In hindsight, he probably should have been more careful about his location. Or at least kept Azazel around for a quick escape if necessary. He still wasn't used to working with a team though, despite his brief tenure with Charles. Working with Charles had been a completely different experience. It could've just been his telepathic abilities, but Erik doubted it. He wasn't an easy person to deal with on his good days and he knew he was far too broken to make any kind of workable relationship with anyone.
What he hadn't counted on apparently, was the young professor's hope, as ridiculous as it would have seemed to the younger him who had relentlessly hunted the Nazis who had destroyed his family. Charles wasn't afraid of the shattered pieces of Erik's mind, didn't even mind when he cut himself on the edges. When Erik was with him, he could literally feel the potential in the air. Together, he knew, they were unstoppable. Together, they could change the world.
But more than that, when Charles was with him, Erik could feel that his life meant something more than just being some kind of weapon to be used when necessary, put away when not.
All that though—the laughter, the friendship, the kisses and the frantic sex, the gentle lovemaking, the arguments late into the night—all that had been cut short in one fateful moment on a beach, one fateful choice. Even as the humans turned on them as Erik had warned them they would, Charles wouldn't listen.
So he had walked away.
Turned his back and left his partner, his friend, his lover, bleeding and paralyzed on the sand, head pillowed in another's lap.
Charles. Arrogant and naive and patient and wonderful and beautiful man.
The reason he was currently stuck in this predicament.
"We know you know where he is," the human said. "In fact, you probably know him best outside of his inner circle." Erik snorted. Inner circle. As if Charles was some kind of terrorist or other.
Instead of answering the human, Erik stretched his power as far as he could, but there wasn't a speck of metal to be found. He ground his teeth in frustration.
"Look," a second human said. "It's not you we want. We'll find him eventually, you know, and it'll go a lot easier for you if you just tell us where he is now. We know you had a falling out that day on the beach. Why protect him?"
Erik glared at the humans and reached again for his power, knowing it was hopeless but trying anyway.
"Don't bother," the first one said, watching him avidly with a gaze that made his skin crawl, "We've cleared the facility of any metal there is. Everything here is plastic or stone."
"You don't owe him anything," the second human interjected, as the other took out a knife made of black, glimmering rock—obsidian, Erik thought. The human watched Erik ignore the knife. "Just tell us where he is."
"It's like were back in the Stone Age," Number One said, laughing, dragging an edge across Erik's left cheek. Droplets of blood started to make their way down his face.
Good thing they didn't have a telepath, he thought, because they had taken his helmet.
"Stubborn little freak, isn't he?" the human said, grinning nastily. A hard blow snapped Erik's head to the side. The human shook out his wrist. The other, taking notes on a clipboard, who had looked up in slight disapproval at the sound of the blow, began scribbling away again.
Erik wasn't sure which one he wanted to kill more.
Charles wheeled his way into Cerebro again, heedless of the protests of his young students, determined to find the mutant girl who could control the weather who he had sensed her presence and power on the day he first used Cerebro.
His mind today though, was drifting.
He gritted his teeth. If he could no longer control his body, he wanted his mind, at least, to do as he bid.
Today, it was hopeless. Charles gave in and allowed his thoughts to drift as they would. His instincts were pretty good, anyway.
His mind swept idly, but intently through the thoughts of the planets inhabitants.
Until, out or the blue, he was hit by a burst of fear-anger-pain, mixed with a complicated tangle of hate-love.
There was only one person whose mind Charles was intimate enough with to read as much from a split second's brush. Only one whom he knew had such an agonizingly beautiful mind.
"Erik," he whispered.
"Where is Charles Xavier?" Number Two asked gently, his boot nudging Erik's head to the side. Erik rolled his eyes up to meet his, but didn't say a word.
"Erik..." and Erik raged inside his head. He was Magneto now. In his mind alone was he Erik.
And the mind of one other, his heart whispered treacherously.
"Do you think he would do the same for you, Erik? He'd give you up in a heartbeat if we threatened his friends or the mutant children he's been collecting. Think about that."
The human bent down to pat Erik's head patronizingly. "We'll be back in a few. String him up," he ordered some unseen lackey.
The too tight ropes around his wrists dragged him upright. They were attached to some kind of pulley system, he realized, lifting his head to take a quick glance. Another yank and he was lifted up by his wrists, the ground a few inches below his feet. Sticky blood trickled down his arms and dripped onto his face.
After the door shut behind the two humans, Erik steeled himself and gripped the rope taut above his wrists, taking some of the strain off of them. "Hey stop that," a human demanded, and a second later, the ropes were given a brutal yank. Erik barely managed to keep from crying out as his shoulders were painfully wrenched. The ropes were yanked up and down thrice more before the humans decided he had learned his lesson.
Erik felt his hatred threaten to rise and overwhelm him.
Calm, he told himself sternly. Calm and inner peace was what had enabled him to rotate a satellite dish and lift a submarine out of the ocean with only his will.
His will and Charles's belief in him.
There was a feather light touch on his mind. He tensed, knowing instinctively that it was Charles using Cerebro to sweep the world for mutants. it was too much to hope for that Charles hadn't recognized him. From that single brush—and he wasn't even a telepath—he had felt the weariness, the determination, the hopes and aspirations, the dreams that Charles carried around with him like a shield.
He had felt a love still strong and whole and searching.
He refused to have endured his captivity at the hands of the mocking, self-righteous, fearful humans for nothing. Systematically, he began to lock down his mind, knowing that it was no longer a safe place and hoping that the techniques Charles's fellow telepath, Emma Frost, had taught him were good.
He ignored that part of him, the ugly, jagged part of him that whispered that perhaps it was unnecessary, that Charles might decide it wasn't worth it to search for him.
He could, however admit that he couldn't blame Charles if he didn't.
"What is it?" Hank said anxiously, looking at Charles's face.
"Erik," Charles said shortly.
There was a sharp intake of breath next to him. "What are you going to do?"
Charles looked at him sadly. There was a time when there wouldn't have been a choice.
"I don't know," he said honestly.
Hank stared at him before nodding slowly. "Do you want help?" he asked, gesturing to the chair.
"Please," Charles said, smiling briefly at the young mutant.
"You know," Number One said conversationally, "I'm almost glad you have your power over metal. It's always more fun with dangerous subjects. Pushes the boundaries of my creativity."
Erik looked at him coldly. He hadn't spoken a word in the three days they had had him. His throat was raw from screaming but these pathetic humans were nothing compared to what he had endured as a young boy. They would make a mistake eventually, he knew, and then he'd have his revenge.
What he was exhausted from, was constantly guarding his mind, expecting that familiar touch and never feeling it. The beatings and the torture were taking its toll on him, but it was knowing that Charles hadn't tried to find him again, and knowing that it was his own fault, that hurt more.
"That's it," Mystique said. "We're going to Charles." It was a mark of how lost they were without Erik that none of them made a word of protest. Emma Frost had vanished the day after Erik disappeared. Not that Mystique had expected her to stay. Azazel was nowhere to be found. They were a lot like Erik, in some ways. They had all his hatred and anger without his broken brilliance and vision of a better future.
They didn't have someone like Charles to stand by them and temper their rage.
"What if he doesn't take us in?" one of the mutants asked tearfully. They were all scared; they had grown up scared. Like mystique would have grown up had she never met Charles, already remarkable at the age of eight.
"My brother would never turn away a mutant in need," she said, and knew they could sense her sincerity.
"And what about Magneto?" another asked timidly.
Mystique felt her heart freeze at the thought of what the humans were doing to him. How it might change him.
She wondered if Charles would still love him if they were too late.
"Charles will help him too," she said, and that, it seemed, was that.
Of course, Erik thought, Charles being the infuriating man that he was, it was at the worse time that Charles finally tried again.
He felt Charles recoil at the agonized confusion of barely formed thoughts in his head and cursed his moment of negligence after two days and nights of constant vigilance. Gathering the fraying pieces of his mind together, Erik began to painstakingly rebuild the endless loop of nonsense thoughts to shield himself. Charles would not stay away long and he needed to reinforce his defenses by the time he returned.
He thought savagely of crushing the bodies of his tormenters, watching their blood drip from tears in their flesh, enjoying the sight of their eyes turning slowly to dullness and knew that that would keep Charles away.
"What's wrong?" Raven asked, brow crinkled with concern.
"It's, ah, Eric," Charles said, panting.
"You found him?" Raven asked eagerly.
"Yes," he said. "I can't pinpoint his location though." The brief brush on his mind had shocked him into losing him.
"Why?" Hank asked, hovering protectively nearby, still eyeing Raven suspiciously. He'd been watching her, Charles knew, ever since she had returned leading a bedraggled group of mutants and demanding to see him. It pained him to know that it was a smart move to watch her.
It pained him that it was necessary.
What she had told him though, pained him far more. "They've got Erik," she had said, and he had wheeled his way to Cerebro without a second thought.
Charles closed his eyes and hesitantly recalled the feel of Erik's mind. Pain-hurt-fear-stop-pain-please, and he wrenched his mind away from the memory with a gasp. He could feel Hank and Raven's gaze on him.
"There's so much pain," he whispered, more to himself than them, and they exchanged worried glances, united for a moment in their concern for a man both of them loved and respected.
Somewhere in the world, Eric was hurting. Charles put the helmet back on.
This time he let his mind wander, allowing it to be drawn instinctively toward the one mind on the earth besides his own that he knew most intimately.
Charles circled for a moment, hating himself for hesitating, but needing the time to brace himself for the shock of Erik's tortured mind. What he didn't expect was the flaming wall of hate-hate-hate-hate-kill-murder-hate-hate that he found. It wasn't real fire though. It wasn't even real emotion.
Eric's mind didn't burn hot; it burned cold. This was nothing more than a smokescreen, a construct of the mind to defend against telepaths.
Erik, he called, hovering in front of the wall. Let me in. The flames roared higher in response. Suit yourself, he muttered, and lunged. He drew back, hissing as the sparks singed him, the hatred Erik was concentrating on burning the edges of his consciousness.
He stepped back for a second, breathing hard, admiring the mental defenses Erik had created and reinforced with his will. That didn't mean he wouldn't tear it down. Something this ugly didn't belong in Erik's mind. Charles knew Erik's mind inside and out, knew the horrors that dwelled there, though only Erik himself would call it ugly.
He dug his fingers into the burning stones and clawed his way through. Stop fighting me, Erik! he shouted.
And just like that, they were gone. Charles, Erik snapped, Why are you in my mind?
Raven came to me, Charles said, wanting to delve deeper but wanting also to wait for permission.
If you're waiting for an invitation, Charles, you'll be waiting for a very long time, Erik said sardonically.
Charles felt annoyance rise in him. He shoved forward, distantly feeling Erik's surprise—and suddenly he could smell burning flesh, pain-hurt, see two humans, Number One and Number Two, feel dull pricks of agony in his shoulders, I'll kill them all. In the back of his mind, he could feel Erik struggling to regain control.
"Just tell us where he is." Never-never tell-love him-never tell.
He screamed with Erik as one of the humans carved a glowing red knife gently across an arm before driving it into a shoulder blade. Pain-fear-hurt-stop-kill them-I'll kill them all-get out Charles-they deserve to die-get out-get out-get out!
Miles away, Charles staggered backwards, yanking the helmet off his head without conscious thought.
"Ready the plane," he said, as soon as he could speak again. He could feel phantom aches all over his body, even the lower half. His right shoulder was shaking slightly.
Erik felt the ropes lose tension and tried to swing his arms forward so he wouldn't faceplant onto the floor. He mostly succeeded.
Rolling over with a grunt, he looked around warily for the cause of his newfound freedom. The door creaked open slowly and a soldier stepped in.
He offered Erik a hand up. Erik stared at it for a moment before ignoring it and heaving himself to his feet. "What's going on?" he asked, the first time he'd spoken since they'd brought him to this place.
The soldier's eyes shifted nervously. "It's—it's not right," he mumbled. Erik felt suspicion begin prickling the corners of his mind, but decided to play it out for now. There would be time to deal with double-crossers later. He allowed the human to help him out the door.
Once out, the man rifled in his pockets and pulled something out, looking around him furtively. Erik felt something snap into place. A coin. In a flash, the human was pinned by the neck with a wire of stretched coin to the wall.
"Why?" Erik asked, watching the human's terrified eyes.
"My…my niece," he choked out. "Don't want her to…to grow up in a world…that hates her…please."
Erik released him and the human dropped to the ground, rubbing his neck frantically.
The coin reformed in his hand, the coolness of the metal reassuring him, centering him again. He would make these humans pay.
They ducked into another hallway at the sound of booted feet. "There's a plane," the soldier whispered. "It'll take you somewhere safe."
Erik nodded shortly. A plane was good. A plane was more metal.
The soldier was carrying most of Erik's weight by the time they snuck out of the facility and into the surrounding woods. Surely it couldn't be that easy, his dazed mind protested faintly. He tried to stand, to turn back, but couldn't move. The adrenaline rush was wearing off and the world was blackening around the edges of his vision.
"No," he mumbled, gripping the coin tightly. There was something wrong. He had to go back.
Strong, furry blue arms lifted him gently and then they were in the plane and there was metal all around, soft soothing metal, lulling shining metal…
Erik was unconscious by the time Beast set him down on the floor of the Blackbird.
The young mutants looked at each other.
"Someone strap him down," Hank called, settling into the pilot's seat. "It's gonna be a long ride back. Have to make sure we're not followed."
"What do we do about the knife?" Alex asked, eyeing the sharp black stone buried deep in Erik's shoulder with horrified fascination.
"Leave it," Hank said. "He's lost too much blood already. We don't want to risk injuring him further before we get somewhere with actual medical equipment."
"—should've just left him there."
"He deserves it—"
"Not worth the trouble."
"—got enough on his mind without him around."
Erik groaned softly and the voices stopped. The room receded back into darkness.
Erik clawed his way back to consciousness when he felt the plane turn.
"—lost them," Hank was saying.
There were straps restraining his arms, he realized when he tried to sit up. "Stop the plane," he said hoarsely. He struggled harder when nothing happened. That thing, that prickling at the edge of his mind was there. They were being followed.
"Hey, he's awake!" A patter of running feet and he was being looked over by a nervous Alex. A finger prodded his shoulder and he hissed. "It's bleeding again."
Erik attempted to get up, but was held down. "Stop moving," Alex snapped.
"There's something following us," Erik said.
"He says there's something following us," Alex called to Hank.
"I heard him," Hanks said testily. He pushed a few buttons and watched a screen intently. "Nothing's showing up on radar."
"I can feel it," Erik insisted. The young mutants around him exchanged a look, then yelped in alarm when he sliced through the straps neatly with a piece of metal carved from the plane. "I don't have time for this."
He made his way unsteadily towards the drop doors, ignoring the rush of memory that came over him as he did so. That past was finished. There was no point dwelling on it anymore.
"Open the doors and let down the wheels," Erik ordered.
Do as he says, Charles said in all of their minds. The door opens and the wheels come down. It seemed Charles had been busy. The ragtag group of young mutants they had recruited together was now a team who trusted each other, as well as a leader they trusted. They were united now—in their uncertainty and fear of Erik.
Are you sure you're strong enough for this Erik? Charles asked, the concern seeping through his mental voice meant only for him.
Erik gripped a railing tightly to steady himself, shoving all irrelevant thoughts aside. Don't worry Charles, he said, trying to find a moment of calm to fuel his power. He stepped onto the wheel and looked outwards, reaching out.
They've got a sniper, Charles said tightly.
I've got them, Erik replied. And he did, but the plane was fighting his hold. He raised his hand to crush it.
Wait! Charles said urgently, and Erik froze, arm trembling with the strain of holding the plane. I can feel your hate, Erik.
Get out of my head, Charles, Erik said warningly.
You tried it your way! Now try mine, please. Don't kill these people. You can place the plane safely on the ground. Put it on the ground and take it apart and destroy the equipment. You don't have to kill.
Erik snarled soundlessly. They're hunting you, Charles. That is one thing I will not allow.
Charles could feel Erik's concentration slipping. He had lost too much blood, he knew, and should be in a hospital. Certainly not standing on the wheel of a plane holding up another plane with only his trembling, exhausted mind.
"Hold on, love," he murmured. This was his one chance at this. If Erik destroyed that plane now, the Erik Charles loved would be lost forever. And he was selfish, Charles admitted to himself. He wasn't ready to give up that love, would not allow Erik's rage and hatred to consume him.
He could hear Erik's unguarded thoughts, hear him thinking about how difficult it would be to lower the plane slowly to the ground, how it would be so much easier to simply close his hand in a fist and destroy.
Erik, Charles thought softly, You can do it. There's no need to kill those men.
Don't say it, Charles. Don't you dare say they're just following orders.
These were not the people who hurt you, Erik. They have not hurt me either.
But they would, they have orders to hurt you. Charles could sense Erik's desperation and wavering will.
But they haven't. Not all humans are evil, Erik, he thought gently. Remember Moira, remember the human soldier who helped you.
Moira shot you, Erik snarled.
The human soldier then. He helped you at risk to his and his family's safety.
He doublecrossed us. He told them where the Blackbird was.
No, his heart and motives were true. Charles could feel his hesitation now, his reconsideration. Put it down Erik. Put your anger and hurt down with it. Come back to the Mansion to me and let's start over. Let me help you.
Erik took a shuddering breath. Unconsciousness was sliding toward him and he blinked blearily, still holding the plane in place.
He needed a memory to calm him. He could feel Charles offering him that one precious, childhood memory to him. Gently, he pushed it away. I have a better one.
His eyes closed.
He was in the study, book in hand, but forgotten for the moment. Bright sunlight was streaming through the window, and beyond it were sounds of laughter. Charles was outside, talking to the group of young mutants. He should be out there with him, Erik knew, but he didn't want to break the spell. The wind lifted Charles's hair playfully and Erik smiled to himself, a small private smile. Charles glanced up and caught his eye.
Erik, Charles said softly to him in wonder. The plane was on the ground, neatly disassembled, equipment crushed into compact little cubes and utterly useless. Tiny dots of humans moved around the pieces in confusion.
Alex pulled him back up into the plane and the door closed beneath him. The world was spinning and he could still feel the gentle warmth of Charles's mind around his like a blanket. There was a coppery taste in his mouth and he could feel wetness dripping down his chin.
Charles, he thought quietly.
Erik steeped himself back in the golden light of the memory and Charles's voice faded to an echo.
"Oh Erik," Charles said, hand brushing over Erik's brow. "We have to get him to a hospital."
The woman at the front desk looked at them askance when they walked in bearing Erik on a stretcher. Charles knocked his morals aside to touch their minds. They asked no more questions.
For the first time, Charles could understand Erik's simmering rage, could truly feel his hatred towards them. It frightened him, this maelstrom of feeling, because he knew the power he wielded. He forced himself to look away from Erik's bloodied, bruised body as they wheeled him away to surgery.
Hank put a hand on his shoulder. "Erik is strong. He'll be alright. You both will."
Charles touched Erik's mind gently. He was dreaming of golden sunlight and the mansion, of chess games and the smell of books. Kisses in the moonlight.
"Yes," Charles said. "I think we will."