Disclaimer: The X-men and their world belong to Mavel/Fox. No profit or copyright infringement is intended. This is an X-men Shared Universe, orignally imagined by Tarchannon, Dark Legends is a dark future where the next generation of the Legacy virus has triggered disturbing changes in the X-men. For further stories by a variety of authors and poets, go here.

 

Gathering Shadows - Charles

The disease pricked his brain like a needle. He could feel it creeping along his blood, settling in his flesh, swimming into his mind. Corrupting him. Changing him.

Everything that he had loved was being taken away. Everything that he had hoped for - a better world, a family, a chance to change things - was being destroyed by a sub-cellular organism. He rested his head in his hands, feeling with disgust the physical changes - the swelling of his skull that hid greater changes within. He had to compel Hank to reveal the depth of the disaster, forcing his way into that brilliant - immune - mind and dragging the truth out. It had been easy, easier than ever before. Easier still to erase the memory. As easy as reading the minds of criminals in New York or children in China. His world was larger than it ever had been before, and emptier.

So many had died. The children, minds he had not known he would miss until they were gone. Warren, in his memory always that beautiful proud child, who had believed until his dying moments, that his wings were some hideous deformity. Tears slipped from his eyes, for he knew what Hank did not yet know. He knew the feel of the plague now - it was heavy in the air of the mansion. And Charles felt it in the minds of other mutant minds hundreds of miles away. New York, a mutant he'd never know, never met ,was lying in an abandoned warehouse dying of the plague. They had not isolated themselves soon enough. The plague was loose in the world.

Upstairs, Jean was sitting at the side of her dying husband's bed, filling a needle and contemplating the meaning of mercy. Even as she turned away from that terrible act, Charles got the first sense of the plague, in her. She might not know it, but Jean too was changing. Scott, the man he loved as a son, had been suffering unimaginable pain for days - screaming until he was hoarse. Even the strongest dose of morphine that Hank dared just barely kept the pain in his head under control.

Charles grimaced in sympathy. He too hurt. The bones of his skull ached, forced to grow, to change and other changes as well left him feeling unbalanced. It was like loosing his legs all over again, forced to relearn how to live.

"I see you are awake, professor." Hank came in on silent furred feet, the line of his massive shoulders weary. "How do you feel."

Charles chuckled. "Like I want to die. How do you feel?"

Hank shook his head. "I am afraid I have no words for what I am feeling today. Logan came down to tell me Marie died this morning."

"Yes." He had known that. That lively mind gone forever. "I knew that."

Hank's ears sank low as he checked Bobby's motionless form. The boy was in a deep coma and had been Charles' silent companion for several days.

"What are we going to do?" Hank asked softly. "This virus - it's less virulent than the Legacy and more resistant. My vaccine provides only limited protection."

"You are immune."

"And I don't know why!" Hank snapped. "Forgive me, Charles."

"No need. We're all suffering, in different ways, that's all." Charles sighed and swung his useless legs off the bed. "I don't believe I need to take up another precious ICU bed any longer. Whatever has happened to me - I'm as well as I'm going to be."

"I'll need your help, professor." Hank said. "You're contacts in DC and perhaps - we need Eric's help as well."

Charles stared at him, cold anger washing through him suddenly. "Don't mention his name here!"

"Professor -!" Hank pleaded. "We have no chance alone! Eric's people are organized, have their own research facilities -"

"Be silent!" Charles thundered. He watched, distantly, as he overreacted to Hank's request. It wasn't unreasonable - but he knew better. He'd been planning and leading and controlling the X-men for more years than Hank had been alive. He knew better than to trust Eric. He would never turn to Eric. Never. Never - again.

"We are the X-men. We found the cure for the Legacy virus." Charles drew himself up. "We will succeed in this as well. We always have."

He reached out with delicate mental fingers, and rearranged Hank's mind. It was very simple. For all the mutant's vaunted intelligence, his mind was as easy to manipulate as a child's. Eric was forgotten.

"I have faith in you, Hank." Charles said softly. He did. He trusted all of his X-men. "You'll find the solution."

Hank blinked and nodded. "Yes. Of course I will. We've succeeded against worse odds, after all."

"Yes."

Hank brought his wheelchair and Charles slid into it. In the elevator he rested his heavy head in his hands and sighed. He reached out, brushing across Jean's mind, Scott's, Jubilation's, everyone in the mansion. Logan remained unreadable, Bobby was in a coma - he'd have to deal with them later. Each mind he touched, he rearranged, *changed* just a little. Stay home, he instructed them. Stay safe. Remain here.

Sighing, he rested his heavy head in his hands. Such a heavy burden to carry. He had to be strong. Strong enough for them all. He knew what was best, after all.

END