Magneto leaned backwards in a languid stretch, then turned it into a reverse summersault, knowing that his easy acrobatics impressed the new ones. He and Mystique had been training them since lunch, and this particular batch were fervid in their dedication, caring nothing for the slowly dipping sun on the horizon except for the way it impaired their combat vision.
"You're all gifted," he intoned as he bounded across the training green towards his cerulean comrade, who was poised with a surraded plastic sword. "Powerful. Supreme to humans beyond their wildest fears."
She struck with the sword and a terrible cry. He ducked, tried to trip her, failed. Tried again, succeeded in breaking the flow of her agility and got her on the ground. "But the power in your blood, Brothers and Sisters, is tainted with a price. The humans want your lives. They want to bleed your Godhood out of you because they know what you can be."
Mystique flipped him with a grappling move she'd learned well, and almost had him across the throat with the blade. He heard the newest one, Toad, gasp in reflexive concern for him a few yards away through his forked and too-large tongue.
There was no reason to worry. Before she could vanquish the power of his arm and win her position, Magneto called a sizable rock he sensed in his estate's surrounding pine forrest, and used its iron content to pull it forward with surprising speed. Faced with the choice between winning the exhibition and a broken rib, Mystique did the smart thing, and rolled off of him, dodging the boulder by inches.
"We are lucky, Bretherin." He continued, barely winded. "For we have found each other. Too many of our kind fight or hide to meet this first heafty fee of their own survival, but together," (and here his throat thickened as it always did when he talked about unity. He'd begun to accept that it was an advantage in this context). "Together we are strong. Together we can protect each other. Together, we can meet the second price, and that is the safety of all our kind in need. Your first assignments will be rotational guard of our Iron Curtain safe houses. In you, the orphans and the fugitives of human society that seek us out will see what they can be. By honing your skills here, you will be the shielding force they need to thrive."
He'd planned to say more, maybe go over a few more evasion techniques, but they chose that moment to break out into spontaneous applause he would never, ever get used to, and then there was Azazel.
"Sir, you have a phone call."
Magneto accepted the towel Mystique handed him and raised an eyebrow. "So you thought it was necessary to teleport three floors to tell me personally? I didn't realize you had clerical aspirations."
Mystique tried not to laugh, and she and the teleporter's relationship was confirmed yet again when he spared her and only her the glare. "I do not. But I am the fastest, and your actualsecretary thought you'd want to take this personally. It's the telepath. Xavier."
All the teasing went out of him then...dampened like a welding torch thrown out into the snow. Mystique's shoulders tensed.
"I see...thank you. I'll take it in my office. Make sure that I am not disturbed."
He could tell she wanted to follow.
He could tell she wouldn't dare.
He left her with her lover and their confused batch of trainees, justifying the exclusion with the new softness in Azazel's eyes, and tried to control the ragged pounding of his heart, suddenly labourous, as he made his way back to the Villa.
"So they went and got you. I told them they needn't."
Erik smirked, swallowed, tried to release the white-knuckled grip on the receiver. "
It had been almost three months now...three months since he'd last heard that tremulous baritone, mangling words its owner had never said, never felt, in his life-Ihateyou.Didyouhearthat,Erik?-
"I bet you did. And just how the hell did you get this number?"
There was a pause during which Erik could practically feel Charles take the blow of his hostility. He tried to regret that...knew he should regret it...couldn'tregret. Anything. No. No.
"Hank has his tricks." was the telepath's answer, quieter this time. Nothing else seemed forthcoming.
"What is it, Charles? Or have you forgotten your message?"
"I'm sorry I...wasn't expecting...Erik we have to talk."
Erik grit his teeth to stay the burning in his eyes. "We are, Charles. We're being positively verbose. And still somehow you haven't said a damned thing worth hearing."
"A solicitor came by this morning. A Mr. Georg Odekirk. He took great pains to avoid me and tried to leave all the papers with Sean, but fortunately I was within range."
Erik's heart sank. He knew where this was going..."Fortunately." He enforced, drier than sand.
"This Odekirk explained that an anonymous donor he represented wished to set up an endowment of five million dollars for prospective students at my school who otherwise might not be able to afford tuition. When I explained to him that the Xavier trust foots the bill for those less fortunate, he insisted that I take the endowment anyway and re-appropriate it for research. He looked positively terrified at the idea of my refusal."
"...I didn't have the heart to tell the poor chap I'd known it was you he visited for." And here Charles's voice grew a shade darker. "Who knows what you do to your more dubious messengers."
Erik wanted to protest, but he had to admit...Odekirk's sloppy execution of a simple.fucking.assignment,did have him almost shaking with rage. Rage and humiliation.
"Whats the matter, Charles? My money no good to you?"
"That rather depends..." he sounded flustered. Erik savored the Pyrric victory. "On two questions. Why? Why are you doing this? ...And where on earth did you acquire that kind of -"
"It's not blood money if that's what you're suggesting." Erik growled.
"I wasn't suggesting." The telepath countered. "I was asking. I will not use money got from violence and terrorism, Erik. I will not.And to be frank I'm not sure how comfortable I am regardless-."
Erik's hand hit the desk so hard, he put a hole clean through the wood. He told himself that pain was what made the silent tears finally break the dam of his eyelids and fall to the floor.
"It was steel."
"Beg your pardon?"
"Steel,you sanctimonious fool. I invested in Industrial Steel. The investment panned out. Stocks and bonds, Charles. High commerce. Although you're kidding yourself if you think that business isn't as bloody as any war. And if you don't want it, fine. You could have just sent Georg back, or had one of those brainless Xmen of yours take the message..." He could hear himself becoming slightly hysterical. It was a change no one but the man on the other end would have noticed...the raw edge to his usually clipped tones...the slight waver... " You didn't have to screw up all your courage to tell me personally-"
"I wanted to."
"I...I wanted to. I wanted to call you."
Erik clamped his mouth shut, not daring further speech. The sigh that traveled across four states to meet his ears was as devistating as nuclear noise. "Oh Erik...I'm tired-"
"Then sleep." There was no bite to it.
"Do you sleep?"
"Nor do I, my friend. Nor do I."
Erik shut his eyes and scrubbed his forehead with his free palm. He prayed to a God he no longer believed in that the violence of his silent sobs, the heaving of his chest...the clattering of any and all metal in the room...was unidentifiable through the fiber optic cable connection.
And yet some how he knew that Charles knew, and Charles felt, and Charles wanted...and Charles did not hate him...
It would be so much easier, for both of them...if even one of them could muster thatemotion.
"I have to go," he said when he could.
"Alright. In regards to your donation...I'll accept."
"On one condition: Come by next week. Your man did a great deal of the paperwork wrong I'm afraid...and I'll wager you want to correct it yourself."
"...Okay." It was barely a whisper.
"Okay." Another pause. Then...gentle like his own personal antiquity...gentle like the autumn wind whistling across a satellite surface..."Okay, Erik."