Apocalypse – Charles’ Choice, by glacis. Rated PG for violence. Spoilers for X-men: First Class. Pairing: preslash, Erik/Charles.
At the end, it came down to an impossible choice.
He made it.
The war had been raging for decades. He’d lost – they’d lost – so many. His lifelong search for peace had lead to nothing but death, his attempts at neutrality driven into dust by the sheer determination of the humans to destroy everything they feared, everyone who was not themselves, and the fiercer determination of Erik’s children to live freely.
His own children were caught in the middle, and they were decimated.
A jolt nearly unseated his efforts at assisting the mutants – all of them, his, Erik’s, any mutants – to survive. The last thread holding him to Raven snapped. A voice in the back of his mind screamed.
It shouldn’t have been this way.
The hatred flourished, despite the efforts of a few on both sides of the divide to come to some sort, any sort, of an understanding. In the end, it was, as it always had been, always would be, a race to genocide. His own thesis had laid it out, all those years ago.
Homo sapiens sapiens ruthlessly destroyed Homo sapiens neanderthalensis to assure their place at the top of the food chain. They would do the same to Homo sapiens mutensis, and they could, by sheer force of numbers and weaponry.
Unfortunately, he hadn’t listened to his own wisdom, blinded by his optimism. Perhaps some inherent stupidity. Certainly his arrogance.
He had learned a great deal from Jean as she underwent her struggles with her powers. His own had continued to mutate, but would never reach her level of power. Tragically, she was dead now, too, and this time the Phoenix wouldn’t rise. Radiation poisoning, modified to attack mutated DNA, had hampered her last resurrection, much as it had Logan’s, and two of his brightest, fiercest friends were never coming back.
Across the surreal scene, landscape devastated by fires flashing orange, blue, yellow, red, streaks of blue, bodies and body parts scattered in piles, carelessly trampled by the few remaining mutants fighting the overwhelming number of World Unified soldiers, he caught a glimpse of Erik, going down slowly under the sheer weight of the modified polymer hunter drones bearing down on him.
It was over.
It was time.
Years ago, before he was the Beast, long before he was torn to pieces by experiments in an underground bunker at an Army base somewhere in West Virginia, Hank had created a serum. He’d intended it for Raven, but she’d taken what Charles now knew was the better path, and remained who she was. The second syringe had never been used. Charles had found it in Hank’s things, after they’d gotten word of his death, after the memorial for which they’d had no body. It was a symbol to Hank, of his failings, of his fate.
Charles wasn’t the scientist Hank was, but he was brilliant, and he had Hank’s notes. In the dark hours before dawn after too many sleepless nights, reaching out for presences he could no longer feel, he’d realized the underlying truth of Hank’s supposed failure.
The serum overwrote the genetic code and removed from it all that was human, leaving behind all that was the mutation. Charles had wondered, and feared, what would happen if he should ever give in to his gnawing curiosity, and inject the serum into himself. He had been unable to make that choice, still hoping, even as the world shattered, that there was a chance at peace. But he’d taken to carrying the case with him, secured upon his person, in the vague notion – perhaps premonition – that one day it might come to that.
Staring blindly at the death before him, screams echoing through the agony in his mind as life after life was taken, harkening back to the first death he experienced, holding the victim captive so that Erik would survive his revenge, Charles knew it was time.
His dreams were gone. They never would have come true, as the nature of the beast that was humanity would never allow them.
The efforts of the enemy bore fruit, and in front of him, Erik went down and stayed down. His helmet torn from his head, Charles caught the flash of pain, the blinding fury, then emptiness. Another voice screamed in the back of his mind.
He wasn’t fool enough to believe there was a way out of this destruction. People, both those of his kind he loved, and those of the Other he had tried to protect, had gone too far. There was no redemption for his mistakes.
There was, in the end, no peace.
He could not predict what he would become, but it didn’t matter any more. It was all over. Whatever he was, whatever he would be, it wouldn’t be worse than this. If nothing else, he would bear the full power of his mutation.
And with that power would come justice, or perhaps revenge.
He didn’t care which.
One hand remained at his temple, his protection drawn down to a bubble around him, maintaining his invisibility. The other extracted the syringe from the pouch, raised it to his chest over his heart, and calmly pushed it in. A steady squeeze, and ice raced through his veins. When the plunger bottomed out, he equally calmly pulled the needle out.
The explosion began at his center, rippling through him so fast, so agonizingly, that it was over between one breath and the next.
He was standing… no, floating… in a stream of images. Voices. Impressions. Emotions. He looked down. His body was there, on his own two feet as it hadn’t been in over sixty years. But it was different.
He was different.
His form was translucent, not ghostly, but iridescent, like the surface of a soap bubble blown from a child’s toy. For all its seeming fragility, it was strong, unbreakable, in fact. The images flowed around him, flowed through him, and for once, it was no strain to hear them, to understand them, to direct them. Not only their thoughts, but their emotions, their motivations, their very souls, if he waxed metaphysical about it.
The fleeting thought struck him that this was what he had feared, this power. His fear had barely reined in his arrogance, even before, as a hybrid, as a human mutant. Another thought hit, that he, and Hank, and Raven, those who could not pass, were the only true mutants, or perhaps the first true mutants. Images hit him again, tiny pebbles in the river, and he knew there were more. He could find them. He could teach them. He could protect them.
He would kill them, as he had killed all those he had found, and taught, and protected, the first time.
He stilled, the images flowing around him, not in a straight path, but in a circle, a whirlpool, with himself at the center. And he knew.
Not this time.
Moments flew past, swirled around, and he noticed a face, looking at him with bright yellow eyes shadowed by pain they should never feel. He reached out to it, brushed his finger against it, was drawn in closer.
In the kitchen, in the dim light of the refrigerator, where most of the small, important conversations happened. She looked to him for truth, and also for reassurance. In his prudishness, in his unwillingness to admit, he gave her neither.
He should have told her she was beautiful. She was.
The moment slipped away, and another slowed. The look in Alex’s eyes, how had he not recognized it? He’d seen it often enough, if never quite as nakedly, in his own. Self-disgust, because no matter how he appeared, he would never be normal, no matter how he’d wished it, he would never be one of the Others.
He watched as Alex tore Hank’s burgeoning self-confidence in his difference to shreds before it could gain any purchase. As Charles had done with Raven… with Mystique, never stopping to notice, never stopping to think, for God’s sake. His gentle rebuke to Alex, seen now, with the blinders off, was blatant permission to continue, to nourish the bigotry based on appearance rather than cutting it off at the root, as he should.
The swirl continued, and another image came to him. Water, and pressure, and such iron determination even as Erik’s life was leaving him, to end it, to stop the murderer, to lay the ghosts to rest, to stop fighting, to never stop fighting. Charles had known then, as other moments clustered, encircling him, crystalizing the self-knowledge.
Hands clasping, muscles straining, as he pulled Erik back on the Blackbird, saving him from Riptide’s wrath. A niggling shock and impatience, a thread of worry, as he called Hank off, as the man nearly choked Erik to death. The fleeting worry, and bone-deep relief, confusing him at the time, when Erik nearly left the first time, but was still there the next morning. So many times he could have made the choice to tell him, but hadn’t.
For such a brilliant man, Charles mused, he was such a fool.
Another image streamed past, close to him, caressing him as it slipped by. He reached out, absorbed it, and time … stopped.
He couldn’t feel Erik, but by God, he could feel Shaw. The pain was horrific, a thin blade of metal tearing through his brain, made all the more awful by the full realization in Shaw’s panic-stricken mind of everything that was happening. Charles wanted to let go, needed to let go, couldn’t let go, or Shaw would expel the coin, heal himself, and destroy Erik. He couldn’t let that happen, but holy Mother of God, it hurt.
This was so wrong! This wouldn’t help! This would never bring Erik peace!
Yes, a quiet voice answered in his ear. This is necessary. This must happen. Shaw must die, and Erik must kill him, and you must not stand in the way. The end shall not come.
In the shimmering of the pain tears Charles thought he saw an outline, moving next to him. Over him. Within him.
The agony of having his brain sawn in half, the strain of holding the victim still, the heartache of watching his closest friend lose himself in fury, somehow lessened, as Charles felt his mind expand so abruptly he could swear he heard the universe convulse.
Scenes played out, drowned him, choices made, the right choices at the time that had terribly wrong consequences. The big picture was as wide as time itself, a perspective Charles had never imagined.
Across from him, Moira was screaming something, he couldn’t tell and didn’t care. She was the first mistake, another well-meaning human who’d nearly killed him, nearly gotten herself killed, over something she never should have seen. He’d save her, not because she was an innocent – he’d seen too many innocents die to believe that innocence was any kind of armor – but because without her he never would have met Erik.
Never would have understood.
Never would have become, at the end, at this new beginning.
Never would have made this choice, a right one, finally, he could understand.
Her eyes glazed over and she fell asleep. Her memories shifted, then disappeared. When she awoke, she’d wonder how she came to be in a bathroom at headquarters, when the last she remembered she’d been in a car on a stakeout in Vegas.
Raven was next, or Mystique, he supposed, as that was her choice. He smiled gently at her through the tears of pain running down his face, and said quietly, “It will be all right,” in a voice hoarse from screaming.
He turned back to Erik. He couldn’t hear Erik, but he could feel him. Such fury. Such pain.
The coin continued its work. When Shaw was dead, the puncture nearly all the way through his brain before his advanced healing factor could no longer keep up with the damage, Charles released him. Stepping down from the wreckage of the Blackbird, Charles watched Erik levitate the crucified corpse down to the beach.
Two groups of children, standing apart, staring at one another with hostility. Erik’s words about unification against the common enemy, the common human, resonated with some, shook others, and Charles could hear their fears, their reluctant agreement, their firm disavowal. Erik spoke of the guns slowly turning their way.
“That’s not a problem,” Charles told him calmly.
Erik looked at him as if he were insane. Charles smirked. Locked eyes with Erik, and threw the might of his mind against the enemy.
The guns stopped.
The ships slowly, ponderously, turned away.
Every mutant on the beach turned to look at him. Charles’ smirk widened into a brief smile before dropping away.
“Azazel, if you would please return Moira to the CIA headquarters,” he said, implanting the orders to keep her alive, unharmed, and leave her in the ladies’ washroom on the first floor by the lifts. Someone would find her there.
Azazel shook his head, blinked at Charles once, then nodded. With a whiff of sulfur he disappeared. A second puff of smoke came from the wreckage of the plane, then a moment later he returned, looking a little confused. Angel glanced at him, but he shook his head, and they turned back to the argument going on before them.
Sean was glaring at Angel and muttering under his breath. Hank was growling.
“They’ll come after us,” Alex warned.
“She doesn’t remember a thing,” Charles assured him. “Neither do they,” he added, gesturing toward the combined might of the United States and Soviet Navies currently puffing away from one another off the coast of Cuba.
Every living mutant on the beach gaped at him. Erik dropped Shaw.
“We can’t be divided,” Charles continued. “We are outnumbered, surrounded, and embedded in a hostile environment. In addition, our brethren are adrift amongst the normals, and need to be rescued.” He turned toward Erik. “The children must be protected.”
“We can’t give in, damnit,” Erik growled at him, still looking somewhat shocked, still not noticing Shaw’s body had crumpled to the sand, all his attention riveted to Charles. “And we shouldn’t have to. We’re better than they are, and we have to protect ourselves against them!” Unspoken was his cry, it will not happen again!
“You’re quite right,” Charles agreed, sending a ripple of disbelief through his students, and pure shock through Shaw’s followers. “But if we attack, we shall be overcome. We are scattered, unprotected, untrained, and there are few of us compared to them. We must make our place in this world, and we must stay safe whilst we’re doing it.”
“What happened to fighting for the humans?” growled Hank, confused.
“It won’t work,” Charles admitted, tossing a quick smile Erik’s way at his snort. “but Shaw’s plan wouldn’t have worked either – it wouldn’t do to destroy the planet just to get rid of the humans. We have to live here, too, and too many mutants would die in a nuclear war. Erik,” he turned to face his best friend, “we don’t have to collaborate, but we do have to mutually exist. We can’t start a war that we can’t win.”
The force behind his words took Erik aback. Something about Charles had changed. He looked closer, and could swear he saw an opalescent shimmer around Charles’ body, barely visible in the sunlight. He blinked, and moved closer, carelessly trampling on Shaw’s body.
His torturer, his mother’s murderer, was dead. Vengeance was given. The past was with him, but the present was, for the first time since he was child, more important.
He stopped a short distance from Charles, and stared into his face. His eyes widened and he swallowed with a suddenly-dry throat.
Charles had indeed changed. His features were sharper, somehow, brow and cheekbones edged like knives beneath his skin, and his eyes… his eyes glowed… and the pupils… were shaped like stars.
“What happened to you?” he breathed.
“I made a choice,” Charles whispered back, and smiled again.
Erik licked his lips. Charles’ teeth were a lot sharper than they used to be.
“But now’s not the time for that discussion,” Charles continued, raising his voice as he continued. “The humans have forgotten we’re here. Not just the military,” he waved negligently again at the steaming warships, “but the CIA as well.”
The other mutants looked relieved, confused, and some, unconvinced. Charles smiled a little more widely, showing those unnerving teeth. “So, Erik, if you’d clean up the debris, cover our tracks? Azazel, if you’d give us a lift back to my place? We can all clean up, get some dinner, and talk.”
Erik tore his gaze away from Charles long enough to nod at his followers. Then he glanced around the wreckage on the beach.
“Someone will notice if I start slinging this around,” he told Charles, who shook his head, giving Erik a serene look that frankly disturbed him.
“No, they won’t,” Charles said, and his eyes glowed a little more brightly.
Erik shivered, then took him at his word. It was the work of a moment for Erik to send the wreckage deeply into the ocean, settling among the detritus, hopefully not to be found.
“It won’t be,” Charles said softly.
Erik turned sharply, staring at him. “I thought you couldn’t read my mind through the helmet.”
Charles flashed him a sharp look, then shook his head. “Didn’t need to. It was written all over your… body.”
Erik’s eyes widened at the look Charles raked him with. Where had this come from? Well, perhaps it wasn’t completely unexpected, as they had become quite close during their road trip, and his attraction to Charles wasn’t entirely hidden – nothing could be, from a telepath. But the other man had given no indication that the attraction was mutual. Of course, he’d also given no indication that it was even noticed. Charles, as usual, was as complex and confusing as he’d ever been. Erik glared at him.
Only now, he shimmered. And his eyes glowed. And those sharp teeth, for some reason, were a real turn-on. Trying to shake those thoughts off before Charles read them, too, in his body, he turned to Azazel.
The demon stepped forward with Angel, as did the other mutants after Charles’ reassuring nod, and Erik took Azazel’s hand. His other hand was wrapped in Charles’ strong grip, and there was something oddly warm about it. Erik refused to look at either their clasped hands, or Charles’ face. He had to get a handle on this.
A puff of sulfur and a dizzying moment later, they were on the front lawn of Charles’ mansion. Azazel dropped his hand, and the group moved forward, some eagerly, some warily.
Charles didn’t let go of his hand.
This time, it would be different.
End of the beginning