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Flaw

by Te

Flaw
by Te
May 26, 2003

Disclaimers: Not even close to mine.

Spoilers: X2, vaguely.

Summary: On knowing.

Ratings Note: PG-13.

Author's Note: Still not quite what was requested, but I'm working on it.

Acknowledgments: To the IRC crew for encouragement, and Andraste and Jenn for audiencing.

Feedback: Always. teland@teland.com

*

Erik is a man who prides himself on his self-awareness.

In truth, he prides himself on any number of things, but, for many reasons, self-awareness is foremost. He has read Shakespeare. He has known many people who understand the man's tragedies not nearly well enough for their own good. They are cautionary tales, and if somewhat dated in their morality (and immorality), the message remains the same:

Those who do not know themselves are doomed to do themselves injury, sometimes in epic proportions.

And so he catalogs his flaws carefully -- his pride (deserved), his paranoia (rational), and his rage (so very understandable) -- and is... cautious.

As careful as he can be with his people and his plans.

When he was a boy, he never imagined himself as a leader. As a fighter, yes, and as one wronged most severely, but he'd always looked to others. The tall, strong men who knew how to get to the food and away from the guards. The women who found any number of ways to survive.

And yet, in the end, they had all wasted away, heads shaven and fingernails blue with cold.

They had fallen like everyone else, and he had learned early, very early, what it was to be the last man standing.

For a long time, he had seen it as a twist of fate, and though he loathes the pap and psychobabble the world has vomited up for Holocaust survivors, he has to admit they all got a few things correct.

The guilt of survival, the fear of extended privation that made mothers hoard food in endless pantries -- refrigerators and freezers in the new world -- and fathers work themselves to the bone.

That made Erik... cautious.

Even now, it is difficult not to make his first concern about the hidey-holes (lairs, Charles would call them) he has collected over the years food, warmth. Enough for all of his people.

When he has an army -- and he will -- he will, perhaps, tell himself that they march on their stomachs, but down deep he will ruminate endlessly on whatever larders he has socketed away. Just in case. In case.

He hates this about himself, though not enough to expend time and effort burning it away from his core. There are all sorts of other, more dire things to be concerned about in this world, only a bare few inside himself.

That was the lesson the camps had tried to teach him, and the one it took years of trial and egregious error to finally learn -- in the end, the only person you can trust is yourself. The only one you could ever truly know.

They are... people are alone, every one of them trapped inside their skulls. Some struggling for a way out into another, some just circling endlessly, ignorantly. He prides himself on doing neither, being neither, but it is a struggle just the same. There have always been people some part of himself has thrilled to know. (a touch on the mind, gentle and firm)

Mystique is dear to him, something he will never allow her to forget. She is a survivor, a fighter, but she is not a leader. If she were, truly, the Brotherhood would not have faded and scattered while he was incarcerated. He has chided her for that, and she has bent her lovely head and accepted censure, but...

He knows that if it is ever repeated (oh, you will not chain me again), he will have to give her strict and detailed orders, or the same will happen again. An army needs a strong hand, and there is something in Mystique that rebels against the very idea.

He is sometimes tempted to blame it on her mutation. He has lived a long time, and he knows that, sooner or later, mutants find a way to live with the facts of their mutation or wither and die. Often, in these oh-so-young Americans, this comes with certain psychological... adjustments.

The ferals always have some part of their minds devoted to the animal within, for an example. They may work hard to deny it, or they may revel in it to the exclusion of all else. Either way, much of their life and work revolves around the animal they perceive within themselves, and so they rarely make anything better of themselves than loyal foot soldiers.

Weapons to be pointed at the enemy.

And oh, he knows Wolverine. A man who could've been dangerous if he had the remotest awareness of himself, and all his works.

The sixties, seventies, and eighties were a time of covert nation building and destroying on the part of the Americans, and a few others as well.

One day, Wolverine will remember what it was like to wear a uniform, and be the most terrifying thing the world had ever seen. Perhaps he will even remember... Sabretooth. Yet another of Stryker's little experiments, yet another wholly unexamined life. Though he rather appreciates Sabretooth more than the Wolverine -- at least Victor's memory problems are a matter of conscious choice. ("Past is dead. No point. Pass the meat.") There's something almost soothing about the man's fundamental devotion toward living in the present.

A bit of walking, growling, murderous zen of his very own.

They'll have to track him down again. It shouldn't be hard -- the man has an endearing, blind attraction to Canada, and has no great love for covering his tracks with anything but human blood.

He will take Pyro with him, he thinks. Sabretooth reacts poorly to Mystique at the best of times, and Pyro needs to learn... The boy is young, and naive enough to think he is not naive at all. It would do him some good to meet Sabretooth in the flesh, assuming he survives.

Ah, and Pyro... so much passion in the boy, forced and pressed into service of his anger. He thinks he's mad at the world, but Erik would be willing to bet that most of that rage has a more... personal source.

Well, they would see.

No, it would not be outside the realm of possibility for Mystique's life in the shadows, and in the faces and bodies of those she hated and feared to have had some effect. It would be almost surprising if it hadn't. Mystique changed to live, and to some extent, lived to change.

Leadership requires precisely the kind of constancy she's never been allowed. And he certainly wouldn't change that.

Ah, but there's a danger in this sort of thinking. If all mutants could be classified by their mutations, then they were nothing but animals. Humans classified themselves by race and class, of course, but most thoughtful people were ready, willing, and able to toss such concerns aside.

If for nothing else than to rally together against a common... threat.

If Charles were here... mm.

He couldn't say that he precisely missed having the man invade his cell week after week for games of chess and passive argument. There is an arrogance to the man, more grating for the fact that Erik knows he would do anything rather than let it show.

Yet another argument between them. Someone with as much raw power and intellect as Charles should never, ever be forced to be anything but wholly himself.

There is a diffidence to him, an assumption of weak-willed quiet and acceptance of all and everything that sits badly on him.

None of these children -- his own or Xavier's -- know Charles in the slightest. The way he would argue until his cheeks flushed, the way his upper body would move in almost helpless aggression when he was truly angry, until Erik would be forced to come close again.

Lift him from the chair and bring them awkwardly eye to eye and feel the stretch and flex of live muscle and the mildly distressing collapse of dead. This close, and closer still, and it would have been tempting -- it had been tempting -- to imagine Charles had wanted just this all along. Had imposed some fraction of that god-like will on Erik until they could be... here.

There.

Hotel rooms, and excessive American cars, and more rooms in that mansion than any one of those mealymouthed children would ever dare or care to imagine.

Ah, but there is Rogue. The vampire in their midst, and the girl who'd come so close to realizing Erik's dreams. She knows more, perhaps, than any other besides the two of them. There were times, while imprisoned, that Erik wondered how she slept at night, or if she questioned Charles about the unfamiliar thoughts, images, languages...

He'd felt them go, and for a moment was sad at the perceived loss. ("kochane...") But the girl doesn't, or perhaps cannot yet do more than copy the raw stuff of emotion and intellect. Potential, there, so much... and power.

He would be happy to have her among his own, even if she seems to have grown into a remarkably humorless and brittle young woman. Perhaps not until he sees what she does with her own mutation, and how she molds her personality around it. Caution is always necessary.

Charles...

If he uses the same metaphor, or perhaps, more accurately, the same mode of classification, what would be the reason for the way he lives?

A lifetime of repression to keep from being battered to death by the petty rages and fantasies of humanity. A rueful humor to keep from being broken by his physical imperfections and difficulties. A powerful, endless faith in the whole of humanity to... what?

What is he hiding from, precisely?

There was a time when Erik thought of the faith as nothing more than the naivete of a spoiled and comfortable child, less of an ideal than an explanation for why others could not live as he did. It would all be all right, because the world was a place of kindness and... no. He has to laugh. Charles has never been as naive and idealistic as he seems.

Or even as Erik would like him to be.

It would have been so much easier if he was. The naive could be either broken or turned, and Charles...

If he thought it would make a difference, he would reach out and ask Charles to join him. To throw aside all these fantasies and dreams and make something out of this world for all mutant-kind. For them.

Sometimes he thinks the only real difference between them is that Charles does ask. When they sat in his execrable plastic prison and they, ostensibly, played chess.

And... now.

*You only open your mind to me when you want something, Erik. A lesser man would be... piqued.*

*And yet you are always there when I do. Why is that, Charles?*

That would be telling.

Erik can feel the smile, even beyond the tease. A sense of the man's voice and spirit, reaching for his own. There have been times when he devoted himself to understanding the link, to knowing it in something beyond the abstract and intellectual. A telepath trying to explain to someone without the power is often as fumbling and impatient as a sighted child trying to explain color to a blind man.

You are rarely blind, old friend.

A sense of waiting, but nothing so gauche as an actual prompt. How easy it is to fall back into the rhythms of a lifetime of acquaintance. Here, Charles carefully doesn't ask anything too leading. There, Erik blocks him out with the ease of long practice. Here, they find each other, mind to mind across miles and ideologies. It's all rather... sweet.

You radiate cynicism like heat.

You knew this already, Charles.

Mm. Are you...

Unfinished, and ah, he remembers this. Every sigh a caress, and invitation to memory.

Yes, I remember that, too.

Your mind wouldn't have it otherwise.

Nor yours, I would think.

(And you hate that, don't you?) Unspoken, perhaps even un-thought. He can afford to be charitable, this far away from that plastic bit of purgatory. This close to...

Yes?

Erik smiles. That would be telling.

You could at least give me some hint of where you are.

Erik thinks of his bed, the iron frame that he's patterned on some ill-remembered gate. The blank, bare walls of his room-of-the-moment, waiting for decoration, or simply for him to leave.

*Perhaps a vase of flowers? And that wasn't what I meant.*

Erik plays the game as best he can, imagining flowers with petals that could draw blood, that reflect the sun's light with a blinding shine.

Some of us are satisfied with thorns. Erik --

*Be easy, Charles. I have no wish to be awakened by a handful of your... students in the middle of the night.*

Not even to continue our game? A chessboard, in an immaculately remembered state of incompletion.

You have no idea how very tired I am of... chess. White light, plastic walls, and nothing real to touch, nothing to feel. He walls it away more slowly than he would if he were angry, and feels Charles respond in kind.

Once you compared it to dancing.

Forward, back, side to side and so, so careful. Charles had only rarely touched his mind when Erik was imprisoned, doing his best to play... fair. How very Charles. *I'm afraid I don't remember. Did we ever decide which of us was Ginger Rogers?*

Yours was the more finely turned ankle.

Laughs, aloud and not, and feels... something like warmth. Do they know we do this, Charles?

An image of Rogue, hair streaked white and eyes bleak, quickly brushed away, a world of white light and life.

Yes, I understand, old friend...

Do you? Just a bit sharper than he was expecting, but ah.

The children, of course.

I will never forgive you for that, Erik.

And I would never ask. Never, old friend? Oh, really?

A firmer touch, one he has come to think of as 'Charles is raising an eyebrow, and leaning in' *You think I'm a saint.*

*No, Charles. I think you would like to be a saint.*

I have no desire to be a martyr to the cause.

*Even your own? My friend, I think you would plunge that little silver letter opener into your own eye if you thought it would lead to some sort of human/mutant paradise.* He calls a fragment of iron from the bed to curl around his finger. Makes it a blade, with a small filigreed 'X' on the hilt.

*And I think it might have been you at the controls of your machine.*

Touche.

A hint of irritation.

In another time, Charles would have been chiding him on his need to make everything, every small conversation a battle. A little less fond of the world, perhaps?

A little less fond of being told how the world 'truly' is.

The knife lengthens, folds. A break and a fusing and he has an 'x' that one good throw would bury in a wall. Or a throat. "Your anger was always the most attractive part of you.*

For you, perhaps.

You never knew me as well as you thought. And the 'x' is a ball floating above his hand, a ribbon rippling in a breeze of his own making.

I don't have time for this. Good night, Erik.

*You always knew me better than I... was wont to admit.*

A pause, and despite the evidence of his deepest senses he thinks, perhaps, Charles is gone. But then there is a touch, slow and warm and profoundly present. *Good night,* he thinks again, and there is emptiness.

Erik thinks, perhaps, that friendship is what happens when there is only a tangle of feeling and theory and pathetic degrees of hope, with no chance of teasing the whole apart, and nothing like complete comprehension.

When he was young, he would have run from even the suggestion of such a thing, but he hasn't been young for a very long time. And awareness is...

He floats the twist of metal back to the bed frame.

Awareness of this is, perhaps, enough to make it acceptable. Even for Charles.

Even for him.

End.


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