An Ephemeral Composition
May 28, 2003
Disclaimers: No one and nothing is mine.
Summary: Past, present, and future.
Ratings Note: R.
Author's Note: Part of my continuing quest to get these guys laid, dammit. Title from a Florence King quote.
Acknowledgments: To Jenn, for audiencing and telling me what I wanted to write, and to Livia, for audiencing and helpful suggestions.
Feedback: Always. email@example.com
There has always been something waiting behind Charles' eyes.
It was the first thing Erik noticed about the man, all those years ago in the middle of huge and strange and strangely whole city, and it was the first thing he looked for even now.
And it wasn't as though the man was ever particularly duplicitous. Clever, yes. Secretive, at times. But he wasn't the sort of man whose eyes you had to search for any degree of truth.
A wonderful chess player, and the few times they'd found themselves at cards... well.
Erik could recognize in himself the flaws of a lifetime, the need to believe that everyone, everywhere was hiding something. When they played together, Charles could bluff without bluffing at all.
"You beat yourself, Erik."
And what that led to... mm. The years have brought something like nostalgia, or at least a desire for it. It would be disturbing, and even upsetting, if he wasn't so sure of himself and his path. As it was...
It was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon when there was nothing else to be done, or nothing especially urgent, in any event. The information Mystique had provided could wait, for a moment or two. Right now, there were no mutants to be trained, or, in the case of Sabretooth, brought to heel.
The man had not appreciated being called back from whatever godforsaken corner of Saskatchewan he'd wound up in. Erik had already forgotten the names of the nearest "towns," places small enough that mutation was still a myth of the cities.
Doubtless, the women exposed their stranger children at birth.
They'd found Sabretooth in a cabin (much closer to a shack) far beyond anything that could even be called an outskirt.
The snow had been trampled to a muddy slush in a rough circle around the place, and the air had stank with old blood, smoke, and Sabretooth himself. The locals had been more than willing to fill young Pyro's head with stories about the rabid 'bear' that had been terrorizing and denuding their livestock.
About the hunters who had disappeared.
It made him smile, if quietly. He rather thought the whole reason the livestock disappeared in the first place was so Sabretooth could lure hunters to him. Such a predictable boy.
As for Pyro... the boy had done well enough, he supposed. Certainly had been smart enough to listen to what the townspeople had said, and perhaps everything Erik hadn't, and bring his lighter with him.
Of course, the first few tries at lighting it had been stolen by the wind, but... the boy would heal.
If not quite as fast as Sabretooth.
Somewhere in the new compound, Pyro was working on using his power one-handed, or perhaps whining about the need to do the same. It hadn't taken long to get to understand the child. People like him always whined and made as much trouble as they possibly could.
It wouldn't stop him from being useful when he was needed, but they always needed to be assured that they were.
Erik spared a glance for his rumpled sheets. One way or another.
Really, it was something of a surprise that he'd wound up here, with them, even though it hadn't been at the time. People like Pyro needed people to surround them, if only to have foils for their jokes and games and endless ability to get underfoot.
Sabretooth had neither the time nor the patience for that sort of thing, and Mystique had games of her own Erik was quite sure Pyro wouldn't care for. And it wasn't that Erik thought his cause was too abstract to be attractive to thoughtful mutants; it was just that he didn't expect that level of thought from people, from boys like Pyro.
"I want all this training... this power to mean something," he'd said.
Which was nothing but understandable. And yet, hadn't Charles offered meaning?
It was easy to question these things. Erik was accustomed to the old, the scarred, and, yes, the embittered. His best soldiers were the ones who would never fit within the singularly dull mold of humanity, even had they wished to do so.
Xavier's best soldiers would fit in any magazine, an advertisement for safe mutants in the way that it wasn't that long ago when the only African-American people on television were light-skinned, thin-nosed, and long-haired. Or the villains of the moment.
And that was something worth arguing with the man, perhaps... Perhaps at another time.
He wanted to know what Charles thought of it all, of being so media-palatable. Why, the man was even in a wheelchair. Crippled for most of his life, and so very calm-voiced and gentle.
That, at least, was not new.
Erik remembered a time when it would drive him to distraction, Charles and his endless desire to soothe, as though there was any reason in this world to be anything but full of rage. A controlled rage, to be sure, but...
Control used to be a difficult thing, when it came to Charles. Something about those eyes, with nothing behind them but care and... ah, everything he'd never wanted to admit to.
He had lost count of the number of Charles' chairs he'd destroyed, and of the times it would be...
Just the two of them, Charles pressed beneath him, legs awkward and still and mouth parted on a hundred endearments and Erik had hated his bald head. Nothing there to clutch without causing true damage.
He would catch Charles' wrists and push them down, squeeze them and marvel, a little, at the muscle. Charles had never been a delicate man, though he moved like one. And there'd been something there, something about a brother, or perhaps a large and overbearing father?
Charles and his secrets.
Charles and his soft mouth and hard kisses, kisses that made Erik wonder (as always, as ever) how much of that gentleness was a pose. But it would be just like Charles to simply be passionate, as opposed to actually angry.
Erik thought his time in prison was a rather unfair measure of Charles'... feelings. Because Charles had always been cautious, and had always been temperate, but he'd never been unwilling to engage in debate. Religion, politics, the very question of their existence. It didn't matter.
If the two of them were together, argument would occur. It was simply the way they worked, whether or not they actually agreed.
Something in Erik still wanted people like that in his world, some measure of friction to make the rest of the relationship -- lover, friend, lieutenant, or otherwise -- that much sweeter and impossible to deny. And there had been no one like Charles for that friction. ("Kiss me again." "No.")
And yet in prison, in that damnable plastic box, Charles had been all smiles and requests after his well-being. Gifts of books and gifts of companionship, distraction from the crushing lack of the place.
And really, if Erik didn't know Charles, didn't hold him in a higher esteem than he'd ever be willing to say aloud (except, perhaps, at his funeral), it would be rather easy to see all that softness as Charles' subtle little way of gloating.
Here, my friend, is a playing field as level as I can make it. Because, of course, you have nothing left to give, and no capacity to fight. Not anymore.
It would be easy to take the amusement in those lovely wide eyes and make it a joke on himself. The defeated warrior, waiting to die.
And Erik didn't see himself as anything remotely close to that petty, or even that paranoid, but sometimes he thought if he'd been in there for just one moment longer, if he'd had nothing left to look forward to but Sunday afternoons with Charles, weak tea, and a chessboard...
People on the other side of madness had little good to say of the experience, but Erik thought even that would have been preferable.
He would've come to hate Charles, and while that had always been close -- a hint of spice to the sex and finality to the paradoxically never-ending arguments -- it had never truly been an option.
Charles was... Charles.
The young man with eyes so glitteringly intelligent Erik had to give up on looking for work, had to enter a coffee shop far too enclosed and smokeless to be anything but American.
Had to sit down, a compulsion beyond any tricks Charles could do with that fabulously powerful mind.
"Who are you," Erik had said in English still halt and heavily accented.
"A friend, I hope," Charles had answered, and bought him too-sweet coffee and touched his hand when he moved to leave.
Dragged him, dazed and never quite unwilling enough into a world of wealth and leisure and, yes, pleasure.
And oh, he had been young enough to wonder a little at that, to allow himself to be distracted from the anger, from the growing cause for long enough to taste inferior chocolate and superior brandy on Charles' tongue.
"I want to know you," Charles had said, and Erik, thought, perhaps, that this want of Charles was, if not the defining characteristic of their long, long friendship, than at least the most constant.
"Then if I don't understand, you must tell me," and for Erik, there had always been something unspoken there.
Because Charles didn't want to simply understand, he had wanted to understand Erik's arguments and rage enough to find a way in. A way to talk him around to his point of view.
As if talk had ever solved anything of use.
If Charles had his way, the entire mutant 'problem' would be wrapped up neatly in a series of speeches and conferences and carefully -- humanly -- guided politics. In Charles' world, blood need never be shed.
Years ago, he would have -- and probably had -- accused the man of just not wanting to get his hands dirty, but it was hard to remember a time when that was remotely believable. Charles was an intellectual, and something of an aesthete, but never a dilettante.
So many things would have been easier if he had been, not least the question of to which of them today's young and powerful mutants would rally.
No, Charles was something of an impure idealist. Optimistic enough to hope and dream and preach for a better, more tolerant world, to believe in the possibility of one even while he lived wholly in this one.
More than once, Erik had stared at the man from across some richly appointed room and felt the ground try to shift beneath his feet. Surely, between the two of them, so alike in so many ways, so careful and smart and so, yes, in love damn the very concept straight to Hell, they could find a way to stand on common ground?
Erik would step here, and Charles would roll himself there, and the gulf between them would close and the two of them would... what?
Build an army of terribly cheerful killers?
The idea had its attraction, to be sure, but Erik had never entirely...
Trust was something to be earned, and it had been a very, very long time since Erik has known anyone who measured up.
Not even Charles.
And it was nothing to do with the man himself... or perhaps it was everything. All of that sickening optimism, that faith that no amount of the world's brittle ugliness or Erik's own rhetoric could shake.
That courage, underlying everything else, that could be denied or forgotten only at one's peril.
They had worked together on Cerebro, perhaps the greatest thing they would ever create in their lives. Erik had seen it as a chance to find their brothers and gather them, train them, teach them to use their powers against a world which would have none of them.
Charles... had not.
By then, many years had passed between them, many feuds and patchy attempts to make up, find peace, if not common ground. He had been younger then, but not so young as to not have complete and perfect control over his own power. Cerebro could have been built with any number of fail-safes.
Erik had been careful to include none, and had told Charles... nothing.
And now that power had been used against them, and could possibly be used again, but Erik wouldn't do anything differently.
There would come a time when a telepath would see the world for all of itself, and not pause for ideals or optimism. He knew it would not be Charles, could never be Charles. He'd believed -- known that even with Stryker's oh-so-clever little plan in place, with everything arranged to create a world wiped clean of humanity, it could never be Charles to bring it about.
But it had been... a lovely fantasy, and an opportunity too sweet not to take, consequences be damned.
There was room in his life for memory, and even for nostalgia, but when the world handed you the tools to remake it in your own image, you did not halt for sentiment. However deeply seated, however dearly... held.
And that, he thought, was something Charles could understand, back at his school and free of Stryker's toys and surrounded by the living embodiment of this world's future. Charles would be angry, and perhaps even find a way to hate him, but no amount of rage would keep that wonderful mind from
And that... would have to be enough.
Pyro announced his presence with a hand on the back of Erik's neck, warm and moving to soothe away tension he had not been aware he had. He blinked, and stared at the papers in front of him on the desk, plans for defending the compound, information on all the mutants Stryker had listed on his system.
There was a young scientist in the Midwest with an uncontrollable mutation and an intellect too high to be measured by normal means.
A thief in New Orleans with a fascinating degree of psionic... resonance.
A young woman in California with the power of flight, impossible strength, and indestructible flesh.
The work would continue. The army... would grow.
"I thought you'd come down," the boy said, without even a trace of the whine the words implied.
He would be quite formidable one day. "I've been... thinking about our next move, my boy."
A snort, and Pyro leaned in close, ostensibly to look over his shoulder. "Tracking down more pissed-off mutants? Can I bring a flamethrower next time?"
Erik smiled, and allowed himself to lean back into the boy's touch. He could feel Pyro's cast bumping lightly against his back. "You can bring anything you wish."
"God, you're like an evil Santa Claus. It really works on you, you know?"
There was a time, and even a space for nostalgia, and wistful dreams of what could have been.
And then there was a time to put such things aside and focus on one's next move.
"Yes," Erik said. "I do."
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