Erik had been working for the Warehouse for a good month and a half and if he had thought he had already seen the strangest things it could offer up, he had been sorely mistaken. Quite frankly, it was a mistake he had frequently made over the span of the first two weeks. By week three, it had dawned on him that the world was a lot weirder than he'd ever thought it to be.
A steep learning curve was about the only way to describe it. It'd been rather theoretical to be told about artifacts and while both Alex and Raven scoffed at it, Erik had quickly realized that there was a reason why Charles wanted them to read the warehouse manual. It did read stranger than fiction with its description and caution to Warehouse agents about ordinary objects becoming imbued with strange abilities from being at a specific place at a specific moment, often in the hands of a person with special importance to a single moment in history.
Had Erik not witnessed the volatility of such objects, he would have thought it the insane ramblings of a madman.
"Let's get this back to Charles so he can deal with the storage," Raven said, making a face at the electrical charge from the bag as Erik held it open for her to drop the necklace into. The electrical discharge as the artifact touched the sides of the bag lined with neutralizing goo, wasn't as big as some of the ones he'd witnessed so far. And Erik should know - the first one had taken him by surprise as he'd felt the discharge like a jolt. Charles had suggested that it was part of Erik's normal sensitivity to electricity in connection to his sense of magnetic fields.
Erik just thought it was weird and not something he would ever get used to experiencing.
Erik nodded and sealed the bag. He was quite fond of working with Raven. In the beginning, he'd thought her endless chatter was annoying, until he'd realized that she didn't really expect him to answer her. Most of the time.
"You should drop it off," she continued as she got into the passenger seat of their car.
Erik nearly missed her words as he put the bag into the larger container and settled it behind Raven's seat. Pulling back into his seat, he stared at her.
"Don't give me that," she said with a snort as she put on her seatbelt. "He likes your company and you are not as inconspicuous as you might think."
It was Erik's turn to make a face. "And what's that supposed to mean?"
Raven treated Charles much like an older brother and had taken to doing the same with Erik. And Erik had noticed that most of the agents seemed to see the team as a big family with Charles as an older brother or father figure. However, it made Erik feel a little odd whenever he thought of Charles in that light. He liked spending time with him, but he was pretty sure that had nothing to do with brotherly feelings. Feelings he kept buried beneath layers of steel, because Charles was a telepath, and for all his ethics, Erik knew he could pick up stray thoughts without wanting to.
So Erik kept his thoughts from straying.
"You willingly spend time with him in the Warehouse," she said, holding up a hand when he tried to explain that he was still learning the lay of the Warehouse and day to day things. "You've read the whole damned manual, which pleases him to no end - next you'll be playing chess with him - voluntarily."
"Charles plays chess?" Erik asked before he could stop himself.
Raven groaned theatrically, but Erik paid her no mind. He was getting unsettlingly used to the habits of the young people that made up the team. He made a note to ask Charles about this. He had years of experience in Interpol, but knew for a fact that at least half of the kids had no background in agency business.
Maybe he should ask over a game of chess?
"Check mate," Charles said, leaning back in his rickety office chair.
Erik made a face. "I used to be good at this."
Charles raised his glass of scotch to him and shook his head. "You still are, my friend. But I…" Charles trailed off, a faraway look in his eyes. "I am older than you, even if I may not look it, so I have years of experience." He turned his attention back to Erik after a moment, his eyes clear once again. "But I have wanted for a strong opponent on the other side of the chessboard for quite a while."
"Now that I can do," Erik found himself agreeing, silently wondering just how old Charles was. On more than one occasion, he had caught the man making such comments, but Erik had no clue as to how much older. Originally Erik had guessed Charles to be a few years younger than himself, but with each of Charles' 'slips' he did wonder just how much he was off.
Normally not knowing something would drive Erik to investigate, but in this, he found that he quite liked the slow gathering of information. Snapping up the little bits of proof of who Charles was.
Of course Erik should have paid closer attention to the others on the team.
It wasn't until three months later that he realized that the rest of them had a pool going on him and Charles and by then he'd gotten so used to their antics that it didn't rile him all that much. It wasn't as if they were on to something.
"God-fucking-damn it, Lehnsherr!"
Erik shook his head, trying to clear it. Glaring at Alex for screaming into his face, he pushed him away. "Did you get it?"
"Yes, I fucking got it," Alex said, voice rough and breaking. "What the hell happened?"
Erik stared at the bag on the floor, still crackling as the goo-lined vessel struggled to deal with the amulet inside. Instead of answering, he half turned to Alex and said: "We're gonna need a bigger boat."
Alex moved to get the canister, opened it and then stared at Erik, gobsmacked.
Erik pulled the coins he kept in his pocket out, reshaped them and used them to hook the bag and dump the amulet into the thick, purple goo. He and Alex both turned their heads, averting their eyes as the flash lit the empty office they were in.
"We've all been there," Alex said, watching Erik slide to the floor, trying to catch his breath.
"Huh?" Erik looked at him, Alex, who he had not gotten along with particularly well at any point since he'd joined the team. Erik wasn't stupid, it was part his own anger that Alex had been the one to interrupt his work before he even know about artifacts and Warehouse business. And part because Alex was a hothead on a good day and an unrepentant asshole on most other days. If Erik was being truthful, he did see a lot of himself in Alex, which didn't help much.
"The artifact was trying to get you to jump out the window," Alex said quietly, sinking down next to Erik. "I wasn't sure I could get to you in time."
Erik drew a deep breath. He had thought from day one that he could handle these things because he was stronger than most others. "Homo superior, huh?" he managed, just as quietly, maybe beginning to see Alex in a new light.
Alex laughed, startled and then slapped Erik's shoulder. "Yeah, we're so fucking superior it hurts."
Erik shook his head, got unsteadily to his feet and held his hand out for Alex to take.
Alex stared at it for a moment, then grabbed it and let Erik pull him to his feet. "You quoted fucking Jaws to me, you asshole," he muttered as he secured the canister and checked that they hadn't left anything behind. He sounded almost a little awed.
"Does that mean you'll stop treating me like an idiot?" Erik asked, part snark, part curiosity.
Alex eyed him for a moment, then shook his head. "Nah."
"Oh well," Erik said, shoving him out the door of the office, "can't win 'em all."
Charles leaned back in his seat, staring unseeingly up at the ceiling of the office. It was late evening and everyone had gone off to bed. Most of them had assignments for the morning and Charles had turned Erik's offer of chess down with a comment about them all needing sleep to stay ahead of the game.
He hadn't been lying. Erik had so far proven to be a great asset to the team, but all agents could stumble and while a fully rested state would never ensure a positive outcome, it could spell disaster if one or more of the agents lacked the focus.
Dealing with artifacts could be dangerous, after all. And Charles knew that Erik was beginning to understand this much better than he had in the beginning.
Tilting his head forward, Charles stared down at his empty teacup. It did help to have an extra agent on the team, someone who mostly acted more grown up than the rest of the team. Except it seemed when it came to working alongside Alex Summers. Not that Charles didn't understand that Alex could rub most people the wrong way at least until they got to know him, but he would have to trust in the two of them that they would solve it themselves. He couldn't force them to like each other, now could he?
Charles couldn't entirely say he was immune to Erik's charms. Although Raven had called said 'charms' those of an apex predator. And Darwin had, with admiration, dubbed Erik's smile the shark-grin.
They weren't wrong, but as with the rest of the team members, Erik had sharp edges that would dull a little with time. They would never disappear, because they were an integrated part of his personality, but he had already seen how well Erik fell into work with Raven and Darwin, especially.
Charles leaned back a little and put his hand on one of the steel pillars that held up the Warehouse. "You like him too, don't you girl?" he mumbled, his mind open as it always was around the Warehouse. He felt the slow rise of approval and a fleeing scent of sugar and cinnamon. The Warehouse had taken to Erik almost as fast as it had taken to Charles all those years ago.
"Then let's hope he and Alex don't kill each other, yes?" Charles patted the cool steel and stood up. Perhaps he should follow his own advice and get some sleep.
Much to Erik's consternation, Charles decided to mix the teams up a little. His excuse was to make sure that everyone could work with everyone.
If Charles hadn't been such a genuinely nice guy, Erik might have hated him for it. Because Charles' little exercise put Erik and Alex together more often than Erik liked. If Charles hadn't been so Charles it would have fucking irked him.
It still annoyed him like hell, though. Much like Erik had realized, Alex reminded him a little too much of Erik himself. Erik was not going to go to Charles and beg to let him have Raven back, because that would be so unprofessional.
Not to mention Erik had known Charles for a very short time before he'd caught on to how Charles lead his ragtag team of merry mutant kiddies - this did of course not include Erik, but he was by no means immune. Charles would request something and people would either do it or not. However, instead of reprimanding anyone, Charles would be disappointed.
Had anyone told Erik that this would be a useful weapon in leading people, he would have laughed, at least up until the point where he'd seen it in action.
Charles Xavier, Warehouse caretaker, was a damned lethal weapon. The way he would look at the culprit and wait for them to crack and realize just how wrong they had been was mesmerizing. In the beginning, Erik had thought it was something Charles did subconsciously. Then he'd begun playing chess with the man and boy had he learned a few things.
Charles was, by no means, a naïve young man. He was older than he looked and Erik had caught on to the fact that he had the most devastating sense of humour. It wasn't in your face, but unleashed, it was ruthless.
If Erik was honest with himself, he might be more than a little bit in love. And he was honest with himself, quietly and outside of Charles' telepathic reach. Fancying your boss might not be a good idea. Strike that 'might' - it was a terrible idea, but it didn't make it any easier for Erik to ignore it. He could wrap it up and stuff it into a mental safety box and shove it into the depth of his psyche to only take out and look at when he wasn't around Charles.
At least the job kept them all busy and Erik doubly so as he learned the trade - quite happily. Not to mention trying to find his way around the labyrinth that was the Warehouse itself. Not that he felt like he would stay lost for too long. It should probably weird him out how the warehouse seemed to be reacting to him, but as with a lot of other things with his new job, the odd became strangely familiar and comforting.
Charles had told him that the fact that Erik would often pick up scents that would remind of his childhood, before it had all gone wrong, was a way for the Warehouse to communicate its pleasure to him. Though he wouldn't share with Erik how the Warehouse reacted to himself.
In the beginning Erik had wondered about Charles' sanity, but after a few field trips, he had to admit that the thought had become less and less insane.
In the first few months of his new job, Erik realized just how big the Warehouse was, not just in terms of nooks and crannies, but much in the same way that the TARDIS was bigger on the inside, so was the Warehouse.
He and Charles had fallen into the habit of spending the evening in the manor's library, and Erik still wasn't sure how to feel about living, eating and sleeping on top of something like the Warehouse. One such night, they were making inroads into a bottle of fifty-year old whiskey while a very slow and leisurely paced game of chess sat between them. It was one of those evenings where Erik felt that Charles was keeping up less of an appearance of being the age he looked and let more than a few slips go that one, he was older than the whiskey and two, the chess set that they were using was at least a century old and had been made for him.
If anything, those little bits and bops of information made Erik like Charles even more. Which in itself was a little on the odd side. Normally Erik would go at any mystery like a dog with a bone. He'd dig until there was nothing left to unearth.
With Charles and Charles' mysterious past it was different. For once the slow burn of learning a little here and a little there and ever so slowly putting the puzzle pieces together, felt like the most fantastic thing in the world.
This would be the point where Erik realized he might be in a little deeper than he'd thought.
"I'm glad to see your working well with Alex," Charles said, moving his knight into position to maybe threaten Erik's king in a few moves.
Erik moved his king accordingly and made a face. "I know you want us all to work together as well as possible, but where I find the rest of the team amiable enough, Alex is…"
Charles hid a small smile behind his glass as he watched the board for a moment. "Just like you are getting to know everyone's quirks and what makes us tick, you need to understand Alex more than anyone."
"Why?" Erik asked curiously, leaning back in his seat and just enjoying the quiet and the smell of old books.
"Alex... " Charles trailed off. "I can not share his past with you anymore than I can share yours with him. It is something you will have to share if you feel it necessary or fitting - and if you trust each other enough."
"What do you even know of my past?" Erik asked, feeling a little uneasy for the first time in Charles company.
"Everything," Charles said, lifting his gaze to look him in the eyes, a strange distant and ephemeral look to the blue. Then he shook his head, as if to clear it. "Enough. I don't read anyone's minds against their will, if that's what you think, Erik." Charles frowned, as if he truly felt this was a bad thing for Erik to think. "The Warehouse knows her agents, Erik. I've told you before that the Warehouse is sentient."
Erik shrugged and still didn't answer. It was a strange thing to consider. That the Warehouse was capable of reading his past and maybe his thoughts - and shared it with Charles. The question was if the Warehouse had also shared his attraction to Charles with the man.
"Does it share everything with you?" he finally asked, forcing his voice to be even.
"Oh, goodness no," Charles said with a laugh. "The Warehouse shares with me what the Warehouse wants to share with me. The connection is strong enough that I can make simple inquiries, but that's all - if the Warehouse doesn't want me to know, I won't know." He eyed Erik speculatively for a moment. "Unless it's something you want to share with me yourself."
Erik felt the corners of his lips curve up against his own will. "Maybe at some point."
Charles inclined his head and turned his attention back to the board.
Erik yawned and apologized.
"Don't be sorry," Charles replied. "It's been a busy few weeks."
"You can say that again," Erik agreed, straightening up and stretching his arms over his head before turning his attention fully back to the board as well. "No wonder you needed additional agents if it's always this busy."
Charles hummed and Erik looked up in question.
"That's just it," Charles finally said, looking back up from the board. "The influx of new artifacts has been… out of the ordinary."
"How do you even know when a new artifact appears?" Erik asked curiously. So far he'd been busy reading up on all the things Charles had thrown at him, how to use his senses, smell, attention to metal, listening and trusting his intuition.
Charles seemed to almost light up as he straightened in his seat and focused entirely on Erik. "I think it's time you see it. Since you asked the question yourself. Mind, we do get information about strange things from SHIELD, the stuff they don't want to handle, and we keep ears and eyes open when something strange occurs on the news, or just as often on internet forum boards."
Erik huffed a laugh. "If you have to trawl the internet like that, I feel truly sorry for you."
Charles shook his head. "We had nothing like that when I was a child - it wasn't even the topic of fiction until much later - Erik, the internet is magnificent - and does tend to make it easier to keep an eye out for the stranger things."
"If you say so," Erik said, not quite agreeing. But what did he know? "And SHIELD?" he asked curiously.
"Ah yes," Charles said with a small laugh. "I'll give you a quick summary of that unlikely bed partner while we make our way to Cerebro."
"Cerebro?" Erik felt like he was having the kind of night where nothing made sense and everything that came out of Charles' mouth only made him ask new questions.
"You asked how we find artifacts," Charles said, standing up and offering Erik a hand up.
The chess game forgotten for the moment, Erik took his hand and let himself be pulled to his feet and if it took a moment of maybe too long before he let go of Charles' hand, he wasn't going to study that in too great detail just yet. "Lead on," he managed to say.
Charles gave him a blindingly bright smile and led the way out of the library and down the hallway.
"Well, SHIELD," Charles began as he turned down another hallway to an elevator so well shielded that Erik could barely feel it. "Because we don't exist," Charles said with a smirk, "we needed some sort of cover and we used to cross paths with SHIELD quite a lot in the old days. Back then it was lead by Director Carter, and while she was a delightful soul, she drove a hard bargain - the amount of times I had to drag an agent out of a SHIELD detention cell, I'm telling you, Erik. While I enjoyed the verbal sparring, it was the kind of attention we did not need."
Erik reeled for a moment as they entered the elevator. "Carter? Margaret Carter?"
"Peggy," Charles said, scrunching up his nose and punching a code into the panel next to the door. This put him terribly close to Erik, who wasn't going to complain. "Peggy was a worthy adversary," Charles carried on, a look of fond sadness on his face. "Not that Nick isn't a hell of a director, but there will only ever be one Peggy Carter."
Erik was quietly doing the math in his head. He knew from the other 'slips' that Charles had about his age that he was lot older than he looked, but if he'd been running the Warehouse during Carter's years as a director of SHIELD…
Charles raised an eyebrow at him and grinned widely. "I know you're doing the math, Erik. You're not stupid. You know I'm a lot older."
"I keep wondering if you're letting all those bits of information slip just to make me ask," Erik grumbled.
"Partly," Charles said with a wink. "The Warehouse prolongs the life of its caretaker. It's a symbiotic life. I take care of the Warehouse, the Warehouse lends me her strength and protects me."
"How old is the Warehouse?" Erik asked. He'd been curious for a while, because some of the artifacts, while they could have been gathered later, were centuries old and from around the world.
"The Warehouse, the current one, is just one in a long line of Warehouses," Charles explained as they waited for the elevator to stop. From what Erik could tell the elevator was going up a few floors.
"So there are more around the world?" Erik asked.
"There is only ever one Warehouse at the time," Charles explained. "Much like some mutants can teleport, the Warehouse can move itself to another place."
"How often does that happen?" Erik felt the elevator come to a gentle stop.
"Not very often," Charles replied, exiting the elevator out into a narrow hallways that curved in both directions. In front of them was a kind of airlock which hummed to life and a light sprang out to scan them. "The times it has happened it's been when the Warehouse has been compromised."
The airlock hissed open and inside was a large spherical space with a walkway extending out into the center of it. Erik followed Charles inside, still thinking about what might compromise the Warehouse enough to make it move.
Charles came to a stop right in front of the end of the walkway, where it widened into a small platform with a seat and something that looked like a helmet. Turning around to smile at Erik, he put his arms out to the sides. "Welcome to Cerebro, Erik."
"Brain?" Erik asked.
"Well, it was an old idea that Hank found in some long forgotten archive," Charles said with a laugh, "and it's not a bad description. You'll understand in a moment." Sitting down in the seat, Charles lifted the helmet up and placed it on his head.
Erik noticed that there were no buttons or interfaces, but the whole spherical room immediately dropped into darkness, with only a faint bluish outline to the helmet Charles was wearing.
"Watch and be amazed," Charles said, pride colouring his voice.
Erik felt the whole place hum to life, a strangely enticing feeling as electricity and electromagnetism flowed around him. Around him it seemed to get a little darker for a moment, then small dots started appearing. Some blue, some red.
"The blue dots are humans, the red are mutants," Charles explained in a hushed voice.
"There are so many of us," Erik all but breathed as he curbed the urge to reach out and touch the nearest bright, red spark.
"There truly is," Charles said with a satisfied sigh. "And more are born every day." He was silent for a moment, then turned his head a little, and the dots around them swirled and seemed to zoom in on a specific area.
Erik wondered for a moment what he was looking for, then he realized he could feel it as well as see it. One spot was a sickeningly yellow colour. It was almost like it was oozing yellow goo.
"That is someone under the influence of an artifact," Charles said quietly, as if he almost hurt for the person. "I feel so sorry for them, Erik. Even those who use an artifact on purpose rarely want to harm anyone with it."
"The road to hell," Erik said quietly.
"Yes, indeed," Charles agreed. "Cerebro can't find the artifacts, and it was originally created to find mutants, but Hank found that it could be reprogrammed to make out someone who was under the influence of an artifact."
"Should we…?" Erik gestured at the yellow area.
"Armando and Sean are on their way there," Charles said, the room falling into darkness again for a moment, the the light on the edges of the walkway lit up again and Charles pulled the helmet off his head. "I sometimes almost get lost in here, floating among the conscious and unconscious minds of people."
"It's connected to your telepathically?" Erik guessed.
"Yes, it amplifies my telepathy to the point where I can span the world - like listening to a radio being tuned." He turned around and smiled at Erik before getting to his feet and leading Erik back out of the room. "Just keep tuning until something pops up like a … a discord - a sound that shouldn't be there."
Erik wondered for a moment if Charle could find Shaw for him, then pushed it from his mind. It was an old wound, and old wish to track down the man who had killed his family when he had been a child. An old thirst for vengeance.
He had originally joined Interpol to use them to find Shaw, but he'd taken to the job, quite a bit and he rarely found anything that might sound like Shaw. And while he'd been tiring of the job for the past year or two, his new one, as a Warehouse agent, was keeping him more than interested and on his toes.
The smile that Charles turned on him in the elevator as they moved back down towards the main mansion, was enough to knock a little air out of Erik and make him feel warm and light at heart.