Chapter 1: Sorrow found me when I was young
“Sorrow found me when I was young,
Sorrow waited, sorrow won.
Sorrow that put me on the pills,
It's in my honey, it's in my milk.
Don't leave my hyper heart alone on the water,
Cover me in rag and bones, sympathy.
’Cause I don't wanna get over you.
I don't wanna get over you.”
~ “Sorrow”, The National
“Sorrow found me when I was young…”
~ “Sorrow”, The National
The sleekly designed wheelchair moved fluidly: easy to learn, easy to maneuver.
She loathed it on sight.
“What do you think, Professor?”
She smiled tightly. “It is wonderful, Hank. You’ve outdone yourself once more. Thank you.”
The blue-haired mutant grinned. “No problem. Glad you like it. I was thinking we could start working on building Cerebro II soon, if you’d like?”
Again, she nodded. “That sounds great.”
It was a week after the entire debacle. Charlotte was out of the hospital now after a quick physical recovery.
She had resolutely left her tears on the beach and refused to shed anymore. It didn’t mean she no longer felt the urge to scream.
The doctors had said…well, they’d said a lot but it boiled down to the fact that the bullet had practically severed her spinal cord and she would never walk again.
While hospitalized, Hank had made the time to build her a wheelchair before she was released. The others pitched in with the Westchester house, doing their best to accommodate her new lifestyle. She returned home to find the furniture rearranged, the elevators inspected to be in perfect working order, the kitchen reworked, and her bathroom almost entirely remodeled.
She was touched at their determination and work ethic.
Earlier that day, after arriving home, she had wiped Moira’s memory of the entire event and sent her home.
The house was left with only Hank, Alex, and Sean. It felt empty without Erik and Raven.
Charlotte didn’t allow herself to ponder upon such things.
In the meantime, she focused on making the dream she had showed Erik a reality. And so she began setting about to make the Xavier mansion a school for mutants. Though they didn’t have Cerebro, they still had some print outs and coordinates they had not had time to search for. They could run through that list for students and, hopefully, teachers.
That was the main concern before even making sure the mansion could be made into a school. She needed teachers. While Hank seemed very willing to be one, Alex and Sean were hardly teaching material. Not yet.
Alex, though, had mentioned wishing to find his younger brother, Scott. Perhaps they could recruit him as one of their first students.
Her mind swam with plans and ideas. So she put aside her impediment to focus on creating a school.
The first note came very shortly after she returned from the hospital.
She found it on her desk. It was in an envelope, which was sealed with wax. She knew its sender on sight but opened it anyways.
It made her throat tight but she restrained her tears. She had no doubt that it was from him, that he most likely sent Azazel to deliver it.
It was unlikely, improbable…but she did it anyways, just in case.
In a sealed note of her own, she wrote a reply. It took her three tries before her handwriting was suitable and you couldn’t tell her hand was trembling as she wrote it.
I know. I forgive you, Erik.
The next morning, when she came into her study, the note was gone from her desk. She smiled at that, daring to hope. Just in case, she tucked his note away in the bottom desk drawer and locked it. Just in case there aren’t any more, she told herself.
There were more.
Two days later, his reply came.
How can you forgive me? How can you possibly?
She could sense the guilt behind his words. So she merely said: Wouldn’t you?
Nearly a week later, he wrote back: I would forgive only you, Liebling.
Time went on.
Slowly, Charlotte adjusted to the wheelchair. She forced herself to—forced herself to adapt to this limitation, forced herself to learn her house again, forced herself to change her daily habits as needed.
A month after returning to Westchester from the hospital, the boys had finished building Cerebro II. While she had rested, recovered, and adjusted wearily to her new life, they had finished necessary renovations to the mansion and the new Cerebro.
They showed her to the new device proudly as she studied it. Hank had improved his design to make it more powerful and effective; the young mutant was full of more pride now than Charlotte had ever known him to be before.
"It's perfect, boys," she said as she looked around the immense, round room. "You did beautifully."
Sean and Alex grinned now too.
"Was a son of a bitch to finish," Sean said with a mischievous grin. "Woulda been easier if Erik was—"
Alex smacked the back of Banshee's head sharply with a furious glare. Hank let out a low growl.
Charlotte winced visibly. "It's alright," she said quietly. "You didn't intend to, Sean." The telepath reached up and patted the redhead's shoulder as she sent a wave of calm to him. Her smile gave away none of her heartache. "Now, let's test out Cerebro, shall we?"
She reached for the helmet, placed it atop her head, and reached out with her mind.
Instantly, her mind spread wide and she gasped slightly at how much more powerful Cerebro was. Her normal range was over two hundred and fifty miles and now…now, her mind was stretching to encompass the entire planet.
She could feel them all, feel every human and mutant alive, feel them all connected, feel their pain and joy, their love and sorrow, their compassion and hatred: the dual beauty and the ugliness of the human condition.
With a shuddering breath that brought her back to herself, Charlotte focused on that in Westchester.
She focused on the room she stood in, upon that spherical structure underground, and the five consciousnesses within.
The telepath froze.
But yes, there were five including herself. Herself, Hank, Alex, Sean, and ...? But the fifth was faint and gentle, not quite fully conscious, but full of warmth and contentment.
Charlotte tore the helmet from her head.
"Professor?" Hank exclaimed in worry.
"I'm—I–I need a moment, boys, please," she said and only just realized there were tears down her cheeks. "Excuse me."
She wheeled herself quickly into the corridor and to a nearby bathroom, in which she locked herself before going to the toilet.
Her stomach churned with unease before it finally gave up her breakfast to the porcelain bowl. After flushing the toilet, the professor stared at her reflection in the full-length mirror: pale faced with panicked eyes and tearstained cheeks.
Cautiously, she lifted the hem of her button-up blouse and inspected the smooth plain of her stomach before laying a tentative hand over her flesh.
"Oh," Charlotte whispered.
"…Sorrow waited, sorrow won…"
~ "Sorrow", The National
The boys were waiting worriedly in the hallway.
"Are you alright, Professor?" Hank asked nervously. "Was Cerebro—"
She shook her head and smiled proudly. "No, Cerebro worked beautifully, Hank. I could reach all over the world, literally. Everywhere. It was a dizzying experience; that's all. A little overwhelming. I will need practice to get used to it."
"Alright, Professor," Alex said reluctantly. "Maybe you should rest for a bit. You're looking kinda pale."
The telepath was reluctant. "Are you sure? We were going to work on your aim on moving targets..."
Sean shrugged. "I'll help him, Prof. You take a break—we'll be back in before dinner," he said and they rushed off.
Charlotte then turned to the blue-haired mutant. "Hank, can I speak with you in my study? It is a...sensitive matter."
"Of course," he replied, slightly baffled, but wheeled her into the privacy of her study. (Both ignored the still-abandoned chess game in one corner of the room.) "What is it?"
She sucked in a breath. "I'm pregnant."
Emotions waged war within him for control for a long minute of tense silence. Disbelief, anger, awe, fear, hope...
Finally he sighed. "I don't need to ask about the father, do I?" he asked with reasonable calm.
She winced. "I…no," the telepath replied softly, eyes cast downward in sad recollections.
Hank nodded to himself. "And I assume you are keeping it." His tone was certain and asked for no confirmation but she gave it anyway.
"Yes, I...I will."
"How far along?" he asked, looking at her flat stomach curiously. "How did you know?"
The telepath laid a small hand over the approximate area that the fetus was. "Little more than two months. It was…it was in the period that we were recruiting. I never even suspected it until I tested Cerebro. I was focusing on the room itself and realized I felt four minds instead of three that I realized."
He studied her for a long moment. "Are you going to tell him?" his voice was gently soft like his fur.
At this, the professor bit her lip. "I don't—I don't know. What would I say? 'I know you betrayed us and we're now enemies, but I'm pregnant with your child, Erik'?"
Charlotte had always adored children and had planned on having a couple of her own, but she had forced herself to let go of that idea after waking up in a hospital, paralyzed, after Cuba. She had been lucky with the bullet—far luckier than anyone had initially assumed. The telepath was unsure of how the fetus was untouched by the surgery, blood loss, and paralysis at all and still alive and well, but she was grateful. (Perhaps, her mind wondered, mutation had something to do with the fetus's resilience. After all, not all mutations presented themselves during puberty of high-stress situations. Her own had been since she was a toddler at least and Raven was naturally blue.)
Pregnancy with paralysis was an uncommon thing, admittedly, but she was not the first to do it.
The professor knew how he or she had been conceived.
When they had been out searching for and recruiting mutants, there had been a night at the hotel when Charlotte had inquired if Erik played chess and he had eagerly accepted the invitation. The metallokinetic had produced a bottle of scotch and...
Well. It had not been the first time Charlotte had ended up in bed with a man after a long night of drinking, but it was surely the last. She remembered unfortunately little and might have thought it a dream were it not for the fact that she had woken shortly after to find Erik and herself still there together. She had left for her room, worried for his reaction and the impact upon their friendship, but when Charlotte saw him the next morning, he never said a word of it nor thought of it when she was listening.
So she had let it go and never sought to bring it up, content to let the past lie as it was. Biology apparently had other ideas.
Fearful though she may have been for Erik's reaction, Charlotte was not disappointed or perturbed by the fact that she was pregnant with Erik's child. For all his faults, Charlotte still cared for him immensely, far more than she had ever cared for a man before. Possibly more than she felt for Raven—which is to say, not an inconsiderable or ignorable amount.
And to realize that she could feel her child's mind growing everyday...it was a wondrous thing. As soon as she touched his or her mind, Charlotte was in love with this tiny creation within her womb. It felt like a miracle at exactly the moment that she needed one most.
Time flew quickly at the Xavier Estate in Westchester.
The boys took the news better than expected. Sean had always wanted a little sister (he made a bet with Alex that it was) and Alex had a much younger brother once, whom he missed immensely (and whom Charlotte had taken to trying to locate with Cerebro). They asked nothing about the father, assuming correctly in their minds, and bore her no grudge. With Hank planning it, Alex and Sean quickly took it upon themselves to transform one of the spare bedrooms into a nursery.
They heard little of Erik and the others. Charlotte was glad.
"Magneto" (as he was becoming known as) still wrote to her and she wrote back, but said little. They were both busy: Erik with founding his group and Charlotte with preparing the school and dealing with her pregnancy.
She did not plan upon seeking him out or telling him—about her paralysis or pregnancy.
He had left her, left the children—abandoned them. He had no right to her, to the boys, to the child.
Charlotte had a slew of appointments to monitor the fetus's development. She was careful as she could, cautious to do everything to protect the small life that she and Erik had created.
It helped that she could look after the baby through her telepathy. She already felt like she knew her child.
When the fetus was four months old, Hank had used a machine in the recently-refitted infirmary and Charlotte had heard her child's heartbeat for the first time—the gentle, constant beat that, for a long minute, had drowned out the rest of the world to the telepath.
Her stomach grew as the weeks went by and her child aged. Charlotte took to speaking aloud to the child after she realized they liked listening to her voice.
Half way into her pregnancy, there came two landmarks. The professor and the boys had been eating dinner (courtesy of Hank that night) when Charlotte had frozen as one of her hands shot to her swollen stomach.
"Professor?" inquired Sean nervously.
A smile split across her face. "The baby—kicked!" she exclaimed and pulled up the hem of her shirt to lay her palm over her abdomen. "He—she—is kicking!"
In that moment, as she crowed with happiness with her small, cobbled-together family, Charlotte could almost forget the losses, betrayals, and pain they had suffered. It was the first time in months that she had so unreservedly smiled and laughed, so happy was she that she could forget just for a moment that Erik and Raven had left them, that she was paralyzed. For a moment, as she, Hank, Alex, and Sean took their turns feeling the baby's kicking, Charlotte was happy for the first time in months.
Two weeks later was at an appointment when her doctor revealed that the child within her womb was a little girl as they stared at the ultrasound on a screen. The soon-to-be mother studied the image, counting toes and fingers, studying the indistinct features.
She had them print copies of the image to take home, where she framed a print and hung proudly in her study.
Charlotte—when not working with the boys, planning for the school, or looking for other mutants—spent much of her time imagining her future with a daughter.
Tried to predict that if she was a mutant (a very high probability), what her daughter would be able to do. Would she take after her father and have an affinity for metals? Would she be a telepath like Charlotte? Or maybe another form of mutation related to manipulating others' minds? Possibly even something like moving things with her mind.
It was pointless guessing but it amused the professor and enthralled her.
Would she have Charlotte's blue eyes or Erik's green-grey? Would she have Erik's whipcord leanness or take after the telepath's softer build? Would she have the chocolate shade of Charlotte's hair or the dark auburn tint of Erik's? Would she have Erik's cheekbones or her mother's rounder facial structure?
Which of her parents would she take after in her temperament? Charlotte's patience and forgiveness? Or Erik's steadfast focus? Would she have her father's steady confidence? Her mother's arrogance?
(Charlotte had no doubt that the child would be intelligent. Between Erik's strategic mind and Charlotte's analytical tendencies, it seemed inevitable.)
Her mind produced a thousand possibilities and she loved every one.
She was two weeks before her due date when it happened.
Initially, she thought it was cramps like before, nothing more. Bent over her desk, Charlotte rubbed her back absently and reached, by habit, to the familiarity and comfort of her little girl's mind.
What she found was pure, instinctive, undefined terror and pain. Charlotte's eyes widened as she realized that the pain in her abdomen was far worse than cramps. "HANK!" she screamed. "I need your help! NOW!"
Hank, soon followed by Alex and moment later Sean, burst in. "Is she—"
"Something's wrong!" she exclaimed. "The hospital—now!"
To those of you asking when/how this happened, there will be more explanations later on. For now, bear with me...
Chapter 3: On the Pill
Tragedy has a way of infiltrating what should be the happiest of times.
TRIGGER WARNINGS: Miscarriage
"Sorrow they put me on the pill
It's in my honey, it's in my milk."
~ "Sorrow", The National
Later, the telepath remembered very little after arriving at the hospital and being wheeled into a room.
There were flashes of pain, brief recollections of receiving injections, glimpses of grim doctors and nurses, the overwhelming disinfectant smell everywhere, a glimpse of blood, a half-formed memory of blood and pain—
And pain, pain, pain—not her own, but from a mind that she knew well enough that it may as well have been. Even in her unconsciousness, she felt her tiny unborn child's terror and overwhelming pain before—
Gone. Snuffed out like a candle. Fizzled out like a spark.
A flame smothered in pain and fear, deprived of oxygen, until it was extinguished.
She felt the little life die and it hurt a thousand times more than feeling Shaw's death.
Charlotte stopped fighting the anesthetic and allowed herself to be pulled under the blanket of sleep, wishing it were the cloak of death.
She was back in the Westchester mansion in a week, still under heavy painkillers and narcotics. She slept. She had no energy for anything else. The doctors, the nurses, Hank, Alex, Sean—they had all watched her with pitying, sad eyes. She couldn't bring herself to care.
A day after being taken into the hospital, she was woken gently from the anesthetics so the doctor could tell her.
"Placental abruption", they called it—the reason her little baby had died. The placenta pulled away from the uterus wall too much. She had died while Charlotte was slipping to unconsciousness because of the sedatives. The doctor had asked if she wanted to hold her. Charlotte said, "Yes"—her first word since waking up.
She'd cradled the swaddled bundle to her bosom. The infant's skin was cold and mottled red. Her face was calm, her eyes closed. There was a small tuft of dark auburn hair on her head and her face was slimmer than most plump baby faces. The professor counted each hand and foot: ten fingers and ten toes. Perfect.
But Charlotte would never know what color her daughter's eyes were or what mutation she had or if she would have taken after Charlotte or Erik.
She would never know her daughter at all.
They buried the infant in Charlotte's favorite gardens with a small, smooth stone marker for the grave. If Charlotte'd had the energy, she might have thought, sadly, that it wasn't far from their daughter's grave that the spot where Charlotte had helped Erik find the place between rage and serenity, had unearthed that hidden memory.
As it was, the telepath was numb to the entire thing, staring in shock as the tiny coffin was lowered into the ground.
Once they returned to the mansion, Charlotte made only one stop to leave a photo in her office before going to bed and locked herself in.
Only then did she succumb to her sorrow and the pent-up tears pour down her face.
Five days later brought unexpected and unwelcome guests.
Hank saw them approach and stood on the steps at the front of the mansion. "You are not welcome here," he said lowly.
But Magneto and Mystique—frazzled, frantic, worried—were more stubborn than that.
"I need to see Charlotte," the metallokinetic replied. His voice was hoarse and his eyes were red.
Behind the blue-haired mutant, Alex arrived and glared at the two intruders. Hank growled in warning. "You have no right," he spat. "You have no right to be here."
From his pocket, Erik withdrew a folded photograph and held it out to Hank grudgingly. The younger man recognized the ultrasound photo quickly. Underneath the photo, in the professor's neat calligraphy was "Her name was Anya Xavier."
"Tell me," Erik said in a snarl.
For all his bite, Hank could hear the desperation that colored his tone. "She was yours, if you must know, Magneto," he bit out grudgingly.
He stared at Hank in confusion. "And she...she was going to keep her?"
"You know the Professor," Alex spat. "What do you think?"
Raven was pale in mute horror. "What—what happened?" she asked in a raw voice, feeling oh so small.
"Technically, placental abruption," Hank replied. "She was two weeks from full term when the placenta and her uterus wall were separated—by no fault of her own—and the baby died."
Erik stared down at the photo in his hands. "Anya," he whispered, tracing the ambiguous figure. He looked up to the boys with burning, fraught eyes. "Charlotte—is she...where...How is she?"
A snort came from behind Alex and Hank as Sean came up. "She felt her child die through her telepathy. She felt her own unborn daughter's death...and you have to ask that? The Prof's locked herself in her room, probably crying but determined not to let any of us see her like that, and slowly starving herself. And you're asking how she is?"
"Let me see her," Erik beseeched, stepping forward.
Hank growled a warning as the metallokinetic moved closer. "No. You won't. We have only just begun to get her to eat normally for the first time in days. She's making progress. Seeing you two will only cause her more guilt and pain. So you two are going to leave and get the fuck out of here—before she sees you and has a setback," he replied. Erik tried to speak up but Hank spoke over him. "Don't. Don't argue with me. You have no right to speak here, much less in regards to Charlotte. You weren't here when she found out, when she had her appointments, when she felt Anya move for the first time, when she found out it was a girl. You weren't here for any of it except the very beginning before you left and abandoned us—both of you. You have no right to even ask."
"If I had known—"
"Did you ever stop to think that maybe she didn't want you to know?" Alex spat."She writes you letters still, right? She's never said as much but...it seems like you and her wouldn't be able to have a clean break after...everything. You were too close. I—we were sure you two were exchanging letters. She never said anything about it, did she? No. Not until today because the baby died. The Professor said nothing before. It's because you—both of you—had no right to involve yourself in the Professor or her child's lives. You left her, left us—remember? You left us there on that beach abandoned! You left Charlotte there paralyzed AND pregnant!"
Erik paled. "Did she...know? Then?"
"No," Hank replied calmly. "She didn't realize until we tried out Cerebro and she felt one too many minds in the room."
The metallokinetic was not relieved. "Oh gott," he murmured as an epiphany struck. "She was pregnant when...in, in Cuba? When she—when I did—when she was paralyzed? Verdammt, how did she survive and not miscarry?"
Hank shrugged. "She was incredibly lucky; there's no other explanation. I really don't know. Probability and statistics say she should have lost the fetus, especially after the surgery. The Professor suspected it may have been something to do with mutation."
A little miracle, Erik thought sadly, but a short-lived one.
"Please," he asked softly. "Just let us see her, know she's safe...I don't have any right to, but I...please."
Something earnest in his expression made Hank soften. "She is asleep right now, actually, and I would thank you not to wake her but...you may. I trust you realize that if you wake or harm her, you won't be getting out of the mansion alive."
Relief flooded onto his face like water bursting forth from a dam. "Thank you," he whispered. "I won't; you have my word on that."
Raven nodded, silent. The gratefulness upon her blue features said it all.
Reluctantly, Hank led the pair, with Alex and Sean trailing behind as a guard, to the professor's room.
The blue haired mutant took pause outside the door. "One at a time, if you will?"
Magneto and Mystique shared a glance. "Go," she said simply.
He shook his head. "No. She is your sister."
"She's your—" but Raven cut herself off as she struggled for a proper word. Coming up empty, she sighed and went to the door before slowly entering.
Erik waited outside in the hall, pacing under the boys' careful eyes for five minutes before Mystique left the room, grim-faced. She nodded to Erik, who went to the door.
The metallokinetic drew in a long breath before going in and closing the door behind him. Charlotte's room was very much the same, save for the tiny figure on the bed.
Hesitantly, he sat in the chair at her bedside and studied her.
Charlotte had always been the type of person to fill the room. Her optimism, her cheer, her foolish, wholehearted faith in the good in people—it had filled whatever room she was in with warmth.
That had nothing to do with her telepathy. It was only to do with her steadfast heart rather than her mind.
Now, Erik could see none of that faith or warmth in her face.
She was so much thinner now. Her gentle features were now sharp and whittled down by the cruel knife of hardship and grief. Dark circles were etched into her skin beneath her eyes, stained slightly by still-damp tear tracks.
Gently, he took her hand, staring down at it in guilt. It looked—brittle, weak—
More than that, he realized as his eyes traveled over her sallow face. She wasn't just breakable now. It was too late for that. She was shattered.
Before, he could hear her unspoken, unwritten sorrow after his and Raven's departure, but this was a different loss. This hit Charlotte at her heart, in Charlotte's weakness for children.
She had been right. Erik had always tried to protect her, ever since that night when she had fished him from the ocean to stop him from drowning himself in an attempt to kill Schmit/Shaw. When he left and had formed the Brotherhood, one of the first laws he had laid down was that they, as mutants, were not to harm other mutants. Especially, he had added pointedly, not Charlotte Xavier—never mind that she was the enemy, never mind that she was a telepath, never mind that she was one of the most powerful mutants in the world. She was not to be touched.
But here they were, eight months after he had left. Despite that it was not his fault (well, they shared the blame for her pregnancy, but he could not have prevented or caused their daughter's death), guilt plagued his mind.
The metallokinetic didn't really remember the night Anya had been conceived. They had, together, drunk two bottles of scotch and he had woken in the morning half-dressed on his bed. He had wondered if he'd indulged his libido alone that night, judging by the dampness of the bed, and did not even consider the possibility that he and Charlotte had...well.
Memories of the night before were muddled because of the alcohol. There were flashes of skin-on-skin contact—the ghost of lips across his own—a flicker of desire and pleasure—the feel of fingers twining in his hair and his own hands buried in much longer, softer hair—the sense of contentment—the split-second recollection of hands caressing lightly over his arms, his chest, his stomach.
He wondered if he had dreamed up the feel of lips sweeping over the ugly numbers on his forearm.
Several days later, he managed to recall lying on his stomach on his bed and looking over to see Charlotte: asleep, sprawled beside him, shirt only half buttoned, skirt hiked up to show her thighs, hair everywhere, one arm flung across his back, a small smile gently curling her red lips.
At the time, he wondered if it had just been a fantasy created by his drunken, lonely mind. Charlotte had never given away any hint that anything had happened so he had written it off as a dream.
Now, looking back at everything, he'd only done her wrong.
And if he stayed, it would only cause her more pain, doubtlessly. There was nothing he could truly do here to help. But, out there with the Brotherhood, he was fighting for mutants' place in the world, trying to make it safe for mutants—trying, once more, to protect Charlotte.
Erik stood and paused only to press a kiss to her pale forehead. "Take care, Liebling," he whispered and turned to leave.
It was only as he and Mystique left the gates that he realized he had completely forgotten his helmet before they came to Westchester.
Chapter 4: Don't Leave My Hyper Heart Alone on the Water
Recovery is a long road, especially when walked alone.
"Don't leave my hyper heart alone on the water
Cover me in rag and bone sympathy…"
~ "Sorrow", the National
It took Charlotte weeks to return to even a pale semblance to her usual self.
She doubted she would ever be quite the same, but the telepath forced herself to move along, to focus on the school, to continue her work.
Once the numbing sorrow passed, anger had taken its place.
Her grieving had been for Anya, yes, but some of it had been the vestiges of what she had locked away after Cuba, after Erik, after the wheelchair.
She wanted to scream, to break something, to run until she couldn't anymore. Which only made her angrier because she couldn't. She was trapped in the mansion, trapped in this damned chair. For the rest of her life, she would be confined to this chair.
Instinct told her to let out some of the bottled and concentrated solution of misery and fury, to let it leak out through her telepathy, but the professor kept a rigid lock on that.
Well, Charlotte didn't know how she felt about him. She had avoided thinking about him too much, had focused on the baby instead, but now, without Anya…
She didn't want to blame him, not really. She logically knew he did not intend on hitting her with the deflected bullet. She understood that he would never intentionally hurt her like this. But knowing that did nothing to stem the trembling fury she felt.
Erik was the second friend she had ever made—her best friend, she had thought. He was her co-conspirator, her partner-in-crime, her partner (full stop). He was one of the most interesting people she'd ever come across—she'd known that the instant she felt his mind as he tried to sink the submarine. He was one of the bravest, most cunning, most loyally determined men.
He was—he was late night chess games, shared glasses of old scotch, long nights of philosophy and debate. He was a quiet companion with unflinching ears willing to listen without judgment, long hours spent discussing mutations and the possibilities thereof. He was unquestionable the person she had been closest to—ever, even Raven. He was the reassuring mind, always rational and calm, always ready to act, always trusting her, always aware of how often she slipped into his mind but never saying anything about it. He was "my friend". He was "my love."
He was her greatest, most trusted friend. He was her confidant. He was her safe place for her telepathy. He was her one-time lover. He was the father of her (stillborn) child. He was the only man she had ever really loved.
And he had betrayed them, left them, abandoned them.
Charlotte's anger had abated very quickly, leaving her wistful and lonely.
Because she could forgive him. She would always forgive him; she always had (even though she knew of everything he had done in the past, it didn't matter). She forgave him for it all.
Because he was Erik.
And if she couldn't forgive him, then how was she to forgive herself?
All of this flew through her tired mind one evening in the library as she studied the abandoned chess game there. With shaking hands, she poured herself a glass of scotch.
Charlotte wanted to hate him. No one could possibly blame her for it, either. He wouldn't be undeserving of it. She had every right to.
She wanted to hate him but she knocked back the glass and drank it down, resolving to hate herself instead.
One day, Alex had noticed her staring out a window to the lawn below and had inquired, "Are you alright, Professor?"
She gave him a sad smile. "Did you know," she said as she turned back to the window, "In the English language, there are orphans and widows, but there is no word for a mother who has lost her child?"
The blond boy had stared at her for a long minute before wrapping a careful arm around her shoulder. "Professor, you may not have Anya, but you will always be a mother to the rest of us. You know that, right? I know it's not much in comparison, but you're still the best mother I've ever known."
Tears filled her blue eyes as she smiled to him. "Oh, Alex. Right now, you three and the school are the world to me. You boys are the only thing that keeps me going some days."
Slowly, slowly, she began to recover. It was two months before the boys coaxed laughter from her. With them, she began to move on.
At Hank's insistence, she returned to the academic world for a time, but her heart was not in it. She had her degree and now was the time to do something with it. She wrote papers and attended lectures but never lingered. Being a woman in the academic world had already been a fight. Being a disabled woman in the academic world was an even more tiring fight. But she persevered, retaining her reputation and gaining more repute and respect.
In the aftermath of Cuba was the fact that the existence of mutants was finally known to governments and could now be fully acknowledged. As a well-known professor of genetics, specializing in mutations, she made an effort to speak to leaders to clarify about mutants. She did not want Erik to be right about what they would do when they found out. In fact, they were too baffled, too shocked to do anything on those grounds yet. It came to a light publicly very soon afterwards and soon, the world knew about mutants. Some were hailed as heroes. Many remained hidden still.
Others were detrimental and preferred causing violence and trouble rather than fostering understanding and tolerance. She was chilled to discover Erik was among these. "The Brotherhood", his group called themselves.
Whenever there were anti-mutant actions, it seemed that the Brotherhood followed to strike back. It made her heart heavy to witness it.
As they did so, Charlotte became the US government's go-to consultant on all matters mutant, even if they did not know her as one. More often than not, she found herself discussing the Brotherhood's actions and trying to remind the government that not all mutants were like the Brotherhood: anti-government, violent, prejudiced.
She admitted publicly to be in the acquaintance of many mutants, but said nothing about her own powers. The fact that she was paraplegic seemed to make others doubt she was anything more than a genetics professor.
Renovations began too. Dormitories for students were made in an entire wing of the mansion. Another wing was remade into classrooms and labs. The library was enlarged and adapted to be a study hall as well. Outside, they had created a special basketball court that hid the hangar below. In the sublevel, they outfitted the bunker into a training room. Of course, Charlotte had ensured there were many secret halls and emergency exits, in case of the worst scenario.
The school didn't open for five years until they finished with the renovation and had tracked down a few teachers.
Slowly, slowly, they managed to get a couple students, who had nowhere else to go and take them in.
And even more slowly, the mansion began to feel like a home again.
The notes lengthened with time to letters.
After some time, they began a slow chess game, with a move attached to the end of every letter. If people noticed the chessboard set up mid-game in the professor's office, no one ever asked who her opponent was.
Some days, he wrote her a couple years into their correspondence, I wonder why you bother continuing to write to me. More often I defer asking because I am glad that you do, no matter your motivations for doing so.
She replied honestly. Oh, my love. I write because it is my only contact with you, because you remain my dearest friend. My single greatest regret is—and has always been—losing you.
It had taken several days for him to reply to that. If I had one wish, it would be to change this. To live in a world in which I did not shoot you on the beach and we were on the same side once more, where any children of ours could be safe.
They never mentioned Anya directly.
As Erik's Brotherhood became more and more active and violent, Charlotte found herself deploying her own team to parry their efforts, to defend innocent people. She could not go herself on account of her wheelchair, but she watched and assisted mentally where she could.
The students knew of the Brotherhood and "Magneto", knew of the war that would soon come. Charlotte prevented them from discovering about it personally and did not allow any of them to join her team's efforts against them. She did not keep them in the dark, however. She was honest and told them about their "enemies".
They discovered their Headmistress's past less easily than that.
Of course, they heard about the professor's baby daughter that had died, but mainly because of the small grave in one of the gardens.
At dinner or in classes, they might occasionally hear stories involving a man named Erik, but whenever someone asked the adults about it, they clammed up. The professor, they soon realized, took those inquiries the worst, though she hid it. They theorized to themselves that perhaps he had died, too.
They did not know about the truth for several years.
Chapter 5: I Don't Wanna Get Over You
Ten years post-Cuba brings unexpected visitors to the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
"…'cos I don't wanna get over you,
I don't wanna get over you…"
~ "Sorrow", The National
Ororo had been outside one Sunday afternoon, working on their homework for Hank's class, when she heard a great clamor from the front gates of the school. As they watched, the gates opened on their own volition and allowed a group of people to enter.
As the group came closer, the student recognized them from a photo in a newspaper article.
She ran into the mansion and was grateful to find Hank in the nearby hallway. "Hank! The Brotherhood—they're here!" she exclaimed. "Or some of them—they're here—out front—"
The blue haired mutant hurried to the door, but paused and said, "Go inside in case this gets messy, Ororo. Quickly." Reluctantly, she did, though she watched from a cracked window.
Hank folded his arms as he waited on the front steps as the group approached. Ororo studied them as they neared. A helmeted man in his forties that she knew as Magneto; a blue-skinned, red-haired woman; a red-skinned man dressed in a sharp suit.
"What do you want, Magneto?" Hank asked, saying the name with a bitter edge.
The man was unperturbed by the vehement tone. "What happened to Charlotte?" It took Ororo a moment to realize he meant Professor X.
Alex soon joined Hank. "Do you mean before or after Cuba and Anya?" he asked coldly.
Staring out the window, Ororo tried to remember any reference before to Cuba but could think of nothing that would be so significant.
Magneto frowned momentarily before schooling his features to impassiveness. "You know very well what I mean, Alex. Within the past week, what has happened to her?"
The two teachers shared an alarmed glance. "What makes you think something's wrong?" Alex asked defensively.
Magneto snorted. "I have been corresponding with Charlotte for some time now. She never takes more than a day to reply unless she has given a warning beforehand. Something is obviously wrong; she has not replied in a week."
After a long moment, Hank sighed. "If we can trust you not to harm anyone while you are here, then you had better come in."
The two students exchanged a shocked look before they watched Hank led the three inside. Alex followed them, as if to keep an eye on them, but called over his shoulder, "Ororo, it's impolite to eavesdrop. I thought you had homework to do."
Hank led them to the sitting room and motioned for them to sit. "I'll be back momentarily," he said and went upstairs to Charlotte's room. He knocked quickly and entered.
"Professor?" he said quietly. "We have a few...visitors who want to see you."
She coughed heavily and asked hoarsely, "Who?"
"Magneto and Mystique," he replied. "And, um, Azazel, though I think he was their transport."
"Erik and Raven," she whispered to herself. The telepath nodded. "Alright, I'll see them in my study."
He did and wheeled the chair from her room down the hall to her study. She went to her desk and found several letters atop her desk, unopened. "Send them in, please, Hank," she asked. He nodded and went to retrieve them. While he did, she skimmed the letters she had missed.
Several minutes later, the door opened.
She smiled up at her guests. "Erik, Raven," she greeted warmly. "Come in, please." They did. Relief was on his face, reluctance on hers.
It had been more ten years since they had spoken face to face. Neither of them knew of the full extent of the injuries she had left that beach with.
"Why don't you both sit? Now, I must apologize for not replying to your letters, love. I was ill with pneumonia," she explained. "I am a bit more susceptible to it now. I was on bed rest for several days. That is why you got no reply. I never got your letters until now. I apologize for the worry. This is the first I've been out of my rooms in a few days."
Charlotte wheeled the chair out from behind the desk to see them.
"Oh, gott," Erik whispered, a hand covering his mouth.
Her sister's mouth parted in shock. "Please tell me that is because of the pneumonia," Raven said softly.
The telepath clenched her eyes shut and shook her head slightly. "It's not."
"Char, please stand up," the shapeshifter said shakily. Fear—denial—no, no, no—can't be—desperation—please, Charlotte— Her thoughts were in an uproar as she stared at her once-sister.
"I can't," the telepath snapped quietly. "I can't stand up."
Erik sat down into a chair in horror. "How...how long?"
She closed her eyes. "You know the answer, love. When I last saw you...that was the last time I stood."
He gave a pained noise. "I did this." The professor opened her mouth to reply, but he cut her off. "Don't. You told me as much ten years ago. I did this." He took a shuddering breath. "Charlotte," he said roughly. "Why did you never mention...?"
"Because I knew what your reaction would be," she replied and smiled sadly. "You weren't the only ones who left the beach unchanged," she said quietly, but then reached for them. "Come here, Raven, give your sister a hug."
The blue woman did and hugged her tightly. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," she whispered, a tear slipping down her cheek. "And...I go by Mystique now," she added quietly.
"Yes, I've heard," the professor said with a small laugh and looked to the other. "Erik?"
Carefully, he came to her side, bent down, and embraced her gently, as if afraid she might break—afraid he would cause her more pain than he had already. "You should have told me. You let me live in ignorance of this for more than ten years."
"Oh, my love," she said, holding him there tightly. "I knew it would only hurt you more." She released him and he settled back into the chair.
Neither visitor replied for a moment. Mystique looked out the wide office windows to the sprawling campus below. "The school looks wonderful," she remarked. "Just like you dreamed."
Charlotte nodded proudly as she gazed out over her school. "Yes, I'm proud of it. It is missing a few important pieces, but otherwise, yes, it is very near that which I dreamed it could be."
Mystique momentarily wondered what she meant by missing pieces—if she meant Anya, if she meant Erik, if she meant her sister, if she meant all three.
"How are your students?" she inquired politely.
"Few, but well," the professor replied with a fond smile. "We have full staff now so we will be recruiting new students during the summer."
Her sister nodded, but glanced at Magneto. "It was good to see you again, Charlotte, but I'll go now." She stood and embraced Charlotte once more. "I hope you recover quickly. Good luck with your school."
Charlotte nodded. "Thank you, Raven. And...stay safe, please."
"No promises," she replied with a small smile and left Charlotte and Erik alone.
Silence filled the office for a moment. Charlotte wheeled her chair to sit beside him where he sat in the armchair across from her desk. "I apologize for worrying you, love," she told him, "but I am glad to see you again."
He nodded. "It is good to see you again as well." Erik studied her face—aged ten years since he had last seen her, with silver threading her dark brown hair. There were gentle lines around her eyes and mouth. Her eyes had remained the same blue as ever, if slightly sadder as she met his gaze. "You're getting old," he noticed quietly.
She laughed softly. A hand went to his temple, where his hair, longer than it had been before, was beginning to turn white. "Yes, we both are, aren't we?"
He nodded in agreement. He felt older than his forty-some years.
His eyes strayed to her desk, on which he could see his recently opened letters. To the left of those, however...He pulled the metallic object to him and held it up for inspection.
"It is the bullet you stopped," she explained quietly. "That day during our training."
Erik nodded, memory flooding back from that day.
...Seeing her putting the gun to her far quicker than he had thought she could move...her hand pulling the trigger... "No!"...her proud expression after he stopped the bullet...telling him, "Oh, I have faith in you, love..."
"You kept it," he said, surprised.
The professor smiled. "Yes. I was proud of you and it was a fond keepsake from a good time."
His hand went to his breast pocket and extracted a very different bullet from a very different moment in time.
"Ah," she whispered when she saw it in his palm. The bullet was small and crumpled with dried blood in the creases. Her blood.
Once, in her study over a quiet, private game of chess (filled with imparted secrets and thoughts shared between them), he had extracted a small Reichsmark coin from his pocket. He carried it with him always since he was a child. "A reminder," he'd said. She'd stared at the coin and asked, "Of what?" Erik had levitated the coin into the air, spinning slowly as they watched. "Of the unforgiveable. Of the unforgettable."
He had left the coin on a Cuban beach. It was also there that he had picked up a new reminder: the bullet.
"What's this a reminder of?" she asked softly.
Erik looked up to her, eyes roaming over her face from under his helmet, before replying quietly, "Of things I can neither forget nor forgive. Of things and people I have lost. Of things I can never change...Of you."
"Erik..." She stared at him wordlessly.
With his free hand, he slowly removed the helmet.
For the first in ten years, she could feel him, could feel his mind for the first time since that day on the beach. She took a long moment at the sensation of feeling his long-missed presence. Only then did she dip into his mind.
It was a well of regret, of guilt. She realized he kept the bullet with him, in his pocket, always: a reminder of the price he was paying for his actions, of the loss he had sustained, of his mistakes, of the possible future he had forfeited…
It pained him to see the wheelchair, to realize the full extent of how he had hurt her, how much he had taken from her: In one fell swoop, I took her best friend and her sister…and now I discover I have taken from her any possibility of walking ever again.
She leaned over and kissed him gently. "Erik, I forgave you many years ago. Do not linger on what you could have done differently to change this. A thousand little things contributed. The fault does not lie solely with you, love."
He grabbed her hand and squeezed it. If I had one wish, it would be to change this.
"I know," she told him softly. "But we both know it would not have ended much better if we had…
"We are too proud to give up our beliefs, too stubborn, too arrogant in our belief that we are right. It would only have hurt us more."
In his mind, he was staring at her—disabled, forever hurt, never able to walk again, because of him.
Nothing could hurt more than this, Liebling.
She smiled tightly, determined not to let herself shed another tear. Her throat felt pin-hole thin and she took a calming breath. "I hope in time you can find it in you to forgive yourself, because I already have," she told him.
He nodded and tucked the whole bullet back to the desk and returned the other to his pocket. His hand paused in his pocket before he withdrew a worn photograph.
The professor's inhalation was soft but sharp. "Oh, Erik," she said softly as she stared at the old ultrasound photo.
"She would have been like you," he said quietly. "Your brain, your warmth. Our stubbornness. Your eyes."
"Don't," she whispered, laying a hand on his arm. "Don't make me think of maybes and could-have-beens. It hurts too much."
He tucked the photo away carefully and then embraced her softly, both giving and receiving comfort.
Several minutes later, she straightened. "Come now, I believe Raven and Azazel are waiting for you."
I expect you will continue to write, then? He inquired, picking up his helmet as he stood.
Yes, I shall. Goodbye, my love.
Auf Wiedersehen, meine Liebe,  he replied and then his mind was gone again, hidden by the helmet.
"I'll show you out," she said and led him from the study.
Raven and Azazel were in the sitting room, sitting in silence, with Hank and Alex. Charlotte sighed at the sight of them. "Honestly, you two, at least try being hospitable," she scolded, though it was with a smile. "Were they here to attack, they would have done it by now and the same for Erik. He could have killed me with my underwire long ago."
The boys flushed and sputtered. Raven's lips quirked up slightly in amusement. Erik simply rolled his eyes.
The telepath looked to the other two guests. "Thank you both for coming," she said as they all stood and prepared to leave. "Stay safe, Raven, please. Azazel, thank you for being our messenger." The teleporter gave a short bow of acknowledgement.
"And Erik," she said as they turned to leave. "Ich liebe dich." 
He smiled. "Ich liebe dich auch." 
And then they were gone. Again.
 "Goodbye, my love."
 "I love you."
 "I love you too."
Chapter 6: On the Waves
The Cold War has leveled to lukewarm, but another war is brewing at home.
Or, a meeting.
"Sorrow's my body on the waves
Sorrow's a girl inside my cake."
~ "Sorrow", The National
Years past slowly for Charlotte Xavier.
As they expanded and recruited, the world changed around them. The Cold War became lukewarm because suddenly humanity had a far more dangerous, far closer enemy: mutants.
The news of their existence broke to governments soon after Cuba. The entire public had discovered them a year later. Amazement and curiosity were largely the first reaction before fear set in as mutants' full capabilities came to light.
Tensions skyrocketed as the "war", as Erik insisted it was in their correspondence, brewed. Erik's Brotherhood had quickly took a forefront in the conflict.
On the opposite end of the war, there formed an anti-mutant group that paralleled and rivaled the Brotherhood. Where Erik's group was based around mutant supremacy, the Friends of Humanity believed in human supremacy, that mutants were dangerous abominations. The clash in beliefs had often escalated to violence.
Charlotte, as a well renowned expert on genetics and mutations, often spoke at Senate hearings and the like about mutants and their abilities. She had, after all, predicted their existence to the academic community in her thesis. Before long, however, she was called to a greater role.
In the months following Erik and Charlotte's first face-to-face meeting after Cuba, things only worsened. Violence was becoming common by and against mutants.
A young boy—unbeknownst before as a mutant—accidentally set the apartment building his family lived in on fire with his mutation. Eight people had died in the flames with nine more injured.
Not a month later, a mother drowned her six year old daughter after she realized the girl was a mutant.
The mother was found murdered three days later, seemingly in retaliation. Her death was contributed to the Brotherhood; Charlotte didn't want to know if Erik was behind it.
Shortly after, one of the Brotherhood's mutants was found lynched in revenge.
But the violence only escalated and before long, there was a mob of people in DC, lobbying for mutants to be found and exterminated.
And so Charlotte went to work to calm the waters before more were hurt. She wrote a letter anonymously to the President and his advisers, offering a peaceful meeting between them and she, acting as a mutant representative. A day later the headlines cried that the White House had agreed to a meeting with a mutant emissary in a week's time.
The anti-mutant community was in an uproar, but the Brotherhood abruptly halted their actions, virtually vanishing. Charlotte, in her heart, knew that it was because Erik knew her well enough to predict it was she.
At breakfast the morning the news was announced, everyone was surprised if relieved to hear of the meeting. Hank eyed her suspiciously from her right asked lowly, "When are you leaving?"
She smiled slightly. "Sunday morning. The meeting is to be on Monday."
"Are you going to tell them?" he nodded to the others, chatting away cheerfully as they ate.
The professor sighed. "They will worry. I'll tell them Saturday night at dinner."
Hank nodded. "And I suppose you are going alone?"
"Yes," she replied. "I am counting on you to look after them all for me. Will you do that?"
Reluctantly, the blue-haired mutant nodded.
She could feel the eyes on her.
Even without her telepathy, the tension and anxiety that filled the White House was nearly tangible in the air.
Charlotte had come alone, as promised, but was led down the halls by not one but four Secret Service agents as an escort to the meeting. People they passed in the halls stared at her with curiosity, surprise, and fear in their eyes as they realized she was the representative.
She saw in their minds what they saw: a calm and collected woman in her early forties, dark hair beginning to grey, in a wheelchair. For once, there was no pity in their eyes as they looked upon her wheelchair—a very large change from both being at school or being elsewhere. Instead, there was fear and anxiety, with a small measure of curiosity.
After long walks through the corridors of the White House, they eventually reached the meeting room in the sublevel basement.
The tension doubled as she wheeled into the room. There were only a handful of men present and she could recognize them all.
"Good morning, gentlemen," she said calmly, politely as she settled at the empty spot at the end of the table. Opposite her, at the far end, sat the President who looked to the four Secret Service Agents who seemed to be settling in behind her.
"Thank you, agents, but that will be all," he said.
"Sir?" one asked.
"Private meeting," he replied to dismiss them.
Their reluctance and distrust turned her stomach but they nodded and left, shutting the door behind them.
Her eyebrows rose but she nodded, wordlessly thanking them for the display of trust.
"Thank you for coming, Miss...?" the President was sincere in his thanks but trailed off, unsure of her name. He recognized her vaguely but couldn't place her.
"Professor Charlotte Xavier," she supplied. "And thank you for accepting to meet."
The Vice President spoke up. "Forgive me if I'm wrong, but aren't you the genetics expert so often called to speak about mutants in Senate hearings?"
Charlotte inclined her head. "The same."
Recognition trickled in, though they were no less wary.
She sighed. "Before we begin, I would like you to know I am in no way or manner affiliated with the Brotherhood of Mutants," the telepath said gently. "I want war no more than you. I am here to prevent it because I believe that humans and mutants can coexist in peace."
"That's good to hear, Professor," said the President with a relieved smile.
The Secretary of Defense did not feel the same. He frowned before purposefully schooling his expression, though Charlotte sensed his overall dislike toward her. "Well, as nice as that would be, I doubt that is possible at the moment, Miss Xavier."
"Peace is always an option," she replied firmly. "We only need find the means to enact it."
He frowned and opened his mouth to debate but was cut off by the older and more open-minded Secretary of State. "Professor, do you know anything about this Brotherhood? What is it, exactly, that they want? They have been less than clear about it."
The telepath sighed. "The Brotherhood is a group of mutants who very much hold the belief that mutants are superior to the rest of humanity. Unfortunately, they are very much willing to kill if it means protecting mutants, though they hesitate to harm our kind. They want this war because they know they have the means to win it."
"Their...leader," Defense said tightly. "He goes by...Magneto, correct?"
She stiffened but nodded slowly. "That is what he goes by, yes."
"Do you know his real name?"
Charlotte stilled and stiffly nodded. "I do."
State understood her defensive tone. "But you won't tell us," he observed neutrally.
The telepath inclined her head in confirmation.
"He seems to be the one to provoke all of this," Defense said, watching her distrustfully. "He is certainly the one that the public sees as responsible for directing the anti-human violence."
She understood what he was getting at before he breathed any more of it. "Mr. Secretary, in my years, I have learned that war is like a dance: you need two."
He leaned forward aggressively. "What're you getting at, Miss Xavier?"
"It's Professor Xavier," she replied calmly. "What I am trying to say is that you seek to punish only one aggressor in this storm, when in fact there are two stirring up this violence. The Friends of Humanity have created an equally high death toll, if not more. To calm the endless cycle of retributive violence between the two, you must confront both—or else neither will halt their actions. If you vilify the Brotherhood only, they will see it as though you are siding with the Friends of Humanity and therefore share their anti-mutant view. And that would only provoke them into inciting actual war."
"You're certain of that?" the President asked, concerned.
Charlotte nodded grimly. "Yes, unfortunately. The two organizations are on the precipice of total warfare as it is. To show favoritism when dealing with one would only incite the other. If you wish to avoid an escalation of violence, I recommend holding both parties equally at fault for their crimes. If one is to be considered a terrorist group, so is the other."
In the pause, her logic soaked into their brains as they considered her words. They could see the sense in it, though they were unhappy about it.
They meandered from that topic.
"You said you knew who Magneto is," the Vice President commented.
"What would it take for you to tell us?"
Her eyebrows rose as she glanced at the politicians. "I assume you wish to know so you can capture and jail him," she said, knowing it was true. "I'll not inform you unless I have your word that the leader of the Friends of Humanity is treated the same: captured and jailed for his crimes."
The Secretary of Defense glared at her fiercely. "You're going to try to negotiate with us about this?" he scoffed.
None of Charlotte's considerable irritation showed on her face. "You accepted my offer for this meeting. I am under no obligation or oath here."
"And how, exactly, are you qualified to be here?" he spat derisively.
"I have been dealing with mutants my entire life, virtually longer than any of you have even dreamed of the possibilities of powers such as these," she replied coldly. "I entered at Harvard at sixteen and Oxford at eighteen. I am in possession of no less than three doctorates in genetics, biophysics, and psychiatry from Oxford, as well as a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University. I am one of the leading authorities on evolutionary genetics. And I have a certified genius-level intellect. I do believe I am qualified to be here.
"Not to mention," she added, calmer, "That I can read your mind."
All of the politicians stilled, their faces paling to white. Then all hell broke loose as they shouted and leapt from their seats.
"What the hell?"
"Oh my God!"
"A fucking spy—"
With a sigh, she waved her hand vaguely in their direction. At once, they froze in air, though their eyes turned to her in alarm. (Almost as bad as the CIA, ages ago, she thought to herself at their reactions.) "Gentlemen, please," she said. "Be civilized. I came here to negotiate, not attack nor spy."
She released the President first, who was the only one still in his seat. "I don't want to be your enemy."
He nodded and recovered well. "Nor do I, Professor—even before knowing about your..." He searched for the right word.
"Telepathy," she replied.
Yes, that, he thought with a nod. She smiled and he caught it. Now, I don't think they will do anything too rash, if you will...?
Carefully, she released the others and they, after seeing the President seated calmly, reluctantly returned to their chairs.
"How...how did you just...?" the Vice President trailed off, looking completely unnerved.
The professor smiled a bit and lied only a touch as she explained.
Chapter 7: A City Sorrow Built
The events in DC take a violent turn and our favorite magnetokinetic makes a reappearance.
"I live in a city sorrow built
It's in my honey, it's in my milk."
~ "Sorrow", The National
Their meeting continued for several hours, interrupted by one or two coffee breaks which she used to check the news to see if there had been any action from the Brotherhood. There wasn't, which both surprised and calmed her.
She didn't have to read his thoughts to understand his thinking, that if his Brotherhood caused any serious trouble while a mutant representative was in the White House, it would be too easy for the feds to imprison or hurt said mutant in retribution. There was also the fact that if she was hurt or taken into custody, he could always use that as his excuse to start his war. It was Erik's dual-fold way of ensuring her safety.
Even now, after all these years, he was still trying to protect her.
Which made it all the more difficult for her to know that she was considering giving him away to them.
But the meeting was not all so calm.
They never were these days when they were discussing mutants.
At one point, Charlotte was barely restraining herself from screaming, though the Secretary of Defense seemed to have no such scruples as they fought.
"Mutants are dangerous!" he yelled, slamming his fist on the table, repeating himself for the seventh time that day.
Her lip curled. "And so are humans," she said lowly. "Every person on this planet has the potential of danger within them, regardless of whether they be human or mutant! You don't need superstrength to be able to kill someone. You don't need to capable of invisibility to rob a bank. You don't need to have control over fire to cripple someone. You don't need to be capable of any of that to shoot a gun, to injure, to rape, to kill! Humans are just as capable of violence as mutants and to argue otherwise is bigoted prejudice."
"No," he replied. "But it makes it damn well easier to do!"
Icy silence followed. The other politicians had said nothing, not wanting to involve themselves.
"Do you want to know how I ended up paralyzed and confined to this wheelchair, Mr. Secretary?" she asked coldly, pulling a desperate card from her sleeve.
"Do tell," he replied blandly in disinterest.
She straightened and glared. "It was in Cuba, during the missile crisis. I was assisting the CIA to prevent a nuclear war with a team of mutants and humans, together. And one of each caused me to take a bullet to my spine," she said with cold fury in her tone. "One fired a gun and the other deflected the bullet accidentally into my back, severing my spinal cord. The human that fired the gun intended to kill another with that bullet. The mutant that caused the bullet to enter my spine did so by accident.
"Humans are just as capable of violence and horrible actions as mutants are," she repeated coldly. "And if you think otherwise, you are a damned, deluded fool lying to himself."
She left late that evening. The hired driver picked her up outside the White House and dropped her off at a hotel.
After a long phone call to Hank about the meetings and a quick chat with several of the others, Charlotte went to bed exhausted and emotionally drained by the arguments.
The professor did not sleep long before a disturbance woke her. Actually, it was more than a simple disturbance.
For all her life, she was usually a light sleeper but exhaustion nullified that on nights such as these.
Charlotte did not wake until there was a knife at her throat and a pair of handcuffs clicking shut around her wrists.
Reacting instinctively, she shoved the arm away. They hadn't realized she was awake and the surprise of her reaction gave her advantage enough to actually do it, though the knife left a shallow slice into the skin of her neck.
Her advantage was short lived. She was near useless in a physical fight now.
That did not mean she was completely defenseless. Charlotte's mind reached out and touched not one but five men in the room. The hostility aimed at her was born of hatred and fear; the professor knew in an instant from their minds who had sent them.
But as she gleaned this information from their minds, one of the men rushed forward and wrapped his arms around her torso, pinning her arms to her sides as he tried to pick her up.
Reflexively, she lashed out.
The five attackers slumped to the ground instantly, unconscious. This also, unfortunately, brought Charlotte to the floor with her attacker.
She took a deep breath to calm herself and to sit up right.
Carefully, the telepath slipped into one of the men's mind, shuffling through their memories until she found what she was looking for. Under orders from Creed himself, the man in charge of the Friends of Humanity, to watch and follow the mutant representative from the White House to their hotel and, from there, kill them.
Well. That put things into perspective.
Charlotte surveyed the room, squinting to see in the dark of the room. Her wheelchair should have been beside the bed...but there it was, pushed away, knocked on its side.
With a sigh, she reached up to the bedside table and struggled to reach the lamp. After a moment, she managed to find the switch and then reached for the phone.
The telepath dialed the number, which she'd gotten from the politicians' minds the previous day, with steady fingers.
"What? What is it?" came the sleepy voice that picked up the phone.
"This is Professor Xavier," she said calmly. "Forgive me, Mr. President, but I require your assistance. I've just been attacked, you see…"
Shortly thereafter came the sound of heavy footfalls in the corridor outside her room. Someone pounded on the door. "FBI!" a man said loudly.
"The door's locked," she called loudly. "But I can't reach it now!"
A moment later, the agents rammed the door down and came rushing in to find the five men still unconscious on the floor and Charlotte, beside the bed, looking weary but calm.
"If one of you gentlemen would be so kind as to get my chair for me and help me into it?" she asked politely.
One of the agents righted the chair and wheeled it over as another helped her into it.
"Thank you," she said gratefully. "Now, if any of you happen to have a key for handcuffs, I would love to rid myself of these."
She was in luck; her attackers were using handcuffs similar to police-issue and the key worked.
Another came forward as she rubbed her wrists. "Ah, Professor Xavier, correct? I'm Special Agent McBrayer. Would you mind explaining what happened? We were informed that you had been attacked but little else."
Charlotte smiled and explained briefly of her mutation and the men, of their orders. She said nothing of why they targeted her specifically and only implied that it was because she was a mutant, rather than share that she was the representative.
McBrayer took it all in stride, even her mutation. Once she finished explaining everything, he lingered; Charlotte could sense his curiosity but hesitation in his mind. Eventually, he sighed and told her quietly, "Professor, my daughter...She's twelve and she's a mutant, too."
The telepath smiled. "Oh, how lovely. What is her mutation, if I may ask?"
"Empathy," he said softly. "It causes her problems, sometimes, being in crowds or around too many people."
Charlotte nodded. "Mr. McBrayer, I run a school in upstate New York for mutant children, teaching them to control their powers. If you'd like, I'll give you my card..."
An hour later, a new man came up to her, dressed neatly in a suit. "Professor Xavier, I'm from the Secret Service. The President sent me to retrieve you. In light of your attack, he felt it would be better if he offered you a guest room there until you leave."
Charlotte nodded. "That is a wise choice."
She did not stay long in the White House. By the time she got there, it was just past five in the morning.
Gently, Charlotte turned her attention to the minds of those within her range, scanning for a familiar mind. After a minute, she found her sister, who was just outside of DC... Nearby were the mental presences of other Brotherhood members. She was certain Erik wasn't far behind, though she could not sense him.
But that alone supplied her with enough information. If the Brotherhood was here, then Erik was certainly with them. If she could not sense him, then he was certainly wearing the helmet. If so, then he was awake. And why else would he be awake at this hour if not because he had somehow learned of the recent events. Erik had never been a morning person; there was no other explanation.
So she dipped into the mind of their teleporter. Azazel, tell Magneto an old friend needs to speak with him. She told him and rattled off a location. It is urgent. Have him meet me there in one hour.
Suspicion and alarm coiled in his mind like a snake preparing to strike. After a moment, he replied, Da. I will.
Thank you, Azazel, she said and withdrew from his mind.
An hour later, Charlotte wheeled into the coffeehouse and found him already waiting, sitting patiently at a table. In front of him rested a cup of coffee with two sugars and a splash of milk (she still remembered how he took his coffee) and an untouched cup of tea.
Erik had thankfully lost his ridiculous cape costume as well as the helmet and instead wore a black turtleneck under his jacket with a pair of slacks. The clothing was reminiscent of their time together before Cuba. Though he was no longer as whipcord thin and his hair was slowly greying with his age, the sight caused a wave of nostalgia that made her heart ache tenderly in her breast.
His mental presence was a balm to her frayed nerves of the part day.
He gave a small smile when he saw her. "Charlotte," he greeted warmly.
"My love," she replied softly as she settled at the table and leaned over to press her lips to his cheek. "Thank you for coming."
"An invitation like that is difficult to ignore," he replied. "I heard there was a mutant attacked in DC and I feared the worst."
She took a sip of the proffered cup of tea and smiled. "Earl Grey with one spoonful of sugar," she said quietly, fondly. "You still remember."
Erik gave her a look that was both patronizing and fond. "Of course I do, liebling," he said and added sadly, "I remember everything about you."
A memory flashed in her mind of pre-Cuba, sitting in the mansion's kitchen with all of the children as they ate breakfast together. The younger mutants were happily feasting on pancakes and syrup. Erik had his usual coffee and Charlotte her tea. The telepath realized abruptly the perspective was wrong as she looked upon her own, much younger face. It was Erik's recollection.
She pulled back from the memory, forcing herself not to linger there. Erik watched her with calm grey-green eyes and seemed to know she had slipped into his mind but said nothing.
Neither spoke for a moment, only gazing at each other.
"You were already in DC, weren't you?" she asked finally.
He chuckled. "As soon as we heard that a mutant had stepped forward and offered to meet with the government about current affairs, I knew it was you, Charlotte. And I knew the so-called Friends of Humanity would love to get their hands on the representative going in for peace talks. It was safer to be nearby and on hand."
"You also halted your...operations."
He nodded. "Insurance."
Charlotte cocked her head to the side. "On what?"
Erik gave her a long look and projected loudly, Your life.
Despite herself, she chuckled. "You're still trying to protect me."
"And I always will."
His sincerity threatened to overwhelm Charlotte, whose throat was pinhole-thin. She swallowed.
The sound of all they left unsaid deafened her.
Eventually, Erik broke the silence. "What happened exactly?"
"Five men broke into my hotel room," she said calmly. "I didn't wake up until there was a knife at my throat. I knocked them out," she touched her temple absently. "Simple. They weren't expecting a telepath, obviously."
He chuckled. "Charlotte, very few people could ever expect someone like you."
She forced herself to interpret his words in terms of her telepathy, not in his real meaning. Otherwise it would only be harder to force herself to leave him again.
Three hours later, they parted.
Erik was under oath not to retaliate for the attack, though it was reluctantly given after an hour of disagreement and negotiation. "If they try it again..." he remarked with a dangerous edge to his voice, "I won't uphold my promise, Charlotte."
She smiled sadly, knowing the honesty with which he spoke.
The older mutant pressed his lips to hers for only a moment before turning and walking away. Charlotte closed her eyes so she didn't have to watch him leave her again.
By the time the professor returned, it was nearly ten when she wheeled into the meeting room. The politicians had already been present and in the midst of a loud discussion when they had fallen silent at her entrance.
"Professor Xavier," the President greeted calmly, polite despite the fact that she was two hours late.
"My apologies to you all for my tardiness," she said.
The Secretary of Defense was unmoved. "Recovering after your scare?" he asked dryly, mocking edging into his words.
"Actually, I was busy convincing Magneto not to seek retribution for the attack," she replied coolly. "On that matter, he has agreed not to do anything as long as the Friends of Humanity are held responsible—something I quite agree on."
"I'll make sure of it," the President replied with a nod.
Maybe, she thought softly, Maybe there is hope for this war yet.
Chapter 8: Cover me in rag and bone sympathy
Help is asked for...twice.
Charlotte has particular incentive to assist the second time.
"Don't leave my hyper heart alone on the water.
Cover me in rag and bone sympathy..."
~ "Sorrow", The National
The peace talks had been a temporary solution at best, she knew, but it had worked for the time. The violence traded like blows between the Brotherhood and the Friends of Humanity slowed and shrinked in scale though the prejudice remained on both sides.
Eventually, after deliberation, the President had agreed to regard the Brotherhood and Friends of Humanity equally as terrorist groups and therefore equally punishable under the law. They also agreed to pursue the Freinds of Humanity just as fiercely as they hunted Magneto, who Charlotte regretfully gave up as Erik Lehnsherr.
It was nearly two years later that they next saw each other.
Charlotte had grown into her academic persona with age. She had not lied when she'd said that she was one of the foremost experts on evolutionary genetics. With time, she became the foremost expert, the go-to consultant on all matters mutant, as well as a voice for equality on all fronts.
She wasn't a real professor at a university but some occasionally asked her to speak. Columbia was one of them and had specifically asked her to give a series of guest lectures about recent advances in genetics. As she had done little lately in academia outside of mutants, she accepted the offer.
On her third lecture, she was discussing the recent developments in DNA sequencing. "Just last year, amazing progress has been made," she began, looking out to the full auditorium of students and several teachers. "Between the developments of Maxam, Gilbert, and Sanger, methods to sequence human DNA are not far off. Within a few decades surely—certainly within your lifetimes. Now, what we can learn from these developments..."
In the back of the auditorium, a familiar presence came in through the back doors. Erik met her eyes and nodded before leaning against the back wall to listen.
She recovered with barely a pause and continued her lecture with more gusto than ever.
After the last straggling students had left, Erik came up to meet her in front of the stage.
She greeted him with a kiss to his cheek and a smile. "I was beginning to think it would be another ten years before I saw you, my love."
"I was in New York," he said quietly. "I thought I might catch you out...I need to speak with you."
The telepath paused. "Is this business or personal?"
"Both, I suppose," he replied.
Charlotte nodded. "Alright, but you're taking me to dinner then if it's not just business," she told him sternly but ruined the effect with a fond smile.
Ten minutes later found them seated in an Italian restaurant for dinner.
She chuckled quietly as they glanced through the menus. "In twelve years, this is our first date."
With a shrug, Erik replied, "It depends on your definition of a date. One might consider our late night chess games dates."
The professor smiled nostalgically as memories of those long nights full of chess and conversation and companionship came to her mind.
After a waitress took their orders, Charlotte studied the man before her and saw the tension in his frame. She reached across the table to grasp his hands in hers. "Why did you seek me out, Erik?" she asked quietly. "What's this business of which you spoke earlier?"
He sighed. "Do you recall Agent Stryker of the CIA?"
Her eyebrows rose but she nodded. "I remember him, yes."
"It's his son, Colonel William Stryker," the magnetokinetic replied. "He's following in his father's anti-mutant footsteps. We found intelligence the other day that he was...experimenting."
Charlotte stared at him, speechless. "What?" she gasped softly. "On—on mutants?"
Reluctantly, Erik nodded. "Mystique was...ah, appropriating several files in DC when she stumbled upon mention of his actions. We looked into it. He appears to have set up a base and therein has conducted experiments upon mutants, attempting to create a weapon to kill mutants. He calls the program Weapon X."
He was telling the truth and it terrified her. She took a deep breath to steady herself. "Why tell me this?"
"We could not collect all the data on the base," he replied. "But we know that a majority of the mutants they have in their custody are only children. Among them, Havok...Alex's younger brother seems to be there too. It made sense to inform you as your school will be the safest place for them after."
The telepath leaned back in her chair, nodding in understanding. "You plan on raiding the base to rescue the mutants, ruin the base itself, and kill Stryker." Erik did not deny it and she sighed. "Why haven't you simply done it and tell me afterward?"
"Mystique was able to access a good portion of the files about the base but not all of it. We could only find a few files on the mutants they have and very basics about what they are doing. The location was classified and inaccessible," he explained. "We...I hoped you might use Cerebro to locate it."
Slowly, Charlotte nodded. "I will locate it for you," she replied. "For the imprisoned mutants."
His relief was tangible in the air. "Thank you, Liebling. Mystique is out looking for more information as we speak, so we should know more by tomorrow. Would tomorrow night be a sufficient time to meet again?"
"Yes. If he is willing, have Azazel teleport you into my office," she decided. "I don't want any of the others to run into you on accident and misinterpret your presence as an assault. Bring whatever information you have found and we can plan the best course of action, if you'd like my assistance."
For several minutes, they sat in silence as they ate. Eventually, Erik thought to her softly, Thank you, Liebling. I know you do not like violence such as this does not sit well with you.
It does not, she replied with sad resolve, But to experiment on people...much less children... That is... The telepath struggled for a suiting word. Unforgiveable, unthinkable. Unacceptable.
He did not reply and Charlotte looked up to find him staring at her with an expression she could not place. Your weakness always was the children, he observed though not unkindly.
"No," she shook her head. "My weakness lies with those I love and care for, as well as those incapable of protecting themselves."
And you, she thought painfully.
Charlotte had done as promised to Erik and had located Stryker's base using Cerebro.
It was a Saturday and she had no classes, so the professor had been planning for her meeting that evening.
But things never quite go as planned in the life of Charlotte Xavier.
It was nearly lunch when the peaceful silence in her office was shattered abruptly. An alarm bellowed downstairs, echoing throughout the mansion. The sound of yells and general chaos soon followed.
Fearing the worst, the telepath hurried to the elevator and went to the ground floor. There was a large group of gathered students and several teachers in the foyer, looking out the windows and the open door in alarm.
Hank and Alex stood just outside the front door, facing the lawn.
"Disperse, students," she said loudly to the assembly. They moved out of her way and reluctantly returned to whence they came, speaking lowly amongst each other in curiosity.
Hank heard her and moved aside to let her by, but Alex edged closer to her. Anger, alarm, and protectiveness came off him in waves.
Finally, she saw the cause of the disturbance.
Just before the mansion's steps stood Raven, Emma Frost, and Azazel. All three of the Brotherhood members were battle-worn, bloody, and exhausted. The teleporter looked worn ragged and uneasy as he glanced around. At his right, Raven was shaking slightly, her fear and panic evident on her face, though her eyes were filled with relief when she met Charlotte's eyes. Emma Frost's shields were barely left standing around her mind, mere shadows of their usual strength, but she gave nothing away.
Worry filled Charlotte as the two groups stared at each other. Finally, Raven spoke. "Charlotte—please, we need your help. They have Magneto."
A little sound escaped her before she realized it—a sound not quite human, a sound of fear and pain.
She took a shuddering breath. "Come inside."
The three worn Brotherhood members weaved the tale together once safely ensconced in her office with only the telepath, Hank, and Alex there.
Raven had indeed found more information about Stryker's base, including more files about some of the mutants imprisoned there. Amongst them were details about the extent of the experimentation.
"...I took him the files immediately. In them, we found mention of Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania—"
Charlotte inhaled. "Where Stryker's base is," she murmured and ran a hand through her hair. "Oh, God. What did you do, Erik?"
Emma watched her with sharply curious blue eyes. "He didn't want to wait for you," she told the professor. "He was furious. The experiments, he said, were worse than some he had witnessed in Auschwitz. That was the last straw for him and so the Brotherhood attacked the base."
"We were overwhelmed," Raven said, pale. "Outnumbered and outgunned. They had mutants—turned into weapons designed to kill their own kind. One of them knocked out Magneto by luck and they took him. We decided a retreat was best before we were all captured. After ensuring everyone else was safe at our own base, we came here."
The greyed-brown haired woman studied them curiously. To her right, Hank spoke up. "And you trusted that we would help you so simply?"
The White Queen replied to him but her eyes did not leave Charlotte. "Magneto has always trusted the Professor here. He's given orders before that, should the Brotherhood be in crisis or someone injured and unable to contact any of the others, we would find shelter or assistance here with you."
"Erik does not trust me," Charlotte replied impassively, with a shake of her head. "I do not believe he trusts anyone—much less one of his enemies."
Emma snorted. "Look, missy. You think because he wears that damn helmet he doesn't trust you, don't you? Well, you're not the only telepath out there, obviously. And the only times I've ever seen him without it was when we was going to meet with you. He trusts you more than anyone else, I think."
The blond telepath reached out and projected to Charlotte privately, And it doesn't take a telepath to see that you two are foolishly, sickeningly in love.
Surprised but curious, Charlotte asked, And that is why you decided to come to me for help?
We knew you wouldn't leave him there—that is why we came. Because you're not the kind of woman who would leave the man you love at the mercy of a psychotic scientist like Stryker.
Charlotte chuckled ruefully. "You're not wrong there, Miss Frost. Yes. I will assist you. I had intended to offer assistance when Erik was going to liberate the imprisoned mutants there anyways. Now...there is simply more incentive to do so."
"Glad we agree," the White Queen replied with a satisfied smirk.
Chapter 9: 'Cos I Don't Wanna Get...
“…'Cos I don't wanna get over you
I don't wanna get over you…”
~ “Sorrow”, The National
Azazel had left quickly after their truce to retrieve a couple Brotherhood members to assist in the extraction, as Xavier was calling it.
Emma did not know the other telepath well. She knew much of her—Mystique’s past sisterhood with her, the Oxford-educated background, and of course the whole debacle in which they fought against Shaw. She had learned of Cuba much after the fact and had been surprised to hear that Magneto had paralyzed her—even if it had been accidental.
She had been even more surprised to find out about their child. Of course, they didn’t tell the others, but Emma had felt their alarm and seen through Azazel and Mystique’s eyes as Magneto got the ultrasound photo—“Her name was Anya Xavier.” Despite their mutational similarities, Emma did not care for the professor much beyond grudging respect, but that photo was enough to make her sympathize for Xavier. Even more so after she learned the details from Mystique.
The one thing that had always confused the blond was Xavier’s relationship with Magneto. Before Cuba, it had seemed that the two were a couple; even Shaw had thought so. Looking in to the others’ memories of what had occurred on the beach and his reaction to her injury, it sure seemed like they had been. But then he had left without a second thought.
Well, that was untrue. He thought about her constantly; Emma didn’t need to read his mind to know that.
It took the telepath an embarrassingly long time to gather that the pregnancy had resulted from one drunken night that neither fully recalled and they’d had little besides that. But they were stupidly, foolishly in love, she realized as she watched them. Magneto pined and the Professor, judging by her students’ thoughts, had done little more (aside from mourning for her daughter).
When Magneto had been captured, well, it was an instant choice to retreat and go to Xavier for assistance. She was the forgiving sort that believed in second chances and trusting people, but more than that, Emma knew she would go to hell and back for him.
It was all so terribly sad, honestly, and the blond felt bad for Charlotte. She was willing to do almost anything for him but Magneto seemed only concerned with the Brotherhood and mutants, despite the fact that he seemed to fully reciprocate Xavier’s love.
Personally, the telepath thought he needed to reorder his priorities.
Watching Xavier plan a rescue mission to go after him, Emma resolved to tell him that much once he was back.
From the Brotherhood, Raven and Frost gather Azazel, Riptide, and a woman Charlotte has never met before named Irene Adler but whom the others call Destiny.
Charlotte asks Hank and Alex to assist. They were not happy but reluctantly agreed. “For you,” Hank had reluctantly decided. “We’ll do it for you, not for him.”
Via Cerebro, the professor confirmed that Erik was still at Three Mile Island, drugged to unconsciousness in a secure level far below the captive children. She also discovered that, at the same time, another man was on his way to the island—Logan, whom she and Erik had briefly met years ago, was on his way there as well.
Now, on the jet (of Hank’s design and piloting), the air was tense as they flew from New York to the small Pennsylvanian island. The flight was silent and no one spoke more than required for planning.
Emma, Riptide, and Alex were to go in for the children. Raven, Azazel, and Hank were after Erik.
Irene, as she had introduced herself to Charlotte, was a blind young woman with a cryptic smile that matched her mutation of foreseeing the future. It was her mutation that allowed her to compensate for her physical limitation, but she was mainly a non-combatant and preferred to watch rather than act. As such, she and Charlotte were to remain on the jet while the others enacted their plan.
As they neared the base, the telepath inhaled sharply, drawing everyone’s attention to her. “We’re not alone,” she said. “There’s someone else attacking the island—another mutant.”
Across the jet, Emma Frost gave a hum as she reached for said mutant’s mind. “Oh, he might be useful,” she remarked with an eager smirk curling her lips. “He’s out for Stryker’s blood too.”
“Stryker knows he—Logan, he’s called—is coming,” Charlotte added. “That could be useful. Logan will be a distraction for us. Wonderful.”
They went in, leaving Charlotte and Irene in the jet. The telepath monitored them and shared what she saw with the other mutant.
As they together watch Alex knock out a guard preparing to shoot Riptide and Azazel take out another heading for Hank, Irene commented, “They work well together.”
A small, bittersweet smile came to Charlotte’s face. “Yes, they do.”
It reminded her of a dream, of a wish, she’d thought up so long ago—of Erik and she ending this feud and combining the Brotherhood and the school to form a larger group. It was a fool’s dream, but it was sweet in its impossibility.
Logan had, by this point, found an ally, a female named Kayla, with whom he had freed the children from their cages, though they were interrupted in their escape by one of Stryker’s experiments. “The Deadpool”—that is what Styker refers to him as in his mind. Formerly one of his hired mercenaries, Stryker had transformed him into a mutational hybrid created for one purpose: killing mutants. Logan split from the group and began fighting Deadpool while the children went off on their own.
It was not two minutes later than Emma, Riptide, and Alex find them as they stumbled into a group of guards.
Meanwhile, Raven, Azazel, and Hank were delving deeper into the base to find Erik. Charlotte nudged them along, warning them of traps and guards to prevent unnecessary fighting. It unnerved the professor to watch her sister—her little, blue sister whom she had always tried to protect for so long—fight viciously and kill mercilessly. She had changed much since their time flirting with coeds at Oxford.
Finally, they found him, locked in a cell alone, with only an IV drip there to keep him drugged and prevent him from waking and using his power.
The sight of him, through Hank’s eyes, made Charlotte nearly physically sick. He was completely strapped down and restrained. What skin she could see was bruised so violently, she could only see black, indigo, and green rather than any of his usual tan pallor. Cuts and injection marks marred his arms. An IV was still in his arm.
Fury, horror, and fear darted through her mind as she reached to his unprotected thoughts.
Though he was unconscious, his mind was a veritable vat of fear and pain with a dash of humiliation and guilt thrown in the mix. He was snared in a nightmare from his youth—trapped in the concentration camp as Schmit-Shaw experimented. There was a flash of his office, of Herr Doktor counting down “Eins, Zwei, Drei”—the flash of gunfire as Schmit-Shaw fired—for a moment, it was Edie Lehnsherr crumpling to the floor. But then, her form blurred and reformed to the semblance of Charlotte—a bullet hole through her forehead. Overwhelming horror, crippling grief, steadfast denial (NoNoNo—Shewasn’tkilled,itwasMutter—notLiebling)…
With a gasp, Charlotte gathered his mind and calmed him, lulling him to peaceful sleep with gentle words. She couldn’t wake him because of the drugs in his system, but she could halt the nightmares they induced. Glancing through his memories, she brought to the forefront of his mind their early years—Charlotte diving into the ocean after him, “You’re not alone”, of them bonding as they recruited, of “There is so much more to you than you know, not just pain and anger”, of the simple joy of being together before their separation, of the unspoken bond between them.
Once Erik was sufficiently calmed from the dream, Charlotte returned her attention to the fight, but was relieved to see that they had found Erik and were cutting off his restraints.
Azazel, if you can after getting Erik back, could you look for that helmet of his? He’ll be furious if Stryker manages to keep it, she thought to the teleporter, who sent back a quick confirmation before appearing next to her on the jet.
“Be careful of his ribs,” he noted in his Russian accent as he put the unconscious man into one of the seats of the jet and vanished once more.
Destiny and Charlotte were both at Erik’s side quickly. The telepath cradled his head gently as Irene examined his injuries and forsaw their healing. “He’ll be unconscious for quite a while because of the drugs,” she told the professor. “Three ribs are fractured, his left arm is broken, and he has a concussion.”
Charlotte glanced around the jet before uttering a curse. “We don’t have any stretchers,” she realized.
On the ground, Emma and the others were leading the group of children toward the jet. There were far more of them than they had originally thought.
The telepath locked the brakes on her wheelchair and was, for once, grateful for its girth, as she gently pulled the injured man from the seat. As she cradled the metallokinetic’s head in the crook of one arm, she met Irene’s eyes. Though the psychic likely knew, Charlotte told her anyway, “There are more children than we thought. It’ll be a tight squeeze for them all to fit. I’d rather they have chairs and this way...well.” She wetted her lips with her tongue nervously.
Irene chuckled and shook her head. I understand, Professor.
Charlotte smiled gratefully, but she finished the thought privately. This way I can know with certainly that we have him back, for real.
And anyways, it wasn’t like his weight made her legs underneath him feel uncomfortable.
Emma and Raven herded the children onto the jet while Alex helped the children settle once on board. Azazel had teleported himself, Raven, and Hank back quickly. The shapeshifter carried with her Erik’s infernal helmet.
No one questioned why she held Erik, not even the children, and she was comforted enough by having him back that she sent out gentle, lapping waves to sooth their fears.
As they flew and the others spoke in low tones about Stryker’s sudden disappearance from the base, Charlotte told the children about her school. They were wide-eyed in amazement that there was such a place for people like them. Many of them, she discovered, were taken from orphanages, foster homes, or juvenile detention centers. A couple had simply been turned over to Stryker by their parents, fearful of their mutations.
Already, her heart went out to them and she could feel a new beginning in their lives. Most had already decided to stay at her school.
She could feel her extended family growing by the minute.
If only Erik would join it as well.
Chapter 10: Over You
Erik wakes and leaves.
Charlotte, later, has news.
"Don't leave my hyper heart alone on the water
Cover me in rag and bone sympathy
'cos I don't wanna get over you
I don't wanna get over you."
~ "Sorrow", The National
Events unfolded quickly after returning to the school.
Charlotte realized they had not one lost sibling, but rather two, in the mix: Alex's much younger brother Scott and—to her shock—Emma Frost's younger sister, Cordelia, who was only fifteen.
Once Erik was in safe hands in the infirmary and any still-hurt children were there as well, the professor set to work ensuring that they settled in to their new homes smoothly. Indeed, they were to her relief.
Which left her free time to instead focus on Erik. Hank had looked him over and told her that the magnetokinetic should sleep for a few more days to heal before waking. So, Charlotte took to spending her time outside of class and meals at his bedside, reading an unread book she had found on her own shelf—The Once and Future King—while waiting for him to wake.
She spent four days waiting.
"…'You know that eye-to-eye recognition, when two people look deeply into each other's pupils, and burrow to the soul? It usually comes before love…'"
"Indeed, it sounds familiar."
She nearly dropped the book. "Erik!"
The magnetokinetic looked up at her in sleepy confusion. She gathered him into her arms once more in a gentle hug, careful of his arm and ribs. "We got you back," she told him.
"You stupid, foolish man," Charlotte scolded but her words held no true rebuke. "You should have waited. Instead, you rushed in and got yourself captured and nearly experimented on."
He paused, sleepily taking in her words. "We?" he repeated.
"Some of the Brotherhood, Alex, Hank, and I," she clarified softly. "We rescued you and the children there."
"The children?" he prompted.
The telepath laid a hand on his shoulder. "They are here and safe, my love. Don't worry. You were the only one seriously hurt during the entire debacle. Sleep, my love. I'll be here when you wake up again. Rest. Heal. Sleep."
She grasped his hand in hers as she spoke.
His drowsy, concussed mind asked softly, Don't leave me?
Charlotte's heart clenched. "Never."
A few days later, Hank (as doctor of the mansion) allowed him to leave his bed and have brief walks through the school. Charlotte was usually the one to accompany him.
On their third walk about the grounds, Charlotte led him to a small, discreet garden centered around a willow tree. Without a word, she pointed to the left of the tree and Erik looked curiously where she pointed.
His knees nearly gave out on him, but he made his way slowly to the small headstone before he fell to his knees onto the grass.
Anya Edie Xavier
That was all it said.
Carefully, he traced the letters of his stillborn daughter's name.
He had never really allowed himself to mourn her before, too busy, too distanced from it all.
"How do you do it?" he asked softly. "How do you move on past this? Knowing that she died without ever getting the chance to live?"
She didn't reply at first and Erik suspected she wasn't going to, before she finally let out a shaky breath. "Not easily. I didn't think I would move past it in the first few months. But then I realized…they may not be my children, but the students depend on me as children would their mother and I owe it to them not to neglect those still with me for those who are gone. Even if they aren't mine, I'm their mother, in way."
He nodded and stood.
On their way out of the garden, Erik asked gently, "Would you still want children of your own?"
"I—well, that is, I—" the telepath stumbled with her words before she nodded. "Yes, I—I do. If I could, I would have my own. Even though there is the chance of losing them, I think they would be worth it."
He paused midstep. "If you could?" Erik repeated and turned to her in growing horror and concern. "Charlotte, did something happen…can you still have…?"
The telepath flushed. "Oh, I—yes. I can. More difficult, obviously, because of the paraplegia, but—my fertility is untouched."
"Then why 'if you could'?"
She wetted her lips nervously. "Because there is only one man whom I would desire children with and I don't believe he is amenable to that."
But Erik did not need to be a telepath to understand what she was thinking.
He caught her hand in his and met her blue eyes earnestly. "Are you sure about that?"
Two weeks later, the Brotherhood had left the Xavier mansion, but not without its changes.
Emma's sister Cordelia was determined to enroll in the school but the older telepath did not wish to leave her little sister. Reluctantly, the White Queen found herself staying there too. Charlotte even managed to convince the blond to take up teaching a couple business and English classes to the professor's delight. She doubted the two blonds would linger for too terribly long, but for now it was enough.
Destiny had likewise stayed, sensing that it was for the best for her to remain here. Erik bore her no grudge for that; she had been in the Brotherhood through a loose commitment and he hadn't expected her to stay long anyways.
Though some had their initial misgivings about the two of the newest permanent residents of the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, Charlotte was delighted.
Curiously, Hank, Alex, and Sean had noticed her mood's steady improvement since the rescue, even after the metallokinetic and the rest of his group had left.
It was nearly two months after they had left that the boys found her downstairs one morning for breakfast, chatting away cheerfully with nearly everyone at the table.
"Professor," Hank said, concerned. "Are you alright? You're in a strangely good mood."
The telepath bit her lip and sighed.
It made everyone else—teachers and students alike—look to the headmistress. "Alright," she sighed aloud. "I do have an announcement to make, though I was intending to save it until dinner."
Charlotte glanced at them all, taking in their curious eyes and expressions.
End of Book II