Charles is three and sitting on the grass outside the estate the first time his mother explains what he is. She speaks in a low and soft voice, saying that sometimes children are born different, with unique talents, and Charles is one of them. His father's voice echoes for a long moment in his memory, like the echo of then Charles need to keep you safe Charles you're special oh Charles, and this part Charles does remember clearly, his mother's voice like a bell in his mind: "They wanted to take you away, baby. We couldn't let them – you're our darling boy, and we'll always love you."
Charles' talent develops early. As an infant, he cries only if he knows his parents can hear. He waits for their minds to wake to make his own needs known, and his first stumbling words are in answer to silence and mental chaos. By two he projects entire words, accompanied by pictures and sound and feeling, and he stops making sounds, stops talking. His parents, ultimately, must ignore every mental request, even the request for food, until Charles speaks out loud. His first spoken word is 'Dada', the request to be held. It takes his parents, they tell him later, three weeks to break him of the habit of mental projections.
By the time he is five, they allow him to project again, because he speaks in perfect and complete sentences at the developmental level of a ten year old, and he needs to practice.
Charles knows, of course, their fears. He can hear them thinking and planning and researching, but the knowledge of telepathy is often limited to fiction in the human world.
Every other child like Charles lives on Genosha, and nothing comes out of Genosha. They trade with other countries, have their own army, and they are as utterly insular as the American government had hoped when it created the island with the help of five mutants, making it rise from the sea. They pushed every mutant living at the time to go there. At birth, every child in the rest of the human world is tested, and if the test is positive for the mutant gene, the child is sent there to be adopted by its own kind.
Brian and Sharon Xavier bribe the officer and three others, to make Charles' test disappear. They pay eleven million to keep their child.
Until he is seven, he is not allowed off the Westchester estate. They fear for his sanity, knowing that telepaths must learn to block others from their minds. They make Charles practice and practice, and extend his range.
Charles feels it when his father dies of a horsing accident, and when he runs to his mother crying, he says, "Daddy's quiet!"
Terrified and alone, Sharon takes Charles to the city when he's eight, as a test. Hide, she says, hide your mind from theirs. He holds the minds off for nearly an hour, before he screams and loses consciousness. Sometime during that, she meets Kurt Marko, who seems so kind.
That is the beginning of the end.
Charles knows, of course, but his mother doesn't listen. She's lost in grief and loneliness, drowned in alcohol.
First, his nanny, knowing of his talent, dies in a car accident in Florida. The maid/cook, the only other help Sharon and Brian had allowed, dies of old age, loyal to the family at the last, and she went in her bed, in Charles' sleep, for which he's grateful. Charles knows through the lawyer firm that the person bribed at his birth also dies a natural death, lung cancer from years of smoking; the other three don't know the test result was altered, only providing access to the necessary documents.
Charles hears it when his mother begins to struggle for breath. He runs and runs, and that's all, a silent door in front of his face. "You're special," Charles whispers to no one.
By the time Charles is twelve, no one in the world knows he is a mutant.
Charles sits with a dozen others in the office, a non-profit mostly run by college students, walls covered with propaganda and notes about future meetings, carpet flat and stained by years of dirt tracked in, but the minds here, they shine bright.
" – maybe they want segregation, maybe they don't," Alicia is saying, sitting on the floor with the rest of them. She's an artist (drawings flow into life in her head, beautiful and abstract sometimes, other times messily accurate; she's even drawn him in her head, eyes intensely blue and the rest of him a bare sketch). She's blond, younger than him, but most of these are, still in college while Charles has his PhD in genetics. He can't properly specialize in genetic mutation, of course, because data on that has been mostly cut off since the sixties and fear of Genosha means that the DNA profile of infants handed over is not recorded, but he learned everything he could; evolutionary biology was a logical minor. "But they should be given the option instead of confined to a single island!"Alicia finishes in the space of Charles' thought.
Mutant Rights Organization, with the perhaps misleading subtitle of, Mutants Are Humans Too. This is probably the only place Charles begins to feel normal; Oxford had one of these, too, and Charles was a member there, the faint accent he received from his mother brought back to life in those years. Of course, their knowledge of mutants is entirely theoretical. Charles has thought about telling them, telling someone, telling anyone, but it dies in his throat every time, fear gutting him and taking his breath away. His parents never failed to tell him that he had to hide.
"I think if they wanted to, they could," Charles says. "Not that I'm disagreeing, but the abilities that were recorded before Genosha – it's not like humans could do much to stop them, I think."
Daniel snorts and nods. "Like the mutant that made the whole damn thing rise from the ocean."
"I wonder if they have population control," Sarah says. "I mean, they're confined to such a small area."
"It's about the size of Japan," Daniel points out. "And think about how compact people can live. Like here." New York City, the estate just hours away.
"The ones who started it, I bet they really indoctrinated everyone into thinking segregation was a good idea," Sarah says, "and that's why they refuse to fill the seat at the UN or create embassies."
"Or they can't stand the hate and speciesism from the rest of us," Alicia says, throwing up her hands. Most humans are ambivalent about mutants, supportive in the theoretical sense and frightened by them in the practical one.
It goes on like that, arguments that begin being about the ways mutants are repressed by their very absence from the rest of society, that in turn circle around into theories about what the Genosha state is like, what culture the mutants have, if they're like humans or not. Fifty years is enough to develop into a unique culture; Charles wonders about it often, if he could live there. It's heated and loud until the meeting officially ends, and Sarah comes behind Charles as he gets up, locking her arm around his, and he smiles.
They collect letters at the end, to be sent to Genosha, reviewed by who knows, letters of support. Sarah hands in one, casting Charles an expectant look, but he shakes his head. Charles has never written one, hand shaking the first time he put pen to paper.
Sarah pulls him out into New York, minds abuzz and loud, but Charles shields very well; he never even takes the shields down in a city this size. Smaller places, he can let the thoughts in, hundreds at a time before he becomes overwhelmed, but not here.
"You think they're young, don't you?" Sarah says, tilting her head and looking him in the eye. "You're only three years older than the oldest of them, you know."
Charles is twenty-five. "Three years is a long time," Charles says. "And I don't think they're young. I like that they want to change the world."
"But you don't think it can be changed?"
Charles smiles, a little sadly. "I think our governments fear the day it does."
"You think they actually manage to spy on the place? I mean, given all the mutants, a human would stick out, right?"
Charles shrugs. "I think there are other ways of spying on a people. You know they have secret satellites that I'm sure take thousands of pictures, even if they can't get electronically."
Sarah hums in reply. He's known her almost two years and he likes her; her mind is quiet and organized, and she's smart. She's not bothered by some of Charles' odder behavior, the need to be alone paired with an intense responsiveness to the emotions and thoughts of others. Someone on a cell phone passes Charles, and the man is having an argument with his girlfriend, full of hateful thoughts, and Charles' can't help flinching, raising his right hand to his temple as if to silence the noise. When he masters it, Sarah is looking at him.
"You okay?" she asks. "I know you don't like crowds."
"Yes," Charles assures her. "I'm fine."
Her smile isn't quite convinced, and he very carefully does not read her thoughts. It's not that he lets the thoughts that flicker through people's minds usually bother him; everyone thinks something mean and cruel and nasty eventually, every once in a while. Most of the time, he can sense the sincerity of the beliefs behind the rest of the person, the loves and lovers and best friends, and to someone, that person is special and loved.
It was with the greatest of care, during his Oxford years, that he began to practice with his telepathy again, more than the blocking he learned as a child. To reach out and pull a memory, to alter an intention without the person being aware (little things, always little things; Charles learned every perfect grade since he began school at thirteen, and there's a reason he's never been with anyone). He remembers his parents telling him he had to practice, and so he does, in remembrance of them, telling himself, special, not a freak.
And he plays a good human.
Charles stays at the Westchester estate another month, the empty rooms both painful and comforting. Sarah does not go with him; she's not even aware the place exists. His parents put it off the map, hidden within other holdings, as a safe place for Charles should the worst ever happen. He couldn't understand their fears then, but he can now. Genosha has, in theory, the right to Charles if he's ever discovered, but only in theory; only if they know of him. It would be easy for the American or British government to say that Charles, as a mutant pretending to be human, should be given in their care.
Charles reminds himself that he's fairly certain he could escape any facility he can think of. There's a reason he practices that's entirely practical. As always, his mind turns to Genosha, but the fact remains: he has no way of getting there. Airplanes that enter their airspace are shot down without warning. Boats are turned aside. Maybe he could force his way in, maybe not.
He chooses to live the life he's given.
When he's in New York again, he meets the rest of the group on the small office, Sally at the desk, the others all surrounding a table and talking intently to one another.
"What's happening?" Charles asks.
Sarah's dark head of hair pops up, brown eyes bright with fury. "HPG is staging a protest in Time's Square tomorrow."
Charles stops. "I see."
HPG is the Human Protection Group, radical and convinced mutants need to be exterminated, for the sole reason that mutants supposedly plan humanity's end, convinced they're the next stage in human evolution. Charles has thought the part about being the next stage is already true, but science and history tells him that that will happen anyway, eventually, especially if mutants and humans ever interbreed. They're also convinced mutants live among humanity in secret and operate in human governments. Charles knows very well that's not true; he's in the position to know, and he's never sensed the presence of another mutant in his entire life, no matter how far he's let his mind go.
"Are you counter-protesting?" Charles asks, bringing himself back to the present.
Alicia nods. "We're meeting up with other college groups all over the state. Joining us?"
Charles hesitates. "I'm not sure."
Sarah pulls from the group, and meets him, taking his hand. "It's okay," she says. "We'll all be there."
Charles tries to smile.
It's the day of the protest. Charles doesn't need to be here; there will be plenty of others, Sarah understands his uneasiness with crowds (he remembers screaming and screaming), and the HPG tends to make Charles feel ill by their mere existence. He's got enough stupid anxieties without adding to them.
It's a chilly day, the beginning of fall. This early in the morning, his breath fogs the air. Sarah's linked her arm in his as they walk on the street, and the roads nearby are already shut down, mutant rights organizations mingling with anti-mutant ones in a steam of people. Charles knows that he's really not surrounded by any more people than he already is, in the middle of New York City, but somehow, the convergence of everyone thinking similar thoughts begins to leak through his shields, like they're a reverb hitting everyone else in the right way, the echo growing instead of fading.
Then oddly, piercing: Have to find them, have to find them, they're everywhere and this will prove it. Thank the CIA. A flash of something blue and in a test tube, and the mind fades into the general turmoil.
He realizes he's stopped, and Sarah is staring at him.
"I – I think something is going to go wrong," he says.
She frowns. "It's just a feeling, Charles. The police will be there, if things get violent."
Charles exhales. "Right, lead on."
There's thousands packed into the square. Police have set up barricades to separate the two groups, clearly expecting trouble. Charles joins the mutant rights side with Sarah, watching and listening to the HPG shouting out slogans, lifting signs Charles doesn't bother to read. Him and Sarah separate, and Charles joins the ones in the back silently protesting with their presence. Some amount of time passes like that, Charles hearing the shouting and screaming up ahead, but choosing not to confront the other side.
Until he hears Sarah, in his mind, a shout of pain and anger. He flinches violently, and surges to his feet and through the crowd in seconds. He finds her on the ground, police around her and dragging off a man, and he realizes she must have been hit. She sees him, and the police start to stop him from getting near her – suspecting he's a troublemaker – and he pushes them away with a thought, reaching Sarah's side.
"You okay?" he asks, helping her to her feet.
She licks her lip, a drop of blood forming. "Yeah. One of 'em broke through a barrier." She lifts her cell. "Got it on record, though," she says with a half-smile.
Charles smiles back, the noise of the crowd rising around them –
And then blue dust.
"Mutants are here!" he hears the other side shout, and then things start to go weird.
His vision doubles, and he stumbles, Sarah barely keeping him upright, coughing. But he's not coughing, she is, and
His shields waver and then drop.
He feels himself go to his knees and scream, and then the mental noise drowns out the physical. There is nothing but noise, no sensation, no sight, no touch, just the tumult of thousands of voices, and he fights, he fights, but his last shield collapses around him.
He hears, he feels, and what he feels turns into a torrent, him a conduit.
grab his hand, grab his hand, see that you see that, what's happening? mutants, sing, Angela, police, he, I, her coat, pain, bolest, Schmerz, pain, ból, dolor, pain –
"What?" Erik says after a second, suddenly staring sightlessly at his desk, hard-wired phone to his ear. "Are you sure?"
He hears Frost sigh over the line. "He just took out half of New York City with his mind. Yes, there's definitely an omega level telepath in the States. It took four minutes for his mind to shut down and for him to pass out completely, four minutes that about four million experienced intimately. Get out of your basement office and look at the news." She hangs up.
He stands up from his desk, ignores the walls covered with endless newspapers and names from the human world, and is out of the office and going for the elevator to reach the main ops center for Intel. It's fairly large, about fifty desks lined up in neat rows, screens covering one wall, and he finds that the room is almost full – seventy or eighty mutants in the room, most standing, Jessie from computer technology flicking her spines in and out in a display of emotion. There's a low murmur of voices, all watching the screens, covered with US news stations. Erik waits and listens.
" – the NYPD has confirmed that the telepath is in police custody, and expected to be transferred for federal custody at an undisclosed time. Again, if you're just joining us, a mutant who seems to be a telepath has attacked New York City and has inflicted grievous mental harm to several million New Yorkers, at our current estimate. It is unconfirmed that a blue powder was released at the same time, and the connection right now is unclear. We'll keep you up to date as we learn more information -"
The reporter's face switches to what looks like security camera footage. It's of Times Square, immediately recognizable. There's humans shouting and gesturing, police in riot gear separating what appears to be two separate groups, and then suddenly, as if their strings were pulled simultaneously, everyone on screen collapses. The clip flashes to some other public area, and shows the same thing happening – hundreds instantly knocked to the ground by the sheer power of the telepath's mind.
The reporter begins talking again, and Erik tunes it out. A mutant, one not caught at birth or by Genosha's Intel. Intel covers everything outside of Genosha itself, all the world's governments and their plans and intentions regarding mutantkind. Erik works in the active part, that takes part in missions; his mutation isn't visible, but is incredibly powerful, so he's perfect for this kind of work. He's perfect for this.
Erik stalks up to Moira, who's watching the screen with a frown in between glancing at her computer and listening to the phone pressed to her ear.
"We need to get him," Erik demands.
Moira looks over, not surprised to see him and curiously unbothered by the interruption. "Yes, I understand that – Erik." She covers the mouthpiece. "The Prime Minister has agreed to talk to the US State department, but it's not looking good."
"He's a Genosha citizen," Erik says. "They can't refuse."
"They're trying to claim that he's a spy, and so not accorded his rights," Moira says. She holds the phone even further away. "Which – fuck that. Go get your team and get ready."
Erik pauses, mind catching up. "This blue powder – what is it?"
"We suspected the CIA was developing something that would destabilize mutant powers, but I think it's pretty clear they didn't do this. It's far too sloppy, and they obviously didn't know that telepath was there, or they'd have taken him in unseen, not in a debacle all over the world news. Still," and she frowns. "We'll have to deal with that. But not you, and not now. Go." She returns to the phone call.
Erik nods and leaves.
Intel comprises of a building that looks squat from outside, only seven stories reaching into the air, but more than thirty below ground, with enough shielding to survive a nuclear attack, like all the government buildings in Genosha. Safety against the bigotry of humans. Erik feels nothing but disdain for the people that thought his so horrific they needed to be caged, even though they've turned Genosha into a paradise for mutants, a civilization better than anything its citizens have seen on human television.
The blackout goes only one way, of course. The human governments have tried again and again to infiltrate Genosha, recognizing that now the country is as strong as all of theirs put together. Fear.
Of course, it's justified.
Erik snorts, and heads for the gym, knowing that's where Logan will be. He enters, sees Logan sparring with someone – apparently he's managed to talk some new idiot into it, because no one else enters the ring with him anymore – and shouts, "Logan! We've got a mission, suit up."
He walks away without bothering to see Logan's response, but hears a distant snarl.
Raven's easier. He finds a phone (no cells allowed, for security reasons), calls her number and says, "Raven. Meet us at the blackbird. We've got a mission in the states." Her ability to be anyone will be handy, if they have to do any extensive breaking in or need to persuade someone to talk … without violence.
He calls Hank, their pilot and backup. "Meet us at the blackbird."
"I know. Moira called. I –"
Erik hangs up. He walks, smacking the elevator controls that will bring him to the surface, and to the adjoining airport for Intel. He reaches the surface, leaves the elevator and the main security center of the building with a nod to the guards, Dorak giving him a sharp, toothy grin as he passes, teeth sharp as knives. Within minutes he's at the airport, and with a flash of his ID and a retinal scan, he's allowed into the hanger that contains the blackbird and their suits. The suits are half-ways bulletproof (not that Erik needs that, with his ability), can deflect most knife attacks, and masks their heat signatures. Hank's invention, of course, and Erik will never know why he's permitted to go on missions when he can do that and still stumble over his words when faced with a pretty girl. Or, well, almost anyone. The guy should be in a lab, but then again, Hank's saved him more than once with his quick ability to hack into anything.
Deep inside, Erik feels that familiar thrill – he's been on missions to the states before, of course. Usually intelligence-seeking ones, very rarely anything purposefully violent. The human world has never managed to turn a mutant – the utter lack of communication going out helps with that – but the reverse is most definitely not true. Genosha money is valid money anywhere. But this one, he's expecting something entirely different. It doesn't sound like they're going to be able to get in and out unnoticed.
The result, though - this time, he's going to get a resource Genosha can use to protect itself even further. An omega level telepath; they've never even discovered one that strong before, so Erik isn't even sure how strong he would be or the reach he would have. Telepaths are rare – Frost refuses to go on outside missions, or he'd use her to find this one – and their skills greatly sought-after. And if the Project goes forward, an omega level telepath will be perfect.
Erik knows about the tensions and secret projects the human governments are running. They suspect what Genosha is up to, even if they have no proof. They see Genosha's power, and they see the logical result of power.
If the telepath is resistant, Logan will come in handy, being generally resistant to manipulation. But given that the human government is no doubt ready to start experimenting, if not brainwashing for their own goals, he has a feeling this telepath is going to cooperate. He should. Genosha is and always should have been his home.
The four of them meet in the blackbird. Raven flickers into her blue form as a sort of greeting, then becomes a mirror of himself, and then back to her true nature, naked as always, and she gives him a short smile as she straps herself in. She doesn't wear a suit; it compromises her ability to a small degree, one she can overcome, but it's enough of one she gets by without it. Logan is already grumbling at the sleek black suit, which they'll have to cover with general human wear when they get there. Hank's suited up and in the pilot's seat already.
He looks back at Erik, who's strapping himself in. "Moira's trying to pin down the telepath's identity," he says. "According to sources, he's already being moved into federal custody, so we're probably going to have to break him out of prison."
"Noted," Erik says. "Let's go."
They'll get any information they need on the way.
Erik is four the first time he understands there are humans in the world, that there is a world at all beyond Genosha.
That is the time he is told about his human mother.
About a fifth of mutant children come from the human world, a simple matter of math: the human world numbers almost seven billion, and the mutant world numbers around thirty million. They are a fit and sure thirty million, however, a mutant's average education by highschool compares to completing college in the human first world countries. Less than four percent of mutants live in poverty, a number far lower than the almost fifty percent for humans. There is no discrimination on race, gender, sexual orientation, or any of the other minor differences that humans obsess over; such differences are unimportant when your next door neighbor might breathe under water, be able to become invisible, or have scales. Mutants are, in every way, superior.
Shaw assures Erik that discrimination based on the force of a mutant's power is fading, and anyway – this is not a problem Erik will be faced with. He demonstrates his talent at ten, metal objects whizzing around the house, and Shaw laughs.
Edie Lehnsherr is not important, compared to all that.
Erik always knows that Shaw isn't his biological father, and Shaw has him call him by his name his entire life. Erik is initially bothered by this; other adopted children truly are their parents', but that is not the case with Erik and Shaw. Erik reminds himself that his father is an important man, one of the First Five, and so of course their relationship is different. Though Shaw lacks an official position, all the news stations carry his every word, and his influence is great.
At fifteen, Shaw begins to bring Erik along to Intel, and it is one of the few times he feels connected to the man. The organization sprawls bigger than all the law enforcement communities combined, a defensive effort necessitated by the size of the human community in comparison to the mutant one. It is the army and navy and air force, linked together by information.
Erik loves it.
He chooses not to go to college; he extends his abilities so he can lift a thousand tons of metal, so he can feel the current of the electromagnetic barrier that extends around the earth. He is an omega level mutant, and all that his father could have wished for. Erik smiles and joins the service, often trouble like his father is, bending the rules to suit his way, with the ease he bends metal. He becomes an overseas operative while his father's influences twist around his life. He's important and unimportant, powerful and yet a cog in something greater.
Erik wouldn't have his life any other way.
Charles' mind awakens to others first, their thoughts first: Keep him out, keep him out, and need to do a CT and MRI on his brain, maybe figure out how he does it, and fucking weapon, shit what he did I'm scared should've killed him, and is he moving?
He latches onto the mind that thinks that the last thought. Adam Mulligan, and he's a corporal in the army, two sisters and he just broke up with his girlfriend. Underneath all that, more information lurks: the sight of millions of New Yorkers collapsing, having seizures, seven deaths reported – Oh God, Charles thinks. I'm a murderer. Grief and horror rises, and his mind tries to repress, tries to deal, and so he thinks: no, he isn't. He didn't do this. This was done to him. He repeats it to himself, until he starts to believe it.
He is in control. He is in control. Whatever caused his shields to collapse is no longer affecting him. Survive, my darling, his mother's voice says, and he obeys.
He opens his eyes, and Adam does nothing, standing at the door and staring sightlessly, assault weapon in hand. Charles looks around the room, colors slightly different from what he saw through Adam's mind. He's in what appears to be a hospital room, all white walls and a single door, and he's attached to all kinds of medical equipment. His brainwaves are being measured through wires attached to his temples, his heart rate is a steady beep, and his hands are tied to the side rails with plastic ties instead of cuffs. There's an IV in his hand, something clear dripping into it.
Adam blinks, reaches for a knife he's got tucked in his boot, and reaches forward to cut the ties. Charles is riding his mind, keeping the consciousness down; he's noticed nothing wrong.
He looks further into Adam's mind, and realizes they're still in New York, in a hospital that the feds have taken over. He reaches just a little further, and knows it's the FBI, NSA, and CIA. Adam doesn't know why the CIA is here, but Charles has a good idea.
He pushes Adam's mind, just so, and Adam collapses, neatly unconsciousness.
Charles takes a second look at the medical equipment. He's free, but the moment he rips the sensors off, alarms are going to rise.
So he extends his reach. There's hundreds in the hospital, thirty-seven doctors and eight-four nurses, the rest are patients, guards, military personnel and alphabet agencies (Charles ghosts over them, and finds images and thoughts of Charles cooperating with the government, a counter to Genosha's power, and he finds others thinking of him as an experiment, something to be studied, and he shudders; none intend on giving him to Genosha). Their minds are greedy and grasping, dark and without compassion while staying alert and focused on their goals. They all think Charles should still be unconsciousness, rendered so by drugs. The rest are worried and afraid of the patient in room 207. They plan on moving him soon, within the hour; it's been too long already, they're thinking.
Charles doesn't know why he's awake for long moments, before he digs into various minds, ultimately finding a female doctor's mind and realizes that before, they had him on such heavy sedation that even his unconscious mind was still, and the doctor – her name is Mary – she took him off of it. Further in her mind, and he knows that she supports mutants rights, that she thinks Charles will be harmed. He pauses, eyes filling with tears and his heart with gratitude, and then he carefully wipes that memory from her mind. If they question her, she can answer truthfully. And they can assume it is Charles' fault, not hers.
He's starting to get a headache, but he knows what he needs to do next. He has to run and hide, and to do that, he has to keep everyone in this hospital still.
The great murmur of their voices rises like white noise, and he latches onto each mind and into their reactions, stilling the go-between of the body and mind.
He rips off the wires from his body, and hears the machine next to him go wild. He more carefully removes the IV in his hand, blood spilling when he slides it out, and a few drops hit the floor.
Be still, still, still, he thinks. Repressing even the slightest responsive twitch, and he prays he's not hurting them; he's done this before, but always in small amounts, for split seconds, not so many at once.
He's half-naked, covered only by a hospital gown, and when he raises his arms, he sees multiple puncture marks. How long has he been out?
His feet are unsteady when he gets up, his body trembling uncontrollably.
When he leaves the room, he sees nurses frozen in the brightly lit hall. They're in various positions, mouths open as if in the middle of speaking, hand out to grasp a clipboard, and the two other guards at his door in military uniforms, staring ahead. There's no patients on this floor; the others floors are being evacuated, and he knows that while he could dig further, he should move quickly.
He finds scrubs and puts those on, and then carefully raises two fingers to his temple, the gesture that helps him focus.
Just like that, he walks out of the hospital, people statues around him. Doctors, nurses, men and women in suits, structured minds intently focused on Charles Xavier, and still as stone regardless.
When he gets to the streets, there's a split second of confusion from the minds around him, and then he projects nothingness: the absence of his presence. People blink, and then move around him without seeing him. He projects, and he knows he's already projecting to hundreds. He shivers, walking down busy sidewalks and streets full of cars without really knowing where he's going. Hide and hide, but where?
Then, like a beacon, the image of the Westchester estate, his parents' gift to him.
Charles wavers, and then realizes that despite his manipulation, the government probably already knows that he's left the hospital. Minds he can control, security cameras he cannot. Over long distances, Charles is helpless to stop them.
He inhales and exhales rapidly, thinking. Waiting, and they're going to catch him if he doesn't move.
The cameras are connected to a computer system. If the feds are hooked into them, then what he needs to do is find the feds and cut the connection from there. He starts walking again, looking around for security cameras looking over the sidewalks, wishing he could follow the lines. He takes a quick glance at the minds around him, and then he lets go.
There's a rush of thousands of minds, then millions. They are all lights on the face of the world. He touches one and shuts himself off from it, and does that again and again, a thousand minds in a second, housewives and lawyers and criminals, all irrelevant. He has no idea where they are, other than that they are close – as minds, they exist as beacons of existence, the rest a flat gray.
Charles has never reached the limit of his powers, truly. Never had a distance so far his mind could not cross it, never found a mind closed to him. He's never tried.
Lights upon the world, and he's moving undeterminable distances, finds the minds of leaders and generals and dismisses them all. He finds the mind of technicians and computer specialists, and rolls through their memories and places a thought, a suggestion: take out the cameras. Take out the computers, shut everything down. Release a virus. Rinse, repeat.
Light is piercing pain when his eyes flutter open, and he realizes he's collapsed on the ground, blood running from his noise and glistening wetly on the sidewalk. He gets up, still shaking, and realizes that even in that state, he'd kept those around him unaware of his existence. They pass around him, calm and unconcerned. He thinks, Even in the modern, intellectual mind, the instinct to survive drowns out all else. Even ethics, and he thinks of how many minds he has violated today, how many he injured and killed before. Guilt rises again. He breathes deep, the body calming the mind.
It does not take him long to find clothes and a car, from people who won't miss it for days, especially with a mental suggestion to forget.
On the road to Westchester in a stolen car, he finally lets himself sob in grief and terror, for himself and of himself.
The blackbird is fast, but not fast enough.
An hour before they're due to land in New York (undercover, with faked plane information and passports, as well as supposedly from France, not Genosha), Hank perks up in the pilot's seat. "We've got a message from Intel," he reports, glancing back.
Erik's been expecting this. At the very least, they should have information on the identity of the telepath, and hopefully more than that, a location on where he's being held. Or else Erik is going to have to tear New York City apart. Not something he objects to, per se, but messy. Erik gets up from the back, going past Logan, who's dozing, and Raven, who's watching him attentively, and gets in co-pilot's seat and puts on the headpiece. "Lehnsherr here."
"He escaped," Moira says. "And they don't have a clue where he is. Good news is, though, we have a name. Charles Xavier. I'm sending a file on him to the onboard computer."
Behind where the pilot and co-pilot sit is a fully outfitted computer with access to Genosha satellites and a line to Intel; Erik's already reviewed all the map detail and accounts they'll have access to while tracking the subject. Xavier. "Noted."
"Signing off," Moira says, and then she's gone.
Hank looks over. "This is going to complicate things, isn't it?"
Erik frowns. "We'll see. I'll brief you when we land."
He moves to the back of the plane, accesses the computer with his thumbprint, an eye scan, and a password.
Charles Xavier was born in England to Brian and Sharon Xavier, with dual citizenship with the United States. Brian was a nuclear physicist, apparently brilliant and wealthy – family money, for the most part. He died when Charles was seven, and the mother died when he was twelve. He had a step-father until he was seventeen, when Kurt Marko died in a lab accident. An older step-brother, Cain, joined the military and there's no recorded interaction between the two of them since. There's a note about a conflict over the assets, mainly that Kurt tried to get as much of it as possible in his own name, but Brian Xavier was smart and had most major assets transfer directly to Charles. Cain came away with nothing, and Charles has a total net wealth of almost three hundred million.
There's no mention of anything untoward or strange with Charles' mutant test, but Erik's guessing there was a bribe somewhere. A thorough one, to escape all the fail safes for just such an event.
As far as Xavier's life goes, there's Harvard for undergrad, Oxford for graduate, and at twenty-four Xavier has a PhD in genetics, with a minor in mutant genetics – mostly theoretical, Erik knows, because of the Genosha blackout. Medical records, as much as they exist, seem benign and indicate nothing strange, except a series of four ER visits from the ages of twelve to seventeen, mostly broken bones with a recorded reason of falling off a horse, falling down the stairs, a minor car accident, and a fall. Lots of falls. Erik frowns.
He eyes the photographs, one clearly a driver's license, and another, something a friend probably snapped. He's got his arm around a dark-haired young woman, and he's smiling, blue eyes bright and dark hair vaguely curly. He looks young.
Then he snorts when he gets to memberships. Mutant Rights Organization, really? Though he supposes that explains Xavier's presence at the protest.
Moira gave him no information on the blue powder. Erik's going to have to assume it's not weaponized properly yet, or that the CIA will be cautious in using it, given what happened in New York.
Erik briefly pictures his own powers becoming unstable. There'd probably be a lot more dead than the few who mostly died of accidents as a result of Xavier being exposed.
"Well?" Raven interrupts his thoughts.
Her yellow eyes are intent and calm when he looks over. "I'll summarize," he says, and does, kicking Logan to wake him up first, earning himself another snarl.
"Lehnsherr," Logan growls.
Erik smiles serenely, and gives them the information.
By the time they've landed, Raven's turned her form into the blond girl. She'll keep that form unless circumstances dictate otherwise for the entirety of the mission, for the sanity of the rest of the crew. Hank's feet are hidden by shoes, and Logan's bone claws can also stay hidden.
"Hank," Erik says. "I want you to fly the plane to another airport."
Hank freezes in the process of rising from his seat. "Why?"
"I have a feeling we'll be moving, and I don't want to be trapped into going somewhere this trackable."
Hank nods. "Remote airstrip. Got it. I'll transmit the coordinates to your communicator."
They've all got one, designed by Hank. Half-cell phone and half-computer, they only work if in direct contact with the skin, with DNA testing, though they like simple phones. Genosha's network has never been compromised, and never will be.
"I want you to do something else," Erik says. "Contact Moira and have her team see if they can track down any holdings Xavier might have, that he might run to. Ones that at least seem to be off the grid."
Everyone except Raven puts on civilian clothing, and then they're gone.
Along with a short biography, Erik has a decent list of everyone Xavier knows, from a combination of online networking (Xavier himself is not on them, oddly enough, but others are and note his presence) and class lists. He figures the first place to start is with the Mutant Rights Organization members, if he can get hold of them. It's entirely possible they're being held by the police as witnesses, but there's no way to know until they get looking.
The first two are busts, with no one home.
The third, Alicia Saem, is home. She opens the door a crack.
"I –" Erik begins.
The slams it shut, and he feels the door's metal lock engage.
He turns, but both Raven and Logan have managed to control their expressions by the time he does.
"Charming," Raven says. "Let me try."
Erik backs up and waves her on.
She shifts into Xavier's body.
"Raven! You can't –"
The door opens again, and then – "Charles!" She swings it wide open, and with Xavier's smile, Raven pushes in. "Are you all right?"
Raven turns blue.
"We need to talk," Erik says, Logan looming in the background.
"Oh my God." Alicia stares at them. "You're mutants."
Then she hugs Raven, who lets out a tiny squeak of surprise.
"You shouldn't have revealed us to her," Erik snaps as soon as they reach the street, speaking low, though he's sure no one's bothering to eavesdrop.
"She works for a mutant rights group, Erik. She wasn't going to cooperate with authorities or reporters, and it would take too much time figuring out who she knows and going in as that person," Raven says. "Besides, it worked, didn't it?"
"We're not supposed to let the humans know we travel to their countries," Erik says curtly.
"Oh, like you follow the rules," Raven says derisively.
"Got you there," Logan drawls.
Erik glares at them both. "Moving on."
"So, Sarah," Raven continues. "Hiding at her sister's place outside New York somewhere. I find it a little strange that the person most likely to know where he is, he's only known for two years."
"Could be a loner," Logan points out. "He's been hiding his entire life, that much is obvious."
Erik brings out his communicator. "Hank? You landed?"
"Before you speak," Hank says over the line. "We just found something out."
Erik's eyebrows quirk up. "Yes?"
"The NSA and CIA had their information networks hacked. By their own people."
Erik exhales. "Don't fuck with a telepath," he murmurs.
"Yeah. I'm guessing he got in their heads and planted suggestions intended to disable them, prevent them from following him, wherever he's gone."
"Smart." He pauses. "We've got a lead on where he could be heading."
"What do you need?"
The sister's house is a nice brownstone, a row house in a nice neighborhood. Hank found the location in a matter of minutes, accessing databases and cross-referencing and a lot of others things Erik wasn't really listening to. What's important is that Sarah ran, after Xavier's collapse and being taken into custody. She correctly guessed that Xavier was a mutant and that she would be a prime target in terms of her knowledge of him.
"Now," Erik says to the two of them. "No showing of powers until I say so, got it?"
They nod with a compliance Erik isn't sure he should believe.
"Right," and Erik knocks on the door.
A woman that must be the sister opens the door. "We're not police, we're nothing official. We're friends of Charles, and we need to talk to your sister," Erik says.
She freezes. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Erik stares at her for a long second. "Please."
She swallows. "Stay here." She closes the door and locks it; Erik can feel the tumbler turn.
"Ain't coming back," Logan mutters.
"Be quiet," Erik says without turning around. They wait almost a full minute before she comes back, opening the door and silently moving out of the way.
The home is nice, quaint in the way well-lived in homes are. He finds Sarah – familiar from the photos he's seen of her – sitting in the living room, hands in her lap, twisting them and staring up nervously.
"Who are you?" Sarah asks. "You're not the government. If they knew where I was –"
"Thank you for seeing us," Erik says, and he reaches out a hand. She looks confused, then jerks when the coins in her jeans smoothly and silently lift out of her pocket, turning into a leisurely swirl of quarters, pennies and nickels, over the palm of his hand. "We're Charles' family."
"I didn't know," she whispers. "I didn't know he was a mutant. He must have been so lonely, so scared, I can't imagine … Charles doesn't deserve this. He didn't – he wouldn't do that to all those people."
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Raven shift from blond-haired girl to her natural blue form, then back again.
"I'm not a circus show," Logan says.
Erik gives him a dirty look he knows will do no good. "Sarah, we know," Erik says. "We know that the blue powder reported on the news made him lose control. But that doesn't matter now. We need to know where he is. He's being hunted by your government, and he's not safe."
"There's just – there's just one place, something Charles mentioned once. He said he grew up outside New York, that his parents kept him there until he was eight or nine, homeschooled him and everything. But when I asked him about it later, he denied it – I don't think I was supposed to know."
Isolation, so he can learn to block out others, because they knew he was a telepath. "That it," Erik says, gut instinct. "Thank you." He breathes in for a second, then he says, "You must never tell anyone that we came here. That mutants were here. Do you understand?"
"For Genosha. For Charles. Yes," Sarah says. "I understand."
Charles reaches the Westchester estate in the middle of the night. The place rises up as majestic as ever, and in another circumstance he would find his family home menacing (the way he usually does; menacing and home, comfort and yet not, still driven to stay here once a year, for memory). This is the place his parents died and Kurt and Cain Marko lived, but all he feels now is relief. He parks the car in front – not even bothering with the garage – and his key opens the door.
The place is dusty and musty, because Charles never felt it was safe enough to have a cleaning service here. Most of the place is locked down, only part of the wing that has Charles' room and the kitchen being usable, the rest is covered in sheets and plastic, waiting for people that will never come.
He goes to his childhood room, a place filled with wood panels and a huge poster bed, still the simple, plain blue from his youth. Bookcases fill the walls, some copies of what's in the library, others collected here over the years. He pulls out the covers, and lies down. His mind keeps him awake for mere minutes: have to run, have to run, they'll find this place eventually, and then he's out to the world, asleep.
It's formless and dreamless for a long time.
He's beginning to wake up naturally when something else – someone else, begins to whisper. Close enough for Charles to hear while he has most of his shields up and active.
He's been found.
He jerks into a sitting position, breathing rapidly. Three minds. He dips in, searching, and withdraws almost immediately. The minds – they're not normal. Different, a different light, and one is half-closed to him, and the others are maintaining shields of some kind. Not very strong ones, not insurmountable, but there. They are not CIA, not FBI, not NSA. He senses purpose and his own name, meandering along thoughts of the house.
You're there, aren't you?
"What?" Charles gasps, recoiling.
He hyperventilates for about five seconds before he gains control of himself. He gets up and pulls on fresh clothing from the closet, stuff his feet into sneakers, and then very slowly opens his door. He checks the minds; they're moving up the stairs.
He moves down the hallway in the opposite direction, knowing there's another staircase, one he doesn't usually use. He rushes down them, and he doesn't even know what he's thinking – who are they? Why is he running? Should he be running?
He stops when he gets outside, sun bright and glaring to his eyes.
He trips over his own feet, and then whirls, one hand raising to put two fingers to his temple, and he reaches out the same time he sees the man.
"Charles –" Erik.
The man – Erik – stops, surprised, as if he heard that. He's completely unfamiliar to Charles – ginger hair, blue eyes, tall and fit in black, and his mind with that strange glow. His mind. Charles falls in, falls down the rabbit hole.
He fills Erik's mind like he's never done with anyone else; he gets a flash of almost everything, a stream that has little stops and dips where Charles' mind focuses. Images of other people fill his mind, people with scales and spikes, people that glow in the dark and change what they look like, people that turn into diamond and have claws. And deeper, there's Erik. Erik Lehnsherr, adopted by Shaw, and he moves metal. He feels metal, he feels the metal in Charles' shoes and the zipper his jeans, and he feels the electromagnetic field around all of them. And deeper still, his mind says, come home. He's not afraid of Charles at all. New York falls, and he thinks, Beautiful.
Erik is suddenly much closer, a hand on Charles' elbow, warm. "I can feel you in there," Erik says. "Find what you're looking for?"
"You're from Genosha," Charles says blankly. "Aren't you?"
Erik smiles. "Yes. We came here to find you." He pauses, tilts his head slightly, leans in slightly. "You're not alone."
Not anymore. "Not anymore," Charles says, because he knows it's true, and he feels giddy from relief.
"No more running, okay?" Erik says. "We've got a plane that will take us home – takes us to Genosha, where you belong."
Two people come up behind Erik. The man with the strange mind – and the claws, he realizes, image a match to one he'd seen in Erik's mind. The other is a blond girl who should be blue; as if in answer to Charles' thought, she flickers into it, blue scales, bright red hair and yellow eyes that look on him in interest. That's the telepath, she's thinking, I wonder if he's reading me right now.
Mutants – his absent family, the one he's never met. Charles realizes he's never going back to this house, ever again. This will be the last time he sees it, the last time he's in the house his parents left for him. But he has no choice; he has to move on.
Charles turns back to Erik and nods. "Okay."
Erik instructs Charles to take anything that he cannot replace. Erik's watching him, expression flickering between curious and amused as Charles moves around the house in between stopping and blatantly staring at all three of them - Erik, Raven and Logan. He knows it's stupid and rude, but he can't help himself – mutants. Actual mutants, his own kind. He's giddy and terrified. He's always been the one hiding, but he's also always been the one with a secret power that can overwhelm anything they can do. That isn't true anymore.
Charles picks six books, his father's journal, and nothing else. Erik blinks, nods, and takes the duffel from Charles without asking.
Then something tingles. Charles stops where he is, fingers to his temple, and reaches out. He exhales shakily, and when he meets Erik's eyes, the man is already alert. "They're here."
"How many?" Erik asks, still calm.
He senses around, dear God, a hundred. Their minds are focused, razor-sharp – all military. "They're about a mile away, coming down the road. A hundred or so."
Erik sighs. "I knew this was going to get messy."
"If they've got that many headed this way, then they're probably got others in reserve," Logan says. "They've probably started shutting down airports around here, as well. We're not going to be able to sneak out."
"Then we won't," Erik says.
Charles offers, hesitantly, "I could, I mean, I think I could handle the hundred or so headed this way. But I'm not sure what to do about the others."
Erik shakes his head, thinking. "What's your range? How far can you hear and manipulate thought?"
"Um, for certain? A hundred miles or so."
Raven mutters, "Holy shit."
Charles glances at her, confused, but returns to Erik, who's staring at him thoughtfully. His mind reminds Charles' of the soldiers – sharp and calm, but there's a swell of emotion behind it that's distinctly Erik.
"How did you use your power to escape? Did you plant suggestions or did you kill them?"
Logan interrupts, "We need to go."
Erik waves a hand for him to be quiet.
"I – no. That would be murder," Charles says, shocked for a second. "I implanted commands for their technical personnel to sabotage their computers."
"Good. What I want you to do is plant time-delayed suggestions, if you can. Just like before. Go as far as you can, and pick'em at random, not just techs, everybody. They won't know who they can trust and it will cripple them." With that, he takes a cell phone out of his pants' pocket. "Hank? Get off the ground and start flying stealth, they've found us. The road to Xavier's place, go there and we'll meet you."
"What are you doing?" Logan asks.
"If they've got men on the ground, they've got air support. I'm going to take them out, and for that they need to be close." Erik throws Logan the keys to the SUV in front of the house. "You're driving."
They pack into the car, Erik and Charles in the backseat, and Erik turns to Charles and says, "Go."
Charles takes a deep breath. He reaches out for the sea of minds. The estate is fairly remote, and he has to stretch out to an uncomfortable degree before he finds the kinds of minds he's looking for. Erik is right – he sees whole groups of soldiers coming this way, on foot, by vehicle, and by air. They're not doing half-measures. He picks out random minds and slips in, as quietly and unobtrusively as possible. For this to work, it's got to be seamless, unseen until it wakes. He slips into memories of being trained on equipment, memories of using it, and he alters the intent, switches what's there to the opposite.
Then he lands on another light, and does it again. And again.
Charles, "Charles, stop," Erik's voice comes. He opens his eyes blearily and Erik is staring at him. "That's enough. How many you get?"
"Dozens," Charles says.
"Good." Erik exhales. Charles still has a light contact with Erik's mind, and he can feel Erik stirring something within, focusing on something, and Erik's staring out at nothing. There's a fierce grin on his face, and Charles dimly feels a pulse of anger and exhilaration from him. "Two big chunks of metal heading this way."
Erik holds out a hand, palm out, and then he abruptly snaps his hand closed into a fist.
Charles feels a sharp, there and gone flash of pain from somewhere else, and then he hears a loud noise, a crash. He ducks his head to look out the window and finds that two helicopters have folded into themselves and are bouncing, having hit the ground at such a great speed that they tear huge rents into the ground as they travel, and then the SUV begins to outpace the wreckage.
Charles swallows, feeling sick, and then stretches out to see if there's anyone else close. Farther, but yes, he looks through the pilot's eyes and sees the SUV moving along the road, a very distant black spot.
Land the helicopter, Charles commands. Land it and live.
The pilot does.
"That you?" Erik asks. He doesn't wait for a reply, raising the cell phone again. "Hank. ETA?"
"Stop," Raven calls, and Logan slams on the breaks. Erik's got the door open and is dragging Charles through it before he can take a breath.
A loud whine pierces the air, and Charles sees a plane that looks like a blackbird begin to hover, and underneath the smooth black opens into a ramp. Erik's got Charles by the hand, holding him tight, and he pulls Charles through the blinding and deafening blast of air, into the blackbird. He dimly sees Logan and Raven following, and the ramp begins to close.
Before it does, before they can do anything, the plane tilts and they all fall.
"Sorry!" an unfamiliar voice yells.
"Strap in!" Erik screams at Raven and Logan, and then he pushes himself on top of Charles' body and somehow holds him there.
The plane gives a slight jerk, and then the plane is tilting yet again, and with a grace that astounds Charles, he sees both Logan and Raven grab hold of the straps and hold on with incredible strength as the floor becomes the ceiling, Raven's body shifting her feet and hands into something that can grip on, Logan enduring the roll.
The plane rights itself, and Erik's scrambling off of Charles' body, grabbing with enough force to bruise as he forces Charles into a seat and does the straps. He gets into the seat next to him and straps himself in, and when Charles looks, Raven and Logan have already managed what Charles couldn't himself. Raven gives him a wide smile, while Logan looks vaguely constipated. Charles can feel himself be pushed to the side and pressed into the seat by several gees, the airplane apparently still evading something.
"Hank?" Erik calls out.
"Going high into the atmosphere," Hank says loudly, to be heard. "And entering stealth mode again. I took out one and lost the other fighter jet."
The plane continues to rise, and then Charles feels it level off, the plane's speed beginning to level. He gasps for air, and Erik gives him a concerned look.
"Are we safe?" Charles asks at last.
"Yeah," Erik says. "Yeah, we are. They'll be looking for us on radar, but they won't find us."
"Oh my God," Charles mutters. "I can't believe that just happened."
Raven laughs, looking genuinely amused. "You knocked out a few million people, escaped from the entire US government, and a little rescue bothers you?"
Charles stares at her for a long moment, then a hysterical giggle rises, let loose for a few second before he stifles it.
Erik calmly claps him on the shoulder. "Good job," and he says it without a hint of irony.
After about an hour, Hank – the pilot – tells them they can unstrap themselves. They're over international water now, heading for Genosha. Charles can just barely see the sea from the back compartment, and his fingers fumble around due to unfamiliarity, but he manages to get himself free. He watches Erik rise next to him, stretching, and Charles sees a thin strip of skin between his pants and turtleneck when he raises his arms over his head. Then Erik turns to look at him.
"You okay?" Erik asks.
"Yes," Charles says after a second.
"Because I’m pretty sure you're broadcasting low-level anxiety," Erik finishes.
Charles blushes and quickly checks his shields, strengthening them. "Sorry."
"Quite all right," Erik says, settling back down in the seat next to Charles.
"You're not afraid of me," Charles blurts. At Erik's momentarily silence, he adds, "I mean, of all the mutants people are usually afraid of telepaths most." He once had a teacher hold an entire discussion on the danger of mutants, telepaths in particular. It was a known mutation, one of the few, so it got a fair amount of coverage.
"I knew a telepath growing up," Erik says easily, "one of my father's acquaintances, and I've worked with her since, so I know a certain amount of … leakage happens. You hear things whether you want to or not unless you're shields are strong, right?"
The idea that someone else could understand that freezes Charles for a second. "Yeah. Like thoughts want to get in, and I have to keep them out."
Erik nods. "I've never met a telepath as strong as you, though."
Charles frowns. "Am I strong?"
A look of surprise flashes across Erik's face.
"I guess you wouldn't know," Raven interrupts. "You know we classify a mutant's power? The strength of it, how dangerous it is?"
"I didn't know that," Charles says. "I know the humans did for a while, but …" He shrugs.
"Omega-level is the highest classification of power and danger," Erik says. "You're an omega-class telepath, Charles. The strongest in the world."
Charles rears back a little, taken aback. Surely not. Yes, he took out millions at once, but there was a sheer accident. He doesn't even know if he can do that consciously, and he suspects the accidental occurrence nearly killed him. It certainly felt like it at the time, first hearing the thoughts of so many and then uncontrollably projecting that in turn, like a horrific feedback loop.
Erik's watching him. Erik's always watching him, and he's known the man for two hours. A flash of memory, of Erik's mind, and he feels like he's known him for much longer than that.
"You'll be accepted in Genosha," Erik says, misreading Charles' silence. "People like us keep the mutant world safe, and you'll be loved for that."
People like us, Charles thinks. Omega-class mutants, or people in Genosha's military? Or both? Charles realizes he knows nothing about the world he's entering. He doesn't know his rights, he doesn't know how their culture works, he doesn't know how their civilization is run. What if they have a monarchy? Good God. Charles is British, but not that British.
"What is your – our – government like?"
Erik frowns for a few seconds. Raven crosses her legs and looks at Erik expectantly. "We have a democracy," Erik says at last. "We have a Senate, and a Prime Minister. Intel, what we work for," he gestures at Raven and Logan, then Hank in front, "serves as the army, navy, foreign intelligence, the whole lot."
Charles takes this in. "How do you deal with mutations? I mean, how do you handle how dangerous they are?"
Erik moves to speak, but Raven does so first. "You don't understand," she says patiently, Erik leaning back. "You're still thinking like them. Is a man dangerous because he can outthink you, or outrun you, or any of the myriad other natural abilities people have? Is being able to punch someone out with one blow an ability that needs to be stifled and controlled? What we are, what you are, is your nature. Your ability is a beautiful thing, and yours, Charles."
"You're only dangerous if you choose to be," Logan points out.
"Discrimination because of your nature is wrong. If someone breaks a law, hurts someone, it's dealt with." Raven shrugs. "But we don't make the assumption you will because you can. Our differences are a strength."
"Mutant and proud," Erik says.
"Mutant and proud," Raven echoes, with the sound of a rite.
Charles looks at Logan. Logan shifts and then sighs. "I'm old, kid. Older than Genosha by far, and I grew up and lived in the human world before mutants were even known." Charles takes a second to wonder if he has a secondary mutation, longevity – if he can live that long, he must have something besides those bone claws. "But you don't need to worry. Genosha's a good place. More of the government watching you and shit –"
"Governmental oversight," Erik briefly interrupts.
"Yeah," Logan says with a short, hard stare at Erik. "But mostly it's used to keep information from getting out and reaching the human world."
Charles pauses, laughs a bit. "You know, some people think that you're keeping them out because the mutant world is so horrific, you don't want others knowing."
"No," Erik says, a spark of anger in his eyes. "We keep them out because they'd like nothing more than to destroy us. You'll see, Charles – Genosha's a far better world than the human one could ever be."
Charles responds by looking at Erik closely, remembering. The flashes he'd seen of Erik are puzzles. Flashes of Erik and Shaw, one of the First Five, moments of time in a house, an apartment; images of other mutants walking freely on the sidewalk, physical mutations proudly displayed, invisible ones shown with the delight of a child making flowers grow on the sides of streets; and underneath it all, like a thrumming pulse, his powerful belief in his own kind, in his country, and in himself. No doubts.
"I believe you," Charles says at last.
Erik smiles at him, something more gentle than the one he saw during the attack, one like when he first met Charles.
"We've answered your questions, so I'm curious: how on earth did you manage to hide what you were for so long?" Raven asks, perfectly casual.
"I was isolated as a child, since I was an infant, really, when my powers developed. After that, it was just – necessity."
Raven waves a hand. "But I mean, how did you stand living among people who hate and fear you? Without wanting to, you know … make a couple million collapse."
"I don't blame them for their fear," Charles says. "People fear what they don't understand. Just look at the advent of science and the conflict with religion. And that fear …" Charles pause. "I killed people. Accidentally, but it happened. People died."
"Humans trying to kill you died," Erik says immediately.
"But I –"
"You grieve for their deaths? They wouldn't grieve for yours."
"They were afraid. Look at what I did!" Charles snaps. He clenches his fists.
"That wasn't your doing – you were attacked, Charles. They attacked and feared first, any way you look at it."
Charles has to admit that's true.
"What humans have done to mutants is more than fear," Erik adds. "They've acted on that fear. Was it right when those first people who reached for science were ostracized or killed?"
"Not all of them are like that," Charles says. "The mutant rights group I was with. I think they'd have been delighted to meet a mutant."
Raven coughs. "Oh, they were. I even got a hug."
"They're how we found you, along with some judicious use of county records from Hank," Erik says. He considers Charles a moment. "My boss is human."
It takes Charles a moment to catch on, which is a moment far longer than it should have been. "The mutant gene isn't always passed to children, is it?"
"Not always, no," Erik agrees. "The humans in Genosha are, in their own way, also mutants, because they are rare and special for their ordinariness. My boss, Moira, is one of those, born to parents that could, respectively, fly and shift color like a chameleon."
"And they're treated normally?" Charles asks.
"They aren't excluded for being what they are; they can't help it. Some speciesism exists, but it runs counter to formal law," Erik explains. "Trust me, any discrimination that humans face in the mutant world is almost non-existence compared to what mutants face in the human world."
"The genetics must be fascinating," Charles says after a moment.
The young man piloting – Hank – turns his head to look back, and Charles can feel the shift in his thinking. "We've got entire universities that study genetics," Hank says. "I'm sure they'll be happy to talk to you, once you're debriefed."
Whole universities? It hits Charles that he can study his true desire all he wants, now – mutations, how they're formed and how they are passed onto the next generation. The theoretical work he'd done in mutant genetics was no doubt paltry and ill-informed at best. "I would like that," Charles says. Then, "Wait. Debriefed?"
Erik sighs, gives Hank a look. Hank shrinks back into the pilot's seat wordlessly. "Debriefings occur when an adult mutant is brought into Genosha," Erik says, a hint of irritation that he's having to explain, but most of it is not directed at Charles. "Your kind of situation happens rarely, usually with third world countries that don't have as reliable testing."
"Why is a debriefing necessary, though?"
"Because you didn't grow up here. We want to know that … you're with us, your own kind, not them." Erik adds, "We've grown strong and powerful because we've maintained our security nearly perfectly. The human world knows nothing about us, and we'd like to keep it that way."
"Why?" Erik looks surprised. "Because that's the way we stay safe." He pauses. "We've never attacked them, Charles, and yet they create things like what affected you, that blue powder that destabilized your power. We number so much less than them, Charles, and so in every way we must be ready for attack."
"You sound very militaristic," Charles says after a few seconds.
"Yes," Logan agrees. "In many ways, Genosha allows less civil rights. Certainly less privacy."
"It's necessary," Erik says, and the look at Logan tells Charles this is a discussion they've had more than once. "As you well know."
Logan does not reply.
Raven does. "And our privacy is given gladly, for most. You don’t need to worry, Charles. Erik promises."
A quiet snort from Erik – not a disagreement, but certainly something that says Raven is speaking where she shouldn't.
Charles decides on, "Thank you."
It doesn't take long for Charles to fall asleep after that, head lolling onto Erik's shoulder, a warm weight, even though keeping still is giving Erik a crick in his neck. Erik figures Charles must be physically and emotionally exhausted, particularly if there's remnants of drugs in his system. Erik doesn't know entirely how Charles escaped, but drugging a telepath to unconsciousness seems like a reasonable precaution to take. How or why he'd been wakened up, Erik is sure he'll discover during Charles' debriefing.
He entirely intends to be the one doing it. It isn't protocol, but he's fairly certain he can convince Moira to go along with it. Charles has already formed a bond with him, and he's gotten a decent look at Erik's mind and still trusts him, so the debriefing should go better with Erik in charge. Even if that's not really the reason why Erik wants to do it.
Charles is intelligent and powerful. Perhaps somewhat afraid of his own ability, the result of being raised in a culture which fears such individuals, but there's a strength there as well, that allowed Charles to fight back against an entire government, long enough and thoroughly enough to be rescued.
He wonders, for a moment, if they had not found the Westchester estate, if Charles could have let go like he did in New York, and wipe them all out. At least knock them out.
He suspects the answer is yes. Charles' has a drive to live.
Erik looks over at Charles, notes he's drooling slightly in his sleep. When he looks up, Raven is giving him a smirk, and for an instant flickers into Charles' body, blowing him a kiss.
Logan snorts, and doesn’t bother to hide it.
Shut it, Erik mouths.
Then he settles himself to go to sleep, knowing that soon Logan and Raven will join him, and in likelihood one of them will take over for Hank in the next few hours. Hank is the best pilot, of course, but all three of them could fly the blackbird in a pinch, and just watching the autopilot is well within their capabilities.
Erik closes his eyes.
They wake Charles fifteen minutes from Genosha. He jolts awake even though Erik's nudge is fairly gentle, blinking wildly and stretching out erratically (Erik's thinking about a woman with dark hair, Logan's thinking about food, Raven is a curious mix of sensations, in her blue form) before he can focus. "What?" he asks, delayed.
"You want to take a look from the co-pilot seat?" Erik asks.
Charles sits up. "Oh, please."
Erik waves him forward. Charles is there in a second, sitting next to Hank, who's talking to what Charles assumes is tower control.
From this height, Charles can clearly see the coastline and the city on the edge of it. It vaguely reminds of him of New York, in the sense that there are high buildings, but the resemblance ends there. These buildings are entirely different – they're not just tall, they're squat, and nearly all of them are cylinders instead of rectangular boxes. Charles spends several seconds trying to figure out why, then Erik leans over his shoulder and murmurs, "They're reinforced as heavily as bomb shelters are. They're cylindrical because of less wind resistance, in cases of extreme weather. We've got a few mutants who can control that, and in case of an attack, it's something that could be used against enemy aircraft."
"You plan for attack in the design of your cities?" Charles turns his head to meet Erik's eyes, disbelieving.
Erik nods. "Most buildings also have ground to air missiles."
Charles turns back to the glittering city. He hesitantly raises two fingers to his temple, and opens his mind. He can feel them, a giant buzz of thought lifted into the air, and like Erik and the others, they're minds have that strange glow. Mutants really do feel different than humans do. Charles had suspected as much before ever meeting one, but it was another thing entirely to feel that difference. Interestingly, he noted much more individuality in the thoughts – and realized that if mutants can have the ability of animals, the abilities unknown to man, their minds could very well also be inherently strange and new.
"It's amazing," Charles whispers.
"You'll see more," Hank promises, expression almost shy.
"Where are you going?" Charles asks, curious.
"There's an airport next to Intel," Hank says. "We'll be landing there, and you'll be transferred to that building, probably."
"With me," Erik notes.
"I can't wait," Charles says, and he means it.
They have to strap back in for landing – a precaution, Erik assures him, Hank's only crashed the blackbird twice – so Charles can't see the building that Erik off-handedly referred to as Intel. He has a feeling that Intel is a lot larger than Hank and Erik's casualness would suggest, considering how far they clearly go to defend their country, that Erik said it encompasses the entire military complex. Despite that, he feels curiously excited – exhilarated, really, which melds into a strange kind of terror.
He's not alone. It's a heady thought. A scary thought, because this place is so unknown to him. He knows so little.
He barely feels it when the plane lands, the touchdown is that gentle. Erik unstraps himself and places a hand on Charles' shoulder. "Wait here. You can get yourself out of this, though." He gestures at Charles' straps.
They all leave the plane except for Hank, who seems to be performing some kind of checklist.
Erik comes back up the ramp, says, "Let's go. Do you need to sleep?"
"I – no, I'm fine."
"Good. We'll debrief you now, if that's all right."
"Yes, of course," Charles says, wanting to be cooperative.
He follows Erik out of the plane. The airport isn't as big as Charles would have thought, from what he can see of it. They're in a hanger, large enough to hold the blackbird and several other planes that seem to be of a similar make, and while Charles can see the sky and some of the airport through the open hanger doors, they don't head that way.
Erik takes him to two men that appear to be guards, wearing uniforms. There's also a woman that looks about thirty, with dark short hair and dark eyes, in a trouser-suit that looks slightly odd, like it's not from the current era. Differences in culture, Charles realizes. One of the guards smiles at Charles, revealing razor-sharp teeth. Charles can't help staring, and blurts, "How fascinating."
Erik huffs a short laugh. The guard just grins wider. Erik gestures at the woman. "This is Moira MacTaggert, my boss."
"Nice to meet you," Charles says politely, and holds out his hand.
She takes it. "I've been reading a lot about you. And seeing your biography on the news." She pauses at his blink. "Someone in the US government leaked your identity to the world media."
Charles doesn't know what to think of that. "Oh."
"Erik will be debriefing you. I'm sure it's quite useless considering your ability, but you'll be blindfolded from this point on. I'll ask you not to read any minds, as well," MacTaggert says.
"I understand," Charles tells her. "Genosha is very … safety-conscious, I suppose."
She raises an eyebrow. "You're quite right."
Erik takes a blindfold from one of the guards and wraps it over Charles' eyes.
Charles deliberately dampens his telepathy to the extent that he really is blind, far blinder than the blindfold would render him. Someone's hand takes his, and it takes him a long moment to realize it's Erik. He holds on tighter than he needs to, and Erik squeezes his hand in response. "Don't worry," Erik whispers.
Charles is led through various doors and has to pause at several points. He's fairly sure he went past something that scanned him, and down an elevator. Or maybe up. He's not sure. Erik takes off the blindfold and the first thing Charles sees is a featureless corridor. Erik moves past him and pushes a door open. Charles glances at him, sees the calm expression on Erik's face, and something about that lets Charles' heartbeat settle a little.
The room looks vaguely like an interrogation room, one table and three chairs, two on one side and the last on the other.
One of those chairs is filled. A blond woman, dressed entirely in white and eerily beautiful. She looks up at Charles and smiles.
Charles jerks, physically reacts. She was in his head. Not just thought loudly, projected. "You're a telepath," he says.
She nods. "I'm sure you're more than strong enough to keep me out, but for this meeting, I'm asking you to keep your shields down, so I can read your responses." She adds, "Anything personal I will not reveal."
Charles blithely drops his shields. He walks forward without hesitating, sits opposite her. "Do thoughts try to get past your shields too? Were you always a telepath? I know some mutants, their ability doesn't develop until adolescence sets in, and I've always wondered –"
She laughs. "Slow down."
Erik sits next to her, looking amused, but he doesn't interrupt.
"To answer your questions – yes. The minds of others are always somewhat invasive for a telepath, though there aren't many of us to compare our experiences to. My abilities developed when I was about ten. Any other questions?"
"How does Genosha deal with telepathy? I've heard some theories that reading the minds of others is illegal here, or that all telepaths have to work for the government to root out human sympathasizers, or that telepaths always go insane, or that there has to be a code of ethics, or –"
She lifts a hand, and Charles stops himself. He can feel his heart beating fast, is aching to reach out and see what her minds feels like.
Go ahead, she says. I won't let you access anything classified, and I have a feeling we won't get anywhere until I answer a few questions. It's quite overwhelming to meet another like you, isn't it?
Yes, Charles breathes. He reaches out hesitantly, and instantly feels the icy structure of her mind. It's not like a non-telepath's at all. There are layers and layers, but unlike a normal mind, they're rigidly divided, composed of unique facets, like a diamond. He can see into her mind just as far and as clearly as she wants him to. He touches the shields without pressing, not wanting to be rude, just curious.
She waits, calm and amused, and he catches flashes: so young, how did he hide so long, helpful to have another to lighten the load, still looking, Xavier?
I'm a bit speechless, Charles responds, feeling giddy.
She laughs, again, musical. Your mind is not. Then, Thank you for keeping your mind open. Non-telepaths find that so difficult, even if they can't correctly shield.
Charles ponders that.
To answer your earlier questions: no one is prevented from using their ability, even those abilities that inherently require a second person. But telepaths, like others with similar abilities, are not allowed to profit from what they hear, or cause harm except in self-defense. Revealing secrets and such-like isn't illegal, but terribly rude. Most telepaths, when discovered, undergo training with another telepath to instill control and ethics.
How many of us? Charles asks.
She hesitates, and he has a feeling he's asking about information not freely given out. On Genosha, not many. Telepaths are rare. There are less than two dozen, and most are not like you and me, their ability is limited enough to be useful in fields like medicine, but not as an offensive or defensive tool.
Charles wondered what it would have been like to have that, to have a teacher, and not his own desperate adaptations.
"Can we get started?" Erik interrupts. "Or are you still busy having a telepath lovefest?"
I heard that! Charles says. "I heard that," he repeats.
"I'm sure you were meant to. Frost?" Erik raises an eyebrow and waits, staring at her expectantly.
She waves a hand, indolent. "We can talk later, Xavier. Erik, go ahead."
Charles deliberately tries to keep his mind open to her. He can feel her touch, icily calm, but she's mostly keeping to the outer layers of his mind, his conscious thoughts rather than memory.
"We'll start at the beginning," Erik says. "What's your earliest memory of your mutation?"
Charles' mother holding him, hearing the endless echo of her and his father's thoughts, and not understanding why they can't answer him in his head. He realizes then why Frost is keeping to that conscious level – that's all she'll need, Erik's questions guiding her into his mind. He takes a deep breath and answers, "I was very young, I'm not sure how young, exactly. I wasn't speaking yet. I – I was hungry, and I projected the need for it to my mother."
"Is that the earliest your talent developed, or your first memory?"
Charles frowns. "My mother said much later that she suspected it began when she was six months pregnant or so. She'd get strong impressions of sensation, mostly, not any thoughts, but she didn't connect it to me at the time. My mutant gene was a complete surprise to my parents."
Erik nods. "All right. What was your childhood like?"
"Isolated," Charles admits. "First out of my parents' fear that my mutation would be visible, so they kept me and a trusted nanny and maid, and no one else." Memories of that time, happy and his control fairly easy then, with so few minds to grapple with. "That ended when I was around eight, however. My mother began to bring me to larger and large crowds, because she feared that if she didn't, I'd never learn to shield, that I'd never be able to live in the outside world."
And then Kurt and Cain, and Charles represses the memory automatically.
There's a brief thought from Frost that Charles doesn't catch, but Erik tilts his head thoughtfully. "What about your stepfather and stepbrother? Did they know?"
"No," Charles says. "Mother never told them, and I became much better at hiding it by that age."
Erik pauses, here, and Charles doesn't know why. "Charles, I'd like you to read me," he says abruptly.
Charles frowns, but stops his active shielding from Erik's mind. He sees it clearly and almost immediately – Erik knows, or at least heavily suspects, that Kurt and Cain were abusive towards him. Charles can't help his mental twitch away, and he's probably physically reacting, because Erik says intently, "This is to understand you, Charles. That's all. When you go over your entire life, you can't hide the big things, do you understand? Things like … feelings, intentions towards others, towards Genosha and towards humans."
Charles places his hands on the table, notes they're shaking slightly. He has very good control of his mind; he is good at repressing thoughts he doesn't want to have. Read me, Erik said.
Bright and warm, that's Erik's mind. He can feel it now and remember it from when they met, not even a day ago and yet so long. "Yes," Charles says at last. "I didn't entirely know how to defend myself, at first, especially when my mother died."
Erik at twelve, waiting alone in a house. Charles at twelve, hiding. He sees that unfold in Erik's mind, and God, Erik is matching him.
Charles keeps going, Erik's blue eyes – that hint of green somewhere in there – staring at him, "When I was sixteen, that was the first time I used my telepathy to defend myself. Kurt came in drunk, and caught me in the hallway, and I was terrified of being hit again. I made him forget I was there."
Erik at sixteen, uncomfortable hormones and a public school, all schools in Genosha are public, and he's powerful, his mutation known at that age, but when he lifts all the cars in the parking lot, his peers are jealous and he walks home alone, metal whizzing over his left shoulder in a fast circle, and Shaw is there, telling him, You're perfect. You're perfect, Erik is thinking at him. You did the right thing.
"I learned to do it again and again, until Kurt got really suspicious about the fact he'd be somewhere and then forget why. Thought he was just old at first, and then, I don't know, he thought I was a freak. Too quiet, when I was home and not at school." Charles stops. "Then he died." It was wonderful. Freeing. An army of lawyers, newly capable of serving just Charles, made Cain disappear. After that, strict control of his emotions made it easier to control his fear response, and eventually even that faded, and Charles learned to mostly let go of those times.
"What then? Why'd you choose your course of study?"
"I wanted to know what I was." He thinks back. "All through my childhood, and what little of it I had with my parents, I learned everything I could about mutants and Genosha. But there was so little to be known, and so I went to the next best thing – genetics, evolutionary biology. And it made so much sense to me, how nature works and evolves, and I was smart enough the work was easy."
Erik never went beyond highschool. He honed his power instead, while Charles hid and attempted small things, little things to keep in control and keep in practice, waiting for the day he can no longer hide, while expecting it to never come. Erik learned to hold a gun, and then learned his mutation allowed so much more, and ever since he's carried knives, or loops of metal around his wrist that could be transformed into a razor-sharp shard that he can move anywhere. Through anyone.
"I found out more about mutant rights activists at that stage in my life. Even joined them, when I got enough courage to do so, and some of them were still afraid, I could feel that, but some were just curious and wondering. They thought mutations were stunning, incredible. So I kept going, in developing my powers. I never pushed it as far as I think I could have, picked a mind states away and altered it. They'd done nothing to deserve that kind of … experimentation, I thought." He pauses, thinks of the hundreds of minds he'd consciously chosen to effect in the past two days. The millions more, without his will.
Erik, at the same time, learns how much mutants are feared. All Genosha citizens know, of course, but Erik has his first mission truly out in the human world, and he sees the fear everywhere. He sees the hate and bigotry and calls for destruction of Genosha. He sees it, and he seethes. He is not content with hiding.
Charles is, and his next words, like the words flowing from before, are in answer to Erik's thoughts, and he knows Frost is listening, knows she's witnessing the exchange, but that's all she does: listen. "My parents were so desperate to keep me, to keep me in their world. I couldn't hate them for that, couldn't hate them for a life I had no concept of. So I just kept going." He pauses. "I don't hate them, Erik. Not the way you do."
"You don't have to," Erik tells him. "I knew before you walked into this room that you're one of us, not just with your genes, but in your mind. You know what you are, you know what we are, and it's beautiful to you, isn’t it?"
Erik's thought echoes in Charles' mind – New York falling, and Beautiful. "Yes," Charles whispers. He's left the human world, and he doesn't regret it. All that knew him for what he was are gone, and new people have come into his circle.
Frost's presence in his mind blossoms, and he feels her follow the threads of intent in his mind, decisions and feelings linked to memory. He doesn’t fear her, any more than he fears himself, because he knows, he knows that she's aware of what minds are like, the pettiness and the love and the hate, mixed and stirred in personality and memory. He knows there's nothing to find, but the honesty already present in his words.
Frost, feathery and cold as her name, withdraws. "I'm satisfied," she says. She rises to her feet and leaves the room without another word, just a single thought, sent: Later, Xavier, and then she drifts away.
Charles raises his shields again, at least partially, sees Erik twitch in reaction as if he feels Charles leaving his mind.
"You can stay in an apartment paid for by the government, or you can stay with me, while we figure out your citizenship and what, exactly, you'll be doing for a living." Once Frost talks to those in charge, and Charles is released.
Work for Intel, Erik's thinking, just like he's been thinking all along. But it's not a forceful thought, more like inevitable, to Erik. Charles doesn't know what to think of that, but that decision doesn't need to be made now.
Charles nods and smiles, and suddenly realizes that his hands are reaching out, flat on the table, and Erik has his the same way, palm down, inches from touching Charles. Charles says, "I'll go with you."
Erik smiles back.
Charles ends up having to wait for half an hour before he's allowed back up (not blindfolded, so he's able to note the direction), given a temporary ID, and set loose with Erik. Most of this occurs in some kind of waiting room, and Charles sees very little of the building. He imagines most of it is classified, and while he's curious, he obeys MacTaggert's request not to read the minds of the people here. He does wonder, though, why he's trusted enough to be here in any kind of conscious state. Frost might be able to tell if he was digging around, but he's not certain how far her awareness extends.
Still, he doesn't have a problem waiting.
Erik hands him his new ID, and Charles ends up examining it carefully. It's got a photo, one Charles clearly did not pose for, his name, his age, various numbers he can't identify, a note which specifies it as temporary, and an address he doesn't recognize.
A hand appears and pushes his hand down. "The address is mine," Erik says. "Let's get going."
Charles gets his next surprise in that there's no parking that he can see. Erik instead guides him through what appear to be several public terminals that link with an underground subway, far cleaner and brighter than anything Charles has seen in New York. Erik stands, ignoring the seats, and holds onto a rail. Charles copies him, eyeing the other people in the subway. About half look almost normal, and about half have clearly visible mutations – green skin, purple hair, spikes that extend from the shoulder, and someone keeps shifting into different colors, an effect that extends to the clothing he's wearing.
A few people give him odd looks, and he ends up looking at Erik to avoid staring.
"I live a few miles away," Erik explains to Charles, ignoring any discomfort. "Technically, close enough to walk, but you can get a full tour later."
Charles nods. "How big is the city? Uh – what is it called?"
"Nova has a population of almost two million," Erik says. "Genosha as a whole contains about thirty million in it."
"New," Charles remarks.
"Yeah, most names are not terribly inventive. We don't name places after people, here, so Latin, being a dead language and therefore largely neutral, ends up being a common source." Erik pauses. "Though some think we should make up our own language, and use that. English is probably the most commonly spoken language, though, because most of the first people brought here came from first world countries, ones with better testing and population control."
"So you really try to differentiate yourselves?"
Erik laughs. "Yeah, once you stop staring at what people look like, you'll see that we have different fashions, different standards for cars, you name it. They have an entire class for operatives like me, who have to be able to blend in with humans, otherwise I'd never have noticed much about fashion statements. For the record."
Charles takes a closer look around, and realizes Erik is right. There's more primary colors in people's clothing, balanced by a lack of busy detail, strangely sleek.
Erik's hand at his elbow startles Charles, and he turns to look at him. "Our stop," Erik says, and pulls him out of the subway car.
Apartment buildings line the street, definable by Charles because about half of them have little patios jutting out from the side of the building, strangely ordinary with little chairs and tables. Erik leads him to a building with a stone face to it, jagged and red, spaced out with large windows.
"The inside structure of the building is entirely metal," Erik says, apropos of nothing.
"You can sense that?"
"Yes. Helps me sleep at night, feeling them. Got a lot of complaints when I used to make them vibrate, though," Erik says offhandedly, and when Charles looks at him, he can actually see that Erik has lost a tension Charles hadn't even known was there.
Erik shoots Charles a smile, and they go in.
The apartment turns out to be much bigger than Charles would have thought, given that this is an urban area with a large population. The living room extends into a large kitchen, black cabinets offset by cream colored stone counters, almost everything in it appearing to be metal. Even the soft-looking black couch has a metal underpinning. The screen opposite it – Charles assumes it’s a television – is silver instead of black. He can't find the fridge, though he's sure it's there somewhere, and there's a hallway that he peers down, sees three doors.
"Not as elegant or spacious as your home, but I'm sure it will serve."
Charles starts. "Oh, of course. I didn't mean to –"
Erik cuts him off, looking unconcerned. "Last bedroom on the right is yours, if you want to look." He goes into the kitchen and begins opening drawers. Charles follows him curiously, and realizes the fridge is below the counters, not a separate item.
"Want a sandwich?" Erik asks.
Charles almost says yes, then pauses.
"Bread, cheese and meat, I swear," Erik says, holding up both hands.
Charles laughs. "Um, yes, thank you."
They end up sitting at the table adjoined to the kitchen, eating together largely in silence. Charles' sense of time is understandably skewed, but it's late afternoon here, the sun not having set yet, the brightness of day fading. It's warmer, too, which makes sense given Genosha is nearer to the equator than New York is. Charles thinks about his father's journal, left in the SUV somewhere; he's literally got nothing except the clothes on his back. And Erik.
There's a knock at the door.
"Who is it?" Erik asks, but he's not calling out, he's asking Charles.
Charles hesitates for a second, then looks. The mind outside Erik's door is rigidly structured, full of weight and emotion that's swathed in memories and intent. There's a chill to it, so much so that Charles initially recoils.
"Charles?" Erik is beginning to look concerned.
Charles digs a little deeper, skims along memories. "Sebastian Shaw." One of the First Five, so of course Charles knows the name. He withdraws, blinks at Erik. "He knows you."
"He should," Erik answers. "He adopted me."
Charles is surprised by that, for some reason. "You're adopted?"
"Yeah, my parents were human," Erik says distractedly, already getting up to answer the door. After a second's hesitation, Charles follows, hanging behind. Erik opens the door to reveal a man that looks perhaps forty, maybe a little older, who gives Erik an even once-over, before turning to look at Charles over Erik's shoulder.
"Can I come in?" Shaw asks calmly.
"'Course," Erik says instantly, falling to the side to let – his father? – Shaw enter. "I assume you're here for a reason, Shaw?"
"I thought I'd meet the new wonder-boy," Shaw says, looking closely at Charles as he steps through the doorway.
Erik casually heads over to the living room, sitting on the couch without speaking. Charles sticks close to him, for reasons he can't entirely discern yet. Before sitting, Charles says, "I'm Charles Xavier. Nice to meet you," and offers his hand.
Shaw takes it, gives it an even shake with a firm grip. "Have you agreed to work for Intel yet? I know they want you."
"I haven't made any decisions of that sort yet," Charles answers calmly. "I just arrived today."
Shaw sits in the chair opposite the couch. "They shouldn't have kept you from us."
"They?" Charles asks. He feels Erik shift next to him, senses an edge of discomfort in Erik's mind. Erik? he sends.
"Your – human parents," Shaw says, with a hint of distaste. "It is a miracle you survived."
Don't react, Erik sends back.
"And what, exactly, does that mean?" Charles snaps, heedless of Erik's words.
"I won't put too fine a point on it," Shaw says. "We are better than they are, more than they are in every way. You have lived among lesser beings, Charles, instead of in a place which would nurture your ability."
Charles thinks of his parents' desperate attempts to keep him safe; his father spending every night researching telepathy since Charles was only two, his mother saying, I love you, darling, and giving him a kiss goodnight, even when she was too drunk to walk straight. He remembers their love, full and pure for all their other faults. He remembers that they never shied away from his mental touch. Not once.
"My parents were no less loving or important to me for being human instead of mutant." He barely manages to say it evenly.
Shaw leans back, waves a hand. "Regardless. You are where you should be, and it is nothing less than your duty to serve your country. You are powerful, Charles, and it is power you have been denied your entire life. Surely you see that much."
"No, I don't, actually," Charles says, folding his arms, feeling Erik lean slightly into his side.
"Shaw," and it is weird to know Shaw raised Erik and he's calling him by his last name (Charles remembers the glimpses he saw, that Erik showed him – an acceptance of Erik's power, with an equal distance emotionally; he remembers Erik being alone while his 'father' worked, he remembers Erik in that house), "this isn't the time for that, and I think you know it."
"The project goes forward soon, Erik, you know that."
"It hasn't been voted on," Erik says.
Charles is clueless; he'd seen nothing of any 'project' in Erik's mind. But then, he grew up around a telepath. Frost, he's guessing now. "What project?"
"It's classified," Erik says before Shaw can speak. "And regardless, not yet approved."
Shaw frowns at Erik. There's a world of meaning behind there, something he sees Erik witness and instantly understand, a silent language all their own. "I keep you in the loop for instances like this, Erik. Don't disappoint me."
Erik clenches his jaw. "Yes, sir."
Shaw rises to his feet, and Erik follows the act almost simultaneously, Charles third and belated. There's another charged look between the two of them, and then Shaw says to Charles, "I look forward to working with you, Charles. Erik. See me out."
Erik waves for Charles to sit back down, which he does, reluctantly, and he remembers Frost saying that it's not illegal to find out secrets, but you can't profit or harm others with them. He wonders if peeking in to find classified information counts. Probably. He watches Erik see Shaw to the door, and they very quietly exchange a few words, and somehow, from what little Erik is projecting, he knows that Shaw is getting the last word. The door shuts, and Erik's hand lies there on the door for several long seconds, before he looks over his shoulder at Charles.
"What's wrong, Erik?"
"You know, Shaw doesn't have an official position in the government," Erik says, out of the blue. "Hasn't, for some fifteen years now. Do you know why?" He doesn't wait for Charles to say no, because of course Charles will say no. "His ideas are radical. I agree with a lot of them, but not everyone does. I think … we, as mutants, feel safe here on Genosha, even though that's a safety that isn't guaranteed."
"Mutants hate humans as much as humans hate mutants, don’t they?" Charles offers, quietly.
Erik walks over to him, takes the seat Shaw left, so he's sitting opposite Charles.
"Violence isn't the answer to that," Charles adds. "I've seen that get nowhere a thousand times. Hitting someone back doesn't make them change their minds."
"Sometimes you can't change people, Charles. You can only make them fear you so much they won't ever dare hit you to begin with."
"And how could I be used for that?"
Erik actually smiles, and Charles feels a surge of genuine amusement from him. "I think you can work that one out yourself."
Charles sits back. Assassinations without a bullet; assassinations without physical death, for that matter. Minds changed without a visible mark. You can make them fear you so much they won't ever dare strike, or you can make them not want to strike at all. Charles is fairly certain he could do it. He's altered memories and intentions, small ones, but the ability is there, not gone for the lack of use. He looks up at Erik. "I won't do that."
Erik's smile falls. "Fear, Charles." He pauses, mind a puzzle of complex thoughts that Charles can't untangle without reaching further, an invasion he's hesitant to attempt. Erik's always welcomed Charles' mental touch, but he hesitates now. "Shaw's method would be far more … extravagant than necessary, I think. We're the next stage in human evolution, Charles, and humanity will eventually go extinct. You know that."
He does. God help him, he does, but not in this context, not where he thinks Erik is leading him.
"I'm not asking you to hurt anyone," Erik says. "Please understand that. And whatever Shaw likes to think, it will always be your choice. Forcing mutants to use their ability for the government would make Genosha no better than what we left."
Charles relaxes at that, minutely.
"And there's nothing to say it will even happen," Erik adds.
"A first strike, you mean?"
Erik turns cold for a split second, but it falls apart as easily as it came together. "Are you reading my mind?" He sounds honestly curious.
"I'm a telepath, not an idiot. I can make basic assumptions."
Erik laughs, tension easing at Charles' rebuke. "Sorry. That was … you can, you know."
"Read my mind. I don't mind, I swear." Erik pauses, stares at Charles, as if willing Charles to believe him.
That's not quite necessary, though, as Charles can find out easily enough. Charles reaches out, slowly, touches the surface thoughts. Foremost, he sees that Erik is almost desperate that Charles understand him, understand that he is okay with Charles being Charles (pacifistic tendencies, slight naivety, matched by a strong will and a desire to live, to fight back if he has to). Just want you to understand it's them or us it's never been anything else they wanted us to die here and instead we survived and we'll keep surviving fuck those bastards.
Survival. Charles has always been on the outside, seeing a mutant country that is strong and unknown, so powerful it keeps out every other country in the world. So strong that it's feared. Erik is the inside, thirty million against seven billion, and the numbers are undeniable. They have to maintain the fear to keep themselves safe.
"A demonstration of power," Charles says.
"You saw that?"
"I saw the implication," Charles admits. "What is this project?"
"I can't tell you that, Charles," Erik says. "And please don't look, not in that part of my mind."
"You know I'll always honor that request," Charles says.
"I know," Erik says gently. "I don't think you were aware of it, but … Frost let me listen in, during the debriefing. I saw what she saw."
"Then you've seen as much of me as you have given of yourself to me," Charles says easily. He swallows, continues, "The blue powder. That's a weapon. Are they intending on using it, or is it a precaution?"
Erik shakes his head. "I don't know. But it's now very public existence has turned into a public debate on our policies. No one's used the words 'preemptive strike' just yet, but it's just a matter of time."
Charles huffs out a breath. "If only I hadn't gone to that damn protest."
"You merely knocked something into motion a little faster, Charles, nothing more. In some ways it's a boon, we know about it before they intended we should – that release of it wasn't ordered by the US government, that's for sure." He smiles, a little. "Plus, we wouldn't have found you. And if even if you decide to study genetics for the rest of your life, that's no small thing, Charles, not for us. Everyone knows about you and knows you were rescued, brought home."
"People know about me here?"
"Yeah," Erik says with a shrug. "Once the human world went public with your name, it came here. Genosha citizens have access to human television sources, if they care to."
"I didn't know that. Do humans know you do that?"
"No," Erik says, looking taken aback by the change in subject.
"So you steal cable?"
Erik's mouth stills and opens slightly in surprise, then his expression transforms into a grin. "Quite the criminals, aren't we?"
"Why not just pay them for it?"
"Don't want them to know we're watching it," Erik says with a shrug.
Charles smiles into his hand, looks up at Erik. "My decision, right?"
"When you want to make it, yeah. I can answer any questions you have about the service, and … I guess Hank would know about the possibility of going to school here, studying genetics like you did at Oxford."
"I would like that," Charles confesses, "regardless. I mean, the books that must have been written here, with all the data in the world on mutations, how they're passed on and everything, I can't even imagine. The amount of research that's possible here, they must have a stunning degree of knowledge." For a second, his mind is caught with the idea, yet another world Erik's given to him. That Genosha has, he supposes.
Still. "I need time," Charles says.
"And you'll have it," Erik says immediately. "I promise."
"Thank you, Erik."
Erik rises to his feet. "You must be tired. Don't you think you should rest?"
"I slept on the plane," Charles points out.
"And you've had a hell of a day, by any standards," Erik replies.
Charles has to admit that's true. He can't believe he's only been in Genosha for a day, known Erik for a little more than that, it seems like months have passed.
At Charles' silence, Erik holds out a hand.
Charles takes it, notes the calluses that he can feel, Erik's mind a soothing bundle of thoughts about going to sleep, going to work tomorrow and finishing paperwork (even mutants have not eliminated the need for it, to Erik's often verbal distaste), and he's thinking half-thoughts about Charles and Shaw, split-second worries that shift into calculation and then back again into the mundane.
The guest room has a large bed, only about a foot and a half off the floor, clean but slightly dusty navy sheets when Charles sits down on it.
"I'll see you in the morning," Erik tells him, and Charles gets a hazy image of Erik planning to wait until Charles wakes, however long that takes.
"Wake me when you need me," Charles says.
"See you tomorrow," is Erik's answer.
Charles' mind wakes sluggishly. Charles always first becomes aware of others, little thoughts from other people seeping into his mind while he's asleep. His best shields are always conscious, though he's long since learned to keep most of his shields even while sleeping. So he notes that one of Erik's neighbors is dreaming about swimming the sea, another is making breakfast, and yet another is having some kind of internal rant. Erik lingers in there, a quieter but closer presence. Erik's awake, making food – eggs? (Charles sees a flash of something yellow) – and thinking about going into work or not. That turns to Charles, and Charles' choice of where he wants to go, an interesting route that Charles briefly follows before a phone call jerks Erik's mind into sharpness.
Rather than listen in, Charles withdraws.
After a few minutes that Charles spends dozing, Charles? You awake?
Yes, Charles answers.
A satisfied feeling. Thought I felt you.
Erik doesn't say anything more. Charles gets up and uses the adjoining bathroom to take a shower. It's when he leaves, towel on, that he realizes he doesn't have clothing.
I need something to wear.
My bedroom's the last one, just pick something of mine.
Charles has to search, but finds a black turtleneck and pants that fit reasonably well, though everything is just a touch too long, so Charles feels a little like a child in adult clothes. He rolls up the sleeves and heads out to the kitchen.
Erik is in the living room, as it turns out, watching television. It's the news – apparently even mutants keep to the talking head format – and the reporter has a visible mutation, white lines all over her skin, that connect and weave into each other to create something that looks almost like a tattoo of a spider's web, except Charles suspects it's entirely natural.
" – council is expected to vote today on the response to the latest human aggression, the creation of the blue powder that destabilizes abilities. Prime Minister Selven yesterday made a statement that Intel is exploring options to make precision attacks against anti-mutant facilities and instruments, but no action has yet been improved or is expected to be approved any time soon. Caution is, as always, our best offense against human fear." She pauses. "Later in the hour, we'll discuss the recent law passed to allow Intel to, under certain conditions, hire minors."
Erik turns the television off. "You should have come in five minutes ago. They were talking about you." He turns to look back at Charles, eyebrows raised.
"I'm glad I missed it," Charles says dryly. "I haven't quite come to terms with being internationally known."
"Globally," Erik corrects. "You've become the face of the 'mutant problem', unfortunately."
"In the human world. What about Genosha?"
Erik's expression turns briefly reflective. "You're a sign of our power. And how much humans fear it."
Charles sits on the couch, close enough that Erik shifts his weight to adjust for Charles' presence. "I don't want that. I always dreamed of mutants coming to the human world, not being separate anymore."
Erik shrugs. "It's debated how much we even want that, at this point."
"What happened?" Charles asks. Such a broad question, so he tries to explain. "I mean, after the blackout? There's so much history I don't know, I can't place anything about Genosha in context." Genosha existed for six years before it threw out all the humans and erected the blackout.
Erik scratches his forehead, then says, "Well, I'll start at the beginning, as we know it. Our history probably differs from what humans recorded."
Charles nods. He'd always figured that was true; it was easy to tell lies when the other side was a blank spot, unknown and unwilling to be known.
"Shaw and the other four, the First Five, they were the ones who negotiated with the UN, agreed to make a haven. Except that really wasn't the plan, from the human perspective, even then. When Earth -" one of the First Five – "created the physical part of Genosha, we were thrown on there with almost nothing. Literally, they threw seeds at the place and then dumped mutants here by the thousands, with no supplies and no shelter. The first five years were just a matter of surviving, growing enough food to eat. Instead of being hidden, mutant abilities were cherished and admired, especially if you could do something useful." Erik grins. "Like artificially grow crops. She called herself Shiva."
"Not one of the Five," Charles says, "but still, I've never heard of her."
"She's well known here, but it doesn't surprise me you haven't. The blackout then was the other way around. They didn't want the horrific conditions known. Anyway, in the sixth year – year six A.G, after Genosha –"
"You have your own dating system?"
"For years, yes. Months and days we kept." Erik waves a hand in dismissal. "Anyway, the First Five and a number of others met. And they agreed that in order to keep Genosha from becoming a prison colony, or worse yet, our graves when enough of us got sent there, we had to completely break off from the human world. Year six, Charles, is when we took control of our own destiny."
Dimly, Charles can sense – even with his shields up – a moment of vicious satisfaction.
"Every boat, every plane, every person who dared come within twenty miles of us was destroyed. No mistakes allowed, no mercy. Mutants with destructive powers were placed along the coastlines, and took out everything that came our way. Humans gave up after about six months. I think they thought we'd starve, alone, but we didn't. We used every resource painstakingly. We went through the industrial revolution all over again in ten years. There was almost no crime, then, because depending on each other was so key to survival."
"Incredible? Horrifying?" Erik offers.
Charles shakes his head. "Keep going."
"Back then, mutants who had useful abilities essentially had no choice about serving Genosha. It was considered a necessity, and so at about fourteen or so, if your ability had manifested and it was useful, you became part of Intel, which back then we just called the Army. Twenty years in, we started developing more advanced weapons, missiles, atomic bombs, that sort of thing."
"So you are nuclear? There was a lot of speculation about that."
Erik nods. "Took us a while, but yeah. When that happened, we started to feel safe. We were on equal footing with the Soviet Union and the United States, even if they didn't know it. People weren't conscripted into the Army anymore, though a lot joined anyway. Cities developed. Nova was built."
"What about the Prime Minister and this council?" Charles nods at the blank television, returned to its silver surface.
"That's from when we had the First Five in charge. Shaw and the other four basically ruled Genosha, but the council is voted in these days, like all official positions. The council has the power to veto the Prime Minister's directives, and that's a lot of its purpose, besides advising the Prime Minister and the Senate." Erik stops. "Had enough of a history lesson?"
"I suppose," Charles allows.
"I've got a computer in the apartment, and we've got our own internet. Entirely different protocols than the human one, but for your purposes that's not noticeable. You can search for history books through it, there's a few even entirely online." Erik gets up from the couch, wanders to the kitchen.
Charles moves to the next topic. He's always been told – by human history – that humans hand over mutants because mutants do not belong with humans, but he wonders how much of that is true, considering the kind of useful powers mutants sometimes have. "How do you keep the human governments too afraid to keep mutants? How do you make them follow the law about giving all mutant children to you?"
"We watch everything they do, and they know it," Erik says with a shrug. "They think it's more telepaths than technology, which isn't really true. Right now, anyway. But we remind their intelligence and military assets of it every once in a while. And the fact that we rescued you the way we did, well, they got the message, and trust me, Charles. They don't want any of us on their soil. They're happy to be rid of their 'mutant problems'." Erik turns to look at Charles. "Do you see why we hate them?"
Charles nods, slowly. "Yes," he says softly. Genosha's entire history is justification for it. But so many of those humans that live now didn't make those decisions; they aren't responsible for what their parents did. Charles can't help but think of Alicia, Sarah – or even Mary, the doctor who'd helped him escape. They didn't deserve to be hated. But he couldn't think of the words to say that, not in a way that Charles is certain Erik wouldn't see it as an attack.
Erik says nothing more for a while, half-watching Charles. Then he nods to himself, straightens, his entire posture transformed into something businesslike. "You want breakfast?"
"Don't you have to work?" Charles asks. It must be midmorning by now.
"No. Moira called and told me not to come in," Erik says. "Chaperoning you is a more than sufficient task, apparently."
"Because I’m a weapon," Charles states, heart sinking.
Erik's lips twist before his expression fades into something calm. "I thought we'd meet with Hank later, actually. We've got an entire system of higher-learning establishments, similar to college with degrees of, well, degrees. He would know most about it, and I know it interests you."
"Erik, I –"
"Don't worry about it. I don't blame your paranoia after Shaw's blundering around." He pauses, projecting a flash of helpless frustration, but it fades quickly. "Now, for the last time, do you want breakfast?"
Charles laughs. "Yes."
After breakfast, they take public transport to a café, where they meet Hank. Charles notices that several people on the way recognize him, but they don't do anything more than give Charles curious glances. He picks up a few stray thoughts, things about his power, joining Intel, and faintly and bizarrely, some jealousy.
"Are mutants treated differently for their mutations?" Charles asks Erik on the subway.
"Yeah, sometimes," Erik says. "It's the clearest form of discrimination we have in Genosha, but as technology has developed and we're less dependent on powerful mutations, that's eased."
Erik sounds unconcerned, but it makes Charles frown. "Not perfect, then." It is so easy to think of Genosha that way, hatred of humans aside.
The look Erik gives him is curious, not quite readable. "No, it's not." He smiles, sudden and bright. "But personally, I think it comes damn close."
Charles nods. "You've trusted me so much here, so fast."
"A telepath's analysis of a mind is very reliable," Erik says. "I don't know if you go into people's head to determine their character very often, but Frost is pretty practiced at it."
"You said Intel used to be called the Army, right?" Charles asks. "Is it like a military? I mean, obey orders or get thrown in the brig?"
"No, not in the sense you're thinking. Yes, it partially consists of the military, but there's a wide range of positions and stations. Some people like you – like Frost, in fact – can't be ordered into military actions. They probably wouldn't let Frost go on active missions, like the one to get you, because she's too valuable here, but she also chooses not to go on out of country missions, and that's accepted." Erik glances at him, something tense in his eyes.
Charles presses against Erik's mind, not pushing in, just giving a slight tap.
It's all right, Erik assures him.
You're really okay with it if I say no? Charles asks.
Disappointment filters in, but there's also something else, something relieved. My opinion matters to you that much?
Yes, Charles answers simply.
Erik smiles, but his next words are, "You'd be able to lay out some conditions if you wanted to, Charles. They're more than desperate enough to utilize your ability to abide by them, trust me."
Charles looks down for a moment. "Thank you for your patience."
"Not a problem. This is our stop," and Charles follows Erik into the crowded area around the lines. Charles makes sure to look around, but not stare too long at any one thing or person. The sheer amount of remarkable mutations is astounding. He wonders what abilities the others have, the ones where it's not visible, if they're powerful like Erik's. He wonders how many mutants have 'useful' mutations.
The café, ultimately, is strangely familiar. Decorated in warm tones, it has comfortable seats and little tables matched with chairs, a few people behind the counter. Erik doesn’t get food, just heads directly for the back, and that's when Charles sees Hank.
Hank stands up and waves, and Erik minutely sighs, but offers Hank a warm smile as they greet him.
"Hank," Charles says as a hello. "Nice to see you again."
"Charles!" Hank says. "You're everywhere on the news."
Charles laughs a little uncomfortably.
"Yes, he knows," Erik says. "I think he wants to hear about other things, though."
Hank blinks. "Oh." He turns to Charles. "I talked to some of my old professors this morning, about you and your situation. You've basically got the equivalent to a MF."
"Master of Field," Erik says as an aside.
"So an MF is like a PhD?"
"Yeah, essentially. The problem is that in your specialty, you're really behind. Genosha's at the forefront of the genetic revolution. I mean, logically it would be, so it is," Hank says, words coming out in a rush.
"Oh, I'd be perfectly willing to enter as a student," Charles says easily. "I know how … behind I am," he adds ruefully.
Hank leans in. "So how much do you know?"
Erik tunes out most of the ensuing conversation, careful to note Charles' reactions and questions, but ignoring the subject matter itself. He knows the basics, of course, and every child is required to know how mutations arise (this is still a changing field) and how they are passed on (relatively better known).
He thinks about Charles's questions from that morning, what they could mean.
He knows Charles, now. He knows that a lonely childhood made him want to reach out to others, and his mutation meant that he feared doing so. Charles still fears it, subconsciously, on a level Erik isn't sure Charles is aware of – he fears loss of control. That day in New York must have been terrifying. Erik hadn't covered it, and neither had Frost sought out that memory, but Erik got glimpses in the debriefing, that strong terror tainting Charles' most recent memories.
Erik rather thinks it's that terror that is making Charles hesitant to join Intel. Fear of his own power, set deep inside him by a culture that fears what he is, that made him cautious and reserved. Erik wonders what Charles would have been like, had he grown up in Genosha. He would have been adopted by mutant parents, his ability – which, unusually, manifested at birth – used and trained at an early age. Accepted and admired, instead of hated and viewed with revulsion.
Erik is glad Charles is here. For a multitude of reasons.
A break in the conversation, and Charles focuses on Erik. "Bored?" Charles inquires.
"Not at all," which is true. Good to see you relaxing, he thinks, and wonders if Charles shields are down enough to hear it.
The tilt of Charles' head in response makes Erik suspect he did.
Before he knows it, Charles is wrapping up the discussion with Hank, and they're rising to their feet.
"Thank you so much, Hank, I've got a lot to think about."
Hank scribbles numbers on a napkin. "Here are the people you can contact about school," Hank says. "I'll call them today and let them know to expect you."
Charles takes the napkin. "Thank you," he repeats.
"See you at Intel," Erik offers, and Hank, for once repressing his desire to vomit words, nods and leaves.
For a split second, Erik is glad he has Charles to himself. Then he represses the thought and hopes Charles didn't hear it.
"So what would you like to do now?" Erik asks. "You've still got half the day."
"Can we just walk?" Charles asks, expression thoughtful, blue eyes bright in the sun when they leave the café.
"Sure," Erik says. "Let me know if you have any questions."
Charles smiles, the same bright and cheerful one he's been giving Erik all day.
The area surrounding the café is mostly commercial, but this part of town consists of primarily boutiques, stores that specialize in such random things as tattoos, clothing, clothing that is altered for physical mutations like tails or spikes or those with chameleon-like powers (more common than most humans would ever guess), and some restaurants. Charles examines everything, even the miniscule details like phone numbers ("You have cell phones?" "Of course. Useable only in Genosha, unless you're with Intel.") and hours of operation ("Good Lord, you get up that early?" "Tradition."). Charles learns that mutants have a forty-five hour work week, a result of the strong work-ethic that was necessary during the first years. Erik had never before honestly noticed the difference, it was such a meaningless detail to his mind.
They spend hours this way, walking, and they only stop when Charles begins repressing winces.
"We should go back," Erik suggests.
"I'm fine," Charles says, and stifles another wince.
"I am not."
"I may not be a telepath, but I'm not an idiot."
"Subway's a few blocks that way," Erik says, pointing. Wordlessly, Charles falls back into step with him. "So what do you think of Genosha?"
"I think it's better than I thought it would be," Charles says immediately.
Charles sleeps in the guest bedroom again, and Erik can actually tell when he falls into it, because there's this subtle shift in the air, a barely-there sense of sleepiness tinged with random thoughts and sensations. Charles projects, very lightly, in his sleep. For some reason, it makes Erik smile.
Erik dreams of flying in a sea of gray, bright lights the only mark of distance.
Erik is up before Charles. Again. (Tradition, he remembers Erik say.) But this time, Charles manages to catch Erik at the tail-end of making coffee, the beginning of breakfast. Looking at Erik rummage through the drawers makes a sudden thought occur to Charles.
"How long can I stay here? I mean, how long will I be – supported?"
"You're welcome to stay as long as you need," Erik says without hesitation, not bothering to look up.
"You don't have to –"
"I choose to, Charles."
A firm nod. "All right. I'll make breakfast."
Looking bemused, Erik lets him. Charles makes a mean omelet, and hands Erik his plate with an expectant look.
"You know, we only introduced chickens in 1983. They weren't one of the livestock the humans left us when Genosha was created," Erik says.
"Now you know the real reason mutants hate humans," Erik jokes.
Charles smiles at him, and can't think of anything to say. The past few days have let the fact that he's really here, really in Genosha, truly sink in. This is his new home.
He stares at Erik. "You haven't said a word about Intel."
Erik takes a bite, chews before answering. "Figured you were still thinking."
Charles has been thinking, but it's been a confusing mash of wanting to stay with Erik, thinking of the possibility of continuing his dream of understanding mutations, and giving back to what's given to him. Erik, mostly, shining bright in his head, but Intel, too. Shaw. "I just fear what they would want to do with my power," Charles says at last.
"I can't tell you anything, Charles. I wish I could."
"I really want to peek, I hope you know," Charles says.
Erik gives him a pained smile. "You know, there's not even protocols for telepaths as strong as you," he says. "We didn't know if Frost was as powerful as telepaths got, or if there was another level."
"I knocked out four million people, Erik. It – frightens me, what I could do," Charles whispers.
Erik moves to the other chair, the one next to Charles, close enough to touch. "Give us your limits, let us work something out."
Charles laughs, and it fades into a cough. "I don't know what my limits are, honestly."
Erik swallows, puts an elbow on the table and considers Charles. "You won't hurt people that don't deserve it, that aren't attacking you."
Charles looks at him.
"You believe in self-defense," Erik continues. "But probably not that the best defense is a good offense."
"Probably not," Charles agrees. "I guess I believe it shouldn't be necessary. That maybe it won't be. Erik …"
Something unfurls in Erik's mind, something dark, but Erik is still looking at him, evenly.
So Charles asks, "What did Shaw say to you?"
Erik visibly hesitates. "To use any means necessary to convince you to join us. An omega level telepath is one of the most powerful weapons we could have, Erik," Erik says, clearly quoting. "Sleep with him if you have to; plainly the both of you want it," delivered in a mocking tone. Erik slumps. Shame filters in, shame because it's true – Erik already wants him.
Charles is full of fear, fear of he doesn't even know what, but he leans in, places his hand along the side of Erik's face. They stay that way for several long moments, then Erik presses his forehead against Charles', close enough their breaths intermingle.
"Yes?" Erik asks hesitantly.
Charles thinks of everything Erik has given him. "My terms. Yes," and Charles closes the distance.
Charles is asleep on Erik's bed.
His eyes are closed, of course. He's got a stray eyelash on one cheek, his mouth is open slightly but enough that he's drooling (this time), and rather than rest on a pillow, he's got both hands under his head. His breathing is deep and even, and he's projecting comfort and sleepiness, so much so that Erik feels the urge to follow him.
But he doesn't.
They'd kissed, and then Charles has practically crawled into his lap, knocking over his own chair in the process, and Charles had blushed and laughed, a little. It didn't go farther than that – Charles (unknowingly, Erik is certain) projected a great deal of nervousness and anxiety anytime Erik's hands wandered below the waist, though he'd made no verbal rejection – but had Erik listened to the part that was far more real. Anyway, they had time. Time, and the thought – the word – is like a pleasurable rush entirely different from the physical. Erik wants him, oh, Erik wants Charles, but not just his physical body. He wants that light mental touch, he wants the way Charles thinks better of people than he should, he wants the dizzy happiness Charles had felt when he met Erik, the first mutant he'd ever known.
Charles shines bright, and Erik suspects the reason is because he just can't help himself.
They'd spoken of Genosha, afterwards. Both because Charles was curious, and because Erik wanted Charles to see what he would be helping to save. How worthy Genosha is of being defended, or even further than defense, into attack in Genosha's name (Erik didn't say this; Charles is still new to seeing Genosha as home.)
Charles looks at humans and sees people; Erik looks at humans and sees the enemy. Hatred of humans is, to some degree, ingrained in Genosha society, and Charles is very obvious as being different in this.
Erik gets out of bed, slowly and carefully, but Charles doesn't wake. He heads for the living room, picking up his cell phone from the kitchen counter on the way. He dials Moira's number from memory and sits on the couch, waiting for her to pick up.
"Erik? What is it?"
"Charles agreed to work for Intel," Erik starts. "With some conditions, of course."
Erik knows the sigh coming over the line is anything but unhappy. "What conditions?"
("Killing is sometimes necessary, Cahrles. You know that. Self-defense of yourself or others, and that's precisely what you would be doing."
"I know that, Erik. But I can't. I just can't."
Erik chose to drop it. For now.)
"Basically? No loss of life. And the ability to turn down assignments as they occur."
("There's a wide range of things I could do that would still be entirely unethical," Charles points out.
"You really listened to me when I said you could choose your terms, didn't you?"
"I think we can work with that," Moira says. "We'll need to bring him in to get a better idea of what he'll do and what we should read him in on. We should probably have Frost test him as well."
Erik doesn't answer for a long moment, bites his lip, then asks, "What's happened with the project? Is it going forward?"
"It's looking likely. They vote tomorrow. Erik, bring Charles in today. We need to know – or you can broach it with him, without telling him anything."
"I understand," Erik says. "How about two hours?"
"Done. See you then."
Erik returns to his bedroom and sits on the bed. He waits maybe twenty minutes, watching as Charles starts to shift in his sleep. He wonders if Charles is picking up his thoughts like this, and that's what's waking him up. Or maybe he just had enough sleep. He debates letting Charles sleep longer, than decides he's had enough of a nap. Charles? he sends. The mental equivalent of a gentle knock. There's no answer, so he sends it again, Charles? Time to wake up.
Waking up, Charles replies fuzzily, eyes blinking open.
"Sorry about that," Erik says. "They want us to come in for a couple of hours."
"Oh. Okay. What for?"
"Everything is happening too fast," Erik admits. "It's common knowledge that you're here in Genosha, even though the human world hasn't released that information yet. But they will. And our response to the human world – it needs to be made, and soon. Knowing our abilities is part of that."
"Do I get to find out what the project is, then?"
"Moira will decide, but probably," Erik says. Even if Charles is only willing to help with certain portions, that will be of help; the project itself is simple, but the execution won't be, with so many variables at hand.
Charles nods, sitting up.
"We've got time," Erik adds. "Is there anything you'd like to do first? Eat or something?"
Charles eyes him for several seconds. "Tell me about Shaw." The words come out smooth; then he fumbles, "I mean, you've told me so much, but almost nothing about the man that raised you. I – what you said he said …"
"Sounds like a bit of a bastard, huh?" Erik feels a spark of humor among the usual frustration.
Erik clasps his hands. "All Shaw sees is the big picture. Yesterday wasn't … personal."
"He's your father, Erik," Charles says, a note of disbelief.
"For him it's not that simple," Erik replies, raising his eyes. "Raising me was part of his duty as a Genosha citizen, I suppose. Adoption is, by necessity, engrained in our culture. And he wasn't – bad at it. Mutants like us, Charles, omega-level mutants, we're rare. Shaw is one, and he always understood what it was like to be different, and he always protected me. He introduced me to Intel, and at the very least I'll always be grateful to him for that."
"You love working at Intel."
"It's a purpose, Charles."
Charles looks thoughtful. "What can he do? Shaw?"
"He can absorb, retain and release energy. Any kind of energy, really – from kinetic to nuclear. He could power himself up like an atom bomb if he wanted."
"How extraordinary." Charles seemed to mean it, too – eyes widening, tilting his head like he's thinking.
"Does it balance out his asshole tendencies?"
"Well, it doesn't diminish his flawed character, no," Charles replies matter-of-factly. "He's just like any other human in that sense – power doesn't make you a better person."
"No, I suppose not."
"It just gives you a greater obligation to do right," Charles finishes.
"You really believe people are like that?"
"I believe people can achieve it, yes. Though I don't think most do."
"But you – you have, haven't you?" Erik stares at Charles like if he looks hard enough, he can see what lies inside. Charles probably can, with his telepathy.
Charles laughs uncomfortably. "I wouldn't say that, my friend." He looks at Erik sideways. "What is it about me you find so attractive? Surely not that."
Now Erik feels uncomfortable. It is, but that alone is not the reason. There's a whole multitude of logic behind it, and things very much not attached to logic at all. He thinks of earlier this morning, watching Charles sleep. He thinks of how powerful Charles is, like the eye of a storm when he sleeps, the storm itself when awake.
"You're attracted to how powerful I am, aren't you?" Charles blurts, expression shifting in shock before he can stop himself.
Erik smirks. "And that you give a shit about other people. I like the novelty."
"From Shaw?" Charles asks, amused.
"Don't question it," Erik says, dismissive of the whole Shaw topic. "I don't." He leans forward and kisses Charles, a light contact. Erik feels a surge of warmth in return, then Charles opens his mouth and deepens the kiss.
When they break to take a breath, Erik pushes Charles onto his back, and crawls on top of him, watching Charles carefully. There's no fear there, just excitement and nervousness, and Charles isn't projecting anything negative, so Erik kisses him again, then lowers his body onto Charles', rubs up against him very lightly.
"Oh, oh," Charles sputters, and then again – that flash of anxiety.
"Do you want me to stop?" Erik asks.
"No – no," Charles says.
Erik draws back. "Are you sure?"
Charles looks at him blankly. "I'm projecting again, aren't I?"
Erik nods, kisses him again, light and quick, and then lifts himself off of Charles' body, so there's a space between them. "What's wrong?"
"I just – it's –" Charles stops speaking, like he can't get the rest of the words out. He lays his hands on Erik's waist, as if to hold Erik there. Charles stares helplessly at Erik for long seconds, eyes so blue, and then a rush of hazy images enter Erik's mind.
Charles, much younger, kissing a girl for the first time. A boy. Anytime it went further than that, Charles would start losing control and project what he was feeling, the physical sensations and the desire, and the others – they would respond. Not to Charles, in their own minds, but to Charles' mind influencing theirs. So Charles stopped, every time. Before he stopped completely, and instead focused on training himself, keeping his thoughts to himself and his feelings, no matter how strong they were within. But he never managed control like he wanted, and by then, it was easier to focus on his studies. That's what he told himself.
Erik feels the undercurrent of loneliness, the sense of alienation. Charles is different, was always different from those around him, and he had so many questions and problems that he couldn't speak to another. This was one more.
"I trust you," Erik says deliberately. "I trust you, and I want you. You're not making me feel that. I felt that a long time before this moment."
"But if – if you wanted to stop, in the middle, would I –"
Erik places a hand over Charles' mouth, though that wouldn't silence Charles if Charles didn't want to be silenced. "The only reason I can feel the things you project, or when you're in my head, is because I'm sensitive to a telepath's presence to begin with. And it certainly doesn't somehow stop my free will by accident. Trust me, Charles."
Charles exhales slowly. He gives a brief nod.
Erik takes that as permission, and this time, it's Charles who cups his face and brings him down for a kiss. Charles arches his back, to move against Erik, and Erik groans. He can feel Charles' cock through his pants (oh God, Charles is wearing his clothes, he forgot about that, and it makes Erik feel like he left his mark on Charles – that Charles is his), feel it rub against his own. Arousal flashes through him, and he feels an echo of it, much fainter.
"I can feel that," Erik murmurs into Charles' mouth. "Don't stop."
Charles whimpers, throws a leg around Erik's, and twists them so Charles is on top in a move so quick that Erik has to stop himself from reacting and countering the move, instead letting himself go limp and move how Charles' wants. He opens his eyes to see a look of pure lust on Charles' face, and then, very deliberately, Charles thrusts against Erik's hips, cock meeting cock. Erik moans again, and tries to project how he's feeling – awed that Charles is giving him this, incredibly turned on, and encouraging – keep going, keep going, Charles –
Charles' comes first, the movement of his hips stuttering, and then there's a white flash in Erik's mind, overpowering.
It takes several seconds for Erik to even realize that he came, the pleasure was that intense and unexpected, Charles' triggering his own – combined into something searing.
Charles has moved to his side, gasping into Erik's neck, arms wrapped around him.
That was incredible, Erik thinks. Even though he's going to have change his clothes, after coming in them like he hasn't since he was young.
"Oh, I – I projected that, didn't I?" Charles laughs nervously.
"And it was amazing," Erik tells him, turning to look at him, hoping Charles feels the reassurance he's trying to push at him.
Charles' expression breaks into relief and, slow and steady and bright, he smiles.
They're ten minutes late to Intel because they both have to take a shower. Erik almost suggests they take one together – Charles can practically see the thought on Erik's face – but in the end he doesn't. Even though Charles is not actively reading Erik's mind, he can sense the shift in his mood, the focus turning external and professional. He's thinking about tactics and missions, mostly half-formed plans or intentions that fade as soon as Charles gets a lock on them.
He's never met anyone whose mind is so much like a puzzle. But then, he's never met anyone like Erik, and Erik's ability to control metal is the least of the reasons why.
Now that Charles isn't so overwhelmed, he gets a better look at Intel when they leave the subway and make their way there. The building, like the others in Genosha, is round rather than rectangular, but it's also very small. The attached airport is much larger, to the eye. Charles wonders if they keep the outside so unassuming in case of an aerial attack. Certainly one wouldn't know by looking at it that it was the center of much of Genosha's military.
Charles has to go through more checkpoints than Erik does. He gets a full body scan, another identity card – again with meaningless numbers – another scan, and then finally he's let inside, Erik waiting for him. "Are there other Intel buildings?" Charles asks suddenly.
Erik keeps walking down the hall, apparently knowing where he's going; Charles is lost. "Yes. We're not that centralized, so if one gets taken out, the others can easily take over what's needed. Plus there are centers that are more military than intelligence, not like this one."
Charles nods. "Where are we going?"
"To meet Moira and Frost."
Erik leads him down long hallways, and then Charles sees Moira – MacTaggert – leaving a room, shutting the door behind her; it locks with a click.
"Charles," Moira greets, looking harried. "Can we talk in my office?"
"Of course," Charles says.
She leads them down another hallway and into an office with a blank screen on one wall instead of a window. The desk is mahogany, with a pile of papers and a computer on it. Erik walks in ahead of Charles and takes the farther seat, while Moira sits behind the desk.
She takes a pad from a drawer and hands it to him. It's a computer with a touchscreen, full of text. "That's your contract, as well as your confidentiality agreement."
Charles looks at the text closer. "I see."
"I included your terms, as Erik explained them to me. Read it carefully – it includes what you're required to do and what we're required to do, and the consequence of failure on either of our parts. Take as long as you need." She turns from Charles. "Erik, take him to Frost in Lab 12 when he's ready – you can make line revisions if need be."
Charles glances at Erik, who gives him a reassuring smile. Moira rises to her feet and leaves them alone in the room.
The contract is almost entirely what Charles expected, given what Erik had told him over the past few days about working for Intel. Charles must retain state secrets (or be convicted of treason, punishment unspecified) regardless of what the secret is, and he's given the ability to turn down assignments. He is not permitted to work counter to projects he chooses not to take, which sounds obvious, but when Charles goes over it for the second time he sees that this is the case with everything. There are no blind spots. There's a section devoted entirely to his use of telepathy, mainly that he can't read the minds of others without permission of that person and, in some cases, their superior. The consequences for breaking that include termination of the contract and/or jail time. This doesn't really bother Charles – it sounds like reasonable precautions, considering the fact that it's difficult for them to know if he has even broken these rules.
Still, there's one problem, which is that Charles is not familiar with Genosha law – on which this is based. He doesn't even know if it includes things required by Genosha law. What is the law enforcement system like?
So Charles looks up and hands the pad to Erik. "Would you read it?"
Erik takes it. "I know what it says."
"Then tell me – is it fair? Will it do what I want?" Charles asks, squinting and peering into Erik's mind.
Erik's amused, but he begins reading. Charles keeps a hold of the tone of Erik's mind, finds no surprise or worry there. He's completely unconcerned. When he finishes, he looks up at Charles.
"Then I'll sign it," Charles says, without Erik speaking, and he does. "Do I get a copy?"
Erik blinks. "Uh, yes. People in Genosha have a permanent online address and file. This will be part of your file – you'll be able to access it anytime you want. There's physical copies, but we don't keep them ourselves. Even the details of our contracts are secrets." Erik stands up, mind sharpening in that now familiar way. "Moira's worried about something. There's a reason she wanted you in so soon."
"Are we going to meet her?"
Erik hesitates and shakes his head. "We'll meet Frost like she said."
"Why are we meeting Frost?" Of course Charles wants to talk to her again, ask her all kinds of questions, but he doubts the meeting is for his curiosity.
"To test the limits of your abilities would be my guess. She would be the only one who could really tell."
That seems logical, so Charles nods and falls into step beside Erik.
They go through two more checkpoints, and then enter an area which appears to be a lab. Everything is white, sterile, and brightly lit. There are screens over the walls, computers at every table and various other machines, some of which Charles recognizes as medical – including something that looks like an MRI, set against one wall - and others which are totally unidentifiable. In all, the room is as large as almost an entire floor. Charles sees dozens of people, and stops in the doorway.
For a second, he's reminded of the hospital in New York. All the people there, reading their minds and knowing they wanted to put him in a place just like this and use him. There were a lot of plans about how to make him cooperate – Charles is fairly certain most wouldn't have worked in the long run, but they could have done a lot of harm to him first. He would find it too difficult to seize control of another mind if he was in too much pain to concentrate. They had thought of that.
Erik's hand suddenly grasps his elbow, startling him momentarily, and when Charles focuses on him, Erik is projecting concern. "You okay?"
"Yeah. Just … déjà vu."
Erik doesn't look convinced, but starts leading them through the lab. It seems to be split up into little subsections, each devoted to some topic. Charles, for the most part, recognizes only those which relate to genetics, of which there seems to be a few projects. Erik leads them past that, to where three people with labcoats are standing near a massive computer connected to some wires, and there's little stick-pads like you see for EKG's on the table. When one turns, Charles sees it's a familiar face.
"Hank!" Charles says, stepping forward and past Erik. "It's good to see you."
Hank twists his head, startled. "Oh, hello, Charles. We've been expecting you. Frost isn’t here yet."
Charles gestures at their surroundings. "Is this to study my brain waves?"
"Yes. There's some complex science behind it that we can get into later, it's really quite fascinating how different the mind of a telepath is – but, uh, anyway, there are physical signs that would show us how powerful you are. At least to a degree. Frost will be able to tell more, even though this was designed to test telepathic reach and control." He pauses as if thinking. "And the similarities and differences between you and Frost will be illuminating."
"Sounds like you'll be putting me through my paces," Charles says.
We'll find out just how strong you are, wonder boy.
Charles looks up, but Frost isn't in sight. If you say so. How is this going to work?
I'll be riding your mind while you stretch as far as you can, and a few people have consented to being your test subjects.
That sounds … strange. Necessary, he supposes, but strange. Why would people volunteer for that?
Because it's for the greater good, of course. You don't work here without believing that.
"Frost coming?" Erik interrupts.
"Yes, she's close." He can feel her nearing; he can tell her shields are not particularly strong at the moment, can feel minute reactions to the thoughts around her.
"That's good," Hank adds, apparently sorting through wires while Charles had dropped into silence.
Frost appears not long after that, shooting Erik a raised eyebrow and Hank an unexpectedly sweet smile. "Shall we?" she says, taking a seat and gesturing for Charles to grab another chair and sit opposite her, near the not-EKG machine.
"Do you need me here?" Erik asks, clearly expecting the answer to be no. He's already thinking about tracking down Moira, thoughts edged with anticipation.
"Yes," Frost says. "I want to try something with Charles, and it requires you."
Charles has been keeping tabs on Erik's mind, and so he clearly feels Erik's surprise. "How could you possibly use – I won't be a lab rat," he says, tone shifting in the middle of the sentence.
"You aren't the lab rat, Erik, he is," Frost says, tilting her chin in Charles' direction. "Relax. You've let him into your mind, haven't you? This will be no more than whatever normal contact you have with him."
Erik's mind wavers with indecision, then he sighs. "Fine." I trust you, Charles.
Charles doesn't doubt the smile he gives Erik is blinding. Charles never expected to have anyone welcome him into their minds like Erik has, so freely and without fear. He projects gratitude, sees Erik react when he feels it.
What saps, Frost sends to Charles. Without waiting for a reply, she says, "Hank? Shall we?"
Hank applies little pads to Charles and Frost, to their skin around their temples and foreheads, and even a few carefully applied to the head with as little hair as possible interfering. Charles catches a split-second thought about shaving their heads, but doesn't bring it up; probably Frost has told him no before. The pads are linked to wires, and Hank begins mumbling about how it has to be wired because they don't want any electromagnetic signals within the building interfering with the telepathic signals, even though it's not really the same thing, but he's just being safe and failsafes are important and at that point Frost says, "Hank, be quiet, he gets the idea." A flare of amusement from Erik.
The rest of the process is silent, to a non-telepathic observer. Charles lets his shields drop and Frost in, and she begins to methodically guide him through touching several minds – some miles away, some closer – first getting in without being felt, and then interfering without the conscious mind being aware of it. It's fairly easy for Charles, and they're altering minor things – memory, mostly, of random events. He undoes everything after she views it, and then they move on to altering behavior – instilling a distaste for milk shakes (he wonders if he's helping someone diet), smoking, drinking, and in one case, grinding one's teeth. They share amusement over the tests, wordless. By the time Frost breaks the mental link, they've gone through dozens of minds, though they've been no further than seventy-five miles away. She and Charles have been sitting in absolute stillness for almost half an hour, and Charles knows, because Erik is practically vibrating with boredom sitting next to Hank and staring at the monitor, though Charles is fairly certain Erik has no idea what any of it means.
"Did I pass?" Charles asks.
Frost smiles. "Yes. But we're not done yet."
Charles glances at Erik, who in turn quirks his eyebrows.
"One of the theories about powerful telepaths, like me, is that a certain portion of what we can do is astral projection."
"I have never heard that," Charles says.
"I'm not surprised. Until you, I was the most powerful telepath Genosha had, and it was me and two others that eventually realized that factor might explain portions of our abilities. Mainly, the fact that we can reach great distances, and our ability to judge distances. How else could we know how far we've reached? We don't just sense minds, Charles – we sense the space between."
"I had never thought of it that way," Charles admits. But yes – he can sense empty spots, can tell from a mile away that this mind and that mind are two feet apart. He'd never given much thought as to how or why; it remained just one of those unanswerable questions, as any research on telepathy that he had access to was entirely theoretical. And generally focused on blocking it, not the reasons why it works.
"I've never heard of this," Erik says.
"We may have known each other since childhood, Erik, but there have always been things you didn't need to know."
Erik frowns, and then he eases a memory in Charles' way in answer, one him and Frost as children, brought together by the uniqueness and power of their ability, and there's a peculiar warmth there between the two of them, young and brought into the circle of power – Frost by her talent alone, Erik by his talent and Shaw. As if in addition to what he sent Charles – what Frost no doubt overheard – he says, "Maybe." Then he looks at Charles, waiting.
"So what does this have to do with testing me?"
Frost clasps her hands together. "A telepath is always at the center of a circle – our power is the radius. Really powerful telepaths, like us, can project their minds and create new centers. Extend our reach farther than seems possible."
"You think I can do this?"
Frost nods. "Yes." Her gaze slides to Erik. "That's where you come in. I find it easiest to use this … technique when I'm anchored to another mind. The other person doesn't need to be a telepath. Moira usually serves that for me, if it's needed, but I think you would be best for Charles."
"How do you know I'd be a good anchor?"
"Let's just say that I'm more sensitive than most to projected feelings, and Erik lives only a few miles away. And I was most definitely awake this morning." Her mind sparkles with glee as Erik goes slowly red, mind still, then a surge of embarrassment and anger working through his thoughts.
"I'm so sorry!" Charles blurts, wishing he could collapse into the floor and let it swallow him whole. There's probably a mutant who can do that, actually, the thought flitting through his mind.
Erik glances at him quickly, but most of the anger isn't directed at him, but at Frost. "Right," Erik says curtly. The anger seems to fade, and Charles has the sense that he doesn't hold anger long against Frost, not really. "Can we move on?"
"You're willing? I mean, what does that even do to the other person?" Charles asks, shifting quickly between the two of them, seeing some kind of interaction there that he's not entirely sure he's completely getting.
"Yeah," Erik says, lips curving into a small smile. "Yeah, I'm willing. Of course."
"Will it hurt him?" Charles persists.
"No," Frost says simply. "It never has with me, anyway." Frost sits back, gets comfortable. "Let me show you."
She opens her mind to his, and as soon as he's got a good grip on what she's doing – the tendrils she's sending out, her astral projection, Charles supposes – she's shifting her focus to a mind floors away. Moira MacTaggert's, distantly familiar, because he's never actively read her. There's a spark of surprise at Frost's presence, a sense of deep agitation that has nothing to do with Frost or Charles, which Frost ignores, and Charles sees – (alone and normal and abnormal, her gift is her mind and she's strong, solid and seated within herself like a mountain that cannot be moved) and then Frost is spinning her mind outward, farther than she or Charles had attempted.
And she's still linked to Moira.
Do you see?
"Erik," Charles whispers. "You ready?"
He feels rather than sees Erik's acknowledgement. He presses into Erik's mind, the surface thoughts first, whizzing around almost too quickly to be read, then deeper, into the threads of consciousness, the intersections where the awake mind meets with the unconscious. He sits there, wrapping himself in Erik.
Then he flings himself outward.
Very dimly, he can sense Frost following, not using her own powers but following the string that connects him to his own body.
He hits a hundred miles with ease. Hank is saying something out loud, and Erik is answering, but Charles pays little attention.
He hears fishermen off the coast. He feels farther, into Africa, millions of minds calling out to be tasted, to be touched, and he alights among them, focusing himself, pausing.
And flings himself out again, millions more. He's never sensed so many at once, save for that time in New York, but he has control now. He has layers and layers of shields, and he has Erik, link through link to Genosha, where his body is.
He hears a flitter of awe from Frost, and he suddenly knows, just knows, that she's never reached beyond the international waters surrounding Genosha, and there's a flicker of something else there, too, like she isn't even capable of that, not ordinarily. The notion drifts away quickly, though, Frost easing him from it and he follows, no problem, one of those secrets he's not supposed to hear. He has plenty to listen to already. Charles thinks he's laughing, but he doesn't know if that's just in his mind.
Charles, Charles, are you okay? A thrum of worry.
Oh, yes. He is.
Come back, Frost says.
Charles opens his eyes. Frost's entire body is tense, her hands gripping the chair's arms, and after as second she opens her eyes, staring at him thoughtfully, and she exhales roughly.
Then she turns to Erik. "Something has happened. Moira wants us. Charles, you should come. Hank?"
"Data," Hank mutters, staring at the screen. His mind's thoughts are definitely buzzing too fast for Charles to catch, at least not without focusing.
Frost gets up, shaky for a moment. "Let's go."
Erik doesn't argue. His mind is like a knife, form and purpose. Erik's hand takes hold of Charles, and ten they're moving. They move past other security checkpoints, but apparently Frost and Erik's presence is enough that they move past them with relative ease, though Charles has no idea if he's really supposed to be here, or allowed to be here. Frost and Erik don't seem concerned with that, though.
Charles finds himself in some kind of control room, and Erik and Frost weave through the desks and people with familiar ease. There's around fifty desks, massive screens on the walls that, at a glance, contain information from news sources and military sources, as well as information he can't quite process or recognize. It's too disparate from his own field of knowledge, but he figures this is some kind of center, from the fact that it's so large and Moira is here. The chatter from the multiple screens overlaps into a kind of white noise, one that he can sense Erik processing but he can't understand himself, not at this moment.
Frost walks up to Moira, and she and Moira stare at each other for almost ten seconds. Then Frost turns to them and says, "They know that we took Xavier, and that we had a mission on human soil. It's all over the news, and they just held an emergency meeting. The UN's agreed to a resolution to, and I quote, 'Disarm the mutant population.' No specifics, but it's only a matter of time until it heads there. Militaries of the United States, Britain and Germany have begun to mobilize, even without public orders."
Moira adds, "The council and the Prime Minister are meeting. We'll have a decision on our end within half an hour. Erik, you'll need to be ready. If they fire at us, you can turn away any missiles our defenses miss, at least until you get sent out."
"A decision on what?" Charles asks.
"Project Knifepoint," Erik says. "Should he be read in?"
Moira looks at Charles, before looking at Frost, some silent communication occurring. "Yes."
Not speaking out loud, Erik instead turns to Charles and opens his mind even further than it already is. Look. There's little time to explain.
Charles raises two fingers to his temple.
Knifepoint, because it's precise. The plan is precision missile strikes at human military facilities, secret ones that create anti-mutant tech, or have their missiles aimed at Genosha. All of these are prime targets. Genosha has survived, in the past few decades, by fear. It has not been attacked because of fear. Fear is what they must bring, Erik is thinking. Terror. It will happen. Shaw isn't on the council, but he has influence. He's been working towards this for years, and Erik, for all his other problems with his father, agrees – a pulse of rage like an echo after the memory.
"But they haven't done anything yet," Charles says. His heart is beating fast, and he's wondering if he's about to see the end of the world. "They can still be dissuaded –"
"You can't be serious, Charles. Project Knifepoint is the best way of dealing with the human world, now that they've done this. I had my doubts, but Shaw was right. Look at what they've done, what they're about to do." Erik is staring at him, like he's willing Charles to believe him.
"They'll view it as war, Erik! I would know!"
"Does that matter?" Erik snaps. "If they want a war, it's a war that we can win. We've been waiting for it for fifty years, Charles. You're not holding to your principles, you're being short-sighted. I know what you're thinking, and this is defense."
"Yeah? What about the humans who helped me? Do they deserve to die? To die in a nuclear war?"
"It won't go that far, Charles," Erik says derisively. "We'll take control before they can do it. We know that in a nuclear war, even if our genome survived, what we feed on – plantlife, animals – wouldn't."
"You can guarantee control of all of the nuclear sites? The ones in Iran? North Korea?"
"You could," Erik says simply. "All we'd have to do is get you close enough, and you could disable them without a person being hurt."
"Was that Shaw's idea?"
Erik leans in. "No. That was mine, when we discovered how powerful you were. We knew it before we found you in New York, that you would be perfect for this."
"I won't help you end the world." Can't Erik see that it's not just about Genosha?
"So you're refusing to help your own kind."
"I refuse to get people killed when there's another option!"
"Like what?" Erik snarls.
"Talk to them, Erik. Have you ever tried? You – Genosha – you've kept yourselves separate all this time, of course they fear you. They fear the unknown."
"They fear our power, Charles. That won't end when they know just how powerful we really are. Your situation proved that."
"We can be the better men, Erik, better than they are. Our power is a responsibility – and I have to believe there's another way –"
"That's willful blindness, Charles, nothing more."
Moira is calm, focusing on Charles. "If you refuse this assignment, then you need to leave. We have work to do."
Charles looks away, heart beating fast. "If … if they attack Genosha itself, then I'll do what I can. But not before then. I won't help you make this worse."
"That's a hell of small distinction to make, Charles." Erik's stare is flat, and Charles can see everything, still linked to Erik's mind. Erik hasn't shut him out.
"It's one I have to make, Erik. I'm sorry," Charles whispers.
Erik goes very still. Then he turns, and calls out to someone, "Take him to a secure room and keep him there."
Security takes Charles away, and Charles closes his eyes to the rage and betrayal in Erik's mind. Charles is staring at a blank wall when Erik sends, clear and intended to be heard, My own lover won't protect me.
Charles sinks his head into his hands, and breathes.
Erik sits in one of the chairs around the table, Frost silently taking the seat next to him, all frigid grace. He doesn't look at her, but he can feel her prodding at his mind, and he deliberately sends out a flare of annoyance without looking her way. She's judging him; he can feel it. He's since closed his mind as much as possible, and he knows that's a barrier Charles will not cross, but Frost is another matter entirely. She thinks something about what he said to Charles, even though she'd said nothing at the time.
Erik supposes that he always had the thought lurking in the back of his mind that Charles would come to see things the way Erik did. That once Charles had been among them long enough, he would understand why they fight the way they do, that Charles would be willing to use his full potential.
It's only been days, of course. But maybe he was a fool to believe that at all. Charles' blindness is grating and feels like a betrayal nevertheless.
Be quiet, Erik snaps back.
You'll come to me, eventually, Frost replies, and then her mental presence disappears.
The room they're in is deeply set into this Intel building. It's not a place of action; it's a place of command, where dozens of Intel buildings combine, rooms identical to this one in each, and the information spread across the walls, across the panels built into the table. It seats about twenty, Moira at the front, as leader of this section, the self-sufficient portion of Intel in this building.
Shaw comes in last, sitting next to her, and Erik knows now why he was invited instead of simply handed orders like most other mutants, even the powerful ones.
The other seats are filled with military heads of air, land, and naval forces. Erik recognizes or knows most of them, some with visible mutations, others not – most with a powerful talent that's useful or with intelligent minds.
Moira taps the screen in front of her, and everyone's screen goes blank. "The Senate has consented to the military action, the council has voted, and the Prime Minister agrees – Project Knifepoint is a go."
"The idea is for one preemptive strike powerful enough to dissuade the human world from attacking us, but in case that fails, we'll need to be prepared for any reaction." She looks at the others. "Ororo, Erik, and Andrew. You'll stay here, ready to defend Genosha itself. Most of our other forces will be waiting in stealth, to attack forward bases near Genosha capable of launching strikes against us."
Erik nods. He'd expected this – he's powerful enough to shred any missiles they fire this way – his ability to feel metal and magnetic field can, if he reaches, stretch miles. Ororo controls the weather, and can whip it into a frenzy more than capable of taking out any aircraft before they even get in Erik's reach. Andrew is capable of roiling the sea through his mastery of water, to take out ships and subs.
He can imagine it already. He doesn't doubt it will go that far. His ability has always been influenced by his mental state, and he can feel the metal in the building begin to vibrate, tense with his own excitement and anger. They've been pushed into this position, but they won't fail to defend their home and take out the human threat entirely, obliterating the world's military forces, if it comes to that. Erik expects it will. Andrew, a young man with light hair and dark eyes, gives him a nod, eyes unwavering. They know that what they're doing is right.
"Credit," and Moira goes reluctant here, "for the plan of counterattack goes to Shaw. He coordinated and thought this through before we did."
A hint of smugness along Shaw's face.
He's thinking about how Moira as a woman is deferring to him. That she's actually human is almost secondary to being female. Sexist pig, Frost sends.
Heart still heavy with the thought of Charles, Erik nevertheless can't help smiling and he hides it immediately, because damn it, Frost, that's completely inappropriate right now.
The rest of the meeting is details. The UN is notoriously slow in taking action; if action is quick, it's usually because one nation in particular leads the effort, but that's not the case here, so they have time – but not as much as they thought they would. The resolution has been quickly followed by a quiet shift in military resources in the major countries – mostly the United States, Britain, and Germany, with a side of China and Japan.
It would take twelve hours to reach the farthest target by air, in stealth mode, so that's when the project begins. The strikes will be as simultaneous as can be managed.
There are one hundred and eighty-two targets in all. Most are research or weapon based, like the CIA facility that created the blue powder (which Erik learns they codenamed Aidrutos, meaning unstable).
"All further information has a level eighteen clearance. Erik, Andrew, Ororo – we have twelve hours before Project Knifepoint begins, and any attack towards us is unlikely to take place before then. I suggest you all get some rest before you take your positions."
Erik nods, rises to his feet. He glances at Frost for the first time, sees that slightly distant look he'd grown to recognize on Charles's face as well. She's talking to someone, probably Moira.
Ororo halts him outside the door, blue eyes wide with worry, running a hand through her white hair. "I've never participated in something so large." She's young, much Erik younger than Erik, barely nineteen. Her abilities manifested at adolescence, like most, but she hasn't been with Intel long.
"It'll be all right," Erik assures her. "Andrew and I will be taking up any slack, and you've always done magnificently in our training sessions. Don't worry. When the time comes – your power will rise inside of you."
She nods slowly, smiles. "Thanks, Erik." She pauses. "I’m going home, going to see my mom before – before."
"Good," Erik says. "Hopefully we can meet before we take our final positions." They won't be together, so no single strike can take out the entirety of the mutant defenses along this shore.
"Hopefully." Her gaze goes distant for a second, her eyes flashing white. "Looks like the weather's inclined to cooperate already. See you, Erik." Ororo leaves.
Erik stills in the hallway, wavering. He supposes he could go home. But he doesn't know if Charles has returned to the apartment – it's possible he was kept here under Erik's orders, instead of being allowed home. It's also possible Moira is keeping him here, in case he can be used if the humans do counterattack. Or Charles could be home.
Erik's fairly sure he doesn’t want to face Charles either way. Just thinking of Charles gives him a sick feeling in his stomach. Genosha's given Charles everything, risked so much to bring him home, and now he won't return the favor. But then, his own mind reminds him, Charles never promised anything more than non-violent help. Such a limited view, with the threats Genosha faces. They just don't have that luxury.
Will Charles will be willing to force pilots coming to bomb Genosha away? Will he wipe the minds of generals, so they can't lead their men? There's so many unanswered questions, and no time for Intel to find out.
Because of Charles, his mind whispers, but he shuts the thought down. He doesn't blame Charles for this, not really. Certainly Charles had no way of knowing what would happen to him, what humans would force upon him. And this is opportunity as much as danger, though he's certain Charles does not see it that way. The human world will see the might of mutant power, and the fear they have now is nothing compared to what it will be.
The thought relaxes him a little bit, but enough of his thoughts circle back to Charles to keep him tense. He grits his teeth, then sighs and loosens his muscles when he begins to hear nearby doors – laced with metal, as well as metal bars extending into the wall as locks – shake in response to his mental state.
Barracks. That's where he's going, and he suddenly realizes he's halfway there already, and pauses in a hallway before an elevator.
Erik turns. Shaw is coming, that familiar genial smile on his face.
"I didn't have an easy time catching up with you," Shaw remarks.
"Sorry," Erik says, purposefully relaxing. "So, you planned Project Knifepoint? I thought you were just a consultant."
"That, my boy, is about to change," Shaw says easily, swinging an arm around Erik's shoulders. "We need to talk."
Erik raises his eyebrows. "All right."
"Let's go to my office."
Shaw's office is inside Intel, which is entirely new, as Erik knows Shaw hasn't had an office within Intel in years. Erik's never been here before, but apparently Shaw has been keeping things from him, because the office has the familiar objects – a small spent rod, leeched of radiation by Shaw's ability; fifteen year old scotch; an old desk from the human world, large and imposing, with a computer built into it now; and a single coin, a German mark – the first thing Erik ever moved, at twelve – as decoration.
Shaw sits behind the desk, and Erik takes one of the chairs before it. "You've been planning for this day, haven't you?" Erik asks.
"More than you know," Shaw says. His jaw clenches, his eyes narrow. "They kicked me out fourteen years ago, Erik."
From the council which he'd helped create. Erik knows this story.
"But I was right, all along." Shaw folds his hands, looking reflective. "We'd have to go to war with the humans, in order to end the threat entirely. It just took them time to see it as you and I do."
Erik frowns. "Intel's never underestimated the human world."
"But we're more than that, more than we've allowed ourselves to be. We're gods among men."
"The next stage," Erik murmurs. "But that's a while away. Everyone knows most of us come from human parents and it'll be a century or more before we begin to outnumber them. What are you driving at, Shaw?"
"We don't need to wait. We've never needed to wait. What destroys them will make us stronger."
"War, you mean?" Erik shrugs, almost a loosening of his shoulders. "Of course we'll win. It will change the world order."
"I'm glad, Erik, that you see the truth so clearly."
"So what do we need to talk about?" Erik asks.
Shaw gets up without answering, goes to the bookshelf covering one wall. He takes out a book, flips it open. From what Erik can see of the book, it has been hollowed out and there's some kind of device in it, which Shaw switches on. "Just in case," Shaw tells Erik. "To keep this conversation truly private."
Erik stares at his father's hands for a moment, as young as when Erik was a child. "What is going on?" he asks slowly.
"This is my chance. There's thirty million of us, and even accounting for the small number that are born human, we are entirely self-sufficient and capable of producing a civilization in the billions. We have the genetic diversity, do you understand?" Shaw faces him, waits. When Erik doesn't respond, mind whirling, Shaw continues, "They kicked me out because they thought my ideas too radical for our survival. That the cost of my ideals was too high. That's not the case anymore. We don't need the human world, nor do we need to fear it, and that will only become obvious in the coming war."
"It's not just Intel – you want back onto the council?"
"I'm far more ambitious than that, Erik," Shaw says with a smile. "Selven will lead us adequately for the moment, I admit. But with war, even his moderate views will be too conservative, not sufficiently focused on the future of mutantkind."
Erik breathes for several seconds. "You're not just talking about war."
"No. I'm not."
"Genocide," Erik says.
"Evolution," Shaw counters. "My views have never truly changed, you know that."
But – war is one thing. War as a result of human bigotry and hate is just. The deliberate extinction of humanity is another matter entirely. He thinks of Charles' friends, the ones so desperate to help him that they gave everything to the first mutant they met. He thinks of Charles' parents, so desperately loving their child that they took away the opportunity of freedom from him. (He remembers: "We will never be free until all the humans are gone, Erik," when Erik was ten years old.) "Yes," Erik whispers.
Shaw looks proud.
"How did you know? You must have been planning for this for a long time, gathering support inside of Intel, for the next election cycle." War is inevitable, yes, but Project Knifepoint being Shaw's plan in almost its entirety speaks to something else.
"The humans weren't hard to lead," Shaw says dismissively. "They think they have spies within Genosha, but in truth they have only what I gave to them, sufficient information for them to get cocky. Making that blue powder was a result of some genetic studies I released, other data on mutant abilities and how they manifest. I even helped that rogue group gain access to it, since the US government was being so slow to use it."
"You gave information to the enemy? Information that could hurt Genosha?" Erik says, disbelieving, rising to his feet and clenching his hands into fists.
"I merely sped up what was already happening. Don't be naïve. This is for the good of us all. We will never be free until they're gone. All of them."
Erik can't speak.
Shaw watches him carefully, then walks over to him, places his hands on Erik's shoulders. "Erik, it's easy. Once the humans respond to our attack with war, destroying them will be the natural solution. We already have the tools in place, ordinary missiles and low-radiation nuclear weapons, implanted on human soil. Humanity will go instinct, and mutants will rule the world."
"And if they don't?"
Shaw smiles. "Then we keep attacking them until they do. I gave you to Intel for just this day – your power has always been part of the plan. You've always understood our natural place in the world. Are you with me, son?"
Erik closes his eyes. He nods.
"Good boy," Shaw says. "Sleep, and then take your place. I assure you, in the future you'll be seated among the generals of the world."
Erik's eyes open, and he blinks. "Right."
"I have to meet with the council, now. We have to plan our next moves," Shaw says. He pauses. "I heard about the telepath only partially cooperating."
"I tried –"
"I don't doubt it. Perhaps we can make use of him when war is inevitable. His instinct to survive will war against those human morals, then."
Charles could yet to be manipulated into helping Genosha – his refusal had not been complete, and apparently Shaw knows that. But suddenly, the thought of Charles using his powers like that makes Erik sick instead of excited. "Thanks," Erik says.
"Go. I'll be here when you return."
Erik silently swipes the coin off of Shaw's desk, while Shaw's back is turned, heading for the open book with the device inside. Then Erik leaves, without another word.
The barracks are located below ground, but in one of the higher levels. It's actually fairly full when Erik arrives, no doubt because a lot of Intel personnel have no intention of going home when there's a mission going on and a possible counter-attack on Genosha imminent. Erik picks a bunk at random, takes off his boots and lies down. There's combat clothing in a room attached to the showers, so he can dress when he wakes.
He closes his eyes. He has to rest. He has a job to do in a little less than twelve hours, when his shift will begin – when he'll start looking for any metal that gets past the missile shield. He wonders, for a moment, what Frost will be doing, if she'll move beyond Genosha's borders at last.
He needs to sleep.
Shaw must have been planning this for years. It would take that long just for the humans to develop the destabilizing agent, even if Shaw gave them studies on mutant genetics and manifestations of ability. Shaw didn't know about Charles, but obviously he suspected some mutants were around, most likely thinking that the agent would be used in third world countries as well, ones more likely to have unknown mutants. And he knew that those mutants, once revealed, would be attacked and cause Genosha to respond in turn. He knows that when Genosha attacks those facilities – facilities he helped create – that war will be inevitable.
Erik had spoken to Charles like it was less than a certainty, but with Shaw feeding them, feeding humans fear …
Shaw's committed treason, Erik reminds himself. His father has committed treason in Genosha's own name. He could tell someone. It'd be his word against Shaw's, but Frost would be an easy fix to that.
Could he do that? Sentence the man who'd raised him to death? Treason required no less.
Erik opens his eyes, finds the coin lazily spinning a foot above his face.
Informing Intel of Shaw's actions would change only one thing: Shaw's life. It wouldn't stop what's happening. Genosha will still attack those anti-mutant facilities. The UN will still respond.
Then humans will die. Ordinary weapons, Shaw said, and low-radiation nukes. It would ravage the world; Genosha is one island. He wonders if there's more than that, biochemical warfare. It would make sense. Target strands of DNA uniquely human, maybe. Erik doesn't know the science; Charles might.
Charles, insisting that there's another way.
The humans didn't choose this on their own. They didn't do what Erik expected of them – they were led to it, carefully, and God, Shaw must have been planning this for more than a decade. They've all been playing Shaw's game, the entire time. Even Erik. Especially Erik. How has Frost not seen this? Has she and is she on Shaw's side? The thought doesn't seem to make sense, not with how much Frost distains Shaw; but then, Erik knows there are ways of shielding your thoughts, burying certain intentions. He had to learn to do it to even begin to keep secrets from a teenage Frost, careless with her powers. It's possible, if the telelpath isn't looking actively.
Shaw's mind must have hid in plain sight, hatred of humans a shield over an even deeper plan.
Shaw's plan is perfect. Erik doesn't know how to stop it. He doesn't know if he should stop it.
Charles would try anyway, Erik imagines. Charles stood up to Intel, kept to his morals even after being caught by humans and saved by mutants. He didn't let Erik or anyone else force him to do otherwise. Days as a Genosha citizen and it wasn't about resisting, it was about keeping to himself, living with himself. Erik understands that now, and knows that he wasn't the one betrayed.
Charles can live with himself, knowing he didn't want war, and refused to participate in the beginning echoes of one.
Can Erik live with the opposite?
Four hours have passed when he opens his eyes again. Charles, his mind thinks dully into the silence. He wants to see Charles, see his lover, and explain what went wrong. But that's not all he has to think about, not all he has to decide. He turns his head, sees the German mark on the pillow beside him. He lifts it with a twitch of his fingers, spins it on its axis as he sits up, looking around, seeing Intel personnel drifting in and out of the barracks, many still asleep. A little more than six hours to go, dark red light on one wall counting down.
The coin floats above his hand. He re-forms it into a glistening metal ball, destroying what it was, and lets it spin over his shoulder, hovering like an absent angel. He pulls on his boots, checks his cell phone, and then leaves.
He moves through all the checkpoints silently, until the last one. Dorak's there.
"Where is Charles?" Erik asks him. "Did he pass through?"
"Sent him home. A security group is supposed to bring him back two hours before countdown. Assuming he's still there," Dorak adds darkly. Rumor must be going around, however much Intel likes to keep its secrets.
Erik feels nauseous. "Thank you."
Taking the subway home is almost surreal. Erik can tell just from the general atmosphere that civilians don't yet know what's going on. They know about the resolution, of course, Erik doesn't doubt that – they do have good access to human news sources – but the mutant response is apparently still secret. Everyone there, just past the usual rush from work to home, is fairly relaxed and living in their own private worlds, lacking the silent sense of unity Erik remembers from other scares.
It's dark outside, and when Erik looks up to the window of his apartment, he sees no lights. Worry settles deep inside his gut, and when he heads to the elevator he sets the ball of metal in a pocket.
His key opens the apartment door, and it's dark inside, like he expected. There's no lights on, none at all, even when he looks down the hallway. He stops before Charles' door, breathing, then slowly pushes it open.
The bed is empty.
Erik resists the urge to call out for Charles mentally, feel that warmth in his mind again. He didn't shut Charles out immediately, even after sending that last deliberate thought, but he'd felt it at the time when Charles withdrew. Where is Charles? Did he leave? Where would he go? Panic begins to rise, uncontrollable. Charles, in everything that he is, has drawn Erik into his orbit, and Erik had been helpless to fight it, hadn't wanted to.
He loves Charles, he thinks, loves Charles, and the realization makes him dizzy. He leans against the wall, pushes his forehead to it, breathing deeply. He'd been angry at Charles, but he was the one in the wrong. He'd pushed Charles where Charles had told him not to. And now Charles is gone.
See if he left anything, Erik tells himself. He heads for his own room, pushes the door open, and –
Charles is there, on Erik's bed. A dark figure in the middle, curled on his side with his legs pulled up, only the light from the streetlamps making anything visible at all.
Relief so powerful Erik is surprised Charles doesn't react flows through Erik. Charles isn't moving, save for the slight rising of his chest.
Erik sits on the bed next to him, the dip in the mattress shifting Charles slightly, and he reaches out and runs a hand through Charles' thick hair, soft under his fingers.
There's a sharp inhale, and Charles is suddenly awake, his presence spreading throughout Erik's mind briefly before fading. "Erik?"
Erik drinks in the planes of Charles' face, a glint of light finding Charles' blue eyes, and then Erik kisses him, softly and briefly. "I'm sorry."
Charles looks wary. "For what?"
Almost everything in the apartment is metal, for Erik's ease of use. He flips the light on without moving from the bed, and Charles blinks rapidly in the sudden light. Erik can see creases on his cheek from sleeping on the bed, and he rubs his face, looking adorably rumpled.
"You told me your limits, and I didn't listen," Erik explains. "I just … it's easier to see only one point of view, Charles."
Something fades from Charles' face, and it takes Erik a moment to realize it was fear. Of what, Erik isn't entirely certain – that Erik would reject him? Probably. He gave Charles no reason to believe otherwise, gave him reason to think Erik would abandon him to a world he doesn't know and doesn't entirely understand. Without Erik, Charles is alone.
"I'm sorry," Erik repeats, voice heavy with emotion. Has he fucked this up beyond hope?
Charles breathes out, and before he knows it Erik is reaching forward regardless of his fears, pulling Charles into his arms. Charles is stiff for a long moment, then melts against him, and kissing him seems like the only thing to do, so Erik does. A rush of foreign emotion flows over Erik as he does so – fear and loneliness foremost – confusing Erik until he realizes it's Charles, projecting again like he was before, present in Erik's mind. An empty space being filled.
Erik breaks the kiss, opening his eyes to look at Charles, stroking his thumb across Charles' cheekbone. He wants to be forgiven, but has no right to ask that, not right now. "You okay?"
"I – " Charles stops. "Don't do that to me again," he says, a new firmness to his voice.
"I won't. I promise."
Charles nods slightly.
"You can see that I'm telling the truth," Erik says, invitation in the tone of his voice.
He can feel Charles' gentle touch again, Charles' expression distant, and then he focuses on Erik again. "Something else is wrong. I can sense it in your mind."
"I found something out," Erik says, relieved that Charles saw that; that Erik doesn't have to make the choice of telling him. "And I don't know what to do."
"And you want my opinion?" Charles looks surprised, and Erik really can't blame him.
Erik takes Charles' hands in his own, and Charles hesitantly grips his in return. "Look into my mind." He opens it as much as he can, and then waits for Charles to accept.
He places the memory of the meeting with Shaw first in his mind, everything else – the plans for attack and counter attack, Erik's own place in defense and the possibility of all-out war – a cascading jumble of fear, guilt, and anger. He sees those emotions reflected in Charles' eyes while Charles carefully shifts through Erik's mind, gentle and warm in a way Frost never managed, even when they were closer than they are now. Charles' presence has always been different, and now is no exception.
"Oh God, Erik," Charles whispers.
"I'm sorry," Erik says again. "But I don't know what to do."
Charles exhales shakily. "May I?" He waves a few fingers of one hand in the general direction of his head.
"Of course," Erik says immediately.
Charles begins to project – Erik instantly recognizes the feelings and images as foreign, but the way they slide in is slow and gentle. First, Erik sees Charles as a child. He sees through the eyes of that child the love of Charles' parents, strong and utterly certain because Charles can see everything; because then, Charles couldn't help but see everything. He sees the cruelty of Charles' stepfather, but his mother's love rings no less true in spite of that. He sees all the humans Charles has ever known, good and bad and in-between, but most of them are good people. Charles can't help but hear it, can't help but know it. He sees Charles' stepping into the Mutant Rights Organization for the first time, sitting among that first meeting and feeling like somewhere he was finally accepted, even if his hosts were unknowing of the extent of their hospitality.
Erik shows him Alicia and Sarah, in return, and feels Charles' smile and voice, saying, Yes, that's them. If we can save them, Erik, they deserve to be saved.
Yes, Erik says. Thank you, he thinks quietly, for making the decision, not sure if he wants that to be heard; not sure if it is, hidden so deep. "Then that's what we'll do. But how?"
"You know Genosha, not me," Charles points out, straightening. "Do you know people to go to about Shaw?"
"Yes," Erik says reluctantly. "But stopping Shaw won't end what he's put in place – Project Knifepoint will occur regardless. They still have those anti-mutant weapons and facilities, it doesn't matter how they got them." Erik pauses. "Peace is not an option, not after that UN resolution. We can't back down."
"Then we talk to those that can help us, maybe they know of another way," Charles says. "It's all we have."
Erik looks down, frowns. "I think I know who to go to first."
Erik tells Charles that Raven's place is probably the safest, if they're going to consider treasonous acts of disobedience, simply because Raven is lowest in rank of all of them. Erik calls her first, a few scant words that Charles overhears, and then they're heading out of the apartment, Erik's hand holding Charles'. Night has fallen while Charles has been asleep, and it's actually the first time he's been outside while it's dark. To his surprise, all the buildings have stripes of lights along them when they leave the residential area and to the subway. It's begun to drizzle.
But most of all, he can sense Erik again, not the cold anger of before, but warmth and worry. And underneath that, a care for Charles, a sense of remorse and regret that hangs over his every thought. It's reassuring, even though Charles feels slightly guilty for taking comfort in Erik's emotional discomfort.
Another part of him remembers the desperate grief and abandonment of Erik's rejection.
"She lives a few miles away," Erik says briefly, gaze wandering.
Charles opens his mind, but he hears nothing suspicious in the tumult of thoughts, no intention focused on them in particular. "We're not being followed," Charles murmurs.
Erik glances at him sharply. "You sure?"
"Why would they follow us? They don't know … well, what we're intending."
"Not for that, no," Erik says. "But they would follow us to keep us safe until the project occurs, particularly me. And they'd probably want to keep you in sight for when the humans counterattack – you did agree to use your powers in that event."
That is a thought that hadn't occurred to Charles. "Oh."
"Raven is calling Hank and Logan. She might have trouble getting a hold of Hank, but Logan should be able to help us. He's old, he knows how our government works," Erik says. He adds wryly, "And he's got extensive contacts for someone who refuses to be in positions of responsibility."
"Well, that's good, right?" Charles offers as the subway slows.
Erik takes Charles' hand again and they step off. Erik's expression softens in something contemplative, like he hadn't thought of it that way before; Charles hears a smattering of thoughts about Erik thinking less of Logan for that, before. "Yeah. I guess it is."
Raven's apartment is a large studio, on the second floor with a separate entrance up a metal staircase. Raven opens the door before they get close enough to knock, in her blue form.
"Erik, what's going on?" Raven asks, sounding worried. She shoots a slightly nervous smile at Charles.
"Did you call the others?" Erik asks impatiently, stepping past her and into the apartment, dragging Charles with him.
"Yes," Raven snaps, impatience leaking from her mind. "They're coming. What is it?"
The studio opens into a living room, a modern looking couch and what looks like a small paint studio, with large canvases of abstract art leaning against the wall, the concrete floor splattered with various shades of paint.
Erik sits on the couch, folds his hands together, and looks up at Raven. Charles sits beside him, waits for Erik to speak. "Shaw's been feeding information to the humans about us, including enough information for them to develop weapons against us. He wants a war in which humanity will be wiped out, and he'll manipulate everything he can to achieve that goal."
Raven's form briefly destabilizes, flickering between forms too fast for Charles to get any details. "What?"
"This was never intended to be just a surgical strike against anti-mutant facilities. I don't think Shaw will let it stay that way, and he's got weapons on human soil already." Erik swallows, closes his eyes. "He wants genocide, and I … I'm afraid he's going to get it."
"He's committed treason," Raven says finally, sounding stunned. "Tell Intel that – tell the council that, and they'll respond."
"It's not just that," Erik says. "They won't stop Project Knifepoint, Raven. Not even for that. Those facilities need to be destroyed for our safety, regardless of a mutant being responsible. And I don't doubt Shaw has supporters that we don't know about, willing to carry out any further aggression necessary."
Raven glances at Charles, who can hear the thought: Is war so bad? She looks guilty, eyes shifting away.
"The result will be outright war, Raven. What Shaw's put in place will go forward even without him to lead it. Humans don't deserve to be murdered for something they've been manipulated into doing," Charles says quietly. "My friends don't deserve to die for that. The majority of the human populace has no idea those projects exist."
Raven is silent.
"Not all fear us, or want to hurt us" Charles says. "I believe that if they're exposed to the world, these anti-mutant facilities won't continue." Charles looks at her intently, leans in. "You've never tried a method of dealing with humans that doesn't involve fear and secrecy. Isn't it time for that to change?"
She runs her hand through her bright red hair, nodding. "You're probably right, but I don't know how to help you," she says at last. "Logan might. You still need to tell someone about Shaw, though. He's endangering us all, regardless of the rest of this."
"Okay," Erik agrees. "I don't suppose you know someone who could get us in to talk to the council?"
Raven shakes her head.
There's a knock at the door. "Raven!" comes Logan's familiar, rough voice, slightly muffled. "You call me here in the middle of the night you better answer the damn door." A pause. "And Hank's here lookin' like a drowned rat."
Raven's mouth finally quirks into a full smile, and she shoots an amused look at Erik, who loses some of his tension in response. That allows Charles to relax a little, feeling that same harmony he felt when he first met the two of them. And Logan, and Hank. They'll try to help, Erik seems sure of it. As if feeling Charles' emotions, Erik turns to look at him, squeezes his hand and then lets go.
Raven opens the door and Logan stomps in, Hank following much more quietly. Logan eyes Erik, while Hank blinks at Charles. Raven sits cross-legged on the floor with Logan, Hank perched on a chair.
Erik lets them get settled, then gives the short version of Shaw's plan, and the fact they don't know how to stop it, now that it's been put in motion. Genosha's hatred of the human world and humans hatred of mutants is too strong for reason to take hold; Erik's own indecision is proof of that, as is Raven's. Logan expression slowly hardens, and as soon as Erik is done, he snarls, "Knew that man was a bastard."
Hank blurts, "He's Erik's father, Logan!"
"That doesn't matter," Erik says, but Charles can feel the emotions beneath the words, some so confused that no coherent thought accompanies them. "What matters is what we do now. Logan?"
"I know people on the council," Logan says. Hank's mind shifts towards being hopeful. "Being essentially immortal has its advantages, just as Shaw's longevity has. I can get Shaw arrested. But the rest? I don't see a solution."
"Then we find another way," Erik insists. He looks at Charles, thinks, I know you won't kill for this, and we won't. "Commit treason ourselves, if we have to in order to end this. To stop it before it starts."
There's silence. Thank you, Erik, Charles sends. Erik responds with a complex emotion, relief primarily, mixed with others too brief to pin down.
"I’m in," Logan says. "I didn't like the look of this from the beginning."
"I'll help, if I can," Raven says.
Hank's mind is a roiling mess.
"Hank?" Charles says hesitantly.
Hank looks around the room restlessly for a long moment, then faces Charles. "I think I know of a way. If you were inclined towards, well, doing something really outrageous."
"Like what?" Charles asks.
Hank is projecting a great deal of nervousness and anxiety. "I'm not supposed to tell anyone about this. It's really, and I mean really, top secret."
"What, Hank?" Erik asks curtly.
"Intel … we built a device that amplifies telepathic abilities. It's based off an abandoned project by the CIA, but they never got it to work because they didn't have telepaths – they were trying to use normal humans, and they finally gave up on it in the late sixties. Shaw was one of the agents who took all the schematics and files, actually." Hank clears his throat. "It extends Frost's reach so she can touch the mind of anyone in Genosha, out to a few miles into international water. We've been theorizing since New York that you would be able to power it so much you could reach a lot more than that."
Charles blinks. "How far? Do you think?"
"The entire world." Hank pushes his glasses up his nose. "With that kind of power … if you wanted to end this before it starts, you could."
"That's why they were so desperate to have you," Erik whispers. "You'd be the ultimate weapon, if they could get you to agree to it."
Charles can't imagine touching that many minds. Seven billion. All he would need, though, would be a few thousand, at most. Those directly involved – he could make them destroy their own facilities, make the Genosha strike team turn away. Not a single life would have to be lost.
And afterward? Charles doesn't know.
"How do we get there?" Charles asks.
"You'd have to consent to using it the way they want," Erik says. "They'd give you access."
"Yeah," Hank says, and he straightens as his mind goes distant and analytical, "but Frost would check him first. For something like this, you know they would have her make sure you were telling the truth. I've worked on this project, there are a hundred security measures between us and it. It's so far below ground most of you don't even know those levels exist, and they can lock it down. Even against your powers, Erik – you might be able to rip your way in, but it could damage the machine."
"I can't guarantee my ability to fool her," Charles says. "It's not a matter of power as much as finesse, keeping something hidden without her knowing I’m blocking something."
"Then we have to turn Frost," Erik says flatly.
Raven squints her yellow eyes. "You know her best, you grew up with her. Is that possible?"
Erik frowns, and Charles catches a flash of a memory – Frost saying Erik would come to her. "Maybe she saw this coming," Erik says at last. He stands up. "We need to get going. We've got, what, six hours?"
Charles waves a hand. "Sit down. We'll talk to her here. I can reach her at this distance easily."
Erik starts. "Here? Now?"
"Well, if she says no at least we'll be able to run," Charles points out reasonably.
Logan rises to his feet, gaze calm and hard when he looks at Charles. "You do that. I'm going to talk to the council members I know. For my intervention to have an effect, particularly in the long term, it's probably best I'm not associated with you, depending on how this goes down."
"Abandoning us?" Raven asks lightly.
"He's right," Erik says. "Get out of here, see if you can get Shaw arrested."
Logan gives a curt nod and leaves.
Raven watches him go. "I'll stay with you, in case I’m needed," she says to Erik and Charles. She shifts into the body of Moira for a second. "Just in case," says Moira's voice.
Erik smiles, faintly. "Thank you, Raven. Hank, you should probably go as well."
Hank shakes his head. "You might need me, to help calibrate the device. Cerebro. Frost is the only one who's ever used it – we might need to make changes for it to be usable by you, Charles. And besides – I'm already in this, anyway."
Charles realizes that's true – just by telling them about the device, he's certainly committed at least several crimes, if not outright treason. "Thank you, Hank," Charles says softly.
Hank nods lightly, looks down.
"Can you link me in when you talk to Frost?" Erik asks, taking one of Charles' hands in his own.
"Yeah. Give me a second." Charles reaches up with his hand automatically, and closes his eyes.
When he opens his mind, the first thing he feels is the minds around Raven's apartment – all with that peculiar brightness of mutants, some asleep, some angry, some fucking, and then he expands his circle, tuning out most minds, searching for a familiar one. He can tell when he reaches Intel – even without invasively going into minds – because the minds there are different. Focused.
He's there, and then Frost reaches him.
Charles opens his mind to Erik, begins a very narrow projection so Erik can hear what Charles does. I need your help, Frost.
She presses against his shields, lightly. Yes? Warily.
Charles reaches into Erik's mind for the memory. Shaw, the desk, and the coin. He doesn't stop there, inserts Erik's own doubts, feels Erik react to that again, an echo of the memory.
Frost's mind hardens, and literally snaps out for a second, the abrupt disappearance so startling Charles actually physically recoils. Erik sends him an image, though of Frost – of being flesh one moment, glittering diamond the next, making her mind impenetrable.
So Charles waits. Seconds later, so faint he almost doesn't catch it, Shit.
You didn't know, Erik thinks.
He pulled strings to get past my verification, Frost answers, a surge of anger flowing through the connection. I wanted to look, but orders are orders in Intel.
So you don't agree with his plans? Erik asks.
I'm a telepath, darling. When it comes down to it, human minds and mutant minds are not as different as you might think.
We need access to Cerebro, Charles says. I can stop Shaw's plan from there.
And the aftermath? Frost asks.
Let us worry about that, Erik says.
Frost heaves a mental sigh. Not that simple, Erik.
Tell them I manipulated your mind into it, if need be, it's not like it's something they could check, Charles interjects.
I'm a survivalist, but not that much of one, Frost says wryly. It's not me I’m concerned with. Do you think stopping the current attack will stop this for good?
I can remove the reasons for it, Charles points out. I'll make them destroy everything. Genosha won't have a reason to attack the human world after that. I'd make that offer now, in place of a physical attack, but I don't think they would accept, do you?
Erik's mind shifts into agitation. They wouldn't. I know I wouldn't, if not for you.
Charles turns his attention back to Frost.
All right. I'm going to tell them you contacted me and agreed to work for us in every capacity. Tell Raven to come with you. And Erik – I told you so. Frost breaks the connection.
Charles opens his eyes to see Hank staring at him worriedly. "She said yes," Charles says.
Erik's already on his feet, tense with energy. "Then let's go."
They separate from Raven almost immediately when they enter Intel. Spirits, Charles can tell, are high. People are excited about the coming attack, instead of nervous or afraid. Much like what he'd sensed from Erik originally. Frost has already spoken to a clearly suspicious Moira (Charles catches a hint of guilt from Frost) by the time he and Erik arrive, meeting them in the room that Charles briefly saw when the UN resolution came through, and Erik … well, Erik. Charles glances over, but Erik seems bizarrely calm for what they're about to attempt.
Charles watches Frost lean close to Moira, saying, "Erik's influence, you know."
Moira gives Charles an even stare. "Are you sure, Emma?"
"Absolutely. And we should test him first, see if his reach extends as far as we think it will. Erik will need to be there, of course, to be an anchor."
"Test me on what?" Charles asks, playing along.
Moira nods shortly. "Fine. But go with him – I'll follow along in a moment." Then, looking past Charles, she mutters, "Shit."
Raven strolls in, recognizable only because Frost had told her to come in as a council member. "I'm here for an update, MacTaggert," Raven says, voice deep. She's in the form of a man that Charles doesn't recognize, white hair and deep-set eyes. The change is startling, even though Charles has seen Raven take other forms before.
Moira waves them on and Erik leads Charles away, Raven still conversing with Moira – distracting her long enough that she won't follow them to Cerebro. There's not much she'll be able to do once Charles is in it, but they want Intel ignorant of what they're doing for as long as possible. Charles doesn't know how much he's going to be able to multitask.
Frost leads them as far as the first checkpoint for Cerebro, and says, "They're arresting Shaw. Get going."
Hank meets them there, white labcoat on and looking remarkably put together for all the distress he's broadcasting.
Charles realizes just how well-protected Cerebro is – and how much they must want him to use it for this attack, if they're letting him through all these defenses – when they have to go on a separate elevator, go through a huge, heavy metal door, get their irises scanned (Charles has no idea when they got his, but they have it), and multiple rings of security, people and computer based. Even Erik looks taken aback.
They're led into what's clearly a lab, full of computers, and there's a doorway beyond that, a small panel to the side. Hank presses his hand to it, and the door opens.
Cerebro itself, though, is not what Charles expected – both larger and smaller than he thought it would be. The door opens into a platform extending into the center of a giant circular room, which curves above their heads and beneath their feet. Faintly, Erik sends to him, I can sense all the metal, it's an incredibly complex lattice. At the end of the platform there's a helmet of sorts, three inch-thick wires extending from it into the floor.
"You put it on your head, and well, it should work," Hank murmurs. "I'll be just outside, monitoring you."
Charles moves forward, steps echoing faintly.
Frost voice comes in abruptly. They know. Shaw's been arrested and he's pointing to you, saying you must be planning on sabotage, and they're listening.
"Shit," Erik says, "didn't see that coming, and we should have."
Charles raises a hand, but before he can put it to his temple, Erik is pushing it down.
"Let me," Erik says.
"Then let me help you," Charles returns.
Erik closes his eyes, and Charles stills inside Erik's mind, waiting. He senses it when Erik reaches out to feel all the metal around them, not just Cerebro, but beyond that in the foundations of the building itself, in the miles of wire and tons of steel used to protect this place. He feels it when Erik tells it to melt, feels the joy in Erik's mind when it responds, rushing through hallways and collapsing security checkpoints, and Charles nudges him here and there, able to sense the minds of those there, telling Erik what to avoid, where to lay the re-formed metal. He tells Erik, easily lifted from Hank's mind, that Cerebro has its own generator, that they can cut themselves off completely. Erik welcomes him into his mind, as he always has, and Charles sharpens Erik's focus, stilling the anger Erik is using and sharing himself instead.
Erik gasps aloud, and the entire building rumbles like an earthquake is going through it. Erik's collapsed entire floors, the space kept empty between Cerebro and the rest of Intel.
It's beautiful. Erik creates loops and whirls and arches, not creating a solid wall, instead a vast network of metal that curves around Cerebro and the small room just outside it. The crazy mass of steel that Erik has formed is like a web around them, stronger than a simple wall, which could be shattered.
Then Erik is done.
Erik blinks his eyes open, and for a second Charles sees Erik through his own eyes, and sees himself through Erik's eyes, odd double vision.
"Your turn," Erik says.
Charles turns, keeping a part of himself in Erik's mind, steps over to the helmet and places it on his head.
He doesn’t feel it when he collapses, but he is aware of when Erik tries to take it off his head.
NO, ERIK, WAIT.
Erik staggers, immediately stopping while he grabs his own head in pain. Charles!
I'M ALL RIGHT. PLEASE … let me.
The world is a sea of gray.
Human and mutants are lights roaming in it, human ones shining, mutant ones with that odd luster, easily different, and for the first time, Charles wonders why. He hears a low hum, the combination of billions of minds whispering their thoughts to themselves, chained while Charles is unfettered. He catches individual thoughts and dreams, brief surges of emotion, all on a scale he's never felt before.
He is hearing everyone.
Erik is still the loudest. His terror for Charles is like a ringing bell, vibrating through the link Charles has forged with his mind. He uses that link to calm Erik, saying, quiet, quiet now.
Charles turns back to the sea. Slowly, the cacophony takes shape, and he begins to understand the physical distance they have from each other, that these minds are here, those there, and following the hum he creates a map for himself. He touches their minds lightly, skipping like a stone over water, watching the ripples to see where they bounce back.
Those with the luster are small in comparison to those without, and it is not hard for Charles to find those minds traveling over the world, and he tells them, Go back. Go back home. They struggle for a second against the suggestion, and Charles feels a moment of distant sadness before he reinforces the suggestion into a command. At the same time, he gives them a moment of what he's feeling – the minds, the profound peace within the chaos, and their minds still, quiet, and then they obey.
He plucks the knowledge of where those forces were heading from Erik's mind, the memory one that Charles can extract and examine carefully, recall perfect in a way it isn't for Erik's conscious mind.
He slides into the minds of the people at those facilities. One hundred and eight-two separate places, some occupied by less a dozen, others hundreds. He separates their fear and hate from their conscious minds, rendering them briefly incapable of either, and then says, Undo what you have done. They blink in unison, then turn to their given task. He hovers within the minds of one group while holding the others still, waits for them to accomplish their mission and then he gently takes the memory of what they've done away. The gist remains, but the details, the knowledge of how to create that blue powder, how to create that suppressant, they fade.
Then he goes to another. And another.
Genosha's information is good, but Charles can see the blind spots now, knows that there are other places, too, and he finds those. He tells them to destroy their work, and they do so, left afterwards only with a sense of peace that he deliberately instills, and perhaps an image here and there of a gray sea. He leaves the bombs implanted on human soil alone, taking away the knowledge of where they are; that will have to be sufficient.
He holds tens of thousands of minds actively within his grasp.
He knows he can go even further.
Sifting takes an indeterminable amount of time, finding the minds of human leaders, made easier when he finds the UN meeting, and rides their thoughts back to the locations of their superiors.
He doesn't hurt them. He goes through instead, finding a variety of opinions and thoughts on mutants that are so broad not a single one entirely repeats.
He withdraws for a long moment, waiting in the sea without touching any of the minds in it, thinking. Thinking his own thoughts, not riding upon those of others.
In days when Charles would wonder about his own power, he had often thought to himself that the mind must be limitless, for all the ways he has seen them develop, all the ways people are different. But then, at the same time, the opposite is true. So many share so much without ever knowing it. He turns his focus upon the minds of the mutant leaders, Selven and the council, and realizes Frost is in Shaw's mind, holding him still while he tries to release the power of his mutation, raging at the cage he is being kept in.
They are so similar, mutants and humans. He sees fear of the other, he sees hatred, he sees the lines of the past traveling into the future in the minds of those living it.
So he opens his mind, as far as he can go. He puts all his power into turning the tumult into a single voice, a single sound, a single thought and emotion.
He records it within himself, and then he uses the breadth of his reach and touch to implant a single memory into every mind – touching human minds and mutant ones, and seeing the same things there – love, grief, selfishness and greed, and in the deepest part of the mind, the elements of the soul. Unique, shifting flavors of minds, all humming along a common string.
There's always another way, Charles thinks, and doesn't know if it's heard.
Now, Erik, he whispers to Erik's mind.
Charles gasps when the helmet is lifted off his head, the connection to all the others flickering and then dying entirely, Charles trapped in his own body. No – not trapped. Contained, and he sinks back into Erik's mind, the strength of steel that curves and moves to Erik's desire.
"I felt that," Erik says into Charles' hair, holding Charles to his chest.
Charles doesn't realize he's smiling until Erik brushes his hand along Charles' cheek, finding tears there. He says, I know.
They're sitting with Hank in the room just outside of Cerebro itself. Hank has finally calmed down a bit, in the quiet of the last hour or so, busying himself by checking data from Charles' use of Cerebro, muttering about electromagnetic signals and energy usage. (Charles has only been able to gather that when he used Cerebro, the machine drew more energy from its generator than when Frost uses it. Which suggests a greater strength in ability also equals a greater capability of converting the energy of Cerebro into telepathic hearing/projection, Charles supposes.) Erik is sitting besides Charles, close enough to touch, but they've hardly spoken since Charles left Cerebro. Charles has allowed the silence, mind still echoing with the touch of billions.
Still, he can sense Erik's mind very clearly. It's a whirl of ideas about the consequences of their actions, but there's no regret there, just an attempt to plan for the future. The steadiest constant to Erik's thoughts is the two of them, together, no matter what flashes of events Erik imagines.
Charles sends him bits of what he gathers from the people in the building – the attack was stopped successfully, and no human counterattack has occurred as a result of Charles' intervention. There's a lot of erratic thoughts, however, like everyone at once trying not to think about the elephant in the room. For the most part, Charles skims those and doesn't go further; what's done is done. He does feel minds leaving, and knows that the heads of the departments have left the building entirely, presumably trying to get out of Charles' reach. Genosha's government is reacting to Charles by centralizing its efforts elsewhere. It's possible they can tell he's not using Cerebro any longer, otherwise that kind of effort would be pointless.
In the end, it takes almost an hour of mental chaos before Charles feels a mind reach out to his – not telepathic, just focused on sending a single thought: Charles Xavier. Charles Xavier, are you listening? Charles Xavier –
I'm part of internal security. We require that you and Erik Lehnsherr drop your protections so we may take you into custody.
Charles hesitates, eyes opening. "Erik. They want us to surrender."
Erik looks up, gaze sharp and aware, mind sparking like a live wire, almost too fast for Charles to catch. "Then we will. We'll cooperate. It's our only way out of this."
"They won't hurt us?" Charles whispers. The fear has been gnawing away at him, Erik's steady presence aside.
Erik's expression breaks open, suddenly soft. "No. No – they're not the humans, Charles. We'll be kicked out of Intel, I don't doubt that, but I expect we'll avoid any further punishment. No one was hurt, and everyone knows what you did – everyone felt what you did." He holds out his hand, palm outward, raising an eyebrow. "Shall I?" he asks, referring to their metal shield.
Charles nods, then refocuses. All right, Charles sends.
Understand that you will be sedated until we are sure you have implanted no mental suggestions within our government. Frost was sedated as well when her part in this was discovered.
If they intended on hurting him, they wouldn't warn him, but he still dips into the man's mind briefly, finding mostly thoughts in Russian. But there's no hostile intent. I understand.
He breaks the connection to find Erik's mind feeling the ribbons of steel, not moving anything yet, just assessing. Hank has settled next to Charles, waiting, still projecting distress and worry. Charles wishes he had enough calm himself to give to Hank.
Charles begins scanning the area around them for the presence of people, but there's almost no one anywhere near Erik's creation. They're already prepared for the fact that Erik undoing it will have to be a hell of a task, and not safe to be around. "It's all right, the nearest person is hundreds of feet away," Charles tells Erik.
Erik nods briefly. The electromagnetic field is like a living thing to Erik; Charles can feel the echo of it, from his presence in Erik's mind. Erik leaves most of his work alone, the weaving of an orb of metal around Cerebro intended not just to prevent people from walking in, but to be a wall against weapons, including bombs. In contrast, all he needs to get out is to create a tunnel, and so that is what he's doing. It's not effortless, but close, well within Erik's capabilities, even without Charles boosting him. Erik is thinking that Charles must need to rest, even the hour of it he's had already.
Charles deliberately waits until Erik is done to speak, Erik lowering his hand and returning his attention to Charles. "They said they'll sedate me for a while, Erik."
"What?" Erik stands up, and Charles rises after him.
"As a precaution," Charles says. "I mean, you said –"
"And I meant it. Don't worry, Charles. I just didn't see that coming," Erik admits, staring at him, Charles returning the favor, reading the worry and concern in Erik's mind – but most of it is for the future, not their safety. Erik still trusts Genosha, Charles realizes, even after Shaw's infiltration of it.
"I wonder what they'll do to me," Hank interrupts.
"You're a genius," Erik says dryly. "Quite irreplaceable in comparison to us."
Hank smiles nervously.
"They're coming," Charles says, and they are.
Charles gets a glance at the tunnel Erik created when the security team – dressed in black, carrying weapons, except for one – opens the door to the room and comes in, securing the room and turning off all the machinery. The unarmed man comes to Charles and Erik, stopping in front of Charles.
Erik slips his hand into Charles', in that moment.
"Ready?" the man says, probably a medic. His thoughts are single-minded, on the task and not on the aftermath. He's not the one Charles spoke to – that person isn't here.
The man even disinfects the skin before he gives Charles the injection. He feels Erik's arms wrap around him, and then nothing more.
Erik sits in the chair of the interrogation room and stares at the empty chair across from him. He pokes at the empty spot in his mind over and over, on the lookout for when Charles wakes and enters Erik's mind. Even more disturbing than when Charles went limp was the abrupt mental silence. Charles has consistently stayed in Erik's head since Erik found him asleep in his apartment, a warmth that occasionally strengthens into thoughts and impressions – gone.
Charles isn't, Erik reminds himself. He's not entirely certain how they intend to tell whether or not Charles has implanted suggestions within the minds of government authorities, though there was probably a plan in place for such an instance. Crime and anti-government sentiment is low in Genosha, but it does exist, and Intel likes to plan for all eventualities.
Being part of that, being part of Intel – that will no doubt change.
He folds his hands on the table, feels the metal of the chair and table quiver under his control, a vibration so subtle another sitting here wouldn't be aware of it. It's a small action, but it gives Erik the illusion of control. He's not unconscious in the medical center.
It's some time before Erik hears (and feels, the metal embedded into the wall retreating – as if those who put him here didn't think through his powers) the door unlock and a man walks through, casual but immediately focused on Erik.
He has one of the more striking visible mutations Erik has seen. He has red skin, dark hair, a tail, and he turns to look at Erik with startling light blue eyes. He's dressed in a black suit, eyeing Erik momentarily. He stops just inside the doorway, then disappears into a puff of red, reappearing right behind the chair.
Erik reacts by widening his eyes slightly. "That's a neat trick."
"As is yours. I appreciate that you haven't melted your holding room." He has an odd Russian accent, which suggests he's probably considerably older than he looks, one of the mutants with extended lifespans who live in Genosha, like Logan.
Erik smiles unexpectedly, surprising himself. "Who are you?"
"Azazel." He takes out the chair, sits down. "I'm internal security, and have taken control of this installation for the duration of my investigation."
"What do you need from me?"
"I want to know what happened. Every detail." He leans forward, and waits.
Erik had known this was coming, and he knows what he's going to say. He begins with Shaw. It seems like everything begins with Shaw, his childhood, his life, even provoking his relationship with Charles, in some strange way.
Erik doesn't tell Azazel any of that. He starts with Shaw revealing his plan to eradicate humanity and gain power in Genosha, tells Azazel of his immediate horror, and the mental steps he had to take before he could go to Charles and ask for help. He briefly discusses their logic in taking action on their own, the fact that he didn't believe the council or the Prime Minister would stop Project Knifepoint. He wants Azazel to understand that it wasn't about taking down Shaw so much as trying to prevent an unjust war; that it wasn't about taking control, just ending the immediate threat to both sides. Charles' power, Charles' ethics made that possible, awoke a doubt within Erik during that brief argument that led Erik to reject him.
He explains that he's still loyal to Genosha. He still believes in his country and wants to serve it, even if that's no longer possible the way it was before.
"And Charles – he wouldn't make people agree with him. He'd never do that, I don't think it even occurred to him. I think he believes it's pointless if you don't choose to do the right thing." Erik stops. "That's it."
"You forgot Logan," Azazel points out mildly.
Erik exhales slowly. "What happened to Raven and Hank, by the way?"
"They're in custody as well, their situations will be individually evaluated. For the record," Azazel says, "we don't believe Xavier unduly influenced anyone in power. He certainly didn't in the human world, so it would be odd to expect him to do it among his own kind."
"Why – what's happening in the human world?"
"Fear," Azazel says, "but no action. Leaders are acting logically and in line with past behavior. I answered your question, stop dodging the topic. Logan."
He wishes he had Charles' telepathy. He doesn't know if Azazel really knows about Logan or not – it could be a logical assumption he's trying to get Erik to confirm. Logan's on Erik's team, after all, it would be odd for him to be the only person not included. "Is Logan in trouble?" Erik asks.
"Nyet. He was the one who informed us of Shaw's betrayal, however, so his inclusion in your little group was a logical leap."
"Logan was never directly involved," Erik points out at last.
"And what about Xavier? Does he intend any further action? Interceding in Genosha's affairs with the human world?"
Erik blinks. "Shouldn't you ask him that?"
"I think your answer would be far more revealing. Xavier would not have acted without your support."
"He couldn't have, he didn't know Genosha or Intel well enough," Erik says.
"Will he act against orders?"
Erik considers that. "You know, besides the lying in order to get into Cerebro, Charles is the one person who hasn't done anything besides what he said he would. He wouldn't hurt others, refused to be involved in something that would, and he made that clear from the beginning. All his actions after that are in line with what he said he would do, what is in his contract with Intel."
"My career is over. I know that," Erik says bluntly.
"The world is going to change, Lehnsherr, with that act of imprinting that Xavier did. Our next move is no longer clear; your position hasn't been decided, yet. You never endangered Genosha, you or Xavier – we know the anti-mutant facilities were destroyed without a single person hurt. But if you follow Xavier, then your allegiance is clear – to him, not to Intel, not to orders."
Erik is silent.
"Tell me, then. What do you choose? Intel, or Xavier?"
The world begins in a fog, Charles' body feeling inexplicably heavy and slow, along with his mind. He wakes in stages, becoming aware of murmuring thoughts, then the clear light of Erik's mind. He opens his eyes to a white ceiling and then manages to turn his head.
Erik is sitting beside him. "I choose you," Erik whispers.
Erik is thinking about the news. It's coming across rather loudly, and Charles realizes only then that he'd settled back into Erik's mind again, as soon as he'd woken – that's why Erik's presence is so immediate. He did it without even thinking about it, and Erik has accepted his presence there as due course. Charles breathes slowly, thinking about that, and thinking about Erik's first words to him. Erik chose him? Over what?
Charles rubs his face and forces his eyes open, catching sight of a familiar ceiling; not the one from the medical center in Intel. The sedative has finally completely worn off, and he suspects whatever they gave him put him under so completely that even his unconscious mind was at rest.
The bed smells like Erik. Charles presses his face into the pillow for a second, inhaling. Now that he thinks about it, he dimly remembers Erik dragging him out of Intel, escorted by Intel security, and being brought somewhere – Erik's apartment. They must be under house arrest.
He gets up, notices he's barefoot, and then heads for the living room. Sunlight is pouring in from the windows, shadows sharp and long, so it must be morning. Erik's on the couch, watching the television screen, which shows a reporter speaking, the same woman from before with the visible mutation; Erik must have a favorite channel.
" – the status of Charles Xavier is currently unknown, and the government has only released a report to the media stating that Xavier is in protective custody, since he is now a prime target for human counter-attack due to the power of the Genosha demonstration. The human world has responded with inaction and discussion thus far. We expect a news conference held by Prime Minister Selven by the end of the day. We will update –"
Erik mutes it and turns his head to smile at Charles. "Hey. How are you feeling?"
"Tired. What's happening?" He got glimpses from Erik's mind, but it's worth asking.
"Well, so far I've watched three different shows host panels on what you did and the possible implications," Erik says dryly. "Intel's playing it like you were under orders to do what you did, but hasn't released any details otherwise. Though I think it became clearer what happened when the news broke in the human world that anti-mutant facility members destroyed their own work, and then lost all memory of the event."
Charles sits next to him on the couch, and Erik shifts close enough to put an arm around him. Charles melts into his grip, putting his head on Erik's shoulder.
Erik speaks into Charles' hair. "Human threat assessors are going nuts over that feeling you projected and what that means as far as telepathic assaults go, but others, average people are just kind of stunned, apparently. And amazed."
"So we stopped it." He remembers that beautiful feeling of so many minds, so many thoughts – how alive and connected he had felt, in Cerebro. He'll probably never feel that again.
"Yeah," Erik says softly. "I think it would have kept going if you hadn't shown us that – hadn't shown us how similar we all really are." He pauses. "Plus, the human world is pissing their pants in terror of us. The implications have not passed them by."
"I wouldn't hurt them."
"They don't know that," Erik says dryly. "They still think New York was a deliberate attack on your part that went wrong somehow."
Charles sighs. "So many problems could be solved if we just communicated with them." The screen has shifted from the reporter to a crowd of humans that have gone to Times Square, staging a protest asking for peace with mutants. Text scrolls along the bottom of the screen about secret UN sessions.
"Maybe," Erik says, shrugging lightly enough not to dislodge Charles.
"What about Hank? Raven and Logan?"
"Logan's taken some sort of position in the government," Erik says. "He's resistant to telepathic control, did you know that?"
Charles blinks, shifts so he can look at Erik's face, who focuses on him calmly. "No, I didn't."
"So when you did your stunt –"
"Our stunt," Charles points out mildly.
" – Our stunt, it seemed logical to the council to temporarily hand control over to mutants like Logan. I don't think that lasted long, though, or they wouldn't have trusted us enough to release us into house arrest. I don't know about the others."
"I wonder if Frost –" Charles stops, and then reaches out, searching for her mind.
She's awake. Busy, she sends, and breaks contact.
"What?" Erik is staring at him.
"She's busy, apparently," Charles says.
"Good to hear she's awake," Erik says, and he means it. He frowns, thoughts turning to darkness – grief and anger, mostly. "Wasn't she restraining Shaw?"
"You don't know what happened to Shaw?"
"I didn't think to ask." Charles feels a roll of nausea come from Erik. "What we did pales in comparison to the extent of his treason."
Charles finds Erik's hand and holds on tight. "I'm sorry. For – I'm sorry you have to go through this, I know he's important to you."
Erik looks down at their joined hands. "I don't want to think about it."
Charles hesitates. "I think you need to."
Erik looks up and sighs. His mind has returned to that confused whirl from when to the apartment and told Charles what happened. Very little complete thought accompanies the emotions – flickers of damn it, Shaw, damn you and a sharp sense of betrayal, given and received.
"You did the right thing," Charles says gently. "If nothing else, the government needed to know the entire truth behind their own actions."
"It wasn't just about – saving Genosha," and Erik says that with a bit of disbelieving bitterness, "it was about Shaw regaining the power he'd lost. I've thought a lot of things over the years about my father, Charles, but I never thought he'd betray Genosha like that. That he would do something so selfish. I always thought … that whatever his flaws as a person, he was a patriot."
"And you modeled yourself after that aspect of him," Charles says, understanding.
"So what does that make me?" Erik whispers.
"Yourself," Charles says simply. He knows the feeling of being isolated well, of every foundation being torn away. His parents' death had been that for him, casting him adrift in a world that didn't know him and couldn't, wouldn't want to. "Even from the glimpse I got of him, you are a very different person from him, Erik. And I think Frost could tell you the same thing."
Erik's mind quiets a bit. "Perhaps." The whirl has eased, even if the confusion remains. He feels Erik repress it and turn his mind to something else. "You must be hungry."
Charles decides not to push. Erik will come to him again when he's ready. From his place in Erik's mind, he tries to project acceptance and calm. "Can I have chicken?"
"Chicken's still damn expensive, I'll have you know," Erik says, smiling. He gives Charles a mental nudge back, like acknowledgement. "But yes, I think I've got some in the freezer."
Erik turns out to be a good cook, and Charles gleans from his mind that it is something he learned as an adult, after leaving home. They keep the television on, but muted, and they eat in the little kitchen nook. Erik's apartment struck him as austere at first, all clean lines and metal, but settled within Erik's mind and Erik's sense of magnetic fields, all the furniture and fixtures sing with a unique tone. It's beautiful in an entirely different way than telepathy.
There's Erik's mind itself, of course. Charles never told anyone he was a telepath, but he knows that when people think of such a possibility, fear is the first reaction, then a rush of whatever secrets they don't want others to know. Some of his experiences in Genosha also support that. But Charles knows that, for the most part, thoughts are entirely ordinary and secrets that shame some hold none of that for others. Erik is different – he welcomes Charles' presence, and he doesn't check his own thinking. He doesn't edit himself in the slightest. He lets Charles see everything and has no sense of invaded privacy.
"You're warm, you know," Erik says suddenly.
"Your presence in my mind," Erik says, rising to his feet and collecting Charles' plate before bringing it to the kitchen sink. "I can feel you thinking when you're in my head, even if I don't always get specific thoughts."
"Oh." Charles flushes, inexplicably. He thought he was controlling that. It's one thing to be in Erik's mind, but he doesn't want to be distracting him. He doesn't think he's projected so much in his whole life as he has in Genosha. "Sorry."
Erik flashes him a bright, toothy grin. "Don't be. I quite like the sensation."
Charles smiles, relaxing. "I've been wanting to ask something."
"What did you mean when you said you chose me? In the med center?"
Erik starts washing the dishes without answering, delaying. "I was debriefed pretty thoroughly," Erik says at last. "I thought my time in Intel would be essentially over, but I got the impression that wasn't necessarily the case, with a catch – ending my attachment to you." Erik smiles wryly at nothing, staring at the dishes. Charles stands and comes to his side. "Not in so many words, but that was the idea."
"Erik … Intel is your life."
"There are things more important than orders, Charles," Erik says, glancing over at him. "I've learned that."
Then Erik returns to the dishes, cleaning and then rinsing them. Charles takes those rinsed off silently and grabs a towel to dry them, stacking them neatly on the counter. There's not much there to wash, just plates from their lunch, a mug Charles used, so they finish quickly.
Charles lays his hand flat on the counter. "Thank you," he whispers.
A hand touches Charles' cheek, makes him turn his head. Erik stares at Charles intently for a moment. "You stopped me from going along with something horrific."
"No, I didn't," Charles says immediately and earnestly – surprised by Erik's words. "Making that decision was always in you."
A surge of skepticism and amusement works through Erik. "If you say so," Erik says. He leans and kisses Charles, quick and gentle.
Charles doesn't want it to end, though. He had a taste of Erik, and then he lost it, and now he has him again and it's not enough. There's a hint of desperation to his want, Charles knows, for all the commitment Erik's given him, it's all so fast and so soon. When Erik breaks the kiss, he reaches out and pulls Erik back to him, opening his mouth and inviting Erik in, projecting his desire. Erik moans in answer, his own arousal rising swiftly. He runs his hands up Charles' back, up his shirt, then back down and into Charles' jeans, cupping his ass.
Charles breaks the kiss, gasping and arches into Erik's touch with so much force he almost unbalances them. "Sorry."
I like the enthusiasm, Erik thinks. The barely there laugh-lines around his eyes deepen as he smiles, and Charles leans in, not kissing him, just breathing. Why don't we take this to the bedroom?
"Why not here?" Charles mutters into Erik's neck.
Erik's chest vibrates with laughter. "We can get experimental later. And we shouldn't scar the neighbors." Without waiting for a reply, he searches around for Charles' hand. When he finds it he leads them down the hallway into Erik's room, undressing Charles along the way, a messy and uncoordinated attack that almost results in both of them tripping. Still in the hallway Charles lets loose a small giggle and stops moving when Erik's nails rake down his sides while reaching for his pants, tickling him.
Erik smiles at him in reply, face too close so his features are out of proportion, blue-green eyes bright. He disappears from Charles' vision for a second, and then Charles looks down and realizes he's trying to yank off Charles' trousers. "You know, I can –"
"Lift your leg."
Charles obeys. In seconds Charles is entirely naked, and he flushes, resisting the urge to cover himself when Erik rises, gives him a thorough once over, and then takes his hand, leading him to the bedroom. He pushes Charles onto the bed, until he's lying flat. It suddenly occurs to Charles that while they've had sex, he's never seen Erik naked. The thought of that, the thought of what they're about to do, fills him with a degree of giddiness and nervousness, but when he's seated within Erik's mind he knows how much he's wanted, how much Erik loves him.
Beautiful, Erik thinks, accompanying the thought with a vision of Charles – with his skin flushed and cock half-hard lying hard against his stomach – that is far too flattering to be true.
Get naked, Charles replies.
Erik smirks and obeys. He doesn't bother with a striptease, not that Charles needs one, and when he's finished undressing he doesn't wait for Charles to get a good look, but crawls over Charles, knee settling between Charles' legs. Erik stares right at Charles when he lowers his own body to touch him, cock against Charles' hip, and Charles in turn starts rubbing off against Erik's leg. Their lips meet in an almost painful clash, before Erik regains control and gentles it, but Charles moans at the roughness anyway.
Erik. He slips into Erik's mind even further, able to feel the pleasure Erik feels, able to know the touch from the other side when Erik moves his entire body against Charles, this just like the first time, except the immediate sensation is entirely different skin to skin. Charles lets his hands roam over Erik's neck and shoulders and back, to the jutting bone of his hips, smooth skin marked by scars here and there. Keep in control, Charles reminds himself. Separate.
Then Erik reaches between them and strokes Charles' cock, a firm, long stroke that twists at the head, thumb briefly on the slit, before he begins again. Charles bucks into the touch helplessly, body sliding against Erik's, slick with sweat.
I can feel everything you do, Erik thinks at him. God, it's almost like having two bodies.
Sorry, sorry! Charles tries to regain control.
Don't stop, Erik demands. I want you. I want you to.
Charles can only send him a dizzying amount of gratitude, then pushes at Erik's shoulders, making him lie on his side, so Charles can reach Erik's cock. The skin is soft and warm; he's circumcised, Charles notes randomly, then loses the thought at another stroke to his own cock.
He feels it when Erik presses his forehead against Charles, steady strokes continuing, Charles returning the favor without much rhythm, easily getting distracted by Erik's touch. He doesn't realizes his eyes are closed until he opens them, Erik staring at him, no smile on his face now, just aching lust, mouth open and panting.
I don't even know why I love you so much yes I do – Charles – comes from Erik, a fast-paced jumble.
"I love you, too," Charles whispers. "Don't ever leave me."
Never again, Erik promises. Now let go.
Yourself, Erik thinks. Don't be scared. I'm not.
Charles takes him at his word, and does.
He doesn't just feel what Erik is feeling – he turns it into a feedback loop until they're both a mess of sensations and thoughts. Charles feels it when they reach a point of unity. They're one but two, and he can sense their minds like intertwined webs, and then pluck a string and control that. He can put up a shield and know that everything in this room will not travel outside of it. He does have the control, he realizes. Erik is a maze of lust, and he's entirely his own while sliding into Charles' mind, and the reverse is true. It's no more unequal than Erik's experienced touch to his body, the automatic reaction of Charles' senses.
Are you getting philosophical in the middle of sex? Erik sends hazily.
He kisses Erik again, strokes his cock and reaches past that, to heft his balls, Erik's hips jerking forward and then Erik comes.
Charles follows helplessly and gladly.
Erik's mind is weirdly still in the aftermath, minutes passing unnoticed. He's got one leg hooked over Charles', chin tucked over Charles' shoulder, breath warm against Charles' skin, slowing. He's not thinking about much of anything, just random images of the two of them in the act, which fade into flashes of them doing other things, reading books and walking, doing the dishes. It's … sweet.
I am not sweet, Erik says.
If you say so.
I do. Erik gets up, standing and stretching, and Charles can't draw his eyes away from the interplay of muscles under his skin. He goes into the bathroom and gets a warm washcloth, which he uses to clean Charles - odd but wonderfully intimate to have Erik handle Charles' genitals and wipe his skin clean - and then himself. Then he returns to bed, lying on his back and urging Charles to lean into him, curl into his side, which Charles does, resting his head on Erik's chest. Erik starts playing with the slightly curly hair at Charles' nape.
I don't want this to end, Erik thinks, undirected.
Charles rises slightly to prop himself up on his elbow and look Erik in the eye. "What are we doing to do now?"
Erik smiles and shrugs lightly. "I've actually gotten offers from various companies over the years – my ability to alter metal is useful in the commercial world, apparently, and the fact that I can do very fine work means I could do in minutes what would take a specialized factory days."
"What about me?"
Erik shrugs. "Telepaths and empaths sometimes become medical doctors, able to feel the patient's symptoms. Or rescue personnel. Being able to find a mind, even if you can't read it, is a useful skill there. Or you could go into genetic research, your original field."
Charles nods. "I actually meant more what will happen to us."
"Nothing, I think," Erik says. "They can't, not when they won't admit what you did was unsanctioned."
Oh, Charles thinks.
"Whatever does happen, we'll handle it together, right?"
Charles kisses Erik's shoulder. "Always."
They spend two delightful days under house arrest, the news their only guide to the outside world. Charles' frantic act to prevent war turns into a thoughtful gamble the council and Selven took to counter anti-mutant sentiment, and Charles thinks ruefully that mutants have not yet managed to eradicate the need for politics. They limit themselves to a few hours a day of television, and spend the rest of their time talking and coming up with plans for the most absurd possibilities. Erik turns out to play chess, and lots of even more entertaining things. Erik's mind always shouts his amusement and fascination with Charles' slow examination of pleasure.
Two days into house arrest, they're both naked, Erik asleep and Charles nearly there, lying next to him in their bed.
Charles' eyes snap open and he sits up. "We need to get dressed."
"What? Why?" Erik's mind snaps into awareness.
"Logan's here," Charles says, turning to look at him.
Erik blinks. "They must have decided what to do with us."
They dress rapidly and they're ready when Logan reaches the door and knocks. Erik lets him in; Logan silently moves past him and sits on the armchair, and then stares evenly at Erik and Charles when they sit opposite him on the couch.
"First off," Logan says, glaring, "thanks to you I had to fucking join the politics side on an official basis."
Erik smiles. "Intel's sorry to lose your winning personality, I'm sure."
"What's happening?" Charles interrupts, wanting to get to the point. He scans Logan's mind lightly, finds more annoyance there than actual anger. And there is an odd tenor to his thoughts, a lack of reactivity; he doesn't know why he didn't notice it before.
"I think you can guess that there will be no official repercussions," Logan says.
Erik nods briefly.
"You're both out of Intel, of course, and your clearances have been stripped to almost nothing."
"What about Raven and Hank?" Erik asks. "Frost?"
"On suspension," Logan says. "Raven and Hank have been demoted, and they'll never have much upward mobility, but they'll have careers in Intel similar to what they have now – serviceable as agents, like we were as your team. Frost was reinstated; I don't know the details there."
Erik breathes out slowly. "Good."
"But that's not why I’m here. It's not known publicly yet, but the Senate, the council and Selven have been meeting and discussing Genosha's next move, and a decision has been made. And there's a decision for you to make as well," Logan says.
Erik and Charles glance at each other, and Charles doesn't even know when they made the choice to take each other's hand. "What is it?" Erik asks.
Logan tells them.
This is the most secure prison in Genosha. It lies in the middle of nowhere, close to the center of the island, nothing but empty space for miles upon miles around. It's almost entirely underground, only three floors existing to the passerby, a concrete and steel monolith that mostly houses the administrative personnel. Erik's not entirely certain of the size of the place beyond that, though he can't imagine there's many people here. The prisoners below are in cells specifically designed for them. Erik supposes if he ever ended up here, he'd live in a prison of plastic.
Charles takes Erik's hand. "I can feel those inside," he says, expression distant. "They hate being caged."
"Most people do," Erik replies. "But they deserve to be here."
Charles nods, and lets Erik lead him inside.
The building opens up into a large hall, a few chairs and tables bolted to the floor, but it's empty otherwise. He stops at the first security checkpoint, pauses to have one eye and hand to be scanned in order to confirm his identity. Charles is hovering next to him, so close Erik can feel the warmth emanating from his body.
"You'll be fine," Charles murmurs into Erik's ear.
Erik glances over and kisses him briefly. "Stay here, okay? I need to do this alone."
Charles frowns, pokes lightly into Erik's mind, then withdraws, apparently finding whatever he was looking for. "Frost is here," he says. "I think she planned to be."
Erik isn't expecting that, but that's all right. He hasn't spoken to her since Charles used Cerebro. Of course, he has no idea how much chaos there really is at the level Frost plays at. Her ability makes her powerful and gives her a voice even outside Intel, much like Logan's longevity has given him contacts over time.
"Stay here," he repeats to Charles, and leaves him behind, Charles' presence in his mind remaining steady, but distant enough not to be distracting. His last look at Charles shows him with his arms folded, a slight downturn to his mouth, but he gives Erik a brief smile.
He has to go through another half-dozen security checkpoints to reach the elevator, at which point he sees Frost standing there, waiting, dressed in her usual white.
She turns, a slight smile on her lips, and sends, Hello, Erik.
Frost. How is he being held?
"It was necessary for me to place a block in his mind," Frost says. "When they wanted to sedate me after your stunt, Shaw wanted to use it to break free, so I took away his mental ability to use his mutation. I was just here strengthening it."
Erik's taken aback. "I didn't even know that was possible."
"I didn't either," Frost says wryly. "I've never done it before." She pauses, looks him in the eye. "Do you really need to do this, Erik?"
Erik nods. "He's … my father, Emma."
Frost leans forward and kisses Erik on the cheek. Charles is right, by the way. You're nothing like him. She turns away and leaves, her mental touch fading.
A guard leads Erik down the maze of a cellblock. There's no bars – instead, there's a kind of hardened, clear plastic, so the inside of the cell is easily visible. Erik doesn't recognize any of the people he passes.
The guard stops in front of a cell, nods curtly at Erik, and then walks away a few dozen feet and waits.
Shaw's sitting on the bunk, staring at his hands, curled almost like he's holding something, but there's nothing there. Erik remembers well Shaw gathering energy in his hands, delighting Erik with it as a child, the play of light and power. Perhaps a minute passes, Erik motionless and full of grief, and then Shaw raises his gaze.
He stands, moves over the barrier. "Erik. You betrayed me."
"What you did was wrong."
"No, it wasn’t," Shaw snarls. "I did everything right, Erik. I sought to save our kind from the enemies who would destroy us. I sought to give us, you and me, the power we deserved, so we could lead mutantkind into the future. The human world will never accept us and will always seek to end our country."
"You helped them do that, Shaw!" He nearly shouts, unchecked anger rising. "How can you defend that? You gave them weapons to be used against us!"
Shaw presses a hand against the clear barrier. "Erik –"
"No." Erik just breathes for a second. "I came because you were like a father to me."
"You were always my son," Shaw says softly.
Words he'd always wanted to hear, but now is far too late. "This is it," Erik says. "This is goodbye. You – you gave me a lot, over the years, and I won't forget that."
Shaw is silent, staring at him.
"But the future isn't what you think it is." He speaks evenly and quietly. "Genosha is going to open up diplomatic relations with the human world; the UN's already been looking into doing the same, independent of us. An announcement will be made to the public and then we'll make diplomatic overtures. An ambassador will be sent to the UN. Embassies will be set up in countries around the world and travel will be allowed out of Genosha … maybe into Genosha, someday, but not yet."
Shaw shakes his head slowly, eyes wide.
"And Charles and I?" Erik smiles sadly. "We'll be the first mutants sent to meet with the human world." Intel can't trust Charles to follow their orders – but they can trust him to follow his own ideals. He is perfect for it, really, being already so known and familiar, terrifying and comforting, the thread of Charles' touch in every mind in the world. An imprint, Azazel called it. Erik doesn't think Charles knows the depth of what he pushed into the minds of those in the world. It won't be perfect, but … "We'll have peace between humans and mutants."
"Charles … and you," Shaw says at last, something dark in his eyes.
"Yes," Erik whispers. "Thank you for that. You were right to push me towards him, you know. He was the one who convinced me to turn against you, that it was the right decision to make."
Shaw clenches his jaw and looks away. "We're more than them, Erik. All you've done is delayed the rightful place of mutants as the superior species. You're choosing humans over your own kind."
"I'm choosing to be the better man," Erik says and – that's the end of it. He exhales, and Shaw is speaking, still, shouting, but he ignores it. He turns and begins walking away, back to Charles. He feels the steady light of Charles brighten in his mind, and then Erik can hear him saying, Let's go home.
Erik closes his eyes briefly, a smile curling his lips, and then he walks into the future.