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The Strange and the Wonderful

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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.

Chapter Text

Charles watched quietly from his seat at the breakfast table. Everyone was in good humour, everyone in good health.

Allowing himself a small smile, Charles took a sip of his tea while the team were in a heated debate whether or not the newest branches of the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises were just pale imitations of the originals.

It was a debate Charles stayed out of. Not that he didn't have an opinion, though his was more along the lines of 'there's only so much new they can come up with in Hollywood' and 'I prefer theatre to recorded entertainment - more fun for a telepath'.

The debate was getting a little rowdy and he caught Erik looking at him from across the table, all amused as he was pulling a fork from Raven's hand, as she had just threatened to stab Sean for voicing his opinion.

Shaking his head with a smile, Charles turned his attention back to his breakfast.

Yes, it was so much easier to have another adult around.

That thought quickly fled when Erik used several pieces of cutlery to bind Raven to the chair she was sitting on.

Well, it was good having another someone around who mostly behaved like an adult.

---

A couple more missions came along and Erik might have thought that the artifact that had almost made him jump out a seven story window was the worst he would encounter, or that he would somehow be immune to future mind whammies - as Sean called them. Possibly he was simply being an idiot. He was careful, he knew the manual from cover to cover and was damned good at remembering it, which saved their collective asses on more than one occasion.

So Erik might have thought he was on top of his game.

He couldn't have been more wrong.

While the rest of the team found the effect on Erik mildly hilarious, Erik tried not to let them know just how badly it had affected him. Strictly speaking, he could see how they would consider it a mild one as it had merely left Erik, as Alex had put it, soft and cuddly.

All Erik had done was hug everyone and be basically everything he wasn't normally. Not that he was a mean guy, but he kept his emotions under strict control and losing said control felt like a defeat.

Once the artifact had been neutralized and the effect from it gone, Erik had locked himself away for most of a day, refusing to come out. He needed solitude to find find his self control again. Even if the team didn't fully understand.

When he'd been young, a short time after Shaw had had his claws in him, after his parents had been killed, Erik had sought ways to deal with his anger and control issues. Everything from letting go completely, decimating scrap metal to suppressing it. The latter had lead to nearly as much property destruction as the former.

Then out of the blue one day, when he'd been in the park, he'd met a blind woman who had stopped him and asked him to help her for a moment. Before he'd known it, he'd been sat down on a bench and she had told him that he would have to gain control if he was to fulfill his destiny. Then she'd proceeded to teach him how to meditate - there was no other way that Erik could describe it. Like a crash course in anger management and meditation.

He rarely thought of her, and he hadn't needed to use what she'd taught him that afternoon for years. This night he did, this night he shut and locked his door before throwing the cover from the bed down onto the floor and sitting down in what should have been a relaxed position, but every muscle in his body felt tense and it took ages for him to reach the point where he could relax enough to start the breathing exercise.

It took most of the night and during the first two hours he kept losing focus, kept remembering shit that Shaw had put him through, manipulated him into doing. All the shit that he'd convinced Erik was the right thing to do.

All the things that Erik had not had the self control to fight.

Finally, sometime in the early hours of the morning, Erik felt a more natural calm fall over his thoughts, his self control once more in the driving seat. It wouldn't remove the memories, it wouldn't change the fact that it had been slightly embarrassing the way he'd hugged Charles more than anyone else, telling everyone how much he loved them.

It all shrank when compared to the thought of losing control at all. Erik was well aware that his issues with this should be worrying him more than the thought of actually losing his iron self control.

The sun had barely started colouring the morning sky when a knock to his door made Erik look up. He realized how stiff he was from sitting in the same position for hours, and how much he'd worked his muscles from being tense most of the night.

"Yes?" he said, struggling to get to his feet, unlocking the door with a wave of the hand.

The door swung open and Charles leaned against the doorframe. Holding up two cups, he didn't say anything, but Erik could smell the coffee.

"Oh, hell yes," Erik said with a huff and bent stiffly down to retrieve the bedcover to drop it on top of the still made bed. He hadn't managed any sleep last night, but he still felt better than before he'd locked himself in.

"I thought you might appreciate a cup of coffee - and I had to let you know that I'm here if you need to speak with anyone about it." Charles tilted his head, as if asking.

Erik nodded. "Come on in," he said, taking the cup Charles was offering him. He could smell the ginger of Charles' tea and enjoyed it for a moment, before drowning it all out with a large gulp of the coffee. Like an afterthought, he swung the door closed.

Charles took this as the invitation it was and sat down in the chair that was under Erik's window. Erik sat down on top of the bed, nursing his cup of coffee.

"There is no shame in being taken over by the power of an artifact," Charles finally said, folding his hands around the warm cup of tea. "We've all been there at some point," he continued, a slightly lost look on his face. "Sometimes it is even our own fault, we follow the siren call of the artifact, what it promises us, what we can have. Sometimes we're just in the wrong place at the wrong time and most artifacts play merry hell with your perception - you know this, you saw this the first time you got caught in the middle and it took out Alex. This time you got hit directly - all we can do is try to learn how to deal with it and in the end, the aftermath."

"Have you ever...?" Erik trailed off. Maybe it wasn't right for him to ask. It seemed almost too personal.

"Have I ever fallen under the influence of an artifact?" Charles asked for him. A tired look on his face and he nodded. "I'm not going to bore you with the story, but I can not actually leave the Warehouse for very long." He sipped his tea. "The others know, they think it's to do with the symbiotic life I share with the Warehouse."

"It's not?" Erik asked curiously.

"I can leave, but I won't survive out there for all that long - I've never tested it - the first time I left the Warehouse after the artifact was activated, I nearly did die." Charles trailed off.

"Wouldn't dropping it into the goo break it?" Erik asked curiously. It had worked very well so far with the artifacts he'd come across.

Charles bowed his head, then shook it. "It only works if there is an artifact to neutralize."

"It was destroyed?" Erik asked.

"Yes," Charles replied. "I have told myself over the years that I used it for the right reasons, but apparently for the wrong person…" he stopped himself. "But all you need to know, Erik, is that the others will not look at you like you're anything less than a capable agent. They've had their share of losses of control."

Erik rubbed his temple. "Don't psychoanalyze me, Charles."

"I'm not!" Charles said with surprise. "I have seen much, Erik, seen how people react in many situations." He looked at Erik with open curiosity for a moment. "I actually thought you might accuse me of reading your mind."

Erik snorted. "I've seen enough shrinks in my time to recognize the questions."

Charles beamed at him like his answer was the best one ever. It made Erik's stomach roll lazily with heat. Which he of course pushed down and away. Charles was a good leader, he took care of his agents.

Erik wasn't a special case.

---

Erik quickly found that he would need his rediscovered zen even more. Especially since it seemed Charles had drawn the conclusion that Erik really did work very well with Alex.

A view that neither Erik nor Alex shared. And this was about the only thing they could agree on. And the worst thing was, that every time it didn't quite work out? Charles would look at them like he was disappointed and this again would set both Erik and Alex off, because neither of them dealt very well with Charles looking at them like that.

The worst part was that Erik could see it. Could tell that all the rough edges that Alex had were not that different from the ones he had had when he'd been Alex' age. Hell, he still had some of them. They were like two puzzle pieces that, no matter how one turned them, would never fit together.

Erik kept vowing that he would sit Charles down and explain just why partnering him with Alex was a bad idea, but every time he thought about it, and he sought out Charles, he would find the man in a mood that made Erik rethink it. Charles seemed more tired than normally and worried. Very worried, and it took a while before Erik dragged out of him just why.

Not that Erik thought it was such a bad thing, when Charles told him that someone was tipping them off - someone not SHIELD, someone who knew who they were, what they did, and knew how to cover their tracks.

So for the sake of giving Charles at least a little peace, Erik bit back his reservations about partnering with Alex. Even if it was a pain in the ass.

Of course, eventually, Erik realized, he might have to tell Charles that he'd been wrong about it, after all. About another month down the line, and Erik and Alex were out on yet another mission to pick up an artifact that was causing mayhem at a mutant youth centre. They had managed to get the kids out and were now looking for the janitor, who, as far as they knew, had the artifact. It was supposed to be a small tear shaped pendant. It had, according to Charles, belonged to a mutant girl who had had the ability to travel in time, who had tried to use her gift to save her best friend from dying. But in the end had only made a horrible mess of her own timeline, never managing to save her friend.

Charles had warned them that this was one of the strongest ways to create an artifact. The right moment, strong enough emotions, and more often than not, when a mutant was involved in it, the power of the mutant could warp it as well.

Considering that Alex had the experience and Erik could quote the manual from cover to cover, they still ended up at the mercy of the artifact.

At first Erik had been disoriented and wondered if Charles had taken into account that the artifact could actually drag two people in at the same time. He was apparently along for the ride standing outside what was going on and not part of it. The silent, invisible observer. It seemed only Alex could see him. Then he'd been damned glad that it had snagged Alex' past to mess with and not his.

Eventually though, he had to admit that he would have spared Alex the pain if he had been able to.

It started out interestingly enough. A plane crash - and didn't that make Erik nearly wet himself. This was the point where he hadn't been sure if the whole thing could hurt him. However, Erik soon found it could not and he ached for Alex when he realized just what he was seeing.

Charles had warned him that every one of the agents, each and every single one of his colleagues, had skeletons in the close, terrible pasts, childhoods and so on. He'd told him to take this into account when faced with some of their quirks. Hell, it wasn't as if Erik didn't have his own list of shit from his past.

At first Erik thought he was simply being privy to Alex' past, a past he hadn't been aware of how violent had been. The plane crash, showed to him in glimpses, let Erik see a very young Alex being strapped into a parachute, having a younger boy strapped to his front and then pushed from the crashing plane.

It was a horribly vertigo as Erik was apparently tied to Alex and was dragged along for the fall.

Erik closed his eyes and swallowed hard. Opening them again, he realized that he was inside a hospital room, the quiet beeping of machines. In the bed, when Erik stretched to look, he saw Alex. So damned young, no more than maybe ten or twelve.

His sight blurred again, and Erik was jolted back to reality as he watched Alex wake up, asking for Scotty, his brother. Screaming and trying to get out of the hold of the orderlies and the nurses before the familiar reddish light of Alex powering up forced Erik to cover his eyes for a moment.

Then he was in a jail cell, a much older Alex curled into the corner of a bed. The door opened and Erik almost thought for a moment he was looking at Charles, wondering how he had managed… Ah. Of course. These were Alex' memories, this would be how and where Charles had found him.

The whole thing ground to a halt. Then Alex looked up and directly at him. "That's what happened," he said tiredly. "I've never stopped looking for Scotty."

Before Erik could say anything, Alex carried on. "Not a day goes by where I don't wonder what might have happened if I hadn't let go of Scotty after we landed and I passed out from a broken leg. They took him away, you know, and before I knew it I manifested at the hospital and no one would tell me where he was." Alex looked absolutely broken. "I wonder what might have happened if dad hadn't insisted we take a trip in the plane that day - he was a good pilot, you know, but the plane was struck by lightning and that was all it took to short out the engines."

Erik tried to think of anything to say, but he swallowed any platitudes he could think of. It wasn't like he wondered daily how much better his life might have been, had he never met Shaw, had Shaw never used him to kill his parents.

He stopped himself from replying and just met Alex' eyes. Something seemed off, though and Alex shook his head. "I do wonder."

The whole place wobbled and fizzled and Erik was back in free fall. Watching the young Alex falling with his precious cargo, Erik once again met his eyes. Then a flash and they were in the hospital room again, but this time the young boy, Scotty, was sitting next to Alex' bed, looking broken, but at least by Alex' side.

The world fizzled again and Erik stared at Alex, standing in front of a stone at the graveyard. He was maybe, now a little older than when Erik had gotten to know him.

"It didn't work," Alex said, voice soft and wet. "I saved Scotty but he never quite got over losing our parents. I tried to create a safe life for him and he rebelled, fell in with the wrong people…"

Erik looked at the stone and closed his eyes. The stone read "Scott Summers, RIP".

This had obviously never happened, and Erik was beginning to catch on to this being the damned artifact. "Alex, this isn't real. You know that. I know you know that. You have to snap out of it."

Alex shook his head. "No, I can go back again, try again, maybe if mum and dad were still alive…"

No sooner had he shared this with Erik before the fake reality of the artifact blurred again and Erik found himself standing on the concrete of a runway. Ahead of him were four figures. Two adults and two kids. The boys were running around, chasing each other, but the older one of them looked like he had a very specific goal in mind. When both parents and Scott were looking away, Alex, again so young, fired off one of his plasma beams, more in control than Erik had seen in awhile. The small plane waiting for them, up ahead, was hit and broke into fire.

Alex' father cursed and ran towards it and the world shifted around Erik again.

This time he saw Alex roughly around his own age, laughing with his family. All of it. Erik felt a pang of regret. All of this wasn't real. None of it would ever hold water. Then Erik watched it all shift again, and the vista settled to that of what looked like New York. All around him people were running and screaming, the air thick with fear.

Looking down, Erik saw a sign underneath his boot and moved his foot. "Mutant and Proud," he read out loud. Something up ahead felt like huge and metal and when he looked up, he watched a huge behemoth of a robot walk through the crowds trying to escape.

"What the hell?" Erik tried to reach out, to stop it, but it did seem the only thing he could interact with was Alex.

That very moment, the crowds parted like the red sea and in the middle of it, Erik saw Alex, crouched over what looked like his mother, while Scott was barring them from the robot's view. A blast of energy from it's eyes lit up Scott's body for a moment and when Erik blinked to clear his eyes of the bright light, he saw that nothing was left of Scott.

He heard Alex scream around the same time as he felt the heat of Alex' gift completely out of control.

Then the world shifted again. Erik shook his head. He was standing in what he thought was probably the annex of a church. Alex was standing across from him, a haunted look in his eyes, but a thin veneer of happiness covering it.

"Scotty's getting married today," he told Erik.

"This isn't real," Erik said, steeling himself.

Alex shook his head. "It's real to me." He frowned at Erik.

"Alex, you're senior agent on this case, you know better than I do…" Erik tried again, knowing full well that Alex was stubborn as hell. Possibly as stubborn as Erik was himself.

"No, Erik, you don't understand," Alex tried. The world wobbled around them, and Erik realized he was standing in the same church again, though this time there were three coffins in front of him and Alex looked like he'd grown older by a few years yet again.

"Alex," Erik said.

"Don't," Alex said, voice broken.

"It's not real." Erik drew a deep breath.

"It is to me!" Alex shouted, whirling around and facing Erik, his eyes shining with the power of his gift, a haze of heat making his chest look like it was out of focus.

Moving before he could even think about it, Erik tackled Alex to the floor, telling himself that the heat wasn't there, that it was all in Alex' head. Not, of course, that this meant it couldn't kill Erik.

At least Erik wasn't without tricks of his own. And even if his gift didn't work inside this fake world, his fists did.

For a fake reality, the impact as Erik's knuckles hit with Alex' face hurt like hell. And Erik didn't want to hurt the kid, but if this was the only way…

"It's! Not! Real!" he shouted at Alex, struggling to keep him down.

"I don't fucking care!" Alex screamed back.

"You have to!" Erik screamed back, "or you'll trap the both of us in here for eternity." Then Erik realized that he had one point to make that might work in his favour. "You said you never stopped looking for Scott."

Alex glared up at him, but at least he was listening.

"You still believe he's out there, alive. If you trap yourself in here until your physical body dies of starvation, who is going to look for him?" Erik asked, forcing his voice to soften. "Scotty's out there, you need to be as well." Erik held his breath for a moment, then let it out slowly. "Come back, Alex. I would do anything to have my parents back, too. Maybe I can't understand everything you've gone through, but trust me, I'm with you a long way down the road of regrets and what-ifs."

Alex just looked up at him, so much pain in his eyes. Somewhere between a moment of fighting and giving in, he'd folded up against Erik, fingers clenched in Erik's shirt.

"I promise you, if you need my help, I'll do what I can," Erik promised, arms tight around Alex' shoulders. "I still have connections in Interpol, I'll ask around."

"You promise?" Alex asked, almost so quiet that Erik couldn't hear him.

"Has Charles not convinced you that you're not alone?" Erik asked, voice low. "Do you need me to tell you that life is hard and doesn't always go the way you want, but at least you have other people as deep in shit as you are?"

"You are such an asshole, Lehnsherr," Alex sniffed, but at least a watery laugh escaped him.

Erik managed to not draw too deep a breath of relief. So he'd judged Alex right. Scarily enough, he had to admit that Alex did remind him of himself. So much anger and frustration.

One last time the world blurred around them and Erik groaned as he tried to sit up, obviously having been passed out on the floor for long enough that his muscles were protesting.

"Fuck, that has to be the worst mind whammy I've ever had the not-pleasure of going through," Alex moaned, in a similar state next to Erik. The university's hallways were quiet around them and Erik realized it had gotten dark outside the windows he could see through an open door.

On the floor, a couple of feet away, lay the janitor they had searched for. A quick check told Erik what he'd suspected already. "Dead."

Alex nodded, dragging a pair of purple gloves out of his pocket and the usual bag they needed for containing the artifact.

"I think we should be on the safe side," Erik said, stopping him, getting up as he grabbed the containment unit that would offer a better hold on the artifact.

"Yeah, probably a good idea," Alex agreed, "Let's get back, Lehnsherr. I know you did the right thing in there, but I'm going to be a little bit angry that you took it away from me for a while."

"I can live with that," Erik agreed easily enough.

"Good." Alex waited for Erik to open the unit before he picked up the pendent and all but threw it into the container. The flash was bright as hell and Erik felt the hairs on his arms stand on end.

Erik sat the container down to root for his phone, when Alex swung around and his fist connected with Erik's jaw. Erik landed on his ass on the floor and glared up at Alex, his gift already curling around any metal in the vicinity.

"I needed to do that," Alex said. "I'm not going to explain to you why, but you should give me space."

Erik inclined his head. He actually had to wonder if he'd been in Alex' place, would he have reacted any different?

Probably not.

"I'll take care of the janitor's body, you go back to the Warehouse and stash the artifact." Alex wasn't looking at him, body tight as he held himself perfectly still.

"Alright," Erik agreed, touching his sore jaw, but taking the container to leave with it. He would have fought Alex' choice if he'd offered to take the pendent back himself, but as it was, this way Erik could keep an eye on it and make sure it wasn't going to tempt Alex again.

---

For a week after, Erik watched Alex, watched Charles watching Alex. And watching Charles watching himself, like he was waiting for something.

Erik was beginning to understand that he would never understand Charles.

Alex kept circling the storage area where the pendent was kept and Erik wondered if he was still feeling tempted.

"You're like a really annoying stalker, you know," Alex growled at him when Erik turned the corner, casually trying to look like he had business in the area. "It's bad enough that Charles hovers, now I get it in stereo."

Erik leaned against one of the shelf units holding artifacts, then changed his mind. Who knew what might be stored on that unit and what it might do to any negative emotions in the area. He eyed the shelves uneasily.

When he looked at Alex again, the kid had moved a lot closer to the unit holding the pendent.

"Would it be worth it?" Erik asked quietly. Not to merely stop Alex from doing something stupid, but because he wanted to know. Maybe partly because he wasn't sure that he would have done differently had he been in Alex' place.

Strike that, Erik was pretty sure that he would have done the same damned thing and that he'd probably not have stopped at slugging Alex for dragging him out.

Alex tilted his head to the side, at first not turning around to look at Erik.

Erik took a few steps forward when Alex hunched in on himself, half turning around.

"Almost," Alex forced out. "I want to say never, but I can't do that." He made an aborted reach for Erik.

Grabbing his arm, Erik pulled him on close, holding on tightly enough to probably hurt him. When Alex' legs gave out, Erik followed him down onto the dark floor of the Warehouse.

"I felt like I had a chance to find Scotty," Alex hiccuped, probably wiping his nose in Erik's shirt. "Then when that didn't work out, I thought maybe I was meant to save them all."

Erik felt his chest ache. Again he had to consider that if he'd had the opportunity, wouldn't he have tried to save his parents as well? Of course he would have.

Alex was all but shaking in his arms, crying his heart out in the middle of the Warehouse and for a moment Erik wondered if they might be in trouble. He knew from both the manual, Charles and personal experience that strong emotions within the Warehouse could set off a negative energy that could cause a lot of trouble among the artifacts.

Somehow, the air was thick with the scent of cinnamon and sugar, turning sharper, like fresh, green apples, tart and just on the edge between sour and sweet. And Erik had an inkling that maybe the Warehouse was looking out for them. Hadn't Charles mentioned, back when Erik had started at the Warehouse, that the fact that Erik could smell sugar and cinnamon was because the Warehouse liked him? Looking down at the boy curled up in his arms, he wondered if the tart apples were what Alex smelled.

Erik said nothing, just closed his eyes and held on. He couldn't think of any words to say that wouldn't be empty platitudes and completely unwelcome. He wondered, not for the first time, how old Alex actually was. He'd quickly gotten into the habit of just taking in stride how young the Warehouse agents were - they were mostly more capable than many seasoned agents that Erik had dealt with in his former job.

When Alex shook again, Erik bent his head and breathed in the citrusy scent of whatever it was Alex used to spike up his hair with. It was such a bad excuse, that they knew what they were doing. They were still children. He was on the floor consoling a child who had lost his family at the same day his gift had surfaced. It was amazing that Alex didn't hate his powers. Erik had seen it often enough. Not pure self hatred, just… the number of suicides among mutants was higher than non-mutants and if one manifested at the same time as there was a loss, especially one as big as Alex' - and Erik's himself, then there would always be the deeply rooted regret and anger that the gift hadn't been enough to save a loved one.

Erik had no recollection of how long they sat on the cold floor of the Warehouse, but eventually it seemed that Alex was all cried out, his body still shaking subtilly. Staying where he was, he just allowed Alex to lever himself up by his shoulder on unsteady legs. No words were exchanged, and Erik carefully didn't look up at Alex who seemed to just as pointedly to not be looking at him as he staggered off.

Looking up at the unit that held the pendent, Erik bit his lower lip. So much fuss over such a small thing. Eventually he stood, his own legs twinging as they protested the time he had spent on the floor. Staggering over to the shelf he stared at the innocent looking pendent. Even if it couldn't change the past, it could show him his parents one last time. If kept in control, one could…

Erik swallowed hard and noticed the scent of burnt sugar. Looking up at the high vaulted ceiling he made a face. "I know," he said to the Warehouse. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

The smell was gone just as quickly as it had hit his nostrils and Erik could almost convince himself that it hadn't been there at all.

Almost.

Slowly, Erik made his way back to the rooms that they used for offices. No, he could see it. If he did attempt to use the pendent, it would do to him what it had done to Alex. Trap him in a fake reality while outside his body would be nothing but an empty shell.

As he walked up the stairs, Erik looked up and found Charles watching him from the metal walkway that ran along the outside of the office. Where he might have expected a smile from Charles, or a question of what he'd been up to, all he could focus on was the thin film of tears blurring Charles's eyes.

Charles swallowed visibly and nodded at Erik, who carried on walking past him. He didn't miss the curl of Charles' mind around his, like one would squeeze a hand in thanks.

Did this mean that the hostile attitude from Alex was gone? Yes and no. Erik realized that it had shifted somewhat. Now he got the same kind of ribbing from Alex that Hank did, that Charles did, that everyone basically did. It wasn't vicious any more, it wasn't anger so much as it was Alex' way of showing affection.

Erik could roll with that.

For a couple of weeks Charles kept Alex grounded, doing Warehouse work until he was sure that he was up to being in the field again and Erik had no less than three cases in that period. For two of them he had the pleasure of Darwin's company and the last he had to deal with Sean, whose sense of humour was a hell of a lot more warped than Erik had expected. He had to applaud Charles' choice to mix the teams up every once in awhile, though.

When he considered that yes, having one partner meant knowing your partner's limits and quirks, but dealing with multiple partners in the field, Erik realized just how much they might not have the luxury of always having the same partner. The cases were so different that the teams going out had to be based on the single cases and what they required. Most often, Erik would probably be teamed up with Alex, unless Charles thought they might be too familiar with each other after Alex' mind whammy.

And Erik realized he actually wanted Alex as his partner in this. Yes, Alex was quick to anger, but Erik genuinely considered them the best match.

Damn Charles and his ability to see this from the get-go.

"Charles, when Alex is back on duty," Erik said, moving his pawn on the board between them.

"You'll get him back, don't worry," Charles said, frowning at the board. Then he looked up and there was a look of relief and gentle mirth in his face. "The two of you are doing wonders breaking each other in, I would be a fool to split you up when things are going so well."

Erik raised an eyebrow at him. "Well…?"

Charles chuckled. "You know as well as I do, Erik, that Alex won't take to most people - and while he works well with Darwin, I know Darwin doesn't like having the responsibility for Alex' wellbeing. Mostly because he knows he's biased."

Erik tilted his head ot the side. "I hadn't noticed that," he admitted. "Does Alex know?"

Charles shook his head. "He's getting there, but currently, no." He made his move on the board and sat back in his chair. "Alex doesn't know love and affection, doesn't expect it, so he doesn't look for it. Most often he won't notice it even if it stares him in the face."

"You don't think we're all getting a little too close to each other?" Erik asked.

"You mean it feels a little incestous?" Charles asked with a small smile. "Yes and no. I listen to you all if you want to share any worries you have about teaming up with someone. Like Darwin did."

Erik took one of his pawns and sat back in his own chair, picking up his cup of coffee. It had been one of those days, and a glass of whiskey would put him to sleep. "You don't think that might pose a problem - I mean, that we're too close?" And Erik could admit, at least to himself, that he did care more about his current team than he had about any team in the past. Hell, he'd always preferred working alone.

Charles made a face at him for the move on the board, but leaned forward to study their game. "More importantly, do you think it's a problem?" Charles asked. "If in a situation where one of our team is in peril, would you do the right thing?"

"Would depend on what I considered the right thing," Erik said teasingly.

"Jokes aside, Erik," Charles said, "until you tell me otherwise, I believe you can judge a situation and do the right thing - and keep your team safe when needed."

Erik felt his face heat a little. He could normally handle work related compliments, but somehow, when they came from Charles, they always sounded so intimate. "I would like to think so," he finally agreed.

Charles just nodded and made his move, also making Erik realize he would be checkmate in less than four moves if he didn't do some serious damage control.

The smirk that Charles shot him told him in no small words that Charles had just been waiting for him to realize this.

Right, time to go to war.

Chapter Text

Charles felt as if he had been holding his breath for most of the day and could finally exhale and draw in fresh air.

Over the years he had become quite adept at approaching or not, in some cases, his agents when they needed the emotional or psychological support. Alex Summers was always a bit of a minefield, worth navigating, but hard to do so without blowing something up.

When he had first started partnering Erik with Alex, he had known that it was a fifty percent chance that they might kill each other or take to one another and at least respect the other as the skilled agents they were.

He had no scientific words that would explain why this was, why he had taken that chance, just a gut feeling that it was the right thing to do. Possibly, of course, the Warehouse had influenced him as well. The Warehouse had a sixth sense about her agents.

It finally seemed that the fallout from the horrible mission that had almost cost them both Alex and Erik had settled. Charles felt the contented hum from his connection to the Warehouse. Yes, it had been the best thing for the team and for the two men that he had partnered them and hoped for the best.

"You were right," he muttered to the Warehouse at large. "Taking in Erik was was the right thing to do. He has been good for them, has been good for Alex - and lord knows the boy needs it, needs to know that not everything and everyone in the world is against him."

Patting the wall as he walked along it, his mind might have lingered on Erik for a moment longer, though this would be something he should not dwell on, something he could not allow himself to dwell on.

---

Now, Erik would have expected things to return to normal, or what passed for normal at the Warehouse, within a short time. To a certain point this turned out to be right. Warehouse agents, he realized, were very good at bouncing back.

Maybe he shouldn't have been surprised when he woke up in the middle of the night, someone softly knocking at his door. Like the person on the other side was trying to do it quietly enough that he might not notice.

Erik reached out and felt the familiar outline of the earring at the height of an ear. Left ear. With a grumble, he turned the handle of the door with his gift and let the door swing open. He turned his back to the door to give his intruder the option of taking the unvoiced invitation.

Trying not to hold his breath and listen, Erik closed his eyes. It wouldn't work if he made a scene of it, if he addressed it. The bed dipped and Erik just huffed out his breath, allowing himself a small smile when Alex grabbed the hem of his t-shirt and just held on.

They would be okay, maybe not tonight, maybe not tomorrow night, but they would be okay.

---

"So," Angel said, tapping Erik on the shoulder. "Charles reminded me that you haven't been everywhere in the Warehouse yet, more specifically, the Bronze Sector."

Erik looked up from his contemplations of another cup of coffee. He was currently working his way through Alex' notes on their mission report and while he was more fond of the kid by now, the boy really needed to learn how to write so other people could read it. It wasn't so much the handwriting, but the shorthand he used that even Charles had trouble deciphering and when he'd asked Darwin to translate one of them, the man had just laughed and shaken his head. Apparently Alex' mission reports were legendary.

So the opportunity for a break, even work related, was more than welcome.

"I don't think anyone knows the Warehouse in and out apart from Charles," Erik replied, standing up and stretching, feeling his spine pop in a couple of place. Yes, time for a break.

"Hank comes in a close second," Angel replied with a wink. "But then again, Hank's got a near perfect memory and Charles is joined at the hip with the Warehouse, so they have a couple of advantages there." She gestured towards the elevator and Erik joined her.

"Charles also has had more years here than us combined," Erik suggested, wondering if she could or would divulge any knowledge she might have.

"Yeah, Charles has never told us how old he is - trust me, we tried to find out when his birthday is to throw him a party," Angel said drily. "And after a week of really weird conversations of us trying to weasel it out of him, we gave up."

Erik chuckled. "Yes, for all that he hints a lot, he's never particularly clear," he agreed.

"And speaking of near perfect recall," Angel continued, as she shot him an appraising look before exiting the elevator. "You're not too shabby in that department either. Don't think the rest of us haven't noticed that you've read the manual and can quote it verbatim."

"It's mostly down to memorization techniques," Erik defended himself, but he chose to take her comment as a complement. "I used to have the worst trouble in school trying to retain information. One of our teachers took pity on me and taught me some techniques - and I've sought out new ones over the year, refining what worked for me."

Angel turned a corner of a storage unit and shot him a calculating look. She walked up to a door and punched in a keycode to open it. "Do you think we could bribe you into teaching us some pointers?" she asked as she gestured for him to follow her into what looked like an access tube of a space station.

"Depends on what the bribe would entail," Erik replied lazily, taking in his surroundings. Ahead of them, the tube split into two - one continued ahead and had several warning signs.

Angel stopped for a moment, the visible part of her tattoo flickered. "That's the Black Sector - we store all the really dangerous shit in there."

Erik considered some of the things they had picked up just in the time since he'd come along.

"Yeah," Angel said with a shiver. "We're talking universe or reality altering shit." Shaking herself she continued down the other passage. "And as for bribing, name your price, magnet."

Erik rolled his eyes. "I hear you make some pretty damned good brownies," he replied. He was getting really good at breaking the tension in his team mates - not exactly an ability he'd ever expected to gain.

Angel laughed out loud as she walked up to the next door - this one even more like an airlock. "Word travels - and if you have a sweet tooth, might I suggest aiming higher. Sean makes a killer apple pie."

Erik hummed to himself. Decisions, decisions.

"If you've heard about my brownies, trust me when I say the apple pie is our greatest secret," Angel said with a wink before she disengaged the lock to their destination.

Erik grinned as he followed behind her. Well, if he could get baked goods out of sharing his hard learned lessons, he wasn't going to complain.

"I was actually wondering what we would have to bribe you with to get you to teach us hand-to-hand," Angel mused as she hit a light switch. "Don't think we didn't watch the footage of you taking down the guy who was under the influence of the heavyweight championship belt thing."

"We'll have to negotiate on that," Erik agreed readily. Halfway because he liked the exercise and halfway because he actually wanted these kids to be able to protect themselves.

"It doesn't hurt to know more than one style of fighting," Angel said. "Charles is vicious when teaching boxing - it's all queensbury rules until someone breaks a nail - then it's everyone for their own."

Erik was about to ask her to elaborate on that part when he realized that the room they had entered was full of figures. Human figures. Metal statues.

"Bronze," Angel said with a wave of the hand, from where she was standing inside the door. She looked uneasy and Erik didn't blame her. There was an eerie feeling to the room. "Charles wanted me to show you this before he asked you to read up on the prisoners in here."

"Prisoners?" Erik asked, gawking at the nearest statue, marvelling at the attention to detail, not to mention the looks of fear, anguish and rage on their faces.

"The process freezes a person in bronze. It doesn't kill them and it can be reversed." Raven pointed at a big metal chamber in the middle of the room. "It's not something that's readily done to just any villain," she explained.

"Are they aware in there?" Erik looked up into the eyes of a tall man with a very old fashioned suit on. Although the eyes looked dead, Erik felt an uneasiness creeping up his spine.

"No, and when you've read up on the people in here, you'll understand why they ended up in such a state," Angel explained. "Just a quick example, the guy you're standing in front of there, was supposedly Jack the Ripper."

Erik took a step back, making a face.

"Yes, seriously," Angel said with a mirthless laugh. "Wanna go back up and have a fresh cup of coffee?"

"Yeah," Erik agreed, eyeing the other statues warily. All at some point alive and all of them apparently worthy of such a suspended death sentence. Erik wasn't sure what creeped him out the most - the potential for evil in the room or the fact that somewhere, someone was making these choices, as to who would end up in here.

Erik shook the unease off as much as he could, following Angel back out of the room. He waited for her to reengage the lock.

"Creepy, huh?" she said, and for once her usually cocky, self-assured attitude dropped enough for Erik to see that he wasn't the only one feeling unsettled. "Charles has the files ready for you up in the office when you feel like you want to tackle it."

"I get why you let agents get used to the weird shit before you introduce us to the really weird shit," Erik replied, shadowing her through the security until they were back in the main Warehouse. He wasn't sure if he was right when he thought that the temperature in here was a lot more balmy and comfortable, as if the Bronze Sector had been frigid and unwelcoming and stepping back into the main facility was like coming home to a warm hug.

"Oh, the Bronze Sector is top notch weird shit," Angel agreed, indicating for him to get into the elevator. "Mind you, there's probably stuff that Charles hasn't showed us that's weirder."

Erik nodded in agreement. He was getting the impression that Charles knew better than most how much strangeness the human mind could process at a time.

"Right, coffee and chocolate," Angel said with a huff of relief. "Ready to read up on the big baddies?"

Erik covered a grin. It was amazing how they all seemed to bounce back from the edge of insanity quite quickly. "Sounds like a plan."

---

 

"I don't like this," Charles muttered as he wrote notes in his unreadable handwriting.

"What?" Hank asked from his spot behind one of the bigger screens. He leaned out to the side to look at Charles and Erik looked up from his papers to keep an eye on them. Charles being worried tended to lead to trouble.

"We have an anonymous tip, again." Charles tapped a few keys and the tablet next to both Alex and Erik pinged along with Hank's screen.

"Boston, old industrial estate - quite a few condemned buildings there that could hide something interesting," Hank said after a moment.

"Trap?" Erik asked.

"Not sure," Charles replied, biting his bottom lip for a moment. "If so, set by whom and why?"

"Guess there's only one way to find out," Erik said.

Charles pinned him with a contemplative look. "Take Alex along - have a look. I'm going to see if we can maybe find out where these tips come from."

"You don't want me for that, boss?" Alex asked.

"I think Hank's good for now - but keep in touch. We might need you to do some investigating as well." Charles leaned back in his seat, staring down at his notes.

Erik thought for a moment that he would like to reach out and smooth the stern line that was between Charles' eyes. The he shook the thought off. No use in wishful thinking. He had, in Charles, a closer friend and confidante than he could remember ever having had. Their chess sessions tended to end in heart-to-hearts, most often with Erik divulging bits and pieces from his past that he had never shared with anyone before.

"It's a good three to four hour drive," Charles said. "If nothing untowards happens, you should be back before dark."

Erik met Alex's look and they both stood up. "I'm driving," Erik said to Alex, who held up his hands in defeat. As much as Alex still occasionally fought him just on principle, the driving thing was not one of them. Even if Erik felt the need to mention it every time. He knew that he was a bit of a control freak, but he really didn't like other people driving.

---

The old abandoned factory took a while to search through. While Charles had called in after having used Cerebro, there didn't seem to be anyone under the influence of an artifact in the area.

"Do you think Charles is right that there's something fishy about this?" Alex asked quietly as they made their way through the concrete ghost of a building.

"Of course he's right," Erik replied, shining the flashlight down one of the dark hallways. "One: Charles is rarely wrong, and two: having someone do our job for us when we know how dangerous it is, yeah."

Alex nodded and check a door that was hanging off its hinges.

"How's Hank's experimental program coming along?" Erik asked.

"It's giving me a slight indication down that way," Alex replied, pointing down the way they were headed. "At least we get to do a field test on it."

Before they had headed out, Hank had stopped them with a weird looking device he had created that might indicate the kind of negative energy that artifacts could give off.

"I thought the artifacts only gave off energy when used or when neutralized," Erik mused.

"According to Hank there's a trace energy signature to any artifact, even when not in use." Alex swept the small handheld device from side to side. "Not enough for us to see it from the Warehouse - interference from the stuff we store there, but apparently enough for us if we're near enough to get an idea of direction."

"Well, beats having to play the guessing game," Erik muttered.

"Heh, yeah," Alex agreed.

Neither of them had forgotten one memorable mission where they had ended up dropping shit on random into the bags just to see if one of they would go poof and turn out to be the artifact they had been looking for. Considering that it was a pre-WWII storage room, they had had their hands full.

For a very long time.

"If Hank can up the focus and precision, it would definitely lighten our load." Erik pushed the nearest door open, finding another empty room. Reaching out with his gift, Erik felt his way along the door at the end of the hallway when they were almost upon it. Exchanging a look with Alex told him that he was ready as well. "Time to have a look."

In the end it was a bit of an anticlimax. Inside the room, locked though easy enough for Erik to manipulate the lock, stood a box.

Alex carefully tipped the lid off it and inside was a pile of various things that made Erik feel like the air was charged. In a way that even the Warehouse did not. In the Warehouse, of course, they had ducts of the purple neutralization goo running along every storage unit.

"I'm not happy with that shit in the back of the car," Alex muttered, breaking off before he could turn his head and look over his shoulder one more time.

"I'm driving as carefully as I can," Erik assured him. And he was. If he drove off the road with that shit in the back they might end up in a lot of trouble. They had no idea what any of the artifacts could do and it was going to take ages for them to tag and log it all when they got back.

---

Charles looked a little more at ease when he met them out in front of the mansion. "It went without any problems, I take, gentlemen?"

Erik nodded as he and Alex opened the backhatch of the car and carefully lifted out the makeshift neutralization unit they had put together.

"Ah, ingenious," Charles breathed out, putting a hand on Erik's hip as he leaned forward to study their handywork. "Redid the usual cylindrical unit to fit all the artifacts with the goo in a vacuum around it."

Erik swallowed down his focus on the hand on his hip. "Yeah," he said gravilly. "There was no way we could fit it all into the cannister."

"That much?" Charles asked, clearly surprised as he stepped aside to give them room.

"You'll be busy for the next week figuring out what any of this stuff does," Alex told him.

"Well, the sooner we get started, the better," Charles said. "Bring it inside and down to the main part of the Warehouse and I'll be right with you."

Alex and Erik shared a nod and hefted each side of the box. Erik could have lifted it with his gift, but after he'd done it a couple of times in his early days at the Warehouse, he only used his gift like that if he had to. It turned out, just like a lot of the artifacts reacted to especially negative emotions, they also weren't all good near electromagnetic fields either.

"Erik?" Charles' voice stopped them for a moment.

"Yes?" Erik turned his head to look at him.

"I think it's time you see how we sort the artifacts into their places - it's a bit like advanced tetris - so that one doesn't set the other off."

Erik nodded. "Sure." He didn't miss the giggle from Alex. "Grow up," he growled.

"Oooh, touchy," Alex teased.

It wasn't like Erik wasn't aware that the rest of the team thought his and Charles' chess nights were about anything but chess. Wouldn't they be disappointed if they found out that chess was all they played. No hanky panky, as Raven would put it. Even if that was what they thought was going on.

They didn't need to know that he occasionally entertained the same fantasies and then some.

---

"So you just sit in the middle, meditate with the artifact - and that can't be safe - and wait for it to tell you where it should go." Erik stared at Charles who was sitting cross legged in the middle of a huge circle.

Charles chuckled and turned his head to wink at Erik. "Pretty much sums it up."

Erik rolled his eyes. "Is it okay for me to be in here or will I influence it?"

"You are always welcome to be with me, Erik," Charles said sweetly. "I find your company soothing."

If it had been anyone but Charles, Erik would have thought they were taking the mickey out of him.

Or was flirting with him.

As much as he wished for the latter, he was pretty sure this was just how Charles rolled. "I've been called a lot of things, Charles. Calming isn't one of them."

"Hush now, darling. You brought a lot of artifacts back to us to tag and place." Charles voice was stern but Erik found himself smiling broadly.

---

Charles was too tired to chastise himself for being overly familiar with Erik while he'd been working on placing the new artifacts in storage. He was always more open, softer, with the man when the connection to the Warehouse was at its strongest and at no point was it stronger than when he was trying to find the perfect storage place.

If he placed something that might interact violently with another artifact too close together, they would be in a world of trouble.

And speaking of a world of trouble, Charles was back to trying to convince himself that Erik was off limits to him. He was the Caretaker of the Warehouse, he could not be allowed to get distracted. Even if Erik was a fine distraction indeed.

Not for the first time did he wonder if this attraction to Erik was partly due to his close ties with the Warehouse. However, even if the Warehouse was delighted by Erik's presence, it would never quite explain why Charles continued to find himself lowering his own defences around the man, enjoying his company and sharp wit.

Smiling a little to himself, Charles admitted to himself that maybe, just maybe, he was in more trouble than he had previously thought.

---

For a little while Erik managed to completely forget that someone was leaving batches of artifacts for them to pick up, mostly because if there wasn't some artifact out there causing havoc, one of the team would do something that would cause hell at the Warehouse.

The worst havoc Raven caused was playing with Newton's watch, negating gravity for herself - and, it turned out, anyone she grabbed hold of.

Erik knew that it could be dangerous, but as Charles worked on a way to get her down, Erik kept a good grip on the metal strips he'd floated up to her in order to keep her in place.

Charles shot him a grateful look. Much as Erik figured she could do with a lesson, he also knew that a fall from the Warehouse' ceiling would be lethal even for her. At least Hank had let go of her fairly quickly and being as agile as he was, he had made it back down on the ground no worse for wear.

"I believe this might solve it," Charles muttered. "Erik, if the artifact's field is broken, will you be able to hold her and guide her down safely?"

Erik nodded. He slid the metal strips around her body, making sure that he could hold her without hurting her. "I can pull her down as far as I dare. But too far and it will be like an elastic band when gravity changes again."

"Good, good," Charles mumbled. "If we could get one of the canisters up there for Raven to put the artifact into, it would break it."

Erik sighed. "It's a metal canister, Charles - just get it ready and I'll get it up to her as well."

Charles beamed at him. "That is absolutely wonderful, Erik."

Erik tried to ignore the lazy roll his stomach did when Charles praised him. He was just doing what he should, using his gift to aid him in what they needed.

The moment the artifact's hold was broken, he held onto the canister and Raven - allowing her to seal the canister before he floated the both of of them back onto safe ground.

After Charles had spent time telling Raven off, and everyone just standing at attention, listening dutifully, Erik shook his head and put the watch away. Just because Raven had wondered what it might be like to walk on the ceiling.

"They should know better," Charles said with a sigh as Erik followed him up into the main mansion afterwards, heading for their usual late night chess session.

"Even you used an artifact, when you should have known better," Erik rumbled as he poured them both a glass of whiskey and handed one off to Charles when he'd sat down.

Charles sat in silence for a moment, then nodded. "Yes, but I learned my lesson - and I would happily spare them having to learn the same one."

Erik itched to ask him for more details. He wanted to know what had prompted Charles to take the risk. Then he realized that maybe he should share something too. "I was tempted by the memory pendent." There, it was out there and Erik didn't have to hoard it away like a really bad memory.

Charles sipped his whiskey and looked up, meeting Erik's eyes. "I know, but you didn't do it."

Erik shook his head. "It doesn't matter - I think I could have used it if Alex hadn't had a near breakdown."

"It doesn't, Erik," Charles argued. "The whole difference lies in whether or not you follow through." He moved his pawn, opening the game.

Erik countered and sighed. He only partly agreed with Charles on that. The itch to do it was still there, underneath his skin.

"And speaking of dealing with Alex, I commend you on your conduct, Erik." Charles' words were formal, but his voice was soft and warm.

"I couldn't very well ignore what it was doing to him," Erik replied.

"I didn't just mean dragging him out and neutralizing it," Charles said with a smile. "I'm a telepath, Erik. I felt Alex wandering the hallways half the night before deciding to come to you."

"Ah," Erik said. "I wasn't planning on telling you about that - I think Alex might find it a little too embarrassing." Alex hadn't mentioned it at any point, but he'd seemed more at ease around Erik afterwards.

"It stays between you and me, Erik. The only reason I was keeping tabs on him was because his mind was so loud that night," Charles explained. "I felt his confusion and his anguish. I think he thought he might get closure, at least…"

"But it ripped open every wound that had scabbed over or healed," Erik finished for him. "Yes. I've been helping him with information from Interpol and other places - completely off the record, of course."

"Anything you can find that might either bring him Scott or at least give him closure, please do so," Charles urged. "I don't read any of you deeply, but when any of you hurt, I hurt."

"Does the Warehouse perceive our mental state as well?" Erik asked curiously. "I was actually worried that having a bit of a breakdown in the middle of the main storage section might have set off the artifacts."

Charles nodded. "I felt that as well, and you are quite right. The Warehouse was shielding you that day - normally such strong negative emotions will set off the artifacts and set off a lot of unpleasant energy." Charles sipped his whiskey again, watching the board, without really looking as if he was seeing it. "It's not the norm for the Warehouse to do so - it takes a lot of energy out of it, but you must know, Erik, the Warehouse cares a lot for you and Alex. If it felt that you should be shielded and held while you needed it, then that is what it did."

"I thought as much," Erik said quietly. "It felt… different, and I smelled that again, the sugar and cinnamon - but apples as well. I guess that was Alex. Well, either that or I was craving apple pie, but I doubt that."

Charles inclined his head. "The Warehouse reacts differently to each agent. Not everyone notices and not everyone awakens this in the Warehouse right away. It took about a year for Raven to set it off. With the rest it took a few months." He watched Erik for a moment, a soft smile curving his lips - not that Erik was watching them. Much. "That you triggered it in the Warehouse on the first day here, was very promising, Erik. Do not for a moment think it doesn't mean anything."

"But what exactly does it mean?" Erik asked curiously. He had wondered because he'd asked Darwin about it and the man had been surprised to hear that Erik had caught the scent within the first hour after he'd arrived.

"Now, see, that is the true mystery," Charles said with a wink.

Erik pulled the pillow out from behind him and threw it in Charles face. Cheeky little shit. Always keeping secrets.

Charles laughed loudly and lopped the pillow back at Erik.

---

Hindsight was 20/20.

Possibly Erik should have seen it coming. Should have known to not grow complacent. Unfortunately he didn't see anything coming and one Friday afternoon, with Raven and Angel off for the day, Darwin and Sean on one mission, Hank and Alex on another, and Erik doing general inventory while Charles was somewhere in the house above, shit hit the fan.

It started with one of the generator's fizzing out. Twice. Erik went to tinker the first time, Charles the second - which was why Charles was making the rounds of the house above, checking on any backups they had, trying to find the problem.

When Erik had asked what the purpose of the generator was, Charles had just said 'defensive purposes'. What Charles might have said would have been "This lovely thing keeps anyone from entering the Warehouse any other way than through the doors."

In short, it meant no one could access the Warehouse, except through its entrances, to say trying to access it any other way would be impossible. If one tried, they would be bounced off and end up a random other place. And with that specific generator on the frizz, Erik was halfway down one aisle in the blue sector when the alarms went off. The sound, which Erik had never heard before, felt like it was punching holes in his ear drums.

It wasn't that Erik hadn't heard any of the Warehouse's alarms before. That would have been impossible. They had an alarm go off at least twice a month. This one was just new. Running with his fingers in his ears, he found the nearest console and punched his code in to get the security system. He tried to reach Charles, but there was no reply and that alone sent a shiver down Erik's back. Charles was always first in line when the alarm went off. If he wasn't answering any telepath broadcast, then something was definitely off.

Switching the noise off, he watched the warnings flash across the screen.

'Intruder Alert!'

Erik stared at it, then ran a search to see where the breach was. One in orange, then two in…

"Oh shit," Erik muttered. "Bronze Sector." He made sure that the alarm had been broadcast to everyone on the team, but he knew very well that none of them would make it back in time to serve as backup for him.

Erik didn't bother looking for a weapon. He knew it would be dangerous to use anything in the vicinity - the artifacts were dangerous, but even without it, there would be more than enough metal for him to repurpose. A shelf was free of artifacts somewhere above him and Erik detached it, pulled it down and reformed it into a metal baseball bat.

As he hurried towards the sector in question, Erik could have sworn that it felt as if he wasn't alone. It wasn't something malevolent. But like there was a second person with him, a backup.

A mirthless smile spread on Erik's lips. "Charles always tells me that you're a sentient being, so if you feel like being my guardian angel, don't hold back." As he went from blue sector through Orange Sector and into the access tube that would take him to the Bronze Sector, Erik recognized the scent of cinnamon and sugar.

Then he caught the other smell. Sulphur.

He found the doors of the Bronze Sector bent back. All else faded away, when he looked into the eyes of the one man in the world who could make him a killer.

"Ah, this is where you've been hiding, little Erik," Shaw said, an aloof look on his face. He was standing off to the side, hands folded behind his back while a redskinned, tailed mutant was manning the station of the bronzer.

"Shaw!" Erik growled and hurled the baseball bat at Shaw, guiding the metal with his gift. Of course he was blinded by anger, or he would have remembered Shaw's abilities. When he slammed the bat into Shaw, the first two times, Shaw just took it, laughing at him. The third time he just reached out and grabbed the bat, the slap of metal against skin was as loud as a gunshot.

Erik roared and jumped at Shaw, fists raised to fight, when Shaw just reached out and touched him, and Erik would have sworn it must have been like being kicked by a horse. For a moment he was suspended in the air and then he impacted hard and painfully with the wall behind him.

Dizzy, Erik tried to get up, but a moment later Shaw hooked a hand under his arm, and threw him clean across the room again. Erik rolled onto his back, feeling pain shooting through his body.

"Well, we have what we came for, Azazel" Shaw said, as if he was commenting on the weather.

Erik blinked blearily up at the ceiling, all a blur until Shaw leaned in over him, his face coming into horrible focus.

"I do feel I should leave you with a small token," Shaw said evenly, a glint of pure malice in his eyes. "Enjoy."

With that, he held a coin in front of Erik's face. And Erik recognized that damned coin. The one Shaw had told him to move and when he'd failed, he'd beaten the shit out of Erik. Eventually Shaw had felt that to truly unlock Erik he would kill his parents. So yes, Erik recognized it and he tried to grasp the coin with his gift, but it was slippery and wouldn't let him. Shaw placed it on Erik's forehead and that was the last thing Erik knew before his whole world exploded.

Chapter Text

Everything that Erik could see was warped and torn. Metal reached for the sky, all jagged like scrap metal. The ground underneath his feet was like liquid metal and his lungs felt like he was trying to breathe metal particles.

So much pain rushed through Erik for what felt like a lifetime. Metal ran through his veins and filled every cavity, ripped his flesh apart and wove itself through his skin.

Erik screamed but felt like nothing was getting out, his throat full of metal he couldn't control. Everything was metal, the whole world was made of metal but there was nothing he could catch onto, nothing that his gift could curl itself around for him to break himself out of the madness.

Light reflected off shiny metal surfaces, darkness tainted surfaces and bled all over him.

"Erik."

Shaking, Erik felt some of it recede, slowly, as he tried to get away from the woman leaning over him.

"Erik, snap out of it, it's not real."

"You're not real," Erik ground out, feeling like his vocal cords really had been shredded by metal.

"Erik…"

"No," Erik growled. "You're dead. You're a ghost."

"Erik," the woman looked tired beyond her years. "Alles wird gut."

"No, no, no," Erik cried, pushing himself away from her. Right until he felt the familiarity of Charles' mind enveloping him. Then strong arms wrapped around him and Erik sank into the embrace. Familiarity.

"Please, Mrs Eisenhardt, while I accept your superiority as a Regent, I have to first and foremost care for the Warehouse and her agents."

"You know very well that the Warehouse is your sole focus, Charles," she scolded.

Erik could feel the tension in both Charles as well as the Warehouse itself. "We are the Warehouse," Erik mumbled, not entirely sure where that thought had come from, but he quite liked the reaction from Charles, who held him a little tighter before relaxing against him.

Edie sighed. "This is not how I wanted you to find out, Erik."

Erik glared at her. "You're dead. Shaw killed you."

"He tried, he did come very close."

Erik shook his head. "Why did you never tell me?" Why didn't you come back? The question stuck in his throat.

Edie sighed and shook her head, looking every inch her age; so much older than Erik remembered her. "Both the Regents and I felt it would be safer for you if Shaw thought I was dead."

"Is dad…" Erik cut himself off.

Edie shook her head. "No, he was killed by Shaw, along with his sister - two bodies."

Erik nodded. That would explain why they had thought both his parents had died in the 'accident'.

"What happened?" Erik finally managed to ask.

"Shaw de-bronzed one of the statues," Charles said, a soft sigh that raised the hairs on the back of his neck.

"I suggest we retreat to the office and go over what happened," Edie said.

Charles put his arm around Erik's chest squeezed him for a moment before letting go and shifting to offer Erik a hand up.

Erik felt as if he was a newborn foal, his legs unsteady and he wasn't going to mention just how necessary Charles' arm was when it was slipped around his waist. He shot his mother a look of mistrust before he let Charles lead him back towards the office.

"What happened to you?" Erik asked quietly as they slowly made their way.

"Shaw hit me with a mind puzzle of a sort," Charles explained. "Miss Frost broke it."

"Who's Frost?" Erik asked curiously. Anything to focus on, something that wasn't his 'dead' mother walking behind them.

"I'll give you the run-down when we get up into the office and you're sitting down," Charles said drily.

"Xavier," Edie said in a warning tone.

"I know the Regents are supposed to operate beyond the knowledge of the agents, but I believe we can both agree that this situation is a little out of the ordinary." Charles' voice held a kind of steel that Erik had never heard before.

Edie sighed. "The Regents are not going to like this."

"Tough," Charles muttered, leading Erik into the elevator, waiting for Edie to join them before activating it.

Erik couldn't help the small smile gracing his lips. His head still hurt like hell but he could appreciate Charles standing up for his agents.

The soft touch of Charles' mind told him that the thought hadn't gone unnoticed.

Charles deposited him in a chair and Erik finally realized just how tired he was. His body ached, his head was splitting and he felt like he'd been drained of every last ounce of energy.

Busying himself, Charles put the kettle on, set it up for tea and coffee. At least Edie had excused herself to go speak to someone upstairs, so Erik wouldn't have to make awkward conversation.

"I didn't know she was your mother," Charles said quietly, setting a cup of coffee down in front of Erik, taking the seat next to him, pulling his chair close to Erik's.

Erik wasn't complaining. He would gladly accept the strength Charles was offering him. "For all I knew, she died alongside my father."

Charles reached out and put a hand on top of Erik's, squeezing it and leaving it there. Warm skin was exactly what Erik needed to feel. The memory of being stripped with metal, cold and dead, where he normally cherished it…

"Don't let Shaw take it from you." Charles warned. "Don't let him take your joy in your gift from you. I know it's hard to do, but you have to trust me, Erik. Don't let him win."

Erik put his free hand on top of Charles', and even that move felt like it took the rest of what little energy he had left.

Charles closed his eyes and cocked his head to the side. "Raven and Angel are back - and the others won't be long either."

Erik drew a deep breath of relief. "So it just hit the two of us, then."

"Shaw was probably keeping us under surveillance - waiting until there were as few left as possible," Charles mused.

They stayed like that, as close together as possible and Erik felt like both Charles and the Warehouse were trying to soothe his aches. He might be wrong, but considering what he'd seen and heard since joining the Warehouse, including meeting his presumed dead mother… well, Erik wasn't going to deny that it was a real possibility. Shaw was the kind of man who planned everything down to the smallest detail, taking great delight in his plans bearing fruit and hurting others as much as possible.

---

Charles was not going to lie to himself. First being hit by Shaw's puzzle artifact and having Emma Frost drag him out of the looped reality of it, then coming back to feel the ire and worry of the Warehouse had hit him hard.

It had not become any easier when he had realized why the Warehouse felt like a cat with its fur on end. Not only had their security been breached, something stolen from it, but Erik had been hurt in the process as well. And if Charles had wondered about the Warehouse's attachment to their newest member, well, he didn't have to wonder anymore. While the Warehouse had felt on edge because of the intrusion and the theft, Charles could tell that the attack on Erik had angered it even more.

There was no way that Emma Frost wouldn't notice and she had to bring it before the Council of Regents. Charles knew the rules. And he worried about the Warehouse if the Regents decided it had to be curbed.

However, that would be something to take care of later, because first and foremost, one of his agents had almost been killed. Charles had been confused when he'd found Regent Eisenhardt trying to snap Erik out of it. And even more confused when he'd seen Erik's reaction to seeing her.

Granted, Charles didn't know Edie Eisenhardt very well, but it hadn't taken many moment for him to cotton on to the fact that she was Erik's mother and that he was not all that happy to see her alive.

As always, Charles had to put any selfish thoughts aside and consider the welfare of the Warehouse. The Warehouse was first to him, then her agents - and if he had to fight the Council on any of it, well so be it.

He would bide his time and take good care to not miss anything.

---

Eventually the entire team was back and while Erik was itching to get it over with, to get some desperately needed time to himself to just digest, he was silently glad that they were there. The initial questions from them eventually died down - or rather, Charles put a lid on them by his usual means: a stern look and a promise that things would be talked through once everyone was there.

"I think we need to make a few introductions," Charles said, a distant look on his face that told Erik he was communicating with someone.

They were all seated around the big round table in the office of the Warehouse, and Erik stayed where he was, close to Charles. It helped that Raven had dropped into the chair on his other side. Like he was being flanked by people he trusted, while his mother took the seat across from them.

Erik ached and not only physically, trying not to think about it too much. His mother was alive! She had been all along and he absolutely hated it. The thought that he had spent years and years searching for the murderer who had killed both his parents.

And all the while his mother had been alive.

"Are you alright?" Charles asked quietly, his hand landing warm on Erik's. "Shaw did kick you around quite a bit."

Erik touched his ribs with his free hand and tried not to wince. "I'm okay, but I think I'll be feeling it tomorrow."

Charles nodded. "Need any painkillers?"

"No, I want my head completely clear for this." Erik didn't have to elaborate, the brush of Charles' mind against him was like a hug that the rest of them weren't privy to.

'Some of us are, and aren't you just adorable?'

Erik slammed up every mental wall he had and turned his hand to squeeze Charles' hand in apology when he felt him wince beside him.

"Impressive," said a cool voice, very much like the one that had spoken in his head a moment earlier.

"Please do not harass my agents, Miss Frost," Charles said with a soft sigh. "I would like to be able to deploy then without having to give them psychological support first."

"Always a comedian, Xavier." The woman was towering over the on a pair of ridiculously high heels - though the most eye catching about her was her entirely white outfit.

"Yes, well, I do mean it," Charles said with a pained expression. "I am the one who has to deal with the fallout."

"Who the hell are you anyway?" Erik asked, his hostility bleeding into his voice. His headache was beginning to give him problems. And Miss Frost wasn't making it any better.

"Erik!" Charles exclaimed at the same time as Edie did.

"Refreshingly direct," Emma Frost said, for the first time a flicker of humour in her eyes.

"Miss Frost…" Edie began.

"Miss Eisenhardt, please - I do believe we owe these young people some answers." Frost sat down at the table, a shadow moved at the door and Erik finally lost the fuzz in his head.

"What the hell?" He turned to look at the door.

"Ah, yes," Frost said with a lazy wave of her hand. "Logan is our protector." She eyed Erik with a smirk. "I should think you'd find him quite intriguing."

Erik shook his head. "Is that...?"

"Metal encased skeleton," Logan grumbled, lighting a match.

"I've asked you not to smoke down here, Logan," Charles said disapprovingly.

"You used to be more fun, Chuck," Logan complained but blew out the match.

"Yes, well, we all change with the years," Charles said archly.

"Children, children," Frost said, silencing them.

Erik realized that the rest of the team were looking from one to the other like they were watching a tennis match. And he realized that maybe they didn't know these people either.

'Only Darwin and Raven have met the Regents,' Charles explained to him.

"Out loud, Charles - do share with the class," Frost said chidingly.

"Yes, Miss Frost," Charles replied evenly, though Erik was fairly sure that there was half a sarcastic comeback packed into that reply.

'He is a sassy little bastard, but I guess that's part of why you like him,' Frost said, voice cool as ice inside Erik's head.

"Miss Frost…" Charles shot her a warning look.

"So territorial," Frost sighed, nodding at Edie. "Very well, then. I guess we should focus on what happened."

"And letting our agents know who you are," Charles said, voice as cool as hers.

"The Warehouse has its caretaker," Edie said, sighing as she gave in. "The caretaker answers to no one but the Regents. The Regents have to always put the Warehouse, and the wellbeing of the world, first." She met Erik's eyes for a moment, then looked away.

"Even family," Erik stated cooly.

"Even family," Edie repeated. "We make the hard decisions."

Erik didn't comment, neither did any of the others and Erik had the feeling that Charles had warned the rest of the team not to ask.

Edie looked down at the table, then squared her shoulders and raised her head again, looking around the table. "I take it you all know what the Bronze Sector is." When everyone nodded she continued. "One of the people held in there was Dr. Nathaniel Essex."

Darwin drew in a startled breath. The rest of them just looked at him.

"Go ahead, Mr. Muñoz," Miss Frost said drily, "enlighten the class."

"I studied that case last year, when I had to chase down a related artifact," Darwin said slowly. "I wish I was wrong, but Dr. Essex was also, at the time of his existence, known as Jack the Ripper."

No one said anything around the table.

"We do not know why Shaw wanted him out of the Bronze Sector," Edie said quietly. "If you read Essex's file, you'll see that he would not be working with anyone unless he could gain something from it."

"Why thaw out some Victorian era dude?" Sean pressed. "Doctor or not?"

"Essex was a scientist with questionable ethics," Frost mused. "If any ethics at all."

"He experimented on anyone he could get his hands on," Charles said quietly. "Especially fellow mutants."

"Was he one?" Erik asked curiously.

"Psychic," Edie said. "Telepath of no small strength."

"We'll need the cooperation of the whole team," Frost said slowly. "You will need to follow every little lead - we can not have Essex on the loose."

Charles nodded. "I'll hit Cerebro and see if I can figure out where they are or at least get an idea of anything that might give us locations to search."

"The Regents will search in any way we can," Edie said, trying to catch Erik's eyes, but he averted his gaze, not knowing how to tackle it.

This was the start of a harrowing week that had the team stretched thinner than ever before, running on the fumes. And maybe that was exactly what Shaw had been waiting for.

---

Charles yawned as he shut down Cerebro. No more pings for him to see. The ones that had come across the machine as strong enough to maybe be Shaw and Essex were covered by his team. They were going to need to set up a rota afterwards, when this was over, to let everyone have some time off.

It hadn't gone unnoticed that tempers were frayed and that everyone needed to rest at some point. Everything up until now had been dead ends. It had all been artifact related, but there had been nothing linking any of it to Shaw or Essex.

Charles took Raven's scarf, hanging over the back of a chair, and Erik's jacket. They had left quickly to investigate an artifact in New York and had obviously forgotten to take it along. The scent of Raven's perfume was as always a soothing one to Charles. He had known her since she'd been nine and had broken into the Warehouse and in many ways she was the perfect little sister to him.

A whiff of Erik's cologne hit his nostrils as well and Charles slowed down. He had been about to hang both jacket and scarf on the back of the office door, but before he could stop himself he'd buried his nose nose in the neck of the jacket, breathing in deeply.

It was such a bad idea for him to entertain, but for a moment he allowed himself to do so. The approving humming from the Warehouse wasn't lost on him. The Regents would never allow it, and if he gave in, they were well in power to remove Erik from the team.

And Charles couldn't allow that. Better to have Erik's friendship than have him lose his memory of the Warehouse to be relocated into ordinary law enforcement work again. Oh, but Charles could dream. And had been since Erik had joined the team.

The Warehouse took to her agents in different ways and Charles wasn't unaware that his own feelings towards an agent tended to be coloured by this. It showed in Raven, who was like a little sister, which was sort of right when the Warehouse had let her in, because the security was too tight for her to have gotten in any other way. The boys and Angel were like treasured, favourite students. Charles knew well that he often acted like a doting professor around the, when he helped them train.

Erik. Now Erik was something entirely different. Charles had been a little busy when Erik had entered the Warehouse the first time and as such hadn't noticed right away. But as the weeks turned into months he was both delighted and worried that the fascination the Warehouse had with Erik had turned into infatuation. Or maybe, if Charles had looked deep enough into the connection with the Warehouse, it had been all along? One way or another, when it came to this, there was no telling where the Warehouse ended and Charles began.

Thoughts still partly on Erik and the team, Charles put the jacket and scarf away before going over the inventory - he couldn't help but feel that he was missing something. He'd been going through some of the things Essex had done around the time when the Warehouse agents of Victorian London had rounded him up and bronzed him.

Pouring himself a cup of tea, he dug into the files, comparing what notes he did have on artifacts that… Charles slowly leaved back through the papers on Essex. Oh, how could he have forgotten that?

Essex had worked on combining artifacts. Mostly, those projects had been small scale, but there was one that could only today be labelled as a weapon of mass destruction. What Essex had created was a weapon that sent out EMPs. Now, back in the day, it wouldn't have done much damage, and it was probably why Charles had forgotten about it. It had all the specs of an EMP, with a calculated radius of…

Charles swallowed hard. Enough to take out half of the states in one go. But it couldn't be. No one…

Getting to his feet so fast the chair fell to the ground, Charles ran to enter the main storage of the Warehouse, knowing that the part of the staff that was kept at the Warehouse was not kept in the Black Sector - on its own it was, well, not harmless, but couldn't do much harm. The staff itself should be on Unit 753-11.

Sweating as he hammered through the aisles, feeling the unease of the Warehouse with every fibre of his body. Charles came to a stop in front of the unit and stared at the staff lying there. It wouldn't be a problem until the headpiece was attached. With a sigh of relief, he reached out to touch it, just to make sure…

Nothing.

There was no spark of an artifact that he always felt when he touched one. Reaching out to the Warehouse itself, he touched it again, asking the Warehouse to make sure.

Nothing.

"Oh, bugger," Charles muttered. Did he call the team back or did he go look for the headpiece himself? It wasn't far and time was of the essence if Shaw was looking for it.

Making up his mind, Charles looked up where the artifact was kept. Not too far from the Warehouse itself. About a 45 minute drive. He knew he had limited time - not just because he had to stop Shaw and Essex, but also because he couldn't be away from the Warehouse for too long. That was the price he'd paid in his youth when he'd recklessly used an artifact, thinking he could control its use.

A couple of hours wouldn't be a problem, though and Charles would get backup. Of course he would. He sent a quick message through the system that would connect with the Regents with a request for backup. He also sent a message to Raven to let her know to contact the Regents when they came back.

Charles could feel the worry from the Warehouse and all he could do was soothe it enough. "I'll be back quickly, darling. I just have to pick up the headpiece so Shaw and Essex won't get it."

Detouring to one of the other units of the Warehouse, Charles grabbed a small ring, feeling the Warehouse presence amplified. "I know I shouldn't, but we need every advantage we can get."

Grabbing the keys to one of the cars in the parking basement, Charles headed out, hoping that he could be fast and go unnoticed by Shaw.

If wishes were horses…

---

"You don't understand!" Raven's voice was shrill and Erik put an arm around her - mostly to keep her from attempting to rip Frost's throat out through the video feed.

"I understand perfectly well, young lady," Frost said icily. "Charles knows that he can't leave the Warehouse for long."

Raven stilled. "What do you mean, he can't leave? What happens if he doesn't get back?" She leaned on Erik, almost vibrating with anger because Frost wouldn't let them go off after Charles.

"Agent Darkholme, did you ever wonder why we have such strict rules about never using the artifacts, even though theoretically, they could aid us in cases?" Frost asked.

"Charles just said that the artifacts were too volatile." Erik shrugged. Not to mention that yes, Charles had told him about his own use of one.

"Well, he should know," she said with a mirthless smile. "He used one, many years ago - all for the best cause, but he ended up being bound even closer to the Warehouse - The Caretaker is always a psionic, but the level of connection that Charles has with the Warehouse is unprecedented."

"Yet, he's left, hasn't he?" Raven said, this time deceptively calm.

"So he can't leave the Warehouse?" Erik asked, wondering if that was what she'd meant. This was all getting really confusing.

"He can, but only for a short time," Frost said.

"Did his message say anything about where he went?" Erik pressed.

"I can guess, even if he didn't explicitly say so," Frost said with a nod. "He figured out what Shaw was after - a weapon that Essex put together by combining artifacts - it's a staff with a headpiece."

"What does it do?" Raven asked, finally letting go of Erik, her temper obviously under control.

"It can create an EMP big enough to take out at least half of the United States." Frost met Erik's eyes unflinchingly. "The staff was separated from the headpiece and they were kept apart to make sure that it couldn't be activated."

"Jeez," Raven muttered and Erik could only agree.

"Send us out," Erik urged.

"No, we'll take care of it ourselves," Frost dismissed.

Erik growled, but had already learned that threats would get him nowhere with Frost.

"I suggest you get some rest, and we'll bring Charles back." Frost made a shooing motion.

Erik opened his mouth to argue, but Raven pulled him along, towards the elevator. "I thought you wanted to go after him," Erik said as they entered the elevator.

"I do, but I don't think Frost will let us, so we'll just have to find another way of getting to Charles," she muttered. "And if he took the car I think he did, he's left a trail of breadcrumbs."

Erik raised an eyebrow. "Lead on, then - the quicker we get out there, the better."

Raven lead him towards the basement that held a frankly obscene collection of cars. Vintage as well as simple dark SUVs that would never be seen as anything but secret government agency - cliched as hell, but not a lie.

"Some of the older cars that Charles has collected over the years," Raven explained, "have been slightly modified. They all have GPS as well as a tracking system." She held the door open for him, switching on the light. The pale white light lit up the cars. "And they are connected in a way that allows use one car to find another."

Erik grinned at her in approval. "Well done, kiddo - do we let the others know where we're going, or are we just going AWOL?"

"I've let them know, but they are currently too far away to get to us in time," Raven replied, booting up the tracking system while Erik started up the car she'd chosen.

He could not fault her for her choice. The old Aston Martin purred to life and Erik maneuvered it out of the underground parking are, hitting the road in whichever direction Raven gave him.

The nagging feeling that they might be too late dogged him through the drive and what was probably only a drive of 40 minutes but it felt like ages before they drove into a small town, pulling in to park right behind Charles' car.

Sharing a look with Raven, he stopped the engine and they got out of the car. They were parked right in front of a nondescript building, but Erik recognized the insignia by the door. It was the same that sat above the main entrance of the mansion.

"I'm pretty sure we need some special kind of access key," Raven muttered when she studied the reader next to the door.

Erik made a face and felt out the electronics. For a secret agency that prided itself of actually being secret, they sure didn't have top notch security. He waved his hand in front of it, felt the connections flare and the lock click.

Raven shot him an admiring grin and pushed open the door. Inside was a hallway with a set of stairs off to the left, leading down.

"The door didn't seem to have been tampered with," Erik said quietly. "If we're lucky we'll just find Charles pouring over some top secret file, and he'll be all surprised to see us."

Raven gave him a pained look.

Erik sighed. Yeah, not likely, not if what Frost had said was true. And Erik was leaning towards believing her. Charles had rarely left the Warehouse for anything and if he did, for less than an hour.

Then Erik realized he could feel the familiar metal of Charles' watch. And it wasn't moving.

"I can feel his watch," Erik said to Raven, pointing at the stairs leading into the basement.

Raven nodded. "Anyone else?"

"I can't feel anything that's shaped as something a human would be carrying," he said. "Would be easier if I could feel the metal in someone's blood, huh?"

"Train your gift," Raven said with a quirk of the eyebrow. "It's what Charles would say."

"Not sure it would be safe if I could," Erik grunted, coming to a stop in front of a door that was hanging off its hinges. There was a strange smell of ozone in the air.

"Shit," Raven said, turning her phone's flashlight on to shine into the room, which looked like a disaster. Not that Erik noticed all that much, all he had eyes for was the still figure on the floor.

Falling to his knees, Erik reached for Charles, only belatedly realizing it could be a trap. A quick scan of the dark room didn't show anyone else, and he and Raven were busy checking up on Charles so he could only hope that no one who wanted to harm them would walk in on them.

"No, no," Raven mumbled, half crying. "There's barely a pulse, Erik."

Erik slid his hand down Charles' arm, trying to get to his wrist so he could feel for a pulse, to make sure that Raven wasn't reading it wrong. Brushing his hand against Charles' hand, Erik felt like he'd touched a live fence.

"Fucking hell," he swore, shaking his numb hand. Lifting Charles' arm by the sleeve, he studied Charles' hand by the light of his own phone. "I don't remember Charles wearing jewelry," he muttered.

Raven sniffled and looked at him, looked at Charles' hand. "That's definitely not a ring I've seen him wear before."

They shared a quick look. "Artifact?" Erik guessed.

"Big question is," Raven said quietly, staring at the ring, "did he put it on on purpose, or did someone else put it on him?"

"Ooh, that's a good question," Erik huffed, glaring at the ring. "I can't really feel it the way I normally feel metal," he admitted. Hovering his hand just over it, without touching, he could feel the same as when a thunderstorm was brewing. Like a disturbance in the electromagnetic field.

"I don't think you should touch it," Raven warned.

Erik shook his head slowly. "It doesn't feel dangerous." And Erik realized that was a pretty stupid thing to say. While he did occasionally feel unease around an artifact and Charles had theorized that it was due to electromagnetic fields of the artifacts, it was by no means a valid way of testing it.

This time, however, it did feel different. It felt benevolent, familiar.

Like the Warehouse.

"Raven, get ahold of the others," he said quietly. "We need them to meet us at the Warehouse." Careful to not touch the ring, he picked Charles up and levitated the car keys to Raven. "Let's get out of here. I don't know if anyone else was supposed to be here, and if they are even alive, but the Regents will have to deal with that. We're taking Charles back as fast as possible."

"I'll get one of the others to pick up Charles' car," Raven agreed, going on ahead while Erik followed with Charles.

Erik was well aware that Raven would have prefered to have him drive while she held onto Charles, but Erik couldn't get himself to let go of Charles. He maneuvered Charles into the back seat and slid in behind him. He was terribly heavy and unresponsive and Erik felt the heavy dread in his stomach. What if they couldn't do anything for Charles, or couldn't do it in time?

Maybe they should take him to a hospital? Erik stopped himself from even suggesting it. If Charles needed the Warehouse, keeping him away was the last thing they should do.

Halfway to the Warehouse, Erik was so focused on Charles slowing pulse, that he wasn't paying attention as much as he should have, and his hand brushed the ring again.

It was like touching a live wire, but this time Erik recognized it, why it had felt so familiar.

No matter how it was possible, that ring was a connection to the Warehouse, a thin, dying connection. But for a moment it had been boosted and Erik had a flash insight of what could be a possible way to save Charles. Because they would need to. Just as sure as Erik knew it was the Warehouse, through the ring, he could feel the connection fading faster than they would be able to get back.

With a silent apology to Raven, he put his hand around Charles', the one he was wearing his ring on. This time he didn't let go. Erik felt the energy zinging up through his arm, straight into the brain stem. And he knew what to do and that he had precious little time to do so.

The ring became liquid under his hand. The intricate woven pattern deepened and split it into two. One cooled around Charles finger, never leaving his skin, while the other slid like a small snake around Erik's finger.

It was a rush for Erik. His mind lit up as the artifact's power was partly broken apart and redone. If anyone had ever suggested this to Charles or to the Regents, the answer would have been to never even contemplate doing this.

Right now, however, there was no one to stop Erik and while he knew, deep down, he'd never have gotten this idea on his own, he balked at considering that the Warehouse had influenced it.

Of course it was stupid. The thought struck Erik as the world around him fell away, the silver lining being his link to both the Warehouse and Charles, who was feeling warmer and more alive by the moment.

"God damn it, Erik!" was the last Erik heard from Raven before he passed out.

Chapter Text

Charles came to, staring up at the ceiling. He could feel the heartbeat of the Warehouse as always, but this time it had an echo to it.

So he hadn't dreamt it, hadn't imagined it.

Turning his head to the side, he looked at the other bed. Under the messy piles of blankets, he could see a tuft of Erik's hair.

"Oh, Erik," Charles sighed, closing his eyes. He felt like he'd been chewed up and spat back out. He lifted his hand, shaking as he tried to find the strength. Around his finger gleamed the band of the ring he'd brought with him. The one that normally lent him strength from the Warehouse if he had to leave it for a short time.

He wished he could find it in himself to be angry with Erik, but as always, Charles's state of mind was heavily entwined with the Warehouse' and the entity that was the Warehouse was thrilled beyond words at the union.

"So, I wasn't enough for you, you had to drag Erik into it as well," he muttered and the burst of warmth from the Warehouse told him that yes, it was damned happy about what had happened.

"Well, you get to explain it to him when he gets pissed off," Charles warned it, yawning mid sentence. "I'm sure he'll have words for you." Closing his eyes, Charles drifted off again.

---

Erik sat up, startled and feeling a little lost, not knowing where he was. The disorientation drowned in a feeling he was used to, though amplified beyond what he'd experienced before.

"I'm not even sure the Warehouse is sorry," Edie said, sitting forward in the chair between the two beds.

Erik blinked a couple of times to clear his eyes, then looked over at the other bed where Charles was sleeping, his chest rising and falling naturally, the sight helping Erik to relax a little.

"What do you mean?" Erik asked, pushing the hostility he'd felt towards his mother since she'd reappeared in his life.

"You know," Edie said, not answering his question right away, "the other Regents wanted to remove the rings from you, neutralize them."

Erik covered the ring on his finger without thinking about it.

Edie raised an eyebrow at him. "Well, yes, the council had Logan try - I'm fairly sure no one else would have been able to survive the electricity going through him. He's got an accelerated healing factor, though. So no death there."

"Why would they try to remove them?" Erik asked, actually having a good feeling he knew. The ring, or now rings, had been an artifact and was if possibly even stronger.

"I think you can imagine the answer to that yourself," Edie said. "I told them not to bother once Logan had regained consciousness. That man does swear a lot."

Erik stared at her for a moment, not quite taking it in. "Why not? To avoid anyone else getting hurt?"

Edie opened her mouth for a moment, then closed it again, a small, soft smile on her face, one that Erik felt a painful pang of memory at seeing.

"Erik, as much as you might hate me currently, for what I did, if you do not believe anything else, then believe me when I say I do want what's best for for you - and this time it falls in what is best for the Warehouse as well."

"The Warehouse wanted this," Erik realized. "But why? Charles is its sole Caretaker, and I'm not a psionic."

"No, but correct me if I'm wrong, the Warehouse took a liking to you from day one, didn't it?"

Erik shrugged. "Yeah, but still…"

"No, Erik. Normally a new Caretaker takes over when the old one dies," Edie explained. "That's how it's always been and how the more conservative of the Regents would prefer it to stay."

"Then how?" Erik held up his hand, the ring catching the light from the overhead light.

"The Warehouse apparently decided to change the rules," Edie said drily. "We have a precog on the Council of Regents and she said something very strange, about a year back, that the times would change and that the Warehouse would make a choice." Edie sat back in her chair, her suit looking a little creased as if she had been sitting there for quite a while. "I think we're all so old fashioned we thought it meant the Warehouse was looking for a new Caretaker. Which, in a way was correct. But unlike tradition, it wasn't exchanging one Caretaker for a new one, it added a facet to what it already had."

"Does the Warehouse actually make sense to you Regents?" Erik asked drily, trying to understand what she was saying.

"Oh, absolutely not, Erik," Edie said with a small laugh. "All we can do is to work with what it gives us. The Warehouse started as a storage facility for the strange and dangerous, but somewhere along the line it developed a sentient mind and some days it does have its own agenda."

"You're giving me a headache," Erik complained as he lay back down.

"I know, and your headache will get a lot worse once the Regents think you can handle an interrogation," Edie warned him. "But right now you have to focus on regaining strength and then we have to find Shaw."

"And Essex," Erik added.

Edie shook her head. "Logan tried to keep pace with Essex and Shaw. Followed him to a nearby house where he missed Shaw but found Essex' body."

Erik stared at her. "Dead?"

Edie nodded. "Apparently he and Shaw had a disagreement. Which Essex lost."

Erik nodded slowly. "We're running out of time, aren't we?"

Edie nodded. "The rest of your team is out gathering information and hopefully we can find Shaw in time."

"He'll be looking for the right place and the right time," Erik mused. "He's a vain asshole, likes to have an audience."

Edie nodded. "We'll factor that into the search. Now rest, we'll get you both up in a little while and you can help."

Erik nodded and yawned, already drifting off to the sweet song of the echo of Charles' mind and the Warehouse's contentment.

---

When Erik woke again, he was feeling a strange kind of contentment, and he opened his eyes to find Charles sitting next to him, reading something off a tablet. He wasn't entirely sure that Charles was aware that the hand he was resting on Erik's shoulder seemed to be petting him.

"I'm well aware," Charles mumbled, a flush colouring his cheeks. "But it seems to help me focus."

"I'm not complaining," Erik said, or he tried to. His voice was raspy and his throat felt dry as the Sahara desert.

Charles put his tablet down and poured Erik a glass of water. "I'm not surprised you're thirsty," he commented with a grin. "You were snoring quite magnificently earlier."

Erik glared at him.

"No, no," Charles said with a laugh and projected the image of Erik in the bed, head back, mouth open, giving a chainsaw the run for its money.

"You should at least give me a chance to see if you're any better," Erik groused, his sleep addled brain only belatedly catching up with what he'd just said.

The look on Charles face fell somewhere between interest and regret. And Erik had never wondered what that might look like, but it was the only way he could describe it.

"We can't, Erik," he said, folding his hands in his lap as if he was afraid of what they might get up to near Erik.

Erik opened his mouth to ask why not, then stopped himself. While he was more than a little attracted to Charles, he was fairly sure that Charles wasn't interested in taking it up with one of his agents, even if they were damned good friends.

"No, Erik," Charles sighed, apparently thinking he'd hurt Erik. "It's not that I don't want to, but the Council has strict rules…"

"I thought they put the wellbeing of the Warehouse above everything else," Erik said, feeling a little reckless. Now that he realized he could feel the mental connection with Charles he could also tell that his infatuation with Charles wasn't just a one way thing.

"I don't think using the Warehouse against the Council would get us anywhere," Charles said drily. "And I don't think we should be talking about this right now. You'll be feeling differently once you learn how to shield so you don't have both me and the Warehouse in your head."

"I like you in my head," Erik muttered. "Both you and the Warehouse." And he did. It wasn't something he would have expected, but while hard to describe, it was like breathing with an extra set of lungs, lending him the ability to go farther and higher. He wondered if it might amplify his own gift.

"Well, yes," Charles said, covering his eyes with one hand. "I do have to apologize, Erik. While you might right now be intrigued by it, what I did was wrong."

"Strictly speaking, I split the ring." Erik held up his hand, the metal gleaming in the overhead light. "I put it on."

"But you didn't know what you were doing - I'm not even sure how you got the insane idea in the first place," Charles said plaintively.

Erik raised an eyebrow at him. "Really? You should be partly in my head right now, and even so, you know where the idea came from."

Charles sighed deeply. "The Warehouse used to be easier to deal with. It's as if she has become more contrary as time goes by."

"Maybe she just likes me," Erik said with a grin. He quite liked that idea.

"Oh, there was never any doubt about that," Charles grouched.

"Are you jealous?" Erik asked curiously.

"Of course not," Charles argued. "But it's been obvious from the start that she was taken with you."

"I don't mind," Erik said. What could he say that would convince Charles?

"We don't even know what wearing the rings will do to us. I can't even get mine off." Charles frowned. "I tried, I got a really bad electrical zap."

Erik tried not to study his own feelings too closely; why he felt disappointed that Charles would try to take off the ring.

"Erik, you know that I like you," Charles said - all prim and proper. "But you have to understand that for all intents and purposes, we seem to be bound to each other and taking the rings off obviously isn't an option."

Erik felt the sobering effect of Charles' words. "I'm sorry, if you feel that way," he said, keeping his voice even. "I couldn't think of anything else that would save you - I wasn't even sure that it would work, but I touched the ring and felt what it was supposed to be doing to you - and the Warehouse obviously thought I would make a good conductor."

"The Warehouse overstepped its boundaries," Charles said, a sharpness to his voice that Erik hadn't heard before.

"We'll figure it out, Charles," Erik said quietly. It kind of stung although Erik could understand where Charles was coming from. "For now, we stop Shaw."

Charles sighed and nodded. "You are of course right, my friend."

Erik nodded and wished he could just stuff his feelings into a box - maybe Charles was right and he did need to learn how to shield now that he was connected to both Charles and the Warehouse. If Charles was so unnerved by his feelings.

---

Charles buried his face in his hands and leaned back in the chair. He was inside Cerebro, getting ready to have another look for Shaw. Unfortunately, he wasn't quite emotionally balanced enough to attempt it that very moment.

Taking a deep breath, he knew he had to focus on what the problem really was - in order to compartmentalize.

It was painfully obvious, at least to Charles, that Erik viewed him with interest and Charles had to wonder if it had been like that all along. Considering that he didn't enter any of the agents' minds without their consent, he couldn't know. For all he knew, Erik felt this way because of the connection. Not because he liked Charles as more than a friend.

Charles rubbed his eyes tiredly. He had to pull himself together, because every moment they didn't know where Shaw was, was a moment the maniac had to plan and set his plan off.

The trouble with Erik was ...not unwelcome. Well, as trouble it would be. Charles didn't have time to focus on it and he had obviously hurt Erik's feelings when turning him away. Focusing inward, he found the sentience of the Warehouse. "There, you see what you have done, old girl?" he asked.

The was a wash of warmth and giddiness in the connection and Charles sighed tiredly. "Your understanding of the world lacks details," he muttered. "There are rules for a reason - you can not just …" he trailed off, his eyes flying open, mouth open. "You can't just give him to me, you… you…"

Charles shook his head. "He's a human being, with a free will. You can not simply bind him to me."

There wasn't much regret in the connection and Charles sighed. "We'll have to think long and hard about this when we have the time," he promised the Warehouse. "For now we have a job to do and an apocalypse to avert."

---

The call to arms came a day and a half later. Shaw had been spotted in New York.

"It makes sense," Erik said into the phone as he used his gift to drive the car, much to the consternation of the passengers squeezed into the back seat. Raven, in the passenger seat next to him, didn't seem to mind the hazardous driving at all. Then again, she'd been a passenger of his more than once when he'd done it.

Sean, Angel and Hank in the back looked like varying shades of green and white. Though in Hank's case it might be more lavender than green.

"Shaw loves an audience and if the weapon can shut down everything electronic, what place better than the middle of an overpopulated city?" Erik mused. "Do we know where?"

Charles was quiet for a moment, on the other end of the phone. "There are two buildings that have caught his face on a camera yesterday, which is why you're split up."

"Not exactly equally sized teams," Raven muttered.

"Yes, well, I have a gut feeling that you're on the right track, which is why your team is the strongest," Charles explained. "I expect you to have each others' backs in there. Erik is your team leader."

This elicited some hooting from the back seat and a snort from Raven.

The sigh was audible through the phone. "He is your team leader because he knows Shaw the best and I don't want you in there without as much protection as possible," Charles chastised them.

This quieted the kids in the back seat and Erik silently thanked Charles. They still had to have that conversation, didn't they? Erik felt he had let Charles know that he was more than interested, but maybe he needed to spell it out? He hadn't made any advances on the other man earlier, mostly because he A. hadn't known if Charles was similarly interested in him and B. Charles was for all intents and purposes, his boss. Of course there was the latter that was playing into it now.

The connection through the Warehouse had made sure that Erik knew of Charles’ attraction to him - and he wasn't so stupid he didn't know that that information went the other way as well. Which was why he'd thought it through while still recovering. If he kept trying to hide his own attraction to Charles, from himself or Charles, he was probably going to create the biggest ever elephant in the room. And that would attract even more attention to it.

It was bad enough that the team apparently now thought it was a thing they could comment on. At this rate he would get no respect from them by the end of the week.

A small smile managed to force its way onto his face and Erik quickly squashed it. If Charles had been there he'd have laughed and said that Erik wouldn't want it any other way. And much to Erik's own surprise he would have to admit that he would be right. For all the teams Erik had never fit into, this one had to be the one with the most misfits, who with all their differences and tempers, seemed to fit together down to nanolevel.

The warmth spreading through Erik's mind took him by surprise for a moment. He wondered if he would ever get used to this? Maybe he should be more worried about his mind being wide open to the Warehouse and Charles, and Charles had told him that he would need to learn how to shield himself. He had to wonder if any shielding he had learned when he was younger was completely blown to pieces. For all he knew, he was an open book to every telepath out there and while he felt a warm rush when he thought about Charles, not everyone had his high ethics when it came to the sanctity of other people's minds.

Charles cleared his throat on the phone. "Raven, be a dear and slap Erik for me, he's needlessly panicking."

"I'm not panicking," Erik muttered. "I'm maybe a little worried, that's all. And stop snooping around in my emotional state, when I can't do the same."

There was a warmth that wasn't the Warehouse and Erik felt echoes of worry and pride. In them all. Erik rolled his eyes. "Yes, thank you, Charles, that's enough. We'll be coming up on the address in a moment - try not to divide my attention too much," he added drily.

"Good luck, my friends," Charles said quietly on the phone. "Stay safe and don't let Shaw do what he's planning." Then he hung up, obviously giving them the time to get ready for their mission.

"What's wrong with industrial areas and warehouses?" Sean groused. They were going to park around the corner from the address and it wasn't out in the middle of nowhere, but in the middle of a busy street.

"If Shaw sets this off," Hank muttered, still doing calculations, "it won't matter how far out into rural areas we are - it will hit and it will hit big."

"Always the light of the party," Angel commented, popping her gum, something Erik had learned early one was a sign of nervousness. For all that these kids had been part of the Warehouse for years before Erik had come along, they were all so damned young.

Raven checked the phone and breathed in deeply. "Message from Darwin - Shaw wasn't at the other location. There were a couple of nasty artifact traps, so they are warning us that we might not get to Shaw without walking over hot coal."

"Are they okay?" Sean asked from the backseat.

Erik parked the car and turned his attention to her.

Raven nodded. "A few minor scratches but none of them are…" Raven frowned and dialed a number, waiting.

"Raven?" Erik stared at her, trying to read her facial expression.

"It might be nothing, might just be shitty reception where they are," she mumbled.

"Raven, what's wrong?" Hank broke off his calculations and leaned forward.

"The text I got was barely two words and then broken off and I'm not getting through to them," she said. "It says the 'the customer you are trying to reach is currently out of service.'". She turned her head and looked at Erik with wide eyes.

"Don't expect the worst," Erik told her, trying hard to believe his own words. "Let Charles know, let him look for them. We have our own mission. If we fail, a lot more than a faulty connection will be the outcome."

They were all shaken, but at least they nodded in agreement and Raven sent a quick text off to Charles.

"Time to save the world," Angel said, slipping out one side door, waiting for Sean to follow her while Hank exited the other one. They got quite a few stares, probably mostly because of Hank's size and blue fur, Raven wasn't wearing any disguise either, her blue skin offset against her white sleeveless tee and white jeans.

"Watch out for traps," Erik warned them, not taking his mind off what the other team had warned them about, wondering if perhaps they had celebrated victory on their end too early, having missed one last, dangerous trap.

"Do we use the backdoor?" Raven asked.

Erik shook his head. "Shaw isn't stupid. If he's in there, he knows we're coming."

"Doesn't leave us with the best cards on the hand, does it?" Angel asked.

"No, but when has that ever been the case for us?" Erik asked drily.

"Too true, man," Sean replied, zipping his jacket up to make sure that the wing contraption Hank had made for him would stretch perfectly if he needed it.

Angel dropped her own leather jacket into the back of the car and rolled her shoulders. Her tattooed wings were fully displayed, but kept flat against her skin for now. Erik approved - the more they could use as surprise, the better. This of course would only be a viable surprise if Shaw hadn't already figured out what each of them could do. If he had had the Warehouse and her agents under surveillance, the chances of a surprise attack were very small.

"Let's go," he finally said, not having to look to check if they fell into place behind him as he made his way down the street to the address, completely ignoring how people were staring at them. Hell, if they didn't win this one, these people would be up Shit Creek without a paddle.

---

Charles fired Cerebro up and tried to keep from frantically fumbling with the headpiece. Raven's text had only just ticked in and he'd been running for the elevator, going against every safety precaution. Normally, per Hank's rules, Charles didn't use Cerebro on his own. He had, in the beginning, gotten lost in it more than once. But this time he had to do it without the failsafe - he'd just have to trust that he could bring himself out of it. Or trust in the teams that they would make it home and drag him out if he got lost.

The world unfolded in front of him, but where Charles would normally take a moment to appreciate the beauty that Cerebro would show him, this time he was desperately searching towards the last known destination of the missing team. He would dearly love to keep an eye on Erik's team, but he had to trust them while they trusted him to look for their friends.

Nothing.

The area where they should have been was empty. Not a peep. Not a blink of the presence of a mutant.

Forcing himself to become the centre of his own calm, Charles anchored his search where they were supposed to be and started searching in a circle from there, outward. He couldn't look for Darwin - the young mutant's gift for adaptation kept his mind well shielded from any telepath, so Charles set out for the familiar mind of Alex, which was always a beacon, infused with his anger and doubt, his dreams and wishes. Some days Charles thought of showing the man how beautiful his mind was, to stop doubting that he was anything but a brilliant person.

Charles was so focused on the search that he was caught completely unaware when his world exploded.

---

The first artifact booby trap was hellishly perched right inside the door. A ship's anchor chain, just a few links, hanging from the ceiling. The moment they came closer to it, the hallway they had entered was suddenly full of water, filling their noses, mouths. It was only Sean's quick thinking that meant Erik could grab the chain by its metal and cram it into the goo lined bag Sean had been holding in his hand since they had entered.

Coughing and spitting, they landed on the floor, no longer suspended in water. They were all dry as well, which was a really strange feeling, considering that Erik could still taste the salty water in the back of his throat.

"Urgh," Raven coughed, giving Erik a hand up. "Guess that answers the question about traps."

"Can't say I'm surprised," Erik agreed. "All of you, be careful. Sean, Angel - upstairs. Hank, Raven, ground floor." Erik stared at the stairs leading down to the basement. "I'm going to take the basement. I can't feel any metal moving anywhere, but expect to meet resistance and be on the lookout for traps."

"Aye aye," Sean replied, moving to follow Angel who was waiting for him on the first step of the stairs.

Erik didn't like the fact that he couldn't feel much in a radius of a few feet. It was a disconcerting feeling for a man who had lived with the constant company of metal and magnetic fields since the age of nine. The lack of it around was damned inconvenient, kept begging for his attention which he couldn't afford to keep anywhere but on his closest surroundings, lest he want to activate another trap.

A quick nod to each other and they parted ways, Erik making his way slowly down the old stairs. Halfway down he felt the oddness of metal and the taint that it often had when it was an artifact. He couldn't quite grasp exactly what it was, but looking carefully ahead of him into the staircase, he noticed a small gleam a little further down. It looked like a medallion and upon a closer look, Erik could see the intricate metal work. Grabbing one of the goo bags and a pair of equally goo saturated gloves, he carefully put the medallion into it, watching the flash as it was neutralized. Pocketing it, he continued down into the basement.

At the foot of the stairs was a door - heavy and metal lined. Erik tried to feel beyond it, but for some reason his gift didn't seem to be able to reach beyond it.

"Guess I'm going in blind," he muttered to himself.

What met him on the other side sent chills down his spine.

"Well, well, late to the party, Erik. I had expected better manners from you," Shaw said, standing in the middle of the room, hands behind his back. The room was fairly dark, and the sole source of light was pointed right at Shaw.

What sent icy fingers down Erik's back was the fact that in a circle around him were his team-mates, including Darwin and Alex who had gone missing earlier. They were seated and bound to their chairs, each of them unconscious.

"Well, I wasn't expecting you to start without me," Erik said, stalling as much as he could. "Not because I have an ego the size of yours, but I would like to think that you wanted a few minutes to gloat at me before you sent half the country into chaos."

"Ah, young Erik, you think so narrowly - that was always one of your disadvantages," Shaw lamented. "That and the fact that you lacked the power - strong, but not particularly durable, are we, Erik?"

Erik refused to let Shaw goad him into acting first. "What do you mean, I think narrowly? The EMP of that staff will take out a good chunk of the country, but that's it." Hank had gone over the calculations once they had the information about the staff.

Shaw tsk'ed. "Think bigger, Erik," he said with a leer. "Did you not notice that the metal lining this room feels different from what you've come across before?"

Erik allowed himself another moment to check. He had wondered, why he couldn't feel anything inside the room, and from inside, where he was now, the metal felt weirdly slippery.

"It's a marvelous metal, came down in a meteor about a century ago," Shaw explained. "It amplifies an EMP - and since the whole room is lined with it, including ceiling and floor, it will amplify through the whole planet and above the atmosphere - taking out satellites as well as, if my estimates are right, 95% of the world."

Erik felt like throwing up. This was so far beyond what they had feared. So much worse.

"And as you can see, I have my audience - at least at some point when they wake up," Shaw said with a pout. "It's possible that Azazel hit them a little hard when he took them. Once they are awake, they get to see the staff in all its glory." Shaw levelled a look at Erik. "And you will do nothing to stop me, because Azazel can move faster than you and they will lose their lives at his swords if you move wrong."

Erik bit the inside of his cheek, tasting blood. He had to go at this so fucking careful and it just wasn't his usual MO. "So you're just going to stand there, monologuing at me until my team wakes up? Can't we get some smelling salts and get this over with?"

Shaw shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Always so impatient, Erik. You were never very good at self control, were you?"

"No?" Erik said. A moment later, Azazel disappeared, then reappeared, dropping Raven gracelessly on the floor. Erik watched as Raven shook her head and looked up, her eyes widening when she saw Shaw.

"As I was just telling Erik here, don't move." Shaw turned around, looking at each of the rest of the team as they seemed to be waking up. "Azazel is faster than any of you."

They all looked at Erik who shook his head. "Do as he says - I've seen the speed of his teleporter."

Raven looked slightly mutinous for a moment, then seemed to acquiesce.

"Such a good team, Erik - too bad I'll have to take you all out once the EMP has been fired off, though strictly speaking, I won't have to, will I?" Shaw looked down at his fingernails for a moment. Then back up. "I could just let you out and let you try to salvage what was left of the world. Then again, you've been interesting opponents, the least I can do is put you out of your misery."

"You stopping your jabbering would do that," Erik said drily.

Shaw shrugged. "If that is your last wish, Erik. Who am I to decline?" He held out his hand and whistled. A puff of sulphur later and he was holding the staff in his hand, Azazel nowhere to be seen.

"This is it, Erik - the one and last offer I am willing to give. You and your team. Join me, stand by my side as the new rulers of this world."

Erik thought for a moment that he could see the spittle at Shaw's mouth as he sprouted his insane offer. He didn't even look at his team to know the answer. "When pigs fly, Shaw - you made an orphan of me, ruined my childhood and I've wasted a great deal of my life trying to find and bring you to justice. The answer to your offer is a great, big 'screw you'."

"Suit yourself," Shaw said with a shrug, raising the staff.

Erik could feel the hum of it as the EMP powered up - he could also feel the metal of the room resonating. With a sharp inhalation between two heartbeats, Erik realized what he would have to do. He couldn't stop Shaw, couldn't take the man down. Any attack would end in his own death and not a mark on Shaw.

And he would have to time it perfectly. He would have to contain the EMP - late enough for Shaw to not react and for Azazel to not stop him.

It probably didn't happen over the span of more than three to five seconds, but to Erik, it felt like an eternity. The split second before the EMP reached critical, Erik closed his eyes and embraced it. Put everything in there that Charles had taught him, let go of his hatred of Shaw, his disappointment with his mother - never forgetting any of it, but tugging it to the side and centering himself. It had become so much easier, he realized, since he had the Warehouse to lean on, and Charles as well.

The world melted away around him and something sharp slid over his shoulder before it was blasted away. The problem was, as pressure grew inside his head, he tasted the blood running from his nose, he could feel the world falling away around him.

And then there was nothing but blissful darkness.

Chapter Text

"Where am I? Hello?" Charles knew the lack of physical reality around him. But there were presences around him, he was sure about that. Just outside his reach, though.

"Hello?"

Something cool brushed by him. "Emma?"

Reality check: he was caught somewhere on the astral plane, inside the Warehouse. Alone.

And he wasn't going to find his way out on his own, was he?

---

Erik looked down at his hands. They looked perfectly ordinary. Then he looked up again. This was the living room of his childhood home. Looking back down at his hands, Erik frowned. His hands were his adult ones. So obviously not real. Well, obviously, as the house no longer stood. Erik had walked past a few years earlier. Where there had once been family houses, was now a huge shopping mall and a car park the size of a small stadium.

He thought back to the artifact that had trapped Alex inside a possible life. This wasn't quite it. There was no one here. It was like a ghostly shell of his memory of his childhood.

Testing it, he moved to the front door and opened it, seeing the familiar street outside. Taking a deep breath, he stepped through the door and stopped dead. He had apparently gotten turned around somehow, because he was stepping forward, back into the house.

Erik frowned, turned around and looked back out into the deserted street. It looked real. There were cars parked, the leaves were falling off the trees, their colours ranging from green to orange, to brown and red.

"Shit," he muttered, taking a deep breath and keeping his eyes open as he walked through the door again.

And once again stood inside the house, back to the street.

"If this is eternal damnation for me and I'm dead, I'm going to be really annoyed," Erik said out loud. He wasn't too sure about the dead thing, though. Where he was only just getting used to the connection he had with Charles and the Warehouse, it was still there, however faint. Would it still be there, if he was dead?

"Well, if I'm a ghost, I'm gonna find a way to get back to the Warehouse and haunt their asses," Erik muttered, hoping feverishly that they were all okay, that they were all alive. His memory of stopping the EMP, of containing it, was fuzzy at best. It had felt like trying to contain something living, something more alive than a thunderstorm with constant lightning.

---

As Charles walked through his fuzzy surroundings, they occasionally tried to solidify. Here and there were strangely familiar shapes and after a while - Charles had no idea of how time ran inside this, he began recognizing shelving units from the Warehouse.

"Are you trying to find me or guide me, Darling?" he asked quietly. He wouldn't put it past the Warehouse to do something like this. She had turned fiercely protective of him since he'd used the artifact that had bound him to her decades ago. The one that had been destroyed.

Charles grinned mirthlessly to himself. "I should have known better the second time around, huh? To not run off with an artifact." He thought about his connection with Erik and shook his head. "This time, though, I wasn't the one tinkering with it, was I? Or at least not the only one."

Thoughts returning to Erik, Charles suddenly realized that the connection he had with Erik was still there, threadbare, but there. So Erik was still alive.

"Maybe that's what I need," he muttered, closing his eyes for a moment and reaching out. Maybe, just maybe, if he followed that thin thread of awareness, he could find his way back. Maybe not out, but at least to Erik.

---

Erik growled at his surroundings. He'd gotten to the point where he'd tried to get out through the ground floor windows, the first floor windows, and was now eyeing the old chimney.

"I'm not ruling that one out just yet," he muttered. "Is this how you try to drive me insane?" he asked out loud to no one. He'd long since considered pulling the house apart with his gift, but because this wasn't real, obviously, he couldn't feel the metal of his surroundings, let alone grab a hold of it.

"Basement," he said with a sigh. He wasn't holding out hope for that one either, but there used to be a small access leading to the backyard. He was not testing the chimney just yet. Mostly because he'd almost gotten stuck in it as a kid, because he'd heard a bird fluttering about up there and had tried to help it.

Soft memories floated through his head. Of his father half laughing, half trying to scold him for getting himself stuck. If he hadn't been able to fit back then, he probably wouldn't today either. He had after all gotten quite a bit bigger.

"Damn it," Erik muttered, wiping away a stray tear. "This isn't real," he told himself for the hundredth time.

Pushing the basement door open, Erik took a deep breath. "Can't give up," he muttered to himself.

---

Charles bounced back as he hit something semi-solid in front of him.

"That's new," he mumbled as he staggered back. Reaching out, he touched the surface. A rough wall. Bricks, their surface catching on the skin of his fingers. "Fascinating," Charles continued. "This isn't in any way real, yet I'm feeling the texture."

And it was blocking his way forward.

It felt to him as if he had been walking in the same direction for ages - not that time or direction had any meaning. He'd told himself that the presence of Erik had become stronger, if only a little, but he also knew that he might just be trying to convince himself of this.

"I'm not even convincing myself," he sighed. Putting a hand out, he touched the wall and started walking along it, hoping to, eventually, find an opening, a door, anything that might let him pass.

---

"This is ridiculous!" Erik felt his anger rising to the surface. Anger and frustration in equal measures. The house kept him in, there was no getting out!

Slamming his fist against the wall, he was surprised when he didn't actually break his fingers - but instead cracked the surface. His mind told him it should have hurt, but Erik was far too focused on the crack in the outer wall.

"Well, if you won't let me use the doors or windows, I'll damned well make my own," Erik growled, hitting the wall again and again, sweat beading his forehead, his arms aching from the strain.

---

Charles nearly fell over his own feet.

"Erik!?"

He stopped for a moment, closing his eyes and focusing on the sudden burst of a familiar mind.

Ahead of him. Charles head came up, eyes open but unseeing. Picking up speed, Charles almost ran along the wall. Somewhere, further on, was an achingly familiar presence, no longer quite so ephemeral as it had been, and growing in intensity.

---

Erik nearly screamed when his fist went straight through the wall, although it felt as if the wall was trying to mend itself.

"Oh no, you don't" Erik growled, grabbing at the broken edges and wrenching them apart.

Erik realized two things at the same time.

One: He could feel Charles - much clearer than he had earlier and two: a pair of hands joined his in the opening, working from the other side.

Gone was his frustration and anger, replaced with elation and hope, breaking the wall open enough that he could push through, grabbing onto Charles' hands and letting him pull from the other side while Erik wriggled to get out of the wall that was still trying to contain him.

Landing in a heap outside, the world around them blurred and settled on far more familiar surroundings.

"Is this the ...Warehouse?" Erik asked curiously, not even attempting to get off Charles who was trapped under him.

It didn't seem like Charles was expecting him to get off anytime soon either, not with the death grip he had on Erik's shirt.

Charles looked around them and when he tilted his head back to look, Erik found his eyes drawn to the pale neck. When Charles looked up at him again, mouth open to reply, he just stopped, eyes on Erik's.

"Are we actually going to talk about this while we're trapped in here anyway?" Erik asked drily. "Wherever here is," he added.

Charles sighed and nodded, letting Erik stand up and took the hand he was offered. Dusting his trousers off in an attempt to buy time, Charles shrugged. "To answer your last question first, Erik. It seems we are on the astral plane, or at least the Warehouse's version of it." He stared at Erik for a moment. "What happened with Shaw, are the others…?"

Erik shook his head. "I don't know. I honestly don't remember anything beyond trying to contain the EMP."

Charles nodded. "I was in Cerebro, looking for Alex and Darwin. I couldn't find them, and kept widening my search. I probably got lost in there."

"Shaw had taken them too. All of them," Erik explained. "He was going to use them to keep me from stopping him." Erik waited patiently, the huffed. "You're still avoiding it."

"You know we're an aberration," Charles said quietly as they moved through the Warehouse, heading towards where the office would be. "We're not supposed to be connected this way and we might not be allowed to keep working together."

Erik stopped in his tracks. "What do you mean? Because of what I did?"

"It wasn't your fault alone," Charles replied tiredly. "The Warehouse can't truly be blamed, but eventually I fear the Council will try to create some type of restraints that will keep the sentient part of the Warehouse in check. To avoid future involvement."

"I saw an opportunity to save you," Erik said quietly. "Would you rather I had not?"

Charles didn't answer, just went on ahead, taking the stairs up to the office. Erik closed his eyes and clenched his hands into fists. Finally opening his eyes again, he looked up and watched Charles disappear into the office.

Determined to see this through to whatever end it might have, Erik took the stairs, two at a time. Barging into the office, he reached for Charles and stopped him.

"Does it not matter to you that in the span of less than a year, you and the others have given me the home I haven't had since before Shaw?" Erik asked, voice rough. He shook his head when Charles opened his mouth to answer. "No, don't. Hear me out." Erik took a deep breath. "I haven't felt for anyone, like I feel for you right now. Even my marriage was never this passionate and we managed to make some pretty amazing offspring." Erik waved between them. "What I feel for you is nothing like it. It's electric where what I had with Magda was a spark. I loved her dearly, but what I feel here and here…" Erik put one hand on his own chest and the other on Charles'. "I don't have words to describe it. I was never good at talking about emotions, but if it will open your stupid eyes, then I can make the effort."

Charles blinked at him, for once speechless. "You have kids?"

Erik stared at him. "Is that what you got out of that whole tirade?" he asked, deflating.

"I- no, of course not, Erik!" Charles bit his lower lip, then nodded. "You say you are not good with words, Erik. When in fact you use them very skillfully."

Erik shrugged. "If it's enough, I agree, if it's not, I don't know if I do want to stay here. I'll miss the Warehouse." I'll miss you, he didn't say.

Charles rubbed his eyes. "It may never come to that," he said tiredly. "You may not forgive the Warehouse for this, but she showed you how to save me, not just in order to do that, but to give you to me. Bind you to me." Charles made a face. "And by proxy, to herself as well."

Erik stared at him. "She gave me to you?"

"That's the only way I can explain it," Charles said, looking defeated.

"I'm willing to give that a try, then," Erik said, stepping in close, hoping he wasn't making things worse. He didn't want to push Charles into something he didn't want, but it was pretty obvious that what was really holding Charles back were rules and regulations, the decisions of the Council. "We'll weather that storm when it hits."

Erik put his hand on Charles' jaw and held him still as he leaned in and pressed his mouth against Charles'. He'd meant for it to be soft to convey his emotions to Charles, that he wasn't just physically attracted to Charles, but was emotionally invested as well.

He just hadn't been expecting Charles' self control to be stretched quite so thin. It was like a dam breaking, Charles emotions spilling over into Erik, rushing like the swell of a river in the spring. For a split second Erik was lost in the chaos, then he grabbed on to the only thing he could, the presence of Charles everywhere.

"You drive me to distraction," Charles gasped between kisses. "For all the reasons I know I shouldn't, I can't say no to you." He buried his face against Erik's neck.

"Does that mean you'll stop pushing me away?" Erik asked, holding on tight to him.

"It means the two of you should stop hiding in here and come into actual reality." The comment was made drily and with no small amount of sarcasm.

Erik thought for a moment that Charles would step away from him, but instead he tightened his hold on Erik's shirt. "We may have gotten sidetracked, Miss Frost," Charles said tiredly. "But I can assure you we've been trying to get out."

Erik looked to the side and did a double take. Emma Frost was standing next to them, skin like diamond.

"That's my secondary mutation, sugar," she said with a wink. "I just like letting it carry over into the astral plane. And Charles? I know you were, but you can't hide in here with your boy toy while the rest of us deal with the fallout."

Charles sobered and Erik did as well. "Is everyone…?" Erik trailed off.

"Come out and let's have this conversation in real life," she said with a small huff. "Now that you're this close, you should be able to get through. Charles, if you need a push…?"

Charles nodded. "Yes, please. I feel like I have very little energy left and probably not enough to punch my way back into the physical world."

Frost cocked her head to the side and snapped her fingers and the world fell away around Erik. For a split second he couldn't get himself to let go of Charles again.

"You have to," Frost's voice told him from somewhere. "You can't inhabit the same body."

Erik finally did as he was told and blinked a few times to clear his eyes. He was no longer on his feet, but lying on a bed, staring up at the ceiling.

"This is getting a little old," he said, or attempted to, his throat feeling raw and dry. And now that he was physically awake, every other part of his body was telling him that he was in need of some serious TLC. He ached from his toes to the tips of his hair. "Ow."

"You got that right," Raven said quietly, leaning over him and offering him a straw. The water that he pulled up through it nearly made him cough, but it felt so damned good going down, and so sorely needed.

"Charles is awake as well," Hank said from the other side of the room.

Erik almost sat up at this, but Raven's hand in the middle of his chest kept him pinned to the bed. "Don't even think about it, Erik. You need rest." She turned her head to look longingly at her brother's bed, then back down at Erik. "Good to have you back."

Erik nodded and took another sip of the water, this time more careful about it. "Go check on your brother, I'll be okay over here."

Raven grinned at him and nodded, quickly leaning down to kiss his cheek before trading places with Hank, who frowned down at Erik. "I'm amazed that you don't have brain damage from that stunt you pulled," he said.

"I don't even know what I did," Erik replied, feeling a little floaty. Ah, Hank was holding an empty syringe.

"You're supposed to get some real rest, and afterwards, when I deem you ready for it, there'll be a debriefing."

Erik grinned, then yawned. "Aye, aye, doctor."

Hank rolled his eyes. "I can tell you this," Hank said quietly, leaning in over the bed while Erik was drifting off. "You stopped Shaw's weapon and the only damage the EMP did was pretty much you, Alex' chestpiece and the staff itself - completely melted."

Erik nodded. He wanted to ask them if Shaw had survived, but his thoughts kept escaping him.

Chapter Text

The first couple of times that Charles woke up, he only barely took in his surroundings, heard first Hank, then Raven assure him that they were all okay and that yes, Erik was okay as well. The latter went a long way in calming him. He hadn't been sure when he had found Erik stuck in the Astral Plane, apparently trying to escape a house that looked like his old home. The traps that one's mind could set were manyfold, Charles knew this better than most people.

The third time he woke up, he found Emma Frost sitting at the side of his bed, watching him with an arched eyebrow.

"Hello, Emma," Charles greeted, feeling like he'd been beaten to a bloody pulp. Then he realized it wasn't his tiredness he was feeling, but Erik's.

"Yes, that is one of the things that we will have to deal with," Emma said drily. "You overextended your gift, but what you're feeling is Lehnsherr's aches and pains after he did what I don't think we ever thought anyone could."

Charles blinked a couple of times, his eyes tired and feeling as if they were full of grit. "What happened?"

"Oh, you'll have to wait with the briefing until Lehnsherr is awake as well." Emma studied her immaculate fingernails. "The Council wants a meeting with the both of you in two days. I agreed, since McCoy said you should be on your feet by then."

Charles nodded. "Yes, that." He wanted to ask her what to expect. Whatever Erik had managed to do might not be enough to make them ignore what Charles had done. He'd had a warning in his file after the first time he'd used an artifact on himself and then the Council had decided that the byproduct of him not being able to leave the Warehouse for long, was punishment enough.

This time he doubted it they would let him get away with a slap on the wrist.

"Don't take the whole thing on your shoulders, Charles," Emma said, her normally sarcastic tone softer than Charles could recall having heard before. "Erik was the one to split the rings and the Warehouse influenced him into doing so."

"To save me," Charles argued. "Because I had been reckless."

"Yes," Emma agreed, "but for all your years of experience, Charles, you are not omniscient." She paused for a moment. "I'm not supposed to let you know this, but the Council is very split on this, on what to do about it. But know that there are those of us who understand that dealing with the Warehouse and the artifacts can be a volatile mix requiring split second decisions."

Charles nodded.

Emma stood, putting her hand on Charles', squeezing it lightly. "And know that Irene is backing you as well."

"She's neutral, Emma, she wouldn't," Charles began.

Emma shook her head. "She divines the possible futures, Charles, it's more than possible that she saw this coming well before we did."

Charles wanted to argue with her. Irene had always been the centre of the Council. She was supposed to be their neutral member, who was supposed to lead them using her gift of premonition. She had always had a strong opinion about not meddling. If she was siding…

"What I'm saying, Charles, is that you do have people backing you on the Council that won't try to split you up or take the Warehouse from you." She paused and made a face. "She also seems to like Lehnsherr."

Charles nodded. It was a small consolation that he knew no one had been called by the Warehouse to take his place as Caretaker. It didn't mean that he wasn't worried they might take Erik from him. And from the Warehouse, which would probably open a whole other can of worms.

"Now get some rest," Emma told him. "You'll need it for when you're facing the Council. You need to keep your wits about you."

Charles agreed. "Yes, thank you, Emma."

"Don't thank me yet, sugar," she said with a wink before standing and leaving him on his own.

Charles looked over to the side where Erik was sleeping, snoring lightly.

That moment, Charles knew he would fight for his team, for his still new connection to Erik and for the Warehouse. It was the only possible thing he could do.

---

Erik drank down the water, feeling as if his throat was drier than the desert. He had to focus on not spilling as his hands still shook a little and he felt about as strong as a weak kitten. He was also spending a great deal of attention on Charles, who was sitting in the chair next to him, looking like death warmed over.

"Thank you," he said when he was done and Charles took the glass. "Are you sure you shouldn't be in bed?"

Charles grinned lightly, belying the dark circles underneath his eyes. "Don't worry about me, Erik - I wasn't hit as badly as you were. Although when I think about it, if you hadn't contained the EMP, my brain would probably have been fried when I was connected to Cerebro."

Erik felt a chill run down his back.

Charles looked more than a little shocked. "Oh, no, don't think like that, Erik - it didn't happen, you stopped Shaw."

"Except he got away, didn't he," Erik said tiredly. It had been the root of no small amount of anger for him since he'd woken up and had learned this. That he had managed to contain an EMP that could have reached a good 95% of the earth, including satellites, almost came in second after the fact that Shaw had escaped.

"You'll get him eventually," Charles said quietly.

"Something wrong?" Erik asked, catching the change of mood.

"Well, tomorrow, we have to hope for the leniency of the the Council."

Erik nodded. "The hearing is tomorrow afternoon, right?"

"Yes, I'm first, then they'll want to see you afterwards," Charles told him.

Erik nodded. A little lost in thought, he was brought back to the now as Charles put his hand on top of his, shooting him a shy smile.

Erik just laughed, feeling every muscle hurt. "Come on," he said, struggling to pull his sheet aside to make room for Charles.

"Hank will have our heads," Charles told him, but it was an empty warning as he put his book aside, kicked his shoes off and slipped into the bed next to Erik.

"Tell him I sleep better with you in the bed," Erik replied with a yawn. It wasn't strictly speaking wrong. When he had Charles this close at least he knew he was okay and not in danger anywhere.

"You do know that I did this job long before you were even born, right?" Charles asked drily.

"Doesn't mean you don't need a keeper," Erik growled, a move that was ruined as he yawned loudly.

"Well, yes, but you need to regain strength before you can be my knight in shining armour," Charles mocked him.

"I like that image," Erik muttered, already halfway to sleep. "Now be quiet - we both need the rest, just like Hank told us to."

---

Charles' hearing wasn't the most pleasant thing he had ever faced. The worst part was that it was a faint echo of what it had been like back when he'd used the artifact that had originally bound him to the Warehouse.

In front of him was the Council. In their middle sat Irene Adler, Destiny, and to either side of her the White and the Black Queen, Emma and Jean. On either side of the council stood the protectors. Logan, Charles knew superficially, but he shared a quick smile with Moira, who stood off to the other side. He quite liked her and as she had the secondary function of liaison with SHIELD, she was the one he most often saw.

Along with them sat Edie Eisenhardt, a little apart, and Charles had wondered at this. She was, after all, a member of the council. Then he'd realized. She would be considered biased, with Erik being her son. Even if the Regents took a vow that the Warehouse and the safety of the world from the artifacts came first, she would not be put in the spot where she would have to choose.

At least for her sake, Charles hoped so.

And this was the beginning of a horrible afternoon for Charles. Everything was brought into question. He knew perfectly well that this was how it was done - he had after all been there before. This time, however, it had the added stress of having questions about his relationship with Erik. Of every interaction between them questioned.

An ordinary disciplinary hearing would have been bad enough, but because of it being the Council of Regents, it also meant he had to keep his mind open, couldn't shield. It was one of those things he'd never liked, but it was after all one of the rules.

Charles felt as if he was spending most of it making sure that the council understood that he and Erik had not acted on any attractions, broken any rules until Charles had taken the ring to prolong the time he could be away from the Warehouse.

Then time was spent explaining why he hadn't sent off one of the team instead. Explaining that none of them could have made it in time, that he had made a judgement, for good or bad.

Then came the hard part. The Council had been aware of, through the years, that the Warehouse was gaining conscience, had become a being of its own. Letting them understand that while Erik had been desperate enough to try anything, by touching the ring, and because Erik had a natural affinity for the Warehouse, the Warehouse itself had planted the suggestions in his mind.

"So, because he is sensitive to the mood of the Warehouse, the Warehouse chose to influence him?" Jean asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Strictly speaking, it's just as much because the Warehouse took an instant liking to him when he started at the Warehouse," Charles said tiredly. Much like her caretaker, it seemed.

"So, the Warehouse decided that it would bind him to you," she said drily.

"Out with it, Charles, you know we can see it," Emma said, the note in her voice warmer than usually.

"The Warehouse felt the need to bind us together - it felt I needed help as a Caretaker. As the Warehouse grows bigger, more aware, it seemed to be worried about me and the mental strain it would be putting on me."

"And gave Erik to you," Emma said.

Charles nodded. It was after all the impression he had gotten from the Warehouse when he'd asked why. "I think it was a benefit for the Warehouse as well - like I said, it has taken a liking to Agent Lehnsherr."

"You know that this is highly irregular," Jean said with a frown. "The rules dictate that any fraternization be discouraged."

Charles didn't shoot back that those rules might be slightly antiquated and that they had been broken before. Though rarely by the Caretaker of the Warehouse. And never with the actual blessing of the Warehouse itself - before now, at least.

"We have to consider the need that we once discussed, about limiting the Warehouse from evolving even further," she mused. It had been an age old disagreement between her and Emma and by proxy, Charles.

It looked like Jean was gearing up to truly stand in the way of this and if Charles didn't move fast, he and his team including Erik would be in oodles of trouble. Charles knew he wasn't supposed to contact any of the regents singularly, that Emma would probably notice, but he had to count on her being the person she was, and maybe let it fly.

'Hypocrite,' he projected at Jean, watching her eyes widen. That was all he did, and he did notice her iron will keeping her from turning her head in Logan's direction. But her gaze betrayed her, flickering ever so slightly to the side he was standing at.

He made sure not to deviate his thoughts too much, but he noticed the slight curving of Emma's lips and knew that he probably hadn't gone unnoticed.

Irene held up her hand. "Allow us to speak with Agent Lehnsherr and then converse amongst ourselves until we have a solution," she said, her unseeing eyes boring into him.

"Please send Agent Lehnsherr in when you leave," Emma said, dismissing him.

Charles didn't breathe a sigh of relief. He would now have to spend ages waiting for them to finish grilling Erik.

"And Charles?" Emma called out as he reached the heavy door.

"Yes, Miss Frost?" Charles turned to meet her eyes.

"I don't have to tell you to keep your mind to yourself during this. I know it can't be easy, but please shield from Erik. We will be shielding him from both you and the Warehouse, but it would be a show of goodwill if you did your end."

Charles nodded. He'd expected nothing less.

---

Erik remembered why he absolutely hated this type of hearing. Sitting on his side alone, facing a bunch of assholes, who apparently knew better. Or thought they did. He'd gotten so used to the Warehouse being worlds of difference compared to his time in Interpol, and now he was facing a board who was probably dead set on booting him out.

"Please relax, Agent Lehnsherr," Frost said, a twitch of her mouth that could almost be a smirk. "We are here to understand what happened and to figure out if it may pose future problems and threats."

Erik made a face. "Yes, ma'am." He didn't meet the eyes of his mother, who was sitting off to the side. He wasn't sure why she was there at all. It sort of felt weird if she was to have a say in the proceedings involving him. Of course she hadn't had anything to do with him for years, so they were, at best, strangers to each other.

"Before we start," Frost continued, "I think it a quick introduction is in order."

"Frost, that is highly irregular," the redheaded woman in black said, a frown on her face.

"He's going to refer to you all by your hair colour in his head if we don't, and he deserves to be on equal standing with Charles, who at least knows who we all are." Frost's voice was stern.

The woman seated between them cocked her head to the side, a gesture that triggered something vaguely familiar to Erik. "I believe it would be courtesy for us to do so," she said, her voice quiet, but not inviting opposition. "Please make it quick, Emma, our young agent has little patience for our stodgy ways."

"Thank you, Miss Adler," Frost said, this time the quirk of her lips was more obvious. "The lady who stands so heavily on form is Miss Grey, our lady in the middle is Miss Adler and you already know me." Frost gestured at the two guards on either side. "Logan and Moira are our security detail."

Erik tried to remember why Adler seemed so familiar.

"Regent Eisenhardt has been allowed to sit in on this hearing, but she is not allowed to intervene in any way, form or shape," Frost said, garnering a nod from Edie.

Erik swallowed hard. So was going to face this alone - but he could do it. Charles had just sat through it as well, all Erik had to do was tell the truth.

"Please keep your mind unshielded while in here," Frost told him before taking her seat next to Adler. "Your connections with the Warehouse and Caretaker Xavier have been blocked for the time being."

Erik rolled his shoulders. He was well aware of that and it was odd how, after such short time, he really had grown fond of the connection and not having it felt… weird.

"Do you understand, Agent Lehnsherr?" Frost asked.

"I do, Miss Frost," Erik ground out.

And that was the beginning of two hours of intense questions and prodding of his mind. Two hours where Erik's patience was stretched thin, where he felt the lack of the Warehouse' presence like an itch he couldn't scratch. It might also be why he had a building headache, though that might also be down to the annoying questions he was being asked.

"Erik," Frost finally said, "please understand that when we ask about the nature of your relationship with Caretaker Xavier, it is not, as you seem to think, a prodding into your private life, but to ratify whether or not you are fit to carry on as a Warehouse agent."

"And if I'm not?" Erik asked, sitting up straight in his seat. He was beginning to appreciate Frost's straightforwardness.

"Normal procedure is to remove the agent's memory and give them a new life," Frost said.

Erik nodded slowly. He had expected something like that. The question was how many of them he would have to fight to get to stay.

"There is however a bit of an obstacle when it comes to using that procedure in your case, Agent Lehnsherr," Adler said. "You see, there is no way we can break your connection to the Warehouse without damaging one or both."

"You don't care about my life, but you can't afford to damage the Warehouse," Erik said, realizing that he would have to tread very carefully. And that little tidbit was the most important piece of information. Protect the Warehouse at all costs. Not for the first time since the hearing had begun, Erik felt that Adler was trying to aid him.

Adler hid a small smile behind her hand. "Essentially."

"So," Erik said, narrowing his eyes, watching the annoyed look Miss Grey shot Adler. "The best thing I can do is stay alive and keep the Warehouse happy." Oh, she was definitely leading him in the right direction.

"And if we told you that the choice might be between keeping you or Charles? Not necessarily both of you," Frost said.

"Then you would have to keep Charles, because the Warehouse can't do without its Caretaker," Erik said, knowing, even without the connection open to the Warehouse, that he was right.

"Caretakers come and go, Agent Lehnsherr," Adler said. "We could keep you and let Charles go."

Erik shook his head vehemently. "I refuse to believe that that would be in the best interest of the Warehouse," he argued. He had to believe this. They couldn't ...fire Charles, or whatever they did when they changed the Caretaker. Come to think of it, how would Charles even live away from the Warehouse. Erik had the horrible feeling that especially in this case, ending the time as Caretaker, would mean ending living as well.

Frost inclined her head ever so slightly, keeping eye contact with him.

"Why would you do this?" Erik asked. He still failed to see why this was even necessary. "If your main interest is keeping the Warehouse running as smoothly as possible, nothing runs smoother than this operation with Charles in charge."

"The team has become almost incestous in nature," Grey said, leaning back in her seat. "You will start putting each other above the Warehouse."

Erik closed his eyes. "This would always become a problem," he said quietly. "Let me share something with you that might shed a little light on team dynamics. I was never much of a team player, because those times I tried, I never connected with the team members, we never knew each other well enough to counter and balance each other - and it sometimes meant making mistakes because we didn't have a familiarity."

They all watched him quietly and Erik took a deep breath and carried on. "With this team, yes, we probably know too much about each other, and we're willing to put our lives on the line for each other, but that's just it, that's just what makes us stronger. If I hadn't first and foremost had the team in mind, I might not have thought to contain the EMP. I searched for a way to stop it without getting my team hurt. Had I been alone, I might just as well have gone for the Shaw himself, and that would have failed."

Frost cleared her throat. "Edie?"

Edie sat up straighter. "I am not supposed to take part," she warned.

"I know, but I would like to ask you, as a non-psionic, not currently inside the prickly mind of Agent Lehnsherr, as the outsider looking in," Frost said. "How do you see this?"

"I agree that in many agencies, such close knowledge of each other might become a problem," Edie said, hands folded in her lap. "But I genuinely believe that Agent Lehnsherr is right. The life of a Warehouse agent is vastly different from that of an ordinary agent. What they see, what they experience, it will always bring them closer together. We can split the teams every time this happens, but I wonder if it is not a self defeating plan."

Adler cleared her throat. "Shall we let Agent Lehnsherr go for now, as we confer within our own circle?"

Frost nodded to the guards, and Moira walked over to lead Erik outside.

Erik was itching to ask what now, but apparently she was well ahead of him, a quick shake of the head as she took his elbow.

Outside the door, as it swung shut behind them, Erik felt the Warehouse seep into his head again, like a long missed friend. Charles seemed to be shielding himself, which of course worried Erik a little.

"Tell Charles I said hi," Moira said with a small smile. "And trust in the Council."

"Do you think they'll vote in our favour?" Erik asked curiously.

Moira hesitated, then cocked her head to the side. "There's no saying what the Council will or will not do, but trust in them, trust in the Warehouse and above all, trust in Charles."

Eriks stared at her.

"He's helped me on more than one occasion," Moira explained. "Charles has friends among us all. Just understand that the Council has the grander view to take into account."

Erik nodded. "But they do need the Caretaker, and the Warehouse, I think, wouldn't want any other." It was a guess, but one that was accompanied with approval from the Warehouse.

"Yes," Moira said. "The question is, who cares for the Caretaker?" She squeezed Erik's arm. "As long as you and the team are there for him, he will be strong. I think he currently blames himself for having caused quite a lot of this," she mused. "It is very in key with how he thinks."

Erik agreed. "He's still shielding from me. I can feel the Warehouse, but he's closed off."

"He was told to not interfere with your hearing," Moira assured him. "He is simply still doing that. For all the rules that he bends for the good of his team, he would never go against a request from the Council."

Erik stopped, for a moment wondering… "Would he…"

"I would normally say yes," she agreed. "But this is you." She watched him with a soft smile. "I've seen Charles attracted to people, flirting with them, but the way he speaks about you - spoke about you, even before you were bound by the ring-" Moira trailed off. "You're important to him, Agent Lehnsherr."

Erik watched her quietly for a moment, then nodded slowly. "Erik," he said, holding out his hand. "Any friend of Charles', is a friend of mine."

She shook his hand, a strong, sure grip. "Moira."

Chapter Text

Erik hid in his room, not quite ready to go look for Charles, and it allowed him to be close enough to feel the soothing of the Warehouse. He'd sort of expected to be told rather quickly what was going to happen, but no one came to fetch him. There was no mental dog whistle from Frost either and Erik was torn between wanting to hide in the room for the rest of the week and marching out and demanding some damned answers.

The time to himself also meant he had time to consider Miss Adler. And consider her in conjunction to his own life. Erik stared at the wall for a moment, then laughed in disbelief. Adler. Irene Adler. The blind woman he had met in the park so many years ago, who had set him on the right path of self control.

Looked like the Warehouse had been in his life longer than Erik had thought. Which was surprisingly okay to him. The feeling that the Warehouse was looking out for him, and had all along. His own weirdly sentient entity to watch over him.

In the end, the knock to his door that tore him from his contemplations, turned out to be Edie.

Erik just swung the door open and sat back on the bed, playing with a string of paperclips.

"I see your control of small objects has improved much," Edie said, as she moved slowly into his room, as if not to startle a frightened animal.

"It helps me to think," he replied curtly.

"I think, before anything else, we really do need to speak, Erik." She sat down on the chair at his desk. "I know you hate me-"

"Hate you?" Erik cut her off. "No, I'm fucking furious with you, but you're still my mother." There, he'd admitted that to himself, whereas up until this point, he'd tried hard to just think of her as Edie Eisenhardt.

She looked slightly taken aback.

Erik drew a deep breath. "I'm not even sure how I feel about what you did, but know this, I do understand caring for the Warehouse and making sure that it runs smoothly, but you have got to understand that I am not you, I am not going to choose between the greater good and the people I love."

Edie looked down at the floor, a soft, sad smile on her face. "I never wanted to, but with Shaw on the loose, I didn't dare stay with you. The Council wanted to pull you in and make you into one of our trusted servants, like Moira. She's been with us since her early teens when her parents were killed and she was taken in by one of the Regents."

"Why would that have been so bad?" Erik asked quietly, genuinely curious.

"You wouldn't have been allowed to stay with me and I wanted to give you the chance of a ...normal life," Edie said.

Erik stared at her, feeling like there was a lot more to it.

"I can't divulge all those secrets, Erik, but if you get the chance, speak to Moira. She is a wonderful young woman, but being so deeply imbedded in Regent business is not necessarily mentally healthy."

"I might not get the chance if the Council decides that I'm not fit for the job," Erik said, feeling a little sorry for himself, and a lot worse for Charles.

"The Council has decided that you are to stay, on probation - and Charles will have to walk the straight and narrow as well," Edie told him, giving him a small smile. "Moira Mactaggert will be moved from Council duty to serve as a closer tie with the Warehouse."

Erik did not breathe a sigh of relief, but it came close. As it were, his shoulders sank, a tension leaving them that he hadn't even been aware of.

Edie stood from her seat, straightening her suit before heading for the door. "Charles told me to give you a message." She opened the door, but turned to face him one more time. "He said, and I quote: Please don't be so sad, the Warehouse does weird things when she is in a mood, and apparently she is picking up on yours," Edie said drily.

Erik tried to keep from laughing, but the chuckle did escape him. "Thanks, ...mom."

Edie smiled softly. "You're welcome, Erik." She closed the door behind her.

---

Erik tried hard not to fidget while he waited for Charles to be done with his final session with the Council. He knew that when Charles was done, it would be his turn to get his actual verdict - officially. Even if he'd already learned the overall decision from his mother. At least he wasn't waiting alone, and he'd taken an interest in Moira Mactaggert, who was apparently going to be his new colleague - at least if he was really allowed to stay.

"Is there any way that you could have done it differently?" she asked him, gesturing at the ring that had gotten him and Charles into the trouble in the first time.

Erik shrugged. "I can't think of any - Charles wasn't going to survive and when I touched the ring, the Warehouse showed me what I could do to save him."

"But you have to admit it's a little weird that the Warehouse was sentient enough to know that you could do that - split the ring, I mean."

"Isn't that the term that describes our job the most?" Erik asked. "Weird?"

"True," Moira agreed with a shrug.

"And it's not like the Warehouse doesn't know what I can do - I do enough smaller maintenance jobs around the place when needed - and my gift at least allows me to do a lot of work that would otherwise take tools that, as Charles puts it, tends to do weird stuff under the influence of the artifacts." Erik slid into his seat a little. "I always got the feeling the Warehouse quite liked it when I used my gift."

"That's probably not wrong," Moira said. "When you think about it, the Warehouse and its dynamics with the agents always goes better when the agents are mutants."

"Yet, they're going to throw you into lion's den, a human?" Erik asked, surprised.

Moira laughed. "I think I was accepted by the Warehouse somewhere down the line - at least according to Charles. He suggested it might just have been that the Warehouse got used to me."

Erik grinned. "Yeah, the Warehouse is a good judge of character."

Moira rolled her eyes, but then sat up, at attention. "They're just about done, Erik - you're up next in two minutes."

Erik straightened in his seat as well, taking a deep breath. They both stood and Erik held out his hand. "Thank you, Mactaggert, your company helped with the nervousness," he admitted.

"You're welcome, Lehnsherr," she replied, shaking his hand, firm and sure of herself. "I hope they keep you on, if half of what the kids have told me is true, I can't see it getting boring."

Erik nodded in agreement. "Let's hope so." He wanted to believe his mother, but on probation he had to watch his steps.

They passed the next minute and a half in companionable silence. Then the door creaked open and Charles came out, shooting Erik a quick, if pale smile, nodding at Moira before he walked past them.

Erik wanted nothing more than to run after him and check that all was okay, but of course he had his own little meeting to get over with.

Entering the room, Erik felt the door close behind him as he walked over to take his seat, a perfect mirror of the first hearing he'd been in. Well, a mirror in the way that all but his mother were present.

Ignoring the urge to make some sort of comment that might take the tension out of the situation, Erik sat up straight, waiting for the Council to share its choice with him. And possibly argue against it, fight it, if it was not in his favour.

Frost's lips twitched for a moment, as if she was amused. "Agent Lehnsherr, I am sure you are anxious to hear what the outcome of our meeting will mean for you."

Erik cocked his head to the side. Yes, and he'd very much like to get it over and done with, as soon as possible.

Adler leaned forward, her unseeing eyes seeming to pin him to the spot. "I believe you understand why we have our worries regarding your current situation," she said.

Erik nodded, then said, "Yes, ma'am." Didn't mean he wasn't going to fight tooth and nail.

"We see many agents," she continued, a small smile on her lips. "They are all great at their jobs, but not all make the cut and some have to move on."

Erik took a deep breath, but refused to let her words alarm him.

"I know it's a platitude to say that the times are changing, but they are, as is the Warehouse," Adler said quietly. "And while I know we are not all happy about it, so do we."

Nodding, Erik wondered what she was getting at.

"With opponents such as Shaw, who will try to use the artifacts to his own gain, for destructive use, we have to better ourselves, we have to form a more organic life with the Warehouse - work with it, instead of trying to bend it to our will."

At least Erik could agree with this. Still didn't entirely say where it left him,Charles or the Warehouse.

"And a more organic way to work with the Warehouse," Adler said quietly, "is to listen when it asks for a change of pace, when it takes matters into its own ... hands, we have failed to do this." She went silent.

Frost leaned back in her seat and watched him for a long, silent moment. "Agent Lehnsherr, you will be moved-" she stopped and watched the pen on her table moving half an inch.

"I'm sorry," Erik said, reining in his gift to keep from responding to her words.

"What I was going to say," Frost said, raising an eyebrow at him, "was that you will be working with Caretaker Xavier and your main job will be the Warehouse instead of the collecting of artifacts. You will only take on assignments in the field if your gift or knowledge is invaluable. This will be the case until the Council decides otherwise. We need to make sure that the connection with Xavier and the Warehouse does not pose a danger to anyone, you, or the Warehouse itself."

Erik let out his breath slowly, then nodded. He wasn't going to be forced to leave, then. He watched as Adler and Miss Grey stood, the meeting obviously over

"It is also partly to make sure that you will learn how to shield your mind - keeping it open constantly to both Charles and the Warehouse will not be beneficial to your mental health," Frost added, when Adler and miss Grey had left the room. "Charles can teach you a lot, and I'll take care of anything that he can't."

Erik huffed out a breath. "Thank you."

"Don't thank me when you start getting stir-crazy, sugar," Frost said with a wink. "Or when you have a hellish headache because neither Charles nor I are lenient teachers."

Laughing softly, Erik agreed. "No, I know you are both damned good at what you do and if you're half the teacher that Charles is, I have no worries about learning this." He stood and reached a hand out to her. "And I meant it, thank you."

"It wasn't easy, Erik," Frost said, shaking his hand. "Even I had my reservations."

"Oh, trust me," Erik said, "I keep thinking I should have those as well, but then I look at what a life I have here now."

"I think part of it is that you don't have any psionic abilities to shield you from Charles and the Warehouse," Frost mused. "Once you learn that, you should feel more like only having yourself in your head."

"I actually like having the connection," Erik admitted, before he could stop himself. He felt slightly embarrassed by admitting this.

"You might feel that way now," Frost said with a smile, "but at some point you might want a little time on your own, at least occasionally. Believe me, a constantly open mind is not a good thing. Nor is it safe, considering the knowledge you carry around. Teaching you to shield yourself is actually a sound choice."

"I'm not arguing that," Erik said with a laugh, holding up his hands.

"I didn't think so," Frost said. "I think you should go tell your team that you're still part of it." She made a face. "I can feel them worrying all the way in here, and before I forget it." She grinned and snapped her fingers.

Erik nearly sagged as his connection with Charles and the Warehouse rushed back through him. He knew he had missed it during the hearings, even if it had been allowed back during the wait between the two…

With a sloppy salute, Erik left Frost to her own devices and outside he met Moira who just grinned and gave him the thumbs up.

Erik grinned and then he set off in a run, wanting to get back to the others in the office.

Entering the office, he was instantly tackled by Raven, who hugged him hard enough to make his ribs creak and with all the happy congratulations from the team, Erik could not get to Charles right away. He would have liked to speak to him alone, but for the time being, he was just going to enjoy the team's joy.

'Don't worry, we'll talk after,' Charles said in his head, and while even his mental voice sounded tired, he also seemed to be more relaxed and less tense.

As much as they had had time to rest, the rest of the team were still clearly marked by what had happened in the altercation with Shaw. Erik could see it in their stances and hear it in their voices. He wondered if Charles' gift was rubbing off on him, because he'd never been that good at reading other people. He also wondered if perhaps he should talk to Charles about what to do for them. They were used to having one or two minor missions not going according to plan, but that one had come disturbingly close to throwing the world into chaos.

Eventually, Erik held up the bottle of beer that Alex had pushed into his hand. "To the best damned team I've ever been on, here's to it getting awesomer, brillianter and strong enough to take on any shit the world can throw at it."

Everyone cheered and Erik took a sip of his bottle.

"Still, may I suggest we all get some rest, we've had some pretty tough days," Charles said.

"You just want some alone time with Erik," Raven sighed, rolling her eyes. "We know when we're not wanted, you know."

Charles shook his head, an exasperated smile on his lips. "Trust me, Raven. I won't be far behind you - the Council is no small challenge, as you well know."

Raven shivered. "Yeah, thanks, Charles - I do remember that."

Erik wondered what she had been in front of the Council for. With a small shrug he decided not to worry too much. If she felt the urge to share with him, she would. If not? That would be her choice.

Their team finally filtered out, each one detouring over to Erik to either slap him on the arm (Darwin), awkwardly shake his hand (Hank) or hug him (Raven, Angel, Sean and much to Erik's surprise; Alex).

Once they were alone, Erik sat down at the big table they had in the middle that was normally full of file folders, but tonight held empty bottles from their impromptu celebration.

"I can't say that I wasn't worried about the outcome," Charles said quietly, taking the seat next to Erik.

"Well, I'd be a liar if I claimed that I had thought it was a given I as going to be allowed to stay," Erik agreed.

"It's not the entire Council that supported us," Charles admitted. "And I get why Jean had her worries about the can of worms we've opened."

Erik stared at Charles' hand on the table, then decided that he was not going to start dancing around that problem again. Putting his hand on top of it, he held it there, feeling the warmth of Charles' skin underneath it.

Charles looked a little startled as he looked down at Erik's hand. "Fraternization-" he trailed off. "No, that's what Jean threw at me, and I used her own indiscretion against her. I can't use the rules as an excuse to keep things at a status quo." He turned his hand under Erik's, sliding his fingers between Erik's turning the touch from comforting to hellishly hot, at least to Erik.

"Good, if you hadn't made that choice, I might have turned up in your bed, naked," Erik joked. Or half-joked. He wasn't even entirely sure himself.

Charles laughed out loud, cocking his head to the side as he watched Erik silently for a few moments. "If you think I could have turned that away, you think me stronger than I am."

Erik nodded sagely. "Now you know what lengths I'm willing to go to."

Charles squeezed his hand, then lifted it up to press his lips against Erik's knuckles. "It's good to know that you'll still be here tomorrow, giving me grief when you think I'm being an idiot."

"I'm pretty sure that's Raven's job," Erik said, feeling his heart beating a little faster.

"You can share it, and she doesn't get to do it in our bed." Charles bit his lower lip, obviously still a little in doubt about how heavily he could flirt with Erik.

A misconception that Erik was going to rectify as soon as possible. "Deal," he agreed, lifting his hand that Charles was still holding up close to his face, putting a finger under Charles' chin and tilting his head a little before leaning in and kissing him deeply.

"Deal," Charles echoed, clever tongue slipping into Erik's mouth and that was pretty much the end of the last coherent thought Erik was capable of for the rest of the night.

Stumbling through the house to Charles' bedroom, they tried not to kick anything over, but just as they made it to the door, Raven's door opened and she stuck her head out with a wide know-it-all grin plastered across it. "The two of you are really not as quiet as you think you are."

"Go to bed, Raven," Erik growled, pushing Charles' door open, dragging Charles along with him and slamming the door shut, cutting off Raven's laughter.

Erik didn't take in the surroundings, completely focused on the big bed off to the side, the one he pushed a laughing Charles down on top of it.

They were both tired, but it didn't keep Erik from divesting Charles of his clothes. Most of Erik's fantasies had involved a lot more energy, but in the end reality was a lot sweeter. Charles was warm, alive and naked under him and Erik wasn't going to rush anything. Not now that he had him.

The slow build and the constant echo through their connection pushed Erik along much faster than he'd expected, but as Charles seemed equally close, he didn't really care too much. The skin to skin contact, the rush of Charles' thigh between his, made Erik pant and close his eyes.

Charles dug his fingers into Erik's shoulders and Erik finally just let go, rutting against him like a teenager in the back of a car, his own fingers probably leaving bruises in Charles' pale skin.

The thought that had been shared with Charles engendered a rush of heat from Charles, who obviously enjoyed the idea. The whispered 'yes, please, always,' echoed through Erik's mind.

Erik felt his climax rise and held on tight when Charles licked the side of his neck and bit into the tendon between shoulder and neck. The last move made Erik growl and push Charles harder into the mattress, kissing him hard until they were both breathless and Erik's climax took him by surprise, he'd been that focused on Charles.

Charles wasn't far behind him and they barely managed to clean up a little between yawns before Charles manhandled him down onto his back to pull the sheets up over them both.

Erik wasn't going to complain about that. He was obviously expected to stay.

The feeling of 'yes, of course, you idiot' that he got from Charles only made him smile, halfway asleep as he was.

Chapter Text

Charles woke up with the sun in his face, wondering why he hadn't remembered to shut the curtains last night, like he normally would.

Then he realized he wasn't alone in the bed, and put his hand over the one currently possessively spread out over his stomach. They had managed to move from Charles halfway using Erik as a mattress the night before, to Erik being spooned up behind him, tightly holding onto him as if he was afraid that Charles was going to try to get away.

Charles grinned stupidly to himself. Not bloody likely, was it? Now that he had Erik in his bed, obviously interested in pursuing a relationship, not to mention, being allowed to stay by the Council, Charles was not going to just let him go without a fight.

"You're thinking too loudly," Erik mumbled against the back of his head, breath warm and his stubble a bit of an itch against Charles' skin. All things he would dearly love to have in his life every morning.

"Do we have to get up?" Erik asked with a yawn.

"I thought you were a morning person," Charles mumbled, drawing patterns with the tip of a finger on top of Erik's hand.

"Apparently not when I have a good reason to stay in bed," Erik replied, squeezing his arm around Charles' waist. It wasn't lost on Charles that Erik's morning erection was rather happily nestled against the cleft of Charles' ass.

Charles closed his eyes and felt the brush of active minds around the house. Raven did, as she always did, acknowledge him. He felt his cheeks heat at her suggestion. But thanked her nevertheless.

"Raven suggests we stay in bed, the team will keep an eye on any incoming problems," he told Erik, choosing not to share the lewd comment she had ended the communication with.

"Mmm," Erik agreed, rolling his hips, obviously not needing the incentive anyway.

"We'll need breakfast at some point," Charles tried, fighting the laughter bubbling in his chest. He twisted around and rolled Erik onto his back, sitting up up to straddle Erik's hips. Which brought him into a more intimate position, one that made Erik's eye widen as the last wisps of sleep disappeared.

"We can always have lunch," Erik argued with a smile, sliding his hands up Charles' thighs to rest them on his hips.

"Always ahead on the planning," Charles muttered, leaning down to press his lips against Erik's. Normally Charles was aware of minds in a mile radius, but every mind previously 'audible' to him were now muted, overshadowed by Erik's presence.

"I find that planning allows me to free up time," Erik muttered, chasing Charles' lips when he pulled back. "Time I think I can put to much better use."

"Uh-huh," Charles agreed, putting a hand on either side of Erik's head, leaning down again to kiss him, making a face at their morning breaths. Not that it was going to stop him. Pushing down against Erik's erection, he felt Erik's breath hitch.

Of course Erik wasn't going to just let Charles do all the work. A fact that delighted Charles. Slipping a hand in between them, Erik closed his hand around Charles' erection and the clarity and self control that Charles had possessed since he'd woken up went down the drain.

Where the previous night had been frantic this morning was lazy and drawn out. Charles wasn't even really aware of how they moved, all he could focus on was the sensation of skin to skin and the immersion into Erik's mind and presence, like the most magnificent crystal clear lake.

At one point they might have come close to rolling off the bed, but Erik's quick reflexes kept them where they should be. It spoke volumes to Charles of how comfortable they were with each other and if he was honest with himself, he could tell that they had been heading for this, rings or no rings. The question was for how long Charles would have fought him, citing rules and regulations.

Charles was willing to admit that he had been fighting the losing battle for a while. It was his luck that Erik seemed to have a lot of patience with him.

It took Charles by surprise when Erik slipped a finger down his cleft. He twisted and bucked in Erik's grip and came, sliding in the hold Erik had around his cock, barely noticing that Erik rolled them over, panting against Charles' neck.

"At some point, when I can shield at least a little, I swear, your orgasm won't drag me along," Erik laughed, breath a warm burst against Charles' skin.

Charles laughed as well, more than a little breathless, more than a little ready for a nap. "I think once we get used to it, we'll be able to hold out a little longer."

"It'll take a lot of practice, though," Erik said solemnly, then ruining it by laughing, the skin at the corners of his eyes crinkling.

Charles brushed a finger against the laugh lines. "Yes."

---

Erik thought he was quite done with the weird surprises that weren't artifact related. Those at least he'd learned to roll with.

He'd gotten used to having Moira around quite quickly, appreciating her warm and quirky sense of humour and the fact that she could get just as damned sarcastic as he could. It also helped that Charles appreciated it, apparently taking a delight in Erik getting along with her.

His own time with Charles was split between making out and training his mental shields. Oddly enough, one tended to lead to the other, but Erik wasn't going to complain.

No, the weird situation came around a month after the hearings. Out of the blue, Frost turned up at the Warehouse, asking to speak to Charles on his own. About ten minutes later, they joined Erik, who was upstairs in the mansion, having lunch and a break from sifting through reports that may or may not cover artifact influence.

"Miss Frost has a rather- out of the ordinary request to make," Charles said, an unreadable look on his face.

Erik, who could have probably dug it out from their connection, put down his sandwich and licked mayo off his fingers. "And what would that be?" he asked when he was done chewing. "Want me to get the rest of the team?"

Emma shook her head. "No, but since you are by and large part of the Warehouse and Charles' connection with it, he wanted to hear your opinion on what I just spoke with him about. I think you remember Azazel, the teleporter that Shaw ...employed," Frost said.

Erik nodded. Of course he remembered him, Shaw had used him as a threat against them all, and Erik had thought he might have run off with Shaw somewhere.

"He turned up at our doorstep," Frost said. "It seems that he feels he owes you a debt," she nodded at Erik.

"Come again?" Erik said, when he was done staring at her.

"It seems that Shaw was controlling him using a collar of some sort. Possibly made out of several artifacts." Frost put a box on the table. "I would like McCoy to have a look at it. We lean towards believing him, but I would like to have a second opinion on the collar."

"You think it might be a trap?" Charles asked.

Frost pursed her lips and then shook her head. "I've scanned him and found nothing that speaks against his story - however, his mind is a little hard to pin down, so I would like for you, Charles, to sit in on a session with me."

Charles nodded in agreement. "Of course."

Erik wanted to voice his reservations. What if it was a trap?

Erik didn't even have to voice it, Frost met his gaze and held it. "What if he was under the influence of Shaw's collar?" Frost asked. "Should we not be indignant on his behalf and give him a second chance?"

Erik made a face. "As long as the two of you can deal with him, I think anyone who's been in Shaw's hands should probably have a second chance," he had to agree.

"We can't bring him in if the team doesn't agree to do this," Charles told Frost.

Frost inclined her head in agreement. "He agreed to an inhibitor for while he is here," she said. "He won't be able to teleport."

"I guess there's no harm, is there?" Though there'd be plenty of harm to Azazel if he turned out to be a traitor. Erik would make sure of that.

Frost' lips quirked in a small smile. She was probably picking half of that up anyway. "We're hoping that he might have information that could aid us in finding Shaw and putting a stop to him once and for all."

Erik met Charles' eyes and they both nodded in agreement. If it could give them an edge, they had to take it, didn't they?

While Charles and Emma were in their first meeting with Azazel, Erik was sitting in the library, staring at the half finished chess game he and Charles had going. He'd been done with his reports a little earlier than expected, and Charles wasn't done with the final meeting with Frost and Azazel yet.

A little lost in his own thoughts, Erik smiled at something Moira had said earlier. He really did like her, liked her attitude. She was open and honest about who she was and Erik figured that went a long way in gaining his trust. It was probably why he and Alex had clashed so spectacularly - apart from being alike in many ways, Alex also kept his cards close to the chest.

Moira? She wore her history like a badge. She and Charles had entertained him with stories of her as a small girl, when she'd lost her family to an artifact, one that Charles had neutralized. And since, as she put it, and Erik agreed, Charles seemed to collect strays, she had ended up for a while in the mansion.

Charles had tried to argue, although weakly, that he did not collect strays.

Erik had gestured and asked what he would call his team of agents. None of them had been hired through normal channels.

Charles had eventually agreed, that yes, maybe he did take in a lot of strays.

Erik for one was glad that he did. When he thought about their team, it was oddly fitting that they were all chosen family to each other. Erik had never had any siblings growing up and now he felt like he'd acquired a whole bunch of younger siblings. Loud ones too.

So deep in his thought, Erik didn't notice that Charles was on his way back until he was nearly at the library.

"Deep in thought," Charles commented as he shut the door behind him.

Erik grinned. "Yeah, just considering what life's been to me since I came on board this slightly insane agency."

Charles grinned and nodded. "Yes, it lends new weight to the sentence 'expect the unexpected', does it not?" He detoured by Erik's seat to give him what he'd obviously intended to be a quick kiss, but which Erik held him to and didn't let him go again, until a few breathless moments later.

Charles, a little flushed, sat down in his own seat and looked at the board. "Emma wants us to maybe try Azazel out for the team."

Erik stared at him. "Huh." He actually wasn't as surprised as he'd thought he'd be, since Azazel had offered to help. "And you think that might be a good idea?"

"I think it's worth a shot, but I also think we should be very careful what we might share around him," Charles said.

Erik nodded. "Yes." He pursed his lips and considered it. The Council could have broken them up when Erik and Charles had pulled that little stunt with the rings, they could have, but they had given the both of them a second chance. "I'd really be a hypocrite if I preached second chances for us, but not for someone from the outside." Plus he'd hate to think what Azazel would have suffered under Shaw. He was actually surprised that Azazel would agree to an inhibitor, considering he'd been collared and controlled by Shaw.

Charles nodded. "I guess that's one way of looking at it."

"Any idea when and how, etc?" Erik asked.

"Emma wants to give him another week to get used to the inhibitor and I still need to tell the rest of the team." Charles moved one of his rooks.

Erik leaned forward, focusing a little more on the game now that Charles was as well. "They might not all be fond of that idea," he warned.

"No, maybe not," Charles agreed, "but much like you, I think they know the power of a second chance."

Erik nodded. "Well, if you need the backup when you open that can of worms with the team, let me know."

Charles chuckled. "I don't think it will be that bad, but I don't want to pull anything down over their heads, you know."

"You won't," Erik said quietly, "you're by far a more lenient boss than most of the ones I've had. You include us in what you can - we are, after all, a secret organization. We even keep secrets from each other, don't we?"

"I know most of your secrets," Charles said with a sigh. "It's sometimes a heavy burden. It always makes it easier when you share things between you - like Alex did with you."

"That wasn't voluntarily," Erik argued.

"Maybe not, but he chose to trust you afterwards, because he needed someone to be a role model," Charles said.

"You're a far better role model than I'll ever be," Erik said with a laugh. Him? A role model to anyone?

"Don't sell yourself short, darling." Charles waited while Erik made his move on the board, before pushing his own knight into place. "You were there for Alex when he needed you and you are closer to him than I can ever be. I am an authority figure, in ways that you are not."

Erik nodded slowly. Put that way, he could see where Charles came from. "I guess there are things they should know about me," he admitted.

"Only if you feel ready to share those things with them," Charles warned him.

Erik bit his lower lip, then stared at the board before making his move. "I think maybe I should tell them about Magda and the twins," he finally said.

"If you feel that falls naturally for you?"

"I think most days they see me as just the cranky, older brother." Erik paused, then carried on. "It might help with their attitude towards me, sometimes."

"Would maybe make you a father figure to them," Charles teased.

"Yeah, you're right - they must never know," Erik said theatrically, enjoying the peal of laughter that escaped Charles.

"Like I said, if you want to share with them, it won't damage how they see you, or how much they respect you," Charles said seriously.

Erik nodded. "I know, don't worry - eventually the right situation will show itself and they can all see that I'm a living, breathing, human being."

"And the world will fail to end," Charles teased.

"And the world will fail to end," Erik agreed.

---

Charles had had his worries about introducing the team to the idea of yet another addition. They had all taken to Moira as well as he had hoped, but then again, she was a Warehouse brat, as Emma called it. If not born into it, then called by the Warehouse.

Some days Charles wondered what his life might have been like if he had not been called at the age of nine, to the Warehouse, the first time, when the Warehouse had been in the docks of Victorian London.

He huffed a laugh. He knew that Erik had an inkling of how old he was, and unlike the others, he didn't aim in the 1900s. Charles had transitioned with the Warehouse, that had been the point where he had become the Warehouse's Caretaker. He'd become a Warehouse brat himself, which was probably why he could relate to Moira. He'd wandered into the Warehouse at the age of 9 and never looked back. The old Caretaker had at first been surprised to have an orphan wandering the aisles of the Warehouse, but had then shrugged and told Charles that the Warehouse did as the Warehouse saw necessary. And that it drew its children to it. Then he had jokingly said that they did seem to get younger and younger.

Charles smiled to himself. He didn't want to draw them in too young, but he did wonder if perhaps the Warehouse would eventually call Erik's children as well. The Warehouse was after all incredibly fond of him and it had called him as it had called Edie.

Of course, if the Warehouse hadn't called Charles when it had, and he hadn't eventually become its Caretaker, he wouldn't have met Erik. "Is this your way of trying to make my life more interesting, or more happy?" Charles asked, looking up from the file folder he was studying.

The office was quiet, apart from the usual hum of electronics. There was a wash of contentment and fondness and Charles smiled to himself. It seemed that the Warehouse felt that after his years of taking care of it, he needed some care himself.

"Please try not to give me another heart attack anytime soon," Charles told it.

Taking a deep breath, he closed the folder and made his way up into the mansion. He had asked the others to meet in the common room. Erik knew what the meeting was about, but Charles had asked him not to tell the others about it. Now was the question if the team was ready to forgive Azazel for his involvement in taking them, in working for Shaw. One thing was knowing that someone had been under someone else's control, it was something else entirely to work with that someone.

And the team had been the ones to feel the brunt of Shaw's blow.

Entering the room, Charles found them all waiting for him. Darwin and Alex were on the couch with Sean, while Hank was taking up one of the large wingback chairs and Raven and Angel were on the smaller couch. His team, his agents. He turned his head a little and nodded at Erik was who leaning on the wide windowsill next to Moira. Erik just nodded - yes, he had promised that he would support Charles on this.

"I have a ...request from the Council," Charles said, waiting for the others to give him their full attention. "And before you react, I want you to consider carefully."

They all nodded and Raven raised her hand.

Charles knew it was going to be one of those days. "Yes, Raven?"

"You and Erik are getting married?" she asked innocently.

This, of course, resulted in the rest of the group hooting and clapping.

"Try to at least act your age," Erik told them, raising an eyebrow. "I doubt the Council would request we got married - and if we did consider it, you don't think you would get a say in it, did you?"

"Aw, meanie," Raven muttered, rolling her eyes at Angel who gave her a shove.

Charles sighed deeply and everyone quieted down, giving him their attention. "The Council," he repeated, "have requested that we take on a new member. And while I know we are only just invited Moira into our group, the Council feels that we might be able to do some good with this one."

"And who would that be?" Moira asked, turning to give Erik a questioning look.

Erik looked a little surprised. Charles knew that he had expected the Council to tell her. Then again, it did seem that since she had come on board, her ties with the Council had lessened as they had grown with the team. Which pleased Charles.

"Apparently, Shaw was controlling his associate, Azazel, and Azazel feels he owes us for freeing him," Charles said.

"The teleporter?" Angel asked, making a face. "He did try to kill us, you know."

"Yes, dear," Charles said, "I do know that - as do we all. I have not agreed to it, because I wanted to let you all have a say. But keep in mind, that he was under Shaw's control and couldn't fight him."

"Control how?" Moira asked, about the same time as Hank voiced the same question.

"It seems that Shaw had a collar made, apparently by fusing several artifacts, that allowed him to overwrite Azazel's will." Charles cleared his throat. "Actually, it only overwrote his will, Azazel was well aware of what he was doing, he just couldn't stop it."

"Urgh," Raven muttered, "that's gross."

"Why does he feel like he owes us anything?" Alex asked, he at least didn't look or sound like he completely opposed the idea. Charles had a feeling that spending time with Erik was maturing him quite a bit, forcing him to think things through before saying anything or acting rashly.

"He feels he owes Erik for his help, to tell the truth," Charles explained. "See, when Erik contained the EMP, the energy from that fried the collar, and Azazel was capable of making his own escape. He told the Council that he was at first confused and reacted as he always would, teleporting Shaw to safety. When he'd done that, he realized he could work against Shaw's demands."

"So he knows where Shaw is?" Erik looked very interested in this. Charles didn't blame him.

"He apparently, in a fit of revenge, drop Shaw somewhere in Antarctica," Charles said drily. "The Council has already checked - there's no sign of him. Dead or alive."

"So he might be dead, but he also might be out there?" Darwin asked, making a face.

"That's about the core of it," Charles agreed. "So the questions is, do we give Azazel a second chance?" He stepped over to Erik and Moira, inserting himself neatly between them. "Feel free to discuss it - I'm not about to let the Council force the team into something you do not want to do."

"It wouldn't hurt to have a teleporter on the team, would it?" Sean asked, leaning back in his seat, shrugging when Alex turned to look at him. "You have to admit it's a cool mutation, and we've all been in situations where it would have been a plus."

"Can't argue with that," Hank agreed. "Charles?"

"Yes?" Charles turned to him.

"Do you think it would be possible for me to have a look at the collar?" Hank took his glasses off and cleaned them in his shirt, fiddling a little as he got some hair stuck in the nose-pads. "I mean, just to see what to expect if Shaw attacks again?"

Charles nodded. "Emma did request that you might have a look at it, yes. Your help would be greatly appreciated," he agreed.

"Isn't it a bit dangerous if we're wrong, though?" Alex asked. "What if he wasn't being controlled and we're letting him in where he could do some real damage?"

"It's a good question," Charles said, "but do understand that he will be wearing an inhibitor until we are sure he can be trusted. And he'll be vetted by both Miss Grey and Miss Frost - as well as myself."

"Wouldn't one telepath be enough for that?" Moira asked. "A bit extreme with three of you, isn't it?"

"According to Emma, and what little I've witnessed it," Charles replied, "he has a very, as she puts it, slippery mind. Possibly it's part of his gift."

Moira nodded. "That makes sense, I guess." She shrugged. "I can't say that I have any reservations about letting him in, but then again, I'm still the noob."

"Noob? Really, Mactaggert?" Erik asked drily.

"Isn't that what it's called these days?" she asked with a grin.

Charles shook his head. "Children, please." He twitched when both Moira and Erik poked a finger into either side of him. Apparently both were aware of him being ticklish. He was beginning to wonder if suggesting to Erik he might find a good friend in Moira had been such a wise idea.

Raven shared a look with Angel and they both nodded. "I think we're all for giving second chances," she said.

"It's not like you and the Warehouse didn't afford us the same at some point," Angel said.

Alex nodded. "Yeah. Guess we can give Azazel a chance and let him fuck it up if he wants to."

"Thank you, Alex," Charles said drily, feeling a little more at ease. Alex had actually been the one he'd worried the most about. The temper on the boy did occasionally get him in trouble.

"I take it he gets standard beginner's access?" Hank asked, pushing his glasses up on his nose.

"Yes," Charles said. They weren't giving him access to anything in the Black Sector anytime soon. That took some working up to and proving himself trustworthy.

"I don't see why not," Hank replied. "Like Alex said, we all were given an opportunity at the right time, and I don't think any of us regret it."

The others shook their heads.

"I'm all for," Darwin said and Sean nodded.

"So I can take your answers and tell the Council we are ready to give Azazel an opportunity to make amends, to help us, as part of the team?" Charles clarified.

They nodded.

"Good. That means I can let the Council know that the vetting procedure can begin." Charles leaned a little into Erik. "Thank you, everyone. I was fairly sure that you were going to say yes, but there was no way that I was speaking for you without asking first."

"Aw, old man," Raven said, getting to her feet and coming over to give him a hug. "I love how you make it seem like a democracy, right until the next training session, where you'll be ordering us around again and we get no say."

"No, that would be me," Erik said, grinning at her, all teeth and fake menace. "Remember that we have a training session scheduled tomorrow morning, kids."

The collective groan made Charles smile. He hugged Raven back, then let her go. "There you see, there are worse drill sergeants that little old me."

"Yeah, you couldn't have brought home a boyfriend who was a bit more lenient?" she asked drily.

"Don't push me," Erik said sweetly. "Remember I can make it a really hard training session."

"For the love of the rest of us," Sean said shrilly, "stop goading our torturer!"

The rest of the meeting drowned in good humour and Charles squeezed Erik's hand.

"See, nothing to worry about," Erik said quietly.

"Were you worried?" Moira asked, just as quietly. "You have trained a smart team, Charles. Have faith in them. They are good kids."

"Our team," Charles said, looking at them all. "Yes, we have a damned fine team."

Chapter Text

The vetting wasn't something Erik was privy to, but he saw what it did to Charles. All three sessions of it. He had to wonder if Azazel's mind was really that hard to deal with, or if there was something else there.

"It's nothing," Charles said when Erik asked him. Then he shook his head. "No, it is something, I guess. Azazel's mind is… a challenge, don't get me wrong. The problem is that Emma and Jean - Miss Frost and Miss Grey, do not always get along. Jean is a stickler to the rules and Emma… will bend them if she thinks it will get a better result - or for fun, sometimes, I suspect."

"I did get that feeling during the hearing," Erik agreed. Frost had been more willing to listen to him than Grey had. "But I guess it gives the Council some sort of balance."

Charles leaned in and kissed him.

"What was that for?" Erik asked, a little surprised. Not that he was opposed to getting kissed.

"For being you, for being so practical and for seeing it for exactly what it is," Charles said. Then he leaned in again. "And of course because I felt like it."

Erik grinned and pulled Charles into his lap, the chair he was sitting in creaking with the added weight.

"Really," Charles muttered, putting his arms around Erik's neck. "I'm far too old a gentleman to sit in your lap."

"Not if you ask me, and as long as you fit," Erik said, pulling Charles' head down for a long, slow kiss. "I'm also physically stronger than you."

"I dare you to test that in the training room," Charles muttered, biting at Erik's lower lip.

Later, in bed, because like a lot of things involving some one-on-one time, playing around mostly became foreplay and ended with them in bed, naked and sated.

"Do you think we're doing the right thing?" Charles asked.

Erik, who had more or less drifted off, turned his head to nose at Charles' ear. "Doing what right?"

"Rooting around inside of a man's head for all his secrets, a man who has, by all intents and purposes, been violated by Shaw, forced to do his bidding without any way to say no?" Charles sounded like he was half asleep himself.

Erik roused himself enough to think it through. "I think you have to, and I think, if Azazel is smart, he'll know this. You have to think of what is best for the team, how to best protect us and the Warehouse." Erik remembered a thing that had crossed his mind earlier in the evening. "I'm actually more surprised that he voluntarily wears an inhibitor, when it might remind him of Shaw's collar."

Charles was quiet for a little while. Then he turned his head and kissed Erik on the tip of the nose. "You're so smart."

"Oh, shut up and go to sleep," Erik grumbled, pinching one of Charles' ass-cheeks, conveniently under his hand.

"Don't start something neither of us are awake enough to finish," Charles muttered.

Erik just chuckled and held him a little tighter. All the things that Charles carried around, all the worries, all the tough decisions. If Erik could do anything to lessen the load, he would.

---

The first time the team met Azazel the tension of the room was thick enough to cut with a knife. Erik kept off to the side, watching every movement anyone made, constantly analyzing body language of his team just as much as he kept an eye on Azazel.

Erik didn't miss the slightly worried look on Charles' face either.

Azazel, at least, seemed to understand that this was the moment that would define the rest of his stay at the Warehouse. "I know that nothing I can say will change the fact that I hurt some of you quite a lot, threatened you with bodily harm. No apologies can ever make up for that."

His Russian accent shone through and Erik watched how he seemed to be deliberately keeping his body still, hands down along his sides, his tail hanging down, only flickering a little nervously from side to side occasionally.

"All I can do is to ask you to allow me to make amends, to help you where I can."

"We do want to give you a chance to do so," Erik said, finally deciding that the tension needed breaking. He moved to stand in front of Azazel, feeling the tension lessen a little as the team's attention was now partly on him and not Azazel alone. "But these are people, with feeling, habits, good and bad, and you will have to have oceans of patience with them. They may want to give you a chance, but one thing is what a mind tells you, another thing is instincts."

"Da," Azazel said, bowing his head. "Even if I work for the greater good for the rest of my life, I'll never be able to fully mend all that was broken during my years with Shaw."

"And you need to learn to let go," Erik told him, feeling the approval from Charles and the Warehouse in the back of his mind. He smiled a little. "Unless you took delight in what he made you do, you can not be held directly responsible. If-" Erik held up a hand when Azazel drew breath to argue. "If you still feel you want to pay penance, then help make the world a safer place by helping us, and if Shaw comes back, stand by our side."

"Shaw underestimated you so much, Lehnsherr," Azazel said, voice full of respect. "I believe he underestimated you all. He would go on and on about how your attachment to each other would be your downfall, when in reality it is your greatest strength."

Charles came over to them. He smiled at Erik and nodded. "That is where Shaw will always fail and we'll be strong."

"Da, and if I can, I would like to at least experience that for as long as you'll let me," Azazel said, looking a little hopeful.

"I guess that means you're part of the team," Alex said, stepping over and holding out a hand for Azazel to shake.

Erik stood back a step as the others came over, but he was inordinately proud of the brats just at that moment. Charles stepped over to him, to let the team all come in and greet their newest member. He put his hand on Erik's chest and smiled softly.

"What?" Erik asked, wondering what Charles was up to.

"You could raise armies and take over the entire world, if you wanted, you know that?" Charles said quietly.

"I'm merely the general of my king," he said with a wink, just to watch Charles flush red. As always, that kind of talk worked just as he knew it would and Charles slapped his shoulder in retaliation, less worried at least for a little while.

---

For a few weeks after they got Azazel onboard, nothing much out of the ordinary happened. Well, nothing out of the ordinary for the Warehouse at least. Charles of course should have known better than letting complacence rule their every day. Had he not learned and preached to expect the unexpected for more than a century?

When it came, it was of course at the hands of Sebastian Shaw, a man who was vexing beyond comprehension.

Charles had let Azazel shift between a couple of the teams. He'd worked well enough with both Raven and Angel, and Alex and Erik, but it seemed he'd taken a bit of a liking to Hank, who had no clue what to do with it. And Charles had a feeling that Azazel's sense of humour might be more interesting than he'd thought.

That said, of course it wasn't all rosy and working as it should. Azazel second guessed himself and the team more than he probably should, but Erik and he had spoken about that a few night earlier. If Azazel had been controlled for so long, it wasn't surprising that taking initiative and thinking for oneself were foreign concepts. Even more so trusting someone else to have your back if trouble arose. And Erik had asked about the inhibitor to which Azazel's answer had been "I wear this by choice, unlike Shaw's collar." An answer that made a lot of sense to Charles, especially as he got to know Azazel.

At least it seemed that Azazel was a quick study. He especially seemed to watch Erik for cues wherever he was in the same room. Not to mention Moira, because it seemed that Azazel had cottoned on to the fact that the human on the team knew a ton more than he did. And of course, much to Azazel's obvious delight, she spoke Russian quite well and matched his humour step by step.

It also turned out that Moira was a good listener, and Charles could almost see it in Azazel's body language how more at ease he became as time passed.

Of course this was the point where Shaw reared his ugly mug again. There was a single note from him, delivered through several services so that they had no chance of tracing him easily.

Didn't mean that Charles didn't have Hank hacking into various systems to see if they might be able to figure that out anyway.

The message simply read: "For the traitor Erik Lehnsherr, I have taken your spawn and intend to have my revenge."

This of course resulted in Erik panicking and Charles did not want to ever experience that again. Several phone calls later, he looked utterly perplexed instead.

"Magda, once she was done yelling at me for calling, says that the twins are okay and with her at the moment." Erik stared down at the phone "That doesn't make any sense."

"Why would Shaw make such claims if he did not have them?" Charles asked quietly. "You are quite right that it makes no sense."

"So we track the asshole down and make him answer a few questions before we..." Erik trailed off.

"What?" Charles asked curiously.

"What the hell are we going to do with him when we get him?" Erik asked.

"I think you can guess that," Charles said drily. "He is far too dangerous to have running around in the world and the threats he has already issued towards the Warehouse and our team, as well as his attempt at setting off a worldwide EMP, shows that we can't afford to have him on the loose."

"Bronzed," Erik said quietly. "So that's what you have to do to get bronzed."

"Among other things," Charles agreed. "The deeds of the bronzed are varied and many, but they have that one thing in common - They have all, at some point, put the world in great peril."

"Well, there's no arguing that Shaw hasn't done that." Erik said with a nod. "Do we know where he is?"

"Not yet," Charles said, making a face. Much like Erik he would have preferred to have Shaw in custody, sooner rather than later.

---

"It'll be like last time," Azazel said, pulling up a map on the computer. "He wants your attention because you ruined his last plan."

Erik joined him at the monitor. "Any suggestions?"

Azazel shook his head, then nodded, slowly. "You might know," he said. "Is there anywhere you would say that Shaw influenced your life - he doesn't just like the attention, he will think that any hold he might have over you, will be stronger if he confronts you there, or rather forces you to confront him there."

Erik nodded. "Düsseldorf," he said, a tight look on his face, his mind darkening to Charles for a moment. "There's an old abandoned steel mill outside the city that he cornered me in. I liked to hang out there because of all the metal," he explained. "Shaw tracked me there to spew his hateful rhetoric at me, about how I should abandon my inferior, human parents and come with him. It was part of why he killed them or rather, killed my father, I'm sure."

"When you are sure," Azazel said, "I will take your assembled team there - it is the least I can do; help you stop Shaw once and for all." He touched his inhibitor and Charles nodded. It was about time to do away with that.

"Just wish that we knew what he meant with his attempt at taunting me," Erik said quietly. "I don't think he would do this without a reason - and if he does have a kid, especially one that he might think is mine, then that could potentially endanger someone's life."

"I think it's time that Alex and Hank to put their skills to maximum use," Charles said with a nod to the two boys. When Azazel and Erik shot him a questioning look, Charles shrugged. "Plausible deniability, and all. And you of course didn't hear that, Moira," Charles added, shooting her a look. He knew that she was still loyal to the Council, even though the team was her main focus.

"Hear what?" Moira asked with a grin. "I have no idea what the boys get up to when we're not looking."

"That sounded vaguely dirty," Angel said admiringly.

"Vaguely?" Raven asked, having trouble not laughing.

The whole conversation had Alex in stitches and Hank turning suspiciously purple under the blue fur. Charles shook his head. At times his team consisted of the most competent of agents, while at other times, they were the mental age of five.

"Just focus on getting us any information in or around the area that Erik pointed out for us in Düsseldorf," he told them. They still had a dire situation on their hands. If Shaw had a hostage, they had to move fast.

"We'll get right on it, Boss," Alex said, giving Charles a sloppy salute. He looked over at Hank who was dealing with the embarrassment by focusing on the task ahead. "We're starting with all in- and outgoing flights near Düsseldorf, any surveillance slash CCTV footage that might trigger on facial recognition."

Hank made an affirmative noise from behind his screen.

"Plausible deniability," Erik said, leaning against Charles as they waited for the rest of the team to get out to let Hank and Alex do their work.

"Well," Charles said. "I'm not supposed to let them do what they are about to, because it involves using some systems we're strictly speaking not supposed to have access to. Or rather," Charles said with a wink, "systems we could probably gain access to by asking in the right places, but all that would take time. Time, I don't think we have."

As much as Charles had thought Erik to be a stickler to the rules, at least when he'd first read the man's file, he was glad to find that Erik worked more along the lines of Charles himself. If there was an option that would get the job done, one way or another, you took it.

"Let's get some rest," he said to Erik. "I get the feeling once the boys have the necessary information for us, we'll be moving out, right away."

Erik nodded. He had that furrow between his eyes that Charles always felt compelled to try to smooth out. Obviously, leaving Erik alone to brood was not an option. "Chess?" he offered.

 

----

 

It was four in the morning when Erik sat up with a startled yelp. He hadn't expected to be able to fall asleep when Charles had finally coaxed him away from the chess board and onto the couch. Erik smiled to himself for a moment when he turned around and found Charles conked out on the couch next to him.

They were still both dressed, although Charles' shirt had been pulled up, where Erik had taken to putting his hand when they slept. Shaking his head to clear it, Erik wondered what had woken him up. Then he felt it again. The Warehouse 'rippled', was the only way Erik could describe it.

"It's time,'" Charles said quietly, lifting his hand to rest it on Erik's thigh. "The Warehouse knows that this mission is important and she knows that Hank and Alex have something for us."

Erik recognized the faraway look that Charles always got when he was communicating with the Warehouse. A connection that ran deeper even than what Erik had with the Warehouse and Charles. He opened his mouth to ask if the boys wouldn't be contacting them if they had anything, when the communications system buzzed to life and Hank's voice rang through it.

'Charles, we have a lead on Shaw and Azazel was right, Düsseldorf surveillance caught him less than an hour ago, heading in the direction of the area Erik mentioned."

"Guess that means we're heading out," Erik said, his mind clearing of the last sleep.

Charles caught his hand when he stood and let Erik pull him to his feet. He touched Erik's cheek and guided his head down enough for him to kiss Erik softly. "Be careful out there, darling - Shaw is a dangerous man with a grudge against you. I should very much like to have you back in one piece - as would the Warehouse."

Erik opened his mouth to make a quib, then shut it again. This was not the time for it, if he did end up not coming back. Instead, he put his hands on Charles' waist and pulled him in for a deep kiss, reluctant to let go.

"Be strong, don't let him goad you into doing something stupid - and trust in our team," Charles told him.

Erik stole another, quicker kiss. "You're a miracle worker," he said as he righted his clothes. "Before I met you, I was a loner. You and the kids have changed me."

A warm burst of fondness washed through Erik's mind and he was unsure if it came from Charles or the Warehouse, or both. Closing his eyes for a moment he allowed himself a small smile. All that mattered was that he was wanted and at home - he was going to do everything in his power to bring the team back, in one piece. And to get back home where he belonged now, as well.

"Go," Charles told him. "I'll be in touch with you all the way."

Erik nodded and kissed him again before running out the door, heading for their main office. Charles let him know that the rest of the team were suiting up and would be ready when he was.

Erik quickly detoured to his room to put on the dark kevlar woven suit that Hank had had them test in the field lately. They would not stop large caliber bullets, but they would slow them down enough to probably save a life. It also fit fantastically well, thin enough to be concealed under the jeans and jacket that Erik pulled on. Time to face the music.

 

---

Shaw was of course waiting for them when they entered the old steel mill area. Erik hadn't been stupid enough to enter with the whole team. He knew that Shaw would expect him to attack from more than one point and Erik wasn't going to disappoint him there. Also, he'd be a poor team leader if he put all his eggs in one basket. As it were, he positioned the flyers up high, Moira and Azazel at a good vantage point - because as a sniper, she was better than most agents he'd ever met and he wanted her cool overview in case things went south.

Hank had stayed with Charles at the Warehouse, while Erik went in with a team of three. Darwin, for obvious reasons, Alex with strict orders to not at any point aim directly at Shaw whoever it was Shaw was going to use for leverage. Raven was disguised as Azazel, because Erik wanted Shaw to underestimate them. She had been told to not speak too much, preferably not at all, as Azazel had warned her that Shaw would expect him to cower, so no sarcastic remarks. Something Erik hoped she would remember or they might tip their hand before time.

"I see two of my fallen children have joined forces to oppose me," Shaw said when they came close enough to him. "You should both be by my side." He gestured to the side where a crude cage hung, covered by a large sheet. The chain from which it hung, made Erik's stomach roll. Definitely an artifact. Erik felt the brush of Charles' mind and knew that the man was watching over them like a guardian angel. And if Charles was in Cerebro… Erik focused on making sure that Charles understood and could let the rest of the team know that there was an unknown artifact in play.

Erik knew he had to buy Charles and Hank the time they would need to research the potential threat. Which meant drawing Shaw's attention to his little group and holding it. Without getting them all killed.

"I've been many things over the years," Erik replied, "but I was never yours."

Shaw tutted. "You always were a stubborn boy, Erik, but you had so much potential that you wasted serving insignificant agencies. Human agencies. Interpol, and then you let the Warehouse of freaks take you in." Shaw made a sad face. "Xavier collects strays much like he collects artifacts. And he locks both away from the world, concealing their beautiful potential."

"Considering what you tried to do with some of the artifacts last time, excuse me for agreeing with the Warehouse rules of keeping them away from causing death and destruction." Erik kept his voice even, praying that Alex, who was standing a little behind him wouldn't blow himself or something else up, because Erik could feel him almost vibrating with anger and he wasn't imagining the increase of heat to that side.

"Well, I have to admit that I had hoped that you might listen to reason," Shaw said with a theatrical sigh. "Of course I made a backup plan as I did remember your stubborn ways." With that, Shaw pulled on something and the sheet fell from the cage. Erik frowned when he saw a small body huddled in the middle of the cage, shivering and with her arms around her legs. Her face was buried against her knees, her hair, a cloud of green curls shielding her face from view.

Erik raisen an eyebrow. "I fail to see what you think you're going to achieve here," he said, "apart from her being a mutant, which is reason enough for any of us to care." And reason enough for Erik to save her from Shaw, who should never be allowed to hurt anyone else ever again. Mutant, human, adult or child, if Erik had anything to say.

"So you don't even know, do you, Erik?" Shaw said gleefully.

"I don't even know what?" Erik asked, getting quite fed up with Shaw and his theatrical ways.

"It wasn't easy to find her, she'd been shuffled around the human foster care system until she came to my attention a few weeks ago, when her gift manifested," Shaw said, self satisfied to the core.

Made Erik want to puke, that was for sure. It was a trait that had rubbed Erik wrong from the get go.

"Your gift was the first and only time I met someone who could manipulate metal and magnetic fields - and when this little gem popped up, I had to wonder if perhaps you hadn't been so careful about who you slept with," Shaw carried on. "The odds of this gift appearing in two non-related mutants can't be a coincidence."

There was a niggling in the back of Erik's mind, letting him know that Charles didn't quite agree with him, but even so, the information made Erik wonder as well. Now he just had to balance it right with Shaw. Enough interest that Shaw would keep her alive for long enough for them to save her, and not too much interest so that Erik would give away just worried he was for that little girl - his or not.

"Most gifts vary," Erik said quietly, "but they should all be protected, whether she is mine or not - and while I do have children, Shaw, I think you will find their mother a formidable foe."

"But she's a human," Shaw spat. "And don't look so surprised, of course I know that you spawned two children with a human mother."

Erik drew a deep breath. As he remembered then, Shaw was a challenge to have a conversation with - spewing anger and mutant supremacy at anyone who would listen - or in Erik's case, not listen.

"Magda would have your balls if you tried," Erik said with a smirk, burying his worries as deeply as possible. Magda could take care of the twins - she was after all the one who had gotten him into law enforcement and had been key in getting him into Interpol. Possibly she had wanted him far enough away, but in a job where he could do some good. Knowing her; probably.

"It doesn't really matter," Shaw said loftily. "This little girl is my leverage and you know that - you always were a little soft when it came to hostage situation were you not, little Erik?"

Erik swallowed hard. He'd been a rookie and how the hell had Shaw found out about that? It had been a classified case and while he had managed to save the family involved, the son had been badly injured. It was the case where Erik had learned to hate disciplinary hearings. Even if in this case, every hearing had come to the same conclusion: That Erik had done what he could, nothing he could have done would have saved the son from being tied to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Any other scenario had come up with the entire family dying.

Didn't mean that Erik didn't blame himself and he hated Shaw for dragging this out. Taking a deep breath, Erik could feel both Alex and Darwin shift behind him and Raven, still a spitting image of Azazel, taking a half step closer to him, probably without being conscious about it.

God, he'd been lucky to get this team - he was not about to lose them or the little girl in the cage.

There was a burst of realization in Erik's head and he knew that Charles had something. Focusing, he felt the information from Charles as he relayed it to them all - Cerebro could be such a potential weapon, but at that very moment Erik knew, thanks to the machine, that Shaw would have no way of catching on to what they were given through the telepathic link with the Warehouse's Caretaker.

According to Charles, the chain the cage was hanging in was an old slavers' chain from a slaver ship that had gone down with its cargo of slaves off the coast of Africa in 1766 - the chain itself would subdue and keep the person in its vicinity unconscious. Pretty much until the chain was removed or until the person was dead.

"So, Erik… I think it is time to bargain," Shaw said with a smirk.

"I don't bargain with terrorists," Erik said, realizing what to do, letting Charles see it. There was a weakness in the setup that Shaw had around the little girl. The cage itself wasn't as strong or impossible for Erik to get ahold of as the chain was. It was obviously acting as a conduit for it, but Erik could grab the bottom of it.

Time to put a stop to Shaw once and for all.

"Now, now," Shaw began, a sour expression on his face. That was as far as he got before everything seemingly happened at once.

Erik ripped the bottom of the cage apart, the little girl dropping from a great height. A flash and Azazel appeared below her, grabbed her and disappeared. Alex blasted the beam that the chain was attached to.

Raven rippled into her own skin next to him and she and Darwin spread out, forming a half circle around the dais that Shaw had set himself upon. They had talked for ages about how to bring Shaw in, but Erik felt it fitting that in the end Shaw would bring about his own downfall. They had spoken about letting Azazel teleport him into the Warehouse, but there were dangers with all their plans. If Shaw were to escape inside the Warehouse, he could use a lot of the artifacts as weapons.

Above them, Sean's voice broke the dark and Shaw staggered when the concussive blast hit him, the sound obviously painful - something Erik could attest to - it had been an accident, but a damned painful one.

Erik grabbed the ordinary metal that was still attached to the end of the chain, reformed it and hooked it around either end of the chain itself. He could feel how the slavers' chain was bleeding into the metal, tainting it, but he only had to hold onto it for a little longer…

Dropping the chain around Shaw would take skill, but he had to hold onto it long enough-

Shaw had apparently found enough focus to let a blast fly that hit the pile of scrap off to Erik's right. Bits and pieces flew around him and one did hit him hard on the side of the head, making him see stars.

Losing focus for a moment, Erik wasn't sure that he could keep the chain afloat for long enough to take out Shaw.

Suddenly one end became light for him and Erik didn't ask any questions, just hooked his full focus on the other end, the chain wrapping itself around a furious Shaw a few seconds later. The chain's effect was instant - bringing Shaw down, from megalomaniac to slave of anyone's command.

Falling to one knee, Erik put a hand on his temple, feeling the stickiness of blood as it ran down his cheek.

For a few moments, darkness tried to claim him, then he managed to focus through it, feeling the headache that he knew would be a roaring monster once he allowed himself to relax. He didn't miss the soothing touch of Charles in there as well. It would allow him to stay on his feet for long enough to make sure the team had everything in hand. He could rest afterwards.

Raven hooked an arm through his, letting him lean on her for a moment. "Well done," she mumbled, a little short of breath. "For a second there, I thought he was going to blast you directly."

"So did I," Erik replied. "Where's everyone?"

Meaning, is everyone okay? Erik took a shallow breath. Yes, a concussion at least. McCoy would have his hide when they got back. Or he'd look at Erik like he'd done it on purpose. Whichever was worse.

Azazel popped in and out a couple of times and the team was together again, standing in front of a pacified Shaw. Sean landed next to them and Angel followed him, the little girl in her arms.

The little one was wide awake, a stern look on her young face. She couldn't be more than five or six years old. Erik could feel the pull of her power, much like his own and realized who had helped him when he'd faltered after the hit.

He caught her eye and nodded. "Thank you."

"You're hurt," she said, "Did the bad man hurt you?"

Erik stepped over to her and Angel. "He did, but I'll be alright. So will you." She was speaking English with a distinctive American accent, and Erik wondered what orphanage Shaw had stolen her from. He found himself a little reluctant to figure it out to only have to hand her back.

"Charles says she's coming back with us," Angel told him with a smile. "I think you both need a little tending to by the Beast."

"I don't want to be t-tended to by a beast," the little girl said, her lower lip wobbling.

"Oh, darling," Angel cooed, pulling her in close. "Our beast is a big, blue teddy bear."

"Don't let him hear you call him that," Erik said with a snort, wincing when his headache flared again.

"Why not?" Alex asked as he came over, smiling at the little girl who smiled back shily. "I call him that all the time."

"And that's why Hank gets back at you every time you have to be patched up," Darwin hummed. "Why do you think the painkillers hit you harder than any of us?"

"Is that why?" Alex said. "Huh."

"You are so dense sometimes," Raven said with a put upon sigh. She handed Erik her earpiece and Erik realized that he hadn't heard anything from either Hank nor Charles for a while. When he pulled his own from his ear, he realized it was falling apart.

"Good thing you have a thick skull," Raven said drily. "Get ready to be fussed over, by the way. Charles was very worried when you got hit."

"I'm fine, just need some serious rest." Erik fitted the earpiece she handed him. "And some serious painkillers."

"I think Hank has a stash of the really good ones," Charles told him over the radio. "I could have probably connected with you telepathically, but your head feels extremely scrambled right now, so I thought better not."

"Probably a good idea," Erik grunted. "I think we'll be back in a moment or two - I can see Azazel is about ready to go."

"He said as much, yes," Charles said. "Get back soon, and I'm looking forward to meeting the girl you found."

So am I, Erik thought, but he didn't say it out loud. The headache was getting to the stage where he felt like throwing up. It was not going to be fun teleporting with Azazel in this state, but it beat having to travel the old fashioned way.

"Time to go home, old man," Raven said and Erik heard Charles chuckling in his ear.

"Tell Azazel we're ready to go," he told her, closing his eyes, though he opened them again a moment later when he felt a light touch on his arm and looked down to see the little girl holding onto his sleeve. Angel had stepped up beside him and was watching him curiously.

Erik could very well guess what she wanted to know, but as he didn't know whether or not the girl was his, he really didn't have any answers to give.

"What's your name?" Erik asked the girl, at least able to sate some of his curiosity.

"Lorna," she said, not offering up a last name. Erik wondered if she knew it or if she hadn't had one at the orphanage. Unfortunately mutant children were sometimes left behind by their parents. It was getting better - probably also because it had gotten easier with modern technology to track down the biological parents and there was a hefty fine connected to dumping a child without going through the official channels as well.

"Hello, Lorna. I'm Erik," Erik said quietly, putting his hand on top of hers. She was obviously cold in her thin dress. Shaw hadn't seemed to consider it necessary to put a jacket on her. He pulled his own off, more than warm enough in the suit he wore underneath. He'd have to remember to commend Hank on the design. "You look cold," he said, drawing it around her shoulders. "We'll be going in a moment - it's going to be a little weird." He pointed at Azazel, who walked over to them. "Azazel is going to take us to a very special place and we're going to get some rest there before figuring out what's going to happen."

"Do I have to go back to the orphanage?" she asked.

"I don't know," Erik said honestly. "Do you want to?"

She shrugged but didn't say anything.

"We'll figure it out soon enough," he promised her.

"I am going to take you back," Azazel said to Erik. "You and the little one. Then I'll come back here to help see how we move Shaw securely."

Erik was too tired to argue. "Be careful," he warned.

Azazel raised one eyebrow and Erik realized who he was speaking to.

"Sorry," he mumbled.

Azazel just huffed a small laugh and eyed Lorna before holding out his hands to take her. He was obviously expecting to be turned down and Erik could tell from the straightening of his back that he took it as a great compliment from a little girl, when Lorna happily transferred from Angel's arms to his.

Erik would have taken her himself, felt the urge to do so, but he was in no state to hold anyone, when he could barely stand on his own feet.

"Time to go home, comrade," Azazel said, holding on tightly to Lorna with one arm and offering Erik the other.

Erik leaned gratefully on the offered arm and shot Raven a last warning look.

"Yes, dad, we'll be careful," she sighed, waving them off. "Go home to mommy."

Erik would have rolled his eyes if he had thought it wouldn't knock him out doing so. Cheeky kids.

The world disappeared around them and Erik felt tired to the bone, every muscle in his body aching and his head feeling like it was about to explode.

Chapter Text

Charles looked up when the door to Erik's room slid open, just enough to allow Lorna to slip inside.

"Hello, darling," he greeted her quietly. Erik was still out like a light on the bed, but at least it was a healthy, recuperative sleep and he wanted him to sleep for as long as he could. Get the rest he had earned. Even if the Council had requested a report. They would just have to settled for the reports from the rest of the team and Charles on what he had been privy to during the fight. Which hadn't been all that much, and seldom had Charles wanted to go into the field more. Possibly they were right about their worries when it came to his attachment to Erik. Of course the connection he had with Erik had allowed him to at least tag along a little more than what he could normally manage with Cerebro alone.

"Is he going to be okay?" Lorna asked, stopping at the side of the bed, staring up at Erik.

Charles had put Hank on the case of finding out where she had been and possibly if anyone knew who her parents were, though when he looked at her frown, her worried face, he could see the same worry line that Erik had, the same nose. He had asked Hank to run a DNA test as well, but as far as Charles could tell there was little risk of her not being Erik's, even if Erik hadn't known about her.

And if she was Erik's, he could see a couple of scenarios unfold in the future. He did not have Irene's gift for premonition, but he felt he knew Erik well enough by now. Charles made room in the comfy chair he was in and beckoned her over to sit next to him. She climbed into the chair and leaned into him, watching Erik with the utmost curiosity.

"I think he will," Charles replied. "Erik just needs to rest." He held her lightly against his side. It had been a long time since he'd been around a child. Not since Raven had snug into the Warehouse and she had been older than Lorna was now. He worried that if Lorna couldn't stay and she turned out to be Erik's, then they might lose Erik. He might lose Erik. And the more he interacted with Lorna, he wanted her to stay as well. She was a strong little girl, her green hair, now that Angel had helped her tame it, was braided down the back of her neck, leaving her expressive face unconcealed.

Another thing that appealed in her was her easy accept at anything going on around her. She'd taken a shine to Azazel, who seemed happy with that, his features in no way scaring her off. And she'd been loitering at the entrance to the Warehouse elevator a couple of times according to Darwin - Charles had to wonder if the Warehouse was calling her or if she was just genuinely curious. He felt the touch of the Warehouse and the scents that normally accompanied this for him. Ah.

"Lorna?" he asked, hoping Erik wasn't going to kill him for this.

"Yes?" she asked, turning her head from her vigil over Erik to look at Charles.

"If you take a deep breath, is there anything you can smell that's out of the ordinary?" he asked.

She closed her eyes and did as he asked. "I can smell books on you," she said, eyes still closed.

Charles cleared his throat, trying not to laugh. It was the scent that seemed to appeal to Erik as well. "Anything else?"

"Hot chocolate with marshmallows," she said without barely having to think about it.

Charles raised an eyebrow. Interesting. That was definitely not a scent he was picking up. "Do you like hot chocolate with marshmallows?" he asked her quietly. There was normally something that would be sense memory about the scents the Warehouse would entice someone with. Not to mention, much like Erik, Lorna had picked up the scent quickly after arriving. It seemed some people were easier for the Warehouse to see to the core of.

"I remember my mum," she said quietly. "My mum used to make me hot chocolate."

Charles wanted to ask her what had happened to her mother, but he didn't want to drag anything out of her that she might not want to talk about. Apparently it wasn't a worry he would have had to have, because Lorna carried on.

"My mum died when I was four," she told him, a somber feel to her thoughts and Charles just held on to her and let her share what she wanted to. "I'm almost seven now," she told him, turning her head to look him in the eye.

"A big girl, then," he said, nodding.

"Not big enough to take care of myself," she said shrewdly and he could tell her mind was ticking away, a mile a minute. Smart kid, searching for options. He wasn't sure that he wanted to know what had happened to her that had taught her this.

"I lived with my grandma for a few months, but she didn't like my hair." Lorna touched her green hair.

Ah. Charles translated this into not liking the fact that her grandchild was obviously a mutant. "I'm sorry to hear that, darling."

Lorna shrugged, fiddling with the sleeve of Charles' shirt. "She said I wasn't right, that I wasn't normal."

Charles closed his eyes and bit his lip. How he hated that some people felt it was okay to tell a small child this. "You're more than normal," he told her quietly. "You're extraordinary."

"Like you and everyone else here?" she asked, eyes wide.

Charles nodded, feeling her mind tick in the direction he knew it would have. He knew he should talk to Erik about this, especially if she was his child. But this was what happened to him sometimes. The Warehouse would draw in a child and Charles would make sure they understood that nothing was more special than they were.

"Can I stay here?" she asked, so much worry and expecting to be turned down in her voice, in her thoughts.

"I'll do anything I can to keep you here, darling," he told her, knowing it wasn't his choice to make, but he couldn't not appease her worried mind.

"Good," she replied, settling in beside him, silently watching Erik as well.

Oh goodness, what am I going to do? Charles asked himself. If they couldn't keep Lorna, or if Erik decided that he was going to leave with her, if he felt the Warehouse might be too dangerous for her, if-

"Will you quiet that runaway mind of yours?" Erik grumbled from the bed, voice thick with sleep. "It's hard to get the rest you all insist I need."

Charles blinked and then laughed. "I'm sorry."

"Are you okay?" Lorna asked, staring at Erik.

Erik pushed the covers down enough to look at her. "I'm a little tired still," he told her, "but I'll be okay." He looked from Charles to Lorna and back, the warmth in his mind washing over the connection between them. "And I think I'd be better if the two of you get in here with me. This ridiculously big bed is far too big for me alone."

Charles narrowed his eyes at him, but didn't try to hide a smile when he helped Lorna down from the chair and into the bed.

"There's still room," Erik said, lifting an eyebrow.

Charles shook his head and kicked his shoes off before heading for the other side of the bed to spoon up against Erik's back, a hand on Lorna's shoulder where she was nestled against Erik.

Yes, he would fight as he might to keep the both of them with him and the rush of approval from the Warehouse told him he wasn't the only one.

---

The Council seemed to take ages to get back to the them, and Erik ended up with Lorna, sitting outside the room that had hosted both his and Charles' previous hearings. It felt like a lifetime ago, although it couldn't have been more than a few weeks.

Come to think about it, Erik realized that he hadn't even been with the team for a year. Wow. Talk about feeling at home.

Talk about family.

Erik wanted nothing more than to talk to Lorna about her being his daughter. Charles had held him for ages after Hank had given him the information with an awkward pat on the back. They had spoken about it, eventually. That they couldn't tell Lorna until they were sure that they would be able to stay together. Erik knew that Charles feared the Council turning them down and the worry was very real that Erik would take Lorna and just go.

Charles had, however, warned him that threats would get them nowhere, but Erik knew that Charles would be telling them this. That they would lose Erik if the Council told them no on keeping Lorna.

"You don't have to worry quite so much," Edie told him, sliding in to take the seat next to him.

Lorna looked up from where she had been resting her head against Erik's arm.

"Hello, little one," Edie said.

Erik knew she had been made aware of Lorna's parentage and he worried a moment that she would give it away.

"They are not going to take her away," Edie told Erik and the steel in her voice did a lot to calm him. He might have had a bumpy time with her after she had come back into his life, but he believed her in this.

"I don't want to go," Lorna told her, voice just as steely, her stubbornness obviously part of the Lehnsherr genetics.

"I think we should not borrow trouble," Edie told her. "Charles is a gifted orator, he will argue till the cows come home or the Council gets tired of it and just give in."

"As they always do?" Erik asked her.

"Not always," she admitted. "But when his heart is in it and he wants something as much as he wanted you to stay, Erik, and as much as he wants Lorna here to stay… the Council normally listens."

Erik nodded.

The door finally opened and Charles slipped out into the hallway. He met Erik's eyes and while he looked tired, he was also smiling. "Would you like to stay with us?" Charles asked Lorna and she whooped, struggling out of Erik's lap and running over to Charles who knelt down to give her a hug.

Erik finally allowed himself to relax a little. Now they just had to tell Lorna about him. He looked over at his mother, then at Charles who was holding Lorna tightly, meeting his eyes and nodding.

"Mom? How do you feel about joining us in the library for a little talk?" he asked.

She shook her head. "I'd be honored, Erik, but I think this is something you need to deal with on your own - though I'd be happy to be included later."

Erik nodded. She was right, of course. And he could tell how happy she was that he had called her mom again. Instead of Edie, which he had since she'd come back into his life.

Kissing her on the cheek, he told her good night and took Lorna's hand to have one of the hardest conversations in his life. But possibly also one of the most promising. Charles smiled at him and took Lorna's other hand.

"How do you feel about some hot chocolate?" Charles asked her and the look of glee on her face was not to be mistaken.

Erik detoured to the kitchen to make the hot chocolate and as an afterthought, added a cup of tea for Charles and another hot chocolate for himself. As he neared the library, he felt the nervousness rise again, and he was glad that Charles didn't try to soothe it, just let him know that he was there for him.

"Do you want to do this alone?" Charles asked him quietly when Erik joined them again, for a moment as Lorna was busy enjoying her own hot chocolate.

Erik shook his head. "With the way you and I are, a couple, I can't imagine telling her on my own."

Charles nodded and went to sit down, just quietly lending Erik his strength.

"Darling?" Erik said, waiting for Lorna to give him her full attention. "May I ask you a question?"

She frowned at him but nodded.

"Do you know anything about your father?" Erik managed to ask.

Lorna shook her head. "No. Mommy never told me and I don't think my grandmother knew either. She never said any names, just cursed when she thought I wasn't listening."

Erik winced. "Would you like to know your father?" he asked, nearly holding his breath after the question.

Lorna shrugged. "He never came for me," she said.

A child's logic. Erik breathed in deeply, held his breath then let it back out again. "Your father didn't know you existed. If he had, ...he'd have come for you."

Lorna looked up at him, the frown still there. And yes, he could see what Charles meant when he'd said that Lorna had some traits of his.

"Remember how Hank took some of your blood to make sure that you were okay?" he asked and waited until she nodded. "He also compared your blood to mine and it turns out that you are my daughter." Erik held his breath for a moment, waiting for her reaction.

It took Lorna a moment to puzzle it out, then she handed her cup over to Charles, whose worried face disappeared as he hid a small smile, though not fast enough for Erik to not catch it.

Lorna walked over to him and looked up at Erik, scrutinizing him. "You would have come?" she asked quietly.

"If I had known, Lorna," Erik managed to get out, his view obscured by tears. "If I had known, Shaw would never have gotten near you and I would have taken you with me, in a heartbeat. Please believe me when I tell you that."

Lorna nodded, then held up her arms and Erik sank to his knees, letting her hug him tightly. He was holding on just as tightly. He almost missed Charles standing to leave.

"Don't even think about it, Xavier," he rumbled, tugging on the belt Charles was wearing.

A small watery laugh escaped Charles but a moment later he was on the floor with the both of them, one arm around Erik's shoulders and the other around Lorna.

---

Erik reached out and felt for the bracelet that Lorna wore, rolling his eyes when he once again felt it in Hank's lab. In the four months since she had joined them, Lorna had taken to most of the team very quickly. She was a precocious child and Hank had cottoned on to her ability to learn quickly very early. Most days, if she wasn't trailing after Moira, who she worshipped, she could be found in the lab, helping Hank.

Erik would have been jealous, if it hadn't been for her benefit. Moira was really good at coming up with 'games' to hone her gift, anything that involved using her power and fine tuning it down to using it on small things as well as bigger ones. And with Hank, it was a bit of the same, while she was also absorbing science like a sponge. He'd mentioned it to Charles, who had laughed and kissed him. And then told him not to worry, as Lorna hadn't had much in the way of challenges learning wise before they had taken her in. He could understand why she wanted to know everything she could.

Then Charles had told him to hold off the panic until the day she decided she wanted to be a Warehouse agent like her dad.

This had of course resulted in Erik chasing him down the hallway and cornering him in the library. Where Raven had found them later, on the couch and made a face at them before closing the door again.

Now, Erik had not expected his life to change more than that. Not that having Lorna in the mansion and the Warehouse wasn't a hell of a lot of change, but with Shaw put away, things might go back to normal for whatever that was for the Warehouse.

Shaw was safely bronzed. It had been a hell of a challenge to get him that far. Erik had been out for it all, though he wouldn't have been much help anyway. In the end, Charles had called in a favour that Director Fury apparently owed him and SHIELD had taken care of the transport. From what Erik could understand, Fury hadn't even argued with Charles on this. It seemed he had just been glad that Shaw was out of commission forever.

Erik still felt a little strange about knowing that what he'd fought for through the years had finally happened. That Shaw was gone, couldn't hurt anyone anymore. His teenage years of imagining killing Shaw had paled in the light of reality. Shaw had been taken down and it had been done by Erik and his own team.

And his daughter.

Erik grinned to himself. Lorna had like adding a whirlwind to a place that was already a storm front. When Erik had been in doubt, Charles had shared with him how it had happened over the years. Most of the others had come to the Warehouse somewhere in their late teens, but occasionally a child would be called to the Warehouse as well and Charles had quite missed it. Erik hadn't missed the look Charles had given Raven, who had at that moment been busy making life more difficult for Alex, who for once had seemed to take it in good grace.

The explosion of pranks following in the night, of course, just went to show that the kids were still just that; kids.

Just when Erik's life seemed to fall into place, however odd said place might be, his cell phone started ringing.

Erik checked and frowned. "Yes?" he replied. "Magda?" He'd recognized the number.

"Erik, hi." Magda trailed off for a moment. Now, they hadn't split in anger, but Erik had agreed that the kids would be with her and unless they wanted to contact him, that was how it was going to be.

There were days where Erik kicked himself for agreeing to it. He'd been so young back then, stupid and so much not ready to have children. Now, however, that he was back in that situation with children, both in the shape of the team as well as Lorna, he had admitted to himself that he did miss the twins.

The line was quiet. "Magda?" Erik frowned. "Is everything okay?"

He could hear her exhale at the other end. "Remember how I told you that I could deal with the fact that our children would probably be mutants?"

Erik wondered what was wrong. Magda had never had a problem with his gift and she had seemed ready to deal with possible mutations in their twins. "Yes?"

"Well, Pietro manifested last month - can run and move faster than anything I've ever seen," she told him. "He was hard to keep up with before…"

Erik chuckled. He could imagine. Lorna was giving him the run for his money and Pietro was a good five years older.

"But Wanda…" Magda trailed off. "Erik, I don't know what to do. She's terrified of what she can do and her anxiety is interfering with anything electronical around her. It's not what you can do that she has, but she seems to influence anything she gets near and the fear of doing damage of any kind… well, she's inconsolable and afraid of her own shadow."

"If you and the twins need help," Erik said, trying to find the right thing to do. "If you need help, all you have to do is ask, Magda. There's no price tag attached."

"I know, Erik, I know. I just thought I was strong enough to handle it."

Erik recalled his mother's struggles when he had manifested and smiled wryly. "I think I know someone who can help," Erik assured her. "Get the twins and put on a jacket." At the same time he reached out to find Charles. "I'll come get you in a few minutes. Don't ask, just trust me."

Seemed like the Lehnsherr bloodline would be in need of the Warehouse's Caretaker once again. Erik felt the burst of agreement from Charles and he smiled as he said goodbye to Magda, hung up and re-dialed to get Azazel.

The end (finally!)