They stayed at the mansion for longer than they should have, but Azazel wanted to make sure Janos was well before they left. They grew used to the place, and the people grew used to them, for the most part. Well, Xavier did, at least. The loud ginger boy still avoided Azazel at all costs, and the angry one had taken to skulking around McCoy's labs whenever Azazel and Janos were down there.
Janos was being seen now, the bandages discarded as McCoy checked the wound, still red, like a brand across Janos' ribs. The stitches were out, at least, but McCoy did not seem satisfied with his progress. Azazel worried something was wrong, maybe something to do with the other mutant, the one who attacked Janos. Maybe he had some kind of poison in his body, maybe he had infected Janos.
“Careful Azazel. You're becoming paranoid.” Xavier wheeled up beside him, both of them on the outside of the glass that looked in on the labs. Janos was speaking, but the glass was soundproof. Azazel was tempted to break it. “You could try. Hank made this practically unbreakable.”
“It is rude to read minds uninvited.”
“I can hardly help it when you're projecting loud enough to be heard across the mansion.” Azazel frowned. “It is hard, I know, to watch someone you love in pain.” The man was watching Hank and Janos calmly, as though what he had said had not invaded the most private parts of Azazel's mind.
“Thoughts are not like newspapers, to be stated aloud over breakfast.”
“I will if you stop practically shouting it down the hall.” He knitted his hands together over his unfeeling legs. “I know what it feels like to lose love, Azazel. However angry he is, or frightened you are, it is worth it in the end, always.”
“Perhaps you should stay out of my head, yes?” He asked, bristling.
“I can hardly help it. You two have done nothing but project the entire time you've been here. Did you even realize?” Azazel did not, and he did not want to talk about it. Janos was wincing at something Hank was doing, and as the wince became more pronounced, his tail began to snap back and forth. “It isn't broken, what's between you two. You can still fix it.”
“That is enough. Get out of my head.” He ordered.
“I just...” He trailed off. Azazel turned to him and waited for an answer, but none seemed to be forthcoming. He did not like that Xavier felt he had any rights to poke around in Azazel's head, or Janos', or to judge their situation. Whatever was still between them was between them, and them alone. “I am sorry. I was being rude. Raven says I'm too nosy. I'm afraid it's a side effect of being a telepath.”
“You should listen to her.” He said, and the conversation turned to less volatile subjects. The idea Xavier had planted in Azazel's head bloomed like a weed though, impossible to dig out and kill once it had taken root.
He needed to talk to someone, someone who knew them. He had no experience in this, nothing to relate to. Emma would have been the best option. Emma at least stayed out of his private thoughts, and if she heard anything she was not supposed to, she never said a word. Even these past few months, when she had so clearly disapproved of everything, she'd said nothing.
Except for once.
She had been disappointed in him. He'd known that from the start, from the way she was so short with him, no longer the sarcastic sparring partner he'd grown fond of over their years together.
She never said anything though, until one night, when he wandered down into the kitchen of the old house in Canada they were staying in. The tea in front of her looked cold, and that worried Azazel. She had been under more stress than she was used to since Lehnsherr had taken over, as this man, having been with Xavier, demanded more of her. More than she even had, he suspected.
“Nightmares?” He asked. That was often the problem. When she was tired, she could no longer block the rest of them out while she slept, and Azazel knew that at least his mind was no treat to experience.
“I'm not speaking to you.” She replied childishly, frowning.
“I am aware. But you are having bad dreams again, aren't you?” She glared at him, but nodded. “Were they mine?”
“No. They were Janos'.” Azazel looked away. “And yes, it is your fault.” He scowled at her. The inner workings of his mind were blurry to her, she told him, but she could still get impressions of his surface thoughts. Normally, she kept it to herself though.
“Are you going to blame me for everything?”
“He's upset, you bastard. Now he keeps thinking about his worst memories, which means he dreams of them, which means I dream of them. Because you had to go and be a complete ass to him.” She rubbed her temples. “And don't pretend you haven't been having nightmares too. You don't sleep well without him there anymore.”
“What did you see?” He asked curiously. Sometimes if he explained a memory, it tormented her less, since her mind was able to distinguish it, instead of having a disjointed experience drifting through.
“You've been dreaming of Czechoslovakia.” She slumped over on the table, resting her head on her arms. “There's blood on the snow.”
“I thought he was dead.” Azazel didn't need to explain who 'he' was. “We were on a job. Dangerous country now. We were separated.” Even now, he could feel the tightness in his chest, when he had thought Janos was gone, stolen from him. Boston's pain had been nothing compared to that night. He'd been murderous.
“Was he hurt?”
“No.” Azazel did not elaborate. That memory was one he never wanted anyone to see, the moment when he'd looked at Janos, and seen something more than a man. That was the moment where Janos had been everything, the only thing in the whole of the universe that mattered. It was for him and Janos alone, a part of their lives that was untouchable.
“Jesus Christ.” Emma swore. Azazel stared at her, startled. “You're so pathetic. And you're so blind.”
“Sleep well,” He spat, getting up. Fuck her, he thought, and her condescension. She could die of exhaustion.
“I just don't understand you, Azazel.” She said, as he walked out. “I don't understand how you can't see it.”
Mystique had not said much to him, after their argument in her bedroom. Neither of them made much effort to break the silence, still angry with each other.
He ran into her outside though, in her blue form, wrapped up in a dress and sweater to guard against the chill, staring out over the grounds as though they held some answer.
“Azazel,” She greeted, with a nod. He nodded back, unsure of what to say to her. “You and Janos won't be here much longer, will you?”
“Nyet,” He answered, the Russian still more instinctive than English, even after all these years. “Maybe another week or so, then we will go.”
“Okay,” She sniffed. “If Angel or Emma wants to visit me, tell them it's okay. Okay?” Azazel arched an eyebrow, but nodded, all the same. “Charles says anyone is welcome. All mutants. Even you two.” She swallowed and sniffed again, and Azazel wondered if she was going to cry. He hoped not. “If you're still a, you know, a 'you two', whenever, I mean...” She trailed off and sniffed again, rubbing her sweater against her eyes.
“I could go get someone, yes?” He said, gesturing towards the house, but she waved him off.
“No, it's, sorry, I just realized I won't see any of you, for awhile.”
“I was not under the impression you would be missing me.” He said dryly, wishing for a cigarette.
“Do you have to be such an asshole all the time? I mean, god, Azazel, could you just be decent for once?” She balled her hand into a fist, obviously frustrated with him. “I meant what I said before, you know. There's been a lot of times where I think Janos would be better off without you. He's too good for you, and I think you know it.”
“Let me make one thing clear, little girl,” He growled, angry at her continued presumption. “You are not involved in this, and you will keep your thoughts to yourself.”
“Jesus Christ, do you hear yourself?” She asked exasperatedly. “Do you realize that when anyone goes near that subject, you blow up? You are so defensive, you won't listen to anyone. You won't even listen to Emma, and I know you respect her, at the very least.”
“You are just like your brother, you know?” He spat. “Eager to put your nose where it doesn't belong.”
“Azazel, you are going to be someone's father!” She shouted, startling him. “Has that hit home for you yet? Because it needs to!” She pressed her hand to her stomach emphatically as she spoke, and he worried, for just a moment, about her distress hurting the child. “The kind of man you are, the kind I think you can be when it suits you, I don't want that man around a baby, especially not mine. But everyone keeps saying that when you're with him, you're better. And you were better, when I first met you, when you two were still together, before you had to go and screw it up.”
“You assume I want to be a father!” He shouted back, gesturing at her stomach. “And who are you to tell me what kind of man I am?”
“I know you're the kind who can't swallow his pride enough to just admit he was wrong!” She yelled, her eyes tearing up. “I see the way you look at him Azazel. I know you love him. He might be the only thing you actually love. And you can't even apologize to him! What kind of parent would you be? Would you even love your own child?”
“I did not ask to be one!”
“Well you're going to be, so you had best learn to deal with it!” She was standing her ground against him now, despite being afraid. She was even hiding it better. If he wasn't so angry, he'd be impressed at how far she had come. “And if I have to deal with you for the rest of my life because of this child, I would rather it be the man you are when you're with him.”
He wanted to ask her how she knew he cared about the child's life at all, when he wasn't even sure of how he felt. He'd never been around children, didn't know if he even liked them. He didn't even know if he liked Mystique, when it came down to it.
But there was a curious feeling coming to seed inside of him, remembering his own childhood. While he had not been unhappy as a child, cared for as he was, he had been lonely, and insanely curious about his parentage. He would have also appreciated, if his parents were the same as him, help with his abilities, understanding them. Understanding his own face, his strangeness. To abandon his own child the way he had been abandoned felt wrong, the more he thought about it.
He honestly had no idea what to do though. He would have appreciated having Janos to talk to, with his easy understanding of everything that made up Azazel. Janos knew him, better than anyone alive or dead.
What kind of father could he even be?
“Why can't you just tell him?” Mystique asked, breaking into his thoughts.
“Is not as easy as that.” He answered truthfully. “He might not forgive me.”
“He loves you.” She stated, shrugging. “I don't know why, because god knows, you don't deserve it. You really don't.”
“Thank you for your opinion.” He told her, none too kindly, not exactly pleased with her assessment.
“But,” She kept speaking, turning to him again. “I think you really do love him. And he does deserve it.”
He thought about Janos often, more so than before, as Xavier and Emma and Mystique's words haunted every corner of his mind. There was no solution in his mind, no clear decision. He wanted Janos back, but he wanted Janos happy. And he was not so sure now that he made Janos happy. He had seemed happy.
He had no idea what to do. So he sat on the roof and smoked.
“Hey man, can I bum one?” The angry boy flopped down beside him. Azazel offered the pack to him, but he frowned when he took one. “What's with the black paper?” He showed him the carton, and the boy laughed. “Black Devil, nice.” He lit it with a worn silver lighter, and inhaled deeply, resting his head back against the low wall around the edge.
“Does McCoy know you court death?” He smirked.
“As far as Beast knows, I haven't smoked in three months. And he's going to keep thinking that, right?” Azazel nodded good-naturedly, and they smoked in silence for awhile. “So uh, can I ask you something?” Azazel shrugged. “Is uh, is Riptide like, your guy?” He looked down at the boy quizzically, and the boy flushed, looking away.
“Are you trying to ask me if we have sex?”
“Christ man, don't say it so loud.”
“There is no one up here.” They boy slouched even more and took another long inhale. “If you are thinking of trying your luck, know I could just kill you here, before anyone could save you.”
“Don't blow a gasket, I'm not after him.” He reassured him, barely even recoiling. Maybe he knew it was an empty threat. “I've never met any uh, older guys like me, you know?”
“You are wanting advice on sex?”
“No, Jesus! Damn, no, I got that part down. Spent half my life in juvenile hall and prison, trust me, I understand how it works. Just, you know, it's kind of, a little, uh, cool. Like I'm not the only freak.”
“Do you really want to discuss being a 'freak' with me boy?” The question had no ill will in it, and the boy was smart enough to know it. “You have never met any other uh, what is your word, I do not know,”
“Queer.” The boy said the word evenly. Azazel liked that. He had no patience for self-pity. “Nah. Not unless they were trying to feel me up. And they were only good for one thing,” He rubbed his index and thumb together in a gesture Azazel had come to understand meant 'money'. “So um, can I ask you something? About Raven?”
“What is it you are wanting to know?”
“You're queer. But you slept with Raven.” Azazel shrugged.
“Vodka.” Alex, Azazel remembered now, laughed. “That is not your question.”
“Do guys ever, I mean, if your options are kind of limited, do guys ever you know, with other guys? Just because they want someone?” Azazel inhaled deeply, and blew out a sloppy tornado. “Fuck, that's a cool trick.”
“You say you were in prison. You know what men do when they are lonely.”
“I don't mean just sex. I mean the other stuff. Love stuff. Can you pretend to love someone, just because there's no one else?” Azazel managed another tornado, this one better. He had learned the trick as a boy, in the circus, from the fortune tellers. “Because Beast-” Alex stopped himself, but Azazel had heard.
“This is about McCoy?” Alex nodded, eyes staring out into the distance. “He and Mystique were involved, weren't they?” He nodded again. “This is why you lurk in hallway, scowling.”
“I thought we were good, had something, but then she comes back and he's in there all the time. I can't even get him to have sex with me half the time now. I mean, fuck, does he just like women? What was I?”
“He likes men too.” The boy looked up at him hopefully.
“How do you know?”
“He acts like an idiot around Janos.” This was all the evidence Azazel needed to know what a man wanted, but Alex seemed less than convinced.
“Is that how you decide if someone is queer? They get hot for your boyfriend?”
“Is normally a good test.” Alex pursed his lips, then agreed, albeit grudgingly. “And Janos is not with me anymore.” The boy tried to blow a smoke ring, but all that happened was a cloudy mess. Azazel shook his head. “Close your lips more, no teeth, yes?” He demonstrated and blew one, expanding lazily in the autumn sunlight. “Snap your tongue, bottom to top.” The boy tried again and got something a little closer.
“So how do you do that tornado?”
“You cannot even manage ring. Do not push your luck.”
“So um, why aren't you and Riptide still together?” The boy blew a shaky smoke ring and grinned at it. It dissipated quickly, the shape not solid enough to hold long. “I mean, not trying to get in your business, just, you two act like you're still together.”
“Tell me, have you ever been in love?” He asked, looking out over the grounds. He'd nearly smoked his cigarette down, but he tried to make it last a little longer. Alex frowned as he inhaled, and the ring he blew was better.
“Is it easy to stop?” The boy laughed in a very humorless way.
“No. It's like being in hell, trying not to love someone. Trust me. Especially when they don't love you anymore.”
Azazel flicked away the butt, and pulled out another, holding the pack with his tail. This way he could take out a cigarette and his lighter at the same time. Alex watched him lazily, and took another when Azazel offered him the pack. “Want to see a trick?” He nodded. Azazel put his index and middle finger on the lid, and his thumb on the bottom. He snapped his fingers together, flicking the lid open, and lit it with his index finger.
“Man, where do you pick that shit up?” He shrugged, pleased, and offered it to Alex with his tail. “You gotta teach me, c'mon.” Azazel obliged him, and after a dozen tries, he managed it. “Man, wait 'til I show Sean.”
They smoked in silent companionship for a bit, Alex practicing his rings while Azazel tried to remember some of the harder tricks. “So, why are you asking about that kind of thing?” Azazel gave him a half-shrug. “Okay, don't like, get mad. I haven't been staring at him or anything, not on purpose at least, but you know, the guy is uh,” He whistled low, and Azazel smiled pridefully. “But whatever you two are fighting about, you've got nothing to worry about.”
“I do not worry about Janos.”
“'Janos'? Huh. Well, wait, then why the hell are you asking me this awkward shit? He loves you, you love him, good for you both. Go kiss and make up. Leave me the hell out of it. No offense, but you two scare the shit out of me, and I don't want to be in your business.”
“'He loves me, I love him'?” Alex snorted.
“Duh.” He blew a perfect smoke ring.
“Do you really think this is that simple?” Alex shrugged again, rolling his cigarette between his index finger and thumb.
“Never know til you try. And hey, way shit is going right now, I might be a free man again soon. You don't want to grovel, fuck, I'll go after him. Seriously, I will.” Azazel snapped him in the back of his head with his tail.
But the boy's words stayed with him, when no one else's did.
The most he could do was plan on his words, weighing them out carefully to see what sounded most sincere. Whether or not he'd ever say them, whether they would ever mean anything to Janos, depended entirely on chance. Maybe the boy was right. Maybe it really was that simple. Or maybe Mystique was right, and Janos was better off with someone else, someone less damaged than Azazel.
His opportunity came when he wandered out to the trees again, to find Janos already there, smoking. When he saw Azazel, he stiffened, but didn't leave. He wanted to get along, like he always did. Or maybe he missed Azazel too.
“We can leave soon.” He told Azazel, after they'd smoked together in silent companionship for a few minutes. “Hank needs to take the stitches out, and then I am well enough to go.”
“Do you want to go to Magneto?”
“Where else would I go?” Azazel shrugged.
“Mexico?” He suggested slyly, and Janos groaned.
“No matter how many times you ask-”
“The answer is no.” Azazel finished for him, smiling at the way the corners of Janos' mouth had turned up. “You never did tell me the ending of that story.”
“You never did either.” Janos reminded him. He stepped closer to Janos carefully, not wanting him to shy away.
“Do you want to know how that story ends?” Azazel asked. Janos considered him carefully, taking a drag while he did, and brushing his now too-long hair behind his ear with his other hand.
“You know I will not push.” He wanted to know though, Azazel could see the way his eyes had lit up curiously, like they always did when something interested him.
“I spent the next fifteen years being their dog. You wonder, Janos, how I got so good at my job?” Janos looked at him, eyes steady with his, as they always had been. Janos had never been truly afraid of him, no matter what he'd seen Azazel do. “But then, our dear Father died. Things were a mess, everyone confused, yelling. In that time, no one noticed files going missing, and a circus being forgotten. After that, I was free to leave. They had nothing to keep me.”
“No one remembered where you had come from?” Janos looked as though he found that hard to believe.
“There was much confusion, you see. If a few people go missing, well, that is to be expected, is it not?” The dry laugh he got was not unexpected. Janos had always shared Azazel's morbid humor. He liked that about him too. He put his cigarette out, his courage worked up at last.
“And that is how the story ends?”
“No,” Azazel shook his head and stepped forward again, so that he could push Janos' hair back, sliding his palm down until it cupped Janos' neck. “That part ends when an arrogant man sits down beside me in a bar in San Francisco, and steals my cigarette in an alley.” His eyes widened, just a little, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Janos drop his cigarette, so that it smoldered on the packed dirt beneath the tree. Janos' own eyes dropped to it, and he stepped on it quietly, making sure it was out. He did not raise his eyes again though.
“Azazel,” He said, but nothing followed. So Azazel kept going.
“You were the first, to ever tell me something like that. There has never been anyone before you, never any man that I wanted to have for more than a week, or one who made me feel how you do. With you, I am content, peaceful.” Janos swallowed, and still would not look up. “I am not expecting anything from you Janos.”
“What exactly are you telling me Azazel?” His voice shook, though his eyes were dry.
“I love you. I have loved you for a long time.” Janos broke away and turned his back to Azazel, cracking his hope. He had known, he reminded himself, that this was a possibility. That Janos would see this as too little, too late, and reject him. “I am sorry I did not see it before.”
“This is not fair Azazel, and you know it. The words are not magic, they do not erase what has happened. The weekend in Barcelona, that was cruel, and you knew it when you did it-”
“I had to force myself to let you go!” He did not want to be reminded of his mistake, not now when he was trying to put things right. “What I felt for you, what I feel for you, I had been taught every day was weakness, was something to discard. You were suddenly the only thing that mattered, and it felt like-” He stopped, and tried to re-gather his thoughts. He had not wanted to get angry, say something he'd regret.
“If I am a weakness, why do you tell me this now?” Janos was looking at him over his shoulder, an improvement. He was looking at Azazel, at least.
“Because I would rather be weak than not have you.” There was something else too, something he needed to know. “Before Barcelona, Janos,”
“What about it?”
“Mystique says you were going to leave me.” Janos' reaction was his answer, the way he frowned and cast his eyes away.
“I said it. I never could seem to do it.” Janos confessed. Azazel's tail flicked back and forth while he gathered his thoughts, tried to find what he needed to say. “Being with you was hard.”
“If being with me was so hard, why were you?” He snapped, fingers itching for a cigarette.
“Because I loved you. I wanted to be with you, and I tried to make it work. I thought that if I waited,” He swallowed, running his hands through his hair anxiously. “And then you were hurt so badly. Emma thought you were dying. You were dying. After that, I thought...” He stopped again, and didn't start.
“What did you think?” Azazel prompted.
“You were delirious. You were speaking, to me, mostly in Russian.” Azazel did not remember speaking aloud, but he did remember what he had been thinking, at least some of it. “But you did,” He paused, looked away. “You did say some things in English.”
“What?” Janos didn't answer him, just looked at the ground. “What did I say to you Janos?”
“I was begging you not to leave me. Emma told me I had to keep you calm, and when I was speaking, you were, somewhat. So I spoke to you. And when I begged you,” His voice broke, and he raised his hand to his mouth, as though he could keep it all inside if he just stoppered up the flow. “When I begged you not to leave me, you told me you told you never would. You said you could never leave me. And I...I needed to believe that. So badly.”
Azazel looked away, unable to face him for a moment.
“And then Barcelona happened.” Janos said. “And I realized I could not do this anymore either. I hate being apart from you, but I cannot have it halfway. If you do not love me, if you are just saying this, then leave me be. Let me find someone else.”
“And will you love them?”
Janos bit his lip and shook his head.
“The way I love you Azazel,” He paused, and closed his eyes. “You consume me, entirely. You cannot love like that twice. It would kill you. No, I could love someone else, but it will never be like it was with you. No one will ever be you.”
Azazel approached carefully, giving Janos plenty of time to back away, to refuse him, but Janos did none of those things. He turned into Azazel, like he always had, until Azazel had him in his arms, for the first time since Barcelona.
“In the alley,” Azazel began, speaking into Janos' hair. “When you stole my cigarette. The first time I took you with me, when you kissed me during the jump. When the Egyptians took you. The job in Czechoslovakia. And so many other times.” Janos said nothing, only let Azazel speak. Azazel almost wanted an interruption, wanted Janos to just know what Azazel was thinking so that Azazel did not have to articulate what he would rather have kept hidden. “Janos, you were always the most important thing. I just,” He faltered and continued. “I did not know what it meant.”
“You are so unbelievably stupid.” Janos muttered into his shirt.
“I am, yes.” He agreed, kissing the top of Janos' head, his chest aching with relief. If Janos was mocking him, he was at least close to forgiven. “I am very stupid, and you must stay with me. Keep me out of trouble.”
“I need some promises from you this time Azazel.” He pulled back, looping his arms around Azazel's neck. “What happened with Raven? Never again. You can see the child, watch over him, ignore him. Whatever it is you two decide. But if you ever touch her again, I will leave.”
“Never again. There is only you.”
“And we will have a home, somewhere we go, when we need time.”
“Home?” Azazel asked, with a raised eyebrow. Janos leaned forward, so that his head rested against Azazel's.
“I want a home again, Azazel. I do not care where. But I want somewhere that is ours, somewhere no one else can touch.”
“I am assuming everything surrounding Mexico is out?” Janos glared at him, and tried to pull away, but Azazel held tight.
“Push your luck, see what happens,” He grumbled, but Azazel just laughed, pulling him in for a kiss.
Lay down your arms (Soldier of love)
And love me peacefully,
Lay down your arms (Soldier of love)
And love me tenderly, yeah
Use your arms to hold me tight,
Baby, I don't wanna fight no more
The weapons you're using are hurtin' me bad.
But someday you're gonna see
That my love for you baby, is the truest you've ever had
A Soldier of Love, that's hard to be