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I

The first time Erik sees Agent X is in an expensive hotel in Geneva. Erik is sitting at the bar and watching the mirror on the wall behind it, getting a good look at his surroundings. He notices the man at the end of the bar watching him very closely. When Erik meets his gaze in the mirror, he is rewarded with a suggestive smile. If there's one thing the Secret Service is good at doing, it's training its agents to respond to certain suggestions.

Erik picks up his drink and approaches Agent X on the pretext of asking for a cigarette. In a few moments, X will introduce himself as William Stroker while smiling rather lasciviously and smelling the flower in his lapel to indicate that he is 007's contact. Erik will look him up and down and introduce himself in a manner suggesting they will both get to know each other very well.

This is not a profession known for its subtleties.

***

Precisely 48 hours later, Erik is bruised but not beaten, his arm bandaged where a bullet somehow clipped it just before he drove a truck off a bridge. Erik still remembers the look on X's face as the truck seemed to float rather than fall. The widening of his eyes, the way his head turned to look at Erik, before he looked away and said absolutely nothing. Not even a single sound of shock or alarm.

X is sitting on the bed and watching Erik now with such an intense look, it's almost as if he's reading Erik's mind. Erik thinks it would be nice to end this day on a good note, rather than with questions and evasive answers.

X stands, sauntering over to Erik and helping him carefully take off his shirt. "Here. Let me."

Erik watches as X turns to put away his shirt, grabbing him by his arm and pulling him back before he can go too far, straight into a searing kiss. The shirt falls to the floor and X turns straight into their kiss, making it clear that he has had thoughts on his mind of a similar nature to Erik's.

There's a strange hunger to X's kisses that confuses Erik, but he doesn't pause too long for thought. Just long enough to pull away and tell X, "I don't trust you as far as I can throw you."

X nods and says, "Wise decision, Mr. Bond."

***

The next morning, Erik wakes, turns his head, finds the bed empty, sighs and turns his head back so he can stare at the ceiling. He knows the precious microfiche he got shot for is gone. He doesn't really care that much.

II

Months later, Erik's sitting on a beach waiting for his American contact, half-pretending to read Our Man in Havana. He happens to look up and sees X emerging from the sea, smoothing his hair back with both hands, his swimming trunks riding low on his hips revealing a V of invitation. Erik idly wonders if there are any metal fasteners on them. Interestingly enough, X grabs his waistband just then. He looks at Erik and has the gall to smile.

"Hello, James," X says smoothly, as he steps in front of the sun, appropriating its rays for a halo.

"Mr. Stroker," Erik says, squinting up at X.

"You're not going to invite me to sit down?" Erik blinks and then pushes his sunglasses up the bridge of nose. X seems far too thrilled by that non-answer. "Come on now, James. We both have orders to follow. Doesn't mean they're always the same for both of us. I've been told that sometimes it's best if the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. You know it was important that microfiche didn't fall into the wrong hands."

Erik nods. “So you safely transported the microfiche while I spent three days evading men who wanted to use me for target practice.”

“I'm sure you weren't awarded the mantle of 007 just for your good looks, James.”

Erik shakes his head and snorts. "What are you doing here? Besides blocking the sun."

X lands on his knees in the sand and sticks out his hand. "Meet your CIA contact. Dick Hughes, at your service."

***

They spend a week on the run. For secret agents they seem to have a lot of trouble staying secret. Fortunately, between them they seem to have extraordinary luck too. People suddenly let them pass where they shouldn't. Metal objects suddenly appear out of nowhere and land on henchmen. Extraordinary luck. Erik can't help but wonder about X, the way he either ignores all odd metal-based happenings or fails to raise an eyebrow at other little miracles that are not of Erik's doing. And as soon as Erik ponders on any of it, X has this expectant look on his face, as if waiting for Erik to say something.

They manage to survive, saving each other's lives and escaping after the destruction of an underwater den run by a crazed scientist. After it's over, Erik and X are left floating in a speedboat which has lost its capacity for speed. X looks preciously smudged and Erik's hair has lost only enough composure for a strand to curve on to his forehead. They both sit there staring at each other as they await rescue.

"I don't suppose the doctor told you any of his plans just before I turned up and heroically rescued you?" Erik says. “Or the location of those poisonous cannisters?”

"You mean when you somehow wrenched open that half a ton door after I'd already freed myself from the clutches of the bad bad men?" X asks with a smile.

“Using nothing but the powers of persuasion,” Erik adds not missing a beat. “Yes. Did he?”

X smiles, looking out at the sea. Erik sighs and shakes his head. The left hand still has no idea what the right hand is doing. He looks down at the back of his bruised knuckles and wonders if he's just here making way for the next 007. X suddenly reaches for Erik's face, tipping up his chin before leaning in close and pressing a kiss to his mouth. Erik stares at him, lips still pursed after the kiss has ended. Who are you? he thinks.

X smiles and it seems disturbingly like an answer.

***

X disappears sometime after their rescue. The fact that Erik can't remember how that's possible makes him angry enough that a gun goes off somewhere, shooting a very important senior member of staff in the foot.

III

Erik is in Argentina. He's finished off some business, personal and professional, and now he's headed to a place to lay low and get documents to start moving again. Exhausted from the ordeal of the last few days, Erik barely makes it to the house, banging on the door in the middle of the night.

The door opens and he sees X, face too angelic for such a devious bastard. Erik feels a little affronted. He feels many emotions basic training is supposed to have killed. He puts it down to the fact that his body is less of a body at the moment and more of a punchbag with limbs.

X smiles at Erik and says, "You took your time."

Bastard, Erik wants to say, but instead flops down on the threshold and passes out completely.

***

Erik dreams of running. There's always someone chasing him and he never seems to know where to he's running. Or from what. All he knows is, he can never stop because they'll find him. The monsters under the bed, he childishly thinks as he runs in a dense dark forest filled with shadows. He's so afraid it makes him angry. So angry he stops and yells at the tree tops.

A figure emerges through the shadows and Erik extends his arm, his hand trembling. He has no power here. He tries to feel for something, but he's awfully human in this useless forest.

Erik, the shadow in front of him seems to say without speaking at all, calm your mind. You must calm your mind.

Erik jerks awake. He's shivering and sweating and not all too sure of where he is. There's a presence right behind him on the bed. He tries to jerk away, but a hand gently appears on his forehead, smoothing his hair back. X's mouth is hovering over his ear.

“It's all right. You were dreaming. Try to rest,” X says. “You're at the safe house. You're all right now.”

Erik stills, his breathing slowing. His eyes begin to feel heavy, his body going boneless. X doesn't let him go.

***

Erik rises from a strange dreamless sleep and someone is feeling his forehead. Erik sits up ramrod straight, his hand gripped tight around that someone's wrist. He sees X whose eyes go to the vice-like grip on his wrist, brows rising. Erik stares at X for a moment and then abruptly lets go.

Erik looks around the small but snug bedroom, the memories of his arrival returning to him. "What happened?"

"You had a bit of a fever, but it’s come down." X gets up from the bed. "I'll get you some food. You ought to eat something. Should probably rest here for a few days too. Recuperate." X slowly turns towards the door.

"Wait," Erik calls out. X stops and turns with a questioning look. “Thank you.”

X stares at Erik, his eyes speaking volumes as he quietly asks, “For what?”

Erik swallows, unable to look away, still hearing X's voice in his mind. “Putting up with me last night. I was in a bad way.”

X nods slowly, before smiling coyly. “I'm sure you can make it up to me, James.”

Erik almost regrets that they're back to falsities. But there's a comfort here too. Something familiar. And it's with the man before him. A man he finds himself caring about too much, a man he—

“Lunch then,” X suddenly says, looking a little startled. “For me too. Starving actually. And tea. Lots of tea.” He stares at Erik and mutters, “I really need some tea.”

Erik nods stiffly. “Tea. Good.”

X points at the bedroom door, frowning a little. “I should--”

Erik agrees emphatically, “Yes. I'll come down.”

X turns around a bit stiffly and then leaves, closing the bedroom door behind him. Erik doesn't hear any footsteps to indicate X is moving. He shakes his head. “Are you all right?”

“Fine!” X calls back. “Just...found a thing.”

And then there are footsteps. Running down stairs. And a door slamming shut. Erik stares at the bedroom door before falling back against the pillows with a sigh.

***

Falsities are comforting. They offer reprieve. Shelter. So as soon as X laughs and comments with, “Oh, James,” Erik kisses him and they're back on familiar ground.

It's the night before Erik has to leave and they're both lying in front of a crackling fire, just barely covered by a blanket which is half acting as a rug. Erik and X are pressed against each other, still trying to get closer with each thrust. X fists his hands where they are pressed against Erik's shoulder blades. Erik closes his eyes, his face half in X's hair. He knows in the morning X will be gone, his job done. Erik has a fleeting thought that it will be too long before he sees X again and it's almost with violence that X surges up against him and kisses him, silencing his gasps, shutting his mouth and his thoughts.

***

When he wakes, he finds breakfast in a tray accompanied by a white envelope. He finds his documents as expected and also finds a postcard with a rather scenic picture. Sitting in bed, a cigarette carelessly hanging from his lips, Erik turns the postcard over. There is nothing written. Just a parting kiss scribbled in the form of a thick inky X.

Till next time then, Erik thinks, and downs a perfectly made cup of tea.

IV

Erik's wrists are strapped to the armrests on his seat. He looks around the cabin of the plane and thinks it's quite impressive that someone would include something like this in the design, useless as it will be at containing him. The minute the gun-toting stewardess has left, the straps snap open and Erik is up on his feet and heading towards the back of the plane to knock a few heads together.

He will use the element of surprise of course and some martial art manoeuvre to subdue the henchmen before overpowering the pilots of the plane and getting back to his own schedule. Only the henchmen are in a puppy pile and snoring. Erik goes from being poised to strike to quietly staring in confusion followed by amusement.

He ties them up anyway and retrieves his gun from one of them, before returning the main cabin. Heading for the cockpit, he smooths back his hair and straightens his tie before pushing the door open with a small flick of the hand. He walks in and lets the corner of his mouth lift in a smile as the pilot of the plane turns in his chair to look at Erik.

“Randy Cox, at your service, Mr. Bond,” X says. Erik points towards the back of the plane with his gun. X makes a show of looking and remembering. "Oh, them? Sleeping. I wouldn't worry."

Erik snorts and pulls the sleeping co-pilot out of his seat, letting him land on the floor with a thud. "Now what?"

"Well, my orders are to get you to Bruges. Unless you have other ideas."

Erik eyes X with an expression he knows doesn't hide what some of those other ideas are. X's face colours. It makes Erik think very...vivid thoughts. It's been too long since they've—

"Let's land this thing," X says with determination.

Erik smiles and looks on ahead, his mind a carousel of the sounds X makes when he's losing his mind with pleasure.

***

The hotel room stinks. The windows need opening and the drapes are still drawn. The air is stale, sex-filled, booze-filled and being added to by another cigarette. Erik stands in front of a full-length mirror, examining a bruise just above his hip, dark next to the white of the towel wrapped around his waist. He runs his fingers through his hair to comb it back into shape, taking a drag on his cigarette and eyeing X who is in bed, lying on his stomach with his pale behind on show.

Erik turns and goes to X, climbing onto the bed and waking his sleeping partner with a hard slap to the bottom. X mumbles sleepily and struggles to wake, his face resting on his arm. Erik lies down on his stomach, taking his cigarette out of his mouth so he can nuzzle behind X's ear.

"I don't think you're quite living up to your name, Mr. Cox," Erik says. X sighs before he turns his face towards Erik, blinking with bright eyes. Penetrating, intrusive eyes, somewhat troubled. "What's wrong?"

X shakes his head. "Nothing. I just thought you should know that when you get back from the pickup tomorrow, I'll be gone."

"It's not going to be a surprise this time?"

X smiles a little. "No. Not this time. I think I'm rather sick of surprises."

Erik finds himself already pining in ridiculous fashion. He presses a kiss to the side of X's head and says, "Come on. Let's have some breakfast."

X grabs Erik's hand and pulls him back down. "Let's not."

V

Months later, far too many months later, Erik is on a train, ignoring the French countryside in favour of a German newspaper, when he hears a familiar voice followed by someone giggling.

“Swallows. Ivor Swallows, Madame,” says a familiar voice.

Erik has been expecting a contact, hoping it would be X, but certain it wouldn't. The sound of his voice makes Erik momentarily go rigid. He slowly folds his paper and puts it on the seat beside him, taking a cigarette from his case.

A lighter flicks open and lights his cigarette just as he places it between his lips. Erik looks up over the flame to see X smiling at him, before withdrawing the lighter and sitting down opposite. “You don't mind if I join you, do you, Monsieur?”

Erik silently drinks in the sight of X, blowing out smoke that disperses just short of X's face. “Not at all. It's a long journey. I'd welcome the company.”

X looks out at the flying scenery, a smile shaping his mouth. Erik tries not to smile and fails.

***

Only two nights later, Erik is dragging X into a barn, dropping him onto a pile of dry straw. Outside it's begun to thunder and rain. Erik finds a lantern, lighting it with some trouble. It casts a soft glow that's hopefully not bright enough to alert anyone of their presence, not that they're in a populated area.

Checking the barn doors and pulling the shutters close, he goes to X, falling onto his knees beside the other man who is semi-conscious. Erik carefully turns X towards himself and slides his hand under X's black sweater which is damp and shining with blood. He places his palm against the skin, some inches above X's heart. X flinches with a gasp, opening his eyes wide to stare up at Erik.

He blinks a few times, fisting his hand in Erik's sweater, looking around as if not quite sure what's happening, before focusing on Erik. Breathlessly he says, “My name's not really Ivor, you know.”

“I'd never have guessed,” Erik says, pulling the other man closer, grimacing at the way heat is radiating from X's skin.

“Actually, it's—”

“Tell me later,” Erik says urgently, spreading his hand out against the wound, feeling the pull of magnetic attraction at the centre of his palm.

“It's rather impressive,” X grunts, closing his eyes tight, his body going rigid. “You'll like it, I promise.”

“I said, later,” Erik grates out.

“Later might not be good for me.”

Erik gives X a sharp look and snaps, “You're not dying. So stop acting like you are.”

“Erik,” is the quiet response. Erik shuts his eyes for a moment before looking at the man in his arms. X is watching him with wide watery eyes. “My name is Charles Xavier. And I'm very pleased to meet you.”

Erik shakes his head. He manages to choke out a laugh. “Hello, Charles.”

Charles smiles feverishly. “Hello, Erik.”

Erik clamps his mouth shut and wrenches the bullet from Charles' body so hard the other man bucks off the floor with a cry and falls back unconscious.

***

“The plan was to expand my research into human genetics, to find people like us. Somehow that plan got derailed and...well, here I am. Our employers, though aware of my research interests, are not aware of my ability as yet. Even so, what better way to use it? Making the world a safer place.”

Charles is propped up against a haystack in the barn, his arm in a sling made from a rough torn up rag, face pale and legs under a stolen blanket. Erik sits opposite, listening quietly, poking a small fire he's built between them.

“Your turn,” Charles says.

Erik looks across at Charles with a small smile. “You don't already know?”

“I know you have great power,” Charles says quietly. “And I know you dream of terrible things. Things you have no desire to share.”

Erik thinks of a night some time ago, his restless sleep as he dreamt of his parents. As he dreamt of things kept buried, things that made his core turn so heavy he thought he might be crushed under his own grief. Then suddenly he woke, completely calm. Too calm. Next to him was Charles, watching him with a haunted expression, his eyes reflecting every ounce of the moonlight that filtered in through the window. Charles hadn't said a word. He closed his eyes and inched towards Erik. Erik slept, his terrors having taken flight as if they had been stolen right out of his mind.

A crack of thunder brings Erik back to the present. They don't have many supplies. The abandoned farmhouse behind the barn has provided blankets, bandages and a small amount of food, but they still need to be able to have one restful night. Erik reaches out towards the roof, drawing anything that will move over the more troublesome gaps allowing in rain and cold air. When he realises he's done so openly, his hand stills, fingers curling inwards.

He looks at Charles who is smiling as if he's seen something wonderful.

***

The next day they hitch a ride from a grumpy old fellow with a rickety truck. They both sit opposite each other in the back, cushioned by bales of hay and covered by a blue sky raining down warmth instead of rain.

Erik tries to imagine the lives he could have had. He imagines his parents escaping with him. They would have told him to be who he was, and not what he was expected to be. He imagines being taken with them and witnessing the same horrors. He imagines a life where he hadn't been stolen out of the country. Maybe he could have saved them somehow. Maybe he could have saved more than just his parents.

Instead, he grew up the ward of a British Colonel, one who taught him that the best way to move through a wicked world was to hide your intentions and your strength and as much of your truth as possible. In England, Erik Lehnsherr only existed on pieces of paper.

Erik looks ahead at Charles, who is watching him with curious eyes. He seems to be waiting for something. Just watching and waiting. Can I show you something?

Erik frowns and then nods. Charles' fingers slowly rise to his temple and he closes his eyes, almost serenely. Erik lets his head fall back against the haystack and blinks up at the bright sky.

He can hear singing. A song so beautiful it hurts.

***

They spend the next week hidden away in a hotel room. It's small and basic, but when the sun streams in through the little window and caresses their naked skin with such gentleness, Erik feels he could just lie here forever.

Blinking sleepily, Erik whispers, “I thought I was alone.”

“No,” Charles says quietly. “Erik, you are not alone.”

They stay sleepily entwined, in no hurry to get back to the real world.

VI

It's two months later and Erik has a rendezvous on a hill-top resort. If he can navigate the winding road that leads to the hill-top, every curve a dangerous invitation to death on the rocks below. He keeps thinking it will be Charles. He doesn't know why. Could Charles be alerting him somehow? Or is it just wishful thinking?

Lost in this thought, he watches a white Triumph TR4 speed past his own red Spitfire. Erik peers at the car ahead of him. For many reasons, he knows the back of that head. Erik puts his foot down until he's definitely on the wrong side of the road and level with Charles. They both look across for a second, smiling at each other. Charles gives him a small nod and his voice is achingly clear in Erik's head: God, it's been long.

Erik nods. It hasn't been long, but it's felt that way. Erik then gives Charles a big grin, flooring it and speeding ahead until he misses the curve of the road, flies onto air and directs the car back on to the road to gain enough distance for speeding away with Charles following behind.

***

Erik is laughing, whiskey and cigarette in hand as he sits in bed looking down at Charles who is lying next to him, laughing too.

“Trust me, it's all in the name,” Charles says with a sleepy smile.

“An invitation to lechery,” Erik says. “How could it possibly fail?”

Charles looks up at Erik and says, “Did it work on you?”

Erik tilts his head to align his gaze with Charles' and then chooses to smile rather than answer, taking a drag of his cigarette before dropping the thing in his almost empty glass, putting both aside so he can pay Charles his complete attention, rolling on top of him, relishing the way Charles' arms come up immediately to draw him close.

They languidly kiss into a slow burn which turns feverish quick and before long Erik is urgent and Charles is demanding and everything is exactly as it should be.

***

“Can I ruin the mood?” Charles asks two days later.

They're staying under the radar in the lodge of a close friend and informer. The snow is thick outside and inside the fire is loud and crackling in the stone fireplace. Erik sits propped up against the sofa, legs stretched out in front of him as he watches the flickering of the flames. Charles is lying on the sofa and every now and then he toys with Erik's hair, poking, pulling.

Erik smiles, reaching for his drink and taking a healthy gulp. “That question can really only move things in one direction.”

“It may be a while before our paths cross again,” Charles says. “I just wanted you to know.”

Erik feels himself go still, but lifts his glass to drink again. He's never really thought about the rate at which he and Charles are forever crossing paths. All he knows is, it's become rather acceptable. Desirable even. And he really hopes Charles isn't listening in on his thoughts.

“A mission?” Erik asks.

“Yes,” Charles says. “Might get a bit...well, you know the line of work we're in.”

“You could always ask for help,” Erik says, swirling the remainder of his drink around the bottom of the glass. “I'm sure our superiors have noticed we work well together.”

Charles takes too long to reply. “Yes, I'm sure they have noticed.”

Erik nods. Then he gets up, probably too quickly. “Top up?”

“No, I'm fine thanks,” Charles says, sitting up on the sofa as Erik passes it to the drinks cabinet.

Erik pours himself a generous amount of whiskey, thinking of what a strange living this is. All the secrecy and mayhem, the madness of what they do. Helping humans to play games with each other. And for this, one day he might be seeing Charles for the very last time. With all his ability and fearlessness, he's still not immortal. Erik closes his eyes against the thoughts, aware that behind him Charles is too quiet.

Erik opens his eyes, tapping his temple with his fingers. “Rooting around, Charles?”

“I'd rather you tell me what you're thinking,” Charles says.

Erik turns and looks at Charles. “I'm thinking,” it's a terrible thing to care about someone, isn't it? “it's getting late. Don't you agree?”

Charles nods slowly, the reflection of the fire looking liquid in his eyes. “I was thinking the same thing.”

VII

Three months later as Erik is striding through a casino, he thinks of Charles. There have been longer gaps between their meetings, but somehow these three months have seemed excessively long. Erik is beginning to feel an incompleteness around other people. People who are not like him and Charles. People who would be more than glad to build gates and walls to separate themselves from people like him and Charles.

No, it's a dangerous path for taking his thoughts on a stroll. The man who raised him was kind. He called him his son and hid his secrets. He taught Erik to live as a man, not a mutant. He embraced Erik, even when he feared the boy's abilities. He was one of them and he had become Erik's family.

Erik sits down at a roulette table. He catches the eyes of the beautiful woman seated opposite him. He smiles and she smiles back. Her companion notices Erik and visibly brings his guard up. Erik offers the man a small nod and their game begins.

***

“You know, I'm going to regret killing you. You've been a worthy adversary.”

Erik's admirer punches him in the face, not for the first time. It's been a gruelling month and at the end of it Erik has found himself tied up in some two-bit rent-a-cave. His adversary is French, old money, insane and in with the wrong crowd. And he really wants to be the man who kills James Bond. Of course, he has no idea that James Bond does not die.

Erik is beginning to develop a mutual feeling towards his captor. When he reels back from the punch he starts to laugh. One of his eyes is swollen shut and his jaw feels like one more tap might dislocate it. He can taste blood in his mouth and these are just injuries from the neck up. He knows he probably looks like a crazed mess, sitting there laughing.

“What's so funny?”

Erik's laugh tapers off and he manages to wheeze. “Hell of a way to make a living, isn't it? How much more money could you possibly want?”

Erik receives a wolfish smile and sees the fist rise to hit him again. “It's never enough, Mr. Bond. There's no such thing as enough.”

Erik nods, his eyes flicking to the fist. He thinks of the things he done. The things people do. All you need is a reason and you can persuade yourself to do anything. Erik's eyes sting. There's an odd feeling in his chest. Something as powerful as anger, but not enough to overpower him. Why is he here? Who is doing this for?

Erik gives the other man an honest and level look. “Tell me where your brother is and let me go, and maybe I won't hurt you.”

Erik receives an incredulous look followed by hysterical laughter. “My God, you are mad.”

And there it comes, another punch. It stops short of Erik's face, the metal watch acting as a restraint. The punch doesn't meet its intended target, just the face of the man throwing it, sending him to the ground. The metal chair obliterates itself under Erik, propelling him up. There's a set of knives on a table near by and Erik brings one twirling towards him to gently cut away the ropes around his wrists.

He reaches out his hand, his heart thumping a rhythm inside his chest that says it's all right to be who you are. In fact it's perfect. A gun flies into his hand and he points it at the man on the floor, staring at Erik with wide frightened eyes. “What...who are you?” he says, pure fear in his wide blue eyes.

“You know my name.” Erik says.

He continues walking forward as the other man tries to scuttle away. Erik opens his palm and smiles, letting the gun float, still aimed at his prisoner. He fires off a shot, which stops short of the other man's nose, just hovering as harmless as a feather. When the petrified man's eyes turn to Erik, he just smiles.

“Your brother,” Erik says politely. “His location please.”

***

There it is. The car he's been waiting for. The man driving it thinks he's about to get away with everything he's done. Human arrogance, Erik thinks, there's nothing quite like it. Erik limps forward, watching the car speed up, the two of them alone on the bridge. Come on, Erik thinks.

Everything seems to slow down in Erik's mind, the rain, the wind. The car seems to crawl and Erik can see the man inside, certainty written over his features. Erik's arm extends as if he is throwing something to the wind, his fingers fanning out, his hand twisting as if could lift the car in the palm of his hand.

The car lurches up and spins beautifully, its metal glinting in the dark night. Around and around it goes. Erik closes his hand into a fist and brings it down, the car smashing onto the concrete of the bridge and screeching towards Erik, metal meeting ground and sending off sparks at the union. It comes towards Erik, speeding until he opens his hand flat, stopping it in its tracks with a deafening scream of resistance.

Inside the crushed car, a man stares out at Erik, but with dead eyes. Erik turns around and limps away.

So much for human arrogance.

VIII

“You've done some rather stellar work of late, 007,” M says, looking as pleased as Punch. “Whatever you're doing with yourself, it's certainly working.”

Erik sits elegantly dressed and poised, readable in only the way he wants to be read. He offers the smallest of smiles. “I'm sure you called me here for more than a compliment.”

“Well, quite.” M's brows rise, but there's a smile of amusement too. Erik watches M walk around the desk, file in hand. “Does the name Charles Xavier mean anything to you?”

Erik keeps his expression schooled, calm with a hint of a smile. He shakes his head slowly. “Should it?”

“No, I suppose it shouldn't,” M says, clever eyes trying to read Erik. M opens the file and pulls out a small black and white photograph of Charles. “Recognise this man? You should.”

Erik looks at M and then turns his eyes to the photograph. He takes it in his hand and nods. “We've worked together a few times. CIA, isn't he?”

“Yes, our man in CIA,” M says blandly. “To you and me, 006.”

“Six,” Erik echoes.

M nods. “Alexander Trevelyan, born Charles Xavier.”

Erik hands the photograph back and asks as calmly as possible, “Gone rogue?”

“Well, missing, we think.” Erik doesn't say anything. He's afraid if he asks 'missing?' that one word will give the whole game away. Instead he just frowns at M for further elaboration. “Trevelyan was on a mission to track down certain individuals of interest to the British and U.S. government. We lost contact about two months ago. No one seems to have seen or heard from him since.”

“You want me to find him,” Erik says.

“We want you to find him. And we want you to find the people on that list,” M says and hands Erik the whole file, looking uncomfortable with the next set of instructions. “But that's all. Once you have locations, we need to bring the CIA in on this.”

Erik opens the file he's been given. He flicks through photographs of Charles, ignoring all other documents until he sees a list of names, with locations, X's next to some of them. Erik looks up to see M watching him closely.

“What exactly is the nature of Trevelyan's mission?”

M leans back. “Trevelyan, successful field agent that he is, has rather academic interests. In fact, he was at one point conducting research into the human genome, postulating that genetic mutation could go as far creating in people the most extraordinary abilities and there may already be people amongst us with these abilities.”

Erik is silent, his heart hammering in his chest regardless of the fact that he can bring this building to its knees if he wants. “The people on this list. You think they have these abilities?”

M nods. “Possibly. We're not certain. But we can't overlook it. Trevelyan's research made him an ideal candidate for this mission. We needed someone who could open a dialogue, be convincing rather than frightening.”

Erik looks at the names on the list, certain that no mission is sanctioned on uncertainties. There's proof behind this somewhere. There are questions he wants to ask. Accusations he is burning to make. “What exactly will we be convincing these people to do?”

M gives Erik a rather sharp look, without ever discarding the polite smile. “These people could be dangerous. They may have abilities they are unable to control.”

“Don't you mean, abilities we're unable control?” Erik says dryly, smiling at M.

“Put it however you like, Bond,” M says sternly. “The fact remains that there is the possibility of an uncontrolled element that might become available for exploitation and manipulation by those who may not have our best interests at heart. At the very least, we need to identify who these people are and have the means to stop them if they pose a danger.”

“We could go one better and stop them before the time ever comes. Stop them now. Round them up and stop them for good.” Erik says, feeling as if something is clutching his throat. He's aware if he says anything else, he may just completely give himself away.

M gives Erik a steely-eyed look. “They wouldn't be the first people you've stopped, Bond.”

Erik holds up the file and smiles, feeling the painful stretch of it across his face. “Will that be all?”

M nods and Erik swiftly turns to leave. He reaches the door when M calls out to him in a somewhat regretful tone. “Bond.”

Erik stops, waiting for whatever explanation or excuse is about to be offered. The silence stretches too long and in the end, all M says is, “Find Trevelyan.”

“Of course,” Erik says, opening the door and steps outside, quite sure this is the last time he ever follows orders.

IX

Erik had lived a whole lifetime before finding out he wasn't the only mutant. That night in France, as Charles lay unconscious, half-draped across Erik's lap, Erik had stared at him silently for the longest time. He tried to imagine a life without ever meeting Charles, one where Erik would have just carried on as he was, alone and without the knowledge that there were others like him. What an intolerable notion it was now.

Erik lies in bed, staring up at the ceiling, counting up those many but too few moments spent with Charles. Moments Erik was truly himself. He closes his eyes and sighs. Charles, where the hell are you? The last sighting had been in Boston, but a month has elapsed since then and Charles could be anywhere. He could be dead. But here Erik is in Boston anyway, staying at the same motel Charles had stayed. Flashing a photograph of Charles and extra ten dollars has gotten him the same room, not that it's turned anything up. Just the comfortable knowledge that Charles has been here.

***

Erik has no real evidence, but he's pieced together some clues that have brought him to San Francisco. Erik has been following leads for two weeks. His new room at least has a more pleasant view than the last, not to mention better facilities. He may as well put as much on Her Majesty's tab as he can for now. It could be a long wait to find that most important piece of the puzzle and there might as well be a comfortable waiting room.

***

The phone rings in the middle of the night, three days after his arrival, Erik is up answering it before it has a chance to reach its second ring. He doesn't speak, hearing a man tell him, “It's Otto.”

“Trevelyan,” Erik says, cupping his hand around the mouthpiece though he's alone.

“I've got a name,” Otto says. “She might be who're you're looking for.”

Erik listens quietly, committing the rest of the details to memory. Moments later, he's dressed and waiting for a respectable enough hour of the morning to pay one Alice Reardon a visit.

***

Alice lives in an apartment in a small complex with a green yard. Erik all but runs up the wooden steps to find her door. He knocks on it several times before someone answers. A flame-haired woman appears in a long floral dress, a cigarette in one hand and distrustful look in her slightly unfocused eyes.

“I'm looking for Alice Reardon,” Erik says.

“Why? What do you want with her?”

“I just need to ask her a few questions about a disappearance. She's not in trouble.” He smiles and adds, “Yet.”

“You a cop?” she asks before following up with, “’Cause the last I checked, British cops got no jurisdiction here.”

Erik's smile doesn't slip for a moment. “I'm not with the police.” She waits for more, but Erik doesn't offer it, hoping the implication is clear. He's not here to uphold the law. “Alice Reardon. Is that you?”

“Look, I already told your friend I'm not interested,” she goes to slam the door, but Erik pushes it hard, steps inside and slams it shut behind him. She immediately puts space between him and herself, cigarette discarded on the floor. “Hey, back off. I'm not afraid of you.”

“What friend?” Erik asks, blocking the door like an immovable object.

“The other British guy. Trelawny. Tremain. Whatever his name was,” she says, one of her hands held out in front. Erik dimly wonders what power she holds in her hand. And what Charles meant to do with it.

Erik reaches into his pocket and takes out a picture of Charles. “Him? Is this the man?”

She nods. “Yeah. That's him.”

“When?” Erik asks. She just looks at him dumbly. He snaps at her, “When?”

She gives him a stern look, her eyes turning a bright yellow, “Hey. Back off, Mister.”

Erik eyes the gold chain around her neck and calmly says, “When did you see this man?”

She has a questioning look on her face, like she’s wondering why Erik isn't afraid of strange lizard eyes. Quietly, she says, “A week ago. He was at the diner where I work. Said he wanted to talk to me in private. About my gift, he said. I told him to go to hell.”

Erik nods. He'd like to slump against the door and breathe a sigh of relief, but that wouldn't be awfully MI5 of him. “Are you sure it was a week ago?”

“I'm not an idiot,” she says, her eyes flickering back to normal.

Erik feels tightness release around his chest. Charles is alive. And he's still trying to rounding up people on the list. Erik nods and tells Alice, “Thank you.”

She's watching him carefully and he's wondering how much of his 007 demeanour is at this moment lying in tatters on the floor. “Why are you looking for him?”

Erik gives her cool look and turns to open the door. “Goodbye, Alice.”

“Hey. Wait.” Erik turns to see Alice disappearing into the adjoining kitchen. She comes back with a small piece of paper and hands it out to Erik. “He said if I change my mind I can reach him there.”

Erik takes the slip. The writing belongs to Charles, but the number will almost certainly take him to a middle man. Even so, Charles is almost within touching distance for the first time in a very long time.

Alice looks apprehensive about something, but finally she blurts out, “I could call him. Tell him I want to meet and then maybe you could go in my place? I mean, you're looking for him, right? And I kind of want him out of my hair.”

Erik looks at her standing there, half feisty and half unsure. Prepared as he is for at least half of all his missions to involve some kind of trap, Erik is more than happy enough to feel this one out. Especially if it gets him close to Charles. Erik holds out the piece of paper to Alice, so he can see her make the call.

***

Under Alice's insistence, the meeting place is the diner where she works. Public and in broad daylight. He sits in a booth with a good view of the diner, so he can see who's walking in and out, his gun near his right hand, hidden under the table. Alice appears very nervous as she waits tables. A customer snaps at her and asks if she's sure she works here. She laughs it off and continues doing an awful job.

Erik drinks his coffee and smokes his cigarette, watching the sunny scene outside as cars drive past and people go about having their precious little normal lives. The door opens and a family of four walk in. Man, woman, little boy and a little girl. Erik watches them as they all sit and order, the children excitable and noisy, the father preoccupied and the mother handling ten things at once.

Erik doesn't remember anything like this. Not this far back at least. Anything that far back is tainted with fear and loss. So he shuts it all down and takes a gulp of his coffee. As he brings his cup down, he sees a man step out of a black car. Removing his sunglasses, he puts them inside the breast pocket of his white jacket and walks towards the diner under Erik's careful gaze.

Erik shifts so he can watch, but is mostly out of sight. He sees Charles walk in. Alice has seen him and immediately changes her trajectory, away from a table of two. Charles stares at her and looks confused before recognition registers on his face. So Miss Reardon is involved and this is some kind of trap. But for whom?

Alice points towards Erik, Charles starts to speak, annoyed about something, but then for a fleeting second he looks at Erik and just stops. Erik stares at him across the huge canyon of the busy diner.

Is that you?

Erik nods at Charles. He feels a huff of laughter escape his chest. Who else were you expecting?

Alice is still talking to Charles, but he seems to have filtered the whole world out on seeing Erik, slowly walking towards the back of the diner. Charles stops by the booth as Erik gets up to greet him. “Charles,” Erik says.

“Hello, Erik,” Charles says quietly.

Erik gestures to the table. “Coffee?”

Charles shakes his head, smiling. “No.”

“I told you he wasn't one of them,” Alice whispers.

“Please, Raven,” Charles says, never taking his eyes off Erik.

Erik's eyes narrow and he frowns as he looks at Alice. “Raven.”

“My meddling sister,” Charles says. Erik feels his frown deepening, but Charles cuts off any further questions. “I'll explain, later, I promise. Do you want to get out of here?”

No, Erik thinks. He wants to know what the bloody hell is going on, but he offers Charles a very emphatic, “Yes. I think I do.”

Charles nods and turns to leave. “Good. Staying close?”

“Five minutes from here,” Erik says, striding right behind Charles.

“Hey!” Raven calls out after them. “How about thanking me?”

“Thanking you!” Charles calls back, pulling Erik out of the diner and onto the street, just as Raven appears to lose Alice Reardon her job.

***

Their attempt at conversation on the way to the hotel is laughable at best. They accidentally talk over each other, get separated by people on the street, get drowned out by the sound of traffic and finally Charles gets knocked down by a young man on roller skates in very tight jeans. He sits bewildered for a second before he starts to laugh.

“Someone up there doesn't want this to happen,” Charles says from the ground.

Erik grins and crouches down. “Someone's going to have a hard time stopping us, if I have anything to do with it.” Charles grins up at him as Erik stands and offers him a hand. “Come on. Nearly there now.”

***

They hit the hotel room like a tornado. Erik has barely opened the door and Charles is already shutting it, shoving Erik up against it and pushing close. Erik breathlessly kisses Charles, trembling hands holding Charles by his arms, gripping too tight. They do an awkward dance around the room, pushing at each other, pulling at clothes.

At some point, both bed and sofa seem far away and they ultimately land on the floor with a hard thud, pulling at each other’s belts and zippers and trousers, grabbing at each other with greed. Erik finally gives up trying to discard his shirt, which is open but refusing to go down further than his elbows. Charles being an opportunist, kisses the skin he can access, his own shirt half open.

“Erik. Jesus, Erik,” Charles pants when Erik starts move against him, his face buried in the crook of Charles' neck.

Erik tries to concentrate on the moment, the flesh and the friction. He desperately tries to hold onto all those thoughts bursting in his brain, right next to Charles. And when it becomes too much, he allows himself to accept the ache of being away from Charles so long and the relief of it being over for now.

Charles gasps and comes under Erik, his eyelashes fluttering against Erik's cheek, his mouth parted and breathing hard in Erik's ear. Erik pulls back slightly to look into Charles wide blue eyes staring back at him. Erik covers Charles' mouth with his, kissing him slowly as Charles pushes up against him, pushing Erik onto his back, his hand sliding down Erik's body and taking hold of his cock. Charles pulls back and watches Erik's face with a strange fascination as he jerks him off, gasping with Erik when he bucks and comes in Charles' hand.

Erik concentrates on getting his breath back, lying boneless on the floor with Charles thumping down next to him. He smiles when Charles insinuates his fingers between Erik's.

“So, Mr. Bond,” Charles says, proving there can be such a thing as a limp voice. “What brings you to San Francisco?”

Erik turns his head to look at Charles. There's a whole conversation they need to have, but right now, Erik is as close to peace as he can get. So he answers by leaning forward and kissing Charles as slowly and sweetly as possible.

Charles smiles. “Good answer.”

***

Though Erik and Charles are both reluctant to move from where they lie, they eventually get up, and straighten themselves out. Charles leaves to see his sister, promising to return while Erik has to make a call to Otto, confirming that the Alice Reardon trail is a dead end.

Erik watches from the window as Charles jogs down the street, dialling the number and idly smoking as he waits for Otto to answer. It's a small exchange, seconds at best. When he's finished, he puts the phone down and stands by the window, smoking and thinking, watching this sunny city. The world is changing, he thinks, but will it ever be ready for people like him?

***

That evening, sitting across from each other at the table in Erik's hotel room, Charles starts to explain, drink gripped in his hand the whole time. “The CIA had a facility for research into finding mutants. Making sense of their abilities. Making use of their abilities. Even hiding the more visible aspects of mutation.”

“Is that possible?”

Charles shakes his head. “Not yet. They had a man working on a serum, but it had the opposite effect, further enhancing his mutant attributes. You should have seen their faces, Erik. When they looked at him and found someone so unlike them. They were petrified. The things running through their minds...”

Charles closes his eyes, mouth clamping shut as he shakes his head. Erik asks, “You said the CIA had a facility.”

Charles opens his eyes, blinking and chewing the inside corner of his mouth before he takes a gulp of his scotch. “There was an accident. We had to leave. We couldn't trust them anymore. Everything they thought about us was blinded by fear. Hank, one of the other mutants, wiped all their data and I—”

“Wiped their memories,” Erik finishes for Charles. “And you've been doing it ever since. Of course it looks like you've disappeared. No one remembers you.”

Charles nods. “I had to get them away. Get them to safety. It was my fault they were there in the first place.”

Erik picks up his own glass, gulping down most of it. Their dinner is before them, mostly untouched and Erik has lost what little he had of his appetite. Humans. So predictable, he thinks.

“Not all humans, Erik,” Charles says softly.

“Perhaps.” Erik finishes his drink and puts the empty glass down. “These people you saved. Where are they now?”

“My home,” he says. When Erik frowns, Charles elaborates, “It's been in the family for generations, but collecting dust since my father died. It suddenly has a purpose again.”

“Did anyone look for you there?” Erik asks.

Charles nods. “Of course. It's why I need to go back to London. I need to make them forget that Charles Xavier ever existed. I can't have MI5 turning up on my doorstep. Again.”

Erik stares at Charles and then starts to laugh. “So you're going to remove yourself from all of their memories?”

Charles lifts up his scotch and says, “No. Just the ones that matter.”

Erik is shaking his head at Charles' sheer nerve. “You think you can do it?”

“I know I can,” Charles says with a certainty that tells Erik there is a reason Charles knows he can do it. He has done it, god knows how many times. Charles doesn't quite meet Erik's eyes when he says, “They can have Alexander Trevelyan, but not Charles Xavier.”

Erik tilts his head at Charles and smiles a little. “And who is allowed to have Charles Xavier?”

Charles gives Erik a long, even look. He finishes his drink and stands up before holding out his hand. Erik reaches out and takes the proffered hand, letting himself be pulled up into a kiss.

X

The trip to England is a whirlwind. Charles is intent on accomplishing as much as possible as quickly as possible. His priority is the house full of mutants and those who remain undiscovered and in fear of their own abilities. Erik finds it hard to believe that Charles hasn't even entertained the notion that mutants don't have to hide, that they can fight. This world belongs to them as much as it belongs to anyone else. Perhaps it belongs to them more. They are the next evolution after all. Doesn't that make them the future?

“Are you having dangerous thoughts, Erik?” Charles asks quietly as they sit in the back of a black cab.

“I don't know,” Erik says. “Am I?”

Seated between them is an older gentleman in a catatonic state. The cab stops and Charles holds two fingers up to his temple in concentration. The man between them shuffles out of the cab and towards the building that is his destination. They watch him go inside and when he's in, Erik tells the driver their next stop. Another domino tipped over. By the end of the week, Charles Xavier will never have existed on paper and will only remain in the minds of the very few.

***

Erik knows Charles is powerful, but it's hard to believe as they walk through the corridors and floors of people frozen on the spot. Charles is quietly walking on ahead, fingers at temple as he feels out the minds of these people. Erik walks behind, looking at them all, marvelling that these are the people who rule the world.

They walk into the offices of M. A woman sits frozen at her desk, reaching for the phone. Charles pays no attention and walks straight into M's office, shutting the door behind him. Erik perches on the edge of the woman's desk, waving a hand in front of her eyes.

Inside M's office it's quiet. Charles is in there telling M that the man called Trevelyan is dead, the identity freed up for a new 006. There was never a Charles Xavier who worked for this organisation. Never a Charles Xavier in this office. Charles Xavier will never even have walked down the street outside.

After it's been too long, Erik points at the door to M's office and it unlocks, letting it fling back. M is sitting at the large desk and holding out a piece of paper. Charles takes the paper, folding it up and putting it in his pocket.

“We're done,” Charles says, blinking pink eyes, nodding at Erik that they should leave and leave now.

He takes Charles by the crook of his elbow, pulling him along and tipping an invisible hat to the frozen woman and offering a parting, “Goodbye, Moneypenny.”

***

That night Erik finds Charles practically passed out, lying face down in bed, face pressed to the very edge. His hand has a piece of paper in it. The same paper M handed over to Charles. Erik sits down on the edge of the bed and takes the paper, running an eye over the list of five names. He recognises some of them as people he's had contact with in the organisation. Looking at Charles, Erik nudges his shoulder until Charles opens his eyes and peers up at Erik. Erik holds up the paper in question.

Charles sighs loudly and turns onto his back, reaching for the paper. Erik snatches it out of reach. “What is it?”

Charles continues holding his hand out for the paper, looking at Erik from under hooded eyes. “The five remaining people. Well, four. One of them died last year.”

Erik lets the paper fall onto Charles' chest, waiting for that thing Charles isn't saying. Erik taps the paper on Charles' chest. “Who are they?”

“The last four people who know the real identity of James Bond,” Charles says.

“And the others?” Erik asks.

“There are no others. I saw to it,” Charles answers quietly, not meeting Erik's eyes.

“You think maybe you should have asked me first, Charles?” Erik asks.

“You had no intention of going back,” Charles says and before Erik can say anything, he adds, “It didn't take a mind reader to figure that out. So I made it easy for you to leave.”

“And do what?” Erik asks roughly.

Charles slowly sits up, scooting close to Erik so he can reach out and brush his thumb against Erik's jaw. “We find others like us. People who are afraid and waiting and hoping they're not alone, Erik. We help them to use their abilities—”

“To save humans? Humans who would round us up and cage us if they knew what we were,” Erik says quietly.

“To prove them wrong.” Charles presses his forehead against Erik's with a sigh. I want you at my side, Erik. Erik pulls back, but Charles moves forward and kisses him, sudden and forceful and then slow and softer. Again and again.

Erik huffs a small laugh. “It won't work. They will never let it work.”

Charles kisses the side of Erik's jaw, quietly murmuring, “But we'll try.”

Erik pushes Charles back, his fingers curling into the front of Charles' shirt as he holds him in place. He swats the piece of paper off the bed and climbs on, straddling Charles' legs and pushing him back down. Hands either side of Charles' shoulders, Erik lowers himself down slowly, his and Charles' eyes locked together for the longest moment. Erik descends all the way and kisses the pleased smile off of Charles' face.

***

They arrive at the Xavier mansion in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. Erik can clearly see the generations of wealth that has gone into creating and maintaining this behemoth of a building. When they step inside they can hear quiet laughter from one of the rooms. Charles looks at Erik and smiles, guiding him along into a large drawing room.

He knows Hank and Raven, having met them in San Francisco. Raven, though not masquerading as Alice Reardon, is still wearing a human skin, hiding away the beautiful blue under someone else's misconception of beauty. He watches her as she goes to hug Charles, giving Erik a warm smile.

Hank nods in their general direction and Charles quickly introduces the others to Erik, young mutants with varying abilities and looks of suspicion reserved for Erik. He doesn't blame them. They shouldn't just trust anyone. It's as ridiculous as humans trusting humans.

Charles turns to Raven and says, “I need to make a quick phone call. Would you show Erik his room?”

Raven snorts. “What did your last slave die of?”

Charles just smiles and disappears from the room, both Raven and Erik watching him leave. They turn to each other and Raven holds a hand out towards the door with a smile. He follows her up a large staircase. They walk the length of an elegant corridor before stopping in front of one of the many heavy wooden doors.

“Well, there it is,” Raven says, primly holding her hands before her as she bounces on the balls of her feet. “We'll help bring your stuff up later.”

“Thank you,” Erik says.

“If you need anything—”

“No. I'll be fine,” Erik says, unable to look away from the gently flushed pink skin of Raven's cheeks.

“You know, it's kind of rude to stare,” Raven says with a raised eyebrow.

“I'm just trying to understand,” Erik says unapologetically, “why even in your own home you refuse to be who you really are.” Raven stares at Erik. The yellow flicker of her eyes says she takes unkindly to the question.

Raven swallows, her voice thick when she says, “We don't live in a world where I can be who I really am, Erik. Not yet.”

“One day,” Erik says with certainty. “Not yet, but one day.”

Charles arrives complaining about a tree that seems to have suffered an explosion in his absence, only to have Raven roll her eyes and shake her head at him. Charles gives her a look and says, “It was two hundred years old. Now it has a hole in the middle.”

Raven holds up her hands and says, “You want to be the one who takes it up with Hank, be my guest.”

Charles frowns, putting his hands in his pocket. “Oh. Well, he's been through a rough time lately and I suppose we have plenty more trees.”

“Yeah,” Raven says slowly, patting him on the shoulder and sauntering off.

Charles turns his attention to Erik once Raven is out of earshot. “You haven't run screaming yet. That's a good sign.”

Erik smiles. “A sanctuary for mutants masquerading as a school for the gifted. Saving the world from inside a hiding place. Let's say I'm intrigued as to how this is going to work out.”

“Ah. You mean you're just here for the big told-you-so when it fails miserably,” Charles says with a crooked smile, stepping forward to straighten Erik's jacket, which needs no straightening.

Erik looks down at Charles' fingers fiddling with his attire. “Actually, I think I'd like to be here for when you give me the great big told-you-so,” he says quietly, surprised that he possibly means what he's saying.

There's laughter downstairs. Fearless bubbling laughter that makes Charles look away for a moment, his expression joyful. He turns back to Erik and points at the door behind him. “So, want to go inside and take a look?”

Erik says, “Actually, I was wondering where you live.”

“Oh,” Charles says. “Well, why don't I show you? It's not very far.”

Charles takes precisely two steps across the hall and opens the door opposite Erik's bedroom, gesturing for Erik to walk in, a smug smile on his face. “After you, Mr. Lehnsherr.” Erik grins, staring at Charles. “Well? Come on. Or do I need to carry you over the threshold?”

Erik grabs Charles by the front of his shirt, pulling him close and kissing him. When it seems unlikely they'll separate from each other, Erik walks towards Charles' bedroom, pushing him along, never breaking their kiss as they stumble inside, a snap of Erik's fingers shutting the door behind him.

Epilogue

Charles has been gone long enough that Erik is considering doing something malicious just to relieve his boredom. He walks past a roulette table and is saved from mischief when Charles turns up looking rather excited.

“Did you find her?” Erik asks.

“Yes, she's definitely here. I've managed to procure her address from her colleague.” Erik arches a brow at Charles who says, “I bribed him. It didn't seem like a mind with which I wanted to get particularly familiar.”

Erik smiles. “Well, you can always depend on human corruptibility.”

“Forget the flaws of humanity for a moment. We have to meet someone very interesting,” Charles says, guiding Erik through a crowd of casino lovers.

“You think everyone's interesting,” Erik points out.

“Yes, but this fellow, he's very interesting. There, look.” Charles stops abruptly to nod in the direction of the bar.

Erik sees the man sitting there, idly lighting a cigarette that artfully dangles from his mouth. He has chiselled features and a sleepy look about his eyes, but at the same time, cunning and observant. Charles walks off in his direction and stumbles when he's near enough, knocking into the man's shoulder just as he's reaching for his drink.

“Oh, damn. I'm terribly sorry, I've spilt your drink,” Charles says, convincingly contrite. “Please, let me get you another.”

“That won't be necessary,” the seated man replies, not at all ruffled.

Charles, on his charm offensive, holds out a hand and says, “Please. I feel just terrible for my clumsiness. Bartender, whatever this gentleman was having. On me.”

The man arches a brow at Charles and looks to Erik who has silently taken up place beside Charles. Erik can see their new friend is approaching them both with open distrust, the way he smiles as if he's waiting to see where this goes. He nods, a fresh Martini being pushed towards him.

“Thank you,” he says cordially. “You're not drinking?”

“Oh no, my friend and I are here on business. Keeping a clear head,” Charles says. “I'm Professor Xavier by the way. This is my good friend and colleague, Erik Lehnsherr.”

The man shakes Charles' hand, his eyes on Erik at the mention of his second name. It's not an unusual reaction, that small silent recognition of something sounding too German, too far from Germany. The man shakes Erik's hand.

“You here for business or pleasure, Mister—?” Charles frowns, patiently waiting.

“Bond,” the man says. “James Bond. Business.” Then he appears to see someone of interest, slowly getting up. “Though pleasure shouldn't be ruled out completely. Thank you, for the drink, Professor. Mr. Lehnsherr.”

“Mr. Bond,” Charles says as Erik politely nods.

Both Erik and Charles turn together to watch what direction Bond is headed in, finding him approaching a woman who's wearing a finely cut dress with killer attitude. Mr. Bond appears to find both to his liking.

Charles is shaking his head. “Do you think they have a template?”

Erik turns to glare at Charles. “You're enjoying this far too much.”

Charles smiles at Erik, no intention of denying his enjoyment. They resume a course away from Erik's successor. Erik takes out a cigarette as Charles looks over the scrawls on his piece of paper, the details of the next mutant Charles wants to find. Erik spots a lighter on a table edge and tilts his hand, watching the lighter fly to him so quick no one except Charles notices its flight path. Charles gives him a reproachful look, but Erik just smiles and lights up, pocketing the lighter.

“Any idea what he's doing here?” Erik asks.

“Something about the Soviets. We're quite safe. What do you feel like doing? We appear to have some time on our hands.” Erik gives Charles a long silent look. One for which Charles doesn't need to engage his mind reading skills. Charles blinks and very slowly says, “Yes. It would be a shame to let the room go to waste.”

Erik says nothing, smiling behind the smoke of his cigarette.

- the end -