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The last one to die - Part I

Day 0</b>

When the first bomb hit, no one really expected it. The consensus was that if anything world widely catastrophic would happen, it would be Erik’s fault or at least one of Shaw’s followers. No one suspected that the humans would be the guilty ones. Somehow the Cold War changed into a real one over night and both Europe and America became wastelands of nuclear warfare. As far as one could see, there was nothing but ruins and bodies and more bodies.

Shaw was wrong. Mutants wouldn’t become stronger.

Some of them, the lucky ones, survived, their powers steadily growing. Most of them died. Erik looked over what was once Washington D.C and saw only death.

The end is nigh indeed.

Day 68

They all noticed changes in their powers. Erik could feel the magnetic north of the Earth more clearly than ever. Iron in people’s blood sung to him and every metal he touched, melted under his fingers into any shape he desired without any effort at all.

Not everyone was as lucky as he was. They hardly ever saw Azazel anymore, there one second and gone another. His powers were erratic at best, chaotic at worst. Sometimes, when the man went back from wherever his teleportation took him, he had the look of a man that just wants it all to end. None of them would do the deed though.

They were so few of them left. They didn’t want to lose anyone else.

Day 17

It became clear quite early on that severe radiation poisoning was only one of the things Shaw didn’t think about. The other one was food and water. There was practically nothing left for them to use as sustenance and before they found little Ororo, it was almost certain that soon they would join the land of the dead.

She controlled weather and although Erik was sure her powers weren’t supposed to be awoken at the tender age of five, the radiation sped up the process. She was lost and alone, and reminded him so much of what Charles believed in once upon a time that it became a constant dull ache in his chest.

At first he didn’t know if they could help her, or even use her powers in any way. He just took her in so he could die doing something partially good. He tried to help her take control of her powers and she learned quickly. Despite her appearance, she wasn’t a child anymore and he hurt for her lost childhood. Others sneered at him for being soft.

They stopped when it became apparent that if she makes it rain and he flies up to collect the water before it became contaminated, it would be one less thing to worry about. One more thing to help them survive.

Day 113

He left the Brotherhood behind after one too many squabbles over who they should help and who not. He remembered how he thought about humans and cringed from the realization that everything they went through was for naught; that Charles was right from the start. Nothing was more humbling for men than the End of the World and Erik had seen enough death of humans and mutants alike in the last months to know that there’s not much difference between them. Not enough for it to count now. Raven went with him, because he’s the only one anymore who she counted as a friend. Azazel went with them too, more from the affection for Raven than anything, but it didn’t matter much, as he was still more absent than present.

Their group wasn’t small though. Somehow along the way he found himself surrounded by young mutants, none of them older than fourteen. He tried to teach them to control their powers, his mind flashing continuously back to their time in Westchester when he and Charles taught the boys to use their powers. All the children welcome their lessons, eager to learn how to use their gifts, and even more welcoming for the distractions it provided from the world around them.

Ororo was the first to master her gift enough to use it sufficiently and he’s as proud of her as if she was his own daughter. Sometimes he felt like a teacher on a field trip with his class, the children’s number close to an actual school class, and he wanted to laugh at the irony. He ran away from Charles’ school, never wanting to become a teacher and here he was, being one despite everything. Sometimes he dwelled on the possibility that his little group would be the only chance he’d ever get to have a family and he didn’t feel like laughing anymore.

Day 1

The Brotherhood celebrated, because for them that war meant victory. He didn’t join them, because he knew how far off the mark they were. This was not a victory for anyone, it was pure death and he couldn’t help but be reminded of the piles and piles of bodies from years before, when he was just a child, helpless and weak. He didn’t think he would ever feel like that again, but it was clear that he couldn’t do anything now. He couldn’t save or help anyone. He had a collection of cans and bottled water in the chest under his bed, a habit he couldn’t break since war and he’s grateful for it now.

It wouldn’t last for long but it was sustenance. It’d have to do for now. And later, he would see. He had no intention of dying. When Raven passed him a bottle of wine with a grin, full of white teeth contrasting her azure skin, he accepted it. He’s not toasting Shaw’s victory, he’s mourning the death of the world when they had even the slight chance of peace.
He said to Charles that peace wasn’t an option for him. It didn’t mean he didn’t want it for anyone else. He didn’t want it to be a premonition.

Day 238

Mort was the first to get sick and all the children started keeping away from him, no matter how much they liked him before. Erik would like to tell them not to do that, the boy was already miserable with how he was, but he couldn’t do that with a clear conscience. He didn’t know what the sickness was, but he was aware that it couldn’t be good. He didn’t want anyone else to catch it. The precaution was for nothing as they could only watch when one after another of the kids fell victim to the fever and shivers that prevented them from walking.

They were forced to stay in an abandoned warehouse for a week, even if it wasn’t safe. He and Raven tended to the small ones as much as they could under the circumstances. He was only grateful it didn’t befall one of them.

After a week they started walking again. The children were still weak, but able to go further. There were only nine of them now.

Day 73

The day he found fourteen year old Scott Summers was the day he finally noticed the alien sheen to Raven’s skin that wasn’t there before. She admitted to him in secret that when she remembers someone, it’s hard for her to keep up her natural form and not become them. She said she’s afraid one day she won’t be strong enough and she’ll get lost in other people’s identities. He fed the boy from one of their last cans of baked beans and spent the entire night keeping watch and reshaping scrap metal he found on the way.

Day 74

He offered Raven twin bracelets, thick and heavy for her wrists, reassuring that if she’d ever get lost, he’d know who she really was and would bring her back, no matter what. She was dubious they’d stand her change and he challenged her to try. No matter what form she took, they stayed, metallic and shiny, around her wrists, sparkling in the early morning sun. She looked at him in wonder and he smiled with teeth stained with blood from exertion and admitted he changed the scrap metal into vibranium, the only metal he even knew that could withstand any mutant power.

She flung her arms around him and sobbed into his neck for a long moment, in gratitude or just pouring everything out finally, he wasn’t sure. She needed that though, and she was the only one who he considered a friend amongst all of them, so he held her back and let her be.

Day 327

They found an abandoned government research facility and went in, in search of supplies and maybe safe place for the night. They found several bodies laying around on the floor in various states of decomposition, but most of them rotten and stinky already. Little Jean didn’t even bat an eyelash, just levitated them outside into the hole that Scott made with his laser beams. It was a hard work, teaching the boy to control his power enough to be able to keep his eyes open without destroying everything he saw, but they managed it after months of hard practice. They couldn’t afford not to.

There were days when Erik ached for these children’s innocence, but this was not one of these days. They found water and food deep in the building, and Raven stumbled across the room full of medical supplies. Walls were thick and they could be barricaded enough that all of them could go to sleep and not worry about being attacked. It was a good day and the children were happy enough to chatter excitedly and play with each other. He and Raven smiled across the room and he could feel that maybe, one day, they would find some long-earned peace. If not for them, then for these children.

Day 23

It’s not even a month from the explosion when they stumbled across the pack of what they would later dub Wraiths. The creatures looked like something that might once have been human, but it died and chunks of it went missing. Their sunken eyes looked at Erik’s group carefully as if gauging what they were, as if they were the ones looking grotesque in that situation. Something inside Erik, maybe his preservation instincts honed even since he was a young boy hiding under the floorboards of the house in Poland, screamed at him to run, to run and never look back.

Before he could say anything, Janos stepped forward, cocky and self-assured as always and made a gesture to use his powers to sweep their way from the creatures. They didn’t even have the time to blink before the monsters were upon the man, biting into his flesh and ripping the skin and muscle from his bones. Raven’s fingers felt like vice around his arm and reaching for Azazel’s hand was the only thing that might have saved them all that day. Janos’ screams echoed in their ears for days afterwards and they made sure to always be on their watch, not feeling as safe in their surroundings as they were before.

In retrospect, Erik was glad that their powers hadn’t been fluctuating like they were later. If Azazel wasn’t there, they would all be dead.

Day 119

Azazel didn’t come back and they find his mutilated, half-eaten body in one of the contaminated streams. Erik had an urge to cover children’s eyes, but he knows they’ve seen worse already, even before he found them.

Raven cried and they built him a shallow, mostly metal grave. No one mentioned him again after that.

Day 54

When Emma told him she couldn’t go on with them, he was surprised. She didn’t look fazed by anything that was happening, and although he noticed her not celebrating with the rest when the bombs went off, he thought it was more a matter of pride than anything else. He should have just let her go, but in the time they spent together, she became something of his second in command and he didn’t want to lose her now, when they needed each other the most.

She explained to him the agony she felt when everything alive around her was passing away slowly and not even her diamond form could save her from hearing the screams of the dying. He looked at her levelly for a long time and in the end nodded. There were no gestures of friendship or loyalty, she nodded back at him and went away into the night. It could be hours or minutes before he heard the snap of bones and had to wake everyone up. Wraiths were close, and for now, they had a meal, but they should be far away when they finished with it.

Day 245

They were still weak and in no state to fight when the Wraiths attacked. They didn’t expect the attack, not in the middle of the day, when the sun still shone brightly over the wastelands they were walking through. Wraiths were creatures of night, of darkness, when the still mostly radioactive sunrays couldn’t touch them anymore. Erik wondered if the fact that they became active during the day was due to them getting stronger or maybe to the fact that ozone layer was healing itself, becoming thick and safe veil for life on surface again. He really hoped it was the latter.

None of them thought about the fact that these creatures were human once upon a time. That the only reason they became these hungry caricatures of life was because they were simple humans, ones without any powers, any genetic protection from the radiation so thick in the air at the start of this nightmare. To start on this path would be to court madness, and they had enough reasons for it to walk after them.

So they didn’t think, they fought and they tried their best to just survive. Wraiths were quick and strong, inhumanly so, but his little group wasn’t a group of humans.
It still wasn’t enough.

Something that might have been a woman at some point had crying Scott in its talons, its jaw opening impossibly wide to consume him whole, when there was a piercing scream that made them all curl on the ground, covering their ears. Fortunately, it had the same effect on Wraiths or they would be in deep trouble. He tried to look around for the source of the noise, but after the sound came the blinding light and heat, so much heat, and he just had an irrational moment to think about another wave of bombs before the darkness consumed him.

When he came to, everyone was laying on a scorched earth, unharmed besides occasional singing of clothes. Wraiths were just ash scattered on the wind by now and he crawled to the limp Scott and checked his pulse, almost sobbing with relief at the feel of steady beat under his fingers. He gathered the sleeping boy to him and closed his eyes, not knowing what happened, but being oh so grateful for that.

They all stayed curled on that black piece of ground for an entire day before anyone of them had enough courage to get up and start walking again.

Day 365

It’s around a year after the first bomb when they came across the steel ruins. At first they thought there was some sort of machine inside, the rhythmic bumps and thumps coming from inside sounded like metal hitting metal. It’s only when they started a fireplace and there were howls added to the cacophony that they realized something was wrong.

It’s a short work for Erik these days to reach out with his powers; expanding his sense and feeling like finally getting free, outstretching his wings towards the sky and flying; and pull all the metal up, thousands of debris floating above their heads. The children squealed and laughed at the display and Raven stood at his arm, trying to find a source of the noise before.

They finally spotted it between them, limp body floating between scrap metal, somehow still held up by Erik’s powers. He frowned and felt out the reason why and opened his mouth in surprise when he could feel skeleton-shaped figure. The twitch of his fingers brought the person down to the ground and after a moment of thought, he brought the debris around them, putting up the make-shift fence that would hopefully pose some protection against night-dwellers.

The person didn’t move at first and they didn’t approach it. You never knew if someone would be friendly enough or not and there was no reason for the risk. It woke up after an hour and the first thing it did was to throw itself bodily on the wall, apparently not noticing that it wasn’t imprisoned anymore. Erik blinked at the memory clawing its way to the surface of his mind while he looked at the half-wild man trying to make his way out of their little camp.

Only when the man finally turned did he recognize that face, a memory of the bar in the middle of nowhere, cigar smoke heavy in the air and the beer looking more like piss than like a proper alcohol, someone dear at his side and the man’s gravelly voice insulting them at the same time as refusing to go with them. He offered the man his half-finished can of beans and this time he gets him to stay.

Day 100

He woke up with a scream still fresh in his throat, the sound leaving a sour metallic taste on his tongue. No one around him stirred, all of them used to nightmares of their companions. Only Angel, standing watch today turned to him for a moment, making sure it wasn’t an alarm call.

He didn’t remember what the dream was about, if it was a nightmare or a vision that under any other circumstances would be happy and welcomed. All he remembered was a pair of strong hands, pale fingers twined with his, and a smile of bowed lips. He wanted to lean close and taste that smile, but then there was nothing, only ash in the air, choking him in his waking hours.
He didn’t remember the name of a person from his dream, he didn’t remember if he should remember, but at the moment of waking, he felt a loss, so deep and painful that for a moment he could not catch a breath, visions of fire and death and monsters dancing under his closed eyelids.

He asked Raven in the morning if she missed […]. She didn’t answer, avoiding his eyes and curling upon herself, which was answer enough for him. It was a day he turned their group in a different direction than till now, Raven’s puzzled, but grateful gaze following him for hours afterwards.

Day 278

For some reason the Wraiths hadn’t attacked them since that fateful day with a fire. He didn’t know exactly what it was that saved them and he’s almost as wary of it as he was about their attackers in the first place, which didn’t help any really. It just meant he was strung up on something else than flesh eating monsters. Something that defeated those monsters, when he knew for a fact that nothing else before could.

There was no power between them that could have stopped them, not even now when they’re so much more powerful than they were before. He still remembers Emma’s yells and Riptide’s surprised face when he was torn to pieces by claws and fangs sharp enough to pierce diamonds.

Children of the Atom alright. Only that the Atom didn’t mutate humans to make them mutants, it made them into these creatures, mindless with hunger and rage. Erik wasn’t afraid of many things, but they terrified him more than anything. Not only for him, but for children and Raven, people who were his little family now. He didn’t want any of them to get hurt.

But what defeated the monsters- that is what gave him pause. No one knew what that was. Only that it was powerful and deadly. It looked as if it was on their side, but for how long. He should be preparing for the time when it would stop being their ally, but he didn’t know how. How do you prepare to fight something you don’t even know?

Day 256

Jean found a flower. It’s hardly anything impressive, a little white bloom peeking from under the fallen car. But it’s the first thing they’ve seen alive in almost a year. They’re almost afraid to breathe on it in fear it’d dissipate in the air or just die for some unfathomable reason.

They ended up leaving it without even touching it. That first sight of green after the explosion. He kept smiling absently to himself as they went, despite Raven’s gentle teasing. The Earth was healing. It’s slowly getting back to its natural state, blooming green again. He couldn’t wait to see gardens again. He’d wait for it to happen years if he had to.

Day 145

Flying was something he never considered he’d be able to do with his set of skills. He had power over metal which hardly seemed like something that may take him skyward. It was only after his boost in power that he realized that his powers were not mastery of metals, but of magnetic fields. It opened so many possibilities to him that it made him dizzy to think about it too much. He knew his powers were the most precious part of him, something that had been defining him even before Shaw discovered him.

(He wished […] could be with him to share the joy of discovery.)

It happened accidentally. One moment he was explaining to Raven how she should put up defensive walls, both of them joking and laughing, enjoying one of the easier moments of the lives they had now. Next he knew, he was levitating inches above the ground, still holding onto Raven’s hand. She grinned at him and he grinned back, even though he wasn’t sure what was happening and even if it was a good thing. They stopped laughing when he fell a minute later, landing squarely on the wall they just built.

Days 145-167

He practiced and he finally mastered the art of levitation. Earth’s magnetic fields bent to his will, just as well as the one around him. It was heady, this amount of power, and he didn’t know what he would do if he was in any other situation.

Something inside told him that he better not question it, that the answer that displeased him was more likely than any other. He liked to think he was a better man, but he knew it untrue. If he was he wouldn’t-

Day 63

He found a bunker deep in the ground. He didn’t know if it was empty or not or if it was worth it to even open it, but food was becoming scarce and the sources from which to get it even more so. To pass something that might contain uncontaminated supplies would be stupid. The latch opened easily enough and he lowered himself down with the help of Azazel, the flashlight illuminating inside of the room enough for him to see.

It was their last flashlight soon they’d have to do with fire and powers of theirs that gave some illumination. It would be good to find a new light. The beam passed something lying on the floor and he backtracked, moving his arm over the area. There were three bodies there, presumably a family, all of them dead, flesh flaying from bones already. He really hoped that there wouldn’t come a day when any of them would have to try to sustain themselves with the flesh of the dead.

There were a few cans with food and a box of matches that probably was used to ignite an oil lamp standing in the corner. He swept the matches into his backpack. The lamp was useless without any oil, and they didn’t have enough to spare for trivialities like that. He looked around one more time and found the source of the death of these people. Bottles of water with broken seals stood on the shelf near them; If not for that maybe they would still be alive.

Or they wouldn’t. Instead mutating, becoming walking dead that didn’t have a place in this or the next world. He didn’t know what prompted him to bow his head and recite a few prayers over their bodies, but he did it anyway. Maybe, wherever they were now, they would appreciate even that small thought from a stranger that they helped to survive.

Day 3

They burnt most of their clothes, not needing an extra weight for their travel. He left Shaw’s helmet behind, regret churned in his stomach so violently that he thought he might be sick at times. It didn’t matter anyway. The voice he was waiting for didn’t speak up and he swallowed against bile forming in his throat. He was at fault there. Maybe if he-">