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Just Like Him

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Erik would learn very quickly that there was no course of action he could take that would not be seen as an invitation to the human-run media to compare him to that vile little Austrian with the absurd facial-hair. It was like a compulsion with them. They could think within no other framework.

At first, it did not shock him; he'd found that such comparisons were cheap here. And initially there were very few people in the world who knew of the connection between the ringleader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants' “terror cell” and poor little orphaned Erik Lehnsherr, one unremarkable victim among millions of others. He did not speak with an accent unless he wished to do so, and it took the media a long time to catch onto the fact that man who called himself Magneto was not a native Anglophone. He wore long-sleeves, and no one guessed.

There was little of their narrow perceptions – not as far divorced from the propaganda of the Third Reich as they liked to believe – might have identified as The Jew in his build or his face or his mannerisms. Has his looks been better suited to casting in a very different propagandistic role, he wondered if certain connections might have been made more quickly, if the media would have exercised more tact, but he doubted that it would have made much difference. He had very little faith in the decency or the common sense of any of the talking heads.

Later, the CIA would uncover certain aspects of his history, though it took them a surprisingly long time to simply recover his birth-name; whatever blocks and mind-wipes Charles had used against the agents they'd interacted with must have been powerful. Erik had entered the country illegally, and what paper trail he'd been forced to leave since then had been built entirely around forged documents, and that had slowed things down as well.

But once they knew where to look the CIA had moved fast, and half a dozen other international intelligence agencies weren't far behind. Certain camp administrators and guards were taken from their cells or their homes and brought in for a new line of questioning about Dr. Klaus Schmidt's experiments with his special subjects.

Erik's one living relative – an uncle in Dublin who'd taken Erik in for a couple of years after the war – was seized by the CIA and held for questioning for nearly a week without access to a lawyer or any other outside contact. This was a gross violation of international law, but Erik was unsurprised when his Uncle Kurt was unable to find anyone willing to take up charges against his kidnappers or to even pay much attention to his story. Even in those early days, the writing was already on the wall; protections that normal citizens might enjoy did not apply to Mutants, nor to anyone with connections or sympathy toward the Mutant problem.

Later still, Charles would develop an unforgivable tendency to discuss with the general public matters that Erik believed he had shared in confidence. He would see Charles on the television, drawing on experiences from Erik's abortive childhood to make excuses for actions that Erik believed needed no excuses, to illicit pity that Erik had neither asked for nor desired. In front of all those home viewers, Charles reduced Erik to the damage that had been done to him, as though he believed that this would both explain and explain away everything that Erik was – everything he stood for and believed in. He did not believe that Charles consciously sought to emasculate him, or to reduce his movement to the manifestation of the victimhood of one hurt individual seeking to find his own victims in turn, but his intentions meant very little to Erik. When he saw Charles discussing his life as though Charles himself had lived it, sometimes weeping openly, Erik would find himself wondering how he could ever have been foolish enough to allow Charles into his bed, let alone into his heart and mind.

So, despite his own wishes, his history was laid bare, exposed like a hair-lipped child in ancient times to the predations of fools whose entire conception of suffering was theoretical. He had thought that his experiences might grant him some moral authority, that it might be allowed that he had some personal understanding of the precarious conditions under which the Other always existed, that he might be trusted to diagnose the dangerous zeitgeist in which they were now living. He quickly learned otherwise.

The fact that he had been in the camps as used against him, as he had always suspected it might be. It was held up as the evidence – the root cause – of his irrationality. They spoke of him as though he were a rabid dog – too sick to be held accountable for his own actions but too dangerous to be permitted to live; rather, he needed to be put out of his misery before he spread his taint to others.

Over the years the comparisons became more frequent, and there was no longer any subtext. The way they poached from his life to draw connections that simply did not exist was utterly shameless. If given his own way, Erik would have been a vegetarian simply as a matter of culinary taste, but he was horrified by the idea that such information might become public, giving them more ammunition for their absurd narrative, and so he made a point of being seen to consume meat. Occasionally, he would err during some press release or public statement, and a bit of phraseology that was only a Germanism from his childhood but that the English-speaking media associated with the Nazis would slip into his speech. When that happened, the press corps had a field day.

“He is too wounded by the ideology that nearly destroyed his people,” the reporters would crow grimly, their solemn faces caked with makeup, for the viewers at home could not be allowed to see their own blemishes – no, and especially not when they were engaged in speculating on the scarring of another's soul. “He can't move past it.”

In the weeks following Cuba, when his intentions were still undefined even in his own mind, Erik had happened to catch a rerun of a documentary titled “The Hate That Hate Produced,” which featured in part an extremely articulate young Negro man who called himself Malcolm X. Erik had identified with the other man at once, had felt a connection between them – between their lives and their struggles – that he rarely shared with humans. Erik followed his exploits closely over the following years, watching as the government and media attacked him, trying to delegitimatize the righteousness of his anger, trying to frame the Nation of Islam's resistance to violence as violence.

They'll do the same thing to me, Erik had thought then, bracing himself for the future. They robbed us of our parents and blame us for being orphans, he thought, putting aside – nearly forgetting, as he often did – that Shaw himself been a Mutant.

Erik was not the only one who saw a connection between himself and the other man, because in the coming years he would occasionally – in a very rare variation from the standard theme – hear himself compared to Malcolm X. He recognized this as the back-handed insult toward Malcolm X that it was always intended to be, but would feel pleased nonetheless.

Erik had considered approaching Malcolm X, of floating the possibility of some collaborative effort between their two organizations, but the Nation of Islam had taken a hard – and, in Erik's estimation, completely unjustifiable – stance against Mutants, and that had forced him to dismiss the idea.

The Revered King had taken a slightly more sympathetic position on the Mutant question, but Erik had much less patience for that man. He was too much the assimilationist, too willing to dress himself in the dubious armor of principled nonviolence. And he reminded him too much of Charles, though he was willing to consider the possibility that this comparison did Dr. King a disservice.

The differences between the two hardly mattered in the end. King would live longer, but by the end of the decade both men would be dead, and for no greater sin than demanding to be treated as human beings by their fellows. As the decade had rolled on the list of martyrs to the cause of human rights would only grow longer - Emmett Till, Medgar Evers and James Chaney, along with those Jewish boys, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, and doubtlessly so many others whose names never made it to the evening news – and wasn't that instructive, didn't it just confirm everything Erik had already known? Homo sapiens had no qualms against destroying its own without provocation, over the slightest ideological or cosmetic differences. How could anyone believe that an entirely new species would be permitted to live in peace? More to the point, how could Charles – who claimed to understand what Erik had been through and who was privy to the secret thoughts of an unlimited number of minds – fail to see the obvious? He'd studied those assassinations with a sense that seemed somehow related to déjà vu, believing at the time that he was seeing a glimpse of Charles's future and his own.

Malcolm X was killed in 1965, and reaction to the assassination had varied within the Brotherhood. Emma could not have cared less; she held that Mutants had no stake in any intra-human struggle. Crimes and social unrest, genocides and wars – past, present and future – were of no more interest to her that the battles red and black ants would fight out in the cracks of the pavement outside the Headquarters. Azazel had been – as always – inscrutable, and Janos had kept his own council.

Angel had responded with the numbed silence with which Erik had come to expect her to take these types of hammer blows; only later, he knew, would she go to Raven to rage and shout and maybe to cry. He had watched Angel's reaction especially closely, wondering if it hurt her worse because she was a Negro, too, wondering if she fought the same war with the disparate parts of herself as he did.

So many voices called for his loyalty, so many little differences set him apart from the others – even from his brother and sister Mutants. Hard enough to be German or Jewish; worst luck to be both at once. He was a foreigner and (at least periodically) a homophile as well as a Mutant, and he'd been concerned that any or all of those other facets of himself would prevent others from rallying around his leadership. It had been a Jew who had said that no man could serve two masters, and Erik thought that was pretty good advice. He had decided at the beginning that the Brotherhood would have to be everything to him; his family, his people, his race, his class, his nation, his world.

He'd watched Raven closely as well, as those had been the days when she hadn't yet been entirely sure who she was, as she had still been learning how to be comfortable in her own skin. The assassination had made a few things she'd still been learning clear to her, and she had armored herself in the grief and rage that the event had provoked, used it to make herself stronger. Erik had been proud of her.

Raven's boy, on the other hand, had cried inconsolably for days, though Erik did not believe that he was old enough to have any real idea what was going on. He was simply upset because he sensed that the adults around him were upset, and that had worried Erik. The boy often troubled Erik; little Kurt was too sweet a child, too timid and too easily hurt, and poorly suited to the life into which he had been born. Erik's only wish was to see a world in which Mutant children were safe – one where they could afford to be weak in all the ways that little Kurt was weak – but that world was still a long time in coming, and they could not afford weakness now. He had foreseen that there would be problems, though not of the sort that eventually materialized.

Three years later, when the bullet claimed Martin Luther King, his assassination would go almost unremarked upon between himself and Raven. By then the Chicago headquarters was only so much rubble, and the boy was lost to them, along with so many of the others. By then Raven had become something almost alien to the girl that she had been, something so transcendentally beautiful and so bereft of mercy that at times she nearly frightened him.

They'd hardened together over the decades – had become willing to considered actions that in earlier years they would have both dismissed as contemptible – but Raven had gotten harder. It was odd that the media had never settled on a single fixed narrative about her, had never reached consensus on just why she had chosen to become “evil” the way they had with Erik. He supposed that it was because she was less visible, harder for the them to define than Erik himself was. She had no fixed history for them to exploit – in fact, Raven herself did not know who she had been before Charles had found her – and within the clouds of speculation was little agreement even as to her age and gender. Very few humans had seen her natural form and lived to tell about it, which only contributed to the confusion as to who or what she “really” was.

In the early 90s the drums of war had been pounding, as they often did, working people up into an idiot frenzy on the eve of a new war. He and Raven had been watching the nightly news together, listening to the most recent denunciations against Saddam Hussein, who after all was a vile man, but not especially worse than the men who were calling for his blood on national television, making a mockery of history to make that little desert dictator seem so much more relevant than he really was. Raven had turned to him and said, “There sure are a lot of 'new Hitlers' running around these days, aren't there?”

“We are as common as flies,” he'd agreed dryly.

“So if you're The New Hitler, who does that make me?” He could hear the capitals in her voice, mocking the bombastic tone in which his declaration against him was always delivered.

It was not a game that he was willing to play. “My dear,” he'd begun, “you are my Nadezhda Krupskaya. You are Nancy Wake and Zoya Kosmodemianskaya and Sophie Scholl and the Sojourner Truth all in one, and then you are so much more.”

He didn't think that Raven recognized every one of those names – she was sharp, but history had never been her strong point – but she'd smiled up at him, then snuggled more closely against his side on the couch, her cheek resting lightly against his shoulder. “Moses,” she'd breathed, keeping things so much simpler. “Our Moses.”

Some of the tension had gone out of him at her touch; they were such good friends, and he could not have placed a value on what it meant to know that she understood him so well. Moses – yes. Like Moses, he'd failed sometimes in his leadership of his people, and sometimes his people had failed him. They'd been on a long journey, all of them together, and so many had fallen along the road. Sometimes he felt as old and used up as Moses must have felt when his ragged band had finally neared the Promised Land, though he had begun to fear that there would be no Promised Land for them, that his people would be driven to extinction, blotted out completely. That fear was never far from him, but it moved in closer when he slept.

He'd always run on fear and rage, but as he grew older he found that it was that fear that drove him most often, the fear that he would die too soon and leave his people alone in a world that sought their destruction. The fear made him more dangerous – made him too willing to do things he would not have done if given a better set of options – and he recognized that and embraced it. Still, there was one thing he had never seriously considered, not even in his darkest moments, not until –

And it was so stupid – it was almost bloody hilarious – because it was what they'd all accused him of wanting to do from the very beginning, but he hadn't. He'd almost laughed the first time he'd heard someone say it; bad enough that they'd decided to label him as the New Hitler, but then to claim that he meant to kill them all – all the billions and billions of them? That took things to a level that was beyond offensive and into the realm of cartoonish. What did they think he was, some sort of comic book super-villain? Even if it were possible, why would he ever desire to do such a thing? In every young child there was the potentially that a latent X-factor gene might one day become active. There was a chance that within the womb each and every pregnant Homo sapiens women one of their own children might be growing. They might as well of accused him of wanting to murder his own ancestors.

His mother had been human, and he'd killed Shaw for her. He did not hate them all, no matter what anyone said, but only felt that they were extremely dangerous in aggregate.

It was, Erik believed, a kind of projection; they had to believe that Mutants sought to simply to destroy them so they could justify their own actions to themselves; the bombing in Cuba, the SENTILE initiative and the Weapon X program, and all the registration laws that were sweeping the world like a fast moving cancer. The raid on Charles's school, and then –

When he had understood what they meant to do, when he had seen Raven fall to her knees, her arms clutching her head in pain as she shifted involuntarily through a dozen disguises in the blink of an eye, something which he hadn't known he still possessed had snapped quite in two.

And his first thought had not been of heroes or monsters or anything of that nature. It had been of his Uncle Kurt, who had lost an arm to the first war and his heart to an Irish-Catholic nurse who'd cared for him through his recovery. When the war was over he'd followed back home, and they'd been married, though both their families had disowned them for it. Growing up, Erik's father had been unwilling to even speak Kurt's name, but his mother had only been sad for him; Kurt had been so unlucky, she said – first he'd lost his arm, and then the woman that he'd traded everything for had died young, leaving him alone and childless in a foreign land, with all his bridges burned behind him – back before she'd understood what 'unlucky' really meant. When things had gotten bad back home, Kurt had tried to help them, but there had been so little that he could do.

After the liberation, when Kurt had met his nephew that the docks in Dublin, he had clutched Erik in a one-armed embrace so tight that Erik had thought his ribs might crack. He and Kurt had never met before – Erik wasn't even sure he would have been able to find him among the crowds on the dock, if it hadn't been for the missing arm – but the man had sobbed out loud to see him there. “I thought I was the last one,” he'd said again and again, “I thought I was the only one left.”

It was that fear – the fear of being the lone survivor, protected beneath his helmet while everyone else he cared about died – that had driven him to do what he had. He was most dangerous when he was afraid, and nothing frightened him more than the idea of being the last one.

The improbable opportunity to destroy them all had been there, and – God help him – he'd reached for it, taken it, decided it was time to play by their own rules for once. Raven had needed no instruction was to what to say; she understood him perfectly.

As they fled from the collapsing dam, he began to understand what success – which he had believed at that moment to be certain would mean. I will never get out from underneath this, he thought, realizing then what generations of his own people would say of him, after this was all over. He would be a source of shame to them; he would never be forgiven. Never mind, he told himself, pushing the thought away, At least now there will be generations.

Moses,” Raven had insisted, as she slipped in behind the controls of the jet, as thought they had been arguing over the point, as though she knew the name that he'd really been thinking.

“Who else?” he agreed, but the point was a hollow one now. Raven had even less interest in religion than she did in history, and he doubted her grasp of Torah extended beyond cartoon Bible stories, but maybe Moses fit better than she knew; after all, one could not forget that the Promised Land had been made to flow with the blood of those who had been there first before it had ever yielded milk and honey. And God had judged Moses too drenched in sin to ever set foot in that land.

Moses, he told himself, watching as the crumbling dam fell away from sight, trying not to think of Charles as the deluge of freed water surged forward below them. Or Noah. He did not believe even then that he had done anything other than what he had had to do. He had accepted that he would be blamed, but he did not accept the guilt, and the very core of his being he still rejected that other comparison. I'm nothing like him, he told himself, believing it or else wanting to. My hand was forced. I had no choice -

When they had passed over the first city – smoking and in chaos, for there had been accidents and many of them – still swarming with people who were still very much alive, he had not understood exactly why he had been gripped by such a pressing urge to weep.