“Charles,” Erik says, and if his voice hits a pleading note then who can really blame him, “Charles, it’s me.”
It takes several longer moments before Charles musters up the strength to answer, breath stuttering horribly as he tries to breathe. He’s shaking, entire body trembling.
“Erik,” Charles says, his voice cracking, “Erik, I want to die.”
They come in the night, when the mansion is dark and cold while long rolls of rumbling thunder make the ground floor tremble between flashes of lightning.
Kitty Pryde is one of the few students still awake, phasing casually through walls on her way to the kitchen. She’d already made one attempt of phasing directly from the second floor to the first floor as a sort of shortcut, but it’d certainly left something to be desired—she’d ended up with one arm in a sling, now pressed tightly to her side. The mansion ceilings turned out to be high.
She’s only been here for a month, but she already plans to stay. Where else would she be able to phase so casually through the walls and not get called a freak? Or worse.
At first the kitchen seems empty when she pokes her head out of the wall to look, but a flash of lightning illuminates the room for a brief second, revealing two figures seated at the table in the dark, postures relaxed. Kitty frowns, even as she blinks back the bright spots left in her eyes from the sudden flash. Who sits around late at night in a thunderstorm in the dark? The power can’t be out; her reading lamp back in her room was working just fine.
“Who knows.” She recognizes the first instantly. Even Sean Cassidy’s voice is relaxed, and it must be him who’s leaned back on two legs of his chair. Kitty likes Sean. He’s the one who brought her to the mansion. “He’s usually more accurate than ‘sometime later this week’ but it’s that time of year, you know? He’s always a little off around now.”
His companion snorts. “He’s always a little off period.” Kitty recognizes the voice of Alex Summers. She doesn’t know him very well. She thinks he’s a little intimidating.
“Not his fault.” For once, Sean’s voice is quiet and serious. Kitty has a hard time reconciling this Sean with the laughing, easy-going Sean she knows better.
“I know.” Another flash of lightning lights up the kitchen, and Kitty sees Alex’s nod.
“Do you ever—” Sean is hesitant. Kitty listens intently as his voice nearly drops below the sound of the rain. “Do you ever miss how he used to be?”
There is a brief silence before Alex answers. “Yes. Not nearly as much as Magneto does, though.”
Kitty nearly forgets herself, questions she wants to ask springing up at once. She’s only ever seen Magneto once, and it was from a distance on her very first day at the mansion. Sean told her once that Magneto visits the mansion often, but she remains unconvinced—often usually doesn’t mean once a month.
Sean laughs, the sound nearly swallowed by thunder. “Obviously not.”
“We’re going to kill that bastard.” Alex says, low and angry. “We’re going to make him wish he’d never been born.”
“Okay, Magneto.” Sean says dryly. “Erik must be so proud you’ve adopted his ideals.”
“Shut up.” Alex shoots back, but at least he doesn’t sound so angry anymore. “You’ve adopted them too.”
“Of course.” Sean says, casually neutral. But there’s an undertone of steel when he adds, “We all have.”
Kitty rocks back on her heels for a moment, withdrawing her head into the wall. She has no idea what they’re talking about. Who’s Erik? And who does he want to kill? She’s been here long enough to know that there are a great many secrets in the mansion, but until now she’s assumed that secrets are necessary for mutants hiding together from the world at large. But this is…
This is something else.
She sticks her head back into the kitchen to listen for more, only to be blinded—someone’s turned the lights on.
“—sitting in the dark?” Angel stands in the actual doorway of the kitchen, arms folded. She must be the one who turned on the lights. “There’s a light switch for a reason.”
“Maybe we like the dark.” Alex snaps.
“What are you doing up so late, Kitty?” Sean asks when he catches sight of her, friendly. He’s still leaned back in his chair, grinning inanely. “Thunderstorm too loud?”
“Yes.” Kitty steps out of the wall with a shrug. It’s the truth, at least.
“I’m surprised there aren’t more chamaquitos out of bed.” Angel says. “It’s nasty outside.” Kitty admires Angel, and thinks her wings are the prettiest mutation in the house. Unlike Sean and Alex, Angel doesn’t really help with teaching, though, so Kitty’s not really sure what her job at the mansion is.
“You want me to make you something?” Sean offers, leaning forward so that his chair rights itself with a scrape. “I make a mean sandwich.”
“She doesn’t have the munchies, Sean.” Alex says with a snort. He glares out the window, refusing to look at Angel even when she laughs.
“You never know, man.” Sean raises his hands in a conciliatory gesture.
“You cats take it easy.” Angel gives Kitty a wink before leaving, slipping back down the hallway towards the staircase.
“A sandwich sounds good.” Kitty pipes up, earning herself a grin from Sean.
“Cool. I’ll have one too.” He gets up, shuffling over to the refrigerator. “Nothing like a midnight snack during a—”
The next roll of thunder cuts him off, but it isn’t loud enough to cover the sound of gunfire before the window to the kitchen shatters, and very suddenly it is just as nasty inside as it is outside.
Logan doesn’t mind the rain. Frankly, he’s been in worse.
It’s because he doesn’t mind the rain that he’s out in the grounds of the mansion—grounds of the mansion; what the fuck, Xavier—chewing on a cigar stub when he sees the soldiers.
Too late he realizes that they’ve probably surrounded the place, their scent masked from him because of the rain. With a growl he bounds to his feet, growl turning into a snarl as his claws come out and he slams into the first soldier, adamantium sliding easily through thick uniform wool and eliciting a scream.
Bullets sink into him but he brushes them off as mere beestings, already slicing through the next man in his path. The fuckers have helmets on, and he’s ready to bet they’re of the same material of Lehnsherr’s getup, because that would explain how close they’ve been allowed to come to the mansion.
Strong as he is, he’s not enough to keep an entire squad of men at bay. He takes down two more men at once, slicing right through their throats, but four men get past him, sprinting for the mansion. Lightning flashes and Logan catches a nightmarish glimpse of the soldiers pouring in from all directions, and some of them have already made it into the house.
Logan lets out a howl of fury, shaking the blood off his claws as he barrels forward. A loud shriek echoes out into the storm followed by a blast of red light, and Logan smiles grimly—at least Banshee and Havok are on top of things.
Still, three versus fifty aren’t good odds. Most of the kids in the mansion aren’t any older than twelve, and they won’t be able to fight. He catches one man on the steps of the mansion, grabbing him by the back of his shirt and spinning him around, gutting him before he can so much as raise his gun. He drops with a gurgle and Logan steps past him, angry.
They shouldn’t have to fight.
The entrance hall of the mansion is a mess, bullet holes peppering the walls and several bodies peppering the floor. A quick glances tells Logan that all of the bodies belonged to soldiers—good. No mutant casualties here. It must have been Angel who’d been the welcoming committee here, because several patches of carpet are still smoking, acid sizzling.
Gunshots are echoing from deeper within the mansion, and Logan can hear the sounds of combat. His instincts tell him to run towards the sounds but he hesitates at the foot of the stairs—what of the younger mutants? Someone has to look out for them.
Logan snorts. Staying here is turning him soft.
He’s saved from further deliberation with a poof, and the telltale smell of sulfur.
Logan smirks. “Took you long enough, bub.”
“On the contrary,” Magneto says, “I’m right on time.”
Sean had yelled for her to run and warn the others so Kitty sprints, ducking through walls and paintings and expensive antiques on her way through the mansion. The main staircase had already been overrun with soldiers—soldiers, her thoughts babble frantically, we’re under attack—but Angel had been holding them, pretty face contorted into a sneer as she spat globules of burning acid at the intruders.
Kitty had been forced to double back, and now she runs for the stairwell she knows is located in the eastern wing, newly discovered only a week ago when she’d been desperately looking for a bathroom. The stairwell should be clear, she reasons, and then she can get up to the second floor to warn the others, if the sound of gunfire below hasn’t clued them in already.
She runs straight through the door and clambers up the stairs, panting. The coast appears to be clear in the second floor hallway when she gets there, and several heads are poking out of doorways, blinking in confusion.
“We’re under attack!” Kitty cries as soon as she sees Ororo. Ororo isn’t much older than Kitty herself but she’s been at the mansion longer and must have some idea of what to do. “There are soldiers downstairs and we’re under attack and—”
“Come on, everyone.” Ororo says, mostly calm but still shaky. “We have to hide. The older kids will protect us.”
“Where’s Alex?” Scott demands, red goggles glinting when lightning flashes again.
“Helping to protect us.” Ororo says, turning to usher him back. “No, Suzy, don’t cry, we’ll be alright. Let’s all head this way, okay? We can hide on the other side of the mansion.”
Kitty helps her heard the kids down the hall, which really only takes a matter of seconds. Only the youngest of them are hardest to convince—mostly too scared to move and require a little bit of gentle prompting—but everyone else keeps orderly, setting off under Ororo’s direction as if she were a senior member like Sean or Alex.
Sean or Alex. Kitty shivers. She hopes they’re okay. None of the soldiers seem to have made it upstairs, but it can only be a matter of time, can’t it? The sounds of gunfire below haven’t let up, and the mansion shakes with more than just thunder.
“Kitty, I’m going to take everyone ahead.” Ororo calls, snapping her out of it. “John’s missing, will you be alright to look for him?”
Idiot probably thinks he’s a hero and has gone looking for trouble, Kitty thinks wildly, this isn’t the time for that. “I’ll find him.” She promises. With her powers, she’ll be fastest at looking for him.
“Good luck.” Ororo says, and then she and the rest of the kids turn the corner and are gone from sight.
Kitty runs back towards the stairwell she came from, heart pounding. Pyro’s such a showoff, he’s going to get himself killed—
She skids to a halt when she phases through the door, throwing up a hand to cover her nose and mouth to muffle any sounds. There are footsteps in the stairwell, coming from above her. Someone’s climbing the stairs.
Hardly daring to breathe, Kitty starts after them slowly, following them up. As far as she can tell, it’s only one person she’s following but she has no idea if they’re mutant or soldier. For all the month that she’s been here, Kitty’s never been up to the third floor of the mansion before, so when she hears the door of the stairwell ease open and shut, she stops and takes a deep breath before following.
Very slowly, she phases through the door to avoid making any noise. The third floor unsurprisingly looks a lot like the other two floors of the mansion. It is dark and silent, save for the occasional flash of lightning; no sounds from the battle two floors down carry up here. Her breath catches when her gaze finds the back of a soldier, already several feet down the hall, creeping forward cautiously. He’s alone, and for all his cautious movement, Kitty can’t shake the feeling that he knows exactly where he’s going.
She should go back downstairs. She should go back downstairs and catch up with Ororo and the others to hide, John or no John. Better yet, she should go back downstairs and find Sean, Alex, Angel, someone, and tell them that there’s one more soldier loose in the house. But Kitty stays, stepping forward onto the thick carpet to tail the soldier, whose attention is focused solely on the dark hallway ahead of him.
As far as Kitty knows, the third floor is empty. No one lives up here, and there can’t be anything more valuable than any of the other paintings or antiques scattered throughout the rest of the mansion. What are you looking for? She wonders as they continue slowly down the hall, bypassing several doors. Why did you come up here alone?
Lightning flashes, flooding the dark hallway with light, and Kitty is forced to duck behind a large vase as the soldier turns, hunkering down and holding her breath. Thunder makes the windowpanes rattle softly for a moment, and Kitty has a second of panic—she won’t be able to hear the soldier’s footsteps until it’s too late.
Her panic dissipates when she hears a door down the hall creak open, and she allows herself a small, shaky sigh of relief. She’d been almost certain that he’d caught a glimpse of her. Pushing herself back up to her feet, Kitty straightens and moves towards the open doorway the soldier has gone through and left ajar.
Kitty stops in the doorway.
A small fire crackles softly from the fireplace, casting a dim glow on the—study; it’s a study, she realizes quite abruptly, even though she’s fairly certain she’s never set foot in a study before. Bookcases line the walls filled to the top with thick books, and every piece of furniture is solid and heavy and gives off the impression of old money elegance.
She’s not sure how she knows that, either.
The soldier has stopped in the center of the room, gun raised and pointed towards the couch situated in front of the fireplace. Kitty frowns.
“—found you at last,” the soldier is saying, breathless with triumph, “and you can’t get in my head, not while I’m wearing this.”
Lightning flashes, illuminating the room far more than the flickering flames of the fire, and Kitty realizes that someone is sitting on the couch, facing the fire with his back to the soldier. As the accompanying thunder rumbles, he lifts a glass tumbler and takes a small drink.
“I’d say you have me quite at your mercy.” He has an accent. British.
“Yes.” The soldier takes a step forward, keeping his weapon aimed at the back of the man’s head. “My superiors will be happy to see you, mutant scum.”
A hand settles on Kitty’s shoulder and she jumps, looking up and back to see who has snuck up behind her so soundlessly, fearing another soldier—
Magneto gives her a slow smile from beneath the edges of his own helmet, inclining his head slightly towards the center of the room, and Kitty turns to watch as the soldier’s helmet lifts right off his head, hovering in midair. The soldier freezes, mid-reach.
“Thank you, darling.” The man on the couch turns his head, and Kitty catches a flash of blue, blue eyes in the lightning.
“Of course, Charles.” Magneto keeps his hand on Kitty’s shoulder. The weight is warm and comforting.
Thunder rumbles, and the man begins to scream. Kitty watches, eyes wide, as he contorts, reaching up to grab at his head, dropping to his knees and curling in on himself as his screams go on and on, wordless and agonized, rising in pitch and Kitty can’t take it anymore—
“That’s enough, Charles.” As soon as Magneto speaks, the screams cut off and the soldier collapses, motionless. “Who sent them?”
“You know who sent them.” Charles lifts his gaze from the soldier on the floor, and Kitty feels pinned in place like a bug as he levels her with a stare, feeling as if his gaze cuts right through her. Then his eyes move upwards to Magneto, and she feels like she can breathe again. “Take it off, Erik.”
Kitty looks up in surprise. Magneto doesn’t look back, instead maintaining eye contact with Charles as he lifts his free hand and slides the helmet off his head, revealing short, auburn hair. Across the room Charles sighs, closing his terrible blue eyes for a moment.
“You know what this means, Charles.” Magneto says, and Kitty knows enough about mutant powers to recognize that he’s only speaking aloud for her benefit. “It’s time.”
Kitty feels inexplicably calm. Someone was just murdered right in front of her, tortured before her very eyes, but she feels unwaveringly safe between these two men as she stares blankly at the body—the human—on the floor. They’re on her side. In a world that won’t accept her based only on the fact that she can do something no one else can, they will accept her just for that very same reason. She’s not alone.
The corners of Charles’ mouth quirk upward in a smile, and he opens his eyes again, blue and depthless with vast understanding. “Yes. It’s time.” Lightning flashes outside, but Kitty thinks that there’s lightning in his eyes. “You ready for this?”
Erik smirks. “Let’s find out."