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Divergence Day

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I.

Charles waits until he is absolutely alone before he lets the pain come.

Somewhere out in the... facility that he's been deposited in is Raven's body. His sister's body. Charles has failed, and the sheer enormity of his spectacular failure still renders him wordless. The President and all his aides murdered, Trask dead, Logan likely dead as well, and Raven, Gods, Raven, who had tried to do the right thing at the end, who had tried to pretend to be the President-

It had meant her death, and all the deaths of the humans behind her regardless, and even as Raven had reverted into her true form as she had collapsed, the worst of it had been Erik's eyes. Charles had touched Raven's mind desperately at the point of her passing and all she had thought of was Erik's remorseless eyes, the cold set of his mouth, only the brief jump of a muscle in his jaw to indicate his surprise as she had changed - then died.

And then he had been plucked out of the wreckage, away from Hank, and he had not resisted, part mad from grief and from pain ; his and Raven's and Hank's. They had all failed. His future self had held too much hope.

The room that Charles is held in is simple, and underground, a concrete bunker of a place hewn into a cube, with a simple white cot for a bed. There's a small black and white television set, plugged to the wall within hand's reach of the bed, and an ensuite bathroom attached to the chamber. They're somewhere in the Nevada desert, as far as Charles dimly remembers, one of Erik's many boltholes. There's no one else in the entire facility, and Erik's mind is closed to Charles from the helmet. The silence is both blissful and excruciating.

Charles spends the first day curled in bed, ignoring Erik's occasional visit, and the second day drinking water and watching news broadcasts with the grim finality of an accidental survivor. News reviews are mixed, caught between condemnation of Erik's brutal murders and some commendation - Raven's ultimately failed attempt to save the other humans had been noticed.

So there was still hope.

A small hope.

And Charles would not waste it.

On the third day Charles drags himself to the simple steel wheelchair that had been provided in a corner beside the bed, awkwardly takes a cold bath and finds a wardrobe of clothes hidden behind a neat sliding door in the concrete bunker: white jacket, white trousers, soft white slippers. It makes Charles look like a prisoner and Erik the gaoler, a reverse of the situation Charles had found Erik in, within the Pentagon, and his lip quirks humourlessly in the mirror as he studies himself. His eyes are reddened, in dark hollow circles, and his hair juts out in awkward tangles, his beard an unruly growth creeping down his chin.

He looks as much a mess as he feels, and Charles wonders bitterly how much of what had happened was his fault, after all. He had only come into his own nearer the end; before that he had been too caught up in his own pain, too afraid of his own powers. If only Charles had - earlier - if he could have stopped Erik from shooting Raven in the summit, if only-

Angrily, Charles wheels himself back to the bathroom, where he hacks his hair short with steel scissors and shaves himself with a razor. His hand slips once, and he ends up bleeding from a shallow cut on his jaw, cursing and getting blood all over the sink as he tries to staunch the wound. As he gropes blindly for a hand towel, long fingers pick it from the rack and press it into his hands, then the razor floats up off the sink.

"May I?" Erik says mildly, and Charles grimaces, glancing up into Erik's reflection. Erik is dressed like a businessman, neat and fashionable in a lovely dove gray shirt, buttoned up nearly to the neck, sleeves rolled to his elbows, and pressed charcoal dress pants: only the helmet rather seems to spoil the overall impression. Time has only made Erik more handsome, Charles notes sourly: even the ruthless line to his mouth but adds to his wolfish, unavoidable appeal.

Erik is by far the most dangerous man Charles has ever known: above Trask, above Shaw. He closes his eyes even as he uses the towel to apply pressure to the cut. "Feel free."

The cut stops bleeding by the time Erik finishes helping him shave and clean up, and then Erik is resting his hands lightly on the handles of the wheelchair, studying Charles in the mirror even as Charles watches him just as grimly. They make a pretty pair, Charles supposes. The mass murderer and the failed professor.

"You look younger like this," Erik says finally, almost tenderly, stroking a thumb up along the now smooth line of Charles' jaw.

Charles lets out a bark of laughter. "I look like a drug addict."

"You are a drug addict," Erik reaches over to pointedly tap Charles' arm, over his long white sleeve - under it, his skin is dotted from countless needle tracks.

"At least one of us looks true to type, then."

Erik sighs. "Charles, if I could, I would have spared Raven. I loved her as well. How was I to know that she had-"

"That was of no comfort to her when you riddled her with bullets, I assure you. What did you do to her body?"

"Burned and buried. Her grave site-"

"Please," Charles grits out, and he finds that he's shaking, but it's rage this time that he feels, clean and clear, not regret or grief, and he clings to it as he meets Erik's eyes in the mirror. "Spare me."

Erik's lips twitch faintly, quietly. "Dear Charles," he says, and shakes his head slowly. "This was for the future. I took no pleasure in any of those deaths. You have seen the future, have you not? Surely you must have looked within Logan's mind, or you would never have believed a story as fantastical as his."

The razor wipes itself on the bloodstained cloth and tucks itself away, even as a metal-capped brush and pan sweeps Charles' cropped hair neatly away. Charles grits his teeth. "I saw the future," he concedes tightly. "But I believed him before I looked into his mind."

Erik narrows his eyes briefly, then he nods. "Ah, yes. The serum. You could still walk, when you broke me out of the Pentagon. I suppose I am surprised. Logan's story is hard to swallow without correlation."

"He knew things about me that I had never told anyone else - yet."

"And that was all it took? Information is a parlour trick for many of our kind, Charles, and even for a handful of very resourceful humans. Don't be naive."

"And," Charles says quietly, "I was very taken by a single idea, one that he believed with all his heart, one that I did not need to look into his mind to want to believe in. That you and I, in the future, had mended bridges. That you and I could work together."

Loved, Logan had said, utterly unselfconsciously, so matter-of-fact. Love. It had been love that Charles had felt when he had touched his own older mind, decades through into the future. It had been love that he felt humming at the front of the mind of the older Erik, standing so protectively behind Charles' wheelchair-bound older self. It had been the inextricable mesh of Erik that he had felt interlaced into his older self's mind, the way only the luckiest of lovers could get, as partners, as more. It had been a single idea, so irrevocably seductive that it had given Charles hope.

"That we could still do," Erik says mildly, and Charles clenches his hands tightly on the steel arms of his wheelchair. "Work with me, Charles."

"You are a murderer."

"And was my future self not a murderer as well? What did you see in Logan's mind about myself, Charles?"

"I saw that it took me close on half a century to forgive you, and only because it was necessary, and by then, it was too late." It is not quite the truth, and perhaps Erik senses it - he smiles tightly, his elegant fingers tracing the sleek handlebar of the wheelchair.

"I have a proposition for you, Charles," Erik says idly.

"Join you in your new world or die in my old one?" Charles asks sarcastically. "Spare me."

"No," Erik chuckles, and there's something ruthless there, something fond, and Charles isn't sure what hurts him more. "You loved your school."

"I did."

"I will give you another one." Erik says briskly. "Here. Or somewhere more conducive, perhaps, when I have time to make another place that is more secure. There are blacksites owned by the government in the Rockies and in wilder areas that may be more suitable."

"A school?" Charles repeats scornfully. "To train up your future little soldiers?"

"No, Charles. Conscription is not my way, and not all of our kind have abilities that might be suitable for... a more military slant. I want to help all of our kind, not just those with great powers. You will have your school. Teach the children how to read, how to write, about literature, history, geography, math, whatever you please. Train other teachers, the way you used to."

"And if I turn them against you? What then?"

Erik smiles thinly. "I do not fear that. Give the students a choice. Your way, or mine. But I expect that we will be hunted now as we never have been before-"

"And whose fault was that, pray tell?"

"-and those who are most vulnerable among us all, the young, will need a place to go," Erik continues blithely. "They will need to be found."

"I won't help you find your new army, Erik."

"I am not asking you to find an army for me," Erik says flatly, reaching down to tip up Charles' chin, to meet his cold, hard eyes. "But I remember war, even if you do not. I remember living during a time where being different meant being sent to brutal death camps. I remember when the killings started, when families turned upon each other. The murders will start soon. I will be installing Cerebro in one of the adjoining rooms. When you have swallowed your self-righteousness and your principles and have grown tired of all the bloodshed that is to come, then help them."

"You caused all of this!"

"No. Trask did. The humans did. Remember that." Erik drops his fingers, stepping away. "There is food for you in the kitchens. Feel free to explore the facility."

II.

As Erik predicted, the killings start, and news broadcasts are tied between the brutal wave of anti-mutant violence that rocks the nation and its continuing coverage of the Nixon assassination. Charles lasts two days before he cannot bear it further, and wheels himself out of the room, looking for Erik.

The facility is an old blacksite, Erik explained to him, once used for the joint development of hovercraft with Stark Industries during the second World War that had ultimately failed. It is immense, with three huge hangars enough to fit at least three commercial jets apiece, and a honeycomb of smaller rooms of various sizes. It's also claustrophobic, and haunting when empty, and Charles is thoroughly lost by the time he finds himself in one of the huge hangars, studying a stained old map affixed to the wall.

Thankfully, Erik finds him there, dressed up with a pale blue scarf and a black wool coat, as though he had just come back from an interstate trip.

"Texas," Charles says tightly. "The burnings."

"Yes."

"Can you stop it?"

"I can't be everywhere."

Charles lets out a low, harsh sound, and clenches his hands on his lap into fists. "I made a promise," he says finally. "To Logan. I have to save, in particular, three people. 'Storm', 'Scott', and 'Jean'. I saw others in his mind too. 'Bobby', 'Kitty', 'Rogue'... some of them perhaps as yet to be born."

"Show me where they are, and I will take them here."

"Is Cerebro installed?" Charles asks, brittle in defeat and wishing he sounded calm instead.

"As best as I remember, although it was damaged even before I tried to move it. I also have your books, and your teaching materials."

"Raided my house like a burglar in the night, did you?" Charles snorts. "And I want Hank, and Logan." Logan might not be the Logan that Charles had interacted with, over the past few days, but his younger self - but still, he knows somehow, deep down, that he will need Logan.

"Find them and I'll bring them here." Erik grips the handles of the wheelchair, but Charles impatiently waves him aside, wheeling himself painfully beside Erik's long stride, instead, following him through the long breadth of the hangar and down a sloped incline. Cerebro is in a large room at the base that looks newly made, a sphere with a platform that juts out into empty space.

"You work quickly," Charles says grudgingly, as he wheels up to the panels, newly cleaned and already humming with energy.

"Not my first time," Erik reminds Charles, but Charles ignores him, putting on the helmet, and the world shifts and falls away into light - and pain - and - it is harder - than before -

Maybe Charles screams. He isn't too sure.

When he comes to, Charles is slumped in the wheelchair, still in the new Cerebro room, while Erik presses a cold cloth to his forehead, frowning, his expression tight with concern. Behind him, the smoking Cerebro panel repairs itself, wires stitching up under panels that float up and back down to admit cabling.

"Charles," Erik's tone is urgent, when Charles groans and pushes feebly at his hand. "My apologies, there must have been an error in the installation-"

"No error, just... not stable," Charles manages to gasp out, as Erik presses a glass of water to his lips. He drinks, greedily, then rubs a hand over his face. "I'm not stable," he elaborates, with another brittle half-smile, and Erik's gaze narrows further, his mouth setting into a hard line.

"The serum?"

"No. Not entirely. Hank is in Westchester, in the mansion. Logan is still in the river that you tossed him into, God, Erik, the only reason why he isn't dead is because of his healing factor. And there's - and there are children in Arizona who need to be... they're soon about to be... their parents need to be warned, or some just need to be extracted, or, or talked to, or... it's so bad out there, Erik," Charles whispers, and his voice is cracking, even as he manages to hold back tears. "What have you done, Erik? What have you done?"

Erik stares at him searchingly, for a long moment, then he kneels down beside Charles' wheelchair, curling the fingers of one hand into Charles', squeezing tightly. "Give me all the locations. And your impressions."

"I'll need paper, or, or-"

"Push the information into my mind. I'll take the helmet off."

Uncomprehendingly, Charles can only blink. "But I'll - but you'll-"

"I think you can see now," Erik says harshly, "That for good or ill, you need me. Do you think that if you stop me, the violence will cease? Or would you rather that I helped who I could now? The children that you've seen? Or Logan, who is slowly drowning? I don't want to waste any time."

"My control's gone, Erik." Charles waves self-deprecatingly at the still-repairing Cerebro facility.

"Charles," Erik notes, with a faint, thin smile. "For all that I have ever done, for all of your convictions, you have never truly hurt me, and I think that you will never be able to." Charles flinches, but Erik continues, evenly, "I need you now, and you need me. Are we agreed?"

"We..." Charles hesitates. A deal with the devil. This is- "We are agreed," he says finally, heavily, and Erik nods. He tugs the helmet off, setting it pointedly in Charles' lap, and for a mad, irrational moment, all Charles is focused on is how flat and unruly the skull of the helmet has made Erik's usually sleek hair, and he almost reaches out for it.

Thankfully, what he does do is clench his fingers into the edges of the helmet, the metal biting into his skin. He takes a few breaths to steady himself, and then Charles pushes the information that he had learned from Cerebro into Erik's mind, not gently, not even cushioning the pain.

Erik grows pale, but he makes not a sound, even as he nods and gets to his feet. The last panel on the Cerebro machine settles back into place. "Don't use it alone," Erik cautions him, and Charles shoots him a mirthless smile.

"I know my limits."

"Do you need help-"

"No. Go do what you must. You don't have much time."

Erik nods curtly and strides from the chamber. Once he is gone, Charles turns the helmet in his lap around, until the empty visor yawns up at him. He brings it up to eye level, studying the dulled sheen of its faceguard, the silver of its rim, and briefly considers flinging it from him, useless as the gesture would be. Erik could simply levitate it back up from the depths of Cerebro if he wanted.

Charles strokes a hand over Cerebro's panel, his lip curling, then he settles the helmet back in his lap and wheels the chair around, making his painful way back up. I have no choice, Charles tells himself, as the wheels scrape and roll over the concrete. Raven, forgive me. I have no choice.