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The Time Between

Chapter Text

Sleep did not come easily that night, not that Charles had expected it to. Raven had been having some sort of identity crisis, and Erik...Erik was going to do something stupid, Charles could see it looming in front of them like a smoking volcano, and he didn’t know how to stop it. He knew Erik wanted to kill Shaw, but somehow he’d hoped...well, he’d known he was being silly, but he’d hoped some of these last few weeks would have made a difference. He’d hoped he’d made a difference. Just that afternoon, he’d gotten a real laugh out of the man! Maybe, if they had more time—but they didn’t have more time. They were flying to Cuba in the morning, and Erik was going to kill Shaw.

He wished, rather childishly, that Moira hadn’t interrupted them that afternoon. They’d made a real connection—Erik had allowed him into his brain, Erik had let him see him vulnerable, and for just that moment, it seemed like they were getting somewhere. But now there was a cold feeling in Charles’s bones, and for some reason he didn’t think he would be hearing Erik laugh again for very long time.

 

Eventually, restless, he got out of bed and wandered down the hall, casually brushing the minds of his friends. There was fear, and apprehension, but also excitement...it seemed everyone was asleep, except—Erik. Of course it would be Erik, the person he most and least wanted to speak with. More than anything, he wished this weren’t so complicated. They’d known each other for barely a month and Erik was already the best friend he’d ever had (Raven was his sister and he loved her, but she never got him the way Erik did), but even though it was obvious that Erik was happier with them, he consistently tried to pull away. Erik had the most beautiful mind Charles had ever seen, yet he insisted on dwelling in the dark spaces of it...if only they had more time, Charles might be able to pull him around—perhaps they did have more time. They were both awake, and Charles was hardly going to be able to get to sleep now.

Walking as quietly as he could, Charles made his way through the mansion to pause outside of Erik’s door. Erik, he thought gently at his friend. Can I come in?

He felt Erik start at the voice in his mind, but it was only a moment before the door opened. “What do you want?” Erik whispered curtly.

Charles stepped around him into the room, sitting on the edge of the bed and patting the space beside him. “I couldn’t sleep.”

Erik looked wary, but sat next to him. “Neither could I,” he admitted.

Charles half smiled, leaning his shoulder into the other man’s. Erik wasn’t big on physical contact, generally, but in the weeks they’d been searching for other mutants together this sort of casual touch had become normal. It felt a little stilted, now, but Charles was hardly going to pull back if Erik didn’t. “I’m terrified,” he said after a minute, entirely honest.

Erik nodded, looking at his hands. “So am I.”

They sat in silence for what felt like a long time, shoulders touching lightly, until Charles couldn’t stand it anymore and reached out for Erik’s mind. It was a swirl of resignation and vindictive excitement, underlain by fear and doubt and a little spark of something else. Before Charles could identify it, however, Erik straightened so that they were no longer touching.

“Raven came to see me tonight,” he said. “She was in my bed when I came back from our chess match.”

Charles felt something hot and painful boil up in his chest. “Oh,” was all he managed.

Erik rolled his eyes and bumped Charles’s shoulder again. “Don’t go into protective brother mode on me, I didn’t let her stay.” He made a noise that was almost a laugh. “I told her to get out and come back in a few years.”

The feeling receded, and Charles practically sagged into Erik’s side. His head was now on his friend’s shoulder. “Oh. Good.”

Erik did laugh now—not as freely as he had that afternoon, but definitely a laugh. “Besides,” he said, tilting his head to rest against Charles’s. “It’s not her I’m interested in.”

“Oh?” Charles said, and looked, because how could he not? And that something else was now in the forefront of Erik’s mind, the sort of warm, squishy feeling he’d hardly have expected out of Erik. Even more surprising was the fact that it was directed at him.Oh.

Erik heard the change in voice tone, turning to face him. “I thought you knew,” he said softly, raising a hand to Charles’s cheek.

Charles shook his head slightly, not wanting to break eye-contact. “I didn’t.” He hadn’t been looking, he supposed, and it was hardly the sort of thing one expected, and he did try to respect other people’s privacy...

“And?” Eric quirked an eyebrow. His tone was confident, but his mind was braced for rejection or worse.

Charles took a deep breath. He hadn’t known, but he couldn’t say he was displeased. There was a different feeling in his chest now, warm instead of hot, and instead of replying he leaned forward to press their lips together. He tried to project what he was feeling into Erik’s mind, and in return got a flash of unmistakable lust. Erik’s hands came up around him as he deepened the kiss. It was hot and wet and thoroughly unexpected—there was a desperation in the kiss that said they both knew this night might be all they had.

Reluctantly, Charles pulled back. As much as he didn’t want to, they needed to talk about this before it got out of hand. “I’m terrified,” he said again, and this time Erik pulled him into a hug, cradling him against his chest.

“I know,” Erik said simply, and that was all it took for the tears that Charles hadn’t even realized were there to start flowing.

They’re just children, Charles thought as a little sob escaped him. What if something happens to one of them? What if we don’t make it in time?

Erik rubbed his back gently, mind softening further. “I know.”

Raven thinks I think of her as a pet, he continued, and if something happens to her tomorrow I’ll never be able to fix that. And you, Erik, you’re my best friend! How will I live with myself after this if something happens to you? You asked me earlier if I could allow you to kill Shaw—but that isn’t my choice to make. I could never hate you, Erik, never, no matter what you did. Do you have any idea how beautiful your mind is? All the things you are capable of? You’ve hardly scratched the surface! Erik was crying now, too, if the wetness on his forehead was anything to go by. And I know I can’t change your mind, I would never try to change your mind on something like this, but just—I can’t lose you, Erik, not now. And they were kissing again, tears and all. Because there was nothing else to do. Because tomorrow this might all be over.

Erik pushed him gently down onto the bed, and Charles sobbed a laugh as they tried to get under the covers without separating. Eventually they managed it, and they curled into each other, still kissing. He could feel Erik’s erection against his own, but they were both content with this for now, cuddling and kissing until the tears finally stopped and they drifted off to sleep.

 

Charles woke up before he remembered where he was, sunlight in his face and limbs tangled in someone else’s. He blinked sleepily, curling closer to the warmth, before he felt something hard poking him and he abruptly remembered what was happening. The panic he’d managed to avoid last night came on full-force—what was he doing? This was Erik, his very male best friend, a bomb whose fuse they were going to light today and hope wouldn’t explode. There was no way this was going anywhere other than pain, and he really should get up and leave. Maybe they could pretend it never happened.

But...Erik was warm, and present, and his sleeping mind glowed with more happiness than Charles had yet seen. The dark emotions that Erik seemed to think defined him were pushed aside in favor of—love? Erik was in love with him? That alone should have been enough to have him running for the door, but instead it calmed him. Something in his heart sighed with contentment at the thought, and the warm feeling from last night was back, stronger...

Erik stirred, tightening his hold on Charles and burying his face in his hair, and the warm feeling settled. Oh. “I love you,” Charles murmured in surprised. “Erik, I love you.”

Eyes the color of sea glass met his own, and suddenly he was being kissed. It was a soft kiss, lips barely touching, and Erik pulled back far too soon. “I know,” he said, smiling.

Charles grinned back as Erik’s alarm started ringing. “Bugger.”

“Time to save the world,” Erik said, pressing their lips together one more time before turning off the alarm and getting out of bed. “You need to get back to your room before your alarm wakes everyone up.”

Charles knew he was right, even though there were a lot of things they should probably say. Now was not the time to say them, and he could only hope that later they would get another chance.

Chapter Text

 

By the time they all gathered outside of Hank’s lab, Erik’s smooth mask of indifference was back full force. Charles, however, was still distracted—no matter how hard he tried to push it away, he kept thinking about last night, Erik’s arms around him, Erik’s lips on his.... He did his best to avoid looking at him as they walked into the lab—which had been destroyed?

“What happened here?” Erik asked, and Charles couldn’t help but look at him. It earned him a tiny smile.

Charles turned back around and strode as quickly as he could to the crate Hank had said to bring. Inside were yellow jumpsuits, each obviously designed for them specifically.

“Hank has been busy,” Erik said from right behind him. Charles was suddenly aware that the entire group was right behind him, and when had that happened? How long had he been staring in the case like an idiot?

Sean squeezed between him and Erik to peer in the case, and Alex asked if they had to wear the suits.

“As none of us are mutated to survive extreme G-force or being riddled by bullets,” Charles said definitively, “I suggest we ‘suit up.’”

They rode over to the airbase in a relative silence, although the air of nervous tension persisted. Charles resolutely did not make eye contact with Erik—he knew he couldn’t afford the distraction, and he wasn’t sure that if he looked he would be able to look away. He didn’t want him to take it as a rejection, however...Erik, he projected.

In his mind, he felt Erik turn to look at him. Can’t bear to look at me?

I’m afraid I can hardly help myself. Charles smiled slightly, still looking away. You’re very distracting, you know that?

Some of the tension in Erik’s mind drained away, and Charles felt rather than saw him grin.

“What are you so happy about?” Alex asked. “You look like a shark, dude.”

Charles’s gaze snapped over to stare at the boy as Erik replied, “I’m merely excited.”

Alex didn’t seem convinced. “Whatever, dude, just don’t eat me.”

Erik actually laughed at that, and Charles thought his heart might burst for love of this man.

Sorry, he thought.

Whatever for?

 

Hank had said he would be waiting for them, but when they lined up by the plane he still wasn’t there.

Raven, who seemed more concerned than the rest of them, asked aloud where he was.

“I’m here.” It was Hank’s voice, but deeper.

“Hank?” Charles found himself asking, slightly alarmed. Hank was the only one of them who could fly a plane, and if something was wrong with him...

A large figure emerged from the shadows. “It didn’t attack the cells,” Hank began, coming into view. He was covered in blue fur. “It enhanced them.” The appearance serum, of course, that was what he was talking about. He looked down. “It didn’t work.”

“Yes, it did, Hank!” Everyone turned to look at Raven, who was smiling. “Don’t you see? This is who you were meant to be.” She stepped forward, putting a hand on his shoulder. “This is you. No more hiding.”

“Never looked better, man,” Erik said, clapping him on the shoulder.

No one would have predicted Hank’s response—he grabbed Erik by the neck, lifting him off the ground.

“Hank!” Charles shouted instantly, heart in his throat.

“Don’t mock me,” Hank growled at Erik.

“Hank, put him down immediately, please,” Charles found himself begging. “Hank! HANK!”

Finally Hank dropped him, and Erik crumpled to the round, gasping. “I wasn’t,” he said when he could breathe again.

“Even I gotta admit you look pretty bad-ass,” Alex said. “I think I got a new name for you: Beast.”

Hank looked slightly mollified at this, and the tension dropped.

“You sure you can fly this thing?” Sean asked, gesturing to the plane.

“Of course I can,” Hank said. “I designed it.”

Charles sat as far as he could from Erik on the plane , knowing he would need all his wits about him as they went into this. The plane was fast—very fast—but they were still cutting it close, and the fate of the world hinged on this going right the first time.

“Looks pretty messy out there,” Hank said as they approached the Embargo line.

Erik immediately turned to Charles, looking for more info—it was times like this, when Erik acted on his thoughts, that he realized how truly synchronized they were.

He scanned the Russian ship for life, finding one mind still hanging on to consciousness. He looked through the man’s eyes just in time to see Shaw’s teleporter stomp on his head. He snapped back to himself painfully. “The crew of the Aral Sea are all dead. Shaw’s been there.”

“He’s still here, somewhere,” Erik said emphatically. Charles could feel how much he hoped it was true, and a jolt of unease crept down his spine. He knew what Erik meant to do, of course he did. That didn’t mean he couldn’t hope it wasn’t true.

“He’s set the ship on course for the Embargo line,” Charles said, still reeling

“If that ship crosses the line, our boys are gonna blow it up,” Moira put in from the cockpit. “And the war begins.”

Yes, as if they didn’t already know... “Unless they’re not ‘our boys.’”

Charles took a deep breath, closing his eyes and reaching out his mind to the Russian battleship. He took over the first man he found and made him fire on the Aral Sea. Unfortunately, this caused the missile to go dangerously close to where they were flying—Hank had to roll the jet to avoid it, and Raven screamed.

“Hold on! Hold on!” Charles shouted at no one in particular.

“A little warning next time, Professor?” Hank said once they’d stopped rolling.

“Sorry about that. Are you all right?” Charles asked.

There was a collective murmur of assent.

“That was inspired, Charles.” Moira said.

“Thank you very much,” he responded, and then winced mentally. Politeness was going to get him in trouble—Moira definitely liked him, and while he did find her attractive...well, Erik was another story. Another likely-to-get-jealous story. “But I still can’t locate Shaw.”

“He’s down there, we need to find him. Now.” And yes, there was an edge of something to Erik’s voice. They had the worst timing, didn’t they?

“Hank?” Charles asked, hoping they had some kind of scanner.

“Is there anything unusual on the radar or scanners?” Hank asked Moira.

“No, nothing.”

“Well then he must be underwater,” Hank said, logically. “And obviously we don’t have sonar.”

“Yes, we do,” said Sean.

“Yes, we do,” Charles said, brightening. This would almost certainly work. He got up, and Sean and Erik followed him. The plane was still twisted, though, and getting back into the bomb bay at that speed wasn’t going to be a picnic. “Hank!” he shouted. “Level the bloody plane!”

He led Sean over to the doors on the floor, and Erik followed. “Whoa,” Sean said. “You back right off.” He pointed at Erik, who held his hands up in surrender and stepped back. Charles supposed being thrown off a tower was reason enough not to want him around. “Beast!” Sean shouted. “Open the bomb bay doors!”

“Remember,” Charles told him, putting a hand on the boy’s throat. “This is a muscle! You control it!” He put his other hand to his temple. “You’ll be in here the entire time! We’ll see you soon! On my mark: 3, 2, 1, GO!” On go he pushed Sean out the opening.

Through Sean’s eyes, he saw him fall almost to sea level before screaming himself upward and then plunging underwater. Distantly, as through someone else’s ears, he heard Moira alerting the US fleet to take their cans off, before Sean screamed. The sound waves bounced back, giving them a map of the sea floor—and Shaw’s submarine.

Charles snapped back to himself, smiling. “Banshee’s got a location on Shaw.”

Erik snapped to attention, terrified and excited. He took a deep breath and stepped closer.

“Are you ready for this?” Charles couldn’t help but ask.

Erik nodded slightly. “Let’s find out.” He walked around the opening in the floor to where the landing gear was folded, lying down with his feet on top of the wheel. “Lower the wheels!” He commanded.

Hank pulled the plane around, closer to Shaw, and lowered Erik into the open. He’d managed to end up standing perfectly on the assembly, out of the plane but relatively secure. Charles was a little bit impressed at the smoothness of the whole thing.

Erik stretched out a hand, straining to lift something so large and distant. He let out a little gasp of pain and defeat, his mind turning dark with the knowledge that it was too far, he couldn’t lift it. Remember, Charles told him, blushing his mind with happier thoughts. The point between rage and serenity.

Erik took a breath, grabbing on to the calm warmth Charles was sending him, and tried again. Almost immediately, they could see Shaw’s submarine climbing to the surface, and then it was in the air. Erik grinned, a burst of exhilarated relief coming off of him.

The hatch on the top of the submarine opened, and a man stepped out. Janos, the man’s mind supplied. Going to destroy you with a tornado. As the thought passed through his mind, a column of wind appeared at his feet, getting larger and moving towards the jet in a flash.

“Erik, take my hand!” Charles shouted. If Erik was still on the landing gear when that thing hit...Hank said something, but it didn’t matter, because Erik was still down on the wheel and the tornado was all around them. He dropped the submarine, clutching to the support for dear life. “Erik, take my hand!” Charles practically screamed.

There was an explosion, and the plane started falling, Erik was flung off...but he managed to swing up, towards Charles, who caught him and pulled him into the plane. They were still falling, though, spiraling through space and they weren’t attached to anything—Erik threw himself on top of Charles, holding them to the floor (wall, roof, it didn’t matter) of the chamber. Someone was screaming (it was probably him) as they hit the ground and bounced, rolling over before finally coming to a halt. Whatever surface he and Erik were attached to, it was now the ceiling. Erik released his hold, and they fell to the ground still entangled. In other circumstances, he might have enjoyed it, but now his back hurt and Erik was bruised—he let his mind go out to the rest of the team, checking to see if anyone was seriously injured. Some minor scrapes and bruises, but everyone seemed fine. Moira was trapped though, hanging from the ceiling, and he hurried to help her.

“Moira? Moira, are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m okay,” she said as he got her down.

He could feel Erik behind him, helping the others, so he stretched his mind out into the broken Submarine. The teleporter—Azazel—had turned up the reactor so that Shaw could take in all its energy.

“I read the teleporter’s mind,” he told Moira. “Shaw’s drawing all the power out of his sub. He’s turning himself into some kind of nuclear bomb.”

Moira pulled a device out of her belt. “We’ve got no time!” she said. “The geiger counter’s going out of control!”

“All right, Moira, this is what we’re going to do.” If they all thought he was a leader, then he was bloody well going to lead. “Get on the radio and send both fleets out immediately.”

“I’m going in.” Erik declared.

“Beast, Havok, back him up!” Charles ordered. You are not going to kill yourself over this, he added to Erik alone. “Erik,” he continued aloud, “I can guide you through once you’re in, but I need you to shut down whatever it is that’s blocking me—then we just hope to god it’s not too late for me to stop him.”

“Got it,” Erik said, already moving.

“Good luck!” Charles shouted, mind already tuning into his. Then he noticed Raven moving. “Raven, STOP!”

“I’m going to help them!” She said.

“We don’t have time for this, anything comes in that entrance, you’re taking care of it, yes?”

“Fine,” she said angrily, but stayed put.

Charles turned his mind back to Erik. Shaw’s three remaining henchpeople were standing on the beach, waiting for them. Havoc shot at them through his chest piece, knocking Janos into the submarine. The teleporter was on him in an instant, and he and Beast began grappling with him.They teleported away, and Angel followed, leaving the beach clear for Erik. He tore open the side of the submarine, crushing Janos beneath a sheet of metal and running inside.

“Erik, make for the middle of the vessel,” Charles said and projected. “That’s the point my mind can’t penetrate. We have to assume that’s where Shaw is.” Erik made his way cautiously through the vessel, eventually pausing beside a control panel. “That’s the nuclear reactor,” Charles told him. “Disable it.”

Erik pulled the right lever, and opened the door beside it. “Erik, you’re there, you’ve reached the void.”

“He’s not here, Charles!” And Charles could see, through Erik’s eyes, that the room was empty. “Shaw’s not here! He’s left the sub.”

“What? He’s got to be there, he has to be, there’s nowhere else he can be, keep looking!”

“And I’m telling you he’s not!” Erik was getting angry and warning bells were going off in Charles’s head. “There’s no one here, god dammit!” A door opened behind him, and he spun around to face Shaw.

“Erik,” Shaw said. “What a pleasant surprise.”

“Erik?” All the heat of his anger had melted off him and turned into cold, calculating hatred. Charles had never been more afraid, but they had to press on. He still couldn’t feel Shaw, just see him in Erik’s mind. “Erik!”

“So good to see you again,” Shaw continued, and Charles could see this going nowhere good. Erik was walking towards him, going through the door into the reactor, and then they were both gone.

“He’s gone!” He shouted.

“What?” Moira asked.

“He’s gone into the void. I can’t communicate with him there!” Charles ran over to her, frustrated. If he couldn’t reach Erik, and he couldn’t reach Shaw, Erik was going to die. Less than a minute of frustrated silence later, however, a chink seemed to open up in the shielding. “He’s back! Erik, whatever you’re doing, keep doing it! It’s starting to work!” Shaw was giving him some sort of speech, trying to convince him to come over, but Charles couldn’t quite make it out. Suddenly there was a spike of pain from Erik, and their minds were back as one. “It’s working. I’m starting to see him, but I can’t yet touch his mind.” Erik looked up at Shaw, realizing the Helmet was probably what was blocking Charles.

“You’ve come a long way from bending gates,” Shaw was saying. “I’m so proud of you.”

Erik couldn’t take it anymore, smashing all the surrounding pipes into the room and into Shaw. The man hardly paused. “And you’re just starting to scratch the surface. Think how much further we could go. Together.” Shaw had him pinned against a wall, and no matter how hard he tried, Erik couldn’t shove the metal away. “I don’t want to hurt you, Erik. I never did. I want to help you. This is our time, our age—we are the future of the human race. You and me, son. This world could be ours.”

It was true, some of it, enough to nearly make Erik pause—but when Shaw called him “Son”, he snapped back to himself. This was the man who had murdered his mother in front of him in the hopes he would do an interesting trick. This was the man who had manipulated him for years into being a good little lab rat. Whether he was right was beside the point—this was not a man Erik would follow. He had to play along though, or Shaw would kill him and then the rest of the world. And Charles. “Everything you did made me stronger.” But Charles has done more in a week than you did in fifteen years. “Made me the weapon I am today.” But I don’t want to be a weapon. “That’s the truth. I’ve known it all along.” Shaw leaned closer to him, smiling. “You are my creator.” He yanked the helmet off with some wires that had fallen from the ceiling. “NOW, Charles!”

Charles dove into the newly exposed mind, holding him firmly in place. He’d been so immersed in Erik he’d nearly forgotten they were separate.

“Are you all right?” Moira asked. He must have winced, or made a noise. Distantly, he was aware of the intense headache that this much mental strain was causing him.

“Moira, be quiet, I can only hold this man for so long!” And he still wasn’t sure what Erik was going to do.

Erik dropped the pipe holding him to the wall, walking around Shaw. He pulled the helmet down and turned it over in his hands. Charles could see him at war with himself, part of him wanting to put it on, part of him knowing the immense betrayal that would be. Charles had said he wasn’t going to stop him, and he wasn’t. Erik, he projected silently, I love you.

Erik dropped the helmet like it had burned him, looking up to face Shaw. “If you’re in there, I’d like you to know that if it were up to me, I’d kill you. You murdered my mother, and you tried to destroy everything I’ve built for myself. I’m not your pawn, Shaw.” He started wrapping metal pipes around him. “And I’m certainly not your ‘son’.” You could knock him out now, Charles, instead of just holding him here.

Charles let out a gasp of relief, sending Shaw off to sleep and drawing out of him.

“It’s done,” he said to Moira. “We’ve got Shaw.”

She grinned. “Looks like you got through to him after all.”

They ran out onto the beach, where all the others were waiting. Erik came out of the sub, Shaw’s metal-encased body floating before him. Shaw’s team looked frightened.

“Today our fighting stops,” Erik proclaimed, floating down. “Take off your blinders, brothers and sisters! The real enemy is here.” He gestured to Shaw’s still levitating form. “In those who seek to manipulate and use us, in those who only want our power.” He paused, looking out at the armada still gathered around their little beach. “And those who merely seek to destroy us.” There are guns pointing at us, Charles. Lots of guns.

“Moira, could you let them know that the beach is secure?” They’re targeting us.

Moira took off down the beach, running, as Charles walked over to where Erik was standing. Can you stop them?

Yes, but I should destroy them. Charles, this is going to keep happening—I keep telling you, they’ll never accept us.

And I’m telling you, violence is not the answer. We have to be the better man. We can create our own society, separate from theirs, where mutants are free to express who they are. Where they are trained to use their abilities, not just fear them.

Erik sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. Why must you be so damn soft?

The missiles were coming, now, and Charles felt everyone bracing themselves. Erik threw out a hand, catching the entire volley and holding them. Are you sure I can’t blow them up?

You said it yourself, Erik—they’re scared. They believe we’re all like Shaw, all trying to destroy them. We have to show them that we’re not.

Another, larger sigh, but the missiles all crash into each other, a safe distance above everything.

Moira comes back, breathless, just in time to watch the explosion. “What happened?”

“They fired on us,” Erik said. “I stopped it.”

What happened to Mr. Violence? She mused, loud enough Charles thought he was probably supposed to hear.

We reached a mutual understanding, Charles told her, grabbing Erik’s hand and tugging him down to sit on the sand. “I’m exhausted.”

“What do we do now?” Azazel asked. Charles had nearly forgotten it wasn’t just his team on the beach.

“You’re more than welcome to come with us,” he said to the three of them. “We have a facility, a safe facility, and more than enough space.” A quick scan of their minds told him that they weren’t evil, just faithful to the wrong person. “Or I guess you’re free to go. Whichever. Whatever.”

“Janos and I will go with you.” The red mutant shrugged. “As we have nowhere else to go.”

“I’ll come to, if you’ll have me,” Angel said, wringing her hands. “I know I left, but it was never that I didn’t like you.”

Charles gave her a smile. “Wonderful. Now that that’s settled—Azazel, do you think you could give us a lift? It seems we’re all a bit lacking in regards to transportation, and I very much doubt the men on the boats would be happy to see us.”

That got a chuckle out of Erik. “What about Shaw?”

“He can go back with Moira—there’s a helicopter on its way as we speak.” Charles stood up and walked over to the only non-mutant on the beach. “This is goodbye, then, Moira. Anonymity will be our first best line of defense.”

“I won’t tell anyone where you’ve gone,” she said.

“I know you won’t.” Charles reached up to brush back her hair, removing all memories of the Mansion from her brain. “Azazel?”

They all linked hands and were back at the Mansion in a blink.

“Nice place,” Azazel said.

“Why weren’t we staying here before?” Angel asked.

Charles rolled his eyes, walking into the front hall. “Ask me all the questions you want in the morning. We’ve all had a long day—for now, there a bedrooms and showers upstairs, should be food in the kitchen if you’re hungry. Is anyone bleeding?”He asked belatedly.

There was a chorus of no’s.

“Great. Beast, show them around if they need it. Please don’t try to kill us in our sleep, Erik is very good with knives and doesn’t hesitate to use them. Is there anything that anyone absolutely has to have?” he paused for a second. “Then I’m going to sleep, and I do NOT wish to be disturbed.”

He marched up the stairs before anyone could stop him, and made it to his bed just before his legs gave out.

Chapter Text

Charles woke up at about three am, certain that his bladder was about to explode. He ran to the bathroom, thinking that this always happened when he didn’t pee before he went to bed, and he really should have thought of that—yesterday. Yesterday. He was suddenly wide awake, memories from the day before crashing onto him like tidal waves.

They’d stopped the crisis, they’d caught Shaw—Erik hadn’t killed him, Erik had stayed on his side even though he thought Charles was being silly and soft. And they’d all made it back safely? He remembered—hazily—asking if everyone was all right when they’d gotten back to the mansion, and he was fairly certain they’d all said yes, or he wouldn’t’ve just gone and collapsed on them. But everyone included a few more than anticipated, didn’t it? Cautiously, Charles stretched out his mind. The whole house was asleep, for once, but even in sleep he could feel the unease creeping from the dreams of Shaw’s men. Angel seemed more relaxed—if he read her right, she’d wanted to come home as soon as she’d seen Darwin go, but hadn’t been able to get away from Shaw. Charles noted that Beast had put the three of them as far away from the rest of the group as possible, but that was hardly unexpected. They had no reason to trust these people, after all.

Charles sighed heavily, leaning against the wall and closing his eyes. He’d left Moira with Shaw, and made her forget every way of contacting him she’d ever had. He’d let strange and recently hostile people into their safe haven. He’d basically told Erik—no, you’re wrong, do it my way and Erik had done it. Yesterday had gone brilliantly—except how it hadn’t gone brilliantly at all. He just hadn’t been up to facing any of it, anything at all of it, and (like it tended to when he had overstretched himself), everything had “worked out”. Erik’s acquiescence seemed almost too perfect, and the opposition coming home with him willingly seemed nearly as likely as his team letting them. Fuck.

Accidentally manipulating people was near the top of the list of reasons Charles couldn’t sleep at night—it happened sometimes, when he was too tired or drunk to care. Or he thought it did, anyway. There were a few girls he’d brought home he’d never felt comfortable looking in the eye again, and a whole list of times Raven had backed down in an argument she should have won. He’d thought it had been getting better lately, though...but perhaps not, not if yesterday was anything to go by. The teleporter and his windy friend might not notice, but Erik certainly would. Erik was going to kill him. Erik was going to literally murder him. In fact, Charles thought as he slid down the wall, it was a wonder that Erik hadn’t murdered him yet. This wasn’t like cheating at chess (which he didn’t need to do, despite Erik’s assertions that he did it all the time)—this was the most important thing to Erik. This was all Erik cared about. Erik, who had just started to open up to him, Erik who he was in love with, Erik who yesterday morning had been in love with him. Erik who was never, ever going to forgive him.

Charles folded his knees up to his chest, curling into the smallest ball he could manage. Maybe if he hid in the bathroom long enough the rest of the world would go away and he wouldn’t have to face any of this. The worst thing, he realized, was not knowing exactly how much of what happened had been because of his manipulation—would Erik have let Shaw live? Would he have released the missiles? Would Shaw’s followers abandoned him, or kept fighting? He couldn’t be sure. Would they even realize they’d been manipulated? Maybe if he didn’t say anything, pretended like everything was good, it would never come up. In some ways, however, that would be worse—he’d never be certain what had happened, and the guilt would just fester. He’d never be able to look Erik in the eye again, and those eyes were one of his favorite things to look in. Not that he had any faith there was any solution to this that allowed him to meet Erik’s eyes any time in the near future—he’d fucked this up royally, and there was no getting around that.

***

At some point he must have gone back to his room, because Charles woke next on his bed, with sunlight streaming onto his face. He could feel the others stirring—Hank was up already, in the kitchen, and Alex was pulling on his shoes to go for a run. Raven was still mostly asleep, as was Sean...Angel was awake, but staying in her room. She, like her recent allies, seemed uncertain of their welcome in the rest of the house. Erik’s mind had the strongest pull, and it was the one he looked at last—he didn’t want to confront the anger and betrayal he knew he would find there. To his surprise, Erik was still fast asleep, despite normally being the earliest riser. Yesterday must have really taken it out of him, Charles reasoned, grateful for the respite.

He got out of bed, dressing in a hurry and heading down to the kitchen—he hadn’t eaten anything in 24 hours, and it wouldn’t do to start today with a short fuse. Hank was just sitting down to breakfast when he got there, but kept mercifully quiet until Charles was sitting across from him with coffee and toast.

“What now?” he asked simply, neutrally. He honestly wanted to know, he still thought Charles probably had some sort of plan.

Charles fought back a sigh. Fuck. These children still needed him as their leader, and losing their trust in him was not a tolerable option. “There are a number of factors upon which that depends,” Charles hedged. “Our...guests, for one thing.”

“Why did you bring them here?” There was a harder edge to Hank’s words, and he caught a bright flash of painful memories from the day before. “They nearly killed us yesterday.”

“They were under orders, fighting for what they believed to be a worthy cause. I will not judge them for having trusted the wrong man—the thoughts he put into their heads were enough to bend the wills of many. They are just as deserving of compassion as any of us, and they deserve just as much of a chance.”

Hank looked down at his cereal, not entirely mollified. “I still don’t trust them. Neither do Alex or Sean.”

“I would hardly expect you to—I imagine they don’t trust you, either.” Charles smiled gently. “Time will tell. Angel, for one, has been trying to find a way out from Shaw’s thumb since the moment he killed Darwin. She only fought for him in the battle yesterday because she knew he would kill her if she did not.”

“She should never have gone with him,” Hank said angrily.

“She would be the first to agree with you.” Charles straightened as he felt Alex walk in, making a beeline for the sink. He took a long drink of water and collapsed into the chair beside Hank.

“Morning, Professor Sleepyhead,” he said with half a grin.

Charles rolled his eyes. “Good morning, Alex. How was your run?”

“Fine. What are you going to do with the freaks sleeping upstairs?”

Charles couldn’t hold back the sigh, this time. It was going to be a long morning.

 

In another hour, everyone but Erik and the strangers had made their way into the kitchen, and Charles had told them more or less what he’d told Hank. These mutants were to be given the benefit of the doubt as much as possible, and they were under no obligation to stay.

“I still don’t see why we brought them here in the first place,” Sean said.

Charles was just drawing breath for his rebuttal when a tentative presence came into the room.

“Um, hi?” Angel asked from the doorway, looking terrified. There was a pause, while everyone waited to see what would happen next.

Alex surprised them all (himself included) by walking over to her and pulling her into a hug.

“I’m sorry about Darwin,” Angel said into his shoulder.

“Me too,” Alex said, stepping back from her with a tight smile. “But he wouldn’t have wanted us to fight.”

She smiled back, and the tension was broken. Well, there was one thing he didn’t have to worry about today—although her cohorts were hardly likely to receive the same greeting. Speaking of whom—Charles reached out to them with his mind gently. You’re welcome in the kitchen for breakfast and introductions.

A few minutes later they walked in together, the red one half a step in front. Both looked wary at the sight of so many potentially hostile faces, particularly when they noticed Angel chatting amiably with Sean and Alex.

“Hello,” Charles said, and the children’s idle chatter abruptly halted. “Welcome to our home. My name is Charles Xavier, and these are my students, Alex Summers, Sean Cassidy, Angel Salvadore—who I’m sure you already know—, Hank McCoy, and my sister, Raven Darkhölme.” He gestured to each of them in turn. “My partner Erik Lehnsherr will be joining us as soon as he is recovered.” Partner was a good, safe word, a vague word with enough different meanings to be accurate.

“My name,” the teleporter said with traces of an eastern European accent (Erik would be able to place it better than he could), “is Azazel. And this is my associate, Janos Quested.” He bowed his head respectfully. “Thank you for allowing us into your home.”

Janos had also bowed his head, although he looked less respectful. Charles smiled at them, knowing you couldn’t win every battle. “Come in, make yourselves comfortable. Bowls are by the refrigerator, here’s milk, we have enough cereal to feed an army.”

They sat at the far end of the table, looking suspiciously at everything, until Janos exclaimed, “Are those Froot Loops?

Everyone turned to look from him to the box of new fruit-flavored cereal Sean had picked up the week before. Azazel looked as though he wanted to bang his head on the table several times. After a slightly too long pause, Raven silently passed him the box.

“These are what I was telling you about,” Janos said to Azazel, so excited he seemed to have forgotten they were in a room of enemies. “The new cereal with the rings that taste of fruit? I have heard it is delicious.”

Azazel still looked like he was considering teleporting himself back to his room, but Sean grinned. “Yeah, man, they’re great. What will they think of next, right?”

It earned him a tentative smile from Janos and a soft mental Thank you from Charles. It might take a few days, but maybe this could work—provided Erik didn’t kill him.

Erik—who was still asleep? Charles was fairly certain the man had never slept past eight in his life, and yet here they were, going on ten o’clock, and there was no sign of movement. “I’ll be back in a minute,” Charles told the group once he was certain no one was going to kill anyone over breakfast. He felt Raven’s concern as he walked out of the room. Going to check on Erik, he told her.

He could feel Erik, sleeping soundly in his room upstairs. No dreams, no thoughts, just the whisper-quiet background noise of his subconscious keeping him alive. It made it very difficult to gauge what sort of mood Erik would be in when he awoke, as well as what might have caused him to sleep so late in the first place. They’d gotten back at four in the afternoon, and it seemed like most of them had gone straight to bed, so this would put Erik at eighteen or so hours.

Charles paused outside of Erik’s door, his worry having shifted from what Erik would think of him to concern for Erik’s well-being. What if he never woke up—what if Charles had done something to him that put him in a coma? The thought was cold as ice on the back of Charles’s neck, and he opened the door before it could get any further.

Erik was curled into a ball around his pillow, the blankets a mess around him. He’d clearly been restless, although now his breathing was even and his sleep was calm. He looked—adorable, soft, a whole list of tender adjectives that would never apply to him awake. It seemed a shame to wake him, but now that Charles was here he couldn’t stand the thought of waiting any longer.

He stepped closer to the bed (and why was it so terrifying? He’d slept in that bed), reaching out with his mind and his voice. “Erik? Wake up, please.” On the bed, Erik curled up tighter, making an upset noise. “Erik, please, you have to wake up now.” Charles was standing directly beside the bed now, and he reached out a cautious hand to touch Erik’s shoulder. “Erik, please.”

The moment his hand came in contact with Erik, he knew that had been a mistake. Erik jerked, twisting into a sitting position and calling all the metal in the room towards him.

Charles squeaked, ducking to avoid a flying lamp. “Erik, Erik! It’s me, it’s Charles, I’m not going to hurt you!”

Erik took a deep breath, and everything dropped. “Charles?”

“Yes, hello.” Charles couldn’t help rubbing his wrist where Erik had hit it away.

Erik’s eyes widened. “Oh, god, Charles, did I hurt you? Fuck, what were you thinking? What time is it? What’s going on? Are the children okay?”

Charles held up his hands. “One question at a time, my friend. I’m fine, everyone is fine. It’s just past ten, we were starting to wonder where you’d got to—I didn’t think, I just—well, you’re awake now.”

“It’s after ten?” Erik leapt out of bed, pulling clothes out of his wardrobe. “Fuck.”

“It’s fine, everyone’s just finished breakfast. Angel’s glad to be back, but the others will take longer to integrate—I think Hank will be the biggest problem there, surprisingly. The other boys didn’t seem to mind, and Raven likes everyone.” Erik snorted, getting dressed at lightning speed. To distract himself (now was not the time), Charles continued. “She’ll probably want to give them code names, won’t she? ‘The Red Devil’ and ‘Tornado Man’ or something equally asinine.”

Erik chuckled, rolling his eyes. “I’m sure she will, ‘Professor X’. But first, I need to eat something, and then you and I need to have a Talk.”

“Yes, we do.” Charles sighed. “I’ve been purposefully vague about what we want to do in the future, but everyone’s been asking questions, and I don’t know what you’ll want to do about—”

Erik interrupted him with a hand over his mouth. “Food first. Talk later.”

 

Charles purposefully stayed in his own mind as Erik ate his breakfast, not wanting to push (and not wanting to know—if this was going to be over, he knew he wouldn’t be able to hold it together, and the kitchen was not the place for a breakdown. Appearances had to be kept up, after all). Fortunately no one tried to talk to them—the new men had gone back to one of their rooms, Raven had followed Hank to the remains of his lab, and the other three were catching up in the corner. Still, Charles could feel his own tension-level rising the longer he sat there, watching Erik—trying not to watch Erik, trying to focus on something, anything, else.

“Charles,” Erik chided softly. Calm down, you’re projecting.

“Sorry, I—I’ll wait for you in the study, shall I?” He pushed back his chair and fled.

 

When Erik found him there fifteen minutes later, he was curled up in his chair pretending to read. Erik sat down in his chair and waited. Charles took a deep breath and set the book down.

“I’m so, so sorry, Erik,” he said.

Erik’s surprise was a bright flash in his mind. “For what?”

“What?” Charles was confused by Erik’s surprise. Erik had been the one who said they needed to talk, hadn’t he? “Aren’t you upset with me?”

Erik looked even more confused than Charles felt. “Why would I be upset with you? If anything, I thought you were upset with me.”

“Why would I be upset with you?” Erik had done nothing wrong, despite the fact that he’d wanted to.

Erik looked at the ground, still standing by the door. “Because I wanted to put on that helmet.”

Charles felt some emotion welling up in him, hot and awful, guilt mixed with affection and the terrible knowledge that Erik loved him and he had betrayed that irrevocably. This would be so much easier if Erik didn’t care. “You should have,” he says, and it comes out as a harsh whisper.

Erik’s head snaps up to look at him, eyes sharpening with the anger that Charles knew was coming. His voice was cold. “What did you do?”

Charles looked at the book. “I don’t know.” He took a deep breath, hoping to steady his voice. “I was so tired, Erik—I did too much yesterday, I stretched myself too far, and I don’t know what I did. Except you didn’t kill Shaw, and you didn’t kill those people on the boats, and Shaw’s people just came with us without a fight—and the kids didn’t fight, and you know how Alex is, and Hank…”

“You certainly sound like you know what you did.” Even the cold was gone, replaced by a perfectly flat tone.

Charles closed his eyes and curled in on himself more. “I can’t be sure—and even if I could, I still don’t know how much was me? I don’t know if I did anything, really, but everything worked out so smoothly and I was so tired…” He shook his head. “I wish you’d just put on the damn helmet.”

He heard the door open and close, and then he was alone.

Chapter Text

 

Erik didn't speak to him for the rest of the day, and he didn't push. He was impressed, honestly, that Erik was even still there, spending time in the same rooms as him. But when he'd finally emerged from the study (because his world may have ended but that certainly didn't mean he could slack on his responsibilities), he'd gone into the living room to find Erik deep in conversation with Azazel and Janos, speaking something Charles could only guess was Russian. He could have checked, but he didn't think he was up to facing whatever might be lurking in Erik's head; instead he walked back out of the room and found Raven and Hank, offering to help put Hank's lab back together.

They all ate lunch together—Angel had roped Alex and Sean into helping her make enchiladas in her excitement over having a real kitchen, and they were impossible to refuse. During the meal, Erik was his normal self, talking with the others and being quietly amused. It could have been coincidence that he didn't even glance at Charles, even if it meant he never got passed the sour cream. Perhaps he just didn’t like it. And perhaps Charles was an ostrich.

Raven was mad at him, as well―he could sense it in every interaction, a little bit of hesitation and distance, but she and Hank had been grateful for his offer of help. After lunch they had really gotten to work, using Hank's newfound strength and Raven's design skills to get most of the lab in some semblance of order. Charles was mostly used as an extra pair of arms, but he hardly minded―it was nice to be able to just not think for a while, particularly when thinking was so...unpleasant. If he focused on moving tables and sweeping up broken glass, he didn't have to focus on the fact that Erik was never going to look at him the same again. And Raven would forgive him, of course―she always did, she knew him well enough to know when he was being stupid. Which he probably was.

Maybe he shouldn't have said anything. Erik would never have known, and he could have just ignored it―could have said he wasn't angry, could have had a discussion of strategy and then maybe gotten a kiss. Last night had been awful compared to the night before (in his bed, in his arms, in his love), and the concept of spending every night for the rest of his life (because it would be the rest of his life, he knew he would never be able to try again, not after this) alone was not only terrible but terrifying. If he'd just kept his mouth shut...he'd never have been able to forgive himself. If he'd spent the rest of their lives trying to keep this from him, trying to convince himself that it wasn't his fault, that he didn't do anything, their relationship would have fallen apart within a year. It would never have felt "real" ever again, and in the most real relationship of his life, he would never have been happy. It was better to be honest, it was better to have told him, it had to be, didn't it?

"You're thinking too hard, Charles, I can feel your worry from over here." Raven rolled her eyes at him. "We're going to be okay, you know that, right?"

He could tell she didn't just mean his relationship with her; she meant their makeshift family here, the kids and them and Erik―and now Azazel and Janos. It made him smile, just a little. "I know, I'm being silly."

"You worry too much, Charles―that's not new news." She smiled back at him, then turned to Hank. "I mean, if Hank here can handle being blue, anyway."

Hank, surprisingly, laughed. "It's starting to grow on me." The look he gave her was warm, and Charles was glad he'd finally gotten Raven's memo, even if it hurt to see someone else heading into what he'd just given up.

He forced a smile (trying to ignore the knife twisting in his chest). "All the same, I should probably go check on the others, see how everyone's getting on..."

Raven smiled fondly, coming over to give him a brief―and unexpected―hug. "Go. We'll be fine." Don't pretend I don't know what you're thinking, "brother dear", she projected at him. Yesterday was a huge deal  for him, he'll come around.

He wished he could believe she was right.

                              

Alex was in the bunker, practicing—it seemed like a high percentage of the room was on fire (again), and Charles was certain he wouldn’t want to be disturbed. Sean and Angel were outside—he’d managed to patch up his wings (they were damaged yesterday? How much else had he missed…), and they were flying together, laughing. As he couldn’t fly himself, interrupting them would be rough going. Erik, of course, was off limits, and he’d just left Raven and Hank; he knew being alone right now was a terrible idea, so he went into the living room, where he could hear Azazel and Janos. They were talking about the mansion, and whether they should stay—Azazel, it seemed, felt rather protective of Angel and did not wish to leave her; Janos, on the other hand, did not trust the hand that had been held out to them, and felt they should leave.

“You’re free to wander, you know,” Charles said, walking up to them as if he had no idea he’d been interrupting. “We do have more than this one room.”

“We did not wish to—intrude,” Azazel said, unfazed. “We were uncertain which rooms were open to us.”

“All of them, of course,” Charles said without thinking. “Well, not the bedrooms, I suppose—and Hank is very protective of his lab—but everywhere else is fine.”

“And how are we to know which rooms are bedrooms?” Janos demanded. He had an accent too, but different from Azazel’s. “Or the lab of this Hank?”

“Did no one bother to give you a tour?” He supposed it wasn’t entirely unexpected—while the kids were warming to the idea of new mutants, they were hardly likely to trust ones who had just attempted to kill them. Even he, who could read their minds, only trusted them so far. “Come on, let me show you around.

Janos didn't exactly look pleased, but Azazel stood readily. "Thank you. We...appreciate your hospitality."

"It's nothing," Charles said, surprised. Gratitude was hardly on the top of the list of emotions Azazel was feeling, although the sentiment seemed genuine.

The red mutant raised an eyebrow. "Indeed? Your partner seemed to think differently when he spoke with us this morning."

Charles was even more surprised, and a little irritated. "What did he say to you?"

Azazel raised his hands in a gesture of innocence. "Merely that having is here was not a matter of course, and that you did not take it lightly. It was not a threat," he continued at Charles's darkening expression, "he did not wish us to think you soft."

Erik didn't want people to think he was soft? Charles was fairly certain that Erik thought Charles was soft. And not in a good way. "Do you think I am soft?"

Azazel met his gaze evenly. "I think you are a good man. I think it is not weakness that you care for these children, but strength.

That was...more than what Charles had expected. Particularly if his opinion of Charles was based on talking to Erik this morning.

Janos finally stood, a look of incredulity on his face. "I do not know if you are 'soft,'" he said. "But you are stupid. You have no reason to do these things for us, when we have offered to do nothing for you. And we fought against you―why would you not fight us now? Why do you allow us in your home, with your precious children?"

That was less surprising. "Because you do not deserve to be condemned for following orders. If I were to condemn every man who had listened to someone he shouldn't have..." He would certainly have condemned Erik. He would probably have condemned himself. Forcing a smile, he continued, "As for why I think you're trustworthy, I can read minds, you know."

"We have some experience with that." Janos wasn't smiling, exactly, but he wasn't glaring either. "I suppose it makes sense."

"Between Erik and I, the kids are hardly in danger. And even if they were, it isn't as if they can't take care of themselves." Charles shrugged. "Come on, let me show you around. You should at least know where not to go."

He led them around, pointing out doors and saying where they led, occasionally opening them to show what was on the other side.

"I can't help noticing," Azazel said as they passed Sean's room, "that you are hardly older than these 'kids'."

Charles shrugged. "In years, maybe. I'm as close to their age as I am to Erik's, though. We feel rather paternally towards them, and they don't seem to mind the term. Well, Raven might."

Azazel smiled. "That does not surprise me. She is with..Hank, is she not?"

Charles rolled his eyes despite himself. Azazel was proving to be quite a pleasant companion, and Janos was decidedly less hostile than he had been. "That depends on who you ask. And how much time you have."

That earned him a chuckle. "I think that I understand."

Janos bumped Azazel with his shoulder. "Hey, just because I don't spend all my time with my tongue down your throat does not mean I don't think we're together."

Charles was surprised, and then surprised he was surprised. "I didn't realize."

"That was not unintentional." Azazel said, glaring at his...lover?

"Well, he would hardly throw a fit, since he's in a similar position." Janos said defiantly.

"I―what?" It wasn't that it wasn't true, just that he didn't think they would know about it. Had Erik...?

"You look shocked, Xavier." Janos raised an eyebrow. "You were hardly subtle yesterday."

Right. Yesterday. Had they been holding hands? He thought maybe they'd been holding hands. And he'd probably been projecting. And this morning, no one had said anything? Not that it mattered, since that was obviously over...

"Calm down. The 'kids' do not care, and it hardly matters to us. It would be a sad day that a red man with a tail judged another on something he could not help." Azazel turned to Janos. "And you should know better than to taunt the man who has taken us in so kindly. With Shaw gone, where would we have gone? I am quite noticeable. And if you cannot see that this is a better place than the one we left..."

Janos sighed. "We are hardly going to rule the world from here."

Azazel gave him a disbelieving laugh. "And we were going to rule the world from there? You know as well as I that we were merely pawns to him, easily sacrificed. I stayed for you, and because I had nowhere to go."

"And because Shaw would have killed us if we had tried to leave." Janos sighed.

"See," Charles said, coming back to himself. "There's one place where we have an advantage―I don't kill defectors, just ask them to stay and remind them that the door is always open."



That had been enlightening, Charles thought as he left the two men in the North Lounge with a Scrabble board. Apparently taking them back with them had been the right choice, and they seemed like they might have made it on their own. Azazel, it seemed, had wanted to leave, and Janos sounded like he hadn't been much happier. Hopefully they would adjust to life here, and if not, Charles had every confidence they would not go back to the behaviors Shaw had instilled in them.

The question now, of course, was what to do next. It was all well and good if Azazel and Janos were willing to stay, but what about the rest of them? What were they going to do? Interpersonal issues aside, they had a house full of people who the governments of two political superpowers had just tried to blow up. They were all, essentially, fugitives, and the public was abruptly aware of the existence of mutantkind. If Cerebro gave any real indication, there were millions of mutants out there―in the United States alone. Every one of whom was now in danger from a government that (as Erik had predicted) was terrified of them, and whose solution (also as Erik had predicted) was to attempt to destroy the threat. All those scared young people, not knowing they were part of something larger than themselves...

We should open a school, a soft thought said in the back of his mind. For a moment he nearly thought it was his own. And you could be a real professor.

He blinked sharply, abruptly recognizing the voice. Erik?

But the soft voice was gone, and Erik didn't even acknowledge him at dinner.

Chapter Text

The morning came rather earlier the next day―he went to bed early, and the exhaustion from the day before had faded. He woke up feeling crisp and clear and more hopeful than he would have expected, given that his life had pretty much gone down the drain yesterday.

His good mood lasted all the way down the stairs and into the kitchen―Erik was out of the house, probably on a run, everyone else was feeling tentatively happy. The new men were still asleep (together, Charles noted, and smiled), Angel was excited, Sean and Alex were outside laughing, Hank and Raven were...also asleep together, though that didn't bear thinking about. It was sunny outside, a good morning for new starts.

Eventually the boys came in from the yard, still grinning and nudging each other playfully. "Hey, Prof!" Alex said jovially. "You're up early for once."

Charles rolled his eyes. "It's too lovely a day to stay asleep."

Alex's grin widened. "Glad to see you're out of your funk, dude."

Charles smiled, not entirely sure what to say to that.

Fortunately Sean saved him. "Leave him alone, man, let's go bother Angel. I bet together we can carry you."

"You didn't do so bad on your own," Alex said, following him out of the kitchen.

Charles felt his good mood start to slip away as they left. Had he really been that obvious? He remembered what Azazel and Janos had said yesterday about his lack of subtlety in regards to Erik, and he wondered again how much everyone knew or guessed. For goodness sakes, they'd only been together for a day! It was hardly like...well, he supposed it wasn't like they hadn't been dancing around things for a while, even if he hadn't admitted it. Erik had been possessive of Charles from day one (and really how had he missed what that meant? Erik was hardly the type to go around touching people casually, and yet with Charles it was always a hand on his shoulder or knee or legs brushing or shoulders together or just leaning into his space), and Charles had probably been just as bad. Erik made him smile―just seeing Erik made him smile, every time, even when Erik was mad at him or he didn't agree or...so maybe it had been more than a day. Probably it had been obvious since day one, when he pulled Erik out of the ocean and the man wouldn't let go of him for an hour. Or when he'd walked into that office and Charles had immediately changed his plans and sided with him. Or when Charles had put on Cerebro for the first time and Erik had called him adorable. Erik was not the sort of person who called people adorable, Charles realized, reflecting. A sudden wave of pain-loss-regret washed over him when he thought about the fact that Erik had been in love with him (from day one, probably), and just when he'd finally gotten his head out of his ass he'd gone and fucked it up. Smooth, Xavier.

He went back up to his study after he finished eating, needing to be alone before someone tried to talk to him and he collapsed. Even with the soft warmth of the others' happy thoughts, he could feel the guilt-regret-sadness welling up in his stomach and threatening to overwhelm him. He'd lost Erik. He'd lost Erik. Erik would never smile at him again, he'd never get to kiss him again, he'd never feel the warm hum of happiness that Erik felt every time Charles smiled at him again. They'd never even had sex, and still, losing Erik felt like cutting off a limb. He'd had relationships before, of course, even one or two that he'd hoped would turn into something more, but he'd never had anything like what he had with Erik, he'd never had anything that meant so much so fast―the feeling in his gut made him want to vomit, a violent, angry agony, and he curled up into a ball in his chair. So much for the good mood, he thought, letting out a noise that wanted to be a laugh but was closer to a sob.

Raven found him there an hour later, her frustration with him shoved aside in favor of intense concern. Charles, Charles, oh my god are you okay what's wrong I could feel you from downstairs oh my god are you crying?

He was, although he hadn't really noticed. He drew in a shaky breath, trying to pull himself together. They didn't have time for this.

Shut up, Raven thought affectionately. Belatedly he realized that her arms were wrapped around his shoulders. "You push yourself too hard, Charles. Let yourself be upset for a minute, at least in front of me. Jesus, if you can't cry in front of me after everything we've been through..."

Charles blinked, making that sob-laugh sound again. Erik hates me, he told her, not trusting his voice.

"Erik will never hate you, Charles. No matter what you think you've done to deserve it." He loves you too much for that.

Loved. Past tense.

"He just needs space, he'll come around. A lot of things have happened in the last couple of days, big things. Give him time."

"I kissed him, you know." Charles's voice was rough. "Before we went to Cuba. We were finally getting somewhere and now..."

"Well, that explains why he made me leave." She was trying for humor, and only fell a little short.

"As if you're upset about it," he teased back, sitting up and wiping his eyes. "Miss I-slept-with-Hank-last-night."

Raven groaned dramatically, covering her eyes. "My brother should not know that."

"At least I'm not trying to defend your honor―honestly, I'm happy for you. I was starting to wonder if he'd ever catch on." He offered her a weak smile, and she knocked her forehead against his.

"You're an idiot," she said fondly.

"So I've been told." Her happiness was starting to spill over, pulling him slowly out of the dark space in his head. "Thanks, Raven."

She reached up and ruffled his hair. "Anytime. Go clean yourself up, and then Hank wants to see you in his lab. He's got some ideas about rebuilding Cerebro."

A shower helped, cleaning the headache he always got from crying from his mind and making him feel fresh. The black mood was gone just as quickly as it had arrived, and by the time he went downstairs to check on everyone, he was almost happy again. Hank, as promised, was in his lab surrounded by sketches of different parts of Cerebro, and Charles spent a pleasant hour and a half going over plans and working out where they would be able to put the installation. Hank suggested building more underground―Cerebro worked by amplifying brain waves, after all, and Charles' telepathy was not affected by physical barriers so much as distance. If they put Cerebro underground, it would be protected in the event of an attack (any kind of attack), and it wouldn't be visible (protecting the anonymity of the mansion).

"And if we build down," Hank said enthusiastically, "we can build other things, too―if we're planning to bring more of us here, we're going to want some kind of medical facility; people like me, or Raven, or Azazel―well, any of us, really―can hardly go to a regular medical facility, and we tend to...get hurt."

Charles nodded. "It's not a bad idea―and we can build you a bigger lab, if you like―and a practice room for Alex that won't catch fire, and maybe we can test out how corrosive Angel's venom is―and if we get others, like you said, we can do things specifically for them as well..."

"And we should probably have an escape tunnel or something." Hank looked far too serious to be talking about an idea out of a spy movie. Not that they weren't people out of spy movies. Or comic books. "In case someone does find us here, and we need to leave."

"Maybe." Charles rolled his eyes, still excited, but starting to feel the whole thing was rather ridiculous (a small voice in the back of his mind whispered that that was probably Erik's influence. He told it to piss off). "Do you think you could build something like that that wouldn't collapse the entire house? And where would said escape tunnel let out?"

Hank shrugged, not deterred in the least. "I'm an engineer, or at least sort of. I was. I designed that plane we flew around it, I think I can handle some tunnels. As for where to come out of an escape hatch, you know this area far better than I do―it would need to be far enough away that we it wouldn't be obvious, but close enough that we could be out of the tunnel quickly. Also, preferably somewhere we could store some sort of getaway vehicle."

Charles shrugged. "If we're building tunnels, I don't see why we can't build underground garages." He rolled his eyes again. "There are plenty of forested areas around here, I'm sure no one would notice some subtle construction in―I actually own an orchard a few miles from here, that might not be a bad place..."

"You own an―you know, I'm not actually surprised. Of course you own an orchard."

"Mother was quite fond of apples," he said primly.

Hank burst out laughing. "And of course that means you own an orchard. Jesus Christ, Charles, it's no wonder..." Shit, probably shouldn't mention Erik, Raven says he's really upset...

The thought came through as loud as speaking, and Charles felt his good mood melt off and twist, until he couldn't tell if he wanted to cry or scream. He settled for nodding curtly, expression dark enough that Hank didn't question him when he turned and stalked out of the room. Or maybe he was just projecting. Again.

He made it to his bedroom before the shaking started, but the door knob was rattling as he pulled it closed and he had to half crawl to the bed. This was bad, this was bad―he hadn't had a panic attack in years (not since he was fifteen and gone into New York City alone for the first time and had gotten lost in Manhattan and the weight of all those minds pressing in on his overwhelmed him), and he wasn't sure he could hold his shields together well enough to prevent the entire house from collapsing and he knew he couldn't do that but he couldn't stop it either and he was shaking so much he wasn't sure he could remember how to breathe and what was wrong with him why was he panicking he'd felt bad earlier but it hadn't been this―

Abruptly he realized that he wasn't panicking―someone else was, and for some reason they were projecting so strongly he was internalizing it as his own. He shook himself, drawing deeper into his own mind to lessen the panic before feeling back along that sensation, trying to figure out who―it had to be someone he knew, someone close to him, or they wouldn't have been able to get into his head so smoothly, but it didn't feel like Raven and she knew better than to―Erik, oh god, Erik was panicking something was wrong this was worse than the drowning

Stop. Breathe. Calm.

He pulled his shields tight around himself, shutting out the sharp stabs of panic coming from outside. It helped enough that he could get up, at least, and he ran down the stairs as quickly as he could. He was outside in an instant, running before he could think about what might be waiting for him, only knowing that he needed to get there now.

"Erik!" He screamed, barreling down the path towards him. He still couldn't see anything through the trees, but the panic spiked and he knew Erik could hear him. "Erik!"

Another bend and he could see two large people―they had to be mutants, given their height and their rather ridiculous musculature―holding Erik, who was still thrashing in their arms, fighting them frantically, still radiating absolute panic.

"Erik!" Charles cried out.

NO! CHARLES, RUN, GO BACK, GET OUT!

What? Erik was concerned about him? He didn't have time to analyze it, reaching out to the minds of the thugs to get them to drop―Oh.

Three seconds of all consuming agony, and then, blessedly, nothing.

Chapter Text

He woke up with a pounding headache and a hand on his forehead, worry and tenderness bleeding into him from whoever the hand belonged to. He pressed his face into the hand, enjoying the way it felt on his aching head and heard a low chuckle.

"Charles," a familiar voice said. "How are you feeling?"

Charles's eyes snapped open, the day before slamming into his consciousness. "Erik?"

A hint of a smile, though there was still tension in the grey eyes. "You were out for a while. We're in some sort of room, stone. No metal for as far out as I can feel, and no contact either, at least not while I've been awake."

It's another breach of trust, but Charles reaches into his mind, looks at what happened after he passed out. They'd knocked Erik out as well, once they no longer needed him as bait, by smashing him over the head with a rock. When he'd come to, they'd been here.

"Here" was a relatively large natural stone room. Erik's head would have been close to the ceiling if he'd been standing, but there was plenty of space for the two wooden beds. The floor was softened by powdery sand, and there was a hole in the corner to use as a toilet. There was no evidence of a door or window, but a soft light filled the space.

Charles looked over at Erik, kneeling beside him on the floor. He had blood on the back of his head from where they'd hit him, but he was entirely focused on Charles, worry and tension in his eyes and the lines of his shoulders. Charles was reaching out a hand before he could stop himself, touching his cheek lightly. "I'm fine."

Erik leans into the touch slightly. "I tried to warn you. Why did you chase after me in the first place?"

Charles frowned, confused. "You were in distress, I felt it. Why wouldn't I come?"

Erik shook his head, sitting back on and taking his hand off Charles's forehead. He clenched it into a fist in his lap and stared at it. “How’s your head?”

“Erik.” Charles tilted the other man’s face up, making him meet his eyes.

“Charles.” He took a deep breath. “I’m sorry.”

Charles blinked, utterly confused. “You’re…sorry?”

A hint of a smile, and Charles knew he shouldn’t want to lean forward and kiss those lips, knew he had no right and that this was most certainly the wrong place and time, but he wanted to anyway. “Yes, Charles, I’m fucking sorry. I haven’t spoken to you for days, I left you practically alone to deal with Azazel and Janos, and now I’ve gotten you fucking kidnapped.”

“I don’t think this is exactly your fault. As for the rest…” Charles took pulled his hand back, looking down himself, now. Eventually he just shrugged.

“Oh, Charles, no.” And before he could wonder what that meant, Erik was projecting a stream of feelings into his mind. Anger and betrayal he expected, but he wasn’t expecting the rejection of them and the tender affection that replaced them. “I told you I loved you, Charles, and I meant it. I mean it. I—you hurt me, I won’t pretend you didn’t, but we’ll never know what would have happened and it makes no sense to agonize over something you might have done.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“I know.” Erik sighed. Charles still wasn’t looking at him, so it was a surprise when he felt warm lips press against his forehead. The touch was brief but unmistakable. “Really, though, Charles, how is your head? They had some sort of anti-telepathy device, and they said it would hurt you…”

Charles looked up at him, meeting his eyes steadily. “It hurts. Less now than before.” He licked his lips nervously. “You touching me helps—having something to hold onto helps. Erik, I—I do love you too, you know that, right?”

Erik smiled and took his hand. “Yes.”

 

A long time passed in the cave. It was probably another three hours, and Erik thought they'd probably been there for at least four before Charles had awoken. There was no food or water in the room, but the beds seemed to indicate they weren't being left there to die―someone or something would have to come soon.

"Who would do this?" Charles asked eventually. "Who would know to do this, and who would have the resources? And why? They're obviously using mutants, so it can hardly be because of that."

Erik shrugged. In the intervening hours, they'd ended up sitting together on Charles's bed, backs against the smooth stone wall and shoulders pressed together. "I don't know. Perhaps someone else who was working with Shaw? He had allies, that much I know, and I can't imagine the three we took being all the friends he has."

"And that psychic block reminded me of Emma Frost―the same sort of sharpness."

They were quiet for a few minutes, just waiting. Charles still wasn't sure exactly where they stood, and it seemed like this wasn't exactly the time to try to have intense relationship conversations. If they were even in a relationship.

"Do you―do you think he's out, then?" Erik's voice was small, the voice of the little boy who had lost everything, not the man who was angry about it.

Charles put an arm around his shoulders, leaning into his side, trying to comfort. "I don't know. I suppose it is possible―I wonder if Moira is all right?"

Erik leaned into him in response, but didn't say anything.

Another hour or two went by.

"You'd think they could at least have left us a chess set," Charles said. Erik's head was in his lap, and his blinking was slow. He wouldn't let himself fall asleep (not in a place like this), but Charles could see he was fading. He got the impression Erik hadn't exactly been sleeping well for a while. It would help, of course, if they had something to do, some kind of distraction to keep him engaged.

Erik snorted. "They kidnapped us, Charles, I hardly think they care whether we're bored."

Charles stroked his hair gently, enjoying the trust Erik was showing him. "I don't like this waiting. Although I couldn't ask for better company."

A smile and an eye roll. "Your lap is certainly comfortable."

"I'm sure I wouldn't know." He smiled back. They'd been waiting long enough now that the immediacy of the danger had lessened, somehow, and while he was hungry and thirsty he was also very calm and content. "I love you."

"I know." Erik's hand came up and touched his face gently. "I've been in love with you since I met you."

Charles wasn't entirely sure how he would have responded to that―probably with something embarrassingly sappy―but before he could put his foot in his mouth there was a loud groan and the ceiling of the room began opening slowly.

Erik was sitting up, instantly alert, before Charles could even register what was happening. The crack widened, letting in a beam of natural sunlight, bright against the dim lighting in the cave, and in that light was a woman-shaped crystal.

"Hello, Charles," Emma Frost said, walking down a stone staircase. He was fairly certain she was smiling. "And Erik, so good to see you."

Beside him, Erik growled. Charles felt rather like growling himself. "Miss Frost."

"You might want to watch your tone, sugar. Sebastian was all for leaving you here another day, but I convinced him you were more useful healthy." She was definitely smiling now, and the smile was all daggers. She had stopped partway down the stairs, her feet nearly level with their heads. "I could change my mind. We only need your mind, after all, it hardly matters what it's attached to. And that overly attached lap dog of yours would certainly be more...pliable. Seb would know, after all."

Erik was thinking loudly about strangling her. "I should have killed him when I had the chance."

"Now, Erik! I'm surprised at you! After all he did for you?" She turned her smile on him, now.

And suddenly it was Charles fighting the violent impulses, but Erik responded before he could. "He turned me into a monster. 'All he did for me' was turn me into some kind of blunt instrument, and he nearly cost me everything."

Emma moved her crystalline face in a way that could have been raising her eyebrows. "Regardless. I'm here to collect the two of you―Sebastian would like an audience. Although first, Charles―" She held out a strange-looking headband. "If you could put this on. We can't have you messing around with his head, after all."

Charles accepted the headband silently, sliding it onto his forehead. The world was suddenly muted, the little awareness he usually had in the back of his mind of everyone around him abruptly gone. Erik still looked like he wanted to kill someone, though. Charles could tell that even without telepathy.

"Your gift should be easier to control," she said. "We've used minimal metal, of course, but if you do try anything I will break his leg. Like I said, we only need his brain."

Erik's glare was so intense Charles was almost surprised Emma wasn't actually combusting. "If you touch him I will kill you."

Emma laughed. "Honey, I'd like to see you try. Now," she said, taking another step down and holding out a hand, "Sebastian doesn't like to be kept waiting. Are you walking, or are you crawling?"

They stood and followed her up the stairs. A car was waiting on the surface, along with the thugs that had taken them here. Charles couldn't tell what Erik was thinking, but he could tell he was furious―probably considering whether he could take out all three of them before Emma incapacitated him. Charles was quite certain he couldn't, and apparently Erik agreed, because he got into the car without resisting. One thug got in the front with Emma; the other was in the back, between Charles and Erik.

It wasn't a short drive, and while Charles was trying to control his thoughts (it wouldn't do to give Emma anything to hold over them), he couldn't entirely hold back the creeping panic that not being able to feel Erik (either mentally or physically) was causing. He hadn't realized how accustomed to just having that calming presence in the back of his mind until it was gone―he was in deeper than he'd thought, if Erik was his anchor. But then again, Erik was staring at him in such a way that he suspected that, at least, was mutual.

He wasn't sure where he was expecting them to stop, but a secluded clearing in the woods was probably not it. Erik was inscrutable, but he stepped closer to Charles as soon as they were out of the car, putting a hand on the small of his back gently. Either they both needed the support or Erik was better at reading minds than Charles had given him credit for (Charles was starting to suspect the latter, at least in his case).

"Erik, my boy!" Shaw was waiting for them, of course. He had a smile on his face that made Charles's skin crawl. "Es ist gut, dich wiederzusehen. Und dein Freund Charles, wie schön!"

Erik growled, pulling Charles closer to him. "If you hurt him, I will kill you."

Shaw laughed. The sound put Charles's teeth on edge. "I'd love to see you try, mein Schatz. I think you've gone too soft, all this time on your own, playing at domesticity. We both know you were made for something more than following a rich twink like this one.”

“Excuse me,” said Charles, because he was fairly certain if he didn’t Erik was going to launch himself at Shaw, and that would get them nowhere. “I am right here.”

“So you are, kätzchen, so you are. And what shall we do with you? You have something that could become...annoying, you see. Really, it’s a pity you squander your gifts so—you would have been a lovely addition to my team.”

“Charles would never work with scum like you,” Erik spit. “He could kill you in an instant, but he would not, because he is better than that.”

Distantly (in the part of his mind that wasn’t panicking or trying to find a way out of this terrible situation) Charles felt a swell of pride at hearing Erik say those words.

Shaw was less impressed, if his laugh was anything to go by. “He does have you well trained, doesn’t he? It hardly matters, though—his co-operation can be…encouraged. Why don’t we take them to my facility and see whether he can be convinced? Erik, you were quite fond of the hot poker, weren’t you? Let’s see how you do when your punishment for moving it away is a brand on Charles instead.”

Charles had to put a hand on Erik’s arm to prevent him from moving forward. “He’s not worth dying over, Erik,” he murmured.

Shaw just grinned.

Chapter Text

Raven was concerned, to say the least. Charles (who had had his telepathy pretty well under control for at least ten years) had been a mess for the last two days, projecting unintentionally and erratically, getting distracted mid-conversation, alternately crying and laughing unprompted...even the men who'd been working with Shaw―total strangers, really―had noticed something was up. And Erik (who seemed to be at least part of the problem, for which she was going to kill him as soon as she stopped worrying about Charles) was being the opposite of helpful, ignoring Charles and going off by himself and generally being entirely unhelpful, although she was certain that he knew as well as she did how important it was to be careful around Charles when he was being emotional. She didn't fully trust him, not really, particularly when she saw how fixated Charles was on him―he didn't exactly have the best history with romantic relationships in the first place, and then there was the fact that he and Erik had been practically inseparable since they'd met. Also, Erik practically radiated "dangerous" and "unreliable", which was the opposite of what Charles needed.

On the other hand, Erik seemed at least as fixated on Charles as Charles was on him. He very obviously did actually care about Charles, which was more than she could say about a lot of the partners her brother had picked up over the years. Not only that, but it was clear that Erik cared for Charles independently from the fact that Charles cared about him. And yet somehow in the last twenty-four hours he had managed to convince Charles that he hated him―and not done anything to correct that assumption. No, she didn't know exactly what had happened between them, but she did know that she had found her brother curled up in a ball crying and claiming that Erik hated him. As if the entire world couldn't see that he was besotted―she was surprised it had taken them this long to get to acting on those feelings.

Honestly, half the reason she'd been lurking in Erik's bed was to give them a shove in the right direction―or to see if maybe they could have some I-can't-be-with-who-I-want sex. That he hadn't taken her up on it was a good sign―that he had practically abandoned her brother after Cuba was not.

She was sitting in the Blue Room (one of the multitudinous parlors in this monstrosity of a mansion), thinking about Charles and relationships, when Hank walked in, looking distressed.

"Have you seen Charles?"

His tone had her on her feet in an instant. "No, what happened?"

He rubbed the back of his neck anxiously. "I'm not sure. We were talking, and all the sudden he just went―blank, I guess. And then he just turned around and left. I thought maybe he'd 'heard' someone calling him, or something? But then I got worried―he was acting funny yesterday, too, him and Lehnsherr both―and so I went looking for him. But I can't find either of them anywhere."

"That might not be a bad thing," Raven said with as much innuendo as she could muster.

Hank rolled his eyes. "Raven. With how much your brother has been projecting lately, do you really think that was going to go well?"

"You never know!" She protested, before sobering. "But you're right, that is worrying. I am worried. Honestly, I've been worried since we got back from Cuba―they've both been...off. I tried talking to Charles about it this morning, but all he said was that Erik hated him now. I told him that was ridiculous―honestly, for someone who can read minds, he's awfully thick―but he still seems to think that Erik doesn't desperately want to rip off his clothes."

Hank blinked. "That was...vivid. Um. Not that I didn't―I mean, we all sort of guessed, but. Uh. So―were they...together? Before Cuba, I mean?"

"Not exactly, at least as far as I know. But Charles said they kissed, so...maybe?" She shrugged

Hank looked uncomfortable. "So, Charles is...?"

Raven raised her eyebrows, hoping Hank wasn't going to react too negatively. She liked this one, even if he was occasionally an ass. "Not exclusively."

"And Lehnsherr?" She was pleased to note he didn't sound disgusted, just surprised―well, more like shocked.

Raven rolled her eyes. "You've seen the way they look at each other, are you telling me you're that surprised? Jesus, you are blind."

Hank's blush made his skin turn purple. "It-it's just not something I look for! And Lehnsherr is hardly what one thinks of, in terms of...that kind of...thing."

"Just because he's not as soft as―"

"To be fair, Lehnsherr is pretty much the polar opposite of 'soft'," Hank interrupted. "But I get it, I guess. I mean, they certainly make a...good pair? But regardless, I'm still wondering where they are? It's getting on toward lunch time, and as far as I know, Lehnsherr never came in from his morning run. And Charles―you know him better than I do, of course, but he would hardly leave us right after―everything, not without telling someone where he was going, at least."

Although she was inclined to agree, they couldn't both panic and then find the two men necking underneath the satellite dish. "Let's ask the others if they've heard anything. Maybe Banshee or Angel saw something from the air?"

 Most everyone was already in the kitchen, pulling lunch together. They ended up eating mostly because Alex and Angel practically shoved food at them (and she did have to smile at Alex being so domestic), but once everyone had some food in them she couldn't keep silent.

"Has anyone seen Erik today?" she asked, sounding as neutral as possible given the circumstances.

"He went for a run this morning―I saw him heading out as I was coming down for breakfast," Alex supplied.

"But since then? And has anyone seen Charles in the last hour?"

"Yes," Janos said, startling everyone. "Well, an hour ago. He was running out the door like the devil was on his heels."

"And no one's seen Erik?" she asked again, trying not to panic. Charles running outside did not sound good.

Head shakes all around.

"Why?" Alex asked. "Is something wrong?"

"I'm sure it's nothing," Hank said. "But I'm also sure we aren't the only ones who have been a little worried about the two of them since we got back from Cuba..."

That earned a collective nod.

"We should probably find them. Just, you know, to be safe," Sean said.

Raven smiled at him. "Exactly."

 

They'd already covered the Mansion, so after lunch everyone moved outside, Sean and Angel taking to the air as everyone else covered the ground. Azazel vanished in a puff of smoke, appearing again almost instantly on the satellite dish.  Hank ran off, probably to search the edges of the grounds. Alex had wandered around behind the Mansion; Raven herself decided to just walk down the path, looking and listening carefully.

As much as she hoped she'd find the two of them twined together in the grass somewhere, there was a cold feeling in her heart and an empty space in the back of her head that said Charles was either very far away or something was very wrong.


Two hours later they'd found no sign of Erik or Charles,  although there were fresh tire tracks on the back drive. None of the cars were missing from the garage, however, and that had them all on edge. They'd searched the entire estate, and the orchards a mile over, and they were just gone. Of course, Charles could stay hidden if he really wanted to, but even in his worst mood he'd never hide for this long, not when he heard them calling his name in the increasingly desperate way they had been.

"So," Alex said when they'd gathered back at the house empty handed. "Either they took off together, or Lehnsherr took off and Charles chased after him."

"Or they were taken," Hank said. "I refuse to believe that Charles would leave voluntarily without telling anyone. He could send a mental message to any of us without even stopping."

Sean raised his eyebrows. "That's a nice thought, and it's true, but have you seen how he was these last couple of days? If he was going to do something stupid and impulsive, it would have been today. And it would be over Lehnsherr."

Raven couldn't help but nod, although she wanted to agree with Hank. "They met when Charles jumped into the ocean to save him from drowning. It was freezing, and we were on a boat filled with trained coast guard divers, and he didn't know Erik from Adam, but he just stripped off his coat and dove in. It's a wonder they didn't both drown."

"I still don't believe they'd have just run off." Hank looked angry at the suggestion. "And even if they did, where did the car come from? Did Erik just levitate it there from nowhere? And why would he want to leave, anyway? He's just as stuck on Charles as Charles is on him."

"Something happened to that after Cuba, thought, didn't it? He's been distant ever since we got back." Alex's voice was hard. "And we can hardly pretend we haven't all been party to exactly how upset Charles has been these last few days. They probably split up and Erik cut and run."

"And where is Charles, in this scenario?" Hank asked, still angry.

"Chased after him? Maybe those tire tracks aren't anything to do with them? I don't know," Sean said with a shrug.

Azazel, who had been silent since the search began, stepped forward. "I do not believe they have 'run off'. There were tire tracks in your woods that you cannot explain―who would have reason to drive there? Mr. Lehnsherr would hardly have had someone come to collect him―you know well how alone he was before he joined you―and the Professor, as Hank so rightly points out, would never have left without notice. He would know that you would worry, and he is not a man to make his sister worry idly."

Raven nodded slowly. She knew he had a point―yes, Charles was crazy about Erik, but it would take him little to no effort to just let her know that he was okay and would be coming back. And the tire tracks were worrying―she didn't like the idea that someone had been driving around without their knowing, even if they had nothing to do with the disappearance. "I don't think he would. But who would be able to take both of them? Charles could make them forget their own names, let alone why they were there in the first place. And I imagine it would take a lot to capture Erik, even powerless―and when you add that to the fact that he can lift an entire submarine with his mind, he's certainly a force to be reckoned with."

"Maybe someone snuck up on them, knocked them both out?" Angel said, arms crossed defensively. "If Charles was distracted―which we all agree he has been―that might have worked.”

“Whoever took them would have had to know what their powers were, or they would never have succeeded—maybe they had something like that helmet of Shaw’s something to make Charles’s telepathy not work?” Hank suggested.

Raven stared at him, mouth open. “Shaw,” she said.

Hank’s brow furrowed. “What?”

“Shaw! We haven’t even been thinking—what if he got out? Wouldn’t this be exactly what he’d do? Come and take Erik? And maybe Charles heard enough to know Erik was in trouble and got taken along?”

“If that’s what happened, there’s nothing we can do.” Hank looked devastated. “They’re probably already dead.”

Raven felt her heart stop. Her mind couldn’t process the information—dead? Charles couldn’t be dead, it was impossible, he was always going to be there, he was going to become a real professor and teach people about mutants and—

Azazel spoke loudly enough to break into her thoughts. “If Shaw has them, they are almost certainly still alive. He would not waste the opportunity to study Xavier’s telepathy—he is much more powerful than Emma Frost. And while he has already learned all he can from Mr. Lehnsherr, his well being would be a good…motivator for Xavier’s cooperation.”

They all let that sink in for a minute. Raven was not entirely sure being "studied" was any better than having been killed―they'd all met Erik, and they all knew that a lot of his hard edges came from his time with Shaw. The thought of something similar happening to Charles was...horrifying. But if they were alive, then they could potentially be saved...

"We've got to go get them," she said finally. "Shaw wouldn't be stupid enough to build a prison they can escape from, and if they're still alive, we have to get them out."

Azazel nodded. "Janos, help me make a list of potential hideouts―he won't use somewhere he knows we know, but between the two of us I know we know at least most of his locations."

"The three of us," Angel said. "I was paying attention too."

Azazel nodded. "Do you have maps?"

"Yes, of course." Hank left at a near run.

Raven just stared after him, hoping they could get there in time.

 

Chapter Text

Charles wasn't entirely sure where his pain ended and Erik's began―all he knew was that there was a surfeit of pain, a deep bright agony, and that he could feel Erik in his mind.

They'd done something to the band on his head, changed something about it, so that instead of blocking out all thoughts, it made it impossible for him to block out thoughts. Specifically Erik's thoughts. In other circumstances, he might have enjoyed the idea that his mind and Erik's were one―but Shaw decided it would be an excellent opportunity to see the effect of physical stimulus on the partner on the other end of the connection.

He started with little things―shining a light in Erik's eyes and watching Charles's dilate, making a loud noise in Charles's ear and watching Erik flinch. But that, apparently, had become uninteresting―for the last three hours, it had been more like burn Erik's hand and watch Charles drop something, or break Charles's leg and watch Erik collapse.

In the tiny part of Charles's mind that wasn't simply screaming, he wondered what would happen when one of them died. Would the other just collapse? Would the shock of suddenly being mentally alone kill the other? he was certain that would be Shaw's last experiment―kill Erik and see what happened to Charles, in the hope to have more use out of his telepathy; or kill Charles and hope Erik survived long enough to make an entertaining pet. Either way they weren't getting out of this alive.

Shaw wasn't the one torturing them at the moment―he'd left one of the grunts with some kind of stick, which he was mostly using to jostle Charles broken leg at the moment. Charles was certain data was still being collected on Erik's reactions―the prods seemed to have some kind of rhythm for a minute, and the rhythm would shift. The pain was intense, but he was starting to get used to it―having a pattern to follow, and having the same pain repeatedly, was helping his ability to compartmentalize, and he could almost think again.

I'm so sorry, Erik, he said over their connection.

What do you have to be sorry for? Erik was thinking easier as well. This is my fault. Shaw was after me, he never would have done this if it hadn't been for me I should have killed him Charles Charles I'm sorryI love you...

I should have let you kill him, I was wrong, Erik, I'm sorry, I love you too of course I love you I don't blame you for this it wasn't your fault Erik I love you OW GOD imsorryithurtsimsorry. The goon had found a new way to twist Charles's knee that made the fracture in his calf scream, and it was a while before he found the peace to speak again.


A long time later (and it was so hard to mark time in pain, wasn't it? But it had to be close to morning), they were finally given water and allowed to rest. Erik crawled over to him―they were in some different underground room, Charles hadn't been paying that much  attention before but it looked almost exactly like the other, with the exception of a door and no beds. There were blankets, though, and Erik managed to pull one around them both, huddling together on the floor and trying to ignore all the things that still hurt. Their minds were still connected, and Charles was very nearly grateful―he wasn't sure he could speak, after so much screaming, and Having Erik's mind was almost as much of a comfort as the warmth of his against his side.

Water, Erik was thinking, but no food. They mean to keep us alive, but not for long.

It looks like it. Charles sighed, mostly in his mind. I wonder who they'll kill first? Or if they'll just let us starve to death?

It hardly matters. Neither of us is going to survive, not this time.

Charles had had much the same thought. I wonder how the kids are doing? I wonder where they think we are (iwonderifthey'reworriedyet?)

Erik seemed to think that was amusing. I imagine Raven thinks I've kidnapped you―or possibly murdered you and run off to hide the body.

Charles smiled, letting his head fall onto Erik's good shoulder (the other was dislocated, it looked/felt like). She can be a bit protective. And you have been acting strangely around (avoiding) me.

I am sorry. I just...needed some space to realize what I'd known all along (I love you). Despite the pain they were in, Erik's mind was going fuzzy with sleepiness.

We should rest while we can. I'm sure they'll be back soon, and we'll need our strength. The pull of the connection was dragging him into sleep as well, and before he knew it, they were both out.


Aww, how cute, someone thought in Charles's head, before continuing aloud. "Can either of you stand?"

Charles blinked awake. Raven was crouched beside them, the inhibiting band in her hand. Hank was standing behind her, looking anxious. Erik was just stirring, his eyes not open yet. Even with the band gone, Charles could feel Erik in his mind as if they were one―but they could worry about that later. "My right leg is broken, but Erik should be all right. His shoulder's pretty bad, though, be careful."

Raven looked even more concerned (if such a thing were possible), but she stood up quickly. "Hank, get Charles. Erik, are you okay to walk?"

"I think so." Erik blinked slowly, levering himself up with his good arm. "I can walk, but I won't be any good in a fist fight."

Charles was mildly embarrassed to have to be carried, but there was no way his leg would hold him and Hank was strong enough that it was hardly an issue. "How did you find us?" he asked as they entered the hallway outside the door.

"Angel, actually. She remembered something about Shaw building a network of underground tunnels out of some rare type of naturally luminescent rock. Since neither she nor Janos and Azazel knew the location, we thought it was a good place to start looking for you. Hank figured out where it was because he actually knew what kind of rock she was talking about, and the only deposit of it anywhere near large enough to turn into a network of tunnels was up here." Raven looked at Hank proudly, affection coloring her thoughts. "So Azazel popped us up here. Shaw was gone when we got here, and Alex made short work of his thugs. The others are waiting on the surface for us."

We're not going to die, Charles thought The children came for us.

They did, Erik agreed. I'm impressed. But for the love of God, don't tell Raven.

Charles grinned, and he knew Erik could feel his amusement. We couldn't have her thinking you liked her, now could we?

I like her just fine.

Charles sent him a mental eye-roll before turning his thoughts outward, feeling for the others he knew were nearby. They were guarding the entrance to the tunnels, all on edge and watchful. Alex and Sean were still unsure about trusting the three who had been working with Shaw; the others were worrying about Shaw's probable return. Azazel was braced to move at a split-second's notice, one fluid motion clear in his mind: grab Janos and flee. Charles could hardly blame him―he'd seen what Shaw could do, and he wasn't the sort of man to go easy on traitors. Still, Charles (or was it Erik? It might have been both) was half-hoping Shaw would show before they left―it would be better to get this over with now, rather than waiting for Shaw to make the next move. By then he might have entirely new places, and better defense against Alex and the others.

"You're awfully quiet, Charles." Raven observed. It was a long way to the surface, and they'd slowed their pace on Erik's behalf. "Or are you talking so we can't hear you?"

Charles flushed, but Erik beat him to a response. "Neither of us will want to do much talking for a while, Raven. Screaming for hours will do that."

She looked thoroughly abashed. "Oh, God."

We're all right, Charles soothed her. Nothing a little rest won't fix.

He needs to die, Charles. Raven was angry. I know you hate the idea of taking a life, but look at what he did to you. She paused. Look at what he did to Erik.

I know, Charles agreed. Both Raven and Erik were surprised, despite the fact that he'd told Erik this several times. There's no other way to stop him.

Hank grumbled quietly, and Raven laughed. "Sorry, love."

"I understand if these two don't want to speak out loud, but you could. It's worse than having friends who speak a different language than you!"

Sorry, Hank. Charles did his best to look sheepish.

"It's okay, I get it." Hank was more worried than upset, Charles could tell.

Erik's arm was killing him, and Charles's leg jarred every time Hank took a step. They were both burnt out, and the feedback look of pain-anger-exhaustion made focusing on anything more than putting one of Erik's feet in front of the other seemed nearly impossible―and of course, that would be when a sharp spike of panic came from the surface.

Shaw was back.

Chapter Text

As anticipated, Azazel grabbed Janos and took off the moment he realized Shaw was coming. As not anticipated, he immediately popped back and grabbed Angel and the boys, whisking them off god-knows-where. That was far more...selfless than Charles had expected, and Erik was positively incredulous when he saw/felt/heard it in Charles's mind. Adrenalin made the rest of the walk to the surface take no time at all.

Put me down, Hank, Charles said firmly. You'll need your hands for this.

Are you sure? Hank hesitated. (youllbevulnerableicantprotectyou)

Put me down.

Hank set him gently on the ground, leaning against a boulder, and turned to face the road. A car was nearly upon them, and within it, Shaw. He was alone.

The car came to a stop in front of them, and Shaw stepped out. "Isn't this a surprise!" he said with obviously false pleasure. "The whole dysfunctional family!"

Charles reached out to his mind, and was surprised to find it open to him. Shaw was frightened, he realized―he hadn't expected this rescue mission to get this far, Emma wasn't nearby, and he realized that without her or his helmet, he was entirely open to psychic attack. Well, psychic attack was what Charles was going to give him―he thrust himself into Shaw's mind, reaching out to take control...and then Shaw started laughing.

"You really thought it would be that easy? Emma didn't leave me completely defenseless." He pushed back against Charles, and it felt something like the mental block that had landed them here in the first place.

It hurt, like spikes being slowly driven into his mind, and he only stayed in by sheer force of will. He was holding still, but he wasn't in far enough and he couldn't push harder, it was like clinging to the edge of a wall with nothing but his fingernails and he was going to slip―and suddenly Erik with him, helping him, adding his will to Charles's, and they were holding their own, no, they were winning. They felt Shaw stumble backwards as they broke into his mind, taking control of his motor functions and freezing him in place.

We could kill him like this Charles realized. It was clear in his mind, how he could just reach and pull and the man's heart would stop. He could feel how much he wanted that, how much Erik wanted that, but he hesitated, and Erik hesitated with him.

We could. We should. Erik was firm inside him.

I know that. I just―I don't know if I can. Charles had never killed anyone before, let alone with his mind, and now that he was faced with the necessity of it, he was on the verge of panic.

Erik felt no such qualms, and he pushed his calm forward, trying to soothe. Then let me.

Charles hesitated a second longer, and then surrendered, letting Erik have control of his mind. It was trust, absolute and terrifying, and it was the most intimate thing he could imagine. He could feel―as if he were an outsider―his mind taking over control of Shaw's, adeptly shutting down his body's life support systems.

They felt as one his body struggling to continue, clinging to life, and then they felt that life snuff out. Shaw's body fell to the ground, and Charles abruptly realized he hadn't been able to see―because now he could. Erik was on the ground beside him, hunched into a ball; they were holding hands. Charles had no recollection of either of them even moving, and Erik seemed equally surprised by the position.

Well, that was... Erik thought

Intense, Charles agreed. Thank you.

I can't believe it's over. Erik was dizzy with exertion and relief. I can't believe he's gone.

Charles leaned against him. He's gone, he echoed. And we're free.

I love you, Erik thought, wrapping his good arm around Charles's shoulders. You're safe now, I love you.

I love you too. Charles reached up to cup Erik's face with his hand.

Someone coughed loudly beside them. "Not to interrupt," Raven began, "But what on earth just happened?"

Charles didn't move. We killed Shaw.

I killed Shaw, Erik corrected.

Raven jumped. Why can I hear Erik? Are you doing that?

Not consciously.

It was something Shaw did, Erik thought. He was experimenting with Charles's telepathy, and he wanted to see what would happen if he removed all of the barriers between his mind and another's.

We're more connected now, though―what you did, with Shaw, that was more. Charles shrugged. We'll have to see how it plays out. For now, though, we're not exactly...separate.

"Guys," Hank said, "you've forgotten I'm here again, haven't you."

"Sorry." Raven flushed purple. "They killed Shaw, and also something about the two of them having some sort of weird mind-link thing."

For example, I can do this, Erik projected to Hank.

Hank blinked. "Whoa."

That gave Charles an idea, and Erik thought it would work, so―Charles reached out to Shaw's car and lifted it off the ground with the metal in it. "Whoa," he said.

They all stared at each other for a minute. Charles and Erik were still curled around each other, but they turned to look at Raven and Hank (who were standing together a little distance away).

So, Erik projected eventually, how do we get home?

Raven grinned and whistled loudly. "Like this."

Azazel appeared in a puff of red smoke. "That was...very fast."

"Shaw is dead," Raven told him. "And I think it's past time these two got home."

Erik had to let go of Charles to let Hank pick him up again, but he grabbed Charles's hand again as soon as he was in the air. Raven put a hand on Hank's shoulder and held her other hand out to Azazel, and in the blink of an eye they were home.


Alex was waiting with first aid as they came into the house―Hank put Charles down on a sofa and got to work setting his leg, while Alex and Azazel set Erik's shoulder. They each had other cuts and burns that needed bandaging, but once that was done, Hank was confident they would heal.

"It could have been worse―from a medical standpoint, anyway, none of the injuries you sustained should cause any permanent damage. You both should be fine―as soon as that leg heals, at any rate."

Erik's emotions were a swirl, and he was having trouble being that optimistic. His arm was in a sling to accommodate the shoulder, and he felt vulnerable and useless―particularly when Hank picked Charles up and carried him to his room.

Charles tried to reassure him with positive feelings. I'm fine, you'll be fine, we'll be fine, I love you.

I know, I'm just―I don't know what to do, now, and I can't even do the things I could do, before, and you're still hurt and I can't carry you and Shaw's dead and the kids knowaboutusandi'mterrified

Charles felt a surge of affection threaten to overwhelm him―and, in fact, Erik actually stumbled.

Oh. Erik was far more surprised than he had any right to be, given how obvious Charles had thought he was being about being hopelessly gone on him. You love me.

Charles rolled his eyes. Are your really surprised?

Hank set him down on his bed, glanced between the two of them, and hurried out the door, shutting it firmly behind him.

Erik sat carefully on the edge of the bed, reaching out to take Charles’s hand. I may know it’s true, but I still can’t believe it. The idea that you feel for me something even close to what I fell for you, it’s ludicrous, impossible, not even something to be contemplated—

—and true. Charles tugged gently on the hand in his. Come here, damn it, I need to touchyou it’s like I can feel you over there but I can’t feel you and we’ve been sleeping in separate beds for too many nights for me to be okay with doing it ever again. And please don’t try to tell me you’re not tired, I’m in your head with you.

Erik lay down carefully, trying not to jar his shoulder or Charles’s leg while finding a position that didn’t put pressure on the worse of his minor injuries. I’ve missed you too. I’m sorry I was such an ass.

I’m pretty sure that whole mess is on me. Charles put an arm around him carefully (it helped that he could feel everything that hurt just as Erik did), and pressed his face into the base of Erik’s neck. I’m so sorry about Shaw.

It’s over now, Erik thought with the same relieved disbelief he thought it before. He’ll never hurt us again.

Emma Frost is still out there.

Which we can worry about another day. As someone pointed out, I’m exhausted, and I think we deserve a rest, after…everything. He pressed a kiss to Charles’s forehead, and they drifted to sleep in each other’s arms.

Chapter Text

The weeks that followed were some of the best and worst of Charles's life, but that seemed to be something of a theme with Erik.

Their new telepathic bond was alternately exciting and annoying—for the first several days, neither of them had any way to shield against it, and sharing every thought and feeling was overwhelming and unpleasant, not to mention the fact that it made it practically impossible for them to be doing different things, lest the other's thought become a distraction. As his strength came back, however, Charles was able to build up some shields—and therefore so did Erik. By the end of the week they were able to block (or at least shove aside) the thoughts and emotions of the other, and keep some of their thoughts on their own private. The exciting part was what that level of connection meant for their abilities—without even having to consciously go through Charles, Erik was able to project his thoughts, and read surface thoughts. He wasn't as powerful as Charles, but he could be—all it took was a tug on the connection, and the full force of Charles's mind was behind him. And Charles could manipulate metal without thinking (which was humorous the first few times it happened), but he still had to blend with Erik to execute larger feats. They could do more impressive things together, they discovered—like when they'd overwhelmed Shaw.

"I can't tell if it's actually amplifying our abilities," Charles said as he and Erik reformed a heavy metal sheet into several hundred miniature animals—each as detailed as the original, "or if being connected simply helps us focus enough to do things we had the power to do before."

"It's an excellent question," Hank said from across the room. He and Raven were curled together on a chair, ostensibly reading. "We'll have to see how it's affected by time—you've managed some shielding, but the connection hasn't faded at all, has it?"

"Definitely not." Erik reached down to ruffle Charles's hair. Charles was sitting on the floor with his legs stretched out, leaning against a chair, on which Erik was sitting, lazily making a tiny otter run around Charles's feet.

Charles grinned up at him. Even after more than a month, it was still a thrill to think that he could have this, have Erik just casually being affectionate and sitting in their home with Hank and Raven and the boys and Angel. Even Azazel and Janos were still here, slowly but surely becoming integral parts of their make-shift family. There was snow on the ground outside and a fire in the fireplace and he'd gotten the first cast off last week so he could walk (a little) and plans for the school were going well and he was happy in ways he'd never even realized he wasn't before. I love you, he told Erik, who smiled. He reached down to pet the little otter, and then stilled it, turning it back into a statue of metal. "I hope it never does."


Hank nodded, acknowledging that. "It's certainly fascinating. And at least, you know, you like each other."

Erik grinned at him over Charles's head. "We certainly do."

Charles laughed and hit Erik's knee with the back of his head. "I'll say."

"Ugh, we all know how disgustingly in love you are, there's no need to rub it in our faces," Alex said, walking into the room and flopping on a chair.

"Shut up, Summers." Erik sent a metal bird over to knock into the boy's head.

He swatted at it, rolling his eyes. "Hey, just calling it like I see it."

Erik grumbled, but Charles directed the little bird away from Alex and back over to him, snatching it out of the air and melting it into a heart shape. He passed it back to Erik, who was appropriately embarrassed. “Charles,” he said.

You love me, Charles thought at him, grinning.

Alex laughed. “You guys are utterly ridiculous. Come on, Hank, back me up here—oh wait, I forgot, you’re nearly as ridiculous.” Hank flushed, and Raven made a crude gesture, but Alex just kept laughing. “Anyway, I thought I should come tell you guys it’s almost time for dinner. Angel made tamales, and Sean’s baking something with chocolate in it, so you might want to be there.” He stood up and walked off, smirking at all of them.

Charles couldn’t imagine being happier.