When God closes one door, he opens another. Or he opens a window. Something like that. Charles had heard it both ways, but either way, he'd always believed it. The doors to his step-father, his step-brother...if they had ever been open they had quickly been slammed shut. But then another door had opened, and it had led him to Raven, or Raven to him...and having someone to call sister who was different, like he was...that was the best thing he could have asked for instead.
Charles had believed it again the day he'd met Erik Lehnsherr—when he was just short of believing all hope to be lost, all other doors closed. He'd believed it so strongly that it had kept him going this long, but now...
Now he was cold and exhausted and hurting, and it was dark, and the chilly concrete biting into his back wasn't helping. Neither were Erik's angry eyes, boring into him as the taller man kept him shoved against the barrier at the edge of the yard—as much as it could be a yard when it was made up only of reinforced concrete and steel wire. Erik's hands were clamped around Charles's upper arms, bruisingly tight as he shook him, and Charles's head banged back into the concrete but he had no energy to resist. He couldn't stop Erik, physically or telepathically, even if he'd wanted to. He could barely fathom the strength to reach out to Erik's mind at all.
Erik, my friend, this is not you. You know the truth. You know...
Erik backhanded him viciously. "Get out of my head!"
He managed not to cry out, and he swallowed hard. "Please, my friend, remember—"
"I'm not your friend!" Erik punched him this time, and Charles's head snapped back into the wall much harder this time. Everything went dark for a brief moment, but then he was back and Erik was still shouting. "Why are you in my head? Why do you look at me like that? Why are you always in my head! I don't know you!"
Charles swallowed back the blood in his mouth; trying spit it out would not be a good idea right now, with Erik this volatile. "Yes, you do. You do. Please, Erik..." He summoned what energy he had left and sent a memory to this man who had been his friend—a memory they shared. Erik gasped and blinked, pausing in the middle of pulling his arm back for another blow.
But in the end it only made him angrier, and he punched Charles again anyway. And then a third time. "No, damnit! Keep your lies out of my head!"
Charles coughed on blood, his vision swimming. "Shaw and Frost are the ones lying to you, Erik. I would never do that."
"Shut up!" This time Erik brought a knee up into his stomach, and Charles blacked out again. He was fighting his way back when Erik took matters into his own hands and backhanded him once more, forcing him awake. "Don't you dare! I want answers, damnit! What are you doing to me!"
"Nothing," he gasped. He knew his vision wasn't fading out only because of the trauma. He knew it was blurring because his eyes were damp, but there was nothing he could do about that now.
"Liar!" Erik punched him again, and again, and Charles could do nothing but shout.
"Erik! Please!" Then he was on the ground, and Erik's boot was connecting with his chest, over and over and over, and everything that hurt hurt even more, and Charles had the sudden sinking feeling that he was going to die. If Erik didn't remember everything that had happened these past few months, Erik was going to kill him. Because he wanted answers now, and Charles had no other answers give him. He knew what was wrong with Erik's mind, but Erik didn't want to believe it any more than he had last time. He wouldn't even have to try very hard, to kill him. His body was weak, and it couldn't take much more of this.
There was a brief respite, and Charles gagged around the blood in his throat and just barely managed to send a few more memories to his friend. "Erik, you—please remember. Try...please. I c...I can't do it for you this time." He had no choice but to cough the blood out this time, and when he coughed he felt something give way in his chest—something that must have already been damaged thanks to the blows to the chest or everything else that had happened recently. Charles screamed through a throat already being rubbed raw, and the tears swimming in his eyes found their way out from the corners.
Please please please please please...a few more small memories. Erik let out a strangled sound and angrily bent down over him on one knee, pulling his arm back. But he finally hesitated; finally his face seemed more conflicted. Charles looked up at him weakly, but hoping his gaze seemed firm, knowing that if Erik started to hit him again it would be over soon.
"Erik," he whispered, but it came out much more like a sob. "Please come back."
21 months earlier
It all began the day Moira MacTaggert found him in England. That was the day his life changed entirely. Charles had just given his thesis presentation at Oxford. He officially had a Ph.D. now. He could officially be called a professor, though he refused to let anyone do so until he'd found a teaching position—especially Raven, because she seemed to want to. She thought it suited him.
But Charles was adamant, and to prove just how un-professor-like he still was, they retreated to a local pub after his presentation. It was there Moira found him, and it was there that she told him that he was right—there truly were many, many others like him, like Raven. Moira was CIA, and she had seen them. And after an eternity of attempting to convince her superiors that she was not crazy, they were interested. In fact, they were suddenly very interested. They wanted to find mutants, and help them, she claimed. When Charles searched her mind and found no evidence to the contrary, he went with her wholeheartedly and Raven came along.
Moira brought them to a CIA facility nearly in the middle of nowhere in Virginia, near Washington D.C. It was there they met the man in charge of the facility, who seemed just as excited by the prospect of finding mutants and helping them to adjust as Moira was. Granted, all of them would also be offered the choice of helping the CIA with covert operations—and Charles realized that was likely the only reason anyone higher up was interested—but that part didn't matter so much to him. He only wanted to help. The mutants they found would make their own choices.
Other mutants! Charles could hardly contain his excitement, and he knew Raven felt nearly the same. The both of them had only ever known each other, when it came to the mutant world. He wondered how they planned to find them and just what they needed him for but, when the man in charge of the facility introduced him to Hank McCoy, one of their scientists—who was also a mutant, incidentally—and Hank introduced him to the machine he had built in the facility's back yard...Charles understood.
Cerebro, Hank called it. It had been designed to amplify brainwaves, to boost Charles's powers. It should have unnerved him that the government had known about him—that they had followed his schooling and his choice of field, and known at least a bit about his powers. But he was too excited to care. The government was the government, and it had its strange ways. Raven tried to tell him that even though she was interested, too, in what they could do with this machine, she thought something was wrong. But Charles waved her off.
Charles and Hank tested the machine, and it worked. Charles could sense the other mutants around him in the world—so many of them!—and so many who needed help. His mind traced their coordinates and the computers that were Cerebro printed them out. Moira promised that they would be found quickly—that what was happening to them would be explained. That help would be sent their way as soon as possible and that those that wanted to would be brought here. Charles couldn't wait to meet them.
But none came. Weeks went by, and occasionally he and Hank were asked to run Cerebro again to build the waiting log of coordinates, but no one new arrived at the base. When he asked Moira about it, she complained that the director of the CIA was telling them that it was taking longer than expected to consolidate resources to find these poor people.
"Well good lord, I certainly have enough resources of my own; I'll go," Charles told her. But she asked her superiors, and they quickly turned Charles's offer down and requested that he stay on the base. It was only then that he began to worry, to wonder, and it didn't help that Moira worried too.
"I don't understand," she told him one afternoon. "When they sent me to find you I was under the impression they were ready to move on this immediately."
Both of them were frustrated, and in the weeks of proximity and relative boredom they grew closer, and it helped. The fact that he had one new mutant friend in Hank also helped to alleviate the disappointment of not meeting any others sooner, but...
Something had to be wrong. On that much he and Raven and Moira agreed, but none of them were told anything. The man in charge of the facility knew nothing more than they did, and was equally as annoyed. "Waited my whole life to be taken seriously about studying the application of mutant powers, and now they drag their feet..." he would grumble.
But then came the day that Charles felt new minds in the building, the day he passed a room that two of these new minds occupied, and heard a conversation he knew he shouldn't have. Several of the new minds he'd sensed were mutants—frightened mutants—and he was concerned and also more than a little teed off that no one had told him they were coming and that no one had attempted to calm them down. He'd gone looking for answers, but when he reached the door of the conference room where the man who ran this facility could usually be found, he met two unfamiliar minds instead.
"Why did we bring them here? You know we can't have them here without the telepath knowing," came one voice from inside.
Charles suddenly didn't feel guilty for eavesdropping, and he flattened himself against the wall by the door and tuned into one of the minds inside. The mind he found was the man who had just spoke, whom he did not know. But the second man, Charles recognized the face. There was a picture somewhere in the base. It was the director of the CIA, and he was answering the first man's question.
"The only other base we have that's anywhere near being well enough equipped is full, and the mutant facility isn't finished yet. Almost."
"Look, eventually he was going to know anyway, right? So he'll know now. Either he keeps his cool and sees reason, or he doesn't. If he doesn't, we go to Plan B."
Charles couldn't listen anymore. He had to know where on this base those mutants were, and he had to know now. Without thinking twice he invaded the director's mind, but without alerting him, and the answer he came up with made him draw in a sharp breath. Quickly he turned on his heel and hurried away from the conference room as quickly he could go without making noise. The thin carpet in the corridor made it easier.
Dear god...it can't be true. It can't. If anyone on the base before now had known, he would have known. The only explanation was if the director had kept this from everyone here, because he and the other higher-ups had known Charles would find out.
It can't be true...
If it were true then it was his fault. If there really were mutants locked up downstairs, then he was the one to blame for them being here, trapped. He was the one who had sent the CIA straight to them. Oh god oh god, please don't let it be true.
He had gleaned everything he needed from the director's mind to find out, and just to be safe he avoided anyone and everyone as he hurried to the lower levels of the small compound. Eventually he came to a door that required a code, but he had the code. On the other side of the door there was a guard, but Charles merely kept the man from seeing him as he walked past and into the room beyond the guard's desk.
Inside there were more guards, in every corner, and Charles kept them from seeing him as well, but he wasn't prepared for what he saw. Beyond the door were two rows of containment cells.
In nearly every cell was a mutant, protesting loudly or cowering or crying or...
Charles staggered back against the wall just inside, and he sobbed once. I did this.