"You think they're all like Shaw," Charles had said, and that wasn't right, was it, because Shaw hadn't been one of the humans at all; he'd been a mutant all along, one of the people Erik had called his own, would have called his own, except that - well.
It probably said something about a person when the foremost advocate of human-mutant coexistence had actually assisted in their murder.
"You killed a man in cold blood," Charles had said.
Erik had never claimed to be a good man. "You helped."
The reason he was thinking of Shaw now (and Charles, but then, he was nearly always thinking of Charles) was, presumably, that perhaps he should have remembered that simply because someone was a bad person, that didn't mean they couldn't also be a mutant.
One of us, Erik thought. He was one of us, and I walked in there and thought -
"A bit late for that, wasn't it?" someone who sounded remarkably like Charles said, and Erik almost opened his eyes, giving up whatever tactical advantage he might have left.
There were small bits of metal in the room, most of them moving around. Multiple people, then, most likely hostile, given that nobody appeared to be at all interested in waking him up and checking him for injuries or some such thing. At the very least, Emma would have smugged at him. (It was a telepath thing, he'd concluded. Liked to act like they knew everything, and better than you did. That they were often right only made the whole thing more annoying.)
He must have dozed off again, since the next thing he noticed was that he'd been moved onto something soft (a bed, possibly). There were (probably) two other people in the room.
" - like that," someone said. The voice sounded vaguely familiar.
"Just 'cause he's in a wheelchair, that doesn't mean he's some sort of pushover." Hank, or no Beast. (Not quite the same cachet as Magneto, but then, to each his or her own.)
Probably safe, then. The person in a wheelchair could only be Charles, which meant -
"He's awake," Emma said. She wasn't wearing a single metal object. Expecting danger then, possibly, but from him, not to him.
Erik opened his eyes. Hank and Cassidy stared back. Emma (closest to the door; he was touched by her trust, really) was brushing some lint off her dress.
No need to ask where he was; he would recognize the room even without the view from the window. Westminster. Charles's precious school. "What happened?"
"Charles saved your ass," Beast said. His tone implied he didn't feel Erik's ass had deserved that kind of effort.
"I warned them when you went off the grid," Emma said. "No need to thank me."
And here he'd been wondering about Mystique's loyalties sometimes. "I was wearing the helmet. You - "
"Maybe it cracked 'cos your head got too big for it," Cassidy said. Beast growled. "What? It might happen. I mean, we all know his head's - "
"Where is it?"
"Charles took it. I don't know what he did with it."
"You want to talk to him, you better keep it polite," Hank said. "No funny business."
Emma turned her head too late to hide her smirk.
"What if I don't want to talk to him?" Erik asked. He would, of course. Charles had saved his life, after all; it would only be polite to go and remind him of why he shouldn't have bothered. Also, a 'thank you' might be called for, if Charles had taken permanent care of Erik's target.
So probably not, although he could always hope someone had done something rash.
"Dude, that's cold," Cassidy said.
"You'll talk to him," Beast said. "You'll be nice. You'll drink some tea. And then you get the hell out of here, and the next time I see your ugly mug, I'm pounding it."
"Cute." Erik was tempted to bring up Charles and his general disapproval of violence as a first resort, but there seemed no point. It was reassuring, in a way, to know Charles had such a dedicated defender.
'He means it, you know.'
"Well then, lead the way. Let's go see Charles."
His cloak looked a little bit worse for wear. Erik put it on anyway. His legs still felt a little wobbly (getting buried alive did that to you, he supposed, and how long had it been, anyway? hours? a day? was there anyone listening to his thoughts who might perhaps give him a clue here?).
Emma smiled at him as he walked past her. Wonderful.
He'd only ever been here for a week, and yet the place felt like ... home. Absurd, really.
Charles had apparently been warned he was coming. "Erik! How are you feeling? Please, have a seat."
"My helmet," Erik said. Behind him, Beast growled. "I want it back. Now."
"Well, of course, we're not thieves," Charles said. Erik wondered if the soothing tone was misdirected at him or at Beast. "There was just a little accident."
Charles wouldn't lie to him, Erik was fairly sure. On the other hand, Charles could and most definitely would bullshit him, if he thought he could get away with it.
A thin line. "It got damaged?" No point in losing his temper. Better to let Charles take this point, buy some of his goodwill to trade on later.
"Yes!" Charles said eagerly. "And Hank's working on fixing it." Erik just bet he was. "Aren't you, Hank?"
Beast grunted. Erik made a mental note to try and map this place to plan a raid. Assuming the helmet was here at all, instead of already having been taken apart and tossed out on the scrap heap.
He'd have to wait for a time when Charles wouldn't be here, of course.
"Will you be all right, Professor?" Beast sighed, as if he already knew the answer and wasn't happy with it. Possibly, Charles had telepathically cued him to ask the question.
"Erik could never harm me," Charles said. "Thank you, Hank. Also for that other thing."
Beast left, and Charles smiled. "I could never harm you?" Erik asked.
"Perhaps I should have said 'would'," Charles admitted. "But then, you were planning a not entirely friendly visit to this school mere seconds ago."
"When you weren't here."
"Yes. Very thoughtful of you, I'm sure. Tea?"
"Weren't you the one who claimed we should only use our powers in a morally responsible way?"
Charles didn't rise to the bait. "I consider using my powers to ensure the safety of my students very morally responsible. Do you take sugar?"
"No." Erik wasn't a big fan of tea, either, but he supposed one cup wouldn't hurt. Probably.
Charles handed him his cup. Erik managed not to stare at the wheelchair. There was a lot of metal in it - too much, really. If he ever truly wished to hurt Charles, it would be entirely too easy.
"Really, Erik." Charles sighed. "What am I going to do with you?"
Erik sincerely hoped Charles was only skimming the surface of his thoughts. "I hardly think that's up to you. It's not as if you can keep me here."
The tea tasted slightly bitter. If there ever was a next time, perhaps he would take sugar in it after all.
"Actually, I could," Charles said.
"Don't force me to hurt you." With Charles as his hostage, which of Charles's beloved students would dare stand in his way?
"We did save your life, you know. It was a very close call; for a moment, I was sure we'd come too late." Charles's expression was ... haunted. Too vulnerable, and what reason had Erik ever given him to earn that kind of look? He'd put Charles in a wheelchair, for crying out loud.
Not that it seemed to have slowed down Charles in any way. He'd gotten his school, and his students. Charles was quite happy, surely.
"I never asked for your help." Given the chance to do so, Erik didn't know if he'd have taken it. Most likely not. He could have gotten Azazel - good luck burying a man who'd just teleport back to the surface. Plus, Azazel didn't mind a bit of carnage.
"That's your argument? You didn't ask me to save your life, so you don't owe me a thing for it?"
"Maybe I wanted to die."
Charles stared at him incredulously. Erik shrugged. "You - Erik." Not reading his mind at the moment, clearly. Perhaps Erik's earlier remark had struck home after all.
"Don't you ever wonder if it was all worth it? We - we had a connection. You saved my life, and you told me I wasn't alone, that you knew everything about me. And you still accepted me for what I was. For what I am. What happened, Charles? When did it all go wrong?"
The obvious answer would be Cuba. The beach. The obvious answer had to be wrong.
"I drugged the tea," Charles said.
So. Charles had gotten devious, or maybe he'd always been a bit sharper around the edges than Erik had given him credit for. Than Erik remembered him.
It was ... intrigueing. It was -
"Sexy? Really, honey, if you're going to think of him tying you up in bed next, do tell."
"Get out of my head." It could have been worse, Erik supposed. It could have been Charles.
"And miss out on all that pining he's doing? Don't be silly. He's almost as bad as you are, although I must say, at least he knows how to dress." Emma put away her lipstick. Erik wondered who she'd been putting it on for. "Oh, and Azazel's here."
"Here?" Erik got a mental vision of Charles, his body bloody and broken after Azazel had -
Emma shuddered slightly. "No, he went to the Northpole to visit Santa Claus."
Well. With Azazel aware of his location, breaking out should be a piece of cake. Charles could slip him all the drugs he wanted; it wouldn't bother Azazel in the slightest. "That's excellent news."
"It was a joke."
"Azazel is not here?" Honestly, he'd never understand telepaths.
"Oh, he's here. He just - never mind. Do you want to see him?"
Easy question. "Yes, please."
"Ah, Erik!" Charles seemed happy to see him. Delighted, in fact.
Well, why shouldn't he? "You - " Erik said. "You're cheating."
Charles looked at him serenely. "I'm sure I have no idea what you're referring to."
"Yeah," Cassidy said (better than Beast, Erik supposed, if not by much). "The Prof doesn't cheat!"
"Thank you, Sean. Would you mind giving me and Erik some privacy? Any further questions, I'm sure Hank would be happy to help. New and improved flying suit," Charles informed Erik.
As if he cared. "You turned Azazel."
"The big, scary red guy who stabs people? He's one of us now? Cool!"
"I didn't turn him," Charles said. "We simply had a conversation. I explained to him that since you'd be staying here, there no reason why he shouldn't, too."
"He's not sleeping next door to me, right? I mean, no offense, but he's - "
"Thank you, Sean."
"Go away," Erik said.
"You're being unreasonable about this," Charles said. "Tea?"
"First Emma, now Azazel, who's next?" Erik would never turn down any of Charles's students if any of them were ever to come to him, of course. It was understood that people were free to make their own choices, be it for Charles and his X-Men, or Erik and his Brotherhood.
On reflection, perhaps he should change that name to 'Mutanthood' or something. Play the gender equality card.
"Names aren't nearly as important as what people actually are," Charles said. "People call you 'Magneto', and you claim to prefer that form of address, but you still think of yourself as 'Erik'. You tell yourself to think of Hank as 'Beast', but you keep slipping. Sugar?"
"Did you drug it again?"
"Use the same trick twice? Honestly, Erik, what do you take me for?"
"A devious man," Erik said, swallowing the second adjective that came to mind.
"I'm flattered." Charles smiled.
"Is this it, then? Your final move? You're taking over the Brotherhood?"
"Oh, it's hardly my final move," Charles said. "How is it? The tea?"
Still bitter. "Better." He wondered what Charles liked about the stuff. Perhaps it would be more drinkable with sugar and milk.
"I think it's just that people like what I'm trying to build here, really," Charles said.
"Hm." Erik had heard the speech, of course. The arguments. The earnest but hopelessly naive ideals Charles's future perfect world would be based on. "What about me?"
Charles looked genuinely surprised. "What about you?"
"Aren't you going to try to convince me to join you as well?" Erik would turn him down. Charles couldn't tell him anything new, anything he hadn't heard before, and Erik had made his choice long ago.
In the end, it didn't matter how he felt about Charles as a person. Charles had offered him a chance ot be part of something bigger than he was, and now here they were, both parts of something bigger than they themselves. Both stuck playing their parts.
"Oh, I don't think I really need to," Charles said airily. "Do I?"
"Charles Xavier is a stupid, arrogant moron with an ego the size of a small planet."
"Well," Emma said. She appeared to be removing (invisible) bits of lint off her dress again. "That doesn't sound at all like someone we all know and love, does it?" Erik wondered why she bothered wearing the outfit at all if it was this attractive to dirt.
"I'm not stupid."
Emma grimaced. Her lipstick seemed slightly smeared. "Honey, you can either join Charles and finally get laid - which would do you a world of good, by the way - or you can leave and die alone as a bitter, lonely old man. Your choice."
"How am I supposed to leave?" Erik asked. Emma was a telepath; that hardly qualified her to predict the future or some such thing. And anyway, so what if he was going to die alone? It was nothing less than what he'd always expected.
The only reason he was still here was because first, Charles had kidnapped him and then, Charles had drugged him.
"Please, not the abduction-is-seduction fantasy again," Emma said. "Look, here." She tossed a piece of paper on the bed. "It's a map."
Erik considered asking if she would be coming along, then decided doing so would undermine his statement of mere seconds ago that he was, in fact, not stupid.
"Oh, and by the way, Raven and Angel are here. And that other guy, the one who never talks?"
"Riptide." By the sound of it, he wouldn't have much of a Brotherhood left by the time he got back.
All the more reason to act quickly, then.
The thing about the map was: it was a good map. Very detailed. It showed a route starting in Erik's room and ending outside the mansion, which was where he wanted to go, obviously.
On the other hand, if he'd worn enough metal, he could simply have stepped out of the window. No need to sneak around the mansion in the dark - just make sure nobody was flying around, and go.
Unfortunately, by this time, he didn't think he'd be able to find his way back to his room. The directions were a bit complicated - well-drawn and detailed, but complicated.
He might hope to run into someone and ask for directions, except that somehow, he didn't think that would go over well. Over the past years, he'd probably gotten a bit of a ... reputation.
So. Onwards following the map it was, and hopefully Emma would prove reliable this one last time. It was just one more flight of stairs, then a hallway, then through a door and -
"Well, finally," Charles said.
The map had left him in Charles's bedroom. He was going to kill Emma. Slowly.
"Charles." Naked, of course. It was the middle of Summer and hot; no reason why Charles wouldn't be sleeping without any clothes on.
"I expected you hours ago. Did you get lost?"
Charles had been expecting him? "I'm not here for you. I'm leaving."
"Erik. You know I can't come to you. The chair - "
It was standing in a corner, easy to overlook. Easy to forget, for a while.
"You asked me about my final move," Charles said. "Well, my friend, this is it."
"Sex?" Erik wasn't sure if it would be more appropriate to laugh or to weep. "You think you can use sex to keep me tied to you?"
It would probably work. If Charles was willing put that much of himself at stake, then how could Erik do any less? They would be good together, too. Lack of a connection had never been a problem between them.
"No," Charles said. "Of course not. That would hardly be ethical, would it?"
Erik stared at him. Quite probably a mistake, given that Charles still - and he was pale. Erik wondered if he ate regularly, if he had someone to nag him about 'small things' like that.
Charles needed someone to take care of him. Erik could be that person.
It would be redemption, of a sort. He already knew Charles wanted him to stay, to join him. And it wasn't as if Erik would be miserable here; he'd be around Charles. All the time. Every day. A dream come true, practically.
Charles smiled at him uncertainly. "Erik?"
"Devious and manipulative. To say nothing of a great actor. You are not helpless."
The smile changed into a grin. Erik tried to spot the difference, the fakeness of the one expression compared to the other. "I never claimed I was."
"So what do you need me for, anyway?"
"I don't need you. Want you, yes; need you, no."
"You want me?" Erik's turn to grin. "Why, Charles. Such boldness."
"Well, you weren't picking up on any of the more subtle hints. So."
So. Charles didn't need a keeper, although the world might need someone to protect it against Charles - who would never do anything without the very best and most noble of intentions, naturally.
The oldest members of Erik's Brotherhood had already changed sides. The younger ones - some of them might very well profit from spending some time with Charles's students.
"Fine. After all, you did save my life. But."
Charles's eyes were twinkling. Erik considered making the return of his helmet an additional condition of his joining Charles. It would make it so much easier to keep things from Charles. "But?"
"I join you out there. Not in here. For that, you're going to have to work."
Charles laughed. Erik had half-expected him to claim that he'd already been 'working' for years. 'Subtle hints', indeed. If anyone'd been making any overtures, it had been Erik.
"Done. I'll see you here tomorrow night, then. Try not to get lost ... again."
"I need that helmet."
"Sorry, scrapped it," Hank said, sounding not the least bit sorry. "You're just going to have to handle him the way the rest of us do."
Well. That certainly sounded promising. "And what way is that?"
"Give him whatever the hell he wants and try not to whine about it too much."
"What happened to 'next time I see your ugly mug, I'm pounding it'?"
Hank shrugged. "Got over it."
"Took it out on the helmet?" Erik guessed.
"Maybe. Or maybe I actually have some self-control and just locked the thing away for future study."