It takes Raven two months and a skirmish with some members of the newly formed Brotherhood for her to go it alone. It is eight more months before she ends up at the door to the Xavier mansion.
It's a crisp autumn morning when she arrives, the air fresh and new. She and Charles decide to take their conversation out of the mansion, mostly to escape the stares of its students, who know exactly who, and what, she is. They go to the orchard, which is thick with the sweet smell of rotting apples. In the past it was always their favourite place to talk.
Raven kneels next to Charles's chair, looks up into his trusting blue eyes. "This isn't going to be a happy ending just like that, Charles," she says, bluntly going to the crux of the matter like she always has. "It's not going to be like the past. It'll be different."
Charles is clean-shaven again, though still long-haired. He smiles at her, the muscles of his mouth twitching after their long abandonment. "Good," he says. "I want it to be."
Raven stares up up at him, watches him pass a hand over his face, struggling to say exactly what he means. "You're your own person, Raven, you can come and go as you please," he tells her. "You can get involved in anything you want and you can stay out of anything you want. I'm not going to expect anything."
It's a generosity she hasn't deserved, but Charles has always been like that, has always given to anyone regardless of whether they have warranted it.
"I'll try hard," she says around the lump in her throat. "I'll try my best."
Charles smiles absently, as if remembering something in his past. "Your best is good enough," he says.
It takes seven years - and a knock on the head during a clash with the sodding X-Men that puts him in a coma for four months - for Erik to end up at the Xavier mansion.
In the past few years, members of the Brotherhood have been gradually defecting to the X-Men, so he isn't surprised when he wakes up in a laboratory to discover the last remnants of the Brotherhood wearing distinctly guilty looks on their faces. He realises instantly that he is in the bowels of the Xavier mansion – only a laboratory made by Charles could feel this comfortable.
"Oh fantastic," he sighs. "How long have I been here?"
"Four months," Toad confesses. "The Professor said his medical facilities could help you better than a hospital."
This is probably correct, Erik thinks grumpily, and adds another item on his mental list entitled 'Reasons You Owe Charles'. It is getting to be quite a long list.
"So I suppose you've all turned traitors by now then," he says.
The Brotherhood glance at each other, shamefaced. Sabretooth says, "Sorry Boss, the pension plan was just way better."
A few of the Brotherhood titter nervously. Erik sighs resignedly and lets it go. He's got a thumping headache anyway.
Charles comes to visit him later, seated in his wheelchair and looking a bit embarrassed.
"Sorry about the Brotherhood," he says, sounding not sorry at all.
Erik glares at him. Charles has smile lines around his mouth now that were not there seven years ago. And there is that old 1960s twinkle back in his eyes which Erik was afraid the 1970s had wiped out altogether. Suddenly he can't shout at Charles at all.
"Give me a few months," Charles continues, "And you won't want to leave either."
Erik narrows his eyes. "Do I have a choice?" he asks, more harshly than he meant to.
Something in Charles's expression flinches. "Of course you do," he says hastily. "Of course you do, Erik."
Erik wants to run out of the mansion and never look back. But there comes a point where you have to just stop running. He closes his eyes and takes Charles's hand, resting on the arm of the wheelchair. "Thanks for looking after me," he says.
He hears the smile in Charles's voice when he says, "I'll get a room made up for you."
A few days later, Erik and Raven have their reunion on the doorstep to the mansion. It is a hot, steamy summer morning. Their reunion takes its form in a proffered cup of coffee and a friendly punch on the arm, and then suddenly it's as if the last eight years never happened.
Raven briefs Erik on all the different mutants being taught at the school, what their names are, where they're from, what they can do. She mentions some of the lessons she has attended and how she's even taught a few of them. They don't talk about the X-Men, because that's an entirely different conversation for another day. But Raven does say, before she goes indoors, "Things have changed, Erik. People have changed. You might just want to bear that in mind."
Erik cottons on to what she's talking about pretty quickly. He goes, warily, to a dinner one night, to find a mix of Brotherhood and X-Men members all sitting together. There is some squabbling, but being unconscious for four months seems to mean that he's missed the worst of it. What is more surprising to him is the fact that they've made friends. Sabretooth and Wolverine appear to be firm friends, comparing fighting techniques over a bottle of truly awful whiskey, and, to everyone's astonishment, Toad and Cyclops also seem chummy – they sit discussing music as easily as if one of them hadn't been spewing green goo at the other last time they met. There are others, members of the Brotherhood who left at different times over the last eight years, all apparently integrated into the X-Men life. Raven, unsurprisingly, has charmed everyone and appears to be the life of the party.
Charles sits in between Hank and Juggernaut, sharing jokes and smiles, and it's halfway between the dessert and the coffee when Erik looks up and realises something else entirely.
Charles and Hank have taken to sitting very close to each other, talking to each other quietly. Their faces are half turned away from the table, but Erik can still see the look on Charles's face. It stops him dead.
The look on Charles's face is the look of Charles in love. Erik knows this, because Charles used to turn that look on him.
Charles and Hank are together.
It's obvious when you're looking for it. Erik watches them closely for a few days after the dinner. Hank never goes far from Charles's side, and when he does, Charles eventually moves over to him, entirely unconsciously. They sit too close to each other, as if they're afraid the other will disappear if they don't. They spent most of the 1970s in this huge mansion with only each other, and it shows. They have not shaken off that old co-dependence.
And as well as that, there is a light that sparks in Hank's eyes when Charles speaks to him, and when Hank smiles at Charles he always sits up in sudden interest. The love there is so palpable, Erik doesn't know how he missed it before.
Erik feels like he has stepped into darkness, expecting the floor to be there, only for his body to drop into emptiness instead.
That summer is so hot. The students muck around in the sun every chance they get, the teachers hold lessons outside, and for a while there is peace in the outside world so the X-Men relax a little and the jet is left underground. Erik – who loves the snap of frost, of falling snow and dark winter nights – spends the next few days lurking in the shade of trees and barely talking to anyone.
Charles wheels up to him one boiling hot afternoon. Erik is leaning drowsily against an old oak trunk, watching Arclight and Callisto do some gentle exercises with Storm. He is so sleepy, he doesn't hear Charles approach until he speaks.
"Lovely day, isn't it?"
Erik starts awake and looks up. Charles is leaning on the arm of his wheelchair, smiling down at him. His face is dappled in light and shade, one eye a bright blue, the other in shadow. "Did I wake you?" he asks teasingly.
Erik valiantly tries to pull himself together. Charles backs his chair against the tree trunk and then slips down the wheelchair with arms made strong from constant use, sitting himself down on the grass next to Erik, his back against the chair's footrest. Suddenly they are on an equal level again.
"I've got something to ask you," he says.
He sounds businesslike, which is just as well because if he tried to say anything more...heartfelt, Erik wouldn't have a clue what to do.
"Which is?" he asks.
Charles turns his face to Erik's, and Erik belatedly realises they haven't been this close together since they were on that plane to Paris, far too long ago. He tries to keep his breathing steady, his thoughts dispassionate.
"I'm getting reports from some of my X-Men living abroad," Charles says, apparently unaware of what he is doing to Erik, "Of some ex-Brotherhood members who are trying to band together again. They're calling themselves the 'Second Brotherhood', apparently."
He smiles a little wryly, no doubt sensing Erik's inner revulsion at there being a need for a Second Brotherhood. "Anyway," he says, "I was wondering if there was anything you could do about it."
Erik pauses, immediately stung, and then sits up, very slowly. "Like what?"
Charles hesitates, sensing a little of Erik's mood. "Well..."
"You think I can just write to them and tell them off like children?" Erik demands. "You think they'd listen to me? You think one word from me and they'll change their beliefs? How stupid are you, Charles?"
Charles blinks and opens his mouth to answer, but Erik continues before he can. "No one will listen to me," he snaps. "All right? Not the old Brotherhood and certainly not the new one. I was once a great leader and now I've defected to your side. Not one of them will ever be interested in anything I say ever again. Your ridiculous X-Men ensured that. I have nothing. I have no power over anyone. I don't even have - "
He stops his mouth before he can go too far, before he tumbles into that hole which has been opening up inside him since he first saw Charles look at Hank. Charles narrows his eyes like he's reaching into Erik's thoughts, so Erik shoves his thoughts away hastily, focusing hard on anything else – the heat, it's hot, isn't it hot today, such a hot sunny day, hot day, sunny day, hotsunnyhotsunnyhotsunny -
Charles shakes his head, as if getting rid of a particularly irritating fly. "Childish, Erik."
"You said you'd never go into my head again," Erik counters sharply.
"Fine," Charles snaps back. "I won't. And I won't ask for your help again."
"Fine," Erik echoes. "Good."
They glare at each other, and Erik realises abruptly, all over again, how close their faces are. Too close. He hears himself breathe in sharply, just as Charles's ridiculously blue eyes dart down to his mouth. Suddenly they aren't glaring so much as staring, and Erik seems to have forgotten how to move away.
"Erik," Charles says hesitantly, then seems to pause, as if he has lost the words on his tongue.
Erik makes a noise of assent. He is suddenly beyond speech.
Charles's eyes flick down to Erik's mouth again, then he says, slowly, as if the words are being wrenched from him, "Can you help me back on my chair again?"
For some reason, it's the mention of Charles's wheelchair that recalls Erik back to himself. He sits back, huffing out a laugh, and Charles smiles, a little tentatively, a little pleadingly. "Of course," Erik says, as gallantly as he can with so little air in his lungs, and crooks a finger. Charles is wearing a metal belt and has metal buttons on his clothes, metal parts to his shoes. It is enough for Erik to lift Charles gently off the grass and settle him back into his chair.
Charles smiles again, but this time it slips slightly, makes his mouth twist. "Thanks," he says.
It is suddenly too hot, and not even the shade of the tree is enough to cool Erik down. He stands up hurriedly. "I need to go and - " he starts, then gives up on excuses and merely flees.
He doesn't look back as he goes. He doesn't want to see what he is leaving behind.
Erik watches Charles and Hank at dinner. He can't not watch them. It's like a scab on his skin – he has to keep picking away at it.
They argue, but they don't argue like Erik and Charles argue – they argue with smiles and in-jokes, and it never gets too heated before one of them capitulates. They talk constantly, sometimes at the same time, and the conversation repeatedly becomes so technical that Erik can't understand a word they're saying. They are experts at switching from their conversation to another around the table and then lapsing back into it, sometimes as much as half an hour later, as if they simply paused for breath. They are, Erik realises, a brilliant team.
The air is so hot. He can't breathe.
Reports of this Second Brotherhood come thick and fast after Charles mentions it to Erik, so that soon even the students know about it. They start shooting Erik sly looks, ranging from slightly nervous to downright hostile, as though they think he is going to suddenly declare he is Magneto again and kill them in one fell swoop. The X-Men and some of the old Brotherhood members treat him with barely disguised suspicion, clearly believing him to be a spy. If any of them go to Charles with their fears he must allay them, because, for all the looks, no one actually directly confronts Erik.
Raven gets the closest. She corners him cheerfully in a corridor one afternoon and says, "So are you leaving us then?"
"What?" Erik grunts.
"For the Second Brotherhood," she elaborates dramatically. "Sounds like they're turning out to be just your sort of people."
"I don't have a sort of people," Erik snarls, and tries to get around her, but she steps smoothly in his way.
"Then what are you doing here, if not spying?" she asks, a bit more sharply. "Because as far as I can see, Erik, you haven't taken part in anything since you arrived."
She's mostly right – he's spent a lot of time 'overseeing outdoors training practices' (read: falling asleep under trees in the boiling heat) or 'covering classes as a substitute teacher' (an unqualified disaster, and one that Cyclops refuses to let him repeat).
"I'm - " Erik starts, and then stumbles. What is he doing here? "I'm...deciding," he says at last. He surveys Raven closely, whose face falls a little. "You did the same, didn't you? You should know what I'm talking about."
She nods, unable to deny it. "Getting involved in things helped me," she points out. "Nothing that the X-Men do, I couldn't quite...bring myself to get involved in that. But you know – teaching, managing schedules, doing some practical training. Just whatever needs my talents, really. It helped me work out what side I'm on."
"Charles's," Erik says, tasting bitterness in his mouth.
"My own," Raven corrects sharply. "I'm free to decide what I want to do, Erik, just as you are."
Erik opens his mouth, but no words are forthcoming. Raven puts a hand to his shoulder. "If it helps, I think the Second Brotherhood is a bad idea," she tells him. "There is only so long one can survive on hate before one dies of it."
She walks away then, which is just as well because Erik can't think of a thing to say.
During dinner that night, Erik casually mentions to Charles that he is at a bit of a loose end at the moment, and is there anything he can do to help? The next thing he knows, he is recruited into helping Wolverine with some of the school defences, taking over some of the lessons in control from Storm (at first heavily supervised because Cyclops still doesn't trust him and honestly, he only stuck one bratty kid to the ceiling, it's not that big a deal) and helping Hank make improvements to Cerebro.
He's not entirely happy about the last task.
Hank is exactly how he was in the 1960s and the 1970s – intelligent, persistently a little nervous and mindful to a fault. He is unfailingly polite to Erik, and Erik tries not to list the reasons Hank should hate him in his head. During their first session he is uncharacteristically obedient, lifting planks of metal where Hank tells him without any complaint. In their second session, he asks more questions about Cerebro and gets enthusiastic answers about each one. In their third, he argues about one of Hank's theories and they abandon the work to snipe at each other instead.
The argument carries over to dinner that night, which Charles cuts short when Erik calls Hank 'Beastie' and Hank's face starts turning a suspicious blue colour. They don't talk for the rest of the evening, and Erik starts dreading their fourth session together.
In the end, it seems he has nothing to worry about. Hank is just as polite as he was during their other sessions, and they carefully don't mention their argument. Instead Hank directs Erik in which metal plate to attach where, and for a while they focus only on the practicalities.
And then Hank says, completely out of the blue, "Do you still love him?"
Erik gasps. The metal plate he was lifting falls out of his power's grip and plummets to the bottom of Cerebro.
There is a terrible silence. Erik stares down at the fallen metal plate, forcing himself not to snap, not to betray any emotion, to push it back, push it all back -
"What do you expect me to say?" he says coldly, at last.
"Nothing," Hank says, sounding a bit rattled, as if he is not sure why he asked. "You don't need to say anything."
There is another long silence, and then Erik masters himself, whispers rage and serenity inside his head and lifts the metal plate again, spiralling it through Cerebro and attaching it to where it is meant to be.
They spend the rest of the session acting as though Hank said nothing at all.
Erik skips dinner that night. Instead he goes up to his room and, after a lot of pacing, succumbs to the temptation and removes his old metal helmet from the box under his bed.
He sits on the bed and stares down at it. This helmet is Magneto's, not Erik's. When he wore it, he was Magneto. Magneto may not have been much, but at least he knew who he was. Erik has no idea. He isn't of the Brotherhood, not anymore, but he isn't an X-Man – God forbid. He isn't a student in the school but he isn't a teacher either. He is a mutant, but he is starting to worry that he is also more human than he realised. He is a lone wolf, but he also craves company – he craves – most of all he craves –
He jams the helmet on his head hastily and then allows himself to let it all out. Charles, Hank, their utter, utter perfection, that ridiculous question, do you still love him, and the answer he'd longed to shout, yes, I do, of course I do, I never stopped, but he can't say it, can't even think it because Charles might read his thoughts and he can't have Charles reading that, he can't have Charles knowing, Charles will never go back to him, not when he has Hank, not when he has that perfect life, why would he want Erik, who would, not even his own Brotherhood wanted Erik, they all defected to the X-Men, to Charles, and he can't blame them because he did it as well, but no one has ever wanted Erik –
He clutches the side of his bed and bows his head, and he makes absolutely no noise at all.
No one will ever know. As long as he makes no noise and wears the helmet, no one will ever know.
A/N: Hope you enjoyed, folks! This is a multi-chapter story and the next part will be up in the next few days.