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The Exchange

Chapter Text

“You abandoned us all, Charles,” said Erik, and even through his terror, his spiking adrenaline and his relief as the plane levelled up, Logan couldn’t help but notice the pure betrayal on young Charles’ face.

He wondered when the Professor had got better at hiding his feelings. Because at this age he showed everything, all his broken pieces. He couldn’t seem to keep the raw hurt off his face for love nor money. How in hell were they meant to change the world like this?

Charles stumbled to his feet and escaped to the little toilet cubicle towards the front of the plane. Logan watched Erik watching him, and lit a cigar. “So, you were always an asshole.”

There was a bang and a yelp, and Logan leapt to his feet, the bones shooting from between his knuckles. “What the fuck are you doing now, Erik?” yelled Hank.

“It wasn’t me,” Erik said, his voice steady, eyes fixed on the door to the toilet. “Charles?”

The door opened. The guy who came out…

Logan tilted his head to one side. “Huh.”

“Charles?” Erik asked.

The man looked from one side of the plane to the other. “Ahhh, no? What the fuck happened here?”

Logan barely noticed his bone claws retracting with the confusion. Charles’ well-groomed doppelganger pursed his lips and pointed at Hank. “Where did Nick come from?” He did a bit of a turn. “Why is the fuckin’ plane different?”

“Charles?” said Erik, his jaw hanging open.

Not-Charles made a face and pushed the door shut behind him. “Ah, yes, very fuckin’ funny, Michael. You’re all hilarious.”

His voice was different. Scottish, maybe, Logan thought. He wrapped his mouth around his vowels like they were something edible, his face mobile and amused.

He spread his arms and gestured around. “Fuck, how long did this take to plan? It’s brilliant! I didn’t even think Nick was in the country, and like…” he trailed off, looking out the windscreen to the sea as the plane slowly gained altitude. “We were… we were only flying from Chicago to San Francisco so…”

He glanced at Logan, a frown line deepening between his eyes. “OK, how did you do it?”

“Do what?” Logan asked.

The man bit his lip, looked out the window, then back to him, shaking his head. “Nah. You wouldn’t have let them roofie me,” he said, pointing at Logan. Logan raised an eyebrow and dragged on his cigar. “Jen, I’d say yeah, she’d do anything for a laugh, but Hugh, you’re all responsible really.” He shrugged. “You pretend you’re not but…”

He walked around, poking at the seats, the windows,the walls of the plane. He glanced back at Logan and Erik, took a deep breath, then walked into the cockpit.

Logan blew out a stream of smoke and glanced at Erik. Erik was still standing in the same position, his mouth open.

Not-Charles came back, the mischief sparkling in his eyes all gone. “Right. Seriously, what the fuck?”

“You’re not Charles,” Erik said.

The guy rolled his eyes. “Aye, and you’re not Erik, now tell me what the fuck’s goin’ on?”

His accent was starting to thicken as he worried. Logan nodded to him. “Just, sit down, Bub, OK?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Hugh, stop with the stupid Wolverine accent, this is… where the fuck are we?”

“Look, kid, I don’t think we are who you think we are, OK? I’m Logan, this is Erik, you’re…”

“No. No, that’s not fucking funny. Where the fuck are we?”

“On the way to Paris,” said Erik, his voice a croak.

“Are you serious?” Not-Charles asked, his voice pitching high in disgust. “Look, this isn’t fuckin’ funny any--”

Logan snarled and the bone claws shot out of one hand. “Enough! Sit!”

The guy sat, bouncing slightly on the seat as he stared at the claws. “How…”

“What, your Hugh can’t do this?” Logan sneered.

He hesitated. “Only with prosthetics…”

Logan sat down again, crossing one ankle over his knee and leaning back, the bones sliding back into the skin. The kid winced. “Jesus Christ, that’s… it makes a noise.”

“Yeah, it does that,” grunted Logan. “Erik, sit down, for fuck’s sake. What’s your name?” he asked the man.

“James,” he said, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, and suddenly he looked that little bit more like Charles. “Ah, I’m James McAvoy. I’m an actor.” He looked up at the two of them, narrowing his eyes. “Look, if this is a prank, I swear I’ll hide fucking prawns in your trailers, all of you.”

“Where’s Charles,” Erik said, his voice hard.

James huffed. “I am Charles. I mean… I play Charles, I act as him in the films.” He looked between them and tugged at his hair. “Fuck me, this is fuckin’ weird. Am I having some… psychotic break or something? Did you bastards drug me? Because that’s not a fucking prank, that’s…”

“We didn’t drug you,” Logan said. He rolled his eyes and took a long breath. Clearly it was down to him again, Erik still glaring at James like he was one step away from strangling him. Or fucking crying, or something. Fuck. Logan wasn’t cut out for this. “Look, Charles went into the bathroom, there was a bang, you came out. Just… tell us where you’re from, we’ll see about getting you back there, and getting Charlie back here.”

James shook his head and laughed mirthlessly. “Well… sit back boys, ‘cause this is gonna blow your fuckin’ minds.”

Chapter Text

Charles leaned against the mirror in the bathroom, clutching the sink and trying to control his breathing, control the hurt that seemed to pump itself around his body with every beat of his heart. He didn’t care. He didn’t care, he didn’t care, he didn’t give a shit what Erik thought of him any more, he--

He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. What was the point? He had spent his life telling himself he didn’t care what others thought of him, he was going to smile and be happy for himself and now… what was the point? He wished he could just… would the world really be that much worse off without him? There wasn’t much point in him being here, really.

There was a loud bang and the plane shook. Charles gripped the sink, his eyes wide in his reflection. Was Erik doing something to the plane again? Oh, shit, he was with Logan, he’d left the two of them alone together, that was a disaster waiting to happen.

He pushed the door open with trembling hands, and stopped.

This was not the same plane. This was… there were rows of blue leather seats, two narrow corridors, darkness, a low humming… he could feel his breathing speed up as he took everything in, tried to get the information and just… nothing made sense. What was going on. What was--

“James?”

He stumbled back as Erik unfolded himself from a seat and walked towards him, his brow furrowed in confusion and worry. But no, it couldn’t be worry, Erik wouldn’t worry-- and there was Logan as well, clean shaven and in a nice henley shirt and jeans. Charles stumbled back, hitting the plastic wall behind him.

“You alright, mate?” Logan asked, his voice soft, rolling, different. “Wait, why are you… did you get in costume?” He laughed. “Who did your hair? Is that a wig?”

Erik chuckled, his face creasing into delighted lines that still had the power to make Charles’ heart drop, the traitorous thing. “Are you planning to do the interview like that tomorrow?” He patted Charles’ shoulder, then wrinkled his nose. “Jesus, James, you stink as well.”

“I… sorry?” Charles tried to get his panic under control, but this… this was too much, it was claustrophobic and stuffy and the two men in front of him were crowding too close and Erik was going to kill him one way or another, and--

“James, calm down,” Logan said. “Hey, what’s going… shit, Michael, help me get him. What the fuck?”

He felt his legs collapse under him, and no, no they should have more time, they shouldn’t be… but they weren’t. He was just panicking, he could still feel them against the seat as the men lowered him down, he wasn’t getting the voices, he was… “I’m fine.”

“Yeah, sure you are,” said Erik, more gently than he’d ever said anything. He frowned. “You were only in there for five minutes, how did you… did you hit your head while you were getting changed?”

“You did a bang-up job,” said Logan, tugging on his hair. Charles flinched away. “How did you get this all so…”

Logan and Erik looked at each other. A woman appeared at the side of the seats. “Is everything OK, gentlemen?”

“Yes, thank you,” said Logan, giving her a beautiful sunny grin. She blushed and wandered off.

“You can smile,” said Charles wonderingly.

Logan laughed. “Oh what, you’re a method actor now?” He sat back. “You’re on your own, mate, I’m not pretending to be Wolverine for the whole press tour.”

“Pretending…” Charles shut his jaw quickly, trying to think through the rising panic. He had to pretend he was who they thought he was, he didn’t know what was going on, but this was some sort of trap, some… or else he was finally going insane, the drugs had destroyed his mind like Hank always threatened and… well, there were worse ways to go, he supposed, looking between them.

But Erik was still watching him. “You’re not James,” he said.

Charles blinked, tense.

Logan frowned. “What do you mean? We’ve seen him be…” he waved his hands in Charles’ direction, and Charles tried to suppress the flinch.

Erik shook his head. “Of course, we all know he’s capable of it but… this isn’t his style. He’d ham it up. He’d come out pretending to read all our minds and you… you’re just trying to hide.”

Charles watched him, his eyes darting between Erik and Logan. Erik leaned forwards. “Charles?” he asked.

Charles blinked, and bit back the fear and the longing. He nodded.

Erik let out a long breath. Logan frowned and sat forwards. “No, but how?”

“Look at his hair, Hugh. You know how long it took for the professionals to do it, even when James had his long hair. And what about the clothes?”

“But…” Logan - or Hugh, as Erik called him, shook his head and leaned forwards. “This is insane. It’s impossible.” He frowned up at Erik. “We’re not in a movie now, Michael, this is ridiculous. It’s got to be a prank.”

“It’s no prank,” said Charles softly. “I don’t… I have no idea what happened, and I don’t know why your friend has disappeared, but I was…” he took a deep breath. “I was in the plane on the way to Paris, I went into the bathroom, and came out here. I don’t know if I’m going insane, or if I’ve stepped into another dimension, but this is no trick.”

The two men looked at each other. Hugh leaned back in his chair, shaking his head. “Nah. Nope. No way, this isn’t real. It can’t be.”

Michael shrugged. “I mean, look at him, Hugh. He’s Charles.”

“James is Charles. Which answer makes the most sense, that a fictional character has somehow come to life and taken James’ place, or that James, who plays said fictional character, is screwing with us? Which is more likely?”

Michael shook his head. “James wouldn’t play this kind of trick. You know him, he’s a little shit, he’d be laughing at our faces by now. He doesn’t play the long game like this.” He glanced at Charles apologetically. “Also he wouldn’t bother making himself smell.”

Charles glared at him, but before he could argue, a speaker hidden above his head dinged. “This is your captain speaking. Please fasten your seatbelts and prepare for landing.”

Charles watched Michael and Hugh shift around in their seats, clipping belts on over their laps, and mimicked them. Michael met his gaze. “Look, just… we’ll sort this out at the hotel, OK? For now, your name is James McAvoy, and you’re an actor.”

***

If he thought that the move to another dimension had been jarring, seeing the future was even more so. And this was after he’d met Logan, a man sent back in time by his own future self.

The world was so full, so busy and bright, even at 9pm when they arrived in San Francisco. The speed, the size of everything, the incredible height of buildings, the city lit up like the centre of a galaxy. The sheer number of people, everywhere.

It was hardly surprising that he collapsed, screaming, when the voices returned.

Michael and Hugh rushed to his side, carrying him to the bed, their faces creased with worry, their minds bent towards him in such concern he could have wept. He probably did.

Michael was the worst. He sat at Charles’ bedside as the sensation drained from Charles’ lower body, as he struggled to rebuild the tattered defences of his mind, neglected and actively attacked by drugs and alcohol for so long. He sat there, frowning at Charles, and his voice in Charles’ mind was so like Erik’s and so utterly unlike it that he couldn’t stop the tears trickling down his face, into his hairline.

How long had he dreamed of this moment? For Erik to sit by his bedside and wish to comfort him, thinking only kind thoughts? Michael’s voice was the same soft burr of Erik’s, very nearly the same accent, but his mind was gentle and friendly, with none of the ferocity and passion of Erik’s. He hadn’t been back in Erik’s mind since he told him to stay out, but this man wasn’t the same.

He met Michael’s eyes, and Michael smiled at him, fond and concerned, and Charles could hardly bear it.

“I’ve spoken to the studio,” said Hugh, walking in and perching on the side of the bed next to Charles’ hip. “I’ve said you’ve been taken ill, so they know that you won’t be with us tomorrow.” He squeezed Charles’ shoulder. “Ah, mate… how’re you doing?”

Charles bit his lip and wished it wasn’t so obviously trembling. Even Hugh was worrying for him and thinking about what he could do to make it better, and it made him think of Hank, back in the early days.

Back before Hank had lost hope and faith in Charles.

He turned his face into the pillow. “I’m afraid I might need a wheelchair,” he said quietly.

Michael and Hugh looked at each other, schooling the horror that he could hear very clearly in their minds. “Have the drugs worn off completey?” Michael asked.

Charles frowned. “How do you know about the drugs?”

They looked at each other again, hesitating, and, in his impatience, Charles sought the answer direct from their minds. He pushed… and wished he hadn’t.

He lay back, gulping for air. “A movie? That’s what we are to you? Our entire world, just…”

Hugh made a face. “Yeah… uh, sorry? We didn’t know you were real.”

“I’m betting on alternative dimensions,” Michael shrugged.

“There’s movies about that as well,” Hugh nodded.

“We need to find a way to send you back,” Michael said, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.

Charles stared up at the ceiling and wondered what would be the point.

Chapter Text

“We’re coming over the UK now,” Hank called into the silence of the plane.

The others just looked at each other. James bit his lip and spread his hands. “Tadaaa,” he said sheepishly.

“Wait,” said Logan, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “So you’re telling me I got sent back in time to tell these assholes what not to do, and you’ve been sent from another dimension to tell us what else not to do?”

James shrugged. “I didn’t get sent from anywhere. I had no say in the matter. Right now I could be in a bar in San Francisco getting in a drink before bed, and then earning my pay by appearing on a morning television show, but no, I’m stuck in the seventies, which could be worse, with two assholes with a chronic sense of humour failure. Oh look - it’s worse.”

“You think this is funny?” snarled Erik.

Logan rolled his eyes. To his credit, so did James. “Aye, I think it’s fucking hilarious that my wife and son are an entire dimension away from me, not just a plane ride. But you’re the ones with the magic powers and the questionable relationship with the laws of physics, so I know I’m not gonnae be the one to get me home. So I either laugh or I’ll start fuckin’ yelling, and you two seem to have that sort of thing covered.”

“You’ve got a son?” Erik said, hackles lowering.

“So have you, ya daft cunt, Peter, Quicksilver, whatever. It was all there in the subtext.”

Erik gritted his teeth and glared at Logan. “I vote we kill this one, then Charles will have to come back.”

“Or he’ll be stuck there and you’ll never get your one true love home,” snapped James.

“What? He’s not--” Erik spluttered.

“Oh, no, sure he’s not, sure,” James sneered.

“We’re enemies!” Erik looked over at Logan.

“Hey, don’t look at me, Bub,” said Logan, raising his hands. “You two have always had weird love-hate thing going on. Only thing Scott and I ever agreed on.”

Erik shook his head and threw his hands up. “Don’t be ridiculous - you heard him, Charles hates me!”

James laughed. “Oh, darlin’, he really doesn’t.”

Logan rolled his eyes as Erik dropped his hands in his lap like his strings had been cut. He pretended to focus on lighting another cigar, watching the young Magneto stare open-mouthed at James. James leaned forwards, and oh, there was the Professor’s most patronising look. “I play Charles Xavier. I have to be him, it’s my job. And trust me, he loves you.”

Erik’s vulnerability was hard to look at. Especially when he glanced at Logan. Logan cleared his throat and looked away. “I mean, makes sense to me,” Logan shrugged. “If it was me you’d left on the beach with a bullet in my spine I’d stab you next time I saw you.” He dragged on his cigar and blew the smoke out. “Still not convinced I’m not gonna stab you anyway, but I’m pretty sure the Professor would be upset about that.”

“Aye, I think that would warrant a little more than mild disapproval, even from Charles,” James smirked.

“What, like he’d make me walk off the damn plane while it’s still in the air?” Logan chuckled. It was hard to remain stoic in the face of the irreverent Charles doppelganger.

“You have to tell me, though,” James said, leaning even further over the table, blue eyes twinkling wickedly. “Charles tops, right? C’mon, you can tell me.”

Erik’s jaw dropped. Logan stifled his hysterical laughter and watched the red flare up Erik’s neck. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said coldly.

“Ah, c’mon,” James grinned. “I keep telling Michael, Erik might be taller, but he’d- woah, shit! OK, OK, calm down, I’m just joking!”

Erik stood over him, every piece of metal from the interior of the plane pointing towards James’ neck.

“Let him go, Erik,” Logan said, stubbing his cigar out and lighting a new one. “You know hurting him would mean possibly harming Charles.”

Erik subsided, the ominous creaking from the fuselage sinking back into its usual vibration. Logan heard Hank swearing under his breath in the cockpit, and Logan forced his muscles to relax one by one. James made a face and ran his hands through his hair, shooting an irritated glare at Erik.

“If you could refrain from any more temper tantrums, Erik, I’ll start our descent,” Hank called dryly.

Logan took a deep breath. “Right. Paris.”

“OK, so, listen - stick to the plan, yeah? No trying to kill Raven, you’ll only end up giving Trask her blood and accelerating the Sentinel project,” James said, pointing at Erik.

Erik narrowed his eyes at James, but nodded. “And what about you? You’re just a human, you can’t do anything.”

“Not like Charles could use his mutation in the fi- sorry, in the original version of events, is it?” James shrugged.

Erik sighed and pressed his fingertips to his eye sockets. “I suppose not.” He muttered something under his breath in German that sounded a lot like bloody self-pitying idiot, then nodded sharply. “Let’s do it.”

Chapter Text

“Afternoon,” said Hugh, knocking softly on Charles’ door, pushing it further ajar. Charles pushed himself to his elbows. “Thought you’d like some lunch,” Hugh said, coming in with a plate of sandwiches.

Charles pushed himself up, his arms pathetically weak after so long on the serum, and smiled as he took the plate. “Thank you.”

“How’re you feeling?”

“Much better, thank you.” It was a lie. He felt like shit. His head was pounding from all the psychic input, there was a phantom pain in his left heel, and most of all, he couldn’t think of any way to get James back to his own universe.

The problem was, Charles wasn’t sure he wanted to go back to his. Not that this universe, or dimension, or whatever, was so much better, but because the other, his own, was so much worse. Sure, nobody cared for him here, not really. Hugh and Michael were incredibly kind, but he got the impression they weren’t doing this for him, they were just doing what they’d do for anyone in need. But what did he have back home? His family gone, his students dead, the man he loved more than anything in the world disgusted with him… and by all accounts nothing good to look forward to in the future.

Michael joined them, sitting on an armchair across from the bed and looking so much and yet nothing at all like Erik. “We were wondering - it might be a bit weird - but would you like to see the movie? I don’t know, maybe it’ll give you an idea of how to get back home.”

Charles frowned. “I don’t know,” he said slowly. The last thing he wanted to see was him making a fool of himself over Erik. But then he caught the faint undercurrent of their thoughts in tandem, both worrying over James, worrying he was gone forever.

Wanting him back.

He closed his eyes and swallowed hard. He had to stop being selfish. “Yes, fine, it’s worth a try.” He forced himself to smile.

“Great,” Hugh grinned, wide and friendly and absolutely nothing like Logan. “Uh, we haven’t been able to get a wheelchair for you, do you mind if we…?”

“Oh… yes, go ahead,” Charles said, gesturing at himself.

It was rather more of a mission than it usually was with Hank. Hardly surprising, Charles supposed, as he clung to both men’s shoulders and tried not to feel horribly self-conscious as they manoeuvered him in a sort of seat lift into the living room. He felt the ridiculous urge to apologise, and instead just smiled and thanked them as they lowered him onto the sofa.

“You OK there? OK, great, so…” Michael ran through some settings on the television, which Charles was still stunned by - it was practically a cinema all by itself! “Here you go,” he said. “They’re both here, but shall we just stick with Days of Future Past?”

Hugh nodded. “Yeah, I mean, if you like we can just skip to the part with the plane? You said you went into the bathroom after the argument?”

Charles nodded, but Michael frowned. “Hey, didn’t he go into the cockpit in the film?”

“Did he?”

“Yeah, pretty sure, let’s just…” He clicked through some scenes. Charles winced to see himself like that, his face larger than life even in the still images Michael was scanning through. He concentrated on the buttons Michael was pressing instead, listening in to his surface thoughts to learn how to work the machine as he did it.

“Here we go,” Michael said, and pressed play.

It was horrifying. He looked… he looked like a washed up junkie, a selfish, spoiled, self-absorbed, pathetic…

Charles could hardly bear to look at himself, no wonder Erik hated him.

“There!” Michael said, and Charles forced himself to watch the scene, watch himself stumble away from Erik and into the… huh. Weird. Into the cockpit rather than the bathroom.

The other two men seemed to be splitting their attention equally between the screen and Charles himself, as if hoping that this would be enough to trigger the return of their friend. Charles, instead, watched Logan make Erik pick up the mess he’d made.

They didn’t turn the film off. Hugh and Michael winced every now and then, chuckling about facial expressions they deemed out of place, or not quite right - actors analysing their work. But the further into the film they went, the less Charles noticed. Because this was all what was to come for him, this was his future.

And it was all so desperately depressing.

He had thought that Erik was the champion for all mutants, but then he tried to kill Raven, and Charles’ mind nearly whited out, causing the two men in the room with him to clutch at their heads in pain. How dare he? How dare he take her away, and then try to take her away from him again? Charles watched his return to his chair, watched himself fail in Cerebro, watched Logan bring him face to face with his future, tears falling, and felt the impotent rage of the last few years thrashing in his chest…

And then it solidified, the fury tightening and compressed diamond-hard in his chest. Watching Erik drop half a stadium on him, watching him say goodbye again. And there it was, the serenity. He did not live for Erik. He didn’t have to live his life for one man, not when there was a future past the Vietnam War, hundreds of children he could protect and teach and help.

Watching the final scene, where Logan returned to a full and thriving school brought the balance to a perfect point. The credits ran, and Michael pressed the button, a quick glance to Hugh. The two men stared at him in silence, every thought hanging suspended in the room like dust motes in a beam of light. Charles stared at the blank screen.

“I was thinking of staying,” he admitted, his voice hoarse. “I could have convinced you… could have seen your memories of your friend, and taken his place. I thought…”

“I don’t blame you,” said Michael softly. He didn’t voice the but that hung in both their minds, the fear, the knowledge that he could do exactly what he said.

Charles wiped his eyes, breath shuddering. Maybe the world might be better off without him. It would almost certainly continue turning, people would go on surviving, in the grand scheme of things, what was one man? Even an omega level telepath. He could stay here.

But he was going to live, instead.

Chapter Text

It was a stupid plan. They knew it was a disaster waiting to happen, James had told them how it all played out, but they’d never had a choice. They had to get Mystique, and this was her last chance.

But they were walking into a conference to extract one person from a room full of the top military personnel of the East and West, with three mutants and a human. To be fair to the human, he could throw a pretty good punch, but then the Wolverine had started having some sort of episode, and it all went to shit.

Erik wouldn’t deny he was tempted to kill Mystique when he saw her. He was sure she’d have done the same, she’d have understood - it was for the good of their people, she was a liability. But James had assured him that it had ended in the humans getting a sample of her blood anyway, so he gritted his teeth and helped her up.

“Charles?” she said, staring at James.

“Er, not exactly,” James said sheepishly. “Erik, get your arse over here and help me carry Logan--”

And then there was a bang, and James fell to the floor. For a moment Erik’s heart stopped, sure he’d been shot, and then the chaos of the room froze, and there was Charles, pushing himself up on his elbows and pressing his fingers to his temples. “Calm down, Logan,” he said softly, and Logan’s vibrating tension bled from his form.

Charles smiled, and Erik thought the sweetness of it might break him. “Good,” said Charles softly, and Logan slumped, his claws holding him up from the ground.

Charles looked up, pushing himself into a sitting position. He was still on the ground, where he’d fallen awkwardly, but he was so clearly the most powerful person in the room. “Gentlemen,” he said, his voice cheerful and eye-rollingly patronising. “I’m sure you can all see the consequences of this barbaric war that you’re all proposing.”

In front of Erik’s eyes, images flickered, a desolate world, destroyed of all but the last bastions of mutantkind, and the Sentinel robots themselves, relentless in their attack. All around him he was aware of the others also cringing away from the horrors. And yet Erik just felt his heart sink, because he’d known, he’d known this was what it would bring.

“Your Sentinels will bring the end to all of us, humans and mutants alike. Now,” Charles tilted his head. “You can see reason, can’t you?”

He turned to look towards William Stryker, immobilised but glaring hatred at him. “Oh, for God’s sake, Mr Stryker, of course I don’t want to kill all of you! I’ve just come here showing you--” Charles rolled his eyes. “Never mind.” His eyes narrowed. “Some of you will always want war.” He glanced at Erik, and Erik blinked at the hardness behind his eyes.

It was like looking into a mirror.

Hank stepped forwards at some mental cue from Charles, and picked him up in two furry arms. Charles still had his fingers pressed to his temple. Even carried like a child he was magnificent.

“You could bring peace. We could work together. But if you bring war, know that we will fight to protect ourselves. And know how easily I could find you, the leaders. I have no interest in men following orders. If you bring war to my doorstep, I swear now that I will find you.”

The group was silent as they walked through the hotel, Hank in the lead with Charles, dodging people frozen mid-action. They walked through the silent streets, the wind the only movement to show that time itself hadn’t been stopped.

“How far are you reaching?” Mystique asked, her voice hushed, as if Paris itself were a sacred place.

“Far enough,” said Charles. “Hank, would you please…”

Hank nodded and picked up his pace. They reached a minivan taxi, and alone among the people, the driver turned to look at them. “Where to?” he asked in French, as they climbed in, showing no visible response to the giant furry man or the blue scaled woman.

“Charles De Gaulle, please,” Hank growled. The man nodded, and as he pulled out into the road, the rest of the street began to move seamlessly.

Charles slumped in Hank’s arms, eyes rolling back into his head and arms dropping, lax, to his side.

Chapter Text

They were on the plane. Charles could tell, could hear the roar of the wind muted outside the fuselage, and in the whole radius of his power, could only sense four mental voices.

He pushed himself up with an involuntary groan. His head was absolutely killing him.

“Advil,” Raven said, handing him a drink of water and two tablets.

He couldn’t help but smile at her, and something in his chest leaped with elation to see her unafraid, and not in pain. “Thank you.”

“No, thank you. I’ve been told that everything was on schedule to go horribly wrong.” She bit her lip and looked down at her hands. “Charles, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you…”

“Were a washed up self-loathing junkie? Hardly your fault.”

Her breathing hitched. “I didn’t know how… how hurt you’d been. In Cuba.”

He considered telling her it wasn’t his body that had really been hurt. That the real destruction had been her deciding to leave. Choosing Erik over him. He smiled instead. “You look well, Raven. It’s truly wonderful to see you.”

She held his gaze for a moment, then shifted to sit next to him, wrapping him up in a tight hug. He closed his eyes and squeezed her.

“Although, really, darling, do you think you could shift some clothes on? I hate feeling like I’m hugging my naked sister.”

She laughed and a pair of skin-tight leather trousers and a t-shirt appeared on her in a flutter of scales. “Does it really make that much difference?”

“Yes!” he said. “I don’t know why, but it really does!”

She thumped him on the shoulder and stood up, her clothes shifting again into something more comfortable. “It’s good to see you, too, Charles.”

He patted her hand as she walked to the front of the plane to sit next to Hank in the cockpit.

“You were incredible there,” said Erik, and Charles bit his lip, tried so hard to remember all his firm words in the other dimension. It was impossible when he sat across from him, leaning forward, earnest and passionate as he’d ever been over games of chess. “Your powers are amazing, and what you said-- I never thought you’d come around to my side.”

Charles laughed bitterly. “Erik, you need help,” he said, looking up. “You don’t think my words were directed to you as well?”

Erik frowned, blinked, his eagerness falling, and Charles hurt to see him like that, because he never wanted anything to hurt Erik. “I don’t--”

“Some will always want war,” Charles repeated. “Erik, you… I know you were forged in war, in the most horrific, heartbreaking war. But you don’t have to live like that all the time.”

Erik’s jaw hardened. “I only want for us to be safe--”

“And yet you were going to kill Raven? You were going to kill another mutant, even though everything you preach is about keeping mutantkind safe?” Charles shook his head. “You know war the way Logan knows war. I don’t want that to be the only outcome for our people.”

“It already is,” he snarled. “It always is - the baselines will make war on those it considers different, don’t you see? I thought you understood now!”

“And you’re not listening,” snapped Charles. He shook his head. “You think I’m some sort of doormat pacifist, asking the humans to just come and walk all over me, but I’m not!” He leaned forward, holding Erik’s gaze. “You listen very carefully, Erik. I am going to restart my school. I am going to show young mutants that there is a safe space for them, where they can love their powers, learn them, stretch them - become the best that they can be. And if anyone brings war to our door, human or mutant, I. Will. Destroy them. Is that entirely clear?”

The air hummed with Charles’ power. He could feel it filling the room the way Erik’s sometimes did when he got angry. He could feel Logan shift into the field lines of it, his presence moving towards them. “He’s right, you know,” Logan said, almost gently. He nodded at Erik, lighting one of his disgusting cigars. “I’ve seen the Professor destroy armies. In the other timeline, that is, but this one’s the same person.”

He moved away, patting Charles’ shoulder as he went.

Erik turned his face away, and chuckled sadly. “I should have known he was wrong,” he said softly.

“Who?” Charles asked.

“Nobody.” Erik stared out the window for a long moment. Charles wanted not to love him so much, but he thought it might be impossible. Erik had taken his heart away a long time ago, and Charles had to accept that. Well, what was left would have to be enough to live on.

“I suppose when we arrive, I’ll take my leave,” Erik said, still staring out of the window.

Charles sighed and sat back. He remembered the end of the film they’d shown him in the other universe, Erik turning away from him again.

“You know, you could always make me stay,” Erik said with a curl of his lip.

“I know,” said Charles. “And it would destroy me.”

Erik laughed bitterly. “Would it be that bad to have me around?”

Charles frowned, anger suddenly rising up in his throat. “Would it-- Erik, it wouldn’t be you! It would be horrible, you’d be a prisoner, yet another choice taken away from you.” He snorted, his eyes prickling. “Yes, I could make you stay. I could make you smile at me, and teach your incredible power to the students, and stand by my side and defend our people and lead them into a lasting peace. I could make you stand in front of me in those fucking turtlenecks and play chess with me, and beat me, and tease me, and love me back and every moment would be like a knife to my heart because it wouldn’t be you, it would be some twisted, terrible parody of love.”

And then Erik was in his lap and kissing him, and Charles was weeping and clutching at his waist and kissing him back and what was happening and if he’d been dumped into another universe there was no way he was going to leave, no way.

“Love you back… you think you would have to force me to love you?” Erik breathed into the space between them. “You think that there’s been a moment since I met you that I haven’t absolutely adored you, you fucking incredible, idealistic, beautiful idiot?”

“Erik,” he whimpered, pressing himself close, not willing to let go, because if he let go - he hadn’t been so close to his own heart in so long, he could feel it beating in the other man’s chest and he was so afraid. “Erik, please… please don’t go, please.”

“Please,” Erik said, kissing him, his hands cupping his cheeks and tilting his face up. “Please let me stay.”

“Hey, Furball,” Logan called, somewhere over his shoulder and entirely far enough away that Charles couldn’t care less about it. “Looks like you’re gonna have another teacher.”

Epilogue

“Holy shit,” James said, looking between Hugh and Michael. “Boys, you’ll never guess where I’ve been.”