"Erik, don't do this!"
"I am Magneto." Erik would not be moved by this. In the months since he formed the Brotherhood, he had known this day would come, when he and Charles would be forced to confront each other. He reached out to push his helmet tighter onto himself, as if the barrier it provided against Charles' powers would protect him from the pleading look in Charles' eyes as well. Still. This time, they were alone, neither bringing backup for what both considered a recruitment mission with little risk. He relented slightly. "It is not too late to join me, Charles."
"You know that I cannot."
"Then it appears that I have no choice."
Steeling himself against the hurt look in Charles' eyes, he turned his power against the metal of the wheelchair. It twisted and folded in on itself, trapping Charles inside. In a forgotten corner of the small room, a child's cry pierced the air and the ground beneath them rumbled and shifted.
The first thought that occurred to Michael as his eyes flew open was that James was really killing the scene today. Magneto's heart has got to be made of stone to resist that hurt puppydog look on James' face, he thought to himself. Oh God, and he just did that thing with the moist eyes and wibbling lower lip. Can I just hug him? I'm going to hug him once this take is over.
The second thought that came to him was that all of James' acting in this scene was going to waste because he could not for the life of him remember what his line was supposed to be.
"Charles. Join me." There. That was a suitably reasonable line Magneto might say.
Without breaking eye contact with James, who was currently suspended in the air and being held tightly in a wheelchair that was almost twisted beyond recognition, he used his peripheral vision to peek at the set around them. It looked like some sort of child's room, with bright purple walls and toys strewn about the floor. Was this a scene in the movie? Was Charles supposed to be paralyzed already? The last thing he remembered was the wrap party for the movie, where the entire cast and crew got completely drunk off their arses to celebrate the end of filming. He remembered James leaning all over him, giggling and making horribly inappropriate jokes. And now they were here. Filming a scene he did not remember reading in a script that was clearly set after the events in the movie.
Suddenly, James cried out in pain and he snapped his attention back to the man in front of him. One of the metal bars pressed tightly against James' stomach had apparently moved and drawn blood.
"You're hurt!" Michael broke character and looked frantically around the room for a PA, a stunt coordinator, a techie, or anyone who could help. And he froze. This wasn't a set at all. There were no cameras in sight, no lights, and in fact, no one else around at all. He looked at James and the wheelchair contraption again. There are no wires holding it up.
A horrible realization washed over him, and then the wheelchair unfolded itself and fell to the ground, dropping James with it in an ungraceful heap.
"Are you all right? You're bleeding!" He rushed over and cradled James in his arms almost helplessly. James didn't respond, except to look at him with bright blue eyes filled with emotion. For a moment, he felt his breath taken away at the intensity of that look. This wasn't the way James normally looked at him. It wasn't the way James ever looked at him. There was something so naked and openly vulnerable about it that he felt distinctly uncomfortable, as though this wasn't meant for him at all.
"It's not a serious wound, Erik. I'll be fine." A small pause. "In fact, I am happier than you can imagine that you still value me my life in some way."
Erik? I'm not Erik. Michael blinked in confusion. Then, a theory formed in his mind. Oh. Of course. What movie would be complete without the obligatory cast pranks? Who else was in on this? He thought back again on the wrap party, where James first proposed the drinking contest. So that was the trick, then? Get Fassbender drunk and then trick him into thinking he's Magneto?
He let out a deep breath of relief. Well, at least James wasn't actually hurt, though that fall did look a bit painful. And the more he thought about it, the more he was impressed with the effort they'd gone through to make this work. How did they do the trick with the floating wheelchair, I wonder? Are there hidden cameras? I'll bet there are hidden cameras.
"Erik, I... Please let me..." James was apparently still trying to stay in character, his hands shaking as they moved to take off the metal helmet.
"Oh, for the love of -- stop it!" he said with a bit more harshness than he intended. Really, though, this trick stretched his suspension of disbelief just a bit too far. There was being drunk and easily confused, and then there was being stupid to the point of delusion. It still didn't stop the pang of guilt that hit him at the hurt look in James' eyes as his hands stopped in mid-air, though.
"I am sorry, my friend. I had hoped--" James withdrew his hands to his lap and twisted them nervously. "Well, of course, I understand if you no longer trust me. We have hurt each other these past months, both of us. But Erik--"
"I'm not Erik." Michael regretted those words almost immediately as James turned the 'woe-is-me-angst-meter' up to 11, his entire face contorting into a mask of pain. It was honestly a bit ridiculous how easily James could get anyone to do their bidding with the smallest shift in expressions, even when the other party knew they were nothing but crocodile tears. Well, not really anyone. Mostly him. This time, though, he resolutely refused to pull James in closer for a hug. Because the other man most certainly did not need a hug, and was probably cackling on the inside.
"Magneto. What do you intend to do then? I don't think you want me dead."
"Well, of course I don't want you dead!" With a grunt, he stood and pulled James up into a sitting position. "Here's what we're going to do. You're going to stop this ridiculous charade, get those scratches and bruises looked at by a professional, then we'll go to the hotel, order ridiculously expensive room service and just... think of anything to do that isn't pretending we're mortal enemies who hate each other. Got it?"
James simply gaped at him. Then a tentative smile curved on his face. "Anything, Erik?"
Michael rolled his eyes. James would find some innuendo in this, of course he would. "If you think for a second that you can get me into bed with you without some proper romance, complete with poetry, wine and fancy dinners, you are sorely mistaken."
At that, James actually blushed all the way up to the tip of his ears. Michael sighed. It was really difficult to stay annoyed at the man, especially when he was blushing so adorably. He stopped in his tracks. James? Blushing? When did James ever have a sense of shame about anything?
"You know, Erik. I don't think I've ever hated that damned helmet of yours any more than I do at this very moment. I can only hope that I did not misread you."
Michael could barely force out a response before he was pulled down on top of the other man, and his lips were captured in a passionate kiss.
"Come home, come home, please," the whispered words filled his ears. When his mind finally caught up to the events happening, he flailed his arms and pulled himself free.
"What?" was all that he could manage to say.
"Erik, I-- I'm sorry. I thought you were offering -- at least tonight..."
Michael didn't respond as he looked at the completely dejected and forlorn man sitting in front of him. He suddenly had a very very bad feeling about all of this.
At the last minute, Erik hesitated. This was still Charles. He sagged backwards a little. It was too soon, the wounds still too raw. He couldn't harm Charles. He would have to, one day. But not now. Not even over this mutant, despite her power.
The ground shifted beneath him, and he suddenly lost his bearings, falling to the floor with a loud thud. Before he could scramble up, he was tackled by a giggling Charles Xavier. Considering that they had been at each other's throats only moments before, and that Charles had long lost use of his legs, there was nothing about this scenario that made any sense. Carefully, he reached up to adjust his helmet, to make sure that someone wasn't projecting some sort of mental illusion on him.
"Oh no, Magneto. You should keep your helmet on when we make love."
Erik could only look on in pure and complete bewilderment. When did Charles become Scottish?
"Kiss him! Kiss him!"
Erik's head jerked up at the sound of a third voice. It was Raven, disappointingly in her human form. He was about to make a snide comment about being her lack of pride in her mutant form before he noticed Hank standing next to her, with none of his blue fur. He quickly scanned his surroundings, unsure what to make of this new information. They were in some sort of club, it appeared. And for some unfathomable reason, his mutants and Charles' mutants were all mingling together. Raven and Hank, both looking disgustingly normal, were laughing and clapping their hands. Next to them, Alex was holding up a strange tiny device with a flashing red light on it, aimed directly at him and Charles.
He growled. He had no idea which of Hank's new inventions the boy was aiming at him, but all his senses screamed danger. Instinctively, he pulled Charles against himself and launched both of them into the air, landing behind a sofa. He then reached out with his powers to grasp at the device in Alex's hands, and worryingly came up empty. It must not be made of metal?
His thoughts were interrupted by a pair of hands weakly batting at his face. "Michael, do you have any idea how heavy you are? Oof, let me top instead!"
"Who the hell is Michael?"
They stared at each other.
"Guys! Guys! I got this! It's going on youtube! Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr duke it out over who gets to top!"
"Our new publicity campaign: Professor X and Magneto - They're Totally Fucking!"
Erik didn't recognize any of the new voices that chimed in with their commentary, but he felt an unusual heat creep up his face. His friendship - no, former friendship with Charles was sometimes a sore point with the bolder mutants who dared to speak up against him. But he had made certain that his feelings for Charles, and all that they'd shared stayed firmly in the past, hidden behind an icy mask and a metal helmet. If any of them knew, it would mean the end of him. Perhaps the end of them both.
No. No one knew. Not even Charles - kind, honorable Charles who never delved into his mind without permission - not even Charles knew. No one must find out. It was nothing but a cruel joke. And he'll make certain they don't live to repeat it.
His eyes flickered towards the large, metal light fixture in the ceiling. He reached out with mind and pulled. A second passed by, then a few more. And nothing happened. Suddenly, Erik found himself unable to breathe. His powers were gone! He looked again at the crowd surrounding them, and frowned. Raven looked human, and Hank as well. Alex was no longer wearing the device that controlled his power. And there was Angel, with no sign of her wings or tattoos in sight. Did they all lose their powers? It was a horrifying thought. These men mocking him, these human... did they do this? Was the war lost in such a blink of an eye, without him even being aware of it?
"Oi, Michael. Are you all right? You're not breathing." Charles sounded concerned. "Do you need some water? Did you hit your head?"
"Jesus, look at how pale he is! Lose the camera!"
"Get that helmet off him! Whose idea was it for him to put it on anyway?"
"It's fine. I'll take care of him."
A flurry of voices surrounded him, and the next thing he knew, he was being carried discreetly to a back entrance and shoved into a car. To his relief, Charles immediately joined him.
"Hey. Hey. Everything all right?"
There was a momentary panic when he realized that he no longer had his helmet, but his mind remained strangely silent. He shivered. He didn't expect that Charles would reach out for him again. Of course not. He chose to block Charles out, and even without the helmet, the other man was likely to respect his wishes.
"Charles." He almost choked on his own words. "Charles, I lost my powers. I lost them. I can't feel -- I can't feel anything. I should be able to lift this damned car up but I can't even feel its frame! You know what happened! Why were all our mutants in this place together?"
He reached out and projected as strongly as he could, trying to find the warm, assuring presence of Charles' mind. "Did we all lose our powers? Were you going to tell me at some point?"
"Um. Michael? You're not Magneto. You're Michael Fassbender. You're an actor who plays Magneto in a film. You can't actually move metal or control magnetism yourself. I'd make an inappropriate joke about how I'm metal and how you're obviously attracted to me, but you don't look to be in any mood to listen to it."
"Charles, I don't understand what you're saying."
"And I'm not Charles. I'm not a telepath. I'm James. James McAvoy. Also an actor. And an adorable Scottish chappy."
Erik could only look on in confusion. The possibility that this was all an elaborate telepathic illusion created by either Charles or Emma was strong in his mind, but quite frankly, he doubted that Emma had the creativity to come up with something so utterly bizarre. And as for Charles, it couldn't possibly be that he of all people would imagine himself as an overly tactile Scottish actor. He tried not to think about the possibility of a third, unknown telepath currently playing havoc with his mind.
An uncomfortable silence fell in the car. He glanced over at Charles, or James, whoever this man was claiming to be.
"What are you doing? Is that one of Hank's devices?" It looked similar to the small metal device with the blinking light that Alex was holding up earlier.
"That's... Michael, I'm texting. Everyone is heading back to my hotel room, and we're holding an intervention for you."
"You're really going to keep this up? This pretending to be Magneto thing?"
"I'm not pretending!"
"Yes you are! Or I hope you are, because otherwise, I'm making sure you never get another drop of alcohol to drink again. I'll handcuff us together and have both of us stay sober if I have to."
"You think I'm worried about alcohol? I've gone days without even eating." Erik smirked. "As it turns out, being hunted by a major government agency while hiding mutant refugees isn't the idyllic life you might have imagined."
"Oh God. This is worse than I thought," muttered Charles (or James), as his fingers flew even faster over the tiny pads on the device he was holding.
Michael shoved his hands in his pockets, and resolutely looked at the ground. After a few moments of silence, he shuffled his feet and folded his arms across his chest. Finally, he gave up and collapsed on the bed behind him. In the span of several hours, he'd somehow ended up transported from a party surrounded by all of his friends to a ridiculously large mansion with the only person on earth who would prefer that he was a murderous super-villain instead.
He looked over at Charles - and it was strange, thinking of this carbon copy of James as Charles - but the other man had his nose buried in a book on quantum physics and gave no indication of wanting a conversation with him.
Michael idly tapped at the side of his helmet, and wondered if it'd be rude to take it off when in the same room as a telepath. Would that make him like one of those people who talked with onboxiously loud voices in a library? Of course that wasn't the real reason Charles had asked him to keep the helmet on. Charles could easily block out his thoughts or dim them to the extent that they're nothing but a low hum in the background. Not that Michael knew first-hand, but it just seemed like a logical sort of skill that a powerful telepath would have to develop or risk going insane. It wasn't to protect him from Emma searching for him either, though Charles claimed that was the most compelling reason for him to keep it on.
He sighed and tried to distract himself by making shadow puppets on the wall. Was he honestly getting worked up over hurting the feelings of a fictional character? Charles looked and felt just as real as any of the people he'd met, though. And that moment when Charles took off his helmet to confirm that he was telling the truth...
Michael shuddered. He never thought of himself as particularly inexperienced in life, and he'd had his share of break-ups and the heartaches that came with them. But if he could never experience that split second of anguish and disappointment that went through his mind again, he'd count himself a very lucky man. Charles had apologized profusely on the way back to the mansion, of course. And it was easy to forgive the babbling man next to him, whose calm exterior suddenly seemed to have a million cracks threatening to break him apart at the lightest touch.
For a moment, Charles had been led to believe that Erik was willing to come back with him. And now Charles was worse off than before, having had a taste of hope. It wasn't his fault, but somehow, Michael felt deeply responsible for what Magneto did to Charles. Should I have played him a little differently, maybe? If we don't do a sequel, could that have left open a better path to reconciliation? Was that even how it worked? We film something, and it happens in this universe? What about all the little things that were implied off-screen?
"Charles? I need to ask you a question."
"When you and Erik went to recruit Angel, did you project the image of him in a skimpy blue dress and a red wig to her?"
Charles stared him open-mouthed in response, his face turning several different shades of crimson. Michael couldn't help but laugh. "All right. Question answered."
"That was... that was in the film of yours? That people saw?" Charles was cringing.
"Don't worry. Erik's masculinity is still intact. That scene ended up being cut."
"Oh, I see."
"Interesting that it still happened to you guys, though."
Charles turned his full attention on Michael now. "Do you theorize that your universe controls ours?"
Michael blinked. "Well, yeah. I mean, that thing you do with the fingers against your head - James came up with that. And the jazz hands thing that Erik does - I came up with that."
"The jazz hands thing?"
"You know." Michael put on his 'concentration' face, extended his palms outward and splayed his fingers. "Jazz hands!"
It was a testament to Charles' reaction speed that he managed to duck out of the way of all the metallic objects in the room suddenly flying up and crashing to the floor. Michael looked sheepish.
"We're really going to have to re-train you in using your powers," said Charles as he got back in his chair gingerly. And for the first time tonight, Michael thought he saw a hint of a smile on Charles' face.
"The others will be here in about five minutes," James told him.
Erik nodded. Five minutes should be enough time to mull things over. Two facts were becoming obvious to him. First, he needed more time and freedom to investigate this world, whether it was a projection or some strange alternate reality. Second, as long as he insisted that he was Magneto, James and his friends would not be letting him out of their sights. It was clear that he needed to step into this Michael's shoes, but how? He had no real knowledge of the man's personality or his life.
His eyes roamed around the room and landed on James. From the badly hidden expression of distress on James' face, it was clear that his own behaviour diverged wildly enough from Michael's usual mannerisms that it worried the other man. So, Michael Fassbender, not a particularly accomplished prankster and probably a terrible poker player.
Erik relaxed his shoulders and forced the tension out of his body. Quietly, he sidled up next to the other man and leaned slightly against him. James jumped up and scooted away from him, but not before Erik registered the instinctive return of his touch.
Erik sighed theatrically. He threw an arm over James' shoulders and pulled him back down next to him. "Yes, James, it's me. Anyone ever tell you that you're no fun at all? How am I supposed to play a prank on everyone if you're off to the side looking like a kicked puppy?"
"Dammit, Michael!" James punched him in his arm. "You actually had me worried!"
Erik laughed. "All right, James, you can pretend to be angry with me later--"
"You think this is an act? Wait until you feel my unleashed Scottish fury!"
"That sounded dirty. And sexy."
"It was meant to." James grinned.
"So, that's your ulterior motive for taking me back to your room, is it?" Erik couldn't help but grin back. James seemed to accept the innuendo-laden banter they had as genuine, and if Erik were completely honest, it wasn't entirely unpleasant to be flirting with someone who shared the same easy smile and bright blue eyes as Charles. He pushed down the pang of guilt and regret that this could never happen with the real Charles. He would have time for self-pity later. He needed to play this role perfectly.
James winked at him and began to strip his shirt off. Erik's eyes widened, suddenly distracted. Is it possible that in this world, they were --? Erik's thoughts were interrupted by a loud knock on the door. He wasn't sure if he should be relieved that he would be able to gather more information before reacting James' (joking?) offer or disappointed that this didn't have a chance to go further. Then, he remembered the reason he was even pretending to be another man.
James' hand hovered over the doorknob. "Yeah?"
"Want to play along? And scare the kids a bit?"
"Hmm. It's true that somehow, I was the one to suffer the most through this prank of yours."
"And that's just not right, is it?"
"All right, you've got it. I'm in!"
Erik smiled. This part should be easier, with him reverting to his "role" as Magneto. He drew himself up to his full height and adopted his best menacing scowl. He noted with satisfaction that each of the kids tentatively stepping into the rooms made sure to stay the maximum distance away from him.
It was Sean who spoke up first. Or rather, a boy who bore a remarkable resemblance to Sean. "So, I checked Wikipedia on my phone while we were driving back, and apparently, this is called a Grandiose Delusion."
"Oh, Caleb. Wikipedia? Really?" James shook his head. Erik wondered if it was deliberate that James started channeling the same expression Charles had anytime one of the children did something disappointing.
"Well, it's not a bad place to start," the boy replied defensively.
"Is anyone going to tell me who or what Wikipedia is?" asked Erik, seeing the perfect opportunity to gather more information.
"Oh, hey. They didn't have Wikipedia back in the 60s, did they? Or smartphones?" said Raven.
"I still don't buy it. You're putting us on, Fassbender. I know it." Alex piped up, looking at him with suspicion.
"I don't know, guys. I really think he's serious about this." James bit at his lower lip and positively radiated> distress. Erik idly pondered whether the ability to evoke pathos in even the most coldhearted person was considered a mutant power. "We have to help him. Convince him he's not a mutant in the 60s."
"How do we do that?"
"Oh, I know! We can show him clips from the movie!" James grinned wickedly at him.
"The movie supposedly made about me? About us?"
"Not about you, Michael. About a fictional character you portrayed." James pulled out a small bag from under the bed, and drew out a thin, metallic notebook that he placed on the bed. He flipped open its screen and his fingers started tapping away on the keys beneath the screen.
"The DVD isn't out yet, of course. But I got to keep a clip that held some special significance for me."
The screen lit up, and with a few more seemingly random taps, the blue-grey-ish background was replaced by a brighter scene. They were in the club where they first recruited Angel. Then the whole room burst out in laughter and applause as Erik saw himself change into an unfortunately revealing blue dress and a tacky red wig. His mouth dropped open and he fought the flush that threatened to creep up his neck. His eyes darted around the room, but the scene was not met with any hostility or disgust, and he allowed himself to relax fractionally. This was another world, and another time.
James leaned over, his laughter ghosting over Erik's skin. "You know, I've never found you more attractive than when you were wearing that dress. I think it's the plunging neckline. Or your amazing figure."
Erik knew that he should come up with some sort of witty reply, but with James' body practically draped over him and his own memories of that particular excursion with Charles, it was getting increasingly difficult for him to focus.
"Believe us now, Magneto? There's no way you'd have this recorded for anyone." Hank's voice broke through his thoughts and Erik shrugged James off, almost too forcefully.
"Did you build that contraption, Hank? How do I know you're not just... displaying my memories somehow?" He made a vague gesture at James.
"That -- you mean James' laptop?" Alex spoke up again between fits of laughter. "I doubt it has the CPU power to even play the Sims, let alone display someone's memories."
"Hey, don't go around insulting my laptop. It's been my faithful companion and a reliable source of pornography for years now," James deadpanned.
"I knew it! You secretly get off on Michael in that dress, don't you?"
"I don't think it's a secret."
"The Internet is for porn!" someone else sang out.
"All right, that's enough. Michael? I think we had our fun."
Erik agreed. His gaze was on the laptop currently lying open on the bed. His instincts were telling him that it could be the key to discovering more about this world, especially if there were more clips that he could find.
"All right, all right, I don't actually think I'm Magneto," he admitted sheepishly.
"I knew it! I was right!" Alex was triumphant.
"Like anyone other than James even fell for it."
"Remind me to sell you that bridge in Brooklyn sometime, James!"
"Hey. Hey. I was completely in on the joke from the start!"
Somewhere in the room, a champagne bottle was opened, and everyone crowded towards it. Taking advantage of their distraction, Erik quietly slid over on the bed and experimentally tapped away at the keys. He first tried to type out 'Wikipedia' to see if the letters at least would appear on the screen. Nothing happened and he frowned. Checking again to make sure that no one else was watching him, he tapped out the word 'pornography.' Still nothing.
All right. So maybe that would have been too easy. He moved his fingers along the square pad below the keys, and a small arrow moved on the screen. Aha. Now we're getting somewhere. He looked more closely at the little squares in the background and moved an arrow over the one that said 'Thunderbird'. None of the names made particular sense to him but this one sounded like it could be interesting. After a series of random tapping and a few knocks on the laptop, a new square appeared on-screen, displaying multiple lines of text, each associated with a time and date.
"NATURAL PENIS ENHANCEMENT" screamed top line. A complete non-sequitor followed: "Canadian pharmacy meds." And then "Lesbians are waiting for you!"
Erik scratched his head. This... was a new side to James he wasn't sure he was interested in finding out more about. Deciding that nothing could be more bizarre than what he'd just read, he moved his arrow towards the picture that said 'Firefox.' The whole screen turned white this time. Brightly coloured letters procrlaiming 'Google' sat in the middle and below them "Google Search" and "I'm Feeling Lucky." Erik smiled, feeling as though lady luck was being generous with him tonight. A google search?
On a whim, he typed out "James McAvoy." Well. It wasn't Cerebro. He didn't receive a set of coordinates or location information on James. It did return a screen full of text about the actor, however, and Erik followed the one that contained the word 'Wikipedia,' remembering their earlier discussion. He had to look twice to make sure that he wasn't seeing things, shocked at the amount of information immediately available to him. Somehow, it didn't seem right that so much of James' private life should be so open to anyone who could type out his name, but for now, Erik was glad for the resource. If he had to play a close friend to the man, he'd need to know at least some basic information about him. For that matter, he'd need just the same type of information about Michael Fassbender as well. It was extremely tempting to visit the videos that turned up as well, but the sound would no doubt draw unwanted attention. For now, the text and pictures would have to do.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed, but the next thing he knew, the room was silent and James was flopped down on the bed next to him. "Googling yourself, Michael? Really?"
"I was bored," he replied with a pout. "You've been ignoring me all night."
"You have no one but yourself to blame for that. You looked so furtive I thought for sure you were surfing through my porn collection. I didn't want to intrude, of course." James raised an eyebrow. "So? Any juicy gossip about yourself?"
"Not really, no. My deepest, darkest secrets are safe for now."
"Good. Now, off you go! I need my beauty sleep."
It occurred to Erik that he had no idea where his room was supposed to be, but that wouldn't matter for tonight. He had done his research on this world and its technologies, and he was ready to experience it first hand.
"Good night, sleeping beauty."
"If I could have any superpower? I'd like to have a tail. I could hold a lemonade while I'm on the computer."
Another day, another interviewer asking the exact same question. He gave the same answer he'd carefully rehearsed and pretended to look attentive while waiting for the interview to be over.
He supposed that he could have gone for a more ambitious power. Telepathy had its obvious advantages, or he wouldn't have bothered recruiting Emma for his cause. It could be blocked with technology though, and Erik doubted that he had the disposition or patience to be bombarded with the inane thoughts of everyone around him without going into a homicidal rage. Since he formed the Brotherhood, he'd also recruited a variety of mutants, all with powers that were useful in one way or another. Still, none could compare with the ability to reach out and feel the absolute control he had over every metallic molecule in a room. And for some reason, it was apparently 'boring' or 'unfashionable' to answer the question with his own power. In the end, it was Azazel who gave him inspiration for his answer. His tail wasn't often the object of attention - that was his teleportation ability - but more than once, Erik had caught himself surprised by how that simple extension of Azazel's body was downright convenient. A tail would be an innocuous and reasonable answer, Erik had decided. It didn't carry with it connotations of destruction that many of the Brotherhood's mutants' powers did, nor any obvious downsides or ethical dilemmas like telepathy.
Lost in thought, Erik didn't notice when James sat down next to him after another gruelling day of press. "A tail to help with your new Internet addiction? That's what you're going to keep claiming is your dream superpower?"
"What's wrong with wanting a tail? At least my wish isn't to go around groping people, Amoré."
"Hey now, Amoré is a matchmaker, not a pervert! I would just lightly touch someone, like this..." James brushed his hand over Erik's arm with a wicked grin as Erik suppressed a shiver. "And then I would tap their soulmate's shoulder, they would turn to each other and it would be love at first sight!"
"How would you even know that they're soulmates?" he grumped.
"My... x-ray love vision?"
"Seriously though, what would your mutant name even be? Tail-O?"
"James, I'm going to stop talking to you and walk away now."
"I'm just saying. Our superhero team needs to have more compatible powers. Amoré is out there spreading the love, while you sit around in front of your computer sipping lemonade?"
Erik sighed. "I'll see you tomorrow, James."
It wasn't that Erik had nothing better to do than capitulate to the shameless whining of a Scottish actor who's too cheeky and too charming for his own good. It was just that James had a rather distracting habit of becoming incredibly tactile when there was something he wanted, invading Erik's personal space as though he belonged there. And Erik shouldn't care, shouldn't be affected, shouldn't respond or lean into that warm touch. Then James would look at him with the same bright blue eyes that still held the light of happiness, a look that he hadn't seen on Charles in far too long, and Erik would want nothing more than to pretend for a few moments longer.
"I'd like to fly. That should be a lot of fun, I'd imagine," Erik answered when the question was posed to him again in the next city.
"If I made you fall in love with me though, you could just fly me anywhere I wanted."
He hid his sharp intake of breath with a laugh. James had a talent for catching him off-guard. "That's true. Exactly."
The rest of the interview passed in a blur. When James tried to stop him afterwards, he mumbled something and shoved his way past the other man. How did he go from leading a resistance of mutants against human oppression to speaking on television about spraying love all over the universe? Sometimes he feared that he was getting too deep in-character.
Erik pretended not to hear.
"Wow. Just in time!" Slightly out of breath, James squeezed himself into the backseat of the cab with Erik.
"I'm not headed back to the hotel, James."
"I know. Meeting up with Bryan and Matthew to talk sequels, right?"
"Right." Erik forced himself to smile. In hindsight, he should have anticipated this. It hardly made sense not to invite James to a meeting like that, even if it was informal. He leaned back and closed his eyes. It was somehow fitting that James, who was basically Charles' evil twin, would be the one wildcard for him in this new world, keeping him on his toes as often as Charles had back home.
Erik launched directly into his carefully rehearsed speech as soon as they sat down in the small corner booth in the restaurant. "For the sequel, we should have Magneto and Professor X team up against a dangerous new anti-mutant group. I've been tracking the fan responses on the Internet, and it's all been incredibly positive towards the relationship between the two of them."
"I'm all for amping up the tension between Charles and Erik," agreed James. "It would be interesting to see their conflicting viewpoints in an environment of forced cooperation."
"We might even see Charles coming around to Erik's point of view once he sees what the humans are capable of doing to innocent mutants."
"Well, I don't know about that. Maybe Erik will be the one to join Charles in his cause--"
"And a good evening to you too, gentlemen." Matthew looked amused. "Cutting right to the chase?"
Erik shrugged. "Unless you're interested in our input about box office revenue and the financial feasibility of a sequel?"
"I guess not," laughed Bryan. "So. You two like the idea of Professor X and Magneto teaming up again?"
"Yeah. You know, I don't think those two can so easily sever their ties, and in the end, they both want what's best for mutantkind. They just have slightly different ideas of how to accomplish that. If they had a dangerous enough threat, though, I think they could put aside their differences and work together." Erik kept a careful eye on James to gauge his response.
"Slightly different?" James raised an eyebrow. "I mean, I agree with the rest of it, but the tragedy of their relationship is that these two men have this once-in-a-lifetime connection that they have to put aside for this incredibly fundamental philosophical difference that they have."
"Well, every other adaptation has pretty much run that into the ground, don't you think? This is a reboot, and we can go for something darker and grittier." Erik mentally checked off each buzzword as he said them. "Imagine Charles having a crisis of faith and joining forces with Magneto."
"I'm not sure Charles would--"
"James would do a great job of it too," added Erik quickly, cutting James off. "He has an incredible range, you know. And he would do conflicted and dark very well."
"And then what? They take over the world, and the credits roll?" Matthew spoke up.
"Matthew does have a point," said Bryan. "If those two teamed up for the wrong side, they would simply be too powerful, especially if Charles doesn't have his usual ethics and morals to keep them in check."
"Charles turning to the dark side is probably too dangerous," agreed James, giving Erik a rueful look. "I appreciate the vote of confidence in my acting, Michael, but the comic books probably have the right of it, with Magneto occasionally joining the good guys. There's been a few redemption storylines, right?"
"Oh, so Magneto joining Charles wouldn't be overpowered?" asked Erik snidely. "Look, it's great that Charles has these ideals about peaceful resolutions, but I think it's pretty damned clear how lacking in practicality his entire crusade is--"
"Is that how his school for mutants achieved such great success, then? And how he became one of the most respected and powerful mutants in the world?" James shot back.
"And how has improving mutant acceptance gone for him? He's managed to eliminate all the anti-mutant discrimination in the world?"
"Well, no, but the answer to that isn't joining the Brotherhood. Magneto's a sympathetic figure, but he's still a villain, a killer..."
"Have you ever thought that there would be less deaths if we stopped fighting each other and united against the enemy? If we want to remove humans from power, that sometimes that means getting rid of persistent obstacles. Why should the humans be the ones in charge of the mutants' fates? Mutants are the ones who will be moving the species forward. The assignment of telepaths as judge and jury eliminate mistrials; a powerful mutant is simply a more efficient soldier in times of war; harnessing teleportation has unlimited applications for travel and exploration. Mutants shouldn't be feared and controlled. They should be raised up to positions of power to realize their full potential."
Bryan blinked. "Have you writing the script to the sequel in your spare time, Michael?"
"I was, um, I was just thinking of how things looked from Magneto's point of view." Erik unclenched his fists and smiled awkwardly as he noticed everyone staring at him.
Matthew cleared his throat. "Another round of drinks, everyone? I'm glad you both have such strong opinions about where your characters can go for the sequel, but maybe we should worry about the sequel when things are confirmed with the studio. Now, let's kiss and make up, all right?"
In a testament to his bad mood, Erik barely reacted as James climbed into his lap, though he couldn't quite suppress a shiver when James nibbled at his ear.
"You can't let your anger consume you like this, Erik," whispered James, his breath hot against Erik's skin. "You lost more than just a friend on the beach that day. Do you really never wonder what could have been?"
Before he could react, he felt the warm press of James' lips against his own and all coherent thought fled his mind. Tentatively, Erik ran his tongue over those soft, lush lips as he had so often imagined doing. You taste good, he wanted to say, but the only sound that came out was a low moan. James responded by parting his lips, allowing Erik to gently push his tongue into his mouth. Sighing, Erik threaded his hands through James' hair, relishing every sensation thrumming through his body. This was wrong, so very wrong because Charles would never want this with Erik - why am I torturing myself this can never be this isn't real - but Erik couldn't bring himself to stop because in that moment, he was sure that there was nothing else he could want in this world except the feel of the other man in his arms.
When they finally pulled apart, Bryan and Matthew were both pretending to be fascinated by the ceiling. Erik coughed and shoved James aside, still breathing heavily. He took some solace in the fact that James' face was flushed an attractive shade of red as well.
"Well. Let's hope this doesn't end up on the front page of the tabloids tomorrow," said Matthew with a nervous laugh.
"Too dark for pictures, I'm pretty sure," said Bryan helpfully.
"Time to go, I think," said James, all but dragging Erik outside with him.
When they were alone, Erik nudged James. "You called me Erik."
James shrugged, keeping his eyes on the ground. "Yeah. I've suspected ever since I checked my search history and saw the sites you looked up."
"And here I thought I'd been doing a great job until tonight."
"I probably should have told you earlier, but, well. I thought you would be less scary if you still had to pretend to be Michael," admitted James sheepishly.
Erik chuckled. They walked on in a companionable silence.
"You know, I have wondered. I wonder every day," Erik said quietly.
"Not... not about the kissing," he clarified, seeing the look on James' face. "I mean, I think about that, but Charles doesn't - he likes women - so I don't... there's no point." He let out a noise of frustration. "I just wish we were still friends."
"I'm sure he still considers you to be a friend, Erik."
Erik laughed. "I betrayed his trust, crippled him, and stole away his sister before abandoning him on that beach. And since then, the Brotherhood has only worked against him and his students." He shook his head. "Charles is a good man, but he's not a saint. I am no longer a friend of his. And if I want my cause to succeed, I should not consider him a friend of mine either."
"You said yourself that it's not so easy to sever your ties with him."
Erik briefly considered punching James out for using his own words against him now that he no longer had to pretend to be Michael. He sighed unhappily, giving up the idea as quickly as it had come to him. For better or worse, the best course of action was making James an ally, especially considering his lack of other options.
"Do you know what I was doing the night I ended up being transported to your world?"
"I probably shouldn't answer that with something dirty, should I?"
Erik ignored the innuendo. "I was tracking down a mutant who was rumoured have the powers to manipulate time."
"Like time travel?"
"It wasn't too clear from what the information we gathered. There were some instances of people losing time around her, but she is still very young. No one knew the full extent of her powers."
James' eyes widened. "You were hoping that she could though."
"I would be lying if I said that I have no regrets over the things I've done."
"So you ended up here because you wanted to change the past, and now you're trying to influence the future?"
"I'm an ambitious man, James. And if you would help out, I could succeed on that second count."
James looked at him thoughtfully. "You know, there's a theory about parallel universes that says there's a new reality spawned every time a decision made. An almost infinite number of realities to reflect every possible decision. In our world, none of the incarnations of you and Charles got past their differences, so I don't think we can make a movie where that happens without sending the comic book fans into a frenzy. That's the only reason I disagreed with you earlier." James took a deep breath. "But what's to say that your world is constrained by what we decide to write here? Maybe what influences the writers are only subconscious glimpses of one version of your reality. If you want Charles by your side again, maybe you can make that happen for yourself."
"So I should renounce my evil ways? Crawl back to Charles and beg his forgiveness?" Erik felt that familiar rush of anger bubbling up again.
"Erik." James grabbed his wrist and stopped him in his tracks. "Do you know why I kissed you tonight?"
And suddenly, James was too close and memories of their earlier kiss flooded through his mind. He pulled back and threw off James' hand as though he was burned. "How should I know? Because you're evil and have been trying to kill me with sexual frustration these past few weeks?"
"No!" James looked like he wasn't sure if he should laugh or cry. "God, you're ridiculous. No. It's because if it's true that what we did here was a reflection of your world, or if we influenced your world in any way... then you should know that the way I played Charles... I played him as a man who loved you deeply. Who was in love with you."
"I just thought you should have that information before you made your decision."
If Michael's life were a movie, this would be the part where the inspirational music from the soundtrack started while a series of endearing clips of his training played in slow motion. Unfortunately, despite being literally in a movie world, he was currently sitting on the grass, buried under a pile of small coins. Apparently, the universe did not see it fit to allow him the luxury of dignity.
"On the bright side, I'm fairly sure there's no one in the mansion who still thinks you're Erik now," said an entirely too cheerful Charlies Xavier. The rest of the team had stayed at a careful distance from him, which Michael had initially put down to their fear of Magneto and men looking suspiciously like Magneto. Given their current state of giggling and hysterical laughter, though, Michael suspected it was more that they just didn't want to get hit by any of the coins. This was all Charles Xavier's fault.
Scowling, he gave Charles his best menacing death glare, before remembering that this was a guy who spent much of the past few months making goo-goo eyes at Magneto. Right. Not going to intimidate this guy.
An amused chuckle sounded in the back of his mind. That's not precisely how I would have described my interactions with Erik.
Michael raised one eyebrow at Charles and projected as many scenes as he could remember where he and James conspired to add a little extra subtext. He smirked in satisfaction when Charles proceeded to blush a very pretty shade of red. Michael: 1, Charles and the X-Men: 17.
Charles cleared his throat. "Why don't we start from the beginning, then."
"This is hopeless," he grumbled as he began to levitate the coins one by one again. "I have no idea how he managed to stop all these missiles. After too many coins, I just lose track and it all goes to hell! And no, finding the point between rage and serenity isn't really helping me right now."
"I wish you were comfortable enough to let me further in your mind," said Charles, turning the full power of his puppy dog eyes on Michael. "I've spent enough time in Erik's mind that I could try and show you the techniques he used to control his power."
Michael sighed. It wasn't really that he had any embarrassing secrets that he was hiding from Charles. He had no problems letting the telepath skim the surface of his thoughts whenever he pleased. It was just that with so much knowledge about Charles and Erik's future (potential futures?), he couldn't help but worry about somehow destroying the space-time continuum by letting Charles find out about it.
I think the universe is made of stronger stuff than that, Michael.
Not a fan of the Butterfly Effect?
You need to learn to use your powers, Michael. We don't know how long you'll be staying here, and you can only stall the Brotherhood for so long before someone comes to find you. You may have to go back with them if worse comes to worst.
Michael winced at the thought of having to impersonate Erik in the middle of a group of highly dangerous mutants. You do know that I'm not actually a superhero, right? I only play one on TV.
Charles put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I will search for the mutant who brought you here with Cerebro again tonight. Our best hope is still to have this situation fixed before you're forced to return to the Brotherhood. In the meantime, however..."
"All right, fine. Do your little fingering trick, and let's see if I can't manage something more impressive than lifting a bunch of coins. With any luck, I can smack Sean in the face with something for all the laughing he's doing."
"That's the spirit!" Charles laughed. "Are you ready?"
"Yes." Michael closed his eyes and waited. He felt slight tingling feeling travelling up the back of his neck, though he knew that no one was touching him.
Going into your memories will feel slightly different than what we do to communicate now. It will be a bit more visual, and it may trigger your other senses as well.
Michael's rebellious mind chose that moment to call up an inappropriate parallel to a blushing virgin being deflowered. Charles' eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. Michael fought the wave of embarrasment that washed over him, because really, he can't be the only person who's thought of sex around Charles considering the number of teenagers the man had running around the mansion. And if you really thought about it, the subtext was rather strong for this, wasn't it?
Charles continued to look at him like a deer stuck in headlights.
I blame James for this. It's all the jokes about fingering, bending over, and penetration that he liked to make during this scene.
Michael. If we're going to continue with this, I'm afraid you're going to have to stop conjuring up these images. I am not a prude, of course, but these are... quite vivid.
Oh. I probably can't blame James for that. Michael gave a helpless shrug. Sorry, Charles. I recently came off filming a new movie that's a bit on the explicit side. Some of the stuff we did for the cameras were things I hadn't even heard of myself.
As memories of his time on Shame popped up in his mind, Charles had a sudden coughing fit, his face becoming even redder. If this wasn't so amusing, and let's be honest, if Michael had a conscience about teasing adorable professors who looked like his best friend, he'd probably feel bad about it. Maybe. Michael often forgot that not everyone was comfortable with nudity, and of course someone brought up in the 60s would have a different set of sensibilities altogether. He had never been shy, though. One of his first paying jobs had been a commercial where he spent the entire time naked. And well, his latest movie rather spoke for itself as far as his lack of inhibitions went.
Still, Charles' reaction surprised him a little. He could see Erik being a bit of a stick in the mud -- His mind stopped and honed in on that thought. Erik. My identical twin. Charles' object of lust, performing depraved and pornographic acts in my memories. No wonder he was blushing!
I can still hear you, Michael. Charles' mental voice sounded sullen.
Enjoy the show, Charles? He started laughing. How did he get to this point? Magically transported to a movie universe where he was now making a telepath blush with dirty images? This was the most ludicrous thing that had ever happened to him. And at once, he felt as though a weight was lifted off his shoulders. A sudden clarity came to him and every piece of metal in the area seemed to call out his name. Keeping track of them was trivial now and still grinning, he levitated all the coins and arranged them into formations that spelled out rude words.
"Well, I'm glad my misery and sexual frustration has helped you focus your powers, Michael," said Charles, apparently taking this opportunity to beat a dignified retreat from Michael's mind.
"Schadenfreude, my friend. I am half-German, after all." Michael looked thoughtfully at Charles, then slowly lifted him up with his wheelchair.
"Is this a roundabout way of saying that you want me out of your sight, Michael?" shouted Charles as he was lifted higher and higher off the ground.
"If you miss me, you just have to say so!" It took his concentration off moving the coins, but he was able to fly up to join Charles, relishing the look of surprise on the other man's face.
"Remarkable. You're picking up on your powers very quickly."
They spent the rest of the day exploring the limits to his powers. Michael recalled several tricks that Magneto could do in the comics that made Charles frown at him.
"Best not to test out if you can shift the earth's axis or cause natural disasters, Michael." Charles had said dryly.
They did test out some of the less destructive theories, though. Manipulating the natural iron content in blood didn't work, at which Charles sighed in relief. He tried to read Charles' mind by 'reading' the brainwaves sent out, but he couldn't grasp any concrete thoughts. Once the more outlandish theores were tested, they went back to practicing his control and his range.
At one point, Michael wondered if it was a bit unethical that Charles was essentially researching Erik's abilities - and well, they were still technically enemies, weren't they?
"I honestly don't think that I could ever harm him," was Charles' quiet reply.
The testing felt half-hearted after that, and soon Michael made an excuse and went to bed, emotionally and physically exhausted.
"You'll be getting some rest soon too, Charles?"
"I will. Just need to one last sweep with Cerebro to try and find that mutant again."
Michael nodded, and padded off to his room for the night. In his dreams, he was standing in front of a full-length mirror outside the mansion where he had been training earlier. His reflection was snarling at him, eyes red with rage. He wanted to turn away, wanted to run, but he was frozen in place. His scream was choked off as his reflection reached through the mirror for his neck. The mirror cracked into a million pieces and he sat up with a gasp.
Slowly, Michael's eyes to adjusted to the dark as ominous shadows fell away to familiar shapes. He gingerly touched his throat and let out a sigh of relief. Right. Just a nightmare. No evil doppelgangers out to murder him in his sleep. He threw off his covers, shrugged off his sweat-soaked shirt and fell back onto the bed, his heart still thumping loudly in his chest.
Michael? Is everything all right?
It's nothing, he responded quickly, feeling a flush of embarrassment come over him. With a quick flick of his hand, he turned on the bedside lamp with his powers and looked around. Charles felt close. Sorry, did I wake you?
I'm afraid not. I haven't gone to sleep yet, came the rueful reply. A careful knock sounded at the door, and Michael only had to lift a finger to open it. He stretched out on the bed and sighed happily. If there was one thing he did like about being stranded in a fictional universe with superheroes and supervillains, it was that he could get a great deal done without ever leaving the bed.
"Your powers are making you lazy, my friend."
Michael didn't bother dignifying that with a response, his lips quirking in a smile as he followed Charles' line of sight over his body. "I blame your ruthless taskmaster ways for wearing me out earlier."
Charles moved his wheelchair next to the bed and placed a hand on Michael's arm. "Are you sure you don't want to talk about your dream?"
Michael shook his head. "Unless Erik had powers of prophecy, I don't think we need to worry about my dreams. But what about you, Charles? It's --" He turned to check the clock on the nightstand. "-- three in the morning and you haven't slept."
He looked at Charles more closely, disturbed to see heavy bags under the other man's eyes and the worn look on his face. "Come on." He patted the empty space next to him and levitated a surprised Charles into the air and onto the bed.
Charles tensed for a moment before sighing and closing his eyes. Michael felt Charles’ mind enter his, settling over his thoughts like a warm blanket. He wasn’t sure that he’d ever really be comfortable with having another person in his head, but Charles made sure he never skimmed beneath the surface of his thoughts without permission. On occasions when he missed having the convenience of everyone having cell phones for texting, he’d seek Charles out and prod at him with questions or requests. There was only the occasional misfire when he accidentally projected things like dancing hamsters to a confused Charles instead of asking him what dinner would be later in the day.
The best part of establishing this rudimentary telepathic connection, though, was how much simpler conversations became. While forming the words in his mind and projecting them took focus and practice, being able to supplement his spoken words with the undercurrents of the thoughts in his head made communication much easier. He had a feeling that he would need as much help as he could get for what would likely turn out to be a sensitive topic.
Michael nudged Charles with his elbow. "So, what happened?"
"Hank and I had... words."
"Words? That sounds ominous." It was hard to imagine Charles getting into a large enough argument with a friend that would lead to him losing his temper, though. And even if he did lose his temper, he was unlikely to intimidate anyone as long as he insisted on wearing those ridiculous cardigans.
A light puff of laughter greeted that thought. "For Hank, it probably was at least a little bit scary. He drew the short end of the straw to be the one to talk to me. From what he told me, Sean will have the pleasure of talking to you tomorrow."
"As it turns out, our single-minded quest to return Magneto to this world hasn’t been very popular with the people who’ve been fighting him these past months."
Michael detected the light tinge of guilt behind Charles’ words and put a comforting hand on Charles’ arm. "Well, let’s not forget the part about getting me back to my glamorous life as an actor."
"Ah, yes. About that."
"About that?" The soft touch of his hand on Charles’ arm turned into a tight grip.
"How would you feel about joining our cause and fighting for mutant rights instead of being famous, rich and adored?"
Even if they hadn’t established a telepathic link, Michael was sure that his face was currently contorted into an expression that made his feelings more than clear on the matter. He made a mental note to save this moment for future reference if he ever needed to act horrified out of his mind. There were probably some scenes for Prometheus where this would come in handy. Provided he ever got back home anyway. Oh God... ohgodohgod... He had taken it for granted that he would at some point be able to return. What if he was stuck here forever?
"You know, I really should be offended that you consider the prospect of living with me as horrifying as being attacked by aliens." Charles pried Michael’s fingers off his arm one by one before giving his hand a squeeze. I was only joking. Everything will be all right, Michael. Don’t panic.
"Sorry, sorry, I know," said Michael, forcing himself to take deep breaths. "It's just the thought of never seeing my family or friends again. It never really hit me until now."
He felt a curious nudge at the memory of James that floated briefly to the surface of his mind, and he pushed back. It's probably best if you didn't know. Charles raised an eyebrow, but he nodded and retreated. Charles was aware of who James was, of course. But they never really discussed him beyond occasional mentions of James as the actor responsible for Charles’ portrayal in the movie.
"Okay, that’s enough freakouts for tonight, I think," Michael said finally, plastering a grin on his face that didn’t feel entirely genuine. "Back on track?"
"If you’d like. We’re not really on a deadline to finish the conversation here."
Michael laughed. "Well, we should probably finish this before the kids start planning our wedding or something."
"Oh, I very much doubt that. They are misguided in this, yes, but they're not delusional." Charles chuckled. "I don't think they took into account that anyone wouldn't want to stay here with a new family, as unconventional a family as this school is. None of them really had homes where they belonged until they came here."
Michael grumbled something about Charles being too damned reasonable for his own good. The other man had a point, though. The kids they gathered were all misfits who were all too happy to leave their old lives behind.
"I suppose most of this is really my fault," said Charles with a sigh. "I try not to burden them with my problems, but dealing with Erik has been... well, difficult to say the least. The Brotherhood grows more powerful, but I don't have it in me to retaliate in full strength."
Charles wore a pained expression on his face, as though it hurt him to admit this weakness. "They must have latched onto the first opportunity they saw to try and fix things, even if it came at your expense."
"You can’t possibly blame yourself for this." Except of course Charles blamed himself. Because despite having a PhD in genetics and an uncanny maturity beyond his years, he was also the dumbest man on earth.
"Still here in your mind, Michael," Charles helpfully reminded him.
"Charles. Without even getting into all the other things that happened to you on the beach that day... You do know that it's not a mortal flaw to mourn losing someone you loved, right?"
Charles tensed up next to him. "No. I'm not. I mean, yes, I was attracted to him. I'm not blind. And I only admitted that to you because, well, I kissed you, so I suppose that much was obvious. But you've completely misinterpreted. He's my friend. My closest friend... He means the world to me but we never... Love is perhaps too strong a word, don't you think?"
Michael simply looked at Charles incredulously until he stopped babbling.
Charles buried his face in his hands. "Please tell me I'm not that transparent to everyone else."
This would probably be a bad time to bring up the fact that everyone who had seen the movie told him that they were pretty sure Charles and Erik were having sex. One journalist from E! had actually gone up to him and told him that she would be writing an article entitled Magneto and Professor X Had Sex at the Movies This Summer—Did You See It? after seeing the movie. Although now he had to wonder what he and James did wrong that somehow, despite all the sexually charged subtext, Charles and Erik were apparently not fucking each other's brains out.
"I hate you," muttered Charles miserably.
Right. Telepath. "Seriously, though. You two weren't --?"
"No." Charles let out a long, shuddering breath. "Erik never loved me. And he never will. That's why I feel guilty, Michael. Why I feel responsible. I'm putting us all in danger because I can't stop hoping--"
"Charles. Stop." Michael wrapped his arms around Charles and held on tight. Neither of them said a word for a long time as Charles leaned back against Michael's chest. Gently, he ran his fingers through Charles' hair, occasionally digging down to massage his scalp. At that, Charles' eyes fluttered shut and he let out a small hum of contentment. Michael was surprised to find his own worries seemingly seep away as well before realizing that Charles must be projecting this sense of calm and serenity to him.
"You haven't talked to anyone about this since he left, have you?" asked Michael in a soft voice.
"Who could I possibly talk to? 'Hullo, Alex. I know that you're feeling angry and betrayed by Erik, but would you like to hear about how much I miss him?'"
"You shouldn't have had to go through all this alone. Not even Moira?"
Charles shook his head. "She has already done more than enough just helping me recover from the bullet. And knowing what I planned to do, I couldn't possibly impose more on her."
It never occurred to him how lonely Charles was, and suddenly, he wanted nothing more than to make the sadness in Charles' eyes go away. "Look, I don't know if I should be saying this at all, because I have no idea if it'll just make things worse, but I'm pretty sure Erik has more than just platonic feelings for you."
"How would you know?" Charles paused. "Would you know? Because of the whole actor-character thing?"
"I think so. Every actor to some extent has a bit of internal monologue going on when acting out a scene that they try to get across to the audience and let's just say that there were definitely scenes where Erik was having more than friendly thoughts about you. But even putting that aside, wasn't it pretty obvious that the guy was crazy about you?"
"Not to me!"
"You're a telepath!"
"Oh. No. Definitely not. Going into someone's head and finding out exactly what they think of people like me and how hopeless my chances are... It was painful enough when it was just a passing infatuation."
Michael felt a pang of sympathy for Charles. Telepathy definitely wasn't the easiest power to live with.
"Well. I'm telling you now. For a guy as emotionally stunted as Erik to share crying sessions with you over childhood memories and for him to forget about everything but you when you got hurt on the beach... If he isn't in love with you, he's doing a damned good job of acting like it."
"Thank you, Michael." Charles was doing his best to act nonchalant, but Michael could feel the barely suppressed waves of giddiness that rolled off the other man. "That really did help. To know that what we had wasn't completely one-sided."
"Good," said Michael. "And when we get him back, you two are going to have a chat about all this."
He put up a finger to silence Charles' protests. "I don't know what's the best route for you two. Maybe you're star-crossed lovers who can never be. God knows you two never really reconciled in any of the comics or movies. Conventional wisdom would probably be for you to get some closure and fall in love with someone who isn't Magneto. Then again, maybe with both of you geniuses not acting like stubborn idiots, you can actually work out a compromise. But you'll never know if you don't try, will you?"
"You've given this a lot of thought."
"You have no idea. Some days, it was the only thing we'd talk about on set. Especially if James was in one of his more sentimental moods."
"I'm not sure how I should feel about that, but I appreciate it. I really do."
Michael pressed a kiss on top of Charles' head. "I'm glad."
Still comfortably in each other's arms, they drifted off to a more peaceful slumber.
Erik woke from his nap with a pounding headache and the single-minded conviction that he was going to murder his evil doppelganger. Yes, Fassbender was clearly the evil twin. How else could he have maneuvered himself into the perfect position to completely piss Erik off while remaining invulnerable to any of Erik's threats? Damn that man for being the one who needed to be alive so Erik could survive in his own universe. Unfortunately, he would have to settle with trying to ruin Fassbender's life instead.
He glanced at his watch, noting that there was still an hour before their flight would touch down. He powered up his laptop and pondered the best course of action. Get a twitter account and make ill-advised tweets? A nude photo scandal? He glanced over at James. Sex tape? He shook his head. With his luck, this would end up giving his career a boost instead.
He could try to destroy the idiot's career by signing up for something horrendously bad, but it was hard to top the decisions the man had already made. Because seriously, what the hell was Hex? And Angel?
Still feeling spiteful, he decided to fire off an e-mail to a casting agent about auditioning for the lead role in Transformers 4 anyway. No matter what happened, he could take satisfaction that somewhere out there, the sentence "I hope I'll be given the chance to prove that I am just as capable an actor as Shia LaBeouf." had been associated with Michael Fassbender. If only he had enough clout to wrangle Uwe Boll as the director for the movie.
His glee must have been showing because the next thing he knew, James was draped over his back trying to sneak a peek at his laptop screen. The only downside to flying first class was that it gave James entirely too much room to maneuver himself around and generally make Erik frustrated with his proximity. James was as tactile as ever, maybe even a little bit moreso since the night they had kissed. Awkwardness and uncertainty were apparently only made for mere mortals like Erik.
"What are you doing?" James asked.
"Erik. I happen to know for a fact that the amount of mischief you're up to is directly proportional the number of teeth you show while grinning."
"Don't worry, James. I promise you that whatever I'm doing, Fassbender deserves it."
"Erik. What is this about?" James lowered his voice. James had been keeping a closer eye on him than usual recently, whether that was out of concern for him or the people around him, he couldn't say. The additional scrutiny only made Erik withdraw further into himself, however. James turned his world upside down by telling him that Charles was in love with him, and he had no idea what to do with such an unexpected piece of knowledge. Not that it mattered anymore if what he saw in his dreams was true.
"I saw Charles. And Michael."
"How? Are you sure? Are they okay?"
"I saw them in a dream. But it wasn't a normal dream. It felt stronger, somehow." He gave a sardonic smile. "They were very comfortable."
"Why does that sound like a bad thing to me?"
"Because they were comfortably in bed with each other."
James at least had the good grace to look surprised. "Oh. And there's no room for an alternate interpretation?"
"They were in each other's arms, half-dressed and in bed. I'm sure they were just cuddling and talking about their feelings."
"To be fair, Michael does like to cuddle."
"What happened to 'I'm left to take care of myself after'?" Erik pointed out.
James laughed. "That's what makes the joke funny! Michael Fassbender. Expectation: Love 'em and leave 'em Lothario breaking hearts everywhere. In reality: Hopeless sap who cries during Twilight and loves to cuddle."
"Well, he was crying because he was laughing too hard, but my point still stands. I really wouldn't put it past him to pass up the chance for kinky telepathic sex just to be a decent guy and act as a shoulder to cry on for Charles."
Erik felt his anger subside as his mind latched onto this possibility. "I guess it's a good thing you weren't the one transported there, then. Kinky telepathic sex? You'd do it even with your twin, wouldn't you?"
"Well, he's not really my twin. It'd be more like masturbation if you think about it. Wouldn't even need to run that by Anne-Marie for permission. I'd invite her along because I'm a gentleman, though."
"I think you're forgetting something, James."
He pulled James closer and growled. "Unlike you, I don't share."
"Ah. Duly noted." James grinned. "Does that mean you've made up your mind about Charles, then?"
Erik narrowed his eyes. That tricky bastard.
"I'm just saying. I don't know what did or didn't happen with him and Michael. But a handsome chap like Charles with those irresistible eyes? Isn't going to stay single for long."
"We'll see," he replied vaguely, feeling his chest tighten. Had he made his decision without even knowing it? It seemed that he never had as much control over himself as he wanted to be when it came to Charles, drawn almost helplessly to him. The logical side of him was already raising its voice in protest, listing all the hurdles and impossibilities that would be involved in going back to Charles. Even then, a louder, more insistent voice refused to allow Charles to belong to anyone but him. Erik closed his eyes and willed his mind to be silent.
When Erik woke up, he knew that something was wrong. There were none of the faint chatter of his fellow travellers nor the tell-tale rumble of the plane engine. He stretched out his aching muscles and took a quick survey of his surroundings. The room was painted wall-to-wall in white, with bright fluorescent lights on the ceiling. He sat up and ran his hands over the sheets covering the small cot beneath him. It was unyielding and cold to the touch. Metal. Though he already knew the answer, he tried to bend and manipulate it, to no avail.
Assuming his watch escaped this kidnapping unscathed, then by all rights, he was taken directly from the plane. Their plane would not be landing for another 20 minutes at least. These weren't ordinary kidnappers and they had him at a distinct disadvantage if they had their powers while he didn't.
A loud bang at the door interrupted his thoughts. Erik quickly lied back down and curled his body up to face the wall, feigning sleep.
"This is what happens when you rely on a child's powers to get things done," said a deep, gravelly voice. A dull thud followed: something being thrown into the room.
"These two were too close in proximity, there was nothing to be done about it," replied a second voice. "Pamela has done well for us. Haven't you, darling?"
"Thank you, daddy." The girl's barely audible voice quivered slightly.
A large foot kicked at his back and Erik flipped over, eyes snapping open. The man who kicked him was a tall and burly, barely squeezing into the form-fitting white uniform he had on. A guard most likely. He wore a strange translucent device fitted around his temples that connected to an earpiece. Erik idly thought that Emma would appreciate the interior decorating and colour scheme here.
"About time you woke up."
Erik identified the burly guard as the owner of the first voice. He clenched his fists when he saw the guard turn his attention to the small man lying on the floor. James, he realized with horror.
Theguard delivered a swift kick to James' stomach that made Erik see red. James gasped and rolled away from the man, clumsily pulling himself onto his feet. When the guard moved to grab James, Erik had enough. He launched himself at the guard, his fists flying towards the man's face. When he finally connected with his target, it felt as though he had run into a brick wall. He fell backwards on the floor and rubbed at his hurt knuckles.
Before the fight could escalate, the second man walked between the two and spoke up. "Now now, there's no need for this to get unpleasant, especially when we have children here."
He smiled at Erik and stretched out a hand. "You can call me Joseph."
"What do you want?" asked Erik, ignoring the proffered hand.
"Oh, nothing unreasonable. We need to eliminate a target, and it must not be traced back to us. You will help us achieve this."
"Easily done," said Erik, pretending not to see James tense up in response. "I don't see why you had go through all this trouble for it, though. Too good for making contact the old fashioned way?"
Joseph laughed. "As capable as you would be of performing the task yourself, I had someone else in mind. Your good friend Charles Xavier, to be exact."
If James hadn't grabbed his arm at that moment, Erik was sure he would have done something horribly rash and inadvised, considering the strength of Joseph's bodyguard. As he often did when under stress, he conjured up memories of the feel of ice-cold pushed away by warm arms and a strong, clear voice sounding in his mind. Calm your mind, Erik.
He would need to keep his wits and think logically to get out of this situation. First order of business: keep Charles out of this. "You need a telepath? I have one with me already. Emma would be perfectly suited --"
"Mr. Lehnsherr, please." Joseph held up a hand. "While I appreciate your rather enthusiastic cooperation, I have fully investigated all possibilities and my decisions are final."
"And where does he come in?" Erik pointed at James.
"An unfortunate complication, I must admit." Joseph pursed his lips in displeasure.
"Send him back. You gain nothing by hurting him."
Joseph considered his statement before nodding to his bodyguard. "Keith, stay with Pamela and Mr. McAvoy. When she has regained her strength, she will be able to send him home."
Erik tried not to let his relief show on his face. At least something was going right so far.
"I hope that gesture of good faith will be enough to secure your cooperation for the next while?" asked Joseph. Without waiting for an answer, he turned to the door and gestured for Erik to follow. Swallowing down his anger, Erik walked behind Joseph out into the hallway.
They walked through long hallways decorated in the same monotous white with equally identical doors on each side, until Erik was convinced that they were not so much in a building as they were in an elaborately designed maze. Some doors opened to other hallways, some to staircases, and still more remained mysteries. He sped up his pace until he was walking side by side with Joseph, and surreptitiously began to watch the other man. There was no doubt method to this madness. Erik hoped that some flicker of the eye or mouthed words would give away the pattern.
By the time they reached their destination, Erik had begun to make sense of their route. Joseph appeared to be using the doors as markers, which was only logical considering the complete lack of other landmarks available. Three-left, six-right, ten-left in a cycle, with every second cycle leading them to a staircase that they climbed. How many rooms were there in this building? Did each destination have its own coded pattern? They went up four floors before Joseph broke the pattern, counting fifteen doors and stopping.
"Well, here we are," said Joseph. "Our guest requested that he be able to confirm that you are unharmed."
Erik stayed silent. Joseph laughed and threw open the door to a room identical to the one Erik had been kept in. Just inside the door was another guard, who moved to stand outside when he saw the two men.
"Charles," whispered Erik, his breath rushing out at once as all his focus shifted to his old friend. He wasn't sure if he stumbled into the room on his own shaky legs or if he was shoved by the impatient guard. But somehow, he managed to make his way to Charles, cupping the other man's face as he knelt down. Erik swallowed down the lump in his throat as he saw the hesitancy in Charles' eyes. Gently, he pulled Charles' head down until their foreheads were touching.
"Erik? Can I--?"
"Yes. Yes. Always."
Erik sighed, relishing the warmth of Charles' mind meeting his. They would soon have to turn to the business of escaping their temporary prison, but for now, nothing mattered to Erik except the fact that Charles was here with him. Tentatively, they explored their boundaries again as though meeting for the first time. The barriers built up over the time they've spent on opposite sides of the war stood as unwieldy obstacles in their minds, causing them to stumble over once-familiar terrain.
Charles was still wary, letting only a muted version of his emotions filter through. For his part, Erik dreaded what Charles could see in him now after all he had done. Had he already gone too far for Charles to forgive?
"Erik. I'll forgive you. Always."
Erik had always known that Charles was the braver one, to be able to fight with optimism without the luxury of turning away from the ugly truths buried deep in people's heads. And so it was Charles who reached out first, let down his guard, and simply allowed Erik to feel and see.
First there was only joyful giddiness, mixed with an electric undercurrent of lust as Charles recalled shared memories of their recruitment trip. Every casual brush of their thighs each time they sat too close, every touch of their hands, their significance was suddenly magnified. Erik could scarcely believe that he was the one to inspire those feelings in Charles.
Then they were in front of the satellite, knowing that what they shared that day was a connection that would last for the rest of their lives and that together, they could be unstoppable. And the intoxicating mix of invincibility, happiness, and desire blossomed into something more.
Erik almost wanted to pull away when he saw that they were once again at the beach. He steeled himself for the inevitable as the missiles arched towards them and he saw himself lift up a hand to stop them. He felt Charles beat helplessly at his helmet with his telepathy as fear and panic bubbled up within him. A brief, paralyzing moment of indecision: fear of rejection and humiliation battling with his need to save the men on the ships.
"Erik, please. I love you."
And it all changed from there. Their days were filled with knowing glances and the thrum of anticipation. At night, they would crawl into bed together, perfectly content in each other's arms. Charles tempered Erik's anger, stopping him before his rashness could get him in trouble, while Erik led the older, more battle-capable mutants to defend against human forces when necessary. Through it all, they kept each other afloat, waking up each day to fight a thankless war as long as they could see the other smile.
It was a future and hope so brilliant and intense that Erik found himself unable to breathe. Was this what he had so carelessly thrown away that day on the beach? To know that he had come so close to the peace and blissfulness that he never dared to hope for was too much.
"Erik? Erik? Are you all right?"
Erik gasped as Charles retreated from his mind.
"Breathe, just breathe." Charles was clutching his hands now. "I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have--"
"No. Charles, come back. I need to tell you that I..." The words caught in his throat.
I love you too.
"So, I've got good news and bad news. Which would you like to hear first?"
Michael groaned and pulled the covers over his head. "Too early for either. Go away."
"And here I was hoping you missed me."
Michael blamed his grogginess for taking at least another ten seconds to realize that he was hearing a familiar Scottish brogue. He sat up to see James sitting on the bed with a mock pout on his face that faded when Michael pulled him into a bear hug.
"Well, that's the good news out of the way." James' grin didn't quite reach his eyes.
Michael pulled back. "I have a feeling I'm not going to like the bad news."
"Erik is in big trouble. We were kidnapped by a bloke who wanted to extort Charles into killing someone for him, and he's using Erik as his hostage."
"Shit." Michael was wide awake now.
"Erik convinced him to send me home, and I managed to talk my way here instead."
Michael instinctively sought out Charles' mind, his feelings of dread intensifying when he heard nothing in return. "Charles isn't here anymore, is he?"
James shook his head. "Pamela told me that she transported us all to her father's facility."
"You'd better come downstairs," said James. Michael was already halfway to the door when James stopped him. "And put on some clothes."
As he dressed in the clothes Erik left behind, Michael made a mental note to burn any and all turtlenecks he owned when he got home. While they were better than the alternative - he was sure that someone in wardrobe had it out for the entire cast - he was hoping to get a break from all that after filming ended.
Together, they headed downstairs towards the kitchen where Pamela was while James filled him in on the details. The man responsible for this entire fiasco was a mutant named Joseph, whose power seemed to be precognition and the ability to see into the various timestreams and dimensions. Pamela was his daughter, and she had the ability to manipulate time and space. Her mother had died while she was only two years old, and she'd been raised by her father ever since.
"He didn't tell her all the details of his plan, but apparently he's doing this to save her life in the future."
"Do you think that's true?"
"I really don't know," said James. "Pamela was happy enough to help me because I'm nicer to her than Keith - that's one of her dad's bodyguards, by the way - but if it's true, I don't know if I can ask her to stop her dad from saving her life."
"There has to be a better way of solving this problem than by kidnapping fucking Magneto of all people to blackmail one of the most powerful telepaths into committing murder though. I really can't think of two worse people to provoke."
"I just have to assume that everyone here has a tendency to go over-the-top, what with the comic book influences and all that. Pamela's just a kid, and she told me that I probably didn't want to know where she ended up sending Keith."
They arrived in the kitchen to see Hank and Alex playing with Pamela. Or more accurately, it was Pamela tugging and stroking Hank's fur and generally treating him like some sort of fuzzy blue kitten while Alex goaded her on from the sidelines. Meanwhile, Sean was making a valiant effort at cooking some food while hiding his giggles at Hank's predicament. Recognizing the telltale smell of burnt food, Michael lifted the cooking pot and deposited it in the sink before a hole could be burned into it. Before Sean could realize what had happened, Michael levitated a spoon and hit the boy lightly on his head.
He turned to see James giving him an admiring look. "I'm impressed."
Because he was too dignified to blush, he settled for a grin and a nod acknowledging the fact that yes, he was pretty damned good at this.
The room lapsed into a momentary silence when all three boys turned their attention to the newcomers.
"Wow, this is a bit creepy," said Alex, blinking at them. "No offense."
"Er. None taken." Michael was suddenly feeling awkward again, much like the first day Charles had brought him into the mansion. It was one thing for a misguided young fan to shy away from him because he played Magneto, but it was another thing to be wearing Magneto's face in front of people who once knew him.
With Pamela still hanging onto him, Hank tried to stand up. "Oh good, you guys are here. So what's the plan?"
Michael shared a look of brief panic with James. They were expected to come up with a plan?
Trying to look more confident than he felt, Michael asked: "You've all been briefed on what's going on?"
They nodded in response.
"Well, we're going to need to find Charles and Erik first. Then work out a way to get them to safety." Michael had a sinking feeling that his superhero name was going to be Captain Obvious by the end of everything.
"Pamela can take us to the time they've taken Charles and Erik, but she's not strong enough to teleport too many people around too often. We'll likely be on our own once we get there," James added.
Michael hesitated on bringing up his next suggestion. "Azazel can help with the travel problem once we get there. I could see if the Brotherhood would help."
"The Brotherhood?" Alex laughed. "Because we're such great friends?"
James seemed to agree with that assessment. "It's too dangerous."
"It's not like I'm going in defenseless. I technically have all the powers that Erik did."
He was met with a wall of skeptical looks. "Are you all forgetting that of all the people to impersonate Erik, I'm pretty much the perfect candidate?"
"What can you even say to convince them?" asked Hank dubiously.
"I don't need to convince all of them. But Raven will want to save her brother. And she and Azazel have a thing, right?"
James jabbed an elbow in his stomach. "I'm not sure we're supposed to say things like that."
"I'm pretty sure I don't want to hear things like that," said Sean, looking vaguely queasy. Alex and Hank nodded vigorously in agreement.
Michael threw his hands up. "Look, we have to at least try. If it doesn't work, I'll come back to you guys. They probably can't stop me by force."
He started to leave before his resolve weakened only to be pulled back by James, whose fingers were digging so hard into his arm that they would no doubt leave marks later on. James looked afraid and uncertain, which was a new look for him when he wasn't acting. Michael opened his mouth to give some reassurances but James cut him off, looking determined.
"Okay. But you shouldn't forget your helmet."
Michael stumbled a little when James suddenly let him go. He recovered his balance and smiled weakly. "Of course. What would I do without you, James?"
"For one, you wouldn't have helmet hair."
With helmet securely on his head and a knife hidden in his boots, Michael took a deep breath and started out the door. At the last minute, he turned back and hugged James tightly, trying not to think about goodbyes.
Just pretend this is another day on set. Just pretend this is another day on set. The closer he came to his designated meeting place with Azazel, the tenser he became. If this continued, it wouldn't matter if he had a helmet on. Emma, or anyone else for that matter would know he was an imposter after taking one look at him.
Carefully, he schooled his features into a blank mask. He squared his shoulders and strode forward with urgency and purpose.
"Welcome back, Magneto. It's been awhile," Azazel greeted him as he materialized out of the air. He gave Michael a searching look, his doubts written clearly on his face. Michael scowled at him, hoping that intimidation would keep the mutant from asking him questions he wouldn't be able to deflect. It had been getting more and more difficult hiding his whereabouts from Azazel and the Brotherhood lately.
"I need to see Mystique," he demanded.
"Ah, of course. Should I take you right to her room?"
"Yes." Michael didn't care if Azazel decided to be a sarcastic bastard. He did need to see Raven immediately, and he wasn't sure if he could find her room by himself.
Azazel shrugged and took Michael's hand. "Your funeral."
Michael's vision swam with colours and then he lurched forward and fell onto the floor. He looked up just in time to duck out of the way of a ceramic mug thrown at him. Not being suicidal, Azazel had disappeared before the mug even left Raven's hands.
"Raven! I have a good reason for this!"
Michael risked a look at the woman in front of him who was now looking more concerned than furious. Recovering as much of his dignity as he could, he stood up straight and smoothed out his clothing. Up close, the blue scales on Raven's skin looked remarkable - organic and realistic - similar, yet completely different from the caked on make-up they used on Jennifer for the movie.
"You called me Raven." Her tone was accusatory.
"Yeah. Yeah. Sorry. I wasn't thinking. R.. Mystique, Charles is in trouble."
He saw her shoulders tense. "Charles? What happened? What did you do?"
"I didn't do anything. He's been taken and we need to get him back."
"Let me just go gather everyone--"
"Wait. Just get Azazel and we can go. Charles isn't reachable right now, and only the mutant girl with the X-Men can take us to the right time to find him. She can't take too many people at once."
"The right time?"
"I think they're about thirty, forty years into the future. I don't know. I didn't ask for details before I came back. Just pack whatever you need, get Azazel, and we can go."
"Erik." Raven pushed him towards a chair and glared. "This is my brother's life you're talking about! How can you just take two of us with you? Why would you take the X-Men instead? When it comes to doing what's necessary, we're the ones who are trained for it."
"Yes, we are, Mystique. Don't you think I'm aware of that?" He stood up and started pacing around. Think, Fassbender, think! "But the X-Men are the ones with the time traveller, so we're stuck operating on their terms."
"Their terms," repeated Raven, her voice trembling. "Just two of us?"
"Then take Emma instead. She's far more useful."
Michael hoped that Raven didn't catch the momentary panic in his expression. If he took Emma,she'd only need one sweep of the X-Men's minds to know that he'd been lying about his identity. What would happen if she found out that the real Erik was stuck in Michael's body without his powers?
"But can you trust her not to harm Charles?"
Raven's eyes narrowed dangerously. "I thought I could trust you to keep her from hurting Charles."
Michael realized too late that for all that he managed match Erik's mannerisms, his ideas of leadership didn't really mesh with a guy who was used to ordering around a group of dangerous mutants with questionable morals. Too much caution, not enough bravado and rage. Definitely not enough rage. It was like watching a playback of a scene that didn't quite work, except that he couldn't just ask the director for another take. He wondered if he could still salvage the situation.
"I'll give you this much. That's not a bad act," said Raven, looking him up and down. "Overplayed your hand trying this in front of another shapeshifter, though."
"Wait!" Michael stumbled backwards, just barely managing to fling away the gun that Raven drew before she could fire. She blinked at him in surprise.
"Who are you?"
"It's a long story."
"You're not Erik."
"Why are you here?"
"Charles really is in trouble. Erik too."
Raven looked horrified. "Are you really telling me that someone out there managed to subdue both of them? And you were just going to charge in there with... what, five or six people?"
"Well, when you put it like that..."
Raven sat down on the floor and buried her face in her hands.
"That bad, huh?" Michael was beginning to feel more and more sheepish by the moment. There was a reason he wasn't a screenwriter. How was anyone supposed to know how to deal with situations like these?
"All right, not-Erik, here's what's going to happen. Me and Emma are now in charge of our side of the operation. Azazel, Riptide and Angel will be our transport and main line of offense. You'll follow us and act as support. Mainly, if there's metal to be used to our advantage, you're responsible for it. Otherwise, just stand back and look pretty. Sound good?"
"Yes, ma'am." Michael couldn't help but be impressed. She had come a long way from the meek girl still searching for herself in the movies.
Raven's stern façade dropped for a moment as she graced him with a small smile. "Let's go find Emma. I have a feeling she's going to have fun with you."
"I wish we could stay forever like this," murmured Erik. He didn't want to think about the logistics of working out an agreement between two sides that had been previously at war; he didn't want to think about arguing with Charles when they would inevitably disagree, each of them knowing exactly which buttons to hit so their words hurt; and he didn't want to think about what he would do if he finally got a taste of true happiness only to have it taken away because the obstacles were too much to overcome.
As long as they were here, hidden away from a world that seemed determined to tear them apart, they were allowed to be selfish. And when stripped down to their basest desires, Erik knew that he and Charles wanted the same thing.
"I'm not saying this will be easy, Erik," said Charles, picking up on his thoughts and sending waves of warmth-happiness-hope to him. "Once we get out of here, we'll have all the time in the world."
"Once we get out of here... There's still the matter of our escape, isn't there?" Erik stood and surveyed their room again, as though an escape route would magically appear. If he still had his powers, he could tear the entire building and everyone in it apart for thinking they could contain him.
"We'll get your powers back too."
"Charles, if you have a plan for getting us out of here, now would be a fantastic time to share it with me."
Erik tried to access the information in Charles' mind, but anytime he touched on those thoughts, his own thoughts suddenly took a different turn, momentarily distracting him. His suspicion grew. "Secrets between us already, Charles?"
Charles studiously avoided his eyes and withdrew further from Erik's mind.
"I recognize that look, Charles," warned Erik. "It's your selfless 'I will sacrifice myself to protect my friends' face. Whatever it is you're planning, I refuse to be left out of it."
Charles smiled sadly. "You know me too well, Erik. Though I'm afraid there's nothing selfless about this particular sacrifice."
It took a second for what Charles had said to sink in. "You're not going to give in that man's demands," he growled.
It was one thing for Erik to offer to cooperate with Joseph. Erik never had compunctions for killing if it was necessary, though he tried to avoid collateral damage where he could. But for Charles... a wave of nausea and horror washed over him. How could he have ever wanted this path for Charles? To break the man he loved and drag him down the road to ruin?
"He'll kill you if I don't," said Charles softly.
"Then I'd rather die."
"Don't say that, Erik. You know I can't let that happen."
"Look, Charles, this can't be as simple as just killing a man. It's got to be much bigger than this if he'll go through this much trouble and this much risk."
"There's still something you aren't telling me."
"Joseph had a very good reason for choosing me specifically to carry out this assassination." Charles gave Erik a pleading look, please understand, Erik, please understand why I'm doing this. "His target is me."
Unfortunately, Erik was in no mood to be understanding about this. "If you think for a second that I'm going to let you kill yourself--"
"-- Much like you were volunteering to die for me just moments ago?" Charles shot back.
Erik glared at Charles. "Sometimes I wonder how I ever fell for someone as infuriating as you."
"It's part of my irresistable charm, I'm afraid." Charles smiled as he took Erik's hand in his, slowly running his thumb over the back of Erik's hand.
"Are you saying that the deal is only one of us gets out alive?"
"Not exactly. So if you'd let me finish..."
Erik took a deep breath. "Yeah. I'm listening."
"We're in the year 2000 right now. The man Joseph wants me to kill is my future self. If the alternative is losing you now, I'll take another forty years we can have together. It's also more than enough time for me to prepare a successor for me when I'm gone. I can make sure that we can stop whatever it is he plans to do."
"Charles, if you don't stop talking right now, I won't be responsible for what I do," warned Erik. "When I say that I want you by my side, I mean for it to last the rest of our lives. We have to find another way around this."
"Our hands are tied, Erik. Everyone in this place is protected from my telepathy and armed to the teeth." Charles sighed. "I can't even remember the last time my head was so silent. At least I could feel you when they brought you in."
Erik sat down on the cot, feeling all his strength leave him. "How long do we have?"
"One hour? Two at most."
All arguments exhausted, they lapsed into a companiable silence. Erik contemplated what it would be like for Charles to live all the while knowing exactly when and why he would die. Would it be horrible or in some ways a relief having the doubts and fear taken away?
"We can only live in the present the best that we can, Erik."
"I hate this."
Charles' next words were slow and measured. "Of course, there is still a very slim possibility for us."
"Your friend James. He's a smart man? Capable?"
Erik raised an eyebrow at Charles. "You're jealous."
Charles looked back at him defiantly. "You can't exactly blame me. You're very fond of him."
In an amazing feat of restraint that surprised even himself, Erik managed to refrain from bringing up Charles' naked cuddle session with his doppelganger, pushing that mental image to the back of his mind.
"Yes, I would say so," he replied, using the same neutral tone Charles used.
"Well, if it's any consolation, before I lost track of him, he was plotting something terribly convoluted to rescue us."
Erik gave it some thought. "As long as he doesn't take his cues from whoever came up with the idea of a group of assassins taking orders from a magical loom, we might have a chance."
"I don't want to know, do I?"
Erik grinned. "You really don't."
As it turned out, Emma Frost wasn't nearly as scary as Michael thought she'd be. She was at least a hundred times more terrifying. Even Raven hesitated when greeted with the sight of Emma looking none too pleased at their intrusion.
After an awkward pause, Emma motioned for them to come in. "I haven't had a decent day's rest in weeks thanks to someone here who shall remain nameless. It's appalling how few people know how to run things around here. So I hope the two of you understand when I say this: If you don't have a good reason for disturbing me today, you're going to suffer a slow and horrible death."
Michael coughed, suddenly finding the patterns on the wall to be extremely interesting. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Raven shaking her head at him.
"Charles is in trouble, and--" started Raven.
"We're going to save him," finished Emma.
"Well, that was easy," said Michael, immediately regretting drawing attention to himself.
"Almost as easy as you are to predict, Erik," said Emma, laughing. "By the way, I love the part where you pretend that we're all doing this because Raven still misses her darling brother."
Michael wondered if she expected him to be embarrassed. He shrugged. "Are Erik's feelings for Charles really that obvious?"
Emma tilted her head and smiled. "Thankfully for Erik, it isn't obvious to everyone. Only to those of us who have to deal with his fits of manpain and angst whenever he's reminded of Charles. I don't believe we've been introduced, Mr.--?"
"Fassbender. Michael Fassbender." And the Bond audition continues, apparently.
"Pleasure," said Emma, shaking his hand. "Now, we can waste time getting caught up on everything, or you can take off that ridiculous helmet so I can get all the information I need and start planning how to save Erik's favourite telepath."
"Ah, I'm not so sure about that," said Michael, thinking on the personal conversations he'd had with Charles. "James will have more information about the situation anyway. You'll meet him when we get back."
Emma's eyes flashed dangerously for a second before she turned away from him. "Have it your way. Everybody ready to go?"
As if on cue, Azazel popped into the room with Riptide and Angel. "You called, Miss Frost?"
Michael barely had time to make a kumbaya joke after they linked hands before they disappeared in a puff of smoke. Again, there was a strange lurching sensation, and his surroundings changed. Michael was just congratulating himself on a better landing than his last one when he was nearly bowled over by a James McAvoy-shaped projectile.
"Michael! I didn't think you'd make it."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence there, James."
There was no heat behind his words and they quickly resumed hugging each other. When they pulled apart, they saw a range of expression from thinly veiled amusement, confusion to awkward discomfort.
"I hope we won't have to see that when we find Charles and Erik," said Sean, sticking his tongue out. "It's like seeing your parents have sex."
"Thanks for that mental image, Sean." Alex shot him a glare.
Michael gave James a friendly clap on the back. "I think that's their subtle way of telling us to tone down the PDA."
"I'll try to control myself then," replied James with a cheeky grin.
"Gentlemen, if we're done with the tearful reunion?" All attention turned to Emma. "If Pamela here can manage to take us to the right year, I think I have a plan that will work."
To avoid issues of leadership, Emma proposed that they split up into two teams, one to protect Pamela and act as backup and defense, and the other to go in to save Charles and Erik. Hank would be in charge of the team on defense, with Alex primarily responsible for Pamela's well-being. Sean and Angel would be on reconnaisance, coordinating with both team leaders. The rest of the group would be responsible for search and rescue.
After quizzing Pamela on her abilities, Hank determined that if Pamela only transported them through time, that would leave her with enough energy to get them back. They could use Azazel for the remainder of their transportation, including a quick trip to Cerebro so Emma could track down where Charles and Erik were being held.
While the other mutants worked out the finer details of their plan, Michael headed for James and put a hand on the other man's shoulder. "You'll be all right back here?"
"Yeah. Just. Don't get yourself hurt, all right? You still owe me Prometheus spoilers."
"Wouldn't dream of it."
"All right, teams. Time to go."
They left the mansion for a more secluded spot nearby, not wanting to risk running into their future selves or attracting attention when they travelled. Hank fondly ruffled Pamela's hair and asked, "Are you ready?"
She nodded and opened her mouth to let out a thin cry. The air rippled, and the world around them twisted and turned.
"Wow! That was a little bit crazy," exclaimed Alex.
"Let's stay focused. Azazel and I will head for Cerebro. The rest of you stay here and maintain a low profile."
"There isn't another Charles here, is there?" asked Michael, worried about how they were meant to hide from an older, more powerful Professor X.
"I can't feel him near me right now, so I think we're okay," replied Emma. "Be ready to leave immediately when we come back."
The rest of the group waited while Emma and Azazel disappeared. Michael hopped from one foot to the other, his body thrumming with adrenaline and anticipation.
"Stop that. You're making me nervous," whispered Raven.
"Oh, sorry." Michael planted his feet firmly on the ground and began breathing exercises instead.
After another stretch of silence, Michael turned to Raven and asked, "So, how does Azazel's ability work anyway? Can he go anywhere as long as he's given the coordinates?"
"If he has a mental image of the general area, I think so. I'm not sure if he can work with just coordinates or he might end up inside a wall somewhere."
"James told me the building they were taken in was almost like a maze. Do you think that'll be a problem?"
Raven bit her lip. "If Emma can establish contact with Charles, that might be enough information to get us there."
Before they could continue their conversation, a loud pop went off behind them, and Azazel returned with Emma.
"Sorry for the delay. Charles can be chatty sometimes," offered Emma as an explanation. "Everyone ready?"
They linked hands and were transported near a tall, monolithic building that was surrounded by a grassy field that seemingly stretched on forever.
"Hey, Azazel," said Sean. "Give me a lift?"
Azazel grinned and teleported Sean twenty feet into the air before letting go. "My favourite trick."
Sean swooped downwards, stretched out his arms and flew. Not willing to be outdone, Angel unfurled her wings and followed him into the air.
"I can hear Charles. He's in there," said Raven.
Emma closed her eyes and nodded. "All the guards have ways to protect themselves against telepaths. Trying to port into their room directly might be the fastest way, but it will be difficult because Charles and Erik don't know exactly where they are. If we go in the old-fashioned way, we'll have to count on Michael being able to disarm all the guards."
"I can do that. Probably."
"Charles is telling me that he can help you if you take off your helmet," relayed Emma.
"That's a better idea." He took off his helmet and was immediately greeted by Charles' voice.
Let me help you focus, Michael. Can you feel the guns and weapons that the guards are wearing?
It was as though his senses were sharpened. And yes, he could feel the metal of the guns and knives and even the belt buckles on the guards call out to him. One by one, he bent the gun muzzles and knife blades until they were useless. Hearing the panicked crackle of communication going through the building, he sent out a pulse that interfered with their signals. Then, for good measure, hooking his powers through the electrical system, he knocked out their power.
Well done, Michael. Charles sounded unbelievably proud of him.
"Care to open the door for us, Michael?"
"Oh yeah." Almost as an afterthought, he ripped the metal door that guarded the building off its hinges. Guards poured of the building, some running in panic, while others pointed in their direction.
"If you can knock off the device they're wearing on their heads, I can stop the mutants," said Emma. "Most of them are humans and pose no threat."
As if to illustrate her point, Riptide conjured up several tornadoes and sent them directly to the entrance, catching several guards on the way out. One of the mutants flew up in an attempt to escape, but fell down to the ground after Angel hit him with a fireball. Michael focused again and latched his powers onto the metal hooks that kept the anti-telepathy devices in place. He lifted them up all at once, and every single guard froze in place.
He wasn't sure if Emma or Charles was responsible for this, or if both of them were working in tandem, but it was a very eerie sight. Then they all collapsed unconscious. At least, Michael hoped they were only unconscious and not dead.
"The guards are out of commission. Charles and Erik will be heading out after they deal with Joseph," said Emma, breathing out a sigh of relief.
Michael looked over at Pamela, who tensed at the mention of her father's name.
Charles? What are you doing?
Don't worry, I won't harm him, as much as I want to do so. I just needed to know the true reason behind what he was doing.
What was it? Will Pamela be all right?
Yes. Despicable man, really. Lying to his own daughter to manipulate her into doing his bidding. All for an attempt to gain power over the younger mutant population.
What will you do with him?
I was thinking that I could drop him off at the mansion and let my modern counterpart deal with him.
"Your father will be all right, Pamela," said Michael. She still clutched at Hank fearfully. "Do you have any other relatives you can live with?"
"My auntie Marlene," she replied softly.
"We'll take you to her when all this is over. Everything will be all right."
And it was over, Michael realized. He would finally be able to go home.
Chapter 13: Epilogue
"Erik, this is the tenth time you've looked back at the mansion. You shouldn't worry so much."
Erik gently levitated Charles' wheelchair back onto the grass and turned it so they were face to face. "It's easier for you because you'd be able to sense if something went wrong."
Charles chuckled. "That is true, but since I haven't sensed anything wrong, why should you have to worry?"
"Any minute now, Emma will literally eat Hank alive and use his fur to make herself a new coat. I just know it."
"You underestimate him, my friend," scolded Charles. "Besides, Raven is there to mediate, and both Emma and Hank like her. They'll be fine."
"If you say so."
"Our goals are really not so different, Erik. I have great hopes that we'll be able to work together."
Erik nodded. "I think I'm going to set Emma up as the new head of the Brotherhood. She's done well in my absence."
"Does that mean you'll be accepting my offer to move in here with me?"
"Yes. If you still want this."
Charles gave him a pointed look. "Of course I do."
"I'm a difficult man, Charles. And I don't know if I can guarantee that I'll never disappoint or hurt you again, no matter how hard I try. I just know that I want to spend the rest of my life with you by my side. Even if you deserve better than me."
"Oh, Erik. You still can't see your own worth." Charles smiled at him. "I am very lucky to have you, you know."
"You know, Charles, we could spend the rest of our lives with our thoughts connected, and I still don't think I can understand your capacity for forgiveness."
"You don't need to understand it. Just accept that I love you for everything that you are, flaws and all."
"I..." Erik coughed. "I love you too." The words felt foreign on his tongue, and he stumbled over saying them. But the look on Charles' face erased any doubts he had about finally saying it out loud.
"Have faith, Erik. Together, our potential is limitless. We will find a way past the obstacles the world throws at us."
"Yes. I'd like that."
Erik breathed in the brisk night air and exhaled. The stars seemed especially bright tonight, which he took as a good omen. "I wonder how our friends in the other world are doing now."
"Exhausted, if I had to guess. But I'm sure they'll be just fine."
They were home. Well, they were in James' hotel room. But they were finally back in their proper universe. To celebrate, they ordered ridiculous amounts of food and alcohol from room service.
"You know, I'll give you one thing, Michael. You have great timing."
Michael knocked back his shot of vodka and grinned. "How so?"
"You managed to escape every single interview scheduled in promotion for this movie. I don't think you understand how badly I want to murder the next person who wants to ask me what my dream superpower would be."
"You say that, but you weren't the one who had a comic book villain take your place for those interviews. I'm almost afraid to watch them."
James giggled. "He wasn't too bad for an amateur."
"You're giggling. That's never a good sign."
James giggled again.
Michael felt the onset of a headache. "All right. Just tell me now. What did he say that's going to haunt me for the rest of my career?"
"Let's start with the tail fetish."
"The tail... what?"
"If anyone asks, your dream superpower is to grow a tail."
"Yep." James fell over and giggled again.
"What can you even do with a tail?"
"What can't you do with a tail?" James waggled his eyebrows.
"All right. Fine. I like tails. What else?"
"You enjoy wearing women's clothing." James clambered up on the bed and grabbed another glass of wine.
"Hm." Michael thought about the drag scene they filmed. "I'll give him that one."
"Yeah. Those fuck-me boots and fishnet stockings should be illegal on you. It's too bad that backless dress was wasted in that scene."
"You enjoyed the view between takes."
"Not too bad so far. What else?" asked Michael, knowing those were famous last words.
"If we were superheroes working together, you would fly me everywhere so we could spray love all over the universe."
Michael laughed. "I hope that wasn't a horrible euphemism. Where the hell did that come from?"
"I was drunk. And Erik was... being his weird self, I guess."
"I guess I can deal with that too."
"Um. I have a crush on you on Tuesdays."
"I didn't realize we had renamed all the days to Tuesday."
"Don't flatter yourself. You'll have to work harder to get my attention on the other days." James grinned. "Oh, and if anyone asks, we had sex four times."
"And you're not a very tender lover."
"I have a hard time believing that Erik would say this in an interview."
James emptied his glass and placed it on the nightstand. "Yeah, you're right. That was all me."
"You always have to watch for the quiet ones, Michael."
"Yeah, you're a real wallflower, James."
"You love me anyway."
"Yeah, I do," said Michael, pushing James down onto the bed.
"Are you trying to seduce me, Mr. Fassbender?"
"You've been very naughty, James."
"I am very very sorry. Are you going to punish me?" James' wide-eyed, innocent look lasted for barely a second before they both broke out into hysterical laughter.
"As a matter of fact, I am." Michael pulled James closer and wrapped his arms around him.
"Mmm. I like where this punishment is going."
"No, James. This is where it stops." Michael grinned smugly at James' look of utter confusion.
"You can't get a man drunk and into your bed and then stop. I mean, if we were in a proper movie, this would be when we celebrate our success with a tastefully lit love scene. Or a really kinky one. I'm not picky."
"It's a good thing we're not in a movie anymore, isn't it? Anyway, as I was saying: as punishment for your evil deeds, I'm going to cuddle the hell out of you."
James blinked. "Well, that's new. I'm more used to spankings with Anne-Marie."
"When I tell her what you've done to my reputation, I'm sure she'll be happy to help you with that."
James snuggled in tighter against Michael's chest. "I'll suffer through your horribly unjust punishment for tonight, then."
"Just remember, James. Never say that I don't spoon or cuddle."
"Still missing the kisses on the neck. And the sex beforehand too, come to think of it."
"Don't push your luck."
"Once again, I am left to take care of myself."
"Good night, James."
"Good night, Michael."
"Oh, and one last thing."
"The next movie we both star in is going to be about two boring men leading ordinary lives with no danger, excitement or any sort of drama at all. You'll bake me cookies and muffins every day and I'll sing songs about how nothing ever happens to us."
"Ah, I can taste the Best Picture award now."
"You'd better believe it."