Everybody's got a hold on hope
It's the last thing that's
~"Hold On Hope" by Guided By Voices~
The phone rang, echoing loudly in the empty house. It had been two months since Washington and Charles and Hank were still in the process of getting the school back up and running. Charles had made a promise to Logan--and more importantly he had promised himself--that he would find those mutants in need and help them as best he could.
It would be an uphill battle, but for the first time in a long time he felt hope again.
There was so much to do to fix the neglect he'd let befall the school and in fact Hank was out running errands to that very end which left Charles to get the phone.
He wheeled himself from his bedroom to the phone table in the hall. It took longer than he liked since he was still adjusting to using the wheelchair again, but whoever was on the other end of the line seemed content to wait for him since the phone just kept ringing long past the time an ordinary person would have given up.
"Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, how may I help you?" Charles answered. They weren't technically open for business yet, but it wouldn't hurt to be official about it.
Charles would know that voice anywhere, it had haunted his dreams--both the good and the bad--for the last ten years. He just hadn't expected to hear it anytime soon nor ever so desperate.
He leaned forward, automatically trying to reach out with his mind, but it was no use through a phone line. All his telepathy found was the gardener trying to reclaim the neglected lawn. "What's wrong?"
"Something's happened--" the phone cut out with a crackle and Charles gripped it tighter until he heard Erik's voice again. "--need help."
"Where are you?"
Erik rattled off a list of coordinates that Charles recognized as Antarctica. What the hell was he doing there?
"...have to...please hurry."
"Erik!" Charles shouted into the phone, but it was useless. He'd either hung up or the shaky connection had finally given out.
He stared at the phone for a moment before rushing to his room and immediately packing a bag with his warmest clothes, a first aid kit, and after a long moment of hesitation he also threw in several doses of the serum.
Charles had gone cold turkey before Washington and hadn't used it since. Seeing his future self had refocused him and he knew that he couldn't avoid his gifts any longer. He hadn't gotten rid of the serum, though, and depending on what he found in Antarctica, he might not have any choice but to use it in order to help Erik.
He was going to have to talk to Hank about building a wheelchair that would give him more freedom of movement over bad terrain or in places without elevators. Perhaps something that could fly.
Charles didn't even entertain the idea of not going. It was Erik and he wouldn't have called unless the situation was dire. For all their enmity, Erik would never go out of his way to hurt Charles.
Of course the smart thing to do would be to wait for Hank and go together, but that would waste time and it would be more difficult to convince Hank. He didn't understand Erik the way Charles did. Nobody did.
Instead Charles wrote out a short note to Hank, explaining that he'd been called away on personal business. For whatever reason he couldn't bring himself to tell Hank the truth, not after what had happened at the White House. Hopefully he would be back long before Hank had a chance to concern himself with his whereabouts.
Charles left the note on the laboratory door where Hank was sure to find it, and switched to his lightest, most mobile wheelchair. He made his way down to the hanger that Hank had been working in so diligently for the last few months. His latest project was a new plane and Charles just hoped that he hadn't changed the controls too much.
After a shaky start, Charles adjusted to flying the new plane. Hank had outdone himself and the plane was extremely fast, so it wasn't long before Charles was making his first ever vertical landing on a flat expanse of ice near the coordinates Erik had given him.
He didn't see anything in the area, but he took his bag and carefully wheeled himself down the ramp. He struggled to move a few yards away from the plane, but wheelchairs weren't made for rough, icy terrain so he gave up on the idea of physically searching for Erik and instead closed his eyes and put his fingers on his temples as he stretched out his mind.
Charles reached out in a slowly expanding circle trying to find any sign of human life. After a few desperate moments of searching he brushed against a familiar mind approaching from the sky.
He opened his eyes and watched Erik gently float to the ground. He was still wearing the ridiculous cape although he did look slightly less silly without the helmet.
"You're looking healthy," Charles noted. "I expected to find you on death's door."
Erik gave him a confused look. "And I you. Your message indicated you needed help?"
Charles frowned and glanced around them. "I didn't leave you a message and I assume you didn't call me. It appears we've both been tricked."
He raised his fingers to his temple again and managed to catch the slightest brush of an unfamiliar mind before the world fell out from under him and everything went dark.
Erik watched in horror as the ice shelf gave way and Charles went tumbling with it. He reached out instinctively with his power, trying to get ahold of Charles' wheelchair, but nothing happened.
He couldn't sense any of the metal around him--not even the plane Charles had arrived in--and the shock of it distracted him long enough for him to lose his own footing, falling after Charles.
It was a long drop and a painful one, but thankfully it didn't knock him out. As soon the ice stopped falling around him he crawled towards Charles' sprawled body.
"Charles!" Erik yelled as he turned the other man over. He rested his hand on Charles' chest and was comforted to feel it rise and fall with a steady rhythm.
He sat back on his heels and let out a relieved breath. Charles was alive. Anything else could be dealt with.
The crumbling ice shelf had thankfully not triggered an actual avalanche and things seemed stable now. Unfortunately, the sheer ice wall would be impossible to scale and they would have to find an alternate way to get to the plane.
That was a problem for later, though. Right now he needed to get Charles out of the icy wind. He could see what looked like a cave a bit further down that would at least provide some shelter.
He glanced at the pile of twisted metal that had once been a wheelchair and decided to leave it. Without his powers he couldn't hope to reconstruct it.
Erik ignored the protests of his own battered body and gently lifted Charles into his arms.
"It's okay, Charles," he murmured as he carried him to the cave. "You'll be okay."
Everything hurt, everything except his legs, but Charles was fairly certain that if his nerves were working properly they would be hurting as well.
He automatically reached out with his mind to check on Erik, but couldn't feel anything. His eyes shot open, afraid that Erik hadn't survived the fall. "Erik!"
"Yes." Erik leaned over him, looking hale and whole. "I'm here."
Charles stared at Erik in shock trying again to touch his mind to no avail. Erik wasn't wearing the helmet so he should be able to sense him.
"Why can't I sense you?" Charles asked, an edge of panic to his voice.
Erik grasped Charles' arm and squeezed it almost painfully tight. The physical sensation helped to ground him in the absence of Erik's mind. "My powers are gone too."
"What do you mean, ‘gone’?" Charles used Erik's arm to pull himself up into a sitting position and glanced around at what appeared to be a cave. They were near enough to the mouth that there was light to see although not too far behind them everything was cloaked in shadow.
"Just gone," Erik said tightly.
Charles ignored his own disorientation to take a closer look at his companion. Erik's eyes were wild and he was tense. Despite spending the last several years without his powers Charles still wasn't as good at reading people without the crutch of his telepathy--he hadn't had a lot of practice locked up in the mansion with alcohol as companion--but even he could tell that Erik was trying to hide how terrified he was.
More than any of them Erik defined himself by his power. It gave him meaning and purpose in a cruel world. The thought of losing it had to be very difficult for him.
"Our abilities are part of our genetic code," Charles said in what he hoped was a reassuring voice. "They can no more disappear than our eye color can change."
"That would be more reassuring if there weren't any number of chemicals that cause long term changes in eye color," Erik commented.
"Nevertheless," Charles said. "I'm sure our powers will return." He looked around him. "I assume my chair didn't survive the fall, but did you retrieve my bag?"
Erik shook his head. "I'll go look for it."
Charles watched him leave and wondered what possible purpose someone would have in stranding them here.
He had no idea how he and Erik were going to manage this. They hadn't parted friends and yet both of them had immediately rushed to each other's aid when prompted. His burgeoning hope made him want to believe that Erik being here, even after how they'd left things in Washington, meant something, but without the insights his telepathy granted him he just couldn't. Too much had happened for him to so easily believe that they would make it through this ordeal together.
Erik was dangerously unstable and Charles had learned the hard way just two months ago that he couldn't depend on him. No matter how much he might wish otherwise, he couldn't forget that.
Erik returned a few minutes later with Charles' bag. "Is this what you were looking for?"
"Yes." Charles held out his hand and took the bag from Erik. He opened it and pulled out the small wooden box that contained the serum. There were only five syringes--five doses. Hopefully it would be enough to get him through this. "It's good I packed this."
Erik looked at the syringes with distaste. "Why do you still have that?"
"Just be glad that I do." Charles followed the all too familiar process of finding a vein and injecting the serum. "Otherwise you'd have to carry me. Besides, my powers are already gone, so there's nothing to lose."
Erik still didn't seem pleased, but he didn't launch into another lecture about how Charles was failing mutantkind like he had when he'd first found out about the serum, so Charles considered it a win.
Charles hesitated a moment before pulling out a second syringe. It had been too long since he'd used the serum that he didn't have any built up in his system. It would take more than one dose to get him reliably on his feet and they didn't have time to wait. Mind made up he injected the second dose.
He carefully packed up the rest of the serum and placed it back into his bag. "It'll be a while until I can walk. Since I haven't used the serum in months I'll be weaker than I'd like."
That was as close as he was going to come to asking for help.
"We'll manage," Erik said. He leaned back against the wall. "We should rest while we wait."
Erik closed his eyes and his breathing evened out, although Charles didn't really believe he was asleep. He knew how difficult it was for Erik to actually fall asleep--he'd shared a bed with him often enough.
Charles sighed and used his arms to drag himself over so that he could lean against the wall next to Erik. "What did the message say?"
"Just that something had happened and you needed help. It was very garbled," Erik answered.
"Sounds like the phone call I received. The voice sounded just like you." Charles tilted his head so that he could study Erik's face. "You came."
"Of course I came," Erik said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
"You didn't care so much about my safety in Washington," Charles pointed out. "You came close to killing me."
Erik opened his eyes and gave him a very serious look. "I knew where every bit of metal in that stadium fell. I wouldn't make the same mistake again."
Charles didn't doubt that Erik's perception of metal was greater now than it had been on that beach in Cuba and perhaps he really had been more careful than it appeared at the time, but it in the end it didn't really matter. "So you didn't intend to kill me. Just hurt me, that makes me feel so much better. Too bad your 'mercy' didn't extend to Logan and Hank."
Erik frowned at the heavy sarcasm. "Hank is fine."
"And Logan?" Charles asked. No one had seen him after Erik had run him through with rebar and tossed him into the Potomac. "I'm sure he's fine too."
"Logan's a survivor, a bit of rebar and a river won't kill him." Erik sighed heavily. "What do you want, Charles? For me to say that I regret my actions? I will acknowledge they were a bit… impulsive… but in the end things worked out."
Charles couldn't help the disbelieving, bitter laugh that burst out of him. "That was your idea of things working out?"
Erik shrugged. "The Sentinel program is disbanded, Trask is in jail, and Mystique is being hailed as a hero by the humans. If my playing the role of villain helped make that happen then I am happy to do it."
"My friend, you are much too happy to accept that role." Charles dropped his eyes and forcibly buried his anger. It wouldn't do them any good here. Besides they had more important things to worry about. "Who do you think brought us here?"
Erik shook his head. "I don't know… although I have been here before."
"Antarctica?" Charles asked in disbelief. "What were you doing here?"
Erik stared at the shadows playing against the wall. "Have you noticed it's too warm here? We should both be frozen solid by now."
Now that he mentioned it, Charles noticed that while it was cold, it wasn't Antarctica cold.
"There is a hidden land here, Charles," Erik continued. "A savage place untouched by time. I'd once thought to make it a refuge for mutants. But it doesn't tame easily and I was locked up before I managed."
"Is hiding in Antarctica really your idea of a solution?"
"I thought you'd prefer it to me waging war with the humans."
"Well, yes," Charles agreed. "I would prefer it to that, but Erik, isolating ourselves would only lead to more tension. People fear that which they do not know and if we keep ourselves removed it will only increase their fear of us."
"You'd rather our mutant brothers and sisters be harassed, attacked, or experimented on in the interim?" Erik asked, disbelievingly. "You're supposed to be the compassionate one and yet you would let our people suffer out of the futile hope that the humans will eventually accept us?"
Charles sighed. Erik wasn't wrong. Even in the best case scenario change would be slow and mutants would face prejudice and oppression for generations. He just had to believe it would be worth it in the end.
Charles gasped when suddenly his legs were full of pins and needles.
"What's wrong?" Erik asked sharply.
Charles started massaging his thigh. "The serum is working. The returning sensation isn't pleasant."
Erik watched him for a moment before asking hesitantly. "Can I help?"
Charles nodded and continued working on his left leg, trying get his blood flowing and massage away the stiffness and pain, while Erik worked on his right leg. Erik's grip was firm and clinical as he rubbed Charles' muscles. Part of Charles longed for the way Erik used to touch him, but he knew that was foolish. This was the way things were now.
Once the uncomfortable sensations had passed, Charles pushed Erik's hands away. "Let's see if I can stand."
Erik stood first and extended a hand to Charles. He only hesitated a moment before taking the offered hand and letting Erik pull him to his feet. His legs felt weak, but he managed to find stable footing and let go of Erik.
He took a few steps toward the entrance of the cave and stomped his feet experimentally. "Well I won't be running any marathons, but I should be able to get by."
Erik grabbed the duffle bag and slung it over his shoulder before joining Charles at the cave's mouth. "Then we ought to get started."
Thankfully a compass was part of Charles' emergency kit and Erik used it to set their path. It was strange actually having a compass work properly around him--they normally spun out of control or pointed directly at him unless he concentrated on containing the magnetic fields that always surrounded him. He was so used to constantly reaching out to the metal around him that his powers were never truly off. Until now.
"Where are we going?" Charles asked.
Erik gestured at the sheer ice wall behind them. "The plane is entirely unreachable. However, I had some equipment when I was here before, tools that may help us scale the ice. There was also a radio. We can try to use it to signal Hank." Erik tilted his head at Charles. "Was Hank in the plane?"
Charles flushed and didn't meet Erik's eyes. "No, I came on my own. Hank doesn't know where I am."
"Why would you--" Erik bit off his question and shook his head. He could very easily imagine why Charles wouldn't tell Hank that he wanted to run down to Antarctica to help Erik. "It doesn't matter. I'm not sure if the radio equipment is capable of getting a message to Westchester, but we can try."
"Very well," Charles said. "Lead the way."
Even without the compass, Erik would have known they were heading in the right direction since the ice was gradually giving way to a rocky path and the temperature was definitely rising.
He moved slowly, well aware that Charles wasn't in any kind of shape for a hike like this. It would be difficult under the best of circumstances and Charles had had two months for the muscles in his legs to begin to atrophy. They were lucky it hadn't been longer or even with the serum Erik would have had to carry him.
"Is that water?" Charles asked.
Erik paused and tilted his head. He'd been so concerned with making sure Charles didn't stumble that he'd missed the rushing sound that signaled they were approaching the river which marked the true boundary of the Savage Land. He couldn't afford to let himself become distracted like that again. Not here.
"Yes," Erik replied. He adjusted their course toward the sound of water and it wasn't long before they reached the edge of a cliff with the river between them and a lush jungle that spread as far as the eye could see.
Charles gaped at the view in front of him. "How is this in Antarctica? How does no one know about this?" He gave Erik a curious look. "How did you know about it?"
"Just because the general population doesn't know about it doesn't mean the government doesn't," Erik explained. "Explorers found it long ago, but the various world governments have kept the information secret as they squabble over oil rights and conservation status and any number of meaningless human concerns. Shaw and his Hellfire Club learned of it during their infiltration of the US and Russian governments."
"And you learned of it from them," Charles finished for him.
Erik nodded. He pointed toward the horizon where a bright glare could just be seen as the sun reflected off of what appeared to be metal. "My old base is there, in the center of the jungle."
Charles took a step closer to the edge of the cliff and looked doubtfully down at the river. "It's going to be quite a trek to get there."
Erik pointed upstream. "I believe there's a path down if we go that way. We scouted the area thoroughly, however at the time I wasn't restricted to walking."
"How nice it must be to consider walking constraining instead of liberating," Charles murmured.
Erik watched Charles' back as he took several steps in the direction Erik had pointed. He refused to apologize again for what had happened. It had been an accident and there was nothing he could do to change it. All he could do is make sure it didn't happen again. He'd even spent his time locked up practicing his control until he could just barely sense the iron in his own blood.
Of course none of that mattered if he never got his powers back.
He started after Charles, not wanting him to get too far ahead. He'd barely begun to close the gap when he saw a flash of green out of the corner of his eye. "Charles, get down!"
Thankfully Charles obeyed him without question, diving to the ground. The pterodactyl swooped over where he'd been standing its talons closing on empty air.
The prehistoric beast let out a shrill cry as it missed Charles and banked around for another pass. This time it was aiming for Erik who had attracted its attention by yelling. His instincts had him reaching out for metal that didn't answer his call and by the time he dove out of the way it was too late.
"Erik!" Charles shouted as he watched the pterodactyl's talons close around his friend. The beast rose up into the air and started back the way it came, Erik dangling in its grasp.
Erik, always the fighter, was struggling in its grip which slowed the pterodactyl down, making it dip and rise drunkenly over the river. Desperate to do something, anything, Charles acted on pure instinct and picked up a rock, throwing it at the dinosaur.
His legs may have been weak from months spent immobile, but his arms were another matter. Months with nothing but his arms to depend on had made them strong and the rock met its mark, hitting the creature directly in its overly large eye.
It let out an ear piercing shriek and dropped Erik.
Charles scrambled to the edge of the cliff, fearful that Erik had smashed against the rocks, but thankfully the beast had dropped him into the water below. Charles could just make out his cape trailing behind him as the current pulled him away.
Without pausing to think, Charles forced his already trembling legs to give him a running start and dove into the river. The impact of hitting the water from that height was excruciatingly painful and he was sure he would have bruises later. The water was shockingly cold--despite the tropical jungle nearby it was Antarctic ice that fed the river--and it immediately stole his breath. It was all he could do to keep his mind on Erik and force himself to ignore the pain as he struggled to the surface.
It was nearly impossible to keep his head above water for long enough to make out anything down river, but as he swam with the current he eventually caught sight of that bloody wonderful cape. He was never going to complain about it again.
The cape was snagged on a clump of branches near the shore and Charles used all of his remaining strength to cut across the river and grab hold of the nearest branch. Using the branches to guide himself he moved as quickly as he could toward Erik.
When he reached his friend it was apparent that he was unconscious and Charles yanked the cape free and used his last reserve of adrenaline to drag Erik ashore. He pulled him as far out of the water as he could and dropped down next to him.
Charles had never had to give anyone CPR before, but he'd seen it demonstrated once at university and he immediately looked for breathing. He watched Erik's chest for as long as he could bear, but there was no movement.
Hoping that he still had time, Charles placed the palm of his hand in the center of Erik's chest and pressed down hard. He counted silently as he compressed Erik's chest. After a few moments he cleared Erik's airway and started rescue breathing. Almost immediately, Erik's eyes fluttered open and he started coughing weakly. Charles helped him sit up so that he could expel the water that had nearly drowned him.
"You'll be okay," Charles said, rubbing Erik's back soothingly. "It's okay."
Once Erik had control of his breathing again, he leaned forward and rested his head on Charles' shoulder. It was a surprisingly vulnerable action for Erik who always put up a tough facade, even though Charles had invariably seen through it.
Charles hugged him close, taking comfort in every rise and fall of Erik's chest.
"Thank you," Erik said, his voice raspy.
"Always, my friend. Always," Charles murmured and he meant it. This wasn't the first time that Charles had dove into uncertain waters to save Erik and he knew he wouldn't hesitate to do it again. He just hoped he wouldn't have to.
They sat like that for a long time and for once Charles was able to forget all of the reasons he was still so angry at Erik.
Unfortunately, the stiff breeze blowing off of the river was unforgiving and eventually the shivers wracking both of their bodies had Erik reluctantly pulling away. His eyes scanned Charles with an almost clinical detachment. "We need to find shelter and warm up. The further we go into the jungle the warmer it will be."
"This place challenges all of my scientific training," Charles commented. He rubbed his arms trying to warm them as he glanced around. "Do you know what happened to the duffle?"
If they couldn't find his duffle bag, Charles feared their journey would be nearly impossible. Erik was in no condition to carry him through miles of jungle terrain. He would have to stay behind and hope that Erik could bring help.
Erik stood up, his arm wrapped tightly around his ribs. Charles gave him a closer look and realized that while his armored costume had protected his chest, there were still bloody slashes in his sides. He'd probably also bruised if not cracked some ribs. Hopefully Charles' clumsy attempts at CPR hadn't made them worse.
They were going to need the thankfully waterproof first aid kit out of the duffle just as much, if not more than the serum. This place might defy all of Charles' scientific understanding of the world, but he was willing to bet that like all jungles it would be very unforgiving to untreated wounds.
Erik was peering out into the tangle of branches where he'd ended up. "I think it's snagged out there."
Charles struggled to his feet and walked unsteadily to the river's edge. Sure enough the khaki colored bag was caught on a piece of wood not far from where Erik had been. The only question was how they were going to get it without being swept further down river. He wasn't sure he had enough strength left in his legs to even try.
He wanted to protest when Erik unclasped his cape and unbuckled his breastplate, letting them drop to the ground, but they needed the duffle too badly to stop him.
Erik couldn't hide a brief wince as he bent to unlace his boots and Charles knew that his friend had to be in a lot of pain to let it show on his face. Erik had learned early in life to suppress outward signs of pain. His ribs must be fractured.
"Erik." Charles stepped forward, compelling his legs to be steady by sheer force of will. Erik wasn't the only one who'd learned how to hide things as a child. "I can get it."
"Nonsense," Erik said. "It's my turn."
He smiled at Charles and it didn't even look forced, before turning and stepping into the water.
Charles stood at the edge of the bank and watched as Erik cautiously made his way out to the bag. He didn't swim so much as pull himself along the branches which was probably for the best considering the force of the current and the battering his body had already taken.
When he made it to the bag he slung it over his shoulder before retracing his path back to shore. Charles was poised to jump in if anything happened and didn't let himself relax until Erik was safely back on dry land.
Erik handed the sodden bag to Charles who immediately opened it and tossed out everything nonessential. Neither of them needed to carry around Charles' soaking wet winter wardrobe.
Charles eyed the pile of assorted clothes and his eye caught on the dark cape lying nearby. Knowing that the cape had saved Erik's life filled him with a strange bit of sentimentality and he picked it up, and stuffed it into the bag with their necessities.
Erik gave him a strange look and it made Charles defensive. "It can serve as a blanket."
Erik raised an eyebrow at him, but didn't say anything as he picked up the breastplate and handed it to Charles. "That may come in useful too. There are many dangerous things in this jungle."
Charles turned to look at the dark and foreboding woods and he didn't doubt Erik's words. After all, they'd already encountered a dinosaur.
"I wish you would let me take care of your side," Charles said for about the hundredth time.
"Once we stop," Erik replied like he had the other ninety-nine times Charles had brought it up. It wasn't that he wanted to walk around wounded, but he wanted to get to their destination as quickly and safely as possible. His injuries were manageable.
"At this rate you'll have sepsis by then," Charles muttered. "Do you have any idea where we're going?"
Erik kept one hand wrapped tightly around his midsection to support his ribs as he led the way through the overgrown jungle. There wasn't a proper path, but they had found a wildlife trail that was largely clear. Probably a little too clear which drove home once again the size of the animals they were likely to encounter here.
The pterodactyl was only one of the many prehistoric creatures wandering this hidden land. Their presence had never bothered Erik before, but he'd had his powers the last time he was here. He wasn't used to being without them and he hadn't felt fear like this--a helpless fear that he wouldn't be able to protect himself--since he was a child.
Erik glanced behind him, turning carefully so that he didn't pull on his ribs. Charles had refused to let him carry the duffle or the breastplate and he'd reluctantly given into his wishes. Charles could be very stubborn when he wanted to be and Erik was fairly certain it was only that stubbornness that had him moving at all. It was clear that his legs wouldn't hold out much longer, serum or not.
"There should be a stream in this direction." Erik vaguely remembered from his explorations years ago that a stream cut through the jungle in this area and assumed the animal path would lead to it. He was hopeful that they would be able to find somewhere to rest near it; at the very least it would be a source of water.
Erik scanned the woods around them, trying to find anywhere that looked like it might serve as a shelter, but there wasn't much. In their current condition, climbing a tree would be unwise and although the thick canopy provided some protection from the weather they would be sitting ducks staying on the ground.
He'd almost given up on the plan to find the stream, assuming that his memory was wrong, when they passed through a final group of trees and into a small clearing. In the center was a small stream, flowing fast enough that the water would hopefully be safe to drink since they didn't have any way to boil it.
"I shouldn't have doubted you, my friend," Charles said. He patted Erik on the shoulder before he headed for the stream.
Erik gave the rest of the clearing a cursory look, but didn't see anything immediately threatening. Satisfied that they would at least be safe for a brief time, he joined Charles and painfully knelt down.
He sated his thirst with several handfuls of water and then sat back to watch Charles. It was clear that Charles couldn't go much farther tonight, in fact just standing again was likely to be quite the undertaking.
Erik pointed at a large tree on the edge of the clearing. It was wide enough to protect their backs and the ground around it was dry. "That's likely to be the best shelter we'll find tonight."
"Staying close to the water is a good idea." Charles frowned, his forehead scrunching up. "If you don't think the stream will attract predators?"
"We'll have to risk it," Erik said. "The clearing is too small for the worst creatures."
"That's not very comforting," Charles said. "I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that we encountered a dinosaur today."
"Let's hope it's the only one, but I'm afraid that won't be the case. There are a variety of dinosaur species here as well as other creatures long thought extinct."
Charles looked at him, an excited sparkle in his eyes. "The scientist in me is intrigued. How do so many creatures from different periods coexist in one place? How did they escape the fate of the rest of their species? And most importantly how is this place maintaining its climate despite being in the middle of the Antarctic?"
"You're asking the wrong person," Erik said. "My formal schooling ended not long after I learned how to read and since then my interests have run toward things with more practical applications."
"My study of genetics has turned out to be a very practical endeavor," Charles said defensively and Erik chose not to point out that his dissertation didn't result in much other than drawing the CIA right to his doorstep.
"Regardless, this probably isn't the time for academic pursuits." Charles gestured at the duffle. "Let me tend your wounds. I won't accept any more excuses."
Erik handed Charles the duffle and took off his shirt. Raising his arms hurt, but pain was something Erik had a lot of experience dealing with.
He turned to allow Charles to clean the scratches on his side. They weren't very deep and Erik had no concerns about their ability to heal with or without treatment, but he gritted his teeth and let Charles douse them in alcohol anyway.
"You're lucky you had the breastplate on," Charles said as he applied gauze to one of the wounds.
"I don't wear it for vanity," Erik said. It was largely true too. Charles just didn't need to know about the small part of him that liked to twirl his cape and pose with his armor.
"How bad are your ribs?" Charles asked. "And don't lie."
"Mostly bruised," Erik said. "One of them may be fractured. I've had worse."
"Having experienced worse doesn't make these injuries any more pleasant," Charles muttered as he pulled out an ace bandage. "This isn't going to go very far, but I'll wrap your ribs as best I can with it."
Erik nodded. "There are more supplies at my old base. We can properly tend to them there."
He shivered as he felt Charles' fingers ghost over his back before he began tightly wrapping the ace bandage around his torso. The bandage was intended for an ankle or knee, but Charles did the best he could to make it stretch and provide support for Erik's injured ribs. It would have to do.
"What about you?" Erik asked. "What injuries are you hiding?"
Charles shook his head. "Some bruises from hitting the water, but nothing serious." He tucked away the first aid kit and struggled to his feet. "My legs are about done for the day, but some rest and another dose of the serum should get me moving tomorrow."
Erik hated the serum. Not only did it suppress Charles' natural gifts, but he'd spent years depending on it to function. It couldn't be healthy to alter his DNA that way for so long. There wasn't much he could do about it now though.
He stood, relieved that the bandage helped mute some of the grinding pain as he moved, and joined Charles under the tree he'd pointed out. The trunk was indeed broad enough for them to both lean against if they allowed their thighs to press together.
Charles took out the still damp cape and spread it over their legs. "I expect that even here we'll get chilled as night falls." He frowned at the fabric. "Is there a reason for the asymmetry?"
Erik shrugged. "I liked the silhouette."
Charles fiddled with it, trying to get it to cover both of their legs equally. "It's impractical."
"It's a cape, Charles. It wasn't meant to be practical."
Charles was exhausted. Physically exhausted in a way that he had never been before, not even during the long year after Cuba when he had to relearn how to do everything without his legs.
He blamed that exhaustion when, as night fell, he allowed himself to lean against Erik and he didn't comment when Erik wrapped an arm around him. It was hardly the first time they'd sat this way; he'd just never thought he'd experience the secure feeling it brought him again. It made him nostalgic for those few months before Cuba when the world had seemed so open and full of promise.
"I missed you." It was easier to say it here in the dark where he couldn't see Erik's face and more importantly couldn't hear his mind. "Every day for ten years."
Erik's arm tightened around him, holding him closer. "You left a gap in my life that was impossible to fill."
Charles sighed. "If only we lived in kinder times."
"There are no kinder times, Charles. Only new kinds of cruelty."
"I can't believe that, my friend," Charles said sadly. "Even if it makes me naive, I'd rather believe that there is hope for the future… both the world's future and ours."
Charles could have sworn he felt a brief brush of lips against his forehead although that wasn't something that he could allow himself to believe was real.
"I may not have much faith in the world, but my hope for our future is why I still fight."
And that was the problem. Even when Erik had hope it required him to fight, and that fight was precisely what separated them. That fight was what had almost extinguished Charles' hope.
"When the fight becomes too comfortable it may be time to lay down your arms." Charles softened his criticism by shifting around so that he could wrap an arm around Erik's waist.
Erik didn't say anything for a long while and when he did it was to change the subject. "Are you planning to reopen the school?"
Charles smiled. "As soon as possible. I have a promise to keep."
"And you don't consider creating a sanctuary for mutant students in the middle of nowhere hiding?" Erik asked, echoing Charles' criticism from before.
It seemed even now they couldn't set aside their differences for long. Charles sat up a little, but didn't let go of Erik completely. "Children deserve a safe place to learn, especially when they are manifesting potentially dangerous abilities. They need to learn so that they can be productive members of society." He hesitated, knowing his next comment would likely throw gasoline on the fire. "Besides, I've been thinking about opening the school up to non-mutants as well."
Erik shook his head hard enough that Charles could feel it where their bodies still touched. "I believe your school is a good thing, Charles. I really do. You're right that mutant children deserve to learn and grow away from the dark realities of the world, but to invite their tormentors into their safe haven? Again I wonder what happened to your supposed compassion."
Charles leaned his head back against the tree and looked up at the few stars visible through the heavy canopy. "Do you really think so little of me that I would enroll bigots? You know as well as I do that not all humans are the enemy. I've been in your mind Erik, I know there are humans that you've genuinely cared for, even loved."
"And the others? The ones with the labs and the lists. The ones who would torture and kill us? Should I forget those in favor of a precious few that are long dead now?" Erik asked. He shook his head again. "This conversation will get us nowhere and we both need rest if we are to survive this place."
"That is one thing we can agree on," Charles said, forcing a lightness he didn't feel. He closed his eyes and wondered how he could feel so distant from a man he was literally touching.
Erik may have accepted the necessity of Charles using the serum, but he didn't really want to watch him do it, so he stayed at the stream while Charles injected himself. No matter how hard he tried, though, he couldn't completely push away the guilt that reminded him that Charles would have never needed the serum in the first place if it hadn't been for Erik's careless mistake.
"It's done. You can stop delaying," Charles called, seeing through Erik even without his telepathy.
Erik looked up to see Charles sitting with his head back against the tree, eyes closed. He looked high. "Does the serum have a narcotic in it?"
"No," Charles answered, fixing glazed eyes on Erik. "But doses high enough to let me walk have side effects." He giggled. "It makes me high."
"Clearly," Erik said dryly. "You took two doses without this effect yesterday."
"It hadn't built up in my system yet," Charles explained. "Don't worry, it will pass soon."
Erik couldn't help but worry about Charles. This was no place to be out of control of his faculties. Thankfully, the high did fade quickly and in less than ten minutes Charles was standing and ready to go.
"Where to?" Charles asked, entirely too chipper for a man who'd slept against a tree in the middle of a jungle, but then he'd always been annoyingly cheerful in the morning.
Erik took the compass out and studied it a moment before pointing at one of the many wildlife trails leading away from the clearing. "The fastest way to the base is through the geysers."
Charles followed Erik through the jungle more easily today. He'd taken advantage of Erik's discomfort to take two more doses of the serum this morning instead of the recommended one. If Erik had been paying attention he wouldn't have. He'd lost his tolerance for the drug and taking the double doses two days in a row could have shocked his system, but thankfully other than the brief high he was fine. Better than fine, he felt stronger than he had in months.
It was a calculated risk that they would reach the base before he ran out of serum, but considering the difficulty he'd faced yesterday he knew he needed to take it. Unfortunately, it meant he only had one dose of the serum left for the rest of their journey. It was very likely that Erik would have to leave him at the base and bring help back.
"How much farther do you think?"
"We might make it tonight if we keep a good pace," Erik answered.
As they walked the trees thinned out around them until sometime around mid-morning they disappeared entirely revealing a wide expanse of bare dirt interspersed with exploding geysers and bubbling hot springs.
"I assume the geothermic activity is part of what keeps this place warm," Charles said as he watched a nearby geyser go off. It shot water high into the sky and the wind blew the resulting mist in their direction. They'd have to be careful not to be caught in the wrong place during an eruption or they would be boiled alive. "As scientifically impossible as it is."
"It's equally preposterous that a single gene mutation can lead to such varied powers as telepathy and control of magnetic fields, and yet it did," Erik pointed out. "Perhaps science hasn't quite caught up to the modern world."
"Or the prehistoric one," Charles said as he heard a roar behind them. There was something very large crashing through the trees heading directly toward them. "Run!"
Erik reacted immediately, leading Charles in a weaving path between the geysers. Charles did his best to keep up, but even with the added boost from the extra serum he wasn't up for a long sprint.
Erik glanced back several times and must have noticed that Charles was beginning to lag behind. He stopped abruptly and it was everything Charles could do to not to run over him. Erik caught his arms and helped steady him. "Get behind the geyser."
"What?" Charles asked, gasping for breath.
"Go! There!" Erik shoved Charles at a large geyser a few yards to their right.
Charles circled around behind the mound of earth that was nearly as tall as him and turned to see an actual Tyrannosaurus Rex running straight at Erik. The ground shook with its every step. In person the creature was even more menacing than the museums had led him to believe.
"Erik!" Charles yelled when Erik just stood in the beast's path, seemingly frozen in place.
Charles didn't know if Erik couldn't hear him or just chose to ignore him, but he stayed rooted to the spot, staring down the creature. Charles looked desperately around him for anything that could pass for a weapon, but there was nothing other than a few rocks.
Finally, after what seemed like an interminable time later, Erik turned and dashed behind the geyser next to Charles, the dinosaur hot on his heels.
"What the hell are you doing?" Charles hissed.
Charles fell silent, surprised to find that he did trust Erik. Even after everything the trust was still there when it mattered.
The dinosaur stopped a few feet away from the geyser and let out a roar loud enough to shake the ground.
Erik had his hand on the ground, his eyes closed in concentration. If he didn't know better Charles would think he was reaching for metal buried in the earth, but that was impossible.
After a few tense moments Erik jerked his eyes open and grabbed a nearby rock, hurling it at the dinosaur, hitting it between the eyes.
Charles stared at the enraged dinosaur in shock. "What the hell--"
"Get down!" Erik yelled. He threw himself on top of Charles protecting him as the dinosaur ran at them.
Before he had a chance to even register what was happening, the ground rumbled and shook much more violently than the trembles caused by the beast's footsteps. The geyser erupted right as the dinosaur stepped over it. The creature let out a painfully loud shriek as the scalding water burned it, and fell with a great crash on the far side of the geyser.
"You brilliant man," Charles said looking up into Erik's face.
Erik smiled down at him before rolling to the side, freeing Charles. "I'll remind you of that next time you disagree with me."
"I trust you will." Charles laughed. "The great Magneto, Master of Magnetism, just defeated a Tyrannosaurus Rex with a rock."
Erik broke into slightly hysterical laughter. "It's good to know I'm not totally defenseless without my powers."
"As you just demonstrated, your mind is your greatest weapon." Charles smiled at Erik. "It's what made our chess matches so enjoyable."
Erik rose to his feet and extended a hand. After he'd helped Charles up, he didn't immediately let go, leaning close to murmur in his ear. "I always thought the chess was just foreplay."
Charles felt himself flush. It had been a decade since they'd been intimate and Erik still had power over him. Just hearing his voice like that low and deep and suggestive was enough to affect Charles.
He pulled his hand free and put some distance between them in an attempt to regain his equilibrium. He couldn't allow himself to forget that while their circumstances had forced them to fall back into a partnership, it wouldn't last when they got back to civilization. It would be all too easy to forget that and end up with his heart broken. Again.
"We should keep moving," Charles said, glad that his voice sounded unaffected even though his heart was racing.
"We should," Erik agreed. He once again took the lead and Charles let him get a few steps ahead before he followed.
Erik wouldn't wish his childhood on anyone, not even his greatest enemy. It had been brutal and horrifying, but he couldn't deny that it had made him tough.
He drew on that toughness now. Their journey would have been difficult even with adequate supplies, but making it injured and without food or water was borderline suicidal. He'd learned early in life how to ignore thirst and hunger, how to focus his pain into rage and let it fuel him.
Charles' upbringing had been softer--Erik wasn't stupid, he knew that Charles had his own childhood demons, although it was hard to have a more traumatic childhood than Erik--but he was doing his best to keep up. He knew Charles wouldn't ever complain and would push himself past his limits to keep up with Erik, so he slowed his own pace to keep that from happening.
"We aren't far now." Erik glanced back at Charles, concerned by his flushed, almost feverish appearance. "There's a store of bottled water and survival rations, and if we're lucky the electricity will still work."
"Is there air conditioning?" Charles asked.
"There were fans," Erik offered. "And dehumidifiers."
Charles smiled almost dreamily. "Then what are we waiting for?"
Erik sped up fractionally, keeping a close eye on Charles.
He was so focused on making sure that Charles was okay that he almost missed the woman blocking their path. Considering she was wearing a bright green bodysuit with lighter green swirls all over it and had green hair, nearly missing her was inexcusable.
Erik stopped, moving so that he was between Charles and the woman. "Who are you?"
"The welcoming committee," she said, raising her hands.
Erik was hit by a sudden wave of vertigo so intense that he fell to the ground. The world was spinning sickeningly around him and he watched helplessly as Charles collapsed next to him.
He reached out to take Charles' hand, whether to comfort himself or Charles he didn't know. Charles squeezed his hand once before he passed out, his body going limp.
Erik clung tighter to Charles' hand, trying to ground himself as the world dipped and spun around him.
"How sweet," the woman said mockingly. She stood over them, the air shimmering around her in disorienting waves. "But it's time for you to sleep now, too."
Her power hit him even stronger than before. It felt like he was drowning, only this time Charles wasn't going to be able to rescue him.
It was the pain in his ribs that forced Erik back to consciousness. Despite the pain and his disorientation, he made sure to keep breathing in the slow pattern of unconsciousness as he came to. He'd trained himself not to show any obvious signs of waking during his time under Shaw's less than gentle care.
He was hanging by what felt like heavy metal manacles--a form of restraint that had never been effective on him before. He'd been hanging long enough that his hands were numb and his shoulders ached.
Erik resisted the urge to flex his hands and restore blood flow, instead he concentrated on the sounds in the room. He could hear the soft sound of Charles' familiar breathing next to him and the low drone of the fans and a few other mechanical noises that he probably could have better identified with his powers. When he didn't hear anything else for several minutes he risked opening his eyes.
Immediately he sought out Charles and was relieved to see that he seemed unharmed other than being chained up the same way Erik was. The chains holding them were thick iron and he futilely tried to pull them out of the wall--both with his physical strength and with his still absent powers. If he'd had his powers no one would be able to contain him in the metal tower he'd built himself. Every bit of the building and its furnishings were made out of magnetic metals.
They were being held in his former laboratory. Very little had changed since the last time he'd been here. Much of the room was dirty and full of cobwebs as was to be expected after nearly a decade of abandonment, but there were signs of recent habitation. Most notably, someone had added quite a bit of modern machinery and even a computer to the room--things that hadn't even existed a decade ago.
Erik scanned the rest of the room, trying to come up with a game plan, when the door opened and the green clad woman from earlier entered with an even odder looking man. He was wearing a costume that under any other circumstance would have made Erik laugh. It looked like it had been scraped together from assorted Halloween leftovers. The high collar in particular looked like something straight out of Dracula.
"Ah, Erik, or should I call you Magneto? It's good to finally meet you," the man said.
"You seem to have me at a disadvantage," Erik responded, keeping his tone even and genial despite the simmering rage just beneath the surface.
The man stepped forward with a flourish of his cape that made Erik wince. He hoped he didn't look that stupid in his own cape. "You may call me Mister Sinister."
Erik really didn't want to call him that--it was ridiculously childish--but no matter what Charles thought he did know how to pick his battles.
"And this is Vertigo," Sinister introduced the woman with the sickeningly green costume. "She's lovely isn't she?"
"She's powerful," Erik answered because that was of much greater concern to him than her beauty. Power he could respect.
Sinister smiled, exposing a row of sharp, pointed teeth. "Just a few months ago she was a normal human, but thanks to me she's now a mutant."
Erik barely suppressed a gasp and glanced at Charles, making sure he was still unconscious. While he'd told Charles the truth about exploring this land as a possible sanctuary for their kind, he had withheld a few pertinent details. Erik liked to have contingency plans.
"That's not possible," Erik said. "Our research was decades away from even the possibility of success when I was imprisoned."
"Decades for ordinary scientific minds," Sinister agreed. "But I'm far from ordinary. I took your rather rudimentary ideas and with my superior expertise was able to create the mutate you see before you. You felt her power, it's extraordinary."
"It was impressive," Erik acknowledged. "How did she manage to use her powers while Charles and I have been completely blocked? I assume you're the one blocking us?"
Sinister’s eyes darted to one of the machines in the corner, the movement was fast and clearly not intentional. "That which is given can be taken away."
"My master trusts me," Vertigo added patting her belt. She clearly wasn't all that bright if she was giving their secrets away that easily. "Perhaps in time he will trust you with your powers as well."
"Why did you bring us here? To be your attack dogs like her?"
"Of course not," Sinister replied. "Your power is extraordinary--both yours and the Professor's. I want to study you and find out how to increase the power in my mutates."
"I've been experimented on before," Erik said, darkly. "And the man who thought to cage me lived just long enough to regret it."
"And if the experiment were to augment your own power? I gave a human mutant powers, just imagine what I could do for a mutant," Sinister said. "I saw you on television. The humans will be coming for you and when they do will you be able to stop them all?" He gestured at Charles. "Could you protect him and his foolish school with the power you have now?"
"I do well enough," Erik said, although he was listening. This time in the Savage Land without his power had made him feel vulnerable in ways he hadn't since his childhood. Even in prison when they'd isolated him from metal, they'd still feared him enough to keep their distance.
"Imagine the ability to reach into the Earth's core and move the planet itself," Sinister said. "I can give you that." He smiled, baring his pointed teeth once again. "No need to answer me now. Think it over."
Sinister turned, swirling his cape behind him in what had to be a practiced maneuver and left the room. Vertigo followed closely on his heels, moving in a deliberately sensual fashion that did absolutely nothing for Erik.
Erik waited until the door had closed before turning to Charles. "How long have you been awake?"
"Long enough," Charles' voice was taut with barely repressed anger. "You told me this was to be a sanctuary, not a laboratory for human experimentation. How could you, Erik? You knew those horrors first hand and yet you would inflict them on others?"
"If the humans understood us--if they were like us--then there would be no need for war," Erik explained, keeping a tight rein on his own frustration. Now was not the time to fight with Charles over something he'd merely thought about doing a decade ago. "Avoiding war would have been worth the sacrifice."
Charles shook his head sharply. "I can't believe I'd started to think I could trust you again and you were hiding this. When will I learn?" He laughed bitterly. It was an ugly sound and Erik hated that he was the one who had taught Charles how to be bitter. "What now Erik, will you allow that monster to experiment on me in order to augment your powers?"
He couldn't deny that Sinister's proposal was tempting--very, very tempting. With the kind of power he was offering, Erik could finally make the world safe for mutantkind. The humans wouldn't be able to stand against that kind of power.
Power had always been a comfort to Erik. More power meant he could protect himself and those he cared for no matter what happened. The problem was that if he accepted this power he would lose the person he cared about most. He and Charles were on shaky ground, but despite the struggles spending this time with him in the Savage Land had meant everything to Erik.
And no matter what was offered, he would never allow Charles to be hurt. The fact that Charles thought otherwise bothered him more than it should. Unfortunately, he couldn't let Charles know that. Not if he had any hope to save them both.
"Sacrifices are always necessary," Erik finally responded, his voice utterly monotone.
Charles gave him a disgusted look, before doing his best to turn his back on Erik despite the chains.
The silence was suffocating, but Charles refused to break it. He couldn't even look at Erik right now, let alone speak to him. He'd known better than to trust Erik--he'd promised himself he wouldn't--and yet he'd still allowed himself to hope that things would be different this time. His older self may see hope as their strength, but Erik managed to turn it into Charles' weakness time after time.
The worst part was the helpless feeling. Without his powers and without Erik, he had no chance of freeing himself.
Thankfully he didn't have to endure the tense silence for long before the door creaked open on rusty hinges and their odd captors reentered the room.
"I see you're awake now, Professor," Sinister said. "I trust Magneto filled you in on the situation. I won't insult you by making you the same offer I made him. We both know you wouldn't take it."
"And you need a power source to drain," Charles pointed out the obvious. He was also fairly certain that for all his childish affectations Mister Sinister wasn't stupid enough to try to manipulate a telepath. Giving Charles more power would be a very bad move.
Sinister smirked. "That too." He turned his attention to Erik. "So have you decided? Will you join me and become the first of my Superior Mutants?"
Charles' anger faded into desperation. He finally looked and Erik and tried to catch his eye. Even now he couldn't stop the fragile hope that this would be the time that Erik would make a different choice. "Erik, you can't. Can't you see he's using you? You're better than this."
Erik refused to look at him and Charles' stomach sank.
"He won't be hurt?" Erik asked, his voice almost robotic for all of the emotion it held.
"I'm not a sadist," Sinister replied.
Erik nodded once, sharply. "Then I accept."
Charles felt the words like a physical blow and immediately began struggling against his bonds. He knew it was futile, but he had to try something.
"Be still," Vertigo snapped, waving her hand in his direction.
A wave of nauseating dizziness washed over him and sapped his energy. He fell forward, the chains the only things keeping him upright, and couldn't do anything but watch as Vertigo approached Erik.
Even now, when all hope seemed lost, Charles recalled the memory of the menorah that he'd found buried deep in Erik's mind and clung to that bright memory and the bittersweet joy it had brought. He had seen the good in Erik and he had to believe that his friend wouldn't truly forsake him.
Vertigo brandished a large key and freed Erik from the manacles. Once he was loose, Erik rolled his shoulders and massaged his wrists.
One moment he was standing calmly, all of his attention focused on his chafed wrist and the next he was leaping forward, grabbing at Vertigo's belt.
"No!" She yelled, raising her hands to attack, but it was too late. Erik had already unclasped her belt and slipped it around his own waist.
The moment the belt snapped closed, the building began to tremble as Erik's powers roared to life.
"I offered you power!" Sinister exclaimed as he backed toward the door.
"The cost was too high." Erik waved his hand at the machinery in the corner and it exploded, tiny shards of metal flying through the air. Several pieces embedded themselves in Sinister and Vertigo, but anything that came near Charles hit an invisible barrier and clattered to the ground.
With the machine destroyed, Charles felt his own powers return. They were weak--there was still serum lingering in his bloodstream--but he could just barely sense the other minds. They were hazy and indistinct like seeing headlights through thick fog, but they were there.
There was another explosion; this time Erik had torn the computer apart and directed its pieces at Sinister like missiles.
"Erik," Charles whispered.
The building stopped shaking immediately and Erik turned to Charles. With a twitch of his finger the chains holding Charles released him and he fell to the ground.
His legs were too shaky to hold him and he slid to the floor. "Thank you, my friend."
Vertigo and Sinister had used Erik's momentary distraction to get away, but Erik didn't care at the moment. He used his powers to barricade the door--just in case--and then knelt down next to Charles. He picked up one of Charles' hands and massaged it gently, trying to restore blood flow. "Are you okay?"
Charles laughed. Erik was relieved it wasn't the bitter laugh from before, but the slightly hysterical edge was concerning. "I'll live." He smiled at Erik. "You destroyed it all."
Erik glanced at the bits of metal that had once held the secrets to augmenting his powers. "I did."
"You were never going to do it," Charles said with wonder.
"Of course not." Erik stopped kneading the muscles in Charles' hand but didn't let go. "I'm insulted you believed that I would."
Charles gave him a long look. "I hoped that you wouldn't."
Erik knew he deserved the unspoken chastisement. He had let Charles down so many times and while he didn't regret the choices he'd made, he was tired of the distance between them. He was tired of sacrificing everything for this war. He wasn't foolish enough to think that Mystique's heroism in Washington would change things long term, but there was a calm in the storm and Erik had no desire to end it. The humans would do that soon enough on their own.
"Are you sure that isn't your real power?" Erik asked. "Your belief in hopeless causes?"
Charles smiled softly. "I was right about you wasn't I?"
"There are still a lot of years left for me to disappoint you," Erik said wryly. He lifted the hand he was still holding and pressed a gentle kiss to the palm. "If you'll give me the chance?"
Erik cleared his throat and dropped Charles' hand. "You know I can't go back? That video of me at the White House is on constant loop. I'd only endanger your students."
Charles sighed. "I have to reopen the school."
"You need to," Erik agreed. "The children need you to. But there are other mutants who are hunted like me or who can't hide their mutations. They need a safe place too."
"You're staying here then?" Charles sounded resigned.
Erik nodded. "It's a good place. We can build a community here." He hesitated before continuing with forced nonchalance. "That plane of Hank's would make it easy for you to visit."
"It is a very good plane," Charles agreed. "I'm sure Hank could set up a secure communication system between here and the mansion. We would be remiss if we didn't keep in touch. For the good of the Cause…"
"Fuck the Cause." Erik lunged forward and kissed Charles. He was relieved that Charles responded immediately, wrapping his arms around Erik's neck and pulling him closer. It had been too long since he'd had this. So many wasted years.
Eventually Charles pulled back, his eyes sparkling. "I never thought I'd hear you say that."
Erik felt himself flush and tried to explain himself. "You know I intend to protect our people. I don't have your faith in the possibility of peaceful coexistence with the humans. I never will." He took a deep breath. "But I do have faith in you and I am willing to meet you halfway. That is if you're willing to compromise as well?"
Charles studied him for a moment, before holding up one finger. "No preemptive attacks." He held up a second. "No unnecessary killings."
Now wasn't the time or place to negotiate their entire future, but Erik wasn't going to risk losing the opportunity. He sat back and held up his own finger. "Aggressive defense. If they attack us we will make them regret it." He held up the second. "You acknowledge that sometimes killing is necessary."
Charles looked pained, but he nodded. "If that decision must be made it should be made logically and not out of anger or vengeance."
"Shaw needed to die, Charles." It was vital that Charles understand that. Killing Shaw had been the moment that destroyed their relationship the first time and if they were going to start again they needed to start there. "I wanted to kill him, you know that, but even if I hadn't there was no way we could have contained him. He was a walking nuclear bomb. The world would never have been safe so long as he was in it."
Charles slumped back against the wall, a weary look on his face. "I know. I think I knew it then. But I want the best for you and that wasn't it, Erik." His eyes grew distant as he stared at the wall over Erik's shoulder. "If I wasn't so afraid of the damage I could wreak I would have trained my own powers to the point where killing him wouldn't have been necessary. But I just don't know if I can allow myself to go there."
Erik laid a hand on Charles' leg and squeezed gently. "I know you think I should feel bad about the blood on my hands, but I don't. Let me take on that burden when it's necessary so that you don't have to carry it."
Charles shook his head. "I held Shaw for you. I was complicit. And if we are to truly do this together, then the decisions will be on both of us. For good or ill."
"Together." Erik repeated firmly.
Charles looked down at Erik's hand. "I can barely feel that." He tapped his forehead and gave Erik a sly look. "But I can clearly feel your regard for me. You're practically shouting it."
"Don't make me get my helmet," Erik teased. "I'm rather tired of breaking into US government facilities. I'm not even sure which one they have it in this time."
"Good riddance," Charles said emphatically.
Erik shook his head fondly and stood up. "We should make sure they're really gone. Can you stand?"
"With help. I'm afraid I won't be doing much under my own power unless I take another dose of serum." Charles looked down at his legs. "And I find I don't really want to. Having my power back is more of a relief than I expected."
Erik was very glad to hear that. He knew that losing his legs was difficult for Charles, but his power was who he was.
He reached down and pulled Charles up, holding him securely around the waist and using his power on the metal in his clothes to help bear the weight and keep him steady. "Don't worry. I've got you."
Charles turned on the fancy video system that Hank had reluctantly set up in Charles' office. The technology was brilliant and decades ahead of anything else available. But that was Hank, even if he didn't agree with Charles' choices he couldn't resist the scientific challenge.
He adjusted the knobs until the static cleared, revealing Erik. "Hello darling."
"Charles." Erik smiled, the wide, toothy smile he only ever let Charles see.
"How are you?"
"Things are going well," Erik answered. "Now that our numbers are growing, we've decided to clear some land for farming. I'm hopeful that we will be entirely self-sufficient by this time next year."
"I'm looking forward to seeing the farms on my next visit," Charles said.
"And how are things in Westchester?"
"Excellent," Charles grinned. "We have two new students this year--Scott and Jean. They're two of the students Logan tasked me to find. I'm still looking for Storm."
"And the Friends of Humanity?" Erik asked grimly "Our new arrivals have been telling some disturbing tales."
Charles sighed. "It's not a problem here, although they are growing a concerning amount of political power. I'm monitoring the situation."
"You know that you and your students are always welcome here," Erik offered the way he did every time they spoke. "The space is reserved."
"I know. I just hope we never have to take you up on that." Charles waved his hand dismissively. "Enough politics. I believe we were in the middle of a particularly stimulating chess game."
Erik moved his chair back and a metal chessboard floated into view on the screen.
"It's stimulating enough that I hope you visit soon," Erik said cheekily. "I still maintain it's foreplay."
"Patience, my friend. I think this game is going to last a long time."