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Many thanks to Cesperanza and tzikeh for betaing!

Sequel to Going Down, Suspension, Second Story.

Underground Levels
by shalott

She doesn't need to pay much attention to these encounters. Erik's hands aren't really on her skin, and the whispers she hears aren't meant for her. She's only the medium. For distraction she spends the time thinking over what will happen, running through it again and again, dulling the sharp edges with repetition.

It won't be long before Erik will get tired of mediation. He doesn't make compromises, one of the many things she values in him. Soon he will say to Xavier, if he hasn't already, There are any number of ways we might meet, you and I...

And Xavier will refuse, because he is in love but not stupid, and he knows that distance is the only thing enabling this resurrected affair of theirs to last. Unlike Erik, he is prepared to compromise. That's what makes him truly dangerous. His lines are written in the sand, and when the world's tides wash over them, he will redraw them in new places, and be suddenly unpredictable.

She doesn't like Xavier, and she has to work to keep that from coloring her expectations. It's not because of Erik, or at least not entirely. The truth is that Xavier's power frightens her as nothing else ever has. There's something horrible about the idea that he can just reach into her mind, walk through her thoughts and feelings and sensations with that feather-light touch. It makes her understand the humans who are afraid of her.

It's the hardest part of these nights, even harder than seeing the difference in Erik's eyes, lying here without the helmet and inviting Xavier into her, knowing all the time that he's just one thin line away from simply taking over. These days, her dreams are all of small rooms, closed boxes, screaming without making a sound. Sometimes, Erik looks on and does nothing. Sometimes he smiles.

She hasn't been sleeping much lately.

But for now at least, she's sure that Xavier won't look deeply into her thoughts. He doesn't want to know what he thinks they hold. Just as Erik doesn't speak about these nights, doesn't ask her why she's doing this. They don't want any more reasons to stop. And so she has space in which to look ahead, think all of this through.

Xavier will say no. And Erik will ask again, and be refused again, and eventually he'll stop waiting for Xavier to agree. She's already been scouting locations; when he asks, she'll plant the rumor for him. A report of a frightened young mutant—a telepath without shields, an uncontrolled psi, someone only Xavier can help.

Xavier will take the bait. Maybe he'll suspect, maybe he won't, but he'll go either way. If he suspects, he'll go alone and possibly tell himself some lies about why. If he doesn't, he may have some company. It won't matter. Erik will easily be able to deal with a bodyguard or two, even if he insists on going alone, as he will.

And then Erik will touch him, as he's wanted to for so long. He will kneel before the wheelchair and put his hands on Xavier's face, and Xavier won't stop him. This will all be happening in some abandoned warehouse, broken windows and damp concrete floors, and neither of them will care. Erik will spread out his heavy cloak and lift Xavier out of the chair, and they will lie there together for hours and pretend that nothing else matters. Xavier's legs won't work and they'll be a little clumsy together without her malleable body smoothing the way, and that will only mean it's real at last. They won't miss her. Erik won't miss her.

But they'll end up cold and tired and aching, two old men with all their passion spent for the moment and nothing to do but talk, even though Xavier will know better. He'll try to keep things in the past, and for a while Erik will indulge him. They'll talk about Jerusalem and Paris and New York, tenement houses and grand hotels, all the places in the yellowing photographs Erik doesn't admit to keeping. She thinks maybe their hands will interlace, awkwardly, because neither of them is very good at touching without the excuse of heat. And then Xavier will whisper, Don't, Erik. Don't, and Erik will speak anyway.

She's sure of everything that far, and after that point—well, even the worst-case scenarios are manageable, and the best-case ones mean victory.

Most likely things will just end there. Erik will come back silent and drawn and ten years older, and she will not ask him any questions. She will let a few weeks pass, and then come to his bed and kiss him with her own mouth, touch him with her own hands, as he had always insisted on before she broke him with the one temptation she knew he couldn't resist. She will never offer him Xavier again, never speak of these last few months at all, and let silence be her apology.

She hopes, if it works out that way, that it will be enough to break the last ties between them, to free Erik from the last restraints of sentiment. It will hurt Xavier to say no to Erik again, and Erik won't fail to see the moment of weakness. Whether he'll be able to take advantage of it is another question. Just in case, she's been choosing potential locations carefully. There will be plenty of loose metal.

And even if Erik can't bring himself to kill him, she thinks it'll break Xavier, somehow, losing Erik again. They're older, the lines more heavily drawn, and no way to pretend that this final separation will be anything less than permanent. He won't be quite as strong, quite as dangerous an enemy, and she thinks he'll even let Erik walk away. But even if not, in the worst case, if it ends badly and Xavier wins, he'll only hand Erik over to the authorities. It took her a month to get him out last time; hardly an insurmountable obstacle.

She's sure of this much: Xavier won't hurt Erik. Not that Erik loves Xavier any less, but he'd rather kill Xavier himself tomorrow than lose him in a death camp years from now, and no one knows better than Erik that Xavier's path leads straight there. While Xavier imagines he's on the road to some sort of idyllic utopia, where the humans learn to accept mutants and mutants help humanity progress, and everyone ends up happy ever after. And he'd rather die than kill Erik and keep him from ever finding that peace.

The last possibility is the hardest one to consider, the one she likes least even though she knows, objectively, that it's the best outcome of all. But Erik is the only man who never asked her to be anyone but herself, who never flinched from her strength or her strangeness, and she doesn't want to give him up. And if she doubted his strength of will for even a second, she wouldn't be lying here.

But then again, she wouldn't care about Erik half as much if she didn't know she could trust him on this completely. He won't ever give in, not even a little, not even to have Xavier back. And that means that anything he will accept won't be far short of unconditional surrender.

Xavier and his people on their side. The only real danger they face, aside from the sheer numbers of humanity, suddenly turned into strength. All that terrifying power of Xavier's in their hands, and all his students; that well-protected school as training ground, and Cerebro to track down their brothers and sisters before they can be caught or even identified by the humans.

It doesn't seem very likely, but maybe Xavier loves Erik too well, needs him too much to give him up a second time. Lines in the sand, and maybe he'll find some solution, some compromise he can justify to himself. Neither reason or fear can reach him, they've learned that already, but she's seen love and jealousy put murder in his eyes. He's the most dangerous man in the world, and Erik is the only coin they have that might buy him.

And she means to spend him.

= End =

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