Chapter 1: Don't Ya Tell Henry
March 12th, 1958
The lab was cold, and dim, and dingy. It tasted astringent, like body odour, ink and chemicals.
It smelled like home.
It was strange, being back in a lab after all these years away. Alien, yet familiar in the way that all things from childhood are- whispering echoes of hope, of science, the shadows of Crick and Banting and Lewis frightening and inspiring in the same breath.
Charles had thought he had forgotten that, that the years of heat and humidity and hatred had denatured that part of himself like so many proteins.
And yet... here he was, and he had to consciously remind himself to relax his spine, to loosen his gait. This McCoy fellow was not stupid- far from it- and he knew that he could be intimidating. No, best approach this head on, as one man of science to another. More could come later.
He wasn't expecting him to be a kid.
(Older than you were,, a traitorous voice reminds him, in a tone that sounds a bit like Raven and a bit like their housekeeper and a lot like his sixth form Latin teacher.)
That had been different. This was different. The kid wasn't going to be in the hot zone- he'd be a scientist, a researcher; far away from the risks associated with such a position.
The man- boy- was lanky, and had the skin tone one can only acquire through dedicated effort, furious smoking, and weeks subsisting on knowledge and caffeinated beverages.
"Henry McCoy, I presume?"
Charles stuck out his hand.
"Hmm?" The boy shook himself out of his stupor. "Oh, yes, I- I'm so sorry, I didn't- really, I shouldn't- uh, who are you?"
Charles cracked a smile. "Charles Xavier. I was under the impression Professor Stosius informed you that I would be coming?"
He trails off deliberately, sees rather than hears the boy relax as he remembered the old man telling him excitedly about the man- a former student- who wished to speak with him about a job.
Under normal circumstances, he would probably also have remembered the way the man seemed- off, slightly, in a way that would be unnoticeable if one did not know the man, but should have been obvious to Hank.
Under normal circumstances, he would definitely have remembered the way the man's eyes had flashed startlingly, momentarily gold.
"Uh- yes, yes he did. I'm so sorry, Dr. Xavier- please, sit down."
Hank may have been confused, but even he could not have missed the relief that flashed over the man's face at that point, nor could he have missed the slight uneven edge to the man's gait.
"I read your thesis with great interest, Mr. McCoy. Or is it doctor, now?"
Hank shook his head. "Not yet. Wait- how did you read my thesis? Professor Stosius hasn't read my thesis. It's not due for another three months!"
We all have our skills, Hank. The man's lips were not moving, and Hank had a momentary moment of panic before feeling a subtle, diffuse calm emanate from his spine like warm honey. Mine may not be as beautiful as yours, but I don't deny it has its uses.
"How are you doing that?"
The man smiled. How is it that you can climb walls, Henry? That you can run faster than anyone else you know? That you have a manual dexterity in your lower limbs that is completely unheard of in higher animals?
A flash of emotion. Wrongsickfreakcursecursecurse
Out loud, Hank said, "You seem to know more than I do."
The man smiled. "You are a physicist. I am a biologist. It seems only proper, no? But, to answer your question, mutation is the answer. Mutation took us from the prokaryotic to the eukaryotic with nary a twitch- and now she is moving forward again. It's a new world, Hank, and people like us need to make sure it is the right one."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm here to offer you a job, Hank."
"Would you believe me if I said the CIA?"
"No. I'm not doing it." Images, grainy and jumbled; his daddy, drunk and melancholy, muttering half-remembered things about nuclear physics, and the war, and burning snowflakes of ash destroying millions.
Charles laughed. "No, no, my dear boy! Nothing like that. Reconnaissance. The technological assistance thereof."
"I'm not helping you find Reds. I-I won't be responsible for another war."
"No, I wouldn't expect you to," Charles mused. "And yet... how juvenile, Mr. McCoy. The Reds are small potatoes compared to what's really out there, Henry. I couldn't give a damn about them, and neither do my bosses. There are real enemies on the horizon, Henry, real dangers that cannot be solved in the traditional manner, by traditional intelligence. That's where we come in."
"How do you mean?"
One never brings a knife to a gunfight, Henry. As we have evolved, so too have the threats.
Images whipped through his mind, memories that were not his own; red-eyed men and ancient shrines, labs and cages and blood and war, lizard-women and wolf-men, corpses and documents and politicians, vivisections and yellowed bills.
"We need you at our side, Henry."
"Wh- why me?"
I am a telepath, Mr McCoy. My sister is a shape-shifter. Every member of my team is gifted in some way. Alone, we are powerless. Together, we could topple armies.
You make it sound like it's a war.
Oh, Hank. We've been at war since before you were born, my dear boy. You've just done your best not to notice.
What do you do?
Lie. Cheat. Fuck. Steal. Whatever is necessary for the mission; because the mission is necessary.
Hank sighed. His head was spinning- he didn't even have his doctorate yet, for crying out loud! He was 18 years old, an engineer and physicist like any other- for heaven's sake, he was from Kansas! This wasn't-
"On the contrary, Hank, you are very special. I need you on my team."
"It sounds dangerous," is all Hank can think to say.
Charles grinned. "Oh, it is, absolutely- but doesn't it also sound bloody fun?"
Chapter 2: Long Distance Operator
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
March 18, 1958
"Why do you want to see this Essex guy, anyway?"
"Mmm?" Charles looked up from his papers and wrinkled his nose. "Becaue he's a genius." A genius, and dangerous, and because I haven't heard tell of him in polite society for nearly twenty years.
He looked over at Raven, currently in the form of an attractive young man. "Why exactly are you driving, again?"
"Because," Raven rolled her eyes, "You've been favouring your leg all day, so you are going to take one of your pills, and I don't think either of us wants a repeat of Syria, do we?"
"That was not entirely my fault," Charles protested.
"If you say so, Charles."
Another thought occurred to him. "Wait- why do you look like cousin Michael?"
Raven rolled her eyes. "Seriously, Charles, take the damn pills, you're incredibly useless when you're in pain."
"That's not what I meant." I know why you're a man, but- why Michael?
"I find that people like those we we are going to see react better if I project the general air of old money and inbreeding. Lord knows it must be what they see in you."
"I feel as though I should resent that remark."
Raven shrugged. "It's a possibility. Take the pills, or so help me God, Charles, I'll-"
"-Raven, dear, you're not my mother."
"I know. I actually like you."
"You're not my wife, either. Lord knows you act like it."
"Speaking of, how is the lovely Moira?" Her tone was sprightly but dark, like a soft banana.
Charles sighed. "I don't know... she deserves so much more-"
"-Than the typing pool? Yes, I agree."
"No, than- I can't be what she wants. She wants a husband, a family, and she should have it."Someone whole, too. Not like me.
"Jesus Christ, you're maudlin today. Have you been drinking?"
For the love of God, Charles, you sound like such a queer. Stop it.
"Not as far as I know?"
He bit his lip and looked down.
He did not look at her.
Raven quickly ran back over what she had just said, and then she sighed.
It would be easier, for both of them, if they were not brother and sister. If they could have married. It would have been kinder, the world safer, their minds lighter.
(They had had the argument, once, the last time they had ever spoken of It, and Charles had snapped.
It's easy for you. You can make them think you're a man.
Raven had slapped him. Hard.
It's not the same, you bastard.
He had apologised, and they had ended up in each others arms, falling asleep in a tangle of salty limbs, reminiscent of a long-passed time when they believed that they could each protect the other from all the horrors of the universe.
They did not speak of it again.)
"Raven." Leave it.
They drove in silence for another hour.
"Do you have your gun?" Charles looked up from his papers.
"Of course I do. I thought you were just gonna talk to this guy."
Charles cracked a smile. "You don't remember Dr. Essex very well, do you?"
"I only met him once or twice. It was you they were interested in."
"So I recall." Charles said dryly.
"We should be there in half an hour."
Outside, in the cold, dark New Mexico night, a man shivered.
He was not used to this weather. Not since Poland- but it had been years since Poland, anyway.
He double-checked his weapons, the sheathed knife attached to his thigh, the gun at his side.
Not that he needed them, but it made things easier. Killing people with their own blood tended to arouse suspicion, even from the humans.
He approached the facility, its barbed-wire fence gleaming in the moonlight.
His mind flashed back to the dossier, the quickly memorised documents burning his consciousness. Even in America... but of course they were in America.
It had not begun with him. Nosferatu had lived before Auschwitz, and he had survived its demise.
He had only seen him twice.
It had been enough.
Nosferatu- Essex- knew Shaw. He knew he did. And after tonight... well, one less monster in the world. One less Nazi.
It had not begun with Erik, but it damned well would end with him.
By the way, if you can tell the common theme in all the chapter titles and the work title, you win a prize. ;) Thanks for reading! :D
Chapter 3: My Back Pages
Charles is never sure how he ended up here, not really.
He would like to think that life is - not static, that the Humeian ideal of an ever-changing bundle of perceptions and experiences holds some merit.
In truth, it is both simpler and more complicated than that.
It is 1940, and sirens are wailing, and you scream and scream and scream as you feel the pressure of a thousand minds- feararousalanxietyangersurvivalstrength repeated over and over, echoing throughout your brain in stereo.
You lie in a coma for three days.
It is 1942, and Father has been offered a job at a research facility in the United States.
It is 1943, and you hear mother and father arguing when they think you're not listening, thinking they can hide things still- about money and research and duty.
"He has the X-gene, Sharon. One of the strongest we've ever seen."
"You're not experimenting on our son, Brian!"
It is 1943, and every day there are injections and tests, mental probes and slicing scalpels, electrodes. The only time you see Father is in the labs, and he is always with Aunt Amanda and Uncle Nathan and Unkle Kurt, anyways.
(There is another girl there, too, pale and withdrawn. Sometimes she looks at him and Charles thinks she must see right through him- which is ridiculous, because she cannot see at all.)
It is 1943, and Father is dead.
It is 1943, and mother is married again- too soon, far too soon, to a man who looks at her and sees moneybeautifulslut. Dr. Essex is best man at the wedding.
It is 1943, and you feel the painanxietyhatehatehate from across the house, feel the choking hands on a windpipe as though it is your own, and consciously do not put up your shields. It seems right that someone should share the burden. After it is done, you arrive at your mother's door with a double gin and tonic. It is the most you have spoken in over a year.
It is 1944, and you find a girl, bluebeautifulamazing, in your kitchen, and you are no longer alone.
It is 1945, and mother is dead, and you are at the mercy of Kurt and Cain, Cain, who is almostabrotherpleaseIcansaveyou, but who is broken already.
It is 1947, and you are almost grown, scarred and smart and strong, and you leave Westchester and do not look back.
It is 1950, and you have everything going for you- young, male, brilliant, handsome and rich, you settle into the life of a scientist easily. The world is changing faster than you can keep up, x-ray crystallography and enterobacteria. Fascinating things are coming out of Cambridge, and part of you longs to be there, to join the action that will change the way we see ourselves forever.
It is 1950, and a larger part of you wants to stay with Raven, which is silly, because she's at boarding school anyway, and an even larger part of you, the part that remembers the gleaming lab where you were taken apart so many times and remade into something better, is at a loose end.
It is 1950, and there is a girl, and there is a phone call, and before your know it you are on a transport to the oppressive heat and muddy chaos of Korea.
It is 1950, and you shoot a man for the first time, and you feel his mind blink out, and you throw up for nearly half an hour.
It is 1953, and you are home, leg dragging and skin burned and nerves shot to hell. You try to return to the scientific life you had left behind- they have found it, Watson and Crick, and the world is a more exciting place to live in because of it- but you cannot. Instead, you rent an apartment with your sister, and begin another degree. Psychology, this time. You wonder privately if it will make you better at putting the bits of yourself back together.
It is 1954, and Raven makes a mistake, shifts in public without thinking. The next day, two men in sharp suits arrive at your door, and you freeze them and communicate telepathically until they convince you they mean no harm. It takes more than three hours to accomplish this.
It is 1954, and when you finally let them free and introduce yourself, they say 'Oh, yes, we know all about you, Captain Xavier.'
It is 1955, and you and Raven are on your first joint mission ever, to a town in Massachusetts where, several weeks and three rather exhausting psychic altercations later, you find a group of children- mutants, all of them, one with beautiful, snowy white wings- being imprisoned by a kindly old man in a boy tie. He will spend the rest of his days under the impression that he is a canary.
It is 1957, and Raven seduces your boss and finds out that he has been ordered to turn over a list of every known mutant in the country to Senator McCarthy's office.
It is 1957, and your missions have had a certain tinge lately that you are not entirely comfortable with.
It is 1957, and you stop pretending, both to yourselves and everyone else, that you follow any orders but your own.
They persist in giving them to you anyway, and it's sweet, really. As a courtesy, when you change their minds you do it subtly, erasing the knowledge of certain missions and highlighting the importance of others. You are not so foolish as to think that you can take over the entire CIA this way- not yet.
It is 1958, and you are stronger than you ever thought possible, and the name 'Essex' has been popping up a lot recently, never out loud or on paper, and not always the same name- but accompanied by flashes of a man, a brilliant man, pale and handsome, with dark hair and a strong
jawline, and sometimes- red eyes. He does not seem to have aged since you were a child.
It is 1958, and all too often, recently, you arrive at a sight of yet another terroriser of mutants, another person who thought experimentation would get them somewhere, another person with links to Essex, and something called the Hellfire Club, to find your job already done for you, albeit more brutally than you would have wished. You do try to retain some class.
It is 1958, and the desert is harsh and cold, and as you lie on the sagging mattress of your motel-room bed, you plan for tomorrow, where you know the events that have haunted you for decades will not end, but rather begin.
It is only a discussion, after all.
Chapter 4: It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)
March 19th, 1958
It was supposed to be a simple job. They would go, and, on the strength of Charles' name and... connection.. secure an audience with the esteemed doctor. They would chat, Raven would do some reconnaissance, Charles would do what Raven disparagingly called his 'mind-bendy thing', and go on their merry way.
Well, go on their way, at least. They were good, and they knew it, but Charles remembered this man well, and if even half of the things he had heard recently were true.. they needed to plan.
Charles loved planning. In battle, in the field, he had never had the luxury of being the fastest, or the strongest. Even at the Mansion, those titles had gone to Raven and Cain, respectively.
But he had always been the smartest, and he knew it.
This, in his mind, does not make him arrogant. A good workman must always know his tools.
Then they found the man.
It was morning, the two of them completely at home in the blazing sunlight. (Over a year and a half of Syria had finally managed what three in Korea had not, and beaten any remaining English constitution out of his system- something that came in handy in climes like these.)
Charles twitched violently, his left leg nearly collapsing beneath him.
Fuck bugger bloody fuckfuckfuck.
"Charles?" What is it?
For a moment, he was powerless to answer, too overwhelmed with
HeknewmynameheknewmynameknewIwasthereknewmyname thatfacilitythosepeoplecages neveragainneveragain knewmynamenooneknowsmyname whatdidhedotomeIcan'tmovewhycan'tImove notgoingtodieherenotnownothappening heknewmyname
"Charles!" A stinging slap brought him back into his own body with a jerk.
"We need to go." he said urgently. "There's- a man-"
Raven reached for her gun.
"Raven! He's not trying to kill us- we need to go."
He sprinted towards the car, wincing at the sharp spike of pain that accompanied every step. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
"Well, can you blame me for thinking so? Jesus, Charles, it's not like that would be particularly unusual for us! Don't you remember the-"
"-Yes, Raven, thank you, I was there. Get in the car."
She went for the drivers side.
"No. Passenger. You don't know where we're going."
Raven looked at him, confused. "Uh, to see Essex? Like we planned?"
Charles waved a hand. "Change of plans. We need to do this first."
Raven rolled her eyes. "You're not going to rescue a kitten again, are you?"
"That was once Raven, and as it took me all of fifteen minutes and ended up not only getting us new information but, as I recall you claiming, quite a satisfying sexual encounter on your part-"
"-Okay, okay, I'm sorry for mocking your kitten, okay? Can we stop this conversation now?" What the fuck kind of spy has a kitten, Charles? Really?
A classy one.
And I ask again- are you sure you're not drunk?
"There's a man. He has information for us."
"That's it? That's the emergency?"
"Well, he may also be mortally wounded."
"So, the equivalent of an injured kitten, then."
"If said kitten was a tiger that could tear your face off, yes, I suppose that would be an apt analogy."
"Gosh, you just pick up the loveliest people, don't you?"
"You were the first. What do you suppose that says about you?"
Raven rolled her eyes.
Charles turned serious.
"Raven, Dr. Essex is dangerous. He knows I am a telepath, for one. We need more information."
"Whatever happened to that 'We'll just have a chat and drink tea and eat biscuits,' genteel crap you were trying to pull yesterday?"
"Change of plans. From what I can gather, he has somehow developed some sort of psionic mutation himself."
"Were you planning on telling me this?"
"I just found out five minutes ago, and I have been trying to ever since."
Charles sighed. "Raven- Dr Essex- what control I have, I have because of him. I'm not going in blind and without backup. This man- aside, of course, from the fact that he's a human being and in danger- can give us information. He'll even help us, if I'm not mistaken."
"How do you know?"
Charles bit his lip. It was hard, carrying on a conversation when his head was so full of psychic pain he could scream.
"He's Mossad," he said finally. "He has... history... with Mr. Essex."
Raven covered her face with her hands. "Oh, yes. Gosh, teaming up with an injured Mossad agent. This will end very well. I'm sure."
Charles ignored her.
"Charles, you do realise how that will look, don't you? Christ, as if they don't have enough reason to drag you before Un-American Activities."
Charles' eyes flashed. "I'd like to see them try." They are not coming near either of us with a ten-foot pole as long as I am alive, Raven. You know that.
He stopped the car abruptly and jumped out, landing with a wince. He raced- well, limped- into the small brush of grasses along the side of the road.
A man lay there, sharp and angular, weapons on the ground beside him. There did not appear to be any blood, but his hands were scratching brutally at his face, as though trying and failing to clear his unseeing eyes.
"Charles?" Raven said softly. "What is it? I don't see any blood."
Charles went into triage mode, mentally checking pulse, blood-pressure, air flow- then- oh dear Lord.
He stopped in horror, his face an iron mask of anger.
His blue eyes cut like ice.
He looked back as though he had forgotten she was there.
"He didn't attack the body- of course, why would he?- he attacked the mind"
"Is he-?" Raven trailed off, her mind clearly flashing back to the dozens- hundreds- of people over the years that Charles had left comatose or worse, a shadow of their former selves. Of course, generally their former selves weren't too pleasant to start with, so it wasn't much of a loss.
Charles shook his head. "I can fix it. It's- he's trapped. Essex trapped him inside his worst memories."
Erik's backstory here is partially movieverse and partially taken from The Magneto Testament, a mini-series that covers his time under the Nazi regime as a child and is pretty much the best mainstream comic that I have ever read, so you should all read it. It's brilliant.
I'm on some pretty heavy pain medication ATM, so I apologise in advance for typos. I'll go back over it soon and find them all, I promise. ;)
Raven's eyes flashed briefly gold with horror. “Can you fix it?”
Charles waved a hand. “Yes, of course. It's just-” he gestured hopelessly- “It's a violation. One that-”
He stopped himself. Part of his 'training' when very young had been to do just this, to manipulate the surroundings of others, forging a new world to burn or worship through neural impulses, electric charges and chemical reactions.
Alex occasionally called him a mad scientist. He was more right than he knew.
“I just don't understand...” If Essex had these abilities, why had he needed Charles?
Because he needed someone to hurt, a fickle voice reminded him, Because it was easy. Because the call of science was too high to ignore. Because we were at war, and sacrifices must be made.
Charles shook his head, as if to sweep away the thoughts like so many flies. He had work to do. He sits carefully on the grass, reaches a finger to his temple, and-
- And it is 1944 and you try, you try so hard, to move the goddamn coin like you moved the gates and he is counting, forgive me mother forgive me, you can still save her you can do it you can move the coin MOTHER and she is dead and you aren't crying, you aren't, because the rage and anger that has been building up in your chest since 1936, since Ruthie died, since you moved to the Ghetto, since you met Magda in that schoolyard, since they beat your father and nobody moved to help him, since you became a smuggler, it is finally let loose and you scream and all the metal in the room vibrates, the helmets of the SS crunching around their heads and it is so easy, so easy, you could kill them all they deserve to die you could do it you could do it.
It is 1945 and there are rumours that the camps will be liberated soon, and you are still alive. You have been bad, you have been wrong, and as punishment you are one of the Sonderkommando, reviled by all , and every day you escort people to their deaths, every day you look death in the eye and pray that you will be next, and you think of Magda, in the Gypsy camp, and you think of her eyes and her smile as you strip the gold form the teeth of the dead, as you load filthy bodies, dessicrated and violated both, into the flames. You learn many things. You learn that the smell of burning corpse clings to everything, like the last whispers of a soul desperately clinging to earth. You watch thousands burning in great outdoor pits. You learn to combine the bodies of the old with those of young children to help them burn better. You want to die, you will die, there are ways of doing this, but first you write a letter, someone must be here, someone must bear witness, and you will be dead, and you end it with an order. 'Tell everyone who'll listen. Tell everyone who won't. Please. Don't let this happen again.' and with that, you rise to walk to your death, and-
it's not over, it begins again, the circle, and you watch your mother die and you scream and scream on the table when Shaw sticks needles in your brain, when he slices open your limbs carefully, hoping to find the secret of your giftcursegift, and after months and months of torture, you finally manage to escape, but they find you-
-and you're Sonderkommando, with no one to watch your back, hated by all, and you lead people to their deaths and collect their belongings, and every day you fear that the next body will be your sister, your brother, your uncle, until that day does actually come and you're too tired to care anymore, it is just another death, another loss to the burning flames and the showers that spray gas. Their fate was sealed in the ghetto, years ago. And you learn, learn terrible things, ignore the violated women and children, the stains of semen on some of the corpses, and you do not cry when you realise that you will have to burn a blue-eyed infant with an elderly man who could have been your grandfather, because you never cry anymore.
-And it's 1944 and your mother is dead and your father lies in a mass grave, but you know where your mother is buried because you dig it yourself, watch her poor broken body thrown in like so much trash, and you look at the bored expressions on the faces of the Nazi guards and tell yourself, 'I will never forget you,' because this war cannot last forever and when it is done you will find these people and they will pay.
Shaw has you strapped to the table and there are needles in your spine and they are buzzing, spitting with hot electricity and pain, and you smile to yourself because he thinks he is breaking you but he is just making you harder to bruise.
-And you're Sonderkommando, and you are starving, so hungry that you contemplate trapping one of the thousands of rats that gorge on the flesh of the dead and barely living, and you don't realise that some of the bodies you load into the crematorium are still alive, the gas not having been strong enough this time, not until you see the faint stirrings of breath in the last body, and for the first time since 1936 you recoil in horror and puke bile, burning bile, because you've had nothing to eat in-
-It is 1944 and your mother is dead and - Stop!
And the memories dissolve around you, and you are in a meadow, and a man is standing in front of you, blue eyes luminous in the light, and you manage to croak 'Have I died?”
And he laughs and says, 'Hardly. I'm like you. A mutant.'
Another one? You had always thought-
'You're not alone, Erik.'
You look at him with wonder in your eyes. 'Where are we?'
'Inside your mind. All of this has been inside your mind, my friend. It was not real.'
But it was, and that's the worst of it, and although you do not say anything his lips tighten in sympathy, and he knows, he knows, and that should bother him a lot more than it does.
You are exhausted, and hungry, and you are suddenly overcome with the childish wish to crawl into a bed with a book and a hot water bottle and not leave it for a week.
The man smiles. 'I suspect that could be arranged, but you have to wake up.
Erik wakes with a groan, and Charles with a twitch. Raven looks immensely relieved, and she shifts into her natural form.
“I was worried,” she murmurs, “You were out for over an hour, Charles, what happened?È
“Essex was- slightly more adept at psionic manipulation than I had anticipated.” He attempts to smile ruefully, but succeed only in looking simultaneously childish and old, lines of pain and worry creasing his creamy white skin.
He attempts to stand up, only to find his leg buckling beneath him. It aches terribly.
Raven steadies him with practised ease. Are you alright?
Nothing a little rest won't cure, he assures her. It's him we should be worried about.
The other man remains on the ground, face buried in his hand.
Erik, Charles projects, Erik, are you back with us?
The man turns to look at him, his eyes bruised pools of ice, mingled hate and admiration and fear not quite repressed gleaming out of them.
“Did you see that, then?” The man's words are rough, as though he is used to paying far more respect to his consonants, but the accent is subtle enough.
The gleam in his eye turned murderous.
Charles hurried on. “The man who did this to you- we're going to fight him. We need your help.”
His brow wrinkled. “Schmidt?”
Charles shook his head. “Essex. The man you visited. The one who-” locked you in your worst memories, imprisoned you in your mind.
My mind was a prison long before I met that man, Erik thought, though not quietly enough for Charles to ignore it.
The man rises, and though he winces as he moves his limbs, the ghosts of long ago scars tormenting his movements, he carries himself with the easy poise of the soldier. He begins collecting his scattered weapons.
He is going to leave, they are going to lose him, they will never beat Essex, not without this man, and this Schmidt fellow, this sounds promising, so Charles opens his mouth and says the first thing that he can think of, which also happens to be the most convincing one.
“He's experimenting on mutants. On children. He has been for years, and he's committed so many more crimes, and he won't stop unless we do it for him, Erik.” Max, he thought ruthlessly
Erik closed his eyes, rubbing his palm over his face in frustration.
“You don't know anything about me. I may murder you in your sleep.”
Charles extended a hand towards him. “On the contrary, my friend, I know plenty. We can help you, if you help us. Many may accomplish what one may not.”
“What do you know about me?”
Charles smiled a broad smile, but his eyes are tinged with sorrow and pain and apologies that will never be voiced.He speaks, but his words echo in Erik's mind as well.
Chapter 6: You Ain't Goin' Nowhere
Erik recoils. “Stay out of my head.”
Charles smiles. “Surely it's a bit late for that, Erik.” Besides he adds, I do not make promises I do not intend to keep.
His smile broadens, and his eyes sparkle, but Erik is old, in spirit if not in body, and he knows a dangerous man when he sees one, the honeyed smile of the would-be predator.
There are numerous replies he could make. Instead, he indulges his honest curiosity. “How far away can you do that? Could you find a mind, if you had to?”
“Perhaps,” Charles says, eyeing Erik with curiosity and suspicion. “There are many things I could do if I had to.”
Erik meets his eyes, which shine like ice. “Who are you?”
“Charles Xavier.” He sticks out his hand, and just like that he is transformed; becoming the cheerfully avuncular type that would not look out of place at the front of a classroom.
Charles chuckled. “You're not wrong,” he says wryly. “I was a genetics professor, once upon a time.”
“Who's the girl?” Erik rasps, unable to tear his eyes away from Charles.
“Oh, how rude of me, you should have said. Erik, may I present to you Raven Darkholme?”
She meets his gaze flatly, chin jutting out in defiance.
Erik snorts. “You bring your girl along with you, Xavier?”
“She's my sister, actually.”
“Hm.” The field's no place for a woman.
Would you like to say that out loud, my friend?
I'm not your friend.
“Oh, for fucks sake,” Raven interrupted. “Charles, are we going to go see Essex or not?”
Charles raised an eyebrow, not taking his eyes off Erik. “Another day, my dear. For now...” he trails off.
“Are you coming, Erik?”
Erik glares at him, every instinct he has telling him to leave while he still can. But there is something about this man, with his smile and his youth and his eyes with their dangerous blue.
Still. He doesn't need him. He will only slow him down.
“You're wrong, you know.” Charles' gaze has not moved.
“This is much bigger than you think. You're in the middle of a war, and you don't even realize, do you?” He pauses, and answers his own question. “No, of course you don't. How silly of me.”
Erik's head buzzes with images, now; children and weapons and surgical tools, bombs and men in suits.
“Your Doktor Schmidt thinks he's going to start a war, but the truth is, he is merely playing the part that has been decided for him.”
Erik looks away. “You don't know what you're talking about.”
Charles begins to walk towards the car, which sits abandoned on the dusty road.
“There are a great many philosophical conundrums of our age, Erik, telepathy being one of the least. How, for example, does one know that one is not dreaming? Or under someone else's control? Would you know it, do you think, if I made you come with us?”
Erik stares at him, gaze flat. “Is that a threat, Mr. Xavier?”
“It's Doctor, actually.” Charles observed blandly. “And hardly. On the contrary, my friend, it is a warning to the both of us, and a promise to myself. I do have ethics, you know.”
Erik did not. Before this moment, he had never met a telepath. He wondered if they were all as disarming as Dr Xavier.
Charles grinned boyishly. “My sister believes me to be a special case. Now, are you coming?”
Erik followed, a pit on unease roiling in his stomach. “How do I know you aren't controlling my mind?”
That smile, again, and those eyes flash a strange, dead joy. “Mr. Lehnsherr, Erik, if I had, you would not be asking that question.”
They find breakfast not far off, in a diner that has seen better days.
Charles orders for all of them at the counter, then joins them in the faded vinyl booth. The fabric cannot be more than 5 years old, but it was cheap, and when Erik ran his hand across it maroon dye stained his finger tips red.
“Rather presumptuous of you, don't you think?” Erik enquired, in a tone that masqueraded as genial.
Charles shrugged. “I know what Raven likes, I know what is good in this café, and you are not one to turn your nose up at food, regardless of the type. You haven't kept Kosher since before the war- reminds you too much of home, I suppose, and of the God you believe to have forsaken you.”
Erik's eyes flash. “Stay out of my head, Charles.”He eyes him with a disinterested calm. “Interesting. I would hardly ask you to refrain from levitating things, or reforming metal so as to better suit your purposes. And yet I surmise that it is different, somehow, for my ability?”
Erik glances at the girl, her blonde hair glinting in the sunlight. He can feel the hum of the gun that lies, cocked, in her hands, just beneath the table and his line of sight.
She does not trust him. Good.
“Why did you ask, earlier, how far I could reach? Not curiosity, I presume.”
Erik shakes his head. “I had only wondered if you might be able to assist me, is all.”
“In your hunt for vengence against the Nazi who killed your mother? You realise that killing him will not bring you peace.”
For a moment, Erik's mind flashes back to the memorynightmare that he had been trapped in less than an hour ago.
He had been three years old in 1933.
“Peace was never an option.”
Charles meets his eye and nods, once. “Then I think there are ways of extending my reach. Alone, I can reach a few hundred miles in either direction, but, perhaps...” he trailed off. “I will do my best to help you, Erik, provided you do the same for me. Please believe me when I say that I know how important this is to you.”
Erik snorted. The man was a child. What could he know of pain?
Charles looks at him sharply. “78331PSI.”
“That was my file number. The PSI is for psionic, for my mutation. It was how the scientists who studied me tended to address me. Made things easier on them, I imagine, to forget that I was human, just as they were.”
Erik shakes his head. “No you weren't.” Not just like them- better. You could be a God.
And you a monster? Charles shakes his head.
Such distinctions are childish. At the mental level, we are all much the same- neither God nor monster, merely human. And that is what makes us so terrifying to contemplate, Erik. The powers of a higher being in a flawed, human package. He pauses. And that is a blessing. Gods do not win wars.
And what does that mean, Dr Xavier?
It means that I will help you find your Doktor Schmidt, Erik, provided you join our fight. I promise, you will not regret it. Schmidt has hi allies, after all- you need yours.
Charles seems to be aware of Erik's consent before he is himself.
Out loud, he says. “Please, call me Charles.”
Chapter 7: Too Much of Everything
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“Tell me about him,”
“Your Doktor Schmidt. Tell me about him.”
Erik snorts. It is late, and the warm interior of the car does not quite protect against the enroaching darkness of the spring night.
The girl is asleep in the backseat, her snores faintly audible from the front. Fool.
It reflects badly on Xavier, he thinks, that he would allow her to leave herself so vulnerable to attack in a car with a man she does not know and should not trust.
“I thought you knew everything about me,” Erik says.
Xavier smiles briefly. “Humour me.”
Erik's mind flashes back to that afternoon, and then stops almost immediately.
He cannot hope to think on that and retain his sanity. There is a wall in there, a wall made of bricks and pain and something not entirely unlike hope, that keeps the memories at bay and allows only the ragehatehatejusticerevenge through.
He is grateful for that. Without it- a girl, not more than 16, lies catatonic in a hospital bed. She must have been pretty once, but now her body knows only pain. She has long ago given up..- well, without it he would still be as he was before Haifa, before Mossad, when even the chaos and confusion of the displaced persons camp was not enough to convince himself that this was not the dream, and his nightmares the reality.
He was better than that, now. He was strong, and hard, and he would not lose this fight.
He has come a long way from that frightened child of yesteryear, a long way from the boyish smuggler in the Warsaw ghetto.
He knows, intellectually, that he is the son of Jakob and Edie Lehnsherr, that his father was a jeweller, that he had a sister and a brother and an uncle, that there had been a Gypsy girl he had promised his heart to- but he does not remember. Not really.
His mind returns to the present.
“He's a monster,” he says at length. “You saw what he did. That should be enough.”
Xavier makes a noise of affirmation.
In the moonlight, his pale skin seems to glow. He looks ethereal, and, god, so young. A child.
Were Erik a different man, he would wonder at this boy- this child-soldier. How he came to be here.
But Erik is not half so old as he looks nor feels, and he knows a lot about the things that make men out of children long before their time, and so does not.
“Yes, I had gathered. But what of logistics? Do you know where he is? Who his associates are? Aliases? Where his money is coming from?”
“Shaw. Sebastian Shaw. I was in Paris last week- I just missed him. He does like to make a splash.”
“How do you mean?”
Erik snorts. “He threw a dinner party for 20 members of the opposition and at least a dozen businessmen. Financing a new project.”
Charles smiles briefly. “Collaborationists, I assume? Old blood from Vichy?”
“Either that, or they just happened to have access to paintings said to have been lost in the war and to Nazi gold.”
Charles nodded. “And from there you tracked him here, then? To Essex?”
“Milbury was the name I was given. I doubt it is real.”
“You met this man, though, yes?”
Erik rolls his eyes. “No, Xav- Charles- he crippled me without ever laying eye on me.”
“There would be no shame if he had. If what I saw today is any indication, Essex is the strongest telepath I have ever encountered. Possibly stronger even than me.”
Erik does not say anything.
“Milbury, then- big man? Pale, slim, black hair? Red eyes?”
They drive in silence, for a while.
Finally, somewhere near the Texas border, Erik speaks. Exhaustion has loosened his tongue, he suspects, or the day has taken more out of him than it really ought to, because he finds himself- warming- to Xavier. Enough so to speak without prompting, anyway.
“He was in the camps, you know, your Dr Essex. The children called him Nosferatu.”
Charles blinks, but gives no other sign of surprise. Erik supposes it is rather hard to surprise a telepath.
“He gets around, then,” Charles says at length, “Because if I recall correctly- and there's a scar on my temple that says I do- the American government was funding his research during the war. He believed genetics- mutation- was the key to a new age, to a new breed of weapon. They hoped to win the war
“I only met him once or twice. In Birkenau. He would give children candy in exchange for blood. Many took it.”
Charles glances at him out of the corner of his eye. “You were too savvy, I assume?”
“I was not given a choice.”
They drove on in silence.
Finally, Charles spoke. “It's funny- in a way he was right.”
Erik is immediately on his guard, spine straightening, all traces of tiredness gone.
“Oh?” His tone is pleasantly deadly.
“The wars of tomorrow will not be fought with traditional weapons, because we will be their soldiers, Erik.”
“You forget I've been a weapon, Xavier. Surely you saw that?”
Charles nods, and pauses significantly. “What do you suppose you are for Mossad, then?”
What are you, if not a secret weapon? One that can kill without being traced?
“You're killing Nazis, I presume. Funny- the papers tell me that Mossad's only goal is to bring them to justice.”
Erik smiles grimly. This is the closest thing that they will get, and it will never, ever be enoughé
“Some people do not deserve justice.”
That's a dangerous attitude, surely.
“It is a true one. Or, rather- they will get their justice at the tip of a knife. That seems just enough.”
“Revenge, Erik. Not justice.”
Erik smiles a smile that bares all his teeth. “Of course it is, Charles. If we were to be truly just, we would have them bury their children, first.”
Charles shakes his head. “I can read your mind, you know. I can tell that that would not be enough. Not for you.” He quiets for a moment, and then, “What do you want, Erik?”
“Want?” He almost laughs, because- it is ludicrous. It is not about what he wants. It has never been about what he wants, only about what he can get.
What I want is for them to feel even a tenth of the agony that I felt, that my people felt. I want to see them suffer. I want them to know what it is to bury your mother, to watch as soldiers rape your sister, to see your uncle beaten and paraded about a public square. I want them to cry, to weep at the injustice of it all. I want them to feel the cold of a Warsaw winter. I want them to pick through scrap heaps, searching for food. I want them to watch, helplessly, as over a million of their people walk to their deaths. I want them to realise that they cannot save a single one.
That is not what you want. Not really. What is it you really want?
Erik is silent for a long time, and Charles darts several glances at him, as though he fears he has crossed a line.
Finally, he thinks, halfway to himself,
I want no one to feel as I felt. I want to walk down the streets of Dusseldorf and hear my sister laughing, to see my brothers playing ball. I want a guarantee that it will never happen again- not to anyone.
(Charles suspects he is not even aware he is projecting.)
Out loud, he says, “I want justice. But as I will not get it, I will settle for the head of Doktor Schmidt.”
They stop in a motel somewhere in Louisiana. It is nearly 2 in the morning, but Erik is not tired. Not so as he'd admit, anyway.
Once they have paid for the rooms- two; evidently neither he nor Xavier trust the other enough to let them out of their sight for a full eight hours- Charles tugs Raven aside.
Erik does not pretend not to listen, and notes to himself that the girl leaves her back open to the entire room when she turns to speak.
The child has not seen combat, evidently, no matter how well she carries a gun.
“-contact Cassidy,” Xavier is saying. “Have him meet us in Westchester, and bring McCoy with him. I have a feeling they will be needed.”
“And Moira?” The girl- Raven- asks sardonically.
Charles tugs at his collar uncomfortably. “I-I will call her, I suppose. She can meet us as well.”
“Oh, she can, can she?”
“Raven- for God's sake, not now. We have slightly bigger issues on hand.”
“What? Oh, you mean the mad scientist that you were just going to talk too?”
“Raven...” Charles sighed.
“It's all right, Charles, I get it, you've been planning a war without consulting me again- it's cool, I dig.”
“You what? Raven, has Cassidy been taking you out recently?”
Raven rolls her eyes. “You should get out more, daddy-o.”
Charles groans theatrically. “Bed. Now, before I have a brain aneurysm. And call Cassidy!” he calls after her, as she moves to the other side of the lobby and down the hallway.
“Yeah, yeah,” she responds, before turning one more time and making eye contact. “Charles? Syria.”
The two make eye contact for a moment, and Erik realises that they are communicating non-verbally.
The entire conversation, then, has been for his benefit.
“Oh, I wouldn't say that, Erik,” Charles says conversationally as he ambles towards the room. “Raven loathes it when I read her mind.”
The room is dingy, and slightly sour smelling, like old cigarettes and whiskey. Erik disapprovingly notes that Charles begins to remove his shirt before the door is locked behind him.
Arrogant, then, if he thinks he can let his guard down this early. Naive, too, in that he does so in front of Erik, who has given him no reason at all to trust him.
Funny. Most men would have attempted to buy him off by now.
Telepath, remember? My goodness, but I foresee a lot of these conversations in our future.
Erik glared at him. Charles grinned broadly as he locked the door. He could feel the flimsy metal tumblers fall into place. It would be easy, so incredibly easy, for someone to-
without thinking, he twisted his hand, and Charles let an audible noise of surprise as the keyhole device morphed beneath his fingers until it was solid, impenetrable metal.
If possible, Charles smiled even wider. “That was beautiful, my friend.”
Erik rolled his eyes, and ignored the way his skin flushed red beneath Charles' gaze.
In the dim light, his pale torso seemed to shine, blurring scar tissue and freckles into a flawless field of cream.
Erik looked away. Charles' cheeks were suspiciously red.
He coughed once, twice, then pulled a bottle out of his satchel, along with a stack of paper cups.
“Drink, my friend?”
Erik gave him a Look. “You drink on duty, Xavier?”
Charles laughs lightly. “I am never off duty, Erik. Besides, it would take much more than a glass of scotch to set me off my guard.”
Erik rolled his eyes, but took the proffered cup. “You should sleep,” he pointed out. He didn't like to think about what might happen around a sleep-deprived telepath.
A telepath, of all things. It- the mind boggled- at last, at last, he had proof that he was not alone.
(He insisted, to himself, that that was not the reason he stayed, that that was not the reason he apparently trusted this- this boy- that was a comforting fiction, but one of the few he was willing to allow himself.)
“I am not the one who had their mind invaded today,” Charles says mildly. “On the contrary, I had rather a nice sleep last night, and a full breakfast. I doubt you can say the same.”
Erik shook his head distractedly. “I don't sleep.”
Charles raised an eyebrow. “By which you mean you don't sleep in strange rooms with strange men whom you do not trust.” He shrugs. “I suppose that's wise. I always forget that not everyone has the benefit of my—gifts. Tell me, whatever is it like in your minds?”
“I should think you would know that for yourself.”
“Oh, I do,” Charles smiles lightly, “But it is always so interesting to see how people respond.”
“Do you have a point, Xavier?”
“Only that I don't sleep in strange rooms with strange men either,” he states with a flicker of a smile.
“Particularly if they are awake. I know you think me a child, Erik, but please credit me with slightly more wits than that.”
He sighs, and reaches into his satchel again, pulls out a worn wooden case.
“What is that?” Erik asks, for want of anything better to say.
“Chess set. You play, of course?”
“Black or white?”
“Mm. You know, if one was so inclined, one could base a psychological analysis on such a choice.”
Erik rolled his eyes. “Or you could remember that white goes first.”
“And you like to be in control.” That is what I meant, actually.
They play in silence for a while, before Erik speaks. “Why do you bring your sister with you?”
Charles chuckles. “It started the other way round, actually.”
His smile wavers. “She's a shape-shifter.”
“Yes." He'd seen that, this afternoon. He still felt slightly uneven- the world was changing beneath his feet, and though he has by now become used to that, adapting as easily as one can, it is strange, to say the least, for it to seemingly be for the better.
“We're not related, actually. Not by blood, anyway. When she was eight or so, she turned up in my kitchen like a lost puppy, and I- I had always wanted a sister. I convinced my family to adopt her.”
Charles raised a forefinger and tapped his temple significantly.
A knot forms along Erik's spine. So powerful and so young. A dangerous combination.
“Anyway, years pass, things happen, it's all very Boy's Own Schooldays, until- well, until five years ago, when I came home from the war.”
“Korea.” Charles smiles slightly. “We moved to New York- I was hoping to continue my studies, and Raven was waitressing- until she made a mistake. Only a small one- a shift in hair colour, not enough to cause much of a fuss, which was a blessing. I believed this at the time, but now, knowing what I do- well, a small mistake was enough to get her offered a job with the CIA. A big one doesn't bare thinking about.”
“And you joined with her? I had not imagined the security involved to be quite that lax.”
“Quite,” Charles smiled, but does not say anything.The CIA. Does he truly not know? Does he not realise how many governments would kill to have him on their side? What will inevitably happen when the Americans realise the dangerous asset they already own, mind and body?
“I cannot believe that you would be that naive,” Erik says quietly. “You are content to be a lab rat, Charles? To be a government's pet?”
Charles takes a long sip of scotch, and sighs. “I should like to see the man who can make me his pet, Erik.”
Erik shook his head at the double entendre, hiding a smile. “Arrogance, then.”
“Hardly. It's just that they wouldn't stand a chance. I still follow orders- it's only that I have rather more control than most over what they are.”"You control their minds." It's not a question.
"You control their minds, but still presume to speak to me of justice." Erik takes a long sip of his drink.
It's hardly as hypocritical as you imagine.
"The thing of it is, Erik, I'm not terribly interested in revenge, nor in justice as you think of it. I want -- never mind. Your move."
"Charles?" Please, tell me.
Erik recoils as the thought leaves his head. This man-boy has disarmed him, somehow, with his manners and easy smile and blue eyes that seem to have seen every bad and good thing in the universe and a few others besides. This is not acceptable. What if it's a trick? A ploy by Shaw to make him comfortable, to show his vulnerability?
"You'll laugh," Charles states with a smile, "But were I to be truthful- I wish for peace. Of a world where my sister can walk down the street without fearing a beating. Where children can play together, mutant and human, all members of the same species. Homo sapiens sapiens, united across the globe."
Erik snorts. "You sound like a communist."
Charles ignores him. "I could make it happen, you know. Were I to extend my reach far enough, this world- this silly, childish hope of mine- it could be real." He meets Erik's eyes. "But would it be real? Do the ends justify the means? I don't believe so, but suppose one day I were to wake up and decide that free wil is an acceptable sacrifice for freedom?"
He smiles. "Perhaps you are right not to trust me, my friend."
I'm not your friend, Erik doesn't say. Instead, he changes the subject.
“You studied-- genetics, you said?” He was unable to keep the tone of icy disapproval out of his voice.
Charles steeples his fingers. “Yes. Not as you are thinking of it, though. I have no interest in a master race. Science is a tool, like anything else.”
“Mm.” You will forgive me if I do not take your word on it.
I would expect nothing less, my friend.
Erik pursed his lips. Charles raised an eyebrow.
“You're in check, by the way.”
Posting from a train station; let me know if it doesn't come through. Sorry for the wait! :)