He spun his pen between his long slim fingers absentmindedly as the committee argued back and forth about some such silliness. Really, there was no reason to have convened them at all, he already knew, of course, the actions he would take. But committees gave decisions such a homey feel and people liked that so much. He had to admit to its usefulness when things failed, as they did from time to time. Godlike as he was, things happened.
So he kept both ears keyed into their mindless chattering, but both eyes strictly on Robbie through the plate-glass walls that separated the board room from his ante room.
Robbie was new. He was overjoyed to have found Robbie.
Really, the man was more than half the reason he had accelerated the rate of Rory's demise. On that note, he should make a note to get flowers sent to the hospital for her. He wondered if she'd been released from suicide watch yet, and which words attached to a bouquet could put her back there.
He smiled despite himself, jotted a note to himself on the pad in front of him, and went back to staring at his newest assistant.
From behind the resemblance was innocuous. Both men were small and slim, but so were more than half the men their age, that wasn't telling. The hair bore a passing resemblance, although Robbie kept his shorter, and his dark-brown locks were perhaps straighter on account of that. His hair was always kept to precision standards, another telling difference between the two men: Robbie was much more serious, less playful, less flippant in ways. Would he ever meet another? Another like him? So fun to play with and destroy?
Optimist though he was, he didn't think so. Hadn't he been playing and destroying for the past ten years? And he hadn't enjoyed a single one of them the way he had enjoyed that: his first.
He swallowed and shivered at the thought, the thought of how good it had been.
"Everything all right?" the woman at this elbow questioned, looking at him nervously.
Janet, trying yet again to get into his good graces. He loathed it when his playthings kept coming back for more; it was such a bore. He had beaten her once, then beaten her again, and it hadn't been a whit more exciting than the first time. Not a challenge at all, certainly: the woman had rolled over like an animal exposing its belly at the slightest hint of a fight both times.
He allowed himself to yawn at her and she turned away, blushing.
"Sir," came Robbie's sweet, serious voice. He looked up smiling to see the silent man already at his shoulder.
And there they were, the very things that had led him in the first place to sweeping this man away from his day job at the Tallis Nursery: those eyes, those startling blue eyes. Just as blue, just exactly the exact shade of blue. That was coincidence aplenty, certainly enough to garner his attention if not his involvement. But then his mouth-and it was the same mouth, deeply rosy, so sensuous. He shivered again just looking at it. He wondered if that mouth had ever been on another man before, and how hard he would have to manipulate to get it on one. Not one, not just anyone, but he, himself. It had to be him, not because it would make his mission any more successful but for more personal reasons.
"Yes, Turner?" he said pleasantly, interrupting that old man on the end he always pretended to not know the name of.
The young man eyed him warily, as had been his custom of late now that he had started his work on the boy.
"A call for you, sir," he said quietly, passing a slip of memo paper.
The pen was set aside and his slim fingers folded the paper back and read Robbie's script dispassionately. The handwriting was another aggravating difference: forceful and linear instead of rushed and loose.
He grinned, pleased to note that it made Robbie wince slightly beside him.
"Excuse me, gentlemen," he said regretfully. "I'm afraid I must take this. Please, continue without me."
Standing, he brushed straight the creases of his forest-green suit and started for the door, Robbie dutiful but reserved behind him. The man followed him as far as the anteroom but then sat at the desk, leaving him to enter his office alone. Just as well, he supposed.
He answered his phone and tried to sound more pleased than gleeful. He succeeded, of course-he was always good at sounding exactly how he wished to sound.
"Susan, darling!" he cheered good-naturedly over the line, mentally damning the bitch for taking so long to get back to him. It had been weeks since the conference, after all.
"Hullo hullo!" she trilled back to him. "Who was that on the line, before? Where's Rory gone to?"
He smiled but made his voice saddened.
"Oh, Susan, you haven't talked to me in so long-you've no idea what's been going on here. Rory had an absolute break-down, terrified me out of my mind!" he lied. "The poor girl's in the hospital as we speak. If only I hadn't..."
Susan gasped and rushed to his aid exactly as he had primed her to, through all their months of intimate friendship. "Oh, dear! You can't blame yourself-you ask a lot from your employees but you never give them more than they can handle. Rory's always been a hysterical girl."
Susan had never met Rory, and he disparaged her intimation that his work had been a simple task of driving a hysterical girl to hysterics. His task had been so much more demanding than that. No one ever gave him proper credit for these things, no one but his brother, and the other man never did it with proper reverence.
"Enough about me, Suzie," he sighed. "How was the seminar in Metropolis?"
"Simply wonderful," the young woman sighed happily. "Thank you again for pulling those strings of yours-it really was an awful oversight that Reed wasn't asked to chair the thing in the first place."
"I completely agree," he lied, giving a silent yawn she wouldn't hear. Small talk was necessary, certainly, but did it have to be such a bore? "I only hope the good professor still managed some time with his fiance?"
"He did," the woman in question giggled back. "We went out to dinner Sunday night with some other professors from the seminar. I have to admit, it was great to be introduced as the future Mrs. Doctor Reed Richards." But then her voice went from ecstatic to bitter. "Although I haven't told you the best of it: do you remember that Biology professor I told you about way back?"
He grinned widely, rubbed his palm against the thigh of his expensive suit with joy.
"Hmm, it sounds sort of familiar. He was some student of Reed's? Or was it a colleague?"
Susan hummed aggravatedly. "No, no, I told you-that upstart that seduced Reed way back when-that rotten Charles Xavier!"
He thrilled, hearing that name again, about stretched his back like a pleased cat.
"Oh yes-the man who turned Reed gay for a full year."
Susan's voice was pouting. "Not a full year," she mumbled. "And anyway, Reed says he's all done with that funny business." I'm sure he does. "But that's not the point: the point is, Xavier absolutely refused to come to the dinner! Flat out refused! And after what he did to Reed! I haven't even gotten to the worst of it! Reed's black eye has only just now faded completely!"
He coughed and jerked up in his chair. That couldn't be, that was not in line, that was not a facet of Charles, and he knew every facet of Charles.
"Susan, you are not telling me that Charles Xavier punched Reed in the face," he growled, because there was simply no way he was wrong enough about Charles for that to be true. There was no way the man had changed that much in the last ten years without him finding out about it.
"No," the woman sighed with exasperation and he slumped his his seat with relief. He hadn't been wrong: he still knew Charles, the man hadn't changed. "But he might as well have: it was his boyfriend, after all, and Xavier did absolutely nothing to stop it."
He stared blankly, and then glanced at the phone as if willing for it to be another misunderstanding, and then glared at his contact book. Someone had a lot of explaining to do. This should not be the first he was hearing of a new boyfriend.
Susan wouldn't have anything to add on this though, so he kept to what she could tell him.
"Woah woah woah," he laughed. "Start at the beginning: Xavier brought his boyfriend to the convention and let the guy punch Reed?"
"Well I only know what Reed has told me about it, and that's little enough, but I'll tell you, sure enough!"
Susan told him the story, and story was certainly what it was, fanciful as it was. It was easy to separate fact from fiction knowing that the story came from Reed and knowing what the man was like and knowing what he was likely to embellish and what to leave out entirely.
There was a slight misunderstanding between Reed and a boyfriend Reed certainly remembered the name of but Susan didn't, which meant that Reed had embarrassed himself incredibly regarding the man. Said man had overreacted, meaning that the boyfriend had reacted viscerally to something antagonistic Reed had said or done. Then the man had waited until Reed was distracted and attacked him, hitting him full in the face while he wasn't looking. This was unlikely, but he didn't care. Reed had returned fire, getting in quite a good few licks before Charles intervened to protect the rapscallian. He smiled: that was his Charles all over. Reed certainly hadn't embellished anything there, besides the idea of Reed returning anything but a scathing remark, if he could manage that after a blow to anywhere, and was mightily doubtful.
"Oh dear," he sighed sympathetically when Susan was spent. "And after all that you didn't get to meet the young upstart at all! Well, I'm sure it's all happened for a reason. Really, Susan, I tried to tell you that nothing good could come of you being so interested in your flame's old flame." He smiled at his own advice, hypocritical as it was since he was so interested in his old flame's new flame.
Susan sighed. "Yes, well, you were right. Thanks for being a good friend and letting me have my way, though."
"I hope that Reed is feeling better. But I should get back to work now. It was lovely hearing from you."
"Oh gosh, I hope I didn't interrupt anything important. I just wanted to say thanks and all for getting Reed onto the science chair or whatever. I'll let you get back to work."
He hung up and grabbed at his contacts book automatically, refusing to let this go through Robbie.
"Vision, darling," he growled into the line when the other man picked up. The guy sounded the same as always, absolutely robotic.
"Loki," he intoned. The man didn't know his real name, and he wanted to keep it that way. "I suppose you're calling about the Professor."
"I am," he said into the phone, refusing to snap as he so wished. Sometimes you had to do what was smart instead of what you wanted. And it would be smarter to keep his real emotions strictly out of this. "I was talking to an old friend and she had some interesting things to say: namely that the little professor has a new little toy."
Vision, the only name he was supposed to know the other man by, was silent on the other line for a long time, until Tom formed a question.
"So, Vision, my question is this: why am I hearing this from someone I am not paying to keep tabs on Charles Xavier instead of the one man I am paying to keep tabs on him?"
"I explained all this to Rory," Vision sighed.
Tom grimaced to himself and slammed his hand silently on the padded arm of his chair. "You were prohibited from talking about this with anyone," he laid out patiently. "So this argument does not exactly help you."
"You were unavailable," the robotic man said, managing some emotion into his voice and that emotion was anxiety. "I didn't want you to try and talk me out of it."
"Out of what, pray tell."
"Listen, I'm not doing that sort of stuff any more..." Vision muttered, and Tom immediately knew what was going on.
"When did you talk to Chris?" he sighed.
"If you know that then you know that I'm not going to change my mind."
Tom did know that, and so he didn't bother wasting his time. He hung up and seethed.
You just couldn't leave this kind of long-term, sinister work to amateurs. There was simply too much time involved in which to grow a conscience.
Some deep breathing, some calming thoughts: Rory was in the hospital having a mental breakdown because of him; Wesley was in jail by now, probably, and for suspected murder at that-how many people could say they'd gotten a man arrested for suspected murder? That was certainly something. It certainly made up for his surveillance guru being thwarted, he was sure.
And above all that on his extensive C.V. reigned Charles.
Tom didn't think there had been anything better than lighting that man on fire from the inside out, first with the star-bright light of first love, and then with the forest-fire horror of first heart-break. It was all more than delicious, it was was the stuff of legends. Had anyone since cried so wretchedly, stared at him so imploringly, been wrecked so completely?
He had brought others to their lowest lows, but they never seemed to feel it so very keenly as Charles had, even when they felt it to the utmost of their abilities.
The man simply had more intensity of emotion than anyone else that Tom had met before or since. His range ran further than normal people's. His happiness was head and shoulders above where other's could manage to scale, and his lows left all fore-runner's pitifully in the dust.
Tom sighed to himself happily, brought back to a more chipper mood by his reveries.
So what if his brother had thwarted his surveillance? He had the information he wanted. Charles had found someone new. Should this prove note-worthy, unlike Reed or Steven, then life would suddenly be much more fun for him. He could move on from the two-bit destructions he was enacting and go back to something much more fulfilling, back to the most fulfilling destruction of his life.
No one could lose everything the way that Charles lost everything, and Tom was thoroughly despairing at ever finding someone who could. But what was the alternative? Only to go back and destroy Charles all over again, and could you ever destroy something as thoroughly the second time around as the first? Experience had shown him that he could. The problem was that the reconstructions never seemed to span so high as the first edifices. And that made so much sadder of a razing, no matter how extensive he made it.
But that was a normal person. They were incapable of building as high the second time as they had the first. Their weak hearts couldn't allow it. Charles was not a normal person. His heart could allow for anything. His second edifice, Tom was sure, would be just as awe-inspiring as the first, and would burn just as prettily.
It was just hard to gauge when construction would be completed. That was where Vision was supposed to come in: keep an eye on Charles through all these boring times until the man was fresh and ready to be culled all over again.
Tom smiled anxiously. Had that time finally come? Was that what this new boyfriend heralded? He had gotten his hopes up before, with Harvey, when Charles had gotten his professorship, when that new research study had revolutionized the field. Vision had informed him on each case and Tom had wavered for days trying to decide if it was a sign of Charles' completion or simply a step up. How to decide when he had reached his full potential and was thus ready to be brought back to his lowest point?
He sighed, and while he was deep in thought Robbie came back inside.
"The committee's reached its decision, Mr. Laufison," he said in that professional, distant voice of his from Tom's shoulder.
Tom turned and smiled up at him sweetly.
"Robbie," he sighed, touching the man on his bare arm.
Those perfect blue went wide and uncomfortable, but he wasn't certain enough to pull his arm away.
"You should wear long-sleeved shirts at the office, please, Robbie," he said innocently. The man's cheeks rushed red with embarrassment, and even that was somehow identical to Charles and made Tom smile all the wider.
"Yessir," he mumbled with mortification and slipped away in his humiliation.
Tom twirled in his chair happily and leapt up with happy excitement.
He'd take Robbie apart piece by piece and burn him down one part at a time, and when that was done he'd check up on Charles himself and see what sort of progress he and this boyfriend of his had made. Then he'd know for sure it if was time to light that match anew or if yet more waiting was necessary.