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front lines

Front Lines
by Molly
January 2001

***

Sometimes she fell in love with the other bodies. The ones that weren't blue. The ones that caught her off-guard with their delicacy, their roughhewn edges, their bumps and scars and curves... Sometimes she'd rather be imperfect than be herself.

Magneto came, stood by her side. "My dear," he said, soft voice cutting into the silence. "It's not time yet."

The girl's eyes were mercurial mud; they shone, liquid pools of tears that shimmered and refused to spill. She gazed at them, the white in her hair a shouting testament to past victory, past failure, to the past the past the past--

--Mystique wanted to pull every bit of it out, strand by strand, but she stood behind Magneto and smiled softly. This time, she told herself. This time it would all work out. This time she would not fail, and this time he would adore her success.

This time he would tell her everything, and she would understand, and she would not let him down. This time she would have this girl's form, this girl he so hated to hurt and remembered with a curious affection that made Mystique's veins run cold with fury. The girl was nothing, but he seemed to disagree; distant moments of wistful utterings: she knew he wished there were a chance of turning her to them.

She could be her. She could take the pale skin and the damaged hair. She could mimic the knowledgeable innocence that came off the girl like so much bad perfume, like whiffs of the trendy fragrance Guyrich liked to wear.

Had liked to wear. She still caught imagined wafts of it in the air and scrubbed herself with a cruel vigor to get it off. She wondered which part about the girl she would hate-- there was always one part. At least one part that reminded her, one part she could never embrace, and she hoped she could ignore it this time.

She would be this girl, and Magneto would look at her with that exasperated fondness. He would perhaps forget that she was his tool, that the girl was his enemy; he would see them as one and god god god maybe he could really love them.

Them. Never her. She gave up on that long ago. He has too much use for ruthlessness, and too much of a soft spot for the gentle idealism he long ago relinquished to determination. Peace without victory is no peace at all, he told her once. Winning was the only option, and death was the only way out.

She would live, and she would win. She would conquer this girl and someday...

Someday, she would get out. But not yet.

"They'll come here," the girl suddenly said. She gazed defiantly up; Mystique stroked fingers up her cheek.

"They won't," and the sound of her own voice suprised even her. Those huge eyes widened, and she wanted to hear the girl scream. "Just him. He understands."

"They will. They did it before."

Misplaced hope: the poor poor girl. She had no idea, or perhaps she knew all too well. Mystique grasped a chunk of white between her fingertips, and there was that scream she had been longing to hear. It all came away with bits of flesh; the smell of blood was all too sweet and still not enough.

But there. There, finally, the tears spilling over and it was beautiful. She'd won, a small little victory in a small little war. She smiled. She changed, and yes, this body would do her nicely and Magneto would love it. "If they do," she whispered, "they'll be so glad to find you... undamaged."

Ah, bright girl. She understood, and her eyes narrowed. "Nobody'd ever fall for it."

"And why not?"

"Because I'm not a heartless bitch."

And this time brown, to mingle amongst the bloody strands upon the floor. "Little girls should watch their mouths."

"I'm not a little girl."

"Good. I don't like killing children." The girl's eyes widen. "I have a heart, after all."

"Mystique." He sounded sullen, disappointed. "Not yet. We need her, just awhile longer."

"We don't need her at all. He'll come. He'll be fooled for long enough."

Calculating, cool: his eyes swept over her with far too much understanding, regret-- that wasn't pity, it wasn't it wasn't-- and he nodded slightly. "But Mystique. Give her to Sabretooth. You'll have the next."

She just nods back. She can wait, after all. As she's waited before, and as she'll go on waiting. As long as it takes.

***

He was never fooled. Wolverine stared at her, shivering in a corner, and he snarled. "Where is she?"

And so she straightened, stood; she bore her new form with pride and vowed that it was *hers*, for as long as she wanted it. "You're looking at her," she drawls softly. "All that's left."

The sound he makes should come from no human throat (not human, never forget, more than human) and he lunges, and she wonders if it would be difficult for him to shred the form of this girl, who was not the girl, betrayed only by a scent. She could never master it; she never wanted to. A fault, to be sure, but the smell would make it complete as even she could never desire.

Thank the lovely boys in uniform for the adamantium, Mystique. Thank them, thank them well, they just saved your life. Power at a fingertip-- she wonders how any human could help but to long for what they have. Magneto laughs softly. "Always remember, my dear, it's but politics and strategies."

She smiles, twirls a lock of snowy hair. "Divide and conquer. I remember."

"Yes... and they are weakened. You've done well, my dear."

She nods. Well well well indeed. He'll die slowly. She'll live well.

Well enough.

**end**