Break Through
by Kassia

Chapter 4

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.

continued >>

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