It had been two years, and it wasn’t working.
Raven – now Mystique – hesitated to admit this, even to herself.
Sometimes though, in the wee hours of the morning when Azazel had returned to his own room and his own bed and the others were all long since asleep (with one silent, brooding exception just down the hall), sleep evaded Mystique and she was left to ponder the unavoidable realities of their situation.
There was a lot of uncomfortable to reality to ponder, but it all circled back around to the same thing: this, what they were doing, the Brotherhood, wasn’t working.
At first it had been okay. Well, maybe not okay, but for those first few months they had been able to ignore the subtle ways in which things were wrong, like persistent children who thought that if they just pounded the ill-fitting puzzle pieces together hard enough somehow everything would click into place.
Azazel and Riptide followed Magneto’s orders, but barely. He was a de facto leader at best, accepted by them because he had been the first commanding voice to speak in the chaos following Shaw’s death. She thought that they had started to realize that just because they had left the beach with Erik didn’t mean that they had to stay with him, and she didn’t like the contemplative slant Azazel’s mouth had taken on recently. She knew who she’d side with, if the contemplation turned to something more dangerous and things between him and Magneto came to a head; Azazel might share her bed, but Erik (before he was Magneto, before the Brotherhood) had been the first one to kiss blue lips. She was his, and she suspected that she always would be, in a way that transcended love or lust or even the tense friendship that had formed between them in the past two years.
That, of course, was another problem.
She knew Erik. Not Magneto, but Erik, the man he was before that day on the beach and Shaw’s death. She had giggled the first time she had seen him put on his ridiculous red-painted helmet, and he hadn’t offered her the thin smile he once might have but he also hadn’t reprimanded her. Their friendship – his softness toward her, not much but more than he showed anything or anyone else, these days – undermined him in the eyes of the others. Azazel and Riptide, even Angel. Frost.
She would never say so to Magneto, but Emma Frost had been a mistake on his part.
Like so much else, recruiting Frost to the Brotherhood had been smooth sailing at first. She had been grateful to be out, and willing enough to slide into the hollow Charles-shaped space in Erik’s life. Raven had even grown to... not to like her, but to respect her strength, and she had hoped briefly that Emma was the missing piece that would allow the picture painted on their mashed and jumbled jigsaw make sense.
Instead, she had hastened their decline.
Even with the helmet to keep her from reading Magneto’s mind, she was too watchful, too perceptive. She saw, even when the others missed it, the way he was inclined to give Mystique free reign, and perhaps guessed from the fact that he didn’t extend the same courtesy to Angel that their past acquaintance wasn’t all that was behind it. She noticed every time he turned toward the group’s telepath with a faint smile and an easy remark, only to realize belatedly that it was Frost he was addressing and not Charles. Never Charles, possibly Never Again Charles. In those moments, he showed too much, felt too much, was too unequal to the task of concealing it: his face would shut down like someone flicking off the lights, but not before the strange passion play of guilt and longing and anger that only the memory of Charles seemed to evoke slid over his features for a brief second. A not-brief-enough second, because that moment of weakness was all too evident to two of the Brotherhood’s women, the one too close not to see it and the one too smart to miss it.
Frost saw all the weaknesses, all the spider web cracks that splintered out from that unfortunately Charles-shaped hole. This, on its own, might not have been an issue, but Frost seemed to remember that she had been loyal to Shaw where the others did not. More to the point, she seemed to remember just who had been responsible for Shaw’s death.
If the slant of Azazel’s mouth was contemplative, then the cold blue of Emma’s eyes was calculating, and had been for some time now. Azazel was trying to come to a decision; Frost already had. She squatted arachnid-like at the center of the web that hadn’t been made to house her but did all the same, and waited.
Mystique’s hands curled into fists against the sheets, and there was a curious helplessness to the motion. It held the same futility as a housecat kneading a blanket, seeking something that body-warmed fabric couldn’t provide. Sustenance. Comfort. An answer to a problem that there was no way to solve.
She believed in the Brotherhood, believed in Magneto, believed into the importance of what they were doing. And with every passing day, she could see it unraveling around her. It was easy to blame Azazel or Frost, but she knew well enough by now where the real conflict was.
The childhood home she had shared with Charles had been filled with books. Sometimes he would read to her out of them, and sometimes the books he had chosen had been well above her comprehension level, but she had never minded. She had liked to listen to his voice, the rarely-spoken but always-implied reassurance that she was not alone, she was valued and loved because she was different, like him.
Never enough like him, as it turned out, but that didn’t stop Mystique from clinging to those early memories of Charles’ voice just as frantically as Raven had clung the love and acceptance he had offered her as a child.
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”
The Brotherhood’s center had stood on shaky ground since day one, and he wasn’t going to hold. After that it would be fucking anarchy, and she wasn’t sure that either she or Magneto would survive the blood-dimmed tide.
The real problem was this: Erik did not know how to hold the center. For all that he could control magnetic fields and make metal dance around him like tiny planets orbiting a big blond sun, he himself had always been dragged into the orbit of others. First Shaw, and then Charles. The fact his own little planet had spun off course somewhere in between him planting a Nazi coin in Shaw’s brain and planting a bullet in Charles’ spine didn’t actually change very much. He was still rotating slowly and inevitably around Charles, too invested and too wary of causing further harm to really be effective in playing the black king to Charles’ white knight. They circled each other and hissed like tom cats when they should have been at war, neither willing cede to the other but equally unwilling to actually take that final step (and she winced at her own poor word choice, because Charles) and really hurt each other.
Hurt each other further, that was.
And on nights when Mystique was feeling particularly fair and particularly honest, she might have admitted that Erik wasn’t the only one with that particular weakness.
She didn’t have it in her to hurt Charles. He was her brother, her friend, her first and for a long time only companion. No matter how angry she was with him and how stupid and wrong she thought he was about ninety percent of the time, he would always be that, and she just didn’t – she couldn’t. Simply thinking about hurting Charles, even hurting him accidentally (as Magneto had) during one of the clashes between the Brotherhood and the X-Men made her feel a little ill.
In another lifetime, if she had been a different woman, one who hadn’t grown up beside Charles and listened to him read, watched the million different ways his face could brighten with laughter or mischief or darken with pain or concern, had him to scold her and infuriate her and love her, she could have been – more. She could have been more brutal, more strong and more fierce, more of whatever she needed to be to ensure that Magneto and the Brotherhood survived and succeeded. As it was, some part of her would always be Charles Xavier’s baby sister, the one who had been able to do nothing but sob in helpless horror as Shaw and his men had mowed down the CIA agents who had only moments before been exactly the same kind of people that Mystique was now fighting against: small-minded assholes who saw her and the other mutants as nothing but freaks at best and monsters at worst. The kind of men who would have, who had turned on them given the slightest provocation.
And yet, their deaths had hurt her. She still had nightmares about it sometimes. Those were the nights when Azazel’s hands on her body felt like penance, because she had seen him kill and seen him enjoy it, and the stroke of his palms over her skin left invisible smudges of filth, blood dried into the nail beds and fingerprints. Penance for the things she had done (Charles on the beach, bleeding and broken but reading her desire to leave him in the places where words couldn’t touch, Charles giving his blessing and her taking it, the lives she had claimed in the past two years, the blood that she herself had spilt) and the things she had yet to do.
Maybe in another lifetime, but in this one Mystique did not like to be brutal, to kill. She struggled with causing pain in a way she hadn’t expected to. She hadn’t gone with Magneto blind; she had known what would be required of her to ensure the freedom and safety of mutants everywhere. She still didn’t like it, and she still couldn’t be the kind of woman she needed to be. Not now, and maybe not ever, with Charles’ voice still whispering to her at night about better ways.
Years before Erik had laid claim to her with a kiss, there had been Charles. He was carved into her ever-shifting skin in a way that very few things were; his presence had left an indelible mark on her heart and her soul that she doubted she could ever entirely rub off.
Some nights she wondered if she even wanted to. Charles was – he had hurt her. The realization that he couldn’t accept her as she was, or at the very least couldn’t see how very much she needed that acceptance, had stung like the worst kind of betrayal. But he was also one of the best men she knew. She didn’t like to think of what she might become if she were to carve out the piece of herself that he had helped to shape.
She didn’t like to think of what Magneto might already be becoming.
Because it was clear to her that Erik did not share her hesitation. He killed easily, as he always had. He didn’t mind that the path they walked toward freedom (supremacy) was already soaked red with blood, and he resented the part of Charles that he carried around with him. For all that he had so much trouble letting her brother go, he gouged at the places that Charles had touched as enthusiastically as she danced around them, like time and persistence would allow him to be free of that final and most crippling weakness.
The thought that he might one day succeed was almost as distressing to Raven as the sure knowledge that by the time he did, the Brotherhood probably would already have dissolved as a direct result of Charles’ continued, unseen presence among them. She was faced with something of a dilemma, because their cause couldn’t survive the enemy in their midst, but she wasn’t sure that Erik – not Magneto, but Erik – could survive his absence.
Mystique didn’t sleep much these days.
Neither did Magneto.
Two years, nine months, and seventeen days after they had left Charles on the beach, the last knot holding the raveling threads of the Brotherhood together snapped.
Another mission. Another confrontation with Charles and the mutants who trailed behind him like the strange lovechildren of a puppy and a Hare Krishna. It was almost routine at this point, but—.
But Mystique had woken up feeling sick that morning, as she had every morning for a while now, and she was off her game, hanging back from the fight when usually she would have been by Magneto’s side.
But Frost was there in her place, gleaming diamond hard and semi-translucent in the sunlight slanting through the windows of the government office building they had been infiltrating, a beautiful ice sculpture of a woman with blood smeared across the glassy surfaces of her skin.
But it was Charles’ blood, as it hadn’t been for over two years, and Hank was dragging him away with the rest of the X-Men following in a hasty retreat. The snarling lines of Hank’s face spoke of rage with more eloquence than the awkward Henry McCoy had ever been able to muster in words, at least around her during their oh-so-brief courtship.
But the standard issue beige metal desks crowding the room had flung themselves into sudden frantic action, pinning Emma to the wall when it looked like she might try to follow the Brotherhood’s fleeing enemies, and then doing their damndest to push the woman through the plaster and the thick concrete beneath.
Mystique heard a noise not unlike glass getting crushed beneath a punishing boot heel. Frost went from diamond hardness to too-soft flesh in the space of an instant, the time it took Mystique to draw a sharp breath and not take the next one.
Frost glared Magneto down as if she wasn’t pinned under pounds of metal. “And this is your idea of brotherhood between mutants?” she asked delicately, before turning her head to the side and spitting blood.
“No one touches Xavier,” Magneto said. The planes of his face were stark in the mid-afternoon sun, and he looked harsher and more unforgiving than Mystique had ever seen him. For a moment she was certain that he would push the desks forward and finish what he had started, and even more unnerving than that was the fact that she wasn’t sure she would blame him. Because it was Charles. Because time and dissent might wear away at most of the bonds between them, but she didn’t think that either she or Erik could live in a world where Charles Xavier wasn’t. That was the heart of the matter, the root of this whole ugly stalemate between them.
The moment passed. The desks fell to the floor with a clatter and Frost stepped away from the wall, limping and bruised but able to walk under her own power, although Mystique wondered if maybe she wasn’t bleeding internally. Riptide and Angel hurried forward to help the other woman; neither Mystique nor Magneto moved so much as a muscle. No one failed to notice the distress on Angel’s face or the way that Janos was for once not worried about mussing the perfect lines of his gray suit, allowing Emma’s red-smeared hands to grasp his arm for balance. They only pretended not to notice the line that had just been drawn down the center of the Brotherhood.
“Time to pick what side you’re on, Erik,” Frost said, coolly collected in spite of the blood that had painted her lips a startling carmine and the heavy way she was leaning into the support Riptide offered.
Azazel stepped forward, and the four of them disappeared, leaving in their wake only black smoke, sulfur, and Erik and Mystique standing in a silence so complete that it felt thick and heavy in Mystique’s lungs when she breathed it in.
She should have been concerned about how the two of them were going to get out of the mostly-empty-until-Monday but still heavily guarded government building and back home without Azazel, but Mystique trusted Magneto to see to that and she currently had a more pressing matter to consider; namely, how the fissure she had spent the past two years trying to knit closed had suddenly been ripped wide open.
The Brotherhood was going to fail. Not today and maybe not tomorrow, but soon. Frost’s patience would run out, or she would sway enough of the new recruits to feel sure of success (because it was obvious that she already had the loyalty of everyone who had followed Erik off that beach in Cuba, everyone except Mystique), and she would move against Magneto. Mystique was almost relieved, now that the worst had happened. She could stop spending so many nights worrying about when and why they would fail, and just start worrying about the inevitable consequences and how to keep herself alive through the fallout of now-certain events. There was a simplicity to survival; at the very least, it was much less complicated than assembling a jigsaw puzzle.
She looked at Magneto, a dark and silent figure made equal parts imposing and absurd by the contrast between his bright red-and-purple costume and the bland brown-and-gray government issue backdrop.
She thought about telling him, “It’s over,” or, “I’m sorry,” or some other true but inadequate thing. Instead she said, “Can we get what we came for and get out? I have somewhere I need to be.”
He nodded and they gathered the files that had been the now-almost-forgotten purpose behind this little shit show. Magneto was distant, which he had been for years now, and distracted, which he almost never was. Mystique left him at the front of the boxy government building, stopping only to throw “You’ll be okay?” over her shoulder but not waiting for a response before she went. If he had given one it almost certainly wouldn’t have been honest, and neither of them needed that right then.
He didn’t ask where she was going. He knew. She’d done this before, when blood had been spilled in a confrontation between the Brotherhood and the X-Men. She found a payphone and called Hank’s line at the manor. He didn’t pick up, which she had expected. Even with the rebuilt jet it would take them time to get home, and then there would be Charles to see to when they got there. She left a message with nothing but the payphone’s number and a request that he call her back.
For over an hour she waited by the payphone, shivering in the thin white dress that she’d taken to wearing on missions. She wasn’t surprised when the phone rang, though, because yes, they’d done this before.
Never this, but the phone call, the check-in to make sure that no one had taken that one step too far, that no one had died and that nothing had been done that couldn’t be undone and in some measure forgiven – that wasn’t new.
Some loyalties had been formed long before the Brotherhood or the X-Men had even been conceived, and the oldest habits were also the hardest to break.
Once Mystique had been the one injured, and Hank had been the one to somehow hunt down the number for the apartment building the Brotherhood had been squatting in that month. Erik had gone to meet him, and Mystique had laughed until her cracked ribs ached at the mental picture Erik’s later explanation provided. Once Hank had been the one hurt, and Alex had been the one to reluctantly leave the manor to speak with her. That incident had been significantly less funny.
Three hours later, she sat at their usual corner booth in the only pub that the town nearest to the manor could boast. She had stolen a car to get there, and she wore her old blond skin like an ill-fitting glove. Hank slid in the backdoor beside the booth fifteen minutes later, the collar of his coat pulled up and his hat pulled low, gloves on his hands and sunglasses and a scarf over his face. She hated it when he hid. He never seemed to mind when she did.
He sat across from her, and for a moment they were silent. “Take the scarf off, at least,” she said as she pulled the privacy curtain over the front of the booth.
Hank took off not only the scarf but the sunglasses and hat as well. Mystique was surprised, because she hadn’t thought that he’d be in any mood to be generous.
It was good that he was feeling generous, because for once she wasn’t here only to check on their wounded and make whatever belated amends were possible when one was on the opposite side of a war than almost everyone she had ever cared about. Erik had known where she was going, but she was almost certain he hadn’t known the entirety of the why. She had to check on Charles, but she also needed to see to it that she and Erik had an exit strategy in place for when the Brotherhood fell to violent, bloody pieces around them.
Charles was the most straightforward exit strategy she could think of. He had never stopped asking them to come home.
Every battle, ever clash. Every chance meeting, every chance he had been able to beg, borrow or steal Charles had asked, with his eyes if not with his voice. Sometimes at night, when Mystique couldn’t sleep and the strength of the telepathic shield Frost had placed around them had ebbed and flowed to the rhythm of the other woman’s dreams, he had asked in her head, never reading her thoughts or intruding enough to once again break that childhood promise, just projecting a quiet stream of: Come home please. It will be better. We’ll find another way. Come home. Bring Erik home too, if you can. Please. I miss you. Violence isn’t the only option. We can do this. We can do it together. I love you.
She had been a little amazed how quickly his resolve to let her go had wavered after the beach, and sometimes she wondered if Charles meant to send those thoughts to her, if he had difficulty sleeping to, or if they were simply the troubled projections of a telepath sleeping restlessly. He had done that sometimes when he was younger and his control had slipped; puberty had been a very uncomfortable time in the Xavier household.
Whether he was doing in consciously or not, Raven couldn't really blame him. She had never really intended to take this last avenue of escape. There had been no pleasure in the thought of being under Charles’ thumb again, relegated once more to the role of his freaky baby sister, but sometimes she had craved the safety and comfort of home and family. More than once she had needed to stop herself from creeping back to the manor and sliding beneath the covers of her old bed, or going and sitting in the silent peace of the library until morning came if her old bedroom had already been converted into a dormitory for the mutant children Charles had been collecting.
She had missed him, too.
“It’s good to see you,” she told Hank, and she almost meant it.
Erik hadn’t known, because he couldn’t. Even he had conceded to the necessity of going back to Charles, which was something she couldn’t foresee him doing, his pride and his guilt would have stopped him.
Whether or not he wanted to go back was one of the few questions Mystique hadn’t bothered to spend long contemplating during the nights of no sleep. She had been awake often enough to know that he didn’t sleep either, and watched him frequently enough to see him reach for the place where Charles was supposed to be, like a man groping for a pencil with limb he had lost ages ago. He missed Charles too, in the simple ways that had nothing to do with the absence of a telepath from his life or the fate of mutant kind, and everything to do with late night chess games and the shark-toothed smiles that Erik hadn’t offered anyone in the past two plus years.
Erik wanted this, but – well, there was always Magneto, and the pride, and his honest belief that he was doing the best he could for the future of mutant kind. There was always the guilt. He would never agree. But maybe if Mystique caved first. Maybe if she was the one to take the two steps back from the line he and Charles had drawn in the sand on a Cuban beach and... maybe.
The other thing she had rarely questioned during those nights was whether or not Charles would allow them (would allow Erik) to come back. Questions whispered into her mind and questions lingering in his eyes half-formed had already answered that one question long ago, and she had a great deal of faith in Charles’ ability to be, if not the better man, then the kinder one. She also remembered the way that Charles had watched Erik after the three of them had first met, and had long familiarity with what her foster brother looked like in the starting throes of an infatuation. She thought that Charles might forgive Erik anything, the loss of his legs and the blood spilt between them, if only Erik would come back home.
No, truth: she hoped.
“I wish I could say the same,” Hank said. It was hard to tell beneath the spectacles he had slid on in lieu of the sunglasses and the thick blue fur, but she thought he seemed tired.
Charles had been the motivation behind her rather poorly planned and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to seduce Erik almost three years earlier. She had been angry, and she had seen the way her brother looked at the other man, and she had wanted to hurt him, before Cuba, before her defection, before everything that had come after, before she had really understood what Charles hurt looked like.
“Is he okay?” she asked, and her voice sounded smaller than she liked it. Her obvious remorse must have been balm to some wound of Hank’s, though, because his face instantly softened, the pointed tips of his teeth disappearing beneath the edges of his suddenly relaxed mouth.
“He’ll be fine. It looked worse than it was. He’s resting now.”
Of course, even Charles wouldn’t forgive her and Erik everything. He was like Erik in too many ways; both of them clung stubbornly to their principles and their missions with very little regard for the personal sacrifice that required. Just because they hadn’t yet hit the point of no return didn’t mean that it wasn’t there, or that any of them would be able to find it with a flashlight or a map prior to running up against the spot.
Which was why she had to do this now. Now, before it was too late and the exit strategy – along with the possibility of ever seeing Charles as anything other than another enemy face on the opposite end of a battlefield both metaphorical and real – ceased to exist. Now, in the days before the Brotherhood crumbled completely and maybe took her with it. Now, when she had so much more to lose. A hand curled protectively over her abdomen, the other resting light on the table between her and Hank.
Her mouth twisted into the parody of a smile. Hank was instantly wary, able to read her moods now as he had been unable to years ago, when the ability to do so might have really made a difference. “That’s not the only reason I wanted to talk to you.”
Hank looked down. He studied the round ring of condensation left by the glass of one of the booth’s previous occupants, running his gloved finger through the shallow puddle of water. “Oh?” he asked, with studied indifference.
She had to fight to keep her smile from becoming too real. “I’d like to negotiate a surrender. Myself and Magneto.”
The expression on his face turned mournful, with just a hint of reproach. It was a little funny how much better that hangdog look had sat on his human features than it did on his new furry ones. “Raven. This isn’t a war.”
A snort pulled free of her throat. “Not even you’re naïve enough to believe that it’s anything but. Or did Charles make himself bleed today?”
Hank looked hurt, and Mystique resisted the urge to take back the words. Taking them back wouldn’t make them any less true.
“Magneto sent you?” he asked after a moment.
“Magneto doesn’t know,” Raven said. “He’ll come with me if I go.”
She thought she sounded more certain than she felt. Like Charles’ forgiveness, Erik’s acquiescence was anything but a sure thing.
Maybe she didn’t sound sure, or maybe she had been right the first time and Hank was getting better at reading her; there was doubt coloring the feral yellow of his eyes. “You don’t know that.”
“I know,” Mystique lied. “I followed him once, didn’t I? He’ll follow me.”
“I don’t see why he would.”
It was a careless remark. Hank hadn’t meant for it to sting, and Mystique did her best not to show that it had. “He’ll follow, because I’m all he has left, or because he doesn’t sleep, or because Emma isn’t enough telepath for him. Take your pick.”
Hank almost smiled, and bit it back. “She’d scratch out your eyes if she heard you say that.”
“She’ll probably try before the night is out. If we have a deal, that is.”
He studied her. “Do you want to come back?”
“No,” Mystique said immediately. Oddly, she didn’t even think of lying this time. “Not really, but sometimes the only thing we have is the best of two very bad choices.”
There was more to it than that, and Hank must have know, but he didn’t ask.
“It’s the Professor’s choice,” he said finally, “but I’ll ask. If you want to come home, I don’t think he’ll turn you away.” Carefully, he added, “He doesn’t turn anyone away. Taking you in wouldn’t be anything special.”
This time, Mystique knew that Hank had been aiming to wound. She let the remark go by without response, and tried not to think about the fact that he was he was very likely right, and that the two men who she loved best in the world had probably never felt as deeply marked by her presence as she did by theirs. They cared enough, enough for Charles to (maybe) take her in and Erik to (maybe) follow her. Enough was the best she was going to get. It was better than most people got.
Of all the things Mystique might have thought that she had learned over the past two plus years of extremism and lonely nights, compromise was not one of them. She had never been very good at it before.
Charles had been too good.
Erik hadn’t – and still might not have – realized that the word ‘compromise’ existed. It was a blank entry in his mental dictionary, with nothing more than a line of very confused question marks in the place where a definition ought to be. Mystique rather thought that had been part of his appeal.
“The best of two bad choices,” she said quietly.
“I wish you didn’t feel that way,” Hank said. He didn’t look happy. Mystique thought that he was probably already regretting having spoken harshly to her.
She shrugged. “Give me another three years,” she said carelessly. “Maybe I’ll feel differently then.” Maybe she’d actually get some sleep.
“Give me a number,” Hank said. “I’ll call you once the Professor has reached a decision.”
Hours later, she was back with the Brotherhood. The call hadn’t come, and she wondered if that meant it wouldn’t. She didn’t have to wonder for long; midnight was sliding into one when she felt the tentative brush of Charles’ still familiar mind against her own. He didn’t press, didn’t try to breach the walls she had established between them years ago, and that as much as the fact that she needed his agreement was why she opened up for him.
He slid through the most recent of her memories and thoughts, and she allowed him to do so.
Soft. Sad. Mystique closed her eyes against the sudden rush of feeling, and thought a wordless question at him.
You knew the answer when you asked Hank. You had to have – except you didn’t did you? You thought I might turn you away.
He sounded angry now, but Mystique couldn’t contradict him.
I was angry. For a long time. Had they been speaking in actual words, he might have sighed. Perhaps I still am. These have not been an easy three years. You always have a place here, though. That hasn’t changed.
He couldn’t know. Not really.
Then she could try too. “I’ll see you in the morning,” she whispered to her empty bedroom.
“We’ll see,” Mystique murmured. “But yes. Erik too.”
Maybe there were only bad choices and failed attempts, and maybe going back was never really an option, but moving forward – she could do that. Maybe it was only necessity now, but maybe it could be love again, or still.
I never stopped caring about you.
That sentiment, at least, she could return.
Not very much later, Mystique stepped into Erik’s study. It was nothing like the study at the manor, all black and silver with as many crumpled paperbacks as leather-bound tomes. A cheap chess set sat on the table that served as Magneto’s desk, all the pieces in their starting positions except for the black king, which lay on its side beside the board. Mystique chose to take that as a good omen.
Magneto looked at her, and Erik was still there, lingering around his eyes and the tired set of his mouth. Shaw’s helmet was cradled possessively in his lap, and for a moment she thought that there were no words needed.
She said them anyway.