The first six months after Cuba aren’t awful - frustrating at times, yes, but Erik supposes it could have been worse. Azazel and Riptide could have left; Emma could have told him to go fuck himself; Raven could have gotten homesick for Westchester and made her way back. Erik thinks he’s rather lucky that they didn’t do any of these things, though he reminds himself daily that it’s not him they’re following - it’s Shaw’s ideals, his vision of the future that they’re all clinging to.
Mostly Erik spends his time not thinking about Charles. It’s easy, really. Raven never mentions him, and none of Shaw’s old contacts in the government seem to have heard anything about him. Erik even bumps into Moira one day and is surprised (angry, infuriated even) to discover that she has no memory of her time at the mansion in Westchester whatsoever.
You’re not going to be able to hide forever, Charles, he thinks viciously, and then he remembers that no one can hear him, literally, since he is wearing the helmet. You’re a fucking hypocrite, aren’t you, Lehnsherr?, and that is a thought Erik stifles immediately because it sounds like Charles.
He throws himself into learning everything he can about Shaw’s various projects. Riptide and Emma introduce Erik to every other mutant they know and have utilized in the past; Azazel transports him from safehouse to safehouse, makes sure he knows the layout of each house and villa and bunker. In return, he gives them purpose - Erik accelerates the rate of mutant recruitment Shaw had designed, knowing full well what Charles’ intentions had been prior to Cuba.
“He’ll have them all sitting in circles, singing peace songs and waving olive branches,” he says to Emma one evening. It’s not the first time Erik has ranted to her about Charles Xavier, and it probably won’t be the last (though he’s really not fixating, really). “He’ll hide out in that mansion of his for as long as possible, and he won’t be ready.”
Emma’s face, as always, is carefully, pleasantly blank.
“You’re humoring me,” Erik grumbles.
“Honey, you have got to work on these rants,” she says, resting her chin on interlocked fingers. “And maybe get some new material. Or do you just miss him that much?”
He glares at her and stalks out of the room, pretends he doesn’t see the indulgent smile she’d thrown at him as he does so.
A month later, Erik notices a pattern.
He has weekly meetings regarding in-roads with various governments and international groups with Emma and Riptide (Raven and Azazel are almost constantly away, locating new mutants and inviting them to join them), which more often than not progress into training exercises.
(“I already know how to fight,” Emma complains once.
“And yet I’ve cracked your diamond form before,” Erik reminds her. She pouts, and then she sighs and shifts into her alternate form, and without warning punches Erik in the mouth. No teeth are lost, but it’s a close call.)
After each of these meetings, Emma checks her watch, whistles for Azazel, and disappears for several hours at a time. Erik knows he shouldn’t pry, but he can’t help himself.
“Where do you go?” he asks as she’s cleaning up from a particularly vicious fight with Riptide. “Do you have a boyfriend? A lover?”
Emma stops applying new powder to her nose and looks at him through the mirror. “No,” she says after a moment’s pause, and she picks up the mascara brush. “Rather rude of you to just come out and ask, but no.”
“My apologies,” Erik says automatically. He waits a beat. “Where do you go?”
She chuckles. “Persistent. Very well. I visit an acquaintance of mine. We have several things in common, though we approach them from different angles, and it’s always interesting to get another perspective.”
“I see.” Erik’s curiosity is not abated. Emma smiles and shakes her head. She pats his cheek softly on her way out the door.
“Don’t wait up, sugar,” she says over her shoulder. As if Erik ever does.
He holds out for another three weeks before he decides to follow her. Azazel and Raven are with them for a change, and once he returns from dropping Emma wherever it is she goes, Erik takes Azazel aside.
“Can you take me there?” he asks.
“You know where,” Erik says, impatience bubbling up. “Where Emma and her...acquaintance are. I want to know who she’s meeting and why.”
Azazel gives him a look. “You should be more trusting,” he says. At Erik’s scowl, however, Azazel sighs and motions to the coat hook. “You should wear one. Is cold in the city this time of night.”
Erik is left at the back door of an unassuming tavern in the middle of New York City. The wind is biting cold, and he’s suddenly irrationally glad the helmet covers his ears as well as his thoughts. He steps inside and wanders through the dark corridors until he comes across the bar. The room itself is dimly lit and heavily populated by persons with apparently questionable hygienic practices. What on earth is Emma doing here? he wonders.
And then he spots her, radiantly white in the underbelly of New York City’s worst, and across the table from her is -
Erik stops himself from giving away his presence, but it’s a close call.
As surreptitiously as possible, he makes his way through the throng of people and finds a spot close enough to them to hear their conversation but far enough away so as to not be noticed right away. Erik sees Charles laughs at something Emma says as he approaches, genuine smiles gracing his face; Erik’s heart aches painfully at the sight.
“But really, she’s fine,” Emma is telling him. “She’s getting absurdly good at mimicking behaviors as well as appearances.”
“That’s good, that’s good,” says Charles, still laughing a little. “I’m glad Raven is expanding her knowledge. I’m afraid I stressed hiding too much.”
“As long as you recognize it.” A pause. “I think she might be in the process of seducing Azazel.”
Charles raises an eyebrow. “That red fellow? The teleporter?” He frowns, opens his mouth, shuts it again. Erik is likewise intrigued - he’d had no idea what Raven was getting up to, feels a momentary pang of guilt for not paying attention, but then Charles is speaking again. “I suppose...that’s good for her,” he says. “Isn’t he a bit...old?”
Emma laughs. “There it is,” she giggles, “the brotherly concern. Don’t worry, she can more than handle herself. I’ll say something, though, if you want?”
Charles waves both hands frantically. Erik finds the movement endearing. “No, no,” Charles says. “She should do what makes her happy. Just. Make sure, every once in a while?”
“Of course. And now,” Emma says, raising a brandy glass to her lips delicately, “the question you’ve been waiting to ask. Let’s hear it.”
Erik shifts a little closer.
Charles runs a hand through his hair, brings it down to his chin. “Fine,” he says a moment later. “How is he?”
Emma takes a small sip and doesn’t say anything. Erik realizes, two seconds and a nervous gulp of weissbier later, that they’re communicating telepathically. Charles sits back in his wheelchair, pursing his lips. “I see,” he says.
Erik suddenly wishes his mutation were telepathy as well. What is she telling him what is she telling him what is she telling him...
“Drives us crazy,” says Emma. “But he treats us better than Shaw, at least. I’ll give him that.”
“He’s a good man. Fair.”
Emma snorts. “Except for when he’s making me fight with him and Riptide,” she says. “I broke a nail last week, did I tell you? Didn’t even say he was sorry.”
Charles laughs. “Truly you have suffered.” He taps his fingers on the table. “Look after him, too, yes?”
“Already on it, honey.”
Erik has heard more than he wanted. He finishes his beer and places some bills on the bar, then walks out the way he came. Azazel is waiting for him at the door.
Emma returns to their current safehouse sometime after midnight. Erik is waiting for her in the study, knows that the light will encourage her to at least check who is still awake at this hour. She doesn’t fail him.
“Am I a fool?” he asks her as she stops in the doorway. “Am I an idiot?”
“No,” says Emma. “Well, not entirely.”
“You think I should - I don’t know - make up with him? Is that what you think?”
Emma joins him on the sofa. “I think,” she says, “that you have spent a long time being angry. I think you had a chance not to be angry anymore. I think you didn’t take that chance, and I think you might never get another one again.”
He stares at the floor, silent.
“If you don’t try to change, that is,” Emma continues. “I know you were there tonight, sugar. You heard him - and I’ve been inside his head. He’s pining just as much as you are. What’s stopping you from starting over?”
“Everything,” Erik says.
“Nothing,” Emma corrects him, “except your pride.” She stands and starts to walk out of the room. “He’s an arrogant little prick sometimes, Erik, but he loves you. Think on that for a while, honey. I need my beauty sleep.”
Erik rubs a hand over his face. He doesn’t sleep that night.