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And Shame The Devil

Chapter Text

"Tell the truth and shame the devil."
-traditional

 

 

Erik begins his first night as the world's most wanted international security threat near an abandoned tin shack, somewhere just west of the Missouri-Kansas border. He is a free man; no longer contained by fearful humans or curtailed by Charles' conventions of 'ethical' combat. 'At large', as they say. This is a pleasing turn of duplicitous meanings in English, and Magneto finds he quite likes the phrase. It encompasses the breadth of sky he so carefully traversed from Washington DC, and so much more. How many humans, restless in their beds, will know fear for the first time tonight? True fear, as an entity itself-- the constricting coils of 'anywhere, at any moment'.

This country in particular, with its careful pretenses to dynasty and legitimacy, its odd insistence on its exemption and hard-headed naiveté will be discomforted. How shocked the nation had been, in the wake of Kennedy; as if assassination had just been invented, though even their history yielded a few examples of its own. Would that they knew the truth which-- like only the most extreme of conspiracy theories-- reveals that the puppeteers never truly change. Names and faces come and go, but the drive does not, nor its careful chalked outline. The tailored void, just waiting for the next Herr Docktor.

The land surrounding the shack and its little cluster of trees is wide, seemingly endless. The roads are one-lane strips of dirt, cutting a patchwork of green and yellow-brown from above. On the ground, such gradations vanish, leaving a sea of grass and silence. The wind is loud, not due to its own strength but because the sound of it moving through the tall shoots is a beast itself. Stalking, as the night dips down over the last bands of color on the horizon-- and restless. It, too, wanders abroad and unhindered.
Unlike Erik, it has never known prison, or exhaustion, or dismay.

Lehnsherr-- Magneto-- stays close the obscuring clutch of trees just outside the shack at first, taking care to reconnoiter. It doesn't take long to realize such precautions are hardly necessary. The tin sidings and roof of the abandoned dwelling called to him, and he had taken immediate cover. His senses, however-- now so primed as to recognize the slightest indication of his essential element-- detect little else. Flimsy wire fencing, some drainage constructs, but no automobiles or air traffic, nor complex tessellations of domestic plumbing to indicate significant occupation.

 

Dipping low over Ohio, he'd sensed an area of peculiar magnetic fluctuations and, drawn to it, descended far enough to spy a spiraling earthwork beneath which he could sense an exotic layer of ore. Within the lens of his gifted sense, it appeared as brilliant as any sunrise, though it was not visual in the least. Any mundane comparison fails to capture the essence of his mutation; certainly, after so long, the kinship imbued in the layer of alien metal had been almost intoxicating. There were simply too many people, though, to say nothing of the air base relatively close by. With genuine regret, he'd forced himself away, passing other spots of melodic texture-- mines, the pylons of factories and cubic warehouse formations-- until he at last found himself sufficiently isolated from his many-eyed enemy.

Between his initial interference with Trask's supply train and the showdown in Washington, he'd had just enough time to locate one of his stash-spots, a remnant of those fugitive months after Cuba. Mystique-- still not fully shed of Raven-- had been far more solicitous in those days, to say nothing of her bright-eyed enlistment as his disciple, and it showed in everything she had so carefully prepared. The law of averages had been against him for, in all likelihood, any of the other five locations he might have chosen would have been long gone. Somewhat miraculously, the stock had never been interfered with, and it was far more plentiful than anything Erik would have assembled alone. Civilian clothes, matches, currency, a first aid-kit, and even a hand-wound radio. He'd used the clothes up obtaining his helmet, but the rest had been worth going back for after Charles' miraculous (and strangely hollow) pardon.

This patch of nowhere is more strategically sound. He's yet to have the opportunity to test how his new-found finness interacts with radar, so he must avoid busy flight-paths and civilian ground observers. Do they still have the latter? Safer to assume they do, but Lehnsherr knows the breadth of his enforced ignorance is dangerous. He'll need a better understanding of the current political terrain, and Vietnam is only the most obvious human quagmire. It's the volatile borders that most be identified, and those countries which might resist or collaborate with the US in what already seems to be a violent identification process. Where are his mutant brothers and sisters being held, and which countries are the least prepared, now that this new stage of evolution cannot be denied?

 

He'd made for the shack as soon as his boots touched the ground, delaying use of the first aid kit only long enough to light a small fire, using a bit of metal ceiling he peeled away to form a makeshift pit. The hasty bandage he'd slapped on his neck en route had slowed the bleeding, but not much else. Luck-- or the random operations of circumstance-- had been in his favor, though. The gunshot wound was messy, but it missed the carotid and did not lodge or shatter. Though they are impervious to his command, the simple fact is that plastic and ceramic bullets will only help the humans so much. Too light-weight to pack the force of traditional metal, incapable of inflicting the same damage and shredding, and-- though he's sure the military budget is quite healthy-- expensive to boot.

The antiseptic in the kit was useless, having mostly dissolved to crusty remnants, but the gauze was still useful. With a little more time and attention, he was able to produce a serviceable pressure bandage. The tips of his fingers had felt like ice against his own neck, and were less than cooperative when he went to wind the radio. He couldn't tell if chill was genuine, or if shock and injury-related hypothermia were setting in.

 

Though he'd been glad when he found it, Erik quickly discovered the radio bothered him. Despite his clear comprehension of the words, the transmitted voices sound like gibberish, as meaningless as the background noise of the universe Charles once described. There had been a satisfying tension in the paternal announcer's voice-- something that strived for reassurance while negating that a problem existed at all. Yet those careful statements, bits of calming dross from official press releases, grated on Magneto's nerves, digging tiny, sharp claws along ears too accustomed to silence. To call his demonstration with the Sentinels impactful was a massive understatement; it dominated the news right down to the economic report, and it seemed more than one city had already issued a curfew. The reporter dutifully listed concerns about witch-hunts, unrest among transients, and even elaborate conspiracy theories attempting to explain away what people saw with their own eyes.

By the time the raucous jingle of a commercial segued into popular music, Erik had heard enough. The world out there, speeding along like some gaudy but ultimately hollow suicide bombardier, is so loud, seemingly unstoppable despite the delicate edge Logan proclaimed. He considered all of the mutants he and Charles encountered while recruiting-- the ones, far more numerous, who couldn't or wouldn't commit to their risky enterprise.

The hydrokinetic in Maine, content to use his gifts as a lobsterman, for example. Or
the pre-cog who'd worked too hard for her chance to attend Perkins' School For the Blind. She'd met them at the gate, polite yet distant, turning sharply towards Lehnsherr the first time he spoke. In Salt Lake City, there'd been a repairman who could reach through solid objects. He had a wife, two kids, and another on the way-- more interested in Charles' technical jargon and thoughts of education than the looming conflict. He'd seemed relieved that, in the likely event one of his children manifested, they'd have a chance to encounter their own kind. Their last candidate-- a waitress who could transmute sound into balls of plasma energy-- had seemed tempted, but she was waiting out time for her Reno divorce. She'd made the mistake of showing off to her husband, whose solution had been to beat it out of her.

They were-- are-- out there right now, all of them, grappling once more with their selfhood in the context of their species. Natural organisms, all of them, rather than freaks. Some may even have recognized the participants in the White House drama, broadcast in lurid and jumpy technicolor. Their children, as well as the very young mutants he and Charles encountered, will be of age now. Some will be excited to join the cause, others simply tired-- as Mystique was-- of the endless well-meaning cautions. And still others shall be drawn to Xavier's school, which Erik has no doubt will rise from the ashes.

 

Oddly enough, the conclusion of these thoughts had not been triumph or hope for the future, but a memory of Herr Doktor. Schmidt was always at great pains to demonstrate his skills as a scientist-- aside from Erik, and any prisoner unfortunate enough to draw his fleeting attention, the doctor kept himself well-stocked in actual mice for experiments. Not the kind bred for such things, but field mice-- he made unpopular enlisted men catch them out on the supply roads. Certainly less than ideal, but there was a war on. (He always had a way of saying this as though others around him-- including Erik-- had somehow failed to notice.) Later, Lehnsherr discovered that, while Schmidt had gone to the prestigious university he claimed, the self-styled Doktor had never graduated. Considering the nature of his 'experiments', one could easily imagine a professor or department head taking exception to some of his more pathological behaviors. Even the mice were not safe from the intricacies of torture. He liked to isolate one, exposing it to pungent food or environs, until it smelled quite different from the others.

'Do you see, kleiner Lehnsherr?' he'd ask, dropping the unfortunate creature back into the communal cage. The other mice knew it was no longer like them, that it was other, and whole therefore bit their former comrade to death in a sort of enthusiastic orgy, almost tearing it to pieces sometimes. Schmidt said the same thing happened with monkeys-- that it was evolution. While Erik saw, and experienced first hand, far more extreme violations and grotesqueries, for some reason the image of the mice stayed with him. They would seem almost cute, delicate, until they encountered the alien. He remembers the Doktor chuckling, sipping brandy, looking as if all the justification he would ever need was held in that small wire cage.

 

Undoubtably, he and Trask would have gotten along quite well, if Shaw had continued his human masquerade. But mutants were not mice or monkeys, the adult Lehnsherr had thought, ruthlessly silencing the broadcast. The instincts of humanity were the enemy, nothing else. Without realizing it, Erik had backed away from the radio-- a shuffling crab-walk that ended with his body pressed into the corner. Metal, which was good. Element 50, abbreviation 'Tn', magnetic but so weak as to be beneath consideration for practical purposes. He could feel it, though, as he wedged himself in; he just couldn't tell if his body was too large, or too small.

Schmidt always picked on the smallest mice-- he resented imperfect specimens

(he'd tell Erik, as he arched back the buckle-end of the belt for a strapping or tapped delicately at the glass casing of a needle)

though he made do. He was beset by the errors of nature,

('if you don't want to get beaten then move. the damned. buckle!')

tormented by them.

('you are weak! you are weak, and that is why you are here!')

 

Around Erik, the entire structure thrummed-- a poor encasement, a shade or echo of Cerebro. He'd hated that thing the moment he'd laid eyes on it, his resentment only deepening when he saw how dwarfed Charles was by the equipment. Despite his masculine beauty, there was never anything truly delicate about Xavier-- he had a swimmers body, strong and elegant hands. But when McCoy started nattering enthusiastically about augmentation, hooking Charles up while they traded figures and observations, Erik could have cheerfully torn the entire installation apart.
And who did the professor really have to be wary of, in the end?

 

How long he-- Magneto! Erik, who is no one's lab rat or prisoner-- had sat in that corner rocking ever so slightly, Erik doesn't know. As soon as he'd come back to himself, he'd rushed for the door, making his way to the cover of trees with only the barest caution. Now, as the weight and chill of the night settle fully over the lonely terrain, Lehnsherr squints up at the stars, forcing himself to recognize old patterns, telling himself that nothing is wrong. He had periods of blankness like that in prison, but that is all behind him now. His memories, sole and exacting companions for such a long period of time, will lose their potency with new input and other foci. The time for the contemplation and haunting of past horrors is over; the future will bring more conflict, and he must be strong enough to meet it.

Tilting his head up, Erik fixes his gaze on another such warrior-- Perseus, with the head of the Gorgon and, to the east, Andromeda in chains. Camelopardalis, the giraffe, who so pleased Erik's father for being utterly out of place in their midst. To the boy Lehnsherr had been, Vater was a book-keeper with an academic bent, though he had been told that-- in the impossible and vague time before Erik's birth-- Jakob had been a professor. Mama had not been 'Mama' at all, but Edie-- the well-educated daughter of a Rabbi, and a budding librarian. Even in Erik's very early childhood, long after their dismissal from University life, his parents had kept a nice little library-- modest, but with a few works comparable to those on Xavier's shelves. Vater knew all the Latin constellations, and Mama pointed out the planets with Hebrew names, like Chiun, Meleket ha-Shamayim, and the bloody Ma'adim.

How strange and far away those recollections were, yet somehow oddly immediate sometimes, in his little cement hole. Such singular things he had begun to hear in the ventilated silence! Not enough to be clear and obvious 'voices', but sounds underneath sounds. The auditory equivalent of the little furry shadows he'd sometimes catch out of the corner of his eye, scuttling despite the fluorescents.
They never turned off the lights.

 

It comes to Erik then that this is his first opportunity to truly partake of darkness, to recognize it for what it is. There'd been no sleep on the plane, and none during their hasty preparation for the peace conference. He'd dozed briefly in the dingy little Paris room he'd acquired later. After seeing to his own stitches, he'd poured over Trask's film until his eyes flatly refused to focus any more. With only a few swigs of alcohol to dull the pain, his sleep had been fitful-- almost more exhausting than wakefulness. He'd kept jolting into semi-consciousness, buzzing with adrenaline and recalcitrant muscles. The noise of people, of living, had been alien.

Quite suddenly, Lehnsherr finds himself drawing useless breaths of shallow rapidity, as if his throat has become some wheezing and defective mechanism for exhaust. Recognition of this fact doesn't seem to do any good; he cannot slow the spasmodic pace of his lungs, and his chest burns as if there isn't any air at all. So much of this outside world, to which he has so recently returned, is unoccupied. He forces himself to think how easy things would seem if it truly were as unpeopled as it appears right now but, below that, he's wondering. His perception shifts; the entire planet could be just another cavity, like his cell, only larger and sporadically interrupted with debris. Just another cement hole for prisoners, but one he is far less intimate with. Larger, more difficult to control.

A disturbing concept. He has labeled these types of ideas 'sideways thoughts', because it sounds a lot better than 'crazy'. Verrückt, meshuggah, the latter of which Sean once said sounded as though you had mashed potatoes rolling around in your head. There is an element of softness to it, like rotting fruit, but also the impression of consumption in general. The mind turns on itself, begins a process of self-cannibalization. These alterations in perception came without warning, making his relentlessly lit, white room seem like the void of space. So expansive and possessed of unholy gravity that the light of Reason could not escape, drawing everything towards that maw until you disappeared inside yourself. A tesseract of non-existence.

And if he should vanish like that now? Let the cause of death be couched in such terminology. Something with a technical air; like a paper Charles, with his weakness for quantum physics, might churn out for one of his myriad scientific journals.

 

Erik's body and mind have been behaving quite of their own accord this evening. It is ironic, then, that he is aware of the exact moment in which Charles stakes his claim. The penetrative metaphor is misleading, as is the implied notion of chronology. Once, prompted by an idle comment from Raven, Charles had explained the concept of discrete versus continuous time. The former was the standard unit of measurement, time as humans perceived and had arranged it. Continuous time was more fluid; discernible points became infinitesimal, and never reoccured. In between whatever two points you chose, there could be any number of other points, like miles suddenly adding themselves between once-accurate highway signs.

"So, it's like an hour at lunch versus an hour of math class," Alex had joked, successfully staving off whatever further physics nonsense McCoy might have added.

Yet later, as Erik and the professor enjoyed their ritual chess game, Charles had elaborated rather oddly. Pensive, staring into the fire for a great deal of their brandy-protracted match, the younger mutant had finally and suddenly said, "There should be a third type of time."

Lehnsherr had responded with a vague interrogative, surprised by the non sequitur as well as concerned. It was rare but, in their short time together, the assassin had noticed a handful of occasions when Xavier would become very distant. Not unfriendly or disdainful, just… less present. As if his voice and general aura of being were reaching his body in a lengthy transmission from pressurized depths. Erik disliked this for two reasons. First, it reminded him of sages dreaming in the desert, so close to some other world that burning wheels or many-winged beasts might see fit to close the gap. And, on a more practical-- not to mention selfish-- level, he had simply conceived a very profound dislike for anything that robbed him of Charles' full attention.

On that particular evening, the metal-bender had employed his usual solution, drawing his lover's focus back to the physical with his own lavish attentions to the slighter form. Such occasions were also ripe opportunities for Lehnsherr's own passionate but sparingly indulged fancies: to have Charles in his lap, kissing for what seemed like hours, or consenting to whatever elaborate bindings and ornaments Erik might conjure.

"Nebulous time," Xavier had murmured, even as the older mutant took the rook from his hand, drawing him up into an embrace. "Inside my mind, time passes quite differently-- for myself and--" Those blue eyes had flickered at last seeming to register Erik's presence. In a tone less shy than actively cautious, he finished, "-- and the rare individual I've had occasion to bring with me."

Erik had worked hard to make that Charles' last coherent statement of the evening and-- in that case, at least-- been rewarded for his efforts. As a strategist, he ought to have paid more attention, though most concepts associated with telepathy were as incomprehensible to him as sunlight to creatures of the sea's deepest reaches. Or-- and this, apparently, is one of the many seminal events he missed-- the airless and desolate surface of the moon. It is equally difficult for Erik to articulate, even to himself, those interactions he has had with the professor's psyche-- though there is usually a sense of powerful phoenix wings, astonishing in their breadth, set all blazing to blue.

 

The uncharted, ambiguous and directionless kingdom to which Xavier is heir therefore takes Erik both instantly and by degrees. Warmth seeps into him from the faintest reaches of his skin and blooms from his most deeply chilled core-- quiet, delicious. Muscles he didn't know he'd been holding tense relax, and those he had been attempting (without success) to unclench feel as though they have been quiescent all along. Though he is still standing, Lehnsherr has the absurd notion that he is lying on an impossibly soft plain, over which a golden-azure mist has come to rest. The veil is blissfully thick, not the least dispersed by a breeze which whispers some faint notes which may be his name, or the idea of his name.

('Charles,') he murmurs inwardly, thinking he has closed his eyes to savor this. If the invocation were verbal, it would sound like the closest thing to a prayer Erik has spoken in years.

No response-- at least, not directly. Lehnsherr becomes aware that his eyes are, in fact, open and he is hovering a few feet above the ground, through no deliberate use of his own powers. There a sense of experimental motion, in the same way one flexes the body after waking. Testing, as if the self has been elsewhere and just returned. 'Or been invaded', Erik clarifies-- a deliberate jab. This is not Xavier's body, though one could hardly tell in light of Xavier's deft handling. The professor does not respond to Lehnsherr's baiting, though surely he must hear it. While not actively angry-- Erik isn't certain that's possible, adrift in this fine sheen of contentment-- the assassin's pride never the less requires at least one or two warning shots. Particularly since, even without the heady sense of peace being bestowed on him, Lehnsherr's primary reaction to his telepathic company is sheer relief at finding shelter from the workings of his own mind.

 

He'd goaded Charles into this just a short while ago, though not with words. His entire body had coiled the moment Mystique relieved him of his helmet; anticipation, trepidation, and no small amount of desire. In this he is both united and divided, too aware of his feelings to lay the blame entirely with a traitor in his own subconsciousness. Impossible to accuse one 'part' of himself for reaching out with a blind and desperate psyche for the far more powerful one rushing to meet it-- one cannot blame a specific gear when the contribution comes from the entire machine. Through Erik, Charles had lifted the pylon as though it were nothing, had slipped into the neural pathways of his old friend like a key sliding home. Doubtless, the professor can rationalize that previous interaction as necessity; the blazing, soft-steel feeling of that brief possession, which conjured unwilling comparisons of having those scholarly fingers wrapped around a more… intimate part of Magneto's anatomy.

Oh! And there, for just an instant, comes the slightest sting-- as if from an all too even-tempered wasp. Surely the slightly vulgar analogy has not offended Xavier, unless he's acquired some sort of puritanical streak during their separation?

 

No response. Charles is a disciple of moral propriety, not prudishness, and it always unwise to mistake one for the other. Certainly, Lehnsherr himself-- strategically cautious, aware of but not having internalized the taboos against his own attractions-- had received something of a surprise at the mischievous faun that lurked beneath those rumpled sweater-vests. The lack of communication is atypical, but carries no censure. The metal-bender knows his friend well enough to anticipate the intricate processes of Charles' thoughts, though he has no sense of them. There is simply never a time when Xavier is not thinking, turning some problem of concept (more likely, several) over in careful and penetrating consideration. The professor once praised Erik's mind for its geometry, which he described as precise, ornate, and "decidedly non-Euclidian". Lehnsherr didn't need to completely understand the comment to feel a surge of pride. Perhaps because of this, or his own disposition towards clean lines, the metal-bender has always imagined Charles' thought processes as light through crystal-- honed, seemingly delicate, and devastating in its laser intensity.

 

He cannot grasp that distant song, though he strains to 'hear' it. The reserve might make Erik feel judged, if not for the contentment the telepath has poured into his very veins. The flow of this steady, profound satisfaction and comfort has a pulse-- a clarion call to draw Lehnsherr closer, and closer still.

The impetus is potent with, almost composed of, a feeling

(HEIM KOMMEN)

vaguely associated with words. It is not a message, unless the mysterious seasonal stirring in the hollow bones of birds can be considered a coherent message. A signal-- something that permeates. The days are dying, the dark and cold follow at heel. Go, migrate, prepare. Or, in this case--

(wroc do mnie)

Inwardly, Lehnsherr is impressed. That wasn't an idea-- that was Charles' voice, in a flawless appropriation of Erik's rusty and limited Polish. A warning, a demonstration, or both? He's well in the air now, heading northeast with purposeful speed.
A command, he decides, when it becomes clear nothing else is forthcoming. Charles is clearly fascinated with the metal-bender's newly-honed gift of flight, and his influence never wavers. It is not a hold, precisely, only because the ensorcellment is relatively lax. Clearly, the professor intends for the experience to be pleasant (such a pale term, in this context!). Imbued in everything-- this strange, soporific sense of well-being-- is the potential for that grip to tighten. It's difficult to even think through the intoxicating current, but Erik does find his pulse races when he considers what his old friend could do, should the mood take Charles.
Or if someone pushes him.

It's clear this new application for Lehnsherr's powers inspires wonder in the telepath; a faint elation of innocent delight, so rare now to the professor that he radiates a little surprise along with that joy. And, of course, in this sharing lies the sorrowful thread of everything unshared.

 

Erik has had plenty of time to ponder lost opportunities-- those paths untaken along the life-lines of one's palms. It's not a tendency inherent in him; instead, it came upon him in his prison like a cancer. A rogue thought, like a cell, replicating its improper code over and over again. How often had he thought of Charles, and in how many kaleidoscopic ways? With longing, for a past so brief it might as well not have existed and future which was just as fleetingly possible; with regret, for those last images and the for pieces in play he had so foolishly ignored or underestimated.

(If only his grip hadn't been so self-assured, so imprecise; if only McTaggart had possessed enough sense not to fire in the first place. Should he and Mystique have colluded prior, if Charles might have been spared and then-- for his own good-- been brought under Erik's protection…)

And he had thought of the professor with anger, hating those words of refusal

(Of dismissal, after everything they'd shared!)

and the younger man's arrogant naiveté

('just following orders', that he should even _think_ such a thing, let alone say it!)

in assuming Lehnsherr could be persuaded from practical survival in favor of some ideal.

What he'd stolen from his lover precluded any expectation of rescue in all but Erik's most desperate moments, but it had not stopped the natural envy of the cage for those with fewer boundaries. He'd imagined Charles enjoying any number of the world's mundane pleasures-- showering, listening to music, drinking, looking up at the sky. In his most self-loathing moments, he imagined Xavier taking a lover. Always female; always blond, with a patient, caregiving nature and a devotion to her handsome scholar that set Erik's teeth on edge. Even the thought of the professor in his laboratory or typing a thesis inspired envy.

 

He doubts now, however, that Charles has been contributing much to academia in recent years. Which is a shame, for even Erik-- leery as ever of even the faintest whiff of clinical deconstruction in science-- can admit that the professor is brilliant. Of course, one can hardly assume that Xavier's pivot, the events from which the downward spiral first showed its slippery decline, date precisely in concert with Erik's. In Paris, harried and working on limited intel about the peace conference, Erik was never the less pulled aside by Hank McCoy. Charles, numbed by his serum and distracted by the future interloper's hedging, remained oblivious. Just around the corner from the others, the human face of Beast had introduced Lehnsherr's back to the nearest concrete wall.

"It was the Draft," the scientist had hissed in Erik's face. "The waste of good, young lives and the fact we were so close to establishing the school when things fell apart." The high cheeks and narrow nose had stayed within the shade of their disguise, but Lehnsherr had seen quite clearly the pale golden irises that gave away the game. "Don't ever think it was you."

It had been on the tip of Erik's tongue to point out McCoy's own contributions, which were clear despite the shortness of the reunion. Did he hate Hank for enabling Charles, or was he grateful that at least someone had been at the professor's side? Both assumptions-- though they'd reflect upon him poorly-- are in all likelihood still too selfless. What Erik hated was having lost, through every fault of his own, that role of trusted confidant and second.

 

Lehnsherr can sense Charles' attention, licking as a blaze loose in a forest, drawing towards the end of that memory and its associated chain of thought. Is he offended by their possessive bickering, insulted at the implication he must rely on someone, or simply aghast that Erik should still claim abiding affection in spite of crimes new and old? Impossible to tell. Still, still, he is contained; apart from the force that has seized him entirely. In fact (perhaps in reaction?) the layers of pleasure and respite are now as numerous as they are ephemeral. If Xavier turned these sensations up enough, the metal-bender is certain his own consciousness would drown, leaving his body to collide, plunge, or simply starve as Charles sees fit. Yet he's allowing Erik to think; making no secret of his own watchfulness and, maddeningly, still putting forth no comment. It doesn't matter that the professor's actual gaze has no place in this. The older mutant can still feel the weight of that dizzying azure just as he had on the plane.
Neither one of them had been able to stop staring at each other.

('Are you so surprised, schatz?') the assassin thinks, addressing the foreign psyche directly. ('You were, after all, the thing I most wanted to see. A sore jaw and a few spared jackboots were a small price to pay.') The truth and tender words; a deadly combination. Lehnsherr is not a man predisposed to sweet nothings, and the professor is a telepath who places a ridiculous amount of weight on the spoken word. Between the two of them, love words were scarce and magical artifacts, as likely to bite as they were to bless. Erik would never be satisfied with just 'dear' and 'my friend', and Xavier wanted more than just the incoherent mental radiations of a man in the throes of passion.
Show me, prove it to me; don't look, I won't believe you.

('Look then, if that's what you want!') he thinks, in what he assumes must be the mental equivalent of arms thrown wide. ('Help yourself!') Even Erik is aware there's some degree of lunacy in regarding one's love for another as a weapon. ('If you want to think I don't care about you, I promise you won't like what you see.')

 

"No," says Charles' actual voice, accent curling through Lehnsherr's ear like ghostly velvet. Intoxicating music from a reoccurring but forgotten dream.

Blinking, Erik finds himself at the mansion, standing on one of the great stone porticos. A few more steps will take him through the latticed double doors (the west side of the house?) and into one of Sharon Xavier's ridiculous 'sitting rooms'. It's clear, just from a glance through the open threshold, that the chamber no longer serves such a vague and ridiculous purpose. There's a bed perpendicular to the far wall-- plush, accommodating, as Charles prefers his personal furniture. But it also has metal railings and a clear propping mechanism; a hospital bed whose true nature peeks out from beneath its imperfect disguise. The hearth is alight with a healthy fire, casting inconstant coppery batches of glow against an armchair and side table-- the only items of furniture in the room not decisively pushed to the wall. Lehnsherr's gaze passes quickly over the platoon of pill bottles on the nightstand affecting as much half-conscious blindness as possible. He's not sure what to make of the fact Xavier lets him turn his head away, never mind the single word that's been spoken to him.

A negation, yes, but of what? Lehnsherr's feelings, or the assumption that the telepath would be displeased with them? Surely its not a repudiation of Magneto's presence here, since it's hardly the metal-bender's design. That odd, non-physical pinching sensation occurs again, as Erik watches Charles wheel out of the shadows. Bad enough to see him like that in DC; only the battle itself effectively numbed the quandary of guilt that the evidence of his own crime, and the perverse relief that the professor would not so easily be able to put himself in the line of fire.

 

"Says the man who dropped a pylon on me," Xavier remarks, in an oddly conversational tone. He's come just to the threshold-- anyone watching would like he was blocking an unwanted guest.

Erik doubts he'll be permitted to speak, but he doesn't test that theory. Instead, he pushes a general idea at Charles, the one benefit of communicating with a telepath.

(--if you look/see/listen-- nothing i can keep to myself-- no room to hide or consider your offense-- kept you out of the way, didn't hurt you--
… tell me it didn't hurt you…)

"Your solicitude is touching." It would be easier if the words were mocking, or even dry. Instead, it sounds as though the professor is lecturing on lateral DNA transfer, the quark composition of protons, or some other near-occult aspect of scientific pidgin. Lehsnherr's own inability to get a read on his lover is becoming disconcerting. It doesn't help that, despite the trials of the past few days and the discordant reminders of his injury, Charles looks beautiful. That same masculine comeliness has always been his, yes, but now it is cut to the glittering facets of a jewel. He looks regal, effortlessly untouchable when once he had to counterbalance intellectual gravitas against faey, boy looks.

His feet are unshod where they rest, legs clad in fresh black trousers, bare-chested beneath a voluminous dressing gown. It's a finely wrought garment-- too gaudy to be authentic, but too skillfully executed to be fake. The firelight only enriches the fabric, making it the deep red of dried blood shot through with vermillion, highlighting the delicate gold embroidery depicting long-necked birds. Perhaps they're mean to be peacocks or cranes, but Erik immediately associates them with kohl, that bird born of flames in the holy texts. The professor ought to look ridiculous; instead, despite the physical dimness, he blazes like that phoenix, having reclaimed the powerful birthright currently holding his visitor in place. That psychic grip tightens with atavistic warmth, the same way Erik's heart clutches at the sight of Charles.

 

It occurs to Lehnsherr, standing on the cool patio, beneath stars which have galloped forward with the miles and time-zones he crossed in a fugue, that Charles could kill him with a thought-- and probably should. Given a second opportunity, the humans would have made Erik a lab rat rather than a prisoner. Like the most feral of cats, they would have toyed with his agony, making death seem heady relief, since their entertainment would have ended in the same moment as his life. He would have had to wait, as he did with Schmidt, for some ill-conceived experiment to deliver the fatal blow-- a strategy which obviously has not worked out well in the past.

Th professor is powerful; he would have needed Cerebro to hook his prey, but not to pull the reel. If there was a transition between the telepathy's 'broadcast' strength and the raw force, the older mutant never sensed it. In this same way, Charles can likely snuff Lehnsherr's consciousness from existence. One thought, and not even a dripping bit of wax or smoldering wick to betray all the beliefs and ideas with which Magneto once burned. True death, or a living version-- it is obvious Xavier could also lend the legend of the golem a terrifying truth. Despite the anger, the betrayal between them, Erik firmly believes that-- in either case-- Charles will be quick, thorough, and kind.

"Projecting your own strategic reasoning on me?" Xavier asks, staring at the other mutant with a dismay not completely dissimilar from that he showed on the beach. Surprise, but not enough of it; very little fear for himself, with a heavy dose of wounded offense. The tense lines of his back and shoulders practically bleed words: 'I would never, how can you think such a thing?' Lehnsherr works his jaw and finds he has the power of speech, though he doesn't use it for much.

"No," he says in a soft whisper, for surely Charles must see. Erik himself is not a good man, and would therefore make an even crueler god. There are many he would fell without qualm, given just his own powers, and there is even less he'd shrink from for the sake of his people. How can Charles, whose fingers have brushed against his own as they pitted black against white, not know he is the most powerful piece on the board? A man may make a Queen Sacrifice, a deal with the metaphorical Devil, but not unless his back is against the wall. No-- if Lensherr had the professor's gifts, such risk would never be a concern. He would merely take with tenderness and reverence, hold onto Charles with adoring, blood-soaked hands and never let go.

"How touching." Faint, airless, the voice in a vault or catacomb. Xavier is looking at Erik so oddly, as a medic might on the battlefield; 'hold on, you're alright', even when the ending has been written. If he could, Erik would curl his lip in frustration. The beard does not completely hide the boyish lines of Xavier's face, which has gone quite pale, so that he looks like a very young man just visited by one of life's more unpleasant and inevitable revelations. But the fugitive himself will not back down, staring at Charles with a gaze that implies the defiant jut of chin even if he cannot perform the action at present.

 

Lehnsherr has never allowed himself to imagine a final victory; he's never been the sort to visualize desired outcomes in advance at all. That's probably why he's had to go over the experience of killing Shaw again and again, trying to convince himself it happened. It seemed so very unreal at the time. So, although he has a vague idea of mutant society as a place where people like Charles can thrive, he has never placed himself in that context or tried to envision a time when his work is done. What would be the point?
Success itself would mean Charles could never forgive him, so what would be left?

"What, indeed?" Said thoughtfully, blue eyes gazing downward, a thousand miles away. Erik is allowed to move for a moment, and he takes several purposeful strides before Charles apparently thinks better of it. When he's still once more, the telepath looks at him sadly. The internal force Erik rallies to contradict his captor feels the strength of legion, but it results in nothing. Not event the twitch of a pinkie. All the same, the metal-bender makes his opposition clear-- he doesn't want sorrowful philosophy, courtesy, or calm arguments. What he's after-- what he's always been after-- is the boiling blood of the Charles he knows exists at the core, smothered by layers of propriety and scientific detachment. By the 'do's and 'don't's of human expectation, and a chivalry others would exploit. The heart that beats, the sinew that quivers-- that is what Erik wants, longing to warm himself over the soft/strong flesh as it parts beneath his own devoted and voracious claws.

Lehnsherr quickly loses also the brief privilege of articulation, but he doesn't need it. He pushes. Thinks, ('If you're going to kill me, Charles, do it now-- and let me look at you. Allow yourself to be the last thing I see. Otherwise, someday, you'll curse yourself for not doing away with me when you had the chance.')

 

The professor sighs, having apparently decided that a firmer hand is needed. Erik watches distantly as his own body stalks forward, crossing the threshold, powers tugging every-so-lightly at the doorknob. The portal closes behind him, glazed panes leaving only the faint impression of a possible world outside, rather than the actual fact. Xavier has wheeled away, back towards the armchair and its attendant table. Despite his role as puppet-master, he still motions the captive forward. Welcoming, and therefore doubly incongruous, given their murky exchange so far. Erik has been wondering why the professor brought him here from the moment he found himself on the patio, but he hasn't-- and he won't-- pose the question coherently. Charles rarely gives direct answers at any rate, particularly in regards to matters of his vaunted morality.

"I was hoping we could have a civilized discussion," Xavier says, shaking his head at himself. He fixes the metal-bender with a gaze that betrays just a bit of that longed-for heat. "Mark me, we will have words, whether you like it or not. However, since you're clearly not in the right mood for rational discourse, we will attend to other matters first."

 

Lehnsherr's own hands are pulling at his clothing, his uniform, briskly undressing. Any other mind occupying Erik's would have faced roiling hatred, vitriol, and struggle from the start, as meaningless as that would have been. But this is Charles, this is Charles-- taking him, undoing him. Conquered, summoned, and now…

And now leaving his clothing in a pile on the floor. Though once more wrapped in the velvet strength that stole hours from his memory, Erik still manages to be irked by the messy discard of garments. He is instantly opposed to unnecessary disarray-- it offends his fundamental sense of order. The professor quirks an eyebrow again, but grants his 'guest' just enough leeway to fold the cape and uniform, aligning the boots in neat parade rest beneath the arm chair. When he straightens again, he discovers Charles has used his hand to take up the cushion and toss it on the floor. Before he can even conceive of a pithy mental remark, Erik is kneeling on the pillow, facing towards the fire.

 

The heat from the hearth feels strange; less concentrated than the one he set earlier this evening, but more present. For the first time since stepping out of the Pentagon days ago, a final layer of lacquered unreality dissolves. Even in the heat of battle, Erik had been plagued by a sense of his own transparency, as if some innocuous but lurking bit of scenery would suddenly reveal that he himself was nothing but a stage prop. The fumbling grope he'd had with Charles in Paris did nothing to relieve this notion; if anything, it made it worse.

Ah, dutiful McCoy and the watchful prophet! Neither one of them had been in a hurry to leave Charles alone with his 'old friend', but there had been too much to do (and very little tolerance, on the professor's part, for blatant hovering). It had only been a matter of time before Erik reached for Xavier the way he'd wanted to on the plane, and the action itself had been an outgrowth of their usual argument. The same turbulent variations on a distorted theme. Finally, he'd taken fistfuls of Charles' dress shirt and hauled the other man to him, his entire body a thing of coiled and devoted anticipation as he sealed their mouths together.

Still, doubt had lingered. Was Charles really there? The searing bites so pitifully disguised as kisses, the way the younger mutant seemed almost to climb Erik's lankier form… all of that had been a wild pleasure from which some vital, animating force was absent. Whatever half-desperate, violence-laced consummation they might have achieved had been interrupted, but Erik's inward howl of frustration had been only tangentially related to the loss of physical satisfaction. Some void had been carved out by revitalizing flow of Xavier's serum, and thus created an answering hollow in Erik as well. He'd had a brief put potent vision of the world in grayscale, just like his cell, and had thought in horror: 'I have forgotten how to live in the three-dimensional world. I am only a shadow-thing; less than real.'

"You are real," Charles' says softly, calling him back to the present. The professor has wheeled just behind Erik, having pushed aside the foot-rests to achieve even a few centimeters of additional closeness, though they still do not touch. Lehnsherr breathes, deep and even-- impossible to tell if the telepath is deliberately syncing their breathing, or if Erik is simply matching it instinctively. His hands lay limp in his nude lap, and the knowledge of Xavier's presence bathes the captive with a warmth far more alluring than that of the fire before him. He'd puzzle over the shift in Charles' tone, but that fine-vapor bliss rolls over him again, slowly dispersing in the bloodstream. Sapphire-lit moon glow, his liebling; the phantom brush of breeze or current or leaves, but so vital that Erik can only succumb. His thoughts are an incoherent stream of affirmation-- a child's desperate, grasping hands.

('Oh, Erik,') Xavier sends. Because the message is voiceless, Erik cannot identify the tone-- thought, of course, he is not always accurate when words _are_ spoken.

 

Lehnsherr is distracted by the way the telepath shapes his name as a thought when the first actual touch comes. The former assassin cannot stiffen, balk, or react, and the deliberate natural of the contact is strange, almost frightening. He has encountered incidental physical interaction in the past few days, mostly in mundane contexts. The brief embrace he and Xavier shared was something fraught, much like the victim of thirst who doesn't actually taste the first water he receives, and must be prevented from gorging himself by accident. Even after they'd parted, Paris had been a cacophony, and the telephone booth with Mystique a hothouse tomb. The metal-bender had become so unused to people in general that crowds appeared as pulsing plant-like clusters and the single groundskeeper he'd encountered at the stadium became as outlandish as Trask's damned Sentinels.

"Shhhhh…" Charles soothes, or perhaps it is only the sigh of a man presented with a hopeless tangle of string. The touch is a single finger tip, sliding down the curve of his neck. So slow, it turns a journey of centimeters into almost another fugue as it slips down to the carotid. No pressure, though; the good professor is not feeling for a pulse, and has no need to. He must see/feel/hear how Erik's body throbs with their closeness; how he has transformed what was, only a few minutes ago, a tin-soldier tool in purple and crimson into a palpitating, living thing. The clothes have nothing to do with it.

Erik Lehnsherr is not a man many have dared attempt to comfort, and fewer still have succeeded. Even Mystique knew, in the days after Cuba, that it was best to let her new leader rage himself out like a storm. Who else would even be moved to attempt sympathy? He had taken up the mantle of leader, and thus forfeited any such consideration. Azazel was a connoisseur of doom, and Janos kept his own counsel. Emma watched it all with the cock of one meticulously sculpted eyebrow and acted as though she were sipping champagne.

'I know what this means to you…'

Charles does not attempt to comfort because-- beautiful, arrogant, impossible man-- he never takes the concept of failure into account. It is something that happens, yes; no one can live life without disappointments. But he must not feel truly daunted by Erik, and all the ways in which Erik has failed to be 'more than anger', because he keeps circling back.

 

A slight chuckle from behind him, both indulgent and flattered. Sad, too, because whatever phantom projections only Charles is privy to don't seem disposed to leave the room, but there's a sharpness there. Lehnsherr can imagine that little quirk of lips, the tenacious smile seen so often across the black and white board.

Xavier lifts the finger away, replacing it with one warm, well-sculpted hand on each of Erik's shoulders. He is a man who has needed anchoring in the past, and therefore knows how to anchor. It is a bracing, as well-- he leans forward, lips so close to the captive's ear that feathery breath touches even if actual flesh does not.

 

Charles says, quietly, "Perhaps it's best I set aside automatic assumptions about your motivations. I certainly recommend, my love, that you not assume altruism on mine."

 

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