Strange, Charles Xavier thought, how the estate still looked the same. It was too, too quiet after those few heady weeks, but on this lovely afternoon, he could almost pretend that Raven was off lifting weights and Erik hiding in his quarters, imagine that Angel and Darwin had come and picked out rooms of their own. The grounds were silent, with the pure, late-December sunlight that glinted off the thin layer of snow on the lawn and through the tall library window warming the still blanket on his lap. It would be Christmas soon. Alex had sheared through the trunk of a giant pine tree and forced Hank to help him haul it into the house. Raven would have loved decorating it.
He had lit a single candle last night as he looked out his bedroom window. He swore it had nothing to do with the start of Hanukkah. Absolutely nothing. That would be disrespectful, to vaguely observe a tradition about which he was almost entirely ignorant.
Adjusting his blanket, he rolled himself over to the nearest bookcase and selected a title within his reach at random. Poor, fussy Hank had finally stopped his post-lunch hovering and disappeared back down into the labs, and Charles was determined to take advantage of these few moments of so-nearly-normal solitude.
As soon as his fingers touched the row of worn leather spines, he heard a strange roar from behind him. Awkwardly spinning himself around, he saw a sharp flicker of blue, and feared for the worst: their meager defenses breached, the Brotherhood or worse coming to take them away to captivity or experiments or death. He braced his mind, readying himself to receive any attackers.
But then: “Police public call box?” he wondered aloud. It was just the sort he had seen on street corners in London, magically appearing in the corner of his library. A man with a saner life would have wondered if he were going mad.
The door of the box swung open to release a pleasantly academic-looking young man emanating waves of good-natured enthusiasm. “Charles Xavier, in the flesh! Such a pleasure! How do you do? I’m the Doctor.”
“I’ve no great love for these mutant titles,” he responded automatically as they shook hands, a defense against the strangeness of the situation. “May I have your real name, seeing as you already have mine?”
“Just ‘Doctor,’ if you please. I can just call you Charles, can’t I Charles? Lovely name, Charles.”
“I take it you’re here for the school, then. What’s your mutant ability? Teleportation of objects?” He felt a polite little nudge at the edge of his consciousness. “Another telepath! Marvelous!”
“Not a telepath so much as an individual with certain low-level telepathic powers, actually.”
“More than a telepath?" Charles flung away the blanket and rolled over to the table by the window, gesturing for this Doctor to take the seat across from him. "I don’t think I’ve ever encountered compound mutations before. Oh, this is going to mean so much for my research.” He itched to grab his pen, but there would be time enough for all that later.
“Sorry, Charles, but it’s a bit more complicated than, well…why don’t you just come in and see for yourself?”
“In, my friend? Are you quite sure you know the magnitude of what you’re inviting? If you want me to see something, it’s very difficult to keep me from seeing everything.”
It didn’t even give the stranger pause. “Don’t worry about me, Charles; I’m sure I’ll manage some how. You see, I’m good.”
Charles raised his hand to his temple, but felt nothing until the Doctor closed his eyes and whispered “contact,” and his world
Shining, parallel superhighways of thought, far more than Charles ever thought possible, structured the fantastic chaos of the man’s mind. From them, a spiraling infinity of neural pathways curved off into too many lifetimes of memories, each one crackling with the shadows of lost possibilities that evaporated into rainbow smoke as Charles’ mind reflexively reached for them.
Entering this man’s consciousness was like wearing Cerebro, touching billions of bright little minds, but here woven into a single vast net of self and space. It was too much. Charles could feel himself spreading thinner and thinner across the web of elusive memories, becoming more and more tangled, struggling to pull free as he slipped into the too-many-dimensional depths. Help me, he cried.
And just like that, he was back in his wheelchair, leaning heavily against his hand. “That was…you are…who are you?”
The Doctor leaned forward with a grin. “How do you like the taste of Time, Charles Xavier?”
A series of words and images fell into his thoughts, ordering themselves out of that first massive rush of information: Time, time travel, Time Lord, time machine, all of time and space, out of time…
“Sorry if that was a bit abrupt, back there. I’m not used to having people with benign intentions inside my head, and I take it that presentation may have been a bit overwhelming. Fiddly telepathic work never was my strong suit. Perhaps we should do this verbally. Sorry.”
Charles shook his head, running his hands through his hair. “Sorry? No, that was, you are, incredible. Here I thought humanity was amazing, but you, my friend… What are you here for, then? Come to sweep mutantkind away to the stars?”
“For once, Charles Xavier, I’ve not come to see or do or thwart or run from scary aliens. I just want to talk.”
Charles just blinked. “Are there scary aliens that I should be aware of?”
“You should probably stay out of England for the next decade or so, but I’m already taking care of all that, so no need to worry. Nasty business, but great fun in retrospect, what with Autons and Axons and…” he trailed off with a suddenly sad smile.
“Charles, I really truly should not be here. I’m meant to guard history, not meddle in it, but I’m doing a bit of a farewell tour right now and there’s something in your history I’ve always regretted. Damn the consequences, I say, or at least I say it now. There’s only one of you, and a million would-be evil dictators in the world, and history always mends itself. So here I am.”
“I’m afraid you’ve lost me,” Charles said with a nervous laugh. “You want to change my history?”
The Doctor stood and began to pace. “Tell me if I’m wrong, but I think it goes something like this: you’re strange and ambitious and lonely, but then one day he comes along and he’s brilliant and you’re brilliant and together you’re even more brillianter. After so long, you have this impossible, wonderful equal and you suspect," he perched on the corner of the table and looked straight at Charles. "You suspect that you’re a bit in love.”
“That’s enough, Doctor.”
“Sure, you have some differences of opinion, mostly regarding to what extent your obvious superiority over the rest of creation allows you to stomp roughshod over it, but any relationship needs its compromises and you know it’ll all work out because it has to. But then it doesn’t, and you learn that ‘genocidal maniac’ is just the dealbreaker you thought it would be. You’re a bit proud of yourself for that, but pride’s cold comfort when you’re so terribly alone again.”
“How can you know all this?”
“I’ve been alive a long time. Chalk it up to personal experience. But as I was saying: you start to wonder if things had to go the way they did. And the answer is a screaming, searing no. You could still go back. It’s not too late to go back. But you have your pride, and your terrible anger that he betrayed you and himself so, and things slowly solidify the way they are, and then it really is too late. Forever. And you hate yourself a bit for that, almost as much as you hate him. As time goes by, you can sometimes smile at how sexy it is, the way you two clash across the cosmos, but mostly you feel the terrible regret at the fact that you should be at each other’s side, and now can never be.”
“Stop." Charles shoved back from the table. "I don’t know what you want, Doctor, but I don’t need to hear this.”
“Listen to me, Charles. Please. It’s still not to late. Go to Erik. You need Erik Lensherr far more than history needs Magneto.”
“Don’t tell me what I need.”
“Time traveler, Charles. I’ve seen it.”
Charles looked away from that strange, earnest face, and his eyes landed on his visitor’s strange vehicle – his magical, teleporting time machine. Another few pushes, and he laid his palm across the side. “Your police box. It goes anywhere, no? All of time and space at your command.”
“Oh, Charles. I so wish I could show you the Universe, but I can’t. Not now.”
“I don’t need the Universe. Just the best hospital in it.”
“That’s right. With trillions of years and trillions of stars, there has to be someplace they can fix my legs, or grow me a new body, or even chop me up and give me a fantastic robotic lower half. Isn’t that right, Doctor?”
The pity in his eyes was intolerable. He had liked the Doctor, at first, for his enthusiastic lack of pity. “I said that there are any number of Magneto replacements in history, but there is only one Charles Xavier. I can’t change that."
“And Charles Xavier has to be a cripple? Not a month ago, he didn’t,” Charles spat back.
“Charles Xavier needs to lose the function of half his body so that his brilliant, incredible brain can rewire itself, refocus its energies, and make its owner one of the greatest telepaths the Universe will ever know.”
“I don’t need to be the greatest anything.”
“History needs –”
“To hell with history. I want to walk, and run, and have sex, and go – not fucking wheel – to Erik without having us both eaten up by guilt at the very sight of me! Do you actually think his pride will ever let him come back with the way I am now? Please, Doctor, I’ll beg if I must. Fix me, and I’ll do anything you ask.”
“I’m dying, Charles.”
“Dying. About to exist no more. So many years, and now my time’s up. No more pretending, no more escapes, no more running. I’ve done some wonderful, amazing things, but there are also things I dearly regret. Too many things. And I don’t want to see you, Charles, you wonderful, amazing man, make those same mistakes. You have so much life ahead of you, and you don’t have to spend it alone.”
“How? How am I supposed to…”
“However you can. However you know best. The possibility is there, I promise you that. He’s waiting for you, Charles.”
“It’s rather more than just a nasty breakup, you know.”
“Yes, I do know.”
The Doctor's sigh was almost wistful. “With delusions of grandeur, yes. Around 1970, I will be stranded on Earth, and my own mad, dear Erik will come looking for me, in his own prideful way. And in my prideful, idiotic way, I will push him away, push him to even greater evil and destruction. I know that all now, but there’s not a thing in the world I can do about it. But you, Charles, you can do something about you. I had to make sure to tell you that, before I die.”
“I can’t make you any promises.”
“Good. Never liked promises. Too easy to break, and then you always feel like a right ass about it afterwards. So no promises.”
“Is there anything I can do for you? For 1970?”
“Said too much already, I fear. Really must be off. Places to go, people to see, date with death to keep. You know how it goes.” He clapped Charles on the shoulder and was already retreating into his police box.
“Wait, Doctor?” He paused, head poking out the door. “I can’t promise anything about Erik, but…I’ll try. I’ll think of something, and I’ll try.”
“Best any of us can do, Charles, even the best of us. Good luck.” He threw back an unexpectedly jaunty wink. “Fantastic hair you have. It’d be a crime if you didn’t have someone to properly enjoy it while you've still got it.”
“Wait, my hair? What’s going to happen to my hair?”
But the door had already closed, and with the sound that Charles now knew to be the rending of history, the Doctor had disappeared.