Title: Undiscovered Countries
Rating: PG-13 to mild R
Disclaimer: The X-Men are property of Marvel... and others, I guess. Not me.
Summary: 1970. Charles and Erik try to rescue a young mutant and have to face some unwanted truths about themselves, the world and their relationship. Slash.
Written for: girlfromsouth
Pairing/Scenario requested: Erik/Charles
Warnings: violence, death of minor OC, mature themes, slash
About the timeline: This story is set in 1970 - two years after M.L. King was assassinated, one year after the Stonewall riots in New York (the police raided a gay bar, this caused the first demonstrations by gay people). Charles' parents have died recently and left him the mansion, where he and Erik are now planning to open a school for mutant children. Richard Nixon is President of the United States – yet.
A/N: This was my first foray into X-Men fiction and also my first ficathon – not a good combination. I started almost twenty stories and either they didn't get very far or I panicked about them. I couldn't think of an original plot for the 'Erik in Rogue's head' request as there are already so many cool ones, I just couldn't get the 'something with roses' to work and I couldn't write 'Erik gen' because whenever I tried that, I ended up writing about Charles (and sometimes Mystique). So I wrote Charles/Erik – still without an original plot, because the general set-up is inspired by Ultimate X-Men. The title was vaguely inspired by Star Trek.
Beta read by musamea. Thanks for your quick work and much needed support! All remaining mistakes are mine and can only be excused by my non-native speakerness.
While going by car certainly wasn't the fastest or the most comfortable way to get from New York to Austin, Texas and back, it was certainly the most enjoyable for both of them. Erik disliked trains and Charles didn't like any kind of public transport because being in a crowd was always a straining experience for him. And the new car was nice, a sleek anthracite Dodge Polara with some amendments only Erik really understood. Charles didn't care; it was a nice car. Erik had been talking about designing a jet next, though Charles thought it was a bit over the top – and where would they park a jet, anyway? – but preparing and opening the school would probably take up most of their time in the coming years.
They had crossed the border from Kentucky to West Virginia a couple of hours ago and were driving through a hilly forest. It was a late afternoon in mid-June. The leaves of the beeches and poplars were still as freshly green as in spring, but the weather had been hot for some time and the grass at the roadside was brown and dry. The rusty road signs and the road itself seemed to be the only things made by man.
"They are years behind us,” Erik said, resuming their earlier discussion of the biologists' conference they had attended in Austin. It had been mostly about genetics. Since Watson and Crick had presented their model of the double helix in the early fifties, a lot of progress had been made by the scientific community, but it was very little compared to what Charles and Erik had achieved with their own experiments.
"Another reason to publish our results. That won't cause any harm; they'll need another couple of years to test and absorb our data,” Charles said. "And no decent scientist keeps his results a secret for egotistical reasons.”
"What is more important to you, Charles, the future of the mutant race or being a 'decent scientist'?”
"Mutants can hardly be considered a separate species,” he objected mildly. "So far we haven't even found two mutations that are exactly the same. And we still don't know which genes determine whether one will be a mutant or not.”
Charles wished Erik would drive with his hands actually on the steering wheel. Like this, it was hard to determine whether he was paying more attention to the road or to the argument.
"And it might be more beneficial for the mutant cause to come out to the public as a scientific discovery and not a tabloid story.”
"I wonder who will volunteer as the lab rat,” Erik replied dryly, but there was a hard edge to his voice.
Charles sighed, knowing not to press this particular point. For Erik, little white mice in plastic cages or scientists poking around in live frogs were objects of a fear almost as pathological as the one he held for medical doctors. In their own research, Erik usually designed the instruments and did most of the mathematical calculations and left the actual work in the laboratory to Charles. Of course, it all remained under a surface of steely calm.
"I guess we need not fear discovery any time soon. Decades will go by before the public starts to make connections between the random, isolated incidents they now perceive mutants as. And besides, we have a school to build .”
He peered out of the window and after a few minutes of silence, he closed his eyes. Charles didn't sleep. He sat very straight and relaxed his muscles while concentrating on his telepathic perceptions., Most people who drive in a car or a train eventually stare out of the windows at the passing countryside. Charles did something similar; he scanned the surrounding environment for the minds of sentient beings. There was no one for a long time, a soothing quietness except for the familiar presence of Erik next to him. But then he sensed something: the hushed whispers of fear, finally growing into a full scream, gripping him with hot red hands. A mutant.
His eyes snapped open. It was a small motion, otherwise he stayed completely quiet, but nevertheless he immediately felt Erik's attention on him.
The agony and fear he perceived had been faint and wavering at first, but now it grew stronger. Charles tensed and turned in the direction of the stranger's presence. A mutant in pain...
"Stop,” he said quietly, then louder and suddenly urgent: "Erik, stop the car!”
As soon as the car came to a halt by the edge of the road, Charles leapt out. He heard the doors behind him slam and Erik was on his heels.
"What is it?” he called.
"A mutant, close by. I believe he's in danger!” Charles shouted without looking back.
The way down from the road and into the forest was a steep slope. Occasionally clutching a tree for support, they scrambled down as fast as they could.
"What kind of danger?”
"I don't know. He is hurting, wounded. Maybe wild animals are –," but Charles stopped, gasping. He turned to Erik, meeting his friend's eyes in quiet terror. "Not animals. Men!”
A shot rang through the wood. Charles nearly lost his balance as the telepathic connection with the assaulted mutant wavered. For a moment he couldn't breathe as his lungs filled with blood that wasn't there. Erik grabbed his shoulder and stared wildly into his eyes.
Fear, pain, these are men from his village, doing this; there's a shot; who's shooting? Hot on his side, wet on his side; something hits his head. Don't –
Erik's voice brought him back from the frantic thoughts filling his mind. "Are you hurt? Charles, can you hear me?”
He nodded and struggled back to his feet, trying to reach out with his mind once more even as he hurried on.
They arrived at the clearing precisely as the second shot rang through the forest, just in time to see a young man drop to the ground in a limp heap. But the men didn't stop assaulting him; they laughed and kicked him with their heavy boots –
The rifles were ripped out of their hands. They yelped in shock and stumbled backwards. The rifles floated in the air, as if held by invisible hands and they were pointing at the men's heads.
"Stop!” Charles yelled and silence fell over the clearing like the sky dropping down. The five murderers stared at their rifles hanging above them and realised that nothing would happen. As if by an inaudible command, they ran, vanishing quickly between the trees. The guns clattered to the ground, next to their only victim. The brown grass was smeared with red around the dead mutant.
Charles forced himself to breathe. It took him a long time to process the last few moments. He was not the blind raging cruel mob. He was not the dead man in the high grass. He was not Erik, unable to save the mutant but ready to kill for him. He was Charles and he had decided that there would be no more killings. A passionless, soothing calm settled over his thoughts.
Slowly he turned to face Erik, who was still frozen in suspended motion, his hands half raised. Charles had decided that these hands would not kill, but Erik had not made the same resolution.
His own hands were shaking uncontrollably. It isn't our fault, he thought and almost immediately the thought began to manifest in Erik's head as well, blossoming and growing, stretching tendrils of conviction into the far reaches of Erik's memory.
It isn't our fault...
It's your fault...
It isn't my fault...
With a harsh gasp, Charles broke the connection, taking a step back and almost falling in the tall grass.
As suddenly as it had stopped, time and motion returned to the clearing. Birds resumed their song, reluctant at first. Erik stared confusedly at his hands, then he half turned around, his eyes meeting Charles, a cold blaze burned in them.
With a swift gesture, he flexed his fingers; the abandoned guns trembled on the ground, ready to rise – but nothing more happened.
"Why did you do that?” Erik asked in a deadly calm voice.
"It was too late. You couldn't have saved him,” Charles forced himself to say, knowing that it was a lie. This hadn't been his consideration when he'd made the choice for both of them. He had only wanted it to stop.
Something dark passed over Erik's face and he finally turned to look at the dead body. A young man with blood in his reddish hair and beard.
"You forced me to let them escape,” he said.
"I didn't want to let you become a murderer, Erik.”
"It wasn't your choice to make,” was the cold and angry reply.
"You were being irrational. I just didn't want to let you do something you might later regret,” Charles argued, surprised by how calm he sounded.
Erik turned and frowned at him. "Do you honestly think I'd ever regret killing such... animals, Charles?”
Silence lasted for some seconds and a chill went through Charles' mind and deeper, until it reached his heart. But he couldn't stop what he saw, bright and clearly, happening in his friend.
"Yes, I did,” he said softly.
Charles stared into the fire, unable to warm himself. A thick lump of fear and shock seemed to have settled in his chest and he couldn't get around it.
The flames licked at the dark wood and the hot air above the fire rose into the sky, blurring the stars that shone between the branches and leaves above his head. The trees stood like giants in the shadows, protectively holding their hands over him.
He was still sitting in the same cursed little clearing a few hours away from the border between Kentucky and West Virginia. After their argument, Erik had left in anger and Charles had not followed him. For some time he was certain that Erik would not return, but he did, having fetched the car and driven it closer to the clearing on a small road through the woods. Then he had wrapped the body in a spare blanket from the trunk of the car.
But they spoke no words and Charles didn't dare to touch his friend's mind, not after what he had done.
He buried his head in his hands. Charles had always been aware of the enormous power at his disposal. Corruption lurked behind every corner, in every unconscious thought. Even if he didn't actually do anything, his decisions were coloured by the knowledge that, in theory, he could do it.
Charles had to turn his head away from the fire to look for Erik. He found him next the car, standing over the body. The dark silver of the Dodge reflected the flames like a dusky mirror. Charles longed to see what was on his mind. He longed to talk to Erik in a language that consisted more of feelings than of words, a language without easy lies. But even brushing Erik's mind felt like kissing barbed wire.
He got up slowly and walked through the tall grass, stopping at a safe distance.
"It wasn't our fault that he died.”
"I never said it was,” Erik replied without looking up. He put the blanket back over the dead body and brushed a hand over his trousers. The rage seemed to have left him, but he was still cold and remote.
"But maybe you feel that way.”
"Stop behaving like a therapist, Charles.” Erik sounded weary, almost old.
"I'm trying to behave like a friend,” he objected gently, even though Erik wasn't that wrong. He wanted to help, and he wanted him to talk about his feelings, even though twenty years of experience told him that this would hardly happen. There were things his friend would never say out loud.
Erik didn't reply to that and walked past him towards the fire, where he sat down and stared at the flames just as Charles had done moments before. Charles followed him and again remained standing at a safe distance. Did Erik still trust him? To be limited to words where he was used to total communication was painful.
"You know that I'm sorry for what I did,” Charles finally said. He didn't have to say "but I'm not sorry that you didn't kill them."
"Does that mean you won't do it next time?” Erik asked in a challenging tone.
"If there is a next time –"
But Erik didn't let him finish. His voice was hard. "There will be a next time. Attacks and murders like this will happen all the time. And they won't just take place in some woods in the middle of nowhere. It'll be every city in every state.”
Charles was used to that line of reasoning from Erik by now. He had claimed the same about almost every civil rights movement they had witnessed together. Two years ago, after King was assassinated, he had predicted a civil war, and again a year ago after Stonewall.
"And what are you planning to do about it?” Charles tried to sound calm and reasonable. He seemed to have succeeded; Erik's voice lost its dangerous tone.
"I don't know yet,” he admitted. "But I will not watch and endure it.” There was a silent accusation in Erik's voice.
"That's not what I'm planning to do, either. Once we complete Cerebro, we'll be able to find and contact every mutant on the planet. The students we will educate will not be helpless. They'll learn how to use their powers responsibly. And mankind will learn not to hate us,” Charles reminded him.
Since he got no reply, he turned around and went to the car. They should eat and drink something, he decided. But they hadn't planned on sleeping in the woods and the only thing they had was a single orange and a bottle of rather lukewarm water. He took both and walked back to Erik, squatting down next to him and placing the bottle and the fruit on the ground. Then he put a hand tentatively on his friends' shoulder. The touch prickled with static, like stroking a cat's fur with nylon gloves would.
"About your question... next time I will let you make your own choices,” Charles said softly. "Whatever they may be.”
Erik glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. Whatever doubts remained within him, he kept to himself. Then he picked up the fruit. "Is that all we've got?”
"Until we get to the next town, yes.” He took the orange from Erik and started to peel it carefully. The sweet aromatic scent filled the air between them.
"What will we do tomorrow?” Erik asked and even without telepathy Charles could sense that their argument was over.
"We'll drive to the next village and then we'll call the police and describe the murderers. Then we'll drive home.”
"How do you know that the police weren't with them?”
Charles smiled wryly. "Because I know their names, addresses and all the skeletons in their closets. I did not intend to let them get away with this, either.”
Now Erik looked more amused than angry. He took the bottle and drank while Charles peeled the fruit in two halves.
"I'm not hungry,” Erik said and lit a cigarette instead. It probably helped better against the hunger than the orange, which was barely more than a mouthful of delicious taste that only made things worse.
"There will be no smoking in the school,” Charles warned.
Erik took a last deep drag and put the cigarette out on the ground, only to suddenly bend forward to lick a drop of juice from Charles' chin. "And what else won't there be, Professor Xavier?” he asked in a low voice against Charles' neck.
"You're the one who keeps on insisting that we be careful,” Charles reminded him as they slid to the ground. He gently kissed Erik's forehead, grateful for the intimacy that allowed no more argument.
The dry grass was uncomfortable against his back, but the night air was cool and gentle and Erik's head resting on his shoulder felt warm and reassuring. The comforting weight drove away the last of his fear and apprehension. He tenderly stroked his tired lover's hair and felt him open up with all his senses. Still, Charles contented himself with only physical touch.
There's no need to keep the polite distance, Erik thought at him.
You told me to stay out of your head.
You usually don't do what I tell you to.
Perhaps you were right, though
I'm not afraid of you, Charles. I'm helping you to build a machine that will make you the most powerful and potentially dangerous mutant on the planet. You're about the only person I would trust with that.
Except for yourself.
Erik made a low chuckling noise against Charles' neck and slid his hands between them to work at loosening his tie and to work at the buttons of his starched white shirt. Charles closed his eyes but refused to be distracted so easily.
Do you really think Cerebro will be that dangerous?
You could brainwash the president.
I believe in democracy.
Who knows if Nixon does?
Once he had opened Charles' shirt wide enough, Erik slid his hands inside and wrapped his arms around him. The tips of his fingers were cold, but his wrists were soft and hot against the bare skin. He sighed, obviously too tired to do much more. But never tired enough to drop an argument.
You could stop armies. You could make peace with a thought.
Charles knew that, of course. But the temptation to use his powers that way was not so great after all. He also thought it was a little hypocritical of Erik to suggest this when he had been so indignant at being controlled himself, but he kept that thought to himself.
It wouldn't be real. Peace can't be enforced. Only cease-fires can.
Erik paused and Charles felt an unarticulated resistance, dissent like white noise at the back of his mind. But it never became more than a wordless feeling.
You'll never use your power? Not even to save lives? You'll only use it to find young mutants, nothing else? Would you waste so many opportunities?
But there were other things he could do besides stopping wars and controlling politicians. He could plant happier thoughts into people's minds. He could heal them. He could relieve them of their pain. It was much harder to resist this temptation. Sometimes he failed to resist.
To save lives, perhaps.
So next time you'll only let me make my own choices because you have brainwashed me and turned me into a harmless pacifist beforehand?
Charles opened his eyes and stared at the sky. He knew that Erik was joking, but this whole conversation troubled him. Wasn't Erik seeing that he was applying double standards all the time?
"I would never do that,” he whispered.
Erik raised his head for a moment to look him in the eyes. "Never?”
"To control a person for a short time is wrong, but to alter their mind, to deprive them of their own personality is one of the worst crimes I can imagine.”
For a while, neither of them said or thought anything in particular. The fire died down and they lay together at the brink of sleep. But then another distinct thought passed through Erik's mind and Charles caught it.
But sometimes one crime against a single person could prevent crimes against many other people...
And you still wouldn't do it?
I was talking about you, Erik. I wouldn't do it to you. I couldn't. And after a small pause, I guess it is a kind of weakness.
One I should be glad of. Although, of course, I cannot promise the same.
Hardly, as it's not something you could do to me.
Another thing I should be glad of.
Slowly their thoughts grew less and less articulate until Charles felt their consciousness drift into the realm of dreams. Long ago he had learned to control his dreams as well as his waking thoughts, a necessity if he didn't want to be driven insane by the dreams of other people.
For a while they dreamed Erik's dreams, always overwhelming in their desperate intensity. The images and patterns of a subconscious he knew better than his own unravelled before him. Danger, persecution, failed rescue, helplessness. It was a constant theme with countless alterations. Every day he tried to save the world and every night he failed.
But Charles knew dreams of different futures. Subtly, the scenes began to shift; sunlight broke through bone-coloured clouds and warmed the frozen earth beneath. Closed doors opened again, revealing undiscovered countries.