Playing a Game

Title: Playing a Game
Verse: X-Men movieverse
Timeline: post X2, pre X3.
Author: AngelofSnow
Pairing: Magneto/Mystique
Rating: T
Disclaimer: I don't own the X-Men. I am not making any money off of this.
Summary: X2 has just ended and Mystique notices something is off about Magneto.

Dedication: To KumaDaPuma for Christmas.

Notes: This concept came originally from a PWP I wrote called "Hard Work" but this part seemed too serious to fit it. So it became its own story.Notice how much darker Magneto is at the end of X2 and throughout X3. He's willing to kill every human on Earth. He's willing to abandon Mystique and use other mutants as pawns. This explores that change.

Playing a Game

It didn't take long for her to notice. The signs were subtle but they were there. In the way he'd switched from tea to coffee. And in the way he stayed up nights working.

She'd walk past his office on the way to their shared bedroom and see him toiling away. Lying in their metal-framed bed she'd try to stay up and wait for him to go to sleep. But she never made it. If he slept at all, he slipped into their room in the wee morning hours and was back out before she woke up. And Mystique was not a late sleeper.

She wondered sometimes what it was that drove him to such extreme measures. She could imagine that he was eager to get back to running the Brotherhood, but… this seemed excessive. And he never consulted her about his work or asked her advice as he had frequently done in the past.

Mystique was hurt by his behavior. But worse yet, she was worried about him and didn't know how best to help him.

00000000000

Dinner had been silent that evening. Mystique had prepared a simple meal for the three Brotherhood members: Erik, Pyro and herself.

Pyro had come down from his room late, sullen and indignant as usual. The boy had only recently joined the Brotherhood at Alkali Lake. Mystique was giving him some space to get acquainted with the Brotherhood. She was letting him settle the choice he had made within himself before she started training him. She was surprised Erik hadn't mentioned anything to her about the boy. She thought he would have given her some instructions on specializing him in a discipline. But again he had remained quiet.

Mystique ate her cold TV dinner in silence. Pyro wasn't the conversationalist type as he scarfed down three TV dinners in rapid succession. They had only been back at their island fortress for a week and she had yet to go to the main land for new supplies. This was the only food they had edible. No one had been living here for months. During Erik's imprisonment she had been operating out of Senator Kelly's residence.

As she moved from the flavorless Salisbury steak to the mash potatoes with gravy, she kept waiting for Erik to arrive. She finished the potatoes and corn and ate the apple crumble and still no Erik. He was skipping meals now. She felt her appetite disappear in worry.

00000000000

Later that night when she walked past his office she couldn't help but stop to watch him. He was pouring over reports and charts. Two LCD screens glowed red, catching him in hellish light. She was reminded of the god Vulcan at his forge.

"Erik." She called but he didn't look up from his papers. She took a step into his office.

"Come to bed."

Erik glanced up from his papers.

"Not tonight."

"Erik." Her tone implied a scolding.

"This is important." And it was. Magneto was reading a report from one of his sources in California. The source mentioned rumors of a young mutant who appeared to stop other mutants' powers. He believed the boy could turn mutants into humans. If it was true, Erik knew he could waste no time before investigating the matter further.

"You've been working too hard, Erik."

His two failures at Liberty Island and Alcatraz weighed hard on him. The slump of shoulders and the bags under his eyes showed it.

"What of it?" He didn't even put down the report he was reading.

"It won't help the cause for you to make yourself sick." Mystique's words hung in the air before Erik answered her. She walked to his desk.

"I'm fine-"

"You're not as strong as you were before…" She didn't say his name. Mystique understood Erik enough to know the torture he endured under Stryker had caused more than physical bruises. It had bruised his psyche, reminding him too correctly of the helplessness he had felt in the camps. Mystique knew the imprisonment had changed Erik. She imagined lesser men would have been destroyed by it.

Erik knew she spoke of Stryker. He promptly steered clear of the subject.

"This can't wait." He motioned towards the picture of a bald headed child that sat on his desk.

"Yes it can. Come to bed now." It was not a request but an order and Erik took orders from no one. Not even orders from his faithful Mystique.

"If you were anyone else I would reprimand you for taking that tone with me." Erik retreated into being Magneto, dominant and unquestionable. It was a defensive mechanism and when Erik employed it, Mystique knew to back off.

She was about to drop the matter for the night and was halfway towards the door, but something nagged at her. She looked back at Erik. Maybe it was the way Erik had been so quiet after what happened at Alkali Lake. He looked different than before his imprisonment too. He was suddenly older. His face more wrinkled; his eyes cold and haunted.

Mystique wondered what exactly Stryker had done to him. She knew about the serum and the abuse, though he'd never told her details. All she knew for sure was that Erik had been driven but benevolent before. He had wanted to unite mutants to take their rightful place as leaders of the world. But now…Now he seemed to feel that nothing short of total annihilation would suffice.

And although Mystique couldn't have cared less if every human on Earth had died, she knew that Erik didn't feel that way. He was a mutant supremacist, but he was not a mass murderer on that scale. Or at least he hadn't been before whatever Stryker had done to him.

It was a jarring thought to wonder if the Erik she got back from prison wasn't the same one she had watched get sent away.

So when Mystique walked back to Magneto, her heart felt heavy.

"You can go to bed without me, Mystique. You've done it before." Erik looked up from his papers at her, his eyes hollow and lifeless. "And if being alone doesn't suit you, you're welcome to ask young Pyro for company."

The blue woman stood stick straight in shock.

"I really thought it would be you going after John." That caught his attention. He looked up from his work.

"I've thought about it."

Maybe that was why he was ignoring her. Maybe Pyro was what he wanted now. Maybe all of Mystique's fears hinged on losing Erik to someone else. She decided to just come right out and ask what she wanted to know.

"Is that why you've been keeping such strange habits? Are you with the boy?"

"No." Erik made no pretense of working and gazed into her eyes searching for something. "Would it bother you if I were?"

"No." Mystique's answer came too quickly. She rallied herself to betray nothing of what she felt. "You're allowed to see who you want. Just as I am."

She hated the idea of him with a boy he had known barely a week while she had been by his side for decades. The fact that he had even thought of it felt like a betrayal.

"I'm sure you made use of your freedom while I was in jail."

Mystique wanted to jump at the chance to say 'no', she'd been faithful to Erik. But it wouldn't serve any purpose for him to know that.

"I did."

She thought she saw him grimace, but it could have been a trick of the light.

"Then there's no need for you wait up at night for me."

"I don't care what kind of hours you want to keep or who you want to fuck. But if you're working on something important to the mutant cause I want to know about it. If you're making yourself unfit to lead I'm going to stop you."

"How predictable Mystique."

It was too easy to let his barbs get it to her. And it was too hard to stop them from hurting painfully. She walked closer to him, circling around him in the perverse game they were playing.

"Stop this madness and come to bed. I'll make it worth your while."

Erik's eyes followed her distrusting as she circled around his desk and began to give him a back rub. He did his best not to enjoy it.

"I'm not interested anymore my dear."

Mystique's hands froze on his shoulders. Then her arms reached around to encircle him with all the nimble grace of a snake about to strangle its prey. She licked his ear lobe, enticingly sucking it like a kitten looking to play. And then, catching it between her teeth she bit down. Hard.

She got the satisfaction of feeling Erik wince.

"I should have expected that." His voice held a hint of pain. His ear lobe had begun to swell and bleed. Very little blood came to the surface. Magneto was impeding its flow.

"Yes you should have."

There was a long pregnant pause. Mystique's anger was somewhat abated by the sight of Erik's blood. And in the silence her brain worked to figure out why it was they were fighting.

"What did Stryker do to you?"

Erik turned to face her, his eyes black and hollow like a shark.

"Nothing I wouldn't have done in his place."

Mystique thought about the self-destructive way Erik had been acting. As though his health, and thus his life, no longer mattered. He was acting guilty.

Erik heard the ripple of scales and the blue woman was gone.

In her place was a crippled old man in an expensive blue suit. Every detail from 'X' on his powered wheel chair to the shine on his bald head was correct. It was Professor Charles Xavier.

Xavier waited a few seconds, smiling at Erik.

"I forgive you."

Erik watched Xavier. He breathed heavily as though taking in the apology and trying to believe it was real with all his heart. His eyes lost their hallow emptiness and moistened with emotion.

Xavier was gone in mere seconds, replaced by his tall, limber second-in-command.

"I'll come to bed in a few minutes."

Mystique nodded her head in reply. She left a few moments later, satisfied she had found what was necessary to help Erik. It hurt her that it could never be simple with them. That they could never be straightforward with each other. It seemed as though they couldn't love without hurting one another.

0000000000

Alone in his cold metallic office, Erik used his powers to switch off the lights. Sitting a moment in the dark he whispered to no one:

"Damn you Mystique. Damn you for trying to save me."