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The third who walks always beside you

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This can’t be happening, was Charles’ first thought as Gaby struggled against Mystique’s grip around her hair. At the same time as he recognised the prisoner, the guard recognised the onlooker, so just as Erik shouted, ‘Gaby!’, Mystique shouted, ‘Charles!’ and let go of Gaby’s hair. With a few swift steps, Erik crossed to her and swept her up in his arms.

‘It’s alright,’ he murmured into her hair. ‘All’s well - you’re safe.’ She leaned against him, whispering his name, as if everything between them was forgiven. As he held her shivering body close, he turned his angry gaze at Mystique. ‘Explain yourself.’

It took a moment for her to find her momentum and stop gaping at him.
You explain yourself!’ she retorted, the shock of finding her brother there eclipsed by her leader’s behaviour. ‘She’s one of Trask’s cronies!’

‘You’re mistaken,’ Erik intoned. ‘I know her.’

Know her? How!?’ Mystique exclaimed. Now Gaby looked up at Erik.

‘What’s going on, Erik?’ she asked weakly.

‘Gaby, come here,’ Charles said and extended a hand to her. Erik loosened his hold of her, but steadied her until Charles could reach her. ‘There, there,’ he murmured and hushed her, stroking the hair back from her forehead.

‘What the hell is going on?’ Mystique asked. ‘What’s he doing here?’ She pointed at her brother.

‘I don’t see why he shouldn’t be here,’ Erik said vehemently, turning to face her. Before she had time to ask anything else, Gaby, still breathless from panic, asked:

‘Who... what is she?’ Her shock and her fear was clear on her face. Erik turned around to look at her, but the sight of that made him pause, and Charles realised that if he did not want Mystique herself to do the introductions, it was up to him.

‘Gaby, this is my sister,’ he sighed. ‘Raven, eum, Mystique - this is Gabrielle Haller.’

The two women stared at each other in equal horror. Gaby’s thin, slumped form, still shaking with the shock, seemed to confuse and disgust Mystique as much as her own scaled blue body, proud in its nakedness where she stood, feet wide apart and breasts thrust forward, shocked Gaby.

‘Your sister?’ Gaby said faintly. ‘But she’s... she’s a...’ Mystique shifted from foot to foot, looking awkward at how bourgeois the situation had turned.

‘So I’m the sister, and you are...?’ she asked, raising her eyebrows. Gaby’s silence must have been enough of an answer, because suddenly Mystique whooped with laughter and made a little jump. ‘Oh, that’s it, isn’t it?’ she said gleefully. ‘You’re the human girlfriend. He always had a thing for the lesser evolved. Which bit of you did he tell you was groovy?’

Gaby stared at her as if she had said something in a language she did not know, but the words were sinking in. Charles could feel her grip around his hand grow less decisive. Slowly, her gaze moved from Mystique to Charles.

‘What does she mean?’

Charles swallowed and caught Erik’s eye. He gave a minute nod. He turned back to Gaby and braced himself. The words themselves were surprisingly easy to speak.

‘I’m a mutant,’ he explained. ‘And so is Erik.’

His words registered and sank in. Gaby’s hand fell out of his. Charles had expected fear, and found it there, but he had not expected disappointment. Shakily she got to her feet and looked at Erik.

‘Is this true?’ she whispered. Erik nodded.

‘I told you that it was more complicated than you could imagine.’ She swallowed, trying to control her own reactions. Instead, she looked at Mystique.

‘Why did you attack me on my way here?’ she asked. The shaking of her voice was no longer because of fear, but anger. ‘What gives you the right to do that?’

‘What gives you the right to be here?’ Mystique spat back.

‘I wanted to speak to Erik,’ Gaby snapped.

‘“Erik”?’ Mystique repeated and looked from her leader to the girl. She hooted with laughter. ‘“Erik”!? This is just too much! Magneto, you and the human girl?’

‘This doesn’t concern you, Mystique,’ he said through clenched teeth.

‘I think it does,’ she told him and stepped up to him. ‘I thought I might change that statement to “you and the human spy”.’

‘Spy?’ Gaby exclaimed. ‘How dare you, you...?’

‘What?’ Mystique said, whirling around to face her. ‘“Monster”? “Freak”?’ Gaby glared at her, still blushing. ‘Whatever you call me, you call them.’

‘They’re not blue,’ she pointed out. ‘Also, they wear clothes.’

‘Don’t you think this suits me?’ Mystique said and flicked her hair over her shoulder. In any other situation, Charles would have found it funny how Gaby was desperately trying not to stare at Mystique’s breasts.

‘It’s disturbing,’ she said, averting her eyes completely. Erik stepped closer.

‘Mystique, put some clothes on.’

‘So we’re taking orders from sapiens now?’ Mystique answered back.

‘Stop calling her that, and put something on.’ She rolled her eyes and made a gabbing gesture with her hand, but then her skin rippled and changed. The next moment, she was no longer naked, but dressed in a white halter-neck dress. Charles wondered why she had chosen a belt made from tiny skulls.

‘Now,’ Mystique said curtly. ‘Can we get back to the issue that you’re apparently both sleeping with a spy?’

‘Stop calling me that!’ Gaby shrieked.

‘Wait,’ Charles said, speaking up. For a moment, the others seemed to have forgotten that he was there, because now they turned around to stare at him in surprise as he wheeled himself closer to the others, joining the circle. ‘This will not get anywhere if we just shout at each other. It’d be easier if we talked one at a time.’

‘Surely you don’t believe her?’ Gaby said anxiously.

‘I’m sure there’s been some mistake,’ Charles said levelly. ‘Now, might I suggest that you all sit down and we can sort this out.’ Mystique muttered something under her breath, but then sat down cross-legged on the floor. Erik waved a hand, and with a creak two chairs drew up. Gaby stared at it, and when Erik gestured to her to sit down, she took a step backwards.

‘It moved on its own,’ she said, stunned.

‘Not on its own,’ Erik assured her. ‘I moved it.’

‘You can move things without touching them?’ she asked, looking at him finally.

‘I can manipulate metal,’ he explained. ‘I control magnetic fields. I dragged them here by the nails.’ Her look became a stare. ‘This must be very strange for you,’ he added. Looking away, she nodded and sat down. He followed suit, looking to Charles for reassurance. He could give him little, and simply shrugged.

‘Now,’ Charles said, looking at each of them in turn. ‘Can we please show each other respect?’

‘Do we have to put out hand up if we want to speak?’ Mystique asked sullenly.

‘I hope there’s no need for that,’ he answered and gave her a reprimanding look. ‘But as you’re the coming with the accusations, perhaps you’d like to start. Tell us what happened just now.’

‘The past few months, I’ve been guarding the Trask building. I’d noticed that she-’ she pointed towards Gaby ‘-had started walking in a new direction recently, towards this very hotel. Yesterday, I followed her home, and then followed her when she came here. Then today I followed her again, and when I was certain that she was heading here, I found a telephone booth and called ahead. Then I caught up and...’

‘...Slammed me into a wall and threatened to break my neck if I screamed,’ Gaby finished acidly. Little remained of her previous anxiety. Charles felt oddly proud of her.

‘...I apprehended her,’ Mystique finished.

Erik had ignored this exchange and instead looked at Gaby.

‘You work for Trask?’ There was something in his tone which was difficult to pinpoint, which made Gaby shift in her chair and grab the sides of it.

‘At his company, yes,’ she said. ‘Why’s that important?’

‘Because the company is just a front,’ Erik said gravely. ‘Bolivar Trask is involved in some unspeakable things.’

‘What do you mean?’ Gaby asked. ‘What do you mean, the company is a front?’

‘Yes, explain that to her,’ Mystique snapped. ‘Make sure that she knows all we know so that she can report back and let them tighten up security, and we’ll never get into that building.’ Erik ignored her.

‘Do you really not know anything of this?’ he asked. She hugged herself and shook her head.

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ she whispered. ‘I’m just the typist.’

‘That’s all?’ Mystique asked. ‘Your girlfriend is plotting genocide, and you’re going to believe that?’

‘Plotting genocide?’ Gaby repeated, incredulously.

‘She’s not lying, Mystique,’ Charles said. ‘She honestly believes that this company is what it sets out to be. And to a certain extent, it is. It deals in metals and plastics. However, industries of that kind could be... subverted.’

‘And are being subverted,’ Erik added.

‘I can’t believe this,’ Gaby exclaimed and got to her feet. ‘This is too much.’

‘Gaby, sit down,’ Charles said, but she shook her head.

‘I don’t know what to make of this!’ she said helplessly. ‘You’re mutants - your sister attacked me - the company I work for is just a front and the man who once tried to seduce me is apparently some kind of criminal mastermind!’

They all stared at her. It was Charles who broke the silence.

‘It was Trask who asked you out that night we met you,’ he said, leaning forward a little. Gaby brushed away a tear and nodded.

‘Yes.’

‘Sit down and tell us,’ Charles urged her. ‘How did it happen?’

‘You know what happened...’

‘No, I mean when he asked you out,’ he clarified. ‘All of it.’ She sat down and took a deep breath.

‘It was an awful day,’ she started. ‘I’d lost my pearl necklace. It must have come loose and fallen off just after I came to work. I was at my table, trying to do some stupid bit of typing, when he suddenly stopped beside me. He held his hand out, and there was my necklace. I was so relieved, because I was afraid I might have lost it for good. I tried to take it from his hand, but instead, he put it round my neck and when he leaned down, he whispered in my ear. He said he’d noticed me, and that he wanted to take me out...’

Erik had listened intently as his jaw tightened with irrational jealousy, but suddenly, he sat up straight and held out his hand.

‘Your necklace.’

Gaby looked at him, startled.

‘What?’

‘Let me see the necklace.’ It was obvious from the look in her eyes that she did not trust him. ‘It’s important.’ Reluctantly, she reached round her neck and unclasped the band of pearls. They clattered together when she put them in his palm.

‘Please be careful with it,’ she said when he held it up and inspected it. ‘It was my mother’s.’ A tense silence fell as he examined every pearl and every link of metal, holding it up close to his eye. Finally, he stopped, looking at the round golden clasp.

‘Has this ever been mended?’ he asked.

‘I don’t think so,’ she stammered. ‘Not since I was given it, and my aunt didn’t wear it much. I don’t know if my mother...’

‘I meant recently,’ he said. ‘Because this clasp has been opened.’

‘But...’

‘It has been mended fairly well,’ he conceded, ‘but someone has opened this link-’ he pointed to the one which connected the clasp to the rest of the necklace ‘-and cut open the golden ball, and then resealed it. The tools were probably not made for the job either, even if they were small.’

‘How can you tell?’ she asked. ‘I can’t see anything.’

‘My uncle was a jeweller - he taught me a thing or two,’ Erik said with a shrug. ‘Also, I can feel the scratches in the metal. Someone opened up this clasp, less than half a year ago.’

‘But why?’ Gaby asked, looking at him and then at Charles. ‘Are you saying that Trask stole my necklace to cut open the clasp and then close it again? Why?’ Charles sighed, unable not to admire the plan.

‘This is clever,’ he admitted. ‘Very clever.’ Then, turning to Gaby, he asked: ‘This was the same day you came to the restaurant, wasn’t it?’ She nodded. ‘That isn’t where the story starts.’

‘You’ve lost me,’ Mystique said. ‘How is any of this relevant?’

‘This is all part of Trask’s plan,’ Charles explained. ‘He has a spy on the hotel staff - someone on the serving staff, I would wager. Quite possibly, he planted them there when my room was booked. My reservation was under my own name, and if he has contacts in the CIA, he’d know about me.’

‘Contacts in the CIA?’ Gaby repeated.

‘This is big, honey,’ Mystique explained. ‘Your boss is being thorough with having the right people on his side.’ Then, feeling her brother’s glare, gestured for him to continue.

‘Whoever this is probably watched me ever since I arrived. So when Erik turned up at my table one night...’

‘...He reported back to his master,’ Erik finished.

‘Exactly. If Trask knew about me through the CIA, he knew about you, possibly enough to figure out who you are now. Even if he didn’t, he must have figured out that you might upset his plans.’

‘But what does this have to do with Mister Trask asking me out?’ Gaby asked.

‘Because it was in the hotel restaurant that Erik suggested us meeting at Sibell’s, the same restaurant where we met you,’ Charles said. ‘The spy hears this and reports back to Trask. Trask has read my file. He might well know about the school. He most certainly knows about my medical training...’

‘I was bait?’ Gaby asked, eyes growing.

‘Yes,’ Charles sighed. ‘I’m sorry, but I think you were. Someone, whether him or someone else (for all we know, one of the other typists), had noticed you, and drawn their own conclusions about the state of your nerves. He never intended to turn up. He fully intended you to wait for him in vain.’

‘But that’s a huge gamble,’ Erik said. ‘He had no way of knowing that Gaby would come, or that she would react like she did...’

‘No, he must have been certain that she was going to,’ Charles answered. ‘After all, he had given back her necklace. He must have realised how important it was to you, Gaby - you wear it every day. Someone took it of your neck - how, I do not know. Perhaps he has trained thieves on his side. He knew that you would feel indebted. But yes, it was a gamble. There was no way for him to know that you would simply walk off when he did not turn up. He only had to hope that somehow, you would draw my attention...’

‘And I did,’ Gaby whispered.

‘Yes,’ Charles sighed.

‘It worked out perfectly,’ Erik said. ‘He assumed that Charles would come to the rescue if you were agitated enough.’ Gaby gulped.

‘He used me... Why?’

‘To get to us,’ Charles said. ‘He hoped that I would try to befriend you, and we all played into his hands.’

‘But how is that important?’ Mystique asked. Erik got to his feet.

‘It’s important because it means that for a lot of the time, there had been a transponder close to us.’ Gaby stared up at him, and the necklace he still held in his hand.

‘The clasp?’ she whispered.

‘Yes. There’s a tiny transponder inside it. It’s not a difficult piece of technology, but getting it this small shows that they are more advanced than we thought. It can’t have taken long to plant the transponder in it. Waiting for the clasp to cool would be the most time-consuming part of it.’

‘So they’ve been spying on me?’ Gaby said weakly. Erik placed the necklace in her hand.

‘You might want to consider where your loyalties lie,’ he said. Gaby looked from Erik to Charles, not certain what she saw.

‘Oh, God,’ she whispered and pressed her hand to her mouth as she started crying. Erik sat down again, looking guilty. With him between them, Charles could not reach out to take her hand, and he did not know if she would want him to. Even Mystique looked uncomfortable. They were all silent, and for a long time, all that was heard was the sound of Gaby crying.

At long last, Mystique spoke up.

‘We could use this.’ Erik looked at her.

‘How?’

‘Well, little Gabrielle is on our side, isn’t she?’

‘I’m not on your side!’ Gaby spat, staring at her. Mystique looked quite gleeful at her outburst. Charles cleared his throat.

‘Gaby, right now, these people are simply using you without your knowing it,’ he said. ‘But as soon as they realise that you know this, you won’t be safe any more. Your ignorance protected you. But now... you’re too close to us, and you know too much. They’ll see you as an enemy.’

‘I don’t want to be anyone’s enemy,’ Gaby whispered.

‘Of course you don’t want to,’ Charles said. ‘No-one ever wants that. But if they start putting their plans in motion, the best you’ll be is collateral damage.’ She swallowed a sob.

‘What are their plans?’

‘We don’t know exactly,’ Erik said.

‘She said genocide,’ Gaby said and gestured towards Mystique.

‘They’re building some kind of device which can detect mutant DNA,’ Erik explained. ‘And destroy those with it.’

‘You mean kill mutants?’

‘Yes.’ She stared at them all.

‘Why?’ she asked, her voice hitching.

‘Because they’re afraid,’ Charles said before either of the others had time to suggest any alternative. ‘When met with something they do not understand, they respond with hate, because it takes less effort and is more comforting than trying to understand.’ Gaby swallowed.

‘Humankind hasn’t learned, Gaby,’ Erik added. ‘They see this as self-defence.They will fight their own extinction. And mutants will fight for their right to survive.’

‘I don’t want to go extinct,’ Gaby whispered. ‘And I don’t want to die.’

‘If it’s up to us, you won’t,’ Charles intoned.

‘Look, Haller,’ Mystique said and leaned forward, elbows on knees. ‘If we don’t do something, Trask and his friends in the government are going to start hunting down every mutant in existence, including these two.’ She pointed to Erik and Charles. ‘But you could help us. We could stop it.’ Erik rose.

‘No,’ he said. ‘I won’t have it.’

‘She’s our best shot, Magneto!’ Mystique exclaimed. ‘The reason why we couldn’t get inside before was that because we didn’t know the set-up of the building because we couldn’t get hold of the blueprints, and using Azazel has been far too risky, but she knows how the place works...’

‘I’m not having her put in danger,’ he snapped. Now Gaby got to her feet too.

‘Won’t you at least ask me if I want to help before making decisions for me?’ Erik stopped, looking embarrassed. He turned to face her and asked:

‘Do you want to help?’

‘Is anyone going to die?’ Gaby asked and looked in straight in the eye.

‘If we don’t do anything, certainly.’

‘I meant if you try to stop this project,’ she clarified. ‘Because I don’t want to be part of any killing.’ Erik looked taken aback.

‘I need to be able to protect my own,’ he said.

‘Killing and self-defense aren’t the same thing,’ Gaby pointed out. Erik breathed out sharply.

‘Is this your condition for helping us?’

‘Yes. If you promise that no-one is killed, I’ll help.’ Erik sighed deeply.

‘Fine,’ he said. ‘There’ll be plenty of material destruction. People may get hurt. But no-one will be actively killed.’

‘I suppose that’s the best I can get from you,’ she said unsmilingly. ‘So you’re all three in this?’

‘Not me,’ Charles said. ‘They’re the terrorists. I just run a school.’ Gaby turned to stare at him.

‘How is your school part of this?’

‘All my students are... gifted,’ he explained. ‘They’re all mutants.’ Gaby looked as if all this was getting a little too much.

‘Oh.’

Erik, ignoring this, turned to Mystique.

‘We need to talk this through,’ he said. ‘In private.’ Charles took his keys out of his pocket.

‘Here - talk in my suite.’ He threw them up, and Erik raised his hand. The keys rushed through the air and stuck to his palm. Gaby stared at the way he picked the metal from his skin.

‘Thank you,’ he said and nodded to both of them. ‘Mystique, change into something a little less eye-catching. Come on.’ With those words, he made for the door. Mystique’s features rippled, and as she followed him through the door, she looked back and winked at them with Gabrielle Haller’s face. The real Gaby swallowed and grabbed the back of a chair, and did not let go until the Doppelgänger was out of sight.

Now that they had left, an awkward silence fell. Gaby crossed to the window and leaned against the glass to watch the street below as she lit a cigarette. Charles sat in the middle of the room, waiting for her to speak, or at least look at him. She did neither.

‘So,’ he said finally.

‘So,’ she repeated. Now she turned around to face him, but it felt as if something he usually in her gaze was lacking. ‘You’re a mutant.’

‘Yes,’ he said and clasped his hands together, trying not to fidget. ‘Gaby, this... wasn’t how I wanted you to find out.’ She shrugged and stepped away from the window, arms folded over her chest.

‘So Erik can manipulate metal,’ she said. ‘What can you do?’ Charles swallowed and looked down at his hands. This was the question he had truly feared.

‘I’m a telepath.’ When he looked up at her, he saw her frown, so he elaborated: ‘I can read people’s minds.’ Gaby’s mouth thinned.

‘Really?’ He nodded. ‘Have you ever read my mind?’

‘Only when it’s been necessary,’ he lied. ‘When you’ve been too ill to speak...’

‘Never other than that?’ she said sharply.

‘Perhaps... a few times, out of curiosity,’ he said. ‘Not recently.’ She closed her eyes, looking relieved. ‘Gaby, I’m sorry... I didn’t know how you’d react.’

‘I don’t know how to react,’ she admitted.

‘I never did it to harm you, I swear,’ he said. ‘I know that sounds petty, but...’ She sighed.

‘I suppose it’s a relief,’ Gaby said without feeling and put the cigarette to her lips again. It had already burnt down almost to her fingers. ‘It could be worse.’

They fell silent again, and Gaby turned back to the window. A light rain started to fall outside. Charles watched how she followed the course of the raindrops down the window as they pooled together and left streaks on the glass.

‘They say that mutants are more or less human when they’re born,’ she said. ‘Is that true?’

‘They already have the mutation - that happens at the very start - but their abilities develop later,’ Charles explained. Perhaps understanding would make this easier on her. ‘Some mutants are born already with their mutation showing, but mostly, it’s impossible to tell mutant and human infants apart. Most mutants start manifesting their abilities during puberty. I started reading minds when I was ten, and that’s quite early. Erik’s powers manifested when he was fourteen.’

‘But it’s all inherited?’ she asked. Charles nodded.

‘Yes. There are mutants of all demographics. It’s purely genetic, due to one mutated gene passed down the male line.’

The change in Gaby’s features was so tiny that he later did not know how he had noticed. Ever so briefly, her lips tightened and her eyes flickered with panic. Then her face went back to the schooled expression she had had throughout the conversation. However, it was enough for Charles to notice.

‘Gaby...’ He wheeled himself closer, but she remained turned away from him. ‘Gaby, look at me,’ he said softly. Reluctantly, she did. Yes, it was still there, a secret written on her face. He swallowed loudly. ‘Gaby, you’re not... are you...?’ His eyes wandered downwards, and then up again. She looked at him for another moment, and then burst into tears.

It took Charles a moment to think of what to do. The realisation had struck so suddenly that he did not know how to react. Then, getting hold of himself, he wheeled a little closer and took hold of her elbow.

‘Come on, love, sit down,’ he murmured and lead her to the bed. She let him, and did not object when he took the cigarette from between her fingers and pressed a handkerchief into her hand. ‘Have a good cry,’ he said, trying to conceal his own helplessness. He was not certain how she would react if he took her hand, so he kept his distance and simply murmured comforting things. After a long time, Gaby blew her nose and took a deep, steadying breath to compose herself. They sat in awkward silence, as Charles wondered where to start. He had known it was a risk, but he had not been prepared that it would turn out to actually have happened. It had just been another hypothetical worry.

For want of anything else, he asked:

‘How long have you known?’ Gaby swallowed and quenched another bout of crying.

‘Since Monday,’ she said, ‘but I’ve suspected it longer. Finally I got tired of worrying about it, and went to a doctor. And... well.’ Charles rested his chin in his hand, as countless feelings stormed through him. He did not know which one to succumb to. Fear, for the repercussions of this? Joy, at a new life? Guilt, at possibly being the one who had put Gaby in this position? Frustration, over the fact that their precautions had not helped?

‘Good God,’ he murmured. Then, taking control of himself again, he cleared his throat and asked: ‘How far gone are you?’

‘A little more than three months,’ she said, looking away. Counting backwards, Charles concluded that it must have happened very early. The thought that Gaby had been carrying the seed of a life inside her all that time felt absurd.

‘I don’t know quite what to say,’ he admitted. Gaby wiped another tear from her cheek.

‘I’ve been so stupid,’ she said, her voice little more than a whisper. ‘I’m going to lose my job. My aunt will stop talking to me. My congregation will shun me...’

‘I’m so sorry, Gaby,’ Charles said, even if it sounded pitiful. He knew that if anyone could help her, it was he. All he had to do was to reach out, take her hand, say a few words, have her say yes... He should, but his hand remained planted on the armrest. The right thing to do would be to propose, but he could not find it in him. What good would it do, to save her from being an outcast in one sense, if it would only turn her into one in another? Erik had already been through all the arguments, and Charles was certain that despite everything, he would make a worse husband. He stayed silent.

Gaby woke him from him reverie.

‘Charles?’ He looked up, nodding to her to speak. Her face was anxious, but she was no longer crying. ‘This baby is going to be a mutant, isn’t he?’

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Without a doubt.’

‘So he’ll be hated,’ she said. ‘There’ll be people who will want to kill him.’ Charles nodded, wishing he could give a different answer. Gaby looked down at her hands, which gripped each other tightly. ‘Why is the world so cruel?’

‘There’s no answer to that,’ Charles said. ‘All we can hope for it that the world becomes better.’

‘Can it?’ she asked. ‘Perhaps Erik is right. Perhaps it just goes on.’

‘But that’s not the way it should be,’ Charles intoned. ‘In different ways, we’re trying to change that.’ Gaby hung her head.

‘What would Trask do to me if he knew?’ she asked. ‘Would he have me killed?’ Charles could no longer hold his distance. He pressed her shoulder and she looked up at him. There was no tenderness to be read in her face, only fear and grief.

‘That won’t happen,’ he said. ‘I promise you. We’ll keep you safe, Erik and me...’

‘No,’ she exclaimed, coming alive suddenly. She grabbed his arms desperately. ‘Charles, don’t tell Erik - you mustn’t.’

‘Why not?’ he asked. Even with his telepathic abilities, he could not fathom what having a family, however small and however distant, would mean to Erik. ‘Gaby, this would mean the world to him...’

‘I don’t want him to know,’ she pleaded. ‘Not after everything. He doesn’t have to know. Please, don’t tell him. Promise me.’

Charles sighed.

‘Very well,’ he said. ‘I promise you. I won’t tell Erik.’ She exhaled in relief.

‘Thank you,’ she said and let go of him.

As if on cue, the door opened and Erik entered, closely followed by Mystique, who turned into her natural, albeit clothed, form as she stepped over the threshold. Neither of them seemed to notice the others’ tenseness, or if they did, they ascribed it to the revelation of Erik and Charles’ mutations.

‘We have a plan,’ Erik announced, ‘or at least the start of one.’

‘What will I have to do?’ Gaby asked.

‘Very little,’ he said. ‘We’ll need to know anything you can tell us or find out about the archive, the general setup of the place, security. Purely information.’

‘Do you think they would keep this in the main building?’ Charles asked. ‘Isn’t that rather careless?’

‘It draws less attention than another location, and if it’s not there, we might find information about where to look,’ Erik said. ‘It’s the best place to start.’ Gaby shifted, looking concerned.

‘How do I get them to you?’ she asked. ‘I don’t think I could take documents out of the building...’

‘You won’t have to,’ Erik assured her. ‘You simply need to find out where the papers are. Mystique will handle the rest.’ Mystique grinned and shifted shape, again taking on Gaby’s face.

‘You’d go in like that?’ Gaby asked, looking as shocked as she had before when she had seen her change her appearance.

‘It’s a choice between you doing it and Mystique doing it,’ Erik said as Mystique turned into her natural form. ‘Mystique can handle any danger.’

‘So... she goes to work instead of me one day and gets out the papers?’

‘Yes.’

‘And then...?’ Erik sighed and crossed to the window, then turned on his heel to face her.

‘You’re not safe,’ he said. ‘And you’ll be even less safe after this.’

‘I know that,’ Gaby said.

‘Then you know that you should leave,’ Erik said sharply. She looked up at him, taken aback.

‘Leave New York?’

‘At the very least,’ he said with a sigh. ‘But I doubt that it’d be enough. Rather, you should leave the country.’

‘For how long?’ she asked. There was panic in her voice now, only barely kept under control. Erik did not answer, but simply looked her. ‘You mean... I should flee?’

‘Leave before the danger is too great,’ Erik said gravely. ‘But it would have to be soon.’

‘But I can’t just leave,’ she objected. ‘I’d have to give in my notice and deal with rent...’

‘It’ll be dealt with,’ Erik said. ‘You won’t give in your notice - Mystique will. She won’t act until you’re out of the country.’

‘But what about my aunt?’ Gaby asked desperately. Charles touched her arm, hoping it would calm her. He was not certain if it did.

‘She won’t be in any danger,’ Erik assured her.

‘But I can’t leave her here and go off...’

‘We could arrange something.’ She shook her head defiantly, not meeting anyone’s eye.

‘Gaby, in light of... everything, I think Erik has a point,’ Charles said carefully.

‘I don’t want to run away,’ she said helplessly.

‘Of course you don’t...’

‘...But you might have to,’ Erik added. ‘These people are using you like a tool. When they think you’ve outplayed your usefulness...’

‘Don’t,’ Gaby whispered, fighting tears again. The mutants watched her trying to compose herself. When he felt that she was getting the upper hand over her shock, Charles spoke.

‘I remember you telling me that you wanted to go to Israel...’

‘But not like this,’ Gaby exclaimed. ‘I don’t want to run away from everything I know!’

Mystique, who had been silent for the entire conversation, suddenly stepped forward.

‘Would you rather be dead?’ she asked. Gaby glared at her, but somehow, her speaking this plain truth had done the trick.

‘No,’ she admitted. Then she asked: ‘How long can I stay?’

‘How fast can you get ready?’ Erik asked back.

‘I don’t know,’ Gaby answered.

‘Let’s say a week,’ he said. She looked like she wanted to object, but knew it was no good. Instead, she picked up her handbag and said:

‘I should go. I’m supposed to have dinner with the Prydemanns...’

‘Don’t tell anyone about this,’ Erik said gravely. She nodded.

‘I can come over tomorrow to help, if you’d like,’ Charles offered. She nodded again, unable to speak. She looked from Charles to Erik, trying to figure out how to say goodbye. Finally, she just nodded to them both and half-ran to the door. It closed behind her and muffled her footsteps.

‘Well,’ Mystique said and crossed her arms. Erik did not look at her, but instead stepped towards Charles. The order he gave her was like an afterthought.

‘Make sure she gets there safely. Then spread the word that we’re moving on Trask.’ Mystique rolled her eyes, evidently disappointed that she did not get to pressure them into explaining their relationship with Gaby.

‘Fine.’

Erik remained with his back turned against the door as she left. When it once again slammed shut, all his momentum was lost. He exhaled, his shoulders slumped and his eyes closed. That spark of Magneto that had inhabited him throughout had disappeared, and only Erik remained.

It took a moment for him to start moving, and when he did, his movements were slow. He stepped closer to Charles and with slow deliberation, he lowered himself down onto his knees in front of him. They looked at each other. Charles could see his own relief and fear reflected in Erik’s face. As he reached out to stroke his cheek, he reflected on that Erik only knew about the secret they had surrendered, and nothing of the one Gaby had divulged to him. He had to fight the urge to tell him, reminding himself of Gaby’s desperate plea: don’t tell Erik. He had promised. Gaby had her reasons to want to keep it from him. She could not shake off the sense that Erik was dangerous, and she did not want him to have this hold on her. Now that he thought about it, he realised that it would only add to Erik’s pain to know. Helping a lover who had turned away from him out of the country was hard enough, but knowing that he was sending away what might be his own flesh and blood was far worse.

They did not speak. There was no need, because they knew each other’s minds. Erik pressed his face against Charles’ chest, and so they remained, anchored to one another.