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Charles' Killer

Chapter Text

"I know you've thought of it," he says, and Charles tries to breathe, tries to not let the hitch in his voice be heard through the phone line. "Everyone has thought of it, Charles. You've wanted to kill someone. You have killed people, you know how to do it, and you know some people deserve to die."

Charles swallows, and leans far enough forward that his forehead is nearly touching the desk, praying the others don't notice his conversation. "I believe in justice more."

"Killing is justice," the man - the serial killer, the man he's been hunting for months now, the man who has caused every gruesome crime scene that Charles has had to pick over again and again and again - says. "You're not nearly as naive as you pretend to be, Charles. Admit it, some people should never have been born."

Charles wants to say no, but he can't. He knows the voice will know it to be a lie. "Every evil teaches us a lesson, teaches us how to be better," he says instead, and breathes more. In, out. In, out. He tries to ignore the fact the voice sounds exactly like he's fantasized in every horribly enticing dream. "I know you think you're doing good, but is it really worth dragging yourself down to their level?"

"Someone has to do it," the man says, a dry sense of humor leaking through the speaker. "I think I'm as good as anyone, and the people I kill are worth the effort. What kept you from killing that person you were so tempted to rid the world of?"

Charles clears his throat. "This isn't about me."

"Then who is it about? You don't think this conversation is about me, do you?" The voice chuckles, dark and low. "Oh, Charles, rest assured I sleep very well at night, and I'm just as certain that you don't."

He shakes his head, even if the other man can't see it. Or, for all Charles knows, he can. "You're what keeps me awake at night," he says.

"Not from fear, though," the man says, absolute conviction in every word. "You know I'd never hurt you, don't you."

Charles sighs. "I do." He doesn't fit the profile, aside from being a white male, and they all know that isn't the criteria the killer looks for. He has a deeper purpose to his methods.

"Then I can't help but wonder what it is about me that keeps you awake," the man says, and that's the moment Charles realizes he's flirting. And that Charles is barely avoiding flirting back.

"I can't have this conversation," he says, and tries to not sound as trapped as he feels. They'll take him off the case, they'll take him off the force, they'll put him in some sort of witness protection program and he'll be condemned for the rest of his life for being attached-

"If that's what you want," the voice says. "But I do want to know what kept you from killing that person who deserved it so much."

Charles doesn't know what makes him say it. Maybe it's a feeling of gratitude that the man's willing to avoid the...situation he's found himself in. Maybe it's the fact that deep down, he's always wanted to tell someone. Maybe it's just the way he thinks that only a serial killer would understand. No matter the reason, he says, "Because it would have broken what was left of my mother's heart."

The line is quiet for long enough that Charles wonders if the man has left the phone off the hook and just walked away. "And if he'd killed your mother?"

"He nearly did," Charles says, and barely keeps from letting out a hysterical laugh. "But she forgave him, every time, even when it was me, and she didn't even notice-"

"Charles," the voice says, sharp and concerned, and god, it's actually comforting. "Charles, it's fine, I swear, it'll be fine-"

A hand lands on his shoulder, and Charles nearly jumps out of his chair as Emma Frost moves back and says, "God, Xavier, what's wrong with you?"

"I'll see you later," Charles blurts into the phone.

"I look forward to it," the voice says, and Charles reminds himself to breathe, breathe, and hangs up. He looks up at his partner and hopes he's not looking as queasy and unsettled as he feels.

Emma frowns. "What happened?"

"A rather emotional call from Raven, is all," Charles says, and Emma nods. She's not one to pry - rarely one to even give a shit if it doesn't involve an interesting crime, to be honest - and Charles is endlessly grateful for all her social failings in that moment. "Is there something I need to know?"

"Not really," Emma says mildly, and pauses right before closing his office door behind her to smirk and say, "Just that Raven is waiting for you in the lobby."

The door clicks shut, and Charles sets his head down on the desk, wondering what ever happened to calm, friendly, noble Charles Xavier. More than that, he wonders what he's becoming.

Chapter Text

"The FBI is here," Emma says, obviously more interested in filing her nails than the fact Charles' killer is going to be taken away and handed over to the feds. Emma spares the time to give him a smirk when he nearly misses grabbing the folder. "You couldn't keep it quiet forever, Charles, and he went over state lines with Marko. This was inevitable and you know it."

"Thank you, Emma," Charles says, voice just a bit hoarse.

Emma nods. "They all think you've gone crazy anyway. You might be forced into taking leave, or some psychological testing."

"I know," Charles says. "I'm wondering if I'm insane too."

"I'm glad you aren't trying to act like everything's fine now," Emma says, and turns her chair away from him to grab a nail finish of some kind. "The agent's in the chief's office. In case you wanted to intercept her."

One more time, Charles is immensely grateful for everything Emma Frost is. She is the most uncaring yet loyal human on the planet, Charles is certain. So long as he remains interesting and treats her like an equal, he knows she's absolutely reliable. "Remind me to buy you something white."

"You did ruin one of my favorite dresses," Emma says.

Charles stands up, watching the chief's office from out their own meager office's door. "Say the word, brand, and size, and I'll have it on your desk in the morning."

"You know better than to ask a lady's size," Emma says, and with a roll of her eyes one perfectly white stilettoed foot kicks him out into the hallway. "Go get her, tiger."

He wants to object to that in so many ways, but doesn't have time. Charles settles for glaring at her, stepping back inside to grab an armful of file folders, and walking towards where he needs to position himself for a prime encounter with the soon-to-be-vacated office. Charles hasn't done this since college, but it's a foolproof way to meet someone.

The minute the FBI agent starts walking towards their office with that deadly determination federal agents seem to get the minute they have a case, Charles opens the top file and starts walking straight for her, reading like his life depends on it. And, in some ways, it might.

They slam together and papers fly everywhere, and Charles finds himself with an unexpected armful of fed. From what Charles remembers, the intercepted person usually makes at least an effort to not fall on top of him, but then again, he's not eighteen anymore. "Ow," he says.

"I'm so sorry, I should have watched where I was going," the brunette says sincerely, and scrambles off him to start grabbing papers and piling them up.

"It's fine, I should have been looking too," Charles says, and sighs. "God, I'll never get these back in order." Which is an absolute lie, since he has every page, folder, and paragraph memorized, but she doesn't need to know that. He just waits for her to actually read one of the pages, and it doesn't take too long.

"This is the mirror killer case," the agent says.

Charles grimaces, and even if it isn't part of the plan he has to object. "Please don't give him a name, I've been fighting off everyone's attempts to nickname him for a year."

The agent looks at him for a long moment, and then smiles slowly. "You're Charles, aren't you."

"Indeed I am," Charles says, and smiles, holding out a hand. "Detective Charles Xavier. It's nice to meet you, even if I could do without the papers flying everywhere."

It makes her laugh, which is good. It also makes her shake his hand, which is also good. "Agent Moira MacTaggert. And you know the killer has a nickname, don't you?"

Charles frowns, grabbing more papers. "That one doesn't count."

Moira grins. "CK doesn't count? I thought you'd be flattered."

"Having a serial killer running around being called Charles' Killer isn't flattering. It's a slap in the face every time I hear it, knowing he's still running around free out there," Charles says, and watches Moira's face soften from the teasing amusement into empathy. "I'm usually very good at my job, you know."

"I've heard you and Frost are the best partnership in the state," Moira says, trying to bring Charles' confidence back up.

"And the prettiest," Charles says. It gets a huff of laughter, which is about what he'd expected. "Are you here for this case, then? I'd appreciate the help, to be honest," which is a lie, he actually wants to shove her in the back of a truck and ship her to Canada, "after...well. You heard about Cain Marko, I assume."

"Yes," Moira says, and grabs the last of the papers, adding them to the pile. "I'm sorry about your stepbrother."

Charles just nods, keeping his eyes on the floor before grabbing the papers. "We were distant," he says, because it's vague enough that it'll keep her thinking but still takes care of all the appropriate niceties. He clears his throat, and smiles at her. "I'd like to walk you through what he have for the case, but Emma and I have some obligations this afternoon. Would you like to meet for dinner? I know it's not exactly a pleasant dining conversation, but-"

"I'm an FBI agent, I can stomach it," Moira says with a smile. "Seven sound good? I know a nice place by my hotel."

"It sounds great," Charles says, words slightly overexcited. It makes her smile, and Charles has her. He hands her the files between them. "I wish I could do more to familiarize you with everything, and the papers being in a random order now doesn't exactly improve things-"

"I'll be fine," Moira reassures, and Charles smiles, and with a quick wave he walks back to Emma.

Emma grins at him the moment Charles gets in eyesight, but doesn't say anything until Charles has closed the door to their office. "How you manage to be such a manipulative bastard without anyone noticing, I'll never know," she says.

"Wear tweed," Charles says, and grabs his coat. "Now, we have somewhere to be."

She raises an eyebrow. "Do we."

"Of course. I owe you a dress, don't I?" Charles says.

Emma's smile is vicious. "Charles, you are my absolute favorite."

---

Moira, Charles learns over dinner, is a perfectly nice girl. She's whip smart, willing to go to extreme lengths to close a case, smart in a way that happens to be a rare cross between book smart and experience smart (but not street smart, but few people actually are), fought her way through the glass ceiling and is ready to keep climbing if she's ever given a fighting chance. Charles can't help but like and admire her, could maybe even be interested in her, if she wasn't a threat to his killer. It certainly makes him feel forty times guiltier for manipulating her, but he has to.

Her hotel isn't far, and Charles goes the extra mile (or, in this case, extra block and a half) to walk her there, even if she's probably a better fighter than Charles. "I should have you walk me to my apartment instead," he says, and she laughs, and Charles shouldn't be as surprised as he is when she kisses him, soft and hesitant.

She pulls back almost immediately, and Charles doesn't know what she sees in his face, but she says, "I'm so sorry, I didn't think - I mean." She takes a deep breath, and smiles again, carefully. "I like you, Charles. And if you ever feel ready for a relationship, I'd be interested."

Charles tries to process the accepting, passive proposition, and finds himself thinking about the way she says it instead. It takes him a moment, and he stares at her when it finally clicks. "God, you think he raped me. That's not how he operates, what on earth makes you think-"

"It's a reasonable conclusion to make, considering you were drugged out of your mind," Moira says, completely unrepentant. "Either way, it's your decision whether or not you want to enter a relationship. I shouldn't have assumed something like that, particularly after a traumatic event, no matter the nature of it."

"Do you always sound like a self-health pamphlet when you're uncomfortable?" Charles asks, and thank God, it actually comes out humorous and makes her smile again. He clears his throat, and does his best to smile. "We have time to talk about this some other night, when I don't have to wake up early."

"Of course, you need your beauty sleep," Moira says, and puts a hand on his shoulder for a moment. "Be safe walking home."

Charles leaves feeling like a horrible person, mostly because he knows he'd do it all over again no matter how nice a person Moira is. He hates what he's turning into, but at the same time he finds himself incapable of regretting it, or even thinking he's made the wrong decisions. Moira doesn't deserve to be treated like a chess piece, she deserves someone nice, someone who could actually be everything Charles is pretending to be for her.

He's three blocks from his apartment when a hand snaps out and drags him into an alley. Charles reaches out to grab some part of his attacker's body, but when he's pressed against the side of a building and can feel the latex gloves on the hand pushing his neck carefully forward, his entire body relaxes, even when what feels like a tie gets wrapped around his eyes.

The gentle hold doesn't last long, though. The minute the blindfold is in place, Charles is spun around, back pressed against the brick so hard he'll bruise in the morning. "Good evening to you too," Charles wheezes, and has to stop talking when a latex-covered hand wraps around his throat.

"Who is she," he says, harsh enough that Charles actually flinches. It makes the other man (Erik, but he doesn't use the killer's name because some day he could slip up, could let someone know he knows, and that can't happen) loosen his grip just enough for Charles to breathe comfortably and talk without it hurting.

"She's FBI, I'm trying to get her off my case," Charles says, and wishes he wasn't blindfolded. He always wishes that, but he also always takes what he can get. "You shouldn't be here, there's too many people, you could-"

"I need to be here," the killer says. Charles' killer. "Particularly if you go around seducing everyone you meet."

"Charming and seducing are completely different," Charles says, and tries to grab at the hand on his throat, even if he knows it's Not Allowed. "And you have to go. You're too obvious here."

"I'm not leaving," he says. "Not until I know if I need to follow her into her hotel room and stab her through the heart."

"Don't you dare," Charles snaps, and it earns him another slam into the wall, this one hard enough that he's almost dizzy. It's not going to stop him, though, and like hell he's letting his killer do something so out of character and stupid. He reaches forward and gets a fistful of what feels like a soft leather jacket. "You do that and it's all over, the game ends, the FBI swarm down on us and you get locked up or shot and I refuse to let that happen, so you don't lay a finger on that agent, understand?"

"Charles." A latex-covered finger - thumb, Charles guesses - slides across his chin. "You don't understand, do you."

"Understand what, the fact killing an agent brings the entire bureau falling on top of us?" Charles snaps, and glares through the tie. "You aren't stupid. This isn't like you."

The killer's thumb pushes on Charles' lips, and he shuts up accordingly. He can tell the man's in a strange place tonight, unplanned and shaky. "It's not who she is that makes me want to get into that elevator and rip her apart, Charles. She's done nothing to deserve it, save for touching you. I don't like it when other people get within ten feet of you, Charles, let alone kiss you. It's maddening, seeing you even look at them-"

"If you'd take off the bloody blindfold that wouldn't be a problem," Charles says sharply, barely restraining himself from shouting. He can hear the fine leather beneath his hand creak in protest as he squeezes it, even if it's hard to hear beneath his own breath and heartbeat. "And I'm not your property. If anyone belongs to someone else in this relationship you're mine, everyone knows it. I won't let them take you away from me, I'm not done with you."

"You'll never be rid of me," Erik says, and Charles wrenches him forward, straining as far as the hand around his throat will permit.

He doesn't have to stretch very far, because Erik's mouth crashes against his in a rush of teeth and inelegant desperation. Charles is allowed to touch, just enough to drive him even crazier than he already is as the kiss deepens. He wraps a hand around the back of Erik's skull, grabs onto the side of his impossibly slender waist, both to drag him as close as humanly possible. The impertinence obviously pleases him, since Erik's mouth leaves his own and he makes an absolutely filthy noise the minute Charles gets him pressed against the thigh he's managed to sneak between Erik's legs.

"You make me crazy, Erik," Charles whispers, and his name feels like a burning curse when it passes his lips. From the way it makes Erik shudder and grind against his thigh, Charles can tell he isn't the only one who feels like it's the filthiest, most glorious four letter word ever created.

The hand Erik isn't using to keep Charles against the wall and halfway to choking fumbles with the button fly on Charles' pants, and it takes a moment of cursing and a snapping sound before he gets Charles' slacks open and a hand inside to finally touch. Charles moans at the contact, at the delicate, shaky way Erik slides his hand around him, and Charles freezes a second later when he realizes what is different.

Erik took one of his gloves off.

"I want to see your eyes when you come," Erik whispers into Charles' ear, grinding hard against his thigh, and when Charles moves a hand towards Erik's pants it earns him another slam against the wall, followed by a sinful twist of Erik's hand on his cock. "No, Charles, you can't, you know you can't."

"You took a glove off for me," Charles says, and knows he's probably impossible to understand with the effort it's taking to even breathe, let alone speak while also panting and gasping for air. "God, Erik, what are we doing?"

"I want to see my face reflected in your eyes, want to watch you wake up, want to keep you breathless and unhinged for endless hours in our bed," Erik says, and Charles can't breathe, can't think. Erik's bare hand is ruthless. All he can do is reach for air and Erik and gasp out his name into the darkness as he comes, thigh pressing hard against Erik. He seems to appreciate it, since it ends with a few more violent thrusts and a deep groan that Charles wants to hear over and over again, because Erik sounds absolutely wrecked, like he's lost everything he knows to get something impossible in return.

They don't move, staying twisted together and kissing with an exhausted determination to stay connected and together for as long as possible. Charles twists his fingers into Erik's hair and sneaks a hand beneath what feels like a sweater of some kind beneath the leather jacket. When his fingers catch on the first irregularity on his body, a long raised line on his stomach, Erik jerks back, Charles' hand left grasping at nothing.

"We can't do this, Charles," Erik says, quiet.

"We could if you stopped killing people," Charles says, and tries to keep his frustration and anger in check. He's so tired, tired and strung out and quickly approaching the end of his rope. He straightens his clothing for a moment, tries to put himself back together again, but there's not much of a point to it considering he's spun around and pressed (gently, carefully, cautiously) against the wall all over again. "You're good enough that you could do it, you could just walk away-"

"I can't. Not yet," Erik says, and after a moment Charles feels lips press lightly against the back of his neck. "Be careful walking home."

The tie slips off his eyes, and Charles considers twisting around and looking, but instead he stays where he is, eyes shut, until he's certain Erik - the killer, he reminds himself, not Erik but the serial killer who has killed and tortured and mutilated people and made Charles' life torturous in so many ways – is truly gone.

He walks home, because there's nothing else to be done. When he's locked the door behind himself he sits down in his shiny new faux-leather chair and tries to remember how to breathe.

Chapter Text

Charles is hung over and possibly still a little drunk when he gets the call, so he's not exactly paying attention when the man says, "But the wife and children were just fine."

Emma, thankfully, is completely sober and paying attention to something other than the thud of gnomes trying to excavate more room in the inside of his skull. "What do you mean?"

"They were hit with tranquilizer darts, had earplugs put in, and then locked in the downstairs bathroom," the man says, shrugging. "They were still unconscious when we got the call and came in to check."

Emma smirks, and Charles nearly falls over when she elbows him in the ribs. "You'll like this one, Charles."

"Murderers are always bad, Emma, I have no idea what you are talking about," Charles says, and it's poor manners to pull out a glass from a victim's home and pour oneself a glass of water, but desperate times call for desperate measures. He's sure they'll appreciate the rudeness when they catch the man that killed their father/husband/banker. "How'd the killer get in, again?"

"They left the side door unlocked, since they were just out playing in the yard," the officer says, and from the patient way he says it Charles can conclude he's actually asked this already. Possibly a few times, really. "No prints on anything, no footprints, nothing that shows any sort of forced entrance or exit anywhere."

"Thank you," Charles says, and starts filling the glass up again, wondering if it'd be really terrible to break into the liquor cabinet for a bit of hair of the dog. Emma rolls her eyes and grabs him by the arm, letting him drink what water he has left before taking the cup from him, putting it in the sink, and dragging him towards the stairs. "Oh, I'm sorry I was keeping you from the gruesome murder scene."

"You're forgiven, just this once," Emma says, and pats him on the arm. "You really shouldn't go out with Raven when you have work in the morning."

"I wasn't supposed to have work in the morning," Charles objects. And he was supposed to not be awake at five thirty in the morning to look at a crime scene, particularly when he's probably still a bit drunk, considering he didn't get home until three.

"We always have work in the morning, sweetie," Emma says, and doesn't bother giving Charles time to wince at the beam of morning light streaking through the window at the top of the stairs before pulling him up. There are signs of a struggle here; he can see where the banister was cracked, where the wall was bashed into with a body. "Don't worry, I think your optimism is cute."

"And I think you're unnerving when you try to take care of me," Charles says.

"Sweetie, I'm always unnerving," Emma says. "You just don't notice as often as you should."

"I've built up an immunity," Charles agrees, and Emma turns them towards the master bedroom. Charles shrugs off her arm when there are no longer stairs. The door is where the blood starts. It looks like the sort of blood that ends up happening whenever there's a struggle, with hands and bodies bashing into things and each other. Two streaks of it are on the open doorway. "The victim's?"

"Yes, from what they told us when you were too hung-over to function," Emma says. "I'm impressed you're recovering so quickly."

"We're trying to catch a killer," Charles says. "That requires sobriety, and responsibility. I'm trying very hard to have both right now."

And it's also a good excuse for why, when they step into the bathroom that the officers had been pointedly ignoring, Charles has to run into the small attached toilet room and vomit.

The banker's arms are tied above his head with a thin length of rope, toes barely reaching the floor and the space blanket stretched beneath him. It was considerate of the killer to think of clean-up when he was bleeding someone to death, Charles supposes. The fact the man's teeth have been removed with a set of pliers sitting innocuous and bloody on the kitchen counter along with ten of his teeth and a was stabbed nine times with a kitchen knife that, according to the officers, was taken from the cutlery drawer, makes Charles think this was planned quite thoroughly. So do the words written all over the mirror in red. MURDERER is the biggest, followed by RAPIST, THIEF, LIAR, and, along the bottom, YOU DESERVE TO DIE LIKE THIS.

It doesn't take Charles more than a glance to realize the man had watched himself bleed to death in the mirror, staring at the red words and his own face as he died. The corpse's eyes are still open wide and staring at the words.

"I'd almost call it a crime of passion, if it didn't look so planned," Emma says from where she leans against the doorway, examining her nails. "He brought in the rope and pliers and space blanket, but everything else was from the house." She tilts her head, looking at Charles. "This isn't nearly as fun when you're puking and not talking about motives."

Emma enjoys the means part of detective work, enjoys knowing how someone was murdered and how the killer managed it. It's almost as if she appreciates the craft of murder, and it's one of the reasons they always get the complicated cases. If Emma finds something interesting, she will remain perfectly awake and perfectly coiffed figuring out how they managed to do something. Charles is the why person, and (guiltily) finds himself rather fascinated with the connections one can find between killed and killer, with what can drive someone to murder. Together they're the perfect blend of motives and means, and it makes them very good at their job.

"This isn't supposed to be fun, Emma," Charles reminds her, because sometimes, when it's a very interesting murder, she forgets to hide her twisted side. She can let it run amok when they're in the office with their door shut, but here with officers and police photographers, it's a bad idea to let the macabre out.

"The thermal blanket kept the blood from drying for most of the time," Emma says, not listening to Charles' reminder, and he has to throw up again. This time, he's sure it's at least 60% hangover and not the crime scene.

Emma hands him a couple scraps of toilet paper, and Charles takes it to wipe his mouth with a grimace. "Sometimes I think you always wear white just to keep yourself from swimming in blood."

"As if that would stop me," Emma says, and leaves him in the bathroom to walk through the scene.

---

When he thinks about it, Charles can see what she means about it being a planned crime of passion. There's a sense of satisfaction and revenge to the entire murder, and it's just as obvious that the killer was only after the banker considering he locked up the wife and daughters in what could almost be considered a polite way, and also somewhat considerate when he takes the earplugs into account. That he didn't want the little girls to hear what he was doing to their father is clear, but also didn't want them terribly uncomfortable since he put them in a bathroom with a couple toys kicked through the door before locking them in with their mother. It's about as nice as someone can be when he's going to murder their dad.

But at the same time, there's such an endless anger to the crime scene, a savage joy in making this man truly suffer. From the autopsy, Charles knows that every single wound was inflicted while the man was alive, and that it took him a good hour to bleed to death. He has a lurking suspicion the killer was watching him the entire time. Probably talking to him, too, considering the words on the mirror suggest he wanted the victim to know exactly why he was being killed.

The big problem, the enormous, gaping problem with the entire scene, is that the banker has a squeaky clean record. The worst crime Charles can see on his record is unpaid parking tickets, and the only accusation against him was a money scandal he was under offhanded investigation for since he worked in the same company as the embezzler, but that went nowhere and he was, again, clean and never charged with anything. No murders, no rapes, nothing that suggests he was any of the things the killer accuses him of. Possibly a thief, but nothing that would prompt a vicious torture and murder.

Charles sighs, and watches Emma gleefully dissect the means of the murder in their office - the type of rope, the angle the knife slid into him, how he kept the banker's mouth open to yank teeth out. Emma loves the crazy ones. Charles just resigns himself to hunting down a paranoid schizophrenic.

Chapter Text

The second murder doesn't change anything particularly important to Charles, other than that their murderer is now a serial killer. It's the same style of murder, save for the fact the man's teeth are intact but his vocal chords and ear canals have been mutilated, most likely by shoving knives and needles down them. Emma is thrilled, naturally. Charles just amends his previous perceptions - the killer doesn't talk to them when they die. He's probably not even in the room.

Charles imagines it's the most gruesome you sit in that corner and think about what you've done that he can imagine.

The other differences are location and victim related, about how he managed to lay in wait in the victim's apartment and drag him back to the bathroom mirror to kill him. And, again, there's nothing on the victim's record that suggests the killer's 'YOU DESERVE TO DIE LIKE THIS' message is remotely truthful. He holds to his belief that the killer's a paranoid schizophrenic.

At least, he does until the third murder.

---

It's a late night in the middle of winter when Charles' phone rings, only a few weeks after the second murder. Well, to be precise, it's Emma's phone that rings, but with Emma long gone and undoubtedly curled up in her enormous bed with a friendly bed warmer, it falls to Charles to answer it.

"Detec-" Charles manages to get out, and is cut off immediately by the man on the other end.

"He's going to find me, you have to help me, please," the man says, so close to the receiver that Charles can barely hear the words beneath his panicked breaths. "I'll do anything, just please don't let him kill me like that, I don't deserve it, I swear-"

"I'll help you, sir," Charles says, and wishes Emma's desk was closer to the door so he could motion to one of the grand total of three people who were still in the office last he checked. "Do you need immediate help? Because you should hang up and call 911 if you do."

"They can't do anything, he's still hunting me down, he'll find me, please," the man says, and Charles thinks he might actually be sobbing. "I will do anything. Just protect me. You're the police, that's what you're supposed to do."

Charles takes a deep breath. "I need to know what I'm protecting you from before I can start taking any action, sir."

"The. It's him, God, I don't remember his real name, we usually just called him boy," the man says, and yes, that's definitely sobbing. "And he's paying us back - and they deserved it, but I don't. I left. I'm not evil, I swear."

Charles frowns, the phrases the sobbing man is using pinging around through his mind. "The killer who writes crimes on the mirrors-"

"God, save me, I don't want to die," the man says desperately.

Charles grabs a pencil and notepad off his own desk, saying, "Take a deep breath, sir, and tell me where you are. I'll send an officer-"

"No lights," the man shouts. "Don't. He would see. He's watching, he has to be-"

"That's fine," Charles says. "I'll come get you myself, then. Where are you?"

"I'll tell you where I will be in twenty minutes," the man says, and Charles feels like rolling his eyes. He imagines the man is on a pay phone halfway to freezing to death, and the man is still paranoid enough to arrange a meeting instead of telling Charles where he is and finding a warm place to wait. "The Ladacker Building. I'll be on the roof."

Charles can't help it. "Sir, you do realize it's 11 PM, snowing, and ten degrees out. Maybe meeting somewhere indoors would be a better idea."

"No. He doesn't like heights. It's safer this way," the man says firmly. Charles decides not to tell him about the dangers of being blown off of tall buildings in snowstorms, since there's obviously no convincing the man of anything other than that he's going to die if he's standing anywhere sane.

By the time Charles gets to the Ladacker Building - which is an old four story building smaller than the house (well, mansion) Charles grew up in and is only really known for the fact it's where an aspiring actress failed to kill herself a few years ago - it's dropped to a grand total of two degrees above zero. The man is very lucky he seems to actually have information on Charles' new serial killer case, because otherwise he might have told the man that nobody was going to run off and kill him on a night like this. The serial killer might be crazy, but he was an intelligent crazy that Charles couldn't imagine running pell-mell all over snowy streets to hunt down a victim. He prefers killing them in their own homes anyway.

The door is unlocked, and Charles assumes that's his desperate man's doing. It's not much warmer in the old building, either, and the cold seeps into his bones. Four flights of stairs just has his numb limbs setting into an aching tingly feeling. The door to the roof is wide open, and Charles grits his teeth as the snow and wind slam into him again when he sets foot on the roof.

"Sir? It's Detective Xavier," he shouts into the wind, wrapping his arms around his chest as he walks further from the stairwell. "I'm here to take you somewhere safe."

"I'm afraid Mr. van Beuren doesn't deserve it," a man's voice says, very different from the one on the phone, and Charles stops moving. He can't see anyone in the storm and the night, but he can hear sobbing, somewhere in front of him. "The only difference between him and the rest of the club is that he's a coward who cares more about his own life than destroying the lives of others."

Charles tries to move towards where the voice is coming from, but he can barely see five feet in front of him, let alone the killer and the sobbing man - Van Beuren, he supposes. "I've looked into the records of your victims," he shouts, hoping it'll get to the other men on the roof, and that it'll stall the killer. "I haven't found any traces of the crimes you accuse them of."

"Of course you haven't," the killer says. "That's why I'm killing them. But let's share some crimes with the nice detective, Mr. van Beuren. Do you remember Isabel?"

"No, please, you know I left-" the sobbing man says.

"Tell Detective Xavier how old she was, or I throw you off the roof," the killer says.

"Oh god, she was six, please, I don't want to die," the sobbing man says.

Charles mentally curses himself for wearing mittens, and tries to tug his right hand free of the wool. "I want to understand," he says, hoping the killer can't see him flailing around trying to get his hand out and wrapped around his gun. "If you kill him, I won't know what he's done. I can bring him to justice, with testimony. Nobody needs to die."

"Actually he really, really does," the killer says, sounding completely unbothered by the way he's talking about murdering the man in front of him (or so Charles assumes; he doubts he'd be able to see what was going on even in daylight considering the weather). "Now, Mr. van Beuren. Tell Detective Xavier what you did to little Isabel."

Charles can't hear the response, only hopeless sobbing somewhere to the left and a new relentless gust of wind that Charles has to brace himself against. He watches his right hand's mitten get snatched out of his grip by the wind and topple away, off the side of the building.

That's when he can finally hear what the man's saying between sobs, and every bit of warmth that may have been left in his body drains out, leaving Charles cold and empty and feeling like the killer might be completely, absolutely justified for every act of brutality he could possibly visit on this man.

"And now, Mr. van Beuren, tell Detective Xavier how many other little girls you introduced yourself to," the killer says.

"Oh god," Charles says.

"You said you wanted to understand, Detective Xavier. Here is your chance," the killer says, ruthless. "This is only one of the lovely people you're trying to save from me. The fact he thinks he's pure and good compared to the others, and actually left because it became too morally reprehensible for someone like him should tell you something."

Charles doesn't know what to do. Mostly, he considers vomiting. He also considers lending the killer his gun. He considers shooting them both and turning himself in to the police, considers going through every single orphanage in the city and adopting every single child and keeping them safe from anyone who could ever hurt them, considers breaking down and sobbing. He even considers asking the serial killer what to do.

What he does, is he says, "You're going to kill him no matter what I do, aren't you?"

"You wouldn't try to stop me," the killer says.

Charles rubs his bare hand over his face. "Then I." He takes a deep, shaky breath, and holsters his gun. He swallows the knot in his throat. "My mitten went off the roof. I'm going downstairs to fetch it."

Mr. van Beuren screams, but it's cut off so quickly that Charles barely notices it, and it's very easy to forget.

The killer doesn't respond for a long time. "He's been acting strangely for a few weeks now, and only a fool would come out here in this weather."

"Which is why I'm going home," Charles says.

"I'd say you were never here to begin with," the killer replies. "Unless, of course, you'd like to-"

"No," Charles snaps, and turns around as fast as he can, letting the wind help him along towards the stairwell.

"It was nice to meet you, Charles," the killer calls, and Charles slams the door shut behind him.

---

A Mr. Theodore van Beuren's body is found at the base of the Ladacker Building that morning, covered in snow and a textbook case of someone jumping off a building. His friends say he'd been acting strangely, his coworkers say he had become paranoid, and nobody suspects anything other than yet another breakdown. He'd had them before, they all know. This one was the last, it seemed.

Nobody even bothers to open up a case.

It's the serial killer's third kill, and only Charles knows it's even a murder.

Chapter Text

Raven is a good sister, and her concerned eyes don't leave his face for a moment at lunch.

"You need to sleep, Charles," she says quietly. "You haven't looked this terrible since...well." She clears her throat, looking queasy and awkward. "Since the shooting."

The memory reminds Charles how very clearly he can see what the killer - the very bad serial killer, he reminds himself - meant about some people serving society better as corpses. "The job’s getting to me again, is all," he says, and tries to smile for her. "I'm sorry, Raven, I don't mean to make you worry."

"I know you don’t, which is why I forgive you. I also know you have sleeping pills," Raven says.

"And when I take them I can't wake up in the morning," Charles says.

Raven nods. "Yes, but you have tomorrow off. You can afford a bit of grogginess, even if it's just to get rid of the bags under your eyes." She sits back in her chair, frowning at him. "I still don't understand why you do this, Charles."

"Do what?" Charles asks, voice dull.

"This job," Raven says, a hand waving through the air as if she can encompass his entire life with a twitch of her wrist. "You always wanted to be a geneticist, not a detective."

Charles can't really tell her the real answer, can't say because my stepbrother killed his father and I wanted to prove it, so he says, "I do it because someone has to, and I'm as good as anyone else."

Raven gives him a smile bordering on sad. "You're amazing at it. It doesn't mean you're suited to the job, or that it makes you happy."

"I thought we were talking about sleep deprivation, not potentially misguided life choices," Charles says. And yes, it was probably misguided to become a member of the police force instead of going to graduate school and absorbing himself in a murder-free academic world of chromosomes and genetic mutations like he'd always dreamed, but he believes in moving forward. You can dwell on the past, but you certainly can't change it.

Raven nods, and motions for the check. "Take the rest of the day off and get some sleep. I'll explain to Emma. I think she might actually be close to worrying."

"Dear god, I really look that awful?" Charles asks.

"You really, really do," Raven says, and Charles thinks he should object to his little sister paying for lunch, but considering it's just tea and sandwiches, he abstains. "Go home."

Charles shakes his head. "The case-"

"If something happens, Emma will call," Raven says, and glares at him. "Charles. You look like you’re going to start decomposing. Sleep."

"Yes ma'am," Charles says, because he's too tired to fight, to strung out to even muster the energy to point out he's caught killers on less sleep before this, but at the same time, he's terrified to even look at the innocuous phone sitting on his desk. He also knows he'd be able to do little else, other than wonder why he didn't tell anyone, why he didn't trace it, why the man even bothered to call, why Charles wishes he'd never had to hang up.

Charles barely notices how he gets home - his own two feet, he assumes. He toes off his shoes and drops his coat on the waiting rack. The gloves he’d cut the fingertips off of are thrown onto his kitchen table along with the scarf. He’s barefoot and finally letting himself admit he is absolutely exhausted when he grabs the sleeping pills and, as the label instructs, takes one pill after eating.

He barely has time to make it to the bed before the pill kicks in, and the last thought that comes to him is the horrific fact that, from what he remembers, these pills aren't nearly this fast-acting, and that he is passing out, drugged, alone and expected to be out of contact for at least 12 hours, barely an hour after having a conversation with a ruthless serial killer.

---

He wakes up shirtless with his legs tied to the foot of his bed and a blindfold over his eyes. It seems a bit silly, considering his hands are free and he could easily untie it, but Charles decides to see what exactly is going on first. And he also needs the world to cooperate in helping him sit up; it's hard enough to move his hands away from where they lay at his sides, he's so sedated.

"Why am I not wearing a shirt?" Charles asks. Which he wasn't actually meaning to ask. He was intending to start this off diplomatically, with a polite greeting and possibly some idle chatting about the weather.

"Because I was curious," a voice says, and yes, it's that voice. There's a serial killer in his bedroom.

Hooray.

"When I said I'd see you later, that didn't mean you were welcome to break into my home and drug me and tie me up and take my shirt," Charles says, and that's when it occurs to him that he is not just dealing with a sedative. He doesn't know what all was in that pill, but it definitely wasn't just a sedative, because then his mouth says, entirely of its own accord and with zero input from his brain, "You could have just asked to see me without it. It's far more polite."

The serial killer in his bedroom is very quiet for a moment, and Charles thinks he might have heard a laugh. Maybe. "I should have just given you a sleeping pill."

"But then what would the point have been to breaking into my own personal domain?" Charles asks cheerily. "Heaven forbid we respect private property, not when we're a serial killer. I haven't done anything that warrants a break-in. You are being very rude."

"I'm sorry to hear that," the killer says, obviously finding this oh so funny.

"I'll never forgive you I find out I have to buy a new lock."

"I only picked it, you'll be fine, Charles," the man says. "You're a talkative drunk, aren't you?"

"Yes," Charles says. "And this is the stage of drunk where my sister usually has to walk me home to make sure I don't do anything untoward. Or the stage where Emma encourages me to do something untoward. It depends who I'm with."

"Maybe I should have investigated more beforehand," the killer says.

Charles frowns. "You usually have everything expertly planned out, though. It's Emma's favorite thing about you." The frown deepens, and Charles remembers he was trying to sit up a while ago, so he tries to get on that again. "I think she might have a crush on your knife work, too."

"That's very kind of her, and slightly disturbing," the killer says.

"She's slightly disturbing in general," Charles says, and smiles. "Now, what can I do for you?"

"I'm sorry?"

Charles sighs, and grabs around for something to prop himself up on. After a moment, he's surprised to feel hands (big strong hands, very nice hands) helping him sit up before piling cushions behind him and letting go. "Well. That was very kind of you," Charles says, oddly flustered. "I was. I mean. You're here for a reason, I'm assuming, so I was hoping you could just tell me and then I could take a nap?"

"Maybe you should just take a nap," the killer says, and dear god, Charles thinks he might actually be restraining a laugh. He's probably smiling, though. Definitely smiling.

"No, no, you put a lot of work into this, I can tell," Charles says. "It's the least I can do. And why am I not wearing a shirt, again?"

"I was originally tying your arms up," the killer says, and the smile and laughter are fading away. "You have quite a few scars. I was curious."

"Oh, most of those are from glass," Charles says easily, brushing the question away with what is meant to be a flip of his hand and ends up being his arm flopping to the side a bit. "You should see my knees. Except you are definitely not allowed to take my pants off when I'm in this state."

"Don't worry, I'm a very considerate serial killer," the man says, and he sounds amused again. Good. "And I was hoping we could talk about what you know."

"About what? About you?" Charles asks. "Well, I know from Emma that you're probably a couple inches over six feet tall, either that or you have a tiny step stool in your back pocket. And you don't like involving the people you don't think deserve to die that way, and that I really don't know quite how many people you've killed since you seem perfectly willing to push people off of rooftops instead of mutilating them and having them watch themselves bleed to death."

"Only four, so far," the killer says. "But don't worry, you'll know it's four murders in the morning."

"I think I should have told people about that sobbing man," Charles muses. "Murder is wrong, by the way. It doesn't make anything better, it just kills people, that's why due process exists." He pauses, processing the killer's words. "Wait, did you just tell me you killed someone again?"

"Yes," the man says, obviously not bothered by that fact. "And I meant what you know about the...hm. The victims, I suppose. Their connections to each other."

"Nothing but what I heard from the man on the roof. I've been running myself ragged trying to verify what I heard, but it's nothing but dead ends," Charles says. "So, just about nothing, much to my endless irritation and insomnia. Why?"

The killer sighs. "We should keep it that way, then. Charles, I need you to forget what you heard. You need to not know any of that, understand? It's not safe."

"You know what else isn't safe?" Charles asks, the thought idle. "Being tied up in an apartment with a serial killer, and yet here we are."

"Yes, but I would never hurt you," the man says. "And they would jump at the chance."

Charles smiles. "You're trying to protect me. That's very kind of you. And sweet. You're very sweet, for a serial killer."

"Drugging you was a bad idea, I think," the killer says, and Charles has a thing in his hand. A cup. Probably with water in it.

"It really was," Charles agrees. The man puts a small light thing in his other hand. "What's this?"

"Your actual sleeping pill," the man says. "It shouldn't have any adverse side effects with the drugs, so feel free to take it. That's water in your other hand."

"Maybe your day job is a pharmacist," Charles says, and takes the pill. He drinks the water, too. It's refreshing.

"You said mostly," the killer says.

Charles frowns. "What?"

"You said the scars were mostly from broken glass," the killer says. "I'd like to know what the rest are from."

"Oh, you know," Charles says, and waves a hand through the air. "Childhood." He frowns, shaking his legs. "Are my legs untied?"

"Yes," the man says. "Would you like some help getting into bed?"

"That's terribly forward of you," Charles says. "You haven't even properly introduced yourself. I at least need a first name before sex, even if I forget it in the morning."

"Then it's a good thing I'm being a gentleman and just meant helping you get under the covers, alone," the killer says, and Charles can definitely hear him smiling. If you can hear that.

"Maybe some other time, then," Charles says, and there's a slight choking noise that comes from his killer's direction. When he looks towards the man's voice, expectant, the man cautiously moves the pillows back and helps Charles maneuver his ridiculously slow limbs into bed. "That was very kind of you, thank you."

"You're welcome, Charles."

"Please don't break into my apartment again," Charles says.

"That, I can't guarantee," the killer says, but there's a twist of amusement to the words, so Charles doesn't mind it. "Sleep well."

"I will," Charles says, and sighs, eyes already too heavy to try and have a coherent conversation. "You're a very strange serial killer, by the way. You're very good at the serial killing but not at the acting like a serial killer part."

"Oh, Charles, that's the most ridiculous thing you've said this whole time," the man says, and hands move around his head, fingers twisting around in the tie to the blindfold. "Not acting like a serial killer is why I'm so very good at it."

Chapter Text

Charles barely reaches the ringing phone in his apartment, tossing his keys onto the table and lurching towards the receiver. "Hello?"

"You should close the door, Charles," the killer says.

Charles glances around the apartment, even if he knows it won't do any good. The bathroom door is closed, but that doesn't mean anything. The entire south side of his apartment is covered in windows - it's why he bought the place, after all - so Charles isn't particularly surprised the killer is watching him. He complies, shutting and locking the door, dragging the telephone along with him. "This isn't the best timing, I'm afraid," Charles says.

"Your priorities are about to change, then," the killer says, and there's something...off about him. He sounds tense. Charles is even tempted to call it nervous. "I think before anything else, I should confess something."

Charles sighs, and glances around the apartment. "Well, I can tell you broke in. Again. You're usually much cleaner than this when you decide to invade my home." The bathroom light is on.

"I had cargo," the killer says. "Speaking of invading your home, I took a trip to your family estate. It was very enlightening."

There's a sound coming from Charles' bathroom. It sounds almost like mice skittering around on the floor. "You aren't a very patient man, are you."

"Not when it comes to you," he says, and yes, he definitely sounds nervous. Nervous, and angry. "Because you don't take care of yourself, Charles. It seems I need to help you along in life."

There's a muffled noise coming from the bathroom, Charles realizes, a sound that is something no mouse could ever make. It's like strangled crying, and it makes Charles' blood go icy. He drags the phone with him as he walks very, very slowly towards the door. "What did you do."

"You shouldn't go in there yet, Charles," the serial killer says. "I don't think you're ready for what's on the other side."

Charles' grip on the phone tightens, undoubtedly leaving marks on the palm of his hand. "Tell me what you did."

"I'm helping you understand," the man says. "And I'm helping you find closure."

Charles wants to spit out that he doesn't need closure and has no idea what he's talking about, but instead he wraps his hand around the doorknob. "Either tell me, or I'm hanging up and calling 911."

"You wouldn't," the killer says, but his usual arrogant confidence is missing.

"Unless it's you on the other side, I most definitely would," Charles says honestly. "I'm not in the mood to play guessing games."

"Fine," the killer says. "I put your own torturer in his place, since you seemed to be having trouble with it."

Charles scowls at the doorknob. "I don't have a torturer," he says.

"Not anymore, no," the killer says, and Charles opens the door.

Cain Marko is strung up the same way every other victim has been, a space blanket beneath feet that scrabble for purchase on the ground, but there's duct tape over his mouth, and the words on the mirror are all wrong, proclaiming CHILD ABUSER in loud red letters where it usually says 'murder' - and MURDERER is where the lesser crimes usually are, which also include LIAR and THIEF. As ever, YOU DESERVE TO DIE LIKE THIS is spread along the base of the mirror.

The biggest difference, though, is the pictures taped onto the mirror, surrounding the words.

Charles' family without Charles, smiling at the beach. Charles' fourth grade class picture, where he'd been angled to the left so that nobody saw the black eye. Charles with a cast on his leg, Charles with a cast on his arm, Charles with a burnt patch of hair on his head. All the group family pictures where Charles has put himself between Raven and the Markos, all the pictures without smiles, all the pictures that Charles and Raven aren't in, all the pictures that Charles never wanted anyone to ever see, that he never wanted to see.

There's a knife sitting quietly on the counter, right beneath one of the earliest pictures, the one where Raven has a barely visible ring of bruises around her forearm.

"You have no right to do this," Charles says, and god, Cain's eyes snap to meet his in the mirror. The man is terrified. "You had no right-"

"Did he have a right to hurt you?" the killer demands.

Charles tries to take a deep, calming breath, and fails completely. It ends up as nothing but a huff of furious air. "I admit that he hurt me and I hate him for it, is that what you want to hear? Because I'm sorry to burst your megalomaniac little bubble, but that's what children do. They hurt each other, older siblings always pick on the younger-"

"That's what they've told you to think, Charles. That's how they saw it whenever they bothered to see your bruises, not what you know," the killer snaps. "No regular child would hurt you like he did. No regular childhood leaves someone with scars on their arms and chest and scalp and legs and-"

"I know that," Charles shouts, and Cain is jerking in the air now, trying to find a way out of the rope holding him in the air. "I know he's a horrible person, I know it a hell of a lot more personally than you do."

"Are you angry because he's going to die, or because I know what you went through?" the killer asks.

"Stop it," Charles says.

"What if I told you he's engaged, and that his fiancee is pregnant?"

Charles drags the phone further into the bathroom, setting the entire thing on the counter for a moment with the sound of bells clanging together violently, breathing, before picking the receiver up again. "My friend, to any sane human being on the planet, that would be a reason to not kill him."

"Not one who understands human nature. Look at the picture in the upper right corner, Charles," the killer says, and Charles does as asked. It's a picture of a pregnant woman, certainly. She's also covered in bruises, and has a pale, hunted look to her. "Tell me, Charles, what do you think will happen to her baby when Cain Marko gets his hands on it?"

He remembers how something would just set his stepbrother off, how Charles would just be sitting down reading quietly in the corner and Charles would somehow have done something wrong and Cain would be unstoppably angry, then, and it wouldn't end for however long it took to hurt something. Charles imagines a newborn baby in its crib while Cain is in the room, crying simply because that's what babies do, and shudders.

"He won't stop hurting people like he hurt you, Charles," the killer says, and there's compassion in his voice. "If anything, he'll be far worse. People don't stop being evil, not when they keep getting away with it."

Cain is swaying uncontrollably now, feet off the ground and flailing through the air, trying to grab onto something. Charles watches him through the mirror, watches his head sway through CHILD ABUSER over and over again, and has to jerk his eyes away. The knife is still there, sitting innocuously on the counter, resting on top of a pair of latex gloves.

"You want me to kill him," Charles states.

"No, you want to kill him," the killer says.

Charles shakes his head. "I don't, I don't want to kill anyone, and he doesn't deserve it-"

"He killed his own father, Charles," the killer says. "You know he did."

Charles turns towards the window, glaring out through the glass and hoping the serial killer can see it. "Of course I know that," Charles says. His stepfather hadn't been bad, in comparison to his stepbrother. He just hadn't cared. "But the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, my friend; his death was no great loss."

"And your mother's?"

"Don't you dare-" Charles hisses out, but it's too late, the killer is too far gone to bow to Charles's voice over a phone.

"She didn't trip down the stairs, she was pushed," the killer says. "Isn't it interesting that she died when her biological children were in London and her stepson was supposed to be in California?"

Charles shakes his head, says, "No. No, I don't care what you toss at me, I'm not going to do what you want." I'm better than that, and you could be too, Charles thinks, and barely keeps from saying it.

"I imagine you saw her in every state of alcoholism, and never once did she trip over that carpet."

It was true, very very true, Charles had seen her so drunk she couldn't remember his or her name and she'd still managed to glide up those steps like the lady she was, and he'd seen her so hung over she had every drape in the mansion shut before she left her bedroom, and she'd never tripped. Raven had known, too, just as clearly as Charles had.

And Charles is absolutely furious that this stupid serial killer thinks he can get involved in this, thinks he can somehow solve deaths with more death, and he turns back to the mirror, staring into his own eyes, ignoring Cain.

"You must be very, very lonely," Charles says, voice shaking with the pure anger rolling through him. "You're showing your desperation, friend. What buttons will you push next, in an attempt to turn me into something like you?"

"I'm giving you the option to be free from him, to rid the world of one more plague," the killer says, but Charles can hear that the uncertainty is back. He's learning that he may have pushed Charles too far.

Good.

"I can imagine you sitting there in your chair, binoculars trained on my windows like the good little stalker you are," Charles says. "Demeaning yourself to hours of staring, just hoping I'll suddenly decide that yes, killing is the answer. And then what, you sweep in and carry me away to have a bloody happy ever after?"

"You're the one who says he wants to understand, Charles," the killer says, but Charles can tell he's hurt him. Good. The bastard deserves it. "This is your chance. Cain Marko has abused you endlessly since you met him, and he's going to do it to so many other people if you don't stop him."

"Stop and kill are two very different things," Charles says. "What is it you really want?"

"I want you to take back your life," the killer says, so loud that Charles jerks away from the phone for a moment. He sounds like he's been stabbed. "I've watched you flinch away from every angry man for months now, seen how you are so eager to please and so pleasantly quiet in the corner, seen how you're always so surprised when people compliment you. You're a tragedy, Charles, so busy trying to behave for people that you don't realize it's when you stop behaving that you're truly beautiful. And it's his fault, and I want you to hurt him for every single terrible thing he's done to you and the thousands of terrible things he will do if he doesn't die, right here, right now."

Charles can see himself in the mirror, and he looks tired and emotional and lost and nothing like Charles Xavier should.

He sits down on the bathroom floor, the telephone cord stretching tight. "I can't kill him," he says, and then amends that. "I won't kill him."

"But you know he needs to die," the killer says, quietly. That damn compassion is back in his voice. "You know he can't be allowed to hurt any more people."

"That doesn't mean he has to die," Charles says, numb and resigned. "But he will. You're going to kill him if I don't."

"I will, yes," the killer says, and he sounds so very reassuring. Charles is torn between wanting to wrap himself up in the voice and wanting to punch and (possibly) arrest the man it belongs to. "It'd be a kindness if you did it, Charles."

Charles shakes his head. "No. You." He pauses. "You-"

"Erik," the killer says.

Charles frowns. "What?"

"In case you get tired of 'you' and 'friend' at some point," the killer says, voice so tense that Charles thinks he could snap the man in two if he sneezed. "There's a syringe beneath your pillow, with a sedative inside it. I suggest you inject yourself."
Charles looks at Cain Marko's limp, helpless body, and sighs. "Please, Erik, promise me you will never try to make me do something against my morals, ever again."

The pause on the line gives Charles enough time to hear the whimpers coming from behind the duct tape. "Your morals are fairly malleable, Charles," Erik says. "But I swear, I won't try to form them how I want them. Not again."

Charles stands up, and looks at Cain. He can't reach eye level, considering Charles has always been on the shorter side and his stepbrother is built like a monstrous tank, but he imagines Cain still understands. There is a knife in the room, and Charles isn't using it to hurt him, but Charles also isn't using it to cut him down. Charles is leaving it there on the counter for someone else, and dragging the phone out of the bathroom with him, shutting the door behind him.

"Thank you," Charles says, and the syringe is right where Erik said it would be. "And please don't ruin my bathroom."

"I'll try my best," Erik says. "Sleep well, Charles."

"I don't want to hear him scream," Charles says, the phone now on his nightstand. The cord will be a mess in the morning, but he'll work around that later, when he isn't so tired. "Please, Erik, I don't want to hear-"

"You won't, Charles," Erik says, and Charles drifts off to sleep on top of his bed, phone still held against his cheek.

Chapter Text

Charles sighs when they pull out the light, leaning back in the incredibly uncomfortable chair as he says, "Really, John, is that necessary?"

"Standard operating procedure," John - or, as Charles is supposed to be calling him at the moment, Detective John Baker - says from the other side of the interrogation room's table. Charles knows from experience that the other chair is far more comfy. "You yourself admitted the events were suspicious."

"Of course I did, it's my case," Charles says, completely unbothered. John's a good person, but Charles knows he and Emma could run laps around him mentally, and probably physically as well. "I know the killer's modus operandi as well as anyone - possibly better than even the killer does. I'd almost think it was a copycat."

John sighs. "You're supposed to be clearing yourself from suspicion, Xavier, not digging yourself in further."

Charles frowns at him. "I'm not going to lie, John. Of course it's suspicious, but at the same time there's not a single flaw in my alibi. I wouldn't have been able to fetch my stepbrother from Montana, I haven't been near the family estate in seven years and therefore wouldn't have been able to get to those pictures, the autopsy report would have had him tied up before we even got out of that meeting - and speaking of which, every single person in this office knows I hate killing people, even in self defense. Which Cain's murder most certainly wasn't."

John shrugs. "But there's more than one person with a key to your apartment."

Charles can't help but laugh. "I'm sorry, are you accusing my sister of bleeding a man to death in my bathroom? Or maybe my eighty-year-old landlord? I don't think so."

"Charles," John says, serious. "This looks bad. Even with your alibi - and yes, it's iron-clad, nobody actually thinks you'd pull a family member across state lines to kill him in your bathroom - there's still worry about why it happened." Charles nods, and John takes a deep breath. "We're putting you and this case under investigation."

Charles stares at him, the world suddenly seeming to short out. "What?"

"No matter who killed Cain Marko, someone broke into your family home and took nothing but photos. And then they broke into your apartment, to kill someone you're related to," John states. "We're all worried about what could have happened if you were home when that person first broke in instead of getting jabbed in the shoulder with a needle when you walked through your front door."

Charles frowns. He's infinitely more intelligent than John Baker, but he can't seem to process what exactly the other man is telling him. "Are you taking me off the case?" he asks, and tries very hard to not grab John by the lapels of his knock-off suit jacket and pull him across the table to demand answers.

"You're off the serial killer case, pending investigation," John says, and he's a good guy. He can understand how much it hurts to be declared unfit to work on something that's been consuming your life for months and months. "Maybe you should take a vacation."

"You can't take me off the serial killer case," Charles says, because like hell he's going on vacation. "I know this case, inside and out. Whoever gets it next will be floundering in the facts for months that I could be using to catch him."

John shrugs, still apologetic but not budging in the slightest. "It's for your own safety, Charles."

"It wasn't a threat," Charles snaps. "He treated me like one of the clueless bystanders; it had nothing to do with me."

"Take it to the chief, Xavier," John says. "I'm just the interrogator-slash-messenger."

Charles gapes at him. "But-"

The door opens before Charles can say anything else, and there stands the chief, looking furious. He barely has time to glare at Charles before he says, "You're still on the case, Xavier. I'm demanding a psych exam, though. I at least get that much from you."

"Sir?" Charles frowns. He's fully aware that the chief hates him and Emma (mostly because Emma happens to be unrepentantly female and Charles is more than happy to not be fucking her and despite their morbidly obsessive partnership they still manage to close more cases than any other partnership in the state), and this is about as out of character as it was possible to stretch the man. "I don't understand."

"Let me explain, then," yet another man says, and Charles blinks at the fact the mayor is in Charles' interrogation room. "You're the best qualified for this case, aren't you?"

"Yes," Charles states, because it is an absolute fact.

The mayor nods. "See, I need this killer caught. And I don't think you're under any threat at the moment that you wouldn't be willing to meet head-on." He shrugs, long form leaning against the closed door. "So, you stay on the case. You work to capture or kill the murderer loose on my streets, I get to be sure I really do have my best man on the case when I tell paranoid constituents that, and there's justice done in the end."

Charles can't help but wonder what the catch is, where the trap snaps out and drags him into Mayor Shaw's net. "It sounds like a reasonable plan," he says.

"Then that's settled. I look forward to seeing what you get up to, Detective," Sebastian Shaw says, grinning at him for a moment before turning to where John and the chief are standing in the corner. He gives them a wink, and opens the door, wide and carefree like he owns the place. Which, being mayor, may technically be true. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a hot date waiting for me."

Emma is waiting in the hall. For some reason it feels like a smack in the face when Mayor Shaw wraps an arm around her waist, but the look on her face dulls it to a strange queasy sensation. Her smile is fake to the point that Charles wonders how Shaw doesn't notice, not to mention how Emma is restraining herself from bashing his skull into the nearest available surface as they walk off and his hand slides lower.

"You're a lucky son of a bitch, Xavier," the chief says. "Expect a call from one of our criminal psychiatrists someday very soon."

"Of course, sir," Charles says, watching him walk out and wondering what the hell Erik - the serial killer, not Erik, he reminds himself - is going to get him in trouble for next.

Chapter Text

Charles is getting very, very used to the ring of his phone giving him premonitions of doom. Usually he's wrong - when the killer calls he's usually there for a strange near-philosophical debate, and when it's Raven she's usually there to mock him and tell him to take care of himself, and when it's Emma it's usually a reminder call about how she's having a far better time than he is at that moment - but this time, it's right.

The weather is hot enough that he has the tiny fan in their office on full blast, and he has to turn it off to hear whoever's on the other end. "Detective Xavier," he says.

"You're the guy he always calls, right?" the man on the other end says.

Charles frowns, because that could mean a thousand things. "I'm sorry?"

"The phone calls, they're to you," the man on the other end says. "Whatever, you just need to get down here, something strange is happening and I think he might need your help."

"Could you give me some more background information?" Charles asks. He has his suspicions about what's going on, of course, but he's not foolish enough to just jump in without asking questions. "Who needs help?"

"Listen, I don't have time for this. I shouldn't even be making this call," the man says. "He's at the old club. 22nd and Race. It's the white building, you want the red side door."

"What kind of help does he need?" Charles asks.

"I don't know," the man says. "But I think you should go armed, and alone."

"Alone?" Charles looks out the window, frowning at the cloudless sky. "I'd think someone who needs help would want as much backup as possible."

"Then you don't know him very well, do you," the man says, and hangs up.

Charles sighs, and stands up. He turns the fan back on, just because he knows he'll want the circulation going when he gets back. He leaves a quick note for Emma - where he's going, when he left, the bizarre tip led him there - and grabs his gun.

When he gets to the building, he's not particularly surprised to see how run down it is. The neighborhood isn't exactly on the good side of town, and it's covered in boarded up windows. The red door the man had mentioned has paint peeling off it, but Charles opens it anyway.

This is a bad idea, Charles thinks as he walks in, because the door opened smooth, silent, and unlocked. It's even hotter inside, the heat clinging to his skin.

The interior of the building is hard to see, slits of light creeping through boarded up windows, but it looks like the place used to be very nice. The carpet beneath his feet was once lovely, and there's still ornate sconces on the walls and moldings on the ceiling, a high dome that has peeling cherubs and nymphs on it. There's an obvious art deco feel to it, even with the nymphs, and Charles wishes he could appreciate the architecture more, because all he can really see are the cages set into the walls. They're obviously meant for display, and go further into the building than just the atrium.

"Nice, isn't it?" a man asks, and it's not the voice from the phone. It's not the killer, either. Charles has no idea who it is, but he knows he doesn't like the sound of him. He's just as oiled and rotting as the door he'd walked through. "You should have seen it in its heyday. They took the chandelier out, but you can still get a ghost of what it used to be."

Charles swallows. "I heard you needed help, sir," he says, and tries to not think about how big the building is. "You should really call 911 for police assistance, you know."

"I don't need police assistance, I need your assistance, Detective," the man says, and when the man steps away from one of the ratty couches in the shadows, Charles still doesn't recognize him. "He likes you, you know. I don't think he's ever actively liked someone before."

"Sir, if there's something I can help you with-" Charles begins, but the man is suddenly right in front of him, grabbing him by the chin.

"I can see the appeal. You are fairly pretty," the man says, and for a moment Charles can't breathe, absolutely terrified, but. He doesn't have to be scared.

Charles shifts backwards, and punches him in the face, fist landing squarely on his left cheekbone. It sends the man stumbling backwards, staring at him. "I guess it was just another false tip," Charles states, and turns back towards the door, hand throbbing. "This has been passably enlightening. Thank you for your time."

"It's called the Hellfire Club," the man calls at him. "The Xaviers always have a standing invitation."

Charles can't help but turn around, glaring at the man. "Is there an actual reason you called me here?"

"I told you," the man insists. "He likes you, but he's killing us. And your investigation is stalled, so here I am, telling you how to protect us. How to catch him."

"How? By showing off a rotting room?" Charles demands. "And you aren't exactly endearing yourself to me right now. If you have testimony, I'd be happy to hear it at the station."

The man scoffs. "Testimony. Please, Detective, we both know this has been out of the law's hands since it started."

"Then put it back in the law's hands," Charles says.

"I do that, and they'll lock me away for the rest of my life," the man says. "I'd rather take my chances with a private war than a public manhunt."

Charles considers the man. His suit is a nice cut, and he's handling the heat far better than Charles is. He's also far more at ease in the building than he is with Charles, treating it like some sort of safe haven. "The words on the mirror are crimes committed here in this building, aren't they."

"Yes," the man says. "And our serial killer was involved in plenty of them. He was a pet project, you see. Our club president liked seeing what he could make the boy do, how to push him." He grins. "It seems only reasonable that he came back for revenge. We're the ones who taught him how to kill, after all."

"Why are you telling me this?" Charles asks. He'd suspected this, but the way this man casually tosses the facts around makes him wonder how bad it really was. Charles realizes he'll need to look through the building. It makes his stomach twist violently, because he really doesn't want to know, no matter how badly he needs to.

"Because it's your job to protect us and to stop murderers," the man says. "I think you could be disgusted by the crimes we've committed, and still try to keep us alive. Everyone knows you don't like killing people. You don't like conflict."

Charles shakes his head. He doesn't want to know, he doesn't, but it's his job, it's his duty -

"You'll help us survive, whether you want to or not," the man says.

Charles should have walked out when he had the chance.

The door was so well-oiled that the only clue he has that someone has come up behind him is the sudden burst of light and the cast of his own shadow on the rotting red carpet before a handkerchief clamps over his mouth.

---

The first time Charles wakes up, he's not sure whether he's in a cage or a broom closet. It's tiny and windowless save for the door's small closed slit, like a solitary cell in a prison.

He isn't awake very long, because the moment he touches the door there's an electrical shock that jolts into his hand and leaves him sprawled on the concrete floor. Charles thinks he might have coughed something up, but he's too busy passing out to really know.

---

The second time Charles wakes up, he's in an actual cage. It's more like a dog kennel, but considering the bars aren't electrocuting him he doesn't mind it all that much. The cage isn't tall enough to stand in, barely tall enough for him to kneel in, so Charles groans and moves from where he'd been curled up in a fetal position to sitting in the center of the cell. The world is still far too stuffy and hot for his tastes, but he doesn't take off his suit jacket. They took his gun, but they left him every article of clothing save his shoes and socks.

Charles is amused to notice they left him his wallet and badge.

The kennel is one of many, his being the bottom left cell of six lined on the wall. There's an identical wall facing him, and Charles is pleased to see no sign of anyone else having been in any of the other kennels for quite some time. The walls are standard cinderblocks, which tells him nothing, and the door is similar to the other room's door, save for the lack of a slot. He assumes, for the sake of escape plans, that it's also charged and ready to zap him into oblivion.

When the door opens, he doesn't recognize the man who walks in. He looks nervous, and he sets what looks like a bag of Chinese take-out in front of Charles' tiny cell.

"Did you really punch Mr. Whitney in the face?" the man says, and after a moment he puts a set of chopsticks next to the bag.

Charles considers complaining about how the chopsticks have now been on the floor, but abstains. "Thank you for this," he says, and pulls the bag through the bars. He's pleasantly surprised at the contents - beef with broccoli has always been a favorite. "And yes I did. Mr. Whitney deserved it."

It makes the man smile, and Charles considers amending him to boy, even though he looks like an adult. Either way, he acts like a skittish nine-year-old. "We'll let you go as soon as we kill that murderer, Mr. Xavier, don't worry."

"Is that why I'm trapped in this cage, then?" Charles asks dryly, and blows on the chopsticks. It won't help any, but he can hope.

The man shrugs. "There are worse places to be in here."

So, he's still in the club. Charles had assumed as much. He smiles back at the man. "I have a feeling you're speaking from experience."

"I should go," the man says.

"You're welcome to leave, if you'd like," Charles says politely, and starts eating some of the rice. "Thank you for stopping by." The man stares at him, for long enough that Charles actually says, "Is something wrong?"

"No, it's just." He frowns. "You don't seem scared."

Charles shrugs. "If you kill me, I die. I don't intend to die, but I'm not going to spend my time worrying about death either. And if there are 'worse things than death' I need to worry about, well, at least I know I survive them." If they torture him he'll scream and beg with the best of them, but he'd still be breathing at the end. Worrying about what could happen was pointless in the face of figuring out what he could do about it.

The man nods, looking very uncomfortable. "I hope you don't die, Mr. Xavier."

"Please, call me Charles," Charles says amiably. "Thank you for the food, Mister...?"

"Ricky." He looks downright scared now. Either that or star struck, which is ridiculous, but Charles honestly can't imagine he looks very impressive hunched over in a dog kennel eating Chinese food. "You're welcome?"

Charles smiles and nods at Ricky, who skitters out the door. When it shuts, there's no hum or snap or any noise that could suggest it's electrified. He grins. It might not even be locked.

---

Charles is trying to twist the paperclip-thin handles from the takeout into lock picks when Mr. Whitney opens the door, Ricky and a third man behind him. "Hello, Mr. Xavier. How was your meal?"

"Very good, thank you," Charles says, smiling at him like he's an old friend and feeling quite satisfied with the bruise quickly appearing on his face. "What brings you to my kennel, Mr. Whitney?"

Whitney doesn't smile. He sighs. "It's such a shame, having you here and needing to keep you physically intact," he says, and motions to Ricky. "But there's other ways to break people." Whitney pauses, looking Charles in the eye. "The others, they were just here to hurt and kill people, but our more cultivated circle preferred exploring the borders of the human condition."

Ricky, Charles realizes, is holding a needle. Ricky's attention is also completely devoted to Whitney, eyes never wavering as the man takes the syringe from him.

"You'd better just stick your arm out," the third man says. It's the voice from the phone, Charles thinks. He could be wrong - it was a short conversation and quite a bit has happened since then, after all - but he recognizes the terseness.

Charles knows he really should just stick his arm out, considering there's nothing he can really do, but instead he says, "Am I really going to be able to help you catch a murderer if you inject me?"

Whitney's lips quirk upwards. "You don't understand, do you?"

"I'd like to," Charles says, just like he always seems to.

"Oh, detective. You're not nearly as smart as everyone believes, are you," Whitney says, and crouches in front of the kennel, hand out and expectant. Charles knows he isn't going to get any further information because Ricky is already walking out, so he doesn't resist. He carefully puts his arm through the bars, and Whitney injects him like an old pro, straight into the vein after barely a tap to his arm. "And here I thought you knew you were just bait."

---

It doesn't take long for the drugs to hit.

The kennel becomes a glass box, what's left of his attempt at lock picks and the empty containers and chopsticks become a looming monstrosity that Charles shrinks away from, silently curling up as far away from it as possible. He can't stop shaking, can't breathe, can't think. He's in a glass box - there's limited air in a closed container. And the monster is breathing some of his air. To approach is to die; to leave it alone is to also die, but more slowly.

He curls in on himself, body rattling apart in the heat and inevitability, and watches.

People come, and it takes barely a moment of begging for them to take him out of the box - they sweep the monster away with a brush of their feet - and then he is moving into a sphere. He is attached to the center, a man saying this could be so much more fun before there's a jab in his arm and the world swirls. His hands are attached to the floor, and he wants them free because he itches everywhere, and the itching turns to fire.

"I'll stop the pain," someone says. "Just a bit longer, now."

He hurts in ways that make no sense, tongue a razor and eyes hot coals and his entire body shakes hard enough that he can hear the flooring he's on shaking.

They move him again, and he grabs at everything he can until he realizes things hurt to touch, no matter how soft they look. Everything is knives.

Another needle, and he'll stop the pain in a bit, the man says. Just a little longer, says the voice. A jagged butcher knife is slicing its way through his hair and scalp as he twitches on a burning floor.

"Please," Charles says, because the man can stop it, he can, and Charles doesn't know what the man is waiting for, what he has to do, what milestone needs to be reached for the man to stop it-

"It's almost over, I'll take the pain away soon," the man says.

There's another injection, and maybe this time it's the antidote, maybe this time he'll be done, but it never is. Someone drops a blanket on him and he screams, someone brushes hair from his forehead and he screams, and it's always almost over, nearly there, a little longer now.

The pain has him shuddering and begging and vomiting on whatever floor he's been tied to, but the waiting, the hope, is quickly driving him insane.

At some point the world turns red, he's wrapped in a blanket of needles that presses him into so much pain that he passes out, someone saying his name.

---

The world is very bright when he wakes up, but he doesn't hurt as much. It's a painful itch deep beneath his skin instead of being plunged into flames, but there are socks on his hands and he can't quite figure out how to get them off. He's trapped on a platform that gnaws at him, and something warm and heavy is on his head, saying his name and that it'll be getting better now, it just takes time.

It's a different voice, and it's far easier to trust. Somehow he knows it would never try to hurt him.

---

Later, he knows he's on a bed pressed tightly into the corner of the room. The world is dark because it is night out and there are no lights on in the room he's curled up in. Charles is shaking still, but he doesn't hurt anymore. He feels numb and sore and hot, and his clothing is sticking to him in some places and almost crispy in others, but he's alive, and intact.

When he tries to push himself up into a sitting position with his sock-covered hands, his arms shake like he's done a thousand pushups, but he manages to lean himself against the wall, exhausted. He considers trying to get his shirt off in the hopes of cooling down and finding some way to clean the thing, but the buttons are so daunting that he doesn't even attempt it.

"Charles?" a voice calls, and Charles recognizes it. Really, he should feel better to know he wasn't just moved one more time, but all he feels is a heavy resignation.

"I'm alive," Charles tells the killer, and wonders whether Erik collected his shoes along with Charles's socks.

"And almost coherent," Erik says, amused and maybe even a little impressed. Charles still can't see him, of course. The moon's not nearly bright enough to give him enough light to see more than a figure leaning against the doorframe, and his eyes are still having trouble tracking things. "Do you want the socks off?"

"I'll manage, thank you," Charles says, and it takes effort to string that many words together. "What happened?"

"You went missing, so I looked around until I found you," Erik says. "Your partner is on a spontaneous yachting trip, by the way." There's something dark to the way he says spontaneous, but it's not something towards Emma. Maybe Erik just disapproves of yachts in general. He wouldn't be the first.

"Good for her," Charles says, and works on getting one of the socks off his hands, and after a moment he waves it towards the killer. "Why?"

"I've seen people scratch themselves bloody in that state," Erik says simply.

Charles nods, but stops and quickly decides that was a bad idea when the world spins. "Personal experience?"

"I've never dealt with that specific brand of torture, if that's what you mean," Erik says. Charles can see him shifting against the doorframe, moving to stand in the doorway, unseen hands in dark pockets. "You know, then."

"Not everything," Charles says, and gets one of the socks off. "Suspected for...a while, though."

He thinks Erik is going to say something about how Charles finally knows how very personal all this has been for Erik, or maybe how Charles should understand more now - which he does - but instead he says, "Go back to sleep, Charles."

Charles watches what little he can of Erik's silhouette - long and trim and certainly attractive, from what he can see - before it disappears entirely.

---

He jerks awake to the feel of a hand on the back of his head and fabric over his eyes and no, no-

"Stop flailing, Charles, I'm helping you," Erik says, completely unbothered by Charles' still-weak attempt at pushing him away. "You smell terrible and need a bath."

"I'd drown." He takes a deep breath, trying to calm down. The fact Erik's fingers are still running through his hair isn't helping. "But that would be nice."

"Do you think you could handle sitting in the shower, then?" Erik asks.

"Probably," Charles says, and manages a smile. He still isn't stopping, and normally it would be nice. Instead, he's waiting for the killer's fingertips to feel like knives.

"And what about walking there?" Erik asks.

"Not without assistance," Charles says, and clears his throat. "Could you stop that?"

"You need to be desensitized, so no," Erik says, completely unbothered by how tense Charles is. His other hand moves to Charles' shoulder, completely platonic. "Your mind thinks being touched will hurt. We're teaching it otherwise."

"How often have you done this?" Charles asks, even if he knows he shouldn't. "And I'm fine, really. I just need a shower and I'll be back on my feet."

"I've done this often enough to know I should ignore you," Erik says. "Baths are better than showers for this, but so is not being blindfolded." The hand on his shoulder tightens slightly. "I know you're not a very physical person, but try to be for at least a few weeks."

"You ask the impossible. I'm far too British for that," Charles says, trying to keep his hands from clenching into fists.

"If you don't, I'll break into your apartment and write 'hug me' on your forehead in permanent marker," Erik says, fingers tugging slightly for a moment before they go back to gently combing through Charles' undoubtedly disgusting hair. "Your choice."

Charles doesn't doubt for a moment that he'd do it. "Fine, I'll be physically affectionate for a month. Do I get a shower now?"

The reply he gets is the hand on his shoulder sweeping down beneath his arm to hoist Charles up onto his own two feet. That doesn't last long, since the hand in his hair has to move to keep Charles upright, and what little strength Charles has is being spent in an attempt to calm down, because he's pressed against Erik and any moment, any moment now it's going to hurt, just a bit longer-

Erik lets out an irritated noise, and Charles yelps when he finds himself slung over the man's shoulder like a sack of flour. "Oh no, you don't need any help, do you," Erik grumbles.

Charles kicks him in the stomach.

"I will drop you," Erik threatens, his every step driving a shoulder into Charles' stomach.

"On something nice and cushioned, yes," Charles retorts, but doesn't kick him again.

"It's cute how you think I own something like that," Erik says, and there's another moment of vertigo as the man sets him down on what Charles guesses is a toilet lid. The sound of a faucet starting, followed by the hiss and spray of a shower that has seen better days confirms it. "Can you manage undressing?"

Charles swallows, frowning. "I think I can do it on my own from here, thank you."

That same irritated noise emerges. "If I had designs on your virtue, Charles, you would know it. Mostly because I wouldn't be talking to you while you're shaking and covered in dirty clothing on top of a toilet, smelling like vomit."

Charles is tempted to ask Then what would you be doing?, but settles for honesty. "I think the buttons will be a problem, but I can conquer taking off my own pants."

"That wasn't so hard, was it?" Erik asks, and deft fingers easily pick apart his shirt, helping Charles drag himself out of it and the accompanying (and probably truly disgusting) undershirt. Charles barely notices when Erik does almost all the work getting the pants and underwear off too.

Charles doesn't protest being moved into the shower's tub. He assumes the shower curtain is see-through, since he can hear the curtain close behind him but doesn't hear anything else from Erik. He's probably sitting on the bathroom counter, watching to make sure Charles doesn't drown.

The curtain opens again, and Charles finds himself with a hand full of soap. "The water's turning grey, by the way," Erik provides, ever so helpfully, after closing the curtain again.

"I guess their dog kennels aren't as clean as they used to be," Charles says, and does his best to clean up. It'd be embarrassing to know Erik could see him struggling to even use soap in a shower if he wasn't sure the killer honestly didn't care. There wasn't a shred of doubt in him that Erik had dealt with much, much worse cases than his. "Do you have shampoo?"

The curtain opens again. Erik takes the soap out of his hand and replaces it with a bottle of shampoo. When he opens it, he blinks at the scent. "It's my brand."

"It's your bottle," Erik says. "I have clean clothes for you, too."

"I might as well give you a key at this rate," Charles mutters, and pauses. "Could I persuade you to take the blindfold off so I could get all of my hair?"

The minute he asks, he realizes it was the wrong thing to do, because suddenly they aren't Charles and Erik, they're a naked detective and a serial killer. Sometimes it's terrifyingly easy to forget that Erik has a nasty habit of cutting people's fingers off and stabbing them fourteen times and making them watch themselves slowly bleed to death in their own mirror. It doesn't matter what crimes the dead committed, only that Erik has decided they all need to suffer terribly and that he's the man to do twisted horrible things to them to make that happen.

The curtain opens again, and Charles tries to concentrate on the water falling on him instead of trying to wonder what exactly the killer is going to do next.

"Close your eyes, Charles," Erik says quietly.

Charles squeezes his eyes shut like his life depends on it, because as often as Erik says he'd never hurt him, there's only so much trust one should put in a serial killer. Fingers are in his hair again, dragging through the wet strands and across his scalp. He doesn't expect it to hurt anymore, he's surprised to find.

He also doesn't expect Erik's terrifying next words. "This will feel like a knife because it is one," Erik says, and Charles didn't hear him fetch anything from anywhere, didn't hear the click of a pocketknife or the flip of a Balisong, but the feel of a blade against the back of his head is clear. His other hand is still in Charles' hair, but every ounce of concentration is on the feel of metal sliding between his hair and heavy cloth.

It takes barely a flip of Erik's wrist and a moment of pressure around Charles' eyes for the knife to slice through what Charles knows is a fabric thick enough to use for black-out drapery. Charles keeps his eyes shut and tries to not think about how deadly sharp the metal behind his head in the hands of a serial killer is. The hand in Charles' hair moves away, and Charles is about to say thank you and wash his hair as fast as humanly possible when Erik takes the shampoo away.

"You got a reward, so now I get one," Erik says, and then both of the killer's competent hands are rubbing at his scalp, massaging shampoo in and cleaning out the memory of pain. Charles does his best to not sink against Erik's hands, because somehow it feels absolutely nothing like the other times his hand had been in his hair. It's heavenly and sinful, all rolled into one. "I was going to just drop you off at your sister's apartment." There's a pause, Erik maneuvering Charles' head deeper into the spray. "I should have done that."

"Thank you for keeping me around," Charles says, fighting to keep his eyes from fluttering and his mouth shut and silent when Erik manages to slip over a bundle of nerves. He shudders, but he doesn't know if Erik notices.

"I should have sent you home," Erik says. "You don't need to be coddled, you could have figured all of this out-"

"No I couldn't," Charles says, and groans when Erik tugs too hard on his hair. Erik's hands freeze, and after a moment Charles turns his closed eyes into the spray, feeling his fingers slide free. "Please. I need you."

"No you don't," Erik says. "You just need someone touching you nicely."

"Do you really believe that?" Charles asks, and considers opening his eyes, knife be damned. "Tell me, in all the time we've known each other, how often do I bring someone home for nice touching?"

"That's because you prefer mindless, nameless encounters in the bathrooms at bars and back alleys," Erik says, and his hand slips to the back of Charles' neck, resting there. The other hits the tap, and the shower shuts off with a squeal. "And you're in no state to have this conversation, Charles."

"What state do I need to be in, then? Drunk and blindfolded?" Charles glares at the backs of his eyelids and hopes Erik's face is somewhere along that way.

An unbelievably warm and fluffy towel drops onto his head, and Erik rubs it against his still soaking wet hair for a moment before harshly wrapping it around Charles' shoulders. "It would help."

"Fine," Charles states, and then there's another towel, this one wrapping around his waist as soon as Erik manages to stand him upright. Charles is able to actually stand on his own, but he has a feeling that's adrenaline. "Tuesday work for you?"

Hands shove clothing at him. "I'll pencil you in," Erik snaps, towing him back to the toilet lid. The shirt is a pull-over, and he tugs it on after tossing the towel at where he guesses Erik is. He probably misses, since he finds it smashed onto his head again, this time quickly followed by the edges being tugged behind his head to make some sort of fluffy bandana over his eyes. "You don't touch."

"God, just kiss me," Charles nearly shouts, and Erik actually listens to him for once.

It's not a nice kiss, and it actually feels more like Erik shutting him up with his own mouth, but Charles' breath still hitches. It doesn't take long for the kiss to change from a way to end quite possibly the strangest not-quite-argument of Charles' life to Charles winning the argument, even if he has to stretch against the ridiculous towel covering half his face to follow Erik's mouth as he slowly pulls away. The kiss doesn't even last a minute, but he still can't breathe when Erik finally draws back far enough that Charles can't follow.

"You need to leave," Erik says, and Charles is glad to hear the roughness in his voice.

Charles considers telling him that's not happening, particularly since Erik a towel wrapped around his head and doesn't seem inclined to let it go any time soon, but this is the part where he needs to be a reasonable adult. And needs to try and keep everything as safe and harmless as possible. "You'll have to knock me out, then."

Erik hesitates. Fingertips graze Charles' cheek. "I have a sedative, but you might not be ready for that yet." And no, Charles really doesn't feel like having another needle stuck into him, trustworthy or not. The thought makes him shudder, and Erik sighs. "It's that, or I have to hit you."

"You don't have any chloroform handy?"

"I make a point of not making hazardous fumes in my kitchen," Erik says dryly, and Charles thinks he can almost hear him frown. "I'd say I'm sorry, but I'm not."

"I think I'll forgive you," Charles says, and takes a deep breath. Erik is going to knock him out. Fine. He can do that. "Just make it quick, please."

"Of course," Erik says, and Charles barely has time to wonder where he's going to get punched when a needle jabs into his arm.

"No," Charles says, but Erik is too fast, pushing whatever chemicals he wants to into Charles' veins before he can even fight him off. Not that it'd do much good, but he could try-

"It's making you fall asleep, Charles," Erik says, and lets go of the towel, trusting gravity to keep the fabric over his eyes while he puts both hands on Charles' shoulders. He jerks at the touch, waiting for the pain. "Charles. Would I hurt you? Have I ever intentionally hurt you?"

"No," Charles says, and the word is sluggish as it emerges.

"I've given you this shot before, and it didn't hurt you. You'll be fine," Erik says. "They will never hurt you again. You're safe. I'll keep you safe."

Safe because of an obsessed serial killer, Charles thinks, numb. Safe because Charles is just as obsessed, if not more.

He falls unconscious to the feel of hands moving over him carefully, adjusting buttons and feeling Charles' heartbeat in the process.

---

Waking up is painful, mostly because of the grip Raven has on his hand. Other than that he feels fine, really. He's in a hospital, with Raven tucked up as closely to him as she can manage in the hospital chair. Charles is fairly certain the reason she doesn't notice his attempt at squeezing her hand is because her fingers are just as numb as his.

"Hello there," Charles says with a smile, mind still sleep-fogged. "I hope I didn't worry you terribly."

Raven stares at him. And then, she smacks the side of his head so hard that his ear rings, and she didn't even touch it. "How are you so stupid, Charles? You're supposed to be a genius detective! How are you such an idiot? You didn't tell anyone where you were going and then you're missing for four days-"

"Four days?" Charles repeats, his disbelief making Raven look tempted to smack him again. "I didn't think it was that long." It had felt like months, but he'd assumed it was barely a day. Then again, he'd been basing that on how long he thought Emma could spend on a yacht without getting so bored she'd swim to shore.

"Not surprising, since you were half-dead and drugged when you got to my doorstep," Raven says. She's the type to shout instead of cry - which Charles is endlessly grateful for, much to his embarrassment - and she's obviously trying very, very hard to not yell. "The doctors don't even know what you had going through your veins!"

"Neither do I, but I'd prefer to not have it again," Charles says, and grabs her hand, holding it solidly. "But I'm fine now, aren't I? I'm here, and I'm just fine. And I'll stay that way."

Raven sighs, and squeezes his hand just enough to make sure the connection is there. "You saying that isn't as reassuring as you think it is, Charles."

Charles considers telling her that there's not a single thing he can think of that would be reassuring and he went with his best guess, but instead he shrugs and says, "But it's true. The bad part's done. Now we move forward."

Raven's lips quirk into a bitter smile. "Your optimism's going to kill you some day."

"Perhaps," Charles says, and smiles at his sister. "But some day isn't now."

Chapter Text

Charles is staring into his broken mirror when the phone rings. He considers letting Moira answer, thinks about just throwing the thing out the window, but instead he calls out, "Don't answer that."

Moira is hovering in the doorway, obviously torn between trying to comfort him and trying to give him space. He appreciates the thought, but really, he doesn't even want her in the apartment. But, he needs her here.

"It might be important," Moira says quietly, and the phone keeps on ringing, ringing and ringing.

Charles turns to look her in the eye. "Not as important as hunting this bastard down," he says, and Moira doesn't even try to stop him from grabbing his gun and walking out the door, simply follows him out and offers to drive. Charles isn't prideful enough to not use her much better driving skills, so he locks the door behind them and gives her the keys.

"I know it won't make you feel any better to hear this," Moira says. "But I know how you feel. My partner died right before I got the call to come here."

"Of natural causes," Charles states. "I'm guessing he wasn't stabbed three times and hung in front of a mirror."

"She could still recover," Moira says. "If anyone could bounce back from that, it'd be Emma Frost."

It's true. Even bleeding to death would be too quiet a way for Emma to die; Charles can't imagine her dying in anything that doesn't involve explosions or firefights. Then again, he couldn't imagine Er - the ruthless serial killer he is going to catch and bring to justice or die trying trying to kill his partner only a few hours ago.

Raven is still missing, Emma's laid up in the hospital getting stitches and transfusions, and Charles is sitting in his passenger seat in the hopes that Moira will be able to do the legwork Charles can't think his way around.

"I just can't understand why," Charles says, not meaning to in the slightest. Moira looks at him, and Charles decides that fine, he's done with this. He's already fully committed to stopping his serial killer, be it with handcuffs or bullets. What's the point in hiding information from what's now his own side? "Not a man, none of the usual writing on the mirror other than." He clears his throat. "Other than traitor."

"Charles, serial killers don't have the most easily understood thought processes," Moira says, not unkindly but certainly not sugarcoating it. "One of the reasons I'm here is because you and Emma had been so consumed in the work that you need a fresh set of eyes, and from what I've seen? This has been coming for a while."

"He does seem to get jealous," Charles says.

Moira nods. "I'm worried about you. If he's this unhinged by now, his obsession-"

"I know, thank you," Charles says. "I'll have my gun with me at all times, and I'll be sure to lock my windows and doors-" what good that will do, since he was stupid enough to give the man a key "-and all the usual security things. Now we need to either find Raven, or our serial killer."

"Your serial killer, you mean," Moira says idly, and Charles takes a deep breath. "I think it all comes back to that massacre site. I know that was him, and it wasn't his usual style. Something strange happened there."

"That one was Emma's favorite," Charles says. "And I don't think that one will lead us anywhere, really." Considering it was three dead bodies splayed around a particular area at the intersection of 22nd and Race, there's not a doubt in his mind that those murders aren't going to lead them anywhere but to Charles.

He has to tell her, or they'll be running in circles. Charles doesn't think Moira will do anything other than help him out and then send him to a mental institution for some very strange form of Stockholm syndrome, but the idea of her knowing still claws at him. It's part shame, part possessiveness, and entirely against an FBI agent knowing about his serial killer.

But he tried to kill Emma, and he probably kidnapped Raven, and no. That's not acceptable. Charles has his priorities straight, he does-

"You don't have to tell me," Moira says quietly, and Charles stares at her. She shrugs. "I mean, it would probably be useful to know whatever you guys have been keeping under your belts, but at the same time everyone has insights they're not willing to share."

Charles shifts, tired and uncomfortable despite the comfortable seat. "It's just...conjectures, is all. Theories that I don't have any proof of."

"Well, you don't have to share, like I said," Moira says, and takes her eyes off the road for a moment in favor of looking Charles in the eye. "But it would help."

She's right. Of course she's right - she hasn't even given him any new information, but it's nice to hear it from someone else. He should tell her.

Instead, he says, "I really don't think it'd be that much help."

Moira watches him for a long moment, but nods. "Then let's start at the scene of the crime, if you're up for it."

"Of course I am," Charles says, hoping the lie doesn't sound as fake to ears other than his own.

---

Emma's apartment is flawlessly decorated, a blend of whites and reds and blacks in lines so sleek and modern that magazines would cut each other for the chance to get some pictures of the Frost penthouse.

He's grateful that Moira doesn't comment when he freezes in the entryway, because that's where the blood begins. It's everywhere, like the killer was so enraged he didn't care anymore. It's a true crime of passion, staining the floor and furniture all the way to her master bathroom. Charles follows the trail slowly, and forces himself to do Emma's part of their job. She'd been stabbed the moment she opened the door for the killer, and Emma had fought the whole way to the bathroom. There's no space blanket this time, and there's also (thankfully) no body still hanging from the rope-

Charles freezes, mind jumping from fact to fact in such a jumble that he can barely follow his own thought process, but one thing sticks out - the killer didn't bother to bring one of his ridiculously sharp knives, and he didn't bother to bring a space blanket, but he did bother to bring rope? Emma wouldn't be caught dead with cheap standard-grade rope in her apartment, so it had to be brought in.

"Charles," Moira says, hand clamped down on his shoulder, and he barely keeps himself from jumping. She's holding Emma's phone out towards him. Charles glares at the thing. He hates phones. Phones have brought him nothing but trouble. "It's for you, Charles."

"Fine," he snaps, and grabs the receiver. "This had better be good."

"Oh it is, Detective Xavier," Shaw says pleasantly. "I've had people calling every phone we could think you'd be near, so I'm glad we finally caught you before you did something regrettable, like shoot Erik."

Charles doesn't know what his expression is, but he knows Moira is staring at him in a way that tells him the days of her believing Charles Xavier is a fiddling nerd of a detective are long gone. She hesitates for a moment before nodding at him and walking out of the bathroom, door shutting behind her. "Tell me why that'd be regrettable." There's no point in asking how Shaw knows the killer's name, or that Charles would really like to do something 'regrettable' to him at the moment.

"Because then you'd never see Raven again," Shaw says. "Consider it a hostage exchange. You get Erik to the club and lock him up in one of the cages for me, and I'll have Raven delivered to your front door, safe and sound."

"What makes you think I could even bring him to you?" Charles asks. "I've been trying to catch him for over a year."

"Not according to the bell boy at my birthday party," Shaw says, and Charles grits his teeth at the unholy glee rolling down the line. "Men in wetsuits aren't exactly easy to hide in high-class hotels, Detective Xavier. Particularly when you're busy trying to suck their tongue out." He laughs. "But maybe the carrot approach works better than the stick with him. He's always been a difficult boy."

"And that makes you think I can magically summon him to me," Charles states. "I think you give a lot more meaning to sex than I do."

"But far less than Erik Lehnsherr does, believe me," Shaw says. It's the first time Charles has ever heard his last name. It fits him, Charles supposes. "When given a choice between rape and murder, he picked murder every time."

"That's useful information," Charles says blandly. It probably actually is, but Charles is too busy wanting to hurt people to fully process it. "It amazes me your little club didn't expect him to try and kill you all when that's the sort of life lessons you provided."

"He was a little less broken than we'd thought," Shaw says. "But now he's attacked Emma, whose only crime was what, being unorthodox? Dating me occasionally? You know he needs to be stopped. Whatever he managed to repair after the club shut down, it's snapped again."

Charles just wants his sister back, wants his partner to be up and moving and telling the world to fuck off, wants to have never had to deal with a serial killer in his entire career. "And Raven is fine," Charles states, because if it isn't a fact he is going to break into the mayor's office with a pile of explosives strapped to his back.

"Of course she is. Quite the charming little viper you have for a sister," Shaw says.

"I'm quite fond of her," Charles says, and sighs. "Is there a time limit on this?"

"Only our respective life spans," Shaw says. "If I die you'll never find Raven, and then she'd probably starve to death."

"And If I die there's nothing standing between you and Erik," Charles says. He's known for quite a while now that Erik's body count is under fifteen predominately because Charles has, in fact, convinced him that not everyone deserves to die for their crimes. He doesn't know how Erik has determined his scale between 'implicate in a felony and send them to jail for the rest of their life' and 'brutally torture and murder', but he's grateful it exists. "I understand."

"Happy hunting, then," Shaw says, and hangs up.

Charles looks at the rope hanging from the ceiling one last time. The size is different, he notes. Emma would be able to tell him a thousand other things about it, but all Charles can really tell at this point of exhaustion and frayed nerves is that it's wrong. So is the shaky, angry TRAITOR slashed across her mirrors using discarded lipstick tubes that are scattered across the counter.

When he walks out of the bathroom, he doesn't bother respecting Emma's preferred organization methods. He drops the phone onto the floor, and takes a deep breath, accepting the assessing look Moira has pointed his way.

"I have a favor to ask," Charles says, and doesn't bother adding a smile.

Moira, on the other hand, actually does smile. "Whatever you need that isn't breaking the law, it's yours."

"I need you to look for my sister," Charles says, and from the look on Moira's face, that was not what she was expecting. He shakes his head. "I need to know she's okay, Moira. God, I'm-" scared, he nearly says, but holds it back. He swallows, and runs a hand down his face. "I'm stretched thin as it is, and knowing she's out there and I can't help her-"

"I'll look for her," Moira says. "You have my word."

"Thank you," Charles says, and means it. Moira is one of the most capable women he's ever met, rivaling even Emma in her proficiency with firearms and beating anyone Charles has ever met when it comes to hand-to-hand combat, and most remarkable of all, she's a truly good-intentioned person. She's as close to a superhero as Charles thinks he'll ever meet. "I can't tell you how much that means to me."

"You'll tell me some day, I like to think," Moira says. "Is it alright if I take your car?"

"Please do," Charles says, practically shoving the keys into her hands. "I don't even have any leads to give you, I just-"

"Charles," Moira snaps. "You do your job and I'll do mine, and everything will turn out fine in the end. Understand?"

"Yes ma'am," Charles says, and manages a small smile for her. "Then I'll see you at the office, I suppose."

"You can count on it," Moira says, and follows the red-pink line in the carpet all the way to the door.

She doesn't look back when she leaves, and Charles is grateful for it. It's better for all involved if she doesn't see him start to fall apart.

Chapter Text

Finding Erik is easy enough. He's right where Charles expected to find him, after all - waiting in Charles' apartment, sitting in Charles' favorite armchair, relentlessly watching when Charles steps through the door.

Charles looks at the long lines of him, the sleek and solid way he breathes, and for a moment he lets himself hate everything that is Erik Lehnsherr and the way he happens to be everything Charles has ever wanted. And a few more things besides. It doesn't last long, of course, because his endlessly frayed nerves are still sharp and ready every time the other man is in the room.

He doesn't bother with greetings or pleasantries, or even anything a bit less jagged and sharp. Charles looks away and tosses his keys onto their usual place in the kitchen. "Did you try to kill Emma?"

"Do you think I did?" Erik asks, watching and watching. He crawls under Charles' skin whether or not he's welcome, always has and probably always will.

Endlessly unsettled or not, Charles is well aware that despite Erik's many efforts, he can't break Charles. "I think you should answer my question," Charles states, pouring himself a glass of water instead of answering, predominately because he doesn't have an answer. His heart and body feel like he's been betrayed and clawed apart and wants to curl up and lash out at the cause, but his mind thinks it wasn't Erik. And Charles has always had a terrible time deciding between whether to think with his instincts or his head.

"Fine," Erik says. "It won't make turning me in any easier."

Charles lets himself look back at the killer then, and hopes Erik hasn't noticed that there's the other gaping difference in his routine in that Charles isn't locking his gun in the safe that serves as his nightstand. He turns back to the sink, putting the now empty glass under the faucet again. "I'm not turning you in, Erik. I'd be sure to have backup for that."

"Of course you would," Erik says, and Charles wonders if there's a hint of a smile on his lips. "And no. While the thought has crossed my mind, I would never try to kill your partner."

"But you might try to kill Emma," Charles states, and sits down at the kitchen table, facing the murderer.

"That surprises you?" Erik seems amused. "Charles, I constantly think about killing her, but she's done nothing to deserve it."

Charles shrugs. He supposes that might be his way of showing affection. He's not going to presume to understand the mind of a serial killer, not tonight at least. "And I assume you've heard about Raven," he says.

Erik frowns, hands tense on the arms of the chair. "No," Erik says. "Is she hurt?"

"According to rumor, no. And don't feel bad about not knowing, Erik, we've been keeping it quiet," Charles says, and sighs. "But, someone has my baby sister. And I have a way to get her back, I think, but I'd have to do something...morally questionable."

"You're being blackmailed," Erik infers, and nods. "I'll help."

"Of course you will," Charles says wryly, hurting. He stands up and grabs the glass again, but he moves to the liquor shelf instead of the tap, because sobriety is overrated anyway and he's just as good a shot with three drinks in his bloodstream. He finds himself laughing, of all things. "You know, I still have no idea why you're so obsessed with me. I understand my side of this twisted thing of ours, but yours, I don't. It's obviously not just sex because you're attractive enough for that to be simple enough for you, and it's not just danger since you get that from murdering people and we both know I'm nowhere near capable of physically overpowering you."

"Just tell me how I can help, Charles," Erik says. He's irritable, in the same way he always gets when it comes to Charles' love of motives, be it killing or deciding to cross the street a different way than usual.

Charles shakes his head, and vaguely thinks choosing vodka wasn't a good idea, but it was the closest bottle. "We, Erik, this you and me thing, this isn't logical or reasonable or understandable. But I do understand necessity, is the problem. And I need my sister, Erik." He puts the glass down in favor of running a hand down his face, as if he can scrub the worry away. "I love her more than you."

He thinks about apologizing for that, but no, no, he's not apologizing for the fact he loves his little sister more than he values their twisted addictive friendship and sex, and all the horrible games he and Erik seem to play. Charles still can't bring himself to look at him, though. He's always tried to be honest, in all things. He won't do Erik the disservice of a lie, not now.

"Of course you do, she's your sister," Erik says, and Charles has to look then, because he...doesn't sound the least bit hurt, or even disappointed. He almost looks sated. "You grew up together, you fought to survive together, and you've been protecting her since she was born. And that's why I'm at your full disposal to help get your sister back, no matter what the blackmailers are asking for."

He's painfully trusting, Charles thinks, and drinks his vodka like a shot, slamming it back and going back to his glass for water, sobriety, reason.

It's as if Erik's forgotten that his promise to never hurt Charles has never been returned.

"Then I'd very much appreciate it if you'd steal us an inconspicuous car and meet me in front of the coffee shop at the corner," he says. His hands are shaking, but every other part of him is smooth and still. "I'll need caffeine for this, I think."

For once, Erik lets Charles hear him coming, feet slow and audible as he moves to stop right behind Charles, one hand moving to wrap around Charles' fist. "This will turn out fine, Charles, I promise," he says, calm and certain and ripping Charles apart.

"No it won't," Charles says, because this is what Erik does to him, he somehow breaks through Charles' carefully-controlled barrier between mouth and mind without even trying. "No, it won't, Emma is dying and Raven is missing and you-"

"And I'm right here," Erik states, and presses a cautious kiss to the back of Charles' neck. It's a familiar gesture, one that slices Charles to the bone. He squeezes Charles' hand once, and then draws back. "Go get your coffee. I'll meet you there."

Erik is back to his ghost-stepping ways, it seems, because the next sound Charles hears is his front door and Erik's key locking it, just in case.

Charles realizes, numbly, that Erik trusts him so much that he's practically capturing himself. All Charles has to do is ask.

---

The car is so nondescript that Charles nearly trips over it on the way out of the all-night coffee shop, coffee sloshing out of his unscrewed thermos and onto his shirt. He hisses at the burn, but it disspiates. He'll survive.

"Thanks for that," he says, because Erik is leaning over the steering wheel and smirking like Charles in pain is terribly amusing. And Charles can do this. He can. "I'm driving."

Erik shrugs, but he slides over to the passenger side of the bench seat without comment. "Where are we going?"

He takes a deep breath. "The people who have Raven want information on the...well, your murders at 22nd and Race," Charles says, because it's not entirely a lie, and pulls out into the street, lights blinking red and yellow at them. He looks over at Erik's tense form, and swallows, squeezing the steering wheel so tightly it squeaks. "It's fine if you don't want to-"

"I'm coming," Erik states. "You need me."

Charles can't breathe, he needs to do something, needs to run every light to push Erik into one of those tiny cages Charles knows for a fact he still has nightmares about, needs to shove him out of the car and find Raven as fast as he can, needs to -

He needs to be calm. "Thank you," he says, and Erik doesn't say a word.

The silence continues all the way to the building, where Charles pulls out his gun, just in case. "Are you armed?" he asks.

"Of course I am," Erik says, eyes fixed on that ripped apart red door.

"With what?" Charles asks.

"Knives."

Charles considers prompting him for a bit more information than that, but he notices there's another car that has stopped not too far away, lights off even when it was moving. Erik hasn't noticed, of course. Charles is fairly certain he's only half-registering anything that doesn't happen to be wooden and peeling. "Let's go, then," Charles says.

Erik is only a step behind him when they walk in, and Charles still can't tell whether or not he's noticed the other car. He thinks the driver's side door opens right when they open the one to the club - still well-oiled and unlocked. Erik is at his most tense, but when Charles takes a moment to look at him, assessing and hopefully not looking as guilty as he feels, Erik simply nods at him and steps inside ahead of him.

This is where Charles' plan, or what little of one he had, stops. He has Erik here, but he knows there's no way to convince him to lock himself in a cage. Erik may trust him, but he's no fool, or at least no more a fool than anyone else who trusts a desperate man.

Erik looks at him, expectant and trusting and he is a serial killer, Charles reminds himself. And Shaw has his baby sister. All it takes to get her back home safe and sound is turning over a brutal criminal who doesn't feel the slightest bit of remorse for every murder he's committed, even if he's turning him over to the man who made him that way.

The emergency lights are on in the club, red and glowing in the ceiling, and he can't do this. He's a good person, he is, and there's not a person in the world who would have an issue with him handing a wanted criminal over to the authorities. Except for how Sebastian Shaw is a twisted criminal himself, and Charles has no proof other than the things he and Erik have said, but it all comes down to the mayor.

"Charles?" Erik asks, frowning at him. Charles realizes he's been motionless for the past few minutes, simply staring at Erik.

They have Raven, he reminds himself. And Charles has a gun, he could disable Erik and lock him in one of the large display cages. God, he could probably get Erik into one just by asking, or leading him in himself. Charles could easily lock them both in.

But Erik looks tense and uncomfortable and worried, a hand moving to the side of Charles' neck. "Are you alright?"

"No," Charles says, and it does sound broken this time. Charles isn't sure what he's denying. Everything, most likely. He watches Erik's eyes sharpen, and Charles finds himself thinking about how every other person he's every met softens in moments like this, everyone but Erik. Who is a serial killer. Who trusts him. Who quite possibly loves him.

Charles thought he was in love once, but Erik-

He steps back, shaking his head. "I can't do this," he says, hands grabbing at his hair, feet shifting him across the floor in some frantic grapevine to get him away from Erik. "I can't do this, oh God, I'm sorry Raven, I can't, I can't."

But, Charles knows, he must.

The look on Erik's face when he's face to face with the barrel of Charles' gun is as shocked and broken as Charles feels. "What," he says, and Charles can't let him say anything, can't let that voice get to him.

"I give them you, and I get my sister back," Charles says, fully aware that he's shaking hard enough that his aim would be horrible, but Erik doesn't seem to have noticed. "And I have to take care of her, she's the only family-"

"Do you really think they'll live up to their side of the deal, Charles?" Erik asks, and his body may look carved out of ice but his words are hurt and hot and passionate. "You trust the people who have Raven?"

Charles swallows, but doesn't move. "I trust that I can't take that chance," he says, because there's no point in lying.

"You know a gun won't stop me," Erik says, voice dark.

"I know," Charles says, and he laughs, fully aware he is going to break if this keeps up. "But the fact I'm Charles Xavier would stop you. Lucky me, I'm the one person you'd never hurt." He tightens his grip on the gun, but keeps his trigger finger as loose as possible. "I need you to get into a cage, Erik."

"Are you going to shoot me, Charles?" Erik asks scathingly.

"I hope I won't have to," Charles says. "Because then you have a chance to kill whoever comes to collect you. You could get them before they get you."

"They'll torture me, and then they'll kill me as I have killed them," Erik says. "You know that, Charles. Stop lying to yourself that I'll survive this."

"You have a better chance of surviving that Raven does," Charles says, and he knows he's convincing himself again. "I can't let them keep her, Erik. Not when I know what they do to captives."

Erik looks at him for a long moment, completely unreadable.

And then, he turns to walk further into the club.

"What are you-" Charles begins.

"I'm helping, just like I said I would," Erik snaps, and no. No, no, he can't do this to Charles, he can't. He can't be this self-sacrificing, can't go this far just for Charles. "I have a preferred cage, if you must know."

"No," Charles says, and ignores the harsh, bitter laugh that earns him. He holsters his gun, and hopes Erik can hear it. He knows Erik can hear him following, because Charles feels like a stumbling drunk, mind hazed and exhausted and flooded with uncertainty. "No, you're right, I don't even know if they'd live up to their side of the exchange."

"Charles, you're doing exactly what any sane person would do in your situation," Erik says, except no sane person would ever be in this kind of situation, would they? No, the old sane, noble Charles is well and truly gone by now. Has been for quite some time.

"Stop," Charles says, but Erik doesn't obey him. He never does. Charles reaches forward, grabbing his elbow. "Erik, please, I can't let you do this, I can't do this to you."

Erik reaches out and slams him against one of the display cages, face still and expressionless as he looks at Charles. "You already did, Charles," he says. "Now you're just having trouble following through." He leans forward, eyes cold. "You love your sister more than me, remember?"

And for some reason, he wonders about that for a moment. But no, he remembers his father putting a bundle of pink in his arms with a smile and introducing him to your baby sister Raven, you have to take care of her now, remembers deliberately taunting Cain into always attacking him instead of his helpless little sister because he'd once been too slow and he'd found her bruised and scared at the bottom of the stairs and never again, it wouldn't happen again, never again-

"You made your decision, Charles," Erik says. "Moral and upright to the last."

But. "There has to be something else we could do," he says. It's more of a whisper than anything else, and he can feel Erik's breath on his cheek. "Please."

"Of course there's something else. I could kill you and leave," Erik says. "If you were dead, you wouldn't worry about Raven anymore. Or me. Or yourself. It's the easy way out for you. It might even be a mercy, since I have a feeling you'll never have a full night's sleep again."

Charles stares at him, mouth dropping open at the fact Erik is considering killing him, but then logic kicks in, logic and memory, and Charles' jaw clenches shut. "If you thought death was a mercy," Charles says, "you wouldn't be a serial killer. You'd keep your victims alive and in pain for as long as possible."

Erik shakes his head, the movement tense and abrupt, and steps back. "Don't pretend to understand, Charles, because you obviously have no idea-"

"But I do," Charles says, and reaches forward, meeting Erik's eyes with his own as he keeps a tight grip on the killer's wrist, hopefully keeping him here. "I do, Erik. And that's why we're going to leave here, and figure something else out." He breathes. Or he tries to, at least, because the look Erik is giving him makes every part of him stutter to a halt. "I do love Raven more than anything or anyone else, that will never change, but god, somehow I still-"

Erik pulls him forward, and suddenly it's as if the world had decided it was done humoring Charles Xavier, because as Erik leans down to meet him something hot and sharp bites into his back, and Erik swallows his scream. He's falling, then, Erik following him down and his eyes never leave Charles', and he knows Erik didn't do this to him because he looks broken and scared, which is so very very wrong, because Erik isn't afraid of anything.

"I'll be fine," he says, and thinks, distantly, that there may be a gun firing. Or two, he doesn't know. Erik's hands are red when he touches Charles' face. "It doesn't even hurt anymore." Erik makes a desperate noise, and he looks away, and no, Charles needs to see him. "No, don't go, please."

"I'm not going anywhere, I promise," Erik says, glancing between him and his body (which feels...distant) and something in the distance. The grip he has on Charles' hand hurts.

And then someone else is moving Charles. It takes him a moment to recognize her, and all he can think is that agent lady and you are not Erik. "Who is this guy?" she snaps, and Charles notices her other hand has a gun pointed at Erik. That's not good.

"Witness. Thing under my belt," Charles says, and he's lightheaded, but this is that agent lady, and she and Erik were never supposed to meet. He has to misdirect but not lie. He needs to be able to think more clearly. "Shaw is the bad guy. Raven?"

"Don't worry about Raven," she says, and Charles can probably do that.

"We need to get him to a hospital," Erik says, and hands are on him. Big lovely red ones, so it's Erik. "Hold on, Charles, try to stay awake."

"Of course," Charles says, and the world fades away.

Chapter Text

"Oh no you don't," Emma says, and grabs his arm. "I claimed you for tonight months ago. You aren't getting out of this."

Charles looks at her with wide eyes, and then back at his desk phone, ringing away, because he knows it's the killer. He doesn't know how, but there's not a doubt in his mind that it'd be his serial killer on the other end if Emma would let go and let him get the phone. "What if it's a tip? What if there's been another murder?"

"What if it's your sweet little boyfriend?" Emma says, voice mockingly simpering, her lower lip jutting out in a pout so exaggerated that Charles is glad she's indoors. Otherwise a pigeon might try to land on it, or do worse. "Fine. You sit right there, I'll make your excuses."

"You'll what?" Charles asks, fully aware that his voice has gone high and shrill because this is a disaster, he has literally had nightmares about what would (will?) happen if Emma and Erik are in the same room. It's usually an explosion of blood. That, or Charles being left sad and alone as Erik and Emma flounce off through a field of knives and violence after finding their soul mate. And right now he's thinking it'll be more like the explosion of blood because she is reaching for the phone. "Emma! No, wait, we can just go-"

"Hello, this is Detective Emma Frost, is this Charles' special friend?" she asks. Charles gapes at her. Emma just winks. "Did you miss the detective part of the name, sweetie? Speaking of, what's your name? Well, it's nice to finally sort of meet you, Erik, you seem to be very good at fucking my partner-"

"Emma," Charles snaps.

She sighs and says, "Hold on," before turning to Charles and glaring. "What? We need to get going anyway, and if you get dumped over this he obviously doesn't deserve you, does he?" That's all Charles gets before she turns her attention back to the phone. "Sorry about that, sugar. And I've had plans for tonight with Charles for months, so don't you dare try to jump in. Mine. Understoo-hello?"

Charles finishes yanking the phone cord out of the wall, and glares at her. "Emma, I know you have some difficulties with social niceties, but that? That wasn't acceptable."

She rolls her eyes and plugs the phone back in. The killer is long gone, of course, but it doesn't stop her from listening to the dial tone for a moment. "I don't have difficulties with social niceties, I just don't care to use them," Emma says, and sighs, grabbing him by the elbow and tugging him through the still-crowded office. Moira gives them an amused smile, and Charles manages to call up a feeble smile and hello for her as Emma marches him towards the elevators.

"I hate that you're taller than me in those heels," Charles says.

"That's why you should try them sometime," Emma says. "I have a skirt you'd look amazing in, but your feet are too big to share shoes."

One of the other occupants, who is clearly not a regular, chokes on his coffee.

"I think I'll pass for now, but thank you," Charles says.

"Are you going to pout the rest of the night?" Emma asks. "Because it's not going to save you. If I have to go to this stupid party, so do you."

Charles takes a deep breath. "Emma, it's supposed to be an honor to be invited to the mayor's birthday party."

"I was done with fancy parties when I was fifteen," Emma says, and when the elevator's doors open she links arms with him, and Charles is too polite to shrug her off and run. "I imagine you were done with them even before that. But now we're pros, aren't we? I want a professional with me at this thing, not some neophyte who thinks caviar and champagne are exciting new frontiers."

He has to admit, she has a point. Charles once made the mistake of taking a girl from his college to a party and spent the entire time introducing her, subtly answering the people who were subtly asking whether they were secretly engaged or even more secretly married that they weren't and didn't intend to be, and watching her blush and displeasure darken as the night went on with nothing but seemingly flowery conversation floating around her. With another experienced society member at ones side, it might actually be fun. Maybe.

"I think I'll have your secret lovechild, won't that be fun?" Emma asks. "Or maybe we'll be secret incestuous siblings. Or we could be running a high-class jewelry theft operation."

"Or we could just be two ridiculously rich and bizarre detectives," Charles says.

"There's no fun in being who we really are at this sort of thing," Emma says. "Or maybe I'm having Shaw's secret lovechild and you're the jealous other woman."

"Your other woman or his other woman?" Charles asks.

Emma laughs. "Charles, please. Mine, obviously. It has to revolve around the woman when it's a secret lovechild of dubious parentage."

"So I take this to mean you had a large lunch," Charles says.

Emma smirks. "You know me so well."

---

Charles should know better than to let Emma pick his clothing, because while it always looks good, it also always comes with a ridiculous-looking tie. Emma finds them hilarious, claims that everyone else finds them very attractive, and she gets to watch him fight the urge to undo the thing the entire night. Still, he knows the rest of the ensemble will be impeccable, and that he doesn't have to worry about somehow clashing with whatever Emma is wearing, so he can cope with the neckwear. She gave him a choice today, at least – but, seeing as it was a choice between cartoon penguins and a horrible white and green paisley, it wasn’t much of one.

"Did I ever tell you I own a third of this hotel?" Emma asks as their limo (white, of course) pulls up. "I did part of the interior decorating, too. You'll see a lot of red pillows with little dagger patterns on them. Those are mine."

"I would never have thought otherwise," Charles says, and she smiles at him. "You look spectacular, by the way. I like the pink tones."

"Thank you, Charles. It's called oyster," Emma says, nose wrinkling a bit at the name but still pleased by the compliment. It's practice, really. Charles wonders if Emma is going to slide around like a stiletto blade or bash through conversations like a sharpened battering ram. Either way, it'll be a pleasure to watch. Emma makes him look like a slow child when it comes to the subtle art of insulting people so nicely they think it's a compliment. Charles is a better liar (or actor, he supposes; it's all a matter of perspective when it comes to these things), but Emma is a better social tactician.

The hotel Emma owns one third of is called the Terrace Hotel and sits right on the water, its namesake dropping in with nothing but a potentially hazardous railing between their deck and water that could easily drown a drunk man. It's a beautiful modern building, everything that Charles' manor or old apartment building isn't, and he can see the Frost influence in the sleek lines of the building that greets them. The ceilings are high, and the decor has a distinctly cutthroat fashion sense.

But it being partially Emma's hotel means it's not interesting - she already knows what's in it, after all - and it being Emma's choice of clothing means she can't mock him, and it doesn't take more than six conversations (all of which have shown them the party's full of newcomers and less skilled players) before she says, "I hope someone gets murdered soon. It's about time for your serial killer to make his next move, isn't it? Maybe he'll take pity on us and give us something exciting to do."

"Maybe I should go to bed early," Charles says, because it's a hotel. Emma already made a point of getting him a room for free; whether it'll be the best or worst room in the hotel has yet to be determined.

"Don't you dare, Xavier," Emma says, tightening her grip on his arm enough that he winces. "I'll end up shooting someone if this becomes any duller."

Charles decides not to ask where her gun is.

"For the record, the real party is tomorrow," a man says, and Charles turns to see Mayor Shaw behind them. "You're both invited, of course. I'll have invitations sent to your office. Emma, you look absolutely exquisite."

"You flatter me," Emma says, smiling, arm linked tightly around Charles. "Happy birthday, Sebastian."

"I hope it's been a good one," Charles says.

"Thank you. It's been...adequate. I think it'll turn out better now that you're both here," he says, eyes still trained on Emma. "Could I speak privately with you both? I know it's bad form to talk business at a party, but this may be urgent."

"I know just the place," Emma says, and leads them down to the hazardous deck. Charles grabs a glass of something alcoholic and brown on the way; he's past caring what exactly he's drinking, so long as it makes this easier. He doesn't like dealing with Mayor Shaw, and dealing with Mayor Shaw while Emma is around is even worse. He doesn't know if they're flirting or want to tear each other's throats out half the time, and the other half it's like they're complete strangers.

"About the most recent victim," Shaw says. "Mr. Talbert. I had one of my lawyers look into things, and for once I think our killer might have actually killed someone who really was a criminal."

Charles frowns. "How deep did you have to dig to find that?"

"Very," Shaw says. "You think the killer didn't know?"

"I find it extremely unlikely," Charles says. "He’s been wrong about every other victim, so why would he get it right now? The man's delusional and killing people he's made himself believe are worth killing, not attempting to find one bad man in a random sample of murder victims."

Emma is looking at him strangely. Charles ignores her. So does Shaw, thankfully. "He'd done an excellent job covering it up," he says. "Maybe you're right. Still, I'm going to look into the others."

"Be sure to keep us informed," Charles says.

"Of course," Shaw says, and turns all of his attention back to Emma. "Would you like to dance?"

Emma looks at Charles for a long moment before answering with a nod and offering her arm, slipping away from Charles.

Naturally, this is when a man in a wetsuit lifts himself out of the water in one graceful motion until his torso is level with the railing, glances up to meet Charles' eyes for a baffling, gaping microsecond during which the man loses his grip, and falls back in with a muted noise of surprise and a large splash.

"What was that?" Shaw asks, turning around.

"I have no idea," Charles says, staring at the railing.

"Huh," Shaw says, joining him in the staring for a moment before shrugging and turning back to Emma, heading for the dance floor.

Charles, meanwhile, takes a deep drink of what he's fairly certain is bourbon and loosens his ridiculous tie, and then cautiously approaches the railing. "Hello?"

On the other side of the railing, there's a man in the water who looks a little like he's just had his entire worldview shaken. He is also staring at Charles like he's the one who did it. He's also wet and ridiculously attractive, but Charles ignores that to the best of his ability in favor of raising his eyebrows and saying, "I'm assuming you're lost, because otherwise I need to investigate why exactly you're trespassing."

The man just keeps on staring.

Charles frowns, leaning forward on the railing. "Are you alright? Do you need help?" Maybe he dove in and hit his head. "Here," he says, putting his glass on the railing and offering a hand. "We'll get you dried off and-"

"No," the man says, sounding more than a little breathless.

Charles takes a deep breath, trying to keep himself from snapping at the man. It's as if he’s dealing with a skittish toddler; it makes Charles even more certain the man's concussed. "I'm not going to hurt you, you know. I doubt you would get more than a fine if you're charged for trespassing - and a lost diver isn't exactly nefarious."

The man looks oddly guilty.

"It's time to get out of the water," Charles states. "Either you're coming out or I'm coming in after you."

"But your suit," the man says.

And that voice, Charles would know anywhere.

Charles isn't one for excessive swearing or crude language, but the fact the man in front of him, the wetsuit-clad, absurdly attractive man with blue-green eyes and ginger-brown hair who is staring at Charles like he's an executioner, is his serial killer, sends his mind into a spiral of stunned lust and he finds himself breathing out, "Oh fuck."

Erik's entire body freezes up and he's floating there like a very pretty, very deadly human log, but Charles is having none of that, grabbing him by the thick fabric on his shoulder. "You are getting out of that water and up here with me, now," Charles says, and really hopes he doesn't sound as strained as he feels.

"But-" Erik says.

"Either I'm coming in or you're coming out," Charles repeats, and starts tugging him upwards. It's not doing any good, of course - Erik probably has 15% more body mass than Charles , which he'd already known, but seeing it is…quite something - but it certainly gets his point across. Erik bats his hand away and, before Charles can smack him or grab his wetsuit again, he hoists himself out with an easy show of strength and grace.

Charles wonders what that would have looked like in a sleeveless wetsuit, and then realizes with sleeves was bad enough. He clears his throat, and tries to take deep, calming breaths as Erik swings himself over the banister. It doesn't do much, because his serial killer, who happens to be amazingly attractive, is now standing in front of him, dripping wet, in a skin-tight wetsuit. Charles is just proud of himself for not doing anything…anything…

"Oh, screw this," Charles says, and grabs him by the zipper that runs all the way down his front, dear holy god, and kisses him. Erik makes a brief surprised noise, but it's quickly replaced with a moan and wet hands sliding onto Charles' undoubtedly absurdly expensive suit jacket, but he doesn't care. Not when he can see Erik, and touch Erik, and know him.

But, Charles realizes in a moment that makes him freeze up, he can't know Erik. People might see, people might ask, eventually people might put the pieces together. He needs to not know who Erik is.

"You shouldn’t talk," Charles breathes out, and knows he probably looks ridiculous, half wet and panting and still staring helplessly at his serial killer. He swallows, and watches Erik's frown change from confused to disappointed. "Then I might not know who you are, I could just say you're a ludicrously handsome man in a wetsuit-"

"Charles, I think if anyone makes the connection this far, there's no stopping it from going the rest of the way," he says, and kisses the side of Charles' face. "It's too late for that, don't you think?"

"But-" Charles says.

"No," he states, and pulls away to glare in a way that is probably supposed to be intimidating. Mostly, at this point, it makes Charles think he has very pretty eyes. "Charles, if you tell me to shut up I am going back over that railing, plausible deniability or not."

"Okay then," Charles says, because that is not happening. At all. He takes a deep breath. "But you should know if I don't have sex with you in the very near future I might scream in frustration."

Erik stares at him. And is painfully good-looking.

"I'm not as patient as you are," Charles says, and grabs him by one damp forearm and drags him into the building, sneaking them around the ballroom and into the elevator bank with relative ease. The elderly couple and bell boy who get out of the elevator stare at them, but Charles doesn't care, he just drags Erik in after him and is kissing him before the doors are even fully closed.

He feels like he should say hello, or explain that he does in fact care about him as a person or something, but that would take away opportunities to have his mouth on Erik. Thankfully they seem to be on the same page, because Charles has to maneuver them out of the elevator and start moving them down the hall with awkward wall-crashing steps. Charles is very grateful that he has a goal in mind other than away from people because when Erik's hand finally finds its way to skin beneath Charles' shirt, he really would just settle for the nearest dark wall, he really, really would.

It takes a good five tries to get the hotel room unlocked, because that means he needs to touch something that is not wetsuit or hair or skin and needs to look at something other than his very pretty serial killer. Charles gives up on unlocking the door by feel after attempt number five, because Erik makes a growling noise deep in his throat and good god, he needs their clothing off, and for that he needs the door open. It is infinitely difficult to tilt his head away to look down at the lock, but he does, and when the door swings open they stumble through with not another thought given to the door, other than shutting it.

His suit jacket was already mostly off, so it's the first thing to go, right along with the tie and any chance of this somehow being dignified since they both end up tripping over the fabric (and probably ripping it in the process). Thankfully, the room Emma decided would be perfect for him happens to be absolutely tiny, and instead of landing on the floor they've landed on the double-sized bed.

Erik wheezes, because while Charles mostly landed on Erik, Erik landed on the bed and an ornamental pillow that was probably pyramid-shaped before he squished it. He pulls it out to stare at the very pointy-looking cushion. "What kind of hotel is this?"

"Emma's," Charles says, and reaches for the zipper that has been tantalizing him since Erik first popped over the railing. He barely gets it down half an inch before Erik stops him, hand clenched hard and white-knuckled around Charles'.

"I," Erik says, and swallows, looking oddly awkward. "It's not pretty, Charles."

Charles frowns, and after a moment loosens his grip on the zipper. Erik's hand is still tight around his own, but Charles is an old pro at turning a restricting grip into comfortably tangled fingers, and Erik long ago stopped fighting the transition. "Do you want me blindfolded? We still have my tie, I could go fetch it off the floor."

Erik makes a noise that is almost a laugh, but mostly looks confused. "What, no 'I don't care?' No promise to-"

"I'm going to care," Charles states, because he can see how this is going to go. It's that first Tuesday all over again. "You cared when you saw my scars, and I won't pretend to be any different."

Erik hesitates. "You'd put a blindfold on."

Charles smiles. "It's not like it'd be a new experience," he says, and moves to look for it, only to find himself trapped by Erik's arms dragging him in for another kiss, like Erik is trying to devour him, trying to keep him here forever.

Erik pulls Charles out of his shirt between kisses, leaving Charles breathless with wanting as his fingers dart in and out of his clothing as he unbuttons Charles' very expensive pants, belt long ago discarded. He shimmies off the pants and doesn't care that they're probably going to be wrinkled to death, underwear quickly following. He considers moving to take off his socks, but Erik grabs him by the back of the neck and says, "Don't you dare," so he settles for trying to hook his toes in the tops of them while Erik drags him down again.

He still kisses like a desperate man, like Charles is going to vanish at any moment, so Charles pulls back. It almost physically hurts to not be kissing him when he's looking into Erik's half-lidded eyes, can see the hot flush on his cheeks, see the way his thin lips are swelling, just for Charles. He swallows, and lets his hand find its way back to the zipper. "The tie's always an option," he says.

Erik still looks like he'd rather run, but nods, and Charles kisses him again, tries to put every bit of tenderness he can in the way their lips and tongues meet as he moves the zipper down, slowly, slowly, slowly, because Erik can always get out of this. He lets his other hand slip down to follow the zipper, to feel the skin beneath the rubber, and Erik actually whimpers into his mouth when his fingers slide down his chest.

Charles knows it's a risk, but he can't help himself. He pulls away from Erik's lips and moves to kiss his jaw, to kiss the side of his neck, mouth trailing hot and wanting down his body. When the zipper reaches Erik's waist, it's easy enough to move him off the bed enough to slip the rubber off his shoulders, slide it down to free his arms.

He's grown to associate the feel of rubber and latex to Erik's body, to know that the subtle pinch and drag of gloves on his body means it's Erik he's there with, that it's Erik against him and around him and filling him and breaking him apart. Charles finally looks down at his killer's skin, straddling his thighs and shifting upwards to get a better view, and lets out a contented sigh, fully aware he's smiling like a mindless fool.

"What?" Erik asks, tense and harsh and obviously on the defensive, and Charles can't help but smile at him, tangling a hand in his killer's hair. "If this is funny to you-"

"You look like yourself, is all," Charles says, even though he knows it doesn't make much sense. It certainly throws Erik, leaves him with his lips slightly parted as he tries to puzzle out Charles' words. Charles looks back at Erik's torso, at the battlefield etched on his skin, and lets his fingers trace the largest scar, one that looks like a stitched-together gutted animal probably would. It's wide and jagged and rough, unlike the others that are all precise, perfect raised white lines crisscrossing his chest. "Would you tell me about them if I asked?"

Erik swallows, eyes wide, jaw clenched tightly. "I'd tell you."

Charles nods, and shifts back to continue downwards with the zipper, smiling. "I'm glad," he says, feeling oddly giddy, like he's had too much to drink and the world is spinning, but Erik is crystal clear and his surprised eyes are watching Charles as he approaches the end of the zipper. He sighs against Erik's hip, well aware he's being an insufferable tease as he stops to bite very, very lightly at the curve of his hip.

"Are you going to?" Erik asks, voice low and rough, obviously trying very hard to sound restrained and also very obviously trying to not demand Charles finally move down those last few inches.

"Am I going to what?" Charles asks, looking up at Erik before turning back to the scarless patch of skin he's growing to be quite fond of.

"Ask about the scars," Erik says, and for some reason now is when he realizes that Erik has had his hands fisted in the comforter since he touched the zipper. He's having to physically restrain himself, and Charles doesn't know what Erik thinks he needs to keep himself from doing, but he knows he appreciates the thought.

"Of course not, Erik, we're in bed," Charles says, and gives in, pulls the zipper down until there's nothing left to pull and lifts Erik's hips, pulling that ridiculous wetsuit off of him. Erik gasps when the suit slides off his erection, slick and hot, and Charles makes a point of getting the thing all the way off, pulling it down his thighs, his calves, and tossing it onto the floor. He takes his socks off while he's at it, because if he doesn't distract himself, this is going to be over far more quickly than he'd like.

The thing about Erik's body is that it's both the most perfect and most battered thing he's ever seen, like a sculpted masterpiece that some heartless bastard had decided to try and cut into a different form. He can understand why Erik is so nervous, considering the amount of scarring and how telling it is of what kind of life he's led, but Charles can't help it. He stands at the foot of the bed, looking at Erik's body, and shakes his head. "God, you're beautiful."

Erik stares at him like he's going insane, like he's said the most absurd sentence on the planet. "I'm beautiful?"

"Yes," Charles says, feeling mildly hysterical because this is Erik's body, and pulls a surprisingly pliant Erik forward on the bed by the thighs, almost literally falling to his knees in his haste. "You're amazing."

"Charles," Erik says, like Charles is threatening to slowly destroy him, but stops talking the moment Charles' hand wraps around the base of his cock. He shudders instead, a one-man earthquake as he rocks himself up into a sitting position, staring at Charles.

This, they've never done, mostly because Charles refuses to try and suck someone's cock when he has no line of sight or depth perception to work with. That, and Erik has never seemed particularly interested in asking for it. He watches Erik, waiting for a decision Charles didn't even know Erik had to make. He swallows, feeling like he's unintentionally about to step over some invisible line in the killer's mind, and offers, "Blindfold?"

It takes another minute for Erik to make up his mind, but when he does, it's obvious. His entire stance changes, all hesitation evaporating, and it is quite possibly the sexiest thing Charles has ever seen, watching confidence pour into his skin, leaving Charles breathless as he curls a sharp, possessive hand into Charles' hair and says, "Don't you dare look away from me."

Chapter Text

It's a distant world that he wakes to, blurry and vacant even though his vision is swarmed with people, shouting, arguing people before he finds himself turned onto his stomach, head pressed into softness and warmth and a voice trailing away telling himself everything will be fine, that nothing can hurt him, he'll make sure of that.

As a needle pricks into his skin he smiles into whiteness, because it reminds him of Erik.

---

He next wakes up to blinding pain, and Emma. Charles pants into the pillow, grabbing onto the metal railing of the hospital bed, and sees how pale she is, how her hair is so limp and flaxen that Charles thinks she'll have to kill everyone who's seen her here like this. The room is empty other than them, white and clean and cracking.

The heart monitor is screeching at him, and Charles shivers for a very long time before a nurse appears and Charles gets another shot, another painless blur that is becoming achingly familiar and all too unwelcome.

"Raven," he slurs at the nurse.

"Rest, Mr. Xavier," the nurse says, and Charles wants to fight the fog off but all he does is land against his pillow again, tired and empty before he falls asleep again.

---

The third time, Emma is gone, and Moira is sitting next to Charles' bed.

"Charles, calm down," Moira says, like that's somehow going to reassure him, and she clamps his arms down against the bed with a firm grip, glaring at him. "You're going to hurt yourself if you keep moving around like this, Charles, calm down. I'm not letting six hours of surgery go to waste."

"What?" Charles asks, wishing the world would clear itself up again so he could actually understand her. He takes a deep breath, listening as the heart monitor slowly, slowly goes back to a near-normal beating. "What'd I miss?"

"A lot," Moira says. "Your 'witness' is out looking for Raven and so am I, we've been taking turns watching you. Emma's been moved to one of the less intensive units, and you were shot in the spine by someone in the club, but if you don't aggravate the hard work they've done you should be okay." She presses her lips together, eyes dark. "We haven't been able to ID the shooter's body yet, but we've got enough of a connection to Shaw with his evidence and Emma's testimony that there's a warrant out."

Charles takes a moment to digest this information, and takes a deep breath. "Let's start with Raven," he says.

"No, let's start with Erik," Moira states, and her grip on his arms tightens. "I need to know what you know, Charles. Is he going to be a problem?"

"In what way?" Charles asks.

Moira gives him an assessing look, and Charles can tell the days of her thinking of him as an intellectual, well-meaning, harmless new detective are long gone. "Well, we could start with your relationship. Or the way he killed the shooter a lot more than I thought was physically possible. Or where you even found the man and how reliable of testimony he can provide."

Charles' eyes widen. "He's actually going to cooperate?"

"It was either agreeing to that or fighting his way in to your hospital room," Moira states. "Whether or not he'll keep to his promise I don't know, but I think he wouldn't be a problem if we got to keep using you as leverage."

"Well isn't that pleasant," Charles states.

Moira glares at him, but lets go of his arms. "You're going to tell me what's going on with you two now."

Charles sighs. "I met him when I was kidnapped and tortured and missing," he says. "He probably saved my life, and knew what I'd been subjected to and helped me recover, and then he had information that pointed me towards Sebastian Shaw and the Hellfire Club - also known as our serial killer and his victims."

Moira's eyebrows raise. "So you're saying the mayor is a serial killer." She leans back in the chair. "God, I thought my theory about your boyfriend was strange, and that was even after seeing him...well. But Sebastian Shaw? You're willing to accuse him?"

"I'm willing to say he's definitely involved," Charles says. "He may not have been the one wielding the knife every time, but I think it says something that the one surviving victim we have is saying Shaw was the one who tried to kill her."

He can see Moira twisting, turning towards what he wants her to see and believe. She might not believe him to be innocent anymore, but she still can't help but trust him, it seems. "And your witness can give us cause to lock him away."

"Trust me, he can give us cause for execution," Charles states. He doesn't even know half of what Erik's been through, but everything Charles knows makes him almost agree with the serial killer's goals. "What do you know about Raven?"

Moira shakes her head. "We're looking for her, Charles."

He stares at her. "Shaw still has my sister, and you have a warrant out on him?"

"I couldn't wait when there was that much evidence and so little time," Moira says, not the least bit repentant. "Everything was falling apart, and I grabbed at what I knew I could catch. I won't apologize for that."

"But you didn't catch him," Charles states, and wonders about Moira. He knows she has a heart, unlike Emma (who just has blood), but apparently Moira can completely ignore it in favor of ruthless devotion to what she thinks is right, even when it's obviously wrong, wrong, wrong. "So you jeapordized my sister even more, after giving your word to try and find her."

"I haven't gone back on that," Moira says, unrepentant. "I'm just looking for Shaw at the same time."

"Why were you even at the club when you were supposed to be looking for my little sister?" Charles shouts, and Moira looks surprised for some reason. "Why aren't you out there looking for her right now? I don't need you! She does!"

Moira stares at him, and Charles can't take this, he can't just lay here and wait for people to get their acts together. Emma's recovering, Erik's off doing God knows what, and Moira's here being ridiculous and having skewed priorities. He tosses the bedding off of him, pulling the IV out of his arm.

"Charles, you can't-" Moira starts, lurching out of her chair and grabbing onto his shoulder. He tries to shove her off, but he's still embarrassingly weak and it's hard enough to get his hips to even twist in the right direction, let alone swing his legs off the side and out of the bed. "You can't walk yet, Charles, as in you are physically incapable of walking. Your spine needs to recover."

"For how long?" Charles asks, because fine, fine he can see that this isn't happening. Maybe if he convinced Moira to get him crutches or a wheelchair, but even that would be exhausting.

"I don't know," Moira says. "Days, maybe weeks."

Charles gapes at her. "Weeks? I don't have weeks. I don't even have days. I have hours, at the most."

"Then make time, if you ever want to walk again," Moira says. "We're doing everything we can."

Charles laughs. "Are you? Then why are you sitting around talking to me?" Moira actually looks hurt. Charles would feel bad about that if he wasn't fully aware that every second Raven is under Shaw's control could be another moment of torture and starvation and pain that Charles can't even imagine. It's that that makes him open his mouth and say, "I've had a taste of what she might be going through, Moira, and if she's hurt, if she's being-"

"We'll find her, Charles," Moira says, much softer, much more understanding, like she can't quite ignore her morals completely. She hesitates for a moment, but walks towards the door. "If you need help, there's a nurse down the hall that you can shout for."

And won't that be lovely, shouting his voice raw when he needs something simple done for him, but he nods. He'd much rather have to scream for help getting to the bathroom than have someone available who could be out trying to find Raven. "Thank you," Charles says.

Moira just nods in reply before walking out the door, leaving Charles completely alone, feeling painfully helpless and numb and sore - a soreness that is slowly turning into an intense throbbing pain, of course, how lovely - and wondering if he's really going to be able to sit here, laid out in bed, for weeks, when his baby sister is out there and needs him.

It almost feels like a betrayal, how fast and easy it is to fall asleep.

---

He wakes up to the most painful moment of his entire life, infinitely worse than the cruel bite of the bullet, worse than the world of knives he'd been injected with, worse than crawling two hundred feet across broken glass. One tiny point at the base of his spine is killing him, slow and vicious, and Charles can't even scream, can do nothing but grab onto whatever's available and squeeze his eyes shut and mentally beg for it to end-

And it does. He lays there, exhausted, panting into his pillow.

"That would be why going with paralysis might have been the better option," a voice says, and what little relief Charles had been feeling vanishes completely, because he knows that voice. "Still, it's nice to know you can feel below the waist."

"Aren't you meant to be evading arrest?" Charles bites out, turning his head in an attempt to glare at Shaw.

He's sitting where Moira was last time, Charles notes, and looks infinitely more at ease in the undoubtedly uncomfortable little chair. "You've proven to be fascinating, Detective Xavier," Shaw says, smiling at him. "I'd like to see a bit more of you. Honestly, it's almost embarrassing, that Emma and little Erik could see it before me. Tell me, if I told you where Raven was, would you run off to get her?"

"Of course I would," Charles says, staring at the mayor and wondering how he'd never noticed how completely insane the man is before now. "Where is she?"

Shaw nods, but somehow Charles knows the man is barely registering what he's saying. "What if I told you I'd planted a bomb somewhere, would you run off to disarm it or evacuate people?"

Charles takes a deep breath, and grits his teeth for a moment before saying, "Yes."

"Good," Shaw says, and leans forward, eyes wide and thrilled, like a man about to start hunting something very, very dangerous. "You don't think you've won this game, do you? This is barely check. I have Raven, Erik will always come to me, you've alienated your FBI woman, and Emma Frost, your most reliable piece on the board, is regrettably out of the picture."

"You stabbed her four times and left her to bleed to death," Charles says.

Shaw shrugs. "I was upset, and she knows I really do care about her. I'm sure she'll forgive me, in time."

Insane, Charles thinks again, and glares at him. "Either kill me or tell me where my sister is."

"I want to make sure you understand, first," Shaw says, holding up a finger, like some teacher giving him a gentle scolding for speaking out of turn. For once, Charles really doesn't want to understand. He mostly wants to hurt Shaw in very mean ways and get his sister back. "Really, I don't care all that much that dear little Erik is killing members - although that reminds me, you should watch your own back if he gets further down the list."

Charles frowns. "What list?"

"The Hellfire manifest," Shaw says, and grins for a moment. "The Xaviers always have a standing invitation."

The words sink in, and...Charles understands Shaw, even though he really doesn't want to, but now is not the time to think about sins Charles himself has never committed, now is the time to think about the ones he has, and the ones he can stop. "I'll take that into consideration," Charles says, and does his best to pull himself forward on the bed. Maybe, if he's lucky, Shaw will lean further forward and Charles will be able to reach his head, possibly bash it against the bed frame. "Now, you were saying about my sister?"

"I was saying that I don't care who Erik kills, but the people he's killing do, and they think he'll stop when I'm dead," Shaw says.

"That's ridiculous," Charles says, because he knows that even with Shaw dead, if there was no reason for him to stop, Erik never would.

"See, that's exactly what I told them," Shaw says. "But they insisted, so here we are. I just want you to know that I'm actually proud of what Erik is doing, how he's applying himself. If I had my way, I'd just set him loose on a different city and watch the show, but they're getting scared, so I need to take him out." He sighs. "And it seems I need you to do that."

"I'm not killing him," Charles says. "He's my prime witness, remember?"

"He's MacTaggert's prime witness," Shaw says. "And I don't need you to kill him, or for you to lock him up. All I need is inaction on your part." He smiles. "All you have to do is stay in your little hospital bed and heal up and get back on your feet in a few weeks, just like the doctor ordered. Every day you stay, Raven gets a little closer to you. And when you're back on your feet, you'll be walking straight into your healthy, happy little sister's waiting arms."

Charles watches him, and finds himself actually believing that it would happen. He'd be bored out of his mind, but it would all be fine in the end. His spine would have recovered, Raven would be alive and here, and the world would keep turning. He takes a deep breath. "And if I don't?"

Shaw beams at him, like he's so pleased Charles asked. "Well, if you get out of the bed you'd have a chance at saving little Erik from the snipers watching your window. I'll have you gagged for the duration of your stay, of course - the nurse is happily bribed, so even if you did get the gag off, not a soul will help you."

Charles looks at the room he's in - a long rectangle with a wide window on the wall nearest his bed, which is naturally the furthest from the door. The space between his bed, the other two, and then the height of the doorknob is daunting. If his legs were cooperating with him enough to crawl he could do it with minimal trouble, but-

"And it's gag time," Shaw says, looking unsettlingly enthusiastic about this entire affair, and pulls out a long piece of cloth.

"You're like a child," Charles spits out, and Shaw stops in his tracks, looking genuinely stunned. "Erik likes me, so you need to play too, is that it? You see that Emma prefers my company to yours, so you need to see what makes me tick in the insane hopes she'll like you better and take you back after you nearly bled her to death? You sound like a jealous six-year-old, Shaw."

"No, I sound like a scientist," Shaw says, voice icy and harder than Charles has ever heard before. "You affect people in unusual ways. I want to know why. I want to study it, and understand it, and piece together how to emulate and use it." He wraps one corner of the cloth loosely around his thumb. "And I also want to make Erik hurt you, but that's not as easy to organize as it once was, so I'll have to settle for you watching him be shot in the head."

Shaw doesn't wait for a reply, instead he moves forward with the cloth stretched taut. Charles grabs at it before Shaw can stuff it in his mouth, but Shaw changes targets and twists the cloth around Charles' wrists, effectively restraining his hands in a lightning fast motion before pulling another piece of cloth out. Charles barely has time to shout before it's wrapped around his mouth. "I wasn't planning to leave you with your hands tied, but it seems appropriate, wouldn't you say?"

Charles doesn't bother trying to speak. He settles for glaring at the mayor (hopefully ex-mayor soon) and seeing exactly how much give the cloth around his hands has.

"Oh, and," Shaw says, and smiles as he pulls a syringe out of his coat pocket. "I bet Erik's used this trick on you, it was always one of his favorites."

Charles tries to twist away, but he's a fool, a complete fool for not noticing the IV was back. Shaw doesn't even bother with Charles' arms or neck, he just puts the needle into the line.

And he imagines it's part of whatever Shaw has put into his veins that leaves him thinking this isn't fair, this isn't fair, you were at least supposed to let me try and crawl towards the door as he watches Shaw and his cursed fully-functioning legs walk their way out of the room.

---

He doesn't know how long he lays there, sedated and tired in a soul-deep way, tied up and trying very hard to not cry, because all he wants is for everything to stop, to just rewind. Maybe even far enough that Charles would never bother with the police, and he could go be a geneticist absorbed in academia and science and peace.

But Shaw has left him his ears and eyes, no matter how muted they both seem to be, and Charles thinks he can hear someone coming.

He vaguely realizes that there must be something going on with his perception, either that or he's suddenly the world's greatest pessimist, because the hospital room seems more like an endless hallway with two giant-sized beds against the wall. But if there really is a sniper, and it really is Erik coming here and he walks through that door.

No.

He isn't letting that happen.

Charles takes a very, very deep breath through the nose, and manages to pull the IV out by squishing the line between shoulder and chin and tugging like his life depends on it. It doesn't hurt nearly as much as last time, he notes, and shifts to push down the bed railing closest to the door. The chair is still next to him, and maybe he could find a way to manage some sort of two-tier fall to the floor instead of all the way to the tile floor. Unlikely, but he is going to have to eat and breathe optimism for however long it takes for him to get to that door and, hopefully, get through it as well.

But the bribed nurse would probably just pick him up and drag him all the way back in, Charles realizes. He'll have to stay as close to the door as possible in the hopes of catching Erik before he walks in-

Distantly, Charles realizes he still hasn't managed to get the bed railing down. It stands against his tied hands, defiant and uncooperative and god, Charles wants to scream - and why not? Why not scream? He's trapped in a hospital bed with paralyzed legs and unbearable spinal nerve recovery spasms and can't get more than angry humming out from the gag, so Charles gives in. He presses down on the bed railing and screams, tempted to try and bash the thing with the sides of his hands.

It doesn't move.

And that's it. Charles doesn't care what happens to his hands, doesn't care how jagged a corner the rail has. He does his best to shift his hands into some sort of fist shape - all he really manages is a position comically close to prayer - and braces himself for potentially broken fingers as he slams his hands down. It hurts, enough that he ends up screaming behind the gag one more time, but the lock on the railing gives, and Charles ignores the throbbing in his fingers in favor of using his palms to shift the railing down.

Then it's just the matter of getting onto the floor, and then somehow making his way to the door, and then somehow opening it with potentially broken fingers, and most definitely at least one dislocated finger. Easy enough, Charles thinks a little hysterically, and glances at his legs. He can feel them, thank god, but he can't even make them twitch. There's also a good chance that trying to do this will remove what little nerve control he has over his legs and that the recovered areas of spine will be demolished all over again.

Charles thinks about that for a moment, and then realizes that there's no way in hell that he's stopping for that when Erik might walk in and get his head blasted in, so he takes a deep breath and grabs for the chair. It's already starting to unbalance him, and the strain of even this much stretching has his spine sending stabbing bolts of lightning up his back. He reaches it, though, and makes a triumphant noise when his fingers hit the back of the chair, only to bite down in pain again because god, his fingers-

Suddenly the world tilts, and for a moment Charles thinks it's the drugs again before he realizes no, the floor is literally rushing up to meet him because he is falling down and he is going to break his neck on the chair because it's right below him and god, he is not ready to die in a falling off a bed accident. Charles shoves the chair, and he can hear the clatter as it hits the metal framework beneath the bed but it's out of his way as his useless legs and the sheets lead the way off the bed.

Well this is embarrassing, Charles thinks when his torso is pulled into thin air, followed by a hysterical, Oh god no.

It's a short fall. That doesn't keep it from hurting so much that he passes out.

---

He wakes up in the bed again.

And god, he can't help it. He puts his hands over his eyes and sobs, because he really can't do this. He can't. He physically can't. But god, what is he thinking, this is a life or death situation. He has to. There's nothing he won't do when everything he loves and cares about needs him and is on the other side of that door-

"Hey, come on, it's okay," Raven says.

His hands are untied and two of his fingers, Charles notices, are splinted together. There's also a pointed absence of fabric against his tongue. But Charles doesn't trust good news, not anymore, not when there's no caveat with it, so he lets his hands drop slowly.

Raven doesn't look good. There's dried blood on her white shirt, and it looks like half her hair has been sawed off, leaving the jagged blonde tips swinging in the limbo between jaw and shoulder. She looks tired, and she has dark circles under her eyes, but she's fine, as far as Charles can see.

"Am I hallucinating?" Charles asks.

"Nope," Raven says, giving him that tight, wry smile that Charles knows means she thinks he's being stupid but loves him anyway. "I don't always need you to rescue me personally, you know. A girl learns to do it on her own after a while."

"Are you okay?" Charles asks, and reaches towards her. Raven humors him and holds his hand, but only the one that doesn't have broken fingers. "I mean, are you really okay? Can I-"

"Charles, you just worry about your spine," Raven says. "I can take care of myself, and if I can't, Moira has taken to stalking me. And I have a feeling when Erik and Emma get back they'll be just as bad." She frowns at him. "Seriously, why do you have to make everyone my older brother? One's plenty."

"I was so worried about you," Charles says, squeezing her hand tight enough that his fingers ache. Raven doesn't seem to notice, though. Either that or she doesn't care. "I thought-"

"Didn't I just tell you to take care of yourself and stop worrying about me?" Raven snaps.

"Then explain the hair," Charles says, because she loves her hair, likes to whip it around and smack him in the face with it.

"It was time for a change," Raven says, and shrugs. "And it gets in the way of stage wigs, you know? It's more practical this way, and I don't have to spend half the morning with a blow-dryer." She clears her throat. "The blood's not mine, so don't worry about that. And no, I'm not going to tell you whose it is."

Charles wants to object to that, he really, really does, but he can't bring himself to start a fight with Raven, not right now. "Alright," he says, and genuinely receives no joy from the pleasant surprise on her face. Honestly, it's a bit insulting. "What's everyone up to? Where's Shaw?"

"Last I heard, Shaw was not in a car with Erik and Emma," Raven says, tone very telling, and Charles figures that whatever else happens, he probably doesn't want to know.

"Should Emma be out of bed?" Charles asks.

Raven laughs. "If you want to be the one to tell her to get back in bed, be my guest," she says, but the amusement doesn't last very long. "Charles, I think." She takes a deep breath, and that isn't reassuring in the least. "We don't know how much damage was done to the recovered nerves when you fell, so it's probably a fifty-fifty chance you'll never walk again. And if you do walk, you probably won't be very good at it."

"I'm so glad you're safe," Charles says, because it's so much easier to concentrate on that, and he really, really is.

His sister frowns, grip tightening slightly on his hand. "Do you understand what I'm trying to tell you?"

"Yes," Charles says, and musters up a relatively believable smile. "I'd much prefer to think about how you're not dead, if you don't mind. And I do like the new haircut, by the way. You look very grown up and reckless."

"Reckless?" She laughs. "God, now I have to go get it touched up."

"No badge of honor haircut?" Charles asks.

It sobers Raven, gives a bittersweet edge to the smile. "There's no honor in fighting to survive," she says. Charles nods, because really, he thinks there's no honor in the world, period. "I'm thinking of dyeing it red. What do you think?"

Charles looks at his little sister, all grown up and tossed into the sort of cruelty he'd fought tooth and nail to keep her from but never really succeeded, and imagines her face surrounded by some fiery bright halo. Maybe it'd be the same color as the blood on her shirt. Maybe brighter, maybe deeper.

Either way, it leaves Charles hoping that Erik has a very long and deep and fulfilling theoretical conversation with Sebastian Shaw.

"It'd suit you," Charles tells her, because it would, and tries very hard to enjoy the smile she gives as much as he used to.

Chapter Text

Raven keeps her hair short and red, cupping the back of her skull. It's impossibly unfashionable, but the incredible confidence she now carries herself with makes Charles wonder if she'll start a trend soon, with short bobs slowly swarming the streets. He almost wishes he missed the little sister he felt like he needed to care for constantly, but this new Raven seems so perfectly content with her life, even taking care of him, that he can't. She's older and wiser and seems to have finally grown into a woman, and Charles is slowly finding that he likes having a sister instead of a baby sister. He likes not worrying about her constantly.

It's an uncomfortable switch in positions, having Raven so confident and mature while Charles feels like an adult trapped in a baby's life, struggling to get out of his own bed, to move around, to live.

They say he'll walk, possibly. Maybe in a few more months of recovery, or maybe never, and when he does he'll most likely have only a few months before he's back in the wheelchair, recovering again, and then the cycle will begin all over again. It's disconcerting to pinch his thigh and feel a distant pain, like his body knows it's in pain and is informing him, rather than it being Charles in pain. He can't stand on his own, since all his legs register is pressure and weight and don't know to stay up instead of falling back down, but he can move when he's sitting or laying down. Sort of. It's a work in progress. Still, it's better than being dead or paralyzed or, worst of all, being perfectly fine but responsible for Erik's death.

"You ready?" Raven asks him, and Charles sighs, staring at the entryway into his apartment building. The building has an elevator, thank god, but it also has three stairs leading to the entryway. Charles doesn't even know why they decided to put three stairs there, but it's the first and last struggle of any trips he takes. He can't remember even really noticing them before the wheelchair, except possibly when he first moved in.

Charles nods, and tries to not grit his teeth when Raven helps him down the three wide steps, wheels going bump-bump-bump before he's on the concrete sidewalk, Raven smiling at him. "We're getting better at this," she says. Charles has yet to figure out whether her optimism is real or faked; honestly, he thinks she might not know either.

"We're adapting," Charles agrees, and does his best to not feel like a child in a stroller as Raven pushes him along the five blocks to the police station.

She tells him about how her latest audition actually went well, about a few of the stranger patrons at the restaurant she waitresses at, about how she's thinking of asking out one of the regulars but he might be under eighteen and that's a little too cradle-robber-ish for her. And, of course, there's the not terribly subtle, "I haven't seen Erik around, either."

"Shaw is still a missing person, he's probably hunting the man down," Charles says, even though they both know there's nothing to find but whatever's left of his body. His money is on Shaw having been fed to dogs, but Raven firmly believes he's buried in cement.

"Of course he is," Raven says smoothly, pulling him into the elevator. "And what are you going to do when he's done hunting Shaw and comes back?"

Charles thinks about lying, or telling her that he thinks Erik is never coming back, not after Charles tried to give him to Shaw, no matter how good a reason he had for his betrayal. "I don't know," he says instead, because it's the honest answer.

Emma is waiting, of course - and it's another day of her proudly showing off her scars, wearing a bustier that's risqué even for her standards. Raven, of course, says, "You look fantastic."

"Of course I do," Emma says, as if she doesn't even register the compliment, but Charles knows her well enough to recognize the subtle bit of stretching she does for what it is. "Now go away, Raven, we have criminals to catch."

"You up to lunch?" Raven asks him.

"I have a feeling we'll be busy," Charles says, squeezing her hand in his own. "Thank you."

"What are obnoxious little sisters for?" she asks, planting a kiss on the top of his head before winking at Emma (winking; Charles really doesn't want to wonder about what his newly confident sister and Emma may or may not have going on and he never will) and leaving Charles alone with his partner.

"Oh don't worry, I wouldn't fuck her without asking permission," Emma says.

"Please god don't bring that up ever again," Charles says. "Ever."

Emma shrugs, noticeably making no promises whatsoever on the matter. "We have a crime scene to look at. Double homicide, or maybe a murder-suicide. Want me to push you?"

Charles sighs. "I'll manage, thank you," he says, but she doesn't even ask about helping get him out of the office. They've done their best, but the thing is tiny, and he's not experienced enough to manage a one hundred eighty degree turn with that little floor space by himself. Still, after that she leaves him alone, and Charles can manage. He can. "Married couple, then?"

"It's creepy when you do that," Emma says. "And it looks that way. I've heard there's a lot of blood, though."

"Your kind of day, then," Charles says, and enjoys the unrepentantly excited smile it earns him. She doesn't smile as often as she used to.

----

The Summers house is a nice two-story affair of homey red brickwork. Charles really doesn't know why they were put on the case, since it's more a case about the dead couple's missing children than the murder. It's a fairly simple case of burglary gone wrong, or so it seems. Looking at family pictures, Charles can see why they'd take the boys - strong, attractive, malleable, vulnerable - but why a burlgar would take two screaming boys, one of which was definitely old enough and strong enough to fight back, but leave the TV, Charles doesn't know.

"I don't think they were abducted," Emma says, doing an excellent job of ignoring the way every man (save Charles, who by now is completely desensitized to Emma Frost's body) is staring at her chest as she leans down to look at the windows more closely. "They either killed their parents or weren't here when it happened, because the father would have made a noise when he went down, and only the wife came to check."

It takes Charles a moment to really figure it out. He looks at the picture on the mantle, and then back at the body in the entryway...and then back again. "I'm not sure that's Chris Summers," he says carefully.

"Sure looks like the picture," Emma says, showing her usual respect for the dead by rolling him over with a casual, well-placed boot. "If his face wasn't blown in I'd say you're losing it, sugar."

"But Chris Summers was a wash-out astronaut," Charles says. "You can't be an astronaut if you're over six feet tall, and this man's very tall."

"So is the man in that picture," Emma says, arms crossed. "What, you think Chris faked his own death and took the kids with him?"

"...No?" Charles says, because he's not quite sure what he's getting at. "I mean, not the kidnapping his own children. But maybe he faked his own murder. I don't know. It's just..." He takes a deep breath. "It's just weird."

Emma sighs, and leans down to stare him in the eye. "Are you really ready for this?"

"Of course I am," Charles says, frowning. "Do you think I'm not?"

"I think you're making big enough jumps in your logic that you're either finally using all those brain cells you let die during the reign of CK, or you're looking for patterns that aren't there because you have something to prove," Emma states. "And I'm willing to shelve you if you'll be back on top of things when you come back."

"You don't get to shelve me, Emma," Charles states, and takes a deep breath, because this is actually how Emma shows she cares. It's not her fault she was born this way, and he needs to be tolerant. Deep breaths. "I'm fine, I promise. I just think this isn't as simple as it seems."

"It doesn't seem simple," Emma says, but moves to look at the wife's body instead of arguing.

----

Emma pulls them off the case.

She's still the senior partner, even if it's only by one year of experience when they've worked together for four, and the chief (now skittish and terrified of them for some reason) lets her make the decision for them both. Charles assumes she lied and said he couldn't manage the stress, be it physical or mental, because otherwise the chief usually just tells you to suck it up and stay on the case. It's a busy city and crime never sleeps, after all. Not everyone can get their way. Not unless they're Emma Frost, at least.

"You really think I'm acting that strangely?" Charles asks, staring at her because this Emma isn't the usual Emma. She's far less willing to take risks, far more ready to take on a fight, and sometimes Charles catches her tracing her new scars with a strange expression on her face. "You really think one call that might be wrong deserves-"

"We're both off the case, Charles," Emma says impatiently. "And I wanted that case. So what does that tell you?"

Mostly it tells Charles that Emma cares about him even if she's wrong about him needing help, but that's not the answer she wants. It takes him a moment to figure out, and that in itself makes Charles think she may, actually, be right. "You don't think you're ready either."

"Bad shit has happened to you recently, sweetie," Emma says. "Do you really want to see more of it right now?"

Charles frowns. "I know you do."

"Go home," Emma says, and Charles can't help but wonder.

He knows Emma and Shaw had a...thing. Sometimes they even seemed happy together, when she decided to forget she hated him. And as uncomfortable Charles feels thinking about it, they definitely had similarities. In a lot of ways, they fit together perfectly, even if those similarities were what seemed to make Emma want to murder him in his sleep half the time. And then Shaw had stabbed her five times, dragged her into her bathroom, and tied her up in the hopes she'd watch herself bleed to death.

Charles wonders all too often what happened in that car.

He sighs, but nods. "I'll see you tomorrow," he says, and heads for the elevators.

---

The minute Charles gets back to his apartment building, he realizes he forgot to call Raven. But. Three steps. He could manage that. He can do one or two, and the stairs are longer, so that means it's safer, doesn't it? It doesn't really matter either way, though. It's either forward (by backwards), or find a pay phone. Plenty of people go up steps, though. They do it every day.

He's considering the stairs when someone says, "Can I help you?"

The speaker is a young man, blond and apprehensive, but Charles can face facts - the kid wouldn't be taking the chance of talking to him if he wasn't in a wheelchair. So, Charles smiles at him. "Would you? I'm still not very good at stairs, I'm afraid."

"Sure, no problem," the boy says, a small relieved smile on his lips for a moment before it vanishes, but it's fast enough. Charles recognizes him as Alex Summers the minute he looks like he's not being hunted down by ravenous dogs. "Hey, you live in this building? Do you know who lives in 602?"

Of course he does, since it's him, but he doesn't say it. The boy is (theoretically) still a murder suspect, after all. Charles takes his time lining his back wheels up instead, and says, "I think I might. Works long hours, so the neighbors all like him." Or they did until the apartment became a crime scene thanks to Cain and Erik, but Alex doesn't need to know that. "Why?"

Charles can't see Alex's expression thanks to the young man pulling him up the stairs one by one. It's jarring and makes his spine spasm a bit every time he hits the next step, but it's over fast enough. "I just heard he might be able to help me with...something. I have a phone number, too, but I think it's his desk phone."

"I see," Charles says, and thanks Alex again when he opens the front door for him. "Well, let me introduce you, then, and if he's not there I'll lend you my phone to call the work number. It's the least I can do."

Alex seems surprised by the offer, for some reason, but he nods, following Charles into the elevator. "Thanks." He stops for a moment, and then that skittish smile comes back. "I wasn't sure about this, considering the guy I got it from, but thanks. You've been a lot of help."

"As have you," Charles says, and forces himself to not hope about these things. "Any chance you could tell me who sent you?"

"I don't know. He was just there, you know?" Alex says as they step out onto the sixth floor, and yes, Charles thinks a little hysterically, he knows how that feels. "Wait, you-"

"I'm 602, yes," Charles says, and doesn't stop rolling along when Alex stops walking. "Forgive the misdirection; I was shot in the spine three months ago and haven't quite rid myself of the paranoia that someone will come finish the job. I need to know everything you can tell me about the man who sent you to me."

"You think he's the guy who shot you?" Alex asks, and of course he's trailing along again. A good mystery always hooks the young.

"I think he's the man who saved me, actually," Charles says, much more quietly than he intended, and opens the door to his apartment. It's still in the process of becoming wheelchair-friendly, with furniture pushed up against the north wall, occasionally piled on top of each other. He'd thought there was almost nothing in his apartment until he couldn't walk around it. "But we'll start with what I can do to help you. What's your name, friend?"

Alex hesitates. "He didn't say you were in a wheelchair."

"Do you need me to scale a mountain for you?" Charles asks. "Or climb a tree, perhaps?"

"No," Alex says, frowning. "That'd be stupid."

"Then so would thinking I can't help because I'm not able to walk," Charles says. "Although I'll admit if you need wheelchair lessons I'm not going to be very good at that, either."

Alex nods, a dusting of shame-induced blush on his cheeks. "Right. My name's Alex, and I need someone to protect my brother." When Charles waits, Alex sighs and settles into one of the armchairs. "Our parents were killed, and we were out for pancakes - it's a thing we do; he did good on a test so we sneak out and eat pancakes - and I open the door and there's my parents, and-"

"Where is your brother, Alex?" Charles asks, because he knows Alex will eventually break down, but now isn't the time, not with the younger brother still out there, probably alone. Charles is a big brother, he knows the instinct to take care of your family and run when something's being threatening. He trusts it'll take priority again.

"He's at the park," Alex says.

Charles wonders why he thought that was a good idea, but doesn't let himself wonder for very long. He nods, and heads out the door again, Alex following. "Why didn't you go to the police?"

"You can't trust them," Alex says, and frowns. "Hey, what's your name, anyway?"

"Charles. Nice to meet you," he says, and there they are, again, at the stairs. Maybe he should ask about installing a ramp. Or a railing. Or learn how to deal with stairs. "Would you be willing to-"

"Oh, sure," Alex says, and really, he's horrible at this, it's like a car with no shocks, but it's better than Charles' twenty minute attempts that end with him emotionally exhausted and ready to throw things. "But the chief of police was totally in on the serial killing thing with Mayor Shaw, I'm not going to put my kid brother in their hands. Not if they were letting a serial killer run around like that."

"Of course," Charles says dryly, letting him choose their path to the park. It takes Alex a moment to realize that Charles will be able to keep up with him, but after that they manage fine. "Clearly I'm the better option. You do know that one man does not make up an organization, yes?"

"When he's in charge of the police? Yeah, he kind of does," Alex snaps. "I shouldn't even be trusting you with my brother, but you're better than the police."

Charles frowns. "Thank you?"

"I didn't mean it like that," Alex says.

"Oh, don't worry, I used to have foot in mouth disease when I was your age," Charles says. "It's a common affliction in teenagers, sort of like a social skills chicken pox. You'll get better eventually."

Alex gives him a hesitant smile. "That's actually pretty reassuring, professor."

"I am not a professor," Charles says, and realizes that dear god, he probably looks like some sort of rolling armchair doctor of philosophy. God, he's even wearing the elbow patch jacket today. Raven must have been feeling particularly mischievous this morning. "This is actually a disguise, Alex. I'm really quite dangerous."

Alex looks very doubtful. "Are you."

Charles finds himself smiling. "Well, my friends are, at least."

"Friends in high places?" Alex asks, turning into the park. "Or friends in low places?"

"More like friends in merciless places," Charles says. "I've suspected my partner is a psychopath for years." Or sociopath. Or some other personality disorder that revolves around narcissism, apathy, and truly terrifying amounts of amounts of schadenfreude. He smiles at Alex. "But she's mine, and I wouldn't trade her for the world. What's your brother like?"

"He's a kid," Alex says, awkward. "I mean, he's smart, but he's seven years younger than me. That's a difference, you know?"

"I do," Charles says, grateful that Alex hasn't offered any more help when the path turns to packed dirt, because he really can do this. He sighs. "It's a shame such horrible things can happen on such lovely days."

"Yeah," Alex says, and Charles can tell it's the first time he's registered the world beyond his family. It's a lovely cloudless day with a temperature in the high sixties, a slight breeze making the leaves on trees rustle just enough to sound like nature's letting out a long, peaceful sigh. He turns to look at Charles. "How are you gonna protect us, professor?"

"Still not a professor," Charles says. "And don't worry, I think best on my feet."

"Ha," Alex deadpans.

"I thought it was good," Charles says. "But my plan is simple, and not to be revealed at the moment." Particularly since it more or less comes down to 'shoot anyone who threatens the Summers boys and hope I don't die in the process', which Charles knows won't be very reassuring to an overprotective brother with reason to be protective.

When they finally find Scott, he's sitting on a bench with a book in hand, one that looks suspiciously similar to one of the Dickens novels Erik stole from Charles' apartment almost a year ago. He's one for mementos. It's jarring, seeing it in the hands of a nine-year-old wearing huge glasses.

"Why don't you go explain what's happening," Charles says, and Alex looks helpless for a moment, so Charles musters up a smile. "Tell him I'm going to keep you both safe, so long as you don't push me into a ditch."

"You don't have to do that, you know," Alex says.

"Do what?" Charles asks.

"The wheelchair stuff," Alex says, frowning as he waves a hand at Charles' legs. "The jokes. You don't have to try and make it seem easier to deal with than it is."

Charles nods, fully aware the smile on his face is fading. "Then tell him I'm going to keep you safe," he says.

"Sure thing, prof-"

"Not a professor," Charles says, and watches Alex walk to his brother, watches the wary but caring smile that lights up Scott's face. When Scott's face starts to fall, Charles turns away, back into the trees where he can wheel himself next to a bench and pretend he's just sitting for a moment on a brisk walk, enjoying the weather on a public park bench.

He feels like a fool when he takes his tie off and holds it loosely in an upraised hand, but. But if Erik is around - no, Charles knows he is, that was the book he stole, that was him who directed the Summers boys to the only member of the police he actually trusts. If he trusts Charles. If blackmail and bloodlines haven't ruined everything between them.

Really, there's no point in offering a bloody blindfold to the empty air; there wouldn't have been a point in it even if Erik was still around every other day and. God, this is ridiculous. Pathetic. It's been three months. Knowing he's in the city does nothing for Charles; even when they were together and as happy as a detective and serial killer in an extremely inadvisable relationship could be, he never found the apartment Erik had kept him in after the trap at the club.

But he's never been able to hear Erik coming, not unless he wanted Charles to hear him, and as hard as he tries he can't break himself of that pointless, useless optimism. So, like the love struck fool he is, he sits there watching his tie flick in the easy breeze, like some meaningless banner that calls for nothing.

The hand that carefully snatches it out of the air is strong and familiar, and it's habit that keeps him rigid, eyes forward. "I didn't think you'd want to see me," his killer says, quiet and still behind him.

Charles can see the flick of his tie in the wind out of the corner of his eye, but can't bring himself to turn. Old habits die hard, it seems. "I always want to see you," Charles says. "I don't know why there'd be any difference now."

Erik doesn't say anything for a long moment, and then arms wrap around him from behind, tight and careful. It takes only a moment for Charles to realize that Erik is kneeling. "I'm so sorry," he says, and he sounds like it's being ripped apart, like he's having to torture the words out of his own throat. "I tried, Charles, but-"

"You have nothing to apologize for, I should be thanking you," Charles says, and he can't do this, not without seeing him. He turns to look at Erik, and all he sees is the top of his ginger-brown head, forehead pressed to the back of the wheelchair. "You did try, Erik, and I'm." He swallows, and grips Erik's forearm with a cautious hand, his quickly-forming calluses brushing strangely against the once-familiar leather of his jacket. "You humble me, with how far you're willing to go even when you know I can't follow your lead. You're the most courageous man I've ever met."

"I thought you were dying," Erik says, words ragged. "You were up there dying and then Shaw walked down those stairs and." His grip tightens with one arm, but the other, the one Charles is holding on to, shifts until they're holding hands. It makes him swallow down something he refuses to think about, because for the life of him, Charles can't think of a single time it was Erik who meshed their fingers together in a perfect snarl of scars and smooth skin. "By the time I came back, I thought it was too late."

"Erik, look at me," Charles says, but Erik has never listened to him. Not when it's for his own good, at least. It's awkward and painful to twist himself around in between the pain in his spine and the grip Erik has on his chest, but he manages to get his free arm around and carefully, slowly tilt Erik's face up. He can't force Erik to open his eyes, though, so Charles takes a deep breath. He's used to taking what he can get. "I need you to understand something, and if you don't understand it, you are going to ask for clarification until you do, alright?"

Erik opens his eyes, and yes, that's the man he fell in love with, the man with tired, fond eyes. "I'm listening," he says, and there's a hint of humor, thank god. They're salvageable.

"You are always, always what I want to see," Charles says. "First thing when I wake up, last thing before I fall asleep, over lunch, after work, every time I look through a crowd of strangers, I look for you." He watches the words sink into Erik, sees the redness in his eyes and the way he slowly, slowly softens - one of the most fascinating, beautiful things Charles has ever seen. "And I make sure I always have a blindfold to offer you. I didn't even wear ties until-"

"Children," Erik says.

Charles stares at him, because the only logical conclusion he can reach is not one he thinks Erik would consider logical. "What?"

Erik's familiar amused smirk curls onto his face. "They're coming this way. I'll see you later."

"Why do you have to leave?" Charles asks. "They already know you, it's not like you'll scare them away." When Erik only frowns, obviously lacking a good reason, Charles says, "You don't have to stay. I just don't ever want you to leave."

And...that wasn't quite what he meant to say, but it seems to be the right thing, because Erik is smiling. And Charles means it.

"Could you cut down on the killing, though?" Charles adds.

Erik shrugs, and stands. He looks like a very pretty skyscraper. "I'm willing to negotiate," he says.

If Alex and Scott think there's anything strange about Charles kissing the top of Erik's hand, they're smart enough to not say anything about it.