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Three Conversations, a Silence and an Epilogue

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"You should start training," Erik says, sitting opposite her in a plush chair in his office. Their new headquarters are in a building in south Manhattan. She doesn't know whether the property is something Erik 'inherited' from Shaw or if he somehow managed to acquire the lease independently. She doesn't have the make of Erik's ethics completely figured out yet, so either option is plausible.

"I have been training," she says, turning her head into that of President Kennedy and her body into Marilyn Monroe's, white dress and all.

"I don't mean that," Erik says with a small smile.

She still finds herself startled, sometimes, when aspects of her abilities that would incite panic in normal people manage to amuse or delight Erik. She doesn't know how she lived all those years with Charles avoiding her body, her eyes, looking at surfaces they both pretended were her own. She won't settle for that again, not ever.

"I mean skills that fall outside your natural gifts," Erik goes on, as she shifts back into her natural skin. She's taken to walking naked around HQ; so far nobody's batted an eyelash.

"You mean like juggling plates?" she says.

"I mean like hand-to-hand combat, martial arts, weapons. There's a war coming, Raven. We must all be ready."

She frowns at him.

"I'm sorry. Mystique," he corrects himself.

"Fine, I'll ask Azazel to teach me sword fighting."

Erik nods. "That would be a good start."

"And then you can teach me some of that cool spy stuff you know," she says, smiling.

"In time," Erik says. He rises from the chair and walks over to his desk. She gets up as well. It feels awkward, as though the conversation shouldn't be over but it is.

"You should go see him, if you want to," he adds after a long pause, rifling through his papers with his back to her. It's the worst attempt at nonchalance she's ever seen from Erik Lehnsherr.

She doesn't roll her eyes, though she wants to, and doesn't slam the door when she walks out of his office. It's something Raven would do. Mystique knows better.

*

"I think it's great, you know," Emma Frost says, as they're both having breakfast the next day. God only knows how they ended up at the dining hall at the same hour with no one else around. "Everyone should get a new identity every once in a while."

"Should they?" she tries to keep the sharp edges out of her voice and fails, spectacularly. Telepaths and their condescending bullshit.

"Oh, yes." Emma sips her tea. "Self deception can be terribly hard to achieve. Best to stuff things into little boxes and make up a new name for yourself. Eventually you'll fool your own mind into thinking you're a different person."

"It must kill you," Mystique says, putting her half eaten sandwich on the table. "That I'm Erik's right hand, instead of you. Although, considering you volunteered to be the plaything of a Nazi torturer, I don't know what you were expecting."

Emma drinks her tea, as calmly as before. "Now, sugar, don't confuse loyalty with skill. He trusts you more than any of us because he knows you," she puts the teacup down on top of her empty plate. "And because manipulating you is about as complicated as a Sunday afternoon at the Riviera."

"Everyone else thought he was really Sebastian Shaw but you knew better, right?" Mystique says, because she's too good to fall for that trick. "You were his confidant, his telepath. You knew who he really was, what he'd done."

Emma leans back in her seat. "You know, despite what you might think, I'm actually quite fond of you. I think you have marvelous potential."

"Is this where you tell me I'll be allowed to play with the grown ups if I prove I'm a good girl and brush my teeth twice a day?" Mystique says, smiling humorlessly.

Emma smiles back. "No, this is where I offer you some useful advice. Stop picking fights with people who can annihilate you in seconds. Stop pretending like you can run back to your brother any minute you please--"

"He's not my brother," Mystique interrupts.

Emma smiles, looking at the table. Instead of finishing her sentence she rises from her chair and brushes the crumbs off her skirt. "I do wish you a wonderful day," she says, before leaving the room.

*

They lie in bed, exhausted. Angel's fingers stroke along her forearm, idly caressing over the ridges on her skin.

"So, am I only supposed to call you Mystique now?" she says.

"Whatever," Mystique smiles, rolling her eyes. "Like you spent so much time calling me by the other name."

Angel smiles back at her, raising an eyebrow. "Even government secret agents don't go by their code names all the time."

"Good thing we're not working for the government then," Mystique says, staring at the ceiling and running a hand through her sweaty hair. "We don't have to play by their rules."

Angel bites into her arm. It's not a powerful bite, but it hurts and Mystique gasps, caught off guard. She meets Angel's eyes, full of mischief.

Mystique looks down at her skin, but there's no mark. Her skin doesn't blush, doesn't bruise. Every lamp in the room is on and they're bathed in artificial light, perfectly visible to each other. Angel on her stomach with her wings resting on her back and Mystique with her hard, uneven skin, lying on her back against the pillows.

She's never given this to anyone before. Nakedness and light and a complete absence of pretense. But then, Angel isn't in the business of taking. They're both here because they want to be, for themselves. One day Mystique will be able to share herself with people with big ideas who see through her to a cause, who treat her body like a statement. One day she'll have to, because those people tend to be essential, eventually. But for now she'll have this. Angel and a bed and no requirements, no expectations. Just doing what feels right, no judgment and no ideals.

Angel licks along her arm and bites down again, this time holding on for longer, meeting Mystique's eyes as her lips are stretched around her skin. She disengages after a few seconds and looks down at where her spit is shining on Mystique's skin. "Did you feel that at all?"

Mystique swallows. "Yeah."

"I was biting down as hard as I could," Angel says, crawling up Mystique's body to share her pillow.

"I bet you were," Mystique says. She wants to pretend she's frowning, but her voice sounds awed.

Angel buries her hands in Mystique's hair and kisses her. It's a hard, open kiss, but it's free of urgency. They've each had three orgasms already, they're not in any kind of hurry.

"You are literally the coolest thing on planet Earth," Angel says. Mystique knows her words come with no strings attached, no obligations.

"I want to go down on you again," Mystique says, running her fingertips over Angel's lips. "And feel your wings flutter when you come. God, I love it when you do that."

Angel growls, low in her throat, as Mystique kisses down her neck.

*

Charles is unconscious. Or maybe asleep. Or sedated. Probably sedated. He'd be able to feel her from a mile away if he was asleep and hospitals aren't the sort of places where they knock you out with a baseball bat if you cause too much trouble. At least not the hospitals Charles can afford.

She stands outside Charles' room, in the hallway, looking into his room through a small window. They've got him in some kind of special ward, hooked up to machines, practically invisible behind all the padding and rigging. Or maybe he's just come out of surgery. She doesn't know how many surgeries it's been now.

She looks down at her hands. They're pinkish, with short nails. Human skin, though not her usual persona. Too risky. One of the doctors is waiting around in a supply closet for Mystique to finish her business and untie him. Her skin itches in a way that has nothing to do with physical sensation.

She wishes someone was here. Moira, or one of the others. Someone she could ask how Charles is doing, what the doctors are saying. She'd planned to con the information out of one of them; she doesn't have time to go looking for Charles' medical files.

In a way, she supposes, it doesn't matter. It's not like there's anything she can do for him, whatever the verdict.

It's been three weeks since the beach and the missiles and the last time they laid eyes on each other. She just wants to let him know she's all right. To see for herself that he's still breathing. To say goodbye properly.

The hallway is noisy. She'll start attracting attention if she keeps standing like this, staring through the glass, but she can't force herself to go in. Not while it's just his body lying there, fragile and defenseless. She needs to leave this place before it's too late. Before she goes into that room and turns into Raven again.

She remembers a game they used to play, testing the limits of Charles' powers. She'd trace words on white paper with nothing but her fingers and he'd have to guess what they were, without reading her mind. At first she had to trace each word a hundred times but eventually just once or twice was enough. He could read the mental imprints on the page, if he concentrated. Echoes of her mind forming the words.

Her fingers leave smudges on the clean, transparent surface of the glass, but the lines don't resolve themselves into letters. She doesn't know what to say. Words seem suddenly insufficient. She wishes she could look into his eyes just once before leaving. Maybe just so she could make him see her, the real her, for once.

She wipes the glass with the sleeve of her white lab coat. She doesn't know how long the glass will carry the mental imprint of her presence. Maybe Charles will never know she was here.

She takes one last look inside the room. Charles' mouth is slightly open, hair splayed messily on the pillow.

She puts her hands in her pockets, carefully, deliberately, and walks away.

*

It's past 3am when she walks back into the building. Erik's sitting in the first floor lobby with most of the lights turned off. He's dressed in his usual black. She wouldn't have even noticed him if it hadn’t been for the lit cigarette between his fingers. The sight of him makes her stop in her tracks. He stares back and exhales a cloud of smoke.

"Out walking?" he asks, voice steady and low.

"Yeah," she says, walking over to join him after a moment's hesitation. She's taken to taking nightly walks around the city, without disguising herself. It's too dangerous to attempt during daylight hours, but after dark she can get away with all sorts of things. It feels nice, feeling the breeze on her skin. She sits down on the couch next to his chair. "Marlboros? Really? I always pictured you as a cigar man."

He nods, taking another puff of his cigarette. "They're a nasty habit."

She reaches over and takes it from between his fingers. He looks surprised, though he doesn't try to stop her. "I hear they can kill you," she says, bringing the cigarette to her lips.

"It's not that," he says, reaching down to the floor and coming up with a half empty glass of scotch. "It's the smell. Impossible to get rid of; doesn't allow for any kind of stealth. People can smell you coming."

She nods, exhaling smoke. "Spy stuff." Smoking's never done anything for her except leave a bitter taste in her mouth on the few occasions she's tried it. This time there's something pleasant about feeling the smoky warmth spreading down her throat.

"What you asked for." Erik takes another sip, sinking into the leather of the chair.

"If you want to ask, just ask," Mystique says, taking a last puff from the cigarette. The butt's too small now, at least for her. She never got the hang of smoking a cigarette properly to the end without burning her fingers.

"Is he going to live?" he asks, after a long pause.

She smiles. They both know there was never a risk that the injury would cost Charles his life. "All signs point to yes."

Erik nods. She can't tell if he's smiling. "Is he…" he begins. She watches him struggle to finish the sentence.

"He was asleep when I came," she shrugs, finally taking pity on him. "I didn't get a look at his file." She drops the butt on the floor and stubs it out, firmly. It's good practice. She hardly feels the sting on her toes as she does it.

Erik doesn't move as she rises. She lays a hand on his shoulder, pausing on her way to the staircase. "You should go see him, if you want to," she says, before heading off to her own room.