“If you have been watching television lately, I think this is unendurably clear in the faces of those screaming people in the South, who are quite incapable of telling you what it is they are afraid of. They do not really know what it is they are afraid of, but they know they are afraid of something, and they are so frightened that they are nearly out of their minds. And this same fear obtains on one level or another, to varying degrees, throughout the entire country.” - James Baldwin
“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” - T. E. Lawrence
Below, in the streets of Washington, the march had almost come to an end.
Mystique watched from the apartment’s window as off in the distance the end of the march’s column joined the mass of humanity surrounding the Lincoln Memorial. Erik was behind her, close enough that she might have reached back and taken his hand in her own.
Lance Alvers, the Brotherhood’s most recent recruit, sat on the edge of his new bed, hands drumming against the quilt with impatient energy. Mystique hadn’t known the teenager for very long, but it had been clear from the start that he had difficulty sitting still.
They’d found Lance in Cleveland the week before, squatting in an abandoned house. Lance claimed to have been dodging Child Protective for almost a year, ever since his mother had passed away (his father didn’t factor into the story) and they’d no reason to doubt the veracity of his story; one way or another, orphanhood seemed to be the default setting for most Mutants.
He’d panicked at the first sight of Mystique’s scales, and had nearly brought the roof of that rickety building down on all of their heads. Mystique was having more difficulty absolving him of that initial reaction than she than she was willing to admit, even to herself. Part of her was glad that Lance would be taking up residency in D.C. rather than the Brotherhood’s headquarters, though she felt guilty about it; he seemed too young to be alone, even if he was used to it.
The primary purpose of this trip to Washington was to install Lance in the newly acquired apartment, but Mystique understood that Erik’s timing could not have been coincidental; he followed the news very closely.
She also understood that by placing Lance here in this apartment - such a short walk from the White House and so many other buildings vital to the operations of the United States’ government - the Brotherhood had come to a turning point. A man - or rather, a boy - with an ability like Lance’s might bring the entire capital tumbling around him, if given a reason to do so.
In the past, they’d occasionally gone beyond simply enacting revenge on individuals who had done harm to Mutants, but this was something else completely - something on an entirely different level. No longer were they simply reacting to immediate threats; they were setting up the means to launch a strike against the entire system.
A few of the others had squirmed at the idea, but Erik had been insistent and he had won the argument. “This is self-defense,” he had said. “We have been... busy here, but you are mistaken if you believe that the small, often personal skirmishes which we have fought so far were anything but a foreshadowing of the coming war.
“When that war comes, our primary enemy will not be the random certin with a gun and a yen to mount the monster’s head on his den wall. It is not the calloused parents, intent on snuffing out the lives of their Mutant offspring. It is not the exploitative freak show manager, or the shocked lover, not the mad doctor with his scalpel and restraints or the crazed mob.”
He paused then, a faint and malevolent smile tugging at his lips. The viciousness in that smile had seemed entirely wholesome, and Mystique felt the corners of her own mouth moving to mimic it. “Of course, such individuals are our enemies as well, and make no mistake - we will continue to repay their violence tenfold. But they are not the greatest threat facing us.”
The smile, such as it was, went away very suddenly, and then Erik’s face turned entirely grim. His eyes went around the table, locking briefly with those of each of the Mutants there.
Mystique kept her own eyes level with his own, then the baby in her arms wiggled, and her attention turned to Kurt. Azazel nodded at Erik once, almost imperiously; the wicked smile that curled half his own mouth had not faded when Erik turned serious. Angel held Erik’s gaze steadily, but Janos turned his own eyes downward to stare at this own hands, balled in fists on the table’s top; his had been one of the voices of dissent.
Neither Luke nor Matthew had been especially keen on the idea, but when Erik turned to them they shrugged, more or less in unison. Mystique had found that though the conjoined twins bickered constantly over the smallest things, when it came to serious matters like the topic under discussion they both tended to lack strong opinions.
“Right...” Fred said uncertainly when Erik turned to him, though earlier he had expressed objections on the grounds that somebody who hadn’t done anything against Mutants might get hurt.
Toad had been excluded from the meeting, though in the past Erik had made a point of insisting that the entirety of the Brotherhood be present for these planning sessions. His argument was that since the boy’s tender age was no protection against the possibility of being subjected to anti-Mutant violence, he was therefore entitled to know both the nature of that threat and what the adults were doing to mitigate it. But today Fred had left him parked in front of the television. Toad would be joining Charles’ school in a few months, and it wouldn’t do to allow him overhear anything that might compromise the Brotherhood if he repeated (verbally or otherwise) it to the wrong listener.
Emma’s absence was conspicuous.
“When they come for us,” Erik continued, because him it would always be a matter of when rather than if. “When they really come for us in earnest, they will come in force and they will come at the behest of the bureaucrats who profess to govern from within those hallowed marble halls. If we strike at Washington, we strike at the serpent's head.”
“The gov'ment,” Fred growled, onboard now that the idea had been articulated in such a way as to give him something to sink his teeth into.
Erik raised an eyebrow (Mystique could see him filling the colloquialism away for future reference) then he nodded.
Fred frowned as a new thought struck him. “Sometimes if you cut the head off’a a snake, it can still bite you sometimes.”
“That’s a real possibility,” Erik allowed. “But whatever the end results, you have nonetheless killed the snake.”
“Don’t worry, big guy,” Lance said easily, from where he was leaning against the doorframe. Mystique supposed he was trying to look cool, but it seemed to her that he was simply showing off. “I’ll handle it, just give me the word and it’s good as done already.”
Mystique could see the muscles in Erik’s neck beginning to tense up; he would have migraine by the by the time this was all over, she could tell already.
But it was Azazel who corrected Lance; Kurt’s birth had provoked a new cautiousness in the teleporter - now that he had come to recognize the reality of threats that he might have been apt to dismiss in the past, he had much less patience for those who did not take matters seriously.
“You understand this is consistency plan?” he demanded of Lance.
“Contingency plan,” Erik corrected, massaging his temples.
“Contingency plan - yes,” Azazel agreed, and went on gravely. “If we do this, it means firstly that all things have gone very wrong. It will be to make chaos - to distract them from hunting us. And also to pay back from some of the casualties -” he glanced sharply Erik, checking to see if the word was correct, and Erik nodded, “ - we have suffered from. It’s not to make jokes about.”
Mystique had remained quiet throughout the discussion. In principle, she agreed that they should be prepared to strike back, but the potential body count associated with leveling Washington was monstrous.
She has tried to avoid thinking about it too much.
Erik, Mystique and Lance had come to Washington that morning, by way of Azazel, and had spent the day on the mall, wandering among the crowd, which seemed endless.
They didn’t pose as protesters themselves, but as tourists, outsiders to the capitol and to the movement (which was, after all, the truth); a small family swept up into the crowd. Mystique wore the body of a middle-aged white woman, matching her features to Lance’s to leave no question as to family resemblance. Theirs were far from the only white faces present, though the protesters had overwhelmingly been Negroes.
Erik had been largely silent, listening in on snatches of conversation, taking in the march and its ramifications with careful consideration; evaluating, analyzing, synthesizing.
Occasionally he would ask her a question - surprising questions, which she felt ill-equipped to answer. He blended in so well, sometimes it was hard to remember that he wasn’t American, that all of this was foreign to him.
The mood of the march was solemn, yet there was a defiant sort of joy among the people there. They had suffered, yes, for hundreds of years they had suffered and they had suffered too the beatings and the police dogs and the firehoses, the fire and the bombs and the rapes and the lynchings, and some of them had been killed and were not here today and more would die before the battle was won, but they were here now and the world was changing now because they had come together to change it, and love dwelled between them and it flowed through them and they meant to overcome the world with that love. And the hell of it was, looking at the dedication - the pure faith - on each of those faces in that endless sea of humanity, it even seemed possible that they might somehow pull it off.
And Mystique was struck by a sort of jealousy and by guilt, a sense that she - that they, the Brotherhood - had overlooked something vital -
She felt exposed and cheap among that crowd, as though she was lacking some fundamental element within herself... The marchers made her doubt herself and everything the Brotherhood espoused, and that was why she had been in such a hurry to get away, why she pressed Erik to return to the apartment before the speeches began.
And that was why they listened to Martin Luther King’s dream through the radio rather than alongside the three hundred thousand dreamers who risen up to make that dream real, and from the window the crowd below looked like a mass of insects.
“They’ll kill him, of course,” Erik said, when the speech was over with. Mystique recognized the detachment in his voice; it was the tone he used when he was afraid of giving too much of himself away, a means of concealing painful or difficult emotions. There was a glossy sheen to his eyes, but the tears didn’t fall; Erik hadn’t been to visit Charles for several months now, not since before Kurt was born, and it seemed that the longer they stayed apart the less difficulty Erik had mastering his feelings.
Mystique wondered suddenly if Charles had come to see the march, too, if he was somewhere down there among the crowd. Truth be told, this was more his type of event than the Brotherhood’s.
The emotion nearly choked her. Speaking was a struggle, but the words came eventually - softly, for Erik’s ears only. “These aren’t the people I want to be at war with,” she said.
“Don’t worry,” Erik answered. “We aren’t.”
The day was coming when that would no longer be true, when Mystique herself would be the one to whisper enough poison for an entire species, no distinctions made, into Jason Stryker’s ear.
But it is August 28th, 1963, and on this day Mystique has no concept of what the future has in store for her.