Body and Soul I: The Body Snatcher
Chapter 2: Crawling from the Ruins
"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."
Body Snatcher: Chapter Two Part E
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