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Wasteland

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Atom bombs were simple.

The press of a button. The tick-tick BOOM of explosion; harsh and altering, rendering worlds to ruin. Emotions were harder. Human actions. Reason. Good intentions. Each one much more unpredictable and capable of inflicting greater torment than even the largest nuclear bomb.

What would drive a person to harm others? To persecute and victimize them? To round them up and torture them? To desecrate their race? Bombs couldn’t be argued with- they were single-minded and resilient, but people?

Erik had considered whether people were susceptible to reason many times over the years- never more so than during the time he spent under the thrall of Herr Schmidt; held captive alongside thousands of other people in Auschwitz-Birkenau, the place that would become known as the world’s most notorious death-camp. At least, it was at that time…

Schmidt had said he wasn’t like the Nazis- that his intentions were more noble somehow; that the fact that he was a mutant meant that the way he had manipulated Erik was justified, because he was only helping Erik to live up to his full potential.

As it much as it pained him to admit it, Erik agreed with Schmidt, at least in some way. Maybe not at first- maybe not in the immediate moments after his mother and father had been killed, maybe not in the years after he left the camp- when he’d wandered, lost and afraid, in search of a place to call home. It took decades- time in which Erik had burned a mark across the world; a trail of bodies in his wake as he searched for Schmidt, or Shaw- as he was now calling himself, but eventually Erik had come to realise that what he was- everything that he’d become- was as a result of Shaw’s actions.

Shaw may have been Erik’s creator, but that didn’t mean that Erik would ever thank him for what he’d done. Instead, Erik wanted to kill him. He needed to. It was the only way he could ever allow the memory of his mother to be at peace.

He’d come close too, once or twice, but Shaw always evaded him, and Erik could only watch in dismay as Shaw destroyed more and more lives- until things had reached catastrophic levels of carnage.

It had started at the embargo line. Shaw’s plotting and scheming had come to a head, and he had tipped the world into a full-scale nuclear war- operating under the assumption that mutants would thrive under the resultant fallout. But he’d been wrong.

The world fell apart pretty quickly after that, but not in the way that Shaw had envisioned. Nuclear blasts destroyed civilisations, and at first Shaw had what he wanted- the explosions that so easily eradicated the humans seemed to have a diminished effect of the mutants- the so called ‘children of the atom’. But, like always, although humanity may have been self-destructive it wasn’t necessarily suicidal. Once the humans realised that they were only hurting themselves- and once they became aware of the existence of the mutants and the power they possessed- they changed tact.

The sentinel programme came into effect before the mutants could rally against it, and overnight hundreds of mutants were rounded-up and forced into holding facilities. That’s what they were at first- simply a place to keep mutants locked up until their human captors decided what to do with them- but it didn’t last.

Erik could only watch in horror as history repeated itself all over again, just like he knew it would. He evaded capture himself, and slowly began to build up forces to defend the mutant race- an organisation that became known as the Brotherhood of Mutants. When the time came they took out the mutant death camps- tearing buildings to the ground and crushing anyone who attempted to stop them.

The campaign won more mutants to Erik’s cause, those who had survived anyway, but only served to create further tension between them and the humans- as if things could get any worse. The world was in ruins, and humans and mutants alike scattered across the globe as they lay in wait and planned their next move, just waiting for an opportunity to take the other side out…

 

 

 

“Any suggestions?” Erik asked, leaning on the table in front of him and looking at his subjects sat either side of it. His cape fell over his shoulder slightly with a swish before he adjusted it, standing up once more and folding his arms across his chest.

Sometimes it was hard to believe it had come to this- that he was the leader of so many individuals who would do whatever he asked. It wasn’t really what he was made for. He was supposed to walk the world alone- to maim, not mentor.

A static silence continued to fill the room, and no one was answering him. Erik supposed he’d asked a bit of a redundant question- these mutants were used to following orders, not giving them. Well, maybe not all the mutants…

“I think we should attack”, Raven said, absently drumming her blue fingertips against the table in front of her. “We’ve given the humans enough chances- they’ve taken enough from us- so I think we need to take the fight to them, and bring them down”.

Erik tried to control the smile that threatened to corrupt his mouth. Sometimes it amazed him how much Raven sounded just like he did. He supposed it was inevitable that they would be alike, having known each other for so many years. Still, there was a reason Erik was in charge and Raven was only his second in command- she may have been ballsy but he was the strategist and, although his temper was often quick to rise, these days he rarely acted without fully considering the plan of attack.

“I value your enthusiasm as always, Mystique- but there are other things to consider here…”

“What’s to consider? We have the upper hand on the humans- this time- so why not use the opportunity to strike first? They’re hiding like rats and for once we know exactly where they are. You could use your powers to bring the building that they’re in down whilst they’re still inside. Or Havok could take them out with his blasts. Hell, get me in there and I’ll break their necks one by one”.

Erik shook his head, causing a flash of irritation to show on Raven’s face that she quickly corrected when Erik shot her a pointed look in return.

“Well, what do you think then, Magneto?” Raven grumbled. “You just want to let them get away?”

“No, I didn’t say that. I agree that we need to seize this moment to try and take out the human resistance once and for all, but some new information has recently come to light that you all need to be aware of first…”

Erik trailed off, jaw clenching slightly as he tried to consider the best way to relay the news. He still had a bad taste in his mouth when he thought about it- a palpable feeling of disgust that had been present ever since one of his followers had reported back with the surprising information…

“They have a telepath”, Erik said- the words coming out calmer than he felt.

“What do you mean? You sayin’ they’re holding some poor mutant hostage?”

Erik turned to regard the person who’d spoken, finding Rogue looking back at him with an expression of mild horror on her pretty face. Of course she would assume the mutant in question had been kidnapped- the reality was far too ridiculous to be believed.

“He’s not a hostage…” Erik replied carefully. “He’s their leader”.

There was a collective murmur from around the room as they all responded to the unlikely news. The idea that a mutant would be actually helping the human resistance was so abhorrent, it was clear that many people were having a hard time believing it. Raven, in particular, looked sick at the thought- Erik could practically see her face turning pale, though he hadn’t thought such a thing would be possible with her blue skin.

“You say ‘he’…” Azazel said. “So it is not…”

Erik shook his head, knowing even before the man said the words what Azazel was referring to. They’d both met a telepath before- Emma. Like Azazel, she had worked for Shaw at one time- before Erik had drawn them to his side instead- but Emma hadn’t been seen for years now, and there was a question over whether she was even alive anymore.

“It’s not Emma”, Erik clarified. “It’s…”

He could barely bring himself to say the words. He still remembered the first time he’d seen the man- back when the TV networks were still running before the world had completely fallen to pieces- the pretentious little professor speaking on the news about how mutants and humans could just coexist peacefully together.

“Dummkopf…” Erik thought, remembering how disappointed he’d been when he realised the man he’d once looked up to- the man who’d written such intelligent things about evolution and the superiority of mutants- was nothing more than a gutless pacifist. Of course mutants and humans couldn’t live together- the past several years had proven that.

“Who is it?” Rogue asked, drawing Erik back from bitter thoughts.

“He’s a professor”, Erik replied. “Charles Xavier. You may have seen him on the news a few years ago, spouting nonsense about mutant and human coexistence. Back then he was just content with speaking for the humans, now I guess he’s acting for them as well…”

“This professor guy…” one of the other recruits known as Havok said, looking as appalled as Erik felt. “You’re sure he leads them?”

Erik gave a grim nod. “Unfortunately so. Naturally this complicates our plan of attack…”

“No!” Raven interrupted, causing all eyes in the room to turn and stare at her in surprise. “Sorry… but, erm, I’ve changed my mind about the attack. I’ve… heard a little about this telepath- by all accounts he’s pretty dangerous. I don’t think we should ambush after all; we need to be more careful”.

“Really…” Erik said, raising his eyebrows slightly in surprise. It was unlike Raven to be so cautious, and it made Erik suspicious that there could be something she wasn’t telling him. Still, now wasn’t really the time to call her on it.

“I think we have a lot to consider…” Erik started. “It’s getting late, so I suggest we bring this meeting to a close for now. We’ll reconvene in the morning to discuss things further- I advise you all to get a good night’s sleep in the meantime. Gute Nacht”.

At that, the followers all began to rise from the table and move towards the doorway, heading to their own rooms for the night. They wouldn’t be going far; all of the Brotherhood were holed up in the same place- a hotel, long since abandoned before the war. It had been rundown and desolate when Erik had commandeered it- it still was, to some extent. But over time the Brotherhood had worked to adapt the space to their own needs, making it a safe haven from the world outside. Erik, in particular, had made great efforts to ensure his own security- taking over the penthouse suite at the top of the hotel that was only accessible by elevator which Erik controlled, having entrusted a key to Raven only.

As the room emptied Erik turned away from the door, beginning to gather up the files he’d brought with him. He was hindered, however, by the distracting sound of shuffling behind him- a noise he had come to recognise as Raven expending nervous energy.

“Something wrong?” Erik asked without turning around.

“I think we should capture the telepath”.

Erik balked at that, dropping the paperwork he was holding back onto the table and whirling to face Raven.

“Are you mad?”

“It’s not such a crazy idea”, Raven protested. “We can’t allow him to continue to help the humans, but I know you won’t want to kill him either- not one of our own kind. Instead, if we brought him back here we could convince him to join us”.

“What makes you think it would be that easy? If this telepath is as powerful as you say he is then what’s to prevent him from stopping us, or killing us?” Even as Erik said the words he knew it completely ridiculous- the idea of that meek looking professor hurting them- but it was worth talking through all the possibilities nonetheless.

“It won’t come to that”, Raven countered, shaking her head emphatically. “I know he-- I mean, I’m sure he won’t hurt us, and besides- you know we have ways of subduing him should we need to…”

Erik scowled slightly, realising what Raven was suggesting in an instant. It had been one of the humans’ first forms of defence, or perhaps attack… They had developed a serum to suppress mutant abilities, and had used it to control their captives whilst they were in the holding camp. Naturally Erik had been appalled by the invention, and he had made sure to destroy almost all traces of the drug when the Brotherhood rose to power, but they had retained a few doses of the suppressant- just in case.

“This could be a very bad idea, Raven. If that telepath takes control of one of us…”

“It won’t come to that”, Raven interrupted. “Please, Erik- I really think this is the way to win the war”.

Erik was still scowling, but his expression softened slightly when Raven called him by his real name. He had long since ceased correcting her when they were in private company, and he couldn’t deny that he felt a certain degree of affection towards her for being the only one undaunted by being so personal with him.

“If this goes wrong you will only have yourself to bl--” Erik started, but he was interrupted by Raven slamming into him, wrapping him in a hug which he only mildly resisted. He frowned for a moment, wondering why this was suddenly so important to Raven, before he relaxed and slid his arms around her in return.

“Nothing will go wrong. Trust me”, Raven said.

Erik did.

 

 

 

When the time came to retrieve the telepath they decided on a covert mission, rather than a combative one. Only Erik, Raven, and Azazel participated- Azazel was there to teleport them in, Raven and Erik would capture the professor, and then Azazel would get them out again, hopefully without incident. Erik decided not to tell the rest of the Brotherhood that they were planning to capture the telepath rather than kill him- not until they decided what they were going to do with him.

To Erik’s surprise, everything went pretty much to plan. The humans were holed up in an abandoned hospital on the outskirts of New York- a location that would have taken days to reach from where the Brotherhood were located, had it not been for Azazel’s ability.

They arrived at the hospital in the dead of night, materialising on the rooftop of the building, illuminated by bright moonlight. Leaving Raven and Erik on the roof, Azazel used his powers to quickly move through the hospital- searching for the psychic’s location. In time he returned, and both Raven and Erik stepped forward to touch Azazel on the arm as he transported them to the relevant room.

The telepath was sleeping. Just when Erik was sure he couldn’t have found the man any more ridiculous, there he was- wearing pyjamas as he lay curled up on a hospital bed, chest rising and falling with each gentle breath. What was even more infuriating was the fact that the man appeared to be smiling in his sleep. Did this Naivling not know there was a war going on? Erik couldn’t remember the last time he had slept soundly- when he hadn’t just shrugged off his shirt and trousers before collapsing into bed, exhausted by the day’s events. He didn’t even own pyjamas anymore…

Erik couldn’t help letting out a noise of irritation- a harsh guttural sound that came from the back of his throat. Raven immediately turned to look at him questioningly, before grasping Erik lightly on the arm as across the room the telepath began to rise.

He looked… surprised. Erik supposed that was to be expected- he doubted even with telepathy on his side the man had seen this coming- but what was most confusing to Erik was the fact that, although the telepath was clearly shocked by their presence, he didn’t look afraid. In fact, if Erik hadn’t known any better he would have been tempted to say that the man almost looked… happy.

Still, there was no time to dwell on what emotion could be read in the man’s large blue eyes now.

Erik used his powers to retrieve the hypodermic needle he had hidden in his pocket- levitating it into the air and firing it at the telepath in an instant.

The man wasn’t looking at him. His eyes were focused on Raven in their entirety- expression soft and stunned as he completely neglected to notice the needle whizzing through the air towards him.

“Raven, I--” the telepath started, before the needle pierced his skin and he was plunged into unwanted unconsciousness.

 

 

 

“He knew your name”, Erik stated, looking down at Raven expectantly as he stood watching her with his arms folded.

“Mmm…” Raven replied. Mmm? What did ‘mmm’ mean? Erik scowled slightly in annoyance, adjusting the helmet on his head as he glared at her for a moment before turning his attention back to his new prisoner.

The telepath was still sleeping- slumped somewhat comfortably in a chair with his wrists bound to the arms by metal wires, hair falling in his face slightly. He looked peaceful. Erik hated that.

“Are you sure you want to be in here for this?” Erik asked. “You know that you’re vulnerable right now”. Erik tapped the helmet on his head pointedly- a message to Raven that, whilst he was protected from the telepath’s reach, she was not. It was a trick he had learnt from Shaw- using a helmet to keep any psychic from prying into his head and trying to control him, only back then it had been Emma he’d hoped to keep out.

“I’m fine”, Raven replied coolly. “I don’t think he’ll hurt me, and even if he does try anything you can soon stop him”.

After some debate they had decided in the end not to dose the telepath with a suppressant to stunt his abilities- a gesture of goodwill, or a pretence of it. Still, Erik wasn’t foolhardy, and he’d made sure to keep some of the drug close at hand should its need become apparent. Right now it was placed on a table to the side of them- the only piece of furniture in the room other than the chair in which the telepath had been placed.

The professor had been unconscious for a while now, and Erik was beginning to get rather annoyed... Didn’t this man know what a bad idea it was to keep the infamous Magneto waiting?

One raise of Erik’s hand and the chair under the telepath began to shake, and soon he wasn’t looking quite so peaceful anymore…

“What the--” The man awoke with a jolt, eyes darting around the room uncertainly until they locked on the presumably alarming sight of Erik and Raven stood in front of him. Still, despite everything, the telepath didn’t look scared, and Erik could only conclude that it was because he was planning a very abrupt escape.

“I don’t want to hurt you, but you should know that if you try anything- if you try to escape in any way- you will live to regret it”, Erik explained, staring at his captive intently.

Intimidating others with nothing more than a commanding look was one of Erik’s specialities, but he was annoyed to realise that the psychic wasn’t heeding his warning at all- his attention was focused solely on Raven.

“I knew you were pissed at me, but I never imagined you’d do anything this crazy…” Charles said, continuing to stare at Raven as Erik immediately turned to do the same, frowning at his cohort in confusion.

Erik’s eyes darted between the two other people in the room, sensing from the way they were looking at each other that there was a connection between them, which Erik hadn’t foreseen in the least.

“Mystique, what’s going on here…?” Erik asked quietly, and immediately the telepath let out an incredulous laugh.

“She didn’t tell you?” Charles smirked, shaking his head in disbelief as Erik considered using his ability to push the chair over with Charles still in it.

“Tell me what?” Erik growled, glaring at Charles and clenching his jaw in frustration. The professor only continued to smile smugly in return, and Erik turned to seek answers from Raven instead.

“Erik…” she said eventually. “This is my brother, Charles…”

 

Those familiar with Erik had been known to describe his temperament as deathly calm. On the surface Erik was composed- steadfast and impassive, and rarely prone to displays of emotion. But of course like anyone else Erik was capable of allowing his veneer to slip, and when his anger rose it did so quickly and ferociously.

Erik regarded Raven for long moment as he allowed the realisation to sink in- the disturbing knowledge that his closest friend and confidant had deceived and manipulated him. It was clear that Raven was feeling guilty over her actions by the way she was shifting uncomfortably, but this didn’t make Erik feel any better. In fact, the way Raven had so quickly changed from a competent and composed soldier to a somewhat shy and nervous individual made Erik feel distinctly aggrieved- like the presence of the telepath had corrupted her in an instant.

Fortunately for all concerned there wasn’t much metal nearby, but Erik still made a good show of affecting whatever was in the immediate vicinity. A very evident tremor rose up in the room as the floorboards began to shake, propelled by Erik’s hold on the screws that held them in place. Charles looked immediately alarmed by the development, glancing up as the light fixtures above him began to sway, but Raven was unmoved- accustomed as she was to Erik’s occasional outbursts.

“Erik, calm down…” Raven urged, reaching to hold Erik carefully on the arm in an attempt to soothe him. Erik still remained tense with quiet rage, but as Raven continued to stare up at him- her yellow eyes appearing softer than usual- he found himself mellowing in her gaze, as he always did.

“You owe me an explanation…” Erik muttered eventually, slowly releasing his hold on the metal in the room as Raven gave his arm a grateful squeeze.

“Oh, please- allow me”, Charles interrupted, causing Raven and Erik to both turn their attention towards him. “You see, ‘Magneto’- your second-in-command ‘Mystique’ was at one time simply ‘Raven’, my dear sister. She was taken in by my family when we were both very young, and although I did everything I could to provide her with a loving home it soon became clear that whatever I could offer was apparently not enough for her. I think I lost her even before she left you know- on the day she first saw you on television, spouting off about so-called mutant supremacy”.

Erik scowled. “You say that like it’s some sort of terrible thing- like you’re not aware of the superiority of your own genes. It’s a little surprising to me, professor, considering that you’ve published papers that speak very clearly about how mutants are more evolved than their human counterparts”.

“You’ve read my thesis? How adorable…” Charles replied as Erik’s scowl grew deeper. “I’m flattered that you’ve read my work, but I don’t think you’ve quite grasped its message. I suppose it’s understandable- comprehending scientific theory is hard for some people…”

“Careful, professor…” Erik started, focusing his frustration on the wires holding Charles’ wrists and beginning to press them further into Charles’ skin. Charles squirmed uncomfortably in his seat, glaring at Erik for a moment before he turned his attention back to Raven.

“So what’s your plan, hmm?” Charles asked, looking at his sister expectantly. “You’ve basically kidnapped me in the middle of the night- in my fucking pyjamas, no less- so what now? Did you even think this far ahead, or did you just act rashly like you always do?”

“I needed to do something, Charles. You joined the fucking resistance! You were working with the humans against us. Did you really think that I wouldn’t try to stop you?”

Charles sighed in exasperation. “I’m not working against you, love. All I’ve ever wanted is to find a way to end this war, and I thought that by working with the humans I could show them a better path”.

“Jesus, Charles- you never change”, Raven replied, crossing her arms angrily. “Those humans have persecuted us, hunted us, killed us- and yet you’re still trying to see the good in them. You still believe that we can all coexist peacefully”.

“But they’re not all the same, Raven. Just like not every mutant is the same as each other- you and I are evidence enough of that. We’re all flawed- humans and mutants alike, and each side has done things to wrong the other- to desecrate and maim the opposing side. I just don’t understand why you’d want to go on fighting when there’s so few of us left now…”

“Well whose fault is that?” Erik interrupted. “Who started this by rounding us up and forcing us into camps? Who used drugs to stunt our abilities? Who used their fear as an excuse to slaughter us? Your precious humans, professor. This whole mess is their fault, so don’t you dare try and act like we’re the uncivilised ones for simply trying to defend ourselves”.

“Defence? Really?” Charles replied coldly. “I’ve seen what you’ve done, Magneto- you and your Brotherhood. I’ve heard stories of what happened when you arrived to liberate the camps- how you murdered every human you could find, regardless of what responsibility they held there”.

“You think their type of employment should have any measure on their guilt? Everyone in that camp was responsible- I don’t care if they were personally killing the mutants or just filling in fucking paperwork. All were guilty. All deserved to be punished”.

“So what does that mean for me, then? I haven’t killed any mutants- I’ve never killed anyone- but in your eyes I’m surely not innocent either because I helped the humans and kept them safe. Does that mean I deserve to be punished too?”

Erik drew in a breath, staring hard at Charles as he considered the man’s words. Although he regarded Charles’ views with a certain vehement opposition, hurting his own kind went against everything Erik believed in. Still, that left him with the question of just what he was going to do with his captive.

“Mystique, a word…” Erik commanded, moving abruptly to walk from the room without even acknowledging Charles’ question. Raven continued to stare over at her brother for a moment before she turned and followed Erik out the door.

Once they were out of the room Erik used his ability to close the door behind them both before walking off a few paces down the corridor. They were located in the lower levels of the hotel- a disused space that afforded them the privacy they needed to conduct their business. Other than themselves and Azazel no one knew about the mission to extract Charles, and Erik was determined to keep it that way- appointing Azazel to stand guard at the end of the corridor should any of the other members of the Brotherhood happen to stop by.

“You have a lot to answer for…” Erik started, coming to a stop and turning to look down at Raven as Azazel watched them curiously from the other end of the room.

“Well, what did you expect me to do, Erik? Just let you kill him? Or leave him to die at someone else’s hand?”

“You could have been honest with me, Raven. I’ve trusted you, you should show the same faith in me”.

“I know, I’m sorry… I trust you, Erik- of course I do, but I had no way of knowing how you’d react if I had come to you with this information. I just thought that if we could get him away from the humans then I’d at least know he was safe, and we could think about what to do with him afterwards”.

“Well, we’re here now, Raven- this is afterwards. So what are we going to do?”

Raven paused, looking over at Azazel for a moment before turning her attention back to Erik.

“We could… keep him here with us”.

“What?” Erik spat out incredulously. “How on earth would we do that? There are mutants all over this building- any one of them could find out about the telepath and try to take him out”.

“Well, you could explain the situation to them…”

“No, Raven- they need to respect us otherwise they won’t follow us. How do you think they would react if they discovered that you lied to them? That you’re helping a man- your own brother- who represents everything that they hate?”

Immediately Erik realised his indiscretion, and turned to shoot a pointed glance at Azazel which the red-skinned mutant clearly understood as he made a sealed-lips gesture before turning away once more.

“Alright, so we don’t tell them...” Raven replied. “In that case we need to keep Charles somewhere safe, somewhere no one will find him…”

Erik shook his head. “Well then I suggest we ask Azazel to teleport him to the moon, because there is nowhere in this building where he wouldn’t be found”.

“Well, that’s not entirely true…”

Erik stared at Raven for moment, trying to read the meaning behind the slightly contrite expression on her face. When he got it he immediately balked, stepping back a couple of paces from Raven and shaking his head.

“No, Raven- not a fucking chance”.

“Come on, Erik- you said it yourself, there’s mutants everywhere in the building, all except on the very top floor- in your penthouse”.

“I am not having that… peace-loving weakling stay with me”, Erik uttered through gritted teeth.

“Please, Erik…” Raven begged. “He’s really not that bad to live with…”

“Well you couldn’t stick it with him, what makes you think I can?”

Raven smiled. “Well, for one I don’t imagine he would make you listen to his theorems on genetics like he did with me, or if he did I’m pretty sure that one withering look from you would stop him in his tracks”.

Erik sighed. “Raven, you do realise that you’re basically putting a mouse in a cage with a snake and trusting the snake not to eat it…”

Raven broke into an even bigger grin. “I’ve always thought of you as more like a shark myself”, she replied, and Erik scowled in protest even though he knew she had already won.