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