Charles watched Raven as she picked her way through various items on her dressing table, chatting idly. “You’ve been getting enough sleep? Drinking enough milk?” he asked. “You know it’s good for bone strength.”
Raven threw him a look, but even as it was tinged with exasperation, it was still understanding and fond. She was making her own way in the world, but that didn’t mean that they didn’t miss each other. “Yes,” she said. “I’m drinking enough milk, getting enough sleep, and flossing every night. Don’t worry so much.”
“It’s hard not to,” Charles said. Raven was only back for a quick stop, to grab a few bits and bobs of her former life. Charles watched as she tucked a small photo album into her satchel. He didn’t care why she was back, only that he was able to see her again, even if for only a few minutes, and to see that she was safe and well. He was also pleased to note how strong she had grown, how comfortable in her own skin. Azazel had brought her just a few minutes ago, and Charles was relishing every minute.
Charles turned his attention to the other person in the room. Azazel leaned against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest and a difficult expression to read on his face. His surface thoughts were clouded and convoluted, partly ruminating and partly speculating, and that was all Charles could discern without actively intruding on Azazel’s thoughts, which he preferred not to do. Only his dark eyes revealed anything and Charles found he was disconcerted by the consideration being afforded him. Azazel swished his tail and Charles spoke before he even thought better of it. “That’s so marvelous,” he said. “You’re so lucky. I wish I had one.”
Azazel arched an eyebrow and swished his tail again. He looked momentarily to Raven.
She shrugged. “He’s sincere,” she said, with a quick look at the tail in question. “He really does love all the wonders of mutation.”
“Of course I’m sincere!” Charles huffed. Charles had only seen Azazel at the fight on the beach—and knew of him more through reputation than anything. The others had spoken of the events at the CIA, and how ruthless Azazel had been in dispatching the agents. Of course, it had been Darwin’s death that had horrified them more, for they’d known him and he’d been kind, unlike the stoic-faced and disapproving agents. Yet, Erik had wanted Azazel and the others, and Raven had gone with them. There was a dynamic there that Charles tried to comprehend.
On the beach, Charles had been a bit preoccupied to pay much more attention than just a cursory look at Azazel. Now he had the other mutant a mere few feet away, and it was hard not to stare. Azazel was an intriguing shade of red—Charles couldn’t help but wonder how mutation went along with color, Raven was blue, Azazel was red, how many other variations would there be? He had a prehensile tail that appeared to be just as strong and useful as an arm or a leg, and he had the most intriguing ability to teleport. It was an extremely useful ability. “It’s utterly fantastic. And you appear to be quite adept and dexterous,” he added.
Azazel’s look softened just a bit, and now he was looking Charles up and down in an entirely different way of consideration. Charles felt himself locked into that stare.
“Almost done here,” Raven called out.
Azazel moved closer to Charles and bent to speak in his ear. “May I have permission to visit you again?” he asked, his distinctive accent softened by the near whisper.
“Of course,” Charles said, promptly. “I’d be glad if we could meet again. Perhaps you could demonstrate your teleportation for me. It looks complicated, but I imagine for you that it isn’t. It is so very interesting, you know.”
Azazel stood up with an enigmatic smile on his face, and Raven gave Charles a swift hug and then moved to stand next to him. She sighed. “I don’t think that’s what he meant, Charles,” she said. “Don’t you ever pay attention? He just--” There was a popping noise and red smoke, and the scent of hot brick suddenly doused with water, and they were both gone.
“—asked you out,” Mystique finished. She realized they were back at their headquarters. She looked at Azazel. “That wasn’t nice,” she said.
“No. I am sorry.” Azazel looked thoughtful. “I believe it best if I were to move cautiously. Slowly. You know your brother very well. What do you think?”
“Slow is probably best. Charles is brilliant, but an idiot,” Mystique agreed, but she was worried. “What about Erik?”
Mystique couldn’t quite believe she was even having this conversation. She couldn’t digest either the fact that Azazel suddenly had an interest in Charles or that Azazel didn’t comprehend the fact that Erik would probably summarily gut him for even thinking of the merest possibility of touching. Probably it didn’t matter either way, she couldn’t imagine Charles reciprocating. Because he was still grieving and hurting over Erik’s leaving, and because Azazel was scary as all get-out, with a reprehensible past and proven murderous tendencies. Of course, that type of background hadn’t stopped Charles from falling hard for Erik…. She brushed the thought away with a swipe of her hand across her brow. It was simply impossible. She’d humor Azazel, but he’d eventually figure out it was just a purely dead end.
Azazel raised an eyebrow. “Magneto walked away. It appears there is no longer a relationship. But I was asking more about this.” He ran a hand up and down himself. “As another whose appearance frightens, I would think that you would understand this question.”
Raven snorted. “Your problem isn’t going to be Charles being afraid. It’s going to be that he’ll see you as scientifically fascinating before he remembers you’re a person. He won’t care that you’re red,” she said, and she couldn’t keep the bitterness out of her voice. “But he’ll worry about other people seeing you as red.” She rubbed her arms. “When it was just the two of us at home, I could just be me. But he would freak out whenever we were in public if I had the least little problem maintaining a façade.”
Azazel nodded. “A brother’s concern for a sister’s safety. Thank you for your candor.
“What about--” Mystique hesitated.
Azazel seemed imbued with telepathy for a moment, because he knew what she meant. “If he does not care that I am red, then I do not care if he does not walk.”
Raven closed her eyes tightly and shook her head. “I still think you’d better worry about Erik. He’s not going to like it.”
“He’s had months to declare any intentions. If he can’t see the pearl he has let slip through his fingers, then it is not my responsibility to show him.”
Raven laughed. “Pearl? Charles is a pearl?” She put her hands up to cover her face as she shook with laughter. “Wait until you get to know him,” she said. “Then we can compare notes about how annoying and bossy and frustrating he is.”
Azazel smiled. “I shall look forward to such a time,” he said.
Charles turned the letter over in his hand. It had come in the mail yesterday morning, addressed to him in a flowing, fine script that would have been worthy of a calligrapher. The card inside had the same writing and requested that, if Charles were amenable, he consent to an appointment at seven o’clock in the evening on Friday. It wasn’t signed.
He looked to the clock. Five minutes to seven.
A knock came on his door. “Come in.”
Alex popped his head around the edge of the door. His face was pale. “Azazel just knocked on the front door and Sean let him in. He’s waiting in the foyer for you.” He looked curious and nervous, and Charles couldn’t blame him. Azazel was highly trained and deadly, and very possibly an enemy. If it weren’t for the utter politeness of the note and for his actually knocking on the door, Charles would have thought perhaps Azazel had dire designs on the school. As yet, Charles was cautious, at least until he was sure there wasn’t some trick involved.
“Thank you, Alex.” Charles wheeled himself out into the hallway and down the short length of the corridor to the front foyer. He didn’t know what Azazel wanted to talk about—a possible defection from Erik? Concerns about Raven? She had looked well last week, so even though that brought a knot of worry to Charles’ gut he didn’t think it was that. But whatever it was, Charles had prepared. There was a pot of coffee available, tea if Azazel preferred, some snacks, and a comfortable space in his study for privacy. Charles paused as he entered the foyer. Azazel was politely regarding Sean and Hank, who both appeared like they were ready to fight, if needed. Azazel looked—well pressed, Charles thought. Composed. There was a hint of amusement bleeding off him as he watched Sean and Hank. He looked relaxed, not worried about his safety, but yet still…there was an edge of nervousness to him.
“Welcome, Azazel,” Charles said out loud. He wheeled forward. “I received your note, thank you. I’m glad you could make it.”
Azazel gave a curt nod of his head, his eyes settling on Charles. “I am pleased to see you again,” he said, and took the few steps between them to close the distance. He reached out his hand, as if to offer a handshake. “Shall we?” he asked.
Charles reached out to share the handshake, but was puzzled over the words. “Shall we what?” he asked, and then there was a dull roaring in his ears and his sight filled with red, and he understood Azazel had just taken him out of the mansion.
When his sight cleared, he realized they were high up in a dark balcony—no, it was a private box with an improvised heavy silk drape so the other members of the audience couldn’t see them. Charles was still in his wheelchair, in a space where a chair had been removed. Obviously pre-planned. Charles looked down at the stage and noted that an orchestra was down there, making the small adjustments needed just before a performance. He reached out his mind, but whatever this was, it wasn’t meant as an attack—Azazel was watching him expectantly.
“You might experience some disorientation,” he said, apologetically. “I could retrieve a glass of water for you, if you like.”
“No, no, I’m fine,” Charles said. “I just didn’t expect an example of your teleporting quite so immediately. Where are we?”
“New York, at the opera. I have reserved the booth for us, for the performance tonight. I will return you home, of course, at the night’s end.”
“We’re here to watch a performance?”
“Of course.” Azazel held out a pamphlet. “La Bohème.”
Charles digested that. Azazel had kidnapped him to take him to the opera? That sounded very unlike any kidnapping he’d ever heard of. No, it sounded very much more like…a date. Charles swallowed. He was a blind idiot. The note. What Raven had tried to say.
Still, it seemed that Azazel did not mind making everyone back at the mansion worry. New York City to the mansion was well within Charles’ limits, if he just tried to reach one of them. Hank? he reached out, stretching far and wide, and came up against a wall of frantic concern. Charles! Hank thought back at him, and Charles had a clear image of Hank pausing in mid-run. Where are you? Are you all right?
Perfectly safe. Charles told him. I’m at the opera. In the city. I misunderstood the situation. Azazel will bring me home at the opera’s conclusion.
Opera? Hank thought, clearly unsettled and confused. He kidnapped you!
Ah, no. No, no. Definitely not kidnapped. I’ll explain when I return, but there’s no reason to fret. I’m perfectly safe and quite comfortable.
Azazel had watched him passively while he’d had the conversation with Hank, and now he smiled as Charles lowered his hand. “All is well?” he asked.
“Yes,” Charles said. “Next time perhaps you shouldn’t--” he checked himself. He hadn’t actually meant to agree to anotherdate.
“Next time they will know that I shall return you without harm,” Azazel said. He settled into his chair, tail tucked somewhere out of sight. “I have seen this opera before,” he said, turning to normal conversation.
“You have?” Charles asked. It felt surreal, to be suddenly in the opera house and speaking in low voices while waiting for the performance to begin. Yet, Charles didn’t want to be shuttled back to the mansion. This was an unprecedented opportunity to get to know Azazel—a formidable opponent, and an obviously intelligent man.
“Yes. When it played in Italy it had become the fashion. Almost every company put on their own version. I have always liked it. Mystique said that you approved of opera. I had thought it would be a fine first mutual experience.”
Charles reached out a hand to touch Azazel’s forearm. “What do you think this is?”
Azazel looked down at Charles’ fingers. “I asked you to accompany me on an engagement and you agreed. This is just the opera, and we are here to see it, together.” There was a slight brush at Charles’ hair, and considering Charles could see both Azazel’s hands, he could only imagine it was his tail. He shivered. The lights dimmed and the orchestra fell silent. “Will you enjoy this evening? I could return you now, if you like, but I would be sorely disappointed not to have your company.”
Charles weighed the words. “I’d like to stay. It’s been a while since I attended a performance.” He gave Azazel a small smile. “It feels like too much hassle, too far away, what with the school and the extra effort it requires me to go anywhere now.”
Now Azazel reached out a hand and put it against Charles’ forearm. “It is no extra effort for me. I would take you anywhere you pleased to go.”
Charles’ chest tightened up, and he couldn’t think of an adequate reply. Luckily, the orchestra started, and the opera began.
“How’d it go?” Mystique asked when she saw Azazel return. She’d been nervous and curious, and had been checking his room for the last hour, hoping to catch him. She knew Charles would be safe, of course she knew that. But she’d just like to have it confirmed, since she hadn’t been there in person to make sure.
Azazel smirked at her.
“Come on,” she said, flooded with relief, swiftly followed by annoyance. “Don’t be like that. Didn’t I tell you he liked opera?”
“You were correct.” Azazel unfolded his arms. “He enjoyed the opera. We have another outing planned.”
“Another date?” Raven sucked in some air.
Azazel shook his head. “I believe the word date is too strong. He has some interest in me, but our acquaintance is still too fresh.”
“What’s the second date?”
Azazel turned dark eyes toward her. “I am considering my options,” he said.
“He kidnapped you right out of the house!” Hank was pacing. “And you invited him back again? No, no, no.”
Alex watched Hank with a worried expression, which he then turned on Charles. “We were freaking out. That was a really stupid thing he did.”
“He has a flair for the flamboyant,” Charles admitted. “But I think the misunderstanding was predominately on my part. He did ask me to visit, and then he sent a card. I just thought it was about something else.”
Hank stopped in his pacing and turned to stare. “He asked you out?”
“He’s very gentlemanly in his own way,” Charles found he was defending Azazel, although he was a bit upset himself about the abruptness of the teleporting. Of course, the teleporting itself had been wonderfully interesting. Charles had thoroughly enjoyed the sensation of suddenly being in an entirely unexpected location, once he’d been prepared for it to happen. “I’m not entirely sure we can count on him to act in ways we expect. I believe he’s quite a bit older than he looks, and his social mores are not our own.”
Sean started chuckling, which shortly became a full-blown laugh. “He’s courting you!” he said between gulps of air and hitches of laughter.
“I suppose,” Charles said, reluctant to address that issue particularly. “I’m not actually interested in him, but I do think it is an opportunity where we might become friends. And making friends with Erik’s band might save lives someday.”
Hank looked horror stricken. “He likes you and you want to lead him on before breaking his heart? Have you gone mad? He’ll teleport you to the middle of the ocean and leave you for an octopus to devour!”
“I hardly think that’s likely,” Charles said. “He’s perfectly capable of killing me without going to that sort of effort.”
His words did not have the comforting effect he’d intended. Sean stopped laughing. Alex and Hank looked like all the blood had drained from their bodies. “Did he threaten you?” Alex asked, his voice quiet.
“Not at all.” Charles shook his head, and decided he may as well not sugar-coat anything. “I’m perfectly well aware that this might all be a ruse. You’ve all explained quite clearly to me that he’s murdered, and in front of you. I am also quite aware that if it came down to it, I might not have the edge on him, might not be able to stop him from killing me.” Charles surveyed their faces, and all of them looked as if they’d been slapped across the face, with wide mouths and stunned eyes. “But he hasn’t even had the thought cross his mind. If anything, he’s….” Charles searched for the right word. “He wants to make a good impression. For the time being, I think it is safe to associate with him.” Charles pressed on. “I find his abilities to be truly unique, and I want to know more. And if I can help him to think of us as people, perhaps he will hesitate if we should ever come into conflict.” He stopped and nodded.
There was a long pause as the others digested this minor speech, and then they all erupted in argument.
“No way!” Alex said, dismayed. “Professor, you need to think about this.”
“Please, Charles,” Hank pleaded. “He’s a killer. He’s using you, somehow.”
“You didn’t see him,” Sean moaned. “He was gleeful when he dropped all those agents. He enjoyed it.”
Charles listened intently to their protestations, but when the furor finally died down, leaving even Hank to stare at him with baleful regret, Charles wheeled himself around. “He’s picking me up next Saturday night. I expect no one will fret this time, if I am gone for a few hours.” Charles twisted around just enough to see the others from a side-view. “Actually, I’m hoping for another opera. If nothing else, it’d be fun to have a friend to see the opera with every few weeks.” He didn’t wait for a response, and wheeled himself away.
Azazel teleported himself to the mansion’s front door, knocked, and waited. His hearing was quite keen, and he could hear the fluster of movement on the other side of the door. If he were the mutants associated with Charles Xavier, he would have never opened the door. He’d have barred it, and the windows, too.
Of course, barring the door wouldn’t have kept him out.
The door opened, and revealed the scientist, McCoy, who showed his teeth. Azazel remembered fighting with him in Cuba. Only a trick had kept him alive. He grinned back, showing his own teeth.
Azazel moved past McCoy, and again into the foyer. Charles was there, smiling up at him from his wheelchair, and dressed for another night of opera. Azazel berated himself, but only momentarily. He had wanted this next engagement to be a surprise, but he hadn’t suspected that Charles would hope for another opera. Of course, if all went well, then Azazel would have time enough to bring Charles to operas all over the world. He put that thought to the side. He would not put hopeful wishing ahead of his careful planning.
“Good evening,” Charles said. Then with a wicked glint in his eye, he held out his hand. “Shall we?”
He liked this man more and more each time he saw him, Azazel realized. “We shall,” he said, with a triumphant look sent to McCoy, who clenched his teeth and flexed his hands into fists. Azazel took Charles’ hand into a firm grip, and teleported them away.
He brought them to the crest of a hill, dark except for a lone torch he had left burning to light the way. Past the soft glow of illumination the torch provided, the world fell into shadow and darkness. The sun had set over an hour ago, and the sky was illuminated with a billion pinpricks of stars.
“Oh!” Charles said. He raised an eyebrow at Azazel. “Not the opera, then.”
“No,” Azazel said. “Not this time.” He gestured to the blanket he had laid out on the ground. Near it was a picnic hamper, which Azazel had stuffed with all manner of foods, as Mystique had mentioned quite a lot of ‘favorites’. Also, there were three impeccable bottles of wine, stolen from the best wine cellars of the world. “The Perseids should be highly active tonight,” he said. “I thought we would enjoy viewing them together.”
“Where are we?” Charles asked, looking around as if he could discern his location in the darkness. Azazel reminded himself not to underestimate the abilities of his prey, for the man could most likely read the minds of the neighbors, even though they would be dozens of miles away.
“On a hill,” Azazel said. He moved closer to Charles, and wrapped his tail gently around the other man’s wrist. Charles looked down at his tail with genuine fascination and Azazel’s heart beat a little faster. “In the dark,” he continued. “With each other. Is it not enough for the moment?”
Charles laid his other hand over Azazel’s tail, which was still wrapped around one wrist. His hand was warm and soft, and sent a frisson racing up Azazel’s spine. “It’s wonderful,” Charles said. “Now, tell me what you’ve prepared there, in the basket.”
“As you wish.”
“And then what?” Mystique wished she could squeeze all the information out of Azazel. If she was Charles, she could have just picked his brain, but as it was, she had to wheedle. “Tell me everything, or I won’t help you again.”
Azazel regarded her with a supremely serious expression. “I told you everything,” he said. “We talked, and watched the meteor shower. The night waned. Your brother drank too much wine and grew sleepy. I brought him home.”
Mystique narrowed her gaze. “Brought him home? To the front door? Handed him over to Hank?”
Azazel sighed. “No. Of course not. I brought him to his room.”
“And tucked him into bed?” Mystique laughed. “Azazel, you’ll ruin your tough image.” She was teasing him, but she was also glad to hear it. Even though Azazel was part of Erik’s team and did what Erik asked, she hadn’t forgotten that they had initially been on opposing sides. She remembered the thump of falling bodies, and the fear that had spiked through her when she thought he might grab her next. Having spent time with him, she had learned to like Azazel. He was kind and often gentle, a surprising thing since he was so powerful and overwhelmingly strong. But fear was an emotion too strong to discard, even when other, friendlier emotions overlaid it.
They had a shared commonality between them. Blue and red, and neither of them truly like the humans who feared them on sight. Except Charles didn’t fear them, he feared for them, which was entirely different, even if it had smothered her at the end. She could understand the draw Azazel would feel for someone who found him infinitely fascinating, and could entirely forget on a one-to-one basis that you were a completely different color than all the rest of the world.
That Azazel seemed to not only desire that, but to want to reciprocate such respect, made Mystique much less worried. Charles was an inconsiderate jerk who didn’t truly see reality and gave everyone the benefit of the doubt, probably because he always saw into their heart-of-hearts, but she didn’t want Azazel to hurt him for it.
Azazel had affected a tight look. “I was hoping your brother would see past any preconceived notions,” he said. “That is why I have not been pressing.”
“I meant how scary you are in a fight,” she said. “But I’m sure that by now Charles knows you aren’t going to do anything fishy.”
“I see,” Azazel said softly. “So you believe that the third engagement could be…more robust.”
Mystique laughed. “You’re the one who’s seen his reaction to you. Do you think he’s interested yet?” Was she actually starting to entertain the idea that Charles might really like Azazel? Yes, she supposed she was. Just a tiny bit.
“Perhaps.” Azazel became thoughtful. “It may be time to do more than talk,” he finally said.
The third engagement, not-yet-a-date, took place two weeks later, on a day so gorgeously sunny and beautiful that it seemed to have been drawn out of a children’s book. Charles found he actually had butterflies in the pit of his stomach.
“This is silly,” he whispered to himself. It was early in the day with a crisp feel to the air that still lingered from the night. The sun was bright and warm, bringing out the vibrant colors of everything it touched. Each leaf’s veins, each rough edge of bark, each blade of grass was graced by the brim of sunshine.
Charles was sitting in his office area, and was staring out the window. Azazel always knocked on the door, requesting permission to enter, as if he couldn’t just invade every room of the house with the barest inclination. Charles appreciated the show of decorum.
From where he sat, he could see the span of the area in front of the door. Given the first two outings, Charles couldn’t even imagine where Azazel might choose next to go. Charles had tried to invite him to stay at the mansion. There were lovely paths to take through the forest, some of them smooth enough for his chair to traverse, a pool table in the game room, food enough to eat, and alcohol to imbibe, a showing of The Thin Man would be on the television that evening, the study had the chess board—his heart clenched at the memory of Erik playing and Charles wondered if he would ever stop mourning that damage to his heart.
He’d been prepared to wait for Erik, and he’d been prepared to set that part of his heart forever aside. Whether reconciliation or estrangement, it had been the path that Charles had waited upon, with as much stoicism as he could muster. But now there was Azazel. And Charles could not fool himself on that front. After the first surprise date, Charles had known that Azazel’s interest in him had nothing to do with mutant rights, and everything to do with basic interest.
At first, there had really been nothing to reciprocate, and Charles had thought that he could genuinely offer friendship in return. He was not so wealthy that he could turn down an offer of friendship, especially not with someone as intriguing as Azazel. But now….
Azazel appeared at the space in front of the door, and Charles called out to him.
Azazel. Over here. Come in! Charles did not want Azazel to have to deal with the gauntlet of Hank, Sean, and Alex. He suspected that Hank was nearly ready to start a no-holds barred throw-down fight in the foyer. Alex and Sean would have followed him into the abyss without hesitation.
Azazel’s head whipped around and he spied Charles at the window, and the next moment, there was a whiff of red smoke in front of the door, and a warm presence standing next to Charles. Charles looked up. “Opera again?” he asked, trying for a cheeky tone.
“No,” Azazel said. “Something very special today.” He went down on one knee so that he was face to face with Charles. “Do you trust me?” he asked.
Charles swallowed. “Mostly,” he admitted. “We don’t actually know each other very well yet, do we?”
“Fair enough,” Azazel said. His eyes were dark and direct, and searching for something in Charles’ face. “Will you trust me today? Trust me with your life?”
An image flared in Charles’ mind, of Azazel’s betrayal—of him stabbing Charles in the heart, his tail frozen in mid-thrust as Charles captured Azazel’s mind, and the two of them dying together, their abilities matching each other’s just enough, but neither swift enough for victory. Charles closed his eyes and forcefully dispelled the unpleasant thought. “If you chose to attack me, we would both end up dead,” he said softly.
“Yes,” Azazel agreed. “But I promise you, I will return you safely home again.”
Charles opened his eyes and looked at Azazel. He could feel the sincerity of the vow pulsing at him. “Then I trust you. Today. With my life,” he said.
“Shall we?” Azazel asked as he held out a hand, and Charles took it. The next moment, Charles realized he was in free-fall.
The ground was broad and wide, and so very green and lush. Everything was far away and small, and he was rushing toward it at an alarming rate. The air roared past his ears and his eyes teared up, and adrenaline pumped through him, taking away his breath, leaving him scrabbling against nothing. Horrified, Charles watched as the ground grew closer in the moment he had taken to register his new surroundings.
He cast his mind out, and there was Azazel, falling with him. A tightening around his waist let him know that Azazel had snaked his tail around him, and Charles realized also that he was being held firmly around the chest. He was in free fall, but he wasn’t alone.
Azazel’s eyes were firmly on the ground, with only a flicker of attention to acknowledge Charles.
He didn’t allow them to fall for longer than a few moments, and then Charles felt the peculiar yanking sensation that meant Azazel had teleported them, and suddenly all momentum was gone. Azazel was standing, clutching Charles against his chest, holding him upright.
Charles gasped for breath as he realized they were safe. He flung out his arms, forcing Azazel to let go and he tumbled to the soft ground. He looked around wildly, seeing the green of the hillside and the blue of the sky, and everything was orientated in the familiar and proper way. Before him was the vivid red of Azazel. He looked calm, but the emotion leaking from him was redolent of dismay, regret, and contrition. “Forgive me,” he finally said as Charles still fought to capture his composure. “I had only thought to offer you a thrill. It was an excitement I wanted to share. I did not realize…how frightening it would be.”
Charles stared at him. Of course, of course. Not frightening when you were the one who could teleport away. “A more detailed warning would have been sufficient,” he finally managed to say.
Azazel looked properly chagrined. He reached out a hand. “I will return you to your home,” he said.
Charles didn’t reach back. “What happened to all the momentum?” he asked instead.
“I dissipated it,” Azazel said.
“But sometimes you keep moving when you teleport.”
Azazel smiled. “You are very observant. Yes, I can keep the momentum if I wish it, or release it if I do not require it. A component of my ability.”
“That’s magnificent,” Charles said. “Really, truly amazing.”
Azazel still had his hand out, offering to bring him home.
Charles looked up to the sky. To the faraway clouds and the endless blue of the vast heavens above his head. The adrenaline had bled out to his skin, leaving him jumpy, and feeling more alive than he’d felt in months. “That was a rush,” he said. “Thank you.” He looked at Azazel’s hand. “I don’t want to go home just yet. You weren’t just going to do that once and send me on my way, were you?”
“No. We can do it as many times as you wish.” Azazel’s voice held the distinct note of relief. “You aren’t afraid?” he asked, a hitch of hesitation in the words.
“Frightened out of my wits. But I want to try again. Let’s see if the second one is just as amazing as the first.” Finally, Charles reached out his hand and clasped Azazel’s.
Azazel pulled Charles to him and wrapped his tail decisively around Charles’ waist. “Don’t forget to breathe this time,” he advised in all seriousness. Then there was that familiar yanking feeling and Charles blinked, and they were in the sky again. They seemed to hang there for a moment, as if they were figures in a cartoon, and then they plummeted.
Again, the land came rushing up at him and there was the roar of air moving past his ears, but this time Charles found he had attention for more. He could feel the change in temperature as they moved through the layers of air, starting out bracingly cold. He watched the horizon, noticing the faint curve that belied the spherical nature of the earth, and he noted the whiteness of the line that separate land from air.
Charles also felt Azazel at his back, holding him firmly, safely.
Even with the adrenaline once again pumping through his veins as he experienced the gut-wrenching sensation of falling, Charles realized he was exhilarated, enthralled. Not frightened. Azazel at his back kept that fear at bay.
Then the world flipped on its axis and Charles lost all orientation again. Azazel had just somersaulted, and taken Charles along. Charles’ excitement flared anew--all down his arms, and through his body until he felt as if he’d touched a livewire.
The ground loomed close and then suddenly it didn’t. Charles felt the jerking sensation and the air was scented with that wet-burning-brick smell. He was safely back down.
“That was incredible,” Charles said. His heart was thudding in his chest and his sense of balance was spinning a bit. Azazel released him gently to the ground, but Charles toppled over as if he were drunk. “I’m a bit addled,” he said, “I think I’ve been thoroughly disoriented.”
“It was a long drop,” Azazel said with a hint of concern.
“I’ll be alright in a moment,” Charles said. “It’s astounding how you’re able to recover from all that change in motion. Is that something you learned, or have you always been so unflappable?”
“Unflappable,” Azazel repeated, slightly quizzical, as if he were examining the word like a particularly strange insect he had just found on the sidewalk, and it wasn’t any sort of answer that Charles could make sense of.
“Could we do it again?” Charles asked. His head was still spinning, but he wanted nothing more than to experience that sensation of dropping, falling, not-quite-flying again. No wonder Sean was constantly taking to the sky—the sensation was staggering, and purely addictive.
“Again?” Azazel asked, and he put a gentle hand against Charles’ forehead. “You’re cold and clammy to the touch, and you still can’t sit up straight. Yet you ask to go again. You have very little sense.”
“I insist,” Charles said. He imagined that this might be his only shot at this activity. How long would it be before Azazel tired of these excursions with him? Charles wanted more. He wanted as much as he could withstand. This was his opportunity, and if he could just get that feeling again, one more time, he’d be satisfied. Or, as satisfied as he could be when he knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “Please.”
With a guttural noise that could have meant anything, Azazel pulled him up once more, his tail encircling his waist in a growingly familiar manner. “As you wish,” Azazel said into Charles’ ear, his breath ghosting warm over his skin.
They were chest to chest, and Charles found that he could see directly into Azazel’s eyes, and something about them held the secrets of teleportation, and that twisting yank that pulled him from one location to another. Azazel smiled at him, and suddenly the tightness in Charles’ chest broke open. A wave of affection flooded through the paths cut by the adrenaline, and chased directly after by a burn of desire too acute to ignore.
Charles leaned forward and pressed his lips against Azazel’s. Azazel was warmth slicked over with coolness from the drop through the atmosphere, and he pressed back almost instantly with a fervid response. Azazel’s arms tightened, as well as the grip of his tail around Charles’ waist, and Charles threw his arms around Azazel’s shoulders and gripped for all he was worth. They clung together, and Charles felt like he was drowning in warmth, and pressure, and Azazel’s weight against him spoke volumes about his intentions, and his own desires.
When Charles finally pulled back and opened his eyes, he saw Azazel staring at him with an undisguised wonderment.
“Wasn’t that what you wanted, all along?” Charles asked, still breathless from the kiss.
“It was only a dream. An indulgent fantasy,” Azazel said. “I thought to only fool myself.”
“Why?” Charles asked. “Because we’re enemies?”
“Because of many reasons,” Azazel replied. He reached a hand to cup the line of Charles’ jaw. “Are you still dizzy?”
“My head is spinning,” Charles replied, “but I think that’s pretty normal.”
“Hold tight,” Azazel whispered, and his tail cinched possessively around his waist. Then there was that wet-scorched scent and the spiraling yank, and Charles was in freefall.
“You took him skydiving?” Mystique’s voice rose in pitch, and then went even higher. “Skydiving?” She stared at Azazel in horror. The thud-thud-thud of bodies falling whispered at the back of her mind, and she was suddenly afraid. Afraid for Charles. Why had she even encouraged this?
“He loved it,” Azazel said. “I brought him home safely, as promised.”
“Don’t ever do that again,” she countered. “His abilities aren’t physical. He can’t shift or call metal or sonic scream or anything like that,” she said, a growing spike of fear giving impetus to her anger.
Azazel reached out his hand and put two fingers under her chin and tilted her face up so that they were staring directly at each other. “He was always safe. I never, not even for a moment, released him.” His tail snaked around her waist and held firm, and Mystique had no doubt he was displaying for her the solid security that his grip had been.
Mystique shook her head. “No more dates,” she declared. “You aren’t compatible.”
“That is yet to be determined.”
Mystique sucked in a breath and resolutely put that sort of thinking out of her mind. She glared back at Azazel. “You’re incompatible,” she restated with a firmer, more authoritarian tone. She ticked off the points on her fingers. “He’s far too young for you. You’ve got different abilities. Incompatible abilities. The others at the mansion hate you. When Erik finds out he’ll hate you. Then he’ll probably kill you.” She stopped counting and put her hands on her hips. “And if you don’t call it off, I’ll hate you.”
Azazel chuckled. “Are you suddenly worried because finally he has shown some interest?” he asked with an insight keen enough to cut through Mystique’s bluster.
Mystique did have to admit that she’d thought the whole thing farcical. Aiding Azazel had been a bit of a lark. She couldn’t imagine that Charles would ever reciprocate any feelings. First of all, he and Erik had gone and ripped their hearts to shreds. Charles was like a swan, he only truly mated once and that was forever. How could there be room for anyone else? Second, Charles was fascinated by mutant abilities and horrified by hurting others. He should have been deeply interested in what Azazel could do and then repulsed by his actions and history.
Azazel shook his head in a kindly, disbelieving way. “I told you. Your brother is like a pearl. Precious. You know this, in your heart. Your sister’s heart.”
“He’s naïve and idealistic. He’s so the-glass-is-half-full that the glass is actually overflowing.”
“So you have warned me. And yet, I find it is those qualities which most draw me further in.”
“He sides with the humans,” Mystique said, pulling out the last straw.
Azazel looked thoughtful. “No man can be perfect,” he finally said, with a grin.
Magneto had kept them busy with various schemes and plans, and Azazel had been carefully avoiding Mystique, who turned those narrowed, suspicious eyes on him. Azazel could only tell her so many times that he intended to keep her brother safe and wouldn’t harm him, but he knew such promises could only be proved through the passage of time.
So, it had taken Azazel over two weeks to prepare for the next date. He hummed to himself, satisfied, because he was now firmly sure that these were dates, and not just engagements or meetings, or even appointments. Azazel was fully courting Charles Xavier.
It appeared that Charles Xavier was courting him back.
Azazel finished preparing the location, and then teleported himself to the front of the mansion. Given their two groups’ antagonism toward each other, he had found it appropriate to wait outside for admittance. Of course, he could have teleported himself into any nook or corner of any room of the estate, but he wasn’t here for that purpose.
Azazel caught a glimpse of faces in the upper windows. Beast, Havok, and Banshee. He nodded solemnly at them and the curtains twitched and were still. Azazel remained indifferent to these three mutants. He had fought with Beast, and knew he harbored animosity toward Azazel, but Azazel held no such emotions. Perhaps that would change in the future, if they were to fight again. Azazel hoped that fighting would be avoided as much as possible. Magneto did not seem to aspire to it, as these had once been his allies, and Azazel did not wish to pursue what might happen if he were forced to hurt those that Charles protected.
Azazel, please come in, I’m in my office.
Azazel flushed happily at the invitation, let his dark ruminations drift away, and with a victorious mock-salute to the spies hidden in the windows, he teleported to the office.
Charles was sitting in his wheelchair, looking expectant, with a shine of joy that couldn’t be dampened. Azazel felt as if he could warm his hands by that small bonfire. “Good morning,” Charles said. “I’ve been looking forward to seeing you again.”
“As have I,” Azazel said.
“Opera again?” Charles teased, and Azazel curled his tail behind him with the pleasure of the easy exchange.
“Not today. I have another surprise.” Azazel paused, and then added, “As always, I promise to return you safely.” It had become a way to allow a truce and Azazel spoke the words more for the other three in the house, as he suspected they were listening in, than he did for Charles. Azazel knew that Charles would have already read his intent, peeked into the secrets of his soul, and known he would be safe.
“Thank you,” Charles said, sincerely. Azazel had the distinct impression that even though it didn’t have to be said, that it was appreciated that he made the effort of the promise. Already this relationship had structured lines and girders holding it aloft, and Azazel was glad, for every component added to the structure leant it a solidness that meant it was more real, and perhaps, someday permanent.
Azazel held out his hand. “Shall we?”
Charles positively beamed at him, and just a hint of happy expectation washed through Azazel as he clasped hands and then teleported them both to the sailboat.
Charles’ first sounds were all tongue-tied and twisted-up. “Oh—look—it’s—oh my—Azazel—this is just—amazing!”
Azazel paused to look out and take in the view that he had grown used to. The waters were azure and clear, revealing the life under the surface. Even as he watched, a school of fish darted by, their backs thin and dark, and their shadows falling on the ocean floor. The sailboat was anchored in a little curving bay, and there was nothing on land but vegetation, sand, and animal life. Azazel looked out across the sweep of sea. Sometimes there might be another ship going past, or even coming into the harbor, but it was rare. The sky was broad and blue, with wispy clouds streaming across.
“Where are we?” Charles asked as he squinted up into the sky, and brought one hand up to shade his eyes.
Azazel gave him a smile and a shake of his head. “I’m sure you could find out, if you tried,” he said, “but I often move my ship around, so it wouldn’t be of much use.”
Charles’ expression darkened slightly and it gave Azazel a sharp stab. “No, not because I’d try to track you down. I was just curious. It’s so beautiful here.” The shadows lifted and his face brightened. “I’m glad you have a place that is all yours where you can escape to for some solitude and comfort.”
Azazel turned his head and looked away. “I prepared an early lunch for us,” he said, instead of continuing with the previous topic. “Shall we eat?”
There was not much space for maneuvering of the wheelchair on the ship, but Azazel had cleared the space at the end of the small table, and Charles just fit there. Azazel produced the cheese, olives, bread, and fruit that he’d gathered.
They ate quietly. The only sounds were those of the breeze as it skittered through the bones of the ship, and the waves lapping gently at her hull.
As Azazel peeled the skin from a mango, Charles reached out to touch him on the hip. He paused, knife held upright.
“I’ve very much enjoyed our visits together,” Charles began. “At first, they seemed rather odd, and I supposed a great many wrong things about them.”
Azazel peeled another strip of mango, moving ever so carefully with the knife.
“Then I thought that our previous visit would be our last. That you had what you’d desired, and wouldn’t return.” Azazel could feel Charles’ scrutiny, and he resolutely kept his attention on the mango. “But I represent something to you, something I won’t understand unless I truly read your mind very deeply. Which I generally don’t do with friends. So, unless you tell me, I shall remain ignorant.”
Azazel finished peeling the mango and then sliced off pieces of the fruit until he reached the oddly shaped core. He put the mango-stone down on the plate in front of him and then carefully placed the knife beside it. His hands were sticky from the juice, so he dried them with a towel. Only then did he turn to see Charles patiently waiting for his response.
“I’ve had many lovers,” Azazel began. “Some were only interested in me because of my form. They were reckless and wild, and believed I was a devil. For some time, I reveled in such abandonment. Some of my lovers were interested in me despite my form, either believing in the sanctity of the soul or because they could learn to see past how I appear.”
Charles gave him a small nod of encouragement.
Azazel paused to consider his words. “You do not have that dichotomy. You see me as a whole. It was both my form and my companionship that you accepted.” He stopped. There was nothing else to add.
Charles stared at him, his face open, considering and thoughtful. “You decided this when I admired your tail?” he asked.
Azazel nodded. “You would be surprised, I think, to learn how few people have actually complimented my tail.”
“That’s terrible!” Charles reached across the table to interlace his fingers with Azazel’s. “It really is a lovely tail. I meant it when I said that I wished I had one.”
Azazel lifted his tail and speared one of the mango pieces, which he then offered to Charles. “I would allow you to borrow mine,” he whispered. Charles’ attention fixed on the mango piece and he leaned forward and then licked up the edge of Azael’s tail before gingerly taking the mango piece into his mouth and chewing.
Azazel shivered, and then immediately skewered another piece of mango and held it out on offer. Charles swallowed the first piece and blinked slowly at Azazel before repeating the languorous lick, and taking the next mango piece.
“So,” Charles said, in-between bites of the mango, and with a wicked glint of mischief in his eyes. “We’re dating?”
“Dating,” Azazel agreed, somewhat dazedly, and brought up another morsel of mango.
By the time the entire fruit was gone, Azazel thought he might shudder out of his skin, he was so full to bursting with craving, of wanting Charles beneath his hands, and beside him in bed.
He clenched his fingers and leaned forward, surging suddenly with the absolute need to touch, to claim, and the table was in the way—
Azazel teleported behind Charles, who laughed with delight at the exhibition. Then he grasped Charles’ wrist and teleported them both to the small bedroom in the bow of the ship. The bed was wide, though there wasn’t much headroom, but there was a hatch through which cool ocean air drifted.
Charles sprawled on the bed, staring up through the small hatch. He shifted his gaze to take in Azazel and he looked so thoughtfully serious that Azazel paused.
Then Charles broke into a full smile and he propped himself up with one arm, and reached the other behind Azael’s neck. He pulled them together into a fierce kiss. Between them, Azazel could smell the salt of the ocean, and the lingering sweetness of the mango, and the exhilarating glide of Charles’ lips and skin against his own, and Azazel found he was whirling and light-headed, and completely pleased with the sensation.
Embraced in the kiss, giving and taking, Azazel trailed the tip of his tail down Charles’ back. Charles gasped against him, back muscles straining beneath Aazael’s hands. Azazel repeated the tantalizing stroke and Charles responded again with another gasp. A slow, warm curl of adoration moved through Azazel’s belly, and higher into his chest, mingling there with the want and need that had electrified him moments ago.
Charles broke away from him and buried his face in the crook of Azazel’s neck, breathing warmly against Azazel’s skin. Then he nuzzled under Azazel’s jaw line, pressing small kisses in a row. I love how you’re so wonderfully red, Charles spoke into his mind, but it does mean I can’t see where I’ve already traveled….
Then mark a little harder, Azazel suggested, and he felt Charles smile against his skin and take a stronger nip with his sharp teeth, and Azazel moaned. Ardor overwhelmed him, and he flipped Charles over, mindful of their positioning. “My turn,” he said hoarsely, and Charles’ fingers crept under his waistband. I was wondering all about you,Charles said, and Azazel was more than happy to show him everything.
Post-coital, Azazel had teleported them to the broad, slightly rounded bow of the ship, along with a blanket for comfort, and they watched the sun setting against the horizon. It appeared to be dipping into the sea, and the vibrant colors stretched out over the darkening color of the water.
“I’ll never see the red of a sunset and not think of you,” Charles said, against him, and Azazel had to hide a smile. He was becoming entirely too fond of Charles’ penchant for broad, romantic sentiment. But the words pleased him. He’d never truly had a lover quite so enamored of his skin before, or his tail, or his penchant for teleporting at the least notice.
Charles yawned sleepily. “You’ve worn me out,” he said. “Wake me up before you teleport,” he said, and then a moment later, dropped off to sleep, propped against Azazel’s side.
Azazel watched him sink into sleep, making a soft, fluttering wheeze that evened out momentarily. Azazel stroked his free hand through Charles’ hair, not enough to wake him, and then marveled at the trust that had just been demonstrated. Sleep was so vulnerable. Particularly for a telepath who relied upon his awake mind for protection. Azazel had just been handed Charles’ life.
He brought his tail slowly around, as if to ward off an invisible attack, though nothing was there but the indigo-carmine colors of the sun at last vanishing beneath the crest of the ocean.
“I promise,” Azazel said, and the promise comprised too many things to be spoken aloud in a list, but for Azazel, if was enough.
Azazel contemplated the situation, and all that he had earned, and been given, and felt a deep contentment. It was a burden, this nascent trust, and Azazel found that it had been a component of his life that he’d never quite experienced before. Everything with Charles appeared to be on a course that Azazel had never quite taken before. A pearl, he thought, perplexed, because he’d known it before, and yet, he was still discovering its true worth.