"I believe in nothing,
Not the end and not the start.
I believe in nothing,
Not the earth and not the stars.
I believe in nothing,
Not the day and not the dark.
I believe in nothing,
But the beating of our hearts…"
~ "100 Suns", 30 Seconds to Mars
Twenty Years Ago
She had asked Erik in a letter if he was willing to assist her in a sensitive matter. He had offered his assistance cautiously.
He had come with her here, though he was skeptical. "I still don't know why I'm here, Charlotte," he said as they got out of the car.
Charlotte stood and stretched. "Well, I needed someone to drive the car, didn't I?"she said, grinning. "Besides. I may be projecting myself here as capable of walking, but I can't physically drive." Not when she was, in reality, physically in her office at the moment.
He inspected her for any giveaways that the Charlotte Xavier he saw beside him was an illusion. Curious, he snatched at her hand and raised an eyebrow when he could not feel her hand. She tapped her temple. "You forget, love."
"Can't you just make them say yes?" he asked as they walked toward the house.
She shrugged. "That is not my way. I would expect you of all people to understand my feelings on the misuse of powers."
He unlocked the gate. "Power corrupts and all that, yes, I know," he said, familiar with the argument. "When are you going to stop lecturing me?"
"When you start listening," she replied with an easy smile. "And I would not take a parents' choice away when it came to their children. Imagine if we were them and someone forced us to agree to send the twins to some strange, distant school."
"I'd like to see them try," he muttered. She gave him a measured look.
He sighed, conceding defeat on the matter.
"And you're here because I need you," she added.
Erik looked to her curiously. "And why not one of the chil—one of the others? Why me?"
"They are…otherwise busy today," she replied. "And I was glad of the excuse to see you again, old friend."
"How are the twins?" he asked quietly.
She smiled. "They are well. Irene is looking after them; she usually does when I'm teaching or busy. They're quite taken with her…but I think she misses Raven."
After a moment, he asked her, "You're not going to have to meet every one of your possible students in person, will you?"
"No," she replied as Erik knocked on the door. "This one's special."
"It's a beautiful campus," Mrs. Grey remarked. "Don't you think, John?"
Her husband nodded. "Yes, the pamphlet is great. But what about her…illness?"
"Illness?" Erik repeated immediately. "Do you think your daughter is sick, Mr. Grey?"
Charlotte intervened before Erik could ruffle anymore feathers. "Perhaps it would be best if we spoke to Jean ourselves," she suggested. "Alone."
Mrs. Grey nodded, "Yes, of course. Jean! Can you come down, dear?" she called upstairs.
A moment later, the young girl entered the room as her parents left. She stared at Charlotte curiously…
It's rude, you know, to read our thoughts without our permission, she gently thought to the girl, whose eyebrows furrowed.
"Did you think you were the only one of your kind, Jean?" Erik asked curiously.
"We are mutants, Jean," the professor explained. "We are like you."
Her expression was skeptical and slightly arrogant. "Really? I doubt that," she remarked and looked out the window.
Following her gaze, the two adults watched as the cars on the street all rose into the air, levitating steadily.
Erik grinned. "Oh, Charlotte, I like this one!" he said cheerfully.
"You have more power than you can imagine, Jean," the professor told the girl. "The question is, will you control that power—" Outside, the cars settled loudly back on the ground. "—or let it control you?"
"When an individual attains great power, the use or misuse of that power is everything. Will it be for the greater good or will it be used for personal or destructive ends? Now this is a question we must all ask ourselves. Why?" Charlotte Xavier asked her Mutant Ethics class. "Because we are mutants.
"For psychics, this presents a particular problem. When is it acceptable to use our power and when do we cross that invisible line that turns us into tyrants over our fellow men."
"But Einstein said that ethics are an exclusive human concern without any superhuman authority behind it," Kitty pointed out.
"But Einstein wasn't a mutant," she pointed out and added with a small smile, "As far as we know."
"Now, this case study was sent to me by a colleague, Doctor Moira McTaggert. Jones?" she asked.
The student in question blinked and turned on the television.
Moira was on the screen before a patient in a hospital bed. "The man you see behind me was born with no higher level brain functions. His organs and nervous system work but he has no consciousness to speak of."
The professor paused the screen. "Now, what if we were to transfer the consciousness of one person—say, a father of four with terminal cancer," she theorized, "Into the body of this man. How are we to decide what falls within the within the range of ethical behavior and what—"
She froze, staring out the window at the suddenly stormy skies.
"Professor?" James prompted, concerned.
"We'll continue this tomorrow," she said with a smile. "Class dismissed."
"The forecast called for sunny skies," Charlotte remarked, startling Storm.
"Oh, sorry," she apologized and cleared the clouds.
The telepath came closer. "I don't have to be psychic to know something is bothering you, Storm."
As they returned to the school building, she sighed. "I don't understand. Magneto's a fugitive, we have a mutant in the Cabinet, a President who understands us—why are we still fighting?"
"We aren't fighting but we still have enemies out there," Charlotte replied. "And I must protect my students, you know that."
"Yes, but we can't be students forever."
The telepath laughed. "Storm, I haven't thought of you as my student in years," she replied. "In fact, I thought that perhaps you might take my place someday."
Storm halted in her tracks, staring in surprise. "What about Wanda? I thought she would…"
Charlotte chuckled. "Wanda adores the children, but she knows she would not enjoy being headmistress. She is content with teaching Literature."
She shook her head. "She's busy running Frost International with her sister. Though I think we may call upon her if we were ever in dire need of their help again."
"Scott's a changed man," she whispered sadly. "He took Jean's death so hard. And yes, things have gotten better, but you of all people know how fast the weather can change."
"There's something you're not telling us," her former student inferred anxiously.
Charlotte sighed and led Storm to her office, where an old friend waited, chatting amicably with the twins.
"Hank?" she said with delight in her tone. The blue-haired mutant grinned. "Ororo! Charlotte!" he greeted as Storm hugged him.
"I love what you've done with your hair!" she said.
He chuckled. "I love what you've done with yours." Hank looked to his old teacher. "Charlotte, thank you for seeing me on such short notice."
"Henry, you are always welcome here," she replied, giving him a brief hug. "You're a part of this place."
"I have news," he said, getting straight to business.
She straightened in her chair. "Erik?" Both of the twins stiffened.
"No," he shook his head. "But we are making some progress on that front. Mystique was recently apprehended…"
"Who's the furball?"
She sighed in exasperation. Logan, charming as ever.
"Hank McCoy, Secretary of Mutant Affairs," he introduced himself politely.
Logan nodded. "Right, right, the Secretary. I like the suit."
The professor rubbed her forehead. "Hank, this is Logan—"
He nodded. "Wolverine, yes. I hear you're quite an animal." Charlotte paused; he was so very different compared to his nervous, awkward teenage self from so many years ago.
Logan was unimpressed. "Look who's talking."
Wanda ignored their bicker. "Magneto's going to come get Mystique," she said. "Is that why you're here, Uncle Hank?"
Hank shook his head. "Magneto's not the problem. At least, not our most pressing one." He sighed. His mind was full of trepidation. "A major pharmaceutical company has developed a mutant antibody, a way to suppress the mutant X gene."
"Suppress?" Charlotte's son repeated.
"Permanently," Hank added grimly. "They're calling it a cure."
Unease filled the room.
Storm, on the other hand, was indignant. "Well that's ridiculous!" she said. "You can't cure being a mutant!"
"Well, scientifically speaking—"
"—We're not a disease!" she continued over Hank.
Charlotte paused in thought. "Storm," she said, quieting her.
"They're announcing it now."
Logan gets an inkling of what the Professor is capable of. Hank and Charlotte catch up. The prodigal sister returns.
"…The mass of water that collapsed on Jean should have killed her," Charlotte said quietly. "The only explanation I can think of is that her powers wrapped her in a cocoon of telekinetic energy."
"Is she going to be okay?" Logan asked.
"Jean Grey is the only Class Five mutant I've ever encountered," the telepath explained, lying only slightly. "Her powers are practically limitless. Her mutation is linked to the subconscious part of her mind and therein lies the danger. When she was a girl, I created a series of psychic barriers to isolate her powers from her conscious mind and as a result, Jean developed a dual personality."
Logan stared at the professor in confusion. "What?"
Charlotte sighed. "The conscious Jean in control and the dormant side…a personality that in our sessions came to call itself the Phoenix—a purely instinctual creature, all joy and desire and rage."
"She knew all this?" Logan asked.
The telepath sighed. "It's unclear how much she knew. Far more critical is whether the woman in front of us is the Jean Grey we know or the Phoenix, furiously struggling to be free."
Logan eyed her. "She looks pretty peaceful to me."
"Because I'm keeping her that way. I am trying to restore the psychic blocks and cage the beast again."
"What have you done to her?" Logan demanded, suspicion coiling in him like a rattlesnake, ready to bite.
"Logan, you have to understand—"
"You're talking about a person's mind here—Jean!"
"She has to be controlled," she stressed.
Logan stared at her furiously. "Controlled?" he repeated. "You know, sometimes when you cage the beast, it gets angry."
"You have no idea," Charlotte said darkly. "You have no idea of what she's capable."
"No, Professor," Logan snapped. "I had no idea what you were capable of."
"You still have no idea, Logan." Her face hardened. "I had a choice to make and I chose the lesser evil," she replied firmly.
"Well it sounds to me like Jean had no choice at all," he snapped.
Anger rose in her stomach but she forced it down. Her voice was coldly polite when she spoke. "I don't have to explain myself. Least of all to you."
There was a knock on her office door, interrupting the silence.
She paused. "Come in, Hank," she called as she laid down the pen and the blue-haired mutant entered. "What can I do for you? Is something wrong?"
Hank shook his head. "Nothing, nothing. I just wanted to stop to talk with you before I left. Personal, rather than business."
"Oh. Have a seat then, please. How are you? Would you like anything to drink? Tea or coffee?"
"No, thank you, Professor. I'm quite alright, thank you," he smiled. "The twins have grown these past few years."
Charlotte's face softened. "Yes. They've matured into wonderful, capable adults and excellent teachers. They are far more than I ever dared hope for."
"I had noticed the children seemed particularly taken with Wanda," Hank chuckled. "And the older boys seem to get along with Pietro famously."
The telepath's expression was proud as she glanced down at a framed photo on her desk—Hank assumed it to be of the twins—but her smile faltered when her gaze fell to the old bullet beside it.
"Do you still maintain your correspondence with Mag—Erik?" he asked, unable to help his curiosity.
Her gaze fell. "No, not for a few years—since Azazel was killed. I only spoke to him last when he and Raven assisted the X-Men in breaking me out of Alkali Lake."
"Ah, yes. I heard about that..." The woman's old student studied her. "You still love him, don't you, Professor?"
"Oh, Hank," she sighed sadly. "Did you ever think any different?"
Later that evening, Wanda pounded on Charlotte's office door.
"Come in," she called curiously.
The woman rushed in. "Mum, someone just knocked on the front door of the mansion. She just asked for you, refused to say anything else."
"Alright, where is she?" the telepath asked.
"I left her in the front foyer," Storm replied as they went into the elevator.
A fair woman with chin-length black hair and desperate amber eyes waited. She wore a too-large sweatshirt and jeans, both of which appeared to be wither stolen or borrowed. "Char?" she asked quietly.
The professor slowed to a sudden stop. "Raven?" she gasped in disbelief. "What—what happened?"
Ten minutes later found the two sisters on the couch in Charlotte's private quarters, deep in discussion. She had sent Wanda away after making the woman swear her silence on the subject (though she promised to tell her later why her estranged aunt had returned).
"He came to break me out when they were transporting me and a couple other 'high-risk' mutant prisoners," Raven explained. "One of the guards woke up and was about to shoot Erik in the back…I didn't know it was a dart with the cure until I turned human after taking the bullet for him. He just…left me. He said I was no longer one of them and left with the other prisoners."
Her voice was choked with tears. "I hoped that you might—that you would let me stay," she said quietly.
Charlotte hugged her tightly. "Oh, Raven, what have I been telling you since I found you in the kitchen when we were children? This is your home now and it will always be open to you if you wish."
"Even if I'm not—though I'm—"
"Human?" the telepath offered gently. Raven nodded.
She sighed. "Raven, you know I have never cared about that. You are my sister and this is your home. Always."
Slowly, the other woman nodded before her eyes darted to the door curiously. "That was—the girl, that was—?"
"Wanda," she supplied. "My daughter. The eldest."
"She looks like you."
The telepath smiled. "She has all of my intellect and none of my arrogance. She is better than me, really. Wanda looks after her brother far better than I ever did for you."
Raven shook her head. "You always did what you thought was best for me, Charlotte. That's why I came here—because I knew you would always forgive me, no matter how little I deserve it."
Charlotte shook her head. "This is and will always be your home, Raven. You owe me nothing and I only ask of you one thing, but even this is a request...
"What is Erik up to?"
“Wait for me here,” she ordered them.
Logan’s head snapped over to look at her. “What?”
“I need to see Jean alone,” she said and turned away from him to see— Erik. He smiled to her. “You were right, Charlotte,” he said cordially. “This one is special.”
“What are you doing here?” Pietro said, edging protectively close to him, as if to place himself in between Erik and his mother and sister.
Erik smirked to his son. “Same as the Professor, here: visiting an old friend.”
She glanced at the magnetokinetic in warning. “I don’t want trouble here, Erik.”
“Nor do I, Liebling” he agreed. “So, shall we go inside?”
They went, together, toward the door. “I came to bring Jean home, love,” she warned him. “I don’t want you to interfere.”
“Just like old times, eh?” he chuckled.
She shook her head. “Jean is not well. She needs help.”
Erik sighed. “Funny…you sound just like her parents.” He paused and murmured something to his brawny new follower.
"I just want to bring her home, Erik," she said quietly as they went up the sidewalk alone. "The Phoenix already killed Scott—the man she loves. What might she do to someone she cares less for if I do not help calm her and make the Phoenix dormant once more?"
He sighed. "Charlotte, the woman in this house is not the Jean you know. She is dangerous. She will kill you if you provoke her. Which, knowing you, will happen. I would almost prefer bring her with me if only so she would not be near you."
"And if she can help the Brotherhood, well, that's an advantage as well?" Charlotte replied, not quite bitter. Merely resigned.
The magnetokinetic inclined his head but did not deny it.
At the front door, Erik unlocked the door and they both went in silently until they found the redhead in the sitting room.
“I knew you’d come in,” she said lowly.
Charlotte nodded. “Of course. I’ve come to bring you home.”
“I have no home.”
“Yes, you do,” the professor replied. “You have a home and a family.”
Erik decided to speak up then. “You know she thinks your power is too great for you to control. She’s thought that ever since we came to fetch you from this place, twenty years ago.”
“Erik,” she hissed.
“I don’t believe your mind games are going to work anymore, Liebling,” he replied and stepped past her.
“Is that how you want to control me?” The Phoenix hissed.
“No,” Charlotte replied sincerely. “I want to help you.”
She stared at the professor impassively. “Help me,” she repeated. “What’s wrong with me?”
“Absolutely nothing,” Erik cut in.
“Erik stop!” she snapped. If he persisted, there was no telling how Jean’s volatile dual personality would lash out…
“No, Charlotte, not this time.” He looked to the Phoenix. “She’s always held you back.”
Charlotte shook her head. “For your own good, Jean,” she said, reaching for the woman’s mind subtly…
A lamp behind them was flung abruptly at the wall. “Stay out of my head,” Phoenix spat, madness in her eyes as other objects rattled. The doors slammed shut loudly behind Charlotte but she did not look back.
“Look at me, Jean,” she urged. “I can help you. Look at me.”
“Get out of my head!” she said, pushing Charlotte’s wheelchair back suddenly.
Erik watched on. “Perhaps you should listen to her, Charlotte,” he remarked with genuine concern in his warning tone.
“You must trust me,” she pushed on. “You’re a danger to everyone around you and yourself! I can help you—”
“I think you want to give her the cure,” Erik said.
She ignored him. “—Look at what happened to Scott!” the professor said. “You killed the man you love because you can’t control your powers!”
“NO!” she shrieked. “Stop it!” The windows shattered and objects were taking flight around the room, including the sofa. Erik was sent flying back across the room.
“Jean, let me in!” she said over the din. She heard fighting in the other room…Logan hadn’t listened. Outside, Storm, Wanda, and Pietro were fighting as well. She had to focus.
And now it was beginning to hurt, Jean—Phoenix’s—work until—
She lifted Charlotte from her wheelchair, which flew back in the wind. Erik had been pushed back to the far wall across from Phoenix. His helmet was nearly blown from his head, but he managed to hold on to it with his powers, clutching it in his hand. The feel of his mental presence gave her strength as she fought Phoenix psychically.
“Charlotte!” Erik yelled. She could hear him, too. Don’t—mein gott—bitte— Charlotte, stop. You have to get away from her now before—
But she could still help her—if Jean would let her in, she could—
Her skin began to burn. “No, Jean!” she exclaimed.
Erik’s shout of “Jean!” had his urgency bleeding into it.
She could feel it, could feel her cells dying under Jean—Phoenix’s—powers. So this is what it feels like…
His thoughts were loud in her head, a comforting presence that she had long missed. Charlotte, don’t you dare die, don’t you dare let her kill you. Don’t you dare, Liebling—
“Don’t let it control you,” she told Jean calmly before turning to see Logan in the doorway, watching with horrified eyes. “No—” he yelled.
She turned further to meet Erik’s gaze with a gentle smile despite the pain ripping through her.
Stop her, Erik. You must. Don’t let my school be attacked, please. Nor the twins.
His thoughts were frantic as he stared at her in fear and premature grief. Charlotte, I’m the one who is supposed to die first, not you. Don’t you dare, Liebling. Not before I—
I’m sorry, she thought to him gently and sent him the memory of kissing him for the first time, so very long ago. I’m sorry, mein liebe. You know I love you, I’ve always loved you, and continue to love you still, Erik…
“CHARLOTTE!” he screamed, reaching for her—
The Wake of Devestation
“We live in an age of darkness, a world full of fear, hate, and intolerance. But in every age, there are those who fight against it,” Storm said solemnly, fighting down the urge to break down and cry. She couldn’t. The students and teachers and everyone else were counting on her now, to step up in the Professor’s place.
Ororo wasn’t sure she’d ever be prepared for that.
Students—current and past, some she hadn’t seen in decades—filled the rows. Dr MacTaggert was at the end of the front row (Storm had met her several times before; the former CIA operative had changed careers after the Cuban Missile Crisis, according to the Professor) beside Hank. Scott’s older brother Alex was in the back, lingering distantly, looking incredibly worn and aggrieved as he stood near a vaguely familiar redheaded man she thought might be Sean.
Slightly to their left was a small party from some government group that the Professor helped. Ororo only vaguely recognized them. Their boss wore black leather everything and a grim expression that pinched his severe face. An average-looking man and a brunette woman were at his right, looking solemn and saddened, though thoroughly professional. Slightly apart from them was a quintet—a confident-looking man with a neat goatee and an expensive suit, a well-dressed blond man with a military bearing, a guy with a quietly nervous demeanor in a suit that’d seen better days (but he had the look of a scientist that made Storm think he, Hank, and the Professor must have gotten along famously), and a couple that stood close together: the woman redhead and subtly vigilant, the man openly watching the others in attendance with a keen eye.
SHIELD, Ororo remembered quickly. That was the name. The Professor had mentioned them several times before.
Kurt Wagner sat in the second row, holding a rosary as he listened. Logan watched distantly, though attentively. Kitty, Bobby, and Rogue sat in the front row beside the twins.
In the front row, Wanda and Pietro sat. The redhead stared at her mother’s grave numbly, not yet completely understanding her mother’s passing or not yet wanting to, while Quicksilver glared furiously at the sky, fighting angry tears.
Ororo looked down to the stone marker sadly. She should not be the one to give the Professor her final goodbye, but she seemed to be the only one holding it together and not in shock. Wanda looked shattered and utterly lost; Pietro seemed murderous in his grief. Worse still was the fact that the twins had always been a secret from the world; for their safety, Charlotte had made sure they were little known. I have too many enemies, Storm, who would jump at the opportunity of using my biological children against me. This is safer for me, the school, and ultimately them if no one easily recognizes them as my blood. Even more so about their father. They would be larger targets than Erik and I combined if certain people were to learn that.
Beside the professor’s headstone was a smaller one, slightly weathered from age. Anya Xavier, it read simply. There had always been flowers left there, as far back as Ororo could remember. By the professor herself, by various students through the years, and maybe even by Magneto (if Storm suspected correctly); the little Xavier child was never forgotten.
Storm’s heart ached for the Professor and her children and students.
“Charlotte Xavier was born to a world divided, a world she tried to heal: a mission she never saw accomplished. It seems the destiny of great men and women to see their goals unfulfilled.
“Charlotte was more than a leader, more than a teacher. She was a friend. She was a mother. When we were afraid, she gave us strength. When we did not know what to do, she gave us guidance. When we had nowhere to go, she gave us a home. And when we were alone, she gave us a family.” Her voice cracked loudly.
“She may be gone but her teachings live on in through us: her students. Wherever we may go, we must carry on her vision and that’s a vision of a world united.”
Once the rest of the funeral attendees left the graveside, a lone man—weathered, aggrieved face hidden by his hat—stood before the headstone.
He had waited patiently for the twins to leave. The pair were too wrapped up in their grief to notice their father behind them, waiting to see the grave himself.
Not even truly a grave, he thought numbly. A memorial, perhaps, but not a grave. There was nothing left to bury. Nothing remained of her but the wheelchair.
Erik Lehnsherr knelt in the dirt before the gravestone.
Mother. Teacher. Leader.
Above those words was her profile carved into a metal circle, set into the stone of the marker. It was a good profile of Charlotte—her gentle features, the knowing slant of her eyes, the welcoming quirk of her lips.
Mourners and students had left a small pile of various roses at the foot of the stone beside the small flame that flickered on in the breeze.
The marker itself was in one of Charlotte’s favorite gardens (or so it had been so many years ago, before Cuba). It was the same that their daughter was buried in, now beside her mother’s headstone. In fact, not far behind was the very spot where she had found that lost memory of his mother…where he had moved the now-gone satellite…where she had told him, “There is so much more to you than you know”…where she had first kissed him…
He was certain that was where he had fallen for her, if it wasn’t when she had dived into the ocean after him.
And somehow, she had always loved him. After all he had done—the killing, the attacks, the anti-human violence and plots—she had loved him still. After all he had done to her, she had forgiven him: after Cuba, after leaving her, after paralyzing her, after fighting on the opposite side of a war from her, after betraying her, after hurting her, after letting her die right in front of him…she had always forgiven and loved him despite it. He had always tried to protect her, but he only seemed to end up hurting her instead.
Her words, too fresh, too raw, too painful, echoed in his mind from an argument. “All you’ve ever done—all you ever do—is hurt me! It’s like every time you touch me…something breaks.” She had said it in anger, but truth rang through her ire.
Erik blinked away the tears.
Reverently, his fingers traced over the letters of her name before he set his sights upon the metal inset in the stone.
When he stood, he studied his work for a moment before brushing his fingers atop the stone. “I’ve lost you twice now. Once on a beach in Cuba when I shot you and left. And now…” He faltered as his voice cracked.
“You weren’t supposed to be the one to die first of the two of us,” he said softly. “I was supposed to be the one who died in the ceaseless war…but it’s never been that way, has it? Not in Cuba, certainly not now.
“Verdammt, Charlotte,” he cursed vehemently, nearly falling to his knees in the grass. “You weren’t supposed to die at all. Not before our dreams of mutant success were reality, not before our children were grown and starting families of their own…Not in the least before I could actually tell you I loved you,” he finished softly.
With a long last look at the stone, he turned and left the garden.
With the school in a state of mourning, the students were out of class but were all quiet and withdrawn at the lost of their Professor. They seemed preoccupied with their contemplations or tears and, either way, no one seemed to notice the unfamiliar visitor walked through the halls to her office.
Erik supposed he was less noticeable or recognizable without the damn helmet. He hated the thing now, but knew it was safer to wear it.
Years ago, he had asked Charlotte what it was like when she tried to read his mind while he wore it. She’d looked to him sadly, wistfully and replied, “When you wear that helmet…it’s like a brilliant star suddenly gone, vanished into a black hole with only nothingness in its place, only a void where there should be light and warmth.”
It didn’t matter now. The only telepath he’d ever cared to allow into his mind was gone.
The wheelchair had been left in the center of the room, for apparent lack of knowing what else to do with it, or so he assumed.
He edged around it and went to her desk. The papers were all in neat order, the books stacked carefully. It was too neatly cleaned, even by Charlotte’s standards. She’d suspected it, then—had anticipated not returning.
A pristine envelope laid in the center of the desk. My Love, it was addressed in her calligraphic hand. Beside it laid the old bullet he had once prevented from entering her skull. Carefully, he tucked it away in a pocket, where it clinked against the matching crumpled one that he hadn’t stopped.
His heart thudded in his old chest but carefully he opened it.
Erik, my love,
I do not need to be psychic to foresee the conclusion of this war and my place within it. Or rather, my lack of. I am certain of my impending death, but I am not afraid, strangely.
I have lived a full life: loved a good man and been loved in return, carried out my life’s dream of starting a school, and have many wonderful, beautiful children, both my own by blood and by bond. I have raised two beautiful, wonderful children of ours. I only wish we’d had more time together, that we had not been so prideful and stubborn and foolish.
Now, if I could go back to that day in Cuba, I know I would not have allowed you to leave. Even if it meant forfeiting our life-long argument about mutants and humans. Looking back, I know I should have and that knowledge burdens me every day. Had we thrown away such petty arguments, I feel we could have had so much more time and happiness together.
Such ponderings are irrelevant. My mutation does not allow me to undo the past and nor do I wish it to.
It has been so very many years since I dived into the ocean after an angry, lonely, bitter man. You are not the same man you were, so centered around your hatred for Sebastian Shaw. There is and has always been good in you, I recall telling you. I’ll tell you again, lest you have forgotten. No matter what you have done since, I know there is good in you; I have felt it and I have loved you for it.
For it remains despite all the pain and horror you have known. You are a good man and I shall forever remember you as such, mein liebe.
I recall you first used your nickname for me over chess on our cross-country search for our children. I never told you that I looked it up soon afterward, even though you had not let on to any such romantic notions before.
I stopped you from admitting to it over our last chess game before Cuba. And we never truly said it after, though we both knew. It hurt too much to admit aloud to each other when we would only part ways once more. If I never do tell you, then… Ich liebe dich, Erik. I love you. I have always loved you since that first night when I dived in after you and first felt your mind. I will always love you. No matter what this war brings us.
Always know I have loved you and you have made my life a happy one. I cannot imagine it without you in it. Though I may go to my death very well tomorrow, know that because of you, my life has been made a happy one; there is no tragedy in that, Erik.
I love you. I’m sorry.
All my love,
He was found shortly after he finished reading the letter.
“How dare you!” came the furious yell as soon as the office door slammed shut. “You have no right to come back here, to be at Mum’s funeral, to be in here—”
Pietro’s tirade halted abruptly as his sister laid a hand on his arm. She glared at the intruder coldly. “Why are you here, Dad?” she asked quietly, guardedly.
Erik looked to them and didn’t bother try to hide his red-rimmed eyes and slightly damp cheeks. “I loved her,” he said quietly, voice hoarse. “I really did. I always have, always will. It doesn’t…it doesn’t matter if you believe me or not when I say it now, but it is true. I never wanted her dead, not for a moment. I never intended to see her dead; it was always supposed to be me who died in this infernal war we were both sucked into.
“I have never been the man she deserved to love her or been the father you two deserve. And I regret that. But I won’t apologize for doing what I think is best for all mutants. My only regret…my only regret is this.”
Slowly, the twins approached him. Wanda knelt beside him, while Pietro watched silently. She laid a small hand on his shoulder. “I believe that you loved her,” she said gently. “I know she loved you. She always had; you must know this. She always told us to never blame you for what you do for the mutant cause. And we don’t.”
Confused, he looked at his two children. He could see Charlotte’s determination in their eyes.
“We only ever blamed you for what you did to Mum,” she explained.
His hand went to his breast pocket from which he pulled a small, crumpled bullet. “So have I,” he replied softly, sorrowfully.
They didn’t need to ask which bullet it was.
Eventually, Pietro spoke, “Go, Dad—before people realize there is an unexpected visitor in the school.”
Erik nodded and stood. “You both take after your mother far more than I,” he observed. “Good. Keep it that way. Now…stay safe. And away from San Francisco. If you go there, you will be in danger. For me—for your mother—stay out of that fight please.”
He turned and left the office, with only a letter and a pair of old bullets in his possession. And a heavy, heavy heart that felt paradoxically empty.
Mother. Teacher. Leader.
"No matter how badly your heart is broken, the world does not stop for your grief."
"She shouldn't be here with us. Her power is completely unstable," Callisto spat.
Erik shook his head calmly. "Only in the wrong hands."
He didn't want her anywhere near him. Frankly, he wanted to kill her, but knew that was a battle he would not survive and that she could serve a purpose for his cause.
His damned cause, the only thing he had left in the world right now.
"And you trust her?" Pyro asked. "She's one of them."
"So were you once," he admonished.
The boy wasn't deterred. "I stuck with you all the way," he replied arrogantly. "I woulda killed the Professor if you'd given me the chance," he sneered.
Erik halted in his steps and grabbed the boy's shoulder to force Pyro face him before grabbing him by his throat, making him gasp for air.
"Charlotte Xavier did more for mutants than you'll ever know," he told the boy, voice harsh and cold. "My single greatest regret is that she had to die. Be careful how you speak."
He released the boy and stalked away furiously.
"I know the smell of your adamantium a mile away," he sneered.
"I didn't come here to fight you," the Wolverine spat, immobilized by Erik, who held him in the air.
"Smart boy," he replied.
He, surprisingly, didn't rise to the jab. "I came here for Jean."
If that was true, the boy was stupider than he'd thought. "You think I'm keeping her here against her will?" he asked smugly and pulled him nearer. "She's here because she wants to be."
"You don't know what you're dealing with!"
He straightened. "I know very well." Her demonstration earlier had made it very clear. "I saw what she did to Charlotte," he said, forcing his face to impassivity.
"You stood there and let her die," Logan spat venomously. Erik tensed, hands clenching and grey eyes narrowing.
The Wolverine, however, did not miss it. "She called you her friend, you know," he added spitefully. "Her old friend Erik. 'Love', too, but I thought that was just a British thing. I know better now. Because she never spoke badly about you, not after you nearly killed Rogue, not after you nearly made her kill every human, not after any of it. She always forgave you and considered you a friend and I'm starting to wonder why. Why she bothered. Why she cared. Why she thought you were worth the pain you caused her continuously."
Erik bit out, "Do not speak of things you don't understand, Wolverine. You forget I could crumple you like a tin can."
Logan glanced back at Jean, who watched the entire exchange silently. "I'm not leaving here without her."
"Yes. You are," Erik replied and flung him far off.
He knew he should stop. He knew he should give up his plan after seeing what it cost him. But he had already unwittingly paid the price, so why not reap what rewards he could get?
Though, it this plan fell through…Erik didn't think he had it in him to try again.
He had already lost Charlotte. The twins...well, they were in a bad state, but he could not imagine them forgiving him anytime soon. What was left for him if not to protect all the other mutants' futures?
It was this he pondered upon as he moved the Golden Gate Bridge.
Charlotte had once told him the secret to true power was somewhere "between rage and serenity". The rage and guilt and grief was certainly enough once he had calmed his aching heart.
"Charlotte always wanted to build bridges," he murmured to himself as he moved the bridge to Alcatraz Island.
It was chess.
He sent the pawns first before eventually the knights and bishops. He held the queen and one of his rooks close until the end, sending the latter out against his old friend the Iceman.
It was chess and they didn't even realize they had lost their king and queen already—Charlotte, who has always been so much more than a single chess piece. They scrambled pitifully.
The chess metaphor, however, brought to mind memories of late night chess matches against Charlotte. He brushed the memories away before they could distract him.
He watched the battle below.
He was surprised to see Hank amidst the fighting and, more so, to see the shine of Emma Frost's diamond form there as well. Her sister wouldn't be far behind then.
Wolverine never realized that he was made of metal and therefore putty in Erik's hands. "You never learn do you?" he muttered.
"Actually," the metallic mutant grinned, "I do."
It was Hank, of all people, who leapt down and stabbed him in the chest. Hank, who he had found with Charlotte, who he had helped train, who he had guided, who he had abandoned.
Hank, who stabbed him in the chest and growled, "This is for Charlotte, Erik."
When the dizziness hit him, so did the horror as Hank moved his paw and Erik saw that it was not a blade he'd been stabbed with.
"No!" he gasped, collapsing. "I'm—"
"One of them?" the Wolverine growled. But there was still a chance—
He rolled to look up at the black queen of this game, at the Phoenix. "This is what they want," he gasped. "For all of us."
Shuddering with a miniature seizure, he pulled the needles out of his chest with a trembling, weak hand. But it was too late to stop the cure.
Finally, he managed to stand and stared at his creation, at Jean-turned-Phoenix and her destructive fury. "What have I done?" he murmured in horror before forcing himself to stand and run.
He could feel his powers ebb away as he ran. His sixth sense vanished in a minute if not less than that.
It was too much at this point.
First Charlotte. Then the entire plan. Now his powers.
As he forced himself to run, it was as if the beat of his heart pounding in his ears was a metronome to his thoughts.
Charlotte. Liebling. Charlotte…
Logan stood before the four graves with Storm, but she went to the Professor's and knelt curiously.
“What is it?” he asked.
Instead of answering, she traced some of the wording on the gravestone that doesn’t quite match the rest.
“That’s new,” he said. “Why’s that familiar?” Storm smiled slightly but gave no answer, waiting for him to remember.
“Wait…Outside Jean’s house,” he remembered.
Storm chuckled. “It means ‘my darling’ or ‘my beloved’ in German, more or less,” she explained. “And there is only one of the Professor’s friends who speak German.”
He stared at her. “I hope you don’t mean who I think you mean.”
“Erik Lehnsherr,” she reminded him. “Before he was Magneto, he was a German boy named Erik Lehnsherr. Before he was Magneto, they were the closest of friends. And…more. Besides that they had Wanda and Pietro. And more than just that. Obvious when I look back…”
Logan stared at her. “When he explained, I always just thought they…hooked up once or something. But, you mean the Professor and Magneto were…?”
“Not the most traditional, I assure you,” Storm replied. “That much I knew. They never got to spend much time together before it all went to hell. It was during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when they were on the same side. Mag—Erik accidentally deflected a bullet into her spine, rendering her paraplegic. He left very soon afterward to start the Brotherhood, from what I’ve gathered. I don't think he knew of the extent of her injury. And they didn’t know it, but she was pregnant at the time,” Storm motioned to the first, smaller grave. “Their daughter was stillborn. A couple years later, they had the twins, though he wasn’t there for it. The Professor raised them alone—it was safer, she always said. Their last name is Maximoff because it was better, safer, than advertising that Professor X and Magneto’d had children together.”
“So, this whole time, they were a couple?” he said in confusion. “How does that even work?”
Storm rolled her eyes. “Like I said. I don’t think they ever really got to be a couple. But I was one of her first students, soon after they parted ways. For the longest time, I had hear stories slip out about a man named Erik as I heard on the news about a new mutant terrorist group led by someone named Magneto. It took me years to discover the Erik from the Professor’s past was Magneto. She didn’t exactly tell many people.”
Logan stared at the little German words, so painstakingly carved into the metal. “And he…uh, reciprocated?”
She chuckled. “I think he did, yes. Look at the proof before you if you do not think so.”
After a long moment of trying to take this all in, Logan asked, “So, where's the lunatic now?”
She shrugged. “Because you and Hank gave him the cure, people don’t seem to care so much about tracking him down. What’s the point, really, to them? He is just an old, bitter, lonely man now but not dangerous any longer. And before you argue about that, just think about all he lost in the past week alone.”
If Storm was right and they’d been…involved since the Missile Crisis…well, fuck, that was nearly fifty years. It hurt him enough losing Jean after only one. But fifty…fuck.
And his powers, just to top it off too.
Dammit. Now I’m starting to sympathize for him.
Two Months Later
The park was warm and pleasantly open. Tall trees created long swathes of shade over the collection of chess tables set up there under.
Erik stared at the old metal chess set before him hollowly.
What was the point of it? Without her…the entire game seemed pointless. There was none of the old joy and enjoyment.
Maybe that had just been enjoying Charlotte's company rather than the actual game.
The metal chess pieces seemed to mock him. He ached to reach out for them, to move them, to change them at a thought. But they felt dead.
Maybe that was just him.
Now, he was just a lonely old man, embittered by the past, scorned from the people he'd tried so hard to help. What was left for him, really? Charlotte was gone and seemed to have taken his heart with her.
There was no family for him; the closest thing he'd ever had to a family had been in a house in Westchester years ago—a family he had abandoned in a fruitless quest for vengeance and "equality", a family he had no right to any longer. Charlotte, Mys—Raven at the time—, Hank, Alex, Sean. They were all gone. He had no clue where Alex and Sean were, probably with families of their own. Hank was the new Ambassador to the UN. Erik had no clue where Mystique was; they'd had no contact since he had abandoned her. (No point in going back to her; even loyalty as strong as hers could convince her to take him back after such a cold betrayal.)
His children were either dead or out of reach. He did not have the courage to reach out to the twins. And Charlotte was…Well.
No love. No family. No mark left on the world. Not really.
Nothing at all but bitterness and regret.
He stared at the black king piece on the board before raising a shaking hand to the board. Concentrating, concentrating like he hadn't since a futile attempt with a coin, since an attempt with a satellite dish…Since Charlotte, her comforting presence in his mind, offering wordless, free encouragement…Since he'd heard "There is so much more to you than just pain and anger…"
And it twitched before him, making Erik freeze.
He forced himself to breath, not to hyperventilate publicly in his isolated joy.
"Care for a game?" someone asked behind him. He turned, bewildered until—
"I believe in nothing,
100 suns until we part.
I believe in nothing,
Not in sin and not in God.
I believe in nothing,
Not in peace and not in war
I believe in nothing
But the truth in who we are."
~ "100 Suns", 30 Seconds to Mars
One final part in the series is to come, a final epilogue.