And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good — Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?

xxx xxx xxx

All three clocks in the ornate room read 2:42 am. Erik knew this, because he'd taken to letting his eyes slide from one to the other to the other, wall to mantel to night stand, in the sort of mundane trance that manifests during chronic bouts of insomnia.

"I want to go to bed," he'd said to Raven, as she lay there fearful and pale-skinned and abhorrently blonde on his mattress, waiting for she knew not what. Now, hours later, even after turning her blue and answering her unspoken longings, it was still desperately true. If anything, the tryst had only wound him up tighter.

You're beautiful,he had told her. You're so beautiful.

He had meant it. He still meant it. She was. She was exquisite, unimaginably so, and greedily responsive, and if he'd thought for one second that all of what she had offered him was for him alone, he would have drawn away and run a mile.

But he was no more the pinnacle of her desires than she was his; they were each other's symptoms, and not the cause.

She wanted acceptance — he could give her that.

She wanted proof of what he said about her desirability, and my God, could he give her that, she was an unlooked for ecstasy in the midst of coming hell.

She wanted Hank to desire her and never to have spoken his stupid, thoughtless words.

She wanted Charles to keep thinking she was perfect while being everything he saw as a danger and a risk.

She wanted so much, and if he could only give her a fraction of it — well.

It would have broken some small piece of his remaining heart, to refuse.

Oh Christ. Is it lonely, on your little isle of righteousness? Care to justify giving my barely-legal sister multiple, projected orgasms while you're at it, you bloody idiot?

Erik jumped to his feet at the sound of Charles Xavier's tight-lipped scorn ringing through his head, and reached instinctively for a weapon — something, anything.

The resulting brass candlestick that responded to his power's call completed the utterly absurd picture as he held it in a death grip and braced against the wall...a picture that Charles, clad in an old-fashioned dressing gown and clutching a half-downed bottle of wine, did not fail to laugh derisively at as he stumbled in and shut the door behind him.

"You look ridiculous," he said.

"Proclaims the drunken telepath," Erik replied, exerting remarkable control over the urge to hit Charles repeatedly over the head with said candlestick —without using his power.

"You," Charles said in unwanted exposition of his train of thought, "have absolutely no room to comment about anything I say or do from here on out this evening."

Erik ground his teeth, and threw the candlestick in the corner with a clattering violence that would have made Charles jump...had not every muscle in his body been taut with immutable rage.

"Ah, but that's your way in general though, isn't it Charles? Forgive us lowly mortals if we occasionally look to fill roles a little more fleshed out than Socrates' Republican dinner guests."

"I believe Socrates was the unexpected and uninvited guest, bringing his latest conquest to demonstrate his powers of seduction," Charles snapped in return. "Oh wait, are you sure you haven't confused our roles?"

"DO YOU REALLY THINK I WANTED TO SPEND MY LAST NIGHT HERE WITH HER? Some power I have, Charles. The power to soothe blighted teenage egos, when meanwhile —" he paused, paid homage to his hammering heart, then smiled bitterly, because it was the only alternative to more shouting. "Why are you here?"

"I had some very vague idea about apologising," Charles said. "I can't remember what for, because now all I want to do is brain you with the bottle. So, sorry? In advance?"

"For braining me with the bottle?" Erik asked blankly.

"No, for not remembering what I was going to apologise for and then braining — are you making fun of me?"

"No," Erik said honestly. The bottle didn't have even metallic paper on it, and Charles's threat was a real possibility if Erik didn't manage to get over his stupid inhibitions about causing damage to Charles and find some way of stopping him. "Would you like me to start?"

"Er...start what?"

Erik's mouth opened... and he laughed. But it was not a cathartic was more like the grinding of an errant train on its tracks. "I don't know. Apologizing. Pre-emptive strike. I bet I could wrestle the bottle out of your hands for all your quick Oxford wrestling moves. I could beat you to a pulp, Charles, except that I can't, and we both know it, and we both know you're not going to hit me with that fucking thing so give it here."

Charles froze...and then his eyes filled with tears that did not fall as he handed Erik the bottle wordlessly. After a long draught of what appeared to be a very expensive, nutty holiday champagne, Erik swiped a hand across his chin, and found a place in the middle of the telepath's chest to focus on.

"Peace isn't possible, no...but if you want me, and I want you, I'd take you yelling at me every night in that stupid...what the hell are you wearing? — over peace any day. Except that's not an option, is it."

"No," Charles said, and he sounded utterly defeated. "I can't —"

"Are you really so fucking arrogant as to think I haven't worked that out?"

"Erik, you have no idea what I—"

"Oh, I think I do. Unless you get perfect agreement from everyone around you, all pleasure's off the table. What's goddamn hypocritical is the way you expect everyone else to live like that too; live according to your chess-board, fucking black-and-white-way, or nothing."

"Coming from you," Charles said bitterly, "that covers all potential discussion of hypocrisy extremely well."

Erik stepped closer — into Charles's space. He grabbed him by the throat, because he needed to touch, if only in violence...and Charles let him. Charles stared him down and made no move to free himself, because it seemed the telepath would take violence if he couldn't allow himself tenderness, and that, somehow, was...was just—

"What did you say? What did you just say to me?"

"I believe," Charles said with cold confidence, "that I said that you're a hypocrite. My way or nothing, Erik? My way or nothing? Really? That from you? Christ, you've got a nerve. You wallow in sentimentality about a woman who was, let me remind you, entirely human. Your sole wish is to destroy a mutant. And still you have the utter hypocrisy, and I'll say it as many times as I have to, because that, my friend, is what it is, to say mutants are superior."

Erik wanted to believe that what happened next was Charles's doing also...that in his spite he'd let loose a streak of sadism, and pushed the impressions of roiling bile, cold sweat, humming, frenetic metal, into Erik like he pushed his cool judgement—

But he knew, even in the midst of minor madness, that the madness was all his own.

He let him go.

He turned around.

He wanted to become small, so small that all his efforts would be futile, small enough to never be seen, let alone taken up, loved, and called to task...

Instead he let his shoulders slump, and contemplated the black night out the window.

"Just go away."

"I'm not Socrates, remember? I'm hardly uninvited," Charles said, and he sounded strangely calm considering what had just passed between them. "And it's too late for that, Erik. You let me in. If you're so eager for me to go, make me."

"Why? Why can't you understand...if you've been in me, and you have, Charles, God help you,"
Erik sounded far away to his own ears...far away and weak and disgusting and —

nonono don't touch me drop your hand—

Why don't you see that he must die? That he's not a mutant...but a monster? That my mother was my mother? Why can't you see me...why do I even want you to?

"I know this might not be the right time to ask this," Charles said tiredly, and his hand remained, steady and oddly strong where it gripped Erik's shoulder, "but do you think you could decide as to whether you want me to read your mind or not? Because ethics aside, you will insist onprojecting, damn it, and I can't — look, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that about sentimentality. It wasn't fair. But Erik, I'm right about Shaw. I'm right because he is a mutant. He is monstrous, Christ, I'll grant you that in a heartbeat, but he is a mutant. And I don't know why you won't accept that."

Erik tried to speak. Several times. Because he had an answer. He wasn't a fool, he knew what Shaw could do, he'd seen the lurid bag of tricks every day for over a year, been subjected to it with all scientific thoroughness...

But ash choked his voice. A shrapnel lump blocked his vocal chords.

Very slowly, he reached behind him and took Charles's hand. His whole torso shook under the force of a sudden involuntary tremor, as he placed the other man's two appropriate fingers next to his own temple in silent permission, and then screamed so loud inside his own head he thought he would make them both deaf, wished only that blindness would come too as the accompanying images burbled to the surface of his bog-like memory bank —

I live in a world of exception —
I am an aberration —
Made by an aberration —
Shaw may be a mutant, but human hatred gave him an office and a laboratory —
I don't even want to kill them all —
I just want to be safe —

He could have happily strangled himself, for that last.

"Ouch," Charles muttered, and then, irrelevantly, "loud, that — Erik, you're not —"

"I am. We both know it."

"I'm not — I'll argue with you in a week, in a month, in a year," Charles said. "And I'll tell you why you're wrong about yourself, about humanity, about so many things. But I'll tell you tonight that I'm still right, that killing Shaw won't solve anything."

Erik closed his eyes. Nothing had helped. Nothing had got through.

He let go of Charles's hand — or tried to, and the thin fingers turned in his and gripped, shockingly strong.

Holding on.

"But I agree with you on this," Charles said, and his voice was steel. "He belongs dead."

Erik's body jolted in visible shock — the bones in the hand that held his fast nearly broke under the pressure of his squeeze back — he whirled, and looked, and saw no lie in the familiar sapphire depths of Charles's eyes, saw only truth, and love, and rage that had been transmuted by some alchemy away from him —

"Charles..." it was heavy, and wet, and astounded.

"I'm here."

"Don't leave."

And he didn't.