Burn the Land
"Raven went in." Erik's finger gently trace the outline of Charles' collarbone through his layers of clothing. "She said Frost was already gone. Two of the guards had their faces melted off."
"Angel." Charles sighs. He'd hoped- never mind what he'd hoped. He hoped the two women would be able to help each other. He only wished-
Erik must have heard some of that because his fingers tighten. "They don't deserve your attention. I can have Raven show you some of the plans the humans had."
Charles pinches the bridge of his nose. His legs ache dully through the splints and plaster, against the metal pins holding the bones together. "Does anyone remember anything?"
"No. Frost might not be you, but she was thorough. Raven made sure no one would find the bodies."
He wishes it wasn't like this. He wishes Angel had stayed. He wishes Raven didn't have to deal with things like this. He wishes three of the ships he'd sent away hadn't ended up in the Potomac with no idea how they'd got there. He wishes a lot of things. He doubts many of them will come true. After what happened in Cuba, what could so easily have happened, Charles thinks he might have used up his lifetime's store of good luck.
"Did you get the pieces Hank needed?"
He feels Erik bristle. "Yes, although I still don't see why-"
The feeling of battling uphill has become a familiar one. "We need to disappear. We need to be able to make them forget." Charles rubs his face, maybe in time, in a few years, he would be able to let go and just give into Erik as he so desperately wants to. But he can't, neither of them are in any shape to fall into the relationship they'd been born for. Maybe in time. Maybe.
"They'll find out about us sooner or later Charles." There's a bite of anger, anger at the world for not being the way it should be. "We can't hide forever. We won't."
"No," Charles agrees. "But the first time humans find out about us shouldn't be with one of us trying to start World War Three." Behind him, Erik stiffens, Charles' legs ache. Even dead, the thought of Sebastian Shaw still hurts. A moment's silence. "I want him forgotten." Charles whispers. "I want him never to have existed."
Erik puts his good arm around Charles- the other is still in a sling. "Yes." Erik would do a great deal to make it so Shaw had never been.
"We don't have to hide for long, but when they see us we'll be doing something worth being discovered for." Something great and unforgettable, something to show them as great and good and unstoppable.
"There will still be those who want to hurt us."
Charles smiles sadly. "That's what you're here for." Shaw's people- now Erik's- are slowly settling in. They don't talk to anyone much, and the mansion is more than big enough for them to have the space they need, until they're ready to face the world again.
And that's why Charles wants Hank to finish with Cerebro so he can finish making the powers of the world forget about mutants entirely- they all need time. Time to heal, time to recover. One winter. That would be enough. One winter of peace before entering the fray again. He covers Erik's hand with his own and squeezes.
"The CIA want me back." Moira sits down at the breakfast table. Erik's back knots up at her words.
"Pretty much immediately." She swallows a mouthful of coffee, staring at the mug. "Are you still planning to disappear?"
Charles nods. "Cerebro should be ready in a few days."
Moira nods. "I'd make it fast." She bites her lip, swirling the coffee in her mug under Erik's glare. "I won't tell them anything!" She bursts out, suddenly angry. "How could you think that-"
Really, quite easily- but no. Moira might be human, but then so was his mother, and Shaw was a mutant. She's been nothing but loyal thus far. Still- "They could make you tell them anyway."
By Moira's expression, that possibility had occurred to her. She takes a deep breath. "I won't." he voice is even. "They can threaten me, do whatever they want. I won't tell them where you are." Another swallow of coffee, "And it'll only be for a few days, after all." She doesn't sound convinced. A lot can happen in a few days.
"Please stay, for goodness sake." Charles leans forward as far as he can. "It's too dangerous for you to meet with them like this." He rubs the side of his head and Erik can feel him trying not to think of the plans they found in the holding facility.
"And if I don't? I'll be a deserter then. A defector, whatever. I'll lose everything." She spread her hands, they're stuck.
Normally, Erik would have told Charles to wipe her mind. Normally. Erik hasn't felt normal in a long time, and he hopes very much he never will again. Besides, Moira could be of a lot of use to them, in the CIA.
"I can try and make them forget that as well." Charles pinches his nose, trying not to think of the work ahead. Erik touches his shoulder. There's already too much to do. All the paperwork to burn, all the minds to catch.
"I have to go back." Moira insists, "Look, if I don't, it won't just be me they'll come after." Desperation touches her voice. Charles blinks.
"Where he is. Of course." Moira smiles ruefully. "Look, I work for the CIA, do you think any of us went a week in the job without tracking down our Subs? Chicago. He's only seventeen, I still have to wait a year."
"We can bring him in too, forget the laws. Moira," He can feel Charles' frustrated desperation to make her understand what this will mean. "If you go, I can't let you leave knowing everything you know. Not just where we are, but how many of us there are, what we can do. Cerebro. I'm sorry, but I can't. There are too many of us-"
Erik pulls Charles back in his wheelchair. The arms wrap around his wrists to keep him still, the collar tightens. Calm. He orders.
Charles closes his eyes. Moira's gone pale. "I'm sorry." It comes out rather gruff, but Erik is sorry, if only because Moira cares for Charles.
Moira is silent for a long moment, her coffee forgotten. "You'll be able to make them forget?" She says finally, "Completely?"
"And him? You can make them forget about him? Make them shred all records?"
Moira sighs. "God, I hope you're right."
Charles smiles. "You're staying?"
She smiles. "Do you really think I'd leave?"
The winter is a cold one. Snow falls in sheets from December and doesn't stop, except for clear days where the sun reflects blindingly off the snow. It's the first winter Charles has had in Westchester since he was fifteen and left for university. He has no doubts that it will be the best.
His legs have been out of plaster for a week. They ache when more snow is on the way. They're not wrong. It's late, and the light from the study makes the flakes shine like gold.
Charles stands and stretches. It's ridiculously satisfying. His joints pop and although he has to steady himself on a chair -still a few more weeks until he can give up the cane - he's standing. More than just that, it's one less of Shaw's marks he'll have to carry on him. Maybe he'll be able to go out tomorrow-
"You will not."
The firelight paints Erik in shades of scarlet where he's lying on his back on the rug, eyes glittering.
"I'll be careful." Charles knows he's sounding petulant, but he's been stuck inside for weeks and Erik's protectiveness, while warm and right, is becoming more than a little stifling. "I have metal in my bones, you think anything could happen to me?"
The flickering flames turns Erik's smile into something else, something wonderfully inhuman. He might hate seeing Charles hurt, have tried to hide the twisting pain of seeing Charles in a wheelchair, but he's possessively delighted with being able to feel Charles with his powers.
He's also deeply pleased with the pins in his own arm, happy that no matter what, he will never be helpless again. Charles has to content himself with trying very hard not to think about that, and doing his utmost to make sure Erik never find himself in that position.
Erik pats the rug beside him, and Charles eases himself down beside him. Brace his hand on the chair, slide his feet slowly from under him, reach down his free hand to balance on the ground, and finally let himself settle next to Erik. He's pulled down to lie on top of him, and Erik's lips burn against his.
Charles closes his eyes, rests his head against Erik's. Feels Erik's hand gently cups the back of his neck, trace the outline of the collar. Smile against his lips. Shh. Silence. Nothing but the crackle of flames and their breathing. Gentle, soft. Silent.
It's quiet out there too. Charles had still been in a wheelchair when the second Cerebro - Hank calls it Cerebra, and always refers to it in the feminine- was ready, and he'd reached out over two continents and made them quiet too. Removed the fear, the knowledge, everything. As far as the great powers know, the world came terribly close to war due to mutual stupidity, and that's as good a reason as many to make sure this Christmas/New Year is the best ever, nyet? Mutants only theoretical, and Charles can't help but push an undercurrent of and they wouldn't be a threat even if they were real.
It can't hurt.
The next day, they're so snowed in it takes them most of the morning to clear the drive. Alex spends half an hour trying fruitlessly to melt the snow with his energy blasts before the Nameless man - His name is Janos - takes pity on him and draws up two small tornadoes. Alex laughs. Janos smiles. The tension relaxes a little more.
Then Charles slips on some black ice and Erik carries him bodily back inside.
Christmas is a messy affair. Erik doesn't say anything, but then he doesn't have to, and anyway he's not the only one to whom Christmas doesn't apply. It was Eid for Darwin and the Soviet New Year for Azazel, so they compromise and have a bit of everything. There's honey and a tree and a lot of vodka.
And there are nine candles. Charles lined them up on the mantelpiece, then stepped back when Erik saw them, rubbing the back of his neck uncertainly. The desperate longing to please.
"We didn't have- I didn't know where to-" Charles gives up. I though you would want to do this.
Yes. Erik looks blankly at the candles. Beeswax. They had been beeswax once. Very fine, very sweet and beautiful. Erik can just about remember it. It was so long ago.
They had been cheap tallow the final time. All their protectors could scrape up from friends and neighbours and ration coupons. They had spluttered and dimmed and almost gone out several times.
And then everything had gone out, and it had been so many long years of darkness. And Erik was trying to bridge that with a handful of iron and a few candles. It seems mad. Better to let the dead lie.
Then there are warm arms around him, Charles' breath against his ear, holding on so tightly they might be drowning, in another place, and that not so long ago.
Erik covers Charles' hands with his own for a moment, then raises to the candles. He can feel the metal in the mantelpiece, in the grating under it, in his and Charles' very bones. He skims a little from the grate, a little from the mantelpiece, and searches his pockets for more.
His hand closes on a coin. He smiles. He can feel Charles grinning against the back of his neck. Yes. Yes, that would be wonderful.
It's late when there knock comes. Charles is half asleep on the sofa, curled up with his head on Erik's lap. He's watching Alex slowly nod off, too stubborn to go to bed, his head slowly drooping until it's resting against Darwin's shoulder. This time, he doesn't jerk awake and pull away, but just stays there, his whole weight coming to rest against his Dominant's side. Darwin glances at them, and puts a finger to his lips before carding his fingers through Alex' hair. Charles grins.
He must have sensed the person long before they knocked. Since he turned the ships away, his reach can hit New York even without Cerebra. Erik starts, an explosion of adrenaline before he slowly calms down - if it were an enemy, they probably wouldn't be knocking.
Charles gets up carefully. Erik steadies him, one hand on his shoulder, pushing him back before he unlocks the door.
The woman outside is tall, ageless, and unknown. Her hair is grey and flyaway, but her face is unlined and smiling, her eyes filmed-over white. Erik's glare no doubt goes unseen. "Who are you?"
"The ghost of Christmas yet to come." She might be blind, but she neatly sidesteps Erik. "Do I have to show myself in?"
Charles blinks. "It's you." She turns, and Charles knows she can see him, even if it's not with her eyes. "I saw you." Now he can't stop smiling. "Raven said you couldn't come yet."
The woman brushes flakes out of her hair. "Not then. Too many variables. Too much of that damned Dominant instinct to protect at all costs. It would probably have gone badly."
"You can see the future." Now she's close, Charles can see it without even trying, the infinite possibilities refracted through her eyes and throwing shadows around her. He has never found anyone who radiates so much utter confidence.
She doesn't answer, not out loud, but her mind speaks clearly and loudly. Just an old woman. An old woman who's been alone far too long. The confidence cracks, just a little, and there's excitement under there, and fear. The likelihood of being rejected is miniscule, but it's still there. And she has been alone for so long. Has seen Raven a thousand times in her visions, but could not be with her until now.
"Raven's upstairs." Charles' voice is suddenly a little hoarse. "Second floor."
The woman - "Destiny. Or Irene to my friends." She calls over her shoulder. "As we will be."
Erik blinks at where she'd disappeared up the stairs. "She's Raven's." Charles explains.
"I thought Raven was a Dominant."
Dear god- He can feel, under Erik's disbelief and amusement, the knowledge slots in. It's not quite trusted, as this Destiny isn't, but Charles knows soon enough Erik will hang on to it and her with all the strength he does every other part of his new life.
"At least you'll have something you can both complain about that isn't me." Charles points out.
They spend most of the night in the living room, both Alex and Darwin fast asleep by now, and Charles carefully keeps his telepathy pinned to this floor, giving Raven the privacy such a moment deserves.
The room is packed and the voices a dull blur in Charles' mind. He's closed his mind as much as possible but even after Cuba, he can't cut everything off. He would very much rather not be here, but the choice wasn't his to make. It's a lot bigger than him.
If this is to work. This. Their whole plan to reveal their kind to the world without prompting Shaw's war or Erik's Holocaust. If they want it to have a chance, they need the school to work. They need the safehouses Azazel and Riptide are setting up in New York, and beyond. They need funds to buy out their enemies, bribe the politicians, oust the inevitable anti-mutant groups. They need money.
So hence this society event. Charles hadn't gone to one since his mother died, but then he and Raven had spent the last decade living off his trust fund, something which would be emptied very quickly considering the funds they need. It barely survived rebuilding Cerebro.
They need money, they need to invest and be seen as good investments. They need to know where to put their money for the best return. And for that, they need to start attending these events.
Erik's desire not to be here is greater, if possible, than Charles' own, but at least he's got the privilege of relevant conversation. The usual sharks are attending, drawn by the curiosity of seeing the son of Brian Xavier re-entering society at last after so many years away. And with a Dominant, no less, they sniff around hungrily, weighing Erik up, eager to see if he's a foolish tool they can bilk out of the Xavier fortune.
Charles spent most of the evening overseeing these interactions, alerting Erik to intentions and possible ploys to use. He doesn't need to do much, as this, combined with Erik's usual forbidding demeanour, is enough to impress on these men of power that the new holder of the Xavier fortune is not someone to be messed with.
Unfortunately, this doesn't leave Charles with much to do. The Submissive liberation of the 1940s and 50s seems to have stopped at the venue's impressive doors, and Charles is stuck with the glittering, flighty crowd of Submissives. Laughter like birds', light flashing off bangles and rings, and jewel studded collars that make Charles feel stupidly underdressed.
It's idiotic, he's certainly not stinting himself on that account, with a fine outfit in blue and black, with the plunging neckline of current Submissive fashion, showing off neck, collar and the fine lines of his throat. It's not as daring and revealing as some of the outfits worn here, but it's nothing to sneer at.
Normally Charles would have had Raven to talk to at these events. As she was young and an unattached Dominant, she would have been free to stay with him. Now, she fully refused to come.
I only just found Irene and now you're asking me to leave her for an evening? You have your tortures Charles; don't ask us to share them.
Erik breaks off a conversation with an oil speculator and turns away to find a drink of something before he starts smashing things. Charles smiles. You're doing wonderfully, love. None of us could do this without you.
I blame you for making me take this on, Charles.
And we all appreciate your sacrifice. Now, that one there, the one in a blue suit. Yes, him. He's a politician, not a bad one to have on our side. Open to integration and civil rights, when we make our move he could be a valuable ally with the right support.
"My, if it isn't young Xavier."
Charles jumps, hand dropping from the side of his head - an affectation he can't seem to get rid of- and turns to the shocking familiar voice.
Emma Frost is a beautiful as she was in Russia, dressed in a sheer white dress and gleaming high heels which on her seem more like weapons than fashion. Collarless yet here with the Submissives, she's got every eye on her.
Charles controls himself with difficulty and reaches out to Erik- no, wait, stop. I've got this. She wouldn't do anything here, and even if she did, I can stop her.
"Ms Frost." He inclines his head, every inch the polite Submissive. She smiles.
Oh for- Erik struggles against Charles, the drive to protect trashing like a caged beast inside.
I've got this. We can't jeopardise everything we've done here in attacking her.
"Done with your little chat?" Everything in Emma's voice and posture evokes nothing but polite interest. The smugness is entirely from her mind. "Then maybe you could indulge me for a little while."
"A pleasure." Charles' smile is tight. Erik's on the verge of ordering him out now.
Please, I want to talk to her. I will tell you if there's anything amiss. Shaw's dead. there nothing she can do or hope to do.
"So nice of you to call off your pet Dominant." Emma says sweetly as they walk to the balcony. "I would so hate to see a repeat of Russia."
"It was necessary." Is all Charles can say on that.
"And so was killing Shaw?" She's still smiling, Charles' surprise must have been loud enough to feel, because she laughs like shattering crystal. "Oh please. I know your Lehnsherr couldn't have done it. Sebastian wasn't in the habit of making creatures that can destroy him."
"He made you." Charles pushes carefully.
"And you saw how close he kept me." She smile is sour now, a twist of bitter glass. "He would never have let Lehnsherr go if he thought he had a chance of harming him. Sebastian was oh so careful about that. But you, he didn't see you coming at all, did he?"
"Do you have a reason for calling me out here?" Charles snaps. The last thing he wants to do is talk about Shaw of all people. The man's dead, and Charles and Erik made sure his legacy never even existed.
"You really hate him, don't you?" She croons; pleased to have found buttons she can press.
"And you don't?" Two can play at that game. "I saw what he did to you." He touches the side of his head.
Her smile vanishes like a spark in a snowstorm. Rigid ice. "When you live in hell, what is it to you if it spreads a little more?"
"What do you want, Emma?" Charles sighs. He doesn't want to do this, to probe at the wounds a petty and twisted man left on them both.
The smile is back. "The same thing as you, darling. To mix, to mingle, to make a few connections."
Interest piqued, Charles cocks his head. "You and Angel, is that what you're planning?"
"Like you? Yes. We all need a place to go if the illustrious Xavier mansion is closed to us."
Stung, Charles frowns. "It's not closed. If you were to come-"
"We'd be welcomed with open arms? Honey, you know better than that. Your little Dominant wouldn't let me in the grounds; and Angel... Why would you think she wants to be anywhere near you?"
It still hurts; that failure. "We're not on opposite sides. We're just trying to survive, like you."
"By hiding? That won't work, and I can see you know it."
"If we're going to be discovered, I want it to be done properly. Do you want Shaw to be the face of our kind?"
Emma stops, and those words have hit home. She's silent for a long moment, staring into the darkness beyond the house. "No." Finally. "He had... I thought he had... ideas. But he was insane." She laughs, short and hard. "Very well, you build your big reveal, Charles. Who knows, it might just work. But we'll be you there, when you fail. For those you cannot help."
She looks at him, and Charles can see the gaping holes in her mind, the remains of the wasteland it had been when he had last seen it. The wounds slowly healing through time and distance. And, coming slowly to the fore, the aching, scraping pain of a broken bond. Charles flinches away.
Satisfied, Emma starts to walk off in a flurry of snowflake white. "Wait."
She turns. Charles takes a deep breath to steel himself, and meets her gaze again despite the pain. "Yes then. Do it, find those we can't help. But remember, we are not enemies. We're on the same side, we want the same things. Our kind, alive and thriving. We can agree on that, at least."
Emma pauses, looking at him, taking him in; the slight, slender Submissive in his carefully cut clothes, the collar a mark of ownership around his neck, and inside, she can see his determination, every plan propping up the goal: mutants alive and strong and unafraid of the world.
"We'll be in touch, I daresay." Then Emma's gone, and Charles is left, breathing as though he'd surfaced from long underwater.