And Erik almost always won when they played chess.
back to part two
V. 2 1 4 7 8 2
There was a storm brewing in Erik's mind.
The first thing Charles felt when he got there was the rain. He tried to stand but the ground was strangely malleable beneath his feet, and he was not wearing any shoes. He caught himself with one hand when he fell, and his fingers wrapped around something cold and slippery and soft. He pulled his hand away at once, but the terrified realization of where he was had already started creeping up his spine.
Someone lit a match, and that was when it became vibrantly clear what he was standing on. Bodies were stacked beneath him, one atop another, eyes glazed like glass staring accusingly at him from all directions. Charles fell back against a wall of earth, before glancing up.
Erik stood at the edge of the mass grave, holding the burning match.
"Hello, Charles," Erik said courteously, and then he tossed the match. "Get out of my head."
Charles threw out a hand and the match froze in the air, suspended but still burning, and that was when he felt past the illusion. This was not real. There were no bodies. There was no grave.
The ground beneath his feet became solid, and Erik staggered back from him as they became level with one another. Charles waved his hand and the match disappeared. "Erik," he said, and left it at that, biting his lip to hold back all the apologies he wanted to make.
Erik knew very well why he was here, but Charles had not expected it to be like this. He'd never thought he'd have to face him again before it was done. This was far deeper than he'd ever gone in another's mind. Even when he was controlling someone he was only pulling strings on the surface of their thoughts—just rerouting commands from the outside.
This was like being pulled into another world entirely, like being forced to adjust to a new center of gravity. He stumbled over his breathing for a moment when he realized there was no air here. He was on a bed in a room full of mirrors, with his hands pressed against his best friend's head. He wasn't really here.
He could see metal gates in the distance, enclosing them in. It was still raining and even though he probably could, Charles didn't try to make it stop. He shivered from the cold, staring across at Erik as his hair grew damp and the water dragged it down into his eyes. Somehow Charles was not surprised this was the first place to come to Erik's mind.
There was an energy here too. Maybe it was just synapses sparking as they would in any healthy mind, or maybe it was a result of Erik's singular power; it was a kind of electricity, a fission of something indescribable. This place made him wary in a way no place real ever had. Here his power had no limitations. Here he had the power to rewrite history—to erase events, or to invent them at will. He could mold Erik into absolutely anything at all.
But he could not play God anymore than he already was.
He was here to do one thing. He was here to take Erik's life. To strip it away, piece by piece, until nothing of Erik Lehnsherr was left.
No mercy, Charles thought, repeating Raven's advice like a mantra to himself. Erik had taught them that.
"I really hadn't expected this," Erik said. "Though I suppose I should have."
"I hadn't expected you to drug me, lock me up, and start a war," Charles said. "And I know I should have."
Erik was circling him, eyes narrowed and intent. He was not wearing his helmet and it made Charles' heart clench. This was the Erik he pulled from the water. This was the Erik from their road trip. He looked so much younger like this. He looked almost human.
"That wasn't Amelia that bandaged your hand," Erik said, and Charles had turn to keep eye contact as he moved around him, slowly getting closer in.
"No, it wasn't," Charles agreed.
"Well played," Erik said. "Pretending outrage about how I corrupted your lovely sister, and all the time she was working for you."
"Not all the time, no," Charles said. "If you hadn't gone so far, I'm quite sure she would have followed you anywhere. You left her no other option. You left no options for any of us."
"Then what are you doing here, Charles?" Erik demanded, stopping suddenly and looking angry. "I know what you're planning, what are you waiting for? Couldn't you have just erased everything I am with a thought? Or better yet, stopped my heart? You forget I know exactly how powerful you are."
"I don't know. Maybe. But I wanted—" Charles started. "I want to know what's happened to you, because someone should know, someone should remember, and it can't be you."
"You never can do things the easy way, can you?" Erik asked. "You're just prolonging this for us both. As long as you're here, I'll be obligated to fight. It doesn't matter that I know I can't win, I won't surrender, even to you."
"You would prefer I just killed you?" Charles asked.
Erik stepped up beside him, and he was almost close enough to touch. "Yes," he said, voice low and fierce. "I would have."
"It is my belief that we are all capable of murder, or horrible violence, if pushed to our limits," Charles said. "This is true even of me. But I have my methods, Erik, and you have yours. If I can salvage something of you in the process, then I owe it to you to try."
"No matter what it does to you?" Erik whispered, and Charles held his ground as Erik moved behind him, fingers ghosting at his waist. "I don't think you really want to know everything that's in my head."
"If I'm going to do this, I should know exactly what it is I've done," Charles told him.
"Punishing yourself at the same time you're punishing me?" Erik asked. "That's so like you that I don't know why I'm surprised."
Charles forced himself to step away. He approached the gates, leveling them with a wave of his hand, a strange echo of a power that wasn't his. They wilted to form a path along the ground, the metal leaking into the grass and reforming as stones.
Charles approached a cliff and came to a stop, staring down at the chaos below him. It seemed he would start with Erik's war.
It looked like something from one of Shaw's visions of the future, but this was much worse than that, because this was Erik's memory of the very recent past. Washington D.C. had been the first to fall.
"Is this really what you wanted?" Charles asked, as he felt Erik come to a stop beside him. Charles did not take his eyes away from the ruined city. He'd seen glimpses in the minds he'd touched while he slept, but it was so much worse than he'd thought.
The city stood in tatters. Mutants were camping on the front lawn of the White House, some raucous with laughter, but most pulled in on themselves, trying to disappear.
"No, this was necessary," Erik said. "What I wanted would have taken time."
"Show me," Charles said softly.
The change began slowly, like a flower coming into bloom. The buildings righted themselves and grew taller than before, shining brightly even as it continued to rain. Trees grew up beside them, a little girl standing beside them, coaxing them higher with some as yet undiscovered power.
Mutants walked freely everywhere and together, some with obvious mutations that colored their skin or gave them wings, and some with subtler powers—standing there looking human, holding fire or ice in the palms of their hands.
Then Charles saw them. It was Erik and himself, walking together down the street, side by side. Erik wore his cape, though not his helmet, and this strange vision of himself walked beside him, laughing, wearing a dark grey three-piece suit.
"It's a beautiful dream," Charles said quietly.
"It doesn't have to be a dream," Erik insisted. "You can still stop this, Charles. We can still make this happen. Together. Like we're supposed to."
"And you call me naïve," Charles said, his voice catching on something between a laugh and a sob. "This is fantasy, can't you see that? Do you really expect people to follow you after what you've done? How many of those mutants you were fighting for had humans that they loved? Or do you think you're the only one that loved your mother?"
Charles felt the sudden force of Erik's anger before the backhand knocked his head to the side. He caught his balance and stood his ground, biting at his lip and tasting blood. He wiped a hand across his mouth and stared at the blood dazedly. He wondered distractedly if what happened here happened to him out there. The mind was a capable of incredible things; Charles knew it better than anyone.
"You know I'm right," Charles said. Erik himself looked unsettled, staring at the blood he'd spilled. "I've never understood that about you. How you could survive, all you survived—and then turn around and—"
"Because that's how I survived," Erik said. "That was the only way I could survive. Someone had to pay for what happened to me."
"Oh, my friend," Charles said, and his vision was blurring, as though he'd dreamt up tears. "Don't you see? It's happened all again, and this time you're the one that has to pay for it. You could have been—but it's too late, you've made yourself the villain."
Erik turned his eyes back to that world below. "That really depends on who you ask, doesn't it?" he asked.
"I suppose you're right," Charles agreed, before shakily raising one hand. "I suppose I'm your villain."
The scene below them began to glow, as though the sun had broken through the storm, burning so brightly white that it left nothing in its wake. In a pulse like a single solar flare, everything below them was gone.
"I feel like you should be," Erik said, his eyes shining with the reflection of that empty space. "But I'm not sure I remember why."
Charles turned away from him, unable to face the blankness in his gaze. He started walking the opposite direction. Erik's mind was a labyrinth, and he wondered how long he might spend here, collecting up his memories to place them in his own mind; it was no easy process, and it reminded him of catching butterflies to pin them to a board. That particular practice had always horrified Charles as a child.
The comparison stuck in this throat, and he pushed himself forward, forcing himself to walk until a beach appeared before him like a mirage—it was a moment, caught in time. He could see himself, with Erik crouched above him, and Moira fifteen feet away, her gun aimed directly at them. The bullet was held motionless half way between them.
He stumbled onto the beach into the sun, though he still felt soaked through to the skin. This was the moment, Charles thought. This was when it had changed.
Maybe if he just took this, he wouldn't need to take anything else.
But that would be fooling himself, it wouldn't fool Erik. Erik had changed the moment he killed Shaw—and all of the rest of his memories were tied to that single goal. There was no way to take the bad without also taking the good. Erik would realize something was missing if he tried, and there was no telling what he'd find to fill it in.
"Charles?" Erik called. He was on the other edge of the sand, wearing the wetsuit he'd been wearing when they met.
Charles could hear his own voice as well, echoing through this entire place, asking Erik to let go. He looked out to the water and instead of those armadas, he saw only Shaw's yacht. From the bow of the ship, Emma Frost laughed delightedly and blew him a kiss.
He closed his eyes and it all went away, swirling around him like a sandstorm, before it spun itself to snow and trickled down to nothing. When he opened his eyes again everything was white except for Erik, still dressed in black, staring at him from a few feet away.
"I can feel it happening," Erik said, pressing his hands to his head. "I'm losing myself."
"Yes," Charles said. "But it will get better. Soon you won't remember you've ever had anything to lose."
"And I'll be dead. Because what are we, if not our memories?" Erik demanded. "You know the answer better than anyone."
"It's what you are with yours that's the problem," Charles said softly. "I don't know what else to do, Erik. You're too powerful to be imprisoned. I'm not arrogant enough to believe I could hold you against your will."
Erik's eyes narrowed. "As I did, you mean," he said.
"You knew I'd try to stop you," Charles said. "You kept me alive anyway."
"Yes," Erik agreed, grinning with reluctant admiration, though he wouldn't meet his eyes. "And you very nearly stopped me, quite literally in your sleep. But I do not have the option of toying with your mind to make you join my cause. I had to work with what I had."
"I don't have any intention of forcing you do to anything after I'm done here," Charles told him. "Once we're awake I don't intend to ever see you again."
Erik went pale, looking more terrified than he had at the thought of losing his mind. "Charles, no, you—"
Erik broke off at the sound of laughter, and Charles went still, because that was him laughing, sounding utterly delighted, and Charles doesn't know when Erik even heard him laugh like that. He can't remember laughing like that for years.
Charles spun around to find that his mansion had crept up behind him, standing tall and proud, grass creeping out just around the foundations. The doors were standing wide open, and he could make out figures running through the entryway. There was laughter everywhere. Sean was leaning out one of the upstairs windows, adjusting his flight suit beside a very human-looking Hank.
"What?" Charles breathed, stepping forward. Erik was in front of him in a moment, trying to hold him back.
"No, not this," Erik says. "Charles, don't go in there. Leave me this."
The laughter was like a siren call—Charles could not turn away. He moved around Erik, and then he was wandering through his own mansion's halls. It was filled with children ranging five to twenty, rushing through the halls as they used their powers and laughed with each other.
If that vision outside had been Erik's fantasy, this was Charles'. He didn't know what it was doing inside of Erik's head.
He'd been walking to his study almost without realizing it, and soon he was standing in the doorway, watching a scene play out. Erik leaned on the other side of the door, closed off now after his previous display of emotion. He'd traded in his wetsuit for a turtleneck and jeans somewhere along the way.
Then Charles sees himself, the way he must look to Erik.
The Charles inside the study had very little in common with the rain-soaked and miserable Charles looking inside from the doorway. He looked carefree, laughing easily, his eyes almost too blue. He was grabbing books off the bookshelf and flipping through them as another Erik followed his steps.
The Erik inside the room had just as little in common his doppelganger as Charles did with his. He was laughing too, and looked younger, watching Charles scan through the books with something close to adoration.
Charles flinched when he saw himself launch himself into Erik's arms, wrapping his hands around his neck to whisper something in his ear, before being silenced with a kiss.
"This never happened," Charles said, his voice catching on the words.
"You know very well there's more to a mind than memory," Erik said, glancing over at him. "There was a time, before Cuba, when I thought the future you wanted might not be so disagreeable."
"What happened to change your mind?" Charles asked.
"The people we saved tried to kill us," Erik told him simply. "That's when I knew if you were ever going to have this life, I was going to have to fight for it. Because you obviously weren't going to."
Charles looked away from the vision as he saw himself return the kiss. He reached out without looking, to begin unraveling it.
"You should kill me, Charles," Erik said. "It would be more merciful than this."
Charles pushed away from him angrily, stomping down the quickly disappearing hall. "You don't deserve my mercy," he yelled, looking back over his shoulder. "That could have been us!"
"That was never going to happen and you know it—that—that—that—what were we talking about?" Erik asked.
Charles froze, paling as he turned to look back as the last tendrils of that forgotten future disappeared around them. Erik could not recall it after it was gone. Charles had to remind himself that was the whole point.
"Nothing," Charles said quietly. The mansion had disappeared completely. They were standing now in an empty field. "It's nothing."
"You're really not going to stop, are you?" Erik asked.
"I can't," Charles said. "This is the only way to keep everyone safe. You included. People are already coming after you, you told me so yourself."
"And what about you?" Erik asked.
"People will come after me too," Charles said. "There's no hiding anymore. You achieved that much at least."
"And will you fight?" Erik asked.
"If I can do this to you, I can do anything," Charles said. "You got your wish there too. But I'm not going to fight for the same things you fought for."
"Of course you're not," Erik said.
Charles pushed his hair out of his eyes as the rain started up again. There were lightening flashes now as well, crackling around them. At first Charles wondered if Erik was doing it to frighten him, until he saw just how pale Erik had become. Whatever was happening, it wasn’t being done consciously.
"You need to leave," Erik whispered. "Charles, please. Do whatever you're going to do but leave."
Charles turned around instead. A gleaming metal hallway now stood in the middle of the field, entirely unattached on either side. There were three light bulbs along the ceiling that flickered in and out, and there were doors all along the length, though they appeared to lead nowhere. They were each numbered, but not in any fashion that made sense.
2, 1, 4, 7, 8, and 2 again.
Charles walked forwards and saw a shadowed figure slowly approaching from the other end of the hall. When the lights flickered on it was Erik, but Charles knew with dreadful certainty that every time they went dark it was Shaw. That shared half-grin seemed to change from the right to the left with each sudden flash.
"You shouldn't go where you're not wanted, telepath."
The voice, though—that was all Shaw, deceptively polite, tone slick and sweet. Charles took an involuntary step back, and pressed right up against Erik. Erik reached out and grabbed one of his arms tightly, though whether the grip was meant to restrain or support him Charles couldn't tell.
"Tsk, tsk," Shaw said, coming out into the light. "Erik, you disappoint me yet again, letting him run around your mind, rearranging things. Must I always do your dirty work?" Shaw grinned widely. "Ah, well. At least I enjoy it."
That was all the warning Charles had before a blinding pain pressed into his mind. He cried out and fell to his knees, one arm wrenching up where Erik still held it in his grip. Erik immediately dropped down beside him. "Charles?" he asked.
Charles pulled away from him, dropping to sit in the grass. He pressed his eyes shut but it didn't help. He felt like he'd been struck by that lightening.
"I warned you I would fight," Erik whispered. "You never listen."
"Oh god, this is your power," Charles realized, pressing his hands against his eyes. "Magnetism. You've created some kind of electromagnetic field."
"At least he's smart, I'll give him that," Shaw said. "What is it with telepaths, I wonder? So bright and pretty, but not to be trusted, am I right?"
"Shut up," Erik growled at him, trying to pull Charles' hands away from his face. "Charles?"
Charles gasped again as that strange power pushed and pulled against him. He couldn't figure out if it was trying to force him out or trap him in. Erik grabbed his arms and dragged him up to his knees, forcing his hands down so he had no choice but to look at him.
"You have to leave, now," Erik insisted. "I can't stop this."
"I can't stop either," Charles said, in between pained gasps of breath. "I'm sorry. I can't. It's a stalemate, again, it appears."
"Will this kill you?" Erik demanded, giving Charles a harsh shake. "Will it?"
"I don't know," Charles said, trying to focus enough through the pain to hold his gaze. "I've never been in a mind like yours before."
Erik placed a hand at the back of Charles' neck, forcing their foreheads together. "Then do it, Charles," he whispered.
"I can't do anything," Charles said. "We're both trapped here. It's over."
"Stop trying to martyr yourself," Erik snapped. "You can stop this. You can do anything you want here. If it's my power that's hurting you, then take it away."
"Don't you dare," Shaw snarled. "Don't you listen to him, Charles. You haven't got any power at all."
Charles looked shattered. He ignored Shaw and reached out to grab Erik. "If I do that, I don't know that I can give it back," he said. "I was going to leave you with that at least—"
"Do it," Erik told him grimly. "You have to stop me, because I can't do it myself."
Charles let Erik pull him into a tight embrace and shut his eyes. Then he reached out and grasped onto that power to follow it back. He found the winding passages ways that lead to that amazing gift and closed them all off one by one, leaving them bolted and impassable.
"No!" Shaw roared. "You have to stop him!"
He felt the last of the connections sever with a strange snap, snap, snap—and then Shaw was gone, and they were alone in the cold hallway, holding onto each other like they were the last ones left on Earth.
Here in this place they were all there was, so in a way it was very nearly the truth.
"That's that then," Erik said quietly. "Time for you to go."
Charles was shaking, and he didn't want to open his eyes. In some other time this had been them—joined together to defeat Shaw. Except that this time there had been no Shaw, not really. It was all Erik.
"Charles, you have to go," Erik said, but he made no move to lessen his hold.
As if to reinforce Erik's statement, Raven's voice echoed above them—Charles! Charles, answer me! Please, oh god, please Charles, wake up—
"You have to finish this and go," Erik said firmly, wrapping his hands around Charles to hold him back so he could see him. "You're going to lose yourself here, and then we'll both be lost."
Don't do this, Raven's voice plead from somewhere outside of them, please, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, just don't—
"I'm not finished," Charles protested, his voice catching over the words. They were in a field now that had no end. The horizon stretched endless in all directions. Only that strange hallway marred the scene.
"Yes you are. Do you think I don't know what you're doing? Did you think I wouldn't figure it out? Even with all you've already taken, I still know you better than anyone else," Erik said, dragging Charles against his chest by his wrists. Charles had the power to stop him here, just as he always had before, but he let him pull him closer all the same.
"I already told you. I have to stop you," Charles said. "And this is the only way I know how."
"But that's not what I'm talking about, you little fool," Erik said. "You're here to try and save me, just like always. You could have wiped my mind, you didn't have to be here to do it. You want to see my memories first hand before you destroy them, because if you don't see them, you can't ever give them back."
"No, that's not—" Charles twisted in his grip, but Erik just pulled him back.
"But, Charles, it doesn't matter if you have them or not, you still can't ever give them back," Erik said quietly.
"Erik—" Charles started, his voice pleading.
"I don't want you to see what's behind those doors. I don't. Consider it my last request, let me do this much for you at least," Erik said. "We both know you can never give me back what's gone. Not really. So finish this, for us both."
"Erik," Charles said, rising up to meet his eyes. He pulled his hands away so he could reach out and frame Erik's face. "Erik, no. No! Don't you see? This right now? This is you—this is who you really are. We can get through this—"
"The only reason I'm thinking this clearly is you've already taken so many of the reasons for my rage—but what Shaw did to me, it's like a virus," Erik said. "It's infecting everything. He remade me into his own image. All things considered, I would rather you remake me in yours."
"You can remake yourself," Charles protested. "I was wrong, Erik, I should have just—"
"Tried to reason with me?" Erik asked quietly. "You would have failed. And if you let me out of here, or undo what you've done, I'll hurt you. I won't want to, but I will. You need to do this for me now, before I lose the strength to want to do the right thing."
"This isn't the right thing," Charles said. "I knew that even when I first decided to do it."
"The only thing, then. Just take it," he said. "Take all of it. I don't want to remember anything, not even my childhood."
Erik took Charles' hand in his, and then pressed it splayed against the metal wall beside them. Charles watched as all the color began to bleed from the walls—white rushing out from where he held his hand to cover everything like the aftermath of an avalanche. He started to pull away and Erik pushed his hand back.
"How long do I have?" Erik asked.
"Minutes," Charles said brokenly. "Less."
"Then this is goodbye. Just…just leave me something of you," Erik said. "Please, just leave me something of you."
Charles could feel his command working already, even if he tried, he wasn't sure he could stop it. Everything was being washed away. In a few more seconds, Erik would be lucky to remember his own name—that one last shred of identity and all those varied bits of practical knowledge that Charles was trying so desperately to allow him to keep.
"I can't. You know I can't," Charles whispered. "I can only leave you with this."
And as Erik's mind went white around them, Charles pulled him close for one last kiss.
When he next opened his eyes, the world felt like the dream.
He was in Raven's arms. She had dragged him away from Erik into the opposite corner of the room, and pulled him back against her. He could feel her breath against the back of his neck, and he counted each exhalation, using the sound to ground him back in reality.
"How long has it been?" Charles asked after a moment.
Raven sobbed behind him. "Charles? Oh, thank god. Are you okay?"
"I'm here," Charles said. "How long?"
Raven released him reluctantly, moving around to kneel in front of him. "About half an hour?" she guessed.
Half an hour. Charles pressed his eyes shut. He felt as though he'd been gone for years. He got to his feet slowly, and reluctantly allowed Raven to steady him, because it was that or falling on his face.
"You should rest," Raven said. "I can stall the others, I can pretend I'm Erik—"
"No," Charles said, keeping his gaze away from Erik, who still slept. "I'm ending this now."
Charles pushed open the door to his cell and stepped outside, and it was like being back on solid ground after months at sea. Emma was the first to see him, and she stepped forward in disbelief, morphing into diamond form. "Xavier?" she said.
Charles reached out for another mind as she approached. With a sound like thunder, Azazel appeared behind Emma at his command, and the two of them disappeared just as quickly in a puff of smoke.
The rest of the Brotherhood stood uncertain, some preparing to attack, but in their moment of hesitation Charles already had them— sleep, he commanded, and they all fell at once.
After a moment, more than half of them rose again, eyes vacant, and began to walk away.
Raven wrapped her hand in his, watching them go. "What are you doing?" she asked.
"I'm sending away the ones I can't trust," Charles told her. "I've erased the last few weeks of their memories and sent them back to what's left of their homes."
"Azazel?" Raven said quietly. "You aren't bringing him back either?"
"He would never forgive me killing Erik," Charles said, glancing over at her. "Emma might, but I can't afford to have her here at the moment."
"He forgave Erik killing Shaw," Raven said.
"Because he couldn't see any difference between them," Charles said after a moment. "They wanted the same things."
Raven nodded, before glancing at those left. "And the rest of them?" she asked.
"They'll follow me when the time comes," Charles told her, glancing at the sleeping mutants in contemplation. "But there are things we must take care of first. I've already called Hank. He'll be here soon."
"Called him how?" Raven asked, and Charles just stared at her. "Right. Of course. He was close by then?"
"He was in Westchester," Charles said.
"You can reach out that far?" Raven asked in disbelief. "I didn't realize that you could."
"I didn't realize it either," Charles said, but something had changed in him. He didn't know if it had happened while he lay sedated, trying to stop Erik's destruction, or if it had happened in Erik's mind, as he was destroying it—but the world seemed simplified, and his powers were no longer restrained.
He could sort through minds for miles, the way he'd only ever done before when locked inside Cerebro.
Charles grabbed onto the table, feeling dizzy suddenly, and Raven stepped beside him. "Maybe you should rest," she suggested.
"Can't," he said. "They're here."
"Who is?" Raven asked, right as she heard it. She glanced towards the window as the X-jet appeared, landing on the lawn beside the headless statue that still stood in the courtyard.
Charles headed quickly for the doors, rushing out into the lawn. Raven followed him to the doorway, but no further. The X-Men came out of the jet, and Charles fell into Hank's fierce embrace. Sean threw himself on Charles' back, wrapping his arms around them both to curl in Hank's fur. Alex just stood beside them, one hand reaching out to firmly grip Charles' shoulder.
Raven held a hand over her mouth to keep her emotions in. No one asked her to come any closer, and she didn't intrude. She went back inside to leave them to it, stepping around the sleeping bodies of her colleagues.
They came in a moment later. Hank was discreetly supporting Charles, and Sean and Alex were hovering. It was strange to see them taking care of him, instead of the other way around.
Then they all looked up, and every one of them but Charles froze when they saw her.
"What—" Hank growled.
"Why isn't she asleep with the rest of them?" Alex demanded.
"If it wasn't for Raven, I would still be in that cell," Charles told them calmly, stepping away from them to join her. "If this is going to work, we're all going to have to leave everything that's happened in the past. We need their help, and we can't ask for that and try to punish them as well."
"So all's forgiven then?" Hank demanded. "We just let them get away with the things they've done?"
Charles watched the group carefully, surprised that Hank was the loudest voice of dissent. They weren't children anymore, Charles realized, and he wasn't going to try and paint this as being anything other than it was. "Yes," Charles said. "That's exactly what I want you to do."
Hank deflated then, dropping to sit down at the table. "Because we have to be the better men?" he asked, sounding only slightly bitter. "You don't know everything they did."
"We need them," Charles said. "I've been in the minds of everyone left here, and none of them were happy with the path Erik lead them down."
"They followed him anyway," Hank said.
"We thought we were doing the right thing," Raven said quietly. Hank looked up to glare at her. "We wanted to make the world a place where we could be accepted, where we didn't have to hide. We were convinced that it would never happen without force, at least not in our lifetimes."
"That doesn't excuse it," Alex snapped, standing at Hank's shoulder.
"We can't trust her, Charles," Hank said. "Or any of them."
"I've already trusted her, with my life, with all our lives," Charles said. "And you seem to be forgetting what I can do. If any of them so much as think to betray us, I'll know."
Hank stood up in surprise. "You're going to monitor them?" he asked.
"I can't afford not to," Charles said. "Not until they prove themselves at least."
Raven shifted uncomfortably, but didn't protest. She didn't ask if she was being monitored as well, either. "What about Erik?" she asked.
"I thought he was dead," Sean said in surprise.
"I've wiped his mind," Charles said, eyes going to the cell door. "But he's still alive."
"Then we should kill him," Hank growled.
Charles gently grabbed his arm. "That man in there knows nothing of Magneto, and he is not to be harmed. But you are right that Magneto must die. The people must believe him dead, if they're going to have any hope for the future."
"Charles," Hank started, his tone shifting between disbelief and sympathy. "They're the same man. You can't only kill one of them."
"We can, and we will," Charles said. "We simply have to show the world that Magneto is dead."
"But he's not," Raven said.
"And I am not X, the savior of humankind," Charles said, glancing over at her. "What matters is what people believe."
He could hear his own voice in the back of his head, like an echo from long ago. The King is dead, he'd told Erik.
Long live the King.
Erik had taken over the television stations first thing. He'd transmitted his request for surrender straight into every home, asking mutants to come forth and join him, humans to give themselves up.
Now Charles would use it to end this once and for all.
"They'll expect a body," Hank insisted.
"They won't be getting one," Charles said firmly, holding the helmet out to Raven. She morphed into Erik and placed it on her head. Charles swallowed hard as Erik came alive in front of him, his eyes burning anger, his jaw held taut. Raven knew Erik well—it was almost as good as the real thing.
"Can you…make him a little different?" Charles asked quietly. "A scar, or something. Something distinctive."
Raven drew a line of scar tissue curving down beside her nose, to her chin, then towards her throat, so it would be visible through the helmet. "There," she said. "How's that?"
"Perfect. We can kill Magneto, and no one will recognize Erik as the same man," Charles said. "That damn helmet had a use after all. He never went anywhere without it, so only a handful of people have ever seen Erik's face."
Hank roughly tied a homemade squib to Raven's chest, hiding it beneath the fabricated folds of Magneto's uniform. "This will hurt," he told her, and made no apology for it.
Raven moved behind the podium they had set up in the courtyard, and Sean and Alex approached, setting up the camera. Raven read one of the speeches Erik had already written, flawlessly giving her appeal for mutants to come forward and join them.
She set off the squib a few paragraphs in, falling back and out of the frame, dropping behind the podium. Charles motioned them to turn off the camera and approached, feeling dizzy as he stared at her, still in Erik's form. The clothes at her chest had burst into a compact hole, and she lay still enough she looked as though she were really dead.
"Raven," Charles said softly. "You can get up."
She sat up, morphing back to her blue skin as she did. "Did that look okay?" she asked.
"It was perfect," Charles assured her, calming now that Erik was no longer staring back at him. He turned to Hank. "Broadcast it."
Sean and Alex took the camera back inside, and Raven followed them, cradling her sore chest. Hank stayed behind, staring after them. "All this, just to save him?" Hank asked, that same disappointment in his tone that had been there since Cuba. "Was it worth it, professor? Because he doesn't deserve all this trouble, we should have just thrown him to the wolves."
"You're wrong," Charles said.
"You just don't—" Hank started.
"No, you're wrong to think I've saved him," Charles cut in, turning to face him. "I killed him. I took everything he was, and I pulled it all apart. So don't ask me if it was worth it, Hank. You might not like the answer you get."
Charles walked away, and didn't look back. He couldn't face Hank at the moment, not when their roles in each other's lives had become so muddled. Charles wasn't perfect, and now Hank knew that. Charles was as human as the rest of them.
They played it on every station, repeating it time after time. There were no working news stations left except the makeshift one Erik had built here, so Hank did it all from the comfort of their base. Charles watched the broadcast as it replayed, Raven's Erik so perfectly poised, so articulate, even Charles would not have suspected it wasn't him if he hadn't known.
Charles could not bring himself to face the real Erik. Raven had been keeping him sedated, in that room of broken mirrors. But that was a temporary solution, and further complicated by the remaining members of the Brotherhood.
Charles had sent them all to their respective quarters, implanting the memory of Erik falling at the podium into all of their minds. He would have to hide Erik somewhere away from them as well, because it would be better if they thought him dead—less of a betrayal, for those thinking they should remain loyal. He had also implanted more false memories, just little suggestions, that Charles was leading them now. That they should follow him.
They were suggestions only, not commands. Charles would send home any that did not wish to join him, but this way he would avoid having to confront a mob. He could simply quietly send his dissenters home, one by one. Charles suspected Raven did not approve, but they'd tried things her way once already.
"Charles," Hank said, as he came to lean in the doorway.
Charles looked up. He was sitting on the floor in front of Erik's room. He could feel Erik's mind behind him, floating empty in circles around the locked room. There was no single spark left—Erik's mind had been quite full of fire. It was so strange not to find it there now.
"Did you contact them?" Charles asked absently, trying to focus instead on Hank's mind. Hank had changed in appearance more than any of them, but his mind remained as clear and principled as ever. He'd thrived in the conflict—he had turned Westchester into a refuge, for mutants and humans alike. He'd known Charles would approve.
"Yes," Hank said. "The leaders of the human resistance have agreed to meet. It would have been easier to get them to agree if I could have said it was you that was coming. They all know who you are. That first week, professor, you were everywhere."
"We don't want them coming just to see me, like some curiosity," Charles said, getting to his feet. "First we have to sell them Magneto's death. They need to believe it."
"I wish I believed it," Hank said.
Charles glanced over at him. "Hank, do you understand that Erik is gone?" he asked. "Because he is. Well and truly. My only hope is that the man in there might go on to live a better life. We stopped Shaw by killing him, and all it did was create another Shaw. I don't know if what I've done is any better, but maybe something good can still come of it."
"And what if he remembers?" Hank asked.
"That's not how it works," Charles said. "I could have fogged his memories, cut him off from them. But that wasn't what I did. I destroyed them."
"But his power?" Hank asked. "That's not really gone, is it? I mean, it could come back."
"It could," Charles agreed, glancing back at the door. "All I've done is erase his memory of the access points, but based on past experience, our powers can also be instinctively triggered by severe emotional distress. Given a traumatic enough event, he could easily find it again."
"And you're okay with that?" Hank demanded.
"What else would you have me do?" Charles asked him tiredly, looking up at him. Hank looked fierce now, all coiled power and muscle beneath that vibrant coat of fur, but his eyes had not changed. Charles trusted him enough to understand. "Could you do it? Just go in there, and kill him? Would you be the same afterwards, if you did?"
Hank broke their gaze. "No," he admitted. "I couldn't."
"But you'd have me do it?" Charles asked. "Because I don't know if I'll recover from what I've done as it is."
"No," Hank said, looking horrified. "Of course not. Professor, I'm sorry, I just—"
"Then you come to me when you've thought of a better solution," Charles interrupted, not unkindly.
Hank nodded, staring at his feet. "The meeting is a few miles from here," he said, trying to get them back to a subject they could discuss rationally. "Do you have a car here?"
"Yes, but I've asked the teleporter John Wraith to transport us to the meeting," Charles said. "The teleporter prefers to be called Kestrel, and he has agreed to join us, along with a few others. The rest are still uncertain. Raven, Alex and Sean can hold down the fort. "
"And you're sure you can trust them?" Hank asked. "Any of them?"
"I am only as sure as they are," Charles said. "But that will have to be enough."
The human resistance looked defiantly across at him. Their clothes were somewhat tattered, but they looked healthy for the most part. It had only been weeks, after all, since they had been in their homes, getting on with their lives, oblivious to the possibilities.
Charles kept tabs on all of them, but each was willing to listen, and desperate for the news of Magneto's death to be true. Some looked at Hank with trepidation, but almost all of them knew him—he had saved more than a few of their lives, and they accepted him. They barely seemed to notice Kestrel, who was standing inconsequential as a ghost at his side, all but using his power to flicker out of sight.
Charles had not dressed up for this meeting. He had thrown a pea coat he'd found over his still blood stained white shirt, and pulled one size too large boots over his grey sweatpants. He remembered all too easily Erik's polished appeals. He did not want to lend himself to the comparison. Charles did not want to be a leader, for all that he knew he had become a symbol.
"Is it true?" someone finally yelled.
Charles found him easily in the crowd. "Magneto is dead," he said, his voice clear and formal, rather at odds with the rest of him. "The Brotherhood will not be continuing with their terrorist acts. You are all welcome to return home, and we would be happy to provide whatever assistance we can."
"Where's the body?" a woman asked. Charles turned his attention to her. She was standing tall, a gun at her waist.
"It's been cremated," Charles told her. He felt the rush of anger from the crowd before they started mumbling, but he let it wash past him. "I will not mark the end of his reign by allowing his head to be put on a spike. We're going to have to put such violence behind us if we're going to move forward. It's time now to look ahead."
Charles turned towards Hank, grabbing the blood-splattered helmet from his hands and then tossing it on the ground in front of the crowd. "If you want a trophy, you can have this," he told them. What he did not tell them was that he had instructed Hank to drill tiny holes along all its seams so that it was rendered useless.
Charles couldn't afford to trust, these days.
"You all know very well he would not go without it," he told them.
The woman picked it up, rolling it in her hands, testing its strength, before nodding and handing it off. "How was he killed, then?" she asked. "I was under the impression bullets weren't an issue for him."
"The bullet that killed him was ceramic, and specially designed for him," Charles said easily. "Any other questions?"
"Just one," she said wryly. "Who, exactly, are you?"
The way she spoke reminded Charles of Moira, and he swallowed carefully as he considered his answer. Charles Xavier had no place here.
"I'm X," Charles said. "And I'm the one that killed him."
The crowd went silent then, and the woman with Moira's eyes and Moria's voice assessed him carefully. "How will we know how to contact you?" she asked finally. "If we decide to take you up on your offer of help?"
"When you decide you want my help, I'll know," Charles told her, and then he turned to Kestrel and nodded once.
Kestrel reached out to grab Charles and Hank, and they all disappeared.
Charles sat on the edge of the roof of the Brotherhood base, listening to the world. He could hear almost too much these days, and there was so much sadness still, over everything. At least tonight there was something beginning to break through it. A desperate kind of hope.
He didn't know how long he had been sitting there when Raven dropped down beside him, casually dangling her legs off the edge of the roof.
She glanced at him, and he was startled to see she was wearing her blonde disguise. He remembered that cold warehouse at the start of this all, and the familiar form isn't as comforting as it once was. Raven smiled sadly, reverting to her blue form, as though it was her reading his mind for once.
"Why do I get the feeling you're not up here for the view?" she asked.
"They're celebrating," Charles said softly. "I can hear them. They're celebrating that he's dead."
"Wouldn't you?" Raven asked quietly. "I still remember how it felt when we first took out Shaw, weren't you happy at all, then, to see him die?"
"I didn't see him die," Charles told her. "I felt it happen. And maybe it was no less than he deserved, but I can't find it in myself to be rejoice in his pain."
"No, I suppose not," Raven agreed. "But they didn't have to feel Magneto die. They just get to think about what it means for them now that he has."
Raven paused, swinging one leg slowly. She let out a heavy breath, and in another time, she might have leaned against him. She stayed where she was now, her back perfectly straight.
"They didn't know Erik, Charles," she said after a moment. "Not like we did."
"How is he?" Charles asked hesitantly.
"I've weaned him off the sedatives," Raven said. "First thing he asked for when he woke up was you. Not by name, but it could hardly be anyone else. I think something may be left."
"Just a ghost, if anything," Charles said. "The memories are gone, but hopefully whatever is left will find some peace. Or maybe that's just what I tell myself to ease my conscience."
"You've done the right thing," Raven told him.
"You don't believe that," Charles said. "You still think he's right. You only did this to save me."
"Well, you're my brother," she agreed. "And you're supposed to stay out of my head."
"Oh, I think I'm well past that, don't you?" Charles asked her, turning to meet her eyes. "I think there's very little now that I wouldn't do."
"You're a hero," Raven told him softly. "When you listen to them celebrating, how many of them are praising you?"
"I'm not who they think," Charles said.
"Well, maybe," Raven said. "But it's like you said, the part that matters is what they believe."
"Have you been talking to the Brotherhood members?" Charles asked. "What do they believe?"
Raven sighed. "Most want to help," she said. "But some just want to disappear."
"Then let them," Charles said.
"What about Erik, Charles?" Raven asked hesitantly.
"He'll have to be sent away," Charles said. He tried to shut out the celebrations, but they kept seeping through the cracks in his mind. His shields were all but shattered.
"Maybe you could help him," Raven started.
"No, I could only do more harm," Charles said. "Because I'd want him to be someone he's not. And he'd want to be someone he can no longer be. It's better this way. For us to just go our separate ways. Anyway, there's still a chance he could be recognized if he stayed, especially if he's with me."
"I think you should see him," Raven said quietly. "You need to say goodbye. You both do."
Charles knew he would have to, though the thought of seeing Erik, without feeling Erik, terrified him. It had been bad enough when he was confronted with Erik in that helmet, but that, at least, had the possibility of being removed.
"I will," he said.
As Charles sat down across from Erik, he was grateful Raven had the foresight to change his room. It was hard enough to face this single phantom of his friend, without having it reflected back from every corner of the room—but there were no mirrors here, and only one place for Charles to look.
Erik looked human and vulnerable without his helmet or his cape, his eyes staring at him like he had all the answers, like he knew everything.
In all his arrogance, Charles had made that claim to Erik once. But that Erik had been far more experienced than him, and had known enough not to believe it.
It was disorienting to see Erik look at him that way now.
"Do you know your name?" Charles asked him politely, arranging his features to display all of the professional disinterest of a psychologist.
"Erik," he whispered. "I think it's Erik."
"It is," Charles said. "That's it exactly. There's nothing else?"
"Should there be?" Erik asked, in some phantom of his former tones, wry and shrewd and knowing.
"No," Charles said after a moment. "There shouldn't be."
Erik's arm darted across the table, snagging Charles hand and dragging it towards his own chest. "Well, there's you," he said, his voice rough with emotion. "I see you."
"You're not supposed to," Charles said shakily, twisting his hand out of Erik's grip—but still, Charles can't quite regret giving him that parting kiss. "Erik, you have to understand, after this you can never see me again."
"I've done something horrible, haven't I?" Erik asked. He sounded so uncertain, so unlike the man that had sat across from him during those countless chess games, that Charles nearly reached out himself.
He sucked in a breath instead, holding the table until his knuckles turned white. "Yes," he said.
"To you?" Erik asked, leaning forward in concern.
"To yourself," Charles said, and he remembered those shaky corridors of Erik's mind, winding deep down into his soul, all built with the best intentions long since gone to ruin.
"And that's why I can't remember anything?" Erik asked. "They told me I'm human."
"You are," Charles said. "You were in an accident, and it's no longer safe for you here. I'm sending you to Germany. You'll be well taken care of, I promise. It's still safe there. Sprechen sie Deutsch?"
"Natürlich," Erik said.
"Good," Charles said. "You'll be fine."
"I don't think I will be. You're the only one I know," Erik said, nearly reaching out again, before pulling his hands back to his lap. "You know who I really am. Can't you tell me anything?"
"Erik, I need you to listen to me very carefully. It doesn't matter what happened before. I can't tell you any more than I have," Charles said. "I've already left you with too much, and if I had any sense at all I'd—but that doesn't matter, what matters is that you need to focus on the future. Because that's all we have left."
"It was that bad?" Erik asked softly.
"You have your whole life ahead of you," Charles told him. "Does the past matter so much?"
"I think it does, because all my dreams are of you," Erik said. "We're kissing in a field of snow."
Charles pushed back from the table, nearly stumbling in his desire to get away, and all semblance of composure was gone. Erik knew very well what effect he had on him, just like he always had.
"I'm afraid that never happened, and I should go," Charles said. "Hank will be flying you to Germany, and a contact of mine will meet you there to help you settle in. You leave tonight. Goodbye, Erik."
"Wait," Erik said, desperately reaching out to grab him as he turned to go. Charles sidestepped him easily, watching him with suspicion. "What's your name? Please, at least give me that. I feel I should know it."
Charles turned towards the door, but stood frozen there, with his hand on the handle.
"X," he said quietly.
"That's not your name," Erik told him, eerily certain.
"It's the one you gave me," Charles said.
He left then without looking back, or he might have noticed the slight vibration of the lock.