Soon after everyone returned to their cells from the morning meal Erik came, like he had the day before. But this time it was with a purpose in his step, and there was no awkward, uncertain moment once the hall guard closed the door behind him.
"What do we need to do?" he asked.
Charles motioned to the bunk again. "For this it really would be much better to be sitting. I'm afraid it will not be a pleasant experience for either of us."
Raven, arms crossed where she stood a few paces away, frowned. "What does that mean?"
He winced apologetically and spoke to Erik in answer. "As I've told you, many of these memories that you cannot access…you aren't going to like them."
Erik frowned, but he sat down, on the edge of the bunk, his body taught with apprehension—not the kind that would keep him from wanting to do this, but the kind that meant he was still a bit wary. "And you're sure you can do this?"
Charles nodded, but inside a small part of him wondered if he was strong enough. But he would not tell Erik that, and certainly not Raven. Meanwhile, he turned to his sister before he sat. "Raven, whatever happens…don't be alarmed. There may seem to be reason to be, but I promise you we will both be all right. However, going through some of Erik's memories will be…difficult." It was so hard to choose a word. His heart ached when he thought of the past Erik had been through.
Then he sat, facing his new friend, and Erik swallowed. "Are you absolutely certain about this?" Charles asked first.
Erik nodded; he did not back down. "I'm sure." He paused. "How is this going to work?"
Charles settled two fingers against his temple and let out a breath. "All you need do is relax, and try not to fight me. Part of you may want to, and Ms. Frost may have put up defenses. In any case, remain calm and let me take care of what may come up. You will have enough to contend with in the memories you'll be regaining." He wanted to make this as easy for Erik as he could.
Another nod from Erik, and Charles nodded in return and closed his eyes to focus initially, to push in past the barriers in Erik's mind to the things that he didn't know. Charles could get in easily enough, but when he began to attempt to draw the memories out the barriers hardened behind him like ice and sudden pain lanced through his skull. He grunted, doubling over, but with his free hand he braced himself on the thin mattress and kept his focus.
"Charles—!" Two voices at once. Raven and Erik.
"Defenses. Just as I thought," he breathed, swallowing. "I can get in but they are keeping the memories from getting out. I'll have to break them. I…give me time."
Hands on his arms. Another on his shoulder. Dimly he knew Erik was bracing him and Raven held his shoulder from behind, but he was in Erik's mind now. He let go of the memories he'd tried to extract and focused on the barriers instead. A weak point. He needed a weak point.
He found it, in a memory Erik still had half of—a shard of pain that cut through and lodged in the wall, and he didn't want it to be the first thing Erik remembered of what he had lost, but there was no choice. Outside the wall, the Nazi soldiers and Erik's mother and the gunshot and his mother falling…inside the wall, the image of Shaw holding the gun. Shaw smiling. The coin. The reason any of it had happened at all. Pushing at it all pressed the wall, bent it, and Charles forced the memory and its hidden parts out into Erik's conscious mind, leaving a gaping hole in the barrier.
I'm sorry, my friend; there was no other way…
Charles had not left Erik's mind, but his eyes opened, and he saw Erik gasp, saw his eyes grow suddenly damp. Shaw. SHAW?
In the memory that played Erik the child and his frantic thoughts. Mama Mama please get up…
The pain. The anger. In reality Erik's hands tightened on Charles's arms and he had to let go, had to grip the edge of the bunk instead, breathing hard as he fought tears. Charles felt his own already, on his face.
In Erik's mind the memories drifted to the rift in the barrier, but it would take time to for them to spill out on their own. They didn't have that. Charles went back for them, pulling them to the opening, widening the tear as he pushed and pulled them through.
What Shaw had done to him. Strengthening his powers. Forcing him to learn to control them. And it hurt it hurt why did it always have to hurt? Charles tried to keep some of the pain and anger back, tried to give Erik only what he needed. But everything was so entwined that it was nearly impossible, and he could not sift through every moment for things that could be left out.
And if he did that he would really be no better than Shaw and Emma Frost, would he? So he stopped trying, very reluctantly, and just let Erik have the truth back. What he could do. Who he was. What he'd felt before Shaw had met Ms. Frost and she had taken Erik's identity from him.
The small incidences—the things since the camps. The things that would have told him he was different. He gave Erik those back, too.
Everything…he hid everything, Erik despaired, and there was a tear or two on his face now too, though Charles wasn't certain just when that had happened. Kept me from leaving without me even knowing it. He caged me just as well as everyone here is caged. And the bed began to shake under them, and Charles was a bit afraid Raven's bunk might fall on their heads.
Erik, calm your mind…
He killed my mother! Flashes, everything else Shaw had done beyond that—so much more, and Erik knew it now. Soon his face was streaked with tears and he was shaking, and Charles rushed to calm him as the beds lifted off of the floor and Raven gasped and pulled at his free arm, trying get him to move off of the bunk and away from Erik. He gripped her arm in return to steady himself, but he didn't move.
Erik, please! You MUST calm your mind!
"He killed my mother," Erik repeated aloud, angrily. "He killed my mother…" And the bed was still shaking, the metal groaning, and they still were not on the ground. It was only a few inches, but it was alarming enough.
"Charles!" Raven shouted.
"Erik, stop!" Charles said forcefully, aloud and in his mind. "I know that you are upset, and I'm sorry, but you must CALM YOUR MIND."
Erik blinked and looked him, chest heaving, and the bed dropped back to the floor and Raven, unbalanced, dropped into it behind her brother.
"Charles…" Erik trailed.
Charles let out a breath and did what he could in Erik's mind to soothe him, to smooth over the memories that were now bumping into one another as they floated free for the first time in years. Then he extricated himself, and let his fingers fall away from his temple, and swallowed. Suddenly he was dizzy, but he gripped the edge of the bunk again and fought it.
"I am so sorry, my friend…"
Erik sobbed once. "It was all him. He killed her, he…he did things. To me. To draw out my powers…"
"I know," Charles answered softly. "I know, Erik." He tried to reach for his friend's shoulder to squeeze it, and he found it but by then everything was fading out around him and his head ached and…oh…still dizzy. His hand slipped from Erik's shoulder and he dropped to the bed, moaning once.
"Whoa!" Raven cried.
They pulled him back up, and Charles steadied himself and waved it off. "It's fine. I'm fine." He didn't tell them he felt rather drained, but he could feel Raven worrying it anyway.
I'm only tired, he assured her silently.
I know. But you're always tired. I'm tired of you being tired.
So was it was worth it. Charles had to admit to himself that he had almost given up hope, but now…now here was this man who, given time, could help them. Could end all of this.
But it would have been worth it just to have Erik as a friend.
Charles looked paler than he had before they'd begun, and Erik was concerned but it was clear that Charles didn't want any displays of it from either him or his sister. Not even when he made a face and quickly pulled himself up from the bunk to dart around the screen that must have hidden the toilet and sink. Erik and Raven heard retching from the other side, and Raven grimaced.
"Great. There goes what he did eat."
The way she'd worded that was not comforting. "What?"
She glanced at him as she stood and quickly looked away again. "Never mind." She went to the screen but didn't go around, crossing her arms uneasily. "Charles? Are you okay in there?"
Charles coughed one last time, spit, and was quiet for a moment before he cleared his throat and answered weakly. "I'm fine."
Erik looked at Raven, eyebrows up in question, and she sighed and came back to lean against the edge of the bunks before she spoke softly. "It's been a while since he's done something that intense," she explained with a sigh. "Technically we're not allowed to use our powers here, obviously. He could do more but he's been too afraid to. If they catch him or suspect him of trying to influence anything they've said they would hurt me, or our friends, and he won't risk that. So I guess he's out of practice."
Erik's stomach turned, and he grimaced. He didn't know what to say to that, but he knew he was grateful for what Charles had done for him. It was going to take some time to assimilate it all, but he was grateful.
When Charles emerged from behind the screen Raven went to him—offered support in getting him back to the bunk that he refused. "Raven, really; I'm all right." He sat down again and let out a breath before he looked up at Erik once more.
"Are you all right, my friend?"
Erik didn't know how to explain, so he reached toward the wall. A small bolt unscrewed itself from the metal near the floor and came to him. He held it floating and spinning slowly above his hand, staring at it in awe and wondering how he had lived without this.
"The memories are…they are painful, but…I feel whole now. I know I wasn't before. This is what was missing."
He glanced at Charles, and the telepath was smiling at him, happy for him. Erik smiled back, just a little, and let the bolt fall into his hand. It made no difference whether or not it went back into the wall, and he pocketed it. He sat for a moment, quiet, and he knew both Charles and Raven were watching him. But a thought was taking shape in his mind, and he had to be sure it made sense.
Erik frowned in concentration. "My powers, they…you were right. They could be useful. More than useful." He looked at Charles quickly. "I could get all of you out of here. This place is mostly metal. Metal and concrete reinforced by metal. If I could practice, strengthen my powers further…" Charles was grinning a bit now, and Erik raised an eyebrow. "Is that why you helped me?" Part of him ached at the thought that maybe this man had reached out to him only to save his people—their people, he had to remind himself—but he wouldn't have blamed him.
"I helped you because you needed my help. Because I wanted to," Charles assured him quickly, scattering those fears. "The fact that you might be able to help us crossed my mind only later."
And Erik knew he wasn't lying.
But he didn't know what to do now, and Charles must have picked up on it. "You should go," he said gently. "You have quite a lot to sift through."
Erik nodded absently. "Right…" He got up to go, but remembered something before he reached the door and turned back. "Charles? I've met someone else here, who seems to be on our side. I believe you know her. An Agent MacTaggert?"
Charles looked up sharply. "Moira?"
"I uhm…actually I haven't gotten her first name yet…" He watched Charles narrow his eyes for a moment, and he supposed he was searching Erik's mind for the face.
"Moira," Charles said again a moment later, this time in confirmation. It came out quietly, sadly even though Charles seemed to try to cover that, and Erik couldn't help but wonder what might have happened between those two.
"You do know her."
Charles didn't appear to know just how to answer. "Yes, I do. Or I did. I haven't spoken to her since all of this…escalated. I uhm…"
"She tells me that's because you've been trying to protect her."
"Well…yes, actually." Charles winced and let out a breath, his eyes pained. "Is there a reason you've brought this up?" he asked uncomfortably. Everything about his body language screamed that he did NOT want to be talking about this, and Erik backed down quickly in remorse.
"I thought I could, but I just wanted to be absolutely sure that I can trust her."
Charles nodded quickly. "Yes, yes of course you can. I promise you that she can be trusted implicitly."
Erik nodded in thanks and turned to go, but Charles called after him.
Please do not put her in danger. The anxiety in that statement alone was enough to make Erik swallow hard.
I'm not going to make her do anything, Charles. She can make her own decisions.
He looked back again, and all he said aloud was, "When should I come back?"
Charles relaxed a little. "Whenever you'd like. Unfortunately, I don't believe we'll be going anywhere."
Now Erik was the one to make a face. "I feel awful leaving you here. I did before, but knowing now that I'm one of you…"
Charles smiled gently. "Don't feel that way. We need you out there, Erik. You are where you need to be."
All Erik could do was hope that was true.
Erik came most days, and he and Charles and Raven talked, and Charles helped Erik as he re-learned everything he once had about how to control his powers. There was not much they could do in the cell, but Erik practiced elsewhere, apparently—in his own room, outside the base when he could think of an excuse to get away for a few hours…
From what Raven could tell it was slightly slow going with their limited resources and lack of ability to access other venues. But Erik was progressing. It would not be agonizingly long before he was where he needed to be, though it could very well be months.
She didn't mind that so much, though, as she watched how Charles's friendship with the man revitalized her brother with a vengeance. He smiled more. He laughed. More than the weak chuckles that had been all he could muster recently, until now.
He didn't really eat more, damn him, but he looked healthier anyway. And Erik brought food, sometimes—things he could sneak in in his jacket or his pockets; things he could easily spirit away from the personnel dining hall without notice. That helped, some. Charles was reluctant to take any of it at first, of course, because Erik could not help everyone, but he and Raven managed to convince Charles that if this plan of escape was going to succeed that he would need to be at full strength, as well. They didn't know exactly what problems they might run into, and Charles's abilities would be useful too.
Erik and Charles seemed to be well-matched in intellect, though Erik of course had less formal training, but Raven was glad of it either way—that Charles had someone else to talk to. Hank was the only other intellectual person in their inner circle, and he had different interests. With Erik, though, Charles could talk for hours. They often were up late into the night, talking quietly long after Raven had gone up into her own bunk for bed. Soon enough she had become well-used to being lulled to sleep by their soft voices below.
Part of her hoped that Charles could be happier forever, but she should have known it was useless. Maybe Stryker had agreed to keep him out of the labs for a while, but they weren't going to just shut down usual operations. She should have known that. It shouldn't have come as a shock when they came to take him to Cerebro, but it did.
Charles wasn't as surprised as she was, but he fought anyway. More than usual. He never made it easy for them—within reason, of course, because he didn't want anyone hurt because of him—but this time he struggled until one of them outright decked him.
Raven shouted, but she could do nothing with a gun trained on her, as one always was when they came to take him anywhere. That, and Charles had long ago made her promise not to make too much trouble. He didn't want anything to happen to her.
The soldiers pulled Charles to his feet again, and he was unsteady now, and they all but dragged him out and shut the door behind them, leaving Raven alone and upset.
And Erik, with spectacularly bad timing, showed up not ten minutes later. He was already wide-eyed when the guard let him in and left. "He said Charles isn't here? Where is he?" he asked worriedly.
Raven, sitting angrily against the wall, huffed and got to her feet. "Cerebro," she answered shortly.
Erik scowled. "Stryker said they would leave him alone!"
"Yeah, well, apparently that only meant the labs."
"This is ridiculous…"
"Cerebro is how they find us," Raven reminded him. "Did you really think they'd stop making him use it and let themselves run out of coordinates just because you suggested it?"
They were both silent for a long moment, until Raven spoke again. "Today isn't a good day, Erik. He'll be depressed when he gets back. He always is."
Erik glared at the floor for a while before he looked up again. "Is there anything I can do? What…I don't know, cheers him up?"
Raven thought about that for a moment. "Not much, anymore. Sometimes I can. You do." She paused; thought again. "He likes chess."
Erik hated the staff and personnel dining hall at the facility. If he could have eaten with the other mutants he would have. But he had no choice about it. He had no choice but to eat in the same room with the likes of Stryker and his minions and the guards who laughed and sneered too much.
He ate alone, and though he had never been one to each a lot before he ate less now. He couldn't eat more. Maybe it was because he was too distracted, focusing on gaining control of his powers again, and sometimes he wondered if it was because he knew that the other mutants didn't get as much as they should. And he had quickly picked up on Charles's behavior—Raven's offhand comments and what he saw when he roamed the edge of the prisoner cafeteria. He was supposed to be observing, after all, so no one questioned him about it.
It was upsetting, to say the least, and he understood now why Raven was ever so concerned for her brother. He understood why she had been so unhappy when he'd thrown up what little breakfast he'd eaten the day he had helped Erik uncover his memories. He understood, too, though, why Charles did what he did.
"I'm responsible for them," Charles had told him one night, as they'd stayed up into the night in discussion. Raven had long since gone to sleep. "All of them. It's my fault that they're here."
"That's a heavy load to bear, Charles. Are you sure you deserve it?"
He grimaced. 'There is no one else to carry it. Even if I don't deserve it that is enough to make it mine."
The bolt Erik had pulled from the wall that first day sat spinning absently in his hand, and he looked at it for a long moment, trying to think of a good way to change the subject—to get Charles away from those thoughts. "You know, more than anything I think I'm relieved that I'm one of you—that I'm not one of them." Charles blinked at him, waiting for an explanation that he probably already knew.
"I never really had a problem being human, but when I thought I was that was all I knew. And then I came here, and I saw all of this…" Erik motioned around them to the cell, the facility—both the passive and the abject cruelty occurring within its walls. "What they're doing to all of you in here is so wrong I'm glad I'm not one of them. I would be ashamed if I was."
"Not all humans are like Stryker," Charles reminded him. He meant Moira.
"Perhaps not, but enough of them are. It makes me wonder what we're going to do when we're out of here. Getting all of you out may be the goal, but what then? Maybe much of the world doesn't know that mutants exist, but they will. And when they do they will hate us and fear us just as much as the people here do."
"You don't know that."
Erik hadn't meant for this string of conversation to turn so dark, but now he had to make his opinion known. "If Americans are no better than Nazis then who is, Charles? Hitler's regime locked my people away, murdered them, and this is no better than that. The conditions may be a little better and they may not be killing anyone yet, but who's to say they won't? They are no better than the Nazis. They only think they are because they don't think they have to call us people."
Charles scowled and stared at his clasped hands for a moment. "I know that, Erik. But…we cannot give up on them. There are other people like Moira out there. I know there are."
And Erik had let the argument stop there for the time being, because as much as he was beginning to hate the humans here…part of him wanted to believe that Charles was right.
Moira was the only thing that made the personnel dining hall more tolerable. When they crossed paths he allowed her to sit with him, and when he wasn't too deep in thought they spoke. Not too much, of course—they could not allow anyone to think that the fact that they were at the same table was more than mere coincidence. But Erik kept her updated on how Charles and Raven were doing.
He had not told her yet that he was a mutant himself. Perhaps he did trust her, thanks to Charles's assurance and his own judgment as well, but it was safer that she didn't know. The fewer who knew, the better. All she knew was that he was working on something—something that could result in the freedom of the mutants here. But they didn't talk about that.
Charles knew he spoke to Moira on occasion, but he had not yet made the choice to send her any sort of message through Erik. Not that he would even have needed to. With her on base now, he could have reached out to her telepathically from where he was as he had the night he'd spoken to Erik in his room. They still did that, sometimes, when Erik was practicing and needed help in focusing.
But Charles still would not contact Moira, from what the woman told him, and Charles would not talk to Erik about any of it either.
All of this was on Erik's mind when he left Charles and Raven's cell that morning without having seen his friend, and Moira was the only person he knew to go to for help in the idea of trying procure a chess set. He planned to do it, somehow, because Raven had suggested it and it was the only thing he could do. He could find Stryker and shout at him about this—about dragging Charles off to Cerebro anyway, despite their agreement—but what good would it do?
Granted, he would probably do that later anyway, but for now he was more concerned with Charles.
Moira already knew that they had brought Charles to Cerebro today. She was looking for Erik while he was looking for her, and they all but collided in the corridor. When Erik told her what he wanted to do her eyebrows went up, and she motioned for him to follow her. "I think I can help you."
She led him back to the residential hallways, and down one with doors much closer together than the ones in the hallway where Erik's room was. "You live on base?" he asked.
"Not all the time. Just when I'm here too late to go home."
"What exactly do you do here, anyway?"
Her expression hardened. "When I'm not in the field helping them trap mutants that I can't help enough? I'm here crunching data. Or whatever the hell else they want me to do."
She stopped at a door that had a number on it—they all had numbers, not names—and she pulled a small key out of her pocket and let them in, turning on the light. The room was tiny—not much more than a closet, really, as bedrooms go.
"It's better than the barracks for the guards," she shrugged, when Erik commented on it. "And I don't really live here." She paused. "I've stayed here a lot more, recently, though. I think I feel guilty for still having a home outside of this place."
Erik didn't know what to say to that, at first. "If I did I think I would, too," he admitted finally.
She looked at him curiously. "You don't?"
He almost said, simply, not anymore, because where Shaw and Emma were would never be home again, as it had been for so long because there was nowhere else. But Moira didn't know about all of that.
"We move around. It's hard to explain."
She shrugged in understanding and moved to a small closet. She dug around inside it for a bit and came up with something in her hands. As she faced him again Erik realized it was a chess set—a smaller, portable wooden one. Or it appeared to be. He could only see the brown pattern of the board. It was closed, folded in half, and he supposed the pieces were inside.
"Here it is. I rescued this from Charles's things after they…you know what they did." She ran a hand over the wood and sighed. "I tried to figure out a way to get it to him for a while, and I couldn't. Nothing presented itself until now." She held out the folded board, and there was rattling from the pieces that were, indeed, inside. "I just hope it helps. He used to love to play."
Erik waited until after lunch so that he could bring food with him, too, and when he made it back to the cell blocks Charles had long since been returned. He sat against the wall on his bunk, and Raven was beside him with an arm around his shoulders though he didn't seem to be acknowledging her much.
When the guard was gone and the door shut Erik went to the bunk and sat down on the edge. He pulled rolls out of his pocket—slightly squashed, but it was still bread—and handed them to Raven, because he was relatively certain Charles was not in the mood to take them from him.
"You had better eat one of those later, at least."
Charles glowered at him for a moment, but then his expression softened and he groaned a bit and let his head drop back against the wall. "I'm sorry. This is not your fault."
Raven started to move off to let them talk, and as she went she tried to hand one of the pieces of bread to her brother. He took it, reluctantly, but he did.
When she had moved Erik unzipped his jacket and pulled out what he'd hidden there. "That isn't all I brought."
Charles just blinked at the chess set for a moment, uncomprehending, and then he let out a sound that might have been a laugh any other day and he almost smiled. "Where did you get that?"
"Moira had it. She thought you might like it back."
But Charles fell quiet again at the mention of Moira. He looked away and half-heartedly took a bite of the roll in his hand.
"Charles…why won't you talk to her? You could do it easily enough." He paused. "I may not be the best judge of emotion, and I don't know what did or didn't happen in the past because neither of you will talk about it, but I can tell that she misses you."
Charles grimaced. "That is precisely the problem."
"How is that a problem?"
"Because we can't…we can't anything, Erik. You know that. If they knew she was sympathetic to us it would put her in danger."
"But it's fine for me to risk my neck?" Erik smirked.
"You have powers with which to protect yourself, and you have cover for appearing to be friendly with us. Moira has neither." He looked away again. "When this began I knew all of that, but we did not know how long this would last. We didn't know anything." His voice dropped to barely a whisper. "I cut her off to make it easier for her—so that she could move on. She was supposed to let me go."
Charles seemed to be blinking back tears now, and soon he was blinking furiously to keep them away.
"Charles, things are different now. There's a way out of this. It won't last forever, and you and Moira…"
"Still could not be," he whispered. "She would have to come with us—live on the run as we may have to. I won't do that to her."
Erik let out a breath. "But you could talk to her. You should talk to her."
Charles finally looked at him again, for a long moment, and then he looked down at the chess set in Erik's hands. "Tell her thank you?"