Chapter 1: Prologue: Career Opportunities
It was funny the things you thought about when you were dying.
It was like the rest of your body had just given up the ghost and transferred all your energy to your brain, allowing you to thread thoughts together at new, amazing speeds, to connect dots you had never even dreamed existed. Most people would spend that window of mental clarity contemplating the life they've lived or the workings of the world. Erik Lehnsherr, on the other hand, was spending it imagining new and unusual ways he could assassinate whoever invented the cell phone and, in relation, massively regretting that in the ridiculous amount of research he inevitably did for his job, he'd never figured out the damn man's name.
"Any signal?" A weak voice brought him back from that particular endeavor quickly. Erik ducked back under a toppled stone column, running his hand along the top of the collapsed tunnel to guide himself back through the pitch black until it turned a hue of brighter green.
Even though he knew what he'd see, Erik still felt his gut twist at the scene it illuminated. Slumped against a wall with one pale hand clutched faintly against his stomach, was Charles Xavier. Erik liked to think it was the unnatural green glow of their last fading glow stick on the floor that made Charles look so near to death, but he'd never been very good at lying to himself.
"It's a glorified electronic brick." Erik said sharply, but that was really how he spoke in general. He let his back hit the wall and slid down it next to Charles, staring up at the rubble that slanted down just feet above their heads. The only thing that saved them from being outright crushed was a few crisscrossed pillars and a mesh of highly decorative iron wall lattices. Every so often though, the rubble would make disturbing noises, like it was growling at them, the rubble above them settling and threatened to take away what little space they had left.
Charles looked up at broken structure with him, smiling lightly, like they were actually staring at the night sky instead of imminent doom.
"Suffocation's not a bad way to go." Charles said conversationally, shifting to better hold his hand against the red wet mess that was his own stomach.
"Is that so?"
The other man shrugged, "They say you hallucinate all sorts of wonderful things and then you just... fall asleep. Of course the first hand accounts are always skewed as... you can imagine, they're usually quite dead."
Erik snorted lightly, "So you're trying to spare me of that by trying to teach me to death? You take your call sign too seriously, Charles."
Charles batted at Erik's arm with his unoccupied hand, "Shut up, you're using my air."
Erik chuckled at that. He caught the flailing hand easily and trapping it between his own, fingers immediately working to sooth the tremors he felt under Charles's skin. Somewhere along the line, Charles leaned over, head tiredly finding a pillow against Erik's shoulder. There they stayed, glow stick steadily darkening, and simply waited for the world to fade.
...Two Months Previous...
Erik had barely opened the door to his own apartment when a blonde hyperactive blur shot under his arm towards the living room.
"DIBS ON THE TV!" The blur called as she passed, the audacity of the statement quickly followed by an intentionally endearing girlish laugh coming somewhere around the corner. Erik didn't sacrifice his dignity to sigh at the whole situation, but it said something that he very much wanted to. He was bone tired, had just suffered the most imbecilic client he'd ever known for six straight weeks for pay that was really not worth the chance of malaria.
Erik dropped the two plastic crates he'd hauled in unceremoniously on the floor, ignoring the immediate mess it made as bits of red mud flaked off the sides and nested between the floorboards in favor of slumping against the kitchen counter. In a practiced, entirely rote motion that wasn't dulled at all by the long time away, Erik upended everything out of his pockets and onto their designated ugly clay dish, a remnant of the few weeks Raven had gotten it into her head she was going to become a world renowned potter.
"Hey Dad!" Raven leaned around the corner, hanging over the edge of a teal couch like a small, pale monkey, "Can we get chinese food tonight?"
"No." Erik said, digging his fingers under the snap of his brown shoulder holster, pulling it off entirely and hanging it on the back of the closet door. "And feet off the couch."
Raven flipped deftly over the couch's arm, feet thunking loudly on the floor, Only after that did she try to form some kind of argument, "But!" It wasn't a very good one. Erik flicked a look over at her, eyebrow raised.
"Give me a good reason to change my mind." He intoned reasonably, moving over to the sink to wash the last bits of grease and mud off his hands. Raven stood up straighter in response, eyebrows pinching together as they always did when she was sorting through some challenge.
"I was gonna practice my Mandarin when I ordered," She said, not quite turning the full force of her puppy dog eyes on him. When Erik didn't immediately concede, she continued, "and! And I'll clean the dishes!"
After studiously drying his hands and considering the offer deeply, Erik dropped the rag into her hands and nudged her toward the sink, "Wash your hands."
Raven lit up like Christmas morning, "So we can have Chinese?"
"Didn't say that, did I?" Erik brushed past her to a cluttered corner of the kitchen that was supposedly the dining room. What it really ended up being was a defunct office where a small, secondhand desk sat, cluttered in scraps of paper and logs meant to keep things organized but really only made things more complicated.
Raven gasped, "Not fair!"
"That's how negotiations go, isn't it." Erik agreed, rummaging through the papers. He didn't dare look at the girl, he didn't have to, he knew what her face would look like. It looked like it always did whenever she was told no, which was why Erik made it a point to say it. She had to learn the lesson sometime
She obediently, if sullenly, washed her own hands, less dirty than his had been but still reasonably worked with. He waited until she'd finished then reached across the distance and let a folded Chinese menu flutter down into her hands.
"Cool!" She called, zipping around the table to wrap her arms around his stomach in a quick, but undoubtedly enthusiastic hug, before climbing over to the desk to retrieve the phone from its cradle. Erik watched her with tired fondness, knowing without a doubt that she'd never learn that particular lesson from him as he simply didn't have the will to deny her anything. She was spoiled, he knew, but he held some solace in the fact that she carried that particular burden well.
"Hey Dad! Message light is blinking!" Raven called as she dialed before retreating back to her spot on the couch.
That got a sigh from Erik. There weren't many people who had his home phone number, and every single one of them laughed at him for maintaining a landline, complete with a fifteen year old answering machine. Undoubtedly one of those few people would want something from him, and he wasn't feeling generous at that point. He looked over at the thing with a grimace, only to see a bright red "7" flashing in his direction.
Refusing to feel cowed by the contraption, he stabbed the button and leaned against the counter to listen.
He identified the female voice, Scottish brogue enhanced tenfold by her obvious enthusiasm. Moira MacTaggert. The first three messages were updates on an expedition Erik had previously known about. A desperate grab off the coast of Turkey on very little information. Moira had been excited about it, as she was about everything, but Erik had passed in favor of something with an actual payday.
He was surprised to hear her updates though. She'd found something. Not much, but something and she'd fought the local governments tooth and nail just to take it home, an admirable feat a lot of the time. If you found anything even slightly interesting there was always some local government or another who would make a grab for it. The tone of the next couple messages seemed fairly consistent until the fifth one.
"Erik. I- I think I've just been robbed."
Erik stood up straight and faced the machine, listening intently.
"My house is turned inside out I... I don't know..." Moira's message sighed, "I'm going to call the police. This doesn't smell right. Just... ring me when you get back. First thing, Erik."
Erik skipped past the automated message to get straight to the next. The sixth message didn't start off with Moira talking, at least not to Erik. She was squawking annoyed commands at other anonymous people over the clatter of a crowd.
"Put that- Hey! Boys! That's my room, get out of- Christ." Her voice returned to the phone, close to the receiver and muffled in a way that meant she was probably trying to call covertly, "Erik! Answer your damn phone! I called the police about that break in and the goddamn suits showed up! They won't tell me why they're here or what they want, but they're digging through all my stuff. I hope you get home soon but I have got to find someone else to help me with this until then."
Erik yet again skipped to the last message, expecting Moira to be calling from the inside of a volcano at the rate this was escalating. Instead of that however, the seventh message was actually quite sedate. It was short, no background noise and Moira was no longer frazzled, as a matter of fact, she seemed outright smug.
The message: "Erik, I have a job for you."
Chapter 2: Oh Captain, My Captain
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Moira MacTaggert worked out of the University of Edinburgh, not because she actually worked there, but because they'd simply gotten tired of telling her to leave. She'd tried the university teaching thing of course, but she had complained that it chafed horribly. When an opportunity for a good expedition came up, it was very rarely in line with the university's school schedule, and there wasn't much that could keep Moira from a good expedition.
So when she came back from one of said trips to find out they'd discontinued her employment, she stubbornly continued to use their facilities anyway. The first few years they'd issued her fines and walked her off the property for propriety's sake, but eventually she either bribed, dated, or confounded all the security guards into submission. Eventually, people just started to accept her as a constant installation in the buildings.
As usual, Erik met her in the newest building in the bunch dedicated to the history, classics, and archeological arm of the university. It was a polished white example of pure academia, kept notoriously clean and modern. Even the research labs were sleek expanses of pristine glass and non-porous white furniture. Examples of extremely rare bone and pottery were tastefully decorating the place, displayed with pride, each with a tag saying the university was responsible for unearthing these major parts of history. What they failed to mention was that a majority were found by Moira and, in extension Erik and they didn't get a bit of thanks.
He found Moira in one of those labs drenched in clean modern design. She had absolutely wrecked half of it, piling all of her stuff on the surrounding tables in giant dusty stacks and rows of musty smelling boxes. This was not a surprise to anyone.
"Aunt Moira!" Raven skipped ahead of Erik as soon as the auburn haired woman came into view.
Moira set down the sheaf of papers she was attempting to sort and turned towards the sound, giving an exaggerated gasp. "Come here, dearie!" She called, opening her arms out for a hug, an invitation Raven quickly took up with a giggle.
Erik waited just inside the door, hands in his pockets, looking for all the world like he was simultaneously irritated and extremely bored by the world around him. Moira ignored him for a while longer, tugging at Raven's hair, commenting on how much she'd grown in the past year, the usual. Then, finally, she deigned to give him her attention, the good will falling into something more calculating.
"Ah," Moira said after straightening up and taking on her best reject teacher scolding pose, "I see you've finally decided to show up. Did you buy a mobile on the way over, then?"
"Why would I do that?" Erik smiled humorlessly, tone condescending.
Moira tched noisily, arms crossing, "What if I had been arrested, did you think of that? What if those government brutes had hauled me away and stuck me in a cell somewhere?"
Raven tugged herself up onto one of the stools and happily started looking at the stacks of material Moira had littered around the room, completely unbothered by the situation. The other people in the room however, a handful of teachers, assistants, and students, weren't finding it all that normal. They'd all honed in on the conversation like they were expecting the two adults to come to blows.
"As far as I've been informed, you didn't break any laws." Erik reasoned imperiously, looking at Moira like she was being ridiculous, "The worst you would have been subjected to is twenty four hours in a cell with an unconscious drunk for a bunk mate. I think you would have managed."
Moira opened her mouth, taking in a deep breath for another round, before pausing. Her lips pursed ever so slightly, head tilting, and then she broke out into a full on "ah hah" expression.
"Erik Lehnsherr, you thought about this," She slid the words out, eyes narrowing, then she gasped again and hissed out the next words, "You were worried! Don't deny it. Raven, was he worried?"
"Yep," Raven said distractedly, looking over an old book she'd found, "He sped more than usual on the way over."
Erik pinched his nose, deciding this conversation had gone on for quite long enough. He sliced his hand through the air and tried valiantly to ignore the look on Moira's face. She always was a poor winner.
"Enough," He sighed, "You mentioned a job?"
Moira managed to turn to the topic at hand with only a smug giggle, waving him over to the white table where her computer was displaying a logo chasing through an endless star field. "Okay, you know the expedition to Turkey, right?" Moira started with excitement, tapping at the laptop to shake it from its screen saver, "We compiled the data about the currents in the Mediterranean sea and, while we didn't find the shipwreck I was hoping for, we did find this."
She pawed at the touch pad, bringing up a series of underwater photos. Erik leaned in over her shoulder, squinting at them. The sea was so blue it was nearly impossible to look through, tufts of black seaweed and an indeterminable ocean bottom being the only thing breaking the color up. Then, skipping forward a few more photos, allowing for a few out of focus shots and some misplaced flashlights, Moira finally found the photo she wanted.
There was a brightness half buried in sand and corral, cradled in a bed of mush of indescribable objects, so destroyed by the water that it was useless to pay attention to them even if anyone had wanted to.
"Gold, yes." Moira said, pleased, "That's not even the best thing." She skipped over to a different folder, bringing up a much cleaner picture of the odd shaped notch of carved gold sitting on a table, then Erik saw the ruler laid out alongside it. The thing, on one side, was almost a foot across and just as tall... and made of solid freaking gold. Moira, in full on nerd mode now, tugged on some gloves and carefully pulled out two artifacts from boxes beside her, holding them out for Erik to look at.
"These were found in the same area, and look at these markings, its all consistent with things stolen from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus."
Erik was listening, but his attention was still on the picture, tilting his head to look at the intricate carvings on the side, writings and illustration spooling around the outside edge. There was something off.
"This isn't Greek," He said mostly to himself, "It looks more... Egyptian. But the hieroglyphs are strange."
Moira looked pleased that he'd made the conclusion, "and that is the amazing part! That particular type of hieroglyph has only seen two places, in another artifact much like this one, and on the top of the Great Pyramid of Giza." Moira's voice trilled up to the pitch most girls reserved for swooning over Matthew Maconahay and Erik really couldn't blame her. Erik was having much the same reaction (barring any reference to Mr. Maconahay) to the discovery, in his own manly, restrained way.
What in the world was piece of Egyptian gold as big as his head doing in the Temple of Artemis?
In a habit born through many close calls, Erik forced himself to step back form his curiosity for a second to locate Raven. She had a habit of wandering, and today was no different. She'd gone off to bother a teacher at the next table over. Erik almost chided her for it but he poor man, apparently lonely, seemed to enjoy the attention, describing his work to her with animated hand motions that immediately reminded Erik of Moira. Did they teach over enthusiasm in school here or something?
Erik let it be, more than willing to be drawn back to the mystery at hand.
"Where is it then?" He said offhandedly, eager to get a look at it himself.
Moira's smile slumped down in an instant, her shoulders dropping into a sad droop. "Ah, about that..."
"Moira..." Erik said warningly, bracing for what was coming.
"I had it in the floor safe in my flat!" Moira defended herself, "They cut it clean open somehow."
Erik's hand went right back to pinching the bridge of his nose. That explained a lot, the upturning of her apartment, the robbery, the government involvement. Any lump of gold suddenly released into the world economy would easily drag their attention. The real question still remained, who would know Moira had the artifact and who would resort to this amount of trouble to take it from her.
He contemplated it for a second, trigger finger itchy in a way that made him glad he'd left his gun at home, "You said there was a second one..."
Moira sighed a little miserably but didn't quite know how to frame the words. Luckily the teacher behind them paused in his conversation with Raven and took pity on Moira, answering for her.
"We checked," He said with a sympathetic wince, "I'm afraid it's been stolen from a museum in Cairo Just last week."
Erik shot a sharp look at the teacher, this wasn't his conversation and he didn't like eavesdroppers.
Moira heaved out a breath, "Relax, Erik, he knew already. He's been helping me sort this out all day."
He eased up on the look with a small dismissive snort before turning back to Moira, "How does this turn into a job. Unless we're being hired to chase down thieves."
"Actually," Moira slid her shoulders up in a shrug, "That's exactly what. Since you weren't around I had to call a contact I had in the military, and they worked out a deal. The government funds an expedition to chase this," She sucked in a determined breath, informing Erik that whatever she said next would be up to no negotiations, "but the military gets to tag along."
In very concise words: Erik was not happy. He force a breath between his teeth and shook his head, at a loss. In tradition, she squared her shoulders and bore the look. This was what Moira did. She tended to throw herself into insurmountable odds and just... lean into the gale force winds. It was probably a good thing. No one else would put up with Erik as long as she did.
"I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't have a very good reason, and it is a very good reason." She said sternly.
Erik didn't seem to find that adequate, "You know what this means..."
"Yes, I do." Moira answered aimlessly, refusing to lose but not knowing how far to push it.
"Really," The teacher laughed, breaking the tension, looking up again from pointing out a passage in a book to Raven, "It can't be all that horrible."
Erik snapped the full force of his annoyance over at the man, but even as he was obviously perturbed by the whole conversation, his voice was still perfectly articulate and calm. "The military, all military are forces with power so tempered by their own glory that they stir up trouble out of boredom. When that doesn't work, they start turning their sights inward. The officers are worse, rank earned with nothing but money, sending people to die for their own petty reasons, " Erik explained, a power of conviction behind his voice, "You let them into your life once and they assume they own you and I will not be owned."
Erik had been fully expecting a certain reaction out of the teacher. The same reaction he usually received from flustered academic types: stuttered apologies, aversion of the eyes, overtly fleeing from the room. Instead, this man just propped his chin up on a hand and waited out Erik's rant, politely, calmly, though his eyes took on a certain edge that had Erik second guessing everything he'd assumed about him.
"Curious points, coming from a veteran." The man said earnestly, solidifying Erik's idea that he had gravely miscalculated somewhere. He looked him up and down again, subtly. The man was pale, at least a half a foot shorter than he was, and wearing a tweed suit with full on elbow patches. He looked absolutely at home in the university... but there was something...
Erik straightened up, ignoring the tense motions coming from Moira, "Who are you?"
For once, Moira answered a question for the man instead of the other way around, "Erik, this is Charles Xavier, Captain Charles Xavier."
The newly introduced man offered a hand, smile bright, "Charles is fine. Nice to meet you Mr. Lehnsherr, may I call you Erik?"
After all that unpleasantness in public view, a change of setting seemed appropriate. Moira quickly packed up her laptop and signed over her materials to a lab assistant and the four of them made their way, with as much tact as they could muster, out the door and to the campus beyond. They would have seemed very much like a happy family strolling along, enjoying the atmosphere and the sun spilling through the birch trees wooding the area. They would have... if not for the utter death glare Erik was pointing at Charles's back.
"You're angry." Moira said lowly to him, the extra roll in her Rs giving away her agitation. They were hanging back a good few yards, letting Charles and Raven walk along ahead of them, the two caught in some new grand conversation. Erik had to use all of his considerable discipline to not call Raven back to his side. He wouldn't give the other man the satisfaction. Instead Erik spared Moira the moment to slant his death glare in her direction before it returned to its natural prey. Moira got the point easily enough and sighed deeply.
"I know, Erik, I do. I was there at Borneo, in Argentina too. I don't precisely feel all warm and cozy with the government breathing down my neck either, but I had no choice." She crossed her arms in a huff, obviously not liking the memories or the situation. It made Erik's shoulders ease, if slightly. "It was this or I'm nixed from it altogether. If they found it, d'ya think the bastards would actually bring it back? Unlikely. So when the suits started swarming in I pulled the only ace I had."
Erik's look had turned less homicidal and more considering. Charles turned his head to meet the look out of the corner of his eye, not breaking in his conversation but refusing to bow under the stare none-the-less.
"He was your ace." It came out a little more disbelieving that Erik intended. If it weren't for the something behind the other man's eyes, he wouldn't have believed for a minute that the man had ever been involved in anything war-like. He'd tried to tell himself that Charles must only be some silver spoon brat with a cushy desk job ordering other soldiers about, but he couldn't quite bring himself to believe that either.
"Well, yes." Moira hitched her shoulders in a shrug, "You should have seen it, Erik. One call to him and in the next hour he was there, ordering those thugs about. He made them apologize to me! It was sheer glory, Erik, sheer unadulterated glory."
Despite himself, Erik couldn't hold back the spark of amusement. Imagining the burly, suited types stuttering out bits of restitution to the shorter woman while she stood pleased and regal in the wreckage of her apartment.
"That day, I was being denied all inquiries on the matter and the next morning Charles came back to me with a proposition." Moira tested the sentence out, keeping a shrewd eye on Erik's temper to see if he was in a better state of mind to be listening to it.
Erik, apparently not in the mood for the coddling, raised a stern eyebrow, "You really should stop looking like I'm going to run up and stab the man in the back if you say the wrong thing. What is it, MacTaggert?"
"Fine." Moira rolled her eyes but continued, "We could go on the expedition, fully paid for, for at least six months but this isn't just a mission from the British government. Charles would be leading but they had to get the go ahead and bring in Ireland and the US as well and both of them want representatives to ensure their investment."
Erik tensed, frowning deeply, "How many?"
"Five, including Charles." She shrugged remorsefully, "I don't know who they are or where they're coming from, and that's why I need you. I don't have this sort of insight and I don't have the time to learn it. I need you to keep this expedition in order and keep those others in line, remind them who's boss."
Erik paused and turned a considering look over at the archeologist, "You don't trust Charles."
"What!" Moira flushed, "That's ridiculous, of course I do."
He didn't waste his breath reiterating, he just raised an eyebrow. Moira glared back at him stubbornly.
"I do trust him, I do-"
"But?" Erik curled the word until Moira broke.
Another sigh, "But... sometimes he doesn't tell me things, can't tell me things. He's always been like that. He thinks it's for my own good and for all I know, it may very well be. I've known the man for ten years and I still don't know what he does for the military or even what branch he's in. I don't... Erik, where are you going?"
Already six paces ahead of her, Erik closed the distance between himself and Charles in the space of a breath. He slid into step on the other side of Raven, newly resurrected death glare in place.
"Dad!" Raven bounced on a step, "He knows what heterochromia is!"
Charles shifted a guarded, if polite look at Erik back to an openly fond one at Raven, "It really is a lovely mutation, Raven, and quite rare. In most cases one eye is brown and the other blue, I've never quite seen your eye color before. You should be proud of it."
Raven absolutely preened, sending a giant smile up to the Captain then over at Erik. Her eyes were rather marvelous, one a deep blue, the other a sort of startling yellow. Early on she'd come crying home from school because the other kids teased her for it mercilessly. That night Erik taught her how to throw a punch. The week after that she was expelled. Erik remembered picking her up from the headmaster's office and then immediately taking her out for ice cream, immensely proud of her. Needless to say, she'd been home schooled since.
Erik refused to let the interaction soften his opinion of the man, he had things to do damnit, and flattering his daughter wasn't going to save him of that.
"You have a question, Erik?" Charles said politely. He'd been calling him Erik ever since he'd asked to, regardless of the fact that he had never actually been given permission.
Erik's gaze was icy, "How about you explain what interest three countries have in our little expedition and I warn you, do not lie. This has nothing to do with the artifact."
Charles's expression flickered from surprise, to a moment of respect, then onto something more neutral, "I'd be glad to tell you but..." He made a subtle motion at Raven.
"Just say it. She'll find out by tomorrow regardless." Erik pushed.
"Yeah, I'm a snoop—Ow!" Raven clapped her hands over her ear where Erik had lightly pinched it looking like a cat recently sprayed with water. Erik valiantly ignored her, staring straight at Charles until he gave up the information.
Charles, only looking less hesitant because the emotion was masked by his confusion about the odd family, finally gave in but despite his discomfort, "The other artifact, the one stolen in Cairo. We managed to link it to a certain thief named Janos Quested..."
Erik's glare sharpened enough to halt Charles in his explanation, he latched a hand around Raven's shoulder, turned her around and pointed her in Moira's direction.
"Moira, take Raven." Her barked the order without even looking at her, he was too busy making murder eyes at Charles again.
Charles waited patiently as Moira wheeled Raven away with no complaint, knowing a good reason when she saw one. She'd be filled in later away from ten-year-old ears. Charles watched them go before stopping on the path altogether, planting his feet firmly, arms loose to his sides like he expected a fight. He wasn't far off.
"So you know of Quested, and if you know of him, you know of his connections..." Charles said with surety, blue eyes darting to pick up any of Erik's potential movements.
Erik snorted, tone biting, "Just say it."
"I'm looking for Sebastian Shaw," Charles said, deadly serious, that something behind his eyes now dangerously close to the surface, "and I was hoping you'd help me do it..."
Here's another one guys! I'm kinda bookin it this week with writing mostly cause of the awesome support from the people on the meme. Kudos to you guys, your support keeps me going. So thank you to you and to the reviewers and commenters elsewhere, it really helps.
On a side note. I hesitantly put this out there. My ego is a tiny easily shrinkable violet so I'm too much of a sissy to get a beta. Hoooweever, if any of you guys see either A.) Issues with my british/scottish/irishisms. Oooor B.) Massively messing up science or archeological/military vocab, please feel free to nudge me in the correct direction... gently. I bruise.
So far I have been coddling myself with the knowledge that I am already a little more scientifically accurate than the honorable Mr. Reilly (Dear Sir. sun spots are colder than the rest of the sun) buuut if I'm gonna do something I'd like to do it moderately okay (My standards are sky high, as you can see) so thank you so much for input in advance and have wicked awesome days and weeks, my friends.
Chapter 3: Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Erik was simultaneously angry and elated that he'd left his gun in the car. Shooting the other man straight in the sternum might have been cathartic, but it also would have been tragically public and would likely traumatize all the happy undergraduates wandering around the grounds. Erik tried to reign himself in. The man had caught him on an off balance moment, this was not usually how he operated. He shifted, turning arrogant, looking down on the other man from his superior height simply to sooth his own masculinity.
"I'm not here to harm you..." Charles said evenly, almost hypnotic so much so that Erik really was calmed by the statement, if only internally, then Charles continued, "Though, I was thinking about it earlier, if I'm to be strictly honest."
That got Erik's ire back up in a flat second, growl building deep in his chest. Decking the man might not traumatize the students too much...
"Calm, calm." Charles had the audacity to smile at that, "I said 'was' as in past tense, and I had every right to be considering it, if you'll let me explain."
"You have an interesting way of recruiting allies, Xavier." Erik said smoothly, not even his current agitated state enough to wring the superiority from his voice.
"As I've been told," Charles laughed, smile widening, "May I please explain myself, I think it's relevant to the this job, if nothing else."
Erik snorted, stepping back slightly to gesture the go ahead. He doubted he could have stopped the man anyway, he seemed singularly stubborn, no wonder he and Moira got on.
"Thank you," Charles nodded and tucked his hands back in his pockets, apparently assured that Erik wasn't going to jump him that moment. It made Erik want to do it anyway, just to teach him a lesson. He made half a move towards it, just the slight twist of his heel to ground him better on the pathway. Charles's eyes snapped to the motion immediately, the levity in his expression taking a pause for that warning look Erik had faced earlier.
Erik would be lying if that didn't garner a little respect. Slowly, he backed down from the stance, crossing his arms loosely to show he was listening. Again, Charles nodded a mute thanks before turning back to the topic at hand.
"I have no reason to trust you any more than you trust me," Charles began, "When I presented Moira with this arrangement, her one stipulation was that you were to lead this expedition with me. Of course, given the circumstances, I'm obligated to do a background check on you."
Despite the carefully bored expression Erik was maintaining, he tensed inwardly.
"You check out," Charles said lightly, keenly watching the other man's reactions, "Though I should commend you on your frugality. It's quite amazing how, before about ten years ago, you didn't own property, rent, have any type of insurance, drive any type of vehicle, or pay any utilities anywhere in the world."
"It's a talent of mine." He allowed with a shrug, inwardly he was cursing that little snot he'd bought those papers from. High quality his ass.
"Quite," Charles smiled, lifting up one finger in question, "I am curious though..."
Speaking of adages, Erik was sternly hoping that Charles would turn into a cat. It would solve his problem neatly.
"Do you have family from Berlin?" Charles asked innocently.
"Here or there, perhaps," Erik nodded, "none that I'm in contact with."
"How nice!" Charles said brightly, as if someone had just sprang a surprise tea party on him, "I have someone I'm familiar with who was born there. He was actually in the military like me, fought in the Gulf War..."
Oh that son of a bitch. That veteran comment hadn't been as wide placed as Erik had hoped. Moira tended to introduce him as having military background to sooth anyone's fears about his competency. She never said with whom or during which war. This game was turning dangerous fairly quick, but as of yet he hadn't seen any hint of ill will on the other man's face. Though, if he thought about it, the captain seemed the type who would be able to hide that well.
Erik shook the thoughts off and snorted, "I think you need to check your history. No German troops were deployed in that particular war."
Charles pretended to be unsure of himself for a second, a bad act, "Forgive me, I'm not a historian such as yourself, but I am quite sure I'm correct." He did actually look apologetic though, it was bizarre, "There was only one section over there, a special, fairly new one they felt needed more field experience despite their natural talent. I saw a picture of this particular man, which is why I asked about family. He bears a striking resemblance to you, decade younger yes, but all the same. He went by the name Eisenhardt. Any connection?"
Erik couldn't find it within him to do much more than stare, so he didn't push it for a long moment. Just long enough to make the air thoroughly uncomfortable. Finally, and pointedly, Erik uncrossed his arms, letting them hang at his sides, "I thought you said this would hold some relevance."
"Oh, it does," Charles assured him, smile only cursory, "Because Sebastian Shaw lead that force into Kuwait in 1990 and he did a terrible disservice to everyone in his section, but particularly Eisenhardt."
For the first time in the conversation, Erik felt truly surprised. He thought he hid it well, but there was a flinch of sympathy in Charles's face that indicated otherwise. The smaller man stepped forward, fearless, voice low.
"I know what Shaw did to you." He practically whispered it, "I wasn't sure at first. I thought it was too much of a coincidence that Shaw's thief knew where to find Moira's artifact. That he might have been told by someone Moira trusted, someone with a past connection to him. Calm." Charles asserted the word stronger at the end, almost preemptively as the utter hatred of the assumption swelled in Erik. It didn't stop the feeling, but it did give Charles a second to wedge more words in.
"After more research and hearing Moira's accounts, don't worry, she didn't give you away, my initial conclusion has changed. However, what you must know is that if Eisenhardt isn't dead, as was reported, he is still very much wanted for treason."
Erik's glare was back full force, fingers clenched, knuckles standing out starkly, "And what, Xavier? If I fall out of line your conclusion might change back? You'll call in the dogs to haul me to some prison so twenty five countries can fight over who gets to execute me first?"
"Certainly not," Charles said harshly, looking absolutely insulted. He clamped his mouth shut around whatever extra he was going to add, then took a breath and sliced a look back up, "Moira is a dear friend of mine and you have taken care of her, stayed by her side for nearly a decade, and saved her life on several occasions. I do not take this lightly, Lehnsherr."
His tone made Erik feel simultaneously warmed and like he should go sit in time out. He didn't quite know how to handle it and that was probably a very good thing. The lapse in response let the last of Charles's annoyance burn through (apparently one of those rare, slow fuse, tiny boom sort of tempers). Another breath, and he was back to normal.
"I am trying to warn you." He said with a sigh, "Your past will not get to my superiors through me, I cannot say the same for any of the others assigned to the group. Your input on Shaw will be invaluable, I only know as much about him as was in his folder and that is shady at best, but we must play this in such a way as it seems you are no more informed than me, that you have no history with the man."
Erik clenched his eyes shut for a moment, just enough to make sure he wasn't hallucinating, this wasn't some sick dream. When he opened his eyes, Charles was still there and so was the expedition... but it wasn't just that.
He was being offered a chance at a goal he had thought long since unachievable, a goal he had lost sight of when a tiny blonde girl had been dropped into his life. A chance to take back his pride...
Charles waited calmly, eyes searching as soon as Erik met them. Charles loosened his hand from his pocket and held it out, fingers loose and strangely inviting. Erik stared at them.
This wouldn't be easy. They had very few clues, all their artifacts were gone. The meddling of four other influences would tangle the problem even more on top of the fact that Erik wouldn't really be able to trust them, could never be sure they weren't the sorts with big mouths and small brains. On top of that, as much faith as this Captain Charles Xavier had put in him, Erik still didn't know him. He didn't know his motives, his opinions. He could turn out to absolutely loath the man, which really seemed the most likely option at the moment.
All the distinct possibilities whorled around into a soup of pros and cons, so insufferably indecipherable it seemed like a headache waiting to happen. Then, quietly and with very little input from logic, he came to a solution. In his mind, the conclusion sounded very much like "Oh, fuck it."
"I look forward to working with you, Xavier." Erik clapped his own hand into Charles's, intentionally squeezing harder than he had to. It didn't show on the smaller man's face at all. Instead, he just smiled brightly.
"Please, didn't I tell you to call me Charles?"
Neither Erik nor Moira heard from Charles for two days after their rather tense parting at the university. Not a phone call or note. The only indication that he was even still involved in the expedition was the nose-bleedingly large sum of money that materialized in Moira's bank account the next day. After she recovered from the shock and then stopped laughing hysterically, she found his lack of contact disturbing.
Erik had filled her in on all the details, including the fact that Charles knew who Erik was and his connection to Shaw. Moira hadn't been surprised about that much really, though she did seem sheepish. Her only explanation was that she had "forgotten he does that." It made Erik curious, he had to admit, mostly about how his business partner knew a man who could look into sealed files from Desert Storm, but he didn't press her for information. He almost felt like he'd be losing the game somehow.
Charles found out about him without help prying from Moira, he could do the same, even without security clearance.
He set up his beaten laptop on the kitchen table, as far back from the living room as he could get. Moira and Raven were snuggled up on the couch watching... something, Erik didn't know. Moira's house was still technically a crime scene and she'd just returned home with them, assuming it a given that she could crash on their couch. Erik truly wasn't all that bothered, he knew she wouldn't feel safe in her apartment even if she could sleep there, and it made Raven happy. She saw less and less of her Aunt Moira these days and as much as Erik tried to give her, he would always be lacking in several areas. Namely, the fact that he didn't have a second X-chromosome, thought unicorns were rather ridiculous looking, and didn't know how to braid hair.
His laptop staggered to life, battling with components shook loose from one too many times being dropped on the ground. The screen had six dead pixels and a crack up the side. Erik didn't notice.
His search started with google.
Typing in "Charles Xavier" specifically showed very few returns. Just minor articles, graduations, school functions. After that, the rest of the results pared down to nonspecific hits of just Xaviers, Erik narrowed those further to Xaviers living in England, then searched for ones of influence.
The Xaviers, predictably, were old, old money. As in, if fifty or so people died, they could very well be crowned royalty sort of old money. Erik scanned through the news articles unsurprised by the lengths of excess they lived in. The had so much money they had moved a castle from the English countryside to some place in New York so they'd have a place to live when they traveled for business. The most recent and arguably the most notable arm of the family came through one Brian Xavier and his lovely blonde bombshell wife Sharon. Brian, aside from his money, actually seemed to make quite a living off his brains, doing unimaginable things with physics equations that made entire industries bend over backwards just to shake his hand.
The couple were the sociable sort, it seemed, and actually very charitable. The next twenty or so articles were about new parks, libraries, hospital wings created due to generous donations. The pictures were few and far, at least not ones that were close, but even through the dotted grain of inexpertly applied newspaper ink, Erik thought he recognized that arrogant tilt of the man's smile, the woman's sloped jawline.
Checking his theory, he jumped forward into the late seventies, skipping articles until he found what he was looking for. Eventually the pictures of two people turned into three, a small, docile form hunched at his father's side, holding on to his father's hand like he might float away if the child didn't keep him grounded. The caption clearly stated what he was looking for, "Mr. and Mrs. Xavier with their three year old son, Charles."
As time wore on and photography became less expensive, more and more pictures started accompanying the "minor" articles of charitable acts. Erik tried to skim through them, the pictures weren't relevant anymore now that he knew he was looking at the correct family, but occasionally one would catch his attention anyway. It was mostly accidentally snapped family moments just before the formal portrait was supposed to be taken. Brian leaning over, face attentive as he listened to whatever it was Charles was telling him. Sharon taking the brunt of the press's attention as Charles slumped sleepily over into his father's arm.
Erik wiped the grin off his face the minute he noticed it was there and blamed the reaction on fatherhood. He had similar pictures with Raven and was permanently stained with sentimentalism for those sorts of scenes. Resolutely, he flipped over another few years and froze, flipping back slowly as he tried to come up with an explanation of the sudden change in the pictures. Three was now back to two, then, more often, just one, as Sharon alone attended events.
He found the explanation and merely skimmed it. Accident, very tragic. Survived by wife and son. He jumped forward, watching the pictures, finding no more of those caught family moments. If Charles was in any of the pictures, Sharon was usually otherwise occupied. Lacking patience, Erik typed what he really wanted to know. He finds it.
Sharon Xavier-Marko. Dies in her home of undisclosed causes, survived by her second husband and son.
Erik slams the lid of his laptop down with a breathy curse, drawing Raven's attention. He met her eye over the back of the couch, easily identifying the look on her face. She wanted to know what all this was about, and she wanted to know badly. She was being relatively good about it, at least Erik hadn't caught her rifling through his or Moira's things just yet, but she'd no doubt try it soon.
"Raven, did you want to practice your Italian?" Erik asked, not bothering to hide his distraction at all. It was effective regardless. She grinned brightly and scrambled off the couch, snatching up the phone to call a restaurant owned by a native Sicilian, her favorite accent.
Moments later, the door's buzzer sounded. Strange, because Raven hadn't even placed her order yet.
"Wait here," Erik slipped his jacket over his shoulders, the black leather settling easily over the gun concealed under his arm. He had taken to keeping it on at home the last two days. He wasn't sure if it was to protect the people in his apartment or because he wanted to make sure it was close, just in case Shaw showed up so he could shoot him straight in the forehead. Both options seemed equally reasonable.
He took the stairs down deftly, long limbs that might have been gangly on another person only masterful elegance as he made it to the first floor. It made it all the more obvious when he staggered on the last step, recognizing the person on the other side of the steel and glass door.
"Oh there you are, Erik," Charles said pleasantly through the mesh screen, "I was beginning to think you were ignoring me."
Erik slowed his steps, in no hurry to open the door now. Charles didn't seem to be bothered, hands borrowed comfortably into the pockets of his slacks. He was dressed in some ridiculous sweater vest, a gray woolen thing that looked like a hand me down from his grandfather. Erik still had trouble reconciling the man before him with his supposed occupation, not in times like these at least.
Charles's eyes flickered to the side and he emitted a laugh that could almost be described as nervous, "Am I intruding? I know this isn't precisely business hours. I could... leave, or..."
Erik rolled his eyes and pulled the door open, gesturing for the smaller man to follow him. He did it because it was expedient, Erik told himself, not because the strangely demure expression on the man's face reminded him of the childhood pictures he'd seen moments ago.
"Thank you," Charles trailed after him, jumping forward a few steps so that he was walking shoulder to shoulder with Erik, that smile on his lips. Erik tried to ignore him, watching the man from his peripheral vision as they hit the first flight of stairs and headed up. The whole time Charles kept sending him these sideways smiles, looking like he had something he desperately wanted to say.
"What?" Erik finally gave in, looking over to the man with pinched eyebrows.
Impossibly, Charles's grin grew brighter, "Sorry, I just... I looked into your file farther, when you were acting sergeant. I have to say, your strategies were brilliant. Even with so few men, the way you covered, well, I can't legally say it out loud, but it was magnificent, I assure you."
A disbelieving laugh escaped Erik, "Is this what you do for fun, Xavier?-
"Please, it's Charles."
"- Dig through my past?" He finished after a tick. Charles had the good sense to look slightly sheepish.
"All of your superiors and allied officers spoke highly of you," He tried to defend himself, "Could you blame me for wanting to see why?"
"Yes," Erik said flippantly, though the anger he had been expectantly didn't quite arrive in time, "Yes, I can."
Charles seemed to take that as a joke and chuckled accordingly, the sound warming, "Really Erik, don't knock it, those files were truly impressive, and it's my job to look through impressive files."
Erik gave it up and nodded his head in a reluctant thank you. He knew he was good, he did, but calling attention to skills more than a decade past, and sorely out of use, it made him uneasy. He applied most of his brain power to languages, maps, and research. Sussing out good ways to get into places and structures long past destroyed without bringing it down around your ears. That was what he did now, not lead troops.
"Say," Charles chimed with a bounce in his step, "Do you play Chess?"
Erik looked over at the man contemplatively, like this was a trap, "Yes, but not in a while. I've tried to teach Raven but she has no patience for it."
"Ah, yes" Charles nodded in grave understanding, "And Moira won't play any game that didn't originate before the 6th century."
Erik snorted, "She keeps trying to get me to play that infernal mancala game."
Charles tried to stifle his laugh behind his sleeve, completely ineffectually, and before he knew it Erik let out a huff of a laugh himself. "We must play a game, if only for the fun of goading her."
This seemed like a perfectly admirable pastime to Erik, despite the company, "I think I have an old set in my closet."
"I think I might be in love." Charles announced to the whole room, staring down in awe at the table in front of him. There was the chess set, obviously old, inexpensive, and missing a few pieces (a queen had to be replaced with a salt shaker and a knight with a small container of crushed bay leaves). The set itself was nothing special really, but the arrangement of the pieces, that was something else altogether.
Charles Xavier had just completely and utterly lost a game of chess and he couldn't be happier. Erik, on the other hand, would have trouble being more confused.
"Do you profess your love to everyone who beats you at chess?" Erik asked in a perfect blend of sarcasm and disbelief.
"I wouldn't know," Charles shrugged and knocked his king over with with a finger, "I've never been beaten before." Then he stood up to go help Moira collect the dishes from dinner like it hadn't be an odd thing to say.
Much in the manner that he had learned to take everything in the past few days, Erik took it in stride, rolling his eyes lightly before he, too, stood up. He didn't go over to the kitchen, but to a door cracked open at the end of the living room. He brushed a knuckle on the door quietly, edging it open just enough let the light from the hallway cut across to what he knew would be there.
Raven was sleeping on the floor, half slumped against the wall next to the door. She'd likely fallen asleep there while attempting to spy on their conversation to only get boring conversation about which archaic board game was the best. Quiet and calm, Erik gently leaned down and hoisted the girl up into his arms. She only stirred superficially, waking just to that bleary eyed point where dreams bleed into reality and you couldn't really care less. She mumbled something nonsensical and lolled her head around to find a comfortable spot on her father's arm just for the short journey to her unmade bed.
For a moment, just as he deposited the girl on the small bed and yanked the covers up around her, Erik had second thoughts about this job. It was a tiny, mutinous voice, quickly smothered but not so easily forgotten. Shaw was dangerous. He knew this, and knew it personally, but he'd participated in dangerous jobs before. Hell, he'd taken Raven with him on a couple. It wasn't worry that made a sliver of doubt wedge deeper into him. It was guilt. Guilt that, as much as he'd come to accept and adore his role in Raven's life it was the fact that... given the opportunity to turn away from his, as he had been given over and over the last few days, he could never bring himself to do it, and he knew he never would, no matter the impact it could have on him or his weird little family.
Hopefully Raven could forgive him for that.
Erik shut the door behind him and, with it, all of his insecurities. Like he'd said, this was dangerous, and insecurity got you and everyone else killed.
"Is she asleep?" Charles asked lowly from behind the kitchen's island, a stack of papers in his hands. Moira sat to the side, cup of something hot pinned between her fingers. Erik just nodded and took his own seat across from them.
"I think it's time we talked business." Erik stated solidly, earning two nods in return. "Shall we start?"
Charles nodded, "Yes, please, I admit I'm hoping you have something to fill in the blanks in what I have, otherwise this is going to take a great deal longer than we had hoped."
"Encouraging. Because our side isn't making much more sense." Moira said over her mug, eyebrows jaunting up, "I called a friend over at the museum in Cairo, the one that was robbed. Since we figured you had every criminal report in the area, we decided to tackle it from our point of view. We dug up as much of the history of this thing as possible."
Once again, she retrieves her laptop and flips it around for all to view. A picture of an oddly shaped wedge of gold appears again. It's shaped different than the one Moira found but obviously related. The writing on it was also obviously different, some of it even running awkwardly off the side.
"This thing has changed hands so many times it's truly ridiculous," Moira said, obviously gearing up for a full lecture, "Tracing it backwards we get this: It came to be in Cairo after its last home, a museum in Holland which burned straight to the ground just before its transfer. Before that, another few museums that went bankrupt while holding it, It was attained from the government after it was confiscated from a Pyramid Power cult in the States. When they raided the place, it was found on an alter surrounded by wildflowers and cocaine..."
Charles chuckled despite himself, "Ah, the sixties."
Erik snorted a laugh before cutting Moira off, given the opportunity, she'd rattle off the artifacts 2000 year old history and they just didn't have time. "To cut this short, it disappeared for a time while it was in private collections but we managed to trace it back to where it was first recovered."
Moira picked it up again, obviously wanting to tell this part, "The only connection we have found other than the obvious is that, despite it's Egyptian nature, the first place it was found was actually in Rome, in a stash of riches believed to belong to Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus."
"Caligula." Erik translated.
"Oh good," Charles said warily, "He always had such a shining reputation."
"Power hungry, insane, and sexually depraved tyrant," Erik shrugged, "The picture of good taste, I'd say."
Moira had made the mistake of taking a sip from her drink and promptly choked on it. She put her mug down and elbowed Erik with a sharp elbow.
"Back to topic!" She declared with a hand wave, just as soon as she'd coughed the liquid out of her lungs, "What were we—oh right, Caligula. It's not impossible that Caligula found himself in possession of an egyptian artifact, in antiquity all these nations were constantly involved, trading, in wars with one another, winning and losing land but what caught our attention was the fact that the piece we found traced back to an unlikely and not egyptian source as well, to the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus."
Erik watched his business partner do everything to make this dramatic short of puting a flashlight under her chin and wiggling her fingers in the air.
To his credit, Charles was keeping up with the conversation. A feat in itself, considering even Erik, who had some interest in this prior to his military career, had been bowled over by Moira's enthusiasm when he'd heard her first lecture. He also hadn't really liked her at the time, which may have contributed, but all the same. She tended to make things far more convoluted than they needed to be and it fell to Erik to say things plainly... it also meant he got to steal her thunder quite a lot.
"We think this piece is connected the Statue of Zeus at Olympia." Erik broke in, looking pleased. Twice as much as when Moira deflated into a glare.
Erik smiled sharply at her from where he'd propped his chin up on his palm. He enjoyed his job sometimes.
Charles spared them an exapserated smile before tilting the screen more to himself, "How do you know?"
Moira brushed Erik off with a flip of hair and turned back, "Like I was trying to say... In the middle of Caligula's reign, he made an attempt to steal the statue from Olympia. The workmen he sent there famously failed because the statue supposedly came to life and laughed at them. All a story of course, probably nothing more than rats nesting inside of the statue itself, but it's actually likely that Caligula did send men to Olympia, who failed, and sought to take something else back to soothe Caligula's wrath."
"So they stole the biggest chunk of gold they could find." Erik added, "That's not even the best of it," he leaning across the table to click on the next window where an unsassuming picture of an old antique stone work bench looked out at them. It would be completely unremarkable if it weren't for the faintest of scrawls chisled into the surface. A line of symbols that looked remarkable familiar.
"Phidias, the man who sculpted the statue, his workshop was discovered fairly recently and that is his bench. And this line? The exact same line of characters are on the artifact." Moira beamed.
"Magnificent," Charles laughed, caught up in all this as much as they were. "I suppose the question now becomes, what does Shaw want with these pieces? I'd imagine they're exceptionally valuable, though selling them would be near to impossible unless he did something tragic like melt it down."
Erik shook his head, crossing his arms up high on his chest, "It won't be about money. Shaw has plenty, and he's never been interested in amassing wealth, just favors."
They all turned to look at the picture again, each working the problem through in their heads, tackling it from their own respective angles. They stayed that way until, finally, Charles straightened against the counter.
"You said pieces earlier, did you not? As in they are pieces of a whole?" He said slowly, still thinking.
"Yes," Moira nodded, "The piece Cairo had and mine would have actually fit together flush on one side, like a puzzle."
"So that implies there are more of these out there..." Charles paused, obviously catching onto something in his mind, before he tugged out a manilla folder in the middle of his stack and flipped through it. A smile very quickly took over his face, "If my memory doesn't fail me, is there not a wonder near Baghdad?"
Erik frowned, resisting the urge to snap the paper from Charles's hand, "Babylon, yes. Why?"
Charles looked pleased, "According to a contact of mine, Shaw has a trip planned there sometime this month, and if he's after another piece..."
"We can snatch it out from under him," Erik outright smirked, a scary expression on him. This solved their problem. They didn't need to know why Shaw wanted these pieces, they simply needed to know that he did, and what he'd do to get them. If they had even one piece... "Then he'll have no choice but to face us."
"On our terms," Charles smiled, "I think it's time we pull the rest of our team together, don't you?"
Okay here comes the point in the story where things get tricky. So if things do not makes sense to you, please please please leave a note for me so I can alter things to make it clear or know to address it in the future.