poem written on a wall at the detention center in Waco, Texas, author unknown. february 1, 1964
“The detention center in Waco, Texas has a new set of prisoners. An unnamed group formerly possessing high security clearance has been moved there, following their cooperation with the Soviets in the days before The Crisis.
“This action brings the total number of prisoners to 147, and the list grows as President Johnson continues to direct the FBI and other agencies to look for other sympathizers and conspirators.
“Johnson has yet to determine if those at the detention centers will be tried for sedition or treason, but as news becomes available, it will be passed along to you.
“According to the FBI, numerous groups now deemed subversive, including members of various groups advocating for Negro civil rights, those who are known homosexuals, and any persons who pose a threat to the homogeneity of the country, will be detained. The government is working hard to try and stop any potential threats where they might lie in small groups of marginalized people.
“As the country tries to put itself back together, these prisoners’ detention is a shining example of the reliance of the American spirit as we bring ourselves back together, weeding out those who wish to see the fall of such a proud nation.. Their treason has not, and will not, be tolerated.
“This is Walter Cronkite, and this is The CBS Evening News.”
The large transport hummed to life, quickly pushing forward and jostling everyone in the back. Seatbelts were no longer an issue (who cared for prisoners and the dissenters?) but the comfort of not jumping at every pothole was something that President Johnson had not considered. He was more impassioned about getting roads up, Charles mused as the transport moved up and down over another pothole before settling into a steady track of road.
His eyes took in the state of his team, disgraced and forlorn, as they slumped into the wooden bench beneath them.
Erik, his liaison with the Soviets, looked down at the planks holding the transport together underneath, avoiding everyone else. He had always been stoic, his behavior learned from living behind The Iron Curtain, but now, in the dim light, he looked nearly lost. His will to prevent nuclear winter clearly broken, shattered and left in fragments, like the broken pieces of a martini glass ground underfoot. His work had done nothing to stop the Soviets from showing their teeth and asserting their dominance over America, despite his best efforts.
Hank, strategist, sat with one hand covering his head. The young man had worked on so many plans that would have averted disaster, but his furrowed brow revealed how his mind kept going back to the moment when everything went wrong. He was always one to use the past to help shape the future, and his thoughts were stuck on that same precise moment that found them here; his mind no longer focused on how to survive in the present, merely stuck in the past. His muttering created a hum more pleasurable than the engine’s roar, but instinctively; it would not solve their current dilemma to think about how they arrived there instead of how he could move forward from this. There had to be a way to overturn Johnson’s policies.
Raven, linguist, who worked as closely with himself as with Erik. Her shoulders rolled as she worked to make the journey anything other than it was, but as the roll slowed, it was clear she found no measure of comfort in the movement. She had spent weeks getting accurate translations of documents from Lehnsherr, too late to stop anyone from crossing an imaginary line separating peace from war.
Emma, Erik’s assistant, looked as pristine as always, despite wearing a dull olive military issue outfit. Her mind, sharp and quick, still looked for a way out. Charles knew without question as he watched her eyes dart around the space. Never the defeatist, she looked for any weakness to help them escape. Her work with Erik had been self-preservation, sure as anything she’d been through having fallen apart.
His eyes finally drifted to his right, to his superior Moira, who had sacrificed so much in trying to maintain a delicate balance; her cheerful smile had been replaced by a hard set of her lips that revealed nothing. Her pallor had shifted since they were forced from the bunker under the CIA’s headquarters. She had been adamant that avoiding escalation was in their grasp, only to watch as fell to ruin.
Ignoring more of his thoughts about what the group had been, Charles let his eyes settle back towards his hands, clasped together as if in prayer while the transport continued to toss them back and forth as the road stretched on towards Texas.
There were more days like this in store for them, and little to do with the time between stops.
at what price?
do we pay
poem written in a bathroom stall, louisville, kentucky, january 23, 1964, author unknown
In the brief times that the six of them were allowed outside of the transport, Erik took few pleasures. The food was, as he’d expected of nuclear winter, horrid.
News was even more dire, the newspaper in front of him a sign of how much things had changed in the last fifteen months.
Johnson, once thought to be a man of principle and reasoned debate, had turned hard against anything as soon as President Kennedy had been shot by Soviet sympathizers in Dallas.
The President was, again, rounding up more dissenters. Their trip to Waco would not be the last, not if Johnson and the rest of Congress managed to subvert habeas corpus and the principles of the Constitution, whatever that document still meant.
It was not supposed to end this way here; there was democracy and the presumption of innocence in America. Nothing like what he had been used to. There was supposed to be hope here, not the stagnant air that squashed dreams as quickly as it squelched rebellions.
“Why not just throw the whole thing out and declare martial law?” he muttered before slapping the paper against the Formica table of the still-standing diner.
“Something the matter, Erik?” Charles asked, looking up from his own paper.
“Nothing. Nothing at all.”
“Today President Johnson announced the discovery of another 200 people suspected of seditious activities. Like all the others, they will be moved to the Waco facility before any further discussions about their status will be made.
“Congress has agreed to President Johnson’s demands to suspend habeas corpus and Congress suspects many other civil liberties, including free speech, will be limited.
“If this reporter were not afraid of losing the ability to report the news, there would be more on the matter. Needless to say, this is the first time since the Civil War that habeas corpus has been suspended.
“There have been no reports of violence since the President’s announcement.
“This is Walter Cronkite, and this is The CBS Evening News.”
“Get out!” an officer yelled once the transport stopped, engine still hot, as he pulled back the heavy tarp that kept the light from the group.
Charles shifted in his spot for a minute, shaking loose the cramps from his legs, closely watching as his team--no longer his--did the same.
Erik, always first, took the lead and jumped from the back, landing with a hard thud against the rock and sand of the Texas desert; Charles watched Emma put her hand out, clearly expecting Erik to help her down.
Moira moved with a grace that Charles didn’t see her use much--one quick movement from her seat to the ground in a second flat.
Hank and Raven moved as a pair, slowly moving from their seats next to each other and over towards the opening. Hank jumped down first, before extending his hands to help Raven off.
Charles continued to loll his head back and forth, working out a cramp that had set in when they got back onto the road in Dallas a few hours before.
“This way,” the officer said again, pointing in a direction Charles couldn’t yet see from inside the vehicle. Following everyone else, he left the darkened space for the harsh light of the Texas morning.
To their right, the officer had pointed towards the entrance to the Waco Detention Center.
“Get a move on; you gotta get processed before 1200 hours.”
In front of him, the team trudged forward, towards metal gates and the final sign that cooperation and peace were as dead as the population that had perished in Cuba and its environs.
First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.
First They Came... - Martin Niemöller
Erik had long-suffered as a liaison for the Soviets, knowing full well that his presence was abhorrent. No one, least of all Khrushchev, wanted Jews around, but Erik’s position was tolerated--mostly as a savior of so many in Auschwitz. His status as a war hero had catapulted him into fame, and when his time with Mossad had come to a halt in 1959, the Soviets had extended him a position as Special Liaison to the West. It left him free to use his ties from Mossad and his notoriety as leverage to negotiate and keep a few channels open between East and West.
The Waco Detention Center reminded him far too much of Auschwitz, though he supposed that was part of the point. Unlike where he’d spent eighteen months as a boy, there was no air of death pervading his senses, only a dry wind and the feeling of disquiet and unease. Waco did not cling to him bodily; the air only passed against him and fluttered over the hairs on his skin. His tattoo itched as the dust settled when he moved.
Inside, there were scores of people loitering, aimless in their tasks as they moved slowly from one side to another. Their shiftless feet--an odd erratic beat--hummed into his ears.
It would be in a place like this that he’d find himself again. Idle time; stigma pressed against him again. Stigma would follow him; not just to one continent, but to two. Devil’s handiwork never far from him.
Unlike the German camps, it was clear that America felt no moral obligation to kill the dissenters. Merely leave them to rot and fester in the desert heat.
Another gust of wind went across his skin; Erik felt as though the future was bleaker than he’d been told it was once he sent foot in Auschwitz.
More than his religion, he felt like questioning his entire existence. The few moments of happiness crushed under the weight of his soul’s disquiet. Unrest had overtaken him as he was freed from those camps. Turned into folly--brief moments where pleasure soured as the landscape in front of him came back into focus--his life not anywhere near as idyllic as the Americans made it sound at the liberation.
Had he arrived in the US, had he lived in New York, he thought. Like those men he had found drunk in bars hidden from view, blissed out from the rough hand of another man. He rarely acted on his desire, satisfying himself with images of Jimmy Stewart, any actor who caught his eye in the cinema.
He had long learned that the want of another man carried as much stigma as being a Jew. If he could not hide one, he would certain hide the other.
“This way, Commies!” the guard yelled. The line from their check-in was no longer straight, more a gang, everyone huddled together. Charles watched as they all started to move apart, slow like molasses, trying to look as though the rules and regulations mattered here in Waco.
“Line up, you lot!” he said again, after everyone had started to form one. Hank kept stretching his legs, displaying obvious fatigue from the journey. It hasn’t been easy for him, Charles thought, knowing how much Hank’s energy had been a source of frustration in their office before.
Erik had a scowl on his face--his default expression--watching as Emma and Raven walked behind Hank, Charles saw. Erik followed after them and Charles and Moira brought up the rear.
The guard led them into a barracks, one of the scores that made up the camp, before he continued.
“This is your home from here until, well, shit if I know when. You’ll wake at 0600, eat breakfast at 0700, work from 0730 until 1200 and then eat lunch. Everything else you can figure out on your own. Is that clear?”
“Right,” Charles replied, his words echoing off the walls in a way he had not imagined was possible for something pre-fabricated, reinforcing how lonely and isolated they were now.
“The rest of your barracks will be in just before lunch. Take care until then.”
The guard walked out, and left the group alone. Charles watched for a moment as eyes started to drift around the room, taking in their surroundings.
Emma huffed in frustration, Charles aware of how meticulous she was about her desk, not to mention her apartment. The dust alone was going to send her into fits.
Moira took in the room like she did everything else, scanning it in a systematic way.
Raven and Hank were eyeing each other cautiously, still figuring out the last two weeks. Charles knew that they were sharp, but when pressed with so many changes, they faltered. Bit by bit, the confidence that each of them had showed in their work dissipated.
Erik stood straight, never showing weakness, Charles implicitly knew. Strong determination had served Erik well before, Charles had seen, but in this moment, Charles was not sure if Erik had the will to stay strong through another detainment.
It was not that Charles had heard every detail of Erik’s time in the camps, but there was enough to indicate how much it had shaped the boy Erik was into the man he had become.
“Look, the new guys are here,” a voice said, breaking Charles’ concentration, time having gotten away from him.
“Why don’t you just scare them, Sean? Your voice is loud enough to break glass, I swear.” The man stopped before adding with a laugh, “Good thing we don’t have any here.” After his laughter subsided, he strode to Charles, offering a hand. “I’m Alex, and this red-headed ass is Sean.”
“So, where’d you all come from?” Sean asked.
“CIA”, Moira said before Charles glanced over to look at her.
“Wait a minute? You’re that group? Alex, we’re rooming with some fuckin’ badasses right now.”
“Sean, what the hell are you talking about?” Alex said.
“Man, pay attention now and again, will you? Didn’t you hear about the group from the CIA that didn’t go along with the attack at Cuba?”
“You know I don’t pay attention to anything now. I didn’t really pay attention when we were back in Greenwich Village. What’d change now?”
“Because, I don’t know, we’re trapped here because we’re queer. Or because Johnson’s some homophobe who’s looking to stop any dissent he can find. You know we were getting traction down in the Village.”
“Gentlemen, can you please just stop,” Moira interrupted. “I’m Moira MacTaggert. That man you shook hands with is Charles Xavier.”
She pointed towards Hank and Raven. “Hank McCoy and Raven Darkholme worked under me in the CIA, and over there are Erik Lehnsherr and Emma Frost, who were our liaisons with the Russians.”
“Pleasure,” Alex said. Sean nodded too. “If you wait a few more minutes, Angel and Darwin should be back before lunch. They tend to stay around longer than strictly required at work.”
Charles looked at the pair and just wondered what the hell that meant.
As soon as he’d figured out a way to ask the question delicately, however, a pair of Negros walked into the room.
“Angel, Darwin, we got new bunkmates,” Sean said, trying to make his voice carry through the barracks, wanting the two to hear him before they were close enough for a proper conversation.
“They’re from the CIA,” Alex added once the pair were close enough that no one needed to shout, eying Sean in a silent moment.
“You’re the guys that said no before Cuba?” Darwin asked.
“Guilty as charged,” Erik said, eyes still set on those around them, quietly assessing everything as far as Charles could tell.
“Nice to meet some people putting up some fight,” Angel added, uncrossing her arms, her tension uncoiling briefly.
“Clearly you were all part of the Civil Rights Movement,” Moira said, trying to get a read on the last people to be part of their barracks.
“Right. Name’s Armando, but everyone calls me Darwin,” the man said. “This is Angel, and we’re both part of SCLC. Not the big brass, though. Johnson still wants to look like he cares.”
Introductions were made quickly, the older members circling the new in short order.
“Nice to meet you all. Now, what else did that guard not tell us on his comprehensive explanation.” Charles laughed at the end, trying to break the dull ache in his chest at knowing how many people had been taken and how many more would be taken before this war was over.
Part of the message
that is what I am.
My message will survive,
poem written on a wall at the detention center in Waco, Texas, author unknown. february 14, 1964
“Today President Johnson announced that another 150 people were discovered and shipped off to Waco. The FBI determined that these new detainees were part of larger cells of dissenters and Communists; the full force of the FBI has been requisitioned to look for and discover others who are potentially seditious.
“Protests outside of what remains of New York and Los Angeles were reported. No word yet if Chicago has erupted in violence or if they too are stilled by the FBI’s work.
“This is Walter Cronkite, and this is The CBS Evening News.”
Settled, as much as he could, into the small bed of the barracks, Erik could not let the nervous energy from the journey go. It sat, like static, waiting for a release, but the small bed frame could not contain it.
Rising to his feet, he paced through the room, eyes looking for the smallest hint of what he might expect from being here. None of their new roommates had shared any information on the exact nature of their work during lunch--not that Erik expected any of them too. Secrets were just as valuable here as they had been for him in Mossad and working for the Russians. Though, as he thought back to them, none of the kids, no more than twenty-five, looked the type to hold back. Their stories, like his, might be revealed with time.
Working with Charles had never been about secrets--only open communication to try and avert disaster.
That had not ended well for them, he mused.
A door slammed, sending Erik’s mind jolting out of his introspection.
“Erik, I didn’t expect to find you here,” Charles said as he walked to the bunk that they were sharing. Erik sat on the bottom of the two beds, hands rubbing against his thighs.
“I didn’t think I should be outside right now.” Not really an answer to Charles’ question, but he did not feel like as though explaining how little he wanted to socialize would do him better.
“There’s not much out there,” Charles answered.
“I’d expect nothing less from a place like this. It’s not as though I’m unfamiliar,” he flatly replied.
“I’m sorry that we couldn’t help avert disaster in Cuba, please know that.”
“I have no doubt. We did everything we could. It’s only the stupidity of Khrushchev’s plans and Kennedy’s fear that found us here.”
“So much more than that. You know that. It’s the unknown that has them all frightened.”
“‘The unknown’, yes, I know all too well.” Erik pointed to his left arm, knowing that the implication would speak enough.
“Right; you know.”
“Yes, and I had thought my work with the Russians would prevent it from happening again. I should have known that hatred and fear will never be stopped.”
“With patience, we might see it happen.”
Erik laughed, loudly, echoes of it ringing against the concrete walls.
“We’ll see.” Erik moved past Charles towards the door, deciding that it was time to end this discussion. A dry heat would help him ignore the lingering questions.
Despite his intentions to have Erik stop focusing on the similarities of their situation to those Erik had faced in World War II, Charles’ thoughts after dinner fell back there.
So much of his life spent studying International Relations and languages had been about bringing about peace in the wake of the Cold War. He had no interest in watching millions more die around him because there was little that their leaders could do to stop others from single-minded terror or prejudice.
Looking up at the ceiling in the barracks, his mind still focused on how his team, one so strong and impassioned, had managed to fail at their single goal. Was there a flaw in his or Moira’s logic? Were the Russians really so stubborn after their struggles for freedom from tyranny to fall back into it under another name, under Khrushchev?
He had never been a fan of Communism, but the principle, he understood, had merits in the abstract. Marx wasn’t entirely wrong, but as Marx’s ideas had actually been applied in the Soviet Union left much to be desired.
Working with Erik and Emma, though, had brought him some measure of hope. They were able to discuss and rationalize how to avoid numerous problems after Korea. But it was always tempered by a feeling, something Charles could never shake, that it was all going to come crashing down.
Knowing now that his work had been a no-win situation, despite his protests, Charles wondered if he had have ended up here without his connections to Erik and the Russians.
He had been foolhardy, according to most of his colleagues, to look for peace when a stalemate had been all that had come from Yalta. Détente had been reached, precarious outbursts of force to show little more than metaphoric flexes in muscle.
A twitch from his forearm made the point all the more clear. Extending his arm back and forth, Charles hoped to stop the spasm. He had not expected a day lifting bags of rice and beans could be as taxing as it was.
Hearing Sean and Alex’s earlier conversations reminded Charles of thoughts he had long wanted to squash and never remember. It wasn’t just that he thought of other men as he jerked himself off at night, it was that he’d never wanted to imagine a woman instead.
Radcliffe women had never been an interest to him, Wellesley women even less so. The ones who he met were all interested in finding a suitable husband, spending their days discussing Impressionist paintings instead of the ramifications of World War II.
He had much preferred the conversations of his classmates--looking to discuss works for class before moving onto current affairs.
Now, hearing more about what Sean and Alex had done to have lives that included the company of other men, Charles wondered how he’d never found such a circle in Boston. There were too many university students there to not have at least a few men like himself.
At least he thought so now.
Too little, too late.
He was here, no matter the reason.
Only, as far as everyone else was concerned, he was only here for one reason.
poem written on a wall at the detention center in Waco, Texas, author unknown. march 17, 1964
“As 450 people were moved to Waco, bringing the total to just under 1000, the protests around the county seem to have dissipated, though news reports from most major cities are now being filtered through the White House.
“In the brief from the White House, it was also stated that any public commentary against the Government’s position could result in being stopped from relaying the news. For the sake of the little journalistic integrity that remains, there will be no comment on the state of news transmission. This reporter would like to remain as a source of whatever information is available.
“There were no reports of violence connected with the removal of anyone now on their way to Texas.
“White House officials are claiming that all of the protests will disappear now that most of the dissenters have been rounded up.
“Only time will tell who is right.
“This is Walter Cronkite, and this is The CBS Evening News.”
Breakfast was always quiet, coffee still slowly working through the body before waking the barracks up. Sean, Erik learned, was never fully awake until well into his work shift, evidenced by the loud shouts that were heard all through the Center by 1000.
Erik focused little of his attention on those who had been there before him, though. They didn’t matter as much to him as those who had travelled with him from Langley.
Within that group, though, he still had preferences. Emma and Charles were first and foremost to him; myriad days spent with them so focused on their previous mission that they felt like the family he had have hoped to have as an adult, before the camps ripped away any hope of .
Emma, despite all protests from the small group at their office in Warsaw, was not his type. She was too particular. Too much trouble. But she was good at her job and he respected her work ethic, especially after the number of people who took their responsibilities in this office lightly, working for their country but not believing in this particular mission completely. Having worked for the West, they had said, had turned Erik soft. Without going into specifics on his time in Auschwitz, though, Erik knew there was no way to explain what the horrors of authoritarian governments were and why he only had agreed to work for the Soviets on the condition that he was open to discussions with the West.
He was open to the West; he was open to so much that the Soviets weren’t. The West was the land of opportunity, hope that sprung eternal to endless possibilities to miles and miles of roads paved with good intentions and realized dreams.
Charles, he realized, stood as the other idea he had always been open and receptive to. It was not just the earnest feelings that Charles had shared about his hopes for the future when cooperation was not done through five back channels. The warm smile he had, on the few times that he and Erik had met in person, lingered in Erik’s mind for days as did the careful lilt of Charles’ voice.
Erik, after a few fleeting memories of Charles, came to one conclusion: had he not been so young, and had he displayed any interest for other men in Auschwitz, he would not be alive. It might not have been something he had have acted on as a teen, but as he worked with Mossad, his eyes lingered more and more over the other men in his training. At bars, he chatted with the women who approached him, but made no overt displays of his sexual preference to anyone. He hoped, and suspected after one night, that everyone he knew gave him space as a survivor. He would never forget what happened there, but he wouldn’t share everything openly.
He hated himself for that understanding that had dawned on him. It was too much that he had lost his parents so quickly after they had arrived in the camps. It was too much to hear the men who had heard tales from other camps talking about the men with pink triangles--the men who sought the company of other men.
Erik hated himself for being a Jew who survived the camps, for what those around him made him think of his traditions as they forced him to work harder and harder each day, always, but he hated himself more for the passing thoughts he had for other men even more. He could not change his ancestry, but he could ignore whom he desired.
Breaking his thoughts, he looked down at the now soggy cereal, before chasing away his reverie in favor of work. He had little time to focus on how or when his life had gone wrong, but he did have time to focus on making this time as easy as possible.
Defeated after a day of utterly useless labor, Charles slowly entered the barracks after his first day in Waco, only to be met with Sean’s voice bouncing through the room.
“Sean, what the hell did we say about your voice?” Alex asked, clearly annoyed with the young man he’d been brought there with.
“Whatever, man, I’m just jazzed. The new gang made it without getting reprimanded. I think that calls for celebration.”
“What do you suggest we do here?” Angel asked, approaching the series of chairs in the far corner of the room.
“Charades? We don’t need a board or any sort of rules, right? Everyone knows how to play?”
“I don’t know that everyone knows how to play,” Charles added. “I’m not sure if Erik and Emma have ever played before.”
Erik walked in just after, eyes darting around, as usual, trying to take into account the situation. Charles noticed how quickly Erik always assessed a room, making sure he understood every danger and marked all the exits.
“Erik, do you and Emma know how to play charades?”
“We didn’t live in a vacuum, Charles. We do have fun in Poland.”
“So I take it that means ‘yes,’” Alex added.
“Great, we’re getting a game going once everyone is back from their shifts. Sound good?”
Charles watched as Erik processed the question.
“It can’t hurt, I suppose,” was his reply.
“Groovy! I’ll let everyone else know when they get here,” Alex finished, moving towards the door.
“Are you up for this, Erik?” Charles asked once Alex was out of earshot.
“Why shouldn’t I be?”
“You’ve never struck me as the kind to enjoy your leisure.”
“There’s still so much you have to learn about me.”
Erik left their shared space, walking over briefly to his bed to set things right and wait for the rest of their roommates to return. Charles focused on setting up the chairs in a large circle so that everyone could play, before Angel and Darwin joined him.
As Emma walked into the room, Charles watched as she quickly talked to Alex before she joined Erik near his bed. Charles would not begrudge them time to discuss anything, having known before that the two of them had a very serious relationship. He hoped that the time here, despite the circumstances, would open the two of them up to a more pleasant demeanor, but Charles didn’t keep his hopes up too often.
By the time that everyone was in the barracks, the chairs set up, Sean hollered to get all of their attention.
“We’re gonna play charades, and well, we all know how to play, right? So, pick a partner, and we’ll get started in a few minutes.”
“Don’t we need someone to come up with the ideas?” Raven asked.
“Of course. Why don’t you and Hank start that while everyone else is teaming up,” Sean replied.
Charles, as the room started to drift apart, made his way over to Erik and Emma. “Erik, would you like to work with me?”
Eyeing Emma briefly, Erik waited before she carefully nodded her head. “It would be my pleasure, Charles. I think Emma might do well with Moira for this game.”
Emma left them, and Charles noted how cool her stare was as she approached Moira. He was not entirely sure that this was the best choice of partners for either of them, but it would open up their social network.
This was all in the name of socializing, Charles realized. Knowing more about these bunkmates would prove useful as his team became more settled, molding into a larger group than they were before.
The game started soon after, Charles’ attention being drawn back to the present as Sean let out another loud whoop to get everyone’s attention.
He gestured for Erik to sit next to him, and the game began without incident as Alex tried to get Sean to guess Catcher in the Rye.
Hank and Raven were next, doing much better with Abraham Lincoln, and soon enough Charles was standing to have Erik guess Detroit.
Failing miserably, Charles laughed when time was up but felt Erik’s laughter against his shoulder when he sat down. Erik let the touch linger longer than was prudent, but Charles could not stop himself from nudging away the touch, unsure if Erik mean to be so obvious in front of their friends.
The rest of the game passed in the same way, Charles’ shoulder always brushing against Erik’s when their round ended. Charles attempted to extend the touch as long as he could, continually watching if anyone paid them any attention.
After each turn, instead of finding eyes drawn to him and Erik, the rest focused on Emma and Moira. Emboldened, Charles continued to lean against Erik, ignoring the rest of his bunkmates, focus solely on the man who sat next to him, devilish smile creeping onto his face.
They won the game, miraculously, but it didn’t seem to matter to anyone.
Laughter rang out in the room as the players broke off into smaller groups of two or three.
poem written on a wall at the detention center in Waco, Texas, author unknown. april 2, 1964
Erik had not realized how much laughter could improve his mood until later. Charles’ energy for the game was infectious, he realized, as the game moved from the opening rounds where each team was finding out their partners’ strengths into a raucous affair where Sean ended up falling off his chair more often than not.
The quiet energy bubbled around him still; trying to rein in his excitement to get a decent night’s sleep would be hard. He was not used to the bunk yet, it was still too new, but he had long ago gotten used to changing how well he slept depending on his location. The camps had been bad, and he had tried to adjust himself so that he was always ready for more of the same.
He could not shake the happiness that filled his chest, even as he remembered all of those years before. Training harder and harder for Mossad and then his work in Warsaw had not given him many more chances to appreciate lavish conditions, but in the wake of the barracks’ game, he felt himself content for the first time since being forced from Washington.
“Everything all right, Erik?” Charles asked quietly while the rest of the barracks slowly dropped off towards sleep, the chairs now empty around them.
“I’m glad to see it. You’ve been out of sorts since we left.”
“Wouldn’t you be?” he answered back.
“I didn’t mean it like that, Erik. You know me better than that.” Charles replied, trying not to let any ire into his voice this late in the evening.
“Give me another two days, and I’ll be fine. Just need time to adjust.”
“I thought you made it a habit not to rest on your laurels and were always ready?”
“I might have overstated my abilities.”
“Now I see how it is. You’re just like the rest of us. You can lie through your teeth.”
“How do you think I survived in Mossad? One doesn’t work as a spy without that skill.”
“Maybe I didn’t take your time there as seriously as I should have,” he said with a sly nod. He started to lift himself up from his chair and walked towards his bunk before Erik stopped him, hands coming to rest against Charles’ forearms.
“Thank you for this evening. I really appreciate it.”
“It wasn’t just for you. I think everyone enjoyed the night. I might have even learned something about everyone.”
“What you didn’t know, or hadn’t assessed from our meeting this morning, you mean.”
“Of course. You know how quickly I like to work.” There was another nod from Charles, his movements cautious but entirely uncertain in Erik’s estimation.
Erik pulled his hands away, now unsure of the tenor of the conversation and Charles moreover.
“Goodnight, Charles,” he said, trying to dispel the new energy that had overtaken his elation from earlier.
“Goodnight, Erik,” Charles replied, his eyes focused on Erik’s.
Erik tried to shift his gaze away, nerves taking over. In all his dealing with Charles, there was never a reason to doubt the other man’s intentions, but the air felt heavy, no longer the soft laughter from earlier.
Before he could move away to allow Charles more access to the rest of the room, Charles moved back into Erik’s space, leaning in quickly and pressing his lips against Erik’s.
Erik felt Charles leave just as quickly as he had invaded the space, heard him scrambling across the room and up the ladder into his bunk.
For the third time that night, Erik’s mind was awash in kinetic energy, nerves lit up.
It had been the wrong moment, Charles was sure of it. His heart beat heavily in his chest, adrenaline raging through him.
But, in his head, it should have been different. It was the game of charades, more than the years of conversing with Erik that had opened Charles’ mind. There was an ease to Erik’s demeanor in the game--an ease that had never been part of their previous work. Erik had always been one to get down to brass tacks: work hard, head down.
The game, though, opened Erik up to so much more. His shoulders relaxed as he watched Emma and Moira fail to guess The Wizard of Oz, knowing that Emma’s composure was never as thin as it was then. Charles watched him, noting just how easily all of the determination fell, melting into the floor as easily as dirt washed away from a shower.
It was as if Erik’s persona shifted, and all Charles wanted to do was to keep hold of it. Capture that fleeting moment of goodness and bottle it, to keep the man in a state where his laughter rang out as a clear bell. It was obvious that Erik’s life, the one he wanted to lead, had been stripped from him as a boy, but Charles couldn’t see any evidence of a man burdened by so much during their game. Erik had been relaxed for the first time that Charles could remember, though he didn’t dare ask what had changed Erik’s mood so quickly.
Their hands, as the game wore on, brushed each other more often than not. Charles felt it just a sign of camaraderie, felt as though Erik would be a better friend here than Moira had been in the office before. There was much to learn about him, Charles knew, but in one evening, the possibilities of knowing the inner workings of Erik’s mind didn’t seem that far off.
Now, though, it felt as though it had crashed down, broken into scores of tiny pieces. The kiss, his impulses showing, was all wrong. He did not know enough about Erik to know if any of it would be for the best. Erik’s impassive stance as Charles had leaned in gave away nothing about the other man’s emotions.
All the worse then to flee and avoid the situation. It had already cost Charles so much once before. He didn’t want to imagine the ramifications of the kiss.
It replayed in his head until exhaustion overtook him.
“President Johnson is slated to visit the Waco Detention Center later this week in an effort to determine the success of the program and to evaluate how the FBI should move forward with investigations and trials.
“During the day trip to the President’s home state, he will also investigate how quickly more camps like this one could be created and made ready for the ever-growing number of dissenters.
“Congress, meanwhile, is debating a bill on appropriating more funds for other detention centers as well as the practicality of creating separate camps for each group of subversives.
“No one group that has been targeted by the FBI, thus far, has responded to the prospect of being sent somewhere else, but the number of people willing to speak out against the government has greatly decreased in the last few months.
“While Johnson is there, another 153 prisoners will be arriving. The President will personally inspect their arrival and processing.
“This is Walter Cronkite, and this is The CBS Evening News.”
Stalking into their mess for lunch, Erik felt more enraged than he had since he arrived at Waco. It wasn’t the manual labor that they had him doing: he’d been used to that years before and unlike his time as a child, they fed them here. Overheard conversations as he walked towards the mess set him off.
Cronkite’s newscast mentioned how many more deviants were about to be shipped here. The facility was already getting cramped as it was; their barracks now had another dozen people there who kept to themselves as it was clear that the rest of them had already grown close. Cliques had formed quickly and even when forced to move into another barracks, no one group actively sought to integrate with another, choosing those they knew over those they didn’t.
The officers listening to the news, Erik overheard, were talking about how to get rid of some of them. Bullshit stories, he was sure, but the prevailing trend from the men was that some of the earlier arrivals would be sold into the custody of higher military officers to keep them in check.
The idea alone made Erik sick, and he had worked through so much worse before. He had quietly mention something to Charles at lunch, just to make sure that they could both try and alleviate any stress from their small group. There were too many young people in their cabal now. Ones who did not know, anymore, the first-hand pain other humans were capable of.
Slavery, no matter the guise, was still wrong. The oppressed eventually would rise up and overthrow their oppressors. Erik, mindful of his past, knew how wrong it was to be forced into work, but equally knew that fighting against those oppressors would end his life long before it ended their choices. From inside, there was nothing he could do to stop anything, and even from the outside, it would take massive support to turn around a government’s view.
He had watched eons ago in the camps as those strong enough to resist the SS officers were shot at point-blank range. Even more men had quietly voiced their dissent only to disappear at the end of a day’s shift, never returning to the cramped, cool sleeping quarters. It was easy to disappear as a mark against the status quo.
Much as Erik had seen the effects of dissent in the camps and had heard stories from colleagues in Israel and Poland, he had come to value his life too much to risk death at this point. There had to be means to free them all: a way to make the country see reason and the inhumanity of forced work camps and slavery.
Erik pushed that train of thought aside, trying to put on a neutral expression for when he walked towards Charles. No matter what he had felt after the game of charades, the news of more coming and some of them leaving was paramount.
“Charles, I just heard something on my way in here.”
“What was it?”
Erik steadied himself before he started to retell what he’d heard outside. Charles’ face paled as the story unfolded.
They needed to worry, Erik was sure of that.
The news about potentially selling off members of the camp had Charles on edge. It was not that he could not imagine the government growing tired of all the new subversives that were out there that needed to be corralled and put into Waco, but it was the principle of the entire thing.
A country founded on freedom should never subjugate its people to slavery, not even if it was the last resort of desperate leaders seeking to punish and humiliate. Charles was not sure how so many people in the country could ignore a crucial portion of the Thirteenth Amendment, but then he remembered how little most people he knew in high school cared about remembering their collective histories. It was possible, he remembered, to have everyone at Waco be sold legally, should they all be convicted of treason, sedition--it did not particularly matter, he assumed. Conviction on any charge would cement Johnson’s position that the number in these camps decrease even as more people were corralled into them.
Charles felt everything about the camp more after that. It wasn’t just the menial labor that he was forced to do, it was thinking that the small group of friends they had made since their arrival would be potentially split.
The thought of being separated from Erik took hold more tightly, though. They had not had a conversation about the kiss; Erik plainly ignoring the conversation every time Charles tried to broach it.
He longed to be closer to his colleague, to explain that he had wanted to kiss Erik after their third meeting. Only Erik’s guard had risen up; the hard mask he’d been known for as a Soviet liaison firmly back in place. His face was now impassive, never revealing anything.
Determined, Charles pressed on. The group had established routines, allowing he and Erik to sit next to each other at meals without question, Moira knowing that his guilt for getting Erik and Emma in this position could manifest as anything.
In point of fact, Charles was not close to Erik because he felt responsible for his placement here, but because he felt that there was so much between them that could be explored. It was only after so many conversations and chess games in their barracks that Charles realized how much alike he and Erik were. It was not just the desire to see peace, but it was a quick wit, a drive to protect those who could not protect themselves and an overarching ideal that there was the potential for good in humanity hidden under hatred and ignorance.
Erik, Charles noticed, shied away from being too close. He did not outright stop their chess games or conversations at lunch, but the tone of all their interactions was stilted and unease settled across Erik’s shoulders. Yet all Charles wanted to do was to tear down Erik’s walls, force them both back into a moment of pure bliss that would push aside all of the labor and dust of Waco.
Charles ached to find a way to make it all disappear, but he knew that any conversation would only set the determination deeper in Erik’s body, coil him tighter and tighter.
If moments of joy could be created here, Charles wondered how much they could explore each other outside of these walls.
Could they escape, run away and find a place to try? Just to have more than a fleeting kiss.
Drawing himself away his thoughts, Charles turned towards the edge of his bunk, looking to get Erik’s attention.
“Are you awake, Erik?” he whispered.
From below, Charles heard a grumble. “Not ‘til now.”
“Sorry, but I just thought of something. I wanted someone to talk to about it.”
“Since you woke me, of course.” Erik’s voice was heavy with sleep, clearly he had need a minute or two before Charles could explain what he had thought.
Charles stepped down from the bed, padding over to the chairs at the far end of the bunk. Erik followed behind a moment later.
“I’ve been thinking about escape,” Charles began without preamble.
“Whatever for? We’re locked up tighter than Swiss banks here.”
“Not here. If what you said about an auction is true, we’ll be in private homes if we’re actually sold. Presumably ones with less security.”
“Still a risky move. I have the skills to try and find a way out, but I don’t know if Raven or Hank could.”
“I’m sure they’re quick studies in that regard. They’d make it work.”
“But why now?”
“Aren’t you frustrated that the resistance against this policy is so weak? So minimal? We should be out there exposing Johnson for what we’ve been doing here. Forced labor for only demonstrating the exact principle that founded this nation--representing ideas that are distasteful to those in control.”
Erik leaned closer to him before replying. “But you forget,” Erik whispered, “that most people agree with Johnson. They think everyone here deserves to be here.”
“That can’t be true.”
“Don’t you listen to the guards? They assume we’re all Commies, queers, and looking to overthrow the government. They don’t want us back with them, polluting their perfect America.”
Charles’ hand fell onto Erik’s knee before he continued. “That can’t be true, my friend. There have to be those who agree with us.”
“If they exist, they’re so far underground, they won’t fight for us.” Erik’s hand came to rest upon Charles’, idling for a moment before he moved it back up his thigh.
“I’m sure that if someone is able to just escape from here, there’ll be momentum. People will speak up if they know we’re resisting as well. Right now, we’re just placid, weak here.”
“With reason. I know what happens when you resist in a place like this. It’s not pretty.”
“And that’s why we wait until we’re no longer here. We can do so much more if we get out from some high-profile bidder’s home.”
Charles took the silence as Erik thinking through the statement, running scenarios in his head as he always did.
“It might work, but it’s still risky.”
“Then we’ll plan now, and find a way out after. Can you promise me that?”
“Of course.” Erik quickly rose, pushing away Charles’ hand. He walked slowly back to his bed.
Charles followed behind him, hoping that they would have similar conversations for as long as they had here. Plans set into motion.
If it meant more time for Charles to stare and wish for Erik to return some small sign of affection, Charles couldn’t complain.
to what end?
for what price
do we turn
poem written on a wall at the detention center in Waco, Texas, author unknown. april 28, 1964
It had only taken two more weeks after Erik first heard mention of selling some of them for it to come into fruition. Hastily, they were all brought before military tribunals and convicted of sedition. Punishment came down as the government saw fit: slavery.
The camp turned into a frenzy as myriad officers shuffled through the gates every day looking for places to put a public address system, where to have the detainees build a stage for the auction itself. They all barked orders, interrupting the normal routine, forcing Erik away from his usual job to help build the stage.
It was not a large crew for the job: he, Alex, Darwin and a few others from other barracks, but the work seemed to go quickly once the small team had set up a system. Dividing work into an assembly line, small rote tasks that were easy to complete.
They were not trusted with saws, and the nails and hammers were guarded and closely monitored as they set to creating a dais that would work for holding an unknown number of the people who were part of Erik’s new day-to-day existence. Entrusted with the hammer and nails, Erik worked quickly after seeing the planks aligned for him to hammer into. Swift short strokes drove each nail home, his work the last before they were sent back to change and get ready for the auction.
Alex and Darwin had been first to leave, their work done before Erik’s really began. As he finally entered the barracks, they were both walking out of the communal showers, small towels rubbing out the excess moisture.
“Be sure to shower, the guards said they want everyone looking their best,” Alex said.
“I guess some things have changed,” he muttered, trying not to raise too much attention.
His shower was quick, methodical as ever. Throwing on the khakis that they had given to him when they arrived, his jeans forgotten in the grime of his work, he saw Charles walking in slow circles, awkwardly pacing the barracks.
“Calm down. This won’t be nearly as bad as you think it is,” Erik said.
“I’m just imagining it as if I were being shipped on a boat and then sold to the highest bidder.”
“There’s no boat, and I don’t imagine the bidders will offer much.”
“How comforting,” Charles replied. Erik walked over then, trying to stop Charles’ movement. Charles shied away from the touch, though until then Erik had always been the one to hedge away from it. He’d tried to subtly turn away Charles’ attentions, though not without raising suspicions from anyone else. Save Emma or Moira, he was certain no one would tell the difference; he’d long since tried to remain impassive and cold to everyone else, charades withstanding.
“No one is going to actively buy us. That’s beyond anything I can imagine any American capable of. Nothing will come from it; it’s just a show, a way to keep more people who want change from speaking out.”
“Aren’t you usually the pragmatist?” Charles asked.
“Call this a moment of optimism. No one who works that closely with Johnson will go through with this.”
The bell usually used to signify meals and réveillé rang out through the public address system.
“The auction will begin in fifteen minutes. All those who were told to report, please do so now.”
Impersonal, Erik thought, but he started to follow the instructions before noticing Charles standing still.
“Time to go,” Erik said, voice just above a whisper.
“If you say so.”
Erik offered his hand, extending it toward Charles, who took it quietly. He squeezed Charles’ hand once it was wrapped around his. They walked in silence out to the stage before wooden planks around heavy chain were put over their necks. Despite how much he had tried to repress what he felt about Charles, to keep Charles was going farther in expressing what he felt for Erik, their hands felt natural, right together.
Erik’s hand gave Charles’ another quick squeeze, aiming for reassurance and hoping to convey support, before either of them walked onto the stage.
The bidding and details filtered across Erik’s mind; his attention drawn to the man next to him and their hands clasped together. Maybe if they had not been forced into slavery, they could have tried something, Erik sure enough of himself that he could set a pace and tone that suppressed all his urges to run away--for Charles he would try to be like those men in all those bars who gave into impulse. He could have tried to let his years of hiding go, to be with another man as he wanted--lust getting the best of him as he saw fit.
poem written on a wall at the detention center in Waco, Texas, author unknown. june 3, 1964
Sebastian Shaw, Charles recollected, had been a high-ranking, but appointed member of the Defense Department. Following the hasty trial of him and his team, Shaw had quickly purchased Charles, Hank, Moira, Raven and Sean, content with the prospect of being able to be one of the few in the government who again owned chattel.
Charles’ stomach turned at the thought of what he might be forced to do under Shaw’s orders. The Beltway gossip mill had always said Shaw was a ruthless man, intent on aggressive demonstrations of power wherever he could find them. He was one of the lead instigators, under Kennedy, for military police in Vietnam.
Slowly, though, Charles reconciled the man he had heard about before with the man who would shortly be collecting half of his newly-formed family and taking them back to the barren wasteland of Virginia.
As he looked at the rest of the group Shaw had purchased, Charles felt his heart sink. Not only was Erik not going to be with him, but there was no way to know that they would be able to communicate. Losing half of himself, Charles huffed. Air hastily left his tired lungs as a gruff voice caught his attention.
“What have we here?” a voice asked, eyes looking over the small group.
“Sir, these are the subversives you purchased.”
“I did know that, Azazel. Now, how soon will the truck to arrive so you can start the journey back to Virginia? I have to fly back to Washington right now to make sure that Johnson’s not going to do something FUBAR with Vietnam.”
“It’ll be here in four hours, Mr. Shaw.”
“Good, now see to it that you tell my new property about how things run at the homestead, and make sure that when you arrive, they are put to work. I think we’ll have something for them to do in a few days.”
“Of course, Mr. Shaw.”
Shaw turned away from Azazel and spoke to Charles and the team. “Welcome to life at the Hellfire Ranch. Do be careful. Azazel here has been known to get a bit frustrated with those who don’t follow his orders. Is that clear?”
Everyone hummed their acceptance of the statement. Shaw happily clapped. “Excellent. I’ll see you all again in a few days. Do be sure not to try and run. I’d hate to have a reason for Az to kill you before you see the ocean again.”
Charles watched Moira shudder at the thought, knowing that everyone else was thinking the same thing as well.
The hours until the truck arrived passed slowly, Charles’ nerves growing more and more frayed as the minutes ticked by.
Briefly, his thoughts lifted, one last conversation with Erik to settle him. Promises to find a way to keep in touch, hopelessly romantic, were the last words he had shared with Erik.
“Shaw’s group, your transport’s arrived. Get out!” a guard yelled into the barracks.
They all slowly left the barracks, Charles holding onto the image of Erik one last time, sure that they would be apart too long. He lingered as long as was allowed, before the guard pushed him out of the room.
He had not done nearly enough to show Erik how much affection there was on his end. The fleeting touches and one kiss were not adequate representations of how much Charles thought of Erik, how much he yearned to take their hands and fuse them together.
As the drive to Virginia passed, Charles felt despair take hold. No hope would find them with a new master like Sebastian Shaw. There was only so long Erik’s warm smile could provide any measure of comfort.
Erik, through some providence, had managed to be sold along with Angel, Alex, Darwin, and Emma.
They stood together, awaiting someone from William Stryker’s camp to arrive. Erik knew very little of Stryker except what he had heard from Charles in brief missives. Stryker, as the head of the CIA, was normally not one to think kindly on foreign spies or covert operations. It shocked Erik, then, that Stryker had chosen to buy the two foreign counterparts to one department of the CIA along with two Negros and a queer. None of it made sense, but he supposed that was the point.
Time passed, and instead of seeing a man in a dark charcoal suit, a man who looked as though he should have been a lumberjack, Tartan plaid shirt to match, strode up before lighting a cigar from behind his ear.
“You Stryker’s?” he asked the group.
Erik nodded for everyone, knowing that Emma would never speak to a strange man who looked so unkempt and unruly.
“Good. Name’s Logan, and I’ll be takin’ ya to Colorado to Stryker’s mountain resort. You’ll be working under me. Understood?”
The group nodded, waiting for more instructions.
“Truck’s over there. We’ll start driving as soon as you get your stuff. Should be a day’s drive.”
“Will Stryker be joining us?” Erik asked, curious about why the man who had just purchased them all had not come over himself. Erik noted how many men in suits surrounded similar groups, and just how different it was to not be the same.
“Not now. He’s needed back in DC. He’ll be back ‘round Christmas. But don’t worry, I got plenty for you to do at the house.”
Processing the information, Erik nodded, then waited for another signal they should leave.
“‘Get movin’! We don’t want to hit traffic leavin’ ‘ere.”
Erik started to walk back towards the barracks, figuring that everyone would follow behind.
In the barracks, everyone else was packing up. Charles worked hard to get his few clothes into the duffel bag.
“We’re going to Virginia; sold to Sebastian Shaw,” Charles said.
“Off to Colorado. Stryker got us.”
Charles shuddered at the name. “Be careful. Stryker isn’t a kind man.”
“He’s not the first I’ve met, you know that. If I survived that, I can survive him. Plus, he won’t be back for a few months. His man, Logan, will be running the show until then.”
“Regardless, good luck.”
“Same to you.”
Erik turned to pack the same meager belongings he had as Charles stood and stared.
“Something on your mind? Erik asked.
“Just, be safe. I’ll be thinking of you.”
Erik grunted, hoping it would serve as an affirmation.
“I don’t want that one night to spoil what we had,” Charles said, almost a whisper.
Erik turned around before standing closer to Charles. “It won’t; it’ll keep me going, I’m sure.”
Charles’ cheeks flushed, Erik was sure he knew more of what Charles meant then.
“I’ll try to write. Not sure how, but I’ll think of a way.”
Erik smiled briefly, before he turned back around and set to finish packing.
A guard’s yell told him that Charles would leave soon. He packed more quickly without Charles’ flush on his mind.
That image of Charles, flushed with embarrassment and something else, burned into Erik’s mind.
Along the drive from Texas to Colorado, Erik reprimanded himself for finding joy in Charles’ last look. He had meant to stop his fancy, burn it out of his heart even as his mind had reasoned a way to give in.
But blue eyes and faint pink across a set of cheeks would not leave him. Imaged burned into his retinas. Erik wanted so much to hold onto any other image, but time and time again, he always caught Charles’ face as he drifted to sleep. No longer could he deny what he desired.
“Some of the violence has died down in the wake of the auction of highly compromised citizens, according to the White House.
“The Press Secretary announced that only five demonstrations were quelled this week, following fifteen the week before. The new group of protesters, mostly students, have been stopped just as soon as the schools’ learn of the sit-ins.
“Dr. Martin Luther King has spoken in support of some of the protests, though he still maintains that no one should be injured as injustices are being carried out. His focus, no doubt, has been on minimizing the protests from his organization and the Black Panthers. Though the groups have quieted significantly since the camps opened up, they still organize the occasional march in hopes of gaining peace and civil rights.
“No word on how many other people would join Dr. King in his support of more protests. Most other leaders of organizations of his kind have remained silent.
“This is Walter Cronkite, and this is The CBS Evening News.”
November 22, 1965
I hope that this letter is able to reach you. I had to have Azazel promise to address it to Logan and Raven agreed to write the outside address in case Stryker reads the mail. Azazel was reluctant at first, but I don’t think he’s much for the idea of slavery as it is. He’s been kinder to us all than Shaw would be alone in these last seventeen months.
So much has happened since we left Waco, as I’m sure you can guess. There have been ups and downs, but I think that there’s something we’re all willing to accept at this point. Given any number of circumstances.
Shaw put on a big show, that first day, making Az out to be a slavedriver like you’d read about in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but truly the man’s just a puppy. I’m still much more worried about Shaw, but he spends most of his days trying to find new ways to sell war in Vietnam while Johnson’s still focused on those like us here. He’s only around on weekends and he stays locked in his office most of those times, ignoring us.
It has been too long since we last saw each other, and I don’t see an end to this treatment anytime soon. The news from Az, via Shaw, is that Johnson wants to not only expand the number of camps, but also the number of people who are sold off of them at a later date. More to show the resilience of the American spirit and to dehumanize everyone else. The hostility about Vietnam is starting to make for even more bad press. It seems that there’s more student protests, not just for our sakes, but for those men who are off fighting halfway around the world.
I’m scared. Not just for you, Angel, Darwin, Emma and Alex, but for everyone. Johnson’s policies are increasingly totalitarian, but I don’t see anyone trying to suggest any alternative. They’re all so scared. The students, well, they don’t know any better, and I’m sure as more of them act out, more will be shipped off to Waco. They’ll understand more than they care to, then. We all did, I’m afraid.
How can the country go back to what it was if the majority hides? Who can speak for those who are unable?
I know these questions are ones you long ago asked, but I think they need to be asked again.
Send word, when you can, and let me know how you are all doing. Everyone else is fine, though worn out by work on Shaw’s ranch. It looks like some dystopian plantation, I suppose. There really isn’t work for all five of us, but we seem to make do. Moira and Raven are in the kitchen most of the time, and Hank and Sean are busy working on the cars. Az still hasn’t found something good for me to do in all these months, so mostly I’m kept back in our quarters where I try to think through the news that we receive. It’s lonely to not have your counsel as I read the papers that Az sneaks to me, but I know that someday soon, we’ll be back and discussing current events again.
Be strong and maybe we’ll think of a way to stop it all. We’ll find a way to right what we couldn’t fix three years ago.
Logan, in the last eighteen months, had been relatively easy to get along with. Erik found the work not unlike what he’d been doing at Waco--arms and legs sore from use at the end of a day--but it was made better as Darwin and Alex would always find something to talk about to pass the time.
Their second December loomed on the horizon, work slowing down as the snow fell more and more, covering the wood and ground in a thick layer of white. With no work to do outside, Logan had forced them into the house, working on simple housework--cabinets that needed retooling, crooked beds that needed looking at.
Stryker was due home in a few days, Logan making sure that the house was ready for its owner and his family for the holiday.
Erik had been good at working under Logan, giving him most of what he wanted when he suggested the work. But Stryker, whenever he was home, grated on Erik more than he could explain. Stryker was no different than any SS officer or leader at Auschwitz, but as soon as he arrived back in Colorado, he was a different man. No longer just the faceless man who Logan took orders from, but a man who took pleasure and delight in watching his chattel suffer.
He had belittle the food that Emma and Angel worked on for dinner each night, never content to let their work be good enough.
Erik wanted nothing more than to slap Stryker in the face, shutting down the man’s hubris. No man should be able to say he was better than another.
Stryker’s movements, whenever Erik was present, made Erik stand straighter, act more compliant. Internally, though, Erik tried to think how best he could still escape, how best he could show Stryker that he was not a slave. Stryker had no power, not without Erik’s consent.
One night, as Erik served dinner to the family, Stryker seemed more on edge than normal. He barked at his son, a kind young man with quiet eyes and a disposition to match. Erik, musing at the tableau, thought Charles would find studying the personal dynamics of such a public figure fascinating. Though, as William tried not to dirty the table and finish his meal, Stryker’s attention finally snapped.
“William, will you stop that? Just eat your damn food and leave. You’re loud. Children should be seen and not heard, remember.”
William shuddered under his father’s orders, quickly taking his napkin and placing it on the table. “Good night, Father. Good night, Mother,” he said quietly, before walking out of the room.
“Get that plate out of here,” Stryker stated, getting up quickly to find a tumbler and the scotch.
Erik grabbed the plate, all but ran into the kitchen and returned to make sure that everything else went as it should.
Tension, however, knotted in Erik’s stomach. No father should yell at a child for something so small, something so minor.
“Sir,” Erik said after Stryker had time to drink one thumb of scotch, “you shouldn’t do that to him. He’s just a boy. He hasn’t been told any different.”
“Excuse me?” Stryker asked. “What did you say?”
“That you shouldn’t have been so harsh with William. He’s still young; he’ll learn yet.”
“Were you just offering me parenting advice, Lehnsherr?”
“Suppose so, sir.”
Erik saw Stryker coming before he could do anything else. A swift backhand landed against Erik’s cheek, nearly knocking him to the floor from the force.
Stryker hovered over him after, looming, puffing his chest. “Get the fuck up, you piece of shit!”
It took Erik a moment for his feet to follow the directive, even longer with how Stryker was standing over him, but he slowly rose to his feet before Stryker punched him in the stomach and forced them both towards the kitchen and back patio.
Stryker continued to push Erik down, knocking him over time and time again, kicking his feet to keep Erik moving. As soon as Erik’s knees hit the patio, Stryker continued to land punches against Erik’s chest and back.
In Mossad, training told him to let another man tire himself out before trying to start an offensive. However, Stryker showed no signs of stopping, his punches sure and strong. Erik took all that was forced upon him, still holding strong to training and days when this would have been one way to try and extract intelligence.
Now, though, Stryker had no purpose. No goal, save pain and humiliation.
“You motherfucker! You’re fuckin’ scum, you know that. Damn Commie Jew shit. You have no right to still live, that’s what I think.”
Erik remained silent, knowing better than to egg on an aggressor. Kicks came faster then, less sure, but no less effective. In a moment, they stopped. Calm washing over the patio, Erik’s nerves on edge anticipating the next step.
A belt buckle came lose before Erik thought through what was about to happen. The zipper sliding down sounded like machine gun fire in Erik’s ears, before Stryker’s hand brought Erik up then slammed him down on the table.
Erik bore everything Stryker gave, waiting through the pain.
It stopped, just like that. Footfalls led back into the house before Erik rose to his feet. Training took over, listening as the walking stopped in front of WIlliam’s room.
Erik waited to hear anything else, hoping against hope that the door would remain closed.
With a slow creep, it opened.
Erik turned to leave the porch, bile rising in his stomach.
to the old
poem written on a wall at a home of a high-ranking government official, author unknown. December 27, 1965
Charles’ letter hadn’t been completely honest, but he also knew that detailing everything that had happened since their barracks had been separated would have found Erik’s rage, and it still wasn’t time for them to escape, not without serious consequences and ramifications that hadn’t been discussed back in Waco.
Shaw was, as Charles had written, mostly absent from the daily life at the ranch, but when he was home, he was not a kind man, nor a kind owner. He belittled the food Moira and Raven were forced into cooking for him day in and day out. Sean and Hank had been doing most of the other work around the homestead; thankfully there wasn’t much work for for three men in Virginia. Azazel had determined, after the first few days, that Charles was ill-suited for most of the work that could be done outside. Harsh August sun turned Charles as bright as a lobster.
Thus, Charles was kept around the house, mostly to his quarters, but sometimes he was put in charge of keeping the house in order; his attention to detail useful before Shaw expected guests.
Mostly, Charles was content with the small tasks, but knew that the idleness irritated Shaw more than anything. On nights when Shaw had drank too much, Charles would hear him yell at Azazel.
“He’s worthless to me, Azazel. If he’s not outside, he’s fuckin’ worthless,” Shaw slurred, the statement still heard outside the house to the small room that was their home.
Azazel’s reply was inaudible, but moments later Shaw voice rose again.
“Get him in here, right now. I don’t care what the hell time it is!” Shaw shouted.
The door from the main house slammed a minute later, and soon, Charles heard footsteps coming up towards the door.
Frozen in place, Charles tried to even out his breathing, knowing that Az would be at his small bed soon enough.
The thin blanket that was given to him for the winter was ripped away from Charles. Azazel’s eyes were beady, wide and insistent in the low light. The man whispered, “Get up, Xavier. Shaw wants you.”
As quietly as possible, Charles left the room, trying to put his shoes on as he arrived at the door.
“Don’t worry about that, just come on,” Azazel said, voice still low, filled with fear and nerves.
The cool December ground chilled Charles’ feet, made him sprint towards the main house, out of the air that made his bones ache.
“Go up, you know his room.” Charles nodded before Azazel added, “Be careful, Charles.”
Charles gulped as much air as he could, trying to use the breath to warm his body before he approached Shaw’s room.
He knocked, unsure if Shaw had wanted the warning of Charles’ arrival.
“Oh you, get your ass in here,” was Shaw’s reply, before Charles entered the master bedroom.
The bed was bathed in a dull orange light from one lamp, the room otherwise dark and foreboding.
Shaw patted for Charles to sit next to him on the bed, though Charles watched as Shaw’s shoulders remained squared, ready for battle.
“Are you doing well here, Charles?” Shaw asked after Charles sat down.
“As well as can be expected, I suppose, sir.”
“Good. I’ve heard from Azazel that you don’t have much work to do. Is that correct?” Shaw’s voice was dripping with saccharine.
“I suppose not compared to everyone else. Though it doesn’t seem as though there’s really enough work for all five of us.”
“I’m sure I can fix that, now, Charles.” Charles shuddered under the wink that Shaw gave him, nerves making his heart pound faster in his chest.
Shaw’s hand moved from the bedspread to Charles’ thigh, before Charles wanted nothing more than to blackout from the touch.
It was not what Charles wanted at all. Not from a man who clearly thought so little of him that Shaw paid money to control Charles’ every movement.
Charles would have preferred Erik’s hand to be resting against his leg, grey eyes casting their stare at him. Instead, Shaw looked him up and down as though he were a prized pig waiting to be stuffed and roasted.
Charles tried to retreat off the bed as Shaw’s hand crept up his leg; he wanted nothing more than to get away. Shaw’s grip tightened. “You’re not going anywhere, Charles. You’re mine, and I’m going to get what I paid for.”
The room went dark, Charles’ senses dulled and gone as Shaw’s hand cupped his cock through his pants.
Sore and bruised were nothing new to Erik, but as he started back towards the small room off the main house, Erik wished that he could have done more against Stryker. Put up some fight instead of just taking blow after blow like he was weak. He had been trained to be stronger, to know how to work against men like Stryker, but all that had been in Erik’s mind as he turned in on himself was to keep William safe.
A failure, he thought, that’s what he was now. Unable to help even a small boy.
He shook himself from the train of thought, knowing that he needed some rest tonight before he was up at 7 AM to chop more wood. Logan would not be easy on him, he was sure of that.
Even if Stryker’s associate did have a soft side that meant they all didn’t work nearly as hard as Stryker assumed they did, it was not as though Logan had done anything better than the officers in Waco. Implicit in so many scandals at this point, Logan’s hands were covered in red whether he liked it or not. But Logan was reasonable; he was more concerned with keeping Alex and Darwin active most days, but not overworking them. The same was true for Erik, he realized, before he padded into the small room and collapsed against his bed.
“Tomorrow,” Erik muttered as pained sleep overtook him.
When he was pushed awake the next morning, Alex’s eyes met his briefly before he could process everything.
“Don’t worry about it, Summers,” Erik said, gingerly getting off his mattress and walking toward the small shower.
“If you say so, man.”
“I do. Now leave me the hell alone so I can shower in peace. Tell Logan I’ll be out in ten.”
“Gotcha,” Alex replied.
The door slammed in the outside room before Erik settled into the quick shower, the water never warm enough to relieve some of the dull ache his work created.
Swift movements with the little soap they were allowed needed to last Erik the day. It was too cold for another shower after dinner, the hot water gone from preparing the meal. But it did not matter all that much, sparing everyone the stench of body odor Erik’s only concern. His towel, after stepping out of the lukewarm water, felt anything but comfortable, though it was a small favor that Stryker allowed them this at all.
He hurried to put on a pair of jeans, one of the few turtlenecks that Stryker had purchased for him, and his peacoat before heading out into the December chill. His boots were last, as always before he could step onto the path between them and the work. Drifts of snow came up to his waist, a storm having come in after he finally went to sleep.
“Sorry, Logan. Rough night,” Erik said as he jogged over.
“Summers told me. Here’s your axe. Get to work,” Logan said.
“Of course.” Erik took the axe before he started to walk over towards Alex and Darwin. “Actually, Logan, can I ask you something?”
“Make it quick; Stryker’s in a mood after whatever you did last night.”
“You know your way ‘round here, right?”
“Of fuckin’ course I do. Why?”
Erik leaned in closer, not wanting to have anyone else hear; he and Charles had kept this from everyone else and after last night, it was time to start thinking of how to move forward. “Do you think you’d help us get out of here?”
“What the fuck do you mean ‘get out’?”
“Escape, leave Colorado.”
“Are you out of your damn mind, Lehnsherr? Stryker’ll have the FBI on you faster than you can run towards Wyoming.”
“I just know we can’t stay here, Logan. Not with the temper on Stryker. Imagine what’ll happen if he goes after Emma one night. Or William?”
Logan squared his shoulders which Erik took as a sign of unease.
“Not now, Lehnsherr. Wait until Stryker’s back in DC. Then, we’ll talk.”
Erik nodded his head and ran off to join Alex and Darwin at the treeline.
Maybe he’d find them a way out. Too bad it took one nasty beating to make the point known.
“Violence continues to surround the Detention Centers peppered around the country. More and more citizens have turned against the police, sheriffs and other those who hold authority. The first sale of detainees was met with tempered rage that escalated after the trucks left Waco.
“President Johnson and the White House have made no statements responding to the protests, but demonstrations against the government have increased significantly in the last two weeks.
“Hopes that the auctions would limit the protests have been thrown away. Now, the President only hopes to contain the violence to small cells. Trucks leaving Waco are now being escorted by National Guardsmen looking to keep the cargo safe as they move to their new locations.
“This is Walter Cronkite, and this is The CBS Evening News.”
As December turned into January, Charles wished, or more accurately hoped, that Shaw would find something else to occupy his time without it resulting in taking Charles after dinner.
Shaw’s defence contracts did not require him to be in DC as much; the administration was happy with the work that they had done before and the work in Vietnam yet to be tested. Shaw was not needed in the office, and he had no other passing interests in being in Washington; he had said as much to Charles one night as he wound his hand around Charles’ neck and pulled the smaller man closer to him.
“You don’t like this, Charles?” Shaw would ask each and every time he summoned Charles. Dutifully, Charles would always answer, “Of course, Sebastian,” before trying to imagine anything other than the man he was with.
Erik’s face, more often than not, came into focus as Shaw’s hands undid Charles’ belt and pants. Charles could not quite discern why Erik’s face came into focus, as they had only shared that one brief kiss before they were separated.
Sebastian’s hands were rough--never gentle--pulling down Charles’ briefs before palming Charles’ cock. Charles couldn’t quite imagine that Shaw did this regularly, his movements always harsh, but Charles kept the thought to himself, unsure of what else Shaw was capable of doing.
What he did on these nights was enough to make Charles vomit as soon as he returned to the smaller home for them. There was no pleasure in how Shaw took Charles, no sensual movements. Charles felt punished with each hard thrust that Shaw took, each hard palm against Charles’ hips. Charles whimpered as Shaw ground down into him every night, but Shaw never changed his pattern.
“This is what you get, you damn Commie,” Shaw said. “This is your penance; this is the price you pay for compromising your country’s beliefs.”
Charles bit back a reply, holding his tongue as Shaw worked harder and harder.
Every morning, Azazel would give Charles the longest time to wake up, the rest of the house remembering how much Charles disliked being woken in Waco.
“What Shaw does, you don’t like it?”
“Of course not, Azazel. I’m not given a choice if I want to.”
“But you don’t fight back?”
“And risk being beaten? I’m not foolish enough.”
Azazel nodded, trying to understand.
“It won’t help if I beg him, Azazel. He’ll just take it as a sign to continue. But...” Charles trailed off.
“If you convince Shaw to go back to the DC and stay there, that would help. If you’d do anything to help us.”
“Shaw’s good to me.”
“Because he pays you, Azazel. We’re nothing to him but chattel, and we’ll never be anything but that. You’ve seen the way he leers at Moira and Raven. Dismissing Hank and Sean as well as me as inferior men. Just because we’re different--just because we have different ideals.”
“It would help you if he weren’t here?”
“Yes, it would. I’d like to discuss something else with you once he does leave though.”
Azazel nodded before leaving the room, allowing Charles time for his shower.
It was not much to improve Charles’ mood or fatigue, but it might start to help.
Erik noticed the change in Emma first. She would eye him more cautiously, clearly more aware of his movements than anyone else in their group.
She would linger after she was ready for each day, quick to put on her simple skirt and blouse before going into the kitchen to start on breakfast for Mrs. Stryker and her son.
“You know, I’m here, if you need me,” she said, looking at his hunched shoulders and his furrowed brow.
“You always are. But it’s nothing I can’t handle.”
“There’s been enough bravado from you for years now. Let someone take care of you. For once.”
“No one’s taken care of me since I was twelve. I’m fine.”
“Whatever you say. Just know, we all know what’s gone on.”
Erik shuddered at the thought of Angel, Alex, Darwin and Emma knowing what Stryker had done that one night, let alone five other nights during his two week stay in December.
The bruises had long faded, but Erik still walked more slowly, less driven, as the cold winter bit down around them.
He had always been stronger than the pain. The pain was only a manifestation of what was done to him. Stryker’s hand and belt were nothing compared to the sheer pain of starvation combined with manual labor from Auschwitz. It was easy to overcome a physical torment than when he was younger. Hardened by Mossad and then the Soviets themselves, Erik knew it wasn’t difficult.
It only required that he not let anyone see the pain--the cracks in his facade as the days wore one. Setting his mouth into his typical thin line became easier, despite the knotted bruises being tender to the touch. He was always stronger than the pain. Never had a problem.
Emma’s words as he waited for her to leave--for him to quickly pull off his pyjama top and replace it with an undershirt and turtleneck--they hung in the air, wafting like a breeze.
He could not escape them. Try as he wanted to.
The pain was almost too much for him. But, if Charles had been there, it would have been pain easily borne. Pain he would have taken, knowing that Charles was not suffering.
Not having had another letter, though, from Charles, that made the pain all the more real. All the more impossible to forget.
Erik longed for Charles’ hand, his presence, his calm.
Instead, Erik found only more rage, more anger at Stryker, at Johnson, at the world. Rage that threatened to overtake his body.
Rage beat in his chest. Setting himself for the day, Erik took the rage and left.
HIs rage fueled his work. Made him stronger.
It only broke him when he returned after a long day, fresh bruises forming against his torso, back and legs.
Emma would hear about it. Eventually. There was only so much more Erik could take. At least without Charles by his side.
The revelation shocked him, before he left the idea of Charles’ hand against his settle the nerves. Settle his mind.
A single tear fell as Erik remembered Charles before they left. One last glimpse at the man who kept him sane.
Too bad Charles had no idea.
Charles hated waking up. It was o’t particularly new for him, he had always liked to lounge in his bed before starting the day, but now, he wanted nothing more than to stay in his small bed, hiding from the rest of the world.
It had been grim the last few months. Shaw had not stopped, even when he was forced back into Washington for more meetings. If anything, he had been more keen to punish Charles. To find a way to humiliate the man who had worked so hard for peace.
Peace was the last thing that Charles found these days. Sore, emotionally beaten, despondent were more to his tastes these days.
His roommates gave him a wide berth, each slow to figure out the position that Charles now found himself in. Raven cautiously woke him each day, looking down at his swollen eyes, finding small bruises against his collarbone.
“It’ll be over soon,” she whispered, looking to provide some small measure of comfort. “There’s been more talk of protests. There’s rebellion in the wind.”
Charles only swatted at her, wishing nothing more than to be left alone to his misery.
Her footfalls finally told him that she had left the room, leaving him to wallow, much as he could before Azazel would arrive and force him out of bed. For all his faults, though, Charles knew that Azazel was a good man, stuck in an impossible position as both employee to Shaw and overseer to Charles and his friends now. Azazel would allow them leeway when Shaw was gone, let them try and relax without their owner’s constant eye. Work would still completed, if more slowly, Azazel coming up with a reason for why more was not done.
It gave Charles a small measure of hope that they might not be stuck like this forever, though it grew smaller and smaller each day without much news. Shaw had taken to burning the newspapers before Azazel could get them to Charles, and the overseer wasn’t able to offer much verbally when Shaw was present.
But it did not matter to Charles as much as he longed to hear from Erik. Just a simple word that his friend was safe, unharmed.
As Charles thought of Erik, there was a knock at the door. “Come in,” Charles said weakly, still not ready to face anyone else this morning after Shaw’s punishment the night before.
“This came yesterday, but I didn’t have a chance to give it to you until now,” Azazel said as he walked into the room and towards Charles’ bed.
Azazel’s hand held an unopened letter, and before Charles could stop himself, he pushed himself upright and grabbed at the envelope in the other man’s hands.
“I’ll give you thirty minutes to read the letter. Shaw’s gone to Washington for the day, but he’ll be back at dinner.”
“Thank you,” Charles managed to choke out, before turning the envelop to see the neat penmanship of Emma’s hand.
January 24, 1966
Happy New Year? I’m not sure such a phrase can be used anymore, but it’s a greeting as much as anything.
Thank you for the last letter, though I’m sad that it took us so long to communicate. I hope that that is not an indication of the type of owner Shaw is, though from our discussions, I have no doubt that it is.
Much as I’d like to say that things here have been easy, they have not. Stryker’s a horrible man, proud to a fault and unwilling to tolerate insubordination. Not one to shy away from a fight, I’ve found myself at odds with him (this should not shock you at all), but it has taken its toll on me.
However, thinking of you safe and unharmed helps me through most of the pain that he gives. It spares his son some level of that pain, though not all of it, I’m afraid.
I wish there was some way to get word to someone, anyone about what he’s capable of, and why he shouldn’t be left in charge of your country’s covert operations. Though I know such a dream is so far removed from any possibility currently.
This time away, however, has made me think of you more often. Think of some small measure of peace. It only helps sometimes, but I know that I had been so unsure then. I’m not as unsure now.
Logan has been a valuable asset recently, though. He sees so much and hates Stryker as much as we all do. I think it’s time we put our plan into motion. Leave these prisons and make sure that those few voices speaking on our behalf are not silenced forever.
Shall we try for March? The weather here might be better by then.
poem written on a wall at the home of a well-known defence contractor, author unknown. January 29, 1966
The holidays having ended, life at Stryker’s ranch returned to whatever approximation of normal there could be for Erik. It was the same work every day now, since Stryker had long since gone back to Washington, leaving him in peace and leaving William to his mother’s care. That alone put Erik at peace, never wanting to see another child hurt by someone who was supposed to care for him.
Logan, after Stryker left, let them ease into work most days. The winter made most work impossible, but they still cut wood for the house and cleaned. But it gave Erik a chance to think back about how he and Charles’ plan was supposed to work.
They just needed a day without the Strykers home to get them all out without notice. Logan too, for that matter. Plausible deniability at its finest. Of course, it was all subterfuge anyway, as Logan had to find them a way to get out of Colorado and into Canada without being detected.
Erik hoped it would be easier now that Logan had at least seen more of what Stryker had done to him over those six weeks and Erik’s less than subtle conversations about how the entire process of selling humans to one another was anathema to the entire American spirit. Logan knew fear as well as Erik had, just not quite in the same form. Years of being haunted by work from World War II left Logan hollow, broken, but not unsympathetic.
With a few days of observation, Erik finally told everyone in the bunk his plan, huddled together after the Strykers had turned in for the night.
“Well, it’s not so much mine, as Charles’ and mine, but it’s solid, and well, it needs to happen,” he said, as everyone stared at him.
“You and Charles had a plan for us to all escape, and you’re just bringing it up now? It’s been nearly twenty months, Erik,” Emma said, trying not to let the anger in her take over her voice.
“It couldn’t be right after we arrived, Emma. There needed to be time for people to react. Grow unsatisfied.”
“They looked pretty damn unhappy when we left, Erik,” Darwin cut in.
“If we’d left so soon, it wouldn’t have meant as much. That we’ve suffered for this long, that we’ve been here for so long will help the cause when we leave.”
“How can we be so sure?” Angel asked.
“How outraged were most Americans after hearing about the Holocaust, Angel?” was all Erik said in reply.
She nodded. Alex did the same, though he’d been quiet on the subject overall.
“Where are we going then?” Alex asked.
“Canada. Outside of America, just enough that no one will be able to find us without serious work.”
“So we’re leaving one frozen wasteland for another?” Emma queried, clearly unhappy with the location.
“It’s all we can do without having to go back through Texas, Emma.”
She remained silent after that, letting Erik go back to the details.
As he finished, they all agreed with the plan, trying their best not to be too hopeful of Logan’s cooperation. Erik knew slightly more than they did, but still had to plan that approach carefully.
After days spent trying to work up the courage and the perfect guise, Erik finally broached the subject with Logan, taking him aside one morning after Alex, Darwin and he had started cutting wood.
“Logan, I’m going to need a favor,” Erik said quietly, though the other men knew the plan.
“What sort of favor, bub?”
“We need to get out of here. Leave the ranch. Can you get us out?”
“Are you out of your damn mind, Lehnsherr?”
“Possibly, but I know you hate what Stryker’s done to us as much as I do. Strike a match and light a fire under the complacent citizens who are horrified with what’s happened to us. Erik gave Logan a pointed look, adding, “You fought and freed victims of the Holocaust, I know it. What’s different about this?”
“My ass, for one. Stryker trusts me.”
“But that doesn’t mean what he’s doing is right.”
Logan’s eyes fell to the ground before he grabbed at the cigar at his ear. Pulling it out, he grabbed his matches, lit it and started to puff into Erik’s face.
“Assume you got a plan to get out?” Logan asked.
“Yes. Just need you to get the Strykers away from the house for a day, with you, and leave the gate open. If you know someone who can get us across the border, that’s even better.”
“Gimme three days and I’ll see what we can do. But Lehnsherr, if you make it. I don’t know nothing about you.”
“I’d expect nothing less.” Erik walked away from Logan, finally heading towards the trees.
Erik started to smile for the first time in nearly two years. Maybe there was a way to be happy. If not happy, at least free.
Charles felt alive after the letter from Erik. It was not just the clean lines of Erik’s script, but the promise of getting out and being together again that made the days at Shaw’s so much worse.
Shaw, thankfully, had been busy enough with finding new ways to keep the escalation in Vietnam going that he hadn’t been able to return to Hellfire in weeks. Grateful not to have to bear Shaw’s torment, Charles did his best to remember the plan he and Erik had devised.
Careful to make his case to Hank, Moira, Raven and Sean, Charles explained how it would work, in a perfect universe and with Azazel being capable of morality.
“Good luck with that, Charles,” Raven scoffed, clearly disbelieving Azazel capable of any feeling.
“You’ll never know, Raven, until I ask,” Charles replied, trying to smooth out her rough edges.
“He’s certainly left you out to dry,” Moira returned, her anger showing.
“Unless you want him to join me, Moira, he’s done all he can,” Charles threw back.
The room settled into a silence that held too much tension. Charles waited, looking at his friends, testing their reactions.
“It’s not a perfect plan. But we’ve been silent and scared too long here. If we don’t leave soon, we never will.”
Hank started to nod his head in agreement before he spoke. “We have been here too long; there has to have been some reaction to what’s gone on. But we can’t stop it from here.”
“Thank you, Hank,” Charles replied.
“If that’s what you think is best, I’m up for anything. Just get me out of this house,” Sean said.
The conversation died down as soon as everyone had come to a tacit agreement.
Later that day after Shaw had left for a business dinner, Charles approached Azazel.
“Azazel, you know I can’t handle this anymore. We need to get out of here.”
The overseer nodded, though he looked shocked at the idea itself. “What do you need me to do? I can’t make any promises.”
“Is it possible to keep Shaw away from here for a few days? Some sort of reason to close the house? We can get out that way. I think.”
“Haven’t you noticed a bug problem, Charles?”
“Why yes, yes, I have.”
He would worry about the rest of the plan after. But they had a start.
“Today The FBI detailed the escape of two groups of slaves from their homes to the public. This is the first known escape of any slaves since the practice was brought back by President Johnson eighteen months ago.
“They were first detailed in Waco for eighteen months before being sold to two high ranking government officials. The group was released from the Waco Detention Center when it was deemed too full and riots erupted across the country at violations of basic human rights.
“Police and National Guardsmen are on the lookout for the escapees. If you know of anything about them, especially those in Virginia and Colorado, you are asked to contact the local police or the FBI.
“This is Walter Cronkite, and this is The CBS Evening News.”
It had not been easy to get out of Stryker’s ranch with a plan that only allowed Logan the smallest of details. But they had managed. There was a route up into Toronto, and Logan had enough sense that he could call Azazel to pass along the information.
At this point, it was just waiting. A small motel on the outskirts of town suited them just fine, the innkeeper content to let them in without asking too many questions. But it had been two days since they had left New York. Erik’s nerves were starting to fray.
More days in the back of another truck did not feel the same without Charles at his side. Nothing had really felt the same since that day nearly two years ago when they were forced apart, if he was honest.
But it was not that simple. No matter how hard he wanted Charles in some abstract way, it felt as if he were cheating himself. Pink Triangles. The lingering looks of women who he dismissed. They all flew back at him as he waited in a room with Emma at his side.
“You’ll be fine,” she said. He had been bouncing his feet for the last fifteen minutes, nerves having taken over since they last heard from Charles.
“We haven’t heard from them in three days. They should have made it over by now.”
“Give them time. They’ll make it.”
Erik got off the bed, pacing through the small room.
“Relax,” Emma said again.
“I’ll relax when they’re here and we can plan the next move. The papers already know we’ve escaped. Now we just need to figure out how to tell everyone that we won’t be silenced again.”
“This isn’t helping you. Go lie down while I go into the other room. You need to avoid distraction.”
“You know how I get about situations like this.”
“Yes, I do. That’s why I’m leaving. Close your eyes. Stop thinking of Charles. They’ll arrive when they arrive.”
He heard the door close before he went back to one of the beds. Flopping against it, he closed his eyes, trying to clear his mind.
Charles’ hair, bright eyes and warm smile filled Erik’s subconscious. He tried to carefully push aside the image, but it resisted, came back stronger, more vivid each time.
A knock on the door jolted Erik from his respite. Erik walked to the door before looking into the peephole.
Brown, floppy hair and bright eyes greeted him from the other side.
Opening the door quickly, Erik let the cold March air into the room as he moved out of the way to let Charles in.
“Emma said you’ve been a nervous wreck all day. I thought I’d stop by to help,” Charles said shyly.
“Thank you,” Erik replied. Erik felt Charles’ hand across his own before he had a chance to think.
“Charles,” Erik stated, trying to ease his hand away from Charles’.
“Your letter. You sounded like you wanted to try,” Charles said.
“Can we wait a few days? I’d rather talk about our next move with this news than,” he paused, “whatever’s between us.”
Charles nodded, then walked to the bed.
“I’ll listen to your plan for now. We’ll discuss the other part later.”
Cautiously, Erik joined Charles on the bed.
Charles sat, impatiently, as Erik explained how best their group, collectively, could put an end to what Johnson and the US had done with Waco and the auctions.
Erik’s energy, Charles noticed, seemed to have returned from before they were shipped from Washington to Texas. His arms waved as he started to raise his voice at the horrible conditions that they had suffered under, not just at Waco, but with Stryker and Shaw, too.
Charles grinned--just small enough to let his amusement show, but not large enough to suggest that he thought any of what Erik said was silly--the first sign he’d had in months of happiness.
“Erik, can you slow down? We’ve only just escaped what was basically prison, and we’re wanted by the FBI. I don’t think now is the time for grand statements. At least not without a plan on how to proceed from here.”
“You’re missing the point. We make the grand statement and plan after. We can’t foresee how Johnson will react until we make a move.”
“There’s logic there, but think about it from the other side. If we made a public declaration in anything other than a newspaper, we risk the FBI coming here and taking us back. Let’s start smaller.” Charles put his hand on Erik’s knee, trying to give off as much reassurance as possible, given how wound up Erik had been.
Erik slowly nodded at Charles’ point. “You’re right.”
“Thank you. It’s nice to hear you say that again,” Charles added.
“I was serious about waiting, Charles,” Erik said.
Charles nodded this time. “I know, Erik. I just don’t think we need to.”
“This isn’t easy for me, Charles. I watched plenty of men die for this. For what I want from you.”
“It won’t be like that. Despite what Johnson did before. We can change that. We can do that while we work against the injustices that Johnson’s perpetrated. Both at the same time, if you’ll let us,” Charles added, bringing their hands together. “Trust me, Erik,” Charles said.
Erik nodded briefly, bringing his eyes to focus on Charles. Charles moved closer still, keeping their hands together before he pressed his lips against Erik’s.
Unlike before, Erik’s mouth opened as soon as Charles pressed their lips together. Charles took that as all the approval he needed from Erik, bringing one hand to Erik’s neck, wrapping them together.
It was not how he had imagined it would be, Charles knew, but it didn’t matter.
Together, they would take on Johnson, piece by piece. Hands together as one.
Charles Xavier, escaped slave and former prisoner Waco Detention center. June 14, 1966, published in The New York TImes.
“Today, a jury in Colorado convicted Geraldine Stryker in the murder of her husband, former CIA Assistant Director William Stryker. She’ll be sentenced later this week, but the jury was unconvinced of her claim of self-defence for her and her son, William junior.
“William will remain with the family’s long-standing associate, James ‘Logan’ Howlett, while his mother serves her twenty-five year sentence.
“Mr Howlett made no comment at the verdict, choosing to lead William away from the photographers and reporters.
“In other news, it was reported that the slaves that escaped from Stryker’s estate fourteen months ago have been found. The FBI has said that they will not be returned to Stryker’s estate, but that they will be monitored.
“The same cannot be said for those who escaped from Sebastian Shaw’s compound. If you have any news on their whereabouts, please contact the closest FBI field office.
“This is Walter Cronkite, and this is The CBS Evening News.”
“Bub, where ya all goin’ now?” Logan asked as he slowly let go of William’s shoulder.
“You don’t want to know, Logan. You know that,” Erik said, watching as William slowly walked towards him.
“Be careful, William. Don’t let Mr. Erik yell at you,” Logan said.
“He won’t,” Charles promised, nodding to William, eyes wide and hopeful. “We’ll be fine, Logan. Thank you again for bringing William to us. Emma and Angel already know how to watch him, beyond what Erik’s already made sure we all know.”
“Call when ya can. Just so I know how he’s doin’.”
“Of course. We’ll call when we’re all set up.”