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Synthesis (Scenes from an AU)

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1.

It's one of the first things any newcomer to the mansion--after the accreditation paperwork is finally approved, any new student at the school--realizes for themselves, or has explained to them by their older, vastly wiser peers after a few days: Professor X and Magneto are together.

They're not usually demonstrative (though rumors circulate among the students about rounding corners and seeing them kissing, or that time that Magneto wore a miniskirt to breakfast), but they don't have to be. Everyone knows that they share the master suite in the main building of the mansion, and the students who've gone through Magneto's more advanced "phys ed" classes, or been so questionably fortunate as to learn to notice such things for themselves, can see that each is the sun around which the other orbits: when one of them enters a room that the other is in, it takes less than ten seconds for both to reorient themselves so that they've got the entire space covered between them. Or at least, Magneto does that; Professor X just seems to relax, and sit straighter, if that were possible. They orbit around each other, and all of what Mystique calls "liberated mutantkind" orbits around the two of them.

Thinking that there's no problem with the Professor and Magneto being together, and saying so, quickly becomes a kind of litmus test: at the school, among mutants, "normal," human social rules don't apply. The Professor would hate that line of thinking, of course, but few of the new pupils--who seem, as Erik says to Charles many times, to get younger and softer as the years pass--have the temerity to say so right off the bat, particularly not to their older classmates, who are almost always the first people like them that they've ever known. Those who keep that thought to themselves, or who do have problems with two men being, for all intents and purposes, married, generally decide that there are bigger things to worry about by graduation.

 

 

2.

It's Emma who institutes the semi-weekly poker games that later become an inviolable tradition, she and Charles and Erik sitting around the purpose-built table in one of the mansion's multiple gaming rooms, slinging chips and playing cards across the green felt. The wood paneling and pool table and full bar that complete the room make Erik feel as though he's in some sort of absurd resort, except all the guests are mutants like him, and none of them are ever going to check out.

Erik's decent at poker, though it's not his game, and Charles is abysmal, but Emma is ridiculously good. From the way she plays, it's obvious she isn't using her telepathy; she's just that good at reading people, and keeping all the cards and possibilities straight in her head.

Which of course is why she'd flatly refused Charles' half-joking offer to teach her chess, and why they can both tell quite easily when Charles cheats off of Erik.

To wit, Charles loses the first game dismally but wins the second handily, looking around the table with a frankly smug look on his face. "Better luck next time, hmm? Shall we play another round?"

Erik takes another sip of his martini and glances at Emma. He'd quickly learned to trust her as much as he can ever trust anyone, and the glance she slides him is eloquent. "Sure," she says, collecting the cards and reshuffling them expertly, "why not?"

The third game, Erik feeds Charles all the wrong card combinations, partly by literally not glancing at his cards long enough to comprehend them. He bets mostly at random, but in the end he still wins, because it turns out that Emma has dealt him a royal flush.

If they were playing for money, Charles would be cleaned out right now. He looks between the two of them, that uncomprehending frown that Erik hates pulling the corners of his mouth down. "You cheated," he says, more nonplussed than angry.

"Turnabout is fair play, Charles," Emma says, amused.

"Good tactics, really," Erik says thoughtfully. "If the rules of the game aren't working for you, change the rules."

"So you're saying--" Charles breaks off, and now he's unquestionably tipped from confusion into anger. "Just because--"

"Charles," Erik says, leaning forward, "you have got to learn to stay out of people's heads when the occasion does not call for it."

"Besides," Emma adds, "the whole idea of a game is not to know the outcome in advance. That's what makes it a game. And fun," she adds pointedly.

"You would know, wouldn't you, Miss Frost?" Charles asks after a very short, very loaded silence. Erik finishes his martini, uses his power to refill his glass from the cocktail shaker without moving a finger. James Bond does have a point about shaken versus stirred.

Emma might as well be diamond for all the visible emotion Charles has roused in her. "Whatever do you mean, Dr. Xavier?" she asks, exquisitely polite.

"I mean that you spent quite a lot of time in the Hellfire Club," Charles says, in the tone of someone playing a trump card. "Playing some very questionable games."

They're not drawing their cards from the same deck, though, because Emma just rolls her eyes. "Not all of us had every advantage, Xavier," she says, somewhere between amused and contemptuous, "and you're a fool to judge anyone for what they've done, to survive or to thrive." Shaw was an imbecile as well as an evil bastard, Erik thinks again; using a woman like this as a glorified concubine was stupid strategy as well as a criminal waste of her talents.

Charles has flushed a dull pink, which normally Erik finds wickedly endearing, but at the moment only highlights how much of a disadvantage he's at, probably without even realizing the full extent of it. It would be a summit of hypocrisy beyond even Charles' formidable mountaineering skills to accuse her of sleeping with the enemy, given what Erik's done, but Erik doesn't need telepathy to know that that's where his mind is going. "The exigencies of survival," he says after a moment, voice rising, "are not a justification to do whatever one pleases."

"No," Emma agrees coldly, and Charles blinks, wrongfooted again, "but you know what your other problem is, Xavier? You're damn lazy. You rely on invading other people's privacy to know what's going on around you, and you're content to slide by on your ability to make people change their minds."

Charles is staring at her, furious. The fact that Erik has manifestly chosen to accept what she's done is also an obstacle to him arguing effectively. "I don't know who you think you are, Frost--" he starts, but she interrupts him, standing smoothly, her hands on the green felt of the table, looking down at them both.

"Put your money where your fucking mouth is, Xavier," Emma tells him; "try to convince people with your logic instead of your power. Show them they don't have anything to fear from a man who could do anything he wants to them, just with the power of his mind. Be the better man, I dare you." She repeats Charles' habitual phrase back to him with a contemptuous twist of her lips, and while Charles is still attempting to put words together through his fury, she flicks Erik a glance--Erik salutes her with his glass--and turns and walks out, shutting the door behind her.

Erik takes another sip of his martini; he can feel, at the edges of his mind, the pressure that is two telepaths struggling against each other receding dramatically. The room is suddenly much more capacious.

Charles is breathing unevenly and deeply, trying to master his anger. "You agree with her," he says, shooting a glance at Erik. It's not quite a question, but Erik ignores that.

"I think you need to challenge yourself," he says, meeting his eyes without flinching. He's already trusted Charles this far, and stopping now would be pointless. "And I think you know most of this already." Charles is anything but stupid, after all; part of the problem is that, so often, his utter confidence in his being right is entirely justified.

Erik takes his glass in one hand and stands up, the half-full cocktail shaker hovering behind him. "I'm going to take a walk," he tells Charles, because his restless midnight perambulations are well-known to everyone, who mostly pretend that Erik has insomnia. The truth, as always, is more complicated.

"Very well," Charles says tightly. "Goodnight, then."

"Goodnight," Erik says, leaving without making any other gesture. Charles knows him, after all; even when he's not inside Erik's mind, he's spent a lot of time there, and he knows what Erik doesn't say.

Charles is asleep in their bed an hour later when Erik steps into the room, shutting the door soundlessly, and slides in beside him. Charles still sleeps the sleep of someone who's never had to worry about being murdered in the middle of the night; he stirs slightly when Erik fits against him, but doesn't wake. In the morning, as always, when Erik wakes up Charles has an arm across him, still subconsciously worried that Erik will leave again.

They continue the poker games without any further discussion, Charles losing horribly for several weeks until he finally grasps the concept of the game--It's just maths, Erik! Maths and people, Charles--and begins to improve to, at best, respectable levels: he's brilliant at the card combinations and probabilities, but bluffing people, and knowing when to call their bluffs, is another, uneven story. It keeps the games interesting, anyway.

Beast joins the games around that time, showing up and taking a seat at the table without fanfare or announcement. "Sorry I tried to strangle you," he tells Erik conversationally, during a lull in the play. "In the jet. That day."

Erik blinks. That was more than two years ago, and he's honestly hardly thought about it since. "Don't mention it," he tells Beast, because he doesn't believe in forgiveness. "Although I'd appreciate you not doing it again."

Beast smiles, exaggerating the expression to communicate it better around his fangs. "I'll try not to," he says, and proceeds to call Emma's bluff, winning the round neatly.

 

 

3.

The Mossad knows where Erik is, of course, and Erik knows that they know, and he's fairly certain that they know that he knows that they know. At any rate, they hadn't been particularly subtle about their surveillance at the end of 1962, after Erik returned to the mansion with Emma in tow. As the years pass and Erik occasionally sees them while he's in town buying liquor or cigarettes or the newspaper, they don't seem to start trying to be subtle. He doesn't give them a second glance after the first time; he quickly deduces that the "keeping tabs on Erik Lehnsherr" assignment is one of the Mossad's ways of giving its agents fairly benign field experience or a much-needed recovery period. The Israeli government has no official mutant policy, and Erik has no especial quarrel with his old comrades-in-arms; they let each other be.

It's only in the autumn of 1972 that their unspoken contract is broken, and it's the Mossad who make the first move, casually approaching him across the town square--hands in full view, entirely out in the open--and asking if he'd like to have a cup of coffee. The agents are unremarkable beyond the fact that they're playing at being unremarkable, which is a skill Erik can recognize people using, being a master at it himself. They do both seem somewhat grim, which only makes sense in light of recent events, and it's not just the principle of knowing what your enemy is up to that prompts Erik to follow them into the cafe on the other side of the square.

All three of them order coffee, black; Erik is the only one who drinks any of it. He doesn't take off his now-battered leather jacket in the cafe, and the agents don't remove their own coats. They're both carrying guns, which says that they either are totally unprepared--not the Mossad he knew--or that they have read his file and done a little deduction and are still carrying metal weaponry as an unspoken, but meaningful, gesture of trust. Which tells Erik another handful of things, if they're willing to even pretend to trust him that much. They probably don't know that Erik's refined his abilities to the point where he can manipulate the iron in a normal human being's body or bloodstream to cause death by brain aneurysm in a matter of seconds, but Charles is always telling him that it's the thought that counts.

Erik debates putting on the helmet before sitting down with them, because he's still well within Charles' range and there are a lot of things that Charles is better off not knowing, even though Charles can tell when Erik drops off his mental map. For his part, Erik was always good at compartmentalization, and is about as good at mental shielding and defense as anyone who isn't a telepath can be--a decade of having sex with a telepath has taught him a lot, particularly in that department.

So by now he doesn't need the helmet to keep Charles out of a few crucial areas, and if this turns out to be something that needs to go in one of them, that's doable. Charles still doesn't know just how Erik proved to himself that he could cause an aneurysm in a human brain, after all, and if he suspects that Erik's occasional "business trips" are for a very particular kind of business, he's never said anything yet. They've both learned the value of agreeing to disagree.

And as much as there is to be said for makeup sex, the argument that using the helmet entails is a waste of both their time when they could be fucking in the first place, and Erik has never been one to waste time. So he listens to the Mossad agents try to recruit him all over again in the stupid cafe while their coffee goes cold without his helmet on, keeping the upper surface of his thoughts as blank as he can. It's not a bad deal: his own team, with carte blanche to hunt down the Mossad's enemies and the budget to match; if Erik were human, and half what he appeared to be, he might even take it. Off course as far as they're concerned the Mossad's enemies are his enemies too, though the agents go so far as to intimate that no one in Jerusalem would look askance if a few people not strictly on that very long list turned up dead at Erik's own initiative.

They're twenty years too late, but Erik's not fool enough to tell them that right out. In the end, he walks away from the cafe not having been recruited, but having promised that, if the Mossad pass any leads they may acquire on people in Europe or the Americas who really ought to be dead, he'll see what he can do, on a very deniable basis.

There's a chill in the air that hearkens the advent of winter, and Erik turns up the collar of his jacket on his way back to his bike, walking through the fallen leaves without any of them crunching under his feet. He checks the motorcycle for tampering and explosives automatically before starting the engine without touching the ignition, making sure that the fabric of his bell-bottom trousers doesn't catch on the chassis. He guns the engine and zooms out of town, taking the long way back to the mansion to make sure that he isn't being followed. It's been almost ten years since Erik gave up Nazi-hunting professionally for…whatever it is that he and Charles are doing, but that doesn't change the fact that some humans deserve to die, and Erik has no problem with killing them in his spare time; someone should.

 

 

4.

It's Erik who finds the child they'll later all call Nightcrawler, in West Germany in 1974. Erik loathes both Germanies with a passion, but between a certain ex-Nazi industrialist turned mutant-hatemonger and Charles' vague Cerebro-enhanced visions of a blue child in a circus freak show, he has no choice but to go.

Munich makes Erik feel like he's got a target on his back as well as on his face. The industrialist is dead of a massive brain aneurysm within his first four hours in the city, leaving Erik the rest of the day to rescue the kid. He appropriates one of the industrialist's many cars--it'll be a shame to leave it behind at the airstrip--and makes his way to the circus, which, for added irony, is located quite near Olympic Park. Erik can actually see the stadium through the trees as he makes his way across the empty parking lot towards the main tent.

He won't deny that all these facts are contributing to his foul mood, but on the other hand, it's not like there's anyone here he needs to charm.

There's an easy way and an elaborate way to do what he needs to do; Erik chooses the easy way. The circus manager has his feet up in his office trailer when Erik opens the door and steps inside. He must look terrifying, because the man puts his feet on the floor with a bang and sits up straight, clearly panicking. "Who are you?" he asks in German, trying to put up a brave front.

Erik cocks his head to the side, feeling a very small smile playing about his lips. "You have a blue child in your circus," he says in the same language. "He's leaving with me."

"You can't just--"

Erik holds up a hand, and every single metal item in the office begins to vibrate gently, the light fixtures swaying as in a high breeze. It's the sound of inevitability. "I can and I will," he says. "Where is he?"

The blood has drained out of the man's face unevenly, leaving him looking blotchy and frightened. "In the smaller tent," he whispers. "But if you think--"

"One more word and I'll kill you," Erik says, still smiling, and the man closes his teeth with a snap.

Erik makes his way to the smaller tent, taking the time to try to calm himself down somewhat, breathing deeply. He wishes Charles were here, not that Charles is really any better at this, though he is relatively good at being unthreatening. But Erik has improved in the years that he's had to make this speech solo, and he's reasonably confident that he can convince a child.

Everything he's been planning to say, however, slides right out of his mind when he steps inside the tent and sees the boy sitting on the cot a few meters away, bent over something in his lap. His skin is as blue as Charles said, and his hands have only two fingers next to the thumbs, and that's clearly a tail coiled partly around his body on the cot, and when he looks up at Erik his eyes are a very familiar goldenrod. For a moment, it's like staring at Mystique.

Raven, Erik thinks painfully, and takes an involuntary step forward before he can stop himself, but of course this isn't Mystique; it has to be her son, and with that tail, his father can only be Azazel.

Where the hell are they?

Not here, evidently, and the boy is regarding Erik curiously. "Hello," he says in very polite, very clear German, with only a faint Bavarian accent, and Erik takes his wits in hand enough to say "Hello" back in the same language.

"May I sit down?" he asks, walking a few steps closer, and the boy shrugs.

"All right," he says, and Erik sits down on the cot across from him. He's holding a model airplane, and something about the way he grips the metal toy tells Erik that his fingers are prehensile.

"I'm Erik," he says after a moment; "what's your name?"

"Kurt," the boy replies. Erik doesn't seem to hold much interest for him; he's far more engrossed in the plane.

"Kurt," Erik repeats, and forces himself not to ask, Kurt, do you know where your mother is? or something else completely wrong and confusing. Instead he says, "Kurt, I'm here today to talk to you. You have--you can do things, Kurt, can't you, that other people can't?" Somehow, he's reasonably certain that there aren't many children around the circus.

Kurt shrugs. "I suppose," he says, and between one blink and the next he's sitting next to Erik on the cot, with only a breath of displaced air and Erik's memory telling him what's just happened. "See?" he says, letting the plane hang from his fingers; it doesn't fall.

Erik's mouth goes dry. A teleporter like Azazel, a natural teleporter. What he couldn't do with a teleporter in the field--

But Kurt is only a boy, and he'll never be able to use him in the field if he screws this conversation up now. Focus, Magneto. "I do see," he says, and holds his hand out for the plane. "May I?" he asks, and Kurt nods.

"Sure," he says, and Erik keeps his hand steady so the boy can put the plane into it. It sits there inert for a second, and then rises vertically into the air before soaring in lazy loops around the canvas-sided room.

Kurt lets out a wordless shout. "How are you--are you doing that?"

"Yes," Erik answers, taking his eyes off the plane to glance at him. He's unable to keep from smiling at the open-faced wonder in Kurt's expression. It's been a long time since anyone's reacted to his abilities with unsullied amazement. It's been a long time since he's used his abilities for anything this…innocent.

Kurt's eyes are shining when the plane at last drops smoothly into his outstretched hands, and he turns back towards Erik with a look of pure hope on his face. "Kurt, you're not alone," Erik tells him, urgently. "There are other people like you, like me. I work at a school for people like us, Kurt, and I've come to ask if you want to come live there."

"Me?" Kurt says. "But I--" He looks down at the plane. "I'm a freak."

"No you're not!" Erik says instantly, reaching out and putting his hands on the boy's shoulders. Kurt's a small boy, though he's about eight or nine, and Erik has rarely felt that his hands were so big, but he squeezes gently anyway. "Kurt, listen to me," he says, waiting until he's looking into the boy's yellow eyes. "Kurt, you're not a freak, you're gifted, you're special. You can do things that no one else can, and at my school you won't be alone. No one's alone--or a freak--among their family, Kurt, I promise you."

The last is stretching the truth, but Erik doesn't really care. Whatever's happened to Mystique and Azazel, there's no way he'll leave their son to the indifference, or outright hatred, of a bunch of humans, and Germans at that, circus people or not.

"I don't have a family," Kurt says at last, looking down, sounding slightly embarrassed.

"Yes you do," Erik tells him, doing his best to project Charles' confidence and warmth. "You do have a family, Kurt, and I came here to bring you to them as soon as we knew you were here." He even has an uncle, come to think of it, but that's a topic best broached later, after Charles has had time to get used to the idea.

There's another short silence as Kurt studies him critically, and Erik keeps his expression as open as possible, not looking away from the boy's scrutiny. "If I don't like it," Kurt asks at last, "the school, can I come back here to the circus?"

"Of course," Erik says firmly, lying through his teeth. But then, he's certain that Kurt will like the school much, much better than the circus. And if anyone at the school says so much as a word about the boy's looks, Erik will make them run laps until they can't see straight, much less put one foot in front of the other.

"All right," Kurt says, and Erik takes his hands off the boy's shoulders, not having to fake the smile that feels like it's going to crack his face in half. They walk out of the tent hand in hand, the metal plane wrapped in the crook of Kurt's tail like a flag behind him.

 

 

5.

Jean Grey is twelve when she comes to the mansion. She was scheduled to start the sixth grade before she met Magneto and Professor X, who'd introduced themselves to her parents as Professors Lehnsherr and Xavier, and who hadn't had to say much before the Greys had agreed that really, Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters was the best place for their daughter. She goes home for Christmas her first year, and then never again after that, but all of that is still in her future when she steps into the gymnasium and faces Magneto for the first time.

She's already had an "entrance interview" with the Professor, who couldn't quite hide his happiness to meet another telepath while he explored her mind, just as Jean knew she hadn't hidden her dreams of fire from him. Magneto, though, is another story; she's been here two days and she's already heard a dozen rumors about him: that he hunted Nazis, that he was an assassin for the Mossad, that he held off hundreds of missiles and the end of the world single-handed, that he made it out of Hitler's camps alive on the strength of his untrained abilities, that he's the only person who's gotten the better of Emma Frost, that he can kill just as easily with his bare hands as he can with his power over metal. Jean meets his eyes for the first time, wondering idly how much of what she's heard is true, and then her control slips and she's inside his mind and she doesn't wonder, she knows.

It only lasts a few seconds at most; the barrage of images, of memories, is quickly wrested from Jean's volition and suddenly she's seeing horrors she can't even put into words, a parade of atrocities in her mental vision that stops only when some force from outside her body acts on it from within and the world spins and she's flung--falls, trips over her own feet--to the floor. On her hands and knees, hair hanging down in front of her face, Jean retches, but she doesn't vomit, and after a minute or two her head clears and she takes several deep breaths and turns herself around so that she's looking up at Magneto, the wax of the floor hurting her palms. She doesn't get up.

His blue eyes are as cold as any she's ever seen, and Jean feels a stab of terror that she knows is scrawled all over her face: what if they kick her out?

Whatever he thinks about what he forced her to see, she can't tell and doesn't want to know, doesn't want to imagine being the person who's become able to stand here calmly despite surviving all that. She's already seen him laugh with the Professor at something inconsequential, without a care in the world, because the Professor is careful to show every student he interviews a clear memory of Magneto being not completely terrifying, but now the very disjuncture between that memory and what she's just seen only makes the laughter more frightening.

He's not laughing now, and he's completely terrifying, but after a long stretch of time, at least a minute, Magneto smiles at her, tipping his head very slightly. The expression is small and unsparing. "There's only one person I allow to rummage around in my head, my dear," he tells her, "and since you're not him, I'll thank you never to do that again."

"I didn't mean--it was an acc--how did you do that?" Jean tries to say I'm sorry, but it gets tripped up in the three other things she tries to say at once, and only the last is really intelligible to someone who relies on their ears to hear what other people are saying.

He raises one eyebrow very slightly. "How did I know you were in my mind? Kick you out? Knock you over?"

"Yes," Jean says, "all of it," with the occasional ferocity that frightens even her. She doesn't know it and can't see it, but her eyes have just flared crimson.

Magneto regards her, openly measuring, before saying calmly, "I've been sleeping with your Professor for longer than you've been alive; I'm about as sensitive to psionic abilities as anyone can be who doesn't have them himself. And you don't have Charles' control, or his delicacy."

Jean blushes, but she doesn't look down; she knows that this is a test. "And the--you made me fall."

"There's iron in your blood," he tells her; "I can manipulate it, and through that, your body."

Jean sucks in a breath. That kind of power--that kind of control. She wants it, wants both of them, so badly she can taste it, like blood or fire in her mouth.

"What's your name?" Magneto asks, and then, finally, he reaches out a hand to help her up.

Jean takes it and allows him to pull her to her feet; it doesn't seem to cost him any effort at all. "Jean," she answers, a trifle nonplussed; he was there with the Professor at her house, after all. It won't be long before she stops thinking of it as 'her house.'

"Not what your parents named you," Magneto says patiently, "what you call yourself."

Jean opens her mouth again, but the word Phoenix that springs to mind unbidden doesn't get past her teeth, because she shuts them on it. "Jean," she says again, looking down, "Jean Grey."

She knows she's disappointed him; she'd know even if she weren't a telepath.

 

 

6.

It's no secret that Magneto and the Professor disagree, either. They disagree so fundamentally that only love could keep them together, except for the part where, as the years pass, Charles finds himself agreeing more and more with Erik's point of view. He keeps that mostly to himself, however, because someone has to counterbalance Erik's anger, Erik's absolute conviction that the ends justify the means, that it's only a matter of time before the governments of the world come back to finish what they couldn't in 1962--though as the years pass and things don't ever get quite that bad again, Erik starts to wonder whether Charles might not have a very small point in his views after all. But he's familiar with doubt, and he doesn't let it distract him.

But the students see it all; they couldn't help but see it, given that the Professor and Magneto don't even call their students by the same names. The Professor is always calling people by their given names, at least until his students work up the courage to correct him. Magneto always asks, the first time you're sitting in his classroom studying history or French or are out on the playing field or in the gymnasium trying to tell yourself that it's well known that Magneto promised the Professor that he wouldn't let anyone die in phys ed, what you call yourself.

 

 

7.

Erik and Charles play chess a lot; over the years they've refined their games against each other to the point where their matches tend either to finish in less than an hour or to drag on for days. Their game on the evening of the day on which Jean Grey rifled through Erik's memories like a browsing shopper in a supermarket is shaping up to be one of the former, with Erik getting slaughtered, except that Charles is off his game too; after an hour they're at an impasse, both of them stymied.

The pieces are metal; Erik doesn't have to worry about accidentally touching a piece and being committed to using it, and Charles doesn't waste much movement anymore. But he does throw up his hands after studying the board yet again, shaking his head as he reaches for his glass of scotch. "We're both distracted," he tells Erik, swirling the liquor around the tumbler before taking a drink. "You'd have lost fifteen minutes ago, normally."

Erik looks up at him across the chessboard. They're of a height in this arrangement, and the genuine fond amusement in Charles' blue eyes is mixed with worry that, for once, isn't directed at him. "The question is," he says, smiling slightly, "whether we're distracted by the same thing."

"I think we are," Charles says, and then smiles a little himself when he catches the image Erik projects. "Well, the same two things, really." The flush that follows is still stupidly endearing, and Erik makes sure to form that thought clearly too.

"Jean Grey," Erik supplies, taking a sip of his own scotch.

Yes, Charles says, and his voice in Erik's head is full of the worry that he isn't showing openly.

She raided my head today, Erik says, and then leans forward, gesturing towards his temple in what is, by now, a familiar invitation. Charles doesn't need the hand gestures anymore--he uses them with the students mostly for show, letting them think (falsely) that he's only reading their minds when he's got two fingers to his forehead--and letting Charles see for himself is easier than forming it into words. Erik is already tired of the whole thing.

After a minute Charles blinks, clearly surprised. "Was that really necessary?" he asks aloud, but there's no rebuke in the low-level background wash of emotions flowing between them, just love and a bit of exasperation.

Erik shrugs mentally, taking another, larger drink of his liquor. Charles, you must know this, but that girl has more raw power than any two mutants I can name put together, even you and I.

I know, Charles replies, and even without his thoughts and emotions surrounding him Erik would be able to see his unhappiness in his expression. I have more control, obviously, and I think in pure telepathy that I may outclass her, but when you consider her telekinesis, and--

And whatever else it is that's in her, Erik supplies, adding his memory of Jean's eyes blazing like flames to Charles' half-solid impressions of what he'd seen in her mind. It's enough for Erik to catch one word distinctly--Phoenix--but nothing else.

Charles takes a deep breath, setting his glass back down on the side table. "Erik, she asked me--she asked me to suppress her telepathic powers in her entrance interview."

"She what?" Erik exclaims. "I hope you told her--"

"I told her I'd consider it, based on how things go, her first few days here," Charles says firmly. "I'm sure this incident with you is only going to strengthen her conviction that I should do it." There's no question that he can; there's not much Charles can't do at this point.

"Where else can she be open about her powers, if not here?" Erik asks, gesturing widely with his glass, taking in, by extension, the entire mansion and the grounds beyond it: the campus of their school, the home they've built, the odd family they've patched together from a disparate collection of broken people, people just like them. "Charles, encouraging her to be afraid of her powers, or to conceal them, isn't going to help anyone in the long run."

Charles sighs. "I know, Erik," he says. "But she's only twelve." Erik feels his own expression darkening, and Charles wincing is entirely secondary to the surge of emotion and memory that roils them both. He doesn't have to say anything so petty as When I was eleven, my mother was executed in front of me in a concentration camp; Charles already knows it, and he knows that Charles knows it, and they both know that Erik's experiences are not precisely typical, even for mutants.

Erik drains his glass and sets it on the side table with more force than is required. Just promise me that you won't suppress it entirely, he says, because he already knows what Charles is going to decide, even if Charles can't quite bring himself to admit it yet. And that you won't give her an inch in training that telekinesis. Because I won't, he adds, entirely unnecessarily.

I promise, Charles says, which is good enough for Erik, who's had quite enough of Jean Grey preoccupying his mind.

Good, Erik thinks, but Charles has already caught the shift in his thoughts and is leaning back a little in his chair, smiling.

Gray is starting to dust Erik's hair, and Charles' was thinning terribly before he finally made good on his threat to shave what was left off, but it isn't time that has dealt them their wounds, and their scars haven't stopped them yet. "You can win tomorrow," Charles tells him, smiling at him, "take me to bed," and Erik might as well be in one of those stupid hotel lounges from their recruiting tour in 1962 for all that there's any difference in the way he feels right now, except that a dozen years later he can admit to himself how stupidly, desperately he loves Charles, and a dozen years later he doesn't deny himself the unspeakable pleasure of maneuvering himself around the board and kissing Charles full on the mouth.

There was a time when Erik thought he'd never stay; there was a time he thought he'd never come back; there was a time he went to bed with Charles every night convinced that he would leave the next morning. But all of that has long since faded away; he's made his choice, and despite the very high probability that Charles manipulated him into it to some extent, at least after he did return, he's willing to own it. This is just about the farthest thing possible from the life he imagined for himself at any point before that day on the beach, because he'd known, in going out for revenge, that he wouldn't have a life to live afterward, and he'd accepted it. It's very darkly ironic that it was his response to--his disagreement with--Charles' naïve idealism that brought him here, back out the other side of the personal to the general.

Charles has his head tipped back as Erik alternates kisses and bites down the line of his neck, and it's a testament to what Erik's making them both feel--because he can feel Charles' thoughts and arousal as clearly as he can feel his own, asking Charles not to entwine them mentally during sex is like asking a fish not to breathe in water--that Charles doesn't move or open his eyes, just thinks distinctly, Erik. Bed. Now.

It's as much desperate as it is commanding, because neither of them really want to have this argument again just now and they both know it, and Erik sucks another kiss into the hollow of Charles' collarbone, making his counterpoint, before he stands up to take Charles' admittedly excellent suggestion.

 

 

8.

Mystique shows up at the mansion unannounced a few years after Erik pulls Nightcrawler out of Munich. In the meantime Kurt has grown into a gangly, awkward, sweet-natured preteen, whose depths of compassion leave Erik dumbfounded whenever he stops to think about it. He and Charles get on like a house on fire, to the point that Erik suspects that Kurt will eventually convert to Charles' amorphous Anglicanism one day. They already spend an inordinate amount of time discussing how Christian theology should and must change in relation to Homo sapiens superior, as Charles has christened those born with the X-gene, which he's managed to isolate. He's becoming the world's leading expert in mutation, partly because he has resources that his fellow scientists lack: namely, a bottomless research budget and a large pool of willing test subjects. Even Erik gave him a blood sample, not without misgivings.

Her brother and son are in the library arguing over Tillich in a good-natured way when Mystique walks through the mansion's front door, trailed by a distinctly nervous and distinctly tense Havok and Beast, respectively. It's Beast who pokes his head into Erik's office, saying, "Magneto, we have a guest," leaving Erik to cap his pen and follow him down to the foyer.

Mystique is wearing a trenchcoat and nothing else--it is November--and her golden eyes light up in genuine pleasure when she sees Erik. "Hey, you," she says when he gets to the foot of the stairs, pulling him into an unaffected hug. "Long time, no see."

Erik wonders again about where they would be right now, if things had gone differently, if he'd kept walking that path away from the beach. There are too many possibilities; where they are now is grim enough. "You look good," he says, kissing her cheek, her skin rough under his lips, and she laughs, her features briefly shifting to her old, blonde mask before melting back into her true face.

"I could say the same to you," she says, smirking. Erik knows there's silver at his temples, but she doesn't look much older than she did in 1962. "Does Charles still keep the spare key to the wine cellar over the door?"

"The last time I checked, yes," Erik says, and glances at Havok and Beast: just like that, an old line has been redrawn between them. The two men see it, of course, but Beast says gruffly that he's got a lab to teach and Havok mutters something about P.E. class and they're gone in two minutes flat.

"Labs and gym class," Mystique says, shaking her head, on their way to the wine cellar. Her feet are soundless on the parquet floor. "I never thought Charles could actually do something so mundane as run a school, you know."

"Neither did I," Erik admits, palming the key off the lintel of the door frame and sliding it into the lock. It's not like the students couldn't get in if they tried; like many things about the school, the key is more a symbolic than an actual barrier. "I don't think he'd have lasted two years without Emma, really."

Mystique snorts. She and Emma didn't see eye-to-eye in the brief interval they spent as teammates; privately, Erik sees that as proof of her essential kinship with Charles on some level, though he'd slit his own throat before he told Mystique that. "I hear you've even got my son here," she says as Erik selects a very drinkable Californian cabernet sauvignon from one of the racks.

Erik looks up to regard her over the wine label. "Yes," he says, "we do."

"You don't have to hold back," Mystique tells him directly, meeting his gaze. Under the cellar's utilitarian illumination, there are shadows dappling her face, particularly around her eyes. "You think I abandoned him."

"There's no 'think' about it," Erik says, trying to decide whether this is going to become an argument worth hiding from the rest of the school (as much as that's possible in a school full of mutants) or whether they can head up to one of the sitting rooms. "He was living in a circus, Ra--Mystique! Among humans!"

Mystique sighs, her shoulders sinking just a little, and like that she suddenly looks as young as she did when Erik first met her, counterfeiting a typical callow American with a fair degree of success. "It's a long story," she says, "and I'm pretty sure you don't care anyway."

"Not really, no." Erik makes his decision and turns away, leading the way out of the cellar. The key turns in the lock behind him and floats back to its normal place, and Erik gestures for her to precede him up the corridor and the staircase to the ground floor.

"I didn't mean to leave him," she says when they're ensconced in one of the innumerable sitting rooms. Most of these such rooms on the ground and first floors have been converted to classrooms, or have been refurnished so that they can also serve as seminar or tutorial rooms, but there were simply too many to redo completely, particularly when they're also expanding underground and into outlying buildings.

Erik swirls his wine around in his glass and takes a drink of it in lieu of replying. He's got no real leg to stand on--his own daughter's birth certificate has a blank in the field for "Father's name," despite the fact that Lorna is a student here too, only a few years younger than Kurt--but he can't and won't change his convictions.

Mystique seems to understand. "How is he?" she asks after a moment, and Erik's lips quirk.

"Kurt? Or Charles?"

She shrugs. "Both, I suppose."

"Kurt is an angel," Erik tells her, only partly ironically. "Charles is Charles. The good news is, your son and his uncle get along very well."

Mystique stares. "You told him that Charles was his uncle?" she says, utter disbelief scrawled across her features, and Erik shrugs. As far as he's concerned, she gave up her parental rights long before he found Kurt in Munich.

"I told him he had a family here," he says coolly. "I meant that literally and figuratively. Besides, he keeps Charles honest."

"And you don't?" Mystique takes another sip of her wine, not looking away from him. She holds the wine glass by the stem, and despite her youthful appearance, it's clear that she's an adult now; her eyes are steady, never uncertain.

"I have other priorities," Erik replies, and she laughs.

The next morning, Erik is back at his excessive desk when she stalks in without a word, trench coat belted tightly around her waist. "I'm leaving," Mystique announces flatly. "I don't know how you can stand him, I really don't."

Erik frowns, looking up at her over the damnable paperwork. He distinctly remembers Emma promising--threatening, really--to take care of the administrative end of running the school, but he's been increasingly sucked in to it lately, since she's been paying more attention to her corporation. The one thing that's certain is that Charles is hopeless at such things.

"I don't blame you," he says after a moment, because it's true. Of all of them, his reverse course had had the most potential to hurt Raven--to hurt Raven, and to destroy Mystique, and he'd been glad when she hadn't accompanied him and Emma back to Westchester. Charles has too many cyphers to her past, and even though Mystique isn't the girl she was then, the past has a way of clenching its talons when you least expect it, and shredding you when it does.

And Erik knows that, if she had stayed around, he wouldn't have put Mystique's good over everyone else's. Better that she stay away, in the end, as much as Erik enjoys her company, as much as having her around would provide Charles with some much-needed ballast.

Mystique studies him, and he wonders how much of his thoughts she's deduced; she's pretty good at reading people, partly as a matter of survival. "Really," she says after a moment, but then shrugs. "Fine. Angel's coming to pick me up in half an hour. Look out for Kurt for me, will you?"

"I will," Erik assures her, "not that he needs it."

She rolls her eyes. "Take care of yourself, then. And--Charles and that daughter of yours too, all right? She's cute," she adds; "how come you didn't say anything?"

"There's not much to say." Erik lets his expression shut the door firmly on that particular conversational avenue, and Mystique laughs, then blows him a kiss and turns on one bare heel. She doesn't quite close the door behind her; Erik hears Charles' voice in the corridor, and then Charles appears in the doorway.

"She's leaving," Charles says unnecessarily.

"I can't imagine why," Erik says, returning to the paperwork.

"Don't be coy, Erik," Charles tells him. "You think this is my fault."

Erik uncaps his pen and looks up at him. Did you fuck my sister? reverberates unspoken in the air; Erik would tell him the truth if Charles asked, but it's one question he hasn't. Charles has only himself to blame, as is so often the case. "I think that that's obvious," he says, "and that you don't want to know what I think."

Charles has never shed his habit of fixing on the wrong question. "May I guess?" he asks, frowning, and again, as always, Erik is not taken aback, but disarmed.

"If you like," he says, and of course Charles does like.

"You think that I can't accept Raven for who she's chosen to be," Charles says, an edge to his voice; this is a very old disagreement. "But what I can't accept is her a priori conviction that the world hates her. She wants to throw who she is in the world's face, but the world doesn't just have one face."

Erik stares at him, a very old memory replaying itself inside his mind. They'd hate us if they knew we were together, Charles had told him once, quite soon after they'd met.

They'll hate us no matter what we do, Erik had replied, and of course they'd both been right, and that hadn't stopped them. They were mutants, after all, and at bottom they did both believe in the basic superiority of mutants from a genetic and evolutionary standpoint, much as Charles tried to hide from it.

That hadn't stopped them from killing humans and mutants, either, in the name of defending their own kind. Erik would do it all again, will do whatever he has to in future, won't ever look back. At bottom, they're both certain that they know what's best for their fellows.

"I'm not blue," he says at last; "I don't know what the world looks like from that perspective. And you don't either," he continues, cutting off whatever Charles was starting to say. "Even if you have read her mind, which I doubt you've done lately, memories are just experience, Charles, not the meaning of it."

Charles scowls. He believes that he can understand everything, given the proper circumstances. Erik knows better; there's plenty of things in the world he doesn't understand. But that doesn't mean they can't be planned for, and against.

 

 

9.

Scott Summers is sixteen when he hangs back after the end of one of Erik's thrice-weekly fifteen-kilometer runs (all are welcome to join in, though the list of people who take him up on it varies wildly), and asks him, essentially, for advice on how to date a telepath and stay sane.

Erik has a very good poker face, and he uses it to his full advantage, studying Cyclops with well-concealed skepticism. He's never really cared for Scott Summers; he's too much like Charles in all the wrong ways, a should-have-been "all-American" kid with the charming addition of a set of formidable powers that he fears deeply. It would be the height of hypocrisy for Erik to think less of anyone who navigates their life with the help of assistive technology, but the fear grates on him, for all that he can admit intellectually that shooting destructive laser beams out of your naked eyes is a bit different than the ability to manipulate metal, or even to hear someone else's thoughts.

Of course, it's hard to tell what Summers is thinking, given the visor, and after a minute or two Erik scrubs a hand over his face, trying to gather his thoughts. It's 7:30 in the morning and he's just run fifteen kilometers; he shouldn't feel like he needs a stiff drink. "You're asking me this because of me and Charles," he says, because it's always good to start with the obvious when dealing with those of lesser intellectual capacity. Not that Summers isn't smart, but he's no Charles Xavier, either.

"Yes," Summers says, stubborn resolution battling with embarrassment in his voice.

"Charles and Jean are not the same person," Erik says, keeping his own vast relief at the truth of that statement out of his expression. Jean has matured marvelously since her arrival at the school four years ago, and privately Erik thinks she can do a lot better than Summers, but he keeps his ears to the ground and he's only surprised that they've waited this long to "get serious," as the Americans say.

Sometimes, Erik really hates Americans. "I know that," Summers says, not bothering to hide his impatience. He's never really liked Erik, though he has the same respect for him that anyone else does; he's always been one of Charles' favorites. It's one of the telling details of the school that the students who are angry tend to gravitate toward Erik, and the ones who are afraid tend to gravitate toward Charles. It says a lot about Jean that in the years since she came to the school, she's become more and more Erik's student than Charles'. "But they're both telepaths, and you've--" He flushes as red as one of his optic blasts, but continues doggedly. "And we haven't. Yet."

It takes all of Erik's formidable self-control not to burst into laughter, whether hysterical or otherwise he doesn't quite know. If someone had told him, at any point before 1962, that in 1979 he'd be giving relationship advice--not sex education, because Emma is militant about that being her territory, thank you very much--to mutant teenagers in upstate New York, he'd have known that they were insane.

But here he is anyway, insanity notwithstanding, and Scott Summers is clearly not going to go away without some kind of substantive interaction, so Erik lets out a breath that is really more like a sigh and says, "I imagine Jean has already tried to tell you this, but it's hard to understand until you've experienced it yourself, even on the receiving end--for a telepath like Jean, or Charles, overhearing other people's thoughts is as natural as breathing. Which sounds appalling," he says, cutting Summers off when he takes a breath to speak, "but isn't as serious as all that. When they're not trying to hear a specific person's thoughts, it's something akin to being terribly skilled at reading body language, or to having incredibly keen hearing. A telepath usually doesn't want to hear what other people are thinking, really; Jean has already naturally learned the low-level shielding she needs to be able to function." And she isn't Charles, he adds mentally, because Charles has never quite gotten over his habit of rummaging through people's minds at will.

He pauses, staring at Summers until the kid takes the hint and nods, showing he's been listening. "That's basically what Jean's told me," he says, and Erik nods back. Jean has told him as much, too, because Erik hasn't let up on her on the telekinesis or the telepathy, which she'd begun trying to learn to work with, slowly, late last year. She has lessons with Charles and then practices with Erik, because Erik is still a past master at compartmentalization and because he's still the non-telepath with the most direct experience of telepathy, and because he doesn't give anyone an easy time, including himself.

"Good. Where it gets--complicated, shall we say?--is when a telepath decides that they want to be intimate with someone in particular." He leans on the word hard, because sex is a very particular case but if Jean is anything like Charles beyond the bare fact of their abilities, and she is, it won't start with sex; if they've done even as much as hold hands, and Erik knows that they have, it's started already. Jean's told him a little of this, not that he really knew what to say to her at the time. He might not know much about teenage girls, but he does know better than to tell her what he thinks of Scott; if she ever finds out, he'll consider her control over her telepathy complete.

"I don't know how to tell you this, Cyclops," he says, using Summers' self-selected mutant name in a blatant attempt to forge a sense of fellow-feeling, "but the thing about being involved with a telepath is that to them, your mind is as much something to delight in as anything else that attracts any of us to other people, body, personality, wit, you name it. Trying to keep Jean out of your mind--your mind, your thoughts, your emotions--would be cruel, and if you're not comfortable with being totally open to her, with having her in there at any point, and especially when the two of you are 'getting physical,' you should break it off right now."

After a moment, Summers nods slowly. "The Professor said that--it can be really useful, in battle, besides just sex." He blushes again. "He said that he's been able to amplify your abilities, or to use them through you, and that--you're stronger together."

Erik keeps his expression very firmly impassive. Trust Charles to share something like that, for all that it's Erik who's always been the one who's completely unwilling to hide what he is, queer, mutant, Jewish, or whatever. But it does confirm to him something he's suspected for a while, that Charles is grooming Summers to run the school and "lead the team" someday. Which on one level makes Erik angry again, because they're, what, forty-five? Forty? They have plenty of time left, and they're aging measurably slower than normal humans--and on the other makes a lot of sense. Erik's particular protéges--Storm, Nightcrawler, Gambit, Lorna--aren't exactly leadership material, though Storm could fill the role if she had to, if she could learn to use her anger like Erik has, rather than it using her. Jean doesn't have anger precisely; she has passion, as naturally as a fire burns; it's not a preservative quality. And it would never occur to Charles to leave the school to Emma, even though she's apparently functionally ageless and Erik is privately convinced that Emma would do the best job of anyone, given that she already runs half the school as it is.

"Charles was telling you the truth," he says firmly, staring straight at Summers. "If you can offer--and accept--that kind of total intimacy, it can be incredibly rewarding. And pleasurable," he adds, because he's damned if he'll give in to American prudery.

Summers flushes again. "Oh. Um, good. I--that is--thanks, sir. Magneto."

"You're welcome," Erik makes himself say. "And if you have any other questions--"

They've clearly filled Summers' embarrassment quota, though, because he only nods hurriedly. "Right, um, I'll find you!" he says, and flees.

Erik stares after him for another minute, and then winds up doing another three kilometers or so to calm himself. The idea that he and Charles are anyone's standard for a relationship makes his head hurt; does everyone else really not see? Of course he and Charles love each other, but that doesn't change the fact that they have fundamental philosophical differences, that instead of fighting the war apart, in opposite camps, they've fought it every day in the space between themselves, defending against and attacking each other and their enemies alike. They're standing on the knife's edge, hands clasped and leaning as far off as they can, only their grip on each other keeping them balanced around their mutual center of gravity in the middle, somewhere between Erik's rage and Charles' serenity.

Charles Xavier is the best and worst thing that ever happened to Erik Lehnsherr; he's made Erik happier than he ever imagined he could be and driven him to the depths of true despair, and the exact opposite is also true. Erik would change almost nothing if he could, because regrets are a weak point and he wants as few of them as possible, but he's not so self-deluded as to think that things couldn't have gone a dozen different, more painful and more militant ways, that he hasn't changed Charles as much as he's been changed by him. He doubts that Jean Grey and Scott Summers are even capable of fully understanding his and Charles' relationship, much less emulating it, but he wouldn't wish either on them all the same.

 

 

10.

It's not that Erik doesn't recognize Logan when he walks into the bar just on the other side of the Canadian border; in fact, Logan looks tellingly similar to the way he did at that bar Erik and Charles found him at in Philadelphia fifteen years ago, and he still holds his shot glass and cigar the same way. But Erik wouldn't need Charles' tightly controlled recitations of Cerebro visions to know that Logan has changed. He was wary before; he's like a tightly wound spring now. Literally, in fact; Erik can tell before he even gets off his motorcycle that in the interim, Logan's skeleton has been…infused with some kind of metal, through and through, a delicate architecture suborned to a brutalist purpose.

That's not the sort of thing that's done to people willingly, human or mutant. Mutation made to serve humanity once again, rather than the other way around, and Erik gives himself a minute to feel his anger before getting off the bike. Once again, he was the right man for this particular recruitment trip, and he's seen enough by now to wish, as he crosses the desolate parking lot, that it weren't so often the case.

The bar is half-empty, and the humans perched around it are clearly more interested in drinking than in company; they look up when he enters, but don't give him a second glance when he slides onto the stool next to Logan and orders a shot of whiskey, neat, lifting it to the other man in an absently friendly courtesy. The alcohol is still burning in his throat when Logan slams his hands flat on the wood of the bar next to him, his metal claws pricking at the inside of his skin, on the verge of being displayed. Erik can feel them as though they were inside his own hands, their eagerness a phantom itch just inside his skin.

"I thought I told you to leave me the fuck alone," Logan says conversationally, though the threat is poorly hidden.

"It's been long enough," Erik says, signaling the bartender for a refill, "that I thought you might want to reconsider." When it's poured, he picks up the second shot in his hand and turns to face Logan obliquely. The other man's face is a study in conflicting tensions; he's angry, yes, but not as angry as he'd like to be.

Charles was right; this is a man who does, on some level, want what they can offer. "Why the fuck would I want to do that?" Logan asks, voice low, picking up his own refill and downing it in one go.

Erik throws back his own whiskey and decides that two is enough to make his point for the moment. "Well," he says, setting the glass back down, "I'd guess that you have real trouble going through metal detectors these days."

He looks up at Logan as he says it, in time to catch the moment of shock that crashes through his eyes. "How do you--" he begins, but then he cuts himself off. "Meet me out front in five minutes," he says instead, quietly, and Erik obligingly stands and settles his bill.

Outside, under the sodium-orange illumination of the parking lot's single light, Erik waits with his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket. It's spring, but up here on the border spring is more a theoretical state than an actual season, and there's a stiff chill in the air. He'd planned to make Westchester late tonight, but if this takes much longer he'll have to stop somewhere and return home in the morning.

The door slams five minutes later, and he looks up to see Logan stalking towards him across the gravel. "How the fuck do you know about this?" he snarls when he gets closer, holding up one hand; as he brings up his arm, foot-long metal claws slide out from between his fingers.

Erik isn't surprised--he can feel the metal in Logan's body, after all--but he is impressed despite himself. "You're not familiar with my powers, are you?" he asks, rather than answering the question. Behind him, one of the cars at the edge of the lot rises two meters into the air and floats toward them. It stops a few meters away, spinning lazily on its long axis, the items inside rattling around like a cement mixer.

No, Logan wasn't familiar with his powers; his eyes are wide as he looks from the car to Erik and back again. Erik watches him for a minute or two, then returns the car to its parking space. He'd just as soon let gravity slam it home, but this is about cheap theatrics, and he lowers the vehicle gently back to earth without so much as a crunch of stones when the tires touch gravel.

"Someone did this to you," Erik says in the silence that follows, disturbed only by the hum of the light and the sound of the occasional car passing by on the road. He nods towards Logan's claws; it's not a question. "I can see that they tried to make you a weapon, Logan."

Logan barks a laugh, as bitter as overbrewed coffee. "Yeah, and you know what? They fucking succeeded. This"--he brings his other hand up, claws extended--"can't be anything else, you know?"

"I know," Erik says, "but you survived, and that's the important part." He holds Logan's gaze through the other man's suspicion; it helps that he means exactly what he says. Who he was before they did this to him--who Erik was before the camps, before Schmidt got to him--doesn't really matter; there's no going back, and what's important is who they are after, and what they do with it.

'"They made you a weapon," he continues; "we can show you how to turn that weapon against them."

"Who the fuck is 'we'?"

"You remember my partner," Erik says, with heavy irony that doubtless eludes Logan entirely. "We have an…organization now, downstate. We have a team of people like us, and we don't take very kindly to humans trying to use other members of our own kind."

Logan stares at him, not saying anything. "Even vengeance needs backup," Erik tells him. "You want whoever did this to you, and for the good of us all, we want to help you get them."

"What makes you think I can't do it on my own?" Logan asks, remarkably good at making the bravado sound heartfelt.

But Erik knows better. "If you could do it on your own you'd already have done it," he says, "and you wouldn't be here wasting our time right now. It's no shame to say that you can't face an entire battalion single-handed, Logan. There are very few of us who can."

"Can you?" Logan asks. It's as much challenge as it is curiosity.

Erik shrugs. "Probably," he says. "But give me one or two other mutants at my side"--give him Charles and Emma or Jean, in other words--"and I can destroy armies."

Logan is silent for a good few minutes, thinking things through. He doesn't ask the question Erik had been half-expecting, something along the lines of, If you're trying to protect other mutants, why didn't you protect me? Doubtless it's too vulnerable a thought to voice now, and the answer is brutally simple: they hadn't saved him because they hadn't known he was there. Either he'd been too far away or his jailers--his torturers--had managed to construct a facility that was impermeable to Cerebro.

It shouldn't be that easy, but it is. After another few minutes Logan looks up, and he asks something Erik hadn't been expecting. "What did they do to you?"

It's an honest question, and for once Erik decides to give it an honest answer. He doesn't need telepathy to manipulate people, after all.

Rather than say anything, he holds out his left arm and shoves up the sleeve of his jacket and the shirt beneath it, revealing the six-digit number tattooed on the inside of his forearm. Time has blurred the ink somewhat, but it's clear enough under the streetlight. "Do you know what this is?" he asks, because not everyone does.

Logan's jaw is clenched. Interesting. He has more compassion than you'd think from the hairy exterior and jaded attitude, unfortunately for him; Erik mentally revises his estimation of Logan's likelihood of staying on with the team sharply upward. "Yeah, I know what it is," he says, looking away from the tattoo, back up at Erik. "Did you kill them?"

Erik rolls his sleeve back down. "Yes," he says, "some of them; including the one I needed. But I couldn't have done it without other mutants."

Logan doesn't ask Was it worth it or any of the other idiotic things that people who don't understand obsess over; he just nods. "After that," Erik continues, "I decided: never again."

"How's that working out for you?" There's an edge to his voice that Erik can't quite read.

"It's a process," Erik tells him.

At that, Logan looks up. "Okay," he says simply. "I'm in."

 

 

11.

When Scott and Jean eventually do get married, no one is surprised that Jean asks Charles to give her away. Erik, sitting in the front row in a linen suit bought new for the occasion--he'd much rather be wearing his leather jacket--has to admit that she looks beautiful in her crimson dress as she walks down the aisle towards Scott, who's grinning idiotically as they approach slowly, pacing with Charles' wheelchair. She's radiant in a way that puts Scott's good looks in his tuxedo in the shade, despite the hideous puff-sleeve shoulders of her dress--Erik had to fight like hell with the tailor in New York to keep his suit reasonable, and he personally can't wait for the 1980s to be over and to take their horrible fashions with them.

Wisely, Jean has eschewed the teased-out hairstyle that's popular now in favor of a simple wave in her short hair. She and Charles halt at the foot of the altar and exchange a few words that Erik makes no effort to catch before she steps up to join Scott in front of Beast, who was ordained as a non-denominational minister through the mail for the occasion. Charles, for his part, takes the place left open for him next to Erik, who wishes before he can stop himself that he could put his hand on Charles' knee--that he could put his hand on Charles' knee, and Charles could feel the touch. A muscle in Charles' cheek twitches, and as Beast starts talking, he puts his hand on Erik's knee instead.

Erik covers that hand with his, and they sit back to watch two people who are, for all intents and purposes, their children, plight their troth to each other. Across the aisle, Emma and Lorna, who's started going by Polaris now, are both looking beautiful and exultant; on Erik's other side, Mystique sobs the whole way through the ceremony. Next to her, Nightcrawler and Storm are hand in hand; behind, around, and above them, the rest of their school--their family--are all watching with a fierce pride that Erik can feel physically, even without Charles' telepathy.

He was right to come back; this clan they've created between them, this army, is stronger than it could ever have been if they'd remained apart. Charles still has his dreams of eventual supplantation through peaceful coexistence, and Erik still has his certainty that it's only a matter of time, that striking first is the only way to survive, and in the past twenty-five years a lot of humans and mutants have died without either of them being proven definitively right or wrong. But Erik knows, watching Phoenix and Cyclops swear their love and fidelity to each other, that he's on the winning side, one way or another.

 

 

12.

Moira MacTaggert is exhausted enough to wish that she could fall asleep in the back of the cab that she's finally found to take her away from the Hill late in the evening, but twenty-five years working for the Agency, first in the Directorate of Plans (though it's called Operations now) and then in Intelligence, have taught her to keep as alert as possible in public spaces. By the time the cab pulls up to the entrance to her condo in Dupont Circle, however, and she slowly fishes bills out of her purse to pay the driver before slamming the cab door behind her and trudging to the lobby, returning her doorman's greeting with only a nod, she can barely keep her eyes open. Early May is hot in the District, and the lingering heat and humidity aren't helping.

Later, she'll wonder whether her exhaustion hid the telltale signs, whether he intentionally chose the date to facilitate getting the drop on her. That night, all she knows is that when she closes the door to her condo behind her, fastening the chain and flipping both deadbolts home before dropping her purse and briefcase to the floor, the light by her coffee table clicks on without her touching it.

Moira doesn't routinely carry a gun anymore, but old habits die hard; she's on the floor of the entryway in a crouch before she's even identified the man sitting in one of her admittedly plush chairs in the living area. It's been twenty-five years, and all she's seen of him since are grainy images pulled from security camera feeds, his handsome features obscured by that goddamn helmet, but she still recognizes Magneto, the one-time Erik Lehnsherr.

"Good to see you too, Moira," he tells her, that small, slightly cold smile she remembers so well--remembers so well, when so many much more crucial things have been stolen from her entirely--turning up the corners of his full mouth. "I know you're not carrying a gun, but I do hope you won't attempt to retrieve one of the ones you have here in the apartment."

He doesn't look just the same as he did the last time she saw him, on that fucking beach, but he doesn't look twenty-five years older either; the X-gene, as Charles Xavier had christened it in a paper a dozen years ago, apparently bestows many gifts. He's wearing an impeccably tailored three-piece suit, a briefcase that costs more than Moira's lying on the table in front of him; he could easily be a member of the higher echelons of the government, rather than one of the world's most dangerous terrorists. Moira suppresses a complex stab of feeling, equal parts anger, hatred, and envy, glad that he's not a telepath like Charles Xavier, and only then notices the girl standing behind him on the other side of the couch, the tips of the fingers of her right hand resting lightly on his left shoulder.

"Hello, Magneto," Moira says, straightening slowly. "You realize that I have to call in." She glances towards the cordless phone sitting prominently upright in its cradle on her hall table, and he nods back.

"Yes, and I'm also aware of what code words you would use to indicate something amiss," Magneto tells her. It's probably a bluff, but on the other hand, he's known to be working with a telepath. "Don't use them. There's no reason for this to be anything other than a chat between old friends, I promise you."

Moira raises an eyebrow at that, but doesn't say anything. Instead, she nods towards the girl, who's wearing a demure suit herself, though she doesn't wear it as well as Magneto does his. "Not all of us are old friends," she says; "who's she?" The girl is brunette like Magneto, maybe seventeen or so at most, but there's no further resemblance; not his daughter, then, though they're clearly comfortable with each other.

Moira decides not to pursue that line of thought further just as the girl raises her chin to meet her eyes. "You can call me Shadowcat, Deputy Director," she says quietly, steel underneath the soft-spoken words.

She's left the essential "acting" prefix off Moira's title, but Moira's not about to correct her. "Nice to meet you, Shadowcat," she says, and reaches for the phone. Magneto always was a charming bastard, and she knows she's probably going to regret it later, but she reports her safe arrival home to the switchboard as though there's nothing out of the ordinary.

"What the hell do you want, Magneto?" Moira asks when she replaces the phone in its cradle, letting it clunk. She's tired again, despite the adrenaline that's pumping through her system, its bitterness on her tongue only making her hungrier. She hasn't had anything to eat since lunch, when she'd been under too much stress to satisfy her normal appetite.

At least, if Magneto and Shadowcat kill her tonight, she won't have to go back to the Hill tomorrow and wait endlessly to be called before the joint committee to swear that she has no recollection of any such incident, Senator, and I'm sorry, Congressman, but that information is classified under the National Security Act.

"I'm here to ask you one simple question, acting Deputy Director," Magneto informs her, voice heavy with irony, or maybe he's being deliberately unsubtle. He's been convinced of the innate superiority of mutants to baseline humans for a quarter-century, after all. "What do you know about the C.I.A.'s recent operation against the Xavier Institute?"

"The what?" Moira repeats, knowing that she sounds like an ignoramus and hating it. In the District, there's nothing worse than being out of the know.

"You heard me," Magneto says, all pretense of good humor gone, as ruthless and cold as she remembers. Behind him, Shadowcat has drawn herself up to her full height, her young features set into lines that look unnaturally harsh. Moira knows enough to recognize that she's highly trained, and suppresses another flash of anger. There shouldn't be any need to turn children, even mutant children, into soldiers.

"I don't know anything about any operation," Moira says, shaking her head. "And I'm telling the truth," she adds, cutting Magneto off before he can say anything else. "How recent was this alleged attack?"

"Alleged my foot," Shadowcut mutters, but Magneto doesn't acknowledge her words; instead, he keeps staring at Moira with his customary single-minded intensity. Twenty-five years ago, it made her deeply self-conscious, but now it just makes her angry.

"A week ago," he tells her after a minute, voice even but expression frankly considering. Moira knows how he works, and she can't help but think of the fillings in her back molars; if Magneto isn't convinced she's telling the truth, he'll be quite willing to give pain the opportunity to loosen her tongue.

A chat between old friends, she reminds herself, because cold comfort is still comfort, and thinks over his words. "You know I just became acting Deputy Director six months ago," Moira tells him, careful to lift her chin and keep her gaze steady and unblinking. She didn't get to the office she has now by being a poor liar, and it never hurts to accentuate the fact that one is telling the truth when one actually is telling the truth. "And I'm acting DD Intelligence, not Operations."

Magneto cocks his head at her, frankly skeptical. "You expect me to believe that your colleagues are keeping secrets of this magnitude from you?"

"I'm surprised you doubt it at all," Moira tells him, not bothering to hide her own bitterness. She's acting Deputy Director, true, and the first woman to sit in that chair, but she has few illusions about her career prospects from here on out. If she's lucky, she'll languish as DDI (acting) until the next administration, at which point one of the old boys will be put out to pasture in her slot. Maybe, a few years after that, they'll let her have the job free and clear, and then they'll try to push her into early retirement, because she's sure as hell never going to get the Director's job, or his salary. "What do you mean by 'magnitude'?"

"I mean a dozen special activities division thugs trying to assassinate Charles and destroy the Institute," Magneto says, and Moira feels her face burning. There's being kept out of the loop and then there's being kept outside of the Metro station, and furthermore, the Special Activities Division?

She's not married herself, and she never will be, but she knows the tone of voice someone uses to talk about someone they love. Suddenly Magneto's years-long periods of whereabouts unknown make complete sense; the Intelligence directorate has long since given up trying to plant assets in the Xavier Institute. Agents tended to come back with their memories missing crucial chunks, having developed the traumatizing habit of screaming nightmares that they couldn't remember, or not to come back at all.

But she's not embarrassed about that, though she does feel a twinge of pity for her idiot self of twenty-five years ago, offering herself up like a lamb to the slaughter, blithely thinking Charles could want her when it was Erik whom he was besotted with. What she's embarrassed about is the fact that a large SAD operation has been kept from her entirely--although, Moira has to admit, given her known mutant sympathies, she can't swear that she wouldn't have done the same if she were running the show. "A dozen?" she repeats. "There's no way--"

"Don't play the ingénue with me, Moira," Magneto interrupts her. "You weren't this naïve when you actually were a naïf, and you're not going to tell me that you've gotten this far without learning how the game is played."

Moira stares at him. He's right: she hasn't gotten this far without getting political, and she knows where a lot of the bodies are buried; for that matter, she's interred a few herself. She might not know anything about a failed assault on the Xavier Institute, but she knows quite a lot about a certain series of arms-for-hostages deals, for example, and how far up the chain they went.

So that's one ruse that's pointless, and she discards it. "I take it the SAD 'thugs' failed," she says after a moment, with bone-dry humor, and Shadowcat's nostrils flare. Moira would bet money that someone she's close to was injured, though not fatally.

"Brilliant deduction, Deputy Director," Magneto tells her. "If you really don't know anything, you have housecleaning to do. Or more likely"--he pauses, studying her expression--"you have some people whom you need to convince to take you seriously."

"Got any advice about how to go about that?" Moira asks, flashing a smile that's mostly teeth.

"Violence," he tells her flatly. "It worked for me, in your case."

Moira used to dream of that moment on the beach; she couldn't remember what state Charles' mansion was located in, or how she'd spent the better part of six months of her life, but she could remember her own grim desperation as she emptied the chambers of her revolver at Erik to no avail, the ache of the recoil building up in her shoulder, their matching horror when her final bullet ricocheted off his hand into Charles' spine, the way time seemed to slow down as Charles fell to the sand. She'd wanted to blame Erik, as Charles said he had; it was only years after Charles had stolen her memories and discarded her that she'd been able to accept that she needed to blame herself as well, and did.

But Charles always did have a thing for forgiveness. She can't remember everything, or even most things, but she does remember that much.

"I'll keep that in mind," Moira says. The last of the adrenaline has drained away, leaving her even more fatigued than before. Mortality may go lightly on mutants, but she's been feeling her age lately, as much as she knows that she isn't old yet: there's still plenty of time to sell off a few more shards of her soul on the cheap. Working in this city, sometimes it feels like that's the only valid currency. "Somehow I'm not surprised that that's your answer, Erik." She puts heavy stress on his old name; there's a reason she was shooting at him in the first place.

"Oh, I'm sure," he says, unperturbed; Moira might as well be targeting the moon for all that she has a hope of wounding him. He's got all the advantages, and she just has loose ends and gray areas and Pyrrhic victories. "You're on the side of the Agency--I mean the angels--and it's all for the greater good. Or at least, that's what you're going to tell Congress under oath, correct?"

"Fuck you, Magneto," Moira tells him, knowing she just sounds exhausted. "And get out of my house."

To her actual surprise, he stands, putting on the hat that's been lying next to his briefcase. Moira makes a mental note to sweep the condo for bugs before she goes to sleep. "Charles sends his regards," Magneto tells her, settling the trilby on his head before taking the briefcase off the coffee table. "You understand why he couldn't come in person, of course."

Moira's eyes prickle, but only for an instant. "Give him my best," she says.

"I will," he tells her, sounding disconcertingly sincere, and then he flashes her a smile. "Cheer up. They're not going to indict the first female acting Deputy Director of Intelligence; you're proof of how much progress they've made. At most you'll get a slap on the wrist and a disapproving citation in your personnel jacket."

The fact that he's right only makes it worse. "I don't have to explain myself to you, Magneto," Moira says, because this is the last thing she wants to discuss with anyone.

Magneto gives her a nod. "No, you don't. Goodbye, Moira." Behind him, Shadowcat puts her hand back on his shoulder, and in front of Moira's eyes, they disappear right through the floor, leaving her alone.

Moira waits for a full count of sixty before she's satisfied that they're really gone. Then she finally toes off her pumps and crosses over to her liquor cabinet in her stocking feet, where she pours herself a gin and tonic that's almost all gin. She lifts the glass to everything she can't remember and everything she wishes she could forget, and drinks half of it down at once. Out beyond her windows, in her mind's eye, the great dome of the Capitol glows softly in the night.

 

 

13.

Despite the fact that they were legally married in San Francisco in 2008, Erik and Charles have another ceremony at the mansion three years later, on a glorious day in August, because apparently everyone was put out that they weren't invited to their first ceremony--Erik has given up trying to explain that it was just a civil ceremony, that's all--and, having said "I do" once, he can't really think of a good reason to refuse to say it again.

Even so, Erik takes a perverse pleasure in sending the announcement off to The New York Times, and when one of the Style section reporters calls the school switchboard, practically falling over herself at the idea of getting the scoop--apparently the Xavier name still retains some of its social cachet among the idiots who care about such things--he plays it to the hilt, even getting Charles to join the telephone interview. Consequently, there's a Times photographer at the ceremony, who's very politely shown to the gates before the start of the reception.

It's completely different this time and just as exhilarating, though much less nerve-wracking; Erik has to admit that he feels far more comfortable in front of a crowd of mutants in upstate New York than he did in front of four humans in judge's chambers in San Francisco. Polaris, who'd become a rabbi years ago, officiates at Erik's request.

It's not a Jewish ceremony, and there's no mention of god in anything she says, but her words are frankly valedictory regardless, despite the absences that everyone senses. Banshee is gone, his daughter no substitute in the eyes of the men who pushed him out a window of this very mansion so long ago; Havok has left the Institute yet again, and no one's heard from Angel--Tempest--in ages. Cyclops sits towards the middle, next to Emma, who has Ruby on her lap; Rachel, ostentatiously, is sitting with Wolverine and Rogue and Shadowcat up at the front. The rest of their row is filled by Jubilee, T.J., Storm, Nightcrawler, and Mystique, who'd vowed not to miss the ceremony this time after Erik had told her that this was her absolute last chance to see him get married. She watches the whole thing with a distinct smirk that doesn't hide her very real joy.

When the photographs are published, along with the accompanying article, Erik is mildly surprised to see that the photographer hasn't attempted to hide anyone's appearance or to cut anyone out. Maybe Charles is right; maybe pictures like this will convince the humans that they don't have anything to fear from mutants. In Erik's opinion, it's more likely that humans will just feel that they're all the more threatened.

But in the meantime, the photographs look good framed on the wall, though not as good as the rings around their fingers or the look in Charles' blue eyes, just as bright and intense as in 1962, but now with a half-century of history behind them rather than a few months' yearning fascination. They're old; despite the fact that they've aged measurably slower than normal humans, they won't live to see the fight they started through to the finish.

But for once the war is the last thing on Erik's mind when he kneels to kiss Charles, reaffirming their bond before the world. I love you, he says, declaring it first for once, and Charles' lips quirk just before their mouths meet. "I love you too," he says, and then all Erik can hear is their audience's cheers.