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Raven starts awake in the pre-dawn from another shifting dream, Irene's arms warm around her the first thing she feels, a living reminder that she's gained as well as lost. She's not opening the coffee shop today, so there's no reason not to lie back in their bed and let her girlfriend's presence comfort her as best she can.

Irene stirs against her when Raven turns her head and presses her lips to her dark hair, murmuring something pre-verbal. Her own movement catches her eye in the mirror on the opposite wall, and then Raven's fully awake, sitting up with all the speed of her heightened reflexes.

Irene hears her strangled cry and sits up in bed herself, looking disoriented. "Raven? What's wrong?"

There's more and more light in the room now, and Raven passes her own hand in front of her face again, hardly daring to believe her eyes--which are their full natural goldenrod in the mirror in front of her, none of that tawny brown they'd been in her human form. She holds her hand out, and with only a single thought the scaly indigo skin shifts smoothly into her old blonde human disguise, into a dozen different people as she cycles through a random series of impersonations.

"Nothing's wrong," Raven says softly, grinning like a fool at her reflection, joy welling through her, suffusing her from her bones to her skin. "Irene, I--I'm a mutant again. I'm me."

She turns around to face Irene, who can only see her a few steps forward in time but is smiling softly, her arms crossed over her knees, dark hair sticking up in her usual epic bedhead. "I thought you might be, eventually," she murmurs, and holds out a hand. "Raven, darling, come back to bed."

Raven takes her hand slowly, unable to suppress a little flutter of anxiety in the pit of her stomach when Irene's smooth fingers close around her rougher skin. "Irene, my natural form is--"

"Beautiful," Irene says, pressing an open-mouthed kiss to the inside of Raven's wrist, and Raven shivers. "Get over here, I want to have the real you."

"You always have," Raven says. She goes where she's told, straddling Irene's thighs as Irene wraps one arm around her waist and pulls her down for a kiss with another. "You always will," she whispers into Irene's mouth when they break apart, and Irene smiles against her lips.

"I know," Irene tells her, and Raven wraps her arms around her neck and kisses her again and again, Irene's hands on her skin kindling fire in her blood. Irene pulls away briefly to smile at her. "I love you, Raven," she says seriously, and then she puts her mouth on Raven's neck and kisses a line down her torso before she pulls her down and rolls them over, Raven laughing on her back, threading her hand through Irene's hair.

"I love you too," she says, hitching herself up on one elbow to look down her body at Irene, who smiles again and then closes her lips around Raven's right nipple through her thin tank top, just the barest hint of teeth making Raven moan.

There are questions she has to ask, like whether she's still Mystique and just how the hell this happened, and she'll almost certainly have to go up to Westchester, finally, to answer some of them. But Raven is perfectly happy to let all of that slide; what's going on in here, right now, is far more important than anything else.

* * * * *


He's slept so deeply that when he realizes he's awake he has no idea where he is, with the little jolt of disorientation such moments always entail. The first thing is the sound of waves, sighing against a shoreline, in and out, and then he realizes he's lying on something soft, a warmth--sunlight--on his face. The sunlight is warm, turning the world on the inside of his eyelids a gentle fleshy red until he blinks, opens his eyes, looks up at the sky above: a flawless, perfect blue.

He's lying on sand, he understands, sun-warmed around him, cool under his body. He blinks again, lifts a hand to shield. his eyes--without anything to brace himself against, sitting up is going to be a production.

The thought works its way to the surface of his mind, and then he realizes that he can feel his legs.

His legs. Holy shit.

Charles Xavier sits up straight, sand scattering around him as he turns quickly from side to side, looking for the ruined submarine, the U.S. and Soviet fleets: nothing. Moira had just shot him, and he remembered hitting the sand, shock and pain flooding his awareness--

No. That was 1962, not 2006; Charles can remember the rest of his life since then, and he closes his eyes, thinking back. The last thing he remembers is the kitchen at the Greys' house, Jean's face, the look in Erik's eyes--

It still doesn't make any sense. He was dying, he knows it, but he's just as clearly alive now, unless there really is a heaven and the God he'd never believed in has the universe's worst sense of humor. Doubtful, on the whole, though he has no explanation for why he's on a beach in the Caribbean, maybe even Cuba (because that's just what he needs, to be arrested as an American spy or deported for having entered the country illegally), wearing, of all things, jeans and a T-shirt and not much else: no shoes, certainly.

Charles stands up, and realizes that not only can he walk, but he's thirty again.

Well, Charles thinks to himself, running a hand through his hair--his hair!--where it's flopped in front of his eyes. He can't help running both hands down his hips, over the muscles of his thighs: just as firm as they'd been before they'd gone on that mission all those years ago. Well, this is unexpected, he thinks, and laughs out loud. He's alive, uninjured, rejuvenated: "unexpected" hardly begins to describe any of those conditions, let alone all three at once.

Things only become more inexplicable, not less, when he reaches out to the nearest human minds, a few miles away, and then to the rest of the island--yes, he is in fact in Cuba, and everyone seems to believe that it's 2011, which means he’s lost five years on top of the five decades he seems to have misplaced. The ocean, typically, doesn't have an answer for the question of where those years went, unless it’s the only answer it ever gives: eternity.

Charles stares out to sea and realizes that he has no idea what to do if it's true and it really is the second decade of the third millennium, and he's facing it with a twenty-nine year old body. He had a good life, a full one, and if it weren’t for the people he’d been leaving behind he’d have left it with relative equanimity, in those few brief moments between comprehension and annihilation. But he did leave people behind, and it seems monumentally unfair that, having been brought back, he won't be able to do anything about them. For them, five years ago and thousands of miles away.

Of course it's selfish even to wish that lightning could strike twice, and to concentrate on what he'll never have again as opposed to what he's regained. But there's no one here to witness him being selfish and ignoble, and if he has to live another fifty years on this earth alone, he's probably entitled to a few minutes of selfishness at the outset.

Eventually Charles walks a few dozen feet down the beach and settles himself under a conveniently placed palm tree, none too sure of his newly regained motor skills. In the absence of any obvious explanation, he decides, or means by which to extricate himself from the situation, he could really use a drink. Something with rum. And maybe even one of those little paper umbrellas to go with it.

* * * * *


It's a dream; he knows that, but he doesn't let himself dwell on it. Dreams are all he has left, now.

Erik pushes open the door of the mansion and strides down the sunny corridors, intent but not hurried. At the end of a long series of carpeted halls he opens the door of Charles' study and Charles looks up at him from where he’s leaning against his desk, already smiling in that helplessly fond way Erik adored. He's young again, young as he was when they first met and uninjured, which is odd for Erik's dreams; usually they're older, if not wiser. Erik knows without looking at himself that he's thirty again too.

Erik smiles back, and Charles' smile brightens for an instant before it fades into something more concerned. Erik, he says in Erik's mind, and this is how Erik would know it was a dream if he didn't already, because it's like listening to a mono reduction of 5.1 stereo sound; there's no warmth or depth to Charles' thoughts. Erik, concentrate.

"On what, Charles?" Erik asks, the melancholy ache of grief rising within him, sapping his energy. If he were stronger, this would hurt less, but he's not and it doesn't. Five years, and the dreams are still frequent, even if this one's got the virtue of some novelty.

You have to concentrate, Charles insists. Calm your mind, and concentrate.

Erik resists the temptation to roll his eyes, ignores the pricking of moisture in them. "I am calm, Charles," he says gently, and it's even mostly true. The fires of his anger were guttered in mourning, and he can't seem to relight them. It might help if he had something to live for, assuredly.

Then concentrate. Charles steps forward, propelling himself off the desk towards Erik. At his back, Erik feels the door swinging in on its hinges, the doorknob turning and the lock snicking into place. He's done it, though in the way of dreams he didn't consciously intend to.

That's the other reason Erik takes a masochistic pleasure in his dreams; he's never yet had one in which he didn't still have his powers. The waking world is nightmare enough.

Charles stops a few inches from him, hands sliding up to Erik's shoulders. His eyes are that unearthly blue, and Erik shuts his just before he feels Charles' lips brush against his mouth. It would be easier if his dreams weren't so surreally realistic, if he could believe that Charles was a ghost rather than a figment of his own grieving imagination, if he were a sentimental fool who believed he'd be reunited with Charles in death.

But they're not and he doesn't and he isn't, and there is only the dull, throbbing ache of his sorrow, his sole and constant companion. Erik puts his hands on Charles' shoulders and kisses him back, and at that precise instant he wakes up.

Wakes up, blinking rapidly, against the bright sun of the chess tables in Central Park at noon, surrounded by the chatter of people on lunch breaks and the shrieks of children accompanied by their parents or nannies with his own name in his ears, for all the world as if Charles were right here across from him. He's sitting at his customary table, a chessboard arrayed in front of him, the white pieces already arranged in a fairly predictable gambit. Erik moves one of his pawns to counter, the reaction automatic, and then after a long moment of disjuncture he realizes that he didn't touch the piece with anything but his abilities.

At that point Erik brings his hand up to his face, realizing that his electromagnetic sense of the world is surrounding and imbuing him in the opposite of sensory deprivation, unable to quite contain the fierce, unreasoning joy that overtakes him, and realizes that it wasn't just a dream: he really is thirty again, and the world’s magnetic currents are thrumming through his body like blood, like his heartbeat. For a moment, he can almost see them, the sensation is so palpable and overwhelming—until, with a conscious effort, he masters it.

The white pieces are still sitting there on the board, looking for all the world as if their player has just stepped away to take a cell phone call, and Erik feels a sudden, sharp stab of--grief, mostly, and remorse and anger. It's no more than he deserves, another fifty years on his sentence with no time off for good behavior, but surely there were others who deserved a new lease on life, literally, more than he. Surely if they could have the chance, they'd get things right this time.

Maybe he's become a sentimental fool after all: surely not.

Erik closes his eyes and collects himself and sits in the sunshine and painstakingly plays out both sides of the game, using a style of tactics for the white pieces that isn't his, but that he knows as well as he knows his own name. He uses his powers on the white pieces, unable to keep from smiling at little at the exertion and wishing that one of the people around him would dare to comment on it, but no one does. The sun arches down the sky as he does so, the afternoon burgeoning around him, which he registers but doesn't bother himself about. He has, again, plenty of time to kill.