Charles pulls his cup away from his lips as a growing sense of unease fills him. Warm tea spills on his hand and he looks down, surprised to see his hand shaking. The cup clatters against the plate as he hastily puts it down. His entire body is shaking and he has no idea when or why it started. It only makes his unease worse. He can't help the momentary sense of betrayal that sweeps through him. His body is dysfunctional enough without another part of him falling out of his control. He presses his hands flat to the table in an attempt to regain some semblance of control. It only partially works.
Sun streams in through the large bay windows that form the southern wall of the dining room. He expects to see a storm but there isn't one. The skies are clear, almost picturesquely so, marred only by the heavy swaying of the trees. There's a strong wind blowing from the south. It makes the trees lean towards him and shakes the windows. A glint catches his eye and he squints, trying to make it out but it blends with the sunlight.
He's felt this unease before, just before something devastating happens, but it's worse than anything he can remember. It's closer. Whatever's about to happen, it's going to happen nearby. It's the Chile earthquake, Typhoon Vera, and Mount Lamington all rolled into one. As he watches, the glint of light gets closer to the horizon.
He should warn the children, tell them to get to the storm cellar in the basement. Before he can, the light flashes and a deafening boom pierces the air.
Terror squeezes his heart so hard that he fears it might burst. It seeps into him, flooding his mind and clogging every pore. His eyes widen and he forgets how to breath. The light keeps getting brighter and wider, blossoming out in a white cloud that he's seen before on old film from the war. He wants to run but he knows running will do no good. He has no chance of outpacing what's coming for him, even if he wasn't crippled and stuck in a wheelchair.
His teacup rattles against the table, dancing towards the edge. He reaches out for the children as the first wave hits him. Pain. Fear. Burning. Death. So much death. Buildings gone. People gone. Oh, God, the pain. Hurtshurtshurts. He fights to keep the children from feeling any of that but some of it still bleeds through. His mind stutters out Cellar. Hurry. and then he's doubling over in pain, screaming along with the people at the center of the blast. Their pain doesn't last long but for each one that dies, there's always another ready to fill the void in Charles's head.
There's too many of them. It's too much to filter out. He feels everything - their pain, their fear, their despair. It swallows him and he can feel himself cracking under the pressure. The weight of their pain pushes against his already weakened mind. He's still wounded from the loss of his legs and the loss of Erik.
He sees the rolling wave of fire and debris through a thousand eyes as it sweeps outward from the city, consuming everything in its path. He sees it, but he can't react. A wall of air hits the side of the house so hard it shakes the foundations, and for a second he's worried that it's going to come down on them. Glass bites into his skin as the windows shatter. He's thrown backwards by the force of the blast. He doesn't feel it when he hits the floor, but he can feel the blood pouring out of him.
His skin prickles and as he sucks in a deep gasping breath. He feels like the glass. He turns his head but his gaze is unfocused. His vision is slipping. He knows something's wrong with him, more than the obvious injuries. He's hurt somewhere else, somewhere deep inside. His skin is on fire. The voices are getting louder and no matter how much he tries, he can't make them go away. His hands clench on the bloody tile, brushing against wet glass. He's seizing. His focus shifts, slipping into a mind that's panicked but determined to be rational. He stares down at himself and calls his own name. He's a mess, bleeding and trembling on the floor, eyes unfocused. Alex kneels with him and together they grab his body, start to pull him away.
The unease comes again. Alex yells at him when he stops, but he can't hear him. He turns towards the sky. A second explosion. A second wave of anguish and terror from further away. It knocks at him. He stumbles, nearly drops his own body.
A third explosion. A fourth. The bombs keep coming, keep killing, keep destroying. The voices crash into him and knock him loose.
He's swept away.
It's cold. Omaha is usually cold but not this time of year, or at least that's the impression Charles picks up from the area. He gets the feeling that the cold is out of place. The summer sun is gone, hidden behind thick black clouds that rolled in and refused to go away. It took the heat with it, leaving the rest of the world to fend for itself in rising chill and ever present gloom.
The lack of sun feels almost familiar to him. He's been this cold before, though he wasn't as lost or alone as he feels now. The cold brings back vague memories. His head aches just thinking of them and he pushes them away. He's had enough of pain and suffering. He doesn't want to go back.
As he shoves the memories away, he catches a flash of blue out of the corner of his eye. He turns but he's alone on the street. Alone, but not entirely. His feet carry him forward. He doesn't know where he's going until he gets there. There is a large brick building off the main road. It's three stories high and its windows are shattered. There are holes in the walls, holes blasted outward and scorched black around the edges. It sets the building apart from the others, marks it as special.
The cold is less inside, but not by much. His footsteps make no sound and that seems wrong somehow. The entire building is so quiet. He should be able to hear something - the tread of his soles on the floor, the swish of his pant legs brushing against each other. There is nothing and then, off in the distance, he hears something.
A voice calls to him in German. He starts to run but he's not sure if he's running towards the voice or from it. He can't place the voice but he knows that he should. His chest clenches painfully and he stops, pressing his hand to the wall until the pain subsides.
The sound comes from inside the room next to him. He walks into a room full of beds. There's a child crying in the corner, huddled away from the cold, too scared to move. He's an older child, early teens perhaps. His features are familiar. It seems significant that Charles has found this child here. There's a connection between them, or between them and someone else.
The boy's name is Scott. Scott knows that something's happened but the adults wouldn't tell him what. He knows that the other children are sick. Everyone's sick except for him and he doesn't understand why. He thinks they hate him for it. He knows they're afraid of him.
His eyes are clenched shut and have been for a while. They hurt. It feels like there's something pounding in his head, trying to get out. His eyes hurt so much but he can't open them. Bad things happen when he opens his eyes.
It's quiet. Everything's so quiet and he wants to open his eyes, to figure out what's going on but he can't. He could hurt someone. But it's so quiet and he's afraid that they've left him. They left him to die in the cold.
It's okay, Charles says as he kneels beside the boy. My name is Charles. I'm here to help you. The boy swallows and nods slightly. He's uncertain. He's been told never to talk to strangers but it's been so long since someone talked to him. His stomach aches with hunger but he can't find any food on his own. Charles takes Scott's hand, leading him away from the room full of beds with pale, still children lying on them. It's going to be okay. Come away. Come away from there.
He leads the boy out into the hall and into the streets. Scott shivers with cold. He feels it more strongly than Charles does and the disparity between their senses concerns him.
Charles kneels down and puts his hands to the boy's head. It doesn't feel right. His hands blur at the edges, fingers pressing into the boy's skull but Scott doesn't react, like he can't even feel it. Charles can feel Scott though, but it's not a physical sense. He can feel Scott's mind calling to him, more solid than Scott's flesh.
He reaches in, seeing the map of the boy's mind like a blueprint. He traces the line from Scott's eyes, follows it all the way back to where it's knotted, tied up in guilt and fear and childhood loss. Very carefully, he touches the knot, slowly unraveling it. The edges are still raw when he's done but he can feel the boy's fear ease.
Open your eyes.
It's okay. I promise. Open your eyes.
Scott opens his eyes and sees the world around him without a red haze for the first time in days. He turns in a slow circle, stopping when his eyes rest on the orphanage. He takes a step towards it but Charles stops him.
No. You must leave. Find others like yourself. It's the only way to survive.
He plants a series of images in Scott's mind - a location, a name, a face, a time, a direction. Scott opens his mouth to thank him then stops. He looks around again, trying to find the person who's been speaking to him but all he sees are empty streets. Charles frowns as Scott's gaze passes right through him. He wants to shout, to get Scott's attention, to get Scott to look at him but it's too late.
The cold surrounds him and he's pulled away.
Remy hates gators. Growing up in the Bayou, he's learned a healthy respect for the critters. His policy has always been not to mess with them unless they mess with him. It seems like a solid policy to Charles, but it doesn't account for what to do when a mass of gators take sudden umbrage to Remy's presence. Admittedly, gators shouldn't be this far into the city and usually gators don't have bone spikes growing out of them.
They're also considerably smaller.
Charles watches in fascination as Remy grabs a handful of debris from the gutter and flings it at the gators. The debris flashes purple as it sails through the air, impacting with quite an impressive explosion. Unfortunately it only makes the gators mad.
They hiss and charge. Remy runs, even though he knows outrunning a gator in short distances is nigh impossible. Charles can see how this is going to turn out already. He steps into the street, wincing as Remy passes right through him. It takes him a moment to refocus. His form dims, swirling like fog, then reforming back into the shape his brain thinks it should be. He touches a hand to his temple.
The gators stop. Remy doesn't, though he slows as he spots a fire escape inside of an alleyway. As he turns, he catches sight of his pursuers and realizes they've stopped. He hovers at the edge of the alleyway, instincts telling him to keep running, curiosity making him wait.
Charles makes the gators turn and trundle back towards the swamp. He can feel their disappointment at being denied food for the day, but he fails to feel sorry for them. A line about just following orders pops into his head. It seems wildly inappropriate and yet oddly fitting at the same time. A sharp pain jabs into his spine. He screams and falls to his knees.
Remy steps out from the alleyway, his gaze frantically scanning the streets. "Hello? Who's there?" His voice has a thick Cajun accent to it. Charles wishes it was German.
The pain fades as if it was never there and he rises to his feet. My name is Charles Xavier.
Remy spins in a quick circle. "Where are you?"
Right in front of you.
Remy stares, his eyes running over Charles but never focusing on him. His stance shifts and his lips take on a wry tilt. "Not unless you're invisible, you ain't."
I am. Invisible that is, more or less. And in front of you.
He takes a step forward and waves. Remy pales slightly and Charles can feel him forcing the grin.
I'm not a ghost, he reassures Remy before he can voice his fear. Just... different. Like yourself. And lost. Sort of. I lost the rest of me.
He can feel Remy's skepticism. He can also feel more animals closing in. Night is falling soon and the animals are hungry. He knows a spot Remy can hide. They take shelter in an old cathedral. The place takes its design from an older age, when sieges were common. It's never seen such use, nor ever intended to, but its walls are solid rock and the door sturdy metal.
Light slips away, taking the heat with it. Charles shivers. He's starting to hate the cold.
He stays with Remy until dawn, listening to him talk about women and bars and exaggerated tales of his adventures. Charles feels like he should have his own stories to contribute but he can't think of any. He knows that he's been to bars before but he can't remember any. And women... only one woman comes to mind, a woman whose name and face he can't remember but whose presence and lack thereof he feels keenly. The only woman who's ever mattered to him left him, just like the rest of his family.
Charles leaves with the morning light, fading away with the darkness. He'd told Remy where to go. It's up to him to make it there.
Charles likes Africa. It's warm here. Warmer, at least, though not as warm as it should be. The thick clouds that filled the skies elsewhere are held at bay here, leaving a large open hole in the sky for sun to shine through. It's been a very long time since he's seen the sun. He stares up at it, breathing in clean, clear air that he doesn't actually feel.
It should feel peaceful here, but it doesn't. There's someone he wants to share this view with. Someone whose name he can't remember and that bothers him. There are holes in his mind, great gaping holes that swallowed up everything from before the dark clouds came.
He knows some things. He knows his name - Charles Xavier - but not where he's from or what he used to do for a living. He knows he can see people better than they see themselves, see into their minds and their hearts and their souls. He can remember where he's been. Some of it, at least, though he has the feeling there's gaps there too. He remembers Omaha, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Toronto, New Orleans, and Paris, though not how he got there or how he got here or most of the places in between.
A teenage girl with dark skin and too-old eyes sits on a rock next to him. Her name is Ororo and she's as lost in thought as he is. They sit in silence, staring up at the sky. She's the one controlling it. She's keeping the clouds at bay and the people here worship her as a goddess. It's a significantly better life than being a thief in Cairo. Charles doesn't offer her sanctuary with the other mutants because he knows she won't take it.
She marvels at how the world is changing and her place in the new order. Charles tries to remember what the old world was like. She shares what bits she can from her memories of the days of change, but her people live far from the cities, well out of the range of the attacks.
Charles finds it ironic that the people others would pity for their primitive ways are the ones who survived the change the best. The cities fell to technology. Charles knows he's from one of those cities which makes him wonder. Is he one of the dead?
The mansion seems familiar to him. It sits on the edge of a swath of ruin. The land leading up to it has been leveled and the majority of the nearby town has burned to the ground. A corner of the mansion is singed and every single window is shattered, but other than that it seems relatively unharmed. He walks in through a broken window, stepping into a dining room in disarray. A wheelchair is knocked over next to the table. There's glass everywhere and a pool of red staining the wood floor.
Charles walks over to the pool. He imagines the sound of glass crunching beneath his feet, though his steps make no sound. He crouches next to the red stain. His fingers brush against it but he can't feel anything. There's a teacup lying broken on the floor nearby. Everything about this place is familiar and he doesn't know why. His lack of memory frustrates him. His fists clench but there's nothing to hit.
Instead he runs. His feet carry him swiftly down the halls. He doesn't stop to open doors, instead passing right through them as he twists and turns through the mansion. He's not thinking about where he's going, he just runs, but it does nothing to still the disquiet in his heart. He runs faster and faster. It does nothing. He has no heartbeat, no breath. He can't tire himself. He can't feel the exhertion. It's simply movement.
He stops abruptly, throws his head back, and screams. It's a loud, primal scream and no one can hear it. There is no one. He checked. All the people who'd been here are dead or gone. He's alone and he hates it. He hates being like this.
His scream dies slowly. He's unwilling to let it go but his emotions don't last long enough to sustain it. He starts to feel a bit silly about the whole thing. The scream cuts off and he lowers his head, staring at the ground.
There's a coin on the floor.
He drops quickly to his knees and grabs for it. His hand passes through it. Panic builds in him because he knows the coin is important. There's an eagle emblazoned on the visible face. He wants it. He needs to pick up the coin. His hands scrabble after it. As he tries to grab it he can feel something inside himself shifting. Frustration and determination pool in his belly and together they ignite something he never knew he had.
The coin wobbles. It shifts with his hands. He digs his nails beneath the edge and the coin rises, sliding into his palm. He stares at it in amazement.
There's an ache in his head as he flips the coin in his hand, an ache that starts at the front, at the center of his forehead, and pushes straight through the back of his skull. With the ache comes a name - Erik - and an overwhelming sense of loss and betrayal. Erik hurt him. That's why he's here. It hurt too much where he was, and so he left his body behind and walked away from it all.
Going back means pain. Going back means being able to touch and feel again, and even if the majority of what he feels is pain, he wants to be able to feel again. He wants to be something other than cold and alone.
Maybe if he goes back he can find Erik and Raven. Maybe they survived.
There's a very large problem with going back to his body, he realizes. He doesn't know where his body is.
Scott jumps up from the campfire and comes running towards him. Charles frowns. Scott hadn't been able to see him before but this time he looks straight at him. The boy skids to a halt at the edge of the circle cast by the campfire and looks up at him with a grin. His companion, an older, scruffy looking man that seems vaguely familiar, looks at Scott like he's gone insane.
You can see me?
The man at the campfire shoots to his feet and whirls in a circle. Large metal claws extend from his hands. "Who's there?"
Scott shoots the man a dirty look. "Stop that. It's just Charles."
The man - Logan, Charles picks up, yet another mutant - frowns at the boy. "Who the hell is Charles?"
Charles tsks. iYou shouldn't swear in front of a child.
They both frown and stare at him, though Logan's gaze is unfocused, more pointed in his general direction than at him.
"I'm not a child," Scott protests. He shifts closer and hovers his hand near Charles's arm. "And, yeah, I can see you. Sort of. It's shimmery. Are you a ghost?"
Charles swallows. He's been trying not to consider that possibility, though it seems the most likely explanation. I very much hope not, but possibly. It hurts him to admit it but lying won't make the possibility go away.
"Oh." Scott's eyes fill with pity and his frown softens. "I'm sorry."
Logan's steps echo heavily against the ground as he walks over. He passes his arm through the air over Scott's head. It tickles slightly as his arm passes through Charles. He takes that as a good sign, since it's more than he'd ever felt when someone touched him.
"So, Charles," Logan's tone is awkward. Charles can feel how silly Logan feels at addressing thin air. "Who are you?"
A flash of memory comes to him. Charles feels the faint stirrings of hope for the first time since he can remember. We've met before. In a bar. I'm looking for the other man I was with. Can you find him?
Logan shifts on his feet. "If I had something to track by."
Charles pushes just slightly, making Logan raise his arm. A shot of panic runs through Logan but he doesn't move his arm. His eyes widen as a coin floats into his hand.
This was his.
Logan's trying not to show how freaked out he is. He lifts the coin and sniffs it. "Yeah, it'll do."
No one can see Charles smile but that doesn't stop him from grinning like a fool.
Logan leads them to a building in southern Nevada. There have been obvious improvements made to the building. Metal additions spiral off of it, forming a towering fortress that gleams faintly in the dull light. Charles can almost feel the warmth coming off of it. They'd picked up Remy two states over, and the Cajun lets out an appreciative whistle.
A blue-skinned woman stands in front of the only entrance, her arms folded over her chest. "Who are you?" She demands once they're a few feet away.
Scott steps forward before Logan can stop him. "Charles sent us. Is he here?"
The woman's mouth drops open. Charles wants nothing more than to walk over and hug her, to wipe the devastated look off her face.
His head aches with a rush of memories. This is the only woman he'd ever loved. This was his sister. Raven. I'm sorry. I forgot about you, Raven. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. If she was here, then maybe so was Erik.
"Where..." Her gaze traveled over the group, her stricken expression deepening as she failed to see him.
"He's a ghost," Scott says. He closes the distance and takes her hand. She stares down at him with an open mouth and wide eyes. "Or something like that. It's hard to see him. I couldn't the first time and it took Logan a really long time to figure it out." Logan mutters something low and Remy's lips quirk towards a smile. "Can you take us to him?"
She nods dumbly and turns.
The fortress is blissfully warm on the inside. It's spacious on the inside. There's a mishmash of furniture and tapestries. Thick rugs are layered across the floor. They walk in silence through the halls. Other people emerge from the rooms they pass but Raven waves off their questions. Some join the procession, falling in silence behind the rest of the group.
They stop at a large metal door. Raven knocks loudly. The door pulls open on its own. They file into a large room lit by a crackling fireplace. There's a man seated in front of the fireplace, book open and forgotten in his lap. He starts to speak to Raven but Scott cuts him off as he points towards the large bed that dominates the opposite side of the room. A thin, pale figure rests on the bed, deathly still.
"Look. I told you he was real."
Erik's eyes widen. His book falls to the floor and he's speaking but Charles loses focus on the words. He feels himself drawn towards the bed. He falls to his knees on the carpet, hands resting against the side of the bed, inches from touching the body. His body. As he looks closer he can see the steady rise and fall of the chest. The movement is barely noticeable but it's there.
He looks back at Erik, at the crowd of people clustered around and in the doorway. People who have been waiting for him. People who have been watching over him. He feels a knot loosen in his chest, the beginnings of forgiveness. Erik may have left him, may have hurt him, but he came back and he's been watching over Charles since. It counts for something. Not enough to completely erase the hurt but close.
If he goes back, he'll have to face Erik and the complex twist of love and loss and hope and betrayal. If he goes back, he'll lose the use of his legs. He'll be a prisoner in his body again. If he goes back, he'll feel the pain again though he knows it won't be as bad now. He'll be able to block most of it. He's gotten stronger. He can face it.
Erik steps away from the group. He turns to the bed and his eyes fix on Charles, on the real, physical Charles. There's such longing in his gaze that it makes Charles's heart hurt. He briefly touches Erik's mind, just a faint touch, but it's enough to make Erik's eyes close and a look of relief cross his face. Erik loves him. Erik's always loved him. He regrets leaving Charles to face everything alone. He regrets hurting Charles and the fact that Charles will never be able to walk again.
If he goes back, he'll get to touch Erik again. Touch him and kiss him and hold him in his arms and be held in return.
It was never much of a question if he'll go back.
Charles leans forward and lays a hand on his own chest. He feels something grab him, pulling him forward. Something that feels like air rushes past him. The world goes black. It shifts and twists. He nearly loses his grip before it reorients itself. His entire body aches. He's weak and sore and tired but he's alive and breathing.
Charles opens his eyes. There's a metal ceiling above him and warm, thick blankets covering. He turns his head towards Erik's astonished, dumbstruck gaze. He smiles.
He's glad to be back.