fae_boleyn: (erik/charles)
[personal profile] fae_boleyn
Title: Not Sure Which Way To Go
Fandom: X-Men: First Class
Series: These Twists And Turns of Fate
Rating: PG-13
Pairings: pre-pairing for Charles/Erik and Alex/Darwin, past!Emma Frost/Sebastian Shaw
Summary: Charles uses a different argument on the beach, and it changes everything.
Disclaimer: Not mine, except for Chiyo, though her daughter is not mine either. The quote is from a Hoobastank song, as is the title, so also not mine.
A/N: Originally this was section one of my X-Men Big Bang, but writer's block and other things struck, forcing me to drop out. However, I'm not giving up on this 'verse. I'm only posting to my personal journals for now; if anyone knows of a comm I can post to, it would be much appreciated!

 

But I'm not ever gonna know

If I'm right or wrong

'Cause we're all going in the same direction

And I'm not sure which way to go

Because all along

We've been going in the same direction

Going in the same direction, yeah...Same Direction, Hoobastank

 

“There are thousands of men on those ships! Good, honest, innocent men! They're...”

 

Charles would find some kind of argument, if he had time. Something about why it's not the men's faults, whatever they've been told. But all he can think of is that they're just following orders, and somehow he knows that's not going to work.

 

There's a shred of a memory, a newspaper article about the aftermath of World War Two, about the Nazi guards at the concentration camps who claimed to be just following orders. And Charles knows if he says those words, all he'll do is make the situation that much worse. But he doesn't have much time to come up with something else.

 

“Erik, no! They don't know we're on their side!” It's not a good reason, but maybe it's a little better.

 

“Even if they knew, they would still attack us. They're being told to, and like good little soldiers they'll do as they're told,” Erik says, his voice harsh and mocking, and Charles thinks that not using the orders argument is possibly the smartest decision he's made all day.

 

“But if you kill them now, before they've had a chance to make an informed choice, if you start with them and continue with the idea that all humans are the enemy and they have to be fought and defeated, then how is that different than what you think they would do to us? It's the exact same philosophy, Erik, it's a mindset you hate and yet you're slipping into a form of it yourself. Can't you see that?” Charles' voice cracks as he finishes speaking, because he needs his friend to see what he's doing, to see that this isn't the way. Even if Erik is right in the end and humanity never accepts mutants, making the first move of aggression will only ensure that mistrust.

 

That is the practical reason. But in truth, Charles could survive seeing that happen. He would hate it, but it wouldn't hurt as much as seeing his best friend consumed by his own darkness. Not when he knows the sort of man Erik could be, if he would allow himself. Charles wants to make Erik see that he can allow that, that fighting isn't the only option even if true peace turns out not to be either.

 

Erik is staring at him, the missiles still held in midair. And all Charles can do is wait and hope to God that he's gotten through.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Charles' words echo in Erik's head, and if he wasn't wearing Shaw's helmet he might suspect telepathic tricks.

 

“...you're slipping into a form of it yourself.” To be accused of that, by Charles of all people, by the one person who seemed to understand him, by a man he... No. Not now. He isn't going to think about that now.

 

But it hurts. It hurts like hell, because no. No, he is not like them. They destroyed his family, everyone he knew, he is not like that. It's the humans who are, and he just wants to stop them before it happens again. It's not the same.

 

“How dare you accuse me of that?” he demands, his voice soft and all the more furious for it. “You claim you know everything about me, but you come up with something like that? I'm nothing like them, it's the humans who want to destroy us that are like them. You don't know what you're talking about, Charles.”

 

“Because it's true.” Charles doesn't react to the venom in Erik's voice, just looks at him with an infuriatingly steady gaze. “Killing all the humans just because you think they're the entire problem, and their deaths are a perfect solution? Erik, that's genocide. It's exactly what you survived.”

 

Erik almost punches him, actually clenches his fist and raises it. But then he can't do it, he can't look away from Charles, from the expression in his blue eyes. Because he can't seem to think at all. Charles' words are playing in his head against a backdrop of rain and mud and twisted gates, his own childhood screams tearing through it all. No. No, that can't be true.

 

Shaw, laughing as Erik tears his office and the “examination room” beside it apart, killing the guards as their helmets crush like paper.

 

Different guards, without helmets and no metal on their clothes, a punishment for failing once again, being beaten until he can't even move.

 

Aging men in Argentina, so far from the terrors they'd once been, pleading for their lives, saying that they were just following orders.

 

No. No.

 

He isn't them, he's not like them. He can't be, they're everything he hates, everything he cannot stand. But...

 

He wants the humans gone, just vanished, because then the mutants can rise, as the better men that they are. And, if Erik lets himself think too hard, too carefully on that... It sounds like Nazi propaganda. He can't... can't tell himself it's not the same thing.

 

“Erik.” Charles speaks softly now, done with the passion and the arguments. “Don't let what Shaw and the others did to you make you like them. Don't let them have that victory over you. Please.”

 

He isn't like them, is he? No, he can't be, Charles is just trying to confuse him, and yet... It's the same kind of worldview, isn't it?

 

“I agree with you,” he'd told Shaw. Shaw, the man he had despised for years. He'd agreed with him, and only now did the horror of that hit him.

 

All he wanted to do was help his fellow mutants, to protect them from the fate he so narrowly escaped, to be murdered for being different than those in power. But did he want to be what he hated in order to do that? Could he really help if he did? Or would he just give the humans an excuse to call mutants dangerous?

 

Erik has a choice to make, and he knows he's only got one chance to make it. The missiles are floating in the air, waiting, and he could do anything with them. Anything. But he can't, he won't, be that which he hates most.

 

Slowly, he reaches up with one hand and takes the helmet off, letting Charles in, letting his friend see what he's thinking. And he turns the missiles, sends them flying toward the boats. He hears Charles cry out, “No, Moira, wait!” but doesn't know why, all his focus on the missiles, which stop dead several yards from the ships and explode in midair.

 

He isn't going to be like Shaw, but he still wants to make things clear. If the humans want a fight, they'll get one. Erik just won't give them an excuse.

 

“What the hell was that?” Moira snaps, furious, and Erik glances her way, smirking slightly.

 

“Just making a point. I could have let them go the rest of the way, you know.” Moira opens her mouth to retort, but Erik continues, “And you shouldn't be so angry; the superiors who told them to fire must have decided you weren't worth keeping alive either.”

 

“Don't you dare try to justify your own sadistic little games,” she snaps back, eyes flashing. He's struck a nerve, it seems.

 

“Erik, Moira, stop it,” Charles says sharply, scowling at them both. “Now is not the time.”

 

“Yeah, we need to get the hell out of here,” Raven chimes in.

 

“How exactly - ?” Sean begins, but he's cut off by the heavily accented voice of the red-skinned mutant, the teleporter.

 

“I will take you.”

 

“You will?” Angel and the other man stare at him as though he's lost his mind. Erik agrees, as it happens.

 

Charles, on the other hand, doesn't. He's been in Shaw's mind now, deep enough to know that the teleporter is Azazel, and the wind manipulator is Riptide. They both have other names, but they don't use them. And he knows that Azazel joined Shaw less because he believed in Shaw's dream than because of an honor debt. Shaw had helped him save a family member, and even though Azazel probably knew it had been deliberate, he still owed Shaw a life.

 

It's the same mindset which is leading to this offer, Charles knows that even before he lets his power brush feather-light against Azazel's mind and confirms it. Which is why he agrees so easily, despite the fact that except for himself and Azazel, everyone on both teams is loudly thinking that this is a bad idea.

 

When the other “X-Men” hesitate, Azazel smirks. “I think your comrades are suspicious of me, he laughs. “Smart of them. After all, I could do as I wished with you, couldn't I?”

 

“But you won't,” Charles says with conviction.

 

“No. But I could.”
 

And that's true. Still, it's better than being left behind to see if more missiles are coming their way, so eventually they all join hands and let Azazel teleport them out.

 

Charles doesn't trust Shaw's associates that much, however. As soon as they arrive, he wipes their memories of the mansion and of helping them at all, then gives Azazel a mental nudge to get himself, Riptide, and Angel out of there.

 

Charles turns to Erik. “Erik, I'd like...”

 

But Erik is already stalking off in the direction of the satellite dish. Charles sighs, but doesn't follow him. It can wait a few hours, and there's still Moira to deal with, something he'd rather not do even though today's events leave him with no real choice in the matter.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Erik leans against the base of the satellite, his hands feeling empty without the coin to toy with. He feels hollowed out, now that he's finally had his revenge. It's a relief to know that Shaw is dead, that he'll never be able to do to anyone else what he did to Erik, that Erik's mother has been avenged, and yet...

 

He'd thought he would be happier once it was over. Killing no longer particularly bothers him, but he's never enjoyed it. Erik had thought that Shaw might be an exception, but apparently not. He just feels numb, directionless.

 

Surely he's not so pathetic that he can't function without his need for revenge driving him.

 

But after a moment Erik realizes, that's just it. Revenge has been what's driven him this far, forced him to survive, because he needed to survive long enough to kill Shaw. After that, he had always thought his own life to be irrelevant. He didn't want to die, he just had no reason to particularly care one way or the other.

 

He could now, maybe. He knows that Charles wants him to stay; he'd made that clear back when they were still the guests of the CIA. But for all that Charles thinks he knows everything about Erik, even with his power it's just not possible. Erik's not sure he can stay here, not sure he can find it in himself to believe in Charles' dreams of peace. He's been taught in a hard school that the world isn't like that.

 

If he's honest, that's one reason he wants to stay. Charles, for all that he can slip into people's minds and know what they've been through, doesn't seem to understand how harsh the world can really be. Even with missiles flying toward him, he was still defending those who were trying to kill him. And the kids listen to him over anyone. That scares Erik to death. He can't help but think that such optimism will get them all killed, and he can't pretend that the thought of it doesn't bother him. Doesn't terrify him.

 

When it comes to Charles, he almost expects that. Charles has a maddening ability to get under Erik's skin, something Erik wishes he could believe was solely the result of Charles' power. It's not, he knows it's not, but he's not ready to know what it is. But it's not just Charles. It's Hank and Alex and Sean, and somehow especially Raven. She struggles with who she really is in a way Erik understands all too well. He might not be blue, but he knows what it's like to wish he were normal. Had he been normal, Shaw would have left him alone, would not have killed his mother. The camp might have killed them both anyway, but then again it might not have.

 

There were many nights, while under Shaw's control, that Erik had wished his power had never existed, for that very reason.

 

But he doesn't want to think of Shaw now. The real-life monster of his memories and nightmares is gone, and even if Erik doesn't feel the satisfaction or even the relief he'd expected, even if all there is is this blank numbness, it's better than what was there before. And he has more important things to worry about, so he walks back to the mansion.

 

Just in time to see Charles kiss Moira, something which makes him stop dead, frozen by some kind of strangling emotion he doesn't recognize or understand. But then Moira's knees buckle, and Erik realizes the kiss was a set-up for some kind of telepathic trick.

 

That shouldn't leave him feeling relieved, but he doesn't let himself wonder why he does.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Charles hadn't wanted to do it, not really. But as Moira falls and he moves to catch her, he can't find more than mild regret in himself. She's a good woman, and he knows she would never have betrayed them willingly – for all that Erik is convinced that all humans are the enemy, Charles knows that Moira, at least, is an ally or wants to be. It's just that she's a woman trying to make it in a man's world, it's just that those men are some of the world's best intelligence operatives. Somehow, using Moira's goals as their tools, they'd get what they wanted from her. She would never want it, might not even realize how it was done, but Charles knows that it's very likely to happen if he doesn't ensure otherwise.

 

He wishes it could be different, but he'll do a lot to protect this little team – family, he thinks in his most hopeful moments – that they're forming here.

 

“Need a hand with her?” Erik calls, and Charles had known he was there, but hadn't really expected that Erik would say anything.

 

“No,” he says, “I've already told Alex...”

 

But Alex interrupts them by coming out and taking Moira from Charles, carrying her inside. “He's going to take her back home,” Charles explains. “I thought he was the best choice, since he'll have to break into her flat and he can pick locks.”

 

“So can I,” Erik says mildly, “and I don't need those clumsy lock picks.”

 

“But I need to talk to you,” Charles says, his tone just a little sharper. “And I think we should get that over with, don't you?”

 

Erik's jaw tightens and he says nothing, simply nods curtly, and Charles curses inwardly. His father was half-Welsh, his grandmother had a very... inventive vocabulary when her temper was roused, which happened rather often. So his internal monologue does tend to be only about half English when he himself is angry. If Erik was the telepath, rather than Charles, he'd be getting mostly Welsh thoughts on the surface. Which brings to mind...

 

“You're thinking in Polish,” he says when the door to the study closes behind them. Erik shrugs, face as blank as the first night, back on the ship.

 

“Not quite as good as the helmet, but enough to be going on with. I don't think you want to know what I'm thinking at the moment, Charles.”

 

He could know anyway, though. Unfamiliar languages are only a minor stumbling block. It's just that he'd have to push harder, go beyond surface thoughts, and he promised Erik he wouldn't do that.

 

“It's certainly preferable to that damned thing. You're not going to keep it, are you?”

 

“I can't think why I wouldn't. If nothing else, there's Frost – you don't really think the CIA can hold her indefinitely, do you?”

 

“And what about me?” Charles rounds on him, angry for reasons he can't quite put his finger on. Today he was so sure Erik was going to leave them, leave him, and that makes him furious, though he isn't sure why. Or maybe he just doesn't want to be. That's more likely, and he'll have to think about that later. “Do you want to shut me out too, like you're doing now? Like you did when you killed Shaw? I felt it, you know, and I don't know what was worse, feeling the pain as he died or not feeling you afterwards. If you hadn't been standing in front of me I would have thought you were dead too.”

 

Erik stares at him, the blank expression finally giving way to shock. “You felt...? Of course you did,” he says, more to himself than Charles. Then he looks up, and there's pained confusion in his eyes, his mind is whirling and the Polish – with what Charles thinks is Yiddish mixed in – is no longer deliberate, as Erik's accent in his real voice thickens slightly. “Why did you stay in his head then?”

 

“He'd have broken free, and he might well have killed you. I didn't want that.” Couldn't have faced that, Charles thinks but does not say. Not now. Not with the nearly-averted war of two breeds of humanity standing between them.

 

“Charles, I...” And because Erik is still thinking in languages Charles doesn't know, and he won't break his promise now, whatever the temptation, Charles doesn't know what Erik will say before he cuts him off.

 

“No. Shaw, he's not... That's not the point. I didn't think you should have killed him, but it's over. But after that... Erik, those men didn't deserve to die.”

 

“And I didn't kill them. Just like you wanted.” Erik picks up one of the chess pieces, the black king, and toys with it. “I could have, I should have. They'd have done it to us with no remorse.”

 

His smile, when he looks up at Charles, is mirthless, his eyes bleak. “And I'd have been the new Shaw.”

 

“But you're not,” Charles says firmly. “You could have been, that was probably what he wanted out of you from the beginning, but you've foiled him. It's the real victory over him, you know.”

 

“Perhaps,” Erik says. “But I still think he had a point. The humans won't accept us, Charles, they proved that today. And you showed you're not sure they will either, considering what you did to Moira.”

 

Charles frowns. “I want to keep our little team safe, Erik. I want this world to be safe for people like us. I'll do a lot to make that happen.”

 

“But you won't fight them. I've been there, Charles,” Erik says, his voice passionate. Charles thinks incongruously of the old fire and brimstone preachers. “I've seen what happens when those in power decide that a group of outsiders are a threat. And I know what you said, that if I go off and attack the humans I'll be like them, but...”

 

Erik stops, running a hand through his hair. “It might be worth it, Charles. It might be worth becoming the monster in order to stop one.”

 

Charles whirls on him, the horror and frustration clear in his blue eyes. “No, Erik, no it is not. I know you believe Shaw already made you a monster, so it doesn't matter, but believe me, that's not true. And becoming as bad as what you fight against is never worth it.”

 

“They're going to turn on us. We have to take the fight to them or we're lost,” Erik insists, and Charles snaps. Does Erik think he's not thought of this? He's a “poor little rich boy” as Raven once called him, he was born to entitlement and privilege. And with his power, he could do... almost anything. Of course he's thought of it.

 

“I've considered this already, Erik, how could I not? I could take over a country with a thought! But don't you see that we're lost either way if it comes to a war?” he says, yelling outright now. “For God's sake, Erik, they have the power, not us! We have special abilities, yes, and in one battle, or two, or a dozen, that would give us the upper hand! But in the end? We do not have the resources, the organization, or the sheer numbers that a country can bring to bear in a fight like this one, and in the end they would win, and we would lose everything.”

 

Charles doesn't want a war for other reasons, of course. He believes it's the wrong way to go about gaining mutant rights, believes that they are the better men and should prove it. But he knows that argument won't get through to Erik, so he uses his original rationalization for why they shouldn't turn this into a war. Well, not a war of blood. A war of ideas, maybe, in time.

 

“If we could strike first, put them on the defensive – ” Erik begins, but Charles cuts him off.

 

“No, for God's sake listen to me for a moment, will you? It won't happen that way, Erik. Even if you recruited every mutant in the world you'd never have an army strong enough to take on the world. It just wouldn't work. We have to find another way.”

 

“And what's that? Stay here and hide until they come for us? I will not wait to be led to the slaughter, Charles, not again.”

 

“I never said that you should. But war is not the answer, my friend,” Charles says, trying to regain calm. Erik raises his eyebrows, skepticism clear in his expression.

 

“Then what, exactly, do you suggest? Showing the humans that we're their friends? We've already stopped World War Three for them, they didn't seem that impressed to me. Or are missiles an obscure message of gratitude that I'm unfamiliar with?”

 

Charles slams his hands down on his father's desk – always his father's no matter who uses it – hard enough to shake everything on it. His fury is clear, blue eyes flashing. “Goddamn it, will you listen and stop throwing caustic remarks in my face for one minute!”

 

Erik says nothing, for once, simply raising an eyebrow as if to say, Fine, I'm listening. Do continue. Charles grits his teeth at the mockery he senses in the gesture, but takes advantage of the silence anyway. “If we start the war, all we do is justify those who would paint us as a threat. I...”

 

He can't say that it will never happen. The feeling of those minds focusing on firing the missiles at them all is still too fresh in Charles' mind for that. “I can't say you're definitely wrong, Erik. I'm a telepath, not a clairvoyant, and I can't see the future. But I do know that all bloodshed will bring is more bloodshed, nothing good can come out of it. Not peace, not even safety since I know you don't believe in peace anyway.”

 

Erik turns away, stalking to one of the windows, looking out at something Charles can't see – because whatever his friend sees, Charles is sure it's not the twilit grounds. “And what if you're wrong?” Erik challenges, looking over his shoulder to meet Charles' eyes. “What if there's no way to stop the fate I think is coming? If I stay, if I do this your way for now, trying for peace, will you stop me from preparing for war? Because if it does happen, I will not be caught unready, Charles. Not again.”

 

Charles knows, with the reddish light of the setting sun slanting into the study, that this is the moment of the truth. Not the beach, or before that with the coin, or any number of moments he might have chosen before now. Erik is offering a compromise, of sorts. It's a surprise, coming from him. More than anything, Charles suspects it's a challenge, but still. Erik might be willing to meet him halfway; can Charles really refuse to do the same?

 

“I believe together, we can do far more than we ever could separately, working at cross-purposes,” Charles tells him slowly. “If we work for it, I don't see why living alongside humans isn't possible. But...”

 

Is it so different, really, from deciding he'll do whatever he has to in order to protect his small family here? “If you turn out to be right, we'll still accomplish more on the same side. But just so we're clear, I'm going to do all I can to make sure you won't be.”

 

Erik nods, one quick movement, but it's enough to have a huge weight falling from Charles' shoulders. He still has Erik beside him, for now, and there's plenty of time to work on the issues they still have, now that this reprieve has come. It's more than enough to start with.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Awareness comes back to him slowly, and it's worse, Darwin thinks hazily, than the time he got run down by a bus in Manhattan. Quite a lot worse, actually, because he's somehow pulling himself back together, a thing he's never needed to do before. It hurts like hell, but even though he's not sure how he's doing it he knows he can't stop, and focuses on making it go faster. Eventually he realizes he's sprawled out on dew-wet grass, and he can feel the dew all over because he is, in fact, naked. On the heels of physical sensation comes memory, of Alex's laser blast and Shaw turning it into a little ball that burned as it went down. Darwin remembers looking into haunted blue eyes before he flew apart, and Christ, they must all think he's dead and Alex will think it's his fault and he has to find them.

 

But, he notes as he pushes himself slowly to his feet, first he needs to find some clothes. Because while he can adapt to anything, he can't create clothes out of thin air. Raven could, probably, but he can't. Which really sucks.

 

He's in the middle of Nowhere, Virginia, and the CIA base is demolished, but in the rubble he does manage to find some kind of black jumpsuit. It's certainly more than a little worse for wear, but it's enough to keep him from getting an indecent exposure charge when he gets back to civilization.

 

Darwin turns the soles of his feet hard since he has no shoes and walking is going to hurt like hell after a while if he doesn't. That done, he walks for miles until he reaches a main road, and after a moment's debate, sticks out his thumb. He could probably walk to upstate New York – he remembers Raven saying that the Xaviers had a place up there, in a town called Westchester – but he'd really prefer not to. Besides, he's not sure he could adapt to needing to travel faster without some kind of direct harm involved for himself; his power's always been more of a defense than anything else.

 

Hitchhiking, it still takes him over two weeks, mostly because he has to keep stopping whenever his latest ride does. He does a few odd jobs in the places he stops, just to get some money in his pocket, and it's during one of these that he finds out that the “Cuban Missile Crisis” as they're calling it, is over and World War Three was averted, at least for now. There's no mention of Shaw, or of the team.

 

Fuck hitchhiking. He has enough money now to take a bus to New York City, which is exactly what he does, gritting his teeth when he has to sit in the back. Once he gets home he switches to his old, beat-up car. It belonged to his dad, and he's never driven it much because, hello, he lives in the middle of the city and he's dealt with New York traffic enough as a cabbie. But it's good enough to get him to Westchester.

 

And of course, it's a white-bread, rich people suburb. It sets Darwin's teeth on edge – he doesn't belong here, he doesn't think he ever could – but he starts asking around, dropping the name Xavier. He finally gets what he's looking for at a nice little family restaurant, when he mentions the name to his waitress.

 

“Oh, the Xaviers! They've always been good for gossip. First Mr. and Mrs. Xavier buying that huge house outside of town, then him dying and her marrying that other man with his hooligan son. Thank God her children were never like him. Eccentric, but always polite when they came to town. Do you know them?”

 

Darwin wonders about this “hooligan son” but decides it's really not his business, and nods. “I'm a friend of Raven's,” he says, because he can't quite call Xavier 'Charles', it's too weird. And it's true in any case.

 

“Oh, well, you're in luck then. They're home, brought a few new people with them if the rumors are true. More eccentrics.” The woman sighs as if this is disappointing, and Darwin bites back his sarcastic comments about her reaction. Considering that he's one of those “eccentrics” after all, it's not easy.

 

Instead he thanks her for her help, finishes his coffee and sandwich, pays the bill and heads on his way. They're here, and that is something, he thinks. Whatever happened in Cuba, they're here, and he hopes to God they're all OK.

 

Darwin's first sight of the Xavier mansion has him stopping in his tracks. Holy shit, Raven had called the place a “huge stone pile” but this is more like a fucking castle. But then, Xavier is English, maybe it's something in the blood that requires all upper-crust English people to live in houses that look like castles. Darwin doesn't really know, but he can't deny that some part of him is intimidated, the same part that was nervous in his early years, when his mother had to take him along to the fancy penthouses she was paid to clean.

 

But this is Xavier and Raven's home, more importantly he suspects it's been turned into a safe place for mutants like them. So he doesn't need to listen to that part as he walks up the path and rings the doorbell.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Alex is in the entrance-way when the doorbell rings. Hank and Raven are fighting – it's about time they had that out, really – and Sean is in his room reading comics. As for Erik and the Professor, he thinks they're playing chess in the study again but he can't be sure. He's just wandering around the mansion, thinking, which is something he's been trying not to do much, lately.

 

He had too much time to think in solitary. To think about his parents, not even showing up to his trial or the sentencing, about little Scott, who isn't a baby anymore. He's a toddler now, walking and starting to talk, and Alex wishes he could be there. But he can't, even though he's gaining control now he's afraid to contact them. They don't want him, and Scott is their second-chance son. Even if he wants to see them again, even if he wants to be a big brother, does he have the right to take that away?

 

All in all, he's glad when the sound of the doorbell interrupts his thoughts, and he goes to answer it, wondering vaguely who it might be. The worst-case scenario is that it's the CIA, that Moira regained her memories and they're all fucked, or else the rest of Shaw's goons.

 

He doesn't even consider a ghost.

 

Darwin is on the other side of the door, dark eyes fixed on Alex with a look as intent as the last time their gazes met, the moment before Darwin was blasted apart – by Shaw's manipulation of Alex's own power.

 

“Raven, this is not funny,” Alex says, his voice low and tight, his hand clenching around the doorknob.

 

“I'm not – ” the person who cannot be Darwin begins, but he's cut off by someone stomping down the steps. Someone who, when he glances over, is Raven. Which means...

 

“Holy shit,” Raven says from behind him, apparently seeing Darwin over Alex's shoulder, and in the process taking the words from his mouth. “You really can adapt to anything, can't you?”

 

Darwin shrugs. “Seems so. Hey, Alex, going to let me in?”

 

Alex moves aside as though in a daze. It's a feeling that doesn't leave as they all gather on the couches in front of the TV, like they did weeks ago to watch Kennedy's speech, the night before Cuba. Which is what they're talking about, of course.

 

“Darwin, I can't believe you're alive,” Sean says. “You should have been in Cuba, I was flying and hanging on to Alex so he could shoot at people. It was just like being an aerial bomber - ”

 

“And Shaw's dead, that's all taken care of, his mutants got away and Moira's gone, but we're safe for now. Charles has some kind of top-secret plan he's not telling us yet,” Raven chimes in, cutting Sean off.

 

At a questioning look from Darwin, Hank shifts, his voice a mumble. “My serum backfired,” he admits, eyes on the floor.

 

“Everyone, calm down, you're not making any sense,” Charles says, a laugh in his voice. He goes on to give a basic rundown of what happened in Cuba. Alex notices that he doesn't mention what happened after Shaw died.

 

Erik speaks up when Charles finishes. “What happened to you, Darwin?”

 

Darwin shrugs. “I woke up in the wreck of the CIA building, hitchhiked until I heard about the 'Cuban Missile Crisis'. Then I took a bus home, grabbed my dad's old car, and drove up here. Pretty boring, really.”

 

And through it all, Alex says nothing. He can't. He can't, because, when he hasn't been thinking about his family or wondering what the hell the team was going to do now, he's been thinking about Darwin. About how Darwin was the only person he'd really clicked with, and how it had been Alex's power that had killed him. Second-hand, sure, but even so.

 

He's been trying really hard to forget that bit of it. After all, hasn't that been his biggest fear? Hurting someone he cares about? He'd managed not to, and then Shaw changed everything.

 

So he says nothing, until the conversation he's only half-listening to is done and the only ones left in the room are him and Darwin. And that's when he finds words, forced out by his own guilt and relief and something he can't name, not yet. “I'm... God, Armando, I am so sorry.”

 

Darwin shakes his head. “Come on, Alex, it's not your fault. Who knew Shaw could pull something like that? Besides, it didn't kill me for good, so no harm done, right?”

 

How can he blow this off like it was nothing? “Shaw used my power to kill you. Even if it wasn't permanent, that's still really fucked up. Shouldn't you be at least a little pissed off at me?”

 

“Well, it was Shaw, not you,” Darwin says, shrugging. “And anyway, shooting at him was my idea, so it's really my fault it all happened, not yours.”

 

Alex scuffs a foot across the polished wooden floor, shrugging one shoulder. “Yeah, I guess you're right,” he says, without real conviction. Darwin's powers aren't deadly, he doesn't get how it feels to know you're a danger to everyone around you, but maybe he's right anyway.

 

“Hey,” Darwin says. “Would I lie to you? And you know, if you still feel guilty, I know how you can pay me back.” He's grinning the sneaky grin that Alex had already started to look forward to seeing when the CIA base was attacked, and so the younger man can't help but smile back.

 

“Yeah, what's that?”

 

“Well, you could tell me just what the hell really happened in Cuba, because if they thought they were being careful about leaving half the story out, they're all idiots.”

 

~ ~ ~

 

It occurs to Azazel now and then – at least once a day, really – that maybe they shouldn't have rescued Emma from the CIA. It's not that he has any problems with her personally, it's just that... Well. To be honest, telepathy in general bothers him a great deal, and as for Emma personally, there's been a wildness in her eyes since they broke her out. They hadn't even needed to tell her that Shaw was dead; she'd apparently been there telepathically and knew all about it.

 

Before, Emma was always cool, icy as her diamond form appeared to the untrained eye. It was Shaw who was edgy, passionate, sometimes unnerving. Now, it's almost as though something of Shaw was left behind in her.

 

Of course, there is something of Shaw left behind, in the most traditional sense, and this, again, is something Azazel does not like about Emma. He has a daughter himself; she is, technically, a mutant, but her power is so mild that she probably thinks her hunches are just intuition, and not weak precognitive ability. Her mother had found his demonic form attractive until she'd turned up pregnant, at which point she'd run from him and married a childhood friend who would pretend the child was his. Having no interest in women, the arrangement suited them both.

 

Azazel has never seen his daughter except from a distance, but he would kill for her, would do anything she needed him to do. He cannot understand Emma, with her two beautiful sons. Jonathan is ten, his father most likely a mutant but not anyone the rest of the Hellfire Club knows, and because of this Emma all but ignores him. It was Shaw, ironically enough, who had put some focus on the boy, something about his magnokinetic abilities rousing an unsettling interest. Now that they know about Lensherr, it makes just a little more sense.

 

But for Emma, her older son is not at all interesting, not when she has five-year-old Julian. Julian is Shaw's son, of course, though it was always Emma who seemed more focused on the child. Shaw was more interested in his plans for world domination, and occasionally in training young Jonathan. Julian is certainly a mutant, Azazel knows tests have shown it, but his powers have yet to manifest, and Shaw felt there was nothing he could do with the boy until then.

 

Before, Emma had been content to see what power her son would have. Now, she's putting all of her attention on him, as though planning to groom her son to take Shaw's place.

 

It's troubling.

 

So Azazel wonders if, perhaps, they should have left Emma where she was. But when he comments on this to Riptide, Janos just shrugs.

 

“And who was going to lead us instead? None of us have the mindset for it, she was Shaw's second so now she's in charge. I think she's fucked up too, but what else are we supposed to do?”

 

What else are they supposed to do? Janos says it with his usual sarcasm, Angel says it with a resignation that someone so young should not have, and Azazel has no answers at all.

 

Perhaps Emma is right, and Julian can be his father one day, and until then Emma can lead what she's now calling the Alliance of Mutants. Perhaps. But they've begun recruiting, and they're not recruiting adults. Emma is looking for children, taking what she calls the long view. She'll take adults who are interested in joining them, but what she wants are the young, those who can be molded into good little soldiers.

 

“Are we running a damn nursery here?” Angel grumbles one day. Emma is not there, her absence freeing them all to speak their minds. She's found one young recruit already, an
English boy called Mortimer Toynbee, a loner in his orphanage due to his greenish skin and long, sticky tongue. Jonathan and Julian have taken to calling him Toad, and he seems to prefer that to his birth name.

 

Riptide rolls his eyes. “Who the hell knows?” he says, his voice just as irritated. “If you ask me, Emma's losing it. Shaw dying really did a number on her.”

 

“So are we going to bitch about it or do something? Stage a mutiny, or whatever?” Angel wants to know. Riptide shrugs, leaning against the wall like he hasn't a care in the world, and Azazel scowls.

 

“I don't think that we can,” he tells them. “I don't like this, what Emma is doing. It has the feel of something which could go very wrong, very quickly. But none of us has any better ideas, do we?”

 

It's a grim truth, and neither Angel nor Riptide can argue with it. They don't have any better plans, so they're stuck with this. Azazel would like to think of something, but he can't.

 

~ ~ ~

 

He has so many ideas. Hank's always thought that he was someone with way too many thoughts crowding his mind, but Professor Xavier has him beat. And that's not even counting the telepathy that puts other people's thoughts into his head. He's been going on for at least an hour about his plans to turn the mansion into a school, while Hank stares at him in shock. Erik stands by the window, an odd mix of fondness and exasperation on his face when he looks at the Professor.

 

Hank is not even going to think about that one. He just... He doesn't want to know. Whatever's going on there, he will happily remain ignorant.

 

“Obviously, at first we'll have trouble, since we need qualified teachers, but they also need to be mutants,” the Professor is saying. “It would be nice to have some human teachers here eventually, and maybe students, just to prove we can coexist, but for now this has to be a sanctuary, and we can't risk it.”

 

“If ever,” Erik mutters, low enough that only Hank, whose senses have been enhanced by the serum, catches it.

 

“So, at the moment, we have myself and you, Hank. I think you could easily qualify to teach sciences.”

 

“But you're not going to...”

 

“I originally studied literature, you know. I enjoyed it, but decided I could do more with biology. Since there are two of us who can handle science, I thought I'd leave that to you and take the literature courses myself.”

 

Hank nods. “All right, that makes sense. You know, Armando could probably do a Spanish class.”

 

“I'm going to ask him,” the Professor says with a nod. Then he glances at Erik. “Erik, how would you feel about teaching French and German?”

 

“I thought I would be doing something a bit more physical, a training class,” Erik objects.

 

“We'll take turns teaching control and defense, I think,” the Professor says. “But as far as academics go...”

 

“I don't see why not.”

 

Hank notices they've left a subject out. “Wait, what about history?”

 

The Professor blinks, shamefaced. “Oh. I always hated history, that must be why I've forgotten it. I don't suppose you...”

 

“No, definitely not,” Hank says quickly. “I barely passed that all through school, the other students thought it was hilarious.”

 

Hopeful blue eyes dart Erik's way, getting nothing but a slightly mocking laugh. “Charles, do you really want to let me teach history? I don't think you'll like the take I have on it.”

 

Again, Hank feels like there's something going on here he's not quite aware of, but this time he can guess. Something about how Erik almost fired the missiles back at the soldiers in Cuba and the argument after – he had been too far away to hear the words, but he'd picked up shouting from both the Professor and Erik that night.

 

But the Professor is nodding, a faint scowl on his face. “Very funny, Erik. No, I don't think I would, now that you mention it.” He sighs.

 

“So we need a history teacher then?” Hank says uncertainly. “How are we going to manage that?”

 

“Well, one of the mutants who turned Erik and myself down when we were recruiting before was a history teacher,” the Professor says thoughtfully.

 

“What, the illusionist? Charles, she said she would commit seppuku, whatever that is, before she would work with us.”

 

“Ritual suicide?” Hank says, shocked. He doesn't like history, but he'd had a roommate with an unhealthy interest in samurai when he was in college. So he knows all about seppuku, among other things.

 

“Oh, is that what it is?” Erik asks. “Well then, Charles, I really don't think that's going to work.”

 

“Actually,” the Professor begins, “I think what she said was that she would commit seppuku before she would work for the United States government. We're no longer tied to them. It's worth a try, isn't it?”

 

Hank personally thinks anything's worth a try if it means he doesn't have to get involved with history classes – or keep coming to these conferences with Erik and the Professor. He feels very much like a third wheel here.

 

~ ~ ~

 

It's the final bell and Chiyo Oyama watches her students run out, suppressing a sigh. She really shouldn't expect any better. She works in a bad school in a worse neighborhood, with kids who mostly don't give a damn.

 

It was the best job she could get, under the circumstances.

 

Still, sometimes she hates it. She hates the boredom in most of her students' eyes, and the interest some of them show can't be cultivated. She thinks about how she could wave her hand, make what she teaches come to life for a moment, just one. Illusions, yes, but enough for the moment. It wouldn't be the first time she's brought things to life with a gesture.

 

And if she ever did it, she'd be out on her ear, at best. So she doesn't, instead lets the students leave and adjusts her glasses before beginning to mark the quiz she'd given her seventh period students. She doesn't look up until a shadow falls over her desk. Oh, lovely. These two again.

 

“I thought I told you last time, there's no way in hell I'm going to do anything for the United States government.” Why should she, when her cousin Kiyoshi never got the medals he earned by dying in the Second World War, while their entire family was in fucking Manzanar?

 

“We're not representing the government anymore,” the English one tells her – his name is Charles Xavier, she remembers that from last time, and the hopeful light in his bright blue eyes is still there. And, again the same, his companion – Erik Lensherr – is more serious, and the cool, surveying glance his gray eyes offer tells her that he's not nearly as trusting.

 

But not being tied to the CIA? That's new, just enough that she's willing to give them a second hearing. “All right then. If you're not here on behalf of the government, then why are you here?”

 

“I'm starting a school, for people like us. A safe haven for mutants,” Xavier tells her, all earnestness and idealism. Chiyo raises an eyebrow.

 

“And you need a history teacher?” It makes sense, she has to admit that. And once again, that quiet desire strikes, that wish to use her power to create the worlds she teaches about. At a mutant school she could...

 

No. No. She has other responsibilities, and she cannot afford to get caught up in an idealist's pipe dream. It's an idea with potential, this school of his, but even so... She doesn't just have herself to worry about.

 

“Yes, we do. I thought you might be interested.”

 

Chiyo shakes her head. “Sorry, but I have a job, and a life.” Not much of one, except for one person, but that's enough. She's made it enough.

 

Xavier looks at her with an odd sort of... Sympathy? “Your daughter can come with us,” he tells her gently. “You know she's like us too, won't it be better to raise her there?”

 

“Stay out of my head!”

 

“I was only trying to help,” Xavier says defensively.

 

“Charles, you do have a habit of hearing everything and blurting half of it out,” Lensherr cuts in smoothly. “Perhaps you should talk to the... other person we wanted to speak with here, and I'll talk to Miss Oyama.”

 

“You're going to give a recruitment speech for the school you barely believe in?” There's both sarcasm and hope in that voice, and Chiyo wonders just what it is between these two. If one of them was a woman, she'd be certain as to the nature of it, but when they're both men she's not... It's more of a question, in that case.

 

“Since you're not helping your own cause, it seems I have to. Go talk to the girl, Charles. I'll handle this.”

 

Xavier hesitates, but then seems to change his mind and leaves without another word. Chiyo slants a dark look at Lensherr. “You'll 'handle' it? Mr. Lensherr, I'm not sure who you think you are, but – ”

 

“In a slightly different world, Miss Oyama, I would be here alone, and I would use the records I read at the CIA base – Manzanar, I believe, wasn't it? – to recruit you with a speech about how humans will never accept us and we need to fight for our place.”

 

“And yet you're not.”

 

“And yet I'm not.”

 

“Why not?”

 

Lensherr shrugs. “Nothing you need to know. The point is, I'm not Charles, and I'm no more of an idealist than you are. Less, I'd imagine.”

 

“You're a full-blown cynic, it's in your eyes,” Chiyo informs him. “I'm more of a pragmatist, myself. And for the record, I wouldn't have joined a war against humanity. It sounds pointless to me.”
 

“Maybe it would have been,” Lensherr says noncommittally. “But that's not the point. Charles means what he says, about your daughter. You don't look old enough to have a daughter who would be manifesting powers, though.”

 

“I don't,” Chiyo tells him. “She's two. Normally I don't think she would be, but Yuriko... She heals herself. Cuts, scrapes, they're gone in a moment. And I don't need your friend's charity to take care of my daughter.” She doesn't need a stranger's help, not when she was denied her family's. She's been enough for her daughter so far, she can continue to be. “Who is the girl that Xavier is going to talk to?”

 

“One of the students here, in her second year, I believe. Cassandra Novak, I believe is her name.”

 

Cassie. A small, quiet girl, all unruly black hair and bright blue eyes behind wire-frame glasses. Cassie, one of the only students Chiyo genuinely likes, a girl who flinches away when people move too quickly around her. That girl has probably been through hell as it is, and she's a mutant as well? It doesn't seem fair, somehow. “She's a mutant?”

 

“According to Charles, she can make herself invisible at will.”

 

“How exactly does Xavier know all of this? He knows what I do, what Cassie does...?”

 

“That is something you won't find out unless you come to the school.” Lensherr's thin smile reminds Chiyo of a shark, for some reason, and the comparison almost makes her laugh.

 

“So if you're such a cynic, why are you going along with an idealist's master plan?”

 

Lensherr doesn't answer her, instead turning a ridiculously sharp look on her. “That's not your business. Are you going to take the job or not?”

 

Chiyo rolls her eyes. “You're really terrible at this.”

 

“Charles wasn't getting anywhere with you by being nice. I prefer to be direct. Are you coming or not?”

 

She considers telling him no just to spite him, but Chiyo's not that petty unless the government's involved. She's interested, and to be honest, it's probably a better life for Riko than what she can manage now. “I'll have to talk to Xavier about the details, but I think I'll like what I hear,” she says evenly.

 

~ ~ ~

 

So far they have one new student who wanders the halls like a ghost, one new teacher with a two-year-old who wants to explore the entire mansion, and, of course, the original and now somewhat confused team. Raven's not sure if it's an improvement or a setback. Whichever, it's certainly uncomfortable, which is why she jumps at the chance to drive Sean up to Boston to see his mother.

 

On the ride up, Sean's his usual, vaguely annoying self, rambling on about a thousand things at once, and Raven considers gagging him several times. Sean can be funny, but she only has so much tolerance for him.

 

Raven doesn't go in the house, on Sean's request. Normally she'd find that insulting, but she knows he'd have come alone if he could drive himself, and that this is the sort of conversation that doesn't need any witnesses. So instead of getting angry, she goes for a walk around his neighborhood. It's a nice area of the city, which makes sense since Sean's family... They're not rich, not the way Charles is, but she gets the distinct impression that they do well enough for themselves. Technically, it's his grandparents' neighborhood, since his dad lives in a Manhattan apartment, but the point still stands.

 

Two teenage boys sitting outside one of the houses look her up and down, flashing her supposedly charming smiles. She smiles back on instinct more than anything. Before, Raven would have enjoyed it, even played to it, but now...

 

“You're beautiful like this.”

 

They wouldn't be smiling at her like that if she was walking down the street in her true form. And that makes her grit her teeth behind her smile, and keep walking.

 

She gets back to Sean's house just as he bolts out the door, face white. Oh fuck, it didn't go well. His eyes are too wide and his jaw is clenched like he's trying to make himself not cry, and Raven realizes that because of Cuba, sometimes she forgets. She forgets that even though Sean was there and fighting just as hard, he is only sixteen, and younger than any of them.

 

She forgets that unlike the rest of them, he thought he still had his family.

 

The boy sitting so rigidly in the passenger's seat as they drive away doesn't believe that. “She said to get out,” Sean says in a quiet voice, once they're on the interstate. “Said that I'm a freak, and my grandmother thinks I'm possibly demonic. She... She wanted to call the priest.”

 

“She wanted what?” That's a new one, Raven thinks grimly. She's not religious enough to have wondered about that term being thrown at her; she'd thought of monster but not demon. And at Sean, who looked perfectly normal...

 

Fuck.

 

“Yeah,” Sean's laugh is more like a sob. “My grandmother thinks I'm evil. My mother's blaming my dad, saying that it's got to be something in his blood that made me like this. And maybe she's right; we don't know how people become mutants, so maybe it is from him.”

 

Sean goes quiet after that, curled in on himself in the passenger seat. Raven doesn't know what to say. What is there to say? She never had a family before Charles took her in, she can't even begin to comprehend what it must be like for Sean right now.

 

But she does understand one thing. This school, this sanctuary? It's not going to be enough, not if it's the only place where people understand. It's great as a band-aid on the problem, but there's so much more to it.

 

Raven doesn't know what else can be done, or how she can help do it, but she knows that this school project of Charles'? It's not going to be for her. She needs to do something a little more active than that.

 

~ ~ ~

 

The school opens the following September, with one of the two headmasters optimistic and hopeful, and the other trying not to think the worst. Charles knows how Erik feels, but even his pessimistic best friend – and perhaps more, if they could bring themselves to admit it – can't deny the joy of seeing these first students in the hallways.

 

They're using their powers, unafraid of retribution. Some of them, like Chiyo's terrified Cassie, are smiling what Charles knows, hearing their thoughts, is the first time they've smiled truly in years. They are starting something here, a hope for the future, and even Erik hasn't decided to reject that yet.

 

There's a chance here. A chance for a future with no bloodshed, or at least, as little as possible. Charles is trying to be practical, even if he would rather be an idealist. It won't be perfect, when mutants finally do come into the spotlight. It will be difficult, and possibly dangerous. But if they can give the mutants of today and tomorrow a place to come to and be safe, if they can have a place like this school to show the mundanes and prove that they are not evil or even all that different, but as human as them, with hopes and dreams and fears...

 

Well. A candle lights up a darkened room, even if it's just a tiny flame. They're a flame, and he means to light up the dark. Maybe it won't work, maybe Erik will, in the end, be proven right, but at least Charles will have talked him into trying this first. At least, if there is a war in the end, they won't carry the guilt of starting it. That is something to be going on with, if nothing else.

 







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