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[A/N: Troll!Charles, because of wtf are you doing james mcavoy's tumblr. Depending on which 'verse you read, Max is Erik's original name.]

I.

The man waiting for them in the holding room was unaccountably tall, clean-shaven and lean, all sharp, long lines that made Charles' eyes walk appreciatively down the tight stretch of the black wool over broad shoulders to the fingers tapping on the armrest of the bolted chair, elegant like a pianist's, to the endless legs under the secured table, the hint of white socks under gray dress pants.

A handsome cat, Charles thought, appreciatively, even as beside him, Raven whistled under her breath, and a flicker of rippling blue transformed her youthful, blonde maybe-schoolgirl favorite form into a coiffed, stacked skirt in a sleek tube of a black dress that was just shy of being work-appropriate. Beside them, Agent MacTaggert merely rolled her eyes, though the greenhorn behind Charles flinched, his thoughts spiking briefly in panic.

“Can I handle this one?” Raven asked Charles, hopefully. “Pretty please.”

“I let you handle the blonde kid last week,” Charles reminded her blithely, and his sister pouted at him. Careful. You're showing your age.

Dip stick, Raven shot back, though she flickered back into her favorite form once MacTaggert began to unlock the door.

All right, you can come in too, Charles relented a fraction. But you'll owe me.

I'll wear MacTaggert's form and do the mambo on a table in the cafeteria during lunch tomorrow, Raven shot back, the edge of her full lips curling into a secretive smirk.

Deal. Charles beckoned at Raven, ignoring how MacTaggert raised her eyebrows, smirking at the swift bloody Xavier brats that he caught as he sauntered past her and into the holding room, slouching into the chair as Raven closed the door and folded her arms over the back of his seat.

Handsome Cat Specimen arched an eyebrow at them, but remained silent as Charles tossed a passport on the table. “What brings you to America, Herr Lehnsherr?”

Lehnsherr stared at him thoughtfully for a moment, lifting his sharp, dark eyes to Raven, then glancing back down again. “Business,” he said, with the faintest hint of an accent, unafraid.

Let's go with 'on the money', Raven suggested, amusement already threaded thick in her mental tone, naming one of their favorite opening moves.

Charles shifted his cheek to his palm, pressing his fingertips to his temple. That nearly got us killed the last time.

You mean with that nova cat? Don't be a candyass, he was nothing on the fire extinguisher. Raven retorted loftily.

Only after you nearly broke his head open with it, Charles replied, though he obliged, reaching out, silent as a mouse.

Lehnsherr's mind was focused and clear, ruthlessly organised, memories catalogued and compartmentalised, and it was easy to slip quietly in, slink into the recesses of his mind and pluck a name from the depths of it all. “Business, Herr Lehnsherr? That requires a faked passport?”

Lehnsherr frowned slightly at him. “The passport is not faked.”

“Your name is Max Eisenhardt, not Erik Lehnsherr,” Charles drawled. “That's not what the passport says.”

“That...” Lehnsherr's eyes had grown wide for a moment, then he leaned forward, long fingers curled into the armrests, white knuckled. “How did you know that?”

Charles couldn't help it – he grinned impishly, even as at a silent, murmured go, Raven shifted into Lehnsherr's form behind him, her voice growing deeper, into an exact copy of his accented baritone. “How did you do that, Agent Xavier?”

Lehnsherr was gaping at the both of them, shocked to utter silence, and the Xavier siblings exchanged brief, sidelong glances before bursting into laughter, all pure mischief and mayhem, and Charles laughed all the harder when Raven shifted into a copy of him, in his tailored open-collared shirt and his black suit, the black fingerless gloves, and said, in his voice, “I guess I'm just a special breed of special cat.”

Charles made a visible effort to calm down, though mischief kept crinkling his mouth and his eyes at the edges. “I'm sorry to break it to you this way, Herr Lehnsherr, but you're not alone.”

“We're not actually sorry,” Raven disagreed, still wearing his form, propped back behind his chair, chin cupped on the pads of smooth palms.

“Well yes, but it's only polite to say that we are,” Charles lifted his left shoulder in a blithe shrug and allowed himself a neat, cynical curl to his lips. “Your documentation checked out about fifteen minutes ago. Welcome to the free world, Herr Lehnsherr. I'll get some forms for you to sign, you can declare what you're here to do and where, we'll put a suit on your tail, and with any luck, you'll never have to see us again.”

“What... why...” Lehnsherr took a deep breath. “Who are you?”

“Agents Xavier and Xavier, at your service, sir,” Charles pointed at himself, and then again at Raven-as-himself. “CIA, Paranormals Directive. That little trick you can do with metal forks and spoons? Over here, it's registrable. Anyone born special goes onto the system. Visitors like you get a conditional pass, seeing as you're not our problem until you become a problem, if you get my drift.”

“How did you know... you're a mind reader?” Lehnsherr said, disbelievingly. “And your-”

“Sister,” Raven supplied, flickering into her original form, thankfully dressed sensibly today in a white blouse and a pencil skirt, and to Lehnsherr's credit, he didn't recoil, only staring at her with unabashed wonder.

Lehnsherr seemed to be taking the revelation better than Charles had thought. He felt a little disappointed. “And your sister is a shapeshifter. This is remarkable. Gott, I never knew that there were others!”

“Mutants,” Charles corrected, and as Lehnsherr blinked at him, elaborated, “CIA classifies us 'others' as 'mutants', Herr Lehnsherr. These powers, they're mutations. Sort of like a wildly groovy allele with an unpredictable phenotype.”

“Your Oxbridge is showing,” Raven drawled, as she blurred back into her maybe-schoolgirl guise.

“You're a phillistine of a homozygous genotype.”

“You know I get so hot when you sweet talk me.” Raven smirked at Charles as he shuddered instinctively, game set and match, turning her currently emerald-green gaze back to Lehnsherr. “If you behave, this will all just seem like a bad dream in a couple of weeks or so.” Pity.

I concur, he has a most interesting ability, at that, Charles replied absently, But we're not here to encourage him to overstay his visa.

“What stops me from going to the papers?” Lehnsherr smiled, a little wryly, as though he already knew the answer – which Charles knew that he did, from a quick check.

“Oh yes, go to the papers,” Raven said archly, “I'll like to see that.”

“Then what was the purpose of this interview? Just to check that I was here on legitimate business? You could have done that quietly.”

Handsome cats were always the annoyingly smart ones. “I'm here to make sure that you sign the papers, Herr Lehnsherr.”

“And then you're going to take this memory away,” Lehnsherr predicted, proving Charles' aforementioned theory. “Aren't you? That's why you're not concerned in the least.”

“He's a smart one,” Raven said lightly, though Charles didn't need to check on her to know that she was tensing carefully.

“If you're going to take the memory away,” Lehnsherr said earnestly, leaning forward, “Then there can't be any harm in giving me a little more time. To talk. I've never met anyone like me – like us before.”

“And with any luck, you won't. Most of us here in the States are assimilated.” Charles was growing bored of the interview. Handsome could only take a cat so far.

Lehnsherr's smile faded. “And those of us who aren't?”

Charles tapped briefly and meaningfully at his head. “Then they might forget how to use the trigger in their mind that makes them special. Though,” Charles added, “It's a last resort, it only works on mutants with consciously triggered abilities, and we only do it to those who'd be a danger to themselves and to everyone.”

Lehnsherr exhaled, long and loud. “And you do this willingly, Agent Xavier?”

“If it's a choice between burning at the stake or affixing my thumbprint on a piece of paper and getting checked on now and then by some nice, unobtrusive and polite cats in pressed suits... I don't know, Agent Xavier,” Charles glanced up at Raven. “What do you think?”

Raven pretended to consider this carefully. “Bonfires are nice in the winter, Agent Xavier.”

“We shouldn't have to do this,” Lehnsherr said quietly, pulling up his sleeve meaningfully, up past a tattoo of a stark set of numbers on his forearm, the ink slowly fading to green. “No-one should.”

“Unfortunately, there are no Oskar Schindlers of the mutant world, Herr Lehnsherr,” Charles said, dryly, “No one with the money or the power to hide people like us under his wing from the big bad world. And besides, you of the Schindlerjuden would know that his money was running out near the end, and there were just, what, a thousand or so of you? There are more of us, all over the world, but there are far more people born 'normal'. So it's assimilation, or the nice bonfire.”

“Those should not be the only choices.” Lehnsherr's tone was firm, with a determined cast to his jaw.

“Quick upgrade for a cat who just found out that he wasn't the only one born with party tricks,” Raven pointed out.

“You should try-”

“Oh, we've tried striking out on our own,” Raven interrupted Lehnsherr sharply. “Wasn't fun, with no money.” She paused, then she amended, “At least, not at first.”

“You turn to thieving, cons and minor fraud just to eke your way along, and the next thing you know you're in a white cell in Langley and a suit is talking at you,” Charles said mournfully, shaking his head with archly feigned regret. “And then you get offered a ludicrous salary and an amnesty. Whatever is the world coming to.”

MacTaggert knocked on the door, signalling that the fun was over, and Raven sighed gustily. “That's our cue. Bye-bye, Herr Lehnsherr. You were funny at the start.”

Lehnsherr stared as MacTaggert entered the room with a clipboard of forms and a pen, placing it before him, then glancing at Charles. When he nodded, she inclined her head and left, closing the door behind her. Lehnsherr was flipping through the forms, a crease edging over his forehead, the pen levitating in the air and over to his fingers. When he noticed Charles and Raven watching him with avid curiosity, he smiled slowly. “Are you so sure that you want to get rid of me so quickly, Agents?”

“Oh please,” Raven muttered, even as Charles smirked and said, “You're not that good-looking,” then added, reflexively, “Ouch,” when Raven smacked him on the shoulder.

“Skank.”

“Sosh,” Charles retorted, if affectionately, and sighed. “Oh, do hurry up, Lehnsherr, we don't have all day.”

“I could be useful to your CIA,” Lehnsherr said mildly, tapping his fingers at the bolted metal table, and drawing a sphere from its surface in a liquid ripple, shaping it before their eyes into a crude chess piece, a king. “I followed a dangerous man to America. I have cause to understand that our interests may overlap.”

“The CIA isn't a solve-all janitor service for mere thugs, Herr Lehnsherr,” Charles said, even as he reached forward to pick up the king, running his thumb carefully over the blunted tips of the tiny cross at the crown. “This is really groovy, by the way.”

“Concentrate,” Raven poked him in the shoulder. “Just take a look in his mind, say something suitably cutting, make him sign, wipe him, and then we can go make awkward propositions as Agent Buckley to the tea lady on the third floor.”

“Slave driver.” Charles pressed his fingers to his head.

Twenty minutes and a quick chat with MacTaggert later, she stalked back into the room, lips pursed, frowning as she glanced at the table, where Erik had created the rest of the pieces as well as drawn up a board, and had challenged Charles to a game that was growing somewhat more absorbing than he had thought. It was possible that he would have to cheat to win. The concept was exhilarating.

“He stays,” she said shortly. “Up until what he says gets verified.”

“Upgraded from prisoner to guest, congratulations,” Charles smiled brightly at Lehnsherr, who blinked owlishly at him, narrowing his intense eyes for a moment.

“Also,” MacTaggert added, with a faint smirk, “He's your problem. Both of you.”

“What.” Raven stared.

“If he's right about what he thinks he knows, then there might be a Code Red situation. Therefore, you're both going to assist him.”

“Excuse me, miss?” Charles raised a hand, back ramrod straight, lower lip caught in his teeth, the very picture of a wayward student.

MacTaggert sighed. “Yes, Charles.”

“I thought that we weren't allowed to do any more field work together, mutant-locating missions aside,” Charles recalled. “Something about being a 'bloody natural disaster'?”

“It wasn't my call. Try to restrain yourselves.” MacTaggert shot back. “And for God's sake, try not to blow up anything this time.”

1.0

A 'bloody natural disaster' was an apt description, Erik thought, flattened to the seat with his fingers sunk into the leather as Charles veered out of the parking lot, barely dodging oncoming traffic, all the while grinning like a maniac. A chorus of angry horns and curses marked their passing as they somehow made it out of the CIA checkpoint without a fatal accident and careened onto the main road, with Raven leaning precariously out of the window of the passenger seat beside him, shouting creative invective and making a lewd gesture at the people they'd barely avoided doing murder to.

After five minutes in which Erik was fairly sure that (a) he had somehow fallen in with two destructive children and (b) if he died in these circumstances it would be for nothing as his life insurance probably didn't cover 'sheer suicidal stupidity', he forced the car to pull up on the side of the road, and growled, “I'll drive.”

“Amazing. That's what MacTaggert said the last time too,” Charles said, with perfect, wide-eyed feigned surprise, though the Xavier siblings obligingly slunk into the back of the car as Erik strapped himself in to the driver's seat and pulled it sedately back onto the road.

“How do you get home every day?” Erik muttered, keeping an eye on the traffic.

“We just left it,” Raven said, as if it was obvious, even as Charles said, dryly, “We don't usually leave it.”

“You're both...” prisoners, Erik thought, though he didn't voice it, surprised. A mind reader and a shapeshifter could easily get out of Langley by themselves. Together, a paltry set of security checks should have been child's play.

“Hardly prisoners,” Charles sounded amused, and for a moment Erik felt an uncomfortable sense of dissonance, yet again. Getting used to Charles' remarkable ability was going to take work. “We can leave whenever we want, we get paid, and we get to make sure that people like us don't end up getting hurt or hurting others. Fair deal.”

“You think that what you offer is peace?” Erik was trying his best to hang on to his patience, but the deep well of temper within him was beginning to wake. It seemed unbelievably cruel of Fate, that the first people that he had ever met that were born differently, like him, were also so blithely misguided. “It's not. You're culling your own kind, Charles. Forcing everyone to conform, or else.”

“'Force' is such a terrible word,” Charles was sprawled against the window, his legs propped carelessly over his sister's lap. “I prefer 'persuade'.”

“Call it what you want. You give the people you catch no choice at all in their fate.”

“Oh, there's always a choice.” Charles folded his hands behind his head, grinning into the rear window, bright-eyed, boyishly gorgeous and ruthless. “You might not always remember that you made one, that's all. No cute little suburb gets irradiated, burned, or iced up, no poor little kid gets lynched or shot, life goes marching on.”

Erik met Charles' stare evenly for a moment before he turned to check the traffic lights, unsettled by Charles' insouciance. “It isn't a good solution by any means. Can't you see that?”

Charles smiled at him, pityingly, and it was Raven that spoke, her tone sober. “We've been too late before. There were backlogs when Paranormal first started looking for mutants. We reached this house. It was in the evening, growing dark. Nice little brick house in Stafford. There was this little girl, 'round sixteen, who could walk on walls like a lizard, or a spider or something.”

“We drove up the driveway,” Charles said dreamily, his eyes growing distant. “Sunflowers and terracotta, white picket fence. I could feel her, she was frightened, but we were coming, coming up the driveway, so I slip into her mind to tell her, to tell her that we're nearly there, that she'll never be alone again.”

“Charles collapses. He's screaming,” Raven switched tenses, her voice growing low and strained, as though reliving the very moment. “'Don't, don't, mama, don't, I never, I'm not, please,' and then he's choking and thrashing like he can't breathe, then he's down and he's out, and while I'm kneeling there shaking him MacTaggert and Monty kick down the door, and...”

“And?” Erik found that he had slowed down only when the car behind blared its horn at him angrily, and in the rear mirror view, Charles flinched out of his reverie, blinking.

“They drowned her. Her parents, and a priest. In the family tub. Demonic possession. They put her soul at peace.” His haunted eyes in shadow, Charles crossed himself as he turned his head to peer out of the back window. “Amen.”

“Wicked! Do you have a limit to that? Could you pretzel a truck?” Raven asked, as the car groaned, pressured and warping, then Erik calmed himself with a deep breath, forcing his white-knuckled grip to relax over the wheel, keeping his temper under control. He couldn't imagine – for a telepath like Charles, it had to have been horrific: not only had Charles effectively found out what it had been like to drown, he would have been pulled under by the child's terror and sense of uncomprehending betrayal. Small wonder, if this was what Charles tended to do on a regular basis, that the telepath was so jaded.

“He hasn't tried it,” Charles obviously had a clear disregard of any sort of mental privacy boundaries. “But there you go. It's often the same story, whoever we meet. They're afraid, and often they have very good reasons to be afraid. That little girl? At least she died quickly. It wasn't always like that.”

Skeptically, Erik asked, “And registration changes that?”

“Some people just want to be left alone. For some others, knowing that they aren't alone, that's more than they ever wanted. If they need help learning how to control themselves, we help them. Or if they want to come into the fold, then MacTaggert might card them,” Charles ticked the 'options' off his pale fingers. “Especially those who might be 'useful to the CIA'.” Like you, the telepath added, unnecessarily, in his mind.

Lucky me, Erik replied wryly, thinking quickly. “What about those with visible mutations? Or those who can't hide?”

“If they haven't already been killed by their own families or abandoned? The CIA takes them away.” Charles shrugged. “Usually they're even grateful.”

“Takes them away.” Erik repeated, flatly. “Where?”

“You'll see.” Charles said vaguely, then added, “Oh, and take a left turn here, thank you.”

“Where are we going?”

“To one of the research facilities.” Charles yawned, projecting a route into his mind, all winding stretches of roads and turns and highways. “I'm going to kip for a while. Wake me when we're there.”

“You're very trusting,” Erik said, with a faint curl to his mouth. “You've only known me for a few hours.”

“That's long enough for a telepath.” Of course. “Also,” Charles added, shifting obligingly as his sister sprawled loose-limbed on top of him, “I could kill you with my brain.”

“Would you?” Erik asked, curious, meeting Charles' brilliant blue eyes in the rearview mirror. The telepath smiled, self-deprecatingly, as though at some concession, then he shifted down against the armrest and closed his eyes.

Erik waited until he could hear two sets of faint snores before finally wondering what the hell he was doing. He didn't need Raven, Charles or the CIA for his business in America, even if Charles would likely prove useful for locating the man named Shaw. Instead of having to resort to threats or tricks to ferret out Shaw's location from his known associates, he would just need to get Charles into reading range.

Still, for all that Charles and Raven would undoubtedly be helpful, they and the organisation that they were part of would evidently be far more trouble than they would be worth. Charles' ability had a frightening number of practical applications, particularly since he seemed to have the compunctions of a thief and the morals of a mercenary. Logically, Erik knew that he should have signed the documents, and kept his mouth shut. Sooner or later, even if his memories were wiped, he might have found others like him, anyway, if his sources had been right about a tall, smooth-talking German man who made a business of collecting 'special' people for dubious purposes.

Admittedly, as much as Erik had thought himself prepared for it, actually finding others like him, and so abruptly, had been an utter shock to his system. Let alone realizing that there was an entire system already in place for corralling and tagging them, and in the United States of America, no less. The free world. Irony was rife in that very concept, and Erik found himself smiling wryly to himself, absently rubbing at the wool over the tattoo that marked his arm, and decided to allow himself to be distracted. If he could subvert Charles to his point of view, or even shake some of Charles' convictions – that would be time well spent.

He would have to be very careful. And very subtle. But if he could pull it off – Charles would know where every mutant registered by the CIA was, or if he did not, he could easily find out. That was the sort of knowledge that, if used well, could change the world itself.

II.

Erik was suitably impressed by the sprawling research facility, though his expression hardened when he took in the reinforced walls and the multiple layers of security as they were escorted through the checkpoints into the outer circle of the Paranormals Division's EastSec quarters. So this is where they keep other mutants.

Not everyone, Charles replied, and grinned when Erik flinched, as though startled. Some of us.

But not you or your sister, Erik replied, curious, as they made it through the final security check into the outer ring of the facility, with its stark, smooth corridors and walls, like a nightmare's vision of a hospital. Home sweet home, version two.

We're full Agents, Charles responded. The people here aren't.

And they're all here out of their own free will. Erik eyed a passing, armed patrol meaningfully. The man had a healthy vein of suspicion within him that he probably nursed and watered and talked to.

Some places are better than the wide open world, Charles shrugged, and Raven glanced at him, questioningly. “Erik thinks that we're in a gulag. He's going to wig out.”

Raven snorted, even as the steel wall to their left opened up to a square garden, overlooking an admittedly incongruous statue and a perfectly normal-looking living room beyond, with a television set, couches, and several teenagers in various stages of drunken shenanigans, dancing to what was probably blaring music behind the soundproof glass.

“You can give him the tour, I'll see you later,” Raven suggested, even as they both looked longingly across the garden.

Why don't you give him the tour? Charles retorted.

Because you want to jump his bones more than I do? Raven smiled sweetly, raising her fingers to her temple in a playful imitation of Charles. Don't look surprised. Besides, he keeps staring at your ass when you're distracted.

Charles could in fact feel a faint, warm hint of attraction from Erik, but had been disregarding it – in this day and age, when relations between men were illegal, he tended to find it somewhat more trouble than it was usually worth, even if he could make a few alterations to his playmate's memories afterwards. Still, he felt, as he glanced over his shoulder at Erik, who was staring at the girl with the wasp's wings, levitating off the ground as she shook her hips at the others, Erik looked damned good, and that confident aura of power and grace that he wore so unconsciously definitely helped.

You can stop drooling, Raven told him tartly, as she headed towards the reinforced door that would take her out into the garden. I also expect a full case report afterwards, Agent Xavier.

Skank, Charles told her, with a faint smirk.

Sosh, she retorted, with a little wave of her hand, slipping out of the door and closing it behind her.

“So, how old are the both of you?” Erik asked, sounding rueful, thumbs hooked into the pockets of his dress pants, leading Erik around and away from the garden.

“Age is all in the mind,” Charles shot back over his shoulder, and Erik stiffened a moment as Charles projected a brief illusion of himself, stooped, older and graying at the temples.

“Rather too glorious a head of hair?”

“Shush.” Charles allowed the illusion to fade.

“What else can you do?” Erik asked, curious and, somewhat to Charles' surprise, utterly unafraid, and that was such a novel emotion coming from someone who wasn't Raven that he hadn't yet turned his mind to. Charles grinned impishly, and Erik abruptly flinched, looking around reflexively behind him. “Did you just pinch me?”

“No, but I made you feel it,” Charles tapped at his head. “The mind is a fantastic machine, all sensory based, and like any machine, a little tweaking can go a long way. Here we are,” Charles added, pushing open a reinforced door into the laboratory beyond.

Hank was crouched over a workstation, tinkering with the unravelling metal and copper innards of something possibly explosive, and he looked up with a quick, shy smile that faltered when he took in Erik, adjusting his glasses and scrambling to his feet. “Professor... someone new?”

“Professor?” Erik asked.

“Private joke. I'm not actually a professor,” Charles admitted, scooting around a precariously leaning monument of gnarled silver and cabling and through the organized disaster zone of Hank's laboratory, heading towards the raised, circular platform near the end, with its wreath of wires draped like vines from the amplifier apparatus. “Oxford offered me a chair after my genetics thesis, but the CIA called me back. The scholarship had run its course, I had to work off the bond. And before you frown at me, I have more than enough money right now to pay it off.”

“Then why don't you?” Erik had followed him, even as Hank clambered with prehensile grace up behind the raised platform to the console, adjusting switches and clearing the spools, bringing his baby up from sleep.

“Work's never work when you're having fun,” Charles flashed him a grin, pulling down the helmet. “Meet Baby.”

“Cerebro,” Hank corrected, in a mutter, behind him, but Charles ignored the scientist.

“She's how we're going to find the mark,” Charles fit the helmet lovingly over his head, listening to the background hum of the machines and the generators. “A psychic amplifier. She'll let me find anyone. Anything that I want.”

“It's how you found me, then? How you found everyone,” Erik said slowly, glancing at the rolls of printouts in their neat stack at the baskets to his right, tagged and ready for processing, his expression unreadable, but Charles could feel the tightly reined temper, the sharp edge of intense, roiling emotion that was so appealing to a telepath, that wanted him to drop in and touch and take it in, burn his fingertips on another person's passion.

Thankfully, Baby awoke at that point, and Charles was distracted as his mind expanded in an implosion of other-thought and other-selves, sifting through it with a laugh of feral joy as he caught himself with an ease born of practice and lifted himself above the morass, taking the locations and names from Erik's mind and searching, finding, sneaking in, then searching again, outward, the rush of power and sensation like the best fix in the world, the slew and pulse of all the life-minds around him sleeting through. Jimmy's over at the 'fridge and eight over at Barton's, mate, you're going to regret that mate, and God, Jesus, I hope you're listening- dived-

2.0

“Is this safe?” Erik asked dubiously, walking slowly around the raised platform. Charles had a vise-like grip on the curved rail, his cheeks flushed with color, and his lips moved, soundless, shaping words that weren't his own.

Hank glanced up, adjusting his glasses and looking mildly appalled at the question. “Of course it is. He has a session about once a week. More, if there's something important. They had to limit him,” the scientist lowered his voice, sounding embarrassed, glancing quickly at Charles.

“'They'?”

“The CIA,” Hank murmured, turning back to the printouts, studying them, and occasionally making a note on a clipboard on the workstation beside the spare spools of paper. “If Charles could get away with it, he'd use Cerebro everyday. Stay in it for hours and hours. He's, um, possibly addicted to it.”

“An amplifier.” Like a fix, Erik thought, a little angrily, before he calmed himself down. Perhaps this explained why Charles didn't want to leave. Without the funds or the technical means to set up and support his habit outside of the government-funded agency, if Charles was truly addicted to this infernal-looking machine in the worst sense of the word, then he had little choice but to stay, no matter how he explained it away.

Hank nodded warily, probably uneasy at Erik's tone, looking uncomfortably between Erik and Charles for a moment. “Uh. Oh. I'm Hank McCoy. Pleased to meet you.” Awkwardly, Hank threaded over to shake Erik carefully by the hand, a little limply. “I guess you're new here? One of us?”

One of us. The thought both invited and repulsed. As intriguing as the interior of the facility was, Erik didn't forget the security checks, the armed guards. “I'm a visitor. Erik Lehnsherr.”

Oh,” Hank said, in a way that suggested strongly that he didn't in fact understand.

“You don't have visitors here?” Erik asked, careful to keep his tone neutral. “Can't anyone leave?”

Hank seemed vaguely confused at the concept. “Well, yes. And some of us do. But they usually come back.”

“Fitting in just to hide away, as though there's something about ourselves to be ashamed of?”

Hank stared at him, blinking, then he put down the clipboard, and knelt down, unlacing his shoes and stepping out of them, revealing a pair of large, prehensile, ape-like feet. “Until I came here,” he said, picking up his clipboard again, “I never dared talk to girls. I was afraid that they'd look at me, and think...” his voice trailed off. “I know, I mean, seeing some of the others, I don't have anything to complain about, it's almost an invisible mutation. If I left my shoes on and went out, nobody would think that I was any different.”

“Hank. You're obviously a brilliant young man,” Erik said, as forcefully as he could. “And there's nothing wrong with you, or your feet.”

Hank nodded at him, clearly unconvinced, pushing his feet back into his shoes. “Well, then I joined the CIA, and then, about a few months after, I met the Professor. Things have changed.”

“What was he like? At first?”

“Angry. Lost, resentful, and extremely suspicious.” Hank recalled, then he smiled a little, quick and brief. “Until I took off my shoes and did a flip up backwards onto the edge of a wing of a plane. And Raven, she's amazing,” Hank's tone softened noticeably, then his ears pinked as he pretended to scrutinize the scrolling spool of printouts. “We don't have to hide when we're in here.”

“This isn't coexistence,” Erik growled, “It's aggravating the problem. If we end up having to live apart from humans, then so be it, but we shouldn't have to skulk and hide and hope that the world just drifts by.”

“When I was sixteen,” Hank said, examining a line on the spools, “My feet started to change. My parents got doctors, one line of doctors after another, and then they started to argue, the more it became obvious that I was different. I left before I could destroy everything. I knew how. Build a working rocket in your back yard and someone eventually notices you. They're okay now,” he added, when he saw Erik's expression, “I go home sometimes for Thanksgiving. There's worse out there. Especially some of the things that you hear from the others.”

Erik thought of a girl, drowning, finding out that she was not alone a breath too late to save her life, and clenched his fists. “Society evolves. It betters itself. Slowly, but surely. Eventually, it'll accept us, but not if we keep hiding and exacerbating the issue. Perpetuating the impression that there's something wrong with us, other than something right.”

“You know,” Hank checked the console readouts, “Sometimes, Charles talks like that. I don't know what he's come off as to you, but he's concerned about people like us. Mutants. He hates death, hates it when people get hurt. He won't even learn how to use a gun – Raven said he cheated to get a pass on that part of his agent training.”

“What happened?”

“Humanity happened,” Hank said, as though the answer was obvious. “He ran away from home when he was a child, when he first met Raven. Slept in shelters, wherever they could manage. Raven doesn't like to talk about it, but I gather that Charles wasn't yet very good at shielding himself. Blocking out the thoughts of others,” Hank elaborated, when Erik opened his mouth. “The minds he touched when he was growing up, before he learned, the things that he saw in them, they marked him.”

Fragmented minds. Going from shelter to shelter, Charles would have read the minds of people who had fallen through the cracks, those that sold themselves, those that abused others, those who simply weren't entirely present any longer, worse. And yet somehow, he and Raven... “He met Raven?”

“She's not really his sister. But only in blood. They're very close.” Erik could detect the faintest hint of envy in Hank's tone. “I think that they trust nobody but each other.”

And why shouldn't they? The world would have taught them little else. For the first time, Erik looked at Charles with something akin to pity. His own fate had been a charmed one. Had he not been picked as one of the Schindlerjuden... it was entirely possible that things would have turned out differently. The temper that he held within him, his ability itself, could easily have been shunted towards violence, towards hatred.

Charles was given an hour in the machine at any one session, apparently, and even as Hank chatted with him a little self-consciously about his work, about Cerebro, about genetics and cellular structures and of some of the others who lived full-time in the facility, Erik could see him checking his watch, until finally he padded away to a cabinet, unlocking it and taking out a set of wrapped needles with globular ends.

“It's a sedative,” Hank explained, as he pulled on a pair of surgical gloves and unwrapped a needle. “My mixture. The effects are instant and there aren't any side-effects, marks or reliance problems.”

“What do you need a sedative for?” Erik asked, warily.

“The moment he drops out of Cerebro,” Hank gestured at Charles, “You're not always sure whether it's Charles. Feedback loops,” Hank tried to explain, then at Erik's frown, he shook his head and went back to the console. “You'll see.”

The machine began to power down, the background thrum growing softer, the halo of fluoro-lights dimming from the helm, then with a pneumatic hiss, the Cerebro helmet lifted slowly off Charles' head. The telepath gasped wetly, stumbling, and Erik instinctively reached out to right him with a hand on his arm. Charles flinched, glancing up at him, his eyes glassy and his smile crooked, and purred, “Darling,” in a rough drawl of an accent that sounded nothing like his normal voice, “Give us one, there's a luv,” and as Erik stared, uncomprehending, Charles took a step into his personal space and kissed him, a hard press of lips and a wicked twist of his hips and an inarticulate, greedy little moan, then he was slumping, dead weight in Erik's arms as Erik staggered backwards a step under their combined weight, absolutely and utterly stunned.

“There,” Hank was standing behind Charles, carefully removing the needle from his neck, looking apologetic. “Sorry. At least it wasn't one of the violent ones. Since the machine's shut down from our end, we can't tell whether he's inside someone's head or not when the sync stops.”

“No matter,” Erik's voice sounded strangled even to his ears, cradling Charles in his arms. His mouth tingled, and he could taste Charles, almost, still. “Where can I...?”

Hank pointed wordlessly at a cot tucked in the corner of the laboratory, within easy reach of the Cerebro machine. “It'll wear off in half an hour. He'll be fine by then. Usually.”

Erik carried Charles carefully over to the cot, arranging him gently on the sheets, smoothing a wayward curl from his forehead. Charles' pretty face was slack, lush lips slightly parted, and he looked vulnerable and far too young for the sort of trouble that he'd obviously fallen headlong into. Out of the corner of his eye, Erik could see Hank ambling back to the cabinet, presumably to dispose of the used needle, and he bent quickly, murmuring an impulsive promise of change into Charles' ear. Somehow, he would find a way.

III.

Charles took his time waking up, sending his mind outwards, first, reaching Raven out of habit to give her an impression that he was all right, amused at the drunken disorder that he found and the playful party-here-strip poker! that she replied with, then reaching further, outward, until he found MacTaggert at the edges, to give his report.

Las Vegas, MacTaggert considered this, then, Another like you?

Another like me, Charles agreed, excited at the very thought. Whoever Shaw was, by his side had been another telepath, someone whom he couldn't touch. She'd felt something, even as Charles had quickly backed away, but they hadn't seemed spooked. They were waiting for someone to arrive. Two days. He'd picked that out of one of the unguarded minds around the telepath, someone with an mind in a flit of disjointed images. A teleporter.

Then we don't have any time to lose. I'll make a report, get instructions, then I'll pick you up in a few hours. If we're facing someone like you, then you'd best come along. MacTaggert replied briskly, her thoughts processing packing and Interpol and Nazi gold all the while.

Ten four, Charles replied cheerfully, even as he withdrew, pulling himself back, until light burned red under the lids of his eyes and he was sitting up with a start, disoriented for a heartbeat until he registered the cot, the disaster-zone lab, as well as Hank and Erik watching him from the platform, as if waiting for a reaction.

“I'm going to Vegas,” Charles said the first thing on his mind, then as he felt uncertainty from them, added, “Shaw is there. He has a telepath, they might know that I'm coming, but MacTaggert will be here soon.” He took a deep breath, and grinned, still enthralled, the world sharp and brilliant and visceral so soon after Baby, madly, wildly alive from the tips of his hair to his toes. “Another telepath!”

Hank was worried – Charles could feel the scientist's nagging doubt. “Professor, you're usually too... wired after a session. If MacTaggert's coming, you should get some sleep. I'll get Raven.”

“Nonsense,” Charles disagreed, then backed up on the cot with, “You can't make me,” when Erik approached purposefully, Erik, and when had he stopped thinking of 'Erik' as 'Lehnsherr'? The car, Charles realized, even as Erik got a hold of his left arm and tugged gently. Somehow, subconsciously, Charles had begun to trust Erik and his strange brand of idealism, just a little. It was novel, after all, and Charles liked novel things.

Distracted, he'd let Erik pull him to his feet. “I'll walk you to your room,” Erik said firmly, and as Charles blinked at him, he saw himself in a brief, shocked-sweet memory, Darling give us one there's a luv and he laughed, delighted and unashamed.

“Hank, you weren't very fast this time.”

Erik's expression didn't change, though the tips of his ears reddened a little.

“You nearly broke my nose the last time,” Hank muttered, sounding injured from where he was tinkering with the paper spools.

“I was sorry afterwards,” Charles protested, trying to resist as Erik began to tug him out of the lab, navigating strewn equipment and the occasional discarded notepad. “I mean, I even told you what Raven was wearing under her-”

Just get him out of here please,” Hank mumbled, and Charles was still chuckling wickedly to himself when Erik finally manoeuvred them out of the lab and back into the sterile corridor.

“Where are your rooms?” Erik asked patiently, ignoring how Charles was trying to wriggle out of his grip.

“The others are playing strip poker,” Charles complained, digging in his heels. “I want to go, I'm good at it.”

“You cheat.”

“Well, yes,” Charles said, as if everyone knew that, and Erik snorted, pulling him pointedly in the opposite direction of the living space. “Oh, come on, you can play too, I mean,” Charles added an appreciative note to his voice, “Nobody's going to complain if you join in.” Oh yes. Erik should play.

“You're going to rest.”

“But we'll be going soon,” Charles complained. Erik's grip was unbreakable. “You don't understand, I don't want to be alone, not after a session, it's unbearable, it's empty, like-”

Erik's sidelong stare was hard and uncompromising. “Like the shakes. Like withdrawal symptoms. Hank said that you have to rest. Who usually makes you?”

“Raven,” Charles admitted, before he could stop himself, biting down a whine as he felt a hot rush of raw temper like a pulse of electricity, anger-pity, gritty and molten on the tip of his tongue, and Erik made a surprised sound as Charles pulled him forward, all but jogging towards the living quarters, barely seeing the others that greeted him as he passed, registering them only in different flavors of thought, Oh it's Charles and New one? and Sleepy, hot cocoa, oh! Oh, it's just the professor and he had managed to drag Erik all the way into his room, shoving the door shut with his foot, the voices outside silenced instantly as the reinforced room's negation circuit closed tight. Thank God for Hank.

Erik didn't react, not outwardly, when Charles clawed fingers into the wool over his shoulders and slanted their mouths together, hungrily, buzzed and light-headed from the scraps of stolen memories, of lives that he'd never live, of worlds all in between, and he heard a sharp, worried Charles, then a softer, wary, God, does he know, then beautiful, so beautiful, like a mantra, strained and brittle.

Want this, want you, he responded, opening his shields a crack, projecting want-desire-more in a spike that would have hit any red-blooded man like a torrent, and Erik was moaning as he bent Charles back, fingers twisted in his hair, a hard curve pressed and riding up against his thigh, God yes but lust was better like this, when it was wild like this, sprawling teeth-scraping and biting and writhing in a tangle of limbs as Erik walked them backwards onto his bed.

“Charles, Charles, stop that,” Erik was panting against his ear, hot breath curled against his neck, hands fisted in the quilt, “I know what you're doing to me, stop.”

“You want it,” Charles breathed, dragging his teeth up in a raw scrape against Erik's neck, rucking his hands up under the turtleneck, tugging, and when Erik hesitated, fists clenched, lean back arched tight in a bow, Charles whispered, you want it, deeper down, pulling the strings, gathering his own blind hunger and feeding it back to Erik in a paralysing hook that demanded and commanded at the same time, dragging out a wet, choked gasp and a rough, rolling buck against his thigh. Charles rolled them over, laughing, all bared white teeth as Erik shuddered and tugged at his belt, the metal of the buckle rattling and warping, dragging up Erik's turtleneck, all greedy, stroking hands over the lean lines of muscle. Erik arched, head snapping back with a hoarse moan, when he scratched his thumbs over pebbling nipples, and Charles bent for a kiss, scrambling up, looking to catch a lip between his teeth and tug-

Ice-cold water splashed down over them both, a shock of sensation that jerked Charles into a blank of confusion, yelping and twisting around, only for Raven to throw the second glass of water in her hands right in his face. Bringing up his hands, sputtering, thinking Raven-what-stop, she snarled and fisted her hands in his shirt, dragging him bodily towards the bathroom and hauling him into the shower and turned on the water, set to freezing cold, until his instinctive protests and flailing faded.

Fuck.

“Yeah.” Raven sat down next to him in the shower, ignoring how the water immediately soaked her skirt and shoes, hugging him to her when he curled against her with a low gasp. “Damn it, Charles!” Why didn't you tell me that you were going to use Cerebro? Your session's not for another week!

“MacTaggert said that I could use it to find Shaw,” Charles mumbled, but he didn't offer any other excuses, shaking from more than the cold water soaking through his clothes. I'm sorry-I'm sorry-

“Hank should have fucking known better,” Raven growled, petting his hair and rocking him. “Shh. Shh. World's quiet. There's just us.”

“Charles?” Charles shuddered at the sound of Erik's voice and pushed his face into Raven's shoulder, felt concern-question-caution at the tips of his thoughts, and God, those iron bands of control that were all that were holding back on Erik's temper, he could almost taste it, so close at the edges, making his mouth water-

“Make him go, make him go,” Charles said, clutching at Raven's shoulders, ignoring the sharp intake of breath that Erik made. “His mind, it's all edges, all depth, I can't, I want-”

“I'm sorry about this,” Raven said apologetically, though her tone was flatly neutral. “The guest rooms are down the left, right turn. Or if you're hungry, just go right instead, and ask anyone.”

When Erik left, closing the door with an accusing click, silencing the world again save for Raven's familiar mind, she sighed. “I know what I said to you before I went drinking, but really, Charles. You should have known better. What would have happened if I had been drunk, or if Hank couldn't find me, or...”

“Love my baby,” Charles mumbled, then, more absently, “Decaf soy, caramel twist,” and then he yelped as Raven pinched him smartly on the arm and took a deep breath. “I'm me. I'm me.”

“Yeah. Shh.” Raven rubbed her palm over the mark, gently. “Shh.”

3.0

The Xavier 'siblings' were their usual ebulliently mischievous selves when MacTaggert showed up in an unmarked black car, piling into the back seat and chattering excitedly about excursions and field trips. Erik strapped himself into the front passenger seat, and MacTaggert frowned at him, then glanced over her shoulder at Charles.

“Why is he here?”

“I thought that we could just drop him off back at headquarters,” Charles said, with a dismissive flap of his hands. “I'll wipe him, then you can give him back his luggage.”

“Wait just a minute,” Erik said sharply, “What?”

“We have what we need from you,” Charles' grin was impish, and if not for the wariness in his eyes and in Raven's, Erik would have wondered if he had imagined all of the last hour. “You can get back to your usual life. Since you don't want to register, and you're not an American.”

“Would you register a non-American?” Erik asked MacTaggert, watching the Xaviers exchange significant glances through his peripheral vision.

“Usually, no,” MacTaggert pursed her lips, “But we do occasionally make exceptions.”

What.” Both Raven and Charles frowned in concert, then Raven said, “But he's German,” and Charles objected, “But we don't need him.”

“He can work metal,” MacTaggert shot back, “A man who can work metal is possibly, immune to being shot. Unlocks safes. Removes land mines. Disengages bombs. The applications are endless.”

“Useful to the CIA,” Charles said, with a sigh, and a hard, wary look at Erik. What do you want? I've already said that I'm sorry.

And I told you that there was nothing to forgive, Erik replied, as patiently as he could. I came to America on the hopes of finding others like me, Charles, not because of Shaw. I just thought that Shaw was my only chance. That it would have taken someone – or some people – special to have made that heist on the Nazi gold cache. And then I met you.

What do you want? Charles repeated, his eyes narrowing. Why aren't you afraid?

And that had to be the crux of the Xaviers' concern, as tragic as it was. Everyone exposed to Charles when he was out of control must have been frightened by his ability, and perhaps understandably so, to have their own actions and thoughts taken and turned against them, their minds drawn under Charles' thumb. Erik had been shaken, but he was not afraid, and this would not have been something that Charles and Raven had faced before.

You didn't make me do anything that I did not want. Erik tried, as MacTaggert took them both onto the road, apparently taking their silence as assent.

You told me to stop, I didn't. Charles replied, his thought shaded in weariness.

I wanted you to stop because I sensed that something was wrong. It didn't mean that I didn't want you. Erik pointed out. In the rear view mirror, he could see Charles chewing at his lower lip as he looked at Raven, locked in silent conversation. Charles, I want to help you. All of you.

I don't want to believe you. Charles replied, after a while, turning his gaze out of the window at the passing traffic.

A telepath's words and phrasing... But you do believe me.

I've not seen otherwise. Charles response was distant, reserved. “Are we flying private?”

“Obviously, after what you did the last time on that commercial flight,” MacTaggert growled. “But before you ask, neither of you will be drinking, and you will not be allowed to spend the entire flight completing my crossword 'for me', or discussing confidential matters that you're not meant to be privy to, or doing anything that will tempt me to kick you out of the plane. Without a parachute.”

“Why don't you just tranquillize me and wake me up when we're there?” Charles pouted, adorable, Erik thought, then he looked away from the rear window quickly when Charles' stare swung up to meet his.

“Don't think that I've never been tempted,” MacTaggert retorted tartly.

“But I didn't bring a book, I'll be bored,” Charles complained, and Raven nodded vigorously next to him. “And then Raven will be bored.”

“I've packed a chess set,” MacTaggert said, and at the Xaviers' twin, impressed expressions, she snapped, “It's the only thing that keeps you well-behaved short of new things to poke around at and heavy sedation. I was going to sacrifice one of the unsuspecting new CIA recruits for you to torture for the duration of the flight, but your new friend here will serve just as well.”

“Marry me,” Charles declared, already curled with his sister on the back seat, apparently unable to muster the attention span required on the drive back to CIA headquarters to stay awake, though Erik could feel his presence settling tentatively against his mind. Actually, would you rather that we just called you 'Max'?

That belonged to a different life. Erik replied neutrally. One with parents that he now barely remembered, in a world that had yet been subsumed by a madman's hatred.

All right, Erik it is. Charles' tone was polite, as though treading on eggshells, but he seemed to have lost some of his wariness, enough for Erik to put forward the foremost question on his mind.

What did you mean, about my thoughts? My mind?

Charles' eyes remained resolutely closed, but he replied, after a long moment, Intense emotions are a little like pure sensation. It's... I can't describe it, not in words. But I can't help but get drawn towards it.

A moth and a flame? Erik supplied, wryly.

Sort of. Embarrassment was threaded thick in Charles' tone. Usually, I don't lose control like that.

Because Raven doesn't let you. Erik wasn't entirely sure what he felt about that. Envy, like Hank's, but in a different way. Charles trusted Raven so absolutely that even his subconscious knew her, that even when he was blown out of his mind on whatever wearing Cerebro felt like, he trusted her enough to use her as a safety net. Do you read her mind?

When we first met, she asked me not to. But that changed, Charles replied, a little sadly. It had to. We had no one but each other. We needed to share. I needed her. It might have been different if I had stayed home; my family lived far enough away from concentrated populations. But with so many people around, all the time, so many who were broken, I needed a focal mind to concentrate on. To keep me sane. It's a habit now. Defensively, Charles added, She reads mine too, if she wants. Whenever she wants. I can share thoughts.

Grudgingly, Erik felt a growing respect for Raven Xavier. Yet, having grown up with someone like Raven, who had opened up her very core to another person, willingly become their bulwark and bastion, Charles had still, somehow, grown up so frighteningly jaded.

Because there's no one else like Raven, Charles supplied, and there was a certain sardonic humor there. I suppose that if I'd learned 'morals' and 'privacy' I might have had a better view of humanity in general, but – particularly with Cerebro – I've seen people for all that they are. The men who beat and rape their wives, hell, their children. The people who'd hurt and subjugate others born with a different skin color. Seen the venal nature of their minds and their stubborn instinct towards hatred. Charles' lips were curled faintly in a cool twist, in the rearview mirror. That's the distinction between people and animals, take my word for it. We alone possess a capacity for pointless, casual cruelty.

Then why does Cerebro affect you like that? Erik pressed. Is it the power? Or the reach? What are you searching for?

When I'm in Cerebro, Charles replied, reluctantly, I can see everything. All those lives, out there, all those experiences that I've never had, all those sensations and memories that I'd never live, cruel and kind, gentle, fierce, it's... it's something else, he added, knowing-feeling inadequate. Then I come back down, and it's like the world's smaller, like it's lost its color, my control's shot and sometimes, there's fragments up there. I need my room to sort them out.

If Charles could only learn some self-restraint, particularly over his ability, more than the bare minimum that he needed in order to function normally, his use of Cerebro might be nowhere near this dangerous.

You're crazy, did you know that, Charles was still rambling on, his tone threaded with doubt-curiosity, Take your reason for being unafraid of me. How do you know whether you really do want me? How do you know that it isn't feedback? Is it really you? Is it me?

You're afraid, Erik realized, Of your own ability. God, Charles, of all things-

I don't know what I can really do, if I really wanted to, hell, I don't know what I might be doing, right now, that I'm not consciously doing, Charles' voice was an insidious whisper that he could barely make out, even as he concentrated.

Do people always do things that you want? When you don't concentrate?

... No. There was a ghost of a grin, there, that Erik could see. Or we'd have kissed long before that little disaster with Cerebro. A heartbeat, then Charles added, more softly. Maybe.

There you go then. Erik turned the idea around in his mind, comfortably. There's nothing to be concerned about.

And you really believe that. Erik didn't feel anything, but he knew that Charles was probing around in his mind, searching. You do. There was a long, empty pause, then Charles murmured, softly, I've never... not even Raven at the start... you're definitely crazy. There was awe there, astonishment, and, in a tiny undercurrent, filtered under the wash of emotion that bled over, a kernel of hope. Good. There's no one out there like Raven. But I've never met anyone like you, either.

Charles was silent for the rest of the trip to a private CIA airfield, up until MacTaggert pulled up and headed on a brisk walk towards the plane, jogging up to her with a clear intent to annoy. Erik stretched surreptitiously before following on a more sedate pace, with Raven by his side. “Six hour flight,” he said, looking at the sleek, small plane.

Raven smiled prettily at him, in her blonde maybe-schoolgirl form, and leaned in to whisper into his ear. “If you hurt him, I will cut your balls off and feed them to you.” Inclining her head politely when Erik stared at her, startled, she trotted off after her brother.

IV.

“Far out!” Raven crowed, as they took in the private jet, from the sleek cream-colored leather seats near the cockpit to the miniature conference room beyond, with its circle of plush seats and a sleek, low mahogany table in between, magazines and papers stacked in a leather rack against the hull.

“The last few times we had to fly 'private', we were in some skanky little plane that rattled all the time. I sort of feel like we've been screwed, all this while,” Charles told MacTaggert, as he plopped down on the plush seat beside his sister at the table.

“This plane is new,” MacTaggert scowled at him, as she strapped herself in near the cockpit, “And meant for CIA long-haul emergencies.”

“We could have taken Hank's Blackbird,” Raven said loyally, snuggled into her seat as she was.

“That plane's still in prototype testing, and only Hank seems to understand how it works,” MacTaggert disagreed. “Besides, it's hardly unnoticeable. Strap yourselves in here. You can run around the plane like idiots after takeoff.”

Charles caught Erik wearing a faint smile as he and Raven obliged, strapping in opposite MacTaggert and Erik. You trust her?

Charles glanced briefly between Erik and MacTaggert. She's the best of them. When the CIA first found us, they wanted to get rid of me. She talked them out of it. In retaliation, they put her in charge of all of us, but that's been for the best. She thinks of us as people. Difficult, occasionally annoying, and sometimes dangerous, but people nonetheless. Not all of them do.

Hardly a good compromise. Erik replied, but his mind was calm, contemplative. Bored, Charles squirmed in his chair and occupied himself in flicking through the co-pilot's extremely mundane day, from his sexless morning-kiss-with-the-missus to the donut and coffee that he'd had in the CIA cafeteria, to the performance checks that he'd made on the plane before they boarded. The co-pilot had thought that Raven's maybe-schoolgirl form was hot, and had briefly entertained a French maid fantasy; amused, Charles shared this information with his sister and smirked as her face screwed up briefly in disgust.

Why don't you read Erik's mind? Raven responded, thinking ew-skanky-what at the lingering impressions. I bet he's more interesting.

Not so soon. What he had almost done back in the facility was still a fresh horror in his mind, and unless he had to verify something, it was probably better to stay away. Erik's carefully organised, high-performance, complex goal-oriented mind with its wellspring of passionate conviction was savagely addictive in its own right.

After takeoff, it took about ten minutes for the novelty of luxury to wear off, during which Erik had quietly set up the chessboard in the conference room, seated at black, smiling faintly and appreciatively as Charles slouched down at white. The warm buzz of interest that he'd felt before at the edges of Erik's mind was there again, and it was, Charles decided, somewhat comforting. Flattering, at the very least. And despite his words to Raven only a short while ago, Charles couldn't help but take a peek.

“Your move, Charles,” Erik said, even as Charles saw himself in Erik's mind, a warm image of a sun-drenched bedroom somewhere, probably in Europe, antique, quaintly fixed-height buildings in a snaking blur outside of the long window. The fantasy wasn't sexual in the least, which was intriguing; Charles was laughing, grinning hugely, dressed down in a sports jacket and a blue shirt, two buttons undone, loose jeans hugging his hips all the way down to brown loafers, jumping up and down on the bed like a child.

Puzzled, Charles moved his pawn, e4, not even watching as Erik reached forward, c5, resisting the urge to take a peek at Erik's strategy so early into the game, and moved his knight, Nf3. The Charles in Erik's mind was shaking his shoulders to music that he couldn't hear, all the while grinning an impish little grin, blue eyes wide and bright and joyous, and disoriented, Charles shared it with Raven, watched her freeze for a moment with her nose in a tabloid.

Erik's? Raven asked, turning a page, then at his assent, felt puzzled-curious. It's like what you would be like if we were normal, she added finally, all that energy when it isn't being shunted away into keeping tabs on everyone to make sure that we're safe. Erik put down another pawn, d6, and after a moment's thought, Charles pressed forward one of his own, d4, then he nearly burst out laughing when Raven continued, thoughtfully, or maybe he's a pervert.

Raven, Charles admonished, ignoring how Erik frowned at his sidelong grin and glanced between the both of them.

Well look at that, Raven retorted, I mean, it's adorable and all, but it's so terribly, unconvincingly vanilla.

Watch this, Charles replied, and felt around Erik's mind, unobtrusively, until he slipped his touch around the image's strings, and had him bounce off the bed with a laugh, striding up towards the viewpoint with a sultry, inviting smile and a shake of his hips, lean up and pull down the viewer, and Erik's eyes were wide and Raven burst out laughing, snapping the strings.

“Raven thought that the original picture was too boring,” Charles said, carefully unrepentant, and Erik switched his stare between the both of them again before smiling wryly.

“I thought perhaps that you would enjoy Paris,” he murmured, taking Charles' pawn, cxd4, leaning forward with his elbows on the stretch of his thighs. “Both of you.”

“By jumping up and down on a bed?”

“There's a lovely boutique hotel,” Charles couldn't quite make out if the purr in Erik's words was spoken, or threaded over in his mind, “Over at the Latin Quarter.” And with the right number of moves, extradition back to the United States could be made very difficult.

Charles was tempted for a brief, fleeting moment before he remembered himself, and he shook his head slowly, moving his knight up to take the offending pawn, Nxd4, even as Raven snorted and continued to read some lurid tale about movie star romances. “Maybe you should go back and visit it when you're finished here.” Erik was a highly intelligent man, and he'd made his goals clear – Charles would have to be careful.

I'll enjoy that. Particularly if you're there by my side, Erik replied, his lazy smile a loud invitation, and Charles slipped back into his mind just in time to watch himself-Erik kiss the Charles image, soft and slow with a juxtaposition of disjunct sound the way daydreams took, when adding sensory stimulus was a conscious choice. He could fix that. Playfully, Charles enhanced the images, stitching in sounds and taste from the memories he had from the facility, had the Charles-image make a wet, obscene little groan just up against Erik's ear before mouthing at the lobe and rubbing his hips against Erik's thigh, nudged the sensory centres of Erik's mind just enough that he could feel the lick of his tongue, the warm breath against his ear, the brand of heat going up his thigh.

Erik sat up, startled, flushing, his eyes darkening, vivid with a sort of fascinated desire, and Raven looked at him, then at Charles' grin of mischief, and let out a deep sigh. “I'll just get back over there, shall I?”

You could stay if you want, Charles suggested, even as Erik shivered and squirmed as he felt warm hands splay up his back, thumbs nudging up the ridges of his spine.

As much as it might be fun watching you drive Erik crazy, I'm not sure that I want to be here when he jumps you, Raven scooped up all the magazines and trotted back towards the cockpit, closing the conference room door behind her. Try not to work him up until he shorts out the plane, or something all right? I hate crashing.

Ten four, Agent Xavier, Charles replied, even as he rested his cheek against a palm, elbow propped on the plush seat. “Your move, Herr Lehnsherr.”

Erik flicked his tongue briefly over his lips, then he moved a pawn to g6, even as in his mind he had walked them both back onto the bed, pinning Charles to it with fervent kisses even as he unbuttoned his shirt, his movements unhurried, until he'd bared the Charles-image to the navel, dotting wet, open-mouthed kisses down his neck and over the strip of flesh.

Charles grinned, bringing up his other knight to c3, and had the image reach down to squeeze Erik's erection, through his pants, then palm it, smirking as the sensation had Erik gasp volubly and dig his heels into the carpet, flushing, though he didn't break their gaze, remaining gloriously unafraid, curious even, challenging him, with a sly smile of his own, reaching out, using his bishop to threaten a knight at g7.

Charles had the image flip them over, pulling up the turtleneck's hem to tongue playfully over Erik's navel, chuckling when Erik jerked in his chair, moving his own bishop to guard his knight at e3, even as image-Charles undid Erik's belt and pulled down his pants, all the way to his ankles, underwear and all, and applied a playful, tonguing suck over the swelling head of Erik's cock, rubbing the tip over the circumcision scar, and Erik was breathing shallowly, eyes closed, his knight clenched in his fist. He moaned, badly stifled, when the image pressed another, slower lap over the scar and kissed down to settle between spread thighs, laving tightening balls with his tongue, peppering the skin with sucking kisses, forcing Erik to writhe with a choked sound in his chair, dropping the knight, looking up with eyes that were blown dark and wild.

Bitte,” he said hoarsely, coupled with a string of ragged German that sounded far hotter than the guttural consonants should. Charles grinned, rising to his feet, leaning forward to tip over Erik's king, before swivelling the chair around to give himself a little space, sinking down on his knees. Erik spread his legs with undisguised eagerness once they'd worked over the matter of the belt and jerked his pants down to his ankles.

Cerebro aside, Charles had had men before, and women, and had long come to the conclusion that he had no real preference for either; what drew him in was the flavor of his partner's mind, the strength of its presence, and he was drunk on Erik's, enmeshed in its complex saturation of logic and emotion, all vivid color and taste. He registered less the actual salt and bitter of Erik's skin, the drag of his tongue over the swollen red cap, the musk, the twitch of powerful thighs against his shoulders, caught up in the hissed moan and the welter of hotly sonant want-you-Charles in his mind, clear and sharp through the tangle of lust-need, the utter lack of concern that the others in the plane would guess at their sins.

Erik was gasping something unintelligible when Charles carefully took more of him into his mouth, working on deadening his body's gag reflex; long fingers were clutching at and shaking over his shoulders, and Erik was – Erik was biting on his lower lip, wild-eyed, arms trembling from the effort of holding still, and Charles smirked, lips stretched over that gorgeous, thick cock, held Erik's hips down as he finally worked out how to switch off his gag reflex and swallowed him down. Erik let out an undignified, gloriously desperate sound, and as a precaution, Charles reached back up into his mind and found the strings that he was looking for, this time with the ease of practice, and forced him to hold back, to sit on the very edge of orgasm and wait, dangling, powers shuttered, just in case.

Erik whimpered, then he jerked his hips as Charles hummed, wickedly, and then he whined as Charles pulled back in a gritty drag, pressing his tongue up against the stretch of flesh. When he pulled back all the way with a teasing smirk, at the hissed string of invective, Erik shot him a disbelieving look, panting, “Charles,” then something stuttered, then, as Charles pointedly sucked his own fingers into his mouth, slicking them up, he groaned, “... hab' ihn selig...

“Patience, my friend,” Charles said, with mock tenderness, and added, sharply, “Not the hair,” when fingers curled up the nape of his neck. Erik obeyed, chewing on his lower lip again, fingers clutched at Charles' shoulders as he took Erik back into his mouth, pressing a slicked finger against the pucker of muscle between Erik's thighs as he did so, pushing in when Erik snarled, impatient.

Move, Charles suggested, then felt amused at Erik's startled disbelief, purring at the first, tentative thrust, allowing Erik to set a rhythm, measured at first and unaccountably slow, until Charles finally skated two fingers deep within him and crooked them, finding the exact spot that made Erik yelp and snap his hips forward.

Bitte,” Erik begged again, this time in a shallow rasp, as Charles hummed again, taking, enjoying how Erik was using his mouth, his throat, sucking in his cheeks and smirking as Erik made that desperate sound again, his mind a rambling jumble of pleas in German and broken English. Relenting, Charles let go of the strings that he held, drawing back as he did so, swallowing greedily when Erik spent himself with a strangled groan, then sinking back on his knees and wiping the excess onto his fingers, licking himself clean as Erik stared, wide-eyed and dazed and so deliciously fucked out of his mind.

I'll be right back, Charles told him, not trusting his voice at this point, getting unsteadily and painfully to his feet and dodging Erik's feeble grab. The conference room might unfortunately smell of sex for the rest of their trip, but he didn't want to have to explain suspicious stains to MacTaggert.

Erik stumbled into the bathroom and growled when he saw Charles leaning heavily against the wall and jacking off, pulling him unsteadily up with Charles' back against his chest instead, shoulder tucked under Erik's chin while those long, elegant pianist's fingers took over roughly, in sharp, tight drags that soon had him trembling as he spilled, his shout muffled over the fingers that he'd pushed into his mouth. Boneless, he let Erik clean them both up, flushing the tissues and washing their hands, then he grinned shamelessly as he was turned against the sink and looked over, up and down, leaning forward to take Erik's mauled lip in his mouth and suck.

Erik hissed, pressing down to kiss him, roughly at first, then slower, deeper, until Charles was melting against him and it was only the sink and Erik's arms keeping him upright, wading through the hot-bright-warmth of Erik's projected emotion, affection Charles parsed, with a start, something indefinable, a little beyond lust, not yet at tenderness.

4.0

“Vegas!” Charles and Raven were plastered up against the glass of the black sedan once they were in full sight of the infamous line of casinos and hotels that made up the Strip, wide-eyed at the glaringly bright lights, the miasma and glitz of human greed. Beside him, in the driver's seat, MacTaggert looked visibly stressed; something had happened, Erik guessed, some slip of information had come through, when they'd landed in the airstrip and she'd been presented with a phone call.

There's a big, fat, military cat in town, Charles told Erik, without turning away from their almost childish gawking at the bright lights. Hendry. US Army Colonel. CIA thinks that he's going where we're going.

A mutant? Erik asked, puzzled. This seemed out of the ordinary for Shaw – to date, of what Erik had managed to glean of the mysterious gold-thief, he preferred to be low profile.

Maybe. CIA's worried, Charles replied, then added, Raven thinks that they're getting scared. If there are mutants ranked high in the government, they might have to rethink their containment strategy. In a smaller voice, as Erik took in a deep breath, Charles continued, No lecture please, we haven't been here before.

“Are we going straight to the Hellfire club?” Erik asked MacTaggert, deciding to let things slide, for now. If Charles and Raven were this excited at seeing the garish display of wealth that was Las Vegas... at the very least, even if he could save none other from that facility, he would have to get the both of them out of America.

“That's the plan. Do a stake out until Hendry really does show up.” MacTaggert eyed the Xavier siblings in the back seat, and sighed, resting her forehead briefly on the back of her palms. “Please God let us all get out of this without something catching fire.”

“That bad?” Erik smiled, offering a tentative truce, even as MacTaggert snorted ruefully, keeping her eyes on the road.

“You have no idea.”

They pulled up on the curb within sight of the Hellfire Club, one of many, many, glitzy, kitsch 'private' clubs around the Strip, and waited, watching a string of men in black tie descending from limousines and sleek convertibles, getting checked by the bouncers and walking in. Nothing seemed particularly out of the ordinary, but Charles leaned forward, tapping MacTaggert on the shoulder and pointing at another parked car, further down the road.

“More of us.”

“What?” MacTaggert frowned. “We were supposed to be the only team on this. Who are they... wait, how much of your ability can you use, this close to Shaw's telepath?”

“Hiding myself and the people around me was one of the first tricks I ever learned, MacTaggert,” Charles smile was sharp and quick. “I've been covering us since we landed in Vegas. She won't know that we're here. I can sense her searching, though.”

“You haven't gone up against another telepath before,” MacTaggert pointed out.

“I know. But I can sense... he's looking,” Charles said, struggling to describe a process for which there were no words for. “It's the same way that I look for people. His presence, it's projected. He's looking for me, but I'm hiding us. Besides, they're all still in that building, and I have a lock on the teleporter. The moment he tries to jump, I'll stop him.”

Charles had a thoroughly singular power, Erik felt, impressed. It was truly a pity that actually having it had scarred him so much. “All right,” MacTaggert nodded, clearly confident in Charles. “Okay. Who's in the other car? Do they know that we're here?”

“Agents John Bradley and Frank Thompson. They have instructions from Director McCone...” Charles was frowning, his lips moving soundlessly. Act normally.

What? Erik turned, ostensibly to watch the street, and he could see Raven blink before yawning and snuggling against her brother.

Bradley and Thompson are here to kill me, Charles said, his mental voice bewildered. But why would the CIA want to get rid of me? MacTaggert doesn't know this... can't be... no they're, the directives, they're here to make sure that... there's always been teams like this on our missions? I've never seen them before!

Always? Kill teams on our tail? Raven's voice sounded odd, an echo in Erik's mind, like a linked conversation. Jesus. What did we do to set these ones off?

“Charles?” MacTaggert prompted.

What do I say? Charles asked, panicky, his mental voice loud and echoing, to the point of pain. Erik suppressed a wince. What if they hurt Raven?

Say that they're here to back us up, Erik supplied quickly. I won't let them hurt either of you. Keep calm, Charles.

“They're here to back us up.” Charles said, glancing behind them. “Just in case.”

“McCone thinks I can't handle something on this scale with three specials on my team?” MacTaggert growled, “Christ.”

“Makes you want to quit and marry someone and have lots of little MacTaggerts?” Raven asked breezily, a perfect, natural actress.

“Don't tempt me. God knows that I have a lot of experience dealing with crazy kids.” MacTaggert settled into her seat and handed out a photograph of an aging man, bulky, growing towards portly. “That's Hendry. Keep an eye out.”

McCone met them privately about an hour or so ago. Gave them orders personally. Charles sounded miserable, like a dog that had just been kicked, all uncomprehending of what it had done wrong. What did I do? I thought that they needed me to find other mutants. What will they do to the others?

It seemed strange to Erik as well, logically, unless the CIA had already changed their 'containment' strategy, or perhaps they had found a better way than Charles to locate mutants, or perhaps Charles had finally, inadvertently, learned something that he shouldn't have. Whatever the CIA's motives were, he'd need to get Charles and Raven out, somehow, with or without MacTaggert's awareness or complicity. We're going to help them complete the mission. They'll be distracted with Shaw, or Hendry. We'll make our escape then.

I can't just leave, Charles protested anxiously, We can't move Cerebro-

You'll have to learn to live without Cerebro, Erik snapped, with a touch more impatience than he intended.

Charles didn't say a word, but the sudden pulse of fear that Erik felt was certainly not his own, or the soft, Shh, Charles, shh that echoed dimly in his mind until the pulse faded, leaving a cold sweat down his spine in its place. Carefully, Erik pried his own fingers from the arms of the chair, and let out a long, slow breath. He could see Raven glaring angrily at him through his peripheral vision.

I'll think of something, Erik said grudgingly. Please, Charles. You need Raven more than Cerebro, don't you?

Shut up, just shut up, you're not helping, Raven's voice was loud and furious in his mind, coupled with a reverberation of invective before it was cut off.

No, you're right. Charles' words in his mind were fading into panic and distress along the edges, unusually amorphous, as though the telepath was struggling to project them, then they strengthened into his usual, clear tone. I can't let them hurt Raven, Charles decided, and then dropped out of his mind, glancing at his sister, undoubtedly in conversation. It was a fine time to feel left out, but Erik didn't have time to linger on trivialities, watching the road.

“Hendry,” Charles murmured, as a silver Rolls pulled up at the club, disgorging a portly man in black tie. “He's not a mutant.”

MacTaggert seemed to relax a fraction, a fact that was not lost on Charles – Erik could see the edge of the telepath's mouth crook wryly. “We should still find out what he's here for. Wait till he goes into the club, then get us in.” MacTaggert said, though with a faint frown at Erik. “I'm not sure if Lehnsherr should be here, to be honest. He's not trained. Could be dangerous.”

“For me, or for them?” Erik smiled.

“Isn't it a bit late now that he is here?” Raven pointed out dryly. “Should have thought of that before we left Langley.”

“Like I've said, your brother likes chess and new things. Somehow, Lehnsherr kept your brother entertained for six hours,” MacTaggert pointed out, pursing her lips. “That's a bloody miracle by my books, I admit that I was so impressed that I forgot to goddamn leave him with the plane. But now... I guess you can wait here,” she told Erik, finally. “Watch the car. If things get hot, get out of here.”

“I can stop bullets, Agent MacTaggert,” Erik folded his arms. “And any weapons wrought of metal. You can't get better backup than that.”

“But we don't know hell about your motives or where you sprung up from,” MacTaggert shot back, stubbornly, “And I hate wild cards. Charles?”

“Uh.” Charles blinked, slowly, clearly still thinking over the kill team behind them. “He's clean, as far as I can tell. We can bring him. But I'll keep an eye on him.”

Charles meant it, Erik realized, recognising the edge in Charles' voice for what it was. With the revelation so starkly new, Charles and – yes, Raven too – had withdrawn into themselves, against the world, and even Erik was no longer to be trusted. Charles, Erik thought, urgently, but Charles refused to look at him.

“All right. If only because I hate shoot-outs in this sort of place.” MacTaggert took in a deep breath, took a revolver from the glove compartment, loaded it with unselfconscious precision, then she opened the door. “Let's move out. Charles, just concentrate on keeping us hidden. Don't try to multitask. Raven, don't touch anything remotely explosive or shiny. Lehnsherr, keep alert.”

“Loud and clear.” Charles nodded.

Charles? Erik tried again, as he opened his own door, then Charles', but the telepath merely stared at him, wary again, his guarded expression mirroring Raven's as she ducked her head, arm hooked protectively around her brother's, and they crossed the road in silence.

The bouncers at the door didn't even give them a second glance as they walked through, following a line of scantily clad women flouncing their way past, headed down a velvet stair to a gaudily decadent nightmare of gold and maroon satin beyond, black tile and bass music. With this many people around, Charles was concentrating, fingers pressed to his temple, eyes blank, Raven's hands clutched tight over his free arm. The gazes of the people around them just seemed to slide away, like water from a duck's back, and whenever they walked into the paths of others, people would simply step around them, all unseeing, navigating them as an obstacle without even realizing that they were doing so.

Remarkable.

MacTaggert was keeping an eye on her watch, and as Erik frowned at her, she held up four fingers, then at a glance down, folded one. Three minutes. Charles was beginning to sweat, breathing shallowly, eyes closed, as they made their way down the stairs, following their target as discreetly as possible. Hendry had disappeared into a booth, behind which Erik felt a brief, complex whirl of revolving metal, gears and pulley systems, and he was unsurprised to find the booth empty when MacTaggert led them into it and pulled the curtains closed.

Charles immediately sagged against a seat, with a slow, harsh breath, then as MacTaggert cocked her head at him, he shook his head, looking around them, puzzled, then scrambling up on his knees on the seat and patting at the wall, as though sensing people beyond it. “They're beyond this wall,” he said, in a low voice. “There has to be a switch somewhere, some sort of hidden-”

Erik smiled to himself, reaching for the table, metal humming to his touch, and depressed the concealed button.

Raven hastily clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle a yelp as the room began to rotate noiselessly, opening out into an incongruously stately study, all oak panels and rich rugs and even a fireplace, a long shelf of leather-bound books behind a heavy desk. MacTaggert was at the desk instantly, flipping through the documents upon it, while Charles peered at the wall, then at the door set to the side. When he looked back at them, he held up five fingers.

Five people, Raven mouthed, then as Charles nodded, she stared at him for a moment, then back at MacTaggert, who was circling back around the desk.

“We'll have to identify the telepath,” MacTaggert murmured, as softly as she could. “Once we do, we need to knock him or her out. Once he's down, Charles can shut down the other specials. I've got some of Hank's darts here.” MacTaggert felt in the inner pockets of her vest, and brought out a velvet packet of individually sleeved, familiar needles with globular ends. “Lehnsherr?”

“Good enough.” Erik opened the sleeves, the needles floating in place over his shoulder in a deadly circle of pale silver points.

Charles looked at Raven, again in silent conversation, as she gestured, first at the door, then at herself, and then he sighed as she turned into a picture-perfect copy of Hendry in his suit and bow tie. “Just knock out whoever starts staring at me very hard,” she murmured, in a roughened male voice, and padded towards the door.

The telepath had been easy to spot – the gorgeous, leggy blonde dressed in a white... outfit... that looked like it wouldn't have been out of place in the Hellfire Club proper. Her secondary mutation, however, was unexpected: she turned to diamond, the first of Erik's darts skating harmlessly off her shoulder.

“Didn't see that one coming,” MacTaggert muttered, even as the blonde woman stared hard at them; Charles was frowning, fingers pressed to his temple, forehead breaking out in a fine film of sweat, fighting a silent battle that none of them could see. Erik wondered what it was like, whether there were words for what it was like, two minds duelling, one trying to pierce Charles' illusion, the other holding firm under siege-

“What in the world?” The real Colonel Hendry had risen to his feet, gaping at Raven-Hendry, and behind the tall man with the harsh, chiselled lines of age cut into his face and the cold, cold eyes was a man in a gray suit who held out his palm, a whorl of air forming over his skin. He could feel what was probably the teleporter in another room from the shapes of buckles and buttons, adjacent, probably waiting for the telepath's command.

“It seems that my guests are here. You're no longer needed, Colonel,” the tall man said, with a nod at the blonde woman, and the Colonel fell back against the sofa, asleep. “Agent Charles Xavier, I presume.”

Charles glanced at MacTaggert, who nodded warily, and he seemed to drop the illusion, even as Raven faded back to her original form. Erik had hidden the rest of the needles high against the ceiling, his jaw set firm as the man looked them over as though memorizing their faces.

“And Agents Raven Xavier, MacTaggert... and Erik Lehnsherr? A surprise.” The tall man leaned forward, arms on his knees. “I thought that you'd have been wiped by now.”

“I'm good at ingratiating myself,” Erik said neutrally. “Sebastian Shaw?”

“At your service.” Shaw spread his arms wide. “And my lovely associate here is Miss Emma Frost...”

“And Riptide,” Charles cut in mildly. “Azazel. You didn't think of shielding them?”

Shaw smiled slowly. “Against you, I felt that perhaps it was preferable that Miss Frost concentrated on just the two of us, just to be safe. My other two friends are quite capable of taking care of themselves. You have quite the reputation, Charles.”

“'Confidential' doesn't seem to have quite the weight that it used to be,” Raven said warily.

“Oh, I didn't know your name – until a few months ago. Before that, I did know that the CIA had somehow found a way to track all mutants within a radius centered on Langley. Planting a few agents of my own within your facilities soon bought me a name, and a description. A little cache of all that glitters gave me the funds to set things in motion.”

“What things?” MacTaggert demanded.

“Plant a few names here and there, seed a little propaganda... I've had mutants flying in to America over the last month or so, looking for me. Sooner or later,” Shaw smiled lazily at Charles, “I knew that you'd end up netting one or more of them and reading me up. And once you did so, if I lured an Army Colonel here from the Jupiter program – he's regrettably human, by the way – and had a telepath of my own? I was sure that the CIA would have sent you here in person to check on me.”

MacTaggert glanced at Hendry, then brought up her gun, pointing it at Shaw. “You're here for Charles. Charles, abort mission. Shut down the teleporter, back the hell out of here with Raven, I'll cover you. Charles!” MacTaggert snapped. “Move!”

“And why should he move?” Shaw's voice was all velvet logic, his steely eyes arresting, hypnotic. “There's a kill team outside, isn't there? Waiting to get you. McCone must have decided that you're too dangerous. You shouldn't have trusted the humans, Charles.”

“That's ridiculous,” MacTaggert growled, then she got a good look at his face, visibly hesitating. “Isn't it?”

“I'm sorry, Moira,” Charles said quietly, dropping his hand from his temple. “I guess they'd never have told you. You like us. You'll never have stood for it. There have been kill teams tracking us through all of our missions. Sooner or later someone would have put a bullet in my head.”

“No, no,” MacTaggert said, her eyes growing wide. “There has to be a mistake. I'll make calls, I'll talk to my handler, they can't just do this to you-”

“May she leave? Safely?” Charles glanced over at Shaw. “She's a friend.”

“If you take this memory from her,” Shaw shrugged, unconcerned. “I'll have Azazel return her to Langley.”

“Charles, don't, listen to me,” MacTaggert said urgently, lowering her gun. “There has to be a mistake.”

“Sleep now,” Charles whispered, and caught MacTaggert gently as she slumped into his arms. “Langley's out of my reading range. Put her back in the private jet that we came from instead. I'll know if you do her harm. I'll give you the location-”

“Azazel does not need a location.” Shaw said comfortably, and after a heartbeat, Azazel appeared beside him in a puff of acrid red smoke, strikingly unusual with his florid, unnaturally brick-red skin and his sinuous, winding tail, like a devil out of a painting. He smiled at Charles, thinly, and gently picked MacTaggert up in his arms, before disappearing again, and reappearing a moment later. From how Charles nodded, Erik guessed that he'd been tracking Azazel all the way, and the Xaviers locked gazes, speaking silently.

Erik kept his peace, deciding to wait for a cue from Charles. He was angry, angry at being used by Shaw, but he was thinking beyond it for now, computing escape routes and the consequences of an alliance with Shaw, all at once. Charles? Erik asked, tentative now, as he felt a faint, familiar touch on his mind, but Charles ignored him, not even looking away from Raven.

Erik stifled a sigh, and forced himself to attempt to be understanding. After all, Charles had just been betrayed, by the organisation that he had the most reason to trust, and was probably still not in the best frames of mind, not right now. Erik had to be patient.

“What now, Mister Shaw?” Charles asked wryly, finally. “It looks like my sister and I have been forced to tender our resignation. I gather that you didn't come all this way to have a chat.”

“You turned to the CIA because you had no choice,” Shaw rose to his feet, striding over, all sharp, controlled economy, reaching forward, and for a moment Charles hesitated, before shaking his hand. Firm, honest grip, Erik noted, as Shaw shook his hand in turn. “I am now offering you an alternative. One that I hope to someday be able to offer all of our kind.”

“You're hiding your mind from me, Mister Shaw. That doesn't bode well, usually.” Charles said bluntly.

“Please, call me Sebastian. And I must beg your understanding, Charles... you were only so recently... discharged, from the CIA. A transitional period for the both of us will be to the benefit of the both of us, I believe. Someday, when we are more comfortable with each other, perhaps this will not be a necessity. I hope that you will understand.” Shaw said, genially. “Come. We should leave before the other agents arrive. Your sister and your friend are welcome, as well.”

“He's not my friend.” Charles said quietly, as Raven gripped his arm, ignoring the sharp look that Erik shot his way. “If he wants to come along, that's up to him.” My troubles are not yours, he told Erik, silently.

They could be, Erik replied, so forcefully that Charles nearly took a step back, and Frost glanced quickly over at Erik, a faint crease over her perfect brow. “I'll come,” he said, turning to Shaw, making no effort to hide his suspicion.

Shaw's lip curled, at this, in a flavor of dark amusement, his eyes hard and enigmatic, even as he gestured at Riptide and Frost. “Link hands. We're leaving.”

The Xavier siblings' reservation melted quickly as they blinked out from the Hellfire Club and onto the deck of a luxury yacht, anchored within sight of a gorgeous harbor with finger piers, lined with sleek white ships, encircled by a town of red white brick, the warm sun making his skin prickle under his turtleneck.

“Kingston,” Shaw gestured at the city with a curt wave of his hand, then he smiled paternally, almost possessively, at the Xavier siblings in a way that made Erik's fists begin to itch. “Explore the ship, make yourselves at home. Azazel will take you to the city afterwards, if you'll like to buy supplies... ah,” Shaw trailed off, as the Xaviers scrambled away to the prow with a whoop of excitement, leaning over the rail to peer precariously at the water for a moment before darting below decks, and he transferred his ironic, unsettling smile to Erik. “Youth.”

Erik personally didn't think that Charles was that much younger than himself or Frost, but it was difficult to tell, enmeshed as Charles was with Raven's mind, with his boyishly pretty face. He settled for nodding, non-committal. “You knew my name.”

“I may not have the CIA's resources, or Charles – until now – but I have my methods, and I have been tracking your whereabouts for some time. A drink?” Shaw invited, going below decks at a far more sedate pace than the Xaviers, leading Erik to what looked like the Captain's cabin. Glass windows lined the hull, the room spacious and luxurious almost to the point of tastelessness in furs and leather and framed art.

Shaw poured whisky for them both from a well-stocked bar, and settled down comfortably at a white couch, Frost slinking over to arrange herself in a love-seat. Erik opted to stand, leaning against the bar, the whisky malty and smooth on his tongue. Frost's touch on his mind was less subtle than Charles' – it was like a background itch, that swept briefly through before fading. She smiled inscrutably at him when he glowered at her, unconcerned at being caught out, and Shaw seemed to relax a fraction, as though satisfied with whatever Frost had seen.

“You've been keeping an eye on our kind?”

“As far as I could. But until I could rescue Charles from the CIA, I knew that there wasn't much point in drawing anything more than the bare essentials to my side. Eventually, with Charles, the CIA would have found and disabled my operation.”

“The CIA is short-sighted.” Erik observed.

“Humanity in general, I find, tends to be short-sighted. Living on the day to day, rather than thinking further a decade or two.” Shaw smiled his cool, knife-like smile. “That is where I intend to differ. I prefer a long game, to a blitz. People like us – mutants – are the future, after all.”

Erik's last experience with concepts similar to 'people like us' and 'the future' in the same train of thought had not been a pleasant one, but he said nothing, resisting the urge to rub at the tattoo on his arm through the wool. He drank instead, finishing his glass and setting it back on the bar.

“You're wary, naturally,” Shaw said, with a tone that was probably meant to soothe and only came across grating. “I'm sorry that I had to use you like that, but I had no choice. Mutants of your capacity have the highest chance of being noticed by Charles Xavier on one of his sweeps. Apparently the stronger your abilities are, the more you'll show up like a beacon. But surely you agree that he had to be removed.”

“Rescued,” Erik corrected, neutrally.

“Of course.” Shaw inclined his head, without missing a beat. “That was what I meant.”

“What is your plan?” Erik asked, sardonically, “Your 'long game'?”

Shaw leaned forward, his fingers crooked together in a steeple. “I intend to provide humankind with a continuing distraction. Until I've gathered enough of us, until there's no longer any need to hide.”

“What sort of distraction?”

“I don't need your assistance with that,” Shaw drained his own glass, and handed it to Frost, who took it with a moment's hesitation, the only hint of her disdain at his unconscious condescension the jerk of her otherwise graceful wrists. “What I need you, and the Xaviers for, is to attend to what will come after.”

Assigned a cabin afterwards, Erik sat on the bed – far too large and luxurious to be a bunk, in this yacht – and rolled his sleeve up to bare the numbers on his skin, disquiet strung acutely in his mind. He hadn't lived this long by himself without an apt sense for trouble, and their current situation, with Shaw, thoroughly stank of it.

Erik could not help but think that Charles and Raven had just traded one prison for another, and with their trust in all others sundered, having to work his way back up to that tentative, brittle truce that he'd wrought, before and during their flight to Vegas, was going to take a lot of work. Especially since his aversion to Cerebro had managed to turn Raven against him.

It would have been easy to walk away – with his ability, as much as it pained his conscience, it wouldn't be too difficult to locate and acquire the resources required to leave Kingston on his own. He had satisfied his own curiosity about the existence of others like him, and without Charles, the CIA would be unable to continue its 'containment strategy'.

And yet- there was something about Charles that kept drawing Erik and his mind back into orbit; it wasn't his ability, not entirely – Erik hadn't felt the same fascination, with Frost; nor was it his gorgeous smile and his brilliant, inviting blue eyes. Perhaps it was the brief moment of utter, broken vulnerability that Erik had inadvertently seen, in the facility, in Charles' room, with Charles huddled up so tightly against Raven as though he'd fall apart if she hasn't been there. He had remembered a little of hatred, there; he had been tempted to return to Hank's lab and pluck the wires off the helm, tangle them into useless snarls; he'd wanted, for a brief, furious moment, to do the same to any poor bastard who looked at people like them, like Charles, and saw only tools to be used up until they shattered.

Shaw had 'saved' Charles in order to use him. Erik would not permit that.

V.

Erik seemed to have a vast capacity for boredom and an unerring homing pigeon ability – it was getting to the point where Charles was beginning to suspect him of either (1) having a secondary mutation or (2) hiding something ingeniously unique by way of metal somewhere on Charles' or Raven's persons. Since they'd both 'acquired' sufficient changes of clothing due to Shaw's generosity with funds, Charles was beginning to lean towards the former, when, seated in a tiny café tucked away in a niche of the city, just outside Downtown, Erik abruptly glided up to them out of nowhere, looking unruffled and heart-stoppingly handsome in a short-sleeved shirt and khaki pants, settling into a chair at their white stone table, ordering a coffee.

Raven glowered at him, even when he smiled warmly at her and ordered a long black. Gesturing at the bags of purchases, he asked, idly, “Productive afternoon?”

“We're stimulating the local economy,” Charles said, fingers tracing the lip of his coffee cup. “What about you?”

“You could take a look,” Erik invited, and Raven narrowed her eyes, clenching her hand over Charles' knee under the table as he took a deep breath.

He was beginning to regret this, despite the stakes. It was nearly a week since he'd last used Cerebro, and he was beginning to feel irritable, as though he was spreading out too thinly, unable to help but brush at the minds of almost every person that they came across. He didn't dare dive the way that he did in Cerebro; even in a lower density city like Kingston, he might not be able to survive the fragmentation without the amplifier.

He didn't yet dare, anyway. Right now, Charles was concentrating on forcing himself to learn, belatedly, a measure of self control, and was trying to avoid complex minds like Erik's, ones that he could so easily lose himself in. He was sure that he could do it. After all, he'd once survived without Cerebro.

He just didn't quite remember how.

He doesn't know, Charles told Raven silently, as Erik's coffee arrived. Erik was studying them, his expression unreadable, seemingly unperturbed by their unfriendly silence.

He acts like he does. Raven's answer was immediate and surly, then she rubbed his knee instead, encouragingly. You're doing well.

I'm still within the week. And this is just like one of our games, from before, Charles replied, not wanting to give Raven too much hope. In about a day or so, things were going to worsen steadily. He hadn't told Shaw about the addiction, and he'd tried his fumbling best to shield both Raven's and Erik's minds against Frost, just in case. Charles knew that he was getting better, at working against another telepath. After all, much of his ability was predicated on willpower, imagination and a little sleight of hand, and in all of those aspects he'd long been forced to learn competence.

“Erik,” Charles warned, hastily pressing fingers to his temple to avert the eyes of the humans around them, as Erik gestured at the iron rails behind them, moulding chess pieces and flat, perfect squares out of the pitted metal and arranging them on the table before them. Erik was getting better at detail, Charles noted, picking up a knight and admiring its sightless eyes and the details of the furls of its mane, the prick of its ears, and set the piece back down as Erik smoothed the rail back into an approximate semblance of normality with a ripple of metal from its supports.

“If you won't read my mind,” Erik said genially, “Perhaps I now stand a far better chance of winning.”

Bastard. Charles had never turned down a chess challenge in his life. He was playing black, today, and he leant his chin pointedly forward, cupped on his palms, even as Raven sighed loudly beside him. He's baiting you, Charles.

I know, but you heard him, I can't just walk away, Charles replied, if with a noticeable flavor of self-deprecation.

He's baiting you, Raven repeated, then added, we're wasting time, refusing to be amused, though she settled back in her chair and folded her arms, squirming and bored until Charles absently reached out, feather-light, feeling around the minds of the people around them, in their houses, in the streets and cafés, until he found someone reading a book, Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. He relayed a line to Raven's mind, felt her acceptance, and fed the text by relay into her mind, until she closed her eyes and relaxed against him. The afternoon passed slowly, warm and comfortable, the future for a moment forgotten, Charles watched Erik move a pawn to e4, and picked up one of his own, a grudging truce drawn up in squares of glossy steel and white stone.

5.0.

It had taken Erik a while to put the pieces together, and then he had wanted to kick himself for not seeing the obvious.

Day by day, Charles had grown quieter and quieter, more withdrawn, the chess games growing mechanical, then half-hearted, until the Xaviers had stopped their jaunts out to the port altogether, remaining in Charles' cabin, the door locked, with only Raven emerging now and then for food, her expression haggard, her red hair disheveled. She snapped at him – hell, even at Riptide when she encountered them on her foraging excursions, disappearing quickly back into the cabin soon after.

Shaw had been curious at first, asking questions, but Erik hadn't understood what was happening, not at that point, and after a while, Shaw had apparently decided to devote himself to his 'long game', disappearing from the yacht in the company of the others. Leaving Erik alone with the Xaviers on the ship. Uncertain of the abrupt change in the Xavier siblings' attitudes, Erik had decided to give them a wide berth, and so it had taken two more days of prowling restlessly around the ship before Erik finally realized what was wrong. Charles had grown used to week-long cycles ending with a Cerebro session.

It was now ten days since the facility.

He hadn't been sure what he would find when he caused the locked door to click open. Charles looked like he was asleep, his face slack and blank, eyes closed, curled on the bed with Raven spooned around him, holding him like she was sure that she would lose him if she were to let go. She sat up when the door opened, her eyes dulled, movements sluggish, then something seemed to drop away from her and she blinked, her gaze growing sharp, her lips curling in a snarl of outrage.

Erik doesn't bother asking what's wrong. “How can I help?”

“You could get out,” Raven said venomously, her voice slurred, hoarse, then she cleared her throat. “Sandwich and a juice, maybe.”

Wordlessly, Erik left, making his way to the yacht's kitchen and assembling a sandwich from the dwindling supplies, pouring a juice. Raven was curled over Charles' shoulder when he returned, and she woke more slowly, climbing reluctantly away from Charles as he set the tray down at the table.

“Has he gotten like this before?” Erik asked quietly.

“He used to. Before Cerebro, when he did one too many jumps,” Raven's tone was erratic, muffled as she tore into the sandwich. “I'd hold him and wait it out, let him focus on me.”

“It's not working.” Erik deduced, grimly.

“Fucking brilliant deduction,” Raven growled, drinking the juice with a jerk of her wrist. “It's not... it's not enough for him any more. He's grown... hungry. I can feel him, restless. He's scared of hurting me so he's drawn himself inward, farther than he's ever been. I'm losing him, we should never have agreed-” Raven cut herself off, raw with fright and pain, with a sudden, wrecked sob, turning her face away, rubbing her eyes over the arch of her palms.

Erik looked slowly between Raven's shaking shoulders and the still form of Charles on the bed, and grit his teeth. “Let me try.”

Raven stared at him, red-eyed, and it seemed to take her a moment to work words past her clenched throat. “He might kill you by accident. You've seen how he was that... that time. I don't know what he might do to someone else who isn't me.”

“I'll take that risk.”

“You're an idiot.”

“I'll take that risk,” Erik repeated, slower this time, determined. “Do we have any other options?”

Indecision chased despair on Raven's face, then she pinched at the bridge of her nose, carding her fingers through her hair. “God. He'll never forgive me if he... Fine. You might want to lie down.”

Awkwardly, Erik lay down on the bed, pressed against Charles, then Raven was peering over them both, pinched with worry. “Are you sure?”

“I'm sure.” Erik said firmly, despite logic, despite knowing that he was likely risking his sanity, despite everything, and Raven picked Charles' wrist up through his shirt, careful not to touch his skin, and pressed the cool, soft palm against Erik's cheek.

The world seemed to drop
away
and he was
diving-

charles?

sometimes he wonders what will happen if he truly finds others like him, how the world will change, whether he will change

he doesn't stop and think about what being normal is like, because once he awoke into his own he knew that he would never want to be normal again

the jeweller frowns at the ingot of pure, malleable gold that he had called to him, out of the ground, miles from here, and then at him, as though he'd somehow stolen it maybe, but then there's cash, more money than he's seen before in one place

someone different someone new someone like him, thank you, thank you God

charles?

cache of nazi gold in lockdown, seemingly by a terrorist organisation called SNAKE, or HYDRA, something like that, more rifles than he's seen in his life, but everyone's asleep, drug-asleep, and the vault is empty

sometimes he prefers women with their soft warm curves, sometimes he prefers men with their angles and lines

he always knows where Charles is because it's child's play to stick filaments of copper and silver and steel in the heels of Charles' shoes before he leaves

the woman in the bed in haifa wets herself and shakes at nothing, her eyes wide and haunted, as though she's the one awake, and everyone else is a fragment of another dream

charles has this smoky little smile, like a boy caught with his hand in a biscuit jar, all mischief and mayhem and lush lips that have no place on someone already so gorgeous

the shells he makes sometimes warp with imperfections, it takes him a long, long time to realize that it's not heat or mishandling but him, and then he dares not tell anyone

red sky in the morning, something in the distance is aflame

today he twists a spoon into a perfect circle, then loops it into a knot, then he tosses it into the Arno, watches it sink before he dredges it back up, looking around guiltily in case anyone

schindler's factory slows into a halt as the recess bell rings and they gather in the main processing room, somehow someone has a bible, and he barely remembers yiddish, mouthing along and alien

rather than judging the world on the madness of a few, let it be judged on the kindness of those who cannot be forgotten

charles?

paris is uncomfortably warm deep in the summer, he wears a bandage over his arm to hide the tattoo as he picks his way through the angular streets

mother's face scrunched up in despair screaming fingers arced in empty air, dragged backwards, the gate begins to creak, he can feel something, building, but even as he begins to learn hatred someone shouts, the world goes dark

needs to protect

he hears that name again, in prague, Shaw, looking for 'specials', tricksters, his informant says, with a sly twist to his mouth, for a magic show maybe

that's because we need small hands to make the shells

god but charles is beautiful like this laughing and running up and down a plane like he's never flown before in his life

strapped to a chair leather and wood, arm outstretched under rough fingers, needle and ink, first 2, then 1, then 4, 7, 8 and 2, the sum of his life is black bright and stingingly sharp

VI.

Charles sat up with a harsh gasp, disoriented, mind brittle and faceted with images that were not his own, and instantly found himself with a lapful of Raven, her voice shaken in a low moan, her face buried against his neck. Charlescharlescharles, her mind bright and rich with love-relief-joy, and for a moment he thought, Charles' sister? then as she looked up sharply at him, he smiled tremulously and sucked in a breath. “I'm me. What...?”

Wordlessly, Raven looked down. Erik hadn't even stirred when his sister had so unceremoniously scrambled over him to get to Charles, and with a sick feeling of dread, Charles reached out and shook one broad shoulder roughly, a finger of ice creeping down his spine when Erik didn't immediately stir. Then he let out a loud exhalation of relief when Erik did, frowning and rubbing at his eyes, as though stirring from a deep sleep, and when he looked up at them both his eyes were dazed, but, thank God, not empty.

“Feeling better?” he slurred, trying to focus on Charles.

“Well,” Charles could still feel the nagging edges of want, of the siren call of the conscious sea, the compulsions scratching ugly fingers down the pane of his consciousness, like he'd just taken only enough of a taste of what he wanted-needed; but it had to be enough. He had no choice. “I think so,” he said, cautiously, then added, a little foolishly, “Thank you.”

Erik nodded gravely, sitting up and stretching, then he looked down when Charles reached out, unconsciously, threading their fingers together, listening to the warm hum of blurred-edged thoughts, Erik's drowsy pleasure, the soft query-statement, charles.

I'm here, he replied, rubbing his thumb gently up the curl of Erik's lifeline, all on automatic, a muscle memory that shouldn't have existed. Erik squeezed his hand, and got unsteadily off the bed, his thoughts in a biological imperative of hunger-bathroom-thirst, and ambled out of the cabin.

“How long was I out?” Charles asked Raven, but she merely shook her head, hugging him more tightly.

“What sort of man would do what he just did?” she murmured against his skin, voicing both of their thoughts. What sort of man would take a leap of faith into the dark, not knowing or caring whether he would emerge from it alive?

Charles could easily have killed him, or burned out all that made Erik remember how to be human – in a smaller, simpler mind, he would have. Instead he'd been woven tight, in Erik's brilliant, flawlessly complex mind, with its startlingly vivid memories and its vast, nuanced capacity for evocative sensation, and for a moment, all too briefly, it had been enough.

Charles stroked his hands absently over Raven's shoulder, over her back, petting her as he once did when they were alone against the world, cold and hungry, far too young to be afraid of forever, and breathed the first words on their minds. “Someone who deserves more than just a chance.” Someone to be trusted.

6.0

Finding himself back in the Xaviers' good books was somewhat less satisfactory than he would have thought. It was not because Charles had even less of a concept of privacy where people he seemingly trusted was concerned, always lingering as a faint, gentle touch at the back of his mind, a sensation that Erik was still slowly trying to get used to. As far as he was concerned, he had done nothing in his life to be ashamed of, and besides, Charles seemed to need the intimacy, balanced between Erik's mind and Raven's, slowly, painfully taking himself back from sensory withdrawal. Erik couldn't find it within himself to deny Charles this.

It was Shaw.

Shaw had completed whatever possibly nefarious business that he had been engaged with outside of Kingston, and had returned, seemingly to enjoy the sun and a little downtime. Annoyingly enough, Charles found Frost fascinating, even though she seemed to treat his endless questions and overtures of friendship with the same cool, calculated disdain with which she treated the rest of the world around her. And then Shaw revealed, casually, that he too could play chess, and faced with an opponent that was shielded tight, Charles seemed to have found a new, favorite playmate.

It was possible that Erik was feeling... left out again, which surprised him. Before this, he hadn't been a particularly sociable creature. He attributed it to the protectiveness that seemed to have sprung into place upon his first brutal recognition of how vulnerable Charles truly was, even with the strength of his ability, and bided his time. Raven didn't like Shaw either, or Frost, after all, and sooner or later, her dislike would bleed into Charles – that much Erik was sure of.

In the meantime, he occupied himself by never letting Charles out of his sight, and always keeping something metal, small and movable in his own pockets. They were walking in early-afternoon Kingston at the waterfront in a languid stroll, when Shaw asked, seemingly as an afterthought, “I wonder how much stronger you are than Miss Frost.”

“Not nearly,” Charles tried a quick smile at Frost that she returned with a faint nod, unsmiling. “Once you turn into diamond – such a groovy secondary mutation, I might add – I can't reach you.”

Beside Charles, Raven's maybe-schoolgirl rolled her eyes, but Shaw ignored her. “I didn't mean in an outright battle, Charles. I meant your range.”

“Oh, that,” Charles blinked, slowly, “About two hundred miles, easily.”

Shaw and Frost didn't seem to react, but Erik was privately impressed. “Any mind within that radius, you can affect?”

“Certainly. Though it's stronger if I can see them. Far more if we touch.” Charles wiggled his fingers, though he avoided Erik's eyes, and Erik thought, as loudly as he could, I still enjoyed it, and smirked as he watched the telepath's ears start to pink.

“What can you do with those minds? Reading them, that's a given. You can switch off mutations, wipe memories, hide yourself and your friends. What else?”

Charles grinned, that playfully wicked, gorgeous grin that made Erik want to drag him close and tangle his fingers in that thick mop of hair. “Wait here, please.” He executed a courtly partial bow, that made Raven snigger, then he strolled on by himself, falling into stride before a portly, florid passer-by with graying sideburns and a tailored three-piece suit. An American banker on holiday, possibly, Erik thought, or a businessman, a ship broker.

“Excuse me, sir, Jameson, was it?” Charles said genially, “I was wondering if you could so kindly give me all the cash that you have on your person.”

Jameson blinked slowly at him, as though in astonishment, then he frowned. “Why, you impertinent... that is... mm... oh yes, of course,” he reached into the inner pocket of his suit as Charles pressed his fingers to his own temple. “A good cause, did you say? Certainly.” A wad of Jamaican dollars and coins was pressed into Charles' hands, even as the man continued to murmur, “Oh, don't mention it, please, my pleasure.” He nodded to Charles, smiling warmly as though they were old friends, tipped his hat, and ambled on his way, whistling tunelessly to himself.

Charles looked smug as he returned, handing the money to Shaw, who looked impressed. “Remarkable. Does it wear off?”

“Not that I'm aware.”

“Minor frauds and cons, you said,” Erik said dryly, recalling their very first meeting.

“Among other things,” Charles said vaguely, linking arms with his sister, a sly brand of mischief in their eyes.

“How complex must the idea be to last?” Shaw handed the money in turn to Riptide, like a scientist handing part of an exhibit to an assistant.

Charles sucked his lower lip briefly into his mouth as he seemed to consider this. “I'm not sure. I don't usually like to tinker. A person's mind is a fragile thing. I don't want to accidentally break anything.”

“Of course,” Shaw said, though he looked speculative.

Later, when they returned to the yacht, Shaw excused himself and his associates, vanishing to places unknown, and Raven elected to soak up the sun on the deck. Sensing Charles' restlessness from the way the touch on his mind seemed to soak slowly deeper, Erik suggested that the both of them adjourn below decks, to Erik's cabin, where they managed half a game of chess before they ended up, somehow, on the bed, with Charles curled against him, palms
pressed to
his
cheeks-

Charles definitely seemed to be recovering – when he viewed memories now, it was less frenetic, as though he was enjoying, vicariously, the more vivid aspects of Erik's life, even those spent in a factory in a country consumed by a madman's ambition. They explored his first day of full freedom, after the factory, an orphan, not yet an adult, standing frozen on a muddy road, struck dumb and empty. Joy was only an afterthought.

Charles' smile was almost shy when he pulled them back up, his hands lingering for a heartbeat before he rolled onto his back, and he didn't move or comment when Erik crept his arm around Charles' narrow waist and pressed his chin against a shoulder, breathing deep, slow. Time seemed to be an outsider, an uninterested observer fixed in layers of afternoon sun and soap and linen.

Erik was snapped out of his shallow doze when Charles murmured, “Shaw's 'long game'.”

“Mm.” Erik opened his eyes, but Charles hadn't seemed to have moved, still staring upwards, his white shirt rumpled and soft.

“Hendry wasn't just a lure.” Charles said quietly. “Shaw's shielded, but I can read Riptide and Azazel, sometimes. Frost's growing better, though, if they're close to her, lately, I can't 'see' them at all. But I've seen... they've been to Moscow, as well,” Charles added, more slowly. “Threatening and bribing people. All military cats.”

That couldn't be good. But Erik wasn't exactly a scholar of US-Russia relations, and his mind drew a blank on Shaw's plans. “He wants to give the world a distraction.” Threatening military men. “Start a war?”

“It'll take more than that to start a war of a sort of scale that would hide people like us in the confusion,” Charles scoffed.

Erik shrugged, shoulder pressed against the bed. “Regardless, Shaw's definitely trouble. We should leave.” With Charles' morally dubious tricks, it would be easy to get them on a flight to anywhere.

“Leave? We'll be on the run,” Charles disagreed. “The CIA has a long reach. I think that Shaw might have the resources to hide us. By ourselves-”

“At least by ourselves we wouldn't be hiding from the lion by sitting in the tiger's den,” Erik muttered, and as Charles chuckled, continued, a little irritably, “It was just a thought.”

“Think of me instead, then. That's bound to be more fun,” Charles turned to regard him, his smile impish, rubbing the soft pads of his fingers over the ridges of Erik's knuckles, walking them up his palm to slip under his wrist, stroking circles over the softer skin.

He'd worked his way up to Erik's elbows before Erik pushed himself up, edging closer to taste him in a wet slide of lips and tongues, big hands crushing the sheets restlessly for a moment before sliding up and under Charles' blue-banded polo shirt. He fumbled with buttons and growled until Charles snickered between them both, breathless, helping him pull it off and over his head, dumping it unceremoniously off the bed as Erik latched on to his neck, over the warm pulse, and sucked.

Charles tried the buttons of his shirt ineffectively, then he turned up his chin with a breathy, inviting little moan as Erik lapped up his adam's apple to his jaw, nipping, sucking his way back down, biting down again over Charles' shoulder with a low snarl as Charles gave up on his shirt and settled for undoing his belt. Hel-lo, Charles purred in his mind as clever little fingers squeezed him over the straining fabric of his pants, combined a wash of liquid desire and heat, and he was moaning desperately, rutting against Charles' thigh like a dog, and Charles, gorgeous Charles, was laughing at him, little devil, pulling off his belt and looping the leather over his neck, dragging him close for a bruising kiss.

“More, more,” Erik was panting wetly, against his lips, his cheeks, his voice a wrecked, alien thing, and as Charles smiled, contemplatively, and nipped at the tip of his nose, he growled, “Go on. Ruin me.”

Charles' brilliant blue eyes widened, and he slipped the loop of leather off Erik's neck, using it to tip up his chin instead, rubbing over the day-old stubble and the wet of his lips. “I'm not entirely in control right now,” he said, low and careful, “I won't be gentle.”

“You don't need to be afraid of yourself when you're with me,” Erik said, honesty dredged up and broken on his next breath as Charles groaned and dragged him down, rolling them until he was on top. The spike of lust-pleasure-need that hit him when Charles next kissed him would have pushed him over on the spot, his balls tight and his cock aching so much that he was squirming and whining, but Charles was keeping him on the very verge of coming and God, it was so good.

Charles took his time, exploring his mouth, ignoring grabby hands that tugged feverishly at his clothes, fumbling buttons and zips and scratching over soft denim, until Erik was begging in rambling German and stumbling over the words, his heels digging into the sheets as he writhed. “Look at you,” he murmured, settling between Erik's thighs and stroking his hands in teasing circles up his pants, then he was grinning when metal groaned and creaked behind him – the hull, God damn it – then it abruptly stopped, as though a switch had been thrown.

“Don't want you sinking the ship,” Charles was unlacing his shoes with torturous meticulousness and ignoring him when he whimpered, then he pressed his hands back up the seam of his pants and tugged them down with the same, maddening languor, beautiful blue eyes raking Erik's trembling frame, his lips curling sharply when Erik bit on his own, nearly hard enough to break the skin.

Charles made a humming sound of pleasure as he took Erik's aching shaft in hand, rubbing a thumb up the vein and slicking the pad over the leaking tip, bending his head to flick his teasing, wicked tongue over the slit, then again, this time grinning, when Erik jerked and let out a garbled stream of choked German. “How should I have you?” Charles asked lazily, then he tilted his head as Erik instantly projected a hungry, desperate image of Charles between his legs, pounding him into the bed, and that must have worked, something about it; Charles' pupils were blown dark and rich with want and he could feel it, in the heady rush of arousal that wasn't his.

“No lube,” Charles said distractedly, clambering over him to inspect the side dresser, though he paused when Erik shook his head and pulled a slender wrist over, sucking in a forefinger with studied deliberation. “That'll hurt you,” Charles noted, though he didn't pull his hand away when Erik nodded jerkily and greedily took in his middle finger. “Just telling you that you'll regret that tomorrow, pet.”

Erik whined when Charles reluctantly pulled back, shrugging urgently out of his ankle boots and jeans and grinning when Erik instantly pounced, pressing him back against the headboard with a sloppy kiss, then settling down to rub his roughened cheek against Charles' inner thigh, breathing in musk and want. The soft sheets were a cruel tease of nothing near enough on his cock, as though he'd wanted this forever, been strung out like this forever, with Charles' hands in his hair, tugging him forward. Charles made a gorgeous, mewling sound when Erik swallowed him down, making it as wet as possible, then a harsh uh, uh series of wounded gasps when he drew himself back and ran the flat of his tongue down the arch of flesh instead, nosing coarse curls blindly before licking back up.

He didn't know how long it was before he heard Charles command, That's enough, Erik, then slyly, Up here, pet as he hesitated, tugged up for a biting kiss that left him with a mauled lip and a foolish grin. Charles wormed out to his side, pressing a palm down between his shoulder blades, Hands and knees, Erik, then that purring, velvet caress in his mind, Oh yes, like that, perfect like that. Charles had scooted out of his peripheral vision, and Erik let out an impatient sound as a finger pressed into him, slick and warm.

Another one,” he said curtly, unable to sort out which language he was speaking, but Charles nipped him on his back and pressed in another finger, stroking, stretching. It had been a while, and dimly, Erik was sure that there had to be more discomfort than this, but he seemed blissed past the point of logic into a whimpering mess that arched and ground back onto Charles' fingers, taking them deep.

“Hungry little thing,” Charles murmured appreciatively, yes, a third finger, now please, and he could feel the friction from it, the gritty resistance as his body tried to compensate. Charles' control had to come from cheating, somehow, Erik was nearly out of his mind from lust and Charles was... Charles was taking his goddamned time, playing with the dips on Erik's spine and rubbing the thumb of his free hand over the dips of straining muscle, naming them in a smug little tone like he was reading from some fucking anatomy book, and if Erik had his powers he'd have tried to kill him.

But since he didn't... “Just fuck me already, bitte, please, please,” Erik managed to gasp, twitching as Charles crooked his fingers and stroked and, God, ignored him, pumping his fingers in and out, rubbing the pads unerringly over his prostate until Erik's voice began to crack, until he had his cheek pressed against the pillows with his thighs trembling under Charles' hand, groaning, beyond shame, his mind in a jumble of sensation and reaction.

“Perfect,” Charles said then, pulling out his fingers, and Erik's moan of protest choked in his throat as Charles curled fingers into his hips and began to push into him, stretching him further in a slow, insistent burn of friction and flesh. Despite the preparation, it still hurt; Erik couldn't quite remember, right now, the last time he'd ever allowed anyone to do this to him, and in any regard...

Stop that, Charles' tone in his head was amused. Stop thinking.

Erik was still trying to cobble up some sort of response when Charles rolled his hips, and chuckled when Erik made a whining noise deep in his throat and ground himself back, wanting more. Thankfully, it didn't take long for the shallow thrusts to turn into what he wanted, hard and brutal, Charles' fingers clawed into his hips as he fucked Erik with rough thrusts against the bed, until Erik was bracing himself against the hull of the ship and doing his blind best to move against Charles, his moans pitched high and hungry at the wet slaps of flesh against him, the glorious feeling of being full, taken, Charles' breaths hot and harsh against the back of his neck as he moved, all ruthless precision. God, but he never remembered ever wanting to come so badly-

Now, now, Charles commanded, abruptly, and all sensation in his mind seemed to implode into a sort of white noise, breath drawn up in a startled sob and he was only barely registering the ecstasy of release, swept in sync with Charles' own pleasure-more-yes as narrow hips snapped erratically into him, deep and God-yes-perfect.

Charles unstuck his cheek from Erik's shoulder with a muttered, incoherent sound and gingerly pulled out, flopping down on the bed in a gangly sprawl of boneless limbs unconcerned with Erik's comfort, catching his breath, his grin all boyish, unfocused smugness, and, still wet from Charles' spend, dazed and light-headed, Erik knew that he was indeed ruined for other lovers. He could only hope that Charles felt the same way.

When they caught their breaths, Charles snuggled against him, eyes half-lidded and drowsy, tracing the arm that Erik had curled over his waist, a lovely mess. “Erik.” Erik didn't trust his voice; he looked at Charles instead, questioningly, but Charles seemed absorbed watching his own hand trace the musculature on Erik's arm. “I have a confession to make.”

“Hmm?” Erik frowned, trying to keep awake.

“Raven will probably kill me, and it's like every bad cliché ever to say something like this after we'd just-”

“Charles,” Erik said patiently, glad that his voice, however raw, managed at least to be steady. “What is it?”

Charles hesitated, his eyes unfocused, as if checking the ship, then he said, “Do you remember what I said to you, at the very beginning, about us?”

Erik had first been too busy surreptitiously admiring the beautiful young man who had slouched into the chair in the interrogation room, and then he had been too busy being impressed. “Something about janitors?”

“No, no,” Charles, however, grinned, crooked. “Raven and I used to run cons. And in the CIA...”

Realization dawned through the fog of warm satiation. “You never did quit.”

Charles and Raven were CIA agents - spies.

Mind racing, Erik thought back, over the remarkable waste that it had seemed, for the CIA to abruptly try and snuff out Charles, over Charles' insistence that MacTaggert was returned safely to the plane, still within Charles' shielding range, over the insouciance with which the Xaviers had seemingly adjusted to a new life on the run. “Why didn't you tell me? When did you plan this?”

“From the beginning, with the agency, when we first learned of Shaw's whereabouts, when I first touched his mind. The kill team was real. They had to think that they were real, anyway, Frost needed to scan them. And then,” Charles said quietly, “Once we were here, she had to scan you. You had to think that they were real, too.”

Frost had relaxed after the touch on his mind... “But now you're-”

“I've learned how to guard us against her, all the time.” Charles hesitated for a moment, then he added, slowly, “And I think that I've found a quiet way around her defences, when she's not in diamond form, anyway. That's what I've been trying to do all this while.”

“Then,” Erik said, unsure of what he felt, what he thought of this, “Cerebro?”

“Oh, that was real.” Charles closed his eyes briefly, with a grimace. “I didn't think that we'd be out for this long. I've never been up against another telepath before, I didn't know what to expect.”

“You could have told me earlier,” Erik felt bewildered when he knew that he should have felt hurt or betrayal instead, but logically, he knew why. “You didn't trust me.”

“No, we didn't. Hell, we'd only known you for less than a couple of days, and you heard MacTaggert, it was possibly going to be a Code Red situation. We couldn't afford to trust you. Not until you did that insane stunt when I was in the worst of it.” Charles was watching him, soberly. “Raven thinks that you're a distraction.”

“Am I?”

“Oh, thoroughly,” Charles said, wryly. “But I think that you deserve far better from us. So I'm sorry for the deception. If you're angry with me-”

Erik sighed, rubbing a palm over his face. Maybe it was exhaustion, or his lack of full thought-processing after what Charles had just done to him over the last hour or so, or he was truly crazy like Charles said he was, but he wasn't angry. Logically, he could see the risk that Charles was taking, breaking cover when he didn't need to, when it was possible that he could jeopardize his mission; all because he wanted to trust Erik fully. “I'm not angry. I can understand why you left me out of your little three part act with MacTaggert, why you used me. I'm disappointed that you didn't... But I guess I should have known all along. You're a trained spy. You and Raven. So we're going to stop Shaw?”

Charles stared at him, as though surprised, then he smiled to himself, and drew his fingers carefully, tenderly, around the nape of Erik's neck. “I think that that can wait another hour or so.”

VII.

Running a con on a mind was a little like having to run a two card monte and a pigeon drop, all at once, on a mark that'd shy fast at the first sign of heavy-handedness. It was easy to latch on to human notions of greed and ambition, and work from there, spin a few curve balls about false profit and slip away when the mark persuaded itself to see things Charles' way.

In Shaw's case, with Frost an ever-present companion, however, it was proving to be a little more tricky than Charles thought, but he was enjoying the challenge. Frost, like Charles himself, had never seen another telepath before, and though she cast her net wide and kept herself on the alert, she'd never had to run elaborate tricks like Charles had, before meeting Shaw. Frost was a gorgeous, intelligent woman; even had she never been born with telepathy, Charles suspected that she'd never have failed to find a way to get what she wanted.

Charles had been feeding Shaw tiny little nudges for a week, when, shifting his castle during a chess game, Shaw said, “How have you been bearing up, Charles?”

“Little homesick,” Charles admitted, curled against his sister as he considered his next move. “Jamaica is nice, but it's not home. You might not believe me,” he added dryly, as Shaw arched an eyebrow a fraction, “But I used to live in a big old mansion in Westchester. Father was a rich man.”

“Oh?” Shaw said, in a tone that suggested that he already knew this, even as in the armchair to his right Erik glanced at him from behind a copy of the Times.

“The usual thing happened,” Charles lifted his bishop to b2. “Father passed away, mother met another man, had a son, and the troublesome first son with psychiatric problems got disinherited. Or rather, I could see it coming, so I thought that I should just leave first. Before they left me.” Charles' smile was self-deprecating. “A child's logic.”

“It makes sense,” Shaw disagreed, taking a pawn to b5. “You've made far more of yourself than you would have as a closeted child of wealth.”

“I suppose so,” Charles conceded, watching the board, hiding a smile when Erik suggested, pawn to b5 takes black pawn even as he turned his eyes back to the articles in his paper.

Who's playing this game, me, or you? Charles retorted, though he moved the pawn anyway, setting Shaw's down on the side of the board.

Erik replied with an irrelevant, vivid image of the reddened love bite at the nape of Charles' neck, barely hidden by the collar of his shirt, and grinned when Charles' ears pinked, then he blinked and squirmed when Charles retaliated by making Erik's mind imagine a brush of fingers over the furl of sore muscle between his legs. Thankfully, Shaw didn't seem to notice, though the heated stare that Erik shot him behind the papers made Charles briefly wish for some privacy. “You've all been patient with us. I appreciate that. Matters have already been set in motion. Soon, you'll be able to see the results of my efforts. The start of a new beginning.”

“When do we start helping?” Charles asked, angling for ambition, and when Shaw studied him, thoughtfully, added, “We're growing bored here, Sebastian. Cheating the odd human out of their coin or rigging the poker tables in the local gambling dens is losing its lustre.”

“Patience,” Shaw said, though his smile turned indulgent at a faint nudge from Charles. “We'll need a haven once the war begins. I have some places in mind. Once we finalize a location, I'll leave the negotiations to the both of you.”

“What war?” Charles asked, as Shaw took his pawn, axb5, careful to keep his tone bored.

“I've told Erik that we intend to create a distraction,” Shaw said, as he set Charles' pawn down beside the board. “And a war we shall have like none other before.”

Charles could see Erik tense, though at a quick, caressing touch over his mind, and a ghost's sensation down his flank, stroking, he relaxed, if with a sidelong glance at Charles. “Not the most elegant of solutions.”

“Elegance is a luxury that is only affordable by small-scale operations.” Another nudge, and Charles could suddenly see Shaw's plans behind Frost's net, a slew of words and images and memories; Jupiter missiles, Cuba, the USA and the USSR, Hendry, ships and maps, even as he reached out to move his castle to c1.

“A yacht and a handful of outcasts isn't small-scale?”

Shaw smiled thinly, and for a moment, Charles could see a submarine, docked somewhere in a hidden cove, before Shaw was thinking of chess again. “I meant in terms of the scope of the game plan, Charles. As to my operatives, I far prefer quality over quantity.”

A submarine? Charles shared this with Raven, who considered the image for a moment, before responding, We'll have to take a look at that.

I agree. I'll try.

Be careful. Raven didn't budge, still reading the glossy magazine on her lap. Very careful.

Watch me. “Should I be flattered?” Carefully, slowly, Charles nudged the image of the submarine back, as well as a faint seed of suggestion, wrapped in a lure of pride.

Shaw seemed to hesitate, glancing at Frost, who was staring out at the crystal-clear sea, a glass of white wine in her hands, then back at Charles. “Let me show you something.”

7.0

Charles sat down cross-legged on Erik's bed, feeling carefully around the stiff collar of the dress shirt that he had just bought the other day, and drew out a pair of familiar needles, capped in plastic, and handed them to Erik with a sly smile. “For you.”

“Soon, then?” Erik blunted the ends, for now, and settled for threading the needles into the hem of his sleeves.

“Orders from up high,” Charles nodded soberly, “Tonight.”

Erik glanced out of the window; the afternoon sun was only just beginning to wane. He wanted to ask about the game plan, or about the backup that might be coming, but what he really asked was, “What happens after?”

“After?”

“After all this.” Erik gestured at the ship, sitting down next to Charles, splaying a palm over his thigh, pointedly. “You'll go back to the CIA? To Cerebro?”

Charles' puzzled expression was eloquent enough, and Erik sighed, squeezing Charles' denim-clad leg gently. “Then nothing's changed.”

“I'll be more careful with Cerebro. I know how.” Charles said, even as Erik felt a touch on his mind, contemplated his reluctance, his resentment, and smiled, a little sadly. You don't have to come with us if you don't want to.

“It's a little late for that,” Erik noted, pressing his thumb idly over the seam of Charles' jeans, tracing upwards. Come with me instead. You and Raven. They could hide in Prague, in France, in Italy, build up the resources required to support others like themselves, find a place where they could all live without fear of reprisal.

That's not practical. Charles shook his head. This is the only way. Integration.

Registering all of us like criminals.

Charles stared at him calmly, quietly. Like people who need help-

You don't see the normal humans having to register for being born with a different skin color, do you? Charles didn't understand, why couldn't he understand? Frustrated, Erik took in a deep breath, then another. Charles, listen to me.

No. Charles agreed soberly, his eyes hard. Normal humans can't reach out and shatter stone, or break reinforced glass with a breath, shoot beams of light that scorch everything in their path... normal children can't lash out in the middle of a nightmare and realize that they've shattered the minds of people around them!

“Charles,” Erik said, startled by the venom in that last thought, like a pulse of pain in his mind, a migraine that came and went.

Charles looked away. “It was a long time ago. And only once. I hadn't met Raven yet. I was institutionalised for a while,” he added, distantly. “The children in the wards around me, their minds were fragile. Like eggshells. I didn't...” he let out a sharp breath, then added, “People like us are dangerous, Erik. It's not our fault that we're born this way. But someone has to watch us. Someone has to protect us from others – even as it protects others from us. Only the government has the capacity to do both.”

“This isn't the way,” Erik disagreed.

“Then, my friend,” Charles said wryly, as he climbed into Erik's lap, straddling him and sliding his arms over his shoulders, “I'll be sorry to see you go. I could make you stay,” he added, in a low murmur, “But I won't. If you won't stay, then you already know far too much for your own safety. People like you will never give up, no matter the odds. And if you go up against the CIA, you'll only end up hurting yourself.”

“Don't take this from me,” Erik rubbed restless hands up and under Charles' dress shirt, conscious of the needles in his cuffs. “Please.”

Instead of answering, Charles smiled, enigmatic, and leaned down to take his mouth.

VIII.

On hindsight, Charles probably should have devoted somewhat more energy into learning about the extent of Shaw's ability. He'd known that Shaw could absorb kinetic energy, something like that, and retaliate with a store of it. He hadn't known that this extended to bullets. And grenades.

With most of the strike force down or wounded, Charles and Raven huddled behind a deck chair near the prow, Raven philosophically loading her gun even though she'd have known that it'd be of no use. MacTaggert was cursing as she checked the pulse of a downed agent beside her, her hair and cheeks bloody from a scalp wound.

“It's a pity, Charles,” Shaw called, his skin glowing with a veritable nimbus of energy, de-aging before their eyes, a diamond-clad Frost, Riptide and Azazel behind him. Erik had dived off the ship during the first explosion, and Charles could still feel his mind, somewhere in the water, still alive. “We could have remade the world together.”

“The world's doing fine as it is now,” Charles called back over the chair. He'd managed to stop Azazel from being able to teleport, and Riptide from making his wind funnels, but Shaw and Frost were as tightly shielded as ever.

“Do you really believe that, Charles?” Shaw asked, mockingly, “Just have your sister walk in her real skin down Fifth Avenue, then. What do you think will happen? Why do you protect humans?”

“We're all human, that's why,” Charles retorted, watching Shaw step closer to them, wondering how they'd fare if they all jumped off the ship now. “Being able to do what we do doesn't make us better than them!”

Shaw shook his head in pity, raising a hand, his fingertips beginning to glow a bright orange. “You were born with one of the most remarkable abilities I have ever seen, Charles Xavier. It's truly a pity that it was wasted on you.”

Jump, Charles told Raven and the remaining agents, even as the anchor chain abruptly rose out of the sea like a serpent, behind Shaw and the others.

“My God,” Raven breathed, as the chain coiled, sinuous and drizzling water and seaweed, then it struck, snake-quick even as Shaw turned around, jaw slack in surprise, curling tight around Frost and dragging her sharply back and into the water before she could even scream.

Erik! Charles called out, wincing as he felt Frost batter against the shields that he had around his friend, in her blind panic, drowning-fright-fear, then her shields were down, and Erik had just killed someone-

I cracked some of that diamond. She's asleep, Erik reported. Concentrate.

“Sleep,” Charles said out aloud, his fingertips pressed to his temple, and Shaw took another step forward, blinking, before he and the others collapsed, unconscious.

Warily, MacTaggert and the remaining uninjured agents rose from behind their flimsy cover, and went to work, sedating Shaw and the others with Hank's needles even as the anchor chain deposited a limp Frost back on deck, Erik looped on its slippery length behind her, hauling himself up over the rail, drenched and a little charred. When he gestured, the chain slipped back into the water with a splash.

“Minor scrapes,” Raven said, inspecting Erik's skin as they quickly scrambled over to his side. “You'll just look like you fell down a staircase.”

“I appreciate the sympathy,” Erik said dryly, then he winced as Charles hugged him tightly. “Ouch.”

“Good work, agents,” MacTaggert limped over to them to solemnly shake their hands. “Debrief at seven hundred hours. I hope you're up to it. And thank you,” she added, with a somewhat more uncertain glance at Erik. “For the assist.”

“My pleasure,” Erik said, with a glance down at Charles, his mouth set in a thin line of unhappiness. Charles.

“Is he coming back with us?” MacTaggert asked, looking between them with an arched eyebrow until Charles self-consciously let go of Erik, winding his arm around Raven instead.

It's your choice, Raven told him soberly. Whatever you choose, I'll be there.

“How do you feel about taking on American citizenship, Mister Lehnsherr?” Charles asked wryly, knowing what Erik would say.

“I must decline,” Erik replied, and Charles could feel his anger, his grief. Charles, please, please don't take this from me.

I must. Charles reached out, and Erik staggered forward, only for Charles to catch him and lower him gently onto the deck. Sleep, love. Forget.

“We'll take him back with us and set him on his way.” Charles said, not trusting himself to meet MacTaggert's eyes. This was the only way to keep Erik from hurting himself, even if it felt all too keenly like betrayal. “He's clean.”

“All right.” MacTaggert reached out, squeezing his hand gently, then his shoulder. “Welcome back.”

This didn't feel like the victory that it should have been, Charles thought, as his sister pressed her cheek against his shoulder.

8.0.

Erik blinked awake on a bench in Idlewild airport, within sight of the taxi queue, rubbing his eyes, disoriented. His luggage was arranged at his feet, and as he looked around him, blinking, he didn't immediately recall how he'd come to be here. He'd flown in from Germany on a Lufthansa 707, and then... he was hurt? There was a stinging sensation up his left flank, and as he groped carefully over his shirt, it felt as though he was bandaged. How had he... yes... he had fallen down, just before boarding the flight, that was why.

Vaguely unnerved but unable to put his finger down on the reason, Erik picked up his bags and began to make his way towards the taxi stand. There was a faint sense of deja vu, as he stepped into queue, as though he'd done this before, somewhere, but Erik ignored it, yawning. The flight must have been more tiring than he had thought.

He hesitated when, looking around, he saw a newspaper stand, and a date. Hadn't he flown to Idlewild more than two weeks ago? There had to be something... no... somehow, it seemed perfectly reasonable. Erik struggled against this for a moment, trying logic, then he gave up. Fighting reason was like trying a slippery slope.

The headlines read, in bold print, terrorism plot uncovered, then neo-nazi conspiracy and 'America is ever vigilant'. Despite himself, Erik shuddered, shifting his bags to his right hand to rub a thumb over the tattoo. The war felt like it was an age ago.

The hotel was cheap but the room was fairly clean, and Erik headed down to the bar for a smoke and a drink, hoping that it'd clear up some of the jetlag and the nagging fog in his mind. This early in the day, there was only one other person at the bar, a gorgeous young man of indeterminable age, with the bluest eyes that Erik had ever seen, having a whisky on the rocks, eyes fixed on the radio at the counter, with is blare of static-laced music and advertisement jingles.

Surreptitiously admiring the way the young man looked in his sports jacket and faded jeans, Erik ordered a beer and settled for nursing it in a corner within sight of the bar, opening a copy of the Times over a grimy table and lighting a cigarette.

Eventually, somewhat to his pleasure and surprise, the young man sauntered over, mischief in his eyes and in his crooked grin as he slouched into a chair at Erik's table. “Good afternoon.”

“Good afternoon,” Erik echoed, momentarily uncertain. He wasn't a stranger to being approached at bars, but never by someone this beautiful, and another man, at that. “Are you also staying in this hotel?”

The young man nodded. “I'm from Virginia.”

“Germany,” Erik offered, then he added, “You don't sound American.”

“It's that pesky Oxbridge education,” the young man said carelessly, flashing a playful grin. “I'm working on it. My name is-” charles “Charles, by the way.”

“Erik Lehnsherr,” Erik said, frowning a little at the faint echo that he had thought that he had heard, again that strange sense of deja vu. “Are you here on business?”

“I might be,” Charles allowed, raising his whisky glass before tipping it back, a sardonic humor that Erik couldn't parse in his eyes. “Welcome to America, Mister Lehnsherr.”

“Erik, please.” Erik corrected, with a smile, and didn't bother to hide the way he was watching Charles' lovely pert ass when the young man nodded companionably to him and sauntered back to the bar. America always seemed to be pleasantly full of surprises.

epilogue.

Erik nearly did a double take when he rounded a corner in the Latin Quarter and came across a startlingly familiar, gorgeous young man in khaki pants and a open-necked white shirt, sprawled in a chair in the sun with an equally gorgeous blonde girl in an electric blue frock beside him, reading phrases from an English to French phrase book and laughing at each other's terrible pronunciation.

Charles grinned at him, when he approached, then waved him into a chair as though he'd been expected. “This is Raven,” Charles introduced, when Erik smiled wryly and obeyed, ordering a latte from a hovering waiter. “My sister. Raven, I've told you about Erik.”

A little jealous knot in Erik's stomach undid itself in relief. “Pleased to meet you.”

Raven smiled at him, and there was a little of pity in her eyes, disconcertingly frank. “Oh yes, Charles told me about you. In great and unnecessary detail, I might add. And then there were all those letters.

Erik could feel color edging into his cheeks. “Those were meant to be private.” A week lingering in New York had been all that it took for Erik to do the absolutely inadvisable – become irrevocably infatuated with a perfect stranger. He never even managed to find out exactly what Charles had been in New York for, but Charles had seemed so familiar, like a friend that he never remembered, so easy to talk to, so eagerly willing, and the sex was like nothing Erik had had before, mind blowing and visceral and hungry.

His leads had petered out to nothing, and then Charles seemed to conclude whatever business he had been in New York for, preparing to go back to Virginia. They'd exchanged postal addresses, Erik had fumblingly promised to write, and Charles had smiled, catlike and inscrutable, with a sharp sadness in his eyes that Erik didn't quite understand.

Three months later he'd gone back to America, this time to Virginia, to the address that Charles had given, only to realize that it was a mail drop site, confidential and impersonal. He had been far more disappointed than he should have been.

“Oh, don't get angry, we don't have secrets. I read her mail,” Charles said earnestly, as Erik made as though to get up from his chair. “I'm sorry that I never responded to any of them, I've just been terribly busy.”

Erik nodded slowly, settling back down despite himself. He had been busy as well, in the last two months, after finally meeting others like himself. A few 'discoveries' of gold and precious metal deposits around the world had bought him enough funds to outfit a place of their own in Provence, and things were finally growing busy.

And then there was the problem of America. All the mutants there were registered, records kept by the CIA, and those who didn't conform somehow had their powers removed. Perhaps conflict would be inevitable, but for now, Erik knew he had to concentrate on building his own power base. There were other mutants around the world, after all, and so far, as much as America's system was an abuse of basic civil rights, it wasn't – not yet anyway – something that he had the resources to try and change.

Besides, Erik was all too aware that confronting the American system might soon be a moot point. His own operations had attracted a number of American mutants out of the country, and it wasn't a stretch of the imagination by any means to think that the CIA was already more than aware of him. Conflict might not be far on the horizon. For all he knew, they might already have infiltrated his ranks, but he couldn't afford division, not when there were still so few of them.

“You have a photograph of me in your wallet,” Charles made a 'tsk' sound, and Erik blinked as he saw Charles browsing through Erik's wallet openly, on the table. When had he...?

“You're a pickpocket,” Erik realized, wryly, and despite everything, despite the sheer inadvisability of it all, he could feel his resentment and reserve thawing all over again. Charles and Raven were thieves. He knew that he should walk away, but he couldn't.

“I hate that word,” Charles said, unrepentant, confiscating the photograph and returning the wallet over the table.

Raven grinned. “We prefer to call it a 'wealth re-distributor'. Here are your keys, by the way. Nice hotel.”

Erik chuckled, a little helplessly. He should have felt the theft of both items, with the metal of the keys and the coins, but there was something about Charles' presence that was infinitely distracting. “I could show it to the both of you.”

“Thanks, but I'm not really into that sort of thing,” Raven pursed her lips, and then she laughed as Erik stumbled to correct himself. “No, I'm joking. You go,” she told Charles. “Just don't end up playing around until you forget about me.”

“Never,” Charles declared, leaning in to peck his sister on the cheek, then he smiled invitingly at Erik. “So, about this tour?”

Charles seemed to exhibit a childlike fascination with luxury, even that of the understated sort, all but bouncing around the room in a boyish enthusiasm that had Erik finally pin him against a wall and try to kiss him senseless. Shedding clothes all the way to the bed in a blind frenzy of lust, Erik somehow ended up straddling Charles, up against the headboard, his hands clenched tight on the headboard at Charles' direction, spread wet and open with his ass lubed up from some tube that Charles had produced from his pockets, riding him as hard as he could.

“I want to feel this tomorrow,” Erik was panting harshly against Charles' neck, brokenly, his cock skidding up a wet trail against Charles' belly, ignored; Charles' hands were on his hips, encouraging him to go faster, harder. “Please,” he choked, then, “God, oh God-” when Charles grinned at him and bucked in a sharp snap of his hips that had him jerk and whine. He didn't know why, but sex seemed incomparable with Charles, every sensation heightened and sharpened, always perfect. “Let me, let me...”

“Later,” Charles smiled wickedly as Erik moaned, strung wire-thin on the verge of orgasm and frozen, grinding himself down again and again on Charles' lap until his legs and arms were shaking from exhaustion, so sore that he'd be lucky to walk tomorrow, and he wanted, he still needed-

“All right,” Charles said, strained, biting down on the lobe of Erik's ear and chuckling, muffled, as Erik let out a hoarse shout of ecstasy, spending himself in stuttered bursts over Charles' belly, waiting, trembling, as Charles rolled his hips up and deep, languidly, then again before finally grunting and spilling within him in a wet rush of liquid heat.

They fucked again in the morning, slow and languid and peppered with sloppy kisses. Wrecked, Erik could only grab futilely at Charles' hand as he grinned and slipped away to shower, and as the water came on, Erik groaned and rubbed his palm up his face. There was something about Charles that made him crazy, somehow.

“You're going?” Erik asked, hating how brittle that sounded, when Charles emerged sleek and wet from the shower, towelling off and shamelessly naked, ambling around the hotel room picking up his clothes.

“Business,” Charles flashed him a quick, fey grin, pulling on his underwear, then his pants, heart-breakingly gorgeous.

“Come here,” Erik decided. Insanity seemed to be the flavor of the day, anyway, and there was a lot of metal in the room. Charles didn't look like the sort who would wig out easily, and Erik was growing tired of hiding. “I want to show you something.”