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Transmutation

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i.
None of which is to say that Charles' hopes for secrecy are achieved without blood. It's not mutant blood, though, which is all Erik cares about.

One of the world's intelligence agencies finds them in the summer of 1968. At the time, all Erik knows is that he and Emma are sitting in Emma's office--Erik has a desk in Charles' massive study that he hardly ever uses--going over the school accounts one afternoon when they both hear him, as clear as if he'd been in the next room, Intruders! Tennis courts! Now!

Erik and Emma take a split second to look at each other, and then Erik's knocked his chair over and Emma is vaulting over her desk and they're heading pell-mell for the door, Emma shouting, Charles, we're on our way! "loud" enough for Erik to hear.

They run down the halls as fast as they can, Erik taking the lead but Emma keeping up grimly--how the hell she can run in those idiotic high heels, he has no idea, maybe she's turned her ankles to diamond--and take the stairs two at a time, heading for the grounds to the rear of the house. Erik is reasonably confident that Charles can keep himself alive, but he knows from experience that one against however many is only good odds for assassinations.

It's one against three, Erik sees when they turn onto the drive leading to the tennis courts, Charles' mouth set in a grim line as he keeps three men--dark suits, dark hair, sunglasses, no distinguishing characteristics--from seeing him while they slowly advance up the path, guns drawn in the low ready, covering each other. They're nearly past Charles, but his concentration breaks at the crunch of Erik and Emma's running feet on the gravel and the agents instantly react, realigning the points of their triangle to get a bead on each of them.

Erik can see them making the threat assessment--guy in a wheelchair, woman in heels, and him, no visible weapons between them--and they make the logical but flawed decision of focusing on him, raising their weapons to the lines of their shoulders and firing without any further ado. But Erik simply raises a hand and the bullets stop in mid-air; either uncomprehending or out of habit, the agents keep firing, emptying their clips.

Stupid. Erik clenches his fist, and the guns crumple into useless scrap. All three drop their weapons, and the two in the lead rush Erik; the third draws a knife and raises his hand to throw it at Emma, who turns adamant the instant after it's flung. Erik registers the blade clattering off her body and realizes that the knife is ceramic just before the first two are on him.

It's been too long since he's fought for his life hand-to-hand, and the first one slashes the top of his arm before Erik can overpower him, forcing the knife out of his hand while he turns his attention to the iron in the man's blood, giving him a brain aneurysm. Erik's control of this technique isn't perfect yet, and there's a lot of stray blood from the man's eyes and nose as he drops to the ground with a gurgle, but Erik isn't paying attention. The second agent punches him full in the jaw, and Erik spits blood after he lands on the ground and rolls, shouting, "Emma!" Still on the ground, he sweeps the man's legs out from under him, and when the agent falls he doesn't get back up, his expression comically surprised and then outraged and, underneath, frightened.

Erik pushes himself to his feet, gravel digging into his palms, and sees that between them Charles and Emma have the other agent immobilized too. The humans are fighting it, he'll give them that much, but they're simply no match for people who are more than human, and telepaths at that. Cutting the straining tendons in the neck of the one halfway to Charles would be too much effort; Erik simply stabs him in the heart and twists the blade for good measure, stepping aside to avoid the gusher. Gouts of crimson splash his shoes even so, and he turns in time to see Emma stalking forward, fully diamond. Her gemstone body sparkles brilliantly in the dying sun, and Erik takes a moment to appreciate again the beauty of mutation.

Charles isn't wrong about that; it is indeed quite groovy.

Emma Frost is not one of the world's natural-born killers, but killing someone who's being held prone isn't all that difficult, and she has the willpower and the detachment necessary in spades. Off to his side, Charles flinches when her single blow staves the man's skull in, but he doesn't say anything against it.

Erik, breathing deeply, looks over at Charles. "Are you all right?" he asks, and when Charles nods impatiently, "Tell me you read them." As an afterthought, he drags the back of his hand across his mouth; it comes away bloodied.

"I got a lot," Charles sighs. "I'll tell you all of it."

"Good," Erik says, and looks toward Emma. "Nicely done."

"You're welcome," she says, shifting back to flesh and crouching down to wipe her gore-covered hand on one of the bodies. There are drops of blood on her shoes, and flecked across her top and midriff as well.

Erik realizes, belatedly, that they've gathered a crowd; most of the school's admittedly small population is standing in a rough semi-circle three meters up the drive, looking alternately spooked and incensed. They're all looking to Erik, who's still bleeding slowly from his arm and whose mouth hurts like hell now that he has attention to spare for the throbbing pain; he's torn the inside of his cheek and lips on his teeth, and there's blood in his mouth again.

Even Charles and Emma seem to be waiting for him to say something, and Erik resists the urge to grind his teeth or to swear out of sheer will. It's not like his views have suddenly changed, or that they don't all know what he thinks already. Instead, he spits out blood again and says, looking up at their students, "You see what they're doing. It won't stop if it goes unpunished. Tomorrow, we're going hunting."

He can hear his accent thickening noticeably on the words, and he sees their students, and the teachers, exchanging glances. He learned his English in the Republic, and the Irish edge comes back whenever he’s truly agitated; no one who was there can quite forget when they first heard it, on a deceptively beautiful tropical beach.

It's appalling that they're not enraged too, but that will probably come after the fear, and right now Erik doesn’t have the energy to spare to be angry at his fellow mutants as well as the humans.

There's a short silence, and then Beast steps forward. "What about the bodies?" he asks.

"Get Havok to vaporize them," Erik says, "check them for anything that might tell us something first." He changes his mind and turns and leans down and kisses Charles, who gets a surprisingly tight grip on the back of his skull but doesn't do more than caress the edges of Erik's mind, which is probably for the best. At the moment, there's no way Erik would be able to keep himself from practically shouting I told you so.

Not that Charles doesn't know he's thinking that already. There's blood on Charles' mouth when Erik pulls back, but his eyes are clear when he meets Erik's gaze. Charles has never been shy about defending what they're building here. "I'm going to find Elixir," Erik says, holding up his arm; "he can use the practice."

 

ii.

Emma finds him about an hour after Elixir's finished patching Erik up, with a gratifying minimum of fussing and "you should be more careful!" lectures. The skin on his arm and on the inside of his cheek is still slightly tender, but Erik knows from experience that he'll be fine in the morning, and he won't scar. That, he almost regrets, but he's fairly certain there are other injuries in his future that will.

"They were MI-6," Emma tells him, and hands him a folder with notes and photos and mimeographs of typewritten pages inside it. They're in Charles' office, at Erik's desk, and Erik sits down in his chair, spreading the clippings out in front of him. Emma keeps her feet, her arms crossed in front of her and her face set in a study of grim lines. Another woman would pace, but Emma Frost isn't any other woman.

it doesn't take Erik long to flip through the information and absorb the important points; the conclusion he comes to was foregone the moment the agents set foot on the grounds. "London, then," he says, and looks up at her. "I want you and Havok ready to go at 7am tomorrow. Pack for four or five days; this won't take longer than that."

"Do you think Havok will be up for this?" Emma asks, frowning.

Erik shrugs. They've all been hardened in the past five years, but Beast isn’t suited for infiltration, Banshee's really still a kid, and the handful of other mutants they've managed to recruit are mostly too young or too inexperienced. He wishes he had Mystique or Azazel for this, but he hasn't heard from Raven in years, and he specifically saw her off without letting her give him a way to contact her. Erik doesn't trust Charles to do the right thing by her; he barely trusts himself. "If not, we'll see about someone else," he says, "or just do this with the two of us."

"And we're doing…?" Emma asks, raising one eyebrow eloquently. She swore to him that she'd follow no one blindly again when she accompanied him here, and she’s kept that promise.

Just as he’s upheld his half of the bargain, that he'd always listen to her. Erik meets her eyes; they're green and just as cold as his. He’s grown accustomed, in the nearly five years since, to taking her opinion very seriously indeed. "Find out what they know about us, remove all their files, and kill anyone we deem necessary along the way," he says, and she nods.

"Good," she says, with a certain hard satisfaction in her voice. "Do you want to find Havok, or shall I?"

She might as well have asked, Do you want to fight with Charles now, or later?, and Erik is highly tempted to tell her that he'll go ask Havok along on this errand of vengeance personally. But he should probably save her offer to run interference between the two of them for some time when it's vital, as opposed to merely highly convenient.

"You find him," he tells her; "you know what to say," and she nods and stalks out. It takes a bit to realize when Emma Frost is angry, but Erik's known her long enough for now to recognize that she's furious. That's fair enough; so is he.

Charles rolls in half an hour later, when Erik is halfway through studying the folder's contents in full detail. Erik glances up at him, acknowledging his presence, but deliberately goes back to his reading. Charles pauses in the doorway for a long interval, and Erik can practically feel him "listening" to the silence. But he doesn't feel Charles poking around in his mind, which is a change that Erik can admit to himself he doesn't wholly welcome, as much as that disturbs him. He's gotten used to having Charles with him at some level, and Charles' burgeoning reticence about reaching out to him is unsettling.

It's something to talk about when he gets back, probably. Eventually, Charles asks, "When are you leaving?" in an admirably level voice.

"Tomorrow morning," Erik says; "we're flying out of Kennedy at noon." He's booked three first-class tickets on commercial transport, using accounts that he controls personally rather than funds that can be linked back to the school. The jet is not the thing for a low-key infiltration of MI-6's headquarters, and trying to take it to the UK would cause more problems than it would solve.

Charles is frowning, the thunderous expression that can terrorize recalcitrant students in full display, but Erik is mostly indifferent to it. "Do you really believe this is the most effective response?" Charles asks, which is not quite the question Erik had been expecting, and he lets out a breath to give himself time to reply.

"If there were more of us," he says carefully, "if the mutants here were older, more experienced--maybe not then. But as long as secrecy is still our modus operandi, Charles, no, I don't see any other way." He looks down again at the papers in front of him, but after a moment he yields to the tension and walks over to the floor-length windows on the office's other wall. The sun is setting over the grounds, out towards the lake, and Erik can't help but feel the mansion's vulnerability all over again. Secrecy is a pretty terrible defensive strategy when it comes right down to it; they're all going to have to work harder.

It would be so easy for Erik to create an army out here, to reshape their students to his will, especially since he teaches both history and what they euphemistically call "physical education." Erik knows how to break people; it was done to him, after all, and he's always been a quick study. But he'd sworn to Charles that he wouldn't, and Charles had promised that he wouldn't allow him to, do that. The method that respects people's free will and personalities is more time-consuming and less assured of success, but one of the few things Erik refuses to do is harm his own kind, and another is to abuse children.

Charles has wheeled over to join him. "I can't convince the world that mutants pose no threat to humans if mutants are killing humans in their strongholds," he says, looking out the window rather than at Erik.

"You can't convince the world of anything about mutants if all the mutants have already been murdered," Erik points out, pitching his voice to be mild and mostly failing.

Charles turns partially and looks up at him. "We're at an impasse," he observes redundantly, "again."

"We'll do our best to make it look normal," Erik tells him when the silence stretches, which is only partially true; they'll do their best to get in and out with as little trouble as possible. Much as Erik has no qualms about killing everyone in MI-6, annihilation is not terribly effective tactics.

There's a slight twist to Charles' expression that betrays the fact that he knows that Erik's humoring him, but he's clearly still somewhat shaken, because he doesn't make any other protest. "And you'll be careful," he says, what was intended as an imperative sounding more like an imprecation.

Careful doesn't enter into it for Erik, and they both know it, but one decided benefit of fulfilling his vendetta is that he's now better able to evaluate risks in any given situation, though that hasn't affected his habit of using every resource at his disposal, including himself, ruthlessly. "I'll try," he says, which they both know is the best Charles is going to get. I'll come back, he says silently, which is the other part of it.

Yes, you will, Charles agrees, his habitual confidence filling his mental voice. He's manipulating Erik shamelessly, letting that seep through, but it's only attempted manipulation rather than the outright control which Charles is capable of but has forsworn. Erik recognizes it, and he’s able to at least partially resist it, as much as it appeals to him.

His life used to be simple; Erik wouldn't go back to that life for the world. He and Charles have the same idea simultaneously, and he leans down and Charles reaches up and kisses him hard, Erik going down on one knee to give Charles a better angle, opening his mouth when he feels Charles' teeth against his lips, and then his tongue. London will still be there in a few hours.

 

iii.
Erik accepts a glass of champagne from the stewardess when he buckles into his seat and allows her to keep it refilled for the remainder of the flight, champagne being sufficiently out of character for him that he feels comfortable drinking it in a context in which he doesn't want to be remembered accurately. Emma has the window seat next to him, also drinking champagne on the grounds that if anyone asks they're a married couple taking a vacation to the land of his birth. Across the aisle, Havok is peaceably reading a paperback. They look like humans, which for Erik's present purposes is all to the good.

Unlike many people, Erik finds flying utterly relaxing. Far from claustrophobic, he feels more alive when completely surrounded by metal, and he'd have to be dead himself before he allowed an airplane carrying him to fall out of the sky. He isn't quite able to tune out his sense of metal enough to sleep well, unfortunately, but Emma and Havok both manage it, Emma's head falling sideways onto his shoulder. Erik doesn't disturb her; there are few people in the world he feels as comfortable with as Emma Frost. Really, there's Charles and Emma and that's about it, and in some respects he has more confidence in Emma than he ever can in Charles. He and Charles are simply too close.

They land in Heathrow without any need for Erik's intervention, and the three of them proceed to immigration smoothly, palming the passports Beast forged for them the night before and reciting their various lies to the inspectors with practiced bland expressions. Havok and Emma pass through without incident, but Erik, who's let his Irish accent recolonize his English to match the purported information in his documents, is unexpectedly directed into a side room and told, politely but firmly, to please wait.

It takes him a good two minutes, his mind racing, to realize that it's most likely not that they think he's a mutant or a Mossad agent; they think he's a partisan. The name on his passport reads Michael fucking Collins, after all, and suddenly Erik wants to punch himself. Half the Catholics in the North must be named Michael Collins, and half of them again are probably sympathizers. No wonder the Brits are giving him a more thorough screening; they can't hear the difference between his accent and the speech of someone who's actually from the North, or they don’t care. To them, evidently, a Mick’s a Mick.

Idiots. They really ought to worry more about mutants than about Ulster separatists.

It's been nearly five minutes when he hears Emma's voice in his head. Magneto, what's the problem? she asks, calm but not unconcerned.

They think I'm an Irish terrorist, Erik replies, and he can almost feel her frowning. Personally, it's all he can do to keep from laughing out loud, but admittedly he has an idiosyncratic sense of humor.

I'll take care of it, she says, and withdraws. A minute later, the inspector re-enters the room and returns his passport, apologizing profusely for the unspecified mistake. Erik assures the man that it was no trouble at all, really, and gets the hell out.

"Thanks," he tells Emma when they've cleared customs, tucking the passport back into the pocket of his jacket.

"You're welcome," she replies, expression unruffled beneath her white hat. Behind her, Havok frowns.

"I hope that's our only trouble for this trip," he says, hoisting his suitcase. The three of them are a good choice for this mission; Erik has no illusions about the ability of anyone to withstand torture, including himself, but Havok was put into solitary confinement voluntarily, and Emma survived two months on her own in the basement of Langley with relatively few ill effects. They have as good a chance as anyone of hanging on, in the event that they fail, until Erik's self-imposed five-day time limit expires and the mansion crew tries to break them out.

As back-up plans go, Erik's made do with worse, but it's obvious that they need more mutants, more allies, more time.

They don't have them; they're going to war with what they've got.

"I wouldn't bet on it," Erik says, and pretends not to see Havok rolling his eyes.