Summary: Magneto gets more than bargained for when he tangles with William Stryker for the first time. I played pretty fast and loose with various "X-Men" canons for this in an attempt to clumsily carve out my own. In particular, inspiration comes from the "God Loves, Man Kills" comic, and simultaneously, implications in "X2" that Charles and Erik have a history with Stryker. Also, I suppose I must give James McAvoy credit where it is due for looking really, really pretty while getting beaten up in all of his movies.

This is set an indeterminate "few years" after the events in "First Class." Rated PG-13 for depictions of violence, though I mostly subscribe to the Karen Miller School of Action Writing, which is to say that I try desperately to cover up my inability to write action sequences with lots of talking and feelings and crap. It works for Miller's published Anakin/Obi-Wan fanfiction, anyways.


William Stryker is a dangerous man. Magneto holds a generally low regard for humans, but even he has to admit that Stryker is innately worse than the majority of the race he has few qualms about exterminating. The majority of humankind fears and hates mutants; Stryker breeds that fear into them with the care of a scientist.

Magneto knows that their paths will cross eventually. Sure enough, investigating the slaughter of a mutant family leads him rather easily to Stryker. The base is an elaborate set-up high in the mountains, and Magneto can feel every ounce of metal in the place as though it is an appendage. He isn't particularly cautious or stealthy about his arrival, but Stryker seems bemused by his presence. Warily, Magneto finds himself drawn into a back-and-forth.

"Surely you must realize, my friend, that it was a mercy killing." If anything, Magneto is impressed by Stryker's gall. "A family of mutants would be about as useful as a family of simians in civilized society." The smile he offers is nothing short of calculating. "At best, they should be accounted for and then kept under careful observation, away from the rest of society." Then his voice pitches upward slightly, and Magneto senses a new undercurrent to Stryker's words: "For example, a mutant school. Do you know anybody who might have one?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Magneto lies, but something tugs on the fringes of his consciousness, and his mouth is suddenly bitter.

Stryker's gaze is pitiless, delighted. "What a coincidence," he says softly, and he's motioning to some of his lackeys now; Purifiers, Magneto thinks that they call themselves. "That's what he told us, too."

"He," Magneto repeats dully, and then his blood runs cold.

He recognizes Charles Xavier instantly, even without hair; even with the excessive bruises and blood and the swelling of his face. It's been years, save for public accolade that Charles has collected for his research in genetics – Mystique is usually the one who leaves the newspaper clippings strategically lying around – but their gazes meet, and it's a fleeting, desperate connection. Then it's broken, and Magneto suddenly wishes he could take off his helmet; worry over whether Stryker employs his own telepath keeps it in place.

Stryker watches him. "Charles is helping us to find mutants," he says pleasantly. "However, he doesn't like to cooperate." Magneto stares at the strip of wadded fabric secured around the back of Charles' head, at the way he doesn't quite stand on his own as he's flanked roughly by two other men, each roughly gripping a bound arm in a way that must be painful. He's not precisely certain what the fixture strapped around Charles' skull is for, but he imagines that it keeps the other man docile.

Sure enough, Stryker is more than willing to fill in the blanks. "He only reads minds when we want him to. You'll find," he says carefully, "that I like to have things under control." He gestures, and more of Stryker's men appear, each hoisting a small pistol aimed at Magneto. It should be easy enough to wrench them out of soft, human grips with but a flick of his wrist, so he's surprised when they don't budge.

"Plastic," Magneto mutters curiously, and then everything goes dark.

He comes to in a darkened cell. The air is cold, and he immediately sends out a cursory search for metal. The nearest source is quite far away. He hoists himself into a sitting position, and that's when he realizes that he isn't alone.

The other occupant lies on his side, and Magneto can quickly tell that it is not a position he has chosen willingly. That he's conscious enough to groan with pain when Magneto gingerly shifts him, eyes large and watery as his head lolls back against Magneto's leg is somehow comforting. Magneto removes the gag first. It's caked with dried blood, and he notices how cracked Charles' lips are when he licks them. "Charles," he says softly, and the other man's gaze softens.

"Erik." It's been a long while since anybody called him this, but Magneto allows it. With anybody else, it would be a mark of disrespect; with Charles, it will always be different. He lets Charles rest against his chest while he busies himself with unbinding the other man's wrists, the rope used not as malleable as metal. There's a good deal of chafing, and he absently rubs at Charles' upper arms to help with circulation.

"Thank you."

Magneto, nee Erik Lehnsherr, shakes his head. "Always." He grabs up bits of medical supplies that he keeps on his belt, including a swab and some disinfectant to wipe at some of the blood on Charles' face. "This may hurt," he admonishes, but he is painstakingly gentle, cupping Charles' jaw and making soothing noises, not even realizing he's doing it. "What do you know about this place?" he asks.

Charles considers. "This room is made of plastic," he offers. "Stryker has been interested in your whereabouts for a long time. I wanted to warn you, but it was too risky, what with my brainwaves being constantly monitored." He watches Erik's gaze flicker up to the wires wrapped around his head and puts up his hands protectively. "No, Erik." He takes a steadying breath. "I go through periods of sensory deprivation here when I'm not being forced to find mutants for them. It's very … jarring. I'm afraid I would hurt someone, or they would hurt you for enabling me." His face is carefully passive, but Erik can see the haunted fearfulness behind his gaze, and it angers him because this was exactly the kind of thing he had warned Charles about when they had first met.

Still, he avoids opening old wounds in favor of planning an escape, for both of them. "Perhaps you just need a conduit for the worst of it," he says.

Charles' expression is one of slow-dawning horror as he realizes the implication of this. "Erik, no," he breathes. He tries to grasp at Erik's helmet as the other man begins to remove it, but Erik bats his hands away easily and slides it off. Then he takes hold of both sides of Charles' face. "Erik …"

"Ready?" Charles makes a noise of displeasure, but after a steadying breath, he seems somewhat calmer. "Your brainwaves are electromagnetic," Erik tells him. "I was made for this, Charles."

The wires imprisoning Charles' telepathic mind come off. Charles' head rears back as if he's being shocked, and then he bucks forward, fairly diving towards Erik, who catches him easily to ride out the shared ecstasy and horror of the immediate mind-meld. Electricity seems to race up and down Erik's spine, crackling, alive. Images float through his consciousness; he knows everything about everybody in the near vicinity, and the knowledge swirls around in his skull in a thick mass. Charles' mind is everywhere and anywhere at once, and Erik is right there with him, watching, wide-eyed, taking it all in.

He doesn't know how long the peak of their connection lasts, but eventually, he can mostly focus on his and Charles' breathing, the low hum of neurons firing as Charles' thoughts are sent directly to him: 'Did I hurt you?'

'No.' He rubs Charles' back. They stare at each other, and the connection slips gradually away, leaving Erik feeling oddly empty.

"Thank you," Charles says again, and picks up the helmet in his small hands. Erik takes it and returns it to his head slowly. "I believe I know how we can escape," Charles continues. Then he pauses and looks down at his legs, and then bites his lip.

"Not broken," Erik says, stunned. He's suddenly glad he has the helmet on; any mental comfort Charles might try to offer otherwise would be entirely too much.

Charles' smile is wry. "Quite broken, actually," he cracks. He appears to choose his words carefully. "I have a chair here somewhere. It's mostly metal. You should be able to … so you don't have to carry me out of here …"

"Yes. All right," Erik says quietly. In spite of Charles' protests, he actually fits quite easily into Erik's arms; 'like he was made for this,' Erik thinks, but he doesn't say it aloud.

The escape goes relatively smoothly. They don't have to kill nearly as many humans as Erik expects, and he knows it's because Charles has sought out the path of least violence. Erik doesn't agree, but he respects Charles' wishes as much as he can.

When they're far enough away from the compound, Charles draws up a considerable amount of energy to summon Azazel, who is confused, but comes when Erik transmits his own orders via the other man's brain. "Where?" he grunts, eyeing Charles suspiciously.

Erik cocks his head. "The mansion," he says finally. He puts a bracing hand on Charles' shoulder. "He comes with us." Azazel does not dare to defy him.

Charles' chair is, in fact, largely metal, albeit clunky and obviously not hemmed together by a master metal-worker. Still, Erik is impressed by the effort, and so he good-naturedly ignores Hank McCoy's irritation as he watches the helmeted man dismantle and rebuild it. "I'm sorry it doesn't meet your high standards," he says incredulously, but he eventually heads back upstairs, leaving only one other occupant in the room.

Charles smiles at him apologetically from the large armchair that has been provided for him. His face has been salved and freshly bandaged, and the surroundings are familiar enough that Erik aches a bit. "Hank has very high standards," he offers, and looks appreciatively at the remodeled chair. "I think even he would agree that this is beautiful, Erik."

Erik shrugs and stands. "It's the least I can do," he says, his face passive. Nonetheless, he strides slowly to where Charles beckons, kneeling in front of his legs. He sighs when Charles motions for him to remove his helmet. "Charles …"

"Please." When it's off, the connection is back, albeit less aggressive than it had been on Stryker's compound. Instead, their mingled thoughts throb pleasantly in the back of Erik's mind. It's bittersweet, but Erik lets himself get lost momentarily in Charles' friendly gaze, his lopsided smile. Charles' next words express the sentiment perfectly: "So much time has passed, and yet, I feel as though I only just met you yesterday."

Erik nods. "I feel the same way." He reluctantly adds: "I suppose we'll just spend the rest of our lives saving one another from peril."

Charles laughs softly. "It does seem to be a habit of ours." The touch of his hand makes Erik swallow. "Of course, you know it doesn't have to be this way forever, Erik. We don't have to keep running in opposite directions. Our goals, they can dovetail."

Erik withdraws his hand. "I must go, Charles."

Charles nods sadly. "Of course." He closes his eyes as Erik slips the helmet back on, as if it will cause him less pain. "I suppose I've said it already, Erik, but: Thank you. For everything."

Erik inclines his head forward, and it's almost a bow. "You're welcome," he says honestly, and stops at the doorway before he takes his leave completely. "Stryker's not dead," he reminds the other man. "Be careful, Charles. I won't always be there."

"Of course." Charles' smile is enigmatic and frustrating and so, so charming, and Erik wants to slap it off of his face and kiss him at the same time. He settles for leaving; it's not the right choice, he can tell as soon as he goes, but it's the only rational one that he has. This way, at least, he is the one in control.