They will turn on us.

Not if we stop a war. Not if we risk our lives doing so.

"I want you by my side," Erik says urgently, still emanating that undeniable charisma beneath the metal helmet obscuring most of his features. "We're brothers, you and I." The terribly fragile weight of Charles in his arms, Charles' hand first clutching at his front and then dropping weakly to the ground, strike him like the smashing final blow never dealt him by this most infuriatingly idealistic of men. "We want the same thing."

Or is it arrogance?

There is great sadness in Charles' too-bright eyes as he looks into Erik's—no, Magneto's deathly earnest face. "My friend," he says, breathing hard against the agony of his injury as blackness threatens his vision. "Oh, my friend … that we do not." Initially stunned by the refusal, Erik's expression closes, until nothing can be read, as though a mask has dropped into place, or a curtain signaling the end of an act.

There's so much more to you than you know.

No, there is only a gripping fear and despair as the momentary peace achieved over the last few weeks dissipates, dying with the faltering rise and fall of his once friend's chest. He is determined not to surrender to a fool's dreams, however, no matter that they are beautful, and rises, motioning for Moira to take his place. Shaw's former henchmen stand a distance away, lost without their leader. The young men, Banshee, Beast, and Havok stumble forward from where he's thrown them, warily keeping an eye on Magneto.

Not just pain, and anger.

"My fellow mutants," he begins. "Their kind will never accept us. They've shown us their hand. Now it's time for us to show them ours." He pauses. "Who's with me?" His gaze goes to Mystique, who looks at him and what he offers with unmistakable longing. Magneto extends his hand. "No more hiding." His eyes move over to Shaw's men; Azazeal, Riptide and Angel stare at him.

Mystique moves slowly, her vision flickering between her foster brother helplessly prostrate on the sand and the strong, powerful figure of Magneto inviting her to join him. Guilt and nearly twenty years of sibling love—and perhaps something more than that—propel her to Charles' side. He looks up at her, trying to smile reassuringly as he takes her hand and kisses it. "You should go with him," he gasps. "It's what you want."

"You promised me you'd never read my mind," Raven whispers in gentle accusation, pressing a kiss to his forehead.

Charles' lips curve in mirthless, regretful smile. "I promised you a great many things, I'm afraid." The tight, pained line of Charles' mouth abruptly relaxes, and he goes limp, eyes fluttering closed to hide the blue. Raven gives a small shriek and she and Moira lean over him anxiously. "Charles!"

There's good too ... I felt it.

Good? As Magneto he has no good in him now, only a purpose and total focus on achieving it. And Charles … only the man whose stillness shouts of Erik's guilt, the person to whom he owes so much, saw and believed in that part of him invisible to everyone else, hidden so deeply behind anger and an air of dangerously charming menace. Against his better judgment Erik looks back at the slight form slumped in Moira's cradling arms, and feels that abyss of agony for the second time in his life.

He can't lose Charles. He can't.

He won't.

In her concern for Charles, Moira speaks even in fear of turning Erik's attention to her once again. "We need to get him to a hospital."

Yes. Erik turns. "Azazeal, is it?" The devilish-looking red visage affirms his words with a twisting of his lips. "Will you join me?" The uncertain grimace becomes a grim smile, the expression equally startling as the first. "I will."

"Good." Ignoring Moira's startled, frightened protests, he brushes her aside and lifts Charles' unconscious body, his head lolling against Erik's shoulder. "Transport us to a private facility where Charles can get treatment."

Beast and the other young mutants start. Erik stops them from interfering with a warning look and just the slighest pressure at the metal in their suits. Mystique lays a questioning hand on Erik's arm, gazing into his face beseechingly as her fingers on the other hand brush Charles' tear-stained cheek. He does not need to be a telepath to read her mind.

"Don't worry. He'll be fine." And Erik finds that aching hope in his chest again, that treacherous emoton that fluttered into existence at the kind understanding in the words, You're not alone, Erik. You're not alone as he stared at his unlikely savior incredulously across the few feet of water separating them.


Charles does not wake for three weeks, during which time doctors care for his injury and inform the anxiously hovering Raven and Erik, brooding with dark thoughts, that he might never walk again.

Two days into the young man's continued unconsciousness, the metal equipment in the private hospital room begins to rattle ominously, and suddenly Erik strides out the door. Casting a glance at the silent form of Charles on the bed, Raven follows her new leader outside. "I know you're frustrated ..." she trails off, unable to continue at the impossible anguish engraved on Erik's face. Erik clenches and unclenches his hands, whirling away from her and slamming a fist into the wall in a rare display of uncontrol.

"I want him to wake up too," she finishes in a whisper.

Azazeal stands in a sort of lazy slouch against the wall with his tail dragging idle scratches along the floor, Riptide beside him looking only faintly interested at the events transpiring before him. "Emma Frost," he says in his accented tones. "If anyone can find out what's happening in your friend's head, she can."

Erik does not waste time. The thick metal door of Emma's prison screams and crumples into so much scrap; Azazeal could have transported them directly into the chamber in which she is kept, but a display of power can only help his cause.

Defensively in her diamond form, Emma still manages a cool smile, although an undercurrent of nervousness is noticeable. "Where's your telepath friend?"

Magneto's bloodshot eyes are shadowed by the metal helmet, but they are piercing nonetheless. He knows the game to play with this woman. "Mutants ought to reign supreme in this world, and I will make it happen," he states baldly, ignoring her query for the moment. "Care to join me?" The shining facets of her body shift as she looks over at the mutants standing in the doorway, old and new companions alike.

Switching allegiances is apparently not a hardship for those who used to work for Shaw. The gorgeous telepath smiles, more confidently now, as though she can guess what he wants from her through the metal helmet, and changes back to to her svelte, white-clad human form.

Miss Frost is less than pleased when she discovers the true nature of her first assignment. "I could," she admits. "In the state he's in, your friend's an open book."

"Then do it." Erik's warning glance leaves no room for protest.

Emma huffs quietly, but sits beside the hospital bed and closes her eyes in concentration. Several moments pass before she gasps and jerks away, the chair legs screeching on the floor as a fine-boned white hand presses to her forehead.

Alarmed by her reaction, Raven automatically reaches out to steady the woman. "What is it? What's wrong?"

Emma speaks slowly, in uncharacteristic incoherence, still feeling the ghostly vestiges of approaching death. "Somehow …. it's as if he's been killed. Looking through his eyes and seeing through another's as he's held immobile by something …. himself … the coin moving through the air… the trauma of that and the shock of too much loss … he doesn't want to awake and face reality."

There is silence in the room. Raven is afraid to look at Erik, but she musters the courage. His pacing has given way to an absolute stillness. "He was in Shaw's mind when I drove the coin through the bastard's brain," Erik finally says faintly, his face white. "I knew Charles was holding him, but … I didn't … I didn't mean … I didn't think ..." In a fury of self-hatred he tears the helmet from his head, and its clangs sharply against the counter and then more dully against the floor. A nurse who has come to check on the patient shrieks and jumps back.

Erik, please, be the better man. There will be no turning back-!

Azazeal grunts from the hallway, having overhead the conversation. Riptide raises his eyebrows, catching the gist of what happened. "Well, boss, you've certainly ruined the guy's life. Are you sure he's going to be on our side if he gets up?"

Two weeks of sleepless nights and intolerable pacing later, when Erik blearily raises his head from the arms of the chair beside the hospital, his eyes meet Charles' serene gaze.

"It's about time. You've … been a setback to my plans for world domination," Erik manages to say somewhat calmly, reaching for the helmet next to him.

"The guilt overwhelms me." Charles' smile does not quite reach his eyes as they follow Erik's movements, and he seems very weary, sinking back onto the bed from where he had reached for his friend. "Is this what we've come to?" he asks quietly. "Erik, it doesn't have to be this way."

"My name is Magneto now." Suddenly restless and avoiding Charles' eyes, Erik gets to his feet. "I'm not the hapless person who tried to move a submarine and couldn't."

"But you're still drowning in the effort of doing something beyond your power." The remnants of mischief enters Charles' voice. "And that helmet is most unbecoming. I won't even discuss the cape. Raven's idea, yes? She always liked superheroes with an unhealthy passion."

Erik almost returns the fond smile, then recalls himself and his face falls into its now usual tense lines. "It's Mystique, and I'm no hero."

Charles pauses, his fingers worrying at the sheets covering him. "How is … Mystique doing?"

"She's been scared to death for you," Erik answers. "I should tell her you're awake." But he makes no move toward the door.

"Wait," Charles says for him after a moment. "We need to talk."

"Are you prepared for a war with humans?"

Charles stares at him solemnly as though trying to penetrate through the helmet blocking his telepathic abilities. "I would do everything in my power to prevent such a thing from happening."

"Then we have nothing to discuss," Erik counters.

"We do. The last I remember, you made the lines you've drawn quite clear. Ending on that note, why am I here?"

Erik's throat closes, but he bites out the words. "That bullet heavily bruised part of your spine. You're—"

"-probably paralyzed. Yes." Charles sighs tiredly, hands fisting in his lap as he looks at his useless legs. "I pretended to be sleeping when a nurse came in earlier, and her pity … bled out onto me." Erik's own limbs lose strength and he collapses into a chair, recollecting Charles' calmness even at the beginning of their conversation. "I'm surprised you didn't concentrate and kill me before I woke up," Erik says with painful seriousness.

"I won't lie. I thought of it," Charles replies after a moment of strained silence. "But in the end … I'm still the same person who couldn't pull the trigger on his friend."

I won't stop you. I could, but I won't.

Erik wants to laugh, but only the awful recognition of tears filling his eyes comes. "You self- righteous, pompous fool," he snaps, to hide the wetness at the edges of his vision. It's true. Charles has the arrogance of a young man who has always gotten what he wanted, always known he was right, except he isn't. But his disarming innocence and kindness smoothes the rough edges, and that is what wrecks Erik the most.

"Why am I here, Erik?" Charles repeats gently, his eyes the same self-assured, bright blue.

It's not just me you're walking away from.

And Erik realizes he can't articulate an explanation. Charles will never willingly join the Mutant Brotherhood. What is he hoping to achieve? Everything he's done in his life has been for a reason, toward a focused—and usually fatal—conclusion. What use will a disinclined Charles be to him and his cause, except a liability and danger?

Charles turns his face to the door a moment before Raven's footsteps can be heard rounding the corner to the room.

"Charles? Charles!" Raven's exuberantly happy voice rings forth at seeing the patient awake. She hastily sets the tray of food meant for Erik aside and rushes forward to fling her arms around her brother. He oofs and returns the fervent embrace. "You've had a change of names as well as address,"

Charles laughs. "Mystique, I hear." His gaze softens as he pulls back slightly to look at her, blue and scaled and utterly herself. "You're looking so well." There is recognizable guilt in the compliment, but Mystique chooses to ignore that and busies herself by bustling about Charles.

Erik watches the foster siblings chatter animatedly to each other with the ease of familiarity.

Well, Raven is practically bouncing words about how the the fledging mutants so recently under their care are doing back at the mansion, and her new life, while Charles lies back and happily listens, too exhausted to contribute equally to actual conversation. It's sweetly touching, and for a few minutes Erik vicariously shares in the joy.

Raven glances at Erik and generously gestures for him to join in. "Magneto has been a most devoted mother hen," she teases, "flapping about her chick."

Charles smiles slightly, amused and clearly touched. "Is that so?"

"I am not a female chicken," Erik tries to interject feebly, helplessly chuckling at the undignified image of himself fluttering about.

Raven giggles, "But you did flap."

All three look at each other, and fall to laughing.