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Still Breathing

Chapter Text

They came at dawn.

Silent and organized.

Charles was in his bedroom reading through his classes essays. He’s found it harder to fall asleep in the past couple of years. His mind has only allowed him to get a couple hours of sleep at night.

There was a thump somewhere in the house soft enough to mistake it as a student sneaking out of their room. Charles checked the house, but his mind didn’t find anyone out in the hallways.

When he heard the distant screaming he set his papers down and connected with a boy down in the first floor. The boy and his roommate were sitting up in their beds and looking at the wide open door. In the doorway stood the silhouette of a man with a gun pointed at them. He wore some sort of helmet that was probably the reason Charles hadn’t sensed them entering. Charles broke the connection and quickly reached down and took the brakes off of the wheelchair.

There are too many mutants in one place. The school was obviously a big target. Charles and the older staff would have to fight the men off somehow. Charles would never forgive himself if these kids were killed under his protection. As he was about to make it out the door, Hank burst in with a hectic look on his face.

“Go, they’re on the first floor in the east wing, I’ll be right behind you,” Charles told him.

Hank nodded and took off, the sound of a roar fading as distance was put between them. Charles made it out into the hallway and saw the faces of concerned students poking out from their rooms.

“Go back into your rooms, if someone comes up use the emergency exit tunnels!” The students scrambled back and closed the doors, the panic and alarm that filled his head was almost overwhelming. He took deep breaths trying not to let it get to him. He was still trying to strengthen his mind after what happened two years ago.

“Professor!”

Charles turned and saw Alex Summers running down the hall toward him.

Alex had come back to the school once Charles had reopened it. They’d sent him home after the Vietnam war, he came for a visit to see how Charles was doing, and decided to stay. Charles thought that being around people would be good for Alex. He was great to have around, although he and Hank tend to try and rough each other up when they’re left alone for too much time. Alex teaches art, which came as a surprise for Charles. It didn’t really seem to be the sort of thing that Alex was into, but watching him work was astounding.

“What is it? What’s happened?” Charles asked.

“Stryker. He found us,” Alex said.

Charles’ eyebrows furrowed and he asked, “How is that possible?”

“I don’t know, but he definitely recognized me when he came in.”

“Take me to the lift please.”

Alex went around Charles, grabbed the handles, and quickly walked towards the other end of the hall.

“Where’s Hank?” Worry filled Charles and he was starting to get headache from all the jumbled emotions his mind was accepting. It was like being too many people at the same time.

“He’s downstairs trying to fight them off. They’re taking the kids,” Alex said, panic starting to become evident in his voice. He was usually really good at keeping his voice even, but nothing like this had ever happened to them before.

“I’ll meet you downstairs, go help Hank.” Charles got into the lift as Alex ran off.

It was impossible for Stryker to know where the Xavier mansion was located. Moira’s mind had been erased and the students were warned of what might happen if the address was revealed to the wrong people. Of course Raven and Erik knew, but they wouldn’t release information that could possibly hurt their own.

It was a mess once he got downstairs. Hank and Alex could only hold off so many. Students were forced out of their rooms and they tried to join the fight, but they were not ready and still in the process of learning to control their powers. Stryker’s men on the other hand came prepared. When Charles tried to access their minds he was barred from doing so with the helmets that they were wearing. It was Erik all over again.

The rest of the staff was fighting off men on the top floors and trying to guide the children to the escape tunnels.

They had guns and Charles let the fear take over. He swore to protect these children, but he wasn’t Erik. He couldn’t control metal. One of the men had a young girl who was barely 12 years old cornered and a gun aimed at her. Her name was Emily. Charles connected with her mind and tried to warn her.

Run, Emily! Use you powers!

Emily’s body flickered in and out of sight. She had the power of invisibility, but she had only been at the school for a month.

I can’t! Professor!

When the shot was fired, Charles let out a horrified yell, “No!”

Emily body collapsed, but there was no blood. Instead of bullets Stryker’s men were using darts filled with some sort of serum. When realization hit him Charles let out a relieved sigh. The man hiked Emily over his shoulder and started for the door. There were other men coming down the stairs carrying other unconscious students as well. Charles tried to think. He reached out to the crowd in the front entrance of the house hoping to find a vulnerable mind, but no luck.

Hank and Alex were fighting back to back. Hank throwing punches and Alex shooting plasma blasts from his hands and chest. Even though they’d never admit it, they were a good team.

Suddenly Hank head jerked to the and a dark jutted out of the side of the neck and everyone suddenly stopped to watch the Beast go down.

But he never did. He pulled the dart from his neck and gave a loud, frustrated roar. He stuck the dark in the nearest soldier’s neck and he quickly fell in a heap to the floor. Alex used the distraction to land an uppercut on another man causing him to lose the helmet.

“Charles!” Alex yelled and continued to punch his way through Stryker’s team.

Charles was already on it. He took over the man’s mind and coaxed him to point the gun at his own team and start firing. He managed to take down three men. Hank and Alex started taking the helmets off of the men on the floor and Charles was able to turn the team against each other.

In a matter of minutes Charles had control over half of the team and rest were on the floor with darts lodged in their necks. Hank and Alex still stood in a fighting stance, but they soon relaxed to catch their breaths.

“How many did they take?” Charles asked fearing the answer.

“Around fifteen students. They’re hauling them into a helicopter out in the field. Alex and I will go get them,” Hank said.

They started for the door when suddenly there was a click and Charles was flung out of his chair by an invisible force. He landed hard on the floor at the bottom of the steps and lost the connection he had with the team.

“Professor!” Alex and Hank started to charge at his attacker but before they were able to there was another click and same sort of force-field hit them in the chest. They soared in the air and struck the opposite wall. They fell and didn’t get up.

Charles lifted his head and spotted William Stryker standing over him holding a large gun with a metal plate at the end of the barrel. He had a determined look on his face as he pressed a couple buttons towards the back of the gun. Charles looked around and knew it was hopeless. His chair was overturned ten feet away from him and Hank and Alex were groaning on the ground holding their heads in pain.

He tried to take control the minds of Stryker’s team again, but when Stryker realized what he was doing he pointed the gun at his own men and fired, sending them flying through the air. Then he was back to fiddling with his gun.

Charles looked back at Stryker who was now pointing the gun at him. They made eye contact for a second and Charles could see the hatred in his eyes. He realized that they didn’t have a chance with a man like Stryker, not now. He would never stop and whatever motivated him do something like this was enough to keep him going for years to come. Charles had a feeling that Stryker would become a dangerous enemy in the future.

Charles heard the click of the gun and suddenly his mind was flooded with too many voices all speaking at once. He screamed and covered his ears hoping to drown it out. It was like he climbed into the minds of thousands, humans and mutants. He sensed their pain, their happiness, their hatred all at once. His body stopped feeling like his. He thrashed around. It was too loud. He felt everything, saw everything, and it felt like he was stretching his mind to far and it was about to split. He screamed in agony and when he felt like the pain would never stop he blacked out.

----

Charles woke up in his bedroom. Sunlight streamed through the window and he shielded his eyes. He had a massive headache. He has never had a hangover in his life due to his mutation, but this aching in his head is what he thought a hangover might feel like.

There was a huge problem. It was too quiet. No, it wasn’t too quiet, it was silent. Charles’ mind was never silent. Charles felt panic starting to rise up, but forced himself to calm down. He felt so vulnerable, like his walls had been knocked down and a thousand eyes were now watching him. Charles never realized how much he relied on his powers. He felt like his own body was keeping him hostage.

He looked around. Considering the events that occurred that morning (Or the morning before? Who knows how long he’s been out.) his bedroom looked peaceful. He looked around and there right beside the bed sat his wheelchair. Charles furrowed his eyebrows. This didn’t feel right. It’s like nothing even happened.

He pulled himself onto his wheelchair, but everything sounded so loud. Without all the voices and thoughts, his movements are ten times louder. He entered the vacant hallway. The time on his watch read 2:15. It was school hours, but there were no students to be found. Charles tried to reach out with his mind to see if there was anyone in the mansion, but when he tried the headache increased and there was loud ringing causing Charles to hold his head in his hands and let out a pained grunt.

He quit trying and made his way to the elevator. On the first floor he finally heard the chatter of students. They were surrounded by the damage caused to the front entrance. The chandelier had fallen and the tables and chairs were overturned.

Charles pushed himself toward the crowd hoping to catch a glimpse of Hank or Alex.

“Hank?” he called, “Alex?”

Everyone fell silent and turned to look at Charles. After a few seconds both Hank and Alex pushed their way through the students.

“Charles. How are you feeling?” Hank asked.

“Fine, but I have a major headache. What the hell happened? How many did they take?” Charles said rubbing his temples. The students started to spread out and clean up the wreckage.

“They took 13 kids. After Stryker knocked you out he blasted us again, took his men and left on a helicopter,” Alex said shaking his head.

“How did he know where to find us?” Charles asked.

“I have no idea,” Hank said, “But we can try to use Cerebro to try and locate where he took the mutants.”

“I can’t use my powers.”

Hank fell silent, you could almost picture the gears turning in his head. Then, “I think it’s because he forced you to stretch your powers to the limit. The gun he used was like a smaller version of Cerebro. It enhanced your powers, but it did it without your consent and you lost control of your telepathy. If you hadn’t passed out it could’ve killed you. Professor, they now have a weapon that could possibly control your mind,” Hank explained.

It was dead silent while they tried to process it, then Charles asked, “But how could he have the technology and knowledge to build that?”

“We don’t know.”

“Let’s get down to Cerebro and try to locate the students,” Charles said starting to wheel back toward the elevator and hoping to forget about the weapon.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea. You mind is still trying to heal and if you try and use it now it could-”

Hank was cut off by the pounding at the door. They turned to look, but nobody moved. Most were still shaken by the morning's events. They waited hoping their visitor would leave. After a couple of dead silent seconds the lock started to turn by itself. Charles braced himself in his chair and Alex and Hank crouched low in front of Charles ready for a fight. The door burst open and Erik Lehnsherr stumbled in, but there was something wrong. He was limping, and his neck was bleeding like someone had clawed at his throat. He had a black eye and bruises all over his arms.

He made eye contact with Charles, “Help me,” he whispered. Then fainted.

Chapter Text

Charles was in his study when he heard a soft knock on his door. His power had partially returned. It was enough for Charles to tell that Erik was waiting behind it. Charles knew the familiar brain waves Erik’s mind released. He hadn’t felt him in a long time and even when they were together, Erik had on that ridiculous helmet.

“Come in,” Charles called.

Erik stepped in and looked around the study with a look of curiosity, like he was seeing it for the first time, which he probably was. He hadn’t been around when he reopened the school. Charles watched him, he had changed so much. His face was covered in a thin layer of stubble and his hair had been cut short, but he looked far too skinny and the bruises looked even worse up close.

“How are you, Erik?” Charles asked worry evident in his voice.

Erik finally met his eyes, “Charles I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

Charles furrowed his eyebrows, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

“The attack,” Erik stepped forward, “Hank didn’t tell you?”

“No, I’ve been alone in the study since you passed out earlier. What’s happened to you?”

“It’s a long story,” Erik said.

“Come sit,” Erik sat in the chair in front of the desk and Charles rolled his wheelchair around the desk to sit next to him. Erik turned his chair so they were face to face, knees almost touching, “Now start from the beginning.”

Erik took a deep breath, rubbed a hand down his face, and started, “It was after Washington D.C.,” Charles grimaced, he hated thinking about that day, “I found a safe place up in Canada. A small town. No one knew who I was. I wanted to start over. I found a job and I managed to start a new life.

“It was like that for a couple months. I was always worried that the people in the town would realize, but they never did. I stopped keeping up my guard up after a year passed. Then one day I felt like someone was watching me. That night I was attacked in my cabin. They were prepared. No metal, plastic darts. They took me by surprise and they easily took me out. I woke up on an experimenting table in a facility in the middle of nowhere. Then Stryker walks in. He wants to know where you and the rest of the mutants are. Where your hiding them. When I refused he started…he started to torture me. And I just couldn’t take it anymore, I told him everything. I’m sorry Charles. I’m so sorry.”

Charles put his hand on Erik’s thigh. So it was Erik who gave away the location of the school, and probably the information of Cerebro as well, “ It’s not your fault. He forced you to relive a terrible memory. Anyone of us would do anything to make it stop.”

Charles knew what Erik had gone through with Sebastian Shaw. Being in the hands of William Stryker couldn’t have been much different, especially with Stryker’s hate for mutants.

Erik covered Charles’ hand on his knee with his own and Charles’ heart gave a little leap. That little action brought feelings that Charles had buried long ago. Erik said, “Even without reading my mind you know exactly how I feel.”

Charles put his free hand on Erik’s shoulder then gave a gentle squeeze. Then he remembered Erik’s wounded neck. He reached up and carefully caressed the irritated skin there, “What happened here?”

“Charles,” he said with a sad sigh. Erik took Charles’ hand and placed it down on his lap and held to both of his hands tightly, “I wasn't the only mutant they had in custody. They treated us like dogs. They put collars around our necks. Whenever we tried to use our powers the collars would shock us. Some of the guards liked to mess around with us for fun. They didn’t see us as people in that place.”

Charles stared at Erik in shock, then asked, “Erik, how did you escape?”

“The collars. They don’t stop you from using your powers, they just emit pain when you try to. I had a guard who like to fool around with me when it was time to deliver food. He also stupidly left the door open.”

Charles tried to look into Erik’s mind and find the memories and surprisingly he was able to. He realized that Erik was allowing him to and brought the memories forward for easy access. He saw Erik trapped in a plastic cell. Dressed in grey and wounded. There were bruises all over his face and a plastic collar was wrapped tightly around his neck. It was a small cell. No windows, only a security camera in the corner, a bed, and a single light. He heard footsteps out in the hallway and the locks on the door becoming undone. Erik jumped to his feet and placed himself right beside the door. He felt Erik’s fear and skepticism about what he was about to do. But he was tired of it. At this point to worst thing they could do to him was kill him.

The door unlocked and in walked the guard. He was was carrying a small tray and a smug expression. He stopped and his expression turned to one of confusion. Erik used the distraction as a chance to attack. He came at the guard from behind and wrapped his arms around his head. As the guard struggles to unstrap the remote from his belt Erik moved his hand under the guards chin and the other over his forehead. He gave a sharp twist, here was a crack, and the guards body toppled to the floor.

Erik loomed over him and took the remote. He threw it on the floor and crushed it when he saw that there was no way to power off the collar. He took the gun off the guard and started for the door. Outside his cell was an empty hallway. He noticed another camera and took it out with the gun. In a couple of minutes this hallway was going to be filled with armed soldiers. He ran down the corridor that branched out into a T and stopped before turning. He listened for footsteps and when he heard none he turned right and continued down the hallway. He would have to figure out how to get the collar off somehow. All he had to defend himself was a gun that only held a couple of plastic bullets. When he turned the next corner he felt a glimmer of hope. He had not come across any soldiers.

Of course that hope was extinguished when he turned the next corner. He came across half a dozen soldiers each holding the same gun he was. Their leader yelled, “Fire!” and bullets exploded from their guns. Out of pure instinct, Erik pulled a metal panel from the wall and shielded himself. He let out a pained scream as the collar activated and sent shocks throughout his body. Once the metal had caught all the bullets Erik dropped it and scrambled back the way he came from, clawing at the collar.

He ran as fast as he could trying to recover from the aftershocks. His shoulders felt numb and he found that he couldn’t raise his arms without a jolt of pain running down his spine. Once he had made it back to the hallway that had held his cell he ran past it in the opposite direction he had first turned. He was aware of the distant footsteps and yells the way he had come from. He ran even faster. The only way out of that corridor was up some steps. He climbed and climbed until he reached the top level and then continued to run through that corridor. After a while he the hallway opened up into a big control room with computer stacked on top of each other. There were two guards sitting in chairs and manning the computers.

“Hey!” The one on the right yelled when he noticed Erik. Both of the guards turned their attention and reached for their belts. Erik aimed his gun and took them both down before they could even unstrap the holster.

Erik noticed a map of the corridor system in the corner of the room. He ran over and took a quick look and tried to memorize the turns he had to take to get out of here. He continued running when he heard the footsteps get louder. The pain from the previous shocks was starting to ware off. He put all he had in sprinting down the corridors. He turned right, then left, then left, and so on. When he made one of the last turns he noticed a sign on the ceiling labeled “EXIT” with an arrow pointing to a short corridor.

“Convenient,” Erik muttered to himself.

When he was halfway to the door, several guards appeared from the other end of the hallway. He jerked to a halt when a shot was fired and nearly hit him, just barely grazing his left arm. The bullet tore through a thin layer of flesh and he brought a hand up to stop the bleeding. He gasped in pain and turned around but the guards who had been chasing after him finally caught up, blocking the way he had come from. He was surrounded.

“Drop the weapon and we won’t fire!” Yelled one of the soldiers from the other end of the hall.

Erik thought it was over. He should’ve known that this small taste of freedom wasn’t going to last. He thought about the other mutants who were holed up in their own cells. Back when Stryker was experimenting on him he’d come across other mutants as he was being transferred from the experimenting table to his cell. He knew that the stuff Stryker was doing to him wasn’t as bad as some other mutants. Mostly to the ones that had visible mutations. Stryker was probably cutting them open. No, he can’t give up. He shouldn’t give up. If he makes it out that door, he could come back with reinforcements and save the rest. Right now, he’s their only hope.

Erik dropped the weapon and waited till the guards had put their own guns away. He raised his hands above his head and screamed when the collar around his neck sent painful pulses throughout his body. But he couldn’t let that stop him.

“Hey! Stop that! We won’t hesitate to shoot!” Erik could barely hear them over the pain and the amount of concentration it took to take control of the metal.

Erik’s knees buckled and he dropped to the floor, but did not let go of his concentration. It felt like his entire body was on fire. He felt like the collar was burning through his skin. With a yank he brought pieces of the ceiling down on top of the soldiers.

Erik collapsed. He couldn’t move. He was dizzy and he felt like he was about to puke. His body twitched uncontrollably and shivered. Erik laid there waiting until the after shocks passed. He blacked out for a couple of minutes. When he came to, he was laying in a puddle of his own blood and vomit.

When the dust cleared, both the entrances the soldiers had come through were blocked with pieces of rubble. Erik struggled to his knees, every muscle in his body shaking and screaming at him to lay back down. Erik crawled to the wall and used it to hoist himself up. He stumbled the rest of the way to the exit sign and turned the corner. Ten feet away sat a rusted metal door. When Erik got to the door he grabbed ahold of the wheel used to open the door to keep his balance. Once he caught his breath Erik grabbed the wheel tightly and pulled. He pulled and pulled and pulled until the wheel finally turned just and inch and Erik almost collapsed with relief. He pulled again and turned the wheel another inch, then another, and then another. Soon Erik was shoving the door open. He threw himself across the door and as it opened he fell face first into the snow.

Erik let out a small laugh that turned into a crazy fit of laughter. He was free. When he opened his eyes he yelped and closed them again. Being under artificial light for weeks had not prepared him for the harsh rays of the sun. He shielded his eyes and picked himself up from the ground. He made it out, but he was sure he’d come back to unleash hell.

----

Charles sat in his chair looking at Erik in amazement, he wiped the tears that had sprung loose and said, “Erik, you are one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. Thank you for coming back, my friend.”

“Thank you Charles, for letting me come back,” Erik said and engulfed Charles in a bone crushing hug. When he let go he asked, “So what’s the plan. Where do we go on from here?”

“I think we should wait a couple of days until I’ve regained my powers. Then you, me-”

“You’re coming with?” Erik asked.

“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?” Erik’s gazed shifted downward and Charles didn’t need to read his mind to know what he was thinking, “Just because I’m in a wheelchair doesn’t mean I can’t provide any assistance to the mission.”

Erik shook his head, “Right, sorry, that was stupid of me. I just-I look at that wheelchair and I’m reminded of what happened that day in Cuba.”

“Erik,” Charles says and reaches out to place his hand over Erik’s, “That’s behind us. It was an accident. You were defending yourself. I forgive you. That was years ago, we can’t blame ourselves for something that we did over ten years ago. People change and learn from their mistakes.”

“I left you Charles. I left you that day on the beach and I left you in D.C. Why would you forgive me for that? I abandoned you and the X-Men. I left you alone, trapped inside this goddamn house for years. I should’ve stayed.”

Erik’s eyes glazed over with unshed tears. Charles sighed and leaned back in his chair, they had never had time to talk about this, “We see the world in different ways, Erik. You did what you felt was right. You left because you didn’t agree with what you were leaving behind. I don’t blame you for that.”

“I didn’t feel like I belonged with you. You were too good.”

“There’s so much more to you that you know. Erik, do you remember one of the first things I said to you when we first met,” Erik stared at Charles, “ I told you that you are not alone. You need to understand, Erik, that people like us need to stick together. Erik, we might have our differences, but it’s our love for our friends and each other that bonds us together.”

“Thank you Charles.” Erik slid his hand from where Charles’ had gripped it again, “It’s late, I’ll see you tomorrow morning. Goodnight,” Erik squeezed Charles’ shoulders. He stood up and left the office.