"Why, Pietro?" were the first words out of his mouth. So very, very angry ... Where did that come from, he thought in dull wonder. Such deep, choking anger ...
"Get out!" cried Pietro, clutching at his temples as if that small thing could drive the strongest telepath on Earth from his thoughts. "Stay out of my head you - "
One elegant eyebrow lifted on Xavier's high domed forehead and then he smiled.
"Oh, never fear," he assured Quicksliver with rueful contempt. "The sanctity of you thoughts remains unviolated. It was a rhetorical question. Believe me, I understand exactly why you did this and *who* you did it to. I don't need my telepathy for *that*." He leaned forward in his silent, floating hoverchair, his eyes narrowing.
"Tell me," demanded the founder of the X-Men, low voiced, "when you look in the mirror, Pietro *Lehnsherr*, *who* do you see?"
Before the passing of an eye blink the super fast mutant Quicksilver was across the room and at Xavier's side his eyes shining, his lips inches from Xavier's ear. His warm breath caressed the skin of the older man's neck.
"Oh no," whispered Quicksilver, the smile in his voice mocking, derisive, not at all pleasant, "you tell *me* Charles Xavier ... who do *you* see?" Frowning, the crippled telepath drew back and Quicksilver hissed in almost serpentine triumph.
"Did you grieve when he left your bed so many years ago in Israel?"
His white knuckled grip on the arms of his hoverchair tightened and he lost his smile, but otherwise Charles Xavier was calm. He lowered his head, unable to look at his opponent. But it wasn't Pietro Maximoff that he was afraid to see staring back at him.
"Oh yes," he said, finally. "I grieved. Didn't you grieve when Crystal died? And Erik Magnus Lehnsherr *did* die. As surely as I sit here before you today, he died. And there wasn't a thing I could do but watch. I couldn't help him. I couldn't stop him. I wasn't strong enough in those days. Not strong enough to help him find a path through the madness. And not strong enough to stop him from lashing out at the world." He thrust out his hands and stared at them in fury. "He slipped between my fingers and I was helpless ... always so helpless!" His hands curled into fists and he pounded the padded arms of his hoverchair in frustration. But after a moment his eyes lost their passion and he gazed at Pietro coldly.
"And what about *you*, Pietro?" he wanted to know. "Why do you hate him so?"
The speedster shouted, "He's a monster! He brings nothing but pain and death to all those around him."
Xavier's answer was as quick as Pietro's racing feet. "No, I'm afraid that won't do," he pronounced, firm in his accusation. "What you did to young Joseph wasn't punishment for crimes committed against others. It was very, very personal. What did he do to *you*?"
"He used and abused my sister and I!"
"He never touched Wanda!" the telepath retorted, relentless in his demand for the cruel truth. "And you know it! But you ... *you* were another matter, weren't you Pietro? Mortimer wasn't the only one he abused was he? You're a proud man Quicksilver. You fought back. But it didn't do you any good did it?" Pietro Maximoff reeled back, almost as if he could feel again those causal blows land once more upon his body, hear that ranting disparaging voice. He covered his ears to shut out the sound.
But not the sound of Xavier's voice.
He stumbled to the room's small bed and sat down heavily, lowering his head in utter shame and humiliation. How pathetic, he thought. Even after half a lifetime thoughts of him can still drive you to this? Ah God! The approach of his hoverchair was noiseless, so Pietro did not hear Xavier. It wasn't until he felt those hands gently stroking his hair that he realized Xavier was there beside him, offering comfort.
"He must have hurt you deeply," said the mutant mentor. Pietro looked up.
"It wasn't the pain," he maintained, proudly. "I've been hurt before. It was never the pain. The pain was nothing. It wasn't even the humiliation ... "
"Oh no," Charles agreed, "it was the rejection, wasn't it? He must have been furious when you offered yourself to him." Quicksilver's body stiffened in great anger and then just as swiftly slumped in crushing shame. He buried his face in his hands.
"He ... hit me ... " came the sound of Pietro's muffled voice from behind his hands. Even that fleshly barrier wasn't enough to hide the pain and humiliation ringing in that softly accented voice. Xavier closed his eyes.
"Even his voice," he marveled, "even his voice. He carries Magnus with him where ever he goes. He can't escape him."
"That was the first time he ever hit me. He was forever yelling and calling names, but he never struck me until ... then. Until I - until I told him that I loved him ... that I wanted him to love me ..." The son of his former lover who became his greatest enemy shook like a sapling tree in a high wind. Xavier pulled Quicksilvers head into his lap and the mutant speedster let it lay there. The telepath's hands stroked again that mane of silver hair so like his lost lovers'.
"Pietro, Pietro ... " he soothed. "Don't you understand?" His heavy sigh ruffled Pietro's hair, a caressing breeze. "I suppose you never knew. But then, you never knew your father very well at all, did you?" He lifted Pietro's chin and stared into his eyes. "Think, man, think!" he cried. "You know he was at Auschwitz. What do you imagine was one of the first things that happened to him there?" Quicksilver's eyes widened in recognition and he tensed. Like Magnus, he was fair complected so it was difficult to tell if he actually paled but Charles thought that he did.
"You can't mean - "
"He was raped. Repeatedly. By guards and Kapos alike. At least once by one of his fellow prisoners. He was young and pretty and quite defenseless. Of course he rejected you! He has no kind memories of love in the arms of another man." Pietro felt those comforting hands grow stiff and still.
"Not even mine." Xavier whispered.
"I didn't know!" Pietro mourned, fighting to compose himself. "Gods, I'd never have ... " He let the words trail off, echoing hollowly before they disappeared to where ever it is that ancient regrets live. Charles nodded.
"Of course you didn't," Magnus' former lover assured the disturbed man before him. "How could you? Even those of us who know about Auchwitz don't all know about that part. You were young and rash. He was your savior, strong and beautiful. Naturally, you desired him." Xavier smiled sadly. "Do you think I didn't fall into that same trap myself?" Pietro gulped, nodding his understanding. But then he frowned regarding the older mutant with dawning curiosity.
"But, how did *you* ... " he blurted. "If what you say is true, then how ..." The bald man closed his eyes and then smiled sadly without joy or mirth. He had not allowed himself to think of Gabrielle Haller in quite a while. Such shame as his was still difficult to bear even after all this time.
"I cheated, Pietro," confessed Charles Xavier, not looking at the younger man. "I ... used ... someone else to get close to him. Someone who trusted me implicitly, without question. And I betrayed her. In the end, I even betrayed myself. Magnus, too. For all my machinations, all my patience in waiting until he was ready, I still could not save him. Love isn't always enough, I fear. If there's a special place in the nine circles of Hell reserved for someone who betrays a trust, then I am damned."
"And so am I," the other man gulped, hanging his head. "So am I ... "
"Pietro," Xavier managed, lost along with his house guest in the complexity of the man they both loved, "he's not Magnus."
"No, I'm not," a baritone voice they each knew well, agreed.
Quicksilver looked as if he longed for the earth to cover him, to hide him, protect him from the coming storm. But, of course, it did no such thing. It was not so kind to him as that.
Or to Xavier.
"Joseph," Charles said, "you should be in bed."
Indeed, despite the Shi'ar healing technology of the Medical Bay and Henry McCoy's considerable talents as a doctor, the youthful X-Man's pale face, his many bandages, stood mute evidence of Xavier's observation.
"Whoever I am, I'm not Magneto," Joseph said again, frowning. "And I'm weary of trying to be. The truth is, I *won't* be Magnus ..." He stared at Pietro who seemed to shrivel visibly under that sharp, sharp gaze. And then he turned those cutting blue gray eyes on Charles Xavier.
" ... for *either* of you."
Xavier blinked and forced himself *not* to look away.
"Perhaps there is more of Magnus in you than you will admit," thought Magnus' former lover and friend, almost with pride. "Oh, well done, Joseph, well done." The silver haired youth turned again to Quicksilver. To his credit, the super fast mutant did not try to run. He stood his ground.
"Running *is* what you are best suited for, Pietro Maximoff," he thought. His hands relaxed, then, drifting to his side to lay still. "But, not this time. Not this time."
"What *shall* I do with you, Pietro?" Joseph asked softly. The air crackled and sang, filling with the strong smell of ozone and Xavier gasped.
The man who may once have been Magneto ignored him as if he had not heard the urgent plea.
"Would *this* make you feel better? Expiate your guilt?"
Joseph curled the fingers of his right hand into a tight fist and every single piece of metal in the small room came alive, whirling and dancing in a sudden, complex maelstrom of destruction, inches from Pietro Maximoff's body.
And just as suddenly fell harmless to the floor.
Xavier watched the son of Magneto's face flood with, at once, relief and a kind of savage disappointment.
"But, then, I'd *be* Magneto, wouldn't I?" Joseph said.
The discarded metal replaced itself neatly from whence it came. "And I'm not."" He pointed at the few pieces of remaining metal. "That's his way. I'm beginning to understand him, I think. He lashes out at the world, at things that frighten him. He's afraid. He's afraid of everyone ... every man who ever called a black man a 'nigger' ... everyone who ever stood by and did nothing when someone else called gentle, brilliant Henry McCoy a deformed freak ... he's afraid of them all."
"I'm sorry ... " whispered Quicksilver. Joseph's face softened for just an instant.
"Don't tell me," he said, "tell your father. If you ever see him again. But don't look for him here. Ever again." His eyes filled with remembered horror. "Whatever he did to you, whatever his crime, it couldn't have been worth ... this ... this ... Gods, Pietro - what you let me *do* ... And you knew. You *knew*! The young mutant staggered and clutched at a nearby chair for support.
Instantly, Pietro was at his side, supporting him, easing him into the chair. Roughly, Joseph threw off Maximoff's hands with a shudder.
"Don't touch me!"
Xavier guided his hoverchair between the two of them with but a single thought.
"This is my house," he told the two antagonists, "and while you are both guests in my house there will be no violence. Am I understood?" He turned a compassionate gaze upon Joseph. For an instant his arms ached to embrace the young man ... as he had once embraced ...
But no. Not now.
Most likely never again.
"You ran away from that battle, Charles Xavier," he reminded himself. "You chose not to fight. The question, though is this: were you afraid of losing. Or more afraid of winning?"
In all likelihood he would never know the answer to that, would he?
"You lied to me Pietro," accused Joseph to the grieving Maximoff, who winced with each word. Pietro's hands shook and he quickly hid them in his armpits to still them. Joseph eyes went wide with guileless pain and that was when Charles Xavier knew for a certainty that Erik Magnus Lehnsherr was lost to him forever. Magnus would never have let anyone see that. Never.
"You told me that I was beautiful," Joseph whispered, voice hoarse with betrayal. "That you desired me. You told me that you ... that you ... liked me ... You *used* me!" Xavier's memory brought him the sound of another, feminine, voice rough with stinging anger saying those same words and he paled. For an instant his cheek ached with the force of a bruising slap, now many years in the past.
"What can I do?" begged Pietro brokenly. "What can I do ..."
"Look at me, Pietro," Joseph commanded, "LOOK at me!" His voice grew deeper, harsher, more compelling and Pietro's head snapped up involuntarily, staring, his eyes brimming with momentary fear. No! He would not cringe. Before God, he would not. He squeezed his eyes closed and waited. He felt the briefest touch of unsteady fingers on his cheek and then they were gone.
"What can you do, Pietro?" Now the voice was again soft and young with no hint of anger.
"I'll do anything," was Pietro's claim, "anything ... "
"Then forgive your father, Pietro. And forgive yourself. No one else can forgive you until you forgive yourself."
Xavier watched as Pietro wiped his eyes and collected himself. His lips parted to speak but he stopped himself with an abrupt shake of his smooth head.
"Be quiet, you fool," he snarled at himself. "You lost the right to say anything to either of them long ago. Be quiet, I say."
Pietro rose and walked slowly to Joseph's side. Wisely, he did not touch him. But his voice was warm and calm when he spoke at last. Joseph seemed surprised.
"Do you have some spare time, my friend? There's some one I want you to meet." Joseph's puzzled look made the ex-Avenger smile. "My daughter, Luna." Here to fore, Pietro had been very protective of his daughter. While he relihed the doting affections of the X-Men for his child, he had been most careful to see that she did not meet Joseph. By unspoken agreement, no one had pursued the matter. Xavier decided that Joseph's tentative smile was quite beautiful. For an instant he relived the memory of Magnus' first sight of his grandchild, the look of transparent joy that suffused his grim features when the tiny girl threw her trusting arms around his neck.
"I think I'd like that very much," the young man said.