It's been fun, ladies and gents. Thank you so much to everyone who has read and reviewed. I can't tell you how much fun I've had writing this and reading all of your reactions. Actually, I can tell you: a lot. See, that wasn't so difficult.
It kept playing over and over on the television. First he was happy and he was waving and then he...wasn't. Then they would cut away to images of citizens mourning, setting up makeshift memorials. The major news networks quoted Mrs. Kennedy's shocked words, "They killed my husband." Out of propriety, they left out the second half of the quote that would appear in tabloids and tell-alls: "They killed my husband, I have his brains in my hand."
The assassin could be seen in the video. He was blurry, with a scream that shook the cameras, and he fell through the air in a not-quite-natural way. His face would have been visible, but the picture was too distorted for features to be identified.
They all knew exactly who the shooter was.
They were crowded around the TV. Gregory was trying unsuccessfully to hide the fact that he was crying. Isaac and Abby didn't even try to hide their tears. Scott gaped openly, jaw hanging down. Alex just listened, head turned to the side. Pavel was pressed back against Hank, as if trying to get as far from the television as possible, yet at the same time, she wouldn't look away. Hank's eyes were narrowed and his face cast down. Charles and Erik sat side-by-side on the sofa; pretense abandoned, Charles had pressed his taut left hand into Erik's trembling right. Even Petra seemed to understand that the situation was very bad; she was making her squares very quickly and muttering "Shut up Sean," over and over again.
Lyle said aloud what they were all thinking, "If they didn't hate us before, they're sure gonna hate us now."
They could hear the plane landing. Charles put all of them to sleep, all except Erik. And then he waited for the landing sequence and the footsteps and there was Sean, pale and drawn and drenched with sweat. He kept his head angled to the ground, but he jerked his eyes up for the briefest of moments before shutting them again.
"I made," he whispered, "a terrible mistake."
His whole body seemed small and young, standing in the cavernous entrance hall. He looked lost.
Charles dropped his head to his hands. Erik said nothing.
"I made a mistake," repeated Sean, "and now I don't know how to fix it."
"Fix it!" cried Charles. "How do you not understand that death is permanent? That what you did cannot be undone?"
Sean nodded, then it seemed as though he couldn't stop nodding, head tipping over and over up and down. He was shaking all over and his breathing was fast.
Erik spoke, softly and severely. "Come into the library."
"Why did you do this?"
"I just...I just..." Where were the words? It had all made so much sense before. Now everything he said sounded awful, pointless, unworthy.
"They're crying out for your blood," said Erik.
Sean nodded again.
"Do you want to die?" Erik asked, voice carefully neutral.
"I...maybe, I don't know...I just want to fix this." Sean rolled his head from sternum to shoulder. "If I turn myself in, they...they won't be as mad, right? They won't be as mad at mutants?"
"We can't know for sure," said Charles. "This is going to color public perception for a very long time no matter how it ends."
"I..." Sean was breathing heavily, as if he were exhausted. "I forgot...I didn't forget, I just didn't think about it...I forgot he has kids." The shaking started again.
"Oh Sean," said Charles, his voice thick with pity and despair. "Go to sleep."
"How can he sleep?" asked Erik.
"He's basically unconscious. I'm holding him in both mental and physical stasis to give the shock time to stabilize."
Erik stared at the fire. "Did we do this?"
Charles closed his eyes. "Sean is his own person. But he does not exist in a vacuum."
"I taught him to fight." Then, softer. "I told him that we were gods."
"And I chose to respect his privacy, and in doing so let him sink deeper and deeper instead of forcing him to accept guidance."
"Are you seriously considering letting him turn himself in?" When Charles didn't answer, Erik continued. "I'm sorry this man is dead – yes, Charles, I really am, from a practical standpoint at least. I'm sorry this man is dead, but that's no reason for one of our number to be executed."
"But what message does that send? That their lives are worth less than ours?"
Erik chose not to debate the point and he chose not to quote on one Charles' eye-for-an-eye-makes-the-whole-world-blind platitudes. Instead, he placed his hand on Charles shoulder. "You fear death because it's final, irreversible. Sean's not dead, which means this," Erik gestured to the unconscious boy, "doesn't have to be the end."
"I don't think it's possible," whispered Charles, "even with Cerebro."
"I can amplify it," said Erik. "I'm familiar with the construction, the wiring. It's all electromagnetics, after all."
"They'll never believe it without...there has to be..."
"We need a warm body."
Charles and Erik were lying in bed. Sean was in the boathouse, hidden from view and telepathically hidden from anyone's curiosity.
"It's wrong," said Charles. "It's...we're using someone who's killed before. I don't want to make a killer out of someone else."
Erik pulled him closer.
"It's wrong," said Charles, "it's wrong."
Erik said nothing, just breathed into the darkness.
It was a terrible sort of compromise.
Two days after the assassination, William Stryker antagonized a Texas nightclub owner by the name of Jack Ruby and was fatally shot. With the help of Cerebro amplified by Erik, Charles maintained control over Stryker through his death, and modified the perceptions of all those involved so that whenever they looked at Stryker, they only ever saw a pale, red-haired boy. Charles erased the manor residents' memories of Stryker's captivity, made them believe that the man had died in their raid; there was no need for them to know that Erik and Charles had taken a life to save Sean's.
Erik seemed unaffected.
Sean was sad and quiet. He no longer carried his knife.
Charles' brief flirtation with sobriety was undermined by his guilt.
Erik seemed unaffected, but he spent long hours sitting in silence with Sean and he spent long hours listening to Charles ramble and he drew a small sketch of Kennedy that he kept with his things.
And yet, the school stayed open and enrolled more and more students, not just because they could be found with Cerebro, but because the world outside was growing more and more hostile. They stuck together. They got stronger.
It was compromise. It sure as hell wasn't perfection.
The End – The Doors: The Doors (1967).
Again, I want to thank everybody who took the time to read this piece. I hope you enjoyed it!
My new fic will be called Masters of the Universe. Set in the present day, it will involve characters from both comics and movies across multiple Marvel domains (X-men & Avengers). The first chapter will be up in a day or two. I hope to see you there.