Chapter 1: A Firelit Room
Charles yawns and moves his head away from Logan’s shoulder. In truth, Logan didn’t mind the contact, but he supposes it could potentially become awkward. At least they ended their relationship (if you could call it that) on a good note. If Logan were being honest with himself, which he always tried to be, he missed Charles. He missed this.
He didn’t, however, miss Lehnsherr. He swears Lehnsherr’s music got louder and more fucking painful the longer he stayed in the car. God damn it Lehnsherr, his awful music probably woke Charles up.
“Lehnsherr, can you turn your fucking music down? A man could go insane listening to that shit.”
Logan glares at Lehnsherr through the rearview mirror. Who the hell thought it was a good idea to let him drive, anyways? He doesn’t think Lehnsherr has ever had professional experience driving. Logan, on the other hand, has been driving trucks and cars even before Lehnsherr has been born. He even got paid for it. At least his immortality is good for something.
Lehnsherr smirks lazily at him. “It’s not my problem you have bad taste in music.”
Logan huffs in annoyance as the music gets even louder. “Lehnsherr shut the fuck up or I’ll wipe that grin off your -”
“Children,” Charles interrupts, “I’m trying to sleep. Could you please keep it down?”
“You know, when I asked my best friends to go on a road trip, I wasn’t expecting you two to be at each other’s throats all the time.”
“You know, when my best friend asked to go on a road trip, I wasn’t expecting to see Howlett.”
“Well, I ain’t thrilled to see you either, bub.”
Charles opens his mouth, probably ready to talk about how they should form a friendship circle and all ride off into the sunset together. Instead, he lets out a yelp as the car jerks to a stop.
Logan curses their luck. Great. Just what they needed. A fallen tree blocking the road in a fucking thunderstorm. He glances at his phone. No signal. And now he has to spend the night in a car (which isn’t so bad), with Lehnsherr (which is awful).
Something in the distance makes Charles’ face light up. “Don’t worry, I think there’s some light in the distance, possibly a house or a rest stop. We could ask whoever’s there for help and I’m sure they’ll be happy to assist us.”
Logan gets drenched the instant he steps out of the car. He’s just about to pass his jacket to Charles when he sees that Lehnsherr has beaten him to it. Whatever.
His shoes sink into the earth as they walk towards the cabin. Thick, yellow light spills from the front porch into the dark. Logan has a bad feeling about this place, but it’s not like they have a better option. Besides, Charles looks pretty optimistic and Logan isn’t a big enough dick to crush his hopes.
Charles knocks on the door. No answer. He tries again. “Excuse me? We’re in a bit of a tight spot and could use your help.”
Logan raps his knuckles against the wooden door. “Hello?” he calls out, having to shout over the rain. “Anyone home?” Again, no response.
“Looks like no one’s home,” Erik says, looking into the dark windows. He waves his hand over the doorknob. There’s a click, and it opens.
“Erik,” Charles chides, trying to give Erik a disapproving look. It’s not that effective since he’s shivering from head to toe.
Logan shrugs and pushes the door open. “I’m sure Lehnsherr can offer to cook ‘em breakfast or something.”
To which Lehnsherr responds, “I’m sure Howlett can offer to be their personal lumberjack,” he tilts his head to the side, then adds mockingly, “or something.”
Charles sighs, running his hands through his wet hair. “I’m sure we can sort this out when our hosts return home. For now, could we please go inside?”
The two of them immediately fall silent and follow Charles into the house. Lehnsherr waves a hand, and the door shuts behind them.
A warm glow falls over the room. Huh. That’s some sophisticated shit for a cabin in the woods.
Charles takes in the room. “This looks… nice.” Then, as he takes in the lit fireplace, he adds happily, “And warm!”
“Right,” Logan mutters, looking suspiciously at the creepy-ass dolls lined up on the shelves. He feels like their glassy eyes are staring right into his soul. At least Lehnsherr looks equally disturbed.
Lehnsherr tears his eyes away from the display. “I’ll look around. It doesn’t look too big.”
He comes back a few minutes later, completely intact. What a shame.
“The house is empty. It’s just us,” Lehnsherr informs them. With a grimace, “One bed, good for two. And a couch.”
Logan considers asking Lehnsherr to take the couch, but he doesn’t think Charles will like it. Then again, Charles would probably do something noble like offer to take the couch. He shudders. No fucking way he’s climbing into bed with Lehnsherr. He looks at Lehnsherr, who’s probably thinking the same, given matching expression on his face.
“We could flip a coin,” Lehnsherr suggests coolly, holding a coin out in his hand.
Asshole. As if that would magically make Logan forget that he was talking to a guy who could control metal. “In your dreams, pal.”
“You know, there are only two sides to a coin,” Charles pipes in. “How about we play this game I learnt in Singapore instead? It’s called Lom Chiam Pass and it’s remarkably creative, you don’t need anything but your hands. The rules are simple. Each player -”
“Out of the question. You’re taking the bed.” Lehnsherr says without missing a beat. For once, Logan agrees with him.
Lehnsherr nods at Logan. “Very well, we can draw lots.”
“Did everyone forget rock-paper-scissors?” Charles asks, exasperated.
So, that’s how he ended up on the crusty bed with Charles while Lehnsherr made love to the rats on the even more disgusting couch. He won’t be missed, that’s for sure. Logan sends a silent apology to the rats, cockroaches and whatever else is living in the floorboards, who have to bear with Lehnsherr for a whole night.
There’s a cord phone on the nightstand, but the wire’s been cut. He hopes the people living here don’t have any loose screws. Guess he’s not getting much sleep tonight, especially since he doesn’t know when some angry farmer was gonna come charging in and point a shotgun at his face. Wouldn’t be the first time, but he doesn’t think this time would be any more pleasant.
It’s not like his guts on the bed would ruin the interior design of the house. In fact, it might even go with the theme - fucking disgusting. He almost feels at home, but Charles shouldn’t be in a place like this. Charles is eyeing the filthy sheets warily, reluctant to get on.
Logan smiles reassuringly at him, trying for humour. “You can lie on me, Chuck.” His lame joke is met with a small, wistful laugh.
“I never wanted to weigh down on you, Logan,” he says softly.
Logan’s first instinct is to shut down his comment with an “it’s too late for this” but he’s not going to be a fucking coward. Not again. He sighs. “Come here.”
Obediently, Charles trots towards him, pausing at the edge of the bed. Hesitant. The sight evoked feelings Logan didn’t want to think about. He pats the empty space next to him, protectively wrapping an arm around Charles when he sits down. Charles leans into his touch, as if on instinct. Like they’ve done this a thousand times.
Logan doesn’t deserve him.
Charles tenses in his arms. For a second, Logan’s worried that Charles has somehow managed to hear his thoughts. Lucky for both of them, Charles is only human. He knows he’s not a good man, and Charles shouldn’t be wasting his breath telling him otherwise.
“Logan,” Charles whispers, “Do you hear that?”
They’re silent for a moment, as Logan strains his ears to hear. His hearing’s always been good, but he can’t hear anything except the rain.
“Someone’s crying,” Charles says, sitting up to look around the room. To make matters worse, the lights choose this exact moment to start to flicker.
Logan knows he’s bad at this. He can only respond stupidly with, “It’s been a long day. You should get to sleep.”
Charles buried his head in his chest as if he’s trying to drown it out. Logan knows a thing or two about noises only you can hear. The best he can do is wrap his arms tighter around him and hope that Charles would be able to rest.
The last thought he has before he drifts off is that he’d rather die than let anything happen to Charles.
Logan jerks awake when he hears footsteps. Goddamn it, the farmers have come to shoot him. Tiredly, he says, “Look bub, I don’t want any trouble.”
“It’s just me, Logan,” Charles reassures him through chattering teeth. His arms are wrapped around his body.
It takes a moment for Logan to register the cold, probably because his toes are numb and feel like they’re gonna fall off. The wind howls relentlessly outside.
The fire is dead. The lights are too. If he’s cold, he can’t imagine how Charles must be feeling.
“What are you doin’?” Logan asks, walking towards him.
“I’m going to look for firewood.” Laughing, he says “I haven’t the foggiest idea how to light a fire, but it’s a start.”
“Fortunately for both of us, I do.”
Logan can feel the bastard smiling as he adds innocently, “And Erik.”
Speaking of which, he can smell Lehnsherr’s godawful cologne from the living room. Logan resists the urge to roll his eyes. “Don’t think the firewood would be in the bedroom. I think I saw a storeroom on the way in. We’d probably have better luck there.”
They feel their way to the storeroom. Logan can tell they’ve woken Lehnsherr up; he can hear him stir. Logan grimaces as his boots step over god knows what. Hopefully, it wasn’t alive. He gropes around in the darkness for wood or at least something that feels like it. So far he’s felt nothing but doll hair. Hopefully. He supposes it can’t get any worse than that.
“Hey magnets, we were just talking about - oh fuck!” he swears as his hand pushes down on something - a button, or a blob. Whatever it is, he sure as hell doesn’t expect the wall to open with a shriek, and for them to be hit by a blast of heat. Charles lets out a little sigh of contentment.
Logan squints into the darkness. It looks like a room of sorts. Logan’s mom never taught him not to venture into dark, unknown places, but he’s pretty sure you’re not supposed to. Still, nothing’s eaten them yet and the warmth is certainly welcome, so he doesn’t think you could blame them for wordlessly gravitating further into… whatever that is.
“We can’t see what we’re walking into; we may as well be walking into a ditch,” Lehnsherr muttered darkly.
“Maybe if we shut the door, the lights will come on,” Charles suggested. “Just like the house.”
“Sounds like pretty sound logic,” Logan said as he shut the door in a quick motion.
Seconds crawled by. They remain shrouded in darkness.
“Genius, Howlett. To trap us in a room with no way out,” Lehnsherr said scathingly. Logan can imagine the sneer on his face.
Logan’s about to respond, it’s not like the door is going to magically disappear when he’s blinded by a light that comes out from nowhere.
He smirks. “You were saying? Besides, the door’s right -” Logan falters.
He sees nothing but white, white and more white. He turns around. He swears the door was behind him. But instead, he sees more fucking white. So much that he can’t even tell where the floor ends and where the ceiling begins. He looks around the room. It seems more like a hallway, a too white hallway with no end in sight. Already, it’s starting to hurt his eyes. Whoever designed this place must have been blind or stupid. Or both.
If the afterlife were like this, then thank fuck, Jesus and god that he can never die. If he does though, he prays to whoever’s listening that it wouldn’t be like this - trapped for eternity with Lehnsherr in an endless white void.
They try to find the door, but it’s no use. He’s pretty sure Lehnsherr is cursing him under his breath but he doesn’t give a shit. He glances at Charles, still beautiful in the unforgiving light. Maybe this ain’t so bad.
“Well, looks like we have no choice but to continue until we find a way out,” Charles says, after minutes of hopeless silence.
And so they step into the light.
Chapter 2: The Girl
Charles stops walking abruptly. Frowning, he feels around in his pocket. “I can’t find my car keys, I think I dropped them. Should we go back?”
“You could’ve dropped them a long time ago, Chuck. Who knows how long we’ve been walking in this hellhole for,” Howlett says. As if this entire thing wasn’t the result of his impulsive stupidity.
“I could always get new ones made when we get back,” Charles muses.
If we get back, Erik thinks darkly.
Brightening as he turns to Erik, he adds, “Besides, it’s not like we need keys to start the car. We have you, my friend.”
Erik can’t help but return his smile. Strange, he can still feel the familiar grooves of the keys. They’re a few meters in front, not too far away. Perhaps if he…
Charles stares, amazed, as the car keys land neatly in the palm of his hand. Fondly, he murmurs, “Your gift never ceases to amaze me, my friend.” No matter how many times he displays his powers in front of Charles, he always responds in the same way - with childlike wonder in his eyes. Not like other humans who scoff and scorn at what they don’t understand. No, Charles is better .
If only Charles were a mutant. Then, things would have worked out between them.
In another life. Maybe. No, that’s foolish. Pining over a human. When has that ever worked out well for him? It’s a ridiculous sentiment. One he tried to bury along with Magda.
Charles’s voice jerks him out of his fantasy. “That’s strange. The keys should’ve come from the back, and yet…” He frowns.
“Have we been walking in circles?” Charles asks.
Erik chides himself. Stupid, to have let what ifs cloud his judgment.
“Impossible. We haven’t turned once,” Erik says.
“I believe it’s possible if the angle is slight enough for our eyes to miss it.”
“What’s the point of all this shit?” Howlett asks, intelligent as always.
“What other purpose would an endless tunnel serve? Someone is trying to play a game.” Erik scowls. He pushes back the childhood memories of Shaw. Now’s not the time.
“Well, apologies to the gamemaster but I ain’t interested in playin’,” Howlett says.
“My darlings, if this is in fact a game, then as much as I hate to admit it, the only way out may be to play.” Charles takes hold of his and Howlett’s hands and squeezes ever so gently, sending a pang to his chest. Charles has a determined look in his eyes as he reassures them, “We will get out of this. Together.”
The moment is broken when Howlett lets go of Charles’s hand. Erik takes that as his cue to start being useful. He closes his eyes, attempting to reach for any metal he can find. Hopefully, he’ll get a better idea of what they’re dealing with. His brows furrow in concentration. Why isn’t it working?
STOMP. STOMP. STOMP.
Erik opens his eyes.
STOMP. STOMP. STOMP.
He shoots an irritated look at Howlett, who is pacing back and forth.
“Howlett, are you incapable of standing still?” Erik says.
“Shut up,” he snaps. “I can hear something.”
Howlett begins knocking against the wall, unsheathing his claws when he arrives at a particular spot. In a flash, he slices the wall with two quick strokes and pushes through. That section of the wall topples over.
He sticks his head in. “We’re back at the cabin.” He pauses. “The lights are still flickering, but someone lit the fire.”
Erik tenses. They’re not alone. He surveys the cabin. It’s almost identical, except it has no windows, no front door. No exits. The door to the bedroom is boarded up. They could break it, if necessary, but Erik’s not sure if he wants to know what’s behind it. For now, they could go to the kitchen, if it’s still a kitchen.
Howlett pushes the door open to reveal the kitchen or at the very least, its twin.
The walls, counter and table are identical. Even the rust-filled sink is the same, judging by the way it grates against his senses.
Something had been daubed onto a sheet of paper which was hanging on the fridge, shimmering in the flickering lights.
“Looks like a child lives here,” Charles murmurs, squinting at the handprint art hanging on the fridge: two red hands overlaid in a mockery of a heart.
Erik feels like he knows this drawing. He made a similar one when he was ten years old. With Magda. Erik recalls carefully sinking his hands into brown paint, making sure not a drop was spilt. The paint was a luxury. He had used the last of the red to paint the box he specially designed to store Magda’s necklace.
He doesn’t like where this is going. “That wasn’t there before.”
“Yeah and that’s not paint.” Howlett sniffs the air, straightening. “That’s blood. It’s still fresh.”
Howlett takes a step closer and swears. “That’s fucking sick.”
“What?” Charles’s voice is a mere whisper.
“Max, age 10. Magda, age 9,” Howlett reads, his voice hollow.
Erik feels like throwing up. Shaw.
All this time, Shaw had been biding his time, waiting for the right moment to drag him back. Erik was foolish to let his guard down, thinking he had escaped his guardian for good when he left home. All those years ago, he could hardly have dreamt that his foster father would display his drawings on the wall. Now, Erik knew better. All those empty words were crafted to mould him into another one of Shaw’s disciples.
Had Magda not persuaded him to run away with her, he would still be there. With Shaw. But, had Magda not persuaded him, she might have lived. If he had stayed, he might have been able to save Magda from the fire . But he left before he was strong enough.
“Erik?” Charles asked gently, putting an arm on his shoulder. His eyes were brimming with concern.
He needed to be stronger or it would happen again. He couldn’t lose Charles.
“Charles I -” Erik stopped. Someone was crying. Dry, racking sobs.
They inched towards the source of the noise, Howlett in front. He raises his fist at the door to the bedroom. Instead of unsheathing his claws, he calls out, “You alright?” As if they were visiting a friend.
Annoyed, he yanks Howlett aside, ignoring his indignant “what the fuck?”. Erik clenches his fist, and the wooden boards fall with a crash. The nails threateningly hover next to him.
Silence follows. The door creaks open at his command. He reaches out, trying to feel for metal in the room.
Something shoots through the air. Erik barely has time to register that it’s a coin, let alone stop it. He sneers. As if a coin would stop him.
He sends the nails hurtling towards the girl on the bed, stopping inches from her face. She backs up against the wall.
“Who are you?” he demands. “What is this place?”
The girl lets out a small cry. The nails press into her skin, stopping short of drawing blood.
“I don’t know nothin’. I jus’ woke up here.”
“Your bravery won’t save you.” To prove his point, he jams it deeper.
“She’s a kid, Lehnsherr,” Howlett growls.
Erik ignores him. “I’m going to count to three. If you don’t tell me what I need to know before that, that will be the last thing you hear.”
“I don’t know anything,” she insists, her voice rising in panic.
“Let her go, Erik.”
“ Please .” What little courage the girls has disappears. Her voice quivers.
“I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Before Erik can count to three, Howlett slams into him, knocking him off his feet. His concentration breaks. The nails clatter to the ground.
Erik throws Howlett aside with the metal in his belt.
Charles is making soothing noises at the girl. His palms are facing her as if he’s trying to calm a startled animal. She flinches back.
“Don’t touch me.”
Charles’ face falls. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“He may not, but I will,” Erik says, pushing Charles behind him.
“Erik,” Charles says warningly. Erik ignores him. Howlett’s getting up with a grunt. Without thinking, Erik sends the nails hurtling at Howlett. It won’t do any lasting damage anyways.
“Logan!” Charles cries, running towards Howlett.
Erik turns towards the girl. She spits on him. Erik blinks, bewildered.
“I’ll see you in hell, mister.” Her voice is shaky, but her eyes meet his defiantly.
Radio static breaks out behind them.
Erik ignores it and takes a step closer. “Have you ever been to hell, girl?” he asks, voice low.
She says nothing. Of course.
“You don’t have the faintest idea of what it’s like.” He tilts his head. “I have. Would you like me to show you?”
“Good morning, Erik.” It’s a different voice, a familiar one. A chuckle. “My, how you’ve grown.”
Erik turns slowly. It doesn’t sound like the voice is talking directly to them. His eyes dart around the room. The girl’s eyes are wide and staring. Charles and Howlett are in a corner. Charles’ fingers have stilled on his chest. There’s a radio on the desk beside them. The next moment, it’s crumpling into itself.
“For fuck’s sake, Lehnsherr. That thing could’ve been a clue or some shit.”
“We have to get out of here.” Erik feels for metal again. There’s a door on the opposite side of the room. Idiot . How could he have missed that?
He yanks the door open.
“Hell no! I ain’t going with that bastard,” the girl says, looking at him indignantly. Good.
Howlett’s crouching down beside her like she’s a harmless girl. “I won’t let him hurt you, kid.” He pauses. “What’s your name?”
“Marie.” She gives him a shaky smile.
He nods. “Name’s Logan. This is Charles. That ass - guy over there is Ringo.”
Howlett shrugs at Charles. “I tried.”
Erik scoffs. “Howlett is beyond saving, Charles.”
Charles looks at both of them, exasperated. “Now? Really?” He rubs his temples. Softening as he turns to Marie, he points at Erik and says “He’s Erik.”
“His mama should’ve called him Asshole.”
“Don’t talk about my mother,” Erik snarls, raising his hand.
“Watch it, bub,” Howlett snaps back, stepping protectively in front of her.
Erik’s eyes flash. “If you think I won’t kill you to get to her,” he chuckles darkly, “you’re wrong.”
“I’d like to see you try,” Howlett growls.
“Let’s see if we can find a way out.” Charles’ voice is firm as he gives both of them a pointed look. His gaze lingers on Erik, concerned.
Erik marches towards the door. Charles follows closely behind him.
“My friend, are you alright?” he asks.
They don’t have time for this. “Fine,” Erik says, his voice carefully neutral.
Charles looks sceptical, but surely he must realize that there are more important matters at hand.
They walk into another room. It’s as white as the tunnel they were in. In the centre of the room, a registration table. Plastic chairs line the wall.
Erik walks towards the table for a closer inspection. There are papers on the table - forms. There’s a bell, a pencil holder and a bottle of hand sanitizer, all lined up neatly.
It resembles a hospital, or at least, a replica of one. What Shaw was trying at, Erik didn’t know.
Erik pushes forward, trying to look for an exit. There’s another hallway. To his left, a door labelled Clinic; to his right, a door labelled Surgery.
Erik pushes that door open.