Erik Lehnsherr allowed himself a few moments to glance across the Thames. The embankment on the other side of the river was littered with docks, smokestacks, and all the other trappings of progress and industry, all of it grimy and covered in soot. Those were not the reasons the far bank drew Erik's eyes, however; his attention was fixed only on the route towards 4 Whitehall Place, the home of the Metropolitan Police and the current gaolers of one individual, known sometimes as a 'mutant' and sometimes as an 'adaptive,' depending on which over-educated men were debating the topic. The distinction mattered little to Erik; all he knew was that the broadsheets announced the mutant's captivity, guilty of nothing more than loitering about while covered in scales, and that the man had been declared mutant by Doctor Charles Xavier.
The good doctor's expertise was unparalleled, at least according to the gossip Erik had uncovered before coming to London. He had continued to trace rumors since arriving, and it seemed there was nothing but gossip concerning the man, and it changed with the company. Gossip from society both high and low was not in the forefront of Erik's mind, now, only the mutant locked away in the halls of the Yard.
Despite the hour and the darkness of the sky, there were still police that patrolled parts of Westminster and Waterloo bridges and Erik did not envy the idea of explaining why a man with knives strapped to him and a cloak thrown over his shoulders was heading towards the Yard. He would find himself in a cell within the hour, perhaps strapped to a table and identified as 'mutant' by Dr. Xavier before dawn.
He had no intention of giving Dr. Xavier that satisfaction. Erik reached out with his mind, felt for the anchor that moored one of the steamers on Erik's side of the river, tugged it from the river bed, and then allowed the heavy linked chains to slowly unfurl beneath the bridge. After a deep breath to steel himself, Erik climbed atop the nearest link and rode the snaking metal across the river. The shadow of the bridge and night kept his progress hidden, and he was noticed neither by the police nor whatever other men came and went in the night. The strain of the work left him unable to concern himself with anything more than the steady progress of the anchor; the metal scraped against the embankment and Erik hopped off, scrambling for his balance for only a moment before taking the next few feet at a run.
Although Great Scotland Yard still had some passersby, Whitehall Place itself was abandoned, and Erik pulled back his cloak’s hood to take stock of the options. Three floors up, an open window drew his attention and he hopped up on a discarded box. He focused his mind on the metal around him and the metal strapped to his person; the delicate balance between the two let him push and pull, levering himself up through the air before he slid in through the open window.
It took a few minutes to pick his way through the halls undetected, relying on his powers to create distractions when he heard men coming. Eventually he found himself by the holding cells, wrapped a cloth around his mouth and nose and tugged his cloak back up around his head. He twisted the mechanism deep inside the door lock and shouldered it open.
"The Mystique!" Three constables stood just inside of the door, and Erik had only a moment of shock before the men fell on him, fists aimed for his belly.
Surprise no longer an option, Erik went on the attack. His fingers curled into a fist and he launched his own response against his attackers, ruthless. Most of his attention was kept on metal at the men's wrists and on their clothes, but attempting to hold so many back was beyond him after his work with the anchor. He was able to keep them from using their truncheons for a time, but only a time; it left the men far more openings to beat him, and more than once he found himself staggered under the onslaught of fists and boots, and when his concentration broke they were able to add to their truncheons to the assault.
He had not expected this. A vigilant watch on a cell containing only a single mutant was unusual to Erik; generally the police in Germany wanted the mutant dead, or cared little for guarding him. There was no time to reflect on that or the reason they had called him 'Mystique' as he fell, knees landing hard on the ground.
"What is the meaning of this?" Another man had entered, dressed more neatly than the men who had attacked him. The attackers snapped to attention.
Erik could not take advantage of the distraction; instead he pressed his hand to his rib and glanced towards the newcomer. "Sir, we have apprehended the Mystique."
The man laughed. "Have you, now?"
Fast, so fast that Erik did not realize the exact moment it happened, the man shifted into a smooth, blue-scaled figure, androgynous and almost naked; in a flash he was on Erik's attackers.
“It’s him!” One of the men shouted.
The mutant took a constable's neck in a vice grip, and flung the man across the room a moment later. The distraction was enough for Erik to find his feet, and then dispatched another man with a blow to the neck. He and the Mystique tangled briefly with the last. A joint blow to the officer’s face left Erik’s hand smarting and the man on the floor, unconscious.
"You must be new," the Mystique said, rolling one of the constables on his belly and tying his hands before repeating the action on the others.
Erik set his jaw, annoyed. "I could have had them."
"Of that I am certain." The Mystique grabbed a key ring off of one of the belts and slid down the hall towards the holding cells. "Freeing innocent mutants from prison is my task, and I work alone."
"Innocent only?" Erik asked, suddenly curious. He had not heard of the Mystique, but he seemed more than capable at his task.
"Well I wouldn't free a murderer, mutant or no." Erik followed the man further into the gaol, watching as he picked the correct key to the cell block, and then the cell holding the mutant. "We will see you free," the Mystique assured the man. "But we may have to fight our way out the door. The breakout was louder than I expected."
"That I can help with," Erik said. "We can go out the way I came in."
Erik checked the covering wrapped around his nose and mouth, setting it to rights, before he left the way he had come. They ran in silence, Erik leading the way to the open window, jumping out before floating to the ground. The former prisoner followed, with the Mystique leaving last and closing the window as he left. A few streets from the prison, the Mystique stopped, and Erik — as much as it was his impulse to run — waited.
"There's two shillings," Mystique said, passing over the coins. "That should last you several weeks so you do not have to come topside again. As to the rest..." He glanced over his shoulder, as if trying to judge Erik in a glance, before he leaned in and said something low in the former prisoner’s ear. "Yes?"
The man nodded, and fled.
Finally at rest, Erik got a look at the man; he was built along lean lines, with lightly muscled arms and legs, shoulders and back. He was in an almost obscene state of undress, dark clothes wrapped tight to his legs and chest with his arms left bare. The look was very appealing, and Erik found he liked the scales as much as the shape of the man. When the Mystique turned back to face him, Erik noted his golden yellow eyes as well, and the way scales lightly dotted his face along the bone lines. Erik watched, and under his gaze the Mystique transformed into something human: dull brown hair, muddy eyes, a slightly crooked nose, poorly kept teeth and clothes that did not look out of place at the docks.
"You look like a neighborhood thief with that thing on your face," Mystique said. "Off with it — you've seen my face, after all."
"One of them," Erik answered, amused. He imagined the man had dozens. Still, he stripped off the hood and the wrap around his face; after a moment the Mystique seemed satisfied and cocked his head for Erik to follow.
"Mutant?" he asked.
Erik nodded, unsure if he should mention his ability; in the end, he decided to keep it hidden for now. The Mystique had not asked, and Erik did not know if the truce between companions in arms would linger beyond the back alleys by the docks.
"You leave the prisons to me," the Mystique said, finally. "I free innocent men, the ones who're gaoled for nothing more than their differences. The rest can rot or hang, mutant or no."
Erik did not like the man's tone — it brooked no argument. "And who do you leave Doctor Xavier for?" he asked.
"Xavier?" The Mystique stopped in his tracks, eyes fixed on Erik for a long moment. "Him we just leave."
"You fight the police but an educated man who spends his days in a laboratory is beyond you?" Erik had long determined, Dr. Xavier was the weak point in the Met's assault on mutants. Without him they could not make identifications; Erik was no scientist, but he had read Dr. Xavier's work on The Mutant Form when it was translated into German and it was not a simple thing.
Mystique grabbed his arm, interrupting Erik's thoughts. "Doctor Xavier is not the enemy."
And the man had no evidence to support that. How could anyone think Dr. Xavier was not guilty of crimes against mutants? "So you are saying he has no involvement with the Butcher and the Mutant Slaughters that have coincidentally started in London?" Erik had his own theories, but Dr. Xavier had to be involved, Erik could imagine no other answer.
"Yes," Mystique answered, plainly. "You are welcome to whatever you think you are doing here in London, but you will leave Doctor Xavier out of it, unless you would like to politely discuss his latest monographs."
"Oh, certainly, over tea and biscuits, then?" Erik's lip turned up in a sneer at the very idea.
"Over tea and biscuits," Mystique confirmed, voice hard. A moment later his face softened. "You're here concerning the Butcher and the Slaughters. It is being handled, the Butcher will be found."
Such assurances did nothing for Erik. It was not enough for him to have the Butcher found; he would be satisfied only once the Butcher looked up into his eyes, knowing that death was upon him, and then Erik would give the man exactly what he had earned over a lifetime of depravity and torture. That thought could keep Erik warm through the coldest night.
"I will find him."
The tension between them began to rise. Mystique's jaw hardened, as did his eyes, and it was clear to Erik they were now at an impasse. It seemed wise to dissolve their temporary treaty before they came to blows.
"You stay out of my way, Mystique, and I will stay out of yours, but the Butcher is my responsibility, and my pleasure."
They went their separate ways after that, Erik returning to the little room he'd paid for with the modest savings he'd brought over with him from Germany, plus the few coins he'd been able to retrieve from where they had fallen down sewer grates or other areas where fingers couldn't reach but his powers could. Alone now, he tugged out the small stack of papers that represented his entire worldly possessions: a few stolen pages from Dr. Xavier's papers on mutants, the clippings Erik had collected documenting the work of Herr Doktor Klaus Schmidt when he had done his butchery in Prussia rather than London, and a tiny tintype photograph — the only memory that remained from a time before he had become something else.
He puzzled over his next course of action late into the night. His fingers rubbed against his forearms to relieve the tension of old wounds, playing up in the dank London weather in a way they did not often do on the continent. No matter what the Mystique assured him, his next course of action would need to be locating Dr. Xavier.
The gossip he had gathered ran the gamut, and mostly served to confuse Erik as he tried to puzzle out the sort of man Dr. Xavier was. He had accidentally become privy to a great deal of high society gossip upon befriending a lady’s maid. All he had to do was stand by her side and not flinch as she rambled on about absolutely everything that struck Erik’s fancy long enough to inquire. From her he had gathered that Dr. Xavier was the most recent in a line of eccentrics; his father had also been a scientist and engineer, responsible for some grand innovation that made air travel possible.
He had also found that his admirer’s mistress placed a good deal of weight on the Xavier family's tendency towards the acquisition of mechanical and biological wonder had made the sitting room the delight of society women before Dr. Xavier's mother died.
The gossip from the lower quarters was muddy. Most street urchins had little concern for the comings and goings of their social betters. What he had been able to uncover was that Dr. Xavier apparently did not keep a regular maid to complement the work of his manservant. That was apparently not unheard of, but he was famous for his generosity when he did hire a maid; he paid them too much. Apparently Dr. Xavier also had well-paying tasks for whatever servant or scamp found themselves in a bind; he was only too happy to hire out minor duties away from his manservant. Lastly, he always, always, knew the truth from a lie, if the gossip was to be believed.
Erik found the altruism at odds with Dr. Xavier's work to uncover mutants in the London population, but Erik had found throughout his life that the brightest and firmest of smiles often concealed a true nature darker than whatever pit of a Christian Hell Doktor Schmidt had crawled out from. In his estimation, Dr. Xavier's behavior represented the actions of a guilty man, intent on covering the dark deeds that he must have perpetuated on mutants in the name of research.
Course set, Erik finally allowed himself to rest. He would uncover Dr. Xavier's schedule and when the time was right he would force the knowledge out of the man, and it would mostly certainly not be over tea. It would be done — like so much else in Erik's life — at the point of a knife.
Doctor Charles Xavier was beginning to think he may have over-watered his plants. He always tried not to fret when Raven was out on assignment without him, but it was his prerogative as her friend and guardian to be concerned. His nervous energy had been exorcized on his poor plants, some of them drooping under the weight of too much attention. Hopefully they would be none the worse for wear because of his ministrations; some of them represented generations of cross-breeding efforts. He was only pleased he never tried to grow something so delicate as orchids, instead choosing to focus on peas and a few other fruits and vegetables to complement Raven's shopping.
The weather was overcast, blocking out everything but the almost-full moon, and the glass walls of the conservatory let in little light. The small lamp he was using did not add much by way of illumination, and did nothing to make his papers legible. That left him to fret over plants rather than Raven. In the end, he managed to drop off for a few minutes, sprawled on one of the conservatory chairs, a few papers resting on his chest and one held in his hands.
Finally, later than he would have liked, the door to the townhouse opened and Raven entered. Charles could tell she was now wearing the guise of Raphael, Raven's usual form when she had to run errands. The alias allowed her liberties that were denied her by her natural sex, and he knew Raven delighted in the freedom of that form even though she sometimes chafed under the need to remain hidden when she walked the streets of London. She found him easily and leaned against the conservatory door jamb, looking at him, still wearing Raphael's face: male with hard cragginess to him, cropped red hair, tall, on the lean side.
"Concerned about your dinner tomorrow?" she asked, Raphael's form melting into the shorter, curvy and blue scaled young woman who had been his companion since he was young.
"You know that is not why I am still awake."
She collapsed down next to him, and Charles could sense her nerves; he could feel something had not gone according to plan, and that made him tense. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders to assure himself and her.
"It's not so bad," she said, placating him. "Really."
"Tell me." His voice was meant to be understanding and inviting, but he could not keep the hard concern out of it.
"Someone else was there." She pulled her knees up and hugged them to her chest, making herself small. Her mind radiated little of the concern the gesture could have suggested, but Charles was still on edge. "He was there for the mutant."
"The Butcher or one of his agents?" And he would have seen Raven's natural form, or the male version of the scaled form, that could bring Raven to the top of whatever list the Butcher was working from. The idea was intolerable.
She shook her head. "No, he wanted to find the Butcher. I think he thought you were working with the Butcher, helping him with information. You don't make a very good appearance for yourself by attending all of the mutant autopsies in the city, Charles."
"My goal is to appear as an expert in mutations and adaptations, I can't maintain that if I do not make a conspicuous study of their form and discuss my findings frequently."
Charles knew the argument, there were few enough scientists and doctors who were interested in the adaptives, even for men who claimed to be interested in following Dr. Darwin's legacy. They were barely twenty years out from his landmark publication On the Origin of Species and the first time that the adaptives had come into the public eye. A particularly spectacular explosion on the Seine in 1862 had marked the world's introduction to the mutants, and it couldn't have been a poorer example. Most of the mutants in France had fled to Prussia or London; London's climate had been the most permissive. That said little in comparison to the Prussian, Russian, and Spanish reactions, but it was that permissiveness that had eventually left the mutants to fall prey to the Butcher.
He sighed and pulled Raven close to him, pressing a kiss to her forehead. "Did you set him to rights?"
"I told him to leave you alone." She glanced over at him. "I might as well have told the sun not to set, I think. You must expect him, Charles. The constables were able to surprise him; they were expecting me and he was not expecting them, but he was a good fighter."
"I did boxing and fencing at Oxford." He waited, giving her his best conspiratorial smile. "And there is always my mutation."
Raven took the assurance well enough, and nodded. "Just be careful."
"I will. And you need to get to bed. You have the shopping, and making certain that mutant is set up in Lowtown tomorrow."
"You are trying to convince a bunch of stuffy old intellectuals that mutants aren't a threat and and fit within some... 'existing evolutionary framework'. If one of us should be abed, it is you, Master Charles."
They both laughed. "Very well, very well."
He woke early, ate the hearty breakfast Raven set before him, and then the two of them parted to tend to their tasks. Charles took a hansom cab to work and spent the morning dealing with the minutiae of the dirigible business. He knew it was considered quaint, his work on dirigibles and in his laboratory concerning mutants, and did little to increase his status; he should have been at his club, or making more plans to meet one of the many dining clubs that were better suited for scientific discussion, or at the very least making calls. His father had never stood for that sort of idle resting on the family's wealth and status though, and he saw no reason to discontinue that tradition.
His evening he spent with the gentlemen of the X Club, which was both intellectually stimulating and endlessly frustrating. Their work in minimizing the role of the Church in scientific, and hopefully eventually moral, affairs was of great interest to Charles, but they were no better than most when it came to the morality of mutants. The Archbishop of Canterbury had been very firm on the subject of mutants, and although the Parliament had so far resisted the worst restrictions, there was a sense of witchcraft and the unnatural concerning the Church's response to the rise of mutants. Charles had a vested interest, in several areas, in ignoring the Church's declarations concerning the morality of many a topic.
He left after dinner, feeling both satisfied from an evening of debate and discourse, and yet starved for feeling he had actually been understood. None of the scientists of the X Club were mutants, and none of them harbored any particularly strong invertive tendencies; the two factors meant that the men of the X Club had very little to personally lose or gain by the acceptance of mutants or the lessening of the Church’s impact on moral affairs. Men were arrested for visible differences; buggery was no longer punishable by death, but it was hardly legal. His compatriots had never had to hide. He needed to find time to get to Lowtown, at least there his mutation,if not his invertiveness, would be accepted and understood.
He acquired a hansom cab and leaned his head against the side, staring at the darkened London streets as he headed towards home. There was nothing he could do, however; there was so much left to learn about mutants and mutations, so much left undiscovered, and even the brightest scientists seemed loathe to tackle the ‘problem of adaptives’ and what it meant for Darwinism.
As much as it pained him, and as much as he saw the evidence for Dr. Darwin's theories of evolution, Charles found himself advocating more and more for some mild form of orthogenesis rather than pure Darwinism. The orthogenic thesis, the idea that evolution naturally tended towards specific paths, belied the very foundation of Darwinism. Natural adaptation along a set path was directly opposed to natural selection, but without such a thesis it was difficult to understand why and how hundreds, perhaps thousands, of mutants had come into being in such a short time frame; it had been only fifty years since the birth of the first known mutants. If orthogenesis came to be the prevailing science, it also created the possibility that the rise of these new mutants might be intended, that some overarching force meant for mutants to overtake humans in the future. Charles found that idea somewhat distressing; as much as humans did not understand mutants, Charles still cared for them greatly.
There was no question that the evidence for pure Darwinism was similarly strong. Charles had made a great study of heredity over the years, examining everything from the physical features of the famous royal lines to the breeding of cows, sheep, and goats in the countryside over generations. The simple farmer might have had as much to say about evolution as the greatest scholar; the farmer was the one who knew nearly intuitively that the children of sick animals would yield sick offspring and the hardiest animals bore the best children, it was only natural that the fittest traits were most likely to survive.
Charles had a theory that might explain the apparent surprise advent of mutants while conforming mostly to the theories of Darwinism. He presented it whenever there was a gathering of like minded and scientifically curious individuals. He considered the possibility that whatever trait controlled mutation — likely recessive, like Mendel's yellow peas — might have been lying in wait for hundreds or thousands of years, waiting to manifest until the moment when the trait finally had sufficient numbers to create a boom of mutants.
It mattered little; everyone — scientist, politician, clergyman, and otherwise — was perfectly happy to either ignore the existence of mutants entirely, or declare them a menace. The only reason the common man had begun to concern himself with the Butcher and his violent crimes against mutants was because they were concerned that they might be mistaken for a mutant by the man and hacked into pieces, dissected and studied. The broadsheets had been grisly concerning the details of death; even though there was a touch of embellishment, Charles had seen the bodies and they had been ravaged.
Thoughts of the Butcher brought him back to the present. It made him consider the man that Raven had encountered last night, the one who thought Charles might be allied with the Butcher. It wasn’t a poor theory; Charles commended him for having it. Most of the Yard had happily assumed Charles was uninvolved in the murders, although that might have had something to do with his occasional consulting on the physiology of mutants.
Still, it was possible that Raven was right to fear for his safety, at least in the abstract. He knew he could look after himself in a fight with anyone but the most powerful of mutants. It paid to be cautious, though, and Raven would not care for him risking himself needlessly. There was little reason to suspect that the man might even know much about him, but when he allowed himself to stretch his mind beyond the nearby and obvious threats he found reason for concern.
His stalker’s name was Mr. Erik Lehnsherr, his thoughts were predominantly in German, he believed Charles allied with the Butcher, and he was currently tearing through the streets of London, in the dark, tracking Charles home even though Mr. Lehnsherr had long since lost sight of the hansom itself. Charles considered having the cab take him to a public house and allow him time to plan, but eventually gave it up for a poor idea. It was best to deal with Mr. Lehnsherr immediately. If Raven was correct, he was likely a mutant, and mutants should, at least to some extent, be allies.
It did not always work in that manner. Although the presence of powerful adaptive mutations could be found in families — his good friends Mr. and Mrs. Summers had three boys, all of them with abilities related to the sun and its energy — mutants could be seen among Indians, Moors, Irish, and English men and women. All had appeared in the past fifty years, and that meant there were few cultural ties — and many animosities — that kept mutants apart.
Five years ago, he and Raven had helped found a place for the mutants who could not blend in on the city streets of London, tried to unify them along that common ground. It was, however, a hard fight, and the concept of a mutant city, bound together by their outcast status, had not made it as far as the continent. Mr. Lehnsherr’s obviously German origins might mean he was unfamiliar with what Charles hoped to accomplish on that front.
When he arrived home, he paid the cabbie and went inside, bolting the door and removing his hat; he kept his cane for the steel sheathed inside it. Raven was not home, thankfully still out for the evening. He considered his ground; the laboratory was too cluttered... the entire first floor was, in truth. Eventually he headed to the basement and the kitchen to boil some water.
At the very least he could take tea while Mr. Lehnsherr decided on if he would perpetrate breaking and entering on his property tonight.
Doctor Xavier had not been a hard man for Erik to find. Although one could not simply ask after the private residence of some high-class gentleman without arousing suspicion — especially dressed as Erik tended to be — Xavier Aeroworks was a well-known location in the city. He’d thought he would need to wait for several days, and yet Dr. Xavier had come the very next day after his encounter with The Mystique and had stayed for hours.
The building itself was five stories, and given over to the installation of some airship parts or another purpose that Erik had not bothered to research. Although he was fixed on his purpose of following Dr. Xavier and acquiring information concerning the Butcher, the streets by the Aeroworks were a pleasant place to pass the hours. Erik could feel the hum of dozens of metal machines, well-tuned and sliding effortlessly through their duties. The hands of dozens of workers touched the machines throughout the hours, nudging them to capacity, working them easily. But the true beauty of the building was in the basement, with the connecting stacks letting out overwhelming heat; the foundry. Erik could feel the rippling play of molten metal, and he allowed the roiling hot feeling to calm him throughout the day. The feeling lingered with him over the afternoon as he tracked Dr. Xavier to his dinner with intellectuals and then home, his mind tracking the metal of the hansom he rode in.
Now the question remained what to do now that he knew the location of Dr. Xavier’s residence. He made a quick survey of the house, one of a row tucked away into a neighborhood near Regent’s Park with large townhouses and mostly-clean streets. The upstairs rooms were currently unlit; anyone else he might live with, servants or otherwise, must have been abed.
He needed answers. He had spent nine years scouring every scrap of foreign news, riding from city to city chasing shadows and ghosts, and now, five months since the beginning of the Mutant Slaughters, Erik had finally gotten his first good lead in ages. Dr. Xavier was the first connection to Schmidt’s work he had found; he was an Oxford graduate and frequent scholar of mutants, their anatomy, their physiology and their social patterns. Schmidt had too much practice in covering his trail; Dr. Xavier was clearly a novice. He was also the sort of man that Herr Doktor Klaus Schmidt would have delighted in knowing.
By all accounts, Dr. Xavier was something of a scatterbrain, so perhaps he was not aware of the depth of Schmidt’s evil, but if he did, Erik would have no qualms about dispatching the man in order to make sure he did not reveal Erik’s presence in London. He had come too far to lose Schmidt again, and he had put too much behind him to fall back under Schmidt’s control.
It was resolved then. He would take Dr. Xavier in his home, and leave him dead or broken if necessary. He took the few steps up the front steps of the dwelling, picked the lock with a flick of his finger and slipped effortlessly through the well-oiled door. Erik listened for movement in the house; Dr. Xavier was in the kitchen, fumbling with the water, making tea perhaps. Erik found the stairs down to the kitchen easily and descended slowly, feet towards the side to avoid creaky boards. His own breathing was slightly ragged; he pressed a hand over his mouth to quiet himself, to better listen for his quarry.
Erik's other hand slipped under his cloak, drawing out the dagger there.
"How do you take your tea, then?" Dr. Xavier called out from the kitchen. "Should I set aside some milk as well?"
He was stunned into silence for only a moment, the urge for surprise forgotten; then he charged through the remainder of the basement level and into the kitchen, knife drawn. Dr. Xavier was at the range, caught in the midst of a turn; Erik aimed low in the back, looking to wound. At the last moment, the man sidestepped just enough for the knife to brush by. He jostled Erik's hand with his right arm and spun full around, catching Erik in the jaw with his left elbow. Erik stumbled backwards a step, searching for his balance.
Dr. Xavier grabbed his cane; there was metal in it, however, and Erik grabbed it with his powers, kept Dr. Xavier from moving it further. The rebellion of his cane seemed to surprise him for only a moment, though, and his fist struck Erik hard in the solar plexus. A glance to his right showed a fireplace, and a poker. He stretched out his hand and called the weapon to him. Once in his grasp, he swung it down towards Dr. Xavier's head.
To his surprise, the man grabbed it barehanded, wincing only slightly. It wasn’t enough, Erik had him now: the poker snaked around Dr. Xavier's wrist, a kick just above the knee sent him down to his knees, the rest of the metal grabbed at Dr. Xavier's other wrist, tugging both his arms together, hard behind his back. His opponent’s balance lost, he shoved Dr. Xavier to the ground, where he landed hard on his side with an muffled exhalation of air.
A brief moment of delight at his success flared through Erik, until he remembered incapacitating Dr. Xavier was only the beginning. He forced Dr. Xavier onto his back, the man's chest rising and falling from the exertion.
It was the first time he'd really seen the man — barely in his mid-twenties, soft brown hair and wide blue eyes, his red lips hung open enough to draw in deep breaths — yet despite their relative positions, Dr. Xavier didn't seem frightened. Erik glowered down at him.
"I have questions, Doctor Xavier," Erik growled, bending down beside the man, fingers curling around his throat. "And you will answer them."
Before Dr. Xavier could answer, Erik grabbed at his coat and twisted, dragging him along the floor with both his hand and his powers, pulling against the poker and various jewelry that Xavier was wearing. He deposited the man upright in one of the rickety chairs that made up the kitchen furniture.
Dr. Xavier took a deep breath, coughed, and stretched himself so he was sitting upright. "I would be only too happy to answer your questions, Mr. Lehnsherr, but it could have been done over tea."
The teakettle on the range answered, perhaps meaningfully, by beginning to whistle; Erik glared between the kettle and Dr. Xavier before he stalked across the kitchen and removed the kettle. The brief idea of using the scalding water to torture the man came to mind, only to be pushed away. Cooperation was better; Erik could always leave Dr. Xavier with a warning if he was willing to sell out Schmidt.
Next to the range, the lion's share of a tea set sat, ready to be used; after a glance to the Doctor, still sitting neatly in his chair, Erik poured the water into the teapot and brought the whole thing over to the large kitchen table.
"I don't think you understand the gravity of your situation, Doctor." Even to his own ear, his accent was thick, his words rough and poorly formed. Perhaps enough to mark him as an ambitious or dangerous docker. Only then did the fact that Dr. Xavier had addressed him by his name register in his mind; his eyes widened in shock. "We will start with how you knew to expect me. Did Schmidt tell you I was coming?"
"If you are intent on having the conversation with yourself, I could simply leave you to it." Dr. Xavier smiled, mouth upturned in a tiny little smirk. "Or would you prefer to ask and then I will answer?"
"Where is Schmidt?" The most important of the questions came foremost to his mind.
"I do not know." Erik was immediately skeptical. "But I see you find that incredible. Tell me of the man, then, and why you think we are collaborators."
This was not the manner of interrogations, and he hardened his face into a scowl, as though he could grab the answers and pull them out of Dr. Xavier by sheer force of will. "He is the one the broadsheets call The Butcher, responsible for the Mutant Slaughters. You know his work."
"I do know his work." Dr. Xavier sighed, leaned forward. "I've attended several of the autopsies as a... diagnostic observer."
Erik stood, towering over Dr. Xavier as best he could; it was not hard, Xavier was not a tall man, and sitting he became even more compact, but again the man did not flinch away, as though it did not matter that Erik had restrained him and used mutant powers on him. "Did you enjoy that? Seeing what made them tick?"
"Mr. Lehnsherr, I can assure you I enjoyed nothing about the experience." Dr. Xavier sat up even taller now. "The tea should be ready now. I would appreciate your consideration. You are more than welcome to bind my feet instead."
"I should bind them both!" Erik snapped at him, but the... oddly calm and peculiar request of Dr. Xavier made him consider the request, before allowing it. He wrapped his fingers around the man's throat, holding him in place, before he allowed the poker to uncoil from his wrists and instead set it around the man's ankles.
"Thank you." Dr. Xavier leaned forward enough to pour Erik a cup of tea, and then one for himself; Erik ignored his. "Now, you have reason to suspect this Butcher is your Schmidt. That is more than they suspect at the Yard. If you could tell me..."
"It doesn't work that way, Doctor." Erik stepped closer, looming over him again. He would not allow Dr. Xavier to gain the upper hand. He had spent far too long at the mercy of a man who had tricked him into complacency, and he would not allow it to happen again. "You tell me what you know, and then maybe I let you live."
"Do sit down, Mr. Lehnsherr."
A fraction of a second later, Erik obeyed, knees buckling against his own better judgement. Xavier arched an eyebrow at him.
"Let me go."
He did, tugging the poker off and setting it back to rights next to the fire place. He was horrified by his own compliance, and confused, his mind fighting against what he was doing. He could not set Dr. Xavier free, could not allow him that advantage.
"And now we will have a cup of tea, and conduct ourselves in a civilized fashion."
Erik reached out and took the cup of tea, but stopped short of drinking it, the cup wavering in his hands inches from his lips. The foggy haze in his mind cleared, allowing him to finally look at the Doctor, calm, collected, and not in the least distressed. Because... he had never felt himself in any danger. He looked down into his tea and shivered.
"You can control minds," Erik said, realization finally dawning on him that he was in far, far over his head.
"I am a telepath, yes, a mutant like yourself. I do not know where you have gotten your impressions, but I want nothing but the best for mutants here in London — across the world — and I certainly would never aid a man who hoped to butcher them." Dr. Xavier took a long sip of his tea, and Erik did as well just a moment later. It couldn't be poisoned... he hoped. "You may believe me as you see fit, but I help in every way I can."
"You put mutants in gaol," Erik accused. "They call you in and you identify them." There was nothing to defend there, nothing that could make that acceptable.
"And yet somehow they always seem to escape."
Erik watched the man, warily, annoyed that the man seemed to think that somehow made it all right. "Because the Mystique breaks them out; does he leave a calling card to laugh in the face of your transgressions against mutants?"
"We are a team." Dr. Xavier took a final, delicate sip of his tea, offered to pour Erik more, and when he refused poured himself another.
"I beg your pardon?"
"The Mystique and I."
The Mystique’s attempt to warn him off Dr. Xavier and his assurance of Dr. Xavier’s lack of involvement suddenly made a great deal of sense. Dr. Xavier played both sides of the fear of the ‘Mutant Menace’ to keep the ones who were captured safe. The man tilted his head, perhaps acknowledging Erik's train of thought.
"Now, I seem to have answered a great many of your questions, so you will forgive me if I am demanding and ask another question of you. Will you help me uncover the Butcher and see that he is brought to justice?"
It seemed too good to be true, a handsome, rich, and connected telepath with a collaborator no doubt equally talented, the two of them dedicated to his task and willing to aid him. Xavier set his cup down, a light pink dusting over his cheeks, but those eyes looked up at him through thick brown lashes, eager, demanding an answer.
"Very well, Doctor Xavier. I will allow you to assist me."
The man smiled, a faint curve of his lip. "I can't imagine anything I would like better."
Erik could think of quite a few things he would like better. He did not trust Dr. Xavier, and he certainly did not trust a man who could move through his mind without any invitation, and Erik... Erik did not trust him. However, he was already here, stuck, having tea, and the man seemed unlikely to let him go if that was against his desires.
"Splendid. I'll have the red room made up for you."
He certainly didn't remember agreeing to that.
After making another pot of tea and heading upstairs, Charles looked across the room at the man sitting in his now appropriately-lit conservatory: glowering into his tea, mouth downturned. Making too deep a study of Mr. Lehnsherr was likely to court madness, he decided; his mind was tangled and jagged, difficult for Charles to grasp at, and yet Charles was drawn to him. Mr. Lehnsherr was rough, hardened by life in a way that Charles had never personally known, but one he recognized in so many mutant minds when he touched them. He was just so... attractive.
"The Yard largely requires my services for the mutant element," Charles said, sipping at his tea. "But I'm afraid to say they haven't taken much interest in the Butcher."
"Because he's killing mutants. No one cares about a few dead mutants."
Charles pressed his fingers to the lip of his teacup, brushing there as he tried to collect his thoughts. "They do like sensationalism, and there is always the risk that the Butcher might target someone who is not a mutant. The Yard would hardly turn their backs on information, though. I have been doing my best to provide exactly that."
"By dining with scientific crowds at private houses?" Mr. Lehnsherr asked, lip finally quirked. "You'll forgive me if I did not find that particularly useful in catching a murderer."
"A man must have his hobbies." Charles tugged at his waistcoat slightly, smoothing it. "Now, I'm afraid there's really very little holding me awake. Could we perhaps...?" He trailed off, feeling a familiar presence in the back of his mind — Raven sneaking back in for the night. He stood.
Mr. Lehnsherr followed a moment later, knife drawn, unsure if he should train it on Charles or somewhere else.
"It is my manservant," he explained. "Nothing to be alarmed about, but he will wonder why I'm entertaining a guest at this hour."
That soothed the other man's mind only slightly. "Your manservant?"
"Raphael, he has been with my family since I was a young boy." It was not quite the truth; Raven had never been as integrated into the family as he would have liked after he helped her off the streets, but there were very few ways a young woman could join a family. A manservant was the perfect addition while avoiding the worst of the gossip that might be associated with her.
"Raven, love, we have a guest, please keep yourself... decent" He felt the answering humor in the back of her mind, but she appeared a few moments later, neatly dressed in the guise of Raphael, returned from an evening out running errands.
Charles nodded, encouraging her to keep calm, but it was obvious that Raven recognized Mr. Lehnsherr as the man who had made an attack on the Yard not two nights ago. Mr. Lehnsherr was eyeing her with matching speculation, still wondering if ‘Raphael’ was as he seemed, but he did not recognize the man. Raven had worn another face two nights ago. After a few moments of wary assessment, the two of them relaxed.
"Raphael, this is Mr. Lehnsherr, he will be staying with us for several days."
Mr. Lehnsherr nodded a greeting, but said nothing in response.
"Mr. Lehnsherr." She gave Charles a speculative arched eyebrow, waiting for him to clarify the situation.
"Mr. Lehnsherr is a great fan of my work," Charles said, enjoying the slight way that Mr. Lehnsherr bristled under the declaration, but he sat down when Charles did. "He is really quite interested in mutation."
"Did you give him your lecture on smashing mutations, Master Charles?" Raven’s voice also echoed in his mind a moment later. ”I appreciate the gesture, Charles, but you shouldn’t stand for me if you want to keep this ruse up long.” Charles brushed a hand down his chest, suitably chastised.
Mr. Lehnsherr stifled the worst of his laugh, but it ended up something of a snort. "We haven't quite gotten that far," he answered.
"Well then you hardly know each other at all if Master Charles hasn't lectured you." Raven gave a quick glance towards him, eyes and mind asking the obvious question, waiting for how Charles wanted to proceed.
"We do not need to keep Mr. Lehnsherr waiting too long. Please make up the red room for him."
Raven looked over at him; he was familiar with most of the guises Raven wore, and Charles could read Raphael’s face as well as Raven’s natural one. She was curious, and concerned, but she could not speak of it more in their current positions. ”I do hope you know what you are doing, Charles.” Raphael’s voice answered a moment later. “Of course, sir.”
“With that settled...” Charles turned back towards Mr. Lehnsherr and offered more tea. The water was cooling, but the flavor was still acceptable. “You thought I was in contact with someone; a Schmidt.”
Mr. Lehnsherr seemed to be debating the merits of speaking and remaining quiet; eventually he settled for an explanation. "His name is Klaus Schmidt, and he has done this before, in Prussia and some of the other German duchies and principalities."
Charles hadn't pried into Mr. Lehnsherr’s mind, not nearly as much as he'd wanted to; Mr. Lehnsherr’s mind had mostly concerned Charles and his work, and concern that Charles might be connected to Schmidt, but none of the specifics. "I am afraid I do not have many investigative counterparts in the principalities. Not for lack of trying... but if there is a pretext to explain our acquaintance perhaps you could mention to the Yard the similarities between the events in London and..."
“There was almost no coverage in the papers," Mr. Lehnsherr interrupted. "It was... only a few, three or four, and two of them weren't even known to be mutants by anyone but Schmidt."
“I am certain we will be able to profit from your information, Mr. Lehnsherr,” Charles said, teasing his lip between his teeth for a moment, thinking. “Will you go over all of this with me tomorrow afternoon? I have some engagements for the morning but we will sort this out. The information you bring and my information from the Yard will no doubt allow us to move forward.”
Mr. Lehnsherr stood, brushed a hand against the leg of his trousers, and then looked down through the dining room and the hall to the door. “I should take my leave.”
"Nonsense. You are my guest." Charles stood as well after that, eyeing the other man and trying to decide what was holding him from accepting Charles’ assistance. “I believe we will make an excellent team. Ah, and Raphael can show you to the red room; it is yours while we discuss our mutual interests.”
Raven had appeared in the doorway, and she gave a stiff nod before leading Mr. Lehnsherr upstairs. Charles was still wrapped in his own thoughts, sipping cold tea, when Raven returned. She picked up the entire tea set with one hand and took Charles by the arm and dragged him down to the scullery.
“I cannot believe you have invited that man into your house, Charles.” Raven began to rinse and wash the tea set while Charles leaned against the counter, bemused but accepting her criticism. “He thought you were working with the Butcher. You can’t tell me he has changed his mind in a few hours. What if he tries to kill you?”
“He won’t.” That much he was certain of.
"And he looks as though he belongs at the docks, a... stevedore, or a sailor."
“I would think you would be less concerned over a man’s looks. You know how changeable a person can be whether he has one face or many.” He reached out and brushed a finger against her cheek gently, and she melted into the most familiar, the red-headed girl with blue scales over every inch. Charles loved her for that.
“When you’ve only got one, it’s the most important.” Raven’s skin flickered back to pale white, the human face that she wore best matched her structure. She had met Dr. McCoy in that guise, as Miss Raven Darkholme his ward from the country. Rhat ruse had only begun after Charles’ parents had died. She sighed.
“You went to see Dr. McCoy.” He did not need to pick the information from her mind. She was always the most concerned with her looks after seeing him. Dr. McCoy had been a family friend for years. His father had been a doctor and worked closely with Charles’ father from time to time; Raven had even danced with him on occasion before a final development in his mutation finally saw him covered in blue fur. Dr. McCoy was one of the many that Charles had helped finish Lowtown for. “He would not care if he knew how you truly looked.”
“He looks at himself and he sees someone ugly, Charles. What would he see when he looked at me?”
“A beautiful young woman,” he assured her, not for the first time.
“You don’t understand.” Raven said as she finished drying the set and then flicked the end of the dish cloth at Charles. “You’ve never understood these things. You’ve never had to hide.”
Charles tamped down on the urge to argue completely, instead he just sighed and held out an arm; she snaked into his grip and they hugged tightly. “Neither of us can completely be ourselves, Raven. That is why mutants must stick together and... perhaps in the future we can tolerate people the humans have not yet learned to tolerate.”
“Among others.” He kissed her forehead. “You must admit that no young mutants starve in Lowtown.” It was not ideal, but it was a start.
They parted on the same terms that they always seemed to, lately: Raven not wholly convinced that Charles understood her, but dedicated to their mission. She settled in to bank the fire and Charles headed upstairs to his own room, stripping off his clothes slowly as he tried not to consider the man he had invited into his home.
Raven need not know the worst of his perversions, the ones he hid even from her. Of course she could not see the way he hid, but he did so every day; every day he danced with and made calls on women he had no intention of marrying, every time he had felt the pull of admiration from one of his fellows at Oxford only to discover their infatuation was strictly chaste, and every time he had to be told by his cousins and aunts and uncles how it was getting to be time to find a wife, he hid. At least his telepathy was something he had come to know and appreciate over many years; the discovery of his invertive tendencies had taken him quite by surprise upon entering Oxford at sixteen.
He should not have thought of Mr. Lehnsherr while he was recollecting such troubling subjects, but he did. Charles was fairly certain that Mr. Lehnsherr had no inclinations along those lines, at least not ones that his mind found important enough to express loudly. Still, Queen Victoria had no laws against... enjoying the view. He was a fool.
Raven’s concern that Mr. Lehnsherr might prove untrustworthy did not find any justification that first night. Mr. Lehnsherr spent the night peacefully and attempted nothing untoward to any members of the house; Charles had to admit he had been a touch nervous about the possibility. Mr. Lehnsherr was a dangerous man, and not one prone to idleness. Charles could tell he'd stayed with reluctance and only because he had questions that he believed Charles would answer. It was not an ideal circumstance, but Charles was... intrigued by Mr. Lehnsherr.
Raven was up early, wearing the face of Raphael, preparing coffee and finishing with the cooking. They would have prefered to have a full complement of servants in the house, but instead they made do with a rotation of hired mutants. Having others in the house more regularly meant Raven could not spend time in her true form; they would connect her easily to The Mystique and Charles found it impossible to believe they would understand a girl who spent her time disguised as a man. This way she could spend time in her true form at home, clad in blue scales and a neat dress. She played the role of servant when there was shopping to be done as well, but Charles could not rely on his powers to keep her form from notice with another servant constantly about the house. Mr. Lehnsherr as a houseguest was a strain on her, but it would hopefully be only temporary. Charles was uncertain he wanted to have Mr. Lehnsherr and The Mystique meet again so soon.
When she was finished with the cooking, she piled the dining room high with food and waited for Charles to pick through it as he worked his way through the morning papers; his pen teased against his lip as he searched out any report that might indicate mutant activity or a threat to his allies. There had been no strike by the Butcher before the papers went to press, at least, although rumors would no doubt have the news soon enough if there had. He began with The Times, before slowly working through The Daily Telegraph and The Morning Post. Mr. Lehnsherr came down from the upstairs room some time in the middle of Charles’ perusal of The Telegraph.
Raven placed a plate before him, her stern look indicating she expected Mr. Lehnsherr to eat it and like it. He looked set to protest before he sat and began to eat slowly. "My bag is tucked away by the docks," he said. "I will retrieve it today."
Charles nodded, absent-minded. He began to pick at the fruit Raven had placed out for breakfast. Mr. Lehnsherr seemed especially enamored with the fruit as well, shoveling a bit more than was decent onto his plate. "I have a few calls to make this morning. I have been neglecting them. After that we can begin a more detailed recounting of the facts in evidence."
"You're more concerned with courting ladies than catching a killer, Dr. Xavier?" Lehnsherr looked displeased, mouth hard.
"I will also be stopping by one of the laboratories to discuss my theories with some scientists who are not part of the X Club, where you found me last night. I am concerned with a great many things, scientific, naturalistic and other. The Butcher is... a great tragedy that must be dealt with quickly, but there are other matters of importance as well." Charles buttered a muffin and then took a deliberate bite while he chewed, thinking of the best way to approach the topic with Lehnsherr. "There are those among society who call us ungodly, abominations, and yet there is significant scientific thought that we are simply the next stage in human evolution; the topic of whether that stage has its origins in the naturalistic, the divine, or some non-deific 'fate' is a matter of some debate. Sir Joseph Hooker is not pleased with the divine theories, but the theory serves us well in the interim."
Raven had made herself busy in the conservatory, close enough to listen in. Charles felt her bristle at the mention of the divine theories; she had more than enough reason to be skeptical of those theories. The woman who had birthed her had abandoned her as unnatural just after her birth.
Mr. Lehnsherr set his jaw, also ruminating on the thought. It was clear he was not a man prone to that level of reflection, although Charles could tell he had a great deal of intelligence behind the single-minded pursuit of revenge, justice, and security. "Society will never accept us."
"Not while the Church, rather than science, provides the core of our morality." It was a scandalous thought, only slightly less so since Darwin's theses were made public, but they were once again in the position of Galileo, poised to upset what was thought to be based soundly on the evidence of what was. "Do give it time, Mr. Lehnsherr, we will have our day."
"I will see to the shopping and gossip," Raven said, irritation obvious.
She would also, no doubt, see to it that things were going smoothly in Lowtown. As much as she occasionally chafed under the role of Charles’ servant, she did enjoy the freedom it allowed her.
After they finished breakfast, Raven left the house and went to investigate the few leads Charles had drawn from the morning papers; he also made plans to meet Mr. Lehnsherr back at his home in the early afternoon before heading off to rigorously debate the merits of evolutionary thought and to make a few house calls. It had the makings of an all-around stimulating sort of day.
Erik was uncertain what to make of Dr. Xavier and his manservant. He didn’t seem to be holding a great deal in reserve, instead all but begging Erik to stay at his home. Erik had been invited in after attempting to attack and then torture Dr. Xavier — and he could see no reason why that wouldn’t have made Dr. Xavier intensely skeptical. Either he was frightfully naive or Dr. Xavier's telepathy allowed him a deep look into a man's soul; both answers left Erik ill at ease. Did he know everything about Erik? Could he see the darkest depths that were inside of him, everything that he had done that brought him to that moment?
The whole idea gave him pause. Even staying the night had been a difficult enough decision; he had stayed mostly for the information. Dr. Xavier worked with Scotland Yard, so he had to know more about the Butcher; Erik knew Schmidt, but Dr. Xavier knew the Butcher. There was some small measure of curiosity, of course, but it was more than overshadowed by the need to take the information Dr. Xavier had for himself.
A few streets from Dr. Xavier’s, he considered a hansom; Dr. Xavier could have no doubt afforded it, but Erik didn’t have shillings to spare, and he wouldn’t mind the walk. He cut his way through the streets on a more leisurely walk. Unlike those the night before, the streets by Dr. Xavier’s were clean enough, with beautifully dressed ladies going about on their own morning calls. Erik did not understand the practice, but apparently Dr. Xavier would be wasting his talents on it for much of the morning. From what he had been able to gather, the man was considered quite a good match, although most ladies seemed to have some aspirations towards changing the man away from his sciences, getting him into a larger house, and getting all those ‘dreadful’ experiments put away. Erik thought they might as well have asked for the sea to part; Dr. Xavier was obviously stuck in his own world and would be unlikely to be shaken loose by someone else. It had only taken him a few hours to decide that.
As he got further away from Dr. Xavier’s house and closer to the docks the world became more and more overtaken with brown. Erik no longer looked and felt out of place, now familiar and comfortable with this world. The streets became a riot of cabs and walkers, filled with all of the people who had to make their way by working instead of calling.
His room was just the way he had left it: his small sheaf of papers, his two changes of clothes, and nothing else in the world. The papers would need to return with him to Dr. Xavier’s, but he could have left the rest here, returned for it in another day, spent the night in familiarity rather than luxury. It was a harder decision than he would have thought; Dr. Xavier was... peculiar. He had a boyish energy that made him endlessly attractive, almost magnetic, and yet he made Erik uncomfortable. The idea of his mind laid bare for Dr. Xavier was unacceptable.
When he left, he took his bag and paid his final day’s lodging.
In the early afternoon, he returned to Dr. Xavier's townhouse to wait for the man. Erik was obviously out of place on the street; he looked like a man too scruffily put together to be a servant. A man with two day's growth on his face, in plain trousers and shirt, with rough gloves and an overcoat looked more like to break into one of the townhouses than be an invited guest. He wasn't opposed to loitering and twisting the neighbors' senses of gentile propriety, but he thought it would be an imposition upon Dr. Xavier. The man had offered to help him with no reward beyond bringing Schmidt to justice.
So he waited, leaning against a relatively innocuous corner and sketched the one face that was forever burned into his memory. Schmidt.
Dr. Xavier was only a few minutes late, taking the opportunity to amble through the street dressed for all the world like... something; he was in a neatly fitted suit, a top hat, and leaned lightly on his steel-cored cane. Erik wondered if it hid a true blade or was simply fortified to make a hit with it smart. Erik had a few moments to watch him; he had broader shoulders than Erik had really expected, and strength obvious in his arms — slim, but still fit. He was not a man who appeared intimidating, and yet both his powers and his fighting skills had proven almost a match for Erik — and would have been more than a match had he used his telepathy sooner in their confrontation. Erik would be an idiot to let go of his assistance.
"Ah, Mr. Lehnsherr, a pleasure to see you again." He acted as though it had been weeks, rather than a few hours. Dr. Xavier gestured towards the house and they headed inside. "I think I will show you my laboratory now. It's a bit of a mess, I'm afraid, but we can look over my work."
Erik followed after Dr. Xavier into the entryway but rather than continuing back to the dining room and conservatory, Dr. Xavier opened up a narrow door to the left and led them both inside. The difference between the room and the rest of the house was obvious. While there was a certain quality of controlled clutter to the rest of the house, the room they had just entered in no way adhered to that guideline.
It resembled a library, but not the neatly organized upstairs library Erik had seen this morning, with dozens of literary works neatly filed and categorized. This library was chaos made tangible in form in a room obviously never designed for the function; recollections of gossip concerning a former downstairs sitting room came to the front of his mind. Chairs and settees were stacked high with papers organized in a manner Erik couldn’t begin to guess; side tables were turned into desks covered in bell jars and specimen containers filled with all manner of items, plant and animal; the floor had once been covered in a beautiful, detailed rug, now ruined by the dragging and scuffing of chairs, tables, and furniture.
Dr. Xavier turned and threw open the doors between the dining room and parlor, letting in some much-needed light and air from the back of the house. The air was dry in the room, enough that Erik ran his tongue over his lips to moisten them. He had never smelled so much paper and ink in his life; before that moment he wouldn’t have placed a distinct smell to paper, but it pervaded his senses now. It made sense, he supposed; Dr. Xavier was a man of papers and books and science, entirely different from Erik.
Above one of the shelves there was a creature, stuffed and mounted, with a bottom like a fish and a top that had a lizard-like, yet human, quality to it. He eyed it. "That is not... not a mutant, is it?" The idea that it might be filled him with anger.
"No, Mr. Lehnsherr, it is the work of an exceptionally skilled taxidermist." Mr. Xavier sighed. "I was actually momentarily fooled, but a proper investigation proved it has the skeletal support of perhaps two or three different animals. It is very lovely though..."
Dr. Xavier led him through to the front parlor, opening the doors wide to let in what little light came from the rear of the house. If the back parlor was filled with books, the front was packed beyond reason, and unlike the one they had just passed through, this parlor had clearly been converted with intent. Every wall held shelves; spaces between shelves, where another man might have put furniture to sit, were filled with even more shelves, waist high, placed in narrow rows. Atop every surface there were more instruments, items both fantastical and mundane, globes and stones and glass-topped boxes containing insects and birds, carefully pinned and splayed for maximal aesthetics.
Erik was unable to resist the temptation to look through the papers, and they showed everything from anatomical diagrams to a charcoal of one of the London parks — Regent’s, maybe.
"Now," Dr. Xavier said. Erik's gaze snapped back toward the man. "Shall we get to work?"
He watched Dr. Xavier squat in front of a large open cabinet, one that might hold maps or other large items — each slot was only a few inches wide — and draw out a corkboard, and then another. Dr. Xavier picked up one and then waved his hand at the other, Erik took it and turned it so he could take in the contents.
It was everything a man might have catalogued concerning the murders. At least, Erik thought it was everything, until Dr. Xavier took the second board, walked them over to a shelf-clad wall and hung the board neatly in a few clips. Erik followed suit and put the other board up flush to Dr. Xavier's. After taking a few steps back the image was clear: square feet of space given over to every scrap of information.
Erik drew out his own thick folder of clippings and notes, thumbing through it. Dr. Xavier stood close, looking over Erik’s past work. There was a good deal that Dr. Xavier hadn't found: news from the German papers, mostly.
"May I?" He held out a hand, and Erik gave it over. Dr. Xavier scanned the paper slowly.
"It is concerning the first murder."
Dr. Xavier nodded along, still scanning. "It seems... there was little by way of the characteristic post-mortem deconstruction from the Butcher's work."
"It's Schmidt's work!" Erik insisted.
"Peace, Mr. Lehnsherr, I do not doubt your conviction, but we must not assume we know the full scope; we must always be prepared to look further." Dr. Xavier continued to leaf through Erik's items, scanning them slowly and — when Erik did not object — began to set them into piles against the small section of shelf he had cleared.
"Care to enlighten me, Dr. Xavier?"
"Oh, yes, I'm sorry, I am used to a great deal of reflection first." Dr. Xavier touched his fingers to one of the stacks. "There are often details withheld from the papers, which is why I have made a point of assisting the police in their investigations concerning the Mutant Slaughters; however, there are several articles that suggest a similar predilection for the scientific. The current thought is that our Butcher is a doctor."
"Herr Doktor," Erik said, softly. "He came through the poor communities... in the cities, and the countryside. I had always wondered... it was said he had once traveled with gypsies."
Dr. Xavier took out a fountain pen and began to scrawl down words that Erik couldn't quite follow: his English reading was too poor. He'd only recently come to London because he had heard of the Slaughters on the street. He frowned, as though that could make the words legible.
"Oh... my apologies." Dr. Xavier turned towards him, smile soft and inviting. "I am simply drawing what information I can from your clippings and writing it down in English for my own work. I'm not so fluent in German that I can think in it."
Erik considered the possibility that Dr. Xavier would take the information and leave Erik with little more than he started with, but the man seemed in earnest. Perhaps telepaths could afford to be trusting. Erik took one more glance at Dr. Xavier before he left him to his scribbling and went over to the boards to examine them more closely. There were tintype images of the bodies as they were found, and detailed artistic diagrams of the damage that had been done to the victims. Erik struggled to keep both his body and his mind calm; the last thing he wanted was Dr. Xavier seeing Erik’s journey from a man to a thing, but the images played around in the back of his mind almost constantly.
As much as he could only wonder in quiet horror at the detail of Dr. Xavier’s notations, it was clear he had not been exaggerating his own involvement in the case. It made Erik wonder, for the first time, if Dr. Xavier was exactly as philanthropic as he had a reputation for.
"I believe the Butcher is looking for... scientific details concerning mutation. Any physical mutation, wings, scales, fins, eyes, or the like are removed entirely and taken. At first the police thought they were perhaps some sort of memento, but I believe he takes them for further study."
Erik felt his throat constrict as he tried to swallow. "Is that helpful?"
Dr. Xavier came over next to him, looking at his sketches. He was closer than Erik had expected, enough that some warmth passed between them, but Dr. Xavier seemed not to notice their proximity. "There is some mechanism that causes heredity. We have recorded the idea of heredity and breeding for certain characteristics in livestock for hundreds of years. Similarly, there must be some mechanism within the body, some... essence that makes us who and what we are and yet can be passed on, at least in part, to offspring." Xavier's eyes were wide, bright and painfully blue — the fire in his words was infectious, and Erik felt a need to impress the man, to offer anything of value in return.
"The spirit?" Erik asked. He could think of no other thing.
"No... I do not believe so." Dr. Xavier took a few steps back, leaving a more proper distance between them and making Erik feel chilled despite the warmth of the house. "Given the soul, there must be some principle to govern it. We are not lessened or halved by offspring; a man or woman with ten children is no less a person than a man with no children, the spirit cannot... divide and be endowed into our offspring." He backed away even farther. "My apologies, I... am somewhat excitable on the topic."
"No..." Erik looked over at him, Dr. Xavier's bottom lip was teased between his teeth, his breath heavy as though he had just run or fought; he was excited, and while excited he was intensely appealing. "You have a gift for..." He struggled for a good word. "Instruction."
Erik did not want to return to the topic at hand; he wanted to listen to Dr. Xavier describe more of the science behind his work, yet it was also the potential reasoning behind Schmidt's work, and that he could not ignore.
"So Schmidt seeks to understand how mutants physically differ from the humans?" That was what it seemed to be to Erik. Schmidt dissected his victims — in truth he vivisected them, watched how they moved and pulsed as they still breathed — and sought the mechanism of their function.
"That is the thing, however, we differ on almost no measure." Dr. Xavier drew out a book — Erik read the title as The Mutant Form by C.F. Xavier — and opened it to about the middle. "Here is a man, hair, eyes, mouth, lungs, heart, stomach, bowels, and further, and here is a mutant, every item the same. All pieces in the exact same place. There are changes, of course. There was a... fish man, his lungs contained some characteristics of a fish and yet distinctly human. It is both our salvation and curse as mutants."
"The humans cannot identify us," Erik realized. As much as Dr. Xavier claimed to be able to do so for the police he must have been near as stymied as any other naturalist.
"And yet we cannot identify each other, either. It divides us from each other." Dr. Xavier thumbed through his book: a thin tome, maybe one hundred pages, but neatly illustrated by a fine hand. "There may be some distinction in the mind itself, but I have only witnessed two dissections of the brain. Short of an expression of the powers, there is no difference."
"So how does Schmidt identify them?"
"The question, Mr. Lehnsherr, that is the question." Dr. Xavier looked frantic again. "Eight victims; three were obviously mutants, one had gills, another wings, and the last scales, but five were completely human in their appearance. One appeared to be completely unknown as a mutant. So how did the Butcher find them?"
"How?" Erik asked, breath caught in his lungs, waiting to Dr. Xavier to tell him what he needed to hear.
Dr. Xavier deflated. "I have absolutely no idea."
Erik sagged as well, disappointed, but that could not change the fast-pace beating of his heart, the quickening of his breath, and the sheer excitement of being near Dr. Xavier in the throes of discovery.
"But do not worry, Mr. Lehnsherr, now that I have you by my side, I am certain we will uncover the answers we require."
For the very first time in years, Erik felt something that might have been hope; it was warm, curled up tight in his chest and belly, leaving him nervous and hesitant, unwilling to reach out for fear of it being taken from him... yet it was there, something new and wondrous. Dr. Xavier would help him find Schmidt, he would have his revenge, and he would...
There might even be a chance for something 'after'.
Impossibly bright blue eyes looked up at him, crinkled in a smile.
After might even be worth living.
As he and Mr. Lehnsherr stood together in Charles’ laboratory, Charles realized he had not had a great deal of time to consider the consequences of inviting Mr. Lehnsherr to stay at his townhouse in the middle of London. There were so many elements to consider: the man himself, the gossip of course, and the impact it might have on Raven and the rest of Charles’ plans. He hoped Raven would not mind the intrusion into her privacy too much.
Now, however, there was Mr. Lehnsherr, with nowhere to go, it seemed . He was on his mad hunt for a single man who might have been the Butcher responsible for the Mutant Slaughters. Schmidt could also have been just another sadist in a long line of villains making their mark on the world, but Charles did hope that the two were one and the same. If so, a solution to the larger problem would neatly take care of Mr. Lehnsherr's own.
"What do you do, then, Mr. Lehnsherr, when you are not engaged in this long-running pursuit of Schmidt?" Charles found himself curious to know more; when it came to Mr. Lehnsherr he was exceptionally curious.
"There is nothing else." Mr. Lehnsherr looked over the notes as well, close, the two of them standing abreast and examining each of the items for potential interconnectedness. He took great care with the autopsy drawings; Charles could feel the sadness and disgust rolling off him in waves.
As much as Charles was content to keep an open mind, Mr. Lehnsherr seemed to recognize the handiwork intimately. Charles had a great urge to delve into Mr. Lehnsherr's mind, to feel every inch of him, to bask in the comfort of another mind, hard and unrelenting where he was malleable and flexible. When Mr. Lehnsherr had followed him through the streets, Charles had felt his mind like a beacon calling to him. The work of Dr. Galvani on bio-electricity had never felt more apt; even with a distance of miles between them, Charles found himself constantly aware of the man. It was his mind, certainly, but it was something else that Charles was not quite able to describe.
Even with the man perhaps two feet from him, Charles was aware of him, bent towards him, molded himself against his mind.
"Certainly there is something? You have not come all this way to find your revenge and then have nothing afterwards." Charles hoped as much. The alternative was sadder than he cared for.
Mr. Lehnsherr seemed to think exactly that. "You have seen my power, it is a thing made for killing."
"You have made it such," Charles said — not unkindly, almost beseeching Mr. Lehnsherr to see it. "The possibilities are endless. You think of it as working with metal, and yet I believe it may be more appropriately linked to the work of Dr. Michael Faraday — magnetism, perhaps even electromagnetism. The idea that your power — in our scientific day and age — has no non-martial application is simply unacceptable." Charles realized he'd gotten a bit away from himself, coughed and ran his hand down his waistcoat; he brushed against the metal buttons there for a moment, attempting to focus himself; the gesture seemed to unnerve Mr. Lehnsherr for a moment. "On the potential of your powers alone I would hire you in a moment."
Far from finding it pleasing, it seemed Mr. Lehnsherr thought the opposite; he frowned, whatever momentary calm he'd found broken. "Hire me for what purpose?"
"Anything: metallurgy, the delicate work of constructing engines, building construction, the possibilities are endless." Charles was excited, even if Mr. Lehnsherr was not.
Mr. Lehnsherr actually seemed to mull it over, or perhaps he was just turning back to the problem of the Butcher. "When I was young..." He stopped, frowned, and turned back to the maps and figures.
"There is no shame in wanting, Mr. Lehnsherr."
The other man did not take it as a comfort; the corners of his mouth turned down into a frown, thin lips clenched tight. "Wanting is a preparation for disappointment, Dr. Xavier."
"I would like you to never again be disappointed." There would be hard work, of course. Raven had to spend her time as a servant on occasion, supplementing the mutant and human maids and servants that Charles employed on a somewhat regular basis — but she lived her life free of the same hand-to-mouth existence that had been hers before she had met him. The mutants he looked after in Lowtown from time to time worked hard to scrape their existence, but it was not meager and they did their best to provide for one another.
"That seems unlikely."
"Please?" Charles asked. "There must be something." He thought he might have given Mr. Lehnsherr anything if the man would take it.
"When I was a boy I wanted to work on airships," he said. "You could see them all around, flying overhead. I could feel them, and yet never..." He reached out his hand and squeezed, grasping for something unreachable. "The metal in them was incredible, light and sturdy."
"My father invented the process — the exact balance of iron and all the component minerals needed for the engines. I imagine you would be good at that." Charles nodded, trying to restrain his own eagerness. A love of airships was not an unusual preoccupation for a young boy, but tempting Mr. Lehnsherr into it as a grown man would not be simple. He seemed a man as like to run away from an opportunity as to embrace it. "That was his secret, you know, the thing that allowed the propulsion and the housings. Other men hold other secrets to make the whole operation work together, but that was his contribution."
“Is that why you run your father’s company instead of working on your mutant biology studies full time?” Mr. Lehnsherr asked.
"Among other reasons." Charles looked over at him. "Would you play a part then? You could pass for a foreign engineer. My father's company is more run by accountants and lawyers than by me any longer. They prefer it that way, but it is a good enough pretext to see you installed in my house while we attend to this Butcher business." He wondered if that might be enough to fulfill his more selfish desires — Mr. Lehnsherr affixed firmly in his orbit, or close by, after all this business was done.
"A German engineer come to assist your company?" The man considered for a few moments and then shook his head. "It does not matter; I am here for Schmidt, nothing else."
"I am considered more than a bit eccentric, Mr. Lehnsherr, but even I cannot have an unexplained stranger from a foreign country spending evenings at my house, going about town with me while I confer with the Yard." Charles might sometimes thumb his nose at the minutia of what was expected of him, but that was too far beyond.
"Then I will leave."
A pained sound escaped his lips before Charles could contain it, it was a small thing, enough that it might have been passed off as annoyance or frustration rather than what it was. "I am not without resources, Mr. Lehnsherr; as much as it may seem I am a funny doctor who dabbles a bit in the strange and exotic, I have friends both high and low."
Mr. Lehnsherr did not answer for several minutes. The two of them continued to work around each other, flipping through papers, examining documents. Charles could not resist the urge to touch the edges of the man’s mind. More than anything, he felt conflict buried under a thin veneer of calm. Under that, however, was want; Mr. Lehnsherr wanted this. All that remained was for him to actually take it.
"I will play foreign engineer with you then, Dr. Xavier."
Charles exhaled, glad. It was only a first step, not a commitment, but there was every possibility this would open the door to Mr. Lehnsherr considering Charles’ offer more permanently. "We will have to go out, then." Charles gave Mr. Lehnsherr a brief once-over. "Our first stop will need to be a tailor."
Mr. Lehnsherr snorted. "And a shave, I assume?"
The loss of the stubble would pain him, but even Charles could agree that there was nothing for it. "A shave, a tailor, and then we will see if there is any news of the day. Raphael will have our supper and the news from the docks and... other places."
"Other places, Dr. Xavier? That sounds wholly disreputable."
"Quite." The sewers and Lowtown were more than full of mutants who had reason to fear the Butcher. Raven — in her guise of Mystique — was well known and respected there; if there were answers to be found, she would find them.
Not too long after, the two of them made their way to a tailor who was quite fond of Charles — and his custom — who soon had Mr. Lehnsherr fitted into a suit that almost managed to hang right, with promises of garments that fit exactly in a few days. Mr. Lehnsherr had — quite surprisingly — the smallest waist Charles had ever seen on a man, and he was struck with a peculiar desire to consider what the man would look like in a corset. It was an unusual desire, even by Charles' standards, and left him uncomfortably aware of the man as they sat next to each other in a cab.
The trip back through the city was no different than any other he had taken before, with or without Mr. Lehnsherr. He felt as though he was closer to achieving something; Mr. Lehnsherr still had designs on fleeing the country, that much was obvious, and yet Charles felt a connection there. It was not something he could truly dwell on, but he allowed himself that comfort.
Charles was still at a loss as to Schmidt’s ultimate purpose beyond simple terror; he did have one more source of insight into the man than before, however.
"I'd considered the possibility that our man is educated before, but you say Schmidt is a doctor?"
Mr. Lehnsherr nodded, leaning forward, clearly uncomfortable in the clothes, yet he wore them like they were made for him, like he was made for them. "He practiced medicine, sewed cuts and cured ailments. It was his way of finding a home within a community. I do not know if he studied. Why did you think he was educated?"
"Well as I said, he seemed to study the form, looking for the differences, or something else. His methods were hodgepodge at best, however. The papers say the Butcher is a medical man, but there is a reason he has come to be known as the Butcher: his work is not art. I'm not a surgeon, but I can see an unpracticed hand." Charles leaned back in the hansom and considered.
His companion seemed agitated, however. "He is not unpracticed, Dr. Xavier. He practiced a great deal."
"My apologies, it was a poor choice of words." He glanced over to Mr. Lehnsherr, eyeing him for a moment. "If you do not mind my saying, you seem to have a certain amount of personal investment in the matter, beyond the obvious."
"I thought you were a telepath, Dr. Xavier — my life an open book for you." The idea was obviously not pleasing to him.
"Certainly I could read you in such a manner, but I will not." It was the curse of knowing the deepest fears and wants of a man; the terrifying levels of repression a man would go through in order to fulfill his duty, to be seen as normal, was quite impressive. He knew his own mind in that regard, to know too many others would court madness. "If you wish your secrets, they are yours to keep."
"And yet you ask me to share."
"Yes, I ask, as one man to another."
The two of them fell silent. Charles glanced out the window to watch the street roll past them. It was past midday now, several people coming and going about their business.
"The Doktor... he..." Mr. Lehnsherr did not continue for some time, enough that Charles worried they might reach their destination before the secret could be told. They passed one street, and another, Charles turning his eyes away to give the man privacy of his thoughts and emotions even though Charles could feel them as sharply as his own. "He made a great practice of his trade upon me."
Charles was acutely aware that Mr. Lehnsherr was not speaking of medicine. He was unsure what to say for several minutes. "I have no words." That was the only consolation that he could offer. "He will be brought to justice."
"I do not want justice, Dr. Xavier."
Vengeance. Charles worried that would bring nothing but pain. He looked over to the man beside him."Very well. I hope you will accept a few hours of delay as I introduce you around the factory and make our way with whatever information Raphael is able to determ..." They pulled up in front of the factory, and Charles saw a few boys lingering — probably looking for day jobs. That wasn't what caught his interest; what had was Raven, currently in the form of Raphael, his manservant.
She was standing with a relaxed sort of poise that made it impossible for him to not pick her out of the crowd even when she was hidden in a form less familiar to him.
He waited for Mr. Lehnsherr to disembark from the cab, paid, then headed over towards her. "Well?"
Raven bowed slightly. "Dr. Xavier, I have done as you asked." She eyed Lehnsherr with some level of suspicion, but Charles waved it off easily. "Although there is no word of an man named Schmidt — I have taken the liberty of borrowing Mr. Lehnsherr's drawing of the man and it seems that a man by the name of Shaw has been flitting about with no less a person than the Prime Minister and his family."
Beside him, Mr. Lehnsherr tensed. "I don't care if he takes tea with the Pope and the Queen."
"That would be an ecumenical coup of some sort," Charles said with a level of wryness he did not feel. That was difficult news to take. "He has been to some of the best sort of parties then?"
"Only from time to time," Raven answered. "He does not make a practice of it."
Charles nodded and looked towards Mr. Lehnsherr to try to gauge his reaction. "I would like us to attend a party in the near term, Mr. Lehnsherr, but there is some small chance that Schmidt will take note of you if you are in attendance."
"Then I won't attend," he answered. "There are no doubt other leads that your servant has acquired."
Raven nodded, eyes flicking towards Charles for a moment, again gauging how much to say with Mr. Lehnsherr present. "Miss Fox has not returned any time in recent memory. At first it was the consensus that she must have acquired some sort of employment, but she would not have lingered for so long. It was enough that the others have begun to worry for her. Doctor McCoy informed me as such."
"You visited with him, then?" Charles wondered when Raven and Henry McCoy might decide to stop dancing around their mutual admiration. It might have had something to do with the fact that Raven made a point of visiting the sewer city in any number of disguises rather than her own form.
"Yes, and she is certainly considered among the missing at this point."
"I see. I would have you pursue that as well, find her employer." Charles touched his lip. "I had not thought of her, but it would neatly explain the most curious feature of the Butcher's work."
"And which is that, Dr. Xavier?" Mr. Lehnsherr asked from his side, finally entering the conversation in earnest.
"The locating of other mutants. Our Miss Fox has a gift of identifying — and understanding the powers of — anyone who she is near." He’d known Miss Diana Fox for some time, and her gift was extraordinary, if limited in range. She had helped Charles from time to time in getting mutants to safety.
Charles waited for the implication to sink in, and he was pleased to see that it did sink in quickly. Mr. Lehnsherr might not have had the amount of schooling that Charles had, but he was still sharp in all the manners that mattered. "So we have to find both of them."
"One will lead us to the other, no doubt, if these things are connected." He supposed he would be no longer able to avoid fulfilling his social obligations. "Find me who I should call on to acquire an invitation, Raphael."
"A visit to Lady MacTaggart would never go amiss, Dr. Xavier," Raphael answered, far too quickly.
Charles sighed. Of course.
"Lady MacTaggart?" Erik asked as Raphael took his leave of them and he and Dr. Xavier were alone again. They stood next to each other, staring up at the familiar, and modest-sized factory where Erik had waited for Dr. Xavier just a few days ago. Just as before, Erik enjoyed the feeling of metal and machines humming away inside; he closed his eyes and left the feeling overtake him. It made his heart race.
Erik was still getting used to the fine clothing — superior to anything he had ever owned before. It fit strangely to him, and made him feel constricted and bound. He was buttoned down and barely showing an inch below the chin as he was, his throat covered in a neat cravat. Dr. Xavier was similarly dressed — although for him, it was his usual manner — although it seemed a strange thing to wear to a factory.
"A lady of some standing who I am required to call upon with some regularity." Dr. Xavier didn't seem pleased. "She has a very lovely daughter with auburn hair who has some aspirations."
"What sort of aspirations?" Erik asked; the word itself had managed to bother him for some reason, but now it seemed even more frustrating.
"Me asking her to become Mrs. Xavier, of course." Dr. Xavier closed his eyes and shook his head.
Erik found he immediately hated the woman, despite having never met her. "And do you have similar aspirations, Dr. Xavier?"
Dr. Xavier didn’t answer for a moment, considering the question. "I suppose she has several of the qualifications that might make her a suitable wife. She is also quite intelligent despite her occasional appearance to the contrary. A lady out of her age in all of the best ways."
The idea annoyed Erik, and he was unsure why. He had no stock in whether or not Dr. Xavier chose to marry, he had no intention of keeping the man's company after they tracked down Schmidt, and yet he was annoyed. "I have heard you are considered... a good match."
"Xaviers are the right sort of people for these things," Dr. Xavier answered. "Enough so that girls' mothers are inclined to overlook my particular brand of oddness."
"And what manner of oddness is that, Dr. Xavier?"
"Oh... all manner, every manner."
Erik was unsure what Dr. Xavier meant by that, but he found it suitable. When he did not reply, Dr. Xavier eventually waved him into the factory and the two of them began the tour. Dr. Xavier, to Erik's surprise, conducted the tour in German.
"And here you can see we work with the metal. The core character of the metal is something that took my father several years to perfect, but it is light, yet well reinforced. It provides the netting structure needed for the dirigibles to go into war and guard against the worst natural forces in the sky." Dr. Xavier's accent was not correct, of course — it was too English — but his actual pronunciation, although occasionally lacking, was fairly good. Erik wondered if Dr. Xavier was conversant with his research in German.
The other effect of the language transition, aside from hiding Erik's near-fluency in English, was to allow them to speak confidentially even among the dozens of others occasionally around them.
"I really don't understand why you feel it is so necessary to sell me on this, Dr. Xavier. Were I actually a German engineer, I could see the allure, but I am not." Erik ran his fingers over the metal netting on display, feeling something of the mix that went into it. "I will soon be on my way."
"And yet I attempt to entice you to stay." Dr. Xavier looked almost brazen as he spoke. "Can I not convince you of any of the benefits of London?"
"Nothing will be settled until after my revenge is met... and even then..." He had never considered the possibility he might outlive Schmidt for long. There was something about the looming confrontation that made him certain that he would not survive.
"Oh, Mr. Lehnsherr. We live in one of the most glorious ages of change: industrialization, shifting perceptions of history, science, and morality, and yet the future holds no allure for you?"
"It seems more your interest."
Dr. Xavier almost projected something that felt like intense waves of frustration, and Erik ignored it. He might have been the first man who had tried to entice Erik with visions of the future, but they were useless to him. Yet, Erik could not deny that thoughts of the future were becoming more frequent.
When they were finished at the factory — Erik with three competitor's products in hand — they headed out in a direction that Dr. Xavier assured him was completely necessary. "I have to call on Lady and Miss MacTaggart, for a start. If there are to be any parties I must make certain I am invited and in attendance and Lady MacTaggart will know where I must call to assure an invitation." He watched Dr. Xavier pat his pockets, check his watch, and then nod. "If you do not wish to attend me through the process you are more than welcome to return to the house."
Watching Dr. Xavier in all his stunning social ineptitude with a lady might be amusing, but at the same time, also infuriating. In the end, he decided to join. He was forced into observing meaningless prattle, watching Dr. Xavier lightly touching Miss MacTaggart's hand and the two of them dancing around each other like awkward lovers.
The annoyance and frustration was sufficient for Erik to decide he would not be interested in watching more calls, and he returned home soon after that.
Dr. Xavier did not return for another few hours. Erik spent his time frustrated at the man. Part of it was surely Dr. Xavier's insistence on continuing to spend time on the trappings of status while there was a killer on the loose; the other piece of his frustration was more difficult to grasp. He disliked that Dr. Xavier seemed so connected to the world around him in a way that Erik couldn't quite understand. While he fumed, he set himself to pulling apart the Xavier Aeroworks competition's items, and leaving them in their constituent parts with notes to the side. It annoyed him endlessly that there was so little he could do.
He was interrupted by Dr. Xavier's manservant, Raphael, arriving some time later, looking dirty and rumpled. In his arms he carried a few parcels and he eyed Erik suspiciously as he entered the dining room. Erik had left the disassembled parts all over the table rather than attempt to locate workspace in the over-cluttered labs. "Where is Master Charles, Sir?"
It took him a few moments to realize who Raphael was referring to. Charles, Dr. Xavier. Erik tried the name around in his mind for a moment and found he couldn't make it stick. The English were fastidious about that sort of propriety. "Making some... social rounds. I decided I was uninterested in wasting my time after making Lady MacTaggart's acquaintance."
More it was the auburn-headed daughter, Miss MacTaggart, who was very obviously smitten with Dr. Xavier, and Dr. Xavier seemed to return at least some of the affection.
"Ah." Raphael was silent for a moment, glancing down at his parcels. "Would you care for some tea, Sir?"
Erik shrugged. "I suppose."
Curiosity made him follow Raphael down to the kitchen, and sit at the table. Raphael asked his permission, and then set to work on what must have been preparing dinner from his purchases. Raphael began to heat the water. "I suppose Charles will have to play his expected part in society for a while. Normally he can manage with just a day or two of calling. They think he's so charming."
Erik looked over at the man, shocked by the familiar way the manservant spoke of his employer. He was also unaccountably bothered by the man's assessment of Dr. Xavier. "He is charming." Disgustingly so.
The other man's head snapped towards him, squinted — almost as though realizing he was there for the first time despite having already spoken to each other. "Typical." He sighed. The kettle began to boil and Raphael pulled it off, poured it into a pot and left it to steep.
Erik felt a spike of annoyance. "You seem terribly familiar with Doctor Xavier."
Raphael looked at him, his brown eyes hardened, and Erik thought for a moment they changed into a warm yellow before he looked down at the tea. "Master Charles and I are each all the other has, Sir."
The idea was completely counter to his understanding of the man that Erik was slowly getting to know; Dr. Xavier knew almost everyone in London, probably knew more mutants that Erik had ever seen in his entire life. Dr. Xavier was connected to everyone. Erik connected to no one except perhaps Dr. Xavier himself. He stared down at the tea set.
He didn't want to be connected to Dr. Xavier — and yet he was, more and more. It wasn't just the way the pair of them were slowly beginning their work to find and take down Schmidt, or the way he smiled and seemed to beg Erik to become closer; Erik was finding himself... enamored. It was unpleasant. It was wholly unpleasant. The unpleasantness was pervasive and all-encompassing.
Erik rather liked it.
There was the question of whether or not Dr. Xavier was aware of this newfound revelation in Erik’s mind — it seemed possible; he did seem to have a great affection for attempting to talk Erik out of his self-imposed isolation — yet Dr. Xavier had said nothing to imply he was aware of Erik's slight curiosity. He supposed that was a great politeness.
He glowered into the tea Raphael poured for him. Just a light splash of milk followed, and he wondered if Dr. Xavier had told the man how he took his tea. It was both pleasing and frustrating. "Doctor Xavier," Erik started, pretending he had social graces of some manner. "He is quite young."
"Oxford University, top of his class, a philosopher, a philanthropist..." Raphael stood, face tight. "His youth does not mean he is not worthy of respect, Sir."
Erik wondered how he had made such a misstep. "I did not mean... I meant only he is accomplished at his age. It is no wonder he has such an easy time of calling."
"Oh." Raphael relaxed after that. "Yes."
Peace successfully brokered, if only for the moment, Erik tried his hand at relieving Raphael of the intelligence he'd gathered that day while the man set to work chopping some vegetables. "You spoke of Miss Fox earlier with Doctor Xavier. Her gift involved the location and understanding of the powers of other mutants."
"Charles told you that?" Raphael was obviously surprised, he turned from his work at the counter, frowning again.
"We are involved in an investigation, and he does seem to trust me." More than Raphael expected, apparently. "It might be how Schmidt, the Butcher, identifies the targets whose mutations are hidden."
"Miss Fox would not reveal that information freely; Charles helped her reach her full potential and she would not turn on him in that manner. To betray his teachings..."
Erik arched an eyebrow. "He is a man of business and science, not a teacher of mutants."
"He is both. Charles is a friend to many of the mutants in London."
It irritated him. He'd thought... perhaps that his connection with Dr. Xavier was special, something that he did not share with anyone.
Raphael seemed to read his mind, as though he possessed Dr. Xavier's power of insight. "He does not invite them to live with him... usually."
"Then someone has lived with him before?" He latched on to the gossip.
"A pathetic little pickpocket and grifter," Raphael answered; his voice held none of the contempt the words should have held. He seemed fond of the pickpocket, whoever it had been. "Charles keeps her like a sister, from time to time."
"Raven, his ward?" Erik had heard rumors about the beautiful blonde ward who visited from the countryside perhaps once a season for a few weeks; not enough to make a true entrance into society, although she had many admirers according to the gossip on the streets. He'd heard no news that the girl had once been a pickpocket of any sort.
Any answer was necessarily interrupted by Dr. Xavier crashing through the front door like a young boy and hurtling down the stairs to the kitchen, apparently two at a time. "Ra... Raphael, there is to be a party." He coughed and brushed a hand down his shirt along the buttons. Erik found the gesture intensely distracting. "Mr. Lehnsherr, I hope you will consider attending, the Prime Minister or his wife may be in attendance and it seems Shaw is not anticipated. It will be an opportunity for me to... pick their brains, so to speak."
"With your power?" Erik asked, wanting to clarify.
Dr. Xavier nodded, face still bright and boyish. "Of course, although it is always possible the Prime Minister's wife will simply tell the tale on her own, she is occasionally quite taken with me."
"So is her daughter," Raphael said, voice dry. "Honestly, Charles."
He at least had the good graces to flush. "She is a very lovely girl. I suppose I will be obligated to plan my dance card."
Raphael shook his head before he poured out a cup of tea for Dr. Xavier; he sat down perhaps a foot from Erik. "Shall I..." He trailed off, but Dr. Xavier knew the man's mind immediately.
"Call for Raven? Yes, I believe that would be for the best." Dr. Xavier looked over to Erik and nodded. "And do say you will come, Mr. Lehnsherr."
"Very well, Doctor Xavier."
"It is a few days time still, more than enough for you to be properly outfitted, and we will investigate our dear Miss Fox and her presumed disappearance. We may be prepared to move after that piece slots into place." Dr. Xavier added a cube of sugar to his cup and stirred slowly. "Raphael is very apt with his investigations, of course, but there are some things that are made remarkably easier when one is incapable of lying."
Erik tensed, the prospect of Dr. Xavier plucking his newfound revelation from his mind was too distressing for words.
"Perhaps it is impolite, but I would ask you to keep your thoughts to yourself, Doctor Xavier, and allow me the privacy of my own."
Raphael arched an eyebrow towards Dr. Xavier before he turned and left them alone in the kitchen.
"I... of course. I do assure you that there is very little that I might find shocking, Mr. Lehnsherr, and... and that nothing I have caught from your mind before has changed my mind in thinking you are a man that I am prepared to hold in great esteem." Dr. Xavier took a sip of his tea, face a touch bashful. "But I will respect the sanctity of your thoughts as much as I am able."
If only nothing could shock the man. Even if Dr. Xavier did not find it shocking — for certainly there were men who were prone to unnatural impulses — that was far away from finding such a matter desirable. No, it was the best that Erik keep his own counsel and Xavier not trouble himself with Erik's mind; it was far too dark for a man such as Xavier. "Thank you."
Xavier nodded and looked down at his tea for a few moments before those blue eyes darted back up at him, bright and deep. Erik looked away, wondering if those eyes were part of the man's gift.
Charles was filled with disappointment at Mr. Lehnsherr's request, yet as much as he did not wish it were so, he understood the reluctance. He had meant what he'd said, as Mr. Lehnsherr's mind did not shock him: it was filled with visions of murder, past and future; filled with hate and hardness; yet fundamentally Charles knew that Lehnsherr was a good man. He had seen a piece of Mr. Lehnsherr's history when he was young, living peacefully with a mother and father who loved him. He knew, intuitively, that Schmidt had taken that from him. He knew Lehnsherr felt nothing but hate and agony, both physical and mental, when he thought of the man.
As much as he could live in the thoughts of others, could swim in them, could understand another person completely and intuitively, he ached for someone he could share that with willingly. Raven had similarly barred him from her thoughts when they were younger, several years past, and even though he sometimes caught bits and snatches of her thoughts, he did respect that privacy. It was a vain hope, really; the desire was entirely beyond reason. Charles knew the minds of other men and women, and the desire to touch and be touched, despite the distance men put between themselves. He yearned for that. Perhaps it was wrong to place so much hope on Mr. Lehnsherr — who had given him little indication he saw Charles as anything more than a nuisance to be worked through in an effort to find Schmidt — but hope he did. It was not something Charles could have explained, even to himself, but he wanted, and for the first time in a great many years he wanted more.
"Will you come with me, tonight, Mr. Lehnsherr? We need to head below, I think, follow the trail that Miss Fox has perhaps left to be followed."
Mr. Lehnsherr nodded. "Of course. If it will lead us to Schmidt."
"I do hope so, although I am telepathic, not precognitive." He took a deep breath into his tea, steeling himself for the evening to come. "You will be a bit better at this, of course."
Charles wished he had Mr. Lehnsherr's gift for looking rough when trying scarcely at all. His own efforts involved a great deal of rough fabrics and a hard set of his jaw that he'd learned more from boxing than any proper living on the streets. Lehnsherr exuded danger rather naturally.
With a final command to Raven to 'get word to Raven for me, would you, Raphael,' he and Mr. Lehnsherr took to the streets and headed down towards the docks.
They hailed a cab to make the first leg of their journey, getting farther away from the best streets where Charles lived. "Several years ago," Charles began, "there were outbreaks of cholera in the city, and there was more than a bit of a to-do about the cause. Sanitation was at the heart of it — too much filth and too many people all crammed together — so eventually it was resolved to build a sewer to handle the waste. There were several pieces of the system planned that never saw completion, or ended up not being able to be hooked in. I almost find myself believing it was an intentional plan by the designers, but I have no proof for my hypothesis."
Mr. Lehnsherr remained quiet. The two of them finally arrived closer to the docks, and Charles found himself spending a great deal of time scanning the crowds with his mind. He was carrying a good deal of money, and he would rather not get mugged. The first thing that Charles noticed was the smell. In spite of the sewers, or perhaps because of them, the true repulsiveness of the smell was confined to a smaller part of the city, but it stank impressively. No matter how many times he came down to the docks, he never felt he belonged; it was a common affliction for him. Mr. Lehnsherr remained at his side, the two of them walking so close as to be almost touching; Charles led him down a manhole into one of the many pipes. The smell was revolting, although Charles knew it was simply one of the many requirements of their small town for mutants.
"There are mutations that appear to affect the way a mutant looks, gills, feathers, and so forth. Some can be passed off as simple deformity, and yet even malformed men with no powers sometimes find themselves here." Charles continued, Lehnsherr only a few steps behind him; Charles lit a small lamp to illuminate the yards between them and their destination.
"A mutant town?"
Charles nodded, although he doubted Lehnsherr could see him in the distance and dimness. "Only a few hundred live here by requirement, but several hundred more live here as it is the only place it is easy for a mutant to find charity." Admittedly, it was not much charity, and it was mostly at Charles' hand.
"They should be able to get charity on the streets."
"Of course, but there is little enough of it to go around for the poor on the main streets. The visibly different are even more at a disadvantage." They meandered more, Charles leading, wondering if Mr. Lehnsherr was keeping track of how they went or not. "I do what I am able."
Mr. Lehnsherr was silent behind him, and Charles reached out, unable to keep himself from brushing near the man's mind. His head was awash with a certain amount of confusion and irritation, but Charles did his best to ignore it.
"I do have a wish to be able to acquire a country house — although it would have to be exceptionally large — where I could teach only mutants," Charles said, voice wistful.
That had been his dream for many years; as it stood, he was responsible for tutoring several of the mutants with trickier mutations. There were so many men and women who had modest mutations who needed little by way of instruction, but there were a few who were quite dangerous without appropriate training.
"It seems you have more pressing problems than accommodating them," Mr. Lehnsherr said. Charles had no easy answer.
They finally arrived and Charles gestured at the door. It was a mix of wood, hard treated so it rotted slowly in the dank, and metal against the brick of the sewer. "Here we are."
"How very impressive." Mr. Lehnsherr was wry as always. "Who needs a house in the countryside with accommodations such as these?"
Charles shook his head and rapped his knuckles hard on the door in the order that was required.
They waited. "Do give it a chance, Mr. Lehnsherr. It is a very lovely area all things considered."
Even without looking he could feel Lehnsherr was skeptical. He waited only a few more seconds and then the door was tugged open with clicks of disengaging traps; a young man, red-headed and freckled magnificently, opened the door. "Banshee," Charles greeted him.
"Professor." It was far more like 'Prafessah' than the usual pronunciation of his friendly nickname in Lowtown, but Charles was not one for correcting something so small. "And... guest."
"Like us," Charles answered, and that was all the boy needed to know.
The actual vestibule into Lowtown was narrow as one you might find in a small house, without enough room for two to stand abreast. Banshee had to tuck into a small side area to let he and Mr. Lehnsherr pass. After they walked the dozen feet into the adjoining sewer trunk, the area opened up into Lowtown proper.
The sense of wonder rolling off Mr. Lehnsherr was exciting to Charles, even though he did not dig deeper into the exact cause. "Magnificent."
In truth, it was dark, dank, and a bit ripe, but Mr. Lehnsherr was correct that it was also magnificent. They stood together at a railing over a long stretch of sewer that had never been connected, running parallel to many of the existing pipes. The railing used to protect against a long drop down into a lower sewer, but the area had long since been filled in by brickwork to make individual sleeping quarters for the hundreds who made Lowtown their permanent home. Each little broken off section was not spacious — barely enough for a pair to lay abreast, really — but space had to be made, and every new mutant made space tighter. The honeycomb of housing stretched for yards and yards, and Charles could see mutants ducking in and out of their small homes.
Charles allowed Mr. Lehnsherr the opportunity to take in the sight. It was not luxury, it was not comfort, but for hundreds of men and women and children it was home. Charles could tell, without even looking, that Mr. Lehnsherr felt exactly that; Mr. Lehnsherr could feel what the mutants felt for their homes.
“How many live here?” He asked.
“Currently around three hundred twenty, but the number fluctuates, and room has to be made. More come to sleep at night; a bed here is often preferable to what can be purchased on the surface. Come.”
Charles led them out of the tight-packed residences and down another shorter run of walkway.
They took one turn, and then another. The jewel of the Lowtown, if it could be called that, loomed in front of them, the market area. It was dirty, of course, covered in the soot of London and the dank air that pervaded the sewers, but it was as clean as it could be made. There were stalls, not as many as he would have liked, of course, but a few; the food stalls saw the most activity, although the prices were steep, almost twice what it would cost on the surface. The only customers were the ones who were unable to hide their mutations on the surface and who had no one to bring them food for cheaper. Charles hated it, but there was little he could do.
Mr. Lehnsherr seemed to note the unfairness immediately. "They take advantage of their own kind to enrich themselves."
Charles nodded. "They do. Some of the markup is fair, my friend, but part of it is simple greed. There are not so many of us as we can live apart from humans, and many of us do not want to, myself included."
Mr. Lehnsherr seemed ready to protest when a few children noticed them. The lot of them headed over immediately, running and squealing in a delighted, and entirely inappropriate, fashion, circling Charles tightly. The cries of 'Professor, Professor' came fast; the press of mutantkind around him, comforting and sweet. He handed out some small sweets, and a few shillings depending on the needs and the family; it was more than many would have seen in days, if not weeks, of work, if they could find work. Mr. Lehnsherr found the display... Charles was unsure. When he tilted his head towards the man he had an inscrutable look on his face, as if he was unsure of what to make of Charles. He leaned up against one of the walls, scowling throughout the exchanges.
Bereft of children a few moments later — and relieved of a good portion of his pocket change — he slid back next to Lehnsherr and smiled. "Do not look so glum. We can do some shopping."
"I did not come here to do shopping, Doctor Xavier. I am here to locate information on the Butcher."
Charles sighed. "Where do you think we will find that information?"
Mr. Lehnsherr's frown deepened, and then he tapped the side of his head. At first Charles thought he meant that they would use the information in his own mind, but then realized he meant for Charles to pluck it out of the heads of whoever passed.
"This way is easier," Charles said, correcting Mr. Lehnsherr’s impression.
Charles headed over towards the market stalls and Mr. Lehnsherr followed, projecting such an aura of malice he was surprised the shopkeepers didn't flee as he approached. One of the first stalls he headed to was a bookseller, or what passed for one in Lowtown. There were barely a handful of tomes; many of the inhabitants of Lowtown were illiterate despite Charles’ efforts at getting lessons for them. He browsed the collection carefully, looking for something that might do.
He found an older issue of All the Year Round, one that contained one of the middle volumes of A Tale of Two Cities. It was sad and lonely, without its fellows. There would be little desire for anyone to buy it on its own.
"How much, luv?"
Mrs. Summers, one of the few humans who made her home in Lowtown, ran the stall. He watched as she tried to decide how much Charles would expect as a markup, for the Lowtown inflation, and markdown, due to the used nature of the book, and Charles let her ponder for a few moments. "Seven pence."
"Done." Charles handed over the coins and he tucked the book under his arm neatly. "How have the boys been, Mrs. Summers?"
She looked down, obviously the boys had been misbehaving, and then some. Charles couldn't blame them, poor boys. Scott and Gabriel weren't fit for public company, unable to go out without danger; Alexander was similar, although not quite so bad. When he was a grown man he might find decent work, but for now he was a trial for his mother. "They're wild boys, Doctor. I've heard nothing from Christopher in almost eight months."
He'd heard about it when it happened: Lieutenant Christopher Summers, still missing after the evacuation of Kandahar and no further word had yet arrived; Charles feared the worst. The lowest of rumors had him for a deserter, but Charles didn't think the man capable of that sort of behavior, even with the strain of three growing mutant boys. To have had no word since, however, bode very ill.
"I have some need of you again; could I rely on you to arrange for a small group to come to the house for a month or two? Raphael has been run ragged and I am afraid I do him no favors by inviting my friend Mr. Lehnsherr for at least a few weeks." Charles gave her a weak smile, although genuine.
"Of course, Doctor. You're too kind." She paused for a moment, propriety pushed to the side. "You do work that man of yours far too hard. He was down here just a day or two ago asking after Miss Fox and doing more of your purchasing."
"That I do, Mrs. Summers; I think I will give him a few days to himself. My ward, Miss Darkholme, will be in from the country for a few days and I think she should like a woman's touch about the house." He paused, let the information sink in. "You will consider tomorrow or the day after?"
She nodded; Charles took that as all the assurance he would get for now and turned away, Mr. Lehnsherr following him like an inky shadow. When they were only a few steps away he held up his hand with two shillings on it. "I don't suppose you could sneak these into the till, Mr. Lehnsherr?"
The other man stared at them for a moment before he reached out and plucked them from Charles' palms, his fingers brushing against Charles' hands for just a brief moment. He cut off the gasped inhalation by biting his lip; then the warmth of Mr. Lehnsherr's fingers moved away, but the brief heat of the touch lingered on Charles' palm.
His mind cleared slowly, but soon enough for him to glance over his shoulder and watch the two shillings fall neatly into the proper spot in the till. Mr. Lehnsherr glanced over at him, lips turned in a smug sort of smirk.
"Very impressive." Even to his own ears the sound was breathless and smitten.
Mr. Lehnsherr scowled and turned away. "Would it shock you to know that I made my way on the streets by performing the opposite for many years?"
The words were obviously meant as a challenge, but rather than face him, Mr. Lehnsherr stalked away, boots clacking hard against the pavement of the sewer-market. Charles jogged only for a moment to catch up. "I would not be shocked at all. We all do what we must."
"And how much have you had need of in your life?" The challenge, the annoyance at what Mr. Lehnsherr perceived as magnanimous condescension on Charles' behalf, flitted in his eyes.
"Not nearly so much as many here, I will admit," Charles answered, voice soft. "That is why I work to..." He fell silent as the telltale prickle of someone watching him came across his shoulders.
Mr. Lehnsherr, thinking he smelled weakness, stepped forward, closer into Charles' proximity and far too near for propriety. "You cannot think you can stop by every week and give..."
"Husssh!" Charles whispered into Mr. Lehnsherr's mind, as gentle as he was able. "Do not look alarmed, but someone is following us. Someone with intent."
Mr. Lehnsherr's back stiffened, but he seemed to keep enough nonchalance to prevent the fact they had noticed their shadow from reaching back to the man. He felt questions bubble in Mr. Lehnsherr's mind, none loud enough that Charles felt comfortable grabbing for them.
"More shopping." Charles insisted, mind to mind; Mr. Lehnsherr scowled in response but did not argue.
Charles headed to Doctor McCoy next, the Beast as he was called by the children in the streets. Dr. McCoy had worked with him before his features had changed; what preliminaries of courtship he had with Raven had been curtailed after he had grown furred, much to both Charles and Raven’s disappointment. Now Charles continued his education through books from the surface and Dr. McCoy was left to peddle his wares of healing and science to the mutants in Lowtown.
"Doctor McCoy, may I introduce my good friend Mr. Lehnsherr." Hands were shaken and pleasantries exchanged; all while Charles remained aware of his shadow.
"Just the other day your... uh... your man was down here asking after Miss Fox." The way McCoy said 'man' was somewhat disconcerting.
Charles frowned. "Was something the matter with Raphael?" He hoped Raven hadn't been inappropriate with him in her men's garb.
"No! no!" McCoy protested, a bit too loud and emphatic for truth. "We just talked. I haven't heard much new. Some newcomer came around before she left, asking after mutations. I had it from Mrs. Summers who had it from Miss Salvatore who had it from Mr. Munoz, it was new to me. Maybe your man got it from one of them."
Not that Charles had heard. He glanced towards Mr. Lehnsherr, who was busy looking McCoy up and down, taking his measure, but he had still caught the man's words and knew what they meant. It might have been Schmidt. "What did the man look like?" Mr. Lehnsherr asked, voice hard.
"I... didn't hear much." McCoy looked between the two of them, shrugged. "Not a surface dweller."
It was barely concealed code to say the man would not have passed for human on a good day. Charles nodded; not their Schmidt. "Well, thank you, Doctor McCoy." He took a step away, remembering that 'Raven' would be in town for a time and she would kill him if Charles passed up the chance to tempt McCoy out of his shell for her. "My ward, Miss Darkholme, will be about this week. Perhaps you would care to come over some evening..."
"I wouldn't dream of it," McCoy answered, words tumbling out as he backed away, looking abashed and nervous and not at all as fearsome as his claws and fur would suggest.
"I did invite you," Charles said.
"Still a lady of Miss Darkholme's stature should not..." He looked away, bright purple now around his snout, and Charles took pity on him.
"Have a good day then, Doctor."
"You as well, Doctor."
They made it to three more stalls. Charles passed over the food stalls; there was enough business for them and they were marked up horribly. The stall they ended up in front of was little more than a cloth scrap heap, with bits of waste fabric and little else. Charles was in the midst of haggling for a truly revolting scrap of paisley fabric when the mutant struck.
Charles felt it only a moment before the man — named Toad according to what Charles’ gift told him — lashed out his tongue towards Mr. Lehnsherr. Charles shoved Mr. Lehnsherr down, toppling him, but the tongue wrapped around his own wrist instead, grabbing him fast. Toad darted forward and grabbed Charles, not his prize but close enough, and hopped away in one great leap, clearing several stalls before landing far on the other side.
For a few moments he was a very willing captive. What better way to be lead to the Toad's commander? But then Mr. Lehnsherr was hot on their heels, running faster than Charles would have thought possible and fumbling between stalls before breaking out in a dead run.
"Lehnsherr, please, leave him to me."
Mr. Lehnsherr would not listen, however, and Charles heard the man's panting voice in his own head even though there were several yards and stalls between them, all busy with people. "I don't think so. He's mine. Is he one of Schmidt's?"
Charles gritted his teeth, annoyed, wishing he had the nerve to force the issue on Mr. Lehnsherr, but he had promised to stay out of his head as best he was able. "I believe so, but his mind is slick." It was harder to latch onto than he would have liked, and he hadn't had the right amount of time to get what he needed.
His companion would not be deterred, however, and he ran after Charles furiously, doing everything but tear the sewer down around them. As the Toad passed by a sewer grate one of the rungs of the cover was tugged out and whacked him soundly on the head. He dropped Charles, leaving Charles scrambling to avoid a bad landing from the drop, the stench of the sewers finally caught up to his nose and Charles retched.
Mr. Lehnsherr was on him in a moment, dragging him up off the ground, and the two of them pressed forward towards their goal: Toad. He was spry, and agile, and he moved like his namesake, but the confines of the smaller sewer pipes meant that mobility was less an asset than it might have been in the streets. Charles and Mr. Lehnsherr didn't let up, however, keeping a close pursuit.
They gained little ground, however, and eventually Mr. Lehnsherr pulled them into a smaller side run of pipes, low enough that Charles had to stoop. Still they rushed forward headlong, Charles trusting Lehnsherr not to lead them astray. He turned, and again, and then they found themselves against a sewer grate. Charles had thought them stuck for only a moment when Mr. Lehnsherr twisted and pulled a hole wide enough for a man to pass, then he did so, Charles following after.
No sooner were the bars bent back into place when Mr. Lehnsherr grabbed Charles soundly around the collar and dragged him a half-dozen yards, then shoved Charles into an alcove and followed soon after. It was not meant for a man, not even a foot deep, and the two of them were pressed together in a quite unseemly fashion. Charles' legs felt weak and buttery under him, and he fumbled in the tight confines of the hideaway.
It was the exertion of the run, Charles told himself, and not the proximity of Mr. Lehnsherr, hard against him, that made him continue to pant. Mr. Lehnsherr slapped a hand over Charles' mouth stifling him. Mr. Lehnsherr smelled of copper, leather, and a light whiff of Charles' aftershave, borrowed that morning. Charles breathed in deep, half to calm his lungs and half to take the chance provided him.
He almost didn't hear Toad approaching, moving slower now that he thought he had lost his pursuers, and more obviously heading towards a destination. Charles could finally feel some of the man's mind: Schmidt gave him a home, a place to hide and the chance to finally eat well. The man had never been well liked in Lowtown, making no efforts to fit in even among adaptives; Charles knew that much from street gossip.
When he cast his eyes upward he saw Mr. Lehnsherr, face hard. A moment later Mr. Lehnsherr was grabbing about for iron, slapping a spare rod around Toad's ankles and pushing the man flat on his back.
"Where is Schmidt?!" Mr. Lehnsherr demanded, hand pushing down on the man's throat.
Charles followed a moment later, not eager to press his mind down on the man under him, but he touched his temple and concentrated. He felt Toad struggle under his hand, trying to keep Charles out of his mind, but still he saw enough. He saw the man, Schmidt, who he would have recognized from Mr. Lehnsherr's mind or from his drawings, but there was little to it other than that; kind words, a few scraps of food, apparently that was all it had taken to tame the man to his will.
"You kidnapped Miss Fox," Charles said, knowing it as true even before he said it.
Grimy yellow teeth grinned up at him.
"Where?" He demanded, just as loud as Mr. Lehnsherr had.
With little warning, Toad's tongue lashed out again, headed straight for Charles' throat. Mr. Lehnsherr batted it away, kept it from landing hard and true in Charles' neck, and it instead only scratched the surface. He stumbled back, clasping at his throat as it bled.
"Are you well?" Mr. Lehnsherr asked, sparing him only a few moments.
It was enough; Toad slinked out of his bindings and fled, ran deep into the sewer before Mr. Lehnsherr could find his footing again. They took one turn, then another, but Charles lost the feeling of the mutant's mind before long.
Mr. Lehnsherr gritted his teeth and glared at Charles. "We had him."
"Peace, we will have him again. It confirms that your Schmidt has kidnapped Miss Fox, at least, and the Toad knew of you; you were expected by Schmidt. Which is both good and ill; it explains how he is able to locate mutants who do not otherwise want themselves known, and it means you are in danger if you spend too much time on your own." Charles stood and leaned against the wall. He drew a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at the shallow cut to his throat; it would need tending to it order to prevent infection.
"Your woman is missing, that tells us nothing." Mr. Lehnsherr was taking this much more poorly than Charles, unfortunately. It was his way, but Charles still found it distressing. "And it does not matter to me if he knows I am coming as long as he does not take the opportunity to run."
"Schmidt also appears to be living quite a high life, likely in a private townhouse near enough to the sewer that Toad may come and go as he pleases. That should narrow it down." He tried to catch his breath, failed. "It fits with an acquaintance of the Prime Minister. We will needs be cautious if we do not wish to run foul of the Yard or the Prime Minister when we bring the man to justice."
"Cautious?" Mr. Lehnsherr barked out, but he did join Charles in leaning up against the wall. "I have no need of caution, only Schmidt's death."
"Some of us..." Charles started, turned away before he looked Mr. Lehnsherr full in the eyes. "Some of us hope to continue to be a part of this world after our success. I had hoped you would join me."
Mr. Lehnsherr did not answer. Charles considered that slightly better than the man's constant protestations that he was uninterested in a future. A few moments later, he pulled away his handkerchief; there was more blood than he would have liked.
"You should go to that Doctor,” Mr. Lehnsherr said; his voice was rough, but Charles could detect a hint of worry.
Mr. Lehnsherr shrugged, as though that wasn’t important, but he did put out an arm to help Charles walk; he did not need the help, but took it gladly anyway. “When I was chasing after you, you called me Lehnsherr.”
Charles blushed. "That I did. I'm terribly sorry at the presumption. Mister just has so many syllables, you see. "
Mr. Lehnsherr answered by laughing. "Are you going to make a habit of it?"
"I would hardly be so improper intentionally."
The man flicked his eyes towards Charles, gauging. "It's proper if I invite it, yes?"
"Well, of course." A man's surname was not nearly so familiar as his Christian name, naturally, but Charles did feel rather gauche at the slip. He'd been trying to remember this was Mr. Lehnsherr, his new acquaintance, not his good and dear friend of many years as much as it felt like that in some moments.
"Then you may make a habit of it," Mr. Lehnsherr said. His voice was gruff, as though he thought nothing of extending Charles that courtesy, but Charles could tell it wasn't quite so simple as that.
"You must call me Xavier, then. I am a Doctor, of course, but it always makes me feel as though I should be lecturing or uncovering a great scientific discovery as we sit at a dining club, and that's not at all our relationship."
Mr. Lehnsherr looked away. "No. I'm not an academic."
He was quite a bit better than one. "Have you seen some of the men who call themselves Doctors? I count you among their betters, my friend, Lehnsherr." He tried out the new appellation and found he liked it.
Lehnsherr clapped a hand to Charles' shoulder. "Come along, Xavier, you have a doctor to see, and then a party to attend."
"With no mystery left in our affiliation or your presence in London, I feel you have no cause to pass on accompanying me."
"I would rather attend one of your lectures on mutation and inheritance than participate in some display of puffed up manners and presumption," Lehnsherr answered, all bite.
Charles laughed, levering himself up onto a rung of a ladder and looking over at the man. "Not even to catch your Butcher?"
"The only thing that would be butchered there are dance steps. I cannot imagine what you would look like on the floor, Xavier. You have the grace of a large pachyderm."
"That is very unfair, my friend. I am deft on my feet, the very best society has to offer when it comes to the waltz."
Lehnsherr followed after him, amused. "Then I suppose I will have to make an appearance."
Erik did not want to make an appearance, he found the whole thing ridiculous; yet, for some reason, he found himself allowing the manhandling at the tailor, being fitted into a ridiculously waisted tailcoat for his full evening dress, being shown a few cursory dance maneuvers by Xavier, and getting instructed on fork usage. Unfortunately the explanation Xavier intended to give was not which one made the best stabbing solution, but instead which was used for which course. Erik found the details useless. If he wanted to, he could simply ascertain which fork was in use by feeling around him.
"I really don't see the point," he said, three days later, when he and Xavier were getting suited up for 'battle'.
"That is the problem, dear," Mrs. Summers answered, helping Xavier with his coat. "All that romance and mysterious demeanor is going to waste on you, Mr. Lehnsherr."
Xavier apparently thought this was frightfully funny, all but laughing into his hand like a schoolboy. "Mrs. Summers, might you go and help my dear Raven? I will be certain that Mr. Lehnsherr is presentable."
Erik frowned as Xavier came over and tugged at his tie and waistcoat, neatening and smoothing wrinkles that he thought Xavier was only imagining. "Now, Lehnsherr, do remember there are several requirements and purposes to our visit. The first is, of course, locating further evidence that Schmidt is the Butcher, the other is to make your entrance into London as my business guest."
That charade was more for Xavier's sense of propriety and some bizarre desire to keep Erik on a short lead, he decided. Erik brushed Xavier's hands away and fixed his own tie, then brushed his hands down his sides, allowing no further fiddling. "No matter what Mrs. Summers has imagined, I am not interested in romance, Xavier."
Far from dissuading him, Xavier only grinned. "Oh my friend, she simply means you cut a rather dashing figure: intelligent, well-connected, a bit of that rugged antiheroic set of the jaw and eyes. You would not be out of place in Austen or a Bronte."
Erik frowned. "What?"
Xavier looked positively affronted. "We must make time for an education in all of the great works, women included. They are a half of society too long neglected. Surely you have some literature you're acquainted with."
"Frankenstein," Erik answered, in a tone that suggested that Xavier would do well to leave it at that.
Xavier, surprisingly, did. It left the two of them waiting for the arrival of Miss Darkholme. Xavier lazily strode around the house, neatening things and tapping his walking stick against the floor as he paced the entryway.
"Your stick," Erik said, finally curious enough to ask. "It has a core of metal." Xavier flicked his thumb and revealed what Erik had already suspected — a hidden blade. "Why didn't you try to use that against me that first night?"
"Because I never had any intention of harming you, my friend."
The assurance annoyed him. Xavier thought too much of peace. "I hope you don't intend to extend Schmidt the same courtesy."
"Of course not, Lehnsherr; his intentions are solely dishonorable, I am certain."
"Perhaps my intentions are dishonorable." Erik still wasn't certain if Xavier had some sort of grand insight into his soul beyond his mutation, despite asking the man to stay out.
"I do not think so, my friend." Xavier moved away, glancing up the stairs. "Raven will be down shortly."
He took that as a cue to stop the more argumentative discussion, leaving it just under the surface; he would allow that.
Miss Darkholme finally deigned to come down the stairs, dressed in some blue concoction that Erik found unappealing. "My dear Doctor Xavier," she said, curling an arm through Xavier's, "and my good family friend, Mr. Lehnsherr. I will be the belle of the ball with such escorts." Her airs rang entirely false in Erik's ear, but based on the way Xavier was grinning that might have been the point.
"Miss Darkholme," he greeted her, annoyed.
"Who am I attempting to deceive, these things are interminable! At least when Doctor McCoy was still occasionally in attendance I had someone to complain to while you were spinning pretty girls about."
Erik frowned. "But Doctor McCoy is—"
"Yes," Xavier interrupted, a sharp glance towards Erik putting an end to that line of inquiry. "I do think he would enjoy a visit while you are in town, love."
If they could not converse aloud, Erik made some effort to project his thoughts towards Xavier. The idea of Xavier letting his ward down to Lowtown seemed appalling, even to Erik's not-particularly-delicate sensibilities, but Xavier seemed to think nothing of it.
"She is a great deal sturdier than she looks, Lehnsherr, never fear." He was not frightened, but the idea of the delicate pink and blonde flower being good for much of anything beyond sitting prettily was amusing. He felt Xavier’s own humor at Erik’s thoughts.
Eventually they were crammed into a reasonably sizable carriage and taken off in the direction of the party they were attending.
"Do remember," Xavier's voice tickled through his mind. "Any information we can discover as to Schmidt's whereabouts, any gossip concerning the Prime Minister, and various sundries. If the mood strikes you, I do hope you will consider asking ladies to dance; they will most certainly oblige you."
Erik wasn't certain why he found that annoying and pleasing by turns. He did not find the mood striking him. Instead he found himself along the edge of the dancing area, watching Xavier.
The man was a natural on the floor, perhaps aided by his mutation, perhaps not; regardless, he watched the man practically command the floor. Every woman he approached blushed viciously crimson and followed him onto the floor with a speed that Erik found distasteful. The women lacked every manner of modesty.
Xavier would nod and bob his head, perhaps in time with the music, and then a few moments later they were away. Every footfall seemed perfectly timed, hitting with just enough force to make a point and then move on, one hand on the waist, the other cradling a hand; Xavier whirled and spun them, pressing them through the motions.
Erik found himself mesmerized by the space in between Xavier and his various partners: sometimes close enough that Erik wondered if Xavier was being improper, the proximity lasted only a moment before they were apart again, and then together once more. Erik watched the way Xavier stroked gently along one woman's hand with his own, the way he flared his fingers across a woman's back rather than leaving them as one hamfisted lump, the way he tucked his chin right next to their ear for idle gossiping and then pulled back away when he was finished.
Over and over he watched Xavier take up a woman and spin her around, ending with her whirled and tumbled and left with a breathless kiss on the back of the wrist. Without exception, the woman leaned against the wall fanning herself or simply looked breathless and dazed, obviously still atwirl and light-footed. He hated each and every one of them, even without having spoken to them. They were vapid and without merit, useless decorative scraps of fabric and humanity. He and Xavier should have been in Lowtown, not wasting time socializing with humans.
For some reason it made him think of Mrs. Summers, no doubt recently widowed by her husband, in search of a gentleman to spin her and leave her flustered and panting against the wall. She irritated him, without even having been there.
"Hello again, Mr. Lehnsherr." It was Miss MacTaggart, the younger one, being escorted by someone who might have been a cousin. They exchanged introductions, bows and curtseys all around.
Erik had nothing more to say to her. Something about her rankled; she was the one who wanted to be Mrs. Xavier, the one Xavier didn't protest the idea of being Mrs. Xavier—
She did not seem dissuaded, unfortunately. "There are several beautiful young ladies without filled dance cards with whom you might wish to dance." She smiled and tilted her head towards a small group of ladies currently in the midst of some great conversation. All of them were attractive in some general way, shaped well, with all their teeth and relatively smooth skin. Erik, however, was not entranced.
"I am in London on business." He stressed the last word just slightly, hopefully producing the desired effect. He had no need for some little English wife, and he really had no desire to discuss the topic with Miss MacTaggart of all people.
"But the business is being enticed to London by Doctor Xavier, surely that suggests a need to become acquainted with a young lady of some sort."
"I think not," he answered. What was it about these people and their incessant need to flit about and think about marriage and try to foist him off on some woman and... all sorts of things?
Miss MacTaggart looked up at him with a little quirk of her lip. "Well bachelors do seem to catch the affliction of matrimony at about the same time as their fellows."
The urge to glower and ask the woman what made her think that Xavier had any intention of marrying — least of all her — was strong, but instead he took a deep breath and glowered out onto the dance floor.
"Lehnsherr," Xavier's voice flitted through his mind, calming him more than he wanted to admit. "Do go ask my ward to dance, she is absolutely bored and I can feel your tension all the way across the room." Erik glanced up and saw Xavier across the room, deep in conversation with a few other younger men, about their age or a bit older or younger. "And do not give Miss MacTaggart too hard a time, I am certain she has the best intentions."
"Excuse me," he said to Miss MacTaggart and then all but stormed around the room to Miss Darkholme. In his mind he all but screamed towards Xavier. "That woman thinks she is going to marry you!"
He could hear Xavier laughing, full of mirth and... unknown things. Erik's thought obviously amused him. "Oh my friend, perhaps sometime in the future, but the world is filled with far too many things to distract me for the moment. I have certainly not made any formal movements in that direction. I'm afraid it's wishful thinking, largely on the part of Lady MacTaggart. To be immodest, I'm a very good catch."
If the woman wanted to be crushed under the weight of books in her own sitting room. The thought was obviously strong enough, because Xavier continued to laugh in his mind. Erik realized, in a moment, exactly how fine the line between consciously attempting to talk mind-to-mind with Xavier and idle thoughts was, and felt a moment of panic. Erik tried to create some sort of wall, a feeling of get out; he did not want Xavier mucking about too deeply. A soothing touch, in his mind and on his shoulder, teased and then disappeared, Xavier's parting acknowledgement. Erik was annoyed. He missed Xavier almost as soon as he was gone, but he tucked that feeling away as he reached Miss Darkholme.
They exchanged a quick reintroduction and he pulled her out onto the floor and began their dance. She was quite short by comparison, but close up she did look neatly formed; she had a soft, girlish face and pretty eyes with soft blonde hair, and unlike some of the women Xavier had danced with, she was also obviously thinking behind those eyes.
"Apologies for not being Doctor McCoy," he said, voice low. He supposed dancing with someone who did not have designs on him was easier than dancing with someone who might think he meant it.
She sighed. "That's more than fine, Mr. Lehnsherr." She was silent for a few moments, and then her eyes flicked up towards his, thoughtful, gauging. He was looking down at his feet to make certain he did not step on her. "It is more agreeable than listening to the various mothers talk about how if their daughter was going to marry Charles they would make certain to move him out of that dreadful house with great haste."
"Dreadful?" Erik remembered nothing about the house that would be considered 'dreadful', except perhaps the state of the clutter around the laboratories and sitting rooms.
"Well... they consider it very small for a gentleman of his means." Miss Darkholme, at least, didn't seem to agree, her voice taking on a sarcastic tone.
The house had four floors. There were bedrooms and sitting rooms and too much space for Xavier, Raphael, and himself; even adding another person on top of that there was still more than enough room. Erik had grown up with very little, and the house was an extravagance. "By my measure, the house is rather... well it is certainly not a hardship."
Miss Darkholme smiled. "Exactly! And no doubt Raphael dislikes keeping the entire thing in order as it stands, but Charles has always been attached to that house. It was his father's, but nothing will do but for the future Mrs. Xavier to have a proper house, with horses and a carriage, more rooms and less clutter." She was still obviously amused. "I like the house."
Erik was in agreement. The house was huge, with more than enough space for whatever woman Xavier chose to marry. Largely he couldn't escape the indignity of it all. These ladies that Miss Darkholme was conferring with apparently thought Xavier nothing more than a pocketbook on legs! That, more than anything, convinced him that Xavier had no good reason to marry any of them. The man was brilliant, full to bursting with ideas — full beyond bursting in truth — and he would need someone stimulating, someone who challenged him, fought with him and made him consider a problem from many angles. Erik had no idea how they would manage that when all they could think about was wallpaper and carriages. "The house is nice."
The two of them continued to dance, Erik too caught up in his annoyance at everyone in the entire social strata anywhere near Xavier. They treated his eccentricity as some sort of disease to be cured of. He liked his funny experiments, his books, his laboratory space, his talks, his little science societies, and everything else of the sort. He was brilliant by any measure, attractive, warm, with a humor that Erik found pleasing, and he was a splendid conversationalist.
There were thousands of reasons any woman would be glad to have Xavier that had nothing to do with the size of his current house or the future house he could buy some wife. Largely Erik found it distressing that this was some great cause for gossip around the entire party. Anyone with eyes and ears would want Xavier, and yet it all seemed to come down to whatever the man could buy for someone. Maybe Xavier was just too generous; he'd certainly been free with shelter and a potential job for Erik.
He realized, a few minutes later, that he'd finished his dance with Miss Darkholme and had said nothing of value since near the beginning. "I was a poor dance partner." It was unusual for him to admit to that sort of fault, but it mattered little to him, not the way a martial failure would have made him feel.
"You were silent and you did not step on my feet; that makes you an excellent partner, Mr. Lehnsherr." She smiled and curtsied for him. "Perhaps you would take me for another dance later in the evening."
"But no more than three times," he said, aloud, recalling Xavier's instructions on the matter. Erik thought it was amusing that Xavier thought he would have any desire to dance once, let alone three times, with anyone in attendance.
"Well you don't need to run after another so quickly," Miss Darkholme said, smiling at him as they walked off the dance floor. When Erik didn't move for another few moments, she leaned towards him just enough for secrecy but probably not impropriety. "You remind me of him. Charles actually likes to dance but... sometimes I think he would marry his lab bench if it fed him food and reminded him to sleep."
That wasn't much of a task. He knew Raphael mostly settled that, but he wondered if the servant might like a hand. Although Raphael rarely stifled his concern or disappointment with Xavier there were several times the man wasn't around; he'd all but disappeared while Miss Darkholme was in town. He supposed he could help with that. The thought annoyed him a moment later. It was clearly all part of Xavier's scheme to see him stuck here in London.
"I think that is part of his..." Erik fumbled for a word that would not seem bizarre. Allure, he wanted to say allure, but his mouth would most certainly not form that word. "Incongruity."
Miss Darkholme tilted her head and smiled. "He is at that."
Erik retreated after that, his face a gloomy mask again as he hunted for a potential lead. Xavier stood in conversation with a few men across the room, taking his own break from the dancing and flirtations. Erik wanted to join him, but also did not wish to intrude into whatever lies Xavier was likely crafting in order to smooth Erik's way into the orbit of his social circle. In his years of hunting for Schmidt he had learned to somewhat blend into this sort of crowd, and yet he was acutely aware of how much he didn't belong. He was a Jew, a mutant, his father had been a printer and his mother a seamstress; certainly they were skilled and talented in their own way, and had done far more honest days work than even the oldest in this crowd, but that was far and away different than this mix of nouveau riche and the lordly.
A light touch fell on his shoulder, but when he glanced there was no one there. It had been Xavier, then. He sent an annoyed sort of feeling in Xavier's direction, waiting for the man to speak. "Do come join us, Lehnsherr. I will make your introductions."
Introductions and introductions and introductions. He was weary of them, but Xavier insisted; Erik was going to be paraded around and he supposed there was little he could do about it. So, Erik headed over with purpose, and introductions were had all around. Xavier introduced him to his cousin, Lord Wesley Xavier, currently the Baron of Westchester. He was of an age with Xavier, perhaps a few years older. Erik hadn't done much research into Xavier's connections with the rest of his family, but he knew Lord Xavier had come into the title a little over a year ago. The reason for Xavier bringing Erik over soon became apparent when he found himself in the midst of a conversation concerning the Butcher, the Slaughters, and the possibility of a registration law being discussed in the House of Lords.
It took all of Erik's willpower not to snap at them all, Xavier included.
"I have seen some of the poor wretches." The conversation recommenced. "Covered in scales and feathers and all manner of unnaturalness. It would be a mercy to have them brought in to some sort of sanitorium. You've seen them, cousin." The man nodded towards Xavier.
Xavier's mouth was tight, and Erik could feel his tension, perhaps because Xavier wanted him to feel it, or for some other reason Erik couldn't discern.
"I have seen them," Xavier ventured, far more cautious than Erik was used to from him. "Some of them are driven to destitution because of their inability to blend in with the common man, but mutation itself is not criminal, nor should it be any more than we would criminalize auburn hair."
Erik wondered if Xavier had picked the example poorly on purpose or it was merely a blunder. Auburn hair was the dominion of the Irish and the Jew, not groups shown particular tolerance in England.
Xavier's cousin continued. "The Archbishop of Canterbury is very clear on the matter."
Silence, one that Lehnsherr felt must be meaningful, but for which he could not discern the reason, passed between Xavier and his cousin. "And yet there is increasing evidence that the Lord may play some hand in shaping human development." Or that he played no hand in it. Erik had heard Schmidt ramble on about both possibilities at great length, the idea of selecting mutants, breeding them, or whether or not he was guided to perfection by God's hand. The thesis varied depending on the man's mood as he waxed by turns egomaniacal and... egomaniacal in an entirely different fashion. Xavier continued, voice low, soft enough so only his cousin could hear — and Erik could hear the words echo in his mind rather than his ears. "Even the Archbishop has more than seen fit to support the interference of the state in matters of the Church, however I stand firmly with Premiere Gladstone on matters of how much sway the Archbishop should have in politics."
Far from the affronted look that Erik expected from the cousin, he instead backed down. Erik's quick assessment changed — in spite of his willingness to quote the Archibishop quite loudly he was willing to fall in line in private — not a religious man, then. "That Bradlaugh business has not served him well." The murmur still managed to reach Erik's ear, but then Xavier's cousin straightened and tugged smartly at his waistcoat. He then gave Xavier a look that Erik interpreted roughly as: 'well?'
"Interpretations of adaptation with both a Neo-Lamarckian and religious bent are forthcoming from many scientific quarters." Xavier smiled, as though what he said had actually meant something. A moment later he frowned, and fixed his cousin with a firm look. "In a few years, there will be scientific theories to more firmly suggest adaptives may be a part of His plan."
"In short," Charles answered.
His cousin sighed, touched his fingers to his temples as though rubbing away a headache, and then looked back towards Charles. "That is what the House of Lords is best at, I suppose. I will ask after precedents with my solicitors."
"Thank you." Charles marked his thanks with a small bow.
Cousin Xavier waved the display off. "Really, you should talk to that German doctor that has the ear of Salisbury and Gladstone."
Lulled half to sleep by the rampant display of politics, Erik almost snapped to attention at that mention. "A German? Prussian?" Xavier asked, a firm thought on Erik's shoulder stilling him. "Mr. Lehnsherr is Prussian, perhaps he may have heard of this doctor?" Xavier looked towards Erik, eyes wide and beseeching.
Erik had no idea what Xavier expected of him. Of course he had heard of the Doctor, his desire was to kill him, and as quickly as possible. "It... is possible," Erik said, finally, turning towards the cousin Xavier. "I suppose it would depend on the man's history, yes?"
He could feel Xavier's silent little cheer in his mind a moment later.
"I do not know if he is Prussian. With a name like Shaw it seems he is more likely English or Scottish in origin." Erik wanted to grab the cousin Xavier and shake him soundly. "The accent is quite unmistakable. He seems solely fascinated with the adaptives; I am unsurprised he came here to London, we have so many of them. I am more surprised he hasn't made an appearance at one of your societies or clubs, Cousin. He has been an avid supporter of registration."
"Oh, I had not heard," Xavier answered, smoothly. "Perhaps I should extend him an invitation to discuss the merits of the proposal?"
Registration had seemed menacing before, but now it held another layer of danger. If Schmidt wanted registration, it was only for his own gain, and the loss of the mutants of London. Lord Xavier continued to prattle, heedless of Erik’s concern.
"He seems somewhat more focused on the upper strata than your work with the Yard, but I suppose it would not go amiss." The cousin relaxed; even if he did not share Xavier's scientific mind he was obviously no imbecile. "I attended one of his talks on the physiology of mutants, it was fascinating. You would like him, Cousin; he had the most delightful little diagrams of the internals of the things, very exacting."
Erik's anger spiked again. "Please do not murder my cousin. He's very impressionable in the right ways and the next in line for the title is so very stubborn."
The thought of how many people he'd have to kill so that Charles could be Lord Xavier flitted briefly through his mind.
"Five," Charles answered. "But please don't, I'm partial to a few of them." He finally continued, aloud. "I will most certainly have to, then. I wonder if he's read my articles!"
"He did at first mistake me for you when I offered. He was quite intent on meeting."
"And yet he has not made his curiosity known!" Xavier sounded, for all the world, like he was merely excited to meet a potential scientific mind, and Erik felt slightly sick while at the same time marveling at the deception. Although Xavier did often strike him as absent minded, it was clear he had a keenness to him when he required it. "I will make the overture, then. Thank you, Cousin."
Xavier scanned the crowd, his eyes sweeping before he caught Erik's eyes with a questioning look. Erik wanted to be out of here, and quickly.
"Well, I simply must have a few dances, but after that I think I may find my way home." And then, of course, the man sped off to dance. He was wickedly glad that Xavier did not go to Miss MacTaggart's side for a dance.
"Are you not going to dance, Mr. Lehnsherr?" The other Xavier asked.
He shook his head. "I do not like dancing."
"Certainly at least someone on the floor should be appealing."
That was none of Lord Xavier's concern! Nonetheless, his eyes did cast about and fall on Xavier, where he was dancing with a young woman with darker blonde hair.
"Miss Pollard?" Lord Xavier probed.
Erik wondered what on Earth it would take for these... busybodies to stop probing into the affairs of his heart and soul and body. Something dead. That woman they called Queen had been in mourning for over twenty years. "I have a dead wife," Erik said, biting out the words. It was a complete lie, of course, Erik had no time for a family, but surely that would serve him well enough.
"Oh my word!" Lord Xavier was taking this far more seriously than Erik thought appropriate. "You're right, though, these young ladies are not suited even if you were prepared to court again. If you do find yourself ready, my wife is friendly with several widows."
The urge to gape, wide and bewildered, struck him soundly. "I will keep that in mind, my Lord."
Xavier finally came to rescue him shortly afterwards, and they ended up tucked neatly in a corner while Miss Darkholme made her 'good evenings', pressed shoulder to shoulder with him in a way Erik tried not to notice.
"What did you say to my cousin? He was thinking of nothing else but the most morbid of thoughts, and quite loudly."
Erik looked away, slightly bashful and unwilling to share his outburst with Xavier for fear he would think poorly of him. "I... informed him I am a widower."
And now Xavier was gawking at him, sad and hurt. "Oh, I had no idea, Lehnsherr. I had thought we knew a great deal about each other, and yet..."
"Xavier!" Erik said a moment later. "I do not have a wife. I was simply trying to get the man to stop pointing out ladies that I should dance with. Can't a man just... stand about and not be interested in dancing without some grand reason?"
"I am glad, then." Xavier laughed, just a little chuckle, apparently finding Erik's deception amusing rather than offensive. "And, no, my friend, a man cannot avoid dancing without a very good reason, not if he wishes to maintain his place in society. As far as reasons go that is a very good one, but you had best make a full accounting of your falsehood. Lady Xavier is the most inveterate gossip I have ever encountered; your tale of a tragic romance cut short will be everywhere at our next party."
Erik had no idea why there had to be a next party, as it would just be another round of watching Xavier dance while he stood, irritated, in the corner. It was not his idea of a good time.
There were a few more dances, a few more stilted attempts at conversation, and finally, Miss Darkholme was ready to leave and they made their way to the carriage.
"Mr. Lehnsherr, I was so sorry to hear about your wife!"
Erik stiffened, it seemed Lord Xavier — or Lady Xavier, who had been somewhere, but not met — was a mutant whose mutation was specializing in speeding gossip to all corners as quickly as possible. "And daughter."
"Do not overdo it, Lehnsherr." Xavier's voice warned in his mind.
"She died in childbirth," he back-pedaled slightly.
Miss Darkholme made the most unappealing whimpering noise, clutching a handkerchief. "What were their names?"
Erik groped for a lie in the moment, thinking of the young Gypsy girl he'd befriended in his late adolescence. She had died in childbirth; he realized, belatedly, that perhaps that was where his mind had gone for the lie. Magda and Anya... startlingly inappropriate names for Germans, but Xavier dragging him into society — both the mutants and Lowtown and these dressed up peacocks — reminded him that Xavier was counting on him not to bite people like a dog. He sighed. "Magdalene and Anna." He did not know how much of a gossip Miss Darkholme was, but he might as well throw a bow on it — these people loved dressing things up in bows. "I do not think I will ever care to love a woman again."
From the responding, fluttery sigh, apparently he'd struck some sort of ideal mix of longing and 'stop talking to me, damn it.'
"Certainly you will love again, Mr. Lehnsherr, when you are ready some lovely woman will melt your heart once more."
Lehnsherr seemed fairly unwilling to continue the conversation, which Raven seemed to take as carte blanche to speculate about 'Magdalene and Anna'. Charles had to admit the idea of Lehnsherr with a wife had been... distressing, an impulse that Charles did not need to examine in order to know the root. He was a hopeless romantic; he had hoped that the sad and pervasive loneliness in Lehnsherr might have had some roots in... similar reasons to Charles’. Although he was not opposed to reading the mind of a fellow to discover if they might be of like mind, Lehnsherr had asked him not to, and no matter what he found, if Lehnsherr discovered Charles had made light of his promise, he would never trust him with his mind again.
Charles gave a slightly annoyed little sigh. Lehnsherr responded by patting Charles on the knee soundly before looking out the window of the hansom cab.
"Is he pining?" Raven's voice came clear in his mind.
Charles gave her a firm glower. "He's asked me not to look. Shaw has apparently ingratiated himself to both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition."
Raven yawned, pointedly.
"Politics might be above the level you are used to tackling problems on, Raven, but it is important for us to consider. Shaw had diagrams and drawings of the internal organs of mutants, I'm inclined to agree with Lehnsherr's assessment that he is the Butcher. He also mistook Cousin Wesley for me. However, some minion of his, Toad, now knows of my association with Lehnsherr, so we will need another tactic to approach him." Charles leaned back in his chair, glancing over towards a lost-in-his-thoughts Lehnsherr. "Shaw will not meet with me now, not unless he holds a great many cards."
"Knife to the kidney always works."
His bloodthirsty ward was rather violent tonight. "Are you going to go down to visit Doctor McCoy?" She gave a brief nod. "Be careful, especially if you go in that form; you're known to be my ward and I would not like Shaw or Toad trying to take advantage of that."
"I can take care of myself," Raven answered. She could; she had been abandoned young, and had already been hard when Charles had taken her in. Charles’ decision had been a mix of altruism and the deep kinship he felt with the mutants who could or had to hide. She reminded him of himself, not in personality or look or even demons, but they were kindred beyond the simple shared mutation.
"That you can, but be safe regardless."
When they returned home, Raven 'retired to her room' while Charles ordered him and Lehnsherr a pot of tea and then dismissed Mrs. Summers for the evening. It would be best that she make it back to see her sons early, but Mrs. Summers wouldn't take his charity and she insisted on working a full day for the wage he paid her.
Out of deference to Lehnsherr’s difficulty with the garments, Charles suggested they part with their tailcoats, but otherwise they retired to the upstairs sitting room. Charles poured them both tea, and then they relaxed in one of the more comfortable chairs that had not been covered by an over-abundance of detritus. "Well, one more piece in the puzzle, perhaps?" Charles asked, pouring a touch of milk into his tea and letting it sit for a moment.
"It's not a puzzle! We know where he is, who he associates with; I do not understand why you insist on thinking this is some great mystery, Xavier."
Charles fixed Lehnsherr with a very firm gaze. "Because as much as I find it appalling that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are having words with the Butcher, we cannot know what they know — if they are aiding him or merely consulting, or if there is more at work here. If Schmidt is truly part of some larger purpose then... we must know that first before we make bold movement." Charles sighed, heavily, before taking a sip of his tea. "I know how much this means to you, Lehnsherr."
"I do not think you do," Lehnsherr answered, still not drinking his tea. "If you did you wouldn't—" His eyes flicked downward, and Charles followed, eyes greedy even though he knew he should be more reserved.
"I wouldn't what, Lehnsherr?"
"You would not look at me as you do."
Charles felt his blood run cold, terrified. Lehnsherr seemed so cross with him, terribly angry. He knew he had not been particularly subtle in his admiration but at the same time he thought that such behavior might pass another by. He had never had much need for subtlety in his gaze before. There was always the fear of discovery, of course, but among academics that was hardly a true concern. They were well acquainted with the literature of the Greeks. "What... manner is that?" His voice waivered, he felt angry at himself for that. He was not a school boy with a crush!
The deflection did nothing to assuage Lehnsherr's anger. "The manner in which you... think there is something to see, that there is anything left to me but a creature."
"I see no creature, Mr. Lehnsherr. I see a man, a man of great fortitude." Charles could protest that immediately.
"Then you do not know." Lehnsherr's voice was dull now, and held none of its usual fire.
"I would know... if you let me."
Lehnsherr's jaw tightened and he shook his head. Charles did not push, he waited, slowly, time passing ever so slowly between them. "I would lose your regard."
"Never," Charles answered, immediately.
He meant it, but it was clear that Lehnsherr did not believe his assurance. Charles stood, walked a few steps closer, and took a seat closer to Lehnsherr. They still had almost a foot of distance between them, but Charles hoped his presence would be soothing. If anything, his proximity seemed to agitate Lehnsherr further; the man's eyes were wider, the tension in his mind radiating off him in palpable waves.
"You have my regard, Lehnsherr." Charles could imagine nothing that would cause that to fade.
Lehnsherr still did not seem calmed, but he looked away and took a deep breath, his chest heaving in one extended inhalation before he breathed out and turned towards Charles. "Have you read a book? It is called Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus."
"Of course!" Charles answered immediately. "Woefully the Colburn and Bentley edition, not the first, but..." The excited ramble died on his lips as he saw the tense line of Lehnsherr's shoulders become tighter, and he returned to give all of his attention to the man in front of him. "Yes, I know the book."
"I find... great kinship with Frankenstein's creation." Lehnsherr fell silent again, and Charles waited again, eyes wide and guileless, waiting for his friend to continue. "But I only wish I could have been alone."
"But you are not," Charles said, wishing to comfort Lehnsherr's mind on the matter. If anything that made the man worse, more drawn into himself.
"No, I am not. Schmidt has cut his way across Europe, here to London, creating brothers and sisters for me, co-creations."
Charles tilted his head, still not quite understanding Lehnsherr's meaning. "Co-creations? He... he has created nothing but corpses."
Lehnsherr flinched, drew away as much as the chair he was in would let him. "I believe..." Lehnsherr turned away, looking off into the distance, out the window black with the night behind it. "There are mutants still alive in Schmidt's care. I was kept for many weeks."
"My analysis of his work does show he takes some time with his victims, but it is a rigorous dissection, post-mortem."
Lehnsherr shook his head, just the briefest move back and forth.
"Vivisection?" Charles asked, horror on his face. Lehnsherr's eyes were blank — blank with incomprehension. "They are cut into while still alive?"
Charles almost missed the nod of Lehnsherr's head, it was so minute. Bile welled up in his throat, and Charles clapped his hand tight to his mouth. He shoved down the autonomous reaction to vomit, shut down that section of his mind. He did not want Lehnsherr to see him like that. Did not wish him to think Charles thought that of him, no; the reaction was all for Schmidt, the Butcher — far more accurate a name than the papers had first thought. He breathed through his nose, stomach slowly calming, before he unclasped his hand from his mouth. "The... autopsist never suggested the possibility of vivisection,” Charles said, attempting for a tone of detached confidence.
The attempt fell flat — Lehnsherr in his chair, tense, poised to run. Propriety be damned, Charles reached out and wrapped his fingers gently around Lehnsherr's wrist. "You are not a creature, my friend, not an it, not a monster, you are nothing of the sort. Please do not sell yourself so cheaply, you are... a wonder."
"A freak," Lehnsherr answered, tugging his arm.
Charles tightened his fingers, not letting go. "A wonder."
Lehnsherr calmed, finally, and Charles let go of his wrist, fingers abusing their moment of proximity to brush against the cuff of Lehnsherr's shirt, noting the mother-of-pearl cufflinks rather than the emotions coursing through him. Charles left his hands there, so close... too close; fingers ghosted against his wrist, one of his thumbs resting neatly on the ball of Lehnsherr's palm, his fingertips played along the fabric. Lehnsherr's other hand came into view, and for a moment Charles thought he would brush away Charles' hands, but instead he gestured towards the cufflink and flicked it open with a brief touch of his powers. Charles watched, shocked and more than slightly warm at the exposed wrist, until barely above it a pink, puffy line emerged, snaking up Lehnsherr's forearm farther and farther as he revealed only a few inches of skin.
"It..." Charles was uncertain how he'd meant to finish that sentence, but he silenced it and looked longer. Otherwise, Lehnsherr's skin was mostly undamaged, a comfortable light tan of a man who might roll up his sleeves to work, but the pink line... "It is poorly healed."
"I sewed that one myself." Lehnsherr grabbed the cuff and tugged it back down. "Schmidt was most interested in my hands; that is how I channeled my powers, through my hands."
Doing the cufflink again, one handed, was difficult, and Charles found himself fumbling for the cufflink himself. He slid the link back through the hole in the shirt, then smoothed it down with his fingers, neat as he could.
"I am lucky," Lehnsherr said, pushing Charles' hands away. "He has grown bold since finding so many mutants to use. With me it was..." Erik began to speak in German, which Charles took a moment to translate in his mind but soon caught the words: First this hand, little Erik, and then that one. We do not want too much blood, yes? We want to play tomorrow as well. Lehnsherr shook his head, trying to clear it; he shook his head again. "When I finally escaped I wanted nothing more than to go home, but by the time I arrived... Mother and Father were already dead, nailed to the door: not worth Schmidt’s time to pick apart."
Lehnsherr was crying openly now, and a small part of Charles found the weakness distressing; an even larger part of him wanted to grab Lehnsherr, hold him, wipe away the worst of the memories and pain and hurt inside him... or at least wipe away the tears. He did reach out, finally, a hand curling around Lehnsherr's arm, drawing him closer, and Lehnsherr went, went to his knees in front of Charles, his forehead pressed to Charles' knee; he held the man while he wept.
"We will find him, Lehnsherr. I promise you, if it is the last thing we do, we will find him and bring him to justice."
"I want revenge, Xavier, not justice. I do not care about justice."
The protests that Charles wanted to make felt ashen in his mouth, but all the same he was worried if he left Lehnsherr to fester in revenge, who would be able to tell what would happen when the need for revenge was satisfied and nothing could continue to hold Lehnsherr afloat. "Justice... always contains some element of revenge," Charles ventured, awkward. His eyes flicked towards Lehnsherr to measure his response. Lehnsherr’s shoulders were tense under Charles’ hand. "Is that not enough?"
Lehnsherr's shook his head lightly against Charles’ knee. Charles only hoped that in time Lehnsherr would come to find that reasonable. They had to think about all of mutant kind, not just one man's revenge. Without looking, Charles could only imagine the pain his friend was feeling; he hoped, someday, his mind would calm enough to start to move beyond the things that had been done to him. He was under no delusions it would be easy.
He gave Lehnsherr another firm squeeze on his shoulder.
He took a few more moments, finding it impossible not to savor Lehnsherr's closeness, no matter how it had come about. He was... weak in this regard, pathetic and shallow. Lehnsherr was dangerous, Charles knew that; he would go off like a shot as soon as they had found a hint of Schmidt. More than anything he wished he could hold Lehnsherr close and burn the pain out of him, give him peace.
"We will find you peace, my friend."
Lehnsherr shook his head, standing and stepping away, wiping away the tears at the corners of his eyes and down his face. "We must find Schmidt."
"Yes." Charles stood and came to stand beside Lehnsherr. "This information complicates things. I had taken solace in the knowledge that even if a mutant goes missing for a few days, that is not entirely unusual among the more transient mutants, but this could suggest he holds one, or perhaps even several at a time. Miss Fox and perhaps several others could be in danger." And as much as he now knew that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were spending time with Schmidt, that did nothing to allay his concerns or help him to locate where Schmidt might actually be. "I am going to see if the new information sheds any light on the forensic evidence." Other than that the man who did the coroner's work at the Yard was an incompetent. "Please join me whenever you would like."
He hoped it was soft enough and firm enough — he did not need Lehnsherr thinking he was being patronized, but Charles was also finding it impossible to deal quickly with the emotion the revelation had caused in him or Lehnsherr. He wanted to hug the man, wanted to kiss his cheeks and rub his eyes free of tears and tell him that everything would be fine.
Lehnsherr would have no use for that reaction.
Yet Charles had no better reaction, no easy comfort. Instead he reached up and squeezed Lehnsherr's shoulder, giving him as much warmth and comfort as a few moments' touch could offer. When Lehnsherr nodded, Charles let his fingers brush Lehnsherr's arm as they parted, then headed out of the sitting room and down the stairs to his laboratory. He pulled out his board and began to look over it again, looking at the autopsied photos with new interest and horror. It had been sick enough when he had thought the Butcher had done the majority of his work while the mutants were dead — knowing they had been kept alive and tortured was almost too much.
He could not let Lehnsherr give into the anger and hate that would come if he found his vengeance. He needed to stay strong of mind and stomach to keep it from turning and twisting as he imagined every indignity of every corpse he reviewed visited on Lehnsherr, on his friend. It twisted his mind in knots and made him feel sick, but he needed to be strong and sure, for his friend.
Little else sprung to mind as Charles ran his fingers over the diagrams he had made of the autopsies; he wanted justice and peace for Lehnsherr, he wanted safety for his mutants, everything else was negotiable.
Erik stared around the sitting room for several minutes, at a loss. Xavier was annoying. He tried to put away the emotions the past minutes had dredged up in him after Xavier had fled. He was not quite certain what to make of it; part of him, a large part, wanted to flee, as well. Xavier had offered no easy comfort; as much as Erik hoped — likely in vain — that Xavier held any true affection for him, Erik had still hoped for something more.
The presence of Miss Darkholme upstairs was the only thing that kept him from breaking something violently. Instead, he looked over the sitting room again, gathering his thoughts. Xavier's sitting room, like every other area of the house, was a morass of clutter, although it was by far the neatest. Raphael seemed in a constant state of not touching any of the clutter while removing dust. Erik found it almost endearing, although someone needed to place a moratorium on things. He had no idea how one person could collect so many things — the idea was anathema to Erik, as much as it was tempting. Xavier's world was marked by a strange permanence that Erik didn't feel he could have.
He gave himself a few minutes to collect his thoughts, a luxury that he was unused to. The most terrifying thing was that, as much as he had fled the room, Xavier still looked at him warmly and did not seem distressed by Erik so much as how the new information regarding Erik's treatment at Schmidt's hands reflected on the case.
It was stupid, it was perverse — he should not find himself more distracted by Xavier's thoughts of him than of Schmidt. Damn Xavier and his misguided attempts to drag him into London and society and pull him away from everything familiar. He liked his solitude, he liked not relying on anyone else, yet Xavier had him yearning for something he could never have.
He descended the stairs quickly, brushing his fingers over the handsome wood there, his mind racing. The doorway, his passage to freedom, a life away from Xavier, away from the terrifying thoughts of a future lay just within his reach. Instead, he turned to join Xavier in the study. The man was pressed close to his board, flipping through pieces of information. "Ah, Lehnsherr. I am afraid I have been taking too much for granted. The least of our issues is that apparently their man at the Yard is incompetent, and so any forensic evidence they have evaluated must be reevaluated." Xavier sighed.
In spite of himself, Erik strode up beside Xavier and went to look at the boards again. "Do you think the man at the Yard might be in Schmidt's employ?"
Xavier looked startled for just a moment, looking over towards Erik. "Yours is a particularly pessimistic mind, my friend." Still, he was smiling. "Very unlikely. I have been present with him during all autospies and had a general understanding of his thoughts to bolster my own understanding. My impression is that he legitimately believed his conclusions."
"Just so," Xavier answered, his fingers running gently over the tintype photograph. Erik watched as the man traced... the wounds, the ones where Schmidt had opened up his victims, likely while still alive, before finally conducting some form of autopsy. He knew that they had been sewed back up before being dumped. Xavier was looking at one of the men, closed up, sewn and stitched. His face was a mix of emotions that Erik had no easy way of understanding. The sadness in Xavier’s face was the most obvious. The idea made Erik uncomfortable, unable to put into word or thought exactly what about that bothered him.
Xavier looked and he saw something sad, something...
He watched Xavier tilt his head towards Erik and smile. "Something on your mind?"
"You're looking into me," Erik said, frustrated. Xavier had promised.
"Downturned lips and eyes, closed posture — I cannot be expected to ignore every indication that you are troubled, Lehnsherr." Xavier was smiling at him now, warm. There was just something about him that made Erik trust his word.
"I was thinking..." He was unsure what, something. That, more than anything, made him certain Xavier had not looked into his mind. How could the man see something that Erik was uncertain of himself? "Nothing."
Xavier took a few steps away from the board, settling into a chair — piled over in books — and looking up at Erik. "Whatever is troubling you is not 'nothing', Lehnsherr. We must both be in top form for what is to come." Xavier's eyes were on him again, full and bright, his bottom lip teased carefully between his teeth.
Erik opened his mouth, at first to protest the fact that Xavier was perched on top of five books and a map of some sort, crinkling them all. Instead he just shook his head, amused. "Just a passing moment of vanity."
His companion frowned for a moment, trying to follow — of course he wouldn't understand, as fantastically attractive as he was — but eventually comprehension dawned. Erik watched the strange way his eyes grew soft, and then grew determined. "I would say that vanity is... ephemeral and unhelpful, but that will not change your concerns. Some might find attraction in proof of your valor."
Some. It was not what he wanted. His fingers traced the line of his collar bone near where he knew further scars were visible. "I wonder if it would have been better not to have survived."
"No," Xavier said it so quickly, so certainly. "We are close to Schmidt now, we will find him, and bring the peace you need, the justice for the mutants who were not able to survive, and you... you will move forward beyond all of this."
Hope teased in the back of his mind, Xavier's possibilities were intoxicating and... "At your side?"
"Yes." Xavier smiled now. "Yes, my friend, as long as you would like. I am... an open book for you."
Tempting, tempting. Erik sighed, putting the impossible thoughts away, hiding them close to his heart. "Have you uncovered anything new?"
Xavier pulled away, blinking and confused while his mind switched topics; he was hurt, Erik could see it in the man's eyes, but he followed quickly enough. "I am afraid not. I had hoped your information might shed further light, but I have very few samples from the crime scene to consider potential evidence and I fear I can no longer trust many of the reports from the Yard. It seems the revelation has set us back, not moved us forward."
"I had wondered, Xavier... you seem to understand the inner workings of a man's mind better than most. You can see their souls."
"In a manner of speaking."
Erik sighed, considering the problem for a moment; he did not know Xavier’s power well, but he could imagine the possibilities of such a gift. Only Xavier could know his own limitations. "Can you do it at a distance?" Erik had only ever seen it done up close, to someone he was nearby.
Here Xavier's face fell, and Erik's with it. "It is not quite so easy. Consider London. The city has millions in it, at least four, maybe as many as five million. Most people sound rather the same: their concerns are the same, they hide secrets, they have fears and hopes. I can pick at a mind from a distance but... Raphael, for example, I would know him anywhere; my ward Raven; even some mutants in Lowtown; I know their minds as individuals rather than one in a morass of millions. A familiar mind is easier for me."
"What about myself? Would you know me in a crowd?"
Xavier nodded, tentative. "I— learned a great deal of you while you were hunting me. Your mind and your intentions towards me were enough to isolate you in a crowd."
Erik had wanted to kill Xavier, or at least torture him, so it wasn't surprising that Xavier had learned how to isolate those sorts of intentions, it made him a better fighter, obviously, and protected him from the most serious sources of harm. Erik's mind took in the revelation; he wondered how much Xavier had learned of him, of his character, in that time. Clearly not enough, as he still counted Erik among his friends. "Could you..." Erik stopped, considered what he was planning to offer, and knew that there was no other way. "Could you use me as the lure for a trap? I could commit a crime, be arrested, you will identify me as a mutant for the Yard and Schmidt would attempt to take advantage of my apparent incapacitation."
Xavier shook his head. "I could, but..." He looked down at his hands for a moment. "It would be the end of your ability to..." He was having a difficult time with his words, picking them carefully, awkwardly, so unlike his usual facility for concepts. "I had hoped after this was done you would be by my side. If you were to be arrested and it publicized... the scandal..."
"You care about scandal more than catching a killer?" That was just so typical of him.
"I care about preserving access to members of the House of Lords, of society; I care about my work in creating a space where mutation can be accepted. They are..." Xavier stopped, closed his mouth, and took a deep breath. "They are concerns that must come alongside catching the Butcher."
"That concerns you, and your standing, not me."
Xavier had risen to his feet now, leaving only a few feet between them. "But I want you to be a part of that, Lehnsherr. I would like you by my side."
Erik wanted that as well, perhaps far too desperately, and that was the only thing that made him reel back in and even think to make a concession. "Then we need another option to get us to him, now, if not sooner."
"No time like the present." Xavier brushed his hands against each other and headed back towards the board. "I've experimented with possibilities for extending my range or ability to differentiate minds. Think of it as standing atop a building and looking very far; sometimes buildings get in the way, and it is difficult to see details, and I cannot see beyond a solid wall. I have often considered the possibility of some sort of looking glass for my ability, but I cannot do so now."
Erik sighed. It was fascinating, and he would have liked to find some way to help Xavier, but it would not help now. "But you would be able to find me if Schmidt were to take me?"
"Perhaps." Xavier was hedging, Erik could tell. "Lehnsherr, you cannot tell me you want to be subjected to the man."
"I want the man dead. Everything else is permitted to that end."
Xavier was set to argue, mouth caught in a frown. "If we attempt this, Lehnsherr, I want your word that you will allow me to come after you, to bring support. The Mystique is quite adept at these sorts of works."
Erik couldn't argue with that; he didn't want to place Xavier in danger, but he didn't know exactly what he was facing in Schmidt. Every murder attempt he had made at the man between bouts of drugged, hazy torture had been deflected easily, and Schmidt took great joy in revisiting that harm back onto Erik. "Very well."
"Good." Xavier took a deep breath. "I must understand your mind better. When you were following me, intent on harming me, I of course became more familiar with your mental processes, but as close as we have become, a few days is not a lifetime of understanding. Now, were I to look, you might be difficult for me to find, but with more familiarity I would feel you in Paris."
"Paris?" He was suddenly unsure.
"Merely an example." Xavier waited for a moment. "I think it would provide us some security, I would better be able to communicate at a distance."
There was exactly one problem with Xavier's idea. "You would read my mind, though, see my thoughts, know my secrets."
They stood at an impasse, the two of them unwilling to move for a moment. The idea terrified Erik. He was so very dark, unlike the man standing a few feet from him. They were too different, enough that he wondered if looking might break what made Xavier so...
Even in his own mind he choked over the word. Xavier was looking up at him, eyes bright and guileless — he could not possibly know what Erik was thinking. "I..." Xavier speaking startled Erik out of his reverie. "I will do my best to respect your privacy, Lehnsherr, but if you want to attempt this folly then this is the best way to see all of us out alive. I cannot imagine anything that would change my regard for you."
He said that now; still, the alternative was facing Schmidt alone and he was not certain he had that fortitude. He nodded, closing his eyes and expecting... something.
"No need unless it makes you feel more comfortable."
Erik's eyes snapped open to see Xavier near him, a finger brushing gently at his own temple. Xavier's eyes were open, blue, but squinted very slightly in concentration. Erik felt it in a way he wasn't used to. The gentle touch when Xavier was communicating with him silently was present, but more than that it was... He could see it, the subtle waves of Xavier working fully with his power. They were strong, driven, pointed right at him and pulling him apart gently, strand by strand, little momentary quivers of thought the only weakness in his power. He could feel the touch of Xavier flickering through his mind, the anger he felt at Schmidt constantly, the drive to keep going, the hate at the world for pushing him aside. Above it all, he could see Xavier take it all back in, his eyes flicking over unseen emotions that were suspended between them. On impulse, Erik reached up, touched a finger gently to Xavier's temple and smoothed the waves of power he saw there.
Xavier gasped and Erik pulled his hand away. "No," Xavier said immediately. "No... I... please?" Xavier’s usual articulateness failed him.
He reached back up, letting his finger brush a long wave of hair from the other man's temple. Xavier licked his lips. It didn't take much of Erik’s attention; he concentrated on smoothing the lines of Xavier’s thoughts, and the man's power grew stronger, enough that he could almost feel the memories Xavier flicked through. Xavier licked his lips again, a flick of tongue against his teased lower lip, and then his mouth parted just a touch.
The frantic thought of what those lips would taste like slammed full in the front of his mind and Xavier broke away, back-pedaled several steps, his hand flying to his mouth.
They both froze, Erik's face stricken with horror.
Erik had to leave, now, quickly.
Only the piles of books and posters and bones and cabinets and things kept him from fleeing into the night. Xavier's hand was around his wrist.
"Lehnsherr, please. I... stop."
"You cannot pretend you are not appalled, Xavier."
"I am not appalled," Xavier answered, immediately, emphatically, his chest heaving. "I am not, please. Stay. I want you to stay."
A tiny flutter of hope, small, almost invisible, played in his chest. Among the hope, there was also shock. Xavier was not a man that Erik would have thought even knew of such things. He supposed it was inevitable, he was a telepath, but that Xavier had seen that and still wished him to stay was almost unbelievable to Erik. The moment stretched, Erik torn between reaching out to touch Xavier, to discuss what had passed between them, and the urge to flee.
Xavier did not loosen the hand around his wrist, instead pulling him out of the laboratory and into the hallway. Miss Darkholme was there — dressed in the clothes of a boy, hair tucked away under a hat, her form hidden under layers and maybe even binding — her own breathing was frantic and her eyes were wide and bright with tears. "It's Doctor McCoy! It's Henry. He is missing. I went below and he... Mrs. Summers said men came and dragged him away into the night!"
A dozen thoughts flicked across Xavier's face, their minds still close enough that Erik could catch most of it. "It could be the Butcher's work," Xavier said, turning to Erik.
Miss Darkholme's eyes were wide and terrified, yet her jaw was set in a determination that Erik couldn't help but admire.
"We will find him, Raven," Xavier assured him. "I..." Xavier turned towards Erik, eyes filled with too much for Erik to be able to read easily. "I believe Mr. Lehnsherr's ability is more complimentary to my own than I first suspected."
"Metal and the mind?" She asked, skeptical.
"You know?" The new shock covered over the old one.
Miss Darkholme tilted her head, rubbed the tears from her eyes, and a small little smirk teased at her lips. "Of course I know." Suddenly her form shifted, blue scales and yellow eyes replaced pink and blue. She grew a touch taller, and although Erik could see her now as The Mystique, it was easier to see the touches femininity he hadn’t seen when they had first met.
"The Mystique," Erik said, recognizing her from only a week earlier.
"Mr. Lehnsherr." She made a little bow. "Very well, Charles, let's see if your new friend is as incredible as you say."
Erik felt his throat tighten uncomfortably, but he glanced away from Miss Darkholme and back towards Xavier. The man was smiling, enough that Erik felt that tiny ember of hope return. "We have work to do."
Charles wished he had a moment to think, but everything was out of control, his mind frantic from far too many things colliding at once. McCoy had been kidnapped, and Lehnsherr... He shook his head again. He more than anyone knew how uncontrollable the tide of human thought was; people thought the most inappropriate things at the most inappropriate moments, yet even with a life in the balance he couldn't help the surge of joy in his own chest. His feelings were reciprocated, Lehnsherr found him desirable and worthy of action rather than the staid contemplation of the male form that had so pervaded the invertive tendencies of his time in Oxford. But now was not a time for that sort of contemplation; it was a time for action and movement, and lives hung in the balance.
"So how does the manipulation of metal lead to the telepathic enhancement, Charles?" Raven looked at him, her face blue and changeable rather than the usual pink. He could tell how skeptical Raven was of that claim, but her skepticism was not rooted in the heart of the issue, just a supposition that Charles was lonely, which was so very true.
"I am uncertain, actually." Charles turned back towards Lehnsherr; the man was prepared to flee, that much was obvious. "You did something, Mr. Lehnsherr— to my mind."
Lehnsherr looked down, then back up again, into Charles' eyes. He tried to push the idea into the man's mind that it was fine — they could hardly discuss it now, there was too much at stake — but it was fine, more than fine. He longed to find out how much more beyond the desire to kiss was hidden behind the layers in his friend's mind.
"It was the first time you had used your power..." Lehnsherr paused, mouth tumbling over the word he wanted to pick. "With purpose."
"An interesting phrasing." He herded Raven and Lehnsherr back towards the laboratory. "You are correct that I use my power more in a passive sense, feeling the minds around me rather than actively seeking them out."
"You were seeking someone out?" Raven asked him. She was calm now, or at least moreso than before, and her face, although streaked with tears, was hard and ready for battle. Oh how he loved her determination even in the face of her fear. His sister would not give ground just because she was nervous or concerned; she would do her duty and rescue Dr. McCoy. The emotions that ran through her veins on that topic were far more than Charles could tackle at the moment.
"I was becoming more familiar with Lehnsherr's mind." Charles went into the laboratory and pulled some of his books and papers off the sofa, making an actual space for Lehnsherr to sit. "We had considered allowing him to be captured so he would lead us to the Butcher."
"Brilliant plan," Raven said, obviously sarcastic. She turned towards Lehnsherr. "Well, you don't need that now. Charles, you know Doctor McCoy's mind well enough, surely?" Her eyes were wide and earnest.
"... Well enough." Charles hoped. "Will you help me, then, Mr. Lehnsherr?"
"You are the only telepath I know, Dr. Xavier."
Charles smiled, and Lehnsherr, thankfully, returned it. "Sit, sit," Charles commanded. "Is that what would be best?"
"I think it might be best if you sit and I assist."
He let himself be lead in this, assuming that Lehnsherr knew, at least in some manner, what he had done. He sat. "Do you know how you...?"
Lehnsherr stood above him, then, and nodded. Charles fluttered his eyes closed and he started to reach out, felt the waves of his power stretch, began to seek out familiar minds in the vicinity.
"Your mind has waves. I can see them," Lehnsherr said. Charles was aware of him moving around to stand behind him.
It was incredible. Charles had always imagined his mind that way, waves stretching out, and yet Lehnsherr could see his mind in that same manner. He let that impression float up to Lehnsherr, pleased, excited, and he felt nothing but an answering nervousness in Lehnsherr. He tried to soothe it, gently pressing warmth to Lehnsherr's mind. Fingers pressed to Charles' temples — not his own, Lehnsherr's.
"Go ahead, Xavier."
He let his mind wander, touching against Raven's mind, then Lehnsherr's for the grounding presence to bring him back into his mind when he finished; then, he began to stretch farther — the house, the street, the park and the area around his house. His mind got slightly murky beyond that. It wasn't impossible, of course, but the slow unspooling of his mind, his attempts to touch those farther out, was held back by his own limitations, and by the fact that he did not often force himself to stretch that far.
The fingers at his temples flexed slightly, and the fog at the end of his consciousness cleared, allowing him to see farther. He managed to reach all the way to Lowtown and touched a few of the brightest minds there, the ones he knew well. Mrs. Summers was fretting in her small house, her boys crowded around the little stove. Charles touched her mind to see what she recalled; not much, she hadn't witnessed the abduction herself.
His mind flitted again, and he wondered how much of this Lehnsherr might be seeing along with him. He sent a brief touch out to the man behind him. "Are you with me?"
"I have you, Xavier." It was not the answer Charles meant to get, but the answer was comforting anyway.
"Agreeable." Lehnsherr tensed in reaction, enough that Charles' controlled stretch of his mind flagged and waivered before Lehnsherr went back to tending it. "Stay."
Lehnsherr's voice took on a growling tone. "To help with your powers, Xavier?"
He was going to have something inappropriate drawn out of him at this rate. Lehnsherr seemed too tentative and unsure of his welcome, yet Charles couldn't quite bring himself to take the final step to reassure him. "Because I want you here."
That quieted the voice in the back of his mind, and he continued to stretch farther, touching the other minds in Lowtown, extracting a description: Toad, and a direction: waterfront, and little more. There was nothing to keep Toad from doubling back or forward and taking Dr. McCoy somewhere else entirely. His mind stretched out farther, looking for Dr. McCoy, trying to find that intelligent, sensitive, and yet dark mind in the sea of millions. He latched onto it a few moments later: pain, fear, more fear. Charles struggled to break away for a moment, suddenly bogged in McCoy's terror.
There. Near the river, underground but not in the sewers, not in the docks area... It was some sort of small laboratory. Grabbing the information out of some of the nearest minds, he started to reel himself back in, but not before finding the mind nearest McCoy. Schmidt. Charles tried to touch the man's mind, just a nudge, and he found himself snapped back into his own mind and body in the house.
Raven's yellow eyes were too close, staring into him, Lehnsherr's fingers fell away from his temples. "By the river," he told her. "Get ready." She fled. "And... Lehnsherr."
Lehnsherr walked around the sofa, joining Charles there, scant inches between them.
"What is the man's mutation? I attempted to grab ahold of something, anything from his mind and I found my efforts repelled."
His companion looked down, taking a moment to collect himself. "I'm not certain, all I know is whenever I attacked him in my youth, my efforts made him stronger. He revisited whatever pain I tried to cause him back on me tenfold."
Charles nodded, already considering his options for grasping at the mind he had felt. "It has made you stronger." Their eyes met, finally, Lehnsherr was still nervous, not about the confrontation — that made him eager — but the other thing that was between them now. Charles could not believe his fortune; finding someone who felt the same, whose affections ran towards Charles, and who might be willing to actually act upon those feelings was incredible for him. "I think, for now, what is required is a soft touch. In a few things — Schmidt and... what else is between us."
"So it is... between us?" Lehnsherr asked, their eyes still locked.
"Charles!" Raven yelled at him from the door, where he and Lehnsherr were still seated. "Doctor McCoy's life is in the balance!"
"Yes, yes..." He stood and turned back towards Lehnsherr. "And yes, to you as well, my friend. But we must make haste."
Lehnsherr’s face said everything, his mind was filled with doubt. Charles had no easy way of proving himself, nothing he could say to put to rest the questions that must have coiled in Lehnsherr’s mind; he put his hand to Lehnsherr’s chest, his fingers splayed wide. The gesture was enough to shock Lehnsherr out of his disbelief.
“Yes,” Charles said again, even more firmly.
The two of them were still for only a moment, Lehnsherr’s hand took his and squeezed. They lingered like that, the beginning of tears forming in Lehnsherr’s eyes. A bone deep, aching, want radiated from the man, before he stood and fled towards his room.
When he and Lehnsherr were finally prepared, the man had tucked away his emotions, or at least he thought he had; he was focused only on Schmidt. Charles could hear that determination clearly, and yet he could not help but notice the promise behind that determination: after, tomorrow. They met in the front hall, all three of them now dressed to fit in by the river. Charles’ hand wrapped tightly around his stick, of course, wood with the metallic sword at its core; Lehnsherr had dozens of bits of metal strapped to him now.
"We could have done with some armor," Lehnsherr said. Their clothes would do little against a proper offensive.
"Raven's skin and scales are near enough to armor," Charles answered. "I am more concerned about the two of us. The human form has its moments of fragility." He more than knew that from the way the Butcher had torn into the mutants he had kidnapped.
"Less fragile than you would think."
He thought it more likely that Lehnsherr had ignored the inherent fragility in human beings, but he did not say as much. He was still exceptional. Soon the three of them were tumbling down the stairs of Charles' house, out into the street, looking for all the world like a group of ruffians. The idea made him smile.
"Something amusing to you, Xavier?"
"I was simply considering the possibility of some sort of armor in the future, if we are going to make a habit of going after rogue mutants." Charles did not think it was wise; although this would not be the first time he had to talk down or subdue a mutant, it would certainly be the first time he had any intention of killing. He would admit, it seemed that Schmidt would stop no other way, and... Lehnsherr needed this.
"I suggest blue," Raven answered, grinning.
"That is not particularly inconspicuous," Charles answered, smiling in return. The three of them acquired a hansom, Raven squeezed tightly between Charles and Lehnsherr. The cab took them down the streets towards the river, picking first through the nicer neighborhoods and then the ones where their clothes would actually be suited.
"Do you really think you are going to make your way hunting down threats to mutant kind, Xavier?" Lehnsherr asked from the other side of the cab.
He turned towards Lehnsherr, and smiled. "Of course. I think we would make an excellent team."
Their humor was at an end, however, and the three of them reached the area of London that Charles knew contained McCoy and the laboratory. Charles paid for the cab to drop them several streets away. They would tire slightly in their walk, but it was better that than have a cabbie who remembered dropping them at a place that might become the location of a crime. The three of them walked in silence, with purpose but without the heavy footfalls or scuffing soles that might give away their approach. Charles had no idea if Schmidt might have a telepath in his employ, but it seemed unlikely; Charles couldn't imagine a telepath spending time with Schmidt without finding him impossible to deal with.
The streets themselves were no different from any other set: a bit cramped, stinking of soot and mud, a certain mildew quality to the air that made Charles' lungs feel heavy. The area was almost completely devoid of people; the emptiness made it easier to sense those around him, but the silence was difficult for him as well. The few sounds that he could hear slowly becoming more oppressive; he could feel the pressure weighing in around him, pushing on his back, squeezing his shoulders and his spine, making him tense and wary. It was a simple collection of feelings and nerves that bundled up inside him. Raven and Lehnsherr, as much as they would deny it if asked, were similarly tense — their concerns wicked over to Charles, soaking into his mind and making him edgy, enough that he was worried his own concern might radiate back to them.
Charles let his fingers rest at his temple, concentrating on the minds he could feel. "Toad," he said gently into Raven and Lehnsherr's minds. "Dr. McCoy, Miss Fox..." He groped around more; there were no other minds that could sense, but the fear of McCoy and Miss Fox was enough to be stifling. "There may be others who will fight us."
"We can handle a Toad," Lehnsherr answered in his head, and he passed the thought on to Raven.
He lead the rest of the way, listening to the cries of McCoy and Miss Fox in his mind, soon joined by the occasional muffed cry in his ears. Behind him, Raven's tension began to rise; Lehnsherr's was completely unavoidable. There were few sounds in the street, yet it was obvious that Schmidt’s victims were underground and away from prying ears. The noises of torture were only recognizable as such because they expected it.
They found their entry. Charles paused a few feet from the opening, Raven itching for a fight. Charles reached out and squeezed her shoulder, assurance likely unneeded; at this point she was a veteran of these confrontations, even if she had never had one with stakes so personally high. Lehnsherr seemed set for a collapse; he had held up well enough, he was likewise a veteran of bloody vengeance, but this was something new, a personal demon stood only a few feet from him, his life's work on the verge of completion well before the end of his life. Charles reached out and touched Lehnsherr's shoulder, just above where they had touched back at Charles’ home, and pushed what little calm and hope he could towards Lehnsherr.
"Tomorrow." It was the best promise he could offer. "Our future."
Lehnsherr seemed to harden further at that, and Charles could risk nothing else. He nodded and the three of them broke apart; Lehnsherr wrenched the door open by the lock, pushing it hard. Raven led only because she was the closest, Lehnsherr was not far behind.
The top floors of the laboratory were simple and not at all ominous; a few specimens in glass jars, observatory equipment, papers, files, photographs and sketches. Charles felt the almost undeniable urge to rifle through them and take in their knowledge, but he left it be; now wasn't the time for scientific curiosity.
From downstairs came another muted cry, Charles only knowing it was Dr. McCoy from the matching thrum of terror in the back of his mind.
Charles took the lead, heading downthe flight of stairs, Raven and Lehnsherr only a step behind; he tried the door at the bottom, locked. He shot a glance towards Lehnsherr, who nodded; rather than a gentle tug he ripped the door off its hinges, leaving it split on the ground. The three of them tumbled through the frame and found Schmidt leaning over Dr. McCoy, his arm already shaved of fur and pried open to investigate; at least he had not started with the feet.
"Ah, Little Erik Lehnsherr!" Schmidt looked up, his hands gently setting down his tools. "And unless I am horribly mistaken, Dr. Xavier."
In the time it took Charles to draw a breath, Lehnsherr had attacked, the metal of the tools and his own fists flying towards Schmidt. The fight was on.
Erik felt his back tense as his last shreds of control disappeared, tugged apart by Schmidt's presence, and he fell on Schmidt, ignoring everything else but his goal, killing the man — driving something through his heart or his head or just squeezing every breath of life out of him. The metal Schmidt had been using to tear apart McCoy stood on end and drove towards Schmidt, a dozen spikes and knives hurtling towards him only to bounce off, harmlessly; two went flying back towards Erik, but he deflected them before they had a chance to break skin.
"Oh, Erik — I would have been happy to take you back." Schmidt's grin was wide, amused at his own words.
Hot rage seized him again and he grabbed at Schmidt, hands flailing and out of control. The fact that Schmidt would always have the upper hand was long since decided by his mind, against his will. Erik’ fingers curled into Schmidt’s clothes, threw him to the ground, and began to pummel him hard in the face; rather than snap back, Schmidt's head barely reacted, a strange tremor going up Erik's arms with every hit.
And then, very suddenly, a light touch against his ribs knocked him backwards so hard he slammed against the ceiling. He managed to control the fall by holding himself fast against the metal in the room, letting him collapse to the ground relatively gently. Standing was beyond him, however, and he found himself on his hands and knees grabbing his chest. He was having trouble breathing and pulling in air; he glanced to his side where he saw Miss Darkholme and Xavier locked in a fight with Toad. Xavier had said his mind was slippery, and Miss Darkholme was having trouble landing a hit just as much as Xavier seemed to be having trouble locking down the man.
He coughed, pushing more air from his lungs and making him dizzy. Damn.
"You were always so stubborn, Erik." Schmidt said, using Erik's winded state to roll him, his hand pressed against Erik's chest with far more force than he had expected. "Hard to kill. I never did find someone as resilient."
"Lehnsherr!" Xavier seemed to have disentangled now, his hands grabbing at Schmidt's collar and yanking.
The pressure against Erik's chest let up, but Schmidt took hold of Xavier and threw him to the ground, the look on Xavier's face saying that the crushing pressure Schmidt could exert was not yet brought to bear. Erik wriggled up, landing a hard kick across Schmidt's jaw, but rather than show evidence of the blow, Schmidt grinned and Erik heard a sickening crack come from Xavier's chest.
Xavier screamed. Loud and breathlessly. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he panted through his teeth.
"Mmm, at least one rib," Schmidt said, obviously pleased with himself. His finger stroked gently down Xavier's chest, eliciting another whimper.
Erik lashed out again.
But his fist connected with Schmidt's jaw again and he repaid the attack with another crack against Xavier's chest. This time little more than a whimper came from Xavier's throat.
"Can't... do that again, please, Lehnsherr." The soft begging from his friend barely cut through the haze of anger in Erik's mind; he and Schmidt stared each other down. Schmidt was obviously waiting, amused.
"You hesitate?" Schmidt asked, his hand raking up Xavier's chest in a manner that bordered on obscene and set Erik's teeth in a hard grimace. "Has little Erik made a friend? He must be very broken himself if he clings to you."
"Do not listen to him," Xavier said, echoing around his mind, force coming through the words that demanded Erik believe him, if only for a moment. "He's... tough. He gathers strength from your attacks; you must not strike him."
A proper string of thoughts organized into words was beyond him, but he did wonder how on Earth Xavier expected them to defeat a man without attacking.
Xavier whimpered lightly again. "I am afraid we must... try a different tactic. He seems to absorb energy and deflect it. Grab... grab his throat I think, and squeeze."
Erik had no trouble following that order; he grabbed for Schmidt's throat and tackled him off Xavier, slammed him to the floor.
"Gently..." Xavier insisted, his voice even weaker than it had been in Erik's mind.
There was nothing about his actions that Erik could call gentle: he grabbed, he squeezed, he worked to choke the life out of the man beneath him. At first, Schmidt seemed amused, laughing at Erik's efforts, but as Erik squeezed, ever so slowly, his eyes grew wild, scared. It was Erik's turn to laugh, and he could not quite resist the urge to shake him like a doll, cracking his head against the ground.
"No..." Xavier said, staggering towards Erik's side, falling back to his knees just in view.
Too late. Schmidt took Erik's left wrist with his hand and Erik felt the painful snap of the bones. A ragged gasp was all he allowed himself; his own hand fell away from Schmidt's throat, his right taking on a near frantic grab to finish the deed. Xavier's hands held Schmidt's shoulders down a look of fierce concentration on his face, panting as Erik strangled the life out of his creator, inch by inch; Schmidt's movements began to slow — became sluggish, his manic grin long since gone, replaced by terror that made Erik grin in turn. "No more creations," Erik said, wincing through his pain. "I never wanted anything you might make me."
Schmidt couldn't answer, Erik wouldn't have stood for an answer. All he felt were Xavier's fingers curled into his shoulder, clasping gently, lending him strength, keeping him from lashing out violently again, giving Schmidt an edge.
"You are nothing like him, Lehnsherr. Please believe that." He couldn't though, not really, not even with Xavier drumming it hard into the back of his mind.
And all very suddenly, Schmidt spasmed under him, twitching, but Erik did not trust that, couldn't trust that, and he continued to squeeze, squeezed enough that he was certain the bruises couldn't be more obvious. "Enough, Lehnsherr," Xavier said. "He is gone."
He did not let go, gripping tight, holding fast, pressing more and more. Even the sickening crack he finally managed to twist out of the neck did not stop him.
"Please, Lehnsherr, he is gone."
Erik closed his eyes but did not stop his pressure.
"Please." Xavier tilted his face up so their eyes were locked on each other, Xavier's tear-soaked and full of pain. The man's thumb brushed against Erik's lip, and that finally made him recoil; his hands fell away, arms slumped at his side, and he looked down at the corpse under him. The body that had once held his creator. Whatever demon had given Schmidt's body life had long since fled, gone, and suddenly it was just not enough. He wished the form beneath him could come back to life; he would strangle the life out of it again, a hundred times wouldn't have been enough, nor would one thousand.
He began to weep; the tears might have been poison for all Erik could tell, burning rivulets down his face and falling against Schmidt's lifeless breast.
Xavier caught hold of him around the shoulders and pulled him close, and Erik wrapped his arms tight around Xavier, clutching his ribs too hard. Only the muted whimper from his companion made him stop; he tried to pull back, but Xavier held fast, held until Erik finally came back to him.
"Are you two quite finished?" Miss Darkholme's voice came from Erik's left.
His head snapped up, Miss Darkholme, in her natural blue form, covered in scales, had dispensed with the Toad; his tongue pinched tight in some metal vice and his hands tied behind his back. She was obviously no longer paying him any mind, instead she was standing over Dr. McCoy, eyes darting over him.
Xavier coughed, drawing Erik’s attention back towards him. The man was clutching his side, in obvious pain. "Lehnsherr, I will need your assistance."
The two of them helped each other stand. Erik wrapped his good arm around Xavier's middle, below the ribs he knew must be broken, and the two of them staggered over to Dr. McCoy. Erik took in the damage; the man-beast's arm was splayed open, pinned so the skin was folded, revealing the muscle lying underneath. The image did not disturb Erik as much as he hoped it would.
"Well... looking well, Doctor McCoy." Xavier smiled weakly down at the man.
Dr. McCoy just grimaced. "A bit of help, Doctor?"
"You do know I'm not really a proper surgeon." Xavier sighed. "Raven, find whatever method of sterilization the Butcher was using and get us tools. Lehnsherr, find bandages for yourself and any others. McCoy... I am going to remove your capacity to feel pain for the moment, it seems a blessing. Do not take that to mean you are invincible, your body simply will not process the pain."
The idea was... terrifying, now that Erik had a moment to think — Xavier taking away pain, if only temporarily. Still, his arm was broken, Xavier's ribs were broken, and they had at least one patient to tend to. Erik fumbled through the drawers with his good hand, finding a healthy amount of gauze, some medical implements, metal wire, thread for sewing a man up again; he placed them all out on a metal tray, which he floated over in Xavier's direction.
"Thank you, Lehnsherr." The warmth in Xavier's voice floated through him for a moment, soothing the empty gap between his ribs where his heart might have been years ago.
He had a goal now, but his arm was broken and that would need to be cared for first. He felt along his arm, feeling if the bones had broken the muscle; they had not. The irony of Schmidt rebreaking his arm the way he had years ago was not lost on Erik, and just like years ago it was left to him to splint it. He grabbed two pieces of metal, lengthened them and flattened them out before he wedged them hard against his arm, wincing as he wrapped the gauze around it. It took longer than it should have, Erik losing his concentration in the middle, the future looming larger than the ache in his arm.
There was no one left to kill. No great personal injury that required vengeance. Erik's mind slid over that, trying to grab it and make it seem real. Not even glancing over his shoulder to where Schmidt lay could truly puncture the haze in his mind.
The future hid behind fog, a future filled with images that didn't make sense and were more fantastic than Alice's adventures. Xavier was seated precariously next to Doctor McCoy, breathing labored, but he could still not quite imagine the future filled with smiles and bright blue eyes. Perhaps he'd heard, the way he turned said he had, but Xavier smiled at him, his head cocked in invitation.
Erik stared at his back.
Nothing could fix this, however. Dr. McCoy was injured, likely scarred permanently. He couldn't be there, couldn't stand to see Xavier lean over Dr. McCoy like that, stitching him closed but unable to make the man whole. He looked at the stairs, glancing up and then down. He knew himself, if he took a step up those stairs he would never return, would never allow himself so close to someone else again. A glance at Xavier saw him still over Dr. McCoy, stitching, while Miss Darkholme slid blue scaled fingers through Dr. McCoy's fur.
"I had no idea you were the Mystique..." Dr. McCoy said, voice weak.
"I thought you liked me best pink and blonde."
“I have always liked both.” He heard Dr. McCoy confess. “My esteem of you appears to transcend form.” The answer made Erik’s heart clench, hearing such an expression of admiration.
Miss Darkholme answered by touching a finger to Dr. McCoy’s lips and smiling. “We match as you are now.”
Dr. McCoy chuckled, moving slightly, and Erik watched Xavier's stern glower even as he pinned the man's arm down with one hand. Erik couldn't be there anymore; he took the stairs down to the lower levels of the laboratory, not certain what drove him but reminding himself he was a fool when he saw a huddled mass trembling in a metal cage. Female. She was wrapped in rags and blankets rather than clothes, and what little skin Erik could see was angry red.
"Miss Fox?" He asked, getting down on his knees near the cage.
She twitched and scrambled back, startled by him, banging noisily against the rear of the cage.
"Doctor Xavier sent me." That had some effect. The role was difficult for Erik, unusual; his first urge, to tear into something and rip it open, would not work here. "He is upstairs. The Butcher is dead."
And then she started to cry.
Erik stared at her. He could not linger here, so he stood and turned, looked away; he couldn't look at her, couldn't see that — all he saw was himself, young and cold and alone and looking at it was too much like holding a mirror up to the still-raw parts of his life.
She whimpered, grabbed at the cage. Erik closed his eyes, trying to force back his response. There was a woman there, feet away, and she needed help. He turned back towards her and flicked his good wrist, crushing the lock on the cage. Miss Fox crawled from it slowly and when Erik looked he could see where her own arms had been cut open and stitched back together in the past. Standing was obviously painful, her back staying more naturally hunched than standing tall, and she looked... broken.
He needed to tell Xavier... But he stood, paralyzed with indecision; the woman moved towards him, taking ahold of his bad wrist for support and he screamed. The two of them stumbled and backed away from each other, both of them falling over in their haste.
"Lehnsherr!?" Xavier's voice was hard in the back of his mind, on him in a moment.
It didn't take him long to read the situation from Erik's mind and pull away, leaving Erik confused but staring across the floor towards Miss Fox again. "Sorry. My wrist is broken."
She nodded, still timid.
Irritation surged, and then was put away. "I am like you," he said. She tilted her head towards the cage, perhaps indicating where he crushed the lock. "No, not that..." It took several moments to fumble the buttons of his shirt cuff, but he rolled the sleeve up, showing the thin white lines that represented his own history at Schmidt's hands. "Years ago."
He was not adept at comfort; Xavier would have known what to say, perhaps.
“It never leaves," he told her, completely honest. "But the demon responsible is gone." It was the most he could offer her, and in that moment it seemed to offer no comfort, yet her jaw clenched and her chin tilted upward; perhaps in time it would be enough.
After the worst of Dr. McCoy's damage was sewn up, Xavier led the five of them back into the sewers of Lowtown, back to McCoy's doctor’s surgery. He and Xavier were patched up properly, and set out for home. Miss Darkholme was intent on staying with Dr. McCoy to help with his injuries, and Xavier made no comment on her decision. Erik remembered the few times Xavier had suggested Miss Darkholme go to see Dr. McCoy or vice versa; the courtship clearly had Xavier’s approval.
"I should be at home, should the Yard call," Xavier said.
Erik shook his head. "And how do you plan on explaining this, Xavier?"
He shrugged. "The Butcher choked to death by one hand — clearly a revenge killing perpetrated by a one armed man. The power of forensic science is not so profound as to allow them any further information. As long as they are kept in the dark concerning your motives and your injury... that may be enough."
When they returned topside, the two of them staggered toward an area of the city more known for its public houses. Xavier insisted it would be less conspicuous to take a hansom from there. Erik fell very quiet as they walked. "I should leave," he said, finally.
"There is no surer indication of guilt," Xavier protested. "Stay."
The two of them shared no words between them as they hailed a cab and continued home, saying nothing as Xavier pried open the door and left the two of them standing in the entryway, soundly tried and tired. Xavier led the two of them upstairs, both of them nursing their wounds as they stood, silent, across from each other in the ordered clutter of the sitting room. Xavier stood by a sofa, apparently unwilling to sit; Erik waited, several feet away, unable to allow himself the final release of feeling he had won. Awkward unsaid words stretched between them.
Schmidt was gone, Erik was free for the first time since he was a small boy, and he was undeniably terrified. Xavier could tell, of course, and he reached out, looking up into his eyes.
"We seem to have become close," Xavier said with little preamble. "I think— I would like you to call me by my Christian name when we are here, by ourselves, just you and I."
Erik was not well versed in the finer points of etiquette, but he did know the meaning there — the invitation was incredibly intimate. "I can't."
"No?" Xavier asked. "Not even after I have invited it?"
He couldn't answer out loud, shook his head. He could not believe that Xavier was truly so comfortable on this matter. Erik had thought all manner of obscene thoughts concerning men, perverse, dark and depraved things, and yet Xavier invited him closer. When Erik did not fill the gap between them, Xavier leaned forward, but the movement was too adventurous; he hissed and pressed a hand against his rib as though willing away the pain. Erik placed a hand on Xavier’s shoulder and helped him down into a seat.
A few moments of silence passed, filled only by Xavier's labored inhalations, before the man pressed his fingers against the cushion next to him. Erik accepted.
"You have finally claimed the one thing you have wanted since your youth; is there something so wrong with taking something else you want?"
Damn him for knowing Erik's deepest desires, damn him endlessly, and yet Erik did want, desperately. “It is wrong. You cannot pretend my presence would not eventually ruin you."
"My dear friend, I promise you it will not." Xavier smiled and reached out again, begging Erik hold his hand.
Erik resisted; he and Xavier had touched several times, brief meetings of the hands, or standing shoulder to shoulder, and yet the simple gesture seemed the most daunting. Occasional fevered imaginings were nothing in the face of a single hand, stretched towards him, fingers twitching from the strain of being held aloft after a trying evening.
He slid his fingers easily between Xavier's. Their hands rested twined between them, Xavier’s thumb brushing against the back of Erik’s hand. He had never...
They stayed like that, silent; Erik’s eyes trailed along Xavier’s hand several times, still not quite believing. “I want so many things,” Erik finally allowed himself to admit.
“Myself as well.”
“But it’s just not done, Xavier.” Two men, like them, holding hands. More.
"I did not take you for one to put so much stock in what society expects from you, from us." Xavier gave his hand a gentle squeeze.
Erik cared very little for what others thought of him, but in this he was a novice. Xavier put great stock in society and opinion, and Erik found he couldn’t ignore how much his presence might damage Xavier. “I should..." He knew he should leave, yet at this point he could not even bring himself to form the words.
"I would not let you fly from me at this point, Lehnsherr."
"Would you call me by my given name?" Xavier had invited it, after all, and Erik could not imagine taking that step first.
Xavier answered with a tiny little smirk, infuriating and endearing all at once, and then he leaned forward, his lips scant inches from Erik's ear. "Erik." The name caused a shudder down his spine, broken into two syllables, each one of them breathless and wanting.
There was nothing else he could say while he let the warmth of the man next to him — the warmth of both body and soul — trickle into his mind and his heart. The hesitation, the nervous anticipation, in his companion was palpable to Erik even without the benefit of Xavier's gift. Xavier had asked him to stay many times, and he realized that he had still not said yes.
It was enough. More than enough for both of them.
Erik sighed at the books and gadgets that had been strewn around the upstairs sitting room upon Charles' arrival home from work yesterday. It was an entire pile. He spent his early morning taking four trips down to the laboratory area with the papers, then sorting them into the Charles-approved categories: metallurgy, mechanical engineering, anatomy, human/mutant relations, domestic politics (non-mutant related), domestic politics (mutant related), and international politics. When he finished with that, he piled one of the gadgets on his own workbench; he tucked an anatomical model in a corner before realizing Charles already had three, so he pulled all of them out and set them for Charles to pick one to keep. Finally having achieved a minor victory in the war against Charles’ clutter, he headed to the conservatory.
Charles was stripped down into little more than breeches and rolled up sleeves, looking anything but presentable, dirt strewn over the tiled floor of the conservatory and across his clothes: wrapped up in his little projects, as always.
"Charles, I thought we agreed that the sitting room was to be free from your... stuff."
Charles looked up, confused. "But I use the sitting room..."
"The upstairs sitting room. There were files there this morning."
"Oh..." Charles frowned. Clearly he had forgotten about it entirely. "Well, I have nearly determined a way to utilize a clock to time the watering of the plants at regular intervals! And the spray mechanism will place the water under the plant. That way if we find ourselves staying overlate at work the plants will still be watered in a timely fashion." Charles looked ever so pleased with himself.
"Perhaps we could consider not staying late at work, Charles?"
The man's look said it all: why on Earth would they do that? Erik sighed, all fond exasperation before he sat on one of the chairs and tugged Charles down with him; he landed softly on Erik's lap and then the two of them leaned in close, Charles' nose teasing against the shell of Erik's ear. "I take it you have plans for us, today?"
"Yes." He pressed a soft peck to Charles' cheek and then shooed him off his lap. "We are going to the park, where we will enjoy the air. I am not going to waste a fine Saturday with you hiding in the laboratory or the conservatory. Soon it will be all rain and gloom for months."
"But you have that article you were meaning to read." The protest died on Charles’ lips as Erik gave Charles gentle little shoves, herding him out of the conservatory and up to their rooms. Erik waited until he heard the water running, indicating Charles was actually cleaning up rather than letting himself get distracted in one way or the other.
"I did take care of myself for almost fifteen years before you came along, Erik," Charles responded, catching the edge of Erik’s thoughts. Even months later, he was still getting used to Charles doing so, but it had become more comfortable as Charles proved, again and again, that nothing could tarnish the man’s regard for Erik.
And perhaps Charles had taken care of himself for years, but never had Erik met someone so dedicated to distracting himself when he could have been out in beautiful weather. Erik would never again take for granted the green parks, the fresh fruit and vegetables, or any other small luxury that Charles had always had in his life. He waited, standing at a light attention while Charles washed up and dressed before the two of them headed out into the early morning.
Once they were in Regent's Park proper, Erik lifted his arm and Charles threaded his own through Erik's. A perverse little thrill went down Erik's spine and he could feel Charles' humor at the situation. A year ago, Erik couldn't have imagined this, his arm touching against a man's, the two of them walking through the park as though there was nothing to be ashamed of. He knew that Charles took some chances on that front, in keeping Erik in his home under the guise of a foreign widower unprepared to make his own house, or in the way Charles used his distractible, intellectual air to explain why a few months of interest in one lady or another did not eventually yield a proposal, but Erik would accept it. Charles was his, wrapped in his arms, unashamed.
"Your thoughts are particularly light today, Erik. To what do I owe the pleasure?"
Months in Charles' presence, Schmidt dead, the mutant registration law scrapped, fulfilling work where he used his power to build and create, places where he and Charles could go to indulge their mutant and invertive natures, belonging. "This and that."
"How exacting an analysis," Charles answered. He let his fingers slide through Erik's, hands clasped together for a moment before they returned to a more casual touch. "I know the source of my own good humor."
"That is in your nature."
Charles hummed in agreement. "Yes, of course there is a certain natural inclination on my part to be pleased with the state of the world but... I am glad for much the same reasons as yourself." As much as the words sounded like Charles, there was a certain amount of unexpected hesitation in them. Charles had admitted no great secrets, and yet he remained withdrawn.
"What is the source of your good humor then, Charles?" He was far more curious now than he had been only a minute before.
"I— I have found myself in love, and it is every bit as wonderful as promised."
Erik stopped their walk down one of the paths, the two of them effortlessly tipping their hats at a passing lady while Erik worked out what he was even to say to such a declaration. Love. For a brief moment he wondered if Charles had fallen for one of the many ladies he danced with at all of the parties that Erik rarely attended, but such a declaration was belied by them retiring in the same bed the night before, intent on deviance.
"It is... not without its benefits," Erik said after several seconds of hesitation. "You would think the middle of the park was the time for such a declaration, Charles."
"I love you, Erik Lehnsherr, and I know you enjoy the idea of the world knowing, of not having to hide what we are and how we feel... however such a declaration is the best I am able."
Erik couldn't even imagine accepting such a declaration a year ago, so intent on believing himself unnatural or just unwilling to accept love and affection for what it was, so he nodded. "Yes."
Charles' mouth was slightly tense, the only indication that he was at all nervous about Erik's response. He found it unlikely that Charles doubted Erik’s feelings, but the actual word, love, had never passed between them before. Charles was also a stickler for the distinction between thought and deed.
"Yes, it is a very convenient arrangement for two bachelors to be in love with each other." He'd meant it to be a serious declaration, but he could not quite help the way his lip quirked up at the corner. Love. His heart pounded in his chest, his hand was clammy despite the warmth of the day; he had admitted it, to Charles, out loud, and in his head there was no escaping the truth, that he needed Charles Xavier desperately and he would keep him with every power at his disposal.
"I'm glad you agree," Charles answered. He shook his head after that, amused. "Convenient!"
The two of them went back to their walk, Erik's hand still pressed close to Charles'. The man was everything he thought himself incapable of having: a friend, a companion, a lover, and everything both greater and smaller than the words themselves described. Before, his world had resided in a ball of hate, buried deep in his chest, connecting him across the years and the continents to a Butcher, now his world resided neatly in the warm and brilliant man at his side.
"Convenient is a poor word," Erik conceded. "Everything. It is everything that you are by my side."
Silent agreement hummed all around him, and he put one foot in front of the other, unconcerned with the future for a moment, as it was standing right beside him, grinning, gentle Autumn breeze ruffling his hair.