Tied to a wooden chair with a piece of rope. In the middle of the fucking woods. How humiliating.
Not that Erik knew where he was, exactly, except that to call the building a log cabin would be too generous. It was more like a shelter and probably no bigger than the one room. There were no faucets or doorknobs or lamps. Beyond the cabin’s walls he felt no indication of civilization: no stop signs or cars or telephone poles. He craned his neck to get a look out the window, hoping for some hint as to where he might be or how he might escape, but all he could see was a tangle of brown branches and green leaves. The middle of the fucking woods.
Erik wasn’t much of an outdoorsman – he didn’t own shoes for that – but even so, he wouldn’t normally be so put out by nature. He was Magneto, for crying out loud! The Master of Magnetism! He held the Earth’s most elemental forces in his hands! But not today. Today he was tied to a chair in a hunting shelter in the middle of the woods, while outside his captor – or maybe it was a bear, it could be a bear – was scrounging around for sticks to build a fire, and all Erik could do about it was shift back and forth in his seat to keep his left butt cheek from falling asleep.
He was starting to feel woozy again, and he couldn’t decide whether it would be better to shake himself awake and stay alert in case he had to fight, or to just succumb. He didn’t know what good he’d be in a fight anyway: his muscles felt like Silly Putty, the floor of the cabin was swimming, and the buzzing in his ears was so loud that the only sound getting through was the sharp call of a bird outside. Fucking birds. He couldn’t even breathe properly with all this fresh air. It was disgusting.
He wondered what Charles would do in this situation.
Like the flick of a switch, he went from woozy to maudlin. He shouldn’t have thought about Charles while he was vulnerable like this. Poor Charles was always trapped in a chair now, wasn’t he? His left butt cheek probably fell asleep all the time and he couldn’t even feel it.
Oh, Charles’s butt. How he missed it. Not that he didn’t love Charles in any incarnation - and in fact the new state of Charles’ arms and torso was quite a treat - but Charles’s butt, pre-wheelchair, had been a thing of beauty. The first time they made love, Erik thought he had found heaven, and the way to get there was through Charles Xavier’s ass. He thought they would spend the rest of their lives together. He never thought, then, that he’d have to settle for the occasional secret rendezvous – a weekend in Paris, an afternoon in Los Angeles, a week at Charles’ beach house in Cape Cod. Two or three times per year for the past seven years. That was it.
Back then it was two or three times per day with a goal of debasing every room in the house. They’d even made a game of it: themed sexcapades based on location. In the kitchen Erik licked vanilla pudding off Charles’ erection. In the garage they’d fucked in the back seat of the Cadillac while the engine roared. And Erik’s favorite memory, the piece de resistance: the time they snuck off to the old servant’s quarters. They’d found a French-style maid’s uniform from his grandfather’s era, and since the outfit was tailored for someone much shorter than Erik, he’d convinced Charles to put it on instead.
He drifted off, dreaming of Charles in his lap, his pink lips sucking on his—
Erik opened his eyes and saw Charles. He thought, at first, that he might still be dreaming, but this was a different Charles from the one who’d straddled him in a frilly skirt. This was the Charles he’d last seen three months earlier: the Charles whose hair was now cropped short to accommodate his receding hairline, whose face carried a few more lines around his still sparkling eyes, who was now seated primly in his wheelchair and peering at Erik with a look of amused concern.
“What are you doing here?” Erik slurred.
“I’m here to rescue you, darling. Now turn this way so I can untie you, and then you can tell me all about how the Master of Magnetism came to be successfully kidnapped by one of the stupidest men in all of North America.”
Erik shifted in the wooden chair so that his hands were within Charles’s reach to undo the rope. “How did you get in here?”
“Well, I just strolled right in, didn’t I? It’s not exactly Fort Knox.”
Erik’s hands were freed, but he was so dizzy that when he bent over to untie his ankles, he toppled over head first with the chair on top of him. “Charles, you have to get out of here,” he begged from the floor. “He’s quite strong, and fast, and I hate to say it, but your wheelchair wasn’t exactly built for off-roading.” Erik undid the ropes at his ankles, and with a hand up from Charles, finally stood, wobbling like a baby pony.
Just then, the flimsy, unsecured door swung open and in walked Erik’s captor, Mr. Fabian Cortez, looking as far from scary as he possibly could. He had his long red hair in a braid down his back, and he’d stuck a flower in his lapel. He put his hands on his hips and smiled at Charles like he was just pleased as punch to have a visitor. “How’s it going in here, Charley?” he asked. Erik half expected Cortez to offer Charles a cup of tea and a biscuit.
“Oh, just fine,” Charles said. “Hey, could you go out to the van and get a wrench for me? It should be in the tool box in the back.”
“Oh, sure. No problem,” Cortez said with a smile and went back out the way he came.
Erik gave Charles an incredulous look, and Charles answered him by wiggling his fingers towards his temple. “He thinks I’m the plumber.”
“There’s no running water.”
Charles looked around. “Oh. So there isn’t. How about that? Well, I told you he wasn’t very bright.”
“Do you really have a van out there?” Erik asked.
“Of course not. We brought the Blackbird.” He took in Erik’s pallor and his quivering knees. “Can you walk that far? If you like I can get Scott or Logan to help you out of here.” He smirked. “Or I suppose you could ride in my lap, although it’s not nearly as much fun without the skirt.”
Erik rolled his eyes. Of course Charles had been eavesdropping on his dream earlier. “I can make it to the Blackbird myself, thank you very much.” Still, Erik held tight to Charles’s chair to keep his balance as they left the cabin.
Outside, Cyclops had Cortez restrained and unconscious, while Wolverine stood at the ramp leading up to the jet, chewing on the end of his cigar and looking impatient. When he saw Charles approaching, his lips curled into a wry smile. “I didn’t think you had it in you, Chuckles,” he said.
“Then you must not know me very well. And please don’t call me Chuckles.”
Wolverine huffed a small laugh and headed over to help Cyclops load Cortez into the Blackbird.
They hadn’t gotten far from the cabin door, but still Erik stumbled over to a rock and sat down to rest, stretching his legs out in front of him, trying to regain his equilibrium. “I’m fine,” he told Charles, who hadn’t asked yet.
Charles laid a steadying hand on Erik’s shoulder. “How did this happen?”
“So we’re all in agreement.” Magneto held his head high and gripped the sides of the podium as he addressed his followers. “We will capture all the world's nuclear weapons on May 19.”
The mutants gathered before him at the Brotherhood’s Top Secret Headquarters all nodded and marked their calendars.
“No, wait,” said Riptide. “May 19 is not going to work for me. My niece has her kindergarten graduation that day.”
Magneto seethed. “Kindergarten graduation?”
“Yes. It’s so cute. They wear little caps and gowns and they get little diplomas. I told my sister I would bring the cake. I can’t miss it.”
Magneto clenched his fists and counted to ten, then took a deep breath and flipped through the pages of the Brotherhood’s Master Calendar. “If we don’t do it May 19th, then we’re pushing into June, and that’s not going to work because Mystique will be out on maternity leave by then.”
“Well what difference does that make?” asked Toad. “She can only shift into other pregnant women at this point anyway, and she can't exactly fight. She can't even change the water cooler in the break room anymore.”
Magneto glared at him. “It matters because we need Azazel, who is going to be taking leave along with her.”
“Actually, while we’re on the subject,” said Mystique, “Can I talk to you about the health insurance plan? Because I went to pick up my prenatal vitamins at the pharmacy the other day and there was some kind of issue with the prescription coverage.”
Magneto clenched his jaw. He didn't give a shit about health insurance or days off or negotiating benefits or any of the never-ending nonsense that came with having employees. He wished they would all just act like grownups and take care of their fucking selves and stop hanging all over him. He was not their fucking dad. He was their leader, for fuckssake.
Mystique glared at him. “Fine. I'll ask Emma.”
Oh. He may have said some of that out loud.
“I seem to be the only the only person in the room who actually cares about this mission! Does the survival of our species mean anything to any of you? Or is this all just something amusing to do between picnics and birthday parties?” They all sank down a bit lower in their seats. “May 19! I don’t care if your grandmother is getting married or your kitten is getting an award or whatever the hell else you people do in your spare time. On May 19, we strike. If the United States and Russia think that nuclear weapons are the key to power, then it’s time we take that power for ourselves. You all know what your roles are. I suggest you get to work.”
They all stood from their seats and left the room to tend to their responsibilities, except for Magneto, who sighed deeply and sat down in one of the bigger, comfier looking chairs. He took off his helmet and pinched the bridge of his nose. All this leadership was giving him a headache.
Every day it was something. Magneto, what are we doing? Magneto, where are we going? Magneto, who’s that? Magneto, what’s this? Magneto, what’s the plan? He never thought that a bunch of adults – mutant or human - could be so damned needy. On most days it took every ounce of his considerable willpower not to tell them all to go to fuck themselves and take off. He longed for the days when the only person he had to worry about was himself and he was free to kill Nazis or hunt down Shaw or spend a month in Hawaii drinking Mai Tais and ogling lifeguards if he felt like it. He worked better as a solitary agent. Even back when he and Charles were still working together - when he could let Charles handle the others and he could stick to worrying about himself – even that had worked pretty well for him. But this role as Benevolent Leader was not what he’d bargained for. He hated every minute of it. He was beginning to understand why office workers would sometimes show up to work with guns.
The only thing that kept him sane was his confidence that it wouldn’t be like this forever. It was only a matter of time before Charles saw the truth: that homo sapiens superior actually were the superior beings, that the best defense is a good offense, that a romantic wish for peaceful coexistence was the quickest path to subjugation. Then finally they could all move back to Westchester and Erik wouldn’t have to deal with his followers’ near constant whining and sniveling singlehandedly anymore. And, more importantly, he and Charles could be together again – properly together, no more of this long distance secret relationship nonsense. They couldn’t continue this way forever. Seven years had gone by, and surely Charles was nearing his breaking point by now. Erik definitely was. Their stalemate had gone on long enough, Erik told himself. It would be over soon.
He started to press and rub at his temples, then remembered a trick for headaches that Charles had shown him. He took his left hand in his right, and pinched and kneaded the flesh between his thumb and forefinger. He wasn’t sure that the technique actually soothed his headache as promised, but he liked doing it. He liked remembering when Charles had taken his hand and massaged it, assuring him in a soothing voice that his headache would go away soon.
Moments later, the door to the room swung open and in walked Emma Frost, looking as slick and smug as ever. Following in stride behind her was a huge lug of a man with a long red ponytail and a look of confused astonishment on his face.
“Nice of you to show,” said Magneto. “You missed the meeting. I don’t think I need to remind you that this whole endeavor was your idea. It would be nice if you showed a little support.”
“Of course it was my idea. Believe it or not, most of the world will not bend to your wishes just because you loom and glare at them.”
Magneto glared at her.
“I have a present for you,” she said, and pushed the red-headed man forward. “This is Fabian Cortez. He’s a mutant, of course, and he absolutely can’t wait to join the Brotherhood.”
“It’s an honor to meet you! I’m a big fan!” Cortez gushed. “You are an inspiration. Whatever you need, I’m your guy. I’m here to work.”
“Smart man,” said Magneto.
Emma smirked. “Smartest man in North America.”
Emma was full of shit, as usual. Cortez appeared to be about as intelligent as the average 7-Eleven employee. And anyway Magneto happened to be well acquainted with the smartest man in North America, and his wheelchair had never once graced Brotherhood property. But he let the comment slide.
“Well, Mr. Cortez, tell me about your mutation.”
Emma answered for him. “Fabian has the power to enhance other mutants’ powers.”
“Really?” Now there was something useful, for once.
“I told you I’d brought you a present.” Emma winked at Magneto. “Fabian, why don’t you give Dear Leader a boost?”
Magneto cast Emma a wary glance. “How do I know this isn’t a trick?”
“Because, fortunately for you, we are on the same team. I thought we agreed to start trusting each other. If you think I’m lying, why don’t you put that ugly helmet on your head so you can be sure I’m not manipulating you.”
“Last I checked your propensity to lie had nothing to do with your telepathy. And it’s not ugly.” He started to reach for the helmet, but she was right: their flimsy truce depended on them treating each other like teammates instead of rivals. If he put the helmet on now and revealed how little he trusted her, they would be back to square one.
Emma rolled her eyes. “Of course it isn’t. Red’s a good color on you. Now do you want him to make you more powerful or not?”
The offer suddenly became too tempting to resist. “All right,” he said to Cortez, “Let’s try it.”
Emma looked a little too pleased with herself. For a second Magneto thought he might have been played, but Cortez stepped forward and pressed his hands against his chest before he had time to consider it. With a loud, sparkling jolt, Cortez sent a powerful flash of energy through Magneto’s body. It was like an orgasm and an electrocution all in one and it left him panting and breathless, but vibrating with manic glee. The whole world seemed to be singing to him. Every nerve in his body was pulsing gently, sending out waves of energy like ripples on a pond. His body probably did that all the time, he thought, but he never felt it so clearly before. Even the bottoms of his feet were tingling. With the gentlest nudge at the electricity pulsing between his toes and the floor, he lifted off the ground. He gasped. He’d done that before, of course, but not like this. Before it was all force and stress. This felt like nothing at all. This was floating.
“This is incredible,” breathed Magneto. “Emma, you have to let him boost your powers. It’s amazing.”
She clucked her tongue. “That doesn’t sound like you, Magneto. Do you really want to give your subordinates the potential to overpower you?”
He thought that over as he did a slow somersault in midair. “No, of course. Cortez’s abilities will be restricted to my use only. Hey, Emma. Watch this.” He lifted the comfy chair up into the air along with him and had a seat.
“You look like Uncle Albert,” she said.
“From Mary Poppins. You ever meet a man with a wooden leg named Smith?”
“What the hell are you talking about?” asked Magneto.
“What was the name of his other leg?” asked Cortez.
Magneto lowered himself, still in the chair, back to the floor. “Consider yourself a full member of the Brotherhood of Mutants, Cortez.”
“Oh, thank you, sir! I’m honored!”
“You should be honored,” said Emma. “Magneto is the most powerful mutant on the face of the Earth. Even more powerful now. Our kind will soon rule the world and we have him to thank for it. Now go out to the main entranceway and find Toad. He’ll show you to your quarters.”
Cortez nodded and left, and when he was gone, Magneto arched his eyebrows at Emma. “Do you think you can use flattery to stay on my good side?”
Emma was unimpressed. “What else would I use on you? My feminine wiles? We both know that won’t get me anywhere.” She tossed her hair and strutted out of the room.
He should have been annoyed, but whatever Cortez had done made him feel too incredible to care. He felt like he was glowing, his power crisp and clear. He didn't even have a headache anymore. There were times when he loathed Emma and Azazel and even Mystique: all these people who were supposed to be allies but felt more like burdens. But after the boost from Cortez, for once the disappointments in his life couldn’t have been farther from his mind.
No need to let all this good energy go to waste, Erik thought, and he floated down the hall towards his office.
The room Erik had chosen for his workspace wasn’t anything impressive; certainly nothing that would match the persona he’d adopted as Magneto. It offered no great view of the New Mexico desert and was unfortunately located downwind from the mysterious stench emanating from Toad’s room. Though several years had gone by since they’d moved into the sprawling desert complex, his office still remained mostly empty, with just a desk and a phone and a couple of chairs. He didn’t see any need to go nuts decorating - after all, when Charles came to his senses and they joined forces again, they’d be back in Westchester anyhow. But in spite of the room’s many shortcomings, Erik wouldn’t have chosen any other for his office, because above all else, it had one thing going for it: it wasn’t one room. It was two.
To the back right corner behind his desk, there was a second door, securely sealed with locks only he could operate. He told everyone that the door led to a private bathroom and they took him at his word. No one was surprised that he would keep a room with a mirror closed off for his own private use, and they teased him for it, but never tried to get in and see for themselves. If they ever did, they would discover that the truth was even more mundane than a bathroom: it was just a room – a private room where Erik was accountable only to himself, where he could leave the mantle of Magneto behind and work on his own pet projects in peace.
Erik liked to think of it as his workshop. His father had a workshop, all those years ago, where he would build them tables and chairs and sometimes toys. As he got older, Erik started to understand the pleasure his father had gotten from the silent hours he spent at his workbench, getting lost in precision while the day’s frustrations faded to background noise. He sometimes wondered what his father would have thought of his workshop. Where his father had worked in wood, Erik worked in metal, and while his father built furniture for his family, Erik only ever seemed to build things for Charles.
His big project, the one he’d been working on for several years now, was a wheelchair, and there was nothing Erik would rather do with his newly enhanced powers than spend the evening working on Charles’ chair. He probably could have built a simple one in a couple of hours, but he wasn’t going for simple. This was something that Charles lived his life in. It had to be right. Four times, Erik had decided that the chair was nearly finished, sat in it, gave it a spin, and then, deciding that it wasn’t good enough, melted it down to start all over. Once again, the chair was starting to come together. It could be a homecoming present, he thought, for when he and Charles were finally together again for good. He decided he should put some kind of Brotherhood insignia on it: a symbol of their inevitable reunification. Yes. This time it would be right.
The next morning, Magneto was sitting in his office with his head on the desk when Emma walked in. “Naptime already?” she asked.
“You could knock.” He strained as he lifted his head. The helmet felt heavier than usual today.
“Jesus, Magneto, you look like shit.”
He did, in fact, look like shit, and he felt even worse. Not only had his headache not gone away like he’d thought, but it had turned into a full-blown migraine, which was so debilitating that he couldn’t even control his razor well enough to shave. It had been so long since he’d actually held the razor in his hand that, rather than risk cutting himself and walking around Brotherhood Headquarters with a square of toilet paper stuck to his chin all day, he just said the hell with it, put on his helmet and cape, and headed for his office. He didn’t think anyone would notice or care that he had bags under his eyes or that his complexion was verging on green, but should have known better than to try to put any sign of weakness past Emma Frost.
“I’m fine,” he insisted, and rubbed at his eyes.
“Are you feeling all right?”
“Since when do you care how I’m feeling?”
“In case you have forgotten, you are our Great Leader. The Brotherhood can’t function properly if you’re sick.”
Magneto groaned and kneaded his shoulder. He was feeling awfully stiff.
“I’m not sick,” he said.
Mystique popped her head in the door. “Who’s sick?”
“No one,” said Magneto. “I’m fine. I just have a headache.”
Mystique marched right up to him and took his face in her hands. She peered into his eyes, looking for God-knew-what, and prodded his throat as if to check his glands. Apparently her maternal instincts were starting to kick in, or maybe this was Mystique’s personality shifting into what she thought mothers-to-be were supposed to act like. Her behavior from one day to the next seemed to be as fluid as her looks. Erik doubted she knew what she was looking for, or that she would have known what to do if she found anything anyway, but he allowed the examination and even opened his mouth when she asked him to. He knew that the inspection was more for her own peace of mind than anything else. He’d faced similar checkups from Charles over the years.
“I think you’ll be fine,” she said.
“Thank you, doctor.” He rolled his eyes. Even that hurt.
“But you need some rest.”
“I don’t need rest. I just need some quiet, okay?”
“You look like you’re about to ralph all over the floor, and don’t think I didn’t see you rubbing at your shoulder a minute ago. You look like you’re in pain.” He didn’t contradict her. Everything ached. “I think you should go back to bed.”
“I can’t go back to bed,” he said, “I have to go over these files Azazel stole from the Kremlin.”
Emma snatched them out of his hands. “She’s right. You should get some rest. I’ll go over the files and you go take a nap. You’ll work better when you feel better. Now go.”
Magneto pouted under his helmet. “But I-”
Mystique put her hands on her hips – or what used to be her hips before pregnancy – and said, “Erik Elizabeth Lehnsherr, you go back to bed right this instant!”
“Jesus, Mystique, you’re not my mother. And don’t call me that.”
“I wouldn’t have to call you that if you told me what your middle name is.”
Magneto finally pushed his chair back from the desk and stood. “Fine. I’m going.” He handed the Soviet files over to Emma. “Read through these and let me know if you find anything useful. And make sure no one disturbs me.”
He marched out of the room with his head held high. When he turned the corner and was out of their sight, his shoulders slumped and his feet started to drag. By the time he made it back to his room and locked the door behind him, he was whimpering softly and pouting. He threw the helmet on the floor, crashed face first into the bed, closed his eyes, and went back to sleep.
The sun had moved outside his one small window by the time he woke again, but he wasn’t sure how long he’d been asleep. Two hours? Three? Five? He wasn’t wearing his watch and he still hadn’t gotten around to getting a clock for the room. His bedroom was as bare as his office: he had some clothes in a dresser, a few paperbacks stacked next to his bed, and a lamp by which to read them, but not much else. He didn’t see the point in decorating. This was all temporary.
He tried to sit up, but his whole body screamed in protest. Just that small bit of movement left him groaning in pain and his head spinning. He needed more painkillers. He wished he had someone he could ask for help, someone to talk to him and bring him some tea or even just a glass of water and some bread.
But he didn’t mean just “someone,” did he? He had a whole team full of minions who would do his bidding if he asked, but it wasn’t a minion he wanted at his bedside. He wished Charles was there.
The moment he thought of Charles, the phone at his bedside rang. He’d told Emma that he wasn’t to be disturbed and he trusted her at least enough to make sure that order was followed. That meant it could only be one person. He lunged at the phone, sore muscles be damned.
“Charles? Are you all right? Are you in trouble?”
“Of course I'm all right. I'm just at my desk grading some papers. Why would you think I was in trouble?”
Erik breathed a sigh of relief and eased back against the pillow. “I don’t know. Why else would you be calling me?” Erik thought that over and, before Charles could give his own answer, ventured a guess: “Did you know I was thinking about you?”
Erik could almost hear Charles grinning through the phone. “You were thinking about me?”
Erik gave in and smiled back. “Yes, I was.”
“Interesting. So you're at your secret home base, and you're concerned that I could hear you thinking, which means you're not wearing the helmet. Very interesting.”
“Excellent deductions, Sherlock. Are you going to use Cerebro to track down my secret hiding place now?”
Charles gave a small resigned sigh. “No, I'm not. And anyway I do have your telephone number. I'm sure I could track you down that way if I wanted to.”
“And yet you don't.”
“And yet I don't.”
“Well then, Charles, if your ears weren't burning, so to speak, then to what do I owe the pleasure of this phone call?”
“I was just calling to wish you a happy birthday. You're forty today, aren't you?”
Goddammit, Charles was right. It was his birthday. He'd almost forgotten.
“Happy birthday,” said Charles.
“Thank you.” Erik sighed and rubbed at the graying stubble on his face. “Yes, it's true. I’m forty years old today. I have now officially lived longer than my father did. And I feel every inch of it, too – in fact, you’ve caught me laid up in bed. I’ve been put out of commission for the day.”
“What’s the matter? Are you sick?”
The concern in his voice warmed Erik and unwound him. “I have a terrible headache and it won’t go away. I feel hungover, even though I haven’t had a drink in a week at least, and my muscles are so sore I can barely lift my hand to reach for my book. I’m only forty and I’m already bedridden.” After all his protests of “I'm fine” to Emma and Mystique, all he wanted to do was pout and whine to Charles.
“Oh, you poor old man,” Charles teased. “Well, at your age, maybe you need to try some new remedies. My grandfather used to swear by cod liver oil. He also liked to wear bowties and he kept his pants pulled up around his nipples.”
“You’re making fun of me. And here I was hoping you’d come visit and make me tea and read to me.”
“If only I could.”
“Do you remember a couple of years ago when we went down to Miami and I got so sick with food poisoning?”
“I actively try not to remember it, actually.”
“You took such good care of me. And I never thanked you.”
“You did thank me. Many times. Between vomits. And I’ll thank you now to stop talking about it. I had nightmares for weeks afterwards. I thought my own digestive system might riot in solidarity with yours.”
“I had no idea your organs were so fond of mine. At least not the internal ones.”
“So is the Brotherhood doing anything special for your birthday? Any monuments to be destroyed in your honor?”
“No,” Erik said, “I don’t need them knowing when my birthday is. They might start to think we’re friends.” Erik was interrupted by a loud barking sound from the other end of the line. He froze. “What was that?”
“Oh,” said Charles. “I didn’t tell you. I got a dog. His name is Percy.” From the other end of the line, Erik heard scrambling and panting.
“What? Why would you do that?”
"I thought it would be nice. A happy little dog to keep me company. He's a riot, Erik, you would love him."
"I most certainly would not."
"What? Why not?"
"I don’t like dogs. They bark, and they smell, and they poop on things, and they get hair all over my clothes."
"Oh, you and your clothes. Well, don't worry. You'll never have to meet him."
"Why is that?"
Charles sighed, as though Erik was being particularly dense. "Because you don't live here anymore, Erik."
Erik’s heart stopped. He waited for Charles to say “Not yet,” or “When you move back I’ll make him live outside,” or “We’ll make your closet dog-proof,” or something, anything that would indicate that Charles considered their stalemate as temporary as he did, but no reassurance came. Erik didn’t so much as buy a pair of shoes without wondering what Charles would think of them when they were together again, but Charles apparently thought that a truce between them was such a remote possibility that he moved a dog into their bedroom and didn’t even bother to tell him.
Erik tried to keep the conversation light, even as his heart sank. “What kind of dog is it?” he asked. On the other end of the line, Erik could distantly hear Charles talking to the dog, making silly noises – and probably faces – at it.
“He’s a Welsh corgi.”
“You got a corgi and named it Percy? You’re so British sometimes, Charles.”
“Well, British or not, I’m going to be meeting with our congressman in a couple of hours, so I’d better get going.”
Erik sighed. “All right. Well, thank you for calling. It was nice talking to you.” He silenced his pride for a moment and added, “I wish you called more often. You can call me sometimes. If you like.”
In a small voice, Charles said, “You know I shouldn’t.”
“Happy birthday,” said Charles. “We’re still on for our week in Cape Cod again this summer, aren’t we?”
“Yes,” said Erik. “I’m looking forward to it.”
“Then I’ll talk to you a few months. Take care of yourself.”
Erik’s headache still hadn’t subsided by the following morning, but he put on his helmet and marched down to the conference room for their meeting anyway. There was no sense in him taking any more time to convalesce. What was the point of him taking time off, anyway? It wasn’t like he had any sort of personal life to retreat to.
He stepped up to the podium and glared at the miserable, worthless people in front of him. He resented them. If it wasn’t for them, it would be him sharing that four poster bed with Charles instead of that stupid dog. It was their fault that Charles would only call him on birthdays ending in zero. He thought of all the sacrifices he’d made to create a better world for them, and what had they ever done for him? Nothing.
“So what have we got?” Magneto barked. “Emma, tell me you found something useful in those Soviet papers yesterday. Or did you decide to go get a manicure instead?”
Emma glowered at him. “We’ve discovered the locations of all but two of the Soviets’ nuclear warheads, and have secured the means of acquiring all the ones we’ve located.”
“And what about the other two?”
“We have a lead on the other two and I expect we’ll have the information by the end of the day.”
“Fine. And what about the United States?”
“We’re sending Mystique in on this today. It just so happens that the CIA director’s wife is pregnant.” Emma looked over at Mystique, who was wearing a wicked grin.
Raven never smiled like that, Magneto thought. In the past few years she’d developed a ruthless streak that rivaled even his. He wondered if she’d picked it up from him – if she was a sponge and his venom was leaking. In the beginning, Mystique was the only member of his team he dared to count as a friend, but there were times when he didn’t recognize her anymore. He supposed that was part of who she was: never the same person twice.
Or maybe she was right to feel excited about the mission. After all, their plans were going well for once. Maybe he was the one who needed an attitude adjustment. Magneto tried to muster a little enthusiasm of his own, but as usual lately, came up short.
“Fine,” he sighed. “What else?”
Emma held up another piece of paper. “I would also like to discuss our potential targets. I’ve made up two lists – one for the United States and one for the Soviet Union - and I think it’s time we start narrowing them down.”
“Targets?” Magneto’s eyebrows disappeared under his helmet.
“Yes, Magneto.” She spoke to him like a child. “We are stockpiling weapons. What is our intended target?”
“There is no target. We are not going to detonate these weapons. The only thing we’re aiming for is to show the United States and the Soviet Union that their arms race means nothing to us, that we’re more powerful than their arms race. The target is intimidation. This is only a political move, Emma. I don’t actually have a death wish.”
“‘Our target is intimidation’?” she scoffed. “If all you’re going to do is give another big pompous Magneto speech, then why are we bothering with the nuclear weapons to begin with? The objective is not intimidation; it’s power, which is worthless if not exercised. If we play this right, we’ll have the world in our hands. If all we do is steal a bunch of weapons, we’re nothing but thieves.”
“Are you insane? Do you actually want to set off nuclear winter? We will not be detonating any nuclear weapons!” Magneto’s voice shook the building. He waited for Emma to contradict him again, and though she shot him dagger looks that made him thankful for the helmet, she said nothing. Magneto took a deep breath and calmed himself before he addressed the room again. “Anything else?” he asked.
Cortez raised his hand.
That was a nice surprise, he thought. He hadn’t expected someone so new to their team to be willing to speak up during a strategy session. Maybe a little fresh blood was all he’d need to find his footing in the Brotherhood once again. Magneto even managed a weak smile as he said, “Here less than two days and already contributing? I’m impressed.”
“I was just wondering,” Cortez said, scratching at his head, “If you’re looking for nucular weapons…”
“Nuclear,” Magneto corrected.
“Right. Nucular weapons.”
“Nuclear,” he corrected again.
Cortez nodded. “Yeah. That’s what I said. If you’re looking for nukes, what about the Russians?” Magneto narrowed his eyes at him. Cortez continued anyway. “I mean, if the Soviets have that many of ‘em, the Russians must have, like, a ton more. You know?”
The room fell silent.
“Cortez,” Magneto said through clenched teeth. “The Soviets are the Russians. When Emma talks about the Soviets, she’s talking about the Russians. We’ve been using the words interchangeably.”
“Oh,” Cortez said cheerfully. “Nevermind then.”
All eyes in the room were now on Magneto. They expected him to blow up, to threaten Cortez, to squeeze his little neck until his eyes popped out. They wanted to know why Magneto would allow such a moron within a mile of Brotherhood headquarters. Magneto needed a reminder himself.
“Cortez, I don’t think the rest of our teammates here have seen your abilities in action. Why don’t we give them a little demonstration?”
Cortez stood from his seat and walked around the room to Magneto’s side. “Sir, are you sure? Now?” he asked.
Magneto gave his cape a dramatic toss and puffed out his chest like Superman. “Yes. Why don’t you give me a boost and let’s show everyone what we’re capable of. And give it to me stronger this time.”
Everyone in the room sat forward in their seats, eager to see Cortez in action. Only Emma, who’d seen the show before, sat back and smirked.
Once again, Cortez put his hands on Magneto’s chest. A blast of energy burned and tumbled through his arms and down to his fingertips. Magneto felt it hit him in a churning wave of euphoria, felt his every nerve alight.
He’d enjoyed the floating sensation he’d discovered the last time, and he’d no sooner thought of it than his feet lifted off the ground. What once required great concentration now felt as natural as breathing. He hovered in front of his acolytes, who all looked faintly amused, but not impressed. He wasn’t surprised – as incredible as he felt, it wasn’t much to look at. He’d need something bigger and grander if he was going to give them a proper demonstration.
Magneto looked out the window at the mountain range in the distance. He pointed his finger and flicked his wrist and the mountain began to rumble. Everyone stood and craned their necks to watch as the mountain cracked apart. Boulders the size of cities lifted into the air and tumbled and fell back into place, and ten minutes later, the mountain had formed the shape of the letter M.
The whole of the Brotherhood of Mutants gaped. Magneto, meanwhile, was doing gentle barrel rolls in midair over the conference room table and wiggling his fingers and toes. Even just wiggling his fingers felt amazing! He probably looked incredibly silly, but he couldn’t give a damn what any one of the people in that room thought of him. This was bliss.
Erik spent most of that night vomiting into a bucket.
“Ugghhhhh,” he moaned, “Just kill me. Kill me now,” and retched again.
Of course, no one was there to kill him, and no one was there to tell him he was overreacting, either. No one to stroke his hair and put a cold washcloth on the back of his neck, no one to get him a clean shirt or to run a bath for him when it was all over, no one to tell him that it was just a bit of food poisoning from that restaurant on South Beach and that he’d be just fine in a day or two.
It was just him, alone in his room with a bucket for his sick because he didn’t want anyone to know.
The sun was high in the sky by the time Magneto got out of bed the following morning. He didn’t feel immediately nauseous when he stood, so that was a good sign, but he still had a pounding, vision-warping headache and his clothes smelled distinctly of vomit. He cleaned himself up, put on his helmet and a fresh cape, and went to see what was going on. With his balance impaired by the migraine, he wobbled down the hallway and stumbled into Emma’s office.
Emma had spent a long time decorating her office, and he hadn't understood why she’d given it so much attention until now. Much as he hated to admit it, she had done quite a good job. Her desk was enormous and when she sat in the tall chair behind it, it made her look authoritative and imposing. Erik idly thought that he should be the one looking authoritative and imposing and gave his cape a good swoop to make himself feel important. Unfortunately, it also made him seasick.
“Where do we stand?” he asked as he eased himself into a chair. He was beginning to wonder if he was developing vertigo, and somehow, within the space of that thought, he forgot where he was. Emma’s voice startled him. How had he gotten to her office? He couldn’t remember leaving his bedroom.
“Mystique has gotten us the locations and specifications of every nuclear weapon on every military base in this godforsaken desert,” she said. “It is now up to you to take them off the US government's hands.”
His eyes crossed and uncrossed. What did she say? Something about hands? He looked down at his own, but didn’t recognize them.
Emma looked pleased and signaled to Cortez. How long had he been standing there? “Fabian,” she said, “I think Dear Leader needs a little encouragement.”
Cortez put his hands on Magneto's chest and gave him a power boost that sent him flying halfway across the room. One touch from Cortez and suddenly he felt like a god. “Yes!” Magneto thundered and lifted himself into the air.
Emma handed him a stack of papers. “Fetch.”
But the papers meant nothing to him. He levitated them by the molecules in the ink and sent them spinning over his head.
Emma was quickly becoming frustrated. “Those are the coordinates. I need you to find those nukes and bring them here to me.”
Magneto lifted the entire building and everything in it with only a thought. “I could put this whole building on the moon,” he slurred. “Do you want me to put us on the moon? I could do it!”
Emma clapped her hands together. “Snap out of it! We have work to do!”
Magneto was doing the backstroke in midair and talking to himself. Every metal object in the room started spinning. “Clockwise? Or counterclockwise? Clockwise? Or counterclockwise?” he mumbled to himself. The world was his toy.
“Get him down from there,” Emma told Cortez.
Cortez jumped up and grabbed Magneto by the ankles to pull him down. Magneto went willingly and told the ceiling fan that they’d have to continue their conversation later. As soon as he was in reach, Emma pulled the helmet off his head.
Magneto felt his mind being pulled to her will, but with his powers so amplified, he could also feel her telepathic command much in the same way as he could feel the frequency of the radio sitting behind Emma’s desk. He sent a wave of magnetism against the flow of Emma’s telepathy and scrambled the signal. With that new little trick, Emma couldn’t get into his head any easier than she could when he had the helmet on.
“Goddammit.” Emma crossed her arms over her chest. “You’re useless to me, you know that?”
Magneto didn’t hear her. He’d gone back up to continue his conversation with the ceiling fan.
Emma sighed and turned to Cortez. “Give him another one. We don’t need him.”
Once again they grabbed Magneto by the ankles and pulled him down. As soon as he was within arm’s reach, Cortez pressed his hands to Magneto’s chest and shot him through with a blast of energy so powerful that Magneto’s eyes rolled back in his head, and the Master of Magnetism fell to the floor with a heavy thud.
“It was like a bright light, and I think I saw God, and then everything went black, and then the next thing I knew, I was sick as a dog, stuck in the middle of nowhere, and tied to that chair. Until you came to save me.”
Charles smirked at him. “So what you’re saying is Cortez’s power had you too stoned off your ass to remember how you got here.”
“It’s not fair to tease me when I’m weak like this,” he pouted.
“You’re right. I’m sorry.” Gently Charles reached out to stroke Erik’s cheek, and the gesture of comfort sent a shiver down his spine. It had been too long since Charles had touched him. Far too long. “Where were you when Cortez knocked you out? Was there anyone else with him?”
Erik tried to remember, but the past week felt distorted and blurry. He was in a room… he was definitely indoors when it happened, because he remembered a ceiling fan clearly enough, but every room in Brotherhood Headquarters had a ceiling fan. He was in Emma’s office at one point, but he was in Emma’s office almost every day. He remembered doing barrel rolls over the table in the conference room, but was that the same morning? Or was that the morning before?
Erik shook his head. “I don’t know. I can’t remember.”
“And do you have any idea why Cortez would want to do this to you?” Charles asked.
Erik shook his head. “No. No idea. I underestimated him. I didn’t think he was capable of planning anything like this. I didn’t think he was capable of tying his shoelaces.”
They both looked over at Cortez, who was strapped to a stretcher, unconscious and snoring, Whatever Scott had given him was obviously powerful. Erik always thought that the X-Men considered themselves too noble to resort to slipping somebody a mickey to shut them up, but apparently he was wrong. It was oddly reassuring.
“And can we reasonably assume,” continued Charles, “that your illness is a residual effect of his power? You said that your health only improved after he gave you a ‘boost,’ as you called it, and then afterwards you felt even worse than you did before.”
Erik thought that over. “I suppose so. I had a headache before I met him so I guess I assumed it was something I was already coming down with. Or maybe when he enhanced my powers he enhanced my illness, too.”
“It’s possible.” Charles took Erik’s hand. “Either way, I’m glad you’re safe. We’ll get you home soon enough.” He smiled, and Erik did feel safe. By the end of the day he’d be back in Westchester, feeling better, and under the same roof as Charles. It was more than he could have hoped for. He brought Charles’ hand to his lips and kissed his knuckles.
“Thank you,” Erik said.
“Of course, you’ll have to tell us where home is. I’m sure you’re not keen on the Brotherhood seeing you dropped off in the Blackbird, but—“
Erik’s heart sank, and he heard himself say, “What?”
Charles frowned at him.
“I mean…” Erik’s addled brain scrambled for something to say. He was sure that, with the helmet missing in action, Charles could hear his mind begging not to go back to the Brotherhood, but even so he couldn’t admit it; wouldn’t say it out loud. “We don’t have the facilities,” he said instead. “There’s no one there who can help me. Please, Charles. I know you’ll know how to help me. Or Hank will.”
If Charles heard his silent pleading, he didn't say anything. "All right," he said, squeezing Erik's hand again. "You're right, Hank can help you. We'll bring you back to the school and get you fixed up; then you can make your own way home. Does that sound good?"
Charles gave Erik a reassuring pat on the shoulder, then wheeled himself over to Wolverine and Cyclops to let them know the change of plans. Erik leaned back against a rock and closed his eyes, not wanting to draw attention as he eavesdropped on their conversation:
“We’re going back to school. Erik is coming with us,” said Charles.
“Magneto?” asked Scott. “Are you out of your mind?”
“He is in desperate need of medical attention and there is no one I trust more than Hank.”
Scott sounded scandalized. “I don’t care how sick he is, Professor. He’s still Magneto. There’s precedent for concern.”
“And for giving him the benefit of the doubt, Scott. Remember, he was our ally.”
“And before that he was a killer, and since then our foe. Leopards don’t change their spots.”
“No foolin’,” said Wolverine, “An’ all this time I thought Magneto was a man. We’ve all got shadows in our past, Scott. We’ve all been branded outlaws.”
“Thank you, Logan,” Charles said. “As long as he comes in peace, Erik will always be welcome in my home. The school is a refuge for all mutants, no matter who they may be.”
As long as I come in peace? Erik thought. No matter who I might be?
A few hours later Erik found himself on the back lawn of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngers, the Blackbird already descending into its hangar beneath the basketball court behind him.
“Come on,” Charles said, briefly squeezing Erik's hand, “Let’s get you inside.”
Logan and Scott led the way across the lawn. Erik was so sore and wobbly that he had to lean on Charles’ chair for support. He was still nauseous and his migraine had worsened, but being there at Charles’ side, he felt better than he had in a long time.
He started for the back door, but they led him around to what looked like the old servants’ entrance. Erik grinned. “Do you remember when we found the maid’s costume and we-“
“Yes,” Charles interrupted, “But now might not be the time to talk about it.”
Scott and Logan, who were carrying the still-unconscious Cortez, exchanged a suspicious glance.
“Why are we going in this way?” Erik asked. “Wouldn’t it be faster if we went in through the back door? Where the TV room is?”
“That’s the students’ lounge now. No need to give them a fright.”
They went in the small servants’ entrance and wandered through the dark, dank corridors. Again Erik’s mind went to that night, to the way the garters hugged Charles’ thighs, the way the uniform tore open at the neck and exposed Charles’ chest, the way Charles pressed his forehead against Erik’s, panting and breathless.
Charles poked him. Even in the low light, Erik could see he was smiling.
They emerged into one of the less-traveled corridors of the mansion and turned right. A few doors down, Charles knocked.
“Come in!” someone called.
Charles went in alone, and from the hallway Erik heard him say, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but we have a couple of guests here who need medical attention.”
“Oh. All right. Well, bring them in.”
Erik let Scott and Logan go in first – he knew they were eager to put Cortez down. The man was limp as a noodle and snoring like a wildebeest.
“Goodness!” he heard Hank say.
Erik waited for Scott and Logan to get Cortez off their hands, then followed them into the room. When Hank caught sight of Erik, he jumped up from his seat.
“Oh my stars and garters!”
Erik slumped into the nearest chair. "Nice to see you, too, Hank."
“Magneto! I wasn’t expecting… No, but of course. I—what are you doing here?”
Charles explained the situation, and Hank seemed to understand, but his reaction left Erik unsettled. Hank was acting as though having him in his lab was more nerve-wracking than the unconscious stranger.
“Well, yes, I’ll help him,” Hank said to Charles. The way he said it, Erik wondered if Hank thought turning him away was an option.
After giving Cortez a cursory check up to make sure that he wasn’t in danger of immediate death, Hank carried him across the hall to a small room containing a single cot, toilet, and sink, and locked him inside. “He’ll probably be out until morning. We can deal with him then,” Hank said.
Erik was hoping for a chance to interrogate the little weasel, but he supposed it would have to wait. He was probably still too wobbly to be intimidating at this point anyway.
“Now, what about Erik?” Charles asked Hank.
“Well it sounds like he is experiencing symptoms of extreme dehydration: dizziness, headaches, delirium, fainting. You said you’ve experienced some extended bouts of vomiting, Erik? Is that right?”
Erik declined to answer.
“There is a chance that your symptoms could at least partially be blamed on dehydration as a result of the vomiting and the… other causes of dehydration. Of course, that doesn’t explain your muscle fatigue, or why you were vomiting in the first place, or why you became so extremely dehydrated so quickly, but don’t worry. I have no doubt that we’ll be able to reverse the damage and have you fixed up in no time.” Hank sighed and his optimistic expression sagged. “Back to your old self, I suppose.”
Erik tried not to let the insult show on his face. “Thank you, Hank,” he said.
Hank nodded and disappeared behind a door, leaving Erik alone with Charles.
“He’s actually a very good doctor,” Charles said, “And he’s right. You’ll be back to your old self in no time.”
“He doesn’t sound too pleased with the idea. I don’t think he likes my old self very much.”
“Well, I do,” said Charles. “I happen to love your old self. When you’re not threatening to kill people, that is.”
Hank reemerged with a large glass beaker filled with a thick green liquid. He handed it to Erik with instructions: “Drink this.”
When Erik sniffed at it, his face contorted and his whole body shuddered. It was putrid. “Do I want to know what this is?”
Hank and Charles exchanged a glance.
“Well, bottoms up.” He raised the beaker in a toast to Charles, pinched his nose, and chugged. When it was all gone, Charles was ready with a glass of water. Erik took it from him gratefully and swallowed that down, too.
“There,” said Charles. “That’s a start.” He looked at his watch. “Now, if you don’t mind, I have a few things I need to take care of while Hank takes care of you.”
Erik and Hank both looked horrified at the thought of being left alone with each other.
“You’ll be fine. You don’t need me here holding your hand,” Charles said, though Erik wasn’t sure if he was saying it to him or to Hank. “I will be back to check on you later.” He then looked directly at Erik and thought, And if you need me, you can reach me this way.
Erik nodded and replied, I’ll see you later, won’t I? He tried desperately not to think, You’re not leaving me here, are you?
Of course we’ll see each other later. But please let Hank take care of you first.
With that, Charles left.
A few hours later, after a battery of tests, several pills, and a number of questionable potions, Hank declared that there was nothing more he could do for Erik, and at that point, it was only a matter of rest and recuperation.
Rest, certainly - Erik couldn’t remember the last time he was so exhausted, and it was only 7:30. He supposed that stress and illness were to blame, or maybe he was just getting old. In any case, he was grateful to be done with Hank and free to go to bed.
But instead of leaving him to find his way up to Charles’ room, Hank led him across the hallway to the room next to Cortez: another small room with a single cot.
“I think there are more pillows and blankets in the closet if you need them,” Hank said.
Erik tried not to appear horrified or insulted. “What are you going to do? Lock me away in this little room?” And even as he said it, his eyes drifted to the door. His stomach flipped. There were non-metallic locks on the outside of the door.
“No. I just. Um. Of course not.” Hank sputtered. “I’ll leave the door open.” He slowly backed away. “Well, feel better. Let me know if you need anything.”
Hank left, and Erik dragged a chair in from the lab to prop the door open. Once he was sure that he wouldn’t be trapped in there, whether by accident or otherwise, he took a moment to look around the tiny room while he waited on word from Charles. He was hoping he would find something to read – after all, if this room had been prepared with him in mind, Charles should have known him well enough to leave a couple of paperbacks next to the bed – but he had no such luck. His little room may have had all the charm and appeal of a psych ward, but in magazine selection, the psych ward had it beat.
And where was Charles, anyway? Erik had been expecting him to come back for him by now, but there was still no sign of him. He couldn’t have forgotten, surely. Did Charles intend to leave him locked up and alone in the infirmary? The thought made his heart race.
Charles? Where are you? He thought, a bit too desperately.
I was just heading back to my bedroom to freshen up a bit, came the reply. Are you finished with Hank?
You know I am. And I suppose I’m meant to spend the night here in the prison wing?
He tried - and failed - to hide his aggravation, but Charles’ reply was so affectionate that it soothed some of Erik’s worry. Of course not. You’ll sleep in my room. Do you remember where it is?
Yes, but I’m not sure where I am or how to get there from here.
I’ll show you.
In an instant Erik’s mind contained a clear path up to Charles’ bedroom, and though he followed it happily, knowing who waited for him on the other side, he couldn’t help but notice that Charles had taken him in something of a roundabout way, through some of the least traveled hallways and up some rather forgotten staircases. But it was all worth it to arrive at Charles Xavier’s bedroom door once again.
He knocked three times, and on the other side, a dog started to bark. He’d forgotten about the dog.
“Quiet, Percy!” he heard Charles through the door. “Calm down!”
The door swung open a moment later. Charles was perfectly disheveled, looking head to toe like a frazzled professor, and Erik couldn’t have been happier for the privilege of finally seeing him that way. He took a deep breath and asked, as he’d done on his first night in this house, so many years ago, “Would you care for a game of chess?”
“I’m afraid I moved the chess set downstairs to the student lounge, but you’re welcome to join me for a drink.”
Erik shrugged off his disappointment. “I would love a drink. Although I should probably stick to water for now.”
Charles smiled and moved aside to let Erik into the room.
Erik thought that stepping into Charles’ bedroom again would be like stepping into a dream, but nothing was as it should have been. The armchairs were gone, the chess set was gone, the old lamps and heavy wood furniture were gone. Gone was the antique Persian carpet they’d made love on when they were too desperate for each other to make it back to the bed. Instead there was a giant metal contraption in front of the fireplace, the likes of which Erik had never seen before. Normally Erik liked to be near metal, but this – this was off-putting.
He tentatively laid his hands on the bars. Steel. “What in the hell is this thing?” he asked.
“It’s for my exercise,” Charles explained. “Pull ups, sit ups, weight lifting, calisthenics…”
Erik trailed his fingers along the machine and, with his power, tried to listen, tried to hear Charles in its vibrations. Surely something that Charles used so often must have something of him in it, but Erik found nothing. It was too carelessly built: no finesse, no art in its construction. He decided that, when the wheelchair was done, he’d build Charles a new exercise machine.
And then, like the wheelchair, when it was finished Charles would bring it back to a home they did not share, to a life Erik would never know. For a moment he saw his own life in front of him, project after project, building gifts and giving them away, pouring himself into these things that would go home with Charles while Erik remained in exile, alone in his workshop.
Erik took his hand off the machine.
“I do have water here for you, but I hope you don’t mind if I have a scotch.” Charles held up a bottle of Glenlivet. “It’s been quite a day.”
Erik looked around for a seat and discovered that, with all the furniture removed to make room for Charles’ exercise machine, the only remaining option was the old loveseat, which was now covered in dog hair. He stared at it for a moment and tried to decide what was polite: Should he say something to Charles? Should he just sit in the filth? Would he have time to get his pants cleaned? Would Charles let him borrow a pair of pants? Was there any chance that there might be an old pair of his pants lying around somewhere? Would they still fit?
Just as he’d decided to keep his mouth shut and sit, Percy leaped onto the loveseat. He stood there with his mouth open and panted at Erik like he was waiting for Erik to tell him a joke.
“I don’t think Percy wants to share,” Erik said.
“Oh, just push him aside.” Charles set down the bottle and handed Erik his water. “Percy! Get down from there!”
Percy must have taken that as some kind of challenge because he barked twice, flew off the sofa, and started running circles around the room, leaving tufts of shedded fur in his wake.
“Geez, he’s fast.” Erik hadn’t expected a short, squatty dog to move like that.
Charles sighed. “He has a lot of pent up energy. I’m afraid I can’t always provide him with as much exercise as he needs. I let the children play with him, but even that’s not enough sometimes. I probably should have gotten a service dog, one that could pick things up from the floor for me and carry things and open the door and whatever else, but a woman in town had corgi puppies she was giving away, and I guess I couldn’t say no. I’ve been trying to train him a bit, but I haven’t had much success.”
“Well, he can come with me in the morning when I go for a run,” Erik said.
Charles looked puzzled.
“Is that all right? He has a leash or something, doesn’t he?”
Still Charles looked like he didn’t know what to say.
“It was just an offer,” Erik said, “You said he needs some exercise. I won’t be insulted if you’d rather I didn’t take him.” He wasn’t exactly looking forward to spending one-on-one time with the stupid dog; he only offered because he thought it would make Charles happy.
“I just didn’t know you were planning to go for a run.”
Now Erik was surprised. “Don’t I always? And I’ve been too sick the past few days, so I really need it.” He smiled. “Actually, I was looking forward to running on the property again, for old time’s sake.”
Charles looked hesitant. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea,” he said gently. “Some of the students run in the morning, like you do, and I wouldn’t want any of them bumping into you when they’re not expecting it.”
“Oh.” Erik sat in the furry loveseat and took a sip of water.
Charles backtracked. “Of course you’re welcome to go for a run in the morning, but it might be wise to stick to the perimeter fence, rather than the gravel path. And yes, I think Percy would like that.”
When he heard his name, Percy ran over to Charles and jumped up. Erik startled and almost jumped up himself. That was all he needed – to see Charles hurt by this furry little interloper. But no, Percy just put his front paws on Charles’ lap to let Charles pet him. Charles scratched behind his big bat ears and talked mushy baby talk to him. When he was done, Percy ran over to the loveseat, jumped up onto it, and stretched out belly up next to Erik. Charles moved his chair over to the loveseat and rubbed Percy’s belly. Percy looked blissfully happy. Erik scoffed - not like he didn’t make the same face when Charles rubbed his belly.
And that’s when Erik realized: that’s why the loveseat was covered in hair. That’s where Percy went so that he could be in arm’s reach of Charles. Suddenly Erik felt guilty for begrudging the little monster his special seat.
Erik stood up to let Percy have the loveseat. He looked around.
There was no place for him here.
“Erik?” Charles looked up at him with concern. “Are you all right?”
Erik wasn’t sure that he was.
“Erik,” Charles said gently, “is there something you’d like to talk about?”
It was their old agreement, one of the many small compromises they’d made for their relationship to survive: Charles promised always to keep the conversation verbal, even when Erik's mind was screaming. Charles promised that no matter how loudly Erik’s mind was saying “yes,” he would always listen to Erik’s voice say “no.” And no matter what Charles may hear from Erik’s mind, if Erik didn’t want to talk about it, then they wouldn’t talk about it. So often, over the years, Charles would hear Erik’s heartache, his worry, his anger, all the things that tore him from the inside, and Charles would say, “Erik, is there something you’d like to talk about?” Erik always said no. This time he didn’t.
“It’s just,” he set his water glass down, “This is not the way I thought this would be.”
“The way what would be?”
“The way it would be when I came back.”
“I always thought that when I came back here, it would be for good. It’s been seven years, Charles. We were supposed to be working together by now. I should be here as your partner and I feel like a prisoner of war.”
“You are here as my partner.”
“Partner in what?” When Charles said nothing, Erik continued. “You keep me hidden away in the infirmary, you bring me in through the servants’ entrance, you’ve gotten rid of my favorite chair and moved our chess set. You don’t even want your students to see me jogging.” They’d argued before, of course. Hundreds of times. But where Erik’s voice usually raised, this time it cracked. He clenched his jaw and fought it, but still his eyes began to well and sting. He said, “Don’t you want me here?” and it sounded so close to a sob.
Charles hushed him and led him over to the bed. “Sit down,” he said, “Please.”
Erik brushed away a tear and shook his head no. “I have dog hair on my pants,” he pouted, “I don’t want to get dog hair on your bed.”
That made Charles smile. “I’m afraid it’s too late to start worrying about that. Now sit.”
Erik sat on the edge of the bed, and Charles moved his chair in between Erik’s knees. He felt so silly weeping like this, but to have Charles so close, comforting him, one hand on his thigh and the other on his cheek – it was almost worth the embarrassment.
“Of course I want you here,” Charles said. “More than anything. I just... I stopped hoping you would come back a long time ago.”
Erik hung his head to hide his tears. Charles stroked the back of his neck, trailed his fingernails through his hair, and spoke into Erik’s mind, a gentle request: Let me in? Erik nodded and let Charles’s mind slip into his.
“Oh, my darling,” Charles said gently, “I had no idea you were so unhappy.”
Erik’s head shot up. “It’s not— I’m not—“ He wiped at his eyes. “That’s not the point. How long are we going to go on like this? Are we going to keep living in this standoff forever?” He collected himself and held his chin up, thought to himself You’re Magneto for fuckssake, forgetting for a moment that Charles was there in his head. He mustered his courage. “Let’s end this. Right now. We’ll combine our people and lead a United Brotherhood together, right here in New York, the way it should have been all along.”
“I want you by my side. I always have.”
“Yes, you’ve always said that, but you’ve always imagined it on your terms. A ‘United Brotherhood’? No. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but no. You’ve been waiting for me to come around to your way of thinking and that’s not going to happen. It never will.”
Erik buckled. Maybe a part of him always knew it was foolish to hope, but when he thought about his future, the only path he ever dared to contemplate was the one that led him back to Charles. The others just seemed so grim. Now to lose that possibility, he felt like he’d been condemned.
“Well, so what?” He was grasping at straws. “Do we have to agree on every little thing? I’ve been working with Emma Frost for seven years and she barely tolerates me. What about…” he rummaged in his head for a name, “What about Wolverine? Does he just follow whatever you say?”
“No, of course he doesn’t always agree with me, but he never left me because of it.”
Erik pulled back, stung.
“Your ideals were always more important to you than being here with me.” Erik could feel Charles softly searching his mind. “But I don’t think that’s the case anymore, is it?”
“It’s not that simple,” he huffed. “One thing being more important than the other. My ideals don’t make me love you less. It’s you who makes me choose.”
“You don’t have to choose. You can have both. You can come back here and we can be together. You can move right back into this room and share this bed with me for the next forty or fifty years, and you can continue to believe that humans are the enemy, no matter how fervently I disagree with you.” Erik waited to hear the catch. “The catch is you might have to compromise with me on occasion.”
Erik rolled his eyes. “Of course. You would like that, wouldn’t you.”
“Yes, I would.”
“What would you have me do? Announce to the world that I’ve given up? Just step aside and let humans to do whatever they want to mutants? Tell everyone that I quit? That I’m going to be just another teacher following your orders?”
“No, because you wouldn’t be just another teacher. And I know you and I know that you will never give up. You said it yourself: we should be doing this together. Perhaps I might want you at my side, did you ever think of that?” Erik said nothing. “If you want to come back here, there will always be a place for you. And you’re right: we don’t have to agree on everything. In fact, that might even be healthy for the school. A diversity of opinions is fundamental to a good education, and no one challenges me more than you do. But if you want to come back here and turn this into the Brotherhood Academy and turn my students into your army for a war you plan to start, you can give up hoping for that right now. Over my dead body.”
“And I suppose you think I should just abandon the Brotherhood? My life’s work?”
“Your life’s work is in creating a better world for mutants. The Brotherhood isn’t the only place you can do that. Besides, your life isn’t over yet. Perhaps your life’s work is yet to come. If you’re not happy—“
“And since when does my personal happiness have anything to do with what is right?” Erik snapped.
“Well, maybe it’s time to start considering your personal happiness before it’s too late.” Charles sighed. “I have a hard time believing that you ever really thought I would join the Brotherhood. How did you imagine this would all go, if it had gone your way?”
Erik realized he hadn’t thought very much about the details. He just wanted to be under Charles’ roof again, sharing his bed, sneaking off to the servants’ quarters to let Charles fuck him in a maid’s costume.
A smile crept over Charles’ face. “What is with you and the maid’s costume today?”
Erik smirked, feeling a bit caught. “It’s a happy memory for me.”
“You know it wouldn’t be like that, though. Things are not the same around here. For one thing there are children all over the place, so I’m afraid we would have to limit our escapades to the bedroom.” Again Charles moved forward and took Erik’s hands. “I never thought I would ask you this again, but Erik, do you want to come back?”
“I don’t know.” Erik didn’t know what to think. “You’re in my head. You tell me.” He’d had an idea of the path his life would take, and this was not it. He supposed that path was gone forever.
Charles sighed. “You’re all mixed up. You’ve had a long day and you’ve been ill. You’re not thinking clearly. This was a bad time to talk about this.”
“No. No, I’m glad we did.”
“But Erik.” Charles waited until he was sure Erik was listening before he continued. “I would rather continue as we have been than have you come back only to leave me again.” Quietly he added, “I don’t think my heart could take it.”
“This is hardly something I would do on a whim.”
Charles’ eyes went wide. “So you’re considering it then?”
His shoulders slumped in a defeated shrug. “I don’t know.” Erik tried to remember all of the reasons why he couldn’t leave the Brotherhood, and for the moment couldn’t come up with a single thing. He then wondered why his first instinct was to try to talk himself out of the one thing he knew would make him happy.
Charles kissed him then, sweetly, and Erik’s head spun. He couldn’t believe he’d gone three months since the last time he’d kissed Charles, or that after this it would be another three months before he had the opportunity again. When Charles started to move away, Erik pulled him back to savor it for just another moment. Maybe Charles was right: maybe his priorities were out of line if he would willingly deprive himself of this.
“I’m just going to get myself cleaned up and ready for bed,” Charles said, “and then I’ll be back, all right?”
“Don’t go anywhere,” Charles said with a tilted smile.
Charles kissed him again then wheeled himself into the bathroom.
Erik was still covered in dog hair, and he couldn’t bear the thought of bringing that under the blankets, so he took off his pants and shirt before he climbed into Charles’ bed. Outside it had begun to rain. He’d been in the desert so long he’d almost forgotten what it sounded like. He closed his eyes and listened: the rain, the whir of the fan near the open window, the echo of children laughing two floors down, the crack and crunch of Percy chewing on rawhide while he waited for Charles outside the bathroom door.
He must have fallen asleep, because the next thing he knew, the room was completely dark, and Charles was asleep next to him. He was lying on his back with his face turned toward the window, one hand on his chest, rising and falling with each silent breath. Erik moved closer to Charles and wrapped his arm around his waist, tucked his nose into Charles’ hair, and went back to sleep.
Erik woke to an empty bed and the sound of strange grunting noises. He opened his eyes and discovered Charles doing crunches while strapped nearly upside down to the bench part of his exercise machine. Percy sat watching a few feet away. Erik’s own torso was getting a bit soft in his old age, and for the first time in his life he felt a little embarrassed to sit up shirtless in bed in front of Charles.
Charles paused mid-crunch to wish him a good morning, but finished his set before sitting himself upright to greet Erik properly. “How are you feeling?” he asked.
Erik wasn’t sure if Charles meant physically or mentally. Either way, the answer was the same. He shrugged. He didn’t want to talk about it.
“Did you still want to go for a run?” Charles asked. “If you’d like to bring Percy, his leash is hanging on the doorknob.”
Erik waited, expecting a laundry list of rules from Charles. (“Stick to the perimeter fence. Don’t talk to any of the children. Don’t make eye contact with anyone. If you get thirsty, drink from the hose. If anyone asks, your name is Steve.”) But no, Charles just smiled fondly at him and scratched behind the dog’s ears. He really was welcome to go for a run if he wanted to. He was a guest, not a prisoner.
“No, actually, I think I’d better see to this business with Cortez. But thank you. Maybe I could take a raincheck?”
Charles looked up from the dog. “I would like that. Maybe in a couple of weeks you could come back for a proper visit. I won’t even make you give Hank any more blood samples.”
A visit, Erik thought. A couple of days at home with Charles, then back to the desert. That it was an improvement over their current situation – a few stolen nights in a strange hotel and then no contact for months on end – was little consolation. It still wasn’t enough.
Erik swung his legs over the side of the bed. “Is it all right if I take a shower?”
“Of course,” Charles said, then added, “Make yourself at home.”
Erik’s eyes shot to Charles’, but he didn’t say anything. He just stood, kissed Charles good morning, and headed for the bathroom.
He reemerged a short while later with a wet head and a towel wrapped around his waist. “Where are my clothes?” he asked.
“They’re hanging just over there. I sent them out to be cleaned last night after you’d fallen asleep.” Charles looked a little sheepish. “I may have also sprayed you with deodorant while you slept. I love you dearly, but you smelled like a Yeti.” Erik laughed. “Are you done in the bathroom?”
“It’s all yours.”
“I will be as quick as I can be,” Charles said, “And then we’ll go down and deal with your friend Mr. Cortez.”
Erik dressed while Charles showered, then, as always, waited patiently and tried not to look too guilty while Charles got his own clothes on. When they were finally dressed and ready, Charles led Erik to the door.
He followed Charles down the hallway to the elevator. Part of him wanted to hide. The hall was a lot longer than he remembered it being, and he was half expecting the X-Men to jump out from behind one of the doors and tackle him to the ground. He had to remind himself that he was a welcome guest – Charles’ guest – and they didn’t have to be enemies at all. There was a time when he stalked up and down this hallway with pride, and it could be that way again.
To Erik’s mild disappointment, they didn’t run into anyone on their way down to the lab, nor was there anyone down there other than Beast to see him walk in alongside Charles.
“How are you feeling?” Hank asked him.
“Not one hundred percent, but much better. Thank you.”
From across the hall, they could hear Cortez pounding on the door and whining, “Can I at least get some food? I’m hungry!”
Erik silently asked Charles’ permission to approach Cortez, and with his assent, stalked over to the door. “Not until you tell us what you want!”
Cortez hesitated, then replied, “I could go for like a breakfast burrito, maybe? Or some French toast? I’ll take whatever you’ve got!”
Erik banged his head against the door. “Not what you want to eat, you idiot – what you want from me!”
He felt a tug on his belt loop. It was Charles. “It’s not him,” Charles said. “It’s Emma. He’s working for Emma Frost.”
Erik’s memory of that morning started to piece together. He could have kicked himself for not figuring it out himself. “Why didn’t you say something sooner?” he hissed. If Charles could pick out Cortez’s motivations so easily, he didn’t see why he hadn’t done so the day before.
“Well, I was rather distracted with you, wasn’t I? When he was unconscious he was just dreaming about Raquel Welch and cheeseburgers, and frankly, he didn’t seem like much of a threat. I was there to help you, and beyond that I didn’t want to get involved with Brotherhood business.”
Erik thought of the nuclear weapons that were currently being amassed at Brotherhood Headquarters, and about Emma’s list of potential targets. He had to get back there as soon as possible. “If you want to help me, you have to let me borrow the Blackbird.”
“You’re not borrowing it,” Charles said. “We’re coming with you.”
Charles assembled a team and together they all loaded into the Blackbird and headed for the Brotherhood’s top secret headquarters, deep in the New Mexico desert. With Beast in the cockpit, Cyclops rode in the back alongside Wolverine and a very nervous looking Banshee.
“You know, the last time you did something like this with us,” Sean said, “it didn’t go so great.”
Erik crossed his arms over his chest. “Yeah, well, why don’t we put you in a small room with the man who killed your entire family and turned you into a monster and let’s see how well you react, hm?”
Charles patted Erik’s thigh. “Let’s all remember that we have a common goal here. Let’s just get through the day without starting a nuclear war, shall we?”
Cyclops was glaring at Erik – not an easy feat with the visor, but somehow he managed it. “Remind me again why your friends are collecting all the world’s nukes?”
“It’s an arms race,” Erik said, “Whoever holds the weapons holds the power. I wasn’t actually going to use them.” They all looked skeptical. “I wasn’t!”
Charles tapped at his forehead. “He’s telling the truth. That was his disagreement with Emma.” He frowned at Erik. “Though that doesn’t mean that collecting nuclear weapons isn’t a colossally dangerous and stupid idea.”
“If I’m colossally dangerous and stupid, then so are Nixon and Brezhnev.”
No one had a response.
By the time they arrived, the Brotherhood’s property was littered with missiles, all poised for launch.
They started to unbuckle their harnesses and move towards the hatch, but Charles stopped them. “Easy chaps. Not so fast.” They all paused and waited for his signal – even Erik.
For all the time Erik spent wishing he didn’t have to be in charge, he’d also secretly worried how he might react to hearing Charles give orders instead of him. But actually, it was a relief. He didn’t feel annoyed or frustrated or impotent, like he feared. He felt liberated. For the first time in seven years, he was not in charge here. It felt pretty good. Let Charles deal with wrangling the crew - he was good at it, and he liked doing it. Erik hated wrangling the crew. He was just going to worry about himself.
Charles’ expression was growing increasingly nervous. “Erik?” he asked, “Where’s Raven?”
“She’s not here?”
“No, she’s not in my range.”
Erik shrugged. “I don’t know. Where’s Azazel?”
“Not here either,” Charles realized, and he sighed with relief. “Let’s hope they’re somewhere safe.” He nodded to his troops. “All right. Let’s go.”
When they stepped out of the jet and onto the dusty ground, the missiles all turned toward them.
Welcome home, Magneto, spoke Emma’s voice in his head.
He wished he had the helmet.
I destroyed the helmet. For the past seven years you’ve done nothing but hold us back. You’re going to play by my rules now.
“Not a chance in hell.” He tried to reach out for the missiles with his power, but nothing happened.
Tsk tsk tsk, Emma said in his mind, You’re working for me now.
Behind him, Charles had two fingers to his temple and was directing his team. “I have everyone frozen and I have Toad blocking the weapons controls from Emma,” he told them, “but I can’t do all that and control Emma at the same time. She’s in the west wing of the building. You must find her and contain her before she does something we’ll all regret.” Cyclops, Wolverine, Beast, and Banshee all took off running into the building.
“No, Charles,” Magneto said. “Let the others go. I need you to contain Emma. She’s blocking my powers and I can’t keep her out without the helmet.”
“There are ten people in there and any one of them could detonate those weapons. If I have to focus on Emma Frost, then I lose control over all the others. She is not powerful enough to use your powers without you. You can block her out, Erik, I know you can. You have to concentrate.”
He could feel Emma trying to influence him, trying to use his power to set off the missiles. Charles was right – she wasn’t powerful enough to do it without his help, but he couldn’t keep her out entirely and he didn’t know how long he would be able to fight her influence.
“Block her out, Erik! I know you can.”
“I can’t! I’ve never been able to block her without-”
But then he remembered: that morning when it all fell apart, he had been able to block her. His powers had been enhanced by Cortez then, but he’d been able to feel her influence and turn his own power against it. Charles was right. If he concentrated, he could probably do it again.
He tried to remember what it felt like. Like a radio signal, he recalled, like a radio frequency. He twisted and turned his senses and reached for it until finally – there – he felt it again. It was fainter than it had been that morning, but he could feel it just the same. Once again he turned his power against it and scrambled the signal.
“That’s it!” Charles cheered. “Just like that!”
No sooner had he banished Emma from his mind than she was back, but this time he could feel it and he could stop it. As soon as she was gone for good, he turned his power to the missiles in front of him. He lifted them all into the air and let them spin like dancers above their heads.
“Whoever holds the weapons holds the power, right Emma?” he crowed.
He looked over at Charles and saw that all the color had drained out of his face. “Don’t do this to me again, Erik,” he pleaded.
But Magneto just winked at him. One by one, at his command, the missiles shot straight up into the sky and disappeared into the blue. Minutes later, miles over head, each missile left the atmosphere with a soft little puff of cloud. Charles must have released his hold over everyone inside, because by the time the last rocket disappeared into space, everyone was outside watching, staring awestruck at the display of power.
“Well, now no one has them.” Magneto looked over the faces of the crowd that had gathered: men and women for whom he had sacrificed his love, his happiness, his sanity, and his hope, and they’d all betrayed him as soon as Emma snapped her fingers. He wasn’t even angry at them. He was too relieved to be angry: relieved to know that he wouldn’t have to sacrifice himself to them anymore. Off to the side, Charles was beaming so wildly at him that it looked like he may burst.
“If you idiots want to destroy the world,” Magneto announced, “you’re not going to do it with my help.” And with that he walked back over towards the Blackbird. “Come on, Charles. Let’s go home.”
“Are you sure?” Charles grabbed Erik’s hands and pulled him so that Erik had to drop to his knees in front of Charles’ chair. “Are you absolutely sure?”
Erik pointed to his head. “Go ahead and check if you don’t believe me.”
Whatever Charles found in Erik’s mind must have been enough, because he pulled him in and kissed him like a sailor home from war.
“Is there anything you want to get from inside?” Charles asked him when they parted.
Erik started to say yes, that he wanted to go and get the wheelchair he’d been building, but then he remembered the Brotherhood insignia he’d carved into the back of it, and he shook his head no. He decided it was better to leave the Brotherhood behind. “No, I want to get out of here.” He never wanted to set foot in that building again.
“All right,” Charles said. “Let’s go home.”
It turned out that Erik probably should have gone and gotten some of his things from inside Brotherhood headquarters, because he was now forced to start his new life at Charles’ side with no clothes, no shoes, none of his files, none of his books, no toothbrush, no comb, none of his favorite shampoo or his cologne, and not a single cape. Fortunately, Erik wasn’t fool enough to keep his money at headquarters, so at least he had that.
“Please don’t make me go shopping with you,” Charles said the following afternoon. “I know how you like to debate the merits of patterned shirts and tie widths and I just… I don’t care. I’m sorry. It’s torture.”
Erik turned from the space he’d cleared for himself in the closet and smiled. “It’s fine. I’ll go myself.” He gave Charles a kiss. “I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”
He left the X-Mansion out the front door – and it still amazed him that he could come and go as he pleased – and headed for the garage, where Charles was allowing him to borrow any one of the cars his step-father had collected over the years. Charles was quite literally giving him the keys to a getaway vehicle and trusting him to come home at the end of the day. He knew he would. Of course he would.
As he turned a corner, he heard a voice. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Erik spun around, expecting to find one of the X-Men, but it was Mystique. Azazel was standing behind her, lurking behind the trunk of a willow tree.
“Nordstrom,” he said. “And where the hell have you been?”
Mystique shrugged and let her hands rest on her pregnant belly. “Well, Emma wanted to blow the world up, so we decided to get as far away from civilization as possible. We went to Australia.”
Erik nodded. “Probably a good move.”
“Are you really giving up on the Brotherhood?”
“Not giving up,” Erik said. “Just moving on. What about you? What are you going to do?”
“Not sure yet.” She looked up at the house. “There aren’t very many places that would be safe for us right now.”
A smile crept over Erik’s face. “He would be happy to have you.” Mystique didn’t look so sure. “You’re fooling yourself if you think he doesn’t already know you’re here. You should go in and say hello. If you want a safe place to have your baby, I can’t think of a better choice. Unless you want to go back to Emma, or try to stay blond through labor and hope the baby comes out looking human.” He shrugged. “It’s your choice. But if you leave here now without knocking on the door, you’ve already made it.”
Mystique said nothing.
“It’s up to you.” He held up his hand and summoned a pair of car keys out of the air. “I think I’ll take the Mustang.” He twirled the keys in his fingers and continued down the path, leaving Mystique and Azazel to debate their next move. Mystique had sworn she would never go back to the person she was before, and though Erik saw returning to Westchester as a step forward in his life, he knew she wouldn’t see it that way.
Erik arrived back home later that evening with so many shopping bags that he ended up wrapping some paperclips around the handles and floating the heaviest bags at his side. It was well after dinner by that time, and for the most part the house was quiet. Not wanting to disturb anyone with the rumble of the elevator, he headed up the stairs towards Charles’ bedroom. He supposed it was now his bedroom, too: his and Charles’ bedroom. The thought made him pleasantly dizzy.
Charles was still dressed, but he was already in bed reading a book, with Percy asleep at his side. When he caught sight of Erik and the twelve bags floating behind him, he grinned and put his book down in his lap.
“I take it the trip went well?”
Erik dropped the bags onto the ground. “Very well. I have enough clothes here to last me until Thursday, at least.”
Charles chuckled. “Let me help,” he said, and shifted to the edge of the bed to transfer into his chair.
“No, don’t get up.”
“I want to,” Charles insisted, and together they began to unpack Erik’s bags. They made their way through the shoes and toiletries, hung his pants and folded his shirts, but as soon as Erik saw Charles reaching for the small, red bag, he stopped him.
“No! Not that one. Don’t touch that one.”
Charles quirked an eyebrow at him and put the bag down.
No peeking, Erik thought at him, and he trusted Charles to understand that he meant no peeking either in the bag or in his mind.
“Mystique was here earlier,” Erik said as he put away his new slippers and dressing gown. “But I’m sure you knew that.”
“I did, and believe it or not, she and Azazel have decided to stay.”
“At least until after the baby is born, they said.” He sighed. “I wish I could be happier that she’s here, but it’s obvious that the thought of being in this house with me makes her miserable. I’m betting they’ll be gone before the baby is three months old.”
Erik wished he could tell Charles he was wrong, but he thought even three months seemed generous.
When the last shopping bag was unpacked and put away, Erik noticed with great pleasure that his half of the closet was still mostly empty: plenty of room for more. “I’m sure it will be bursting by winter.”
With thoughts of Raven still hanging between them, Charles asked nervously, “You’ll still be here next winter, won’t you?”
“And all the winters after that, I hope.”
Charles blinked up at Erik with frank and unreserved wonder, like he still couldn’t believe that Erik was there. “I hope so, too,” he said, his face transformed with delight. He then reached down to pick up the little red bag. “And are you going to tell me what this is?”
A sly grin worked its way across Erik’s face. “I was going to save that, but since you asked…”
Erik took the bag from Charles’ hands, opened it up, and pulled out a black silk, white lace trimmed French maid’s uniform.
Charles started to laugh. “Oh my God.”
“If only I still had the ass for a skirt like that.”
Erik scoffed. “What makes you think I’d let you wear it?”
Charles’ eyes went wide.
“Give me two minutes,” Erik said, and slipped into the bathroom to get changed.
He reemerged a few minutes later in full costume: fishnet stockings, garters, high heels, silk black dress with a frilly white apron, and a feather duster in hand. He struck a pose, and Charles couldn’t contain himself. He laughed so hard his eyes welled with tears.
“I have a wig, too,” Erik said when Charles could breathe again, “A red bob, like the one I had that time with the blue minidress? Remember? Should I put it on?”
Charles just grinned up at him and waved him over. “Come here.”
Erik strut across the room – he’d almost forgotten how to walk in heels, but it came back quickly – and straddled Charles in his wheelchair. When Charles asked him to shift his leg a bit and Erik murmured, “Oh, pardonnez-moi, monsieur,” Charles started to laugh again, but better yet, he started to blush. As someone who had almost literally heard everything, it wasn’t easy to make Charles blush, and it warmed Erik’s heart to think that he still had that power.
“You know, you were right,” Erik said sincerely, “It’s not the same as it was then. But I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Charles tucked his fingers into Erik’s hair and kissed him soundly. “All right, Monique,” he said, “why don’t you go get your wig and meet me in the bed?”
“Bien sur, mon amour.”
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