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Because in the End, All We Are Left With is Memories

Chapter Text

Charles was a mess.

Ever since Cuba, he hasn't been the same. After Moira left, Charles having wiped her memory, he let himself go. He began drinking to try to forget that he had no use of his legs, spiraling downwards into a pit of despair. He wished to forget the time he had spent with Erik; erase his own memories and replace them with something else. Charles knew he couldn't do that, though. He needed to remember what Erik's weaknesses were- what made him tick and what could throw him off his game. He had to know his enemy to calculate his victory.

It was odd to Charles to think of Eric as his enemy, but he couldn't very well think of Erik as his friend, either. Perhaps adversary better suited Erik to Charles.

Charles was sitting in his library now, a glass of scotch in one hand and a book in the other. He spent most of his time reading, the rest of it mostly being spent using Cerebro. The small amount of time Charles wasn't brooding in the library or using Cerebro, he was sleeping and reluctantly eating. Hank usually had to force him to eat.

He sighed and put his book down, pinching the bridge of his nose with frustration. He hadn't been able to get the metal-bending German out of his head since he had met the man, but now it was becoming a hindrance. He took a drink from his glass, then put his glass down. He began rubbing his temples, a headache forming.

The thoughts of his housemates were encasing his mind, swarming him. Ever since Cuba, he also has seemingly lost a bit of his control over his powers, especially when they're thinking so hard. At the moment, they seemed to be discussing Erik and Charles once again. They simply couldn't leave something well enough alone.

Is his slump because of losing Raven or Erik? How close had Charles and Erik been? That thought was from Sean. He was curious, if a bit concerned. Sean always was quite curious. The saying 'curiosity killed the cat' could easily apply to Banshee.

I hope Charles can move on from Erik. That was Beast. He seemed to be extremely concerned. He'd had to get over someone, too, after the events in Cuba. He knew how it felt to be abandoned, even if it had been Hank's own fault.

Charles and Eric had been close... As close as Darwin and I could have been... That was from Alex. Alex hadn't been able to let go of his 'friend'. Armando's death had hit the whole team hard, but none more so than Alex, except perhaps Charles and Eric. Darwin had been Charles and Eric's responsibility- they had dragged him into their battle, ultimately causing his demise at the hands of a madman from Eric's past by the name of Sebastian. Thus, guilt had clouded both the men's minds.

Yet Alex and Armando had become extremely close in the short time they had known each other. The two had been inseparable, and Charles had often wondered if it had gone passed merely friendship. It hadn't been Charles's business, so he had never asked. Havok hadn't had time to mourn his close friend, being too busy training to take down the man who had killed Darwin. Charles was sorry for that- everyone deserved to mourn.

"Professor, it's time for dinner." Hank said, coming into the library. Charles sighed, took a last swig of his drink, and rolled his wheelchair over to where Hank stood in the doorway. "Have you had a good day, Professor?" Hank asked, always trying to make sure Professor Xavier was comfortable. Ever since the accident, Hank has had to take care of him, and he took his duties seriously.

Charles, personally, hated it. But it did warm him inside at Hank's protective behavior, even if it did make him feel like an invalid sometimes. "As good a day as it could be." Charles replied with a sigh, not feeling like putting on a façade today. Usually, he would try to be pleasant and act like life was splendid, but after a glass of scotch, accompanied by a horrible headache, he was tired of trying.

Hank remained silent after that, following behind Charles. Hank knew that Charles would throw a fit if Beast tried to do it for him. Charles needed to feel in control in a world where he seemed to have little control now.

Charles and Beast took the elevator- which had been added shortly after the Cuban mission- down to ground level. They went to the kitchen, seeing Havok and Banshee sitting at the table quietly. "How are you doing today, Professor?" Alex asked, standing up quickly to go over to Charles. Charles waved him off, rolling over to the table.

"It has been fine, Mr. Summers. Now, please sit back down. Both of you." Charles said dismissively, and Alex obeyed, going to sit, once again, beside Banshee. Hank followed soon after, sitting in between the Professor, who sat at the end of the table, and Sean.

They passed around the food, each filling their plates. The three students sat in silence, but Charles Xavier could never sit in silence. There would always be eternal chatter in his head. The there's thoughts were broadcasted to the telepath, not giving him a moment's peace as the headache grew.

Charles hardly ate, the other three eating a hearty meal fit for three growing boys. Charles ate a meal-size more fit for a small animal.

Once they all finished their food, Charles quickly made his exit, going to his room on the second floor via the elevator. When he got to his room, he got some pajamas and struggled to put them on in the wheelchair after taking his normal clothes off. When that was done, he lifted himself out of his chair using the gradually growing muscles in his arms and sort of threw himself onto his bed.

He struggled into the bed, using only his arms since his legs were useless. Once he was finally situated, he was left panting from exertion, exhaustion weighing him down.

He eyelids felt heavy, and he soon gave in to exhaustion, falling asleep easily.

Chapter Text

He hadn't intended it to be this way- how could he have? How could he have planned to injury Charles and leave him on that beach? He couldn't. No, Erik had been overwhelmed. He'd felt betrayed that Charles hadn't seen it Erik's way, that he had chose that woman over his own kind- over Erik.

It was supposed to end up with Erik and Charles ruling the world together, saving mutant-kind together. They would have been unstoppable- invincible, even. With their combined forces, Charles's clear-headed logic- his serenity- and Erik's single-mindedness- his rage- no one would have been able to stop them. Except for Charles.

Charles had stopped them.

Erik hadn't predicted that Charles would side with the humans. He hadn't predicted Moira shooting at him, and Erik deflecting the bullet right into his close friend's back. He didn't have a Plan B. He'd just had a plan.

Now, he always had several plans, all over the same scenario, but with subtle differences.

Now, he always had a Plan B.

That was why in that moment, Erik was concocting several plans as he prepared for the next mission. He sat at his desk in his office in complete silence, door closed and locked to keep his team out. Azazel could always teleport in, but he wouldn't. Azazel knew when to leave Magneto alone.

Somewhere in the house, Mystique was probably lying about with Frost, waiting. Erik knew the two women had become close. Frost had softened her icy exterior to the young, insecure, blue-skinned woman. Raven was still the young girl whom Erik had known at the mansion, who had hid behind behind a façade- on the inside, at least. She didn't show it much around her new teammates except for Frost. She couldn't hide from Emma. No one could.

That was also why Magneto had his helmet on. Emma Frost had no respect for boundaries- much like Charles.

Erik cringed at the thought.

He hated that part of Charles- his telepathic ability. It unnerved him. Erik craved privacy. He needed his head to be his own- Shaw had taken everything except his mind from him. His mind needed to stay his own. Plus, Charles didn't deserve to be haunted by the things he might see within Erik's thoughts, his memories.

Erik used to not take off the helmet at all. When Frost first joined their team, Erik had been too paranoid to release his thoughts to the blonde, icy telepath. But when Erik had finally asked her why she had been with Shaw (she hadn't seemed nearly sadistic enough to be so close to a man like Sebastian Shaw) she had stated that Magneto hadn't been Shaw's only victim. That had made Erik trust Emma Frost, if only slightly, and only with his dreams. She must have had the same nightmares; no one withstood the torture of Sebastian Shaw and didn't suffer nightmares, even years later. So, he felt it was safe to take off his helmet to sleep, leaving his nightmares open for her viewing if she decided to peak in-it was her own sanity that she risked.

But, in daylight, he refused to open himself up to that sort of vulnerability.

He heard a knock on the heavy wooden door to his office. He hummed, moving the lock on his door to unlock it, allowing the person in. Raven tentatively stepped into the room, looking shy.

"Hello." She murmured, and Erik only gave a grunt in response. He was tired, and he had never liked being interrupted. "You've been in here a whole day, so I thought I should bring you this." Raven said, revealing what her hands had been holding behind her back- one hand with a plate full of a sandwich and chips and a bottle of water in the other.

He was surprised- only Charles had ever been concerned of his welfare like this. Then again, they were siblings. Charles had probably instilled a parental, protective instinct in the girl. A small smile played on the vengeful mutant's lips, making Mystique smile as well.

He stood and took it from her, giving her a small 'thank you' in return. "It was no problem, really. I just thought our fearless leader needed some sustenance." Raven giggled, and Erik shook his head in amusement at her behavior. He knew he should be more harsh with her, make her see that the training wasn't going to be as soft as it was when they were with Charles Xavier, but he couldn't bare to say it. She was his one true connection to Charles, even if this would make the team slightly weaker. He wanted her to still be able to have fun.

She should still be able to laugh.

If he was Shaw, he wouldn't let her laugh.

Erik was going to be different from Shaw.

"Well, thank you. You may go now." He said, and she hesitated for a moment. She wanted to ask something. "Do you... Miss him?" She asked finally, and he jerked his head so that his eyes met hers. She was genuine, and she also had that stubborn determination in her eyes that she and Charles shared.

"Very much so." Erik finally admitted reluctantly, giving in to the demands as the girl switched her eyes to the wonderful, calm blue of Charles's eyes. She was good. Her eyes switched back to yellow, and Erik glared at her. She smiled, then sauntered out of the room. Where had the confidence suddenly come from?

He collapsed into his chair, taking a chip off the plate he had sat on the desk. He ate the food provided to him and drank the whole water bottle. He'd need the nourishment to finish making these plans.

He spent the next two days holed up in his office, Mystique, being the only one to dare disturb him, bringing him food and water, sometimes coffee, every so often.

Chapter Text

When Charles woke up the next day, he groaned as the sunlight hit his eyes. He'd left his curtains open last night. It took Charles a moment or two to finally get willpower to crawl out of bed and into his wheelchair.

It wasn't that he hated being alive- it just happens that sometimes he believes not waking up one day would be much easier.

Charles rolled himself over to his closet, picking out an outfit. If he didn't look like he tried enough, the boys would become worried. He went to his bathroom with the chosen outfit and began filling the tub with water. He wished he could have a hot shower instead of a warm bath, but showering requires more effort than Charles was willing to give. He sat the outfit on the counter and struggled out of his pajamas. He got a towel out and sat it next to the wheelchair. He then crawled into the tub, letting the still-rising water flow over him. When he felt there was enough water, he turned off the water and began washing himself.

After his bath, he emptied the tub and dried himself off. He crawled out of the tub and onto the floor, getting his outfit on with minimal difficulties. After so long, some things just became easier. He lifted himself into the wheelchair after that, then brushed his teeth. Charles observed his growing beard with disinterest; he was in desperate need of a shave, but he had given up on making himself look crisp and clean a long time ago- the same day Erik had deserted him, taking Charles's sister with him.

Charles rolled out of the bathroom after using the toilet and left his bedroom, going to use Cerebro. The house was quiet, it barely being after sunrise and all. The boys wouldn't wake up until around noon, except for perhaps Hank. Hank sometimes stayed up all night, working on some project or another. Charles sometimes worried for the furry scientist, but he didn't have much room to judge over another's unhealthy habits. Charles rolled himself to the lab where Cerebro was held, finding a slumbering Beast drooling over his desk. Charles chuckled, rolling himself over to the scientist. He shook Hank awake, who sat up quickly, startled. "Go to bed, Hank. Get some rest in an actual bed," Charles ordered lightly when Hank's bleary eyes landed on Charles and lit up with recognition.

Beast nodded dejectedly, walking out with little protest. Hank knew Charles was right, and he definitely was too tired to argue with a telepath. Charles smiled at the man's retreating form, happy that he still had some respect from the scientist. Losing the boys' respect had been one of Charles's many fears after losing the use of his legs; he was happy to see that his fears hadn't come true. Charles rolled over to where the helmet for Cerebro sat, placing it on his head. When he's first used it, the machine and Charles had both been overwhelmed. When Hank made the new Cerebro, it could handle the knowledge quite a bit better. Unfortunately, the machine had also given him dreadful headaches. With time, though, and much practice, Charles stopped getting terrible migraines from it. Now, he could use Cerebro with no problems. As the machine hummed to life, Charles could feel his telepathic abilities expanding, his mind touching thousands of minds in one instant.

A smile grew on Charles's face- this was Charles's only delight as of late, except for his boys. He watched all of them, making sure none of his mutant brothers and sisters were in an danger. He was just about to remove the helmet when he felt a distress call- a girl, a telekinetic, telepathic girl, was in danger. Charles honed his powers in on her. She was running- running away from danger. She looked back, allowing for him to see the government agents chasing her. She managed to escape them, though, and was now hiding in a barn. Charles realized her name was Jean Grey. Jean, don't be afraid. I'm Professor Charles Xavier. I'm here to help, Charles spoke within her mind in a calming voice.

How are you speaking to me like this? Jean asked, her voice full of fright. I am a telepath, like you. My team and I will come and rescue you. Where are you? Charles replied, hoping to calm her down as he projected calming thoughts to her.

I'm in a barn. I don't know where. I've been running for so long, she murmured, confused and scared. He latched onto a nearby mutant and combed their memory, discovering where they live. She was somewhere near the border of New York and New Jersey.

We're on our way, dear. Stay calm and stay where you are. When she gave him a tentative okay in return, he shut off the machine and quickly wheeled himself out of the lab. He quickly awakened the boys telepathically, telling them to get dressed in their uniforms and hurry to the jet Moments after Charles arrived at the jet, the boys burst in, panting. "We have a mission," he told them, and they stared at him with bleary, confused eyes. Then, they snapped into action. Banshee opened up the jet, and Beast ran into the jet, getting it started up. The rest of the team got onto the jet, and once everyone was strapped in, Professor X having to harness his wheelchair to the jet, Beast had the jet take off. Professor Xavier broadcasted the location to Beast so he knew which direction to fly.

"What's the mission?" Havok finally voiced the whole team's thoughts. "A mutant teen girl is trapped in a barn, hiding from government agents. We're going to rescue her," Charles stated plainly, and the boys nodded.

After a quiet flight, Hank landed the jet in the general area where she was. He turned on the cloaking devise, committing the location of the Blackbird, their jet, to memory. They all exited the jet, Charles extending out his mind in search of the girl. He also tried searching out the government agents. He began walking in their direction, honing in on the girl but keeping the others in his mind. He didn't want the government agents gaining the upper hand. Charles could easily freeze them in place as he had done with Shaw, but he was reluctant to do so considering what happened the last time he did that. Sure, there were many different factors this time; first off, there was no blood-thirty, metal-bending mutant who craved revenge for his mother's death this time. Secondly, they were endangering the life of a young girl- not quite as bad as threatening the whole world, but it certainly felt personal to Professor X.

Charles reached out to Jean, speaking to her calmly. He told her they were near, and that she needed to keep talking to Charles. He needed to know she was okay. She tentatively agreed, worrying that her powers weren't strong enough to do it. He reassured her, now focusing his mind more on her location. He lead them to the barn, Charles mentally leading the government agents away from the barn. Professor X telepathically told Jean to come out, and soon the barn door creaked open, a little redhead peaking out of the door. The sun hit her hair just right, making it appear fiery. Her terrified green eyes met Charles's calm blue ones, and he opened his arms to the shaking girl.

She ran into his arms, hugging him tightly. She knew he wasn't a threat to her, and hopefully she would come to realize the others were also not threats. But now she was safe.

They got back on the jet and flew her back to her house.

Chapter Text

After endless relieved thanks from her parents and a long conversation, Jean's parents agreed to let her go to Professor Xavier's school if she wished, and she said she'd love to go. They packed her up and left the same day, the parents giving their daughter tearful hugs and made her promise to call them. Her older sister cried only slightly, hugging her little sister Jean tightly.


When they'd finally left, they let her get settled in. Charles could feel her anxious excitement as they neared their home.


Once they got home, Charles went to pour himself a drink. Rescuing the girl had brought back memories of when he and Erik had been recruiting for their team- memories Charles wished would stay buried. As Charles sat in his study, nursing his drink, Alex walked in, fidgeting with his nails. Charles could sense his anxiety, but he stayed out of Alex's thoughts. Charles wanted Alex to tell him- unless he was trying to broadcast his thoughts to the Professor.


"Uh, Professor... I wanted to ask you... If you could look for my brother with Cerebro? We were separated when we were young, and I was adopted out. They wouldn't let us stay together. His name is Scott," Alex said, rushing his words out as if Charles would not agree if he didn't say it quick enough- like Alex would lose his nerve if he didn't say it fast enough.


"Of course I will, Alex. You're family is my family, and I don't leave any family behind," Charles said, alleviating Alex's fears with the hidden promise in Charles's statement. Charles ignored the pang in his chest at the thought of the family he was forced to leave behind on that cursed beach. If Alex had noticed the Professor's pained look or his own memory of some of those family members, he ignored it.


"Thank you so much, Charles," Alex exclaimed excitedly, making the man laugh at his student's reaction. He acted as if Charles wouldn't reunite Alex with his brother. Charles might have had a terrible relationship with his own stepbrother, but he would never prevent someone from seeing their own brother. Charles quickly pushed down the memories. Charles lost more family than any of the others even knew.


The memories of the family he lost persisted as Alex left the study, blissfully unaware of Charles's own prevailing memories of his childhood. His father, a scientist who was loving and caring, dying from an explosion- an accident- in his lab. His mother becoming cold and distant. Charles finding Raven raiding his kitchen and befriending her at the age of twelve.


Then, memories his mother telling him she was getting married, and the man and his son showing up at the house the next day. Mrs. Xavier's new husband, Mr. Marko, liking Charles more than his own son, Cain. Mr. Marko beating Cain- Charles hearing it every night. Cain's explosive reaction. Ripped clothes, the cold floor, and an inconceivable loss.


Charles pushed the memories away, locking them deep within his mind. He couldn't think of it now- or ever. Charles hoped one day that the memories would ebb, forgotten. More memories crashed upon the shores of Charles's mind, torturing him with the feelings he wished to forget.


"Charles, if the mission does not go as you've planned, will you desert me?" Erik was hesitant as they stared up at the ceiling in the dark of the night, Erik's fingers running through Charles's locks. Charles was confused at the question- after a month of the two being lovers, Erik was still worried of Charles leaving him?


"Of course not, Erik. You are my family. I care for you," Charles said, wishing he could tell him how he truly felt. Charles was too afraid of scaring the metal-bender off, though, so he left the three words unsaid. 


Erik let out a relieved sigh, his lips pressing against Charles's forehead with affection. Charles's brow furrowed, and he frowned. Erik truly had such little faith in Charles that he believed Charles would leave him because of a failed mission?


Charles felt Erik's insecurities then, and Charles understood. Erik only knew of loving someone and the person leaving him; his father had been killed in the Holocaust, and his mother had been killed by Shaw. Until he met Charles, he hadn't felt affection for anyone since his mother's death. He didn't know how to love someone, and he certainly wasn't used to keeping someone.


"I'll never leave you, Erik," Charles vowed, kissing Erik hard on the lips so Erik knew that he was still there and that he wasn't going away. They made love that night, Erik needing that comfort so he knew in his heart that Charles was still with him.


Charles had kept his promise. He hadn't left Erik after Erik had changed the mission. Erik had been the one that had left after paralyzing Charles, not even realizing the repercussions for deflecting that bullet into Charles's spine.


Charles threw his glass at the wall, alcohol splattering on the wall as the glass shattered on impact. Charles couldn't get himself to care- except for the loss of the alcohol. He wished he had drank that before throwing it.

Chapter Text

Charles spent weeks searching for Scott Summers, with and without Cerebro. Cerebro only had a limited reach, though. Cerebro could only detect mutants in the northeaster US and a bit of the southern part of Canada. So Charles needed to find another way to search the rest.

Alex had told him that they put Scott into the hands of social services after their parents' death, so Charles had gotten his lawyers on it. They were scouring all adoptive agencies, orphanages, and social services they knew of to find the boy.

When his lawyers had finally found him in a small town in Oklahoma, housed in a rundown orphanage, Charles flew out immediately. He had Banshee and Beast accompany him, just in case of trouble. He didn't have Alex come along in case of Alex losing control of his powers- they didn't know what they were going to find. Plus, someone needed to take care of Jean.

When they knocked on the door, he had their perception of Hank be a normal man. A woman, middle-aged and looking drunk, answered the door, a scowl already on her face. Charles faked a pleasant smile to the women, searching out Scott with his mind. The state he found Scott's mind in angered him, memories of abuse floating to him.

"Hello, ma'am. I'm here to take all of the children under your care," Charles stated, holding a briefcase. Originally he had planned to only take Scott, having his lawyers draw up papers stating as such, but he'd also had his lawyers right up documents that would give him legal right to all children under this woman's care just in case of more mutant children or if Charles found her unfit, which he did.

"What are ya talkin' about?" She slurred, swaying on her feet, and looking down her nose at him. He held back a scowl and rolled himself forward, forcing her to step back. The other two followed him awkwardly, following their professor's lead.

"I am taking the children. You are an unfit mother, and they deserve much better," Charles replied coldly, his gaze like stone as he gazed at this drunken woman. They could see bottles just laying across the room, empty and a few broken.

"I'm a good mother," She growled, taking a swig from the bottle in her hand. Charles rolled his eyes, mentally telling Sean and Hank to search for the children. They did, and she yelled at them, asking what they thought they were doing.

"They're looking for the children you keep locked away, beaten and starving," Charles replied, getting the custody papers out of his briefcase. She turned to him sharply, eyes alarmed and furious. He could see her memories, flying through all of the beatings she'd inflicted, how she punished them with no dinner frequently, and how she often locked them away when they were annoying her. His blood was boiling.

"How do you know that?" She slurred. "Doesn't matter. Now, if you'll sign these, we can part ways. If not, you won't make it out of the court systems in time for your sixtieth birthday," Charles said, knowing she was about forty. Her eyes lit up with fear. "Fine, I'll sign!" She growled, ripping the papers out of his hands. He smiled as she signed on the dotted line.

Sean and Hank joined them, several children with him. Seven of them were mutants, and among them was Scott. There was in total twenty children, and all were starving, bruised, and frightened. They were in a tight huddle, the youngest children in the middle or being carried by the older children. They all carried their personal things in a backpack per each child, which Hank and Sean had requested them to do.

"Hello, children. I'm Professor Charles Xavier. I'm going to find you suitable homes. But until then, you'll be living with me," Charles told the children calmly, and the younger children lit up at the thought of families, each broadcasting images of their ideas of perfect families or what they remember of their families. The older children, clearly untrusting after years of this abuse, were wary at the thought of going with him. They knew that there would always be worse people in the world than their current foster mother.

Despite any of the children's hesitation, when Charles rolled out of the house, the children followed, followed by Sean and Hank (who was still being seen as a normal man). They bordered the jet, and Hank flew them home.

Charles led each of the children to a room for them, some of the smaller children rooming together because they wanted to. Two of the children were twins, a boy and a girl, both mutants, and Charles let them share a room.

Once it was only Scott, he took him to see Alex. Charles hadn't yet revealed to Scott that his brother was here, and Charles had asked Alex not to come out yet. He also hadn't revealed to the mutant children that Charles knew they had powers (some didn't even know that they had powers) or the fact they would be staying at the mansion indefinitely so that the human children would not feel lesser for not being able to stay. Charles just couldn't put human children in danger by keeping them in close quarters with mutants who still haven't gained control of their powers.

Not in good conscience, anyway.

Charles knocked on Alex's door, not saying a word to Scott. Alex opened the door, seeing the twelve-year-old with Professor Xavier and began to tear up, recognition swimming in his eyes. Scott's mind was flooded with the familiarity of the older boy, but mental barricades were blocking the memories.

Charles apprehensively broke those dams, and the memories flooded the twelve-year-old. Charles stayed away from those memories, the painful memories of Scott's childhood threatening to wash Charles away. He regretted breaking the dams for a moment, but as Scott hugged his older brother with a huge smile on his face, Charles knew it was the right thing to do.

As the brothers hugged and cried, Charles left them to grieve and rejoice together. Alex mentally broadcasted a thank-you to Charles, and a smile lit up Charles's brooding expression.

Jean met Charles in the living room, sitting quietly on the sofa. "Are some of them... Like me?" She asked apprehensively, obviously meaning the new children. Charles could sense the fear she had of him replacing her- her telepathy naturally sought out others, and she had no clue as to how to put up mental walls.

"Yes, some of them are like you. Some of them are not, though, and will be placed in loving homes." Charles replied, sending her reassuring feelings subconsciously to ease her worries. "I'll talk to my parents about adopting one, maybe two. They already feel like their nest is empty- maybe they'd like to add one more chick," Jean said, smiling at Professor Xavier.

"Thank you, Jean," Charles said, honestly quite relieved at the prospect of already adopting out some of the children. The children needed to start new, happy lives.

Chapter Text

After about two weeks of traveling all over the country to match children up with caring adults- telepathy does wonders to make sure adults really care- he'd adopted out all the human children. He left the children his phone number- just in case something happened- and had been dreading having to tell the mutant children that they would not, in fact, be getting a new family.

Gathering everyone into the living, Charles stood in front of all of the mutant children with Hank, Sean, and Alex standing beside him. Charles looked on at all of the children, praying they took the news better than he expected. He had low expectations for today- as in, all-of-the-children-manifesting-their-powers-in-a-rage-all-at-once-and-destroying-the-world kind of low expectations.

In all, there were eight children. There was Ororo Munroe, a sweet, smart, and beautiful girl with dark skin and white hair at age thirteen. She's the oldest, and her powers should come in soon. There's Marie, a quiet, angry, depressed girl at the age of eight who prefers to be called Rogue. Next was Bobby Drake, also eight, intelligent and strong.

Pietro, or Peter, and Wanda Maximoff, the quiet twins, were five and very close. They haven't left each other's sides since arriving, except to use the bathroom. Kitty Pryde, a sweet little girl at the age of three, was slightly underdeveloped for her age, probably owing to her poor care in the foster home. Scott and Jean completed the pack of eight children, Jean being eleven while Scott was the second oldest at twelve.

"Hello, children. I've gathered you all today to tell you that you are all being adopted, just not leaving this house," Charles said tentatively, trying to word it right. At the children's confused looks, he elaborated.

"I am adopting all eight of you. We're going to be your family," Charles said, smiling warmly. "Why didn't you adopt the other children?" Rogue asked accusingly, clearly having her doubts.

"I am adopting all of you because you all are gifted. The other children were not like you- they didn't have your capabilities. You're mutants, gifted with a power, whatever that might be. We won't know until it manifests itself," Charles said, and at his words, he noticed Rogue pull at the gloves covering her hands. He wondered if perhaps hers had already come in, but Charles didn't attempt to dive into her mind to find out. He hoped she would talk to him in her own time. He wanted to build trust with these children, so he needed to respect their privacy as best he could.

"Yay!" Kitty cheered, bouncing excitedly in Jean's lap. Clearly, Kitty was overjoyed at the news of her new family and powers. Jean had taken to being an older sister to the younger kids quite well- most of the children accepted her motherly behavior, except for Rogue. Marie was cold and distant to everyone.

Charles smiled brightly at the three-year-old. The twins were sitting to the right of Jean and to the left of Scott. "You don't mind our... Powers?" Bobby asked hesitantly- someone must have left him when he was younger. It was not uncommon for  humans to become alarmed and abandon their mutant loved ones, no matter how much they loved them before. Fear drove humans to extremes, overriding any previous emotions and logical thoughts. Most mutants had a similar experience with abandonment.

"I have powers too, child," Charles replied, then sent a mental message to all of the children. Their faces lit up with awe, except for Rogue, who still looked upset.

"So cool..." Bobby murmured, wonder in his voice.

After a while of the adults showing their powers to the children, including Charles taking down the illusion of Hank so they really saw him. At the sight of the big, furry mutant, Kitty had cried out "Teddy!" and ran to hug Hank. The children weren't afraid of his looks- startled, perhaps, but not fearful.

Once that was done, the family went back to doing what they had been doing, the children's behavior almost completely undisturbed by the new knowledge- except for a few more smiles and Kitty clinging to Hank for the rest of the day.

Charles, though, wasn't able to shut himself in his study, the library, or even his own room as much anymore. Now he had students to teach. He'd just been throwing himself into teaching and Cerebro ever since Jean had arrived, and it had only progressed since.

Today was no different; he was in the training room, Beast and Jean with him. Charles and Beast were testing to see how powerful Jean was. Jean was mainly a telekinetic, so they wanted to see how heavy an object she would lift and for how long.

Beast had gotten some of the gym's weights, leaving Raven's alone- just in case she came back. He and Charles both wanted everything of Raven's to be exactly the same way when she comes back as how it was when she and Erik left.

"Now, try to lift this. Don't worry if you can't," Charles urged gently, motioning to the hundred pound weight. Jean looked uncertain but tried anyway. It didn't even budge, no matter how much effort she put behind it. Her mind strained, but she wasn't strong enough yet.

"That's enough, Jean. Let's try with a smaller weight." He had Hank put a fifty pound weight in front of her. She again tried, and the weight moved slightly, but didn't quite get off the ground. Charles allowed her to continue trying for a little while longer before having her try her power out on a twenty pound weight.

After a moment of mental strain, she was finally able to lift the twenty pound weight. It floated in the air for a minute before falling on the ground, Jean sweating and panting from exertion.

"Good work, Jean. This is a good sign," Charles told her, hugging the girl. She smiled proudly, and Charles had her continue practicing for a few more hours. He had her continuously lifting up the twenty pound weight, trying to get her to hold it for longer and longer. By the end, she could hold it up for twenty minutes, and Charles Xavier was just as proud of her as he had been of his boys when they'd first learned to control their powers.

Chapter Text

"Charles Xavier, sir, has been hard at work. He's rescued eight children in the span of a few mere weeks. He's accomplished much more than we have," Emma said after returning from a mission with Azazel that Erik had sent her out on.

"Eight children, eh? Good. He'll protect the mutants that are too young to protect themselves. How is he?" Erik asked, his fingers tapping mildly on his desk. "As good as can be after... The events," Emma replied; she knew of what happened in Cuba. Raven couldn't have kept the telepath out for long. Charles might have taught her how to keep telepaths at bay, but Raven was not skilled with her mind enough to keep them out for long periods of time.

Erik assumed by the statement that she meant he was merely depressed- or angry. Erik, sitting there in his helmet- his shield against those who wished to reached out to him with their minds- was none the wiser about his ex-lover's condition.

Emma Frost knew she should tell her boss. No matter how icy her heart may be, she still knew of the pain of not being able to see your love. Though her conscience pleaded to tell him, their mission came first. Magneto would not be able to carry on destroying mankind if he truly knew how bad the great Professor X had gotten. She's protecting their vision- Magneto's dream.

"Tell the group to be prepared for morning. Be ready at 8 in the morning. We have a mission. Leave me," Erik ordered, and Emma nodded and left her boss's presence. Erik put his elbows on his desk, rubbing his temples as he felt the onset of a migraine.

Emma went to the living room, seeing them all crowding around Azazel and talking in hushed voices. Azazel looked uncomfortable and overwhelmed, and Emma knew he was close to a panic attack.

"Alright, everyone, enough! Give him room," Emma snapped, and the group immediately spread out, and Azazel let out a sigh of relief. Frost's eyes scanned the group, her eyes as cold and calculating as always.

"We have a mission tomorrow. You all need to stop gossiping and get some sleep. Be ready at 8 in the morning," The icy telepath ordered the team stonily. "But Emma... I want to know how my brother is," Mystique pleaded, but at Emma's sharp look, she quieted down and ducked her head a bit.

But Emma knew the look in Raven's eyes; Raven wasn't giving up on finding out about Charles. She was simply biding her time, waiting to take their argument behind closed doors.

"What about their team?" Angel burst out, unable to hold in her own worries. Though she'd joined Magneto's cause, some loyalty still lied with Professor X. Emma sighed. Riptide was standing close to Azazel now, clearly his own way of comforting his teammate.

Magneto's mission and Professor Xavier's cause might have been poisonous to the other's on the surface- they might appear to never be able to coexist peacefully to others- but Emma Frost knew the truth about both teams.

They couldn't exist without the other.

The teams were so intertwined that they would destroy themselves if they tried to destroy their opposite. Charles was the ex-lover of Erik and the brother of Raven. Erik helped create Charles's team. Angel and Raven were two of the first members of Charles's and Erik's team.

Erik, Raven, and Angel could never destroy Charles and his team, and it's against Charles's nature to hurt others. Also, Erik would never allow for them to hurt other mutants, especially Charles. So, the two groups are at a standstill, and they will forever be unless Charles becomes violent or Erik decides to forsake his own views and kill mutants that oppose him.

But both things will never happen.

"They're all fine, now go to bed," Emma snapped, and she glared at them until they finally left the room- except Mystique. The shape-shifter still stood in the room, her arms crossed across her naturally blue chest.

"That includes you, Mystique," Emma stated, leveling her chilling gaze on the girl. "Is my brother alright?" Raven asked again, her yellow eyes flashing with stubbornness. Emma sighed. "Raven, your brother is as good as can be expected," Emma said, then left the room herself, not wanting to tell her of the bitter truth.

Charles was crippled- most likely for the rest of his life- because of Erik.

That information would destroy their team, and this was all Emma had anymore. Also, she could tell without even using her powers that Charles most likely didn't want Erik or Raven to know, and if she told either, they'd just go rushing off to see him. If Charles was to mentally heal, which Emma also knew he needed without using her powers, he needed space.

Emma sighed, getting a drink from the minibar in the library; Shaw liked to be able to get a drink in practically every room in the house, so he put minibars in almost every room. It came in handy when you wanted to drink without the others around.

Once Frost had finished off her drink, she went to bed, wishing she could ignore the voices that constantly plagued her own mind. Her mind, unable to fight the pull, wandered into Magneto's mind once the man went to sleep, finding herself trapped in his nightmares which she herself had suffered from for many years before meeting Erik.

Sometimes she wished he would still sleep in the helmet.

With all the voices pounding in her head, she was always thankful when one was shut off from her.

Now she is forced to relive nightmares she'd long-since stopped having on her own.

Telepathy works wonders for nightmares.

But Erik would never let her in his mind to stop his nightmares.

Chapter Text

"Should we tell Charles?" Sean asked, staring wide-eyed at the TV as the story broke.

"President John F. Kennedy has been assassinated." But it wasn't just the death of the leader of the United States that had startled the team. It was the picture of the crowd- of the people in the crowd as they stared in horror at the car, realization dawning on their faces.

Magneto, Mystique, Emma Frost, and Azazel were in the crowd.

The newsman reported that the bullet that had killed their President had curved.

"I don't think Charles could take this. He's barely hanging on as it is," Hank stated, looking towards where he knew Charles's room to be. The little ones were all fast asleep, leaving only the original three boys- Sean, Hank, and Alex- awake.

"The Professor is stronger than you think," Alex shot back at the scientist, not liking anyone thinking Charles weak. Hank ducked his head, not wanting to argue.

"The fact is we don't know how this will affect his mind. He's fragile- we don't know just how close the two men had been. All we know is that they were close, and Charles won't stop drinking when he doesn't have to be around us. He's not the same man that had recruited us," Sean said, stepping between Alex and Hank.

Alex wanted to argue, but he couldn't. Sean Cassidy was right- for the most part. On the surface, Charles was still the same man. A little below the surface, however, he was a completely different man. But Alex believed and hoped that, deep down, Charles was still the same man.

"I vote we tell him," Alex stated simply.

As the old saying goes, speak of the Devil, and he shall appear; just as the words were uttered, Charles rolled into the room nonchalantly. "Tell who what?" Charles asked simply, and Alex and Sean stared at him with surprised horror as Hank dove to turn the TV off.

Charles raised an eyebrow at their suspicious behavior. "What? We're not doing anything! Nope, nothing is happening here!" Sean shouted, terrible at acting natural as he leaned awkwardly against the TV that had just been turned off.

"Really? But you boys are acting quite suspicious. What were you watching?" Charles asked coolly. He might be drinking more than usual, but his mind is still as sharp as a tack. Alex sighed in defeat. "We were watching the news and a story broke... President Kennedy was shot dead," Alex said lowly. "Alex!" Hank hissed in warning. Alex shrugged in reply.

"That's terrible, but I don't see why I couldn't know about it if that was all there was to it. What else is there?" Charles sighed. It really was terrible that he was dead- President Kennedy had been on the side of the mutants after the events of Cuba. He'd wanted to defend them, but Stryker was acting out against mutants on his own. Now, they had absolutely no protection.

"Magneto was there, and the bullet had curved!" Sean rushed out, not enjoying the silence that followed the Professor's question. Hank let out a frustrated growl and threw his hands in the air.

Charles just stared at the boys in shock, trying to process the new information. Erik was there when Kennedy was shot...and the bullet that had killed Kennedy had curved.

Charles head began to pound. He couldn't take the thought.

Charles wheeled himself out of the room, ignoring his students' calls. He needed a drink- badly. Charles found himself in his study, the door shut, and pouring himself a drink.

Once he'd downed the first two, he began to process what the boys had told him.

He'd slept with a future murderer.

He slept with the same man that would go on to shoot the President of the United States.

He'd fallen in love with the same man that had a complete disregard for human life and had crippled him.

Charles needed more alcohol.

After about five more glasses of brandy, Charles went to bed, falling asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow, his dreams- or nightmares- consuming him in sleep.

Chapter Text

The day was like any other for Charles; he was sitting in the library, staring out the window. The only difference was that today he had company. Hank McCoy sat next to him quietly, thinking. Thoughts were turning over endlessly in his head, his thoughts never quite at a standstill.

There had been few moments in Charles's life where everything in his head went quiet.

All of those moments had centered around one person- one woman. She has walked out of his life now, though. He didn't believe he'd ever get another moment of quiet. That was okay though- if she wanted to be free of him, Charles would let her go.

"Professor, what are we going to do?" Hank asked finally, breaking the silence that had filled the air. Charles was startled out of his own thoughts by the question, and it took Charles a moment before he had gathered himself enough to answer.

"We're going to create the school and protect mutants. We're going to show the humans that we aren't dangerous and that we can all live in peace. That's what we're going to do," Charles said, his eyes wandering to stare out the window to stare up at the clear blue sky. Clouds drifted by aimlessly, heedless of the problems of the people below.

"But what of Erik and his group?" Hank asked, unsure of how Charles would take his question. "We'll try to show them that mutants and humans can coexist peacefully, and we'll hope that one day they agree with us. But we can't force them- it's their choice to make," Charles said, his piercing blue eyes boring into Hank.

Hank ducked his head, ashamed that Charles knew of his thoughts about kidnapping Raven and forcing her to see that they don't have to resort to violence. Of course, he would never really kidnap her, but the thought had crossed his mind once or twice.

"How close had you and Erik been, Professor?" Hank finally asked the question that had been dwelling in Alex's, Sean's, and his own head for months. It was hard to think that Cuba had been months ago.

Charles looked back out the window, memories of his time spent with Erik flashing through his mind like a picture album. Nostalgia tinted the images, making the memories seem much sweeter than they had been.

"Close enough. As close as you and Raven had been, perhaps closer," Charles replied, not looking back at the scientist. Charles did not wish to see his reaction, or feel it. Charles quickly put up his mental blocks, barricading Hank's emotions and thoughts as best as possible.

What he had with Erik had been something special- or, at least, Charles believed it to be special. He did not want to taint the memory any further with the opinions of his students. Yes, Erik was now a murderer. Now, Erik had crippled Charles. Now, Erik was, technically, their enemy.

But Charles had still loved him- still did, if he was willing to admit it. Erik had also confessed his love at the time, and that had been good enough for Charles. Charles had known that Erik was a good man, but Erik's mind had been corrupted in his search for justice, for vengeance. Erik wasn't a good man anymore. He was a great man, still, and Charles hoped that he could be a good man once again.

Charles just wished they'd met long before the world had convinced Erik that life was war.

"Professor, I'm sorry," Hank said finally, once again bridging the silence. "Don't be. I had been happy. We'd loved each other. Now it's over," Charles replied, brushing it off. He refused to let the pain get to him.

"Professor!" An excited, bubbly voice cheered as footsteps of tiny children were heard. Two tiny forms were a blur as they raced across the room and threw themselves at him, giggling and laughing about something only they knew.

The two five-year-olds looked up with their shining eyes, smiling widely at Charles, who smiled right back. "Hello Pietro, hello Wanda," Charles said sweetly, smiling at the twins. Charles petted Wanda's brunette head and brushed his fingers through Pietro's white-blonde hair.

"Professor, we got to bake cookies, and they're really good!" Wanda squealed excitedly, and Charles now noticed the crumbs on the edges of their mouths. "I see. Well, what kind are they?" Charles asked curiously, brushing off the crumbs with his thumb from her face, then did the same to Pietro's.

"Chocolate chip!" Pietro pipped, smiling widely. Clearly, he loved their choice in cookie, and Charles tended to agree. "Ah, yes. The wonderful chocolate chip cookie. My favorite," Charles replied, grinning at the two children. The children soon led Charles out of the library and down to the kitchen, and Charles found Ororo standing there, flour on her jeans and t-shirt, cookie in hand as she ate it.

"Ororo helped us," Wanda explained as her twin ran to stuff another cookie in his mouth. "I was going to put sprinkles on them, but we don't have any." Ororo pouted. Apparently not too offended by the lack of sprinkles, she took another bite of her cookie.

"You all don't need the extra sugar," Charles replied, stealing a cookie for himself as Pietro ran out of the room with Wanda following close behind. If the sound of more footsteps running toward the kitchen was any indication, Charles would say that they went to go tell the rest of the house about their messy creation.

The counters were covered with flour and frosting, cookie cutters strewn around with dough still attached, long forgotten by their creators. Dirty pans were laying in the sink, not allowing for any more dishes to join them. The cookies, thrown together with childish glee, covered the table, a blanket under them to keep the table clean.

The cookies, a wonderful chocolate chip, had messy designs painted on them. Since it was December, the cookies were in the form of snowmen and women, boys and girls, and Christmas trees.

That reminded Charles- he needed to get a Christmas tree. No matter how little he wanted to celebrate, the kids needed something to celebrate.

The other children came and crowded around the cookies, grabbing what they could reach. Kitty's chubby fingers grabbed at a green Christmas tree off the edge of the table. Bobby grabbed a snowman who possessed a red scarf, scarfing it down with zealous. Rogue grabbed a little boy cookie who had a green shirt and blue pants, biting off his leg and groaning with delight at the taste.

Ororo took a little girl cookie who had a pink dress, nibbling on her head. Jean took a snow-woman, taking a bite of the 'bow' made out of frosting on her head. Scott took a snowman, taking a big bite, taking the snowman's whole head, his red scarf, and one of his black buttons.

As they ate their cookies- Alex, Sean, and Hank joining them- a knock sounded on the door, startling the whole family.

Chapter Text

Charles had reached out to the mind standing behind the door to see if they were a threat, but he found that it was the mutant he and Erik had tried to recruit that had cursed at them. Erik hadn't known it, but Charles had mentally reached out to him during their encounter and had seen his emotional anguish. He'd explained to the mutant, Logan, that he was a telepath and if he ever needed help, to find Charles. Apparently, Logan needed him now.

Charles calmed his children, telling them he knew the man visiting them now and went to the door. Just as Charles knew, Logan stood behind the door, looking just as rough-around-the-edges as he had when they'd first met.

Logan looked surprised when he saw Charles in a wheelchair- he'd had no reason to suspect that when the next time he would see the telepath, Charles would be confined to a wheelchair. "Chuck," Logan greeted, not saying anything about the wheelchair.

"Logan, it's good to see you. Why don't you come in?" Charles asked, backing away from the door to let Logan through the doorway. Logan's nostrils flared, sniffing out everyone who was in the house to check for a threat. When he was satisfied that there was no danger, he stepped into the large house.

"Where's your friend? I can't smell him," Logan said, most likely talking about Erik. Charles's jaw tightened at the thought of his rival. "Erik is no longer with us," Charles said finally, rolling toward the kitchen. Alex, Sean, and Hank had now all grabbed a cookie for themselves, singing their praises to the five-year-olds and Ororo. Wanda and Pietro were grinning with pride. The oddest feeling of familiarity hit Charles, but he couldn't put his finger on it.

"I'm sorry for that, Chuck," Logan said, only slightly apologetic. Logan had no inkling of how much Erik truly meant to Charles. At the deep, gruff voice, the children were silenced, cowering behind the three oldest boys- Alex, Sean, and Hank- and Ororo. "You've been busy, haven't you, Chuck?" Logan chuckled at the sight of all the children in kitchen.

"Well, yes. You've got to start somewhere when starting a school for gifted youngsters," Charles replied, smiling slightly at all of his students. After Christmas, he'd start their schooling. Kitty and the twins wouldn't be starting their classes yet, but they might play some math games or learn the alphabet. Never too early to start reading, as Charles always said.

"Well, I'm here because I need a place to stay. It's hard to get a job these days." Logan sighed as Rogue came out from behind the older boys. The other children followed suit, finding their own courage as well.

"Well, I can offer you a job and lodging. Why don't you teach the children? I'm trying to start a school, and I've found myself in need of teachers. I have a feeling you'd be great at teaching history, especially since it is your favorite subject," Charles offered slyly.

"Chuck, are you sure that's such a good idea?" Logan asked, anxiety creeping into his voice without his realization. "I'm sure, Logan," Charles replied, and Logan sighed in resignation. Charles smiled triumphantly.

"Now that that's settled, who wants to get a tree?" Charles asked, and the three smallest children squealed in glee. Bobby cheered with excitement with them, and Marie shook her head at Bobby's behavior. Scott smirked with amusement, Jean giggled at the children, and Ororo smiled happily. Hank, Sean, and Alex all high-fived and cheered with excitement.

Charles smiled, pleased with himself for making the children happy. They'd been through a lot in their short lives- mainly at the hands of that horrible foster mother of theirs- and it was Charles's goal to make up for that. Charles knew that Jean, in her sleep, had lessened the other children's pain from the memories, but Charles didn't see a problem with that. The children were better without the pain; unfortunately, Jean's powers hadn't seemed to help Marie's antisocial behavior.

"I could help with that," Logan said, and Charles smiled at him with gratitude. The kids cheered again, and Charles led them out behind the mansion. It hadn't gotten cold enough quite yet to snow, but it was cold enough for the Professor to see his own breath on the air.

He led them down a path leading from his back patio to a dense grove of evergreens. They were in all different shapes and sizes- some were well over ten feet, maybe even to twenty feet. Some were under five feet tall, some were slender, and some were thick. There were small trees about the size of the twins, even.

Charles's family picked out a tree standing about ten-feet-tall, and the twins and Kitty decided on taking home a sort of Charlie Brown Christmas tree. It was about the twins' height, coming in at about three and half feet tall, and was very thin. It also had a distinct lean.

They left Logan, Alex, Hank, and Sean to cutting down the Christmas tree and baby Christmas tree, and Charles sent the children to take down the decorations from the attic. Jean, Scott, and Ororo took up that job, Charles telling them exactly where the lightest boxes were. He'd have the older boys get down the heaviest boxes with Logan later.

Lastly, as the three took down the boxes, Charles and the youngest children began decorating the house. Kitty and the twins ran around covering everything with tinsel, and Bobby and Marie began setting out decorative, flameless candles. Charles marveled at their childish wonder and glee, then began directing Logan and the boys on where to put the tree.

Once it was placed, he had Hank put the tree skirt under it. Sean went to go ask the three youngest children where they would like their tree as Logan, Hank, and Alex went to go carry heavy boxes downstairs. Charles was merely directing the madness as his family descended into Christmas chaos.

After a while, the three youngest came back into the living room and stared up at the tree with awe. Ororo set a box of ornaments next to Charles, and he smiled to her with thanks. Once the whole family had convened in the living room, all of the boxes now downstairs, Charles began the family tradition of decorating the tree together.

As they decorated the Christmas tree- Charles silently reliving some fond memories or unsavory memories with the ornaments- Charles noticed Marie's outcast behavior even as a smile played on her lips. When it came time to put the angel on the Christmas tree, Charles offered the honor to Marie.

"Uh, sure, Professor," She replied nervously, nibbling on her lip. When she noticed Kitty pouting, she kneeled down to her level. "Wanna help?" Rogue asked her with a smile. Kitty nodded with excitement, and Marie giggled. Marie took Kitty in her arms and put her on her shoulders, but they still weren't tall enough.

"Hold on, kiddos," Logan said, suddenly picking Rogue up. Marie clutched Kitty tighter, afraid of dropping the slightly chubby three-year-old, but she didn't. Kitty giggled as she went higher into the air, and when she could finally reach the top, she placed the angel on top of the tree with a big smile on her face.

The family cheered, and ever Marie giggled slightly. Logan placed the two girls down, and Rogue placed Kitty gently on the ground, Rogue's legs still a bit wobbly from the small bit of adrenaline that had gone through her when she'd been hoisted up.

The decorating now done, Charles already planning on buying more stockings, the make-shift family went into the kitchen to eat more of the delicious cookies. As Charles ate the twins' cookies, he still couldn't shake the feeling that the twins looked somehow familiar. Charles could almost swear to you that he'd seen that bold chin, the sharp jawline, and those defined cheekbones before. Even the determined gleam in their eyes was familiar to him, but he just couldn't place it.

Perhaps because their father was far from the innocence of a child.

Chapter Text

It was the next day, and the children were all just waking up for the day. Charles was already in with Cerebro, trying to let his foggy mind find itself in the vast unknown that was Cerebro. In a mindless search for familiarity, he found a consciousness he'd never thought he feel again.

Darwin? Charles asked the consciousness, and the familiar voice answered. Professor? Is that really you? Darwin's voice called out into the abyss, his voice shaky and unsure, far different from the young man that had grown so close to Havok, yet so similar. Oh, thank God! We'd thought we'd lost you forever. Hang on, I'll try to pull you through. Darwin was in some sort of Limbo, floating around them as pure energy. That was how his body must have decided was the best way to survive. Charles could feel that his mind was tethered to Alex- it was probably the only reason Armando wasn't floating among the stars.

Charles pulled at Darwin's consciousness until the form of Armando appeared before him, live and whole. Charles let out a gasp of joy and relief, removing the helmet so he could see Armando properly. He mentally called for Alex, telling him to come quickly as Armando kept patting himself all over to make sure his hand wouldn't go right through himself.

Once Armando was sure that he himself was here, he looked over at the Professor, ran to him, and hugged him tightly, not even heeding the fact that Charles was in a wheelchair. In a moment, Alex burst through the door, looking around the room wildly for any sign of danger. When his eyes landed on Armando, who had straightened up and turned to the doorway, his eyes filled up with tears and he slowly began to walk forward.

"Armando?" Alex asked tentatively, as if he asked too loudly, Darwin would blow away with the breeze and float out of Alex's life for good. "It's me, Alex," Darwin replied, his voice hoarse and strained with emotion. Alex then ran to him, tackling him in a hug as Alex's body shook with the force of his emotions. Darwin rubbed his back and embraced him, trying to soothe the pain and anguish Alex had suffered.

Charles left them then, messaging the rest of the family with the events of today. Hank and Sean were overjoyed, Logan was indifferent yet awed, and the children were confused- except for Ororo, who was enamored with the bond the two men shared in order for their minds to be so closely linked in order for Alex's mind to be able to anchor Armando's consciousness to this world.

Charles chalked up Ororo's fascination with it up to the oddness of near-adolescence. That reminded him- he'd need to stock up on supplies for such times when the girls hit puberty. Charles suppressed a shiver at the thought. He was not going to enjoy the coming years of their lives almost as much as they weren't.

"I can't believe Armando's back!" Hank was gushing to Sean in his lab, Sean already there for a new suit fitting. Logan was waiting his turn in the hallway, leaning against the wall. Charles chuckled at Logan's easily annoyed demeanor, going all the way to the kitchen where Jean and Ororo were practicing their hands at cooking, Scott and Kitty benefitting from their creations.

Bobby was playing with the twins in the living room, Pietro racing around the room as Wanda played with some stuffed toy she'd brought from the orphanage- a unicorn by the name of Miss Sparkles. She'd said her parents had given it to her when she was young. Marie was watching the three, smiling as she held a pillow in her arms as if it was shielding her.

Charles kept going, reaching his study with ease. The glass that he'd thrown had long since been cleaned up, and someone had sorted his desk and gotten rid of the clutter. A few pictures hung on the walls and sat on the desk.

A family portrait was on the wall behind his desk- a picture of a happy little family before his father's death, before his mother became distant, before Raven joined Charles, before his mother's second marriage, before voices assaulted his mind, before the late nights with Charles tossing and turning, trying to forget the worst events in his whole life.

Charles shook his head, rolling himself behind his desk. A picture of Raven and himself, smiling and happy. One of when they were younger, and one of them older. A picture of his mother and father on their wedding day. And the final one- Erik. Erik caught off guard, smiling at something as amusement danced in his eyes. Not the man who'd crippled Charles or murdered out of revenge, but the kind man who had known how to laugh, if only briefly.

Charles sighed, turning away from the picture and the memories it brought on. It wasn't fair- why hadn't Erik been able to let go? Why hadn't he loved Charles enough to let his pain go?

Charles's mind raced with the possibilities once more of the things he could have done differently. What could he have said instead so that Erik would have loved him more than he had craved vengeance? What could he have done differently so that Erik would have chosen to come back to the mansion with Charles, to choose to be good instead?

Charles wouldn't be getting any sleep tonight.

Chapter Text

It was still just the beginning of December, and he decided to bring his whole, makeshift family out for shopping. Christmas was going to be there soon, and they were going to celebrate it like a normal family- as normal as they could be, at least.

"Okay, now everyone is going to be partnered up. No one is going by themselves. Do I make myself perfectly clear?" Charles told his family sternly, and everyone nodded.

Alex and Darwin were sitting close together, and they were clearly going to partner up. Sean, Jean, and Scott were conversing quietly- they were another group. Logan, Ororo, Marie, and Bobby were sitting awkwardly together, probably grouped up. Charles already knew that he and Hank were going to be a group with the twins and Kitty.

Charles had already told them that none of the younger kids could be in a group alone, but Charles was letting Alex and Darwin off the hook of being paired with any of the young ones because they'd just been reunited. It had been a chore just to get the two out of bed and out into public.

Once the limo driver dropped them off at the mall, Charles gave them all debit cards and a cell phone each. With everyone equipped with a cell phone and a debit card, they all separated into their groups and went their own ways.

Charles had Kitty sitting on his lap, the twins lounging on Hank's broad shoulders. Charles was making it appear as if Hank still looked human for the sake of the surrounding humans as they shopped. They hit up toy stores, Hank preoccupying all three children as Charles went off by himself to buy all of the children toys. He got all sorts of Legos, stuffed animals, Barbies, and other assorted toys.

Once he was done, he had them sent to the limo. The five continued shopping together, Charles sneaking off to buy Hank's gift as the children distracted him. They continued shopping for the rest of the family, Hank sneaking off mid-shopping to buy Charles a gift.

Alex and Darwin had it easy, shopping together for everyone else and separating to shop for each other. They sent all of their stuff to the limo and went to hang out at the food court when they were done. They got nasty looks from others at their close proximity and Darwin's skin color, but they didn't care. If store clerks questioned his ability to pay, Darwin didn't need to tell his friends. If some people asked the two if they were fags, their friends didn't need to know. After that, they did keep a certain amount of distance. They didn't want to cause a fight.

Sean's group operated in the same way, shopping together and then separately. Once they were done and had gotten their gifts to the car, they joined Alex and Armando in the food court. Some looked at Ororo with the same disgust they looked at Darwin with, but she held her head up proudly.

Logan's group executed their shopping plan the same way, finishing quickly and efficiently. They joined the others in the food court, enjoying lunch. They all were getting dirty looks, Ororo and Darwin the worst of all. The whole group ignored the public, except Logan, who let out a few growls here and there, scaring anyone near enough to here. Hank's group was the last to join them, Charles calling for a second limo because the first was full of gifts.

Charles sent the first limo on ahead, telling the driver to begin unloading the limo, promising a handsome tip in return. He went to join his family in the food court, who were all laughing and joking as if they weren't in public.

Charles smiled as he rolled up to his family, Hank and the three littlest ones already amidst the group. "Daddy!" Pietro cheered, throwing himself at the Professor with childish glee. Wanda followed suit, smiling to show off her dimples. Pietro grinned up at Charles, showing off his matching dimples. Familiarity sprouted in the back of his mind once more.

"Hello, children," Charles said affectionately, petting Pietro's white-blonde head and Wanda's brunette hair. "We can't wait for Christmas! Really, we can't! We're gonna bake so many cookies and sweets! We're gonna be Santa's favorite house because of all the sweets we bake!" Pietro said, speaking a mile a minute.

Charles laughed, smiling at them. They just smiled back, a guileless, innocent smile that Charles envied. He could no longer smile like that because the world had proven to be cruel; people destroy innocence for their own enjoyment without batting an eye in the adult world. Shaw taught him that. His stepfather and stepbrother taught him that. He shook the thought off, leaving the memories behind, if only for a moment.

After a while of joking around with his family, Charles received a call that the second limousine had arrived. As he looked up to tell the others the good news, he spotted the face he'd been dreading to see. "Logan, take them to the limo. It's just arrived," Charles said, his voice deadly serious as he slowly placed the twins on the ground.

Erik Lehnsherr was just across the food court, and he was staring directly at Charles.

Charles refused to break eye contact as Logan did as told, herding the children off as Charles stayed put. Logan had sniffed the air- he'd smelled him. He understood. The children were all giving Charles confused looks, but he refused to tell them. Alex would just become enraged and try to take Erik on, Sean would start trying to look for Angel, Hank would start looking for Raven, and Darwin would try to protect Alex, the Professor, and the rest of them.

It would be a mess.

Charles stayed at the table as Erik began crossing the food court, passing by civilians and tables, families completely unaware of the murderer walking among them. Then, Charles eyes widened with horror; he'd finally realized why the twins looked so familiar. Their facial features were almost the exact same.

The twins were just an innocent version of him.

As Erik neared him, Charles masked his expression. He couldn't let Erik know of the twins. "Charles," Erik said, his voice rough and deep, causing a buzzing to begin within Charles. Erik sat across from him at the table, still clad in a helmet. Charles was a bit surprised that no one had said anything about the helmet, but then again, it was New York. A helmet is probably normal compared to the majority of things in New York.

"Erik." Charles's voice was tight, his eyes scanning the crowd for any of Erik's normal goons- anything to keep his eyes off Erik. "Your legs..." Erik said, and Charles's eyes snapped to him. His eyes were shinning with apology, regret, and guilt. Charles's eyes narrowed, and he looked away again. He spotted Raven's favorite human skin- the beautiful blonde girl with a cute button-nose. Charles smiled slightly when he saw Raven, but she wasn't looking.

"Charles, please. I didn't come here to argue," Erik said, and Charles looked back at him, his temper flaring. "Didn't you? Because if not, then you should leave. I was just enjoying my day, but you can easily ruin everything, can't you?" Charles asked rhetorically, unable to hold his tongue.

Erik's hand landed on Charles's, gripping the disabled man's hand gently. "Please, Charles. I needed to see you," Erik said, his voice going quiet. His voice, usually strong and certain, was now sounding fragile and broken. Charles sighed, unable to deny him this simple thing.

Chapter Text

"So, how many does that make it?" Erik asked with a slight smile. An attempt at some form light-hearted of conversation.

"Twelve, if you count Logan," Charles replied reluctantly, seeing no harm in telling him. Erik whistled lowly, clearly impressed. Erik hadn't gained any new members except Emma since that fateful day that seemed like a lifetime ago. In a way, it was a lifetime ago.

"I'm impressed, Charles. You seem to be really putting in the effort," Erik said.

"Yes, well, someone has to," Charles said, and Erik raised an eyebrow at the hateful tone, Erik's hand drifting away from Charles's. Charles didn't let the image the crowd saw of two men simply sitting in chairs, talking without touching, waver. Charles did groaned, though, hitting his head on the table in misery. "You seem to bring out the worst in me," Charles muttered dismally, causing Erik to chuckle.

"It's only fair, considering..." Erik replied, trailing off at the end and making a motion to Charles's legs. Charles slowly sat up, biting back any bitter comment that tried to bubble up in his throat.

"Why are you here, Erik?" Charles emitted with a sigh of exasperation. His patience was wearing thin, and he could feel the anxiety of his family. He needed to get back to them soon.

"I told you- I wanted to talk to you. I've missed you... I even...miss your presence in my mind," Erik admitted reluctantly, not one to admit many things on how he felt.

"You shut me out, Erik, remember?" Charles retorted, tapping his temples as he glared at the offensive object on Erik's head. "We should play chess again; I quite liked the challenge," Erik said, completely ignoring Charles's statement.

"Come home, and we can," Charles replied lightly, smiling. He missed their chess games, too. It'd been years since he'd had a real match until he'd met Erik. Erik was a challenge. He was intelligent, unrelenting, and he didn't become overwhelmed when Charles gained the upper hand. Erik would bide his time until he saw his opportunity.

Much like he'd done to find Charles.

"You know I can't do that, Charles," Erik said, genuine regret and sadness in his eyes. "Erik, we both know you can do anything you set your mind to," Charles replied, a bitter smirk playing on his lips. Erik emitted a humorless chuckle as the mall's clock tolled, telling all of its patrons that it had struck four o'clock.

"How have you been adapting? You have a beard now," Erik observed, changing the subject. He was hoping that Charles would say those magical words- that he missed Erik. That's what Erik longed to hear- he'd been craving Charles's presence, mentally and physically, for months, and he needed to know that Charles had missed him even a fraction of the same amount.

"I'm adapting, and I haven't felt the need to shave," Charles grumbled through gritted teeth. Lies slip easily through Charles's throat now. He'd been telling lies for months.

The truth is the hardest to admit.

Erik covered up the pain that followed Charles's reply. It was like Charles had punched him- a quick, hard jab right to the stomach. His chest tightened and his heart squeezed, as if Charles had reached into Erik's own rib cage, gripped his heart like a vice, and wrenched Erik's heart for the fun of it.

Erik wasn't as good as he thought at covering up his emotions. Charles saw the brief flash of pain in Erik's beautiful blue-grey eyes. Charles's gut tightened and twisted, guilt eating away at him slowly.

"I really must be going." Charles said, making a motion to roll away from the table. "Please, Charles, stay. Just a moment longer," Erik said, giving a small wave of his hand to halt Charles's backward moment. Another wave of his hand, and Charles was rolled back up to the table without a single motion of Charles's own hands.

Erik was keeping him there.

"Erik, you can't keep me here. I have responsibilities," Charles snapped, anxiety clawing up his throat. He felt like his throat was constricting, not allowing for air to fill his lungs.

"I just need to know one thing- one simple thing." Erik said, his voice bridging on hysteria. Desperation was clear in his body-language. Charles's muscles contracted as the onset of panic crept up on him, stealing his remaining mobility that hadn't already been taken from him. "What? What is so important?" Charles hissed, gripping his wheelchair armrests tightly.

"Did you miss me? Did you care at all about me? Did my leaving affect you at all?" Erik asked desperately, unable to restrain himself as his self-control crumbled under the force of his emotions that were washing over him and drowning him.

Charles, panicked, looked at the surrounding crowd to see who might be overhearing. Then, he remembered. He wasn't letting anyone really hear what has happening. He'd forced their minds to tune out, their eyes to look away. The image he'd created was wavering due to stress, but still stood. No one could hear them. So, he let Erik have it.

"Of course I did, Erik! I wasn't the one that left! But I'm moving on- something you should think about doing," Charles hissed, his voice dripping with venom.

"Don't. Don't say that," Erik replied, his voice tight and shaking, barely audible to even Charles as Erik looked away. Erik was clenching his fists on the table. Charles either needed to defuse the situation or get Erik out of here quickly. He couldn't control flying metal.

"Please, Erik, calm down," Charles said, grabbing Erik's hand to try to sooth him. "You stole away my relief. You rob me of any joy. You steal my breath, the very lungs I need to breathe, and you have no remorse for that," Erik gritted out, his throat constricting with emotion.

"Your relief?" Charles asked, confused. "You missed me- you said so yourself- but you added a bite to it right after," Erik said miserably as way of explanation. Charles swallowed hard.

"And the rest?" Charles struggled out, barely able to breathe. Erik finally looked at him again, tears in his eyes. A sad smile crossed his features, softening his normally harsh facials. "You're my joy, but you're cruel. Your words hurt, but you just keep on going, unheeding of the wounds you leave behind," Erik replied, bitter sadness coating his words.

"But Erik... You cannot blame me for that. You left first," Charles said gently, not willing to let Erik off easily. Charles needed to disillusion Erik.

At Erik's pained look, Charles wondered if that was true. It would be so easy to take Erik into his arms again. Knock off his helmet and take control of Erik's mind. Drag him home again and lock him up, keeping him all to himself until he could convince Erik that Charles was too good to leave again.

"I have to go, Erik." Charles quickly rolled away, Magneto not having enough strength of will to stop him from leaving this time.

Charles joined his family in the limousine, clutching the twins to him with tears collecting in his eyes, unbidden. But Charles refused to let them fall as he petted the white-haired head and brunette hair.

Chapter Text

Charles had Hank design a nonmetallic defense system, worried about the consequences if Erik found out about the twins. Erik wasn't of sound mind anymore, and the twins couldn't be exposed to his corrupted thoughts and actions. Erik would just get his children to hate humans as well, having them join his cause.

He didn't tell the others of the twins' heritage- he didn't see a need to tell them. Charles prayed no one else would ever realize it- the twins needed to carve out their own paths. Charles worried the children would feel pressured into following in their father's twisted footsteps of they knew.

Charles was reading to the children today- they had come to love Charles reading to them. It was an old fairytale about a couple who fought so hard for each other that they lost themselves in the process. They'd sacrificed their own views for the other's, only to find that they weren't themselves anymore. They had to let each other go.

The children were sad, and Charles reminded them that they had picked out the story, not Charles. "Why do you have such a sad book in your library?" Wanda asked in her childish voice, her voice wavering with emotion. She sat in Jean's lap, who pulled her close to comfort her. Charles bit his lip, trying to think of a good answer.

"Well, darling, I suppose it's because that books are supposed to bring out a feeling in you, an emotion, and sad books do it best of all. Plus, sad books remind me every day to live life to the fullest and give as much love as I can," Charles replied finally, speaking earnestly.

He'd loved as hard as he could, but turned out it still hadn't been enough.

After that, the children ran off to play, reenacting the story, downplaying the romance a bit- thankfully. Charles smiled; it was a small, barely visible smile, but an honest one.

"Professor, thank you. For everything." Scott said- he had been watching the children with Charles, Jean and Ororo having gone off by themselves to do what young girls do, Charles supposed. Bobby had convinced Marie to play with him and the three youngest kids, surprising Charles. Marie wasn't one to socialize for too long.

"You don't have to thank me, Scott. Alex is family, and that makes you my family, too. I take care of my family, no matter what," Charles replied, smiling at the boy. Scott's eyes flashed with apprehension, biting his bottom lip nervously. Charles could tell he wanted to say something.

"Was there family before us that you lost?" Scott finally asked, and a lump formed instantly in Charles's throat. His taste buds craved a certain numbing liquid, and his heart ached. His chest tightened, and his stomach rolled. Was he really that obvious that a twelve-year-old boy could figure him out?

"Why do you ask?" Charles asked, voice tight and strained with emotion. "I-I h-have seen some p-pictures of people I don't recognize around the house. When Logan had come... I overheard you two talking," Scott stuttered out, his face conveying his guilt.

Charles cursed himself mentally; he should have expected one of the children to have been listening. "Yes, there were others in our family. They left us, though," Charles finally supplied the boy with an answer, wanting to clarify that he had never abandoned anyone; others abandoned him, though. He'd grown used to being left behind.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked," Scott said finally, regret in his voice. Charles sighed. "No, you needed to know. You all deserve to know. Erik could be dangerous. He's determined, far more determined than anyone realizes. If he finds out..." Charles started, but then trailed off, realizes that he'd said too much. He couldn't know about the twins' true heritage. It wouldn't be safe.

Scott let it go, though, it seemed. "What were you to Erik? And who's the blue girl?" Scott asked instead. He must have seen the pictures of Raven and Charles when they were younger, when Raven had felt she had no reason to hide her true form.

"Erik and I were close friends, and her name was Raven. She is- was- my sister." Charles replied, swallowing hard. He wasn't about to reveal the true nature of he and Erik's relationship to a twelve-year-old.

"Why'd they leave?" Scott asked quietly, gently. He could tell it was a touchy subject with the telepath. The children were still playing, oblivious to the upsetting conversation between the adult telepath and his student.

"Different views, and I had started treating Raven horribly. I didn't understand her, and therefore I didn't even realize I was mistreating her,"'Charles said, sighing sadly.

"Why didn't you read her mind? Or convince them to agree with you?" Scott asked curiously, but Charles knew that Scott had a secret objective. He wanted to know if Charles would use his telepathy against their family. People usually don't trust telepaths.

"I would never use my telepathy like that. I only use my telepathy like that if they are posing a threat to my family or other innocent people. I don't control people. Also, Raven told me not to read her mind, and I respected her wishes," Charles informed Scott, and Scott remained silent after that, mulling over the Professor's answers. Scott left then, clearly in deep thought.

Christmas was in a few days, and the children were bursting with excitement. Charles watched them run about, now playing a new game- something about finding Santa's super secret spy elves. Charles smiled at their innocence, rolling himself into the kitchen where sugary sweet smells assaulted his nose. Sean, Ororo, and Jean were baking cookies together while Alex and Darwin stole cookie dough when the three weren't looking.

There had been nonstop baking in the kitchen for the past few weeks, the whole family preparing for Santa Claus. The children all still believed, and Sean, Hank, Alex, Darwin, Logan, Ororo, and Charles all weren't willing to tell them otherwise. Jean and Scott were beginning to have their suspicions, but no one was going to tell them what to believe.

In the orphanage, Scott had needed that hope that there was still good in the world. He must have remembered the story of Santa from his short time with his parents, and his young mind had clung to the thought of a jovial man that brought good children presents. Jean was just young and hopeful, loving the thought of a man in a red suit who was so moral.

No one was going to take away that beautiful idea on purpose.

Charles rolled himself out of the kitchen, smiling.

After dinner that night, he climbed into his bed and fell asleep, the first peaceful sleep in a long time.

Chapter Text

It was Christmas Eve, and Charles had allowed everyone to open one present. The children had all taken their time deciding, weighing their options and observing which were the biggest. After the children had decided and the adults had picked a random present of theirs, they had all opened them one at a time from youngest to oldest.

The children had been excited at the gifts they had received- Kitty had gotten a Barbie, which she had squealed excitedly about for a good five minutes; Charles had gotten it for her. The twins had received the gift of ten boxes of candy, courtesy of Sean. At Charles's glare, Sean had blushed and smiled sheepishly with a devious gleam in his eyes. Somehow, he looked guilty and innocent all at once.

Marie had received a book about a group of children's adventures, surprisingly given to her by Logan. Marie had thanked him and tentatively given him a hug, which took him by surprise. Bobby had gotten an G.I. Joe doll, gifted to him by Darwin. Bobby had bumped fists with Armando, thanking him earnestly.

Jean got a book, a gift from her sister Ororo. They had hugged, Jean getting a quick glance at the first page with glee. Scott received a baseball and bat, a gift from his blood brother. Scott had hugged Alex, and Alex had been caught by surprise, his arms slowly drifting up to hug him back. Ororo received a bunch of golden bracelets, courtesy of Kitty, who still wanted to play with the shiny objects. Ororo pulled her into her lap, allowing the three-year-old to play with the bangles that she had placed on her wrist.

Sean was gifted with a radio, given to him by Charles. Hank was gifted with a book about some sort of science, given to him by Alex. Ironically, Alex got a baseball glove, given to him by Scott. The two brothers made a pact to play baseball when it got warmer, and Darwin opened his present. It was a book on Darwinism, and Darwin laughed and smiled, thanking Alex with a kiss.

Charles opened his present, and his eyes filled with tears. It was a framed photograph of Charles and Erik, smiling. Erik's eyes had been lit up with amusement, and Charles was grinning, staring at Erik. Their faces were close, a little giveaway to their true feelings. Charles looked to Hank, smiling gratefully, pain in his eyes. Everyone wasn't sure how to react, not knowing what was in the box or why it made Charles sad.

"Thank you, Hank." Charles said, blinking rapidly to make the tears disappear. The twins went over and climbed in Charles's lap, hugging him in an attempt to make him happier. Charles smiled down at them.

Logan opened his present, a box of tools from Charles. Logan thanked the Professor, smiling slightly, concluding the present opening for the night. They all had dinner and went to their rooms under the pretense of sleeping, when none truly planned on actually sleeping.

Charles went into his room, stuffing the stockings that he'd bought all of them. He just had little stuff, such as candy and little trinkets for all of them. After that, he began making sure all the presents from 'Santa' were prepared to be snuck out in the wee hours of the morning.

While Charles was busy getting the presents ready, all the children snuck out of their rooms to camp out, waiting for Santa. Even Sean, Ororo, Alex, Hank, and Darwin were out there with the younger kids.

"Let's make a pillow fort!" Sean whispered excitedly, and all of the others eagerly agreed. The older boys began creating the massive fort, gathering all the couch pillows and forming the basis, while the younger children gathered all of their pillows and some from the guest rooms. The fort spanned the entire twenty foot living room, cutting sideways through the room so as not to completely block the tree.

The children all climbed in, blankets connecting some of the pillows. Darwin opened up the blanket ceiling a bit so they could get fresh air, and the others sighed in relief. Darwin and Alex were cuddling, Kitty was laying on Hank, who was next to Jean, who was leaning against Scott. Ororo had Pietro laying on her next to Sean, who had little Wanda on him. Marie and Bobby were leaning against each other, their eyes drooping.

They were as snug as a bug in a rug, and soon, all the children fell asleep, losing the battle to stay awake and see the mysterious and illusive Santa Claus. They all dreamed of wondrous, impossible things that delighted their childish, imaginative minds.

Hours later, while the children were still fast asleep, Charles woke Logan up with his mind to help him get the presents to the living room. It was four in the morning, and they could hear the snores being emitted from the children's mouths.

Once Logan went back to bed, Charles put all the stockings up, smiling to himself. It would be a surprise for everyone, and Charles was glad. He hoped the children would all love the surprise. Then, he ate the cookies left out for Santa and drank the glass of milk left in the fridge for Santa, too.

Then, Charles went to bed for the few hours of sleep he would get, falling into a dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

Charles woke up with a grunt of pain, a small little mound having hurled itself at Charles and landed on his stomach. Charles laughed once he regained his breath, smiling down at the little three-year-old and the five-year-old twins that were jumping on his bed.

"Wake up, Daddy, wake up!" The children screamed, excitement in their eyes and impatience in their movements. "Alright, I'm up, I'm up!" Charles laughed out with exasperation. The children all squealed with glee and hopped off the bed, running down the hall while screaming "It's Christmas, It's Christmas! Santa's been here!"

Charles laughed lightly and climbed out of his bed, staying in his pajamas. Charles rolled himself into the bathroom and stared in the mirror for a moment. He stared into his own clear blue eyes, observing his face. His beard was itchy and rough, looking wild and un-groomed. His hair was long and unkept, and Charles knew he was in dire need of a haircut.

Charles remembered his neatly kept, sharp look, and he missed it. But Charles hadn't had the effort for months- not since Erik left. Erik had stolen Charles's will to live along with his heart and his sister.

But this day was different.

Charles felt alive again.

It wasn't like it had been with Erik, but it was there; the spark of life that Charles had been missing was alight in his chest, brought back by his family. Charles wanted to shave. He wanted to get his hair cut and dress in one of his suits. He wanted to be back to normal.

So, Charles shaved. The razor felt foreign in his hand. It was like Charles was using an alien object. After Charles shaved, he brushed his teeth and went downstairs, smiling at his family. They stared for a moment at his newly-shaved face, but they didn't utter a word about it.

After opening their presents and going through their stockings, all of the children jumping about with excitement at the presents from Santa and his missing cookies, screaming about the 'overwhelming proof of Santa', and the family ate a small lunch.

Sean, Jean, Ororo, Darwin, and Logan were all cooking Christmas dinner, the other children stealing food occasionally with the help of Alex. Charles and Hank stayed out of the kitchen, Charles not wanting him and his bulky wheelchair to be in the way, Hank worrying about blue fur getting in the food.

Hours later, the family all sat down to a wonderful ham dinner, green-bean casserole next to the ham, and mash potatoes and gravy on the other side of the ham. Sweet potatoes casserole- sweet potatoes covered in brown sugar and marshmallows- sat in the kitchen, ready to be eaten. There was also stuffing, rolls, cream corn, coleslaw, and other assorted desserts and pastries.

The whole family had loaded their plates and were stuffing their faces, laughing and joking with each other. Occasionally, someone would throw a piece of roll at someone else, and Charles would snap at them not to play with their food. A while later, and more food would be thrown.

To anyone else, they would appear to be a normal, everyday family.

It was still light out, only five o'clock, when the whole family finished their meal. So, they all went outside to play in the newly fallen snow that still remained from last night's snowfall.

They all made snow angels- except Charles- for a while. That is, until Alex threw a snowball at his little brother, Scott. Scott retaliated, but missed, hitting Sean instead. Sean threw two snowballs, but missed once, hitting Jean instead. Jean thought Logan threw it, so she hit him with one. Logan lobbed one at her, but hit Ororo straight in the face because Jean jumped out of the way.

After that, everyone was throwing snowballs at each other. It was total warfare- even Charles had joined in because Alex had hit him.

Eventually, the whole family ended up in a pile, laughing about nothing. Now that they were all soaking wet, everyone having been hit by a snowball, they all went inside and dried off by the fire, which Logan had started once they got inside.

They all slept in the living room together that night, telling stories and laughing and joking with each other.

Charles let go of all the hurt and the anger he had been feeling that year, just enjoying the moment while it lasted.

If only for a day.

And no one knew of the three presents in two empty rooms of the house. But, even though they were empty, the two rooms looked lived-in. They were frozen in time, not being touched by anyone since their inhabitants had left. One held two presents- one from her regretful, loving brother, and the other from the boy who'd fallen in love with her, but hadn't known how to treat her, too wrapped up in his own pain.

The other room had one simply-wrapped present from the man who'd fallen in love with the person it was meant for.

All three presents were waiting for the two inhabitants to return, willing to finally receive the love awaiting them and send it back.

And, somewhere that seemed a world away, the two missing inhabitants were thinking of the men they loved, wishing they deserved the love that they knew awaited them in that big mansion in the cold state of New York.


Chapter Text

It had been months, and Charles was back to rescuing mutants. The mutants they rescued all decided to just move away, and Charles provided them with the funds to relocate. He would erase the information about those mutants from the minds of their captors, and the mutants would go on with their lives.

Charles had been gathering the information that the CIA had gathered and destroying anything they found on mutants. With every mission, Stryker became more and more vicious. Charles hadn't seen Moira, and he was thankful. He'd gone to great lengths to erase her memory, and if she saw him, all of his work would unravel.

Charles also finally got a haircut, going back to his clean cut look from when he was in college. Hank, Sean, and Alex were relieved, finally seeing the professor they remembered once again. Alex had filled Darwin in on everything he'd missed, and Darwin was relieved too.

Everything was going well.

Except that night.

Charles was leading a raid on one of the CIA's bases for experimentation, and the twins had thrown a fit while they were leaving. Charles was integral to the mission, but the twins refused to let him leave.

Finally, Charles allowed for them all to come along, putting Ororo in charge of the children on the jet. He was uncomfortable with leaving them home alone, with no one to protect them there, anyway. She was fourteen now, and very mature for her age. Jean was becoming stronger and had developed the ability to put a force field up and her mental reach was much greater now. If anything went majorly wrong, she could put a force field up and contact Charles. He prayed nothing would go wrong.

Once Hank landed the jet, Charles instructed them not to leave the jet. Ororo nodded in understanding, Kitty on her lap. The twins were clinging to Charles, sitting on his lap, but Jean and Scott came over and took the twins. They began screaming, but Charles calmed their minds easily. They quieted, but were still pouting.

The team broke in quietly, Charles making every agent on the base fall asleep. Sean and Hank went to gather all the data and files while Darwin, Alex, and Charles released the small, mutant family that was in captivity.

Once the team met with the family and the information, Charles awoke the whole base with his mind and took control of their minds, having them walk outside. They all followed the agents, and Hank set off the explosives he'd brought along and set up, the whole building going up in flames.

He felt the children's panic, and before he could calm them, he heard the yelling. His children hadn't seen the team exit, and were now terrified for their family's lives. Charles made his way through the crowd, the new mutants and his team following. Charles calmed them mentally, feeling them relax, but suddenly Charles himself was panicking.

Erik was there with his whole gang.

Charles let out a sound of panic, going to order his children, who'd exited to look for them, to get back on the jet. His team understood his panic, going to stand in front of the children, but it was too late.

Erik had seen the children- the twins.

His eyes were locked onto the twins as he waved his hand at the team, freezing Logan and Charles and knocking the team backwards with scrap metal that was lying about. The children were frightened, Kitty screaming in terror and burying her face in Ororo's chest, the twins shrinking into Jean's and Scott's arms in fear, and Marie and Bobby shaking. Wanda was clutching Miss Sparkles the unicorn, while Pietro clutched his stuffed cheetah named Speedy that he'd got a Christmas.

The older three were frozen as the adults struggled to get free. The new mutants were confused and scared, frozen in place by Emma's powers. Azazel and Janos stood by indifferently, while Angel looked like she wanted to stop him. Raven looked pained, staring at Charles as if she knew she'd betrayed him.

After a moment, Janos, Azazel, Angel, Erik, and Raven noticed Darwin's presence. Janos and Azazel were mildly shocked and confused, Angel was staring at him as if she'd seen a ghost, and Raven was staring with amazement. Erik was a bit shocked, but didn't let it show and barely took his eyes off those small twins. No one bothered saying anything, though.

"Erik, leave here! Leave my family alone!" Charles shouted fearfully, his wheelchair- and therefore, himself- being held in the air by Erik's powers.

Erik's eyes never left the twins, held in the arms of a frightened Jean and Scott.

"Charles, who are they?" Erik asked darkly, never looking away from Pietro and Wanda. "None of your business! They're my children!" Charles yelled, hoping to get Erik's attention away from the two shaking, terrified twins.

"No, they are not your children! They're mine!" Erik snarled, seeing past Charles's words to the truth that Charles had been desperate to hide. Everyone gasped, except for the still confused and terrified children and the new mutants.

"Leave them!" Charles screamed as Erik waved his hand, Jean's hands that were clad in bracelets being forced to put Wanda down. Wanda tried to grab at Jean again, but Erik pushed his hand back, making Jean fly backwards and land on the ground on her backside with a thud.

"Jean!" Scott yelled in fear as he saw the redhead fly through the air, and suddenly he flew backwards too, dropping the five-year-old, who plopped onto the ground. Kitty screamed again, and suddenly Ororo was pushed back as the twins rushed to her, but Ororo held Kitty tightly and protectively. Bobby and Marie screamed the older three's names, rushing to them, and the five-year-old twins fell to the ground, sobbing and clutching each other and their stuffed creatures in fear.

The others fought harder, trying to get to the children to protect them as Erik began walking forward, towards the scared twins. "Get back!" Charles shouted at his ex-lover, unheeded.

Then, suddenly, a purplish-pink energy sphere went around the twins, forcing Erik back. Erik's eyes looked around frantically, spotting Jean, still on the ground, who was staring with concentration at the twins and who's hand was outstretched.

"Emma, deal with the girl." Erik ordered harshly, furious at someone trying to stop him. They were his children- he had a right to them! They were not Charles's; they were Erik's!

Emma let out a strained breath as her concentration increased, and Jean let out a pained scream and fell to the ground after a moment, having passed out from the mental pain before Charles could protect her. Kitty screamed, going to the redhead's side. The sphere disappeared, leaving Wanda and Pietro unprotected. Erik again began walking towards them, and Ororo screamed now.

A flash of lightning struck the ground between Magneto and the twins, stopping his movement. The wind picked up, howling loudly. The agents, having regained control, ran for cover, having no clue what was happening.

Ororo was still screaming, clutching her head in pain as tears collected in the corners of her eyes. Her eyes, normally bright and beautiful, were clouded over as if storm clouds were blocking her eyes. It started to rain hard, increasing the twins' and Kitty's sobs. Erik was knocked off his feet by a strong gust of wind as thunder boomed over head.

Janos held his hands up in innocence at the look Azazel and Angel gave him, the two thinking for a moment that it might be one of his hurricanes that was out of control. Emma's concentration wavered, but the new mutants stayed frozen. Magneto lost his concentration as he hit the ground, and Logan and the others were momentarily freed, Magneto catching Charles just a moment before the telepath crashed to the ground.

"Stop this!" Erik shouted at Charles, convinced it must be of Charles's doing somehow. "Ororo's powers manifested because of you! She can't control it!" Charles shouted angrily at Erik, finally being sat down on the ground. Another gust of wind hit Erik, forcing him down again as he went to stand. Another gust, and Raven, Emma, Angel, Janos, and Azazel were all off their feet, too.

Charles reached out mentally to the twins, Kitty, and Ororo, sending the most calming thoughts he'd ever had to the children. Kitty and the twins stopped crying, but the storm still raged on.

Ororo, you must calm down. The twins are safe now. Erik won't hurt them- I won't let him, I promise. Charles whispered in her mind, and the wind began to slow as the rain gentled. Soon, the weather was completely calm once more. Ororo collapsed to the ground, exhausted.

Chapter Text

"Now, I'll be taking the twins," Erik snapped, once again walking to the twins. "Woah, bub, you think I'll just let you walk out of here with them?" Logan shot back, stepping in front of the twins protectively and letting the metal blades in his hands extend.

"I wasn't asking for permission. They're my children, and they belong with their father," Magneto replied, always short-tempered. "You can be with them if you come home and give up this madman's crusade! They will not be going with you, Erik. They're children- innocent children- and they require stability. Not what you offer," Charles seethed, rolling up to the five-year-olds and putting them in his lap.

Erik stared at Charles for a moment, and he had the insane urge to just take them- he could. He could have Emma freeze everyone around them and just lift Charles up, float him onto the jet with the twins, and fly the jet away with his team. He could lock Charles up in some room until Erik could convince him to see it Erik's way, see how far Stockholm syndrome got him. The twins would adapt well, learning to accept Erik as their father.

It wasn't a bad plan- at least, in Erik's mind it wasn't. In fact, to Erik, it was a perfectly feasible and sane plan.

"Erik, whatever you're thinking, don't," Charles warned, knowing that gleam in Erik's cloudy, blue-grey eyes. It was the same crazy, dangerous, daring gleam that Charles had fallen in love with. It had been the same gleam in the eyes of a man that had tried to stop a submarine.

Unfortunately, that same gleam had become twisted and cruel.

Erik made a split second decision, unsure if it is really the right decision. But his craving for that decision made it far too enticing to resist.

"I will return home," Erik announced, shocking his teammates. Emma released the new mutants in her shock. Raven gasped, her body shaking. Tremors wracked Angel's body too, fearful of returning to the team, the people, the family, she'd betrayed. Janos and Azazel were unsure of Magneto's motives, exchanging cautious glances.

"Wait, what?" Charles asked, confused. He hadn't expected that answer, and he wondered if his ex-lover had ulterior motives that didn't involve Erik being in his children's lives.

"My team and I are joining your family," Erik repeated, and anxiety clawed at Angel's throat. "Maybe you should let your team discuss that, Magneto!" Angel snapped at Erik furiously, her fear turning into rage. Mystique nodded in agreement, and Janos and Azazel were inclined to agree. So was Emma.

"And what if we don't want your rotten carcasses?" Logan grunted, and Raven and Angel flinched at his tone. The other four were stone-faced and uncaring. The rest of Charles's family were glaring, except for Kitty, the twins, Jean, and Ororo. Jean was still passed out, the three little ones were hiding their faces, and Ororo was still panting, laying on the ground in exhaustion.

"Too bad, metal mutt. Charles has offered numerous times, and I'm taking him up on the offer," Erik spat, and the Wolverine's head snapped to the Professor. "Really, Chuck?" Logan asked, clearly angry, and Charles shrugged helplessly.

He still missed Erik- or rather, the man he used to be. Charles could do without the maniac that had killed a man in cold blood and shot the President of the United States.

Charles was terrified that the old Erik had ceased to exist; or perhaps he never existed at all. Maybe Charles had just imagined Erik as a good man. But his hope outweighed his fears, and he wanted to prove to everyone that Erik could be a good man again.

"Well, let's get this death trap in the air, shall we?" Emma said, changing the subject. She strutted towards the aircraft in her normal white outfit, and Sean, Hank, Alex, and Darwin rolled their eyes at her.

Alex helped his little brother up, keeping him close to his side, and Darwin stuck close to the two brothers, holding Jean up in his arms like a baby. Logan went over to Ororo, picking her up gently after sheathing his claws, and Rogue and Bobby stuck close to his sides, frightened of the newcomers. Sean scooped Kitty up, tickling her stomach to make her smile.

Charles's family followed Emma on board, and Riptide and Azazel followed them. Angel and Raven followed behind reluctantly, shying away from the boys- Alex, Sean, Darwin, and Hank- that glared at them. Hank got into the cockpit, avoiding Mystique, and Magneto waited for the telepath to board the ship.

The new mutants walked up to Charles, still a bit frightened and confused. It was a family, two parents and their child. "You can come join my family if you'd like." Charles offered the family, having a feeling they wouldn't be accepting.

"No, Professor, that's fine. I think you have enough problems and new family members on your hands," the father said, glancing nervously at Erik. Charles knew they feared him, and they had good reason to after witnessing the events that had just unfolded. The mother was clutching her child, a little four-year-old, tightly, and she wasn't going to be letting go anytime soon.

"I understand. We'll be in touch. We've erased their minds and the files of you all, but if you wish, I can pay for a new life for you and your family," Charles offered them gently, and they agreed to get a new life.

The new mutants boarded the ship, avoiding Erik's gang, and Charles- the twins still on his lap- and Erik boarded the jet after them.

As they flew across the inky black sky towards where the family requested to be dropped off, Erik couldn't help staring at Charles with the twins sleeping on his lap- they were the picture of the perfect little family that Erik didn't even realize he'd been craving.

It was like Erik was shone the beauty of Heaven but taken to the depths of Hell.

As they flew across the dark abyss of the sky, Charles couldn't help but glare every-so-often at the offensive metal contraption of Erik's head. Every time he saw it, Charles's blood boiled and his telepathy tried to break through the invincible shield. Charles wondered if Emma was as infuriated by the obnoxious magenta helmet, but if she was, she gave no indication of her rage.

After dropping the family off, Charles giving them a debit card that Charles could put money into the account of, the rest of the flight was tense, no one willing to cut through the silence that hung over the group like a foreboding teacher over a class of angry, resentful students.

When the flight was finally over, everyone was thankful. Ororo was fast asleep, Jean was still out cold, and Kitty, Pietro, and Wanda had finally fallen asleep. They needed their rest after such an eventful day.

Logan carried Ororo off the jet, Bobby and Rogue still attached to his hips. Alex was still keeping Scott close, and Darwin followed behind, carrying Jean. Sean was carrying the sleeping Kitty, making sure not to jostle her awake.

Charles rolled off the jet, followed by Hank, Erik, and Erik's gang. Hank offered to take the two children sleeping in Charles's lap, but Charles shook his head, ordering Hank to bed.

Then, Charles took the newcomers to their new rooms. Charles dropped Emma off first in the room Charles's mother had long ago designed- it was an airy, all-white room that she'd adored when she was alive. Emma expressed her approval, smiling with satisfaction. It's curtains were white, the walls and ceiling were white, all its furniture was white, and the bed was completely white. The only thing that wasn't white was the floor, which was hardwood. The room also had white paneled French doors that led out to a white balcony.

Charles's mother had loved white.

Emma also mentally directed Charles to give Janos and Azazel one room to share- only one bed.

Charles did as told, making Riptide smile in satisfaction as the teleporter went into the room. The room was more masculine, all the furniture being made of oak. Janos smiled gratefully to Charles, joining Azazel in the room. Raven and Erik had both been following the group, despite knowing exactly where their own rooms were.

"Charles..." Angel began once they stood in front of the room meant to be hers, and Charles held up his hand to silence her. "I know, Angel. You'd been hurt by the callous words of some agents, and you didn't believe the human world had a place for you. I just wished you'd had enough faith to stay back then."

Then, Charles rolled away with the sleeping twins on his lap, leaving Angel standing there alone as Erik and Raven followed him. Regret had built up in Angel's chest, but it wouldn't seem to go away, even after his understanding words had taken root in her soul.

Chapter Text

After dropping off Angel, Charles rolled himself towards the twins' room, but stopped midway, turning to the two mutants who both desperately craved his approval and acceptance but had betrayed him when he was the most vulnerable.

"Why are you two following me? You know where your rooms are," Charles sighed, tired and resigned. He still needed to put the twins to bed, and he was emotionally drained from the day's events. He didn't have enough energy to deal with either of them.

Charles studied the two, trying to get a read on both of them without digging in to their minds. Raven looked unsure and insecure- she most likely wasn't sure she was truly welcomed home after the boys' behavior. She had even more doubts than Angel- Angel left early, not allowing for the budding family to become deeply invested in each other. Raven had been there through everything until things got especially bad. She'd left with Erik, abandoning Charles on the beach, leaving him to bleed on the ground.

Not that it was her fault- she felt rejected because of Charles's mistakes and behavior, and Charles told her to go with Erik. Charles knew she really wanted to go with Erik, and Erik needed someone to look after him since Charles wouldn't be there. Who could Charles better trust than his own sister?

Erik was stone-faced and cold, no emotion in his steely blue-grey eyes. He was the storm Charles could never see coming. Charles once could predict Erik's behavior, but now Erik was a book in a different language. He was a language that Charles had long forgotten but longed to remember.

"Charles, I-" Raven began, only for her telepathic brother to cut her off. "Raven, what's done is done. Despite the boys' behavior, no matter what you've done, you will always be welcome here. This is your home as much as it is mine. Now, go to bed, dear sister," Charles reassured her, knowing her doubts without even reading her mind.

"I told you to stay out of my head," Raven said, no real malice in her voice. "I am out of your head," Charles replied, rolling away from his adopted sister. She'd never trusted Charles with staying out of her head, and Charles didn't blame her. She couldn't help how she felt; Charles hadn't given her much reason to trust him.

Charles heard the footsteps following him, and he knew it to be Erik's. The offensive metal object still sat atop his head, and it was really annoying Charles. Charles continued on his way to the twins' room silently, knowing he couldn't make the deadly Magneto go away if he didn't want to.

Charles rolled into the massive room with two twin sized beds, rolling up to the navy blue bed. Erik stepped up now, lifting up Pietro. Charles started up at Erik, who was staring down at his small son with awe. Erik gently placed Pietro in his bed, then took Wanda from Charles's lap.

Erik quickly crossed the room, stood next to the little pink bed for a moment, staring down at his little girl, then gently put her into her bed. Charles tucked Pietro in as Erik did the same to Wanda, and the two men quietly left the room.

Charles then began rolling himself to his own room, Erik still following silently. Charles was a bit unnerved at Erik's close proximity. The telepath's heart was racing, his throat constricting as his breathing quickened slightly. His palms were sweaty, Charles's body flushing at the thoughts racing through his own mind; Erik was a temptation that Charles could hardly resist.

Once Charles had reached his own room and gone in, Erik was still following. Charles opened up his drawer for pajamas, but Erik grabbed the pair off the top, pushing it closed. Charles stared at Erik with confusion, and Erik slowly leaned down into Charles's space, reaching for the hemline of Charles's shirt.

The telepath made a sound of alarm, shoving Erik's hands away with panic. "Shhh, it's okay, I'm just helping you change," Erik soothed, calming Charles's panicking mind.

Slowly, Erik stripped Charles of his shirt, reminding Charles of the few nights they had together when they'd taken it slowly, just enjoying the feel of each other. Other nights, they had rushed, eager for skin-to-skin contact, craving each other's touch. Erik sat the pajama pants down, going to put the shirt on Charles.

Charles's breath caught in his throat; he couldn't breathe, knowing if he breathed in Erik's intoxicating scent, his willpower would crumble, and he'd throw himself at Erik like he always did. Erik was a drug that Charles had just gotten off of after being hooked on him for what felt like centuries but had only been a few months.

Erik was that addictive.

When Erik went to unbutton Charles's pants, Charles's hands stilled his again. Charles was shamefully turned on by Erik's nimble fingers just brushing Charles's body, and he didn't want Erik to know. At a raised eyebrow, Charles sighed in defeat and moved his hands away.

Erik didn't say a word as he swiftly took Charles's pants off and slipped the pajama pants on. Charles felt disappointment creeping into his heart, but he pushed the feeling away. He needed to stay clear of Erik. Erik was the kind of love that could ruin a person; he'd already ruined Charles. He'd wrapped Charles's mind, body, and soul around his little finger and then left him with a hole in his heart.

Charles rolled himself over to his bed, and before he could crawl into bed, Charles was lifted out of his wheelchair by a pair of strong arms that were achingly familiar. Charles squeaked, startled, and clutched at Erik for support.

Erik gently placed Charles in his bed, moving the wheelchair out of the way with his powers. Charles let his arms fall away from Erik's neck, feeling surprisingly more secure in Erik's arms than in his own bed.

Erik turned to leave, and it took all of Charles's willpower not to stop him from leaving.

Both sister and ex-lover discovered their gifts in their rooms that night and were shocked and touched at the thoughtful gifts.

Chapter Text

Charles was awoken by angry voices and screaming thoughts in his head. In Charles's opinion, it was much too early for an argument.

But, apparently, Logan, Erik, and Emma didn't seem to agree.

Charles struggled into his wheelchair, going down the elevator to growl at them for waking him up. Charles wasn't a morning person, and this was basically nighttime to him. The sun was just barely beginning to rise, but Charles didn't have time to watch the beautiful site.

He rolled to living room where the loud voices and louder thoughts were coming from, and the voices instantly quieted as Charles entered. They were trying to calm their own minds, but they were failing epically.

"Why have you all woken me at this ungodly hour?" Charles asked with a frustrated, tired sigh, rubbing his temples. Charles heard Erik chuckle, and his gaze landed on him and the offensive mental helmet.. "You always were a late riser," Erik said fondly, and Charles wanted to scowl. Instead, a fond smile came upon his lips.

"Sorry, Chuck, we didn't mean to wake you," Logan said, only slightly apologetic and sounding grumpier than usual. He didn't like mornings, either. Alex, Darwin, and Sean were poking their heads out from the kitchen, Hank was probably hiding in his lab, Angel was sticking her head out from the other side of the kitchen as the boys, Janos and Riptide were sitting together on the couch behind the fighting trio, and Raven was probably holed up in her room or the gym. The younger kids wouldn't be up for a while.

"Quiet yelling only works if your thoughts are quiet, too," Charles sighed, yawning. He really was too tired for this. "Why were you fighting?" Charles asked, hoping to hurry up this chat.

"Your pet here was insulting Erik, who refused to defend himself. So I defended him, and that's what happened," Emma supplied when neither man answered, her cold gaze on Charles as she crossed her arms across her chest, completely ignoring the growling Wolverine next to her.

Charles thought about it, and it made sense. All he had heard from the yelled thoughts was a few words, such as Erik's name, and Emma's and Logan's voices in his head. He couldn't make out what everyone was saying, but Emma and Logan had sounded angry. Erik looked...sad.

"Logan, try not to pick fights. I apologize, Emma and Erik, but do please try to keep it down mentally next time. You are a telepath, Emma. You can do that. At least until a more reasonably hour," Charles said, yawning again as he rolled away.

He heard the footsteps following him, and he knew it was Erik's. He'd recognize those footsteps anywhere. Charles wouldn't be able to go back to bed now, so he went to the library instead. "Would you like to play a game of chess?" Charles asked his silent companion, wishing once again that the helmet was off of Erik's head. Charles longed to just catch a glimpse into Erik's beautiful mind, but Charles would not go against Erik's wishes, even if the helmet was off.

Erik, instead of verbalizing his answer, went straight to the chess board that was still laying on the small table in front of the fireplace. Charles hadn't bothered to put it away after Erik had gone, too depressed to even think about entering the library. Instead, he'd had one of the boys bring him a book whenever he finished one.

After a while, when he finally had dared to enter the library, he couldn't bring himself to clear the board of their last game. Erik had told him exactly what he planned to do when they finally did confront the man that had destroyed Erik's life, but Charles hadn't quite been able to believe that the man he loved was capable of killing. He'd wanted to believe Erik couldn't kill someone in cold blood, but he had. Twice.

Charles rolled himself up to the table, his pieces being white while Erik's were black. Charles made his first move, then Erik went. They continued in this way, Charles and Erik alternating between collecting each other's pieces.

"I enjoy playing chess with you," Erik said, collecting one of Charles's pieces. "Yes, well, you are a fun challenge," Charles replied, taking two of Erik's pieces now. Erik made his move, taking two of Charles's. Charles went to take three of his, but as he went to move his piece, Erik took Charles's hand in his own. Charles looked up at Erik, who was staring at him.

"Erik..." Charles began, pained. It didn't seem fair to Charles. Erik was playing with his emotions. Erik was getting Charles's hopes up- just as he had done not long ago, before Cuba. He'd made Charles believe he would stay, and then he left him high and dry. He'd left Charles with a hole in his chest that no one could fill.

"Charles, I am truly sorry for what I've done to you," Erik apologized, his voice sincere. Charles wondered that if he had the chance, would Erik change what he had done? Charles wasn't sure Erik would if he could.

"Erik, I know you regret what you did to me." A look of suspicion crossed his face, as if he believed Charles could somehow penetrate the helmet. "I can see the remorse on your face every time you look at me," Charles explained, holding back his frustration. A look of relief crossed his face, and Charles wanted to roll his eyes.

"When did you stop trusting me in your head?" The question popped out before Charles even realized it, and Charles could see Erik emotionally receding from him, curling in on himself and hiding away from Charles's scrutiny. Erik's distrust was bubbling to the surface fast. "Who said I ever trusted you in my head?" Erik replied coldly, releasing Charles's hand. Charles wanted to grab his hand and hold it tight, but he knew he couldn't.

Charles turned away from Erik, not wishing to have this argument. It was still too early, and Charles wasn't nearly numb enough. It'd been a long time since he'd had a drink, and how he longed for the burn going down his throat now. One day, and Erik already had Charles in knots. How was he supposed to survive any extended amount of time?

Regret and distrust battled within Erik; he regretted hurting him, but he didn't trust Charles in his head. He didn't want Charles seeing the deepest, darkest parts of him. Erik feared Charles would reject him if he knew the thoughts and memories that swirled within Erik's head.

The metal-bender had done many things that Charles would never approve of, and some of those things remain in his mind still, haunting him. Charles would never allow Erik to touch him if he knew, so Erik has to wear the helmet. Erik couldn't bear never touching Charles's soft skin again. Erik had to protect Charles from his thoughts.

"Charles, I..." Erik trailed off, unsure of what to say. "Erik, just go," Charles sighed, the chess game long since forgotten. Erik stiffly left the room, feeling utterly dejected as he left.

Not for the first time, Charles wished he was human. Charles, for the first time in months, went over to the little minibar in his office and pulled out a glass and some alcohol.

Chapter Text

"Charles, please... Talk to us," Hank said softly, sitting across from Charles in his office. Logan was leaning against the wall, his arms crossed across his chest. Alex and Darwin were sitting on a love-seat, their legs brushing from the close proximity. Sean was in the room as well, his leg bouncing anxiously as he sat in his own seat nearby.

Charles sat by the window, staring out at the backyard. The children were running and playing in the backyard, having a grand old time as Scott, Ororo, and Jean watched from the back porch. They didn't even seem to be thinking of the murderer that was somewhere in the house; they were just having fun.

"What should I say? I let the father of the twins into the house, who's murdered two people that I know of. I still care for the man who has murdered two people," Charles replied, depression clouding his mind. What kind of horrible person was Charles to love that sort of man?

"Chuck, we can't help who we fall in love with," Logan stated, a soft, rough quality to his voice. Charles responded, "No, but I didn't stop him. I couldn't help him." His agony was revealed in his tone, but Charles didn't care. Self-loathing was second nature to Charles now.

"He made his decision. You can't change his mind, or what he's done," Alex replied gently but firmly, not allowing for there to be room for argument from the Professor. Darwin was silent, just sending Charles an understanding look. Sean was uncomfortable but concerned, worried about the man who'd taught him so much.

As Charles watched the children outside, he saw Erik step out and into the sun. The children stopped running around; Ororo tensed up, and Scott stood as if he was ready to fight. Kitty, Pietro, and Wanda ran and hid behind Bobby, and Erik watched them all. Charles could see the wheels turning in Erik's mind, a well-oiled machine constantly turning and churning. Charles tensed up as he watched his ex-lover walk out onto the lawn, closer to the children, and sit in the grass.

Charles watched Erik's mouth move, forming words that Charles could not decipher. The children seemed to calm, the twins coming out from behind Bobby. Scott seemed angry, but he still sat down beside Jean. Jean just sat there, staring at Magneto with Ororo and Scott. Marie and Bobby shied away from him, but Kitty and the twins seemed less afraid.

Charles reached out with his mind to the little three, Erik's head still covered in that offensive, shiny metal object. Erik was speaking to them in a soothing voice, apologizing for his actions and promising ice cream if they forgave him. He was bribing Charles's children into liking him. Charles wanted to laugh- it was almost adorable. Erik actually sounded like a good father.

Kitty instantly decided to forgive him, deciding that anyone who had access to ice cream and was willing to share must be a good person. The twins were reluctant at first, but when Erik offered to get them their favorite- which he didn't know yet- the twins instantly agreed to forgive him.

Kitty bounced over to Erik's side and hugged him as much as her chubby, short arms would allow. Erik seemed uncomfortable for a moment, but hugged the little girl back nonetheless. Pietro and Wanda slowly moved forward, and Erik smiled at them as Kitty moved over and plopped in his lap.

Erik held out his arms to the twins, and they slowly made their way into his arms. He hugged them tightly, emotions obviously warring inside him. Charles wondered how Wanda and Pietro had come to be, but immediately pushed the scenarios away as jealousy reared its ugly head. Erik had been everything Charles wanted for so long, and their relationship had soured when Erik's mind had made humans out to be monsters. These children are proof of Erik's flighty, uncommitted behavior.

Erik had never committed to anyone it seemed.

Charles's heart tightened as he watched Erik treat the three with unusual tenderness. The other children seemed to relax, but Scott still stared with hatred.

"Boys, do you know why I will never be able to let go of the good man Erik was?" Charles questioned his disciples, changing the topic of their discussion slightly. "Nope," Sean replied, and Charles could feel their agreement with Banshee. Charles beckoned them over, his eyes never leaving Erik, who was now playing patty-cake with the children.

They came over to the window, and confusion swirled within their minds. "I see flashes of tenderness, soft emotions, love. He isn't so far gone that he's lost these wonderful qualities. He's still good inside; he's just misguided." A smile hinted at Charles's lips.

The boys watched with rapt attention as Erik laughed at something the children said to him. They'd never seen him so...loose and carefree. He'd only ever come close to that sort of behavior with Charles, and even then he'd never been able to laugh that unheeded. Erik had always been tightly wound, a little ball of pain and depression that had threatened to pull Charles under.

In the wake of Erik, Charles had been left a shell of a man with no reason to live. The only thing that had given him a new purpose- given him back a reason to live- was the mutant race. They needed Charles, and Charles could not refuse the call of Cerebro. Charles's boys had pulled him out of his pit of despair and brought him back to the land of the living.

Now, as Charles watched Erik with the three youngest mutants in the mansion, Charles could feel the tides of depression threatening to pull him down under the crashing waves, to pull him down into their murky, inky, dark depths where the sunlight never reached.

The sunlight was a dream at the bottom of the ocean of sadness- a glimpse of Heaven in the pits of Hell.

Chapter Text

"Erik, what are we doing here?" Emma stood in the kitchen, her hands on her hips with a disapproving scowl on her face. She'd just caught him as the three small children ran out of the room, giggling and full of energy after enjoying rather large bowls of ice cream with the feared Magneto.

She was watching her and Erik's dream die as she noted the joy within his eyes as he watched the children run from the room.

"We're joining Charles's group," Erik replied, steel in his voice that only was there when he was exceptionally stubborn about something. Emma wanted to scream at him; she wondered if Charles 'disappearing', or if the twins disappearing, would cause Erik to go back to their true cause?

Was there a way for Emma to pull Erik away from this senseless game of pretend?

Erik would never be a part of Charles's family again, and the twins would only accept Erik as their father until they learned what he had done. Charles would poison the twins with thoughts of world peace and love, and the twins would learn to disapprove of Erik's actions. Erik would not be a man to admire in the twins' eyes any longer.

This life Erik was pretending he could have would be poisoned forever; it would shrivel and die, and Erik would be once again left a broken man.

Dreams are like glass; they are fragile, and when they break and crumple, they can cut and scar the mightiest of people.

"Erik, see sense! These people do not see the world like you and I do- like our group does. If you stay here, you can never kill again. Can you do that? Can you forgo all of our dreams, our aspirations for mutantkind?" Emma asked, frustration and rage building within her at Magneto's sentimentality.

Caring is not an advantage.

"Emma, I have gone almost two years now without Charles by my side. It has been nearly unbearable, and now to know I have hurt him so seriously- paralyzed him for the rest of his life- I don't think I can ever part with him. Besides, knowing that I have children, I could never leave them. Family is the one thing that you must hold onto. Family lasts forever," Erik replied, his voice holding a concerned quality.

He was concerned for Emma.

"Will family last once they know you're a murderer?" Emma asked. At his disdainful, distasteful look, Emma added, "Despite all your good intentions, you still have killed people. You've killed one man in cold blood, while your love still was connected to the man. You're single-minded behavior will never allow for a family to flourish. And who's to say that Charles will forgive you? Accept you into his arms and his bed once more?"

Emma was casting stones that had plagued him long before now, and they still bruised Erik's confidence and his willpower.

"Charles is forgiving. He is also not the type of man to ruin my relationship with my children." Erik ignored his own insecurities for now. Emma scoffed, feeling that Erik believed too much of this man he held in such high regard. "Charles would also protect those children at all costs, no matter what anyone else thought. If he thought you were a threat, even for a moment, you would never see your precious twins again. If you really want to, we can take them with us, but we shouldn't stay here," Emma advised, a last ditch effort to get Erik out of Charles's cleansing reach.

"I won't uproot my children like that. Their home is here, and so is ours now," Erik replied fiercely, an end to the discussion. Emma sighed and left the room, giving up on her hopes of reacquiring her one purpose. Emma was now a meaningless, lost telepath, stuck in a realm that welcomed her, but did not accept her.

Emma could feel every presence- except Erik- in the house and how they felt. Riptide and Azazel were uncomfortable and uneasy, not sure where they belonged. Angel was hiding away in her room, afraid of confronting the boys- especially Banshee. Mystique was working out non-stop, also afraid of talking to the ones she'd betrayed.

Charles's team was feeling similar frustrations. Darwin was uncertain and protective of his friends. Alex felt rage and distrust, and Scott was holding a deep grudge, not trusting any of them since his brother didn't. Sean felt a mixture of pain, regret, and betrayal. Beast was feeling shy and betrayed, but longing as well.

Wolverine was practically sharpening his claws, Ororo was worried about losing control again, and Jean was uncertain and insecure of herself. Rogue, Emma felt, was hiding something, but the girl was good at hiding her mind. Bobby was unsure and was trying to decide how he felt about Erik's group.

The only people that seemed happy or even satisfied with this arrangement was Erik, Charles, the twins, and Kitty. Five people, verses the other fifteen people in the household.

Emma debated on raiding Charles's mind, just to view Erik's and Charles's moments. She wanted to know what was so special between them that Erik would give up their ideals, their freedom. Emma could even persuade Charles to kick them all out; Erik would be forced to leave, to take up their cause again.

Emma's life would be back to normal.

"You're interesting, you know that?" The White Queen heard a deep, gruff, masculine voice behind her, and she turned to see the clawed one standing before her, his arms crossed and his eyes analyzing her. Emma felt a pull to this man, Wolverine, but had decided upon meeting him that it would not be a good idea to draw his attention.

Now, it seemed, she had his attention anyway.

"How am I interesting?" She asked, an eyebrow raised at the man. Logan smirked, uncrossed his arms and circled her. "You act all regal. You walk with grace, careless. You act vacant, but you seems troubled. I can sense that sorta thing," Logan replied, his voice husky and deep.

"Oh? And I suppose that I should be flattered by your observations?" Emma replied coyly, an amused smirk on her face. "You don't have to be," Logan replied, still circling her. Emma's eyes followed him as far as she could before he disappeared behind her back, and her eyes found him again as he came to the front of her.

Finally, he stopped in front of her, and they gazed into each other's eyes. Then, Logan turned and walked away from the White Queen, leaving her standing there, a bit confused and disappointed. Emma turned and continued her trek down the hallway, returning to her room to isolate herself.

But when you're a telepath, you are never truly isolated.

Chapter Text

"The kids have taken quite a shine to him," Alex told Charles grudgingly, both watching from the window looking over the backyard as Erik chased the laughing and screaming children around. The kids included Bobby, Marie, the twins, Kitty, and Mystique.

Marie and Raven ran together, Raven pulling Marie along until they split up, Erik chasing Raven instead of Marie. Rogue and Mystique had become quite fond of each other, Raven taking the shy girl under her wing. Raven and Angel both had soon realized that the five youngest were the only members of Charles's family who would fully accept them- except for Charles; even then, Charles was still a bit hesitant to trust them.

"He's a natural father. He's become a sort of father figure to them," Charles replied, a small smile on his face as he watched. Charles could sense the jealousy, distrust, and anger rising within Alex. Alex was worried about being replaced.

"Alex, despite how they view Erik, you'll always be the big brother to them. They love you, even if they love Erik, too," Charles reassured Alex, who sighed in response.

There was a moment of silence, then Alex turned his thoughts to a new topic. "Professor, you never talk about your childhood. What was yours like?" Charles almost flinched at the unpleasant memories that assailed his mind, but instead pushed them down again, suppressing every horrible feeling that accompanied them.

The pain, the hatred, the rage, the loneliness, the disgust...

"I suppose mine was average. My father died when I was young, and my mother became distant. I found Raven when I was twelve, and my mother allowed her to stay. Then my mother married my father's coworker. He had a son, and they moved in. My mother turned to alcohol when her new husband proved unkind, and my stepbrother proved to be cruel. Raven avoided him as much as possible, but I couldn't avoid him. My mother died of alcoholism, and then it only got worse. My stepfather then died, leaving the three of us alone. I inherited my fortune, and I had my stepbrother move out due to Raven's fear, but I paid for an apartment for him. I went to university, Raven followed me to university to be a waitress, and I met Moira and Erik. That's when I met you kids, and I started the team," Charles answered.

Alex watched Charles for a moment; he saw how Charles's jaw tightened and his fist clenched when he mentioned his stepfather and stepbrother. It was typical for people to hate their step-family, but there was pain and shame in Charles's eyes, too. Alex wondered just how cruel the two had been to Charles and his family, but he held his tongue.

"Professor, what do you think Erik wants?" Alex asked, watching the children and Erik again. "To know his children." Charles rolled himself away from the window, and Alex followed a moment later, still mulling over the telepath's words about his family.

"Professor, I don't understand you," Alex finally confessed, causing Charles to look at him in confusion. "You detest violence, you love the human race, you want to protect all that is good and innocent. Then, you allow a man that's mission is to destroy the human race into your home. The same man that also paralyzed you and killed a man that you were in the head of. He is poison, but you let him live under the same roof," Alex provided by way of explanation, his voice conveying his confusion and frustration. His anger tinged his voice as well.

Charles gripped the arms of his wheelchair tightly, his jaw tightening, emotions flooding him. "I love him," Charles gritted out in a broken voice, and Alex regretted his words. It wasn't his place to judge Charles- to judge the man that had saved him. But Alex couldn't help but worry for the telepath; Alex was watching Charles go down a road blindly that seemed to lead to self-destruction.

"I'm sorry." Alex sounded guilty, and he escaped the suffocating confines of the upstairs lounge. Charles was once again left alone with his venomous thoughts and the equally horrible thoughts of the others.

The professor sighed and left the room, wandering the halls. Charles had begun feeling quite empty ever since Erik had moved in; the children had begun spending less and less time with Charles, and he missed them being constantly underfoot. Charles was beginning to become reclusive again, falling back into the pit of despair.

Charles had thought that Erik's return would help, but all Charles can think of is Erik's departure. It was like Charles was thrown back in time, to the days right after Erik had left. During those first few months, Charles had seen Erik in every little thing; he couldn't get away from the memories that Erik had left Charles with. It had been a bottomless pit of depression that Charles had only just begun climbing out of. Now, Erik was pushing him back down into the pit.

The children had been good distractions, and now Charles was left to face his own emotions alone.

Charles didn't realized he'd wandered outside until he felt the cool breeze and heard the leaves on the trees rustling. He heard the children's screams of laughter, and even Erik's deep laugh. Then, he spotted them. They were laying in the grass, Erik attacking them with tickles as the children laughed and rolled around.

The children ganged up on him and tackled him to the ground, Erik breaking their fall. The kids laughed more, and Erik 'begged' for mercy. Charles smiled, wishing he could join them in the game.

Then, the happiness in him faded away as he remembered why he couldn't play with them. The paralysis... the wheelchair... the bullet... Erik...

Charles was about to roll back into the mansion and crawl back into his hole when he heard the children scream "Daddy!" Charles turned just in time to see all three children running at him. They leapt into his lap, hugging Charles tightly. Erik watched with adoration, and Charles was almost surprised to see the look on Erik's face.

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*WARNING: When it gets to italics, there is sexual violence referenced. Please be careful if you might find this triggering*

"How has your day been, darlings?" Charles asked, smiling down at them.

"It's been so fun! Vati has been playing with us all day, and he lets us eat ice cream and candy all the time!" Kitty exclaimed, and Charles kept the smile plastered on his face as his mind spun.

Vati- Erik. He's having the children call him their father as well. Panic was beginning to set in now; Erik was going to steal the children right from under Charles's nose. Charles wanted to hold the children closely, never letting them go, but he refrained from doing so.

"Oh, really? Then you kids must be extremely hyper," Charles replied, chuckling slightly. They all nodded excitedly, then suddenly ran off, probably to go play some new game that they'd all just thought of.

Charles looked up, realizing Erik was standing directly in front of him now. He hadn't even heard Erik move, but now he was standing right in front of him.

"Can I discuss something with you? In private?" Charles asked, his voice straining to be polite and not angry. Erik nodded, and he followed Charles into the house and to Charles's bedroom.

"What do you think you're doing?" Charles asked, turning to Erik with a glare. "I hadn't known you'd be so angry about the sugar-" Charles cut off his response. "No, Erik! I'm not referring to the sugar! I'm referring to you having the children call you 'Vati,'" Charles growled, calming down after a moment.

Erik stared at him for a moment, trying to decide how to respond. How could he explain to Charles that he was trying to get close to him again? That he was trying to subtly establish to the children that Erik was indeed their father and would be here for a very long time? At Charles's side?

What words could possibly convey that to Charles?

Then, an idea popped into Erik's head.

Erik slowly lifted his hands up, past his head, touching the sides of his helmet with his large, calloused hands. Charles watched those hands intently, trying to figure out what Erik was going to do. Then, Erik plucked the helmet right off his own head, and Charles almost wanted to cry.

The object that had been keeping Charles away from that magnificent, beautiful mind was now gone.

"Read my mind, Charles. Figure out what I wanted when I told the children to call me 'Vati,'" Erik murmured, moving closer to Charles. Close proximity wasn't required for Charles to read his mind, but both enjoyed the closeness.

Charles reluctantly lifted his hand to touch his temple, wondering if this was some kind of trap. Then, like a swimmer jumping into the deep end for the first time in ages, Charles delved into Erik's mind. Charles went a bit deeper than what he'd been aiming for, but quickly found his way back to those thoughts.

Then, he saw it. He saw Erik's thoughts playing over like a movie in his head. He saw Erik's goal- to get Charles back into his arms. He saw Erik's dreams- of being a good father to the children and being a loving husband to Charles, even if it wasn't legal for them to marry. He saw it all like a romance movie playing on a big-screen TV. It blew Charles away with the force of his thoughts.

"Now do you understand?" Erik voice broke through to Charles, drawing him out of that complex mind and back to reality. An intense desire to make those dreams come true took over Charles, making him stare at Erik with the longing in his heart.

Erik seemed to understand, bending over and leaning towards Charles. Charles closed his eyes, awaiting the sweet brush of Erik's lips on his, but the contact never came. Charles opened his eyes, and Erik was just coasting over his lips, suspended in mid-air it seemed.

"Please," Charles begged quietly, and Erik came undone. He pushed his lips onto Charles's, taking Charles's lips with a need that could not be denied. Charles kissed back with the same need, and everything happened too quickly for Charles to process.

Erik somehow got Charles up in his arms, carried him to the bed, and laid them both on the bed without breaking their passionate exchange. Charles's insides were burning with desire, and Erik's mind was clouded with lust. The lack of the helmet seemed to complete the fantasy for Charles, pushing them both to a greater need.

When Erik went to dispose of Charles's shirt, though, that's when the memories could not be suppressed.

Charles rode the bus home- his stepfather was at work and today his mother couldn't pick him up because of a 'Bingo game with her friends.' Really, she was at a bar getting drunk out of her mind. She usually was trying to forget about her new husband's neglect and the screams of her stepson as he was being beat by his own father. Also, she liked to avoid the reminder of her late husband- her son, Charles.

Cain Marko, Charles's stepbrother, also rode the bus. He was loud and obnoxious, mocking Charles loudly with his friends. They were all bullies, really. Charles had learned to ignore bullies long ago. Others mildly tried to defend Charles, but he made them stop. Cain had a way of having revenge against those who opposed him, and Charles certainly wasn't worth that revenge.

When the bus stopped to let Charles and Cain off, Charles already had his keys out. Charles walked in silence, ignoring his stepbrother as Cain hurled insult after insult at the calm telepath. Once they got inside though, Cain's anger seemed to explode.

"What, you think you can just ignore me? You think you can just walk around all high-and-mighty, thinking yourself above me? Huh?" Cain shouted, pushing Charles down in the entryway. Charles tried to get back up, knowing he would lose a confrontation against his much bigger stepbrother. He wanted to get away from Cain.

Cain pushed him down again, hurling vulgar words at his younger stepbrother. Then, he began punching Charles as hard as he could with his meaty firsts, throwing all the power he possessed in his hulking, buff body into his punches.

Charles bit his lip to hold in his cries of pain, and he knew his ribs would be bruised or fractured as Cain started kicking him. Then, the hits turned into Cain ripping at Charles's clothes. Charles wasn't stupid- though he was innocent. He knew what was coming next. Charles tried to mentally get Cain to stop, but Charles's own mind was too unfocused, too fractured, to get him to stop. Cain's mind was too stubborn to be moved.

Charles was begging, screaming, and sobbing for Cain to stop, to think. That just made Cain angrier. "What? You think I'm stupid? I'll teach you to not think I'm stupid!" Cain screamed, taking off his own pants once Charles was completely naked.

Then, Charles's body was no longer his own. Charles locked himself in his mind as Cain mindlessly thrust into his, robbing Charles's of the innocence of childhood. He was only fourteen; Cain was sixteen.

When the memory subsided finally, Charles realized that Erik was staring down at him, crying.

Charles realized then that there was a downside to the helmet being off.

Charles had broadcasted the memory to him, and now Erik knew just how broken Charles was.