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To Homo neanderthalensis, his mutant cousin Homo sapiens was an aberration. Peaceful cohabitation, if ever it existed, was short-lived. Records show without exception that the arrival of the mutated human species in any region was followed by the immediate extinction of their less-evolved kin...

Charles F. Xavier
Dissertation submitted in fulfillment of the requirements of the University of Oxford for the degree of DPhil (Biological Sciences)


In the beginning, Charles finds it very difficult to be around large groups of people. The parties his mother takes him to are the worst.

"Do you really think your husband's going to die in the next two years?" Charles says, once, to a very beautiful woman cooing over his lovely manners. He is young, and hasn't yet learned the value of silence.

His mother looks at him like she's never seen him before. (His mother often looks at him like that, as the years go by.) "Charles! That's incredibly rude. Apologize."

Charles smiles like he means it. "I'm so sorry, Mrs Fitzgerald."

She says, "don't worry your adorable little head off about it," and she means your step-father's the biggest gold-digger of them all, brat.

*

It would have been better if he could have told his mother about the voices in his head, at the very least, but when he does try 80% of the time it results in her telling his step-father, and she never, ever takes it well.

(90% of the time, they try to arrange for him to be institutionalised. And that's how he first learned to overwrite.)

One of the better times, his mother says, "can't you simply - turn it off? Be normal?"

"No, I really can't," Charles says, and by this point he's almost past being sad when he has to bring his fingers to his temple.

*

Charles is very young when he realises that the only limitations he has to accept are self-imposed. (If he has to nail down a time, it's probably when he first gives his stepfather a hell of a migraine for every abusive thought the waste of space ever had.) It's an excellent thought. Freeing.

He's a bit older when he begins to understand that he has a wider range of choices to make than most, even without the powers.

Everyone grows up a product of their environment, and Charles even more so, because he hasn't always had fine control. In the beginning, he heard everything whether he wanted to or not. It doesn't take him long to develop an instinctive distaste for the adults around him, those who have so much and don't ever think of using it for something beyond themselves.

The utter lack of vision is what bothers him the most.

*

Then one day there's Raven. Raven who shines like a beacon even when he doesn't try to read her mind, who's like no one else he's ever met.

(Charles has never thought of himself as lonely. Not until now, when he finally understands what it's like to have someone.)

"Won't your parents mind me staying here?" She asks, after he's made them both a mug of hot chocolate and found a tin of cookies by skimming the maid's surface memory.

It hadn't even occurred to Charles that his mother and step-father might be a problem.

"I'll take care of it."

She narrows her eyes. "How?"

Any number of ways.

"I can - I can make them think they wanted to adopt. Or that you're the daughter of a relative who put you in their care. I can make them think you were always here, if I wanted to," he says, words stumbling over themselves in his excitement, his eagerness to show off a little.

But maybe she'll be scared, the way his mother was. He doesn't want her to be afraid, so badly that he has to make a conscious effort to keep his mind from reaching out.

"You can do that?"

"And more. You're not - you're not scared."

She is, a little, but it's overwhelmed by excitement, a sense of infinite possibility.

"I'm - Charles, that's amazing. You could do almost anything. Think about it."

All those adults with their airs and graces, and it was a kid who never had a scrap of what they enjoyed who understood the point of having power.

Charles finds himself honestly, properly moved, for maybe the first time in his life. Certainly the first time since he started hearing other people (his mother) think.

*

Neither of them have ever had anyone to play with, and a part of Raven is scared that he'll abandon her as soon as he gets bored. Which is totally silly, and he even tells her so out loud.

"You're my sister now. Unless you want to leave - "

She doesn't, not right now, but giving others options is the sort of courtesy he's had to learn.

"You know I don't. Don't talk to me like I'm one of them."

Charles can feel his smile going crazy at the edges. "Yes, you're right, of course. It's just - I've never had anyone to talk to before."

Her face softens. "Me neither."

*

Raven's fear of his telepathy is a distant ache, mostly subconscious, dwarfed by curiosity and affection and only occasionally flaring up when they experiment with their powers.

Still, it's too much. She should never have to be afraid, not of him.

(He is already intellectually aware that every single person who finds out about what he can do, even those who are different - those who are like him - will feel some degree of fear. They must be reassured as far as possible, at least those whose thoughts matter, whose fears hurt.)

"I won't read your mind any more, not on purpose. Okay?"

It will take effort and feel awful, at least at first, but that's only fair. Raven's transformations take effort too, and she's been the same blonde girl for months now, so she could stay with him.

The way her face lights up makes him certain it was the right thing to say, even without the sense of relief she's projecting. "Really? You promise?"

"I promise."

*

Raven makes things better, like a pleasant gloss over the surface of Charles' world, blunting some of the sharp edges.

(The rest - he learns to live with. If it's the price he has to pay for his power, then he pays it gladly.)

He finds it difficult to conceptualise pure good or evil. What humanity are capable of can barely be plotted on a spectrum at all, and Charles has seen the extremes, lived them sometimes because his natural inclination is to look, and keep looking, and never stop no matter what he sees.

He has developed a degree of charm, which is a handy coping mechanism for the (heady, terrifying) growth of his power.

(They'd been at another one of his mother's parties, and Raven had nudged him in the side and giggled, how are you so bad with people when they all think you're adorable? and he'd said teach me, then. I need to know.)

Thoughts don't tend to be absolutely positive or negative, but there's a flavour to them, a taste difference between the ones he enjoys and the ones that feel like they should hurt. Kindness, affection, desire, even amusement - there's a warmth to them that he's a little addicted to.

It's far easier on his mind if people aren't constantly broadcasting negative thoughts in his direction. So much of him is constructed out of necessity (don't freak people out, make them happy, look harmless), and it's only when he forgets this that bad things happen.

*

There are sometimes girls (and boys, but that's fraught with difficulty, and therefore less common). He has rules, limitations that he's never found to be necessary or helpful in other aspects of life. Seduction just isn't fun without a little uncertainty, after all.

(In his head, it all sounds neat and precise. It isn't. He'd known more about sex than anyone could want to before he was old enough to think about having it, and sometimes that shows.)

*

Moira MacTaggert has a mind like a steel trap. (That expression has never made sense to Charles, not until he met her.) There's scarring beneath the surface, but that's nothing compared to the latticework of lights that make up the core of her personality.

In his more-than-a-little-tipsy state, Charles has to tamp down the desire to reach out and immerse himself in it, just for a little while, just until he knows her inside out.

Raven knows, he's not sure how. Maybe she saw the way his hands balled into fists, all the better to remind himself to behave.

"Well, that's scary," she says, mock-accusingly, when they're back in his flat, packing. "You like her."

"I might." He could sound less like a giddy schoolboy, but it would take far too much effort.

"Come on then, out with it. I know you. What's in there?"

Charles smiles, baring his teeth. "A frustrated visionary."

*

Moira spends most of the trip out to the coast interrogating him. In the mildest, most polite way possible, but there's only so much one can do to sugar-coat CIA training. Charles doesn't mind. She hasn't thought through the implications of his mutation yet, not least because he's still holding a lot back. This is possibly the last time they'll interact normally, one human being to another, without fear or suspicion.

He's going to miss it.

"But what if you slipped up? Couldn't you do a lot of damage?"

What she really means is have you?

Charles shakes his head. "I have complete confidence in my own control."

Controlling a person is about 20 different tasks at once, overwriting even more. Charles had to turn himself into an expert multi-tasker, on a level most would find difficult to conceptualise, before he could do anything as simple as holding a conversation out loud while digging through someone's memory.

For example. The head of the CIA's paranormal division just forgot to be indignant about being compelled into the car. He thinks it was his own idea. As far as he knows, the CIA has no other open projects which concern mutation, although he suspects other agencies of dabbling in the area. He's planning to keep his cards close to his chest where Charles is concerned even now, which is sad and amusing in equal measure.

- and now Moira's wondering what Charles might have been doing to her. He smiles, bright and guileless, when she looks him in the eye, all the while reining in the urge to give her a nudge (the mental equivalent of sitting on his hands) -

She decides that it's pointless to worry.

*

Charles doesn't believe in predestination because he can't do it and be sane at the same time. If every single person only ever acts out the sum of their history, then life becomes an endless series of predictable patterns.

And it isn't that. Not always. He lives in the hope of surprises. The good kind, of course, but sometimes anything will do.

Erik is the best surprise he's ever had (long before he's the worst).

*

Every mind is different - complex structures and straight lines, bright lights and dim corners. He could say they were all fascinating, but that would be a pointless lie. The minds of his mother's useless, rich friends can hardly be compared with someone like Raven or Moira. It would be like comparing a flickering candle to the light of the full moon.

The first time Charles touches Erik's mind, he comes far closer to drowning than he ever would in the water. Erik is bright and cold all at once, and a damnably addictive burn that he wants more of even as he's getting about all he can stand of it.

He's never needed to know someone that badly, and only feared the disappointment of the whole somehow being less than the promise of that temptingly bright beacon. It's too much, and only the knowledge that Erik is similarly affected - that Erik is, in fact, in turmoil - lets him pull back. For now.

*

"You know, your enthusiasm is a little creepy. Cute, but creepy," Raven says, when he comes to wish her good night.

Creepy is what she says when she means you need to adjust your baseline human mask, it's slipping. And she's right. All the excitement of meeting others like them, with marvellous mutations of their own - it's getting to him, and while he's amongst those in the know here, everyone - mutant and human - is more comfortable when they're not thinking of the telepath amongst them.

"Thanks, Raven. I'll keep that mind. Good night."

"Good night."

Their quarters are, in fact, no further from each other than their rooms back home had been. Still, Charles can't help checking on the blaze of lights that make up her mind a few hours later, just to make sure she's sleeping soundly.

*

She's right about him and mutation. To the extent that if they found someone whose only ability was that they could make a coin land the way they wanted it to, he'd still be fascinated and excited. But they didn't just find a guy who could call a coin toss accurately.

They found Erik, who already has enough power to face down a small army and has so much potential for more Charles could get drunk on it.

And the most amazing thing about Erik isn't even his power. It's his vision. His mind may be fractured in the deepest, darkest places, but even the pieces shine brighter than the whole ever could in others. It had taken him approximately a day between finding out there were many others like him to start thinking of the potential implications. Most importantly, he's already wondering what he can do about it.

So when he's made to choose between working for the CIA and working with Erik to find other mutants, the decision is very simple indeed.

"I'm sorry, but - I'm with Erik," he says, and the gratitude he can sense even without digging is ample reward.

*

That evening, before they head out on their first recruitment trip, Charles goes to see Moira. She's been trying to work up the courage to ask him to be a mole in his own team for three hours, and her anxiety is loud enough to be distracting.

"Good evening," he says, one hand against the door frame, smile turned up to 11. He could let her scold him for being inappropriate, he'd act like a terrible flirt, and then she could work her way up to the point. It's not an unpleasant idea. But Cerebro's more draining than he's been letting on. Straight ahead it is, then. "I refuse."

The confusion in her eyes is real, at least for a moment. "Sorry?"

"What the Director put you up to this morning. I won't do it."

Her shoulders slump. "I told them, I told them you wouldn't, but they don't care what I think."

"I know. It's alright."

Charles will have to have a look around the Director's mind, just to figure out what on earth the man was playing at. Is it because he passes well for baseline human? Is there a sign on Charles' forehead that says easily persuaded?

(It occurs to him later that this is no bad thing. Being underestimated is useful in itself.)

*

Erik is surprisingly easy to get along with while travelling. They're following up a lead in LA, which means a very nice hotel to stay in, even if tourist season is forcing them to share a room.

(For a given value of force, obviously. Charles could have gotten them separate rooms if he really wanted to. There was no need, not when Erik was such wonderful - prickly, silent, untrusting, brilliant, and surprisingly funny - company.)

Charles tilts his face into the fading sunlight coming through the window of their hotel room. He's sprawled out against the headboard on the bed that should technically be Erik's, because it has a line of sight to the only door and Charles is accommodating of well-earned paranoia. Erik is sitting on the other side, back ramrod straight, but not as far apart as he could be. If Charles felt like losing a few fingers, he could reach out and ruffle Erik's hair.

"Rematch before bed?"

Erik sets up the chessboard without moving a finger in lieu of an audible reply. It's such a tiny little thing compared to what he's capable of, what Charles will make him into, but the precision and speed, the feel of power casually exercised -

Charles laughs, delighted at the display, the chess match all but forgotten. "You're beautiful," he says, and he's looking at Erik's harsh, handsome features but not really seeing them.

Erik snorts. "I had no idea you were so disgustingly sentimental." He's not entirely unaffected - Charles has been reliably informed that his 'drippy enthusiasm' comes across as both cute and unnervingly sincere, and everyone likes to show off.

"I'm not. Just stating a fact. Don't tell me it bothers you."

"You could stop trespassing in my mind," Erik says, irritable now. He's annoyed by the sheer presumption - something Charles has never been good at disguising - and infinitely more by the sheer invasive possibilities of Charles' power.

(It had taken him about 30 seconds to start getting paranoid about what Charles could do, when they'd first met. Something of a record.)

Charles doesn't pout, as a rule, but it's tempting. "About as easily as you could stop sensing metal."

Not listening would be succumbing to narrow-mindedness. It would be - cowardly. Erik wouldn't approve of that either. Charles lowers his voice, leaning closer until they're close enough to touch. Over the squeak of the bedsprings, he says, "you're shouting. I have ears."

"Yes, but how good is your hearing?" Erik says, his eyes glittering, and Charles' hands ball into fists.

Erik is actually more than a little bit scared, but the excitement is far more overwhelming, a sharp tang so strong Charles might be able to taste it on his skin. Far more tempting than it has any right to be.

"Very."

"Be exact."

In for a penny, in for a pound. "I don't know."

How can you not know the limits of your own power? Erik thinks, as loudly as he can manage with almost no training. Which, as it turns out, is very loudly indeed, and Charles has to fight the old, childish urge to cover his ears.

(He hasn't actually done it since he was five.)

Easily, when one is afraid of the answer.

Could he kill someone by thinking very hard about them? Possibly. If not now, then very probably in the near future. His power hasn't stopped growing since it first manifested.

When he feels capable of meeting Erik's eyes again, the amused warmth in them almost makes him look away again. If Charles had any less control, his hands would be shaking with the effort of keeping still.

Cowardly. That's not like you.

"Thank you," Charles says, out loud, just to have something to do. To hell with it.

Erik is rarely calm beneath the smooth surface, and even less so around Charles, no matter how hard he tries to keep everything else smothered under his all-encompassing drive for revenge. Sometimes Erik feels his scars so deeply that Charles is convinced he has a greater capacity for bearing fear and anger and grief than anyone else he's ever met. And yet he's managed to keep himself from being overwhelmed - better yet, he's been using it for fuel.

All of which is deeply admirable and a large part of what keeps Charles up at night. But. They can still do better.

At the first touch of Charles' fingers on the curve of his cheek, something inside Erik snaps so viciously that he can feel it in his bones.

(On average, and as far as Charles can tell without digging - since Erik objects to that kind of thing - Erik is equally fascinated and repelled by Charles' mutation. The occasional flickers of desire definitely don't match up to the strength of his misgivings. Or at least they haven't, up to this point.

Sometimes, telepathy really is no help at all with these things.)

"This isn't a good idea."

The sight of Erik's hands - elegant fingers, nimble enough to kill a man in the space between two thoughts - suddenly clumsy with the imperative to be gentle, unsure where they might be welcome on Charles' body, moves him like nothing else.

He presses their foreheads together as if he could physically push Erik's qualms away.

(He could, of course. But he won't.)

The tangle inside Erik's head resolves itself into a coherent objection. Do you even know what you're asking? I can't do this half way, it's all or nothing, if you're going to be selective about the parts of me you want then go away now and never ask again.

This particular smile has always been too hungry to be let out in public. (Something about the way it curves his mouth pushes it past friendly and into unsettling.) It took until now for Charles to realise who it's for.

"Believe me, my friend, I want a lot more than that."

*

Being back in the family estate is difficult, at first - there are ghosts lurking around every corner, or at least that's what it feels like - but soon they establish a soothing routine. Training during the day, a game of chess with Erik after dinner.

(After that - the first day, he'd told Erik to pick a room, and somehow they just never get around to having him actually sleep in it.)

Hank is actually a decent chess player himself, good enough to be diverting, but Erik is wildly creative, unpredictable and utterly ruthless, like no one else Charles has ever had the pleasure of being trounced by, and he does it while carrying on arguments about the future of mutant-kind.

He makes the extra effort of shielding during games worth it.

For example.

"Have you given any thought as to how you'll get the powers that be to listen to your pretty sales pitch without first having overwhelming power as leverage? Oh, and check." Erik is damnably attractive when he's smug.

Charles takes a sip of Scotch to hide his grin. "'Political power grows from the barrel of a gun', Mao Zedong."

Immediately, and with not a little impatience: "Out of context. Mao was talking about the importance of centralising military authority."

" - so that it's only ever held by the ultimate political authority, in his case the CCP. Not completely inappropriate for our discussion, but yes, I was cheating a tad," Charles says, his smile twisting. "I'm not a bloodless saint, Erik."

The phrase is plucked straight from Erik's head - he thinks it very, very loudly when he's irritated, after all - and against all odds, it makes him grin.

"Then prove it."

I don't think you want that.

*

In the darkest corners of his mind, Erik thinks he's staining something pure by becoming involved with Charles. He's not completely wrong - if Charles were human he would almost certainly be exasperatingly naive about the goodwill of the world, having had little opportunity to experience the opposite.

But he's not.

Charles hides his stains in plain sight, and there are moments when he can't understand how anyone could miss them.

He could wish for more patience, the better to tolerate being let down, to guard against the disappointments of each waking moment. His faith in humanity has never been endless. What he has is as fragile as the shell of an egg, easily cracking under pressure.

It wouldn't take much, truth be told.

*

Charles has a very vivid memory of one of his earliest teachers very earnestly expounding on the value of mutual understanding to achieving a true brotherhood of men.

(That last had been a bit too Red Army for his school to tolerate. There's a reason - atypically, a reason other than boredom - Charles only remembers one of the man's classes.)

Back then, the words had made sense. Charles' very existence depended upon his belief in knowledge as an absolute good, after all. It was only later that he began to see the dangers.

Forget walking a mile in someone else's shoes. If he tries hard enough, he can (even if only intellectually) understand precisely why any given person might do anything, no matter what it was. Moral relativism is really not very difficult at all.

*

So, yes, he can find it in himself to agree with Erik. Up to a point. He feels it's only reasonable to draw the line at wholesale slaughter.

(He's not being glib about that. Everyone needs some limitations, even if they are self-imposed.)

*

I won. He's still mine, Shaw says, when Charles is holding him still for Erik. He knows he's about to die. He's laughing inside, where only Charles can hear.

Charles cuts him off. In this space, even a mutant as powerful as Shaw can't defy him.

Only for now. I will not rest until Erik is free of you.

His death won't be enough, but if it's what Erik needs -

*

Dying hurts.

*

"I can't feel my legs."

(Couldn't, actually, since before Erik and Raven left, but he'd rather cut them off himself than let his injuries hold the two of them back. There's too much at stake for that.)

Moira is staring at him, guilt an ugly smear all the way down the bright layers of her mind. "Oh my God. We have to - "

"Could you get someone to pick us up, Moira?" Sean says.

No.

That makes everyone stare at him again, pity and horror written all across their thoughts, leaving an acidic taste on Charles' tongue. It's like they've suddenly forgotten what he is, which is so funny he almost laughs through the pain.

The walls are thinner than they've been for a long time, as if every single mind out there in the water exists only as tiny lights in the palm of his hand. It's easy to reach in and snuff out any foolhardy impulses about firing on the beach again.

(He doesn't pause to be disappointed that any of the commanders would think such a thing, or to dwell on the sheer idiocy -

There will be time for that later.)

Leave. Forget.

The strain of so many minds would have killed him, once upon a time, but no longer. Not any more.

After that, getting them a helicopter takes almost no effort at all. Still, Charles doesn't let himself lose consciousness until he's sure the compulsion will hold.

*

Raven comes to see him at the hospital. Like all good fugitives, she sneaks in long past visiting hours and sits in the corner of his (very nice, private) room until he starts awake.

(He's been dreaming of drowning, ever since the beach.)

The now customary surge of helpless frustration at his new, sorry state upon waking passes in record time.

"It's good to see you."

"You shouldn't have told me to go," she says. He's shielding, because it's Raven, but the little break in her voice, and the way her fingers are digging into his arm just above the IV is telling enough.

"I didn't know any other way to apologize."

"We could have helped you! You can't think Erik - you can't think I wanted this to happen."

Charles suddenly has a hard time keeping his smile from cracking down the middle. "It was too late already. Don't dwell on it. I'm going to be fine - just like you."

"Charles," she says, startled.

"You taught me, all those years ago. Remember? I know what I must do."

He waits for her to understand. It doesn't take long. Maybe it's something in his voice, something he's always hidden from view before. She did always know him best.

"Yeah, I did. See you soon?"

Probably not. They're a long way from that. "I'll - call. Is that - will you - "

"Yes. I'll be waiting." Even in the dark, her smile is radiant.

*

For a telepath, Charles can be dreadful at communicating.

When he said peace over a chess board, what Erik heard was nothing like what he meant. He needs more words, better ones - he needs for Erik to know his mind in a way that cannot be misunderstood.

It's a great pity, really, that words are all he has now.

It would require a degree of megalomania greater than even Charles can manage for him to believe himself responsible for Erik's behaviour. He has never - and will never - delude himself into thinking that alone absolves him of the obligation to respond to it.

After Cuba, he had retreated to lick his wounds, or so everyone thought. It was true enough, on a physical level.

Mentally - well.

As soon as the drugs left his head clear enough to think, he'd gotten to work. The only thing to do with a flawed theory was to break it down into individual parts that could be modified until they made sense. Some of Erik's ideas were useful, even if Charles couldn't in good conscience - with any conscience, actually - endorse his own grand theory.

What happened on the beach was a brutal illustration of the world outside his private hopes and wishes, both for human and mutant-kind. If anyone thinks for even a moment that Charles could accept that and move on - if anyone knows him well enough to know -

Raven must. She's always been quicker to understand these shifts than him. When she left, it was to honour her own conviction, but she also left with the certainty that they would fight alongside each other soon enough.

After all, it was she who had taught him that to be born with advantages others don't have and to do nothing positive with it would be cowardly in the extreme.

Charles will not accept the world as it is, any more than Erik ever could. As it is now, the fragile shell of his patience will crack very soon, and nobody, not even Erik, would enjoy what comes after that. No, better that his efforts to make the world palatable proceed with some restraint.

It has not yet come to open war, and will not for as long as he can help it. (For one, they have a much greater chance of victory as their numbers swell. Evolution alone will ensure that.) In the meantime, he will hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.

Erik is not suited to sneaking around. He could do it, for years if he had to, but his true place is in front of the spotlight. The irony is that he'd believed the same of Charles, a belief so powerful it coloured his contempt for the very idea of hiding.

But Charles doesn't believe in hiding. Charles believes in delaying the war until the power balance is more in their favour. (If war is inevitable - if - they must ensure that it will not be a war of extermination.) In the meantime, there is work to do, much of it delicate. Humans aren't the nameless, faceless unified mass they are in Erik's mind. If they were, Charles' efforts would be much easier.

The reasonable face of mutant rights advocacy, that's what they'll call him, and Charles will choke back laughter with the ease of long practice in favour of the kind of smile that's always made certain people want to punch him in the mouth.

Militancy on its own will only achieve infamy for the cause and even more fear on the part of the humans for the so-called mutant threat. Advocacy on its own can only ever be reactionary, dependant on the political fortunes of the day. Alone, they'd work at counter-point, Charles and Erik, never achieving the advancement they both wish for.

Balancing militancy and advocacy gives mutant and humankind their best chance at a positive outcome. For now, it depends on them working separately. But one day -

One day, their paths will dovetail again. And this time there will be no going back. It's not just the best way. It's the only way.

*

What he does to Moira is regrettable but ultimately necessary. He's careful like he's never been before, only scraping away what he must, leaving everything else intact.

It's also not enough.

"Records will have to be altered. The CIA still have too much information."

Charles believes fervently in giving everyone a chance. But just that - a chance.

"How would we do that?" Hank says. "We can't go tearing in to a government facility like this."

He's a genius, probably smarter than Charles, but he still thinks too small, an insecure teenager trapped inside a powerful, wonderful adult's body.

How is not remotely relevant here, and it's time they all understood that about themselves. About him, in particular.

Charles arches an eyebrow. "I don't understand the question."

*

When Cerebro is rebuilt, this will be far easier. For now, he'll have to settle for travelling to the same state for delicate work. Virginia is, in fact, quite nice this time of the year.

Charles brings his fingers to his temple.

*


Three days later, they're back in Westchester. Charles pours himself a scotch in celebration and reaches out, just beyond state lines.

(Erik and Raven stopped hiding quite as thoroughly as they had been, after Raven's visit to the hospital. It's a precious gift of trust, and he's not going to waste it.)

Raven.

I don't answer to that name any more.

Charles smiles. Mystique. Sister mine. You promised to listen out for my call.

I'm listening. He gets a clear mental image of her tapping her foot. Well then.

All information possessed by the US government on mutants - all the information that I know of, at any rate - has been heavily edited. Rest assured of your safety on that front.

Her surprise is a nourishing warmth against his mind. What about the paper trail? We've been trying -

Don't worry about it. My commands were quite clear. I'm certain.

Exhausting work, from a distance. Or it would have been, once.

You brilliant idiot. Thank you. She's always been very good at projecting - for a moment, it's as if she was standing right in front of him in his study, yellow eyes bright and smiling.

You're very welcome, my dear.

A hint of frustration - oh, quite a lot of frustration, actually. Why? Why didn't you agree to go with us in Cuba?

Because I disagree with the two of you. But you must understand -

She laughs. Is this a message?

For you both. Please.

I'll pass it on.

Charles takes a deep breath. Our differences will only separate us for as long as they are useful. Our struggle will be the same one.

*

This isn't the end. It's a new beginning.