“He’s just so mysterious.”
Erik flagged a waiter down and resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Alex, listening a few feet away, obviously had no such reservations.
“I must confess,” he said, gesturing with his glass. “I don’t entirely see the appeal. A grown man in a costume? It all seems a little…” he trailed off, lifting a significant eyebrow.
(And now Alex was laughing at him. Well, that was easy enough to fix. The Batmobile needed a new coat of wax.)
The socialites surrounding him laughed, throwing their heads back, but it was Charles who Erik was watching. Charles, who looked up through his lashes and said, “Oh, I don’t know. He’s very dashing, don’t you think?”
Sometimes Erik hated being Batman. It was very difficult, wanting to punch yourself in the face all the time.
At age eight, Erik’s parents were killed in an alleyway during a robbery.
At eighteen, he fired the household staff, locked the doors of Lehnsherr Manor with a flick of his wrist and disappeared overseas.
At twenty-three, he came back with a ruthless business sense and a sixteen-year-old ward. Questions about either one were answered with a knife-thin smirk.
“No, but seriously,” Charles said a week after Erik’s return. They were where they always were (save for Erik’s missing years) at the tail-end of the Frosts’ annual gala: drunk in the gardens. Charles’ eyes shone in the darkness, and Erik could just hear the music, soft and faraway. “Where have you been all this time?”
“Around,” Erik said, shrugging. He ran his thumb over the lip of his empty champagne flute. “I meant to call you. Or write.”
“Liar,” Charles accused fondly. He tilted his head back. “I could make you tell me.”
“Yes,” Erik agreed. “But you won’t.”
“No,” Charles said. “But I’m hoping you’ll tell me on your own. What were you doing, all that time?”
Erik slung an arm around Charles’ shoulders, pulling him in close, like they were teenagers again.
“I’ll tell you the truth,” he said, bringing their heads close together. “Their names were Giselle and Isobel, and they were twin Brazilian supermodels.”
Charles pushed him into the fountain.
“It’s good to be back,” Erik called up at him, spitting up a decorative lily pad.
On Thursday, Charles was kidnapped. Erik wished he could’ve been surprised.
It was a little past sunset when Alex stormed into the cave, picked up the remote and switched the monitors on to the news.
“I was trying to analyze the samples from last night’s museum robbery,” Erik groused.
“You can do that later,” Alex said. “We already know the guard was in on it. Look.”
Raven was on screen, surrounded by microphones. She was facing towards the right, saying, “No, I’m not doing that, I’m not – will you get out of my face? – no, screw you, that’s why –”
Someone offscreen coughed meaningfully. Raven spun around to face the camera. She looked pinched and uncomfortable; her hair was a mess, like someone had tried to run a brush through it only for her to pull away.
“My brother, Charles Xavier, was abducted this – you know what, no,” she said. She pointed a finger straight at the camera. “Whoever took my brother? Yeah, I’m talking to you, scumbag. You have no idea what’s coming for you. Batman is going to kick your ass like he has the last eight million times Charles was kidnapped. So you better be scared.”
Most of the rest of Raven’s speech had to be censored out, and after a second the network cut away to a frazzled looking newscaster, awkwardly shuffling his papers and claiming “technical difficulties.”
“You’re getting predictable,” Alex said.
“Get your costume on,” Erik replied.
Charles was the first person Erik saw, after his parents were killed. There were police officers, and the kind old housekeeper who came and wrapped him up in a blanket and waited patiently to take him home, but they all glided by like ghosts, transparent and ethereal.
Charles was the first person who seemed real.
They weren’t friends, exactly. Their parents ran – had run, Erik had corrected himself, eyes prickling – in the same circles, and they were roughly the same age. It was expected that they play together.
Still, one of the last things he’d expected was to look up and see Charles standing there, little face pale and grave.
“Erik,” he’d said, voice thick. “I’m sorry.”
Erik stared at him.
“How did you know?” he asked, mouth numb. He was still shaking, feeling very small. “How did you get here?”
Charles shrugged his thin shoulders. He sat down next to Erik in the hard plastic chairs. Looking around, no one else seemed to find Charles’ presence strange, so Erik didn’t either.
“I heard you,” he said, tapping his temple. “All the way across town. That’s never happened before.”
“You heard me?” Erik repeated, turning to face him. Charles looked earnest and scared and smaller even than Erik, sitting there like he was much older than he was, back straight and legs still. No fidgeting. Erik’s father told him not to fidget all the time; Erik swallowed hard, face hot.
“I made the driver take me here, and convinced them to let me in,” Charles said, licking his lips nervously. “It wasn’t right, but… I had to. I had to see you.”
“Why?” Erik asked.
I’m like you, Charles said, except he didn’t say it. He thought it, inside Erik’s head. Well, not exactly like you. This is how I heard you.
“It’s easier just to show you,” he said out loud. “But I know what you can do. I know what you did to that man, in the alley.”
Erik stared at him. Then he looked at his knees.
“I’m not,” he said. “Like you. ‘Cause if he was, I would’ve – would’ve – ”
He broke off, unable to speak. Charles reached over and took his hand.
“I’m alone now,” Erik said after a few minutes, voice barely above a whisper.
“No,” Charles said. He squeezed his hand. “You’re not.
It was quick work, tracking down who had taken Charles where, and Alex gripped the dash whiteknuckled while Erik broke at least a dozen traffic laws.
“This one is dangerous,” Erik said when Alex shouted at him to slow down. “And with Raven’s little television stunt – who knows what he’ll do.”
“You’ve killed so many pigeons,” Alex said.
The warehouse was a stark space, all cold grey gloom, with Charles tied to a chair in a corner of the room with a pillowcase over his head. His abductor was a lowlevel thug who had seized an opportunity and seen a chance to make a real name for himself (make some real cash on this one, get a frontpage story), and he came at Erik with a gun.
Erik tore it out of his hand with a glance.
And alright, so maybe then he pummeled him into the concrete floor a little harder than strictly necessary. He left him under Alex’s watchful eye (and boot; “That’s for making Raven freak out on national television.”) and headed for Charles. He pulled the pillowcase off and got down on one knee, Charles’ face cradled between his hands.
“Are you alright?” he asked. He was sure to put extra gravel into his Batman voice, a treatment reserved especially for Charles, who would surely recognize Erik’s regular voice.
“Oh, it’s Batman,” Charles said, grinning at him. “Hello, Batman!”
Erik frowned. He tipped Charles’ head back, towards the warehouse’s grimy lights; his face was flushed and his pupils were blown wide.
“I think he’s been drugged,” he called to Alex.
“What gave it away?” Alex asked, sitting on top of their criminal. “The fact that he’s making out with your glove?”
Charles made an agreeable sound, nuzzling Erik’s palm.
Erik tried not to enjoy it too much.
Raven met them at the door of her and Charles’ modern new penthouse, the butler ringing his hands behind her.
“Raven,” Erik said, spreading his arms wide. “I came as soon as I heard –”
“Oh, save it,” she said, holding up a hand.
“It’s a long flight back from Monte Carlo,” Erik said, frowning. “And you know how slow news can travel.”
“He’s in the library,” Raven told him, leaning against the doorjamb. She jerked a thumb down the hall. “Just go.”
Erik went, leaving Alex with Raven.
Charles was indeed waiting in the library, and he already had the chess set laid out and waiting. He looked tired, paler than usual with dark circles underneath his eyes, but no worse for the wear. Charles met his eyes when Erik lingered a moment too long in the doorway, smiling wryly.
“You’re back,” he said, like he hadn’t already known. “How was Paris?”
“Monte Carlo,” he said. “And never mind that. What happened?”
“Oh, nothing serious,” Charles said, waving the question aside with all the kidnapping-related exasperation of Gotham’s elite. Like crime – kidnapping, theft, murder – was something to be accepted. “I hear I have the Batman to thank for that.”
“You hear?” Erik said, taking his seat across from Charles. He was playing black, and he kept his eyes on Charles’ side of the board.
Charles hummed agreeably, toying with a pawn.
“To be honest, I don’t remember much,” Charles admitted, sliding the piece forward. “One minute I was walking down 5th, and the next I woke up in the hospital with a headache and an odd taste in the mouth.”
That’s what you get for tonguing Kevlar, Erik carefully didn’t think. It was dangerous, thinking things like that around Charles. Not that he thought Charles would read his mind on purpose.
Batman didn’t quite have that problem. The cowl was telepathy-proof; something he’d picked up overseas, a lucky accident. He hadn’t realized how much he’d needed it until he’d met the Diamond in the middle of one her heists.
Erik picked up his knight instead, taking a moment to appreciate its familiar weight in his hand. They’d been using the same chess set since childhood.
“I’m just glad you’re safe,” he said.
Charles was staring at him when he looked up, an oddly scrutinizing expression in his eyes.
“Something wrong?” Erik asked. Charles inclined his head slightly towards the left.
“You always lead with your knight,” he said.
“Old habits,” Erik said, clenching the piece in his fist before he set it back down on the board.
There was a man outlined in the mouth of the alley, just a dark shape, and Erik hadn’t known enough to be really, truly afraid.
The man was counting.
Erik woke with a start, sitting straight up in bed. He pressed a hand to his face and it came away sweaty and shaking.
That was the worst part about fighting the Diamond; she lingered, afterwards, in your head, the impression of her, and she dragged out all your darkest memories, like nails on a chalkboard.
Erik glanced towards the windows. Light was just starting to filter in through the curtains; he had a board meeting in a few hours. There was no point in trying to get back to sleep. He got up and dressed quickly, then made his way down the hall. He was careful to keep his gaze forward; he didn’t want to see the portraits on the walls. Not after the dream.
He wasn’t surprised to find Alex in the kitchen. He was wearing a t-shirt and boxers, hair stuck up at all angles, one leg tucked underneath him and the other dangling off his chair. His chin was propped up on one palm, elbows on the table. There was a bowl of cereal in front of him, soggy and uneaten. He looked like he’d been hit by a truck.
“Couldn’t sleep?” Erik asked. Alex mumbled something under his breath, scrubbing at his face with his hands.
“Nah,” he said, voice rough. “Just keep – seeing it go down. In my head.” Quieter, he added, “Seeing my brother.”
Erik busied himself with making coffee.
“Make me some, too?” Alex said, twisting in his chair.
“First one up makes the coffee, remember?” Erik said, gruff, but he set out another mug.
“Can I tag along today?” Alex asked. “I missed all of last week, anyway, thanks to “Monte Carlo”.”
Erik’s Monte Carlo cover had mostly consisted of fabricated papers, his own research in the cave and Alex doing chin-ups in the back, reciting key phrases like “Let the hostages go” and “I am the night” in Russian.
Normally Erik would have said no, but it wasn’t a normal morning, and Alex looked painfully young and defeated in the morning light.
“Just for the morning,” he said, setting Alex’s coffee in front of him with a clunk. “After lunch, you head back to school.”
Alex grinned at him; Erik would have been lying if he said it didn’t make him feel a tiny bit better.
One of the labs was on fire when Erik arrived. A normal Lehnsherr Enterprises morning, then.
“Mr. Lehnsherr, sir!” Hank said, fumbling with a stack of papers and a coffee mug. His labcoat was singed and his glasses askew. He shifted nervously; the door behind him had smoke curling up from underneath it.
“Hank,” he said, leveling a look at the door. “I’ve told you before: call me Erik.”
“Yes, Mr. Lehnsherr,” Hank said, nodding. “Um, Erik. Mr. Lehnsherr. Sir.”
Erik rolled his eyes and gestured towards the door.
“What’s going on in there?” he asked. Hank shuffled a little closer to the door, and even if he thought he could somehow block the smoke, he certainly couldn’t do anything that would stop Erik from hearing the shrieks of “Grab the estinguisher!” and “This time we’re fired for sure!”
“Just testing,” Hank said, smiling a wide, nervous smile. “It’s going, um, swell? Just – really, really great, and nothing exploded or anything and – do you want my coffee?”
He held out his mug eagerly, like somehow coffee would distract Erik from the screaming and the sneaking suspicion that this round of developments was not going as well as the last.
“No, thank you,” he said.
“I’ll take it,” Alex said, leaning around Erik. Erik, rethinking his decision to let Alex tagalong based on a) his board’s obviously less than favorable opinions on his ward, and b) the fact that things were now on fire, quickly came up with a new strategy.
“Hank,” he said, clapping him on the shoulder. Hank started, nearly dropping his papers.
“Do me a favor and keep Alex here company? Give him the tour,” he said. Alex frowned at him over the top of his stolen mug.
“I’ve had the tour,” he said. “Like eight times.”
“So this’ll be nine,” Erik said. “Give him a good one, Hank.”
Hank looked terrified.
“I can’t,” he said as Erik waved him aside. “I, uh, I think I left the new experimental engine on and – you’re just leaving, okay.”
“Hey, bozo, show me whatever blew up,” Alex said.
Being Batman was hard.
Well, alright, no, being Batman was actually pretty easy. Mostly he lurked around being extremely threatening, driving his fast car and ripping some punk’s own gun out of his hand from five feet away, then making it smack him in the face.
Being Batman made being Erik hard. Being Erik now required no less than half a dozen carefully constructed alibis. Being Erik required a practiced indifference, an attitude carefree to the point of inanity. That was hard.
Especially when Charles gave him that look, the one that said he wasn’t angry; he was just disappointed.
Granted, Charles might’ve actually been angry that time with the Brazilian twin supermodels and the hot tub at the New Year’s party – and this, this was why Erik kept that research department around, to help verify his increasingly ludicrous cover stories – but it wasn’t entirely Erik’s fault.
No one had told Charles to kiss him the night of Erik’s eighteenth birthday, to just surge up, his arms around Erik’s neck. Their teeth had clacked together something awful and the angle had been all wrong and Erik was pretty sure he’d come away bruised and there had been spit everywhere. It had been the best kiss he'd ever had.
And he’d left, the next morning, like he’d been planning to for years, like he had to, like he’d had to since that night in the alley ten years before. He’d had to.
No one had told Charles to kiss him that night. So it really wasn’t Erik’s fault at all. Really.
Erik had a nice change of schedule when Alex was kidnapped.
“This is not funny,” Alex said, tied up and hanging upside down from a crane. They’d taken his shirt but left his mask. Erik would never really understand the kind of criminals he faced.
“I beg to differ,” Erik said, and Alex huffed.
“Can you get me down?” he said.
“You can do it yourself,” Erik said. There was no rush, not with Azazel’s henchmen all wrapped up in an anchor chain. The man himself had, of course, vanished; that was the problem with teleporting supervillains.
At least he’d picked a nice place for a showdown. Erik liked the docks – the fresh air was nice, and he usually got to toss some gangsters into the bay. It was refreshing.
“Seriously?” Alex shouted, wriggling against his bonds. He shot a worried look at the ground. “Are you crazy?”
“It’s been suggested,” Erik said. “It’s good precision practice.”
“I’ll fall!” Alex exclaimed.
Erik raised a hand. The crane creaked ominously.
“Y’know, if you wanted me dead, there are easier ways,” Alex groused, twisting around in his ropes. He got one arm free, and then the other.
“Focus,” Erik told him, keeping a close eye on him.
“I’m going to set the dock on fire,” Alex grumbled, but there was a real note of panic in his voice.
“You won’t,” Erik told him. “Now do it, or I’ll drop you myself.”
Alex shot him one last dirty look before everything exploded in a red-orange blast. The chain severed neatly and Alex fell forward, eyes squeezed shut. Erik caught him by the metal in costume – zippers, clasps, the extra wire sewn into Alex’s costume so Erik could catch him evenly and in a pinch, if he ever had to. He lowered him gently to the ground.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” he said, grinning, and Alex punched him in the shoulder. Erik barely felt it through the armor.
“I hate you,” he said. He shivered, wrapping his arms around his bare chest. “Lemme guess – you didn’t bring my extra shirt?”
Alex begged off the next night’s gala with a lot of whining about “hypothermia” and “seriously, two hours, what were you doing, and you couldn’t even bring me clothes?”; Erik shoved his feet off the coffeetable and onto the floor, straightening his own bowtie.
“At least learn something useful while I’m gone,” he said, checking his reflection in the hall mirror. He caught Alex rolling his eyes in the reflection.
“Dude, I can beat up tsunami-themed supervillains, do a backflip and bake a soufflé all at the same time,” he said. “What else useful is there for me to learn? I can say you’re going to jail, fucker, release the peacocks and put down the gun and that’s not my bat-themed guardian, you must be thinking of someone else in like, fifteen different languages.”
“Figure something out,” Erik said. “And don’t break anything while I’m gone.”
“One time!” Alex shouted at his retreating back, and Erik was above retorting that, yes, it had been one time, but it had been a whole wing of the house.
It was just as well Alex didn’t come, because Erik probably would have asked him to hit him full force in the chest with one of those plasma beams by the end of the night. It was a disaster from the start – Charles and Raven must have been fighting, Erik knew, because Raven spent the entire time sulking in the corner with up-and-coming model Angel Salvadore while Charles drowned his sorrows at the bar and liberally hit on waitresses and socialites alike.
“Maybe you should take a breather,” Erik told him, and Charles glowered at him. It was disgusting, how endearing Erik found him when he was half-drunk and angry. It just made him want to kiss him soundly. Granted, there wasn’t a lot that didn’t make Erik want to do that.
“You’re one to talk,” he snorted, and Erik frowned. He placed a hand on Charles’ shoulder.
“Charles,” he said, softly, only for Charles to shrug him off. Erik let his hand drop to his side. “I know your limits.”
Of course he did, he and Charles had gotten drunk for the first time together, off of brandy stolen from Mrs. Xavier’s extension collection. He thought hard about the memory, focused on Charles, like he’d done when they were young and Charles was upset – like Charles had done for him when he’d had nightmares.
“Don’t,” he said.
“Don’t what?” Erik said softly, sliding closer into Charles’ space.
Charles slew him in a look.
“Don’t just use my –” he cut off, wiggling his fingers by his head, “—to try and get on my good side, Erik, not tonight.”
Erik pressed his lips together in a thin line.
“Charles,” he said. “What’s the matter?”
Charles stared at him for a moment, just long and hard enough to make Erik shift uncomfortably. Then Charles sighed and pressed a hand to his forehead, brushing his hair back.
“It was Raven’s birthday the other day,” he said. “I thought – I didn’t really think you’d forgotten, Erik.”
“Oh,” Erik said, shooting a glance at Raven. She caught his eye briefly, scowled, and turned back to her friend. “I should –”
“Don’t bother,” Charles said, shaking his head. “She’s not mad. Well, no, she is mad, but she was mad before you missed it, too.”
“I’m sorry,” Erik said. “I had it on my calendar, but I’ve been—”
“Busy,” Charles said, signaling the bartender. “You’ve been busy for a while, Erik, and I have to say, these excuses, they’re starting to wear thin.”
“They’re not—” Erik started, and Charles gave him that look again, the one that went straight through him.
“I said don’t, Erik,” he said. “Pheasant shooting? Water polo emergency? Last minute yacht shopping with Giselle, and she only accepts the Parisian models? Don’t you think I know you better that?”
“You know everything about me,” Erik said, and Charles snorted.
“I think we both know that’s not true anymore,” he murmured. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I was in the middle of drowning my sorrows, and we’d like to be alone.”
Erik left the party early.
(Relatively speaking, anyway. He’d had a few himself and he ached inside, thinking about Charles – playing tag as kids and Charles’ warm, soft voice in his head and Charles the night before he’d left and just Charles -- and the coat check girl had given him the come hither look from underneath her smoky lashes. Erik was miserable and lonely, and next thing he knew they were making out in the coat room, and it was all well and good and her shirt had been most of the way open when he’d spotted Charles coat. He knew it was Charles’ coat because it had elbow patches.
Then Erik had left, even more miserable and half-hard and kind of hating everything a little, hoping to find something to hit.)
Erik didn’t find anything to hit, but he did find a note from Alex. It read, You said be useful so gone on patrol, because Alex couldn’t keep still for anything.
Alex could take care of himself. Erik wasn’t worried.
He continued being not worried until he wandered into the kitchen to get another drink and saw, from the doorway, that the hallway phone was blinking.
There was one message.
“Uh, hello, Mr. Lehnsherr, sir, this is, uh, Hank? McCoy? From the lab – um, anyway, I’m just calling because I have your ward? And he’s sort of unconscious? So if you could maybe come and get him – that’d be really good.”
Hank McCoy’s apartment was on the bad side of town. The building was a shambling, crumbling mess and Erik was pretty sure he’d apprehended a drug ring across the street. He climbed the stairway, keeping his head down, and knocked twice, hard, at McCoy’s door.
Hank opened it after a moment, looking disheveled and panic-stricken, with a bandage plastered haphazardly above his left eyebrow.
“Oh, thank God,” he muttered, and moved aside to let Erik in.
Inside the apartment was nearly as bad as the out, with cracked plaster and broken blinds. There were books piled from floor to ceiling and a small bed by the wall. Alex was sitting on it, half-dressed and looking much less unconscious than Erik had been led to believe.
“He woke up a little while after I called you,” Hank said. He looked like he was trying to become one with the wall, hunched in the corner like Erik wouldn’t be able to see him if he didn’t move. "He won't let me take him to a hospital, but I think he's going to be okay."
“Hey,” he said. “Don’t kill me.”
“That would be letting you off easy,” Erik said. “What happened?”
“I got bored,” Alex said with a shrug, picking at a loose thread on Hank’s bedspread. “Went out. There’s always something going on, y’know, a robbery or a mugging or something, and I saw these guys trailing Hank. So I did the hero thing.”
“And?” Erik said.
“And maybe one of the guys got me from behind with a two-by-four,” Alex grumbled, averting his eyes. Erik huffed a sigh, rubbing at his temples.
“Alright,” he said.
“And then Hank dragged me here and sort of, you know, took my mask off?” Alex said. He had the good grace to look sheepish, rubbing at the back of his neck.
“It wasn’t hard to put two and two together, after that,” Hank said quietly. Erik turned towards him and Hank’s hands flew out in front of him, like Erik was going to hit him or throw him out of the window by his belt buckle (that idea was, admittedly, fairly tempting). “I won’t tell anyone, I swear! I mean, who would I tell?”
Erik scowled. Hank shut his mouth with a click of teeth.
“Oh, c’mon, don’t let him intimidate you,” Alex said to Hank, rolling his eyes. “He’s a fullgrown man who goes around wearing a cape. He watches daytime soaps when he thinks I’m not looking.”
“It’s not too late for me to ship you back off to prison,” Erik told Alex, half-heartedly. He needed another drink, or maybe just an entirely new life.
“Prison?” Hank squeaked.
“Is there a reason you’re shirtless, or is this some kind of phase?” Erik asked, ignoring Hank’s squawking.
“Oh, yeah, Hank took it off to make sure I wasn’t messed up or bleeding or something,” Alex said. Erik stared at him, and after a moment Alex shifted uncomfortably and averted his eyes. “Also we might’ve been swapping spit.”
“Why would you tell him that?” Hank demanded from his corner, fisting his hands in his hair, voice rising dangerously.
“He was going to find out anyway,” Alex said. “Stop freaking out.”
“He’s going to kill me!” Hank said, watching Erik with wild, haunted eyes. Erik gave him a flat look before he turned back to Alex.
“Really?” he said. “That guy?”
“He’s really smart,” Alex said defensively, crossing his arms. “Hey, c’mon, you were saying you want a plane, right? Well…” he trailed off, waggling his brows.
Erik turned back to Hank, who was shooting furtive glances at the window.
“You’d survive the fall, but you’d break something important,” Erik told him. “You can build me a plane?”
Hank licked his lips, nodding.
“I – yeah,” he said. “I can build you a plane.”
Erik raised his eyebrows. “A good plane?”
“Yeah,” Hank said, nodding, and a tiny smile worked its way onto his face. “A great plane.”
“See?” Alex said, nudging Erik with his foot.
“You won’t kill me when I’m done building it, right?” Hank asked, smiling slipping, and Erik pinned Alex with another stare.
“Honestly?” he said.
“Shut up,” Alex said, grinning at Hank.
That was how Erik ended up with the beginnings of a superstealth Batplane, and a new member of the household to boot.
“This place is amazing,” Hank said, standing in the middle of the cave. “I could – this computer – I could just live down here.”
Alex shot Erik a hopeful look.
“No,” Erik told him. “You already wreck enough of my stuff.”
“Is that a Tyrannosaurus rex?” Hank exclaimed.
Hank stayed in the cave, mostly, working on the plans for the plane. To his surprise, Erik found that he didn’t really mind his presence. Hank was quiet, almost overly so, and considerate of Erik’s space. (It was probably because he still seemed convinced Erik was just waiting for the right moment to do away with him. Still, Erik couldn’t argue with the results.)
He was happy enough to answer questions though, bright-eyed and tending to ramble, and he managed to work nearly all of Erik’s demands into the plans.
Overall, Erik was impressed.
(Alex was slightly less impressed when he found that his leaning over things in muscle shirts and lowslung sweatpants, fresh from the shower, couldn’t compete with Hank’s truest love: science and design.
“This is all your fault,” Alex told Erik, throwing him a nasty look. “You ruin everything.”
“I try,” Erik replied, with a smile full of teeth.)
He and Erik were looking over the plans, tossing ideas back and forth, when Hank looked up, glancing over Erik’s shoulder.
“Is that supposed to be flashing like that?” he asked. Erik glanced back at the screen and furrowed is brow.
“It’s an alert,” he said, stalking back over. He had only just sat down, skimming the information that popped up on the screen, when Alex appeared at the top of the steps.
“Bat signal’s in the sky,” he said. “Let’s go.”
Commissioner Moira MacTaggert was waiting on the roof with her hands in her pockets, face thrown into sharp relief by the bat signal’s light. Erik landed smooth and silent on the roof behind her and rose to his feet, cape billowing in the night breeze.
“Commissioner,” he said. Moira gasped and spun around, trench coat flaring out around her legs. She frowned.
“I’ve told you a hundred times,” she said. “Do not sneak up on me. I’m giving you a lot of leeway here. It’s the least you could do.”
“My apologies,” Erik said. He switched off the bat signal. Moira folded her arms. One of her officers, Armando Muñoz, shifted in the background, watching Erik’s every move.
Moira sighed, tilting her head to the side. She eyed Erik warily; they’d been working together for months now but she still didn’t trust him, not completely. He appreciated that about her.
“Thank you for coming,” she said. “It’s about –”
Erik didn’t wait for her to finish.
“It’s about Cain Marko,” he said.
Erik had spent a fairly large percentage of his life despising Cain Marko. Cain Marko, on the other hand, had spent a fairly large percentage of his own life thinking that, because he was big and Charles was small and most importantly kind, he could terrorize his stepbrother. (Raven, by the good grace of her chameleon nature and Charles’ protection, by in large escaped, shaken but unharmed.)
And Cain, well, Cain might have been bigger than Erik, but he certainly wasn’t meaner, not in the long run. Cain’s fatal mistake was thinking he could shove Charles in front of Erik. Erik had socked him in the jaw, hard enough to send Cain stumbling backwards. He’d tripped over the carpet and gone down hard.
Erik had stared down at him, hand aching, and he’d felt satisfied when Cain’s lip began to bleed.
The thing was, though, that Erik went home afterwards, to Lehnsherr Manor’s cold, dark hallways, and Charles stayed where he was, alone in that big lonely home with uncaring parents and a little sister to guard. Cain might not hit Charles in front of Erik, but that didn’t mean he never hit him.
“You’re not weak,” Erik had said to Charles, fifteen and so angry at everyone and everything except Charles. “Why don’t you do something?”
Charles shrugged his thin shoulders.
“It wouldn’t help,” he’d said, and Erik shook his head.
“I’ll never understand you,” he’d muttered, and Charles had given him that same bright smile and asked him if he’d like a game of chess.
Commissioner MacTaggert had heard about Cain Marko’s return from one of her younger officers, Sean Cassidy, who’d gotten a tip (or a wailing phone call from his great aunt) that his cousin had fallen in with a bad crowd again. A cursory glance had revealed connections to Marko, and a robbery at the museum’s new antiquities exhibit had all the pieces falling together.
“He’s not done,” Moira said, running a hand through her hair. Her eyes had that tired, haunted look they got, sometimes, on the hard cases. Sean Cassidy tapped her on the shoulder and handed her a cup of coffee; she accepted it gracefully.
Erik grunted the affirmative.
“No,” he said. “If he’s here, he’s here for a reason.”
“Any idea what that might be?” Moira asked.
Erik couldn’t sigh; Batman didn’t sigh.
“His step-brother,” he said. “Charles Xavier.”
Moira raised an eyebrow. “Charles Xavier? Kidnapee of the Month, Charles Xavier?”
Erik clenched his jaw and said, “Yes.”
Moira tapped her pen against her desk. “I guess we’d better get a police presence out there.”
“Police won’t stop Marko,” Erik said.
The problem with Cain Marko was that he was unstoppable.
Figuratively in that he wouldn’t stop, not until he got what he wanted (and what he wanted, in this case, was Charles and vengeance and retribution for some perceived wrong).
Literally in that he was actually unstoppable.
“It’s some kind of -- mystical artifact,” Erik ground out. Alex had still been training, when he’d first faced newly unstoppable Cain Marko. Alex had heard of Cain in passing from Raven, was aware that there was another brother, but he didn’t know the details. “Calls himself the Juggernaut in certain circles.”
“So, what,” Alex said. “It’s like fighting a brick wall?”
“Not at all," Erik said. "You can knock walls down."
“I can blast through just about anything,” Alex said, frowning. “I don’t see the big deal.”
Erik was almost tempted to let Juggernaut shrug off a plasma blast and throw Alex into a wall, just to show him.
“Just watch your back,” he said instead.
The police presence did nothing, not that Erik expected it would. Charles was snatched right out from under their noses. Erik crouched in the shadows by the windows, listening to Raven shout at the officers who’d been on duty. He swept the crimescene briefly – signs of a scuffle, a broken vase, but nothing overly unusual.
It was odd. He’d been expecting damage on a much grander scale. In his experience Cain could hardly get out of bed in the mornings without leaving an eight foot hole in the wall.
“So you’ve got no clue where they’ve gone,” Alex surmised when Erik slunk back out of the shadows. He raised a hand and twitched his fingers. “Why don’t you just take off the cowl, let him, y’know…?”
“You know I can’t do that,” Erik snapped. “Knowing would put him at risk.”
“Dude, he’s been kidnapped his revenge crazed superpowered step-brother,” Alex said, throwing his arms up. “How much more at risk could he be?”
Erik grit his teeth.
“Also,” Alex added, unnecessarily. “Everybody already knows Batman’s in love with him, so.”
“You’re grounded,” Erik said. “Get in the car. I know where Cain would take him.”
The old Xavier manor had been locked up for years. Charles couldn’t bear to sell it, but he couldn’t bear to live in it, either. Erik understood; too many memories. Sometimes he felt like he should do the same thing, but his house was all he had left of his parents. That, and the fact that it had a cave was convenient.
The lights were all on when Erik approached. He signaled for Alex to stay put (Alex scowled and bitched under his breath, but climbed up into a tree to keep watch, which was pretty much all Erik could ask from him) and stole in through one of the windows.
He ended up in the library and was immediately wrapped up in nostalgia. There, to the left, was the shelf he and Charles had knocked over during a particularly rowdy game of tag. Down the hall was where six-year-old Raven had decided the wallpaper would look much better if she colored all the flowers bright blue. (Mrs. Xavier had a different opinion, as well as a fit worthy of an Oscar nod.)
Erik crept down the dark hall, keeping to the shadows. No need to alert Cain to his presence; it was sure to be a tough enough fight as it was.
There were voices – raised, an argument – coming from the dining room. Erik could hear Cain clearly, and another voice, a quieter, even tone. Erik peered through the doorway from the shadows; Cain large form dominated the room, back turned, and behind him Erik could see two other men – one nondescript and sniveling, and the other tall with curling black hair. Cassidy’s cousin, Erik assumed.
“Easy now,” Cassidy’s cousin said to Cain, just as the sniveling one broke out with, “I swear, I didn’t know Joey was going to take him!”
It was then that Erik realized Cain wasn’t wearing his helmet.
“So what do we do now?” Alex asked. Erik started the car with a growl and a wave of his hand.
“We don’t do anything,” he said. “I’m –”
“You’re what?” Alex asked.
“Fuck,” Erik said, because he really didn’t know. He had no idea who Joey was, or where he take Charles, or what he would do with him once he had him, and panic was creeping up on him, slowly but surely. How long had Charles been gone now? Two, three hours? That was more than enough time for something terrible to happen. Erik felt cold.
“That’s it,” Alex said. “I’m calling Hank.”
Alex put him on speakerphone.
“Hank,” he said. “Batman’s freaking out.”
“I am not,” Erik lied viciously. Alex ignored him.
“Batman’s freaking out and I need a name and a location,” Alex said.
“That’s not really my department,” Hank replied, voice unsure across the speakers.
“Wing it,” Alex told him. “Let the Batcomputer do the hard stuff. We’re looking for a guy named Joey, runs with Cain Marko’s gang.”
There came a rustling sound and then Hank said, “Okay, but you guys should really get a computer installed in the car. I can do it over the weekend, if you want.”
“We tried,” Alex said, smirking. “Erik shorts them out whenever someone cuts him off.”
“Who’d cut off the Batmobile?” Hank asked.
“It’s Gotham,” Alex replied.
“I’ve got a home address,” Hank said a moment later. Erik shook his head when Alex glanced at him.
“No,” he said. “He knows Marko’s looking for him; he wouldn’t go back there. Any other property?”
“From the looks of it, he’s barely keeping that apartment,” Hank said. He was quiet for a few moments, then he said, “Wait. I think I’ve got something – it’s not his, exactly, but…”
“Lay it on us,” Alex said.
Joey’s great uncle had owned a few warehouses in Gotham. He’d retired years back, and most of them had been sold. One of them was abandoned. It was their only lead; Erik grabbed at it.
“I’m coming with you,” Alex said, and before Erik could say anything he continued, “It’s not Marko, it’s just one guy. And you might do something stupid.”
Erik couldn’t really argue with that.
They split up once they got there; Alex circled around and Erik half-climbed, half-flew up, slipping through the window. Below he could see Joey, looking almost comically small wearing Cain’s huge helmet, and Charles, sitting in a corner, tied up and looking deeply unimpressed with his situation. He was bruised – a black eye and a bleeding lip – but otherwise alright, and Erik felt a rush of relief so strong it nearly knocked him off his feet.
He crept forward, silent as he’d ever been, and so he was understandably surprised when Joey whipped around.
“Do not move,” he shouted up at Erik. “Do not – seriously, fucking superhearing, why do you think Juggernaut keeps me around? Thinks I don’t hear them whispering all the time, the fucking whispers, so you do not. Fucking. Move.”
“Alright,” Erik said, holding up his hands. His eyes flickered towards the gun in the man’s hand. It would be child’s play, to rip it aside, but if he did – if he did Charles would know.
The gun was pointed at Charles. Joey’s hands shook. There was no alternative.
Erik twitched his fingers, calling it toward him, but the gun didn’t move. Ceramics, he realized, cold dread creeping up his back.
Joey was waving the gun around now. Charles leaned out of the way to avoid getting hit in the face.
“Always underestimating me, maybe not now, huh? Now that I’ve got his precious helmet – and Charles fucking Xavier to boot, man, maybe now they won’t be so quick to push me around. You think we don’t know all about you, Batman?”
The topic change was so sudden that Erik couldn’t think of anything to say. Joey kept talking, gun held in the air.
“Juggernaut, he knows everything, but me – I got bigger goals,” he was saying. “C’mon, Batman, take it off!”
“Come down here and take off the cowl, or I’ll kill him,” Joey said, pointing the gun straight at Charles. “I swear I’ll do it.”
He could always bring the wall down, but he might crush Charles in the process. The chair he was tied to was wooden – Erik couldn’t yank it out of the path. There was no guarantee Joey wouldn’t shoot first. Erik swallowed hard.
“I’ll do it,” Joey promised.
Charles looked straight at him.
“Well,” he said, mildly.
Erik closed his eyes and dropped to the ground in front of Joey and Charles. Slowly, he raised his hand and lowered the cowl. Silence rang out, and when Erik opened his eyes he found a smile edging its way onto Charles’ face. Like he was pleased to see Erik and oh, also, like they weren’t cornered by a gun-toting maniac.
“There now,” he said. “I think you look much better like this.”
“You’re ruined!” Joey said, laughing, and Erik wondered what, exactly, he was strung out on, bloodshot eyes and twitchy demeanor. “Erik Lehnsherr, puts on a – a fucking cape, and just rides around, you’re done for, do you know what people will pay for this kind of info?”
Erik did, actually. He also knew that once a secret was out of the box, you could never put it back. Charles was worth all of that.
On the other hand, he thought, tracking Joey’s movements with his eyes, why settle for half when you could take everything.
“That’s assuming you’re leaving this place alive,” he said.
The gun turned towards him and Erik sprang, throwing himself full force at Joey, fingers scrabbling at the helmet. It was far too big on Joey and all too easy to knock off; it went spinning off into a corner.
“Erik!” Charles shouted, straining at the ropes. Fear flashed across his face. “Erik, don’t hurt him!”
Erik hit Joey square in the jaw.
“Then you’d better act now, Charles!” he replied, and Charles gave him that look, the you’re insufferable one, and closed his eyes briefly. Joey swayed where he stood and then fell backwards, asleep.
Erik stayed where he would for a long moment. Then he turned and stalked over to Charles, falling to his knees.
“You knew,” he said, making quick work of the knots. “For how long?”
“Oh, Erik,” Charles said with a sigh. He rubbed at his wrists, wincing. “How stupid do you think I am?”
“It’s not that –” Erik started, frowning, and Charles silenced him with a look.
“Batman controls metal. Batman has made sure he’s telepath-proof. Batman appears shortly before the mysterious Erik Lehnsherr returns from his extended stay abroad,” he counted off. His face softened. “Batman always, always goes out of his way to save me. How could it be anyone else but you?”
“You could try to be kidnapped less,” Erik murmured. “I had to let a bankrobber get away, once.”
Charles snorted. He reached out, fingertips brushing Erik’s face, and Erik looked up at him.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Charles asked softly.
“I didn’t want you to be in danger,” Erik said. Charles raised an eyebrow.
“I’m held hostage roughly twice a month,” he said. “I’m kidnapped constantly.”
“More danger,” Erik amended, and Charles frowned. Erik averted his eyes. “I didn’t know how to tell you. I don’t know, I thought you might – I don’t know. I didn’t want you to find out this way.”
“Well, obviously,” Charles said, casting a look towards Joey’s unconscious form. Erik frowned.
“I know you hate doing this,” he said, “but we can’t leave him like that.”
Charles gave him a faintly amused look.
“I don’t see why not,” he said, and Erik’s frown deepened.
“Charles,” he said, hating the pleading in his own voice, “he knows.”
“Knows what?” Charles said. “That Erik Lehnsherr is Batman? That’s preposterous.” He placed two fingers on his forehead and turned his face up with a dreamy, faraway look. “Right now, Erik Lehnsherr is across town, shouting at the lovely Commissioner MacTaggert about the whereabouts of his dear friend. He’s embarrassing himself quite thoroughly.”
Erik’s mouth went dry.
“Raven,” he said.
“Quite,” Charles replied. He lowered his hand, smile reaching his eyes. “You didn’t really think I’d let him go around telling everyone with a grudge and a trust fund your secret identity, did you? A tiny bit of memory fuzz for safety and your secret will be safe.”
Erik didn’t have an answer for that, so he only said, “Charles,” and shook his head, grinning.
“We’re missing something,” Charles declared. “Something to make this perfect. What was it again? Ah, yes. You rescued me. I do believe I have to thank you.”
Before Erik could react, Charles had taken his face in between his hands and kissed him soundly, warm and perfect and, alright, tasting a little of blood, but Charles had a busted lip, it couldn’t be helped. He brought his hand up to the back of Charles’ neck and kissed back just as eagerly.
“There,” Charles said when they broke away, flushed and grinning. “Only a few years too late, really.”
“We’ll have to make up for lost time,” Erik said, eyes tracing Charles’ face.
“Definitely,” Charles replied, eyes dancing. He leaned back in his chair. “Also, I think I’d like to fight crime.”
“What?” Erik said. “No.”
“It seems unfair to let you deal with my step-brother on your own,” Charles continued. “I have my part in this too.”
“Definitely not,” Erik said.
“I can’t be your sidekick, then?” Charles said. “Oh, of course not, that’s Alex, isn’t it.”
“You don’t have to show off,” Erik told him. “I mean it, Charles, definitely not.”
“I’m an adult, Erik, I can make my own decisions,” Charles told him with a teasing smile. He tapped a finger to his chin. “Well, if I can’t fight crime with you, maybe Raven will have me. Telepathy Man and the Shapeshifter, what do you think of that? Or is it too on the nose? How about The Chameleon? That’s very mysterious. Do you think she’d like it?”
“Charles,” Erik said, desperately, and Charles was grinning so hard it had to hurt his lip.
“If I’m not allowed to fight crime, I suppose I’ll have to turn to it,” he said with a defeated sigh. “I think I could be quite the master thief, don’t you? I could call myself the Professor and only steal rare texts.”
The prospect was so horrifying that Erik had to do the only right thing and kiss him again.