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Dark Embrace

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    This was another day for Charles Xavier to be wasting his partner's time. The younger male wasted no time in yawning and settling himself in the passenger seat of a black Monte Carlo to a slouch. This was the fourth night they were doing some kind of overtime stakeout and despite the extra hours racked up on the paycheck, Alex Summers was not impressed by his partners' obsession with believing there was organized crime syndicate or his worse assumption an "Assassins" Guild in place. 

    Why would he? Especially since he had cleaned up the streets and lowered the murder ratio by nearly thirty percent. While he was leaning forward, eager in his seat watching the silent apartment complex, Alex was starting to snooze. He looked over at the other male briefly, working to tune out the younger male's dream of venturing into a house made of pizza from his mind. He had to smile despite himself, only because there was a cheerful tenor to Alex's thoughts. Charles felt bad for him.

  Alex was still in his twenties...sporting blonde hair that he had spiked in the front( in slight disarray right now of course ).  Still very young. Not that Charles wasn't...but Alex was considered a rookie. It was compliment to his skill that he was partnered with one of the best. 

  And here he was, dragged out of bed past midnight because his partner was probably being paranoid.

    Three previous nights majorly spent in a car seat was doing wonders for his back. 

   Charles however, had about two hours of sleep under his belt. He had been obsessing over this case, as Alex might put it, for an extreme amount of time. There was an entire wall in his study room for this case...and he wasn't about to let the new serial killer in the city slip away now when he was close. So close. 

  The car was situated between two seemingly abandoned buildings. An eyewitness said they saw two people dressed in all black wearing masks enter this area about a week ago with no one coming out. Alex had immediately surmised that it was probably some kind of underground dance club or that the people heading inside were the band themselves.  But Charles was not so quick to make assumptions. 

  He couldn’t afford it. Not with his gifts. 

   And then it happened. The doors to the dark building opened and two figures came out, wearing black masks covering the lower half of their faces. One was a male, tall and lean musculature build. The other was a woman about a head shorter than the male. She had long curly hair that shone blonde as she passed under the light. Charles only caught a glimpse of them under a dim lamp post before they spotted the FBI vehicle and the two detectives. Here they were, thinking they were so subtle and deep under cover too. 

    "Alex! Call for backup to the liberty building on 5th! Do it now!"  

   He didn't wait for an answer from his partner, darting out of the car after the two. They started running too as soon as they saw him approach. His heart pumped faster than ever, but he didn't waste time every morning running five miles for nothing. He was closing in on them within minutes, the one with slightly lighter hair lagging just a little behind his friend.     

   "Stop! I order you to-" 

   The order was completely ignored, of course. A stack of thick newspapers was kicked down to impede the chase. Charles dug towards his belt for the gun He mumbled under his breath and aimed a precise shot, closing one eye behind the stack as he hit the assailant's leg. It wasn't meant to kill, it wasn't even meant to injure that much. In fact, the way Charles aimed his gun, the bullet simply grazed her thigh. It did the job, and the suspect was down, her hand over the torn wound.  

    God…damn it….He’s going to kill me…He’s going to kill me for this… 

   Her self-depreciating thought was loud in Charles’s ears. 

   Charles darted over  less than a minute later to assess the damage. More focused on her pain, the suspect probably didn't even notice Charles before the Detective knelt down and turned her leg over and stared at the blood that was spotting the ground. He pulled out his white dress shirt from beneath his coat and tore off a long strip to tie and bandage around it. The woman gave a small wince.   

   "Are you all right?" 

   The question didn't even get an answer. The suspect just stared at him with wide, light blue eyes, even a tiny shake of her head like he didn't quite understand what Charles was doing. Like she had never been field dressed before. 

    "I'm going to call an ambulance. You're going to be all right. Just stay right here and we'll-" 

    Biggest mistake in the book was just forgetting about the partner who had come back, shot out a window.  

  “ Don’t forget me.” 

     The man’s voice startled Charles. He ducked down and covered the wounded suspect with his coat as glass rained down on them. Then he got up from his position and gave chase once again, following him down another alley, and turning right on another which was completely pitch black. 

 The darkness unnerved him. He could be anywhere. Charles tried to stretch out and feel his thoughts, but he was almost shocked to find nothing. Had he really lost him so fast? Even if he had…he should still be able to feel his mind growing more and more distant. But again…he felt nothing. 

    "....Where are you?"

     His pistol was held high, he cocked it back just in case of that voice again. 

  The silence seemed to grow deafening and then something miraculous started to happen, his hand started to tremble on its own. He tried his hardest to work his hand to clench the pistol tighter to him. But it was like there was some unusual pull that was wrenching it away from him. Whatever it was, seemed to humor his attempt to fight back before the pull became too strong and the pistol was yanked away. He saw its gleam before it was completely absolved in the shadows. 

  From the darkness, he emerged. The second assailant…the one who had dropped glass on him and the reason he may have been sporting a few cuts on his face from it. He could barely make out his face. The only light was coming from behind Charles where he had left the mans partner. 

  Again, it confounded him that he could not read this man in the slightest. So many times he had done this before…and he had never met someone who was able to block out psychic invasion. It seemed impossible that the assailant was simply thinking of nothing at all. 

  “You’re….You’re a….,” The words almost seemed to die in Charles’s throat. He couldn’t finish the sentence because the other man was growing closer and closer to him, until finally, he had Charles backed against a brick wall behind him. His hands came up to flatten on either side of Charles’s shoulders, effectively caging him there.

   “…Tell me…,” The man’s voice was very muffled behind that mask. He could see a faint shine to his eyes in the darkness. 

  “Why did you save her?” 

  It was such a strange question that it kind of threw Charles off. His panic subsided for a moment and he was left staring at the man in the shadows as though he had asked him to solve a particularly difficult math equation. 

  “…She was hurt.” 

  The simple statement made the man in the shadows draw his head back just a few inches like he was evaluating Charles. 

  Charles meanwhile took the distraction to raise his hands towards the mask, but the other man caught him, hands closing in around his wrists to halt his movement.

  The detective still tried to squint to get a discernible feature through the darkness. Yet Charles knew what he was doing. He had been deprived of his ability to fully see the other man...yet he had the feeling the suspect could see him perfectly, and he was taking in his features. The sharp, bright blue eyes...the dark locks that had grown slightly longer than necessary, parted in the front.  Despite the lack of sight, he could have sworn the other man had drawn even closer in this...embrace.

  Slowly, Charles lowered his hands. A second later, and there was the sound of sirens behind him and he looked over his shoulder towards the noise. 

  The other man released him and took a few steps back. 

  “You’re playing a dangerous game.” 

  Charles merely shook his head, trying to squint through the darkness. But the other man’s footsteps began to fade. 

  “I’ll be seeing you again, Detective.”

 

Chapter Text

The drive back to the mansion was mostly silent. The assassin’s partner was trying to poke at the field dressing that the detective had made for her. He had to admit, it was actually pretty good. It wasn’t helping that she was trying to remove it so quickly. Annoyed, he grabbed a hold of her wrist and placed it back on her lap.

“Leave it until we get there,”

She scowled at him, then settled back in her seat with her arms crossed, staring out the window. It wasn’t long before they were pulling the black jeep up to a huge mansion with a circular driveway. With over fifty windows facing them and the pristine brick layout, it looked more like a school than a place where someone lived.

The assassin helped his partner out of the car, taking a hold of her hand despite her desire to wrench away from him.

“Raven,” He muttered irritably.

“I don’t need your help. I can walk just fine. It just grazed me. He missed,” said Raven.

“ I know it did…and he didn’t miss,” The assassin responded before consenting to release her hand and let her lag behind as he headed up the steps.

He walked past the grand entrance hall and going straight up to the second floor where a long hallway waited for them with a door on the other end. Ideally, it would have been to a master bedroom( with a manor like this, there was definitely more than one master sized room ) but the owner had changed it to an office. And he was no doubting wide awake and waiting for them.

Before opening the door, the assassin pulled off the mask that shielded the lower half of his face. For the interaction with the agent, he had chosen not to don the hood. Still, he was confident that the agent couldn’t see him clearly in the darkness. He held up a finger to his partner, one hand stilled on the doorknob.

“Before we go in…,”

“Don’t tell me we’re going to try to make up a story on the spot, Erik,” said Raven exasperatedly.

“We’re not. What I was going to say was that I want you to let me do the talking,” said Erik.

“Why?”

His voice lowered and he leaned down towards her. “….Because if any fault is laid out, you want me to be the one to get blamed. Not yourself.”

“But I-“

“Let me do the talking,” He spoke over her and at the same time, the doorknob was turned and he slid inside with her lagging behind him.

It certainly was a lavish office with various antiques from all over the world. When Erik had first entered the place with its strange Egyptian gold pieces and African tribe items, he thought the man was simply a collector. He later realized that these were items he was personally there to collect from these separate nations.

Because Sebastian Shaw’s actual age was a mystery. He had not aged for centuries.

He had his back to the two assassins when they walked in, fully dressed in a white suit with his hands behind his back. Beside him on the edge of desk there sat a police radio which he was tuned in whenever any of his people were out.

Which is how Erik knew he would be awake. No doubt he heard the agent’s call for backup when he was in pursuit of them. After hearing the location given, Shaw would have no choice but to believe it was them.

His head tilted just the slightest to the right when they walked in.

“Sounds to me like you two had a very…very eventful night going for you.”

Before Erik could speak, Raven decided to the defiant thing and cut in. “It was me, sir. I was careless. We tried to run…the agent started to pursue and I took a hit.”

She didn’t have to point it out, with the way she had been standing, leaning heavily on the side where the injury was.

Shaw didn’t even turn to look for himself, just gave a small smirk while Erik glared at her.

“For your sake, I hope he didn’t get a good look at your face,”

“She was-“ Erik began.

“He did,” said Raven firmly. “He came over…field dressed the wound.”

Erik clenched his jaw for a moment and braced himself for the reaction as very slowly, Shaw turned around to face them.

“Erik? Where were you?”

It was an opportunity to lie, cover Raven completely and save her from punishment. He could easily say he did kill the agent pursuing them and make the mental note to do it at a later time.

But there was another way to save Raven. He knew how to appeal to Shaw. Much better than Raven did.

“There’s a more pressing issue,” said Erik quietly, stepping forward, his hands interlocking behind his back.

“Oh? And what’s that?”

Erik hesitated for a beat. “…The detective that pursued us is a telepath.”

Immediately, Shaw’s amused expression went blank. “…What?”

“What???” Raven repeated, limping slightly towards Erik to grip his shoulder and turn him a little towards herself. “You didn’t tell me that.”

“It was more…pertinent that I tell Shaw directly.” Erik answered.

“A telepath…,” Shaw mused. “…How can you be sure?”

“He was trying to get inside my head nearly the entire time,” said Erik with a shrug.

Shaw sat back down, leaning back in his chair slightly. He placed his finger over his lower lip and traced it in thought. “…So there’s a telepath in the bureau. A mutant. That’s interesting…that’s very interesting. This could be big, you two.”

Any anger he may have held for Raven had dissolved…or at least it had somewhat. Erik felt a pang of guilt as he remembered that Charles had purposely missed fatally shooting Raven…and that he had stopped to field dress to keep her from bleeding. It wasn’t normal cop behavior. He could have arrested her too, but he had chosen to keep pursuing Erik instead. It was a compassionate act…but it was also careless. He should have stayed behind, arrested Raven and brought her in.

Or maybe he was a creature of intuition and he thought Erik was the bigger catch.

“Shaw, we don’t have any way to combat a telepath,”

Shaw shook his head and kept his eyes trained on Erik. “On the contrary…We do….Raven…why don’t you speak to Hank? He should be able to patch you up properly.”

Raven paused to look at the two of them, looking slightly put out before she limped out. Erik winced when she winced, leaning heavily on the door before leaving them alone. Shaw didn’t speak until he heard the door close.

He stood up and slid around the desk to face Erik fully.

“I’m assigning you on this one. Alone,” said Shaw, crossing his arms while Erik frowned. “You’re the only one of us that can resist a psychic attack…and right now we need to proceed cautiously. I want you to get close to him. Undercover. Now that he’s gotten close…too close…we need to know what he knows and we need to put a stop to his investigation. By any means necessary.

Erik slid his tongue over his teeth, giving a humorless smile. “I think that’s a little obvious, Shaw. He couldn’t read me then…what makes you think he won’t make the connection between the assassin and whatever persona I’m dawning?”

“You have to open your mind a little, Erik,” said Shaw, speaking louder as Erik opened his mouth to protest. “…I know the task has proven vexing in the past, but this is a serious problem. And you’re the only one who can do it.”

Erik pinched the bridge of his nose. “You know how long it took for me to close my mind…Especially after Emma went rogue…”

Shaw had gone significantly quiet…and it was clear the subject of the telepath that they mutually worked with was still somewhat of a sour subject.

“I know…but we’re low on options, Erik. This is a threat,”

“He’s a good man,” Erik countered. “ He saved Raven. He didn’t have to do that.”

“You’re right,” Shaw murmured, frowning a bit. Erik and he both knew that as a rule, this organization did not target people of law enforcement because it brought too much attention. That’s not to say there weren’t people within the police force or the bureau that deserved attention…but it was still a strict rule to abide by.

“Well then do what you can to halt his investigation. I’ll also run the situation by Hank…see what he can uncover on him. We might be able to hack into the security cameras to ID him…get a folder for you so you know what you’re dealing with. “

Erik gave a curt nod, stifling the reflexive sigh at the predicament they were in.

______

The next few weeks for Charles were almost a complete waste of time. There were no incidents. Only a few drops of blood were recovered from the crime scene and taken to the labs from the female suspects gunshot wound. However, there was no match in the system to it. Charles had been hoping it would bring something. Anything.

And that proved to be a great disappointment. He was sitting in his office by himself, ignoring the sounds of easy laughter occurring on the other side of the door. Instead, he was focused fully on the screen of his computer, clicking through various pictures. There had been seven murders in the last two months. None of the victims showed any correlation in the way they were done except that there was no suspect evidence on any crime site. In fact, for all intents and purposes, the murders looked like suicides and that’s actually what they were ruled as.

Captain Stryker was a very simple mind. If he couldn’t see hard evidence, he didn’t buy into it. He had been trying to get Charles to dismiss these cases for a long time, and he gave him the biggest eyeroll ever when Charles brought up the chase in the alley. Alex believed they were probably part of some underground band. That would somewhat explain why they were scoping out an abandoned building. His other theory was that they were going to an underground concert. The captain was inclined to buy more into this theory rather than humor anything Charles presented.

Charles was stubborn though…and he was sure that who he encountered in the dark alley was a mutant. He didn’t voice that part…because only Alex really knew about his own mutation. Saying the word mutant right now would have him boxing up all his belongings and taking the final trip away from the station.

The agent was so spaced out in his own thoughts that he didn’t notice Alex coming in and taking a seat at the edge of his desk.

Charles kept typing on his computer, inputting more data.

“Alex…if you’re trying to distract me…”

“I’m not. Just wondering what you’re up to,” Alex shrugged. He pat Charles on the shoulder. “Come on Charles, it’s Friday…and your birthday is tomorrow. Maybe you should cheer up a little huh? Relax. Get out here and have some conversation. You know I invited everyone right?”

“Did you?” Charles asked absently.

“Yeah and they want to talk to you. Come on. They wanna know what to expect from there…from you. You know they just want to get to know you,” said Alex imploringly.

“Do they?”

“Are you just going to say things like that all day? Come on, man,” Alex sighed and poked his shoulder. “Have you called Moira at all lately?”

“I’ll call her tonight,” Charles answered.

“Should I invite her to the party? Maybe she’ll be able to liven you up a little,”

“Hmm,”

After a few moments of lingering there, Alex gave up, throwing up his hands and walking out with a shake of his head. It certainly wasn’t his first attempt trying to pry Charles away from this case or anything related to it…and it wouldn’t be the last.

Finally when the clock struck five, people were starting to head home. Several stopped at his office door to wish him a happy birthday which earned a wry smile in return. He finally managed to tear his eyes away from the screen and begin packing up for the day. Everyone was out of the office by the time Charles was done.

His eyes were strained and almost unfocused on the drive home…and he kept feeling like he was missing something…from the crime scenes to the interaction in the alley. Had he really jumped the gun in assuming the person in the alley was responsible for the murders? It could have been a happy coincidence…Still…the place the two suspects were meeting was awfully close to where the last murder had occurred. What if it all was just an awful coincidence?

He took out his phone, debating what Alex said as he drove. He should call Moira. It had been a few days. Charles selected her name and put the phone to his ear. She picked up after four rings.

“Charles,”

Charles heard the shuffling of papers and the clacking away on a keyboard. She was still at work.

“Moira. I was wondering if you got my invitation. Well…Alex sent it out…I’m just…reiterating. Is that the correct word? Are you able to make it?”

“Oh…your invitation…ummmm…Let me check my email…,” She said exasperatedly, sighing as she did. After a moment, the typing stopped and she seemed to adjust her phone, inkling her head so it was pressed into her shoulder while she could keep working.

“Listen…Charles…I…left you a message on your home phone. Have you…not gotten around to hearing it?”

“Yeah…I’ve just been so swamped at the station with this case. Alex was the one who sent out the invitations.”

“Oh…okay…Well…Let me…get back to you. Okay, I’ll call you back, okay?”

Before Charles could answer, his phone gave a soft jingle and he pulled the phone away to see that the call had already been dropped. He frowned deeply before setting the phone down and made his way home.

Again, Charles spaced out and failed to notice that someone had parked in his spot until he was literally close to rear ending them. It was a moving truck. One of those giant ones too. This was illegal. Wasn’t this illegal? His annoyance made him want to arrest the person driving it and all the people that were associated with it…including whoever was moving into his building.

He parked into the guest parking, worked to calm himself as he slid into the elevator and headed up to the fourth floor. There were four lofts on this floor and his was the second one down on the right. He paid more than others due to the added balcony. The one across the hall from him had been empty a long time.

In fact, this was the first time he saw the door open. He peered inside, but all he saw was a lot of boxes. As he drew closer, he could smell fresh paint. Still wanted to arrest whoever was moving in for taking up his parking spot.

 Charles slid inside his own loft and set down his car keys, noticing his answering machine as if for the first time ever. He clicked the button to play his messages and began to undress from his suit, sliding off the jacket and unbuttoning the shirt. The first message was just a reminder that his cake would be ready for pick up at four.

Alex. Why did he give Charles’s number? A surprise party would have been better.

The second message must have been the one Moira was talking about.

….Hey Charles. It’s Moira. I got your texts…and your emails. Sorry I haven’t been able to get back to you. I’ve been actually meaning to talk to you. I know we haven’t spoken in a long time…Most if not all of it is my fault for cutting you off. It was nothing personal…and I’m sorry if you took it personal. I just can’t do this anymore. I know you’ve been wanting to take the next step in our relationship…and for a long time I actually believed I wanted the same thing. But I can’t do that…when I don’t think we ever really had a relationship to begin with. You’re busy doing what you’re doing…and I once joked that I thought you were married to your job. Now that seems to be a very serious reality....Anyway...I'm sorry for talking a bunch on this message...I wanted to get it out there. Believe it or not, with all the tech these days, you're not that easy to get ahold of...I'll see you around."

Charles was left just staring at the machine. To be truthful, Moira and him seemed doomed before they begun. His telepathy was a concealed aspect of their relationship...yet even then...it seemed like they were just humoring the idea of a relationship just to say they had one.

Even with those thoughts there to provide some measure of comfort, Charles felt a bitter sting. It was not directed at Moira but more to himself. She was right. He was married to his profession. With this particular case going increasingly unsolved, that was more true than ever.

Still, he hoped to see her at the birthday party tomorrow.

The prospect of staying home alone now only worsened his feeling so he donned a light blue t-shirt and jeans and headed right back out the door.

As soon he was outside, his sour mood had him ready to fight whoever moved into his parking spot when he realized the moving truck was gone and all the boxes were now sitting outside in stacks next to a tree on the sidewalk. He barely got a step towards it when he heard a voice to his right.

"Ah...Right. Sorry it's all in the street like this. I'm moving it in now,"

Charles began an apology but stopped short at the sight of him. He was a well built man...a toned body that showed years and years of exercise to keep it that way. His eyes were a nice light shade of blue, gleaming somewhat in the sunlight as he gave Charles a crooked smile showing perfect teeth. Charles's eyes drew downward to give him another quick once over. The simple torn jeans...the white tank top that clung to him from sweat.

Charles realized he was staring too long and stepped back, a slight flush reaching his cheeks from embarassment.

"No harm, no foul. I just saw the unit next to me was open. You're moving to the fourth floor?"

"Yeah. So you're my neighbor?"

"Yes. I'm Charles," Charles extended his hand and the other man took it, gripping firmly.

He seemed to hesitate for a moment. "Erik."

"Nice to meet you...Are you uh...Are you needing help? That's a lot of boxes to carry up all by yourself," Charles noted.

"I won't say no to a helping hand," said Erik, flashing another smile as he placed a hand on the top most box closest to him. He plucked it off the stack and handed it over to Charles. It was very light. Probably clothes.

Erik himself grabbed two on top of one another and started taking the lead inside, holding the door open for Charles and the elevator following suit.

"Are you new in town?"

"Yeah. It's a big city...kind of overwhelming," Erik laughed. "But they weren't wrong when they said that New York --"

Erik cut himself off as the lift doors closed. Charles gave him another smile but the other's returning expression was friendly, but strained as he faced forward.

It felt wrong seconds after meeting someone to just...invade their mind, but he almost couldn't help it. Maybe later he'd say it was out of his control entirely.

99 Bottles of beer on the wall...99 bottles of beer. Take one down...pass it around...99 bottles of the beer on the wall.

It was an inner chant to keep his mind off something. Anxiety. The man had claustrophobia.

" ---has the best pizza."

The elevator doors opened and Erik seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. He didn't bring any attention to the awkward lapse in his sentence and Charles followed suit in doing the same.

"They do...but as a cop...I guess I'm just obligated to enjoy the doughnuts more,"

Erik raised an eyebrow at him as he led him to his empty loft.

"You don't look like a doughnut kind of guy,"

"I'm not," Charles grinned. "But...Obligated. I'm more of a coffee and nothing else in the morning."

Erik gave a faint nod as he set the boxes he had down on the nearest stack to the door.

"I guess I know what to order for you if I take you out,"

Charles gave pause to that, flushing somewhat red again as he placed Erik's light box on the counter top. This time he really couldn't blame the heat.

"...Ah...yeah...you do," He muttered awkwardly. "But you know...ahem...You...know. My partner is throwing me a party at my house tomorrow night. More of an insisted party. You're more than welcome to come."

Erik tilted his head, hesitating a beat. "...I wouldn't want to intrude."

"It's no intrusion," Charles insisted. "In fact..I might feel better if there's someone...who's not law enforcement there...Well...that's if you're not a cop...Ahh...You're not with law enforcement, are you?"

"No," said Erik, also pausing. There was the slightest amusement to his expression as he answered. "I'm with...pest control."

"Oh you're an exterminator?"

Erik's smile was somewhat tight. "Something like that."

"Okay...Well..we better get a move on before someone steals your things," Charles nodded towards the door. "...In which I'll have to arrest them...and such."

Charles turned the corner and left for the elevator once more.

 

Chapter Text

Charles may have been in over his head when they continued moving Erik’s things upstairs. He just had to choose the box that was labeled books and insist that he didn’t need help taking it up.  He was so happy when they reached the fourth floor so he could drop the box as close to the door and rub his lower back. His rush gave him a few seconds on Erik who strode inside, holding a less heavy box, an amused expression on his face.

 “I think we can take a break. There’s only four boxes left. May as well have some lemonade,” said Erik.

 “Nonsense,” said Charles dismissively. “I can take four boxes.”

 Before Erik could protest further, Charles was already rushing out the door. The man’s entire body was taking a red tone because of the outside heat and exertion, yet he was being obstinate. Erik took the opportunity to carry off one of the larger, heavier boxes that he had brought up into his bedroom closet where he slid the door closed.

 By the time he was walking back into the living room, Charles was coming back in, staggering under the weight and tipping heavily on either side of himself. Erik moved to get a hand on it and help him towards the counter top where they were set down.

 “I can’t thank you enough for this,” said Erik. “My larger furniture is coming in later, but the movers are bringing that. I promise I won’t ask you for help on that.”

 “Whew,” said Charles, wiping sweat from his forehead and holding onto the edge of the counter top for support while Erik went into the kitchen, unloaded a shopping bag and took out a carton of lemonade out.

 “Oh wait…I don’t have any electricity until tomorrow…No ice,”

 “I have ice,” said Charles promptly. “ I can get some.”

 Charles left him again and Erik took the opportunity to take out his phone and check if he missed anything. There was an encrypted message that was sent out to all active members in the area…A new target had been confirmed. This amusing little exchange with Charles had momentarily distracted him from the objective at hand, and he was quick to let the screen fade to black and pocket it before Charles walked back inside.

 “Got the ice!” Charles was passing over his threshold with a ziplock bag full of cubes and a bag of styrofoam cups in the other. He proceeded to pour them two cups and took a seat on the bare carpet. Erik moved to sit across him.

 “You’re gonna love it when the fan actually turns on,” said Charles, glancing upward at the still ceiling fan. “Speaking of which…Do you work tomorrow?”

 Yes.

   It was a singular thought that Erik allowed his mind to share with Charles. He knew the other was reading his mind, could feel it on a constant level. The only way to block him from seeing everything about Erik relied on two things. Erik had to allow his mind to temporarily believe the charade. He had thought up basic aspects of a life and he had to mentally hold to that foundation and immerse himself in it. In short, he had to think like the civilian and his mind would be read like a civilian. The second part was keeping the actual truths he had to keep lock away and only peruse for microseconds at a time. It was an exercise he mastered with Emma back when she still worked for them...and he was the only one that proved to successfully block her telepathy.

The agent wasn’t trying to actively read Erik, he was just picking up on it as he would anyone…and Erik had no choice, if he wanted to maintain the pretension of normalcy, to give him something.

 “I do,”

 “You know…I can probably give you a spare key to my unit. Just for tonight…for bathroom usage. Or I can call your electric company and threaten them…you know either or…,”

 Truth be told, it was an offer that a normal person probably would have declined, making due with other arrangements like staying with a friend. Considering his primary objective was to uproot Charles’s investigation, this was a prime opportunity.

 “You’re very kind, Charles,” Erik observed.

 Charles smiled. “I think it’s good to be helpful. If only we all did our part and helped each other more…”

 Erik could guess the end of his sentence…that the world would be a better place if that was the case. It was a perspective that Erik considered naive. Not that it wasn’t true, just that it would never be possible.

 Charles downed his glass of lemonade and poured another one. “So…that must be an exciting job. Pest Control. Do you ever get chased off properties by the pets?”

 Erik smirked. “That would be something that occurs more with postal service. It’s not as exciting as it seems. Especially during summer. I’d think being a cop would be more exciting.”

 “FBI, actually,” said Charles. “I suppose it’s exciting. I more or less think of it as…stressful.”

  “Saving lives must be a saving grace,”

  “If I was,” Charles hardly kept the bitter edge from his tone and Erik could see that the case was taking its toll on him. He looked fine outwardly, and he was making it that way but Erik wouldn’t be surprised to find this man rarely slept…and that he was close to crashing.

 “You don’t think you are?”

 “I think I am…,” Charles paused, eyebrows furrowing in frustration as he looked away from Erik, the rim of the cup pressed to his lower lip. “…trying. It’s not easy to perform a job…any job like this one when the people you work with don’t have faith in you.”

 Erik didn’t have to be a telepath to know that Charles’s mind was going down a dark trajectory of self-depreciation. He was a mutant and the world did not accept mutants. Any display of power to the public would cause outcry. If Charles chose to expose his power in any form to someone he didn’t trust, he put himself at risk for being thrown into a lab for experimentation.

 He realized he was actually feeling remorse for Charles. He had to conceal his gift on a daily basis. He could not get close to anyone, because he could see and hear everything. Erik could relate to some level. He could never form an attachment with anyone...though he always told himself that that was his choice.

 Charles sighed, glancing over at Erik and shaking his head. 

  "Sorry...I know I sound strange. It's complicated."

 “…It’ll get better…Charles. You have faith in yourself. That’s what matters,”

 Charles gave a wry smile. “…I suppose. Thank you.”

 Erik's gaze turned downward as he cleared his throat. ...Was he really trying to make him feel better? It was a soft moment, and he couldn’t afford it. There was a task here…and he shouldn’t have been spending time deviating from it.

 “..I’m sure there are some cases that are exciting. The unsolved ones must be…interesting to say the least. Keeps the thrill alive, doesn’t it?”

  “…I suppose that’s one very…very enthusiastic way of looking at it,”

  “I’m sorry…If you’re not supposed to talk about it,”

  “I’m not supposed to talk about it if you’re involved, no,” said Charles.

  Erik had to suppress a smile at the irony. “…I guess I can understand.”

  Charles sighed, hesitating for a moment. “…It’s a case I’ve been pursuing for a long time. Each time I think I’ve gotten close…I’m left with nothing. Square one. I know that just seems…typical. But it’s frustrating. These crimes…they’re like nothing I’ve ever seen before. No hard evidence…no fingerprints, no signs of forced entry or struggles. Nothing. With all these suspicious aspects, you’d think my department would dedicate all they have to this level of unknown. But they don’t…they don’t care and that’s not right. This person…or persons… need to be stopped.”

  “…Sounds like they’re managing to commit what no other criminal in history could ever really accomplish. The perfect crime,” Erik remarked.

  Charles gave him another humorless smile, raising his knee up and resting his elbow on it as he took the last sip of lemonade. “…I wouldn’t really call the mind of a criminal perfect. There’s always a few fundamental flaws to every criminal. Murder is murder. There’s nothing perfect…nothing beautiful about it. These people…most times they can’t be saved. There’s something inside... something that normally stems from childhood and extends to adulthood. Something inside that’s…broken.”

  The words struck Erik harder than they should have. Of course there was absolute truth to them, but coming from the lips of a telepath who could see everyone’s demons…it was hard to intake for a minute.

  Because Erik knew something was wrong with him, knew that what he was doing was far beyond normal…and that what he had been through wasn’t what other people had to go through. He knew when he was ten years old and marked with a number on his arm that this wasn’t usual. There was always a sliver of jealousy for the children his age who could never know a life like his.

  His power was fueled by fury…and his concentration came from pain. It was all he knew. And he knew that if his mind was open…it was all Charles would see.

  And even that hurt.

  Erik forced a smile despite whatever inner turmoil was brewing within.

  Charles continued as if nothing was wrong, mistaking Erik’s silence for curiosity. “…I used to be a criminal psychologist. It was my job to try to understand motive and get into the minds of the people that committed murder. Sometimes that still leaks out. Sorry if that’s a little…odd.”

  It wasn’t odd. Charles was a telepath so that would have made him the best at that particular profession.

  “What made you switch to Detective?”

  Charles gave a small shrug. “I suppose I was tired of trying to figure out why…and was more interested in putting a stop to it.”

  Erik traced his lower lip in some thought.

  “Listen um…I forgot that I have to do some…spot shopping at Target. Missing a few things. Keeps me in an air conditioned environment,” said Erik, placing a hand flat on the ground to help support his stand.

  Charles stood up with him. “Oh. I mean you’re still welcome to my spare key…for the essentials.”

  “You’re very gracious…but…,” Erik trailed off, closing his eyes and literally wanting to smack himself across the face for what he was about to say.  “…I’ll pass. I’ll give the power company a call. Try to get them to come in first thing tomorrow. I can…use the public shower on the top floor. I understand there is one near the pool.”

  “There is…but public,” said Charles with hard emphasis on the word as if that said enough and required no elaboration.

  Erik chuckled. “I’ll endure.”

  “All right well…I should head out anyway. I have a long nap to take and a back to straighten out.”

  “Yeah…sorry about that,” said Erik, beginning to walk him out, his hand hovered over the small of Charles’s back as if he was ready to support him in case he faltered. “I can get some advil if you need-“

  “No no…I’m good. It was nice to meet you, Erik,” said Charles, stepping out of the loft and stopping at his own door. He turned one last time to extend his hand towards Erik. “It was nice to meet you, Erik…and nice to talk to you. I kind of needed that…outlet after today. Trust me. I hope to see you at the party.”

  Erik took his hand, shaking it politely. “Thanks for your help. I’ll try to make it.”

  “Please do. Again, I need someone who’s not from my department there. Otherwise they’re not going to believe I talk to civilians. At all.”

  Civilian. Yeah, that was about right.

  “I’ll try,” Erik repeated before stepping away from Charles towards his own loft.  He was quick to lock the door behind him and retreat into his empty bedroom. The heavy box he had put away in the closet was pulled out once more and opened. The black mask and assassin ensemble that Charles had seen him with the first night was underneath a few leather jackets. He pulled them aside momentarily.

  Encountering the telepath in this form was inevitable. He knew that. This case required subtlety...and Erik had proven to be subtle in different scenarios, this was going to be difficult. He was already feel a strange level of inner conflict regarding the agent, when there shouldn't have been one at all. 

  He shook it off, buried the suit back down in the box and laid down a  white bedsheet in the space where a bed would be, closing his eyes and shutting down for the night.

Chapter Text

As Erik expected, he was experiencing extreme back pain when he woke up. He hadn’t had the “luxury” of sleeping on the floor in a long time, getting used to the bed in his quarters at the mansion. Thankfully, he felt cool air blowing from the vent. At least the electricity had been turned on. He reached for his phone resting next to his head and closed one eye to read that he had eight missed calls. All from Hank. There were unread texts as well. 

  [ Text: Hank ] Are you awake? 

  [ Text: Hank ]  I’m coming over. 

  [Text: Hank ]  Whether you’re ready or not.

 Erik just stared at the texts before deciding to roll over and try to get one more hour before the sun was shining in his blindless, curtainless room.

  Luck wasn’t really on his side when there was a loud knock on the door and he tore off the thin sheet on himself to approach the door in a haphazard state.

  Hank was only a few years younger than him but even Erik with all his pride and lack of compliments to anyone considered this guy to be a genius. He was a head shorter than him, looking up at Erik bright blue eyes that showed too much kindness for someone working in this organization. However, Shaw would not have bothered with someone so young if he didn’t believe they were worth it.

  “You slept late,” Hank said, pushing a sports bag to his chest.

  “I was just getting comfortable,” said Erik, stepping aside to let him in. Hank took in the state of the place.

  “We’ll get you some furniture. I already placed an order for it. Everything’s coming in new. You’re going to love the color scheme,”

  “I don’t really care about that,” said Erik, closing the door behind him and stepping towards the younger male. “I’m more concerned with the fact that you’re here. There’s a telepath next door.”

  “Who is at work,” Hank pointed out.

   “Doesn’t matter,” said Erik sharply.

   “Shaw sent me, Erik,” Hank told him. “…He thinks you might need a little help and since the agent already got an eyeful of Raven and her mind, there’s no question that it has to be me.”

  “You’re not exactly easy to hide from a telepath either,” said Erik, tapping his temple with two fingers.

  “And that’s why I brought you a gift.”  said Hank, approaching Erik’s counter and opening up the bag so he could take out a laptop and started hooking up some strange wires.

  “You’re not staying here. This is a two bedroom but I’m going to change that to a game room. I’m serious,” said Erik shrewdly.

  Hank rolled his eyes at him. “I’m not saying I’m staying here. God forbid I had to…No…but I brought you…this.”

  He presented Erik with a small round black object the size of a baseball. Erik turned it over in his hands when he noticed that the other end had a large lens attached to it.

  “What is this?”

  “It’s a floating camera that I can operate remotely to move, take pictures and process data.  I call it the HankSpy.”

  To show him, he pulled out a digital remote with a single switch upwards. The camera ball pulled from Erik’s hands and floated level to him, the lens extending behind the glass. Erik glanced at the laptop where the feed was zooming in on his cheek.

  “The HankSpy,” Erik repeated.

  “Well…It’s called a CamSpy…but since you’re going to be talking to me, HankSpy.”

  “I don’t need a sidekick, Hank.”

  “Everyone wants a sidekick,”

  “Not me,”

  “You’ll get used to it,”

   “I’ll smash it with a hammer,” said Erik.

   “I have twenty-three more…so if you’re going to do that, let me know so I can activate the next one,”

  Erik threw up his hands and leaned on the edge of the counter.

  “Isn’t there a range on these kinds of things? How far do I have to be to make this thing break on its own?”

  “Outside of the city,” said Hank casually.

  Erik sighed. “Fine. Whatever. I hope it has a self-destruct sequence.”

  “It does!” said Hank excitedly.  He began to dig more into the sports bag and then lifted a thick black device out and handed it to Erik. He instantly recognized it as the same type of police scanner that Shaw had on his desk.

“I don’t have to tell you what this does, I think. Turn it on and you can hear-“

  “ The police. I get the concept,” Erik was eager to get him out on the off chance that Charles returned home earlier for the party later.

  “There’s one more thing,” said Hank, sticking a hand down the bag again and digging deep this time. He drew out a small black box that looked an awful lot like a ring box.

  “I swear if you’re about to propose to me…,”

  “No…,” Hank opened it and presented Erik with an ear piece. “This is so you can hear me in your head at all times. I have to be at my computer or phone…which I usually am.”

  “This still sounds like a proposal.”

  “I’ll be at a hotel nearby,” said Hank, before Erik could protest, he held up a hand. “Shaw’s orders. This is a priority level mark. And he did say he was putting you at risk doing this…so he just wants to make sure you succeed.”

  “Wants to monitor me…more like,” said Erik, but he shrugged. “ Listen, you might want to leave…”

  “Right,” said Hank, packing up his laptop. He reached over and poked Erik’s cheek. “Put the earpiece on!”

  Erik conceded and gave him a glower as the other man finally turned and left, waving as he did. Hank was friendly. If he wasn’t so against the idea of taking up the proper training, he’d have a higher chance of succeeding at this job than Erik did.

  He put the…HankSpy in his pocket and moved towards his bedroom.

  The rest of the day was mundane. Erik just watched movers (without helping in the slightest) bring in the larger furniture. Erik would pick none of it out himself. He didn’t know why Hank said he would enjoy the color scheme when the color scheme was bright red and white. The couch, the curtains that were placed and the bedsheets were all red. The comforter on top even was polka dotted white and red.

  Stepping into this place, someone would feel like they had walked into a Target rather than someone’s home.

  It was well into the afternoon when they finished. He was leaning against the doorway as the movers passed him, tipping them with fifty dollar bills. He didn’t notice the person coming up behind him. He turned and saw a young man with blonde hair, pulling a long table towards Charles’s loft.

 At the sight of Erik, he paused to wipe sweat off his forehead. Wearing a full business suit was probably not helping his exhaustion.

 “…Hi…You must be the new neighbor,” He extended his hand towards Erik. “I’m Alex. Charles’s partner at work.”

 “Nice to meet you,” Erik replied, taking hold of his hand in a firm grip. “I’m Erik.”

 “You look like you lift, Erik. Mind helping me with this table?”

 Erik looked at the other end of the long table, knowing full well that if he helped, they could get it inside in half the time than him dragging it. If he was nicer, he might have given Alex more of a rest and offered to take it in by himself.  

“Sure…why not?” He was invited to this little party, after all. He moved to the other end and lifted it up. Alex briefly stopped on his end to open Charles’s door and allow them inside. Erik gave the place a quick onceover.

Somehow this loft looked bigger than his. Even though the square footage would show that they were exactly the same. It was probably Charles’s color scheme which he was immediately envious of here. His living room was a small step down with a large sectional beige couch and another grey colored one-seater next to it. His rug was white, grey and beige, fitting the color underneath a glass coffee table.

 There was also a fireplace which again, Erik didn’t have in his own loft. The brochure was a lie.

 He liked the place, and it had the feel of someone older than Charles. However by the small conversation he had with him, he took Charles as someone who enjoyed the quiet but liked to be around friends and family as well. He probably spent a lot of nights here reading.

 Maybe before Erik walked into his life in another form and ruined all leisure time indefinitely.

 He kind of smiled at the thought before paying attention again to Alex who was telling him where to place the table. They left it at an empty space by the kitchen while Alex leaned against the wall, breathing hard.

 “You have no idea…turning it vertical then sideways…then vertical again for the elevator…ugh,” said Alex through peals of labored breath.

 “You must be really dedicated to this party,” Erik noted.

 “Are you kidding me? He needs this. He never does anything outside of work anymore. Literally. Nothing. Spends his weekends at the office…just pouring over his workload.”

 “Yeah, he told me a little about that case. Seems to be draining him,” said Erik.

 “It is. Always. It’s what he thinks about night and day. I don’t know why. It’s not like it’s anything worth…looking into…,” Alex grumbled, then he straightened and looked at Erik with an awkwardly; the perfect expression of one who had said too much.

 “Sorry…I’m going to go get some drinks for the party. I’ll be back soon. I’ll see you at the party or did Charles invite…?”

 “He did…I’ll see you there,”

 Alex led the way out, closing and locking the door behind him while Erik watched as he exited the floor and disappeared behind the elevator doors.

 It was then that his pocket started moving and Erik jumped when the …HankSpy pulled itself free, activating on its own with a red light through the lens. It hovered up, eye level to Erik.

 “So, he seems nice.”

 Hank’s voice right in his ear succeeded in making Erik jump again. He had forgotten to remove the earpiece.

 “ I’m going to use that thing for softball practice,” said Erik irritably.

  The HankSpy just zoomed around above Erik and leered down at him, the camera lens blinking.

  “You would have to catch it first, and you can’t…so…,” He trailed off, sounding very pleased with himself. He moved from Erik towards Charles’s door.  “Are you going to…?”

  Erik didn’t respond, just stood by the HankSpy and waved his hand. Charles’s loft was open to him once again. This time as he stepped over the threshold, he felt a pang of guilt that he worked to suppress. He shouldn’t be here…but he needed to be.

  He headed straight for the bedroom this time which was much smaller than his. And it didn’t take long for him to figure out why. All it took was approaching the bookcase in the far right corner. He stared at the placement of empty wine glasses and then the painting next to it of a woman holding a glass of wine. It was kind of obvious what he needed to do.

  There was a statue in the back corner of an angel with her head down. He took one of the wine glasses off the shelf and carefully placed it by the stem into the angel’s hand. Her hand went down and the wall moved aside to reveal a study.

  At least that’s what it would be. But Charles had configured it differently. It was a very tiny room containing a desk and wall to wall bookshelves. Not that Erik could even see the titles given that Charles had pretty much wallpapered it with something else entirely. And as Erik drew closer, he could see exactly what.

  Random notes…a huge map of the New York Metropolis with several red tacks in different places. He had interwoven the tacks with a red string, trying to connect them all. Locations…his locations, places where Erik had completed contracts. He thought Charles would miss a few, but some of these were from all the way up to two years ago.

  It wasn’t just that, on another wall he had taken security camera pictures of him. Erik had the tech to take out cameras, and these were the images captured right before Erik did it. None of them showed his face, none of them made him identifiable. But it was still disturbing.

  On another wall he had made a rough sketch of what he believed Erik looked like. He could see this was attempted several times with pencil before Charles conceded. The artwork depicted a very muscular man with a screwed up angry face. The nose was pointed, the eyes were black and cross. Good to know Charles thought he looked like a giant beefcake.

  The small desk is what he approached next and here’s where his heart skipped a beat. The notes all looked worn and even harder to read with Charles using red ink on yellow paper…but there was one note at the top that stood out, definitely the most recent. In bold letters, Charles had written the single word.

  “Mutant,” said Erik quietly, lifting the paper that said nothing else. The note struck something akin to fear inside of him. Just the word there looked so ominous, like it was a game changer for the detective.

  And as a mutant himself, perhaps it was. Still…

  He could have destroyed it. He could have just used his power and destroyed all of this, pushing the detective back a few steps. There was something…grudgingly admirable about all this, however. Something endearing. This dedication…this drive.

  “This is….this is amazing,” The HankSpy had been following Erik’s footsteps and it stopped short over his shoulder to peer at the word on the paper.

  “That’s disturbing,” said Hank. “….Well…maybe not disturbing…I actually kind of admire him for the dedication and the conclusion. This work is very intensive for someone working on it on his off hours.”

  “….He doesn’t seem to have off hours, I’m beginning to think,” said Erik, setting the paper down exactly as it was placed.

  “Shaw is going to want to see all this. I can take a few pictures and send it off to him…but you know this situation is going to change. He’s going to order a hit…and expect you, the closest agent to take him out.”

   “Let’s hold off on any reports to Shaw. This is all speculative evidence. Nothing official,”

  “Erik. If he collects any more evidence on you, you’re going to have to-“

  “I know what I’m going to have to do. If it comes to that. It hasn’t yet,” said Erik with a note of finality in his tone.

  The HankSpy blinked at him and Erik could see the actual Hank probably doing the same.

  “Funny. It sounds like you don’t want to take him out. This is a serious situation, Erik. It can’t be ignored for very long.”

  “He’s a good man. And his intentions are good,” said Erik, giving the HankSpy a humorless smirk. “…We’re not exactly the most moral of organizations. The reason for this impromptu investigation is sound. “

  “It doesn’t matter. We still have to do it.”

  “ I’m here to halt this investigation. And there are better ways to do that,” said Erik, looking to the door. “We need to get out of here before the party starts. “

  Without another word, Erik moved to the doorway and returned to the bedroom, shutting the study as it had been before. He made quick strides across the loft to the door which was left unlocked. Once he was outside, he breathed a sigh of relief and moved towards his loft door when the elevator doors opened and a group of chattering people emerged, Alex among them. Hank had less than a second to move his stupid floating form behind Erik’s head as they entered the other man’s loft. Erik was quick to shut the door behind him.

  “…You’re not thinking of actually going to this party, are you?”

  “ I was invited,” said Erik simply, approaching his bedroom closet.

  “It’s a cop party. What did you call a group of mutants? A cornucopia? And then a group of humans?”

  “An infestation. I know what I said,” said Erik irritably. “I'm going after I take care of something. I don’t care how many people are attending. Besides...”

  He removed the earpiece and set it down.

  “I’m only interested in the one.”

Chapter Text

The party was actually something Charles wanted to avoid at all costs. He was actually hoping that Alex would forget all about it when it all came close. But there was no such luck. As they parted ways from the office that evening, Alex pointed at Charles through the window of his office with a stern look.

"Better see you at yours after work. No dodging!”

“How exactly am I supposed to dodge it when it’s taking place at my house?”

Charles sighed. There was no way around it. There was only one redeeming part of this coming evening and he wasn’t even sure that he was going to show up at all. He packed his stuff and left the station, anticipating a line of cars waiting at the building.

But he barely cleared the parking lot before the radio was going off that there was a neighbors’ call in for a disturbance on 44 th street  on the fourth floor of an apartment building called Windsong.  44 th street was close to where he had chased the two suspects the other night.

His tires screeched as he turned around and made for another direction. He was going on a hunch…and maybe it was nothing.  Maybe.  Still, Charles wanted to make it there before the local police arrived.  The party could wait. He stopped on 44 th street and wrote a quick text to Alex apologizing and expressing he would be late before heading out.

There was a strange disquiet to this place that he didn’t like as he stepped inside the building. His hand automatically went to his holster, trained on his pistol as he used one hand to press 4 on the elevator.

The hall was empty as he expected the lighting dim. He reached out telepathically to see if he could pinpoint anything out of the ordinary, but he found nothing.

Which was even worse.

Luckily – or perhaps unluckily – there was a door that was left open, revealing a dark apartment. He did the polite thing first and decided to knock. No answer and the door opened even further to him.  He stepped inside – cautiously.

But there was no one. The apartment was full of furniture that looked like it hadn’t been touched for months, a fine sheet of dust collecting over every item in here.

“You know…,” Charles started at the sound of a voice coming up behind him, a shadow lingering near the door he had just come through.

“I would have figured you’d bring backup. But here you are…alone again,”

Charles instantly recognized the voice as the one who spoke to him in the alley. Low and metallic due to the mask that covered his half his face. No wonder he couldn’t hear anyone’s thoughts…he couldn’t do it in the alley either.

His gun was pulled from the holster and held up level to the shadow. “You created a false disturbance on the off chance that I’d be the one to show up? Risky.  The police will come to investigate.”

“There was no off chance,” The stranger replied, stepping forward and causing Charles to take an automatic step back. The moonlight was coming in strong behind him that Charles finally got a better look at him. He was wearing a loose-fitted black uniform that looked like a simple long sleeved black shirt and pants except there was a burgundy cape that was hooked around the back of his shoulders. His head was covered by a black hood and around his eyes there was a black substance that made them gleam. The mask he had secured on his face was over his chin, lips and the upper part of his nose, making it impossible to discern any other distinguishing features.

 “You were going to show up. I knew it’d be you…because you are looking for me.”

 Charles scowled. “…Of course I’m on the lookout for someone who murders innocent people and disappears without a trace.”

 “You have no evidence, Detective. I’d withhold the venom from my tone,” The stranger replied coldly.

 “It doesn’t matter that I have no real evidence to the murders…but I can arrest you on this charge. Breaking and entering…calling in a false lead…,” As he said it, Charles withdrew handcuffs from his pocket.

 He should have expected what happened next, the handcuffs became flimsy in his hand and seconds later, one linked around his wrist and then the other. Charles scoffed when he heard the metal click into place.

 “I really… really don’t like you,” Charles muttered. He dropped his cuffed hands and glowered at the assassin. “What do you want from me?”

 The assassin took a step closer to Charles and again he took another long step back, this time he hit the wall. The assassin lazily lifted his hand and Charles’s hands were pulled upward above his head where he was pinned.

 This was it…this was where he was going to die…and it was going to be painful. This mutant controlled metal. Of course it was going to hurt.

 The other man was so close now, just inches away from being flush against him. His hand flattened on the wall right next to Charles’s head. “I told you…the first day I met you…that you’re playing a dangerous game. Your reasons for conducting the investigation are sound,  I’ll give you that much. However, you’re treading on unfamiliar territory. You’ll make more enemies than you can imagine. And you won’t be able to stop any of them.”

 “I’m not going to stop. Throw whatever threat you want at me. You’ll have to kill me, first.”

 The assassin snapped, his gloved hand on the wall physically clamping down on the chain between the two cuffs causing Charles to involuntarily wince.

 “I’m not threatening you. I’m speaking the truth. Drop your investigation, Detective. Rule these cases as the rest of your department has. Suicides. That’s all they are to them, and that’s all they should be to you,” The assassin growled.

 “You’ll have to kill me,” Charles repeated, more slowly.

  “You say that like I wouldn’t,”

  “You won’t. You had your chance. You even have it right now. And you’re not acting on it.  You of all people seem to know how to silence a problem.”

 “I do,” The assassin snarled, calling the bluff and tightening his grip on the handcuffs.

 “Then do it. I’m not afraid of you.”

 The determination in Charles’s eyes burned and the assassin was left staring at him, fascinated despite himself. It was unusual to see from Charles’s perspective, seeing an obstinate soul not so unlike himself get thrown off guard.

 The assassin leaned in close, lips inches away from Charles as the menacing words slipped out.

  “You should be.”

 Charles’s response was a long time, peering up at the other man in the darkness, seeing the anger in his eyes.  He squinted a little; trying to break through the mental barriers the other mutant had placed to protect his mind. His attempt may have been a little harsh because he saw the other man flinch and shake his head as if he had been struck.

 “You’ll have to try a little harder than that to read my mind,”

 “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Charles quietly.

 “…Really,” The other man’s eyebrow shot up, looking slightly amused. “You’ve been trying to claw your way inside for some time. You’ve spent too much time with the weak-minded. It’s made you soft. Held you back.”

 “I suppose you find your ability to resist it an endearing quality,”

 The assassin smirked, taking Charles’s chin with his free hand. “…For you, maybe.”

 Charles remained still in that hold for a moment, trying to ignore that he almost found the other’s amusement contagious.

 He snapped out of it, shaking his head away and breaking that hold.

  “Let me go.”

The assassin nodded once. “...I will let go.  I’m not going to kill you. Not tonight. “

 Charles just stared. “..What?”

   He dropped Charles’s hands, and the power that kept the handcuffs above him. Charles watched as he stepped away to give him room and started to leave him.

 At the door, he stopped. “You saved my friend. I haven’t forgotten. Consider this a debt repaid, Charles.

Before Charles could say anything else, the other had left him, closing the door behind him. His handcuffs seemed to tighten on him and he fumbled to get his hands impossible towards his back pocket to find the key...but two minutes passed and they unlinked themselves, falling off his wrists and to the ground with a small thud.  

 Charles scowled, rubbing his wrists. He could have hit himself for this. Not only was he subdued so easily,  he had let him go. On top of that, the assassin just proved to have more knowledge on him than he ever did on him. All the work he had put up in his study and the assassin knew his name.

 Well, that was the perk of actually displaying his face like a normal person.

 The encounter had left his mind reeling and his mind was elsewhere as he went back to his car, he saw two patrol units show up. He was quick to tell them it was a false alarm and that the upstairs neighbor was jumpy. He wondered if he should at least ask them to do a sweep of the premises but he was sure that the man was long gone.

 And then he remembered the party. As soon as he settled in the drivers’ seat he called Alex.

 “Where the hell are you?”

  “On my way now. I’m sorry. I got…sidetracked.”

 There were loud noises on the other end and he knew Alex probably didn’t hear him. Whoever decided that he needed music with booming bass was an idiot…and he could guess it was the one he was conversing with right now.

 “What? Anyway, get over here! The party’s already started! I mean…I was gonna have everyone jump up and yell surprise but since you’re so late…we went ahead without you.”

 Alex hung up on him then and Charles just frowned at the number before speeding up, trying desperately to shake off what just happened and actually get in the mood for excessive social interaction.

 Charles expected noises when he got to his floor, but given how silent his last twenty minutes had been, the barrage of thoughts was enough to cause a wave of anxiety. Drunken thoughts were the worst because none of it made sense.

 He opened his door and was pulled inside by several hands, arms wrapping around him. His eyes flashed upward and met the gaze of the faces he recognized, smiling sheepishly. Alex was quick to come towards him from the kitchen area, thrusting a beer into his hand and opening it while Charles still held it.

 “You earned it. Even though you’re late as all hell.”

 “Sorry about that,” said Charles, scratching the back of his head. “ I was trying to tell you I got sidetracked.”

 “Whatever. Finish this beer,” said Alex sternly. “I mean it. No more thinking about work. Or I’ll make you take the yard glass challenge.”

 Charles glanced where he was pointing towards a two foot tall curved glass of beer that one of the other party goers was about to undertake.

 “I’ll pass,” said Charles. “Let me go to the bathroom real quick.”

 He turned and left Alex, rubbing his temples as he went with both hands. The quick swig of beer that he took didn’t help. As he blindly made his way towards the bathroom, he shifted around two men standing there talking, paying him no attention and slipped inside.

 His back was to the door in an instant, just trying to drown out all of the thoughts that were now circulating alongside his inside his mind.

 ….w onder if she likes me. She’s never hinted at anything before.

 …can’t believe it’s already past eleven!

 … shouldn’t drink…this is already my fourth can.

 ..was there a coat check room? I don’t know where my coat is.

  Charles placed his hands over his face again and moved towards the sink where he splashed himself with water and sniffed, looking at his reflection. He looked a mess. He was really in no mood to indulge this party.

It only became worse when he worked to tune everything out…and he was able to hear the conversation outside. The two men were agents from different departments than him.

 “…What’s going on? Are we still waiting for the guy who’s party this is?” The first man asked.

 “I don’t even know. Summers just came up to me and said free alcohol and I was sold.” The second man replied with a gruff voice.

 “Heh. I heard it was for Detective Xavier.”

 “That scrawny kid? Man…”

“What? What have you heard?”

 “That he’s a little more than unhinged . No joke. Word is he’s trying to reliven dead end cases in hopes of finding a serial killer.”

 “Are you serious?”

 “Dead serious. Check the database. Every suicide case in the last year has been pulled out and reviewed by Charles Xavier. He’s a nutcase. There’s no evidence, no fingerprints, no evidence of a break in or struggle in any of them to prove there was murder or foul play and he’s been hounding the Captain about it, trying to convince him there’s something else to it.”

 “Suicide cases, really?”

 “Yup. It’s crazy. Don’t believe me, check. I don’t even know why the Captain keeps him around. Feels sorry for him, maybe. Have you seen the guy? Sometimes wears the same exact thing for a week.”

 “Shit man…that kind of instability shouldn’t even be permitted.”

 “You’re telling me.”

 “Well…I’ll at least say one thing…he does provide good beer.”

 They both laughed.

 “Come on, let’s get out of here. This place is dead.”

 Charles remained in place against the door. To be truthful, he was used to hearing what people really thought of him. He had learned long ago to be no longer offended by it since thoughts were meant to be private as it were. So he did his best to ignore them. This little exchange stung, however...and it was amplified by what happened in his encounter with the assassin earlier. The man could never be caught in a system like this.

   And yet he had let him go...it was reeling. It shook him. He was being toyed with.

 All of a sudden, he felt dirty. Contaminated somehow. He was bringing danger here. All these people. Good people, despite whatever less-than-kind thoughts they had about him.

 Charles was quick to open the door and walk out, spotting the back of Alex’s head near the door. As his partner remained the only one on the bureau that knew about his ability, he reached out to him telepathically.

  Alex. Party’s over. Get everyone o-

  His thought cut short when he saw who Alex was standing with. An easy smile was passing between them when Charles looked. Erik could pull off darker clothing better than Charles could for sure. The black dress shirt, unbuttoned by two at the top and just jeans. Such simple attire, yet standing here, he looked like some kind of movie star.

 “Charles,” Alex turned towards him. “I met your neighbor. He’s the one who helped-”

 “Erik!” Charles said, bypassing Alex almost completely. “...You...You made it.”

  “Of course...Happy birthday...I got you something,” Erik took out a black box and handed it to him.

 “You...You didn’t have to get me anything,” said Charles, smiling despite himself as he took the box.

 “Well, when I heard you were running late...I took the opportunity, to be honest,” said Erik, shrugging and grinning at him.

 Charles bit his lower lip for a minute, his anxiety subsiding as pulled the lid off. He was left staring a white diamond rolex sitting on a small cushion.

 “Oh…,” Charles flushed a bit, his fingers hovering but not daring to touch. “ You…..Thank you.”

 “Of course.”

 “Listen…,” Charles cleared his throat and straightened. “...I think this party is coming to an end….but I don’t want you to..go anywhere. Do you mind? Ahem...I mean...would you like to go out for drinks?”

 Erik just smiled at him. “Of course.”

 “Good...That’s...That’s good. Alex,” Charles turned to him. “Do you mind clearing everyone out?”

 ‘What? I mean the party just started!”

 “Alex…”

 “Fine….Fine…,” said Alex, resigned as he turned to address the room as a whole. “All right. Party’s over! Everyone out. Come on!”

 

Chapter Text

 Alex could clear a room. There were grunts and some grumbles about the party ending too early but Charles was all too happy to see them go. Especially now that he knew what probably more than half of them really thought of him. Charles was more focused on Erik as the door finally closed, leaving them alone.

 “Thank you again. For the gift.” said Charles, taking the watch out of the box and moving to slide it on his wrist.

  “Here…Let me…,” Erik moved forward to take Charles’s hand. “It saves time to have two hands helping you with these.”

  “You…really didn’t have to get me something like this..”

  Erik tilted his head at him as he clasped the metal together. “Of course I did. It’s your birthday.”

  “Still…,” Charles smiled, a little sheepish as he broke his gaze from the other man. “So I know a place. It’s a few blocks from here if you’re willing to walk it.”

  “Sure…let me just grab my jacket…I’ll be back,” said Erik, turning for the door and leaving the other man briefly to reenter his loft.

  Hank and his stupid floating face was right there to greet him. Erik heard nothing from him until he slipped the earpiece on the counter back on.

  “Where have you been? You’re supposed to take me with you. That’s part of the HankSpy experience!”

  “I’m not taking you with me everywhere I go. You can tell Shaw that. I’m going out again and I’m not taking you with me now either,”

  “But-“

  “No,” said Erik sharply, heading into his bedroom where the floating baseball from Hell followed him.

  “But where are you going?” Hank asked.

  “Out,” said Erik.

  Before Hank could pry further, there was a small knock at Erik’s door which had them both freezing.

  “Erik, do you mind if we take my car? It looks like it’s going to rain…I don’t want us both to catch a cold.”

  “….Yeah, that’s fine with me,” Erik called back.

  “Okay! I’ll be by the elevator.”

  “Thank you,” said Erik.

  There was a moment both Erik and Hank waited before they could hear Charles’s footsteps fade before Hank’s hovering form leered down at Erik.

  “You’re going out with him?”

  “Yes. So? What of it?”

  “What of it? What of it? He’s your mark. You’re supposed to be taking care of him. And not in this way, mind you.”

  “It’s his birthday,” said Erik defensively.

  “I don’t care if it’s Christmas Eve. You’re not supposed to be flirting with him…courting him…or whatever the hell it is you’re doing. You have orders to neutralize him. He’s a major threat to our organization. You saw that yourse-“

  “As I recall,” Erik interrupted smoothly. “There hasn’t been a hit ordered on the detective…My orders are to disrupt his investigation. If that entails getting involved with him…then that’s what it takes.”

  “How involved are we talking?”

  “As much as I need to be.”

  “Erik,” Hank forced calm into his tone. “…The longer you spend with this telepath…the more you open yourself up to him, the harder those mental barriers will be to uphold.  I’m not kidding you. It’ll be an unconscious reaction. Before long, he’ll see everything you don’t want him to see.”

  “I’m in control of my mind,” Erik snapped, pulling a black leather jacket from his closet and slipping it on. “Even if it were to come to that, I can put a stop to it before it gets bad. Easy. I’ll just leave.”

  “I don’t know if Shaw is willing to take that risk.”

  “That’s why Shaw doesn’t need to know. He doesn’t care how a job is done as long as it does get done. That’s what I plan to do…and if you breathe a single word to him about this…” Erik trailed off, his expression turning grim.

  “I’m not,” said Hank. “I was hoping you’d be planning on telling him in your next report. You know he’s going to check in.”

  “I know he is.” He began to walk towards the door.

  “Erik…Don’t let your personal feelings get involved.”

  “…. Don’t wait up for me,” said Erik, adjusting his collar and taking out the earpiece so he didn’t have to listen to this…’voice of reason’ anymore. He stepped outside and locked the door.

  Charles was waiting for him at the end, one hand in his pocket, the other out looking at the new watch on his wrist. He glanced up at Erik when approached.

   “Seriously. You didn’t have to –“

  “Enough of that,” said Erik, coming up behind him so he could see the gold gleam from Charles’s perspective. Without hesitation, he reached up and took Charles’s hand then, fingers lightly interlocking.  “It looks good on you. I have no regrets. “

  “…Thanks,” said Charles, flushing a deep shade of red as he dropped his hand and looked at the other man sheepishly before his expression melted to exasperation. “Oh! I forgot my phone. You go on down! I’ll meet you there!”

  “Okay,” Erik stared that the extremely unwelcome prospect of standing in an elevator alone but he hid his scowl behind a small grin as he stepped away and the doors closed between them.

  The closed space broke any amount of comfort he had, the walls starting to come together. He closed his eyes to try to calm himself before it could get worse.  Why? Why did this thing have to feel so like a coffin? His triggers came back in full force and he was suddenly ten years old again, ordered by Shaw to face his fears.

  And suddenly he was back there again…seven years old and lying on his back inside of the metal box where straps had been tied down on his wrists and his feet. A test…they had called it a test of strength and endurance. Shaw said he would conquer fear itself if he managed to free himself.

  He heard the dirt as it piled on top of the metal. He didn’t scream when they had put him down, restrained him…but as the darkness started to close in around him, that’s when he started….and once he started, he couldn’t stop. Unconsciously, he was writhing, trying to fight his way out.

His mutation was far from mastered…and he didn’t even know the extent of his capabilities yet…

   “Erik…”

  The darkness didn’t scare him. It was simply the nothingness…The realization that he was going to die here and there was nothing…nothing that could stop it. No one would cry…no one would mourn. No one would even think to look for him….because he didn’t exist in the system any longer. He was nothing…and this was where his story ended.

  He could hear the screaming as if they were tearing from his chest once more.

  “Erik!”

  The voice called him back to reality. He opened his eyes to find the wall of the elevator in front of him, his hands flat against it. The doors had opened he knew without looking because he felt like he could actually breathe again. Charles’s hand was clamped on his shoulder next to him in a tight grip.

  “What …What happened?”

  “Are you all right?” Charles asked first, his hold on him loosening an inch.

  “I’m fine…fine now…,” said Erik, shaking his head and straightening his hunched shoulders. “What happened?”

  “You had a panic attack. Hyperventilated a little…” Charles told him, reaching under his arm to press a cold hand to Erik’s chest. Instead of wincing, the other man became hyper aware of how cold Charles’s touch was, and he could feel his heart beating rapidly underneath. He wasn’t lying…he had a panic attack. A panic attack that was severe enough that he nearly blacked out from it.

  “Are you sure?” Charles was saying, his voice still echoing somewhat.

  “Yeah…,”

  “You want to cancel this? I swear we can do this another ti-”

  “No…I want to go,” Erik answered. “Just…give me a minute. Please.”

  “Take your time,” said Charles, stepping out of the confined space, but keeping a foot between the doors so they kept from closing on him.

  Erik waited until the beat of his heart returned to a more normal pace, waited until his breathing evened out before he stepped out of the elevator. Charles watched him all the way to his car and didn’t move to the driver side door, following Erik to the passenger side where he opened the door for him.

  “Are you sure you don’t want to lie down?”

  “I’m sure, Charles. Don’t worry. It’s not the first time it’s happened,” said Erik in a slightly grim voice. One could hope his mental barriers were holding…and Charles hadn’t caught anything he shouldn’t have. Hank’s words were replaying in his mind. 

Before long, he’ll see everything you don’t want him to see.

   Erik shook off the thought and slid inside the car. The ride was silent for the most part, Charles looking over at him occasionally as if he was checking his state. Erik had already conditioned himself to move past the aftermath of these panic attacks easily. Though he would be remiss if he didn’t admit that he hadn’t had them in a long time. It could have been because of Charles...but he didn’t want to think that.

  The bar was nothing out of the ordinary…dim lighting…easygoing music and only a few people inside. Charles led them over to a high table, sliding into a stool and gesturing for Erik to do the same while he looked towards the nearby waitress and ordered a bottle of whiskey with coke and two glasses.

 “Whiskey?” Erik asked as he moved to sit across from him.

 “Whiskey, yes. Oh. I’m sorry. I can get you water. You probably prefer…after what happened…”

 “No. Whiskey is fine. I’m just surprised that’s your drink of choice.”

 “Why? Oh…yes. I supposed it’s a little strong…,” Charles agreed. “Truth be told…I shouldn’t be drinking at all. “

 “Hangover?”

 Charles nodded. “That…and my impeccable ability to forget everything the night before. It’s a real problem. I’ve heard stories about my behavior…but most of my stories are coming from my partner which I feel might have been exaggerated a bit. Still…I’d just…probably rather not hear said stories ever again. Makes me want to swear off drinking…but then days like today happen.”

 “What happened today?” Erik asked innocently as their drinks were brought and he proceeded to pour them both a glass. He wouldn’t allow himself to drink much here, for different reasons than Charles. He was perfectly sound with the drink in his system, but he could do without the impaired motor functions. Not with the recent episode in the elevator fresh on his mind.

 “Just some things,” said Charles with a dismissive wave of his hand as he took a large sip of his drink. “ Remember that hair-pulling…frustrating case I told you a little about? Yeah…that happened…Close. I was so close. As close as I ever could be…and he got away.”

 Charles placed his hands over his face, rubbing fatigue from his eyes. “…And I let him. I can’t believe it…I should have done more…I should have been able to stop him..”

 “Did you have anyone else to help you?” Erik asked.

 “No…,” said Charles blandly. “…But that’s not the point. I’m better than this. Or at least…I thought I was.”

 “If you don’t mind me saying,” Erik began, taking his own glass and leaving it tipped near his bottom lip. “…Why don’t you just hand the investigation over to someone else? It seems to be piling on more stress than necessary.”

  “I can’t…the suspect is…someone like…,” He paused, biting down on his lower lip. “…He’s different.  Not like anyone I’ve ever encountered before.”

 Charles hadn’t encountered another mutant before. This was by no means easy for him. It was the draw…and it was the disdain at the same time. It was different for Erik who had spent much of his youth around them. He couldn’t empathize with the appeal…because the excitement for him…wore off within the first few minutes once he realized what he was in for.

 “There’s other cases,” said Erik quietly.

 “…There are but I don’t think I’ll find one like this. No. I have to do this. I have to,” said Charles with a slight edge to his tone. He glanced at Erik and his expression softened. “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to sound rude…you’re just not the first one to tell me that. It’s hard to explain.”

 “You don’t have to explain it to me,” said Erik. And he meant it…because now he understood more. From the civilian side less but the assassin knew. That didn’t mean he approved of it, however.

  “ I just don’t think you should get hurt,” Erik continued and his eyebrows furrowed with some tension. He looked Charles in the eye and once again he was struck with the fact that this man was good. He was noble. Saying this would probably prove futile, but he wanted Charles to at least consider it.

   “It’d be worth it,” Charles replied with a wry smile, pouring his third glass. “People get hurt…you do what you can. In whatever way possible. It’s part of the job.”

  “What about you? What happens when you get hurt is what I’m saying,” Erik answered.

   “It’s all right, Erik,” said Charles calmly. “I’ve managed to survive this long…and I’ve gotten through my share of tough situations. I’m sure I still have a few years left in me.”

  Erik suppressed a slight scowl at the detective’s words, looking away from him towards the bar counter. If Erik was doing his job…which he should have been, then this would be more than a scrape for the detective. Even now…as they were sitting here, he could do it. He could utilize his power, control all of the many metallic substances in the bar and level the place. He’d leave behind no evidence just as always. And that would be the end of Charles Xavier. There would be no pursuit because no one would believe him, and even if there was…he would crush them the same way.

  He couldn’t quite understand why that just…bothered him so much….why that train of thought he’d rather purge and never think of again. It left him feeling a strange sort of emptiness. It couldn’t just be because Charles was the symbol of good morality.

  Erik was so spaced out in his thoughts, the sudden feel of Charles’s fingertips on the cheek that faced him. He looked back, eyes wide for a moment before his tension started to release.

  Charles’s eyes were hooded, slightly red. The flush in his face was as prominent as ever. He had drawn closer to him, close enough that Erik could almost feel the heat coming from his body.

  “I don’t want to talk about this anymore…do you mind if we talk about something else?” Charles asked.

  “What do you want to talk about?”

  “You,” Charles placed his palm gently against his cheek, fingers splaying outward. His thumb brushed under his cheek as if wiping away a tear. “…Your eyes….Your eyes always look so sad. So far away…I feel like I can barely begin to grasp why.”

  Erik felt his chest tighten a bit and he let out a soft breath, smiling as if to brush aside the comment. “Maybe you’re just seeing things…since I’m pretty sure you’re heavily intoxicated.”

  Charles smiled back at him and dropped his hand back to his lap, facing downward for a moment. “I guess…I’ve talked about myself a lot…So let me ask you a question. Are you seeing anyone? Like…um….dating?”

  Intoxicated Charles seemed to have a looser tongue. Erik had a feeling this question would be wondered but not posed out loud.

   “I am…not,” said Erik, his tension breaking somewhat, amused despite himself. “Are you?”

   “I just recently got out of a relationship,” said Charles, doing the ( probably ) bad thing and taking another large sip of his drink. The large bottle had been almost entirely consumed by him alone. And Erik was learning quickly he was a lightweight.

  “Their loss,” said Erik, not breaking eye contact with the detective.

  Charles flushed even more, chuckling slightly. “ You know I’ve…never really had an interest in a man before. I suppose I never really had time to think of…dating with my profession. Even my last relationship was growing more and more distant. “

  “ Well I can’t say I wouldn’t be remiss if distance kept growing,”

  “Luckily, you live across from me,” Charles answered, leaning in again.

  “Luckily,” Erik agreed.

  “Hmm…,” Charles began to slump, his elbow on the table starting to be his only support. His eyes closed and he started moving closer. Erik could see the shine in his eyes now. His lips were inches away from his own.

  And he would have indulged…had this situation not taken place in a bar where Charles’s mind and tongue were heavily influenced by alcohol. That, among other more guilty feelings caused him to turn away, Charles’s lips pressing against his cheek. The detective’s slump continued and his body nearly collided with Erik’s, who caught him before his chair could fall over, arms wrapping around tight.

  Charles contented himself there, against his chest, ear pressed to his heart. “…Hmmm…Sleepy.”

  Erik was still for a moment, very much aware of how close they were, how much of him was touching Charles. He leaned down to speak into the other man’s hair.

  “I’ll take you home…Come on.”

Chapter Text

 Truth be told, Erik wasn’t entirely sure that Charles was fully coherent when he took him back to his car. He fished for keys out of the other man’s pocket, placing him gently onto the passenger seat while he took to the other side and started the engine. Charles hadn’t been lying before…he really was a lightweight.

 Once they were parked in front of their building, Erik ventured off to the other side and unbuckled the seat belt to take Charles into his arms, one arm under his knees and the other supporting his back. As if the whole night hadn’t been strangely intimate already…what with Erik basically starting it by gifting him the watch.

 Thinking about it now as he carried Charles inside, part of Erik hoped that Charles would just pawn it. It didn’t look like the detective was hurting for money…but it would make Erik feel less like he was starting to take a strange and personal interest in this mark. He thought about what Raven would tell him, and he could imagine her response would be in the form of a question. If he was going to give a mark a present, why not stick a grenade in it?

 It’d be messy, but it’d get the job done.

 Erik could practically hear her chastising him for it. If she was on this case, she wouldn’t have hesitated in the slightest. Erik’s attitude would have worn enough that she would have taken matters in her own hands.

 But this was different…and in a way, he was in this situation because of her. He had taken the fall for her tons of times in the past and it was shrugged off, but this was something different. This was something that threatened to weaken him. And if he was weak…then he wasn’t worth anything to the organization.

 Charles’s cheek was pressed to his chest in a comfortable position. He could hear him humming as he stepped towards the elevator and hesitated in place. At least one of them was comfortable…and he wasn’t about to go into another panic attack tonight. He made for the stairs and took one step at a time, slowly due to the extra weight.

 Once he got to their floor, it was just an unconscious decision to utilize his power without shifting Charles in his arms and use his key. The door was unlocked and he stepped into the other man’s loft, finding it very annoying that there was a very faint smell of Charles’s cologne permeating the air that he was starting to enjoy.

 The detective was taken to his room where Erik began to set him down with the full plan to vacate the loft right after. Charles, however, chose that moment to partially wake up, latch around Erik’s neck with both arms and pull him down on top.

 Abruptly, Erik’s face smushed against the pillow where he let out a muffled groan.

 “Charles…Wake up,”

 “Hmm,” Charles just hummed again and squeezed him tighter before rolling them both over and laying on top of Erik, hands pressed flat over his chest.

 “Charles…,” Erik muttered again, but to no avail; Charles was already falling asleep again.

 It was a hard situation. He could be less than kind, push Charles off of him and make for the door before the other realized what happened. That seemed cruel somehow. He found himself not liking the prospect of waking him up so soon.

 Charles may be affectionately cuddling him now…but that didn’t suggest he would feel the same when he woke up sober. He’d seen enough comedy movies to know that that was when the person invading the bed would get hit by a frying pan or something else equally hard.

 So he stayed still…still and awake. Erik couldn’t allow himself to sleep with Charles so close to him. He was perfectly capable of guarding his mind in his waking hours…but when he was asleep, that was a different story. There was no defense from any nightmares stemmed from his childhood or his line of work. If those dreams projected to Charles, then his cover was blown. True Charles was probably slipping into a very deep sleep that stopped him from picking up on thoughts, but Erik couldn’t take that risk.

 His breathing evened out and he watched the other man rise and fall with each movement of his chest. He returned the embrace, wrapping his arms around him, rubbing circles in the small of his back. This definitely wasn’t part of the plan tonight.

 Erik planned on moving the moment Charles did. But he didn’t move off him. Two hours passed and Erik remained immobile. At this rate, he was going to go bloodshot and when the time came to pretend to have been sleeping when Charles woke up, he was going to actually drift off.

 Luck was on his side when Charles shifted a little, compacting himself and shivering.  Erik was able to gently wrap an arm around Charles and place him on the bed alone. He immediately curled in again as Erik slid off the bed and freed himself.

 He should just leave. Right now. But there was something annoyingly wrong with just leaving him in the cold. He was able to tug off Charles’s shoes, place them at the end of the bed. Then he slowly pulled on the blanket until it was no longer under him and laid it gently on top.

 There was a moment where Erik stood there. This was another opportunity, easier than the first in the bar. Charles was not far off from REM sleep that Erik could kill him without letting Charles make a sound. There were enough knives in the kitchen and Erik knew the exact positions to make it look like he took his own life.

 If Erik wanted to be practical, he could collapse the entire room on Charles and kill him before the detective could utter a sound. This wouldn’t be his only chance, he was sure…but it was enough of one to make a move.

 And yet he couldn’t bring himself to do it…any of it. The detective was a thorn in the organization’s side. Erik wasn’t helping matters by confronting him in the assassins’ garb…but he wanted to get his warning out. It seemed, after their conversation tonight, that he had only succeeded in making Charles want to pursue him more. Now that there was no illusion and solid proof…proof that he had even conversed with, there was no stopping him.

 Thinking back now on how Charles had hit on him in the bar…and how cute he looked when he was speaking with a drunken slur…and how his eyes became hooded when he leaned in…Yes, there was no doubt now that he had a personal interest in Charles that went beyond taking him off his investigation. He found himself concerned for the man’s safety…concerned that he might have to resort to this deadly measure to stop him. Even if Erik was taken off this investigation now for this sentiment, there would be another, more ruthless assassin that would just add Charles to their kill count and move on.

 It was dangerous. These were dangerous thoughts. It was just like how Charles had said. This was a dangerous game, and he was playing right into it. He had to get out of here…this loft, this room. Any longer here and he may well be tempted rekindle the opportunity missed in the bar with Charles. He turned and left the room, closing the door gently on the peacefully sleeping detective.

 Once he was in the safety of his own loft, that…abominable HankSpy was up and in his face, literally floating a few centimeters away. As he stared eye to eye with it like this, he could see that the little LED light that Hank had inside was glowing red. He had disregarded that it was normally blue.

 Without the earpiece, he couldn’t hear what was meant to be said, but it was safe to assume that the light inside changing color to red meant he was angry.

 “Don’t you judge me,” said Erik sharply, closing the door behind him and reluctantly picking up the ear piece off the counter top.

 “Oh I’m not judging you. I’m infuriated with you. I’m just glad I’m not seeing you come in later…with a distinct..AFTER FORNICATION smell on you.”

 “You can’t even smell through this thing,” said Erik, waving a dismissive hand at the floating device as he made for his room, pulling his jacket off on the way.

 “That’s not the point, Erik…but…,” Erik heard him sigh.  “I’m…just hoping you know what you’re doing. I know your track record…and I know the methods some of the other members or our organization use. “

 Erik stuck his head out the door. “Meaning what, exactly?”

 “Let’s just call all this a……Seduction tactic,” Hank muttered the two words like it was something dirty.

 “It is a valid tactic,” said Erik, ducking back into the room to change into his nightclothes.



 The next morning as Charles expected, he was hung over. He was so glad it was Sunday morning, so he could just faceplant the pillow and turn off his thoughts once more.

 That was until the events of last night started to replay in his mind and he shot up – too fast – causing an already aching head to worsen. What had happened exactly? He had attended Alex’s party thrown for him…which wasn’t the greatest. Largely in part due to Charles walking in late and aggravated.

 Then he went with Erik to the bar and then…and then…no.

He was quick to retreat to the bathroom, brush his teeth and wash his face to wake up more, all the while struggling to recall what actually happened and what was said. He was in his bed…did that mean he passed out and Erik had to carry him up?

 Well, that was embarrassing.

  Before he could stop himself, he was getting dressed as fast as possible in a t-shirt and jeans and darting for the door, praying that the other was home. Tentatively, he raised his hand and knocked twice. 

  Erik opened the door, fully dressed in a white t-shirt and bluejeans. 

  “Charles! This is a pleasant surprise. What can I do for you?”

  “I just…wanted to talk to you for a bit…if you don’t mind?”

  Erik opened the door further to let him in. “I was just making some breakfast. Come on in.”

  Charles followed him inside, taking in the appearance of the loft. It certainly wasn’t what he expected with how Erik dressed. He was expecting darker colors.  Yet the red an white wasn’t unpleasant.  His living room was themed bright red with the couch, the ottoman and the rug below being the same color. Tilting his head to the side, Charles could see that even the bedspread had a red comforter.

  “I like your color scheme. Are you going to paint the walls too?”

  “Someone else picked it out,” said Erik, retreating towards the kitchen. “I’m just sort of stuck with it.”

   "I still like it,“ said Charles, moving towards one of the barstools on the other side of the kitchen counter. He watched Erik for a moment as the other man kept his back to him, busy over a frying pan.

   Good. It was probably easier to talk to Erik when his back was turned.

  “Listen…I’m sorry about last night. I have a tendency to black out whenever I drink so if I acted any kind of weird…or said anything weird…I apologize.”

  Erik paused, turning the heat down and peering at Charles from the side, his eyebrow raised.

  “You blacked out? What, so you don’t remember anything from last night? Nothing at all?”

  “Bits and pieces,” said Charles, squinting at him before he covered his face entirely behind both hands. “What? Oh…I said something weird, didn’t I? I knew it. I knew I probably passed out at the very least. Last thing I can…recall well was just deciding to go to the bar with you.”

  “You didn’t say anything weird,” The faintest smile appeared across Erik’s lips, amused at Charles’s flustering. “I wouldn’t call it weird anyway.”

  “What did I say?” Charles asked without looking up.

  “Hahh…now I’m not sure if I want to tell you,” said Erik, plucking a kettle off another stove top and pouring a mug. He carried off a plate of pancakes, scrambled eggs and sausage around and placed it in front of Charles with a steaming cup of coffee.

  The temptation of food roused Charles enough to pull his hands away and watch Erik settle behind the counter again, his hand gripping the edge of the surface as his body leaned in a…playfully taunting sort of way with his hand on his hip.

  “Please tell me. Was I rude?”

  “No..,” said Erik, taking a sip of his own coffee. “Wouldn’t say you were rude either…maybe just a little…more…forward.”

 “Oh no…Oh no…Oh no…,” Charles covered his face again, shaking his head.

  Erik gave a soft laugh before coming around the corner towards him. “It’s okay, Charles. It wasn’t a bad thing. Though it was surprising, to say the least.”

  Charles placed his forehead against the granite. “Please understand…that’s not my usual…or normal behavior. I promise I’m more professional.”

  “Why on Earth would I want you to be more professional? You’re not at work.”

  “Ugh…It’s just…I was drunk and stupid…and saying stupid things. Who am I kidding? You’d never be interested in someone like me.  I haven’t even dated a man before…You probably don’t want someone who’s just…always…in their own job…can’t even show up on time for my own birthday party…Just…a mess. My loft isn’t even as clean as yours.. I haven’t even apologized for the mess. I’m sorry. It’s a messy loft. I’ll clean it. My mother always said I couldn’t shake off a bad habit of cleaning when I’m upset…and now I realized that I forgot to vacuum before inviting you up for the party.”

  He was rambling, continuing to speak against the counter top so fast that Erik had to lean closer to get clear hearing of him.

  “Charles…Charles…” Erik reached over and took grip of one of his hands still covering his face and giving a light tug. “…Charles..easy. Take a breath.”

  “No no…No.” Charles kept reciting on repeat.

  Applying a little more force, Erik pulled his hands away and Charles faced him with a miserable expression.

  “You didn’t say anything stupid. You’re not even remotely stupid…so don’t say that. And don’t say I’m never going to be interested in you…,” said Erik, leaning in to catch his gaze. 

  “You are still? I mean…are you still?” 

  “Of course…Come here.”

  Erik led him away, off the counter and led him to the middle of the living room.  He waved a hand and the stereo began to play soft piano music. Charles stared around as he settled in Erik’s embrace, gripping his arms in the slow sway, his cheeks turning slightly red.

  “Where’s that coming from?”

  “Stereo,” Erik answered, amending when Charles continued to look confused. “Motion sensor…”

  Yeah. Motion Sensor. Despite the HankSpy being currently inactive, he could practically feel the other judging him.

  “How about this? We have a proper outing, you and I,” said Erik. “You and me…just one evening. We can moderate the drink count if need be.”

   “I wouldn’t drink at all…if we were to go out,” said Charles, placing his hands on Erik’s chest where the other could feel his heart beating underneath.

  “Is that a yes?” Erik asked, raising an eyebrow.

  “It’s a yes,” Charles nodded.” Tomorrow night sound good?”

  “It sounds perfect,” said Erik. He leaned down towards him, their cheeks brushing as Erik allowed him to hide his expression. “You know I hate to embarrass you further because I feel you might actually shift into a turtle and disappear if I do…”

  “Uh oh…,” Charles murmured.

  “But you almost kissed me last night…perhaps with this date I might be able to give you proper one.”

  “I…umm…,” Charles pulled back a few inches, his eyes drawn downward. “I…”

  Before Erik could finish his distraction, there was a vibration coming from his pocket. He sighed, stilling for a moment, and looking at Charles, hoping he had some semblance of willpower to just ignore it altogether. He released Charles briefly to take out his phone, eyeing the number on the screen. It was a text message in all caps.

  Shaw. Requesting an immediate callback.

  “Sorry…I have to take this,”

  “It’s okay…I should be going…but…tomorrow night,” said Charles, holding up a finger. "Meet me downstairs in the lobby around seven?"

  “I'll be there. Tomorrow night,” Erik confirmed, reluctantly watching him leave. Once the door closed behind him, Erik shut off the music and dialed Shaw’s number.

  He picked up after one ring. “You’re usually quicker than that, Erik.”

  “I’m usually less busy,” said Erik shortly. “I was in the middle of something. You have me on a mission, remember?”

  “I would not call you if it was not urgent.”

  “What is this about?”

  In answer, the HankSpy began to rattle and Erik thought his ‘sidekick’ was waking up, but when it shot up, it hovered for a moment before the light within the lens turned bright red and began to project outward.

  “You have control of this thing?” 

  “Of course...I’m the one who encouraged Hank to build it,” said Shaw coolly. The image displayed distracted Erik from an offended train of thought regarding Shaw’s means to spy on him. 

  It was an image of a man in a long trenchcoat with a hat covering the top half of his face so only his smile was visible. 

  Erik’s face paled somewhat. “Jason.”

  “He doesn’t go by that anymore...at least not by our knowledge,” Shaw answered while another window popped up reading the name in capital letters “MASTERMIND”.

  “I thought he was dead,” Erik crossed his arms. “That’s what you told me.”

  “No, I told you his trail went cold when we went north. Now, he’s resurfaced and he’s requesting a meeting with a representative from our organization.”

  “And you think sending me  is your best bet?” Erik scoffed. “Given my history with the man, I’m not sure that’s the best idea.”

  “Jason Wyngarde is a master telepath, Erik. You know this. He can convince the weak minded to see psychic illusions on a colossal level. Unfortunately, we don’t have the means to combat this.”

  “You’re sending me for a few show signs of mental prowess, then? The man’s calling himself MASTERMIND now, Shaw. I daresay that means his power has increased.”

  “We don’t know that yet,” Shaw answered. “I’m sending you the location he’s requested...it’s out of state. You’re to meet him tomorrow.”

  “Tomorrow?” Erik’s hostility melted momentarily to make way for a surge of panic. “...I...can’t tomorrow. I have...something to do. Send someone else. Send this HankThing. I’m sure it’ll fare better than me against a master telepath.”

  “You’ve been given your orders, Erik,” It was irritating that every time Shaw’s tone rose, the red light behind the lens started to brighten. “I expect you to follow them.”

  For a long moment, Erik debated simply throwing the HankSpy and shutting Shaw up for good...but he knew Shaw...and he knew despite how outspoken he was with the man, there was no crossing him...Not without facing dire consequences. 

  “...I’ll be there. Send me the location when you can.”