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These Are The Days

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I.

One day, many years from now, Professor Xavier will meet Magneto on a steel walkway and they will talk of supremacy, of right and wrong, and of standing down when you should turn and fight.

One day, Magneto will whisper in Jason’s ear and spell death for the human race, and Xavier will realize that the man he once knew is now dead.

One day, Charles will look into Erik’s eyes and see a stranger.

One day, they will part for the last time, the strand binding them together across the battlefields snapping like spun glass.

One day, they will be enemies.

But not today.

Today, Charles is a young man who holds onto his friendships like one would hold a sunbeam in the palm of his hand. He can see into Erik’s mind; he knows what his friend is capable of. He also knows what kindness he hides there, behind the shadows of his past, beneath the blanket of Shaw’s hate.

He can feel it; he touched it, even, that day with the satellite. He knows Erik is capable of so much more, and he proved it when Erik stood down in Cuba.

“What are you thinking?”

The other man’s voice is low, rough with sleep, and his hand is curled loosely against Xavier’s wrist. He smiles. “Nothing, Erik,” he says. “Go back to sleep.”

He senses the thread of annoyance in Lensherr’s mind, but he dutifully rolls over and closes his eyes. Charles settles back against his pillow, contemplating the quiet of his home. He reaches out, combing the estate for its inhabitants, and is reassured when he finds everyone in their proper place.

Sean is still resting in the infirmary, but the rest are in their respective quarters. He breathes a little easier when he discovers Mystique in her own bed; she and Hank have grown closer since the battle on the beach, and while Charles is pleased for them, she is still his little sister, and she is still little more than a teenager.

He rubs his temples; they’d averted what could’ve easily been World War III and yet here he was, frightened over shadows. After everything they’d done, humanity had still chosen to stand against them. He remembers it as clearly as if it had been yesterday: Azazel had taken Shaw’s broken form and fled with the rest of their team. Moira had reported that the beach was secure, and yet somehow both Russians and Americans had chosen to fire, releasing cascade after cascade of missiles at the remaining mutants.

Erik had not been easy to convince against killing Shaw; Charles had had to beg him to stay his hand, projecting memories of their time together, of the hopes for the school that they planned to build. It had been touch and go for a while, but Erik hadn’t put on Shaw’s helmet. He’d let Charles inside his mind, had trusted him enough to believe that he wouldn’t control Erik, and that had ultimately led to his decision to spare Shaw’s life.

The humans, however, were another matter. Erik had stopped their missiles with ease, and as they hung suspended in the air like so many glittering jewels, Charles could sense the anger in him, the rage that threatened to boil over.

It had almost been a blessing when Moira had come at them, wielding her gun like the rest of her kind across the water. Charles had unthinkingly stepped in front of Erik, shouting for her to stop, having forgotten in his panic that the man could easily have deflected the bullets.

Erik had done so, of course, but not before a bullet clipped Charles on the leg and the impact sent him crumpling to the sand. Erik had held Moira at bay with a flick of his wrist, the missiles forgotten as he sank down next to his friend.

“It’s fine,” Charles had insisted, bathed in an orange glow as missiles detonated harmlessly above them. “It was a clean pass.” And it was. Wonder of wonders, the bullet had missed anything vital and went straight through.

They’d gone then, Erik hoisting him in his arms and signalling the others to withdraw into the jungle. Moira they left on the beach amongst the wreckage, Charles pausing only to wipe her memories of her time with them.

He hadn’t looked back.

The trek through Cuba and to an airport had proved difficult with his injury, but aside from Sean having a rather nasty fall whilst scouting ahead, they’d made it back to the US and to the estate without incident.

It’s been a week now since their return. A full week of mending, of training, and Charles’ leg is almost as good as new. Soon, he’ll be ready to resume his search for mutants. Now that the world knows of their existence, the urgency for their safe haven has increased tenfold.

Flush from their first true success, the X-Men (as the kids were now calling themselves), were finally a team.

In spite of himself, Charles smiles. Perhaps things will work out, after all.

They prove quite famous last words.

***

II.

Time passes.

Sean heals completely, his broken arm nothing but a memory now. He soars, higher than ever before, and Charles is proud.

Erik catches Raven and Hank kissing behind the tool cabinet when they’re supposed to be building their new jet. He’s in a wonderful mood that day, so he doesn’t tell Charles. He does, however, reinforce the locks on Raven’s bedroom door.

Havoc has been concentrating on controlling his gift without the use of Hank’s contraption. He’s getting better at it; only half the danger room is on fire when Charles checks in on him.

Erik helps Charles and Hank rebuild Cerebro in an unused corner of the mansion. With his help, it’s built better, sleeker. More powerful. Erik splays his fingers against the inside of the dome, smiling as sleek steel bends to his will.

It’s the last panel; the build is complete.

A platform juts out to the center of the room, a helmet resting lightly on the panels. Erik has rebuilt Hank’s station to be outside the room, and he has left them to go to it.

“Do you want me to leave?” Erik asks. This is a momentous occasion; the first time Charles will reach out to their fellows with Cerebro rebuilt.

Charles smiles, reaches for his hand. “Stay,” he says, and Erik does.

Then Charles puts the helm on and Erik feels it, Xavier’s reassuring presence in the back of his mind, the slow, rolling wave as he envelopes him, takes him with him on his search.

Erik gasps softly, unable to help himself, because suddenly he can see them, everyone they’re fighting for, every single mutant on every country, every continent.

The boy who wears dark glasses and uses a cane, who’d rather go through life blind than open his eyes and risk hurting someone.

The girl whose bed shakes whenever she has nightmares, the rattle of the metal frame waking her frightened parents.

The young woman in Africa who wonders why rain falls whenever she cries.

The boy in New Orleans who plays with cards that explode whenever he loses.

Erik can see them all and more. He feels Charles focus on each one, sourcing them out, feeding coordinates to Hank as he pinpoints each location.

They go through half a dozen in all before Charles pulls back, and Erik can feel his exhaustion bleed through their connection.

“You’re tired,” he says, somewhat unnecessarily. “That’s enough for today.”

“I can go again, though,” Charles says, but deflates when Erik gives him a look. “All right, all right. I’ll resume tomorrow, then.”

“It didn’t drain you this much before,” Erik comments, as he takes Charles’ arm.

“I never tried to pinpoint so many at once before,” Charles admits. “Finding their exact locations is a bit more difficult than just sensing their presence. It’s a delicate balance; if I concentrated too hard, I’d end up killing someone.”

Erik raises a brow. “Now I kind of wish you wanted to find Shaw,” he mutters.

This time it’s Charles’ turn to give him a look, but he wilts when Erik leans over to brush his lips against his. “I’m joking, Charles,” he says. “I’ve given up my life of crime, remember?”

“I remember,” Charles replies. “And I’m grateful. Shaw isn’t a threat right now, not without his helmet and his telepath. We can find him and stop him with Cerebro if he ever tries to cause trouble again.”

He squeezes Erik’s shoulder, leading him outside the room. Hank gives them a thumbs-up as they pass, beaming as he consults his new list.

Their hands find their way towards each other as they walk back to their room. (It’s technically Charles’ room, but Erik hasn’t slept in his own room since they’ve been back.) He strokes his thumb lightly against the palm of Charles’ hand, smiling as Charles shivers just a bit.

They pass Sean as they walk down the main corridor, and he raises a hand in greeting.

“Hey professor, can you give me a hand with my altitude test?” Sean asks, beaming. “I think I just broke a new record with my last flight!”

/Don’t even think about it./ Erik thinks pleasantly, knowing that Charles will hear. He conjures a memory of their last coupling where Charles is splayed wantonly beneath him, Erik’s name a gasp on his lips as they slip and slide together like minnows in a pond.

Charles squeezes his hand so hard it almost hurts. “Perhaps later, Sean,” he replies, and if he sounds a bit breathless, well, only Erik can really tell.

They wait until Sean has wandered off in the direction of the kitchens before running up the stairs to the bedrooms, taking the steps two at a time.

Erik is laughing when they tumble inside the room, locking the door with a flick of his wrist.

“You look entirely too pleased with yourself,” Charles says, hands wrapping around the collar of his shirt and tugging him down. Their lips meet and Erik loses himself in the feel of it, the heady sensation of Charles pressed against his body, his mind touching his in a cacophony of pleasure.

“Can you blame me?” Erik finally manages, when he’s pulled away long enough to take his shirt off. “I’m having a very good day.”

“Is that so?” Charles raises a brow. He pulls Erik towards him once more, reaching for his belt. “Perhaps we can make it even better.”

Erik responds him by bearing him gently to the bed.

III.

It can’t last, Erik knows this deep down, because nothing good lasts. At least, not in his experience.

But Charles Xavier is an entirely different animal from him. He’s so filled with idealism and hope that in spite of it all, in spite of himself, Erik finds himself caught up in the other’s fantasy.

He almost believes they can make a better world.

They gather the people from their list, one Jean Grey and Scott Summers, with little incident. Jean’s parents are scared of her; it doesn’t take much to get them to ‘enroll’ her into his school.

Scott, on the other hand, just runs away with them, though it isn’t through any coaxing of Xavier’s. He and Alex may have been separated at birth, but Charles sees Scott’s memories of his younger brother, holding him as a toddler, and he senses the longing in his heart.

All he’d needed to do was bring Havok along with them, and Scott had dropped everything and gone with them.

He uses his telepathy to allow Scott to see Havok through his eyes, and when the brothers embrace for the first time in years, Charles feels a certain peace settle within him. Hank is already hard at work on making something that will allow Scott to see without hurting anyone with his optic blasts. Havoc will scarcely leave his side.

Charles is filled with a sense of purpose; he knows that what he’s doing is the right thing. He conveys this thought to Erik later that night, in the aftermath of their love-making, and Erik grips his hand.

“You’re an optimist, Charles,” is all he says.

Charles just smiles. “Africa, tomorrow,” he says, changing the subject. “Young miss Ororo Munroe awaits me.”

“I wish you’d let me go with you,” Erik replies, sitting up. “I don’t like the idea of you being so far away.”

Charles shrugs. “You know we can’t leave the mansion unprotected that long,” he says. “And it makes more sense for me to go than you… I can be a tad more persuasive, my friend.”

“I suppose,” Erik says. “But I still don’t like it. I wish you’d at least take Hank with you.”

“He’s working on Scott’s visor,” Charles explains patiently. It’s a conversation they’ve had before. “And I don’t want to delay Mr. Summer’s return to the world of the sighted. Erik, please. I’ve been living the better part of my life without bodyguards; I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”

There’s an adamant set to his jaw and Erik knows he won’t be changing his mind anytime soon. Xavier can be a stubborn bastard when he wants to be.

“Thank you, I know,” Charles replies.

“Get out of my head, Charles.”

The impish grin that Erik gets in return melts his resolve to be upset with him for the rest of the night, and Charles coaxes him back down. They kiss, sweet and lingering, and Erik thinks /come back to me/, but Charles has already pulled back from his mind and doesn’t respond.

Erik has trouble sleeping that night.


IV.

Charles never gets on the plane to Africa.

With the jet still being rebuilt, he has no choice but to take a commercial flight to Johannesburg, and Erik counts the minutes from when he drops him off at the airport to when he’s supposed to land.

The flight duration is supposed to be all of seventeen hours, and Erik finds himself perched in front of the telephone in the hall after only sixteen have passed.

Raven passes him on the way to the kitchen, raising a brow. “You realize that he’s got to pick up his luggage, go through customs, and actually check-in at the hotel before he can call you, right?”

Erik glares at her until she goes away.

He calls his pocket watch to him (nearly hitting Sean on the head with it as it zooms down the hall) and spends the next hour staring at it obsessively.

Hank brings him a sandwich when it becomes clear that he isn’t moving until Charles calls, but Erik is too nervous to eat it. “What would be an acceptable time to worry?” he asks him.

Hank eyes him nervously. “Well, given that there might have been some turbulence during the flight, and taking into account that he might have trouble locating his luggage and/or getting a ride to the hotel, I think it would be acceptable to wait another hour and a half before worrying too much.”

Erik is able to contain himself for precisely forty-five minutes longer, before deciding to call the airline to make sure the flight left on time. It would, after all, go a long way to assuage his worries if he confirmed that the plane hadn’t crashed into the sea or something.

He scrambles back to their room and finds his copy of Charles’ itinerary, shuffling through the papers to find the airline’s number scrawled at the bottom. He runs back to the hall and dials the number, trying to shake the feeling of dread that settles in his stomach.

The woman who answers his call pleasantly informs him that the flight had gone smoother than expected, and that the plane had landed a half hour earlier than projected. Rather than soothe him, this information just makes Erik worry more.

He grits his teeth. “Can you check if Charles Xavier boarded the flight?”

The pause on the other end is excruciating.

“I’m sorry, sir, but our records show that Mr. Xavier was a no-show at boarding time. If you wish to refund his ticket, please know that our policies—"

Erik never hears the rest of it, because the receiver (along with the rest of the phone) has crumpled into a tiny metal ball.

He’s in motion before he even registers what he’s done, shouting for the others to meet him in the lab.

“HANK!” he shouts, once he’s opened (ripped, really) the lab doors open.

Raven is right behind him, nearly tripping over herself in her haste to get inside. “What is it, what’s happened?” she asks breathlessly.

“Charles never boarded the plane,” Erik tells her shortly. “Someone’s taken him, and he’s been missing for over eighteen hours.”

“How do we find him?” Havok asks tersely. He and the others have all arrived now, and he’s leading Scott by the arm.

“The jet’s not finished yet,” Hank pipes up. “I still have the old chopper, but it’s not as fast and it only seats four.”

Erik nods tersely. “Someone will need to stay behind with the new students,” he says. “Havok.”

Alex opens his mouth to protest, but a quick glance at Scott beside him quells his urge. “Fine,” he says.

Erik turns to the rest of them, face grim. “Hank, prep the chopper. Mystique, Banshee… suit up.”

They scramble to obey him, but Hank spares him a glance as he leaves. “Erik-- where are we going?”

Erik sets his jaw, lifting his hand to wrench open one of the steel containers in the back of the room. Shaw’s helmet floats towards him, weightless.

“Shaw took our telepath,” he says. “Let’s see how he likes it when I take his.”


V.

They’re halfway to the hidden CIA base when Mystique finally gathers the courage to speak. “Erik, are you sure about this?” she asks, shouting to be heard over the din of the chopper’s blades.

Sean turns to him as well, but wisely keeps silent.

Erik sets his jaw. “There’s no one else, Raven,” he says. “It’s Shaw, I know it is.”

“It could be the CIA,” Mystique points out. “It could be Moira asking for help. It could be anything, at this point. I’m as worried about Charles as anyone, but we don’t have anything to go on!”

“Raven’s right,” Hank says. He’s in the pilot’s seat next to Erik, hands moving quietly over the controls. “There’s nothing that indicates that Shaw took the Professor, or even that he was kidnapped at all. He could have missed his flight willingly.”

“Charles wouldn’t do that without letting us know,” Erik replies. “And you forget that I’ve spent the better part of my youth under Shaw’s thumb. It was because of Charles that we defeated him in Cuba… he’s not going to let that go.”

He clenches his fists, trying to tame the anger that rises in his chest. “I never should have let him leave,” he says. “Shaw was just biding his time, waiting for the moment to strike.”

Mystique shudders at the thought, scales rippling in the dim light. “For my brother’s sake, I hope you’re wrong,” she whispers.

Erik doesn’t reply.

Silence falls in the chopper once more, and he counts the minutes until they land.

***

Charles awakens in a silver room, surrounded by strange, mirror-like walls. He’s incapacitated, arms shackled with metal chains to fixings on the walls.

He blinks, trying to remember how he came to be here, but finds that he can’t. The last thing he remembers is sitting at the airport waiting area and leafing through a newspaper.

He brings two fingers to his temple, trying to get a location. Is he even still in America?

Blood drains from his face when he realizes that he can sense nothing, and he staggers to his feet, looking around himself in dawning horror. He remembers guiding Erik through Shaw’s submarine in Cuba, walking him through the maze of corridors in order to find the one spot where his mind couldn’t penetrate.

“Shaw,” he whispers.

“Very good, Xavier,” comes the voice from behind him, and this is the first time Charles hears it with his own ears. It grates on him.

He turns around, the faint smell of ozone filling his nostrils as Shaw materializes with Azazel.

“Why have you done this?” Charles asks. “We do not want to fight with you.”

“Well that’s too bad,” Shaw replies. “Because I’ve got a bone to pick with you, /telepath/.” He says the last word like a curse, glaring at Xavier.

“Do you have any idea what it was like in Cuba?” he asks, walking towards him. “I was completely incapacitated, unable to move, while your lunatic friend beat me unconscious. All that power at my fingertips… wasted!”

He grabs Charles by the lapels, dragging him forward. “You’re a worm,” he hisses, spittle landing on Charles’ cheek. “You’re a weak, pathetic little worm, and you managed to put me down with /mind tricks/.”

“You were trying to start a war,” Charles replies, voice steady. “We had no choice.”

Shaw laughs then, releasing him abruptly. “You had a choice,” he says. “You should’ve stuck by your own kind.”

He nods at Azazel, who places a hand on his shoulder. “No mind tricks in here, Charles,” he says. “Let’s see how well you do with a dose of your own medicine.”

They disappear in a burst of smoke, leaving him alone in the mirror room.

Charles hears the unmistakable hiss of gas as soon as they’re gone, and he strips his jacket off and covers his mouth in desperation. The room fills with the noxious substance quickly, and he falls to his knees, choking, before darkness claims him.

VI.

They find Emma in the third basement level, cell block 7-C.

It had taken Mystique all of two minutes to find their prisoner manifest, having posed as the warden and demanding access to their files. Erik dispatches the guards as soon as they arrive at Frost’s cell, clenching his fist as they strangle under their own dogtags.

“Should I impersonate Shaw?” Raven asks, but Erik has no patience for subtleties.

He waves a hand, ripping the steel door off its hinges and tossing it aside like it was paper.

Emma is already in her diamond form when he walks in, crouched behind her sleeping palette. It’s made of metal, just a slab of steel on a cold floor; Erik uses it to crush her against the far wall.

Beside him, Mystique gasps sharply. “Erik, Erik, stop,” she says. “You’re going to kill her!”

“Stay out of this, Raven,” Erik warns, clenching his fists as he redoubles the force of his assault.

Emma struggles valiantly against the steel slab, but Erik knows that her diamond form will shatter under the right amount of pressure. It’s a dark place that he goes to, then, darker than anywhere he’s ever been, but the thought of Charles sustains him, keeps him moving forward even when the others flinch.

Emma is screaming now, and there’s a sharp, sickening crack as her diamond form breaks.

“Pull back to Sean’s location,” Erik orders, glancing at Raven. “Her diamond form has been dispelled for now, but she can still control your mind.”

Mystique hesitates, but the look on his face brooks no argument. She flees without another word.

“What do you want?” Emma asks, glaring at him from behind a harsh tangle of hair. She’s got a split lip and a bruise is forming on her cheek. Metal squeals as it presses tighter against the wall, flesh giving way so much easier than diamonds.

“Shaw has taken Charles,” Erik says. He walks towards her slowly, feeling the cool press of Shaw’s metal helm against his cheeks. “And you’re going to tell me where his hiding places are. Every single one.”

“Or what?” Emma spits. “You’re going to kill me? Good luck finding your friend, then.”

Erik’s expression could have been carved from stone. “I’m not going to kill you,” he says. “I’m going to make sure you live.”

He waves a hand, increasing the pressure against her fair skin slowly. “A very, very long time.”

He doesn’t let up until she starts to choke, throat heaving from the steel crushing her against the unforgiving wall. “Stop,” she begs. “Please, stop. I-I’ll tell you what I know.”

And she does, half a dozen secret locations spilling from her lips like easy truths. Erik remembers them all.

“I trust that I don’t have to tell you what will happen to you if I discover that any of these places are a lie,” he says, and Emma shakes her head. He releases her then, allowing her to tumble to the floor.

“Pray that I don’t have to come back.”

When he leaves, he seals the cell and removes the seam between the wall and door.

Let the CIA make of that as they will.

VII.

When Charles comes to, he’s strapped down on an operating table and in a different room from before. His chest is bare and he’s already bleeding from a dozen tiny cuts, each incision dripping a tiny rivulet of crimson.

He closes his eyes, concentrating, trying to reach out to someone (anyone). There’s nothing, just a black void of static that scratches at the spaces behind his eyes, hissing and spitting like so many broken promises.

He’s blind for the first time since he’d discovered his powers, and it’s like he’s lost a limb, the ghost of a missing appendage that flexes and yet finds nothing to hold onto.

He’s unable to keep the scream the bubbles from his lips as he feels a sudden pressure around his throat, thick metal coils springing to life and wrapping around him. He panics then, thrashing against his bonds, but they’re made of steel also, tightening with every movement.

/Erik?/ He thinks, startled at the thought of betrayal, but he slips into unconsciousness before he can fully process the idea.

***

Erik stands in the midst of the wreckage of one of Shaw’s yachts, incensed at the realization that it’s been abandoned for quite some time.

Sean lands on the pier, shaking his head. “There’s nothing underwater, either,” he says. “If they were ever here, they’re gone now.”

Mystique and Hank and come back from scouting the other moored ships in the vicinity, reporting nothing. “And given your recent display,” Beast adds, eying the wreckage. “I think we should make ourselves scarce very soon.”

Erik clenches his fist. This is the second location they’ve been to, and still nothing. “Back to the chopper,” he grinds out. “We’re going to the Chicago base next.”

Hank and Sean exchange a look, but obediently head back to the chopper. “Erik,” Mystique pleads, putting a hand on his arm. “We need to rest. It’s been days—we’re all exhausted.”

He shakes her off, striding back to the chopper and wrenching open the door. “I’ll rest when we find Charles,” he says. “But you’re welcome to stay behind.”

Mystique barely has time to strap herself down before they lift off again.

VIII.

Hours bleed into days into weeks into months. Charles loses himself in the mirror room, trapped in a haze of pain/despair/agony. He’s held down and beaten bloody, his mind flayed with psychic pain that ends only when he loses consciousness. He can’t think, can’t function, can’t string a coherent thought together.

It’s Shaw on some days, Azazel during the others. They say things to him, whisper secrets in his ear, and it hurts him to hear their voices. Because always, inevitably, they pull their masks aside and it’s Erik underneath, him and not him, like a bad joke told over and over again.

Charles hurts inside, like something has broken, and when Erik pushes him down (again and again and again) and pushes into him and it’s agony and not Erik, not like this, pleasepleaseno. Tears spring to his eyes because he loses himself, bit by bit, every single time. He’s staring at a red cape and a helm that’s so familiar somehow, his hands manacled to the walls and the word he thinks is “Magneto”.

But that doesn’t make sense because it’s a child’s nickname, a name given on a whim and it doesn’t mean /anything/. But still the hands fisting into his hair come and go and the pain/pleasure/pain is still there, and the name… The name is still the same.

One day it stops.

The door opens and it isn’t Shaw or Azazel, but Raven. A blue girl clad in yellow and Charles wants to laugh until he realizes it’s his sister.

“Raven?” he whispers, through cracked and bleeding lips. The hand he raises to her face is filthy, but she doesn’t flinch.

She’s saying something, lips mouthing strange words but Charles can’t understand a thing. He’s too weak, far too weak to stand, and suddenly he sees Erik’s face. Immediately he tries to pull away, but the other man is lifting him in his arms and cradling him and Charles thinks “oh”. This hasn’t happened before; the Erik who is Magneto never cries.

But this one does; his eyes are so, so blue and Charles can’t stop staring at them. He tries to smile, and realizes that the mirror room is gone.

***

“Charles, Charles, can you hear me?” Mystique cries, hands gripping her brother’s shoulders. “ERIK! He’s here!!”

There’s a dim crash behind her, the sound carrying across the corridor. She can hear Sean screaming from somewhere above them; this is a good sign, as it means he’s probably winning.

“God, Charles, what have they done to you?” She whispers, her heart breaking as she holds her brother. His eyes are wide and unfocused and he’s mouthing a constant stream of words that are all but intelligible. He appears mostly unhurt, though his clothing is torn in places and his fingernails are bloody. She swallows hard when she sees the deep scratches against his arms; the wounds appear self-inflicted.

“Erik!” she shouts again, desperate, not knowing what to do. Charles doesn’t appear concussed but she can’t move him by herself.

There’s a long, low scream that’s cut off abruptly from somewhere outside, and Erik appears in the doorway. He’s covered in a fine white ash and there’s a cut on his cheek.

“Where is he--?” He catches sight of them at the far end of the room and is by their side in an instant.

Mystique relinquishes her hold and Erik hefts her brother as if he weighed nothing, jaw clenched. The walls begin to vibrate as Erik takes a step forward, and he jerks his head at Mystique.

“Run,” he says. There’s an edge to his voice that she’s never heard before. “Run now.”

She looks at him uncomprehendingly for a moment, then realizes that the entire room has begun to shake. The glass panels at the far end of the room shatter, spraying broken fragments at her feet as metal beams erupt from within. Erik is just ahead, shaking, holding Charles in his arms. His fury is almost palpable.

Mystique runs.

***

Erik brings it down.

Every panel, every brick, every part of Shaw’s Chicago base is decimated. Metal screams as be brings everything he can call to bear; the support beams, the doors, hell, he even takes the door knobs.

He rips them out of their hiding places and bullets them through the walls, breaking through the cement structure like so much shattered glass.

He walks through the building, carefully , quietly, his soft tread a whisper against the cacophony of metal, until nothing is left.

When he gets to the chopper, he puts Charles carefully in the backseat, and tells the X-Men to move out.


IX.

There’s something wrong.

Erik realizes this as soon as he brings Charles to their makeshift medical bay at the mansion, Hank fussing over vials and syringes as he tries to bring Charles around. He’d fainted on the helicopter ride over, and the cursory examination he’d been given on the chopper had revealed no great physical damage.

Hank quickly determines that he’s a bit dehydrated, and save for the cuts on his arms, he seems largely unscathed.

His mind, however, is another thing entirely.

Charles’ eyes are large and unfocused when he comes to, and he seems unable to recognize the people around him. He pales and shudders when Erik tries to come near him, alternately screaming at him to stay away and crying for him to come closer.

Sedation seems their only recourse for the meantime, and Erik nods at Hank as he pushes the syringe into Charles’ arm.

He takes Charles’ limp hand, then, pressing a kiss to the palm of it. “I’m leaving,” he tells Hank. “Do what you can for him in the meantime.”

Hank nods. “When will you be back?” he asks.

“I won’t be long,” Erik says. There’s something very dangerous in his eyes, and Hank involuntarily takes a step back.

“I have unfinished business with the Hellfire Club.”

***

The mansion is as quiet as death when Jean wakes.

It’s the middle of the night and the older students have all slumped into their beds, exhausted from the hunt. They’d been gone for almost a week, and though Alex had been very nice, Jean had missed the man with kind eyes who’d come to invite her to the school.

She was fifteen—younger than all the others, but she knew things that they didn’t. She knew that the professor was very interested in her telekinetic gifts, but that he enjoyed her telepathic projections as well. She wasn’t nearly as good with the latter as she was the former, but she’d tried to send him a joke across the room once, and he’d laughed.

Everyone had been tight-lipped around her and Scott, but she’d picked up fragments of what had happened from Mystique’s mind. She was the professor’s sister, and her worry made her mind a little easier to read.

She pads down to Hank’s lab, pushing past the double doors and further into the back, where the professor is lying on a small bed. She sits in the chair next to him, reaching out to hold his hand.

/Professor?/ she thinks. /Are you there? It’s me, Jean./

She gropes for the tenuous connection, carefully touching his mind with hers. Xavier’s projection is strong, painful. She gasps when she realizes the agony he’s in, but can only make out a few fragments of memory and thought.

She doesn’t understand them. The professor had only been gone a week, but these memories—there were far too many of them, the images foreign to her young mind.

/Jean…?/ The professor’s voice sounded in her head. It was weak, but unmistakably him. /Jean Grey?/

She catches a flash of something then, something raw and powerful, a huge bird that bursts into flames before her eyes. She’s frightened of it, but the fire doesn’t burn her skin—it envelopes her, makes her stronger, then—

“What are you doing?”

The words are whispered harshly in her ear, a heavy hand on her shoulder breaking her connection abruptly.

“I—Mr. Lensherr,” she gasps, shaking her head to rid her of the thought. “What’s a… a Phoenix? And who’s Marvel Girl?”

“Did you connect with Charles?” Erik asks her, dismissing her words. “Is he all right?”

Jean shakes her head slowly. “I almost did, but he’s… it’s like he’s lost inside his own head,” she says. “I think… I think they did something. There’s too many memories in his mind, and they haven’t happened yet, or they may never happen, but he has them. And it’s… it’s painful for him.”

Erik sets his jaw. “Go back to bed,” he says. “Get some sleep. Tomorrow, after breakfast, I want you to come back here and try to make contact with him again.”

Jean nods, getting up from the chair. Erik drops down onto it in her stead, reaching out to grip the professor’s arm. It’s an intimate gesture, and she hurries out of the lab for fear of intruding further. She can sense the pain rolling off of him in waves without even trying.

It isn’t until she’s back in her room that she realizes her nightdress is wet with blood, Erik’s handprint a stain on her sleeve.

She doesn’t fall asleep again for a long time.

X.

Shaw will spend the rest of his life waiting to die.

He hangs suspended in the air, wreathed in metal that binds him tightly. They are bonds that pierce his flesh, like so many tiny skewers, each one a glistening spike. He is held in the decimated remains of his stronghold, all that he has built reduced to rubble around him.

When Erik asks him what he’s done to the telepath, he merely laughs.

“Nothing you can reverse,” Shaw says. His smile is sharp and unpleasant. “I’ve made sure of that.”

Erik tightens his grip, twisting barbs into flesh and blood drips onto the floor. “What have you done?” he whispers.

“It’s amazing how fragile the human mind is,” Shaw manages to say. He watches an interesting river of red run down his arm. “Just a little drug, a little push, a little view into just how bad our little Erik can be…’

‘It’s so easy to break a mind,” he says. “When you know how to press.”

By the time Erik leaves, Shaw is a crumpled, bloody mess on the floor.

He leaves him breathing, though, because death would be too kind.

---

Jean is already at Charles’ side when Erik returns, and Hank is monitoring both their vital signs.

Erik nods at him. “Any progress?” he asks.
“Some,” Hank says. “Jean has managed to make contact with him, but she says she can’t hold him long enough to get anything concrete.’

A beat, then: “Did you find anything out from Shaw?”

Erik nods. “They’ve been experimenting on his mind,” he says. “They had a mutant… a precog named Destiny, who showed Charles possible futures. They used drugs to ‘enhance’ these visions. I don’t… I’m not certain what he was shown, but I’m assuming it was nothing good.”

“That added to the professor’s considerable telepathic abilities could have very likely caused some sort of overload,” Hank says. He rubs his temples, frowning. “This is psychic damage, and from what Jean tells me, he’s felt like he was imprisoned for far longer than a week.”

“Mr. Lensherr,” Jean’s voice is soft. “I think… a lot of the professor’s visions are about you.”

Erik looks at her sharply. “What do you mean?” he asks.

Jean swallows, pulling her hand away from Charles’ grip. “He’s been shown so many possible universes, none of them good,” she says. “He’s… it’s like he’s living in a nightmare that’s real and, well… you’re in all of them, in some form or another. You’re… hurting him, in all of them.”

“I would never--" Erik cuts himself off abruptly, glaring. He thinks back to that day on the beach, thinks about how close he’d come to ending on the other side of a brewing war. He wonders just how bad it could have gotten, had Charles not brought him back to his senses by taking a bullet meant for him.

“I want to talk to him,” he says instead, sitting at the foot of Charles’ bed. “Take me into his mind; connect us.”

“I’m not sure if I—“ Jean bites her lip when Erik levels her with an even stare. “I’ll try, Mr. Lensherr. But I’m not sure how long I can hold it. I’m nowhere near as strong as the professor.”

“Understood,” Erik says. He keeps his eyes on Charles as Jean takes hold of his hand, brushing her fingers against Charles’ temple with the other. He feels the touch of her mind, like a thin strand of gold that spears across his vision, then abruptly swallows him whole.

/Mr. Lensherr?/ Jean’s voice is quiet, reedy. /We’re inside. I can’t go any further with you; it’s taking everything I have just to keep you here. Please be careful./

Erik opens his mouth to respond, but before he can utter a word, the ground shifts under his feet and he’s inside a room with no windows. It’s pitch black, but he can sense someone moving in the darkness, choked sobs resounding across the small space.

Erik blindly gropes forward, feeling for a switch across the wall.

“Charles?” he whispers. “Charles, are you here?”

“…Erik?”

His fingers find purchase and he flicks at the switch; the room is illuminated with light. “Charles?” he whispers. He realizes with dawning horror that he’s standing in a hospital room.

Charles is on the floor, his legs splayed uselessly beneath him. He’s hunched over, arms raised in vain to the bed that he’s unable to pull himself into.

“You did this to me,” Charles whispers, when Erik looks at him with stricken eyes. “So many possible futures, endless diversity in infinite combinations, and in all of them you’ve reduced me to this.”

“Charles,” Erik chokes, even as he sinks to his knees before the man. “Please, it’s not like that…”

“You’ve broken me,” Charles says, anger twisting his features. “You’ve ruined it all!”

He pushes Erik away violently, and he falls back, back into a yawning chasm that suddenly engulfs him. “No,” he gasps, and then he’s lost in another memory, another future waiting to happen.

“No, please,” Erik whispers. He’s standing in the middle of a burning city, smoke rising from pyre upon pyre. Bodies are piled high around him, skin charred and black. The taste of ashes fills his mouth and he chokes on it, falling to his knees in front of a stone monument.

He fingers the letters that spell his lover’s name, tracing each groove. “He died so Genosha could live.” An epitaph.

Erik stumbles away, gasping, tumbling against a stone wall. “She’s your daughter,” someone tells him, a voice whispering in his ear. “Are you going to let them kill her?”

His hands are weathered, old. “What would you have me do?” He asks Pietro, and this, he knows suddenly, is his son.

Erik chokes on his own words, sees a women with brown hair crumple to the ground. “Charles, Charles,” he whispers.

He watches as she changes things, power flickering from her fingertips like so much shattered glass. “No more mutants, daddy,” she says, and her eyes are as cold as cold. “You always chose them over us, your own flesh and blood. No more.”

It’s genocide on a scale that he’d never imagined, and it’s all his fault, all of it, and Charles is dead and gone and Erik’s mind unravels like so many spools of thread.

He screams and

screams

and

screams

until there is a hand on his chest, wrapping around his arm and suddenly

suddenly

he’s underwater. Shaw’s submarine is getting away, slipping through the grasp of his power, and he meets Charles Xavier for the first time.


XI.

/Charles…/

Xavier pulls himself together with great difficulty, his broken legs useless as Magneto pummels him with shrapnel. Erik’s voice is like a lightning strike in his mind, and he brings up a hand to his split lip and concentrates, trying to penetrate Magneto’s thoughts.

The man in the helmet is bearing down again, floating from the ceiling like a god on high. His hair is in thick white braids, his armor crimson and gleaming.

This is not his Erik.

With the realization comes a jolt of memory within him, and he looks around the mirrored room with wide eyes.

“Scum,” Magneto hisses. “You’re a traitor to your own kind.” He lifts the other man up by his lapels and they rise slowly into the air, Charles gasping for breath.

/Charles!/

It’s a shout now, urgency seeping across the void. Charles grits his teeth, ignoring the pressure in his throat as Magneto strangles him, gloved hands tight against his neck.

“You’re not Erik,” he gasps out, and as the words leave his lips, a mirror shatters across from them, bringing with it a flood of memories.

True memories, real memories, and Charles wrests the imposter’s hands from his throat and falls to the floor. All around him, mirrors burst and glass rains down on them both, filling him with strength. He pushes himself up and off the ground, standing for what seems like the first time in months.

I can walk, he tells himself. I can walk.

He pulls himself together with great difficulty, sensing Erik’s distress. He has encountered so many facets of the future, so many different variations, but this, he realizes, is his Erik.

Which means that this man before him, clad in crimson and helmed, is nothing at all.

Charles sets his jaw as Magneto hurtles towards him again, but this time he passes through him like a ghost.

“You no longer exist,” Charles informs him coldly, and just like that, he’s gone.

The room follows soon after, misting away in smoke and ash. Charles touches two fingers to his temple as he concentrates, piercing through the fog of deceit.

He can hear Erik screaming clearly now, madness lapping at the edges of his mind. Charles knows that he needs him, needs him to be strong for him, so he grabs a passing memory, (a real one, he’s sure of it), and he submerges them both in it, drawing Erik forcibly out of his hell.

/Let it go, my friend. Erik, I’m here./ They’re old words, true words, and he feels the man in his arms shudder in the water.

He feels Erik release the submarine and they surface, the ocean lapping at their shoulders.

“Charles?” Erik whispers. “Is it you?”

He nods. “I’m afraid it is,” he says, treading water. “And you, my friend, have saved me yet again.”

Erik lunges at him, the embrace taking him a little off guard. He holds him nevertheless, and they sink out of the memory as Charles kisses his brow.

/It’s time to go,/ he thinks, and breaks the bond.

---

When Erik opens his eyes, he sees Jean peering at him worriedly.

“Mr. Lensherr?” she asks. “Are you okay? I think… I think Professor X broke my connection on purpose. Did you…?”

Erik nods, running a hand through his hair. “I found him,” he says. “He should… he should be waking up soon.”

Hank breathes a sigh of relief. “You were out for almost an hour,” he says. “But his brain waves started spiking towards the end. I didn’t know if it was good or bad.”

“Hopefully good,” Erik mutters, leaning forward to hold Charles’ hand. Jean moves aside to let him move closer, and he holds his breath when Charles’ lashes begin to flutter.

“…Erik?” His voice cracks slightly from disuse, but his eyes are the bluest that Erik’s ever seen them.

This time when they embrace, it’s solid, real warmth, and Erik basks in it. For the first time in a week, he feels it again, the place between rage and serenity.

“Welcome home,” he whispers.

XII.

Days pass. Wounds heal. Charles spends time with Jean in his study, teaching her the finer points of telepathy. Scott opens his eyes for the first time in years. Mystique no longer hides her true face, and on one triumphant summer day, she brings one Ororo Munroe through the doors of Xavier’s school.

Ironically, Charles mends easier than Erik, who has a tendency to brood when the other is away. Charles comes across him in the study one day, gripping Shaw’s helmet with his head bowed in thought.

Light strikes the smooth metal in a way that blinds Charles for a moment, and he sees a flash of crimson that sends him stumbling backwards. Erik is at his side in an instant, dropping the helm and gripping his elbows.

“Charles, are you all right?” he asks urgently, and Charles nods.

“It’s nothing,” he assures him. “Just a trick of the light.”

Erik pulls away then, withdrawing into himself as his eyes fall toward the helmet on the floor. “You’re thinking of him,” he says. “Magneto. I’m not going to hurt you, Charles.”

“I know, my friend,” Charles says. “You aren’t him, and could never be.”

Erik tries to smile. “You have so much faith in me,” he says. “Much more than I deserve.”

He turns away, trying to block out the memory of the ruined city, of his children who never were. “There was so much pain,” he whispers. “So much death and I caused it all.”

“It wasn’t you, Erik,” Charles insists. He walks to him, takes his hand and presses a kiss on his knuckles. “Maybe if you’d made different choices, went down a different path, it would have ended differently. But you didn’t, and you’re here with us, with me.”

Erik embraces him then, presses his forehead to Charles’ nape and breathes in his scent. “Do you believe in fate?” he asks quietly, choking on the word.

“No,” Charles replies, stroking a hand down his back. “I believe that we make our own destinies, Erik, and that we live the lives we choose to make.’

‘Perhaps in another world, we are indeed enemies. And perhaps the House of M does bring about the destruction of our species,” Charles continues. “But it isn’t this world, and it isn’t this life.”

He pulls back far enough to look Erik in the eye, and there is determination on his face that Erik has never seen before.

“We make our own destinies, Erik,” he repeats. “You and I, and no one else.”

His kiss is sweet and full of promise.

Erik loses himself in Charles Xavier then, and in so many universes where their story ends in sorrow in so many different ways, he allows himself to hope that in just one of them, just this single one, they can find their peace at last.


***

One day, many years from now, Erik and Charles will stand on a steel walkway and reminisce over old ghosts long dead.

One day, Magneto will whisper in Jason’s ear and pull him away from Xavier, binding him with the steel of his own seat and breaking his control.

One day, Charles will look into Erik’s eyes and see the world.

One day, they will part for the last time, because their shared dream has come to fruition and there is nothing left to build.

The future is what they have made it.

#