Charles is twelve years old and the house is dark with midnight shadows when Raven dares him to say it.
"I knew you wouldn't do it," she says, her eyes glinting in the candlelight. "You're too chicken."
"I'm not," he whispers. "But..."
"Chicken, chicken, chicken," she crows.
He looks at the mirror, dark with hidden depths waiting to swallow them whole. "What if he comes?" he asks, his voice small and quiet in the Manor's hallway.
Raven nudges him in the side with her elbow and giggles. "It's just a story," she says. "You don't believe in that stuff, do you?"
Charles shakes his head insistently. "I'm not a child," he says, but right now he feels very young. He looks at the mirror again. It's like the black of the ocean. Sharks swim in the darkest waters. "You'll say it with me?"
"Yeah," Raven says. She takes his hand in her own and grins. "Together."
Her hand is warm and her palm is slightly damp with sweat as they turn together to look into the mirror. They look like wraiths, lit only by the candle that glows in her other hand.
"Three times," she reminds him.
He wets his lips and stares at his own reflection, his striped pyjamas too big for him, draping down past his wrists. His eyes are big and blown: he looks scared. He looks young.
An unseen breeze ripples down the hall.
The reflection shimmers in the darkness; Charles thinks he can see a dim light within the mirror. Raven's hand tightens on him, her fingers sticky-sweet and strong. Whispers echo from the shadows. They sound like his name, chanting and pleading, laughing and taunting.
Alone, he says, "Magneto."
Raven drops his hand and laughs, while he looks at her with his eyes as wide as pennies. "Raven!" he protests. "You didn't say it!"
She grins, her teeth white and sharp like a puppy's. "Yeah, doofus," she says. "I don't want Magneto to come and magnet me."
Her fingers waggle like claws and she lunges for him, laughing. He darts out of the way in time to avoid her tickling spree and takes off down the hallway, Raven's bare feet smacking along the varnished wooden floors.
Neither of them see the flicker of blue eyes in the mirror.
Neither of them hear the whisper of darkness coming to life.
The following afternoon, there is an accident in the glasshouse. A metal bar in the vent mechanism snaps and falls from the ceiling, down and down and down just as Charles's stepfather steps across the threshold.
None of the adults are there to see exactly how it manages to penetrate the man's sternum from such an angle.
The adults don't think to ask the children for their theories - but, pale-faced and tight-lipped, they know.
A little older, a little wiser, Charles would claim not to believe in urban legends or horror stories. "You're twenty years old, Raven," he scolds. "Aren't we getting a little old for this?"
She rolls her eyes and takes a seat on his couch, shoving piles of notes and books out of the way. "A man died," she says. "His gun misfired somehow and the bullet blew his brains out."
Charles grimaces at the visual. "It's a tragedy," he agrees. "That doesn't mean we need to start searching for supernatural cause."
"He was the guy that screwed you over on the kitchen renovations," she reminds him. "He ruined the place and took thousands for it."
"I'm well aware of that. But - "
"Charles," Raven says. "People that are bad to you get hurt. It's always been that way."
Charles looks down at his laptop, typing a few futile words of his thesis in an attempt to appear distracted. "A few coincidental accidents is nothing to be alarmist about. I'm sure you could ind a similar pattern in anyone's life if you looked hard enough. The human brain is wired to look for patterns and causation when there is truly only blind, messy coincidence."
"My brain is not wired to look for creepy metal-controlling mirror-monsters," Raven tells him. "Charles, c'mon. We have this conversation every single time."
Charles hums in agreement and glances up from the screen. "I keep hoping that one of these days you're going to listen to me and drop your ridiculous theories."
"I'm not crazy," she tells him. "I'm worried. We unleashed something that night. You know we did."
He shakes his head and lets his mental walls slide back up; he can't listen to this. The world is weird and wonderful enough just with his and Raven's abilities in it. He can believe in mutations; the science is there, waiting for him to uncover it.
He won't believe in the childhood fears that have haunted him for all his life; he won't listen to the whispers he hears in the dark; he won't be afraid.
His head bows over his laptop and he diligently ignores Raven to the best of his ability. It doesn't take too long for her to leave in frustration.
Sometimes, he thinks he may just be a rather terrible brother.
For all that he claims not to believe in superstitions, there is not a single mirror in Charles's apartment. He keeps anything with a reflection out of the flat, and fixes his hair by touch instead of sight. Raven says it's possible to tell just by looking at him that he doesn't own a mirror. "No one would go out dressed like that consciously," she says - but her eyes are soft even as she teases him.
Sometimes, when he catches sight of himself in the reflection of a clean window or a still pond, there is an extra shadow behind him. It's taller than his own, and darker than the other shadows around him. Hyper-real and undeniable, he can never pretend he doesn't notice it.
So he keeps his head down.
He ignores the evidence and feels like a terrible scientist.
But there is reality and there is fiction and he cannot allow his world to cross between the two. He can't relax his grip on reality or he doesn't know where he'll end up - so when he feels the brush of breath against the nape of his neck, or unknown fingers stroking over his shoulder, he closes the door on empiricism and welcomes phantom paranoia instead.
He might not be protecting his body, but he'll damn well protect his mind.
Charles's head is throbbing consistently and his vision is starting to blur in the hope of sleep, so he gives up on the rest of his marking for the evening and heads through to the bathroom, his socked feet padding over the carpet. Picking up his toothbrush, his thoughts are elsewhere - they are in the future, running over his lesson plans for the next day in his mind.
He is trapped firmly in the land of tomorrow when a hand rests on his bicep - he flails forward so hard that the toothbrush ejects from his mouth and hammers into the sink, with a spray of minty lather. Scrambling forward, he turns around and finds himself trapped against the sink, the small of his back digging into it.
Between himself and the bathroom door, there is a ridiculously tall man. Tall, and handsome, and menacing, and in his bathroom.
Charles opens his mouth. At first, not a single sound manages to come out, but he shakes himself to try to jolt into action. What comes out of his mouth is not at all what he had intended: "I was brushing my teeth!" he says.
What he meant to say is something more like, Get out of my bathroom before I phone the police, or maybe, I'll scream and the neighbours will hear me, or even, I could kill you with my brain.
The intruder offers an inappropriately delighted smirk. "Dental hygiene is very important," he agrees.
Charles reaches out with every surge of power that he has - but trying to touch this man's mind is like plunging his hand into shards of broken glass.
Tsking, the man shakes his head. "That won't work on me, Charles, not unless I want it to."
"You know my name."
The man's smirk is ever-present. "And you know mine."
"I've never met you before in my life."
The man's eyes are so incredibly blue, a shade that Charles wouldn't have thought possible in nature. It's the bright blue of the open ocean. He knows that shade; he's seen it before, in dark reflections in shadow-filled rooms, shining from the darkness of his childhood.
"Open your mind," the man says. He raises his hand and presses his fingers, cold as ice, against Charles's cheek. Charles doesn't flinch, doesn't even try to pull away. He's forgotten how to think. "You know exactly who I am."
Charles wants to remain blind. He wants to close his eyes and shake his head and turn away - this isn't happening. It simply can't be.
Yet his mind knows. The mind sees.
"Magneto," he breathes, and he hears the truth in the name.
Magneto chuckles, an intimate sound that tickles right over Charles's skin. "Call me Erik," he suggests.
It's ridiculous, utterly ridiculous. "This isn't real," Charles declares. He stares at Erik, his eyes searching his face for some sign of reality. "That was a child's game."
"You called for me. I came." Erik steps closer, until the distance between them is indecent. The touch of Erik's fingertips against his face is cool, far from the heat that would be expected from a human. It's as if he's been standing out in a snow-storm for hours. "I've been watching you, Charles."
"You must be a mutant," he says, although his voice shakes.
Erik's mouth quirks in a delighted smirk. There is warmth in his eyes, but it is like seeing the joy of a predator: far from relaxing, far from tender. "I'm no mutant. Just a monster."
Charles shakes his head again. "No," he says. He scrambles for another argument. "The story Raven told me said you'd come to kill me. I'm still alive."
"You're more interesting that way," Erik says. "I had no interest in slaughtering a pair of children. It was far better to wait while you grew up."
Charles can feel his hands shaking, so he clutches hold of the sink behind him in order to steady himself. "That isn't remotely reassuring."
"I wasn't trying to reassure you," Erik says. Charles has no concept of how to reply to that. "You called me. I should kill you."
Charles's breath shivers from his chest. He tries to remember the stories that Raven had whispered to him in the middle of the night. He doesn't remember how they end. Blood and gore. Death and violence.
"Will it hurt?" he asks, although he wants to fight. He reaches out with his power, seeking entrance to Erik's mind. What greets him is cold and polished, as difficult as slamming into a metal wall. If he can get in, if he could find a simple crack, he could slip inside and take over. He's done it before, not to Erik, but to others. Minds are such simple things once you're in them.
Erik watches him with glimmering amusement as Charles scrambles at the edges of his mind, trying desperately to push inside. "I want you to live," he says. "You are such a fascinating thing."
"Thing?" Charles repeats. "I'm a human being."
"And I am a creature older than the very nightmares of your race," Erik responds. His voice floats on the air like ancient music. "I lived in the Other World long before the first human crawled upon the earth. To me, you are insects."
"The Other World," Charles repeats, while he thrashes against the walls blocking him out of Erik's mind. "What is that?"
Erik taps his fingers against Charles's temple, cold and unforgiving. His smile hasn't dropped but Charles freezes anyway, certain that at any moment he'll draw his last breath. "You won't get in," he warns him. "My mind is my own."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Don't be a fool," Erik counters. "You have such a gift, Charles, but it won't be enough."
Charles breathes in through his nose. "You know about me," he says. It shouldn't scare him as much as it should - he really should have realised that Erik would know everything, having followed him for so long.
"I know everything about you," Erik assures him, his voice a low-down murmur that seems to echo right through Charles's body. "I've watched you for years. You don't seem to understand that."
Charles's eyes search Erik's face, looking for something, any sign of reality to cling onto. He can feel it all slipping away from him, all of his carefully constructed beliefs about scientific fact.
Like a cool drop of rain, Erik's fingers trace their way down from his temple, over his cheekbone to his jaw. From there he moves up, and when his digits press against Charles's lips he finally stops. He simply rests them there, staring. There's a dark intensity in his gaze that makes Charles's heart race, that makes excitement buzz through him.
Erik's smirk twitches - for a moment he even looks sad. "I'll be waiting for you," Erik assures him. "You called for me; your life is mine."
"My life is my own," Charles counters hotly. He reaches up to bat Erik's hand away from his face, snapping back into life. "I want you to leave."
Erik's smile widens, his teeth on show like the fangs of a predator. Charles won't allow himself to be afraid - he raises his eyebrows and holds Erik's gaze.
It's Erik that relents first, but he looks down to his feet and takes a step out of Charles's personal space as if he is allowing Charles a victory rather than being defeated himself. "I'll see you soon," he promises, and then he simply isn't there.
Charles is left staring at blank air where Erik had stood only moments ago. He remains clutching the sink behind him, swallowing frantically as he tries to pull his thoughts together. He can't make sense of what just happened.
A childhood monster just walked into his bathroom, into his life.
He stays in the bathroom for long moments, breathing deeply and trying to regain control of himself, trying to strengthen his grip on his own sanity even as he feels it slipping fitfully away.
He should tell Raven, of course. He ought to let her know what's happened, since she is the only person he can think of that is likely to believe him. Perhaps that is the exact reason why he keeps his mouth shut. He doesn't want to be believed; he doesn't want this to be real.
Keeping to himself more than usual, he tries to remain in well-lit surroundings and crowds of people; he becomes well-acquainted with the pub in a way that he hasn't been since his first year as an undergraduate. Constant hangovers become something of an issue, but better that than another bathroom encounter with an imaginary maniac.
"I think I'm losing it," he murmurs to while they are discussing his grad-student's latest research in his office.
Hank frowns and pushes his glasses further up his nose. "What do you mean?" he asks.
Charles continues to stare out of the window, watching the well-dressed man standing on the grounds a short distance away. He knows that face. His body tingles and aches in fear, but he knows exactly who he is staring at. He can't look at Hank as he shakes his head and replies, "Nothing, it's nothing. Carry on."
For the entire meeting, Erik stands on the distance in the grounds outside, never moving, always watching. Charles feels a delicate chill travelling down his spine at the thought of how many times Erik might have watched him in such a way - and, so purposefully blind, he would never have known.
"Charles?" Hank asks, glancing towards the window. He doesn't seem especially alarmed by anything he sees out there in the sunshine of Oxford. "Are you alright?"
It's easy to force a smile, to run his hand over his face like a tired academic and nothing more. "I haven't been getting as much sleep as I should," Charles admits. "Sorry, carry on."
"I'm actually done, I think," Hank says, looking down at his notes.
They spend an additional ten minutes talking about where Hank ought to go from here, what his next steps ought to be, and Charles promises to send him an email with some useful reading attached. By the time Hank leaves and Charles glances out of the window once more, the dark figure on the lawn has disappeared.
Eating a microwaved meal late at night, Charles is both exhausted and starving when Erik appears a week later. He strides into Charles's kitchenette as if he has every right to be there, and then lingers near the doorway while Charles stares with wide, horrified eyes.
Tall, dark and elegant, Erik looks positively out of place in the dim, cosy light of Charles's kitchen. He looms like a character from a Victorian novel. "You look ridiculous," Charles says, although he hadn't meant to say it aloud.
Erik, for his part, looks relatively surprised.
"In my kitchen, I mean. You don't fit in here."
Erik looks around at the wooden cupboards, his gaze lingering for a moment on the photograph of Charles and Raven that has been stuck to the front of one of them. "You have a very nice home," he says. "I prefer the manor."
"You're welcome to go and stay there if you'd like," Charles says. "It's empty now."
"Yes," Erik agrees. He strides forward and takes a seat at the kitchen table, where he sits opposite Charles and bores into him with a straight and unwavering stare. "You left home in such a hurry, Charles. Were you running away?"
Charles shakes his head and looks down at his dinner. It looks positively unappetising now, but his stomach gurgles anyway. "I was running here," he says. "Everything I wanted was in Oxford. Now here I am."
Erik cocks his head to the side as he watches Charles. The movement is completely reptilian. "And do you have everything you wanted?" he asks.
Charles can feel his face heating up. His blush is scarlet and burning in its intensity, and he hardly even knows why. "I have a position in the university; we're doing cutting-edge genetic research."
Erik blinks. It seems a purposeful gesture, as if he has to remind himself to do it. Charles thinks, for a moment, that he would love a sample of Erik's blood - he wonders what it might look like under the microscope, the blood of a man from the mirror. "You're very lonely, Charles," Erik says. Charles opens his mouth to protest, but Erik gives him no opportunity to do so. "I know you are. I've watched you."
"That's incredibly invasive."
"I've always been watching you," Erik says. "You promised yourself to me when you called my name. You're mine."
"I'm really, really not," Charles protests, but he can't fight the shiver that runs down his spine or the blossom of heat in his centre that spreads all the way down to his groin. "Erik, this is ridiculous. You must know that."
"You called for me. It takes more than words." It's enough to make Charles pause his protests and frown in uncertainty. Erik continues. "Do you know how many silly little children stand in front of their mirrors and chant names to make themselves scared? I don't appear for all of them - I have far better things to do. But you, Charles... You called for me and I had to come."
Charles can hear his heart pounding in his chest, and he doesn't truly want to ask the next question that comes out of his mouth. "What do you mean?"
"I felt it," Erik says. He rests his hands against the table and leans forward, stretching into Charles's space. Charles swallows and resists the urge to lean back, refusing to retreat. He can see the spread of Erik's eyelashes, short and dark, and the utterly unnatural blue of his eyes. Up close, he could never pass for human. "I could feel that you were supposed to be mine - that you were going to be so lonely, so lost."
Charles chuckles. It sounds hollow. "I'm not lonely," he says. "And I'm certainly not yours."
The way that Erik's smile slowly spreads sends a strange chill down Charles's spine. "Would you like to be?" Erik asks.
"Would you like to be mine?" Erik speaks slowly, as if speaking to a simpleton. He leans forward, closer, stretching across the table without laying a hand on Charles. "I could take you home with me."
Charles's senses tingle with danger. He feels aware of every single atom in the kitchen; he can hear the ticking of the clock on the wall, counting away the seconds. When he swallows, it seems like the loudest sound in the world. "Where is 'home' for you?" he asks.
He isn't going to go; the very idea is ridiculous.
But he has to ask.
"Through the mirror," Erik answers, holding Charles's gaze. "There's so much more to reality than your dire little planet. You deserve to see it."
Charles can imagine the broad universes and realms that spreads far beyond human understanding. He's wavering on the edge of a precipice of knowledge that few have ever been able to grasp - it's almost irresponsible to turn away from that. The scientific discoveries are seductive.
The sharpness of Erik's teeth and the hunger in his gaze still speak of broken danger. It isn't easy to forget that there is a demon behind those eyes, a monster and a killer.
"Would I ever come back?" Charles asks. "If I went with you, would I ever come home again?"
Erik grins, his teeth bared like a growling animal. Charles grips hold of the side of the kitchen table and pretends to himself that he would stand the slightest chance of escaping if he had to. He could fight, surely.
"Perhaps," Erik says thoughtfully. "I'm not sure I'd be able to let you."
"You'd keep me there?"
"How could I possibly let you go?"
Charles twitches as Erik gets to his feet, and as Erik begins to stalk around the table he gets up as well, nearly over-toppling the chair in his haste. He wets his lips and watches as Erik comes closer.
"Would you like to see it?" Erik offers, trailing his fingers over the varnished wood top as he closes in. "I could let you into my mind. You could have a taste."
He purrs it out like a seduction, like he's offering even more than he's saying. Charles's chest feels tight - surely it shouldn't be quite so hot in his little kitchen. "I've tried reading you before. I couldn't get in."
"I would let you in," Erik promises. He stops a mere hands-breadth away. All it would take to touch him would be to reach out and draw him close. Charles's mouth waters; he swallows and looks up to meet Erik's eyes. "I'd like to let you see it, all I have to offer. Just a peek."
"Are you up to something?" Charles asks, narrowing his eyes. In response, Erik's smirk widens. "You are, aren't you?"
"I'd hardly confess it if I were," Erik says.
It ought to be a warning, but Charles raises his fingers to his temple anyway. A moment's focus is all that it takes to reach out - this time, he finds the cold, iced doors of Erik's mind wide open to accept him. In the labyrinth that awaits him, it is so dangerously easy to get lost.
He wakes up with his face smashed against the pillows of his bed, and bright sunlight pouring through the open curtains. It pours onto his face with the cruel pain of acid, until he groans and throws his arm over his eyes to protect himself. His head pounds like he's drank his own body weight in alcohol.
He's not entirely sure what he did last night.
Rolling over with a pathetic little moan, Charles tries to take stock of the situation. All of his limbs would still appear to be attached to his body, which is encouraging. He isn't aware of any major injuries or blood loss, and a cautious squint at the world around him confirms that he is indeed safely in his own bedroom rather than lost in a frosty mirror-verse.
Erik is nowhere to be seen, and for that he finds himself unspeakably relieved. His head feels filled up with the man, as if Erik has scratched his initials onto Charles's very skull. What had he done? He has swam in and out of so many people's minds, but nobody has even affected him like this - he's never found himself drowning.
Ignoring his body's protests, he gets out of bed and shuffles out of the room, picking up his cell phone and flicking through the message. There seem to be an unholy amount of texts and missed calls, and it is only when he checks the date that he finally realises why.
He's lost two days.
Blinking, he squints once more at the date reflected on his cell phone's screen, convinced that it can't be right. The starved gurgling of his stomach speaks the truth, however, and he aims straight for the kitchen even as he redials Raven's number.
"Charles," she growls when she picks up. "Where the hell have you been? Everyone's been worried sick."
He winces at the thought of it, along with the thought of the appointments he has missed and all of the people he has let down. "Sorry," he says. "I've been - away. Sick. I've been away and sick."
The silence on the other end of the phone line is even more sceptical than he would have imagined. Raven says his name again, and he remembers how easily she has always been able to see through him.
"Tell me what's really going on," she demands.
"Where have you been? Are you in trouble?"
He shakes his head even if she can't see it, and continues to raid his kitchen cupboards. "I honestly don't know," he says.
He can't remember for the life of him what he has spent the last two days doing - all he can remember is the expanding limits of his own consciousness, and the bright white of Erik's smile as he fell, trembling, into the void.
Raven comes over and helps him to cook dinner, but it's even harder to avoid her questioning when she's there in person. It's like facing down the Inquisition, and he sees the way she freezes when she begins to put it all together. "It's him, isn't it?" she asks.
He adds a sprinkle of salt to their bubbling pot and doesn't look up. "Who?"
"You know exactly who I mean. Magneto. Is he here? Is he really here?"
She sounds damnably excited. He wonders if she would still feel the same way after meeting the man - he's not exciting at all. He's terrifying and dangerous, and yet Charles still feels that rush of adrenaline every time that he faces off against him.
"Magneto is an urban legend."
"Charles, he's killed people. Legends don't do that." She edges closer to him, swarming his peripheral vision. He tries to become incredibly absorbed in their cooking, but it hardly requires the level of attention he's giving it. "If anyone is going to believe you, it'll be me."
He can feel something breaking inside him, the iron rod of resolve beginning to bend under pressure. She shouldn't have to be involved; perhaps if he could keep her in the dark he might be able to keep her safe, but she won't stop questioning.
"I don't think I want to believe it myself," he admits reluctantly. "I keep telling myself that there must be a rational explanation, but..."
He reminds himself that Erik has hardly done anything so far that couldn't be explained by mere illusion or even a mutation of some sort. Magic and science are close cousins, and he has always been more inclined towards rational reasoning rather than Raven's wild flights of fancy. This should be no exception.
But when Erik is around him, he feels it. He can feel the way that the air tingles and the way that something seems slightly off about him, as if he is a copy of a real being rather than the genuine article.
Raven's eyes are bright and enchanted. "Tell me what he's like," she insists. "I want to know everything."
He doesn't even know where to start.
"He's quite tall," he says.
If he's judging from Raven's unimpressed scowl, he's going to have to get a lot better at descriptions before he'll satisfy her.
Charles awakes with a start in the middle of the night when he feels a dip of weight on the mattress. Eyes opened wide, heart pounding, he finds Erik sitting on the side of his bed, merely watching him.
"Don't mind me," Erik murmurs. "Carry on."
Charles's heart is beating so loudly that it sounds like a machine gun. Sleep is far from an option, even if he did feel the inclination to allow a demon to sit quietly and watch him. "What are you doing here?" he hisses.
Erik looks perfectly at home in the dusky light of his bedroom. Charles's small room is a tip, with piles of books and scattered papers on all available surfaces. In comparison, Erik is obscurely well-dressed and put together, as if he has been dropped in from another scene altogether.
"I don't require sleep," Erik admits. "It looks very dull."
"Sorry for boring you," Charles mutters, pushing himself up and then switching his bedside lamp on. He winces at the light and is tempted to switch it straight back off, but he has to see this in order to believe it. Looking towards Erik, he finds him exactly how he always looks: his white shirt is impeccably neat and his expensive suit jacket looks freshly laundered.
Yet, for all that, he finds himself frowning. "You look exhausted," he says, blurting it out before he can think about it. "What happened?"
Erik shakes his head, as if he can't answer Charles - he won't, that's far more likely. "You exhaust me," he answers.
Charles narrows his eyes. He likes to think he can sense a lie, with telepathy or not. "Erik..."
"Would you move over? I'd like to lie down."
Erik begins to nudge the shoes from his feet, before drawing his jacket from his shoulders. Charles tries not to admire the way his neck looks, the pale milk of his skin against the brilliant white of his shirt.
"Who says that I'm going to allow you to sleep here?" Charles protests, although he has to cling to the bedsheets to stop himself from moving over.
"Who says I want to sleep?" Erik asks, with a grin that is most definitely a leer. Charles swallows, and feels his eyes widen. He restraints himself from wetting his lips. The leer morphs into a smirk with the slightest twitch of Erik's facial muscles and a change in intentions. "I have no designs on your virtue. I don't need sleep, but I'd like to rest."
"Don't you have a bed of your own?" Charles complains, but he's already moving over to create a space for Erik to slip into.
On the single bed, there's hardly space for two grown men. Erik fits neatly alongside him, their bodies aligned. It makes Charles wish that he'd found an apartment to rent that came with a double instead of a single; when he can feel the firm press of Erik's muscled body, it makes him long for enough distance to clear his head.
"Sharing my mind with you took more out of me than I imagined," Erik confesses. Charles can't turn his head to look at him; Erik is close, so close that the faintest movement would leave him in kissing distance. Charles stares determinedly at the ceiling. "It would be considerably easier for me if you would agree to come along now."
Charles chuckles. "No, Erik," he sighs. "I don't want to go and live in a mirror."
"Don't you remember all that I offered you?" Erik asks. "There's a lot more to the universe than what your dim human eyes can see."
"I don't remember, actually," Charles says. He hears the sound of Erik's hair brushing against the pillow as his head whips around to stare at him, but Charles refuses to look back. "I woke up in my bedroom missing a couple of days. Apparently my puny little mind can't handle whatever you wanted to show me."
"That can't be right." Erik sounds unnaturally distraught. Despite his resolution to keep his self-control, Charles looks towards him. He makes the mistake of meeting his eyes and finding unexpected distress there. "I let you in."
Charles shakes his head, unsure of what to say. "I'm sorry," he murmurs.
The distress on Erik's face doesn't shift, but his gaze drops down to Charles's lips. Charles suddenly feels over-aware of his own body; he can feel every limb and the brush of the covers over their bodies. He's aware of his tongue in his mouth and the heat of his skin and more than that, more than anything, he's aware of the way that the back of his hand presses against Erik's arm. There is no space between them at all.
Erik's hand slips out from beneath the covers, and he runs his fingertips over Charles's jaw, up and then along his cheekbones. His skin is cool to the touch as if he's just come in from a winter's day.
Charles breathes his name, but the sound of it is merely enough to make Erik frown and shake his head - hushing him without a single breath. Charles needs to say something, but all the words have vanished from his empty, quiet mind.
Erik bows his head, closing the gap between them at a perilously slow rate. Charles could twitch away at any moment. He could turn his head and stop this before he goes too far, but instead he edges forward, helping to close the hesitant gap between them.
Erik's lips are cool and dry, and the way they touch is almost chaste. Charles's eyes slide closed and he holds his breath, as all his consciousness fades to the single point of contact between them, the gentle pressure of closed lips. He's been waiting for this forever; since he stood in front of a mirror and called out for a demon.
He pulls back before Erik does, and opens his eyes to take in Erik's face. He doesn't look like the monster from the stories. Lying beside him, cloaked in twilight, Erik doesn't look dangerous at all. Charles would so love to lean in and kiss him again.
Instead he asks what he should have asked all along, "Did you kill my step-father?"
The serenity fades from Erik's face, replaced with a dark flash of anger that is as striking as lightning in the night. "You summoned me; I would have had every right to slice you open on the spot if I'd wanted to."
The lazy comfort fades away. Charles stares back at Erik without flinching. "You didn't answer my question."
Erik sits up, inviting a cold blast of air into the bed. "You already know the answer," he snaps. Charles doesn't move. "He upset you. He deserved to die for that alone."
Charles had known the realities of what Erik was capable of from the moment they had met - but denial has always been his closest bed-mate. "How many people have you killed because of me?" he asks.
Erik leaves the bed, the springs squeaking in protest. Charles himself doesn't say a word, but he sits up sharply and scrambles to the edge, ready to follow him if he tries to leave. "Erik," he insists. "I deserve an answer."
"I don't count," Erik says. He meets Charles's eyes, a hulking dark figure made from shadow itself. "I was brought here by the promise of blood. If I can't have yours, I can damn well have theirs."
"That's disgusting," Charles says. "They are people."
"They're nothing," Erik insists. He takes a step forward, but Charles can't help but shrink back. "They're just human."
Charles swallows. "And me?" he asks. "What am I?"
"So much more." It sounds like a snarl when Erik talks. "Would you prefer that I had killed you?"
Charles can't answer that. He has no wish to die, but when he thinks of the bodies that Erik has left in his wake he feels ill. People who were cruel to him have always vanished, have always had such unfortunate accidents - and yet he never thought anything of it, never allowed himself to. Raven had known. She had seen all along what he had refused to open his eyes to.
"You should go back," he says, although his voice trembles as he makes the instruction. "I don't want you here."
"This has never been about what you want," Erik snarls, but he's pacing like a caged animal in the small, messy space of Charles's bedroom. "You never stopped to think about my wants, my needs."
"You're a demon," Charles points out. "I very much doubt that I want to know what your needs are."
He can imagine them in blood-red flashes, and it's more than he ever needs to know. Erik seems to grow to fill the room, becoming taller and darker. Charles won't flinch; he won't allow himself to show his fear.
"Every death I've inflicted is on your hands, not mine," Erik says. "It's never been for me - people hurt you and you wish them dead. I merely fulfil your desires."
"You need to leave now, Erik," he insists. Erik's feet don't budge, so Charles swallows and carries on, "I mean it. Get out."
With an abrupt rush of air, Erik vanishes from the room with nothing more than a last scathing glare. Charles hesitates for long moments as he stares uncertainly at the gap where Erik ought to be. Only when he shows no signs of returning does he collapse back against the bed, his heart pounding and his limbs trembling with fruitless adrenaline.
He doesn't sleep at all that night.
An internet search for the reality behind urban legends brings up thousands of results; there are pages and pages of people claiming to have been visited by the Hook Man or swearing blind to have been chased down by a china doll, but there is little that Charles could call credible. A turn to peer-reviewed journals proves even less useful, as he receives results examining the psychology behind collective myths and gendered analysis of particular stories.
Fascinating stuff if he were a fan of folkloric studies.
For his current situation, however, it seems somewhat less practical.
He calls in sick to work and spends the morning online instead, but it feels like nothing more than a waste of time. By mid-afternoon, Raven turns up on his doorstep and allows him to spill out the entire sorry story.
"You're going to freak out when I tell you this," she says afterwards, as they lounge on the sofa together. She sits curled at the end of the couch and Charles sprawls along its length, his head resting upon her thigh. Her fingers toy with his dreadfully messy hair, a soothing comfort. "But I've brought a mirror with me. It's in my bag."
Charles rears up and turns to face her, his eyes wide. "Why on Earth would you bring that?"
Raven looks over at her handbag where it is sitting so deceptively innocently at the other side of the room. "I remembered more of the story," she says. "The one from when we were kids. Do you remember?"
Charles shakes his head. He wants to delve into her mind to get to the root of what she's thinking, but he manages to restrain himself. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but there is no emergency here. "You know I don't," he says.
"In the story, all you have to do is say his name backwards three times. When he appears in the mirror, you have to smash it. Simple as that."
"Simple," Charles murmurs. He stares at her bag as if it contains a live snake. "Do you think it would work?"
"The story brought him here, didn't it?" she asks. "And... You think he's dangerous, don't you?"
"I know he is. He's killed before."
Raven is quiet for a long time. The silence is nearly deafening; he can hear the loud grumble of her thoughts, and wishes that he could plunge inside without guilt. "Then you should try it," she says eventually, with a smile that doesn't seem nearly as bright as it should. "What's the harm? If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. No big deal."
"It could be quite a 'big deal' if it angers Erik - Magneto." He can only think of the sight of the ambulance in the manor's grounds after his step-father's death. If Erik had been capable of killing someone like that while thinking he was helping him, what might he be able to do if he is actively trying to harm him? "It's too risky."
"So we do it quickly," Raven insists. "All we have to do is make sure the mirror is smashed before he realises what's going on. He can't hurt anyone if he's trapped."
He promises to think it through and they spend the rest of the evening in uncomfortable degrees of silence and small talk, edging around the elephant in the room of the darkness that Charles alone brought into this world - and now it's only his responsibility to kick it back out.
Raven leaves him the mirror in a paper bag. It sits on his coffee table as if watching him; Charles thinks that he can hear it calling to him even from his bedroom. It comes in Erik's voice.
He lingers in the doorway, the apartment dark other than the light from his bedside lamp. It's long past midnight, and the rest of the town is quiet and sleepy. Charles's thoughts won't settle down. He can't do anything but stare at the bag and think of what's going to happen if he ever dares to open it.
The temperature in the room drops and he freezes, steeling himself against it as he hears impossible footsteps behind him. Erik.
"You're going to be exhausted in the morning," Erik says, his voice as smooth as snow fall. Charles turns around to face him, raising his chin as he meets his eyes. If Erik holds any grudge for how they parted yesterday, he doesn't show it on his face. "Don't you have a class to teach?"
"They're undergrads. Most of them will be asleep as it is."
"Even with your superior teaching skills? I doubt it," Erik says, but it's as if he isn't paying attention to the conversation at all. His eyes are too bright and focused, and he paces the room like an animal in a cage. Charles feels like prey under a predator's watchful eye. "What are you up to, Charles?"
Charles swallows. "What do you mean?"
Erik's smile is dark and predatory, a slow-spreading illness that chills the air. He circles closer, his eyes on Charles as he evaluates him. "I can see it. I know you better than you know yourself."
Charles stands his ground through force of will, staying in one place as Erik walks a lazy circle around him. He feels as if he's been dropped into shark-infested waters. "I honestly don't know what you mean." When Erik is behind him he hears a sharp inhale. "Are you smelling me?" he asks incredulously.
"Have you been talking to Raven again?" Erik asks in return. "What nonsense has she filled your head with now?"
Charles turns around to face him, his eyes searching Erik's face for anything - for any hint that he might know the ideas Raven has planted in his mind. Erik's expression is a mask. "She's my sister. It's hardly unusual for me to see her."
"Something is different. I don't like it."
"You're terribly paranoid," Charles tells him. He smiles, even if he can feel the fractures from the inside, and moves closer to Erik. Reaching out, he places his hands on his hips and looks up at Erik's amused smirk as he slides into his personal space. "There's nothing to worry about."
Erik cups his cheek with a hand as cold as a winter's day. "You're a terrible liar, Charles," he murmurs, but that doesn't seem to stop him from leaning down to close the space between them, their mouths hovering for a few moments before the connection hits. Erik's arm winds around Charles's waist and yanks him closer, flush against the too-hard line of Erik's body. As strong as concrete, there is no warm resistance and give to Erik's flesh. It's like granite.
He's cold as well, just below room temperature, but it's still enough to make Charles melt against him, a calm tingle soothing through his body. At the back of his mind he still holds onto Raven's plan, but it ceases to seem as important as it had before. Nothing matters but the gentle pressure of Erik's lips.
Erik cups the back of his head and coaxes Charles's lips open. Charles has brought so many people back to his apartment over the years; he has shed clothes over this floor and spread his partner's legs on his bed, but none of it compares to the simple eroticism of Erik's kiss. Charles feels light-headed and giddy. It's torture to pull away, but he makes himself do it and stands there breathing deeply, trying to regain coherent thought.
Erik doesn't let go of him, his fingers still lost in Charles's messy hair. "That's how it could be," he murmurs, speaking the words like a promise against Charles's temple then his forehead. "It could always be like that for us, Charles. You need to let go."
Charles keeps his eyes closed, trying to block Erik out, but it isn't working. "I can't think with you here," he complains, pulling away from Erik's embrace. "Damn it, you confuse me."
Erik shows no hint of remorse, only a sense of smug satisfaction. "You know I'm right."
"I know that you're a murderer and a monster, but I'm sure of little else about you."
Erik holds his gaze with ease, a smile on his face. Charles could very easily lose himself if Erik kissed him again, but he holds himself in check: he reminds himself of the bodies Erik has left in his wake, and he remembers the ambulance that had taken his step-father's body away. Erik doesn't belong in this world.
"I'm not going to leave without you," Erik says, moving closer to him once more. Charles doesn't shift away, but he clings onto the memories of all of the harm that Erik has caused: he can't lose himself again. "Humankind is weak and cruel. We're more than that."
It's insanity. He's standing in his bedroom talking to a childhood demon - and all that Erik has to say is mad, utterly mad. This time, Charles doesn't tell him to leave. When Erik nudges closer to him and cups his cheek with his hand, Charles does nothing more than lean into his cold strength.
"Let me take you away from it," Erik murmurs. "I won't beg, but..."
The unfinished sentence hangs unfortunately in the air between them. Charles wonders what Erik will do if he continues to refuse; he never finds out, because he can't help but give in when Erik bows his head and kisses him once more. He opens his mouth and surrenders while telling himself that this is only a temporary measure: it doesn't mean anything. A man of his intelligence is surely able to divorce the physical from the intellectual.
With a soft moan against Erik's mouth, he can feel himself losing his grip.
Erik pulls him towards the bed, never allowing them to break contact, scattering kisses over Charles's jaw and sucking on his ear lobe. "Trust me," Erik murmurs against his ear, clumsily walking backwards as Charles follows. "You just have to trust me."
Erik is a murderer and a monster; Charles can't forget that, he won't, but he listens anyway.
With his own life, with his own safety, he can trust Erik.
They tumble to the bed together with a grunt that inspires a breath of laughter from Charles. Clothes are shed and skin is shared, beads of sweat rolling down Charles's spine, moan after moan being lost in the scant space between their bodies.
With Erik, Charles has nothing to fear; it's the rest of the world that ought to tremble.
Charles finds himself again when the sun starts to creep in through the open curtains. His muscles ache and his clothes are gone, but what focuses his attention is the man resting in his bed at his side.
He turns his head and opens his eyes cautiously, squinting against the light as he watches Erik. The sight of his bare skin is still ludicrously tempting, while the odd peacefulness of his expression is something Charles has never seen before, not from Erik. He looks so different with all of that burning scorn absent. He hardly looks like a monster at all.
Erik has said that he doesn't sleep, but his eyes are closed and he looks far gone. Soon he will wake and Charles will be left dealing with him as he tries to persuade him once more to turn his back on the world and run into the reality beyond the reflection. Last night was supposed to mean something, Charles is sure of that; a connection, a promise. He thinks that to Erik it must have meant so much more than mere sex. He can remember the way that Erik had looked at him, his eyes reverential, his hands gentle even while they were demanding. Erik had thought that this was a final surrender.
Charles reaches out to brush away strands of stray hair from Erik's forehead, watching him while wondering what his next move ought to be. He wishes that he could trust Erik to stay here with him: he wishes that they could live an ordinary life in this reality, but there is no way that Erik could accept such a path. There's no way that anyone around them would be safe even if he did agree.
Before long, Erik stirs. He shifts his head on the pillow and then rolls over, a lazy smile forming on his face. He looks so at ease that Charles smiles in return. "'morning," Erik mumbles. "I haven't slept in years. It's oddly satisfying."
Charles continues to stroke his fingers through Erik's hair, reasoning to himself that he had done a lot more than that last night. "Usually I would offer to make you breakfast at this point. Do you eat?"
"Not really," Erik confesses. "I could watch you eat."
"That sounds a little disturbing, to be honest," Charles says. "I'm not hungry. Want to stay in bed for a while?"
Erik hums his approval, and his arm snakes around Charles's waist. Curiously strong, it only takes one tug for him to bring Charles flush against him. He feels warmer than he had last night, heated by the warmth of Charles's body like a snake in the sun. Erik buries his face in the crook of Charles's neck, smiling in his skin. "It'll be time to go home soon," he says, the words brushed onto his body. "Whenever you're ready."
Charles takes a deep breath of air, but he's surrounded by Erik's scent. The hot stuffy air in his bedroom smells of sex and sweat. There's no escape. Closing his eyes, he asks, "What happens if I decide to go with you?"
Erik shifts uncomfortably on the bed. "'If'?" he asks, but Charles doesn't reply. Clearing his throat unhappily, Erik then continues, "We go through the mirror."
"What do you mean?"
"What happens after that?"
"I've shown you," Erik points out, before he groans unhappily and pulls away from Charles. With the slight distance between them, Erik can now examine Charles's face. "I tried to show you, anyway. Your little mind couldn't handle it."
"My mind has served me perfectly well so far in life," Charles points out. There's nothing wrong with his brain. "But that's my point, actually. You tried to show me what lies beyond the mirror and my brain refused to accept the knowledge. Who knows what might happen if you actually take me there?"
"You won't be harmed," Erik assures him, with a smile growing on his face as if he finally understands what this is all about. "Don't worry. I wouldn't let anything happen to you."
"I'm not worried," he says, before he pauses. "I don't know how to explain it."
Erik's smile vanishes once more. Charles flops backwards to stare at the ceiling before he covers his face with his hands.
"I don't know what to do," he admits.
"Come with me," Erik states.
"It's really not that simple. I have a life here." He thinks about abandoning Raven; and about Hank's research project; and, in all honesty, not a lot else. He has a life, yes, but there isn't a great deal that ties him to it. "And I can't let you stay. You're a monster."
"I have no intention of staying," Erik says. "Humankind is filthy. I've already been here far too long."
Charles removes his hand from his face and turns his head to the side to look at Erik once more. "What will you do if I refuse to go with you?"
Erik's smile is predatory; it's very far from reassuring. He leans forward to brush their mouths together once more, but it's a kiss that is there and gone again before Charles can enjoy it. "I can wait a very long time," Erik promises - it comes out as dark as a threat. "I have eternity. You'd be surprised how patient I can be."
"So that's it?" Charles asks. "You would simply wait?"
"I would try to persuade you," Erik says. "You still don't understand how this works. You're so naive, Charles."
Charles frowns. "I'm not."
"You claim to understand what I am; you even claim to be horrified by it. It isn't true. If you were horrified you wouldn't be able to have me near you." His smile widens until his teeth are on show. "But you like it, don't you? Your life has been so carefully dull. I'm the only person that has ever made you feel alive."
Charles swallows and pretends to himself that he isn't afraid, not for a single moment. "I could get rid of you. I know how." He doesn't know why he says it, but the flicker of cool ice in Erik's eyes makes him raise his chin in defiance. "You don't scare me."
"I'm not trying to." Erik can say anything that he likes. While he is vibrating in restraint, it is difficult to lend much credence to his words. "You won't send me back."
"I'm considering it," Charles admits. "I don't know what else to do."
"Come with me," Erik insists - and Charles thinks that maybe he's pleading. It makes his heart ache.
He still shakes his head.
He allows Erik's arms to slide around him like an anchor and Erik's lips to linger against his neck. It doesn't give him any answers.
The ringing of his phone pierces through all thoughts the following evening, when he has spent many hours lingering on the question of what he has to do about Erik. Finding his phone buried under a pile of unmarked papers, he frowns at Raven's name on the display and then answers. "If you're phoning to ask me about - "
"Charles? Charles, I think he's here," Raven sobs down the phone.
Charles's grip on his phone tightens until his knuckles ache. "What do you mean? Are you okay?"
"I saw something in the mirror," she sniffs. "Someone. And I think there's someone in the apartment. The lights aren't working."
Charles's thoughts fly to Erik, but he doesn't know where he is - Erik left early in the morning without a word, slipping out of Charles's life as easily as he slips into it. "Just stay where you are, Raven. I'm coming."
"No!" she insists, her voice shaking into an alarmed shriek. "No, you can't. You can't come here. It's dangerous."
"You need to get out of there." His heart pounds so hard that he can hardly hear his own thoughts. He wants to reach out across the city that separates them and slip into her mind to keep her calm and safe, but he can't stretch that far. He isn't powerful enough; right now, listening to Raven on the other end of the line, he feels completely powerless. "If it's too dangerous for me it's too dangerous for you. Can you make it to the front door?"
She sniffs and there's a long, careful pause. He hears her moving. "I think so," she says. "I'm going to go for it."
"Be careful," he warns her.
She is more capable of looking after herself than he is - he knows that, and yet listening to her on the other side of the phone line he can only remember the young girl that she had been when they first met. He doesn't know how this happened. He doesn't know what went wrong.
From the phone he can hear panting and the sound of footsteps - and then a hard slam, a shriek, a grunt.
"Raven?" he shouts. "Raven, what's happening?"
He can't make anything out but general scuffles of sound in the background. There is a thump and a clatter as he thinks Raven's phone is dropped, but he doesn't stop shouting, doesn't stop trying to get her attention. Still holding the phone against his ear he charges into his living room, aiming for the paper bag that Raven had left for him last time she was here.
He can't stop to think, ripping it out of the bag. His face is drawn and pale in the reflection. He remembers Raven's story and licks his lips. "Otengam," he says hesitantly, working out the syllables as he goes along. "Otengam." One more. The mirror in his hand is already beginning to ripple as if there is a breeze passing over it. One more - for Raven, for his little sister, for the brave girl who should never have been mixed up in any of this. "Otengam."
A harsh breeze as sharp and cold as a knife blusters through the apartment, nearly knocking him over. Charles braces himself against it, his hair flying wildly. He stares into the mirror - until he sees someone else staring back.
He would know those eyes anywhere, blue and hard.
He thinks that he can hear Erik in his mind, loud and raging, but he swallows and tries to hold his fear in check. Charles, what are you doing? Stop it. Stop. We're supposed to be in this together. You're supposed to be with me.
He licks his lips. "I'm sorry, my friend," he murmurs, not sure if Erik can even hear him. "I'm so sorry."
He closes his eyes and smashes the mirror into the door frame. It hits with a sharp crack and shards of broken mirror tumble down onto the floor. With his shoes still on, Charles stomps down onto them, crushing them further beneath his feet, grinding them into the carpet.
From his phone, abandoned on the ground, he finally hears Raven's voice. "Charles?" she asks. "Are you still there?"
He rushes to pick it up and holds it against his ear. "Yes? Raven?"
"Yeah," she pants. "I don't know. I'm okay. It stopped."
He nods, feeling numb. "That's good. Are you hurt?"
"Only a little. There was something in my flat, Charles, I swear there was. And then it knocked into me as I was running for the door. It had me, it was going to kill me, but then... "
"I got rid of him," Charles tells her. "I did what you told me."
He thinks he should feel more triumphant than he does. The flat feels empty and cold, and when he looks at the broken mirror on the ground he feels nothing but guilt. It was the right thing to do, he tells himself. Erik had been too dangerous to be in their world.
"I'm coming over," Raven states. "Don't move an inch."
He hadn't been planning on it. He doesn't, after all, have anywhere else to go.
Life inevitably carries on.
Charles marks his papers and spends time with Raven; he meets a girl and he falls in love.
But in his bathroom, above his sink, he installs a small bathroom mirror. It's not very big, but in the right light it provides the strangest of reflections. It's almost as if there is someone else in there, watching. It's almost as if one can see a set of blue eyes, constantly raging, and a bared set of teeth.
It is almost as if there is someone in there waiting to get out once more.
Magneto. Magneto. Magneto.