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The third who walks always beside you

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14 November 1980

A newborn cannot be a stranger, but the child lying before them was fourteen years old, and completely unknown to Charles. Had it not been for the name-tag around his wrist, he had not known he was Gaby’s son. All his attempts to read his thoughts has been without result. The walls around his mind were thicker than any he had experienced.

‘Well?’ Magneto asked. ‘Can you do anything for him?’ Charles’ hand fell from his temple.

‘No,’ he said with a sigh. ‘His mind is completely closed to me. There’s no way in.’

‘Like Gaby’s was, then.’

‘Yes, but worse,’ he said. ‘I’d guess, even more than when she was at her worst. Gaby has a strong mind, enough that it posed a difficulty for me to get through her shields. Her son, however, is a mutant.’

‘Didn’t we establish that he controlled fire?’

‘Most mutants have a stronger psychic defense than humans,’ Charles explained. ‘And for all we know, control of fire may not be his only power.’

Magneto sighed from where he stood at by the end of the bed. The silence gave him time to watch David, where he lay wide-eyed and absent. His hair was as dark as Gaby’s, and a little too long, as if he was getting to the stage where he needed a haircut. He had Gaby’s lower lip, and her nose too. His eyes, however, were a little more blue than green, but Charles could not tell if the intermingling colour was his own deep blue or Erik’s grey. David took after his mother; there was no distinguishing feature which betrayed the other side of his parentage. Charles wondered if Gaby ever looked at him and tried to find their looks in his face, second-guessing the identity of his father.

‘I wonder how Gaby will take it, that he killed those people,’ Charles said, half to himself.

‘Badly, if her usual morals hold true,’ Magneto said, ‘although I hope she’ll see the necessity of it.’

‘It’s possible to be grateful and unhappy about something at the same time, you know,’ Charles pointed out.

‘They were anti-Semitic armed thugs who threatened his family. Good for him that he was able to unlock his powers.’

‘I’m not so sure,’ Charles said, leaning closer. ‘About his powers, that is. I think they may have manifested too early. He wasn’t ready for it. This-’ he gestured to him at David to indicate his withdrawal ‘-isn’t just a response to the shock of the attack. It’s to do with the manifestation of his powers.’ Magneto watched the boy, his face unreadable.

‘Will he recover?’ he asked at last.

‘I can’t say,’ Charles admitted.

‘By which you mean, you don’t think so?’

‘I hope you’re not intending to try to recruit him.' Magneto shook his head.

‘He’s ill, and, judging on what happened, he might be unstable enough to be dangerous. That’s your territory, Charles.’

‘If Gaby wants my help, that is,’ Charles said laconically.

‘Why wouldn’t she? You never had any disputes, did you?’

‘Apart from the fact that I turned out to be able to read her mind, no,’ Charles said and leaned his head against the heel of his hand. ‘She hasn’t been in touch since just after David was born. I assume she didn’t want that confusion in her life.’ He hesitated for a moment, then asked: ‘Did you ever want to go to see her?’

‘I almost did, a few times,’ Magneto admitted. ‘I found out what university she was at, years after we met, so I went there. I only saw her at a distance, and then lost my nerve. I came back when she graduated, but she disappeared so quickly that I never had a chance to talk to her. Then I was in Israel during the von Strucker trial.’

‘I remember that,’ Charles said, and smiled. It had been the first time he had seen Gaby’s name in the paper, and he had been incredibly proud, despite the sickening subject-matter. ‘Were you angry?’ Magneto shook his head.

‘Impressed,’ he said. ‘Surprised, too. I can’t see how any Jew would willingly defend someone like that, especially not the Monster of Dachau. I attended one of the sessions - it was all I could stand. I didn’t realise until then that all she was trying to do was to make sure he didn’t get hanged, even if it was obvious that she was as disgusted with him as everyone else. In a way, I admire her for being able to sit through months of those testimonials. For me, a day was enough.’

‘They did hang him, though.’

‘Yes, but it wasn’t because of lack of effort from the defense,’ Magneto said. ‘It was because he deserved it. That is the workings of a fair trial, isn’t it?’

‘Yes.’ There had been other trials and cases. Charles wondered, like Erik, how she had managed it. He imagined that it was through knowing that she was an important part of bringing them to justice. Still, he wondered if it was the emotional fatigue of those trials which made her leave law and become a diplomat instead. He had lost sight of her for a few years while she worked in minor capacities at small embassies and consulates. Her appointment as ambassador to Britain had been greeted with surprise, and from some groups disapproval. Charles, watching from his secluded mansion in America, had once again felt a swelling pride for her. It was a silly thing, but it pleased him that Gaby worked in his home-country. That thought lead to another, more alarming one.

‘When Gaby emigrated, I was so worried for her,’ he said out loud. ‘I kept thinking, what if war breaks out, or if there’s a bomb or something? During the Six-Day War, I was terrified. What if she had decided to go somewhere, and ended up in the middle of the fighting? But then Dan wrote and told me that both she and David were fine...’ He trailed off for a moment, remembering once again that Dan was dead. ‘What I mean,’ he said, pushing the thought aside, ‘is that it feels ironic that now when something has happened, it’s so close to home.’

‘In the last ten years, your mansion has been partially destroyed, what, three times?’ Magneto said.

‘But that’s different,’ Charles objected. ‘Britain is supposed to be safe.’

‘“Home” is as much a battle-ground as anywhere else, Charles.’ They fell silent again, both watching their son. Charles moved a little closer and took his hand. The boy’s fingers did not close around his. He heard Magneto move behind him, but the hand which came to rest on his shoulder surprised him. He reached out with his free hand and squeezed it.

‘I still find it difficult to believe,’ Magneto admitted.

‘I wanted to tell you,’ Charles said. ‘Every time I saw you, I wished I could...’

‘But you promised her,’ he sighed. ‘Yes, I know. You’re not keeping any other children of mine secret from me, are you?’

‘Not as far as I know.’ Magneto snorted at his joke and pressed his shoulder. Charles turned his chair a little so that he could look him in the face. ‘Are you staying?’ Magneto shrugged.

‘No,’ he said. ‘I don’t think so. I’m as wanted in Britain as anywhere else, and this place is crawling with police.’

‘They’d not arrest you here, surely.’

‘It’s not just that,’ he said grudgingly. ‘As you know, I’m not very fond of hospitals.’ Charles nodded, still not certain what to say about that. ‘How long do you think Gaby will stay here?’

‘Well, with a gunshot wound, they’ll probably keep her for at least a week. She’ll probably be on high doses of morphine.’ He paused, and hazarded to add: ‘If you went to see her when she’s awake, she’d probably be influenced enough not to remember it properly later.’

‘I don’t think I could face her,’ he admitted. ‘I just want to know that she’ll be alright.’

‘And she will.’ David was another matter. Speculating about that felt hazardous.

‘What about you?’ Magneto asked. ‘Will you see her?’ Charles thought about it, finding himself at a loss.

‘I don’t know,’ he admitted. ‘I... don’t think so.’ Once again, Magneto laughed ruefully.

‘So we both coming rushing here when we hear, and then neither of us are willing to see her when she wakes.’

‘I’d happily help,’ Charles said. ‘If she wanted me to. But we’ve been out of touch for so long... I don’t want to assume that I have a right to it.’ He sighed. ‘Perhaps it’s better not to draw it out too much.’

‘I guess not,’ Magneto said. ‘Who drove you?’

‘Scott.’

‘Well, I should make sure not to be seen, then.’ His hand fell from his shoulder. ‘I’m going to go and see Gaby again, before I leave.’

‘Do.’ Charles watched him as he rounded the bed and watched the boy in it, hesitating. Then he leaned down and kissed his forehead. His eyes closed, the pain on his face unmistakable. Straightening up again, he crossed to the door. His hand was on the handle when Charles said: ‘Erik?’

He paused, looking at him.

‘It’s good to see you,’ Charles said. ‘It’s not often it happens.’ Magneto watched him, and for a moment, Charles thought he could plainly see the man he had fallen in love with.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It’s good to see you too.’ They watched each other for another moment. Then Magneto looked away and, donning his hat, slipped out. Charles watched how the door slowly shut, and heard his footsteps growing more and more distant. Finally, he sighed and turned away, massaging his forehead.

‘That’s your fathers for you, David,’ he said to the unconscious child. ‘Fighting on different sides, and still in love with each other. You were probably better off without us, in the long run.’ He kissed his forehead in parting, as Magneto had, and turned away from the bed.

When he left, the only sign of his presence was something pushed halfway under the fruit bowl on the bedside table - a card, crowned with the school emblem, and with the scribbled message on the back:

If I can be of service. x C