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Another Way

Chapter Text

Another Way by glacis.  Rated PG, pre-slash Erik/Charles.

~~

Charles knew there was no way on God’s earth he could physically stop Erik from turning the missiles around.  Lying bruised and battered on the beach, Erik straddling him, one fist pulled back, the other bracing Charles’ chest, holding him down, his face conflicted with the need to confront those he considered his enemies and aversion to hurting Charles.

He didn’t have time, couldn’t find words, was stopped in his mental tracks by that damned helmet… but he couldn’t do it.  Couldn’t take that many deaths tearing through his mind, especially on the heels of what happened with Shaw.  Not knowing how else to put it, he simply blurted it out.

“It will kill me,” he cried, voice rusty from screaming, staring up into cold green eyes.

“You will get past it,” Erik dismissed his concern, misreading it completely.  “They’re trying to kill us!”

“That many deaths – feeling that many deaths – it will destroy my mind!” Charles snarled desperately.

That, at least, got through.  Erik froze.  In the air behind him, so did the missiles.  In the bushes, Moira, holding a gun in both hands, stopped and stared.

“What do you mean?” Erik asked, staring intently at him, and for a moment Charles wondered who the telepath was between them.  Those eyes cut straight through him.  He could give nothing but the truth.

“Feeling Shaw died nearly broke my mind,” he choked out.

“Dobry Boże,” Erik swallowed harshly and spat out, “You felt that?”

“S’not like I could let him go,” Charles responded just as harshly.  “With you wearing that bloody fucking bucket on your head, it’s not like you could hear me scream!”

Charles could hear Raven’s squeak, “Charles!” and Sean’s “I didn’t know he could cuss!” but his attention was focused completely on his dearest friend.  Erik’s face was completely blank, but his eyes were tormented.  Charles gave him a pleading look.

“Please,” he said softly.  “If you kill them, it will destroy me,” he repeated.

Without so much as a twitch, the outgoing missiles turned on one another and exploded in the sky in a cacophony of screeches and tearing metal, a nightmarish fireworks display.  Charles had only a moment to be overwhelmed with the relief and confusion of the sailors who’d narrowly escaped death before Erik unclenched his fist, raising his hand to rip the helmet from his head and fling it along the beach.  He must have used his powers, because the helmet took off like a bullet itself, burrowing deep into the trees.

The overwhelming concern washed over Charles like a warm bath.  The void where Erik had been disappeared in the blaze of his presence, back in Charles’ mind where it belonged, soothing some of the residual agony, the ghost-pain of the coin’s path through his brain.

“Oh, thank God,” Charles breathed, sending a wave of affection and relief back to Erik.

Erik narrowed his eyes and leaned closer.  “This is not over,” he said clearly.  “They will come after us.”

“I know,” Charles said. 

Raven’s voice broke in.  “Can we talk about this later?  We have to get out of here before they try to blow us up again!”

Erik swung up off of Charles and for a moment Charles nearly pulled him back.  Feeling oddly bereft with Erik’s weight removed from him, Charles took the outstretched hand and allowed his friend to pull him to his feet.  Moira stepped forward, Erik turned to confront her, and Charles sighed.

“Erik,” he said softly, then shook his head.  Stepping between them, he smiled a little shakily at the woman.  “Thank you, Moira.  I’m sorry.”

She gave him a puzzled look.  “For what?”

He reached out and touched her chin.  He didn’t need to verbalize it, but did anyway, to let Erik and the children know what he was doing.

“Forget.”

And she did.

“Sleep.”

He tried to catch her as she fell but he was too stiff, too sore, and Erik got there first.  Charles smiled at him.

“What did she forget?” Erik asked, eyes darting between Charles and Moira.

“Everything about us,” Charles said, regret heavy in his voice.

“Why?” Hank asked behind them.

“Because they could use her to find us,” Angel answered for him.

“Us?” asked Azazel, skepticism heavy in his voice.

“Yes,” Charles said firmly.  “Us.”

His eyes met Erik, shining with sincerity.  He believed they could work with the humans, and should, as they were all human, after all.  But recent events (and a multitude of missiles) had also shown that the non-mutants would react violently, with deadly force, to the perceived threat of the mutants’ presence.

Shaw’s plan to have the humans kill each other off was stupid; the planet couldn’t survive it.  Erik’s plan to go to war with the humans was premature at best, suicidal at worst; they weren’t strong enough.  Charles had the feeling his own desire to peacefully coexist with the humans was overly optimistic.

The mutants needed to stand together.  Apart, they would not survive.

Besides, he didn’t want to fight Erik.  Not only would he lose, so would Erik.  So would the children.

All the children.

He tried to tell them all this, mentally, but couldn’t quite come up with the words, so did the next best thing.  He summarized.

It was probably good practice for teaching, if he ever got to that.

With a wry, pained smile, he looked at Azazel.  “If you think of it as us versus them, they vastly outnumber us.  We can’t fight amongst ourselves.  We may not agree on how to do it, but we all want to live.”  He glanced over at Raven.  “Mutant and proud,” he said softly, and she gave him a shocked smile.  “But for the moment, we need to regroup.  Azazel,” he turned to address the teleporter, “would it be possible for you to remove us all to my home?”

“What about her?” Sean asked, waving at Moira.

“She will sleep until I wake her,” Charles responded, “and I won’t wake her until she’s somewhere far from us.”

“How about Vegas?” Azazel grinned.  “Best I go where I know.”  Charles winced.

“That will work.”  Charles was starting to flag, the long day of shock, pain, and stress undercutting his shields, and the psychic shocks he’d suffered were catching up to him.

He gestured for the children to join him.  Alex and Sean stared suspiciously at Angel, who glared back, Riptide at her shoulder.  Charles sighed and sent out a wave of reassurance, wrapping their minds in it.  The children relaxed.  Riptide jumped.  Azazel shuddered.  Can we please get OUT of here? Charles’ voice sounded plaintively in their minds.

Azazel stepped forward, and the children joined them.  Charles took Erik’s free hand, as Erik was still holding Moira, and Hank placed his paw on Charles’ shoulder, completing the link.  A flash of red, a puff of smoke, and they were at the Hellfire Club.

With the last of his energy, Charles called up the memory of CIA headquarters, narrowed his focus to a conference room, and placed the location in Azazel’s mind.  Given Azazel’s lethal history with CIA agents, namely dropping them from high places, he also implanted an order to leave Moira unharmed.  “If you would be so kind?” he asked.

With a grin that only heightened his demonic appearance, Azazel grabbed Moira by the arm and flashed out.  A moment later he flashed back.  He looked oddly disappointed.  Charles tapped his memory and saw that Moira was safely away, sleeping in a chair, her head resting on the table.  He quietly closed the chapter on mutant involvement with the CIA with her departure.

“Thank you,” he told Azazel, who looked a little confused that he hadn’t followed his instincts and squashed the woman, but nodded acknowledgement.

The children were milling about, each to a side, staring at one another, hostility barely suppressed.  Charles sighed again, slumping down to a sinfully comfortable leather couch.  It was only when Erik settled beside him that he realized he was still holding Erik’s hand.

Erik had made no attempt to reclaim it, and Charles was too tired, and in too much pain, to voluntarily give up the sole bit of comfort he had.  He cleared his throat, and everyone in the room stopped pacing and glaring to look at him.  His eyebrow raised and he smirked despite himself.  For all their differences they were so very alike.

“It’s been a long day.  We have a lot to talk about, and none of us are in any state to make any sense tonight.  So, dinner, then get some sleep, and let’s deal with it come morning, all right?”

As he was talking, Charles was wilting, until by the time the last word left his mouth, he was curled up into Erik’s side, his head coming to rest on Erik’s shoulder, his face resting against the side of his throat.  It was warm there, and safe, and best of all, he could feel Erik, solid as granite, surrounding him, mind and body. 

He could feel Erik’s discomfort in the tightening of his muscles, in the way his mind shied away, but for once his own need for comfort overrode his ingrained desire to stay out of others’ minds.  He transmitted a wordless mental plea, some mixture of please and stay and need, and Erik relaxed.  The hand Charles wasn’t holding slipped over his shoulder, and a strong arm drew him in.  Allowing himself the luxury of blessed unconsciousness, Charles drifted off to sleep.  Erik would keep him safe.

Dimly, he heard Alex’s enthusiastic “Room service!” as Erik’s arm tightened around him.  The future could wait until morning.  For now, everything was as it should be.

End part 1.

Chapter Text

Things didn’t look better in the morning, but Charles was able to fight off the lingering migraine and at least get started on fixing things. Someone, probably Erik, had put him to bed, and his own exhaustion had kept him unconscious through it, as he was lying in his skivvies curled up in a ball in the center of a sinfully comfortable bed. Beside him, radiating heat and comfort, Erik lay neatly, one arm flung over Charles’ waist, the rest of his body precisely aligned along Charles’ front.

The sad thought of how Erik had been trained to sleep, one amongst many, as still as could be to deflect attention, and a sadder flash of the pain of the death camp, then the thought was cut off abruptly as bright green eyes glared at him.

Needing to get their minds off the past as quickly as possible, Charles gave Erik a smile that no doubt looked as pathetic as it felt, and mumbled, “Aspirin?”

Erik blinked, then snorted softly. One hand came up to card is fingers through Charles’ hair, as he’d done more than once when overuse headaches had caught up with Charles on their road trip, easing the pain away with the same astonishing gentleness Charles, and perhaps only Charles, had felt beneath the harsh exterior. Erik Lehnsherr was a very tough man, but his heart, once one touched it, was soft. Charles smiled at him in relief, raising a hand to cover a yawn, and smacked himself in the jaw with Erik’s knuckles.

Oh. They were still holding hands. Fingers entwined, lying on the sheets between their bodies. Had they held hands all night?

“Yes,” Erik answered aloud, and tugged gently. Charles’ fingers tightened instinctively, not letting him go. “As you see.”

Perhaps he should have been embarrassed at his own neediness, but there was something so blessedly reassuring about having Erik’s hand trapped in his own that, at the moment, Charles couldn’t care less how needy it showed him to be.

“I’d say sorry,” he said, but I’m not, he thought, and Erik huffed again, that little shot of air that was as close as he usually came to laughter.

“No doubt,” Erik said wryly, “but morning ablutions will go more easily if we each have our hands back.”

Sighing, sending Erik a mock-reproachful glance that lightened those green eyes even more, Charles relented, slowly unwrapping his fingers from Erik’s. More slowly than he intended, actually, because his fingers were a little cramped, and didn’t want to release. Once their hands were free, Charles looked up at Erik and pouted, a little, though he’d deny it to his dying day.

“I suppose we need to get up and take care of some things, then, yes?”

“Yes.” Erik looked both resigned and determined. Charles gave him a wry smirk.

“Then, much as I dislike the idea, you’ll have to let go of me,” he said softly.

Erik started, only then seeming to realize his arm was tightly wrapped around Charles’ waist, holding their bodies closely together. For the first time he could remember, Charles saw the hint of a blush staining Erik’s cheeks.

Just as well. It matched the tide of color he could feel heating his own face.

Erik made an abrupt move as if to fling himself away from Charles, but Charles stopped him with a touch to his shoulder.

Thank you for keeping me safe last night, my friend, he mindspoke gently. Erik’s lashes dipped, hiding his eyes, before he nodded, once, and his voice sounded in Charles’ mind.

Always.

With that, he rolled easily from the bed and headed for the shower. If he’d stayed a moment longer, Charles would have forgotten himself entirely, and kissed the man.

Who knows what would have happened then?

Putting the possible scenarios forcefully from his mind, before they leaked out and freaked Erik out, Charles got up and got ready to face the day.

Coming down the hall, he followed the sounds of rowing to find Alex and Angel standing on opposite sides of a laden breakfast table, screaming at one another. Azazel was perched atop a white leather couch in the corner, balancing himself with his tail as he forked eggs up from his plate, watching the children squabble. Sean was holding Alex back, while Raven tried to play peacekeeper. Riptide ignored all of them to raid the bacon and pile it on pancakes, single-minded in his pursuit of food.

Charles read anger, betrayal, fear, a tinge of boredom, and, from Riptide, the wry thought that this was just like Shaw and Frost, only younger and shriller. Over his shoulder, he felt Erik’s warmth join him, and he sighed.

“Silence,” Charles said calmly, but the children, and Shaw’s crew, reacted like a switch had been thrown. Everyone froze.

Charles stepped into the room, Erik stepping around him to stare at the tableau.

“Your doing, Charles?”

At the sound of his voice, movement resumed, and Charles answered, “Not exactly.” He hadn’t laced the word with command, but it was still taken as such, at least until the surprise wore off.

The argument was starting to brew again when Erik barked, “Shut up and sit down!”

Unsurprisingly, they did. Even Charles, who gazed at Erik wide eyed. Erik glanced at him and shivered. Charles’ brow rose.

Now, that was interesting. But for later, not for the moment. Right now, they had more pressing concerns. True, they had averted World War Three with the normals, but now they needed to avert mutant civil war.

“Let us enjoy breakfast, then we can discuss our next move.”

A few looked rebellious, but only for a moment before Erik glared them into submission. Charles sighed. That look was oddly arousing. He’d have to watch himself, or he would scare Erik all the way back to Europe.

A sizzle in the back of his mind startled him, and he looked over to meet Erik’s eyes.

Oh. Perhaps it wouldn’t be as frightening as he feared.

Chewing slowly on his toast, he watched as the group silently ate, eyeballing one another, but not being verbally or overtly hostile toward one another. In the corner, Azazel chuckled. He was broadcasting so loudly Charles couldn’t help but overhear.

Daddy would be so proud.

“Of what?” Charles asked, and Azazel smirked at him, but didn’t answer. He stopped broadcasting, though, so Charles manfully avoided the temptation to read him mind and concentrated on his breakfast.

All too soon, it was time to adjourn and discuss. Before they got very far, the thought that had been niggling at the back of Charles’ brain finally showed itself.

“Shite,” he hissed, and the children looked at him in shock.

“Twice in two days,” Alex muttered.

“Some kind of record,” Sean agreed.

“Shut up!” Angel snapped.

“What is it?” Raven asked.

Charles gave Erik a pleading look. Erik responded by snarling, “Quiet!” with such venom everyone in the room clamped their mouths shut.

With a whisper of thanks in Erik’s mind, Charles got to work.

He didn’t want to do this. By God, he didn’t want to do this.

But they weren’t ready for war. Might never be.

Erik had made a sacrifice yesterday. He’d given in to Charles’ plea, pushed back his own moral imperative, one forged in fire, pain, and death. He’d been the stronger man.

Now it was time for Charles to get over his own terror, his own remorse, and his own moral qualms. It was time to truly use his power, in ways he’d always abhorred. Needs must, and this need overrode everything.

It was time for Charles to be the stronger man.

He had to make them forget. Had to track them down and make them forget.

Wipe out their existence in the minds of those with the power to hurt them, before those powerful men wiped out his children. His people.

Wiped out Erik.

Stretching his powers to limits he’d never before attempted, Charles sent his thoughts out in a search pattern. The vast majority of the sailors yesterday had, literally, just been following orders, and would neither understand nor act against the mutants if not directed to do so. He could work around them.

The commanders, though, were a different story. Forcing his consciousness to expand, he followed the strongest imprints of the memory of the missiles back to two naval fleet commanders, one American, one Soviet. Pressing tightly, he found the moment when they realized what was happening, the moment they gave the orders, followed those memories until he had them… and he squeezed.

Something popped.

Up the chain of memory he went, to the Fleet headquarters, to the Pentagon, to the Kremlin, to the CIA, to the Chairmen of the Presidium, to the White House. More memories, more decisions being made, and he squeezed, twisted, blotted out, and kept pushing. He conducted a symphony of movement with his mind, keeping track of every note.

Missing even one would bring about catastrophy.

On the floor of the Supreme Soviet, a motion was to be made. The man bringing it forward stopped, stared at his notes, then carelessly crumpled them. Premier Khrushchev moved the discussion on to containing tensions after the previous day’s showdown, and the word mutant was never uttered.

In a secure room in the White House, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff started to address the mutant menace, but President Kennedy shook his head. Suddenly, it didn’t seem nearly as important as the latest intelligence on MRBM sites in Sagua La Grande. The moment passed, and the mutants were forgotten.

He couldn’t hear Erik’s concerned voice in his ear, Raven’s cold hands on his face, the questions flying about the room where his body sat, as his mind worked. He didn’t feel the blood begin to drip from his nose, or his ears, or seep through his eyelashes. He was unaware of the pain as he bit his tongue to hold back the screams… his… theirs. Erik was holding him, now, and Raven was shaking him, but he didn’t feel anything, didn’t hear anything. Could do nothing but hold, and squeeze, and wrench memories away, grinding them to nothingness.

In a cabin aboard the USS Saratoga, a US Naval commander slumped over his bunk. The medic later put cause of death as a previously-undetected aneurysm.

In the middle of a meeting at the helm of the Okhotsk, a Soviet Naval commander winced, then clutched his chest, and fell. He was dead before he hit the deck. Later examination would place the cause of death as a stroke and heart attack, caused by stress.

Upon leaving his office at the Pentagon, Colonel Hendry waved absently at his driver and climbed into the back seat of a dark sedan, mind distracted by the newest information on the mutant menace. He didn’t see the oddly bright blue eyes staring back at him from his normally brown-eyed driver. A few moments later, he didn’t see anything, as the sedan rolled off a bridge and impacted a concrete culvert a hundred feet below. The resulting fireball from the petrol in the tank obliterated the files he’d carried with him.

Sitting at his desk at the CIA, Matt Craven locked the door and quickly shredded the last of a series of files before settling back into his seat. He unlocked the lower right drawer of his desk and brought out his pistol. Carefully chambering a round, he brought the barrel to his temple, and calmly squeezed the trigger.

Walking toward a hidden laboratory, plans whirling through his mind, William Stryker didn’t notice as his feet left the trail and his body went over a ledge, falling headfirst to the rocks below. His eyes still saw handrails and shrubbery, his body still felt the soliditiy of metal rungs beneath his feet, until the moment before he landed. A flash of intense pain, followed by nothingness. At his home, his newborn son screamed, then cried. His mother comforted him. The baby forgot what he’d lost.

A rush of air, of agony, of shock over his own lack of shame, of ohgod - didn’t mean to - had to - what a bloody mess - ohgod - so sorry - had to - meant to – ohgod - it needed to be done - I’m a murderer - ohgod - the children and Charles was back in his body. Looking up into Erik’s frantic eyes in a face carved from stone, Charles tried to smile.

“They forgot,” he choked out, and collapsed, unconscious.

~~

It was some kind of nightmare, Erik thought, desperately holding on as Charles convulsed in his arms, blood trickling from his eyes, his nose, his ears, over his lips where he’d torn his tongue with his teeth.

“Hank!” he screamed, as Raven sobbed beside him. “Charles,” he murmured, his arms tightening around his friend’s shuddering body, “hold on!”

“What kind of fit is he having?” Angel asked, her voice high and tight, and Sean yelled, “How the fuck should I know?” as Alex ran for the bathroom in search of a first aid kit and Hank bounded over to Erik’s side. Riptide stared at the scene for a moment then walked over to the bar and picked up the house phone. Erik barely heard him calling for a doctor.

His memory worked strangely in times of crisis. Everything slowed down, and moments were etched in crystal; Charles had complimented him on it once, told him such clarity made it easy to find his hidden memories, the comfort of his mother, the joy of his childhood before the internment, before Hell broke them all. Now that clarity was a curse, as events burned themselves into his mind. Charles, arching, one hand twitching as if he were strangling some phantom foe, the other curling as if firing a gun. His head thrashed against Erik’s chest, blood smearing across his shirt, and there was a reason he usually wore black, though he’d never had to hide a friend’s blood before.

Then the shaking stopped, and Charles went ominously still. Raven gulped for air beside him, eyes huge and yellow, in her natural form, holding onto Charles with all her strength. Then Riptide was there, quiet confidence and sure movements, and a human, but something off about him, was he a mutant as well?

He must have been, because his hands were glowing, deep azure, as he ran them over Charles’ head, along his neck to his chest, then back up to cup his skull. Erik glared at him, but Charles’ breathing eased, so Erik let him live, let him keep touching what was his. The doctor, the human was a doctor, the mutant doctor? Erik took a deep breath and ground out, “What is wrong with him?”

“Nothing that rest and time won’t heal,” the doctor said, his words measured, his demeanor calm. As he spoke, his calm seemed to radiate over the room, easing tension as it went. Erik didn’t let that stop him.

“What – happened?” he growled.

The doctor spared him a glance, then did a double-take at the fierce anger in Erik’s expression. For the first time since he came in, the doctor appeared unsure. He gulped, then shook it off.

“Overextension. Psychic trauma. I’ve seen similar, with Miss Frost, though not to this extent. He will recover, given time and quiet. Keep him warm, keep him hydrated, and keep him calm, and in a few days…” The doctor paused, then ran a glowing hand over Charles’ forehead, expression intent, “perhaps a week, he will be healed.”

Raven thanked him, and Erik let him leave, concentrating on Charles again. “What did you do?” he asked quietly.

In the back of his mind, a tiny voice whispered, saved the children. Or perhaps save the children. Erik couldn’t be sure. He looked over at Hank.

“Take him to his room,” he ordered, and Hank stepped forward to lift Charles and take him back to his bed. It didn’t matter which it was, and he would find out later from Charles, because his friend would wake up, and would tell him then. He refused to believe otherwise.

Until then, he had a mandate to follow, or perhaps an example to emulate. He had children to whip into shape.

A brotherhood to form.

When better time to start, than now.

End part 2

Chapter Text

The next eight days were a different kind of hell than Erik had gone through before, and given his life experience, that was an accomplishment. He spent his nights by Charles’ side, first in a chair, then perched on the side of the bed, then wrapped around the man. This sequence of movements began the first night he watched and repeated every night thereafter… when he woke each morning Charles was cuddled up to his chest, his face tucked against Erik’s throat.

It was a little unnerving. Erik had never been a cuddler.

Thankfully, after the mutant doctor left, the bleeding didn’t come back. Erik had a wealth of experience with injury, giving and receiving, but seeing Charles bleeding from everywhere his head could bleed was one he never wished to repeat.

His dreams were disturbed, and given that he didn’t usually dream outside of nightmares, he had a strong suspicion they weren’t his dreams. Charles was lost, in pain, and trying for denial, but failing. He wasn’t sure exactly what Charles had done, but whatever it was, the guilt was drowning the man.

So Erik did the only thing he could do, the same as Charles had done for him when he was literally drowning. He held on, and called Charles’ name, and begged him to let go, to come back.

To survive.

~~

Charles didn't know where he was, but it was grey and featureless and completely silent.

It was terrifying.

Gradually the numbness passed, and when it did, he wanted it back.

He was drenched in pain. Surrounded and crushed by death. Screams echoed then died back into the suffocating silence.

By his hand.

~~

The days weren’t quite as fraught as the nights, for Erik, though there were challenges. The first thing he did, after sternly ordering the children to stop squabbling (and tying them up in metal stripped from the window sills when they didn’t) was try to figure out who still knew about them, to identify and neutralize the threat. He put Mystique in charge of doing something productive with the younger mutants, did his best to track Azazel, and started putting out the word to his contacts, trying to gauge the remaining threat. Less than a day in, he was startled to find what a good job Charles had done.

Even if it had nearly killed him.

Shaking off the thought, he got back to work. On the third day, he realized he’d forgotten something when Riptide sidled up and asked, “What about the White Queen?”

It took a moment before Erik realized he was talking about the diamond telepath. He blinked. “Bring her here.”

Riptide stared at him for a moment, then nodded and went off to get Azazel. In a matter of moments they returned with an unconscious body. Erik quickly noted the obvious dehydration and shook his head.

“They forgot about her,” Azazel told him, looking down at the woman in his arms like he didn’t know what to do with her.

“Call that doctor, the mutant one,” Erik directed Riptide, but the man was already on his way to the phone. Erik pointed at a couch. “Put her there.”

Azazel dropped her with more gentleness than Erik expected. While she was unconscious and incapable of fighting back, Erik quickly bound her with metal stripped from the sides of the table. Riptide looked askance at his work when he returned, and Erik shrugged. He didn’t bother explaining that it was better she not be able to kill them in retaliation for Shaw, if that was her choice. He had no qualms about killing her first, but the two men would cause some fuss, and most importantly, Charles wouldn’t like it.

The doctor arrived with minimal fuss and waved his azure palms over the woman, concentrating on her torso and head, before diagnosing her with severe dehydration and the early stages of shock. Apparently before Charles made everyone forget about her, they’d already stopped giving her food or water, and she hadn’t had any in at least five days. Erik watched with little interest as the man set her up in a bedroom off the side of the club, placing an IV in her arm, giving Riptide instructions on her care.

At two eighteen the next morning, as Riptide slept beside her, Erik concentrated from the doorway and worked a tiny thread of steel off the needle of the IV. The thin blade slid under her skin invisibly, and Erik guided it carefully to and through her brain, concentrating to create a brief, fierce electric storm centered around it, disrupting her brain chemistry completely. Then he pulled it out through her ear and crumpling it to dust in his pocket. The line on the heart monitor jumped wildly then went flat, and a muted alarm sounded. By the time Riptide jerked awake, the woman was dead.

She was Shaw’s, and she was too dangerous to live. There was only room for one telepath in Erik’s life, since he threw away his helmet, and it wasn’t Emma Frost.

~~

Hank jerked awake with a start. He'd never had a such a vivid... terrifying... vision - nightmare - night terror - he didn't even know what to call it. He was dead, or maybe he was Death, but he couldn't stop himself. They had to be crushed, and he crushed them, and he liked it.

He liked it.

It was satisfying, knowing that they would never hurt his children again. Since when did he have children? The thought disappeared under the avalanche of emotion churning through him. Never hurt his friends, his family... his heart. He'd been all alone for so long, then there were two, but he was still essentially alone, then there were three, and he would never be alone again, until they tried to take him... her? Him? Them?

His head hurt, and it felt like he'd been beaten with a lead pipe. He fell out of bed and barely made it to the bathroom before he threw up in the toilet, and kept throwing up until there was nothing left to bring up.

Sweet mercy, he didn't know what that was, and never wanted to go through it again. The sheer satisfaction fought with an overwhelming shame until it made him dizzy, something he really didn't need when he was already feeling sick.

He didn't sleep the rest of the night.

Nor the next two.

When he finally did fall back in bed he was so tired he fell asleep as soon as his eyes closed.

The terror was gone.

In its place was grief.

He gave up on sleep and went to work in his lab. Better an insomniac over-achiever than having his brain split open like an over-ripe melon. When he finally did need to rest… that’s what pharmaceuticals were for.

~~

Riptide left the mansion, taking Frost's body with him. He’d stopped by long enough to tell Erik that the woman had succumbed to the shock, and Erik gave him a solemn nod that might have passed for sympathy in bad light among strangers.

He didn’t do sympathy well, but Riptide didn’t seem to notice, just left with his burden. Erik didn’t know if they’d see him again, and didn’t particularly care.

Recruitment was Charles’ passion. Protection, and tying up loose ends, was Erik’s.

He knew Charles wouldn’t be happy that the other telepath was dead, but he also trusted Charles enough to believe that he wouldn’t go rummaging through Erik’s memories. If he did, well… she wasn’t the first collaborator he’d put down. If Charles hadn’t already taken care of MacTaggert’s memory, Frost wouldn’t even have been the first one in the past week.

Nothing was going to endanger his people now, if it was at all in his power to stop it.

In the periphery of his attention, Erik noticed Angel and Mystique going through Frost’s things, and for a while white leather was the dress of the day at the Hellfire Club. The boys seemed to enjoy it, if the slaps the girls gave them were any indication. Erik let them be, but his patience was drawing thin.

Patience was Charles’ strong suit. Killing people was Erik’s. He wanted Charles to wake up so they could each go back to doing what they did best. This waiting was making him twitchy.

People tended to die when he got twitchy, and beyond Shaw’s woman, there wasn’t really anyone in range he wanted to kill.

~~

Raven, or Mystique as she'd begun to think of herself and insisted others call her, tried everything she could think of to take her mind off her brother, lying still as a corpse upstairs while life just kept on moving without him.

It wasn't right.

She knew why he'd done it. It wasn't the first time he'd hurt an outsider to protect his family. It wasn’t even the first time he’d hurt family, to protect the ones he loved… even if they didn’t appreciate it, like she did. When she was small, and first met him foraging in his fridge late one night, he'd been so happy to meet her, so happy to make her part of the family.

His mother wasn't so keen.

That was the first time she'd seen Charles use his power to change someone's mind, then keep having to do it, over and over. Mother Xavier had a bias against anything that wasn't completely, 100% normal, and no one could say a little naked blue girl with yellow eyes was anything like normal.

It broke Charles' heart every time he had to do it.

Wasn't until a long time later, after he trusted himself enough to get drunk around her, because he was a really talky drunk when he wasn’t focused on getting laid, that she found out it wasn't the first time he'd had to make someone do something they hadn't wanted to. After all, his father hadn't wanted to stop smacking his mother around, and he hadn't listened when Charles tried to make him stop, so Charles had stopped him.

The doctor called it a heart attack.

His mother called Charles a killer.

He wiped her memory.

All he'd wanted was for the mother he loved to be safe. For her to love him. He could force her to, but that got tiring after awhile, and it broke him in ways his adopted sister couldn't heal.

For every promise he made her, for everything he tried to be for her, even if he couldn't, she would do anything for him. Yet here she sat, picking at fringe on a leather miniskirt and trying to build a bridge with Angel, feeling more alone than she'd ever felt in her life. The comforting buzz of Charles in the back of her brain was missing for the first time in years, and if he didn't wake up soon, she didn't know what she was going to do.

Too bad that useless bitch of a telepath had died. If nothing else, maybe they could have used her to get inside Charles' head and make him wake up.

She cried herself to sleep.

Every night.

She dreamed, but she didn’t remember them. That was her blessing.

~~

Burying himself in paperwork wasn’t Erik's preferred option for keeping his thoughts occupied, but it kept him from wholesale murder whilst waiting for Charles to wake the hell up. A day into that monster task, he came across a surprise.

Shaw’s will. In a trapped drawer that Erik had no trouble disabling, if only because his power deflected the razor wire triggered when he jiggered the panel off. He stared at it in disbelief for a long moment, then couldn’t help himself.

He laughed.

A whiff of sulfur announced Azazel, who perched on the side of the desk and grinned at him. “So you found it. Congratulations, heir.”

“What was he thinking,” Erik asked in disbelief, “that I’d come crawling back to him and he’d reward me for being a good boy?”

Azazel snickered. “More that he was never going to die, but if he had to disappear, he could pin it on you.”

Erik nodded. “Motive, then?”

Azazel nodded in agreement.

Rocking back in the leather executive chair, Erik read through the will, then gave a wolfish smile. “Wouldn’t he be disappointed, then,” he all but purred.

Azazel cocked his head, giving him a questioning look, but Erik didn’t need to explain himself to Shaw’s last minion. Seeing he would get no answers, Azazel shrugged and disappeared.

Erik was pretty sure the face full of sulfur was deliberate.

Reaching back into the drawer, he came up with nothing. Focusing, Erik scanned the room, feeling for any dense reaction to his powers that would indicate a storage box or safe, and hit pay dirt on the wall across from the bar. Behind an original Friedrich von Amerling, no doubt plundered from some wealthy – now dead – Jewish family, Erik didn’t bother with the lock. He simply melted all the pins and ripped the door off.

Inside he found bearer bonds, enough to fund the revolution for decades even without touching Charles’ inheritance, along with sets of books for several businesses, and numbers Erik knew would trace to certain Swiss bastards.

He looked forward to seeing them again. This time, as a customer, just long enough to take it all out. Hit the greedy little parasites where it hurt.

There was something ironic, and fundamentally satisfying, in using the money taken from his people, when he couldn’t protect them, to protect his people, now.

~~

Eventually the grey landscape shifted in Charles' mind, but he hadn't been reassured by what replaced it.

Corpses.

Piles of them.

He knew them, had worked with some of them, knew the others intimately, through their minds and their memories and the actions he had forced upon them. He also knew, dimly, that he was hiding, was afraid to face the consequences of his actions, face his loved ones with the mark of what he had done branded across his soul...

Except the brand wasn't nearly as dark as he thought it should be. In fact, it was fading by the moment.

Because along with their deaths, Charles was forced to think about their lives, these men he had murdered. He knew their minds, had used their thoughts to hunt them down, and as the shock and pain of their last moments faded, the more powerful driving forces of their lives became clearer.

It was, in its own way, even more terrifying than their deaths.

There was paranoia in many of them, a kind of malicious cruelty in a few, and fear buried in all of them. He was used to normals being afraid of him - that was one reason he hid so well - but this wasn't personal, or was horrifically personal, in that it targeted all who were different, all who might have any form of power that couldn't be controlled, used, and destroyed.

This was a fear of mutants that went beyond Us versus Them and became Humanity turned into Inhumanity.

It was a gut-wrenching, soul-deep realization that Erik had been right, and Charles had known it all along, but had fought it because, deep down, he was still that scared, foolish child who wanted his mother to love him.

Oh, Erik's methods were wrong, or at least ineffective. There was no way on Earth that a small, scattered, untrained force of mutants, many of whom were deeply in denial or covering like mad, could fight head-to-head against the combined might of the governments of the world. They would be wiped out like insects, rooted out of their homes, penned together, and exterminated.

Erik's fear was right on the money.

So if they were going to do this, and it looked as if they would have to, they would do it correctly. Sneakily. Using psychology and surgical precision and carefully-placed moves, in the chess game of their lives. He stared down at the corpses of the normal humans who had declared themselves his enemies by right of might.

If his people were to survive, and thrive, and live without fear, then those who could protect would have to do just that. He'd always been a scientist, a researcher, never a warrior.

That had to change. He looked around once more, as the blood bled back to grey.

He had already changed.

He would do what he could to mitigate the slaughter, because such wholesale death was intrinsically wrong. He would also kill when he had to, because some enemies would not be subverted and had to be eliminated, for the sake of his people. He closed his eyes, and felt himself rise to wakefulness.

Erik would know where to start, and Charles would be right beside him... if nothing else, to change some minds, implant suggestions, remove thorns, and put a structure for governance in place, before Erik killed them all and kicked off a war they couldn't win.

~~

Two in the morning seemed to be the witching hour, Erik thought, as the warm body in his arms finally began to stir. Reddened, sunken blue eyes flickered open, looking onyx in the dim light, then fluttered shut again.

“Charles,” he said softly, then more strongly, and while the eyes didn’t open again, the faintest of smiles curved pale lips, and he knew he’d been heard. He unwrapped himself from Charles’ body and ran for the door.

The doctor didn’t seem to mind getting up in the middle of the night again, or perhaps he was intimidated enough by Erik that he didn’t dare complain. Either way, he came, he clucked, he glowed his hands, and he plucked out the IV and the catheter. It was several hours before Charles awoke again, and this time, half the household was in the room.

Charles gave them a wide-eyed look, mumbling something around ice chips Mystique shoved in his mouth. He wafted the word Hello through their brains and they each relaxed a little at his presence, then he went right back to sleep.

“Best thing for him,” Sean said, trying to sound wise and coming off like a poor imitation of his mother.

Alex patted the bed awkwardly, then cleared his throat and added, “Should leave him be. Let him get some rest, that’s, you know, not a coma.”

Mystique stopped sniffling long enough to roll her eyes, but Hank agreed, and Erik shooed them all out to get some lunch.

When Charles woke again, it was after dinner, and Mystique was there to meet him with broth and toast and the ubiquitous tea. Erik stood watch in the corner of the room, and wondered if he’d ever get a moment alone with his friend.

Soon, Charles’ voice spoke in his mind.

Erik concentrated back, are you all right? sending along with it the concern he’d felt, but trying to reign in the stark terror. He didn’t want to traumatize the poor man. Charles had only just regained consciousness, he didn’t need the burden of Erik’s stupid emotions on top of whatever he’d already gone through.

A feeling not unlike an embrace pressed gently on his mind, and he started, before relaxing into it. Sorry, he thought, and knew from the gentle squeeze that he was forgiven.

Given what his sources had reported, he had a strong inkling about what had caused the trauma, already. His contacts in Mossad had been especially useful, given the information they had for him on recent deaths within the CIA and Department of Defense.

He wouldn’t miss the bastards, anyway. McCone was a security risk who knew too much, but Hendry and Stryker had been real and immediate threats. He held a poorly-disguised pride for Charles, taking them out so effectively, but thought it would upset the man if he knew, so Erik tried not to broadcast that, either. In all, it was a tangled knot of emotions Charles would no doubt not appreciate, so Erik tried the impossible, sending one thread out and hiding all the rest.

Thankfully, Charles fell asleep again before Erik gave away too much. He hoped.

~~

It took some time for the children to settle down, but Charles gave them reassurances and smiles and comforting words. All the while, his thoughts were going in circles, trying to figure out the best way to go forward. Poor Erik was worrying himself into a bundle of nerves, not that anyone could tell by looking at him, but Charles was a telepath, and could feel and hear what others could not.

By the end of the third day after he’d woken, Charles knew he could put it off no longer. He was feeling perfectly well, if psychologically unsettled, and he had to say something, before Erik went ballistic.

He was not looking forward to this conversation.

End part 3

Chapter Text

 

Erik had returned to his room once Charles was out of danger, but he couldn’t sleep.  After midnight each night he found himself silently stepping into Charles room, settling near the bed, and watching his friend sleep.  The first two nights, he stayed awake, ghosting back to his own bed sometime before dawn.

The third night, his exhaustion ambushed him, and his body reacted automatically, as it had every night Charles had been in the coma.  House shoes off, sitting on the side of the bed then gradually sinking to rest beside Charles’ warm body, to wake up with the sunrise wrapped around his friend.

This time, his friend was wide awake, staring up at him with bright blue eyes that saw altogether too much.  Erik hastened to make a strategic withdrawal, but Charles’ hands caught his forearms and hugged him close.

“Er,” was Erik’s brilliant opening conversational gambit.  At least it drew a smile from Charles, for all that it faded much too quickly.

“Please, my friend, stay,” Charles whispered, the words sounding too loud in the still morning air.  “We have to talk.  There are things I must tell you.  Things I have done…”  His voice trailed off, and Erik cleared his throat.

“You needn’t tell me now,” he offered into the silence that fell.

“If not now, I may never find the courage,” Charles admitted.

Erik shook his head.  “I have never known a braver man than you, Charles,” he admitted, only to have the declaration be met by an immediate negative headshake.

“I’m afraid,” Charles told him bluntly, “of so many things.  Of being alone, of losing control, of becoming… of being a murderer.  Of having you turn from me.”

“That will never happen,” Erik interjected fiercely.  “It would be hypocritical in the extreme for me to blame you for anything you did – any steps you took – to protect our people.”  To protect the children, to protect me, went unspoken, but he knew Charles heard, from the wince and the guilty look in his eyes.  Intent on making his point perfectly clear, Erik continued, “Whatever lives you took.  I know your reasoning was sound.”

“Sound?” Charles challenged him, incredulously.  “I was acting on instinct!  I hunted them down, hunted their minds down, and I crushed them, Erik, I killed every one of them.  Or made them kill themselves, or manipulated innocent people around them to kill them, or -”

“Did what you had to do,” Erik interrupted again, placing his forefinger gently against Charles’ lips to stop the flow of words, thick with self-disgust.  Charles should not be blaming himself, but it was his way, and Erik had to make him understand that he would find no repudiation from Erik for doing as he had.

Before he could find a way to explain, he felt a nudge on his mind.  May I? Charles’ voice asked silently, and Erik agreed, without hesitation.

The next few moments were a stream of images.  A man in uniform clutching his chest, another holding his head and falling dead, a third blowing his brains out, a fourth throwing himself off a cliff, a fifth ceasing to exist in a ball of tangled metal and flame.  The images were accompanied by a rush of emotions, shame and anger, with a tinge of confessional relief and no expectation of forgiveness.

In return, Erik gave him acceptance.  Understanding.

Pride.

Wide eyes stared up at him.  How can you be proud of that?  The words seemed to point to the images.

Erik sent a few of his own memories… a Nazi in a bar, shot with his own gun, another, neck broken as he wallowed in his stolen treasures, a third, garroted in his bed… a pause, and with an air of determination, two final images… Shaw, and a coin piercing his brain, then Frost, and a needle sparking a neural storm that shut down her system.

Shock held both still, as a mirror image to Shaw dying came to Erik, and with it his gut-wrenching realization that Charles had been present every agonizing second, as in the periphery, he felt Charles shock at his efficient ending of Shaw’s telepath.

“Charles, mój Bóg,” Erik choked, then thought sorry sorry sorry sorry until Charles reached up and physically slapped the back of his head.  It was a weak slap, but it startled him enough to break him out of his shock.

“Miss Frost?”  Why?

Charles was upset, but not as upset as Erik had feared.  Perhaps he was still overwhelmed.  Erik gave a Gallic shrug and answered honestly, “She was his creature.  As he tried to make me.  I left.  She stayed.  She could never be trusted, so I eliminated her.”

Faces flashed through Erik’s mind, as Charles reviewed the men he’d killed for much the same reason.  Threats, who would become more worrisome, to be taken out before they could become overwhelmingly dangerous.  He also felt that Charles didn’t believe Frost fit into that category, but it was a fait accompli, and the telepath felt he had no moral high ground left from which he could admonish Erik.

“Głupiec,” Erik muttered affectionately, following up in English to make it completely plain, as he wasn’t sure Charles knew Polish, or could understand the meaning behind the words.  “Don’t be an idiot.  We are different people, Charles, but we have the same goal.  We want the same thing.”

A mental protest began, the start of the same argument they’d been having in various iterations since they met, only for Charles to strangle it, to Erik’s surprise.  He gave Charles a questioning glance.

“You are right… and wrong,” Charles forced out.

“How so?”  A part of him felt vindicated, that Charles would be forced to recognize the reality of the threat, but a part also mourned, for the idealism that had been such a shining part of Charles’ soul.

Destroyed, by their enemies.  As such innocence always was, at least in those who survived.

“Yes, we can’t trust the normal people, I can’t just call them humans, Erik, because we are all humans, and I refuse to deny my humanity, OUR humanity, simply because the ignorant and the fearful and those in power, who would hurt or use us, give humanity a bad name.  But we can’t kill them all, damn it, because there are a lot of innocents in there, and that would make us as bad as them, and I refuse to let us sink to that level.  Practically, it is insane to confront the power structure directly.  We have to be smart about this.  We have to think ten moves ahead, and plan very carefully, place our pieces and take out our opponents, but without tipping them off or frightening them into war.  We can’t fight a war, my friend, we would lose!  We need to be precise, surgical, removing only those who would hurt us, leaving those who would support us, even if it takes some manipulation, I would be willing to do that – very willing!  If it’s necessary, and I think it will be.  No, I know it will be, but it can be done.  I saw things, plans they have in motion already, there are children, really, just children, mutant children, captured, caged, we can break them out.  We can keep them safe, and train them, and while they’re growing up, you and I, Erik, we can do what we must to ensure they have a world to grow up in and control when it comes to that-”

Erik let the words wash over him, an odd, unusual feeling bubbling up in him.  It felt like hope, or maybe pride, for Charles, for his ideas for the future, for the fact that they would have a future, and that this brilliant man could envision them together in it.

However, he also knew that Charles would talk for hours if he didn’t find a way to shut him up.  Erik was so relieved that Charles was actually in one piece, mentally, and slightly giddy both from relief and exhaustion, that for the first time in years he let his control slip and allowed his instincts to take over.

It was only as his mouth closed over Charles’ and his tongue stopped the flow of words that it struck him that his friend might not appreciate being kissed by a man.  Or at least by Erik.

He was on the point of drawing back, and perhaps apologizing, when Charles’ arms came around his back, holding him in place, and Charles fairly shouted in his mind, Finally!

Were you waiting for this? Erik thought, as his hands slid deftly under Charles’ pajama top and stripped it off.  A few buttons pinged off to land somewhere in the room, but neither man cared.

God yes, Charles murmured, talk later, this now, please.  Erik couldn’t tell if they spoke aloud or only between their minds, and couldn’t care less.  All his attention was concentrated on the squirming body beneath him.

It struck him that indulging in sex so soon after debilitating psychic shock and a weeklong period of unconsciousness might not be the healthiest decision, but Charles was panting into his mouth and pulling off his trousers and didn’t seem to be the least concerned, so he let the thought go.

He let all thought go, especially after Charles’ hand wrapped around his cock, and Charles’ voice moaned in his ear and through his mind in concert.  His hands spasmed, digging in to the long muscles bracketing Charles’ spine, and he made a sound that might have been a whimper in a lesser man.

His pants were caught around his left ankle, his shirt was wrapped up in the top sheet, he had one hand bunched in the waist of Charles’ pajama bottoms, and he couldn’t stop kissing the man long enough to finish the job, but he desperately needed to.

He also needed to breathe – kissing Charles was like immersing himself in a hot spring, mind and body completely overwhelmed, submerged, completed.  And they’d barely touched.

With an impatient growl, Charles tugged and kicked until he was completely bare, and for the first time Erik felt all that wonderful heat pressed up against him with nothing between them, from his chest to his ankles.  Sweet, so sweet, and hot, so very hot, as Charles pushed and strained against him.  Erik finally had enough of trying to pin the smaller man down, and decided to exert some control.

Another deep kiss, a wicked thigh rubbing up under his balls, and a cheeky string of suggestions, each more lewd than the other, streaming through his mind, nearly derailed him.

Tearing his mouth away, gasping for breath, a quick flick of his power, and a nearby candelabra divided into two parts.  They were smoothed in an instant, no sharp points to hurt his Charles, then in a heartbeat they were wound around those distracting, knowing hands, and Charles found himself pinned to the headboard.

A flash of memory, Frost, bound in a similar way to a bed in Russia, and Erik brushed it aside.

Charles was much more appealing, and while this wasn’t the first time he’d tied a lover up this way, it was by far the most enjoyable.  With Charles relatively contained, Erik could finally do some exploring of his own.

Erik, darling, dearest friend, let me up, please, want to touch you, want to feel you, Charles whined softly, and Erik knew it was in his mind because his mouth was occupied.  He smirked into the kiss, dropped a gentle bite on a pouting lip, and took his time.

As his mouth and hands roamed, mapping the soft skin and hard muscle beneath, learning the curve of pectoral and the angle of hip and the line of flank, Charles’ mental pleas gained power, nearly, but never quite, tipping over into command.  Erik found himself enjoying this new kind of power play, this new edge to sex, this closeness he’d never found with anyone before.

He placed a precise line of bites from shoulder to shoulder, down the center of Charles’ chest, over a nipple, down his belly, to his straining cock, before bypassing it to nip at the tender flesh leading to the curve of his ass.  Charles shuddered beautifully.

By the time Erik settled down on his stomach between Charles’ spread legs and licked across the head of his cock, the mental pleas had disintegrated into wordless moans accompanied by incredibly filthy mental images.  Charles, sprawled across his desk as Erik moved his fist in him… Erik on his knees on the terrace, sucking Charles in broad daylight where anyone could see them… Charles, on his hands and knees in the courtyard, Erik behind him, ramming into him…

Charles, bound with metal, spread-eagled and upright in the library, facing the French doors, sunlight streaming in, as Erik fucked him from behind, hands tugging at his nipples, as Charles took it, helpless and begging for anything Erik wanted to do to him… Erik, sitting on the kitchen table, Charles on a chair in front of him between his splayed knees, Erik’s hands tangled in his hair as he forced Charles’ head down, fucking his mouth as hard as Charles could stand it…

The pair of them, sprawled in the back seat of a taxi, head to crotch, cocks spilling from barely-opened trousers, fast and dirty… Charles with his tongue digging into Erik’s hole, then a flash, and changing places… Erik, standing behind Charles on the tube, both fully clothed, in rush hour, Charles’ trousers pushed down just enough, Erik’s zip lowered, fucking slow and deep with no one around them any the wiser…

He’d had no idea Charles was such an imaginative little pervert.  Erik approved.  He dipped his tongue beneath Charles’ foreskin and the images fractured into pure heat, the mental cries broke forth to become audible.

Sometime in the maelstrom, Erik considered, for a moment, gagging Charles.  There were others in the mansion, and the noise they were making might embarrass his friend in the morning.  Then another mental image hit him, and he forgot to worry about it.

Everyone in the house was an adult, or close enough to it not to matter, and he had intentions for Charles’ mouth that a gag would only impede.

Charles came first, Erik sucking him strongly all the way through it, using the spill and the sweat and his own spit to ease the way as he worked his fingers into Charles’ hole.  Somewhere along the way, Charles managed to escape the metal straps, because as Erik slid his hands under Charles knees and lifted, Charles’ hands joined his, holding himself under his thighs, lifting his legs further apart.  Erik took the invitation and worked his way in, thrusting shallowly, then deeper, until he was fully seated.

Looking down into Charles’ flushed face, dazed expression, his pupils blown, his mouth wet and swollen, Erik felt something that had been missing all his life slip into place.  This was where he belonged.  This was his future.

Pulling out slowly, then pushing in, a little faster, a little harder each time, he matched his rhythm to Charles’ heartbeat, and by the time he reached his peak, Charles came with him.

He collapsed into Charles’ arms, as they lay together, slowly cooling off.  When he tried to roll over, ease his weight off, Charles wouldn’t let him, and Erik gave in, holding in return as he was held.

The sex wasn’t new to him, but the connection was.  Whatever he had to do to keep it, he would.  However Charles planned to work this out, Erik would make damned sure it happened.

Because losing this would destroy him completely.

~~

They awoke to Mystique’s startled gasp the next morning.  The breakfast tray she dropped was, thankfully, metal, and Erik caught it whilst still half-asleep, absently floating it over to the side table.

“Um, I’ll just… ah, Charles?  Erik?”

“Yes, Raven?” Charles asked in a voice too innocent to be believed.

Erik buried his head under the pillow.

Mystique snorted.  “Morning, boys,” she said, then turned and left the room.  “I’ll lock the door on my way out.”

“We need to remember to do that next time,” Charles said to his shoulder.

Erik pushed the pillow up far enough to stare at him with one eye.  Charles grinned at him.  You’re adorable, he heard.

You’re mad as a hatter, Erik thought back.  He didn’t have to ask if Charles was all right.  He knew.  He wasn’t.  But he would be.

~~

It took a few hours for things to settle down, but once the children saw that Charles was okay, they began to form a routine, such as it was.  Alex and Sean worked with their powers, adding Angel to the mix, at Charles’ insistence.  Mystique kept a close eye on them to make sure no lingering hard feelings erupted.  There was some talk of returning to Westchester, but Erik put paid to that idea.

“It’s our fallback position,” he told them firmly.  “We don’t yet know if we’re compromised,” though he had a strong hunch they were covered.  “We need to keep it in reserve.”

“We also need to keep it quiet because when we gather the other children, they’ll need a safe haven,” Charles added, and that got everyone’s attention.

“What other children?” Mystique asked.  “I thought you’d gone through all the possibles you found on Cerebro.”

“That was recruiting,” Charles answered, a brief look of rage crossing his features before he controlled himself.  “This is a rescue.”

Everyone other than Erik looked unsettled.  Erik had an idea where this was coming from, having heard some of Charles’ babble the previous night, before they were… distracted.

“There’s a military facility housing a secret program, where they’ve been kidnapping mutant children and holding them captive.  One of the men I… dispatched last week was a liaison between the government and the scientists leading the program.  I got the details from him, before I… disposed of him.”

Now the others were looking at him with various degrees of shock.  Charles took a deep breath.  “When I… over-exerted myself last week, it was because I was…”

He trailed off, and Erik decided to make it easier for him.  He was more accustomed to euphemisms, and he knew Charles didn’t want to lay bare his actions before the young people he considered his children.

“Some in the Department of Defense and the CIA would have attacked us, as they did at the beach.  Charles stopped them.  End of story.  Now we have a mission to plan.”

Five sets of eyes swiveled to meet his, four confused, one grateful.  Erik nodded, once, before getting on with it.

The rest of the afternoon was spent on logistics, as Charles briefed them on everything he’d seen in the classified documents about something called Weapon Plus, that in the second World War had given rise to Captain America, but that had then been subverted into a program called Weapon X.  The current iteration of the program was targeting mutants for experimentation and extermination under the guise of being a clandestine, government-sponsored genetic testing facility.  This information yielded a target facility in Canada, and five names: Thorton, Cornelius, Hines, Rice, and Sublime.

Four men and one woman who would have to die.  A score of children who would be saved immediately, and an indeterminate number of lives that would be saved in the long run.

Preliminary plans in place, they broke for dinner.  They would have to move sooner rather than later, to keep the edge Charles had given them with his pre-emptive strike.  They had to deal with the scientists before they ran to ground, now that their DoD and CIA counterparts were dead.

As they were finishing dinner, Sean started to snicker, then laugh out loud.  Given the heavy conversation and the combination of tension and dread that had lingered over the meal, Erik wondered what the mad Irish kid had come up with this time.

“What?” Alex demanded.

Sean grinned at him, then dipped his head toward Hank.  “One good thing about sticking around Vegas,” he chortled.  “We can all go out in uniform, or fur, whichever – and if anybody wonders, they’ll just think we’re the floor show at the Stardust!”

Hank threw a serving platter at his head.

End pt 4.

Chapter Text

 

It appeared that the book wasn’t quite closed on mutant involvement with the CIA, after all.  The most worrisome project Charles had discovered in the files, and memories, of the powerful men had killed was a program called Weapon X.  It was an offshoot of Weapon Plus, which had concentrated on augmenting normal humans to create super soldiers to fight the Nazis.  They’d had one success, Captain America.  The failures, and there had been plenty, were buried in unmarked graves.  Very few people were aware of this.

Weapon X was the second generation, the first to include mutants in the mix.  On the surface it was a refinement of the super soldier project, with a team of mutants and augmented normals currently deployed in the conflict in Viet Nam.  The leader of the project, Thorton, and the scientist in charge of the previous iteration during the War, a man named Sublime, were working off the results of Nazi experimentation in the very camps Erik had survived.

On paper, Eyes Only classified as it was, and in public, if closed-door Congressional meetings were considered such, Weapon X was a covert CIA team used to support the military mission in Viet Nam, and the members of the team were the only subjects of experimentation.  Not all of them were mutants.

That was the public face, or at least the only face that showed when the usual classification requirements were met.  But it wasn’t the whole story, of course.

Off the books, there were other facilities, other missions, outside of US borders and direct CIA control.

The Canadian facility was the first to target mutants specifically, and the first to target children.  Rather than augmenting existing powers, it sought to pin down the source of various mutations, to replicate them in normals if possible, otherwise, to terminate the experimental subjects.

The mutant children weren’t people.  They were laboratory animals.

Charles quickly muffled the killing rage that would have knocked out everyone in the club if he’d let it go, and forced himself into clarity.  This was too important to screw up with upset and anger; there would be time for that later.

There were five targets he had identified, and they would lead to the next objective, rescuing the mutants currently held captive and wiping the memories or otherwise taking out the ones doing the experimentation.

Early one morning, before the heat became stifling, he left for a ride with Erik, needing to get away from the harsh artificial lights and the harried greed that was Las Vegas heading up to the holidays.  Tourists anxious to avoid snow and spend the Christmas money on the slot machines and at the card tables gave off an air of desperation and forced gaiety that quite frankly gave Charles a headache most of the time.

In the stillness of the desert a few miles outside the city, one could completely forget that the Mob and Howard Hughes had created a false Shangri-La and lured half the suckers in the country to it.  There was nothing but sand, low brush, the scuttle of lizards as they searched for sunning rocks, the wind whispering around them.  Along the horizon lingered traces of pink and orange from the dawn, quickly clearing away to bright blue.  The air was so clear it felt like a mirage, as if they’d stepped into a postcard.

Of course, within an hour, it would be hot enough to be unbearable for human beings, at least those who’d spent most of their adult life in England surrounded by the damp, so Charles stopped reveling in the silence and turned to his friend.

Erik was sitting next to him in the convertible, staring at him as if undressing him with his eyes.  Charles flashed through mental images of Erik’s hands, naked skin, sunburn, sand in uncomfortable places, and perhaps a scorpion or three, and Erik snickered.

Later, Charles thought, and Erik nodded his head companionably, the smirk turning lusty, before fading into seriousness.

“May I?” he asked, and Erik nodded.  Charles took a deep breath, reached out to lay his hand along the side of Erik’s face, and brought the memories of the classified documents concerning the Canadian lab to the forefront of his mind.

It took mere moments for Erik to absorb the information contained therein.

It took several more moments for Charles to hang on and not be buried under the whirlwind of plans and hatred and iron determination that rushed through him from Erik’s mind.  Images and directions hit him like battering rams, shaking him, but he persevered and fought to make sense of it.

Through it all, Erik’s expression did not change one whit.  His body tensed slightly, and his eyes sharpened, but there were no other physical changes to give any indication of the torrent of information shaping up in his thoughts.

Dear God, but the man was incredible.  That laser-sharp focus caused Charles to lose his breath.  Erik blinked and looked at him with some concern.

“All right, Charles?” he asked quietly.

Charles looked back a little wildly.  “No wonder you beat me to flinders in chess, my friend.”

Erik raised a brow, then his eyes widened.  “You saw that?”

Charles nodded, speechless, then projected, It will work.

Erik almost smiled.  His eyes were feral.  Of course it will, he thought back.

Of course, it did.

~~

Nine thirty in the morning.  Now the witching hour.

The facility lay quiet before them, nestled in a deceptively lovely plain next to a large lake.  They were in luck; a winter storm had passed without snowfall, so they were shadows blending into the landscape, not highlighted against a white backdrop, as they approached their target.  Charles spared the thought that future missions would benefit from more control in that area, and wondered if it would be possible to find a mutant who could control weather.  Then he shook off the fanciful thought and concentrated on the mission.

Infiltration was relatively easy; Charles knew from pilfered memories whom to approach, and Mystique took on the form of a requisition squad commander.  Two minutes later, Charles ensured that the guards saw four soldiers instead of Alex, Sean, Hank and Erik, along with two new mutant experimentation subjects – Angel and Charles himself.  He worked with the disgust and boredom most of the soldiers felt, turned away the few whose sympathy was bound by duty, and less than ten minutes after approaching the base, they were in the heart of the labs.

The extensive internal camera system would have been a problem, but Charles knew where the security hub was.  Filtering into the minds of the two guards currently on watch, he ensured that no matter what showed on the cameras, they would see empty hallways and unchanging views.  Then Erik quietly fused the wires, and the screens went blank.

Neither guard so much as blinked.  First obstacle overcome.  They shrank back into the shadows and continued on to the laboratories.

Dale Rice was the first to die.  He’d been examining a young boy with webbed hands, pinning them apart to delicately slice away sections of thin membrane, ignoring the tears leaking from the paralyzed boy’s eyes.  Mystique slipped the IV out of the boy’s arm as Erik used the pole to wrap around the man’s neck like a ribbon and snap it sideways.  Alex caught the scientist’s body and with a quick burst of energy, incinerated it.  Hank moved toward the central processing unit of the mainframe computer, and set in place an invention of his own, a time-delayed, self-replicating, destructive sub-program.  It would begin in the lab and spread to every computer with which it had contact.

None of the records from this house of horrors would be used anywhere else, if he could help it.

When he was finished at the keyboard he rejoined his team.  Sean held the still-unconscious boy as they moved forward.  Hank, Angel, Sean and Alex moved to the east, following directions memorized from the map Charles had drawn for them toward the pens where the children were held.  Charles, Erik, and Mystique headed deeper into the compound, following Charles’ mental echoes.

Before Rice lost his final breath, Charles had ripped through his mind, and found the other targets.  He could feel all three of them in the complex.

Abraham Cornelius and Carol Hines were next.  They were arguing over the body of a young woman with a mutation similar to Frost’s.  Her body was covered in what looked like armor, an extruded exoskeleton that moved like skin.  Hines was prying at a seam in the armor, ignoring the blood that was seeping onto the table under the body, and Cornelius was bickering with her over the efficacy of simply removing a limb then doing a cross-section analysis, whilst Hines was arguing that removing the limb would cause the mutated skin to revert to normal.

Neither paid any attention to the terrified expression on the teenager’s face.  She was strapped down at the ankle, knee, thigh, upper chest, elbow, wrist, neck and head, with a leather gag stopping her screams.  Apparently she had to be conscious for her mutation to react to threat-stimulus.

Charles cast a mask over the room, instilling calm and relaxed patterns over the two scientists’ minds, sending the third to sleep, as Mystique came up to them in the form of Dr. Rice.  She caught their attention and they turned to her.  Erik slipped into the room, and flicked his hand.  Electric cords leapt up from machines behind the two scientists and wrapped around their throats.  A twist, a tug, and they were both dead.

Charles reflected that it was almost pathetically easy, when qualms were set aside and tortured innocents were involved, to take human lives.

Then he turned to the closest waste bin and lost his breakfast.

Mystique had dragged the bodies out of the way by the time Charles regained his composure, looking an apology at his sister and his lover.  Erik patted him briefly on the shoulder but otherwise ignored Charles’ lapse, while Mystique looked like she wanted to join him, but was too infuriated to be sick.

It was the work of a moment for Erik to unbind the young woman, then Mystique shifted into the form of a large man, and picked the her up.  Taking her from the bloody steel table, she brought her into the next room and placed her carefully on a cot.  Charles sent a mental map to Hank and got an affirmative response – the rescue team would make sure she was not left behind, if the assassination team wasn’t able to pick her up on the way back.

The final mind Charles could track was Thorton, alone in his office.  He was speaking on the telephone as they approached, and Charles mentally directed Erik and Mystique to freeze.  Charles focused, and eavesdropped, on both the audible conversation and the thoughts of the man holding it.

He was vile.

The mind on the other end of the line was equally horrible.

Thorton was ruthless, and cold.  He honestly saw mutants as sub-humans, and had no more qualms about dissecting them than he would a cat or a frog.  He was seduced by the knowledge he thought he could glean from the bodies, the power such knowledge would grant him, and couldn’t care less about the fates of his victims.

The man with whom he spoke, his mentor, was worse.

John Sublime hadn’t been able to take Weapon Plus in the direction he’d hoped.  He saw mutants as a threat to his existence, for reasons Charles couldn’t quite fathom… his mind was alien in a way he’d never encountered.  Weapon X was merely a cover, for Sublime, as a way to stamp out mutant kind completely.

Charles noted everything he could about the man, the creature, and withdrew as invisibly as he’d entered.  He was an enemy for another day.  A moment later, the conversation ended, and Thorton hung up the phone.  Without hesitation, feeling tainted simply by viewing the thoughts of the man before him, Charles struck.

His power drove like a blade deep through Thorton’s cerebellum, then spreading like lightning strikes crackling along the corpus callosum, branching into the occipital, temporal and frontal lobes, leaving the parietal lobe for last.

He wasn’t normally a vicious man, but Charles wanted Thorton to feel it.

The body in the executive chair froze, then convulsed, then fell over onto his desk, dead before it hit the surface.

Well, he hadn’t felt it long, but Charles was pretty certain the bastard had felt most of it before he died.

Erik and Mystique were giving him identical wide-eyed looks.  Charles gulped, wiped sweat, and a few tears he hadn’t realized he’d shed, from his face with both hands, and grimly turned away.

They had kids to rescue.  The trash could lay where it fell.

The rest of the mission went by quickly, with no hitches, making several of the team members sigh with relief.  The series of cages with the mutant children were lightly guarded, and Hank could move silently for a being of his bulk.  They didn’t have to kill the soldiers; a light rap from Hank’s paws put them out for the count.  Then Angel spat fire into the locks as Sean called out to the children to calm them, and Alex lifted out those too injured to move, with Hank at his side.

They rescued eighteen children that day, including the two they’d found on the tables.  Over a score more were already dead in their cages.

They met back at the junction by the offices, Sean and Alex redistributing the injured among the survivors who could handle them, then moved together out the back entrance of the labs.  Charles covered them, rendering the children invisible and clouding the guards’ minds, as Mystique took Thorton’s form to lead the group.  No one questioned the supposed leader of the facility.

Once they were well away, Charles sent out a pulse.  An alarm blared, and soldiers poured out into the entryway and along the perimeter, readying to meet a threat that had already passed.  Erik nodded at Alex, who steeled himself and –pushed – flame shooting out to impact the center of the complex, burning down through the buildings to the bedrock before exploding outward and upward.

The fiery energy did precisely what it was meant to do… the entirely of the complex went up in a massive ball of flame.  Soldiers scattered, blown away from the buildings.  Most of them, at least, were saved from certain death, a compromise Charles had required of Erik, for all Erik’s hatred of those who ‘simply followed orders.’

We are not them, Charles sent to his mind, and Erik nodded, still not convinced, but willing to go along.  The leaders were dead, at least here, and the children were safe, at least from this charnel house.

One victory at a time.

 ~~

As Hank carefully flew the nearly-overloaded jet back to New York, Charles diverted all his attention to calming the children.  Erik and Angel did what triage they could; Riptide’s mutant doctor was waiting at the mansion, with a vow of confidentiality and a very healthy stipend ensuring he would remain trustworthy and speak to no one of what he saw… or whom he treated.  The rest of the day was a blur for Charles, exhaustion, shock, and the need to be strong for his newest children overriding everything else.

Moments stood out, later.  Visiting the half dozen kids in the hastily-arranged infirmary.  Staring around the kitchen at lunch, then slowly going from one member of his team to the next, hugging every single one of them.  Alex almost shrugged him off, but Charles was strong when he had to be, and in the end, Alex held him back as strongly as Charles held on.  Angel cried on his shoulder, and he was pretty sure the fur under Hank’s eyes was wet as well.  Sean shook, but held up well, and Mystique didn’t want to let him go.  He murmured quietly to all of them, nonsense words for the most part, backing the sound up with mental embraces and gratitude and pride at their accomplishments and love.

The last one he hugged was Erik, and Charles needed it much more than Erik, so Erik allowed it.  Only then, when Erik was holding him, could Charles begin to relax, but there was still so much to do, so Charles didn’t indulge, letting go all too soon.

Later, Erik’s voice ghosted through his mind, and Charles smiled grateful acceptance at him.

Dinner was hectic, but oddly quiet, as the new children were welcomed and helped by the team.  Charles thought of all of them as children, but the newest members of their extended family to receive refuge looked up to those who had rescued them.  Several of them clustered around Hank, and Mystique shifted into funny faces for the younger ones.  Sean told stories, fairy tales, and his voice acted like a balm for the more frightened among them.  Angel let some of them pet her wings, and Alex suffered a few leaning against him – he was surprisingly good with children.  Over it all, Erik watched calmly, keeping an eye on everyone, while Charles did his best to project peace and homecoming.

His mind was completely exhausted by the time they made it to bed, but he also knew he’d never get any sleep, as his body was still buzzing.  He was perched on the edge of the bed, staring blankly at the chess set and wondering if Erik might like a game, when the subject of his thoughts walked in the door.

Closed it behind him.

Locked it.

Charles raised an eyebrow.  It would appear it was now ‘later.’  Erik turned and leaned against the door, staring at him, then sighed.

“I could lie and say it gets easier.  I wouldn’t know.  I have killed since I was a child, and have cut out guilt until I can no longer feel it.”  His voice was low and  his gaze steady.  “We are different, you and I.  You will feel the guilt, every time, even when they don’t deserve it.  This is not the last time you will be forced to kill.  You know this.”

He paused for Charles to respond, but this was the most Charles had ever heard Erik say, and he was too shocked to say anything himself.  Erik shook his head and walked forward, coming to a stop in front of Charles, looking down at him.

“I cannot take away your guilt.  I don’t believe you would want me to.”

Charles shook his head, no.  His guilt helped keep him human.  Erik nodded as he heard the thought.

“Not that you’re not!” Charles quickly assured him.  In return, he got a half-smile, and the shadows in those beautiful green eyes lightened a little.

“We are different,” Erik repeated softly.  

Charles swallowed with a throat gone suddenly dry.  “This is why we will triumph in the end, as long as we are together.”  There will be more battles, other enemies.

“You will keep me human, and I will keep you alive,” Erik informed him, then firmly pushed him back on the bed and knelt over him.

Gazing up at him with wide eyes, Charles raised a hand and ran it up Erik’s chest, then around his neck to draw him down into a kiss.  Tomorrow was for battle.  Tonight was to forget, and to feel.

Erik’s agreement hummed in his mind as they moved together.  Kisses melted from mouths to chests to groins, hands roamed over tensed muscles and left bruises behind, legs tangled together and slid apart.  He wasn’t quite sure how they got out of their nightclothes but it didn’t really matter, only that they did.

The duvet ended up on the floor somewhere.  It was a wonder the lamp wasn’t knocked over.  The slipcover on one of the pillows would never be the same, after Erik used it to prop up Charles’ hips and Charles eventually came all over it.  Really, the pillow was a complete loss, too.

Hands digging into the sheets, eyes closed against the sheer torrent of sensation as Erik moved within him, blanketing him with heat and full and tight and too much and never enough, Charles swallowed his moans and let himself go, knowing Erik would catch him.

Erik’s mind was as strong as his body, and when Charles couldn’t hold on anymore, Erik happily drowned right along with him.  Minds whiting out, bodies falling together, Erik muffled his scream in Charles’ neck and Charles tried to remember how to breathe.

Then slowly, the heat bled off, and the chill crept around them.  Seldom had Charles been so thankful for his mother’s ostentatious taste as when Erik used the gold threads in the duvet to pull it up over them, so he didn’t have to move, just rolled over a little and let Erik wrap them up.  Warm.  Safe.  Complete.

For all the anguish of the day, there, that night, in the dark, Charles found his reason to continue the fight.

~~

In the days and years to come, the Westchester Institute for Gifted Youth would thrive under the auspices of its headmaster and faculty.  The combined strengths of persuasion and power, forethought and intelligence, allowed Charles and Erik to keep a close eye on the humans whilst building up a mutant civilization right beneath their noses, gathering their resources for the day they could protect themselves enough to either assimilate (Charles) or take over (Erik).

The argument was ongoing.

As was the adventure.

~end, chapter and story~