It was with great care that Charles carefully disconnected one tube from Cerebro and inserted a second, white tube in its place, while balancing three more tubes, a headpiece, and a few screws in his lap. He was still unused to being in a wheelchair, and if he dropped any of the pieces on the floor he was afraid he wouldn't be able to pick them up again. He had already had enough trouble opening some of the higher cupboards in Hank's lab, and yanking out what he needed with a high-reaching cane. Along with whatever else fell out. The young scientist would not be happy when he woke up and discovered what had happened to his organized system.
Not that Hank would let himself get angry, the Professor knew. Everyone had been disturbingly solicitous ever since the diagnosis had come back that he could never walk again. Are you alright, Professor? If you can't reach that, I can. Can I get you anything? Even Alex had been unusually…quiet. (And come to think of it, he hadn't seen OR heard Alex recently. Maybe he should be worried about that.)
The truth was, being treated like solicitously felt like being treated like a cripple. Charles resolved that his next order of business would be handicap-proofing the house until he didn't need to ask anyone for anything. Next, after he found Erik.
It was for that purpose that he had slipped into Hank's lab late at night to "borrow" the latest upgrade for Cerebro they had been working on during the day. The upgrade was designed to increase his telepathic range and strength even further, allow him to slip between gaps in telepathic blocks, and perhaps even allow him to penetrate Erik's exceptionally ugly new headgear. It was worth a try.
He would have tried earlier that day, if he hadn't been stopped by his overprotective student. (He couldn't shake the feeling that Hank had never had any problems with him trying new versions of Cerebro before he'd been injured. Although perhaps he was being unfair, this was pretty damn risky.)
Hank had protested, "Professor, this is too great of a risk! When we first started analyzing my failed 'cure,' I thought we might be able to isolate the physical changes and create something that would temporarily strengthen your mental powers. But we still only have theories about where my first attempt went wrong, and I can't let you try inserting the chemicals directly into Cerebro! We still don't fully understand the possible side-effects." Almost involuntarily, he raised a clawed finger to touch his newly blue hair. "Maybe we can find a way to make this safer, and then try again."
But Charles knew better. They had run every test possible in the lab, but there was no way to be absolutely certain of its effects until someone put the new and improved Cerebro over their head. It was a risk he was willing to take. He'd left too many regrets behind, back on that beach one month ago where he'd lost his best friend, his sister, and his legs. He'd never be able to forgive himself if he didn't give one last try to getting two of the three back.
Contrary to what the children thought, he was not clinging to a dead dream. He understood the inside of Erik's head better than anyone, perhaps including Erik himself, and he knew how fixed the other man was on his path of destruction. He had never been completely blind to it; part of what he could not forgive himself for was that he had known Erik was teetering close to the edge, and had denied it because he didn't want it to be true.
Ever since that day, a million things that he should have said or done had been racing through his mind. He'd been flogging himself for letting Erik go after Shaw alone, and then for mentioning the "just following orders" defense.
Perhaps there really had been no way to persuade Erik. But he couldn't let it go because quite frankly, he didn't feel that he'd given it his best shot. Lying on the beach with blood dripping from his neck and a nagging voice in the back of his head going "ohmygodIcan'tfeelmylegs" he hadn't exactly been at his most persuasive. He'd been trying so hard just to stay conscious that he'd given up too soon. Lying in his hospital bed, he'd had a lot of time to think, and he'd realized that he wasn't ready to give up on Erik yet.
However, what had really been the final straw had been Raven. Hank had kept in touch with a few of his former government friends, and two nights ago he had reported a disturbing piece of information: several of the men who had ordered the attack on the beach had been found dead. Someone had witnessed one of them being shot in the head by his wife, but this report had been deemed to be a mistake because the wife in question had an airtight alibi, having been teaching in front of a full class of students at the time. The conclusion had been obvious. Hank had tiptoed around it with obvious discomfort.
Charles could understand, because he felt the same way—unable to say it out loud. His beautiful little sister, an assassin. To his secret shame, he'd been more upset about Raven becoming a killer than the fact that the man in question was dead. He couldn't help fearing for her. Images of his sister dying in a secret government cell after being subjected to "questionable" interrogation techniques haunted him at night. In retrospect, he could barely believe that he'd told his sister to follow her heart into a violent terrorist organization. He'd wanted to make her happy, not get her arrested or killed. In truth, he'd only told her to go because in spite of everything, he had still trusted Erik. He'd had a vague notion that Raven would just tag along as Erik's student or secretary or something similar. (Maybe he could blame that one on the blood loss.)
If he'd known how it would turn out, he would have told Raven he was dying if that was what it took to keep her by his side and off the FBI's most wanted list. And if it would save his sister now, he would even play the "cripple" card and ruthlessly pump her for every scrap of pity. And that, frankly, was not something he would do for anyone who wasn't family.
Did Erik feel guilty about his injury? Charles hoped that he did. He could use that. He'd already tried reasoning with Erik and Raven using the truth, but this time he was willing to say whatever it took to make them give peace—and him—a second chance.
Unfortunately, thanks to Erik's paranoia he couldn't even talk to them (and it hurt that Erik had shut him out, he understood why especially given that they were likely to end up fighting each other in the near future, but it still hurt). He couldn't even reach Raven, because Emma was apparently doing something to mentally block the rest of the group too. Erik's merry band was hiding from the police, so tracking them down through amateur detective work was unlikely. The only option left was Cerebro, pumped up with Hank's experimental concoction.
Carefully, Charles fitted the last piece into the new model of Cerebro. He was willing to risk it. He'd even gone through with Hank's suggestion and shaved his head to make maximize his use of Cerebro. Somehow, hair had seemed less important after all that had happened. He wondered vaguely if he could make Erik feel guilty over that, too.
There was no sense putting it off. He took a deep breath, and plunged Cerebro over his head.
The landscape in front of him was one he was familiar with, now. People everywhere, humans in black and white and mutants in color. He drifted through this world, pausing to touch on the minds he was familiar with. He saw Hank sleeping soundly in his bed, Sean sprawled half-falling out of his, Alex curled up on the sofa in front of a TV screen,
Erik, he called. Erik, can you hear me?
At first, there was nothing, and he felt a stab of bitter disappointment. Then he noticed a peculiar blank spot in his vision, one which suddenly smelled of metal.
Found you! he cried, and dove forward.
Only to rebound, sharply. It felt like he'd slammed his head into a wall. He'd accomplished as little as he ever had when Erik was wearing the helmet, and suddenly he realized that he didn't even know where Erik (he was sure it was Erik) was—he couldn't see anything about his surroundings.
As he tried to look around, he felt the dark ripple start to fade away entirely. Fiercely, he reached out and latched on. It was like trying to grab a handful of smoke.
A dull throbbing had started to appear in the back of his head. He ignored it. Summoning every scrap of will, he pressed harder, trying to latch onto the elusive patch of where he was sure Erik's mind was. You are not getting away! I shaved my head for this, dammit!
And suddenly, he was inside the smoke, and everything was very very dark, and he was spinning dizzily, dark in all directions.
Someone said, Charles?
And then his mind went blank.
Charles Xavier woke to the faint sound of birds chirping and the rasp of metal bending. He opened his eyes to see a massive twisted heap of metal—pens, jar rims, cord plugs, computer parts, copper wiring, all mingled together and distorted out of shape—placed in front of his wheelchair like an offering before a god.
It was not the noise that struck him, but the silence. There were no voices in his head.
Erik Lehnsherr, recently renamed Magneto, woke up with a faint pain behind his temples and the sense that he'd had a bad dream. Wearing a metal helmet to bed might have explained the headache (he still didn't trust Emma enough to let her protect his mind) and the nightmares were normal except for the fact that he didn't remember this one.
No sooner had he sat up and tried to pat down some hair sticking out of his helmet than Raven bounded into his room, with an alacrity that suggested she'd been waiting outside for the first sign of movement.
"So, have you thought about what you're going to wear today?" she demanded. "I keep telling you that red cape is no good. Remember that FBI agent who tried to get an autograph from 'Superman'? Black, black is the way to go. Though I have a sneaking fondness for blue."
As she spoke, she shifted through a variety of costumes, all while wearing his face. It was like a very creepy mirror. He was struck by how silly the red looked—Raven might have a point there.
The mutant shape-shifter returned to her regular blue self in order to shift through his closet, humming as she tossed rejected items on the floor. Raven—no, he should think of her as Mystique—had matured considerably since she had left with him, into a competent and dangerous young woman…but there were still times when she acted as if she was a small child and expected him to indulge her. He blamed Charles' influence. (He swiftly killed that thought before he started thinking of other things he blamed Charles for.)
He ought to give Mystique a harsh boot out of his room, but his head still hurt too much to shout. He staggered out of bed (dressed in full, because his days as a hunter had taught him to never let himself be caught vulnerable). "Mystique, this is quite ridiculous. Leave at once-"
"Found it!" she squealed. She held up a sleek black cloak, made of silk so fine it looked like a storm cloud."
"That's-" Erik did a double-take. "-not bad, actually."
"It's very light, too. Would go perfectly with your new silver armor." This is so much fun! Charles never let me play dress-up with him.
"Well, I'm glad to know that you joined the mutant cause for such a noble reason," Erik snapped. Raven gave him a look of deep hurt, and then shriveled up under his answering glare, like a puppy who had been kicked. But how had she expected him to respond to a comment like that?
Irritated, he called his silver armor to him. Nothing happened.
"Mystique, did you move my armor?" He couldn't sense it in the room at all. Or the entire hotel.
"No sir, it's right here," she said meekly, holding up the armor.
It was there, and yet it…wasn't. It felt as dead to him as the wooden floor under his feet, which meant it couldn't be made of metal. "Mystique, is this some kind of joke?"
"It's not! What are you talking about?" Calm down, girl, he's just tired.
"I am not tired!"
"I didn't say you were," Raven said, wide-eyed.
Before he could beg to differ, there was a loud pounding on the door. "FBI! Open up!"
Mystique rolled her eyes. "Not again. Ever think maybe we should stop having me impersonate the President of the United States and charge our bill to the White House?"
"But it's so much fun!" Erik grinned as the door fell in.
Five FBI agents in full jackets thrust their guns into the room. "Nobody move! FBI! Hands behind your head and drop to the ground now!" Oh my god blue freak prank call drugs want coffee…
Humans and their toys. Erik casually raised a hand and called their guns to him.
Except, the weapons didn't move.
The agent continued, "You have five seconds to comply!"
Mystique was still regarding him with fearless amusement, unaware that anything had gone wrong. Plastic guns? Did the FBI know who he was? There was no time for speculation now. He summoned every scrap of metal in the room and aimed for their heads.
He was still wondering what had happened when the bullet hit him in the arm.
Mystique screamed, "Azazel, get over here!" and threw herself in front of him.
Commendable instincts, but she was only in his way. He reached out with his good arm and yanked her to the floor, using the armor still in her hands as a shield as he took cover behind the bed.
Guns were firing again and he flexed his right arm. The bullet had only grazed him just below the shoulder—odds were the morons of the FBI had been trying to fire a warning shot. Their incompetence was obvious in the way every one of them was babbling nonsensically, everything from Never shot a gun before, should have spent more time at the practicing range; The freak is naked; What will I tell Molly if I kill someone; Who are these clowns and Mystique herself seemed to be talking nonstop, What's wrong why didn't he deflect them where's Azazel—And each sentence was like a stab of pain in his head, he had to act but he couldn't THINK.
"Stop that!" he screamed in frustration.
There was one more gunshot, then deathly silence. He risked a brief peak over the bed. All five FBI agents were frozen in place, guns extended before them, and in one case mouth still hanging open. He glanced to the side, and saw that Mystique was frozen as well, eyes glassy.
A telepath. Emma? But why would she have frozen Mystique too?
The pain in his head kept increasing—it was now a steady burning through his forehead. There was a nagging chattering he could almost make out, like having ants crawling in his ears. When he tried to stand up, he had to stop and clutch his head, suddenly feeling as if it might topple off his shoulders. An overwhelming compulsion to tear off his helmet went through him, but he resisted—what if this was some new mental attack?
Emma, Azazel, Angel, and Riptide appeared outside the door—about time. With a blast of air, Riptide shoved a few motionless FBI agents aside and the four stepped into the room.
Emma had an uncharacteristic crease in her brow. "Another telepath is here. It's odd—feels like your old friend Xavier. But not quite. Strong, but there's no control. I can't tell where-" her eyes latched on to him.
Erik snapped, "Whoever it is took out Mystique too. Can you fix her?"
Emma frowned. "Maybe." Then: "That was too easy. There was no resistance from another mind at all."
Mystique came awake. "Erik, I mean Magneto's been shot! We have to get out of here!"
"It's just a scratch," he tried to say, but the words came out slurred. He tried to stand up, but the ground rolled around him. His brain was going up in flames, and the world went red then black.
He barely managed to roll so he didn't hit the ground with his face.