He had begun fashioning it in his spare time whilst they had recruited new mutants. He'd prop up against the headboard of a too-comfortable hotel bed as he'd twist spare bits of metal into intricate knots with an absent thought. It kept him occupied, kept his mind from racing. This had never been something that had concerned him in the past: his teeming, raging thoughts had engendered him with the passion necessary to realize his goals.
It was difficult to embrace that rage with Charles so near, he found.
"Yours is a beautiful skill, my friend," said Charles one day as Erik worked, watching him from the desk with his chin in his hand and a fond smile on his face. Erik blinked, the knot he had been working on coming unraveled as if it were a string and he'd loosened the slack. Charles tapped his fingers against his cheek, and Erik looked away.
"Practicality is superior to beauty."
Charles laughed and went back to his notes.
The spare strips became a band over time, the size of a man's ring. Erik's absent thoughts became thoughts of Charles. He weaved and twisted and thought of Charles, and Charles smiled and knocked his mind against Erik's with affection as one might clasp his friend's shoulder. Warm and friendly in a way that made Erik shudder.
He had never poured so much focus into something so useless before, so purposeless. The metal his mind touched became his over time, his gun the best friend he'd ever known, but never before had it been his creation. He could feel it always: in his pocket, in his room, in his thoughts.
And it felt... well, it felt like Charles. Familiar like Charles's mind against his.
These were dangerous thoughts when someone could listen in.
Charles had picked it up once, when they had returned to the mansion. He had seen it on Erik's desk and smiled with a sort of childish delight as he'd reached for it, but he'd dropped it again at once, biting his lip and saying, with faint surprise, "Oh."
"Yes?" Erik bit out. Charles flashed him a grin and shook his head.
"I am sincerely flattered," he said. He picked it up again, holding it up to the light to study, and then glanced over at Erik. "May I?"
Erik's breath caught in his throat. "No," he said, calling it away from Charles without entirely meaning to. Charles blinked and slipped his hands into his pockets, looking away, and said, "I see."
Erik held the ring clenched in his fist after he'd gone. It felt like metal, he thought, nothing more.
Raven saw him working on it once in the sitting room. She perched on the coffee table across from him with her long legs crossed as she watched. "How artsy," she teased. His lips twitched, but he kept quiet as he bent and twisted the metal.
"Is it for someone?" she asked finally, and Erik paused for barely a second before reaching out for the metal with his mind once again.
"No," he said. "It is not."
Charles threw one arm around Erik's shoulder, gesturing grandly at the empty street with the other. "It's a beautiful night, is it not? Soon we may march into battle, but tonight is wonderful."
Erik smirked. "I do believe you are a bit tipsy, Charles."
"All the more beautiful that way," said Charles with a wink. The breeze played with his hair as he pulled away, and Erik reached out to pull fondly at a lock. Charles chuckled; his tongue darted out to wet his lips.
Erik cleared his throat. His fingers played with the ring where it lay in the pocket of his jacket.
For a moment, Charles was silent. He was frowning, hands tucked into his own jacket, looking much more sober than he had when they'd left the pub. "Will you ever give it to me?" he asked suddenly. When Erik shot him a look, he sighed. "Objects don't think, of course," he said, "but that doesn't mean they're always silent. Not if they witnessed something very loud. It can leave a, a kind of trace. An echo. A thought or a picture someone focused on."
"Not everything was meant for you, Charles," Erik said. He forced his mind to go very quiet, all his secrets hidden away, but he had the sense that it did no good in the end.
"No," said Charles. "But some things are."
The ring became more intricate every day, endless swirls of metal twisting and twining with each other, spinning together in a kind of bizarre dance. Charles's eyes found it immediately whenever it was near, no matter where it was hidden.
Erik decided he would work on it in private. It would be better, he thought, if Charles never saw the damned thing again.
"And if I win," Charles said, moving a pawn, "if I win this game, you'll give me the ring."
Erik shook his head, exasperated. "If you win this game, you'll go to bed with a sense of certainty it will never happen again."
"Oh, is that how I should go to bed?" Charles asked him, words playful, lilting.
Erik froze where his fingers hovered over the chessboard. He straightened in his seat, shoulders tense. "Charles," he said, cold.
Charles sat back as well, his fingers clenching in his lap. "Why do you insist on pretending?" he demanded. "I know you, I know your mind! I know what you want."
Erik ran a hand through his hair, trying desperately to keep his temper. "I don't recall giving you permission to enter my mind, Charles."
"I can't help it when you're so very loud!" He'd leaned forward, hands splayed across the tabletop and mindlessly upsetting the chess pieces. He flung one up when Erik began to bite out a response, and then he seemed to deflate, shoulders dropping suddenly.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sorry, my friend, I shouldn't push. But what you want, it's so loud and near, and you could have it," he added desperately, "but you won't take it. And the why of it, that is hidden away. You've hidden it from me."
Erik stared down at his hands. He saw a gun in them, he saw them red with blood. It took nothing, more memory than imagination. Why, indeed.
"You're spoilt, Charles. And I am not a good man," he said.
Charles bit his lip. "Erik—"
"No," Erik interrupted. "No. I will not be a good man."
Charles closed his eyes briefly, then took a breath. He stood. "I believe this is a conversation for another time, friend," he said, turning toward the door of the study.
Exhaling heavily, Erik rose as well. "Charles..." Cocking his head, Charles stopped and turned to him again, and Erik held out a hand and waited until his friend, eyes guarded, offered his own.
"This changes nothing," Erik said. Charles looked at him sadly but did not speak. "I will kill Shaw. I will do what is necessary. But..." He reached into his pocket with his free hand and grasped the thick band of metal. "You have always believed the best of me." He slid the ring onto Charles's finger, determinedly not letting his eyes slip up to Charles's face as he did so. "You deserve to see the best of me as well."
The ring was dark against Charles's skin, thick and beautiful and calling, always, to Erik. He imagined, in that split second, taking it further. Raising Charles's hand toward him and pressing a kiss to his knuckles.
He did not.
Charles laughed softly, a sound at once pleased and unimaginably sad. "Thank you," he said. "Thank you. Just—" And he darted forward before Erik could pull away and pressed their lips together for the briefest moment, barely enough time for Erik to register the soft warmth of his breath before it was gone.
He tried not to look, tried not to track the ring with his eyes every time he was in Charles's presence. But it sang to him so loudly that sometimes when Charles reached for him, he was uncertain as to whether he'd called the ring closer without realizing.
If he had, Charles certainly never seemed to mind.
"Invisibility is fine, but telepathy is just so fascinating," the woman was saying. Erik clenched his teeth and nursed his whisky as he watched Charles and the woman across the room, unable to tear his eyes away from the hand she rested on Charles's chest, her nails bright red against his dark vest. They stood close together, Charles leaning into that slim, pretty body with his arm resting on the wall, his face close to hers.
Erik glanced away from them as Raven settled down on the couch beside him, propping her legs up and resting her head on her thighs. He took in her blonde hair and pale skin with distaste. It was partially Charles's doing that she hid this way even in her own home, tucked away what made her unique and beautiful. He found himself with a growing resentment toward his professor this evening for reasons that were, of course, completely justified.
"And I'm very curious, Natalie: what happens to your clothing when you become invisible?" he heard Charles ask. The woman giggled and leaned in even closer to whisper something in his ear. Erik choked on his drink.
"Looks like he's doing a different kind of recruiting," Raven said with a snicker.
Erik raised an eyebrow. "Perhaps we should stop bringing home strays," he said, and Raven laughed outright this time.
"She won't stay," she said. "She told me she's going back to Chicago next week."
"You didn't think to share?"
"I wanted to watch you run her off with your glare," she told him, a wicked gleam in her eyes, and then she stood and sidled off, leaving him alone with a wink.
A peal of laughter rang out, and Erik's gaze snapped back to Charles and the woman. "I would just love a tour," the woman gushed. Charles smiled at her brightly. Against his will, Erik's fingers twitched. Across the room, Charles gasped, hand flying suddenly to his neck.
"Are you quite all right?" the woman asked.
"Of course," said Charles, but he took a step back and his eyes found Erik's, and then he gave her another smile and said, "If you'd just excuse me one moment."
He strode over to the couch. Erik stood with careful nonchalance, but Charles took one look at him and shook his head.
"Problem?" Erik asked innocently.
"Flattering as your concern is, my dear," Charles said, "I assure you you have nothing to worry about. Certainly nothing that justifies cutting off circulation to my hand."
"I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about," Erik replied, but his fingers twitched once again by his side as he loosened Charles's ring. Charles laughed and held up his hand, giving the ring a quick spin.
"Fancy a game later?"
Erik's eyes flicked toward the woman who stood by the fireplace. She watched them with something almost approaching uncertainty. "And what about our new friend?" he asked.
"Oh, did I forget to mention?" Charles said brightly, tapping his nose. "I've already called her a taxi."
"You could stop fighting, just this once," Charles breathed into his ear. The remnants of their chess game lay strewn across the carpet of Erik's bedroom, a necessary sacrifice.
Just this once, Erik listened.
Charles did not retire to his own room that night. Erik felt for the ring on the finger of the man beside him until the moment he dropped off to sleep, and he woke to metal and warm skin trailing down his cheek. He opened his eyes to Charles beaming down at him and forgot entirely just what kind of a man he might be.
Of course, days later they went off to battle, their ragtag little group always doomed to fail, and Erik was forced to remember.
He tried just once after—well, after, to take the ring back from Charles. There was quite a bit more metal on Charles's person these days, something Erik tried very hard not to think about, but the ring was still special. The ring felt different.
They had been recruiting, he and his new team sans Mystique and Emma Frost, a new way of recruiting perhaps more insistent than his and Charles's method. Involving, perhaps, more screaming humans.
In his defense, he had not expected Charles to be at this party. But there he was, at the elbow of the socialite they had been looking for, the woman who could breathe and live underwater. There he was, in that wretched chair, with Erik's ring still on his finger.
"That outfit is garish, Erik," Charles said to him, sounding appalled. His fingers rose to his temple, and the woman Erik had come for suddenly spun on her heel and followed the last of the panicked crowd from the room. None of Erik's people tried to stop her.
"I prefer to go by Magneto now," Erik informed him. Charles laughed disdainfully and said nothing.
"Your chair is made of metal."
Shaking his head, Charles wheeled closer. Erik watched the ring on his finger as his hand moved. "Whatever else you might do these days, Erik, I know that you would never hurt me."
For a moment, Erik could not breathe, and then he smiled wildly and raised his hand. "You forget I already have," he said, and with a twist of his wrist he called Charles's ring to him. It flew across the room and landed in his palm, still warm.
Charles went utterly still at once, his eyes going hard. All around them, Erik's team began to scream, clutching at their heads. Erik's hand rose involuntarily to his helmet.
"You won't hurt them, Charles."
"Of course I won't," Charles dismissed, sneering. His team stopped screaming suddenly but stood frozen, their eyes closed. "But you will find them to be very difficult to locate once I send them all off to different corners of the globe if you do not give me back my ring."
"The man who made this ring is dead," Erik informed him. "Why keep it?"
"You may be Magneto to the world," Charles said, "but you will always be Erik to me, whether you believe it yourself or not."
"You are appallingly sentimental, Charles," said Erik, but it lacked bite. He considered the ring in his hand and pretended he could not see Charles regarding him with something that might have been pity, something that might have been love. He knew, with great certainty, that he could not keep the ring. It stood for something that was gone to him forever. But it was not gone for Charles, it seemed, and Erik found that he did not want it to be.
Erik's team came back to life the moment the ring was back on Charles's finger. Charles studied them all calmly, and then caught Erik's gaze and held it until Erik thought everything in him might break apart.
"I will always see the best in you, old friend," he said. The ring called to Erik as he left.