Italics are selected excerpts from Epoch magazine’s recent cover story X and M: The Most Stable of Foundations, by Trish Tilby.
It is perhaps one of the defining moments of last century, and one of the most iconic photographs; the symbolic handover of Genosha and the destruction of the camps. I was still in elementary school then, and I remember my teacher — who later came out as a mutant — dragging us all to the library and making us watch the footage. I didn’t understand the importance of the moment, but I thought it was cool that the man in the cape was crushing and re-making buildings as easily as a toddler might a sandcastle.
That iconic photograph of the man in the cape was on the front of every newspaper in the world the next day. It’s visually arresting — the vivid colours of Magneto’s frankly ridiculous costume, the curls and spikes of torn rebar, the arcing flashes of static electricity as metal bent and re-shaped under his powers, all against the backdrop of a summer storm. The iconic “hands-up” pose has been reprinted and repeated countless times — my first-year politics lectures had a uniform, and that was jeans and a tee-shirt featuring either Che Guevara or Magneto. Magneto is, was, and always will be a symbol of revolution, of action, and I still see his face on the t-shirts of the hipsters when I visit the local mall.
That said, the Magneto shirts often leave out the most important part of the photograph; the man who sits calmly in the eye of the storm, his expression gentle as he watches one of the most powerful men on the face of the planet. He can afford to be calm. He is ‘the Professor’ — Charles Xavier — still young enough to be sporting a shock of brown hair: a scientist who made his name fighting for peace between human and mutant-kind. He seems an odd match to the militant Magneto, but in the years following the rise of Genosha he proved to be the country’s greatest asset aside from their charismatic leader — a mutant as powerful as Magneto, a beloved diplomat, and, reportedly, Magneto’s conscience. Their wedding last year had been long-anticipated, their relationship an open secret that scandalized conservative countries and gave hope for change to many around the world.
I can’t imagine what they thought they were doing when they helped to raise Genosha from the ashes of slavery and segregation. They’re hopelessly young in all of the photographs, and their team of X-Men even younger. But now, decades later, there is no sign of their power waning. So one might ask how they did it. How do you take an island of walking weapons of mass destruction and turn it into one of the most prosperous, powerful nations in the world? Is there a correct way, or does the answer lie in the men themselves? And if it does, what does that mean for Genosha when they are gone?
Erik had vanished in a swirl of cape when Scott relayed a message from his brother — Lorna’s coming to stay. Good luck — so Charles had busied himself by pottering around downstairs and making sure that a room was made up for his step-daughter. He hoped it wasn’t another disaster. He didn’t think that any of them were up to yet another disaster.
He felt her before he saw her, as always, but he turned to take her in. She was beautiful even though she was a little rumpled from the long flight, jetlag darkening her eyes, green hair tied up into a loose bun. Charles beamed. He loved it when the children came home, even if they were far too old to be called children anymore.
“Lorna,” said Charles, holding out his arms for an embrace. “How are you?”
“He’s on the roof, isn’t he?” asked Lorna, striding to him, her smile so reminiscent of Erik’s that it made Charles’s heart sing. “Hello, Charles.”
“He is indeed,” said Charles, and she bent to hug him, kissing his cheek. “He does it because he knows it drives me mad.”
The roof was one of the only places that Charles couldn’t go; well, he could if Erik took him, but he couldn’t get there of his own accord, and so it was where Erik went when he didn’t want to be found. Erik, being Erik, didn’t seem to quite have understood the problem with a habitual hiding spot — namely, that the whole point of a hiding spot was to not be found. Charles sighed.
“How are you, my dear?” he asked. “Would you like a glass of your father’s very expensive scotch and a chat with someone who isn’t hiding in the gables?”
“I would love that,” she said. “And you can tell me how you dealt with Alex when he was seventeen, because he’s acting very much like he’s seventeen right now.”
“Ah,” said Charles. “I was really never much good at understanding Alex. What’s he done this time?”
Lorna pulled a face. “What hasn’t he done? He’s sulking.”
“Oh no, what on earth will you do with a partner who sulks?” asked Charles, widening his eyes. Lorna laughed, and he took her hand. “Come on, come and we’ll talk about it.”
Lorna had taken to Charles more than any of the others, allowing for how seldom they saw the children at all, mostly due to the fact that Erik and fatherhood went together about as well as cats and water. Erik was fine with other people’s children — he was fine with David, even — but he tended to panic around his own and make grand dramatic statements about parental duty and his terrible shortcomings. It was usually all that Charles could do to keep a straight face, unless Erik’s thoughts turned to Anya, and then it was all that Charles could do to keep from tearing up.
“It just feels like everything I’m doing right now is wrong,” Lorna said, settling on the couch where they could look out over the grand gardens. Charles could see the X-Men keeping watch; Scott was pointing at the roof, so presumably he’d just spotted Erik. “I’ve triggered him five times in the last three days, and the last time he lost control of his powers and I am not going back into the house with him losing control.”
“Scott’s just outside,” said Charles. “I’m sure he’ll talk to you, or failing that, Jean can tell you what she does with him when he gets temperamental.”
“I’ve tried talking to Scott,” said Lorna. “He’s helpful, but he’s too young — they’ve never really spent much time together. You spent a lot of time with Alex; I was hoping you had some hints.”
“Have you tried talking to Erik?” asked Charles, pouring her a drink. “He was always much better with Alex than I was; I tended to open my mouth and insert my foot firmly in it whenever I tried to reason with him.”
Charles had spent a lot of time with Alex, true — before Erik had come home, and before Erik had even left in the first place — but he’d said so many things to Alex over the years that Alex took exception to that they had a strict small-talk only policy whenever they spent more than a brief time together. Lorna swirled her drink in its glass.
“Last time I talked to Erik about relationships, he told me it was better to be lonely because then no-one can hurt you,” she said. “In his defence, I think you’d been kidnapped again and he was emoting all over the place.”
“It’s not better to be lonely,” said Charles, leaning across the arm of his chair to hug her.
“But how can you work things out?” asked Lorna. “It’s impossible. He’s being impossible, and we’re both far too old for this.”
“My darling,” said Charles. He could feel Erik wandering around the mansion; at least he’d come down from the roof. “If my relationship with your father can survive him bending a bullet into my spine and paralysing me, then your relationship can survive whatever this is. I promise. And you can stay here for as long as you need to.”
“You are a much better dad than Erik,” said Lorna.
“Hello Lorna,” said Erik, from the doorway. “Is that my husband and my scotch?”
“It is,” said Lorna, hopping up and giving Erik a quick kiss.
“Right,” said Erik, and he took the scotch. “You’re welcome to her,” he directed at Charles, and then swept off.
“Don’t get on the roof!” Lorna yelled after him. “You’ll fall off if you’re drunk.”
Charles smiled. “On the bright side, at least he can fly,” he said, and he patted her hand. “And I’m sure the X-Men stationed here like having something to do.”
When they’re at home, it’s Charles and Erik. When they’re not ruling, it’s Xavier and Lenscherr. To their aides, they’re The Professor and Magneto, or X and M. When they think no-one is listening, it’s “my dear” and “my darling”. They like pushing boundaries; both have children with other partners, and all of their known descendants have spent time on Genosha, seemingly without major incident.
They play with the expectations of behavior within a friendship, let alone a relationship; when Xavier was asked to speak at a global genetics conference in the mid 1990s, Lenscherr went with him and argued loudly during Xavier’s keynote. It took some time for it to become apparent that the argument was a completely deliberate rhetorical device — attendees report that it grew so heated at one point that they’d feared for their safety, or for Lenscherr’s.
Erik didn’t particularly want to go to today’s sitting of Council, so he was looking out of the window of the car instead of looking at the sleek little folder of information that Charles had prepared for him about Charles’s latest pet project. The secret service were merrily checking the car for bombs. Erik had tried explaining, many years ago, that no bomb expert or sniffer dog had a hope of detecting a bomb before he would — and once, memorably, he’d had a chance to prove it — but Jean liked to frighten the new recruits by having them check over Magneto’s car while Magneto scowled at them from inside it.
Jean waved at him. Erik looked twice. Good grief.
“What are they wearing?” asked Erik. He could see Jean’s bellybutton. He wasn’t conscious of ever having seen it before.
“Clothes, I imagine,” Charles replied, not looking up. “Erik, there’s another brief I’d like you to read.”
“Just download it into my head,” said Erik.
“You know I don’t like being compared to a computer,” said Charles, without ire. “Anyway, what are they wearing? And who are they?”
“Swimming suits!” said Erik.
Charles smiled. “Oh, I don’t know; that doesn’t sound too bad to me,” he said. “Are they good looking, at least?”
“If they think they’re going out to fight in those, they’ve got another think coming,” said Erik.
“Fight?” Charles asked. “My darling, if you don’t want me in your head, you’re going to have to start giving me more to go on.”
“And you mustn’t let them fight like that. I’m not going to sit back and just hope that Rogue doesn’t take a bullet to the stomach because she’s too stupid to wear body armour.”
“What?” asked Charles. “These are my X-men we’re talking about?” Charles leaned over Erik and looked out the window. “Oh goodness, they really are wearing swimming suits. I can’t imagine armoury approved that.”
“I can imagine they did,” said Erik, because he knew who worked in armoury. He pressed the button to roll down the window.
“Jean Grey,” Charles said, before Erik could. “Over here now.”
“Professor!” Jean looked pleased. “We won’t be much longer; I promise Erik will make it to Council on time.”
Charles gave Jean a stern look, which Erik rather suspected was ruined by the fact that he was half-leaning across Erik’s lap. “What are you wearing?”
“New uniform?” Jean looked puzzled.
“That is not a uniform; where’s the bulletproof shielding? If you got into a firefight…”
“I’d use my telekinesis to stop the bullets,” she said, raising her eyebrows.
“Will you use it to keep your top on? Why hasn’t it got any straps?” asked Charles, looking past her. “And good grief, what is Scott wearing? You’re all going to get killed if you run around in painted-on latex and no body armour.”
“But—” said Jean. “The old uniforms hadn’t been updated since the eighties. They still had shoulder pads.” She paused. “Even the male ones.”
“I don’t care. Come up with a better design, but not one that has a keyhole in the stomach. It’s like painting a target on your body,” said Charles.
“Mystique runs around naked! She fights naked!” said Jean. “Magneto, you can’t possibly agree…”
“I’m afraid I agree with Charles,” said Erik, because Charles had been so terribly injured at Cuba, and he’d been wearing a hell of a lot more than Jean was right now. “You can be naked as a jaybird when you’re off duty, but on duty you’re going to wear body armour with a little more…coverage.”
“Fine,” said Jean. “But you’re the one who has to tell Lorna that you didn’t like her idea for the new uniforms.”
“And you wanted to train up more of them,” Erik murmured, at a pitch he hoped only Charles could hear. He could feel the annoyance coming off Charles in waves.
“Lorna suggested this?” Charles said, shifting himself off Erik’s lap and back into his own seat. “And Erik, no-one is getting naked when they’re off-duty.”
“You’re getting conservative in your old age,” said Erik, as Charles shoved another folder into his face.
“Read,” said Charles, glaring thunderbolts at him. “And Jean, change. Before I make you.”
Erik suspected over the next few days that the X-Men were deliberately trying to drive Charles up the wall. Rogue came to breakfast with her breasts trying to make a break for freedom from under tight vinyl. Scott and Jean showed up to a formal dinner wearing matching pleather. Rémy got in on the act and started wearing shiny silver trousers and nothing else.
Lorna, of course, encouraged them all by wearing a spandex catsuit and pointing out all the latest mutant fashions coming in from New York and Milan. Even Kurt cut a hole in extraordinarily small, extraordinarily tight spandex shorts, so that his tail could be free, and then paraded around blue as could be. It all made Erik feel rather nostalgic for the sixties, and living on the run with Mystique and the ex-Hellfire club.
Charles alternated between scandalised and miserable, eventually settling on miserable.
“I’m beginning to worry that they really are going to take Raven’s example and start wandering around naked,” said Charles.
“Mutant and proud, Charles,” said Erik. “I’m fine with it.”
“That’s because you like watching pretty people parade around in tight clothing,” said Charles.
Erik stretched. “Guilty as charged. As long as they wear their uniforms when they go into battle, I don’t mind if they want to squish themselves into spandex in their down-time.”
“Well I do,” said Charles.
“They’re young, let them have fun,” said Erik. “We were young once too.”
They had been young once, and Erik had gone through a rather unfortunate spandex phase himself. Charles was gearing up for a magnificent sulk, though, and it was unlikely that even Erik would be able to stop him once he got started.
“They’re children,” said Charles. “They’re our children. I don’t want to see their privates, and I don’t want anyone else to see their privates, and I certainly don’t want to see Jean and Scott doing whatever they were doing on top of the piano in the ballroom of the Council building ever again.”
“It’s not like we’ve never done it in the ballroom,” said Erik.
“That’s different,” said Charles.
“Yes, we were two years younger than they are,” said Erik. “Does it really bother you that much?”
Charles screwed up his face. “I’m getting old, aren’t I?”
“You are,” said Erik. “Luckily for you, I have a plan.”
Luckily for both of them, there were no moths native to Genosha, and Charles never threw anything away. Erik had become used to jettisoning possessions when he lived on the road, but Charles kept boxes and boxes of stuff, hoarding like a dragon. Or a rat. Still, the elasticised fabric had kept well, and it still fitted, even if it fitted slightly differently. Erik had forgotten the pleasing sheen when the jumpsuit stretched over his skin, and he’d forgotten how off-putting and whispery the vinyl cape was. He decided to leave the cape upstairs, but sauntered happily downstairs to breakfast next morning in his old suit.
He was leaning over the countertop when Jean walked in and everything in the room jumped slightly to the left.
“Good morning,” said Erik. “Nice to see you training so early.”
“Good morning, Erik,” said Storm, as more of the X-men followed Jean in. Erik smiled. “What the hell are you wearing?”
“I used to wear it in the seventies. Or maybe the eighties,” said Erik, nonchalant. “I’d forgotten how comfortable spandex is.”
“Aargh,” said Jean, looking determinedly at the floor. “Good god, M, I can see everything.”
“Oh, so that’s why the Professor married him,” said Rogue, looking him up and down. “Nice.”
“You think so? I think so,” said Erik.
“You are not going out like that,” said Jean. “We’ll be the laughing stock of the entire world if the press get a photo.”
“Really?” asked Erik. “Mystique walks around naked. I thought I might try that next.”
“I hate you,” said Jean.
Rémy appeared to be trying not to laugh. Erik shrugged. He was what he was; a little softer around the stomach than he had been when he first bought the outfit, but still well-built in the chest. Not as firm as Charles, but Erik at least still had hair. He’d never been ashamed of little Erik, and the spandex hugged that part impressively.
“I’m sure that Charles would appreciate it, at least,” said Erik.
“Oh, absolutely,” Charles said from behind him. He coughed. “Good morning, love; I see you’re dressed already.”
Lorna walked into the kitchen, took one look at the breakfast tableau, and then walked out again without saying a word.
“All right,” said Rogue. “You’ve made your point. At least put some shorts on or something; you’ll take someone’s eye out.”
“Certainly,” said Erik, in his best genial tone. “Were you planning to change too?”
Charles rolled up to Erik’s side, and he slid a hand up Erik’s flank, pulling Erik closer by slipping his arm around Erik’s waist.
“You’re not getting changed until I’m finished with you,” said Charles. He’d wrapped his thoughts around Erik’s; all warm and loving and grateful and distinctly horny. Erik preened.
“Please don’t take this the wrong way,” said Jean. “But thinking about you two like that is horribly like thinking about your parents having sex.”
“Fascinating,” said Erik, and he felt Charles’s hand move lower. Charles had always been handsy whenever Erik wore spandex.
“And with that, we’re going to go and have breakfast on the balcony,” said Scott. “You are not invited. Either of you, Professor.”
“Have a lovely time. I do enjoy a good hot breakfast,” said Charles, letting go of Erik and rolling to the counter to set the toaster on. Jean and Scott exchanged a horrified look. Satisfied, Erik flicked the kettle on as they left.
“You, sir, are an epic troll,” said Rémy, tipping Erik a salute and following the others.
Charles waited until they’d all gone before bursting into laughter. Erik bent to kiss him.
“Thank you,” said Charles.
“My pleasure,” said Erik.
“What’s an epic troll, and why are you one?” asked Charles, running an appreciative hand up Erik’s spandex-covered thigh.
“I think it’s something on the Internet,” said Erik, wishing that the suit had easier access.
Charles shook his head. “The Internet is a pit of—“
“Save it, I’ve heard it,” said Erik, leaning on the arms of Charles’s chair to kiss him one more time before straightening. “Tea?” Charles looked at him like he’d just kicked a puppy. “Oh, don’t give me that look; if I have to listen to your evils of the Internet rant another time, I’m going to have to destroy it just to shut you up. And I suspect destroying the Internet would count as an act of war, or at least cause our younger citizens to stage a coup until I reinstated it.”
“It’s not a rant,” said Charles plaintively. He wheezed, and Erik raised his eyebrows. “Only old men rant.”
“My dear, as you have so spectacularly proven over the last week, you are an old man, and you rant,” said Erik. “Stop sulking and tell me if you want lemon or milk in your tea.”
“Lemon,” said Charles. “And a private show from the man in the spandex.”
“Both,” said Erik, “would be my pleasure.”
If you go down Genosha way
The boys there are so very gay
You won’t mistake Magneto’s smile
He’s got a telepath who drives him wild
Lyrics excerpt from a parody of the song “Rum and Coca-Cola” circa 1988 — a reaction to the seemingly free social structures of Genosha and the openness of the relationship between Xavier and Lenscherr. Notable because it was played at the couple’s wedding last year.
Fictionalized representations of the relationship between the leaders of Genosha are not a new thing. An internet search will give you millions of hits; everything from fan fiction to Saturday Night Live sketches, books, drawings, even the controversial film House of M. We don’t know much about how they met, or where they met; they are unusual in that they came onto the public radar together, and they’ve stayed together ever since.
The seventies through to the nineties saw them save the world multiple times — sometimes from each other — and quietly go about their business in private when it came to their personal lives. There was no public romance, no fights across the media, nothing of interest until last year, when an unnamed woman came forward and made the extraordinary claim that Magneto had been the one to paralyse Xavier, and that they’d spent years apart in a secret war against one another between the paralysis and the raising of Genosha.
The Genoshan publicity machine made no rebuttal, nor did they confirm the story. What we do know is that there are missing years for both Xavier and Lenscherr in the 1960s, where they dropped off the grid entirely. Whether this was alone or together, no-one can really say, but before he vanished, Xavier could walk, and Lenscherr was not in the picture, and when they returned, Charles was paralysed and Erik by his side.
Charles glared at the timer bar on his computer screen, distinctly unimpressed that this latest update to Cerebro was going to take 17.5 — no, 19 — no, 14 — no, 21 hours. He knew that this version of Cerebro was old, and they probably needed to replace half of the hardware, but this was ridiculous. He might as well go upstairs and get ready for Erik’s gala and just let it run.
Hank had sent the update. Hank had been at him for the last three months to connect Cerebro to the Internet, so that Hank could update it from wherever he was in the world — Geneva, New York, wherever. Charles was still uncertain. He didn’t trust the Internet at all.
Charles was old enough to remember when computers had used punch cards and magnetic tape; they’d used tape in the first generation of Cerebro right through to the third, when they had discovered that Erik could write a program straight onto the tape, and he’d trebled their progress overnight. Erik took an almost possessive interest in Cerebro — it had taken years for Charles to work out that while Erik was certainly interested in the potential uses of the machine, he was also annoyingly interested in making sure that Charles was all right, no matter how many times Charles proved that he wasn’t going to kill himself on the machine by mistake.
Charles rarely ever got headaches or side-effects from Cerebro any more. And he didn’t exactly have one tonight; he’d been brewing a cold for a while, and it was catching up with him. He felt rough and weary, and he was not in the mood for going out, but he’d promised Erik.
“How are the modifications going?” Jean asked, padding onto the metal gantry.
Charles coughed. “Good, good,” he said, and he didn’t have to be a telepath to read concern in her face.
“You all right?” she asked. Charles smiled. “One day, I am going to hold a popular vote to crown the king of stubbornness, and it’s going to be a tie between you and Erik. You know you don’t need to work on Cerebro if you’re sick.”
“I’m not sick,” said Charles. “I’ve just got a cold.”
“Professor,” she said, with a wry, lip-biting smile. “Do you even listen to yourself?”
“Not often,” he replied. “What’s the time? I’m meant to be at some gala tonight with Erik.”
“Six,” she said. “He’s not home from Council yet.”
“Ah,” said Charles, packing up. He needed to go and change. “He’ll be in a fine mood when he gets in, then.”
Erik was in a spectacular mood when he got in. He melted his cufflinks, slammed around the bedroom, and grumbled all the while about mutants and the Internet and experiments and a million things that Charles had no context for, and no inclination to work out by fishing in Erik’s head. Erik’s mood continued all the way to the gala, and when they arrived, Charles quickly snagged them both a glass of champagne before Erik got more cross.
“What is this for, anyway?” Charles asked.
“Extraordinary graduates from the university,” said Erik. “I promised Storm we’d be here.”
“Storm’s running it?” Charles asked. “How did I not know this?”
“You’ve been busy trying to get everyone to wear more clothing,” Erik replied.
Charles hummed agreement, sipped his champagne, and then wished he hadn’t. His cold was making itself felt.
“Drink this,” said Charles, handing his glass to Erik. “I don’t feel like it.”
Erik drained his own glass, and took Charles’s. “Are you feeling all right?”
“I’m cold,” said Charles, and Erik took off his cloak, wrapping Charles in it. “Stop that, your cloak is an abomination.”
“Then you can be cold,” said Erik, moving to take it back. Charles tucked his freezing fingers into the folds of the cloak.
“It is warm,” he conceded. Charles felt the cold bitterly — he had done since his paralysis — but he’d thought that he’d worn enough undershirts to keep him warm tonight. Clearly not. Erik rested his hand on Charles’s shoulder.
“Are you all right?” he asked, as Charles drew the cloak tighter around himself.
“I’ve got a cold,” said Charles, and he sniffed.
“You could have said something earlier,” said Erik.
“You really wanted to come,” Charles replied. “I’ll be fine.”
“Smile!” said a bright, cheerful voice. Right, there was a photographer, and a photograph of Charles and Erik would be mandatory. Erik kept his hand on Charles’s shoulder and Charles smiled, but the flash left disorienting after-images in his vision. “Thank you!”
“I like it when you wear my clothes for press photographs,” murmured Erik. “Come on, we’ll go and find somewhere out of the crowd.”
“I’m fine,” said Charles.
“And I’m the Queen of Sheba,” said Erik. “Come on.”
Charles sighed. “Give me a push,” he said, because he wasn’t going to embarrass himself by failing to navigate through a crowd. Erik held out a hand, gently rolling Charles’s chair across the hall, keeping them in step, liberating more champagne and an orange juice from a passing waiter on the way to the tables.
“Drink,” he said, passing Charles the orange juice. “And eat something, you look distressingly like you’re about to pass out.”
“I’m fine,” said Charles through his teeth, but he ate five of the little quiche things that Erik put in front of him and felt a lot better for it. Erik’s cloak was soft and easy to curl into, for all that it was an eyesore. He ignored the people who came up to talk to them, and ignored Erik’s increasingly curt answers, focussing instead on not passing out, and wondering if the Cerebro upgrade had loaded yet.
He phased back to reality when he felt Erik’s cold hand on his forehead. “Wake up,” said Erik. “You’ll offend the graduates if you—” He paused. “Charles?”
“Mmm?” Charles asked.
“You’re burning up,” said Erik, panic threading through the edge of his voice.
“Don’t threaten anyone. I’m sure it’s just something minor,” said Charles, because last time he’d been ill, Erik had given one of the doctors a nervous breakdown. Erik didn’t deal well with people he loved being ill.
“I’m calling for a car,” said Erik.
“We’ll offend people,” said Charles.
“I don’t care,” Erik replied.
Charles didn’t quite remember getting to the car. The next thing he was aware of was Erik shaking him, so he’d apparently fallen asleep on the way home.
“Charles,” said Erik, sounding as if he were underwater. “Charles, we’re home.”
“I’m still cold,” said Charles. Erik sighed.
“Will you allow me to carry you in? I don’t fancy your chances of making it up to our room in your chair.”
Charles let him. Erik was only allowed to carry him if he thought Charles was going to die, and right then, Charles thought he was probably going to die, either of this wretched cold or of embarrassment when he read the morning papers. He rested his head against Erik’s shoulder.
“Is Hank here yet?” Erik demanded, and Charles was a little sorry that he wasn’t awake enough to appreciate Erik in full flight.
“Azazel’s gone to get him,” said Scott. “He wasn’t impressed.”
“I don’t care,” said Erik.
“Is the Professor all right?” asked Lorna.
“No,” said Erik. “He’s a stubborn idiot who came out to a gala when he was feeling sick.”
Charles half-dozed through different people talking at him and taking his temperature, and he was quite frankly relieved to see Hank, who embraced him before checking him over, telling him that he’d been quite happily asleep when Azazel had shown up, and did Charles mind if Hank had a fiddle with Cerebro while he was here.
Once Charles had taken some tablets and was feeling a little more alive, his so-called friends made him sit through three lectures from a doctor he didn’t recognise, and then Hank, then Erik, on being a stubborn old goat and going out to dinners when he had bronchitis and don’t you remember that you’re an increased risk for pneumonia what on earth were you thinking? and then he was finally allowed to get some sleep.
He woke up four times with feverish nightmares, and each time Erik talked him down, eventually giving in and letting Charles into his own dreams, where everything had lovely rainbow lines of magnetic force around it, and there were no weird presences chasing him, no flashbacks to past kidnappings, and no horrible things coming out of the Internet and taking over the world. Charles appreciated the effort. No nightmares meant that Erik was probably concentrating extremely hard.
Erik, who had the constitution of a god, didn’t ever get sick. He did lie to everyone and say he was feeling unwell; he loved nothing more than getting out of going to Council meetings, and Charles was pleased for the company, so he didn’t tell anyone that Erik was actually fine. They curled up in bed together, and Charles dozed against Erik’s side as Erik — shock horror — actually caught up on his paperwork.
Charles woke up ravenous three days into the illness, ate a simply phenomenal amount of soup, brushed his teeth for what felt like the first time in months, and then pounced on Erik.
They didn’t really manage sex much anymore; telepathic sex was just as fun as regular sex, and no-one got a sore hip or had their jaw lock on them, and there wasn’t so much mess to clean up afterwards. But sometimes Charles liked to do things the old-fashioned way. He was always too aware of controlling the scene when they were together on the astral plane, whereas physical contact grounded him, reassured him in a way that telepathy alone couldn’t. He kissed Erik slowly, the soft roughness of Erik’s stubble one of those things that Charles never quite managed to mimic accurately.
“You’re still ill,” said Erik, almost into Charles’s mouth.
“I don’t care,” said Charles. “I want to make the most of a few days in bed.”
“Mmm,” Erik hummed, kissing Charles like he wanted to map every inch of Charles’s mouth. “Roll over.”
“Help me out,” said Charles, rolling slowly onto his back, Erik rolling him the rest of the way. He looked down at his chest. “I’ve gone grey.”
“It happens,” said Erik, kissing his neck. Charles brushed his fingers through Erik’s silvery hair; he’d been distraught when it had greyed off, and insisted on dyeing it for years. Thankfully, it was his natural colour now. Erik kissed the middle of Charles’s chest, right on his breastbone, moving slowly down Charles’s body.
“Oh yes,” Charles sighed, his stomach fluttering with desire under Erik’s broad hands. “Please, Erik, please…”
“Patience, Charles,” said Erik, smiling at Charles across his body. “Good things come to those who wait.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, they certainly did.
Probably the most extraordinary thing about the rulers of Genosha is their willingness to become involved in external affairs. And not in a policy-making, world-tour, party-junket way; they’ve become involved in a direct and heroic way that no other world leader comes close to — not even Putin. There’s a joke in Genosha that Magneto is happier to get into a firefight than to discuss policy, and rumor has it that the pair even fought during the Cuban Missile Crisis as active participants.
This involvement is not without its dangers. Xavier has been kidnapped no less than thirty times since the announcement that he would officially be recognised as Magneto’s consort: fifteen of those times he escaped unaided and calmly incapacitated his kidnappers; a further ten times his husband went in and rescued him in action-movie fashion; and a further five times the Genoshan secret service — the X-men — stepped in. Magneto has not been immune to kidnapping either — his tally is not quite as impressive as Xavier’s, but he makes up for it in spectacle. Magneto’s capture in 1991 by the US government is a closely guarded state secret on both sides. It nearly brought the world to war, and insiders say that if Lenscherr had died in the custody of the CIA, as he very nearly did, it would have been Charles Xavier against the world, and Xavier would have won.
Having watched them together, and studied Xavier’s powers, I can easily believe it.
“Charles, did you roll the end of the toothpaste again?”
Erik didn’t really know why he bothered asking. Unless there were toothpaste-rolling gremlins, the only person who would have rolled the end of the toothpaste was Charles. That said, given the complete strangeness of the last few days, he honestly wouldn’t be shocked if there were toothpaste-rolling gremlins running around the island as well as sentient computers trying to take over the world.
“You’d mashed it all up in the middle,” said Charles. Erik leaned out of the en-suite bathroom; Charles was smugly ensconced right in the centre of the bed, hogging Erik’s pillow.
“I like mashing it all up in the middle,” said Erik. He ached all over, big red rings like giant insect bites dotting his chest and neck from where he’d been wired into the Internet by a power-mad mutant, and a billion computers worldwide had tried to access his powers. Erik felt that in repayment for resisting and not destroying the known world, he deserved toothpaste that wasn’t curled into a weird nautiloid shape. He was going to get more of it on his hands than on the toothbrush.
“Darling, I love you, but I think we’re going to have to have separate toothpastes,” said Charles, giving every impression of heartbreak. “And if you don’t come to bed soon, I’m going to fall asleep before you get here.”
Erik managed to get a pathetic blob of toothpaste out of the rolled up tube. “You never fall asleep before me,” he said, sticking the toothbrush into his mouth and then talking around it. “You’re incapable of falling asleep before you’ve had the last word.”
“Mmm,” Charles replied. “You weren’t holding half the minds on the island static for a full hour while we tried to work out where that poor mutant was.”
“No,” said Erik. “I was holding the Blackbird together with my powers and steering it and keeping it from crashing. And that’s after being wired into the network for half an hour. The things I saw in there were worse that that time with the brain fungus.” He brushed a little more. “Even worse than the time when we all got lost in one of your nightmares.”
“Anyway, it’s not a competition,” said Charles.
Erik sighed, grateful for the sanctity of their marriage that he currently had a mouthful of toothpaste. He went back into the bathroom, spat, rinsed, and then examined himself in the mirror. His hair was definitely thinning, and the bags under his eyes looked like they’d settled in to stay. He stretched, his shoulders settling with a satisfying click, and then followed Charles into bed.
“You’re on my side,” he said.
“I’m in the middle,” said Charles, pawing at Erik until Erik drew him close.
“You’re going to have to move, or I’ll kick you in the middle of the night,” Erik warned him. Charles nosed Erik’s neck, clearly pretending not to hear him. “Charles, I am about to fall asleep on top of you.”
“No you’re not,” Charles said, tracing one of the welts on Erik’s chest with his fingertips. “Does this hurt?”
“No,” said Erik. It didn’t -- it was ticklish, but not painful. The tired ache had settled in his bones, not his skin.
Charles pressed a kiss to Erik’s clavicle, right in the middle of a welt. “Are you ever going to stand back and let the X-Men do the fighting?”
“Says the man who stretched his powers and nearly gave himself a stroke,” said Erik, because he’d felt like he’d been punched in the gut when he’d turned to see Charles covered in blood.
“It was a nosebleed.”
“It was your own fault, and you know you’re only just up and about after your illness.”
“Yes, love,” said Charles, not sounding even remotely contrite. He didn’t make any move towards his own side of the bed, either. Erik closed his eyes and rested his cheek against Charles’s forehead; they could share the middle a little while longer.
“I did say the Internet was evil,” said Charles, just when Erik thought he’d gone to sleep.
“Honestly,” said Erik, stifling a yawn. “I didn’t see it coming. Who knew it would catch sentience from a mutant?”
“I don’t think sentience is transmissible,” Charles replied.
“No, otherwise you’d have caught both my genius and my self-preservation instincts by now,” said Erik. “Sadly, I have to make do with you being good-looking.”
“It must be such a hardship,” said Charles, leaning his head back against Erik’s shoulder, trailing his fingers over Erik’s hip. “However do you cope?”
“I make do,” Erik replied, and Charles chuckled. “You can say it, you know. And then you have to let me sleep, because I really am about to whether you want me to or not.”
“I told you so,” said Charles, and Erik leaned over and kissed him. “Now you say your part.”
“Shut up, Charles,” he said, and then kissed him again.
“I love you,” said Charles.
“You never do shut up,” said Erik, and Charles smiled into another kiss. “I love you. Now stop talking and let me sleep.”
“Love you,” said Charles, again.
“Last word,” Erik replied, flicking the lights off with his powers. “Good night.”
“Good night,” said Charles, and Erik laughed into his pillow, curling up against Charles’s warm body and falling immediately to sleep.
Marriage seemed to be a surprise to Xavier and Lenscherr, especially at their age. Both have said in numerous interviews that they formalized their relationship because their loved ones wanted a wedding; when I interviewed them last year, Xavier did all the talking while Lenscherr sat, inscrutable and frightening. It was difficult to match them to their public personas — either man has the rhetorical genius to set the world on fire, but when talking about their personal lives, Lenscherr is positively prickly, Xavier charming and evasive.
But, differences and personalities aside, if the beginning of modern Genosha was one of last century’s most recognizable images, photographs of Xavier and Lenscherr’s wedding are certainly in the running for the title this century. There’s one in particular that has been printed and re-printed, a painfully public rehashing of what should be a private moment.
I was there, covering the wedding as a representative of the Western media. I hadn’t really known what to expect; rumors had been flying about Lenscherr’s temper in the lead-up, and Xavier had apparently banned wedding talk from their house. I had expected a quiet ceremony, nothing flashy, nothing personal. With all their media savvy, they know to keep what is important behind closed doors.
For the most part, I was right. And then something extraordinary happened. Just after the vows had been solemnized, and the pair invited to kiss, Lenscherr dropped to his knees and took Xavier’s face into his hands gently, reverently; this strong, proud man kneeling for his love, and as the couple kissed, utterly smitten with one another after what has to be thirty or forty years, a camera flashed.
I’ve seen plenty of unflattering captions for that photograph. Bloggers and comedians talking about men on their knees, or sex bringing a nation down together, but many of them seem to miss the point. For all their mutations, all their powers, their personalities like night and day, all their struggles both public and private, the missing years and the years we know too much about, these men found love, and founded everything else on its base.
And if that’s not foundation enough for a nation as well, what is?