Erik grabs Charles' hand, arranges it so that the gun is aimed straight at his forehead. Point-blank range. Charles' lips are tight, his brow furrowed in what might be concentration, or concern, or determination. Or maybe all three. The barrel briefly touches his skin, cold metal above his eyebrow, and then he lets go.
"Just do it," he says, for what is the umpteenth time. "You know I can block it." Charles has never seen him do it in person, of course, but he can see the memories, the thoughts which Erik has pulled to the forefront of his mind. The day when he was fourteen and Schmidt aimed the revolver at his knee – "Even if you do not stop the bullet, maybe you will not be so quick to run away next time, hm?" – and fired.
Charles flinches and lowers the gun again.
Erik sighs and yanks his hand back up.
But no matter how he cajoles or convinces, he can't ever get Charles to pull the trigger.
True power lies somewhere between rage and serenity.
Purple is a good colour, he thinks, holding the swath of fabric against his arm. If blue is the colour of serenity, and red is the colour of anger… then, yes. Purple is a good colour.
His gaze drifts over towards the red fabrics nearby, harsh and rich and gaudy beside their cooler cousin. The fabric supplier has not held back in stocking their shop with patterns both loud and excessive. Even the simple rolls are vibrant and alive.
Purple is a good colour.
But… maybe red is just more fitting for him.
The first time it happens, it's not actually planned on either of their parts.
Magneto has a telepath – after a fashion – but no Cerebro, and no genius scientist to build something comparable. Bulking up the ranks of his group requires a different approach than the one he and Charles had used. He puts his tracking skills to new quarry, and finds himself following the trails of rumours and hearsay, weeding out the probable sources from the likely lies and exaggerations.
In a way, it's… cathartic. The work is familiar. Part of him thinks that it's almost demeaning, running around as a recruiter, but for the time being it is the most important part of their plan. So he lets that go. Instead he focuses on newspaper articles and human paranoia and the trails of inexplicable activity which occasionally yield results.
He's following the rumours of a thief who made a fire hydrant in New Orleans explode when it happens. The rumours had proven impossible to confirm, ending in mire of misdirection, tight lips, and minds that were surprisingly difficult for the White Queen to parse. Not mutants, he confirmed. New Orleans hadn't seen a sudden upsurge in homo superior residents. Just tricky thinkers and slippery thoughts, people who were so used to disguising their ideas from others that they kept most of them hidden from even themselves.
It's a frustrating and fruitless search in the middle of a hot, muggy summer. He's abandoned his dramatic attire for something that is slightly less oppressive in the heat, and gives up his interrogation of the local urchins to take a seat at a nearby café. Mystique left him four days ago to chase after another rumour in Mississippi. The tablecloth in front of him is checked, and the overhanging shade rustles in a low wind which shows him no mercy, and refuses to reach down low enough to cool the air around his head.
His drink is ten minutes late in coming when he feels it. A whisper, just at the back of his mind. A brief touch. His shoulders tense, and his head snaps up reflexively. He thinks, I left the helmet, and then he curses himself, both for doing so and for thinking it.
It was probably inevitable, really, that they would cross paths on the same trail sooner or later. They're looking for the same people, after all. And, in a way, it confirms that his wild goose chase wasn't entirely that. Not if Charles is here. He might even suspect that the other man had a hand in his utter failure to track down his target, if only the obstacles ne encountered had been anything like his style.
There's a soft whir, wheels over stone, and Magneto doesn't look up until he sees the shadow settle over the tablecloth across from him.
"Charles. Fancy meeting you here," he greets, as if they had just run into one another at the local grocer's. Or in a bar. Charles looks as relaxed and friendly as he ever does. Only the small lines at the corner of his eyes give away his tension, and Magneto smiles, both because of the ease and the tension. He's growing into this rivalry between the two of them. In its own way, it's almost as interesting as the friendship.
"Erik. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised," Charles says, before flagging down a server. He orders himself a glass of iced tea, and remarks idly upon the weather. Magneto returns the comment with some musings on local culture. There's a palpable tension between them, but they both know it won't resolve itself, not now, in broad daylight with a table between them and nothing to fight over.
Still. It needs to come loose in some way, and so perhaps his eyes light up a bit when Charles frowns, and leans slightly towards the side of his chair. There is a pack strapped there. Magneto suspects it's for travel, and as he does, he wonders where Charles' current bodyguard is right now. It's an unconcerned thought. Whoever it is won't turn up if Charles doesn't want them to, and if Charles wants them to, well, then this little encounter is probably over anyway.
It takes a moment of quick, almost tidily performed rummaging before Charles produces a small travel board for checkers. The kind which uses magnets.
Charles gives him a look, but sets it onto the table between them. "I often get bored on these trips, I'm afraid. Scott prefers Checkers to Chess, much to my chagrin."
One of Charles' students, then. It would be like him to make a concession to someone else's board game preferences. Still, it's something to do, and so he flicks a finger and the black and red pieces all line themselves up appropriately, checkered board on top of checkered tablecloth.
They play until the skyline is faded pink and orange, and the muggy heat has transformed into the cooler air of evening. Charles gets a distant look on his face, like he's listening to something far away, and Erik claims the board before taking it as his cue to part ways again. He stands. The chair skids slightly over the ground behind him. It snaps Charles' focus back into the immediate world around him.
"Chess next time, I think," Erik says, before slinging his light jacket over his free arm, and striding away from the café.
Of course, my friend, Charles replies.
Magneto's steps pause, briefly, standing at the threshold of the sidewalk. He resists the urge to look back, and instead slides his jacket on, disguising the pause as an intentional delay. It's not as if he's fooling either of them.
But it's still better that way.
Magneto knows that mutants are the future of humanity. They are destined to take up the mantle of the planet's dominant species. They are the superior beings, and each one of them is a gift to their people, if not their cause.
That does not make Toad any more socially or aromatically pleasant to be around.
Toad's muttering to himself as he trails Magneto and Mystique, still sporting the burnt arm which the new Summers boy gave him. "Damn rotten kids, stupid bald old faggot," Magneto hears him hiss.
The metal tips on his shoelaces unwind, and a second later, the fabric is pulled tight against his ankles. He stumbles, trips, catches himself with his own considerable acrobatic skill, and then looses the fight with gravity as the laces wind around his feet and literally yank them out from under them. There's a sharp crack as his jaw hits the pavement.
Mystique snickers. Magneto doesn't even bother to look.
With a smooth and fluid motion, the tips of the staples peel back, unfolding into a straight, even line. There are no kinks in the line at all. A perfect, tiny piece of metal, suspended lightly in the air in front of him. An instant later it is joined by a second. Then a third. Then a fourth.
This, now, Magneto thinks, is the tricky part. He curls the fingers of his hand, an unconscious gesture to mimic the push and pull of that unnamed muscle within himself. The little slivers of metal come together, the soft tink, tink, tink of impact the only sound in the room. He pulls them thin and long. Stretches them as much as he can. They braid and wind together, each strand connecting with the next, and then fold over, until he is left with an imperfect ball – like twine. Or yarn.
It's less effort to hold them, then, because he doesn't need to focus on so many individual pieces. For just a moment, he lets himself relax. Slips into that strange, quiet place he is growing in his mind, where thought is an absent echo, and his intent is laid out for him in clear display. The old anger stirs in his breastbone. A vague, general sense of resentment, and injustice, and frustration. He doesn't even need to conjure specific memories to get there anymore.
He sucks in a breath. Slow. Even. When he lets it out again, it is in a steady exhalation, calm and controlled.
The strands of metal fuse, and meld, creating the illusion of melting even though there is no heat to his power, and the room around him is cold if it is anything. The braided lines and gaps fade. What remains is a smooth and flawless sphere.
Perfection. At last.
A smile turns up the corners of his mouth, and before he can stop himself, he thinks, wait until Charles sees this.
Once, when he was hunting down Schmidt's trail in Argentina, years and years ago, he had watched a simple game of ball between some of the local children. It had been a typical sort of child's play. The kind he couldn't recall ever participating in himself. Jeers and encouragement were exchanged between the players as the ball was chased, kicked, passed, and bowled over a few times. Once or twice things got heated enough that a few shoves were exchanged. But then the boys always went back to their game.
Erik had only kept an idle watch on them. Eventually the game had ended when one of the players mistimed his kick and wound up twisting his ankle against the dirt, letting out a yelp and then tumbling in a mess of adolescent limbs against the ground.
The whole game had come to a stop. It had been more out of shock at an actual injury at first, he had decided, before the injured boy recovered enough to clutch at his leg, biting his lip and letting huge tears run tracks down his cheeks. Then adults had been fetched and the incident resolved, and Erik had lost interesting, moving on to the more pressing matter at hand.
That's how it seems to be when Riptide grabs Charles' chair in one of his cyclones. One moment, there's a battle going on. One moment, it's his people against Xavier's students, another frustrating exercise in futility as the Brotherhood attempts to accomplish something, and the X-Men do their utmost to keep the world as stagnant as possible. And then Charles is there – Magneto hadn't even known he would be there, unlike the others – and the White Queen runs interference, but even so, Azazel is frozen pre-teleport and Charles' weather witch starts pelting them with shaky bolts of lightning.
Magneto is deflecting those with a girder he's just appropriated, letting it conduct the electricity, when Riptide aims his shot at Charles.
Everything stops. Mystique and Beast stop fighting. Emma freezes in place, her mouth rounding into a small 'o' of surprise. Cyclops stops trying to land a hit on Toad, and Storm's eyes go wide and huge, all while Charles is swept up and around in a flurry of unrelenting wind.
It's Storm who stops Riptide's cyclone.
It's Magneto who stops Charles from falling, gripping the wheelchair, and slowly lowering it back to the ground. He doesn't even stop to think about it.
A stillness descends, long and quiet, like the wave of shock which had passed through those school-aged children. Charles sags in his chair, and Riptide looks back and forth between them, and seems like he is seriously considering just making a run for it.
When the moment breaks, it isn't with tears. Instead Magneto looks back towards his girder, and twists it around Storm. Toad takes an open shot and takes out Cyclops, Emma uses Charles' distraction as an opportunity to knock out Beast, and with that the fight is over. By the time Charles looks up again, his team is out of commission, and even if he gets past Emma's blocks long enough to freeze someone else, there isn't much point to it.
"Tend to your students, Charles," Magneto advises, stepping past Storm, who glares up at him from beneath the line of her snow-white bangs. They make their way on towards the anti-mutant protest rally, without a word of reply sent to their backs. Only one last, tentative glance towards Charles from Mystique. But Erik doesn't need to look to know what unhappy expression he'd see on his face.
It's only the third time the Brotherhood has successfully and thoroughly trounced the X-Men.
It's also the last time Charles seems to willingly accompany them on a mission.
Charles built this prison.
He didn't assign the guards. No, certainly not. But the prison itself has Charles written all over it, from the plastic absolutely everywhere, to the stark white walls, to the long ramp leading to an island in the middle of a cavernous chamber. Charles and Hank, perhaps, but their aesthetics were never precisely exclusive.
Charles built a special prison just for the government, so they could keep Magneto under wraps. It makes him furious. In point of fact, it's the angriest he's been for a long time, to think of what must have gone into the preparation for this place. A neat and tidy little cell. He wonders if there's one for each and every 'dangerous' mutant out there. Specifically designed.
Perhaps he should be flattered to think that there's only one for him.
It's five o'clock, Sunday evening. Charles' students will be eating their dinners and bemoaning the approach of Monday morning. Charles will be – ah, yes. There it is. The soft whoosh of some of the prison's seals opening and closing, and then the whir of the ramp extending. If he looks towards the exit, he expects he will see a pair of rose quartz sunglasses watching them from one of the viewing windows. Plastic wheels squeak over plastic flooring.
"I wonder – how much did it cost you to have this place built, Charles?" he asks, straightening up on his cot. He pulls the fabric of his shirt, smoothes out a wrinkle on the crisp white surface. "Did the government help at all with funding, or did they simply leave it in your capable hands?"
"There was no government funding," Charles replies, wheeling himself over to the chessboard. They are midway through their third game since Magneto's imprisonment.
He smiles, a cold expression, and moves to turn on some music before he takes his seat. The chair is uncomfortable, and bends just slightly against his weight. "I imagine they felt it would be more economically sound to execute me, in that case," he observes, before turning his attention towards the black-and-white pieces. It's most for show. He's had all week to plan his next move, and puzzle out what Charles' likeliest moves will be, after all.
Charles frowns, the way he always does when someone presents him with an unpleasant truth. Particularly one which he can't refute.
"They were innocent people, Erik. You almost brought every last one of them an unconscionably slow, painful death," he says quietly.
"And how many of them would hesitate to do the same to us, if only they could?" he replies, watching Charles make his first move of this session. "Someday, my old friend, you will be forced to realize that there is no such thing as 'innocent people'."
"It hasn't happened yet."
Magneto sighs. "True." He reaches for his pawn, absorbed yet again in the game between them. "However, I have it on good authority that one should never completely abandon hope."
Charles does not look amused.