[personal profile] alchemyalice
 Part One





Charles is the one Erik finds making breakfast in the morning. He cocks an eyebrow at him as he enters the kitchen. “Good morning,” he says. “Big day.”

Erik thinks of the hard pressure of Wesley’s mouth on his own. “Indeed,” he says.

“The children aren’t up yet, but I thought that perhaps we could do a bit better than cereal before we all go risk our lives.”

“Fighting on a full stomach isn’t a good idea,” Erik replies absently.

“Are you all right, my friend?” Charles says, taking his eyes off of the eggs in the pan. “You seem distracted again.”

“I’m fine,” Erik says, too quickly. He sorts through his thoughts. “I…this is important to me.”

“I know.” Charles touches his arm diffidently. “We’re going to stop him.”

“I’m going to kill him, Charles,” he says, keeping himself still. “You must know that.”

Charles sighs heavily. “I wish that wasn’t something you needed so desperately.”

“You think I want to feel this way?”

“I don’t know, Erik.” He runs a hand through his hair, shoving it into even greater disarray. “Sometimes I wonder.”

Erik stares at him. “I am what I have been made into,” he says, after a pause. “I cannot change that.”

“The first thing we can always change,” Charles says, quiet but vehement, “Is ourselves.”

Erik exhales. Charles would know, wouldn’t he?

Or not, as the case may be.

Charles gives him one finally worried look before turning to greet the rest of the team as they come downstairs.

***

Wesley has memories of a life he’s only half led.

For the most part, he’s only a little bitter about it. He’s sort of relieved, in a way—he only has the memories, not the experiences, of an early life which, after Brian Xavier had died, hadn’t exactly been a happy one.

Sometimes, though, when he thinks of that summer in Chicago (and Moravia, and then Chicago again) he entertains the thought of what it would be like to be more than half a person.

But then he always comes back to the same conclusion: that it’s better to be a capable fragment than a broken whole.

***

Cuba, though.

Cuba is panic.

Their first encounter with Shaw may have made the children into adults, but this is asking them to be soldiers, and they are only barely so.

Charles does his best to lead, to utilize their strengths, but soon the plane is crashing, crashing, and he has the most incongruous thought—

should have killed the Frost bitch when I had the chance

—before everything is overwhelmed by impact, the plane and submarine both going down in a dizzying mess of rolling shrapnel, and Erik is there, pinning him to the side, keeping them all safe, keeping Charles safe.

When the world stops spinning, Erik releases him carefully, and meets his gaze with a strange sort of care.

“You’ll guide me inside the sub?” he says.

“I’ll be with you the whole time,” Charles promises, and doesn’t know what to make of the minute flare of doubt that he receives from Erik before he exits the wreckage of the plane.

He doesn’t have time to think about it, though. Shaw’s team is regrouping, and from what Charles can see of the ships on the horizon, they’re all running out of time.

He forces himself to filter out the distractions of war, and raises his fingers to his temple.

As the children run out onto the battlefield, Charles sees through Erik’s eyes.

The control room, the hallway, the lounge. The black hole of absence just behind the wall that suddenly

opens,

crystalline,

revealing Shaw, incandescent with more than rage.

Erik moves forward like a moth drawn to flame.

“Erik,” Shaw says, mouth twisting beneath his helmet. “How nice to see you again.”

And then Charles is privy to the wash of Erik’s pain and desperation and loathing and then—

A void.

Charles waits, heart pounding. Receives a crackle of transmission from Erik, etched with fear. There! Whatever you’re doing, Erik, keeping doing it, I can almost hear you!

He receives a flash of incredulity in return but ignores it, focusing on reaching through, waiting for Shaw’s mind to become visible to him—

There.

The helmet lifts, and he’s sliding inside, seizing control of this new mind, and then—

Cold, alien certainty. Charles feels it wash across Erik’s consciousness and then there is suddenly nothing, nothing at all.

He looks at Erik through Shaw. Sees his expression beneath the metal and doesn’t need to read his mind to know what’s going to happen.

In a flare of panic, he slams his hand against the broken hull of the plane, against the clenched and terrified borders of Shaw’s distorted mind. “Erik! Don’t—!”

He isn’t heard.

***

Shaw screams.

The coin is like detonator cord, burning a path of white-hot embers that burst out and set his mind on fire. It moves through Shaw’s cranium, severing nerve endings and cauterizing neurons into lifelessness, leaving black ash and carbon in their wake.

In Charles's head, it sets locked doors ablaze.

***

There is something deep and dark and satisfying about slow and inevitable death.

Erik watches the coin disappear, and thinks, This is as close as I will get to peace.

The coin clatters to the ground, etched with blood, and Erik moves to lift Shaw’s empty shell into a new and brighter world.

***

When they were little and still living in Westchester, Raven used to always love how big the house was. It was splendid for hide and seek, even better for make-believe, and when she and Charles did those things he loved it too.

When he was without her, though, she knew that he hated it. The rooms were too big and too lonely and cold from bad insulation and parental indifference.

She had thought back then, with her child’s mind, that that was the reason why, for the first and only time, Charles had lost his temper with Kurt.

“Don’t!”

Kurt had looked at down at Charles like he’d gone mad. “Don’t what, lad?”

“Don’t go in there. That’s Dad’s room.”

Kurt sneered. “Not anymore. It’s my house now, isn’t it.”

Charles growled, his young face blotched red with anger. “That isn’t. That is my father’s room. Don’t open it.”

And Kurt had staggered back, looking scared and angry for only a moment before slipping into frightening, artificial indifference and walking stiffly away like his legs didn’t belong to him.

Charles had watched him until he’d turned down the corridor before his shoulders slumped and he’d caught Raven watching from an alcove. He looked anxiously at her. “He can’t have it,” he said, as if that explained it. “That room’s not for him.”

Raven had nodded like she understood. It scared her, what Charles could do, but Kurt was a bully, and it didn’t scare her that what he could do, he did to Kurt. She thought that perhaps Charles had wanted to keep the house from feeling any bigger than it already did. It seemed sensible, to just not open as many rooms as there were.

It was soon after that that Kurt became crueler and Sharon sicker, but no matter how many bruises showed up on Charles’s wrists and stomach, he never let that room go unlocked.

“It’s my father’s room,” he said, every time.

When she brought it up after Oxford, however, he couldn’t remember a thing about it. And when she asked Wesley...

Well.

“It’s Brian’s room,” he said. He paused. “And now it’s mine.”

***

Erik speaks like a man possessed, but the thing that scares Charles more than anything in the world is that the thing that possesses Erik is belief.

Charles throws himself at him, and the missiles halt in the air, but already he knows that it’s not enough. Erik hurls him to the ground, and though the blows barely register after experiencing Shaw’s death, they’re nothing—they’re not enough.

The bombs bear down on their makers.

Erik wields them like a vengeful god.

Groaning on the ground, head still ablaze from the wreckage of Shaw’s mind, Charles thinks in fragments: I don’t know if I can do this.

***

And a voice he only half-recognizes answers, a whisper from behind crumbling doors.

Then let me.

***

Raven doesn’t know what to do.

Charles is crumpled on the ground, but Erik is making sense.

She doesn’t know what to do.

Moira is reaching for her gun.

“Raven.”

Oh god.

She breathes, “Wesley?”

Alex and Sean are staring at them now. “Who—?” Alex starts.

It’s in the set of his shoulders against the sand, in the tight chill of his mouth, so familiar now and yet still so unsettling.

“Give me your gun,” Wesley says, in a quick, furious monotone.

“No,” she protests. “You can’t shoot him!”

Wesley doesn’t even react, just shifts his focus. “Sean, isn’t it? Give me your gun.”

Sean shoots a look at Erik, and obeys.

Moira opens fire.

***

So does Wesley.

***

Erik deflects Moira’s bullets with a flick of his wrist, and he is so, so angry; so angry that it feels like a sickness. So disappointed it nearly deafens him, blinds him.

Blinds him to the last shot.

He feels the metal of it a second too late, and even if he’d known sooner he wouldn’t have known how to stop it because it isn’t following the rules, its trajectory absurd—

It catches the bottom of the helmet on a curve and knocks it loose.

Moira’s last bullet flies out into the water, unnoticed.

***

Charles’s mind is a flood.

FIREfearforgivenesscoincoldwaterwaxtrustmindsriflesregretfibers

The bombs are dropping into the sea, too quickly for him to regain control. Erik stumbles, reaches for the helmet.

Another parabolic, impossible bullet flicks it out of reach.

“Erik,” Charles says, all quiet intensity. “I can’t let you do this.”

loomsfatherKurtcarsmeatfearnofearthreadsFoxmotherfatelockeddoors

No, Wesley’s mind.

But that should be impossible.

He gathers his wits as best he can. “Don't you understand? They will keep fearing us, they will keep killing us!”

“And our first job should always be defense,” Wesley snaps. He shifts.

“We start to choose who lives and dies by our hands and we are no longer the better men, we are the monsters,” Charles adds, sounding ragged and exhausted.

“If it keeps us safe—” Erik begins, head spinning.

“It will not,” Charles whispers. “It’ll paint targets on our fucking heads,” adds Wesley, voice loud and firm.

“I’m not talking to you,” Erik growls, catching on. “You’re a damned hypocrite, talking of hiding when Charles doesn’t even know you’re there—”

“Erik, don’t—,” Raven starts.

“You know the necessity of taking lives, and yet you shield him from himself?” Erik demands.

“Who do you think hid me in the first place?” Wesley snarls, but there’s something flickering in his eyes, now, something confused and familiar. “Charles might be a hypocrite, but so are you! Look at what you were doing!” He sweeps an arm out. “All of those people! Snuffed out because they didn’t understand, didn’t get a chance to understand! You don’t get to choose. You don’t—”

He breaks off suddenly, gun falling from his hands.

Erik is swept up in the flood again.

fearforgivenesscoldwaterwaxmindsriflesregretfibersdoorsburningdoorsBURNINGDOORS

A single moment etches itself into the ashes: A bright coin carving through brain matter like a hot knife through butter.

Erik can’t breathe. “Charles,” he says blankly.

***

The hinges have nothing left to hold up. Amid splinters, they melt in their moorings.

***

Charles is holding his head in his hands, fingers trembling at his temples, but there is nothing deliberate about them this time. “No, no you’re right, no more lies, no more locks, I can’t,” he looks up at Erik, and it is Charles, not Wesley, but he looks unlike how Erik has ever seen him before. His eyes are red and wide. He chokes, “It hurts, Erik.”

And that’s all it takes.

“Scheiße.” Erik runs forward, and catches him as he falls, bombs forgotten.

Raven is at his side almost as fast, the rest of the team hovering in confusion. “Charles!” she grabs his hand and shoves it onto her face. “Charles, focus.”

He grimaces. “I promised I’d never—”

“Free pass, good for one time only,” she said tersely. “Use it, or I’m never speaking to you again.”

He huffs, but slowly his expression relaxes minutely, and Erik can feel the tension drain out of his shoulders. He adjusts his grip to support Charles’s crumpled figure.

“What are you doing?” he murmurs to Raven. There is scuffling as the others argue behind them, but he ignores it.

“Giving him space,” she answers, watching her brother intently. “We used to do it when we were small and had to go to the city. If he got too overwhelmed, he hid in my head for a little while to get some distance until he could get back in control. And what you just did,” she added, shooting him a glare, “Was a hell of a lot worse than a city full of minds.”

“I’m not going to apologize for making him accept himself,” Erik replies.

“Hmph,” she says, but it doesn’t sound nearly as accusatory.

They listen, for a moment, to Charles as he breathes. Raven murmurs, snippets of old songs, children’s stories. Erik waits, feelings his legs cramp under Charles’s shoulders, and not caring.

After a time, there is movement above their heads; Erik looks up to find Azazel standing over them.

Alex lunges forward, but Sean holds him back.

“Yes?” Erik says levelly.

Azazel observes him for a moment. “It seems that we owe you a debt.”

“How so?”

He jerks his head in the direction of the battleships that had turned tail towards their respective countries of origin.

“I was saving myself as much as anyone else,” Erik says. “You owe me nothing.”

“Lehnsherr. We are none of us safe here, your friend is injured, and I can provide transport. Take my offer, it will make us even.”

“Come to the mansion with us,” Charles says suddenly, startling them all. He looked pale, but mostly lucid. “At least until you are sure of your next plans. You are without a leader—we can provide a place for you to regroup, if nothing else.”

“Professor?” Hank says, incredulous.

“That really doesn’t sound like a good plan,” Alex comments.

“Charles, I really can’t allow that,” Moira steps in. She’s holstered her gun, but her hand is still on it. “They’re known terrorists who nearly—”

“Sleep,” Charles says harshly, sounding like Wesley for a moment, and she collapses. “Forget,” he says, softer, and then he raises his hand to his temple. He looks back up at Erik after a moment. “One of the ships will come and pick her up,” he says.

“That was rather ruthless,” Erik observes.

“It was that or lose them,” Charles nods vaguely at Riptide and Azazel. “With some misgivings, I think I’m willing to value association with them over the CIA. They're not like Shaw, I can see it.”

“You’re learning.”

“I’m remembering,” Charles corrects, but he doesn’t look happy about it. There’s a bitter turn to his mouth that Erik irrationally wants to smooth away. He clears his throat.

“Westchester, then. You’re certain?” he says, after a moment.

Charles nods, looking at where Erik’s hand rests on his chest. “I am capable of change,” he murmurs. “Everyone is. Are you?”

Erik shakes his head. “You’re insane.”

“Most psychologists would agree,” Charles nods, grinning slightly, and then winces. “Raven, may I…?”

“Yeah, yeah.” She lifts his hand back onto her head. He exhales and goes quiet again.

Azazel cocks his head. “Was his offer genuine?”

“I guess so,” Erik says dryly. “We seem to have inadvertently reached ceasefire anyway.”

“Charles has that effect,” Raven comments. Then she grimaces, “At least, he did. Now, who knows.”

Azazel looks over his shoulder at Riptide, who had watched the scene in silence. Now, he inclines his head slightly. Azazel turns back. “We will go to your mansion,” he says. “I will need coordinates, or a very clear description.”

“Here,” Raven offers her hand. “Charles is in here for the moment, he can send you a picture.”

Azazel takes her hand, blinks, and then nods. Grudgingly, the rest of the groups converge.

Oddly, Angel is the last to come forward. She holds her injured wing folded back defensively, and she eyes the group like she is unsure of her welcome.

To everyone’s surprise, Hank sighs, and holds out his free hand. “Come on,” he says, “Charles’s house is pretty cool, you should see it.”

She bites her lip, and nods, putting her hand in his.

Azazel surveys them all, and then whisks them out of sight.

***

They arrive in Westchester, and Charles promptly announces via Raven that he is going to sleep, that newcomers were welcome to choose their rooms, and that should there be any fighting while he was asleep he would be very put out.

Erik can’t entirely believe just how effective those instructions prove to be.

Azazel and Riptide wander curiously through the east wing, no doubt fascinated by the display of old wealth when Shaw had been so nouveau riche, while Angel tentatively follows Hank down to the lab so that he could take a look at her wing.

Sean announces that he’s starving and therefore is raiding the fridge, and Alex elects to join him after no doubt weighing it in his head that this was the lesser of a plethora of evils.

Erik stands in the foyer, breathing shallowly, and then goes to the study, where he pours himself a drink and then sits, staring at the abandoned chess game from the night before.

That evening feels like it was years ago.

Erik had been so sure that he would never come back to it.

Raven finds him an hour later and confirms that Charles is out like a light and would probably sleep for a couple of days while his mind repaired itself from being informed of its own schizophrenia. She curls into Charles’s armchair and observes Erik quietly.

“You were going to leave today,” she says eventually.

“I was,” he agrees.

“I would have gone with you.”

He looks up at that. She is impassive in her blue skin. She has a dressing gown pulled around her, and she looks comfortable.

“Even if that meant leaving Charles behind?”

She nods. “I was starting to prefer Wesley to him, and when I realized that, I thought that maybe I shouldn’t stick with him anymore. It was getting too hard.”

“And now?” Erik asks, curious.

“We had a long talk, while he was with me.” She taps her temple. “It was…it was good. Now that he remembers everything Wesley did, like what happened when we were little, he understands a lot more, and it’s just better. We’re better.”

“So now you want to stay.”

“I want all of us to stay,” she corrects gently. She fiddles with a fraying edge of upholstery. “We can try this again, you know. We can do better.”

“While continuing to hide.” Erik can’t entirely mask his acidity.

“Wesley had a point, you know,” Raven says. “If we went off, trying to take down the CIA and whatever else got in our way, we’d have to hide then too. It would just be a different type of hiding.”

He waves it away. “Hiding our footsteps, not our intentions or our identities.”

“It’s still hiding,” she says sharply. Her mouth twists. “I’m tired of hiding, too. I want to be me so much that I want to shove it down people’s throats and make them like it. But I can’t make them like it by scaring them. You know?”

Erik looks away.

She taps her foot twice against the armchair, and then leaves him alone in the room.

***

Several hours, and more than a few drinks later, Erik rises from his seat and makes his way to his room.

Except that somehow, he ends up at Charles’s door.

He grimaces at himself, and makes the lock silent as it unlatches for him.

Charles looks particularly small in the expanse of the bed, pillows stacked haphazardly around his head, bedclothes swamping him.

Erik thinks about what Raven had said. Now he remembers everything Wesley did

He wonders.

“Come here, please.”

“You’re supposed to be sleeping for the next decade.”

“Raven has a flair for the dramatic.”

Erik steps towards the bed. Charles gives him a smirk that is pure Wesley and pats the mattress.

Erik huffs, and sinks slowly onto the edge. “How are you feeling?” he asks.

“Discombobulated. It is very trying to reintegrate memories one has kept suppressed for nearly ten years.”

“What about more recent ones?”

Charles wrinkles his nose. “Worse. Apparently Wesley once blew up an entire factory using rats and peanut butter.”

“Sounds ingenious.”

“I am quite clever, you know. But it was also rather messy.”

“You can’t just blame Wesley for things you don’t like and then claim you’re clever when he does something interesting.”

“But I am Wesley! At least somewhat.”

“You are only marginally like Wesley,” Erik says, and brushes a lock of hair back from Charles’s face without thinking. Then he withdraws his hand like he’d burned it.

Charles blinks slowly at him. “You were wondering about other more recent memories,” he says, after a second.

“Don’t read my mind.”

“I wasn’t. As I said, I’m very clever.” He sits up, struggling with the sheets for a moment, and Erik is distracted by the pale hollow along Charles’s collarbone. Distracted enough that he misses that Charles is getting out of bed and pulling on a dressing gown.

“Come on. I want to show you something.”

Silently, Erik follows.

Charles pads down the stairs, and then takes an abrupt left at the bottom. From a pocket, he produces a set of keys.

Erik recognizes where they are.

Charles unlocks the door beneath the stairs, and steps in. He looks back at Erik. “Are you coming?”

Erik nods.

***

When Charles was very young, Brian Xavier opened the door under the staircase and said, “Come on, lad. It’s time you got acquainted with what you need when you want to protect your family.”

And Charles had looked around and asked questions until his eyes were as big as saucers, and promptly forgot all about it a week later.

Well, mostly forgot.

***

Charles fumbles for a light switch for a moment, and then finds it. It takes a moment for Erik’s eyes to adjust to the brightness. Then he focuses.

“Good lord, Charles. You have an armory.”

“I have three armories,” Charles corrects. “Though Wesley prefers this one. He keeps the artillery from Prague here, as well as the various Moravian items he picked up.” He looks at Erik, and he still has awful bags under his eyes and his skin is too pale and tight across his cheeks, but his gaze is laser sharp. “Erik, if it comes to war, we’ll not be unprepared. But there is a difference between fighting a war for peace, and fighting a war to destroy the other side. I am in the business of the former, not the latter. And I’d like you with me for it.”

Erik looks around at the rows of long-range sniper rifles, and the racks of bowie knives and semi-automatic handguns. He thinks of the coin that killed the man he hated and almost killed the man he’s terrified to suspect he loves. He thinks of his own ideology, one that he knows is powerful in its simplicity and one that he could carry, unaltered, on his shoulders for the rest of his life.

He wonders if there’s room for this in it.

“Is there room for me?” Charles asks, raising an eyebrow. He looks ridiculous in his dressing gown, amidst row upon row of weaponry.

Erik doesn’t even reprimand him for reading his mind. Just pulls him in by the lapels and sinks into the kiss.

Charles smiles against his mouth, and says silently, Wesley says ‘I told you so.’

“Wesley can shove it,” Erik replies.

***

Burning doors smolder in piles of ash and melted locks, but the air that circulates through their empty jambs is cool and clean.
 
 
Fin.


 
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alchemyalice

March 2013

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