Blanket Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Violence, gore, death, and destruction in this one, guys. Also my choppy style of writing, which probably needs a warning label all on its own.

So basically, it's a well-blended round of chaos. Oops.


Chapter II.

Together we can do anything

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When Raven is sixteen, she is finally promoted from dishwasher to waitress.

The pay is better and so are the shifts, and Raven takes as many as she can because it's her main goal in life now to keep herself busy in order to avoid going home at all costs.

She used to try going over to Piotr's house to visit his mother, but it'd become so hard to talk to her with Piotr's loss felt so keenly between them that eventually Raven's visits grew further and further apart until she stopped going altogether, unable to think of anything more to say to her deceased best friend's mother.

There hadn't even been a body at the funeral.

These days, Raven doesn't think about it. She still gets a creeping sense of horror whenever she recalls the demon's parting words to her, bringing with them a cold dread that leaves her shaken and terrified. She's still bitterly guilty about how she'd survived that awful day while Piotr had not, and all because of what? She's resistant to magic? She doesn't even know what that means.

You'd better sleep with one eye open, sugar, because once they find out what you can do, they'll come for you and kill you.

"Raven. Raven!"

Raven blinks, coming out of her stupor. "Sorry, did you say something?"

Kitty is looking at her curiously. "Yes, I've been trying to get your attention for the past minute." She's smiling slightly. "I think table two wants their check. But you're working yourself too hard, Raven. What time is your shift over tonight?"

Raven glances over across the diner and sure enough, the couple seated in her section have finished their meal. "Oh, um, ten o'clock, I think?"

"Raven!" Kitty admonishes. "You've already been here since nine am! You should switch shifts with me, mine ends at five."

"No way," Raven says with a laugh, "you've been telling me all week long how you've got a date tonight and that you can't wait to get off at five on Saturday because he's picking you up."

Kitty laughs, flushing slightly. "I can always reschedule, I'm sure he'd understand. I'd do it for you, Raven, because girl, you need a break."

"I'm fine," Raven assures her, grabbing the check for table two, "and I'm not switching with you. I'm going to drop this off and then you're going to tell me all about this date of yours instead."

Kitty laughs again. "Alright, fine. But only if you promise to switch with me next time!"

Raven waves her off, going over to drop the check off and collect a few plates. She's known Kitty Pryde through school for awhile now, but they'd really only started becoming friends when Kitty had started working at the diner two summers ago. Raven normally finds it hard to make and keep up with friends, but Kitty's been patient with her—something Raven finds that she is extremely grateful for.

Another wave of customers comes in and for the next half hour or so Raven and Kitty are both busy taking orders and delivering food, their conversation put on hold. Raven likes the mundane simplicity of her job. She can pretend that she is a mindless drone, filled with false cheer and fake smiles. It's something that requires minimal thought, so she can allow her mind to go blank and not think at all.

It's better that way.

It isn't until her break that she remembers her half-finished conversation with Kitty, and grins over at her friend as they sit together on the steps out the back door of the kitchen. "So, only an hour and a half till five and you still haven't told me about your dreamboat."

Kitty giggles, knocking her shoulder against Raven's. "Shut up, I never said that."

Raven snorts. "You all but implied it."

"Alright, alright." Kitty sighs. "So he's really cute."

"I need more details than that." Raven demands. She's really only half-interested in Kitty's love life; it's just another distraction that she'll gladly take. Besides, Kitty is her friend, and Raven supposes that she ought to be enthusiastic for her.

"I don't know!" Kitty laughs again. "I met him last weekend at one of the clubs. He's got these eyes, Raven, they're absolutely gorgeous. It's a little unfair. I could stare at them all night."

"I'm sure you'll have plenty of time for that tonight." Raven says dryly. "What's his name?"

Kitty gives her a playful whack. "Shut up. His name is Max. But anyway we talked the whole time we were at the club. He was with a friend but once we started chatting, it was like it was just me and him."

"Ignoring his friend for you, huh?" Raven asks wryly. "Sounds like you made quite the connection."

"Exactly!" Kitty grins. "His friend was even getting a little annoyed but Max didn't even care. He just kept talking to me."

"You kiss him?" Raven teases.

"Not yet." Kitty sticks her tongue out. "Maybe if things go well tonight…you never know."

Raven gives her a nudge. "Where's he taking you?"

Kitty launches into a long description of a fancy restaurant that Raven only half-listens to, her mind already starting to wander. Tomorrow is Sunday and she works the early morning shift, which is good because they'll be busy for breakfast but it also means that she gets off early too, so she has to figure out what she's going to do for the rest of the day. She doesn't want to be stuck at home.

"That sounds super romantic, Kitty." Raven says vaguely when she notices a lull in conversation. A lot of places are closed on Sundays, which is the main problem.

If Raven's response was slightly delayed, Kitty doesn't seem to notice. "I know! I'm getting really excited now that it's getting closer."

Raven turns her head to smile at her friend, slightly more real than the one she gives customers. "Only an hour and fifteen to go."

Kitty smiles back. "I can hardly wait."

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Like all apprentices, Charles is five years old when his mother and father give him up to the state, collecting a large sum of money for their trouble and then quickly leaving by the same way they came in without a backwards glance.

There is another boy being dropped off at the same time. He sobs and wails as his parents abandon him, and it takes the clerk twenty minutes to calm him down. Even then the boy still sniffles, eyes teary and red, and he keeps watching the door as if expecting his parents to walk back in.

Charles watches his mother and father leave, dry-eyed and silent, calculating and assessing. He understands very well what has just happened to him.

It does not occur to him to be sad.

All records of his existence—anything bearing the name Charles Xavier—are systematically destroyed. You're going to become a magician, he's told, and your true name is now your best secret and your worst weakness. No one can know but you, and even then it's probably best that you forget it anyway.

The other boy stammers out confused questions, asking why and when does he get to go home. Charles merely nods. He isn't going to forget his name.

An hour later he meets his master, the magician who will be in charge of his studies and who will be training him to become a fully-fledged magician.

A minute later he hates the man unreservedly.

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Erik wakes first.

Because he is not of the material world, he does not need sleep. He technically can't sleep, and instead allows his essence to drift a little, becoming a little less solid and letting his conscious wander, replaying the millions of memories he has locked away over his thousands of years of existence. This morning when he abruptly snaps back into awareness, he finds that his essence has curled around Charles, snake-like tendrils winding across the sleeping magician.

Erik gathers himself back together again, morphing into his human form, lying stretched out beside Charles. The magician is sprawled out limply on his stomach with his face buried in his pillow, breathing the slow, deep breaths of heavy sleep. He'd probably sleep the entire day away if Erik let him.

Erik sits up and shifts down the bed, pulling the sheets off of Charles' back with one hand as he goes, the other trailing lightly down the magician's spine. Charles stirs; shifting slightly beneath Erik's touch, but doesn't quite awaken yet. Erik pulls the sheets off entirely, settling down so that he's straddling the backs of Charles' legs, pinning them down in place. Charles is still naked from the night before, his dress clothes lying rumpled on the floor, which suits Erik's purposes perfectly.

Slowly, he brings his hand on Charles' spine down lower, tracing the curve of the magician's ass. Charles stirs again, and Erik pauses for a moment, watching and waiting, but still Charles doesn't wake, so the demon continues, sliding his other hand up. He pulls apart the magician's cheeks, and then bends down to press his tongue against Charles' hole, giving two experimental laps.

Charles jerks beneath him, legs twitching as he jolts awake with a sharp intake of breath. He tries to shift, but Erik already has him pinned in place so all he can do is raise his head and shift up onto his elbows. "Erik," he says, voice still thick with sleep, "what—" He breaks off with a groan as the demon gives another long lick.

Erik continues holding Charles down, tracing the magician's entrance with his tongue again and again as Charles tries to twist beneath him, the noises falling out of his mouth music to Erik's ears. Charles ruts against the bed mindlessly, gasping and making half-formed words as he strains against Erik's hold, as if unable to decide whether to curl towards or away from the demon's tongue and the sensation it brings.

Erik increases the speed of his licks until Charles is whimpering, teasing the magician by pressing a little harder with his tongue but not enough to penetrate, using his weight to keep the magician mostly still as Charles squirms with newfound desperation. He keeps trying to get up onto his knees but Erik keeps him resolutely pinned, pressing his thighs down into the sheets. Charles' cock is wet and leaking, trapped between his belly and the mattress, and try as he might, Charles can't get the kind of friction he needs for release, moaning unashamedly as he begs.

Erik pauses and Charles nearly sobs, but then Erik changes his tongue, morphing it so that's longer than a normal human's and then licks his way into the magician's ass, pushing his tongue in past the tight ring of muscle and then flicks the end of his tongue up until Charles is screaming, thrusting against the mattress wildly even as he tries to push back against Erik's mouth as the demon fucks him with his tongue, timing his licks with Charles' desperate movements as best as he can until the magician is all but coming apart at the seams beneath him.

Charles comes when Erik twists his tongue one last time, shooting hot and sticky across the sheets before slumping down into his own come bonelessly, face first into his pillow again. Erik gives him one more slurp, pulling his tongue back out and refitting it to his mouth again, running his hands across Charles' ass lightly to make him shiver.

"Good morning." Erik says, licking his lips.

"I hate you." Charles says into his pillow, his voice muffled.

Erik smirks.

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Raven has just dropped off the check for table six when she turns around and sees him.

He's just as young as she and Kitty are, but there's no mistaking what he is as he stands in the entrance of the diner, wearing privilege and arrogant entitlement like a cloak. For a moment his eyes meet hers, and Raven feels like they blaze right through her, careless and cold.

Raven ducks back into the kitchen where Kitty is clocking out, and grabs her friend by the arm. "You didn't say he was a magician."

Kitty looks startled by the intensity of Raven's expression. "Who?"

"Your date," Raven grits out, "Max." Not that Max is actually his name. Everyone knows that magicians don't go by their real names.

"Max is here? Wow, he's right on time," Kitty remarks, and then asks, "you really think he's a magician?"

"Trust me," Raven answers flatly, "he's a magician."

"Oo," Kitty says, eyes wide, "a magician. I never even would have realized! I can't believe it, I'm so lucky."

No, you're not, Raven wants to say. "Listen, Kitty. Be careful."

"I don't think I could ever be safer," Kitty says with a laugh, "dating a magician."

"No," Raven says, wishing she could convey how much she now does not want Kitty to go on this date, "you need to be careful. Magicians are…" She trails off, unable to articulate her exact feelings.

"Are what?" Kitty asks, slightly confused.

"Dangerous." Raven says at last.

Kitty laughs. "Raven, magicians are the ones who keep us safe. Besides, he's probably still an apprentice; I heard that their training takes years. Oh, I wonder if he's summoned any demons yet!"

"Just promise me you'll be careful." Raven says, and hopes that she doesn't come across as desperate or crazy. "Please."

Kitty takes both of her hands, giving her a smile. "It's just dinner. But I promise to be careful, Raven. I'll even call you when I get home and tell you all about it, okay?"

Raven manages a weak smile. "Can't wait."

Kitty gives her hands a small squeeze. "Wish me luck! I'll talk to you later, Raven!" She grabs her bag and hurries out of the kitchen, and a few moments later Raven can hear her greeting the magician, their voices carrying, before the jingle on the door signals that they've left.

For the rest of her shift, Raven is uneasy and distracted. The rest of the evening passes in a hazy blur, her thoughts running in circles. For the past three years she's done everything in her power to keep away from magicians and now her only friend is dating one. The demon's voice echoes through her mind again, promising death, and then she gets sent home an hour early when her boss notices her pale face after she nearly drops a stack of plates.

Raven waits up all night, but Kitty never calls.

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Charles tolerates Kurt Marko because even though he already knows he is smarter than his master, Charles still needs him if he wants to become a fully-fledged magician.

That is his goal now. He has been handed a chance at power and he will dig his claws in as deeply as he can in order to grasp at it. He knows why his parents have abandoned him, something which his master wastes no time in pointing out.

"Unnerving little creature," Marko says, surveying him thoughtfully across the long dinner table as they eat, "you have a nasty look about you."

Charles doesn't answer him, his food untouched on his plate. He merely stares back, eyes glittering, taking in the man who is to teach him for the next sixteen years of his life.

"I don't know why the state insists on following the old ways, assigning us apprentices," Marko continues, apparently well-used to hearing himself talk, "I think we ought to be able to hand-pick our own apprentices. It's a privilege to become a magician; simple common folk shouldn't be allowed to just hand their children off to us to work with what we get. I certainly wouldn't have picked you out of a crowd, boy."

Charles watches Marko, and wonders what his real name is.

"Still, apprentices have their uses, no matter what sort of look they have about him." Marko says through a mouthful of food. His eyes are small and sharp, scanning Charles as he chews. "Finish your dinner, boy. You have a long night ahead of you." His gaze is anticipatory now, and for a moment master and apprentice stare each other down in a thick and heavy silence.

Then Charles moves to pick up his fork, gaze never wavering. "Yes sir." He will find out Kurt Marko's true name eventually.

And when he does, Kurt Marko will become more obsolete than he already is.

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Erik perches on the balcony as a large, black raven while Charles takes his morning tea, sipping delicately from fine china as he reads the paper. Already the sky is filled with imps, visible on the third plane and up, flitting across the sky as they go about their duties for their masters. None of them fly directly over the Eisenhardt Estate.

Demons and humans alike, it seems, avoid the place.

"Turns out I didn't need to go to the ball at all," Charles says with a sigh, dropping the newspaper onto the table, "they've published everything we wanted to know all right here."

Erik hops down onto the table, morphing into a cat. "Surely you picked up more than a newspaper article will say." The headline at the top of the page reads Sebastian Shaw Returns from Sabbatical in wide, bold letters. The accompanying picture depicts Shaw himself, with a wide smile and cold eyes.

Charles gives a razor sharp smile. "I gleaned a few extra tidbits, yes."

Erik skims down the article. "You're going to need them, this article is excruciatingly vague."

"So were the rumors of his return," Charles answers flippantly, taking another sip of tea, "and now here he is, rolling back into town on waves of praise. It's as if the incident ten years ago never happened."

Erik snorts but continues to read. The article is long, describing Shaw's worldly travels, remaking upon all the unique opportunities the magician must have experienced. Shaw is quoted several times throughout, saying how happy he is to be home and how he can't wait to share the knowledge he's gathered through his travels.

"What was the incident again?" he asks absently.

"It happened when I was ten? Eleven?" Charles answers musingly. "A few weeks before I summoned you for the first time, actually."

"Definitely when you were eight."

Charles pointedly ignores him. "Shaw was caught magically experimenting on commoners. It was a huge scandal. I can't imagine how much it took for them to stop it from spreading to the public. Shaw was immensely popular, both in our circles and even the commoners loved him. He's very charismatic."

"Don't tell me you were a fan too." Erik says dryly, looking up at his magician.

Charles makes a derisive sound. "I may have admired him for his power at some point or another, but I rather always disliked how showy he is."

"And we both know how much you despise theatrics." Erik flicks his tail. "So Shaw was banished for awhile, but now they welcome him back with open arms."

"I think the only reason Shaw went into exile was because he wanted to," Charles answers flatly, "I wouldn't put it past him to be threatening or blackmailing them all into silence." For a moment his cold gaze grows distant, voice idle. "Just imagine all of the things he's gotten up to overseas where no one was watching."

"You think he continued experimenting."

Charles gives a faint smirk. "Oh I'm almost positive he never stopped."

Erik shifts into a smoke cloud, deeply red, and billows around the magician. "So you want him."

"Of course I do." Charles gives a small chuckle. "I think his experiments were similar to ours."

Erik hums his interest in Charles' ear. "Interesting."

"Quite." Charles agrees. The morning breeze ruffles his hair for a moment, and Erik lets the strands tickle his essence. "Only he wasn't bold enough and started with commoners."

"Is that your theory?" It's Erik's turn to chuckle. "Or maybe he just wasn't a little monster with a vendetta."

"You know what Marko did to me," Charles says dispassionately, "you know why we started with him."

"We made the pact," Erik reminds him, "you don't have to explain it again to me."

The corner of Charles' mouth twitches. "Of course."

They are silent on the balcony for a few moments, and Erik slowly coalesces into his human form, leaning forward against the back of Charles' chair as he solidifies and defines his shape. Charles tilts his head back so that he's looking up at Erik, their faces inches apart.

"Think he's a threat?" Erik asks idly, looking deep into his magician's eyes.

"I know he is." Charles murmurs back. "I imagine that by now he's moved on from commoners."

"He's our next mark then."

Charles nods, his hair brushing Erik's arm. "He'll catch on quickly if he hasn't already. It'll be a race. But together we can take him."

Erik reaches down, tracing the magician's cheekbone with his fingers. Human hands are so dexterous. "Together we can do anything."

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"Missing?" Raven asks in shock, clutching the phone tightly. "How can she be missing?"

"We don't know." Kitty's father says. He sounds exhausted.

Raven can hear her heart pounding in her ears. "Did she ever come home from her date?"

"Yes, of course." Kitty's father sounds slightly surprised. "She was dropped off at precisely eleven o'clock, she knows the rules. She said she had a wonderful time. The last we saw her she was headed upstairs to her room, I think to call you."

Raven swallows. "She never called."

Kitty's father sighs heavily. "We just don't know what could have happened. I—oh, I have to go now, Raven. The police are here to interview us. Or something. Please tell your boss that—that I guess Kitty won't be coming in for awhile."

"I hope they find her." Raven whispers.

"Thank you, Raven. Me too." There's a click when the line disconnects, and Raven listens to the dial tone for a long moment.

She's gripping the edge of the hostess stand so tightly that her fingers are white, and she slowly lets go as she drops the phone back into its cradle. It's early enough in the morning that the diner is practically empty, something Raven's grateful for as she stares blankly ahead.

This is the third person in her life who she's lost, and somehow every time it's been connected to magicians. Raven is certain that the blue-eyed magician is behind Kitty's disappearance. There's no other explanation. But of course no one would ever believe her.

Raven is tired, she realizes, tired of standing idly by and keeping her head down. No one had been punished for Piotr's death, even though she'd testified again and again that it was a demon who had swallowed him whole. And now Kitty has disappeared, right after having a night out with a magician as her date.

And her father…Raven has long begun to suspect that her father's death was not an accident.

She's startled out of her thoughts when the door opens with a jingle, admitting a tall boy into the diner. He's only a couple years older than her, and despite the early hour he looks freshly dressed and annoyingly awake, wearing the faintest hints of a cocky smirk as he sizes her up.

"I just need a coffee to go," he says in a smooth voice, holding out a too-large bill, "if it's not too much trouble."

"You're in the right place." Raven says warily as she accepts his money. He doesn't just look like trouble, he feels like trouble.

"Perfect." He smiles, teeth and all. "Keep the change."

"Thank you." Raven eyes him for a moment longer, too absorbed by the boy's dangerous vibe to question such a large tip. She keeps him in the corner of her eye the entire time as she pours out a coffee in a to-go cup, snapping the lid on and carrying it back over to where he waits by the hostess stand. "Here you are."

"Got any sugar?" He's outright smirking now, as if there's been a joke that she's missed. "My friend likes things sweet."

"Sure." Raven digs a few packets of sugar out of the side drawer and hands them over. The hair on the back of her neck is standing on end now, and very suddenly she wants the boy to leave. "Will that be all?"

"Yes, thank you." He lifts the cup in a small salute to her, still grinning. "Have a nice day."

Raven doesn't answer, but it hardly matters because the boy is out the door in a second, the bell jingling again in his wake. She watches him through the glass as he jogs across the street, to where another boy waits.

Another boy with blazingly blue eyes that Raven can see as he looks back across the street directly at her, offering her a slow, knowing smile.

Raven can't look away as the magician takes the cup of coffee from his friend—another magician?—and takes a sip, and then the two boys turn away, walking up the street together side-by-side. She watches their backs until they round a corner and are gone from sight.

No more. She's done with this.

After her shift ends that afternoon, she quits her job at the diner, and after she walks out the door with a jingle, it is the last time Raven is seen for a long, long while.

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Erik is sitting on the roof of the Central Government building as a gargoyle when Emma abruptly drops down beside him.

"What do you want."

"Good morning to you too, sugar." She's in the form of a harpy today, and Erik thinks it suits her. She's nearly twice as large as he, but she still folds her wings delicately, feathers aligned perfectly. "So. You're in the service of the illustrious Max Eisenhardt."

"And if I wasn't?" Erik narrows his eyes.

"Don't even try to deny it, honey, I saw you leaving the ball last night with him." Emma smiles. "Interesting that you have a human form. You know what they say about demons who try to look like humans."

"No, I don't." Erik answers her calmly. "What do they say, Emma?"

She regards him with amusement. "That they've gone a little soft in the head and have actually grown attached to their masters."

Erik snorts. "Do you actually have nothing better to do right now?"

"I'm working." Emma's smile could be used to cut diamond.

"Who's your master?"

"You know I can't tell you that, sugar. Bound to duty, sworn to secrecy. You know the drill."

Erik bristles as she tosses his own words back at him. "You know the drill if any of your work involves Max Eisenhardt."

Emma laughs, but her eyes remain cold and sharp. "You don't honestly think you're a threat to me, do you?"

Erik chuckles, mostly because he knows it pisses her off. He's known Emma for a long time now. She was there at the pyramids. "On a good day, maybe."

"There won't ever be a good day."

"Touchy, touchy." Erik grins at her, showing his gargoyle fangs. "Tell me, why a harpy? Don't you usually prefer something a little more aesthetically pleasing? Unless you're trying to hide something…an injury, perhaps? One that you received last night, possibly, in an alleyway not far from here—"

"Well guessed," Emma hisses, harpy face contorting even more than it already is, "your deductive skills have finally improved after two thousand years."

"So it was you." Erik keeps his grin, even as he subtly tenses, ready to leap out of the way at the slightest notice. "I knew I recognized that Detonation. Tell me, did he liquefy you? Your master must have sent you with protection because that spell should have ripped you to—"

Emma leans in close, her harpy beak scraping against his stone snout. "I saw everything, Erik," she says, silkily smooth, "I heard every word you both said in that alley."

Erik's grin turns vicious as he holds his ground. "Good. Then you know that Max Eisenhardt is mine."

"Then I have a message to your magician from mine." Emma practically spits at him. It isn't often that her icy façade breaks but when it does, she burns hot. Erik's seen it before. "He proposes a get-together. A meeting of peers."

"Who is your master?" Erik asks, but it's a rather pointless question.

Emma snorts. "You can't guess?"

Erik can. He's known the answer ever since he asked the question the first time. "Sebastian Shaw."

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Charles summons his first demon when he's seven years old.

Apprentices don't learn to actually summon until the age of ten, but Charles is light years ahead of the curriculum on the account that he's mostly self-taught, devouring books supposedly far above his level by night. He's been living in Marko's home and studying under Marko for two years now and Charles knows that he outpaces his master several times over.

It's night when he makes his first summons, also defying tradition by summoning a foliot instead of an imp as his first-ever demon. He draws out his own pentacles with chalk on his bedroom floor, speaking the incantations from memory rather than reading them from a book, and hardly bats an eye when the lesser demon appears in the pentacle across from his own.

He'd been successful. Of course he had.

He doesn't have much use for a foliot, but instead of dismissing it he kills it with a spell, mostly just to watch it die, and in its place he imagines someone else.

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Erik alights on Charles' shoulder as a sparrow when the magician finally emerges from the Central Government building. He's visible on the second plane and up so commoners won't notice him—even magicians can only see up to the third plane, and that's with aid of special spells.

Charles doesn't say anything at first, merely glancing at him once in acknowledgement. Erik pecks his ear lightly and the magician huffs out a breath. He's content to sit still after that, digging his tiny claws into the fabric of Charles' suit jacket as the magician keeps a steady, brisk pace.

Charles rounds a corner and immediately starts murmuring a spell under his breath, perfect and distinct syllables falling from his lips in a low rush. Erik's essence tingles slightly as the spell washes across him, charged with the deep well of power Charles has at his disposal.

There's a small sizzling sound followed by a pop as any tracking spells Charles may have picked up while conducting his business in the CG are destroyed, torn to pieces by his counter-spell. Erik hates magicians. Always ready to try anything in order to spy on each other.

All for the sake of destroying each other.

Erik slides off of Charles' shoulder as a fluttering leaf and then shifts, morphing fluidly into his human form and then grabs Charles by the elbow and tugs him into the alcove between two buildings, pulling the human flush against his chest.

"He knows."

Charles gives him a lazily indulgent smile, unfazed by being manhandled. "We knew he'd catch on quickly, darling. Now it's only a matter of who makes the first move."

"He already made the first move." Erik growls. He wants to give the infuriating magician a shake. "Last night after the ball in the alley. The demon was his. She just dropped by."

"And she survived my attack. Intriguing." Charles answers idly.

This time Erik does give him a shake. "Max." He doesn't use Charles' true name out here. Anyone or anything could be listening.

Charles gives him another smile, but his eyes are cold and glittering. "We're not going to lose. He's made it a game now. I always play to win."

"No, you make deals with demons and cheat your way sideways," Erik snaps, "and now you have an opponent who does the same thing."

"I've only ever made a deal with one demon," Charles answers, his voice dangerously soft, "and if Sebastian Shaw is indeed playing on our level, then I hope he's ready."

Erik has to wonder. When Sebastian Shaw was exiled ten years ago, he'd only ever been caught experimenting on commoners. If Charles is right, and Shaw's experiments then were similar—if not the same—as the ones they've been doing, then there's no telling how far along Shaw has progressed during his absence.

There's also no telling why Shaw has decided to return to the city after ten years. Erik does not believe in coincidences.

"You honor the pact," he says, voice practically a snarl, glaring down at his magician to reinforce his words because above all else, their pact is most important.

"The pact says to win," Charles answers with another mirthless smile, "so we will."

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Kurt Marko views him as an experiment first, an apprentice second, and a human being third.

Charles is eleven when he stumbles back up to his room in the early hours of the morning, mentally and physically exhausted beyond the breaking point, his entire body aching from where the Detonations had landed. He knows how to shield—something that a sixteen-year-old apprentice would struggle with—but his spells are useless without knowing the demon's name.

Marko never gives Charles the names of his servants.

He half-collapses onto the hardwood floor before he can reach his bed, but it suits his purposes well enough as he reaches beneath his bed and fumbles around for a few moments—his limbs are heavy and it's hard to move them—until his fingers collide with a huge, thick volume.

He drags it out and props it open, rolling onto his side because sitting up feels a little out of his league, and begins to thumb through the pages. His eyes can barely focus on the tiny print, but he knows what it is. It's a list.

Charles lies like that until light from the rising sun is streaming in through his window, carefully studying the long list of djinn names, reading their origins and histories, sometimes even gleaning glimpses of their personalities where more accurate records are available. He has to choose wisely.

He has enough presence of mind to shove the book back under his bed right before he finally allows himself to give into his exhaustion and passes out where he is. Marko doesn't know he has the book in the first place, and Charles needs it to stay that way for now.

It's only a matter of time.

Two days later, while Marko is out attending a party, Charles summons a djinn named Erik.

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Erik pads alongside Charles as a lion now, staying well out of the commoners' visible range on the fourth plane to avoid causing panic. Charles is easy to identify as a magician—he dresses and carries himself with the same casual arrogance as the lot of them—but Erik knows from vast experience that when a commoner sees a lion walking down the sidewalk, their first thought is lion and not demon.

A pity, really, seeing as even an imp has the potential of being more dangerous than a mere lion.

"What were you doing in the CG?" Erik asks after giving a particularly wide yawn.

"Checking in." Charles replies easily, his voice a faint murmur but perfectly audible to Erik's ears. "They all think I'm still up to my neck in research—which isn't entirely false, but still. Have to keep up appearances."

"Adjusting your mask."

The corners of Charles' mouth quirk. "You already know that my mask is well in place."

This is true. The magician has been getting away with murder for years now. "What's your plan for Shaw?"

"The usual." Charles says casually. They're alone enough for the moment so he reaches over and fists one hand in Erik's mane. "I don't think he'll be any different from the others. We can do this, Erik."

Erik growls, a noncommittal sound. "Once you get him, will it be enough?"

Charles squeezes his mane for a moment before letting go. "Yes," he answers slowly, "I do believe it finally will be."

Erik bares his teeth, the closest he can get to a smirk. "Not going to get cold feet, are you?"

"Of course not." Charles says dismissively. "We made a pact. As you so kindly reminded me ten minutes ago."

"Humans are forgetful."

"Why, it almost sounds like you don't trust me. And after all these years, too. I'm hurt."

Erik rolls his eyes, giving another wide yawn, lips drawing back across his fangs. "I trust you just about as far as I could throw you."

Charles chuckles, and if it's loud enough for some of the commoners passing by to hear, they all quickly advert their gazes. Better to not question a magician. "That's rather far."

Erik thinks of how easy it is for him to push and shove the magician in his human form, and he's certainly not limited to just that. That's beside the point, though. His trust in Charles has been cemented for quite some time now. "Yes," he answers dryly, "it rather is."

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Charles bides his time until he is eighteen, even though Erik constantly insists for him to move sooner. The magician's theories are solid and Erik is impatient to get the ball rolling, to take their first victim, and who better than Kurt Marko.

Project number two.

"One pulse," Charles murmurs where they're crouched together in the hallway outside of Marko's study, "that should be enough to take care of anything small. You'll have to handle Cain on your own."

Erik is brimming with pent-up tension. "Hurry up." He's wanted to tear a chunk out of Cain for years now.

Charles gives a faint smile. In all reality, he should really be the one who's tense, but right now he appears calm and collected. "Take care of him as quickly as possible. I need us to do this together."

"I know." Erik rolls his eyes. They've been over this at least a thousand times now. He knows how it works. "Let's do this already, Charles."

Charles chuckles, low and void of emotion. He's staring forward at the door to Marko's study, and as Erik studies the magician in turn, something hot and acidic burns within the demon's essence. He's wanted the human for some time now—something else he's been stewing about. "Tonight I'm Max."

"Never to me." Erik tells him. He doesn't want Max. "I don't know Max. I know Charles."

Charles glances at him, amused. "You're the only one who does." Then he's murmuring his spell, drawing his hands in an arc across the floor, sending out a pulse of magic throughout the entire house.

Erik's essence tingles as the spell passes over him, made safe when Charles effortlessly weaves his name into the spell to exempt him from its effects, but he hears several screeches echo through the hallway as all of Marko's lesser demons are destroyed, their essence ripped to pieces by the magician's power. There's a startled curse from inside the study, but Erik hardly notices because he's much more focused on the entity that's materializing halfway down the hall.

Cain is a djinn on equal level with Erik, and he's been in Marko's service for longer than Erik has known Charles. Cain is the demon directly responsible for most of the scars on Charles' body.

Erik will be the demon directly responsible for Cain's demise.

"You?" Cain asks in surprise when he catches sight of Erik. The form he's chosen to appear in looks as if it has a mostly human body with the head of a boar on the first three planes. On the fourth plane and up, his actual form is a hulking mass of writhing tentacles that Erik can't make heads or tails of.

Erik's sitting in his favorite gremlin form, and he grins. "Me." He'd used this form several weeks ago when he'd spoken to Cain, posing as a demon delivering a message from another magician. Demons generally have no qualms giving their names to each other, and thus Erik had finally learned Cain's name.

He'd wanted Charles to destroy the demon then, but the fact of the matter was that Charles wasn't powerful enough to destroy a djinn with a single spell, and they couldn't yet allow Marko to become suspicious. So Erik had waited.

Until tonight.

The door to the study bursts open and Marko stands red-faced in the doorway. Charles takes this as his cue to rise to his feet, a pleasant smile snaking its way across his face. "Good evening, sir."

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Marko demands.

"Payback, sir." Charles' smile remains, but his eyes are dark and glittering. "For thirteen years of hell."

Marko's face is purple with rage. "You—"

Charles lobs a spell at him, hissing out the incantation from between his teeth and the hallway explodes with a bright flash of light.

Erik leaps forward, shifting from gremlin to grizzly bear and barrels into Cain before he can attack Charles, and together the two of them tumble further down the hallway, away from the battling magicians. Cain snarls, sprouting claws and swiping at Erik's face but Erik retaliates with a Detonation, sending it right off in Cain's face. Erik's blown backwards by the force of his own explosion, and he shifts into a cockroach as he hits the wall, dropping relatively painlessly to the ground.

Cain blows through two walls before he's finally stopped by a third, slamming into it with a thud that makes large cracks spider web out around him. Erik shifts back into his gremlin form and sends another Detonation at him but this time Cain is quick enough to retaliate with one of his own, and the two spells collide in midair and explode together, and for a few confused moments Erik loses track of everything, the shockwaves from the explosion distorting his senses.

A large paw comes out of nowhere, striking him in the side of the head and Erik drops, rolling onto his back before Cain is on him, raining heavy blows down onto him, having copied Erik's previous grizzly form. Cain rakes his claws through Erik's essence with a snarl, sending off two Detonations in a row right into Erik's face.

This is a mistake because the force of the explosion sends him flying backwards off of Erik, and while Erik is nearly knocked senseless by the attack it gives him enough time to scramble up, essence torn and shredded, but at least he's no longer pinned down.

Cain is already back on his feet as well, charging at him from across the wrecked room. It hurts to shift, but Erik morphs into a Minotaur.

Their collision shakes the house just as much as the Detonations have and Erik strains against Cain's weight, reaching forward to grip Cain's bear form by the shoulders and twisting him sideways, smashing him down onto the ground, panting.

Cain smirks up at him, also panting. "Once I'm finished with you, I'm going to take the brat and tear him to pieces inch by inch."

Erik kicks at him with a hoof, grinning viciously when Cain grunts as he rolls out of reach. Erik's hurting too, though. They're too equally matched. He needs to finish this before it gets too drawn out.

That, and he needs to get back to Charles.

His eyes sweep the room, thinking quickly as the other demon clambers back up to his feet. Then he spots it with a burst of triumph—hanging on one of the walls that miraculously still stands is a long sword with a solid silver blade. A demon slayer.

It must have cost Marko a fortune. Demon slayers are few and far between these days, seeing as they shatter upon use and the spell for creating them was—fortunately, in Erik's opinion—lost long ago. It's a careless display of wealth rather than power, and Erik thinks it's a little typical that Marko would be in possession of one.

Now it's going to serve Erik's purposes perfectly. If he's careful. He can't allow Cain to notice it. He also can't allow too much of his own essence to come into contact with it, or he'll end up slaying himself.

Embarrassing.

Cain shakes debris off his back and shifts into a Minotaur as well, once again mirroring Erik. "Come on," he says, sneering, "I don't have all night."

"I thought we'd stop for a spot of tea." Erik says dryly. Charles must be rubbing off on him. There's no other explanation.

Cain blinks, most likely trying to discern whether or not he's just been insulted. Erik rolls his eyes. No wonder he prefers Charles' company to that of his own kind.

Cain's pause has given Erik the time he needs to gather himself, pulling his essence together as much as he can for the moment before launching himself at the other demon, lowering his head so his horns are first. He slams into Cain before Cain can brace himself and together they topple backwards again, flickering through forms at a rapid-fire pace, tearing at each other. They're both too exhausted to fire anymore Detonations—those cost valuable energy, which is scarce for demons in the material world—and Erik purposefully allows Cain to get in the better hits as he concentrates on getting them both closer to the wall where the silver sword hangs.

They crash to the floor again, and changing forms is starting to hurt so Erik settles on his Minotaur. He snarls when Cain gets in a particularly well-aimed hit, digging sharp claws deep into Erik's essence. They're close enough to the wall now, but when Erik tries to untangle himself from Cain's grasp the other demon pulls him back down again, going for the jugular.

The change shreds at his essence and makes his entire form shudder with the effort but Erik morphs into a fly, just barely missing what would've been a finishing blow. He buzzes through the air, steadying himself before morphing one last time with a hiss of pain, taking his human form and jumping up to grab the silver sword off the wall.

He yells as it instantly begins to burn, eating away at his essence, and he whirls without pause to throw it directly at Cain before it rips him to pieces.

Cain screams as the blade slices directly through him, eyes bugging out huge right before he bursts, exploding in a rush of magical power that nearly blows Erik off his feet. The demon slayer instantly shatters, the blade crumbling to dust in a matter of moments, its single use expired.

Erik sags against the wall for a moment, panting. The entire room is a mess, but that will hardly matter later. Right now Erik allows himself to feel deep satisfaction—Cain is no more.

He drags his essence back into some semblance of order again, wincing. He's going to need to be dismissed for a few days in order to heal and recharge in the Other Place. Switching forms again right now is out of the question but his human form will do so he heads through the rubble back in the direction of Marko's study.

The hallway is eerily silent but it's just as destroyed as the other room is, and the air is heavy with magical residue left behind by powerful spells—the magicians fought here, just as fiercely as Erik and Cain. Erik proceeds down the hall slowly, stepping over pieces of furniture and chunks of plaster, flicking continuously through the seven planes as he goes.

He comes across another huge chunk of missing wall, and assumes that the battle must have taken a detour so he steps through the hole. Sure enough, the first thing he notices on the thick, plush carpet of the dining room is a huge stain of blood.

Who it belongs to is another matter entirely.

The stain ends in a smear and then there's a long trail of blood that cuts a trail across the carpet, headed out the door on the other side of the room. Whoever is bleeding has been dragged away.

Erik smirks.

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"I'm going to have to dismiss you soon, you know." Charles remarks idly, moving with his usual ease between the bookshelves. "You're due for a recharge."

"You can't dismiss me now." Erik hisses. He's drifting as a smoke cloud above the magician's head, neon green today. The small bookstore they're in is empty except for the shopkeeper, but this is normal—this is a magician's store, where commoners are forbidden.

Charles glances up at him, cocking one eyebrow. "You can throw all of my spells back in my face as much as you'd like, but you cannot avoid the dismissal."

Erik's smoke cloud grows eyes so he can glare down at the magician. "You can't dismiss me now that Shaw—"

Charles silences him with another glance, this one sharper than the last. "I need you at full strength," he says, his voice low but firm, "I can't have you at anything less. Dismissing you tonight makes the most sense, while things have not yet begun."

"Not until tonight," Erik says at once, his tone booking no argument, "and only for a day."

"Not until tonight," Charles agrees, but then adds, "and we'll see."

Erik nearly says his true name, stopping himself just in time. "Max."

Charles looks amused by Erik's usage of his fake name, as if he knows how much of a conscious effort Erik has to make to actually use it. "It will be fine."

Erik begs to differ, but the magician has already pulled a thick book of the shelf, flipping it open with a small noise of interest. There's no point in trying to argue with Charles now, he'll just be ignored in favor of old, archaic spells in odd languages.

Erik drifts higher so he's hovering above the bookshelves entirely, where he can see out of the shop's front window out onto the street. For the past hour as Charles has conducted his business in the city Erik's been getting the uncanny feeling that they're being watched.

Maybe he's just paranoid because of his run-in with Emma earlier, but Erik's never been one to distrust his own instincts. Charles is being followed, but Erik has yet to see anyone or anything remotely suspicious. It's making him stir-crazy, especially as the magician in question looks like he's settling in for a long read between the bookshelves.

Charles' blasé attitude is one of his worst attributes, and it usually serves to drive Erik straight up the wall and across the ceiling. Then again, Erik has seen the magician before when he's actually emotionally invested in something.

It's both breathtaking and terrifying all at once.

Erik sees a flash of yellow, and he barely has time to react as something crashes through the window of the bookstore, shattering the glass with a loud crash. Erik dives down, switching into something more solid and heavy so he can knock Charles to the ground, covering the magician with his body.

Then the bookstore explodes.

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The trail of blood leads back to Charles' room.

Of course it does.

Erik slides into the bedroom, taking care not to smudge any of the markings that have been drawn out on the floor. Two oblong pentacles take up the entire floor, patterns and symbols jumbled together so intricately that it's a wonder Charles was able to fit them all into such tiny spaces. Instead of being separated, the pentacles are joined together by seven thick lines.

Kurt Marko lies prone in the center of one of the pentacles while Charles crouches over him, carving runes into the man's skin with a dagger.

He looks up when Erik enters, blue eyes practically luminescent in juxtaposition to all of the blood splattered across him and Marko. "Erik. You're just in time. He just gave me his real name. Such nice cooperation."

"Lovely. You have created a delightful mess." Erik remarks casually, but inwardly he's churning hungrily, both at the sight of Charles and at the way he can immediately sense Marko's impending death.

Very little separates a human from a demon, other than the fact that a human has a material form. Upon death, the immaterial spirit of the human is released, and Erik has yet to find anything tastier than a raw, human soul.

"It won't matter." Charles says, looking back down to add the finishing touches on one of his runes. Beneath him, Marko gurgles. The man is still alive.

Even better.

Erik crosses over to sink down into the opposite pentacle, watching the magician as he works. Charles' hands are steady as he slices through flesh. His human, Erik thinks, is stunning.

Charles lets the dagger drop, satisfied with his work, and then pushes himself to his feet, joining Erik in the other pentacle. He sits down as well, arranging himself comfortably. "That fight cost you," he notes, blazing eyes taking Erik in, "are you ready for this?"

Erik gives him a smirk. "Let's find out."

Charles makes a small sound of amusement, and then holds out his hand. "And so, with willing help given by a demon…"

Erik takes the magician's hand, calling on his own well of magic. Demon magic is more unrefined than human magic. There's a very good chance that this experiment will burn them both into oblivion, but he trusts Charles. He designed these pentacles and built this spell himself, and Erik would use no other source. It will work.

When Charles feels Erik's power he calls on his own, and together their magic rises, reverberating off each other as they let their power unfold. The air crackles between them, a demon and a magician working together, and Erik feels as if he has been supercharged.

Charles' lips twitch in the likeness of a smile, and then he begins the spell.

It is long and switches through several different languages but Charles speaks unfalteringly, his pronunciation impeccable as he repeats the entire thing from memory, eyes trained on Marko unblinkingly. Erik feels the spell beginning to take form, his own magic slotting neatly into place as he temporarily relinquishes his power to Charles, allowing the magician to combine them together, their magic rippling across the lines between the pentacles. Charles may not yet be strong enough to take out a djinn with a single spell, but for a human, his power is vast.

It's only about to grow stronger.

In the other pentacle, Marko spasms suddenly when Charles adds the man's true name into the spell, choking out a cry as his body begins to distort, the runes Charles has carved into him leaking strange light. As Erik watches, the man's soul is torn from his body while he's still alive, the essence sparking wildly in midair as the body slumps, as dead and empty as a shell.

The first spell ends. Charles takes a breath, and then begins the second.

This spell is even longer and more complex than the first, spoken faster and faster even as Charles never once jumbles the syllables—even the slightest mistake could be costly—and draws more on Erik's power. This is the critical step—separating useless spirit from raw, pure magic. Erik watches as Marko's essences twists in midair, the strange, glowing light becoming more and more predominate as Charles draws all of the magic out of it, careful and precise.

The magic is ripped free entirely and the rest of the essence dissipates, fading into nothingness as Kurt Marko finally dies, leaving behind nothing but a glowing sphere of raw magic.

"Charles," Erik says, turning back to look at his magician as he finishes the spell, the last words echoing slightly in the sudden silence.

The glow of the magic is reflected in Charles' eyes and he gives a true, triumphant smile. "We've done it."

"One last bit left." Erik reminds him with a smirk.

"Yes." Charles agrees, holding up a hand. The sphere of magic flows to him at once, hovering over his palm. Erik leans over his shoulder for a moment and takes a deep whiff—perfection. Charles gives a light chuckle, amused. "Well. Here goes."

He tips back his head and presses the sphere of magic to his lips and then swallows it whole.

Erik uses his own power to tamp down on Charles immediately, grabbing him by the shoulders when he goes stiff, the air crackling loudly around them again. Charles shudders, eyes snapping open wide as sparks of magic dance across his skin—he has so much magic that it's still tangible, visible to the naked eye. Erik holds him steady, his grip strong and unrelenting.

Charles slowly adjusts to the influx of power, relaxing in Erik's grip as his body and existing magic compensate for the magic he's gained. Marko wasn't an overly-powerful magician to begin with, so Erik isn't too worried about Charles' ability to absorb it. Still, power is power, and Charles has just increased his magic significantly.

Charles' eyelashes flutter as he blinks, finally shifting. A few more sparks run across his arms before fading, but Erik keeps his grasp on the magician as Charles turns to look at him, eyes bright and still glowing a little. "Erik. It worked."

Erik looks deep into the human's eyes and feels intoxicated by what they have just accomplished, what Charles has become, what they have made together. He wants a taste of it, of Charles, so he pulls the magician forward and kisses him, licking his way into Charles' mouth and giving a growl of approval when the magician yields, parting his lips with a sigh and granting the demon further access.

Erik can taste the magic on Charles' lips but beneath that is just Charles, so human and malleable but also so much more than that. Their tongues slide together, warm and slick, and Erik can feel Charles' rushing blood and the pounding of his heart. It is in this moment that Erik realizes that he does belong to the magician—but even more importantly, the magician belongs to him, utterly and completely.

"Well," Charles murmurs when they break apart only slightly, his voice low with amusement, "absolute taboo has never tasted so sweet."

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Erik flattens Charles down further as the shockwave from the blast topples the bookcases, paper flying everywhere. Out on the street people are screaming, but Erik is more concerned with making sure that the human beneath him is still alive.

"Max," he says tersely as he holds his body tense, supporting the bookcase that has fallen over on top of them. He's only in his human form, but that doesn't mean his strength is any less diminished than if he'd chosen something larger.

"I'm fine." Charles says, sounding faintly strained. "Do be so kind as to get off me."

Erik snorts, and then heaves the bookcase off, pushing it off to the side as he climbs off of Charles and pulls the magician up to his feet. The bookshop has been utterly destroyed, and smoke clogs the air thickly, making Charles cough.

"He's a demon," a voice says suddenly from beyond the smoke.

"Where?" comes another voice, sharp and commanding.

"Couple more steps forward and you'll be standing on him."

"Good." A blond girl materializes from out of the smoke, and Erik has a brief moment to register something close to vague recognition before she grabs onto his arm tightly with both hands. "Time to go back to the hell you came from, demon."

Her touch burns, eating away at his essence relentlessly and Erik gives a yell, twisting in her grip as his entire being shudders, flicking through forms so quickly as his thoughts scatter and divide, unable to think straight as the girl's touch literally beings to rip him to pieces.

He's so far gone that he doesn't realize that she's speaking again, saying the words of some kind of incantation, and then there comes a sharp yank on his essence as he's sucked out of the material world, flung through the dimensions into the Other Place. He's been dismissed.

By someone who is resoundingly not Charles.

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Erik stands next to Charles as they watch Marko's house burn down.

"I hated him." Charles says idly. The glow of the flames illuminates his face.

"I know you did." Erik answers him. He still has the taste of Charles on his lips. "You can't linger here. Your authorities will be here soon."

"It doesn't matter," Charles says absently, "they won't think to blame me. I'm just an apprentice. And I'm one of them. Surely that makes me innocent."

"Are they really so blind?" Erik asks reflexively, even though he knows better than Charles about the corruption of magicians.

"Oh yes," Charles says as sirens begin to draw near, "and that's why we're going to open their eyes."

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Time isn't measureable in the Other Place relative to the material world. Erik has no idea how long he waits, recharging his essence in the meantime, until he finally feels the tug of a summons at last.

The room he materializes in is not familiar at all, and neither is the man standing in the pentacle across from him.

Sebastian Shaw is smiling widely, but his eyes are cold. "Hello Erik."