Erik had lived in Switzerland for a month now. The sleepy town outside Geneva was forgettable and mundane, placing him near the French and Italian borders so that crossing over was easy, if he ever needed it. He had been on the road – on the run, truthfully – for nearly a year; a year of diversions and close calls and fake identities. After his release from Pentagon, the Americans weren’t the only ones putting their best men on a persistent manhunt, and after ten years of prison Erik admitted that he had gotten somewhat rusty in his artful dodging.
However, he was relatively sure that he had finally thrown his chasers off his tail, and that he was finally safe, or as safe as he could be when he was held responsible for the death of a US president and had attempted to murder another. In the hectic, violent twelve months that had passed since Washington, as Erik called it in his head, he had had little time to think about the breakout or Paris, to think of the two days he had shared with Charles – how Charles had broken him out of prison, how torn up and messed up Charles had been, suppressing his powers so that he could walk. Pathetic, pathetic. He had not thought of how they had left each other bruised when Erik visited Charles’s hotel room the night before they stopped Mystique.
He had not had time to think about Charles, but whenever those blue eyes briefly crossed his mind, he simply hated. Blind anger, bitter betrayal and maddening hate swirled in his guts, and that was as far as his thoughts regarding Charles had strayed. He’d hardly had time for much else, and since he had settled in Switzerland, he had been busy with recruitment. There were currently only four mutants in the Brotherhood apart from him, but they were all of great potential. He was finally ready to start building something again, something that would help him channel some of the anger within him.
But as he jolted out of sleep in the middle of the night, screaming out in unexpected and sourceless pain, he finally felt something other than hatred. Outside cars crushed into lumps, street lights bent wildly out of shape, and all of the metal closest to him became liquid, including the bed frame and the springs in the mattress. He was curled up in a foetal position, his body convulsing, kicking the covers on the floor as he yelled out into his house, hands pressed to his head to try and make the pain stop. It was only when the agony dissipated that Erik found himself on floor level, a misshapen mattress beneath him, and with liquid metal pooling next to him, mixing with the broken glass from him having ripped the window grids inwards.
And right then Erik recalled the look on Charles’s face when they had been on the plane to Paris: that expression of being broken beyond repair, eyes haunted and lost. It was that exact feeling that entered Erik at that moment, like he had been torn into pieces on the inside.
Charles was dead.
He couldn’t breathe.
Charles was dead.
The knowledge of it entered him irrevocably, with unquestioned conviction. How Erik knew it, how he could possibly know it – but the silence that had entered Erik reminded him of a time he could barely recall: a time before Charles. Ever since they met, Charles had been a flicker of a shadow at the edge of Erik’s mind, so barely there that Erik had been able to ignore the existence of that connection conveniently, although he had desperately sought it out and clung onto it countless times during his imprisonment.
Now that shadow was gone, and what was left was an excruciating throb spreading from the base of his skull to his frontal lobe. It reminded him of the sensation of tearing a ligament, when you could feel something inside tearing into two.
He stared into darkness, horrified, as outside startled neighbours were beginning to rush onto the street, yelling at the sight of molested cars and broken lamps in fast-paced French. Something was wrong, something horrible had just happened to him, something that went beyond the fact that Charles Xavier was no longer of this earth.
For a few minutes Erik forgot who he was, where he was. For a few minutes he ceased to exist.
* * *
He pushed his car back into shape with a shaky wave as he stumbled out of the house, but he overestimated his strength – he ended up leaning against the white Volkswagen Beetle, his hand on the hood of the car as he threw up violently on the ground. He stayed there for a while, waiting for the nausea to pass as his head pounded painfully. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he threw his suitcase in the backseat and sped out of town as quickly as possible.
The police cars passed him on the way.
He crossed over to France just an hour after Charles’s death, the light of dawn caressing the still drowsy world. It was going to be a beautiful day. The first day of all the thousands that Charles Xavier with his fierce blue eyes and remarkable wit now would never see.
At the thought, the roof of the Beetle partially caved in with a sudden, powerful bang – Erik quickly pushed the roof back outwards with his mind, ducking, the metal bending back into place with such force that the car struggled to stay on the road.
Erik tried to breathe evenly. He had to stay calm, to concentrate, to focus: he’d drive through Grenoble, head to Marseilles – get on a boat Algiers. Best leave the continent.
One could fly – oh yes, one could fly. But that would require him reaching the place between rage and serenity, a place which he had no hope of reaching. It would require Erik to have strength, but his body was weakened, his hands still shaking, his head throbbing, and he felt so utterly wrong, a hollow crater inside his mind, far larger than Charles’s shadow ever had been. The crater was not alone: a second one was nestled in his chest, a throbbing emptiness that pushed venom into the rest of his body.
Erik was furious – how dare Charles do this to him? Why did Charles never warn Erik of the possible consequences of getting involved with a telepath?
But Charles hadn’t known. Neither of them had.
After all, they had been unprecedented.
Erik tried to connect with the hatred and betrayal that he had carried for so many years, and he was relieved when he could find it. So Charles was dead. He had been dead to Erik since Washington, so what difference did it really make?
Erik swallowed hard. He felt feverish.
Something told him he would quickly find out exactly what that difference was.
* * *
As he read the obituary in a café on the bustling Jemaa el-Fnaa, sipping mint tea slowly and with some difficulty, he was having one of his better moments. He blended in with the other tourists enjoying the market square and its bazaar, and he was finally getting answers to some of his questions.
He wished he could have laughed as he discovered how Charles had died: it was a car crash. He wanted so desperately to laugh at that, so hard that he would have fallen off the chair, so hard that he would have ended up with tears on his cheeks – he wished he could have felt anything at all. Because he couldn’t, that is.
He could not feel.
Charles had nearly drowned jumping into the water on the night they first met, Charles had been this close to being lit aflame when he was teaching Alex to control his powers, Charles had survived their plane crash in Cuba, Charles had powered through a decade of alcoholism, Charles had a fucking stadium land on him –
In the back of his mind, Erik had begun to believe that Charles had a secret mutation of survival, just like Darwin had once had.
For Erik it was infuriating, therefore, that Charles had not died out on the battlefield, had not died in a line of fire, had not died for mutantkind – the obituary stated that ‘the former Oxford scholar had delivered a paper on genetic mutation at Columbia earlier that evening. Upon returning home, Xavier’s car collided with an oncoming truck’ – both Charles and the chauffeur had perished instantly. New York Times lamented the loss of such a promising academic who had worked in the exciting field of genetic mutation that was gathering increasing public interest.
But this was what bothered Erik: he and Charles were supposed to have time.
Isn’t that what the bone-claw man had said? The sideburned moron from the future? A future in which he and Charles had come together. That’s what the sideburn man had said. That in the future, he and Charles, that one day, eventually, he and…
That was the future they had changed in Paris. Because in the old future, mutants were hunted down and made extinct – humans feared them, Erik had always known this, and he had finally proven himself right, goddammit Charles, he had been right all along –
So they had changed that future of extinction, the one in which Charles had eventually come back to Erik. He was sure it was this way around.
Now this was Erik’s future: no extinction, just a world without Charles. It was remarkably difficult for him to comprehend the difference.
The afternoon sun was hot on Erik’s skin, but the Panama hat shielded his face. His eyes strayed to his broken watch that he had been unable to take off: it had broken that night in Switzerland. He could fix it, of course, easily – but the clock face was frozen in time: twenty-three minutes past three in the morning.
The moment of Charles’s death.
The obituary had a picture of Charles, snapped at the talk on the night of his death. Charles was in his wheelchair in the lobby of some university building or another, looking like he was deeply engaged in conversation with someone who was out of the shot. Charles had cut his hair since – still long, but now it only came down to his jawline. He had shaved since, too, and looked so much more like the young scientist that had dragged Erik back from underwater than the broken man from the year before. Erik stared at the picture unblinkingly, squeezing the edges of the paper, while across the square sellers were shouting out prices, the air a mixed scent of cumin and chili, of fresh flowers and dates.
Charles would have liked Morocco. Erik could have brought him here, they could have –
We were supposed to have time, Erik told the picture, having to look away from the black and white ink. Another nauseating headache was bubbling just underneath his scalp, he could feel it, and he tried to fight it off. He gazed over the crowded square unseeingly. The cutlery on nearby tables rattled.
Pack it in, Lehnsherr.
His powers were going haywire all the time – he could not control it. He often slept long hours in restless slumber, a persistent weariness clinging onto him, and yet he never felt refreshed when he woke.
The lethargy that clung onto him reminded him of the camps. Many there gave up on life before they died, entering a drowsy, dream-like existence of accepted defeat, and it was this defeat that Erik had begun to sense in himself. Yet he knew that he was physically fit, his body was strong, his mind was sharp. And yet there was something in him, something that brought images of his broken people back to his mind, acknowledging that they would soon die.
He imagined that it must have been the last thing Charles had felt before dying: the acknowledgement and acceptance of death. That had been the last thing Charles had projected, and that was why it was that sensation that Erik could not shake off.
He gazed at the obituary once more, and then recognised a man in the background of the shot – the looming figure was fairly obvious, but he had managed to be blind to it as Charles had been the only thing he could see.
It was the sideburned ape from the year before. Erik was startled. He was fairly sure he had killed him.
The eternal numbness that had seeped into Erik since his escape from Switzerland suddenly gave way slightly: anger resurfaced, but this time it was not aimed at Charles – god, his beautiful, stubborn, overly proud Charles.
No, this anger was aimed at the man who had lied to them both, who had made Erik believe that in the not so distant future, he could once more sit down with Charles for a game of chess – after this whole charade with the police was over, of course, once Erik could settle down a bit, once he could regroup and get the Brotherhood going again, and Charles would reach out to him, come find him.
What had been that asshole’s name?
Logan, wasn’t it?
Erik had a name, and he knew that Logan had been in New York City on the night of Charles’s death.
He knew a thing or two about hunting down assholes who didn’t want to be found.
He had more than enough to go on.
* * *
Erik wasn’t entirely sure if Logan had anything to do with Charles’s death as such – he could not see a scenario in which that meat bag with claws could outsmart Charles Xavier. All he knew and all he cared about was that Logan had promised them a future that now could not happen, and for that alone Logan should be punished.
How was this future supposed to be any fucking better? Logan should have left them as they were.
Narrowing Logan’s location down to Westchester, however, felt like a cruel joke. If Erik had suspected the man’s whereabouts to be so obvious, he would have just hopped on the first plane to New York instead of spending three weeks following more elaborate leads, his travels taking him from Japan to Canada, and finally back to a place that Erik knew all too well.
Normally he would not have dreamt of approaching the Xavier Estate so breezily – Charles would have felt him approaching miles away. But now the school lay unprotected, with its founder and headmaster dead.
Funny, that, Erik thought as he slowly walked up the road leading to the school. (The gates had been closed – metal. Elementary, Charles, quite elementary, hadn’t throwing them wide open caused Erik’s vision to momentarily black out.)
He had pictured his return here so many times – he had developed quite an imagination during his time at Pentagon. In most versions Cuba had ended with the annihilation of the Soviet and American fleets, as Charles had stood by his side, nodding in grave agreement, and he and Charles had then returned to this mansion to make it their headquarters (Erik supposed that it would be easy for Charles to make sure no one unwanted could remember the mansion even existed), and then together they would come up with new ploys to ensure mutant domination.
In other versions he had showed up at the mansion with the Brotherhood, after Cuba but before the Kennedy assassination, marching in through the door with extravagant style. Charles had initially fought with him, of course – verbally – before admitting that Erik was ultimately right, now that Charles had had more time to process everything. Charles had sighed in defeat: ‘Alright, old friend. We will join you.’
Erik had really liked that version, too.
But on this morning, as Erik walked up the wide gravel driveway that was shouldered by tall oaks on both sides, he was entering a version he never had considered. He was dragging his feet, exhausted – he was sure he had a fever. Breathing was difficult, his intakes of air dragged and loud. Something he had caught on his travels, of course, and he had been increasingly worse every day. He had to pause a few times just to catch his breath, sucking air in through his teeth. He spat on the ground angrily, clenching his fists. He focused. He would find Logan, he would kill him – for good this time. He focused on that.
What he did next, he didn’t particularly care.
And, as if his request had been heard by a higher being, he saw a figure make its way across the side of the building as the house came into view. A broad-shouldered man wearing a leather jacket and sunglasses was crossing the yard, heading Erik’s way, but there was something defeated in his posture. And – oh, how curious, Erik thought. This was new.
The man was full of metal.
They saw one another at exactly the same time with some fifty meters still between them. Logan froze, studying him questioningly, as if he didn’t recognise Erik. Erik, however, instantly curled his hands into fists, flicking upwards with his head, and Logan flew up into the air with an undignified yell of surprised anger – Erik thrust his right arm out, hurling it in the direction of the house, and Logan hit the stone façade, pieces of a window sill flying off. Logan lay limp in the air, unconscious and trickling blood. Erik was not satisfied – he slammed the body into the house again and again, his sweaty palm open, fingers stretched wide, all the sinews and tendons of his body tensed up –
There were screams – children, people emerging from the house in panic. Erik was grinning wildly, viciously, keeping Logan suspended in the air, slamming the body against the mansion again –
He faltered. His arm dropped to his side. He swayed. He stared at the group of people next to Logan’s mangled body that had plummeted from the sky, and he could not see, could not breathe, could not stand –
Something was coming towards him at great speed.
* * *
He was back in prison.
But when he opened his eyes, he realised that he was in a small, windowless room that was furnished in rather Dickensian fashion. This was not his prison cell. This was not his white, plastic hell – Erik knew about torture, about sensory deprivation. He could tell about the horrors of it. But he was not in his cell – had he been moved, had he –
His mind reeled with memories: first the breakout, then Paris, Washington. Down to Mexico, through to Panama, crossing over to the Ivory Coast, Niger, his life on the run, all those hideouts, and then eventually Sicily, Croatia, recruiting new mutants, and Switzerland, and what – what happened after that, what was it –
The door to the room opened then, and a furry blue creature in a grey suit stepped in, carefully closing the door after himself.
Erik remembered then. He remembered everything and wished he didn’t.
Hank greeted him with an aggressive snarl, and Erik let out an animalistic growl that sounded surprisingly similar. They regarded one another, Erik pulling on his restraints. He said, “Really, Hank. You keep a room with no metal? You made me a bed without bolts? Honestly, I'm quite flattered.”
Hank considered this before replying, “We always considered it an option, having to capture you. Keep you locked up.”
“Much comfier than my last retreat, I assure you.” He guessed his Westchester cell had been built in the basement. It came with a full bookcase against one wall – god, he had missed reading the past decade, he would have happily taken up the most dreadfully written piece of pulp fiction or even a Jehovah’s Witness pamphlet – and the floor was draped with rugs, and the plain stone walls had burgundy coloured curtains affixed from the ceiling. As far as prisons went, this was nearly delightful.
Hank moved to sit down at an armchair that faced the bed. “I don't care for your comfort. It was Charles who,” Hank began but then the rest of the sentence just stopped dead.
Erik dropped his gaze. A painful silence landed between them, but Erik was not going to give anything away.
“And, of course,” Hank then said, pulling off his glasses and using a cloth to clean them in slow, rotating movements, “I’ve injected you with the suppressant. Even if this room had metal in it, you could do nothing with it.”
A renewed hatred spread in Erik at this news. “How dare you –”
“You’ve been out cold for two days,” Hank then informed him. This startled Erik – he assumed it had been hours, although this did explain why he was starving. “You're unwell. Your powers will return soon enough, unless I inject you with more. But you are unwell,” Hank repeated. “Even with you unconscious, we could hardly use cutlery without it flying around. I had to intervene.”
Erik paused. “I caught something. Travelling.”
Hank clearly did not buy this, but eventually pursed his lips in dissatisfaction. “Well. If you say so.”
Erik was glad for the sturdy pillow under his head, lifting him up from the bed slightly, enabling him to look Hank in the eye. Hank looked utterly ridiculous in his suit when furry paws and a furry blue head stuck out of it. Hank crossed one leg over the other as he made himself more comfortable, placing his hands in his lap. “Well, we both know why you’re here,” Hank said coolly.
“Charles is dead,” Erik said, and realised this was the first time he had verbalised it.
Hank nodded, and Erik saw pain flickering in Hank’s eyes. For a second, an old jealousy burned through Erik’s veins – he recalled the stadium, Hank holding Charles up, Hank’s arms around Charles, Charles leaning into him, trusting him, Hank taking Charles home and taking care of him. Hank and Charles locked up in this goddamn house alone for years, Hank getting to see Charles daily, Hank being the confidante.
“I didn't expect you to actually come,” Hank then breathed. He rubbed his forehead tiredly. “If you ask me, it’s highly dubious. It has no legal standing, of course – you are a fugitive. And despite the precautions taken by Charles, your presence here puts the school and the children at great risk, and –”
“What the hell are you on about?” Erik demanded.
Hank paused, frowning, before realisation seemed to dawn on him. “Oh. You don’t know.”
* * *
Erik did the maths in his head and guessed that he must have been somewhere in Nigeria at that point.
Hank reluctantly untied Erik after he was sure Erik was not there to massacre everyone present. Hank off-handedly mentioned that Logan was awake now too, waving it off, and Erik felt a resurge of anger because would that asshole simply not die, before Hank explained that Logan could not die. That explained a hell of a lot, and why Hank did not seem overly angry that Erik had attempted first degree murder on their doorstep. Erik was no less furious that Logan had promised Erik a future that had now been revoked, but Hank said that Logan did not remember anything his future consciousness had known. Logan did not remember Paris or Washington or Erik throwing him to the bottom of a river – it explained why Erik had been able to attack Logan without retaliation.
Erik was sitting on the other armchair of the basement cell, a table between the two chairs where an emptied bowl of soup rested. He couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten, and even now he had forced himself to swallow the broth, eating slowly as his weakened body rejected the thought of nourishment. He had had no appetite since Charles’s death.
Presently he read the will, written by hand, his eyes flying over the text as Hank sat opposite him, waiting for him to be done. The final paragraph of the will read: “And I leave the school itself to my old friend Michael Xavier, who won it in a game of chess. The school is to be his on the condition that he accepts the post of headmaster and keeps the school open to the children who need it.”
Erik frowned. “It says Michael Xavier.”
“Yes,” Hank agreed.
“Who the hell is Michael Xavier?”
“That's precisely what we wondered, initially. I perused the Xavier family tree up and down, let me assure you,” Hank said in a slightly obnoxious, know-it-all tone. Besserwiser, Erik thought bitterly. “Charles could not leave anything to Magneto, of course –“This comment was accompanied by a despising glare, “and the CIA knows the name Erik Lehnhserr. So it… it seems that.” Hank paused. “That Charles gave you a new identity. And he did it thoroughly.”
Hank handed over a brown envelope, and Erik took it, frowning. Inside he found the birth certificate of one Michael Alexander Xavier, and the passport of Michael Alexander Xavier, with Erik’s picture in it. Erik was startled. Clearly Charles had been a man of scenarios: if Erik was captured, Erik had a cell waiting for him in the mansion, and if Charles died, Erik had a new name, birth date, and occupation ready.
“What is the meaning of this?” Erik seethed quietly. Hank’s face remained annoyingly blank. “This is absurd!”
Hank’s blue lips pursed. “Yes. Yes, I quite agree that it is.”
* * *
Whatever remained of his powers, however, returned as Hank did not inject him with any more of that rotten poison – Erik could sense metal again, outside the confines of his room. He didn’t try storming out, however. He would have passed out before he got to ground level, but a part of him was also curious to familiarise himself with the room Charles had given him, and he found himself quite content where he was.
He perused the books in the basement, commending Charles on his taste: Thucydides and Polybius, Gandhi’s autobiography, More’s Utopia, a brand new copy of The Praise of Folly, but no copy of Machiavelli’s Prince, Erik noted with a smirk. He read and read as he waited for his meals that were of much higher calibre than at the Pentagon. A part of him, perhaps, had become accustomed to this kind of living, but he did not welcome the monotonous lull of it. He’d asked for a copy of the will, and he kept reading it over and over again too, as if it was written in code: I, Charles Francis Xavier, being of sound body and mind…
Charles’s looped handwriting unfolded on the page. Erik found it soothing to trace his fingers over the curved letters, but he highly questioned whether Charles had been of either sound body or mind: Charles’s body was broken, had been since Cuba, and when they had come together last year, Charles’s mind had deteriorated with the rest of him.
On the plane to Paris, as he and Charles had played chess, Erik had looked across the table, trying to catch a glimpse of the young Oxford scholar who had zigzagged across the US with him, recruiting mutants for the CIA initiative. He tried to find that young man, a flicker of that old cockiness and playfulness in Charles’s eyes, only to discover none was left. The Charles he had known had died.
Now there was no version of Charles that existed at all.
Erik had not – He had not dealt with Charles’s death yet. He knew that. He saw no reason to rush into the mourning process, however, because once he let himself fully comprehend that Charles was gone, Erik would have to re-evaluate his own place in the universe.
As far as he could see, therefore, he had the rest of his days to be absent of Charles, to be furious at the insanity of his death, to – So no. He was not dealing with it yet.
On the third day after him having regained consciousness, Hank came by in the morning, but without breakfast. “If you want to eat,” Hank growled, “you know where the kitchen is.”
Hank left the door open.
Erik took a few of the books and his copy of the will with him, heading straight for the guest bedroom on the top floor. It had been his room back in ’62, too. He sat on the edge of the bed, revelling that he again had metal to touch, to sense, to feel. It helped him feel whole.
He looked over his shoulder at the red bed sheets. They had been blue last time, a soft azure, twisted around Charles’s waist as Charles had struggled to make his way out of bed, laughing, “No, we do not have time, you are impossible –“
“Come on, darling,” he had purred, hands pulling Charles back into bed, “just one more round.” And there had been this pull deep in his guts, intoxicating, as Charles had given up the fight and given into him, and Erik had never felt so light, he had never felt such joy.
Erik snapped himself out of it. He would not mourn a man who had betrayed him and left him for dead.
He was not, of course, going to be headmaster. Hank currently had the job, and as it was summer, only the children who had truly been abandoned by their parents were living in the house. They numbered some seven young mutants, Erik concluded, gazing out of the window where Logan was using the grounds for a baseball match. The other students had gone home. Erik was impressed by how quickly Charles had managed to get the school going again.
A girl with long, red hair gazed straight up at his window from the grounds below. Erik stared back at her, unflinching – it was she who flinched and looked away.
A knock at the door. Hank stood there watching him, a suitcase in hand. It was Erik’s. “We got this from the car you’d left at the gates. We hid it, the car. We assumed it was –“
“Stolen, yes.” Erik beckoned a finger and the suitcase flew from Hank’s grip onto the bed. Or it was supposed to, but instead it flew straight across the room where it smashed against the wall, clicking open, its contents scattering all over.
Erik cursed under his breath, looking at his hand in confusion.
“Why can’t you control your powers?” Hank asked.
Erik glared. “I don’t know.”
Hank, forever the scientist, persisted. “When did it start?”
When Charles died. Right down to the second.
“I would like to unpack,” he said instead, and Hank huffed, glaring at his humble belongings on the floor.
It made it sound like Erik was staying. He didn’t know if he was.
* * *
He would not be able to depart Westchester until he could understand how Charles, who had left him for dead only a year ago, had decided to commemorate Erik in his will in such a way. Logan and Hank were able to handle the handful of children spending their summer at the school – the summer curriculum seemed to consist of plentiful freedom from what Erik could observe, which was just as well. Charles had died over a month ago now, and Erik knew that he wasn’t the only one in the mansion trying to cope with it.
Ah, if I have memories of you in this house, Charles, he thought wryly, I wonder how many that blue furball can conjure up. All the years you two spent here, by yourselves. You had a libido on you – oh, I know. And he laughed emptily, without merriment, just hoping anything would answer back to him. Getting a rise out of Charles ought to do the trick – but there was no voice in his head to object to Erik’s irrational jealousy.
Whenever he tried to touch that shadow that used to have flickered on the edge of his mind – if he had to locate it, he would say that it had been just at the base of his skull – he felt nauseously ill and had to stop. It was worse when he tried to chase the connection. That’s when he had to lie down, sometimes he threw up, sometimes he broke out in cold sweat, and one time his heart started beating so fast that he was seconds from calling out to Hank that he was having a heart attack.
Those were the low points. They occurred at least thrice a day and showed no signs of waning, but thankfully they were not waxing either.
But he also found ways to make himself feel better. Charles’s bedroom was the best place for that, for pacifying the disease that was eating him up inside. He had visited the room gingerly at first, but then found himself there all the time, looking for clues that might help him understand why Charles had left him the school. There were science magazines recently purchased, and they helped Erik none. There was a new suit in the wardrobe with the price tag still on it – Charles had never gotten to use it, but by god, he would have looked dashing in it. Erik also found a black turtleneck that he strongly suspected had once been his, but he told himself not to be ridiculous.
On one afternoon when his vision began to blur suddenly, the world slipping from view as a blinding headache started, he had the most horrendous sensation of spiralling into a dark void – and when he came to, he was in Charles’s bed, nose pressed against the pillow that carried a faint scent of Charles’s aftershave. No one had changed the sheets since the accident.
He moved to lie on his back, staring at the ceiling. He recalled having done the same over a decade ago, after one of his nights with Charles. They had been fucking for some weeks at that point – it had started in a dingy motel in Virginia after a day of unsuccessful recruitment. It had almost been a dare, them fucking, rough and fast, but it had also been well humoured and sponsored by half of a bottle of Maker’s Mark. They had been trying to figure out how far they could push each other, and it had been thrilling to sneak around after they got back to the house, to tip-toe on the edges of whatever was happening between them.
But the night that Erik now recalled had been different. They had trained together that day – he had managed to move the satellite dish that still remained just outside the estate. And when Charles had looked at him that afternoon, Erik had felt something new flaring up inside him, something heavier and more consuming.
His plan had been to go to Charles’s room once the others had gone to bed, but then Mystique had needed a pep talk, which he had granted. (Erik was still stunned that Charles had failed to see that all Mystique truly wanted was attention – so easily given.) Charles had wanted to celebrate Erik’s victory over the satellite dish with some champagne, code for another alcohol induced fuck to see which one of them would come first, another go at this game that they were playing, but Erik was no longer interested in that.
Charles sensed it when Erik walked into the bedroom that night. Erik may have been projecting enough for Charles to pick up on his emotions without actively even using his powers.
“You’re late,” Charles said with a smirk that faded as Erik closed the door. Erik took Charles in, his stature, his features, the breadth of his shoulders, and all the while his mind was consumed by a new kind of desire, a new burning need. Charles’s breath caught at his throat, clearly taken aback. And Charles stalled, then, when Erik studied him hungrily, as he advanced on Charles like he was prey. No more games. No more.
They were done.
Charles had become immobile, and Erik did not need to be a telepath to realise that Charles was going to try and ignore this, them, that Charles was not quite ready to take the leap from meaningless debauchery committed by two unattached gay men to something more. It was too dangerous, too strong, what they felt – oh but Erik was done. He was done with charades.
And he kissed Charles there, by the window, a possessive, long kiss that had shut Charles’s protests right up. How satisfying that had been, how the need to make Charles his had been like a drug to him, how the need to be made Charles’s was perhaps even stronger. And Charles had mumbled his name, and Erik had teasingly breathed, “Quiet, quiet. The others might hear.”
He had pushed Charles against the wall, towering him. Charles’s hands landed on his shoulders, keeping him where he was.
A shuddery breath: “Erik, this… us –“
Charles’s blue eyes showed the fear of the unknown as they desperately sought Erik’s. Erik pressed their foreheads together, his hands going to the buttons of Charles’s shirt, undoing them one by one. “You want to fight this. Keep it easy, quick fucks here and there.”
Charles swallowed hard, remaining silent.
He brushed his lips against Charles’s. “Not good enough for me. Not good enough. I’ve crossed the line,” he said as Charles’s hands dropped to his hips. Erik stepped in closer at the invitation. “I need to have you. Under me, on me, with me…” He undid the last button, and his palm pressed to Charles’s exposed abdomen. “I’m going to have you, Charles, and I will not be quick about it.”
“Oh, Christ,” Charles breathed in a tone of awed surrender, and then, “Yes.” A soft admittance no louder than a whisper. Charles meeting his eyes evenly. That single yes had said so much.
It was the first time Erik had ever made love. It had also been the last.
The memory of it was stirring arousal in Erik’s mind, so he pulled himself out of that evening, from Charles’s skin, the sounds he had made, how Charles had arched his back, moved his hips, what Charles’s lips on his back had felt like, what his come had tasted like. For a boring academic, Charles knew how to fuck and be fucked, but that night had been something new for them both. They had hardly spoken – there had been no need when Charles had flooded Erik’s mind with his own, and they had been able to feel each other, moving slowly yet hungrily in the dark, their hearts beating as one.
He had been so smitten by then that he had not cared who was hypnotising whom. He had been infatuated, all the way until they were on that beach and Charles had refused to go with him, which had made no sense whatsoever when only the night before they had, by silent agreement, with the way they had touched each other, moved together, memorised the contours of each other’s bodies, decided never to be away from one another again.
And then Charles had left him to rot in jail for ten years, and Erik could accept that, in a way. Charles had thought he had killed Kennedy, after all – Charles had foolishly believed the lies that the humans had fed him.
But when Charles had abandoned Erik again in Washington, Erik had already proved that he was right. Erik had proof that in the future humans would turn against them, and it’d take a hell of a lot more than simply not killing one scientist to change that. And yet Charles had just stared at him with cold anger, hard-hearted, and Erik could not believe it. He’d issued an ultimatum to the man he had once thought he would share his life with: “You know I’m as good as dead.”
Charles had not flinched. Erik had expected him to flinch, to gasp, to look sorry.
Charles had not. He had said, “I know.”
Resigned to the fact.
Charles hadn’t cared. Erik reminded himself of that moment, pushing away the misleading memories of their lovemaking that clearly had never meant anything to Charles. And then Charles had died on him and left him this fucking school, this goddamned legacy that Erik despised, a grand prize to give to a man Charles clearly had not cared much for in the end. If only Charles had died intestate, all the turmoil in Erik would have been avoided.
Erik forced himself out of the bed, out of the bedroom, all the while cursing Charles in his head, who continued to play games with him long after he was gone.
* * *
“Oh,” Logan said, his voice low, “the tin man does leave his room.”
“Out of you and me, I am hardly the tin man,” Erik noted coolly. Logan grunted in annoyance, hopefully realising the stupidity of his failed pun, going for the fridge and grabbing a beer. It was ten past nine. Erik eyed him carefully, wondering how Charles had convinced this halfwit to become a teacher at the school. “Last time we met, although I am told it is a time you do not recall –“
“Nope, but I’ve seen the footage. Nixon at gunpoint,” Logan said, leaning against the counter, sipping his beer. “Nice speech. Nice helmet. Nice cape.”
“Yes. You were made of bone back then. It must have been a busy year for you.”
Erik clearly hit a never because Logan looked irate and defensive. “I don’t know, if that’s what you’re asking – I can’t remember. A whole two months I can’t remember, until I woke up here, and the Prof – he explained everything to me. How they found me, who he was, what this place was…” Logan looked around in what might have been appreciation, though he tried to hide it. “The Prof helped me out. Hell, even on the drive home, before the accident, he was babbling about the potential of –“
“You were in the car?” Erik asked sharply.
“I was driving it,” Logan said. Erik blinked. The chauffeur had died on impact, the obituary had said, so – Oh, of course. The chauffeur who could not die. Logan, however, was lost in his thoughts. “God, when that truck hit us – and when I came to, it was too late. I was the one to get his body out, or what was left of –“
The fridge rattled ominously, and Logan raised an eyebrow. Erik’s hands were in fists, and he loosened them slowly. He looked at his watch instinctively, having put it back on when Hank had returned his belongings. Logan was looking at it too.
“The time’s not right.”
“No. The watch is frozen, you see.”
“Why don’t you fix it?” Logan offered unhelpfully.
“I see no need to. Half three,” he said, tapping at the clock face once, “so half nine in New York, when that truck hit you.” Logan looked surprised. “I will leave you to your ascertained decent into alcoholism.”
Logan had no reply – he was trying to figure out what Erik’s last remark had meant.
Erik was out in the foyer when the other man called out, “It was quarter to nine, when we got hit.” Erik looked back to Logan, confused. Logan looked defiant. “It was quarter to nine. Not half past nine.”
“You were keeping time, were you, when you were unconscious?”
Logan seemed annoyed. “I think I know more about the crash than you, pal. I was there.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “With someone like you around for assistance, Charles never stood a chance, did he?”
This shut Logan up. Erik headed back upstairs.
* * *
Erik was only wasting time chasing the ghost of a man who had hated him, and Erik would be damned if he didn’t learn to hate Charles in turn. One of the books from his cell was a collection of Buddhist sayings that had come with helpfully underlined passages, such as: ‘Those who attempt to conquer hatred by hatred are like warriors who take weapons to overcome others who bear arms. This does not end hatred, but gives it room to grow.’
Erik resented Charles’s posthumous attempts at indoctrination. He would return to the scraps of Brotherhood he had regrouped before Charles’s death had distracted him. The timing was ideal – with Charles gone, who was left to oppose him?
Well, Erik supposed, Charles’s grand mahogany desk would be just the place to write up the required paperwork for his next move.
He made himself comfortable, pulling the typewriter close to him. He perused the drawers for blank paper, finally locating some from a mess of pens and paper clips and – interesting, even a gun. Erik wondered what a powerful telepath could need a gun for before recalling that for a good part of the past decade Charles had been powerless and thus defenceless.
He leaned back in the chair, letting the metal type bars flick onto the white page, forming the words for him as he pressed his fingertips together in concentration. He was trying to think of how to word such a document, pausing here and there – the effort to use the typewriter was more taxing for him than he was willing to admit. He already knew that by the time he was done, he would have a horrific migraine that would require him to lie in the dark of his room, groaning in pain for at least three hours.
The door of the headmaster’s office suddenly got pushed open and an eager-looking girl of ten burst through in a flicker of red hair. She stopped at the sight of him, and Erik only remained where he was, regarding the girl coolly while she averted her gaze quickly.
He had hardly spoken or seen any of the children, and he preferred it that way. They were not his students, after all, although some of their powers were truly fascinating. Erik had spent many an afternoon gazing onto their efforts of baseball from his bedroom window, and he particularly liked the boy whose arms could stretch to infinity – he stood in the middle of the field, looking bored, as he caught every ball. The others kept yelling at him to at least let them try. Erik had chuckled at that.
The children had seen him around the house, of course, and they knew that he was Mr. Xavier, Charles’s cousin and the new headmaster. Erik knew that they called him Mr. X behind his back. How could Charles have known that Erik wouldn’t just turn the school into the new headquarters of the Brotherhood and recruit all these children, the red haired girl in the office included? Was this all a test?
The typewriter finished the sentence before Erik spoke: “Yes?”
The girl looked unsure now, embarrassed. “I heard – I heard the typewriter, and I thought that – that maybe the professor… was back.” She looked wistful.
Charles truly knew how to charm them, didn’t he?
“That is a futile wish, do you not think?” he asked pointedly, and the girl flushed. She would not look at him directly – she somehow always sensed when Erik was looking at the students, because she always flinched and turned her back to the window. Erik eyed her curiously. There was an aura to her, something bizarre that reminded Erik of – Oh. “You’re a telepath.” The girl nodded, seemingly afraid of the interrogation.
“What’s your name?” He eyed the thick folders on the desk that contained the students’ files. He could look her up later.
“Jean,” the girl mumbled. “And you’re Erik.”
He was about to nod when he quickly stopped himself. “I’m Michael. Xavier. Michael Xavier.” If the girl had any wit or telepathic prowess, she would be able to spot the obvious lie.
Jean frowned at Erik’s pseudonym – perhaps she too had seen the Nixon footage and recognised him as Magneto. She certainly was old enough to piece things together herself. “Then why does the professor call you Erik?” she asked.
“Did he talk to you about me?” Erik prompted disbelievingly. A ten-year-old seemed like an unlikely confidante.
“No, I mean right now,” Jean clarified, looking into the air above them. “Don’t you hear that? I hear it. Erik. Erik. Erik.” She looked at him very briefly before looking down at the floor. “Why does he keep calling you Erik if your name is Michael?”
“Who?” he asked, but she only shook her head, biting her lip, clearly worried that she had said too much – Erik had seen this behaviour in other mutants who were brought up to be ashamed of their gifts. Erik leaned over the table, snapping his fingers to try and get the girl to focus. “Hey kid, look at me. What does that mean? Look at me,” he repeated when she didn’t. “Jean, as the headmaster of this school –“
Suddenly the girl burst into tears. “I don’t – Please, Mr. Erik, I can’t – It hurts too much, looking at you.”
Jean had all of Erik’s attention now. “Why?”
She shook her head and then let out a quiet wail. “Because of your soul. It’s too scary to look at. Why is a part of it missing like that? It’s not normal,” she protested, crying freely. “I miss the professor, he used to read us bedtime stories – when is he coming back? When –”
And then Erik was clutching his head as Jean projected her agony to other minds at close radius. His powers reacted in turn, pens and a letter opener and the typewriter being flung into the air as Jean screamed and Erik groaned, tears in his eyes from the pain alone. Thankfully Hank swooped in, picking the girl up in his arms protectively even as he was struggling against the same pain that had Erik immobilised. Jean wailed against Hank’s blue neck as he attempted to sooth her, her crying taking the form of rattled sobs. Hank glared at Erik who had not done anything wrong as far as he could tell.
The pain lessened as the girl’s sobs gave way to soft tears. “Mind my students,” Hank snarled as he walked out with Jean still in his arms.
Erik stared after them, trying to even his breathing.
Oh. So that’s what it was.
His soul was broken.
* * *
Charles had known, of course. Charles could have at least told him – on the plane to Paris, or in that Paris hotel bed, or at the White House – you think it’d be something you’d mention to an old friend: by the way, our souls? Yeah, we’ve traded parts. A part of yours is now entwined with mine, and a part of mine is entwined with yours.
He found a book on the subject in Charles’s bedroom, where Charles kept a small selection of carefully picked out titles. The antediluvian, leather-bound volume was nothing short of the occult, with its excessively cursive letters and hand-drawn charts of people and arrows pointing between their hearts and brains. The book smelled old, the edges of the pages were turning yellow, and Erik could not imagine where Charles had managed to find it. Charles had written in its margins, but only bits of punctuation: question marks for some sections, exclamation points for others. Erik studied one such exclamation next to a paragraph which read: the external soulle embeds itselfe neyther in the heart nor the brayne – rather its location is unyque to its donor.
Subconsciously Erik touched the base of his skull, where he felt like something had been dislodged, like an attempted lobotomy gone wrong.
He closed the book. It was all there, written by some ancient loon, who had clearly been one of their mutant ancestors, perhaps one of the very first ones, even – Charles was bound to have a theory for when homo superior had started to branch out distinctively, but Erik did not know what date Charles would have given it. He could no longer ask.
But the book talked of special folke, making it clear that only such folk were capable of these bonds. The book theorised on how these bonds were created, how it maintained itself, how it worked, but it was clear that most of this was guesswork. It did not mention what happened when the bond was broken. The writer had clearly never considered that to be an option.
But to Erik, the book made little sense. He knew that in the weeks leading up to Cuba, he and Charles had been – reckless, perhaps. In over their heads, certainly. They had crashed into each other at incredible speed, and the night before Cuba Erik had all but declared what he had foolishly thought to have been love, and then they had separated just as quickly.
Linking your soul to another’s did not seem like something they could have managed in such short a time, without either of them having intended it.
The book spoke of a perfect unyon of the mindes. Had they ever had that? No matter how briefly? He doubted it.
And how could their souls be entwined when they loathed each other so much? When Charles had left him for dead, not once, but twice – first for Kennedy, then for Nixon. If Charles’s break into Pentagon had proved anything, it was that Charles could have saved him from that hell at any point, but never chose to.
Never mind Paris. Never mind their reunion – that had been animalistic, instinct. It hadn’t been love, it hadn’t been a union of souls. Erik quite simply just hadn’t had sex in years, and Charles had been there, nothing but a vessel for Erik’s brutish desires.
Erik bet that Charles had hated realising all those years ago that he and Erik were bound together. He bet it had made Charles so angry, had made Charles feel so unclean, that no matter what he did, Erik was forever a part of him.
He bet Charles had been repulsed by the part of him that had come from Erik.
Knowing what was wrong with him, however, did not help Erik to remedy his illness. He had given a part of his soul to Charles, who had died, taking that piece of Erik with him. Furthermore, the part of Charles that had been in him had likewise perished.
Whichever way he looked at it, he was permanently broken. The headaches, the inability to control his powers, the fatigue, the nausea – none of that would go away.
Erik refused to be left like this for the rest of his life. He had to find a way to fix himself.
* * *
Paperwork was archived chronologically at the station, and North Salem had had one burglary and one case of shoplifting since the car crash. Erik sat down in the small, squared file room, the shelves around him full of filing boxes, with a lone light bulb hanging overhead as he began going over the files for the accident. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for – closure, perhaps.
The autopsy was there, complete with pictures of body parts, close-ups of a bruised chest, of bloodied knees, of internal organs that they had cut out of Charles. Erik tried not to think of the way Charles’s body had once felt against his: warm, alive, soft, sweat-slicked.
Just a body. Organic matter. Cold, clammy and dead.
There were pictures of the crash site and a couple of witness statements.
Logan hadn’t lied, much to Erik’s dismay: the crash had occurred sixteen minutes to nine. Erik looked at his watch: twenty-three minutes past. Thirty-nine minutes later.
Erik felt sick. Had Charles taken thirty-nine minutes to die? He pictured Charles there on the backseat, his broken body now truly defeated. Charles trapped there, calling out for Logan who was unconscious at the front. Charles bleeding to death, struggling to get out. Charles’s body pierced by metal, and Erik had never hated metal before, but now did.
And where had Erik been? Why hadn’t he been there, why couldn’t he have stopped this? Why had he been on the other side of the world, why hadn’t – It was Charles’s fault, of course. Charles had made Erik a fugitive in Washington that day. If Charles had joined him then, if Charles had joined him, they could have conquered the world.
Erik eyed the autopsy again, refusing to look at any more of the pictures, but glancing at the report: severe head trauma, skull fractures, third degree burns – Charles trapped there, Charles –
Erik paused. Dead at impact.
That was the autopsy’s conclusion. Charles had died instantly. At sixteen minutes to nine. The obituary had said that too, he recalled.
Erik frowned. Why hadn’t he reacted until thirty-nine minutes later?
“Dodgy, isn’t it?” a tall, dark police officer said from the door that Erik was convinced he had closed.
Erik didn’t startle – he scrutinised the man, his posture, his gaze. Then, “Mystique.”
She flickered onto her true form. “I’ve read the reports, too.” She sauntered in slowly with a feline spring to her step – not limping as she had been when Erik had shot her a year ago. She pulled a chair across from him, keeping an unwavering eye on him. She was ready to throttle him if he made a move. He didn’t. He could not take her on in his current state.
Mystique said, “The truck driver vanished. Report says that he must have panicked and wandered into the woods. Still MIA.” She tapped a blue finger on one of the statements Erik hadn’t read yet. He read it quickly, foreboding, while Mystique went through the files. “Look at this, too.” It was a picture of the crash site, debris all over. “Look at the road – the truck wasn’t coming from around a bend, it’s a straight stretch of road. How could the driver miss Charles’s car?”
This was a valid question. Erik scrutinised the evidence – then it clicked.
“Charles was assassinated,” he said in sudden realisation. It wasn’t an accident at all.
“Yes, he was,” Mystique said, voice quivering ever so slightly with anger. A new rage was filling Erik, too. Charles had become a target, too stupid to protect himself, to think that humans were on his side. “The question is, by whom?”
Mystique would have been high up on Erik’s list when it came to masterfully played out assassinations, but he figured she could be ruled out in this case. Charles had been her brother, after all.
Mystique frowned, taking him in properly. “Magneto,” she said testily, and Erik stirred. No one had called him that since Switzerland – the obstreperous good doers at the mansion called him Erik. Mystique’s yellow eyes were full of suspicion. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I hadn’t realised I looked that bad.”
She shook her head. “No, I – When I turn myself into someone, I can – survey the object, their cellular structure. I know when people are ill. I don’t know what you have, but it’s nothing good.”
He closed the files and leaned back in his chair. “Well, I could have told you that.”
* * *
“Yes,” he said quietly. “At the funeral. The caretaker. I thought that might’ve been you.”
“Hello, Beast,” she breathed. It was close to midnight, and the house was quiet. Hank’s skin was a sickly blue – give it another twenty minutes and he’d be hairy to boot.
Erik dropped the files onto Hank’s desk. “It wasn’t an accident,” he declared. Mystique had sat on one of the pupil’s desks, waiting with one slender leg over the other.
“Well,” Hank voiced. He already had a Scotch poured out, but he filled it up before flicking the files open.
By the time Hank had familiarised himself with the evidence, he was back to being a beast-like creature. He rubbed his eyes with one paw and said, “As much as I’d like to believe –“
“It’s right there!” Mystique objected. “The truck driver –“
“Was wanted for heroin possession, yes. You could hardly expect him to loiter after he added two manslaughter charges to it.” Hank pushed his chair back and looked at him and Mystique both – pityingly, perhaps. “I know that… out of all people, you two if anyone… want to blame someone for this. To have a target. I know that –“
“The times don’t match,” Erik interrupted from where he was by the large window. “The report says that Charles died on impact, but he did not. He died thirty-nine minutes later.”
“And you know that how?” Hank asked with a raised eyebrow.
“The girl – The red haired. Telepath.”
“Jean,” Erik said. He looked out of the window at the darkened grounds. “A bit of – My soul. It’s got a piece missing, she says. I’ve died, a little. That’s why I –“He stopped there, tried to focus. “Mystique, you’re right, almost. I’m not well because a part of me is dead. A part of me was with Charles, and now it’s dead, and I know exactly when I died, and it wasn’t when Charles did. It was almost forty minutes later. He couldn’t have died on impact.”
“Well perhaps he didn’t,” Hank said after a very long pause, discreetly by-passing what Erik had just said, although Hank was eyeing him in a way he had never done before. Hank’s eyes were alight with curiosity and sudden realisation, much like a scientist who had been suddenly handed a new toy for an exciting, ground-breaking study. Beneath this, however, Erik saw something worse: pity. “Charles was a strong-willed man, he could have fought –“
“Wait,” Mystique said, hopping onto her feet. “What do you mean a part of your soul died with Charles?”
Erik gazed at her as evenly as he could. “It wasn’t intentional.”
“What wasn’t?” Her tone had a familiar, impatient ring to it.
Erik shook his head and tried to regain some gravitas. “It is, in any case, irrelevant –“
Erik realised how much authority he had lost over Mystique in his absence. He had once been able to control her perfectly. She had grown past him, now.
Hank’s paws were pressed against one another in meditation. “Charles and Erik are- were connected. Mutants can... integrate their souls. Become a part of each other. We have no scientific data on it, how it happens, what the implications are.” Hank sounded intrigued despite himself.
Mystique seemed awed. “Charles had this power?” she asked, her tone bearing the adoration of a little sister.
“All mutants do, but it’s extremely rare, if not unprecedented,” Hank clarified. He dared a look at Erik. “It requires two willing mutants, in a... An emotionally intense, reciprocated relationship of, um, a physical nature.”
The silence that landed in the room was awkward. Mystique was having none of it. “They need to be in love,” she said, looking at Erik in shocked realisation and sudden anger.
So Mystique hadn’t known. Erik certainly had never told her, and he could see how Mystique was in the process of reviewing everything she thought she had known about Charles and Erik.
Erik tried to implement his authority once more. “Enough,” he barked. He would not have Mystique scrutinising him in this way. “I once may have been quite taken by Charles, but that was a long time ago. Something happened to us without my knowing, and ever since we have been linked. Now, no longer,” he boomed. “I will find out who is responsible for his death. I will punish them.”
“That won’t bring Charles back,” Hank said with pity again, like he now understood Erik in a profoundly different way.
“No, it won’t – Charles is dead. But if they killed the most powerful mutant alive, are any of us safe? Is this school safe, Hank? Are you next?” He was rambling somewhat, but he could not stand being treated like a broken thing. He missed his helmet, then, he missed his cape, he missed his powers, he missed lifting a stadium up into the sky and feeling invincible. He missed being Magneto.
Normally, then, he could have willed the transformation – he could have turned into Magneto without pause. Yet somehow he found himself unable of that just then. He tried to bring forth the cruel clarity and determinedness, he tried to transform himself.
But he did not feel like Magneto. He felt like Erik Lehnhserr.
Mystique seemed to have processed that her late brother had once been Erik’s lover. She seemed livid as she met Erik’s gaze. “You should have told me,” she snarled before marching out.
Hank watched her go, almost fondly. Then he said, “I feel like you could do with a drink.”
Erik huffed. “You never told me you were a telepath too, Hank.”
* * *
“I should have known,” Hank said, perhaps for the tenth time. “It was perhaps five or so years ago. Charles suddenly got very interested in the concept of souls, how they work, what they are. I failed to see where such interest was coming from. It wasn’t what I would have called strictly scientific, so I was surprised by his interest.”
Erik watched the ice loll back and forth in his drink. At one of the large windows, on the wide windowsill, was a dusty set of chess pieces, the very ones he and Charles had once used.
“So how do I fix this?” Erik asked. He looked at his left hand. By now Hank knew as well as he did that all of his symptoms were caused by a severed soul. Erik would never be complete again – he would be an invalid for the rest of his life, whatever remained of it.
He wondered if Charles had had this sensation when he wound up in the wheelchair.
Hank shook his head gravely. “I have no idea. Charles stopped talking about it after a while. He travelled a bit, went to some libraries in London and Oxford, but I don’t think he found whatever he was looking for. If he did, he never told me. I doubt you can fix it, if I’m being honest.”
Erik clenched his jaw. “A month of folly in my youth, and now I have been made weak forever? A cheap magic trick – Charles and I despised each other for far longer than we ever cared for each other. Souls. Souls. If they are so powerful, how is it possible that they cannot recognise between love and hate?”
He wondered about the time in Paris, too, about their reunion. He remembered the physical need to touch Charles, to be close to him again – that hadn’t been Erik, surely. That had been his soul deprived of Charles for ten years, deprived of being whole. Had any of Erik’s actions around Charles ever actually been his own? Had he been a puppet to this bond all along? Was there such a thing as free will?
God, he wanted to talk to Charles about this.
When they had gotten to Paris the night before the accord, they had stayed at a hotel near Orly. Logan had been left to watch over Erik, as if he would escape. He had no intention of this because he understood clearly that Mystique had become a risk that needed to be eliminated. Still, Charles had retired to one of the hotel rooms on the same floor, while Logan and he had shared a room, with Logan placing a chair in front of the door, sitting there with a beer in hand like Logan stood a chance against him. Erik had tried his best to stay sane in prison, hours and hours of meditation, of connecting with his powers that he could not actively use. And now he was surrounded by metal again, and he felt so strong after all of his hundreds of exercises of perfecting hatred. It had been insulting, really, that he had been left with Logan.
But what Erik remembered of that evening distinctively was the restlessness, the need to speak to Charles, to be near him again. So he had tied Logan to one of the beds with a flick of his hand, metal headbars shaping into shackles as Logan had struggled and yelled obscenities at him, bone claws out and trying to scratch him. “Hush now, puppy,” he had said, “I need to go see a man about a dog.” He had gagged Logan with a hotel hand towel.
Charles had been waiting for him, Erik was quite sure. Instinct or soul bond, Erik now wondered. Charles had instantly accused him of killing Logan, rising from his chair with a drink in hand – Charles constantly had a drink in hand. They would have to do something about that.
“The buffoon you left me with is fine,” Erik said dismissively. Behind him, the metal lock of the room locked itself so that no one could get in or out.
And then they had stood there, gazing at each other. Alone at last. Charles’s blue eyes were brimmed with unshed tears of hatred, of anger, his hair had been a tangled mess, his hands had been trembling, his jaw had clenched, and Erik had met his gaze coldly, coolly – yet his heart had been beating like mad, his blood soaring –
Charles had him against the wall, pressing closer to him as they were kissing violently. Charles’s taste, god, his scent, his warmth, Erik had never needed anything like he needed Charles then, and he was hard before he could register it, ripping Charles’s shirt open, touching –
Charles unzipped him, and his hand pushed into his underwear, around the base of Erik’s swollen cock. Two well-meaning strokes in the confines of his tight trousers, and Erik had come with a long groan against Charles’s mouth, his hips twitching, his toes curling. Charles stopped, surprised.
Erik leaned against the wall for support, body suddenly slack as he kept one arm looped around Charles’s waist, feeling the heat of Charles’s skin through their clothes. He took in a shuddery breath. “I apologise,” he said to the minimal space between them. “I haven’t had much sex lately.” He had hardly been touched in years.
Charles pulled his hand out, fingers trailing over Erik’s pubic hair. Their knees brushed together, their shoulders bumping from how close they were. Something flickered in Charles’s eyes, perhaps sympathy – Erik assumed that for the first time Charles was considering what Erik’s life had been like for the past decade.
Since being caught, Erik had had sex twice. There had been a nurse perhaps six or so years ago – why she had been left alone with Erik while taking his blood pressure and performed the other annual health checks, Erik did not know. The nurse hadn’t been afraid of him, which had been rather intriguing. When the doctor left the room to get a plastic stethoscope, she had said, “You don’t remember me, do you?”
Erik had gazed at her – something familiar about her mouth, maybe? She had introduced herself as Magda, and it was only then that Erik realised he had fucked her once, perhaps ten years prior, after picking her up in a Washington bar after a night of heavy drinking. Maybe she pitied him, maybe she had a convict kink, maybe she had good memories of their previous fuck – Erik hadn’t cared with her skirt pulled up to her waist, her underwear down to her knees, and Erik had lifted her to sit on the edge of the gurney, pushing inside of her, and he rutted against her once, twice, thrice – and had come with a groan. It all took perhaps two minutes.
He had never seen her again.
Then, perhaps three or so years ago, one of the guards had sucked him off, and that guy had definitely had a convict kink. The blowjob had not been very spectacular, so Erik had lasted for a few good minutes. He had never seen that guy again either.
That was it. Ten years of sex narrowed down to two sad incidents. Now he was at an airport hotel, in a room with Charles, breathing in Charles’s musk, and he felt drunk. Need of sex, he again wondered from his chair in the library, or had it been the soul bond manipulating him?
Either way, he had been hard again within a minute, and with their trousers and underwear down to their calves, he had fucked Charles from behind as Charles had braced the wall. He had grit his teeth from how hard he was going, and he kept thinking you abandoned me, you left me to rot, and he tried to punish Charles with his brutal thrusts. Charles had tried to keep quiet, clearly didn’t want to give Erik the satisfaction of hearing him, and so it was their loud, ragged breathing and the quick slams of their bodies that filled their ears. It was wrong, somehow, to fuck Charles without being engulfed by Charles’s projection of how the sex felt, without Charles surrounding Erik’s mind with their shared pleasure. The sex felt empty like the sound of lone drops hitting the bottom of a metal can, no sense of warmth to the cold, bruising sex they were having.
It was Charles’s fault for poisoning himself.
Again, Erik had come pathetically fast, desperately fucking into the tight heat of Charles. He had kept one arm around Charles’s torso, the opened shirt still hanging off Charles, and he pulled Charles tight against him as he came, his seed filling Charles greedily, and that had felt good as he breathed his orgasm against the shell of Charles’s ear. Reclaiming Charles somehow. His hips kept bucking in the aftershocks, shoving Charles against the wall with his thrusts, finally causing Charles to moan. Erik may not have had sex in years, but this was clearly not true for Charles, and Erik bit Charles’s shoulder through the shirt fabric. God, how he wanted to kill anyone who had touched Charles, this man who was his, who belonged to him – the jealousy made him half-mad and desperate to reinstate himself.
Soul propaganda or not?
Charles hadn’t gotten off yet. Erik pulled out, come spilling out as he retreated. He had made Charles bleed, the scent of iron in the air that instantly reminded Erik of Cuba and the bullet to Charles’s spine. Instinctively he said, “You’re bleeding.” The concern in his tone surprised him.
“Fuck you,” Charles had snarled, spinning around, pushing him backwards onto the bed. After a struggle, after more bruising and buttons flying, they were naked at last. Erik was on his back, gazing up at Charles who had changed so much in the ten years that had flown past them. Erik spread his legs willingly, as a challenge, as a request – perhaps in supplication. And what felt better than anything in years wasn’t simply Charles pushing into him, filling him up, as much as it was the feeling of completely being surrounded by Charles again. Charles’s warmth and presence made Erik pause, made fire stir in his chest, somewhere in the hollow emptiness of it.
Charles gazed down at him, blue eyes so desperately searching for something in him. And the kiss after that was different, was soft – it was their first proper kiss, one that wasn’t them merely taking bites at each other’s mouths. This kiss was long, sensual, deep, and Erik relaxed into the mattress, suddenly remembering how much he had once trusted the man above him. Charles began thrusting into him slowly while keeping Erik pushed down with the weight of his body. Erik felt trapped but didn’t care. Maybe if Charles tried hard enough and kept him there, he could stay long-term.
Charles knew that Erik hadn’t been fucked in ten years, and Charles’s movements were firm but gentle, all consuming. Erik placed a hand on Charles’s lower back, fingers splayed over the scar tissue that the bullet wound had left. They moved in sync, in surprising harmony, and Erik had come undone beneath Charles.
In that heated, desperate embrace, Erik had been convinced that from there on out he could keep Charles out of harm’s way.
Come morning, exhausted, bruised, sated, they lay on top of the rumpled sheets. Erik had his head on Charles’s chest, fingers idly tracing circles on Charles’s stomach as he spoke about the Pentagon, about the assassination, about his time in prison. Charles ran a hand up and down his back soothingly, stopping when Charles asked a question or hummed in response. Their breathing synchronized, and Erik felt a heavy pull in his guts like for ten years he had been hopelessly lost. Charles seemed to think that they had come to an agreement of sorts through the night – perhaps they had, Erik would have to see. He would eliminate Mystique and go from there. He would punish those who had imprisoned him, and god they would be sorry for what they had done to him. He had been brewing plans for ten years and could hardly decide where to start. As for Charles, well he now knew what future lay ahead for mutants – Charles would choose Erik’s side this time.
Erik had never felt as powerful as he did that morning in Paris, with a future ahead of him, having reclaimed Charles Xavier in more ways than one. His powers had never felt as crisp, as balanced, as controlled.
Had that been part of the soul bond, too?
Erik thought of that night in the library of Westchester, with his broken soul, his haphazard powers, his fatigue that was like a deadly disease that held him in its relentless grip – he had long since finished his drink. How much of that night had been real, how much of it had been filth poured into him by his deprived, messed up soul? Erik failed to see much difference between a soul bond and a love drug. Erik wasn’t a willing participant. Neither of them were – even in Paris, the sex that mimicked love with its tender moments had been a lie. The brutal fucking beforehand had been real. That’s what they felt for each other: hatred. They simply chose to fight in the sack.
Hank had been studying him closely for quite some time, and Erik was happy that Hank could not read his mind. Logan had guessed where Erik had disappeared to that night, but the Logan at the mansion thankfully remembered nothing of those days. Hank had been clueless.
Hank now asked, “You said the migraines are daily?”
Erik focused on the present. “Yes. If that’s what they are. The pain is here,” he tapped the back of his head, “hours at a time. I can’t move, I can’t see. Sometimes – a few times.” He frowned and went on, “A few times it’s been so bad that I just want to stab something at it.”
Hank nodded slowly, clearly not thrilled by the idea of Erik committing suicide on the premises. “To be honest, I’m surprised it’s not worse. A severed soul bond – frankly, I may not have expected you to survive something like that. I suppose you are, however, stronger than most people.” This thought had never occurred to Erik before, that his condition could be a lot worse. He wasn’t just anyone, however, and he certainly was not weak. He would survive this, all be damned. Hank said, “I will try to help you.”
Angrily, he began, “I don’t need –”
“You’re like a dog that bites its owner out of nowhere,” Hank remarked dryly. “I know a thing or two about beasts.”
Erik leaned back in his chair, breathing out evenly. Outside, the sun was rising. “Alright, then.”
He thought of the Paris hotel bed again, of Charles nosing at his hair, of the laugh that had rumbled through Charles when Erik had said, “Well, that was pleasant – rematch in ten years?”
The soul bond was trickery. Truth of the matter was that they had both despised each other for years.
* * *
And Charles walked into the class room.
Charles was younger than he had been upon their last encounter, perhaps around twenty-three. He was wearing grey slacks with a white dress shirt that had two buttons undone at the top, no tie, with his sleeves rolled up his forearms. His hands were in his pockets, his steps casual as he gazed at Erik. Erik could only stare back.
Charles’s cheeks had that tinge of inexplicable rosiness to them that Erik had once been used to, and his blue eyes were brighter and crisper than they had been last year. Those blue eyes, Erik recalled, had once been younger and more innocent, had betrayed more of what Charles thought and felt, and more importantly those eyes reminded Erik of how Charles’s gaze had often pierced right through him, suggesting that Erik was an open book to Charles.
What do you know about me? Erik wondered and his memories brought Charles’s reply: Everything.
Erik found it hard to swallow.
The apparition said “Erik” in the smooth, warm, confident tone of a younger Charles Xavier.
“Stop it,” Erik whispered in a hoarse voice. He meant to look away – he would not look, but he couldn’t quite help himself. He instantly remembered what Charles felt like, what he had loved most of all about Charles’s body: the sharp jut of his Adam’s apple, the rough skin on the pads of his fingertips, the soft hairs trailing across his stomach, the musky scent of his sex – “Stop it,” he snarled, louder.
Charles stared at him. “Why?”
Erik met the cruel gaze that was the only thing out of place. Charles had never looked at him like that, not even last year. But it wasn’t only the look in his eyes – there was the dead echo of nothing when Erik tried to reach the Charles standing on the other side of the teacher’s desk, and there was something else wrong, something in the scent of this Charles. “Because you’re not him.”
“I thought you’d like this. I mean, this is what Charles looked like, right? When you first met?” Mystique extended out her arms, studying Charles’s limbs. She then added, still in Charles’s voice, “This is what I looked like when you and I got involved.”
A splintering headache was brewing at the base of Erik’s skull, and Erik suspected it was some subconscious part of him recognising the physical form of Charles and trying to reach out to it, finding nothing. He flinched in a sudden flash of pain and averted his eyes.
Mystique had not run off. They all assumed that she had, and right then Erik truly wished she had. A violent shiver ran through Erik, a dry nausea entering his guts. “Enough!” he growled, punching the desk violently. Mystique remained silent, but when he looked at her again, she had returned to her true form. She looked highly indignant. He said, “It was none of your business back then, and it’s none of your business now. Never become him again. If you do, you will be sorry.”
“Will I? Please. You and what army?” she asked tauntingly, and Erik wondered briefly if this is what became of people when left unloved: cruel. Still, he was pleased when he managed to gather enough control to send one of the pens on the desk right at Mystique’s throat, and she barely managed to dodge it. They glared at each other before she smiled wickedly. “I bet I had you fooled just for a second.”
But she hadn’t, of course. Erik could easily tell it wasn’t Charles from scent alone, he –
He frowned. He looked at the autopsy on the desk again. Oh.
“How could I have missed that?” he breathed in astonishment. Mystique looked alarmed. “Get the others,” he ordered with such urgency that for once Mystique obeyed.
After Hank and Logan had ushered the kids to the drawing room to watch TV, they held a meeting in Charles’s office. Mystique made no mention of Erik’s affair with Charles, and he was happy for it. Nonetheless there was a new, fierce vitality to her, a new determination that wasn’t far from rage. Erik felt it, too.
“This autopsy isn’t Charles’s,” Erik informed his attentive audience. “The blood of the victim was O-. Charles was AB+.” Erik had known this since Cuba, when he had pulled the bullet out and for the first time he had known something he wished he never had: the feel and scent of Charles’s blood, the iron in it. The victim’s blood type had been in the autopsy all along, and Erik had missed it. He was furious with himself for the oversight. “These pictures aren’t of Charles either. Whoever was pulled out of the wreckage, whoever was buried – it wasn’t Charles.”
His audience did not seem as ready to accept this as he was. Mystique was nonetheless intrigued. “The blood donation clinic in Oxford kept asking Charles to give blood because his type was rare,” she said quietly. “They got pissed off when he wouldn’t – he wasn’t sure mutant blood was wise to pass on.” She studied the autopsy report that Hank had handed to her. “I can’t believe I missed it.”
Erik didn’t blame her – he had missed it too.
“Wolverine,” she said, choosing the mutant name over the regular one as she often did. Logan eyed Mystique suspiciously, cigar in his mouth as he puffed out smoke nervously. He clearly did not like these unexpected developments. “You were knocked out, weren’t you?”
“You try staying conscious when a truck hits you, doll.”
Her eyes thinned dangerously. “Was Charles recognisable when you pulled the body out? Could you make out his face?””
Erik knew the answer to this: no. Charles’s face had been beyond recognition.
“Of course it was the Prof – he had the same fucking clothes on,” Logan protested. “And how could you get a fake body in that mangled car? Let me tell you, that just would not have been possible.”
This was a fair point. Mystique had begun to pace. “If Charles died thirty-nine minutes after the crash – if Erik is right about that – then we have a whole window for which there are no witnesses. The truck driver is dead and buried somewhere by now, I’m sure, so he won’t be able to tell us how we ended up with the wrong body.”
Hank now stepped in. “Did you or Charles speak to anyone strange at the university? Did you stop anywhere on the way back?”
Logan shook his head. Utterly unhelpful.
Erik said, “We have to find Charles’s body. Charles might not have died at the crash site, and if he did not, we have to find out who took him, where, and –“
“Well, we did stop for some gas,” Logan then said. “Some five miles before, since we were running low. It was funny because I had filled up the tank that morning. Why? Does that matter?”
If looks could kill immortal men, Logan would have been dead.
* * *
He did not trust Logan to solve anything, but he had faith in Mystique.
His faith was not misplaced because the two returned to the mansion that night with more answers than Erik had dared wish for. He hoped that the others couldn’t tell how weak he felt as they took seats in the library after the students’ bedtime. The children had been particularly boisterous that evening, so it had taken Hank longer than usual to get them to settle down. Erik had not used his powers all day – summoning a spoon that morning had left him with a sharp pain just behind his right ear.
“Firstly,” Mystique told them as they sat in a rough circle, Logan drinking a beer, “we dug up Charles’s body.” She said this with great casualness, even as Hank yelped in surprise and Erik felt sick as the pictures of the autopsy flickered in his mind. Logan grunted, affirming Mystique’s words – clearly the unearthing of the body had not been the highlight of Logan’s day. “Erik was right – we tested the blood. It’s not AB+. It’s not Charles. We buried the wrong body.”
Erik had already known this. “What else?” he asked. There must be something else.
“The gas station owner remembers that night, remembered me,” Logan said. “He also remembers a woman, dressed all in white. Gave him the creeps, he said. Apparently he saw her talking to me, but I don’t remember that.”
Hank looked startled. Erik said, “Emma.”
Mystique nodded. “Emma.”
Mystique expounded her theory involving Logan’s mind being penetrated by Emma Frost. “She got to you at the station. She was not alone, apparently, but the owner could not really describe the others – I’m sure Emma messed up the guy’s memory too. Charles must have been taken there when you stopped for gas, and when you got back in the car, whoever was in the backseat wasn’t Charles. You thought it was because Emma was in your head, and she was probably in the head of the poor sucker that had been dressed up in Charles’s clothes, too. They thought they were going to kill you both quite neatly, of course, and the world would assume Charles dead and never notice that he had, in fact, gone missing.”
Logan snapped, “I’ve had enough of people playing with my goddamned mind.”
Hank looked thoughtful. “But why the elaborate scheme just to kill Charles right after? Or is that why they needed his body – they wanted it for experiments? Is Trask behind this?”
“They didn’t want to kill Charles,” Erik said as evenly as he could, thinking it over. “Someone as powerful as Charles – they wanted to use him for something. Killing him..? Something went wrong. Something went very wrong, very fast.”
Mystique nodded in agreement, and the room silenced as they all considered this new information.
Well, Erik thought, at least they had a new lead: Emma Frost.
* * *
Erik had felt better since some of the mystery around the crash had dissolved. The headaches had been less severe, he had been able to control his powers more. Still, he was not in any shape to start chasing someone like Emma – he remembered the first time he had laid eyes on her, on Shaw’s boat, the way she had instantly had him doubling over in pain with the use of her mind alone. An attack like that right now, Erik feared, would leave him dead.
Erik was not particularly relieved that Charles hadn’t been crushed to death. If Charles had died in the hands of Emma or someone else, his death may have been more brutal than a sudden crash. Still, Erik had someone to blame. He no longer had access to serenity, but he was regaining access to rage, and it was this focus that he believed had enabled him to recover somewhat.
At that moment Mystique was raiding the kitchen of the mansion, throwing food into a backpack. “Do whatever you like, Erik.” She no longer called him Magneto, which stung. She had clearly realised how very little of her former leader was currently left. “Aren’t you the headmaster? Run the school, then. I have other things to worry about.”
“I’m not the headmaster.”
“Well, you’ve been living here for a month.”
“Trying to find out what’s happened to me. The Brotherhood awaits my return, when I am well enough.”
Mystique clearly cared little. “You need to do something other than mourn Charles –“
“I am not –“
“– we’re all mourning. You don’t have monopoly to that, soul or no soul.” She slammed the fridge door shut angrily. It hardly mattered that Mystique and Charles – or rather Raven and Charles – had lost touch, Erik realised. Siblings assumed that they were permanent fixtures in each other’s lives, even if they had ceased talking. Charles’s death had upset Mystique and stirred some old familial feeling she had long suppressed. She looked at him, shrugging. “I don’t know. Be of use.”
Erik did not appreciate her giving him orders, and he was about to retaliate, when Hank’s voice came from the door: “Perhaps, Erik, you could help me. I do find my hands quite full these days.”
Hank was asking, and Erik hated this brushing aside – again he missed his helmet, he missed power, he missed being himself. A year ago he had been this close to killing Hank, but none of that fear remained in the furred mutant now. Hank and Mystique both approached him with a certain edge of pity, Hank especially. They pitied him because they now knew he had once apparently loved Charles and that he was now permanently broken because of it. It was ridiculous and infuriating.
He straightened himself to his full height, ignoring Hank. “I don’t think you know what you’re up against with Emma. She’ll end you.”
“Not if I end her first,” Mystique said, and with that she marched out. Hank looked worried – Erik wondered if they would ever see Mystique again, or find out why Emma had gone after Charles. If Mystique failed, Erik would use the Brotherhood for this task. The only reason why he hadn’t called them to arms yet was because they were ignorant of his condition – if they saw him like this, weak and hiding in Charles’s mansion, he feared usurpation. He needed to be strong if he was to be a leader, and so he was willing to let Mystique at least try before getting his own men involved.
“She had a point, though,” Hank then said. “Summer is often recruitment time. Charles was intending to visit a few potential students, and I must carry on with his work. You could help.”
“I have no interest in that whatsoever,” Erik snarled as he stormed off.
* * *
He sat on one of the big armchairs and kept a paperclip suspended in the air. He found it easier to focus in Charles’s room than anywhere else. He straightened the paperclip and then bent it back into its original shape, over and over again.
A year ago he had moved a stadium. Now he was practising with paperclips.
He had thumbed through the soul book again and stopped to read the segments that Charles had marked with punctuation marks. None of it helped, none of it talked about death. None of it discussed how cruel it was that these bonds created themselves from momentary idiocy; that they stayed when the people sharing the bond wanted nothing from each other.
He kept his work with the paperclip going as with his left hand he summoned the clock on Charles’s nightstand. It now hovered in the air by the paperclip, and Erik watched the hands move full circles, again, again, again, again again –
Too fast. Stay calm.
His instructions were worth nothing as the clock suddenly span out of control and hit the books on the mantelpiece, dropping half of them onto the floor. He cursed so heavily that Hank would have told him off for it.
When he was putting a copy of Around the World in Eighty Days back into place, his forefinger ran over the spines of the other books – it stopped at England Have My Bones by T.H. White, whose other works Erik remembered well from his time with Charles. Instinctively, he pulled the book out, and as he did the pages came flying down to his feet. He started picking them up, cursing as he got down to his knees, but then he stopped.
They weren’t pages of the book.
The covers that he still held in his hand were just that: empty covers. Someone – Charles – had neatly folded dozens upon dozens of letters to fit the frame of the book, to hide them there.
Erik picked up one of the letters.
It was addressed to him.
He looked at the littered floor.
They were all addressed to him.
* * *
Most of them started with My dearest Erik and were a litany of boring everyday events, nothing that would have felt out of place in a catch-up phone call with one’s mother. The ones from early 1963 detailed Charles’s efforts of getting the school going and included reports on his physical recovery and how he was getting on with the wheelchair. An update from a week before Kennedy’s death talked about some of the new students, their abilities and how they were adjusting. Charles even talked of how much it had cost to repaint one of the classrooms.
There were no letters for a whole two years after that, after Erik’s capture and imprisonment.
Charles had not written to him again until 1965, a crumpled piece of paper like Charles had balled it up to throw away, but then had kept it anyway. It read:
The boys were shipped out to Da Nang two days ago. My mind can’t reach Sean anymore, and I fear it is because
Charles had written something after that, but it had been scribbled out violently. At the bottom of the page Charles had written damn it all to hell.
Erik tried to read the letters in order, to keep a chronology of Charles’s thoughts. Charles ceased talking about the school and the children, of concrete developments. The epistolary tone took a more abstract form from there on out – Erik found it hard to follow. Charles talked of nightmares and people’s voices in his head, and sometimes he just quoted books he had read.
Some were surprisingly raunchy, considering Charles was writing them (1967, now):
Last night I had a dream you were still here at the house. You took me in the library. I daresay that many a significant magnum opus was defiled in the process – you had me against the wall, then on the floor, my legs were around you. They worked in the dream, you see. I woke up with a distinct feeling of arousal in the lower half of my body. For a while I was convinced that my legs and groin had come back to life. It was only memory, of course, but the dream felt as good as anything.
Some were short and logical. 1968, typewriter:
My dearest Erik,
Erik had been in prison for five years at that point. It had been dated to his birthday accurately.
Some were angry: How dare you to have done this to me? Charles had questioned in 1970. The letter said nothing else.
The last one was from 1973, and Erik was disappointed that there were none post-Paris, something to explain why Charles had changed his will to leave Erik the school, why Charles had created Michael Xavier. This one read:
My dearest Erik,
I’ve forgotten what it was like to feel others with my mind. Is this normality for me now, this silence? And yet there is one connection in me that I cannot shake off, that I cannot remove.
I walked out on the grass again this morning before sunrise. I marvel at the feel of something as simple as grass beneath my feet, the feel of it is the most amazing sensation in the world to me. So soft, so giving, so welcoming. I watched the sun rise, standing there, in that absolute silence, feeling ordinary.
How you’d hate that. Ordinary.
Sometimes I wonder if you’re still alive, but then I know you are. I feel you with me, all the time.
This is the punishment you gave me for having cared about you. To feel you, forever out of reach. Having to remember every single day that you became a monster, someone I can hardly recognise. I thought I knew you like I knew myself, once. I was wrong.
How could you have cared so little what became of me?
I despise myself for never finding the strength to ask Hank to look into detaching joint souls. How could anyone want anything to do with a soul as selfish and ugly as yours? I despise myself more for knowing why our bond has not broken. I despise myself.
Yours, without choice,
Erik wanted to object to this angered letter on several points where Charles was blatantly wrong: when Charles praised the ordinary, when Charles claimed Erik had not cared for him, and when Charles called him selfish. Erik had been selfless – he had thought of the future of their kind. This final letter left him with a bitter taste in his mouth, and he recalled Pentagon, how Charles’s first instinct had been to punch him – a monster. That had been pure. Them fucking in Paris had been hate embodied, spurred on by the treacherous, manipulating soul bond. The book on souls that Charles owned at least made that much clear: having sex helped sustain a healthy bond.
Healthy. As if.
Charles’s letters had not revealed much of the workings of Charles’s head, apart from the fact that Charles had never quite been able to forget him. This, Erik supposed, was only fair. If anything, the letters with the details of everyday life only read as some form of Xavier propaganda, attempts to reason with an imagined Erik with the worth of Charles’s cause. The later letters only showed that Charles had been losing the battle.
As Erik began to pile up the letters again, he realised he had missed one that had fallen under Charles’s armchair. He reached for it, unfolding the pages. Written in 1968, the absent-minded handwriting covered both sides of four pieces of paper, making it the longest letter in the collection. The lettering was easily legible and neat, unlike some of the others (especially the ones Charles clearly had written when drunk), and an odd serenity seemed to be palpable on these pages, like Charles had taken his time with this one.
My dearest Erik,
Lately I have wished there was another version of you. There could be this one, you as you are, with your stubbornness and your never-ending darkness, with the cold ironed will to punish those you think are out to hurt you. And then there could be another version with a kinder heart, a version that has known no war, no murder. A brilliant, fierce young man whose nightmares would not keep me up at night like yours still often do.
And what would that other version of you, then, do? Oh Erik, what a silly thing to ask. He’d stay with me, of course. He’d attend Oxford, perhaps, and I would bump into him at Blackwell Books, at the biology section upstairs, our hands reaching for a copy of The Origin at the same time. I’d make a fool of myself, naturally, but thankfully you’d find it oddly endearing. We’d go for walks around Christchurch Meadow, and I’d introduce you to the fantastic fossil collection at the Ashmolean, until after some weeks of courtship you’d kiss me at last. (I could kid myself that in this version I could gather the courage to initiate matters, but we both know that I’d hesitate, too much of a coward to admit how I truly felt, just like I hesitated when we first met.)
From there on we’d travel the world together: a new country every five years. We’d be Greeks, Italians, Australians – we’d pick up some languages, although I know you have us covered, and that admittedly your French sounds more native than mine. We’d drink good wine, we’d stay out late, we’d read poetry, buy a vineyard somewhere warm, out in the country. The sun would shine into the bedroom softly on Sunday mornings when we’d sleep in – I know the way it’d land on your skin, on your bare shoulders. You would handle the running of the vineyard and the selling of the wine, and I’d lecture at the near-by university. And at the end of the day we could tell each other all about it, how you struck a deal with a new restaurant in Paris, how I finished writing an upcoming article.
The actual you would, of course, say that this is romantic folly – and what about other mutants? But how marvellous would it be if we could be selfish! Because I have this fear, my friend. This fear that I will never love another. I don’t think I am capable of loving another, and for a while I assumed this to be because I gave you, quite accidentally, a part of my soul, and you, quite accidentally, gave me a part in turn.
This letter is awfully sentimental, but lately I have had good reason to be so. I came across the diary of a Mr. Hayes, a medical practitioner in 1920s Edinburgh – the things you find at the Bodleian when you look hard enough! I wish I could have taken the book with me, but you can only imagine how strict Oxford librarians are. Hayes was a mutant, who had a soul bond with his mutant wife, who left him for another man for a while. However, the bond remained intact because, despite their disagreements, they remained in love.
According to Hayes, the only way a bond can truly be broken is if either of the parties falls out of love.
Hayes’s words have been preying on my mind ever since, eating away at me. So I hope I am not wholly misled to fantasise of a life with you, because I feel our bond even as I write. It has remained intact. I cannot love another. I remain in love. And you remain in love, too – we sustain the bond, it does not sustain us.
Even at your worst, Erik, I am yours. That is my darkest secret, and I live in fear of being found out, even after all these years.
Needless to say that this discovery has caused me to dwell on feelings not forgotten, but long suppressed. And so this longing has been getting the best of me lately, and when I feel like I cannot survive another night without hearing your voice, I sit lost in thought, stuck in a vision of our life together. How happy we would have been, Erik. I can see so clearly what our old farm would look like – one of those quaint stone farmhouses in France. You know the kind I mean.
If only there could have been another version of you.
p.s. F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote: “We never forgive those we can understand. We can only forgive those who wound us for no reason.” Which ones were we? He also said, “It might be nice to meet your first love all intact, emotionally too. That’s an old fashioned idea, isn’t it?” He knew it to be so, and I now know it to be so.
God, Erik, how I wish we could have been old-fashioned.
Erik sat on the floor, holding Charles’s love letter to him – love letter, yes, because that’s what this one was, what most of them were, even the angry ones, even the mundane ones.
At first he was dumbfounded, but then he began reading the letter again, the alternative life Charles had imagined for them. He smiled, picturing them in Oxford pubs – he quite loved the idea of charming Charles to no end, to have Charles swoon at the sight of him. He imagined pressing Charles into the nook of a stone building when they were walking home, kissing him breathless as they stood there in the January rain. And he smiled wider because he could see the rest of it too – yes, he knew exactly what kind of a farmhouse Charles meant, he could see the rows and rows of bright green vines and Charles walking amidst them with a book under his arm, he could see the Sunday sunlight through their bedroom window with Charles still asleep in the tangle of white sheets next to him, and he even knew which part of southern France would be best for such a retreat, and the university in Toulouse might suit Charles for his work.
And yes, of course they’d live in Greece for a while, and Italy, they had so much to see, so much life to live, they –
It hit him, then.
He would never see Charles again.
He felt panic rising in him. He was in love. Fuck, he was so madly in love. It was so consuming, and –
He would never see Charles again.
Nothing happened. He felt himself implode somehow, and he expected the house to shake, for all metal to distort into disfigured lumps around him – but absolutely nothing happened as, for the first time, he cried. His body began shaking uncontrollably, he found it hard to breathe, he could not see, and soon he was crying out a loss so deep that even his powers could not react to it.
Charles was dead. His Charles was dead.
He hadn’t realised there could be so little of him left without him dying from it.
* * *
Perhaps now was the time for him to regroup: he had a new alias, was relatively safe in Westchester (assuming Charles’s killers weren’t after him), and as Michael Xavier he did not need to worry much about financial restrictions. This was the perfect time and place for him to get back to realising his vision for mutantkind, to build a new, stronger Brotherhood. Send a message for his troops to come over – they could take on Hank and Logan. Even if he was physically weaker than before, he could get others to do the dirty work for him. All he had to do was to direct and delegate.
As he poured himself a coffee in the kitchen, he reflected how little interest he had in the fate of mutantkind now. He wasn’t suggesting that he had been driven by a need to prove himself to Charles – it was simply that the prospect of a life without him appealed to Erik little. It was hard to have interest, or even to feign interest, in anything now, apart from finding out who had killed Charles. Erik could only wait for revenge. What would he do after he had it?
He would bury Charles, of course. Charles needed to have a proper burial, and Erik would lay him to rest. He would –
His throat had closed up. He hung his head, eyes closed.
Charles, please, he thought, but he received no answer.
So he would bury Charles.
And after that?
Erik wasn’t sure. He looked around the large kitchen and heard the laughter of children from one of the ground floor classrooms.
The letters had not explained why Charles had left him the school, not really – perhaps love could be taken as a motivating factor, but the last of Charles’s letters, from 1973, had been angry and full of venom. Therefore love could hardly explain why the following year Charles had changed his will, especially when the two of them had had a further falling out.
Erik could only conclude that being headmaster was Charles’s way of trying to teach him something – was punishment, not a reward.
He would have chosen hate over this any day. God, how much easier it had been to hate, to focus on his own hatred, on what he assumed had been Charles’s hatred towards him – but this? Love? He could not handle this. He could hardly acknowledge it.
Logan and Hank entered the kitchen, halfway through a conversation. Hank was in his human form, wearing smart trousers and a chequered dress shirt, as he said, “Back by tomorrow evening, I’m sure.”
Both men stopped at the sight of Erik, who knew he had not left his bedroom for three whole days. “Erik, you’re up,” Hank said diplomatically. Logan eyed him with obvious scolding.
“Any news of Mystique?” he asked, though he knew there were none. Hank shook his head. “Are you going somewhere?” he then continued, recalling that Hank took the suppressant only when he was leaving the mansion. Hank poured himself some of the coffee left in the pot, explaining how he was starting to recruit new students – take over where Charles had left off.
“Omaha. There should be a mutant there, thirteen or so, in a state home. I believe we can offer him a better life here,” Hank said firmly.
“An orphan?” Erik clarified, and Hank nodded. A mutant child with dead parents.
What would Erik do after he buried Charles? What had Charles been trying to show him by leaving him the school?
Erik put his coffee down on the counter. “I’ll be good to go in ten minutes.”
“What?” Logan frowned. He sounded utterly disbelieving – Hank at least tried to nod like this had been their plan all along, although even he looked suspicious. Erik ignored Logan, which was his usual stance to the man, but even as Erik headed upstairs, Logan persisted, “Is Magneto shitting us?”
* * *
Hank was sharing a room with their newest student, Scott. The kid was fourteen and capable of energy blasts from his eyes. The fact that Scott could hardly control this was, of course, a problem, but that’s why the school existed, Erik supposed.
The meeting with Scott’s warden had not gone smoothly. The man had not recognised Erik, which he was not surprised by – the man didn’t seem the type to follow news. As Headmaster Michael Xavier, Erik had explained why Scott would be better off with them. He had talked of the school with all the appropriate euphemisms – “gifted youngsters” – and he had been shocked by how foreign he had sounded to himself and how akin to Charles he had been. Even Hank had looked at him in surprise. There had been something sinister about the warden, something that set Erik on edge: he had talked of Scott as “an interesting study” – Erik had been reminded of Shaw.
The meeting had ended with Erik threatening to kill the man if he did not hand Scott over to them at once. Thankfully an alarmed Hank had sorted it out from there.
Scott was a quiet, timid boy who had been suspicious of them until Erik had shown him his powers – a modest summoning of a Coke can. Reassured, Scott had looked at them like they were his knights in shining armour. Erik had never seen a child so happy to leave a place, not perhaps counting his young self when he escaped from Shaw. Scott had seemed awed further by Erik when he had turned the radio on with a flick of his finger – you should see me lift a stadium or raise a submarine, he had wanted to joke. “So cool!” Scott had beamed, a boyish grin wide on his face.
Right then, as Erik thought of young Scott sound asleep in the next room, he understood what Charles had been trying to do with the school. That morning Scott had been an outcast, but since then had gained a future, a family, friends, a purpose.
Maybe Erik’s immediate goal should not have been domination. Changing the world a little – changing the life of one mutant – should perhaps have been the more obvious place to start.
Well Charles, he thought – am I getting any closer to your truth?
* * *
“That’s an awful plan,” Hank protested. Mystique and Logan seemed to disagree.
“All we need is to give Emma a dose of the suppressant,” Erik reminded them. “Then I can make her talk.”
Hank pursed his blue lips. “I don’t think you –”
“I am coming.” He was weak. He was a liability. It was not only stupid for him to go – it was life-threatening. “If it is my death, then at least I have chosen it.”
Charles had never been given that option.
Hank did not seem to have an objection to that.
They were going the following day, and so after the meeting Erik headed into the basement’s supply room, which was a simple square-shaped room that was armed to the teeth. Charles’s stepfather had been a hunting aficionado, so many of the rifles mounted to the walls were his, but Charles seemed to have added to the collection during the past decade. Apart from the barbaric, animalistic handguns, the room was full of Hank’s inventions in boxes, in glass cases – the stuffed room was a hoarder’s dream. He saw Banshee’s flying suit and one of Hank’s earlier models for Havok’s uniform. There was even a box of grenades designed by Hank, so dusty that it appeared it had been forgotten there by both Charles and Hank. The recklessness of it, when Hank was so concerned about the safety of the children, just like Charles undoubtedly would have been, amused Erik. And as Erik had known, somehow, on top of a box at the back he found his helmet.
Charles had always hated the thing. Oh, how he knew Charles hated it. And yet it had not been destroyed, had not been left behind – Charles had taken it with him on the same day he left Erik for dead.
Erik’s fingers glided along the cold, metal surface, pressing into the sharp edge that dipped between his eyebrows.
Maybe Hank had picked it up. Maybe it wasn’t Charles at all.
He would need it now, against Emma.
He would need it for the last time.
* * *
The place was surprisingly heavily guarded, considering it consisted of two small hangars, an office building, long barracks, and a short runway. From the outside it looked idle, so why were there five heavily armed men at the gates, peering around suspiciously in the late afternoon?
“At least they’re not expecting us,” Mystique said from beside him, with Logan on her other side. They were some hundred meters from the gates, lying flat against the hard ground at the edge of the woodlands. Mystique was the colour of the leaves, in perfect camouflage. Hank was up in one of the trees – he was likelier to blend with the sky than the undergrowth.
“How do you know we’re not expected?” Erik asked.
“It’s all metal, isn’t it? If they were expecting you, they wouldn’t arm themselves with guns and barbed wire.”
This was true, of course, but although he had the helmet on and felt more like his old self than he had in weeks, he knew he did not pose much of a threat. An excessive use of his powers would leave him instantly weak, and the only true advantage he had was that these soldiers did not know that. He was bluffing, and all he could do was hope that the memory of him taking on the best of the US army the year before would send these soldiers fleeing at the sight of him.
The same went for his team: Hank had visibly flinched at the sight of him wearing the helmet. With it on, he was still Magneto. Logan seemed uncomfortable in his presence, and Mystique was a hell of a lot humbler.
Appearances were everything.
A part of him did not expect him to survive this. He had dressed all in black that morning, before the long drive – they had a plane and this was an airbase, but landing on the base hardly gave them an element of surprise. He had labelled the black that he wore as his funeral suit, but he would not go down until he had taken Emma down with him.
“No time like the present,” Mystique then said. “Watch and learn, boys.”
Before they could react, she was on the move. An army truck was approaching the base, and Mystique dashed after it as it passed them, hopping on to stand on the bumper, holding on to the side. The car slowed down for the gates, at which point Mystique was already on the roof of the truck, advancing. Logan made a move as if to run over to help, but Erik held out his hand. “Just wait.”
He realised that Logan had no memories of Mystique in action – Logan didn’t know. And so Logan seemed stunned when, one by one, Mystique took down seven men at the gates, five of them guards, two who had been in the car. None had time to even fire.
She had taken on the form of one of the men, a stodgy blond soldier of forty, by the time they joined her. Hank landed on the truck roof from one of the trees with a screech of metal. “Wouldn’t it have been better to try and sneak in?” he asked.
The blond soldier with yellow, shimmering eyes cocked her shotgun. “Eliminate numbers,” she said boomingly in a man’s voice. A soldier at her feet groaned – she hit him on the head with the butt of the shotgun. He stopped groaning.
“Come on,” Erik commanded – thankfully the gate had been opened before Mystique attacked. Otherwise it would have been his job to open the gates, and this would have sucked all energy out of him before they even started.
They had a rough idea of Emma’s whereabouts, based on Mystique’s earlier espionage. She had seen Emma go into Hangar B, and it was there that they headed. Erik drew himself to his full height as he walked, pace determined but not hurried. He would not die cowering. The others instead ran ahead of him, but he would not flee in fear of anyone. They had a few minutes, perhaps, before someone would see the mess at the gates and raise the alarm.
The others entered the hangar first, and by the time he walked in, Hank was hanging from the ceiling, peering around from his vantage point as he held onto a red metal beam. The large, bare hangar was home to two military jets, and Erik thought of the time they went to Cuba, when Charles had still been alive, when Charles had still been able to walk. He felt a new surge of anger.
“I saw people come in here,” Hank called out from above them, “just five minutes ago.”
There was no one in sight.
Erik looked at his feet. Beneath the concrete floor was a world of metal – not just some regular piping, but something much larger.
“Underground,” he said simply, and the others began searching. It didn’t take long for them to find the piece of floor that came dislodged when soldier-Mystique pressed the fire calling point on the wall. Underneath was a spiral staircase downwards, and they all descended into the world under the hangar floor. Once down, it came clear that the facility they were now in was much larger than the hangar above. They were in a large, white corridor that stretched to both directions, with anonymous looking doors dotted every now and then – if he had to guess, the entire military base above was matched by an underground network below.
Logan grunted unhappily – he had his metal claws out, ready to fight. “How the hell are we going to find her here?”
“I didn’t become a major for no reason,” Mystique said, tapping at her insignia impatiently. They followed her – Erik somewhat grudgingly. He was not used to having her in charge over him.
On both sides of them new corridors branched off, and they diverted into one of them as they heard footsteps and chatter approaching. They stopped, trying to signal to each other silently. In the end Erik stayed with Hank and Logan while Mystique headed back alone to greet the few soldiers who had almost reached their junction.
Instantly the sound of footsteps ceased, and a loud “Sir!” rang in the ear.
“At ease, boys. Good that I ran into you three,” Mystique said in a booming, husky voice. So there were three – they could handle that. “I need to see the telepath.”
“Sir?” one of the soldiers replied in confusion.
“Emma Frost,” Mystique went on. “Where is she?”
“In her room, sir.”
“Lead the way, soldier.”
It was clear that the soldiers were somewhat confused by Mystique’s request – or Major Gellman’s as the nametag said. In any case the footsteps retreated. They started after the echoing footsteps, making sure they were always one corner behind and out of sight. They listened to the sound of Mystique and the soldiers until, from around a corner, came a sudden commotion, some grunts, someone being slammed into the wall, a sudden yell. Erik rounded the corner, stepping behind the last soldier standing, who was reaching for his gun as Mystique stood before him in mesmerising blue. Erik grabbed the man’s shoulder, spun him around, and punched him in the face. The soldier fell down at his feet, knocked out cold.
Mystique was breathing heavily. “Thanks.”
Erik said nothing, if only because his knuckles hurt like hell. He hadn’t needed to resort to punching in a long time.
They were next to a grey door at another, white corridor. “Is she in there?” he asked.
“They said so,” Mystique said, motioning at the three men at their feet. “Apparently she’s alone. As good a guess as any.”
“Ready.” Hank was holding a syringe, ready for Emma. Good – they still didn’t suspect anything.
He cut past Mystique to the door – it was locked, and he pressed his palm against the knob, the metal parts clicking onto the right places. This was easy trickery – this he was able to do without injury to himself.
The others were right behind him, ready to confront Emma Frost. This part, Erik supposed, required stealth and speed from him – he took a deep breath. Then he opened the door, and, quite calmly, stepped inside fast. He closed the door instantly, with his palm to the knob, relocking it. Immediately there was a heavy thud against the door, followed by muffled yells of protest.
Emma Frost was looking at him in icy wonder, one eyebrow raised. They were in a small, windowless bedroom that had few personable items, reminiscent of a bare three-star hotel room – a single bed, a desk, a chair, a TV and a minibar, with cold, grey concrete floor and walls surrounding them. Emma was on the chair, dressed in her usual white, her hair and makeup as flawless as ever, but she had aged, he noted. She had been drained somehow.
She only needed a second or two to recover from her surprise. “Have you come to rescue me again, Magneto?” she asked in her teasing tone that he recalled from over ten years ago. Clearly she had heard the noises of the scuffle outside, but hadn’t so much as moved. She had a drink in her hand, with some papers on the table that she had been reading. Mystique, Hank and Logan seemed busy trying to break the door down behind him. Emma looked vaguely amused. She didn’t try reading his mind – he had the helmet on, and she knew it was useless.
“Rescue you?” he asked quietly, walking in further slowly. “Do you need rescuing?”
She had never needed rescuing in the past.
A loud bang drew Emma’s eyes to the door that shook from Hank’s attempts to break it. “Have you dropped by to chat, then?” she asked. “‘Cause it sounds like we don’t have much time.” She slowly put her drink down. “To what do I owe this pleasure, then? Is it about the Brotherhood? I gotta say, I fly solo these days.”
“Do you?” he asked pointedly – she avoided his gaze, a first sign of weakness. She was at a US army airbase, inside a room that could only be opened from the outside, as he had noted when he’d locked the door. Mystique had seen Emma come and go from the base a few times, but Erik now realised that Emma was hardly the leader behind whatever this operation was. Another loud bang at the door, then scratching noises – Logan’s claws. “I’m here because of Charles,” he then said.
Emma’s lips pursed in displeasure. “Yes. It was almost a shame, his passing away.”
“Yes. I am surprised that you decided to take on Xavier by yourself.”
“Hardly my idea,” she said with a roll of her eyes. She paused, slightly, and when she spoke her tone was no longer so cocky: “I’ve got myself in a bit of a mess here. I’m, ah… freelancing, if you will. For the odd US military job.” She motioned at the papers on the table. Erik glanced at them briefly – a file on a Vietnamese general. Had she become a spy for the government?
“Charles was a government target?” he clarified.
“You are,” she said. “They thought Xavier would know your whereabouts and they wanted to question him – well for me to question him. So we took him some months back, faked his death and all of it to make sure no one would notice him missing. And I’d hardly entered his mind when he just,” she shrugged, “died.”
Something about her words struck him – they had gone for Charles to try and find him. He pushed this thought out of his mind.
Logan’s claws broke through the door, their voices broke through – “Open the door, open this door!” and “Raven, incoming!” Gunshots outside. Logan’s claws retreating as sounds of a fight commenced.
“So you killed Charles.”
Emma looked nonchalant. “Yes.”
And that was all Erik needed: a confession, a confirmation.
He moved in so fast Emma didn’t have time to react. He closed a hand around her throat as he hauled her up to her feet, the chair getting knocked over, and he slammed her against the wall. Her so perfect hair fell out of place. He began to tighten his hold, to feel her bones break, to feel her neck snap – to murder, to avenge, to kill – and her hands were clawing at his face, but he cared little. She turned into a shimmering diamond form, then, but Erik pulled her from the wall and hurled her into it again with brutal force – Emma’s high heels were scraping against the stone wall and floor, her mouth open – she was gasping for breath, her eyes staring into his in horror.
“This time,” he said through gritted teeth, “Charles isn’t here to stop me.”
“P-Please,” she choked, her diamond form cracking at her neck, her body flicking back to its human form. Her hands tried to find a place around Erik’s throat, to squeeze back, but she didn’t have the strength. She was desperately trying to get in air. “They have my –”
The door came flying in behind them, but Erik cared little – Emma’s scared eyes focused over his shoulder, blood trickling from her left nostril, and someone grabbed Erik’s shoulder and pulled him off. He went flying onto the floor while Emma slid down the wall, gasping for air with her hands around her throat. Erik sent the bed flying at Logan who, possessed by Emma’s mind tricks, was coming straight at him. Logan was floored but angrily shoved the bed frame off of him, quickly getting back onto his feet, charging at Erik. Somewhere Hank cursed heavily, leaped across the air at Emma’s prostrate form, landing on her with the syringe in hand –
Logan stopped abruptly, blinking in confusion. He had been seconds away from piercing Erik’s chest with his claws. Erik could taste bile in his mouth, loud ringing in his ears, and a splitting headache was making his vision blurry.
Mystique stepped into the room. The gunfire out in the corridor had finally ceased. She said, “I don’t know how long we’ve got.”
Hank had rolled off of Emma, whose eyes were going from one mutant to the next in horror. Hank smiled. “Your powers not working?”
“What have you done to me?!” she shrieked. She got up shakily, but Logan growled, now advancing on her with his claws aimed at her bruised throat. This successfully kept her where she was.
“Finish the job,” Erik ordered, getting up but needing the support of the wall to do so. Hank had likewise managed to get on his feet.
Hank said, “We need to question her.”
“No need. She told me – she killed Charles.”
Emma seemed to realise that killing Charles had been a bad thing. “I didn’t mean to kill him – he was fine, I swear, he just – Maybe his heart couldn’t take it, how the hell am I supposed to know?! I don’t know what it was, I was – I was just trying to press him a little, to break into his head, it was nothing extreme, and he- he just collapsed and they took him away! Please. Please, for crying out loud – they have my brother. Please, I’m not on anyone’s side, I just want my little brother –”
She stopped talking. Erik had pointed a gun at her, the gun he had found in Charles’s desk drawer some weeks before. He hated guns these days. He really hated guns. It was the appropriate way to kill Emma.
Emma didn’t even move. So this, Erik now knew, was what Emma Frost looked like when she was about to die.
“Don’t,” Hank said warningly, but it was the wrong voice. It wasn’t Charles’s. “Erik –”
She had killed him. She had killed him.
He pulled the trigger. And the bullet sank straight into –
Logan put himself in the way at the last second, taking the hit to his chest. He swayed, puffing, but didn’t fall. Erik snarled, firing again, again, again, each bullet sinking into Logan who was walking straight at him, growling, until the gun was out of bullets and Logan was close enough to smack it out of his hand. It flew across the air and landed near the door. Behind Logan, Hank gave Emma a calculated blow to the back of the head. She collapsed onto the floor, unconscious.
Erik was breathing hard. He had blood trickling down his face under the helmet – he didn’t have the faintest idea when he’d injured himself.
“Let’s go,” Hank said decidedly, staring at Emma’s unmoving figure on the floor.
“I’m not done,” he said.
“We came for answers, didn’t we?!” Hank yelled. “Well, we got them! And we’ve got the rest of the base heading straight for us, so we need to go now!”
But Erik wasn’t done – Emma was alive, and so was he. One of them, perhaps both, had to die.
Erik made a move towards Emma, but Logan pressed sharp claws against his chest. “We’ll leave her here. They have her brother. It’s enough.”
Erik was bewildered – did no one else want revenge? Did no one else long for justice? Were they to go home, knowing it had been the government using one mutant against the other? Was Erik to go home and resume a life without Charles? It was madness, it was unthinkable –
“Listen,” Logan breathed, voice low and husky. “You know Charles wouldn’t want this.” Logan leaned closer, the tips of the claws piercing Erik’s skin, but that felt soothing – to feel pain. Logan lowered his voice further. “Charles would not want you to die here like this, for him. He wanted something better for you. Why do you think he left you the damn school?”
Erik stalled. Logan had just answered one of his many questions, if not the most important one after needing to find out how Charles had died and by whose bidding. He stared at Logan in wonder.
Charles had loved him until the end.
“Let’s go, let’s go!” Hank urged.
Charles had really loved him.
Mystique and Hank rushed to the door. Erik followed. To live, he supposed – whatever form it may take. Logan was right behind him.
Outside he was faced with a mess of unconscious bodies and blood splatters – one brave hero was trying to crawl away. This time all four of them ran, but no one was sure of the way out. They could hear more soldiers approaching, yelling out orders. They were going to be severely outnumbered.
Mystique led them away from the approaching troops, along one corridor, then the next. They rounded a corner and were faced with a machine gun – Mystique grabbed him and pulled him to safety just as the bullets began flying. Logan ran in the face of the bullets while Hank bounced against the wall, over the gun and the two soldiers behind it, and a second later the fire ceased.
“I think we need to go this way,” Hank shouted, pointing ahead of himself, so they followed. The underground complex was larger than any of them had realised.
After a few more turns they came to the bottom of a ladder leading up. It wasn’t the way they had come in, but it was a way out. Hank grabbed a hold of a rung at his eyelevel.
“No,” Erik said, and the others stopped.
“What’s wrong?” Mystique asked instantly. They could hear more soldiers, but no one was in sight yet.
Erik looked over his shoulder.
“Hey!” Mystique called out. “Hey, where the hell are you going?!”
He had started moving, quite unawares of himself, towards the corridor they had just come out of. Something was puzzling him. “I need to,” he said, by way of explanation. He was confused himself as he retraced his steps before stopping in front of a piece of blank wall. Experimentally, he pressed his fingers against its surface.
“Erik, we need to go!” Hank yelled after him although the others had followed him to the mouth of the corridor.
“For god’s sake,” Logan sighed, his heavy footsteps coming closer, but Erik did not want to be distracted when he felt so focused for the first time in months. With a flick of his hand, he sent Logan spiralling back to the end of the corridor, where Mystique and Hank had to duck as Logan smashed into the wall heavily. Using his power like this ought to have been taxing – Erik didn’t even feel it now.
He blocked out the others’ protests, fingers still tracing the cool, unyielding wall. It had no metal parts to it, but there was something on the other side, and he sensed wiring within the walls, quite thin, but they would have to do. He felt compelled, not quite following his own will as he carefully stepped back, his eyes thinning.
He shot out his arms. His mind bent itself around the bits of metal inside the concrete wall, and as his fingers curled into fists, the wall began to tremble. He pulled his arms towards his body in one, fast motion, and the wall was torn apart, pulling out a chunk that was the size of a car. The corridor shook as rubble landed everywhere, breaking into smaller pieces. Dust was rising, the fire alarms were going off, and the floor was littered by glass that had come flying with the cement wall. The debris separated Erik from the others, who were all coughing somewhere out of sight.
Erik cared little – he looked into the small, empty room that now had only three walls. As the dust settled, he stepped closer, mind searching for whatever he needed to find, for –
At the back of the cell that had been lined with a glassy surface, a man was sitting on the floor. His mangled hair had fallen over his bloodshot eyes and bruised face, and his wrists were shackled to the wall. He was trying to get used to the sudden flood of light, but clearly had no energy or will to move. And how could he have moved much, after all, when he was paralysed from the waist down?
Erik stood frozen where he was. The man on the floor seemed to finally take him in.
All the power and control Erik had so momentarily felt came crushing down on him. He faltered where he stood, his vision suddenly blacking out.
He saw Charles slumping onto the floor. He, losing consciousness himself, followed.
* * *
Erik rose to sit on the bed, suddenly aware. He heard cars rushing past the roadside motel. The air-conditioning was on, humming loudly and without rhythm. He feared that it had been a dream, a damn vivid one, but then his eyes landed on his bruised knuckles, the skin having been scraped off. He felt his forehead, and a cut was there, sealed tight by dried blood.
It had happened.
Charles had been alive.
He stumbled onto his feet. He was still wearing the black he had worn to the airbase – his funeral suit. It was covered in dust and the trouser legs were partially torn. The shirt had been pierced by Logan’s claws, and his chest felt sore where the skin had been sliced.
He hurried out of the room – Logan did not stir. He found himself on the second floor walkway of a crappy, U-shaped motel, with cars parked down below.
He stood quietly where he was, looking at the doors to his right. No. Not there. He averted his gaze to his left, considering. Then he began walking, and finally stopped at room 23. He pushed the door open as it wasn’t locked. He somehow knew that it wasn’t.
The door swung inwards, revealing a room as small as his had been, but here the light was on. Charles Xavier, wrapped in a white bathrobe with pyjama pants sticking from underneath, stood by the window facing the back of the motel, his gaze fixed on something far away. Hank was sitting on the bottom end of a double bed that was littered by the contents of half a pharmacy by the looks of it. He was saying, “– in the morning, and –”
Charles turned, blue eyes suddenly boring into his. It was true. Charles was alive.
Erik remembered Charles’s dirtied appearance in the cell, of which the thick beard still remained although Charles clearly had had time to shower since. In his obituary picture, the one taken on the night of his death, Charles’s hair had been down to his jawline – it was longer now, though not quite as long as it had been the year before. He also realised that Charles, unlike him, had been awake for some time.
“You’ve come to,” Charles said simply, voice scratchy.
And you’re alive, he wanted to retort as he stepped into the room. Instead he said, “And you’re walking.” They seemed unable to break the eye contact.
“Only temporarily, I'm afraid.”
Erik marvelled at the sound of Charles’s voice – how soft it was, how deep it was, how satisfying it was.
Hank stood up. “I thought it best for now.” He gathered a few rolls of gauze off the bed. “Erik, may I..?”
Erik lifted a hand to his forehead, his fingers getting bloodied, but then only shook his head.
“That cut needs medical attention,” Hank protested. Hank himself looked rough – how had Logan, Hank and Mystique managed to get him and Charles out of there? Erik owed his life to someone, and he did not cherish the thought. He didn’t ask where they were – somewhere between the airbase and the mansion, clearly. It had been smart not to travel back at once, but to let Charles rest. God knows he looked like he needed it.
“I will be fine,” Erik said simply, with an edge to his voice that had Hank hurrying in getting all of his supplies back in a plastic bag.
“I will check up on you,” Hank said to Charles. “First thing.”
Charles nodded absentmindedly. “Yes. Of course.”
Hank smiled somewhat awkwardly and then left the room. The door clicked shut behind him. Erik had still not managed to look away from Charles, who stood in the cramped motel room, in a too large bathrobe, with a broken stature. Erik didn’t know what to say.
Luckily Charles broke the silence first: “Hank gave us both a dose of the suppressant when we got here. He was worried how our powers would manifest once we regained consciousness. Ease into it, he said.”
It was only then that Erik even realised he didn’t have his powers. He had been completely preoccupied by Charles’s resurrection to notice. He thought of Hank injecting him with that filth yet again, and he barked, “The next time that plush toy –“
“It was a sensible precaution,” Charles said calmly, cutting him off. Erik advanced on Charles, but stopped some ten feet away. He could not stop studying Charles, drinking him in hungrily. Charles had lost weight and had bruises of varying colours on his face: sickly yellow, bloody purple. He had a nasty cut on his left eyebrow that had been stitched up – Hank’s handiwork.
Charles didn’t welcome the scrutiny: “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I felt you die, Charles.”
Charles’s mouth twisted into a humourless smile and for the first time he broke eye contact. “The rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” He moved to a sorry-looking chair between the wall and the bed and had some trouble sitting down, flinching in pain. Erik wondered how many bruises the bathrobe and the pyjamas underneath hid from view. Charles’s wrists were badly bruised from where the shackles had been.
“How are you alive?” he asked quietly. “You’re dead. You died. Goddammit, I felt you die.” Not once had he questioned this. Charles had been dead, and he had known this with the same conviction that he knew the earth circled the sun. “Was it a ploy of some kind?”
Charles frowned. “No, of course not.” Charles motioned at the bed, and Erik sat down at the end of it like Hank had. He kept staring at Charles, who seemed to struggle in meeting his gaze now. Erik felt such a burning need to touch Charles, but the other man’s injuries made this ill advised. If he touched Charles, Charles might simply disintegrate – and yet he would only have to reach out to place a hand on Charles’s knee.
“I didn’t know what would happen, of course,” Charles said. “When they took me that night, they drugged me straight off. And when Emma entered my mind... She was going to find you, I realised. Suffice to – suffice to say, Erik, that we are connected –“
“I know about our souls,” he said curtly. “I’ve become more than aware.”
Charles paused before nodding. “Of course.”
Hank hadn’t said anything, then. Good. It wasn’t Hank’s place.
Charles looked at his knees, continuing. “I realised that Emma would eventually grasp a hold of... Of the bond, and she’d recognise it for what it was. She would use it to track you, to locate you. And so I reached into my soul, I closed my mind around that point of connection, and- and I pulled with all my might. That’s all I remember of that night. I was in the back of a van, they were taking me somewhere. Next thing I know I was waking up in some kind of military hospital room. I had been in a coma for a month, they said. Lucky to be here at all, I should think.” Charles looked around the small room in wonder.
Erik wondered why Emma hadn’t been used for further questioning after Charles woke up – she had, after all, assumed that she had killed Charles on the night of the capture and had shown no remorse over it either. Perhaps they were afraid that she would kill Charles for good this time, and Charles was far too valuable for that. But Emma hadn’t actually hurt Charles that much in the end. Charles had done it to himself.
It started making sense to him, then, at long last. Why it had taken thirty-nine minutes after the crash for Erik to react – because that’s when Charles had torn their bond apart. The void in him hadn’t been caused by Charles’s death, although it had been damn close to the real thing.
Charles shook his head ever so slightly, voice bitter: “I did not expect to see you, my friend.”
Erik frowned. Charles had not expected to see him at the airbase or with Charles’s teammates? He pushed this point aside. “Isn’t this where you wanted me?” he pointed out, and when Charles frowned, he added, “Michael Alexander Xavier, truly?”
“But I thought you’d approve. Michael, a good Hebrew name given to a celestial warrior. And Alexander, the defender of men. Well. Some men.”
“The suitability is hardly my point,” he said impatiently.
Charles ceased in his attempts to lighten up the mood and looked momentarily embarrassed. “I was not expecting to die any time soon when I wrote that.” This seemed to be all that Charles had to say on the topic, and while it was hardly satisfactory for Erik, it was also enough – Charles was drawing the line of what they could not cross, what they could not say. Not even now, in the middle of the night in a hapless motel, with both of them bloodied and bruised.
“I am glad either way, to be out of –” Charles stopped, a dark shadow just beneath the surface of his skin, lingering in his tired, bloodshot eyes. “After I came out of that coma, I was not of much use to them. I tried to stop them, of course. It’s surprisingly difficult to control people’s minds when you’re drugged and getting punched. They changed tactics, towards the end. Sleep deprivation.” Charles laughed in a bitter tone that was wholly out of place. Charles should not have had to endure anything horrible enough to induce such a tone. “The beauty of it is that it’s so simple. Just not letting someone sleep.” Charles’s voice had an edge of panic to it from the thought alone, and Erik felt a renewed desire to kill everyone at the airbase. “It was worse than the beatings,” Charles mused. “At least those were straightforward.”
“You’d be surprised by how much one can endure,” Erik said quietly.
Charles’s eyes flickered to Erik’s left arm, where under the fabric they both knew were numbers tattooed to his skin. “Yes,” Charles agreed. “Quite.”
Erik leaned back, his hands on his knees, keeping up his close study of Charles. They were still broken, now more than ever – whatever scenarios he had played of their history and future in his head while Charles had been gone had been fantasies. It had almost been easier because Charles had not been able to argue back or to contradict him, but now Charles was alive, as mysterious, as closed off, as out of reach as ever.
Erik said, “You knew about the bond when you helped me break out last year.” This was fact. The letters had shown that Charles had been aware of their bond for at least six years.
“Yes, I knew,” Charles admitted.
“And you didn’t tell me. You had ample opportunity to tell me.”
“We were otherwise engaged,” Charles said angrily before they both clearly recalled the Paris hotel room, the rustle of sheets, the heat of each other’s bodies. Charles rushed out, “I mean - We had more impor-”
“You wanted to keep it as leverage.”
“No,” Charles said testily, annoyed. A part of Erik was thrilled that there still was a Charles Xavier that he was able to annoy – it seemed like the most fantastic gift he could ever receive. “I had no intention to keep it as leverage,” Charles said, clearly hurt by the accusation. He then added, matter-of-factly, “I simply didn’t know how you’d react to finding out you have a soul.”
Charles wasn’t trying to hurt Erik, but that mattered little. The words stung. Charles did not look like he was about to apologise – he only looked beaten and exhausted.
“Hank said your powers have been unstable. Headaches?” Headaches was a mild way of putting it, only the tip of the iceberg, but he nodded. “Interesting,” Charles said, holding out his right hand and splaying the fingers. “I’ve had hand tremors. Or convulsions, really.”
He was overcome with a sudden flood of affection, of something far deeper than that. “Charles –”
“It wasn’t complete,” Charles rushed out. “Our bond. The process had started, but it wasn’t complete when you and Raven took off.”
“We took off? You abandoned me, you –”
“In what twisted world could that be even remotely true?!” Charles snapped with sudden fury, hand having curled into a fist and punching the armrest. Such a sudden show of strength surprised Erik, who could only see how fragile Charles currently was. Charles took in a steadying breath, looking away from him, trying to control himself. “When we parted, then,” he said forcedly. “Whatever we call it, the important thing is that our bond was incomplete. I wouldn’t have been able to kill a fully formed bond – my powers could never stretch to that. And I dread to imagine the consequences.”
“Death,” he said, suddenly realising it himself.
Charles hummed in agreement and added, “Or insanity, I should think. A saving grace, really, that it was only a partial bond that I had to sever.” Charles looked at the space between them like he could see something there, and although it was only air, Erik felt a charge between them, a tension that had always been there. Still was. “I didn’t do a very neat job of breaking the bond, however, I don’t think.”
Erik felt no nausea just then, nor was there a headache bubbling beneath his skin. Who knew how his powers would fare once Hank’s poison wore off, but with Charles alive, Erik saw no reason why they couldn’t get their powers back to what they once had been.
Yet they both remained fundamentally broken, sitting opposite one another with damaged souls. “How do we fix this?” he asked quietly.
Charles seemed surprised. “Fix it?”
“We have to- I will not be left like this, with my powers all over the place!” he protested angrily. “Or is this some attempt to limit me, to keep me manageable?” he said accusingly, and when Charles did not respond, he stood up angrily. “The arrogance! I should have left you there!”
The second he said it, he regretted it. The image of Charles chained up in that cell was something he was unlikely ever to forget. Charles only pursed his lips like he expected nothing less of him. “I’m truly sorry you feel that way, old friend.”
Erik shook his head. “The people you’re fighting for locked you up, tortured you – when will you see that we have a common enemy?”
“They were extreme measures resorted to in hopes of catching you. When will you see that your violence only leads to further violence?” Charles asked pointedly, and Erik suddenly was reminded of every fight that they had ever had. “Most of them thought it was wrong,” Charles then said, more softly. “I could feel their guilt, their doubt. Their sympathy. There was one who enjoyed the torture, of course, I suppose there always has to be one. But that is not a human preoccupation.”
“They nearly killed you, and you’re making excuses for them?”
“Are you listening to yourself, Charles? Are you dishing out redemption?” His voice had risen steadily until he was yelling, spit flying as renewed rage filled him up. “I would not hesitate to kill all of them for what they’ve done to you! Every last one of them!”
He wanted to storm out then, to leave Charles to think of what he had just said, but he was unable to move somehow. He could not make himself leave.
He looked at Charles with some desperation, and although there was some fight left in Charles, mainly he just looked tired. The anger faded until he only saw the man who had once saved him from drowning. “You need sleep,” he stated.
“Yes,” Charles agreed. “But I find it difficult. I keep – hearing sounds, just exhaust pipes, I think, or the odd passer-by, but – I keep thinking it’s them. Coming back for more. Because that was the worst part, falling asleep at last, and the second you do they wake you up.” Charles swallowed hard, voice bitter again. “That was the worst of all.”
Erik stared down at his oldest friend and, after hesitating briefly, offered his hand. Charles looked at it wearily before taking it. It was the first time they had touched, and the effect it had on Erik took him by surprise. As he pulled Charles up to stand, the press of their palms together felt like water for the thirsty, food for the hungry, some kind of life line that suddenly felt like it was sustaining him. Charles sensed it too, and a sharp inhale of air had his chest expanding.
“I have had my rest,” Erik said quietly. “It’s your turn.”
“I doubt I can fall asleep.”
“Try anyway,” he persisted. “You need rest so that we can get you back the rest of the way. I’ll stand guard. If it helps.”
Charles managed a short laugh. “You hardly look like you could start fighting them off.”
“Watch me,” he said, and Charles seemed to believe him.
He didn’t mention how he was relatively sure he would be unable to leave. Bond or just him?
Probably just him. Perhaps it had always just been him.
Charles lay on top of the covers, letting out a deep sigh. Erik claimed the chair Charles had sat on, moving it just a little bit closer to the bed. He picked up The Holy Bible that was on the nightstand and said, “I’ll just read this while you sleep.”
Charles smiled tiredly. “I did not take you for a religious man.”
He wasn’t one, not anymore. But Charles was alive and Erik had to admit that miracles did happen.
* * *
With this in mind they made no grand entrance – Charles went down to the medical bay with Hank, and sometime later Erik knew that Charles was back in his bedroom. Erik did not question how he knew these things – he just did, and he knew that he was right. He had managed to change and shower in the meanwhile, attending to his own injuries the best he could. Nothing that would leave a permanent scar – he would be damned if he asked Hank to do a neater job with the stitches for his right temple.
Erik stayed away, knowing that Charles needed rest. ‘Stayed away’ was putting it mildly – forced himself would have been more accurate because at all times he felt an impulse, a compulsion, to go to Charles. But he would not give in, not even when the dizziness returned.
That evening they held a meeting in the drawing room. Erik instantly felt better at the sight of Charles seated near the fireplace, wrapped in a burgundy night robe that was a lot more luxurious than the motel’s cheap bathrobe had been. Charles looked exhausted, and no wonder. Erik instinctively knew that Charles had not slept since their return.
They were all still on edge, he realised. They flinched at the slightest sound, they kept glancing around nervously, waiting for the helicopter sounds overhead and for the special troops bursting in through the windows.
Erik sat on an antique loveseat as he knew that he would tire from standing in his declining state. Logan was anxiously puffing on a cigar by the fireplace, and Mystique stood next to him with her arms crossed. She had a bloodied left eye, making the eyeball a bizarrely deep orange. Erik had been told the narrative of their escape from the army base, which had not been easy when they had had to carry both Charles and Erik out.
Hank had had a busy day looking into the people who had taken Charles. Charles knew most of their names, whether the men had intended to reveal their identities or not. Erik memorised the names for future reference as Hank spoke – he wouldn’t seek these men out now, but one day when they least expected it, they would be dead. He did not possess Charles’s mercy.
“Is the school in danger?” Logan asked after Hank had come to an end of what they knew: special branch’s covert operation, highly questionable who had even authorised it, and it had ended badly with the prisoner rescued without the goal of the operation having even been completed. They had not found out where Magneto was – instead Magneto had found them, rescued a fellow mutant, and stormed right out of there (had been carried out of there, to be frank). Someone had been fired over the mess without question.
“Well, they know where I am now,” Erik said.
Hank shook his head. “I don’t think they do. Thankfully they are very familiar the footage from last year – they know we’re not really on the same side here. So when I contacted their head of operations today, I made it clear that we had united for a rescue mission and nothing more. And I made sure to say that you had come to us, which you did. We have no idea where you’re based and how you operate. Partial truths.” The blue mutant heaved a sigh, looking older than he had been when Erik had arrived at the mansion. “They’re terrified that we’ll go public with this, which I have promised we will do if even for a second we feel threatened.”
Kidnap, torture, human rights violation conducted by the government on a US citizen who seemed to have been perfectly innocent after all – bad PR.
“We have assured them that we no longer have knowledge of Magneto’s whereabouts or any communication with him. Same goes for Mystique.”
“And they believe that?” Mystique scoffed.
“They know your stance,” Hank said evenly. “They know you would not leave a fellow mutant in government hands. Doesn’t mean we’ve actually joined forces for good.”
“And you’re sure that we’re not in danger?” Logan repeated disbelievingly. The two mutants the government desperately wanted to capture were both right there.
“I think,” Charles now said slowly and pensively, “that this may be the opportunity we’ve been waiting for. We have the upper hand, no matter how briefly – they will not act while they regroup themselves. Basic bureaucracy. This gives us time. This gives us strength. This may be a chance for us to start the next chapter in the history of mutantkind.”
The ‘together’ went unspoken.
* * *
Charles, he thought instantly, like he had in Switzerland over two months earlier. It was the dead of night, and Erik was convinced that Hank had been wrong about their safety – they had come for all of them after all.
Erik rushed out of bed, heading straight to Charles’s room at the far end of the floor. When he burst through the door, he saw Charles lying on the bed, crying out in agony. He stopped. No one else was there. No soldiers. No spies.
Erik ran over, turned on the light, and grabbed a hold of Charles. Charles groaned, “Get these voices out of my head, get these –“
“Okay, okay, they –“
He tried uttering reassurances that fell on deaf ears as Charles’s pain suddenly flooded Erik’s mind. And god, the voices were loud, voices of children waking up in alarm, scared and confused, some of them beginning to cry out, and more voices beyond that, so many more – and Charles was hurting where Erik was trying to hold him down, he realised, he was pressing onto already bruised skin, so he quickly let go of Charles who writhed, groaned, grit his teeth –
Hank ran into the room with only his boxers on, likewise having been stirred from sleep. He had a syringe and a rubber strap in his hands. He stopped at the sight of Erik, eyes flying between their two forms, but Charles breathed out, “Hank, for god’s sake –“
“I’m here,” Hank said in a rehearsed manner. They had done this so many times before, Erik realised.
When Hank reached them, Erik placed a hand on Hank’s blue-furred chest, keeping him at arm’s length. “Thank you,” he said simply, taking the equipment Hank had brought.
“Let me –”
“Thank you,” he said again, more firmly. “You have done enough.”
Hank looked at Charles helplessly, but backed away. Erik did not move but let Charles stay in his telepathic meltdown until Hank was out and the door was closed once more. Then he moved as quick as lightning, pulling Charles to sit up on the bed. Charles’s legs were a dead weight.
Erik easily ripped off the sleeve of Charles’s top with a few, powerful tugs, extending Charles’s arm out – in the crook of the elbow were old needle marks that angered him. Charles was breathing through his teeth, shivering, as Erik tied the rubber band on his upper arm, pulling it tight. The veins began to jut out as Charles’s heart beat wildly – Erik felt it like the fast pulse was his own. Charles looked at him unseeingly, blue eyes torn and scared.
“You’ll be fine in just a minute,” he said, flicking the syringe with his forefinger, looking at the vile liquid inside.
“The voices –”
He grabbed the back of Charles’s head. “Hey. Look at me. Stay with me. Charles. Charles.” He grabbed Charles’s head between both hands. The syringe stayed hovering in the air. “Look at me.” Charles did, and he said, “That’s it, that’s good.” He brushed hair from Charles’s forehead as Charles seemed to focus on him. “You just need to recover a bit more, and then you’ll be fine, alright? You’ll be in control again. You’ll be stronger than ever, you –” Charles flinched as the needle pierced his skin, but Erik kept talking. “Just look at me until it kicks in. Look at me.”
Charles fisted the front of Erik’s undershirt, clinging onto it, and for a moment they both waited. Charles’s breaths came sputtering out, but he kept looking at Erik with pleading eyes. Finally, the syringe dropped onto the bed, empty. Erik pulled the band off and rubbed the patch of skin that the needle had punctured. A part of him hated what he had just done, when he had been so set against this, but Charles was too weak right now – he acknowledged this. “That better?”
Charles nodded, collapsing back onto the mattress. He had two fingers pressed to his temple as the voices presumably died away. He breathed easier, but the panic Charles had felt lingered in Erik’s mind.
Erik tried to calm himself down. His powers were back, at least. He eyed the syringe, then snapped the needle in two with his mind. The act was clean, well-executed, effortless.
The spot at the base of his skull was still hollow, however.
They were better, but broken.
“Thank you,” Charles said quietly, eyes closed as he took in deep, calming breaths.
“Don’t mention it.” Erik got the feeling that Charles was quite accepting of his presence there. Erik, at least, instantly felt soothed by their close proximity. He noticed a folded newspaper on top of the book on the nightstand. Some force greater than Erik himself was driving him – quite presumptuously he moved to let his back rest against the headboard, his feet lifting onto the bed, as if he was quite used to sharing Charles’s bed when he wasn’t. “Catching up with the world?”
Charles opened his eyes to see what Erik was referring to, still rubbing his temple slightly. “In a way. I was reading my obituary. It was quite flattering, really. Morbid, of course.”
“I read that one, too,” Erik said, noticing it was the same New York Times he had read in Marrakesh. “Organising your resurrection ought to be interesting.”
“God, I hadn’t even thought,” Charles breathed, looking overwhelmed as his stunningly blue eyes stared at the ceiling.
“Ah, just erase their memories.”
“Of everyone who heard or read I was dead? Well. If I must, I must.” Charles was trying to be funny, and Erik felt a hard tug in his chest, and he suddenly thought of every single kiss he had ever shared with Charles Xavier, from the soft to the hard, from the brief to the never-ending.
He looked to the closed door on the other side of the room, and it locked itself. Privacy, at last. “I thought I’d get some more reading in. Genesis was just so riveting.”
He picked up the book that was on the nightstand, which Charles had been reading before dying, before being taken away – Erik had looked at it before too, the book Charles had never finished: poems by García Lorca, the Spanish and English side by side. Charles turned to lie mostly on his side, head on a pillow.
“Read aloud. Maybe.”
So he did. “Hoy siento en el corazón, un vago temblor de estrellas…”
He spoke slowly, pausing to let the poem breathe like it was intended to. By the time the two-page poem was at an end, Charles was nearly asleep. Erik began with the translation without interrupting the flow. “Today in my heart a vague trembling of stars…”
Charles’s hand had moved to rest on his thigh, and Erik’s hand had ended in the strands of Charles’s hair, carding through the locks slowly. The two points of connection between them carried that same vital force, a sense of sustainability, that the press of their palms had had the night before.
“Will we know peace, as Christ promises? Or can it never be for us? And what if love’s a trick? Who’ll salvage our lives?” Charles had moved closer to him, now breathing deeply and evenly, but Erik did not dare look down.
Erik kept a hand in his hair, caressing, as he continued to read. “If blue is dream,” he read, “what then innocence?”
* * *
In the end it was Hank who got Charles out of bed, which Erik resented – surely they should have let Charles sleep for however long he needed. But it was almost noon, and some normality needed to be gained.
Erik left them to their medical check-ups, though a part of him was reluctant to do so. He could do little to help the physical wounds heal, however.
Back in his own room, all Erik could think and feel was Charles. A part of him still hadn’t grasped that Charles, who had been lost to him forever, was alive after all. It should have presented him with a million possibilities, perhaps, but right then he found them hard to come by. Instead Charles’s return did nothing except remind Erik that his own presence at the school, strictly speaking, had come to an end, not that he ever had been much of a headmaster to begin with.
Yet there was the question of their souls. Erik had never been afraid of confrontation in the past, so he wasn’t sure why he was stalling now. Charles was not in good enough shape, of course, to hash things out with him – that’s what he kept telling himself. But they needed to talk about the bond, and Erik didn’t know how to approach the subject. It was too intimate to acknowledge, to talk frankly about. Yet he had never been afraid before, and that irritated him. He didn’t like being meek. It didn’t suit him.
He nonetheless felt somewhat justified for staying at the house because he wasn’t the only one doing so. Mystique likewise was still there, and Erik saw her sitting with Charles in the study that afternoon, deep in conversation. For the most part they seemed to be bickering, with Mystique storming off and leaving Charles sighing and head-shaking. Erik felt a nearly irresistible impulse to go in and talk to Charles, sooth him if he could, but instead he forced himself to keep walking.
The children were being particularly rowdy that evening, playing hide and seek, their laughter and screams echoing in the halls. So when he decided to take evasive action and go for a walk around the grounds, he was only partially surprised to find Charles already outside.
Charles didn’t seem surprised to see him either, which was unfair considering Charles remained without his powers. Charles had his hands behind his back as a mark of a leisurely stroll, which Charles now paused in order to greet him. Erik walked over like he had expected Charles to be outside all along. It was too much to try and resist, joining Charles for a simple walk and some conversation. All the big questions, all that was unresolved, could wait while he granted himself such an indulgence.
Charles cleared his throat ever so slightly. “Shall we?” He motioned at the grounds, and they quickly fell into step with one another, following the gravel path that circled the mansion. Charles walked slowly like he was somewhat unused to it – and of course he was, having spent most of the past year in a wheelchair. Charles noticed him looking and said, “The muscles in my legs don’t get much exercise these days. I do regular physiotherapy, of course – sometimes use Hank’s concoction for a day or two just to walk around and use them again. Ought to,” Charles winced, “make, ah, use of them co-operating, while I can.”
“You mustn’t exert yourself.”
“I spent a month in a coma, a second month in a cell. Trust me, I want to exert myself,” Charles said with a small laugh, lips twisting upwards as the evening sun landed on them from behind the trees. Erik wanted to ask of the fight with Mystique, but he didn’t want to admit to spying. Charles said, “We’ve sent a letter to my captors.”
“Well, to the general in charge of that particular division,” Charles clarified. “It was quite to the point. Some mild threats. I think you would have been pleased.”
“A letter?” he repeated, unable to believe it. “After what they did to you, you find a letter to be sufficient retaliation?”
“Ah, but you forget, my friend,” Charles said, smiling softly, “that I have other assets than my wit.” Erik was inclined to agree, but he didn’t think Charles was talking about his bodily graces. “I am also obnoxiously rich. That goes a long way in this country – did you know that I am rather well acquainted with a few senators? And yes, I needn’t you to say it,” Charles continued just as Erik was about to go off on him. “You’d say – oh, that I’m purchasing immunity. Using powerful and well-placed humans to protect himself. Inadvertently demonstrating my own weakness by letting them know that I need to play into their power structures. Something like that?”
Erik sucked in a breath. “Yes. Along those lines.”
Charles laughed brightly, almost pleased. “How fantastic,” he said, and Erik was none the wiser. “I’ve become rather good at this what-would-Erik-say game.” Erik, perhaps, had a similar game of his own, but he had no intention to admit to that. Instead he was briefly reminded of the young Charles Xavier with whom he had once shared this mansion. He hadn’t thought he’d ever see laughter in Charles’s eyes again.
“You do not need to cower before them, Charles.”
“I don’t intend to, but right now I must puff myself up – picture a peacock with all its feathers out, trying to look intimidating.”
“Isn’t that a mating ritual?” he asked pointedly, earning a sly smile from Charles, and a warm silence landed between them as they kept walking.
After a while, Charles asked, “How do you like it, then? The school?” Charles then stopped abruptly as they rounded the corner that brought them back to the front. “Good heavens, what on earth happened there?”
Erik looked up to see the broken windowsill on the second floor – where he had slammed Logan upon his arrival. “Ah. I’ve no idea. Must’ve been one of the kids, I suppose.”
Erik knew he sounded somewhat guilty as Charles raised a sceptical eyebrow at him. “If you suppose so…”
“I am impressed by how quickly you got the school going again,” Erik then said honestly, if only to direct the conversation elsewhere. “The enterprise seems to have been embraced by –”
He was cut off by the sudden sound of running feet and excited yelling. Three of the children had come out of the house and were racing right at them. They came to a halt – the youngest one broke into a grin. “Professor!” the girl said excitedly. “Professor, we knew that you were back – oh how exciting –“
She moved in like she wanted a cuddle, but the boy with the extendable arms stopped her. “Dr McCoy said no touching!” he hissed urgently. He was older – he saw the bruises.
“Jean?” Charles said, addressing the older girl behind the child speaking and the rubber-limbed boy. Charles was frowning – Erik could see why. Jean was staring at him in horror. “Jean, there is nothing to be frightened –”
Jean seemed to disagree as she swirled around and ran away from them as fast as she could. Charles moved to go after her, but Erik placed a stalling hand on his chest. Charles looked bewildered, fingers going to his temple before he realised that he did not have his powers at his disposal. The two kids looked after Jean in shared befuddlement.
“She’ll be fine,” Erik promised, letting go of Charles, who stepped closer to him, as if to follow the retreating hand.
A pair of feet was approaching them from behind now, and Scott was racing at them, clearly with the intention of chasing the others. Scott had adjusted well to life in the school, Erik thought, from what he had been able to observe. Certainly the boy seemed happier now that he was amongst his kind.
“Mr. X!” Scott beamed in delight, coming to a stop as he tried to catch his breath. Charles was frowning but Scott wasn’t addressing him – he was talking to Erik. “Mr. X, have you seen Jean?”
“She went that way!” the girl who had spoken first said, pointing.
“Okay, okay – and have you seen James?” Scott asked. Charles was staring at Scott, clearly mystified. “He’s hiding, too. We’re playing hide and seek.”
“I haven’t seen James,” Erik said calmly, and the rubber boy groaned in frustration and sprang off. The young girl was tugging on Scott’s sleeve restlessly, eager to re-join their game.
“Just give me –” Scott said, before turning to Erik again. “Mr. X, I wanted to ask – if you could, maybe, show us some of your tricks later? Like how you turned the radio on in the car? It was really cool, and the others haven’t seen you do anything, but I told them! I told them how cool it was!”
Scott looked at him somewhat adoringly, which Erik could understand – he was the first mutant Scott had met. Hank had been there too, of course, on the day they enrolled Scott, but Hank had been in his human form, quite unable to impress the adolescent Mr. Summers.
Erik supposed he could fit a demonstration in before leaving the school for good. “Not today,” he said, “but soon. I promise.”
Scott grinned boyishly. “Neat.” Scott only now looked at Charles, somewhat confused by the injured man he had never seen before, but then he let the girl drag him away in search of the others.
Charles was still frowning. “Who was that?”
“Scott Summers. Latest recruit.”
Charles arched a surprised eyebrow. “And you – You recruited him?”
“Hank and I did. He was the next one on the list.”
“I see.” Charles’s thoughts were clearly going ten miles a minute. “You went to… Nebraska to get him?”
“Yes. I was standing in for you, after all.”
Erik wished he had been telepathic right then – Charles’s gaze was intense, and Erik had no idea what Charles was thinking. He looked away, gritting his teeth. He said, “Jean can see your soul. She can see mine, too, and she sees that they’re broken. That’s why she ran.” This successfully wiped the smile off Charles’s face as astonishment landed on his features instead. “I think it’s a remarkable gift.”
“It is,” Charles managed to say, but he sounded unconvincing. He looked back to where Jean had gone. “I think that girl will be more powerful than any of us realise.” Charles began walking again, slowly, and Erik followed. When they reached the portico with the steps leading into the house, Charles said, “I suppose you’re right. We have to try and… fix the bond.”
Was Charles offering?
Erik stalled. He thought of the night they had unintentionally created the bond to begin with – three storeys up from where they now were, in Charles’s bed. He thought of his arms around Charles as they had slept afterwards, and he thought of his arms around a wounded Charles on a Cuban beach the day after, and he thought of their fights since, so many of them, always fighting, always hurting. He thought of Charles leaving him locked up for ten years, of leaving him for dead in Washington, of Charles writing him love letters from his quiet solitude that echoed Erik’s own imprisonment. He thought of how Charles had fucked him up with his death, and he thought of a drunken night some months after Cuba, in Cape Town, when he had seen a man that had reminded him of Charles and how he had fucked that man until they were both exhausted, and he thought of how he had showered afterwards, never feeling clean. He thought of all the faceless, nameless people he had left dead in his wake.
He thought of his broken soul – his ugly soul as Charles had called it – pathetically linked to the man standing next to him, whose face betrayed no emotion whatsoever.
“Yes,” he agreed at last, “we fix the bond. Or we kill whatever of it remains. Surely that would be safer for us both.”
Safer. He perhaps meant better. He had seen what Charles’s isolated despair had amounted to the year before.
If the two of them were not connected, their futures would be easier.
Charles started to say something, instinctively, but paused. He didn’t look at Erik – his eyes were fixed in the distance. “Or we destroy it,” Charles granted, “of course.”
Erik stood there for a moment. He waited. Charles did nothing. Said nothing. As he started towards the doors, he thought Charles flinched like he was just about to reach out to him – but it was too late, whatever it was.
* * *
Although he longed for Charles’s company, he headed for the ground floor gym in the morning. He had not worked out since Charles’s so-called death as he had mostly been too unwell to exercise, but he needed to start pushing himself now. It wasn’t much of a gym, of course, with rococo furniture and portraits of eighteenth century ancestors on the walls – merely another Xavier drawing room that someone had once decided to fill with sports equipment, too.
There was a pedestal bag, however, and Erik needed something to punch. He took off his watch first, its cogs still unmoving within, still broken, but not marking the moment of Charles’s death, but the moment their souls were torn apart. This, too, infuriated Erik.
The heavy lead base kept the pedestal in place as he began to repeatedly assault the punching bag. The mindlessness of the repeated punches felt good to him, as did working out after such a long break. He kept at it until his hands were numb, until adrenalin had his body thrumming, until he had worked up to a sweat – all in a few minutes. He had to stop when he felt dizzy, pulling in ragged breaths. His body was not in the shape it once had been, and the knuckles of his right hand, which had been damaged at the airbase, now shone with renewed blood.
“You’ve really let yourself go,” Mystique said from behind him. He turned around, and she was staring at him with an unimpressed look on her face. She was in her human form, which surprised him.
“Didn’t hear you come in,” he said, stupidly. Of course he hadn’t. She was Mystique, after all. Only then did he notice the bag at her feet. “Going somewhere?”
“Aren’t you?” she prompted, looking at him disbelievingly. Erik supposed that he looked quite homey in the white tank top and loose, grey sweatpants that he had found in the wardrobe of his bedroom.
“Does Charles know?”
She didn’t let herself be distracted, however. “This isn’t your home, Erik, and neither is it mine. Unless, of course, you now think this is how we must find our place in a human world: with English lessons that hypothesise if Kafka was a mutant because of Metamorphosis.”
She had him there – this school wasn’t how Erik pictured the future of mutantkind unfolding. “I am aware of that, of course. Charles is recovering –”
“He’s fine,” she said with a wave of the hand. “He’s got his loyal entourage, and, alright, perhaps he’s a bit beaten up, but he’s just as stubborn as he ever was. He doesn’t need either of us, and if he does, it comes with a condition to side with his views – just like it always did. So to answer your questions, yes, I am leaving, and yes, Charles knows.” She paused then, swallowing. “And he’s not trying to stop me.”
Erik and Charles had managed not to discuss any sort of future so far, perhaps because deep down they knew that they would still not agree. At least this was clear to Erik – but was it to Charles? Erik knew that he was hot-tempered, to put it mildly, and that perhaps his attempt to assassinate the men who governed the United States had done more bad than good in the end. It had made his life intolerable for one, making regrouping a nightmare, but worse than that it had made these men try and use Charles against him. His actions had put Charles in harm’s way once more, although he had promised himself never to let that happen again, not after Cuba. Would they have tortured Charles if Erik hadn’t placed Nixon at gunpoint?
So yes, Erik was willing to admit that occasionally he went too far. This realisation, however, didn’t mean that his overall goals had changed: humans feared them and would seek to destroy them one way or another. Assimilation was a fallacy, passivity would be stupidity. Action had to be taken.
How he would go about this action, however, was unclear to him just then. It all got blurred when Charles seemed insistent on them all working together to build their joint future.
“Charles is a romantic,” Mystique said. “He’s got this picture in his head of us all living happily ever after, doting on his genius. He can’t stand the thought that perhaps he’s fucked up along the way too, that perhaps he is wrong.”
Charles had always been wrong about Mystique. They both knew this, and it was clear to Erik that Charles to this day had not really grasped this.
“I know that Charles is wrong,” he then said in his own defence.
Mystique was staring him down. “Then why are you still here?”
Erik instinctively thought of one of Charles’s letters: even at your worst, I am yours. That is my darkest secret.
When he said nothing, Mystique picked up her bag. “Well, if the two of you want to pretend it’s 1962 all over again, it’s your funeral. I’m not staying for round two.” She stopped at the door and, as a farewell, said, “You don’t belong here.”
She was right, of course.
He knew that she was.
* * *
Charles had recently taken another hit, Erik observed as Charles arrived. Charles’s pupils dilated just ever so slightly in the first few minutes as the poison kicked in.
“Care to play?” he asked. He could pretend he hadn’t been waiting for Charles, but he saw little reason to when he was already seated with the chess set out in front of him. Likewise Charles did not feign surprise or hesitation, but sat opposite him with a welcoming smile. Charles was on the side of the white pieces and moved first, placing a pawn two squares forwards. Erik focused on the game, intent on winning.
Since Mystique had confronted him, Erik had made new plans. He had to hit the road again, go back to what he had been building before he left Switzerland. His followers were bound to be wondering where the hell he was after a two month silence. He also knew what to do about his soul, so that particular piece of the puzzle should not hinder him. Once he had his body, soul and powers back under his control, he could keep building his own network to ensure the success of their race.
It would be a better future for all of them, including Charles.
When Erik took Charles’s rook, he said, “Are you going to be taking that drug much longer?” His disapproval was obvious.
Charles moved his queen, placing Erik’s knight and bishop both in danger. Erik cursed silently – he could only save one. He pondered which, eventually opting to save the knight, which glided across the board smoothly. Charles took his bishop. “I know my limits.”
“Do you?” he asked. “Even from a wheelchair, you’re one of the most powerful men alive.”
“I don’t need a pep talk,” Charles said curtly. Erik was hitting a nerve. Charles then frowned and quickly reached over the board for his hand. “What have you done?” Charles was examining his bloodied knuckles, the skin red and sore.
“Hazards of the job.” He pulled his hand back. Having Charles touch him did not exactly strengthen his resolve.
His pawn moved to protect the rook that was in the line of fire from a white knight. Charles did not seem pleased with his answer, eyeing him worriedly. Charles knew better than to push him, however. Charles eyed the board, seemed to consider whether to attack anyway, before changing tactics instead. Erik set his queen on the loose, then, going straight for Charles’s king. Charles saw him coming.
They did not speak much, and Erik already longed for the rare moments of leisure they had given themselves, with their tones bordering the flirtatious when they were alone. But Mystique’s departure had affected Charles, changed his mood to one of gloom, and it wasn’t fair to keep Charles uninformed. He said, “I’m leaving soon.”
Charles, who had been about to move his king, stopped. He looked up from the game, and Erik toughened himself to meet the blue eyes boring into him. He was not betraying Charles, he reminded himself.
“I’m not sure I understand,” Charles said. His voice was terse, suggesting that he understood very well – he just didn’t want to.
Erik kept his voice level, leaning back in his chair. “I have to get back to The Brotherhood. We have work to do. And I suspect I will now find it easier to dodge the authorities – my new alias is convenient. You did the paperwork very well.”
Erik saw the betrayal on Charles’s face easily enough. “So you want permission to… use Michael Xavier? When you go?”
“I am not asking you, Charles. I am informing you.”
Charles said nothing, then. Erik realised that Mystique had been right: Charles had clearly thought he was nearly done domesticating them both. Perhaps Erik should have felt cruel announcing his departure only hours after Mystique had gone, but he realised he could no longer wait. Charles’s close proximity filled him with longing and long suppressed tenderness. Charles reminded him of the man Erik might have become in other circumstances, of a man Erik now found himself hoping he could have been.
He could not afford such sentimentality.
“I hope you realise that my presence at the school is due to my need to either fix my soul or to permanently eradicate the bond.”
The sangfroid in his voice seemed to anger Charles, who shook his head. “I do not think you realise how complex –”
“I do,” he said. “I do realise. And considering the danger a bond puts us both in, destroying the bond fully is the safest option.” He had thought this through quite plainly, so he explained, “We cannot risk fixing the bond. What if we make it stronger than it was?” It was far too dangerous. Erik did not trust himself to know where to stop if they ever got started. “And what then, when I die on the battlefield, when you slip in the shower – what? We both die? Or one of us goes insane?”
“I do not plan to die by slipping in the shower,” Charles said angrily. “And I bloody well do not want you to die on the battlefield – Erik, what battlefield? Why does it always –”
“We have to destroy the bond,” he repeated. Charles was leading them straight into another shouting match, but Erik stalled him. “I know you’ve wanted to destroy it in the past. I know you’ve loathed its presence.”
“I’m not sure I follow.” Charles’s eyes had narrowed and, again, Erik saw the habitual twitch of Charles’s hand as if he had been about to press his fingers to his temple. But Erik wasn’t his to figure out, to read openly. However, this was Charles Xavier. He didn’t need telepathy to know Erik more intimately than anyone else in the world. After a heavy silence, Charles said, “Those were private letters.”
“As the addressed, I beg to differ,” he said coolly. He had the letters, still, and they were now in his suitcase upstairs, ready to go. “They were a captivating read, however. I'm sure there’s a starting point for a psychoanalytical study somewhere in there.” He had the upper hand right then, which was an altogether too rare an occurrence in their relationship. He decided to relish it. “You look humiliated.”
“I am humiliated,” Charles breathed angrily, not meeting his gaze.
Erik shook his head. Softly he said, “When I was in prison, I talked to you all the time.”
The worst thing about Charles Xavier, Erik realised at that second, was that sometimes he didn’t try to hide his feelings at all. Sometimes Charles let them shine through so openly, with such vulnerability that it was near impossible for Erik to fight him. The worst thing about Charles was when he looked at Erik like this, with no attempt to hide anything – and Erik saw the hope in his eyes, the longing there, the loneliness and the hurt and the infinite warmth that he knew was for him alone. This look had gotten Erik so screwed so many times in the past, had him on his knees with declarations spilling from his lips.
“My cell was bugged,” he went on quietly, “so I couldn’t risk speaking aloud. But the conversations I enjoyed with you in my head were not altogether dissimilar to your letters, I assure you.” This was a confession to equal Charles’s, but as he could not risk getting pulled into semantics, he went on. “I am leaving the school. I feel well enough to travel. And you will kill the bond.”
Charles had clearly not expected any of this. He had thought Erik would stay. Erik stood up, game unfinished, but Charles said, “Why don’t you kill it?”
Erik had hoped Charles wouldn’t ask this question. Surely Erik could immerse himself in his work, or find some other attractive mutant who shared his views on the destiny of their species, or surely he could just teach himself to forget.
If Charles had been able to read his mind, perhaps he would have heard it, then, saving Erik from having to say it – the one thing neither one of them was saying.
Erik took in Charles’s face, which he had thought he’d never get to see again. The bruises were now a soft yellow, the dark circles around Charles’s eyes were lighter. It was a simple question. But he couldn’t bring himself to say it, he could not – it was only the truth, he knew. It would only be honesty.
“Because I can’t kill it,” he said at last.
They both knew what he meant. He refused to meet Charles’s eyes.
He had tried killing it. Charles had tried killing it.
“Erik.” It was only his name, but Charles said it softly. It sounded a lot like darling, somehow. Charles stood up, then, and Erik felt his chest tighten, something hot burning inside. “And what makes you think I can kill this?” Charles said quietly.
“Don’t –” he said, but cut himself off. This was foolishness, folly, fallacy – this burn, this ache. It was a trap that Charles was lying in front of him. They couldn’t do this, not now, not ever –
Charles moved in, and Erik didn’t back away. He stood his ground. And when Charles fisted his shirt and pulled him into a kiss, Erik all but crashed into it, with all the feelings he had tried locking up now hopelessly spilling over the edges. Charles’s hand cupped the back of his head, threading into the short strands of hair there, and something clicked into place.
Nothing had felt as good as the press of Charles’s hand to the back of his head. Erik let out a short groan – there was a pressure point there, at the base of his skull, and Charles was touching it just right. Charles stalled, breathing against his mouth. “There?” he asked, gently rubbing the patch of skin that had Erik going slack.
“Yeah. Oh Christ.” He felt dizzy again, but this time it wasn’t a bad dizziness. Instead the sensation of shards of glass digging into his skull was disappearing, warmth spreading into him. All of his resolve vanished in a second. He kissed Charles, then, wet and hot, greedily pulling him closer, his hands landing on Charles’s hips.
He had tried to avoid this – once he got started, he didn’t know where to stop, or how to. In the past decade he had spent one night with Charles, but in his imagination they had been together for too many nights to count. His fantasies were built on memories of their time right in this house, of their encounters while they had been recruiting mutants. And at times he was so sure that his memories did reality justice, that he knew just the way Charles tasted and how he felt – but now, kissing Charles quite madly, he again realised how pathetic his fantasies were when compared to the real thing.
Erik accidentally backed into the table, sending chess pieces scattering on the floor. They were both too caught up in the kiss to care. Charles’s lips were treacherously soft while his beard felt rough against Erik’s mouth, Charles’s tongue hot against his own.
It wasn’t polite kissing, or even particularly romantic – it was after one thing, and Erik pulled Charles closer until his hardening cock was pressed to Charles’s crotch. Charles broke their kiss, but not the embrace. Their foreheads touched, Charles’s fingers twisting in the short strands of his hair. “Not here,” Charles breathed out, and Erik kissed him, pushing Charles backwards until he had Charles pressed to the wall. His mouth moved to Charles’s ear, his jaw, his neck – “Oh god, not here.”
But the way Charles was pressing into him suggested otherwise. His hands were on Charles’s belt when Charles pushed him off, breathless. “Not here, I said.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” he said huskily, unable to stop staring at Charles’s reddened lips.
“Well last time the house wasn’t overrun with students,” Charles said breathlessly. Charles pushed off the wall, and said, “My room. Five minutes.”
Charles licked his lips – fuck, that was unfair. Erik had learned in Paris that he loved the scrape of Charles’s stubble against his mouth, and he dove in for another kiss. Charles returned the kiss just as heatedly, managing to say, “Three.”
With that, Charles Xavier walked out of the room, and Erik checked him out unabashedly as he went. His skin felt hot, and the back of his head was tingling – clearly very pleased.
Erik knew, of course, that he would not go. He would get his suitcase instead and leave right then. He would not find himself in Charles’s bed yet again. Besides, what would that mean for their bond? What if they forged an even stronger connection – and Erik did not for a second doubt they would not be able to do just that. They had no middle ground for their relationship, they were either all in or not even speaking.
Leave now. Leave. For god’s sake, just go.
Out in the hallway his steps were hurried, and when he got to the stairs, he all but ran into some of the students with Scott amongst them. “Mr. X!” Scott beamed.
“Hello, Scott.” He didn’t stop, although he realised he still hadn’t given the kids the demonstration he had promised, nor did he have the time right now either. So he only nodded, rushing upstairs, although it made Scott’s face fall, the excitement fading. Goddamn children.
Erik didn’t turn to look back, but he heard the crunch of metal and the excited yelps when the metal bars of the railing came loose and started bending into different animal shapes – “A crocodile!” one of the kids yelled happily.
Erik left a fraction of his mind to focus on the task until he reached the top. Then he let the metal pieces float onto the floor and he left them there. From the sound of it, the kids were picking them up to play with. Erik pushed it all out of his mind, walking to the end of the corridor where Charles’s bedroom was, leaving whatever was happening in the rest of the house behind him. He slipped into the room, and the door locked itself in his wake.
Charles was standing by the long window. He had taken his jacket off, now resting on the back of an armchair. “Three and a half.”
“Sorry. Broken watch,” he said and scooped Charles into a kiss, so greedily needing Charles pressed against him. Some of the desperate urgency had worn off – they were both there, and neither one of them was rushing in fear of this stopping all too soon. Erik did not fear Charles backing out, or himself backing out for that matter. This was going to happen, and they could take their time.
He got on his knees then and there, tugging Charles’s shirt from his slacks, kissing the lower stomach that he exposed as he pushed the shirt up. He was done for and gone as he nosed the hair of below Charles’s navel, especially when Charles’s hand came to rest on his head. Charles’s belt unbuckled itself and the zipper ran down as Erik kissed Charles’s stomach – there were a few bruises there, and he kissed around them. Charles was breathing heavily, leaning back against the wall.
Erik didn’t hesitate in pushing Charles’s trousers and underwear down. He wanted nothing more than to be right there, on his knees for Charles, and he soon had Charles in his mouth. Charles groaned, the hold of he had of Erik’s hair tightening. Charles liked having control, liked taking it, and Erik had always loved giving Charles control over him. No one else ever got to see him like this, in submission. Only Charles did, and this alone drove Erik mad, the thought of this secret between them that no one else knew.
Still something felt off as Erik began to suck Charles off. Charles’s cock felt heavy and hot on his tongue, and Charles kept looking at him with lust-filled eyes. Erik loved that, being looked at as his lips stretched wide around Charles’s hard girth. Charles thrust into his mouth ever so slightly, making the most obscene little noises of pleasure, and Erik wrapped a hand around the base of Charles’s cock as he pulled off. He knew what was missing.
“You have to talk,” he said, letting his mouth slide over the crown where Charles tasted bitter and salty. The head of Charles’s cock was the most perfect pink, the flesh soft and warm against his lips. Charles was hard as a rock, cock flushed crimson from the blood that had swollen him up. Erik let his tongue slide along the slit of the cockhead, and Charles groaned. Erik said, “I can’t hear you, can’t feel you. So talk.”
He was so used to being connected to Charles during sex that this silence confused him. It had confused him in Paris, too.
“Okay,” Charles breathed, restless. “Okay, but fuck, give me your mouth. Jesus, your mouth.”
Erik relished in being able to make Charles swear. He suckled on the head of Charles’s cock before taking him in the rest of the way. He was relentless, moving his fist and mouth in perfect rhythm, the circle of his fist meeting his lips as he worked Charles’s cock, and above him Charles looked down, breathing heavily, a ragged, “So many times, so many times thought of this – Feels so good, you’ve no idea –”
But Erik was rock hard himself, and he had some idea.
He went faster, and Charles’s hand at the back of his head felt just as good as Charles did in his mouth. He felt like he belonged right there, like he was being claimed. Charles fucked into his mouth, and Erik let him have control, relaxing his jaw and taking it. He placed one hand on Charles’s exposed ass, feeling the muscles there tense as his fingers dug in.
“I don’t want to come yet,” Charles breathed, sounding wrecked. He slowed down his thrusts, but Erik took this as a sign to pick up the rhythm himself. “You look so good on your knees,” Charles said, sounding desperate. “Erik, you look so good sucking me off like this. Oh Christ, I don’t want to – Not yet. Please –”
Erik pulled back, still fisting Charles slowly, but loosening the grip. Charles relaxed, pulling him up to stand. Charles kissed him fiercely, and they shared the taste of Charles’s sex between them. Erik loved knowing that as Charles kissed him, he would taste his own pre-come on Erik’s tongue.
Erik shoved Charles tight against the wall, needing more. Charles hissed as Erik did so, but not in pleasure. Erik backed away, his hand sliding off Charles’s erection. “I’m sorry.”
Charles shook his head. “I’m a little battered. I’m okay.”
Erik doubted this. He ripped Charles’s shirt open in a few, forceful tugs. There was no undershirt beneath, and Erik gazed at the various bruises decorating Charles’s body. Most of them were a dim yellow. Charles also looked like he had lost muscle mass at a great speed – the flat plains of his body, usually tightened up by hard muscle beneath, were looser and softer to the touch. Erik relisted the names of Charles’s captors in his head. One day, one day…
Charles said, “My, uh, repertoire might be a little limited.”
As if Erik cared about that.
“I’ll take care of you.” What he meant was let me take care of you.
He kissed Charles slowly, and Charles responded, unbuttoning Erik’s shirt. When they landed on Charles’s bed, Erik couldn’t help but feel that it was history repeating itself.
“Same goes for you,” Charles said once he was spread out beneath him, fully naked. Erik was down to his briefs. “You have to talk.”
Erik grunted in response, but kept his mouth busy with the slow kisses he placed around every bruise he could find. The telepathic cocoon in which Charles had used to wrap them in had made things easier – half the time Erik could not even find the words for what he felt, and he had never needed to worry about it up until now. His mouth closed around a nipple, and Charles arched his back, making a noise of pleasure that Erik had not expected. He let his fingers brush over the other, feeling it harden under his touch. He had no recollection of this having been one of Charles’s weak spots, although now it seemed to be.
“You like this,” he said, tongue licking over one nipple, then the other. Charles let out a small whine in response. He didn’t know how to talk about what he felt, so he figured dirty talk would do. “You really like this.”
He only realised it then – of course Charles did. He had spent a year without any sensation in his legs, so it only made sense that areas which hadn’t given Erik much of a reaction in the past now did. With this in mind, Erik began to explore the contours of Charles’s upper body, mouth trailing to one of his armpits, his mouth leaving wet kisses in its wake. Charles’s erection was hard against him, hips twisting up for friction, and Erik ground down to meet him.
“I bet I can make you come like this,” he said, his mouth having reached Charles’s wantonly exposed neck. He still had a hand pinching and rubbing a nipple, to try and get pleasure shooting up in different parts of Charles’s body.
“Yes,” Charles agreed breathlessly, his hands hastily pushing down Erik’s underwear. They got the briefs down to his knees, and then they were kissing, their cocks pressed together as they thrust against one another. They needed something to help them along, and they reached for the nightstand at the same time. Charles laughed, and Erik grinned against his lips.
“After you, sir,” he said, and Charles rolled his eyes but kept smiling. Erik had forgotten about this – how the sex they had could go from being so heavy, so all-consuming, to being so light and easy.
“Talk, remember?” Charles said, having retrieved the lube. He was studying Erik closely.
Erik forced himself. “I just –” He swallowed hard, trying not to put too much weight onto Charles. He was keenly aware that the body beneath his was damaged and he had to be careful. “I’ve missed us being like this.”
He didn’t mean the sex. He just meant being close.
“Me too,” Charles said honestly and pulled him down for a kiss.
Soon Charles’s lube covered palm closed around Erik’s erection. Charles placed a hand at the back of his head again, and Erik felt stuck where he was, hopelessly lost in Charles’s embrace. He thrust into the tight fist around his aching cock, lips locked to Charles’s. He was going to have ridiculous beard burn the following day, but he couldn’t have cared less.
Charles’s hands were fucking talented, the strength of his grip had Erik on the verge of coming undone. He didn’t mind – he welcomed the thought of Charles pushing him over the edge so easily, he wanted to look at Charles beneath him as he came –
And Charles. Charles wanted him inside, he realised, Charles wanted to arch his back as Erik thrust deep into him –
Erik stopped, confused. He shook his head a little, trying to clear his mind. He knew Charles was without his powers, was unable to project.
“I’m not projecting,” Charles said, having likewise stalled. They were breathing heavily, their hips and hands having come to a stop.
“So how do I know?” Erik asked.
Charles wanted Erik on his back, legs spread for him, but Charles knew that it would be too painful and tiring for him to fuck Erik. And so instead Charles wanted Erik buried deep in him, wanted to feel Erik inside of him, claiming him, and Erik knew all of this. Erik in turn wasn’t fussed, he just wanted to make Charles come at the end of it, to have Charles groaning his name, body trembling in heated pleasure, and Erik knew that Charles now knew this.
And Erik knew more than just the physical immediacy that dominated their hazed thoughts. He knew Charles would quite foolishly forgive him again and again, would always hold out hope that Erik would emerge from his self-inflicted darkness and anger, would be a better man. He knew that –
He moved to leave, to get out of bed, but Charles snapped his wrist and wouldn’t let go, and Erik was left hovering over Charles.
“Stop it,” he hissed, but Charles wrapped his free arm securely around his waist, and Charles pressed an open, wet kiss to his mouth that he could not resist.
Charles wasn’t projecting. Their souls were simply realigning.
“We need to stop,” Erik breathed, Charles’s mouth having moved to his jaw. He pressed his nose against Charles’s tangled hair, breathing in the scent of it. They would take this too far. They would get carried away.
Charles spread his legs, thighs far apart, and Erik fell between them. Oh Christ, they had to stop.
“No,” Charles disagreed, lips pressed to his ear. “We need this.”
Erik wanted to ask if they wanted this, which was a wholly different matter, but thankfully he realised what a stupid question that would have been. They both wanted this desperately.
When Charles moved the hand still holding onto Erik’s wrist between his parted legs, Erik stopped resisting. He kissed Charles fervently, moaning as Charles let go of his wrist and pushed a finger into himself. Impatient, Erik grabbed the lube still on the bed, and soon Charles’s hand retreated as Erik slid two of his own fingers into Charles.
He wondered if there’d been anyone after Paris – for him, there had been a few. He had been locked up for ten years, after all, to say he was horny out of his mind would have been accurate. But unlike those hasty fucks scattered across a few continents, he was now in no hurry whatsoever. Charles was groaning and flushed, with two of Erik’s fingers deep inside, pressing into Charles’s prostate, and Erik relished the feel of muscles squeezing around his fingers.
And his fingers felt amazing to Charles, who was not used to this kind of stimulation much anymore. Erik could feel what Charles felt – it was different from the telepathic connection, which felt like a cloud circling his mind, offering him bright flashes of feeling and touch. This connection was more intimate, more permanent. It didn’t flicker here and there, it didn’t pulsate: it was like the touch of a palm against one’s own, steady, constant, reassuring, and all the more consuming because of it.
This connection helped Erik in knowing where Charles was the sorest, where he was still hurt, and he adjusted his movements accordingly. Having Charles gasping against his mouth as Erik fingered him was maddeningly hot, and Erik felt greedy and possessive, his hand working at a steady pace between Charles’s parted legs.
He would have been happy with this also, getting Charles off like this. Hell, it would have been a power trip – with just his fingers… But Charles was a constant push of more, and Erik was obliging blindly. He pulled his fingers out, grabbed onto Charles hips and pulled him closer, Charles sliding down on the bed until he had Charles where he wanted him.
Charles’s arms wrapped around his shoulders, and Erik kissed him slowly. Charles’s mouth was red and wet, and Erik bit onto his lower lip like he knew Charles liked. Charles was restless, felt empty, and Erik’s cock felt neglected, but Erik had to clarify something first: “I still can’t stay.”
Charles stared up at him as his fingers brushed the nape of Erik’s neck. “I know that.”
When Erik finally pushed into Charles, he went slow. Charles moaned, biting on his own lip, brows knitting together. Erik tried to be as gentle as he could until he was all the way in. Charles was tight around him, muscles straining to accommodate him, and he loved knowing how full and claimed Charles felt. But even more so he felt undone himself and like he was giving something to Charles, something immaterial.
And it echoed through him, in his movements: I’m yours. His face pressed to the crook of Charles’s neck, his hips moving steadily. I’m yours, I’m yours.
“Erik,” Charles breathed hastily, fingers digging into his shoulder blades. He kissed Charles’s throat, letting his tongue swipe across the Adam’s apple, his thrusts a steady, liquid movement. Charles’s hands were on him, touching his sides, his spine, his ass, his abs, like Charles was busy retracing him as they moved together. Charles loved the physicality of him, how his body took up space, how solid he felt. All of it bled through the connection between them, clearer all the time.
He grabbed the back of Charles’s head, fingers twisting in the strands of hair as he kissed Charles. He was going harder, chasing the pleasure that was overwhelming him. He loved this, being deep inside Charles, his balls aching from how hard he was. There had always been something animalistic about sex for him, like a more primitive force took over.
Charles adjusted his hips beneath him, changing the angle. Erik pulled back from the kiss, and Charles was staring up at him with heated eyes, breathing erratic. Erik pushed into him, and Charles groaned. “Yeah?” he asked, and Charles nodded, biting on his bottom lip.
Charles wanted him to come. Fuck, Charles wanted to watch him come.
His eyes fluttered shut, and Charles was watching him as he fisted his own cock. Erik couldn’t fight the heat bottling up inside him, boiling – he moved harder, and Charles’s body ached but Charles was determined not to care, so Erik kept going. His toes were getting tangled up in the sheets, the backs of his knees felt wet with perspiration, his buttocks tensed up as his muscles began to harden and knot.
This was the danger of Charles Xavier: Erik was able to get so lost in him, so utterly lost, and not for a second feel like he wasn’t closer to home.
Erik came with a long groan, his breath getting cut short. He opened his eyes to look at Charles as his hips jerked. Charles had his mouth open in a perfect O, a flicker of surprise in his blue eyes, feeling all that Erik felt right then – Charles’s back arched suddenly as he came between them, hand stroking his flushed cock fast. Erik felt chords inside him snapping, new ones forging, and the kiss they shared was fierce as they let their orgasms wash over them. In the haze of it, he could hear Charles’s voice clearly: please, please –
Charles relaxed against the bed once he stopped coming, and Erik carefully rested against him as Charles snaked his hand from between them. He felt the steady throb of Charles’s spent cock pressing against his abdomen, the musky scent of semen now in the air.
Charles kissed his cheek, nose pressing into the skin just below his eye. “Hey.”
Erik smiled contentedly. “Mmm.” He wasn’t much for coherency just then.
He pulled out carefully, and Charles flinched from how sensitive he was, how the drag of Erik’s cock had his stomach tightening up again. Erik lay down next to Charles who stayed on his back. Their legs pressed together and his upper half pressed into Charles’s side. His fingers splayed on Charles’s come-stained stomach, feeling the warmth of the skin as he kissed Charles softly.
Charles’s fingers ran from the back of his neck down to its side, stopping over the scar tissue there. Charles hated the feel of the distorted skin.
“She’s a good shot,” Erik said, “thankfully.”
He didn’t expect Charles to chastise Mystique for having shot him – he assumed Charles would have supported Mystique in her actions. And indeed Charles seemed to do just that, but Erik still felt Charles’s abhorrence of the scar either way.
Charles’s fingers moved to his right collarbone, where another scar was, running horizontally with the bone. “And what’s this one?”
“A spat with the CIA in Panama last year.”
Charles let his hand drop and stared at him, deep in thought. Erik couldn’t quite make out the thoughts themselves, but the feelings he did: affection and longing, but worry and concern shone brighter.
“They’ll never catch me a second time. I promise you that, old friend.” He took a hold of Charles’s wrist and softly applied pressure at the pulse, rubbing the skin there.
“Won’t they?” Charles questioned, but he seemed to relax as Erik kissed his pulse point. Erik wished that Charles had just a little bit more faith in him. Charles’s hand moved to Erik’s forehead, thumb brushing the hairline in a soft caress. “I suppose that Michael Xavier – a dream I wanted to turn into real life. A dream where you stayed here with me, and we ran the school together. You moved into this room, and we shared this bed. No scars. No spats with the CIA. You safe.”
“My life has been many things, but never safe. Never have I longed for it to be safe either.”
Charles let his hand drop. He sighed deeply in defeat. “I know.”
How easy it would be if they got to choose who they loved, Erik thought.
Charles huffed quietly. “Remarkably easy.”
He kissed Charles in the dark, and Charles pulled him closer. They entwined together, and Charles pressed him into the mattress. I’m yours, Erik thought, repeating it as the confession that it was. He needed to get it out of his system, for Charles to know so that someone out in the world would. All kinds of lies and half-truths were said of Magneto and Erik Lehnsherr, and Erik wanted there to be one piece of truth, for at least one person to know something irrevocably true: Even when I’m a million miles away, I’m yours. For better or worse.
* * *
Despite this he lay under the covers for quite some time, telling himself to get up instead of pressing closer to Charles. Charles’s skin amazed him, how soft it felt, how warm it was, how familiar it seemed under his fingertips. Because of his superior height it had always been easier for him to do the spooning, and that was how they had slept that evening: with the front of his body pressed to Charles’s back, his arm possessively looped around Charles. Charles’s hair smelled of shampoo and sweat, and Erik breathed it in evenly in the early hours of the day. Memorising it.
After he had forced himself to get up, he gathered his clothes in the dark and walked back to his room naked, carrying the garments. There he threw the clothes into his suitcase, pulling on clean ones. As he adjusted his collar, he halted. A soft ticking sounded in his ear – he looked at his wrist and saw that his watch was working. The time was right, too. It had fixed itself.
He touched the back of his neck and felt no pain. Whatever yearning had kept him weak had now been satisfied. They hadn’t killed the bond – they had forged it anew. A full soul bond would have them constantly projecting each other’s thoughts and feelings, and Erik knew that their new bond wasn’t like this. It still wasn’t complete, and they would never let it be. Of course the bond was a weakness, but only four people in the world knew about it, perhaps five if Jean counted.
And even if the bond hadn’t been there, it wouldn’t have made a difference: Charles was the one weakness he would always grant himself. The one exception.
He was surprised when he found Charles waiting for him on the third floor landing. Charles had pulled on dark blue pyjama bottoms and a white tank top, but his hair was tousled and his eyes were still sleepy. He had a cane with him, which he was using to prop himself up with.
The drug was wearing off.
He watched Erik coming quietly, and although Erik felt his anxiety, a sense of calm overpowered it. Erik tightened his grip of the suitcase.
Erik expected Charles to chastise him for having tried to sneak out before dawn, to leave Charles sleeping, but instead Charles said, “Come.” He began heading downstairs, one hand gripping onto the balustrade tightly.
Erik followed, resisting the urge to help, to steady Charles, but he knew Charles did not require assistance. When they were nearly down to the ground floor, Erik hastily shot out a hand and lifted the metal animals lying on the floor, bending them back into shape as they flew to re-form the railing. Charles paused. “Was that a crocodile?”
Charles suddenly smiled brightly, and Erik hated that smile a little. It told Erik far too much about himself.
When they got to the doors of the mansion, Charles said, “I’d like to see the sunrise. If you cared to accompany me.”
“Of course I would,” he said sincerely. He opened the door for Charles, who stepped outside, barefoot. Erik let his suitcase follow them, floating in the air behind them as a fraction of his mind bent itself around the metal handle.
It was no longer dark outside as a new day was dawning. The sun, however, had not yet risen. They crossed the gravel and went down the steps onto the grounds, Charles with some difficulty. The end of his cane clinked against the marble steps. They slowly walked in the direction of the satellite dish in the distance. The lawn was wet with morning dew, turning the grey of Erik’s trousers into a darker shade. Charles walked with increasing effort. “There is nothing quite like a summer morning in Westchester,” Charles said.
“How’s the grass?” He was looking at the green growth on which Charles stood.
“Quite wet,” Charles said, clearly happy about it. After a few more steps Charles faltered, and Erik couldn’t stop himself – he instantly moved in to wrap an arm around Charles’s waist, pulling an arm over his shoulders. Charles leaned into him, breathing hard. “What a shame,” he said. “I so hoped to walk further.” He was staring at his feet, voice pained.
“Let me take you back.”
“No.” Charles was determined. “No. I want to see the sun rising. I want – the grass. Under my feet.” Charles’s fingers were clutching onto the shoulder of Erik’s jacket.
Erik compromised – an ancient sycamore grew not too far away, and he led them to it. He carefully helped Charles to sit down, back against the trunk. He then sat next to his friend, his suitcase landing not too far away. They had a great view of the grounds from their spot beneath the tree. A soft pink was now colouring the skyline. Erik did not want the sun to rise.
“Where will you go?” Charles asked. They were rather persistently not looking at one another, but Erik felt him, his breaths, his warmth, the beat of his heart. His pulse matched the rhythm.
“Europe somewhere.” He could have been more specific, but the less Charles knew the safer he was.
“I miss England. I miss Oxford – nostalgia comes with age, I find.” Charles’s legs were laid out in front of him, and he stared down at his feet. Erik had a hand on Charles’s knee. “Can’t wiggle my toes anymore.” The defeat Charles felt was nearly unbearable.
“Do you know how strong you are?” Erik asked him in frustration. “I’ve seen what you can do, I –”
“I know,” Charles said. “I just think it would be lovely to be able to feel my legs, all the same.” The back of Charles’s head rested against the bark. He had a slight bite mark under his ear, and Erik couldn’t help but brush his fingers against it. A morning breeze was making the leaves above them rustle. Charles closed his eyes. “Ah, they’re coming. The millions of little voices. And your hand,” Charles said. Erik’s palm was still pressed to Charles’s knee. “I can’t feel your hand anymore.” Charles choked up on the last words and moved down to grab Erik’s hand, lifting it to his lips where he pressed a dry kiss against his still bloodied knuckles.
Erik knew that the voices were returning, and he tried to remain calm and serine, hoping Charles could link to his emotions and channel them. Charles flinched despite Erik’s efforts. “I just, uh – Need to build a wall around them and me. Compartmentalisation isn’t as easy as I recall it having been. It’s – Fuck.”
“Just shut them out. Listen to my voice, and shut the others out. Listen –”
Listen to my thoughts. Just me, Charles, just me and no one else. Concentrate on me, and. I’m sorry. I –
“Don’t be,” Charles said through gritted teeth. “I can stand pity from anyone in this world, but not from you.”
Not pity. Remorse. There is a difference. Charles was biting on his lower lip now, face scrunched up in pained concentration. Have I ever told you how stunning you look first thing in the morning?
Charles laughed disbelievingly as he couldn’t believe Erik’s timing. Erik could not hear the battle raging inside Charles’s head, but he could sense it. He didn’t let go of Charles’s hand.
Once you’re back in that wheelchair, I’ll take you flying sometime. Perhaps get Hank to put in a seatbelt first, to be on the safe side. What do you think the folk at North Salem will think of a flying wheelchair?
“That’s a –” terrible idea, Charles’s voice finished. Charles opened his eyes slowly, blinking at the light. The sun had risen. Birds sang in the trees. I’m okay, Charles said before he could ask. I’m keeping them out. I’m okay.
“Do you want me to help you back to the house?”
Charles shook his head. “I think I’ll watch the dawn a while longer. I’ll call Hank when I’m ready.” Erik nodded and hummed, and to his surprise Charles laughed. “Jealous? Really? My goodness, Erik.”
Irritated, Erik stood up, letting go of Charles’s hand. “Stay out of my –”
“Perhaps if you stopped flashing your emotions like neon signs.” But Charles was smiling just a bit wickedly, and Erik realised that his jealousy had pleased Charles. God, I’m yours, he thought once again, with newfound realisation. He didn’t know if Charles caught the thought – Charles didn’t say anything. His smile faded, however, and turned into sadness.
When he spoke, he sounded incredibly young. Neither of them could afford to be young anymore. “Must you leave?”
“Yes,” he said joylessly. His suitcase flew into his grip. Charles gave a small nod.
They looked at each other for a moment, Charles’s infinitely blue eyes meeting his with such raw honesty that Erik was surprised he didn’t succumb and change his mind. Whoever Charles wanted him to be, whoever Erik himself wished that he was – he wasn’t that man yet. He didn’t know if he ever could be. And Charles wasn’t strong enough yet for the battles ahead either, but one day he would have to be.
He turned around and began walking away, a million different thoughts wanting to spill from his lips. In the end he settled for just one, stopping as he looked back to Charles. “Perhaps one from the 1860s would have done it.”
Charles frowned. “Pardon?”
“For our French country house. Covered in roses.” He smiled at the thought of it. “If I can run a vineyard, I am confident that I could master leisurely gardening.”
Charles smiled, then – in relief, it looked like. Erik returned the smile, and he saw it in his mind, that other life, a far easier one that would have made them both so happy if only they had been other people. He knew that Charles could see it in his mind’s eye, too. Charles nodded once more, quickly wiping his cheeks.
It was going to be a stunning day, Erik reflected, as he walked away.
* * *
Erik was in the local bar with Jason and Mortimer, discussing their most recent plans. The owner there had liked Erik the second Erik had switched to flawless German with him, with a Dusseldorf accent that amused the owner greatly, but the man remained suspicious of his companions.
Jason was in the middle of an update on their plan to blow up a French lab that was currently trying to create a mutant screening test for new-born babies when Erik lost concentration. His head snapped towards the window, showing only the building across the street. It was getting late in the day, and locals were heading home to their families. Erik had to join them.
“Boss?” Mortimer asked carefully.
Erik snapped out of it. “Apologies.” Jason looked offended Erik was not paying attention. “Good news, Jason, we will – definitely action that soon. But, uh. For now let us take the weekend off. Meet on Monday.”
Toad and Jason exchanged glances, but Erik was already up on his feet, wrapping his winter coat around himself. “Take the weekend off..?” Toad repeated. Erik knew that they didn’t exactly do such things.
He had a place on the outskirts of the village, on a road winding uphill from where he had a view into the valley below. The steeple of the church broke the village skyline behind him as he made his way back to his house. On all sides the mountains arose, full of various metals that Erik relished sensing. The place made him stronger than he ever thought he could be, filling him with a sense of tranquillity.
This time, however, he wasn’t exactly tranquil. He eyed the snow on the way up for tell-tale signs, but it was trampled beyond his knowledge of footprints or the lack thereof. It didn’t matter, he reasoned – he knew what he knew.
The door of his house faced uphill, and he found it unlocked. The house had two floors: the ground floor came with a low, beamed ceiling, and his bedroom was upstairs where the ceiling was angled sharply in an inverted V. A large window faced his bed there, where the morning sun woke him up most days. Usually the house did not smell of a mix of red wine and spices, however, and Erik walked into the kitchen calmly, feeling quite content.
“About time,” Charles said, not looking at him. He was in his wheelchair, setting the table for two. He was putting the cutlery down. “The food’s nearly done.”
“I stopped on the way for some Merlot,” he said in his defence, placing the wine bottle wrapped in brown paper onto the counter. “It’s not every day my home is broken into. Living the life of a vigilante, Charles?”
Charles turned his chair to face him, and he looked well, and he looked at peace. Erik felt elevated from that alone. “I’ll trust you to know about vigilantes. Busy, I take it?” Charles’s tone was challenging yet playful.
“Blackmailing a few politicians here and there, got some fireworks planned – Ah, don’t look at me like that. I don’t relish civilian deaths, you know.”
“Well mark me surprised,” Charles muttered with obvious distain. They regarded one another for a moment, but Erik knew they could fight all that they wanted and still neither of them would leave.
If Erik could say something in favour of soul bonds, he would say that being able to locate your half, if you chose to, was definitely one of them. There was a PO Box in North Salem only two people in the world knew of, and perhaps once a month Erik found himself writing a letter to that address. Every now and then he dropped to Zürich, to see if there was any poste restante to Michael Xavier. Most of the time there was, and the letters spilled from between the book on Erik’s nightstand upstairs.
If he could say another thing, it was knowing that he was never truly alone. He was always part of something bigger, something better. He carried it like a secret. And Charles Xavier being a moralising asshole came with the territory of loving him, and Erik had started to accept that. Perhaps he even needed it, every so often, and as far as he was concerned Charles certainly needed his sound advice on tougher methods.
Still, Charles being here was better than merely feeling their connection. His visit was unannounced, yet somehow not unexpected.
Erik walked over to Charles, leaned down, and kissed him softly. Charles’s hand found its way to the back of his head, where it rested, keeping Erik locked in the warm, welcoming kiss, for the length of their actual greetings: You’ve come a long way.
There was a conference in Paris, so I thought I’d drop by.
That’s hundreds of miles away, darling.
Of course he wasn’t. He pulled back and, acting as if they had not even kissed, he said, “Smells excellent.” There was a large pot on the hob – coq au vin if he wasn’t much mistaken.
“Another half an hour should do it.” Charles was now focusing on folding the napkins in his lap. “I thought perhaps we could be Swiss for a weekend.”
Erik understood instantly – no talk of war, of death, of politics. Well, they would definitely end up talking politics, but they could try at least to keep it to a minimum. For the rest of it, there would be just them. Even for a little while. Come Monday, Charles would be gone as suddenly as he had arrived.
“A very important nationality, the Swiss,” Erik agreed, and Charles smiled ever so slightly. “Would you like to see the view?”
Charles did. Erik opened the bottle of wine he’d bought, pouring them both a drink. He had a balcony facing downhill, and he sat down on a wooden chair that faced the sunset, as Charles came to a stop beside him. The sun was looming behind the highest peaks, light rolling down the blackening cliffs into the valley and the village below, but thankfully some of the sun’s warmth lingered in the crisp air. Charles tried the wine and said, “Oh, that’s excellent.”
“It’s from the region. I buy it from this retired ski instructor in the village – he’s a most peculiar man.”
“How so?” Charles asked, already amused as he got comfy with the wine, the view and the conversation, looking like he belonged right there, or at least had visited multiple times in the past. As far as Erik was concerned, he had.
Erik didn’t know if a future would ever present itself where they would finally see eye to eye. They wouldn’t know until they got there, so in the meanwhile they had to compromise. They had to steal a bit of time.
“Well,” Erik said, his hand instinctively reaching out to Charles’s, who took it with ease. “It’s the longest story – you’ll love this.”
And so he began.