Something hurt. Everything hurt. It hurt it hurt it hurt and he couldn't get away from it and what was a gate doing here and his mother was on the floor and Shaw was grinning. Why was Shaw grinning?
Erik jerked awake with a small gasp and lay staring at the ceiling in the room he'd been given, wondering again just what the hell he'd gotten himself into even as he tried to decipher the images he'd seen in his sleep.
Erik looked around quickly, sitting up, but he relaxed when he realized he recognized the voice. Charles?
Oh...are you all right?
I've just come to not long ago and I am feeling much better, thank you. I was checking on you and found you dreaming. It was not pleasant; I hope you don't mind that I woke you.
It's fine. What WAS all of that, anyway?
That you were dreaming about? Charles hesitated before he answered. It's part of the reason you wanted to see me in the first place, really. You want my help.
Erik blinked and let himself drop back onto his back on the bed. So you know that already.
I told you, Erik; I know everything about you now.
He snorted aloud. And that doesn't sound strange at all.
Charles chuckled, and Erik could hear it in his mind before the answer. I'm sorry. But anyhow...I AM willing to help you, Erik, if you are willing to understand what that will mean.
What do you mean?
I mean that...I'm afraid it's so difficult to explain. You feel as if there is something wrong with you, yes?
Yes. Or maybe not so much something wrong as something strange. But even I don't even know what I mean half the time. I just feel like there's something I should know, or...
It's complicated, as I said. I suppose we agree on that much.
I guess we do. Erik sighed and sat up more slowly this time. I suppose you have some idea what it is, then?
I know exactly what it is.
Would you care to enlighten me?
Charles didn't answer immediately. I don't know if it would be wise to tell you this way. I should see you.
And how are we going to manage that? Perhaps thanks to what they think I'm doing no one would be too suspicious if I came to see you, but-
There is no camera directly in our cell, Erik. There are only cameras in the hallways. They are holding too many mutants here to afford bothering with cameras in every cell. No one would see or overhear us, and if anyone did suspect anything I could take care of that. Though granted I don't know when you would be able to come that I would be here in the near future. They will likely take me tomorrow as well-for the next few days, really. This round of tests has just begun...
Erik could feel the telepath's apprehension-something Charles probably hadn't intended to let through-and he winced. They won't come for you. I've convinced them to leave you alone for a while-to convince you that I have some influence, though I don't but...anyhow. They won't come for you. Not for a few weeks, at least.
The intense relief Erik suddenly felt from Charles made his throat tight.
I see, Charles thought faintly.
Erik swallowed. God, Charles, what else have they done to you that I don't know about?
Any emotions he was feeling from the telepath abruptly cut off, as if Charles realized what he'd been doing and hadn't meant to, as Erik had suspected. It isn't important, he answered evenly.
Seeing as he had just met the man and really had no right in intrude anyway, Erik let it drop. Should I come tomorrow then?
Yes, I suppose you should. I will explain everything that I can then, and you can decide if you do indeed wish my help.
Fair enough, Erik agreed. He laid down once more and determined to at least attempt to sleep again, though he paused in mid-movement when he realized he didn't know how to end a conversation with a telepath.
Charles chuckled in his mind once more. Good night, Erik.
"What was that last night?" Raven asked on the way to breakfast the next morning.
"What do you mean?" Charles asked innocently.
She looked at him and raised an eyebrow. "Really? You're going to ask me that? I'm back in my own bunk trying to sleep and all of a sudden I get hammered with enough emotion to bulldoze a rainforest. Then it's gone just ask quickly. What the hell?" Anything completely out of the ordinary like that worried her, mostly because she was always afraid it had something to do with what they were doing to him in the labs.
"It was nothing," he said quickly. "I was speaking with Erik; that's all." Raven continued to stare at him as they reached the cafeteria and took their place in the line, and finally he relented, letting out a breath before he answered. "He told me that he's convinced them not to come for me for a while, at least-part of the plan to make them think he is doing what they think he is, earning my trust..."
Relief. It had been relief. It had been so sudden and strong that she hadn't been able to determine what it was when it hit her the night before. Raven swallowed once, trying to cover the intensity of her own relief. At least she understood now.
"That's good," she sighed. "Hmm. Maybe I do like this guy."
Charles chuckled a bit, and they made their way through the line and found their usual table at the edge of the room at the far side, where Hank, Sean, and Darwin already sat. They sat down to greet their friends, but Charles, predictably, excused himself after only a moment and took his bowl of horribly cooked oatmeal with him.
Raven didn't have to watch him to know where he was going. The children that were here were let outside in a different yard, but everyone shared the same cafeteria. It was the only place they really saw the kids, and Charles didn't let a meal go by without checking on them-and, often, giving the younger ones most of his food. They were growing and coming more into their powers and needed more to eat, but of course those who ran this place didn't care. They kept everyone alive and left it at that. Usually Raven and Hank and Darwin and Sean sent some of theirs with him too, to give to them.
He didn't always go to the children's tables alone, but Raven could no longer go with him every time. She didn't have the capacity for it. It broke her heart to see them there at all. The youngest was only six years old, Charles had told her. He had also mentioned before that, at the very least, they were cared for a bit better than everyone else, given things to entertain them, but...it didn't change the fact that they were imprisoned.
They loved Charles. The younger ones hung on him when he went to see them and for some of the older ones it seemed it was the only time they smiled, they looked so somber the rest of the time. She knew he tried to encourage them, to give them hope...and often it worked. They saw the same quality about him that had led her to trust him instantly as a child, that had kept her from leaving after he took her in for fear of being rejected again, eventually. She had never feared that from him, and from the moment she'd met Charles his smile and his welcoming heart had assured her that life could be better.
And it had been. Until now. But that wasn't Charles's fault, no matter how much he blamed himself.
Raven looked up in time to see her brother kiss a small girl on the cheek and stand to come back as she let go of his neck. Charles made his way by the wall back to their table, and she watched him. He was bringing his bowl back with him, but she could already see that it was empty. She scowled to herself, and was upset further when he paused and leaned into the wall for a moment. He pulled in a few even breaths, a hand over his stomach, and that was the face he made when he was nauseated from hunger and the smell of even the badly-cooked food in the cafeteria wasn't helping.
She recognized it easily enough by by now. Even though all of them helped in keeping the children well enough fed, Charles still ended up eating much less than the rest of them no matter how much they tried to make sure he kept himself fed. Raven thought quickly back over the last two or three days and could not specifically remember him eating anything.
Damnit. It was so hard to keep him in check. To make sure he got enough. He was always sneaking off across the cafeteria when she wasn't looking, telling her he'd eaten something first before giving it away even when he hadn't...damn him. He ate enough to keep himself alive. He wasn't that stupid but...just damn him.
"Guys..." she said simply.
The boys stopped talking and glanced at her, and she nodded to the wall where Charles had paused. His eyes were closed at the moment, thank god, and he didn't notice them looking.
When they turned around again they reacted wordlessly, upending what they hadn't eaten yet into Raven's bowl, which she slid into Charles's place at the table beside her.
"Thanks," she said quietly. They only nodded, and went back to whatever they'd been talking about before. Hank, on her other side, reached for her hand beneath the table and squeezed it. She squeezed back, and kept hold of it, and he didn't mind. He never minded.
Charles didn't notice the bowl at his place until he'd sat down, and even then he just stared at it dumbly for a moment before looking up in confusion.
"Eat," Raven insisted. "I can't remember the last time you had what passes for a full meal here, and I don't think you've eaten anything at all in days. Besides, it's not so bad today. Not that you would know, since you didn't even try it."
"I-I'm all right. I was going to eat something tonight..."
She glanced down at his lap. "Charles, your hands," she said softly.
He brought them up, half clasped together, and they were trembling. It wasn't horribly noticeable if you weren't really looking, but Raven looked. They did that when he waited too long to eat. Charles just looked at them for a moment...got that faraway look he got sometimes, as if wondering how everything had come to all of this. "Yes, well..."
"Do you want your new friend seeing you like that?" He'd told her Erik was coming sometime today. "Besides, if you're going to help him you'll need what strength you can get. That starts with food, you know."
Finally Charles looked up at her. "Did you...?"
"I ate. We all ate."
He nodded in understanding. It wasn't the first time this had happened, but he had to be sure, every time. They all knew by now not to try to get away with going a meal without eating at least something themselves; he would not eat unless they had.
Finally Charles let out a breath and pulled the bowl toward him. "All right...you're right...thank you..."
"For someone so smart you are really, really stupid," Raven told him, not for the first time. Charles only responded by squeezing her shoulders and kissing the side of her head. She scowled again once he'd let go of her. "Don't kiss me when I'm mad at you."
"Why are you angry with me?" he asked between bites.
"One, you still won't eat enough. Two, you got yourself in trouble again the day before yesterday and I'm still ticked off enough about that. I should rip Sean's ridiculous hair out."
"Your hair is bright orange and his is ridiculous?"
Raven slapped his arm, fully intending it as a playful gesture, but he grunted in sudden pain and bent forward over the table. She'd forgotten that the whip had caught his upper arm this time.
"-s all right," he said quickly. He was still holding that arm gingerly. The others were looking at them now.
"You okay, man?" Darwin asked.
"Charles?" Hank questioned.
Sean's eyebrows went up. "What happened?"
"Nothing, nothing. I'm fine. Bumped my arm; it's fine..."
Hank and Darwin didn't look convinced, and Sean was looking guilty again. Good. He was a good kid, but he just...well, he was himself.
Raven didn't say anything else until the boys finally focused elsewhere once again. "How's your back?" she asked gently.
Charles paused with a spoonful of food halfway to his mouth. He shrugged minutely with the shoulder that hadn't been slapped. "It wasn't so awful this time," he answered evasively.
The feigned nonchalance made Raven too angry-not at him, exactly, but in general-to say anything in return, so she didn't. She left her brother alone to eat and leaned into Hank's shoulder instead. Hank took the cue to let go of her hand beneath the table and slip his arm around her shoulders instead. She let her head rest on one of his, and stayed that way until the bell rang and everyone filed back toward the cell blocks.
The only thing that made her feel any better was remembering that clean clothes would be waiting for them when they made it back to their cells this morning, and tomorrow there would be showers. That always helped, just a little, and at least Charles wouldn't have to meet his new friend again in that torn jumpsuit.
"I heard about what you did yesterday."
Erik stopped in his tracks and turned to find Agent MacTaggert behind him in the corridor, hands on hips. "Did you now?"
"Is it true that Shaw and Stryker want you to get the telepath to trust you?" Most people wouldn't have noticed, but she twitched, just slightly, when she said 'the telepath,' as if it were unpleasant to speak of him that way.
Erik noticed, and he glanced about for anyone who might overhear before drawing closer to her and answering. "It's true, though that doesn't mean I'm doing it for them." He paused, hoping what he was about to add would help her to understand that he truly was on her side. "And his name is Charles."
That seemed to do the trick. MacTaggert startled, and then her eyes grew sad and her expression weary. "I know. But no one else seems to care anymore."
"But you care."
She glared suddenly. "Do you? Or are you taking your cover too far?"
Erik looked at her intently, not knowing how else to convey that he was serious. "I care. What I'm pretending is that I'm pretending." If that made any sense. It had sounded less ridiculous in his head.
Agent MacTaggert narrowed her eyes at him for a moment, but finally she relaxed. "Thank god."
Erik nodded curtly and relaxed a little himself, and then allowed himself to give in to a bit of curiosity. "I take it you knew him before all of this?"
She nodded. "For a little while. But I haven't been able to speak to him since they turned on him-locked him and his sister away. I see him, sometimes, from a distance, when I'm actually on base, but he won't even reach out to me telepathically. I know he's trying to protect me, so they won't know I don't agree with this, but...god, it gets so frustrating. Every day I hate it that he's in here. I hate it that they're all here. I hate it that I can't do anything."
"Why can't you?"
"I have no power here. I'm on a field team. I'm just the CIA version of a grunt. I couldn't really do anything any more than you could."
"You're sure about that?"
MacTaggert shrugged helplessly. "Yes. No. I don't know! All I know is that I've been looking for a way for a year and a half now, and I haven't found it."
And the more he thought about it-all of it; the labs, the whips, the awful food, the children, Charles and his back and god the emotions that had seeped through when he'd talked to the telepath last night-the more Erik knew he really did want to find a way to free the mutants here, as much as this woman did. "We'll find it."
"We?" she questioned skeptically.
"If he cares about you as much as it sounds like he does Charles may be incredibly unhappy at my involving you, but I have a feeling that every little bit is going to help."
"Help with what?"
Erik grinned, though he wasn't quite sure where it came from. "We're going to do it. We're going to get these people out of here."
When he sensed Erik nearing their cell Charles was glad he'd eaten. He was more awake, more focused, and he would need that if he was going to explain to Erik what was happening to him in the best way possible. Without scaring him off.
But Raven had known that, of course. Sometimes he couldn't help but remember what she'd said to him-thought to him-that night so many months ago, when they were left together after the first time he had been forced to use Cerebro against his will.
You've taken care of me all my life, Charles. My turn.
Sometimes it seemed it had been her turn ever since.
When the door opened Charles was already on his feet, pacing a bit because he had nothing else to do. Raven was up on her bunk. Erik stepped inside and dismissed the guard, and the man left and shut the door.
"Erik," Charles smiled.
Erik smiled back a bit, face otherwise unreadable. "Well, I'm here."
"Indeed you are. Please, sit down." He motioned to the bottom bunk, because there was nowhere else. "I'm afraid you really might want to be sitting down when it comes to what I must say."
Erik looked at him warily for a moment, but then he relented and crossed to the bunk. He didn't sit yet, however, as he glanced up at Raven. "I don't believe we've officially met." He held out hand. "Erik Lehnsherr."
Raven slid forward on her bunk to take the offered hand and shake it briefly. "Raven. Or rather, freak overprotective shapeshifting blue adopted sister of the telepath, as I'm known these days."
Charles snorted in amusement. "Thank you for that." Their flat at Oxford, Raven ready for bed, Charles studying as always. "You are my oldest friend." An eyeroll. "I'm your only friend." A smirk that became a laugh. "Thank you for that." What had happened to THOSE days?
Erik smirked and sat down, but he quickly became serious again. "You know what's wrong with me, then?"
Right to the point, then. But then again, he knew Erik had wanted an answer to these questions about himself for some time now. "There is nothing wrong with you, my friend. However, there is something quite wrong with your mind, though that is not your fault either."
"Meaning what? What do you mean by something wrong with my mind?"
"I mean that I am afraid it has been tampered with. Quite a bit, and quite often." Charles let out a breath and came to sit on the other end of the bunk, pinning Erik with his eyes. "Your past is not quite what you think it is, my friend."
Erik frowned. "But...how would that even be possible?"
"Only a telepath could do such a thing."
"There are others like you?"
"There must be. There is at least one, and I believe her name is Emma Frost."
Erik blinked. "Emma?"
Charles nodded. "Think about it, Erik. You've always felt that she knows things that she should not, much too often. Someone with telepathic ability has reordered your memories and continued to keep that reordering under maintenance. It would have to be someone who is often around you. The only conclusion I can come to is that Ms. Frost is this person."
"But that would make her a mutant, Charles. Wouldn't Shaw know?"
"Of course he would. He does. The fact is, Shaw is a mutant as well."
Charles shook his head. "I'm sorry. I'm moving too quickly."
"I'll say. What are you saying has been changed about my memory? I think I ought to understand that first."
Charles winced. "Well, it's...it's the fact that you don't remember the worst of it, Erik, and I'm sorry, but there are crucially important details there. Details that...not knowing them...you don't know who you are, entirely."
"What kind of details?"
"I'm not certain how much I should tell you before you've agreed to let me help you uncover them..."
"It's all right. Just tell me. I trust you."
Charles looked at him for a long moment, thinking. One thing he could not tell Erik before he knew it for himself was that he was a mutant as well.
"I uhm...much of it has to do with Shaw," he said finally. "Shaw and what happened to you in the concentration camps. It isn't that you don't remember much of what happened to you there thanks to childhood trauma. It's that it was covered up."
Erik still looked extremely skeptical. "And what sort of mutant is Shaw, supposedly?"
"That is difficult to determine from your memories alone-"
"Memories I can't access right now."
"Exactly. And I can't quite determine exactly what his power is, but I'm afraid he is quite powerful. And why this scheme of having other mutants rounded up and such I can't fathom...He is betraying his own kind, beyond the fact that all of this is wrong to begin with," Charles scowled.
Erik was frowning. "I did always think he had some sort of ulterior motive to his interest in mutants. It never occurred to me he might be one."
"He hides very well, and he has Emma to fix any mistakes. And then there is you..." It didn't make any sense why Shaw would hide Erik's powers from him, especially after all of the trouble he had gone to to strengthen them. Killing Erik's mother hurting him hurting him not leaving him alone ever ever ever...Charles repressed shudder.
"What about me? Why would he need to cover up anything in my memory? Or have Emma do it, or...whatever."
"Considering everything he did have covered up, I would love to know the answer to that question myself. But I'm afraid only he knows."
Erik stood quickly, running a hand through his hair. "And you're completely serious about this. All of it."
"I would never lie to you, Erik. You have been lied to enough in your lifetime."
Erik stopped the pacing he'd begun long enough to give Charles a long stare. "You know this sounds insane."
"I am aware of that, yes."
"As long as you know..." He started to pace again. "What, then? What are you proposing to do? Use your own powers to uncover it all?"
"And what would I gain by that?"
"I've told you; there are things there that you should know..."
"About what?" Charles didn't answer, and Erik glared at him. "I want to help you, Charles. All of you. I want to do what I can to get you out of here, and I'm not going to agree to let you uncover more bad memories that will just get in my way unless there's a good reason for it. Unless whatever it is I don't know could be useful I need to be focused-not trying to assimilate the amount of new information I think you're trying to tell me there is."
"Not new information-old information."
"Whatever the hell it is!"
He was losing control of this, quickly. "I believe what it is that you don't know about yourself may be quite useful, actually."
Erik scoffed. "How? And I still don't understand why Shaw or Emma would bother to hide anything in the first place."
"To keep you complacent for the time being, perhaps. To make you more easily controlled. It's the only theory I have at the moment."
"You didn't answer the other question."
"How there could be anything truly useful hidden away in your memory?" Erik only nodded once, and Charles didn't know what to say then. Would he have no choice but to spit it out? He stood, exchanging a glance with Raven. "Erik...are you certain that you want me to simply tell you? It...it's quite likely you will not believe me."
Erik threw his arms up in the air. "I don't believe any of this, Charles. I trust you, and I want to, but I don't. You might as well."
Charles studied him for a moment, the torn expression and the desperate need to know and not to wonder anymore. And...oh. Now that he focused on Erik more closely Charles realized that he already had an idea where this was going. It was never something Erik had considered before, but he was wondering now. That thing, that something that he had always felt inside him...what if...just maybe...
"It's power, Erik," Charles said quietly. "You have power. You are one of us. You're a mutant."
Erik stared at his new friend for the longest time, trying once again to figure out if he were joking.
"A rather powerful one at that, or you could be. Don't let it go to your head."
I'm trying to KEEP my head.
Charles smiled, and Erik supposed he'd heard that.
It was crazy. A small part of him had begun to really wonder, though he wouldn't let himself think it, but...the handcuffs. The railing.
"Metal," he said suddenly. And just saying it, a part of him felt a little more complete.
Now Charles was really grinning. "Yes. Exactly. Thankfully you have been away from Shaw and Ms. Frost long enough for those incidents to have happened. If Ms. Frost were here they would have been covered up or glossed over already. It's what they've been doing to you for years, Erik."
Oh god...that was why he'd never left. He'd never known why he didn't just go. Emma. It had to have been Emma, all this time. Covering up the small things that happened that would have told him he was different. Keeping him confused, complacent, as Charles had suggested-unable to leave...
Erik started to back toward the door. It was too much.
"Erik? Erik, it's all right." Charles must have sensed it, because he continued with, "We do not have to do this right now. You can let me know when you're ready."
Erik nodded quickly.
"Erik?" Charles started toward him, but Erik held out a hand.
"Wait. Wait, just..." He had to get...somewhere else. He had to think about this before...
"All right..." Charles was saying. He looked concerned, and Erik didn't know how to tell him not to be.
"Just give me...I'll be back," Erik managed.
And he left.
Oh god. It was all true, wasn't it? He'd known Shaw was probably crazy, but...and Emma. And he was a mutant? It was impossible to believe, but it felt right at the same time.
Erik got little sleep that night, tossing and turning and trying to think. When he did sleep he dreamed-dreamed he was locked up here like everyone else, with the mutants. The other mutants. Because he was one of them. Or he dreamed that he was still free but they knew. All of them knew he was one of them, and they hated him because he was free.
He woke sweating, wondering why his dreams had ended with his mother reading him a story as a child, her gentle cadence lulling him to sleep. During those many days...the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help...(ESV)
Erik slipped into the cafeteria that morning on a mission, and as he lingered by the wall again he found Charles and Raven and their friends across the room and caught Charles's eye.
Erik? Charles asked.
If I let you do this nothing is ever going to be the same again, is it?
No...I don't think it will be.
Erik swallowed, but not out of fear. I'm ready.