‘My dear boy, I’m not going to fight you. Put your sword away. You are being ridiculous.’
Shaw’s voice is all condescension and good humour; a suitable public statement for an aging man challenged to an apparently unequal duel. Erik raises his weapon, just a little.
‘Pick up the sword, old man.’
Their audience, fellow guests at the Xavier ball, falls silent.
Then Shaw shakes his head, his hands loose and pointedly unarmed by his sides. It is tempting to simply take another step and press his sword to the man’s throat, but Erik has resisted this temptation before. There are too many witnesses here, and Shaw is always careful not to be alone where Erik can find him. Careful, too, not to carry metal on his person. The sword on the ground is Erik’s, brought for the purpose. But even a public challenge is not enough to make Shaw fight.
Not where he can lose, at least. Lady Emma, standing next to Shaw, raises her eyebrow at Erik. He is considering whether an insult to her would do the trick, when their host suddenly appears. Charles Xavier, looking for the world as if he were out on a casual stroll rather than racing to prevent bloodshed in his garden, comes to a casual stop between Erik and Shaw. Erik grits his teeth and Xavier throws him an amused glance.
‘Mr Lensherr. I trust you are enjoying the party? Please remember that duelling is not permitted in this country.’
Erik waits for the comment on his foreign ways, but it does not come; instead, Xavier turns to Shaw.
‘And Mr Shaw, I expect you would be more comfortable indoors? There are warm drinks being served in the card room. Night air can be so dangerous, you know.’
Xavier shows no concern over speaking utter falsehoods and sounding like an old woman. Under his benevolent gaze people begin to nod and trickle back inside the house, despite the sultry weather and the heat which had chased them out in the first place. Shaw gives their host a small bow and leads Lady Emma away, neither of them paying Erik any notice.
Xavier says no more, idly balancing on his feet as he watches the people go. Erik is aware that he owes the man an apology for starting a fight in his garden; a deliberately planned fight as is evident from the second sword. But he has no intention of making any.
‘Do no concern yourself, I don’t expect you to.’
Xavier turns to face him, still smiling benevolently.
And Erik had not spoken.
‘Well, no, but you were thinking it very loudly. And I must say, when you attach such strong emotions to your thoughts – frustration in this case, and oh my you are not pleased with me at all – then it is very hard for me not to hear them.’
Xavier looks very pleased with himself, but Erik says nothing. He notes Xavier’s pocket watch, the length of its chain, and the buttons in his coat.
Yes, Erik, I am reading your mind. And that tickles.
They are alone in the garden. Without looking away, Erik opens his hand and the second sword flies to it. Xavier’s eyes widen, and his smile becomes, if possible, even more delighted.
Erik smiles with all his teeth. Xavier licks his lips.
‘Why don’t you come inside for a drink, my friend? I feel we have much to discuss.’