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. leytelj@gmail.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

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

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

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

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.


Hotel rooms, and excessive American cars, and more
rooms in that mansion than any one of those mealy-
mouthed 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.


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

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,

*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...

*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...


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

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

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

*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

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


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

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.