Three Chances

Summary: Magneto's eyes are fierce as the chains tighten. "Out of respect for Charles," he says, "I gave you three chances to leave him alone. This was your last chance. And now you'll pay the price." And then he walks away, and leaves me to die.

Rating: K

Genre: romance ; angst

Canon Character(s): Charles Xavier/Professor X ; Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto ; Colonel William Stryker

OC Character(s): none

Set During: right after "X-Men: First Class", and then dipping into "X-Men" and "X-Men United"

Notes: This fic is in first person, from Colonel William Stryker's point of view, and present tense, which I don't usually write in, so apologies in advance for any awkward warning.

A few months after the events of "X-Men: First Class"

~ William Stryker ~

I lean against my chair with a satisfied sigh as I look over the neat files of information spread over my desk. In one lies the schematics and drawings and pictures of the sprawling New York estate and mansion that Xavier must have retired too. In another rests the detailed plans for how to negate the mutants' powers, how to safely abduct them, how to hold them, and how, in general, to take care of that problem. And more and more and more information . . .

Everything we could possibly want or need to know.

I smirk as I oversee the documents. Xavier had vanished, nearly out of sight and tracking, after being treated at a hospital in Florida, and questionings were useless, of course, given that no one remembered anything – not even Agent MacTaggert – and the security cams weren't much help either, but it was impossible for him to hide everything.

Like the fact that he had used an army truck to drive to the original hiding place, which had been noted every mile on the way.

Or the fact that he had been willed a mansion and estate with the deaths of his reportedly alcoholic mother, abusive stepfather, and troublesome stepbrother.

Despite all the missing memories, we had managed to narrow everything down and find where Xavier must be staying. Just one more day, I tell myself proudly, and we'll be ready to move out. I was itching to find out the limits and capabilities of these mutants, though, and even one day was a stretch.

I fold the papers away and stand, reaching for my coat –

And jump as an eardrum-blasting metallic shriek rips through the compound. I curse even as I grab for my gun, and frantic knocks sound at my door.

I open the door without thinking about it.

It is a bad idea.

Levene charges in, face flushed, eyes wide, gasping for breath. "The – The – "

"What is it?" I demand, reaching to shake him.

Bad idea.

Suddenly, Levene's entire posture changes. He straightens, suddenly very tall, and his breathing calms, and he eyes me with golden pupils.

"Hello, William Stryker. Now, get your hands off of me, homo sapien," Levene spits, the tone flickering between a male's and a female's, with eyes rippling with gold and a body flickering with blue, and a punch sends me crashing backwards into the desk.

I lift a shaking hand to aim the gun, dazed – and the gun abruptly flies out of my hand.

There's a puff of red smoke and sulfur, and then a red-skinned, black-haired vision of a demon is standing there, a pointed tail curling around the air as he leers at me. Levene gives me a cruel smile and then dissolves, leaving behind a scaly blue female with cherry red hair and eyes the gold of a lion's skin. I've seen both of them before, and despite their demonic appearances, they are not the ones who really scare me.

The man standing there in the doorway, one hand calmly raised to destroy my gun, is.

He is shorter than the teleporter, and looks almost completely human. He could pass as a human, if he so chose. But he has adorned himself with a magenta cape and silver-and-red helmet that curves over his head.


"Hello, Colonel Stryker," he says, his tone deceptively pleasant.

I shove myself to my feet, ready to tackle him to the ground – but suddenly the scaly blue female is there in my face, bared white teeth shocking against the blue skin, and a blood-red tail is dancing in the corner of my vision.

"Mystique, Azazel," Lehnsherr says, almost bored, "can I have a moment or two with the colonel?"

The red-skinned demon pulls his tail away and vanishes in a puff of red smoke. The scaly blue female gives me a cold glare and stalks away to hover in the shadows, graceful even as she threatens me. Lehnsherr makes a small gesture, and the door slams closed.

"What the hell are you doing, Lehnsherr?" I bluster.

His eyes grow even colder, if that is possible. He tilts his head. "I should ask you, I think. What are you planning to do about Charles Xavier?" he asks.

Instinctively, my hands clutch at the desk where the papers are stored. I don't have any copies of the plans; we thought it would be the best defense that only one person knows how all the pieces fit together, given that Xavier is a telepath and I would be far away from his radius. Hopefully. That was when we had thought that Xavier would be our greatest threat.

Apparently not.

"Why do you care?" I decide to bluff. "You and Xavier are enemies. You hurt each other. You left each other."

The words leave quite a different impact than I wanted.

The scaly blue female almost seems to . . . wince, and something that isn't quite pain or disgust or boredom flashes in Lehnsherr's granite eyes.

Interesting. I file the thought away for further notice.

Then Lehnsherr's hands flicker, as though he is pulling at invisible strings, and the walls screech in protest as metal is ripped out. I barely have a second to stare in half awe and half fear – I have seen the abilities of the red demon, the scaly blue shapeshifter, the diamond telepath, and of course Xavier as a telepath, but never Lehnsherr – before the metal is brutally clamping around me, twisting my arms painfully and yanking me off my feet, literally tying me to the ceiling. I struggle, gasping for breath against the pain as metal constricts my chest and tightens around my arms, but the metal solidifies into an unbroken and unbreakable chain wrapping all around me.

Lehnsherr drops his hands and takes a step towards me, eyes menacing. "Charles Xavier and I have different beliefs," he corrects, his words mild compared to the cold tone he says them in. "But he is my brother, and unlike you humans, mutants value one another."

I stare at him, dazed. There is a . . . something in Lehnsherr's tone as he speaks of the telepath, and it confuses me. I had never seen that they were any closer that mere acquaintances who'd met each other while nearly drowning.

Apparently I have underestimated Xavier.

Lehnsherr takes another step, so he's nearly in my face, and he is a terrifying sight. "Out of respect for Charles," he says, "I will give you three chances to leave him alone. Do not go near him, do not attack him – do not even think of attacking him – and I will consider sparing your sorry life. For now. But if you strike against Charles Xavier, then you strike against the Brotherhood of Mutants, and I will consider that your opening act of war."

Lehnsherr steps back. "Mystique?"

The scaly blue woman purses her lips and utters a shrill whistle. There is a puff of smoke, and then the red demon is back, along with a man in a grey suit and the diamond telepath. The grey-suited man grabs the documents as the diamond woman fixes me with a narrow-eyed glare, and then after a moment they vanish once more.

A blink, and the red demon was back.

Lehnsherr steps back to hold hands with the red demon. "You have two more chances," he calls. "Do not cross me."

And just like that, they are gone.

X-Men (2000)

I scan the crowds, blending in seamlessly with the rest of the cheering crowd following Senator Kelly's impromptu but very welcome speech. He is young and has no idea how to wage his war, but that's okay with me; I will wage it, and he can rally the people to follow what I do. As long as I can take care of the mutant problem, he can get all the credit he wants.

I just want Xavier.

The telepath is sitting calmly in the gallery, face completely impassive as the people around him cheer at a mutant registration bill that he and his X-Men are trying so hard to defeat.

This time, we are in luck. All the elements are in place. His students are nowhere near him – actually, student, as Dr. Jean Grey is surprisingly the only mutant to accompany Xavier here today (usually he brings the man with sunglasses, Scott Summers, or the white-haired, dark-skinned woman they call Storm and I know is Ororo Munroe). And he is distracted, reading the thoughts and the climate of the people around him, trying not to influence their decisions while deciding how the cards are stacked against him.

It's the perfect opportunity for a snatch.

I touch the tiny radio in my ear. "Ready?"

The chimes of my men come back. They are all in position, circling the crowd with tranquilizers. And the best part is that Xavier won't sense them, because they are not consciously thinking about attacking him.

They aren't even consciously in control of themselves, actually.

So he won't know until he feels the needle prick, and by then, it will be far too late.

I take one, two, three steps towards the edge of the high gallery, watching as my men begin to slowly push through the crowd towards the telepath –

And then I freeze as my radio crackles, and I feel my gun slide from my back pocket into someone else's hands – without anyone touching it. And in that instant, I know the plan is over. The gun presses against my back, again, without any hand to hold it.

"Colonel Stryker," comes Magneto's calm, cool voice. "We meet again."

"You can't stop me," I whisper harshly, watching as my men draw ever closer to the telepath.

Magneto laughs dryly. "Yes, I can." He leans closer, his voice lowering even as the menace increases. "Your men carry metal guns, Stryker – have you forgotten? And I can easily blow a hole through your back. Worse comes to worse, well, I'll simply call for Charles myself, and let him wipe your men of all their memories and leave you to deal with an angry telepath."

Inwardly, I quail at his threat. Magneto is deadly, and willing to go to whatever lengths, seemingly, to protect his mutant brother.

But it is Xavier I fear.

As a telepath, he is potentially the most powerful person in the world. Magneto can manipulate metal and magnetic fields, but only metal and magnetic fields. Xavier can manipulate reality – he can change the world without even lifting a finger. He could bring everyone to their knees without trying.

Outwardly, though, I am a military colonel. I show no emotion. Especially not fear.

"You and I both know that Xavier is far too forgiving to hurt me," I remind him as calmly as I can.

I hear the click of the safety being dropped.

"And you and I both know," Magneto counters evenly, "that I am not even close to that forgiving when it comes to my brothers and sisters. Even one as hopelessly naive as Charles Xavier." The gun digs more insistently into my back. "Now, call your men off and leave with them alive or leave with the entire Senate knowing that you just tried to assassinate a well-known professor." There is a whisper of cloth as he shrugs. "Or you might not leave alive at all, if you struggle. But, really, it's your choice."

I grit my teeth. Really, it's no choice. All of this work, wasted.

"Well?" Magneto prompts.

I lift my hand to the radio. "Abort the mission," I order quietly. "Leave the target alone. We'll try again another time."

My men hesitate, looking around, but they have no free-will. They have no choice but to do exactly as I said, thanks to my son's ingenious little potion. So they tuck their guns back in the pockets, shove their hands into their pants, and stroll away from the oblivious telepath.

"Thank you," Magneto says. "Of course, you shouldn't try for another time, Stryker."

The gun clatters to the floor.

"You just wasted your second chance, Stryker," Magneto continues. "I gave you a warning for Charles's sake, Stryker; don't throw it away."

He steps away as I turn around, blending seamlessly into the crowd as he replaces an old hat atop his head.

"I'll be watching," he reminds me.

And then he walks silently away, shoulders straight, head help high.

I grit my teeth furiously as I stoop to scoop the gun back up and think at all the work, all the time that was just wasted by Magneto's little intervention. It doesn't help that a few moments later, Xavier trundles ignorantly after Magneto and ends up alone and without anyone knowing where he is – a perfect opportunity for a quick tranquilize-and-grab that Magneto has just completely ruined.

One day, I'll get you, Xavier, I swear.

X-Men 2: X-Men United (2003)

The chains fly around me, locking my arms and legs and torso into place, preventing me from doing almost everything but breathing and blinking – and even that is a hassle, as I cannot support myself and my feet do not touch the ground, and so I lean awkwardly against a chain that presses into my face.

Magneto stands before me. He has aged so much since I last saw him, but one thing remains the same – one single hand, raised and pointed, as if he truly is the god among insects delivering my final judgment.

Judgment for what I have done to Charles Xavier, and the mutants.

I know which is more important.

"What is Xavier to you anyways?" I grit out past the pain.

Mystique bares her teeth at me, the white shocking against her red-demon hair and gold eyes and scaly blue skin.

And for the first time, Magneto seems surprised.

"Charles is my brother, Stryker," he says mildly. "And unlike humans, we protect our own."

I stop listening. For the first time, I hear the strange tone when Magneto says "Charles". Even under the influence of Jason's power, he always struggled to conceal things from me, even as I upped the dosage until it was too dangerous to up it anymore. I always thought it because he was trying to annoy me. But then I realize – No. That tone has always been there, ever since the first time he spoke with Xavier. Always.

And that's when it finally clicks, and I realize exactly where I made my mistake.

I never should have gone for Xavier first. I should have gone for Magneto first, because then Xavier would be all-too easy to pick off.

"You love him," I realize.

Magneto's eyes harden dangerously as Mystique drifts closer, fists clenched, eyes furious. Then he flicks his wrist, and the chains melt into the barrier, fusing with them until they become part of it. And then, unexpectedly, he throws his head back and just . . . laughs.

I flinch.

It's such a horrible laugh, filled with bitterness that makes mine – my own about my wife, my son, the mutants, my life – seem pale in comparison.

Funny, I never saw Magneto as the type of person to regret anything.

Yet it also confirms my suspicions. Yes, Magneto walked away from Xavier – but he regretted it. It explains, suddenly, why the X-Men, and especially Xavier, have never tried to kill Magneto, and why the Brotherhood has never tried to strike against the Westchester mansion where Xavier's school is. Magneto still respects and loves Xavier. He fights to protect him because he loves him, not because they are both mutants, and in fact had Xavier not been born a mutant, Magneto might have fought for him anyways, simply because he loves him.

Xavier, not my warfare, has stayed Magneto's hand in destroying the human race completely.

Magneto sees the understanding settle across my face. "So long has it taken you to realize," he murmurs, his eyes still granite hard. "Well, congratulations, Stryker, although it's a little late to try and find redemption for what has been done. I think your time is up, though, and I am glad that we shall never meet again."

He shrugs and turns to leave.

Somehow, I find the strength to hurl one last spear into his heart. I will die – but if I must, then I will do my best to drag him down with me.

"Xavier would loathe what you have done."

Magneto freezes.

Mystique lets out a vicious hiss, and for the first time in many years, she speaks directly to me. "What do you know about Charles Xavier?" she demands. "All you have ever done is try and kill him, while he's protected your sorry life more than you know."

Magneto turns back to me with a sad smile and the air of someone going to commit a crime and condemn himself to death or worse – but doesn't care, because it's either him or someone else, and he loves that someone else far too much to let them suffer what he will suffer for taking the fall. "Perhaps," he agrees. "But he cannot hate me anymore than I hate myself. Speaking of which . . ."

He raises his hand again, and I gasp as my blood suddenly tugs at my skin, and I vaguely remember something about iron in the blood and how it can be manipulated by magnetic fields which was how Magneto escaped his prison in the first place – and then blood is dripping from various places in my body where the iron has ripped through the skin and left wounds that will not have time to heal gaping open, sapping what little strength I have left.

"One day, someone will finish what I have started!" I shout at his retreating back. "One day, I swear it!"

"Maybe," comes an answer so soft I can barely here. "But that someone will not be you, Colonel Stryker. I gave you three chances to leave Charles alone, and you spoiled them all. I will not risk Charles again, and so you must die."

Distantly, I hear the whine of a helicopter, and notice, dimly, that Mystique has vanished from Magneto's side.

"Good-bye, William Stryker."

And then Magneto is gone, and I am left with the knowledge that despite all I have done, I might have just made the mutants ever stronger, not any weaker.

After all, all I ever did was drive Magneto and Xavier closer together.

I should have driven them apart.

But perhaps fate – and a bullet to the spine during a missile crisis many decades ago – did that for me.

The End