Body and Soul I: The Body Snatcher
Chapter 2: Crawling from the Ruins
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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