HoM: The Prince

February 21, 2018:

HoM. Pietro confronts his father about the events of Garden of Forking Paths. AU-Magneto played by Wanda.

Castle Magnus, Genosha


NPCs: Magneto



Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.

The solar of the king is a lonely place by intention and design, far removed from the bustle of the rest of the castle. A place to which Erik Magnus may retreat, to seek some of that restful quiet which is so hard to come by for a sovereign of nations. A room perched at the peak of one of the castle's westernmost towers, it — as its name and function suggests — receives a good deal of sun throughout the day, as well as affording a grand view of all Hammer Bay, and the ocean beside which the city sits.

It is a place, first and foremost, of privacy. All know better than to try to mount to this place uninvited. The crown prince usually knows better too, but today fury overrides reason.

Today, the king finds himself intruded upon by his errant eldest son.

There is very little warning. Pietro whisked straight past the aides he should have spoken to in order to gain audience with his father, and straight past the guards at the base of the tower who should have barred his way. In a burst of speed he is up the stairs — elevators are far too slow for him — in an instant, opening the door on the king with unheard-of brazenness and storming in with all the ill-though-out impetuousness which is his hallmark.

Truly not a good idea. But he is too incensed to care.

"What do you mean by it?" Pietro demands of his father. "You issue under-the-table commands to MY guards. You take them off task to go and upset my sister — I had to go and calm her!"

The sun bows now over Hammer Bay, and in through the solar's vast, floor-to-ceiling windows, it is a straight drink of Genosha's sunset skies: all the fiery brands of golds and ambers searing the horizon scarlet — a heavy smear of red layering the distant blue line of the sea.

Gilded under that light, Erik Magnus begins a new game.

Even approaching his later years, he remains an impressive man, and years of rule have not softened the rigid line of his shoulders or the steely watch of his blue eyes. The layers and layers he wears, with their austere pleats, sharpen him all the more. Or it is he who sharpens his uniform. Though even his King's court coat is tailored immacuately to him, it strains too tight in telling, imperceptible ways — at the elbows, at the throat — all to contain the hard angles of a conquerer who still has not — cannot — relax himself into governorship.

Leaned back in his favourite armchair, jaw braced along his knuckles — two long fingers stretched up pensively along the bone of his eye — Erik's half-opened eyes survey the way his metal chesspieces arrange themselves to their orderly positions.

He chooses black. White always faces away, his imaginary opponent. It has always been this way for the select few who have witnessed the king play.

Queen's pawn to D4. Black to D5.

The pieces move without him ever touching them, metal gliding over metal without sound. Considering the opponent side of the board, he thinks.

Not even the furious push-opening of the door and the noisy entry of his son hurries the king along. For many moments — hours to Pietro — the king neither deigns to answer or even turns one blue eye. His attention is on the board.

Memory moves like a ghost over the lenses of his eyes. It takes its time.

White to C4.

Erik patiently makes the move. And then he says, boredly, "First, if you persist on acting like a housemaid, Pietro, go fetch me my drink. You know how I take it."

Erik Magnus makes his son wait. Of course he does. Everyone always makes Pietro wait. It is the well-known, easy way to rile a young man whose powers condemn him to live at high speed… isolated and cut off from the rest of the slow-moving world. He learned to control it, years ago — it was that, or go insane — but control comes with its own price.

Pietro controls it now, with a subvocal growl of frustration, but the effort required to numb himself down to such a plodding speed is a constant strain on him, mind and body.

Seething, he is forced to wait as his father considers — at length — his next move. Halfway through, a black temptation rushes through him to upend the board, to force his father to look at him, but there are some things not even rage can make him stupid enough to do. Pietro knows his father far too well, after so many years at his side, for that: or so he thinks. Erik Magnus himself might have differing ideas whether his son knows him at all.

An eon passes. But eventually, move decided upon and executed, Erik finally deigns to address his son in a most singular fashion.

"Like a h-" Pietro sputters, stopping dead, before the meaning of it tracks, and he flares with renewed fury. "You know I am the only one who can calm her when she is in a fit! I know full well you meant to undermine me by doing this. If I had to run to her on call, it was by your design."

He dares a step closer. "What I don't understand is why. I have done everything you wanted. And you — what? Dismiss me? Test me?"

King Magnus waits with his old, regnal patience. He waits on the eve of his last order, whether or not his eldest son will do as asked — go to the liquor cabinet and meekly prepare his drink.

Or does he? His half-lidded, bland blue eyes do not leave his chessboard. His tall, rigid body does not shift from where he folds it neatly — one long leg crossed over the other — in a picture of leisure that does not rhyme to the tension of his muscles. Old habits of older soldiers. Even in a solitary game of chess, one does not leave war behind.

Time passes. Eternities, always, for Pietro Magnus. Erik has always held little sympathy, and less care, for how time crawls so slowly to his first-born. Perhaps he wields it now as its own weapon, or perhaps he truly forgets that intrusion in his solar, snapping furious words, and daring even a closer step now than he's ever tried before. Perhaps it does not matter to him, either way, in this moment. Perhaps it's never mattered.

Perhaps he's already forgotten what his son demands, for how little it means to him.

A black piece moves along the chessboard in answer to the last play. Black to E6. White pawn not taken.

"Everything I wanted?" asks Erik, eyes still on the chessboard. He ruminates the statement a moment.

His papery voice is low and thin and dry, its distant accent yoked by the many decades. "You say that as if you've done me a grand favour, Pietro. So it is my lapse, my error, not to decorate you with praise. You've done no more for me than what's expected by common subjects in my kingdom."

His eyes survey the white pieces on the board. "There is a marked difference, boy, in doing what I want and being what I want."

One forefinger, still slanted against his face, taps his temple to think his next move. "Your sister is no longer your concern. However, if you are truly set on chasing a vocation wherein you attend to invalids, then it's past time you relocate permanently to the moon. There's an entire dynasty of them there for you to manage."

Perhaps once, years ago, Pietro might have obeyed his father and gone quietly to fetch that drink. Once, when he was still young and impressionable, and still wanted to please his father — to live up to whatever Erik Magnus might have wanted from his firstborn son.

And isn't that the crux of it? Powerful men like Erik Magnus live and die for the convenience and fortune of siring a son for a firstborn — and moreover, a son who looks exactly like themselves. Such things make succession easy, and these men always prefer a child like themselves to vest with their legacy.

Pietro Magnus has fit that mold in every respect except his total lack of the appropriate temperament… and of course, his unwanted fixation on his twin sister.

He does not move an inch towards the liquor cabinet.

He only stands there, tense and stiff-legged in the way wolves get when they're geared up to fight. Time passes, agonizingly. The urge to reiterate his statements, his confusion and anger, comes and goes. He lets it drop away, for the futile thing it is. Things have always been this way, between him and his father. No matter what he does, Erik will never move or speak until HE is good and ready.

Once he does, Pietro's eyes narrow, and his hands coil at his sides until his knuckles go white. Yet still — he does not dare.

"Not praise," he grits. "Perhaps just the decency you should afford your son. And a clearer answer on what it is you want me to be. What I have tried to be apparently does not suffice."

But Erik makes that last statement, and a sharp inhale accompanies the widening of Pietro's blue eyes. "Crystalia," he says, "may stay on the moon and inbreed with her family of genetic misfits for all I care! My sister will always be my concern. You can't take her from me. She needs me. She — " He almost wonders, briefly, if he should speak of the odd things Wanda said — Wanda showed them — but he hesitates, and falls into angry silence.

Little would change even if Pietro Magnus heeded every thoughtless command of his father. Even when younger, quick to the liquor cabinet and with his unnatural haste to retrieve the King's momentary whims, Erik would accept the drink without even a glance turned down on his son.

Masters do not inundate themselves to validate the many existences of the help.

For as much as Erik sees, little concerns him within is solar past the war on his chessboard. The sharp, vehement words from his eldest-born, and the dangerous tightening of hands shaped so much like his own —

Either the king does not notice or does not care. Perhaps it is both. There is nothing here what weighs close to any value of concern.

He considers White's next move, and executes. Queen's Knight to C3.

"Decency did not win me my crown," remarks Magnus dismissively, far past any place that would feel disappointment. "Decency did not decorate you with your many titles. My proud son so loves the sound of his voice, though he never listens too closely to the words he speaks."

Black makes its response: King's Knight to F6.

"My daughter needs far more than courtyard walks, Pietro. Her condition has surpassed what this palace can provide, and especially now when the prince refuses her treatment." Erik's unconcerned, half-open blue eyes size up the board for a next move. "I've made plans for her institutionaliztion. It's been designed for her. She'll be treated there indefinitely.

"Undermining me has forced my hand. The decision is made."

Silence follows, as always it has in the past: this is the closing of the conversation. This is signal and warning both for Pietro to leave.

"No," Pietro has to admit, his voice bitter; but his head lifts, to a tilt as proud as he is so accused of being. "I suppose none of us have ever been decent. Why start now?"

He makes no move to fetch his father anything. That time has long passed. Even animals understand what it means when they repeat behaviors over and over, only for nothing to change. Perhaps an animal would have even learned faster than Pietro did; animals, after all, do not feel foolish, desperate hope as keenly as the sapient. Animals do not yearn, against all reason and logic, for the love of a father even after his continual demonstrated lack of interest in the paternal role. Animals are more pragmatic than that. They are also clever enough to sense certain unspoken lines that cannot, at any cost, be crossed.

Pietro is aware of many of those lines himself, to be sure. Yet there are some of which even he is not aware… and the rest? He is close to the point of simply not caring about them.

Especially when the topic turns to his sister. Pietro's resolve flickers a little when Erik so calmly demonstrates his knowledge of his son's recent defiance. His expression twitches, briefly betraying the shock of a child caught after finally thinking he'd gotten away with his mischief… and then it hardens again. Of course his father knew. What did he expect? His father always finds out, some way or another.

And now he speaks of sending Wanda away. Talks about it, all while still staring at that damned board. Ignoring him, as he always has unless Pietro was useful to him in some way. Oh, Erik Magnus did know how to lay on the charm when he needed something, and only then —

Between heartbeats, Pietro crosses the room in a blink of speed, coming to stand on the opposite side of that chessboard his father so interestedly regards: where the White player would sit, if there was one. He leans forward, aware he is making a mistake, yet far beyond any ability to care. Not when Wanda is at stake. Wanda, the first and last thing he would ever put his life on the line to protect.

"My sister's condition certainly surpassed whatever treatment Danielle could provide," Pietro hisses. "I know her powers. She is a fine psychic, but not geared to provide treatment with her abilities. The care you claim I interrupted was a farce to nettle me. Nothing more. You remove her from me, and it will only become worse — "

Chesspieces drift by magnetic pull.

Queen's Bishop to G5. White forces black's knight to remain stationary: a reckless move now means loss of the queen.

Does it know sometimes it is best to do nothing at all?

Erik's turned eyes, blue as frost, slip to a lazy half-mast, his attention turned wholly back to his game. No further words spared to the son. This conversation is over; his order is law.

All that is left for the prince is to cede.

But all things happen immediately; the only way they ever do when it involves Pietro. He occupies the space on the other side of the chessboard.

It is a matching armchair, well-kept but unused: never has a body ever filled it when either of the Magnus children or their retinues are gifted the privilege to visit the king in his solar. It is never offered to any man or woman who visits this room.

It is off-limits, reserved only for one man — one man who is not here.

Inside a heartbeat, Pietro fills that space on the other side of the chessboard; he stands at the opponent's side, as if his hands, his will — his mind — were in command of the other half of the game.

And, just like that, Pietro finally has his father's eyes. Cold. Commanding. Displeased.

Those words are all Pietro has time for, time to snarl into the silence over the forgotten chess game, before an accent violently rips free from one marble pillar — dusting stone in a thunderous crack — and swiping across the room. It blurs faster than a bullet, with more than enough strength to tear weaker men straight through.

But enough to choke the throat of this one, drag him back, and fix him to the far wall — just barely off his feet — in a gilded collar.

"I spared the expense of true finery in House Magnus," speaks the King, his voice sharp and empty. "A Crown prince deserves a brank of pure gold, but my son shall have to settle."

His chess game well forgotten, Erik stands from his chair, jaw high, hands at his sides, as he follows the trajectory of his tethered first-born. Metal tightens around Pietro's throat. "Now. Care to rephrase your threat?"

Pietro knows he should cede. He knows that there is no opposing his father's will. Long experience has taught him both these things, and in the past he has always caved… bowing to the dictates laid out for him, no matter how he disagreed or how much they hurt. The last time he bowed was the most painful: it was to that initial decision to lock Wanda up, to begin with. Then, he was too weak, too much of a fool, to stand up and defend his sister. Then, he still thought their father might… be a father to them.

Time has shown that of all the things which matter to Erik Magnus, his children are not high on the list. He cannot bow any longer. There is a limit to what he can take.

Such it is that though the king turns transparently back to his game, edict delivered and prince dismissed, this time his son does not obey. He does not bow, turn, and leave. Instead, he does one of the many things forbidden of Erik's children, in the presence of their father; he uses his powers in defiance, and they carry him to the opposite side of that board which Erik seems to find so much more engaging than his firstborn son. Even then, Pietro does not occupy that empty chair. Even in this state of mind, even angry as he is now — he does not dare. For him to stand beside it is sacrilege enough to get his father's attention.

And, for better or worse, get his attention Pietro finally does. Still sped up in the flow of time, he can perceive the slow way those eyes — the same blue as his own — turn up to him. The way displeasure infects his features like a slow cancer.

The sound of stone cracking is Pietro's first warning. He has time enough to glance to the right, to see that piece of metal leap towards him faster than a shot bullet. For Pietro, at the speed he's currently operating, there is enough time for him to decide to sidestep it. He tries to decide to move, but deeply-ingrained fear to defy his father keeps him hesitant, slow. Conflicted, he freezes up.

A moment later, he is stapled against the far wall.

There is a certain height at which a body can be kept which prevents asphyxiation, but also precludes any possibiity of surcease. With practiced precision, Magnus keeps his son there, pulled up high enough to choke him of his breath, but not so high that he cannot brace himself away from strangulation. He clutches at the metal collaring him, desperate, only to lose his grip when the collar twists tighter.

Looking into his son's face, for Erik Magnus, has always been a bit like looking into a mirror. At times, Pietro is less a son to him and more his reflection, writ years younger into a separate body and allowed to walk about. Sometimes his reflection mirrors him back his arrogance, sometimes his fanaticism… sometimes his thirst for dominance and power.

In this moment, his reflection is a young, frightened thing, that lingering anger in his eyes warring with pain, nervousness, and fear.

Care to rephrase? wonders the King. And if he did, Pietro knows, his father might let him go. If he bowed now, and let this all go, and asked forgiveness, he might be allowed free. And Wanda would be taken away and put into a worse cage, one he cannot reach, and again he would have sacrificed her to spare himself —

"You couldn't — magnetize — gold, anyway — " Pietro manages, around the metal strangling him.

Perhaps at another time, in another life, Erik Magnus would look down on his only son — panicked, in pain, and desperate — and feel something yield in his heart.

Perhaps it would still be there, that weakness, if he had not already buried it: six feet below the earth, lain the rest with the cold body of his first-born.

But here and now, as Pietro chokes for air, Erik feels only the empty calm — that peace that falls over him to hear such a familiar, old-friend sound. Men all sound alike, his blood or not, in this respect — when the metal folds shut the trachea and reduces their words to these same, wet sounds.

Attention firmly speared by his child, he takes his time to cross the room. He makes Pietro wait for him, even now, left to brace there against the wall and ration himself on the little air left his father allows him — as Erik instead does for himself as he once asked Pietro to do for him.

But Pietro defied, resisted, and is punished for that, as well; all the longer he must spend, choking, as Erik patiently selects among a coveted selection of aged scotches — all mutant-sourced — and pours himself a finger. He gives his drink the proper attention it deserves, its first taste slow and indulgent.

It is time, also, to allow Pietro to choose his words. Significant time, in his perception, to feel that collaring pressure banded around his throat, ever nimble in its shaping: not yet tight enough to strangle him silent, but enough to force him to endure having his available oxygen thinned to one-third, and with it, the animal fear of the mind drived of its air.

That fear in Pietro's mind answers with something else, a mirrored startle of his twin sister, as Wanda from high and far away nudges along his thoughts in worry.

The burn of metal centers attention back fast: it tightens the more he struggles.

Scotch in hand, the king makes his final approach to the fettered prince, looking down on him with eyes as cold as that metal. No yield, even now. Only the vague sensation of disgust to see an expression that should not be on a face so familiar.

But there was a question asked, and the prince has been tasked to answer.

And he answers.

The metal vices stranglingly tight. It knows what to do. It never closes the arteries, because there is mercy in a blood choke: it closes the windpipe and holds until the lungs burn.

There is only one reaction any captured animal would make, to claw at the restraint — and metal leeches away from that collar to manacle Pietro's wrists, and pull them, too, brutally flat to the wall.

On his right wrist, the metal shifts — then violently twists the bones backward until they snap.

"You can try as many times as you have joints to spare, Pietro," muses Erik, through another drink. "You'll need some of them to run, to embrace your sister a proper good-bye."

In the end, what does blood really mean? His children sound just the same as anyone else, when the metal closes off their throats.

Yet can what he has now really be called children? These pale imitations, forever falling short? He true child, his firstborn, died decades ago, and left behind little in Erik to support raising any more.

In truth, Pietro is Erik's second child, and born too late to receive whatever affection his father had, before the world ground it out of his heart. He knows it, judging from the dire fear hidden in his blue eyes, underlying his facially-brave words. It keeps him from saying too much more. Not that he could if he wanted to, with that collar vicing off most of his air.

His mind thinned to little more than the animal panic of asphyxiation, he struggles for enough oxygen as his father pours himself a drink. How much less Pietro would have to suffer now, if he had simply obeyed earlier and fetched it? The oxygen-starved fear circulating in his mind is suddenly answered, and scarlet flickers in Pietro's desperate blue eyes as Wanda — far away — rouses to her twin's distress, circling helplessly in worry in his head.

His fear increases, but not for himself. He must keep her calm. He must not worry her. Shhhh, he breathes back across their link, even as the collar twists tighter. He chokes as he reassures her. Go back to bed. Everything is fine.

Eventually, Erik finally deigns to approach him with his full attention. To expect his obedience. To look upon him with disgust… despising to see a face so like his own, wearing such a look of weakness. Pietro could give in, could cave, but Wanda's fear in his mind is a stark and continual reminder of the price of his weakness. It will be taken out on her.

So he makes a non-answer. His father shuts off his air in response. Pietro automatically reaches for the metal vicing his neck in blind panic, only for his wrists to be captured and nailed down. The right one is twisted until it snaps.

He isn't even permitted the breath to scream aloud. Instead, his reaction to the agony is a bright-red, bloody pulse through his mental landscape. Even through the pain, he remembers enough to fear; this no doubt will draw Wanda again. She will be upset. She might do something, and draw their father's attention to her in turn.

For her, her brother's presence is nothing but reassuring. Everything, Pietro's ragged mental voice promises, is fine, Wanda. Nothing to worry about. You remember the water? Think about the water. I will take you there, someday.

But here and now, before his father, he finally lets his head bow, eyes dropping, his body language finally crumpling into clear submission.

Blue eyes meet their perfect mirror in shape and colour. Father looks down on son.

And Erik savours the burn of scotch on his throat as he waits out Pietro's slow choking; a leisurely punishment to prove just how little patience he has for pithy remarks. He is ruler of a world without equal or contention; King Magnus has all in the time in the world to torture.

The ruler in him, suffocating and dominating, watches the prince with disapproval and expectation to be heeded. The conquerer, however —

Glints something beyond the steel in his pale eyes. Not quite hope, but close — invitation, for the son, to fight back as they both know he could. Invitation for Pietro to declare his first and final act of war, sever himself enemy of the Magnus name, and turn his power back on his father. He knows his boy will not, but cannot help but wonder how it would be if he could.

So long has Magneto suffered this patient atrophy. So long since he fought.

There is reason enough, and Erik is certain. Reason in just one detail that Pietro has neglected, thus far, to tell him — even in fear, even in pain. A detail even he believes not many would know, and his son suspects the same of him.

Not too long ago, up in his daughter's cage — there was a flicker in the metal. No one reported seeing or sensing anything amiss. But he felt it. Atoms gone far past rearranging. Disappeared, then brought back.

Scarlet burns highways of fire all through Pietro's mind, pathing from thought to thought — reading each and fanning hotter. Wanda comes to her twin brother's call — involuntary, implicit, as are things between linked minds — and draws ephemeral hands over his fear, over his hurt, over his straining. Her worry flares red behind the backs of his eyes. She begs his name. She begs to know what's wrong. She begs to fix it. She begs to be with him. She can speak simple words and be with him —

He bids her to bed. His thoughts stroke hers, calm and strong, even as he chokes for breath; Wanda relents, unsure, though with him, she defers always to obey.

Her presence retracts — until a starflare of pain whites out his synapses, and her concern blooms anew. She feels along, trying to see through him what's happening, but his murmurs — his reassurances — are an impassable barrier. Her power surges through his mind, trying to balm the pain, trying to learn what is happening to him, because he's hurt, he's hurt, he's been hurt somehow, and he — bids her to think about the water.

Wanda gentles, uncertain, but hopeful. He will take her there, he promises. Someday, he says through pain. Pietro, she answers. Pietro —

"Pietro," cuts the voice of the king. That impure, alloyed gold lets the prince go, falling dismissively off his throat, off his shattered wrist, in cold rejection. They ring harmlessly on the marble floor.

"That will be all. Close the door behind you when you leave." Erik weighs his son's submission with one last look, one last apprisal of his pale eyes, before he turns his back on it all. Things remain as they should be.

"And cover your wrist."

For all the things Pietro does know about his father's nature, he has no awareness of that dark impulse that flickers briefly in the mirrored blue eyes which watch him now. He expects the command of a king and father awaiting his submission, to be sure… but he does not expect the gaze of a conqueror who waits, almost eager, to see if he will be challenged.

A conqueror who almost yearns for his son to stand up, declare war, and give him a fight. It's been so long since Magneto warred against any opponent, and should not his own flesh and blood be able to give him something worth battling? He knows the powers of each of his children. He knows his son could shiver the metal apart if he wanted to — accelerate its molecular structure past any hope of retaining its integrity as metal.

But Pietro will not. Erik knows he will not. His son wants something different of him, something that died out of him decades ago, and which no longer exists to be given.

So the prince submits. He refuses to fight his father, to use his powers against him. …For now. All people have their eventual breaking points.

Wanda circulates worriedly in Pietro's mind, her movements like the fitful fluttering of a small bird's wings against cage bars. Her brother takes her in psychic hands and quiets her, even as his vision whites out with agony and asphyxiation. Whatever calm he has left he gives to her. No need to fix it. No need to come to him. No need to leave her cage. They will only suffer more for it.

She reaches to try to discern what has happened to him. He bars her gently even as he's finally dropped, set loose of that shackling metal. He lands awkwardly on his broken wrist, and almost blacks out from the pain. His sister's calling voice, begging his name, brings him back — until it is drowned out under the stronger voice of their father.

He dismisses his son.

Shakily, Pietro rises. His eyes turn to his father's back, and for a moment his irises are the unreadable, inscrutable blue of thin sea ice.

Then he blinks his gaze away. He pulls up his collar, pulls down his sleeve, and lifts his head to leave. The crown prince is allowed to evince no visible weakness when the world looks upon him. No frailty must be suspected of this dynasty.

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