Fucking Emma Frost was like everything else about Brotherhood life. Regimented, Spartan, filling a need. Routine and, most importantly, entirely within Erik's control. Emma and he had nothing to argue about, not even the things they disagreed on.

He didn't wear the helmet around her, because she wanted to be in his mind as little as he wanted her there – neither of them were interested in knowing anything more about each other than that they enjoyed each others' bodies from time to time. He told her when to stay, and when to go, and she did, not because she was insipid, but because (and God, but her indifference was refreshing) she could genuinely take or leave him. It meant the sex was only good, and not great, but Erik had never strived for maximum gratification in anything so benign...not until -

No. Not ever. Never again.

He shook this thought away, and lit one of the Pall Malls he kept faithfully on the nightstand, taking a moment to observe Emma stretched out, naked and still a little flushed, her toes flexing like a cat's paws in reflective pleasure, but not as...relaxed, somehow, as the situation generally called for.

"Something wrong?"

Whatever she was concentrating on, it certainly wasn't Erik, and whatever she was picking out from the tangle of minds around them, it was nothing she was expecting.

"Azazel's back," she said slowly, and her look of remote and vague confusion hardened into a little frown. "And – worried."

Erik had the distinct impression that 'worried' was not even remotely close to the word she wanted to use.

"Are you going to earn your pay and tell me what he's thinking, or are you going to pretend you're human and beat around the bush?"

This was overly hostile, he knew. He also knew that Emma could take it. And he didn't particularly care if she couldn't. True to form, she showed no anger, only pulled her white jeans on and did her bra calmly as if dressing for a business meeting. He followed suit automatically, throwing on sweatpants and standing to blow smoke off the villa's balcony, never taking his eyes off of her.

"I'll be back," she said, when she realized he was expecting an answer, and then dismissed herself.

So, pretending she was human, then, probably because someone outside the room needed an illusion for a little while. It was oddly disappointing, knowing that even Emma, who preferred her diamond form for the impermeability it so falsely seemed to lend her, was subject to that particular vulnerability.

But then, she had the choice. She could switch off her abilities when she wanted to (not needed to, Emma was not like – Emma didn't need to block out the world, because the misery of others caused her no pain) and he knew her well enough to understand she considered that ability another weapon. Maybe it was. But Erik was a radical, as the Bell Curve of the world kept reminding. He had really had enough of everyone around him thinking there were any circumstances when it was better to act as though they were part of the generic mass of homo sapiens.

A quarter of an hour passed. Once or twice he thought of following her, of storming down to the assembly room and demanding a report...

But he remembered only too well what he'd sent Azazel to check on. Even without telepathy, he knew what they all thought, knew that he had held two bodies close in Cuba, and what that display had cost him in face with everyone except Mystique...

He would not go running like a spaniel for news of Him.

So instead he paced. He cleaned up the after-mess of his and Emma's tryst as if he were hiding evidence, because the intimacy of the aftermath disturbed him. He smoked another cigarette.

He only allowed true fear to draw icy blood in his gut, when Emma knocked on the door, and called him sir, not Magneto as she usually did when they might be overheard, or Erik as she did when they were alone.

"Sir, you need to hear what Azazel has to say," she said, formal and blunt at once. "And no. I'm not short-cutting this one for you. Or him," she added, a faint, wry twist to her lips. "I don't think this gets to be easy."

Emma didn't project, at least not to him. Not like –

Emma had never projected anything to him in all the time he had known her.

But for the first time since he had properly encountered her, sitting half-dressed on a couch while her mind convinced a hapless general she was under his pawing hands, she looked as though she was having to try very hard not to.

"Spit it out then."

He ground it out, cold apprehension spreading as his eyes darted from Emma's mirthless smile to the genuine terror written all over Azazel's features. Azazel...hundreds of years old and stoic as marble, the same Azazel who contested him for leadership not two weeks before and might even have won if not for –

Irrelevant.

"Now!"

"He's paralyzed."

The teleporter blurted the news over Erik's shouted command...at the same time. Surely, he'd misheard.

"What?"

Azazel swallowed, regained some of his composure, and met his question. "He's paralyzed. The bullet...it severed his spinal cord. These American doctors...they are the best, they say, and they cannot fix it. He was just released. They say..."

And here he looked at Emma, probably spoke to her in that place he couldn't see or hear, but she only nodded him on.

"They say he will never walk again."

The world was very still, and utterly silent, and far too small. And for some reason, Azazel was still standing there. As though he had a right to keep existing.

As though anyone did.

Erik tried to breathe. He knew he did not succeed, because his chest did not rise. Blood pounded in his ears and he began to feel light-headed. He tried again. He needed to breathe, because he needed to speak. He needed to tell Azazel...tell him -

Blank. Nothing. His mind was wiped clear and white as a snowdrift...white as Frost.

All that survived was Frost.

"Thank you, Azazel," she said, and some part of Erik, a part floating high above the scene, applauded her courage as she reached out and pushed a hard palm into his stomach, triggering his diaphragm and catalyzing breath once more.

"You may go now. I'll deal with this."

This. Not him. The detached part of Erik was incredibly grateful for that, for the fact that she seemed to have grasped this wasn't anything as pathetic or innate as emotion, that it was something more and far too hollow, something that called for it's own pronoun,...something beyond his control.

Azazel hesitated - why? – and how strange. Cold, it seemed, could burn as well as freeze, because Emma's "Go!" sounded like the snap of a match thrown onto petrol.

Erik watched Azazel go up in smoke. He walked through his after image, walked through the blank white of his will and walked past Emma as though she were as intangible. He sat calmly in the only chair in the room, and watched himself cross his legs. He counted the lace holes. There were sixteen. Then he counted seconds. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi. He imagined them fall in line, fall down and past and through and forward like dominos, and then he counted the dominos' spots.

Thirty-seven. Two-hundred and sixteen spots. Before she spoke.

"Talk to me, Erik."

It didn't sound like she particularly wanted him to. No...she sounded like a doctor...heh. Yes. A doctor giving an order.

It didn't make any difference. She could order, she could manipulate, she could get on her knees and feign sympathy and plead if she wanted, and there would still be nothing to say and nothing she could do or say herself in response even if there were.

He supposed she was waiting for him to react. He'd always been best at rage, after all – ah. That was what had worried Azazel. Interesting. The teleporter had probably thought he'd take killing the messenger literally.

He might well do, later, if Azazel was stupid enough to come near him any time soon. He wondered when Emma had become so foolish as to think she was going to get away with being in the same room as him for much longer.

"You realise," Emma said in a very calm voice, "that I'm being polite here. I could just find out what's going on in your head. But I'm sure you'd make me suffer for that, and I don't care enough to go through pain to satisfy my curiosity. So you are going to talk to me."

"I could kill you in" –one Mississippi - "one second flat. A single second. I could tear your head from your body without even moving from this chair, and look at the mess without flinching."

He cocked his head to the side, and smiled, imagining it. It was comforting, and he was in no position to turn down...comfort...nonono...

...it wasn't anything...it was blank, white as snow...

...two-three-four-five-six...white as sand...

...seveneightnine...beach...

Charles!

His voice was far away. "Did you know I could do that, Emma? I know what the inside of a child's stomach looks like. I bet you didn't know that."

I know what broken looks like. It's robin's egg blue and filled with tears.

"I found that out when I was nineteen. Killing gets easier. Hurting people is so easy now. It's why the Brotherhood is easy too...I could run the Brotherhood with my hands tied behind my - my..."

Back. Bullet. Blood. Blood and - sand. Pain. Alone. Alone.

Erik laughed. "Because it's so easy."

Emma said nothing for a long moment. She didn't look horrified, or frightened, or repulsed. She didn't look as though she felt pity – something else to be grateful for – or any kind of sadness. She didn't seem to be gearing herself up to argue, or console, or offer comfort of any kind.

She was like a priest in a confessional, cool and remote and accepting whatever he wanted to say as the truth – because of course, why would he bother lying to her?

And when she finally spoke, it was nothing he had ever imagined he would hear, from her or anyone else.

"I loved Sebastian," she said, smooth and casual, as though she were announcing there would be rain later that day. "I don't expect anyone to understand that. I don't want anyone to understand that. It's mine. But what he did to you - that was evil. I know what was said on that beach. Riptide gossips like an old woman and Mystique's a sloppy drunk. You blamed Moira and Charles blamed you and the pair of you missed the obvious. Because everything that happened that day – you didn't do that, Erik, and nor did Moira MacTaggert, and Charles Xavier wasn't making any kind of choice or asking you to make one either. Sebastian did it all for everyone, years ago, when he took hold of you. And I know that because I loved him. And I knew him. And the one thing he always did? Was win. He was always going to win. And he did."

Her smile was a little raw scrape of pain. "Maybe you need to stop letting him. It's more than I can do."

No. Not a priest.

An exorcist.

Her words ripped through his flesh surer than any steel and went straight for the invisible parts...hidden and treasonous, sacriligious and small, starved and hidden, hidden -

"Get out."

"No."

"GET OUT."

"No, Erik."

"WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?"

All the metal in the room shot towards the ceiling. Bedframe. Lamp. Four fountainpens and a tumbler and a chess set he'd had custom made...and then put away. The bedframe cracked the plaster ...and then it all went shooting towards Emma.

White clothing and icy skin and pale gold hair all turned diamond, but Emma did not seem disturbed. Not even when he battered her, his subconscious governing the field, intent brutal and unyielding and desperate –

get out...get out...I just want to...I...just...

Erik never wanted to want anything ever again. Feel anything. Be anyone. Erik wanted No Erik.

Erik wanted Emma to leave.

Erik wanted Charles.