I've wanted to tell you all this since the very beginning, but the title of this fic comes from the song "Us" by Regina Spektor. It will quickly become very apparent why. :)
If for some reason you've never heard the song before, off you trot! Listen to it at least once sometime, it's rather lovely.
For what it's worth, this is the exact ending I've had in mind ever since posting the prologue, so it may not be the sort of ending you'd like, but I'm happy with it all the same. :)
I can't thank you all enough for all the comments along the way, so one more time: thank you!
Kitty Pryde phases her way casually through the crowd, passing through people as easily as she does walls as she makes her way to the tall stage and podium set up in the north end of the square. There are a lot of people here today, she notes, though it stands to reason. Today is a big day.
She passes by several familiar faces on her way up to the front; like Pyro and Iceman, bickering about something as always, and she even thinks she catches a glimpse of Rogue giggling at a grumbling Wolverine. She doesn't stop to say hello, continuing on her way until she reaches the front of the crowd and comes to a stop in front of the stage. The podium has already been draped with Genosha's colors and set up with numerous different microphones. Several empty chairs line the back of the stage, waiting for their designated occupants to arrive. The crowd is murmuring, relaxed and at ease as they wait, an air of general comradely permeating the air.
A hand lands on her shoulder. "I saw that Kitty," Ororo admonishes even though she's smiling, "you shouldn't just phase through people like that, it's rather rude."
Kitty grins. "It's not like they noticed, Stormy. And I wanted to come stand with you guys."
"In our prime, front row seats?" Scott asks dryly from Ororo's other side. His red sunglasses actually look natural for once—it's a bright and sunny day.
"Honestly, Scott." Scott's girlfriend Jean says with a roll of her eyes. Kitty's only met her once or twice and thinks she's nice, if a little unnerving at times. "You'll be fine standing for an hour or two. They couldn't fit enough seats up here for everyone if they tried."
"I'm pretty sure half of Genosha is here," Kitty agrees with a laugh, "along with the usual foreign dignitary brigade. And a couple hundred tourists, give or take."
"Not to mention those reporters and camera crews." Ororo's looking at the press section, set up off to the side of the stage.
As Kitty follows her gaze, the cameras start flashing, marking the arrival of—well, someone. It takes a few moments, but eventually she can make out Alex Summers' blond hair as he makes his way up towards the stage, giving the cameras a nod and a wave.
"I don't see what the big deal is," Scott mutters, "it's just Alex."
"He is pretty handsome." Kitty says speculatively.
"Don't even go there." Scott answers flatly.
Instead of climbing up onto the stage, Alex catches sight of his brother and squeezes through the crowd to join them. "Scott, you made it after all." He gives his brother a handshake that turns into a one-armed hug.
Despite his attitude, Scott is smiling. "You can thank Jeanie. I certainly didn't want to come here just to watch your ugly face get photographed a thousand times."
Alex rolls his eyes. "Hello ladies," he says instead to Jean, Ororo, and Kitty, "I'm sorry you have to stand next to this loser." The Summers brothers can never resist trading insults, no matter how juvenile. Kitty takes it as a sign of all being right in the world.
"Alex, get back over here!" The cameras are going off again, this time because Angel Salvadore has arrived, dragonfly wings spread wide as she beckons. Kitty gives her a small wave that Angel returns with a wink.
Alex sighs. "I hate the press. Listen, let's catch up while you're all still in town, alright?"
"I'll call you." Scott pounds him on the back. "Go get 'em, tiger."
"Shut up, Scotty." Alex pushes his way back over to greet Angel and give the press another photo op.
"Look, Sean's here." Ororo says, and Kitty scans the crowd eagerly for her favorite teacher from her academy days.
His mop of ginger hair is easily discernible, his usually goofy grin teasing around the corners of his mouth even as he bends closer to the woman he's walking next to, listening intently to whatever it is that she's saying. Kitty recognizes her after a moment—Moira MacTaggert, the United States' main ambassador to Genosha. The two catch up with Angel and Alex, and Kitty laughs when Sean plants himself in front of the cameras with a wide grin, spreading his arms for a moment to show off the special design of his suit—his jacket spreads out into wings.
"He would." Ororo is laughing along with Kitty and they exchange grins.
"Cassidy is such a nut." Scott is shaking his head but Kitty's willing to bet that he's trying very hard not to smile. "I still have a hard time seeing him as a politician. I know him too well, you know?"
"Well he's practically your second brother." Jean says wryly. "He's quite good, though. Have you ever seen him in debates? He can go on for hours and he's got some pretty well-thought-out logic."
Scott mutters something about weed, which Kitty thinks is probably accurate.
"There's Hank!" Ororo says fondly.
Hank is even easier to spot than Sean, his neatly groomed blue fur like a beacon as he joins the rest of his peers. Kitty hasn't seen Hank in a long time—when he's on Genosha, he's usually in a lab, and when he's not, he's usually attending some UN function and then she'll catch brief glimpses of him on TV in the news, serious and almost imposing, always dressed immaculately in his specially tailored suits. Today his suit is no less immaculate but he looks relaxed, clapping Sean and Alex on the shoulders as they get together for the cameras.
Scott cups his hands around his mouth and shouts, "Beast!" He breaks off with a grin when Hank raises a hand in acknowledgement. They can all see his eye roll from where they stand.
"He come by to see you yet, Storm?" Kitty asks, grinning. Ororo had always been Hank's favorite student when he'd taught at the academy.
"Oh, I'm sure he'll swing through," Ororo says, "he always likes to come by and see the school."
"And the lovely Headmistress."
"Or give a guest lecture or two." Ororo corrects dryly.
Kitty wants to tease her a little more but she's drowned out by the applause of the crowd as Hank, Alex, Sean, and Angel take the stage—the First Class gathered together for the first time in months. It's not really an official title, more of a nickname given by the media, what, five or so years ago, Kitty thinks, but it'd certainly stuck.
Sean waves, easy-going grin never faltering for a second, and when he catches sight of Kitty he gives her a thumbs up that she returns with a laugh. Angel waves too, blowing a few random kisses out into the crowd as her wings flutter. Alex and Hank are a little more reserved, Hank offering them all a slightly more dignified wave than Sean while Alex grins a little sheepishly, pointedly ignoring his brother's catcalls from the front row.
The crowd continues clapping even as they take their seats along the back of the stage, Angel folding her wings down elegantly while Sean drops down into his seat in a lazy sprawl, giving another wave to the cameras that are still flashing wildly. As Hank and Alex take their seats as well, the crowd settles a little, still murmuring loudly, and this time Kitty can practically feel the anticipation in the air. More ambassadors and other dignitaries are trickling in, and Kitty thinks it's like the red carpet for politics.
It's pretty amazing, Kitty thinks idly as she takes a few moments to scan around the crowd. There seems to be a pretty even mix of mutants and humans here today, all packed together on Genosha's lone mountaintop. She thinks that it was a pretty fitting choice, to hold the speech up here, given that standing above them all in the middle of the square are the two men who made all of this possible.
Kitty looks at the cast iron statue. It's life-size, but raised up on a two-meter-tall platform so it's easily visible even where she stands at the front of the crowd. Magneto faces her, towards the north, one arm loose at his side while the other is raised, and his face upturned, as if he's holding an entire slew of missiles in midair, his eyes sharp even as a statue. Kitty thinks they did a pretty good job with him. There'd been some controversy back when the statue had originally been commissioned on whether or not to include Magneto's semi-famous helmet, but the First Class had strongly vetoed its presence. Kitty is glad they'd left it off; she knows from the stories that Magneto hadn't been wearing it anyway that day on the western cliffs.
She can't see the second half of the statue, but she knows what it looks like on the account that she's spent quite a lot of time staring up at it on days where the square is less crowded. Professor X stands back-to-back with Magneto, facing the south, two fingers held up to his temple. His eyes are closed, which Kitty thinks is somewhat relieving. They'd gotten Magneto's sharp gaze right, but she isn't sure anyone would ever be able to capture Xavier's eyes accurately—the one time she'd looked into them as a small girl, she swears there'd been lightning there and anything less, even for a statue, just wouldn't seem authentic.
Or maybe she's just unsure whether she'd be able to meet his gaze again, statue or not.
Kitty's gaze wanders back up to the stage, and just in time—with a poof and a cloud of red and black smoke, Azazel teleports onto the platform with Mystique.
The applause is deafening as Azazel teleports away again and Mystique moves to greet her fellow teammates. Mystique, Kitty thinks, is like the heart and soul of Genosha. She is the one who, in the aftermath of Magneto and Professor X, pulled Genosha together and made them fit to face the world, setting the foundations of the country along with the rest of the First Class. Kitty still isn't sure of the totality of the repercussions of Onslaught's Mandate—in some places it's celebrated, in other places, it's criticized, and in still other places, it's condemned—but Kitty does know one thing for sure: it is only by the grace of Mystique and the First Class that Genosha has come as far as it has today.
Mystique takes up position behind the podium, her golden eyes scanning the crowds calmly, waiting for the applause to die down. It does, gradually, until only the murmurings of the crowd remain as a low buzz. Then Mystique finally opens her mouth to speak.
"Ten years ago, Charles Xavier promised me that he meant to stay in Genosha for forever."
The entire square has gone absolutely silent. Kitty finds that she's even holding her breath. Mystique's speech today was supposed to be remarking upon Genosha's fifth year anniversary as an officially-recognized country. The other members of the First Class have given interviews here or there over the years about Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr (that's where the First Class nickname had come from, after all) but for Mystique it is unprecedented—she has always politely declined all interviews regarding the two men, never given answers to the odd question thrown in here and there during press conferences, and has always kept the content of her many speeches over the years focused strictly on Genosha and Genoshan policies.
The only time she'd ever come close had been the day when the statue had been unveiled four years ago, giving one candid quote of, "Oh, they would have hated this, you know" that had circulated newsreels for months. She'd said it laughingly, almost fond, and the world had been forced to accept that Magneto and Professor X wouldn't have hated it too much if Mystique wasn't lobbying to have the statue taken down.
Today, it seems, is different.
Mystique holds her head up straight and proud, but Kitty can tell that she's looking at the statue as she speaks, gaze never wavering. "When this place was built and that statue put up, my first thought was that you're all only proving Charles right, which is incredibly annoying." That draws a few laughs from the crowd, and Mystique gives a hint of a smile. "He'd be very smug, so thank you for that."
Kitty sneaks a glance at the rest of the First Class. They're all watching Mystique calmly, chuckling a little at Mystique's jibe—apparently they had known about this deviation from the norm beforehand.
"Charles and Erik are loved by many, feared by many, hated by many, and then still the rest of you probably don't know what to think. They are world changers and promise breakers." Mystique's voice has grown soft, but it still echoes slightly across the silence in the square. As she continues, she gains volume again, loud and unwavering. "They were incredibly brave and incredibly foolish. They were teachers. They were liars."
Kitty winces as the last word rings out across the courtyard.
"Ten years ago, Charles and Erik pushed the very boundaries of mutantkind and humankind, issued what the world has termed Onslaught's Mandate, and changed all of our minds whether we wanted it or not. Their arrogance far outshines any of that expressed by anyone else in the entire history of our world, and yet. And yet." Mystique pauses for a breath, her eyes scanning the crowd contemplatively. "And yet it is through that arrogance that we have all been brought together.
"We still have conflict. There will still be wars. But these disagreements will be the same fundamental disagreements that mankind has had for thousands of years now. They will not be because I am blue and the Queen of England is not. The will not be because Havok can shoot plasma from his chest and the President of the United States cannot. And that has to count for something.
"Mutants and humans are evolving together. There may have been a point where we would have diverged, where mutants would rise up or where humans would beat down. We will never know. We weren't given a chance or a choice. But we were given an option. And we have chosen to take that option and build our world into something better and brighter, even with a decade come and gone. We have taught our children acceptance. We have become the better men, the better women."
Mystique stops here for a moment, her eyes moving back to the statue in the middle of the square. "Charles and Erik were idealists to the utmost extreme. And they were my friends. My brothers."
Kitty finds that she is smiling as she listens. She recalls a dark, stormy night in a mansion, when Magneto and Professor X made her feel for the first time in her life that she was not alone.
Mystique gives a smile of her own, small but fond. "And today is not about them. It's about those who they set their foundations down for, those who they changed the world for. It's about us."
Leech whistles tunelessly to himself as he pushes his broom across the sidewalk, enjoying the cool breeze that whispers softly through the empty square. He likes it best when he's the only one up here in Onslaught's Square, and he'll certainly be up here for awhile—the place had been packed to the gills earlier for Mystique's speech, but now everyone's gone back down the mountain to the capital for the rest of the festivities, leaving behind the standard trash and detritus that any large crowd usually does.
Mystique's speech. They'll be talking about that one for the next ten years, Leech thinks. Maybe even longer, with how she'd decided to open it, breaking her decade-long silence on Magneto and Professor X. Or Erik and Charles. Funny, he'd never really known their real names before today.
At any rate, Leech certainly remembers Mystique's speech more than he remembers, say, Sunspot's, or even Avalanche's.
He pushes his current pile of trash into the bigger one that he's slowly been accumulating and then pauses for a moment, standing in the shade of the statue. He's about halfway done, he reckons. If he keeps up this pace, maybe he can make it back down to the city in time for the parade later. Those were always fun to watch; the mutant participants with physical mutations usually go all-out, and today being Genosha's five-year anniversary should mean something extra exciting.
Leech looks up at the statue for a moment. He sweeps up the place pretty regularly, grand speeches or not, so he's spent a lot of time studying the statue. Magneto and Professor X always struck him as pretty imposing figures. He can still remember exactly where he'd been ten years ago when he'd heard Xavier's voice in his head. But the way Mystique had spoken of them, well. He wonders what they'd really been like, alive and in person. Now that Mystique's finally given them all a tiny taste in her own words, Leech is curious for more. Maybe now she'll finally agree to an interview, or write a memoire.
Then he notices it. It's small, barely noticeable as it is unless you'd spent a lot of time around the statue. Hell, he thinks, if you'd never seen the statue before you wouldn't even notice it anyway. But Leech's eyes widen, and he drops his broom as he takes off running, shouting for his supervisor because they have got to see this, because otherwise he'll think he's gone crazy.
The cast iron statue stands still and quiet in the middle of the square, two mutants raised up above the ground. Erik Lehnsherr stands with one arm raised, frozen in the act of holding missiles at bay, standing back-to-back with Charles Xavier, who has one hand at his temple, which no doubt means that he's using his legendary telepathy.
Their free hands, however, formerly held down at their sides, are now both extended backwards to link hands, fingers interlocked as they take on the world, and the corners of Charles Xavier's cast iron lips now quirk upwards in a tiny, knowing smile.