Disclaimer: I do not own X-Men. Marvel does.

A/N: Set 18 years after XFC (1980). AU for an alternate ending where the bullet was never shot, and Erik stayed with Charles. The first step towards Mutant acceptance has been made, yet two men still hide in the shadows.

Small Steps

With a tender gaze and a gentle hold, the sun's rays beamed along the emerald grounds of Westchester. Water sparkled with innocent delight, trees swayed with contentment. Perfection in a painted summer day, and across sprawling acres of freshly mowed grass, dozens of children of various ages gathered together, jumping about with vivacious laughter and cries of joy. Not even three weeks ago, no child at Xavier's School had had anything to be happy about. Three weeks ago, the knowledge of today was only a hope held to stave off too-true nightmares in sleep.

But now it was over. The battle had been won. And for the first time since their admission, students were able to show off their mutant abilities to their uncertain but reluctantly accepting human families.

"Some are not here."

"Small steps, my friend. Small steps. It is only the dawning day. And they are fine. Alex and Scott have them."

In a secluded room cast under shadow by the north toward of the mansion, two men watched the bitterly heartwarming scene from a large glass window. The headmasters. Professor Xavier and Mr. Lensherr. The Rights leaders. X and Magneto.

Charles and Erik.

"It's wonderful, isn't it?" At forty-four, Charles looked nothing like the professor fate claimed him to be, his slim form now the thickly muscled, lean structure of a seasoned fighter, skin lightly tanned and littered with small white scars hidden beneath his suit. His eyes, however, were still crystal-water blue, and the innocence and wonder of the years before the War were still present as he watched his students interact with the freedom they had fought so hard for. To see their students - their children - so happy …

"Is this the part where you want me to say "you were right, Charles.", Charles?" Erik's voice was clipped with subtle mirth, green eyes moving from the window to eye the other man. Fifty-two sat well on the metallic mutant - the only differences time had granted him being his silver hair (which he, and everyone else, determined suited him perfectly) and a long, thick scar splitting over his eye. The small smirk that twisted on his lips only assured his companion that he held no true resentment. And the telepath returned the smirk in equal force, still staring out the window.

"No." Charles watched as Sean, smiling brightly under large aviator sunglasses that clashed horribly with his red hair, suavely maneuvered himself into a situation between a student and his parents, which had threatened to grow out of control. Cleverly observant, their Sean. "No, Erik. I will never ask you for those words."

The other simply grunted in response, and slowly Charles turned towards him.

Eighteen years. Nearly two decades since their help in the aversion of nuclear war had cost them what little protection they had by anonymity. Mutants had been ousted almost immediately - governments of all countries ringing loud and clear in their decision that mutants were to be considered a threat. Not human. Eighteen long years, the Institute had served as more of safe house first and a school second, taking in anyone who was being shunned, being hunted - adults and children alike. Eighteen years, Charles had given up his need for pacifistic peace, Erik his need for domination in blood, and together they had fought with and lead a new species through pain and death and despair to a brighter future.

To today.

He reached out slowly, his own hand now just as calloused and blood-stained, and allowed his fingers to ghost along the curve of Erik's cheek, over the ridge of the scar - he had almost lost that eye - to the dip of his jaw. His smirk softened to a smile as the older man leaned slightly into the touch, eyes darkening to reality. How many days had they spent like this? Stealing comfort where they could, seeking out touch that wasn't painful, wasn't judging?

"How many days will we still, Charles?" The ghost of breath against his palm - he must have broadcasted his thoughts.

"An Amendment is only the first step," the telepath allowed. "The first step of many - we cannot force anyone to accept us if they are not yet ready to do so. But with this ... they cannot hurt us, Erik. And they can't hurt the children. Not and get away with it. Even if the police look the other way, the government is now legally bound to act on our behalf, so long as there will be someone there to fight for that half. And we will be there, my friend."

"We will always have to be." Erik's eyes slipped back open, wide and honest as they always and only were with Charles. The brunette nodded sharply.

"And that is why I will never ask you for those words, Erik. Why I will never accept them even if you give them to me freely."

"War never truly ends," they quoted together - words they both knew quite well - and shared a brief smile before Erik continued. "But that was not what I was speaking about, Charles."

"I know." And his fingers moved from rough skin to silver hair, tripping through the locks with practiced ease as he stepped forward. In the shadow of the window, their dark clothing hid them from the view of any curious soul who might glance up as their lips met. Just a whisper of a kiss, taut with contained passion and eighteen years worth of too much pain, too much secrecy. Kisses like this before had been tainted with tears and sure thoughts of death, for every other kiss had been violent and needing to prove.

And even though they were rushing into no battle, it still felt the same.

"How much longer will I only have you in the cloak of darkness?" Erik whispered, lips barely apart, eyes once again closed. "How much longer before they say that we need be ashamed of nothing of ourselves? When will that day come for us, Charles? Because that's not a battle we can fight as we have before."

Outside, he could hear the thoughts of parents and family and children alike. Thoughts of happiness, thoughts of fear. Fear of pain, of betrayal, of the different, of rejection. Strong words on a piece of paper were a mighty move forward, but they could not easily mend such a gaping chasm. The acceptance of a new species, so different and feared. Of two war-lost soldiers, lovers only in their sanctuary they had built for a different war.

"Small steps, Erik," Charles voiced again, cringing away his tears as their lips met again. And he closed his own eyes. For he truly did not know. Small steps, he repeated silently.

I have fought in small steps for the children and for you for eighteen years, Charles, Erik replied savagely, pulling him closer.

I will not stop fighting now.


One point made at the loss of another. Review and let me know what you thought? :)

(Also, just wanted to take a second to recommend several XFC fics to anyone interested ... that is, every single fic that is on my favorite's list, and even ones that aren't. ;) In addition to a huge thank you to everyone who has not only reviewed, but read my stories, I would like to thank all of these writers for giving me wonderful stories and updates to read every day. You all are wonderfully talented and amazing with your words, and I hope one day you will be able to share your stories with not only the fanfiction community, but the rest of the world as well. (: Again, my undying thanks for posting your work.)

Okay, no more mush now. I have more stories to write myself. I'm done. ;)