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A Thousand Tomorrows

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"Listen to me very carefully, my friend," Charles starts, but whatever point he was working towards dies unsaid as the doors to the library slam open. Sean -- Banshee -- lurches in with a panicked expression. Erik springs to his feet; Charles just blinks.

"What day is it?" Banshee demands.

Erik exchanges a baffled look with Charles. "Uh," Charles manages to say.

Banshee comes closer. "What. Day. Is. It." Every word rings clear, and there's no doubt about what he's asking.

There's a lot of doubt as to why, but Erik gives a one-shouldered shrug and tells him.

"Oh thank God." Banshee falls to his knees and starts to laugh, with an edge of hysteria. "Geez, it worked, I can't-- they'll never-- it worked," and his head drops down. "God," he says again.

Charles looks at Erik, trying to convey by expression that it isn't really seemly to throttle any of the kids even when they're acting like utter lunatics; from the twist to Erik's mouth, he's not sure it works. "Sean," he said carefully.

Banshee gulps air and visibly gains control over himself. "Sorry. Sorry. I just -- we didn't know if it would --" He scrubs his face with both hands, and gets unsteadily to his feet. "This is going to sound weird as hell, and I'm sorry, but it's important that both of you listen. You guys are planning on going to Cuba tomorrow, right?"

Charles mouths 'you guys?' at Erik, who says with deceptive mildness, "We are, yes."

"Good. Just checking. Okay." Banshee takes in another breath. "I'm from the future, and both of you have to remember this: Whatever happens tomorrow, you have to keep us united. Whatever happens. Because there is something much, much worse coming."

"Er," Charles says. "What... what?"

Erik, standing shoulder to shoulder with him, has an edge of sharpened steel to his voice: "What exactly will happen tomorrow?"

Banshee grimaces, face flushing scarlet. "I, uh, I can't tell you. I'm not -- I'm only allowed to -- I can't say more, I really can't. I wish I could." He looks miserable. "Just promise me, both of you, promise me you'll remember. Please. It's important."

"I promise," Charles says.

"Thanks," Banshee says, and crumples to the ground in a dead faint.

(When he wakes, he has no memory of what just transpired, and Charles and Erik don't enlighten him.)

#

"Go ahead, Charles," Erik says, "tell me I'm wrong."

Charles brings his fingers to his temple, but he doesn't really need to. Beyond the turmoil of thoughts and emotions from those on the beach, he can feel the ominous rumble from the ships; the minds he can touch are at best indifferent, at worst full of fear and hate and kill them before they kill us.

He doesn't confirm what Erik said, but he doesn't need to. His silence is enough.

"Is this the 'worse' that Banshee warned us of?" Charles asks quietly, low enough that only Erik can hear.

Erik turns his head to face the ocean. "I don't know."

Brilliant sparks of light flicker on the horizon like the launching of fireworks, but they herald explosions that won't be quite so harmless.

#

He barely registers the sound of gunfire before his back explodes in a flare of white hot pain strong enough that he can't even cry out. Erik drops to his knees beside him, under him, rolling him onto his back. Charles's awareness, the fragment that he holds on to that isn't eclipsed by pain, distills to the familiar eyes and nose and grim-set mouth, bracketed by the unfamiliar helmet.

And then Erik looks up and says wrathfully, "You -- you did this," and reaches out one hand, and Moira gives a strangled cry.

Had it been her? Her bullets, her gun... no matter. Charles wants desperately to just let himself vanish into the pain that is threatening to overwhelm him, but he can't let Erik kill Moira. There's been enough blood already shed. "Please," he says, struggling to find the right words to snap Erik out of this deadly rage. "She didn't do this, Erik. You did."

He sees it register; Erik's face goes carefully blank, and he looks down at Charles, before his outstretched hand falters and lowers, and Erik sags in defeat.

"Us turning on each other, it's what they want." Erik's got one hand supporting Charles's head, one hand on his chest, the directness of his gaze as intimate as any kiss they'd shared. His voice is desperate, pleading with Charles: forgive me, believe me, stay with me. "We're brothers, you and I," he says, and it's truth, but it's also so pale a version of truth that it's almost a lie; brothers is the least of what they are. "We want the same thing," he says.

Charles has been battered and bruised and punched in the face and shot in the back, but the tears that come to his eyes have nothing to do with physical pain.

"My friend," he says, and it's on the tip of his tongue to say no, because they don't want the same thing, they never have; it's true that their goals aligned enough to make them partners in hunting Shaw down, but otherwise, everything about them is so very different. Everything they want is so very different.

And then he remembers the previous night, and Banshee's warning. Whatever happens...

"...something worse is coming," he says, and Erik shakes his head.

"He can't have meant this."

Keep us united.

"I'm not your enemy," Charles murmurs.

Erik's eyes don't even flicker; his expression is already opaque with the anticipation of loss. "No," he says, hoarse and raw, "but are you my friend?"

I'm your only friend, Raven's voice echoes in Charles's memory.

His consciousness wavers, and for a moment he is everyone standing on the beach: Raven, mutant and finally proud, and her desperate desire to not have to choose between the two of them; Hank, his appearance forgotten in the heat of battle; Sean and Alex, feeling the exultation of surviving and of winning fade under the reality that no one's won here; Angel, guilt at having to fight people she'd once called friends warring with anger about her damaged wings; Janos and Azazel, indifferent to human life and indifferent to Charles's life but needing a new leader to replace Shaw.

Erik, and the deafening silence that the helmet provides to Charles's power.

He struggles back to awareness, back to himself. Each breath is harder to take.

"Get me to a damn hospital," Charles says, "then we'll talk."

#

Erik does, but not immediately. He stands, lifting Charles with him, and starts speaking to the others, a sea of words that Charles doesn't pay much attention to. He's too busy trying not to pass out.

Eventually, he loses the battle.

#

He floats back to awareness in a haze of drugs and half-heard mental chatter. There's no particular need for him to move, or even open his eyes, and he reaches out lazily with his mind. Erik's mind is closest, and he doesn't want to talk but he manages to send a wordless telepathic nudge to wake him.

"Charles," Erik says, and the word is suffused with so much relief and so much wariness that Charles squints over at him.

"What happened?" His tongue feels thick and sluggish, his mouth is dry, his throat is raw, and the more awake he gets the more sensations he starts to register. He shifts, tries to sit up, but there are too many wires and tubes and blankets and half of his body isn't even responding. "Why -- why can't I feel my legs?"

Erik's head drops down, and he takes a shuddering breath. He's holding Charles's hand in his own -- has been, Charles realizes dimly, for a while -- and the contact is reassuring, but not reassuring enough. "You don't remember," he says slowly.

"Tell me what happened."

Erik looks at him for a very long time before he raises Charles's hand, first to his lips for a brief kiss, then to Charles's own temple. "See for yourself," he says in hoarse invitation, and Charles fights free of the drugs for long enough to slip into Erik's mind

....chaos and Shaw is dead Shaw is dead doesn't end there Charles I was right I don't want to be right and the metal is shining so brightly so warmly and he doesn't hate the humans not the way he hated Shaw but they want to kill him and they're nothing and he needs to keep the other mutants safe he's the only one who can and then and then...

Then pain, so very much pain, and Charles can feel his body shudder and spasm, out of his control.

"Charles," Erik says, but there are other voices overlapping, and an incessant high-rate beeping, and a flurry of activity around him, and something burns into his veins and brings oblivion with it.

#

Returning to consciousness this time is more of a struggle than anything else, fighting through mental cobwebs that just want to keep him trapped. Erik is at least there, an anchor for him to hold on to, mentally and physically; Charles realizes that he's got a white-knuckled grip on Erik's hand and forces himself to relax.

"Don't worry," Erik says. "You have to do more than that to break me."

"Sorry," Charles says.

"Don't," Erik says.

Charles looks at him, smudged shadows under his eyes and a wariness to his expression that hadn't been there before, a tautness to his whole being. It makes Charles exhausted just to see it, and he doesn't need to have any sort of telepathy to be able to imagine how Erik must be feeling.

Which is, all things considered, good, because whatever drugs are in his system have wrapped his telepathic abilities in fuzzy cotton, far stronger than the comfortable blurring effects of alcohol, and he doesn't know that he could read Erik's mind if he wanted to.

Charles tries to send a wordless feeling of love in Erik's direction, but isn't sure he's succeeded: Erik winces (not much, just a twinge around the corners of his eyes and mouth, but Charles knows him well enough to be able to see it) and looks away.

"Where," Charles croaks out. "Damn. Water?"

Erik leans over to the bedside table and grabs a translucent cup with a straw. One hand goes behind Charles's head, helping it stay up, while the other holds the cup in place. Charles drinks greedily, sucking in several mouthfuls of water that's impossibly cool and refreshing.

"Better?"

Charles nods, and lets his head drop back to the pillow. Erik's hand slips free but stays in the general vicinity, playing absently with Charles's hair.

Charles tries again: "Where are the others?"

"Raven's nearby." A ghost of a smile flits across Erik's face. "She didn't want to leave you, but I finally sent her to find somewhere to sleep. We've been taking turns. The others..." He sighs. "Our others are back at the mansion. I told them to wait there. Shaw's friends... well, they didn't tell me, though I suppose we can find them if we need to."

"Angel?" Charles asks, because he's not sure whether she counts as theirs or Shaw's.

"Went with them."

It stings, just a little, but Charles gives a halfhearted shrug. "So we're no better off than we were," he murmurs.

"We're alive." Erik's thumb rubs tiny circles on Charles's temple, smoothing away tension. "That's better than it could be."

"I suppose." Charles closes his eyes. Between the drugs and Erik's touch, it would be so easy to just drift. But something nags at him like an impatient toddler, and when he tries to shift his position just a little, it comes to him. "Erik. Why can't I move-- why can't I feel my legs?"

Erik is silent for a long time, before he draws in a sharp breath and sits up, looking about two feet above Charles's head. "Because of this," he says, and holds his palm out flat, a small metal object hovering inches above.

It's a used bullet, Charles realizes after a moment, scrunched out of shape by impact. Something in his lower back twinges. He shakes his head. "Hank designed the suits to be bulletproof--"

Erik's fingers close like a Venus fly-trap over the bullet, capturing it and taking it out of sight. "He did," he acknowledges neutrally. "And it worked. The bullet itself didn't penetrate anything."

"But...?" Charles prompts, and Erik's head droops a little.

"But it hit hard enough that... the doctors say there's bruising and swelling, and until the swelling goes down, until you have a chance to heal, they don't know what's permanent and what's not. There's every possibility that you will be perfectly okay," he adds, expression pleading with Charles to believe. "Just don't worry about it, all right?"

Charles brushes his mind, gleaning guilt (did it hit harder because I deflected it) and anger (goddamn humans and their guns) and despair (nothing will be the same again) and, mostly buried, a glimmering of love.

The last bit is what Charles tugs on, teasing it out of the tangled mess of Erik's mind. "We're brothers, you and I," he murmurs. "You weren't wrong, Erik."

"I wasn't exactly right."

"It doesn't matter." Charles takes one of Erik's hand in his, the loosely clenched fist that still holds the bullet. "As long as we're together, nothing else matters."

Erik swallows. "Together," he says uncertainly, the word not quite a question in itself. "Is that... are we..."

Of course, Charles thinks, always; but between one breath and the next he falls asleep, still holding Erik's hand.