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Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood

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Time goes on and with it comes change.

After Cuba and Onslaught, things had been fine…for a while. Charles had recovered with Erik hardly leaving his side. Training had resumed, then recruiting. Not long after that, the school had opened. It was a small contingent, but growing. Scott Summers had been the first they picked up after Alex revealed the existence of his younger brother. Next was Ororo Monroe, a Tunesian girl Charles remembered from his very first outing in Cerebro. Third was Jean Gray, a promising telepath and telekinetic. Charles was fascinated with her and, much to his excitement, she was fascinated right back, thrilled to pick up on any telepathic tricks and control he could teach her. There were now ten students in the school and registration for the next school year had gone well, particularly with Cerebro fully functional beneath the mansion. The following fall expected many more of the empty rooms to be filled.

As life so often is, though, the good was accompanied by, well, the not good. A year after Cuba, the US government acknowledged the existence of mutants to the general population. That was when Erik and Charles' "debates" had started. They were cordial at first. Only Hank, Sean, Alex, and Raven had any idea what was being said behind closed doors as the two school leaders played chess. As time went on, though, the "debates" got more and more frequent. Muffled shouts would be occasionally heard. The shouting escalated in frequency and, while the two made sure they never argued in front of the students, everyone eventually became aware of what was going on. It was impossible to ignore, particularly when it was happening almost every day. The two were the very definition of friendship outside of that. It was their ideals they couldn't get past.

Despite their close friendship, a distrust was slowly growing, the seeds of which had been planted in Cuba over two years earlier. Charles knew Erik had secretly kept Shaw's helmet. Erik knew Charles interacted with Onslaught despite the fact that the entity had nearly enslaved the world. The metaphorical seeds' water and sustenance were provided by the government's growing unease with mutants. Like with any political issue, battle lines had been drawn with strong proponents for both mutant rights and a lack thereof. Charles was slowly making a name for himself in the scientific community for his work on mutations. For now, he was well known only within the genetics community but that was sure to change sooner rather than later. He was already being contacted for interviews for increasingly prominent newspapers. It was only a matter of time before television shows picked up on it too. The professor was thriving, basking in the acknowledgment of his work and thrilled to be educating people and advocating mutant rights. Instead of making Erik feel more at ease, however, the German became even more wary. Onslaught had been at bay for over two years now, but all it would take would be a single slip up for Charles to lose control…to destroy everything he was building. The humans would turn on him and the mutant community and everything would go straight to hell.

Everything came to a head on a day like any other. It should have been cloudy…rainy…something other than bright and sunny and hopeful, as if the strongest friendship anyone at the school had seen wasn't about to split down the middle like a tree struck by lightning. Two days earlier, Erik had made a comment in front of the students about humans deserving nothing more than the enslavement they would give mutants. Ten minutes after, Charles had calmly asked if they could have a private word. Nobody mentioned the simultaneous spike of a headache they'd felt or the disfigured metal lamp that materialized in the trash later that day.

Jean, Scott, and Ororo, a virtually inseparable trio, were walking by Erik's room when they heard muffled voices. While they knew their two mentors had their disagreements, they'd never actually heard what was being said behind closed doors. They stopped as close as they dared and listened. Erik's voice wafted through he doors.

"They will never show us the mercy you're so willing to give them!"

There was silence for a moment, then-

"I know what's happening frustrates you, Erik, but it's hardly worth even thinking about attacking Senator-"

"Damn it, Charles! Stay out of my head!" The man sounded beyond angry.

"I wasn't in your head!" Charles replied, voice holding just an ounce more hostility than before. "You're practically throwing your thoughts at me! There's only so much control I can maintain when your mind is screaming!"

"Then learn to control it better! You know what happened last time you let loose!" The three teens looked at one another, wondering if this was one of the rare references to the Cuba incident that was kept hush-hush in the school.

Charles' calming sigh was almost audible through the heavy wooden door. "We're not talking about that right now."

"You're right," Erik sneered back. "We're not. We're talking about how the humans will never allow us to live freely without judgment and fear-"

"No, Erik," Charles interrupted, voice deceptively serene. "We're talking about how you want to commit genocide."

All three pulled back at that very serious accusation. Before they could recover and start listening again, Alex and Hank spotted them and ushered them away to the study a few doors down where the some of the other students were gathered around watching cartoons. The older students often made sure the younger ones were out of auditory range of the arguments. Muffled voices could still be heard if you listened for them, but the words weren't distinguishable.

A door slamming open caused all those in the room to jump then scamper into the hallway before the older students could stop them. The students stood frozen in the hallway as Erik stalked out of his room. He wore a helmet on his head that only those from the beach recognized. Charles followed soon after, not looking nearly as surprised about the presence of the helmet as the Hank, Alex, Sean, and Raven. Instead, he looked disappointed, tired and…angry. In fact, Jean could've sworn she saw a fury in her mentor's eyes as he looked at the piece of metal on Erik's head and…was that a wisp of orange? As quickly as it had come, it was gone and forgotten in the gravity of the situation.

This time things were different. Erik completely ignored the students as he passed by, making his way down to the front stoop, Charles not far behind. Everyone followed, sensing something was happening that they should be aware of. Erik was down the steps and in the lawn. Charles was following. The children hovered on the stoop.

"Erik, stop!" Charles shouted.

Erik whipped around to face him. "Why? I can't do this anymore, Charles! I won't sit on my hands while our kind gets persecuted! I can't go on Easter egg hunts for new mutants with you when I could be out there doing something!"

"That's what I am to you? Some naïve child hunting for treasures?"

Erik's features softened minutely, but he stood his ground.

"I think the peace you believe in is something that can never occur while humans are on this planet."

The two men stood in silence, staring at one another, neither wanting to speak. Both knew they had finally reached the impasse they couldn't cross together. After what seemed like both an eternity and a flash, Charles gave a sigh.

"You're leaving, aren't you."

Erik looked more emotional than anyone had ever seen him. "I don't want to. We're brothers, you and I. I want you by my side. We want the same things."

Charles gave a melancholy smile. "Oh, my friend, we do not."

Erik looked close to tears for exactly two seconds before he straightened, face going stony. He turned his attention to the students, all of whom were now on the stoop and lawn behind Charles.

"The humans will never accept us for who we are. They will hunt us down, experiment on us, and use us for their own purposes. I intend to make sure that does not happen. Anyone who wishes to join me should come now."

The students stood frozen. After a moment, there was movement from the side of the crowd. Without looking behind him, Charles closed his eyes in sad resignation. Only Erik saw the pain that momentarily flickered across his features. Puzzled, he almost let his mask drop until he saw what Charles was reacting to. Raven separated herself from the crowd walking forward towards the two men. Charles took a breath and opened his eyes before turning to her, face not holding the pain it had seconds before. Raven stopped at her brother. He reached out and grasped her hand, holding it loosely in his own as they looked at each other.

"You should go with him. It's what you want."

"Charles, I-"

"It's alright. You must follow the path you feel you feel is right."

"I'll miss you."

"And I you."

He kissed her hand before letting her go stand by Erik. No one other than Charles noticed the look of apology Erik gave him. Charles looked away and Erik turned his attention to the crowd.

"I'm sure we will be meeting again. If anyone ever wishes to join my cause, you will be welcomed."

Though he spoke to the crowd, he focused on Charles. The telepath responded with a sad smile and a barely noticeable shake of his head. Hank, Alex, and Sean had walked forward to stand behind Charles. Despite the his apparent strength, the three knew the bond Charles had with both Erik and Raven and how difficult the moment must be. While there was little they could do, they would stand beside him and offer him their strength in his time of need.

Erik and Raven walked away, not turning back to look at Charles standing on the stoop surrounded by his students.


The room Onslaught and Charles occupied looked like it had been created by MC Escher. A chessboard rested between them. Since the Cuban beach, he had been attempting to gain more control over Onslaught...something he suspected everyone who had been present on said beach was aware of despite keeping it to himself. In order to do this, he had to interact with the entity residing within his mind. The night after Erik left, he certainly needed the distraction.

Onslaught moved a rook. "It was always going to be this way."

Charles countered his move and took one of Onslaught's pieces. "I know."

"This is just the beginning. He'll only get worse now that he's away from our influence. You need to let me out. It's the only way you'll be able to stop him from destroying everything."

"No."

"Oh, come now," Onslaught taunted. "Two years gone, I still remember how you felt back in Cuba when I was using all that power…when you felt all the power you could have. You liked it."

"No. We need to let him follow his own path. We can't just barge into his head and change his mind because it's what we want."

Onslaught smiled widely. "Fine. You won't let me out. I'll let it go for now." The doppelganger's eyes sparkled, even as he conceded.

Charles looked up, puzzled. "That's certainly unusual. Might I ask why?"

Onslaught leaned forward. "Because you referred to yourself as 'we' not 'I'."

Charles awoke with a sharp inhale, Onslaught grin still fading from his sight.