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Ascending to the Stars

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"Charles." Erik croaks as he grasps his friend's hand as though his life depends on it. "Charles please..."

"I'm sorry my friend." Charles gasps out, his voice weak and his teeth stained red. "Even I can't come back... from this..."

No... no... nononononononononono NO! This is not happening. This can't be happening. He's dreaming. Erik is dreaming, he's in a nightmare that won't end and won't stop and he can't wake up... this isn't real, it can't be real...

But it is and Charles is dying in his arms, and it's all his fault that he can't think, can't feel anything but anguish and pain and hurt.

"It's alright my friend..." Charles breathes out faintly, his grip on Erik's hand slackening even as Erik grips it tighter as though he were making up for the weakening of his friend. "You won't be alone Erik..."

"Yes I will..." Erik whispers, tears rolling freely down his face as he stares at his friend, his only friend, turned enemy turned family. Charles is what makes him feel loved, wanted, needed, alive. Without Charles he'll be worse than alone, he'll be dead. "Because you won't be around anymore Charles... so I will be alone."

Charles smiles up at him, sadly, and Erik can see how his friends blue, blue eyes are starting to dim, starting to die, and he shakes his head in disbelief. "Charles please... don't go... fight it..." He chokes out as he rests his brow against his friends sweat-soaked, clammy forehead.

"Even I can't cheat death Erik." Charles whispers and he smiles up at his friend, love and warmth in his darkening eyes and Erik shakes, his entire body is wrought with a shivers as he barely catches the last word Charles Xavier ever says to him. "Goodbye."

And Charles Xavier's heart stops beneath him, his mind disappearing and the warmth, the love, the comfort, the constant presence that Erik never realised existed is just... gone. Like it wasn't even there in the first place.

 


 

He doesn't know how long he's sitting there, in the dirt of the forest gripping his friends dead body to his chest. He doesn't care that the world feels dead to him, that there are battles raging not too far away, he doesn't care about anything. Slowly, Erik places his friends body on the ground and looks for a sheet of metal, from the hull of the blackbird that had gone down only hours ago in their battle, and he moulds it into a coffin of sorts. A metal case for his friends body and he curves it around him, moulds it to Charles' body until his friend is encased in metal and will never disappear because Erik will always know where he is.

Turning away from the metal tomb, Erik refuses to look back as he forces himself to leave the clearing and so he never sees the small burst of light rising from the casket. And he never sees how an orb of pure energy rises from it to hover a few feet off the ground and watches him leave.

 


 

What the... where am I... What am I... I can see Erik... I can feel Erik... I can see the trees... and I am the trees... I'm everything and nothing and it makes sense but it doesn't... what is all of this... how am I here... what could this-

You do realise that you sound a little bit insane?

What? Who are you? Better yet, what are you?

I am ascended. Like you.

Ascended?

Yes.

Okay... well I haven't got a clue as to what that means I'm afraid.

Well... that's different then.

Why?

Because you're the first being who's managed to ascend without actually being aware of what ascension is.

Oh...

You probably don't know any of the rules do you?

Rules?

Basically you can't interfere with the real world, the plain of existence you just came from. It's punishable by some pretty hefty stuff if you do. You can descend though, but I don't know much about that.

Right... well, I suppose I can understand that...

I'm serious. You cannot interfere. No matter what. You just can't. You'll mess up the balance and everything; but there are loopholes.

Loopholes?

Yes. So direct actions aren't allowed but implicit actions, indirect stuff, is bending the rules and you can get away with those actions for the most part.

Oh... right. Well thank you.

No problem.

What's your name? You didn't tell me.

Oma Desala.

Well, thank you for your assistance Oma. I am immensely thankful for it.

You are welcome Charles Xavier. I wish you well and bid you my leave.

Goodbye...

Okay... so I've ascended to a higher plane of existence, one I didn't know anything about and I'm a ball of energy... what about the kids?

 


 

It's strange to be a ball of floating energy, but also kind of cool because he can see everything at once. There's nothing that's closed to him anymore. Being ascended is like being a telepath only the sound is ramped up to 11 instead of 5. It's... interesting to say the least.

He check's on the others constantly. Watching how they cope without him, watching how they handle the world around them even as it slowly starts to crumble. Charles can't watch them for long though because it's just too tempting to help them out, to soothe their worries and fears and nightmares. Hank stays up as much as he can, being the surrogate parent to them all now he's 'gone' and Charles can see how it wears on him. He's too young for such responsibility but the others couldn't handle it and so Hank was forced to step-up because he can. And in turn, Hank couldn't handle the responsibility of being a surrogate parent, helper, teacher and leader like he could.

So he always had to leave, move away and focus on something else when Hank broke down and roared and fell apart before putting himself back together again and being the leader they all needed. But, he's left hints, ideas, notes, whispers in all their minds that eventually calmed them, eventually let them settle and return to a semblance of normalcy. And Charles is forever thankful for loop-holes because he'd had to do something for them.

The problem is, when he leaves the kids alone, he always, always, goes to check on Raven and Erik. And that's even worse for him because he really, really, really wishes he could just take them home because the children need Erik and Erik needs the children. But he can't interfere. He can't manipulate them like puppets because he swore to himself that he'd never do that when he'd been just a telepath and he can't justify taking from them the fundamental right of free will just because he can. And so he stops himself as he watches, listens, longs for them.

Raven is growing up, sure in her blue skin, and Charles longs to hug her whenever he sees the pain she hides so well rise up to the surface. He wants to knock Frost about the head whenever the woman messes about in Raven's mind, not bothering to heed the orders to stay out of their heads from Erik when he's not around. He wants to go back in time and fix everything, only he can't because one; he doesn't think even he is capable of time-travel in his current form and two; he'd break the biggest rule that ascended beings had to live by.

Erik, when Charles follows him like a puppy following its master, is always quiet, withdrawn... dead inside. Charles knows that it's because of him. He knows that something precious in Erik died the day his physical body went caput and Charles hates himself for it all because Erik was one of the few things in the world that Charles never wanted to hurt. Erik was, is - always will be - everything to him. It's almost as though when he died, Erik died with him and what' left is a hardened-out shell of a man he once knew and cared for.

And it's times like this, these times when Charles has to force himself away with every ounce of power and inner-strength that he has because he wants to fix Erik, wants to take the pain away, make him better, make him love and be happy. And it breaks Charles' heart to not be able to.

 


 

One night he's watching as Erik dreams, dreams of him, and he knows he shouldn't, knows that it's dangerous, that it's bending the rules to near breaking point, but he can't seem to be able to stop himself as he gently slips into Erik's dreams. What he finds surprises him, though not as much since he'd seen how his friend had tossed and turned night after night for months. He thought Erik was reliving his time of being Shaw's toy, his time in the camps, not... this.

There are trees, trees that are burned in Erik's memory and trees that Charles remembers being a part of when he'd first ascended. He is surprised to note that, instead of seeing himself and Erik in the clearing, one real the other a figment of a traumatised mind, he finds his friend sitting alone surrounded by dust and metal and despair. Slowly, with the legs of the body he's given himself in this dream-land, Charles makes his way over to his friend and crouches down next to him. He doesn't think Erik can see him right now and it's a relief because he doesn't want Erik to see the anguish on his face as he looks into the dead gaze directed at the dust gathering on the ground.

"I'm sorry Charles..." Erik whispers into the clearing, not knowing that Charles can hear him. "I'm so sorry... it's my fault you're gone... it's my fault I'll never hear you in my mind again... it's my fault the world will burn because you're not here to put out my fires..." He buries his head in his hands and Charles watches in emotional agony as Erik's frame was wrought with great, shuddering shakes as he sobbed for all his worth.

Charles should leave now, he should pull out and go and watch a young child learning for the first time that he can fly a kite, he should go and find the nearest mind, person, soul that is filled with happiness and love. But... Charles can't leave now. He can't leave Erik like this... he never could.

"Oh my friend." Charles breathes out as he moves onto his knees and kneels in front of his sobbing friend. "Oh my dear friend." He says sadly, heart-brokenly, as he pulls his friend towards him and holds him tightly in a fierce embrace. "Erik..."

"C-Charles..." Erik chokes out as the man clings tightly to Charles' loose-fitting shirt. "You're here..." He pulls his head away from Charles' chest and looks into those blue eyes, those familiar blue eyes and his throat constricts painfully because it really is Charles. The real Charles, not a dream, not a memory, not his imagination.

"Yes my friend. I'm here." Charles soothes as he smiles slowly and wipes away a couple of tears rolling down Erik's cheek. "I am real as well." He adds as he raises his eyebrows at Erik's surprised, disbelieving but hopeful face.

"But... you..." Erik flounders, unable to form the words as he tries to believe what Charles has said. Charles is real. He's real. He's real... Oh God, he's real. "You're dead." He says suddenly, his voice numb as he stares at Charles' face. "You died."

"Yes..." Charles agrees softly as his smile slips slightly and he pauses. "But I'm not anymore." He adds as he tries to think of a way to explain that he's really there without revealing why he's there, how he's in Erik's dream when his friend watched him die in his arms. It's... difficult and hard and impossible and Charles just wants to tell him because Erik is beating himself up over nothing and Charles hates himself because he's the cause of his friends pain.

"I'm imagining you." Erik says, his voice still numb and he shakes his head as he tries to move away from Charles. "You're not real, this is a dream."

"Yes, yes it is a dream Erik, but I'm not. I'm real. I am here with you right now." Charles says quickly as he tries to keep hold of his friend's struggling form. "I am not a figment of your imagination Erik, I promise you."

"My imagination would promise me that too." Erik points out as he finally gets away from Charles's grip and he moves backwards, using his hands to pull himself away from Charles. "I just want you to forgive me and my mind has conjured you because I need absolution from you but you're dead and I'll never be forgiven for my sins." Erik shakes his head and backs himself up against a tree on the opposite side of the clearing as Charles stares at him.

"Oh Erik." Charles sighs as he slowly stands and carefully moves over to stand a few feet away from his friend, not making any quick moves or doing anything sudden. "You're logic is impossible to argue with as always. But your ideals aren't." He smiles sadly and he takes a deep breath. He's going to do it. He's going to break the rules because Erik is worth it. Erik is always worth it in the end.

"I'm going to show you something Erik but you're going to have to wake up otherwise you'll never believe me; though you probably still won't believe me." Charles says softly as he gently raises two fingers to his temple and Erik watches in numb curiosity. "Wake up Erik."

And he does.

 


 

Erik gasps as he shoots up in bed, the metal of the frame shaking uncontrollably as he tries to get himself back under control. "It was a dream..." He breathes out as he falls back onto the mattress and stares up at the high ceiling overhead. "It was just a dream."

"Not quite I'm afraid." Charles says as he stands at the foot of Erik's bed and watches as his friend shoots up in his bed again and stares at him wide-eyed. "Breathe Erik." He admonishes slightly as his friend starts to hyperventilate. "I'm real and it wasn't a dream."

"C-Charles..." Erik breathes out as he stares at his friend, his friend who is alive... who is there in front of him, he's real. He's real. "CHARLES!" He cries out as he propels himself forward and hugs Charles fiercely. His friend hugs him back, tightly as though he hasn't seen him in a long time and it's true because Charles hasn't seen the spark of life in Erik's eyes since the day he died. As Erik grips him tightly he can hear his friends mind shuddering and jump-starting constantly.

And then Erik freezes around him and slowly looks at Charles' face. "You're not paralysed." He comments as he looks at Charles' face. "You're not..."

"I was but now I'm not anymore. It's complicated Erik." Charles says as he stares imploringly at Erik's face. He can see Erik's thoughts on his face as clearly as he can hear them. "I'm real Erik, I've been real for a long time but I haven't been able to show myself."

"Why now?" Erik asks, immediately seizing upon one of the easier questions he could ask.

"Because I couldn't bear to see you beat yourself over me anymore." Charles answers quietly as he looks sadly at Erik. "I shouldn't even be showing myself to you, it isn't allowed, but I just don't care anymore."

Erik blinks, not knowing how to respond to such a statement and so he settles for asking. "Allowed?" He frowns as Charles grimaces and his eyes dart away from Erik's face guiltily.

"Yes, allowed." Charles says finally, before looking back at Erik. "I'm breaking one of the biggest rules in existence and there's going to be Hell to pay, but I just don't care. You're more important than any rules." He says the last part with such force, such conviction that Erik can't help but really believe it's his friend. His mind could never imagine this Charles Xavier, the real Charles Xavier, he's not that creative.

"I'm an ascended being." Charles says quietly as though if he whispers he won't be heard. Seeing Erik's confused face he elaborates. "I am pure consciousness existing on an entirely different plane of existence to this world, the world you live in right now."

"Then how are you-" Erik gestures at Charles' form with a hand as he raises his eyebrows. Wow... this is a lot to take in.

"I'm pure energy Erik, a conscious mind made of energy. I can do anything, including making myself a temporary physical body." Charles says, the corners of his lips quirking in amusement as Erik stares wide-eyed at him. Something pulls at his mind, something calling his attention and Charles pales as he realises what's about to happen. He didn't think it'd be this fast.

"Erik. You have to listen to what I say because I haven't got much time." Charles says urgently as he stares deeply into Erik's eyes. His friend stares at him in surprise. "Erik please. Promise me you'll listen."

"I promise." Erik splutters as Charles nods fervently and he can't help but ask. "Charles what's happening?"

"We haven't got time for that Erik. Not now." Charles says as he blinks rapidly. "Erik. This mission you're on, this plan to wipe out the human race. It won't work. I've heard it, I've seen it. It won't work. Please believe me."

"Charles." Erik says, his voice harder all of a sudden, his face shutting down and Charles wants to scream in frustration because damnit this is important!

"Erik! For once in your life just listen!" Charles exclaims as he grips Erik's arm tightly, panic rising his voice and warring with his frustration. "I don't care if you don't believe me right now. I don't care if you think I'm your imagination. I don't care if you go back to your Brotherhood and say nothing of this to Raven, but I am breaking the one and only rule I should never break just by showing myself to you and I'm going to be punished and I don't know what that punishment is going to be. So please..." Charles tapers off as he stares desperately at Erik. "Please, just listen to me."

Erik stares for a long, long time before slowly nodding and he can see Charles' relief as clear as day on his boyish face. "Alright."

"Good." Charles smiles as he nods slightly. His eyes flicker upwards for a moment before re-focusing of Erik's face. "In five years a mutant bill will be signed that will allow mutations to be registered just like the gender of a child is registered. This is good Erik, it is progress because there aren't any plans to hunt mutants. There are no plans to lock them away and test them. There is no plan for a Holocaust anywhere on the planet. I know this Erik. But... it'll only happen if you stop trying to destroy humanity." Charles says the last part softly, with desperation, need and longing in his voice and Erik's breathing hitches.

"I..." Erik doesn't know what he can say to that. He often doesn't know what to say to Charles and now is no different; the feeling solidifies his belief in his friend really being here with him. "Charles..."

"Promise me that you'll try at least Erik, that is all I can ask." Charles implores as he stares deeply into Erik's eyes, his own blue orbs shining with otherworldly knowledge and Erik finds himself nodding because he can't argue with this Charles; this Charles is much wiser than the man who pulled from the water, this Charles knows what he's saying, believes what he's saying and, most importantly, he's making Erik believe too.

"Alright." He agrees softly and Charles smiles at him, a wide, happy, delighted smile that has Erik breaking out with his shark-like grin that Charles loves so much.

"Thank you my friend." Charles says softly as he gently rests his forehead against Erik's own. "Thank you."

"Thank you Charles." Erik responds as he caresses Charles' cheek lightly. "I can't thank you enough."

"You don't have to-" Charles starts only for his words to be stolen away from him as he is suddenly wrenched away from Erik in a wave of light and Erik is left with nothing but his empty room.

"CHARLES!" He roars but he receives no answer. He's alone and Charles is gone. Gone but not dead.

 


 

It's cold. Cold and dark he discovers when he opens his eyes. A moan rises in his throat and he doesn't bother stopping it as he adds a groan to it as he slowly sits up. Looking about himself he's surprised to note that he's in the middle of a field. Which, incidentally, is also in the middle of nowhere. He frowns and slowly drags himself to his feet, finding such a simple task a lot harder than it should be. It feels like he hasn't used his body in months. Only... he doesn't remember.

Standing in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere he suddenly realises that he doesn't remember anything. Not even his own name.

"Fuck." Though apparently he remembers how to curse.

"Fuck. Fuck. Fuckfuckfuckfuck FUCK!" He shouts the last word as he turns around, stumbling as he over-balances, and he stares off into the darkness. He can't remember anything. Doesn't know who he is. Where he is. What he's doing there. Why he's doing there. And he feels fear rising in his throat as concern wells in his stomach.

Closing his eyes, he forces himself to breathe slowly, calming himself as best he can, before he opens his eyes and says decisively. "Okay... okay. Alright."

Deciding that he can't stay in the field forever, he chooses a direction at random and sets off, hoping that he'll come across another living soul who can help him.

 


 

He feels like he's been walking for days, even though he knows it's only been a couple of hours, and he can't help the sigh of absolute relief that slips from his lips as he spots signs of civilisation in the distance. He wants to jump up and down with glee but that would take too much energy so he settles for smiling widely and picking up his pace.

It doesn't take as long as he thought it would to reach the road leading into the town and he smiles widely as his feet touch the tarmac. And then he pauses because he's uhh... au natural. Completely. And why didn't he notice that before? One would think you'd realise you were naked when you were lying in the middle of a field with no recollection of your past right?

Evidently not.

Sighing and realising that there is no way he could go into the town completely free of clothing, he growls in frustration. He'll need to find some clothes, but he'll only be able to do that if he gets to the town. Or unless he finds a spontaneous set of clothes lying on the road in the next ten minutes.

 


 

As it is, he has to sneak into a shop on the outskirts of the town and borrow, because he'll pay for the clothes he will – even if he hasn't got any money on him, he'll find a way – a set of clothes that fit his slender frame, and a pair of shoes that pinch slightly but are by far a better option compared to going around barefoot.

He is able to sneak out of the shop the same way he entered and he's sure there'll be a report or something from the police about the broken window but he's hoping he'll be away by then. But first, he needs to eat because he's hungry. Ravenous actually.

Looking about himself he notices a sign declaring a small building to be a 'Diner' and the word sets of rumbles in his stomach and he quickly realises it means that this 'Diner' is somewhere he can get food. Or at least, he hopes it is because his stomach can't be that bad can it?

Quickly he goes up to the building and pulls on the handle, surprised to find it opens easily, and he slips inside the place without much preamble. Inside he can smell food being cooked, can hear the crackling of bacon in the frying pan and the sound of people chewing their food. He can almost taste the coffee and the tea in their mouths and he finds himself blinking rapidly because... it's weird.

And there's more too. It's not just the sensations he's getting from the people, there's more, he can feel them, hear them and it's scaring him more than anything else has previously but he's hungry. And he needs to calm himself down.

"Alright there sugar?" A kind voice asks him and he starts as he realises that there's a blonde haired woman standing in front of him, holding a small notebook in her hand and looking at him with concern. 'He doesn't look too good... but my oh my, he's cute.'

"I..." He can't find any words to explain that he's not alright because he can hear things she's not even saying and he doesn't understand and it's scaring the shit out of him. "I'm hungry." He says at last and the woman smiles at him.

"It's a good thing you came to a diner then isn't it?" She says smiling as him as she directs him to a small booth away from the hustle and bustle of the place, almost as though she realises it's overwhelming him. 'Poor thing looks like a deer caught in the headlights.'

He blinks rapidly, trying to clear the thoughts away, and he sits in the booth, hunched over slightly. He doesn't know how to handle this, doesn't know how to deal with any of this and it's seriously freaking him out. But he takes a deep breath because it feels like the right thing to do, and he lets the sounds of the woman's speaking wash over him. Not her thoughts, her words.

"I'll get you the regular breakfast alright sugar?" She says gently, leaning down slightly so that she can look at his face and he wonders for a moment how he looks right now.

"I haven't got any money." He manages to whisper, his voice low and he sounds so embarrassed. She frowns and he looks up at her with large eyes. "I think I was mugged." He says slowly and her eyes widen slightly before she sighs. 'God damn kids. He's a sweet man and they mug him...'

"That's okay sugar. I'll cover the cost." She says gently, smiling and soothing him as he blinks in surprise. "Coffee or tea?" She asks and he's surprised by his immediate response.

"Tea." He pauses and adds, almost as an after-thought brought about by instinct. "Please."

"Alrighty then sugar. You just wait here and I'll be along in a jiffy." The blonde says again and just before she goes, he finally has enough awareness of the world around him to see her name-tag: Sarah.

Before he can thank her, she disappears into the back of the diner and leaves him alone with the sounds of the other diners' and their thoughts are almost soothing now that he breathes deeply, constantly and relaxes himself. It's like he's trained himself to do it and he doesn't know because he can't remember.

 


 

A YEAR LATER

 

"Hank please be careful." Erik says firmly as he follows after the blue-furred young man into the newly completed Blackbird; a bigger and better version of the original jet Hank had designed over two years ago. It's splendid, magnificent and it makes a part of Erik swell with pride to know that the young man did the impossible. And he did it bloody well.

"I promise you Erik, I'll be perfectly safe." Hank says reassuringly but Erik smiles at the man's back because Hank is perfectly aware that, for once, Erik's not worried about Hank's safety.

"I'm sure you will be but please remember it'll be me who'll sport bruises for the next week if you turn too soon." Erik points out as he moves over to the steps he'd just ascended. "I don't want to be black and blue when the students return."

A lot had happened in the last year, too much for Erik to really handle thinking about when he was alone, and one of the biggest changes was him returning to the mansion and growing up. He'd hit one heck of a learning curve really, especially since he realised that Charles had done a lot of stuff there, even in a wheelchair the man had been as robust as ever, and there was only so much Hank could do before he succumbed to pure exhaustion.

He could still clearly remember the looks on the faces of his previous team's faces as Azazel had teleported them into the courtyard of the mansion. And he could also clearly remember the murderous thoughts Emma had happily shared with him as he carefully, warily, ascended the steps to the door. He had been fully expecting to be run through by something sharp and pointed, or sliced in half by an energy blast. So it had been a surprise when Hank had opened the door, taken one look at him, and said. "Your rooms are as they were. I'll assign extra rooms for the others." And had held the door open for them all.

Later on, he'd found out that Hank had heard something, someone, whispering in his head the night before Erik arrived, and all he could remember was the voice telling him to let Erik come home. Erik's throat had constricted painfully at that statement, and he'd had to look away from the blue mutant for fear of cracking.

And that was how he found himself in this unique position. Half hanging off the steps of the Blackbird as Hank zoomed about in the skies, higher up than any plane should naturally reach, and Erik was testing the outer hull making sure it could withstand the pressure and speed they were going at; nevermind the fact that his innards felt like they were turning to mush as he clung a little desperately to the guard rail on the steps.

 


 

As they taxi down onto the asphalt of the runway, Erik hears the sound of the communicators – another nifty device Hank had managed to concoct – beeping insistently and he listens to the sound of Hank's gruff voice as the teen, man now, speaks.

"We're at the Blackbird. Hurry up. Erik's here." Hanks says as he glances behind him and catches Erik's eye. "There's an attack on a town in southern Texas; couple of rogue mutants – we've been asked to assist."

And that was the biggest change out of them all for Erik. The X-Men – as Alex and Sean had determinedly called them – were essentially mutant police. Erik didn't know how Charles had managed it, though he had his suspicions that it had included more acts of mind-bending than the telepath would ever have admitted, but there was a discreet message sent out world-wide to every single law enforcement agency on the planet. Whenever they came across something strange – like disappearing criminals in the middle of nowhere, or girls who could walk through bank vault walls – they called the X-Men and they dealt with it all.

"Alright. Gear up." Erik says, springing into leader-mode as Raven had happily called it, as he exists the Blackbird and pulls the spare suit he keeps with him at all times; it's turned out to be one of the most practical and worthwhile habits he's ever had.

It takes him less than five minutes to change entirely and Hank is ready in the Blackbird, repowering the engines and making sure everything is right, when the others pull up in one of the many jeeps owned by the Xavier's Estate. Raven hops out first, quickly followed by Sean, Alex, Emma and a new addition to the team – a young mutant called Gambit who Erik often wanted to throttle with whatever metal was available; but that would be unprofessional of him.

They're silent, assured in what they have to do, as they clamber into the Blackbird, and soon enough they're flying high in the sky heading towards southern Texas; and Hank tells him that it'll only take forty minutes because of the altitude they're flying at but Erik doesn't really care about that.

 


 

When Hank lands the Blackbird in a farmer's field they're surprised to find that the chaos and destruction is still running rampant around the town in the form of half-a-dozen mutants with powers that vary from bouncing like tigger around the place, to being able to throw ice picks at anything from their hands. Without having to speak aloud, Erik relays the plan to Emma who quickly and efficiently broadcasts it to the others.

They split up into their usual pairs; Alex and Sean going together, Gambit and Emma, and then Hank and Erik last. Raven, as usual, goes alone as she's done many times and Erik trusts her enough to be sure she won't come to any real harm – and he believes she has enough common-sense to call for help if she does get into real trouble.

Soon enough though they're all engaged in their own battles with the mutants; Hank and Erik getting two to deal with who obviously don't know what to do with a blue fuzzball just looking for a reason to rip their throats out and an ex-Nazi-hunter who can tie them up in knots courtesy of all the metal they're wearing.

They're doing pretty well, knocking the other mutants into shape pretty easily when it all goes wrong as Raven finds herself directly in the path of an icicle aimed for Alex. It's almost as if time slows down for Erik as he watches in horror as the icicle gets closer to the last remaining, living, thing that reminds Erik of Charles and he lets out a scream as he hurls any metal he can into the path of the icicle. But the metal's not moving fast enough and Raven's going to die, die, diediedie... and Erik will really be alone then.

But then everything stops. And by everything, Erik realises that it's everything.

The icicle is frozen in mid-air, the dustbins and metal sheets Erik had dragged from the alleyway are halted in their path, Alex, Sean, Erik, Hank and even Emma have all just... stopped. It's amazing and terrifying and invigorating, especially when Erik realises that he's only ever known one person who could actually freeze time like this – though not on this level if he's honest.

'Please stop fighting. You're making a mess of the town.' A voice echoes in his mind, in all of their minds – even Emma's and she's in her diamond form and she shouldn't be affected but she is – and Erik can't help but gasp because he knows that voice. Oh God does he know that voice.

As suddenly as everything stopped, it all starts up again, only this time the icicles falls to the ground and the dustbins and metal sheets clatter to the floor. No-one moves though, they're all in shock and it looks as if they're still frozen. Slowly, not daring to blink in case he wakes up, Erik turns slowly to look at the Diner behind him. The Diner that a young man is standing in front of with two fingers resting on his temple.

"Charles." He breathes out as the others stop what they're doing and turn to look at their long-lost friend, tutor, surrogate father, leader, brother. Family. "Oh God Charles..." Suddenly he's aware of himself moving towards the man who has followed him like a shadow, just a memory, and a part of him doesn't want this to be real but a larger part is hoping that this is anything but a dream.

"I'm sorry. I don't know who you are but could you please stop destroying the town." Charles says coldly, his words a direct contrast to the Charles Erik knows and it brings the metal manipulator up-short as though he's just been slapped.

"Charles... it's me..." Erik says slowly, staring desperately into those blue, blue eyes and seeing no recognition. "It's Erik."

"The only Eric I know is the local bar owner and he's forty and divorced." Charles says crisply. "And my name is not Charles." He adds and Erik almost falls backwards because this is Charles, this is Charles because he'd know the touch of his friend's mind anywhere.

"Read my mind." Erik says suddenly, staring determinedly at the other man's face, seeing the momentary surprise then the suspicion followed by the open curiosity as his friend wonders why he's asking, ordering, him to read Erik's mind. "Read my mind and look for memories of a man called Charles Xavier." He adds firmly and he can see shutters coming down in those blue eyes and it hurts him almost as much as being stabbed in the gut does. "Please."

The other man stares at him for a long, long time, before reaching out with his mind and a small part of Erik is screaming at him that he was in the middle of a fight just moments ago and he really doesn't have time for this, but he squashes it viscously as he feels Charles slip into his mind and sift through the memories, the dreams, the nightmares, everything.

'Your name is Charles Xavier. You are a Professor of Genetics and you are my friend.' Erik thinks clearly and he can feel his memories being pulled out and to the surface. 'You are the first friend I have ever had in my life and when I first met you, I was drowning in my own anger and hatred. You saved me and showed me that I was not alone.'

In the real world Erik's ears pick up a sharp intake of breath and he knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that it's Charles. He grits his teeth as several particularly horrid memories are pulled forward but he continues. 'I left you on a beach, paralysed, because I couldn't let go of my anger and because I was selfish and foolish.' There's a momentary spark of anger that doesn't come from him and Erik cringes as it floats over his mind and sears his nerves. 'A year and a half ago, we met again on the battlefield, opposite sides. Something went wrong and you were mortally injured.' Here Erik pulls up memories that he has of that fateful day, the pain he felt, the anguish and the heart-break as his friend died in his arms. 'I left your body in the clearing, a broken man, and for six months I was dead inside until you came to me one night.'

When Erik opens his eyes, not bothering to wonder about when they closed, he notices how Charles is shaking and there are tears welling in those closed eyes. He feels a surge of emotion pulsing between them but he continues with his thoughts and his memories, letting Charles pick them apart and put them back together again when he's finished. 'You showed me that you weren't dead, that you had ascended and you weren't allowed to interfere in the lives of ordinary people.' He pushed forth the memory of their conversation, putting particular emphasis on Charles' face. 'You told me that you were breaking the rules and that you were going to be punished but you didn't care... and then you were gone and I did what you asked me to.' Erik finished quietly, his thoughts tapering off as Charles slowly withdrew from his mind and fixed him with a wide-eyed gaze.

"You are Charles Xavier." Erik said firmly as he took a step forward so that he was only a few centimetres away from his friend. "You have a sister, and a team and are the headmaster of a school for mutants."

"Raven, my sister." Charles whispers quietly and Erik can't help but smile. "Alex and Sean... Hank... they're the X-Men."

"Yes." Erik says softly as he watches how Charles blinks rapidly, like he's trying to clear away a fog in his mind. "They're your X-Men." Erik corrects and his smile widens at the truly surprised look Charles sends him.

"No." Charles says slowly and Erik frowns but Charles doesn't look away from him and Erik can see the fog disappearing, he can see how the Charles he knows so well comes back and those eyes sparkle with life and energy and warmth. "They're our family."