Title: Cognitive Dissonance
Word Count: 2,737
Summary: Erik and Charles discuss the future of mutant-human relations.
Warnings: philosophy quoting, smoking
A/N: This might be the most self-indulgent thing I've ever written, aside from some Plato/Phaedo porn I wrote last year. If philosophy and pretty boys arguing with each other and calling each other out on informal fallacies is your thing, then you're in luck! That's my thing, too! And that's pretty much all this fic is. D:
I'm actually even going to cross-post this to symposium_love ; that's how self-indulgent I'm feeling with this fic.
Erik sipped at his bourbon, watching as Charles said some final, witty thing to the young woman behind the bar. Nudging open the glass doors with his shoulder, Charles carried the three drinks back to where Erik was standing: against a railing, leaning causally under the star-studded night sky on the back porch of the bar. It was a nice place to drink and smoke: quite, intimate. It was a good choice of Charles'.
Downing his last bit of bourbon, Erik set the glass aside on the railing as he reached for Charles, taking two glasses out of his hands and setting them alongside his empty one on the railing. Charles smiled softly at him – a smile completely disparate from the one he had given the pretty young barmaid – and raised his glass. “Cheers, thank you,” he said.
Erik let his mouth twitch into something almost resembling a smile as he reached for his cigarettes in his inside jacket pocket. Slipping one into his mouth, he held the pack out for Charles. The other man took it after only a moment of for-show deliberation. Charles didn't smoke – unless Erik offered him a cigarette. In those cases, he had yet to turn Erik down.
The soft flare of firelight illuminated their faces for just a moment as Erik lit Charles' cigarette first, tucked between those two plump, red lips. While lighting his own cigarette, Erik watched those lips purse around the cigarette as Charles inhaled. Like a woman's lips – except no woman Erik knew had those lips without lipliners and plumpers and lipstick, and whatever other sort of alchemy women worked on their faces these days. No, Charles' lips were practically a mutation unto themselves: a rare, beautiful thing; a thing Erik liked to pretend Charles saved for him, and few others.
Without thinking Erik raised a hand to bat at the air around his head, as if that would keep Charles out. After the foolish gesture Erik had no other recourse but to glare at Charles, who only quirked his lips up into an amused smile around his cigarette. Charles reached up and plucked the cigarette from his mouth with two slender fingers, gesturing with it as he spoke, smoke floating from his mouth with every syllable. “As to what I was saying earlier: I wanted to reassure you that I'd be leaving the young man from today out of my report. I expect you'll be doing the same.”
Erik's spine stiffened, and he turned away from Charles. The bar overlooked a lake, which was now glistening with moon and starlight. Erik suspected the lake was manufactured. It had that look about it.
Charles arm was warm against Erik's as he moved next to him on the railing, two pairs of hands surrounded by glasses of bourbon and scotch clutching a pair of matching cigarettes. Except they weren't matching, anymore. Erik took deep lungfuls with every draw – someone had once jokingly told him he smoked like a Russian, back during his days in East Germany. Charles, on the other hand, smoked like a true English gentlemen: dainty little puffs that probably weren't enough to reach his larynx, much less his lungs. As a result, Erik's cigarette had burned down faster, the captured fire fueled by his inhalations. His cigarette was already a half centimeter shorter than Charles'.
“I do hope you understand that this isn't me condoning what you did,” Charles was continuing. “Rather, I'd be very deeply upset if the CIA decided that we shouldn't work together any longer, that you shouldn't be on this assignment.”
“We already found two,” Erik replied in his own defense. “And I have a feeling that next boy will want to come with us.”
Erik could see Charles nod in his peripheral vision. “True. Working for the CIA certainly is an agreeable alternative to prison.”
Erik snorted as he wrapped his fingertips around his fresh bourbon, cigarette wedged down near his knuckles. “Some may see it as exchanging one prison for another,” he mused into his glass, before taking a sip.
“You don't,” Charles pointed out. “See it as a prison, that is. Otherwise you wouldn't be here.”
“No.” Erik sat his bourbon down onto the railing before taking another drag from his cigarette. He held the smoke in his lungs for a moment, relishing in the feeling of fullness in his chest before exhaling slowly. “No,” he said again, words and smoke floating out into the night air from his mouth. “I see it as a mutually beneficial partnership. They want mutants, I want information on Shaw. And maybe some help distracting his underlings when I do find him.”
Charles sighed: that heavy, tired sigh he employed every time their conversations wound up back to Shaw – which they often did. What he eventually said, however, wasn't the typical tack his arguments took. “I don't understand how you can function under such cognitive dissonance. You talk about the superiority of mutants, about how the humans are a relic of the past, useless antiquated things. And yet your quest to destroy Shaw-”
“I'm going to kill Shaw because he killed my mother,” Erik cut in. He shot a vicious look at Charles, who looked steadily right back, leaning on his forearms like this was the easiest conversation in the world. “Not because of his worldview.”
Charles glanced down at his cigarette, and, in seeing it burned down to the filter, tossed it out over the edge of the porch. He turned back to Erik, earnestness in his expression. “Oh, no, I understand that perfectly. Goodness knows I'm not going to accuse you of cognitive dissonance when it comes to your mother. Every man deserves a pass for something as horrific as that.”
Erik lit another cigarette for himself, not offering one to Charles. He wouldn't want another one so soon. “But you're still going to try and stop me from killing Shaw,” Erik mumbled around his cigarette as he lit it. It was a statement, not a question.
“Would you love me if I didn't?”
Erik sucked in a lungful of smoke, and didn't answer. He couldn't, because Charles was so painfully correct in his knowledge. And of course, the answer would just be another point on Charles' side of the cognitive dissonance argument. Instead he let Charles' big blue eyes capture his, watched them shine with sympathy and love – too much love, too soon, but Charles was just like that – in the dim light on the porch.
“No,” Charles continued. “What I mean when I say you function under staggering amounts of cognitive dissonance is this: you have experienced persecution, the worst possible persecution in your lifetime. You have seen what happens when eugenics runs rampant. And yet you promote eugenics yourself. You've seen what happens when one groups proclaims their superiority to another, and yet you proclaim mutants as superior.”
“You've already said it yourself: we are the better men.”
“No, my friend. That is not what I meant, and you damn well know it.” Charles' hand slapped down on the wood railing, rattling the drinks in their glasses. Erik dropped his eyes, watching the ripples in his glass spread out to the sides and ceased existing as they made contact with the glass. Sometimes, on nights like tonight – nights after he had threatened a man into giving him information on Shaw; nights after Charles had to mentally drag him away, to keep him from killing another man – Erik didn't want to really argue with Charles. Some nights it was just easier to straw man Charles' positions, to purposefully and obviously miss his point.
Charles' fingers smoothed over the polished wood, wiping at the grain. They traced around his glass, wiping at the condensation that was accumulating on the wood. Erik watched this calming ritual out of the corner of his eye, taking drags from his cigarette in uneven intervals as he waited. Finally he took a breath and continued. “I meant that we have it within us to stay on the moral high ground. Not that we were born better. Not that we're better because of our mutations. Every man, mutant or not, has it within him to be a better man than his enemy. That is what I meant.”
Erik flicked his cigarette over the edge of the porch, watching the pinpoint glow spin away through the darkness. It was only half finished, but Charles' holier-than-thou speeches always left a bitter taste in his mouth, and no appetite for indulgences. “Claiming the superiority of mutants – which you even admit to when you call us the 'next stage in evolution'-” Erik waited until Charles nodded his head in begrudging acquiescence before continuing. “Extolling the virtues of a categorically superior group of individuals based on scientifically verifiable criteria is a far cry from equating Nazis and myself.”
Turning into Erik, Charles rested an easy hand on his shoulder. Erik turned into him almost against his will – psychic abilities or no, Charles had that way about him. Kind eyes met his when Erik dared to look over at him. “When people are hunted down and killed because of something they have no control whatsoever over – the nature of their birth – then you become akin to Nazis, Erik. That is where I draw the comparison.”
“They are doing that very thing to us!” Erik shook off Charles' hand only to reach out and grip his shoulder, harder and fiercer than Charles' fingers had been on his. “It happened to me once,” he growled, eyes darting across Charles' face. “I'm not letting it happen again.”
Charles' eyes were filled with sympathy – not righteous anger or indignation as Erik would so much prefer. “So you'll make the first move, then? Strike first, before they have the chance?”
“Yes. As Hobbes said: The life of man is one marked by continual fear, and danger of violent death; it is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Charles smirked in that oh-so-English condescending way he could when he chose too. “And if you cared to quote two lines earlier, you would know that Hobbes was talking about man in a perpetual state of war. This was the man who lived according to the laws of nature, who never found it within himself to pull society up from the fires of nature and into the light of civil discourse. My friend, we can be the ones to tug humanity up to its greatest heights.”
Erik's arm rippled as he shoved at Charles' shoulder, sending the smaller man back a foot. “Don't you dare quote Nietzsche at me.”
Charles' eyes went wide at his faux pas, before softening in the face of Erik's anger. When Erik glared at him anew in the face of his pity, Charles quickly changed tack, expression settling into a more professorial one. “You know, there have been recent recoveries of his unedited works that indicate he was actually sympathetic toward the Jewish peoples. His sister, apparently, edited his works to make them more appealing to the Führer.”
Erik remained unimpressed. The look he gave Charles expressed as much.
“Well then how will it happen, Charles?” Erik turned around, leaning back on his forearms with the railing at his back. Tilting his head to Charles, Erik allowed a smirk to dance across his features. “In what sort of groovy, pacifist way do you see mutants becoming the dominant race and eliminating the humans?”
Charles seemed to consider this question quite seriously, a gleam in his eyes. Erik should have known better than to ask Charles how to build his utopia: now they'd be out here all night discussing it. Then again... Erik met Charles' eager gaze, and smiled back. If he was being impossibly honest and giving himself over to frivolous romance, Erik might admit that he could listen to Charles being stupidly naïve well into the night.
“The key would be interbreeding,” Charles started slowly. Erik's smirk grew more lascivious, prompting Charles to nudge his shoulder sharply against Erik's. “Interbreeding,” he continued, unfazed, “would be vital. The dominant alleles of our mutation will be expressed over the recessive alleles of the non-mutant population, so that over generations, slowly but surely, more and more mutants will become the expressed allele, until we're the majority. It won't necessarily eliminate the non-mutant gene, until it starts being selected against.”
“But what if we're selected against, instead of the humans?” Erik cut in. He turned into Erik, one arm still resting on the railing, his left cutting through the air to underscore his words. “You don't think the humans will fight their own extinction? You don't think we'll see movements rise up, talking about keeping the bloodlines pure, rioting against mutant-human interbreeding?”
Charles' posture was mirroring Erik's: left arm on the railing, right reaching out to to caress Erik's shoulder. Erik shrugged it off, but Charles reached out again, gripping Erik's shoulder tighter. Erik let him have the bit of contact. “Those people who think like that: The Nazis, the Klan, the homophobes and mutantphobes and all of them: they're just a minority, my friend. The majority will see sense. There's no use getting worked up over a minority of people whose voices will get drowned out by reason.”
“We're the minority, Charles!” Erik clasped Charles' elbow, staring into his eyes: as if that would help get his point across any better, when Charles refused to see sense. “You always ignore that fact. We're the ones whose voices get drowned out. We're the ones they could wipe out without a single noise of contention from your rational majority. We're the endangered ones here, Charles. And we're the ones that are going to have to fight them to survive. And as Herbert Spencer so eloquently boiled down Darwin's more delicately-phrased theories: it's survival of the fittest. And I refuse to let myself be steamrolled once more when some people's party declares me 'unfit'.”
Abruptly the mood between them changed: one moment, Erik needed Charles to understand him, to agree, to join him in his fight for the future of the superior race. The next, the lighting changed, and Erik saw Charles' expression for what it was: sad, tired, unwilling to continue this fight right here, right now.
Erik released Charles' elbow in favor of stroking his fingertips down the underside of Charles' arm. A ghost of a smile was his reward. “I'm tired.” Erik's voice was a whisper, the same as his fingers ghosting along Charles' arm. “Let's save this for another day.”
Charles smiled, moving closer to Erik with and easy step. “I will take you up on that, you know,” he teased.
With only the slightest glances at the panes of glass in the doors and windows of the bar to see if anyone was paying close attention to the two men alone on the porch, Erik leaned in and pressed a brief kiss to the corner of Charles' eye. Charles' entire body leaned into the contact, but Erik pulled away before either of them could be tempted into making it any more. Erik placed his hand high on Charles' back, just at the base of his neck. “Come on,” he said, encouraging Charles forward with soothing fingers kneading into the muscles and tendons beneath his hand. “I can think of a better way to end the evening than us arguing.”
Charles started forward, letting Erik guide him around the side of the building and to their government-issued car in the parking lot. “And tomorrow will be a new day,” Charles mused. Their polished loafers were growing damp as they crunched over dew-wet grass on the side of the bar, but neither man seemed to care very much. “A chance for new opinions.”
“Indeed,” Erik fired back, eyebrows raised toward his hairline. Charles smiled. His eyes glittered bright blue even in the dim light afforded to them by the few streetlights scattered in the parking lot. Their steps fell in unison as they walked to the car.