Body and Soul I: The Body Snatcher

Chapter 3: With Friends Like These...

Part A

The world weighs on my shoulders
But what am I to do?
You sometimes drive me crazy
But I worry about you
I know it makes no difference
To what you're going through
But I see the tip of the iceberg
And I worry about you
--Rush, Distant Early Warning

Erik felt claustrophobic in the extreme as the X-Men trooped upstairs from the Blackbird's hangar to the mansion proper, with him in the middle of them. He felt as if they were deliberately surrounding him, deliberately walking slowly to pin him so he couldn't get the medical attention he needed and the sleep he longed for. Physically he was too exhausted to push past them, even if he'd dared when they had powers and he did not.

As they exited the bowels of the mansion, Erik could hear Henry McCoy's booming voice. "...extremely foolish of you, Charles. You're far from recovered, and I must say it is extraordinarily ill-advised of you to go flitting about the mansion at the moment..."

Xavier came through the door, apparently paying no attention at all to the Beast. He was propped against the back of his hoverchair, resting his head, which was bandaged, against a large pillow. The bandages covered one eye, angled over to cover his ear and the entire left side of his head, running down his neck; they also wrapped around both temples, encircling the head there. The bandages didn't appear to indicate an impairment in his power, though; Erik felt the briefest of brushes against his mind, and then Xavier's good eye focused on him, his face lighting up.

"Magnus." The chair hummed over to where Erik stood, the X-Men stepping smoothly out of its way as if they'd practiced the move. "The circumstances could be better, but you have no idea how glad I am to see you're alive."

Xavier's hands reached out for him, as if to grasp his forearms or shoulders. It was a gesture they'd performed with one another a thousand times, a gesture of friendship, but Erik stiffened and pulled back before he could stop himself, before he could reassure himself that it was only Charles. Stupid, stupid. He'd always steeled himself before facing the body snatcher so he wouldn't try uselessly to pull away and thus humiliate himself, but it hadn't occurred to him that he'd need to steel himself against flinching from Charles.

He saw some emotion flicker across Charles' face-- sorrow? pity? probably pity, he thought bitterly-- and disappear just as rapidly, composing back into the calmly pleased expression he'd worn before. His hands came to rest on Erik's own, clasping him there rather than the upper arms. That, Erik could allow and respond to without fear, though Charles' grip seemed stronger than what he was used to feeling.

"Are you?" Erik asked. He meant it to come out acerbically, but he was too tired, and more of his bitterness showed than he'd intended.

"Our last meeting has haunted me for months, Magnus. I hoped you might still be alive, though there was no evidence to believe so, because I wanted a chance to try to put things right, to resolve our differences. It's as if, the last time I saw you was at your trial, and after that, when you vowed to take my students for me. The next time I saw you, you attacked me and made horrible accusations." He shook his head, and then winced in pain. "Ow. I shouldn't do that."

"No, most assuredly you should not," Beast said. "Charles, you should be resting. Horizontally. In a bed."

"What happened here?" Cyclops asked.

"Magneto's enemy blew up the power core, in my body," Xavier said ruefully. "I really didn't know that if you hit a Shi'ar power core with a fire extinguisher often enough, it blows up. Fortunately I was able to force her out of my body before the explosion, so I was able to get mostly out of the way, but it was a near thing."

"Wait," Erik said, cold fingers of fear sliding up his spine. "She took your body from mine? She told me she couldn't do that!"

"Apparently, she can-- at least when a telepath attacks her." Xavier frowned. "We'll discuss this in the morning at a full debriefing. At the moment, my head feels as if I've been using it for a cannonball, and you, my friend, look as if you need sleep desperately. Jean's briefed me on the situation with Davies; I can say for certain that Davies had already fled, and had pulled over to the side of some small local road, when I probed her, and she used a pulse attack after I'd regained my own body. So it's very likely she's still there, as incapacitated as you expected, Magnus. She isn't going to kill anyone tonight. So we have time to get some rest."

Charles' belief that the body snatcher was, in fact, crippled, and that there was a logical explanation for why she hadn't been at the house, gave Erik a small sense of relief, though he was far too tired to track Charles' explanation completely. Something else Charles had said bothered him, though. "How much did Jean tell you?" he asked harshly.

"She briefed me on your efforts to capture the body snatcher." //She didn't tell me anything else, Magnus.//

//If she didn't tell you anything else, how do you know there's else to be told?//

//Firstly, you're broadcasting anxiety linked to "Jean" and "telling me things", which leads me to the belief you told me something or she read something in your mind in confidence. Secondly, though... I wasn't able to read Lee Davies in any detail, but what I did read, simply on a light surface scan, told me that she's extremely ill, or else quite evil, or perhaps both. I know she abused you sexually, because it was in the top of her thoughts when I scanned her. I'm sorry.//

//You're sorry. Every damned telepath who invades my privacy is always sorry. It doesn't help, Charles!//

//You saw me when Stryker had broken me and reduced me to a gibbering religious fanatic determined to murder those I loved most. In comparison, you're tired, injured and cranky, but your will is still strong and, despite what she tried to do to change it, you know who you are. You've resisted better than I did... you don't need to be ashamed of what happened to you.//

Erik wasn't in the mood for Xavier's transparent manipulations. He firmed his mindshield, blocking further conversation. "I am too tired to stand here talking, Charles. I wish only a private visit to the medical bay, a shower, and sleep. Does any of this present difficulties?"

"Er... the private visit to the medical lab does, yes," Beast said.

Erik glared at him. "What, do you fear I'll switch the labels on the medications in an effort to poison you all, or something? I assure you, until I have my body back I have no desire to harm my allies."

"No, no, that's not the difficulty at all. I fear that with the power core down, all Shi'ar equipment in the mansion is currently non-functional."

"But you have non-Shi'ar medical tech--"

"No longer, sad to say. You see, we didn't foresee any need for it, so we donated it to Columbia University Hospital. Everything we currently have is Shi'ar state of the art, to be sure, and far superior to any Earthly technologies we used to possess-- except when the power core goes down. And while we did retain a small amount of quite elderly backup equipment, it wasn't electromagnetically shielded, and therefore is as non-functional as the rest."

"So you have no medical equipment at all?" Erik's voice came out far shriller than he'd intended.

"No, no, I didn't mean to say that. But what we have requires simultaneous advanced knowledge of medicine, mutant biochemistry, Shi'ar glyphs, and the idiosyncrasies of the technology. All the computer assistance we normally find so helpful is sadly offline, the end result being that I am the only person in the mansion knowledgeable enough to use the technology."

"I'm sure I can figure it out."

"Magneto. With the assistance of your powers, when you are fully alert, and when you are not the patient, I have no doubt but that you'd be capable of handling it. With no powers to assist you, however, and in your current state of exhaustion and medical need, I consider it sufficiently unsafe that, on my authority as the X-Men medic, I am not going to let you try. I may be able to do little about Charles abusing his health, but at the moment, my small talents are more than sufficient to pick you up and carry you if I were to find you attempting to use the equipment unwisely." McCoy grinned, an expression that was probably supposed to mark what he said as humor. Given that he was at least three times Erik's current mass, however, and that he was one of the original X-Men, the staunchest enemies he had here, Erik could not take the threat as anything other than deadly serious. He fought back a shudder at the fear Beast's threat to bodily manhandle him evoked.

"That won't be necessary," he said sharply. "It isn't important."

"Really, you needn't be concerned. I'm more than willing to assist you-- I do take the Hippocratic Oath quite seriously, so you need not fear that our past differences should create problems in your medical care."

"It isn't necessary, I said." He couldn't keep it from coming out as a snarl. "I'll simply go to my room and rest. Or is there some reason why that will not be possible either?'

"Of course you can do that," Xavier said. "Rogue, take him to his old room, the suite near mine. See if you can find him a change of clothes after you've got him squared away."

"Sure thing," Rogue said, and turned to him. "C'mon, sugar, let's get you a place to stay."

When he'd moved in last time, Charles had given him one of the suites because he had a live-in lover-- Lee-- and because it was a trust issue. By putting him near himself, when he was too ill to defend himself, Charles was saying that he trusted Magnus, that he was not expecting an attack in the night. Perhaps giving him that room now was intended to remind Erik of those pleasant times, when true reconciliation seemed possible, as a way of manipulating him when he was weak. Or perhaps it was a reverse of that initial gesture, intended to tell the X-Men that he was harmless because he was under Xavier's watchful eye. You never knew, with Xavier. But it wasn't as if Erik had a choice.

Rogue seemed stiff, uncomfortable, as they headed to the room. Perhaps the implications of his female body were finally hitting her viscerally. Erik didn't attempt to make conversation. She guided him to the door to the suite. "Ah'll bring you up some clothes from the basement," she said. "Maybe some stuff of Kitty's might fit you."

"This body isn't that short," he said incredulously.

"Maybe not-- Kitty was a skinny li'l thing. Ah'll bring up the box, and we'll find something for you, sugar. Ah promise."

"It's not that necessary. These are ill-fitting, but clean. What I need most of all is sleep."

"Ah'll bring it and leave it, then. You can go through in the morning and pick something out."

For a moment she stood there in the doorway, poised as if there were something she wanted to say, but not saying it. Erik couldn't quite bring himself to close the door on her, though he desperately wanted a shower and rest. "Was there anything else?" he finally said.

"Ah just-- Magnus, Ah--"

He took a deep breath. He didn't want to be rude, not to Rogue at least, but he was at the end of his patience. "Rogue, I'm sorry, but I'm very tired. If you would like to discuss something, this is a poor time."

"Ah just wanted to say how Ah'm real glad you're alive. Ah-- ah didn't like the way things ended, back there. Ah mean, truth was, Ah was pissed off at you for mucking with mah mind. But Ah kinda know what you're going through, and Ah'd never have wished this on you, Magnus, ever."

"You know what I'm going through?" It took an effort to control his temper. She meant well, he had to remember that. "When have you switched bodies, Rogue?"

"Other way around, sugar, remember? They switch into mine. And for a while Ah'm them as well as me, and if they're strong Ah can feel what they feel, and a lot of times they're right disconcerted to be in me. So it never happened to me-- but Ah'm the one who gets to keep their memory of it when they switch back. Ain't the same, Ah know, but it's not too far off, and if there's anything you need... anything you want to talk about..."

"I'm fine, Rogue. I only need sleep."

"Okay. Well, you just let me know if there's anything Ah can do, okay?"

And she was gone.

As he was getting into the shower, the thought occurred to Erik for the first time that Lisa Davies' power did seem related to Rogue's. With a touch, either of them could steal a soul, entombing it in their own form while they used the powers of their victim. The difference was that Rogue didn't leave her own body, and Davies' did, which made Rogue considerably more dangerous; if Davies obliterated him as Rogue had destroyed Carol Danvers, she would not have the ability to grow in power and take more into herself. Davies could only take one body at a time, and if she destroyed the one he occupied, she would be bound forever to his. Still, even the superficial resemblance disturbed him. He wondered if this was what Rogue had seen and feared in him-- the potential for one you cared about to become a monster.

Hot water sheeted over his body. He continued to think about Rogue. She irritated him in a way he couldn't articulate. It wasn't just the oversolicitiousness-- simply being near her set his teeth on edge. He didn't think it was guilt-- she had had the choice to go with him, and had instead stayed with her team to fight him again, so he didn't feel that he had treated her overly badly by brainwashing her with the rest of the X-Men. Not given the provocation her team had offered him. It was something else, something he found slightly frightening. Which was absurd. Frightened of Rogue? Yes, she was powerful, but in his current condition, the least powerful of the X-Men was still such a grave threat that adding so much power as Rogue's was irrelevant; she was realistically no greater a danger to him than any of the X-Men were, and she was the least likely to harm him of any of them. They had almost been lovers, after all...

...something about that. Afraid of Rogue harming him sexually? The thought was absurd enough that it actually made him laugh, a short sharp bark. No, not that. What then?

And then he realized it. Once he had wanted Rogue; his memories of her recently were colored with tenderness and intense desire. But when he looked at her now, the desire was entirely absent. He still felt the tenderness, but he had less than no desire for sex with her... not only did he feel no physical desire, but actually the thought of sex in any context made him ill. And because his memories were so colored with that, when he looked at her now he could not help but remember, on some level, what he used to feel, and what made him sick to think of now. Escaping the body snatcher had not freed him from what she'd done to his mind and his sexuality; even the thought of making love to a woman he'd recently found beautiful nauseated him.

That was hardly Rogue's fault, and it enraged him that he was so weak. It should be over. The body snatcher had not been the first to rape and dehumanize him; he'd recovered before, why should he have to do it again? Why could he not remember the lessons he'd learned last time? He remembered convincing himself, and then Magda, that sex between lovers was a sacred, wonderful thing, that it bore no resemblance to the experience of rape. Intellectually he still did believe that, but emotionally he had lost it, was once again conflating the two. Why? Hadn't he already learned?

It would be different with his body back, he told himself, scrubbing his sore genitals hard enough to make them bleed again, and not entirely able to make himself stop. Part of him wanted to scrub them off, to wear down the opening until it was closed again, smooth and sexless. But that wasn't what he truly wanted, no, not to be neuter-- everything would be fixed if only he were male again. This body was naturally designed to get its pleasure through receiving intercourse, a means of sex he'd never found pleasure in or had any interest in experiencing. Of course he couldn't want anyone or imagine wanting anyone. The anatomy he would want them with was absent. Once he was male again, he could recover and put it all behind him.

He stepped out of the shower, hurting but finally feeling clean. When he'd showered in his prison, he'd known the cleanliness was only temporary; the very air was filled with her, a miasma settling on him, and there was no way to keep her out, keep her off him. She was gone now; he would never need to wash her away again. That was worth a bit of pain and blood. Rogue had thoughtfully left some feminine products on top of the box of put-aside X-woman clothes; he could use that to keep from bleeding onto the bed.

Except that what she'd left were tampons. Erik stared at the things, feeling sick again. A pad hadn't bothered him; it had been uncomfortable but he'd worn things far more uncomfortable in his life, and the weight of it against his vaginal opening had felt like armor, somewhat reassuring. Tampons, however, went inside. He couldn't do that. The one time he'd tried it had been sheer agony. The idea of perpetrating on himself another violation, even with something so small and thin as a tampon, made his gorge rise. He took the bag of tampons and threw it in the trash, and then put back on his underwear from the police station, with the bloody pad still in it. That was filthy, but better to endure a bit of this body's natural filth being pressed against him than to dirty clean sheets with it.

He threw himself on the bed. It was big and too soft to be comfortable; in his own body he'd had a bad back and had learned to love extra-firm mattresses. The mattress in his cell had been worn out, though, and this was an improvement over that. Feeling as if he would be vaguely unsafe if he wrapped himself in blankets, thereby making it impossible for himself to leap out of bed on short notice, he lay on top of the bed and closed his eyes. The moment he did, sleep started to wash over him in dizzying waves, like a tide suddenly becoming a tsunami. He didn't fight it.

Pain woke him, as it often did-- the need to urinate pressing painfully against his injuries inside. This body woke him to urinate two or three times a night as a general rule; he didn't know whether that was normal for it or due to the damage the body snatcher had done it. For a moment he was disoriented, wondering why the bed seemed larger and softer than he was used to, until he remembered where he was.

He should not have to endure this pain. Not anymore. The X-Men had the technology to heal him; even if McCoy was telling the truth, and he probably was, about being unable to use the equipment in the medical lab without the ability to read Shi'ar fluently, there was a device that could do the job in the Blackbird. Rather than hunt through the box for clothing that would fit, he put on the shapeless sweatclothes again, and left his room.

The house seemed dark, but that could be misleading-- it was a sufficiently large mansion that there could be any number of pockets of activity that couldn't be seen or heard from here. He had no idea what time it was. The multiple naps he'd taken today had entirely ruined his time sense. But it had to be late, late enough that he could risk it. He slipped down the hallway and down the stairwell. The main passages to different floors were elevators, in deference to Charles, but additional stairwells had been installed for speed, out of the way and to the sides of the house, and because they were out of the way they weren't commonly used. Most people either used the main stairs, the main elevators, or if they could fly they'd flip open the top of the elevator and fly up the shaft. Kitty Pryde had commonly walked down through the ceiling. The side stairs never got used. So they were perfect for him.

On the basement level he left the stairwell more confidently, since it seemed unlikely anyone would be hanging around down here late at night, and headed for the hangar. Just as he neared the doors, however, a menacing shape seemed to melt out of the shadows. Involuntarily Erik took a step backward. "What are you doing down here?" Archangel asked. His voice seemed to have deepened and harshened with his transformation, or maybe just through age; no longer did he sound like the pretty-boy preppie with the golden tenor voice. There had been a time when Erik had found it impossible to take Angel seriously-- the poor little rich boy with the Aryan-dream looks and the too-pretty swan wings, a useless advertisement for Xavier's happy vision of equality who played at being a superhero because it was more fun than being a bored playboy. He had often singled Angel out in those days, seeing the rich boy as the potential weak link. Now--

--well. Now was not the circumstance under which Erik really wanted to have a run-in with Apocalypse's blue-skinned protégé, the Archangel of Death with his killer wings that would be nothing to Erik, metal as they were, if he had his powers. Since he didn't have them now, he had to take Archangel entirely seriously. "None of your concern," he snapped. "My business is personal and will not affect the X-Men in any way."

"That's what you say." Archangel stepped forward, forcing Erik to back up again. "But we all know how honest you are, Magneto, so excuse me if I find it a little hard to believe you." The wings flexed slightly. Erik backed up again, wondering if he was going to have to flee for his life. Of all the X-Men, Archangel probably hated him the most.

"What you believe doesn't concern me. I am Charles' guest here, and I'd hardly be such a fool as to antagonize him. Let me pass."

"I don't think so. You might have suckered Charles-- you've done it before. But whatever it is you're really after, you're not going through me to get it."

Ah yes, the dread danger of allowing me medical equipment! But he couldn't say that, couldn't admit weakness to Archangel of all people. "Tell me, Archangel, were you sitting about in the shadows waiting for me to try to approach the hangar? I can't see any other reason for you to be here."

"This is my house, in case you hadn't noticed."

"The last time I checked, actually Charles' name was on the deed, and yours was not. I'm sure he's grateful for all the monetary assistance you've given him, but that hardly entitles you to own his house. And since I am his guest, not yours, I do not see what right you have to restrict my movements."

"What right? A murdering sociopathic supervillain wants to know what right I have to stop him from prowling around in my own home?" The wings flexed again, this time powerfully enough that Erik quickly took two steps backward. "You've got a hell of a lot of nerve, Magneto!" He stepped forward and grabbed Erik's collar, shoving him toward the wall.

Utter panic hit. Erik kicked Archangel in the stomach and tore free, throwing himself to the floor as deadly sharp wings swept through the space where a split second ago, his head would have been. He tried to scoot backward, out of range, and hit the wall. Archangel came toward him with a deadly look in his eyes, the wings dipping low, as if to slice an opponent on the floor. Sick humiliation warred with terror, as Erik stared up at the man who was about to kill him.

And then Archangel staggered backwards several steps, his wings pushed back. Cool air ruffled Erik's hair, blowing in an impossible bending pattern along the wall and then out toward Archangel. "Warren!" Storm's voice cut through the rush of wind. "Stand aside!"

"The son-of-a-bitch just attacked me, Ororo!" Archangel shouted. "Why the hell are you defending this piece of trash?"

"Attacked you? With what powers?" Storm's voice was like ice. "What right have you to use your wings against a powerless opponent?"

"He should have known better! I can't control the wings all the time-- you know that. They respond to my emotions, not my conscious mind. I wouldn't ordinarily have used my wings on an unarmed opponent, but this is Magneto we're talking about here!"

"Who is here as our guest, to assist us in tracking down the serial killer in his body. It is not an excuse, to attack or kill because your emotions had control of you! My emotions govern my powers, and I can refrain from killing. If you truly cared so much for the X-Men's ideals as you say, you would not attack a powerless opponent no matter who he is."

"I didn't mean to. I said that. But you don't have any clue what this bastard's done to me. He's tortured me, sucked out my life force, kidnapped my parents for Christ's sake-- do you really expect me to keep control when he kicks me in the stomach? Would you be that forgiving, Ororo? It isn't like I meant to kill him, or attack him."

"You forget so easily, Archangel," Erik said, dry-mouthed. "I also saved your life."

"Yeah, so you could use me, lie to me about who you were and turn me against Ka-Zar to protect yourself. I haven't forgotten."

"You seem to have a habit of being rescued by supervillains for that purpose," Erik said. "Of course, I only wished you to stop Ka-Zar from attacking me. Apocalypse wanted to make you a mindless killing machine, and it seems he was more successful at turning you than I."

The wings swept out again. Erik screamed as they caught his leg, gashing it before Ororo's winds threw Archangel across the room.

Archangel threw his hands out in a peace gesture at Ororo. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I shouldn't-- I shouldn't have lost control. I just..." He trailed off.

"Magnus is under my supervision now," Ororo said coldly. "Go. Leave here. Since you do not have the ability to control your emotions, and your killing wings, around him, you are not to approach him for any reason."

"And if I find him prowling around the house?"

"You tell me, or Cyclops. You stay away from him at all times." She knelt by Erik, inspecting the wound. "It's not pleasant, but we can heal this easily enough."

"Fine. That suits me. I don't want to be anywhere near him. But if I find out he's plotting to murder us all in our beds, don't expect me to stand around while you lecture me about self-control." Archangel turned on his heel and left.

"Magnus, it was terribly foolish of you to provoke him like that. Why did you?"

"Hypocrisy enrages me," Erik said, breathing hard. The wound was actually several short, deep, parallel slashes where each individual feather had cut, and it hurt like hell, far worse than being cut on his leg should hurt. "He hates me so terribly, yet he sold his soul to Apocalypse to get his wings back. At least all the crimes I have committed, I did believing I was doing the right thing. He thought nothing of the right thing, only the loss of his powers. Yet he claims to stand on higher moral ground than I?"

"He was badly hurt, and deeply depressed, and betrayed. We cannot hold his actions in such a moment of duress against him. Let me help you to the infirmary."

"Why? There is medical equipment on the Blackbird, and it's closer."

"Of course. You're right, that is a better choice."

She helped him to his feet. He swayed, feeling cold and dizzy. "I seem to recall his wings are poisoned?"

"There will be an antivenin for it on the Blackbird. Here, Magnus, let me--" and she lifted him. The dizziness and numbness in his leg was severe enough that he let her. Despite the fact that the last person to so carry him was the body snatcher, the panic didn't arise. He was surprised that she could, but then, his new body was a small woman, and Ororo was a tall woman, who exercised and built up her strength all the time.

This wasn't the way he'd wanted to come to the Blackbird, or use the equipment. Ororo injected his leg with the antivenin for Archangel's neurotoxin, explaining that he had received a very small dose of it and should be fine, and then ran the regenerator over his leg. He sat quietly, letting the medicine and the regeneration take effect.

"I must ask, though, Magnus... why were you down here? I cannot imagine what you intended to find in this hangar."

"Medical equipment. On the Blackbird," he said, breathing raggedly as the medicine warred with Archangel's venom, giving him alternating sweats and chills. "Weren't you searching for the body snatcher?"

"I was. I could not find her, so I returned home. Jean advised me that Charles believes her to be incapacitated, and I am not so young as I once was, to go all night without sleep." She smiled.

"If I recall, you're not yet 30. You can start complaining about your age when you're 40, Ororo, not until."

"Oh, hush. I can complain about getting older if I wish. It's a woman's prerogative." She laid a wet paper towel on his forehead. "The side effects will soon pass."

"My thanks."

"You're welcome." She looked at him quizzically. "You said you wanted the medical equipment in the Blackbird, and I don't understand. We had you here in the Blackbird for some time today. If there were any medical treatments that could be done here, why didn't you request they be done while you were here?"

"My reasons are personal, Ororo, and I don't wish to share them. I give you my word, all I wanted was medical equipment."

"But Hank would treat you without prejudice. You do realize that, don't you?"

"I don't care! My medical problems are not things I wish to share with the X-Men, any of the X-Men!"

Storm took a step back, as if taken aback by his unexpected vehemence. He put a hand to his forehead, taking the paper towel off. "My... apologies, Storm. I didn't mean to shout at you. I've just had a very trying day."

"Magnus..." She sat down next to him, and took his hand. He looked at her, surprised. "My friend. I am so sorry I didn't realize. All of us have behaved insensitively to you, haven't we?"

She knows. Once again he'd given himself away. He turned his head away, angrily. "There's nothing to be ashamed of, Ororo. I didn't want you to know. Any of you."

"Still. I'm a woman, I should have guessed. You told us of your enemy's proclivities, and yet it never occurred to me-- I never thought--"

"Leave it, Ororo. I don't wish to discuss it."

She stood up. "I think I know what you want."

Storm opened the cabinet with the medical supplies, and took out the thin rod-shaped regenerator. "If you're satisfied that you know how to use this, I shall be checking to see if the refueling is done. Call me if you need any assistance." She handed him the device and swept out of the medical bay.

It was painful and incredibly difficult, far more than he'd thought it would be, to get the regenerator inside where it would do any good; his vaginal opening seemed far tighter than usual, or perhaps it was just that Davies had never minded tearing him and causing pain when she entered, whereas he was being much more careful. Inside, it burned, but he knew that to be a side effect of regeneration. It would burn, and then itch, and then all such sensations would pass and the tissue would be healed, scarred perhaps but healed. He concentrated on that, reminding himself that this would end the pain, that the thing inside him making its presence so palpably known was the healing device he'd risked his life against Archangel for, not another violation.

When it was done, he put his pants back on, washed off the regenerator carefully, and walked back out. He still felt a little wobbly, a combination of the venom/antivenin battle and the stress of regeneration. Ororo was sitting on the stairs down from the Blackbird's door. She turned as his footsteps sounded at the top of the stair. "Everything attended to?"

"Yes. My thanks."

"There's a matter we should discuss, that I hadn't thought of before." She flew up to the top of the stairs before he could descend any further. "Come inside with me?"

He saw no reason not to, and stepped inside. "What's the matter? Something to do with the body snatcher?"

"No, more to do with your health."

"I've dealt with it."

"There are things no regenerator we have can deal with." She looked at him intently. "Magnus, this is a difficult question to ask, but... is there any possibility you are pregnant?"

His face burned. Damn this body and how easily it showed humiliation. "What does it matter?"

"It matters a great deal. Firstly, none of our equipment could detect it; our health care is calibrated to deal with life-threatening injuries, not natural life processes. There are simpler tests, of course, but we'd actively have to get them for you. And if you are... it must change how we deal with the body snatcher. We could not simply hand her over to the authorities once she was back in her own body if that body was carrying your child."

"It wouldn't make any difference." Because he'd kill her once she was in her own body, and if this body was carrying a child of rape, better it die anyway. He didn't want to be tied by blood to such a monster. But he couldn't tell Ororo that. "The first switch was... traumatic. I suspect a pregnancy would miscarry, if she switched back into this body."

"Then it's even more important to know. Is there a chance of it?"

"I don't know."

"I understand you wouldn't know for certain, but I ask only if we should test you for it. If you've had a very recent menstrual cycle, perhaps we wouldn't need to worry about the possibility. But if the cycle has been delayed--"

"I was married, Ororo. My wife bore me children. I know how female biology works; there's no need to condescend to me."

"So then when was this body's last menstrual cycle?"

"I don't know! I've been bleeding sporadically for the past four weeks! How am I supposed to tell the difference between injury and nature in a body that isn't even mine?"

Her eyes widened, stricken. "Oh, Magnus... I am sorry."

"I said, leave it. It's over now."

"No, it means we don't know. And if there is a chance... there's another possibility as well, which the working equipment wouldn't reveal, that of disease. We don't know what might be present in this body, that she'd possibly have infected yours with."

"I'll deal with that when I get my body back."

"You can't wait that long to find out if you're pregnant, though. Not if switching might cause a miscarriage."

"Why should I care?"

"Why should you care if there is a miscarriage? Am I mishearing you, Magnus? You've always been concerned with the innocent, particularly mutants, and you must realize that the child of two mutants would be far more likely to be one."

He took a deep breath. "If I am carrying that monster's child I will abort it. I did not consent to mix my genes with her and I don't want to see my line muddied with the genes of a rapist. I myself, terrorist and sometime madman, am bad enough."

"You speak as if you take eugenics seriously. But you know a child of rape is no more likely to be a rapist than anyone else. There's no gene for that. At least not for Lee Davies' particular brand of evil."

He didn't want to be having this discussion. He would not carry the child of rape in his body, like a parasite. Kill it before it had a chance to evolve into a child, before he grew emotionally attached and started thinking of it as an innocent victim. If it existed at all. "It's irrelevant, Ororo. I will get my body back, and then it won't matter."

"Would you not even wish to know?"

To know it wasn't true? To know he would never have to look back with the murder of his own child on his conscience, if something in his mind shifted years later? That would be helpful. It would not be at all helpful to confirm that there was a pregnancy, but he'd be willing to take that risk to know for sure that there wasn't. "I believe they sell tests for that in drugstores now, don't they?"

"Yes, they do. But I have had another thought, given the risk of disease... and also, the fact that you simply can't be as familiar with a female body as you would be with a male."

"What thought was that?"

"Do you remember Dr. Wilder?"

He thought back and couldn't remember the name. "Give me a context. Who is he?"

"She. We X-Women have been going for our gynecological needs to Dr. Wilder, in New York City, since I joined this team. She's not a mutant, but she specializes in treating mutants and superhumans. I thought you might remember her since the female New Mutants also used her services."

"I left the New Mutants' medical care in Sharon's hands unless it was serious. I've never heard of this doctor."

"I'm not surprised." She laughed. "Firstly, you're a man, and secondly, you don't tend to notice humans who work for the benefit of mutants. Dr. Wilder is very good. Because she specializes in superhumans and is familiar with the strangenesses of our lives, we could tell her that you are a man in a woman's body, and she'd be able to advise you in everything you need to know to properly care for that body while you're in it."

"I doubt I need much information along those lines at all. I also doubt I need a gynecological exam, now that I've healed myself."

"She's very gentle. I imagine they examined you in the hospital, but Dr. Wilder has a great deal of empathy for her patients. She's never hurt me or the other women on the team. In fact, I had no idea that most women find such examinations unpleasant until Jean and I both had an appointment and Jean commented about much gentler Dr. Wilder is than most gynecologists, even the female ones."

He was tired, and he wanted to go back to his room. And a gynecologist might be able to help him find a reputable abortionist, if it came to that, without having to approach any of the X-Men with the problem. "Very well, then. Give me her number and I'll make an appointment."

"No need. I'll call tomorrow and arrange an appointment; I need an examination myself. There's a matter I wish confirmation on."

That was even better. He wouldn't have to do any of the work of setting up the appointment or arranging transportation to the city. Trains still unnerved him after all these years, and a cab ride, stuck in a car with a cabbie who wanted to make small talk for forty-five minutes or longer, would be hell right now, but without proper fake ID he couldn't rent a vehicle, and he doubted Charles would let him borrow the Rolls.

"Thank you. That will work well. Now, if you don't object, I'd like to return to bed; if we spend tomorrow searching for the body snatcher, I'll need to get up early and there'll be much to do."

"Of course. Shall I walk with you to your room?"

He thought of Archangel. "I wouldn't object."

This time, with Storm as an escort, he returned to his room via the main routes through the house. It was 1 am by the clock in the X-Men's main hallway. Use of the regenerator had as a side effect made him irresistibly sleepy, so he had no trouble falling asleep.

Something woke him, some indefinable sense of horror. It was too quiet, even in a house that should be full of silent sleeping people. Erik's heart pounded as he lay in bed, terrified of getting up, terrified of what he might find out of this room. But if there was a danger, it would find him even if he hid in his room. He forced himself out of bed, and went to the door to the room, where he hesitated. Surely it was nothing. He'd look foolish if he left his room for some vague fear he couldn't even define.

Besides, he was too frightened to open the door.

Resolutely he opened it and walked through. The halls were silent, even more so than they'd been when he'd been prowling through them before, but he couldn't say exactly how they were silent. They'd been quiet before; he couldn't quite identify what sounds there had been before that there weren't now. It was as if he were walking through a sonic muffle zone. Every step made his heart beat faster, every corner he turned startled him, and the lack of any horrors on the other side of the corridor didn't reassure him at all, somehow. Something horrible had happened. He knew it, and didn't know how he knew, but he had to find out.

The hallways went on forever, and at no point did he find any sign of life at all. It was as if he were completely abandoned in the house. But that by itself was no reason for terror; the X-Men could have been called away to the Shi'ar Empire or something in the middle of the night, that was nothing new. Yet the sense of fear mounted. By the time he actually reached the stairs, he was almost too frightened to head down them. They were too open, too wide. Anything could see him.

No. That was cowardice, and he had to know. Clinging to the wall, knees weak from fear, he descended the stairs to the X-Men's living room. Still no sign of anyone. That was normal, of course, at this hour. But he had to know. He went to the front door and opened it.

Outside, the moonlight shone down on the grassy field in front of Xavier's mansion, the smooth surface of the lawn marred by dark lumpy shapes sprawled all over it. His vision adjusted to the moonlight, and he recognized the nearer of the dark lumpy shapes. There was Rogue, sprawled with Wolverine's adamantium blade in her throat. Wolverine himself lay next to her, skull deformed and crushed into a tiny round pinhead, his mouth wide open and full of spilling gray matter. Storm was pinned to the ground like a bug by a metal I-beam. The remnants of his magnetic senses told him that there was a power field over the entire front lawn, that the metal that had killed all the X-Men was all magnetized.

Erik slammed the door and ran desperately for his room. He could hear the door smash down behind him, could hear her laughing. "Thought you could get away, sweetie? I'll kill anyone who tries to protect you, I told you that."

No. There had to be a way. He'd get to his room where Storm had given him the mutant neutralizer gun that had taken her powers, long ago. She was Forge's lover and she'd given it to him to protect himself from the body snatcher, he remembered that now. He ran with hysterical speed, lungs burning, heart slamming, his feet breaking and bleeding on the broken glass strewn throughout Xavier's destroyed mansion, but he had to get to his room, get to the gun and stop her. She'd killed all the X-Men and he was next. He could still hear her laughing, smashing walls in with bolts of power. All the doors he slammed behind him couldn't stop her. He reached his room and dove for the bed, where the gun should be underneath.

It wasn't there.

Now he remembered. Storm hadn't given him anything. Why had he thought she had?

And then the body snatcher was there, still laughing. She loomed over him, crackling with power. He tried to get to his feet, to run, but before he could even stand up she was on him, grabbing him and lifting him with one power-enhanced hand, and flinging him on the bed.

"I told you not to run away," she said, an iron club with spikes on it floating behind her head. "You're mine." Her hand was on his throat, pinning him to the bed. "Guess I'd better make sure you can't run this time."

He screamed, "NO!!!" but it didn't stop her. The iron club swung through the air and landed with full force on his legs, smashing them, as she laughed.

Body Snatcher: Chapter Three Part B

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