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Enigma

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It leads the news in many nations, perhaps most. Charles Xavier, best-known advocate for mutant rights, has died after a brief battle with lymphoma. He passed away in his bed, the stories report, surrounded by his devoted students and friends. This detail is no doubt intended to be comforting.

Magneto, who reads this in a Buenos Aires café, can take no comfort. His hands tremble; the newspaper shakes.

“I think he was holding on. Waiting,” teacher Ororo Munroe is quoted as saying. “But finally he let go. Now he’s at peace.”

Magneto knows who Charles was waiting for, in vain.

The words of the newsprint become unreadable, and no matter how hard he blinks, no matter how hard he tries to focus on the greater implications of Charles’ death (what will the X-Men do now? Who leads them? Will they have as much trust from world governments?), his vision blurs again and again. Finally he puts the paper aside and surrenders, an anonymous old man weeping over his morning coffee. A few people glance his way with pity, and he can’t summon the energy to hate them for it.

**

Over the next few weeks, Magneto cannot come to terms with the fact that he did not go to Charles while he was ill. No, he didn’t understand the severity of Charles’ sickness, or how little time they had – but those true and just excuses don’t erase the thought of Charles lying on his deathbed, wishing for Erik, who never came.

Before long, he finds himself thinking that he can’t stand it.

That he won’t stand it.

He never mentions his idea to Mystique, the one person who might be able to talk him out of it. They speak of Charles’ death only briefly; she claims not to mourn him. Magneto concludes she’s telling the truth, and his depression deepens, as does his resolve.

The mutant called Mobius has been on his radar for some time, though he never thought to seek her services. Her gift is a dangerous one. A desperate measure – one Magneto is increasingly determined to take.

When he buys his ticket to Johannesburg, he considers sending a letter or email to Mystique explaining himself. But how ridiculous that impulse is.

If this works, she would never receive it – because they’d both be in a world where he never had reason to put it in the mail.

**

Mobius does not give him her real name. She might be any other sophisticated woman in Johannesburg, though lovelier than most. Her white linen shirtdress seems to glow in the dusky atmosphere of the café she named for their meeting, and her thick curls frame her face like a dark halo.

“You’ll pay a heavy price,” she warns.

“If it’s money you want, I have it.”

“Yes, I want your money. But that is not what I mean.” She leans her chin into her hand, gazing at him across the table. A shaft of late-afternoon light catches the fizzing bubbles in her glass of sparkling water. “I’ve heard from various customers, over the years. All of them say the same thing. They get what they want – but they pay a price that’s colder than cash. The price of getting what you want is losing what you have.”

Magneto makes a dismissive gesture. “I’ve very little to lose.”

Mobius tilts her head. “Maybe. But many of them said they lost what they loved most.”

“I already have.”

“So you think,” she says. “In time, you will not be able to tell where my work ends and the new world begins.” Her hand reaches out toward his.

“Now?”

“You are not ready?”

“I am. I merely wish to know what to expect.”

She shrugs. “You’ll go back to the turning point.”

“Which turning point?” It seems to Magneto that there have been several in his life.

“The real one. The most important one. I don’t know which, and maybe you don’t either. But my power – it always knows.”

Magneto decides it doesn’t matter. Whatever moment is chosen will have to fall before Charles’ death. He will still have a chance to say goodbye. “Very well.”

Her soft hand closes over his, and the world he knew disappears.

**

He opens his eyes, and he is Erik Lehnsherr. He is hardly more than a boy. And he is walking through the mud on his way to the gates of Auschwitz.

No. Not this again. Never did Erik dream he could go this far back. He cannot possibly endure reliving this –

“Come, Erik. It will be all right.” His mother’s arm closes around his shoulders, and Erik looks up at her in wonder.

She is here. She is here. His mother is alive, smiling at him, holding him – and on his other side is Papa, dignified despite his rags and hunger. No matter what comes, Erik knows it has already been worth it just to see them again. “I love you,” he says quickly. “I love you both, and I always will.”

“My good boy,” Jakob Lehnsherr says. His hand rests briefly atop Erik’s head, and the pressure of his fingers is comforting even through his cloth cap. Even as he faces his own death, he is thinking only of his son.

I can’t, Erik thinks. I can’t lose them again.

But this time, he feels the metal of the gates singing to him – he knows the outline of every gun, every bullet, every button and buckle, with the sharpness and control of a lifetime spent honing his gift – and he realizes with a shock that he doesn’t have to lose them.

He stops in his tracks. Every gun the Nazi guards possess flies skyward in an instant; the metal gates curl downward, and the barbed wire wilts like withering vines. A few of the weapons remain just overhead – pointing downward at the Nazis.

As people cry out in disbelief and shock, Erik turns to the nearest Nazi and says coolly, “Turn over your vehicles if you want to live.”

The reply he gets: “Fuck you, you Yid bastard.”

The weapons all go off in unison. A few dozen Nazis drop to the ground, dead.

“Erik – ” His mother leans close to him; concern is written over Edie Lehnsherr’s face. “Is this – is this like the trick, where you move the fork across the table?”

“Yes, Mama.” But it is so much more.

Within ten minutes, he has pulled out all the metal support beams of the various structures that make up Auschwitz. Within half an hour, every Jewish prisoner is free, and every Nazi is dead.

Amid the mayhem, a man in a gray suit and glasses strides out. “What is the meaning of this?” shouts Sebastian Shaw. “What is going on here?” Several of the longtime prisoners cower from him; they have learned to be afraid of this man and his rage.

So has Erik. But this time, Erik knows, Shaw has no idea what to expect, and he has no helmet, no Emma Frost, no defenses whatsoever. He takes a coin from Shaw’s own pocket and bores it slowly into his skull. This time, he knows enough to make Shaw’s death last longer. This time, Charles doesn’t have to suffer along with him. That makes his second death even sweeter than the first.

Within an hour, the former prisoners of Auschwitz are loaded onto the trucks and cars that belonged to a group of very dead Nazis. They drive toward the nearest woods, because nobody is entirely sure what else to do.

“My brilliant boy,” his mother says, stroking her hands through his hair. The desolate woods around them are dark and frightening as the night comes on. Rain still patters down all around them. “What will you do next?”

“I don’t know,” Erik says. But then he does.

**

His military knowledge of the Second World War is in fact surprisingly thin. Erik could follow no battlefield news from within Auschwitz, and he’s always avoided the books, classes and documentaries that might have taught him more, but forced him to relive his worst memories.

So he starts with the simplest plan of attack: Find Nazis and kill them.

This takes him from Poland down into the Balkans, east into Russia, up through Scandinavia. He frees Norway, then Denmark, then the Netherlands. Long before the historical date of D-Day, the Axis is crumbling and the Allies make landfall uncontested.

Erik is not yet 15 when he first meets Winston Churchill. His principal memories of the event are of the smell of cigar smoke, the awe at meeting one of the very few humans he considers extraordinary, and the question Churchill poses him: “What are your plans, after the war?”

“I’m not sure,” Erik says. “Spend some time with my family, at peace. And then – then I’d like to see America someday.”

“President Roosevelt is my very dear friend, and I promise he will welcome you with open arms.” Churchill’s broad bulldog face splits in a grin. “Where do you most want to visit, my lad?”

“Westchester County, New York.”

Both the certainty and specificity of his answer make Churchill laugh out loud. “That can be arranged. You know, you might have a very brilliant career ahead of you in the military – ”

“I’m not a weapon,” Erik says. “I’m not going to fight your wars at your bidding.”

“You seem to be fighting one now.”

“This is my war.” Erik says it as if it were his only war; at the moment, it seems as though it truly is.

**

V-E day arrives six months before it otherwise would have, eight months after the last concentration camp has fallen. Too many millions died already, before Erik came back – but millions more survive. He dances with his parents in the streets of Paris that night, and his father lets him have what he believes to be Erik’s first taste of champagne.

In many ways, the first few years after the war are the most difficult. Fighting the war – that was glorious, in its way. Peace has never been as easy to him. Erik is of course on the lookout for prejudice against mutants, for the rise of the next oppressors and the next battle. But two things prevent him.

First, the only mutant the world knows about is a hero. Erik manages to remain anonymous for the time being, but newsreels, war correspondents and even books begin to tell the tale of a young man with incredible powers who turned the tide of the war and saved the lives of countless Allied soldiers. One book calls him “the Allies’ own Enigma,” meaning that he was like the supposedly unbreakable Nazi code – the one great secret weapon. The suggestion that there might be others like him out there is met not with suspicion or fear, but with hope and joy.

That won’t last, of course. Erik knows better. But – for now, at least, it is so.

Second, and by far more difficult, is the fact that he is again a child, and a child with parents who expect to be obeyed. Erik has not cowed to the will of another since he escaped Auschwitz the first time and left Sebastian Shaw behind; now, suddenly, two of the three people he’s loved most in his life are here demanding that he go to bed on time, do his homework, and brush his teeth after meals.

He tolerates it. Sometimes, he enjoys it. Seeing his parents flourishing after the war is the greatest gift Erik can imagine. Jakob begins practicing medicine again, this time in Amsterdam, a city Erik quickly learns to like. Edie begins teaching ancient languages at the university. Once again, Erik walks through his family home and smiles in wonder at the volumes of Ancient Greek lying around, at the black leather medical bag beside the door. It is so like before, yet more joyous, because this time it can go on and on.

(This time they are also richer; while Erik’s services were of course given gladly, and freely, several Allied governments presented him with “resettlement funds” that have set the Lehnsherr up nicely. It was enough money to go to Israel, and both his parents thought that a good idea, but Erik asked them not to go. Israel, noble experiment though it is, has become something he can only see as a distraction. They indulge him in this.)

Erik deals with high school as best he can. He gets only middling grades, though – in science, his essay on plate tectonics is laughed at, and history focuses on eras he now finds remote. In literature he sits directly behind Anne Frank, which is incredibly distracting, and there’s no point in studying when she always gets the top grade in the class.

Schoolwork is far from his only concern. His hormones surge, leaving him with moods no less overpowering for his greater perspective, and he once again has to live through the countless little indignities of adolescence: his voice cracking, wet dreams, even acne.

This time, he doesn’t bother chasing girls. In a rush of unexpected idealism, he decides it’s fine with him if he comes to Charles a virgin, at least in body. He can manages with his hand and his fantasies until then. But this is frustrating, as is having a curfew, and homework, and every once in a while, his temper boils over.

“I don’t see the point!” Erik shouts at his mother – his beloved mother, the one whose memory had the power to make him weep over 40 years after her death. “Why must I go to the party if I don’t want to meet anyone there?”

“To be polite,” she insists. “And why shouldn’t you want to meet anyone there? Dr. Van Horne has a daughter your age, you know, and surely she has many friends who will come too.”

“I don’t want to meet any girls.”

“Don’t you?”

“Has it ever occurred to you, Mama, that I might be more interested in meeting boys?”

As soon as the words leave his mouth, Erik regrets them. This is not a conversation he needs to have with his mother, not ever. The thought of her confronting his homosexuality, of being disappointed in her son, horrifies him.

But it does not horrify her.

“Ach, my Erik, is that why you are so angry?” Her voice is so gentle. “Is this the weight you carry inside you?”

Erik can hardly utter the next words: “You saw that?”

“You are my son. Of course I see. Did you think I would despise you for it? My poor boy.” Mama’s hand combs through his hair. “You don’t remember your Uncle Franz and Uncle Heinrich at all, do you? The Gestapo came for them even before they came for us. But they were my good friends at university. They played bridge like masters.” Her smile is fond, wistful. “As a gift they gave to us the blanket you slept under as a baby. How they doted on you.”

Erik has never been one to expect tolerance; even from Mama, it staggers him. “And Papa – ”

“He loved them as I did. And he loves you. But would you rather I told him?”

“Yes,” Erik admits. Then he hugs his mother, burying his face in her shoulder as if he were a little child again.

“So wrong, what happened to them,” she whispers. Her thoughts are on her dead friends as much as on her son, and to Erik this seems only right. “They came for the Jews. The gypsies. The homosexuals. The blind and lame. Nobody should die for being what they were born. Really, they were killed only for being human.”

The words resonate in Erik, so deep it’s like being turned inside out.

Mama says, “You will go to the party, just to be polite. But you don’t have to stay long, and you need not ask any girls to dance.” She pats his shoulder. “When the time comes, and you have a young man you like, you bring him home to us.”

For the first time it occurs to him that he might someday introduce Charles to his parents.

My God, he thinks.They’ll adore each other. And it takes all his strength not to cry.

**

During Erik’s university years in France, an American film studio releases a movie called “Enigma of the Allies.” He goes to see it with some people from school, staring with bemusement at this muddled version of his life.
s
Perhaps he has no right to argue about inaccuracies, as he is the one who insisted on anonymity and secrecy. He can understand the filmmakers’ assumption that he was a young man rather than a mere boy; besides, it’s flattering to be played by Montgomery Clift. But the romance is rather far-fetched by even Hollywood standards, and Audrey Hepburn’s character is far too well-groomed for the front.

(Hepburn worked with the Dutch resistance, however, and so he decides that counts as realism of a sort.)

What strikes him the most is how often “Enigma” is shown using his powers. The effects are crude, at least to his eyes, which recall the cinematic wonders of later decades; however, each time, the audience goes mad with excitement. There are cheers when U-boats are ripped from the Atlantic, or when Allied landing craft float safely from their carriers to the waiting shore.

“Wouldn’t it be amazing to be a mutant?” whispers one girl from his study group. The others nod.

At the end, when Montgomery Clift kisses Audrey Hepburn as a Nazi flag is torn down in the background, the audience erupts in applause. Erik starts laughing, and he can’t stop, not until long afterward. By then all his companions are annoyed that he seems to be mocking such a good movie, one about a real hero.

**

His marks in college are even worse than they were in high school, because Erik has belatedly discovered the concept of having fun.

Really, he never got to be young the first time around. His first memories include harassment, oppression, worry. Only now does Erik find out what being carefree is like. Only now does he discover how to waste time. How to relax. How to play.

It’s not the same for him as it is for his friends. (He has several – humans, the lot of them, and yet he feels sure they’re not the wrong sort.) There’s always a shadow within him: the pain of his first life’s losses, the knowledge of the hatred for mutants that is no doubt coming. But Erik is learning how to set that aside and live in the moment. He didn’t do that often enough, before.

One night he and his friends wind up drinking a few bottles of wine in the park. It’s a new moon, so Anouk leaves on the battery of her car. The headlights shine behind them, like they are performing in front of a screen of light. Jazz streams from the car stereo as he dances barefoot on the grass with the girls, then one of the boys when everyone can pretend they’re just being silly. Erik remembers what it’s like to have an old body, to no longer feel the ever-flowing vitality of youth. The others have to persuade him to finally leave, long after midnight.

**

This time, there will be no Cuban Missile Crisis, as Sebastian Shaw is no longer around to provoke it. So Erik will require a different introduction to Charles Francis Xavier.

Ultimately Erik decides he might as well pursue graduate school and get to know him there. If they meet a few years earlier, then those are years he can spend with Charles. Yes, a longer relationship will make the break more painful when it comes, but that’s a price he’s willing to pay.

Despite his lackluster academic career, Erik gets into Oxford. No doubt a recommendation letter authored by Winston Churchill helps.

He’s been preparing himself for the moment since before Mobius sent him back, but Erik finds himself utterly unready to see Charles again. Charles is standing near the back of a pub where the grad students have gathered, the night before classes start. For a long while, Erik simply stares at him: a mop of brown hair, a young unlined face and eyes even bluer than his memories. Although Charles is acting like much the same careless boy he did when they first met, his behavior looks different to Erik now. Maybe it’s because Charles is a bit younger and less experienced in his man-of-the-world act; maybe it’s because Erik has so much more knowledge of Charles and of life. For whatever reason, Erik sees how vulnerable Charles is, how much of his drinking and braggadocio is merely an attempt to fit into a mold others will understand and accept. It touches him – moves him, almost as much as the mere sight of Charles young, healthy, standing, strong, alive.

So Erik works his way through the crowd towards Charles. His heart pounds. When finally he reaches Charles’ side, he clears his throat and says, “Erik Lehnsherr.”

“Oh. Hello. Charles Xavier, good to know you.” Charles gives him a friendly glance that lasts about two seconds before he launches right back into another joke for the group of new friends already laughing around him. Erik is perfectly welcome to join them, he realizes, but he … has not made any particular impression.

The more he thinks about this, the stupider he feels. Why did assume it would be exactly like before – that almost instantaneous connection, the immediate intimacy of the spirit, the attraction that underlay every word and gesture from almost the time they met?

Apparently bumping into each other at a mixer doesn’t have the same emotional impact as a desperate rescue from the depths of the sea.

Erik hangs in there. They do wind up talking, more and more as the night goes on, mostly anecdotes about their college exploits – but at least Erik has some tales of his own to share. The group around them dwindles slowly, and by the time Charles is ready to leave the party, Erik is the only one by his side.

As they walk along the cobblestone street, Erik says, “So you work on human mutation.”

“That’s right. How did you know that? I don’t remember talking about it at the pub.”

“I heard.”

“Are you by chance a telepath?” Charles says, so casually that Erik has to stare at him. “I am, though my skills are a bit – let’s say, I’m working on them. My sister’s a mutant too. Shapeshifter. You should see her real skin sometime. It’s fab. Bright blue.”

“You … tell everyone that you’re a mutant?”

“Why shouldn’t I?”

This timeline has somehow made Charles even more naïve. Erik lets that pass for the moment, though; if he is to teach Charles caution this time around, he will not be able to do so without trust. Beginnings are so important.

“I’m not a telepath,” Erik says. “But I am a mutant.”

“Brilliant!” Charles grins. His steps quicken on the stones, lighten, until it seems as if he’s on the verge of skipping in boyish glee. “Why didn’t you say so at the pub? What is it that you can do?”

By now Erik is smiling too. He takes the metal clip from Charles’ tie, levitates it into the air between them, and winds the gold into a hoop that spins between them. Its surface glints in the moonlight.

Charles’ eyes widen. “Metal?”

“And magnetism.”

“Are you – you couldn’t be – but I never heard of another mutant who could – my God, you are.” Charles literally staggers back a step, and his voice is hardly more than a whisper when he manages to say, “You’re Enigma.”

Erik wants to deny it, but he can’t understand why. What’s the point? Charles will ultimately know the truth anyway. “I am.”

“I can’t believe it. You were my hero when I was a boy.”

And this time, you were mine, Erik wants to say.

Instead, he holds to his parents’ old rule. “Our secret, all right?”

“Of course, if you insist. But why don’t you want to tell the world who you are? What you did – for the Allies, for mutants, for all of us – if I were you, I’d – I’d – I’d never shut up.” Charles starts laughing, though it’s as much shock as humor.

“My mother and father wanted me to grow up without that kind of attention. Now that I’m an adult, I see the wisdom of it.”

Charles draws himself up, almost formal. “It’s an honor.”

This is a wretched beginning. “Don’t act that way. I liked it better when we were drinking at the pub like friends.” Erik tries to be casual about the rest, though it’s hard: “We can be friends, can’t we?”

“Yes! Absolutely! I just – give me a minute.” Charles puts one hand to his chest, takes a deep breath. “And you – you’ll actually let me study you?”

“Oh, yes.” Erik has to stifle a wicked grin.

**

Yet they don’t go to bed that night, that week or even that month. They become fast friends – dear friends – and there they stay.

Erik understands why. Charles once confided that he’d had only one male lover before Erik, and that only in his last year at Oxford; at this point, he must only still be coming round to the idea of his bisexuality. So this will take time.

Despite sexual frustration to the point of insomnia, Erik enjoys the waiting more than not. Whatever else Charles was to him, he was also Erik’s dearest friend, and now they have time to luxuriate in that friendship. Their chess games are a daily ritual, just like tea. They walk each other to class, to the pub. Every once in a while, on weekends, Raven joins them. She walks around blue all the time – all the time! – and Charles is as proud of her as she is of herself. People comment, but always nicely … usually women saying how striking her white dresses are against her complexion (she always wears white), or men trying to pick her up.

Erik is of course prepared to be her friend and confidante in this lifetime too, but she doesn’t seem to need one. Nor is she madly in love with Charles this go-round; there’s no psychological need to burrow into the heart of her family, into the great mansion on Greymalkin Lane, and never emerge again. This Raven is sure that the world will love and accept her, and Erik doesn’t have the heart to tell her she’s wrong, not yet.

Mostly, though, he and Charles are alone. And to his astonishment, Erik finds himself learning things about Charles he never knew before.

“You don’t seem to have read my mind at all,” Erik ventures one evening, when by chance almost no one else is in the pub. “Are you sure you’re a telepath?”

“Pretty sure,” Charles says, but he doesn’t laugh at the joke, or rummage around in Erik’s mind to prove he can. “My powers have been all but latent for years, though. I can force myself to get in someone’s head – enough to read their most dominant emotions, at least – but it’s been a long time since I literally read thoughts the way I did as a child.”

Erik frowns. Many mutants don’t manifest until adolescence or even later, but he’s never heard of a latent period. “Why?”

Charles stares down at his half-downed pint of oatmeal stout. “My father died when I was quite young. My mother remarried a man named Kurt Marko, who had a son about my age. Cain.” The names come haltingly to him, as if he has to work to speak them aloud. “Marko only loved my mother’s money, really. Cain hated him, my mother, me, Raven, all of us. Everyone.”

This much, Erik knew. He nods.

But Charles continues, “Then, my telepathy was so natural to me – I read everyone, all the time. I couldn’t not read them, do you understand? It was like hearing, for a person who isn’t deaf. Automatic. Natural. A part of me.” He takes another swallow, clearly trying to brace himself. “And when I revealed their worst intentions, my God, how they would take it out of me. Cain was simpler. He’d just beat me up. But Kurt … he’d humiliate me in front of my mother. Lead her to distrust anything I said. To dislike me. And then he’d beat me. Raven – once, when I was hiding from him, Raven took my shape so he’d beat her instead, and when I found her afterward and saw what she’d done – what Kurt Marko had done to her – I swore to myself I’d never get in trouble again, not ever.”

How did Erik never know this? How? But then, the time when he and Charles were this close was so short, before – and Charles was trying so hard to “save” Erik that Erik never once asked himself if he should be saving Charles too. He looked at that enormous mansion and saw only the wealth it represented. To Charles, before the mansion became the school, it could only have been a prison.

Charles clears his throat. “I didn’t consciously stop reading minds. But something inside me shut down. A defensive mechanism, the Freudians would say.”

“Charles.” Erik strokes his hand along Charles’ arm, only remembering afterward that he doesn’t get to touch him like that yet. But Charles is too caught up in memory to notice. “You’ll get your abilities back. I know it.”

“I’m working on it. When the barriers fall – it will be over. I know that. But – ”

Erik realizes that’s not the comfort Charles needs. “They shouldn’t have done that to you.”

“Do you know, the happiest day I had during that time was when I went to see that movie about you? The one with Montgomery Clift. I imagined you coming to save me.”

“I should have. I would have, if I’d known.”

“Erik.” Charles’ voice is soft. When their eyes meet, Erik feels a thrill shiver throughout his body – and he suspects it’s mutual.

**

A week after that, just before classes end for the year, Erik and Charles sit up late in Charles’ room. Their academic gowns are rumpled on the floor, beside a pile of books and a nearly empty bottle of wine. The lights are off save for one lamp with a golden shade.

“Just try,” Erik murmurs.

Charles hesitates. They are standing very close. “It might help if I touched you.”

“Then touch me.”

Erik closes his eyes as Charles’s hands cup his face. It takes all his will not to tow Charles toward the bed – but this isn’t about a pass, this is about helping Charles rediscover himself. He realizes that he wants Charles to read his mind, wants him to know everything at last – though of course he won’t be able to delve that deeply yet –

“Okay. Hold on.” Charles takes a deep breath, and Erik projects the main thing he wants Charles to understand: how much Erik loves him.

For a long while, nobody speaks or moves. There’s no sense of another mind curling around his own. Erik wonders if it isn’t working. He opens his eyes to see Charles staring at him, and there is nothing Erik’s seen in either lifetime more beautiful than that expression of wonder.

“Oh,” Charles whispers. Erik remains very still for the time it takes Charles to slowly, so slowly, lean close and tilt his face upward for their first kiss.

Their first first time was desperate, passionate, almost unbearably intense. Their second first time is gentle and slow. They know each other; they trust each other. Charles is curious about how this will work, and Erik shows him, bit by bit. At the ultimate moment, as Erik goes down on Charles, he feels the brush of Charles’ mind – more ephemeral than he recalls, but it’s there, seeking him unconsciously, trying to share both the emotion and the pleasure. And as Charles comes, crying out, enough of his pleasure spills over Erik to bring him off too.

They lie together in each other’s arms afterward, silent and content. Erik wonders how it’s possible for something so quiet and soft to be even better than what they had before.

Charles breaks the silence: “You know, when I saw that movie, I never dreamed I’d be Audrey Hepburn.”

Erik laughs until Charles hushes him with kisses.

**

They’re going to spend the break in London, just them, as Raven’s off with her latest boyfriend. But just before they’re due to leave Oxford, a trunk call comes from Amsterdam.

Jakob Lehnsherr has had a heart attack, and he is not expected to survive.

Charles comes with him, rushing to make every train, handling the bags. By the time they arrive, Papa is unconscious, and Mama is weeping so brokenly that Erik can hardly bear the sound. It won’t be long, the doctors say. Hours, if that.

As he holds her at the bedside, he murmurs, “I didn’t get to say goodbye.” Why did Erik never consciously consider the fact that he would have so many goodbyes to say, this time?

“Take your mother’s hand,” Charles says.

Erik does so, realizing only then that he hasn’t even introduced Charles yet. “Why?”

“Let’s try this.” Charles stretches his arms, simultaneously grasping both Erik’s free hand and one of Papa’s. “Close your eyes.”

There, in the darkness behind his eyelids, Erik feels Charles’ presence – and Mama’s – and Papa, still here, fragmented somehow but still himself. Erik’s throat tightens as he realizes how frightened his father is, then more as that fear subsides, replaced by joy at the presence of his son and his wife here in his own mind. They are together as a family in a way they have never been before or will be again, but it’s enough, because the love burns brighter than the encroaching dark and his father is not alone. Erik and Mama hold him, shelter him, in the last moments; when Papa flickers away like a candle’s flame, it is even more beautiful than painful.

After the immediate rush of tears, Mama turns to Charles and says, “Thank you. There are no words for such a gift.”

Charles is crying harder than either of the Lehnsherrs. He just nods.

Erik puts one hand on his shoulder. “Mama, this is Charles.”

She understands. Erik had known she would.

**

What he had not known was that Charles would practically turn into her favorite. They visit Amsterdam again in the spring, she comes to London in the summer, and before long she’s bought a flat there. “I have to keep you fed,” she says, spooning yet more matzo ball soup into Charles’ bowl. Charles begins to get a bit soft around the waist.

Erik loves that softness. He loves his second family – Mama and Charles and even Raven, when she bothers to drop by between love affairs. He loves helping Charles through his doctoral work, and periodically does some studying himself. If there is a single happiest time of his life – either life – this is it.

“Look at him, the proud man of the house,” Edie says one night when they’re visiting her in London, as Charles attacks the challah bread. “My Erik, so prosperous and happy. When he was younger, ach, he was so angry.”

“You had your reasons for anger,” Charles points out. “My God, the whole planet owes Erik a debt for what his anger wrought.”

“Not the war. Of course we were all angry during the war. But afterward, it was as if he carried the weight of the world and hated the burden. Not any longer. Thanks to you, I think.”

“And to you. And to this – what did you call it? Challah?”

Erik rises from the table, disquieted. Mama chit-chats on, but Charles’ blue eyes watch him go. Though he hides his reaction as best he can, it’s more difficult to conceal things from Charles than it used to be. As his psychic powers increase, Erik’s privacy decreases. If only he knew where Sebastian Shaw found that damned helmet. Once Erik knew its composition as well as he knew the shape of his own face, but that was decades ago. Another lifetime.

Where is his anger? It is the fuel that has powered him on, that has sustained him when he was alone, focused him when he was lost. Even after he lost his family, even after the break with Charles, even as humanity grew ever more suspicious of mutants, Erik knew he would be able to go on. The fire within would never die out. He thought it as much a part of him as his flesh.

Yet here he is, happy, content, comfortable, and all he really wants is for his life to stay just like this forever.

He excuses himself for a walk, though it’s cool and the mists in the London air are very close to rain. After half an hour of solitude, he’s even more agitated than before, but is at least relieved to think Charles left him to himself. Then he turns the corner to see Charles sitting on a bench. He’s wearing a rain slicker and looking – Erik has no word for how he looks, but whatever it is makes him want to forget about war and take Charles in his arms. So instead he glances away.

“I’ll know where you’re turning before you do,” Charles warns before Erik can walk off.

“If you know that, then you know I’d rather be alone.”

“I’ll leave you alone once I’m sure you’re all right. The distress you’re in – Erik, this is worse than anything I’ve sensed from you since your father’s death. Please, tell me what’s wrong.”

Erik snaps, “How can you not know?”

“I don’t pry – ”

“You shouldn’t have to pry! It’s a part of me. The most important thing about me. How have you not sensed it? How can you not know?”

Charles rises to his feet, shaking his head. “I know you’re – frightened, as if you’ve lost something. Angry with yourself. But I can’t make out the rest.” His forehead furrows. “There’s always been a quality to your thoughts unlike anyone else’s. As though everyone else were an open book, but with you, every other page is … obscured. Mirror writing, perhaps. Or in code. I can’t read it, even if I know it’s there.”

Erik stares at him. “You’ve always known I was – different, then.”

“I assumed it was part of your mutation.” Charles balls his hands in the pockets of his raincoat. “It’s not, is it?”

Mobius’ gift must include the ability to cover her own tracks. “No.”

“And what’s scaring you now has to do with that? It’s written on the pages I can’t read?” When Erik nods, Charles steps closer to him, so damned worried for him that it breaks Erik’s heart. “Whatever it is, just tell me. Tell me and we’ll face it together.”

From the beginning, Erik has wondered what would happen when Charles learned the truth – and he always assumed Charles would, though he thought telepathy would be the reason why. He expected anger. Repugnance, even. Shock, certainly.

But as he looks down at Charles, Erik finds himself not at all certain that the truth will end them.

He has always loved Charles. Only now does he realize that this is the first time he’s completely trusted him.

“Sit beside me.” Erik guides them both to the park bench. The water beaded on the seat soaks through his slacks as he talks, on and on, starting at the beginning … the real beginning. He tells Charles the story of both their lives, as they unspooled the first time, and he holds absolutely nothing back.

Charles says not a word; his expression remains inscrutable.

It’s nearly midnight by the time Erik’s done. They sit in silence a few long minutes as Charles takes it in. Finally, unable to endure the suspense any longer, Erik says, “Do you think I’m insane?”

“You’re quite sane, and you’re telling the truth.”

“You can see it in my mind now?”

“No. Those memories are closed off to me. To any telepath in this … version. Timeline. Whatever we should call it. But I feel the honesty inside you.” Charles leans back to stare at him, and slowly he says, “You began all this just – just to tell me goodbye?”

Erik nods. Maybe it seems trivial. But then he realizes how bright Charles’ eyes are now, that the water running down his cheeks isn’t only the rain.

“You’re not the man you were before,” Charles says hoarsely. “That much is clear.”

“That’s what scares me.”

“That’s the reason I’m not scared.”

**

They argue afterwards, of course, but not about anything personal. The points of debate are very familiar, at least at first.

“How can you be so certain that humanity is going to attack mutantkind?” Charles insists. They have this cabin on the train back to Oxford to themselves, and so they can talk openly.

“I told you – I’ve been to the future. I’ve seen it. It happens.”

“First of all, what you described to me fell rather short of an all-out race war.”

“It was beginning,” Erik insists.

“Even if I concede that, which I don’t, Erik – that was another world completely.”

“This world isn’t so different.”

“Are you mad? It’s transformed! And you’re the one who transformed it!” Charles leans closer to Erik so that he can punctuate each point with a finger to Erik’s breastbone. “Who won World War II for the Allies? A mutant. And everyone knows it. Mutants commonly acknowledge their powers. Or haven’t you noticed that Raven walks around blue all the time?”

“I’m not stupid. Of course I’ve noticed. But I’m telling you, it’s only temporary.”

“I think you’re wrong. I think you don’t understand how fundamentally you changed us all. What’s more, the transformation doesn’t have to stop with the war.” When Erik frowns up at him, Charles says, “Has it never occurred to you how happy the world would be to see you again? Or how much good you could do – not just for mutants, but for everyone?”

“You’re trying to turn me into one of your X-Men.”

“They won’t be the X-Men, this time.” Charles’ eyes burn with certainty; it’s like watching a moment of religious conversion. “This time, we’ll all be following you.”

Erik doesn’t know whether that’s what he always used to want or whether it’s the scariest thing he’s ever heard.

As Charles leans his head on Erik's shoulder, he murmurs, “Stop looking through the lens of the past. It can only cloud your vision now. See clearly, Erik. See what you’ve done, what you can do.”

“The lens of the past tells me you’re an idealist. Sometimes you fail to see facts.”

“I don’t need the lens of the past to tell me that sometimes you fail to see possibilities.” Charles sighs.

Quite possibly Charles is making sense. He'll have to consider it, but later. "Thank you for being able to hear this. For believing me, and accepting it."

"You don't have to thank me for that." Charles hesitates. "Only one thing gave me any pause, and I'm past it already."

"What?"

"Well ... it was always so romantic, to me, the way that you pursued me from the beginning. I didn't realize you were in love with me at first, but I knew you felt a connection the instant we met. That amazed me every time I thought of it. But it makes sense now. You'd fallen in love with me before. It doesn't take anything away, really I know it doesn't, but I guess it's hard for me to let go of that dream. You know. Love at first sight."

"It was love at first sight," Erik says. "When we met in the other timeline. I knew before the hour was out that I'd waited my whole life to find you. I always knew."

"Oh, Erik."

**

Charles is very persuasive, but in the end, Erik reveals himself not by design but in the heat of the moment. They’re in London again a couple months into their discussions on the subject, Raven with them this time, each of her arms looped in one of theirs. As they head toward Trafalgar Square, they hear a smashing sound and turn to see a car flattened against the side of a double-decker bus. The bus is wobbling – toppling onto its side – or it would, if Erik didn’t put a hand out to catch it.

This he would have done in any lifetime. As Magneto he was often ruthless, but never cruel without purpose. It’s what happens next that is different.

As the bus hovers there, slowly righting itself, Erik instinctively lowers his hand to hide the movement, but Charles murmurs, “Don’t.”

Maybe, just once, he could try it Charles’ way.

Erik steps forward and boldly lifts the bus up from the pavement by several feet, the better to place it on an even, bare patch of the street. People all around begin to murmur – but more in admiration than in fear.

Then one says, “It’s Enigma! Has to be!”

How could they be so certain? He doesn’t even look that much like Montgomery Clift. Then again – Charles caught on, didn’t he? Metal-control is a rare talent even among mutants. Maybe it’s his calling card.

“Is it you? Really you?” A bobby asks as the crowd begins to gather around them. “The same Enigma from the war?”

Erik feels immodest – not an emotion he’s had much experience with – but he nods.

People go mad. It’s like V-E Day all over again. Erik is hugged, kissed, even handed babies to hold – by far the worst part. Charles laughs out loud watching him fend off the well-wishers, but he shouts over the din, “They love you!”

They ... do seem to.

Next day, some photos of the event taken by an amateur in the crowd are in the papers, with the headline, IS THIS ENIGMA? The aged Winston Churchill issues a statement confirming that Erik Lehnsherr is indeed the man. But nobody starts calling him by his real name; it’s always Enigma.

“I prefer Magneto,” Erik says to Charles that evening, as they stare at a sea of newsprint on the floor of Mama’s flat.

“Magneto?”

“The name I went by before.” That particular detail never came up.

“Really?” Charles wrinkles his nose. “That’s not even a word. Enigma’s better. Besides, everyone already knows you that way.”

“But – ”

Within his mind, he hears Charles’ voice, And it’s the name I used during those adolescent sexual fantasies of mine.

Come to think of it, Erik does sort of like “Enigma.”

**

So begins the age of Enigma – the age of the mutant, as TIME magazine declares. Beneath that banner, Erik is pictured in the suit he and Charles chose, dark blue and yellow, not so different from the X-Men’s uniforms in another lifetime.

Once again they travel to the great house on Greymalkin Lane; once again, they search for fellow mutants. This time, it’s almost too easy. They’re inundated with prospective students from day one. There are between one and five thousand mutants in the world now, Charles estimates, and a decent fraction of the younger ones want to enroll.

So they’re selective.

Raven, of course. And all the others they began with, from Alex Summers to Angel Salvatore to Armando Reyes. Hank McCoy is already at peace with his feet, and right away he’s hard at work at his greatest inventions: the Blackbird, Sean Cassidy’s Banshee suit, and above all Cerebro. As for the early members of the Brotherhood – Azazel’s dangerous to know, but Janos is worth recruiting, and after some negotiations, Emma Frost agrees to come on board as a teacher. She’s more at ease, now, less frightened of the world at large. He knows how that feels.

Logan is at least more polite this time. “You’re Enigma, huh?”

“I am.” The name seems almost natural now.

“Nice job kicking some Nazi ass,” Logan growls around the stump of a cigar he’s still smoking. “But last time I checked, there wasn’t a world war going on. So I’d rather mind my own business.”

Charles leans forward, his forearms against the diner counter. “You’ve been around a long time. You’re not even sure you can die.”

Logan pulls back. “What the – ”

“My friend is a telepath,” Erik explains. Was there a time he felt nervous about Charles rummaging around in his head? He knows there was, but it’s difficult to remember in anything but the abstract. “It’s all right.”

“Logan, consider.” When he wants, Charles’ voice can take on the gentlest and yet most persuasive tone. “The one question you can never answer is whether your longevity on this planet serves any purpose. I’m offering you an answer. Define your own purpose. Make your own way.”

“Your way, you mean,” Logan snaps, but his expression is thoughtful. He stalks out of the diner soon afterward, but Erik isn’t entirely surprised when, a few weeks later, Logan saunters up to the mansion like it was his own idea to come.

Edie Lehnsherr moves in too and takes over the kitchen. Despite her increasing age, she refuses to let anyone else help cook and somehow keeps several dozen teenagers fed. Charles playfully argues this may be a mutation, a superpower greater than any of theirs, but it’s hard to disagree. Everyone calls her Mama Lehnsherr. Erik doesn’t mind.

The name they choose for themselves is Mutant Force. X-Men had more of a ring to it, Erik thinks, but that’s one more piece of a vanishing past.

**

ENIGMA AND MUTANT FORCE! the posters read. Big, airbrushed portraits of a grinning Erik, Charles, Raven, Logan and Alex are being sold to decorate kids’ walls. Dorm rooms. That kind of thing.

“Are we getting royalties on these?” Erik says, staring at the one Sean brought home to tease them. It’s currently hung on the back of the door he and Charles share, staring at them while they lie in bed together.

“Oh, honestly. You’ve never cared about money.”

“Of course not. But I’m uneasy about this.”

Charles props up on one elbow. His hair has begun to thin a bit, but there’s enough left to look sexily rumpled. “Why? I idolized you as a boy; other children should get the chance.”

“You didn’t used to idolize me.” Erik rarely brings up the other timeline any longer; things are so changed. But this one change, he never quite gets used to. “You argued with me. Fought with me. Every time I pushed, you pushed back.”

For a while, Charles is silent. “Do you miss that?”

“Truthfully? Yes. Sometimes I do.” Turning over in bed to face Charles, he adds, “But I love you for who you are. Never doubt that.”

“I feel so weirdly jealous of him. The other me, I mean. The first one you loved.”

It’s the strangest love triangle Erik can imagine. “Don’t be.”

“Anyway, I fight you sometimes,” Charles insists. “About taking Mutant Force international, for instance.”

“It’s time. Past time.” Invigorated, Erik continues, “Yes, the Western world has a different attitude about mutants this time around – I see that now – but that’s not the entire world. The Far East, Africa, South America, some areas of Eastern Europe: They remain suspicious. They discriminate. And God only knows what’s going on behind the Iron Curtain.”

(Despite State Department inquiries, Mutant Force has resolutely refused to end the Cold War; Charles got them to finally stop asking by pointing out that mutants were no more immune to nuclear weapons than humans, Logan notwithstanding.)

“We have so much to do here, though, Erik. Even now, as much as we patrol, so many accidents and crimes fall through our fingers – ”

“They always will. We can’t be everywhere at once. But we do have nearly fifty mutants field-trained by now. We can’t spare five or six of us to help our own people?”

Charles flops onto his back, considering it. Slowly he says, “I still think at this point it’s an overreaction – ”

“Overreaction?”

“But,” Charles continues, “better to … set a precedent. Establish that we look out for mutantkind as zealously as we do humanity. That way, if and when mutants do fall prey to human prejudice, we’ll already have made it clear that we won’t stand idly by.”

Erik pauses. “So – you agree.”

“Not on the need. But on the action.”

“You’re awfully easy this go-round.”

Charles gives him a look. “And you like it that way.”

By the time the resulting kissing has become foreplay, and Erik is gasping beneath Charles’ ministrations, Charles murmurs, “They won’t put this on a poster anytime soon.”

“That’s going to change, you know.” Erik softly bites Charles’ shoulder, licks the salt from his skin. “Not soon, but eventually. Homosexuals will get to marry, someday.”

Charles stops cold, which is disappointing, at least until Erik sees the astonishment on his face. “Wait. You mean – men marrying men – that’s going to be legal?”

“Yes.”

“… in the United States?”

“Not in all of them, when I came back. But several, New York included. We’ll be quite elderly then, but I don’t mind a long engagement if you don’t.”

It’s half a joke, simply because that’s decades in the future, but Charles instantly gets this look on his face, like he’s so happy that he doesn’t dare believe it. “Are you serious?”

Erik frames Charles’ face with his hands. “When we’re old and wrinkled, and I’m as gray as you are bald, I intend to make an honest man out of you.”

Charles kisses him then, and the hour that follows is so emotional, so passionate, that Erik remains in a good mood for days. That takes some of the sting out of it when Armando comes home with the Enigma lunchbox.

**

The next decade sees Mutant Force increasing its reach and its influence worldwide. So many more mutants are public now that they consider opening a second campus, but in the end Charles simply builds a couple new structures on the grounds.

They have multiple teams. Raven, Armando and Emma all become team leaders. By rights Charles should as well, but he prefers to govern the school and fight alongside Erik when possible.

Charles is the one who convinces Erik that outreach is the answer, rather than a show of force. “Your heroism during the Second World War changed things for mutants in most of the world,” he argues. “Heroism is what can change things for everyone else.”

Erik would disagree with this if he didn’t have the proof. Also, he happens to remember the dates of a couple of severe earthquakes.

So they go forth. They save lives. They walk the streets of foreign cities in their superhero costumes and allow little children to run up, ask questions, touch Logan’s claws. (The claws are bone rather than adamantium; William Stryker will never get his hands on Logan this time.) Erik and Charles meet with world leaders, when asked; he is invited to address the United Nations, which he does without mentioning to Charles or anyone that the last time he did this, he’d taken the entire UN hostage. But it’s the day-to-day interactions with regular people that mean more. Erik sees that now.

The 1960s turn into the 1970s. Men begin wearing long, shaggy hair and mustaches around the same time Charles finally goes bald, poor man. Jean Grey comes to them as a child, around the same time Alex’s brother Scott arrives at the school. Young Ororo Monroe is hardly able to do more than stir a breeze, but the potential is obvious.

Erik expects a more cynical age to turn against him, but Enigma and all of mutantkind are embraced as counterculture, radical, and authentic in an artificial culture. There are at least fewer posters.

This time, when the ERA is proposed for the U.S. constitution, Charles suggests uniting with NOW to get one amendment that will enshrine equal rights for mutants along with those for women, and by the way all adult Americans. Erik doesn’t have the heart to tell him the ERA will be defeated. But it isn’t, this time; apparently support for mutants put it over the top.

One day Raven announces that she’s pregnant, that the father isn’t in the picture, and anybody who doesn’t like it would be well advised to shut up. It takes Erik a little while to recall how different the attitudes are toward single mothers in this decade. And a few magazines do take potshots – LADIES’ HOME JOURNAL asks whether Raven “remains a fit role model” – but nobody is stupid enough to do so to her face, or his.

The moment the baby is born, Erik knows the identity of the father – because, despite the fact that his name is “Daniel Charles Xavier” this time, the blue tail and impish ears could only belong to Nightcrawler.

When did she meet Azazel? How? What does he mean to her? To ask would alienate her, he knows, but the questions remain with him, as do the issues they raise.

“Apparently fate has a part in this universe, as much as free will,” Erik says as he watches Charles attempt to change the squirming infant.

“No matter what brought him to us, I’m glad.” Charles frowns at the triangle of cloth in front of him. “You know, diapering around a tail is not a task for the weak.”

Raven’s an attentive mother, Mama happily takes on granny duty, and Charles dotes on the little thing. Erik likes him too, inasmuch as he likes any babies. Yet Nightcrawler inexplicably decides Logan is his favorite. To Erik’s surprise, the adoration is mutual. Before long, Logan is walking around with the child perched on his shoulder, tail wrapped around Logan’s arm.

For all Erik’s misgivings, prejudice against mutantkind only requires mass action once. Idi Amin Dada turns out to loathe mutants as much as he loathes virtually everyone, and after his coup d’etat in Uganda, he has the power to turn that hatred into action.

After the first pogrom, Mutant Force goes in. Erik leads one team against the presidential palace, while Charles and Raven lead another against the forces on the field.

What nobody in Mutant Force knows until too late is that the Idi Amin’s field troops include a mutant who had been tortured and brainwashed into doing their bidding. This mutant is a powerful psychic, who can confuse all their thoughts.

Raven and the others falter; Charles persists, fighting a psychic battle so great the fury of it can be felt even by the psi-blind. And he wins, saving the entire team, though afterward he is dazed and incapable.

Which is why a soldier was able to aim a rifle without Charles realizing it.

They mean to comfort Erik when they tell him later that Charles never felt a thing, that he was probably dead before he hit the ground.

**

“Erik.” Mama stands at the door of their bedroom – his bedroom only, now – stooped and frail, yet her voice is strong. “It is time.”

“I can’t.”

“You must.”

“No, I mustn’t. Charles will be buried with or without me.”

“Will you send him on the final journey alone?”

I didn’t say goodbye. The one thing I wanted to do above all else, and I failed. He died without my saying goodbye. Erik leans forward, his head in his hands. His body hurts with the grief, feels weighed down by it, like he might at any moment fall to the ground and never move again.

His mother totters toward him and rests her hand on his. Her skin is so thin now, crumpled and spotted like old parchment, on which is written their entire history. “I know it will be hard, my son. But in years to come, you will be glad you did this.”

“I can’t face it.”

“Can’t? My son who faced down panzer divisions before he turned 14? He can’t?”

“Then I don’t want to. I think – I think of what it will be like, hearing the dirt fall on his coffin and knowing Charles is in there.”

“Do you think it will be much easier for me?” Mama’s voice wavers. “Ever since the day you brought him to us, Charles has been a second son. I keep thinking that I hear his voice – or feel his touch against my mind.”

“So do I.” Erik holds his mother’s hand to his face, and for a moment both of them struggle for composure. When he can speak again, he chokes out, “Charles only went to Uganda because I pushed for it – to send Mutant Force out, to find a fight, to create one if it didn’t exist – ”

“Not another word.” For all her age and fragility, Mama seems to tower over him. “Charles was not your puppet. He was not your servant. For all that he idolized you, he was his own man, always. Charles gave his life to save thousands of others. Willingly. Freely. If you did not know him well enough to understand that, well, I did. I’m proud of Charles. I go to the funeral today to show the world that. Can you not do the same?”

Erik slowly rises from the side of the bed – which seems so large, now, too large. Charles’ half is unwrinkled and still. “I’ve been acting like a child.”

“We are none of us ourselves at these moments.” She folds her hand into the crook of Erik’s arm. “Come. We must tell Charles farewell.”

There is, after all, more than one way to say goodbye.

**

The photograph appears on the front page of most newspapers: Enigma, his head bowed, tears on his cheeks. Most common among the various captions is “A Hero’s Farewell.”

It becomes an iconic image, but Erik hates it. They ought to have printed pictures of Charles.

**

Mutant Force endures. Enigma endures. It is what Charles would have wanted.

The school grows by leaps and bounds, and Erik finds himself spending more time there than in the field. Raven, Logan, Hank – they’re more than capable of handling anything fate can throw at them, and Logan’s attitude aside, they represent mutantkind well. Besides, it’s time for humanity’s acceptance of mutants to have less to do with gratitude to the wartime exploits of Enigma.

Erik grieves for Charles even more deeply than before. Now, instead of a friendship and a long-ago love affair, he is mourning a shared life and nearly twenty years of happiness. Yet paradoxically, he finds this greater grief easier to bear. Mourning what has been and gone is not so scarring to the soul as to mourning what might have been.

Only now does he realize that, this time, he didn’t have to say goodbye to Charles. Everything Erik wanted to say, Charles already knew.

And if he no longer plays chess – if he sometimes reaches in his sleep to the empty side of the bed – it only means that Charles is still remembered.

**

Mama dies two years after Charles. After a few months when she spends as much time napping as awake, she slips away peacefully in her sleep. Erik covers the mirrors, and all the resident mutants sit shiva, some more awkwardly than others, but it is meant as tribute to Edie Lehnsherr, and so irregularities don’t matter. They sit together on the floor and share stories about her lectures and her jokes and her wonderful cooking; there’s as much laughter as tears.

Once, Erik remembers what she looked like dead on the floor of Sebastian Shaw’s office, blood splattered on the floor around her. It’s a jolt. He hasn’t thought of that in nearly 40 years.

He never thinks of it again.

**

So Erik grows older. He grows old. “Enigma” is a historical relic now, and the youngest students inform him that he is the most frequently searched name on a website titled “Dead or Not?” That isn’t exactly flattering, but he’s content with the lower profile.

His last decades of life aren’t entirely chaste – the occasional man enters his life – but he never indulges in a long-term romance. Guiding the mutant schools and rescue forces across the globe takes most of Erik’s time and energy, and he prefers it that way. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to ask anyone to stand in Charles’ shadow.

He amuses himself by noticing the discrepancies between what he distantly remembers and what is so. This time, when she becomes a young woman, Jean Grey is the one who has a terrible crush on Wolverine … but Wolverine remembers her at age seven and lets her down gently. Raven takes up with a woman, which isn’t surprising, and then fathers several children with her, which is. Erik never stops expecting Nightcrawler to speak with a German accent.

One day, Emma Frost returns from a mission in Russia with an artifact she wants him to examine.

“It blocks telepathy completely,” she says. “If other people get their hands on this – it could be dangerous. But I thought you should see it.”

Erik lifts the helmet in his wrinkled hands. He finds he doesn’t like to look at the thing long.

“Destroy it,” he says. Scott does the honors.

**

Very late in his life, he goes to address the United Nations again on the issue of whether mutants with artificially created mutations should be given the same legal rights and protections as those born mutants. (Erik is in favor.) As he walks along Madison Avenue, enjoying a bright cool fall day in New York City, a young woman staring a shop window draws his attention. There is something familiar about her --

“Mobius,” he says. She turns.

“It always happens,” Mobius says. “Anywhere I go. Always another client. But I never dreamed you would want to relive your life, Enigma. Not after all you’ve done.”

Relive it. Again. The temptation wells up – he could go back again, do it all over, except this time he would keep Charles from going to Uganda, keep him close and safe, make sure that Charles got to lead the long life he deserved –

But Erik has learned a lot about fate and chance these past five decades. Charles was indeed his own man; he would have taken his own risks. There would be no way to guarantee his safety without denying him his freedom, and his heroism. If he went to find Charles earlier – if he saved him from Kurt Marko the way he once wished he had – would Charles still grow into the man he ultimately became? There’s no way to know, and Erik does not intend to spend eternity experimenting with Charles’ life or his own.

“I already have relived my life,” he says. “I suppose you wouldn’t remember.”

Her eyebrow lifts in evident surprise. “Did you pay the price? Did you give up what you most loved?”

Erik’s initial thought is of Charles, dead decades before he ought to have been. But with the perspective of another lifetime, he knows – Charles wasn’t what he loved most, not when he sought Mobius out. He loved and treasured his own anger and thought it the most powerful force at his command.

Yet it never stood a chance against his mother.

Or Charles.

Or any of the life he’s had instead.

“I did,” he says to Mobius. “And the price was worth paying.”

 

THE END