Break Through

by Kassia


Disclaimer: Bobby Drake and his fellow X-Men, as well as Magneto, belong to Marvel. However, the story has absolutely no place in Marvel continuity. I lost track right around the time Gambit's horrible secret was revealed. Then again, I had lost track half-way though the first X-Men comic I read.

This story's mine. Please ask before archiving. Feedback can be sent to [email protected] It would be greatly appreciated. I've never written Magneto before, or so long a story.

Hope you enjoy.


Part I

Bobby Drake sat on the table, his arms wrapped around his legs, trying to still his shivering body. His breathing was shaky, desperate, and his eyes refused to stay still, darting nervously around the room and carefully avoiding the eyes of the other occupants.

There were three others. Two of them -- a brown haired man and a woman with green skin -- wore lab coats. The other man, was clad in a neat gray and blue uniform and was holding a large, futuristic-type weapon. He was giving Bobby a look of intense dislike. For the life of him, Bobby couldn't think of what he had done to merit that dislike.

The man in the lab coat looked over at Bobby. "The psi police got him bad," he commented pityingly. "Look, he's shaking."

"Just desserts." The woman's eyes rested momentarily on Bobby, her gaze also tinged with dislike. What have I ever done to you? Bobby thought mournfully.

"Excuse me, doctor," said the man in uniform. "Do you mind...? He'll regain control of his powers soon."

Powers? thought Bobby hazily. Something to do with ice, he vaguely recalled. That didn't seem very relevant now. Or was it?

She snorted. "Not for a while. I doubt his thought processes are particularly clear at the moment. I suppose it never hurts to be efficient, though." She readied some sort of mechanism as she spoke, something small and silvery and conical. "Hold him still, Acosta," she instructed the man in the lab coat.

She moved to the other side of the table, behind Bobby. He turned his head to follow her movements, but he couldn't see what she was doing. He felt her rub the base of his neck with a cotton pad, and then felt a slight prick. A needle? No. The thing was too wide to be a needle. Uh, how about anesthetic people? Bobby had been maintaining what he liked to think of as a stoic silence, but now he began to whimper. He would have yelled, except that his throat was so dry.

"Done," said the woman.

Bobby stifled a hysterical outburst and reached back to feel the base of his neck. Damn, they couldn't be done. She had left the metal thing in his neck. The woman was a psycho, a quack! She must lose tons of money yearly in medical implements alone, if she went around leaving them inside her patients. Bobby raised bewildered eyes to the other people in the room, but they seemed to find the procedure perfectly normal.

They chained Bobby's hands behind his back, definitely an unnecessary precaution. The man in gray and blue then took charge of him, leading him down several identical barren corridors. Occasionally people would flit past, some in uniform, some dressed as civilians. Apparently he was the only one in the place who had to wear ugly gray pajama-things.

Just when Bobby had begun to think they were walking down the same three hallways in an endless triangle, the guard stopped and called out to a woman in a plain gray uniform, older than the other guards Bobby had seen. In her forties, or perhaps a tired thirty-five. She had the kind of hair that you could never quite remember if it was light brown or blond or gray, and bored eyes that may have been gray or green or blue. "Hey, Skirrow! They warned you I was bringing you someone, right?"

"Yeah, they told me." She ran her eyes over Bobby and raised her eyebrows. "Doesn't look like he'll be much trouble."

"No. He hasn't tried to escape or anything."

"Maybe that's because you have a huge gun," suggested Skirrow.

The man shrugged. "Doesn't matter. He's a wreck."

Skirrow ran her eyes up and down Bobby, then motioned him towards a doorway. "Go on in."

Bobby glanced at her impassive face, then to the man with the gun, and decided he had better not argue. He entered the door she had gestured to, and gazed around. Unlike the corridors, the room was a sterile white, and the bleached monotony broken only by a bunk bed on one side and a toilet and sink on the other. Classy. He felt like a lab rat.

"You've got the rat part right," said his guard, unlocking his hand cuffs.

"Uh...telepath?" Bobby hazarded. It was the first time he'd said a real word in hours, and it came out a croak.

"No. I just read the little thought balloon hovering above your head."

"If...if you can use your powers, why can't I?"

She touched a finger to the sore spot at the base of his neck. "Because I'm not a spy," she replied grimly. "Goodbye, Bobby." She smiled unpleasantly and left, slamming the thick metal door behind her.

***
Bobby lay on the top bunk, staring blankly at nothing. Most literally nothing. He couldn't remember when he had last seen such an absolute blackness. The lights had been turned off; that was probably his captors trying to tell him it was time to go to sleep. He wished he could oblige, but his tired, ravaged brain was still spinning.

Bobby had been so honored to be chosen for the mission. Scared shitless, too, but honored. Here was, at last, a chance to prove he could do things right. Idiot. He had managed to get captured before he had even had a time to look around.

But it hadn't all been his stupidity. What had the others been thinking, sending him into the fortress all alone, with no backup? What kind of plan was that? Sure, they hadn't anticipated the psi police, or known that said telepaths would recognize him as a spy within minutes of his arrival, but it still would've been smarter to send a telepath as a mole. Why hadn't they? My head hurts. He shifted to his side, and tried to prop up his head more by folding his pillow in half.

In fact, the whole thing had been bothering him since he arrived -- at least, the times since he arrived that his brain wasn't being hacked up. The whole plot seemed inane, like a seven-year-old's attempt at writing a murder mystery. Walk in, look around, get out, and come back and tell us what ya saw. Scott had used bigger words, but that was what it all came down to. Was there something they hadn't told him? Maybe the psi police had done something to make him forget, or maybe he had failed to realize something in his obtuseness...but the soap bubble memories kept slipping from his grasp.

Maybe this is all just an elaborate plan to get rid of me. Now that idea made sense. Too much sense, actually. Bobby quickly pushed the idea to the dark nether regions of his mind where thoughts like that one thrived, and tried to turn his thought down more productive avenues.

It was his X-Mannish duty to try to escape. Perhaps he could form a plan? That was what the others would have done. He rubbed his temples, trying to think, think...

After about half an hour, he had narrowed down the possibilities to bursting into tears or banging his head against the wall until he or it collapsed.

Tomorrow. It'll all make sense tomorrow. After you get some sleep.

He slept sporadically, waking up far too often and finding the room still pitch black. He had a lot of brief nightmares, not the wake-up-breathing-hard kind, but the kind that left you with an eerie feeling, like something was wrong in the world. Sometimes he'd dream he was awake or wake up and still think he was asleep.

He finally woke up to find the lights on. He blinked against the unnatural brightness as he slowly recalled his whereabouts and reflected wearily that, no, things weren't any better and didn't make more sense. The urge to burst into tears had somewhat abated, though.

The day went by without incident. Someone brought him a tray of food in the morning and another in the evening. The trays were delivered through a covered slit in his door, his only window to the outside world. It couldn't be opened from the inside. No one spoke to him or entered the room, and when he woke up the day after he found that the trays had magically disappeared in the middle of the night. If they were trying to drive him crazy they would find their job astonishingly easy.

Though yesterday's trays were gone already when he woke up, his breakfast hadn't arrived yet. Bobby seated himself by the door, and waited.

He didn't have long to wait. Just as the tray slid through, Bobby caught the door with his fingers, and leaned down to peer though the slit. "Hello...?"

A woman bent her head and looked in at him. It was Skirrow. "Don't talk to me. Spy."

"What's so bad about being a spy?" he asked plaintively. C'mon, talk to me. "I wasn't going to hurt anyone or anything. I just wanted to see what was going on."

"So you could stop it. I know. I'm a telepath."

"Not...necessarily," he faltered. "Not much I could do to stop anything, ya know."

She snorted. "Oh, I don't doubt that, Bobby. But we've got to be careful." Her eyes narrowed. "After all," she murmured, "Eden was taken by subterfuge." With a malignant look, she slammed the slit shut again. Bobby removed his fingers just in time.

He cursed under his breath and sat with his back against the wall, biting his nails and trying formulate a plan. Most of the classics seemed off limits. He could pretend to be deathly ill, but the guard was a telepath; she would see through that in a Pelopponesian minute. Chances were he'd never see anyone come in, either, so he could hardly club someone over the head with a tray when they came in to collect the old trays, or give him more toilet paper, or whatever.

If he couldn't escape, he could at least amuse himself. He cleared off the trays, and, when the lights went out, stuffed one under his pillow and the other in his shirt. It made sleeping difficult, but what the hell. Let them try to take those without him waking up.

***
I really hate it here. It was only his fourth day, and already his mind seemed to be rapidly fraying. Not my fault. It's the psi police's fault. Yeah. I'm not weak, I'm traumatized. He had a feeling that that sentence would become something of a mantra for him during his stay in the fortress.

The trays had been gone when he woke up. He didn't know how they did that. In a fortress full of mutants, who know how anything was done.

He was sitting cross-legged on his bed -- one of the perks of solitary confinement was that you had automatic dibs on the top bunk -- scratching the fourth tally into his arm with a ragged thumbnail. He really should stop biting his nails while he still had some nail left. It would make the tallies much easier to make.

Bobby spent the rest of the day thinking up things to do. He did briefly consider building a cool fort out of the bunk bed, mattresses, and pillows, but discarded the idea on the basis that there was probably a camera hidden in the room, and he really had to hang on to all the dignity he could.

The next day was exactly the same. He paced and did push-ups and sit-ups until he lost count. When he couldn't do any more, he sat on his bed and played out scenarios of the X-Men's arrival in his head, until they seemed more like fictional characters he had invented than actual people he knew.

His guard burst in some time in the middle of the sixth day. "It's time for...oh, that's disgusting! Stop that."

Bobby froze in surprise and stopped scratching the back of his neck. He had picked the scab off some time earlier, and now his fingertips were all bloody. He hadn't even noticed he was doing that. He regarded his fingernails thoughtfully for a moment, before recalling the guard's presence. "Uh, sorry. What were you saying?"

"Judgment day, spy. The man in charge is finally back. You get to meet him...Jesus, don't lick the blood off your fingers. Wipe it on your pants or something."

He blinked, then managed a slightly mischievous grin. "But I want to look clean if I'm gonna meet the man in charge."

"No hope of that," she murmured. "Damn. We should've had you shower first. Too late now. Doesn't matter. The audience should be short. C'mon."

He certainly wasn't in the best condition to meet the man who kept all these psychos under control, Bobby reflected as he was lead down more identical gray corridors. As if it wasn't enough that his legs were ready to fall out from under him and that his mind was as stable as an adolescent boy's singing voice, he also smelled bad and desperately needed to shave. He briefly wondered if he'd still smell bad after turning into iceform and back. It was kind of a moot point, anyway. If he turned into iceform he could blast his way out of here and take all the showers he wanted at home.

Home. Then the thought came out of nowhere, like an ambush, and he suddenly knew how people felt when they entered the Twilight Zone. Would he ever see home again?

After all, he had been here for six days. Six friggin' days, and no rescue. Were they waiting for him to use his detective abilities to pump the guards for info? 'Cause there was no way in hell that was going to happen, what with the guard being a telepath. Maybe they were just waiting for him to meet the guy who ran the place, and then the X-Men were going to burst in and maybe stand there and pose for a minute, say a few catchy lines, and then pound the villain to a pulp before whisking Bobby off to his nice, relatively safe home, and all the cable TV there entailed.

Or maybe they thought they were well rid of him.

"Sir." Skirrow's voice interrupted his thoughts. She had stopped by a large, black door and the positively frightening man who guarded it. He was huge and muscular, with beady black eyes, and the scales that covered him didn't exactly detract from the scariness. "Here's the prisoner you wanted."

The man glanced at Bobby for barely a second, but the glance still made Bobby wish he was a turtle so he could hide in his shell. As it was, he did his best to suck his head into his body. "Thank you," said the reptile-man. "I'll take him from here."

Why did they keep handing him off? Does nobody want me?

"Oh, stop it," Skirrow snarled at him under her breath. "I am so sick of your confusion and self-pity. Can't you have funny or witty or interesting thoughts?" She made a little sound of annoyance, and then turned away and stalked off before Bobby could think of anything funny to think.

He eyed the scaly man nervously until the black doors opened and another man poked his head out. "The new arrival? Good." He motioned Bobby in and the guard made to follow, but the other man stopped him. "I think we should be able to handle him between the two of us," he said sardonically.

"Sir," the scaly man said stiffly, and withdrew. Bobby watched him go with relief, then turned to look at the room. It was sparsely decorated, the key feature being the chair on the far end, like the throne in a king's audience chamber. No, scratch that. The key feature was the man in the chair. Bobby froze, gaping. Now he really knew what people felt like when they entered the Twilight Zone. The man in the chair was Magneto.

Magneto was the first to recover, naturally. He glanced at a sheet of paper in his hand, and raised his eyebrows. "Well, Robert Drake the X-Man. I really should have given your psi profile a more thorough reading."

"Agh," said Bobby.

Magneto regarded Bobby for a moment, then turned to the man who had escorted Bobby in, a lean man with brown hair and insanely blue eyes. "Cadran, I'm afraid we can't go with our original plan to simply erase his memories like we did with the others. That would probably bring in a flood of X-Men, which I very much want to avoid." He scowled into the middle distance. Bobby gurgled.

Magneto rose from his seat and began to pace, looking at the paper he held in his hand. "This doesn't make any sense. Has Xavier gone senile? What did they possibly think you could accomplish with such a plan?"

When you find out, you tell me. Bobby swayed uncertainly under Magneto's harsh scrutiny.

He paused, and a small smile curled his lips. "Or were they trying to get rid of you? You're more a liability than an asset, Drake. Perhaps they aren't coming for you as you seem to believe."

Bobby didn't mean to react, but he found himself shivering suddenly. Shit. You know that's not true. He knew the idea was absurd, but for some reason it seemed credible... They're not coming, ever, at all. They're not even trying. No, no. He knew his teammates better than that... What was wrong with him? "Hey! On occasion I've kicked serious ass in the name of the X-Men, okay? If they're gonna be downsizing, I think they'll take care of the homicidal liabilities before they get to me."

Magneto was watching him thoughtfully, and Bobby met the man's gaze with something almost resembling defiance. Bobby looked away before it became a staring contest, and gazed at his bare feet instead. He needed to cut his toenails.

Magneto turned to Cadran. "Cadran, would you be so kind as to get him something to eat? Thank you." As Cadran left, Magneto re-seated himself and another chair came flying from the corner of the room and landed across from him. "Have a seat, Drake. Tell me how you got here, why you're here."

"Can't your telepaths tell you that?" said Bobby, stumbling into the chair.

"I want to hear it from you."

What did he have to lose after all? They already knew everything, and it was so nice to talk to someone besides the mean guard lady. "It all started when we found out about this fortress. Come to think of it," Bobby's brow furrowed, "I can't quite remember how we did that. Huh. Anyway, we knew there was lots of mutant activity going on, but we weren't quite sure what the activity was. I offered to go, but I was surprised when Scott took me seriously. They would've been better off sending a telepath, but they didn't. I guess Scott didn't want Jean getting into danger or something, though she would've been perfect."

"I have noticed," Magneto interjected, "that the emotional bonds between the X-Men do sometimes undermine the team's performance."

"It's rather reassuring to know that you won't be sacrificed to The Cause, though. We're not all fanatics. I like being alive." He paused, trying to regain his line of thought. It was so easy to fall back into the habit of babbling, regardless of the fact that the enemy was at the other end of the babble. He was one sucky secret agent. "Anyway, moving on. My beloved teammates psyched me up and dropped me off. I got caught by those psychos people seem to call the psi police and...well, you've got the results of the interrogation. Then, then, I was stuffed in that fuckin' cell and bored to death for six days. Believe me, after the psi boys get to you, you really don't want to be alone for that long."

His rant was prevented from evolving into anything more emotional by the entry of Cadran with a tray of food. Bobby's eyes widened. Real food. Non-processed meat and fresh vegetables and cold water. It was placed in front of him, and Bobby attacked it as if would run away. He began talking again, as he ate. "And, my God, the place is so damn boring. Couldn't you have put a TV or something in? I've gotten so bored I've started talking to my hand. If I had a pen I'd draw a face on it. Worse yet, 'The Sound of Silence' is stuck in my head, and I don't know all the words so I just have little pieces of the song playing in a endless loop in my mind. It's awful."

"So I gather," said Magneto blandly. Bobby looked at him, and shrugged inwardly. So what if Magneto thought he was an idiot. Bobby wasn't too fond of Maggie either.

He didn't feel like eating any more. His tray was taken away. "Take him back to his cell," commanded Magneto, his expression as unreadable as ever.

Bobby was handed back off to Skirrow, who didn't deign to speak to him. She looked positively distracted, staring into space as she lead him down the corridors. Bobby, trying not to think about his recent interview, began humming 'the Sound of Silence' to himself, and Skirrow didn't even snap at him.

***
Bobby awoke to the unpleasant knowledge that he had been in the fortress precisely a week.
If I was God, I could have created the universe in that time. Instead, he had managed to create a huge scab on the back of his neck.

He was lying in bed, waiting for breakfast to come when the door burst open for a second time. He sat up, blinking sleepily, and watched as Skirrow entered. Her hair was unkempt, and she had large bags under her eyes. Her mouth was compressed in a tight line, and she only glanced at Bobby briefly before turning and saying to someone in the hall, "Bring him in and put him on the bottom bunk."

Two men attired in gray uniform entered, a third figure slumped between them. Who've they caught now?

The two guards deposited their charge and left, along with Skirrow. Summoning all his energy, Bobby slid down to floor and gaped at the man lying on the lower bunk. He knew who the figure was, but his sleep-addled brain couldn't seem to grasp the reality of the situation.

Magneto gave him a brief, disoriented look, before saying slowly, "Hell, right?"

Bobby couldn't help himself. He collapsed to the floor, laughing hysterically.

***
Part II

It took Bobby a while to stop laughing. It didn't help that one glance at Magneto's decidedly unamused countenance sent him off into another paroxysm of laughter. When he finally got himself under control, there was a heavy silence while he got his breath back and the pain in his stomach ebbed.

"What are you doing here?" Bobby said at last, looking up at Magneto from his seat on the floor. "I thought you ran the place."

"So did I," Magneto said tonelessly. His face darkened. "It seems that some people were not pleased with the manner in which this fortress is being run. Couldn't they have just told me instead of committing this...this travesty?"

"Somehow, somewhere, in the dark recesses of my mind," said Bobby, "I knew you were going to say 'travesty.' Ya know, Maggie, it's not like you haven't been betrayed by subordinates before."

Bobby's ill-advised observation went unnoticed. Magneto had just discovered the implant in the back of his neck and its meaning was immediately clear to him. He began to pace with suppressed violence, and Bobby watched as the man's intense, electric aura tried to conform itself to the small confines of the cell. It was an interesting science experiment, but Bobby didn't think it would work.

The pacing stopped. "His tactics are all wrong," Magneto said pensively. "To take the fortress he must either have superior force, which is virtually impossible in a place where most people are armed with their own powers, or he must have gained the loyalty of the majority of the people in the fortress. But then there would have been no need to ambush me -- he could have just ordered me to step down."

"Hmmm," replied Bobby, watching the proceedings with something dangerously close to enjoyment. Maybe he was sadistic, but it was so nice not to be the only one who had no idea what was going on.

Magneto's gaze fell on Bobby, and his eyes narrowed. "And you...I don't understand your presence here at all."

"Neither do I." The voice came from the doorway. Bobby jumped -- he hadn't noticed the door open. Cadran was standing there, his face twisting with disgust and confusion as he regarded Bobby. Skirrow and another guard slipped in behind him and took up positions in the corners of the room. "The X-Men's operations aren't usually so ill-advised."

"You obviously haven't seen them operate," Magneto replied sardonically just as Bobby snorted derisively.

"I was going through your files," Cadran replied, vaguely puzzled, "and they do seem to usually come out on top."

"Through no fault of our own," sighed Bobby. Magneto made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a laugh.

"It doesn't matter. I didn't come here to discuss the X-Men." Cadran turned to Magneto, and Bobby could almost feel himself slipping completely out of both men's consciousness.

"Cadran," Magneto sounded like a weary parent, "just what is going on here?"

"I thought it was fairly obvious," replied Cadran, his blue eyes dancing. "A coup, what else?"

"Congratulations, I seem to be thoroughly overthrown. But why? To what end? Why am I still alive?"

Ah, the classic 'Why haven't you killed me yet?' line. Bobby had heard it many a time, occasionally from his own lips.

Cadran smiled enigmatically and said, "You have your uses." He glanced over at Bobby. "He might, too."

"You've already hijacked the society I've created; do you plan steal my plans for him, too?"

Don't give him ideas... Bobby had a feeling he wouldn't like Magneto's old plans for him.

"'Hijacked' is the right word, Magnus. I plan to take this place to a whole new destination. Somebody has to. You're society is lovely but it lacks momentum. The people here are sick of just being an experiment. But, as for your plan for the X-Man, it has merit."

What plan for me? Stop being so friggin' cryptic!

Tell me about it. I can read minds, and they still confuse me. Bobby recognized the voice as Skirrow's. He looked over at her, surprised at her daring, before he realized she was speaking telepathically and not aloud. He raised his eyebrows at her, but she wasn't looking his way.

He looked back to the two men, who were still talking. Bobby lost track of the conversation since it had nothing to do with him, but he watched their faces closely. How on earth had Cadran persuaded anyone to help him overthrow Magneto? There was no contest between the two -- Magneto radiated passion and confidence, while Cadran just had a hyper, nervous, Quentin Tarantino-esque energy about him. It was kinda creepy.

Quentin Tarantino-esque? said an amused voice in his head.

You know, he thought back at Skirrow, where I come from, the telepaths have the decency to respect other people's privacy.

Somehow, Skirrow managed a mental snort. They're probably scanning you all the time, and you just don't know it.

Bobby sniffed disdainfully, and once again focused his attention on Cadran and Magneto just to show that he didn't care how much Skirrow monitored his mind. Cadran...he just didn't understand it. Bobby could see why someone would forsake God and country to follow Magneto, to rally to his cause -- with his fiery, confident gaze, he was a cause in himself.

Aw, is someone in love?

Screw you. Leave me alone. As in, alone in my head.

Sorry, Bobby. That's not going to happen. She fell silent, but Bobby suddenly felt something wrong, like someone running a fingernail over a patch of raw skin. Then, Tell me, who's Emma? And Lorna? And Op--

She didn't have a chance to get any farther. Bobby cut her off with a screech of, "Get out!"

Cadran and Magneto whipped around their heads to stare at him, and Skirrow's eyes widened in surprise at his reaction. Bobby felt his face turn red from anger and indignation at the raw, exposed feeling Skirrow had left in his mind.

"Sorry, sir," said Skirrow. "I was just scanning his mind. I didn't know he'd react that way."

Cadran glared at Bobby for a moment, then nodded to the two guards in their respective corners. "Let's go. We'll come back for him later."

Cadran swept out, his guards behind him.

Magneto sat down on the edge of the bed and muttered to himself, "But how? How?"

That's my cue. "How what?" said Bobby.

"The reason that homo sapiens superior are ideal for a utopian society is that their are so many people with different strengths, different skills, oppression of a certain group difficult. You can't tell me that everyone in this fortress is against me. How did he get this power? How does he intend to maintain it?"

What kind of paradise did Magneto think this place was, anyway? "What're you talking about? You've created your own little Gestapo, and they're better armed than anyone else in this place. I should know."

Magneto's brows came down sharply. "The Psi Police."

"Bingo."

"It couldn't be."

"I'm sure it could."

Magneto fell silent, staring at some point beyond the white walls of the room.

Bobby snapped his fingers. "Hey, Magneto! Maggie!"

"What?"

"I was thinking, seeing as how I'm the enemy of your enemy, maybe we can come up with something by combining our mental powers."

The Master of Magnetism sighed wearily and closed his eyes. "Drake, you have to understand, most of the time our minds are under telepathic surveillance. We can not plan anything, we can not surprise anyone. I know daring escapes are an X-Man tradition, but all we can hope for is a rescue." His eyes opened. "And I don't mean a rescue on the part of the X-Men, but on the part of my people."

"So when you say 'we' can only hope for rescue, you mean you, right?"

"Exactly. Whoever comes out on top, your fate is the same. You have only enemies, here." He rested his chin in his hand and continued to stare at some unknown point.

"Yeah, why's that?" Bobby said, mainly to himself. "For some reason, people go around trying to kill me, and hurt me, and hurt everyone I care about. Why do they do it? Why? Why why why why?"

"To shut you up, perhaps?" offered Magneto.

"Never mind," said Bobby, crossing his arms. "You just go on with your thinking and pacing and stuff. Don't mind me. I'll just sit here. It's my special talent, sitting around doing nothing."

Magneto looked slightly amused. "What do you think sulking at me will accomplish? I'm not your father."

"Apparently not. Sulking just pissed him off."

"Then your father and I have one thing in common."

"No. He found my pain annoying, but you find it funny." Apparently Magneto was no longer listening. Bobby stuck out his lower lip and sulked harder. "If I was Rogue, you wouldn't be mean to me when I sulked."

"If you were Rogue, you wouldn't be half as annoying."

"Of course, I'm not half as cute as Rogue when she sulks, either."

Magneto's teeth clenched. "Would you please shut up?"

Bobby couldn't help what he did next. Some things were just too deeply ingrained in human nature. He stuck out his tongue and said, "Make me."

Magneto pressed his hand to his forehead and looked pained. "L'enfer, c'est les autres. Tell me honestly, Drake, were you planted here by Cadran just to torment me?"

"I may have no idea why I'm here, but I'm pretty sure that's just a side benefit from Cadran's point of view."

"Then why are you here?"

"Uuuuuhhhh..." Bobby's eyes cast around as if looking for an answer. "The Dream, I seem to recall. Peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants. Didn't you know?"

"No. They're called causes because they cause people to do things. It doesn't seem that Charles's dream is what caused you to be here. What is?"

This whole conversation was leaving a bad taste in Bobby's mouth. He stared hard at the ceiling. He missed seeing the sky. "I don't know," he admitted.

Magneto looked down at the young X-Man, brow furrowed, and pronounced slowly, "Charles is an idiot."

Bobby wasn't quite sure what was meant by that, but he didn't feel inclined to disagree.

***
Some guards came in later and took Magneto. They left a tray for Bobby, which he poked at for about half an hour before giving up on it. After he picked at his food, he picked at his scab some more. He was going to have a scar there. That is, if the 'plans' for him involved keeping him alive long enough to scar.

He sniffed, and went and blew his nose on the toilet paper someone had so thoughtfully provided, but one nostril stayed clogged up. He hated that. Of course, it was probably a good thing he couldn't smell, since he had really horrible BO. And it was probably a good thing he didn't have a mirror, since no doubt one look at his face would make him feel even more suicidal. He rubbed his teeth with the end of his sleeve. He would have killed for a change of clothes or a shower, or even for a tube of toothpaste.

He was still thinking in this strain when the slit in the door opened, and a pair of clean, neatly folded gray pajama-things slipped in. Apparently, there were a few bonuses to being watched telepathically all the time. "Thanks!" he shouted, not sure his voice could be heard through the door. Maybe if he wished hard enough, he'd get to shower and shave, too.

A little while after that, they dragged Magneto back in. Literally, dragged. He was only half-conscious, and his eyes seemed to have trouble pointing in the same direction. They tossed him roughly on the bed, cast a cursory glare at Bobby, and left.

Magneto slid off the bed and landed with a thunk on the floor.

What had they done, dragged a dead person back to the room? Bobby approached him hesitantly and poked him in the shoulder. Magneto made a noise somewhere in his throat, like an asthmatic cat. Bobby pulled him upright, so that he was leaning against the bed. His head flopped back like a baby's head when you didn't hold it correctly.

Bobby stood back and surveyed his newly-acquired Magneto doll. His eyes were open, but he seemed unconscious. At last he raised his head and, with an effort, focused his eyes on Bobby. Bobby began to say "Welcome back," but was cut short by a sneezing fit.

"Bless you," said Magneto.

The air smelled like sneeze now, sickly-sweet. "Thanks," said Bobby, blinking away the tears the sneezes had brought on. "Three more bless you's and we can be sure no evil spirits will be entering through my nose."

Magneto closed his bloodshot eyes, to Bobby's secret relief. Bobby waited in a respectful silence while Magneto breathed, slowly and deeply. At last he opened his eyes again, and his pupils seemed closer to the right size.

"So, uh, what did they do to you?"

Magneto's raised his eyebrows sardonically. "They asked me a few polite questions and offered me tea. What did you think?"

"Sheesh. Wrong question. I'll try again, okay? What did they want from you?"

Magneto looked like he resented this question, too, but was too weary to bother with more sarcasm. "Information. To establish my weakness in front of my former follower's eyes."

"Did it work?" Bobby asked cautiously.

A ghost of a smile appeared in Magneto's eyes. "Not, I think, as well as Cadran had hoped." He closed his eyes again. He was making no effort to stand up, or even climb on the bed.

"How long since you've seen the sky?" Bobby said suddenly.

"Pardon?"

"I mean, there are no windows in this building, or at least the part of the buildings I've been in. I haven't seen the sky in over a week. How about you? You have a pleasant little town outside, even if it's pretty cold. But what can you expect this far north? You ever go outside and just stroll around?"

Magneto shook his head slightly. "Do you always just say whatever comes into your head? Or am I just lucky?"

Bobby's lips tightened. "You don't have to answer if you don't want to."

"Good."

Bobby began to flush with unreasonable annoyance, so he climbed to the top bunk and sat there, since it was the only place where Magneto couldn't see his face. Jean had always said she didn't even need use her telepathy to know what he was thinking.

He nose was getting runny, and he sniffed until he had to leave his mouth open to breathe. Then he started coughing, those horrible, dry-throated, dying-person coughs, that made your chest hurt. He thought her heard Magneto mutter something.

The lights went out a little later. Bobby tried to lay down, but he couldn't breathe, and the pillow wasn't enough to prop up his head. Every little sound the bed made when he moved was magnified in the stillness of the room. He tried not to move, but couldn't seem to stay still. He sat up and leaned against the wall the bunk bed was up against. His stomach felt horrible. He was going to throw up.

He lowered himself as quietly as possible from his bunk. He couldn't see a thing, and he just barely managed not to fall when one of his feet missed the bunk below and went straight to the floor. He heard Magneto mutter something again.

He found the toilet at last, by finding a wall and following it. The bile was burning his throat. He sat there, retching, even when his stomach was empty, and then he hacked some more until he was sure he had hacked up his stomach lining. His eyes watered horribly.

The wave of nausea past, a wave of home-sickness overtook him. He desperately wished her were back at the mansion, throwing-up in his own bathroom, a solicitous Jean asking him how he was and offering to make him soup, Rogue mixing up some sort of horrible concoction that was supposed to make him feel better, Hank keeping him amused with mediocre movies or an 87th viewing of the Scully-cancer episodes. Instead he was stuck in a cell with Magneto. Stupid, stupid Magneto.

"Are you planning to do that again tonight?" The tired voice floated from nowhere.

Bobby cleared his throat and said to the darkness, "No, why?"

"If you are, you can have the bottom bunk."

"S'okay."

He followed the wall back to the bunk and climbed back up. He was still sniffling, so he folded his pillow in half and put his hands behind his head. It helped a little. Not much, but enough that he finally fell asleep about an hour later.

***
"It's your turn," a woman's voice sang into the room. "I know they're not going to find anything, but Cadran wants to try anyway, and what Cadran wants, he gets. Think you're up to it?"

Bobby opened his eyes and glanced over to see Skirrow standing by his bed. "Huh?"

"Of course you're not, but they prefer it that way. It weakens your resistance. Not that that's necessary with you."

Before Bobby could grasp what she was saying, a cool voice interjected, "You seem unusually cheerful today, Skirrow. Is that caused by the prospect of seeing the boy in pain, or the chance to torture someone?"

Skirrow whipped her head around to look at Magneto. "You know it's no such thing," she snapped. "I'm not the one who used him as a spy, and I'm not doing the interrogation. They won't find anything, anyway. Then they can erase his memories and get him out of here. Perhaps that's why I seem so cheerful."

"Does Cadran intend to replace the memories?"

She nodded. "That was a good idea. And some of our telepaths have been desperate for a challenge."

"What?" said Bobby.

"They're going to replace your memories with different ones, probably ones that will make the X-Men lose interest in this place. They've erased memories of spies before. It's replacing them that's a new idea."

"Oh," said Bobby. Scott, now'd be a good time for one of those timely rescues of yours. God. A little while from now, he wouldn't even know the memories weren't real. What kind of memories would they be, anyway? He felt sick all over again.

"Anyway, get out of bed and let's go."

Yeah. I'll hurry. I'm really looking forward to this.

"And no sarcasm," added Skirrow. "I'm not in the mood."

***
"Be nice," said Cadran. "You can be as rough as you want during the mental conditioning, but not now."

The room was nearly identical to the infirmary he had first been in, except the lights didn't seem quite so bright. Bobby found himself sitting with his knees drawn up again, and arms wrapped around his legs. For one insane instant, he thought he was going to have to go through that day all over again.

"It's okay," said the man who Bobby actually vaguely remembered from his first encounter with the psi-police. "There's no need to be rough right now. It's like cutting through butter with a hot knife."

What a coincidence -- Bobby felt like his brain was being cut through with a hot knife. All he could do was whimper, though, like a caught rabbit. The people in the room seemed very amused.

"Wait a sec," said the telepath. "That's odd."

"What?" said Cadran.

"He has something blocked. Amazing blocks, for a non-telepath. I think you were right. He knows more than he's willing to admit."

"I knew there was more to this," said Cadran with satisfaction. "Is he hiding the actual purpose of this mission, perhaps? Some secret information?"

"Maybe. I can't break through without destroying whatever information is being guarded. I could chip away slowly at the blocks, though, see what happens."

"Do that."

Bobby stared at them all blankly. I can't believe this. I'm not telepath, I don't have anything important blocked. What was back there, his most embarrassing moments?

"Amazing," said the telepath. "He's even blocking on a conscious level, trying to say there's nothing of importance back there."

"You're sure that's not the truth?"

"Sir, if all his thoughts concerning his abilities and memories were true, then it would be impossible for him to have those psychic blocks. And we know he has those, so he has to be trying to fools us."

"I began to see why Xavier sent him," said Cadran. "I think Magneto underestimated his opponents. I wonder if all the X-Men are trained like this."

"I don't think it's really something you can learn," said the telepath.

"Well, work at those barriers. I have a feeling we've been missing some important parts of Robert Drake. Perhaps they're buried back there."

"That's what I think, sir."

"I have some things to attend to. I'm counting on you."

"Sir."

My God, what were they talking about? What have I gotten myself into? Bobby wailed mentally. I know I don't know anything.

"Amazing," said the telepath.

***
Part III

The vibrant colors and dead mutants that had been dancing around Bobby's head faded into darkness as the voices around him slowly became louder and more intelligible.

"Just a routine scan," a voice somewhere above Bobby said, resonating with irony. "They won't find anything."

"So they found something. This isn't my fault."

"Questioning your new alliances?"

"Over this?" A woman's voice, bright with indignation. "No. You weren't so much better. You have no right to cast stones."

"If Cadran is just as bad as I," said Magneto quietly, "why the coup?"

"You're tired and weak, Magneto. We telepaths could see that even when the others couldn't. You were unsure of yourself, of us, and you tried to hide your thoughts. Did you think we would attack you? Cadran may not be perfect, but he has confidence. He has strength."

Magneto's voice grated. "I can see that. It obviously took a man of great strength to accomplish that."

A brief pause, then, "Look, the X-Man isn't my business. This is his own people's fault. You can take it up with them the next time you're leading the X-Men. He's awake, by the way." A second later, Bobby heard the door slam.

"Drake?"

Bobby opened his eyes. They stung, and his left ear was aching. He was lying on the bed and it had never seemed more luxurious.

Magneto's voice held the usual monotonous calm. "Can you hear, Drake, can you understand me?"

What's there to understand? "Yeah, I hear you."

"Can you tell me what happened during the interrogation? At least what you remember?"

Bobby bit his lower lip thoughtfully. "Les'see...what can I remember? People slowly chiseling away at my sanity. People messing around with various functions of my brain to get past my non-existent mental defenses. Do you make them take Telepathic Torture 101 or something?" His memories seemed to ache; old hurts, long forgotten, throbbed in the front of his mind.

"The mind is a delicate thing. I've been told by telepaths that it's so easy to hurt someone once you reach the subconscious, you have to concentrate not to do it. But tell me, do you know what they were looking for?"

Thanks for the sympathy. Crazy, they were all crazy. "I have no friggin' idea. They don't either."

"Cadran is taking no chances. That was why he was my second in command. It's too bad people are so fickle in their loyalties."

That's 'cause if you stay loyal to someone, they abandon you instead. Stupid, stupid X-Men.

"Which brings me to Skirrow. I think she may come over to our side. She's only a guard, but Skirrow always had the courage of her convictions. She's just not sure of what she's convinced of."

Our side? Uh-huh.

"If we had her help, escape would be a possibility. For both of us."

"Yeah," said Bobby. "But what makes you think I care? The worse that happens to me is that the telepaths fuck with my mind and walk away with fake memories."

When Magneto replied, his voice was icy, "Do you want to know why you should care? If I leave here without you, you are dead. If I'm free to disprove any false information they've planted in you, they have no use for you."

"Only if you make it out," Bobby pointed out. "Only if Skirrow will help you. And I don't think she will."

"She may once she better understands Cadran's plans. I don't trust him. He's always been ruthless."

Just 'cause you're a prisoner doesn't mean you have the moral high ground, Maggie. "And you're no"

"Only when the ends justify the means. Cadran...he enjoys the means."

"Ah, a sadist. I can dig it."

"This was supposed to be a sanctuary, a prototype of the perfect society..." Magneto's voice was rife with frustration, and he suppressed it with an obvious effort before he continued, "Cadran is unfit to wield power on his own."

"And he's gonna destroy all you've created, yadda yadda yadda. So, wanna play rock-paper-scissors or something?"

Magneto sat down on the bed, and covered his face with his hands.

"It's not like you've got anything better to do."

Magneto shook his head, not removing his hands.

"I guess I could go to sleep," said Bobby. "I am kinda tired after the interrogation."

No answer.

"Okay then. Good night?"

"Good night." Magneto's reply was muffled by his hands.

Bobby climbed onto the top bunk, and sat there for a moment, biting his lower lip. He blinked rapidly, and glanced down at the tallies on his arms. The blurred as he looked at them. He closed his eyes tightly as he realized he was starting to cry. Over what, for God's sake? He buried his face in his pillow, trying not to remember the X-Men who still hadn't come for him, trying to forget the humiliations of the day, trying not to cry. Magneto would probably be able to hear him if he did.

***
Nightmares jolted Bobby awake while the lights were still off. His dreams were more confusing than before, seeming to reflect the telepathic upheaval of his mind. They were also creepier. He drew in his arms, making sure no part of him was near to the edge of the bed. You couldn't be sure what was waiting out their to grab you.

It was a bit comforting to know that someone else was in there, though. Then again, maybe no one else was in there. He couldn't be sure in the complete darkness. He began humming something, to maybe get Magneto's attention if he was awake but not take the chance of waking him if he was asleep. It was something for an overnight, a kid's trick. But Bobby wasn't feeling too grown up.

There was no response, not even the sound of someone shifting position. Bobby fell perfectly silent and listened intently. Gradually, as Bobby tuned out all the sounds made by the blood pumping through his body, the breathing from the bunk below became clear. Bobby breathed a sigh of relief.

Why do you care? You're such an idiot. But he couldn't deny to himself that, when you didn't think Magneto was going to kill you, his presence was very reassuring.

He found he couldn't fall asleep. so he lay awake listening to the steady breathing.

It was an odd situation, to say the least. A really fucked-up situation, to say the most. It had been weird enough before, when Bobby was just a prisoner, when he didn't have Magneto for a roommate. Magneto, the X-Men's original archenemy. Bobby could even remember their first encounter with him. It couldn't have been that long ago, yet there seemed a century worth of memories since that time, and each memory had a different Magneto in it...the insanely powerful mutant hovering in the air, declaring "I am Magneto!", the unexpected leader of the X-Men, trying to make amends for past crimes, the world-weary recluse hidden away on his asteroid... Magneto had a love-hate relationship with the X-Men like no other person Bobby knew.

For his own part, Bobby had never really hated or -- to be perfectly honest -- loved the X-Men. He had been infatuated with the idea, yeah. It was a beautiful idea, and the mansion a sanctuary like most outcast teenagers only dreamed of. Love and hate and infatuation aside, though, the X-Mansion was home, and the X-Men were family.

At least so long as his X-family didn't leave him in this God-forsaken place. Then he'd never forgive them. Of course, then he'd never see them again. Scott, Hank, Jean...hell, Gambit, Bishop, I'm not picky, just someone, get me out of here.

***
"Help me out here. I know Brittany, of course, and then there's Eleanor, who I remember because that rhymes with 'Theodore', but what about the tall one?"

Magneto spoke into his artificial coffee, "I have no idea."

"Too bad they didn't have a song. Alvin, Simon, Theodore. Brittany, dun dun, Eleanor. Damn it, I won't be able to stop thinking about this all day."

"Good. Concentrate on that if they interrogate you again. It should help."

"Really? That how you do it? No... They'll probably think it's just another of my clever techniques for resisting the telepath."

Magneto took a sip of the coffee, made a face, and took another sip. "Why, do you have many of those?"

Bobby whirled his coffee-flavored sugar-milk around in the cup. "To hear them tell it. Apparently I'm some sort of super spy with top-secret info buried in my subconscious."

A nod was the only reply, but then Magneto did a minute double take. "You're serious, aren't you?"

"Yes, unfortunately."

"So that's why they were so hard on you during the interrogation. I assumed Cadran was merely being spiteful, but no...he's being paranoid." He snorted disdainfully. "I take it they found nothing?"

"Of course. There's nothing to find. But it seems I have some really strong psychic shields buried deep in my subconscious."

"You don't know what they're guarding?"

Bobby shook his head.

"Probably just childhood traumas. Were you beaten as a child, Robert Drake?"

"Not that I recall."

"There you go," said Magneto.

Bobby had begun gulping down the last of his coffee before Magneto's words caught up with him, and he had to spit the drink back into his cup to stop himself from choking.

Meanwhile, with a look of resignation, Magneto tilted his coffee cup back and drank it all down in a fabulous show of stoicism. He set the cup down and said thoughtfully, "We really need to began discussing escape."

Bobby glanced around nervously. "Can't she hear us?"

"She's been able to hear these thoughts any time in the past twenty-four hours. If Natalie hasn't objected to them yet, she certainly won't start now."

"Natalie?"

"Skirrow. She seems to be our best hope hope, since none of my people have tried to contact me."

Maybe they're happier with Cadran, thought Bobby, but he didn't speak the thought aloud.

"I expect you will be interrogated again, if they didn't find anything yet."

"Yay me. What about you?"

"Me?" said Magneto, as if surprised by the question. "I'm awaiting my execution."

The room faded in and out of focus for a brief moment. "Your execution?" Bobby echoed.

"Officially, my exile. But I have no doubt I will be killed."

"When -- when will this be?"

"After the trial."

"Oh," Bobby breathed a little easier, "a trial."

Magneto seemed amused by this bit of naivete. "The trial is just show, Drake. Cadran knows exactly what the outcome will be."

"That's sick."

"No, that's smart."

Bobby shook his head. "I don't get you dictator types, I just don't. How can you manipulate people like that?"

"Ask Charles -- he does exactly the same thing, in his own way." Bobby opened his mouth to disagree, but Magneto continued before he could, "Do you think the only reason they send boys in their teens, their twenties, into war is because they're in better physical shape? No, it's because they are the ones you can mold, the ones whose minds are so malleable that they'll follow you off a cliff if you train them to."

"I don't see the Professor as doing that," objected Bobby, "and I'm definitely past that age."

"Not in my eyes, and certainly not in Xavier's. You will be soon, though, so Charles had better hurry; you're certainly not well conditioned yet."

"Oh, thanks a lot."

"I...didn't mean that as an insult."

Feeling awkward, Bobby stood up and went over to the bed. "I don't see why I have to be awake just 'cause they decided to turn the lights on," Bobby said lightly. "Anyway, if you're right about them interrogating me again, I'd better be rested."

Magneto nodded abstractedly, and from the look in his eyes, his thoughts were already somewhere else.

***
Every now and then, Bobby would wake up from a nightmare, or even just an odd dream, and just lay there for about an hour being thankful that none of it was real. It was a sweet and sour sort of feeling, but mainly sweet. It wiped out all the other problems in your life for the time being, where you just lay there and reminded yourself that so-and-so wasn't really dead, that there was nothing after you, that you hadn't just been shot.

And every now and then, as an X-Men, you'd wake up, and for a moment whatever dream you'd been having would seem more plausible than your actual waking existence, and that's why it would feel so horrible and surprising when you realized that this time the nightmare was real, and the comfortable, believable things, just a dream. And that feeling just sucked.

And sometimes, when you woke up into a nightmare, some stupid telepathic woman snatched you away from the nightmare and took you to a small, white room that smelled of hospital and contained worse fates than the sleeping mind could invent.

"I expect you to get the information this time," said Cadran. "I've got better things to do with my time, and my telepaths."

"Yes, sir. How about I call you when I'm done, then?"

"No, I'd rather watch."

A look of combined anxiousness and pride crossed the telepath's face, and he said, "Yes, sir." Cadran took a seat in the corner, and the telepath sat down across from the chair that Bobby was strapped to. "The trick," he said, "is to break through the defenses without making him completely forget whatever is back there."

"I don't need a lecture."

"Sorry, sir."

"But if you don't feel up to breaking past them, you can always convince him to do it for you. He made them, after all. Maybe you should be trying to break him instead of his defenses."

"Maybe, sir. I'll try."

Bobby felt the too-familiar sensation of someone else slipping into his mind -- he had never been this sensitive to it before his encounter with the psi police. Then the man went deeper into his subconscious, and Bobby felt vaguely nauseous.

Total silence in the room for awhile, and no feelings except the nausea. Maybe the guy was going to be more subtle this time.

Then he began to feel cold. A consuming, under-the-skin sort of cold. For a moment Bobby thought his powers were being reactivated, but this hope was quickly dashed to bits as he suddenly began to feel heat instead of cold. Not even a fever heat; one like there was real fire under his skin. His breathing became gasping, and he began to sweat.

What do they think this will accomplish? he thought despairingly.

That all depends on you, Mr. Drake, replied a voice in his head, and Bobby shivered, though he still felt on fire.

Then the fire stopped, and a numbness extended through his body, and he suddenly he couldn't move. Not even to brush away whatever was making that weird crawling feeling all over his body. He could feel the numbness extending through his mind, further back into his past. He wanted desperately to move, to have some control, but he couldn't, except for the occasional involuntary twitch of his leg or his hand, and that was even worse than not moving, because it was someone else's doing.

He wanted to close his eyes, so that maybe when he opened them again it would be to find this was all a dream. And then he didn't even want that any more, because something was smothering all his thoughts, and the only thing he knew was that he should be able to think more than this.

"Look in his eyes. My God, I've never seen that. What's going on in there?"

"For lack of a better phrase, he's on pause. He's not even breathing on his own anymore. It's complete mental saturation."

"Oh, to be a telepath."

He found a brief moment for thoughts, as the telepath answered the question, and wished he hadn't been given the chance. Being let up for air only made it more painful when he was pushed down again.

His breathing stopped for a moment, and he would've panicked if he could.

"It's difficult, and for awhile you're confused as to who you actually are," explained the telepath, "but you'll never feel more like God."

"I don't know about that."

Some hand inside his mind clutched at his old thoughts, since he was creating no new ones, turned them over and checked underneath them. No stone unturned.

But whatever it was had just as much right to the thoughts as he did.

Then suddenly the numbness left him, and he felt as if the blood in his veins had been sucked into a vacuum, and the sting of being alive again washed through his system. His mind snapped back on but he wasn't quite sure he knew what he was supposed to do with it.

The telepath looked exhausted, and he said in a hushed tone, "I can't get to whatever is back there. It must be because he can't."

"How is that possible?" hissed Cadran.

"I -- I don't know."

Cadran stood up, and went over to his victim's side. The prisoner would've looked up at him, but looking up required too much energy.

"He needs a haircut," said Cadran, and the prisoner felt a hand ruffle his hair, and then the small shock tingled his scalp, and grew. The electricity ran down his body and into his bare feet so that he was grounded, part of a circuit with no means of escape. And this time he could scream, so he did.

"You're going to kill him," he heard through the electric haze and the screams.

"No, I'm not," the other replied casually. "I've had a lot of practice."

***
Sometimes, when you woke up to a nightmare, there was at least the knowledge that it could have been a worse nightmare. It was cold comfort, but better than no comfort at all.

He didn't open his eyes, lest he find that he was still strapped to a chair. Because any nightmare was better than that one.

"You haven't had an easy time of it here, have you?" A deep, calm voice, so comforting that Bobby was sure it must be a relative, or a childhood friend speaking.

"You've really been taking it quite well, all things considered. Better than I would've expected, I have to admit. Maybe Cyclops or Phoenix or Storm would have held up better, but it rather seems like they would've been given an easier time, doesn't it?"

Keep talking, Bobby thought back hazily. Talk about them. I like that.

"You should eat. There's a tray here. The food is disgusting, but it's good to eat after you've been electrocuted."

Electrocuted. Bobby's eyes snapped open, and he scratched his arm because it began to itch horribly, and then so did his thigh. More than that.

"Is Robert Drake in there, or did they erase you? That would be a waste. Xavier would have to make an all new you, and I somehow doubt you'd turn out as interesting this time around."

Bobby found, to his delight, he could lick his dry lips. It was cold, so he pulled the blanket up around him tighter, and licked his lips again just because he could. But his feet were burning, so he pulled the blanket up more so they could get some air, and he could cover his neck better.

"Pay attention, Drake. Whatever you do, don't drift off again. You have to stay awake now."

Stay awake? That sounded like it required energy. Bobby wasn't sure he liked that.

"Sit up. I've seen cases like this before. You don't want to fall asleep." Bobby felt someone take hold of his arm, and he jerked it away, but then they took a firmer hold and pulled his arm, so that he had no choice but to follow it until he was sitting up.

A tray was set in his lap, accompanied by the order, "Eat."

One of Bobby's feet began twitching, and he sat on it to stop it. He had not appetite, and he stabbed a piece of chicken hesitantly with his fork and put it in his mouth just as hesitantly. To his surprise, he found he was hungry.

Then the door swung open. Bobby flinched, and he watched as a woman in uniform stormed in. He couldn't see her head, since he was on the bottom bunk and his view was blocked, but he saw her stop in front of Magneto, and saw her arm swing, and heard the thunk of a fist hitting someone's face. Bobby took a hesitant bite of the apple on the tray and continued to watch the headless people's antics.

"What was that for?" said Magneto.

"Do you realize how close I came to treason?" the woman shrieked. Bobby covered one of his ears; he couldn't cover both since he had an apple in one of his hands. "Do you realize I could've been killed? You even have propaganda in your mind, for God's sake! Trying to convince me you were the good guy when all along...all along..."

"All along what?" Magneto prompted her.

But she had stopped, bending down to look at Bobby. Bobby tried to take another bite of apple, but missed as his arm twitched sideways. But on the second try he got the apple to his mouth.

"My God, did they erase him?" said Skirrow.

"I don't know yet. But you were saying...?"

"We'll talk later," said Skirrow, sounding much less sure of herself. The headless body turned around and the door slammed shut.

Magneto sighed, and sat down, cross-legged on the floor, and looked at Bobby, pressed against the wall, with the blanket up around his shoulders. "Good. Keep eating. Stay awake."

"If you insist," said Bobby, around a mouthful of apple.

Perhaps that was relief that flickered across Magneto's face; Bobby couldn't be sure. "You're still in there."

"Yeah," said Bobby. "What was up with Skirrow?"

"I wish I knew. I expect I'll find out eventually. Or not, since I'm informed I'm on trial tomorrow."

"No!" Bobby almost shouted, spraying bits of apple everywhere. He paused and tried again, "You can't. You're my only hope of getting out of here."

"And Skirrow's my only hope, and I don't exactly seem to be in her good graces."

"None of your other people have come?" He rubbed his scalp, which ached.

"I'm too closely watched. If they're organizing anything, it will be without my knowledge." Magneto actually smiled weakly, as if trying to reassure Bobby, though Bobby had no idea why he'd want to. "But don't worry about that now. Just eat."

Bobby obliged, and Magneto stood and began to pace. Watching him made Bobby feel dizzy, and it made it hard to get the food to his mouth, but he didn't dare take his eyes away. If he looked away, Magneto might disappear. And who knew what or who would appear in his place.

***
Part IV

True to her word, Skirrow came back shortly. She interrupted Magneto's hypnotic pacing, to Bobby's dismay. Back and forth, back and forth. Skirrow spared him a glance and said, "He's fine, then."

Magneto followed her gaze, and said drily, "What do you consider fine?" Self-consciously, Bobby stopped brushing off the invisible bugs that were crawling on his arm.

"Stop trying to make me feel guilty," said Skirrow. "It's not my fault he's a wimp. They did the same things to you..."

"But in my case they're looking for something that's actually there."

Skirrow didn't answer.

"Do you think he's going to stop here? He'll be finding plots and traitors where none exist. Cadran is paranoid and ruthless, and there are few deadlier combinations. Natalie, it's only a matter of time..."

"Don't give me that! Don't start to give me that. Cadran showed us the records. That's what I wanted to talk to you about before. Remember that girl, the spy, whose memories you erased?"

There was a puzzled silence. "That's what you're here to complain about? I thought you advocated harsh punishment for spies, Skirrow."

"No, I didn't have a problem with that. But you didn't just erase the memories of this place. You had her mind-wiped, turned her into a slave to cater to your every whim and probably to some sexual perversions on the side, and, as if that wasn't enough, then you let her loose in the world. Someone with the mental development of a two-year-old. Don't look at me like that. I know you did."

"No, he didn't," Bobby said suddenly.

Magneto glanced at him in surprise and agreed, "No, I didn't."

"I'm a telepath. I know Cadran was telling the truth." She had a look in her eyes, that gleam that wasn't quite hope...a desire to find she wasn't right, Bobby realized, to have one person she could believe in. She already knew she couldn't believe in Cadran. Magneto had been right about the possibility of her coming over to their side. How had he known?

"Since you are, as you point out, a telepath, why don't you see if I am speaking the truth?"

Skirrow looked at him, and their eyes locked. After a moment, she said in a small voice, "But how could it be...?"

"You're not part of the elite Skirrow. Even if you're a telepath, you're still one of the little people in Cadran's hierarchy, and the telepaths who are higher up are perfectly capable of playing mind games with you."

Watching Skirrow, Bobby felt they had at least one thing in common. You don't need to be psychic to know what we're thinking. "My God," she gasped, "He masked his thoughts and changed the records. That is so... so..."

"Stalinist?" offered Magneto.

"..evil!" said Skirrow. The shock in her face disappeared, and her expression became closed. "We'll talk later, Magnus," she said cryptically, and left the room.

Bobby glanced down at his now-empty tray. "Seems like we have an ally, huh?"

"It seems we do," agree Magneto, though the idea seemed to give him little hope.

Magneto wouldn't let Bobby go back to sleep until even after the lights went out. He talked at him until Bobby realized how Magneto must have felt every time they were in the same room. Magneto never babbled, though -- his speech was a streamlined lecture on the fortress's internal organization.

Fascinating as it now doubt was, Bobby was exhausted. After the zillionth, "Can I go to sleep now?" Magneto agreed. "The effects of the interrogation should've warn off enough by now," he explained, and stopped talking. Bobby wished he had that ability.

***
Bobby work up to see a bright, white light.
Oh, great. I'm dead. He looked around until he saw a face, hovering above him. It was Rogue. "What are you doing here?"

"Ah could ask you the same thing, boy. You really can be so clumsy."

"I know, I know. I'm real sorry," Bobby said sincerely, remembering that he had done something terrible.

"Ya should be. Ya bled all over the rug, and you wouldn't stop talking. Now hold still while Ah sew your head back on."

Bobby submitted meekly and, because of Rogue's deft movements, it didn't hurt nearly as much as he had expected.

She finished sewing and tied the thread in a little bow. She patted him on the head. "Don't look so sad, Bobby. There's no permanent damage. But next time you might not be so lucky. Wolverine only had to cut off one of your legs to stop your body from running away, but next time, who knows?"

Bobby looked down to see that one of his legs was missing. He groaned. "Great, now I'll never be a professional football player. I'm going to have to live here forever. Me and the professor will have wheelchair races, and all my food will have to go through the blender."

Rogue nodded. "Ah've had lots of fun, Bobby, but Ah really must be going." She started to float away. Bobby was aware of an acute feeling that she shouldn't be leaving him, and he knew if he let her go she'd never come back. "Wait!"

Rogue laughed at him. He knew she had a good laugh, but it sounded horrible. He'd just have to pretend it was pretty. She shook her head and explained, "If I stay, the vampires'll get me."

Bobby glanced around fearfully, and realized there was a vampire hovering right beside him. He wondered how he hadn't noticed it before. He'd probably never get away with only one leg, but he could try. He got out of the bed and began to hop.

It followed him, not going very fast, but still gaining on him. Bobby knew it was about to catch him, when suddenly the vampire ran up against some invisible forcefield. Bobby looked around for the source, and spotted Skirrow.

"Hey. Magneto insisted you have part in the meeting. Have a seat." A chair appeared behind him, and Bobby sat down, noticing, for the first time, Magneto in the seat across from him. Magneto's background was different, a half-dome of steel that gave nothing away. Bobby glanced behind him, ashamed of the fact that all the creatures of his nightmares were easily visible to the other two.

Skirrow sat down in a third chair, casual like the mild colors that swirled behind her. "Normally I'd have a hard time arranging this," she commented, "but people are so much more obedient in their sleep."

There was a scratching behind Bobby. He glanced back to see the vampire scratching at his forcefield. Skirrow sighed. "Bobby, keep those pets of your under control, would you? Now," she turned to Magneto, "as I see it, the first order of business is to restore your powers."

"Do you know how to remove it?"

"I'm not sure about that, but I can disable it with some equipment in one of the infirmaries. I'll have to take you to the equipment, though. It's part of a larger machine, designed for research and experimentation with people's mutant abilities."

"I know of it, Natalie. I did, after all, create this place."

"Yes, of course. Sorry. Anyway, once you've got your powers back, we need to go and find your people..."

"I believe I can take over the planning from there. Drake, you'll be coming with me. If I can't rally the support I need, I may have to turn to the X-Men." He ignored the face Skirrow made. "And at least I know where your loyalties lie."

Bobby blinked at this. "I have loyalties?" He hadn't meant to say it aloud, but such was the mental conversation.

Skirrow shook her head. "He'll mess things up. He's just a boy."

"That's why we have to take him with us," Magneto said patiently.

"Hey!" said Bobby, not liking the tone of the conversation. "Boy?"

"Don't start, Drake," Magneto said wearily.

"He could be your father," Skirrow pointed out.

"Well, yeah, but he could be my, uh, brother, too, if, uh, my father was in his eighties and on his second marriage."

"He makes a good point," said Skirrow, oozing sarcasm. "I'm sure someone with his mental acumen will be really useful."

"Oh, shut up, Miss Holier-than-thou. I'm not the one who automatically believes any sex scandal Cadran sends my way."

"Quiet Drake. Skirrow, alert us when you think it's time to put the plan into action. We'll be waiting."

"Sir." Skirrow saluted him, and Magneto was suddenly gone.

"Hey," said Bobby, finding himself standing across from Skirrow, "what gives?"

"I want to talk with you a little more."

"Okay, but I don't why you'd want to. I don't know nothin'." He put his hand flat on the top of his head. "Do you know what this is? It's an African brain-sucking astral projection. You know what it's doing? Starving." He lowered his hand. "That joke just doesn't work as well on the astral plane. Anyway, what were you going to talk to me about?"

"Your psychic walls." Bobby flinched a the thought of them. "I think...oh, nicely done!"

"What?" He looked behind him, where Skirrow was looking. There was no longer an invisible forcefield between them and the rest of his mind -- there was now a wall of ice. No one was going to get through that.

"Very pretty," said Skirrow. "But inconvenient. I was wondering if you could help me get a look back there."

Bobby shook his head.

"You won't?"

"I can't," corrected Bobby. "Anyway, there's nothing useful there. I'm sure of it."

"If you say so...well, good night, Bobby."

"Good night, Natalie," he replied, and everything went black.

***
Skirrow came and got them, though Bobby resisted before he remembered that she was here to help them escape this time. He got out of bed and padded after them softly. No one spoke, though Bobby suspected that Skirrow and Magneto were carrying on a telepathic conversation.

Skirrow stopped, and nodded to Magneto. He beckoned to Bobby to follow, though Skirrow stayed by the door. Seeing Bobby's bewildered expression, she thought to him, I'll be shielding you from here.

They crept on and the absolute silence threatened to rip Bobby in half. Was this all a dream, too? It certainly had that surreal feeling. But the hot feeling under his skin, the sticky feeling of sweat plastering his clothes to him, was definitely real.

"Hello?" said Bobby, despite himself.

"Quiet," hissed Magneto, which was all Bobby wanted to hear, just to reassure himself that the man in front of him wasn't some phantom copy. But the annoyance in the voice, the condescension in the look, he had to add, "You could say please."

Magneto turned and glared fiercely at him. "Drake, you can babble all you want when you're trapped in a cell, or fighting all your pet villains with the X-Men, but now be quiet."

Looking back on it, Bobby thought he must have simply snapped. Not in a cool berserker fury sort of way, just in a stupid way. But all the embarrassment, all the helplessness of the previous days, it was too much. Too much for Bobby Drake.

"Why are you taking me with you anyway, if I'm so obnoxious? To convince the X-Men to help you since they're the only ones you know won't stab you in the back?" Bobby looked up at Magneto, who was taller than him because everyone just had to be taller than him. "Thanks, but no. You'll just get me killed. That's something you seem really good at. And it's not just your enemies. It's your followers and innocent bystanders, too. Then there's your family. And it's really no fault of your own that any of your children are still alive. Great job raising them, by the way. And then you use all the pain from getting people killed as an excuse to kill more people. What a great purpose in life, Maggie, how's it working for you?" His hands were in tight fists, his nails dug into his palms. He felt as if opening his hands would make him deflate, leaving nothing but an empty husk in a sad pile on the floor.

Magneto was looking at him like he wanted him to shrink down to ant size so he could step on him. Bobby realized that, though he had seen Magneto filled with righteous wrath, he had never seen the man simply and truly angry. The icky, ineffectual kind of anger, that made you just want to kill someone even though that punishment didn't fit the crime. The Professor, Logan, Rogue, they'd probably all seen him like this, but not Bobby, and certainly he'd never had that anger all directed at him.

What a rush.

He had to leave now, he realized, before the exchange melted into something else, and the sickening feeling of victory became merely sickening.

He turned around and began walking down the hall, but he found himself thinking desperately, with every step, Don't let me leave. Stop me. But he knew Magneto wouldn't do that. His sense of justice, his affronted pride, wouldn't allow it.

And who'd want you around them after that anyway? Nice going, Bobby.

And who would've thought that the practical joker of the X-Men would ever be in a situation where he was trying to one-up the Master of Magnetism's wounded pride?

Since when do you have any pride? Why do you have to start now?

He stopped in his tracks. It was unheard of, in a situation like this. You always walked on. Always.

He turned around. Magneto was still standing there, watching him.

"On second thought," said Bobby in a small voice, "maybe we'd better stick together?"

Magneto inclined his head slightly to the side, and said nothing.

I feel sick. This is not good for me. I want to be at home battling Sentinels. "And, uh, sorry, that was all uncalled for?"

"The only reason you are here," Magneto began slowly, in a tone that made Bobby feel sicker, "is because I allowed it."

In other words, this is all charity, Drake. How did he do that? How did he completely rob someone of their humanity and self-respect with one sentence?

Bobby looked down at his feet. "Yeah. I know." No! What are you saying?

"Come then," said Magneto in the same cool tone. Bobby nodded mutely and followed in the great man's wake.

The infirmary wasn't far off, and they only passed one unconscious body on their way. The body reminded them that Skirrow was stretching herself to shield them, and they walked a little faster.

Magneto, who apparently knew the fortress like the back of his hand, listened at the door of the infirmary for a second, and, satisfied that there was no one there, pushed the door open.

He and Bobby froze in their tracks then.

It was a trap, of course. What else? Bobby thought dizzily.

The bright blue eyes skewered them both. "Hello," said Cadran. He rested an elbow on the operating table and put his chin in his hand. "You're just in time for the execution."

So this is how I'm going to die. He could just hear the headlines, X-Men's Iceman Slips Up. Robert Drake died today by falling into a typical supervillain's trap. Experts are surprised the X-Man lasted even this long...

"Bring them to the audience hall," said Cadran. "I'll be there shortly."

Bobby didn't even see what was going on with Magneto. He just stared at his feet while a telepath roughly forced him to walk ahead. He hated that. Couldn't they just press a gun to his back? No, they had to use their powers to make him go where they wanted him to. Show-offs.

His whole body seemed to itch, and every now and then his leg went in the wrong direction. He hoped that confused the telepaths, and wondered if they thought it was him resisting, or if they knew he just couldn't help it. Probably the former. Heh. Idiots. He scratched the back of his neck, which seemed to itch more intently than the rest of his body. His nails broke through the huge scab with ease, and the sting of them scratching at the bloody flesh underneath was a good distraction from the even painful knowledge that someone was inside his head again.

This time, the tap-tap-tap of Magneto's feet wasn't at all comforting.

At last they came to the hall, the place where Magneto had first received Bobby. The telepath released his hold on him, and Bobby collapsed to the floor and then scooted so his back was against the wall. He thought he saw Magneto give him a glance out of the corner of his eye, but Bobby wasn't sure if it was concerned or scornful.

At last Bobby looked up, away from his feet, and saw that Skirrow was at the front of the room, hands behind her back, flanked by two guards. She looked wrong, different, and it took him a moment to realize it was because she had no insignia on her uniform.

Cadran appeared, looking stern, and said some things that Bobby didn't listen to, because he could tell by the tone it was all just show before the execution. He scratched harder at his neck -- he could feel a little blood begin to trickle down his back -- and rubbed his aching left ear occasionally. He looked at Skirrow, but the whole scene seemed out of focus.

Then Cadran's tone changed, and Bobby's ears pricked up. "You know the saying, about what to do if your right hand offends you? I figure it applies even more in the case of the left hand."

When Cadran took her head between his hands, Bobby didn't get to see anyone's expression -- not Magneto's, who was somewhere to Bobby's right, nor Skirrow's, who he couldn't seem to focus on, nor Cadran's, who Bobby just didn't look at. He saw Magneto's vain struggle with the guards out of the corner of his eye, but that was it for reactions shots. And then he saw Skirrow began to shiver, and then shake violently, and he froze as it dawned on him that he was watching her execution -- electric chair, minus the chair.

He wanted to do something, but he was frozen, whether by his own fear or the telepaths he couldn't tell. They didn't stop him from scratching at his wound, though, so he continued his excavation, without taking his eyes off the figure, the face so contorted that it no longer looked like Skirrow. He couldn't hear anything coming from her, but she her mouth was open as if she was screaming.

Then she collapsed, a crumbled heap in the middle of the audience hall. Not human anymore, just a heap. Nothing was more de-humanizing than death.

Cadran said something else, in the same tone as before, so Bobby knew it didn't matter. He then left with his entourage, leaving the others to clean up his mess. Apparently he had just brought Bobby and Magneto to watch.

Two men came forward to collect Skirrow's corpse. Corpse. Damn it.

He and Magneto were escorted out of the room, two guards for each of them.

"Are you monitoring him?" said one of the men standing next to Bobby.

"Don't worry about him. He doesn't know what's going on. His mind's all over the place."

Bobby didn't know why they were saying that. He was feeling very single-minded.

Then he found it, something hard, which moved back and forth at his touch, so he knew it wasn't bone.

He pinched it, and then pulled -- the chip came out surprisingly easily. It would've hurt horribly, except he transformed to ice almost instantaneously, and then he felt nothing. He had missed his powers so much.

The two men next to Bobby didn't know what hit them. The suddenly toppled over, and one shattered a bit. Bobby was beyond the point of thinking about it, though.

Magneto's guards only had a second to look horrified before a block of ice encased them.

Magneto stared at them for a moment, and then said blandly, "You know, they weren't telepaths. You could have just pinned them to the wall."

"God," croaked Bobby, "don't say that, okay? Don't say that. Now come on. You're my prisoner now."

He started down the hall and Magneto said, "The other way. We want to get outside. It's not far from here."

Bobby turned around quickly, but he must have been a little too quick because he slipped and fell. It didn't hurt when he was ice, but, damn, it was embarrassing.

Magneto only raised his eyebrows, but Bobby thought he could see amusement in his eyes. "Does that happen often?"

"Occasionally," admitted Bobby, scrambling to his feet. "Not enough traction." They strode quickly down the hall and stopped by an elevator. "So, where are we going? To get the chip out of your neck?"

"There will be too many people back that way, and I don't care to try doing it your way. We need to get out of here before the alarm is sounded. Once the telepaths come after us, we're out of luck."

"You have a lot of telepaths, don't you?"

"Not really. They're just in high concentrations," sighed Magneto. "By the way, the guard we'll see in the elevator is not a telepath."

"Thanks," Bobby had time to say, before the door opened and a small, furry man looked at them in surprise. Bobby quickly pinned him to the wall with an ice cocoon as Magneto pressed the correct button.

The furry man gaped. "Magneto?"

"Hello, Peterson," said Magneto pleasantly, pressing the button for the floor they wanted. "How are you?"

Peterson stared at them, apparently incapable of replying, and Magneto said, "Who's on guard today?" Peterson shook his head, and Magneto growled, "A man's life depends on you telling me, Peterson. Who's on guard?"

"Hererra," Peterson managed to choke out.

"Empath," said Magneto. "Not a threat."

They got off the elevator and safely disposed of Hererra in a non-fatal way. Then they stepped out into the night, and Bobby felt like he was going to melt when he saw the sky again, though it was just a dark gray canopy of cloud. It was still glorious. He glanced back behind him at the building, but it was just the one small guardhouse they had emerged from.

"Oh," said Bobby, "there weren't any windows because we were underground. I was wondering." He turned to Magneto. "So, do we iceslide out or what?"

"For the whole world to see? No. There are some unfinished cisterns about five minutes from here that extend beyond the walls. They have more mud in them then water, right now, so they aren't being used."

Bobby followed Magneto again, but didn't mind this time. This time he was in control. Power, even power you hadn't earned, was a wonderful thing, and his whole ice body was alive with it.

The area they were walking through was a maze of small buildings, for storage, Magneto explained. Bobby pinned one guy they encountered to a wall, and Magneto said, "The woman at the cistern has a poison gas power. She gives it off through her pores."

"Ew," said Bobby, but he was really thinking how damn well Magneto knew the place. This is a labor of love.

They came upon the woman guarding the entrance, and, as she gaped at Magneto for a second, Bobby took the opportunity to encase her in ice.

Magneto glared at him, the glare of a man who was enraged but wasn't in a position to act on his anger. "That was unnecessary," he said in a tone worthy of a ticked-off Logan.

"Shut up," said Bobby, though he would've turned bright red if he wasn't in ice form. But he was, and he couldn't let guilt or regrets make him lose his momentum. "Down the stairs, hurry."

Magneto found a flashlight once they reached the bottom of the stairs, and shone it around, so that Bobby could see deep, black water and the long rows of concrete pillars. Then he shone the light on a small boat resting on the water nearby. "For the engineers who are trying to find out what went wrong with the cistern," Magneto explained. "We can punt across, but it will be hard with the mud. One of the men who works here is telekinetic, so he usually gets around that way."

"How about I just freeze us a path across?" suggested Bobby.

"Because I have no desire to crack open my head slipping after coming this far. You can do it that way, if you want."

Bobby shook his head. "I'm not letting you out of my sight." Magneto snorted at this. Bobby paused a moment, and then, using all his will-power, turned back into his normal form, so he wouldn't sink the boat when he got in. The wound in the back of his neck was gone now.

Magneto punted while Bobby shone the flashlight ahead. There was silence except for the boat passing through the water until Magneto said, "It occurs to me, what are we going to do once we're outside the fortress?"

"I am going to iceslide to the nearest civilized area," Bobby replied without turning his head. "You are going to hope you can get that chip out of your neck before any of Cadran's men catch up with you."

Magneto said nothing.

Then there was a shout of "Stop!" Bobby whipped his head around, but before he could see who had shouted, he felt himself propelled over the side, down into the water, and then the into a dark murky sludge. Mud, he realized. It pulled at him, sucked him down, as if it were alive. He wasn't sure which way was up, and as he struggled towards what he thought was up, the mud just grew more tenacious, clogging up his ears, blinding him, making it impossible to move.

Without thinking, he opened his mouth to take in some air, but all he got was mud. It coated his mouth and clogged his throat.

I'm going to die, he thought, and it was amazing how sure of it he was, when everything else in his mind was so jumbled. Death by mud.

At least he would have an original obituary.

***
Part V

He struggled on despite the fact that he was sure he would die, trying to find up, trying to find water, and beyond water, air.

His instinct was to turn into ice, but then he'd just go down like a stone. Or maybe not, he didn't know, and it wasn't time to experiment with the ways ice powers could get you out of mud. He'd probably just end up freezing the mud around him... Was that the ground beneath him? It didn't matter, now...

Stop squirming, said a calm voice in his head. He didn't think it was his own, since it seemed to have a British accent, but he wasn't exactly thinking clearly. Stay still.

He obeyed it, because it wasn't important whether he struggled or not. He could feel himself begin to lose consciousness just as he felt his hand break through the mud and up into water.

Then two hands clutched his wrists firmly, and it occurred to him that maybe he wouldn't die. He was pulled up, up through the water and the air, and then the hands helped him scramble onto the boat.

I still can't breathe, though, he thought, dismayed, and begun coughing up the mud, clearing his throat, rubbing at his muddy eyes with his even muddier hands.

"That," said Magneto, "is what you get for assuming you'd already won."

Bobby coughed and hacked for a moment longer. "What happened?" he managed to rasp, and then tried clearing his throat some more.

"The telekinetic who works here pushed you overboard. He hasn't done anything else, though. I don't know what happend to him."

"We'd better get out of here before we find out." Bobby paused, as some thought tugged at the corner of his mind, and then he added, "You could've gone on without me."

"You pay me no compliment by being surpised by my actions," Magneto replied quellingly.

"I'm sorry. You're right," said Bobby, with real humility. "I'm sorry about...all the other things, too."

"Sometimes you were justified," shrugged Magneto, and that one small admission floored Bobby so that he found he couldn't reply. And it wasn't at all true. Taken in context with Magneto's past, Bobby's little outburst had been downright disgusting. But no need to point that out and revive more ghosts of the past.

Then a woman's voice, clear, British, reached Bobby's ears, "It's just as well he didn't go on without you, since he would have bumped into us."

Bobby looked up, his heart racing with hope, and a small boat appeared around one of the huge concrete columns, and came towards them. It can't be, it isn't. Just more mind games.

But it was, wonder of wonders, Elisabeth Braddock, Betsy to her friends, Psylocke to those who only knew her in her telepath-ninja capacity, and Saviour to Bobby Drake. At last, the rescue! "I was expecting you in the nick of time," said Bobby, his voice strained by mud and emotion. "I'm very disappointed."

"We were in the nick of time as far as taking out that telekinetic went," shrugged Betsy.

Warren was there, too. Bobby glanced at him blearily, still dizzy from his near-suffocation. "Warren, did I ever mention that your girlfriend is the most beautiful woman on the planet?"

Warren, whose expression had been tense, smiled in relief. "I knew that. But you'd better watch what you say, Bobby."

"Don't be jealous. You're a beautiful sight, too. Not as curvy, but..." Bobby stopped, and cleared his throat, "Uh, it's good to see you both."

His fellow X-Man grinned. "So I gather.

Psylocke reached out with a well-manicured hand and took hold of their boat, while Warren pushed off a column to bring the inflatable raft up next to them. "We'd better get out of here," said Betsy, "before someone else comes along trying to foil your escape."

I can't believe they're here. I can't believe they came. "Where'd you get the boat?" Yeah, that's the important question.

Warren helped his friend up and onto the bright yellow raft. "Emergency raft on the Blackbird," he explained.

"Oh. So that's one thing down. But there's a lot of other stuff I want explained, too. And it might not be as easy."

"I know," said Betsy calmly, just as her boyfriend said glumly, "We know."

Bobby curled up next to Warren, who wrapped an arm around his shoulders. Magneto sat down in the last remaining space on the raft. He suddenly looked very tired, Bobby noted. He hadn't before, despite the strain of events. Now he looked a hundred, like the century of memories in Bobby's head had taken a century's toll. It made Bobby uncomfortable to see him so weak, and it also made him feel ashamed for some reason.

"Bobby!" said Warren, sounding worried. Bobby looked up at him inquringly. "I asked you if you wanted a blanket about ten times."

"Oh, sorry. No, that's okay. I was just thinking." Bobby could have sworn he saw a small smile curl Betsy's lips. He didn't know what that expression was for, but it made him want to kick her.

They reached the other end of the cisterns and exited via a hole that had been made in the wall. Blasted? Bobby's was aware of an feeling of anticipation as he clambered up through the hole.

Then they were outside the walls, and, except for the Blackbird a little distance off and the mountains in the background, the land was bare, grey. Bobby wondered if it reflected the sky, or the sky reflected it.

"Bobby." He turned around to see Jean, and she wrapped him in a tight hug, heedless of his mud.

"Jean," said Bobby, and then repeated it, "Jean." He stood back for a moment to look at her and grinned, "Jeanette! Brittany, Jeanette, Eleanor."

"Oh God," he heard Magneto say in the background.

But when Bobby had drawn away, he had seen the worried look it Jean's eye. He turned away so she wouldn't see how upset the look made him, and found Hank who hugged him even more tightly. Bobby hugged him back, but Hank had the same worry in his eyes.

"You okay?" said Hank.

Damn. "Yeah, I'm okay." He buried his face in the fur, and it took a moment before he could pull away, but he had one very pressing question and even a Hank-hug could not destroy his resolve to find out the answer as soon as possible. Storm alighted next to them, but Bobby didn't give her a chance to hug him or ask him anything. If he spent one more second not knowing he would explode.

"Could someone tell me exactly what the hell I'm doing here?"

"Uh...Betsy didn't explain to you?" said Jean.

"I thought it would be better if you did it," Betsy purred.

"Well, you see..." Jean paused, choosing her words. Bobby had never seen her look so uncomfortable. "You know those mental blocks that the telepaths found, and were all confused about?"

"Yeah, I...wait. How do you know?"

"You see...hmmm. We did those. Me and Betsy. With a little help from Charles."

Bobby's eyes widened. "My own people? My own people did this to me?"

Warren and Jean and even Hank had the grace to look embarrassed, and even Betsy looked a bit abashed. Storm smiled slightly, sad, sheepish. Magneto looked like he was enjoying the proceedings.

"Okay." Bobby crossed his arms. "Tell me the rest. This had better be good."

"Perhaps we'd better let the memories speak for themselves," said Jean. After a pause, she extended a hand to Bobby's head, but Bobby flinched away.

"Oh no, you don't. You're not going in there."

"Just relax, this has to be done. I'm not going to hurt you. I promise." He felt her mind brush against his, and he jumped back.

"No, it doesn't. It really doesn't. Stop looking at me like I don't know what I'm talking about!" His voice rose. "I think I know what's going on in my head better than you do!"

"Bobby..."

"What part did you not understand? Shall I say it more clearly? Words of one syllable? Stay the fuck out of my head!"

"Bobby!" growled Warren just as Storm snapped, "Robert!"

Bobby blinked a couple of times. "Hunh? I'm sorry. Don't know what came over me." He closed his eyes. "Carry on."

It's okay. I know what came over you, Jean said gently into his mind. She was delicate, but having her inside his head felt wrong anyway. He felt it when it happened; a kind of forced psychological breakthrough. There was a snap in his mind, or a bubble popped, or something, and memories burst out of their cages and seeped back into the crevices of his brain where they belonged.

He almost fell under the weight of them, and Hank put a large hand on his back to steady him. Everything made sense suddenly, but it still didn't seem at all right, the memories barely his.

"My God," gasped Bobby, "we're idiots. I'm an idiot. Shit. How could we..." His hand went to his left ear, and he said, "Everything?"

Jean nodded. Bobby swore some under his breath. "How'd you get me to agree to that?"

"Hank got first edit."

"Oh yeah. Now I remember."

"For those of us who aren't in on the plot," interjected Magneto, "some exposition, please?"

"Remember the girl?" said Bobby. "The one who Skirrow..." He faltered. He had pushed her to the back of his mind because the circumstances had made it necessary, but now he felt guilty for doing it. "Oh, God. Skirrow."

"Maybe..." Hank began, but Bobby shook his head. "No. Sorry. Anyway, the one she accused you of mind-wiping and raping and everything? Her brother had come to your fortress, and she was following him to check out was going on, 'cause she didn't like the sound of it. The X-Men contacted her before she went -- Xavier knew her -- and asked her to bring back intelligence. But when she came back, remembering nothing about the fortress, we knew something was up."

"That was sloppy on my part. I should have taken the time to replace her memories."

Bobby shrugged agreement and continued, "So the X-Men realized you probably had telepaths checking the people who went in, erasing the memories of those who had some sort of ulterior motive for being there. And you wouldn't be able to get information from sending a person in."

"So they sent you in. What I admire most about the X-Men is their sense of logic."

Bobby grinned involuntarily, but shook his head. "But they didn't send me in alone." He rubbed his left ear thoughtfully, and continued, "If there's one thing we X-Men have, it's lots of ridiculously advanced technology. So they planted a tiny recording device somewhere around or in my ear. It's been transmitting a small range of visuals and all the sounds back to the mansion. See that mole on my ear? Not a mole. That's the lens.

"Then they repressed all the memories that had to do with the recording device, and sent me in."

"For some reason," Magneto said drily, "my esteem for the X-Men did not rise with that explanation."

"We thought he'd just have his memories of the fortress wiped away, and then be sent back, like you did with the other woman," said Jean. "We didn't count on you, Magneto, and we certainly didn't anticipate Cadran. And, since Bobby wasn't a telepath, we didn't think they'd look to see if he was hiding anything..."

Bobby, his part done, only gave half-listened to the conversation. So, what really embarrassing things did I say or do that they recorded? Fortunately, the fact that he was being monitored telepathically seemed to have prevented him from doing anything really embarrassing...but, damn, they had been watching and listening the whole time... Hank would've gotten rid of the unncessary embarrassing stuff, of course...

Magneto snorted. "Didn't you consider the possibility that such a flimsy excuse for his presence in the fortress would bring him under suspicion? And then, once you knew he was in danger, you took days in getting here."

"We were going to go in sooner, but you've really done a job with the security, and then you two escaped..."

"And why on earth did you choose him?" Bobby glanced over sharply. Magneto caught his eye and added unrepetently, "There are others of you who would be better suited."

"I volunteered," said Bobby. "You knew that. I was surprised they let me, but it seemed like I owed the team something after all this time."

Magneto muttered something. Betsy chimed in, "And Bobby's mind is so easy to manipulate. It's like a set of building blocks." Jean shot her a glare. "What? It's true? Nothing personal, Bobby."

"And his ears are very sticky-outy," added Warren apologetically.

"And he doesn't stand out as much as most of us," Jean added contritely, "or seem as threatening."

Magneto raised an eyebrow at all of this, and Bobby laughed suddenly at the expression on everyone's faces. "You idiots, you don't have to explain yourselves to him." He glanced over at the Blackbird. "So, where's everyone else?"

"Rogue is scouting," said Hank. "Logan and Cyclops are on the 'bird."

"Gee, almost everyone turned out to pick me up," said Bobby, as they started towards the jet. "I feel flattered." You all feel guilty, huh? There wasn't just the matter of embarrassment to consider, Bobby reflected. They were probably going to treat him really weirdly for a while now, pitying him, worrying about him, wondering about him...

Magneto walked a few steps behind them, somehow his dignity still intact despite the circumstances. Just like the Professor, who could be sprawled on the ground after being flung from his wheelchair, and still seem perfectly dignified. As they reached the Blackbird, Warren glanced at Magneto bemusedly and said, "But what are we going to do about him?"

"I'll figure something out. He's my prisoner."

"Yes. So we heard," said Hank.

"Oh, yeah. Right. I said it before? Anyway..." the Blackbird's ramp came down, and Bobby looked up. "Hey, Scott."

Scott looked even more concerned than the others, Bobby noted with annoyance as he and his entourage ascended into the jet. Scott ran his hand through his hair, looked at Bobby with a perturbed expression and then pointedly turned his attention to Magneto. Not even a hug. "God, Bobby, what are we going to do with him?"

I am...God Bobby! Bobby stifled a bubble of laughter. Bobby, meet God. God, Bobby. He giggled this time, and then realized that Scott was giving him an odd look. "Uh, could you repeat the question?"

"I said, what are we going to do with Magneto?"

"We're going to help him get that thing out of his neck and take the town back, of course," said Bobby. "I mean, you can't leave that psycho Cadran in charge." And there's the vengeance stuff to be considered, of course.

"We should replace one dictator with another? Listen to yourself, Bobby."

"But...you saw what was going on in there. You can't just let Cadran run the place. C'mon, Scott, you were around for Magneto's previous efforts at utopian societies. You know nothing he's done has been as sane as this, or worked so well." He carefully avoided Magneto's gaze and continued, "Scott, people are giong to die in there."

"I have a feeling people are going to die whichever course we choose," said Scott, glancing meaningfully at Magneto. The other man inclined his head slightly, denying nothing. "And we can't endanger any X-Men over this," Scott added.

"Then don't endanger any X-Men. Send me back in. This is important to me."

Scott pressed a hand to his temple "For God's sake, Bobby, what would you do in there? I'm not sending you back in just so you can kill some guy and run back out. This whole thing is ridiculous. You should go straight to the infirmary..."

"But, Scott..."

"No revenge missions, Bobby. No."

"It's not what..."

Scott shook his head rapidly. "No. I will not allow it."

"Don't you see that..."

"Uh-uh. Give it up, Bobby."

"Then just let Hank..."

"No, I..." Scott paused. "Let Hank what?"

"Remove the power-suppresser," Bobby said quickly, "so that..."

"Out of the question," Scott ground out. "Would you stop?"

It is time to take advantage of my magic Bobby powers. He took a deep breath, and began in a rush, "What're you gonna do, keep Magneto prisoner in the mansion basement? I mean, it's not like you're going to have him killed. And who knows what kind of threat Cadran will prove to be? We can nip this in the bud, and all you have to do is authorize Hank to get the stupid chip out and then we can leave and let Magneto handle it, okay?"

"All in one breath," Hank called from nearby. "I'm impressed."

Scott blinked. "You've lived in New York too long, Bobby."

"Well?" said Bobby, looking at the team's leader expectantly.

While Scott deliberated, somebody had lowered the Blackbird ramp, and there was an exultant cry of, "Popsicle!" from the entranceway. Bobby found himself engulfed in a hug even stronger than Hank's. There was a low whisper in his ear, "Ya did great, by the way." Bobby emitted a contented sigh.

Rogue drew back to look at him, and said thoughtfully, "You need to shave, and Ah have no idea how you got so damn dirty, but you don't smell as bad as Ah expected." She scrunched up her nose at him. "Which means Ah owe Hank ten bucks."

Hank grinned at her. "What can I say? Bobby has always been astonishingly odorless for a male of the species. Even nice-smelling, some might say."

Bobby sniffed thoughfully, and said, "Yeah, but now you're grading on a curve. Anyhoo, Scott...what was... Oh, yeah, Hank, could you get that chip thingy out of Magneto's neck using the supplies on the 'bird?"

"If the process for inserting it is as simple as it seemed," Hanks said, "removal can't be too complex. But I don't know what after-effects the process could have."

"Magneto?" murmured Rogue, and glanced behind her, noticing his presence for the first time. "Oh. Hello."

Magneto nodded politely. "Rogue." He looked over to Hank, and said, "Bobby was able to pull his right out. Can't you do the same?"

"But Bobby turned immediately to ice. I imagine you won't be doing that. There's a chance removing it incorrectly could do serious damage."

Magneto seemed unimpressed by this, and Bobby rolled his eyes and said in a monotone, "He'll take that chance," before Magneto could.

Hank and Magneto went to the section of the Blackbird that served as the infirmary, and Scott looked resigned and said, "I'll have Storm and Jean escort him in. We will not take part in any more politics in that place, though, understood?"

Bobby nodded, knowing that even this small concession was more than he had a right to expect.

Scott blinked at him through weary eyes, and then, finally, went over and hugged him. "Welcome back."

"You'd think I'd been to hell and back by the reception I'm getting." Not that he minded the hugs. It was interesting to contrast the different types he receieved. Jean's was a brief but loving, just-got-off-the-plane kind of hug. Hank's was the kind that a mother might give a child who hurt themself a moment ago. Rogue's was the strongest, an I-missed-you-never-leave-again hug. Scott's was a quick, guilty sort of I-missed-you, kind of 'I missed you, okay? What more do you want of me?'

Magneto returned a few moments later. "Thank you, Scott," he said, extending a hand.

Scott shook it, but shrugged off the thanks. "Sure. Good luck with your mission. Storm, Jean, you heard?"

"Yes, honey. We'll take care of it." She grasped her husband's hand briefly, and then started down the ramp, beckoning for Magneto and Ororo to follow.

Magneto paused, and looked at Bobby. "And thank you for your help, Drake."

"You're welcome. But not as in, you're welcome to my help for nothing. You know you owe me, right?"

Magneto smiled slightly. "Of course." A magnetic field formed around him, and he began floating out the door.

"And, get Cadran for me, would you?" Bobby called after him. Wish I had killed the bastard myself.

Magneto's face grew grim. "Of course," he replied. "That was an integral part of the plan anyway," and he was gone.

Bobby's knees suddenly suddenly threatened to give, and if he had been in his ice form we was sure he would have melted to a puddle on the ground. "I'm going to sleep," he declared to those assembled around him.

Rogue took his arm. "Of course, shugah. But first we have a change of clothes for you, and you can get that mud off your face and hair." She lead him to the bathroom and handed him the clothes they had brought for him.

The first thing he did after setting his changes of clothes down on the toilet lid was to strip out of the mud-coated grey pajama things, and kick them into the corner where he couldn't see them. Then, after a moment's hesitation, turned to face himself in the small bathroom mirror. He didn't like what he saw; he didn't know who he saw. The bags under his eyes were so big that they seemed to take up about half his face. And he really did need to shave. He scratched at some mud plastered to his face, and then scratched his scalp and watched the stuff crumble into the sink. He put his head under the faucet and shut his eyes against the cold water running over his head, through his hair, into his ears, trickling down his neck. All the towels were filthy by the time he was finished drying, but, once he put the clean clothes on, he looked almost human.

When he reemerged, Rogue was sitting at the end of a row of seat. She waved at him, and patted the seat next to her. He went over and lay down across the seats, resting his head on her lap. He glanced out one of the windows and sighed, and Rogue's gloved hand ran though his hair.

Then he looked over at Scott, who was carefully avoiding looking at him. Bobby sighed again, wearily, and sat up. Rogue looked at him questioningly.

"One sec," said Bobby. He watched Scott's brooding profile for a moment before going over and sitting down next to him. "Hey, Scott?"

Scott smiled a little "Hey Bobby. It's good to have you back, by the way."

"Yeah. And it's heavenly to be back. Even if it's only the Blackbird, it's still a big step up. But you know that."

Scott flinched slightly. "Yes. I'm sorry you had to go through all that."

"Most of the others have been through a lot worse," shrugged Bobby. "We've been though a lot worse as a team. The only difference is that then you didn't get to see it all in detail on-screen in stereo."

Scott's brow furrowed. "You'd better go get some rest, Bobby. You need it." He gave Bobby another, brief smile and turned to look out the window.

Dammit, do you think I'm made of glass? But instead he said, "Scott, are you angry at me or something?"

Scott turned quickly. "No! What would make you think that?"

"Then why don't you talk to me?" he said earnestly. "Didn't I do okay? Did I screw something up, disappoint you in any way?"

"No, no! Of course not, Bobby. I just thought you'd want to rest..."

"I completed the mission, didn't I? So what are you so upset about? Does it have to do with Magneto? Did you want him imprisoned or something? Or was it Skirrow? I'm really sorry I let her die..." Bobby cut himself off quickly. Shit. He hadn't meant for that to come out. Of course it wasn't Skirrow, why had he even said that? He wanted Scott to realize the ridiculousness of feeling guilty and pitying him, not make Scott pity him even more. "'Cause if I didn't let you down, I don't know what you're so upset about."

Scott gave him a concerned look. "Bobby, you didn't let me down. I shouldn't of sent you on such a dangerous mission."

You mean ridiculous, not dangerous, Scott. Bobby did his best to look offended. "Why not?"

"It was bad leadership. We had very little idea what you were getting into, and you were going in completely blind. It was unfair to you."

"I agreed to it, didn't I? Everyone else agreed to it. And it worked. There were casualties, but it worked. Thanks to my inimitable flair, make no mistake. And now you're telling me I did that all for nothing? It was just a huge waste of my time?"

"No, I... You accomplished a lot," Scott said weakly. "You did good."

Bobby grinned suddenly, and extended a hand. "Gee, thanks. Glad to be of service. I'll go sleep now."

Scott shook his hand, his countenance slightly puzzled, but at last smiled sincerely. "You'd better. You look like hell."

"You always know how to make me feel good, Scott."

"Compliments make people negligent," said Scott, deadpan. "I like to keep you all on your toes."

Bobby went back to his seats and Rogue-pillow. He fell sleep almost immediately, so he didn't see when Storm and Jean returned, or when the Blackbird at last took off.

Epilogue

Bobby pushed the door, opening it just enough for him to slip in. It always seemed that the study door belonged closed, or as near closed as possible, so the room wouldn't be exposed to the chaos of the outside world. He ran his hands through his wet hair and stood at attention, waiting for the Professor to take his eyes off the computer screen. Bobby was pink from his shower, which had lasted well above an hour, as had all his showers in the past few days since he had gotten back from his mission.

Professor X looked up at Bobby and said, "You can sit down you know."

Bobby sat down, and said, "Scott always waits standing."

"Scott also coughs discreetly any time anyone mentions something even remotely connected to sex. I fail to see your point." He closed a few windows and opened another. "I got an email from Magnus that you might be interested in. He says he took back the fortress and that he wanted to keep us informed so that we didn't try to send anyone else in to spy on them. He'll keep us informed in the future if we so desire. And, ah, he took care of Cadran."

"Any more details about that?" said Bobby casually.

Xavier's eyes narrowed slightly, and he shook his head in reply. He closed all the windows, and looked at Bobby, the tired, thoughtful, penetrating look that Bobby could remember from when they first met. It still made Bobby's stomach turn.

"I wish you'd submit to some therapy," he said. "There need be nothing telepathic about it."

Bobby made a face. "Telepathic or not, it's still poking around in my head. That's like suggesting that a burn victim go stick their hand in the fireplace. Thanks, but no." He got up to go. Xavier motioned for him to sit back down. By way of compromise, Bobby remained standing but didn't leave.

"I think the effects of your experience run deeper than you realize, Bobby."

"I wish people would stop assuming that they know more about what's inside my head than I do."

"If you'd recall, the last time they were right."

Bobby shook his head and said softly, "No. The last time was when they assumed my mind was too confused for me to be any threat."

Xavier inclined his head, conceding the point. "I wish you could tell me what I could do for you."

"Well, since you ask, there is the fact that everyone's keeping an eye on me. In my thinking, spying on the guy who just spent over a week being mentally probed and monitored and taped, is not the best way to keep him sane."

Xavier put out his hands, palm-up, beseeching. "We're worried about you, Bobby. All of us."

He could appreciate motives, and his expression softened. With an effort. "I know. Thanks. But stop, please. You really don't need to worry."

He escaped from the study and intended to go back upstairs to his room, but he was intercepted by Hank.

"Bobby, I was just looking for you. I was wondering if perhaps you wanted to watch a movie with me." Seeing Bobby's dubious expression he held up a bag and added, "I have milk duds."

"Don't tempt me," said Bobby. "I'd love to, but I'm so tired."

"This is like fencing with silly putty," Hank sighed. Bobby looked at him blankly, and he shook his head. "Never mind."

"Okay, I won't. But I'll take the milk duds if you want," he added.

He at last escaped to his room and settled down in front of the TV. He popped a tape into the VCR, already half-way through, and leaned back, opening the bag of milk duds.

The film was black and white, but right now the screen was all white. There were voices in the background.

"Get up," said a woman's voice. "We need the bed."

"That's obvious," a man's voice replied. "I knew he'd be a little shaky when he got back, but I had thought he'd still be standing."

"He probably got to talking, and this was the only way they could shut him up." Something dark obscured the view, and then the camera moved so that it was filming some sheets and and a few shadowy figures.

"Okay, you two can go," said the woman. Some figures shifted off screen, and there was the sound of a door closing.

"Just a routine scan," mocked an accusing voice. "They won't find anything."

"So they found something. This isn't my..."

Bobby fast-forwarded, and then pressed play. A man's face hovered in front of the camera.

"He's unconscious," said someone from off screen.

The one on-screen looked disinterested. "Get someone to carry him out."

He stopped it and got up and put in another tape. He fast-forwarded it for awhile, and then pressed 'play'. There was a room with very little furnishings, and a bunch of people in uniform. A woman was standing at the front of the room, hands behind her back. This scene had made him cry the first time, but about the fifth time through you became immune to it.

His door opened suddenly, and Bobby knew enough to jump, and press the stop button. But he hadn't been fast enough to fool Rogue, by her quick glance towards the TV. She grinned at him, a rather fixed grin, and said, "If you don't want people ta come in, ya should lock your door."

"Then go back out and I'll lock it," said Bobby.

Rogue gave him a look, an angry, you-can't-get-away-with-this-forever glower. She looked like she wanted to say something, but then she just shrugged irritably and withdrew into the hall, closing the door behind her.

Bobby went over and locked the door. Then he sat back down and pressed play.

finis