Chapter 1: August, 1963
“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.
Chapter 2: August, 1965
“When our decision became known, it was rumored that we sent emissaries to prepare the ground. Yes, we do not deny that we have such emissaries everywhere, but they are mostly unknown to us... In all the countries where we recruit we find them prepared to receive us with open hearts, because they understand immediately that we strive to improve their lot.” - Karl Marx
“But you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve
- Barry McGuire
Mystique let herself into the garden, closing the gate to the high picket fence before continuing on.
Out on the sidewalk, the air had been full of the ugly noises of the city, but there was a different quality to the sound on the other side of the fence. Mystique could hear bird song, the tinkle of wind chimes, flowing water. Somewhere in the garden a radio was playing, and Mystique followed the voice of Glenn Yarbrough telling his baby that the wind must blow and the rain must fall, and wherever his heart lead him, baby, he must go...
A length of laundry cord had been strung from a series of thin post, so that the rope ran along the edge of the path, tracing the path's course. It hung at a level with Mystique's hand, and she found herself running her fingers along it as she headed toward the music.
The woman was kneeling on the ground before one of the flower beds, and her back was to Mystique. By then the Yarbrough track had finished playing. Now it was Barry McGuire, his voice shrunken small by the transistor radio sitting in the grass, demanding to know if you understood what he was tryin' to say and felt the fears he was feelin' today.
The gardener reached out for the radio and turned it off. “I don't believe that I'll ever care for that song,” she said, climbing to her feet. The woman – the Mutant that Mystique had come here to meet, she was almost positive – turned toward her, and Mystique saw that she wore dark glasses over her eyes.
Mystique's mind did not turn at once to the obvious conclusion – she was too used to the unusual for that. She thought instead of the red coals that burned inside Remy's eyes; that was the type of thing you might want to hide from the neighbors if you wanted to keep living inside the quaint little house that was attached to the garden. She also thought about Scott Summers, Alex's little brother, who she hadn't met herself but who she had been told needed special eye-wear to control his ability. It was only when Irene picked up the long white cane that had been leaning unnoticed against a nearby tree trunk that things came into focus for Mystique.
“Irene Adler,” the woman said.
“Raven,” Mystique answered – real names would come later, after they'd had a more of a chance to speak, once Mystique was sure she had the right person. As for surnames, both Xavier and Darkholme were security risks now, and she had dropped them completely. “There's something that we need to discuss."
“I know. We'll have tea,” Irene said decisively, and started out for the cottage's backdoor without further discussion.
Mystique fell in beside her. “You have a wonderful garden.”
“I imagine so,” the other woman said back. “You should see it next June. It's going to be lovely.”
They went inside, and Irene left her in the sitting room while she went to get the tea together. There was a mirror on the wall, and Mystique studied her own reflection while she was waiting.
She had retired the old Raven-skin almost completely; like her former last name, her old face was a potential danger to herself and others, a means through which her current actions might be traced back to her former life.
The face that looked back at her now was that of a professional-looking older woman, more handsome than beautiful, with dark hair and horn-rimmed glasses and a sensible skirt. It was a big switch from the pretty girl who she'd usually been before, but she liked how people responded to this face. She thought she looked a bit like the headmistress of a girls' school, the type of person who would be taken seriously regardless of her gender.
Most of the new Mutants that they had contacted over the last two years had declined to join the Brotherhood, at least on a full-time basis. Most of the people they had located – with and without the help of Cerebro – had, after all, been passing for human for quite a long time. News that they were not alone – that there were others like them – came as a life-altering revelation to most Mutants, but only rarely did this translate into a willingness to take up the dangerous existence of a Mutant revolutionary.
Erik said that it didn't matter, that the important thing was that they were planting seeds. When the real struggle started, he said, they would remember that the Brotherhood had predicted what was coming correctly and would turn to the organization for guidance.
In the meantime, he added rather glibly, it wasn't necessary to bring home every Mutant with a set of nictitating membranes or vestigial gills. The point right now was to build a network of contacts and supporters who could be depended upon in the future, while drawing the big hitters – those with abilities that had serious tactical or combat applications – into an active role in the Brotherhood.
Watching Irene as she came back into the sitting room, a tea-tray balanced carefully in between both hands, Mystique found herself hoping that her ability – whatever it might be – made her worth recruiting. If nothing else, the Brotherhood needed more women members.
Irene moved with cautious sort of grace as she settled the tray down onto the coffee table and began to pour the tea. Her movements seemed almost choreographed, and Mystique watched transfixed by the measured way that her slim hands navigated the tea tray, and it came to her that there was something strikingly beautiful about the self-contained gestures, the way her long fingers –
“Don't get ahead of yourself, my dear,” Irene said, cutting in on the thought, and slid a tea cup toward her.
Mystique felt the pale skin she was wearing flush. “You're a telepath.”
Irene smiled faintly. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “I'm what that singer, Billy... Billy what's-his-name –”
“McGuire,” Mystique offered.
“Yes, thank you. What Billy McGuire believes himself to be.” Irene leaned back, holding her teacup in both hands.
“I don't understand what you mean by that,” Mystique said, trying not to sound offended. She knew the song in question hadn't been written for her or for Mutants, but it spoke to her.
“One can't fault him for his outrage,” Irene allowed. “And he's certainly managed to memorialize the current political climate for generations to come. But as a prognosticator... Well, his timing's rather off. The last time we were truly – collectively, I mean, on a global scale – on the eve of destruction was back in '62... that was a hell of a close thing, too. People are going to keep on fretting and fussing over the threat of someone pushing the big red button, but so far as threats of large scale thermonuclear war goes, 'world in the grave' and all of that... we should be alright for a while now, at least until '79... can't quite see how that's going to play out yet but I think our boys will realize about the training tapes before they do anything that can't be taken back... 2013's the one I'm losing sleep over, to tell you the truth. Well.”
Irene took a deep breath, crossed and uncrossed her legs. “Lot of strange stories came out of that mess in Cuba, didn't they? Government denies everything – they always do, as though the truth doesn't almost always win out in the end – but it's impossible to keep that many witnesses quiet.”
Mystique was silent. She felt very glad that Irene couldn't read her expression, because she wasn't at all certain that she had managed to master it.
“Plenty of strange stories in the papers since then, as well,” Irene went on, and now the faint smile was playing across her lips again. “Funny sorts of people doing all sorts of funny of things. That's part of what you're here to talk with me about, of course.
“I'm sorry, my dear,” Irene added. “I'm being terribly rude... I haven't even given you a chance to explain about Azazel yet, and he's going to be here in just a few minutes. It's just... Well, you see, I've seen how this tea plays out at least half a dozen times, so it's a bit difficult not to rush ahead.”
“You see the future,” Mystique said. Her mind was already rushing ahead with possibilities of such an ability.
“More or less,” Irene agreed, “though it's not as simple as you think. And before you ask – No, I won't be joining your Brotherhood.”
Mystique opened her mouth to argue, but at that moment Azazel appeared beside the coffee table with a cracking sound and a puff of smoke. Irene's nose wrinkled at the faint scent of sulfur.
Azazel glanced toward Mystique, and she nodded: everything okay.
The two of them had a system. The first meeting tended to go more smoothly if the person approaching the new Mutant could put on a human face, so Mystique would arrange to speak with the contact first. After she'd had a chance to explain the basics, Azazel – who tended to provoke panic and confusion in those who hadn't been prepped on what to expect – would join them.
Mystique hadn't made it far enough to give Irene the standard briefing, but since Irene already seemed to understand everything she supposed that didn't matter. And then also –
“You are blind?” Azazel asked, after he had turned back to Irene and studied her for a few moments.
“That's right,” Irene said.
“But can you see color?” he pressed.
“Not especially well,” Irene allowed. “But,” she added, sliding her dark glasses down her nose to peer intently at him, “I can tell that you're a very unique sort of red color.”
“Very red,” he agreed, and Mystique smiled to see the way he puffed up. “And much of the time, Mystique is being blue.”
He dropped down lightly onto the couch beside Mystique, and leaning against her, placed his hand on her knee. Mystique let her guise slip away, reverting to her own skin, and in the wake of the cascade of blue scales Azazel lifted his hand momentarily, saying softly in Russian, “Tickles.”
A thought seemed to strike him, and apparently concerned that Irene might have missed something, he added, “And I also have tail.”
“Interesting,” Irene said. “Someday you'll have to show it to me. But now –”
But Azazel had turned to Mystique, and was no longer paying attention. “Where are we?” he asked her.
“We were just talking about the Brotherhood,” Mystique told him. She made brief introductions, bringing him up to speed, then leaned forward to address Irene. “At least wait until you've heard our proposition –”
“I already have,” Irene answered. The other woman seemed agitated now, but Mystique misinterpreted the reason for this. Irene continued in a tone that Mystique would learn to hate in the coming months and years, “This is going to be a long and fruitless argument, you know.”
“But you can't just stay on the sidelines,” Mystique said. “Not with an ability like that.” She was aware that she was coming on too strong, that the indignation had come into her voice would do nothing for her argument, and yet she felt helpless to stop, even when Azazel's hand squeezed her knee in warning.
You could keep us safe, she wanted to say, but that felt weak. So instead she said, “You could be such an asset, alert us to potential dangers, help us make the best choices –”
“It doesn't work that way,” Irene cut in. “It isn't that easy to escape fate.”
“You aren't saying everything is predetermined?” Azazel asked, frowning.
“No,” Irene said. “It's not that simple, either.
“Look, suppose I said to Raven, 'You are going to cause the teacup you're holding right now to be broken' – which you won't, dear, so don't worry about it – what happens then?”
“Simple,” Raven answered. “I sit the teacup down on the table very carefully, and don't touch it again.” She did just that, then added with a smirk, “Crisis averted.”
“But I never said you were going to break the cup – I said that you were going to cause it to be broken. I have no idea where you have set the cup, so perhaps I will knock it over by mistake while clearing the table. Maybe Azazel will nick it with that famous tail of his and it will fall. The cat might come along to drink what you've left over, and push it off the table. There could even be an earthquake a few hours from now – if the cup is on the counter drying because you visited me and you took tea while visiting, and the earthquake shakes everything off the counter, then you have caused the cup to break. Do you understand?”
“It's rarely as simple as saying, 'Be at such-and-such a place at such-and-such a time to avoid bad luck or to find good,' or 'If you do this you will cause yourself or others to come to harm, but if you do that everything will come out well.' There are so many moving parts, and fate has a way of flowing around any point where one tries to alter the stream.”
“But you've changed all sorts of things today,” Mystique argued. “We've had an entirely different conversation than we would have had if you hadn't told me about your visions –”
“How important, really, do you think our conversation has been, in the course of world events?” Irene asked, not unkindly. “And in any case, it was already meant that I should tell you those things at our first meeting.”
Azazel leaned back, ran his fingers through his hair. “Huh.”
“But what –” Mystique tried to argue.
Irene cut her off. “I know you aren't going to drop this, no matter what I tell you. But take my advice and save it for another day. You're already going to be late meeting the guest who's waiting you back home.”
“What guest?” Mystique repeated, and shared a quick, nervous glance with Azazel; Kurt was back at the headquarters, alone with Angel and Janos. “There aren't supposed to be any guests.”
“He wouldn't be there if he wasn't meant to be,” Irene said, which struck Mystique as being supremely unhelpful.
“Who, though?” Mystique demanded, her sense of panic – and along with the panic, anger – rising.
Irene paused – simply for dramatic effect, it seemed to Mystique – before answering.
“Charles Xavier,” she said.
Mystique caught herself biting her own lip, and willed herself to stop. “I can't... I can't avoid this, somehow?” she asked, and heard the quaver in her own voice.
“You won't,” Irene said, and Mystique wondered wildly what would happen if she defied Irene – bucked fate – and simply hid out until Charles had gone away again. But she knew even as the possibility came to her that she couldn't do that, that Charles wouldn't have come to the Headquarters without reason, and she had a responsibility to the Brotherhood to find out what was going on, no matter if the thought of seeing him again filled her with a sick sense of dread and shame.
She took Azazel's hand and turned her head up to him, nodding that they should go.
So what Irene said next she said only to herself, her voice quivering with the sense of all the hurt and loss that would soon be coming due for so many. “The problem is,” she said, “that he isn't alone.”
“You are not weak just because your heart feels so heavy. I have never met a heavy heart that wasn’t a phone booth with a red cape inside. Some people will never understand the kind of superpower it takes for some people to just walk outside.” - Andrea Gibson
“But some people can’t tell where it hurts. They can’t calm down. They can’t ever stop howling.” - Margaret Atwood
Charles Xavier's traveling companion left him on the front steps of the decrepit-looking hotel and went to park the car.
“Hiding in plain sight?” Charles had asked, surprised, when Erik had finally deigned to give him the address, three months earlier. He had expected Erik to put his secret headquarters somewhere... well, somewhere more secret than the wrong side of Chicago, but Erik had not volunteered his rationale.
Erik kept things to himself, more than ever these days. What little he did tell Charles never came for free.
Charles knew that he was being manipulated, but it felt preferable to being shut out of the loop completely. At least this way he had some idea of what Erik was up to, could hope for some sort of forewarning if Erik decided to do something extreme.
Charles supposed he did love Erik, since he couldn't seem to help it despite everything that had happened, but he no intention of allowing Erik to provoke a war.
He understood that he'd finally been given the headquarters's address under the premise that he wouldn't actually do anything with it, but given the situation –
The doorbell was quite a reach, but he made it just.
Charles listened to the faint chiming of the bell, waiting for the sound of footsteps on the other side of the door, but no one came.
He waited half a minute, then rang again. Out on the street, people were beginning to stare, and that made him nervous.
People had taken to staring quite frequently these days, but the worst part about it was that they didn't actually stare at him – very often they didn't even look at Charles, and certainly never in the eyes. They stared at the chair, and their thoughts moved wetly through his mind, dripping with pity and disgust.
Charles began to knock now, and didn't stop until he heard the buzzing of anxious thoughts approaching on the other side of the door.
Janos came to the door and peered out through the peephole.
Charles Xavier was out there, sitting in a wheelchair and looking expectantly up at the door.
The man was Raven's brother, Janos understood, though he could have counted on one hand the number of times he'd heard Raven speak Charles's name over the last three years. Also, he was the same Mutant that Erik had fought so violently in Cuba, only to come very close to weeping over him when the other man had been shot.
The was so much strangeness surrounding the topic of Charles Xavier – questions that Janos didn't dare ask and which he was not even certain he wanted the answers to – and not just in regards to his relationship with Raven.
Now the man had come unannounced to the Brotherhood's headquarters and Janos had no idea why. He looked back over his shoulder, hoping desperately that someone else would come downstairs and take the responsibility of having to decide what to do next away from him – though he knew that except for himself, Angel and baby Kurt the building was empty, and Angel was asleep.
No one came, but still Janos dithered, caught up in a panic at the thought of making a mistake.
Charles didn't reach out to read the thoughts of the man on the other side of the door so much as he was flooded by them.
The overwhelming sense of fear that was provoked by the idea of having to decide whether or not to let Charles inside under his own authority was accompanied by the image of a woman pleading in a mangle of German and Spanish and the sickening swaying of a boat at sea. It came with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, with guilt and self-loathing and a sense of wounded rage that was bone-deep.
There was such a terror of making a mistake, of provoking anger and bringing punishment down on himself, and with this came the strangest picture; Shaw's face – bearing a sympathetic smile as benign as rattlesnake venom – superimposed by Erik's own. The images would not merge, yet Janos's psyche insisted on trying to force them to blend. The result was a jarring and unfocused portrait.
The man on the other side of the door had been cheated, lied to, used badly and used to do bad things, and he wanted nothing better than to avoid falling into the same trap again. And he was frightened – he was frightened of himself and he was frightened of Erik and he was scared because he had come to like Erik very much and he was afraid that this trust was a mistake, that he had fallen for the same mean trick all over again and in the end Erik would prove to be no better than Shaw and he would once again be trapped –
And Charles could tell that a large part of Janos understood how irrational these feelings were, yet they ran in a loop like a neurosis, the thoughts trampling over each other until they were broken and tangled, and in the face of all of this Charles closed his eyes and worked to slow his own heartbeat.
Try to be calm, Charles projected, but his advice had the opposite effect; it unleashed a new flurry of panic and mistrust, a suspicion of telepaths that had the same flavor as a burn victim's fear of fire.
Janos opened the door and stuck his head out to look down at Charles. His eyes were glassy and wild, his face as blank as wet stone. “You aren't supposed to be here.”
It's quite alright,” Charles said, and tried to smile reassuringly. What in the bloody hell is going on around here? he wondered, and wished that he hadn't let Erik bully him into staying away for so long. These people were a mess in ways that he hadn't even begun to imagine, and the thought of Raven having been alone with them for so long made him shudder. “Erik won't be angry with you,” he continued, hoping that this wastrue.
Janos was not reassured. The door clicked shut in Charles's face. He blinked. In his lap his hands twitched restlessly.
“Janos?” he called aloud. He could hear the other man's thoughts buzzing on the opposite side of the door and he could hear him pacing in the hall. Janos would step toward the door resolutely, but then shy away again at the last instant.
Charles sighed and sent his mind out to explore the building, hunting for someone else to talk to.
He happened upon the mind of a very small child – interesting, because as far as Erik had told him, young Todd was the only child among the Brotherhood – and skipped over it without much investigation, intent for the moment on other matters.
A short while later he found Angel upstairs napping, lost in a nightmare of falling. He gave Angel a gentle mental nudge to wake her. A little help? Charles asked, and a few minutes later he heard her approaching the door. She was silent but her thoughts were murderous, though luckily – for Charles at least – mostly aimed at Janos.
The door opened and now it was Angel on the other side. “What are you doing here, Charles?” she asked, and the boredom in her voice was world-weary.
“May I come in?” Charles said, and Angel cast her eyes upward and stepped around to the back of his chair to help him negotiate the raised threshold. She closed the door behind them.
“You didn't come here in a taxi?” Janos demanded. The brittle edge was still in his voice and in his thoughts, but now there was anger as well as fear. It was worrying, really, the way that the man feared so much, because for him the line between terror and anger – and from anger, violence – was so very thin.
“No, no,” Charles reassured him. “I came with a friend – he'll be back along shortly. Well, maybe 'friend' is stretching it, he thought, an clarified, “Don't worry – he's one of us.”
Charles glanced around at his surroundings. “It's much nicer on the inside,” he observed, trying to fill the silence.
There was a soft sound – a childish gurgle – from down the other end of the hall, and Charles wheeled around to see a small, navy-blue boy toddling toward him on the most astonishing set of little bare feet that he'd ever seen. A scollop-tipped tail swayed behind him.
“New recruit?” he asked the others brightly. Neither Angel nor Janos answered.
“The baby-gate was supposed to be up,” Angel whispered sharply at Janos in Spanish. “What if there had been a cop?”
“It is,” Janos said defensively. “He must have climbed it – he's half-monkey.”
By then the boy had reached Charles. Without pausing for an invitation, he began to scale the afghan blanket that was draped over Charles's knees. He crawled up into Charles's lap and settled in there, gripping the fabric of the front of Charles's sweater familiarly in one small, three-fingered hand.
“Isn't shy, is he?” Charles remarked. There was a tangled mop of curls at the top of the boy's head, so dark as to be nearly black, but the rest of his face and body was covered with a fine coat of downy blue fur.
Charles caught sight of the tail again, running out from the back of the boy's dark overalls, and paused to consider the ramifications of it; so odd to think that a man like Azazel could have produced such an obviously sweet-natured child. “I bet I can guess the father,” Charles said to Angel and Janos, trying to sound playful but feeling increasingly puzzled. He had promised himself that he would stay out of the minds of Erik's people if he could help it, but he was getting worried now; it felt like he had missed something, something that was perhaps both obvious and very important.
The two of them shared a quick glance but didn't answer, and now the silence wasn't just awkward – it was pregnant.
“Maybe we should just –” Angel started doubtfully, and then from upstairs there came a deep cracking sound.
“¡Gracias a Dios!” Janos breathed. “They are back.”
And then Raven was coming down the stairs. Azazel was with her, and he was walking very close to her. No, Charles corrected himself, no – she was very close to him, so close that her arm was around his waist, and they were talking, engrossed in each other, so much so that at first they didn't notice Charles.
Azazel saw Charles first, and he came to a sudden stop, an uncertain expression clouding his face. Raven continued on for another step, her arm trailing away from Azazel, but then he reached out and put his hand on her shoulder and she came to a stop, glancing back at Azazel curiously.
He wet his lips and lifted his chin toward Charles, and Raven turned slowly – everything seemed to be moving very slowly, even the thudding of Charles's own heart in his ears – and then she saw him.
And when she saw him one of her hands flew up to her face and clapped itself over her mouth in shock. Her other hand groped unsteadily for the support of the banister.
She stared at him for a long moment, while he tried desperately to shape his mouth into some approximation of a smile. He supposed he must have achieved some degree of success, because her hand came down and he saw that she was smiling back noncommittally. There was a buzzing inside his head.
Then the boy reached out his arms to Raven and said, “Mama, here. Up, Mama,” and everything slipped together and Charles found himself – suddenly and without warning and entirely against his own will – crying, because no one had told him and he could not understand how all of this could have happened without anyone at all telling him.
And Raven rushed down the stairs to try to do something, the teleporter coming behind her more slowly and with obvious uncertainty, but Charles had not been able to stop crying and finally Raven had rolled him into a downstairs office and had closed the door behind them to shield him from further embarrassment, though by that time Angel and Janos has long ago made themselves scarce, and still the tears had continued, his breath hitching painfully in his throat every time he tried to speak, and it was a very long time before he was able to say anything at all.
All of this enters the child’s consciousness much sooner than we as adults would like to think it does. As adults, we are easily fooled because we are so anxious to be fooled. But children are very different. Children, not yet aware that it is dangerous to look too deeply at anything, look at everything, look at each other, and draw their own conclusions. They don’t have the vocabulary to express what they see, and we, their elders, know how to intimidate them very easily and very soon. - James Baldwin
Kurt didn't really understand what was happening, but the nice man was crying and his mother was upset and it seemed to the boy that all of this was somehow because of him.
His mother was upset, but she wasn't crying like Charles was. She paced the room, a caged tiger, never coming very close to the wheelchair.
Kurt could not remember ever having seen her cry. He would never have imagined the amount of time she had spent doing so in the year prior to his birth. He couldn't know – would never know – how something in the ravening wound that passed for her heart had hardened the first time she held him, how an animalistic sort of mother-love had overtaken those weak and conflicted tears and replaced them with a ferocious determination to protect him from the hostile world by whatever means necessary.
But the man in the chair was crying. He was crying softly and as though he didn't want to, and Kurt watched as his hands swiped frustratedly at his wet eyes. There were dark rings around his eyes, and Kurt wondered if they were bruises, if they came from crying too much and then rubbing at your face to dry it.
Kurt spent a lot of time crying, too. Almost everyone in his life was hurting and angry in ways that he couldn't understand and which no one had properly explained to him, and he cried because of that and because he could tell that there were bad and dangerous things which wanted to harm him lurking beyond the walls of their home, though the face of this threat was as yet unclear to him. He was confused and scared almost all of the time so he cried a lot.
He didn't know why the strange man was crying now. Kurt didn't understand that Charles was weeping because he had held in his mind a very different picture of his sister's life with the Brotherhood than what he was seeing now, and at the root of this discrepancy he felt hatred and believed that it had to do with him.
Had Charles read her thoughts he might have seen differently, but she had forbidden this and he kept his promise now. Much future difficulty might have been avoided if not for this misunderstanding.
As things were, it seemed to Charles that the fact that she had cut him out of her life to such a staggering degree could only mean that she now loathed him. It was an easy mistake to make; he was not good at understanding people without the aid of his ability, and Raven's own motives for keeping silent about so much were to a certain degree a mystery even to herself.
In any case, now the nephew that Charles hadn't known he had was sitting on his numb knees, the most good natured child the world could hope to see, looking up at him with smoky, worried eyes. And so Charles cried.
Kurt crawled to his feet, his tail swaying for balance as he stood precariously on Charles's atrophied legs, and kissed Charles on the cheek. “Crying,” he observed. His chubby, three-fingered hand patted the other side of Charles's face gently. “Owie. Crying, Mama, ow?” he asked, turning to look to his mother for help.
The movement caused Kurt to begin to lose his balance. Charles caught him before he could tumble and sat Kurt back down in his lap almost possessively.
The boy waited, still looking into his mother's face intently, but none of the make-it-better kisses that she always had for him were given to the man in the wheelchair now, even though he was still crying.
“I didn't want you to worry about me,” Mystique said flatly.
The man in the chair sputtered. He was thinking about all the broken people they had found at the CIA base, though Kurt didn't know anything about that. He was seeing his mind a picture of his sister dead in the same way.
“Well – well, I am bloody well worried,” he roared suddenly, and Kurt winced and pressed his hands over his ears. “Azazel – my god, what are you even thinking?” His voice was softer now. It was something like a hiss. “After what happened – all those people... Oliver Platt –”
There were coals in his mother's eyes. Kurt was afraid someone might get burned. “Erik is at least as dangerous as he is, and that didn't stop you.”
“Ought to it have?” Charles asked. The presence of the wheelchair grew suddenly. Mystique had tried to avoid staring at it, but now she looked and saw that the thing was made entirely of plastic and canvas. No metal at all – or at least, none that she could see.
She had spoken angrily because she had not known how to defend herself and because she had expected that Charles would argue and therefore give her an opening to steer the topic to something else. Now she could think of nothing else to say – nothing, at any rate, that could be said easily – and the ensuing silence dragged on for such a long time that Kurt began to become bored. He leaned over the wheelchair's armrest, reaching downward for the acrylic spokes of one of the large wheels, trying to see if he could make it turn.
Kurt's busy tail struck Charles softly against the bridge of his nose and Charles nudged it out of his face, noting as he did so that the spade at the end of the boy's tail was rounded and blunt, very different from the stinger-sharp end of Azazel's tail.
“He's a wonderful child,” Charles said. He'd finally gotten the tears under control. Mystique was relieved.
“I know it,” she said. “Look, Charles, I –”
“Oh good lord,” Charles said suddenly, but not to her. He frowned at the closed door.
He sat Kurt back down in his lap, advising, “Hands and legs – and tails – inside of the vehicle, please.” He rolled toward the door and Mystique stepped ahead to open it for him.
Kurt liked riding in the wheelchair – it was fun – but when they crossed into the living room Kurt felt his smile curl up and run away.
Azazel was on the other side of the door, and usually seeing his Papa would have made Kurt very happy, but he was angry. He was very angry and there was ice in his eyes, and Kurt's head turned to follow Azazel gaze to find what had made him so angry, and he saw that there was a new stranger standing in the corner and that that man was mad, too.
“Everything alright out here?” Charles asked with forced cheerfulness, knowing very well that it was not. Neither man was easy to read – Azazel's thoughts were a jumble of strange associations, difficult to follow, and the mind of the other was oblique – but the hate-feelings that were passing between them roared like static inside Charles's head. “There's a couple of good chaps,” he added brightly, and smiled without showing any teeth.
Charles glanced quickly – hopefully – at his sister. “This is James – Jim, rather,” he explained. “Howlett. New recruit, you know.”
The new man was head and shoulders shorter than Azazel, and he was very hairy. Kurt could tell from the other side of the room that he smelled like sweat and beer and smoking, but he wanted to go over and see him anyway. Kurt didn't get to meet many new people, and he liked everyone.
Charles held him back when Kurt tried to wiggle down to the ground. “Stay here with your uncle for a little while longer,” he said, which confused Kurt, because he didn't see Erik anywhere.
Mystique had seen the distaste that tightened the muscles of Azazel's jaw as he glared at the other man, and she'd noted the mean, mocking light that danced in the stranger's narrowed eyes. Now she heard the edge in Charles's voice and learned over to take Kurt from him, drawing the boy up into her arms.
Jim's head turned. Kurt thought the man was looking at him (though in actuality it was his mother that Jim's eyes were crawling over) and it was a bad sort of stare so he buried his face against she shoulder and closed his eyes.
He didn't look up again until he heard the front door open and Erik's voice calling out.
Author's Note -
Okay, guys, I haven't updated this in a long, long time so I wanted to let you know what's up.
Currently, this series is on hiatus. That will probably remain the case until the new film comes out. Once I've seen Days of Future Past, I'm going to sit down and think about how I can adjust what I've planned to write so that it fits the new continuity of the filmverse. I'll so retcon what I've already written, though in the cause of DEVIL that will at most probably amount to moving some dates around. FATE will probably be started over again from scratch.
This is all also dependent upon whether or not I still have the heart to work on this story after I've seen the new movie. This may be silly, but the fact that most of the Brotherhood is being left out of the film hit me very hard, and even more so when we learned from "The Bent Bullet" promos that Angel and Azazel will probably be dead at the start of the film.
So anyway, thanks to everyone who's commented, kudos, or even just read. I'm sorry to have dropped off the face of the earth. I'm hoping to post a couple of short DEVILverse fics soon. which will incorporate what we know so far about DOFP and the events leading up to the film.