word count: approx. 1890
fandom: X-Men: First Class
characters: Erik Lehnsherr, Charles Xavier, Raven Darkholme
notes: Written for the amazing Keio as part of KanniBang 2012. This fic uses the angel and demon versions of Erik and Charles, respectively, as seen in these amazing portraits. All my love to a magnificent and wonderful artist and never-ending source of inspiration. Yes, there are some nods to Good Omens in this one; but the angel and demon names come from existing literary sources.
Sent to the mortal plane on a mission. He feels small, under the regard of his Creator; he feels like he's carrying a sword of a burden, sharp edges of expectation prickling under his skin.
He must lift it. He must be up to the task. There is no one else who can be trusted with it.
He is under no illusions; he's a cog in a plan, in plans within plans. The Creator is ineffable, and the Creator's ways are mysterious. It is only his job to carry out the task set to him.
If he looks closely in the mirror, he can see the lines in this vessel's face - he can feel humanity pressing down onto him, bone-deep hurt, heart-crushing pain - and life, light, laughter, mortal blood running through mortal veins, lines of smiles and joy mixed in with worry and fear and helplessness.
He tries to smile. Too many teeth in his reflection. He smiles with his mouth closed, and that seems better. Perhaps the Creator's grace will make that suffice.
Strangely enough, though, even in this mortal shell he still wears his own adornments, the markings of his humble station. Clipped onto his right wrist is a wide silver bracelet decorated with a degenerated form of angels' script, words of praise and of protection; and there is a matching silver cuff on the shell of his left ear.
He looks at himself in the mirror, and at the same time looks inside his vessel's memories. Max, he thinks. In this guise he is Max Eisenhardt. It sounds like an appropriate name for a guardian.
He reaches for the sword he doesn't have - and instead he touches the gun tucked discreetly behind his hip. He lets his vessel take over, briefly, and he watches from behind gray eyes, attentive and interested, as the man's hands check over the gun. A round in the chamber, safety on, a full magazine. A handsome weapon.
He hopes it will be enough.
His charge, when he meets her, is a slip of a girl, with hair like slivered sunlight. The markings on her shoulders are invisible to everyone else, but he can read them easily: the intricate loops and whorls of an incantation to summon a guardian, bounded by the twisting lines of a circle of protection.
Someone has already gone to such great lengths to protect this child - and yet she's still in such danger, or he would not have been entrusted with her protection in the first place.
"Hello," she says, and she sits down at his table, eyes glowing almost golden in the afternoon light. "Are you the one I was expecting?"
"Hello," he says, after a moment, and offers her his right wrist.
Her thin fingers trace over the writing on the silver cuff. "I...I can't read all of this."
"But you know some of the words."
"Yes," she says. "Protector. Sent. Glory. And...." She hesitates, and lowers her voice to a whisper. "Angel."
He nods, gravely.
"My name is...you have to call me Thess," she says.
"And you must call me Max," he says.
"I...I've been running for a long time, Max."
"I've been sent here to look after you."
She smiles, at last: a fragile light in her eyes.
The first day passes, and the second. Thess keeps to herself, for the most part, and they move at a steady pace, farther and farther away from the cities.
Cities are where he could summon help easily, for there are more of his kind where there are more people who need to be protected - but cities are also where the enemies congregate, and in greater and greater numbers. He can't risk that, not and risk his charge's life in the process.
He has...a way of calling for help, if he should need it - but that is his own, a thread that he keeps hidden in his heart of hearts. A secret, when those in the Creator's service were forbidden to own anything but what they were given.
But he has this, and he has to hold on to it, and he desperately hopes he will never have to need it.
Thess tells him her story, at last.
"I...I dream, sometimes, about what's going to happen, and if I understand what happens in the dream then it's going to come true. All...all the details." She shivers, and huddles into her jacket, refuses to meet his eyes.
He wishes he had his wings, here, because he could stretch them around her shoulders, offer her warmth and protection.
"And I had a dream in which...in which there was a woman, and she was being hunted by demons, and if they found her she would die and that would be the beginning of, of a great war."
He nods. Encouraging. Understanding.
"It wasn't a dream about myself. I'm not the woman. Um. But I know who she is, I've met her before, and I'm running because I gave her the message and then there were...things...coming after me...."
"And that is why I've been sent to you," he says. He puts his hand on her shoulder, and he feels her lean just a little in his direction. "You are under my protection, now, and I have given you my solemn vow that I'll do anything to keep you safe."
Thess is silent for a long time.
He doesn't know what to say, when she finally answers him:
"That's what I'm afraid of."
One close call after another.
Their enemies are closing in.
He keeps the fights a secret from Thess for as long as he can.
But there is a wound in his side that will not heal, now.
They're found on the seventh day.
"Stay behind me," he hisses, and he feels Thess's hand on his shoulder - her good hand. Her other arm hangs limp at her side: broken bones. She is gasping in pain.
They're surrounded by a ring of black fire, and he knows his wings are visible now, like great shadows, and he can't do much more with them than to keep them folded partway back, a makeshift shield for Thess.
He knows how many bullets there are in the fresh magazine, his last. He has to remember to save two of them. One for this vessel, because the least he can do in thanksgiving is to make sure Max Eisenhardt dies in the Creator's grace.
One for Thess, at her own request.
His adversaries leer at him from beyond the flames. They are beautiful, and they are deadly, and they hiss at him in their strange tongue, temptation and rage and the fall.
He closes his eyes. It is all he can do to stay on his feet. So weak, now, and the wound in his side is bleeding again, too much, too quickly.
The fire is too close, too strong, and it sings to him.
No. He has to protect Thess, no matter what happens.
He steels himself, and looks down, and whispers. "I...I summon you. I know your name, and I will speak it here, and I will...I will pay your price."
Every movement is agony, now, and the words themselves are like wounds, but he takes the silver cuff from his ear and holds it out in an open hand.
"Take it," he says, and his lips shape the name, and there is a shadow rising from the ground before him, a flash of hellfire-blue eyes.
The black circle shivers out of existence, suddenly, dissipating with a piercing scream.
There is a burning touch on his forehead.
He screams, and falls briefly to his knees, and suddenly he no longer has his gun but he does have his sword - and there is no more pain in him, only a mighty force that propels him forward into the fight, into his enemies, striking them down before they even have time to move, to react to him.
It's over in moments, and he closes his hand into a fist, and his sword winks out of existence.
He can hear Thess. She sounds panicked. But she's alive.
He doesn't want to turn around.
And then, she says, "You were in my dreams, too!"
The voice that answers drives the angel back down to his knees. "I know. I dreamed those dreams with you."
"Not to influence. Just to watch. To prepare."
Such a beautiful voice.
He blacks out.
When he comes to, Thess is smiling at him, fearful and relieved at the same time. "Is it still you? Are you all right?"
He's not really surprised.
"I'm here," he says.
"I'm glad," someone else answers.
He sits up, not without some difficulty, and he lets Thess support him.
There is another person in the room - another vessel, he knows this immediately. This vessel is wearing a neat midnight-black suit and a scarlet tie - and he looks out at him and Thess from familiar electric-blue eyes.
Too familiar. Too close.
"Hello, Max," that vessel says.
"Hello," he says, reluctantly. "What do I call you?"
"I told Thess she ought to call me...Francis," the other vessel says.
"Francis." He has to force the next words out. "Thank you."
"You called me, on that night," Francis says easily, "and I came." He turns his head, and something flashes in the sunlight: a silver cuff on his left ear.
Max's adornment, and Max gasps, and his hands fly up - but he is still wearing his bracelet, and there is something in his earlobe - he takes it off in a hurry.
This earring is new. Plain gold, with a half twist to the metal, and a single edge.
He stares at Francis in horror - and Francis pushes his sleeve back, smiling, revealing a matching golden band, the strange curve wrapped around his slender wrist.
"Think of it as something...ineffable, something that your Creator and mine must have known all along," Francis says. "As was this child," and he gestures to Thess. "There had to be some way to bind me to you, and you to me. She is the conduit."
Max catches his breath at the implications. "What does this mean?"
Francis shrugs elegantly. "War is coming, angel. Not that Thess failed. But this has been a long time coming."
He has to concede the point. "The enemy does not fire warning shots. They'd never be so courteous."
"Precisely, hence this." Francis smiles. "Hence you and me, bound to each other, in the service of this child who leads us."
"What?" Thess says. "Me?"
Max turns to her, then, understanding. "I will continue to fight at your side."
Francis turns to her as well. "And I will fight at yours, meaning I will fight at his." His hand flickers in a too-fast movement, and he is suddenly holding out a knife to her by the hilt. "My weapon is yours, as is this," and with his free hand Francis taps his temple. "Everything I know, all the dreams I've ever dreamt. At your service, lady."
Max grins, and echoes him. "At your service, Thess."
"I said that's not my name," Thess says at last.
"Tell us or not, does it matter?" Francis says.
"It does." Thess gets to her feet. "You have to be able to identify me, after all, and to prove yourselves to me."
"This makes sense," Max says. "Let us trade for it, then. You may know my true name. I am Erakiel."
"And mine. I am Chasmodei," Francis says. The name Max had invoked.
Thess smiles. "I was once called Jennifer, but my real name is Jehanne."