's sake, and doing it well, but the ashen expression was back now. "Come into the kitchen."
In the kitchen, she pressed the crumpled paper she was holding into his hand. "I went down to investigate the basement. This was lying on the floor, on the other side of the bed."
He uncrumpled it and read.
"Dear Maggie-- Can I call you that? I guess I can, right? Not like you can stop me-- as you can see, you and your superbuddies ain't gonna find me. I am still way smarter than you give me credit for. Did you really think I wouldn't guess that the moment you got away from me, you'd try to call in some favors, bring a world of shit down on my head? Guess you thought I'd just be hanging out here, all peaceful and unsuspecting, right? Guess again, babe. I'm gone, and you're never gonna find me-- until I find you. And then we're gonna have some fun.
"You shouldn't have left, you know. We were just getting to an understanding. I know we were. You liked it when I fucked you from behind and rubbed your clit last night, didn't you? Know you did, hon. Got all wet for me, didn't you? I figured you were finally learning, and I wasn't going to have to punish you so much. It was going to be so good, sweetheart. I'd have made it good for you too. But you fucked that up, didn't you, Maggie baby? You ran. Now you know I'm not gonna kill you, but I can hurt you bad. Remember when I made you beg for mercy? I can make you beg for death, too.
"So I want you thinking about how this scenario's going to play out--"
What followed was several paragraphs of an extremely graphic and sadistic fantasy describing luridly the torments she'd visit on him once she recaptured him. She began by describing, in humiliating detail, an incident a week ago where she'd bound him and tortured him by touching a heated curling iron to various places on his body, how she'd threatened to rape him with it and how he'd begged her not to, and how she'd made him show his "gratitude" for being spared when she'd released him without doing that. She then fantasized elaborately and pornographically about how she'd do it to him again when she recaptured him, only this time she would make the torture last much longer and she'd finish up by raping him, first with the curling iron and then with the stolen body.
The sick words hit him like a physical blow, triggering memories he couldn't bear, not right now, not in front of a telepath. Erik went completely white as he read, not so much at the threat-- the X-Men would not let him be recaptured, so her threats were meaningless-- but at the thought of any of the X-Men knowing this much about what she'd done to him. "How much did you read?" he asked harshly, dry-mouthed.
"I-- I thought it was evidence-- and when I picked it up to look at it, I couldn't help--"
"You had no right," he said, crumpling the paper in his hands. "Did you not see the letter was addressed to me?"
"I didn't! I just looked at it and saw-- and by the time I realized it was to you, I'd already read--"
"Who on Earth did you think such a letter would have been written to? Did you not think at all, woman? Or was it prurient curiosity that drove you? To imagine your childhood enemy brought so low must have thrilled your vengeful little soul--"
"It did not!" Fury chased away the guilt on her face. "Besides, if you didn't want anyone knowing prurient details why did you tell the whole story to the rape counselor at the police station?"
"Shout a little louder. I don't think all the X-Men have heard you yet."
"None of them heard me." //But we can have this conversation privately if you're so scared of everyone finding out.// The emotional overtone was rage, mixed with a bit of contempt, a huge load of pity and a grudging respect for his survival, as well as a bit of physical nausea.
//Then let us rather!// He didn't like the revealing nature of mindspeech-- though he was as good as any telepath at partially masking overtones, it was impossible to be as well-disguised as one could be with voice-- but then, right now he didn't trust his voice anyway, and telepathic conversations could not be casually overhead. //I told the policewoman what I did because she would not stop hounding me until I did, and she did not know who I truly am. I suppose now all the X-Men know, or will? A bit of juicy information about my weaknesses, to pity me for or laugh at me about?//
//No!// The force of the mental snarl almost knocked him off balance. //I destroyed the evidence, Magneto. I took the bloody clothes they'd sealed up for evidence, I shredded their paperwork, I rewrote all their memories so they'd think the whole incident was months past and safely resolved. Charles would have my head for this, if you didn't disrupt his moral center every time you insinuate yourself back into his life.//
He was shocked. "Why?" he asked aloud.
//We don't need reports of a mutant serial killer. You know that as well as I do. As for the rest of the X-Men, I never planned on telling them any of this. What I did, yes, I'm going to come clean about that. But what you told the policewoman, what you were doing in that hospital ward, and what that bitch wrote about what she did to you-- none of them are going to hear about it from me. Not even Scott.//
Immediately he felt ashamed for questioning her integrity. "I-- thank you," he said, not knowing quite what else to say. The cold fingers of ice around his heart had started to ease, that they wouldn't all know, that his helplessness and humiliation wouldn't be a spectacle for their amusement or pity. He should have known better of Charles' prize student, but her relentless hatred of him made it hard for him to remember sometimes that she was very much a woman to be respected.
"Don't thank me, Magneto," she snapped. "I don't want your gratitude. If I heard you were dead, I wouldn't shed a tear. But no one deserves what-- what she did, not even you."
"I am sorry if it troubles your moral center," he said acidly, "but whether you want my gratitude or not, you have it regardless. You are a naive and foolish child, but I've always respected your courage and strength-- and I'm glad to see that Charles' prize pupil is actually capable of compassion like his. I am grateful, and ashamed I thought you so shallow."
Before she could answer, Bishop entered. "There is nothing here. Not even evidence, given that we know what the killer looks like and what her powers are. We have no psychometrist and I very much doubt mundane forensics could tell us where she has chosen to go. Wolverine, and perhaps Xavier, may be our best hopes."
"I've contacted Charles. He feels awful-- physically, I mean-- and he's confirmed that Cerebro's well and truly wrecked," Jean said. "I don't think he's going to be much help."
Bishop shook his head. "That's not what I meant, actually. I don't know if your science of psychology is well defined enough for this, but in my day, we would have profilers-- psychologists, very often telepaths-- devise detailed profiles of serial killers and other criminals, to predict where they would strike next. We could then intercept them."
Jean nodded. "We do something like that today. I don't know how useful it is, though."
"It's foolishness," Erik said. "We know her target-- men, preferably attractive young ones with power-- and we know her hunting grounds, the entire Northeast Coast. The range is unacceptably broad. How could we hope to find her with such parameters?"
"You're not a profiler," Bishop said. "Neither am I, so I couldn't tell you how they do it, but they were capable of making predictions like 'the west side of Oldcity, within the next three days.' And they were accurate. I was hoping Professor Xavier might be able to do something of similar nature."
Jean's eyes went slightly glazed, sign of a telepathic conversation. "Logan's got something," she reported.
Outside, Wolverine was standing by oddly-shaped gouges in the dirt. In the dimness of the evening, Erik couldn't quite make out what they looked like, but Wolverine, after all, could see better. "Truck wheels," he said. "18-wheeler, looks like. She had it parked here; judgin' from the way the tracks go, looks like she landed it here with her powers, then drove it onta the driveway an' down to the road, most likely. We got diesel scent, so she was probably drivin' it for real, too, not just usin' Maggie's powers."
"Is there any way to tell which way she went?" Cyclops asked.
Bishop unfolded a map from his pocket and shone a pen light at it. "I picked up a local map at a convenience store nearby, earlier. Not all the roads in the area can bear truck traffic; there might be only a handful of routes she might realistically have taken."
Cyclops nodded. "It's likely she'd want to hit I-80. Wolverine, is there any way you can tell which way she went?"
"Yeah, if the engine was on an' there wasn't too much traffic, I could follow the diesel scent."
"I don't think there was much traffic on the road," Erik said. "I was on it once, and there was no traffic, in the middle of the day."
"Good. Jean, Bishop, Wolverine, go on down and see how far you can retrace the route. Magneto, does it make sense that she'd be using your powers and having the engine on, or does it make more sense that, if the engine's on, it's because she knows how to drive a truck?"
Erik rubbed his eyes. Exhaustion was catching up with him, and Cyclops's question made no sense at all. "I'm sorry, can you rephrase that?"
"Use single-syllable words," Iceman suggested. "Wouldn't want to strain the Master of Magnetism's brain."
"We need to know if she's an experienced truck driver or not. If she is, she'll likely go to ground at a truck stop. If not, she'll go somewhere else, maybe a real hotel, and probably she'll ditch the truck at some point. Since it takes experience and training to drive a truck, do you think she has such experience? Or is she just using your powers?"
"She could be doing either," Erik said irritably. "I don't know where she would have learned to drive a truck, but since she occupies male bodies frequently and she says she can understand how to do anything a body she's stolen can do, I wouldn't put it past her to have learned to drive a truck. But that has nothing to do with where she's likely to go. She won't 'ditch' the truck, as you say-- it has all her possessions in it. But she can pick it up and carry it at any time; she's not limited to the highway." He sat down heavily on a lawn chair, quickly adjusting position as he accidentally put weight on his injured groin. "You've lost her." The sense of despair overwhelmed him, trebling his exhaustion. His legs hurt, his abdomen hurt, his shoulder was starting to throb horribly where the refrigerator had hit it, and he couldn't actually remember his feet ever hurting worse than this; when he'd bled into the snow as he ran away from Auschwitz, the cold had turned the feet into numb lumps, and so the pain had ceased, though the damage had probably been worse.
"Not necessarily, mister. But you're the one who said she'd be crippled. What happened?"
"How should I know? She should be crippled! She should have been lying here incapacitated, with nothing to stop me from taking my body back! I don't know how she got away, I don't know why she's not crippled, all I know is that you, with your incompetence, have lost her, and she's going to kill again and again until you stop her!"
"Our incompetence?" Iceman asked. "We're not the ones who got our bodies stolen by some random chick off the street."
"Bobby, you hush up," Rogue snapped. "Ah'm sure Magnus feels bad enough about what happened without you rubbin' it in his face."
"Yeah, well, he's the one calling us incompetent, and I don't see him actually being all that fantastic at the moment, you know?"
"The stakes are a little higher right now than your latest attempt at world conquest getting foiled, Magneto," Cyclops said. "You're working on the side of the angels this time, and that means you don't have the option of throwing your hands up in the air and saying to hell with it if your first plan doesn't work out. I need to know where she'd have likely gone, and you're the expert, mister, whether you like it or not. So, if she's not stuck here crippled, and she obviously isn't, then why not? Is it possible she left before attacking? If so, and we can retrace her route, she might be parked by the side of the road, unconscious. If not, then why not? Is it possible that when Cortez aped your power enough to kill you, the effects were permanent, and the only reason you didn't test out the high limits of your range was that you were experienced with it being dangerous, so you never found out your range had improved?"
"What Cortez did to me did indeed permanently amplify my power," Erik said tiredly. "But I did test the range of the amplification. I never accept limitations unless I must, Cyclops; I test myself constantly. And I still did not have that kind of power. As for whether or not she left first... yes. Yes, that must be it. She thought I would contact superheroes and attack her, so as soon as she lost me she must have moved. Did Charles initiate contact with her, or her with him?"
"He was using Cerebro. I assume he made contact."
"That's it, then." He closed his eyes. "So we've lost her. She could be anywhere."
"Ah'm afraid he's got a point, Cyclops," Rogue said. "There's a truck stop right off this exit, and Ah went through there with mah porta-Cerebro. Didn't get so much as a nibble, let alone an indicator for a mutant powerful as Magneto. An' if she was taken out by that wave that made us crash the Blackbird, then there ain't no way she could've gotten to the truck stop after Ah left it."
"Dat's de t'ing," Gambit said. "We've been all over de place wit' de petits Cerebros, and de only mutant sign we got at all was de minute one for Magneto's new body. So where den might she've gone?"
"Probably onto I-80," Cyclops said. "Trouble is, the Blackbird flies too fast for the porta-Cerebro to get a reading. We'd need to drive up and down the highway, and we just don't know-- she had at least two hours from the point where we got the phone call until we got the pulse wave, and maybe longer than that. Magneto, how long would it have taken her to move all the furniture in her house out and leave? And at what time this morning did you escape?"
He didn't know. He didn't know, and he had to know, because it was the only way they were going to stop her. Erik mentally cudgeled his sluggish brain into movement. "I don't... I think I must have left at nine, something like that... what time did I call?"
"So then... four hours... no, because I saw her in the woods. Maybe... maybe two hours... it doesn't seem like enough time, but maybe."
"She attacked at around three thirty. We were almost here when the EMP took out the Blackbird."
"Oh... yes, right... I thought your technology was shielded."
"Then she's going to have half the world searching for her. Me. If she took out a shielded airplane..."
"We must have been practically on top of her at the time. And we were able to reinitialize in time to keep from actually crashing, though it wasn't a nice landing."
"It seems," Storm said, "that it is indeed possible that the body snatcher fled before Charles made contact with her, but there are entirely too many variables to say how far she might have gone. I suggest that we follow whatever route Logan points out for us, but that if it yields nothing, we return home, regroup and plan another approach in the morning. We will get nowhere without a sensible plan devised by clear heads."
"And what if she kills tonight, while we're all sleeping and clearing our heads?" Erik asked harshly.
Storm bowed her head. "Then we accept that failure onto our consciences. But unless Logan finds her now, we will not successfully be able to find her tonight, not without a better plan than we have. It is also unlikely that she will kill tonight, not when she is fleeing from justice, and possibly crippled. And you, Magnus, plainly need rest desperately. In your own body, I'm sure the exertions you've undergone today would be nothing, but this one is clearly frailer."
"No. You are most certainly not fine." She shook her head. "Let us leave the search to the others for the moment, and return to the Blackbird. Jean can contact us telepathically if our input is needed."
She put her hand on his arm. He threw it off furiously, standing. "I don't need your coddling, Ororo!"
"Who's speaking of coddling? If we wish to return home tonight, someone is needed to make sure the Blackbird will indeed actually fly, and since Hank is not with us, you are probably the most experienced at mechanical repair that we have."
"Now wait a minute." Archangel stared at Storm. "You're not going to let him mess around with the Blackbird, are you?"
"Since he'll be aboard it when we return to the mansion, I hardly think he'll try to kill us all," Storm said. "And there's no denying that he's the most adept of any of us when it comes to machinery."
"Yes, but with his powers!"
"And I understood weather and winds when I had lost mine. Power can be an excellent tool for learning, but once one has learned, the knowledge remains when the power is gone."
"Ah'll help," Rogue volunteered.
"Then let us go."
It was only after he actually got a chance to look at the Blackbird and check its systems that he realized that Ororo had manipulated him, although, to be honest, it wasn't as if she'd ever given him a chance to refuse her request, either. But the Blackbird was fine. Some damage to the electronics, but not nearly enough to prevent them from flying; some physical damage, again not enough to hamper flight; and after the electronics were IPLed and the engines had spun up, the plane ran just fine. The whole thing had been a pretext to get him to the Blackbird while giving him a face-saving excuse. He wasn't sure whether he was being prevented from punching Iceman in the face or protected from being murdered by someone like Archangel. Maybe both. The punching Iceman thing had come awfully close to reality a few times, and only the thought of the humiliation he'd suffer when Iceman retaliated and trapped him in ice and he'd be powerless to break free had held him back.
Exhaustion warred with annoyance at Storm and the need to seem stronger than he was lest Rogue start trying to mother him. Instead, he went rummaging through the cabin for the travel rations. Storm came in while he was wondering if his mind had actually gone or if they'd moved the storage locker. "Is there something I can help you with, Magnus?"
"Don't you still have the sandwiches?" he asked, more peevishly than he'd intended to.
She went to the other side of the Blackbird and flipped open something that hadn't looked like any sort of hatch at all. "We've remodeled the interior somewhat. What would you like? There is ham, turkey, roast beef, cheese, and vegemite."
He blinked at her. "Vegemite?"
"I acquired a taste for it when we were in Australia. I have a habit of going native, wherever I am." She smiled, somewhat sheepishly.
"Roast beef, please." After the blood loss, he felt sure some iron would do him good. And that reminded him. "Do you still have... well..." No, he would not lose his nerve. She'd seen him injured before. "The portable medical equipment? Regenerators, painkillers, the like?"
"Of course." She tossed him the roast beef sandwich and a small bottled water. "Right over here."
There were regenerators in three different shapes-- a small circle the size of his palm, a large rectangle nearly the size of his entire back, and a thin, slender rod. The rod was the kind of thing he needed desperately for the internal bleeding, but there was no way to carry the regenerator into the airplane's tiny bathroom without making it really obvious to Storm, and Rogue too if she were to come in while he was holding it, exactly what the body snatcher had done to him. It made him physically ill that Jean Grey knew. Storm and Rogue were the closest he had to friends among the X-Men; he could not bear their pity any more than he could bear the rest of the X-Men's probable amusement in his humiliation. He settled for taking the palm-sized one and applying it to his feet, while devouring the sandwich like a starving animal. When he got to Xavier's mansion, there was a full-body regenerator he could use.
Ten minutes and two more sandwiches later, the rest of the X-Men showed up. They seemed discouraged. Erik knew what the answer was going to be, but couldn't stop himself from asking, "What did you find?"
"We lost the trail on the main road leading to Interstate 80," Bishop said tersely.
"We'll head for home," Cyclops said. "Talk to the Professor, find out if he found out anything about her when he contacted her. Tomorrow we'll regroup and come up with a better plan, as Storm suggested, but I think we've done all we can today."
Erik said nothing. He kept feeling there should be something they were doing, anything, that to leave now was to give up. It smacked unfortunately of fleeing yet another destroyed base and another shattered plan for world conquest, in fact. Cyclops had pointed out the similarity himself, but didn't seem to care now. It was so galling to have been so close to bringing her down, getting his body back, taking revenge... another day in this body seemed an unbearable burden, and the thought that she might kill again weighed on his heart. But common sense told him that Cyclops and Ororo were right; he himself was dead on his feet, in severe pain, and barely able to maintain his concentration on anything. Tonight he could use the regenerator, heal the damage to this body, and get some sleep. Tomorrow he'd have a fresh mind, and perhaps if he could piece together the sequence of events, when exactly she had fled, it would help in tracking her down.
He sat down in one of the Blackbird's chairs in the back. There were almost not enough chairs to go around; ten X-Men did not usually take the Blackbird out somewhere. Only Storm's decision-- prompted, she claimed, by a touch of claustrophobia, and the desire not to leave any stone unturned-- to take one of the portable Cerebros and sweep up and down I-80 for a bit while the rest of them were flying to New York, left a chair free for him. The plane sounded and felt much like it had the handful of times he'd been aboard it as an X-Man, flying to the latest disaster area, but it felt far more enclosing than when he'd been able to track everything the engine was doing, when he'd been able to tear it apart with his mind and fly free. He disliked being so close to the X-Men. Bishop was sitting across from him, looking at him. As if he could do anything, here and now. As if he weren't totally powerless.
He turned away from Bishop, to stare out the windshield, but it was too far away, a distant smudge of darkness and stars. In the Sonderkommando barracks he'd stared out at the stars at night, after he had enough seniority to grab a bunk by the window, and imagined someday flying away to them, like an astronaut in the science fiction novels he'd loved as a boy. In the body snatcher's bedroom, there was a window across from the bed, and he'd turned his head to stare out at the stars as she did what she pleased with him, longing for the freedom of space, of his fallen asteroid. In the camp, in the body snatcher's home, the thought of being aboard an airplane, safe, being transported to the home of an old friend, would have been something to dream of desperately, a wondrous fantasy with which to shut out the awful reality. Now he was here. Why wasn't it enough? Why did he want to attack them all, tear free, run and keep running?
No point to that. And he was so tired. He closed his eyes, just for a moment. In his tense condition it wasn't as if he'd be able to sleep, he was sure. Not surrounded by enemies. But he just needed to close his eyes for a bit.
The plane lurched. He smelled ozone, felt his hair stand on end, opened his mouth to scream-- and the plane tore apart. As he'd done to them a dozen times, but now he was in the plane, and he heard them screaming as they fell, and he was falling. The wind whipped their screams away, rushed into his mouth and silenced his. Auschwitz had taught him new reflexes-- in the face of absolute terror, he rarely screamed. Instead, his throat froze and he could not speak. He was falling, falling to his death for he had no powers, couldn't catch the lines and bend them around him to hold him up, and she was below him, in his body, smiling. There was no way to fly, to change trajectory, to bend cruel gravity to his will. The body snatcher floated beneath him, naked and erect and laughing, and as he fell directly toward her arms his throat unfroze, and he did scream.
His body jerked wildly. Male arms were touching him, shaking him. The body snatcher's? But when he opened his eyes, the skin was dark brown. The sight was a reassuring jolt of reality. Where he'd grown up, the only dark-skinned people were fellow victims; most of the superheroes who'd attacked him in his career, and all of the Nazis and Russians and other thugs who'd abused him, were white. He looked up into Bishop's face-- but hadn't the plane been torn apart? And then he realized.
"Are you all right?" Bishop asked gruffly.
The X-Men were all staring at him. Erik's face flamed. He must have screamed in reality as well. He should have known better than to fall asleep here, to even risk it by closing his eyes when he was so exhausted. "I'm fine," he said shortly.
"Good." Bishop returned to his seat. Erik wondered if Bishop had been hovering over him due to concern for his well-being or preparing to strike if he were somehow threatening. Possibly both. He'd never met the man before today, but he recognized a soldier when he saw one.
"Musta been one hell of a dream, dat," Gambit said from the seat in front of him. "All dat screamin' an' carryin' on."
Erik went absolutely white. In the dream, he hadn't been able to scream. Had he been doing so in real life the whole time he'd been trying in the dream? And then Rogue said, "What screaming and carrying on, Remy? Most Ah heard was a little gasp, and then Bishop woke him up. Your hearing must be amazin'."
The last had been clearly sarcastic, but Gambit (Remy? That was his real name?) took it as flirtation. "Ain't de only amazin' t'ing about Gambit, chere," he said, grinning broadly.
"Could show you a few of Gambit's amazin' talents, if you really wanted."
Erik stared at the side of the Blackbird fixedly and wondered what exactly he had done to deserve this, and if perhaps he should have let them sentence him to death at his trial. Perhaps in the long run his suffering would have been less.
He didn't sleep again for the rest of the trip to the mansion.
END CHAPTER TWO
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