The Doors They Opened

Chapter 18

Erik didn't return, and Charles didn't wake up, and Raven didn't know what to do. Her brother was completely unresponsive, not even reacting when she changed the dressings on the wounds. It should have hurt him, as badly as he was injured, but he didn't make a sound, he wouldn't look at her…nothing. If she fed him he would eat, mechanically, and if she pulled him up and carefully and guided him to the toilet he would use it, but he wasn't really responding. He blinked occasionally, but it seemed it was only to keep his eyes from drying out. It was like programming.

There was nothing in his eyes.

For the first few days the guards seemed to understand, at least, that after what had happened Charles was too badly injured to walk far enough to leave the cell even if he wasn't reacting to pain at the moment. Their food was brought to them and for days Raven was alone, taking care of her brother because there was nothing else she could do. She pulled her mattress to the floor the first night and left it there, sleeping where she could keep an eye on him.

But there was never any change. During the day Raven sat with him, talking to him, wondering if he could hear her. She held his head in her lap and stroked his hair back and ran her fingers through it, hoping that maybe it might help bring him back the way she hoped talking to him might and because the top of his head was probably the only thing that didn't hurt. She was worried over whether he could still feel pain even if he couldn't react to it.

After a few days, though, there was no more coddling. When the doors opened for the afternoon meal the sixth day the guards stepped in and forced her out, making her pull Charles to his feet and bring him with her. It seemed there would be no more tolerance of the upset of the usual order of things. Raven protested, but they were having none of it, and Charles, of course, was in no position to prove that it probably wasn't the best idea for him to be on his feet yet.

Not that Raven really knew herself. He couldn't tell her how much he still was or wasn't hurting, and even if Logan had been right and nothing was really broken that didn't mean there weren't cracked ribs. If there were—even if there weren't—if Charles was still feeling everything simply dragging him to the cafeteria could hurt him quite a lot.

She worded it differently, tried to tell them he wasn't recovered enough because she knew they wouldn't care if he was in pain, but they refused her appeal and pushed both of them out the door anyway.

Charles's breath hitched at the shove. She looked at him quickly as she steadied them and helped him carefully down the corridor, because it was the first real indication she'd seen in days that he was still in there somewhere.

It also told her that he really was in pain, and her throat clogged.

"Hang on," she whispered. It was all she could think to say.

"Raven!" It was Hank. He caught up to them and gently took Charles's other arm to help. "Thank god; we haven't seen either of you in days. Charles, how are—" He cut off when he saw the blank look on Charles's face, and he looked up at Raven in alarm. "What's wrong with him?"

"Frost did something to him, right after what happened…he's been like that ever since. I can't bring him out of it," she swallowed. "I don't know…"

When they made it to the cafeteria they found Sean and Darwin there, and Logan was there too.

"He's stayed with us," Hank said quietly, before they were close enough for anyone to hear. "God knows why. Charles must have really gotten to him the first time they talked."

If it was going to be anyone, it would have been Charles. Raven nodded in understanding as Logan got up from the table to help her and Hank lower Charles to the bench. There was no sound from him, of curse, but his skin was covered in a fine layer of sweat now and when they let him go he didn't sit quite straight, but hunched over. Raven sat close beside him for support.

She had to explain again, though she really didn't want to.

"And nothing's made any difference?" Logan asked.

"Nothing…god, I don't even know exactly what she did…" Raven trailed off uncertainly and looped an arm through her brother's, squeezing just a little but not enough to hurt him, she hoped. She hoped he knew, at least, that she was there.

Sean spoke up tentatively. "Raven, uh…before Frost…did Charles say anything else? What did he mean about Erik?"

"Have you seen him?" she asked automatically.

Sean shifted uncomfortably. "Sort of…yeah. But…I think something's wrong with him. He doesn't seem like…him. We see him up on the balcony sometimes, or stalking around in the corridors every now and then, but that's about it. He doesn't look at us, or anything. It's like he doesn't care anymore."

Raven swallowed. "He doesn't. Not consciously. Not right now. Frost screwed with his memory again. He doesn't know us."

"Are you kiddin' me?" Darwin questioned. "Damn."

Logan wasn't asking questions, so she assumed they'd filled him in on what they knew of Erik, and what had happened in the past few months.

"Well we have to do something," Hank cut in.

"Like what? We can't give him his memory back," Raven answered darkly. "What are we supposed to do? Even if Charles comes out of this I don't know if he could help him now. Not unless he has a chance to get stronger again."

"Do we really need him?" Darwin asked. "What was the plan anyway? I know you've been trying to protect us and all, and I respect that, but what is it? Is there a way we can pull it off without him? Get out of here and figure the rest out later?"

Raven grimaced. "No…it won't work without Erik. The plan IS Erik. We needed his powers." She hesitated before she went on. "If we don't get him back we're stuck here."

They were all quiet for a long time after that.

"You're serious?" Sean asked quietly. "All this time and everything's down the drain?"

"I don't know! I don't know…" Raven shook her head, blinking back tears. "I don't know." Hank held her closer, but she kept hold of Charles's arm, and she thought she felt it twitch under her hand.


"You seem to be doing just fine here, Erik. Just keep up the good work. Don't let Agent Stryker get out of hand, yes?"

"Of course," Erik deadpanned. He was angry enough, being left here. If they were going to go they needed to just do it. They'd been here for days on end, and it was more than enough to bother him greatly. Maybe he was indebted to Shaw, but that didn't mean he always liked the man's plans.

"You'll be out of here soon enough—as soon as we're certain the situation has stabilized. But at the moment I still don't quite trust Agent Stryker. I may need to return."

Erik only grunted in response. He wasn't entirely clear on what the problem was; all he'd gathered was that Stryker had taken things a little too far in trying to make the telepath more submissive. He'd nearly died, and while keeping him under control was important they needed him alive.

To be honest, Erik wasn't clear on much. It seemed he never was. It was probably a large part of what affected his irritability level so negatively, but whatever the hell.

"Take care of yourself, Erik," Shaw smiled.

And why did that smile suddenly send a shiver down his spine?


Emma raised an eyebrow at Shaw once they were in the car, leaving the facility. "Well? Did I do a sufficient job?"

If he noticed the sarcasm he said nothing. "Just fine, Emma. Just fine. I think he'll serve our purposes much better for now."

Altering Erik's memories again had been easy enough, considering the number of times she'd done it. Pulling all of his anger and aggression and pain to the forefront had been even easier. Leaving them there while obscuring the real reasons for them had been harder, but she'd pulled it off, of course.

"If the telepath ever comes out of it the change in Erik will break his spirits again quickly enough."

"Precisely," Shaw nodded. "And I wasn't entirely honest with Erik, of course. We'll be leaving him there until we're ready to put our plan into action, so we know exactly how things are going."


Charles knew what was happening around him, at least part of the time. He could see everything, hear everything, but it was all from a distance—and that was when he was aware at all. When he was aware enough it hurt, and it wasn't only the cage of everything he didn't want to remember. It was the physical pain, too, and thank god that was felt somewhat from a distance, too. He knew how badly he'd been hurt, and he knew it would be worse if he were awake.

But he wasn't awake. He was trapped behind these bars of everything that had gone wrong and if he came too close, if he touched them…it overwhelmed him. Frost had designed it that way. Any attempt to push through, to wake up again, led only to pain and regret and fear and he couldn't rid himself of them. Sometimes it was easer to curl up inside and pretend the world outside didn't exist. When he ignored it he couldn't see it, or hear it…

But then Raven would say something. Or she would cry. Sometimes she cried. She wanted him back, and he wanted to go to her, but it was too hard. Getting out was too hard. He couldn't do it. And what did it matter anyway? They were trapped here. They weren't going anywhere. Not without Erik.

Oh god, Erik…

Yes, sometimes it was much easier to stay inside. Inside was dark and safe and warm, inside and away from the bars.

But tonight Raven was crying. Tonight he could hear her begging him to return to her and that hurt, too. He wanted to, and he tried, but there was too much pain. It frustrated him to no end, that he couldn't do it. Why couldn't he do it? Was he really that weak?

Her hand was at his head again, cradling it in her lap. "Charles, please…we need you. I need you. I'm sorry, I know it hurts, but please come back…"

Do you? He wondered. Did she know how much it hurt? Feeling as if he'd failed his best friend? Feeling as if he'd failed everyone?

"I love you, Charles. Please come back…"

God, he wanted to go back. She was his sister; he loved her. He wanted to go back to her, but how? Every time he tried he failed. Why? Why couldn't he just—

"Charles?"

He didn't feel the tear on his cheek until just before Raven's thumb gently dabbed it away. It took him another moment to realize that it had come from his own eye—it wasn't one of hers that had dropped there.

"Charles, are you there?" Her voice cracked.

I'm here!

"Charles….?"

I'M HERE!

He screamed it, but she didn't hear him. She cried harder, instead.


Raven saw Erik herself the next day. He was on the balcony, with Stryker, only for a few moments.

He saw them. He saw everything, but he wasn't really looking at them. He didn't really see them, because he didn't want to. He didn't care.

It wasn't Erik. It was some awful, cold caricature of him, and she could tell it even from the ground. Everything that had made Erik the almost-brother she'd come to care about was buried, and she didn't need to see him closer to know it. He stood differently, the look on his face was stony…

It wasn't Erik.

"God, Charles, what are we supposed to do?" she whispered. He sat beside her at one of the few tables in the yard, staring blankly the way he had been since Frost attacked him. He didn't answer her, of course.

But this time she felt something. Or she thought she did. There was something…something there, just at the edge of her mind. Some sort of push, a buzzing, a background noise like Charles was trying to reach her and he couldn't quite push through.

Charles?

She reached for his hand and squeezed it, and for a moment the feeling there in her mind pushed harder. Charles's hand spasmed in hers, and Raven pulled in a startled breath.

But then the buzzing was gone, and Charles was still again.

Damnit, no. Come on, Charles, you can do it…

But nothing else happened.


Charles? Charles, can you hear me? I can feel you; can you hear me? Charles…!

Charles was startled to sudden awareness by the small voice in his mind. The awareness was no more than he'd had—he was still trapped—but someone was speaking to him.

He could only think of one person besides Frost who might be able to speak to him now.

Jean?

It's me! I'm…I must be close. We're all in big vans again. We've been moving a long time. We must be close. I couldn't feel you and then I could…

Some of the field teams were coming back. They were bringing a new group of mutants to the facility. Charles felt the familiar pang of regret at that, amplified this time by knowing that Jean was among them. It was even worse knowing that he might not be able to get her out of here again once she arrived. With Erik for all practical purposes gone…

He pushed that pain away before he drowned in it.

Jean! Oh Jean…

What's wrong? She asked suddenly. And then she was there, on the other side of the bars, looking at him with round eyes.

"What…what happened? You're sad…and you're all locked up and…"

Charles stood slowly in the blackness. All he could see in here were the bars, and now Jean. "It's difficult to explain."

"Well…you have to get out."

"I can't. I've tried."

"But you have to get out! You can't stay in here; you have to be out there when I get there. I don't want to be alone…"

"You won't be alone. As much as I wish none of you were here at all there are other children here, and—"

"But I want you to be there!" She surged forward, reaching for the bars. "Can I help—?"

"Jean, don't touch those!" Charles shouted urgently. She stopped abruptly, surprised by the panic in his tone. But she couldn't touch the bars. If she touched them she would know what they were. She would see it—everything that had happened. And they were things that a four-year-old girl most certainly should not know.

"Charles…?" the girl asked, frightened now.

He swallowed. "I'm sorry…but you can't help me, Jean. And I'm afraid I can't help you anymore. Not from in here."

"Then get out. I know you can do it."

He shook his head sadly. "I'm not strong enough. I'm sorry; I want to be. I want to be there for you, but I don't know how."

Jean looked at him for a long time, just looked at him, and there were tears in her eyes even though it was all an illusion anyway—the image of her that he was actually seeing right now. A projection.

"You think it's your fault. You don't think you're…good, or something. You think you should be stuck in here."

"What?"

"You can't think that! I don't know what happened or why you're so sad, but you're good! You can't stay here! And…and…" He felt her looking at the surface—what he'd seen himself the last few days. What was easy to access. "And your sister thinks so too. She's sad too. You have to go back."

"Jean, I want to go back. But I can't—"

His voice broke.

Did he? Did he want to go back to that world? Where everything was wrong and there was no hope anymore? Maybe she was right. Maybe he really thought, somewhere inside, that he should stay here.

"You can," Jean said quietly. "Just let me help you. Please…" She reached forward again, and Charles jerked forward and opened his mouth to shout again, to panic, wanting to stop her. His fingers plunged into the bars and he jumped back as if electrocuted. Everything hit him all over again—Erik screaming for help and Charles unable to do anything, being unable to keep Jean from being found, all of it.

He was crying when the blinding rush of memories faded again, and it took him a long moment to see that Jean's small hand had fit between the bars easily. She hadn't touched them, but she was reaching out to him now, through them.

There were tears on her cheeks now, too.

"Please," she cried. "Please let me help. I don't know how I can help; I just know I can. I-I think I can get you out. I just feel it…"

"Jean," Charles gasped. "I—"

He didn't want to be crying in front of the girl. He wanted to be strong. At least for her. But all of it was his fault, and—

"It's not your fault! I don't think anybody else thinks anything is your fault or anything, and I don't! They want you to come back, and I do too! I don't wanna be able to talk to you just in here! You need to come out! You're dumb if you don't come out!"

She'd pulled her hand back, and she actually stomped her foot and crossed her arms. It was the closest thing to a childish fit he had ever seen from her. It made him remember how young she really was.

And it made him listen.

Charles swallowed hard, and Jean reached through the bars again and just looked at him.

Raven's voice echoed in the back of his mind. Charles, please…we need you. I need you. I'm sorry, I know it hurts, but please come back…

It would be so easy to stay here. To ignore Jean. She would leave and he never had to pay any attention to the world outside again. He didn't have to look if he didn't want to. He didn't have to be aware. He could stay away forever, stay in here, stay safe, but what was safety when it was a prison?

What was safety when Raven needed him? When Jean needed him?

Charles nodded slowly, blinking back the rest of his tears, and he took her hand.

It hit him like lightning, almost. Without the pain from the miscalibrated Cerebro to distract him, to dull everything, Jean's raw power was a heady rush that nearly sent him spinning and he had to gather quite a lot of control very quickly to keep the sharing of it from negatively affecting either of them.

"Charles?"

He couldn't answer just yet. The bars were thinning around him, and he realized that Jean had been right.

With her help he could get out of here.

Jean realized it too.

"Come on!" she said, grinning suddenly.

She tugged, and Charles moved, bracing himself and pushing through what was left of the bars. It hurt, but not as much as before. He clenched his eyes shut against the tears and forced his way through, stumbling away and looking back to see the cage crumbling behind him.

Jean's triumphant voice, now. "See? I told you."

Had that really just happened?

"Thank you," Charles breathed.

But when he looked back to find her she was gone, and her hand was gone from his.

I'll see you soon, Jean thought to him.

And then he was waking up.


Raven was half asleep against the headboard of Charles's bunk when she felt him jerk suddenly, then pull in a sharp breath and start to cough, and when she straightened quickly and looked down at him his eyes were clenched shut.

"Charles! Charles?"

"I'm…I'm here," he managed. His voice was raspy, but it was there, and Raven throat clogged much more quickly than she really wanted it to.

"Thank god, I—god, are you okay? Charles?"

Head still in her lap, he shuddered a bit as he moaned and struggled to bring his breathing under control. "Sorry, just…it hit me all at once…"

"You weren't feeling it before?" she asked, hoping she'd been wrong.

"Well…I was, but…not as directly, I suppose…ah…"

Oh. Raven held onto him. "Easy…just take it easy and it shouldn't be so bad. It's been a week already."

Charles nodded wordlessly in understanding and didn't say anything else at first. His jaw clenched and he clamped an arm around his chest, instead, while waiting until he'd calmed more and talking seemed easier. Finally his breaths were more even, but she didn't like the beads of sweat on his forehead.

"All right…it's all right," he said then. "You're right; it isn't as awful as I'm sure it was days ago."

"If you're just saying that I'll kick your ass all over again," Raven said quietly. Her throat was still tight, and she cleared it self-consciously. "Charles, I—what happened? I was so afraid you—" But she couldn't finish that sentence.

Part of her had been afraid that he would never come back.

For a moment she couldn't look down at him, but she felt Charles reach up to squeeze her hand where it rested against his arm.

"I know. I'm so sorry; I should have been able to get out of there sooner."

"Out of where? What did Frost do?"

She did look at him now, and he shook his head slowly. "It's too difficult to explain. I was…trapped. Inside. Beyond that I don't know what to tell you."

Raven swallowed. "But you got out. That proves you're still more powerful than she is, doesn't it?"

He winced. "In essence, I am, but...god, I hate it, but I'm still so weak I don't know if I would have gotten out at all without help."

She blinked in confusion. "Help? How did you get help? Who helped you?"

He told her. He told her about Jean, and how he'd met the girl through Cerebro and that she would be here and that she'd helped him. Charles's face light up when he talked about Jean, but Raven could see the guilt there, too—that this girl was going to be stuck here as well.

"It's not your fault…"

"I know," he said quickly, and sighed. "You tell me that often enough, but I think you also know that my heart hasn't quite caught up to my head on that bit of information. It may never."

Raven let out a breath and bent down to kiss his forehead. "You wouldn't be you if it did, I guess. And I love the you you are."

Charles smiled weakly, but he didn't answer. Instead he started to move as if to sit up. "Would you mind…?"

She quickly moved to support him. "Are you sure you—?"

"I told you, it merely startled me before. I can get up, at the least. It isn't as bad as all that, though…"

He grunted as she helped him sit up, and she raised an eyebrow. "Bad enough."

"I will live." Charles let out a heavy breath once she had him up and settled against the wall. "Thank you."

"You're sure you're all right?" He only nodded in answer, and his face didn't look so good but she knew better than to ask again. "Fine…" She sat beside him anyway, whether he wanted that right now or not, because she was still his sister and she'd still been worried sick for days. "I missed you," she whispered, suddenly fighting tears again.

"I've missed you, too."

Charles wrapped an arm around her—only loosely, because anything more would have hurt, and she understood that—and that was all it took. Her brother was back, he was here, and there was no scene, all was silent, but the fight against the tears was lost.


They didn't talk about Erik. Charles couldn't bring himself to bring it up yet, and Raven kindly didn't either. The situation would have to be dealt with—if it could be—but it didn't have to be today. He'd only just been freed, and he didn't particularly want to do anything at all right now other than sit here with his sister and assure himself that it was all real.

He certainly didn't want to remember the things that would ruin it all in an instant. But the pain was still there, in the back of his mind and in the base of his chest, ready to pounce at any moment. What kept him from succumbing to it was Jean. Thinking of her, anyhow. She would be here soon, and he couldn't let himself fall apart now. That wouldn't do him any good in trying to think of a way to get Erik back, either.

Time came for the evening meal and Raven still helped him from the cell, but he could cooperate with her much more easily now, of course. And soon enough Hank and Logan were there, taking his weight from her, and poor Hank nearly had a heart attack when Charles smiled tiredly and thanked them.

"Charles! Oh my god, you scared the hell out of—oh my god. Charles?"

"Nice to have you back, Charlie," Logan grinned, smirking at Hank's reaction.

Charles forced away the grimace caused by Hank's sudden movement. "I'm glad to be back."

Hank glared at Logan before looking back and forth between Charles and Raven. "What happened? How did you…?"

Raven sighed. "It's a long story."

It actually hurt more with Hank and Logan on either side and each having an arm, and Charles politely nudged Hank to move off and walk with Raven and let Logan help him. He didn't need as much support anymore as they likely thought, anyhow. After being on his feet a bit now he suspected he could walk on his own if he wanted to. It would just hurt.

"By the way, never do that again," Logan commented after a moment.

Charles let out a breath that might have been a laugh. "I will see what I can do." Logan raised an eyebrow at him, all but an encouragement, and Charles quickly picked up enough from the surface to know that he was quite serious. "I don't plan to," he amended. That seemed to satisfy the other mutant much better, and he nodded.

Thank you for being there for Raven and for my friends, when I couldn't be, Charles told him silently. It means quite a lot.

Logan looked away and shrugged inwardly. You'd've done the same.

That doesn't mean that you had to.

A pause. Yeah. I did.

It happened during dinner. Charles had felt them coming closer since he woke, but the newest group of mutants arrived during dinner. The field teams that had located them returned with them, of course, but Charles chose not to think about what that meant. What he thought about was the fact that Jean was here.

He thought he would have to wait until morning. He thought it would take them that long to get the new prisoners settled, but then the doors on the other end of the cafeteria opened. The ones near the children's tables. It was only children that were brought in, and he supposed that someone, at least, had a bit more sense than most of the humans here. Someone wanted to be sure that the children, at least, ate tonight.

Charles didn't realize that his eyes were damp until Raven nudged him gently. "How many this time?" she asked gently.

He hadn't counted. He'd been focused on the one mind entering with them that he knew more closely than the others. He only shook his head sadly.

No matter how many, it was too many.

Charles!

He pulled in a breath at the voice in his mind.

"I uhm…" He started to stand, pushing himself up using the table. "I'll be right back."

If he could get there.

"Be right back? You're not going anywhere, Charles; sit down," Raven countered. She meant well.

Charles, are you in here? I feel you somewhere close…

"She's here," Charles said shortly. "She's calling me."

Raven blinked once, and then seemed to understand who he meant and started to stand. "Let me help you—"

"What?" Logan questioned. "What's going on?"

The boys were looking at him strangely, too. "I'll explain later," Charles apologized. He glanced at Raven then, and shook his head a bit. "It's all right; I can make it."

She looked back skeptically. "Maybe, but—"

He stepped away from the table, an arm gingerly about his chest. "I can. I need to do this," he said urgently. Raven let him go. She stopped the others when they started to get up to go after him, and he was thankful for that. He would much rather be moving under his own power when he found Jean.

It wasn't easy going, but with the edges of the tables in strict rows as they were there was support when he needed it. He didn't need any direction. He knew where the children sat and that while he could visit them, they weren't allowed outside of the section marked off for them. They were easier to keep up with that way, he supposed, though he didn't precisely like the connotations.

When he was close enough Charles saw the mop of red hair before he saw the rest of her, and before she saw him.

Charles! Where are—?

He swallowed, and came to the edge of the children's section and braced himself against the end of the first table there. Behind you.

The girl turned quickly, eyes widening, and her flaming hair clashed awfully with the brown jumpsuit but it didn't matter. It was Jean. She ran, and Charles gulped back a lump in his throat and lowered himself carefully to his knees before she got there, so they were at eye level when she ran into him and wrapped her arms around his neck.

"Charles!" she cried.

It hurt, when she did that, when she ran into him, but he said nothing. She hadn't run far or fast and the impact wasn't as awful as it could have been. And the last thing he wanted was to burden her or upset her.

"Jean!" He covered his gasp with her name, returning the embrace willingly.

"You're here! We got you out…"

He had to swallow back a sob. "I wish I could say that I'm glad to see you."

"You're not?" she asked, giggling a bit into his shoulder. She started to pull away but he held her where she was for a moment, until he could blink the tears away.

Charles let out a careful breath. "You know what I mean. You shouldn't be here." He sat back on his heels then, and looked at her, and tried to smile because he knew she needed that after what she'd been through. "You're even prettier in person," he told her.

The girl giggled again, but it stopped too soon and she was looking at him quietly.

"What is it?"

She reached out to his face, tracing the dark circles that had been under his eyes for months and what must have been what was left of the bruises from last week. Suddenly she looked so sad for someone so small, and it broke his heart.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I know I'm probably not quite what you expected." When she'd "seen" him, per se, in the link between their minds the first time, she'd seen him the way he'd been before this place existed. Even this time, just earlier today, he didn't think the injures, at least, had translated. He didn't really remember those small details. Maybe none of it had.

Either way, she'd never seen him quite as he was. As he was now, anyway.

Jean shook her head. "It's okay. Doesn't matter what we look like, right?"

Charles smiled a bit. "Did your parents teach you that?"

"Grandma. She takes me to church sometimes, too."

"That's good of her." Jean's fingers still traced across his face gently, and Charles sighed. "Jean…"

"What happened? Why are you hurt?" she asked, voice tightening.

"It doesn't matter. I'll be all right—"

"Does matter! You're still so sad…bad stuff happened but it's all hidden and you won't let me know why."

Bad stuff. It sounded so simple when she put it that way, and she couldn't understand how much it wasn't that simple.

"Yes, a lot of things have happened, Jean. But you wouldn't understand. You're too young, I'm afraid. You may not like to hear that, but I'm keeping the rest of what's happened from you because it's better for you that way. Can you trust me in that?"

Jean looked at him for a long time, until finally she nodded and leaned forward to hug him again, gently this time. "Okay…but you gotta trust me too," she said quietly.

"About what?"

When she pulled back again she took his face between her small hands, and the gesture seemed so much like Raven that Charles almost laughed fondly.

"It's gonna be okay," Jean said then. "It is. You'll be okay. Okay?" And she was as serious as a four-year-old could be.

Charles blinked at her, because it seemed almost as if that assurance had come from somewhere else—from somewhere that knew. "I uhm…"

Jean came close and hugged him once more. "You're gonna be okay. I promise."

He wanted her to be right. God, after everything…he wanted her to be right. He wanted to be able to move without hurting, he wanted to stop worrying if his vision would ever be as pristine as it used to be, he wanted to go a day without fresh guilt eating at him every time he looked at those here with him, and…and he wanted to trust people again. But after what had happened in the yard that night that last seemed impossible.

Though that, of course, was the last thing he would ever let Jean find out about.

Still, he hoped she was right.

Charles wanted to answer, but he couldn't. His throat had clogged too thoroughly. He just held onto Jean, he blinked tears away again, and he hoped.


Erik didn't know why he ended up where he did when he did, caught in the corridor when the buzzer went off and the current group of mutants in the prisoner cafeteria began to stream out guided by the guards. His way was blocked, and it annoyed him though at the same time a small part of him whispered that he needed to be standing here, for some reason or another.

Things like that seemed to happen a lot. Or he thought so. Again, he wasn't sure, and the obscurity of his memory was frustrating. He remembered Shaw telling him that it was all side effects of what had happened to him in the camps as an adolescent, though of course he couldn't remember much of that, either.

He crossed his arms and waited; it wasn't as if he had much else to do—his sole orders were to keep an eye on Stryker, really, and the situation with the telepath. But waiting wasn't something he enjoyed, and Erik was irritated enough when one of the prisoners stopped short just outside the door and stared at him. Two or three others ran into the mutant, grumbled, and went around, and after that the others went around him as well—him and the blue-skinned girl that had stopped with him. She was tugging on his sleeve, but he wasn't moving.

It took a moment, but Erik realized it was the telepath. It was the first time he'd seen him up close, and he hadn't recognized the mutant right away. The girl would be the sister, then. She glanced at him too, but she didn't stare, though it seemed as if maybe she wanted to. She glanced at him more than once.

The telepath was still recovering from injuries, if Erik remembered correctly. He held himself gingerly, and one of the girl's arms was at his back as if to be certain he didn't fall. But why was he staring? He wasn't being discreet about it, either. And his face…there was pain there. Not the physical pain he must be in, but something else. Why...?

And then the mutant was looking him in the eyes, and Erik felt a gentle presence prickling at the edges of his mind.

Erik…?

Erik shook it off quickly, scowling, suddenly angry. Get OUT of my head. The mutant was a prisoner here; shouldn't he show more respect? But apparently that was the problem with this one, if everything he'd heard was true.

The telepath swallowed and looked away abruptly, and let the blue-skinned girl with the orange hair lead him away with the others, blending back into the small crowd heading back to the cells but not quite blending at all. It was slow going for them; the telepath was bent over a bit, an arm around his chest, and he limped a little, and the girl, the sister, stayed with him. Part of Erik wanted to feel sorry for them, and the fact that he didn't know where the feeling came from or why it was suddenly so strong angered him more.

Confusion had been a part of his life for so long that he couldn't help but feel only anger at it now.

Still scowling, Erik watched them go until they were out of sight.

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