Confrontation, and ending. The confrontation scene was difficult because for one thing, it's an action scene, which is always hard to write, but mostly because I wanted it to be different from the fight in the movie without straying too far from the central idea.
The ending was relatively easy, since it was basically all ideas I'd had when I started writing and I spent the whole time wanting to get to these scenes.
The blackness only lasted for a few seconds at most, and then Charles was gasping for breath; was not gasping for breath, actually, because that made it worse. Shaw's hands on his shoulders steadied him, and also trapped him as Shaw edged in closer, stepping up with one foot between Charles' own and swaying in near to his face.
Shaw's breath puffed over him, stale and warm. "Erik's requested a show, just to prove I'm serious, so play along nicely," and Shaw could have chosen no better words to ensure Charles' rebellion.
The telepath kicked out with his feet, but Shaw only moved closer, until their thighs touched and he was too close to be kicked. Charles reached for Shaw's helmet with his bad hand out of habit, and when that hand received a sharp slap for the trouble he gasped with the unexpected pain of it, and then found himself breathless as agony washed down his ribs.
Shaw took the opportunity to tangle one hand in Charles' hair and lean him back until he had to busy his hands to support himself rather than fight, and then the doctor's mouth was stealing what little air he had, the sharp nose-piece of the helmet digging into Charles' skin as the telepath pushed at Shaw's chest with his burnt hand, mindless of that smaller pain in the face of all the others.
Try as he might, however, Charles couldn't pull his face from Shaw's, and what Shaw was doing wasn't really kissing him so much as assaulting him with lips and teeth. The doctor's pale blue eyes were open, staring into his intently, so Charles squeezed his own shut and sent out his thoughts.
Erik, go, he urged, as Shaw pulled at his shirt. Just go, my friend. Turn away. Leave.
Leave, Charles' voice told Erik, but he could do no such thing. Instead, pressing his hands against the glass, Erik's eyebrows fell low over his eyes and his lips parted as he breathed shallowly through his mouth, watching as he failed yet another person he'd cared about.
No, he thought back, I can't leave you. I can't abandon you. I can't…
Erik, I can't hear you, I can barely tell you this, so listen to me: I'm telling you to go, now. Charles' words were faint, as if they came from very far away, and Erik didn't understand how Charles could concentrate on talking to him while both trying to balance and push Shaw's hand off of his stomach.
He couldn't look away; he couldn't avert his eyes as Shaw assaulted his friend, and it was all his fault because he'd been too focused on revenge instead of just answering the damn question—
Erik closed his fist reflexively, seizing the sharp instruments still sitting on the counter inside, and they were just starting to rise up when Shaw's telepath hammered his mind with sensations of pain all over his body, a memory of being on a cold steel table, white light in his eyes, music playing—
"No!" Erik yelled, smashing his forehead into the glass. The window held, but the bruise was a small price to pay for a clear mind. Now he could hear Charles again, see him as he reached again for Shaw's helmet, earning a smack to the side of his face; he hung limp for a moment as Shaw fumbled for the telepath's belt one-handed.
Still, Charles maintained his litany, which was growing increasingly repetitive and, Erik suspected, reflexive: Go, Erik, just go, go, not for me, don't stay for me…
"God dammit!" Erik growled, striking at the door with his fist, fumbling with the door controls to no effect, hitting the door again just in case he hadn't done it hard enough the first time. He clung to his anger, because if he didn't, he'd have to admit that the noises coming from his mouth were quiet sobs, and that the cold trails on his reddening cheeks were from tears; not just because Charles was in there with Shaw, but because Erik couldn't do anything; he hadn't been able to do anything then, and he wasn't able to do anything now, even after all the time he'd spent making sure that he could.
But… But no. He had trained all of his adult life for this. He could do more than merely move the coin now.
He was just focusing on the wrong target.
Erik pulled away from the door, refusing to watch as Shaw tugged Charles' pants down his thighs, and turned his attention to Shaw's telepath. Quiet, now, Charles, he thought, although he knew Charles couldn't hear him, could tell because Charles kept right on babbling in his head, still urging him to leave.
The diamond woman frowned a little as she met Erik's gaze, and his braced himself as he reached out a hand and started to pull at the gilded door.
The pain was immediate and greater than he'd predicted; still, Erik gritted his teeth and set his shoulders against it, matching her will for will.
Her serene distaste began to grow into real irritation, and she started digging up memories again; being taken away from his house as a boy, the hollowed cheeks at the concentration camp that had terrified him until he'd had a set to match, his mother being shot; Erik grimaced, choked in a breath past his locked teeth, and pulled harder.
He took heart from the flicker of fear that crossed the face of Shaw's telepath, surprised that she didn't shift into diamond form, but Erik's arm was growing weary, he hadn't exhaled in a while, and he could no longer hear Charles' voice.
Erik started to bow under the weight of her mind, staggering as his knees threatened to give way, and now he really was starting to cry, if he hadn't already been before.
Then, as the woman began to relax her control, confident that she was winning, a shout broke into Erik's head: his own name, loud and desperate. Charles. Charles needed him to succeed.
This time, when he beckoned for the door, it came; the frosted glass exploded in a cloud around Shaw's telepath as the frame caught her head and feet, folding her slender form in half. She collapsed on the ground and didn't stir; Erik observed for a fraction of a second, but didn't waste the time to wonder whether she was alive or dead.
Instead, Erik walked back to Charles' prison, the door's metal already twisting under his will.
The mirrored glass shattered, and the prison's door slammed into its hidden alcove with enough force to ensure that it would never close again. Shaw froze, his expression perfectly blank as he met Erik's furious, dark-eyed stare. They were all very quiet for a moment as Erik stood in the doorway, accessing the situation.
Shaw, thankfully, was fully clothed; Erik hadn't really expected him to dirty himself, an expectation that was confirmed as the doctor let go of Charles's arm to remove the latex glove from his hand in one smooth, wrist-to-fingers movement, and drop it discreetly into a garbage bin inside out.
Charles, on the other hand, was not fully clothed, and was blushing a vibrant red; his trousers were piled around his ankles, and he was doing his utmost best to pinch off Shaw's leg between his knees while working his boxers back up to his hips. Erik didn't look at him for long, accepting that the specifics were none of his business.
"Get off of him," he told Shaw, and the doctor seemed almost as surprised as Erik when he did so without hesitation.
Shaw regained his composure, then, and stepped so that Charles was between them. "I'll admit, I'm impressed," he said, straightening his coat. "You've progressed far from when last we met. Then again," he paused to glance meaningfully at Charles, "You've had some time for one-on-one training with a telepath since then."
Refusing to rise to Shaw's taunt, Erik caught Charles eye; he was now barely blushing at all, although it might have been because he'd succeeded in replacing his boxers. "Charles, you need to get out of the way."
Charles eyed the floor doubtfully. "I… I'm not sure if I can."
Erik nodded, and with a gesture, the table broke free of its podium and began to drift closer to him, Charles perched a little uneasily on one end, and—
—And then Shaw grabbed the table at its edge and threw it, stronger than Erik would have thought possible: strong enough to move something that Erik didn't want to be moved.
Charles tumbled as the sheet of metal flipped him off, and Erik lunged for him at the same time that he threw out a hand to deflect the table. The noise of it smashing into the wall was tremendously loud, drowning out the stricken noise Charles made as Erik caught him around the chest. The telepath's legs fumbled for the ground but didn't seem to be able to hold his weight, so Erik apologized to him silently and eased him to the floor in the corner of the room.
Erik retrieved the table and threw it back at Shaw with enough force to shatter all of his bones, but the doctor only seemed to blur around it, and when his shape resolved again, he was holding the steel lightly between his hands, a small, satiated smile on his face.
Erik, you can't hit him, Charles told him, not quite quickly enough. He'll just absorb the kinetic energy and turn it back on you.
Nodding silently, Erik circled around the broken stump in the center of the room toward Shaw, who in turn began to maneuver the pedestal between them again; so Erik seized the metal within it, ripped it out of the way and used the pieces to lash out, to bind around the doctor's limbs with sharp edges. He twisted the table Shaw still held, wrapping it around the man's torso, crushing his arms to his body.
Only… Only then Shaw casually folded back what had once been the table, peeling it away from himself like a cocoon, absently plucking off the scraps Erik wound around his legs. Shaw tossed a piece of tortured steel aside, his expression bland and bored.
"Really, Erik, is this all you came to do? Fold me in a gentle embrace? I'm sure you could do far more than that. Try to hit me again; I'm sure it'll work this time," Shaw remarked, his voice slow and hypnotic.
Erik wasn't sure what to do next; the doctor's suit was torn, ripped along the legs and arms, but he didn't even seem hurt.
No, Charles' said, look more closely. He's hiding it. Erik did, and saw that yes, indeed, there was blood on the flashes of skin visible between the rents in the expensive fabric. He felt a flash of fury at the deception, but no, it was something he would have done in Shaw's place. He had learned from the bastard, after all.
Reassured that Shaw could be touched after all, Erik made a small gesture with the fingers at his side, drawing something up from his ankle, tucking it into his palm. "I'd rather not exert myself if I don't have to," Erik told the doctor, stalking forward.
Shaw narrowed his eyes, picked up the now unrecognizable table, and tossed it back at Charles; Erik caught it, easily, and was about to taunt Shaw about trying the same thing twice when the man punched him in the jaw and sent Erik flying.
He felt the mirrored wall crack behind his back, and his feet, for a moment, couldn't figure out the right direction to push in order to keep him upright. Then Shaw was on him, his hand wrapped under Erik's chin with just enough pressure to make it hard for Erik to catch his breath, pinning him to the wall.
"Are you ready to be done with this now?" Shaw asked, slamming Erik's head back into the glass to make his point. Erik heard the glass splintering, made an inarticulate gurgling noise that couldn't be mistaken for a reply, and scrabbled for Shaw's helmet.
Shaw leaned his head back and caught Erik's hands, one after the other, before he could do more than touch his shield. "Going to rely on your telepath to do your dirty work, Erik? I'm disappointed."
Erik smiled and slowed his struggles. "Shaw," he grunted, as the doctor loosened his grip around Erik's throat. "Remember the coin?"
Frowning, Shaw tilted his head. "What coin?"
"The one that started this all," Erik replied, surprised, despite himself, at the idea that the doctor might not have any specific memory of the event.
Annoyance flickered over Shaw's face. "Sure, the coin. What about it?"
"It's going to be different this time, Herr Doktor. I'm going to count to three…" He didn't quite have enough breath to finish the sentence, his neck still firmly within Shaw's grasp, but Erik grinned.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Shaw asked, his lip pulling into a sneer. In reply Erik only made a tiny gesture with one of his captured fingers, and Shaw froze.
"I slipped it into your helmet," Erik confides, and laughed as Shaw let him go to start scrabbling for the coin in the narrow space between his head and the smooth wall of the helmet.
Erik's laugh became sinister as he slipped the coin further up the curve of Shaw's skull, and began to drive the edge into his creator's skin. "One. Better not take off your helmet, Shaw, or Charles might get you," he mocked.
Shaw ceased trying to extract the coin and backhanded Erik instead, holding onto his arm so that Erik's face snapped to the side, but even though his teeth began to stain red, he couldn't stop grinning as the coin began to crack bone.
Erik, Erik my friend, are you sure about this? Charles' insistent voice asked, but Erik ignored him, because he wouldn't have imagined this moment for all these years if he wasn't sure, and he needed all of his concentration to keep control as Shaw fought back.
"Two." Shaw's hand was burning, burning like a small sun, and it was getting very hard to keep that hand away from his face. Erik could feel his skin start to redden from the light alone, and Shaw, despite being scrawnier, was stronger because of his power.
Still, Erik couldn't help but smile, and he squinted past the searing light to watch Shaw's face as he slowly grew aware of the inevitability of his demise, as the coin passed into brain, where there were no nerves to sense pain. Erik's grip on Shaw's arm was growing weaker, and the skin of his face was growing uncomfortably hot, but he could see as the doctor's eyes began to go blank, as his muscles began to twitch out of control, and finally, as he stopped breathing, and the fire in his fingers dimmed.
"Three," Erik whispered. He looked into Shaw's eyes and saw nothing—none of the cold intelligence, excitement, or casual brutality that marked the doctor for who he was—and the body that fell to the floor was limp, unremarkable without the mind of Sebastian Shaw to guide it.
Unable to do anything but stand and stare, to absorb the shock that no, this was real, Erik felt there was one more thing he had to do. He twitched his finger, and the Nazi coin—silver and smeared with blood—fell from Shaw's half-opened mouth, rolled down the inside of the helmet, and clattered onto the floor.
Now it was over. Now Erik was free.
Charles watched as Erik studied Shaw's corpse, as flashes of triumph, relief, and old regret passed over his face. Charles thought he could have stopped Erik, should have stopped him, but… He wasn't sure how he felt about that at the moment. He wasn't sure how he felt about a lot of things, right then, but he would think about that some other time.
Erik turned to look at him, and the telepath froze; Erik's gaze was dark and hooded—dangerous—and some animal part of Charles wanted to shrink away and tend to his wounds elsewhere.
But then Erik's expression cleared, his eyes bright with concern as he moved to Charles' side with long, purposeful strides. He crouched down, his hands cupping Charles' shoulders. He appeared to be suffering from rather bad sunburn.
"Are you all right?" Erik asked. He searched Charles' face urgently, as if checking for Shaw's cancer metastasizing somewhere behind it.
Charles smiled weakly. "As well as to be expected," he confirmed, putting his undamaged hand on Erik's arm. "Could you help me up, my friend?"
Erik jumped into action, as if embarrassed that he hadn't offered first. "How—where can I lift you?" He closed his fingers over Charles' upper arm, tugging carefully, stopping when the telepath winced.
"Oh, just pick a spot, it all hurts," Charles recommended, before seeing how stricken Erik looked. "That's fine, though."
Nodding mutely, Erik braced his other hand against the better side of Charles' ribcage and pulled them both to their feet. Charles clung to his arm with vise-like fingers, his skin gone shockingly pale beneath his dark hair.
The telepath knew without needing to read Erik's mind that he was trying to apologize for Shaw's actions. "You came back for me," Charles interrupted.
Erik stopped, his hands still on Charles, steadying him. "Of course," he replied, still wearing his unhappy frown. Erik paused, as if testing the words before he spoke them. "You're my only friend."
Charles smiled with every ounce of smug superiority he could scrounge up. "I'm your best friend," he corrected proudly.
It had the desired effect; Erik made that noise he did sometimes, something that wasn't quite a chuckle, just a soft puff of air that always made Charles suspect that Erik was wondering how he managed to eat without swallowing his own tongue. Erik's lips curled up at the edges and he pulled Charles into a tentative, gentle embrace, locking the telepath in with his chin.
Charles inhaled the smell of leather, pressing his better hand very lightly against Erik's back and appreciating the hug for its human comfort, but also because he knew it had been a very long time since Erik had done any such thing.
Still, Charles felt the beginnings of a somewhat hysterical laugh stirring in his chest, and he knew it was a bad idea to start laughing—that it would hurt, and also that Erik would probably misinterpret it—but he couldn't help it. He was standing in a prison made of mirrors near the corpse of a deranged madman, being embraced by a professional Nazi-killer who could move metal with his mind, and Charles was… Was…
Despite his best efforts, Charles began to laugh in soft little bursts, and he couldn't stop, even when Erik pulled away and examined him from arm's length with wide, uneasy eyes. Charles realized that Erik had thought he was sobbing, so he gave the man a quick, reassuring smile as he tried to calm himself, slowing to the pace of pained gasps.
"What's wrong?" Erik asked, and it occurred to Charles that if he had been crying, Erik would have had no idea what to do about it.
"Nothing," Charles managed to say. "It's just that, all of this—" Charles indicated the room as a whole "—and I, and I'm…" He lowered his voice to a level reserved for important secrets. "Erik, I'm not wearing pants!"
Erik blinked, and parted his lips, confused, glancing down at Charles' thin, bruised legs, and the trousers still tangling his feet. "Well, why didn't you pull them up?"
"I can't," Charles confessed morosely. "My ribs hurt."
"You ribs—?" Frowning, Erik stared at him for several seconds before, gradually, the edges of a smile appeared on his face, and as it became a grin he hung his head, shaking it as he laughed, slow and careful noises as if Erik wasn't entirely sure what his mouth was doing and didn't want to break anything.
"You're ridiculous," he accused the telepath, brushing a bit of glass out of Charles' hair.
Charles shuffled awkwardly, not entirely opposed to being the butt of a joke if it was one Erik laughed at. "Yes, well," he acknowledged grudgingly, and fell silent.
Erik then proved that he was a true friend by helping Charles get his trousers back on.
They were riding in a plane, and they were alone.
Erik was the one flying the craft; he had one hand hooked on the wheel and his feet touched the pedals, but he controlled their flight with his mind and the movements of the equipment seemed almost incidental, as if the plane piloted itself.
Erik's other arm was draped around Charles, his hand cradling the telepath's elbow, keeping him tight to his side as gusts of wind occasionally set the plane to rattling. Charles seemed to be asleep, eyes closed and head tucked into Erik's armpit, wearing Erik's jacket.
It looked a little absurd on Charles, as he'd protested when Erik had insisted he wear it, but it was cold up in the sky, and while Erik didn't quite feel warm in his turtleneck, he also didn't have to worry about stressing an already-compromised immune system, and anyway Charles radiated heat beside him.
His friend's hand emerged from one sleeve bandaged stark white; another of Erik's triumphs over Charles' insistence to leave as fast as possible. His other injuries would have to wait until they landed.
Making it out of Shaw's facility had been easy with Charles in tow, making sure they weren't noticed. Shaw's telepath was nowhere to be seen, having evidently lived, but she made no effort to stop them. By the time they'd reached the hanger, however, Charles was starting to drift off, and neither of them noticed the pilot until he was right there, gaping at them.
Erik had picked up a chair behind the man, prepared to flatten him if he decided to stop them, but the pilot had been more shaken by Charles' appearance than Erik's threatening scowl, and had let them go with an assurance that Erik knew how to fly and a simple promise to leave the plane in the same airfield they'd departed from hours ago. Erik had eyed him with suspicion, expecting a trap, but the pilot had only observed as Erik started the plane's engine without a key and deposited Charles inside.
He had actually never piloted anything himself, before, but the craft was almost like an extension of Erik's body; it was as close he would ever get to human flight as he supervised a thousand tiny corrections in the angles of the flaps along the wings and tail, keeping their path as smooth as possible as he followed the faint trail of the Earth's magnetic field.
Erik began to caution himself not to enjoy it too much; that he was too busy to take pleasure in something so superfluous, except… Except Shaw was dead now, and the coin he'd carried for so many years had dropped to the floor with him. Erik could do things like fly planes, if he wanted, or stay with Charles and the others and start a school. For a moment he toyed with the idea of asking Hank if he'd build a plane for Erik, or modify one, or—
"It's nice up here," Charles murmured beneath the drone of the engine. Erik glanced down at him, surprised, having thought Charles asleep, and then looked out around them.
The sun had started to set, round and red on the horizon. The clouds were sharp, ragged contrasts of deep purple and brilliant orange, and far below them the ground was a mosaic of black and gold, undulating and uncivilized.
"It is," Erik agreed, turning back to Charles; but Charles' eyes were closed, had been closed the whole time, and he'd never once looked outside the cockpit.