He felt it. The agony, the fear, the death…from the very moment that coin touched Shaw's forehead, Charles felt it, and it only got worse. He'd never felt anything like this; it was as though his own mind was being torn apart, lacerated, and filled with searing hot fluids that muddled all his thoughts until the only thing he knew was pain.
And screaming. Someone was screaming. At first, he thought it was Shaw, screaming in his mind if not from his lips – because Shaw couldn't move his lips or any other part of him; Charles would see to that, even if the agony drove him to madness in the process – but then he realized Shaw was gone. There was nothing there anymore, the coin having already done its duty. Nothing but the whispers of a dying mind slipped from the man's mind into Charles's.
No…he was the one screaming.
He knew the instant the deed was done, not because the pain lessened, but because it increased. He'd never held onto a dying mind before, and the feel of that connection snapping was like nothing Charles had ever experienced. He thought, in all honesty, that he might never be sane again, that he might never think another thought or breathe another breath that wasn't plagued with this same unbearable agony that coursed not only through his mind, but through the rest of him as well.
Charles wasn't quite sure when he'd ended up on the floor of their crashed jet, but the next thing he knew, he was there. Moira was standing over him, and it took him an alarmingly long time to get his eyes to focus enough on her face to see the look of concern displayed on it. Even the effort it took to get his eyes in line was monumental, and it sent stabs of pain through his pounding head so great he thought he might black out. His stomach rolled, but he forced the nausea back and made himself ignore the throbbing behind his eyes. He still had something he needed to do…Erik…he needed to find Erik.
With the help of Moira, he made it to his feet and out of the jet. The light that greeted them hit his sensitive eyes, and once again, Charles felt his world twist a little on its side. He just had to make it to Erik; he couldn't let what he thought would happen come to pass.
He didn't have to go far, though. As they stepped out into the abusive sun, so, too, did Erik. Like a God, he drifted down. Before him, the body of Shaw fell until he let it rest on the sands of the beach. Charles saw the matching spots of blood on the back and front of his head; for the briefest moment, he could almost feel the itch of dry and running blood on his own scalp.
There was something on Erik's head, too. A helmet. Charles tried to reach out to Erik, tried to feel him, but it was like trying to reach through a wall. He tried to press, but he couldn't afford much effort. It was killing him, each moment of concentration. Hammers pounded in his skull, and he could feel moisture welling in his eyes. He'd never felt pain like this. He could hear everything…everything but Erik. The children were there…Rip Tide and Angel...all of their minds cried out to him. All their thoughts echoed in his aching head, like individual knives against his consciousness. His students were scared, and he could feel each of their nerves in his own chest. Rip Tide was reserved; his leader had just been conquered and he was unsure of how to proceed. Angel felt…guilty. It was all there, booming louder than ever before, and he couldn't shut it out. It was deafening…suffocating. He couldn't breathe…he couldn't—
Erik was saying something. He was moving, walking, away from Charles. Charles told his feet to move, and miraculously, the message made it through the cacophony in his head and he started moving alongside him.
"The real enemy is out there," Erik was saying. He pointed out to the water where ships passed in front of the beach. "I feel their guns moving in the water. Targeting us."
Charles forced his eyes up when Erik looked at him. His vision was tunneling, but he couldn't afford to be weak now. He had to be strong; he had to make Erik see. He couldn't give up on him! "Go ahead, Charles."
He wanted Charles to read them, wanted him to see their intentions. Through the noise already in his head, the focus required to reach out to them was almost unimaginable. He raised his hand to his temple. Pain wracked his mind, and he nearly stumbled. So many voices, so much agony…he felt sick. He needed to stop, to collect himself, to get away and reestablish his shields. He knew he wasn't going to last much longer like this, no matter how hard he fought.
But Erik was still there. Erik still needed to be helped. "Tell me I'm wrong," the older man said.
So he did made himself focus no matter how badly it hurt. It was hard to decipher what he found…they were scared. So many minds crying out in fear, in outrage, in confusion. They were good men, for the most part…brave souls just trying to do the right thing. But no matter what he saw in them, there was no denying their intentions. One word, singular and sharp, echoed through his mind.
And then the sky went black. Missiles from both fleets of ships filled the sky, and Charles felt a sudden burst of terror in his chest. Not just his own, but the terror of many. Of Hank, of Raven, of the men on the boats and the people on the beach alike. It ripped the air from his lungs, and white exploded behind his eyes.
Just before the missiles reached them, though, Erik raised a hand, and they stopped. Through his blurring vision, he could see the missiles suspended in mid air. There was a wave of relief, once again far too intense to be purely his own, but that was replaced immediately with a dread that was his own. The missiles, but the torque of Erik's hand, were turning. He knew what was happening, what Erik was doing, and he had to stop it.
"Please, Erik," he said through the rising nausea and fading sight. He was losing it; he wouldn't last much longer, but he couldn't let Erik do this. He couldn't let those men die, and he couldn't let Erik kill them, because those men were good men, and Erik definitely didn't need the blood on his hands. He could still be saved; there was so much good in him. Charles couldn't let that die. "You said yourself we're the better men. This is the time to prove it." Each word was harder and harder to string to the last. He could barely hear his own thoughts over the cries of others, and the pain was impossible. He could hear Moira in the jet, calling for help; he could hear the children, wondering whether or not they would live to see the sunset. Desperation, both his and theirs, and agony brought tears to his eyes, but he forced his tunneling sight to stay fixed on Erik. "There are thousands of men on those ships…they're just following orders."
The moment the words slipped from his lips, Charles regretted them. He hadn't meant them; he knew, without seeing into Erik's mind, was those words would mean to him, because he'd seen before what they meant. He hadn't meant them. The distraction had been too great.
Erik's face set in a hard, cold line. "I've been at the mercy of men just following orders." And then he turned those steely grey eyes on Charles, and the pain in them was almost as bad as that beating inside his head. Or no…maybe it was one in the same. He couldn't…he couldn't think. His head was so full, past capacity, and between it and the pain, all rational thought was being driven from his grasp. All he could think of was Erik…he couldn't lose him. He couldn't let him do this…He loved him. "Never again."
With a thrust of his hand, Erik loosed the missiles back at the ships. "Erik, release them!" They were getting closer; people were going to die. Erik was going to make the biggest mistake of his life, and he had to stop it! He could feel the men on those ships, hear the prayers they thought would be their last. He had to stop it. He had to! "No!" he screamed. His feet were moving before he realized, propelling him at Erik. At the last second, he tucked his shoulder, tackling Erik at the hips. The impact knocked all the air out of him and sent both him and Erik to the sand in a heap. Concussive bursts of sound blasted through the air as Erik's loss of concentration allowed a few of the missiles to explode and the others to waver in their path, but he couldn't allow himself to focus on that. He just had to get through to him. If he could get in Erik's head, if he could makehimlisten, then he could put an end to this.
Desperately, he scrambled to get his hands on that damned helmet. He would never manipulate Erik; he just had to hear him. To really hear him.
But he couldn't. He couldn't get at it, and with his vision nearly blacked out, he wasn't putting up much of a fight as Erik batted his hands away. "I don't want to hurt you!" Erik ground out, but the very moment he spoke the words, his elbow crashed into the side of Charles's face. It threw Charles sideways, stunning him. His head was already in such disarray, the jolt was nearly enough to knock him out entirely. He fell onto his back, his face screwed up tightly; he couldn't give up yet. He had to make Erik see. "Don't make me!"
Worry crashed against his chest, but it wasn't his own. He heard footsteps in the sand beside him, and knew them to be those of the children. Erik was on top of him; maybe they were coming to help. But it didn't matter. "Stand back!" Erik commanded, and Charles got his eyes open just in time to see the children go flying back.
Charles tried to use Erik's momentary distraction to grab at his helmet, but he couldn't…quite…grasp it. "Charles, that's enough!" Erik ground out through his grit teeth. He was holding Charles back to the sand with one hand, but with the other, he resumed his manipulation of the missiles.
Another stab of fear. The men on the boats realized they weren't quite saved. "Erik, stop!" he cried. The pain was unbelievable now; Charles was almost certain his head was going to explode. So many emotions, so many thoughts battering against his unprotected consciousness. It was too much. It would've been too much were he at his best; after Shaw, he couldn't hope to stand it. In one last desperate attempt, he reached for the helmet.
Only to have his arm batted away by Erik's. The very next thing Charles knew, a fist was colliding with his face with enough force to knock his head sideways. A cry of pain and surprise broke from his lips.
And just like that, Charles lost it. The last tendrils of control he had over his shields tore, and his cry of surprise morphed into a scream of agony that shredded his throat. White blinded his eyes no matter how tightly he closed them as thousands of different thoughts and emotions bombarded his mind in a single instant. Vaguely, he registered something wet running down his face. Tears…bloody nose…bloody tears…he couldn't have known. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered beyond the pain that made him blind to the world.
The pain only worsened as a single massive explosion sent concussive waves rippling through his body. Suddenly, a weight lifted off his chest. It was no easier to breathe, though; the loss of one discomfort did nothing to break through the myriad of agonies ripping through his body. There were arms on him…he tried to get away from them. He wanted to get away from everything…everything hurt…he had to get away.
"It's okay, Charles. You okay; I'm not going to hurt you."
But they were hurting him. Everyone was hurting him, with their thoughts and their feelings. He couldn't tune it out. It was deafening, and the owner of those damned hands – Erik, his struggling mind supplied – kept trying to pull his hands away from his face. He was trying to block it out; he knew that it wasn't going to work, that it wouldn't help, but it was primal instinct and he didn't have the presence of mind to go against it.
"What's wrong?" The voice sounded worried, but there was no emotion to go with it. With his own hands forced away, a single gloved palm settled against his cheek, holding his head against something…a chest. A firm chest, warm and solid. "Charles, what's going on? What's wrong?"
He tried to speak, but he realized he couldn't. His mouth was already open, and sound was already coming out. A scream. He was crying. Sobs and desperate cries ripped from his throat in equal parts, and he had no control over them. He tried, but it seemed as though the more effort he put into gaining control, the further he got from it. He tried to open his eyes, and the world just grew darker and harder to understand; he tried to get his tears under control, but the pain would just spike, and another scream would break from his lips. He was slipping…further, further, further, he was slipping.
Still, the voice persisted. The hand traced through his hair…arms cradled him. "I'm so sorry, Charles—I didn't mean to…I've got you, okay? I'm here…it's okay."
Something in the assurances gave Charles comfort. As he drifted further from consciousness, further from the pain and the agony, they slipped into his head. They soothed him. They were words with no thoughts, no emotions to assault his sensitive mind.
"Charles…don't…Charles, stay with me! Charles!"
But it was a request Charles couldn't satisfy, and those desperate commands were the last thing he knew.