Erik looks at the double bed. Only one side has been slept in, or rather, is being slept in. It's in the middle of the night and his mind is running a mile a minute.
Why had he stopped to pick up the hitchhiker?
He's never picked anyone up on the side of the road, so why now?
Erik forces his attention back to the muted TV. The news is still running. Still blasting its BREAKING NEWS! across the bottom of the screen. They run pictures of Charles Xavier - obvious ID pictures because no one ever looks like anything but an escaped convict on those. Well, okay, Erik can admit that Charles kind of does. He looks almost regal, an intense look in his eyes staring right at the camera.
WANTED FOR QUESTIONING! it says underneath it, while the news anchor's lips move and Erik can only too well guess what she's saying. Dangerous mutant on the loose, wanted for questioning on the murder of Kurt Marko and the information leaked to the public about Marko's involvement in the scandal of the century.
Erik rubs the back of his neck. He picked up a hitchhiker and this hitchhiker told him a vastly different story. Or rather, if he told the truth, Erik might be one of the few who knows the story, and Erik is inclined to believe him.
Is there any way I can possibly inconvenience you to give me a lift?
Erik nearly crashed his car. He was on the I-40E, heading from California towards New York. He did this every year to visit the grave of his parents on the day of their deaths. He prefered the time on the road to flying. Flying might be faster, but he also felt weird when he became aware of all the little bits in a plane and knowing that, if any of them should stop functioning, the plane would go down.
His mother had always claimed that he was a control freak, and Erik knew that she had been right. In a car, he felt like he could avoid any problem by the use of his gift - and while he had levitated on occasion by using metal in buildings - just for the hell of it - he couldn't fly. So a drop from a crashing plane would probably kill him.
The voice that hit him at 5AM had nearly made him crash. Erik had pulled over for a few hours worth of sleep but he disliked motels and was back on the road by the time dawn coloured the horizon.
Before Erik could stop himself, he hit his indicator and was pulling over. What the hell? There was a silhouette in front of him, at the roadside. The headlights of other cars lit the man up and painted him between harsh light and pre-dawn darkness.
He didn't approach the car and Erik realized that he was still waiting for a sign from Erik. Now, it had been years since Erik had dealt with a telepath strong enough to communicate across any distance - the last two had been limited to either being very close or even physical contact. This man's voice had caught Erik's attention, while he was driving and he was obviously waiting for Erik to reply.
Erik closed his eyes for a moment. He didn't pick up hitchhikers. He didn't normally try to help people who were in need. Unless they were fellow mutants. Because after what Shaw had done in Erik's youth, he still felt guilty if he was being true to himself. What Shaw had made Erik do to other mutants, all for the sake of making himself and them stronger, never failed to make Erik feel ill.
It was bullshit, but Erik still felt like he had a debt to pay.
He nodded slowly and pushed the agreement to the forefront of his mind. The man started walking towards the car and Erik steeled himself for either a long silent drive or a highway killer.
The young man slipped into the passenger seat, giving Erik a thankful, if tired smile. "Thank you, my friend. I am sorry to trouble you but would you by any means be heading towards Washington?"
Erik raised an eyebrow at the moniker. "New York, but I'll take you as close as I'm going." He looked young, in his twenties and probably not strong enough to overpower Erik - at least not physically.
The man inclined his head. "That is all I can ask, thank you, and more than I had hoped for."
Erik frowned but didn't answer, just indicated to get back onto the road, slipping back into the traffic that was slowly growing as morning grew nearer.
Erik feels compelled to switch off the news. It's dark outside still, and he should be getting some rest. He's not kidding himself - he's going to take Charles all the way to Washington DC for the hearing. He barely knows the man, but in many ways Erik feels closer to him than he ever has to anyone he's known for years.
He can't let Charles go the distance alone. The information the man possesses, has to make it to Washington and must be delivered into the right hands.
The news is a lie. Or at best, it's a veiled truth. Charles is indeed wanted for questioning, but Erik knows from the man that there are people in Washington, in the government and outside it, who would like nothing better than for Charles to disappear and with him any knowledge in his keep.
Erik can't believe that his life has turned into a Hollywood script. The question is what kind of movie this is. A thriller? Maybe. A romance… Erik pauses and most definitely doesn't look at the sleeping body on the bed.
He can't kid himself. He finds Charles appealing in so many ways and he is like a heaven sent opportunity for Erik to make amends. Erik can't deny that he quite likes the soft and amenable personality which seems much like silk concealing a core of steel. It's all covering an assertive personality.
"I think perhaps I should warn you that I may bring trouble now that you have decided to help me." The man sunk into the seat, looking tired beyond his years. "And if, when I have told you this, you choose to let me off at the roadside, I would understand it." He paused, staring into the distance. "I can not, with good conscience, lead you into trouble blindly."
Erik frowned again - he still couldn't quite convince himself of any good reason for pulling over. It had crossed his mind that maybe the telepath had 'convinced' him, but since Emma, Erik has gotten really good at noticing anyone rooting around in his head.
The man chuckled mirthlessly. "I wonder how you feel about the current situation for mutants."
Erik half turned his head, dividing his attention between road and passenger. He would win nothing by concealing his attitude on this topic. He never did. It was something he had promised himself back when he'd watched Shaw's dead body sink to the bottom of the sea, wrapped in metal to weigh him down.
"I find it, in general, to progress too slowly for my liking, I feel we're not doing enough and that we're being stonewalled by humans who dislike change." It would do. If he got into details, he wouldn't shut up again.
The man hummed under his breath for a moment. "Agreed. And it will make it easier to share my story with you."
And then he began, voice low but no less intense.
"My name is Charles Francis Pembroke, born Xavier. I used to be the heir to the Xavier BioTech empire. When I was a teenager and manifested, my stepfather decided that I couldn't be allowed to stay. I think he worried I might see all his shady dealings and tell someone so he shipped me off to Sandhurst Military Academy in the UK. As far away as he could get away with. Told my mother that it would help me build character. Quite frankly, he was hoping it'd cure me of my 'queer' ways."
Erik watches his hand where it is resting less than an inch from Charles' head. The brown hair looks soft and Erik glares at his hand for being the traitor it is. He is not thinking about touching Charles. He's solely here in this dinky motel room to help as much as he can.
It's still hard to digest that he's only known Charles for a day. That Charles, the soft spoken young hitchhiker he had picked up, has told him about his life, about the files he's carrying on the flash drive - the one he's asked Erik to get to a specific address if he can't do it himself.
So young, with so much knowledge, so much skill.
Erik forces his breathing to even out. He can't help his traitorous mind from wondering what sex with a man like Charles might be like. Assertive, strong, a skilled fighter. It's not just physical. When Charles speaks, he burns with a passion that draws Erik like a moth to a flame.
Somewhere along the road the man became Charles and the tale that he shared with Erik was an unbelievable one.
"I did well at Sandhurst," Charles said with a small smile. "And I don't think my stepfather thought they'd let me pursue my interest in genetics, but alongside the military training, I did study the mutant gene and I would have probably gone from Sandhurst and headed to Oxford earlier if MI6 hadn't interfered."
Erik huffed out a breath of disbelief. "MI6?" Like some kind of James Bond?
Charles' laughter seemed a little lighter, leaving him with a more sincere smile. "I am no James Bond, but I became a damned fine field agent, and until two years ago, I worked for MI6 full time."
"What happened two years ago?" Erik asked curiously.
"I was shot in the thigh and spent a rather long time in physical therapy after that - and I had time to think. I requested to be taken out of the field in order to finish my Phd in. So with a glowing recommendation from the higher ups, I went to Oxford to do so." Charles had a far off look in his eyes, lost in thought.
Erik didn't comment on it. He had a weakness for intelligent people and Charles didn't need to know that.
They drove in silence for a little longer. Then Charles continued.
"The ink had barely dried on my diploma when I was contacted by girl I knew in my childhood. She had come across some rather disturbing information from inside the Xavier BioTech company and what little she did manage to get to me was horrifying."
Charles was quiet for a long while and Erik didn't dare disturb him. All mutants knew of the Xavier company. They were the largest manufacturer of medical and technological suppressants for mutants. Not everyone was capable of controlling their gifts, but Erik prefered for mutants to work towards learning to do so rather than doping themselves up with meds that had far too many side effects.
Charles shifts in his sleep and Erik allows himself to lie down on the other side of the double bed. This was all they could get and Charles had been halfway asleep already so Erik hadn't argued. Quite frankly, he'd known his own sleep would be elusive.
All the thoughts run in circles in Erik's head, everything that Charles has shared with him. He can't have known that Erik would be incapable of saying no once he knew the truth. This is what Erik has always wanted to do. He's always wanted to help his fellow mutants stand up to the injustice of the system.
And for the last few years, the system has tried to silently remove the mutant gene through chemistry. In the water, in medicine, in food.
It's all on the flash drive.
It means that Charles and the flash drive are the most important things in the world right now. This is information that has to get to the right channels. Charles has contacts in Washington that can help. People who can get the information into the right hands.
And Erik can help him get there. He rests his hand on the mattress, less than an inch from Charles' wrist. He can feel the iron in his blood, pumping through the veins. It goes a long way in calming Erik and he slips into a restless sleep.
Erik's fists tightened around the wheel. He could feel the metal give under his fingers and he eased up. Charles' words were the horror scenario that Erik could only have imagined would come from the worst conspiracy theories.
And Erik was inclined to believe Charles, which only scared Erik more. A genetically engineered enzyme that attacked the x-gene - interfering with the genetic code that would normally pass the x-gene on to an offspring.
"Worst case scenario, there will be born next to no mutant children in a generation or two," Charles said quietly.
Erik felt the rage in the pit of his stomach - the kind of rage that was all too familiar to him. The kind of rage that rose up to make no impact, because it has no specific target. It was the kind of rage that Erik had used to feel through his childhood, that made him ill to remember Shaw taking advantage of it.
Charles opened his mouth to continue, then his breath hitched. "We're being followed."
Erik turned his head a little to look at him, then up into the rear view mirror. There were several other cars on the highway behind them, but there was a dark sedan with tinted windows, three cars behind them.
"Seriously, they might as well paint a logo on the car," he muttered to himself. It all but screamed government vehicle.
"I could probably stop them," Charles mumbled, eyes narrowed as he bit his lower lip. Then he shook his head. "They're wearing something that blocks my telepathy, or the car is lined with something."
Erik smirked. He was feeling more alive, had been feeling more alive in the few hours he'd sat there next to Charles. The fact that he knew now that he wasn't just helping another mutant with a lift across the states, but he was actually, literally, helping his own kind against a government that would like to see nothing more than an end of them.
"Leave it to me."
Erik shook his head and felt his way towards the sedan. There was a strange 'taste' to the alloy of the car, and he figured that might be what was stopping Charles. It didn't hamper Erik's gift, though.
He made sure that the car veered off the road and ended up at the side of the road, wheels melted into place, never again capable of turning. He was confident enough that he saw the other cars on the road avoiding the sedan.
The smile that Charles turned on him was worth it all.
"You have a magnificent mutation," he said, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. He seemed more at ease now than he had since he had gotten into the car. "You have so much untapped potential."
"Thank you," Erik said, not quite sure what else to say. The memory Shaw saying much the same gave him a bad taste in the mouth, but somehow Charles seemed to genuine, so earnest.
"Your mind lights up in the most fantastic way when you use it," Charles continued. "Even when you're not using it, you've got a constant awareness of all metal in the vicinity. I felt your mind miles before you got close enough to stop and I was so worried you might not stop when I asked you to."
It was Erik's turn to take a deep, steadying breath.
Erik opens his eyes to find himself on his front on the bed, still next to Charles. He turns his head and finds Charles mirroring his position, awake now, studying Erik. His hand is warm and alive under Erik's, on the bed between them.
Charles opens his mouth to say something, the shuts it again. It's like he's reluctant to break the moment.
Erik feels much the same.
Outside the sky is growing lighter and Erik knows they will be on the road within the next hour. He'll drive Charles all the way to Washington. He hasn't said as much, but he figures Charles already knows. He knows that he's expected back at work in two days, but somehow he doesn't care all that much. He's unsure if he's ever felt as alive as he does now, his body buzzing with an uncertain future.
Charles smiles and turns his hand under Erik's, curling his fingers loosely around Erik's. He licks his lips and Erik knows with certainty, if they survive this, he'll follow Charles to the end of the Earth if he asks it of him.
"Maybe not the end of the Earth, but if you're sure, I wouldn't mind the company, no matter the destination."
Erik closes his eyes and pulls their hands closer, so he can press his lips against Charles' warm hand.