His world exploded in pain. One moment he was lost in the pleasure of love making and the next he was gasping and crying out in agony. All between one breath and the next. It was all much too fast for him to stop it. It couldn't have lasted for more than a few seconds, but it seemed to go on for hours. The fists and the hurting; the pain and the betrayal. And all the while his lover kept smiling. Smiling, when he broke his nose and blackened both his eyes. Smiling, as he pushed him from off the warm and comfortable bed where they had just lain together, then kicked him in the ribs. He was never going to forget that smile ...
"W - why?" he gasped, confused. He curled into a small, tight ball, trying to make himself as small a target as possible. His blue gray eyes, dazed with pain, tried to meet the other mans. So alike. So very much alike. "I - I don't understand. What did I do? What did -"
"Damn you, Magneto!" cried the other, who was no longer smiling now and kicked him again. "Shut up, old man!"
"But, I'm not - " he whispered.
Of course, there was no longer anyone there to hear his soft denial. He was alone.
As Magneto deserved to be.
************************************************************************************** Gambit was the one who found him, on his knees in the bathroom, curled around the cool porcelain, retching into the bowl. Slender, elegant hands, skilled in many things, pulled back the long, bright silver hair to keep it from the foulness. With a wet cloth, Remy laved the smooth angular face, then held him until the other, younger man had emptied himself.
"Go away," the newest X-Man gasped, pain and humiliation leaving his rich voice a mere echo of itself. "Please go away. Let me be."
LeBeau drew in a sharp breath at the sight of the battered, swollen face and the blood.
"Mon Dieux," he murmured. "Who did this to you, homme, eh?"
Joseph flinched and tried to crawl away, out of the reach of the touch of Remy's hands.
"It was an accident," he whispered. "I - I made a mistake ..." Gambit shook his head.
"Dis be no mistake, I t'ink, mon ami." He reached out and touched the intercom on the wall.
"No!" Joseph cried. "I'm fine! Please! I -"
Joseph grasp for the wash basin, trying to pull himself to his feet using it as a lever. Gambit caught him just in time to keep the silver head from hitting the hard tile floor.
"Remy?" Hank McCoy's deep voice rumbled, brimming with concern, "is something amiss my fine Cajun friend?"
He was there in less than two minutes. It never ceased to amaze Gambit how fast Doctor Henry P. McCoy could move when a patient needed him.
"Oh my stars and garters!" gasped The Beast when he saw what awaited him.
************************************************************************************** "What happened?" demanded a grim Scott Summers. "Was he attacked?"
"Oh yes," agreed Hank McCoy, distracted. "Brutally."
Nervously the mutant physician slipped his stethoscope into a pocket of his now no longer pristine white lab coat. The dry cleaners would be complaining again. Blood stains were almost impossible to remove once they were set into the fabric. Unlike people the cloth had a long memory.
The furry mutant could almost see the wheels turning in Cyclops mind. Alert the others. Prepare to defend themselves against an enemy incursion. He didn't miss the concern for Joseph that flashed so briefly across his friend's alert features for a brief instant, though. He watched Scott push his own feelings aside, reaching for the intercom to do the practical thing. Hank sighed. With one blue hand he reached out and covered the founding X-Man's hand with his own larger, clawed one.
"That won't be necessary," he said sadly. He could see Scott's brows knit above the heavy ruby quartz of his protective glasses. He had often speculated that one of the reasons for Scott's undeserved reputation for coldness harkened to the simple fact that no one could see his eyes.
"I know who did this." McCoy explained quickly, "and none of the rest of us are in any danger." Cyclops' frown deepened and then faded. He was all business now.
"What's going on here, Hank," he inquired, his voice level and outwardly calm.
"Something very, very nasty indeed, oh Fearless Leader," The Beast growled and then rapidly caught control of his voice. When Scott's eyebrows lifted eloquently skyward, McCoy scribbled the last of his hasty notes on the patient chart in his hands, then carefully set it aside.
"Someone," he began in a quiet voice where contempt and anger warred with one another for supremacy, "hit our young friend. Again and again and again. In point of actual fact, someone hit Joseph well over fifty times." Under the healthy glow of his tanned skin Scott Summers paled.
"All over the body," Hank continued. "In the face, in the chest, in the abdomen and ... other ... places. Now none of the blows were extraordinarily damaging. Whoever did this was no stronger than the average human. But there were a lot of them. In a very, very short period of time." The muscles of Cyclops neck and jaw bunched like cords. Hank nodded, pleased to see that he was understood.
"He didn't fight back," he told the leader of the Blue Team. "There's not a single mark on his hands. Our amnesiac charge struck nary a blow in his own defense. He didn't have time. Whoever did this to him was fast." He let the words lie there for an instant.
"Very, very fast." he said again in his bass voice that did not lend itself easily to such softness.
"Indubitably," Hank nodded his angry agreement.
For a long moment Scott looked very tired. It was hard for Hank to remember, at times, that Scott Summers was over thirty now, a man twice married, once widowed, with two children. And I'm older than he is, McCoy marveled. When did this happen? In a small stubborn part of Hank McCoy's mind his friends would forever be as he had first known them: young and dedicated, reaching out to live life to it's fullest. He shook himself back to reality just in time to catch Cyclops by the shoulder before he could stalk off in cold, furious search of their house guest.
"I'm afraid that's not all," he confessed. He could feel himself blush beneath the protective cover of his silky blue fur. But, of course, no one could *see* it, could they? This wasn't going to be easy but it must be done.
"There's *more*?" Scott hissed, not wishing to believe it.
For many long moments Hank studied his bare, clawed, omnidextrous feet assiduously. Finally, his reluctant voice returned to him. He drew a deep breath to put off the unpleasantness as long as possible.
"I examined Joseph very thoroughly. Before he was attacked," McCoy said bluntly, leaving no room for mistake, "he was engaged in sexual intercourse."
Scott Summers looked very much like he wanted to be quite ill. "Oh Christ!" he said. "Are - are you *sure*?"
"Positive," Hank assured him. Scott's hands fluttered in front of his face like birds startled from a violated nest.
"Hank, that's - that's - sick," he finished wanly. Hank McCoy's lips curled in anger.
"No it isn't," he almost snarled. "Not from Joseph's point of view, at any rate."
"What do you mean," Scott choked. "Hank, it's *incest* for God's sake!"
The X-Men's resident physician ripped the stethoscope from around his thick neck and jammed it into a pocket of his lab coat. For a moment it was so quiet in the small medical bay that Cyclops could clearly hear the cloth of the coat rip from the force of Hanks gesture.
"Is it?" He challenged, his voice leaking bitterness. "Is it indeed? We don't know that! What if Joseph isn't Magneto and never was? Have any of us ever considered that?" He watched the muscles of Scott's face settle into lines of harsh disbelief.
"And if he is Magnus and it *is* incest, as you say, then whose fault is it?" he demanded. "Not Joseph!" Scott's guilty silence hung heavily between them.
"We never told him, Scott," he accused them all, not least among them himself. "He doesn't know who Pietro is! We never told him," he cried. "He doesn't know that Quicksilver, Pietro Maximoff, is Magneto's son! He doesn't know what he's done!"
"Hank, we've been through all this before." Cyclops level words were calm, but the corners of his mouth curved downward in a frown. "We decided that it was best if Joseph knew as little as possible about Magnus."
"Why?" McCoy clenched and unclenched his hands, excising his anger with his muscles. "Because we're afraid of Magneto?"
"You're damned right I'm afraid of Magneto!" Scott was almost shouting. "Anyone in their right mind is afraid of Magneto, Hank! You fought him an an X-Man and as an Avenger! Have you forgotten what he's *like*?"
"No," came Henry's quiet reply, "but *he* has."
"He's forgotten a great many things thank to me," sounded a familiar voice at their back.
Scott turned to face his mentor and teacher Charles Xavier, the founder of the X-Men. Summer's mouth set and his brow wrinkled in a frown that made him look older than his years. But not as old as the man he faced. McCoy polished his glasses and tried to occupy himself with that harmless bit of random movement. As always his thick, round lenses were immaculate, in no need at all of cleaning.
"Professor," Scott's greeting was a triumph of level headed practicality. "I'm sorry to involve you in this mess." He gusted a self denigrating breath of pure sadness and regret. "I should never have let this happen. It's partly my fault for not paying enough attention to the team." He ran his fingers through his thick brown hair, shaking his head.
"I'll take care of it, sir."
McCoy was not surprised to see Xavier shake his smooth head in denial.
"No, Scott. This is my mess, in so many, many different ways. This is my house. And it's about time I started to clean up after myself, don't you think? I'll take care of Pietro." His eyes were hard and chill, but his voice held the tattered remnants of sadness and great passion. Scott Summers opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of it.
"Let me do this for you," he finally asked, quietly. "That's part of my job." Xavier's smile was warm with gratitude and affection.
"It always was, wasn't it?"
His deep, deep breath was liberating. Once the decision was reached then everything else fell naturally into place. It seemed a great relief to him, Hank thought.
"Not this time, Scott," he vowed, not without regret. "I'm afraid you can't shield me from this. I've let you do that too often, of late. I've never been very fair to you have I? To any of you, really ... " There was genuine sorrow in his next words. "I'm so very sorry about that, truly I am. You may never know *how* sorry. But it's going to stop. Now. A lot of things like that are going to stop. Starting with this."
Scott glanced away and Hank winced, wishing himself somewhere else.
"That's not important right now, sir," the X-Man's once Deputy Leader pointed out.
"It's important to *me*," Xavier's answer was soft. "I've failed you; I've failed all my X-Men. But no more. That will be the first thing to change If I don't accept the responsibility for this, then I'm worse than the doddering old fool I feel like at the moment. I *have* to do this. Leave Quicksilver to me."
After a moment, Charles Xavier's most loyal adherent nodded his understanding. On his way out the door he lay a consoling hand on his mentors shoulder.
"If you need me, sir, you know where to find me."
The wheelchair bound telepath, the strongest mutant mind on Earth, nodded in his turn and his small half smile was very heart felt.
"I always do," he replied.
McCoy smiled and returned his glasses to rest on his furry nose. In silence, Xavier's hoverchair turned to face him. His teacher's face lost all expression save anger and Hank McCoy frowned in worry. If Xavier noticed he gave no sign of it.
"There's no possible mistake here, Henry? We can't afford to be wrong about this." The mutant healer shook his shaggy head. His reply was simple but immutable.
"The body doesn't lie, Charles. I'm not wrong about this. Would that I were."
Xavier seemed very tired, of a sudden, as if a great weight had been added to an already overwhelming one.
"I had hoped ... well, my hopes are irrelevant. We must deal with reality. And reality is waiting for me in the West Wing, I fear, in the shape of a terribly confused man named Pietro Maximoff." He glanced in the direction of the Medical Bay and the sleeping Joseph. "And in there."
"Joseph is my patient, Charles," Henry was firm. "He's my responsibility, now." Xavier looked stubborn but McCoy matched him will for will. Finally, the Nobel laureate lifted his square chin in guilt.
"I allowed this to happen, too, Charles," he said. "We *all* did. There is more than enough blame to cover each of us, my friend. You've no monopoly on that. I'll feel better about myself if you allow me to do this. The purging of past sins is cathartic, I think." He blinked back great shame that shone like a beacon out of his bright, intelligent eyes.
"For all our sakes ... I hope so."
As he moved away, borne on his noiseless cushion of alien, Shi'ar technology, Charles Francis Xavier, mutant telepath and dreamer could only pray that his most honored student was right about that.
Xavier found his house guest Pietro Maximoff relaxing in his room, reading a book. The mutant telepath noted the title, Crime And Punishment by Dostoevsky and almost lapsed into unwanted laughter. The irony did not escape him. Resolutely, he beat back the raising tendrils of anger and bitterness in his mind. Here, they would serve no purpose, save to release the tide of an equal anger and bitterness. And there was surely enough that to serve, was there not? His unannounced entrance caught the speedster by surprise.
"Why, Pietro?" were the first words out of his mouth. So very, very angry ... Where did that come from, he thought in dull wonder. Such deep, choking anger ...
"Get out!" cried Pietro, clutching at his temples as if that small thing could drive the strongest telepath on Earth from his thoughts. "Stay out of my head you - "
One elegant eyebrow lifted on Xavier's high domed forehead and then he smiled.
"Oh, never fear," he assured Quicksliver with rueful contempt. "The sanctity of you thoughts remains unviolated. It was a rhetorical question. Believe me, I understand exactly why you did this and *who* you did it to. I don't need my telepathy for *that*." He leaned forward in his silent, floating hoverchair, his eyes narrowing.
"Tell me," demanded the founder of the X-Men, low voiced, "when you look in the mirror, Pietro *Lehnsherr*, *who* do you see?"
Before the passing of an eye blink the super fast mutant Quicksilver was across the room and at Xavier's side his eyes shining, his lips inches from Xavier's ear. His warm breath caressed the skin of the older man's neck.
"Oh no," whispered Quicksilver, the smile in his voice mocking, derisive, not at all pleasant, "you tell *me* Charles Xavier ... who do *you* see?" Frowning, the crippled telepath drew back and Quicksilver hissed in almost serpentine triumph.
"Did you grieve when he left your bed so many years ago in Israel?"
His white knuckled grip on the arms of his hoverchair tightened and he lost his smile, but otherwise Charles Xavier was calm. He lowered his head, unable to look at his opponent. But it wasn't Pietro Maximoff that he was afraid to see staring back at him.
"Oh yes," he said, finally. "I grieved. Didn't you grieve when Crystal died? And Erik Magnus Lehnsherr *did* die. As surely as I sit here before you today, he died. And there wasn't a thing I could do but watch. I couldn't help him. I couldn't stop him. I wasn't strong enough in those days. Not strong enough to help him find a path through the madness. And not strong enough to stop him from lashing out at the world." He thrust out his hands and stared at them in fury. "He slipped between my fingers and I was helpless ... always so helpless!" His hands curled into fists and he pounded the padded arms of his hoverchair in frustration. But after a moment his eyes lost their passion and he gazed at Pietro coldly.
"And what about *you*, Pietro?" he wanted to know. "Why do you hate him so?"
The speedster shouted, "He's a monster! He brings nothing but pain and death to all those around him."
Xavier's answer was as quick as Pietro's racing feet. "No, I'm afraid that won't do," he pronounced, firm in his accusation. "What you did to young Joseph wasn't punishment for crimes committed against others. It was very, very personal. What did he do to *you*?"
"He used and abused my sister and I!"
"He never touched Wanda!" the telepath retorted, relentless in his demand for the cruel truth. "And you know it! But you ... *you* were another matter, weren't you Pietro? Mortimer wasn't the only one he abused was he? You're a proud man Quicksilver. You fought back. But it didn't do you any good did it?" Pietro Maximoff reeled back, almost as if he could feel again those causal blows land once more upon his body, hear that ranting disparaging voice. He covered his ears to shut out the sound.
But not the sound of Xavier's voice.
He stumbled to the room's small bed and sat down heavily, lowering his head in utter shame and humiliation. How pathetic, he thought. Even after half a lifetime thoughts of him can still drive you to this? Ah God! The approach of his hoverchair was noiseless, so Pietro did not hear Xavier. It wasn't until he felt those hands gently stroking his hair that he realized Xavier was there beside him, offering comfort.
"He must have hurt you deeply," said the mutant mentor. Pietro looked up.
"It wasn't the pain," he maintained, proudly. "I've been hurt before. It was never the pain. The pain was nothing. It wasn't even the humiliation ... "
"Oh no," Charles agreed, "it was the rejection, wasn't it? He must have been furious when you offered yourself to him." Quicksilver's body stiffened in great anger and then just as swiftly slumped in crushing shame. He buried his face in his hands.
"He ... hit me ... " came the sound of Pietro's muffled voice from behind his hands. Even that fleshly barrier wasn't enough to hide the pain and humiliation ringing in that softly accented voice. Xavier closed his eyes.
"Even his voice," he marveled, "even his voice. He carries Magnus with him where ever he goes. He can't escape him."
"That was the first time he ever hit me. He was forever yelling and calling names, but he never struck me until ... then. Until I - until I told him that I loved him ... that I wanted him to love me ..." The son of his former lover who became his greatest enemy shook like a sapling tree in a high wind. Xavier pulled Quicksilvers head into his lap and the mutant speedster let it lay there. The telepath's hands stroked again that mane of silver hair so like his lost lovers'.
"Pietro, Pietro ... " he soothed. "Don't you understand?" His heavy sigh ruffled Pietro's hair, a caressing breeze. "I suppose you never knew. But then, you never knew your father very well at all, did you?" He lifted Pietro's chin and stared into his eyes. "Think, man, think!" he cried. "You know he was at Auschwitz. What do you imagine was one of the first things that happened to him there?" Quicksilver's eyes widened in recognition and he tensed. Like Magnus, he was fair complected so it was difficult to tell if he actually paled but Charles thought that he did.
"You can't mean - "
"He was raped. Repeatedly. By guards and Kapos alike. At least once by one of his fellow prisoners. He was young and pretty and quite defenseless. Of course he rejected you! He has no kind memories of love in the arms of another man." Pietro felt those comforting hands grow stiff and still.
"Not even mine." Xavier whispered.
"I didn't know!" Pietro mourned, fighting to compose himself. "Gods, I'd never have ... " He let the words trail off, echoing hollowly before they disappeared to where ever it is that ancient regrets live. Charles nodded.
"Of course you didn't," Magnus' former lover assured the disturbed man before him. "How could you? Even those of us who know about Auchwitz don't all know about that part. You were young and rash. He was your savior, strong and beautiful. Naturally, you desired him." Xavier smiled sadly. "Do you think I didn't fall into that same trap myself?" Pietro gulped, nodding his understanding. But then he frowned regarding the older mutant with dawning curiosity.
"But, how did *you* ... " he blurted. "If what you say is true, then how ..." The bald man closed his eyes and then smiled sadly without joy or mirth. He had not allowed himself to think of Gabrielle Haller in quite a while. Such shame as his was still difficult to bear even after all this time.
"I cheated, Pietro," confessed Charles Xavier, not looking at the younger man. "I ... used ... someone else to get close to him. Someone who trusted me implicitly, without question. And I betrayed her. In the end, I even betrayed myself. Magnus, too. For all my machinations, all my patience in waiting until he was ready, I still could not save him. Love isn't always enough, I fear. If there's a special place in the nine circles of Hell reserved for someone who betrays a trust, then I am damned."
"And so am I," the other man gulped, hanging his head. "So am I ... "
"Pietro," Xavier managed, lost along with his house guest in the complexity of the man they both loved, "he's not Magnus."
"No, I'm not," a baritone voice they each knew well, agreed.
Quicksilver looked as if he longed for the earth to cover him, to hide him, protect him from the coming storm. But, of course, it did no such thing. It was not so kind to him as that.
Or to Xavier.
"Joseph," Charles said, "you should be in bed."
Indeed, despite the Shi'ar healing technology of the Medical Bay and Henry McCoy's considerable talents as a doctor, the youthful X-Man's pale face, his many bandages, stood mute evidence of Xavier's observation.
"Whoever I am, I'm not Magneto," Joseph said again, frowning. "And I'm weary of trying to be. The truth is, I *won't* be Magnus ..." He stared at Pietro who seemed to shrivel visibly under that sharp, sharp gaze. And then he turned those cutting blue gray eyes on Charles Xavier.
" ... for *either* of you."
Xavier blinked and forced himself *not* to look away.
"Perhaps there is more of Magnus in you than you will admit," thought Magnus' former lover and friend, almost with pride. "Oh, well done, Joseph, well done." The silver haired youth turned again to Quicksilver. To his credit, the super fast mutant did not try to run. He stood his ground.
"Running *is* what you are best suited for, Pietro Maximoff," he thought. His hands relaxed, then, drifting to his side to lay still. "But, not this time. Not this time."
"What *shall* I do with you, Pietro?" Joseph asked softly. The air crackled and sang, filling with the strong smell of ozone and Xavier gasped.
The man who may once have been Magneto ignored him as if he had not heard the urgent plea.
"Would *this* make you feel better? Expiate your guilt?"
Joseph curled the fingers of his right hand into a tight fist and every single piece of metal in the small room came alive, whirling and dancing in a sudden, complex maelstrom of destruction, inches from Pietro Maximoff's body.
And just as suddenly fell harmless to the floor.
Xavier watched the son of Magneto's face flood with, at once, relief and a kind of savage disappointment.
"But, then, I'd *be* Magneto, wouldn't I?" Joseph said.
The discarded metal replaced itself neatly from whence it came. "And I'm not."" He pointed at the few pieces of remaining metal. "That's his way. I'm beginning to understand him, I think. He lashes out at the world, at things that frighten him. He's afraid. He's afraid of everyone ... every man who ever called a black man a 'nigger' ... everyone who ever stood by and did nothing when someone else called gentle, brilliant Henry McCoy a deformed freak ... he's afraid of them all."
"I'm sorry ... " whispered Quicksilver. Joseph's face softened for just an instant.
"Don't tell me," he said, "tell your father. If you ever see him again. But don't look for him here. Ever again." His eyes filled with remembered horror. "Whatever he did to you, whatever his crime, it couldn't have been worth ... this ... this ... Gods, Pietro - what you let me *do* ... And you knew. You *knew*! The young mutant staggered and clutched at a nearby chair for support.
Instantly, Pietro was at his side, supporting him, easing him into the chair. Roughly, Joseph threw off Maximoff's hands with a shudder.
"Don't touch me!"
Xavier guided his hoverchair between the two of them with but a single thought.
"This is my house," he told the two antagonists, "and while you are both guests in my house there will be no violence. Am I understood?" He turned a compassionate gaze upon Joseph. For an instant his arms ached to embrace the young man ... as he had once embraced ...
But no. Not now.
Most likely never again.
"You ran away from that battle, Charles Xavier," he reminded himself. "You chose not to fight. The question, though is this: were you afraid of losing. Or more afraid of winning?"
In all likelihood he would never know the answer to that, would he?
"You lied to me Pietro," accused Joseph to the grieving Maximoff, who winced with each word. Pietro's hands shook and he quickly hid them in his armpits to still them. Joseph eyes went wide with guileless pain and that was when Charles Xavier knew for a certainty that Erik Magnus Lehnsherr was lost to him forever. Magnus would never have let anyone see that. Never.
"You told me that I was beautiful," Joseph whispered, voice hoarse with betrayal. "That you desired me. You told me that you ... that you ... liked me ... You *used* me!" Xavier's memory brought him the sound of another, feminine, voice rough with stinging anger saying those same words and he paled. For an instant his cheek ached with the force of a bruising slap, now many years in the past.
"What can I do?" begged Pietro brokenly. "What can I do ..."
"Look at me, Pietro," Joseph commanded, "LOOK at me!" His voice grew deeper, harsher, more compelling and Pietro's head snapped up involuntarily, staring, his eyes brimming with momentary fear. No! He would not cringe. Before God, he would not. He squeezed his eyes closed and waited. He felt the briefest touch of unsteady fingers on his cheek and then they were gone.
"What can you do, Pietro?" Now the voice was again soft and young with no hint of anger.
"I'll do anything," was Pietro's claim, "anything ... "
"Then forgive your father, Pietro. And forgive yourself. No one else can forgive you until you forgive yourself."
Xavier watched as Pietro wiped his eyes and collected himself. His lips parted to speak but he stopped himself with an abrupt shake of his smooth head.
"Be quiet, you fool," he snarled at himself. "You lost the right to say anything to either of them long ago. Be quiet, I say."
Pietro rose and walked slowly to Joseph's side. Wisely, he did not touch him. But his voice was warm and calm when he spoke at last. Joseph seemed surprised.
"Do you have some spare time, my friend? There's some one I want you to meet." Joseph's puzzled look made the ex-Avenger smile. "My daughter, Luna." Here to fore, Pietro had been very protective of his daughter. While he relihed the doting affections of the X-Men for his child, he had been most careful to see that she did not meet Joseph. By unspoken agreement, no one had pursued the matter. Xavier decided that Joseph's tentative smile was quite beautiful. For an instant he relived the memory of Magnus' first sight of his grandchild, the look of transparent joy that suffused his grim features when the tiny girl threw her trusting arms around his neck.
"I think I'd like that very much," the young man said.