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Linger

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Erik had been warned, to be fair. The realtor was very explicit that the last seventeen tenants had run from the premises screaming about the Exorcist or The Ring or some other terrible horror show.

Erik had promised her he didn't scare easily and he had run his hands over the smooth wood of the banisters and cabinets, enjoyed the sunlight streaming through the windows. The wood floors with the old oriental rugs reminded him of his mother's--what little he can remember of it in Germany. It feels enough like home in a way his apartments never have that within ten minutes he's decided he likes it enough to endure the commute into the city.

"You signed the paperwork?" Emma asks, lifting an eyebrow at him and walking through the house in her Jimmy Choos (silver and sparkling--Erik thinks no one has appreciated what Lady Gaga has done for fashion more than Emma), shedding her blazer and then planting a hand on her hips. "Erik, it's a million and five degrees in here, tell me it has central air."

"It would ruin the character of the house," he tells her, and she gives him the look she's always given him when he's been stupider than she cares to elucidate.

"Well, Azazel should love it," she sighs, and Erik glances at the front door where Azazel seems to be on his fifteenth Hail Mary.

"He thinks it's haunted," Emma supplies. Erik makes a face and pulls Azazel in by his belt buckle.

"You dick," Azazel mutters. "Why you buy this fuckin' place? Is evil."

"It's charming," Emma decides, and Azazel flips her off, tells her not to be a contrary bitch in Russian.

"It's fucking haunted," is Janos' opinion when he comes downstairs. "You bought a house filled with the dead."

"Surely not filled," Erik protests mildly, settling in the sinfully comfortable recliner.

"Yeah, I see you at the funeral," Janos says flatly, and reaches his hand out to catch Azazel's.

"That smell's going to be a bitch to get out," Emma says as she drapes herself artfully on the couch. In another life Emma should have been making money off of her looks, the way she can capture everyone's attention. Could have been Hollywood or on the runways of Paris or Milan but instead she's here with him, working the CIA's Mutant Division and trying just as hard as he is to pretend that she doesn't have scars that run so deep she's not sure she can hold herself together.

Emma was the first person he--well. Emma was the first person he didn't punch in the face, not because she was a girl but because she went diamonds and he wasn't an idiot, even at nine. She had literal edges and he wasn't going to cut himself on them if he could help it.

She kept reading his mind in classes, answering questions before he said anything--even before he wanted to say anything, and he had detached the metal bands from the pencils and flung them at her.

When it became clearer that Shaw's methods of teaching were trial by fire at best and sadistic at worse, they had stayed up and watched the sky and tried to pretend that everything was okay: that Emma's dad was going to come back, was going to read her letters and care that she was getting hit, forced to hurt the other children, forced to stay awake for hours so that their teacher could see how it affected her; that Erik's aunts gave a shit.

It had helped, in a way. They were certainly terrifying, and by the time they were sophomores they were at the top of Shaw's food chain, his pets and chosen, and if Emma shook at night, furious, jingling a little as she sat in diamond mode, convinced that Shaw could break through locks Erik had wound tight, no one mentioned it.

Janos had come along their junior year, Emma's first boyfriend who liked his clothes just so and told her (allegedly) that she was good, for a girl, but perhaps he was looking for more penis in his life.

Erik liked that kind of style and despite Emma's fiercest eye-rolls, Janos stayed.

Azazel had just been useful, came as a package with Janos, but more than that he wasn't American, knew what it was like to be so alone in such a strange country. They taught each other their mother tongues and Erik tried to teach him Hebrew but Azazel was Roman Catholic and Emma ended up having to separate them, screaming at each other in Hebrew and Latin.

They had grown up together, the four of them, and when Erik decided that he had finally hit his hard limits the year after their technical senior year, they followed him.

(Shaw's tactical error was always Erik, and sometimes Erik wonders at that. Genocide was never an option--his mother had taken him to Holocaust museums and his father had told him to be proud to be German and Jewish: that they had survived and still lived in their country--Erik wouldn't be a party to genocide, wouldn't have been able to endure the thought of his parents' disappointment.)

Shaw had been forced underground when they exposed him (weak, injured, but not dead, and none of them had felt safe, really), and they burned him hard enough that he went off-continent, which was fine. Had to be.

Janos went to college to study pre-law, Azazel headed to Russia to see his grandmother. Emma and Erik had looked at each other and then shrugged, Erik had appropriated a car Emma decided she liked (BMW something--drove nicely, not that he was allowed to drive that often). They roamed the country aimlessly, Emma finding other mutants occasionally and spreading the you are not alone message--not that it had a purpose, it was just…comforting--and then going to Germany so he could show her where he was from--where he was born and where he grew up and the corner where the drive-by had taken his parents from him.

"Do you think he did it?" she'd asked, pulling her coat tighter around her, eyes icy.

"Do you think he didn't?" he'd replied, because Erik hadn't been subtle, as a child, and Shaw was without scruples.

They'd all pulled back together when Agent Black offered Emma and Erik a job at the Mutant Division of the CIA, and Erik had more or less hijacked it from underneath him and they kept the base in upstate New York open, but mostly they were in and out of DC.

Right now Emma shifts a little. "You need to stop dwelling."

"I've asked you not to do that," he reminds her, and then looks up the stairs when something clanks.

"Hm," she says.

"It's an old house. They make noise," he replies.

She clearly doesn't believe him, but she's kind enough not to call him a fucking idiot to his face.

Of course, that first night when Erik jerks abruptly awake and finds his ceiling all of three feet from his nose, he admits this is unusual. But he's exhausted, training new recruits and trying to get funding and he does not have time for this shit. "If you make me spin until I vomit we are going to have very strong words, and I promise you will like me far less," he warns whatever is holding him up.

He is lowered, almost sulkily, back to his bed.

"Mutant or ghost?" he asks, because mutant he can handle…ghost might be above his pay grade. Erik understands he is in the business of the unexpected, but the paranormal might be just a bit beyond him.

He sits up and swings his legs over the side of the bed, rubs the back of his neck and glances at the clock. 4:32. He has to be at the office in three hours, and awake in about an hour. MacTaggert is going to be visiting today, and Erik can already feel his migraine building--

Except, no, he can't. It's gone as though someone plucked it from his mind.

"Mutant, then," he murmurs. "Is it me or the house?" he asks a little louder, because if he has a telepath attached to him he is going to call Emma and get her over here, plug her into Cerebro and he will deal with her being furious with him. He endured it when they were children, he's certain he could do it again.

He has a faint impression: house and mine and somehow, strangely, uncertain.

He sighs. Possibly a mutant ghost. "I'm certain we can coexist," he says. "Though I refuse to cede the bed."

A considering kind of pause hangs in the air and then agreement.

"Excellent," Erik mutters, and goes back to sleep.

It's a testimony to how fucked up he is that this barely registers.

He wakes up the next morning when the alarm is still a surge of energy in the clock and hits snooze.

Five minutes later he does the same thing.

Five minutes after that his covers are summarily ripped off and he jerks up, gun smacking into his palm and all the metal in the room straining towards him, eager, so eager to help.

But there’s nothing there.

Just this slightly smug, amused feeling.

“You’re not as cute as you think you are,” he mutters, getting out of bed and heading for the shower.

It goes on for three weeks. Apparently, having decided it can’t scare him away, his ghost has decided that he’s going to be overly familiar and helpful. The glee at Erik’s powers is rather gratifying, Erik admits, but when he comes home to pizza already ordered or the TV on to the Frontline episode he Tivo’d...it all begins to feel a little too domestic.

And then, about a month after enduring this, he walks into the bathroom because the shower has been running for ten minutes and he’s certainly not planning on taking one (though he’s not putting it above the ghost to imply he stinks--yesterday he was pelted with deodorant before he showered). In the steam someone has written CHARLES, but a few beats after Erik opens the door something hastily smudges it out. Like his ghost was trying to remember who he was.

“I was thinking of watching Animal Hoarders,” Erik tells the room after he shuts off the shower and opens the window to air it out. He hesitates for a moment, and then adds, “Come along, Charles.”

He has the distinct impression of another body pressed against his side while they watch.

This might become a problem.

Emma comes by to pick him up when they get called into a local domestic that the police have said centers around the kid, who’s a mutant.

Erik comes downstairs to find her staring at the mirror in the front hall.

“So when you said ‘haunted’,” Emma says, and God help him she actually makes air quotes, “I thought you were just being paranoid. The way you are.”

“It’s not paranoia when they’re actually out to get you,” Erik tells her pointedly, shrugging on his jacket and feeling around in the pockets for his gloves. He just had them... “Which nine times out of ten they have been.”

“The boy in copy is not one of them, we’ve talked about this,” she says, and then shifts into her diamond form.

Eric’s gloves hit him in the face.

“Problem?” he asks mildly. Charles feels...like a cat with his back arched, reading to attack. The windows begin to shake.

“Your ghost is telepathic,” she snaps, narrowing her eyes at empty air and then jumping when all the pictures fall from the walls. Erik blinks--even when he was new the worst he’d gotten was levitation. “Erik, what the hell have you--”

“When you say ‘telepathic’--” he starts.

“I mean he’s been in my damn head since I walked in and I only just figured out it wasn’t a stress headache,” she says, flat. “Which means he’s very good--Jesus Christ!”

The rug jerks itself out from under her and Erik just--can’t put up with this shit right now. He grabs her by the arm and slams out of the house, locking it down firmly--he doesn’t think Charles will be able to start banging windows and doors.

“The fuck?” Emma demands, sitting in the passenger seat and twisting to stare at him. Erik waves at her buckle and it obligingly slides into place. She glares some more.

“He orders Dominos and finds my gloves,” Erik tells her, and she stares at him, arms falling loose at her side incredulously. “I’m just saying--he’s probably not evil. He’s just--territorial.”

“I’ve been in telepathic pissing contests,” Emma reminds him, and Erik knows. Hell, he was the one who put her to bed after, made sure that she wasn’t going to go into shock and die on him. “This was that but I didn’t realize. You’re property--this is not good. This--”

“This can wait until we’re done here,” Erik tells her, pulling up to the curb and sliding out of the car while looking at the nice house in Chevy Chase. He hates these calls, because he’s not good at being sympathetic. He’s not good at being kind, and really, neither is Emma. The kids always seem so miserable and it’s a bitch to get them into good foster homes--not a lot of parents want mutant kids. They don’t get these calls often, Division X focuses more on terrorism and intelligence, but every so often the local police give them a call.

The cops make way for them now, and Emma’s face hardens just that extra fraction that makes Erik pause to tell the closest cop to send in his team and have the ambulances on standby. Then he follows her up the front steps and into the gorgeous three-story house.

Erik grew up in a tiny little house with three rooms and a garden out back. The paint was peeling on the cabinets and the wallpaper had been faded and torn but it had been happy. He wonders what the neighbors had thought, to see the door swing open without anyone touching it when his father came home or the car fixing itself. The tiny house in Lich hadn’t hidden anything at all, but he wonders if that wasn’t better. These houses hold all their secrets close, and the impression of money is enough to keep most people out.

The father is subdued, the mother is sobbing on the couch and the children are upstairs, barricaded into their bedroom.

Erik pauses long enough to give his widest, most teeth-filled smile to the father and then heads up the stairs.

“We just need you to get us in,” Joyce Reynolds, the social worker for this and most of the mutant kid cases says, weary already. “Two kids, one ten, the other six. The ten year old has manifested, the six-year-old got between Dad and the older sister.”

“Names?” Erik asks.

“Christina and Britney,” Joyce says, and makes a face.

“Go away!” a child’s voice shouts.

“Do we know what Britney’s mutation is?”

“She can climb up walls. Dad took a spiritual turn or watched The Exorcist too many times. According to Mom she was doing it to entertain her sister, but now she’s got a knife and you know how jumpy cops get.”

“Yeah,” Emma agrees. “Erik?”

Erik waves a hand at the door and it unlocks and opens slowly, enough for Emma (in diamond form) to step through.

“Oh, sugar,” she says, and she never sounds more Southern than she does when she’s talking to kids of their kind. “Oh, baby.”

Erik slides in behind her and realizes why she sounds so sad. The older one is holding the younger one who is whimpering.

Well, she’s holding her dress--the girl herself is invisible.

“Drew his fire,” Joyce sighs, and Erik looks at her and then at the girls.

It’s unusual for siblings to be mutants--usually it’s one in a family, though some researchers think in the next fifty years everyone will be a mutant of some sort, which to Erik says Shaw’s vendetta is pointless, but to Shaw means everything is inevitable.

“They remind me of the Summers kids,” Emma murmurs.

Erik lifts an eyebrow. “As in our 24-year-old Alex Summers?”

Emma nods, shifting back to her normal self and looking at him. “Only these two aren’t old enough to run away and have one raise the other.”

“Alex Summers shouldn’t be raising anything,” Erik points out, and Emma shrugs in agreement. They wait until Joyce has the kids in her Volvo and Darwin is downstairs, taking statements and Emma grimaces.

“I think I hate these most,” she says, watching the sobbing mother without compassion. When they got out Emma had taken him to see her parents. Her mother was a beaten-down woman and her father was a raging alcoholic and Emma had hated them, hated how weak they were. Hated her father for being a tyrant and her mother for never being able to stand up to him. Sometimes he thinks she hated her mother more. Erik doesn’t know what happened to them--he deliberately went to get a pack of cigarettes and waited for her to find him at the local diner.

Erik always feels the worst for the kids, but he thinks Emma hates the parents more than she feels bad for the kids.

“Messy, but not our worst,” Darwin says, joining them out on the lawn. “Mom says she’s gonna file for divorce, try to get things on track. Money’s hers, apparently she even got a prenup, so maybe this one’ll end well.”

“You really think that?” Erik asks.

Darwin looks at him for a second then shrugs. “Hey man, anything can happen.”

“Drop me off at home, will you, it’s my day off,” Erik says, and Darwin grins.

“Yeah, ‘cause we get those,” he says, but he lets Erik drive with him.

Division X is actual a bit of a madhouse even when nothing is going on. It had been a group decision to avoid enclosed spaces--there’s a lot of glass and none of the desks have high partitions, and sure, it makes sure no one feels alone, but the lack of privacy can grate, especially when Erik comes in and finds Azazel behind his desk, thumbing through the huge folder of research Erik had one of the minions doing on mutations capable of astral projection (there has be a better term. He should get...someone who isn’t McCoy on that. The pretty blonde girl, maybe, who just got transferred to his division and likes to freak the redheaded boy out by shapeshifting into him and making kissing faces at Darwin).

“Research. You recognize it.”

“Your humor was always questionable,” Azazel tells him flatly. “This is very specific.”

“I am researching a specific kind of problem,” Erik replies.

“Emma told me about the house.”

“I’m handling it.”

“A possessive ghost is the least of our worries,” Azazel agrees. “But it is a worry.”

“He’s not a ghost.”

“Hence the research.” Azazel is a lot smarter than people give him credit for.

“In my spare time,” Erik agrees, and Azazel snorts. “Did you come to lecture?”

“No. There’s a whistleblower in army intelligence saying that a general’s been experimenting on mutants.”

“Captain America?” Erik asks. Almost everyone is gone, and if he has to call them all back for some general who thinks he can play god he is going to be pissed.

“More like Frankenstein’s monster.”

“He one of us?”

“No. We’re still looking into it, I’m going to take Raven--” he pauses and then sighs when Erik gives him a blank look, “--the cute blonde one who can shapeshift--down tomorrow.” He pauses again, playing with the tip of his tail, and then looks at Erik. “You know who this stinks of.”

“Yeah,” Erik agrees, rubbing his face. Fuck Sebastian Shaw.


Erik gets home late that night--early the next morning. He’s exhausted and annoyed--spending a day on Capitol Hill and then finding out that there might be a project to “enhance” soldiers...he thinks he’s earned his exhaustion. He thinks every day the world should be grateful that he doesn’t burn it to the ground. As it is, the doorknob turns before he reaches for it and the car drags itself up the driveway a little more, reaching for him.

He rubs his burning eyes and steps inside.

The air inside the house is frosty, but nothing is destroyed--if anything it’s neat, everything in its proper place as though no one lives there.

“Charles,” Erik starts, but stops when he’s met with echoing emptiness. He drops his keys and shrugs out of his coat. The keys float to the key-hook--the coat’s buttons drag it to the coat rack. Erik’s lack of messes aren’t because he’s naturally neat--he just a very convenient mutation. There’s no response. Even minute displays usually garner a flare of interest.

There is nothing. Nothing but a terrifying emptiness in the air.

He had had every intention of going to bed.

Instead he goes into the kitchen and puts on the electric kettle, opens up his laptop and puts the stack of files he brought home on the table. Three minutes later he has an enormous mug of tea and an actual migraine.

He goes through the files, separating them by gender, and then by age--he imagines Charles to be within five years of him on either side, but there is every possibility he is dealing with a precocious teenager or a very old man.

Sometimes the affinity for Antiques Roadshow makes Erik think Charles is 102.

No one fits. There are three “Charles”s with registered mutations who have gone missing in the past five years. One is a Charles Branicki, age 42, who can apparently count cards. Erik isn’t sure what precisely makes that a power, and discards him.

Charles Hart can apparently grow anything. He’s 18, and he’s not so much “missing” as he’s run off with his boyfriend to San Francisco.

Charles Nothrop is 26 and can make it thunder when he’s angry.

Of the...really, far too many Charleses left, none of them seems to fit the bill. There’s a geneticist in Britain who went missing a few months back--genius, but not a registered mutant and apparently no one has ever even suspected him of it, so he’s just a talented human.

Erik scrubs his face tiredly, flipping the files closed and then pressing down on his closed eyelids.

When he opens them again the files are open.

Dr. Charles Xavier looks back at him from a photo clearly taken from Facebook. He’s laughing and impossibly young, surrounded by friends. Erik pulls the file over again and scans it.

Three years younger than Erik, did his undergraduate work at Harvard and then his postgrad at Oxford, has Ph.Ds in genetics, biophysics and psychology. Mensa tests, IQ tests...something of a prodigy. Went missing from Oxford nine months ago after a party.

One surviving relative, a sister: Raven Xavier.

No one comes to Division X without baggage--some of them have been fucked over by Shaw, but Erik pulled Alex out of solitairy and Darwin was a taxi driver who saved Erik’s life when someone launched a fucking grenade at him during a visit to New York. Hank’s the only one of them here because it was a logical career path, and even he should just be in research. Raven Xavier had a useful mutation, was proud of what and who she was, and tested really well.

Of course she had this. But if she knew--if she knew what her brother was and she didn’t tell--didn’t trust them.

Erik tapped his fingers idly. They were Shaw’s people--or they had been. If she suspected they still were it was logical of her to join up: to try to gain their trust and use them to find her brother, if that was her game at all. It was possible she didn’t know about her brother.

Unlikely, but possible.

And now Charles has been haunting Erik, but not Erik specifically--the house. Erik gets up and goes to the cabinet and pulls out the deed to the house. A year ago, before the seventeen other tenants, it belonged to a Sharon Marko.

Erik doesn’t even need the CIA database: Google reveals her first married name to be Xavier.

“Did you grow up here?” Erik wonders aloud, looking down at the photograph again.

Nothing.

The files are open, and there is no one else here.

Charles Xavier. Well. At least he has a name, now.


“Xavier, with me,” he snaps as he blows into the office around 9:00. The door sticks open and he glares it into meek submission. She looks up and is immediately wary. That is possibly because he barely slept. He has Charles Xavier’s life memorized, all his public records, went through Facebook and the guy’s twitter- tried to slog his way through the guy’s three dissertations and spent hours sitting on his bed with his fucking headache waiting.

“Yeah, boss?”

“With me,” he says again, throwing his jacket down and dropping the file (the one, only one worth bringing back) onto his desk.

She shuts the door behind her and looks at him warily when he takes a seat and gestures for her to do the same (if she can in that skirt).

“Tell me about your brother.”

She stares at him. Whatever she’d been expecting, it wasn’t that. “What?”

“Your brother. Charles. He’s been haunting my damn house.”

“Technically that was our house,” she says, and then grimaces. “Whatever. What do you--”

“What is he?”

She looks at him like she wants to tell him, but can’t decide if he’s worth it--if he’s trustworthy.

Erik...has it on good authority that he smiles too wide and is a little too hard, everything he does is touched with that fine sheen of rage, to be trustworthy on first glance and deteriorates under further scrutiny. He can be compelling--he led a coup against Shaw, led scared teenagers to fight back, but he knows that he owes a lot of that to the fact that he was the devil they didn’t know: better than the one they did. He can be a safe harbor in the middle of a tsunami, able to protect those around him by force of will alone.

He can lead a division, but he knows that most of the peons go to Janos and Azazel and even Emma before they come to him.

But Raven Xavier is either desperate or decides to trust him, because she says, “Agent MacTaggert asked him to help her with a problem a year ago, something about his thesis and--”

“MacTaggert.”

“Yeah.”

Erik is actually going to kill her. He leans back in his chair, pressing his fingertips together. “What is he?”

“A telepath,” Raven says, like it hurts to say it, like it’s a secret she’s kept for her brother her entire life. “A really--a really powerful one.”

“There’s no mention--” Erik says, because there isn’t--not even a whisper.

“Well, there wouldn’t be. Charles is very thorough.” She sounds a little bitter, like that was a fight they had. The way Azazel was sometimes annoyed that Erik and Emma and Janos could “pass” for humans, Erik wonders if she had this fight with Charles. If she had revealed herself to boyfriends along the way and then found they had no memory of it on the next date because her brother had erased it from their minds. He wonders what the the hell kind of telepath could manage that.

Emma can smudge a memory or confuse people, but she’s never successfully made someone forget or planted a thought. Until a second ago Erik thought it wasn’t possible.

“Makes people forget if they ever knew,” he surmises, hoping that it doesn’t show on his face that he’s not sure what to do with this, not quite.

“Yeah. He can get into people’s heads and see what they’re seeing, he can stop people moving, he can make you invisible...” she smiles a little, then, remembering some childhood adventure. “But he never wanted attention for it. Never understood--”

“When did it manifest?”

“It didn’t. He was born with it.” She shifts into her natural state, looking at him with her yellow eyes and shrugging a shoulder. “Like me.”

Like Erik. “And you have no idea where he is.”

“Agent MacTaggert might,” Raven says, hard, something in the shape of her jaw smoothing into something harder, older.

“I intend to ask,” Erik said. “Go see Agent Iglesias, I want you to draw up a timeline with him.”


Erik met Moira MacTaggert before Division X. Back when he was still trying to define himself outside of Shaw and listlessly travelling the country with Emma, they’d stumbled into one of her ops. An illegal bare-knuckle fighting ring suspected of causing the deaths of five guys, or something (Erik is still fuzzy on the details). Erik had watched the show and Emma had slid up and reported there was a CIA chick ready to come in. She’d scattered the ring, and the guy who was the target looked at them, amused, like he thought it was cute they were helping him.

Erik told him Wolverine was a pretentious name and then stopped the incoming bullets and flipped the black sedans. Wolverine looked less amused, then, and more impressed. In the confusion they faded into the background, stopping at a bar for a session of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” Logan--his name, which he glared at Emma for a full minute for revealing--clenched his fist and three blades sprung out from between his fingers. “Adamantium fused to the bone,” he explained. “Goes all the way through.”

“Pocketing?” Erik asked, trying to figure out how he could get them in and out without visible marks.

“Instantaneous healing,” Logan replied. “I’m fuckin’ 84.”

“Well, you aged well,” Emma said, and then she was up, off to go find someone more interesting to spend her night with.

“Girlfriend?”

“Gay,” Erik replied, and Logan shrugged philosophically. Of all the things in Erik’s life, his sexuality had always seemed like the least big deal--if he liked to fuck boys that was a lesser crime than being able to create magnetic fields and shift magnetic charges.

“Well, I got a bus leaving for Toronto in about 20, so. Thanks for the assist, kid. Maybe I’ll see you around.”

Erik laughed a little, rough, and raised his glass. “Or not.”

Logan grinned. “Or not,” he agreed, and took off. Erik turned back to his beer, wondering if this was always how it was going to be: if every single mutant life they saved was going to feel this personal, was going to be this much of a struggle.

In a year, he would know better--would leave the scene immediately, or better yet, bring Azazel. But he was young and stupid and more than a little over-convinced of his skills as a ninja, and so it was fairly easy for MacTagger to find him and slide into Logan’s chair, all swagger and confidence and righteous fury. He looked at her, took in the badge on display and the shitty cut of her blazer and the graze on her cheek and decided he wasn’t really in the mood. Less in the mood than usual.

And all things told it was too bad that that’s how they met, because she’s the kind of person he likes--ballsy, thinks of the rules more as guidelines than commandments, sharp and so fucking smart and ruthless when it comes to getting her guy, getting answers.

But Erik was drunk and maudlin and 20 and she was pissed and still a little bit of a rookie with a chip on her shoulder bigger than Texas and...they never really stood a chance.

“So, what the fuck is this? Vigilantism? Because I don’t have time for this shit,” she snapped, and he paused, beer hovering by his bottom lip, and grinned at her, all teeth.

“That’s too bad,” he said. “I have all the time in the world.”

She had pulled out her gun and laid it on the bar and Erik had glared at it. It disassembled and the little pieces when whizzing around, gone, and she’d actually raised a fist before her partner came in to grab her, pull her away.

Emma called him a fucking idiot and blurred his face in MacTaggert’s memory, not that it did any good when Erik met her again at a debrief three years later. She’d hated him, but maybe fairly, then. In pure professional terms, it had been her arrests Erik took and made members of his division, her cases he had taken over. No one could blame the CIA for wanting actual mutants to handle the mutant issues, not really, but Erik hadn’t wanted her on his team, had shut her out.

Things haven’t exactly gotten better. She still likes to run with a mutant situation without reporting in, and sometimes it’s fine--the person she’s working escapes with life and limb and they arrest the bad buy, but just as often they end up burned. Erik can’t decide if it’s because she doesn’t realize that it’s dangerous, to be a mutant who sells out other mutants. To be someone who talks too much about mutants. If she can’t understand on a truly basic level that it’s just fucking dangerous to be a mutant, and that Erik is the exception, not the norm. Erik can be the harbor and the weapon because that’s all he is. All his life has in it is protecting his people. He hasn’t been on a date in...a long fucking time, and his one night stands are just that, and usually only a few hours, rather than a night. His friends all work with him, and that’s fine. It’s what he was created for. But most of the mutants have families, jobs, and lives that don’t revolve around their mutations.

He can’t seem to get her to see that, and to him it’s fucking obvious.

MacTaggert looks up when he comes in, doors slamming open and quivering. “I’m in a meeting.”

“I think these gentlemen were just leaving,” Erik replies, and she glares at him as the men in the room hastily sweep up their belongings and flee. Oliver Quentin stays, but Quentin’s been MacTagget’s partner forever, and was there for the beginning. He’s a nice guy--sometimes, when Erik remembers to have a life, they go play golf and Quentin accuses him of cheating.

”What?” she demands. “What is it, Lehnsherr?”

“Charles Xavier.”

“Who?” She shifts, bored. “Is this another one of these crusades that--”

“Don’t do that. Don’t make me get Emma--”

“That would be a violation of--”

“Ask me how much of a shit I give. Charles Xavier.”

She looks at him, head tilted and eyes narrowed and then she exhales. “You remember when we were trying to figure out what was going on in Iran? That whole forced mutation program?”

“Yes.” Erik remembered. Jesus, fuck, he remembered. It was one of the few times Division X had gone into the field as a unit, sliding into desert facilities and demolishing them, burying mutilated corpses under the rubble and taking the kids who survived with them for treatment and reintegration. It hadn’t even been the Iranian government, which was busy denouncing mutants as djinn--it had been a new terror cell’s brilliant idea, hidden inside hostile borders. The only place it would have been harder to get into would have been North Korea.

The papers had run story after story about the “international activist group” that liberated the kids, but it had backfired,. This kind of shit always backfired, and in Japan there was a rush to create an anti-mutation serum that Hank kept insisting wouldn’t work. They sent him to seven conferences, got PETA freaked out at them, all to try to convince these companies that their “cure” would make mutations even worse.

No one listened, they said it was the American Government overreaching itself, but when things went to shit it was Division X who got called in to handle the people who went Incredible Hulk.

That fad has died down a little, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a trend: won’t come back to bite them in the ass.

MacTaggert gives him a look that implies she just gave him all the explanations, but she didn’t. She didn’t know about Charles’ mutation, so what did she need a geneticist for?

“Your geneticists were inadequate?” he asks.

“I needed an expert who would understand what we were seeing,” she says, shrugging. “Someone with fresh eyes.”

“You took an academic into the field.”

Moira stands up and glares at him. “Give me a little credit. We came, we saw, we left. I got him some samples, he ran tests, and in a week that was the end of things. I used a front lab and I don’t think he had any idea.”

She had no fucking idea. Erik kept his voice even: “How long ago?”

“A year.”

“Three months later he vanished.”

“He partied pretty hard,” she said, dismissive, pulling up Charles’ Facebook account, and yes, fine, so it was mostly bongs and kegstands, Charles’ face flushed and his smile wide, eyes glassy as he hugged the people in the pictures exuberantly. Erik couldn’t help the small smile, because it was funny now, a little, in the way it wasn’t last night. He was being haunted by a genius fratboy with multiple doctorates and the ability to read minds.

That shit was funny.

“And you didn’t think--”

“Where is this coming from? He’s not one of yours, he’s human, and God knows you don’t start your crusades for anyone who isn’t o--”

“Moira,” Quentin says, quiet, and then looks at Erik. “Did you come to antagonize or was there a point in here somewhere?”

“He’s the most powerful telepath we’ve encountered, if his sister is telling the truth,” Erik interrupts. “And I’m inclined to believe her, since he’s been haunting me for months.”

They both still and stare at him. MacTaggert lets out a strangled, “What?”

“And you fed him to the wolves. They tracked you, making your inquiries, but why grab you? You’re protected, even I would be obligated to come looking for your corpse.” He says it with a sneer, both hands braced on the conference table, staring her down.

“Thanks,” she mutters, rolling her eyes.

“But an unprotected academic? Easy. And then they find out he’s a mutant and what he can do--” he cuts himself off, and everything metallic in the room dropped. MacTaggert, to her credit, just kept looking at him, too used to this to flinch.

“I didn’t know,” she says, finally. “I didn’t think--it’s standard procedure, we don’t put bodyguards on everyone we contract out to.”

“I’m putting one of my teams on it,” Erik tells her. “I expect you to get me everything you know by the end of the day, and I want all the information on the Iran Op.”

“What--why?” Quentin asks.

“Because it was Shaw, and now he has someone who could actually be useful to him. If Xavier is half as powerful as his sister is saying? We’re in deep shit.”


Erik knows better than to go down to the office or go running around the grounds when he feels like this, so he goes down to the gym to beat up the equipment and himself until he’s exhausted and not in danger of destroying the building.

Emma comes down too soon, before he’s even really sweating, and she watches, hips jutting forward and looking unimpressed the longer he ignores her. After ten minutes she goes diamond and grabs it, and then shifts back, lifting an eyebrow. “Are we talking about this or am I dragging this out of you?”

“You promised not to do that,” Erik reminds her, because she did, and then she taught him how Shaw’s helmet worked, the one that locked her out. It was all metal, and Erik can block her out without looking like a dick (literally--the thing was huge and bulbous and purple and all Erik could think when Shaw wore it was that he looked like a penis).

“I make a lot of promises,” she dismisses, and then, “What happened?”

“I got home and he wasn’t there,” he says, flat.

“And you panicked.”

“I got concerned.”

“You’ve never met him,” she points out, rolling her eyes. “You wouldn’t even admit there was something going on and apparently it was more than we thought because--”

“I lived with him for--”

“But you never met him. Jesus, Erik, did you fuck him? I don’t even know how you’d do that, but I have faith in you.”

“Shut up.”

She exhales sharply. “Fine. Leaving that aside, you know who this reeks of. Who it’s reeked of all along, but if he’s got your telepath and you’ve been living with him and letting him get familiar with you--”

“I know, Emma.” He does. He’s thought it. At the time it didn’t even occur to him that it--that Charles could be one of Shaw’s plots, but now it seems obvious.

“So then my question becomes...is this about Charles, or is it about Shaw?”

He jerks his head up to look at her. “It’s about getting someone who shouldn’t have been--”

“Erik. The last time you were like this we were trying to find Darwin, and even then...it wasn’t this.” She sounds...amused, but a little sad, somehow, looking at him the way she does when she’s had a bottle of wine and is trying to get him to admit that his life is unfulfilled. “You’ve been...happier, and you know that--”

“Don’t--” he starts, and she ignores him, because Emma always ignores him.

“--I want to take Shaw down just as badly as you do, and if Charles Xavier proves to be the thing that gets us close, great. But you’re invested, and Raven thinks you’re some sort of hero and I need to know what we’re doing.”

“We’re getting him back.”

“You know how astral projection works, especially if he’s comatose, he’ll wake up and he won’t remember you. Even if he’s not dead, which is a possibility, and that discounts that this could, oh yes, all be a trap--”

“I know, Emma!” he shouts, and she stops, folding her arms over her chest.

“If we get in there, and he’s dead or worse, you’re going to be Shaw’s target. Your powers don’t work as well when you’re sad, it’s in your damn file. If he knows you’re attached--”

“I’m not. I’m not attached.”

She tilts her head, and then nods, turning on her heel and walking out of the room like the tile is a catwalk. She pauses at the door and tosses over her shoulder, “If you are? Get angry.”

Erik watches her go and then spends twenty minutes trying to get t-beams in the foundation to stop curving towards him. Fuck.

Erik has no intention of going back to the house. There’s a job on and he fully intends to live at work, crashing on the couch in his office (the one that’s at least two feet too short to be comfortable, but one doesn’t sleep at the office for comfort). There are whiteboards and favors to be called in, Alex and Darwin heading off before ten to go check out a lead down in Georgia. Azazel comes back, looks around, and then sends Janos out for tequila and vodka, which Erik is pretty sure is code for something...he just can’t figure out what.

MacTaggert brings her own team in, analysts who have gone through everything with fine-toothed combs, awkward people who talk to Raven like she’s a hostile witness. Azazel steps in when Raven’s expression goes from “pissed” to “homicidal”, and Erik narrows his eyes because that? Is not happening on his watch.

He takes a call from Davies-Hamilton, the MI6 liason, who says they’ve never even heard of Charles Xavier, though after about seven hours she sends over a few files--footage of protests and rallies that have Charles in the crowd, chanting and yelling.

Erik pauses the movie and rubs his burning eyes, looking up when the door swings open.

“His last week, documented,” Janos says, dropping down the huge pile of papers on Erik’s desk and raising his eyebrows at Erik, running a hand through his hair. It’s been two days and he still looks flawless. Erik suspects him of having a secondary mutation. “I will help you.”

Erik nods, yawning and smothering it behind his teeth, blinking his watering eyes and accepting the cup Janos hands him, not realizing until he’s swallowed that this is tequila, not coffee. He coughs, and Janos smirks at him before stretching out in his dunhill suit, reading.

They’re pouring all of their resources into one man--one missing mutant case, when there are dozens. Erik keeps waiting for Alex or Darwin or even MacTaggert to say something, to wonder why Charles, when so many others are missing? He doesn’t have an answer--or at least, he doesn’t have a good answer. He has this nagging feeling that Charles is a key to something--that Shaw has Charles and with him he’s going to...Erik doesn’t know. Which is the problem.

So it’s personal, because Erik misses him, this man he doesn’t know. He feels his absence like a phantom ache. But it’s also tactical, because if Charles is what Raven says he is (and Erik is inclined to believe it), and Shaw has him (and Erik thinks he does), then they’re...fucked.


He jerks awake when McCoy knocks on the door. “You’re not going to like this,” he says, pushing his glasses up his nose and plugging a thumb drive into Erik’s computer.

“What is this?” Erik rasps, wincing at the throbbing, stabbing pain...in his body. He might, finally, be too old for this shit.

“These are the models for Cerebro, and these are the notes I made two years ago when Agent Frost was attempting to use it, and this...this is a schematic for making a duplicate.”

Erik stares at them. “Where did you get this?”

“One of MacTaggert’s found it, actually. We were going through the server attacks a couple months ago that targeted the pentagon, part of that anonymous group thing, and it looks like they got this.”

Erik looks at him and Hank nods. “I mean, it was corrupted, it’s like they couldn’t complete the download and the Pentagon’s records weren’t the full record anyway, I mean, I’m not an idiot, but. It’s probably enough.”

Emma, undoubtedly sensing a disturbance in the force, stalks over to them, turning the computer towards her and staring. “No one can use this,” she says, hitting keys viciously. “It was a good idea but--”

“But if Erik’s Charles more powerful than you are or if the people constructing it don’t care whether he lives or dies...could be used. Could be modified,” Janos argues, and Raven stiffens behind him. Sean knocks his shoulder into hers.

“Tact,” Erik tells Janos, who flips him off while he leans into the laptop further.

“What is worst that he could do?” Janos asks McCoy, who shifts, glancing at Raven and then Alex before saying,

“I mean...he could find out where...where we all are. Every mutant, he could get a location on, but I mean, he could target us specifically.”

“Worst,” Janos persists, and McCoy adjusts his glasses and says,

“He could isolate us and kill us. All of us.”

“Or all the humans,” Emma says, looking at Erik.

“A very elegant solution,” Erik says. “With someone who was that powerful at your disposal, you wouldn’t worry about uprising. Just simply keep him locked in and you would never have to worry about any of it, it would never occur to you to rebel and if it did Charles could take care of it.”

“Until he dies,” Hank agrees, and then looks at Raven, fumbling over himself in his haste to apologize.

“How do you know he hasn’t?” Emma asks.

“I just do,” Raven says, lifting her chin defiantly.

Emma shrugs at her. “It would be more useful if you had a direct link,” she informs her, and then turns to Erik. “You know he has to have a military contact,” Emma murmurs.

“Generals?” Janos suggests.

“Lower,” Azazel disagrees. “Generals aren’t allowed to have secrets. And a scientist, I think. Someone who understands what they are doing, this is...focused.”

Erik rubs his forehead.

“What?” Emma asks.

“How are they going to get him into it? You could put the headpiece on and still be disengaged even with the machine turned on--there was an element of consent.”

“Jason Stryker,” Emma says, and Erik raises his eyebrows. She says it like he should know the name but he’s got nothing.

“Who?” Erik asks blankly.

“Jason Stryker, you remember him,” Emma says to Janos, who tilts his head thoughtfully.

“Scrawny boy with gender issues, could make you do whatever he wanted, sure,” Janos agrees, disinterested. “Never really liked the little fucker.”

“His father was military,” Emma says.

“Wanted Shaw to beat it out of kid, or disappear him,” Azazel says, biting his thumbnail and Erik remembers him, vaguely. Shy kid, with all the hallmarks of abuse hanging around him like dead weight--broken before he came to them. One of the ones Erik couldn’t have saved if he’d been inclined to at the time.

“What could he--” McCoy asks.

“He could make you see what he wanted you to see and do what he wanted you to do, but it was all proximity-based, and his nerves were shot. Every so often he’d get you, but then he’d freak or--” Emma shrugs, laughing a little. “Or Erik would walk by.”

“Metal allergy?” McCoy asks, looking between them.

“He was jittery. I made a lot of noise,” Erik replies, shrugging.

“Did he ever resurface, after?” Azazel asks, and Janos shakes his head.

“Either he stayed with Shaw or his father buried him. Either one is possible, maybe,” he says. “Was not even on the roster after we...left.”

McCoy looks at them all. Someday, Erik will get Azazel to tell the story about how they all went a little crazy, and maybe they’ll stop putting pauses in their sentences, but right now the public and CIA records will have to suffice.

“I know I was supposed to be against Registration,” Emma mutters, getting up and rolling her shoulders, “but at times like this I could see its use.”

“Registration is how they find you,” Erik reminds her, and she shrugs.

“I called my congressperson, darling. Did my civic duty.”

Emma did more than that. When President McKenna was encouraging his anti-mutant measures, Senator Kelly had introduced the Compulsory Mutant Registration Act. It was on the heels of the Iran incident--people were nervous, and even though poll numbers had been against it, the idiots on the Hill decided they knew best. Erik had put on his best American accent and gone around from office to office, trying to explain why it was a bad idea. And when that didn’t work, Emma went around.

The motion failed.

Sometimes Erik thinks they’re no better than anyone else who’s inflicted their will on society--it’s immoral. Sometimes it gives him pause. Abuse of their power is something Shaw endorsed--they have these gifts, so they should use them. Erik tries to make sure they're using them for the right reasons, but he’s fallible. He’s what Shaw made him. And even when it gives him pause, it’s never kept him up at night.

“So Shaw has Charles and he has Jason and he has Cerebro,” Azazel says, and looks at Erik in that “why did I ever decide I liked you?” way. “I should have stayed in Russia.”

“You would have been bored,” Erik tells him, and looks at McCoy. “We know what we’re looking for now. Colonel William Stryker.”

“Mm, yeah, the fun part,” Emma mutters. “Waiting while the minions do busywork.” She looks at Janos. “Manicures?”

“And pedicure,” Janos agrees, and Azazel looks at Erik.

“Time to go home,” he says cheerfully but Erik shakes his head. He’s staying.

Even if he is getting too old for this shit.

Erik falls asleep at his desk.

The dream is weirdly clear, and happy, like someone is rifling through his happiest memories and bringing them to the front. Scenes of his mother cooking and his father coming home, them playing and Erik showing off, sitting at Temple and laughing at Hebrew lessons.

“Thank you for that,” a boy with floppy hair says, too earnest, and he doesn’t belong. The metal wiring from the fence outside hovers outside the window, and there is a spoon bobbing at Erik’s shoulder, ready to dig through the boy’s brain.

“No--don’t,” the boy says, hastily, and then he’s Charles, looking rueful and a little nervous.

“Charles,” Erik says, because...well, technically he’s asleep. That’s pretty much the best excuse in the world as far as he’s concerned. “How--”

“Ah, yes. Apparently...it’s no longer the house. I confess I’m rather fuzzy on the details and specifics...there are...there are quite a lot of us.” He looks out into the indistinct background--it’s a dream, and no matter what Christopher Nolan tries to claim they’re never articulated well.

“Cerebro?”

“Is...you know that that’s merely Spanish for “brain”, yes?” He tilts his head and then smiles a little. “Ah, I think I will like to meet Hank.”

“I’ll introduce you,” Erik says, mildly. “Are you going to answer my question?”

Once, about a year after he’d joined, they tried to make him take a sensitivity course. Tried to teach him what to ask, what he could ask. They thought for a while he was sociopathic (which might have earned his first raise, Erik’s still unclear on that), but after a while they gave up. He knows how to read a situation, and, frankly people are stronger than they’re given credit for 99% of the time.

He thinks that this might be the 1% of the time he’s miscalculated because Charles looks...bad. Ill. Frightened, somehow, and brittle. Old. He looks like the 82-year-old Erik secretly still thinks he is.

“I’m coming to get you,” Erik says, and it breaks the moment, gets a smile.

“I know,” Charles agrees, twitching his fingers by his head in what he probably imagines is a meaningful fashion. “And yes. Er, only.” He bites his lip, flutters his fingers. “Only, I think I’ve...stymied them.”

“Good,” Erik says, and the smile Charles gives him is exasperated, like Erik is the problem. Erik is not the problem, Erik is the goddamn solution. Charles knows it, too, because one corner of his mouth lifts up in a reluctant smile.

“You’ll come soon,” Charles says, and though it’s not a question there’s a something desperate in the words themselves, or maybe in the air.

Erik wants to ask him where he is, who has him, does he have any idea what kind of bloodbath they’re going to walk into in order to bring him back. Erik wants to ask him if he’s eaten, if he’s met a little girl with a suspiciously Lolita-like air and a fondness for flannel nightgowns. He has a million questions, but he keeps them silent in his throat because Charles is crumpling in on himself like he’s made of wet newspaper and Erik can’t--won’t--stand for it. He grabs hold of him, pulling him in and holding on until Charles returns the embrace, clinging.

“I’m coming now,” Erik says, and Charles nods into the curve of Erik’s neck.

When he pulls back he wipes his eyes with his thumb, flicking the water away in delicate motions. Erik is weirdly reminded of that movie about Victoria that Azazel made him watch (“For culture, for you have none.”)--Erik doesn’t know what it says about Charles that he’s the image of Queen Victoria in her youth, but Erik doesn’t really know what the fuck is going on here at all, and they’re in his head and he’s technically asleep so, whatever. He’s rolling with it.

“You’re coming now. That’s. Yes. That’s good,” Charles says, nodding.

“I should probably wake up,” Erik points out. “To find you more efficiently.”

Charles smiles, a tight little thing. When Janos had had his “private tutoring sessions” with Shaw he’d given that exact same smile. The one that said “I can do this, I can endure it, please don’t worry about me, but god, please save me.”

“I’m coming,” Erik repeats, but he’s telling his desk, which doesn’t seem to care.

When he lifts his head it’s to find Raven poised in the doorway, eyebrows raised. She’s holding out the coffee she’d apparently brought him and obviously trying to decide whether or not to give it to him.

He takes it, clearing his throat. “What are you doing in my office at three in the morning?”

“I couldn’t sleep, figured I’d come and be useless here.” She sits down across from him, folding her legs underneath her--she’s in her natural form, red hair slicked back and gold eyes catching the light unnervingly.

Well, it would be, but one of Erik’s best friends looks like a comic book version of Satan, so.

There’s that.

“Azazel will have something in a few hours,” he tells her.

She nods, playing with the ring of paper around her coffee cup. Once, when they were fifteen and scared, bleeding, probably, Erik had told Janos he was sick as fuck of people coming up to him with their sob stories. Erik didn’t help anyone, didn’t cross Shaw, didn’t--couldn’t--give enough of a shit. Not then, and now only barely. But Janos had looked at Erik and laughed, just a little, a raw desperate sound. “Where else are they going to go?” he’d asked.

Raven doesn’t particularly like him, but Erik thinks the principle applies: where else is she going to go?

“I keep thinking--I should have noticed. I should have done something,” she says softly.

“What could you have done?” he asks reasonably, drinking the coffee when all he wants is tea. Erik never drank tea before moving into Charles’ house.

“I don’t know. We shared a flat, we...we did everything together, you know?”

“Did he tell you to...hide it?” It’s the part Erik can’t quite figure out. The hiding mutant part. Things are...well, they’re not great, but they’re not like they were in the 60s or even in the 80s. Things are getting better, even if it’s slowly. It’s certainly not bad enough to closet yourself. Charles comes from privilege--rich parents, white, highly educated, lived in the US and the UK, and he was active, or supportive, at least. He just always acted like an ally.

“Our mother was very...not quite upper crust but as close as you can get. Charles’ father was an MP--Tory, of course--but...by the time I was old enough to start questioning why I had to hide, the stories about the schools in America were coming out. Stories about you, I guess,” she says, looking at him quickly and then away. They all do that: act like someone’s going to snap if their traumatic childhoods are brought up. Erik figures if they haven’t snapped yet, they’re probably not going to. “And Charles would watch the TV and say that that was what would happen--where I would go. That we had to stay together, so that he could protect me until I was eighteen, and then...well. He was my brother, you know?”

“You have the same surname.”

“We’re siblings.”

“You said his father was an MP. His mother’s maiden name was Jones, his father was Edward Xavier and she remarried a Carl Marko five years later.”

Raven stares at him, startled, shifting in her chair, pupils dilating.

“So how are you related?”

She could lie. She could say that Carol got knocked up by one of Edward’s colleagues, but she doesn’t. She tells him about being ditched on the streets of New York City by parents who drove all the way across the country for that express purpose. She was only four, and she survived it by pretending to be an adult, hiding and stealing and being very clever as she worked her way through upstate New York. Until the day she broke into the Xavier townhouse and got caught by small Charles Xavier who made everyone think Raven had been his sister all along. “Mother used to tell me about the stretch marks I gave her,” Raven says, smiling a little.

“That is...”

“He planted the suggestion,” she says. “They just all filled in the blanks, and me being there was enough to make it stick.” She shifts in her seat. “He didn’t--it wasn’t malicious. He just...he kind of has this complex, like he can control everything, you know?”

Erik doesn’t point out that it sounds like he could. That if Charles was anyone else they might all be his slaves, blissfully ignorant of the fact. The man could be Prime Minister and he’s a lecturer at Oxford, writing social manifestos and complex genetic theories. He has a headache. It’s a very specific Charles-shaped headache.

“So,” she says, after the silence has stretched. “What was being haunted like?”

“We watched television,” Erik says, light. “Kardashians if he was being a bitch, Animal Hoarders, and Antiques Roadshow every Monday. I never got--well. I never kept a headache, and he hid my shit but he’d order take out and--” he breaks off and lifts a shoulder up. It sounds small, all of it, when it’s laid out like that, but to tell her anything else would make it sound...like it was more than it was. More than Erik had any right to lay claim to. Charles might still be haunting him but there’s no way to know if the man they rescue will even know who Erik is, and Erik doesn’t like to count his battles as won until he’s seen the bodies.

She tilts her head. “Domestic.”

“After he stopped levitating me.”

“But see, that thing,” she says, leaning forward. “The electrical things, the levitating, he couldn’t do that. I mean, he could--get in your head and make you freeze or think things or not see them but that was because he was in your head. He couldn’t affect things like--nonphysical things.”

“Maybe it has to do with wherever he is. He’s compensating.”

“Like hearing better when you’re blind. You think he’s...he’d have to be isolated.”

“Shaw has this helmet,” Erik says, wondering why none of them ever snapped a picture of the thing. It’s not like cameraphones were prevalent...or even...there when they were kids. God, he’s old. “It’s ugly, makes him look like a dick--literally--but it blocks out telepathic frequencies.”

“If Charles was wearing it, before--before Cerebro...”

“Alkali Lake. Alaska. It’s an underground complex and no, I can’t teleport inside,” Azazel says. “Is for me?” He picks up Erik’s coffee and drinks, amused as Erik shoves out from behind his desk, grabbing his phone and broadcasting at Emma to get here, now.

“You two go back,” he says while waiting for Darwin’s phone to pick up. “She can be a security guard or a tourist, I don’t care, but get me something.”

“Yes, princess,” Azazel mutters in Russian. Erik flips him off.

“I can understand you,” he reminds him. Azazel bares his teeth.

“I know.”


Getting the schematics is easy. McCoy gets them into the database and then Summers pushes him aside to show off exactly why the FBI pitched a bitchfit when Erik picked him up. Really, it should have been the Joint Chiefs who panicked because it takes him all of three minutes to have the complete layout of the “Department of Energy & Natural Resources’ “Industrial Complex”, updated with...

“That’s Cerebro,” McCoy says, pushing his glasses up his nose. “They’re drawing off of the dam to power it, but...I mean. This looks...functional. Rudimentary, and not as...um. Consensual?”

Erik tilts his head. “Metal.”

“Oh, all of it,” McCoy assures him.

“So all we have to do is get you inside--”

“They’re not drawing off of the dam,” Emma says, pointing at it. “Look. They can’t be, it’s being diverted into the power grid the way it’s been for years, and unless this was up and running fifty years ago...”

“So Shaw,” Janos says, shrugging at her and lifting his eyebrows.

“What?” Sean asks. Someday Erik’s going to remember that kid’s last name, but he looks about twelve. And stoned.

“Shaw’s power is absorbing and redistributing energy.”

“If you are hiding a military base in Alaska, what is United States government hiding?” Azazel asks, looking annoyed, and Erik pinches his nose.

“Why is it always nukes?” Emma demands. “Just once I want it to be something else.”

“It could be him feeding off of a mutant who gives off energy,” Summers says, and they all pause.

“Road trip?” Janos asks.

“Get the jet,” Erik agrees.

“Shotgun!” Sean shouts, running out the door behind McCoy.

“You look like shit,” Emma tells him when it’s just the two of them left in the office handing him a brown bag with a bagel inside--sugar and cinnamon and sticky and gooey and perfect. He puts it down on Raven’s desk absently.

“I had..interesting dreams,” he admits.

She frowns, tilting her head while she studies him. He lifts his chin and feels her slide into his head, then jerk back. “Jesus Christ--he’s still there!” she snaps, skin shimmering just slightly, just enough that he knows she’s freaking out. He doesn’t like it when Emma freaks out, mostly because there’s massive property damage and he usually doesn’t get out of it without a black eye. At least.

“What do you mean, he’s still there?” Erik can’t feel him, can’t see him. He still has a headache and his back hurts from that impression of sleeping at his desk he did.

“I mean I should have looked earlier!” she says, waving a hand in his face, nail polish glittering malevolently under the florescent lights. “We don’t know anything. He’s in your mind, or he has his fingers in it. You’re compromised, maybe have been all along. For all we know this is a trap.”

“That was always a possibility,” he points out, pulling his jacket on. “And if something had been wrong you would have known.”

“Yeah, it was always a possibility, but before it wasn’t you being taken out of the picture I was worried about.” She grits her teeth, and then twirls a finger at his head, an obscure signal that he should shift the magnetic pull around him to keep telepaths out. “Suit up.”

“If he is there and you’re wrong--it could break him for nothing.” They’ve seen telepaths who have snapped or been broken. They have no concept of what’s real and what isn’t, no concept of self and other--there are no lines, no--nothing. At best they become vegetables, at worse they wander cities, homeless, destroying everyone they come into contact with. Charles, Erik is fairly certain, could destroy the minds of an entire continent.

“I’m willing to take that chance,” Emma says, arms folded across her chest.

He lifts an eyebrow at her, not giving an inch. Not on this. There’s too much at stake and they could get Shaw and Emma is wasting time with this...idiocy. It doesn’t matter, if Charles is going to kill him then he probably marked him when he moved into the damn house. Doing anything now isn’t going to help and they’re wasting time.

“No,” she says, flat. “No. You don’t get to do that, Erik. You’ve never met him, he’s not--he’s not one of us. He hasn’t earned that right, a pussy academic who hid from the big bad world because he could afford to. Bits of generosity here and there when he deigned to look down on the masses--that’s not us. That’s not what we’re fighting for, or even doing here. We don’t owe him. You don’t owe him.“

“It doesn’t matter,” Erik snarls back, because it’s not just about Charles. “This is as close as we’ve been to Shaw in a decade or more. If we don’t move now he could get Cerebro working enough to kill whoever he wanted to. To wipe the Earth clean and remake it in his image. I’m not sitting it out, and I’m sure as hell done talking about it. If you need to take me out it’s not like you don’t know how, but let’s keep the telepath with the untested range sane so we don’t cause unnecessary damage, okay?”

“I feel like he’s listening,” she says, hard and frustrated after the silence has stretched out, brittle between them. The I feel like I can’t talk to you because someone else is listening is implicit.

“I don’t...I don’t think he’s aware of a whole lot specifically,” Erik says, slowly. “I think if he concentrates I’m in deep shit.”

“You think?” she repeats, and he looks at her, sliding his hands into his pockets.

“I don’t know. Maybe he’s telling me, or it’s been five months and things seeped into my brain--but you’ve got to trust I know what I’m doing.”

“You never know what you’re doing.”

“Then how is this different?”

She opens her mouth and then closes it again, and then exhales, rolling her eyes. “Yeah, same shit, different day.”

He nods. “Yeah. Okay. Let’s go to Alaska.”