Sometimes he thought that getting the walk right was the hardest part of all. He was accustomed to a much longer stride, not to mention rather different shoes. He could never decide whether the height these particular boots gave him was worth the imbalance they created in posture. They made it harder to move carefully across the icy lawn, and he paused to adjust his body language as he grew closer to the house. It was unlikely that there would be anybody about at this hour, only a short time before the midnight curfew, or that anyone watching would notice the alteration. Yet the bare trees made him feel more exposed than usual, even under cover of darkness.
Although the season had turned to winter, he still spent as much time as possible away from the school. He didn't mind the cold, and today the walk home had turned into a quiet stroll around the lake. It was reassuring that the grounds, at least, were more or less as he had left them years before. Their familiarity was a soothing contrast to the dramatic changes that had taken place as the mansion itself was renovated to accommodate several dozen teenagers and staff. When he wandered the grounds, he could sometimes reflect that it was nice to be back. Still. Given a choice, he would have preferred to spend the interminable wait in the other prison.
He could imagine the disadvantages, even though the news reports and Charles had both been irritatingly vague about the conditions. Boredom, frustration, the fear that his plan had failed altogether ... no, he could not feel too much envy. The irony of envying a condemned criminal at all made him smile, if only in private where nobody could see how wrong the expression looked. He couldn't help but think, however, that life enshrouded in plastic at the tender mercy of the US government must be less nerve-wracking than pretending to be a seventeen-year-old girl.
It had become more difficult of late, new problems replacing the old. At first, Marie's memories had been fresh and bright. It had been easy to cover his own accent with hers, smile the correct charming smile, and maintain the fiction that her psyche had survived the ordeal on Liberty Island intact. He had been afraid, in the beginning, that the integrity of his own personality would break down under the weight of her fragmented memories.
It was a far quieter battle than the initial struggle with the Wolverine, who had leapt into the girl's mind moments after Erik had found himself there. Logan had fought strongly at first, but once he realised that the girl was - to all intents and purposes - dead, he had faded away to nothing. The war with the tattered remains of Marie was fought by inches. In front of the wardrobe and the bathroom mirror, and in his dreams at night. Eventually, she had melted away like snow in the spring, leaving only whispers behind.
It had been harder than Erik had anticipated to allow the last of her to slide away - he had been reluctantly willing to let her die in his machine, but once he knew her intimately he found himself clinging to the last shreds of her personality. He still found himself applying the shades of lip gloss and eye shadow she had preferred, telling himself that they lent an air of verisimilitude to his performance. If he was completely honest, he was sorry Marie was gone. But if her martyrdom was rather different from the one he had envisioned, it was no less necessary now. Her hopes, dreams and fears were small, petty, personal. His own existence must take precedence, for he had a duty to perform.
By the time he had settled into his new surroundings, however, he had lost his first chance at freeing his alter ego. His best weapon - a living puppet with bones of adamantium - had left the mansion. Eventually, he had decided that his best course of action involved waiting for Logan to return. Charles had always been the patient one, but Erik knew when to bide his time.
As the weeks went by, the indignities of living in this body had made a fuller impact on his mind. It had rhythms and cadences that felt more alien rather than less over time. More often than not he spent the moment between sleep and true waking in a state of panic as he struggled to recall what had happened. His own hands - not his hands - ambushed him at odd moments. In defiance of his new form, he had altered his style of dress and bound the girl's long hair back. His manner shifted, too, and he found himself snapping at people when she would have laughed, smiling when she would have frowned. Erik wondered more than ever how Raven managed to change her inner self to match whatever surface she choose to wear.
Fortunately, nobody present was familiar enough with girl to spot the Trojan horse. Only Charles knew him well enough to present any kind of risk. He had thought long and hard about that, wondering if he needed to sabotage Cerebro again, or find some other way of removing his old friend from the game ... but Charles wasn't the only one with background knowledge. Erik knew the right words, the right sideways glances, to crush any temptation the telepath might have felt to probe his mind. If Charles looked at him sadly from time to time, well, Charles was sad far more often than most people realised. Trauma and restless memories gave him all the explanation for Rogue's behaviour that he would ever look for. At first the sheer static of Rogue's mind had protected him, and now he was careful to keep his mental shields up at all times.
So he watched and waited, avoided the rest of the student body, and practiced the use of his powers when he could. They were weaker than before, but his new body was fit and healthy. Smaller and softer than his own had been when he was in his prime, but with a strong heart and good lungs. There were times when he almost literally turned cartwheels with the sheer joy of being young again, even in this shell. It occurred to him that he would long outlive the other Magneto, and occasionally he wondered if he needed him at all. Perhaps it would be better to leave the other Erik in prison, to lull the X-Men and the government into a false sense of security ... but his own freedom was one sacrifice he would not make, and he could not take the risk that someone would find a way to use him as a weapon. Besides which, his copied powers lacked both range and depth. He had almost reached the front door when he sensed Wolverine sitting on the recreation room couch.
For a moment, he froze. He had thought that he would be waiting - and preparing - far longer than this. Nobody but Logan had been with Marie for more than a day before she died, but although the wild mutant had hardly known her longer, the pair had forged a strong connection. Before the man left, the girl's personality had still been almost intact, but now ... He would note the absence of her body language and mannerisms far more readily than Xavier's staff and students. Part of Erik ached to remove the threat at once, instead of following his carefully constructed plan.
He steadied himself. He had the advantage here, having seen Logan's thoughts when the man used his healing powers to save Marie. Erik was better at manipulating metal than human emotion (another area where Charles had it over him) but he had learned something from raising two daughters and a son. If the worst did come to the worst, his powers would protect him.
He opened the front door, slipped inside quietly as he did every night at about this time, and headed for the stairs. He left it for his opponent to make the first move.
"Marie?" said the familiar voice from the recreation room doorway behind him.
"Welcome back," Erik said dryly, half turning before moving toward the stairs once more, at a faster pace. Logan, predictable to a fault, followed.
"Rogue? Wait, where are you ..."
"Your dog tags are up in my room. You said you would return for them, did you not?" Damn. The voice was off - his nerves were getting to him - but the expression on the Canadian's face suggested that he was too startled to notice.
"They can wait," he said, crossing the corridor and placing a hand or Erik's - Marie's - shoulder. He tried not to flinch away, although the size and proximity of the man was ... disconcerting ... under the current circumstances. "What's the matter?"
"What makes you think that something is wrong?"
"Where have you been all day? I've been waiting here for you since I got back this afternoon, and nobody knew where you'd gone. And what the hell are you wearing?" he added, taking in Erik's austere monochromatic attire.
"I was at the library." That was true - his worst enemy of late had been sheer boredom. He couldn't write anything important down or sketch diagrams for any new machines, and being subjected to an American high school education at his stage in life was stultifying dull. All that was left was catching up on his reading. As he'd already devoured everything in the mansion's library years before, he was forced to go further afield. "Improving my mind." He crushed the urge to smile. "I don't see how my fashion sense is any of your business."
Logan frowned, and let the last remark pass. "You were at the library this late?"
"No. I went for a walk after they closed for the evening." He reached for Wanda's favourite 'I'm-too-old-for-you-to-give-me-a-curfew' tone, and it seemed effective enough. The man didn't lack intelligence, but he really could be unforgivably dense. Perhaps it went with the healing factor.
"Why not come inside?" His frown deepened. "Marie ... Xavier's worried about you. He said that you hardly talk to anyone, haven't made any real friends ... I thought you were happy to be with people who understood. Don't you like it here?"
"This coming from the man who left me here on my own. Don't you like it here, Logan?"
The desired shock and hurt were easy to read in the man's eyes. "Xavier gave me a lead on my past - you know why I had to go. Shit, Marie, you've seen the inside of my head."
"I asked you to stay."
"I told you I'd be back."
The pout came surprisingly easily. "You didn't say when - I thought you'd be gone a week, not two whole months." Now came the difficult part. He dropped his eyes to the floor and lowered his voice. "I needed you."
"Needed me?" Logan moved the hand on his shoulder, draping an arm around Erik and moving him toward the recreation room. "You know I'll always look out for you, but there are people here who can do the same, if you let them."
He shook his head. "No, I ... I needed you. Because of the voices." He hoped that the tremulous tone didn't approach over-acting.
"Wha - you mean Magneto? David Cody? Or ... me?"
He nodded, biting his lower lip. One of Anya's favourite tricks when she was trying to seem more pathetic and needy than she truly was.
"Why didn't you tell me before?"
"I thought they'd go away, like David did. But you and Erik ... you're stronger than that." Stronger than Logan could possibly guess. "Then you left, and I didn't know where you'd gone ..."
It took all his restraint to avoid throwing the Wolverine across the room as the arm across his shoulders squeezed tighter.
"Why haven't you told Xavier? Or Dr. Grey? They're the experts. I want to help you, Marie, and I'll do anything, but I don't know if I can help." He put a hand under Erik's chin.
"I'm scared they'll throw me out if they find out I still hear the voices. Or lock me up in the basement. Sometimes they do that, you know, to protect the other students." That had the desired effect - Logan looked deeply suspicious and shifted uneasily. "I don't trust them like I trust you. Besides you do help." He paused. This was the delicate part of the operation. If this didn't work, his task would become far more difficult. "When you're close, he's quiet. The you in my head."
The other mutant's forehead wrinkled as he tried to wrap his mind around the concept. "Why would that work?"
"I've been thinking about that a lot. I suppose that you're controlling him somehow - who knows how my powers work?" Erik was relying on the element of mystery inherent in many mutant abilities. Nobody knew how Rogue's absorption functioned, and therefore nobody knew what to expect from her.
"So right now, I'm helping?"
"Oh, yes." He nodded decisively. "The Logan inside my head is quiet now." It wasn't even a lie.
"What about Magneto?" Logan used his chosen name as if it was a curse word.
"He's much worse than you - you don't want to hurt me. He tells me to do terrible things sometimes, and ... I don't know how long I can fight him." Another pause, and now he met the Canadian's eyes willingly. "I want to go visit him in prison."
"What?!" Logan's arm dropped from around Erik's shoulders, and he took a step back. "No way, Marie, that's too damn dangerous. I'm not letting you near that psychopath again"
"He's safely locked up - the professor goes to visit him all the time. If I see him, maybe I could do something to make him leave me alone forever."
"You don't know that will help ... please, won't you let Xavier or Jean try? I know they're good people, you can trust them."
He shook his head, and put on his best expression of resolve. "Will you just let me try this first? If it doesn't do anything I promise I'll tell someone else, now that you're here to protect me. And ... could you come with me and wait outside? I asked the professor to take me, but he said no. I'm afraid to go alone." Erik hadn't expected his first request to work - Charles was far too cautious. Wolverine, on the other hand, would do anything his precious ingnue asked of him ...
"OK, Marie." He reached out for a hug, and Erik, heart leaping triumphantly, decided to allow it. "I'll take you. We'll go Monday."
Erik let himself smile.
"Thank you, Logan. You're always so much help to me."
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Author: Andraste [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | PG | gen | 13k | 02/09/04
Characters: Magneto, Rogue, Wolverine
Summary: Magneto hides in plain sight. Written before X2 was released, and now firmly AU.
Notes: Written for the Remix:Redux challenge, this is based on 'A Life Found and Lost' by Khaki.
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