Last chapter! Sorry for the delay.
This is so bittersweet. Please check the end of this chapter for a special message; it's about four paragraphs long.
Two weeks later:
Levene promised himself not to get involved any further. He'd already helped Moira by stealing a pile of government files at her request—that was supposed to be the end of it. Nonetheless, as he stood hunched over outside of Director McCone's office, he couldn't help but press his ear to the door.
McCone's assistant had left for the day; other agents had gone home to their families. Levene should have been doing the same. But when he had spotted General Wisner that afternoon in the hallway, strolling beside Agent Stryker like the men were best buds, Levene had a feeling he needed to stick around.
"So she's just gone?" Stryker asked, his voice sounding even more irritated than normal.
He must have been talking about Moira; Levene clenched his teeth in response.
A second later, he heard as McCone released a sigh. "It's been a few weeks," McCone explained. "Maybe more—I don't know."
"And no leads on where she is now?" Stryker pressed.
All the men grew silent; the only sound resonating through Levene's ears was the thumping in his chest. Now he was glad he'd gone to Moira's apartment the week before and retrieved all the stolen files and her yarn-covered map. And burned it all.
From inside the room, there came a bang, like an opened-palm slamming a desk top.
"Dammit, McCone!" Stryker shouted. "That was our best chance at locating these…these freaks of nature!"
"I'm going to be blunt, Agent Stryker," McCone replied. "If Moira MacTaggert has gone AWOL, it's certainly not for Erik Lehnsherr and the Hellfire Club."
"No, it's for the damn telepath that's warped her mind!"
Someone groaned—might have been McCone; Levene couldn't tell.
"I'm more concerned about the mutants that tried to start a nuclear war," McCone said, "and attempted to murder the entire seventh fleet. Not the ones who tried to prevent it."
"We need to find all of them," Stryker came back. "They're too dangerous to be left out in the general population, even the more 'peaceful' ones."
The men paused. Levene held his breath, suddenly realizing that if they caught him there, he might not just be fired. He might be arrested. Or worse.
"General Wisner," Stryker spoke, his voice calmer, "would you please offer your proposal to Director McCone?"
"We've read all the agents' reports about their encounters with these mutants," the general said. "And here is the bottom line. These people—no matter their motives—pose a serious threat to national security. We need to be prepared if and when that threat becomes paramount."
"What do you suggest?" McCone asked. "We don't even know how many exist or how to find them—it makes preparation a little difficult."
"With what we have in store," General Wisner explained, "the numbers won't matter."
Someone began to shuffle papers. Hovering his ear just by the doorknob, Levene tried to maintain steady breaths. He had discouraged Moira from seeking out Xavier and the other mutants; now, she could end up in the line of fire.
The shuffling stopped.
"We'll start off small," General Wisner said. "A few prototypes—we already have some of our best researchers designing the blueprints."
"And what exactly will these 'prototypes' do?" McCone asked.
"We have several ideas already," Stryker chimed in. "Super-strength will be a must, of course. Perhaps speed—possibly flight, if we can manage it—"
"And you believe we can get funding for this?" McCone asked.
"Once we show the blueprints to the president for review," Wisner said. "It's amazing how one of these mutants having the ability to propel four dozen missiles across an ocean can speed up politics."
Another pause. On his face, Levene's glasses were fogging up; sweat moistened his brow.
"All right," McCone replied with a hint of reluctance. "If the president wishes to pursue this proposal, I will offer my full support with its creation."
From Stryker, a sigh of relief. "That's a wise decision, John."
"Or a damning one." McCone cleared his throat. "What exactly are we calling this, by the way?"
"The 'Sentinel Project'," Wisner replied, his voice resonating with pride.
The men continued to chatter, going on about the mutants, about the 'sentinels,' but Levene decided he'd tested his luck enough for one night. He eased away from the door.
They'd still search for Moira, wherever she had gone—even though she had done nothing wrong. She might end up getting hurt or even killed thanks to the mutants. Nonetheless, as Levene finally backed out into the hallway and away from the three other men still plotting, he knew where the real problem rested—where his anger belonged.
It wasn't Moira's fault; it wasn't her mutant allies.
It was the humans. Just like Cuba, Stryker and the others were determined to destroy the "mutant threat" as soon as the opportunity presented itself. The missiles had been launched…and it was because of that decision, thousands of naval men almost lost their lives. The mutants had reacted to the threat against them and had done a damn good job of it, too.
They'd do it again, and next time, it might not be mere soldiers caught in the cross-fire.
The gravity of the situation started to make Levene's head ache. Hurrying away, he headed for the nearest exit. He needed to get home to his wife and kids, back where things still made sense. For as long as they could.
The morning's sun had brightened from soft orange to crystal white. Sitting at the desk in his study, Charles Xavier lowered his pen; he marked the paper as if the signature alone was worthy of a medal.
And it was, for certain. It had taken months and more contracts than Charles ever wished to lay eyes on again, but that was the last of them. Once he dropped the papers in the mail, his teaching license was all-but secured. Now, he simply needed to finish renovating his mansion, get things squared away with his physical therapy, find students, build dormitories and classrooms…
Charles shook his head; he was getting ahead of himself again. He did that on good days. They came and went, mixing with the bad ones, and it all seemed to be strangely random. The next morning, he might find it difficult to drag himself out of bed. Just imagining all that one task would demand—checking his skin for pressure ulcers, stretching his legs, and fighting through even the simpler routines like dressing himself sometimes just proved too daunting. The doubts would threaten his resolve; he'd have to remind himself that he could do this. He could find the will.
Some days were better than others. But he had to face them all regardless.
Outside the office, Charles heard the bustling of contractors; the mansion was overrun by them again. The only exception was the second floor's west wing. Charles had finally convinced Hank to move his laboratory from the basement to a part of the mansion that would at least provide sunlight. It wasn't perfect, but it was a start.
At the moment, most of the workers were busy tackling the walls near the main staircase. Their sledgehammers had been swinging all morning; the mansion rumbled with each busted piece of drywall.
Charles' elevator was finally being constructed. Alex and Sean were keeping watch over the mayhem, and Charles let them. And it didn't really matter if it took a week or months for the elevator to be constructed, anyway. After returning home, Charles decided that keeping his second-floor bedroom was irrational. He'd have to ride the elevator each time he visited the kitchen or living room, or to venture outside. The bedroom on the first floor provided the same accommodations and was already modified for his needs.
It was another change—something else to adjust to.
But that didn't necessarily mean it was bad. Sometimes, it was just…change.
Folding the contracts, Charles put them aside. Underneath, a few pieces of old notes were lumped together. Upon seeing them, Charles paused. Scribbled on one of the pages was a hand-drawn diagram of the back of his mansion as if seen from above. He had drawn it just a week before Erik had kidnapped him. The picture was sloppy; any decent artist would have shot him for such an offense. Nonetheless, as Charles picked up the paper, his fingers grazed across the colored lines like he was holding something fragile.
From the study's door, there came a knock. Peeking up, Charles called, "Yes, come in, please."
The door crept open, and then Moira MacTaggert stepped inside. The slender woman was wearing a simple pair of black slacks and an aqua short-sleeved blouse. Her auburn hair curled around her face, and looked especially red in the room's white light. In her hand was a manila envelope.
As Charles' eyes met hers, he lifted the diagram. "I want to build a basketball court."
"Today?" Moira asked, raising a skeptical eyebrow.
"No, not today." He smiled and swayed the paper at her.
Taking the cue, Moira approached him. She accepted the diagram, examining the details.
"Do you think the students would like that?" Charles asked.
"They'd hate it," she replied without looking up. "Children and basketball—where's your head, Charles?"
"All right—all right." He snatched the paper back. "Yes, silly question."
With that, Moira grinned at him and then extended her hand with the envelope. "This was in the mail today."
Furrowing his brow, Charles took the package and gave it a once-over. No writing marked its surface. No stamps, either. Flipping it over, Charles peeled open the tab. Inside, a few pieces of paper were poking out from the top, and as Charles slid them out, his heart sank to his stomach.
"Is that what I think it is?" Moira asked, her grin dropping.
Charles let out a ragged breath.
Just like the ones Sean had stolen from Erik's yacht, these were pulled from Cerebro's print-out. They must have been some extras Erik, Azazel, or another mutant had split off from the main list.
About thirty of them lined the page. Between a few, however, rectangular holes had been sliced from the paper. Coordinates had been cut away, ones Charles and the others weren't permitted to view. Mutants Erik had obviously recruited.
Squinting his eyes shut, Charles gripped the pages. The memories of his time with Erik and his brotherhood were still too fresh. His left wrist was still stained with a pale purple bruise; he could still taste Riptide's handkerchief in his mouth.
And even after weeks back home, his mind was still craving Cerebro. It was almost addictive, that sensation. He had become reluctant at the idea of Hank redesigning the machine now; with something that powerful, it couldn't be used as a means for him to escape his life like a drug. He had to respect that power, harness it for good. And that alone had to be its purpose.
Charles wasn't ready for that responsibility—not yet.
Releasing a sigh, Charles brought his attention back to Moira. Her face was wrinkled with curiosity.
"Here," Charles said and handed over the papers.
Gawking at the coordinates, Moira blinked a few times. "Are these from…"
"He's just handing these over?"
Charles thought a moment. After all that had happened—all Erik had done—Charles should have hated him. Even if he could forgive the torture he'd endured at that island base, Charles' life would never be the same. He hadn't lied when he said he was trapped in a wheelchair because of Erik's endless need for vengeance. Charles was forever injured, never to be healed.
But Charles couldn't find it in himself to hold onto that hate. He was tired of blaming everyone—Erik, the humans, himself. It would offer no solutions and only fuel more bitterness.
His injury was a part of his life now.
But it wasn't his whole life.
On that thought, Charles finally said, "Perhaps, Erik believes he is doing what he must to protect our kind. Denying mutants the opportunity to be with others like them is not something he desires."
Moira frowned. "You give him too much credit, Charles."
"I'm not so certain of that. No matter what has happened—or will happen—Erik believes he's on the side of good. Reducing him to a cartoon villain will only hinder any hopes of uniting all of mutant kind."
Moira hesitated at that. Lowering the coordinates in her hand, she declared, "Even now, you still can't accept him as the enemy." It wasn't a question.
Considering, Charles replied, "No. Perhaps I never will."
Charles expected Moira to make a face, irritated by his logic—or lack thereof. Instead, a smile grew on her lips. "You know what, Professor? It's that type of thinking that makes you the better man."
Charles' face warmed a little; he reached out and closed his left hand around Moira's free one.
Suddenly, the woman flinched as if she just remembered something. She shot a glimpse at the clock on the wall and then released his hand. "It's time to go."
Charles glanced at the gold watch on his wrist. He was hoping she was wrong, but Erik's wristwatch was accurate to the tick.
"Damn," he muttered.
"Don't be a baby," Moira replied and dropped the list of coordinates on his desk. She grabbed the back of his wheelchair like he'd try to escape otherwise. "Lots of people do this."
"Only the ones with an aversion to sanity."
"Okay, that's not going to help you now."
Moira rolled him away from the desk. By the room's entrance, she stepped away from the wheelchair, and opened the door. "Stop whining—start moving. The sooner we leave, the sooner we can come back."
Transferring into his chair from his navy blue Cadillac, Charles peered up at the building in front of him. With only one floor, it wasn't nearly as luxurious as the Salem Outpatient Rehabilitation Center. The brick walls had aged a bit; the wood had become a little worn. Nonetheless, the parking lot was packed, and as Moira closed her hands on his wheelchair's push handles, a sense of curiosity glowed on her features.
Charles was not quite as enthusiastic. In fact, during the twenty minute car ride, his annoyance had darkened to all-out dread. He had been avoiding this since arriving home. Just like plucking a splinter from a finger, however, it was something that needed to be done. But just like a splinter, it didn't mean he had to enjoy it.
"What am I supposed to do exactly?" he asked as Moira propelled him through the front doors.
"You're the professor. I'm sure you can figure it out."
"I can't discuss my telepathy. I can't even explain how I was shot in the first place."
"But you can talk about how it made you feel. That's worth the admission price, isn't it?"
They turned a corner. In front of them, a doctor's suite stared back; Charles' stomach churned. With Moira's assistance, he wrestled the door and wheeled inside. The waiting area was quaint. Flower paintings cluttered the walls. A receptionist sat behind a counter with a large vase of carnations resting on its surface. The place reeked of all things flower, including the air.
Moira checked Charles in and then sat beside him. They waited. Moira patted her hands to her lap, her eyes scanning the room. Little fidgets—she was nervous, too.
Reaching out, Charles took Moira's left hand in his right. He caressed his thumb across her skin; with that, she leaned over, and rested her head against his shoulder.
"You ever wonder about it all?" she whispered. "If I had never found you in that pub—if none of this had happened—"
"Then I never would have discovered my kind," he replied. "I never would have known anyone else existed beyond Raven and myself." He eased his head gently onto hers. "I never would have met you."
She squeezed his hand.
"Charles?" a woman called.
Peeking up, Charles spotted a middle-aged woman standing in front of the receptionist's desk with a notepad in her hands and thick-rimmed glasses dangling from her neck.
"Yes?" he said.
The woman stepped forward, hand extended. "I'm Dr. Berman," the psychologist said as they shook hands. "You can call me Judith. Are you ready?"
"Yes, thank you."
"Then, if you'd follow me…" She opened her arm towards the hallway behind the receptionist.
Charles glanced once more at Moira; she smiled. Bringing her hand upwards, he planted a small kiss and then turned back to the psychologist. Judith nodded at him and then started back down the hall. He grabbed his wheelchair's handrims.
As he left Moira in the waiting room, Charles couldn't help but wonder how things had worked out this way. Just a few months ago, he was graduating from Oxford. He had his sights set on the entire world, thinking anything was possible. He was limitless. He was also clueless, unfocused, and had no purpose in life other than getting drunk and seducing women.
That life was over. For whatever this new one would entail, he needed to start it. It wouldn't always be easy; he wouldn't always know which path to choose. And he still had a long way to travel just to feel like himself again. But for the first time in a long time, he was truly confident that would happen eventually.
He simply needed to take it one day at a time—one obstacle at a time.
One accomplishment at a time.
div align="center"bThe End/div/b
"WORLD OF GRAY" AVAILABLE AS EBOOK
The link is in my profile-it's completely free, and for anyone who joins, I'm giving out the .mobi (aka, Kindle) version of my fan fiction "X-men: World of Gray." There is also a .pdf version as an alternative, but you have to sign up to receive it!
THANK YOU ALL!
In addition, I want to say thank you to everyone who has taken time to read my fan fiction over the last several months, and a special thanks to everyone who left a review (or several reviews). Since writing fan fictions isn't exactly profitable, seeing the hit count rise and reading reader feedback is the reward and it's a great one. On FFN, this fan fiction has reached just over 90,000 hits and over 275 reviews; in combination with other sites hosting it, the hit count is about 135,000 with over 425 reviews total.
I have thoroughly enjoyed posting this story, and hope another X-men idea will strike me sometime in the future. Currently, I just published my first original novel, "Plague of Night" on Amazon, so that's taking up my creative juices right now (link in my profile if you're interested).
I will also continue posting in my blog, keeping up with X-men news (lots of cool "Days of Future Past" photos coming out right now), offering interesting links, fan art, reviews and articles at (remove spaces): www. erinjensen. wordpress. com. The link is also in my profile. Right now, the big topic is, of course, the new X-men trailer.
From this point on, this fan fiction is complete—no new chapters will be written and no revisions will be made except for maybe some grammatical ones. Thank you for reading my story! If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to write a review.
Until next time! —Erin