"Don't be nervous," Hank says. "He's just another political opponent."
"I know, Henry," Charles says. He's lost count of how many times he's repeated that, now. "Eyes on the road."
Hank's attention snaps back to street, both blue furry hands on the wheel as he navigates through the crowded, rainy New York streets. Charles was perfectly happy hiring a car, but Hank and Scott had insisted one of them act as chauffeur.
"Magneto's a terrorist," Scott reminded him. "His group has killed people."
"Rumors," Charles said dismissively. "And they're very much against mutant-on-mutant violence. I'll be fine."
None of the others, of course, had seen it his way. He sometimes fears that they've forgotten that the kindly, wheelchair bound professor is as much an affectation as Magneto's ridiculous uniform and helmet. Charles can easily take care of himself, but he allows them this concession and thus has been tuning out Hank's good-natured encouragement from the moment the heavy gates of the school swung shut behind them.
"You know how these things go," Hank continues. "It's all political. It might as well be scripted. They just want ratings because of the Genetic Nondiscrimination Act. They'll probably ask leading questions. They probably won't even let you really speak to each other. There's no way it will be an actual debate, no matter what Malcolm said to get you to agree to this."
"Now that would just be inconsiderate of them," Charles says. They're inching closer to their destination, and despite the traffic, they're hours ahead of schedule. He's rather sure that Hank and Scott and the others are more nervous about this than Charles is himself. "They did promise an actual debate. And Malcolm is usually rather good about keeping his word."
"I'm sure the network is too busy salivating at the prospect of having you and Magneto to care much about Malcolm keeping his word," Hank says. "When was the last time Magneto even did an interview on location?"
"The Genetic Nondiscrimination Act is a significant accomplishment," Charles says, mostly because he can't remember seeing Magneto ever do an interview on location. By phone, certainly, and several taped or live from an undisclosed site, but never in a studio. He spent a not insignificant amount of time trawling YouTube last night to refresh his perfect memory, but it was as he thought.
It's an interesting twist, as is the fact that Magneto is losing the ridiculous cape and helmet at Charles' request. Well, the helmet was at Charles' request--Magneto is all for mutant rights, after all, and once Charles had his people communicate through the network's people to Magneto's people that asking Charles to debate a man in that helmet was equivalent to asking Magneto to debate with a blindfold and stoppered ears, acquiescence had come back quickly enough. No helmet, no uniform, just two men weighing in on what could be the biggest legislative accomplishment for equal rights in decades.
It's a bit exciting. Certainly one of the most thrilling things to happen to Charles in longer than he'd like to admit. He'll get a fair bit of press for this, maybe a bit more awareness for the school. They're not hurting for donations, but there's always room for growth, and this is likely to both bolster his base and maybe sway some of the more liberal anti-integration people to his side. If the bill passes and the choices are Magneto's camp or Charles' own, mutant curriculum in schools is going to look much better than Magneto's more hostile plans for mutant revolution.
Magneto. He really should call the man by his given name if he's going to be debating him on live television.
Charles has always thought that "Magneto" must be mostly a product of urban mythology. It's not exactly a secret that Magneto was born Erik Lehnsherr and lived a fairly unremarkable life before he reached university. The details are sketchy--he kept to himself and his family was fairly transient. His parents were human and died in a house fire in Germany when he was seventeen. Between seventeen and twenty-one, something happened, though no one knows what, and Magneto emerged, already spouting border-line revolutionary mutant rhetoric and gaining followers. He's a brilliant speaker, Magneto--Lehnsherr--and his ideas are awful, but Charles can see how they're appealing to a certain segment of the young mutant populace looking for an outlet for their anger. His hardline anti-integration stanch has won him many allies, especially among the bullied and ostracized youth in urban public schools.
It certainly won't be boring, and Charles is looking forward to a bit of excitement. The summer was full of school renovations and midterms were hellish this year. It's been too long since he was able to face a worthy opponent and have some fun.
"It will be something to see, if nothing else," Hank says, shaking his head.
"Indeed it will," Charles says.
Hank manages to find a conveniently located handicapped spot once they reach the studio, a minor miracle that, were Charles prone to baseless belief in a higher power, he would take as a good omen for the night to come. As it is, he's just grateful that it's a relatively short journey through the chilled rain and into the studio.
"Dr. Xavier!" says a young woman named Sandy whom Charles spends an awful lot of time on the phone with whenever he comes on Malcolm's show. "You're early!"
"We are," he admits. "I hope it's not too much of a bother. We were worried about the weather."
"No trouble at all," Sandy says. "Malcolm has a meeting, but I'm sure he'll be out to say hi eventually. Can I get you anything? A snack? A sandwich? A cup of coffee?"
"I'm quite alright," Charles says. He looks up at Hank. "Do you need anything, Hank?"
"No, I'm fine, thank you," Hank says. Sandy smiles at them both.
"Then you can relax in the green room until we're ready. I'll be by to fetch you a little later," she says. "Right this way."
Charles knows the way to the green room, but he also knows it's Sandy's job to put him there, so he follows dutifully with Hank just a few steps behind him. He has his iPad and a book and, should those two things fail him, a pile of tests he should really grade sometime this week. He hopes Hank came similarly outfitted, because he's not sure he feels like sharing.
He sets himself up at a nearby table, pulling out his book while Hank aimlessly wanders by, inspecting various aspects of the room and glancing down at his watch. Charles feels for Hank, he really does--Hank has been with him from the start, when he was a confused, alienated young boy willing to do anything to be normal. Charles was there for him during his painful transformation in an early attempt to reverse his mutation, and Hank was there for Charles in the terrifying hours after the shooting when Raven and the others were stuck in New York. He appreciates Hank and he understands why Hank is as overprotective as he is. That doesn't stop it from chafing, however.
He makes it a full chapter into his book before the incessant pacing gets to him.
"Hank," he says, putting down his book and glancing over to where Hank is idly paging through a Newsweek with Senators Obama and Kelly pictured amid buzz words about mutant rights.
"Yes?" Hank asks, looking up.
"You seem to be at a loose end," he says. "Why don't you run out and get us some dinner?" He's not particularly hungry yet and he knows there's catering available around the corner, but he thinks the errand will give Hank something to do. If nothing else, it will give Charles five minutes' peace.
"Shouldn't someone stay here?" Hank asks. "I mean, not that I don't think you can--just, wouldn't you rather--you're perfectly capable of taking care of yourself, but--"
Charles interrupts before Hank can shove his foot further into his mouth.
"I'll be perfectly fine on my own for thirty minutes, Hank," Charles says. "I doubt Magneto is going to come in and start to interrogate me if you leave me alone for a bit."
Hank shakes his head, smiling ruefully.
"I'm hovering a bit, huh?" he asks.
"A bit," Charles agrees. "Stretch your legs. Clear your mind. This isn't any different than any other television appearance."
Hank sighs and pulls his coat up from the couch, pulling it back across his broad shoulders.
"Anything in particular you're craving?" he asks.
"Whatever you're in the mood for is fine," Charles says. "Something warm, maybe."
"You've got it," Hank says and, with one last look, he's mercifully gone, shutting the door behind him.
Charles spends a moment sighing into the empty room before picking up his book once again.
It's hard to follow the plot, though. Even with Hank's pacing at an end, he's restless. He can't particularly concentrate on the words, and after a few more pages, he gives up and closes the book, pulling out his iPad. He has a dozen new emails, all of which he ignores, and several alerts about mutant-related news items. Upon closer inspection, all of those news items are actually about the television appearance he's about to make. It's never a good idea to read about one's expectations for a performance in advance, so Charles ignores those as well and returns to the home screen, staring at his apps without really seeing them. His mind is restless. He can't focus on reading and he doesn't think he has any interesting videos loaded on. He touches the chess app more out of habit than any real desire to play a boring game against a computer. It's been too long since he had a decent opponent.
He's still only in the first few moves of a half-hearted game when the door to the green room swings open. Charles is expecting Hank, but the mind that he brushes past when reaching out is foreign. And beautiful.
It takes all of his restraint to keep from diving right in and learning everything about the stranger. Years of parsing his own complicated moral and ethical compass stop him from breaking any laws, so instead he looks up with a hopeful smile.
Well. The outside of the stranger certainly matches his mind. He's tall and slim. He has broad shoulders and what looks to be a well-defined chest that tapers down into an indecently tiny waist that's accentuated by the waistcoat of his grey suit. His features are sharp and his eyes are piercing and Charles stares for a good beat or two longer than is probably polite.
"Oh, hello," he finally says with a sheepish smile. "I'm sorry, I was expecting someone else."
"I didn't realize anyone was in here," the man says. "I apologize. I'll leave you to your work."
"No, no," Charles says. He probably shouldn't, but he's already angling for a little extended conversation, maybe followed by an invitation for coffee. The chair is frequently off-putting to potential suitors, but, if nothing else, staring at an attractive man with a mind that all but glows is better than listlessly playing chess. "It's fine. I'm not really working, I'm poking at a chess game." The man raises his eyebrows and nods and Charles chases the spark of interest he feels. "Do you play?"
"Not as much as I'd like," the man says. "It's hard to find willing partners."
Charles very carefully does not say that he's a very willing partner. Something of it must show on his face, though, because the man smiles with all his teeth. He thinks other people might find the expression slightly terrifying, but Charles thinks it's unbearably hot.
"Have a seat," Charles says, clearing his throat. He flicks the board clear and taps the button to reset the game. "Black or white? There's a function to choose at random, but if you have a preference?"
The man sits at the chair on the other side of the table.
"This is fine," he says, nodding towards the board as it currently sits. He slides his finger forward and moves a white pawn up, then leans back and studies Charles. Charles tries to school his expression into one of boyishly attractive thought, but he's a rubbish judge of these things.
"You're Dr. Xavier," the man says.
Charles smiles. "I am," he says. He gestures towards the chair. "It rather gives me away, I suppose."
"Not at all," the man says. "Rather, that's not what tipped me off. You have very striking eyes."
Don't use one of your terrible pick-up lines. Don't use one of your terrible pick-up lines, Charles thinks to himself in a voice that sounds remarkably like Moira.
"Why, thank you," is what he says. "Of course, I was hoping you knew me for my work, but that's an acceptable alternative."
"I know your work as well, of course," the man says. "Your essays on mutant rights are...enlightening. But your research into rate and variation of abilities in the mutant population is fascinating." Charles preens, just a little. It's not often that he's complimented on his scientific work outside of academic circles. "It's almost enough to let one overlook your arrogance. There's obviously a brilliant mind buried underneath that superficial charm."
Charles raises his eyebrows and just barely keeps his jaw from dropping. There aren't many people in the world who will speak to him that way. He knows he should be angry or offended, but instead he's oddly giddy. This man thinks he's both brilliant and attractive. He's been a decent chess player, though it's still early in the game. Charles might be a little bit in love and is definitely a large bit in lust.
He smiles, a real smile, stripped of all of his usual affectation and public persona, and laughs. It seems to startle the other man, but he covers it well and smiles back.
"Why, thank you," Charles says. "Are you in the field?"
"Not professionally," the man says. "I have a personal interest. I read everything."
"And you obviously understand it," Charles says. "That gives you a leg up on most of the population, I'll have you know. Why read and understand when you can skim to find just enough facts to craft a scare-tactic headline?"
"Why, indeed," the man says. "It's all about fear, isn't it? They're afraid that if the rate of mutation continues to increase, they'll be outnumbered. Species fight for their survival, don't they?"
Charles rolls his eyes as he surveys the chessboard and then taps his Queen's rook, followed by a quick tap on the square he wants to move it to. "I wish both sides would stop with the ridiculous scare-tactics, to be honest. It has nothing to do with some intrinsic need to fight other species, it's good old fashioned fear of the unknown."
"It's the same thing, isn't it?" the man says. "Isn't the need to fight off a new species just another manifestation of fear of the unknown? A fear of things that are different? I'd imagine your mutation isn't the only reason you've experienced prejudice."
And that rankles, just a bit. Charles hates using his paralysis as a point in an argument, though he's not above it. He can't abide anyone else doing it. He straightens his shoulders and forces himself to remain calm, to ignore the stab of anger that he's long-since gotten used to burying under more productive emotions.
"I think that most people soon learn that I don't need use of my legs to be an admirable foe both in academic and political arenas," he says, his tone clipped despite his best efforts.
The man's eyes go wide and embarrassment and guilt come off of him in waves.
"That's not what I meant," he says quickly, all of his previous cool distance evaporating. "I wouldn't--I meant being queer. You are, aren't you?" He suddenly looks stricken, but Charles hardly notices because now it's his turn to color in embarrassment.
"Oh," he says. "No--I mean, yes, I am. I'm sorry for the assumption."
"I'm sorry for being imprecise in my meaning," the man says. He settles back into his previous posture, his previous expression, but there's something slightly less stiff about it, now, an aura of familiarity. "But you see my point? Baseline humans see the mutant as the other, the same way heterosexuals see homosexuals as the other. We all have an ingrained fear of being different, of being ostracized, of being called out in front of the herd. The best way to avoid that is to turn the persecution on someone else."
Charles inclines his head. "Or, a more optimistic approach would be to help educate the masses on unity and tolerance, to point out these very facts, along with the fact that, in twenty years time, their children and their children's children will already be mutants."
The man snorts and shakes his head. He moves a piece on the board almost casually and then says, "Check." Charles has to blink and stare at the board until he can entirely comprehend what's happened. He's so intent on the game and the threat to his king that he nearly misses the other man's response.
"They'll kill us," the man says.
When Charles does look up, he knows his eyes are wide and telling.
"Extermination will never happen," he says.
"Maybe not here," the man says. "But mutants have been targeted groups in more than one genocide in recent history. You really think that telling humans that their children will be mutants will assuage their worries? No one wants to be the minority, Dr. Xavier. Why do you think gay rights have taken a sudden leap forward? We're no less homophobic now than we were five years ago, but they need something to balance out the anti-mutant laws. Some bone to throw the civil rights organizations to calm them. And how many pro-gay groups are also subtly anti-mutant?" He leans back and crosses his arms. "Like I said, turning the persecution on someone else."
Charles takes a moment to rally himself, focusing on the chessboard in a weak attempt to look tied up in the game. It's been a long time since someone was willing to offer him a real debate, an in-depth discussion of the issues that married politics and science and sociology, that wasn't concerned with outward appearances. He realizes, suddenly, that he never asked for the man's name, which was dreadfully rude of him. He's smart, obviously, and self-identified as a mutant. Anyone with this much knowledge is someone Charles should have come across before now, but he's sure he would have remembered someone so articulate and handsome.
He moves his king out of danger and says, "That's an awfully pessimistic view to take. Things do change. People make change happen. And we all fall prey to inevitability. It has nothing to do with pointing out baseline humans' position in the minority--rather, it's a reminder of natural evolution and progression. It's a scientific fact, and nature doesn't wait until everyone has had time to come to terms with the idea. As a species, we're infinitely adaptable and we need to embrace that, not fear it." He smiles a bit self-deprecatingly and gestures downwards. "For instance, six years ago I could barely do a chin-up. These days I end up doing a half dozen before I even get dressed in the morning."
The man smiles ruefully and tips his head just a bit to concede Charles' point.
"Playing up your own personal anecdotes for sympathy from the crowd?" he asks, but there's no sting to it.
"I'm merely providing a concrete example," Charles says, lifting his chin with more than a hint of showy arrogance. "And I'm allowed--it's my tragedy, I can choose to air it however I'd like. The sympathy factor doesn't make it any less true. People are remarkably resilient, or we'd have died out ages ago."
"Mm," the man agrees. "I suppose I should note that the comment about genocide, while fitting and important and certainly true, may have led to an aside about my family's near extinction during the Holocaust, so I can grant you your personal anecdote."
"They're more than anecdotes," Charles says. "That's all history is, really--the relation of events of the past in order to put them into our current perspective. Personal anecdotes only help make history seem relatable."
"I don't know that I would necessarily agree," the man says. "I think that some people wield their tragedy as a weapon to coerce others into their cause with guilt. How many people who claim to be injured in mutant-related incidents use that as fuel to rally anti-mutant sentiment?"
"And how many come out at trials and press conferences and say that they understand that it wasn't that particular mutant's fault or that one mutant behaving poorly shouldn't condemn them all anymore than one serial killer should condemn all humans?" Charles says.
"And how often does humanity do just that--brand all middle eastern men terrorists and all hispanic youths gang members?" the man counters.
"Only because we allow ourselves to perpetuate this cycle of fear," Charles says. "If we have more mutants out there and visible, just living their lives the same as anyone else, working and attending school and all the other things we all do every day, people will start to see that our similarities far out-weigh our differences. We can't change every mind over night. It's one by one, in the communities where they live, showing them that we're no different than they are."
The man rolls his eyes. "Integration," he says. "How successful has integration been so far? Even you run a private school for mutants, keeping them away from the public."
"Teaching them things they can't get in a public education, not yet," Charles says. "We're working on it--I've been hired as a consultant for the New York State Department of Education. They want a mutant inclusive cirriculum that's better than the standard classes they offer now, one that's more interactive and less based on outdated books. They're thinking, if a pilot program goes well, of opening a magnet school."
"In what?" the man asks. "Five years? Ten? Twenty? How much of that is true intention and how much of it is posturing to win your approval and your help?"
Charles taps his temple. "If you recall, I'm a telepath," he says.
"Let me rephrase," the man says. "How much of that is good intentions that will dissipate as soon as it's out of the hands of the young idealist in the Education department and in front of the state legislature."
"Integration will never work," the man says. "Integration is an out-dated model that leaves children harassed and beaten for things beyond their control. It breeds hatred on both sides. I thought you, of all people, would understand that."
Something about that argument sounds familiar and Charles thinks, quickly, to where he's heard it recently. It was on YouTube.
It was last night.
Charles' jaw drops in realization. A smart, intelligent, Jewish mutant who's opposed to integration and just happens to be backstage at Malcolm's show?
"You're Magneto," he says. "Rather--Lehnsherr. You're Erik Lehnsherr."
The man--Magneto--Lehnsherr--smiles and tips his head forward. "I am," he says. "I'm surprised it took you this long to figure it out. Maybe you're not as bright as I thought."
"Well, without that dreadful helmet, it's easy to get distracted by how handsome you are," Charles says. He means to aim for sarcastic, but he has a feeling it comes off a little pathetic. "Also, you never introduced yourself, which is quite rude, you know."
Lehnsherr smiles again. "You're quite right," he says. He offers Charles his hand. "Erik Lehnsherr. It's a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Xavier."
"Please, call me Charles," Charles says, shaking Lehnsherr's hand. "It's a pleasure."
"Quite," Lehnsherr says. "It's good to know there's a brain underneath all of those layers of arrogance. Not that those layers are a burden to look at, mind." He doesn't let go of Charles' hand. "And call me Erik."
"Gladly," Charles murmurs, and they stay that way, hands still grasping each other, staring at one another, for long moments. Charles is just about to summon a dinner invitation from the bits of his brain that aren't currently focused on the fact that a very smart, very attractive man who has possibly killed people in his foolhardy quest to promote a highly radical mutant rights agenda is hitting on him, when he feels Hank approaching the room.
He sighs and takes his hand back.
"I'm terribly sorry," he says. "My colleague is about to return."
Lehnsherr--Erik--frowns, pauses, and then nods in acknowledgement.
"Telepath," he says, and Charles beams.
"Yes, exactly," Charles says. "I try to keep tabs on my people. Not intrusively, mind you, just enough to know where they are. It's rather comforting, knowing you're not alone."
"It is," Erik agrees.
"Speaking of," Charles continues, even as he feels Hank reach the door. "I was wondering if, maybe after this is all over, you'd like to get dinner?" He treats Erik to his smoothest smile, but Erik just snorts.
"Are you sure you want to be seen in public with a suspected terrorist?" he asks.
"Well," Charles starts to say, but that's when the door swings open and Hank arrives with their dinner. He's mid-conversation with Sandy, and they both stop speaking when they see Charles and Erik.
"Oh, Mr. Lehnsherr!" Sandy says. Charles has to admire the way she says it without hesitation, even though he can feel how scared she is of Erik. "I was just looking for you. We had you set up in the room next door."
Lehnsherr? Hank asks, startled. Charles, have you been sitting here talking to Magneto this whole time?
Later, Charles replies, while smiling ruefully at Erik.
"I suppose I'll see you later, then," Charles says.
"I suppose you will," Erik replies. "I'm certainly interested in what else you have to offer."
Charles doesn't blush, but it's a near thing, especially when Erik winks at him as he follows Sandy out of the room.
The door closes behind them and Hank all but pounces.
"Magneto?" he says.
"His name is Erik Lehnsherr," Charles says, distracted, still staring at the door. He blinks and shakes his head and looks up at Hank. Slack-jawed is not a good look coupled with blue fur. "We played a very nice game of chess." He glances down at his iPad. There are still a handful of pieces on the board, but it looks like Erik would have had him in...four moves. "Well, most of a very nice game of chess. We spoke at length. He's very..." There are a lot of words Charles can fill in there. "...very intelligent," he settles on.
"He's a terrorist," Hank says.
"He's a suspected terrorist," Charles says. "And...I mean, he's been edging towards more moderate lately. He agreed to do this debate, didn't he?"
Hank narrows his eyes.
"You like him," Hank says.
"He's brilliant, Hank," Charles insists. "He understands scientific theory, he can have a substantive debate about politics and policy and sociology. He's well-versed in history and he's a wonderful debater and it's not frequently I can speak with someone on that level, you know."
"Oh good lord!" Hank says. "Charles!"
Charles has worked hard to cultivate and maintain a certain air of authority around his students and staff. He's not much older than most of them, and he can't even say he's smarter than Hank. He's politically shrewd, incredibly smart, and just manipulative enough to get people to listen to him. The downside to all of this is that he spends so much embracing the affectations that make him seem authoritative that his students and staff sometimes forget that he's thirty-one, single, and occasionally deeply lonely.
He can't pretend the years since the shooting haven't been hard. He's come to terms with it, learned to live his life with a grace he would have thought impossible at the end of his first physical therapy appointment. But between running the school, becoming a well-regarded political figure, and keeping up his research, he hasn't had time to meet people and his usual routine of hitting the bars and picking up strangers until that itch is scratched has become significantly less successful.
It's hard, hearing the pity. He thinks it would be easier if he wasn't a telepath, if he could pretend that his lines or his looks or his charm were the reasons people were coming to bed with him.
Erik hadn't felt pity. Interest, Charles had gleaned from his mind, and amusement and focus. Charles felt the same.
"Nevermind," he says to Hank, rather than suffer through an embarrassing conversation about his emotional and sexual needs that will more than likely devolve into, Bloody hell, man, did you see the way he wore that suit?! "What did you bring for dinner?"
Hank is still uneasy, but he places the takeout bags on the table as Charles turns off his iPad and stows it away. There are soups and sandwiches to be had, as well as a nice cup of tea and a chocolate cupcake that Charles puts away for later. He's making plans, even as he chats with Hank about their students, plans to remind Erik about that unanswered dinner invitation. If it goes poorly, he'll need the chocolate to console himself. If it goes well, he thinks he'll enjoy having something to celebrate with.
Before long, Sandy is sticking her head in to fetch him for make-up and then he's wheeling out to the desk and transferring himself to a chair on Malcolm's right as the crew hover behind him with a microphone and a packet of notated index cards and a pitcher of water.
"Charles," Malcolm says in greeting, shaking his head. "I'm sorry I haven't been back, I've been swamped. It's good to see you, though."
"Good to see you too," Charles says. "It's a shame that we don't see each other unless I'm here."
"It really is," Malcolm said. "There are few people who can hold up their end of a conversation on mutant rights the way you can. Although, I've heard tonight's other guest might give you a run for your money."
"I've heard as well," Charles says. Then, with a half-smile, he adds, "We spoke in the green room, actually."
"Oh really?" Malcolm says. "I'm almost jealous that you had your first meeting there and not on the air on my show. The great Magneto and Professor X meeting for the first time. Were there sparks?"
"Of a sort," Charles says evasively. He doesn't think the fireworks that went off low in his gut when they shook hands are the sort of sparks Malcolm is referring to. "He's quite brilliant."
"Then I think we've got a hell of a show tonight," Malcolm says.
"Mm," Charles says. Hopefully, they can sustain the level of debate that they had in the green room which was, Charles has to admit, much more civil than he expected. It won't be hard at all. It will be picking up the conversation where they left off. As long as Erik doesn't try to play up the angry terrorist angle for the cameras, they'll be fine.
Technicians flit back and forth. Someone mics Charles and his make-up is touched up as Malcolm goes through his notes and script. Hank settles against a wall near the catering table, somewhere with a clear sight-line and as out of the way as he can be, being a nearly-seven foot tall man covered in blue fur.
Charles pretends, though all of this, that he's not anxiously glancing towards the hall, waiting for Erik to reappear.
It's right before air that Erik does appear, surrounded by a gaggle of technicians and make-up people, as well as a woman that Charles recognizes as Emma Frost, one of Magneto's more well-known associates, a socialite telepath with a general disdain for anyone she deems beneath her, mutant or human. She's one of the more public faces of the followers in that camp, the person most likely to issue a statement or be quoted in a newspaper. Charles has never actually met her, which seems incongruous given how they both grew up and their current shared political interests, but then, Charles had never met Magneto before today, either.
Frost is muttering something quietly to Erik, even as someone attaches a mic to his back pocket and someone else quickly applies make-up. Frost doesn't look happy, not that she ever does, and when Erik obviously leans to the side to glance around her, meeting Charles' eyes with a slow, hot smile, she turns to Charles and glares at him outright.
Watch yourself, she projects, and though Charles startles slightly at the unexpected communication, he only offers her a sunny grin in response.
Erik shakes off his entourage and seats himself on the other side of Malcolm.
"Mr. Lehnsherr, it's a pleasure," Malcolm says, offering Erik his hand. Erik shakes it.
"It's mutual, I assure you," Erik says. "I only agreed to do this if it could be on this show. You're one of the only journalists I can stand to watch on television."
"Well, I'm honored," Malcolm says. "I certainly hope this interview lives up to that."
"Oh, I'm sure it will," Erik murmurs, and there's no mistaking the fact that he's looking right past Malcolm and at Charles. He smiles. Charles smiles back, a sharp thrill running through him as the room is quieted for the broadcast to start.
"Good evening," Malcolm says after the taped opening sequence. "I'm Malcolm Stevens and welcome to The Evening Report. Later on, we'll have this month's Congressional Report Card and the second part of Felicity Pratchett's report on education, but we'd like to start tonight with a very special presentation. Many were overjoyed with the passage of the Genetic Nondiscrimination Act, or, as it's been tagged in the news, the Mutant Rights Bill. This particular piece of legislation has been in the works in one form or another since nearly the start of the mutant rights movement fifty years ago. The bill has its detractors on both sides of the mutant rights debate, and here tonight, in an Evening Report exclusive, we have Dr. Charles Xavier, geneticist, professor, and noted mutant equality proponent--a long time supporter of the bill. On the other side we have Mr. Erik Lehnsherr, better known to the public by his persona of 'Magneto,' a mutant rights activist notorious for his more radical approach to the movement, who thinks the bill doesn't go far enough."
A producer nods at Charles, his cue that he's now in the shot. He smiles his well-practiced television smile and folds his hands on the table.
"Dr. Xavier," Malcolm says, swiveling just enough to face him. "Why don't you start us off by giving us a little background on this bill?"
Charles wears his television persona comfortably, like a favorite cardigan. He may be young, but he's been active in mutant politics for ten years now. This is old hat.
Or, at least, it would be, if he wasn't hyper aware of Erik sitting six feet away and pinning him under a fairly intense gaze. He can do interviews like this in his sleep, and he's lucky for it, because his brain really doesn't want to focus on anything but Erik.
"I think you did a rather good job yourself, Malcolm," he says, still watching Erik out of the corner of his eye. "This is a long-overdue piece of legislation that's been batted around the House and Senate at least once a session for decades. However, it's hard to give just a little bit of background because, while some of the delay has been prejudicial in nature, it should also be noted that this is a lengthy document. The intricacies of genetic mutation and how it relates to those with extra-human abilities, commonly called 'mutants,' are simply too important to be left out. In order for this law to best serve the very people it was created to protect, the definitions need to be clear, concise, and exact. The terminology we use colloquially is hideously inexact. To be honest, I've never been able to figure out if our current slang came about to purposely insult those with extra-human abilities or because earlier geneticists really had no idea what they were talking about."
That gets a chuckle. Erik, who's still off-camera, rolls his eyes, but there's a tiny smile there, just at the corner of his mouth, and it makes Charles smile too.
"Not to shift into a boring old genetics professor--"
"--which you are," Erik murmurs. Charles thinks he means it to be private, but it's just loud enough that the mic picks it up. Suddenly the camera on him is live, or so it seems from the image on the monitor in front of Charles. It's split screen, now, with Erik leaning forward on one elbow, studying Charles with almost blase interest on one side and Charles sitting primly on the other, with just the hint of an amused smile on his face.
Oh god. Erik is flirting on air. Magneto just said something flirty on live television. To Charles.
There's a ringing in his ears that might be embarrassment or might be lust. It's hard to tell.
The rest of the room is watching with shocked expressions and wide eyes. It takes Charles a moment to realize they think Erik is provoking him.
And, well. He rather is. Just not in the way they think.
"You're not wrong," Charles agrees, grinning. "But though my telepathy is the result of genetic mutation--one of the building blocks of evolution--it's not the only thing that makes me a mutant. We all have tens of hundreds of traits that are a result of genetic mutation. For instance, your stunning eyes? The result of a minor shift in our DNA millennia ago. A rather lovely variation, as far as I'm concerned."
There's an obvious shift in the room. Charles can feel the worry morph into incredulity and shock. Not only that, but there's a quiet murmur in the back, one that threatens to become loud enough to be picked up by the microphones.
"Is that so?" Erik asks. His mouth curls into the same smile he used in the green room, the one that's all teeth. The one that makes Charles a little light-headed. "Well then, what else is there to say but, 'Mutant and Proud?'"
Charles laughs and shifts slightly, leaning his elbow on the table to prop up his chin. "It doesn't stop there, of course. The particular auburn shade of your hair, too, is a variation of the norm, a combination of genes that are normally dormant, but in you present in those gorgeous red highlights."
In the back of the room, someone drops what sounds like a coffee mug.
"My hair?" Erik asks. He reaches up and plucks a strand of hair from his head, turning it this way and that in the light to examine it. Dear god, the man has huge hands. Long fingers. He very badly would like to touch them. "Why, doctor, if I didn't know better, I would think this conversation has taken on a double meaning," he says.
"Perish the thought," Charles murmurs. "I was merely trying to explain that there are many lovely aspects of your body that were shaped by mutation, not just your powers. Thus, it's important that the language in the legislation be precise so as not to be abused by anyone who's double-jointed."
"Double-jointed?" Erik asks. "Is that a mutation, then?"
"Hypermobility is the correct name," Charles says. "I was using the layman's term. And yes, it's suspected that there's a genetic component."
"And how does one know if they're double-jointed?" Erik asks.
"If you'd like," Charles says, because the opening is right there and even though he can feel his phone vibrating in his jacket pocket and see Hank's wide-eyed look of shock, even though he can feel the confusion and horror and, yes, some revulsion from the rest of the studio, he can't just let that pass. "I can help you investigate later."
Erik smiles again. Charles' phone stops vibrating for a moment and then starts again with the shorter buzz that indicates a text.
"Well!" Malcolm says quickly, before either Charles or Erik can speak again, "That's certainly...informative, Dr. Xavier. I can see how important language would be when crafting the initial bill, but it still seems like a needlessly long wait. Your thoughts on the hold up, Mr. Lehnsherr?"
If Malcolm were a smart man, he'd have cut to commercial. Although, as Charles brushes a little closer to his thoughts, he can't help but see that Malcolm is rather amused by the whole exchange. There's just enough of it to color the confusion and panic closer to the forefront of his mind. It makes Charles smile, just a little, and he takes it as tacit permission to continue his flirtation.
"Well," Erik says, still looking at Charles, "I imagine if Dr. Xavier was coming to my place of business every week to passionately argue with me, I would be slow to get anything done myself."
Someone in the room actually titters. Charles has a feeling it may have been picked up by the mics. He's too busy blushing to care.
"It wasn't every week," he protests lightly. "I do have a school to run, you know."
"More's the pity," Erik replies, and just as Malcolm opens his mouth to redirect or possibly cut them both off, Erik plows on with, "but it all comes down to politics, in the end. This law isn't half of what it could be. If you take out the word 'mutant' and replace it with 'woman' or 'African-American' or 'homosexual,' it would be grotesque in how limiting it is. It would be humiliating. It's a bone that they're throwing to the mutant rights advocates to placate them, to keep them happy and to distract them from asking for true equality. They refuse to enter into true discussions, rather they offer us these scraps and expect us to thank them, while the next day they go out and arrest sixteen people at a non-violent protest."
"Ah, yes," Charles says. He wouldn't say that Erik's points aren't valid, but they also only tell half the story. Still, instead of saying that, he finds himself offering, "My sister was one of those arrests, actually. Indecent exposure--she has a habit of going to these things naked to prove some sort of point, and she's going to kill me now that I've said that on national television."
Right on cue, the phone in his pocket buzzes again.
"Naked, eh?" Erik asks. "I don't suppose you've joined her?"
Charles flushes again. "No," he says. "I'm afraid public nudity has yet to appear on my list of indiscretions."
Across the table, Erik gives him a very obvious once-over.
"That's too bad," he says. "But there's always hope for the future."
Another buzz. God, Raven's going to murder him, but in for a penny....
"I'd have to work up to it," Charles says. "Maybe practice in more private conditions?" He raises an eyebrow. Erik's returning smile has an intoxicating edge to it.
"I'd be happy to help if I can," he says.
Charles' pocket buzzes again, but before he can volley back, Malcolm clears his throat.
Oh right. Room full of people. Live television. Splendid.
"While this has been...surprising," Malcolm says, "it's time to take a short break. When we return--" Charles can see the words on the teleprompter, vague pre-written references to the debate he and Erik are supposed to be having. "Well, we'll be back shortly," Malcolm says, and the commercial still comes up on the monitors.
There's a long moment of near absolute silence. Externally, at least. People's minds are buzzing so loudly that they're edging past Charles' usual shields. He can barely make out individual thoughts in the crowd.
The moment ends in a rush.
"What the hell was that?" Malcolm hisses at Charles. Before Charles can reply, still staring at Erik, Hank is there too, leaning over the desk and looking quite frightening as he bares his fangs in confusion.
"Charles!" he growls. "You were on live television."
On the other side of the table, Emma Frost is giving Erik a similar interrogation.
"I brought you here to debate politics, you imbecile, not to seduce your opponent!" she snaps, somehow still composed despite the anger radiating out of her.
"What the hell were you thinking?" Hank asks. Charles hums vaguely in response as he watches Erik and pulls his phone out, absently. He glances down and sees nine messages from Raven and two from Moira. Hank continues to lecture him as he flips through them. Raven's are in all capital letters, generally questioning his sanity and calling him names.
Hit that, says the first of Moira's. The second says, But maybe go find a private room first.
He grins and puts his phone away, looking back up at Erik, who looks away from Ms. Frost at precisely the right moment to catch Charles' eyes and grin back.
"Oh, I don't know, Hank," Charles says, grabbing at random for one of the points Hank is trying to impart. "I think it might do the cause good for the public to see the leaders acting so normally--so human." He turns his smile back on Hank, but Hank merely rolls his eyes.
And Charles understands, he does. He knows he should feel foolish, coming on television to represent his people and falling all over himself flirting shamelessly with someone who should be his opponent but he's oddly unworried about that. He's spent the last ten years being calm and polite and personable and in the spotlight, being the affable face of mutant rights, appearing on talk shows and magazine covers, doing everything he could to further the cause. He did interviews from his bloody hospital bed, forcing a smile and telling the world that he didn't blame humanity for one man's misguided actions when all he wanted to do was scream and rage at his useless legs and the idiotic, pointless prejudice that that did this to him.
Charles has done his part. He's allowed to have this one thing, so small in the greater machinations of the universe.
Hank is still lecturing and so is Emma. Malcolm is arguing with a producer, and in the midst of it all, a door slams loud enough to shake the walls. Charles recognizes the network's executive director and he doesn't look pleased.
"What the fucking hell is going on here?" the man bellows, and everyone turns to him and begins talking at once.
Everyone except Erik, who's still looking at Charles.
Back to the green room? he projects. There's a hesitancy there, one that puts him in mind of Raven's first attempts at riding a bike. This isn't something he's practiced in. This is something he's doing specifically for Charles' benefit.
Charles preens, just a little.
Yes, definitely, he replies. Now would be best, and quickly.
Erik twitches a finger and Charles' chair silently maneuvers through the crowds until it's behind them. Charles slides into it expertly and, perhaps, nudges people's attention away from him and towards the argument escalating in the middle of the room. Erik takes note and raises his eyebrows in appreciation before following after Charles, out of the studio and back down the hallway towards the green room.
The lights are off when they arrive and Erik makes no move to flick them back on. They move back towards the desk where they had been seated earlier, but Erik pulls his chair around so he can sit next to Charles instead.
They're quiet for a few moments. The argument outside echos through the halls.
"Emma thinks we've behaved like spoiled adolescents," Erik says.
"She's not wrong," Charles says. "I think I should probably be embarrassed."
"I try to live without regret," Erik says. "There's too much of it in my past already." He pauses and looks over at Charles. "Also, your mouth is...sinful. I don't think I could have helped myself if I tried."
"When you said you weren't going to wear the costume, I didn't quite imagine you'd fill out a suit so well," Charles says. "You do realize the headline on every gossip column tomorrow is going to be about the body you're hiding under that garish costume, don't you?"
"I think every gossip column tomorrow morning is going to be about you offering to strip for me on camera," Erik says dryly.
"I didn't mean on camera!" Charles insists. "The implication was that we'd go find a room somewhere. Maybe we could have dinner first. Which reminds me--you know, you never gave me an answer about dinner when we were speaking earlier."
"Well, it depends," Erik says. "If I say yes, do I have to wait until our dinner date to kiss you?"
Charles can't hold back his grin. He knows it's not suave or alluring or coolly interested or any of the other things he normally tries to be with his dates. He can't hide his glee. He doesn't much mind.
"I think it can be arranged otherwise, if you're so inclined," he says.
"Oh, but I am," Erik murmurs. He's smiling too, even as he leans over and brushes his fingers down Charles' cheek, settling his hand around Charles' jaw before leaning even farther forward. Charles moves in to meet him, twisting his fingers into Erik's hair, and then they're kissing properly.
It's. Well. He's brought back, distantly, to Malcolm's early comment about sparks. Charles' chest feels hollow as affection flutters inside, bouncing against his ribs and breastbone, his skin warm and sensitive where it touches Erik's. Erik is projecting anticipation and lust and joy and his lips and tongue slide against Charles' deliciously. He tastes like the coffee they serve backstage and he's making quiet noises in his throat that speak to his enjoyment of the proceedings.
When he pulls back, he doesn't go far, opening his eyes slowly and smiling when Charles meets his gaze.
"Is that a yes to dinner?" Charles asks, and Erik laughs and leans in for another kiss. Charles sighs against his lips and brings his other hand up to rest on Erik's shoulder as the kisses continue and continue and continue. Each kiss leaves him giddier than the last and soon he's outright laughing, pressing his nose to Erik's cheek as Erik kisses his throat.
"What are you doing right now, tonight?" Erik asks without lifting his head.
"Well," Charles says breathlessly, "I have a feeling I'm going to be shouted at rather a lot, first by Malcolm, then by his news director, then by Hank and probably then by my sister."
"Or," Erik says, "we can skip all of that, sneak out the back, and go have dinner and a drink?"
As if on cue, Charles' phone buzzes again. He pulls back and takes it out of his pocket.
SERIOUSLY CHARLES IF YOU DON'T CALL ME IN THE NEXT THIRTY SECONDS, YOU'D BETTER HAVE A FUCKING GOOD EXCUSE.
He shows it to Erik, who snorts and takes the phone from him.
Charles will be indisposed for the rest of the night. I'll drop him off in the morning. -EML
He sends the message and then hands the phone back to Charles.
"Shall we get our coats?" Erik asks. He grins, easy and casual, and Charles bites his lip. He puts his hand on Erik's wrist as he reclaims his phone and doesn't let Erik pull away just yet.
"While there is really nothing I'd like more in the world than to go home with you tonight, I should probably--well." He hopes his smile is self-deprecating and not pathetic as he taps the armrest of his chair pointedly. "There are probably some things we should talk about at some point. Things don't go quite traditionally with this, unfortunately."
Erik lays his hand on top of Charles' and holds his nervous gaze.
"Do you want to spend the night?" he asks.
Charles blinks. "Well--yes. I mean, your hotel has a lift, doesn't it?"
"It's an apartment, actually," Erik says. "I, uh, live in Brooklyn. Which I'd prefer to keep between us. But yes, it has an elevator."
Charles tries not to let one-night stand and maybe occasional hook-up when he's in the area turn into dating regularly oh god he's local in his mind as he nods. "Then yes. I'd very much like to spend the night."
"And I would very much like for you to spend the night," Erik says. "I'm sure we can find a way to have fun. I'm a non-traditional thinker." He gives Charles that smile full of teeth, the smile that's had Charles tied up in knots all night. He rubs his thumb against the back of Charles' hand and says, "I may not have been entirely honest with you tonight."
Charles raises his eyebrows and, as the silence stretches out, mentally nudges Erik to continue.
"I've been watching you," Erik says and it's dark in the room they've hidden in, but that is definitely a blush. "Not--on television. I've been watching your interviews for years, now. And, all the things I said are true--you're arrogant and you're smug and you're pompous and your ideas are short-sighted and unrealistically optimistic. Your moral code is laughable at best and your long-term goals--"
"Yes, yes," Charles says dismissively. "You think I'm an idiot."
"No," Erik says. "I think you're a genius. I think you're wrong about everything, but you're so smart you run rings around anyone who tries to talk to you about anything, you're a telepath who's been shot for your beliefs and you rallied and came back stronger than you were before. And you're gorgeous. I only took this insipid debate because it was a chance to actually meet you."
Well, that is. That is.
That is not what Charles was expecting.
"You know," he says faintly, eyes wide, "we have these things at the school called telephones."
If anything, Erik just blushes more. "That's what Emma said. Repeatedly. Apparently you have mutual friends. She, ah, offered to introduce us several times. But I suppose I was afraid--obviously I'm not entirely Magneto. And you're not entirely Professor X. This was...neutral."
"A chance to meet me for work without giving away that you had a personal stake in the outcome," Charles murmurs.
"If you were an ass, then at least I would enjoy wiping the floor with you during debate," Erik agrees.
"Well, I don't know that either of us quite accomplished that," Charles says, smiling and turning his hand over so he can twine their fingers together.
"As a warning, Emma is going to try to kill me, probably," Erik says, raising their joined hands to press a kiss to Charles' fingers. "Or, well. I suppose she must have at least imagined this as a possible outcome. She was the one who encouraged me to come. She was tired of me throwing popcorn at the television and heckling you on Anderson Cooper's show, I think."
Charles gets a flash of embarrassed jealousy at that, one that he doesn't think Erik means to broadcast, and he can't help but grin.
"Don't be ridiculous, Anderson Cooper is all but married," he says.
"Telepaths," Erik mutters, but then he leans in for another kiss, which Charles meets gleefully.
The kissing continues, which Charles quite enjoys. Erik's a magnificent kisser and his hands feel as good as Charles had imagined. The tenderness with which he cradles Charles' cheek, the back of his neck, leaves Charles dizzy and though the restless fervor of before has dissipated, the anticipation is still there, building slowly and buzzing between them. There's no rush--they'll play this out, stretch it through dinner and drinks, more coy glances and brushing fingers, more heavy looks, more flirting, and then it will circle around back to kissing and then....
Erik's teeth graze the side of his throat and he sighs happily, tipping his head back even as he hears the commotion in the hall grow closer.
"As lovely as this is, my dear," he says, "if we've to make our escape, best to do it now. They're just about done yelling at each other and starting to notice that they haven't seen us in quite a while."
Erik sighs and presses one last chaste kiss to Charles' mouth before getting to his feet and stretching, allowing Charles to appreciate the long, lean shape of his body before he goes about putting his clothes and hair back in order. Charles does the same, then turns to the desk to collect his belongings, stowing them in the pouch on his chair. When he turns back, Erik is holding out his coat with a contemplative frown on his face. It sparks Charles' curiosity and he digs just a bit beyond the surface, delighted to see that Erik is quickly calculating how best to smoothly help Charles into his coat, taking the chair into consideration.
"You know," he says. "For a terrorist, you're rather polite."
"Only when I want to get laid," Erik says, stepping forward and helping Charles into his jacket. "Pardon me for not knowing the etiquette--should I push or...?"
"Thank you for asking," Charles says, delighted. "For now, you may push, only because it's raining, I stupidly neglected to bring the powerchair, and I'm a delicate flower when it comes to the elements, I'm afraid. Normally, I tend to be a bit more self-sufficient, frequently unreasonably so."
"There's nothing wrong with being proud," Erik says.
"While that may be true," Charles says, "time has taught me that there's no shame in asking for help occasionally, either." He does a quick sweep of the hallway and then looks up at Erik. "Quickly. They're coming to look for us."
Erik waves his hand and the door swings open, then, with a twitch of his fingers, he propels Charles' chair into the hall. Delight curls in Charles' stomach and he projects a little bit of it in Erik's direction.
"Really?" Erik says conversationally as they dart through the halls just shy of a jog. "You know I can throw tanks? Pull skyscrapers down on top of us?"
"Yes, but really, how much use is there for tank throwing in everyday life?" Charles asks. "I'll bet you never have to carry keys, which is infinitely more useful. I'm always misplacing mine." He frowns and waves his hand a bit. "You might want to speed it up, darling, they're getting closer."
Erik increases their speed as requested, waving another door open for them.
"No," Erik says. "No keys. Not even for my car, which was harder to learn than I thought it would be."
"Mm," Charles says. "See? Much sexier than brute force."
"If you think that's sexy," Erik says, "you should see what I can do with silverware." He stops the wheelchair when they reach the door for the street. He grasps the handles and leans over. "Speaking of, given the hour and the short notice, how do you feel about greek? There's a diner not too far from here. Mutant owned and operated."
"I'd like that," Charles says, tipping his head back to look up at Erik. "I'd like that very much."
Erik moves in for another kiss, one that Charles smiles into as Erik waves the door open and prepares to push him outside.
Of course, if he was less focused on getting laid and more focused on the world around him, he probably would have noticed the buzzing nest of anxious minds waiting right on the other side of the door before a hundred flashbulbs went off in their faces.
(They make it to the diner eventually, though it takes them another hour. The photo of their kiss appears on the front page of the New York Times the next morning and ends up a finalist for the Pulitzer. More importantly, it sits framed on their bedside table for many years to come.)