The ultimatum comes late on a summer afternoon. Charles is taking tea when he opens his mail, and tucked among the correspondence is a neat brown envelope he knows is from the government.
The letter changes everything.
Despite the government’s best intentions, the ultimatum does not remain secret. By the end of the day everyone knows Magneto has offered a truce if the government sends him someone in a gesture of goodwill.
A hostage. And everyone whose lives had ever touched Charles and Erik’s before that fateful beach, knows only one person will do.
Charles accepts with remarkable grace his role as hostage. There is nothing else to do, because peace is always an option.
“Charles,” Hanks says. “Jubilee is getting out of hand, she needs to be disciplined.”
“Take away her phone privileges.”
Hank shakes his head. “No, I mean expose her to what it feels like to be on the receiving end of her shocks.”
Charles looks at him with shock. “No, I will not do that.”
Azazel arrives. Charles has never heard him speak, but speak he does:
“The wheelchair, it does not come with us.”
Charles knows this is because Azazel can’t transport something like that. It is not out of malice. He nods his head, and Azazel lifts him from the chair.
They are gone is a smattering of smoke and red fog.
“I cannot leave you with your powers unbound,” Erik says with his helmet firmly in place.
Charles misses the familiarity of Erik’s mind, but he doesn’t need his powers to know Erik.
(Later, but not so very late, he will learn it wasn’t Erik he needed to know.)
He does not offer Charles a chance to refuse, Charles’ voice and consent taken in the act of agreeing to come. He is, however, the one to take the razor, and with his hands – those long slender fingers Charles wishes had touched a piano instead of a gun’s trigger – shears Charles’ hair away.
Charles feels this moment is too much: the scrape of the razor against his scalp, Erik’s blunt fingertips running from bare skin to hair and back again, his hair littering the ground.
This will be the last moment of hearing thoughts like the insistent beat of ocean waves against the shore, and instead of Erik’s thoughts like music and hurricanes and discord – oh so very beautiful – there are only distant sounds, like far-off murmurs on the wind.
Erik settles the device against behind his ears.
“You have free reign of this place,” he says and walks away, the cape trailing his waist in flashes of purple.
There is no sound, only Charles, only in this room, in his head, nothing but silence. Only his own thoughts.
It is strange, foreign, and what should be welcome is only a cold comfort and frightening.
His new wheelchair is made of metal and not of plastic. Charles runs his hands over it, and thinks Erik must have made it. He likes to think Erik made it with exquisite care and craftsmanship and love, if not for Charles’ sake, then for the art the metal demanded.
Charles calls him Erik, when no one else does anymore, not even Raven, and Erik does not object.
Erik calls him Professor, but when they are alone, Erik forgets. Charles knows he doesn’t realize it, not really.
Erik rules from this room. His chair is metal, unsurprisingly, but he is not often there. Instead, three women rotate through it. Charles doesn’t know any of them, but Raven says one of them is Destiny. Raven looks at her with starry eyes and although Charles has never guessed this is who Raven would love, his shock eventually recedes.
His shock, upon finding out Destiny is pregnant, takes him longer to puzzle out. Partly because seeing Raven naked – her nipples! – was just strange, and knowing about her sex life even more so.
There are five exits from this room, each twisting through the complex’s three levels.
“Magneto,” Charles says one day.
“Erik,” the other man insists. “Erik.”
Charles thinks it odd that Erik needs to wear the helmet and hide amongst his own kind. For all he speaks of mutant and pride, what trust is there in a man who does not trust his own? He knows there are many answers (because you, Charles), but Erik shouldn’t be invisible. He should be a bright star.
He would be, just as Charles said so long ago, when he first turned that satellite dish, unstoppable.
Erik, Charles thinks, does not like to admit how much he wants him.
(Later, Charles will realize understanding is not acceptance, and that he needs Erik just as much.)
The wheels bump against the staircase and Charles sighs in frustration. He stays there, looking up the stairs.
Erik – it must be Erik, no one else does this with metal, right? or perhaps it’s a levitation mutation, wouldn’t that be grand? – lifts the chair up the flights of stairs and gently deposits Charles down with a soft tck.
Over time, the landscape changes. Staircases disappear, ramps appear. Charles closes his eyes as he rides the elevator down and smiles.
Erik will not return to Westchester. It is time for Charles to bend and give and flow.
Charles hopes that, one day, Erik will return and see what their work has built. Children – some now grown into adults he is so very, very proud of – playing in the sunlight, their powers unhidden, their eyes bright, and smiles wide.
There is a chess board set up, all the pieces lined up and only a pawn moved. Charles takes a white piece and sets it down.
When he returns to the room later, Charles smiles at the black rook on the board.
It’s not so much that Erik’s thoughts are loud, so much as Charles loves the feel of them, and his mind keeps attuning themselves to them. He can feel the undercurrent of Charlescharlescharles, and even though Charles has learned to ignore these thoughts, he can’t help but listen in; the thrill in knowing his call of Erikerikerik is returned. Perhaps both of them are to blame, because Erik has so much he’s kept inside, he’s positively bursting, and Charles just wants to smooth all the edges away.
But that isn’t what he’s supposed to do.
Charles turns to go, but looks back. He cannot grasp Erik’s face and pull it down to his, nor can he ask with a gentle lap against his mind.
“Come here, please,” Charles asks.
Erik’s face is unreadable – since when has Erik become unreadable, unmapable to him? – but Charles believes this is still the Erik he knows.
Erik takes a few steps towards him, and oh, there is the Erik who understands, who leans down. Charles lifts up as far as he can and presses his lips to Erik’s.
“Go and lead your Brotherhood,” Charles whispers against his lips. Erik nods, and they part ways until the next turn of seasons.
—go our own ways, and meet in the middle.
She looks at him with those yellow eyes, no longer blue, no longer blonde, just unabashedly scaled blue, and naked as the day he found her in his kitchen.
“You’ll always be my sister, you know that, right?”
“Of course, Charles, I do. Goodbye.”
Erik’s face is full of impossible tenderness as he takes Charles’ face into his hands and presses a kiss to where his hair is beginning to grow back.
“Go,” Erik says, and it is a benediction.
Azazel returns him to the mansion, and all his children, his students, come rushing around him bit by bit, like fragments pulled into orbit.
He doesn’t realize until they’re gone that he still has the dampers on.
He takes them off, and all the voices clamor up to him.
Professor, professor, we missed you.
Jubilee is still acting out. Charles agrees to Hank’s suggestions, and after only a few minutes, Jubilee begins to cry, and Hank goes to turn the switch off, but Charles shakes his head.
“No, the full time she did to you.”
Hank looks at him blankly, but Charles hears his horror and admiration and what did they do to you there?
Nothing, Charles wants to say, nothing at all, but the words won’t come.
He knows the very moment Erik removes the helmet. The distance doesn’t matter, Charles feels his mind against his – Erik might not know it, but their minds seek one another, like comfort and tea, like blankets and rest, like laughter and bright bubbling joy. Charles stops what he’s doing, his hand still reaching for something, and takes in a sweet clear breath.
A quick brush against Erik is all he needs to know there is no peril. That night, he packs his bags, and leaves Hank in charge.
“Where are you going?” he asks.
“Back,” is all he says.
Hank’s thoughts tell him he can see the star-struck dreamy look in his eyes, and pityingly, fondly thinks of how mad love is.
Charles does not tell him how Erik’s thoughts sing homehomehome to him.
He goes back, without Azazel, on his own. Transport is more difficult now with the wheelchair. The government would help him, to help themselves, but this is something he needs to do on his own.
He returns, with dampers in his hand, but the sight of Erik without that helmet, a sight almost forgotten in the way he runs the long-ago image in his mind like a fragment of a dream.
“Charles,” he says.
And when Charles makes to switch into the metal wheelchair, Erik stops him. And when Erik uses his powers to take the dampers as well, Charles says he’s grown fond of them, and Erik looks at him with such strangeness.
(Charles pushes back Erik’s surface thoughts, he does not want to know what Erik is about to say; Erik’s mind laps against his, and Charles sighs, it’s been so long)
When Erik leans down, Charles covers his eyes with his palms.
Shhhhhhh. I found my way back, didn’t I?
Yes. –Yes you did.
He does not say how Erik’s mind is a map of stars that light the way back, but Erik smiles, and Charles thinks he hears.