They're in Paris when it finally happens. Raven always knew this day would come and she should have known it would happen here.
Everything was going well with the Brotherhood. Avalanche was adjusting and Raven and Angel were getting along. Even Emma was friendlier, especially after Raven and Emma went on a recon mission together in England, giving Emma a chance to perfect a fake English accent. Emma seems to respect her abilities if not her herself and Raven can admit that Emma is very good at what she does. Magneto is still the scary leader, but even he seems to have found his sense of humor again and spends more time with them than before. Magneto and Raven never talk about their Cabin experience, but they are a lot more comfortable around one another.
They are always discussing and making plans: What should be the Mutants' big move against the Human Government and when? Raven knows Azazel and Emma are pushing for an immediate strike, while Magneto wants to wait until they've recruited more Mutants and have a proper army.
"The guy that almost blew up Soviet and American ships and started World War III is telling us to be patient," Angel says with amusement. "If I didn't know any better, I would have thought the Professor was controlling his mind." Raven doesn't argue, but she knows Charles can rub off on you, whether you want him to or not.
It was Emma's idea to go to Paris. Her contacts informed her of a possible new recruit- a carnival mentalist, traveling with them throughout Europe.
"It'll be our first global recruiting," Magneto says contemplatively. "We need to be careful not to attract any unwanted attention- at least not until we're ready to make our move."
"We already have the USSR and the US Governments after us," Emma says with a grin. "What's one more?"
"In and out," Magneto warns her. "Just you, me and Mystique." Raven's head shoots up at the mention of her name and she tries to smother a grin. They started taking her on more covert missions and she was becoming essential to the cause.
"Let the kids come," Emma says generously. "They can wander around Paris, get some culture. They'll be safer from the American Government in Paris than here."
"Fine," Magneto relents. "But always stay together or in pairs- don't split up and don't wander off at night on your own."
"We're going international baby!" Angel whoops with joy, high-fiving Raven and Riptide.
"And no schemes," Magneto warns Avalanche. "We don't want to attract any attention."
"You're no fun," Avalanche mutters. His watch suddenly gives him a 'love tap' on his head. "Ouch! Ok, ok, no shenanigans, I promise!"
And that was how they ended up in Paris. Raven goes on the first recon- checking the general area of the carnival the day of the show, before shifting into one of the workers and exploring the place thoroughly. The evening of the performance Emma and Magneto go alone- Emma's powers would give her the best defense against the new Mutant and if Magneto's helmet keeps out telepaths, it might help against illusions. Azazel stays around the carnival area, in case there's any trouble, figuring he could always blend in there. The rest would be too exposed, so they stay behind in their hotel rooms, eating room-service and watching television.
At some point Angel kicks Raven out of their shared room to spend some 'quality' time with Riptide. Raven decides to go to Riptide and Avalanche's room and she and Avalanche spend their time perfecting their powers. Raven mimics her team members and their mannerisms and Avalanche works on crumbling objects, without affecting anything else and without ruining the hotel room beyond repair.
The mission is a success and a new Mutant calling himself Mastermind is recruited. Emma manages to get them another day in Paris to wander around, before heading back. Raven goes with Angel window shopping at high scale stores- Angel tries the clothes on in the stores and Raven later creates them for herself, when they leave. She and Angel are having a good time sight seeing, playing tourists and trying to get by with broken French. They're taking pictures at the top of the Eiffel Tower when Raven is hit with sudden homesickness.
'Charles', she thinks with intense longing. Paris was their city, or at least it was supposed to be. Back when Charles was studying at Oxford and Raven was waiting tables, she had this dream of touring Europe.
"I've never been to Paris, and it's not that far away," Raven told him one evening, while he was working on his presentation.
"So why don't you go?" Charles asked her, a bit distracted.
"I want us to go," she told him, grabbing his hand. "It could be our world tour. Or even just Paris- I always wanted to go."
"I can't right now, Raven," Charles sighed. "I have my presentation..." He paused at the crestfallen look on her face and quickly amended. "But after- once I graduate, we'll go. Just for a few days."
"Really?" She asked giddily. "After your graduate- you promise?"
"I promise," he smiled and kissed her cheek.
When he was almost finished, Raven went out and bought a guide book and started highlighting places she wanted to go to. Then Charles gave his presentation and graduated, they went out to a pub to celebrate and Moira found them. Charles quickly forgot about Paris, saying that this was a golden opportunity and they could always go in a few weeks, once he's done helping the CIA.
'We'll always have Paris,' Raven thinks bitterly. 'Your research was always more important than anything else, more important than what I wanted.' Yet as much as she tries to hate him, she can't. It's part of what makes him Charles- there will always be others out there, others that need to bask in the goodness that is Charles Xavier. She tried to keep him to herself, but Charles was meant to make a difference, to touch lives and help people.
When they get back to The States, Raven waits until they are alone and then corners Azazel. She sweetens her voice like Emma always does and brushes her fingers over his arm. "I need a favor."
"What favor?" He asks her suspiciously.
"I need you to take me to Westchester," she says conspiratorially.
"You're going behind enemy lines," Azazel says reprovingly. "You can't go back."
"I'm not going back and they're not our enemies," Raven says sternly. 'Not yet, anyway. I doubt they'll sit by idly when we make a stand against the oppressing government.'
"I just need to see him. I won't talk to them, I just..." she sighs and gives him a pleading look. "We left in such a hurry at the beach and we just left them there. I haven't seen my brother in so long, I just... I just want to make sure he's ok."
"Emma will know," Azazel warns. "I doubt Magneto will be happy."
"It was my idea, I'll take the fall for it." Raven says, before dropping her tone and giving him a playful look. "You just couldn't resist my feminine wiles."
"They're very irresistible," Azazel smirks at her, giving her an appreciative look that makes her blush. "I will drop you off a few minutes walk from the mansion, so we're not detected. I can give you half an hour, then you need to come back."
"That's fine," Raven agrees quickly. She's not sure if this is a good plan or not, but it's too late to back down. Azazel takes her hand and they're gone. She's suddenly back home, after months of absence in the wooden area she used to play in as a child. She takes in a big gulp of the cold night air and feels a tension melting from her shoulders. She's home.
"Half an hour," Azazel reminds her. "I will wait here." He disappears and she starts making her way to the Mansion, trying not to think too loudly. She doesn't want to attract any attention, mostly because she's not sure if she can face any of them yet, especially Charles.
She's hiding behind some trees, watching her childhood home, hoping for some activity. If she can't see anything in the next thirty minutes, this whole trip is a waste. She sighs and realizes she has to take a risk and get closer. She goes to the trees outside Charles' office's window and climbs the one she knows has the best view, but can't be easily seen from the window in the dark. She sits on a branch and catches her first sight of Charles since the beach. He's sitting at his desk, writing something, every now and then he bites the tip of his pen in that adorable way of his, when he's trying to concentrate.
'You haven't changed a bit,' Raven thinks fondly, only it's not true. He looks a little pale and he has bags under his eyes, like he hasn't been sleeping well. His mouth is set in a grim line, so unlike his usual expression and he seems to have gained some arm muscles, from what she can see.
There must be a knock at the door, because she can see Charles mouthing 'come in'. She sees Sean and Alex bounding in, excited about something. Charles turns towards them, only he doesn't get up to do it, he just spins and moves the chair forward with both arms, gliding to the center of the room-
'No,' Raven thinks horrified. 'No, it can't be, it can't be.' Charles is in a wheelchair. When- when did it happen? Was he in a car accident or-
Charles' cry as the bullet ricochets and hits him in the back. The sight of him crumpling to the ground. There wasn't any blood on the bullet, but it hit him in the lower back, where the spine is... He didn't move, didn't try to get up...
'NononopleaseGodno this is our fault, I wouldn't- if I'd known, I wouldn't- Oh God Charles,' she feels the tears stinging her eyes as she lets out a sob.
Charles suddenly pauses and turns his chair towards the window, searching with his eyes. 'Raven?' She panics and quickly climbs down the tree, jumping down the last branch and skinning her knees. 'Raven, wait-'
But she doesn't want to wait. Doesn't want to find out what he wants to tell her, so she hits the ground running and doesn't stop until she's at the spot Azazel left her earlier. She falls to her knees as she tries to catch her breath and control her sobbing. She did this to him. She knows logically that Moira fired the shot and Magneto deflected it, but she abandoned him when he was crip- when he needed her the most. 'He told me to go,' she thinks to herself. 'I shouldn't have listened to him. I was being selfish, I should have stayed until I knew he was ok, why did he tell me to go-?'
She takes in long shaky breaths, as she tries to get a hold of herself, wiping furiously at her eyes. She's not sure how long she sat there, her thoughts churning in her head like a whirlwind, going in circles with an echo of 'my fault, my fault'. Eventually she straightens, having made a decision. She pushes down on every emotion and thought until it's stuffed inside a box in her mind. Azazel finds her and she must look pitiful, because he gives her hand a gently squeeze, before wordlessly teleporting them back.
Raven is tired and her head hurts from crying and she just wants to crawl into bed, but Emma is there waiting for them when they get back.
"Where were you?" She asks needlessly, as she stabs her way into Raven's head, tugging at the recent memories. It hurts and it hurts even more reliving it a second time. In a flash it's over and Raven feels completely hollowed out.
"That's interesting," Emma says eventually.
"What is?" Magneto asks, as he walks over to them. His eyes catch Raven's face. "Why are you-?"
"She went back to Westchester," Emma replies instead of her. "She was homesick. It appears the Professor didn't leave Cuba intact."
"What do you mean?" Magneto's voice is a jagged blade, waiting to strike.
"He's in a wheelchair now," Emma says carefully. "It appears he's crippled."
Magneto doesn't say a word. Every metal in their vicinity starts pounding furiously. "Leave. Everyone." Metal objects start flying in the air in every direction. Azazel grabs Emma and Raven and takes them to another safe house of theirs, before disappearing and returning with the others.
"What happened to Magneto?" Riptide asks, fixing his jacket. "I've never seen him like that."
"He just got some very bad news about an old friend," Emma says gently, heading to one of the bedrooms. "I need my beauty sleep. Wake me up when it's safe to return."
"Take me back," Raven tells Azazel.
"Are you nuts? Boss-man is obviously unhinged," Avalanche says. "It's suicide!"
"I can deal with him," she tells Azazel. "I can get to him."
"It's your funeral," Azazel shrugs and drops her back before disappearing to safety. It's quiet now and looks like a war-zone. The walls have dents in them, or silverware stuck in them and there are puddles of metal all around.
"Magneto?" She calls out hesitantly. making her way towards his room, somewhere she's never entered before. She debates whether to knock, but in the end she just slowly opens the door, trying to do it as loudly as possible. The room is dark and it takes her eyes a short time to adjust. She can see a figure sitting on the floor next to his bed. "Magneto?"
"Go away Mystique," he says, sounding more tired than those days they were stuck in a cabin in Nebraska.
"No," she says, getting into the room and fumbling for the light switch on the wall, before finding it. A soft glow illuminates the room and Magneto blinks a few times.
"I said go away, and that's an order." A metal bar from the window lifts and smashes into the wall besides her head.
"I'm not going anywhere," Mystique glares at him. "Tonight you don't get to give me orders, Erik. You want to throw a tantrum? A one man pity-party in you room? Fine, but tomorrow you need to get you act together and man up."
"Excuse me?" Magneto says dangerously, the metal in the room twisting and warping into daggers. "What do you think gives you the right to talk to me like that?"
"You crippled my brother," Mystique's tone is equally icy and she meets his eyes levelly. "Tonight I get to talk to you however the hell I like." His head snaps as if slapped and she gives him a humorless smile. "Did I hurt your feelings? I'm just telling you the truth. I'm sorry if it's not the sugar-coated lie you wanted to hear."
"You don't know that it happened on the beach," the daggers twirl in the air once, before launching at the walls in no obvious pattern.
"You don't know that it didn't," she counters. "He didn't just fall, he crumpled, like a puppet after you cut off its strings. He didn't get up, he didn't move his legs that whole time."
"Even if that's true, it was an accident," Erik swallows, the remaining daggers hesitantly lowering, shaking. "And that human-"
"Moira shouldn't have been shooting at you, not when Charles was right behind you," Mystique agrees. "But you could have just stopped the bullet, or sent it back to her, or taken her gun away, or a million other things. But you were angry and out of control and showing off," she spits angrily. "It's your fault he's in a wheelchair, possibly for the rest of his life and a part of me will never forgive you for what you did to him," she says before adding calmly: "Just like a part of me will never forgive myself for leaving him."
"Then what are you still doing here?" Magneto challenges. "Go crawling back to him, if that's what you want."
"I can't," she says angrily. "Don't you get it? We can't go back, we can never take it back. Even if you manage to find a Mutant with healing abilities or can time travel and change things- it still happened, we still did it to him and nothing can change that. I made a choice that day on the beach, I chose to follow you; I left him because I believed in you."
"So you chose to follow me around like an eager puppy, the same way you used to follow him around," Magneto says with a sneer.
"That's rich coming from you," Mystique smiles cruelly. "Why did you even stay with us in the Mansion? Why did you even train with us, Mr. one-man-army-doesn't-need-anyone?" Her eyes soften slightly. "You fell into his web, with his big blue eyes and easy smile. You knew the two of you didn't see eye-to-eye and never would, but you still stayed there, hoping you could convince him you were right."
"Are you quite finished?" Erik asks tiredly, some of the fight ebbing out of him.
"Not yet. You said I followed Charles like a puppy and maybe you're right. Charles was everything to me. He was my savior and brother and I hoped- he was the best thing in my life! He was always kind and caring and so damn understanding. I put Charles on a pedestal and was mad when he wasn't perfect." She looks him in the eye and she suddenly feels worn-out. "You're about the furthest thing from perfect I can imagine. You're distant, dangerous and a broken mess. That's why I followed you on the beach."
"So you could 'fix me'?" Magneto asks, his tone mocking.
"No. People like us, we can't be fixed," Mystique takes a step towards him. "We can pretend to be normal, try and fit in for his sake, but it's fake, simply a mask we put on. Deep down we know that we're marked, that we're just damaged goods and don't belong in his world. I tried to be what Charles would want me to be- a normal girl, a good sister. I tried so hard to be this person, I even managed to fool myself for a while." She laughs bitterly and meets his eyes, her eyes hard and glassy with unshed tears.
"You know what the funniest thing is? In all the years that Charles and I have known each other, in all the times he's been in my head- I don't think he ever saw me as clearly as you did that night in your room. You saw me for who I really was. And you can hide behind that helmet all you want, and I might not know the details, but I know. I know who you really are." She's closing the distance between them. He doesn't say a word, simply watches her approach warily.
"So do whatever you need to do," Mystique tells him. "Melt every metal in the safe house, wreck the furniture, cry into your whiskey- I don't care. Tomorrow when the others get back, you need to be the fearless leader they deserve, the man that they'll follow into battle."
"You've grown up," Erik says, seeing her in a new light.
"I've been told War does that to people," she says pointedly. "I'm done standing on the sidelines, I'm done being passive. I'm not going to let Human Society tell me what's right or how I should look or what I should do. I want to one day be able to walk outside in my natural form without being afraid. And I've decided I'm going after the things I want."
"And what's that?" Erik asks, eyeing her with a measuring look.
"Right now? What we started that night in your room." She grabs his neck and kisses his mouth. She feels him hesitating, holding himself back. "I want this," she pleads, kissing the side of his mouth. "I'll be anyone you want, just let me have this tonight."
"Kinky," Erik smiles and there's a feral look in his eye. "Maybe some other night. Right now you're perfect just the way you are." He kisses her possessively, marking her with nips and teeth, his helmet bumping into the side of her face. She grabs it with both hands and he stops, quickly grabbing her hands.
"Take it off," she tells him. "Just for tonight." Erik hesitates for what feels like a millennia, before he nods and slowly takes the helmet off. His hair is unkempt and matted to the side of his face, but it doesn't matter to her.
She helps him undress impatiently and they fall in tangled limbs on the bed. He's not gentle, but he's not brutal and it's exactly what she wants, what they both need. She wonders if he ever got this far with Charles, if it was anything like this. She suddenly wonders what it's like having sex as a man and has a desire to find out, but Erik is trailing kisses down her chest, devoting his attention to her nipples. She arches her back and grabs his hair, wrapping her long legs around him.
They're like two drowning people clinging to each other for life. They have sex like they're death raw inmates on their last night before execution. There's need and haste, tampered with a desire to cherish the moment, to memorize every aspect of their partner. There's regret and loss behind every kiss and every touch.
She knows that this is pure raw emotion, that with Magneto there will be no flowers and chocolate, but she doesn't expect it anymore. Back at the mansion, she believed in fairy tale endings, thought that as long as Charles was there, the world would make sense. She was swept up in Charles' boundless optimism, but deep down she knew it couldn't last- good things never did, as far as Raven was concerned, and she'd have to leave Never Never Land eventually and grow up. But Charles would remain the eternal innocent child, untouched by the evil around him, by the broken people he takes in.
While Raven would love nothing more than to have Charles by their side, she also hopes for his sake that it never happens. Charles is like a perfect snowflake- something that should be cherished and preserved, not tainted. She doesn't want him to be jaded, to look at the world and see the ugliness of it- that's what people like her and Erik are for.
"Mystique," Erik mouths her name into her neck, like a plea or a prayer. She rakes her nails across his back and finds his mouth with hers, not wanting to lose contact for one second.
She knows that Erik let her in, that he exposed himself to her in a way he hasn't to a living soul, besides Charles. Knows that while the others might come and go, she'll always remain- Magneto's loyal lieutenant to the bitter end. The others don't know what it's like, to be touched by the pureness and goodness of Charles, to see a look of disappointment on his face and want to be better, because he deserves better. They don't know what it's like to love Charles and be loved by him in return.
What Magneto and mystique have may not be perfect and maybe it's not meant to be- but destiny can wait. Because even if tonight is the only time, he let her in, let her see him unmasked. Their broken edges fit perfectly against one another and she knows their bond is strong. Tomorrow they'll bury their emotions behind metal walls, so that they can function and be what is needed of them. And when they make their move, they'll be prepared for the possibility that Charles and his Lost Boys will try and stop them. They won't set out to hurt them, but they won't have their 'kiddy gloves' on either.
They won't show any weaknesses, not in front of the rest of the Brotherhood. They're fighting for the survival of their race, for every Mutant out there in the world. And their cause is more important than Raven or Erik or even Charles.
But when they're together again, just the two of them in the darkness of their life, they'll allow themselves to remember and to regret.