by C. Elisa
Summary: Five things that probably didn't happen while Charles and Erik
were building Cerebro.
Feedback: Please. c-elisa@...
Disclaimer: Charles, Erik, and Cerebro all belong to Marvel Comics and
Author's note: The "Five Things" format -- five independent vignettes,
usually AU -- was invented by Basingstoke, with her story "Five Things
that Aren't True". There was a Five Things challenge
, but I invited myself to
this party. Many thanks to Andraste for beta.
One ear in Italy, one eye in Spain,
In caves, my blood, and in the stars, my brain.
-- Vladimir Nabokov, _Pale Fire_
"One, four, seven, eight, two!" the girl announced, pointing at Erik's
bare forearm with each digit. Charles stiffened in his wheelchair,
ready to put a reassuring hand on Erik's shoulder, but Erik's relaxed
posture on the park bench didn't change.
"Very good," Erik said, smiling at her. "You should become a
mathematician, like my friend here."
"What does it mean?"
A breeze shook the oak boughs overhead, making coins of light dance on
the ground and the girl's face. "It's Dr. Mengele's phone number," Erik
said at last.
"Why did you put it on your arm?"
"I don't want to forget. I hope to call on him someday."
"Is that your mother looking for you?" Charles said hastily as the girl
opened her mouth again. She looked over her shoulder and reluctantly
They sat in silence for a while, Erik throwing crumbs from a paper bag
as Charles looked down at his hands.
"You know, Erik -- even if we do succeed in amplifying my telepathy, I
don't know how I would begin to locate one mind among billions --"
"We'll have to work on that."
"He'd be over sixty-five years old."
"Should I leave him to enjoy his retirement?"
"No, of course not, but...." Charles sighed. "Do you really think that
bringing an old man to justice --"
Erik shook his head. "I don't care about justice anymore. I want to
_know_. I want you to read his mind and tell me what it was that he
injected into me. I want to know what the surgery was for. I want to
know how much blood he took from me, what he did with it, and exactly
what was going through his mind." He let crumbs sift through his
fingers onto the ground. One daring pigeon darted in between his feet.
"After that," he said, "you can decide what to do with him."
Erik stood up, knocking his hands together to dislodge the remaining
crumbs. "Let's go."
"It's a beautiful day, Erik. Let's stay a little longer."
But there was no peace in Erik's eyes as he looked down at Charles. "We
have work to do."
"Erik, we have an intruder in Cerebro."
"Do we," Erik said absently. He was leaning against the console, his
back to the door. In his hand was a sheaf of scribbled calculations,
and he kept looking back and forth from them to the scattering of panels
set in the dome. "We'll have to install some sort of security system.
Is it friend or foe?"
"Well, I'm not sure," Charles said without turning around. "It seems to
be a little girl with red hair, a white nightgown, and --" he pressed a
hand to his temple, pretending to concentrate -- "an eight-o'-clock
"I couldn't sleep," the girl said from behind them. "I got scared."
At that Erik looked around and met Charles's eyes. He rolled up the
papers, stuffed them into his pocket, and slipped past Charles's
wheelchair to scoop the girl into his arms. "You're just in time to
help us," he said, and then stage-whispered into her ear: "You can
distract Charles for me. This will go much faster without his
The girl giggled as Erik lowered her into Charles's lap. Charles darted
an exasperated glance at Erik but said nothing. Someday there would
have to be a conversation about how easy it was to manipulate him with
any reference to nightmares or disturbed sleep, but this wasn't the
The girl turned and looked up at him expectantly.
"Yes, your eyes are very pretty," Charles said.
"Which one's better?"
"Now, you know it doesn't matter to me what --"
"What's your favorite color?" she said impatiently, sensing evasion.
He smiled at her. "Blue."
There was a trace of doubt in her expression, but before she could put
it into words, Erik suddenly laid the papers aside. "All right. This
ought to do it." He raised his arms. Two panels flew out of the dome
and slotted themselves into empty niches on the other side. The girl's
mismatched eyes grew round.
"I want to ride on those," she said as more panels crisscrossed the
"So do I," Charles said gravely. "But Erik is no fun at all."
"What's he doing that for?"
"The panels are a little bit like an antenna," he explained. "Have you
seen a television with the rabbit ears up?"
She nodded. "Before," she said quietly.
"Well, Erik is trying to adjust the rabbit ears so we can tune in the
channel we want. In the unlikely event that he gets it right --" Erik
did not react -- "we should be able to use Cerebro to find other
He looked into her eyes, which were slowly returning to yellow. Her
scales were coming back out, as they always did when she was tired. He
tucked a loose strand of red hair behind her bright blue ear. "Because
you should have other children to play with."
Why on earth had they made Cerebro's platform so narrow? If Erik had
been standing beside him, it would have seemed natural, at a moment like
this, to take his hand. It would have felt like being together at some
mountain overlook, with the moon shining on their faces, and the
midnight sky a mess of stars -- the sort of thing they'd never actually
done. As it was, Erik stood behind him on the walkway, and Charles
couldn't even see the expression on his face, though he was sure that
Erik's silence meant astonishment.
"There's no mistake?" Erik said at last.
"I'm positive. I know it seems incredible, but every one of these
lights is a mutant. Erik, _look_ at them. There are so many...."
"'I had not thought death had undone so many.'"
"What do you think the total is? How many jelly beans in the jar?"
"Six million," Erik said. "Give or take."
Charles turned to look over his shoulder. "It won't be like that."
"You think that when they find out they're surrounded by members of a
powerful new species, they'll simply accept us, as humans have always
accepted -- "
"We have the initiative. We're the only ones who know how many of us
there are. We'll find a way to keep history from repeating itself."
"Yes," Erik said bleakly. "We will."
"You need pigeons," Erik said from underneath the control panel.
"Cinderella's stepmother mixed lentils with the ashes of the hearth and
made her sort them before she could go to the ball, but pigeons came to
pick them out for her."
Charles smiled down at the schematic that he was trying to read by the
light of five billion minds. Five billion tiny specks, like grains of
brilliant dust; and so far, there was no way to find mutants among them
without checking each one individually.
"Lentils are very uniform," he said. "A properly sized set of wire
screens would have worked as well."
Erik snorted and looked back up at the console. He was lying with his
head toward Charles, his legs stretched out on a bit of scaffolding that
he had improvised from steel rods and sheet metal. From that position
he could keep an eye on the lights of the dome, and still watch the
circuits in the console as they worked. The current flowing through the
wires was visible to Erik as an electromagnetic glow, and the waveforms
produced strange synaesthetic echoes, colors and tastes and scents.
Until recently, Charles had regarded the ability as little more than a
curiosity -- good enough to quickly diagnose a broken radio, but no
substitute for a proper oscilloscope. In the event, his carefully
engineered machine had done nothing but give him headaches until he
finally let Erik modify it by trial and error, guided only by his
instinct that the signal needed to be mintier.
Now both calculation and intuition seemed to have deserted them. The
brainwaves of humans and mutants were as distinct in Charles's mind as
the colors red and blue, but nothing they tried could make the machine
see the difference.
He put a finger down on the schematic. "Let's try turning P25 again.
We haven't done that since your latest changes, have we?"
"I can't remember your numbering. P25?"
"Part of the bandpass filter. It would be in series with a thousand
picofarad capacitor --"
"What does it _do_, Charles?"
Charles consulted a pencilled note on the schematic. "According to you,
it makes the output stage smell like pine needles."
"Ah." Erik reached up under the console to make the adjustment. Charles
concentrated. The room dimmed as most of the lights went out -- but
that meant nothing. It often happened when he tried to focus, but, as
always, the pattern kept shifting at random. When he finally managed to
focus on mutants alone, the constellations would be stable except for
the occasional birth or death.
"Anything?" Erik said.
"Not yet. Keep going."
The lights changed slowly. After a minute or two, Erik said "That's
halfway. Do you feel any --"
"Does it _look_ like the display has stabilized? I'll tell you when I
"I wasn't demanding progress, Charles. I was checking for slurred
speech. This _is_ your brain we're playing with."
"I don't need you to monitor me. Just do as you're told."
"Charles. Control yourself, or I'll turn the machine off. This isn't
Charles felt a surge of anger even as he realized that Erik was right.
Somehow the machine must be causing this.
He brought minds to the fore at random. A man caught in traffic, a
child arguing over a baseball game, a woman slamming a door --
"Anger," he said. "The machine is tuned to people who are angry."
"That was the reason for your outburst?"
"It must have been. It's much easier to control now that I know what it
is, but the anger felt so natural...."
"That doesn't sound pleasant."
"It wasn't particularly," Charles said. He knew -- whether through
intuition or telepathy, he wasn't sure -- that it was all the apology
Erik would accept.
"Shall I turn it off?"
"No. If I understand what's happening, changing the setting of P7 might
tune in different emotions. We should try to map them. If we can
locate fear, it could eventually be useful in identifying mutants who
need our help."
"P7," Erik muttered to himself. "That's in the circuit that keeps
everything from being too yellow...." He reached up underneath the
console, and the pattern changed again. "Well, it's gone from gray-
green to the taste of orange peel. Do I seem particularly frightening
His voice had the same faintly mocking tone that had often accompanied
some half-serious proposition -- _Do you want me to do it here, Charles?
We'd have to be ever so quiet if you don't want everyone to hear_ --
"Oh," Charles said.
"Charles. Can you count backward from ten?"
"I'm not suffering any cognitive impairment. I'm just a bit...
"Oh, I see."
"Try turning it a little further."
"Why?" Erik said. "I like this setting. It's a fascinating shade of
"When you've finished playing --"
"What's the matter, Charles?" Erik turned over, pushed the wheelchair
three feet backward without touching it, and stood up between the long
red and black cables alligator-clipped to Charles's helmet. "You just
have to keep yourself under control." He bent down to kiss him -- just
a brush of the lips, uncharacteristically delicate. Charles shuddered
and closed his eyes, but didn't make a sound. Then Erik licked gently
at the corner of his mouth. A wave of pure heat went through him, and
he seemed to have cupped his hand around the back of Erik's neck and to
be sucking urgently at his tongue.
Erik pulled away and looked down at Charles with the slight smile he
always got when he was winning at chess. "Let's channel that impulse in
a more interesting direction." He unbuckled his belt, took it all the
way off, and hung it from an unused switch on the control panel.
"This is taking advantage," Charles said.
"If you don't like it, why don't you take off the helmet?"
"It's made of metal. Would I be able to?"
"Try it and find out."
For a moment, Charles considered it. Then he reached out and ran the
backs of his fingers down the length of Erik's erection through the
fabric. After more than thirty years, he didn't have to say aloud _I'm
not the only one that that would disappoint_.
There was no reason he couldn't control this. He put his fingers to the
fly of Erik's pants, undressing him with a practiced ease that lasted
until the instant that his fingertips made contact with the skin of
Erik's waist. His reaction was only a brief pause, the slightest intake
of breath, but Erik made it an excuse to take his wrists and pull his
hands away. Erik was claiming an unearned victory, but Charles was not
going to to walk into the trap of insisting.
When Erik had taken off his pants and underwear, he moved closer,
spreading his legs a little to straddle the footrests. His shirtfront
parted at the bottom to reveal his naked cock. Leaning forward to reach
it was going to be awkward, but of course that was part of the point.
Erik wanted him to prove he wanted this so urgently that an ache in his
neck wouldn't matter at all. Erik probably thought he could get Charles
to beg just by pulling away at the right moment. He was probably right.
So Charles would just have to make sure that Erik lost interest in that
plan. He would give Erik everything he wanted, leaving him no chance to
do anything but accept it -- like one of those chess problems in which
White has to force Black to win.
He leaned forward, bracing a forearm against his thighs, and brought his
tongue up underneath the head of Erik's cock. Gently, he licked at the
slit, at the seam between head and shaft, all the weak spots in Erik's
defenses. After so many years of practice, he could do this by muscle
memory alone -- which was fortunate, since he was constructing circuit
diagrams in his head to keep the machine from overwhelming him. He ran
a hand down Erik's back, but only through the insulation of his shirt.
When he looked up, Erik's breathing was still steady, but at least his
eyes were half-closed. Charles knew from long experience that that
didn't mean he had stopped thinking, but it was a start.
He took Erik's cock into his mouth, pressing his advantage. The head
was warm and smooth against his lips, against his palate. Erik's
breathing slowly became ragged. He wrapped a hand around the shaft of
Erik's cock, stroking it as he sucked, and soon the taste of salt and
musk bloomed on his tongue. He could give up now -- just lose control,
and blame it all on the machine. There was nothing wrong with giving up
an easy victory at rook odds. But he forced himself to pause, to rein
himself in and continue more steadily. He just had to keep reminding
himself that he was under the influence of an illusion. He was not
seventeen years old, and while Erik's scent had never ceased to be
arousing, it was only the machine that made it threaten to unseat his
reason. His mouth was filled no fuller than before, no matter what his
mind was telling him. The temperature of Erik's cock was ninety-eight
point six degrees and it was not, not going to melt him from the inside
At last the pace of Erik's breath persuaded him that Erik was past the
point of playing games. He closed his eyes and sucked, and opened his
mind just a little more to the machine.
There was a heaviness between his legs, a sudden heat where no feeling
had been before. It was only an illusion, something borrowed from some
random mind, but it was impossible to believe that he didn't actually
have an erection and that there wasn't a hand wrapped around it. Since
the accident that had shattered his spine, Charles had only been able to
come by sharing someone else's pleasure -- he could feel touch on
anyone's legs but his own -- but he hadn't counted on the strength of
it, amplified by the machine. Touch covered him, a chaos of sensations.
He couldn't seem to remember what position he was in, and the feeling of
Erik's cock in his mouth was the only thing anchoring him to his body.
He reached for Erik blindly, smoothing his hands over his hips, then
clutching his buttocks, trying to ground himself. Far away, he heard a
moan rise in the back of his throat.
Then Erik's thumbs were on his cheeks, pushing his face away. Bringing
"You're _feeling_ something, aren't you?" Erik said thickly.
For a moment Charles just stared at him, trying to make sense of the
existence of a point of view from which that wasn't obvious. "Yes," he
"I don't feel you in my head, Charles. You had better not be getting it
from anyone else."
Erik was broadcasting his thoughts loudly enough for Charles to know
that the jealousy was perfectly real -- though that didn't mean he
wasn't using it as an excuse to make things more difficult. Charles
wasn't sure it would even be possible to focus on Erik's sensory cortex,
with the whole world clamoring for admittance to his head. But he could
never bring himself to refuse Erik's challenges. Somehow, by an effort
of will, he managed to focus past the helmet and take Erik's mind into
his. When he ran a fingertip experimentally up the shaft of Erik's
cock, he felt the same sensation mirrored on his own.
Then he sat back and met Erik's gaze, waiting. He refused to strain
forward again. Erik would just have to find another solution. This
narrow platform of hard metal did not give them many options, but one
impossible task deserved another.
Erik smiled and glanced down at Charles's wheelchair. The handle of the
joystick suddenly snapped off and dropped to the floor. The steel tubes
that supported the armrests curved in over his thighs, then leaned
toward Erik, twisting so that the pads were level. Kneeling on them,
Charles realized, would put Erik at just the right height, and the
joystick, detached, would not get in the way of his legs.
Erik was no longer a young man. His climb onto the armrests was
dignified rather than agile. But it would have been hopelessly awkward
if his pants had been around his ankles. Charles wondered whether, when
Erik had taken his pants all the way off, he had already been looking
ahead to this move.
Charles opened his mouth and took Erik in until the metal of the helmet
brushed the placket of his shirt. Erik's hand came to rest on his
shoulder -- gently, careful not to clutch. But Charles could feel
everything he was doing to Erik now. He knew just how hard to suck,
just how slowly to tease the slit with his tongue, just how long to
pause before taking him in again. Erik had no defense.
Erik's hand moved to the back of Charles's neck, then slid upward to cup
the cool, smooth metal of the helmet. Three months before, Erik had
closed his eyes and stroked his hand along an imaginary curve in the
air, and the helmet had taken form -- a tactile memory of the shape of
Charles's head turned into steel. Now Charles could taste the alloy,
bitter with chromium, sweet with manganese. The circuits underneath
incensed the air with sandalwood and rose.
Suddenly Erik gripped the helmet harder, pressing it into the back of
his head. Something slipped in his mind -- he lost focus -- and he
could still feel Erik, but now other minds were flooding in as well. In
a cornfield a man and a woman were making love, and he could feel the
fallen stalks against her back, hear the snap as his thrust broke
another. In a car going past, a young girl ran a finger up the inside
of her lover's thigh as they drove down the road toward a house where a
woman was lying in the bathtub with the water pouring down between her
legs. More and more -- he could feel everything, and it was all part of
_this_, of him licking and sucking and making Erik's breath come fast
and rough. He felt that in time he could fit the whole world in his
head, but Erik was thrusting into his mouth now and they were close,
close. White heat built in his cock with each shuddering thrust. Then
Erik's hands just sank into the metal and he swallowed and everything
was rushing in at once and all the minds in his head flared up bright
and then dark.
Eventually Erik got down from the wheelchair. Charles just sat there
and watched him put on his pants as the world spun weakly around them.
It was surprisingly quiet in his head now. When Erik had finished
dressing himself, he knelt in front of Charles's wheelchair and
straightened his jacket for him with an expert twitch of his fingers.
The armrests rose into their usual positions. He picked up the joystick
handle without looking down and pressed it back into place. Finally he
looked up at the helmet and smiled, and some combination of memory and
telepathy made Charles realize there must be a handprint pressed into
the back of it.
Charles shook his head slightly: no, no need to fix it. The damage was
purely cosmetic. Someday this house would be full of students, and they
would both have to be ever so respectable; the handprint would need to
be smoothed out, in case someone saw. But for now this place was theirs
alone, and if they wanted a reminder, they could have one.
"We should have thought of this sooner," Erik said. "What better way to
inaugurate a new invention? Breaking a bottle of champagne seems so
wasteful. If you've thought of a name, I believe this is the
traditional time to --"
He stopped, looking over Charles's shoulder. "What is that?"
Erik was broadcasting the image so strongly that Charles couldn't help
seeing. In the heart of North America there was a hole in the light, an
oval darkness where no ocean was.
He remembered a cornfield.
"Oh," he said dully.
"What is it?"
"We did speculate that the connection might be two-way...."
"Charles, what happened to all those people?"
"They're not on this map anymore." Charles closed his eyes. There was
no good way to say this. "I think I may have given Iowa an orgasm."
"'I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.'"
"That's not a fair comparison, Erik."
"You're right. It isn't. When Oppenheimer quoted that, he was talking
about the A-bomb. Compared to what we've built, it might as well have
been a bottle rocket."
"Erik, you still have a headache --"
"Because you nearly killed me trying to test this thing!"
"I'm as horrified as you are. But now isn't the time to make this
decision. You need rest. We can look at it again in the morning -- we
may be able to introduce safeguards -- "
"Safeguards. You want to put your trust in safeguards. This machine
could destroy every human being on the planet."
"We don't know that."
"I stopped breathing, didn't I?"
"For an instant. Yes. Erik, I was terrified -- "
"Mutants in Manhattan stopped breathing."
"I believe so."
"I can see the power setting on the control panel, I'm familiar with the
inverse square law, and I can do arithmetic. Don't pretend you don't
believe you could extend that effect all the way to the antipode, and
don't pretend you don't know you could do it to humans too."
Charles closed his eyes. "Most likely."
"Have you changed your mind, Charles? Have you decided to rule the
world? They'll have to give in to any demand that you care to make -- "
"Of course not."
"Then you have to destroy even the _idea_ of this machine. You cannot
possess a weapon like this and be unwilling to use it."
"No one has to know -- "
"You don't believe the mutant children that you want to bring here will
find out? God, Charles -- this is the most dangerous weapon in the
world, and you want to build a school on top of it."
"Erik, I'm afraid of what will happen if we do destroy it. It's only a
matter of time before someone is killed just by being too close to a
mutant with poorly controlled powers, unless we start finding them
first. The backlash from something like that --"
"Will be nothing compared to the effect of holding a gun to the head of
everyone on earth. Do you think the fear of annihilation will promote
tolerance? Charles, do you _remember_ the 1950s?"
"I understand that. Erik, all I'm trying to say is that nothing is
going to change overnight. Let's take the time to think this through."
"You don't want time to think. You want time to persuade me. Just as
you persuaded me that war between humans and mutants wasn't inevitable.
_This_ makes it inevitable. When they find out this machine exists,
there will be war, and you had better be prepared to win it."
"You know I don't want that."
"Then why are you resisting me?" He paused, looking down at Charles.
One side of his mouth curled up in a smile. "You like it, don't you,
Charles? How does it feel, touching all those minds?"
"I won't deny it's a remarkable experience, but that hardly -- "
"I should have realized."
"Erik, we have the opportunity to make a difference. We can save lives
-- we can give children a chance to learn what they are in a safe place,
away from the world's prejudice and hatred. We can prevent everything
you've always feared. We have the ability to shape the future, and
Cerebro is the key to that. We can't give up the dream just because
there's a possibility that people might find out. Erik, please, listen
"You're like a child with a loaded gun." Erik lifted a hand. The
helmet rose from the control panel, tore away from its cables, and began
to crumple. Above their heads, the panels trembled in their slots.
Charles narrowed his eyes. The helmet stopped and clumsily flew back to
its resting place.
"What... " Erik shook his head slightly, then looked at Charles with
growing horror. "You did that. You _controlled_ me."
"I'm sorry, Erik. I just didn't want you to do something that we'd both
regret. We've worked so hard for this...."
Erik took a step back. "Goodbye, Charles."
"Erik, wait --"
Endnote: #1 was inspired by reading about a Holocaust survivor who,
when her daughters were old enough to ask about her camp tattoo, told
them it was Hitler's phone number. They never asked again, she said.