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.
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.
“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--”
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.
“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?”
“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?”
“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.”
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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.
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.”
Before Erik’s bosses recruited him, Henry McCoy III was actually eyeing the Air Force. He was in MIT at the time, but spent most of his time designing newer, faster, more advanced planes. Even at work his desk is always decorated with a few model planes he’s put together with painstaking care in his free time, and when he was young parents could afford to take him on planes even just to the next state.
McCoy was raised in suburbia, is the thing--with loving parents who sent him to a normal school, he played lacrosse and was in the math league. He was popular in a nerdy way, too smart by half, and while his parents encouraged him to hide his feet, they just had shrugged and said that these things happen sometimes.
Erik met Representative McCoy and Mr. McCoy at a fundraiser, once. He’d liked them, well enough for humans. Representative McCoy had told him to watch out for her son and not to let him do anything too dangerous.
She’s all for mutant rights, these days, now that Hank seems to have settled into Division X, and there’s talk of running her against the incumbent senator in the next election.
Erik likes her, so it’s going to be a shame when he tells her he had to kill her son for the good of them all, but really, he was trying to kill them.
They’re divided into two jets that Hank designed and oversaw the construction of, and Erik is in the one that Hank’s piloting while Emma is in the one Darwin--former Air Force pilot--is in charge of.
Hank keeps insisting that he’s not flying too low, but Erik finally has to just focus on the warm hum of the metal hull and all the screws and washers so that he doesn’t kill Hank preemptively.
It’s not that Erik doesn’t like flying--he just hates flying with McCoy.
Which is probably why Emma made sure he was in this one, because she’s a bitch and pissed at him and made of all the evil things in the world.
He’s really glad she’s on his side.
“I could probably kill him and you could fly it,” Summers offers, looking a little green. “I’m sure we could figure it out before we died.”
“I can hear you,” Hank tells them, twisting to glare while Erik and Summers and Sean and Raven all frantically gesture for him to watch the road, you fucker!
“Fuck my life,” Sean mutters. “Oh my God, fuck it so hard, man.”
“You should never have stolen him,” Alex tells Erik, looking wronged, slumping against his seat belt, arms folded over his chest and legs splayed. “We should have let R&D keep the bastard.”
And...yeah, well. That’s the thing, isn’t it? Because Erik didn’t know that Hank was a mutant when he’d recruited him. He’d just watched what the kid could do and seen that he was going to be bored with simple R&D when Erik could offer him things like Cerebro--started back in the 60s and never seen through because they couldn’t figure out how to make it work (it had had some big long name - “Biomechanical Reactive Advanced Inter-Neural Stimulator”--BRAINS, because the 60s were full of drugs). Erik had let Hank into the old facility and then argued for forty-five minutes with Darwin about whether or not he was allowed to go rescue his boyfriend from his parents (“Look, I know you’re my boss and you have this thing where people having lives give you hives but I am legitimately telling you that my mother is going to kill him” “It’s not really any of my business whether Summers is capable of winning over your family, but as a point of interest you should probably not have mentioned that he was a convicted criminal in solitary.” “Man, you suck.”
Alex Summers and Armando Muñoz were one of those things Erik hadn’t expected to last, but had. Between taking in Alex’s kid brother and managing a pretty terrible job, they’d managed to keep it up for six years. Now Mrs. Muñoz’ favorite past-time is demanding to know when they’re going to get married and give her nietos).
When Erik had finally hung up on Darwin and turned back around, Hank had the tech relatively functional and had drawn up schematics on how to make it actually work in the 21st century. That was the point Erik had refused to give him back.
Now, Erik regrets that decision.
Still, they land without injury and if Sean throws himself to the ground and kisses the snow even Alex can’t bring himself to make fun of him for it and Erik pretends he can’t see it in favor of glaring at Emma.
Emma tilts her head and raises her eyebrows and Erik just points at her pulling on a glove and popping his collar up against the chill.
Like any good government facility, Alkali Lake Industrial Complex is a stone’s throw from the town of Shelburne, Alaska because experimental tech isn’t fun unless there are civilians nearby. It’s a relatively big town, though, with several hotels, probably all thanks to the fact that it’s the last stop before you get into Alaska’s wilderness. It’s big enough traffic that a group of nine doesn’t make anyone blink. Well, eight, because Azazel is in discretion-mode and as soon as Erik got a room Azazel was setting up shop in there, arguing with Hank (who actually hates teleporting but hates teleporting equipment even more) about how to put up their surveillance.
Janos and Emma play the married couple doing some sight-seeing, Darwin and Alex are lawyers dealing with a corporate case about the oil refinery having some trouble upstate, and Erik is a foreign investor with Sean as his PA. Because Janos is a jerk and he’s the one who came up with the cover stories, Raven and Hank are on their honeymoon. Raven looks speculative and asks if there’s a honeymoon suite (yes, as it turns out, and they get bumped up because the old woman behind the desk thinks they’re “so cute”)--Hank may never stop blushing.
The covers are enough to give them access to the town, and while Erik knows by looking that Sean and Raven and even Hank are a little...not inconvenienced, but annoyed by the need for a cover, Erik has done this enough to know the one time you go in without is the time you need it.
He lets the rest of them start setting up while he does some sight-seeing, thickening his accent and smiling vaguely at passers-by.
There’s a bar that serves a decent German lager, and he wonders if Charles can feel that they’re close.
The bartender is a pretty girl with...very interesting tattoos and a tongue ring. She smiles at him, sly and cocky and he toasts her as his phone rings.
“Mein Liebling,” he greets Emma, who makes a horrible noise at him in answer. He grins, and the bartender gives him his tab. He hands her his credit card.
“You can come back now,” she tells him, sour.
“I am at the most wonderful bar where they serve excellent beer,” he tells her, signing the credit card receipt and playing with the pen for a second before putting it down, pocketing his wallet and heading out the door.
Emma understands him when he speaks German--telepathic skill or just long exposure to him he’s not sure, but she doesn’t like it. It’s like she thinks he’s doing it to provoke him.
“Nice, sug,” she replies in her thickest southern drawl.
“You want me to bring you a mint julep?” he asks solicitously, snow crunching underfoot as he heads back to the hotel.
She hangs up on him and he laughs, nodding at the concierge and heading up the stairs to his suite, which seems small with nine of them in it.
McCoy has the 3-D layout of Alkali out, and Janos and Alex are arguing ways to get in.
“It’s deserted, obviously, from the outside,” Azazel says. “Ruins, even.”
“Local gossip is that it blew up from one too many projects going awry back in the 70s,” Raven reports, tucking her hair behind her ear. “But.”
“Is under and in dam itself,” Azazel says. “And I don’t think it’s nuclear energy at all, I think it’s all the dam, because if you see here--” he pulls up a series of photos from the last ten years, “it gets more use now. Only nothing fluctuates because power is drawn to Cerebro, no one notices, all very contained.”
“Definitely Shaw, Stryker’s not clever enough for this,” Janos agrees. “But, you can see here--flood gate. Supposedly designed to relieve pressure in dam when run-off gets high but.” He smirks, giving Erik a look, and Erik nods.
“Interesting placement,” he agrees.
“And from what we’ve been able to tell they have no actual look-outs, it’s all run from the control-room, here,” Raven says, pointing, and Azazel nods.
“Cocky of him,” Emma remarks.
“It’s a local past-time to go out there, they say you can hear the screams of dying government agents on cold nights,” Raven says, a snarl curving over her lips and her eyes flashing gold just for an instant. “They’re going with the ‘haunted’ cover.”
“A classic,” Erik allows, and Emma snorts while Raven looks up at him and then smiles.
“So what’s the plan? Go in, metaphorical guns blazing or do we try to sabotage?” Darwin asks. “Though I gotta be honest, I don’t see a whole lot of space here for sabotage, seein’ how it’s...inaccessible.”
“No,” Emma snaps, and Erik raises his eyebrow at her, and oh, yeah. She knows what he’s thinking.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You didn’t have to,” she says, tightly furious. “Are you stupid?”
“What did he do?” Janos demands, standing up, and Emma’s lips are drawn.
“There’s a lovely mutant girl working as a bartender down the road a bit,” Erik says mildly.
“You spoke German,” Emma says, closing her eyes and pressing her fingertips under them, careful of her make-up. “Did you play with the pen, too?”
Erik looks at her. “Would I do something so blatant?”
“Will someone catch the rest of us up?” Summers demands.
“We cannot get into the facility with any ease,” Azazel says. “I cannot get in where I cannot see, and there is no one for Ms. Xavier to impersonate. However. This is Shaw’s facility, and Erik...” he trails off, looking for the words.
“He’ll open the door for me,” Erik says.
“He’d be stupid to,” Emma argues. “And stupid he is not. He will leave you standing there, he won’t care what or why you’ve come at all.”
“Not if he has Jackson,” Erik argues.
“Jason,” Janos corrects, glaring.
“Whatever,” Erik dismisses.
“That helps us how?” Darwin demands. “So he gets you and then he’s got you under his thumb and we get in how? You just become one of the other ones who he nabbed.”
“Well,” Sean says, looking at them all, and then hesitates when everyone turns and looks at him. “Jason can’t get into Erik’s head, and it’s a metal facility.”
Erik smiles at him and Sean flushes a little.
Everyone goes quiet, thoughtful. “And then what?” Darwin asks.
When they brought down the school there was a lot less planning than they were given credit for, after. The big plan had been to take down the adults while Erik went after Shaw and then run, and as a plan concocted by eighteen-year-olds it had been pretty decent.
They did take down the adults, identified the kids who were going to try to keep them and took them down too before running for the town a few miles away.
Erik had met Shaw outside his office, ripping the wiring out of the wall to keep him from advancing on the kids scrambling to get out of the way.
“How can you do this to us?” Shaw had asked him, looking genuinely hurt that Erik didn’t see his vision. “How can you betray your own people like this?”
“You’re not my people,” Erik had replied, and wrenched. Everything--wiring, parts of the foundation, screws, nails, studs, pieces of upholstery--it all surged towards him and Shaw had turn and run into his office, laughing.
“You could be so great, Erik! We had only just begun to see what you are truly capable of! This just shows that we have only brushed the surface!” Like it was all experiments in the abstract. Like Erik didn’t have scars from where Shaw tried to fuse metal to Erik’s bones or where he had cut into him, trying to see how high the metallic content had to be before Erik could stop something from coming towards him. Like the scarred mass of tissue on his upper thigh where Shaw shot him to see if Erik could stop a bullet in mid-flight didn’t exist. Like Erik didn’t have a barcode tattooed into his forearm when he was a child to remind him that he was a thing, not a person.
That was about the point Erik lost it. Shaw had three grenades in his office he managed to detonate and absorb to throw in short, sharp bursts at Erik while Erik found the gun and shot him three times (and he still doesn’t know how Shaw survived that--Erik has excellent aim) before pistol-whipping him. The building was burning around them and Erik slipped on the smooth floor in his own blood and he’d been winning--a heavy power-line had shot through the window and wrapped around him, holding him still while the rest of Shaw’s stockpile flew towards Erik and then--
Juggernaut. Mr. Markos, ostensible geography teacher, ran through the goddamn wall and wrenched Shaw away.
Erik had followed, screamed at Emma that Shaw was getting away and she had followed, the four of them scrambling over the wreckage and down the laws and onto the beach, moving towards the docks where Markos and Shaw were disappearing into a fucking submarine.
“Go!” Erik had shouted hoarsely at Azazel, who had stared at him.
“I can’t-- I can’t see inside, is suicide!” he said, and Erik had stared at them and then jumped into the roiling water after it and latched onto the sub with everything he had.
He can remember that the Atlantic was fucking freezing, even for July, and that it was black. He doesn’t remember it burning into all the places he was ripped open, though it must have, the saltwater pouring over his skin. All he can remember is the way he felt every time a panel strained towards him, the way it pulled him deeper and deeper and faster and faster.
That’s not true. He can remember Emma, who must have jumped in after him, holding on tightly and screaming into his head that they were both going to drown if he didn’t stop this instant. He shut her out--threw her to safety and broke her fingers relying on the rings she never took off (Emma doesn’t wear rings anymore, and if you look carefully there are white circles around each finger where the metal bit into her).
He can remember the water churning, opening around him while Janos forced it out of the way, trying to get Erik the space to take another breath until he was too deep, and then Janos tried to suck him out of it using the whirlpools.
He thinks Azazel kept trying to yank him out but kept not making it--couldn’t break Erik’s hold.
They found him washed to shore in Nova Scotia, and Janos had sat with him in a Canadian hospital while the news ran about the school--about the submarine that had surfaced off the coast of New Hampshire and been abandoned, looking like someone had wrapped an enormous fist around it and clenched, DNA testing revealing Sebastian Shaw had been aboard. He made the FBI’s most wanted in the space of two hours, hijacking a plane and diverting it to Argentina.
They showed the little coastal city and said it had been a freak nor’easter. That there was no evidence to prove that the mutant student population was responsible for any of it, given that most of them had looked like refugees--half-starved and bruised and beaten. So the downed power-lines and the thrown cars and the wrecked boats had been blamed on nature, and the kids had been sent back to their parents if their parents would take them, and if not they were found foster care.
It didn’t end well for all of them, but there had been nothing Erik could do about it from his hospital bed. It took Erik four weeks to be able to go home, and Azazel had picked him up and taken him back to the wreckage of the school, and Emma had stood beside him and said, “So. Now what?”
The last time they did this they were children, disorganized and afraid and desperate. It’s been ten years and change. They’re none of those things anymore, and Erik will die this time to bring Shaw down, because he won’t be able to endure it if he wakes up in a hospital and Janos tells him quietly that Shaw got away. He has the backing of the United States Government (though frankly he feels that the government would like it if Erik would stop pointing out that they’re connected and thinks that they should see other people).
He looks at Emma, who looks back at them. “We divide and conquer,” she says, and everyone turns back to her.
“I’ll take Raven, Azazel, Sean, Alex and Hank with me to go rescue Xavier and whoever else is there. Erik will take Janos and Darwin and find Shaw.”
Alex looks at her. “Why--why only three of them?”
“Because a big group won’t matter. Darwin should be able to handle anything that comes at them and Janos knows how Shaw fights as well as Erik. More of us for the rescue because there’s the chance the rescued won’t appreciate it as much,” she says, shrugging elegantly. “Questions?”
“So Erik gets in and what, opens the door for us?” Alex asks.
Erik tilts back his chair. “Essentially.”
Erik looks at Janos, who nods. “I have something,” he says, and Erik follows him into the bedroom.
“You know this is stupid,” Janos says.
“Better me than you,” Erik says.
“Because I cannot defend myself?” Janos asks, glaring at him, and Erik shakes his head, pausing as he strips out of the turtleneck, arms over his head and tangled in fabric.
“Because you shouldn’t have to,” he says, and Janos huffs a breath.
“Neither should you,” he says quietly, and then hands Erik a white t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Erik raises his eyebrows.
“These are mine.”
“I am not an idiot,” Janos reminds him. “The only person who did not see where this was going was Emma. But Emma never saw what she did not want to see.”
“She saw too much as it was.”
“Which is why I never held it against her,” Janos agrees. “And you were always his favorite.”
It had started when they were sixteen--Erik had been...well. Wooed, aggressively. Everything suddenly became “we” and “together” and Shaw’s concepts of personal space fled fast but he never shoved, just...was inexorable for two years, and while Erik had dodged he had never managed to come out and say "no". With Janos...Shaw had taken. Had never even pretended to ask.
Erik could kill him for that.
“I’ll get him this time,” he says, buttoning up the fly of his jeans and pulling on the boots Janos packed.
“I know you will,” Janos agrees, rifling a hand through his hair and shifting his weight, one hand perched on a hip. “Now, more importantly: do you remember how to flirt?”
“Fuck you,” Erik mutters, holding still while Janos does something with Erik’s hair.
“You think I'm teasing, but I have legitimate concerns," Janos informs him. "Okay, stand up, let’s let them see.”
Erik does, pulling on the leather jacket he swore he’d never wear after it inspired Senator Kelly (whose hatred for mutants is apparently less than his desire for a bad boy) to some serious groping.
They re-emerge to a few insultingly stunned looks and one wolf-whistle, because Emma is shameless.
Look at it this way, Emma thinks at him , crossing her legs but not looking at him. Even if your boy doesn’t remember you, he’ll still want to fuck you. As long as Jason doesn’t get Shaw there first.
“I hate you,” Erik tells her genuinely, and she smiles tightly. She really doesn’t like this.
It’s a hike out to Alkali, and really, it’s a very pretty spot. Erik can see why Shaw picked it, even if it is fucking Alaska.
He steps into the tunnel and then looks down at the inch of water and hates his fucking life. Frostbitten is now the way he wants to go, here. He walks slowly, and then tilts his head, because there’s...a child. Shivering violently in the corner, a pretty little redhead.
“Hello,” he says.
She flinches back from him, shrinking into an even smaller ball, and he crouches, tilts his head and wonders if this is how Shaw is treating...God, how many kids does he have here? “What are you doing out here?”
“He said I was bad,” she whispers. Erik considers her, and he remembers Jason, now. Remembers sometimes there would be a little girl roaming the halls who never got older, who would smile sometimes, and walk too close, take advantage of a hug. Erik never bought into Jason’s games--saw through them and made sure it was known--Erik was always much more interested in making sure people knew that there was a fucking pecking order and he would always be at the top. He wonders if Jason remembers him--if he’s enjoying this. If he wonders why Erik didn’t kill Shaw when he had the chance.
“I’m sure you weren’t that bad,” Erik assures her, and she looks at him. He offers her his hand. “Shall we tell him that?”
She nods, tentative, and presses in close to his side. It’s weird, because if he lets his eyes go unfocused he can see that it’s Jason, tall with curling dark hair and just a little too thin, pressed up alongside Erik with a too-sweaty hand. Erik...tries to just see the little girl. He looks up at the security camera.
“Are you going to let us in?” he asks, raising his eyebrows as the heavy doors slide open. It’s weird--it’s like those hidden pictures, when you let your eyes go unfocused and see the bunny or whatever’s been hidden in there. He knows that they really are going into the compound (he was afraid, for a second, that Jason would be able to make him think that and they’d be stuck in the waterway), that there are soldiers everywhere, all of them armed with metal guns, and that the bartender girl is standing up on the landing, looking down at them like she hates her fucking life.
And in the center of everything, because he was always a melodramatic prick, is Sebastian Shaw, who what the fuck has not aged.
Erik looks at him, hand still wrapped around the little girl’s small one, and loves him, adores him--Shaw saved him--and then Erik wants to die because that’s Jason and Jesus fucking Christ, Stryker must be a bitch of a parent if Shaw is the better alternative.
Still, he lets it propel him close, taking his hand out of Jason’s and letting Shaw wrap his arms around him tightly, one hand on the back of Erik’s head. He presses Erik’s face into his neck, holds him too close, too long and it’s-- pressing him close and Erik thinks that if he doesn’t kill him now then he deserves all the fucking awards.
“He loves you,” Jason says in his little-girl voice. “He’s home now.”
“Are you?” Shaw asks, peering into Erik’s eyes. “Are you home? Or are you here to be the disobedient child again, ungrateful for everything I did for you?”
“I’m home,” Erik says, and his voice doesn’t shake.
“He’s home,” Jason affirms, and Shaw beams at him, hand settling in the small of Erik’s back, thumb hot on the skin between Erik’s shirt and jeans.
“Come see,” Shaw says.
“Shaw,” Markos says, stepping forward. Everything shudders.
“It’s alright, Carl,” Shaw tells him, smiling. “Erik understands--he’s done fighting for the doomed human race. Aren’t you?”
Erik nods, smiles with a little too many teeth. “Why fight for them when you can squash them underfoot?”
Shaw beams at him, leaning in. “You see?”
Markos raises his eyebrows, but he lets it go. He lets it go too fast, though.
“Let me show you what we have,” Shaw says, bringing him further into the compound and it’s old habit to match Erik’s stride to Shaw’s.
Shaw punches in a key code and Erik follows him onto the catwalk that stretches out into the cavernous chamber. At the end of it Charles Xavier is sitting, slumped, in a chair with a helmet on his head--no, not on his head--pinned into his head, drilled in the way they’ve--
Drilled him to the chair.
“Meet our salvation, Erik,” Shaw says.
It’s not easy to walk down the catwalk, to lean against the console and assess Charles Xavier’s body (malnourished; dehydrated; paralyzed--possibly quadriplegic, definitely paraplegic; completely shut down; not there), but Erik does it.
“Our salvation is a corpse,” Erik says flatly, unimpressed. He feels like he’s going to destroy everything, and clenches his fists, tightening his watch until it breaks the skin, the flare of pain distracting him sufficiently, enough to maintain his calm, to keep the walls from curving towards him. “And your schematics are wrong.”
“Wrong,” Shaw repeats, quizzical. He has a flat Midwestern-sounding accent now. Before there was something vaguely European about the way he constructed his sentences.
“It’s too big, you used the wrong kind of metal, and it isn’t about the strength of the telepath, it’s about how the panels are arranged,” Erik says. “We didn’t write that down, so it would have been hard to steal it, though you did have a telepath, so it shouldn’t have been that hard.”
They had discovered it while sitting there while McCoy was arguing that it had to be the size of the chamber and Erik had been moving panels because he was bored. When it had flared to life they had...well, mostly pissed their pants, but after that it had been awesome, despite Emma’s nosebleed.
Shaw looks at him hard for a minute before his face breaks out into that smile, pleased with Erik and himself. “Where is the White Queen, Erik?” Shaw asks, but Erik ignores him, crouching in front of Charles and peering up at his sallow face.
“Were you trying to kill him?”
“He didn’t respond to the normal pressures, but everyone has a breaking point,” Shaw dismisses. “Magneto. Where is the White Queen?”
“Not here,” Erik says absently. It’s the truth, even, or maybe the room is blocking her. Outside they must be getting ready to attack, must be sliding in. Still, if they can’t he could probably do it: get Charles out and kill Shaw. He’s pretty pissed, and that makes him dangerous.
They’ve shaved Charles’ head and left the blood to dry and flake off of his face--Erik brushes at it with two fingers. There are bags under his eyes big enough to fit a small baby in and his skin is so white it’s almost translucent, and he’s so full of drugs that...there’s just nothing there. Charles’ eyes aren’t tracking and it’s painfully obvious that the chair he’s bolted into is the only thing keeping him up, mostly due to the injuries inflicted on his goddamn spinal cord.
“You have changed,” Shaw says, pulling Erik to a stand and peering at him.
“It’s the way of things,” Erik agrees, and Shaw laughs, cups his cheek. His helmet catches the light as he reaches out to brush the fingers of one hand down Erik’s cheek and across his lower lip.
“It’s good to have you home. Now we can demonstrate to the world that evolution is the way of the future.”
“Demonstrate,” Erik repeats flatly.
Shaw smiles and tugs at his shirtsleeves, flicking the cuffs back into place--vain, Erik had forgotten how vain he was. “Yes. Come see, he’s not going anywhere,” he chuckles, leading Erik back out. I’m coming back, Erik tells Charles, because he has to wait. Give the team five m ore minutes. Five more minutes, and then he starts bringing the place down.
Shaw takes him down an elevator and then into a corridor. Erik doesn’t understand at first, because Shaw is looking around with that proprietary expression, pleased with himself but it’s all unclear until he realizes it’s a row of cells on either side and with people huddled in them--missing mutants and humans alike. Erik recognizes some of them from files that crossed his desk, and he takes care to keep a look of mild interest on his face. “And this is?”
"The future. It's taking well," Shaw says. "We had a few problems stabilizing it in the early stages. One man liquefied--became water, it was very...strange. And then for a while it was neutralizing the powers of the mutants we were testing it on, but eventually...well. It's moved faster than we could have anticipated."
"The government is funding this?" Erik asks. Shaw is creating mutants...that’s new. And seems counter to the government’s policy of toleration. Jesus fuck, did they even know what they were funding? And Shaw probably came right out and said it, it’s probably in some piece of paperwork filed somewhere that a bureaucrat missed.
"They think that it's a project to create a super-soldier," Shaw dismisses. "A new agent in the War on Terror."
Erik nods. Of course: that would get him funding from anywhere. And Jason is controlling his father, which means Shaw doesn’t have to announce his presence, which is how the wanted criminal is getting away with being on-base.
And going under the name of Smith.
Clearly the troops here weren’t selected for their intelligence.
"You see how much better this is?" Shaw presses. "We're not here to destroy them, we're here to offer them the chance to evolve beyond Nature's own design. This is humanity's next chapter and we're offering them a chance to be a part of that."
"And if they decline?"
"There's no room for the human race as it currently exists in the world that is coming; the world that we're building."
"Assimilation or death,” Erik surmises. It’s like the Borg, or the Cybermen.
"You're such a pessimist, Erik," Shaw says fondly.
"And when this is turned on a mutant?"
"It simply further enhances the mutation, accelerates it. We've been able to modify it-- it was used it to help fuse adamantium to the skeleton of a mutant with near instantaneous healing abilities. He's doing quite well, though the amnesia is a bit of an inconvenience."
That's Logan explained, then.
"It's a better way," Shaw repeats, pulling Erik along with a hand solicitously on the small of his back. "It's a peaceful alternative to the war that's brewing."
"Why do you feel like you have to convince me?" Erik asks, furrowing his brow. "I'm on your side."
Shaw lifts a corner of his mouth in something like a smile. "You're on your own side, you always have been. Jason…just makes you forget that. But you'll see, when it's over. You'll see how much better this is." He looks at Erik wistfully, cupping his cheek. "You and I are alike--we're fighting for what's ours. You'll see that. We're fighting for the same thing, protecting the same people. I'm just doing it on a global scale."
He smiles and opens the door back into the room with Cerebro. "You're the best thing I ever did, Erik. They'll follow you, you just have to remember what the goal is. Jason and Charlie can help you."
The door locks behind him, and Erik looks at Jason--not the projection, but at Jason, who tilts his head and puts his hands into his pockets. “Hello, Erik.”
Jason is from Texas. He has the corresponding twang and drawl. This voice is British, and posh at that.
“Hello, Charles. How long have you been riding Jason?”
“I do it from time to time, it keeps me...up to date with the developments. And we’ve come to an understanding.”
“Which is what, you’re more powerful than he is so he does what you say?”
Jason’s face twitches into an almost playful smile. “Yes, essentially, though I might have worded it in a more...flattering way.”
Erik glances back at Charles’ body, then at Jason...Charles. That’s so weird.
Jason’s eyes drift to the side. “They’re here. You--Erik, you brought Raven? She’s a child.”
“She’s really not.”
Jason makes a face at him. “Stop distracting me, this is difficult.”
Erik wants to say that it shouldn’t be possible--to take over someone’s body and shove their consciousness to the side so entirely and then project out with his mind, not using his body. Even if he is looping with his own body in order to use his powers, that’s still...that still shouldn’t be possible.
“Armando is here.”
Erik turns around and twitches his fingers at the door, sliding it open. Darwin raises his eyebrows.
“Hi, Boss. How’s it going on your end? Our end is going creepily well.”
“That would be Charles,” Erik tells him, and Darwin tilts his head to the side, looking around Erik at Charles’ body, and then eyes Jason.
“I wanna know?”
“No. Get Azazel, get him out. This--he’s in Jason’s body, so he can tell you how to move him.”
An explosion rocks the compound.
“That’d be Alex,” Darwin says, like Erik’s suffered a brain injury or something and can’t recognize the sound of Summers’ particular brand of destruction.
“Wait--Erik, where are you going?” Charles demands, and Jason’s body steps forward. Erik backs up, just enough to keep the hand Charles reaches out from landing.
“My job. Get him out,” he says to Darwin, and takes off at a dead run to find Shaw.
The thing about Shaw is that, despite the fact that he’s a megalomaniac with genocidal tendencies, he honestly believes the bullshit he spouts about brotherhood. About being mutant and proud--the strongest possible mutant you should be and he is adamant that mutants don’t hurt their own kind except under circumstances that better the race.
So he didn’t expect it when Erik turned on him the last time, and he doesn’t seem to suspect anything this time, at least, not on this scale.
He meets Erik in the hall a level above Cerebro. “What is this, a rescue mission?” he asks, projecting paternal disappointment. “Erik, Erik, not this again.”
Erik doesn’t say anything, just flicks his wrist and sending Shaw jerking back by the dogtags he’s wearing (he wonders, briefly, what’s written on them, if anything--from what country, what war). Emma, tell me--
Azazel just got Charles out, she replies, terse and instantaneous, and then it’s okay. Now he can focus, because Shaw isn’t walking away from this. He doesn’t have to worry about his team, because he doesn’t pick them so that they’ll all get along (though they tend to, and better than he’d like, given the way they pair off). He picks them because they’re competent, will fight and save the day and live to tell about it. He doesn’t pick people he has to babysit.
“I have had years under this dam,” Shaw tells him, like this is all going to be civilized. “What now?”
Erik knows that Shaw has reserves, and that he can’t match him for stamina, but Erik can bring the building around their ears and Shaw? He won’t be able to survive that even if he’s absorbed five nuclear warheads. So Erik braces himself and wrenches and spares only a brief moment to enjoy it when Shaw’s smug look vanishes as the entire compound shudders and the metal from a control panel shifts, pins Shaw to the opposite wall, holds him tight while cables and wiring slide out to wrap around him further.
“Who do you think you’re talking to?” Erik asks him, grinning just a little, all teeth, and it’s worth it to see the look on Shaw’s face, the betrayal and incredulity.
“I don’t think so, bitch,” Markos snarls, bashing through the wall. Erik’s lip curls in disgust and he clenches his fist, the rough cast iron of Markos’ helmet smashing in on his head, crushing his skull and brain until the body with half a head falls to the ground, the gory twist of metal hovering before crashing down with it.
“How long can you last, Erik?" Shaw asks, face twisted. "This was always your problem--you’re very impressive for a while and then you collapse with a nosebleed and need three days to recover. I’d say you’re about at the end of your rope, so what do you do now?”
"End this," Erik replies.
Don't, Erik, do not, Charles' voice snaps, sudden and abruptly worried.
Erik can't listen--won't. The entire building is shuddering already--structurally unsound, mutant warfare will do that-- and Emma is shouting at him that they have everyone--everyone is out and where the fuck are you? Damnit, Erik, where-- before he cuts her out. He can't seem to block Charles, though.
It's really very simple--he doesn't need to see how this works out, what kind of life Charles will lead or how the team will cope with the fall-out--he just needs to see that Shaw ends.
Above them there's an almighty groaning noise, and the floor is…wet. Ah.
"The dam is giving away, Erik, what's the plan here?" Shaw demands, wrenching against the bonds, flaring brightly before the energy subsides under his skin again. "You're going to stand here until I drown?"
Erik doesn’t understand: he thought he made this clear. Shaw was going to die, and Erik was going to make sure it happened.
You can't, you'll die. You have to let go--I know what this means to you but you're going to die! Please, Erik.
"That's the plan," Erik tells Shaw blandly, leaning against the opposite wall from him.
Shaw glares at him. "Let me go, Erik, for Christ's sake! You can't still be pissed about--"
"You have no idea," Erik tells him flatly. The water is already knee-deep, freezing and swirling around, pressing at him, trying to bully him along. Sorry, Charles
Erik, don't! Erik, don't do this--there will be another time.
Erik laughs, just a little, though it sounds--bad. Less of a laugh and more of a choking sound. No. There won't, he says, and pulls.
The force of the release knocks him to his knees and he feels like he's run a marathon, or gone five rounds with Azazel, and the entire foundation is gone, warped, the support in the dam is gone, and they're going to drown very shortly, but this place will be gone, and with it, Shaw.
He's just about made his peace with this, tuning Shaw out when fucking Charles intrudes on his acceptance of his death.
Get up. Get up, damnit, Erik.
The water is shoving him along, pieces of the building knocking into his legs violently--they're never going to find his corpse. Charles--
I can make you, Erik. Get up and start walking, go to Cerebro, there's a ladder that goes up into the ruined compound, but you have to go now, before the water level gets any higher.
Erik looks at Shaw, pinned to the wall by the metal Erik is holding in place. If he goes, Shaw can get away--
ERIK! it's nothing less than a roaring sound in his head, furious and desperate and Erik goes, gets to his feet and fights his way up the current. The water is at his hips and still rising, freezing, and it’s a huge effort to keep walking. He presses his hands against the smooth metal walls and anchors himself but the force of it beats at his shoulders, and when his feet slips and he wrenches his shoulder it’s all he can do to maintain his grip. He finds the ladder--rungs built into the wall like those on a ship, and when he climbs up and forces the round hatch open the water barrels down on top of him.
The rungs hold onto him, keep him from being swept away. He has to find--there must be--something. Something he can grab onto to pull himself up but if he does he'll lose the grip on Shaw--
There's a helicopter.
Erik can feel it faintly, but it’s too far away and he slams the hatch back shut, gasping for air. A chopper is too far, and it's moving, and he'll definitely lose Shaw. Back to Plan A, then.
Erik. You must do this. You can do this. Calm your mind, find the place between rage and serenity.
"Are you fucking with me?" Erik chokes, because what?
Your power doesn't come from your anger, it simply reacts to it. If you are at peace--Erik, you're stronger than you know. Just, please, let me--
He's bombarded, abruptly, by memories of his parents; of his friends and his old school in Lich; of finding Emma and Azazel and Janos and making their dysfunctional family; of recruiting his team; and then, with a sense of curiosity that isn't his, coming home to watch Antiques Roadshow and eat pizza; of talking about his day while he made his mother's soup.
I would like to know what that tastes like, Charles says. Find the sodding helicopter, Erik.
It's difficult, actually, to maintain a sense of serene calm when he knows that above him is twenty feet of raging, violently churning water and forty feet above that is a helicopter that he's supposed to somehow grab hold of.
But he does. He shoves the hatch back open, latches onto the helicopter and pulls, surging through the water and wrenching free of it, gripping the leg of the chopper and clinging, coughing violently.
MacTaggert sticks her head out and raises her eyebrows at him before she pulls him inside. "I didn't know you could do that!" she yells, grabbing a hideous orange blanket and throwing it at his face.
"Surprise!" he yells back, and she grins at him as he buckles in, tapping the pilot on the shoulder.
"No, wait!" Erik says, because he needs to--he needs to know that--he wrenches, and the metal wraps itself around Shaw, dragging him against the current and up through the hatch, and when he pulls free of the water Erik takes MacTaggert's gun and shoots it. Shaw drops, and just after he hits the water he explodes, all the pent up power released, and Erik guides the chopper away, wrapping the blanket around his shoulders and putting on the headset.
"You okay?" MacTaggert asks.
"I'll live," he replies, and she nods.
"We got the kids out, all the people he had taken--and that's going to be a clusterfuck, managing that--and Summers thinks he got the database. Stryker's in custody--Quentin," she clarifies at Erik's look. "And…well, your team is banged up, McCoy is in a hospital room--they hit him with the serum, or whatever it was. We're monitoring."
"She's with her brother, but we're keeping him close. Last thing he needs is civilian doctors."
"You okay?" she asks again. "You look…bad."
He must look like shit, for her to ask twice--to comment on it. "I'm fine," he says flatly, and she nods, and watches Alaska fade away.
The plane ride back is slow, and Erik almost misses Hank's driving, which has to mean he’s concussed.
He comes off and finds Janos waiting for him on the blacktop.
MacTaggert stands back while Janos crosses the tarmac and takes hold of Erik’s shoulders--he lost the jacket, somewhere--looking at him closely.
"Done, then," he says, relieved. “And you look tired, but not like you are about to die.”
"Yeah," Erik agrees.
"Azazel passed out like a pretty princess,” Janos informs him as they walk towards the hospital. “He says it was the strain of so much teleportation in so little time combined with so many passengers, but I think his fragility is coming through.”
“He’ll be delighted to hear it."
“You say that like I haven’t been telling him since he woke up,” Janos says gleefully. “It’s like you don’t even know me.”
"Where's Charles?" Erik asks, ignoring his babbling.
"I’m fine, by the way.”
Janos grins and whistles. They never have figured it out--if it's the frequency or what, but Azazel can pinpoint a location based on the sound of that whistle. Emma's been able to do it from the other side of the planet in diamond form. They have to be careful about the dog jokes, but really.
“I thought you said he was tired.”
“Yes, and if I took you by car he would kill me,” Janos agrees as Azazel appears in a puff of sulfur.
“You drive like shit,” Azazel points out.
"Fuck you. Just, take him to see Dr. X before he has a stroke," Janos says, and Azazel grins.
"I thought he would be prettier, though I suppose we should be glad you bagged a doctor," Azazel tells Erik seriously. “Not Jewish, but pretty for a shiksa.”
Erik stares at him in absolute horror, and Azazel laughs and the world jerks and then shifts, and he looks down the hall of the hospital.
"Agent Lehnsherr," a doctor whose nametag marks him 'Theodore Mauvitz' says, putting down a clipboard and walking towards him. Erik doesn't want to know what it says about him that the facility doctors recognize him on sight when he doesn't recognize them. "Let's have a look at you, shall we?"
"I'm here to see Charles Xavier."
"Ah, no," Azazel says, patronizing, putting a red hand on the man’s shoulder and smiling with all of his teeth, thickening his accent. "You must be new." He pulls the doctor away by the arm over his protests, and another doctor says from the desk where she's writing in a patient's chart, without looking up,
Erik glances at the signs on the wall and then heads to the ICU rooms and stops outside 606. Charles looks very small in the hospital bed, like even more of a corpse under the hospital’s unyielding lights.
"He's paralyzed," Raven says. "But they don't think--there's no brain injuries, and you won't be able to see the scars when his hair grows back in."
Her hands are shaking around her cup of coffee, but other than that she looks steady enough.
"He's fine. He's blue, like the bastard lovechild of Beast and Grover, but. He's fine. And…and he'll be fine," she says, firmly. She's in her blue form, and Erik wonders if it’s out of a strange solidarity or if it’s because she’s too tired to maintain another shape.
"I hear you did good today," he lies--he's sure she was spectacular, he just hasn't been briefed. She smiles tightly at him.
"Thanks," she says, and then shifts uncomfortably. "Do you want to--I mean, you can sit with him, obviously, I'm sure--he'd probably like that."
"No," he says, because he can make do with this--with watching the steady pulse of the heart monitor. She spent the better part of a year trying to find her brother--Erik has no claim on this time.
She smiles tightly again and slips into the room, sitting beside Charles and folding her hand over his, watching his face with a quiet sort of desperation that relaxes abruptly--ah, he's awake then.
"You're in 623," the doctor from earlier tells him. Her badge is tucked into her coat, but he recognizes her, vaguely, maybe the weird way her Bronx accent winds around a Spanish accent, or the way she pulls her cornrows back severely. She raises an eyebrow at him. "That's a hint, Lehnsherr."
He goes, because he has nothing else to do. He sits and endures the tests, the stitches, the prodding at his ribs and the cleaning out of the gouges in his legs and back that he didn't notice he got while the compound was collapsing.
Reyes comes back just as he's falling asleep and says, "Well. You've been worse, and frankly you're better than we expected. Take two of these, sleep, and if nothing exciting shows up I'm kicking you out of the bed for someone who needs it."
Erik eyes the pills, and bites back the reply that if she wanted him to sleep maybe she should have fucked off.
"Take the medication, Lehnsherr," Reyes says, rolling her eyes at him.
"Your bedside manner sucks," he tells her, and cheeks them, spitting them out when she's gone and staring at the wall. He feels...weirdly at a loss. It’s done: Shaw’s dead, Charles is found and will live and...and the paperwork for this is going to be such a bitch.
Erik groans and presses the heels of his hands into his eyes.
Oh, come on, then.
Charles' room has a nice comfy chair, and his eyes are open and he tracks Erik as he walks in.
"You look like shit," Erik tells him.
Charles huffs a laugh. "Yes. So my sister tells me. He's dead, then."
"Yeah. He's dead." He can’t help the flush of relief, of fierce gladness that curls in his stomach. This thing that’s hung over Erik’s head for over a decade is gone.
“Good,” Charles says, though it’s more dubious--like he’s not certain he means it, which is baffling, given what Charles suffered at the man’s hands.
Charles bites his lower lip, looking at Erik, who stills, lifting his eyebrows inquiringly.
"I'm sorry," Charles apologizes. "It's all…very hazy, for me."
“The rescue or--”
“No, the--The last year. My impression of a ghost,” Charles clarifies wryly, playing with the blanket covering his useless legs.
"Why the house?" Erik asks.
"Hm? Oh, that was the house we lived in last as a family, I suppose it was…safe. And then you…well. He talked about you constantly, I suppose I recognized you." He smiles his apology.
"You tried to scare the shit out of me,” Erik reminds him.
"As I recall it failed spectacularly,” Charles points out, smile becoming less apologetic.
"You're not very frightening,” Erik says, spreading his hands and leaning back in the chair.
"Your scale of what is frightening is...very skewed."
"Yeah. Yeah, that's true,” Erik agrees. “Where are you--do you want the house?” he asks. “I can crash at Emma’s--I will probably be shanghaied into crashing at Emma’s, actually--”
“Don’t be absurd, you bought it, we haven’t owned that house in years,” Charles dismisses, waving a hand. “We have an estate in upstate New York, Raven and I will retire there for a time--what?”
Erik shakes his head. “Nothing, you just...actually do talk like a 102-year-old Earl suffering from gout. I thought I was making it up.”
He has questions--dozens of them, suspicions and accusations but right now he feels calm and he’s loathe to give it up--he doesn’t feel like this often. Hasn’t felt like this for over a month--since Charles withdrew from the house.
“I didn’t--your friend is very angry with me and she’s very pointedly broadcasting it.”
“She thinks I’ve seated in your brain for a nefarious purpose.”
Charles looks at him, then. Studies Erik’s face like it’s still unfamiliar, like he’s trying to commit it to memory. He smiles. “No. I’m not there at all, it is simply--an echo of where I was. I would never--I would never enter your thoughts without permission. I’m sorry I did it at all, but I’m afraid I was a bit mad, and--”
Charles smiles at him again, quick and pleased. “Alright then. On to more pressing matters. Is Kourtney still with Scott, and is Khloe pregnant yet?”
“I hate you so much,” Erik tells him earnestly, and flicks the channels to E! so that Charles can catch up with the Kardashians.
Erik goes back to work after three days, though Charles will stay for far longer. There will be surgeries to remove knotted scar tissue and physical therapy.
No, Erik leave the pleasant bubble of the hospital for meetings and debriefings from everyone up to the CIA director, Joint Chiefs, and the fucking President.
They’ve kept dangerous people, and Erik keeps having to remind them that yes, fine, Wade Wilson was a mercenary, but he was a government-sanctioned mercenary.
Erik explains the situation over and over until he’s hoarse, defends himself and his people and finds himself in a dogfight to keep the mutants who Shaw had kept like lab rats out of government detention facilities. They’ve split them into four teams, each of them taking four, and it’s manageable--it’s fine. They’re fine, if people would just get out of his fucking hair.
MacTaggert shows up in his office late one night and they spend hours pouring over contacts, making phone calls, spreading out a net to try to find the mutants who had scattered before the government can (the irony of it all, which MacTaggert points out over late-night pizza, is that they technically are the government).
Erik sends Emma to talk to Senator Greyson, who is a mutants-rights supporter who wants to have hearings in Congress. That shit will end up on C-SPAN, and then it will be out of his control (it won’t, not really--Erik can fuck up a broadcast, but he prefers not to). Greyson decides against it.
Erik tries to visit Charles but with this pissing contest he’s having with the world Erik doesn’t have a second to shit, let alone visit Charles.
“You’ve been busy,” Charles observes when Erik walks into his private room. Erik puts his face in his arms on the bed, inhaling hospital detergent. Charles laughs and puts a hand in Erik’s hair, tugging lightly. The headache vanishes.
“I hate everyone,” Erik tells him earnestly. Charles chuckles.
“You don’t. Well. You might, actually,” he amends, tugging on Erik’s hair again until he lifts his head.
“I spent three hours defending Jason today,” Erik says. It had been awful, because Erik has no empathy for those who can’t save themselves--for the people who can’t fight for their autonomy when they have the chance. Charles had had to be screwed into a chair, and Jason--Jason had let every opportunity to escape pass him by.
“He was a victim, Erik,” Charles says. “You can’t damn everyone for lacking your force of will.”
“I can, actually,” Erik argues. “I think the high point was when I told a president’s aide that I was probably more dangerous than Jason, considering what I could do with the electromagnetic impulses in the body and brain.”
“God, Erik” Charles groans, putting a hand over his face to cover his smile.
“That’s what Emma said,” Erik agrees. “I felt dirty, like I would never be made clean. Callisto liked it though, which is good.”
Callisto is the only one he’s not sure about. She keeps eyeballing him, standing defensively like he’s going to lunge at her, like she’s thinking about attacking him preemptively. After today, though, he thinks they’ve turned a corner. Either that or he’s going to trade Janos Callisto for Meiling. He should probably have someone who can teleport on his team...Wade and Logan are exquisite and when Raven comes back they’ll be fine, but they’re none of them able to get out quickly.
“How was physical therapy?” Erik asks.
“Abhorrent. The doctor is a psychopath,” Charles replies, and there’s a grain of truth there, something that makes Erik want to pull down the blankets and see if Charles is bruised.
“Who is it?” He hits casual: it’s very impressive.
“Ah...Dr. Creed?” Charles says vaguely, looking for the remote.
Erik stills. “First name Victor?”
“I believe-- Erik, what?
“Jesus Christ,” Erik mutters, grabbing his phone and calling Wilson, slamming the door shut and stretching the metal across the room.
“Erik...” Charles says, wary, and Erik waves him into silence.
“Sweetie, lovecheeks, Erik, babe, I am in the middle of a thing--” Wade tells him, enough out of breath for Erik to know exactly what he’s in the middle of.
“Why is Victor Creed Charles’ physical therapist?” he asks.
There’s a long pause, then: “You give me the best presents.”
“Erik,” Charles snaps.
“Victor Creed is a former hitman for Stryker, was back int he 70’s. The file on him says that he died in ‘86. He was buried and everything, but that’s the thing about Creed. He doesn’t stay dead.”
“You think he has some misplaced loyalty...” Charles trails off, hand lifting to his head. “No. You don’t care. Wade Wilson will kill him and that will be the end of it.”
“Don’t do that,” Erik says.
“Oh, what?” Emma demands.
“I have Wade on it, but if you’d find that out.”
“Kayla might know something.”
A rap comes on the door interrupts “It’s me.”
Erik opens the door, puts the room to rights.
“CIA security’s not what it was. Actually, it is, it’s just shit, man. So apparently if you kill him by cutting off the head and then burn that, it works. I called Logan to verify, he’s very heartbroken you didn’t call him first, you’ll be having words tomorrow. And this must be the little missus.”
“...Charles Xavier,” Charles offers, and God, he looks amused.
“Don’t encourage him,” Erik tells him, and Wade beams, sitting in a visitor’s chair, long legs stretched out in front of him, katanas leaning precariously against the wall.
“Erik, I have missed you like that song. Desert misses the rain. And I miss youuuuuu.”
“Shut up, Wilson,” Erik snaps.
“You know Logan had no idea.”
“Then Logan gets babysitting duty.”
“Damned either way. Okay, I’ve got sisters in my bed..brothers...I have two people who are probably related in my bed waiting for me,” Wade says, and salutes and saunters away.
“Erik, you can’t--”
“Yeah. I can.”
Charles smiles at him a little sadly. “You can’t though.”
You can’t protect me from everything.
They have one conversation about it. It’s after Charles has finished a conversation with Raven in those initial days when Erik is sitting at his bedside like he’s stuck to it. He’s, reading a damage report that MacTaggert had run through with a highlighter like the pain in his ass she is.
“Why do you do that?” Erik asks when Charles looks at him and smiles an apology.
“Why do you use your fingers?” Charles counters.
“To direct things--do you have a button in your left temple that requires two fingers and turns on your telepathy?” Erik asks, and Charles laughs.
“No, no. It...helps me focus.”
“You didn’t use them for a year.”
“Eleven months, let’s please not round up.”
“Okay,” Erik allows. “Eleven months and I’m willing to put money down that you didn’t lift your hand.”
“Circumstances being what they were--”
“No, not--You’re not broadcasting your thoughts, you’re broadcasting what you’re doing.”
“It’s difficult,” Charles says slowly, like he’s never had to talk about this--never gotten drunk and talked about the manifestations of mutations and coping and directing mechanisms, the philosophy of how they’re directed and used and bullshit that seems important at 2 in the morning. “When you’ve a power that isn’t visible, and can pass undetected, people tend to be...suspicious. I know just from sitting here the story of everyone in this room, but to telegraph my intent...it--”
“It lulls people into underestimating you.”
“Surely you’re in favor of that as simple strategy.”
“It did work for you before.”
Erik’s figured this much out--the reason it was so easy, with so few casualties. Charles was in all of their heads--Shaw thought he was broken and everyone took his word for it; they didn’t even notice him sneaking into their minds (though to be fair, Erik’s been trained to notice and he didn’t either). Charles was the reason Markos and Stryker let things go too quickly and why Shaw seemed so taken aback when things went south so fast. Charles’ powers hadn’t penetrated the helmet but they’d worked on everyone around Shaw, lulling him into a false sense of security, and the fail-safes he’d put into place all collapsed faster than he could account for.
“Why didn’t you tell me where you were?”
“You have it almost right,” Charles says. “I was...well. I had never been in the astral plane before--I lost track of time, and when--when I left you. It took me quite a long time to come back to myself.”
Erik lifts an eyebrow, and Charles touches the scabs in the fuzz of his hair. Ah. They had drilled him in that day.
And that’s it. All they talk about, and later, when Azazel asks if Erik has anything to add to the report, he says no.
Then he turns on the television to Mob Wives and Charles allows the distraction.
Two months after Charles’ rescue they initiate Senior Staff Meetings. Because there are more of them and because Janos has found a restaurant he wants to try, mostly, but it’s a good idea in principle and Charles has been gone for a week so Erik is looking for distractions (not that he ever has to look far).
Erik eyeballs the trendy, trying-too-hard atmosphere and resigns himself to microscopic “food”. He’ll have to stop at Subway after.
He’s the last one there, and Emma doesn’t even look up as she asks, lascivious as she leans into Janos, "And how is Jason?"
"Flexible," Janos says with relish, and Erik eyeballs the exit but Azazel grips Erik’s ankle with his tail.
"I hate you," Azazel tells Janos, who smirks and waves over their waitress.
"Are you looking for a lawsuit?" Erik demands, and Janos smirks at him and then glances down at the silverware.
"Erik, take a deep breath," Emma says, and Erik looks down at the silverware--all of which was hovering by his hands.
"Maybe a bigger one," Azazel says, looking over Erik's shoulder and Erik twists--all the buildings on the other side of the street are leaning towards him. Erik lets them go gently.
"Aren't you old to have a power flare?" Janos demands.
"Apparently not," Erik murmurs, and no, well, it's not that--it's just unconscious. A month ago it would have been a strain, now it's a conscious effort to keep everything in place. Not so much a power flare as it's…he's finally unlocked.
"A lingering gift from Dr. Xavier," Emma observes tartly, and then puts in her lunch order.
"Did you stick your dick in it before he left or what?” Janos demands, giving Erik his most pitying expression. The one that says Erik is stunted, somehow--more broken than the rest of them in ways no one can fix. The one that says Erik can flirt with a psychopath but hasn’t had a relationship a day of his life that didn’t involve a ghost. And it’s all they want to talk about--they want to talk about the fact that Erik sleeps in Charles' room most nights at the hospital and they’re over-familiar, practically married.
"No," Erik snaps, and gets up and walks out of the restaurant because he's tired of this. He doesn’t know. He just...doesn’t. And Charles went home to Westchester and Raven went with him to play nursemaid and the only communication Erik’s had in a week is a single stilted email in which Charles reported he was fine, mentioned Erik should visit and bring him some of that soup, but it's a hollow request--nothing genuinely meant, done to be polite.
Erik hasn’t replied: doesn’t see the point.
It’s done. There are other people in the world besides Charles Xavier, never mind that he’s been Erik’s world for nearly a year. And that's fine: Charles doesn’t owe him anything, and Erik has never been good at going after people he wants.
Not people he wants like that, anyway. In school there’d been Warren Worthington, who had actual wings with white feathers and gold hair and clear blue eyes. He’d looked like an archangel and laughed too easily for that place. Any overtures Erik might have made always stuck in the back of his throat, and the last time he saw Warren he’d been sending him away, telling him to go, fly, just go.
Jesus Christ. Erik shoves the door open onto their floor.
"Okay, you were supposed to be gone longer," Logan tells him. "Also, you got a package."
"What have you done?" Erik demands, scanning the room quickly. Sean and Angel are clustered around Jason's desk, laughing. Kayla Silverfox is talking quietly with Ororo Munroe and Meiling Melançon about a case, and everyone else is out on assignment or…no. Erik turns back to Logan, lifting an eyebrow.
"Whoa, not me. Muñoz."
"Well. Him'n'Summers'n'Gambit. Possibly Wade, because you know how he gets."
Erik fucking hates Remy Lebeau. Hated him in school as a smarmy prepubescent and hates him now.
"Logan. Why don't you tell me what's going on and I'll refrain from putting you outside the offices like our very own mascot statue."
"You're such a fuckin' dick," Logan tells him. "They're blowin' shit up in the gym, so ignore the smoke, and your package is on your fuckin' desk."
Erik…has a migraine.
"I don't want to be disturbed," he says, and Logan lifts his eyebrows but nods, and Erik likes him in spite of himself.
Logan saw the shitshow go down on the news and was waiting in Erik's office, smoking, by the time Erik got back to work. Apparently he'd wanted to join, which he made abundantly clear by telling Erik,
"I don't do teams."
"Don't smoke in my office," Erik replied, and Logan eyeballed the cigar and looked around.
"Because I said so, I'm your new boss, and if you don't I'll string you up atop the Washington Monument and leave you there in a lovely pirouette for the world to see."
"God, you're an asshole," Logan grumbled, but it seemed to be a compliment. He then stubbed out his cigar into his palm because he wanted to be sure that everyone knew that his manpain was bigger than everyone else's but he was too much of a badass to give a shit. Erik considered attaching him to the Washington Monument on principle.
Now he shuts the door and glances at the FedEx package and the audits it’s sitting on top of. There's a sudden influx in funding for their department and if Erik can't get someone in Congress or the White House he's going to have to look at Emma or Kayla or Jason and…he just can't handle it.
He sits at his desk with a groan, and reminds himself that this is just a period of transition. That in reality this is all good, despite the fact that Janos keeps saying Erik’s running himself ragged. There’s never a minute to just sleep, and now that Charles is gone there’s no one to guilt him into taking a moment.
And really, now that they’ve divided into the four teams it’s easier. Janos’ responsibilities are lobbying, working with the Justice Department, intervening on behalf of the mutants already in the system. Emma’s found herself in a similar position, though she’s taken hers into the field, more. She has ideas about getting Jason among people, and between she and Kayla she’s sure they can handle him if the need arises.
It leaves Erik and Azazel to focus on the enforcement part, the policing. The nice bit is that it keeps Remy out from under Erik’s feet, and with both Azazel and John Wraith able to teleport--they can be halfway across the world in a thought. It also keeps Jason away from Janos, because as hard as Erik is trying to ignore that...he’s sure it’s happening.
Possibly in the locker rooms.
No peace, but…well. Erik wasn't expecting any kind of peace. Hell, for him it probably wasn't even an option, but Charles is safe and Shaw’s dead and it’s a close enough approximation.
They have time now. Time to to shore up their defenses against the next idiot who thinks he's a god, fighting on their behalf against the humans. Fighting a war none of them asked for.
It's inevitable that someone will take Shaw's place, and getting ready for it…it keeps him busy enough that he can ignore the loneliness that's creeping into his bones like ice.
He reaches over and rips open the Fedex envelope, pulling out a plastic-wrapped Rolling Stone.
Erik frowns, and then slides it out of the packaging. Charles' face stares back at him, gaunt and fragile unphotoshopped and impossibly vulnerable. By his cheek in stark font reads: GENERATION MUTANT: Charles Xavier On the War Being Fought in Secret
Erik opens it and then picks up the sticky note attached to the article.
You still owe me soup.
Erik gestures his door shut and reads it. And then he rereads it, trying to stare the words into submission, lingering over the final paragraph:
“We live in a post-everything world,” Xavier tells me, small in the wheelchair he hasn’t yet mastered barely two months into his life as a paraplegic. “Post-feminist, post-racial, post-mutant. The culture wars, they tell us, are over. And for much of my life--the vast majority of it, in fact--I believed it. I never actively hid my abilities but I never came forward as a mutant. In the file the CIA compiled on me when I was missing I’m listed as an ‘ally’--but not as a mutant. The truth is that we are still discriminated against, but we cannot afford to hide, whether out of fear or out of a misplaced sense of security.
“I am a mutant. I am a telepath. And I won’t apologize for it.”
Erik gets up. “Cassidy, you’re in charge,” he says as he heads out, takes a company car to Westchester, New York--according to Google Maps it should be a 5 hour drive but Erik does it in half that.
Charles answers the door in a wheelchair, and he blinks up at Erik in surprise.
“What the hell is this?” Erik demands, holding out the magazine.
“Ah. Erik,” Charles says.
“Yeah, ‘Erik’. What are you doing?”
“You read it, then.”
“Yes,” Erik says. “I read it and then figured this should probably happen in person, rather than over a phone.”
The entire house shudders, and Erik exhales through his nose.
“Are you having difficulties with your powers--”
“Don’t do that,” Erik says, and Charles has the grace to not pretend to misunderstand, if not the grace to look ashamed of himself for attempting so blatant a misdirect.
“Come in, then, please,” he says, moving the chair back--manual powered, sleek: best money can buy, but still a chair--still a prison.
He should have stayed: McCoy could have tricked it out.
“If you minded your own business you wouldn’t be hearing that.”
“Then think quieter,” Charles retorts, gesturing for Erik to sit in an overstuffed leather chair, settling his own chair across from it. Erik stands.
“What were you thinking?” Erik asks, because that’s the crux of it.
“Someone has to,” Charles says simply. “Someone has to say something and...You simply can’t. You’re important where you are--you’re...necessary.” He offers Erik a small smile, almost apologetic if you don’t look at his eyes. He doesn’t regret a damn thing, the stubborn asshole.
“They’ll come after you. Again,” Erik says.
“Yes, they might, but it seems they’re going to do that anyway.”
“I don’t have time to babysit--”
“--you, and how did you get Rolling Stone to--”
“--cover this, Jesus, Charles, what were you--”
“What?” Erik snaps.
“Did I lie?” Charles asks, like Erik is still something wild, something he has to be careful around.
If Charles is surprised by how easily Erik gives into that he doesn’t show it. “I had a lot of time to think, those eleven long months,” he says. “We cannot endure men like Shaw, and unless the world sees another side to our kind they will think we are entirely Shaw. The pendulum has begun to swing against us again, and--” he cuts off, exhaling sharply. “I had to do something. Surely you can understand that?”
Erik thinks about being willing to drown twice to see Shaw dead, about the fights and the paperwork and the reality that he would do anything to see the people who come under his temporary care safe. “Yeah,” he grinds out. “Yeah. I get that.”
“I thought you might.”
They share a sharp smile.
Erik doesn’t quite know what to do with this. He can’t save Charles from something that hasn’t materialized yet, a phantom threat with only the promise of violence.
“So you drove five hours to yell at me,” Charles says after a bit.
“Shut up, Charles,” Erik mutters, but Charles is smiling, pleased with himself, and Erik thinks he looks good--better than he’d hoped. Laughing comes easily enough, the lines of it familiar in Charles’ face, and he seems to have accepted everything, or rather, has chosen not to rage against it.
“We should go grocery shopping,” he decides. Erik blinks.
“Or you should kiss me.”
Charles just looks at him guilelessly, blue eyes wide and laughing but there’s worry in the corner of his mouth, and that, more than anything, is what compels Erik forward. What makes him lean over Charles’ chair and kiss him, no hesitation or pausing to make sure Charles wants because Erik wants this like he’s starving for it, and can’t imagine anyone would be so cruel as to offer this if they didn’t mean it, least of all Charles.
Charles’ hand comes up to rest on Erik’s cheek, tilting his face a little to deepen the angle, body arching into Erik.
Erik goes to his knees, and the chair is in the way, and Charles breaks away, panting and frustrated. “Upstairs,” he says, and Erik doesn’t have it in him to argue--can’t see why he should, when he’s wanted.
Charles is too light but he laughs, pressing wicked kisses to the side of Erik’s neck, sucking and biting at his earlobe as Erik finds the bedroom, swearing at him steadily because Charles is projecting at him, everything that they can do, and Erik knows that yes, everything works, Jesus, Erik, just fuck me.
Getting them undressed is easy enough--Erik strips with ruthless efficiency, helping Charles with his trousers and socks until he's bare, spread on the bed and looking at Erik with an arch expression.
"Are you going to join me?" he asks.
"Would you carry on on your own if I said no?" Erik replies, and Charles smirks and lifts his right hand, licking it thoroughly before reaching down to jerk his half-hard cock.
That is about the extent of Erik's restraint and he climbs onto the bed, spreading Charles' thighs further and settling between them.
"Erik," Charles is murmuring, nonsensical, still working himself.
Erik slides his hands up Charles' thighs, not sure how much he'll feel, if anything, but he has to touch. Has to feel this, feel Charles, have him and remind them both that this is real, this isn't phantom touch and loneliness and astral projection.
This is them, here. Erik holds Charles apart and licks into him, and Charles definitely feels that, judging by the way he starts swearing. Erik can feel the way Charles shivers, forces himself to relax around the intrusion.
"Erik, please. Christ, please," Charles pants, but Erik won't be moved. He's going to go slow, and enjoy this, and Charles will have to endure.
"You are such a bastard," Charles swears at him, and Erik laughs. "Complete and utter- Erik, please, won't you just--" he breaks off when Erik starts fucking into him with his tongue in earnest, making these gorgeous sounds and they need a mirror, or a video camera because Erik wants to see what Charles looks like while Erik's eating him out, is jealous for all of Charles.
Charles, who is pushing something at him, and Erik lifts up to look at the lube Charles has grabbed, and the condom.
"Fuck me," Charles demands, every inch a spoiled brat, and Erik bites into the skin next to his belly, making Charles yelp and hit him, shove at the top of his head laughing.
Erik is hard, but it's good, to be so hard, to want it so badly. The knife's edge of arousal dulled a little by the promise that Erik is going to get to have this.
"I could fuck you," Charles points out. "You would have to ride me…"
"Either way you would still be mine," Erik replies, working his way up Charles' chest, letting Charles pull him up into a dirty kiss that's more a clash of tongues and teeth than anything to do with lips. "If you'd rather--"
"Jesus Christ, Erik, just fuck me!" Charles says, reaching down for Erik's dick, jerking him twice.
Erik pulls away, laughing, and lubes up his fingers, sliding one inside Charles. It goes easily.
"Another," Charles insists. "I won't break."
So Erik gives him another, scissoring and working him open, sliding back down the bed so he can watch his fingers disappear into Charles' body, can lick around Charles' stretched open hole, revel in the fact that he's going to stretch him so much further, open him on Erik's cock and fuck him until he can't do anything but beg.
"Yes," Charles says. "That, Erik."
It should bother him, he thinks, that Charles is inside his head so freely, but he can't be angry, not when the flush has crept from Charles' cheeks and spread along his chest, when his dick his hard and leaking even though its been cruelly neglected. Everyone needs something to be truly stupid about: for Erik, it’s Charles.
He looks debauched, and Erik leans in, fingers still working him, to press a kiss against Charles' lips, reverential.
"Now?" Charles asks, and Erik shifts, rests between Charles' thighs and gives him a considering look as he rolls the condom on and slicks his dick.
"How flexible are you?" he asks.
Charles just glares at him, but the answer is: very. Which is excellent, and lets Erik spread him wide, open and accommodating as Erik pushes the head of his dick in. Charles' back arches deliciously, mouth falling open and hands coming up to grip Erik's shoulders. His trimmed nails bite into Erik's skin but it's good--will be something to keep, later.
He slides in, inexorable, one long thrust, pausing to settle himself, to stop himself from coming like he's fifteen. Charles reaches down to grab at Erik's hips, squeezing, pulling, impatient.
"Erik, move," he insists. Erik does, fucks into him with sure, steady thrusts, rolling his hips against Charles.
Charles' hands won't settle, like he feels he needs to compensate for his inability to push back against Erik's hips. He scores Erik's back, fists his fingers in Erik's hair, runs his hands up Erik's arms and across his chest. He keep pleading, moaning and encouraging until Erik has to kiss him just to shut him up, but then it's in his head, which might be worse.
Charles grins at him, nipping at Erik's lower lip, eyes heavy-lidded but no less challenging.
Erik knows he's muttering, that it's German, but Charles seems to get the impression anyway, understand that it's praise Erik is pressing into his skin. He reaches between them to wrap his hand around Charles' cock but Charles pushes his hand away.
"I don't--I don't need," Charles says. "God, Erik, come on."
"You're a slut," Erik informs him, and it makes Charles laugh, pull Erik closer.
"Oh, you've no idea," he replies, all filthy promise, and Erik's hips stutter. He's damned if he's going to come first, but he might not have a choice with the way Charles is broadcasting the greatest hits of his Oxford years.
He fucks in harder, burying his face in Charles' neck, panting, biting stinging kisses just under Charles' ear, and that's it--Charles is coming with a strangled sound, shooting all over them both.
"Come on, Erik," Charles encourages, sex-sloppy, and Erik's grip on Charles' leg slips, just a little, bending him further in half while Erik pounds into him and then that's it. He's done, coming.
He comes back to himself quickly, gingerly settling Charles' leg back down and stripping off the condom, throwing it in the wastebin and getting a washcloth.
"You could have left it," Charles says, watching lazily as Erik cleans them both off. They need a shower, but Erik doesn't think either of them is up to that. Maybe he should, though--before he--
"Get over here now," Charles demands, dragging Erik up by his hair and pulling Erik's arm over his chest.
"I'm staying?" Erik asks, aiming for mild and ending up far too earnest.
"Of course you are," Charles replies, sounding exasperated that Erik had ever thought this was a question.
Erik absolutely does not fall asleep with a smile on his face.
He wakes up the next morning to Charles poking him in the side.
“I hate you,” he mutters, blinking his eyes open.
“Yes,” Charles agrees. “Fetch my chair, will you?”
Erik flicks his fingers and Charles hmms against Erik’s shoulder.
“It is a bit strange,” he observes, though Erik has no idea what he’s talking. Erik is boycotting being awake because if he wakes up he has to think, to be responsible, to interrogate this and what they’re doing and them but if he sleeps--if he sleeps everything is good.
He wakes up again to the fire alarm.
It’s fine! Charles says in his head, but it’s too late because Erik has already flown down the stairs and skidded into the kitchen which is, in fact, filled with smoke despite the French doors being wide open.
“I thought I’d make breakfast.”
“And then declared it an enemy combatant?” Erik demands, coughing and taking...whatever it was off the stove, throwing the pan out into the grounds somewhere, glaring the fire alarm into submission and then running a hand over his face.
Charles bites his lower lip. “Er, Erik.”
“Perhaps you want some pants?”
Which is the minute Erik realizes that he’s naked, and that Charles is giggling.
This is so Erik’s life.
Erik goes upstairs and pulls on a pair of ugly gray too-short sweatpants he loots from Charles’ dresser, and then he makes them breakfast while Charles sits at the breakfast table, reading the newspaper on his iPad.
“So you gonna go talk to Oprah now?” Erik asks after a while.
“She’s retired,” Charles says absently. “Anderson Cooper has a new show, though and apparently he’s expressed interest.”
“You should have security,” Erik tells him.
“I’ll look into it,” Charles says, which is a brush-off if Erik’s ever heard one. He glares and puts the plate of pancakes down in front of Charles, rooting in the refrigerator for maple syrup. He returns triumphant, if not a little surprised at his triumph because there’s desolation and then there’s that refrigerator.
They eat silently, Charles absorbed by the day’s news and Erik still not 100% awake, looking out over the perfectly manicured grounds of the estate and realizing that for all Erik insists Charles acts like an elderly Victorian lord sometimes, this place has none of him in it.
It all reeks of pretension, a lush grandeur and almost vulgar displays of money--all of it inherent wastefulness.
There’s nothing of Charles in the wood panelling, in the way the books are tucked behind glass and everything is made for display. Like a museum, or part of a museum exhibit--a story with such history that it couldn’t be tarnished by modernization, everything had to be kept hidden and close, so the ghosts would remember their way through the halls.
But Charles hadn’t haunted this place, he had haunted the house Erik bought--the one with warm sunlight and worn wood floors, stairs that creaked comfortingly and that looked old because it had been lived in, not preserved unnaturally.
“You shouldn’t stay here,” he says, and Charles looks at him in askance. “It’s not good--wouldn’t be good for anyone. To be alone in the mansion with the world’s thoughts for company.”
“That was quite poetic,” Charles congratulates him.
“I’m sure I stole it from somewhere,” Erik dismisses, pouring a third cup of tea.
Charles laughs. “Yes, well. Perhaps I’ll look into moving.”
Come home with me, Erik wants to say.
He doesn’t. He finishes his pancakes and clears up breakfast and then sits with Charles, listening to his voicemail, hitting 7 to delete everytime he hears Wade draw breath. If it’s important he figures someone else will call.
“You should come back this weekend,” Charles says as Erik gets ready to leave, pressing lingering kisses to the bow of Charles’ lower lip.
“I will,” Erik promises, and drives back to D.C. considerably slower than he’d driven from it.
“I told you he was fine,” Emma says as he walks back in.
“And he got some, nice,” Wade observes, giving him an obnoxious thumbs-up.
“I may cry. Azazel, where is the camera?” Janos demands, and then actually looks for the damn thing.
“What was it about?” Azazel asks, and Erik holds up the Rolling Stone advance copy. Emma plucks it from his fingers, leaning against Angel’s desk and soaking up the attention.
“‘Division X is an all-purpose defender of the United States’ mutant population’,” she reads out lout, and everyone goes abruptly quiet, turning around to look and listen. “‘They lobby on our behalf to congress, submit Amicus Briefs to the Supreme Court, and they go out into the world and find us; help us.
“And yet they are a group of under 30 people, all of them under 35. They work with law enforcement nationally, and were my own personal salvation, and there is no mutant rights group who does not recognize them. But out of necessity they are hidden away from the general population-- and it is out of necessity. Division X is necessary to this country, to us as a people, to the mutant population globally. We need our own heroes, and these people are that. But it is also necessary that we have a conversation in the open, and I suppose that’s what I’m doing: initiating a conversation.’”
“Is going to get shot,” Azazel says flatly, folding his arms over his chest
“I mentioned that,” Erik says. “He won’t be swayed.”
“Our very own Gandhi in tweed,” Kayla murmurs.
“Useful, though,” Jason says, and Erik lifts an eyebrow. Jason glances over at Janos and then says, “Well, diplomacy and reconciliation are best in the hands of the social leaders and politicians--it keeps them out of our hair while we fight the war.”
“He might be able to do it,” Darwin says slowly. “People are weird about telepaths but--”
“Can’t be so afraid of doing it that we let things backslide,” Azazel agrees. “Tell him to take another month to recover before he does Sunday morning talkshows.”
“Shaw’s gone, and we need another voice. Why not his?” Janos asks, shrugging and rifling a hand through his hair.
“To be fair Shaw wasn’t in the dialogue--” Emma starts.
“Yeah, no,” Jason snorts, boggling at her. “That’s...yeah, he was.”
“He can’t fight, not like we can,” Emma adds. “He’s in a wheelchair, and he defaults to cerebral anyway--he’s an academic and a telepath. This is the logical step for him to take.” She pauses, tilting her head. “It’s what any of us would do, though maybe not so well.”
“You hate him,” Erik reminds her.
“Yes but,” she says, and smiles vaguely. “You don’t.”
“Wait...that was...pointed,” Janos says, sitting upright and staring at Erik eyes narrowed. “Also, and this is important, pay attention: can he get it up?”
Emma jerks her head around to stare at him but Erik shuts her out, glaring.
“You fucked him?” she demands.
“Telepaths are territorial,” Azazel tells Erik in confidential tones. “Like rabid dogs. Perhaps I will make a study of it.”
“Die,” Emma snaps at Azazel.
“If he can’t use his legs does that mean his dick doesn’t work?” Janos asks Emma.
Erik closes his eyes and prays for death as his entire staff begins to discus his sex life.
Friday afternoon Erik tells them not to call him unless there’s an emergency, and heads up to Westchester.
Wade calls him five times about the emergency in his pants and Erik manfully represses the urge to kill him and satisfies himself with twisting Wade’s blades into dull hearts.
Raven opens the door when he knocks, arms full of groceries boecause he stopped on the way--Charles’ refrigerator had a lot of condiments and the freezer was packed with frozen meals.
“Uh,” she says, eyeballing him. “Oh my God, what.”
“These are heavy,” he tells her, and she steps back, trailing him to the kitchen.
“Oh my God,” she repeats, narrowing her eyes. “You know where the kitchen is.”
“Yes,” Erik agrees, putting things away and rooting around for a pot. He finds it and then has to wash it because the layer of dust is so thick a simple rinse won’t take care of it.
“CHARLES!” she shouts, and storms off in the other direction.
Thank you for feeding me to the wolves like that, Charles says sourly. Very gallant of you.
She’s your sister, Erik replies serenely, and turns the radio on while he cooks, drowning out the half-verbalized fight the Xavier siblings are having on the other side of the house.
On Raven’s first day back (“Oh my God, you are fucking my boss you tramp--I can’t believe I took time off for this! I could be saving this for like, a vacation in Hawaii!”) Charles comes in with her to thank everyone and to meet them all properly.
He and Erik also have a screaming match in Erik’s office about whether or not Erik is sending someone from Division X to play bodyguard when Charles goes before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs and the Committee of Mutant Relations to testify now that he’s been deemed healthy enough to do so.
Erik thinks Charles is an idiot, too idealistic and yes, even now, even with his public presence only just beginning, some idiot is going to want to kill him.
Make a statement.
Erik knows, because he’s the one who Raven came to the other night with a stack of envelopes, her blue hands shaking in rage as they read ream after ream of hatemail, sorting between what might be a genuine threat and the chaff.
Oh for God’s sake, Erik. I will be able to sense it, Charles points out, fingers pressed to his temple because yes, they’re fighting, but neither of them is going to fight this out verbally.
Like you did Shaw? Erik shoots back.
He had the helmet--
Which can be recreated.
--and don’t you think someone wearing that kind of contraption will be just a bit obvious? Charles finishes, exasperated.
I don’t need the helmet, Erik points out.
No one with your mutation has been recorded.
Which must mean they don’t exist.
I can’t be seen as one of your lackeys. Charles folds his arms and raises his eyebrows, mouth a fine line, and Erik exhales through his nose.
“I’m taking lunch,” he says, and Alex startles, looking up from his iPhone.
“For the rest of the day,” Erik clarifies.
“Erik,” Charles says, warning.
“What, I’m attending as a civilian member of the mutant community,” Erik says. “I’m a card-carrying member of...what am I a card-carrying member of?” he asks Sean, who twists his face as he thinks.
“Uh, Brotherhood?” he finally volunteers.
“Not helpful, Erik,” Charles mutters rubbing his forehead.
“The Brotherhood has a strict policy of nonviolence,” Erik says. Charles snorts.
“Yes, towards fellow mutants,” he agrees. “I suppose you’re also a member of the Hellfire Club?”
Erik glances at Azazel, who grimaces and nods. That had been that week in Vegas when they’d turned 21. Erik’s been fuzzy on the details. A little bit willfully.
“Christ, Erik,” Charles sighs.
Erik raises his eyebrows. “I’m attending in an unofficial capacity as a member of the mutant community and an American citizen.”
“Are you?” Alex asks. “Technically?”
“Dual,” Hank says, coming out of the elevator. “His dad was American.”
He wasn’t, but Erik also engages in a policy of willful ignorance about the ways Hank has hacked the Federal Government’s databases.
It seems best for all of them.
Charles looks at Hank a little despairingly, like he’d hoped Hank would be better than the rest of them, or had basic moral fiber.
People don’t last at Division X if they still have basic moral fiber.
Erik heads down to the showers and pulls on jeans and a t-shirt, grabs his coat and heads back upstairs, raising his eyebrows at Charles who sort of pauses, like he hasn’t seen Erik naked before.
“Civilian,” Erik says, and Charles rolls his eyes.
Capitol Hill security really dislikes mutants.
Erik tries to explain this to Charles, who doesn’t believe him until the metal detectors go off when Erik walks through because something about him tweaks them.
He’s on five dozen ‘cleared’ lists, but some upstart jerkoff always seems to be working and wants to delay things, and today is no different, even when Erik pulls out his badge.
“It’ll be a sec,” M. Laurio tells him, belly straining his uniform.
“I think you’ll find he’s been cleared,” Charles says, and Laurio looks at him, stance shifting aggressively, then he pauses.
“Yeah. Look, man,” he says to Erik, “Sorry about that. Can’t be too careful, you know?”
“Sure,” Erik agrees, looking at Charles, who’s already moving down the hallway.
Everything you know you learned from Star Wars, didn’t you? he asks. Charles grins and bites his lip and it’s all Erik can do not to lean down and kiss him.
The committee hearing room is big--bigger than the ones Erik usually gets put into, and he sits in the gallery, stretches out his legs and smiles up at Senator Kelly, who narrows his eyes at Erik, leaning over to talk to an aide who comes down and says,
“Senator Kelly wasn’t aware that Division X was providing protection.”
“I’m here as a concerned citizen,” Erik says. “See? Off-duty.”
“So your interest in Charles Xavier is...political?”
“I’m more interested to hear how people my tax dollars pay the salaries of treat a man who suffered at the hands of a government-sanctioned psychopath,” Erik retorts, and she sighs.
“Mr. Lehnsherr, this isn’t an attack--”
“Bet you twenty the press conference after name-drops me and implies a) Xavier’s a puppet, b) I’m angling to change the narrative, or c) I’m here pushing a homosexual agenda.”
“Mutant and proud,” he replies, and then shifts, looking away from her. Kelly’s mouth twists in disgust when she reports back to him.
Erik turns and Warren Worthington smiles at him a little hesitantly. “Warren.”
Warren Worthington is still, unfairly, beautiful, even when he looks a little uncertain.
“Hi! It’s been...years, how are you?”
“Fine, I’m fine. How have--”
Erik stumbles a step and Warren puts a big hand on his shoulder, which doesn’t help the sudden migraine Erik is experiencing.
“You okay?” Warren asks, all-American concern. He’s wearing a long trench to cover his wings, though they shift under his back.
“Migraines. I get them sometimes,” Erik manages, turning his head enough that he can glare at Charles, who’s watching them with narrowed eyes.
“Right,” Warren agrees. “Jealous type?”
“Apparently,” Erik mutters. Knock it off.
He’s married, you know. Three kids, lives in California.
Yes, as a trained investigator I did notice the wedding ring.
You weren’t trained a day of your life, Charles shoots back, but the headache is gone and he sounds conciliatory.
“So, uh. We should talk, after this,” Warren is saying.
“Somewhere private?” Erik asks, tilting his head and trying to read him. Warren looks...nervous. Guilty, even.
“Yeah,” Warren says in relief. “Yeah, um, I’m in town until Friday, but we...we should, yeah, get coffee. Catch up. Um, you can bring--maybe you should bring Dr. Xavier. I could take you guys out for lunch after this?”
“Sure, we’d like that,” Erik agrees mildly, pulling out his iPhone and pulling up his contacts, handing it to Warren, who plugs in his information and then gives Erik a smile which, upon consideration, isn’t as nice as Erik remembered.
He sits down and watches the shitshow unfold, the blustering politicians who think knowing a friend of a friend who’s a mutant is the same as knowing shit about them and Charles.
Who is quiet, eloquent, and exquisitely unyielding in his prepossession. About three minutes in Erik has to put his hand in front of his mouth to control himself because he wants to howl laughing--he hopes someone is Tivo’ing this so he can save it forever, especially when Senator Kelly says, “Isn’t it plausible you were in on this?”
Charles quirks an eyebrow. “And my dastardly plan was to have myself kidnapped and tortured, then bolt myself into a machine--and I do mean that literally--and as a result become a paraplegic? I’m sorry, if you could elucidate further, Senator, I’m afraid I don’t see the plausiblity.”
Someone in the balcony whoops, and Erik bites on his cheek hard enough to draw blood to stifle the laughter.
It goes on like that for an hour before they decide maybe they’ve had enough, at which point Senator Nardowitz apologizes to Charles for the tone the session took and wishes him a speedy recovery.
“No one tried to kill me,” Charles says when Erik finds him after they’ve all filtered out. People keep coming up to Charles, shaking his hand and expressing sympathies.
“Isn’t that cloying?”
“Erik, I can hear what they’re thinking, believe me when I tell you that the words are the most tactful part. People rarely censor their thoughts. What did your friend want?”
“To talk. Which could be interesting.”
“He seemed nervous.”
“Yes, you tend to inspire that,” Charles agrees, watching a blushing young woman shy away from them under Erik’s flat stare.
“Not that kind of nervous, Charles.”
“And you’re invited,” he adds. Charles stares at him, and then Warren comes up to them.
They have a kid at Alcatraz, Jimmy No-Last-Name whose mutation is negating the mutations in others. No one’s sure how it works but they’re at serum, ready for testing.
Jimmy No-Last-Name is twelve, kept in a white cube where people can stare in at him.
Emma takes Ororo and Kayla with her to tour the facility because Warren Worthington II is a misogynistic dick and will be less on his guard around women.
Ororo comes back into the office on the verge of tears, though no one is stupid enough to comment. Kayla sits down at her desk and starts to make calls, and Emma looks at Erik and says,
“They have government funding as this is a project with high sensitivity.”
“James Rao. He’s the son of the lead researcher, though you can’t find that anywhere. He lived with his father in Egypt until his father had an accident last year. Car, apparently, though Jimmy has his doubts.”
“Only if you stand within ten feet of him.”
Erik closes his eyes.
“They have children, presumably, to test on,” Emma continues. “Or convicts. I’ve given the data Ororo downloaded to Hank and Alex, they were arguing when I left so we ought to have results in a few minutes.” She exhales and then sits down. “I think...I think that we need to be public about this.”
“We don’t do public.”
“No. But Xavier wants the job. Give it to him.”
“It’ll get him killed,” Erik says, and it’s true. Azazel is right: this is going to get Charles killed.
“That would be a feat--someone managing what Shaw couldn’t,” she observes mildly. “Put Logan on him.”
“Erik. As much as it pains me to admit this...we aren’t the ones best equipped to handle this. This is the second incidence of the government directly funding or intervening in a project to eliminate us, and I have this sinking feeling next week they’re going to wage open war. Kids are already afraid to go to school, afraid to fight back...someone needs to make noise. He’s volunteered. Call him or I will.”
She leaves in a swirl of white, the bright blue lining of her dress peeking out as she walks away from him.
He calls Charles. Who is apparently so ignorant of the way the law works against them that it’s frightening and Janos and he have hours-long conversations in Erik’s kitchen while Alex swears at a keyboard and Emma tries to stretch her range to California.
“What are you doing?” Charles finally demands.
“Trying to contact him. But apparently 3000 miles is my limit.”
Charles looks at her for a very, very long moment and Erik preemptively closes his eyes.
“Did you want me to pass something along?” Charles finally asks delicately.
“You’re fucking with me,” Emma says flatly.
“Er, no, not as such.”
“No. Nope, you...” she trails off and then glares at Erik until he looks at her--he can feel the narrow-eyed look peeling his flesh off. He raises his eyebrows at her.
What do you want me to do?
Without Cerebro. 3000 miles.
The rest of them eventually go home, Emma to her latest toy, Darwin dragging Alex away bodily. Charles looks at Erik, then at the clock.
“Don’t be an idiot,” Erik tells him, locking the door behind Darwin and Alex.
“I don’t want to impose--”
“Shut up, Charles,” Erik says. “Order us something to eat.”
Charles smiles and Erik pretends he doesn’t see it until he remembers he doesn’t have to, grins back and leans down to kiss him softly.
“I just don’t understand how they think it’s acceptable that they...hold him there,” Charles says later over pizza.
Erik is too distracted by the way Charles inhales food to properly respond. He didn’t notice this before--maybe it’s specifically pizza.
“You eat like a grandmother,” Charles informs him, and then, impatiently. “Erik.”
“Uh, no, it’s a grey area. He’s not a human so they can argue they’re not violating human rights keeping him there,” Erik says.
“What?” Charles asks, blanching. Erik blinks at him.
“Human rights tend to only apply to humans,” Erik clarifies.
“They have a child at Alcatraz, acting like he’s a lab rat,” Charles says, soft and pained.
“It’s like they wrapped it up and handed it to you,” Erik reflects. “Twelve year old kid, Alcatraz. Even I could make a crusade out of that.”
“Erik, I’m not sure how this has missed your attention, but you could actually raise an army behind you if you were so inclined,” Charles points out fondly.
Erik flaps a dismissive hand. “Too much work.”
“Yes. Of all the Sins I’ve always felt Sloth was your greatest,” Charles deadpans.
Erik flips him off and steals the last piece of pizza.
Charles just...doesn’t move out after that. Over a long weekend, when Charles is in New York doing talk shows and then in San Francisco speaking to a rally, Erik has an elevator installed in the house (okay, he helps it along significantly. It’s more that he buys an elevator and hires someone to create the shaft and then he just does the rest), and when Charles comes home and sees the ramp and the elevator he drags Erik over and sucks him off right there in the front hall, Erik’s fingers scrabbling helplessly against the wall.
It works, and it takes Charles from sob story to social justice crusader with international recognition. In the weeks after he’s on the covers of TIME, Newsweek, and the Economist and has a Brian Williams special, goes on Jon Stewart.
Ororo and Darwin come back triumphant from a meeting with California’s Governor to deal with the wording in protecting children as part of the Department of Social Services’ charter, and Jimmy is removed from both his mother’s custody and the facility (he’s adopted by Warren’s older sister, who travels a lot but wrote to Warren faithfully while he was at Shaw’s school. Warren was the only one who got letters every week without fail. Darwin signed off on it so Division X didn’t protest, and Charles met her and gave it his blessing).
Erik has another round of meetings at Langley arguing about Charles, higher ups who haven’t been in the field in decades who keep insisting that Charles is just a flash in the pan--he’s momentarily popular but the public will lose interest, Charles will lose interest in this little campaign, and is it true Erik is living with him? Doesn’t he think that will compromise things just a bit?
Erik just doesn’t say anything, because he learned a long time ago that it was the best way to deal with people who thought they were in charge. Then he goes home and slides into bed beside Charles, presses Charles into the mattress and kisses him close and hot.
He doesn’t know--he doesn’t know how to tell Charles that he has to do this. That Erik can’t do this all alone; that he’s invested now, wrapped up in Charles, has been for a year, back when Charles was an over-attentive ghost. He doesn’t have an enemy now but he thinks--he’s got hope, or something to believe in, and there might--
If he thinks about it too hard he can’t breathe. He’d do better with clear-cut battle lines and a clear enemy and there’s so much left, and there are so few of them doing anything but he has Charles.
And it’s enough.