Summary: Erik and Raven attempt to recruit Kurt Wagner for the Hellfire Club; Erik and Charles attempt to recruit Kurt Wagner for Xavier's School for the Gifted.
Recipient: eiben for xmmficathon
Request Used: I tried my best to incorporate all three, since they seemed to fit together nicely. Request 1: I would love something that points out the tragic of Eric. That he, as Jewish German later on acts like one of the greatest racists in history. Request 2: A fic with lots of German, because I love this bilingual touch this fandom has. Request 3: or a fic where Erik hates this language because it was so misused in the 1930s/40s.
Rating: PG-13. Contains allusions to the Holocaust, though nothing very graphic.
Notes: ENORMOUS thanks to all of my betas! bagheera_san for the German fixes and cultural insights, leiascully for the French and flair, and ion_bond for the excellent English beta. It takes a village to write the multilingual Erik Lehnsherr :)
Part 2 of this is AU from XMFC, and both parts are AU from X2, since they introduce Kurt a lot earlier, and they also disregard Kurt's comics parentage. But X2 never really went into that anyway.
Title and some inspiration taken from Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem Imaginärer Lebenslauf (Imaginary Life Journey)
"Bonjour, vous avez choisi?" the waitress says, smiling brightly.
Erik orders a tuna salad sandwich and Raven says, "Deux."
"Bien sûr," the waitress says. "Qu'est-ce que vous voulez boire?"
"Je voudrais de l'eau," Erik says, and Raven nods. The waitress scribbles on her pad and scurries back to the kitchen.
"So, my dear, did you find anything interesting this morning?" he asks Raven, currently a striking redhead. Raven never wears her innocent blonde face any more. When she isn't in her natural blue state, she's taken to wearing older, sharper faces. She's grown exponentially more confident in the six months since leaving her brother.
She smiles and shoves a folded newspaper at him.
He says, "I've already read today's news and found nothing of substance."
"What about this?" she asks, tapping a black and white advertisement with a perfectly polished red fingernail.
"You want to go to the circus?" he asks, incredulously.
"Erik, I'm not a child. Read the damn ad. Look at the picture."
He bites his tongue--Raven may not be a child, but she's not that far out of childhood-- and looks. There's a grainy photo of a man with pointy ears and a wide smile. Though the photo is black and white, the man's skin doesn't register along the normal spectrum of skin tones. The ad is printed in English and French, and reads: "Munich Circus! Limited Engagement! In Toronto For Three Weeks Only! The Incredible Nightcrawler Must Be Seen to be Believed!"
"He's obviously a mutant of some kind," Raven says. "We should go pay him a visit."
Erik frowns. There's not a lot to go on. He returns his gaze to the newspaper. "It is a circus. What makes you so sure that isn't makeup?" he asks, scrutinizing the ad.
Raven shakes her head definitively. "I know the difference between makeup and skin, Erik."
The waitress reappears with a carafe of water and notices the open paper. "Le cirque! J'y suis allé la semaine dernière avec mes enfants et c'était merveilleux. Il y avait un homme avec la peau bleu! Il peut disparaître comme par magie! Je ne sais pas comment ils ont fait ça!" The circus! I went last weekend with my children and it was wonderful. There is a man who is blue! He can disappear like magic! I do not know how they did it!
"Fascinant," Erik says. "Alors vous le recommendez?" So you recommend a visit?
"Oui, absolument. C'est un voyage assez long en voiture, mais il n'y a pas grand chose à faire ici, n'est-ce pas?" Yes, absolutely. It is a long drive, but there's not much to do around here, is there?
"Merci," he says. "What do you think, Raven? Shall we go see this blue man who can disappear like magic?"
"Oh, absolutely," she says, not quite keeping a satisfied smirk off her face.
The waitress smiles and chirps, "I'll be right back with your sandwiches, then."
"Thank you," Erik says.
"God, am I the only person in the world who isn't bilingual?" Raven grumbles.
"Of course not, my dear. There are millions of other Americans."
She rolls her eyes at him and takes the paper back, carefully studying the circus ad. Erik runs a hand through his hair. He wishes, not for the first time, that he could reconstruct Cerebro. Emma isn't quite the telepath Charles is, but if he could just get his hands on the right raw materials, he's sure that she could be of some use. For now, the remnants of the Hellfire Club (and are they really going to keep that name?) have splintered. He and Raven are here in Quebec, trying to find details about some kind of Canadian government project that experiments on mutants. Erik is not at all surprised to know that such a program exists, but he is surprised at how difficult it has been to locate it. Erik knows how to get information out of people, but it seems that very few people know anything about it. But never mind. Erik is patient, and at least he doesn't have to wait long for the sandwiches to turn up. He and Raven eat quickly and, as usual, Raven leaves a generous tip.
"Well," Erik says. "Let's take a trip to the circus."
Raven smiles. "I'll drive," she says. She picks up her purse (she can morph just about any type of clothing now, but she can't manage accessories that need to come on and off) and heads for the door. In the car, Erik studies the map. They're close to the Quebec-Ontario border but it's still several hundred kilometers to Toronto. No matter. Quebec appears to hold little of interest to them, so they may as well head west. He's pleased to have a definite destination in mind, and he even lets Raven pick the radio station. He knows she grows tired of the CBC, and anyway there's so rarely any news that is of use to them.
They make Toronto by nightfall and pull into a cheap motel. It's shabby, but at least they rent rooms by the night, not the hour. Erik registers a room for them as Mr. and Mrs. Darkholme, and the man behind the counter doesn't give them a second glance. They leave their little suitcases in the room and go out in search of dinner. Another night, another dingy diner.
"I like that they have vinegar on chips here," Raven says. "That was the best thing England had going for it, in my opinion."
Erik laughs. If nothing else, at least he isn't alone in this shabby little restaurant, the way he was most of the time he spent hunting Klaus Schmidt. "I've never been to England."
"What? You? I thought you'd been everywhere!"
Erik considers. "I believe I had flights connect through London on occasion. But no, England never had anything I was looking for."
Raven shrugs. "It's not that great. I don't know. Oxford was so boring, just full of these lame academic types who were horrible tippers. And Charles was always so busy with his research."
She flashes her eyes up at him briefly, gauging his reaction. They rarely talk about Charles, though Erik often thinks of him and he's sure Raven must as well.
Now Erik is thinking about Charles's research. They'd stayed up nights talking about it. Charles had estimated that .5% of the population could be mutants, homo superior. There were a little over 3 billion people in the world, which meant there might be 15 million mutants. But where were they all? Even after almost a year of serious looking, occasionally aided by a telepath, Erik had only encountered a handful of mutants. Most of them were hiding, like Hank McCoy. Like Raven herself had been. That was wrong.
In one of their late night talks, while they were on the road looking for mutants, Charles had called Erik an extremist. He had said, "Your ideas almost sound like--" and then he had abruptly cut off, his cheeks turning pink. But they both knew that Charles had been about to compare him to Adolf Hitler. But the comparison was not a fitting one. Hitler had believed that the Jews were dirty, impure. He wanted a pure Aryan nation, and for this reason Erik and his family and millions others had suffered and died. Hitler's dream was nonsense, and biologically improbable at this juncture of history. Hitler played on the fear and poverty and desperation and small-mindedness of millions of people to persecute millions of other people.
But mutants really were a class apart. A class above. He would do whatever was necessary to keep mutants from ending up in ghettos or worse. It was simply wrong that they should have to hide, to live in fear of mere humans. It was wrong that any mutant should be in a circus, performing tricks for humans. Erik can't hold back a tiny shudder at that thought.
"Sorry," Raven mumbles, and Erik blinks.
"No, no, it--I was just thinking of... our trip to the circus tomorrow."
Raven quirks her eyebrows. "You're not afraid of the circus, are you? Is it the elephants? The bears? The clowns?"
Erik sets his mouth and responds tersely, "No, Raven, I'm afraid of the thought of one of our brethren being forced to perform tricks."
Raven's face falls. "Well. Not for long."
Erik smiles, showing his teeth. "No. Not for long."
That night, Raven presses herself against him, licking his earlobe tentatively. Erik turns away. He's too agitated, and he doesn't want to hurt her. Then he feels larger hands on him and turns to look. It's Raven, in some generically handsome male body.
"It's okay, Erik," she says, in a deep voice. "Whatever you want."
Erik bites his lip. This would be easier if he didn't care for Raven. He does, and he's attracted to her. He doesn't understand how anyone could possibly find her otherworldly blue form to be anything but exquisite. But she isn't... what he wants.
Once, she'd come to him as Charles. Erik had been horrified and yet impossibly excited. But as much as he might have wanted to, he simply could not fuck his lover while she impersonated her own brother. So now, sometimes, she takes on a male form. Erik can't deny that he likes it, but he worries about Raven. She's already suffered so much rejection, and here he is, adding more, even as he's tried to be the one who accepts her for who she really is.
He sighs and surrenders when he feels Raven's large, callused hand on his cock. He reaches out and strokes her well-defined pectoral muscles. They're hard and yet smooth under his touch, the opposite of her soft yet scaly breasts. They jack each other off and Erik falls into a fitful sleep.
Erik doesn't usually think in German any longer. Usually his thoughts are in English, or French. But his dreams are always in German. That night, Erik revisits Klaus Schmidt's laboratory for the thousandth time. Raven, back in her blue form, strokes his hair and says, "Erik, it's all right, Erik." He tightens his mouth and puts an arm around her. Raven deserves more than a broken companion and a world that fails to acknowledge her beauty. Maybe one day she'll get it.
In the morning they shower and dress quickly. It's a pleasant spring day and Raven creates a knee-length, polka-dotted dress for herself. She stands in front of the mirror, considering, and ultimately settles on a deep blue dress with white dots. She's careful to replicate yesterday's brunette face on the offhand chance that anyone at the hotel would notice when they checked out. Erik would hate to get a reputation as a philanderer.
They eat a quiet, quick breakfast and Erik asks their waitress for directions to Exhibition Place.
"Oh, are you going to to the circus?"
"Yes, we thought we'd check it out."
"It's amazing, I tell you," the waitress says. "They have the best acrobats I've ever seen! Anyway, Exhibition Place is easy to find. Get on the Gardiner Expressway heading east, you can't miss it."
"Thank you," Erik says politely. He isn't used to things being quite so easy, although he supposes they haven't gotten to the circus yet. He settles the bill and, feeling Raven's eyes on him, makes sure to tip her well.
The waitress smiles and says, "Thanks! You two have fun at the circus!"
"Oh, I'm sure we will," Raven says on her way out the door.
Today, Erik is driving. He's feeling too impatient to sit in the passenger seat. Their waitress had been right--Exhibition Place was easy to find. It's enormous, and contains a number of permanent buildings. Still, it's simple enough to figure out where the circus is, on account of the tent. There's a reason they call it the Big Top. There are huge banners, too, one of them bearing a likeness of a blue man on a trapeze. The Incredible Nightcrawler. Erik wonders why they call him that.
The first performance isn't until 1pm, and Erik doubts passerby are welcome to wander through the performers' quarters at will. Undoubtedly these people look after their own and don't take kindly to strangers. They casually walk around the grounds, and Raven changes to match one of the men smoking on the outskirts of the clusters of trailers where the performers are. She takes the lead, and Erik is able to blend in as her apparent guest. They expertly scope out the group without overtly looking at anyone. Erik wonders how they will go about finding this Nightcrawler, but Raven gently nudges him and nods off toward the left. There, a blue man is playing around with some young kids, watching them do flips and then showing off for them in turn.
They approach him, and Nightcrawler nods at them but otherwise ignores them. Raven and Erik stand and watch, waiting. This close, it is obvious that the man's skin is not makeup. It looks much like Raven's. Too, his ears are pointed, and it appears he has a tail. Fascinating.
One of the kids comes up to them and says, "Herr Becker, wer ist Ihr Freund?" Herr Becker, who is your friend?
Of course. This is the Munich Circus, after all, and Raven has taken on the face of one of the circus's employees. Raven doesn't know German. Erik does, of course, though he rarely speaks it.
But he smiles at the boy and says, "Guten tag, ich bin Herr Lensherr. Ich bin hier, um deinen Freund zu treffen." Hello, I am Herr Lensherr. I am here to meet your friend.
The German syllables feel strange and heavy in his throat, and he isn't used to exchanging pleasantries in this language.
"Herr Wagner?" the boy asks, glancing at Raven.
She smiles and says, "Ja, Herr Wagner."
Erik holds back a grimace--her accent is all wrong, but it's just a three word phrase and perhaps the boy won't notice. The boy blinks and then calls, "Herr Wagner, dieser Mann will Sie sehen!" Herr Wagner, this man wants to meet you!
The blue man--Herr Wagner, then--looks at them and smiles, revealing gleaming white fangs.
"Guten tag! Schön, Sie kennenzulernen! Ich bin Kurt Wagner." Hello, nice to meet you. He offers a hand. Erik takes it, noticing that he only has two thick fingers and a thumb. Interesting.
"Ich heisse Erik Lehnsherr. Herr Wagner, könnten wir Sie bitte unter vier Augen sprechen?" Could we please speak in private?
Kurt widens his eyes in mild surprise and glances again at Raven. Erik has no idea what kind of relationship Herr Wagner has with the man Raven is impersonating, and he hopes they're on good terms. Kurt shrugs and says, "Ja, natürlich. Komm mit mir." Yes, of course. Come with me.
Erik and Raven follow him to a small trailer. Once they're inside and the door is shut, Erik says, "Herr Wagner, wir müssen Ihnen etwas beichten." Herr Wagner, we have a confession.
"Dann ist es ein Priester den Sie suchen?" Then it is a priest you are looking for?
Erik blinks and studies the man's face. He's fairly certain Kurt is joking, but he asks, "Sind Sie ein Priester?"
He receives a wide smile in return. "Nein, ich bin kein Priester. Ich dachte, ich könnte in ein Priesterseminar gehen, aber das war nicht Gottes Plan für mich. Aber was ist Ihre Beichte?" No, I am not a priest. I thought I might enter the seminary, but that was not God's plan for me. But what is your confession?
Erik nods at Raven, and she shifts back to her blue form.
Kurt smiles and claps. "Ein wunderbarer Trick!" A wonderful trick. He looks a little embarrassed, though, and he trains his eyes on her feet.
Raven sighs and says, "Do you speak English?"
His smile evaporates and he says, "A little." His accent is thick, and Erik thinks he might be a Rom or a Sinti, a German Gypsy.
"I'm Mystique," she says.
"Kurt," he replies. He bows slightly, taking her proffered hand and kissing it, though he still averts his eyes from her naked body. He frowns and asks, "Wo ist Herr Becker?" Where is Herr Becker?
Raven looks at him and Erik explains, "Es geht ihm gut. Mystique kann ihr Aussehen verändern, um jeden beliebigen Mensch nachzuahmen." He is well. Mystique can change her appearance to look like anyone.
He adds, "Why don't you show him, Mystique?"
She shrugs and transforms herself easily, standing before Kurt as a mirror image of himself. Kurt looks delighted and reaches out to touch her two-fingered hand.
"Unglaublich!" he exclaims. Incredible.
Raven asks, "Is that good?"
Kurt keeps smiling and says, "Good, good! It is good."
Raven smiles back and shifts to her natural form. Erik reaches in his pocket and pulls out a few steel ball bearings. Although there's almost always metal around him, he would hate to be caught unarmed, and he makes sure to keep something with him now that he's returned Klaus Schmidt's coin to its rightful owner. Now, though, he spins the ball bearings in a pattern in the air above his hand.
Kurt smiles. "Ein weiterer Trick! Wunderbar!"
"Es ist kein Trick. Wir sind Mutanten. So wie Sie," Erik says, returning the ball bearings to his pocket. It is not a trick. We are mutants. Like you.
"Mutanten?" Kurt asks, his brow furrowed. Erik sees his tail lashing behind him.
Erik gives him a brief introduction to the term "mutant." He tries to gauge Kurt's level of education and understanding--he doesn't want to overwhelm him, but he does want Kurt to understand that he's special.
After communicating the basic idea, Erik asks, "Haben Sie eine besondere Fähigkeit Abgesehen von Ihrer äußeren Erscheinung?" Do you have a special ability? Aside from your physical appearance?
Kurt glances between Erik and Raven, and then he disappears in a puff of malodorous black smoke. A split second later, he reappears behind them with a "Bamf!" Ah, a teleporter. Not new, but still very useful. Erik wondered if it was significant that the only two teleporters he knew had nonstandard skin colors. Charles would likely have a theory--but he won't be talking to Charles about Kurt, of course.
"Erstaunlich," Erik says. Amazing.
"Es ist sehr nützlich auf dem Trapez," Kurt says. It is very useful on the trapeze.
Erik narrows his eyes slightly. "Sie müssen nicht im Zirkus bleiben, Kurt. Sie können mit uns kommen." You don't have to be in the circus anymore, Kurt. You can come with us.
Kurt looks slightly panicked. "Bin ich gefeuert worden?" Have I been fired?
"Nein, nein, Sie sind nicht gefeuert worden. Aber Sie müssen nicht mehr hier bleiben. Sie können mit uns kommen. Mit anderen Mutanten." No, no, you haven't been fired. But you don't have to stay here any longer. You can come with us. With other mutants.
"Welche anderen Mutanten?" What other mutants?
Erik tells him about Azazel, Riptide, Angel, and Emma Frost. He tells Kurt about their mutant gifts and about their determination to work together for a better world for mutants. Kurt lashes his tail and looks nervous, as best as Erik can read his expression.
"Wo sind sie her?" Where are they from?
"Verschiedene Orte. Kommen Sie mit uns und Sie können sie treffen." Different places. Come with us and you can meet them.
"Mit Ihnen? Aber was tun Sie?" With you? But what do you do?
"Nun, wir finden andere Mutanten um ihnen zu helfen, und die Menschen daran zu hindern, ihnen wehzutun." Well, we find other mutants, and help them. We keep people from hurting them.
"Das ist gut. Aber niemand tut mir weh hier." That is good. But no one hurts me here.
"Würden Sie nicht lieber mit Menschen von Ihrer eigenen Art leben?" Wouldn't you rather be with your own kind?
"Diese Leute sind meine Art. Der Zirkus ist meine Familie. Ich wurde im Zirkus aufgezogen." These people are my kind. The circus is my family. I was raised in the circus.
"Aber Sie könnten mit mehr… Würde als im Zirkus leben." But surely you could live with more... dignity... away from the circus.
Kurt looks hurt. He has definitely lost his glittering smile. "Sie glauben mein Leben ist würdelos?" You don't think I have dignity?
"Sie ... Sie machen Kunststückchen für die Menschen." You... you do tricks for people to watch.
Kurt stands up a little straighter. "Ich trete vor Menschen auf. Die anderen Akrobaten und ich, wir machen die Menschen glücklich. Erwachsene, Kinder, alle." I perform. My fellow acrobats and I, we make people happy. Adults, children, everyone.
"I am the Incredible Nightcrawler!" he adds with a flourish.
Erik is baffled. Is Kurt turning them down? "Wir möchten, dass Sie ein besseres Leben haben," he says. We want you to have a better life.
Firmly, Kurt says, "Ich habe ein gutes Leben mit dem Zirkus. Gehen Sie und helfen Sie anderen ... Mutanten." I have a good life with the circus. Go help other... mutants.
Raven crosses her arms and clears her throat. Erik runs a hand through his hair and sighs. "Kurt says he would prefer to stay with the circus than to come with us."
For a second Raven's face falls, but she quickly regains her composure. She walks up to Kurt and puts a hand on his arm. He glances up at her quickly, still shy.
"You don't want to come with us?" she asks.
Kurt says, "I am sorry." He pauses. "Bleiben Sie und sehen sich die Show an? Wir starten um ein Uhr." Will you stay and see the show? We start at one o'clock.
Without thinking twice, Erik says, "Nein, wir müssen gehen. Auf Wiedersehen, Herr Wagner." No. We must go. Goodbye, Herr Wagner.
He's certain he cannot bear to see his fellow mutant in a circus like a trained animal, however much Kurt seems to like it.
Kurt looks crestfallen. "Es war sehr nett sie kennenzulernen, Herr Lensherr… Mystique. Vielleicht treffen wir uns wieder, wenn Gott es will." It was very nice to meet you, Herr Lensherr... Mystique. Perhaps we will meet again, if God wills it.
He glances at Raven and adds, "Goodbye, miss."
"Goodbye," she says, a little sadly.
Erik hesitates and says, "Kurt, wenn Sie Ihre Meinung über den Zirkus jemals ändern… finden Sie Charles Xavier im New York. Er hat eine Schule für Mutanten. Er würde sie jederzeit aufnehmen." Kurt, if you change your mind about the circus... find Charles Xavier, in New York. He has a school for mutants. He would take you in.
"Charles Xavier," Kurt repeats, his smile returning. "Danke. Auf Wiedersehen."
"Auf Wiedersehen," Erik echoes. Mystique transforms back to the brunette with the blue dress she was this morning. It wouldn't do for them to encounter the real Herr Becker, after all. They leave Kurt's trailer and don't look back.
Erik doesn't understand Kurt's reaction at all. He had been so pleased to discover that he wasn't alone, that he wasn't the only mutant, that he had stayed with the CIA, had put on a yellow jumpsuit and tried his best to fit in where he so clearly did not belong. In the car, he translates the gist of his conversation with Kurt for Raven.
"I think I get that," she says.
"Well," she says, haltingly. "You and I, and, and Charles, and everyone... we wanted to belong. Charles and I were so excited when we met for the first time, and realized we weren't the only ones with special powers. We didn't fit in anywhere else. And you, too. You stayed with Charles to help him look for other mutants. That's what you're doing now. What we're doing now. But Kurt... already has that. He has a family with the circus."
Erik shakes his head. "But the circus, can you imagine?"
Raven shrugs. "When I was a kid, I thought about running away with the circus. It always sounded fun, and I figured I could be whoever I wanted there."
Erik turns his head. "And what would you have done in the circus, my dear?"
"A clown," she says. "I would have been a really great clown."
He glances over and see that she's transformed her face and hair. He lets out an obligatory laugh, but the image horrifies him more than anything. Growing up with the Xaviers might not have been the best place for Raven, but it certainly wasn't the worst.
Raven sighs and morphs back to her unremarkable brunette mask. "What did you tell him right before we left? You said--you said something about Charles."
"I told him... if he changed his mind, about the circus, that he should find Charles and his school. Since we will be rather more difficult to track down after we leave Toronto."
"Right," Raven says. "Well, then Hank could have another blue friend, I suppose."
Erik gives a terse smile at that. "Let us hope that he doesn't get it in his mind to try to cure Herr Wagner."
"I think he has learned his lesson about that. I hope so, anyway," Raven says.
Erik shakes his head. Hank McCoy is unquestionably a genius, but he is also a fool. But perhaps Raven is right, and a life in blue will serve him well. "If not, he had better learn it soon."
He drives west and they cross the border into Michigan. The guards barely glance at their fake IDs before waving them through, though Erik still resents having to show his papers. He wonders how long it will be before his driver's license will be required to have a little M on it. The idea infuriates him, but not as much as the knowledge that so many mutants are being so complacent. How long do they think they'll be able to hide away in their circuses, or their mansions?
Erik hadn't asked any follow-up questions when Kurt had said he had thought about entering the seminary. How could Kurt believe in God? If God exists, he is surely not paying any attention. God didn't save the Jews, and he won't save the mutants. That will be up to Erik, and he fervently hopes that Charles Xavier will stay out of his way.
von Rainer Maria Rilke
Erst eine Kindheit, grenzenlos und ohne
Verzicht und Ziel. O unbewußte Lust.
Auf einmal Schrecken, Schranke, Schule, Frohne
und Absturtz in Versuchung und Verlust.
Trotz. Der Gebogene wird selber Bieger
und rächt an anderen, daß er erlag.
Geliebt, gefürchtet, Retter, Ringer, Sieger
und Überwinder, Schlag auf Schlag.
Und dann allein im Weiten, Leichten, Kalten.
Doch tief in der errichteten Gestalt
ein Atemholen nach dem Ersten, Alten . . .
Da stürzte Gott aus seinem Hinterhalt.
Imaginary Life Journey
by Rainer Maria Rilke
First a childhood, limitless and without
renunciation or goals. O unselfconscious joy.
Then suddenly terror, barriers, schools, drudgery,
and collapse into temptation and loss.
Defiance. The one bent becomes the bender,
and thrusts upon others that which it suffered.
Loved, feared, rescuer, fighter, winner
and conqueror, blow by blow.
And then alone in cold, light, open space,
yet still deep within the mature erected form,
a gasping for the clear air of the first one, the old one . . .
Then God leaps out from behind his hiding place.
“Bonjour, classe. Je suis Monsieur Lehnsherr.”
“Bonjour, Monsieur Lehnsherr,” the students dutifully chorus, and Erik tries not to wince at their accents. They have improved, but with everything else that’s going on these days, they don’t seem to be giving Erik’s classes top priority. Perhaps some pop quizzes would help.
“Let’s try again. Bohn zhour, muhsyuh Lehnsherr,” he says exaggerating every syllable. The class tries again, sounding marginally better. Erik nods approvingly.
No matter how tired he got of repeating these basic greetings, he was grateful that Charles had offered him this position teaching foreign languages at his ridiculously fancy new private school, after they’d worn out their welcome at the CIA.
He’d met Charles and Raven tending bar in Oxford. The Smiths, the family who had taken him in during the war, had offered to help Erik with his expenses while he pursued higher education, but Erik felt that he had taken enough charity already. So by day he took engineering courses, and by night he handed out drinks at the Eagle and Child. He slept rarely, and at first he’d chalked it up to sleep deprivation when he’d seen Raven’s eyes change color one night. But another night, it was her hair. It happened only rarely—when she had some sort of disagreement with Charles and then huffed over to the bar to furtively order a Cuba libre. But after the third time it had happened, Erik had been certain that he wasn’t seeing things. He was certain that this girl had a special talent, like he did.
So one night, after he saw Raven and Charles leave the pub, he’d slipped out after them. “Excuse me, miss,” he’d said, and then had trailed off. What could he say that didn’t sound insane? He had not thought this through. Instead, he reached in his pocket and pulled out the five-mark coin he always carries with him, for luck, for remembrance. He levitated it in the air and twirled it in front of her. She had just blinked, but Charles had lit up.
“You’re a mutant!”
“A mutant! Oh, this is wonderful, you simply must come back with us.”
“Charles, are you sure that’s a good idea?” Raven had murmured. “It’s late.”
“A mutant,” Erik had repeated, trying out the word. He’d heard of mutation, of course, but it had never occurred to him to apply the term to himself. “Are you a mutant as well?”
//Yes,// Charles had told him telepathically. //Yes, I am.//
Erik had smiled. Charles had extended a hand and said, “Charles Xavier. Pleased to meet you.”
“I’m Raven. But we’ve already met. You’re a bartender at the Eagle and Child.”
“Oh! Yes, of course,” Charles said.
“How did you know?” Raven asked. “What gave us away?”
“Your eyes,” Erik said. “And your hair. Sometimes they changed. Just a flicker.”
Raven had looked absolutely crestfallen. “I’ve gotten so much better.”
“I am sure no one else noticed, Miss Raven. I have been keeping my eyes open for... others like myself.”
“Miss Darkholme. And I certainly hope no one else noticed.”
“We both are,” Charles said. “We’re about to return to the States. Why don’t you come with us?”
Erik had laughed, and Charles, a bit tipsy, had said, “I am serious! My house is big enough.”
“That’s an understatement,” Raven said.
“Do, come. Or at least, come back to our flat here and let’s talk.”
And so Erik had gone, following the strange brother and sister back to their flat, and ultimately he had followed them all the way back to New York, to a house which did indeed have enough room for him. He had followed them to Washington, D.C., and he had helped them stop the Hellfire Club. He had put his engineering studies to good use and had helped Hank rebuild the machine called Cerebro in the basement of Xavier’s obscene mansion, and together they had all helped Charles start this school for mutants. It was, perhaps, the strangest idea Erik had ever heard, but it did seem to be working.
He returns to the present moment when Sean asks, “Puis-je aller aux toilettes?”
“Oui,” Erik says, trying not to roll his eyes. These kids had to go to the bathroom every five minutes, it seemed.
He circles the small room, listening to the students ask each other questions about their families.
Darwin asks him a question, and he responds, “Non, je n'ai pas de frères. Good pronunciation, though.”
Darwin smiles at him sadly. He doesn’t have any brothers either.
He helps them tell each other about their parents and siblings, aunts and uncles and cousins for the rest of the hour and then dismisses them to practice math with Hank. He finds Charles in the library.
“Ah, come in!” Charles says. “Are you up for a game of chess?”
“Always,” Erik says. Charles smiles and moves away from his desk, over to the chess board that’s always set up. He holds out two fists and Erik taps one. Charles opens it, revealing a black pawn. They set up the board accordingly.
“Penny for your thoughts, Erik.”
“You could always get them for free.”
“I promised you I would never, not without asking.”
“Indeed you did.” Erik sighs. “I don’t know, Charles. Is this really tenable? This life? This school? How much longer is the US government going to leave us in peace?”
“You know the agreement we made with Moira. We’re being granted a blind eye in exchange for our help with the Hellfire Club.”
“But how long do you think they can keep Sebastian Shaw in custody? You’ve seen what he can do.”
Charles shrugs blithely. Charles does everything blithely, Erik thinks. “Well, we can deal with that if and when it comes up,” he says. “Do you want to go to Canada this weekend?”
“What’s in Canada?” Erik asks, already knowing the answer, or part of it.
“Another mutant. He’s working in a circus.”
Erik sighs inwardly. He can hardly say no to that, and Charles knows it. “Yes, of course, let’s go find him.”
He passes the rest of the week correcting pronunciation and helping Hank in the lab. It burns Erik up inside that young Hank already has his PhD and Erik is still a few hours short of his MSc. But Erik’s power gives him a shortcut, and he finds he has a greater understanding of certain principles of engineering than Hank does. Mixed in with his envy, Erik can't help but feel a certain amount of disdain for the man who so hated his own appearance that he inadvertently turned himself blue. But for all his shortcomings, Hank is still a genius, and together they make a number of improvements on Cerebro’s initial design.
Saturday morning, Erik and Charles fly the Blackbird north. Charles guides them to a huge fairground on Toronto’s lakefront, and they pick their way past the big tent and to the small collection of performers’ trailers. Charles ensures that no one asks them any questions about where they’re going.
“This one,” Charles says decisively, and he knocks.
"Wer ist da?" a resonant voice calls out.
Erik blinks. Well, the posters had advertised this as being the Munich Circus, after all. He replies, the words feeling harsh in his throat. “Wir sind Freunde,” he says. We are friends. “Wir sind wie Sie.” We are like you.
It’s strange for him to speak German. He hadn’t spoken it since he was a boy, not since the day in 1938 when he’d stepped on the Kindertransport train bound for London’s King’s Cross Station. He remembers waving goodbye to his mother out the window. He remembers how the train had refused to depart the station for a few moments, before he’d managed to catch his breath and remind himself that his mother was sending him away because she loved him. She was sending him away to protect him. How could he squander the chance his mother had fought so hard to attain for him? He remembers the puzzled look on the engineer’s face when the train had abruptly started up again. The rest of the journey had been without incident.
Occasionally he wishes he had stayed with her, down to the ghastly end she’d met. (Sometimes, in his dreams, he does.) Mostly, though, he is grateful to be alive.
There’s a pause before an answer comes back. “Niemand ist wie ich.” No one is like me.
Erik reaches out with his power and opens the trailer door. “Wir sind wie Sie." We are. Erik reaches out with his power and opens the trailer door.
It’s easy to keep surprise off his face when the man shows himself. After all, he’s spent the last few months down in a basement with a blue man, or trying to convince a blue girl to show her true color. “Guten Tag. Ich bin Erik Lehnsherr. Ich bin ein Mutant.” Hello. I am Erik Lehnsherr. I am a mutant.
“Kurt Wagner, aber man nennt mich den unglaublichen Nightcrawler.” Kurt Wagner, but I am called the Incredible Nightcrawler.
Erik smiles. “Und warum nennt man Sie so?” And why do they call you that?
Kurt looks anxiously at Charles, who smiles. Telepathically he says, in that way he has that transcends language, //Do not be afraid, Herr Wagner. I am a mutant too. We have a home. A school. For others like us.//
Kurt nods and disappears in a puff of smoke and a terrible stench. “Damn!” Charles says, but then Kurt reappears behind them. His powers are like Azazel’s, then, but this man is not like Azazel in temperament.
"Ich würde sehr gerne an diesen Ort zu sehen," he says carefully, looking carefully at both Erik and Charles's faces. I would very much like to see this place.
“Dann lassen Sie uns gehen,” Erik says. Then let us go.
Kurt packs a small duffel bag. He distributes a few of his meager possessions as gifts to some of the other performers—children, mostly. Then he follows Erik and Charles back to the jet. He seems neither happy nor sad to leave the circus.
On the flight back, Kurt spills his life story. It’s familiar enough to Erik. He’d been born blue and cast out by his birth parents, only to be taken in by the Romani—the Gypsies. The Gypsies had been nearly as despised by Hitler as the Jews. He and his guardian, Margali, had managed to find passage to Canada with a traveling circus just before the war broke out. Kurt had been a child then, but a skilled acrobat, and his guardian’s supposed talent with makeup had been much admired.
“Margali konnte Tarotkarten lesen. Sie wusste, dass es in Deutschland bald nicht mehr sicher für die Sinti sein würde.” Margali could read the tarot. She knew that soon it would not be safe for the Gypsies in Germany.
Erik is skeptical. And yet here is Kurt, still alive, so perhaps the tarot did know something after all. “Und wo ist Margali?” And where is Margali?
Kurt crosses himself. “Sie ist jetzt im Himmel. Seit zwei Jahren. Das Leben hier ist schwer ohne sie.” She is in Heaven now, for these last two years. Life here is hard without her.
Erik nods. He wonders to what extent Charles is telepathically eavesdropping on their conversation. “Es tut mir leid, das zu hören. Margali klingt wie eine bemerkenswerte Frau.” I am sorry to hear about Margali. She sounds like a remarkable woman.
“Ja. Aber jetzt müssen Sie mir mehr über Ihre Schule erzählen. Sie sagen es gibt auch andere Menschen wie mich?” Yes. But now, you must tell me more about your school! You say there are others there, others like me?
Erik says, . “Jeder Mutant ist anders. Aber an unserer Schule gibt es Raven, die ist blau - oder jede andere Farbe, die sie sein möchte. Und Hank ist ebenfalls blau, und ein geschickter Akrobat.” Every mutant is different. But at our school we have Raven, who is blue—or any color she wants to be. And Hank, who is blue, and a very clever acrobat.
“Wie wunderbar.” How wonderful. Kurt’s smile is sweet and pure, his teeth startlingly white against his navy skin.
At the school, Erik gives Kurt a tour. He introduces him to Raven first. She’s in her natural blue form, which she’s been using more and more lately. She and Kurt give each other huge smiles, and Erik feels that maybe this school isn’t such a strange idea after all.
Kurt lashes his tail uncomfortably when Erik shows him to an empty bedroom.
“Ist es nicht nach Ihrem Geschmack?” Is it not to your liking?
“Ich... Ich habe nicht viel Geld.” I... I do not have much money.
Erik remembers how overwhelmed he had been the first time he had seen the Xavier estate. “Machen Sie sich keine Sorgen. Wir erwarten keine Bezahlung.” Do not worry. We do not expect payment.
“Ich möchte keine Almosen.” I do not want charity.
Erik smiles. “Das verstehe ich. Aber es sind keine Almosen. Es ist... es ist mehr wie die Sinti. Eine neue Familie.” I understand that. But this is not charity. It is... it is more like the Gypsies. A new family.
Kurt smiles back. “Vielen Dank, mein Bruder.” Thank you, my brother.
At breakfast the next morning, Kurt timidly asks if there is a church in town. Erik doesn’t know, so he turns to Charles.
//Yes, there are several,// Charles says. //Would... you like to attend?// His face is almost, but not quite, neutral.
“Ich bin katholisch,” Kurt says. I am Catholic. He says it as if it explains everything, which maybe it does.
Erik offers to take him, and Charles’s look of surprise is comic. Erik has often stated that he doesn’t believe in God, which he doesn’t. And if he did, it would be the Jewish G-d, not the Catholic one, who hides behind incense and frippery. But still, Erik would like to look out for his countryman, if he can.
Erik lends Kurt some appropriate clothes. Kurt tucks his tail down a pant leg and pulls a hat low over his face. Gloves would be nice, but he has none that would fit Kurt’s unique fingers.
“Wir werden uns ganz hinten hinsetzen.” We will find a seat in the back, Erik promises, pulling into a parking space at Holy Innocents Church.
Kurt crosses himself reverently upon entering, and Erik self-consciously follows suit.
“Ich bin noch nie in einer katholischen Kirche gewesen. Ich bin Jude,” he admits. I have never been inside a Catholic church before. I am Jewish.
The mass is in Latin, and Kurt seems pleased by the familiar lines. Erik's attention wanders. He had studied Latin in school, but the words bore him. He focuses on finding all the metal screws, nails, and supports scattered throughout the church. He could bring this whole building down if he wanted. Kurt nudges him and he realizes he’s supposed to be kneeling. To himself, and to whoever else might be listening, he thinks, Dear G-d, what the hell have you been up to?
He watches out of the corner of his eyes and sits back up when Kurt does. Then Kurt stands, and Erik follows him.
Kurt whispers, “Sie müssen Ihre Arme verschränken wenn Sie keine Kommunion wünschen.” You must cross your arms if you do not wish to take Communion. He pauses, then adds, “Sie dürfen keine Kommunion annehmen, wenn sie nicht gebeichtet haben.” You cannot take Communion if you have not confessed.
.“Ich habe nichts zu beichten,” Erik says boldly. I have nothing to confess.
Kurt looks scandalized, but says nothing when Erik follows him up to the altar. The priest blanches when he sees Kurt’s face, but, to his credit, provides Kurt with the ritual blessing. Following him, Erik takes the wine and the wafer, the blood and the flesh. What a violent, bloodthirsty tradition he’s partaken in.
On their way back to their pew, a little boy whispers, “Mommy, what’s wrong with that man’s face?”
“Shh,” the mother hisses. “He’s... sick. You mustn’t be rude.”
Erik longs to correct them—“He isn’t sick, you are,” he would say—but he regretfully decides that it would be in Kurt’s best interest to bite his tongue. He glances at Kurt to see if he understood, but Kurt’s expression reveals nothing. He supposes Kurt is used to receiving such comments.
Erik remembers just before he had left Germany, he had heard a rumor that in Poland, Jews were required to wear yellow stars. It made them easily recognizable at a glance. By 1941, all Jews in Nazi-occupied territories had to wear them. He wonders how long it will be before mutants here have to start wearing a yellow M. For mutants like Kurt, it would be unnecessary. But Erik could pass. He could pass as a normal human. He could pass as a Catholic. But did he want to? Should he have to?
When they had come for his mother, Erik had been a child, hidden away in the English countryside. But if they came for him now, Erik would be ready. He’s an adult now, and he is more powerful than any mere human could be.
After they leave the church, Erik blurts out, “Wie können Sie an Gott glauben? Nach allem, was Ihnen widerfahren ist? Alles was Ihrem Volk widerfahren ist?” How can you believe in God? After all that has happened to you? All that has happened to your people?
Kurt looks surprised. “Was meinen Sie damit? Gott hat mich leben lassen. Gott hat mich zu sich gebracht. Gott hat mir die Kraft zu fliegen gegeben. Gott ist gut.” What do you mean? God has let me live, God has brought me to his place. God has given me the power to fly. God is good.
“Gott hat die Nazis Millionen von Juden und Tausende von Sinti und Roma ermorden lassen. Wenn es ihn gibt, ist er böse.” God let the Nazis kill millions of Jews, thousands of Gypsies. If God exists, he is evil.
“Die Wege des Herrn sind unergründlich. Wer weiß, warum er so viele Juden zu sich in den Himmel geholt hat? Ihr seid schließlich sein auserwähltes Volk.” The Lord works in mysterious ways. Who knows why he would call so many Jews to Heaven? You are his chosen people, after all.
Erik snorts and tries to suppress his rage. “Vielleicht sind Mutanten das auserwählte Volk. Er hat uns mehr Geschenke gemacht als er den Juden jemals gegeben hat.” Perhaps mutants are the chosen people. He has given us greater gifts than he ever gave to the Jews.
“Gott hat uns allen Geschenke gegeben. Er hat uns das Leben in dieser Welt gegeben, und das Versprechen ewigen Lebens im Jenseits.” God has given gifts to us all. He has given us life on this Earth, and promise of eternal life to come.
Incredulously, Erik asks, “Glauben Sie das wirklich?” Do you really believe that?
“Natürlich tue ich das.” Of course I do.
They’ve arrived back at the mansion, and Erik carefully pulls into the garage. He’s breathing slightly faster than usual now, but he’s trying to stay calm.
“Kommen Sie mit mir,” Kurt says. Come with me.
“Vertrauen Sie mir.” Trust me. Kurt carefully wraps his arms around Erik. They disappear in a puff of smoke. For a split second, they pass through a cold, airless place, before reappearing on the mansion’s roof.
Erik puts a hand up to shade his eyes from the sun and examines the view.
“Es ist schön, nicht wahr?” It is beautiful, no?
“Ja, es ist schön,” Erik admits. Yes, it is beautiful. They stand quietly together and look out at the mansion’s well-groomed landscape.
Eventually Kurt breaks the silence, saying, “Ich gehe gerne zu solchen Orten die über allem sind um nachzudenken. Um Gott näher zu sein.” I like to go up to places that are high, to think. To be closer to God.
Erik sighs. It is difficult to be cynical in the face of such earnestness. When it’s Charles, he can easily attribute it to Charles’s naivete, his sheltered upbringing. But from the sound of it, Kurt’s childhood was anything but sheltered, and yet here he is, a sunnily devout Catholic with the features of a demon.
Kurt smiles. “Es macht nichts, wenn Sie nicht an Gott glauben. Er braucht Ihren Glauben nicht. Aber er wacht trotzdem über Sie.” It is all right if you do not believe in God. He carries on with or without your belief. But He will look out for you.
“Es scheint, Gott hat manchmal besseres zu tun. Also werde ich selbst über mich wachen. Nur für den Fall. Ich werde über alle Mutanten wachen.” It seems that sometimes God is otherwise occupied. So, just in case, I will look out for myself. I will look out for all of the mutants.
“Manchmal ist Gott versteckt,” Kurt acknowledges. Sometimes God is hiding. “Aber er ist immer präsent.” But He is always present.
Erik bites back a snide response and says only, "Vielleicht sollten wir wieder rein gehen. Es ist fast Zeit fürs Sonntagsessen." Perhaps we should go back inside. It’s nearly time for Sunday dinner.”
“Wunderbar,” Kurt says. He puts his arms around Erik and takes them back down to the ground floor.
"Sie können uns nicht einfach mit rein nehmen?" Erik asks, curiously. You can’t just take us inside?
"Nein, es tut mir leid. Ich muss sehen, wo es hingeht." No, I am sorry. I have to see where it is I am going.
“Natürlich.” Of course. Erik opens the back door and holds it for Kurt, and together they make their way to the ornate dining room. Erik had assumed that these elaborate Sunday dinners were a throwback to Charles’s childhood, but when he’d said as much to Raven she’d laughed hysterically.
“Charles and I always ate with the maids,” she had said. “If there were ever dinners like this, they were for his stepfather’s business associates, and we were certainly never invited. I think he got the idea from television. Or maybe Dickens.”
So Erik plays nice for the mansion’s Sunday dinners. Charles was opening his house up to them all, and if he wants some kind of Leave it to Beaver family meal, well, Erik supposes he deserves it.
He sits between Charles and Kurt and he slices the roast. He can barely handle all the cheerful goodwill in the room. They pass around the side dishes and chat about the weather. Kurt tells funny stories about his life in the circus, which Erik translates. To Erik, the stories could just as easily be told as tragedies.
After dinner, they all clear the table. It’s Sean and Hank’s day to do the dishes, and though they grumble about it, Erik knows they’ll do them all, down to the ridiculous heirloom gravy boat.
Erik decides to visit the library. He's caught up on his lesson plans, and he thinks he might devote the afternoon to reading something for pleasure. He peruses the stacks--the books are clearly in some sort of order, though he still hasn't ascertained the exact schematics of the Xavier family library. He rounds the corner and finds Charles standing in front of the next shelf.
"Erik," Charles says, offering him that ridiculously pleased smile he has."Are you looking for something to read?"
Erik bites back a sarcastic response and says only, "Yes."
"I think I know just the thing," Charles says, handing him a thin leatherbound volume. Erik looks at it. Duineser Elegien, the Duino Elegies, by Rainer Maria Rilke. "Do you like Rilke?" Charles asks.
"I confess I haven't read any of his works," Erik replies, flipping through the volume. It doesn't look as if it's been read. "Have you read this?"
"Well, in English, of course, yes. I must say I prefer Letters to a Young Poet, but I thought perhaps you would like these better."
"Where was this? I've never seen any German books in here."
"Oh, around," Charles says vaguely.
"Ah. Well, thank you, Charles." This is not the first time Charles has given Erik new items--books, tools, clothing--that he has claimed were "around" the Xavier estate. Erik hasn't questioned the origin of these gifts, because then he would have to examine his relationship with Charles more closely. He is not yet prepared to do that.
He will have to make note of the location of the German books and point them out to Kurt. He supposes the task will fall to him to tutor Kurt in English, if Kurt is to stay here with them. Erik isn’t quite sure how he feels about this prospect. He’s certainly happy that the poor man is no longer with the circus. And Kurt is nice, if cloyingly pious. Well, as long as they can keep the conversation away from religion, he’s sure he’ll get along with Kurt about as well as he gets along with everyone else at Xavier’s.
Pushing these thoughts aside for the moment, Erik takes the book and heads for one of the leather wingback chairs. He opens the volume and begins to read.
Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel
Ordnungen? und gesetzt selbst, es nähme
einer mich plötzlich ans Herz: ich verginge von seinem
stärkeren Dasein. Denn das Schöne ist nichts
als des Schrecklichen Anfang, den wir noch grade ertragen,
und wir bewundern es so, weil es gelassen verschmäht,
uns zu zerstören. Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich.
Und so verhalt ich mich denn und verschlucke den Lockruf
dunkelen Schluchzens. Ach, wen vermögen
wir denn zu brauchen? Engel nicht, Menschen nicht,
und die findigen Tiere merken es schon,
daß wir nicht sehr verläßlich zu Haus sind
in der gedeuteten Welt.
Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the Angelic
Orders? And even if one were to suddenly
take me to its heart, I would vanish into its
stronger existence. For beauty is nothing but
the beginning of terror, that we are still able to bear,
and we revere it so, because it calmly disdains
to destroy us. Every Angel is terror.
And so I hold myself back and swallow the cry
of a darkened sobbing. Ah, who then can
we make use of? Not Angels: not men,
and the resourceful creatures see clearly
that we are not really at home
in the interpreted world.
Erik reads these opening lines and considers them. "Who then can we make use of? Not Angels, not men." What are mutants? The Hebrew word for angel, "mal'akh," translates more closely to "messenger."
Somewhere deep inside himself, Erik thinks of Charles as his own mal'akh. Charles had found him, told him that he wasn't alone. That was why he had stayed, why he had argued with Moira that he and Charles should be the ones to approach the mutants Charles found with Cerebro, not some human G-man. That was why he was still here at the school.Whatever Kurt may say, if God exists he is too well-hidden. If mutantkind is to have a savior, it will have to be a mutant.
Erik settles back into his chair and continues to read the elegies. Perhaps when he finishes, he will pass the volume on to Kurt. Perhaps he will ask Charles what these poems mean to him. Perhaps he will ask Charles how he knew that Erik would like them.
Duino Elegies in German, Duino Elegies in English.