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wrap up my bones

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He shields his eyes against the sun, not a cloud in the sky, pale blue, almost white. The threat of a storm away in the distance, but it won’t rain, he’s sure of that. It’s hot even for this time of year, a near record breaker and no rain for over a month. Drought warnings and excessive heat warnings on the news each day. Humidity stifling and suffocating weighs heavily on him. His shirt clings to his back, sweat beading on his skin. The tall grass is burnt yellow, dead in the sun, withered to the ground and crunching beneath his boots. With each step dust stirs up around his feet before settling again in the breezeless air. He can hear radio scanners and the murmurs of voices blending together to become an indecipherable drone. At his approach the voices dwindle into silence and he can feel twelve sets of eyes all watching him. Only Hughs, Muñoz, and Logan are from his department, the others regard him with barely concealed hostility. He ignores them and reaches out with his power, feeling out the metal in the surrounding area, police cruisers, service weapons, the adamantium grafted to Logan's skeleton, Russell Hughs' pacemaker; Muñoz’s watch has stopped working he notes idly. His eyes flick up as Logan breaks from the group and he casts back to their brief conversation from earlier that morning.

***

“We've had another homicide up in Westchester County.” Logan’s voice over the phone slices rough and acoustic through his headache.

Erik pauses in his kitchen, hand on his coffee machine. “Have they been identified yet?”

“Another female victim, that’s all I know. We’re heading out there now. You want me to pick you up?”

Erik shakes his head before he realizes Logan won’t be able to see the gesture. “No, I’ll drive, just send me the location.”

***

He sifts for something to focus on, ignoring the apprehensive quiet that’s settled over the officers and members of the forensics team, knows statistics show crime increases with the heat and he thinks idly of raising tempers, of boiling blood.

“Lehnsherr,” Logan greets gruffly, voice low, cheap cigar hanging precariously from between his teeth as he slides in step beside him.

“Detective Lehnsherr,” a short but burly man addresses him, his hair gone completely grey and receding from his sweat slick forehead, his face is drawn tight and pale. “Sergeant Keith Smith with the New York State Police,” he supplies, extending his hand to Erik.

“Good afternoon, Sergeant,” Erik answers flatly, shaking his hand before gesturing to Logan. “You’ve met my partner, Officer Howlett already I take it?”

Smith nods before gesturing with his hand to the woods behind them. “It’s just through the trees there. The forensic pathologist's already waiting for you, she’ll tell you everything you want to know.”

They’ve crossed paths before in the past but Smith doesn't acknowledge that now and Erik knows damn well Smith doesn’t want to be within five miles of him, let alone shake his hand, but he’s attempting politeness so Erik returns the favor, smiling slowly, all teeth, and Smith gestures again to the trees.

***

“We must have every goddamned fly in the area out here,” Logan comments as they break past the tree line, closing in on their destination. Erik says nothing, pauses for a brief moment and then starts purposefully forward, ducking beneath crime scene tape and carefully skirting the victim before kneeling in front of her, Logan silent at his side.

It’s a grisly sight that greets him, female, ten maybe eleven, no more, tied to the tree, blood soaked down her front and to the ground beneath her. Throat slashed open and… god, he thinks…the flies. She’s just a kid, he clenches his teeth, can smell the rot intensified from the heat, closes his eyes, feels the bile rising in his throat, counts back slow, swallows, forcing it away, later, later, and opens his eyes.

Behind him Logan swears. He ignores him, casts his power out again as far as he can reach, feeling for anything out of place in the dense woods beyond them and feels nothing.

“Detective?”

He twitches in acknowledgment, turning his attention to the medical examiner regarding him silently.

“I’m Dr. Garrett,” she tells him. “I understand this is the third victim?”

Erik nods. “Seven people missing in the last nine months, all taken from the Manhattan area, age ranges are varying. This girl appears to be the youngest.”

“What makes you believe they’re connected?”

“They all share a similar profile, despite the age difference, all of them are extraordinary, smart, gifted.”

“And each of them was taken without there being a single witness, one of them right past the security of a psychiatric hospital,” Logan interrupts.

“A piece of skin was removed from the last victim,” Erik says, “small, not unlike a forensics sample.”

The medical examiner nods, pointing to the girl. “Bottom of her foot, a patch of skin is missing, from what I can tell it’s been surgically removed.”

“Two bodies have been found,” Erik continues, “this’ll be the third.”

He looks up at the trees, sunlight filtering through the branches, feels another swell of nausea before forcing it back down, the buzzing drone of the flies is grating on his nerves. He chances a look at Logan, he doesn’t look like he’s fairing any better. Erik stands, straightening out his spine, feels his knees protesting, swollen from the humidity.

“I’m gonna need a positive id as soon as possible,” he says, but he already knows who she is. Layla Miller, the first to go missing and the youngest. He excuses himself, saying he wants a look around the area and moves pointedly away. Once he's out of sight he almost retches but he forces himself to remain still for a moment, breathes, pulls himself together and goddamn it he can do this.

***

“Killing’s not his motivation,” Erik says later into the silence of his car as the sun is starting to dip down. Muñoz and Hughs are still speaking with the other officers and he eyes them unseeing.

Logan stays silent in the passenger seat beside him, the smoke from his cigar filling the space between them. “Erik…” he begins.

“He’s a collector. I’ll bet the other victims are still alive. Our three victims have been found out of sequence from when they were abducted,” Erik cuts him off, recognizing the tone in Logan’s voice. His nerves are shot to hell and he’ll be damned if they’re talking about this now.

Logan is shaking his head. “That doesn’t mean the others aren’t still out there.”

“But they would have been found by now,” Erik argues, “he makes no attempt to hide them, the way they’ve been killed and placed, he wants them to be found. Medical examinations on the last two bodies show the victims had been brutally raped postmortem, he inflicted damage seldom seen by either of the examiners and then that’s it. He drives them out to some wooded area, removes their clothes and marches them through the woods. He ties them to a tree and cuts their throat. He doesn’t leave anything behind, no prints, no semen, no fibers or hair. They were chosen because they were special, he keeps them for months, and then they turn up like this out of sequence, always the same way. It’s ritualistic. The rape, the walk through the woods, being exposed when they die, it’s like he’s punishing them.”

“Punishing them for what?”

“I don’t know.”

“Erik,” Logan tries again, “look kids are especially hard on everyone and you…”

Erik shakes his head, warning, “Don’t.”

The thing is, Logan’s one of the very few people he counts as a friend. Everyone he works with generally tries to steer clear of him, fear of being on the receiving end of his anger. He can’t keep a partner for more than a year. Shortly after the transfer of his last partner MacTaggert marched a new candidate into his office. Logan Howlett, former homicide unit out of Vancouver before being accepted into the NYPD. Logan at least he can trust to remain unmoved in the face of his outbursts. Right now though, he just wants him to get out.

He starts his car, glares at Logan. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

It’s grown dark outside now. The silence in his car is heavy and he blearily notices the heat lightning flaring in the distance but it won’t rain, there’ll be no relief, he’s sure. Logan makes no move to get out just yet and he toys with the idea of using his power to force him. Logan looks like he’s about to say something else but must think better of it because he nods, opens the passenger door, and steps out.

***

Later when he’s made it back to his apartment and finished drinking his dinner, he crawls onto his bed and surrounded by familiarity, he lets it wash over him, just slight tremors at first before the grief spikes and he bites back a sound like a sob. Child victims are hard on anyone but especially on him, it didn’t matter how much time passed. He and Magda had been young and foolish and he can vividly recall the panic when she had informed him she was pregnant. He had never imagined himself with kids but once it sunk in that he was going to be a father he found he wanted it more than anything in the world. They named her Anya after Magda’s mother and she was the most beautiful thing Erik had ever seen.

He faces the wall, willing his mind blank, he needs sleep if he's going to make it through tomorrow. It’s too hot in the room, the air conditioner too weak to make a difference so he shuts it off and kicks the sheets to the foot of the bed. He knows whatever sleep he manages will be laced with nightmares but that’s a familiarity in its own right, sleep at least will hold no surprises for him. He closes his eyes and listens to the TV he’s left on in the living room for the comfort of the low murmur of voices and soft electrical static.

Just before he slips off he hears the low rumble of thunder but knows there’ll be no rain, no relief.

Chapter Text

He and Logan will have to notify Layla Miller’s parents that their daughter has been found, the body matching positive to blood work Miller had done the previous year. He’s set to meet with the forensics crew right after briefing the primary details of their case with Moira, then he’s due at the hospital with the medical examiner and the coroner for the autopsy.

He can already feel the weariness settling in his bones and his day hasn’t even started yet. His run from earlier had temporarily spent up his anxiety but it roars back to life now. In the cooler dark of early morning before the heat flared back up again full force he’d pushed himself as hard as he dared, excising phantoms from his head before it was too much and he had lurched to a stop in the middle of the dark street, drenched in sweat, doubled over and heaving for breath before beginning the slow lope back to his apartment for a cold shower.

Now he’s ordering his thoughts and attempting command over himself and in short order he’s showered, shaved and despite the fact he’s pulled himself together as immaculately as he can, he looks like shit. His eyes, normally a clear grey-blue are haunted and dulled, touched by the evidence of too many sleepless nights. A lock of his auburn hair falls limp against his forehead and he swipes it back in irritation before heading to his kitchen for coffee. He briefly wonders if maybe he shouldn’t try and eat something but his rebellious stomach twinges at the mere thought of food and he decides against it and heads out.

***

The contents of the case file are spread out across Moira’s desk, Layla Miller’s smiling, happy and whole face staring up at him from a family photo taken two weeks prior to her abduction. Moira’s watching him fixedly, waiting for him to acknowledge what she’s just said. Behind him Logan paces in front of her office window looking out over the street below, too agitated to sit still.

“Stryker’s talking about removing you from the case, Erik.” When Erik finally meets her gaze, she looks beseeching, reaching out without breaking eye contact and grabbing her metal nameplate off the desk from where he’s been spinning it in slow circles. “You’ve got to give me something here. He doesn’t like where you’re going with this, there’s no evidence to back you up. He says you’re growing paranoid, trying to turn this into some damn mutant crusade.”

“Right now,” Erik’s voice is calm, tempered, “I need you to trust me.”

“It’s not me you need to convince, Erik, alright, it’s Stryker. Medical exams on the last two victims showed no physiological significance.”

“The physiology would be the same as a human unless the victim had a physical mutation.” Erik’s surprised by his own patience. It’s not MacTaggert’s fault though, he knows, she believes him. It’s the captain who poses a problem.

“Miller was smart, her teachers reported that she just seemed to know things and her mother said her father hasn’t been the same since she went missing…forgetful, like his memory’s failing.”

“Stress,” Moira responds instantly.

“Maybe,” Erik says doubtfully. “But Danielle Moonstar –”

Moira looks exasperated. “Danielle was committed to the Manhattan Psychiatric Hospital by her grandfather for claiming she could talk to animals and saw terrible visions of people dying. She tried to commit suicide the day before being admitted, claimed she had seen a vision of her own death.”

“Maybe she had,” Erik says.

Logan stills behind him, crossing his arms as he narrows his eyes at the floor. “Surveillance footage shows no sign of Danielle exiting the hospital. Nurses and security staff didn’t provide a damn thing during questioning, didn’t even know anything was off until the next morning.”

“Although the head nurse did inform us Danielle had grown increasingly unwell prior to her disappearance,” Erik finishes for him.

Moira’s shaking her head. “And Angel Salvadore? There’s nothing particularly out of the ordinary with that one.”

Erik frowns, shuffling the photos around until he reaches her pretty, ebony face. She’s young, not as young as the others, but still. In truth he hasn’t figured her out yet. Something in the way her father spoke of her though suggested fear, they hadn’t had an easy relationship he had admitted and Erik figured that was an understatement. There was nothing to suggest though that he was involved in his daughter’s disappearance and he had an alibi for every night of the week she had gone missing.

He heaves a sigh, raking his fingers through his hair. “All the abductions happened within a five mile radius, they disappear from Manhattan and reappear up in Westchester County, the MO is the same each time. Layla Miller, Danielle Moonstar and Angel Salvadore went missing only a month apart. Then Moonstar turns up raped and murdered and two weeks later Alison Blaire goes missing from her apartment. Then Jonothon Starsmore and Cecilia Reyes. Just days after Reyes is reported missing Alison Blaire is found dead. Two months later, Robert Drake vanishes on his way home from work. And now Layla Miller has been found just like Moonstar and Blaire.”

“Reyes and Drake are both confirmed mutants,” Logan says, finally settling into the chair next to Erik. “Reyes was studying to be a doctor and Drake had just recently moved to Manhattan. His parents threw him out of the house after he got locked up in Long Island after being in a fight.” He threw a sideways glance at Erik bristling beside him. “Sheriff claimed it was for his own protection, what with being mutant and all.”

Robert Drake’s mother had been less grieved and more humiliated when Erik had gone to speak with her, to think her son had to go and turn out mutant when she had done everything right as a parent. Naturally this led to Erik showing her a trick with the coffee table in her living room and she had very tight-lipped replied, ‘Detective, if you’re finished questioning me I’m going to have to ask you to leave.’

Erik meets Moira’s gaze. “Whoever this guy is, he’s a collector. None of the victims share a physical profile but they were all brilliant and from what I can tell, exceptionally talented. The murders are out of sequence with the timing of the abductions. It’s like they've done something to decrease their value somehow or they no longer serve their purpose and they have to be replaced. They’re being taken because they’re special.”

Moira nods and beside him Logan turns restless once more, nicotine craving itching under his skin. He’s looking at Erik and Erik knows what he’s thinking. It's a double-edged sword; if all the victims are mutant then their killer most likely is also. Even though the victims are young and wouldn’t have full control over themselves yet, their powers would almost certainly prove too dangerous for a human. The wild fluctuating of Robert Drake’s power could attest to that. If what Erik believes is true, then this will be the second mutant serial killer to stalk New York in the past decade and it’s the very last thing his kind needs. Mutant cases receive far more publicity on the average and each time it sparks fear and outrage among the baseline population. The last time this had happened it resulted in journalists reporting on the new wave Friends of Humanity preaching the glories of old government sponsored tries to restrict mutants and the need to keep them separate from society.

“If you’re right,” Moira starts carefully, “then we're almost certainly searching for another mutant.” And then, shaking her head adds, “I can’t believe your luck sometimes, Lehnsherr.”

Erik says nothing, just watches her pinch the bridge of her nose before she sighs and meeting his gaze once more asks, “And the rape? Because you’re right, the physical profile doesn’t match and so far all three victims have been female. If he’s engaging in sexual contact with them, there’s a sexual component, and if that’s true, then what about Starsmore and Drake?”

What he thinks is that it’s more about power and control, and less about erotic fetishism and he tells her so. They’re not just being raped, they’re being destroyed, like they’ve been savaged by a monster. What he can’t decide on, is how exactly the victims are being kept under control for so long. The only viable explanation he and Logan had come up with had been the government sanctioned and restricted inhibitor drugs or collars designed at the peak of mutant oppression in the 60s. The collars were more readily available, their use authorized in hospitals and police departments for subduing volatile patients or suspects.

Examining hospital records had unearthed nothing though, the inhibitor agents carefully and painstakingly monitored and logged to prevent diversion. He turned his attention to the local police agencies after that only for Stryker to halt him in his tracks. Stryker informing him he wasn’t about to start a goddamn shitstorm for Erik’s unfounded suspicions.

“What are you going to do next?” she asks after a few moments of his silence.

“I’ll let you know when I work it out, until then...” he glances at Logan who rises wordlessly and starts for the door without being dismissed, patting himself down for his lighter as he goes.

“Stryker has another reason for suggesting maybe you aren’t the best candidate for this case, Erik,” she says quietly, watching him gathering the case file and he pauses, glancing up. Logan is frozen in the doorway and he turns back to face them again, eyes unreadable.

“You haven’t been on a case like this since...” she trails off. “There’s been complaints of your erratic behavior lately and he wonders if this might all be too much for you given the state of things. If maybe Duncan might not have been a better choice. I don’t want to take you off this case,” she says quickly, “but he needs me to reassure him that you’re not going to spin out of control this time.”

Erik straightens, inclining his head slightly, “I assure you, Lieutenant, I'm more than capable of handling myself,” and stalks out the door, Logan stepping aside to let him pass before following after him.

***

[Past]

“Do you have children, Detective?” Mrs. Miller had asked him that day in his office shortly after he had taken over Layla Miller’s case. He’d stared back at her for a long moment, not knowing what was written on his face, his knuckles white from gripping the edge of his desk.

“A daughter,” he had finally managed around the sudden constricting in his throat.

“Then you understand,” she uttered, voice thick with tears.

He did.

[End past]

***

Hope is dangerous, Erik thinks, hands clenching the steering wheel of his car, parked on the street outside Mr. and Mrs. Miller’s home.

Logan exhales a cloud of smoke out the passenger window, clears his throat. “You gonna be alright?” he asks. His tone could almost be described as soft.

Erik feels raw, like his skin can no longer contain him. He’d weathered Layla’s parents’ grief, Mrs. Miller sobbing into his shoulder as he sliced their lives into two halves, before Layla’s death and after. There’s no comfort he can offer for destroying the hope that Mrs. Miller had doggedly maintained all these months and words are meaningless when the ground has opened up to swallow you whole. In the end Logan had been the one to offer the gentle condolences, easing himself and Erik out of the Millers’ home, Erik too emotionally exhausted for words.

He blinks hard a couple times, measuring his breaths, and Logan becomes very interested in the sidewalk outside the passenger window, pretending not to notice.

***

[Past]

Erik meets Magda at an annual Chanukah menorah lighting at his mother’s synagogue while he’s still a recruit officer at NYPD. They’ve been casually dating on and off for about a year when Magda finds out she’s pregnant. Magda’s grandmother boisterously wondering when they will get married, not bothering to hide her irritation with him when they don’t. Her Magda having a child out of wedlock, she had clucked, how could Erik have done this to her? And couldn’t he for the love of God at least quit smoking? He has the baby to think of.

***

The night Anya’s born and he gets to hold her for the first time is one of the happiest moments of his life. Something warm and soft uncurling in his chest as Anya’s tiny hand wraps around his finger.

“She has your eyes, Erik,” his mother whispers beside him while he beams with pride.

***

He and Magda fall apart not long after. At first they manage to keep a peaceable relationship in front of others. In private though their relationship has degraded into regular screaming matches, often resulting in Anya crying fitfully. Erik stricken at upsetting his daughter while Magda goes to her and gathers her in her arms, turning on him and whispering harshly, “You did this, Erik. You.”

They stop having sex, Magda keeping herself busy with work and volunteering and Erik sometimes wonders if she’s not having an affair, though he’s reached the point where he wonders if it even matters anymore. They are caught in a brutal cycle, him destroying appliances in anger every time they fight.

“I'm tired of this, Erik, I’m so tired of it!” she shrieks while he attempts to fix the silverware he’s just melted to the table.

“Then tell me to leave,” he spits dangerously.

No matter how much Magda has tried understanding him, there was a part of her that has always been afraid of his powers, she didn’t like seeing him use them. And while she hasn’t admitted it, he knows it anyway, she’s afraid of his gift being passed onto their daughter.

***

He sometimes comes home late at night, bone weary and carrying the lingering scent of death, wanting nothing more than to crawl face first into bed. She doesn’t understand why he can’t just stop, work a more pleasant job. His world was becoming a haze of ruthless anger and a burning need for justice. His particular skill set and sheer relentlessness carrying him up the ranks of the department and earning him an appointment to the homicide division by the Chief of Detectives. They’re both so busy, Magda has a colleague from her work watch Anya during the day, and one night he comes home to find a stack of pamphlets left on his counter that read ‘the good news of salvation’. It has him snarling at Magda across the table at dinner that night.

She’s not happy about it either, she tells him but she has to work too and he doesn’t bother asking why, because he knows. She’s been saving everything she can manage and he knows exactly why.

***

He gets a new partner at work, Logan Howlett, after Bellamy’s decided he’s had enough and puts in for a transfer.

***

Three days after Anya’s 4th birthday he comes home to an empty apartment and a note on the counter telling him Magda’s taken Anya and she’ll be staying with her grandmother until they can afford a place of their own. On the news that night there’s a journalist reporting on the gruesome death of a man from Washington Heights who appears to have been killed by some kind of animal.

***

Erik buys Anya a puppy in the spring, a German shepherd he names Magneto and tells her will protect her and keep her safe when he can’t be with her. Magda says the very last thing she needs is a dog but Anya can’t stop smiling and she relents.

***

Victor Creed doesn’t even bother to cover his own tracks, killing with a viciousness Erik’s never seen before. He’s dubbed “The Slasher” on the news, a beastlike mutant butchering humans for pleasure.

He and Logan uncover twelve bodies in a storage unit that Creed has been living out of just after dark one night in September.

In near darkness he watches as Logan pauses ahead of him, scenting the air. Like a dog, he thinks absently, and if the situation had been different he might have laughed.

Logan is a faint outline in the gloom, the atmosphere around them growing heavy and thick with tension and Erik tips his head back to the sky, his skin prickling. There’s a storm rolling in, strong from what he can tell.

“Lehnsherr?” Logan hisses anxiously, and Erik realizes he hadn’t answered the first time.

“Hmm?”

“Here,” Logan says.

When Erik reaches his side he doesn’t need Logan’s superior senses to know what’s waiting for him on the other side of the unit door. They look at each other quickly, Logan’s claws unsheathing as Erik forces the door open.

He’s seen a lot of bad but he’s never seen anything like this. He has to fight to not just bend forward and be sick where he stands. Creed’s been living with a host of decomposing corpses and Erik can’t breathe for a moment, he can almost taste the rot in the back of his throat. Creed isn’t there and without any immediate danger pressing him to action he steps around to the side of the container so he can no longer see its contents. The air around him feels charged and between the horror and the heady feeling in his body, he’s too overwhelmed.

He leans his head against the cool metal and the storm breaks over them, rain pouring down. There’s a ground strike not far off, the resounding crack and boom from the thunder almost deafening. Erik’s body is singing with the electromagnetic energy and it’s too distracting. He places his palms flat against the container, grounds himself and pushes away.

“Erik?” Logan sounds concerned, eyes narrowing. They’re both soaked through now. “I’ve called it in, do you want to...” Whatever Logan had meant to say dies suddenly, his body going rigid. “We’re not alone,” he says.

“Creed?” Erik asks, already pulling out his gun.

Logan nods and then frowning, takes a step away from Erik and looks up.

“Home sweet home,” Creed growls from where he’s perched above them just before he leaps down on top of them.

Erik’s gun is quickly emptied of all sixteen shots to no effect. Creed is hell-bent on him, latching onto him and tossing him like a rag doll, teeth bared and claws digging into his scalp as he grabs Erik’s head with both hands, raising him up and smashing him back down onto the pavement. His vision explodes in stars and he can taste blood in his mouth from where he’s bitten his own tongue. Creed is hulking and huge and his breath smells like rotten flesh. Before Creed can do him any more damage Logan has his claws sunk into him and Creed’s attention mercifully abandons Erik.

They crash off together into the rain, banging into storage containers and gnashing at each other as they go. Erik stumbling back to his feet and chasing after them. There’s a cacophony of sound, an odd banging that cuts off with a yelp followed by a heavy thud.

Logan sounds animalistic, kicking out at one of the units in fury. He strands, chin tipped to his chest, breathing harshly before he looks up to where Erik’s wavered to a stop 10 yards away. Creed’s escaped.

There’s a gash in the back of Erik’s head that refuses to stop bleeding and Logan has several bites and claw marks marring his arms. Erik’s frustration erupts, he’s going to need stitches, he thinks, listening to Logan grumbling and swearing as he stalks back to where Erik’s standing.

Logan’s wounds are healing rapidly, Erik eyeing him in envious admiration. “That’s useful,” he croaks, sinking down onto the wet pavement. Logan nods, pulling him back to his feet again.

***

Late in November Erik’s pacing his office when his phone rings. He answers it absently, still turning Creed's case over in his head. He’d traced Creed back to his origins in Canada after he seemingly vanished from New York, arrested his father when he became violent during questioning, and released several formal statements to the press.

“Don’t look for me, Detective,” Creed’s voice is harsh in his ear, “or I will come for you, and you will regret it.” Creed hangs up and Erik sits stunned still holding the phone to his ear. The call traces back to a payphone not far from the Hudson River. That night he prepares a public service announcement detailing immediate precautionary measures for the baseline population.

***

Less than 48 hours later Sean Cassidy is flinging open his office door and he startles in irritation. He's been awake for over 26 hours, finally sending Logan home because he was tired of watching him nod off on his desk.

“Your car,” he’s saying and his face is bloodless. He follows Erik down to the precinct parking lot but stops short of Erik’s car, keeping his distance. There’s claw marks raked all up and down the doors and the hood, in the driver’s seat is a note that reads in handwriting that's almost illegible, ‘I did tell you, Detective’ and Magneto’s severed head.

He can’t hear anything over the blood pounding in his ears. Sean yelling for him sounds far off and strange as he uses his jacket to gather up Magneto’s head, depositing the bundle on the ground and climbs numbly into his car, pulling out.

He’s trembling hard, nudging traffic out of his way, relying on instinct rather than sight to take him to his daughter because he can hardly see. His vision tunneling and washed in a fog.

He ends up pulled half onto the curb outside Magda’s home. All down the street Christmas lights are twinkling merrily. His breath rattles in his ribs and he trips once, landing on his knees in the snow before pushing himself up again. It’s dark inside the house, the door giving way the moment his fingers touch it. He finds Magda’s grandmother first, in the hallway just inside the door, her eyes wide and staring at nothing, blood climbing up the walls on both sides of her. His stomach clenches and he steps over her carefully, slipping on the slick tiles and stumbling out into the living room. He’s opening his mouth, forming words, but no sound comes out. He wordlessly pleads with anything that will listen that Anya’s not here, please he thinks, don’t let her be here.

He finds her in Magda’s bedroom on the carpet beside the bed and he’s not standing anymore, crawling on his hands and knees to her and pulling her onto his lap. She must have tried hiding under the bed, he thinks, and the house is warping all around him, alive on its steel frame. Creed is in the house with him he knows but he doesn’t move, not even when he can hear Creed dragging his nails along the wall in the hall, pausing just inside the bedroom door.

“Your offspring, Erik Lehnsherr...” Creed is shaking his head, voice a mockery of sorrow, “was weak. That’s what happens when you breed with humans.”

Out in the street cars crumple in on themselves and he’s summoning anything made of metal in the house to himself when Creed pounces on him. He doesn’t feel the pain in his body, only a growing pit of grief that’s opened up and set his insides on fire. He’s urging everything into a writhing mass that he quickly pulls apart and sends spinning around like a living saw. His power explodes from him, metal embedding itself into Creed’s body and prying him apart. Even after he’s certain Creed is dead, he continues, twisting and tearing until his body is in pieces all around the room. Outside he can hear screaming and sirens but he doesn’t move from where he is, wrapping himself back around Anya’s lifeless form. He presses his face into her dark hair and chokes on his own grief, moaning in anguish, “I’m sorry,” over and over again. The roof above him splits, raining drywall and insulation down on him and there’s a smell like burnt wiring and he knows the house has caught on fire. He still makes no move to get up, just lets the red haze take him. Distantly he hears a voice screaming his name and it sounds like Logan but he sounds odd, strangled and pained. Then there’s a hand wrenching painfully in his hair and his face slams into the floor.

***

He comes back to consciousness on a hospital bed, IV threaded into the back of his hand and his vision sliding in and out of focus, the dim overhead light too bright and he turns his head weakly and shuts his eyes, groaning against a swell of nausea. When he tries again everything doesn’t seem so blindingly harsh and Munroe is towering over him.

“Christ, Erik,” she says softly, reaching down and smoothing his hair back.

He looks up at her miserably, opens his mouth to speak just as he catches sight of Logan hunched over in the chair beside his bed, regarding Erik silently.

Nothing feels real to him, not the room he’s in or Logan and Munroe or even himself what with the strange way his head wants to float off.

“I don’t feel...” he starts and his voice is ruined. He cuts himself off because he doesn’t even know what he means to say.

“They were afraid you were gonna hurt someone so they gave you a suppressant,” Munroe tells him gently, “should wear off in a few hours but until then...”

He thinks he’s hollowed out, beyond feeling anything but there’s still a wave of sick shame rolling through him when he meets Logan’s eyes and he wonders how bad he hurt him because he knows damn well that he did.

Logan must read it on his face because he shakes his head and tells him, “You’re fine. We’re both fine.”

“I could have killed you,” Erik says, and they both know it’s true.

Logan just snorts. “I don't think so, Bub.”

Erik looks back to Munroe. “Was anyone else? Did I?”

Munroe shakes her head. “Logan stopped you before you wrecked the whole street, most of the neighbors weren't even home and we made sure everyone else was okay.”

“Magda?” he asks, hardly able to get her name out.

“MacTaggert and Summers have her,” she answers. “She was still at work and they left a while ago to pick her up.”

He nods once, then shuts his eyes.

***

He’s lying numb on his couch the following night when there’s a knock on his door. He’d chased Munroe off earlier when she'd tried insisting on him that he shouldn’t be alone right now but that's exactly what he wants so he ignores it. Whoever they are though, they don't leave and he eventually pulls himself up to go answer it. Magda looks almost feral when he opens the door and he motions for her to come in. She’s breathing heavily, her eyes shot through with red, puffy and swollen. As soon as he shuts the door she’s striding purposefully toward him and when she reaches him, slaps him hard across the face. She doesn’t stop, just keeps hitting him until he grabs her by the wrists and they stand frozen like that for a long moment before thick tears start to roll down her face and she inhales ragged.

“I hate you,” she breathes, “God, I hate you.”

***

“As we come forth, so we shall return,” the Rabbi prays. They bury their daughter and what feels like the remains of themselves.

***

He hands over his service weapon to Moira, officially on leave until the commissioners reach a decision on his actions at his inquiry hearing. His mother comes to stay with him for a while, coaxing food into him when he doesn’t bother feeding himself. His story’s all over the news so much he figures he’ll be lucky enough just to be fired considering how much damage he’s done. His paper keeps mysteriously vanishing before he gets a chance to read it and he knows Logan's been stealing it in an attempt to spare him some of the outlandish stories being fabricated about him.

He’s flicking through the news channels one night, discussions of the old Mutant Registration Act resurfacing in the wake of a recent mutant serial killer and a mutant detective gone haywire on one news station. While on another the news anchor takes statements from members of a group calling themselves ‘The Purifiers’ who are insisting this is the ‘end of days’ and that humanity is in a holy war against the devil’s children. America is seeing so much hardship because of society’s growing acceptance of mutants they say, we must repent before it’s too late, their signs bearing the slogan ‘a cross not an X’. They’re insisting on the necessity of restricting mutant breeding rights when he changes to the next station.

He lands on one of the public broadcast channels. A debate on recent affairs taking place between the show’s regular host and his guest, a young professor from Columbia University’s Department of Genetics. There’s no way this kid’s a professor, Erik thinks. Then the host touches briefly on Erik’s story and he snarls, rising to his feet, he’s had enough and he's going to bed. The posh British accent from the professor stills him though as he relates the recent news frenzy on mutants to being a telepath in the age of the proposed Psionic Monitoring Commission and Erik settles himself back down. The Psionic Monitoring Commission, had it gained enough support would have instituted the monitoring and regulation of telepaths, condemning them to a lifetime of drug treatments to suppress their abilities. As well as an extended stay in re-education centers that Erik believed to be no more than glorified concentration camps. He falls asleep listening to the professor's voice and he doesn’t remember his name, just that his eyes had been a vivid shock of blue against his pale skin and dark hair.

***

Ultimately the commissioners, after a period of five days and after interviewing every member of Erik’s department before finally calling for Erik himself, conclude he's not guilty. His skill set too valuable to let go, however destructive and costly his actions had been. Victor Creed’s death is determined to be a justifiable act of self-defense.  He’s been an invaluable asset to the department and will be released back on full active duty.

Stryker is furious he learns, having stormed out shortly after the verdict had been reached.

[End past]

***

He’s resting his cheek against the cool porcelain of his bathtub, attempting to soak away some of the tension coiled in his muscles, somewhere in the murky space between awake and drowsing when the phone ringing cuts through his fragile tranquility.

He wants to ignore it but it’s Moira and he worries there's something else involving the Miller Case so he answers it.

“What?” he asks groggily.

“We’ve got another missing persons report,” she tells him, and she sounds just as tired as he feels.

He already knows he won't be getting any sleep tonight. Muñoz and Summers usually being the ones to investigate missing persons reports. Erik isn't typically assigned until the case is pronounced high risk, but he has to ask anyway.

“Is there a particular reason I'm being informed and not Muñoz?” 

“He’s a mutant,” Moira explains. “Charles Xavier. Professor at Columbia University. Missing for over 24 hours now.” There’s a pause before she adds, “I think this one belongs to you, Erik.”

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry, Hank, but I really will have to call it a night,” Charles says, grinning at Hank from where he’s grabbing his satchel, gathering up his notes.

Hank looks up from the microscope. “Right, I forgot the time. You’re supposed to have dinner with your sister tonight, right?”

“Right.” Charles runs a hand quickly through his hair, surveying the lab once more, making sure he hasn’t left anything behind before looking back at Hank. “Would you like to come along?”

Hank shakes his head. “No, that’s alright. I’ll just finish up here.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah... yeah I’m sure.”

“Alright then,” Charles huffs out, “if you’re sure. I’ll see you bright tomorrow morning then?”

“Yeah, um, tell her, um...tell her hi from me?”

“Of course, Hank.”

***

He’s late, but then he usually is. Raven regarding him with bemused affection.

“I already ordered for you,” she says, “rosemary chicken with potatoes.”

Charles nods, smiling warmly for their waitress when she brings him his drink, before looking up at his sister. “Thank you,” he says over the rim of his glass.

“You were working late again?” Azazel asks, taking a roll from their bread basket.

“Yes, I promised Hank I would read over the developments of the serum he’s working on.”

“The one to alter his appearance,” Azazel states bluntly, and Raven sighs.

“I wish he wouldn’t,” she says, “I understand and that’s why I let him take a sample of my DNA but I wish he would realize that he doesn’t have to change.”

They’re both incredibly striking, Raven in blue and Azazel in red, Charles feeling rather plain in their presence. Raven had come into her own recently, gaining confidence in her natural form that she had been trying to impart on Hank. But to no avail; Hank was still deeply self-conscious of his prehensile feet.

“I didn’t say I agree with it,” Charles says musingly, “but anything that helps him to feel more comfortable with himself.”

Charles has a deep appreciation for physical mutations and often reminds Hank that he’s remarkable the way he is, but Hank is resolute. He just wants to look normal, and Charles understands that too. In his head are whispers of less than kind thoughts in regards to Raven and Azazel, more especially to Azazel. Shockingly red with a prehensile tail that was currently wrapped protectively around the back of Raven’s chair. There is no hiding the fact they’re both mutant and some of the guests around them, while not saying anything out loud, are rather loud in their thinking. He looks like the devil, an older woman thinks in disgust. Charles just smiles for his sister and does his best to silence them all out.

“Besides that then, what are you working on?” Azazel asks as their food arrives.

Charles is grateful for a change of discussion. “I’m preparing a presentation on phenogenetic relationships on a genome scale under various models of mutation, selection, and population demographics.”

Azazel frowns, taking a bite of his fettuccini and beside him Raven bursts out laughing, drawing a few glances from the table next to them.

“I’m also volunteering tomorrow night at the Mutant Community Center. I teach a class there once a week. You might join me some time," Charles adds, grinning across the table at Azazel, and Raven nods.

“It would be good for you,” she tells him, “they’re looking for a swimming instructor, right?” Charles nods and Raven elbows Azazel, “see, you’d be great at that.”

“I suppose,” Azazel agrees.

Azazel had always been quiet and reserved, a stark contrast to Raven, who was always bubbling over with enthusiasm, her joy seeming to draw him out into the open.

“Just, for the life of you, try avoiding Dr. Shaw. Man’s a bloody nightmare. Volunteers once a week, same as me. Drives down from Westchester,” Charles' smile falters before he quickly recovers himself. “It’s always lovely of course, to have people be willing to volunteer but there’s just something... I don’t know. He’s human but still offers to do mutant family counseling. He’s strange...” Charles gestures to his temple, “I don't get anything from him. It feels like he doesn’t even exist.”

“Well then maybe he just has nothing going on up there then,” Raven says conspiratorially, trying to lighten the brief dimming of Charles’ cheer and laughs again, this time Charles joining in with her.

***

He’s finished grading a few tests, laid out a cardigan and slacks for the morning, and taken a quick shower to help him relax before bed. Now he’s just staring at the ceiling unable to shut his mind off. The neighbors in his apartment are mostly all asleep, their dreaming providing a soft, gentle background noise he usually has no trouble falling asleep to, but not tonight. He’s tense with apprehension and doesn’t know why, a sick sort of dread working its way into his body. He gets up just once to fetch a glass of water and stands in the dark of his kitchen, drinking slowly, eyes surveying the shapes and shadows of his apartment. He’s being ridiculous, he thinks and with that thought he places the glass in the sink and puts himself back to bed. He draws the sheets up to his shoulders and burying his face in his pillow, wills himself to sleep.

***

He comes to only two hours later in a near panic, his heart beating painfully in his chest. He’s lying on his side, facing his closet and can see from the faint light bleeding through his blinds on the bedroom window that his cardigan has fallen from its hanger onto the floor. He wants to laugh with trembling relief because it’s so silly. He would know if there was someone in his apartment. He forces himself out of bed to retrieve his sweater, goose bumps traveling up his body from the sudden chill against his skin; the central air in the building doing a fairly fantastic job of shutting out the oppressive heat.

He’s bending over to reach for it when he feels something slam into him from behind and lands sprawled face down on the carpet. He thrashes, trying to throw off whoever’s just pinned him to the floor with their knee against his back and then there’s material being forced into his mouth, more and more until he's gagging on it. He knows there are two people in the room with him but can’t feel anything beyond that. His telepathy meets with nothing no matter how much he lashes out. He’s reaching out for Lacy Haricks, the single mother across the hall, hoping she’ll feel his distress and call the police just as a hand settles in his hair, forcing his face back into the carpet and the weight against his spine increases. There’s a voice whispering, “Shhh,” and then the prick of a needle in the back of his neck. He’s still struggling but it’s weaker, whatever he’s been injected with goes to work almost instantly. His limbs grow heavy and his head feels like it’s disconnecting from his body. He’s aware of a hand stroking in his hair and then nothing.

***

“What do we know about the good professor?” Erik asks, looking out into the city through Charles Xavier’s bedroom window. It’s rhetorical and mostly to himself, having spent the better part of the last two days combing through the details of Charles’ life.

“We know he really likes the color blue,” Logan answers, reappearing in the bedroom doorway. It’s the second time now they’ve been in Charles’ apartment. The first time, the scent of fear lingered so strong, Logan had hardly been able to focus. Beyond the apartment though, the scent had strangely dissipated.

“I can see that,” Erik responds drily.

Charles, Erik had found has painted both his bedroom and living area a soft shade of blue while his kitchen is a pale, cheerful yellow. He’s messy where Erik thrives on order, papers and books littering nearly every available surface area. The apartment isn’t very big, the entrance opening right into the living area, which leads into a kitchen and off that a single bedroom with an attached bathroom. Despite its close quarters it feels more cozy than claustrophobic and the neighbors seem nice.

The walls though, are thin and if there had been a struggle, surely someone would have heard. No one had though, genuinely surprised when a detective knocked on their door asking questions about the friendly professor who lived down the hall.

When they had arrived the first time, Erik had had to use his powers to unlock the door.

“No forced entry,” Erik says, musing to himself.

“Someone he knows then?”

“Who? From what I can tell he spends an embarrassing amount of time shacked up in a lab with a TA who looked like he was about to piss himself while he was being questioned.”

“You’ve got great people skills, Lehnsherr.”

“The only others with a spare key were the landlord and Xavier’s sister. The doorman goes off duty after 1 am. Xavier was due back at the lab by 7 am. Nothing on the security footage outside.”

Erik paces back around the room, coming to a stop before Charles’ bed. It’s a mess, just like the rest of Charles’ apartment, the white sheets twisted and jumbled at the foot of the bed.

Behind him Logan has begun searching through Charles’ things and Erik turns away from the bed and goes to the closet. It’s a collection of button downs and cardigans, half of them in varying shades of blue, including the one Erik had found in a heap on the floor.

“Say what you want about academics,” Logan says suddenly, “but the professor was most definitely getting it.”

“What?” Erik asks, looking over his shoulder as Logan holds up a large box of half empty condoms he’s produced from the drawer in the nightstand beside Charles’ bed.

Erik frowns, taking them from him and looking again at the nightstand. A lamp, a picture of Charles and Raven sledding together upstate, bundled ridiculously against the cold, and a tattered copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

“His sister didn’t say anything about a girlfriend or a boyfriend?” Logan asks.

Erik shakes his head. “She said Charles spent most nights alone in the lab.”

“Are we sure about that?”

***

Erik had been called back into the department the same night he received the call from Moira. He’d been sitting at his desk when there had been a commotion outside. He could hear raised voices and after a moment there had been a loud crack and a few startled cries just before another crack, louder this time and accompanied by black smoke filling the space in front of his desk. Logan swore, nearly spilling the coffee he’d just poured himself and all Erik could do for a moment was just stare. They were beautiful, a young girl with blue scales and yellow eyes in tow with a man who was blazing red with dark hair and a tail flicking in irritation.

“This is the homicide division,” the girl started in on him in a panic, growing more and more upset by the second.

“Yes...” he said, uncomprehending, and then, “is there something I can help you with, Miss?”

“My brother, I reported him missing and they said to come in and...” she started shaking her head, “they sent me here and... this is... you investigate homicide.”

“I see,” Erik said, “listen, why don’t you take a seat and calm down. I’ll explain what’s going on.”

She didn’t move. “They wouldn’t let me in here to speak with you right away and I... we...” she trailed off, looking at the man beside her who stared unblinking at Erik.

“It’s fine,” Erik said, “you can speak with me now.”

She nodded quickly, swallowed hard and sank down in the chair in front of his desk, the man with her following suit. Logan, having recovered from the shock, told Erik he would clear things up outside and let himself silently from the room, the door closing gently after him.

“My name is Erik Lehnsherr,” he told the girl calmly, “you must be Charles’ sister, Raven, is that right?”

She nodded and Erik’s eyes moved expectantly to the man beside her.

“Azazel,” the man said around a thick Russian accent, extending his hand to Erik.

“Azazel,” Erik repeated, shaking his hand. “Teleporter?”

Azazel nodded and the corners of Erik’s lips twitched up slightly. “Exceptional. Are you family?”

“No,” Azazel started as Raven cut him off.

“He’s my boyfriend and a friend of Charles.”

Erik nodded and focused his attention once more on Raven. “What I’ve been looking into, Raven, is a string of disappearances involving what I believe are mutants. Charles fits the profile type of the recent abductions, which is why I’m the one heading his case.”

“He’s still alive,” Raven said, “you believe that, don’t you?”

Erik stayed quiet for a moment. “I’m going to ask you a few questions,” he said finally, “and I need you to answer honestly with everything you know.”

Raven nodded. “Can you bring him back?”

“I’m going to do everything I can. For now, I want you to tell me what you know about your brother.”

Raven frowned. “He teaches at Columbia University and works most nights in a lab on campus, he’s pretty boring actually.”

“When was the last time you spoke?” Erik asked.

“We’d had dinner. He was supposed to show Azazel around the Mutant Community Center the next night but never showed up and I found out he had never gone to the lab with Hank either.”

“And that’s unusual for Charles?”

“To just skip out?” she said. “Yes. He’s late most times but he’s not like that, if he promises to be somewhere, he’ll be there.”

Erik nodded thoughtfully. “Tell me about Hank.”

“Hank? Hank had nothing to do with this, believe me, he’s Charles’ closest friend.”

“Even so,” Erik said, jotting a couple notes down quickly, “I’ll need to speak with him. Now, you mentioned the Mutant Community Center?”

Raven nodded. “Charles volunteers there once a week, teaching a class, he just convinced Azazel to join him.”

“And is there anyone you can think of, anyone who Charles maybe didn’t get on so well with? Anyone that had a problem with his telepathy maybe?”

She shook her head. “No, Charles tried being everyone’s friend.”

Azazel, who had been listening silently, made a sudden disapproving noise. “That’s not true, neither of you get along with Dr. Shaw.”

Erik looked between them quickly. “Shaw?”

Raven looked away from Azazel, back to Erik again. “He’s a doctor who volunteers at the center, runs a psychiatric hospital or something and does free mutant family counseling once a week with one of his nurses.”

“And he and Charles don’t get along?”

“No, it’s not that exactly,” she said, looking at Azazel again, “they don’t even really talk... he just creeps Charles out is all... and me, always telling me my blue form is breathtaking.”

“Rather inappropriate,” Erik commented, and Azazel nodded, agreeing.

“He’s human,” Raven said, “says he has an appreciation for beauty in all its forms.”

“Don’t we all,” Erik answered, tapping his pen restlessly against the table.

***

Charles, Erik discovered had received a scholarship to Oxford University at just sixteen years old, earning Ph.Ds. in Genetics and Biophysics before returning to New York and accepting a teaching position at Columbia University. School it seemed had rescued Charles from an abusive household. Kurt Marko had married Charles’ mother, Sharon Xavier, shortly after her husband, Brian, shot himself. Kurt taking over the vast Xavier estate in Westchester following his marriage to Sharon. He had a son from a previous marriage, Cain, who Logan had jokingly suggested they take out back where no one could hear them for being so damn difficult during questioning.

There had been a moment where Erik had felt wild anticipation upon finding out Charles was linked to an estate in Westchester. It had felt like he and Logan were on the edge of something. Kurt Marko had money and power available to him, the location was right and Marko had a very obvious hatred of mutants, Erik learning that Charles had been disinherited shortly after leaving for Oxford, taking Raven, (who as it turned out was much more an adopted sister to Charles than his actual flesh and blood) with him. His excitement had been short lived however, the lead not taking him anywhere but into the mire that had been Charles’ childhood and while that angered and rankled at Erik, there was nothing he could do about it now. So he had been forced to turn his attention elsewhere.

He learns that Charles has a massive collection of books overtaking his small apartment. That he spends nearly every night with a nervous young mutant in an on-campus lab. That he’s generally adored by his students and fellow staff members and that at noon each day he has coffee at a small, tucked away place on Tenth Avenue; he always has the vanilla and caramel latté. His life for the most part, despite being full, seems rather uneventful. The one real event in Charles’ life that consistently has him mixing outside his usual social circles is the volunteer work at the Mutant Community Center.

Erik and Logan steadily rifling their way through the volunteers one by one, Erik asking after Dr. Shaw but Shaw he’s informed has been unable to fulfill his volunteer commitments for the last two weeks now.

When pressing for a reason, he finds Shaw has his hands fuller than usual with the psychiatric hospital he operates in Westchester County.

***

“Should I schedule you a visit?” Sean Cassidy asks Erik from where he’s slouched in front of his computer.

“You know I don’t do planned visits,” Erik snaps without looking up, photos of Charles spread out on the conference room table. Erik studying the one taken at Charles’ graduation, trying to ignore the uneasy feeling in his gut that he’s seen him before.

“Relax, man, it’s a joke,” Sean says, turning back to the computer, sighing. “Alright... Dr. Sebastian Shaw of Grace Gardens Psychiatric, studied and graduated in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania before moving to New York State. Well known philanthropist... very well-liked in the upper circles, not married, though he is rumored to be dating one Emma Frost... holy shit you should see this chick.”

Sean,” Logan says, shaking his head.

“Your loss,” Sean comments. “Used to be a practicing psychiatrist in Rochester before moving to Westchester. I’m sorry, Erik, this guy looks clean. I can’t go any further without a warrant, what else do you want to know?”

“Nothing,” Erik looks up finally, “that will have to do for now.”

***

The drive to Grace Gardens is mostly silent, Erik’s thoughts occupied entirely with Charles, while in the passenger seat next to him, Logan slowly turns his car into a smoke chamber.

Grace Gardens, as Erik had expected, is blindingly white and sterile inside. The revolving door entrance at the front opening up into a circular lobby that split off into three main hallways. The large patient registration desk holding occupancy at the center of the lobby is where Erik makes his way to first. The receptionist greets him pleasantly enough, her red hair gleaming from the sun streaming in through the wall to wall windows of the front entrance.

“Are you gentlemen here to see a patient?” she asks.

“No,” Erik says, taking in their surroundings. “We’re here to see Dr. Shaw.”

“Is the doctor expecting you?”

“I don’t think so,” Erik replies, producing his badge.

“I see,” she says, standing, “it’ll just be a moment, if you would please, wait here.”

She’s only gone a moment before she returns, her smile stretching tightly across her face. “You can go right in, Dr. Shaw will see you in his office, down the hall there,” she gestures with her hand, “fourth door on the right.”

The inside of Shaw’s office is a fair deal warmer than the hospital itself, with rich wooden paneling and dark leather furniture. The pictures on the wall showing Shaw smiling with various friends and colleagues. Shaw himself is lean with a narrow face currently marred by a painful looking scrape, the surrounding skin bruised a deep purple, and pale blue eyes that assess Erik and Logan carefully.

Shaw is also the first to break the silence. “What’s this about gentlemen?”

“I’m Detective Lehnsherr,” Erik says, and Shaw shakes his hand firmly, “this is my partner, Officer Howlett, we’re with the NYPD. We’ve got a few questions for you involving a case in Manhattan.”

“Manhattan?” Shaw’s eyes narrow.

“You volunteer with this person at the Mutant Community Center,” Logan explains.

“Oh, of course, anything I can do to assist, Detective,” Shaw says, eyes returning to Erik. “Please take a seat, I’ll be glad to help anyway I can.”

“That’s a rather nasty scratch,” Erik points out immediately, gesturing to Shaw’s face.

“Unfortunate byproduct of working with the mentally ill,” Shaw answers.

“You work almost exclusively with mutants isn’t that correct? That’s rather generous of you, being human and all.”

“Do you see yourself as generous when you work with humans, Detective?” Shaw asks slowly, leaning back in his chair.

“No.”

“It’s the same for me. In fact, I imagine you and I are a lot alike.”

“Really,” Erik sounds bored, “how so?”

“Well, like you, I too wish the world to be a better place.”

A brief knock at the door followed by an extremely attractive woman dressed entirely in white interrupts them. Erik struck suddenly with the similarity to the harsh sterility of the hospital. Her eyes meet his immediately, seeming to read the thought and she smiles slow and secret.

“Doctor, you didn’t mention our guest was so handsome. Anything I can do for you, Sugar?” she asks, tilting her head so her long blonde hair cascades down her shoulder. Erik feels a very brief and foreign wave of lust roll over him and then it’s gone in an instant. He turns away, blinking and irritated with himself.

“Now, now, Emma,” Shaw scolds, “this is Detective Lehnsherr. Detective, this is Miss Frost, my head nurse.” Shaw watches Erik, smiling at him warmly before he turns back to Frost, “Emma, could you please give us a few moments, the detective and I need to speak.”

“Of course, Doctor.” And then she’s gone. Erik flicks his hand and the door closes, silencing the sound of her heels clicking away down the hall.

“Detective?” Shaw asks when Erik remains silent, causing Logan to elbow him sharply. His thoughts have taken a very sharp and sudden turn, Layla Miller, blood soaked and festering in the hot sun, vivid in his mind.

“I just need to ask you a few questions,” Erik begins slowly, forcing himself to focus.

“Of course.”

“You volunteer for family counseling at the Mutant Community Center in Manhattan, is that correct?”

“It is,” Shaw nods.

“Do you recall a professor Charles Xavier?”

Xavier...” Shaw seems to be tasting the word, “ah, yes, Charles Xavier. He’s a volunteer teacher.”

“That’s right. What can you tell us about him?”

“Nothing much that I can think of.” Shaw frowns. “He seems to get on pretty well with the children. Is he in some kind of trouble?”

“I’ll say,” Logan interjects. “He’s been missing for about three days now, hasn’t shown up for work or checked in with family.”

“Really? That’s terrible news.” Shaw shakes his head, and then after a moment adds, “really too bad.”

“What is?” Logan asks sharply.

“I really shouldn’t be saying anything,” Shaw says.

“Yes, you should,” Logan says, “anything you can think of might help us find him.”

“Well, in my opinion, he seemed lonely, and quite frankly, rather taken with seeking out company...if you follow my meaning.”

“No, I’m afraid I don’t.” Erik feels like he’s coming back to himself finally.

“Well I’ve never had much of a relationship with the boy myself. We’ve barely spoken to be honest, but I have heard rumors.”

“Such as?” Erik presses.

“It can be quite dangerous you know, going off with different men each night,” Shaw tells them quietly, his eyes boring into Erik.

“Different men? As in sexual partners?” Logan asks.

Shaw nods thoughtfully, still watching Erik.

“Any idea as to the identities of these anonymous, mystery men?” Erik asks.

“None. Like I said, he and I aren’t very familiar.”

Erik nods, studying Shaw while Shaw looks back at him steadily. “Are you aware that Charles is a telepath?”

“Oh, yes, of course,” Shaw looks strangely delighted, “I recall some of the children being quite impressed. They say he can do some pretty neat tricks. Much like yourself, I imagine.”

“I’m sorry?” Erik frowns.

“Metallokinesis? Fascinating.”

At Erik’s silence he continues, “William told me he had a metallokinetic working at the department... the door? I just assumed.”

“William?” Erik asks, confused.

“Stryker. We go back quite a ways. I count William as a close, personal friend actually, and I always make time to offer guidance to his son.”

Really,” Erik says, amazed by how quickly it was all going to shit. They hadn’t been aware of a friendship between the captain and Shaw.

“We have the same goals, you see.” Shaw continues.

“And what are those exactly?”

“I told you, Detective, I just want to make the world a better place. For humans and mutants alike. I would think that someone of your standing would appreciate that.”

“Right, well, thank you, Doctor, for your time,” Erik says, feeling the beginnings of a tension headache coming on.

“Of course, Detective, it’s been my pleasure, and I do hope dear Charles makes it home safe.”

***

“I don’t like him,” Erik says darkly once he and Logan are safely in the parking lot.

Logan snorts, lighting up another cigar, “Really? I never would have guessed with how well you were hiding it back there.”

Erik glares at him. “Fucking made my skin crawl.”

Logan nods, taking a drag off his cigar. “We’re gonna have to go back to Xavier’s sister, see if she doesn’t have anything more to tell us about her brother’s life outside academia.”

“You bought that shit Shaw was selling about Xavier?” Erik shakes his head, wrenching open his car door.

Logan slides into the passenger seat, raising an eyebrow. “Lehnsherr, are you hearing yourself right now?”

“I’ll get his sister back in tonight,” Erik says eventually, calming himself, it’s easier now that he’s put some distance between himself and the doctor, and starts the drive back to Manhattan.

***

“Charles’ sex life is private.” Raven frowns at him and Erik sighs and rubs his temples, elbows resting on the edge of his desk.

“Not anymore.”

“I don’t see why you need to know any of this,” she says, narrowing her eyes.

“I need to know exactly who Charles allows into his life, I need to know who he was with the night he disappeared, I need to know if his abductor is someone he knows or if...”

“He doesn’t take risks like that, if that’s what you mean,” Raven tells him, “he just, he wants to trust someone and... I know it gets lonely sometimes, always being on your own. He doesn’t have good luck with men, or women for that matter. So yeah, I know there’s been some one night stands but Charles is a telepath, he would have known if the person he was with was dangerous.”

Charles is a telepath,” Erik repeats, “and somehow, he was taken from his apartment in the middle of the night....” he trails off, a new thought emerging, “did Charles ever say anything about seeing another telepath, or did he know of any others?”

Raven shakes her head at the same time there’s a knock at Erik’s door, Logan not waiting for an answer before he lets himself in, a drink carrier full with coffees in his hand that Erik eyes gratefully.

“Am I interrupting?” he asks.

Erik looks at Raven, who has turned dejected in her chair and shakes his head. “No.”

***

He’s aware of the cold before anything else. His consciousness coming back in increments. He would be aware of sensation in his body, aware of the cold, hard tiles beneath his skin and then he would slip off again into nothing. When he manages to surface for longer than a few moments he realizes the inside of his head has grown equal parts cavernous and claustrophobic, the silence pressing down on him suffocating, while in the same instant his own thoughts have grown too loud. He can’t feel or perceive anything beyond himself and would have jolted upright in fear had his limbs been able to manage the task. His body feels heavy and lethargic, exhausted and weak. The cold he feels having more to do with the fact that he is naked and sprawled out on the floor than the actual temperature of the room.

When his eyes focus, he discovers he’s in a room no bigger than a prison cell, the blinding white tiling of the floor stretching up the walls, glaring from the fluorescent overhead light set into the ceiling. The floor dips slightly in the middle of the room and at its center there’s a single silver drain. The only door into the room has no handle or doorknob from what he can see, just a narrow rectangular slot in the middle of the door. It’s silent, wave upon wave of fear crashing through him and he wills his body to move, if he could just stand maybe he can find a way to make the door open.

He doesn’t know how much time has passed, if it’s been only minutes or hours but he’s regained some control in his upper body, managing to push himself up onto his hands and has started to drag himself forward when the door slides open.

“Ah, you’re awake,” a voice speaks cheerfully above him, “that’s wonderful.”

“Who...” Charles begins, struggling around the word, his voice is thick and slurred. The figure of a man stepping into the room with him but when Charles tries to focus on his face it’s a dark, featureless mass. He blinks in confusion and refocuses on the floor.

“I admire your tenacity, professor,” the voice goes on, “see an ordinary human wouldn’t even be conscious right now but you... look at you, up and already making for the door. Yes, I admire you. I admire how special you are.”

Charles can’t hold himself up anymore, everything slipping away from him again, the floor moving closer and closer. His eyes slide shut, and the man takes a few careful steps toward him, the sound echoing in the small room. When he’s just over the top of Charles and Charles feels his fingers tracing the bony prominent of his shoulder, he jerks, trying to push away weakly.

“Don’t, don’t,” and he hates how his voice sounds in the space, eerie, small and frantic, still slurred around the edges.

“Shh, Charles,” the man says, his hand coming to rest more firmly against his skin, hard and impossible to shake off.

“Oh, God! Oh, my God!” Charles whimpers, trying to pull away.

“Stop fighting me.”

“Why am I here?”

“You’re here to make the world a better place. But right now I need you to settle down and listen to what I have to say, all right? As my guest, there are rules you need to be made aware of. Are you listening? Good. I don’t want you trying to escape, and I don’t want you calling out for help. If you do, I will be disappointed with you, and believe me, you don’t want that. And in the event that it’s escaped you, your telepathy won’t be of any use to you, so don’t waste your valuable energy. Do you understand?”

Charles whimpers again and he can hear the delighted smile in the man’s voice. “Wonderful. Now, I have a little something for you, because I imagine you’re feeling pretty lousy.”

The hand leaves Charles’ shoulder and appears so close to his face he has to blink to bring the syringe it’s holding into focus.

“This will make it all better,” the man tells him, pressing the needle into the back of his neck.

Just before the world slides away again, Charles is aware of fingers playing absently across his skin, his blood slowly turning to ice.

Chapter Text

It’s a mercy to him to remain asleep, the hell of reality settling in his bones while he gazes numbly at the pristine white of the far wall. He’d woken up dizzy and too sick to move, whatever drug he’s been given erasing his concept of time and snuffing access to his telepathy like a damper over a flame.

He’s been given a blanket he realizes with a trace of disgust, as if that will make any part of this more tolerable, he’s still completely bare beneath its scratchy folds. He waits until he feels some of his steadiness return, breathing in and exhaling slowly, counting his breaths measure by measure and begins assessing himself. He’s not injured as far as he can tell, not beyond some bruising and a persistent ache thrumming through his entire body. He doesn’t know why he’s been taken, though his lack of clothing and the overt sexual caresses of the man who’d come into his room earlier give him some idea. For whatever reason however, the man hadn’t raped him while he’d been unconscious, Charles is sure.

When he can’t bear his own thoughts anymore, he carefully pushes himself into a sitting position. The last time he tried this he had been too disoriented to properly function, now he thinks it might be possible to try again for the door.

Once upright however, the room lurches and he can’t stop the swell of vomit from rising up in him. He tries to keep it from getting on himself and the blanket and fails, a ragged moan escaping his throat as he chokes up the last of it. Tears leak from the corners of his eyes and he slumps forward on his hands and knees wearily, bowing his head toward the floor, his body flushed and shuddering.

When the worst of it’s passed, he raises his head and tries again. This time the world stays mostly in one place and he starts the slow crawl to the door.

It’s fixed shut firmly with nothing for him to grasp ahold of except for the small rectangular slot, which does nothing to help when he wrenches on it. The slot’s wide enough for him to fit his hand through but no more, and he gives up trying to force it to take more when can no longer stomach the pain, only succeeding in turning the delicate flesh of his wrist into a raw, angry mess. Clenching his teeth to prevent the pained and frustrated cry from escaping him, he pulls his hand back through.

You have to get ahold of yourself, he thinks wildly when he realizes he won’t be able to open the door from the outside, there’s another way, there’s always another way. He surveys the room once more, there’s nothing, the only openings are the door and the metal drain in the center of the room. The man will come back, he knows, and a shiver steals over him, there was something familiar about him, something in his voice, but the only memory Charles is able to recall is of the nauseating touch of his hands. He’s wondering if he’d be able to keep himself together long enough to fight his way out the door when the man comes back, when the sudden sound of someone coughing makes him jump.

It’s not the man he realizes when all falls silent once more, and he drops his eyes to the slot, there’s nothing for him to see but the far wall of what he thinks is a hallway. The man had told him to never call out, never call out for help.

“Somebody,” he tries, and his voice is raspy and weak. Irritated with himself, he tries again and it’s stronger this time.

“Somebody help me!” He waits, forcing himself calm again when there's no answer. “My name is Charles Xavier! I’m a professor at Columbia University! I need help... please... You have to...please, somebody help. My name is Charles Xavier. I know you can hear me, now bloody talk to me already!”

“You have to be quiet.”

He’s grown so desperate, he almost misses it. The sound of a voice that’s breathy and barely there floating to him through the door slot.

“I... please, tell me your name.”

“You have to be quiet, or they’ll kill you.”

It’s too much, he can feel himself cracking. He’s tired, naked, and sick, covered in his own drying vomit and cut off from the greatest defense he has and he needs to get out. His breath is coming too short and he can’t stay locked up any longer, his frustration taking hold as he starts beating against the door, ignoring the pain from his stinging wrist.

“Talk to me! Tell me your name! Please, what’s your name? What’s your name? Oh, my God, talk to me. Please, please, please, tell me your name.”

It’s Angel,” the breathy voice hisses, and Charles stills. “My name is Angel Salvadore, alright. You need to listen to me, Charles Xavier, you need to be quiet or I am telling you, they will kill you.”

“I can’t... I’m,” Charles doesn’t even try stopping his voice from breaking, “let me hear your voice, Angel, please. I’m... just,” all he can think is that he has to keep her talking. “Just, just talk to me. Are you alright? Are you hurt?”

There’s a long pause where he begins to panic again, before she finally answers, her voice taking on an edge Charles can’t help but admire, “I’m... yeah, I’m alright.”

Her voice is like the breaking of a dam, other voices flooding through Charles’ door slot, hesitant and small and suffocating the little remains of his hope.

“I’m Cecilia Reyes, I’m... I’m here, too.”

“Cecilia,” Charles repeats.

“Jonothon Starsmore. I’ve been here for... I don’t know how long, what month is it?”

He hadn’t imagined this, hadn’t imagined that there would be others trapped like himself and for months on top of that, never having escaped.

“My... my name is Bobby Drake. I’ve been here for over a month... I think.”

Charles’ body begins trembling again and he closes his eyes, leaning his head back against the door, next to the slot, while he works on calming himself. When he feels strong enough he calls out again.

“I’m a mutant... a telepath... but I’ve been given something, some kind of drug and I can’t...” he trails off, at a loss.

“We’re all mutants, Charles,” Angel’s voice answers him again, and she sounds less hesitant now, bolder. “It’s why we’ve been taken, they’re doing some kind of research and they need different types of mutants, I’ve worked that much out.”

Charles opens his eyes, the overhead fluorescent making him squint while he works out what Angel’s just told him, his focus latching onto one detail in particular. “They?”

There’s another long pause, the silence stretching Charles’ nerves nearly to the breaking point. “You haven’t seen the others?”

Charles is shaking his head, alone in a room where no one can see and where Angel’s voice is growing stronger, his is shriveling up. “No.”

“You have to stop talking now.”

Jonothon Starsmore, Charles thinks, he has something of an English accent, Londoner maybe, Charles isn’t sure and he doesn’t ask.

“Both of you have to stop talking, he’ll be coming back soon,” Jonothon says.

But Charles can’t, he wants desperately to keep hearing the sound of someone’s voice, something he can hold onto, so he knows he’s not about to slip over into the void.

“Angel?” he calls softly, ignoring Jonothon’s warning.

“There’s two of them,” Angel says quickly, “working together. They’ve been trying to create some kind of...”

“Be quiet,” Bobby whispers harshly, “be quiet now, I can hear...” He and the others all fall silent and after a moment Charles hears a small sound like metal clanging against metal and then the squeak of a door hinge followed by footsteps echoing through the hall.

They’re coming closer and Charles shrinks up against the door, listening, his breath coming faster and sure enough, the steps stop just short of his door and he can hear the same metal on metal sound. A bolt he realizes, there’s a bolt holding his door in place. His door swings open at the same moment he lunges clumsily away from it, hitting the floor and crawling frantically to the other side of the room.

“Charles? How are we feeling?”

Charles shudders, clawing at the blanket and wrapping it around himself and he can’t stand it, how he’s plotting how to fight his way past this man one moment and cowering beneath a blanket reeking of his own puke the next.

There’s a heavy sigh behind him. “Professor, your wrist, what did I tell you?”

Charles knows that voice, his hands stilling in their efforts to cover himself, eyes wide when he stares up at Sebastian Shaw. It’s been Shaw right from the start, he thinks, only he’s been too drugged up to realize.

You, what the hell are you...” Charles starts, his fear evaporating somewhat, replaced by anger.

“Professor,” Shaw cuts him off, shaking his head, eyes fixed on Charles’ mangled wrist, “what did I tell you?”

“I don’t know what the hell you think you’re doing," Charles snarls, and Shaw smiles with amusement, “kidnapping mutants like this, are they your patients?” Charles continues, fury rising.

At his words, Shaw’s grin twists into something predatory and hungry and Charles feels some of his boldness flee. “I can tell you’ve been busy while I’ve been away, Charles, and from the sounds of it, breaking my rules.” He watches Charles, pale eyes hard and considering, before he speaks again. “Who was it? Which one of them spoke to you?” His voice is gentle, almost kindly.

“I won’t ask you again,” that same gentle tone, and Shaw is stepping further into the room, closer and Charles inches back, his eyes darting between Shaw and the open door beyond him.

Shaw notices and smiles more widely. “Go on,” he gestures to the door. “Try. You’ll never know unless you try.”

It’s just Shaw, Charles thinks, it’s just Shaw, you can do this.

“No?” Shaw asks, when Charles doesn’t immediately make a run for it, his eyes seeming to catalogue every one of Charles’ movements beneath the blanket.

“You know, Charles,” he says after a moment of silence between them and Charles is fixated on the door, readying himself, “I expected nothing less from you. Everyone here has broken the rules at least once,” Shaw chuckles, moving closer, “but that’s a problem solved easily enough, it only takes a very simple lesson, which I am happy to provide...” He reaches out, fingering Charles’ hair and Charles flinches away.

“You’re quite shy,” Shaw says, “for someone who’s so willing any other night of the week.”

Charles swallows, he needs Shaw as far into the room as possible for this to work. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Really? It hasn’t been that long has it? I was sure it had only been what, three weeks, since you’ve last had a cock up your ass? What was his name again? You picked him up at the bar, do you even remember his name?”

Charles is shaking his head and he knows his face is bloodless. “You’ve been watching me. How have you been watching me? Who are you?”

“I’m like you, Charles,” Shaw answers, reaching out to touch him again, “and like you, I have some rather special talents of my own.”

He’s drawing the tip of his finger down the back of Charles’ neck, dragging the blanket down off his shoulders when Charles dives forward, letting the blanket slip off and stumbling for the door. He’ll bolt Shaw in, he’ll free the others and they’ll - he doesn’t make it two steps before Shaw his him by his hair, lifting him off his feet, making him cry out, and slamming him back down on the tiles. The force of it so hard, the air is completely gone from his lungs, and he’s writhing helpless on the floor, gasping for breath and hearing nothing for a moment but the blood ringing in his ears.

“I’m impressed, Charles,” Shaw remarks from above him, “you saw your chance and you took it, but now I’m afraid you’ve offended your host.”

Charles can’t breathe properly but he still pushes at Shaw weakly.

“You want to know what’s outside the door?” Shaw asks, his voice hard, all pretenses of kindness gone. “Let’s find out together, shall we?” he says, and pulls out another syringe. “Just a little something to calm you down first,” he murmurs, kneeling over Charles and grabbing another fistful of his hair, forcing his head up so he can reach the back of his neck.

“It’s not his fault,” Angel calls out, and Shaw stills, fingers would tight in Charles’ hair and the needle poised. “It’s mine. I talked to him first. Me, just me, no one else.”

“Angel, sweetheart,” Shaw calls back finally, eyes still locked on Charles, “I’ll deal with you later.”

“You know,” he says to Charles then, pulling him closer by his hair, leaning in conspiratorially, “every time I think I’ve broken her, she surprises me. Why, just the other day, she actually tried to strike me in the face, me,” Shaw laughs. “You should see her face right now,” and there it is, the prick of the needle in the back of his neck and his world bleeds away.

***

Eleven o’clock at night and Sean Cassidy is busy stuffing files in his bag, it’s late and he’s gone over on his hours for the week and needs to pack it in for the night, deciding he can take his work home. He’s reaching for his keys when he feels someone watching him, spinning around and nearly dropping everything on the spot.

“Jesus, Lehnsherr, say something next time.”

Erik prowls into his office, closing the door gently behind himself, glancing around, blankly taking in the photos on Sean’s desk; his mother, his sister, before his eyes came to rest back on Sean. “I could really use you right now, Cassidy,” he says, voice low.

“Shouldn’t you buy me flowers first?”

Erik’s expression remains the same, blank and unamused. “You’re not funny,” he says, and pointing to Sean’s computer, “turn that back on.”

***

There are several things, Sean Cassidy has decided, that while frightening to outsiders, are really no cause for concern. An argument between Erik Lehnsherr and Logan Howlett, for example, had terrified him in the first week of his newly assigned job as technical analyst for the homicide division at NYPD. Now he no longer feels like he’s about to witness some mutant retelling of ‘Clash of the Titans’ and figures that’s just how they need to communicate sometimes. An argument between Erik Lehnsherr and Captain Stryker however, is something else entirely.

He flinches in his chair at the sound of broken glass and swivels around, leaning his head out his office door so he can see. He’s not the only one, Summers and Muñoz are both frozen on their way to the conference room, watching as a chair launches itself through the large plate glass of Erik’s office window and sails over the railing of the third floor and crashes out in the middle of the conference room below, scattering several interns.

“Lehnsherr’s fucking lost it,” Summers says, shaking his head when he notices Sean.

“What happened?” Sean asks as Stryker flings open Erik’s door and stalks off toward the elevators. For a moment after he’s gone, nobody moves.

“Lehnsherr pulled some shit with the Internal Affairs Division,” Muñoz says, “started digging around and found out Stryker’d been accused of police misconduct with a mutant while he was an officer in Nevada, this was years ago now and his case was dismissed.”

Sean stays quiet, worrying his bottom lip.

“Things are getting personal between them,” Summers says.

“Jesus fucking Christ, Lehnsherr,” they hear Logan grunt from below, drawing their attention. He’s in tow with MacTaggert who is surveying the twisted metal chair lying discarded on the floor surrounded by glass, her expression exhausted. Logan by-steps it heading for the stairs to the next floor.

“You don’t ever clean your shit up, do you?” they hear him greet Erik through his empty window.

***

“Your dog’s been sniffing around here.”

Charles can hear voices through the fog in his head.

“I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

“Put the sonofabitch back on his leash.”

“I said I’ll take care of it.”

It’s Shaw, of course it’s Shaw, Charles thinks deliriously. Everything hurts and he can’t move. His eyelids feel too heavy to lift and his back feels like it’s on fire.

“Doctor? You requested my assistance?”

Charles can’t make his mind focus, there’s light so bright he can see it with his eyes closed, pain radiating from his scalp and down his spine and new voices he doesn’t recognize.

“Janos, you got my message,” Shaw says curtly, “did you bring – ah, you did, excellent. Let’s get started then.”

Charles struggles to open his eyes, the light blinding him for a moment when he finally does. He’s restrained on an operating table, exposed and bruised, restraints gripping his wrists and ankles, legs spread wide, the whimper escaping him before he can stop it.

“Charles, good of you to join us,” Shaw says, coming into view over the top of him.

“Are you sure he can’t...” another man says from behind him, sounding concerned.

“Read your mind?” Shaw finishes, smiling down at Charles. “Absolutely not. I assure you, he’s quite well managed. Aren’t you, Charles?”

Charles tries turning his head away, wanting to seek out the source of the other voices. All he’s able to tell is that he’s in an operating room, more of the same damned white tiles crawling up the walls and a sink on the far end. At his head he can hear the clatter of someone laying out instruments on a metal table. They move into view suddenly, a younger man with shoulder length dark hair who avoids Charles’ gaze when Charles stares up at him. Following after him and standing off to the side is another man, shorter and stockier than either Shaw or the dark haired man, his mouth set in a thin line, hair gone completely grey. His small, hard eyes raking over Charles uncertainly, as if he’s worried Charles might suddenly spring up from the table and attack him.

“Still,” Shaw says, continuing, “if you would prefer, the new tech’s proven resistant, last week we even wired it into a helmet.”

The man seems to consider a moment before shaking his head. “No, that won’t be necessary, I’ll take your word for it.”

“Very good.” Shaw sounds pleased. “Janos, if you would,” he says, gesturing to Charles.

“What did you do to me?” Charles slurs, his heartbeat pounding in his throat.

“Just a simple lumbar puncture,” Shaw answers, petting his hair, “nothing to worry over. By the way, how is Jason?” Shaw asks over the top of Charles, while Janos moves down to his feet.

“Don’t talk about him right now.”

“Touchy,” Shaw says.

“Look,” the man snaps, moving in and out of Charles’ vision as he begins pacing back and forth, “I know you think you have everything under control here but this,” he cuts off, looking at Charles for a moment, “this is getting risky.”

Charles whimpers again when he feels Janos wiping down the bottom of his foot, and they both grow silent, watching him.

“Do you know something I don’t, William?” Shaw asks slowly, voice lowering in the quiet that’s stretched between them.

“You’re letting your staff rape the patients,” William hisses.

“I allow my staff to enjoy themselves, it’s rather beneficial actually, boosts employee morale.”

“Dammit, Sebastian, I won’t allow you to compromise this, we had a deal, and I won’t let you risk it just so your cronies can have themselves a little fun.”

“There is nothing to worry about,” Shaw genuinely laughs.

“What if one of them starts talking?”

“Who are they going to talk to? These people don’t get visitors, and even if they did, Emma simply does a little tinkering, the memory’s gone, and everything’s all better again.” Shaw turns his attention back on Charles. “Janos, are we ready?”

“Yes, Doctor.”

“Perfect. This one is actually due to be taught a lesson,” he says looking down at Charles, “so he can appreciate the way things work around here, would you like to... Emma?” Shaw looks up suddenly and Charles tries twisting on the table, hoping desperately for someone to help him.

“I didn’t know you would be joining us,” Shaw says, when she lets herself in, a beautiful creature in white, her heels clicking across the floor and Charles recognizes her when she comes into view as the nurse who joins Shaw once a week at the center.

“Would you prefer I wasn’t?” she asks, eyes flicking over Charles, and Shaw shakes his head.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Emma,” he smiles, “take a seat if you want, I was just about to demonstrate for the captain.”

She nods, perching daintily on a stool near the wall, turning her attention to William. “You’re worried,” she says, and William grimaces.

“Don’t do that,” he says, taking a step away from her, and she smiles, cold and cruel.

“What are you doing?” Charles struggles sluggishly in his restraints at the touch of Shaw’s hand on his foot.

“Janos, the scalpel,” Shaw says expectantly, wrapping his hand around Charles’ ankle.

What are you doing?” Charles breathes.

“Is this necessary?” William asks. “We already have his spinal fluid.”

“It is,” Shaw says, “he needs to learn, and I’ve found the best way to accomplish that is through...” he begins an incision in the bottom of Charles’ foot and Charles can’t help it, he screams, “pain,” Shaw finishes.

Charles is sobbing by the time it’s over, nearly blacking out twice while Shaw peeled up the top layer of skin from his foot. Both times Shaw had been there, whispering to him, ordering him to stay with him, telling him they aren’t even close to being through.

“You are really... Charles, you’re something else,” Shaw is telling him, voice rough.

“Shaw,” William says, “come on, he’s had enough.”

Shaw ignores him, his face is twisted and he’s sliding his bloody hands up Charles’ ankles, his calves, and up along the insides of his thighs.

“You’re so perfect,” he says, wrapping his hand around Charles’ flaccid cock, and Charles shudders, he can’t even form words anymore, choking on his own snot and tears, everything he tries to say is a wheezing garbled mess.

“Shaw!” William’s voice is sharper this time, “enough.”

I decide when he’s had enough,” Shaw says, letting go of Charles’ cock and instead moving his fingers down to trace around his hole. Janos remains stock-still by the door and Emma shifts on her stool.

“I’m not part of this,” William snarls, “this you do on your own and leave me out of it.”

Shaw is panting, working himself up, swallowing hard every time Charles whimpers or tries vainly to pull away.

“You know what goes on here, William,” he says, forcing two of his fingers into Charles without warning, groaning at Charles’ shriek of pain. “You’ve cleaned it up, so don’t pretend you don’t know. You’re in this just as deep as the rest of us.”

“I’m not watching this.”

“You know all about this,” Shaw pants, thrusting his fingers hard and grinning wide when Charles cries out, sobbing again. “So don’t pretend... to be something you’re not... and get all fucking squeamish... when you see how I...”

“Look, I don’t care what the fuck you do with them!” William bellows. “But don’t do that shit in front of me, knock it off and take it somewhere private.”

Shaw’s nurse giggles lightly and Shaw slows to a stop, still panting and clearly aroused, his pupils blown wide while he considers Charles under the harsh overhead light. Finally, he exhales and withdraws his fingers in one harsh movement, making Charles jerk on the table, blood trickling out after his fingers.

“Janos,” Shaw breathes, wiping his hand off, “take Charles back to his room.”

“Yes, Doctor.”

“Emma, come join William and I in my office, the three of us need to have a little chat.”

***

“Not feeling very social today are we, Lehnsherr?” Logan grins around his cigar.

Erik glares at him, willing him to shut up and goes back to nursing his beer.

Logan sighs, abandoning his cigar to the ashtray on Erik’s kitchen table.

“You don’t want to talk,” Logan says, “that’s fine, but you are going to listen.” He ignores Erik’s lip starting to curl back and gets up to grab himself another beer. When he’s facing down the contents of Erik’s fridge he asks, “What the hell were you thinking, sticking your nose in Stryker’s shit?”

Logan,” Erik says, low and dangerous.

“Thought you didn’t want to talk,” Logan smirks, cracking open his beer. “You know you’re on thin ice with that bastard. You failed to mention anything to me about what you were doing, and the worst part of it is, you didn’t even get what you were after.”

“You have no idea what I’m after.”

Logan raises an eyebrow at him, taking a long swig and leaning back against the kitchen counter, considering something. “What went on between the two of you in your office?”

“I told you,” Erik shakes his head, “just leave it alone.”

Logan’s eyes creep along the countertop, tallying up the empty beer bottles, back to Erik wrung out and rough, hunched over at his table. “You know I’m not leaving here until you tell me what’s going on.” He says it with finality, he even adds in a smile simply because he knows it will piss Erik off. The fastest way to reveal the truth, he’s learned, is to just piss Erik off. From Erik’s TV in the next room he hears the weatherman, falsely bright and cheerful, ‘it’s another scorcher lined up for tomorrow folks.’

Mein gott,” Erik groans, scrubbing his hand across his face, two days’ worth of stubble. There’s a line drawing tighter and tighter between his shoulder blades and he rolls his shoulders back trying to ease it. Logan’s just watching him, waiting.

“Shaw’s not human,” Erik says at last, staring back down at the table, the smoke still twisting up from Logan’s smoldering cigar.

“Shaw’s not...where the hell did that come from? How do you know that?”

Erik sighs, having reached the bottom of the bottle. “I don’t technically, it’s just a feeling but it’s...” he trails off, “you just have to trust me, alright.”

“Can I?” Logan asks. “You haven’t included me in any of this and frankly, you’re not being very subtle, if we’re going to do this then we...”

“No,” Erik shakes his head, “we aren’t doing this, you are going to keep your hands clean and continue to do things by the book.”

“And you? What the hell are you doing, Erik? What aren’t you telling me?”

Erik studies him for a moment with eyes that are paler and duller than Logan remembers. “Shaw, it turns out,” Erik says, “has his hands very full, he’s CEO of Shaw Industries, which I’ve discovered is the parent corporation of Systemized Cybernetics Lab, which is located in Nevada. And working at this company is one Bolivar Trask, who for the past several years has been researching the mutant gene under the commission of Sebastian Shaw. Now, that’s all well and good,” Erik grumbles, “Shaw operates a psychiatric center housing mutants, so naturally he’ll be pioneering the new frontier of mutant medical research. However, Trask requires mutant cadavers for his studies and as you know, mutant cadavers aren’t exactly in high supply and yet that hasn’t seemed to slow SCL’s progress. And I thought that was rather odd, so I did some digging and while I can’t find anything painting SCL or Trask in a less than favorable light, I noticed something interesting. Las Vegas it seems, had itself a serial killer a few years back, and I know, Las Vegas over the years has had its fair share of serial murders but this one stood out because all the victims were mutants. Mutants, I might add, that shared no physical profile.”

He heaves himself up then, ignoring Logan’s frown as he grabs himself another beer. “Something else worth noting,” he says, once he’s resettled, “is that these murders all took place when Stryker was Sheriff for the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department in Reno. They never did get anywhere with it,” he says, thumb running through the condensation dripping down his beer bottle, staining dark on the table, “eventually the murders stopped and the case went cold. Interestingly enough, not long after Stryker moved to New York.”

“Fuck.” Logan shakes his head.

“I never would have looked at him if Shaw hadn’t mentioned him to us,” Erik says. “But once I started researching Shaw, and I saw SCL was located in Nevada, and that Stryker had been Sherriff at the time...” Outside, there’s the low rumble of thunder, but no one’s falling for it, it hasn’t rained in weeks. “He came into my office after we interviewed Shaw, said I had no business inconveniencing the doctor, especially since I don’t realize what an asset Shaw’s been to the department, donating money each year.”

Logan crosses back over to the table, drops into a chair, reaches out and takes Erik’s beer away from him. “You’ve had enough.”

"Things got a little heated between us in my office,” Erik admits. “He started talking about how my bullheadedness cost me my family, how Magda might not have..." He starts laughing and there’s no humor in the sound. “I brought up his wife taking a power drill to her skull and... he asked if it was worth it... sacrificing Anya. And I just...” he gestures helplessly.

“You put a chair through the window,” Logan finishes. It grows silent between them. Logan can hear the clock ticking on the wall, the hum of the refrigerator, the water dripping in the sink, Erik’s rough breathing. Outside the rumble of thunder has stopped, empty threat of a storm.

“I caught it on him yesterday,” he says after a moment, “in the elevator, that same chemical smell.”

When Erik just stares back at him blankly, he goes on. “You remember it was all I could smell at Grace Gardens? Fucking ammonia, I swear to God, I could taste it during dinner that night. What I’m telling you, is that I smelled it on Stryker in the elevator coming in, it was all over him.”

“Stryker sometimes handles prisoner transports from the jail to the psychiatric center,” Erik tells him, sinking down further in his chair.

“To the Manhattan Center though, right?”

Erik nods. “I’ve supervised some of the transports myself.”

Logan shakes his head. “I’ve been in the Manhattan Center, and this is different. It’s strong. I’ve only ever smelled this at Grace Gardens.”

Erik shrugs. “The judge won’t issue a warrant for Grace Gardens, not when Shaw’s got government politicians in his back pocket, and Stryker,” he chuckles, and Logan knows he’s on his way to being drunk. “Stryker is damn near untouchable, so whatever the hell you’re getting at, good luck making it stick.”

“There’s something else,” Logan says, watching Erik closely, “when we went up for Layla Miller in Westchester, the woods, the dirt, the insects, the reservoir further out, all those things blending together. I knew it but I just didn’t think about it, not until I smelled the ammonia on Stryker in the elevator.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“I could smell all of that on Stryker.”

Erik barks a laugh, sharp and humorless. “Of course you did, Stryker went up there when Miller was found, same as the rest of us.”

Logan’s smile is almost feral when he leans forward. “No, Erik, I caught that scent on him before, that exact scent, about two months back, only I never put the two together until yesterday.”

It grows silent again, Logan can hear the clock, the refrigerator, the water dripping, the slight change in Erik’s breathing.

***

Charles’ body is rioting against him in agony. Bloody footprints following after him as Janos drags him along. Janos, Charles thinks, Shaw had said his name was Janos. He’s pulling on Charles, leading him down a hall, back to the little room Shaw keeps him locked up in he knows. He can’t do this, he thinks, he can’t, chancing a look at Janos, he’ll never make it, and Shaw will likely kill him this time.

They must be in a basement floor he decides, watching blearily as they pass door after door and no windows, the sound of Janos’ shoes echoing around them. Charles’ attention spiking when they pass an elevator.

He won’t make it, his heart is already pounding, his brain telling him repeatedly that it’s already over. But he may never get another chance like this. Janos’ thoughts seem to be occupied with everything but Charles, his eyes stony and fixed straight ahead. When he tries turning a corner with Charles, Charles makes his decision, throwing his body weight into Janos and twisting until they crash into the wall together. Once off balance, he uses his free hand to hit Janos in the nose as hard as he can until Janos lets go and sinks down on the floor, clutching at his face.

It won’t work, it won’t work, he won’t make it, he thinks, tripping back to the elevator and jabbing at the button to open the doors. Once they ding open he throws himself inside, pressing frantically for the doors to close. Just as the doors slide shut, he sees Janos looking up at him from where he’s crouched down on the floor, still holding his bleeding nose.

There’s music playing in the elevator, classical he realizes, the soft sounds irritating as he hits the button for the ground floor. He leans back against the wall, waiting, counting back slowly, his breathing ragged, heart beating thunderously. He’ll die, he thinks, Shaw will be waiting on the other side of the doors the moment they open. The pain of his body feels muted somehow, simmering in the background while his heart tries to work its way from his chest.

The doors slide open on the ground floor and he’s alone, sunlight flooding across him so suddenly it hurts.

Fear rippling through him, urging him clumsily forward, he moves as quickly as he can for the doors leading outside and throwing himself into them, breaks into the stifling heat of midday.

There’s a road that he knows enough not to follow and instead lumbers for the tree line not far from where he’s hunched over. Bursting through the trees, falling before scrambling back up again. Everything around him is green, dappling light, tree branches, the pain’s going to kill him but he can’t stop.

“Charles!”

And Shaw knows, he thinks, blood racing and losing his mind, he has to keep going. Shaw knows and Shaw will kill him when he catches him.

He can hear Shaw shouting, somewhere in the woods with him now, calling his name again and again.

Everything seems fuzzy to him, the green world receding away and he can’t decide if he’s dreaming, just convinces himself to keep going, feet like cement and the ground is giving away beneath him. From there it’s just a blur of green and sunlight.

Chapter Text

The ground collapses out from under Charles’ feet, tumbling him head over heels twenty feet down a rocky incline. Pain lancing through his leg, hot and unbearable as he rolls to a stop at the base of a crooked tree, his eyes watering as he spits dirt and leaves from his mouth and gingerly shifts to his side to find a stick snapped off under his skin. The splintered wood protruding in a bloody stump just below his knee. He squeezes his eyes shut and wills himself not to be sick, his heart pounding and his entire body feeling like it’s made of fire.

“This isn’t the way it works, Charles,” Shaw says gravely from the top of the slope.

Charles groans and starts inching himself backward until he hits the rough bark of the tree. Fear blazing through him as Shaw begins sliding down the steep inline.

“You didn’t actually think you were going to get anywhere, did you?” Shaw asks as he reaches level ground, shaking his head at Charles’ dirtied and bloodied state. “Now look what you’ve gone and done to yourself.”

Charles squirms around and claws his way up the tree until he’s mostly standing. Hunched over and panting, his fingers white where they grip at the bark, trying as best he can to keep the weight off his injured leg. He’s going to be sick, he thinks, he can feel it, nausea already climbing up his stomach. Shaw takes a step forward with his hands held out in front of him as if to show he means Charles no harm, as if Charles is a spooked animal that only needs calming. Charles pushes away from the tree and starts stumbling backwards again, biting back a cry each time he puts pressure on his injured leg.

“Charles,” Shaw sighs, “come on, don’t do this.”

“Get away from me,” Charles slurs, hobbling away and dragging his wounded limb after him.

“Get away from you? I’ve devoted months to you, Charles, and I’m...” Shaw throws his hands up and looks at the sky. He stands still for a long moment and all Charles can do is breathe, staring back at Shaw surrounded by trees and parched undergrowth and the iridescent gleam of insects zipping along in the light. He lowers his head and stares at Charles. “Charles, quite frankly, I’m a little hurt.”

Everything feels frozen in place, only the insects move, tension coiling tighter and tighter in Charles, intensified by the pain all through his body and he can't take it anymore. He turns and with the last of the failing energy that he has, tries once more to run. He falls after making it only five steps, landing face down again in the dirt and the dead weeds, driving the stick in further and curling in on himself from pain. When he turns his head Shaw’s shoes are directly beside him.

“That is really quite enough,” Shaw growls, grabbing Charles by his hair again and hauling him to his feet. “Look at you,” he spits, raking his eyes down the length of Charles, “look at how disgustingly pathetic you are.”

He lifts Charles higher until the tips of Charles’ toes are barely scraping the ground, Charles’ eyes going wide with agony, unable to suppress the whimper that escapes his lips. Shaw swallows hard at the sound, wrapping his free hand around the back of Charles’ neck and kissing him. Charles wriggles furiously in Shaw’s hands, with his eyes wide open as Shaw forces and bites his way into Charles’ mouth.

Shaw pulls back a moment later, his lips stained red and grinning devilishly. “Tell me you’re sorry,” he whispers, dropping Charles unceremoniously back to the ground.

Charles stays quiet, shivering and trying to curl back in on himself, crying out and sprawling when Shaw kicks him.

“Tell me you’re sorry,” Shaw hisses.

Charles still refuses to say anything, lying immobile and staring up at the sky, listening to Shaw stomp his way back over to him. Shaw crouches down beside him, tracing a finger from Charles’ shoulder down to his hip, his eyes flicking up to Charles’ face. His finger keeps moving until he reaches the stick buried below Charles’ knee, smiling as he presses down hard, driving the stick deeper and deeper.

“Please,” Charles finally chokes out, “I’m sorry.”

“What?” Shaw asks, still pressing on the stick.

“I’m sorry,” Charles gasps, “I said I’m sorry.”

Shaw smiles, withdrawing his hand. “That’s a good boy. You do want to be good for me, don’t you?”

Charles stares up at him stonily, his breath hitching in his chest and Shaw sighs once more, leaning over Charles and digging his fingers into his ribs until they creak.

“Yes!” Charles shrieks to the sky.

“I’m having some trouble believing you.”

“I want to be good for you!” Charles cries.

“That’s better,” Shaw says, leaning in for another brutal kiss.

Charles yelps, jerking his head away, and tries frantically to get away again when Shaw begins undoing his pants.

***

Erik leans back, feeling the metal stair digging into his spine and takes a bite of his apple, the juice of it tangy and sweet. The sun is just beginning to rise above the tops of buildings, washing him in a pool of warm, golden light where he’s perched on the apartment’s fire escape steps. The humidity’s already wet and clinging, wrapping around him like a heavy blanket, sapping the energy from him.

His phone rings loud and shrill from its discarded position on his kitchen table and he lets it ring three more times before summoning it to himself. An uneasy feeling in his gut as he stares down at it and finds Moira’s office extension number flashing on the screen. He takes another bite of his apple, watching clouds rolling across the sun, and answers his phone.

***

Shaw bites down hard on Charles’ shoulder and pulls out with a groan.

“That was perfect,” he pants, patting Charles on the flank. “You were perfect.”

Charles stares numbly at an ant crawling across the dirt only a few inches from his face. It's carrying the remains of another insect he sees, swallowing again at the bile risen in his throat. He hasn’t cried, he refuses to cry. Shaw is moving around behind him and he doesn’t care, doesn’t try to move anymore. Inside he just feels hollow and numb.

Behind him Shaw starts whistling a happy tune as he zips up his pants. Reaching back down for Charles’ hair again as soon as he’s dressed. Charles doesn't make any sound this time, just lets Shaw drag him along through the dirt. Unsure of how much time has passed when Shaw lets go again and the whistling falls silent.

“Charles?” Shaw nudges him with his foot. “Charles, look.”

It takes Charles several tries but he finally manages to raise his head, squinting in confusion when he sees Shaw has drug him deeper into the woods, coming to a stop short of a sheer drop overlooking a reservoir. Water, clear, blue, and sparkling with the sunlight practically blinding him with its sharp glare.

“Charles,” Shaw whispers, bending down and petting his hair, “I meant what I said about you being special, but Charles,” Shaw’s voice takes on a sad tone, “I can only handle so much disappointment, and I’m sorry to say it but you’ve exceeded your usefulness to me.”

The ground underneath Charles feels soft and crumbling as he lays his head back down against it and Shaw pats him one more time before grabbing another fistful of his hair and dragging him towards the edge. Charles is shuddering all over but makes no move to pull away and doesn't even try to call out for help, even when he can hear the rocks spilling away under his weight. Everything just feels like a bad dream to him now.

“End of the line,” Shaw says cheerfully, and with a parting grin, rolls Charles over the edge.

Everything becomes pain and sharp rock and what feels like endless falling, the sky wheeling in a pale blue blur. There’s bone crunching and the sound of someone screaming and then Charles’ face lands hard in the dirt and he takes one uneven breath, drawing dirt into his mouth and everything falls blessedly dark.

***

Charles comes back to himself with the sound of water lapping at the shore and crickets singing all around him. The sun is gone and the air feels too cold against his skin where it glides in off the water. He opens his eyes by sluggish degrees and finds he’s still lying exactly as he’d landed, in a contorted pile of fragile and aching bone, tattered and mangled on the ground. Gritty dirt has become lodged in his nostrils and in the back of his throat, the taste and smell of it mingling with that of his own blood. Closing his eyes against the pain, he wills himself to move, to call out, and can’t.

It becomes disturbing to him how easily he slips away. One moment he had been awake and the next he had gone off into the abyss. When he wakes again, gritting his teeth and with tears streaming down his face, he manages to turn his top half upright so that he’s at least no longer breathing in the dirt. His legs however, remain stubbornly uncooperative no matter what he does.

Up above him the sky is clear and bright and littered with stars. Each one a glittering fleck of light sprinkled against the darkness. Shaw, he realizes, has left him here to die. Or maybe Shaw thought he’d been killed in the fall but Charles doubts that’s true. It’s more likely Shaw’s decided it’s more satisfying to let Charles die slowly, letting him succumb to his wounds. The thought swirling cold within him as he stares back at the stars and slips away again.

The next time he opens his eyes there is no light, the stars veiled by dark clouds that had rolled in without his notice. He shuts his eyes again and blinking them back open, finds the sun burning above him.

He tries again to move, something, his fingers maybe, but nothing happens. He remains as good as dead with the sun baking him into the dirt and tries calling out again, to cry for help, but he doesn’t even sound human anymore, the wretched sound that leaves him frightening even to himself. There’s ants crawling over him and the buzzing of what sounds like hundreds of files swarming at his wounds. He thinks that maybe he is dead and that this is hell but the agony of his body reminds him he’s still alive and the sun just keeps burning a blinding light, piercing through the hazy grey clouds overhead.

***

Logan tried convincing Ororo to make it rain, just once, an hour maybe but she’d given him a look and started talking about the balance of nature and abuse of power. He’d tuned her out and gone down into the precinct basement where the air never met the light and stayed cool year round. For an entire blessed fifteen minutes he didn't feel so much like a panting dog. Just slid into an old computer chair and pawed around in old hard copied cold case files left over from before everything got converted digitally. He hadn’t been searching for anything specific, just idly passing time he would have ordinarily spent outside smoking, waiting for Erik to show up. He was staring down at a photo of Edward Barker, white male, age forty three at the date of the photo. Pedophile brought in by Russell Hughs back in eighty six. Died by lethal injection in ninety two. They never did find where he’d dumped the bodies, Barker took that knowledge to his grave.

He’s staring down at the face of this monster, wiped clean off the earth, listening to the sound the cooling system makes when it kicks on, picking up the scent of mold, in the air ducts maybe, he thinks, he doesn't feel much like getting up to investigate. Just sniffs in irritation until the sound of someone’s shoes hitting the concrete floor makes him abandon the file and head back for the elevator. Stilling with his hand hovering over the door control when Moira calls out to him. The look on her face making him tense and wary the moment she comes into view.

“Erik’s been taken off the case,” Moira tells him, her brow furrowing in frustration as she crosses her arms. “Stryker wants you to bring Duncan up to speed and –”

“Erik’s been... what?” Logan’s eyes narrow in confusion, the weight of what Moira’s just said settling over him.

Moira sighs. “That chair through the window was the last straw, Logan. Erik’s been informed not to come in today. Stryker wants you to bring Duncan up to speed and –”

“Duncan? Fred Duncan?” Logan snorts, hitting the door control button. “I’m not working with Fred Duncan.”

“You don’t have a choice,” Moira says. “Stryker’s heading this case now and he wants you up in his office to brief Duncan.”

The doors slide open and Logan steps inside, pressing for the ground floor. “I’m sorry, MacTaggert, but you’re just gonna have to tell him I’m a little busy at the moment.”

Moira’s foot shoots out to prevent the doors from closing. “Dammit, Logan, this is serious,” she hisses.

“Trust me, Lieutenant,” Logan says, meeting her eyes, unblinking as he forces her foot back out, “I know.”

“Dammit,” he hears her groan as the doors slide closed.

***

Half an hour later and Logan is pounding relentlessly on Erik’s apartment door, the old lady from across the hall eyeing him suspiciously through her peephole when he starts threatening to take the damn door right off its hinges if Erik doesn't answer. He gives it another solid two minutes and when Erik still doesn't answer, starts pressing against the flimsy wooden door until it starts to creak.

Erik finally answers the door with a wordless snarl, looking worse than Logan remembers. “What the hell happened to you?” he asks. “I leave you alone for one night and when I come back you look like shit crawled out of a grave.”

“What do you want?” Erik asks in groggy irritation. He’s unshaven and still wearing yesterday’s rumpled clothes.

Logan shoves past him into the apartment and Erik waves absently to the lady across the hall before letting his door fall closed.

“What do you mean, what do I want?” Logan starts once Erik turns back to face him. “We’re supposed to drive up to Westchester, remember? Have another look around Miller’s murder site? We talked about this.” Logan watches with unmasked disappointment as Erik slides back down to his couch, settling back in and looking like he’s spent the entire night there.

“For fuck’s sake,” Logan says, exasperated, “what the hell are you doing?”

“I’m sure you’re aware by now,” Erik says in bleary annoyance, “I’m not working this case anymore.”

“Uh huh,” Logan says, kicking the back of Erik’s couch hard, making Erik glare at him. “Get your ass up, get in the shower, and get dressed. We don’t have time for your dramatic bullshit. We have work to do.”

Erik’s back is a rigid line of tension, his shoulders hunching as he curls in on himself. “We won’t find anything, Logan,” he sighs dismally, “Stryker has -”

“Just get the fuck up,” Logan growls, lingering over Erik until he gives the couch up and disappears from the room. He waits until he hears Erik’s shower running before helping himself to the coffee machine.

He’s on his second cup when Erik’s keys slide off the table and into Erik’s open palm. Erik’s showered but still disheveled, and glares when Logan smirks over the brim of his mug. “Feel better now, princess?”

“Fuck you,” Erik snarls, moving for his front door, and Logan drains the remainder of his coffee and follows him out, locking the door behind himself and grinning in triumph at the lady still spying on them from across the hall.

***

The sun hangs heavy and bloated above Erik and Logan. Dust clinging to Erik’s skin and hanging suspended in the air, visibly sparkling in the filmy light, making him yearn for yet another shower. The trees have gone so long now without water that they’ve begun to shed their leaves, curled and blackened at the edges and crunching beneath his feet. He pushes a young, spring twig away from his face and it breaks in his hand with a brittle snap.

The site hasn’t changed much since they’ve last seen it, drier maybe, deader looking. Erik picking his way silently across parched grass and fine powdery dirt, cursing and batting away deer flies. Walking becomes a laborious task, the heat so dense and clinging that it makes just breathing difficult. Erik making his way slowly toward the reservoir, combing with his eyes as he goes for any trace of something they might have missed, some clue that would bind either Shaw or Stryker to the scene. The deer flies swarm aggravatingly closer the nearer he gets to the reservoir, eager for the chance to draw blood. A lifeless and heated breeze swaying the burnt leaves every so often, the rasp of scorched grass whispering in his ears. The hectic jumble of his thoughts pulled apart suddenly by the cackling of crows up ahead, the sound of them close and resounding through the woods. He stills mid step before continuing on, the hair on the back of neck raising. Only a few more steps and the unmistakable scent of blood and carnage wraps around him, metallic and fetid.

He and Logan exchange a brief, wordless glance and then Erik’s feet are carrying him swiftly forward, a sheen of sweat breaking out across his skin and wetting his hair as he breaks through the tree line to stand in a divot where the earth has been bowled to accommodate the manmade reservoir. He can see it, light shining reflectively off its wavering surface and hear the far off sounds of passing cars from somewhere up above. The light off the water flares, blinding him and he shields his eyes and finds the crows have gathered around a heap of naked limbs unmoving on the ground beneath the overhanging rock face. Logan runs ahead of him, scattering the birds with a cry and Erik watches numbly as they rest vigilantly in the trees above, croaking to him in warning. His eyes falling to the man sprawled out below them.

Pale skin cooked to a boiling red beneath the angry glare of the sun, his dark hair fanned away from his face and his body twisted to an unimaginable degree, is Charles Xavier, Erik is absolutely sure. His feet look swollen and battered and there’s a deep, jagged gash running the length of his shin to his knee that ends with a broken stick jutting from his skin.

Erik’s feet move forward of their own accord, dropping him to his knees beside Charles’ immobile form. If Logan hadn’t been beside him and hadn’t assured Erik that he could hear the faint beating of Charles’ heart inside his chest and the ghost of a breath leaving his lungs, Erik would swear Charles was dead. There’s flies already pestering his wounds and the crows, he can tell, have been picking at him. Blood seeping thick and gelatinous into the dirt underneath him and his body mottled by endless bruising.

“Kid?” Logan tries quietly, but Erik knows he’ll get no answer. Charles is broken and fading.

Fury begins boiling within him as he crouches low over Charles, shielding him as much as he can and pointlessly trying to shoo away the flies. The heavy scent of Charles’ blood making him want to heave as he pulls out his phone and calls for an ambulance, looking just like a wolf arched over its freshly taken kill, growling and ready to snap at anything that dares to draw near.

“Erik?” Logan says his name but he pays him no attention. The crows continue mocking him overhead, their cries jangling and irritating to his ears as he tries carefully assessing just how damaged Charles is. Unsurprised to find Charles has a concussion when he pries his eyes open, it’s fairly plain to him that Charles took a drop off the ledge some thirty five feet above.

There’s a med kit in the trunk of his car along with a defibrillator if it comes to that, but for now, Charles’ heart is still beating. Though his pulse feels weak and sporadic under Erik’s fingers. As soon as the call for the ambulance ends he tells Logan to backtrack for the med kit. His hands moving deftly along Charles’ body, searching for unseen injuries. What little breeze there had been has completely died, the heat bearing down on him and the constant drone of the insects and Charles’ lifeless body all pushing him to the breaking point.

It feels like an eternity before Logan returns with the med kit, though he knows that only a few minutes have passed until Logan drops down wordlessly beside him, opening the kit for him as Erik probes lightly at Charles’ temple, attempting to coax him back to consciousness.

“What do you think he did to warrant this kind of change in the MO?” Logan asks.

Erik doesn't answer, just works on stemming the flow of blood from Charles’ myriad of injuries. It feels like far too long before he hears the wailing of the ambulance’s siren.

***

Being surrounded by so much metal should be comforting but it isn’t. Instead, riding along in the ambulance only serves to intensify Erik’s helplessness. He’d helped stabilize Charles at the scene, his heart dropping when they’d discovered his back was broken upon trying to move him. The siren drilling into his skull as he stares blankly at Charles’ blotchy face, smoothing his thumb across the back of Charles’ hand, hoping that somewhere in Charles’ mind he can hear Erik pleading with him to stay.

***

“Could you give us an idea of when he might be able to talk to us?” Erik hears Logan behind him, speaking with a nurse. Charles is in ICU and is being worked on now. Erik looks down at his hands covered with Charles’ blood and suddenly makes for a restroom, needing to wash the blood off. Now. Right now.

Under the harsh fluorescent bulb over the sink, his face looks craggy and worn, colorless and drawn. He lets the water run over his hands until they’re no longer stained pink, pulling himself back together before heading back out to Logan.

“With telepaths it’s always hard to say,” the nurse is saying when he returns. “It could be hours or it could be weeks before he’s lucid enough to talk.”

“Has he been screened for drugs?” Logan asks.

The nurse nods. “He’s been given a suppressant five times the maximum dosage.”

“I need to stay with him,” Erik says. “I’m consulting with the local police on this case, and so far, Charles is the only surviving victim in a series of eight and I’m fairly certain his survival was not intended. It isn’t safe for him here.” The nurse looks ready to argue so he insists more firmly, “I need to stay with him, and when he’s ready, I need to talk with him.”

***

“I’ll get a rotation set up,” Logan says quietly, and Erik nods. “Then I’ll head down to the cafeteria, see if there’s anything tolerable down there.”

Erik nods silently again, despite knowing he won’t be able to eat anything right now. Once the door closes behind Logan, he settles into a chair he’s pulled up against the window, looking out through the streaked glass overlooking the roof of the next building. The sky has darkened with the evening and with the thick cloud cover, giving the illusion that it might actually rain. He turns back around to face Charles, still and unmoving on the bed, the steady blip of the heart monitor the only sound in the room.

Charles pulled through six hours of surgery but there’s little that can be done to repair the damage of his spine. The doctor informing Erik that Charles might never walk again, and certainly not without aid if he did, and it’s just one more failure in a long line, Erik thinks. He’s been failing at everything since he can remember. He failed with Magda, failed to keep Anya safe, and ever since he’s taken on this case, he’s failed every one of the victims and every member of their family hoping for a break. Charles is just one more to add to the list.

And whether it’s Shaw or Stryker to blame or both, he isn’t sure but regardless, it won’t undo the damage that’s been done. In the first hour of Charles’ surgery, Raven appeared amidst a cloud of black smoke, ushered in by Azazel, frenzied with the need to see her brother. She’d cried once finding out about Charles’ injured spine, Erik sliding down onto one of the waiting room chairs and trying to avoid her eyes.

She’d sat with Charles for hours while Erik remained in the waiting area, watching Logan pace back and forth and listening to the maddening tick of the clock on the wall. Technically Erik is no longer working this case but there’s no way he’s leaving Charles alone, not with everything he’s begun to suspect with Shaw and with his own captain. And right now, Charles is holding the answers to months’ worth of questions.

Whether Raven blames him or not, he’s unsure. Charles has a damaged spine, seventy two stitches in his left shin, internal bleeding and bruising that goes all the way through to the bone, all on top of the doctor informing Erik that Charles has been sodomized recently. Erik clenching his fists at his sides to keep the anger bottled away where it can do no harm to anyone but himself.

At around 11 pm, Raven started nodding off at Charles’ bedside, and Azazel suggested that maybe they call it a night. Charles is safe for now and it would be better if Raven were well rested in case he woke up soon. And so they had gone, leaving Erik and Logan alone. Erik resolutely ignoring every phone call from the department he receives, refusing to give anything away to Stryker if he should ask.

He’s been awake for so long that his days and nights have begun blurring together, leaving him foggy and exhausted. Turning his tired eyes back on Charles, he’s absolutely sure he’s seen him somewhere before, now that he’s looking at Charles up close and in person.

Outside the thunder is grumbling again and Erik wants to laugh because he can’t count the number of times now that the sky has threatened them all with much needed rain only to leave them with nothing. The blip of the heart monitor increases just a fraction and he glances at it with a small frown before studying Charles’ lax face once more. It happens again, Charles’ heart increasing in its pace and Erik slides off his chair and moves closer to the bed, hovering over Charles silently.

He isn’t sure what to do and he isn’t sure if this warrants actually doing anything anyway. Nothing has actually happened outside an increase in Charles’ heart rate. It seems to be evening back out again though as Erik stands there, considering his options before crossing back across the room to retake his seat by the window. Only when he plops back down again, there’s no mistaking the quickening, uneven pace of Charles’ heart, and Erik climbs to his feet once more and stands again at Charles’ side. His eyes sliding back and forth between Charles lying completely still and the monitor increasing in speed until it reaches a wailing pitch. Erik tells himself to step out and fetch a nurse but right as he’s about to move Charles’ eyes flicker open, trapping Erik before he can leave.

Erik swallows. “Charles,” he says softly, watching as Charles’ eyes flit around the room in panic before landing back on Erik. The heart monitor still hasn’t stopped wailing.

“You’re safe,” Erik assures him quickly. “My name is Erik Lehnsherr, I’m a detective with NYPD, and I’ve been handling your case ever since you went missing. Your sister, Raven, she came to see me after she reported you missing.”

The heart monitor still has yet to slow but Charles’ eyes are steady while they regard Erik.

“How do you feel?” Erik asks softly.

“Hurts,” Charles rasps, and something in Erik twists painfully at the sound of his voice.

“I’ll get you a doctor,” Erik says, already moving for the door when Charles speaks again, small and whispery.

“I was given a drug…”

“I know,” Erik says, “you’ve got enough suppressant in you to take out ten mutants, they’ve been working on flushing it out of you. I’ll find a doctor now.”

“Wait,” Charles says again, and Erik freezes in the doorway, stepping back into the room, close to Charles’ bed.

“I heard…” Charles inhales painfully, and Erik turns to call for a doctor but Charles is determined to speak. “I heard voices.”

“That’s alright, Charles,” Erik says gently, but Charles whines weakly.

“No,” he breathes, and his eyes widen for a moment, “there were others where I was being kept… there were… others.”

His eyes slide shut once more, Erik stunned into stillness and silence for a long moment, looking up finally in shock when outside for the first time in over a month, it begins to rain. A gentle pattering at first that quickly grows to a torrential downpour, shaking and rattling the window, raindrops sliding down the glass.

Chapter Text

Erik’s eyes trace along the gaunt contours of Charles’ face before continuing down his throat to the pale exposed line of his collarbone where his hospital gown has slid down his shoulder. He’s spent the better part of two weeks studying Charles, watching and waiting while the rain continued pouring outside. Once it had started it hadn’t stopped, alleviating the heat and officially bringing an end to the drought warnings. After Charles’ first moment of wakefulness the night he’d been brought in, he’d slipped back down into a near comatose state. The doctors assured Raven and Erik that Charles can wake now anytime he chooses but Charles has cocooned himself up inside his own mind, and honestly, Erik can’t say as though he blames him.

Since his first night Charles has been continually dosed with high level steroids to reduce the inflammation and swelling in his back and undergone surgery to stabilize his spine. A combination of metal rods and screws now holding his vertebrae in place while he heals. On the third day after his surgery, his doctors gave him a complete neurological examination to diagnose the severity of the injury and predict the likely extent of recovery. X-rays and a MRIs detailing the entire length of his spine.

Raven had been pouring over all the information ever since, discussing the impairment scale with the doctors and where on the scale Charles fell. It had been concluded that Charles would maintain sensory function but had lost some of his motor functions below the injury, requiring a wheelchair as part of the rehabilitation process. He’ll undergo aggressive physical therapy during his first six months and any remaining loss of function after twelve months will likely be permanent. Raven allowed Erik to have access to Charles’ medical information and also allowed him to remain at Charles’ side after he had explained the possible dangers of leaving him unattended, despite the fact that he was seemingly safe within the confines of a hospital.

On the eleventh day he’d been sitting with his back facing the door in Charles’ hospital room, watching Azazel pacing back and forth while waiting for Raven out of the corner of his eye when he sensed the various metal components that Stryker carried on his person coming down the hall, his shoulders immediately going rigid as he sat straight up in his chair. Azazel paused, staring at him, noticing the sudden change in his countenance when the door opened and Stryker stepped into the room. His lip curling back in thinly veiled disgust at Azazel’s appearance before he composed himself, erasing the look from his face and addressing Erik who had turned to face him, doing his best to bar Charles from Stryker’s sight.

“They told me you were haunting here,” Stryker said, his eyes settling on the bed behind Erik. “The thing I don’t understand, is why? You’ve no reason. You’re off duty. Obviously from what I can tell this situation has nothing to do with Duncan and Howlett’s case.”

“How the hell do you figure that?” Erik asked.

“All this talk of yours about a mutant serial killer,” Stryker scoffed, glancing briefly in Azazel’s direction before looking back at Erik. “About some insane conspiracy theory, and here your professor shows up completely off kilter to the other victims, it’s obviously an unrelated case.”

“He was found in Westchester, in roughly the same location.”

“Yes,” Stryker mused, “and I understand he has ties to Westchester, and I also understand he has a penchant for going home with individuals he hardly knows.”

Azazel flicked his tail in anger, drawing both Erik and Stryker’s attention.

“Is this really the appropriate time and place to be having a conversation like this?” Erik asked. “You’re making a lot of bold accusations.”

“Forgive me,” Stryker snarled. “I’m just trying to decide why in the hell certain employees of my department are causing a goddamn scene by insisting the hospital staff and local PD aren’t capable of doing their job.”

“I never implied that,” Erik answered. “I just don’t feel right about leaving someone who fits the criteria of what was my case alone until he’s been properly questioned.”

“And have you spoken to him?” Stryker demanded. “What has he told you?”

Erik paused before answering. “He hasn’t spoken a word about anything, I’m afraid.” He wondered if he’d only imagined the flash of relief on Stryker’s face. “In fact, the doctors are afraid it may take a while to get anything out of him. Say he’s likely amnesiac.” Across the room, Azazel was watching him curiously, knowing that Erik was lying.

“Then do you want to explain to me what you’re trying to accomplish by hanging around here?" Stryker asked.

“What does it matter?” Erik replied. “You said it yourself, I’m not working.”

“I can’t tell you how close you are, Lehnsherr, to being fired,” Stryker growled out.

Erik rose from out of his chair, his hands curling into fists at his sides.

“If you aren’t back in Manhattan by morning,” Stryker said, his voice low, “then come Monday, you don’t have a job. I’ve already spoken with the local state police’s sergeant, Keith Smith. He’ll set up an interview with his own department for this man when he’s able to talk. If anything looks to be linked to the serial murders then his department will get ahold of Duncan. So you have zero reason to be hanging around here, insinuating yourself into these poor people’s lives.”

It took all the willpower Erik possessed not to deck Stryker where he stood.

“By morning,” Stryker repeated. “Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” Erik grit out.

Once Stryker had closed the door Erik sank back onto the chair again, slowly unclenching his fists.

“What was that?” Azazel asked the moment Stryker had gone.

“That,” Erik answered irritably, “was a man who’s become very desperate. I’m sorry, by the way. That was unprofessional.”

Azazel nodded, studying Erik for a moment. “Does he have anything to do with this?” he asked, voice oddly calm and void of emotion.

Erik was suddenly struck by the thought that if he said yes, Azazel would vanish from the room, grab Stryker and take him somewhere unreachable where the two could be alone. The idea was tempting but he forced himself to lie yet again and say no.

Azazel didn't look ready to let it go however, taking a step toward Erik, opening his mouth to speak and Erik knew he was about to start demanding answers but he was saved by the door opening a second time, revealing Raven laden down with takeout bags. Azazel refocused on her and when he moved to help her, Erik slipped out the door into the hall.

***

Half of Charles’ body is burnt red from extended exposure to the sun, the other half pallid and blotched by dark bruising in varying stages of healing. He’d been dehydrated beyond belief when first brought in, though if his peeling skin is any indicator, he’s doing at least a fraction bit better now. Erik’s spent so long just staring at him, trying to make himself be patient, unable to deny the fact that watching over Charles has awoken something in him, protective and warm.

A lock of Charles’ dark hair has fallen across his forehead, concealing one closed eye and Erik slides forward on the edge of his seat, reaching out to smooth it back from Charles’ face. But the moment his hand touches Charles’ skin, Charles’ eyes snap open and the next thing Erik knows, he’s levelled out on his back, staring in shock up at the ceiling, the air knocked from his lungs while Charles’ voice cuts furiously and painfully through his skull. It’s a tangle of raw anger and Erik can’t make out half of what he’s saying but he gathers enough to know Charles doesn’t appreciate being touched.

Logan chooses that moment to enter the room. Pausing in the doorway, glancing first at Charles awake and glowering on the bed then down to Erik laying across the floor.

“What the hell you doin down there?” he asks.

Erik pushes himself up off the floor, brushing himself off as he turns a wary eye on Charles.

“I’m sorry,” Charles says suddenly, voice rough from the disuse, looking at Erik shamefacedly when he registers what he’s done and who he’s done it to. Something inside Erik’s chest clenches painfully at the sight of his face. “I thought you were…” Charles swallows before continuing. “I thought you were Shaw.”

Logan and Erik exchange a look.

“Shaw?” Erik asks carefully, sliding back onto his chair beside Charles’ bed. “What about Shaw?”

A shiver passes through Charles as his eyes darken with anger. He makes to lean forward and winces instead, a pained groan leaving his lips.

Logan moves back toward the door. “I’ll get a doctor,” he says, throwing Erik another wide eyed look before he disappears.

“Hey,” Erik says, hovering his hand over Charles’ arm uncertainly, his face awash in sympathy. “Hey, it’s alright, we’ll get you a doctor back in here and find your sister and everything will –”

“I’m sorry,” Charles says again, cutting him off and Erik’s eyes narrow in confusion. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?” he asks, twisting the blanket thrown over his legs. Erik suspects it’s to distract himself from the pain.

“No,” Erik says. “It was my fault, I shouldn’t have touched you.”

Charles,” Raven cries suddenly from the door before either of them can say anything else. Erik moves back as Charles’ face crumples at the sight of her and she rushes forward, carefully wrapping her arms around his shoulders and kissing his temple.

One of Charles’ doctors follows in after her, and Erik moves out of the way, lingering in the doorway for a moment before leaving to find Logan and an audio recorder.

“He flattened you out, huh?” Logan says amusedly with clear admiration in his voice when Erik comes out into the hall.

“Yeah,” Erik says, “he did.”

Logan chuckles to himself as he follows Erik to an elevator. “Nice job, kid.”

Erik glares at him.

“Hey,” Logan says, “at least now we know his telepathy’s back.”

Erik snorts, jabbing the button for the ground floor. “As soon as he’s ready, he needs to be questioned.”

Logan nods, stepping inside the elevator. “He said Shaw.”

“We need it on record, and I need to get ahold of Moira and Cassidy.”

“Why Cassidy?” Logan asks, feeling around for his lighter as they descend.

Erik drags a hand through his hair. “Cassidy’s been helping me take care of some research.”

“You mean he’s been digging up illegal dirt for you,” Logan says, pulling out his lighter and a cigar as they exit the elevator and head for the main doors outside.

Erik glances over at him. “Something like that.”

“And now?” Logan asks.

“And now I need to make a phone call,” Erik says, handing over his car keys to Logan. “Grab the reports and the recorder out of my car.”

***

“Quested is dead,” Sean’s voice crackles through Erik’s phone. “State Police confirmed this morning. Some poor sap found him while walking his dog. Medical exam reports every single bone in his body’s been crushed.”

Erik flips back through the case file while Sean talks. “Janos Quested is an employee at Grace Gardens.”

Was an employee,” Sean corrects.

“Sean,” Erik says, letting the file fall closed in his lap. “I want to know everything there is to know about Shaw’s staff, especially Frost.”

“Way ahead of you,” Sean answers. Erik can hear the clicking of his fingers against his keyboard in the silence before Sean speaks again. “Emma Frost. Born in Boston, Massachusetts to a Winston and Hazel Frost. Has three siblings. An older brother, Christian. Older sister, Adrienne and a younger sister, Cordelia. Family’s extremely wealthy but our dear Emma was cut out of her father’s will. Two years ago, Hazel died from a prescription drug overdose. And before becoming a nurse, Emma paid for her own schooling by stripping at the Hellfire Club, also strangely enough, owned by Sebastian Shaw.”

Erik leans his head back against the seat in his car, staring out across the parking lot. “Anything more on Shaw?”

“Not yet,” Sean answers.

“What about Stryker?” Erik asks.

“I need more time,” Sean says. “Let me run through some old reports and I’ll get back to you. Oh, and just a heads up, there’s a rumor flying around that you’re about to get canned.”

Erik nods to himself, catching sight of Logan through the windshield smoking on the curb. “Yeah,” he says, “I heard.”

***

“Tell me in your own words what happened,” Erik says softly.

Charles glances down at the audio recorder on the tray table, next to the Jell-O he hasn't eaten.

“Don’t worry about the recorder,” Erik says. “It’s just you and me.”

Charles still doesn't respond to him.

“I want you to close your eyes and try to remember what sort of sounds you heard. People? Traffic?”

“No,” Charles whispers. “I didn’t hear anything, not at first.”

“What do you hear?” Erik asks as Charles finally does as he's asked and closes his eyes.

“I just hear him.”

“What does he say to you?”

“He tells me I’m special, I can feel him touching me,” Charles breathes. “I can’t make him stop.”

Erik falls silent, watching a shiver shake its way through Charles’ frame, he waits for it to pass before speaking again. “You told me you escaped, what did you see?”

“I don’t know, I just ran. I… everything hurts and I’m afraid he’s going to find me. There are all these doors and no windows.”

“The first night you woke up, you told me there were others,” Erik says gently. “You told me that where you were being kept, there were others. Did they speak to you? Did they tell you their names?”

“I left them.” Charles’ voice cracks.

“It’s alright,” Erik says.

“I wasn’t thinking,” Charles whispers. “I just ran and I left them all behind, I wasn’t thinking.”

“Charles, it’s alright,” Erik repeats more firmly as Charles’ voice becomes more and more strangled sounding.

“He’s coming after me,” Charles chokes, his panic bleeding out into the room.

“He’s not coming after you,” Erik insists. “It’s over. We’re going to take a break, okay? Open your eyes.”

“He’s coming after me,” Charles repeats, lost to Erik’s words. “And there’s sunlight and trees and the ground hurts my feet. I can hear him shouting and I try to run faster but…”

“Charles, hey,” Erik tries to sound soothing. “Come on, it’s okay.”

“He’s right behind me and I fall and he…”

Erik reaches a hand out to touch him despite what had happened when he’d tried earlier. Charles’ breath is coming in short bursts and Erik knows they need to stop, knows Charles is close to hyperventilating. His fingers close on Charles’ wrist and for the second time now he can tell he’s made a mistake with touching Charles. The room blurs around the edges, the colors melting together until Erik is left with only green foliage, dirt and garish sunlight. He blinks rapidly, feeling an overwhelming surge of pain rushing through him. Shaking his head in confusion when he realizes he can hear Shaw’s voice.

“Tell me you’ll be good, Charles,” Shaw grins maliciously over the top of him when Erik turns his head to see.

Shaw strokes a fingertip down his bare spine and all Erik wants is to crawl out of his own skin. “Charles,” Erik grits out. “Please, Charles. I need you to calm down. I need you to stay with me.”

He can feel Shaw breathing hot against his neck. He shuts his eyes and over the pounding of his own heart tries again. “You aren’t here. You’re safe now, I promise. You’re safe.”

“You’ll never be safe,” Shaw hisses suddenly, startling Erik.

“It’s not real,” Erik insists firmly. “You have to listen to me. It’s not real.”

Charles is dragging Erik back through his memories, except some of it’s so strange and so terrifying that Erik knows Charles has either woven the memories together with nightmares or he was in some drug induced state when he’d been experiencing them because in some of the memories Shaw came at him as a monster without a face.

He catches flashes of Shaw, Frost, and then finally, Stryker himself. Looming in the background, looking wary and uncertain but absolutely there. And then the room is melting away again and Erik is back in the woods with Shaw panting down his neck. He opens his eyes, the hospital room coming back into focus and it’s strange now, how it doesn’t appear real anymore. He moves forward, wrapping his arms around Charles, holding him, murmuring into his hair while Charles cries against his shoulder.

“It’s alright,” Erik soothes. “I’ve got you, it’s alright. You’re safe, you’re safe. I’ve got you.”

***

“What happens now?” Charles asks wearily.

“We’ll be making a few arrests,” Logan answers. “Starting with our very own captain.”

“And Shaw?” Charles looks between the two of them

Logan nods. “I’ve already gotten ahold of MacTaggert, she’ll have the warrants ready by the time I get there.”

Charles seems flustered. “What’s going to happen to me?”

“We’ll have to take an official statement from you, and if you’re well enough by the time the court dates come around you’ll have to take the stand,” Erik says.

Charles looks uncertain but nods.

“Nothing you have to worry over right now, kid,” Logan says reassuringly. “For right now, you just worry about getting better.”

Charles doesn't respond, looking down at his hands resting on top of the blanket.

“Alright,” Logan’s gaze moves from Charles back to Erik. “I’ll give you a call as soon as Stryker’s in custody.”

Erik nods, watching Logan head for the door. “Be careful,” he says before Logan can close the door. He hears Logan snort in answer out in the hallway.

***

“I’m sorry about what happened,” Charles says to Erik suddenly, making him frown.

“Please stop apologizing to me,” Erik says.

“Sorry?” Raven asks, staring at Erik while she strokes through Charles’ hair. “Sorry for what?”

“It’s nothing,” Erik insists.

“I made Erik relive my memories,” Charles says dolefully. “I couldn’t control myself, and I…”

“Charles,” Erik says firmly. “It’s alright, expected even what with your abilities. I should have known better than to push you.”

“He’s right,” Raven says. “He should have known better.”

“Raven,” Charles sighs. “It’s not his fault any of this happened.”

“He’s pushing you too hard,” Raven says, still staring at Erik.

“He isn’t,” Charles insists. “He’s just trying to help.”

Raven looks prepared to argue. Erik readying himself to silently take whatever she wants to throw at him. She’s been quietly furious ever since the first night, wanting someone to blame and take her anger out on.

“Actually, Raven,” Charles says, “I’m rather hungry and I would really prefer not to have to eat anymore of the hospital food. Do you think you might be able to fetch me something?”

Raven abandons Erik from her sights. “What do you want?”

“A cheeseburger,” Charles answers. “Please.”

Raven gets up from the side of the bed and kisses the top of Charles’ head. “I’ll be back soon,” she says, glancing briefly once more at Erik before she leaves.

Erik watches Charles’ hands smoothing the blanket over his thighs. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Charles says.

“What hasn’t?” Erik asks.

“That I may not walk again, it’s strange. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get out of here. I was so afraid,” Charles admits. “It felt like I was waiting to die.”

“Don’t think about that right now,” Erik says gently. “You’ve had enough for one day, try and rest.”

Charles looks up at him, meeting his eyes and Erik can’t believe how blue they are, made all the more vivid by how red part of Charles’ face is right now. Charles nods in agreement, resting his head back against the supporting pillows.

“Will you…” Charles looks away from him uncomfortably for a moment. “Will you talk while I go to sleep?”

Erik looks at him curiously and Charles’ face flushes even redder. “I like the sound of your voice and I wondered if you would just please talk while I fall asleep.”

Erik is silent for a long moment before speaking. “What do you want me to talk about?” he asks gently.

“Anything,” Charles answers, “just... please?”

“Yeah,” Erik says, “okay, whatever you want.” He settles back in his chair and begins murmuring to Charles about his mother and the bits of his childhood in Germany that he can still remember. He talks until Charles is breathing evenly, his face relaxed in sleep in a way Erik hasn't seen in the past two weeks.

***

Logan closes the door of Stryker’s office behind himself, shutting himself in with Stryker and leaving Moira and Muñoz outside in the hall.

“Just calm down,” he says, taking a careful step forward, the claws of one hand unsheathed.

“You don’t understand,” Stryker shouts, “what it’s been like, living with a godforsaken freak!” He waves his gun in Logan’s direction as he continues babbling. “I’ve tried, do you understand me, to make it work. To get him the help he needs but he’s… he made my wife insane. She drilled through her own head with a power drill for Christ's sake. I can’t look at him. I can’t stand the sight of him, of any of you. What Sebastian is doing is creating a better future, what we’re working to achieve is a better future. I may not agree with his methods but the end result far and beyond justifies the means.”

“You’ve killed innocent people.” Logan says, taking another step closer. “Destroyed entire families. They will never be the same because of you.”

“It’s a necessary evil,” Stryker insists.

“To kidnap innocent people, children? To let Shaw keep them locked up in a fucking cell and torture them until they’re no longer interesting to him. For what?”

“Different mutations yield different results,” Stryker says. “That telepath so far has had the strongest yield. He may well be enough for the serum to take.”

“What serum?” Logan asks.

“Sebastian is creating a cure for mutation. A cure that could bring about an end to my son's disease. Imagine it, a future without mutants.”

“Erik said Shaw’s a mutant, so why would Shaw create a cure for mutation?”

Stryker’s crazed eyes meet Logan’s. “Does it matter? Shaw’s creating the future.”

Logan shakes his head in disgust. “I’m taking you in.”

“No,” Stryker replies calmly, placing the barrel of his gun against his own temple. “You’re not.” Before Logan can react, before he can even speak, Stryker closes his eyes and pulls the trigger.

Chapter Text

The acrid scent of bleach and underlying odor of unwashed bodies hits him before anything else. Logan freezes with one hand flat against the wall and glances over at Erik where he’s watching Logan with narrowed eyes.

“What is it?”

“You don’t smell that?” Logan asks in disbelief.

“Cleaner,” Erik answers. “All I smell is cleaner.”

Logan shakes his head and takes another step forward, the buzz of fluorescent lights and shimmering gleam of the hospital’s perfect, white tiled floor making him feel more irritable by the second. And the silence. Logan doesn’t understand how it can be so quiet.

Their entire unit is in the middle of conducting a search of Grace Gardens, securing patients and questioning the hospital staff. Together, he and Erik have searched through the three main levels, carrying with them a warrant for both Shaw and Frost’s arrest. But as they had anticipated, neither was anywhere to be found on the premises and so far all employees were maintaining both their innocence and their ignorance of what exactly went on within the hospital walls.

Each patient room they passed was eerily silent, their occupants staring vacantly out at Logan and Erik, the hair on the back of Logan’s neck raising under their dulled and lifeless eyes. He sensed nothing from them but an aching despair, the shadows of it clinging and hanging over every room. The sound of his and Erik’s shoes hitting the floor jarring in the stillness.

The description Charles had given them was of a windowless corridor and a room that was more in line with a prison cell than anything else. And voices. Charles had said there had been others and that he’d spoken to them.

“Basement floor,” Erik mutters as they round the corner.

The stairwell leading into the lower level of the hospital comes into view and Logan pauses and glances behind them before taking an uncertain step after Erik. Every elevator within the facility was damaged and under the touch of Erik’s powers it was discovered they would take far too long for him to repair, the only way down now into the basement being the staircase at the far end of the ground floor. Faced with the dark stairwell, Logan doesn’t like the unwelcome and strange prickle of fear that crawls up his spine.

“I don’t feel any movement,” Erik says, already beginning to descend the stairs. “What about you? Can you hear anything?”

“No,” Logan says, shaking off the unease and following after him. “It’s just the smell, it’s everywhere. It’s hard to think straight.”

Erik makes a small sound of agreement and heads for the bottom of the stairs, Logan trailing after him, his eyes peering as far ahead as they can. The quiet stretches out before them and Logan’s aware of the sound of his own heart beating, just a fraction bit faster than normal. There’s nothing out of the ordinary at the foot of the stairs. Logan looks around quickly, his gaze passing over storage bins and spare tables and aluminum chairs. The smell of filth is much stronger here however, and Logan coughs, listening to the sound of Erik’s shoes scuffing the floor as he continues forward obliviously. Logan closes his eyes and breathes for a moment, and then hears the sound of Erik forcing the door open at the opposite end of the room and opens his eyes.

Light flickers on all down the short length of a corridor before the path ahead of them turns around a corner. Erik doesn’t wait, already moving purposefully down the hall and Logan swallows the words he wants to say. That they should call down backup, that they should wait, that something’s wrong.

The moment they turn the corner they’re met with another length of hallway with bolted doors on either side, the hallway leading to what appears to be an old autopsy room that’s been recently renovated. The doors spring open under Erik’s will, but each cell is empty.

Erik sighs in frustration and keeps going but each step forward for Logan now is like stepping through quicksand. The scent of human waste and overlying burning scent of sanitation is swamped by the stench of fear, so heavy and thick it’s practically dripping from the walls.

He swallows, feeling like there’s cotton stuck in the back of his throat and stares at Erik as the other mumbles something under his breath, glancing around the makeshift operating room before he suddenly goes still. The harsh overhead light washing him a sickly grey.  Logan moves forward slowly until he’s hovering at Erik’s side.

Erik’s staring at the operating table as if he’s lost in a trance and it takes Logan clearing his throat to break him from of it. He blinks at Logan and Logan can see the anger darkening his gaze.

“We’re in the right place,” is all he says however.

There’s another door leading out of the room that Erik steps toward, opening it and revealing yet another corridor.

“I’ve seen this before,” Erik says to himself, his fingers flicking the switch to light the corridor but nothing happens.

“He not only fucked up the elevators but the lighting down here as well.”

There’s a dark edge of humor in Erik’s tone that makes Logan stare at him before pulling out the LED flashlight he carries on himself. Sending the light shining down the hallway, shadows shivering up either side of the wall, stretching across the ceiling.

There’s doors on all sides and once again Erik uses his power to spring them all but nothing moves and once the echoing sound of the doors opening dies down, it’s unnervingly quiet once more. Erik takes a few steps forward into the dark, his frame blocking out half of Logan’s light and that’s when Logan hears it. The sound of someone breathing somewhere up ahead where the light doesn’t reach. It rattles and shakes and then seems to stop for a long moment before starting up again.

“There’s someone down here, Erik,” Logan says warningly, voice low. “Erik…”

Erik doesn’t answer, his eyes transfixed by something glimmering up ahead in the dark, pinned to the wall. He moves ahead of Logan, his steps cautious and deliberate.

“What is that?” Logan whispers.

“It’s a wing,” Erik says after a short pause.

Logan watches as Erik’s hand raises to hover over the translucent and iridescent surface of the wing, not quite touching. Moving closer, Logan decides it would be strangely beautiful if it weren’t for the fact he can tell it’s been ripped free of its owner.

“Shaw has an appreciation for physical mutations,” Erik says, his eyes slanting over in Logan’s direction. “Xavier’s sister told me that the first time I spoke with her. Do you remember?”

“Looks like this one was just too much to resist,” Logan says solemnly. There’s another intake of breath ahead that draws his attention. “Erik…”

“I hear it,” Erik says, his power pulling Logan’s flashlight from his hand and levitating it out in front of them.

The beam lands on a bare foot that immediately draws away from the light and into the dark. Erik moving swiftly forward at the same time there’s a muffled whine.

“Stay away,” Logan hears a female voice whisper.

As he comes up beside Erik and Erik guides the light forward again it spills over onto a girl cowering in on herself, trying to shrink back up into the corner, away from the two of them.

“Call for a medic,” Erik says, hovering the light so that it points directly down over the top of them.

Logan’s already on his phone, watching as Erik removes his jacket and gets to his knees.

The girl’s badly beaten, her dark skin blotched by dried blood and layers of old and new bruising, her hair matted on one side of her face. When Erik changes the tone of his voice to play his best at being soothing and tries to assess her injuries, Logan notices the rivulets of blood still seeping from the two open wounds between her shoulder blades.

“My name is Erik Lehnsherr, I’m a detective with NYPD, this is my partner,” Erik says softly. “We’re here to help you.”

The girl shudders and shrinks back further, her eyes flicking back and forth between them, trying to focus on them, as if she’s not sure they’re telling the truth or that they’re even real.

“Can you tell us your name?” Erik asks, carefully draping his jacket over her front.

One of her hands comes up to clutch at the fabric, holding it in place and she shivers again, her breath shuddering out before she speaks. “Angel.”

“It’s going to be okay, Angel,” Erik says. “We’re going to get you some help, just hang on…”

“Cecilia,” Angel whispers, “and… Jonothon… and…”

“Where are they?” Erik asks.

Angel’s other hand lifts, trembling hard as she points to the last door at the end of the corridor. There’s no sound from the room that Logan hears and he immediately fears the worst.

“Go,” Erik tells him, but he’s already moving in the direction she’d pointed.

“He… he has a message for you… for the police,” Angel croaks out to Erik as Logan heads off down the corridor. His ears pick up the faint slur of her words as she says, “This isn’t over. It’s far from over.”

Logan already knows what’s waiting for him inside the dark cell, the scent of decay already hanging thickly in the room and trailing out through the door, warning him of its contents. He has no choice though, he uses the small flashlight hanging from his keys, peering into the gloom and finds the remains of both Cecilia Reyes and Jonothon Starsmore. Robert Drake however, is nowhere to be found.

***

“Shaw and Frost have vanished,” Erik hears Logan snap into his phone but he isn’t paying attention to him. Instead his focus hones in three rooms down to the thin IV Charles is suddenly hell bent on removing from the back of his hand.

Erik pauses, still bent over the drinking fountain after gulping down cold mouthful after cold mouthful when Charles stops tugging at the IV and then Erik senses the metal tray at Charles’ bedside being hurled into the air just before he hears the hard clatter of it striking the floor.

Charles had been handling his injuries with unsettling acceptance, nodding though everything and assuring everyone he was fine. A falsely bright smile plastered to his face that his doctors commended him for, telling him to just keep being positive.

Erik said nothing, knowing that the reality of everything just hadn’t sunk into him yet. He reflected on Anya’s murder and how the realization that she was truly gone hadn’t set in until later, weeks after the funeral. He imagines Charles must be going through something similar, unwilling to accept all that had been done to him and everything that had been taken away, desperate to convince himself that he’s fine.

Until he isn’t.

Logan turns at the sound of the crash and raises an eyebrow at Erik, only half listening to Moira on the other end of the phone as the sounds of Charles growing angrier ring out through the hall.

Erik glances sideways toward one of the nurses where they’re speaking hurriedly with the family member of another patient before he straightens. He gives it a minute, waiting until the moment he senses Charles tearing at the IV again before he decides to intervene, stopping Charles before he actually hurts himself.

“I don’t need your pity,” Charles snarls before he even makes it to the door.

“That’s not pity, Charles,” Erik says calmly, stepping into the room. “It’s concern.”

Charles glares up at him. “I don’t need to be looked after every hour of the day like some imbecile child who can’t care for themselves, I’m perfectly capable of handling things on my own.”

“I can see that,” Erik says, “but what exactly are you trying to accomplish by removing your IV?”

Charles’s eyes flash up at him furiously, his fingers clutching tightly at the coverlet thrown over his legs. “I want – I need to get out of here,” Charles growls. “Do you have any idea the sort of headache I have from being in here? There’s so much sadness and so much stress and I can’t, I can’t think and I can’t sleep. I want out of this damn bed. I want to get up and I want…” His voice shrivels to a squeak, but his eyes are bright with anger and his chest is heaving from his outburst. “I want to walk.”

Erik rakes a hand through his hair and sighs. “I know,” he says. “I wish there was something I could do but I…” His eyes dart around the room, sparing a glance to the window. He moves toward it suddenly, opening it and letting the slight breeze and smell of rain in. When he turns around he says, “I wasn’t going to tell you this until later but we did a search on Grace Gardens, the psychiatric hospital Shaw operates…”

Charles stills in his fidgeting and stares up at Erik, a sliver of hope hiding in the depths of his eyes.

“Unfortunately it looks as though Shaw has gone on the run.” He sees the tiny bit of hope in Charles’ eyes withering now and so he adds quickly, “But the patients will be receiving the proper care they need, they’re free from Shaw and his staff.” He lowers himself slowly down onto the chair beside Charles’ bed and uses his power to lift the metal tray back up off the floor. Charles’ gaze shifts from his face to the tray slowly warping itself into absent shapes. “We found Angel.” At his words Charles’ gaze flickers back onto him. “She’s alive,” he says, “beat up, Shaw really did a number on her. She’s missing her wings but she’ll –”

“She had wings?” Charles asks.

“Yeah,” Erik answers, “she did. I was going to say that maybe the two of you could talk later on if you’re both feeling up to it.”

“Shaw took her wings?” Charles asks.

Erik nods. “But she’s strong, she’ll survive without them.”

Charles stares at him for a moment, worrying his bottom lip before looking back at the swirling metal suspended in the air before Erik molds it back into its original shape and sets it gently back on the table at Charles’ side.

“I can’t do anything to speed up the process,” Erik says. “Your doctor is the one calling the shots on that but I can, I don’t know, distract you from what’s happening inside your head.” He smiles grimly and when Charles doesn’t respond to him, sighs again and asks, “Do you play chess by any chance, Charles?”

***

“Did he say anything about where he might be heading?” Erik asks.

Angel shakes her head slowly. “He didn’t talk much, he… tortured me just before he left. Said to give you that message.”

“Was there anyone else there? Where was Robert Drake?” Erik presses, glancing sideways when Logan nudges him with his foot. He’s moving too fast but the thought that with every passing day they don’t have Shaw in custody they’re placing anyone who comes in contact with him at risk is making him itch under the skin.

“He wasn’t there,” Angel says.

“Okay.” Erik leans away again and rubs at his temples. “Can you tell me about the work Shaw’s been doing?”

“They’re making a cure,” Angel says.

Erik nods. “But Shaw himself is in fact a mutant, yes?”

“Yes.”

Erik gives Logan a meaningful look before turning back to Angel, fighting to keep the eagerness out of his voice, he asks, “What sort of power does he have?”

Angel looks at him wearily. “Energy absorption, he’s really strong. I kept fighting back, you know, and I could never land a hit. Well one day, he was feeling amused I guess and he said he’d let me strike him one time, to give it my best shot.”

“And did you?” Logan asks.

“Yeah, then he said it was his turn and he backhanded me so hard I was knocked unconscious.”

Both Logan and Erik are silent for a moment before Erik presses on and asks, “Who’s involved with creating Shaw’s cure?”

“I don’t know,” Angel says, “there was another man, William, he was always nervous.”

“Stryker,” Logan says. “You don’t have to worry about him anymore.”

“Who else?” Erik asks.

“I don’t know,” Angel repeats, “it was always the two of them, William would watch while Shaw did testing on us, and usually about half way through there was a woman that would always show up.”

“Frost,” Logan says. “What sort of testing would Shaw do?”

“Blood work,” Angel says softly, “tissue samples. He wanted our DNA.”

“What about Frost?” Erik asks. “As far as you could tell, is she a mutant too?”

The shadow of mirthless smile flashes over Angel’s face. “She’s a telepath.”

***

“This is bad,” Erik says outside Angel’s hospital room.

“What do you mean?” Logan asks. “We have the testimonies of two victims, all we have to do now is find the sonofabitch and bring him in, we get ahold of a couple of suppressant collars and –”

“Why does he want us to have all the information needed to convict him?” Erik interrupts.

“I don’t care,” Logan says impatiently. “I just want this to be over and done with.”

“What about Drake?”

Logan sighs. “Honestly, I expect the poor kid to show up dead anytime now.”

“Maybe Shaw’s keeping him as a hostage,” Erik says.

“Or maybe we just haven’t found the body yet,” Logan says. “Either way, we have to move forward. Whatever Shaw did with Drake, our best bet for finding him now is to find Shaw.”

***

Erik is sitting out on the fire escape in the dark, watching the rain splash down on the metal stairs beneath him. He’s protected by the overhang, a cigarette clutched between his fingers. He seldom smokes these days but every once in a while, when his nerves are feeling just a little too frayed, he pulls one out.

He stares out at the twinkling lights of the city, thinking to himself how it’s all too easy. Stryker committing suicide was far too easy. Charles surviving to become a living testimony was far too easy, and none of it sat well with him. He keeps mulling it over with Logan but there’s nothing either of them can do really except keep moving forward.

Somewhere below a car alarm starts wailing, cutting into his thoughts and he feels the vehicle out and uses his power to silence it before taking a drag off his cigarette and dipping back into a memory that doesn’t belong to him.

I’ve devoted months to you, Charles,’ Shaw had said. So why throw him away so easily and why not thoroughly destroy him like the others had been? There’s something very wrong about the whole thing but he can’t pinpoint what it is. There was an obsessiveness in the manner the other victims had been disposed of with zero chance for survival, so why not deal with Charles the same way. Why risk it?

If Shaw had such a love for physical mutation then why not target Raven or Azazel? Logan had told him that Stryker’s parting words had been that Shaw was creating a cure. But why? And how did Charles play into it?

And Angel. Clearly Shaw knew they would come after him and had butchered the remaining victims, leaving only Angel alive to make sure they knew he wasn’t finished.

And where was Robert Drake? Logan was certain he was already dead but if so, why not leave him behind with the other victims?

In the hours following Stryker’s suicide Logan had gone with Armando to pick up Stryker’s son, Jason. But he wasn’t at Stryker’s home and from what they had gathered, hadn’t been for a very long time. Cassidy did a search through Grace Gardens’ patient records, thinking that Stryker’s son might have been one of Shaw’s patients but the search had turned up empty. Stryker had admitted his son was a mutant just before his death which had come as a shock to the department. No one had known, Stryker had apparently guarded that information close.

Erik breathed out a cloud of smoke, wondering where Stryker’s son was now because so far they hadn’t been able to track him down.

“You know it’s illegal to smoke on hospital grounds,” Charles says from his bed and Erik smiles thinly out at the night, grinding out the smoldering end of his cigarette against the concrete ledge before crawling back in to sit at Charles’ side.

***

Charles almost cries at the sight of her. Angel holds one hand out to him as he’s wheeled into her room and he takes it with both of his. He’s aware of Raven lingering behind him but she doesn’t intrude.

“There you are,” Angel says. “So you made it after all.”

“I’m so sorry,” Charles utters. “I left you and I’m so, so –”

“Stop,” she orders. “You would have been killed for sure if you’d tried helping anyone escape.”

“I still should have done something,” he insists.

A weak smile flickers over her face. “You did,” she says. “You survived. And because of you, so did I.”

***

Charles is staring up at the ceiling when he hears Hank’s voice outside his door. He’s talking with Raven and sounds oddly flustered. At his bedside, Azazel gets up from where he’s been sitting and steps around the corner to meet them.

He returns in tow with them both and Hank steps forward and drops onto the chair Azazel had just been occupying, a paper bag that looks ready to tear open at the bottom held in his arms.

“What’s that?” Charles asks with a tiny smile.

“I heard you were going out of your mind,” Hank says, setting the bag at his feet. “So I brought you some of your books, and I found a chess set in the gift shop downstairs.”

Charles grins at him and strains to look past him at Raven. Instead he sees Erik, looking sheepish and uncertain. When he notices Charles looking, his mouth twitches into a smile before he backs out into the hall to give them their privacy.

***

“What’s our next move?” Logan asks over the brim of his Styrofoam cup.

“We take a deeper look into Systemized Cybernetics Lab,” Erik says. “If Shaw’s creating a cure for the mutant gene then that’s likely our best place to start searching. And we need to find Jason.”

“He hasn’t turned up in any hospital records anywhere across New York,” Moira says. “If Stryker had him committed somewhere he kept it private and off record. The amount of paperwork I’ve got on Stryker is astronomical, but so far searches on his home and private computer haven’t turned up anything incriminating on Shaw or anything even tying them to each other. Again, if Shaw was seeing Stryker’s son as a patient, he was doing it off the books. Shaw seems to have just flat out vanished off the face of the earth along with Frost.”

“There’s something strange about Shaw leaving Charles alive,” Erik says. “It’s way off his signature. And leaving the girl alive, just to deliver a message…”

“Moira frowns at him. “Why would Shaw purposefully leave Charles alive? He’d have to know Charles was going to go to the police. Stryker committed suicide over it for God’s sake.

“I don’t know,” Erik admits, “there’s just something about it that doesn’t sit well with me. It’s almost as if he wanted all this to happen.”

“What purpose would having Xavier in the hands of the police and Stryker killing himself serve?”

Erik shakes his head, at a loss.

Moira purses his lips. “Maybe it would be best if after Xavier’s released from the hospital he continues to have security until Shaw’s found.”

“He’s not going to like that,” Logan comments.

“I’ll take care of it,” Erik volunteers, pointedly ignoring Logan’s slight smirk.

***

The pulsing fear of Charles’ nightmare is bleeding out from him, spilling over into the room and wrapping itself around Erik until he’s grinding his teeth from the tension of it. He gets up from his perch beside the window and moves closer, only hesitating for a short pause this time before reaching out to touch Charles’ shoulder.

Charles’ eyes fly open and Erik can feel the fear reaching a crescendo, squeezing the air from his lungs, before Charles suddenly remembers where he is and that Erik means him no harm.

“You were dreaming,” Erik says quietly, once Charles’ fear recedes. “I didn’t mean to scare you, but you were projecting.”

Charles nods silently and Erik can see him trying to sit up, his face twisting into a grimace.

“Here,” Erik says, carefully helping him up.

Once he’s sitting up and Erik’s gotten him a drink of water, Charles looks at him questioningly. “Do you want to maybe…?” he asks, gesturing to the set up chess board they haven’t touched yet.

“Whatever you want.” Erik smiles before swinging the adjustable table forward so that it rests between them.

He spends the next hour losing to Charles, and is frowning down at his knight, considering his next move when Charles breaks into his concentration.

“You feel incredibly sad sometimes,” he says. At Erik’s confused look he gestures to his temple. “In here, I can feel it.”

Erik abandons the board to look at him. “I suppose I probably do, yeah.”

“You had a daughter,” Charles goes on, and a sting of pain shoots through Erik’s chest.

He nods and tells Charles, “Anya.”

“I’m really sorry,” Charles says, but Erik shakes his head.

“It was a few years ago.”

“But you aren’t over it,” Charles says, and this time Erik fixes him with a look.

“I’m sorry,” Charles says again, and looks down at their chess pieces.

“No,” Erik says, his hand reaching out for Charles’ to soothe him. “I’m just… you’re right, I’m not over it and I don’t really like talking about it.”

“You had a wife,” Charles says suddenly, the words whispery.

“No,” Erik says, his eyes trained on the movement of his own hand as he glides the tips of his fingers over the back of Charles’, unable to ignore the way Charles shivers in response. “I had a girlfriend and we… got pregnant. We were never married. Please don’t mistake me,” he says quickly, “I would give anything to have Anya back, but Magda and I never should have stayed together as long as we did.”

 Charles looks back up at him. “You think about them constantly.”

“I miss having a family,” is all Erik says in answer.

“You could still have a family. You could have more children.”

“Yeah,” Erik says, “I guess.”

“With a woman?” Charles asks and as soon as he gets the words out Erik notices him fighting not to cringe, his hand twitching under Erik’s touch like he wants to pull it away.

Erik shrugs, studying Charles closely. “I’m bisexual.” And that makes Charles look back up at him. “It’s not something I really give any thought to anymore. It’s been a while, and it… just hasn’t really mattered lately. I haven’t dated anyone since…”

“Since Magda,” Charles supplies, and Erik nods.

There’s a heavy moment between them where they turn their attention back on their game before Charles yawns and announces that he thinks he’ll be fine to try and go back to sleep.

Erik nods and takes care of the chess board and moves the table back. He’s moving to help Charles lay back into his pillows when he touches Charles’ arm and is struck by the overwhelming and sudden urge to kiss him. He looks at Charles sharply when he realizes the desire is coming from Charles and not him.

“It’s wrong, I know,” Charles says softly at his inquiring look. “I’m so messed up right now.”

They’re too close and Erik knows he should pull back, the light in the room is dimmed down and Charles’ eyes look huge up close.

“I shouldn’t do this,” Erik says, more for his own reminding than Charles’.

“You’re handling my case,” Charles whispers so close his breath ghosts over Erik’s face.

“That’s why I shouldn’t be doing this,” Erik utters in answer.

“You want to kiss me too,” Charles says plainly, still in whispers, his fingers touching at the cloth of Erik’s sleeve.

“You’ve been inside my head again,” Erik says softly, but Charles murmurs in protest.

“I don’t have to be inside your head to know you want to kiss me.”

“Charles,” Erik says warningly.

Charles’ gaze slides from Erik’s down to his lips. “What if I asked you to kiss me?”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Erik says the words before he can think to stop them. Thinking sharply of his failed relationship and the terrible loss he had brought down on both himself and Magda.

“Then don’t,” Charles says, closing his eyes as he presses his lips against Erik’s.

It’s chaste and soft, closemouthed and sweet, but it opens up a fissure inside Erik’s chest. Charles pulls away and looks at him shyly, his eyes impossibly bright. Erik touches his cheek gently, feeling the fissure widen as Charles closes his eyes and leans into him.

Charles blinks his eyes back open and makes to lay down, and so Erik helps him, staying close. Knowing he won’t sleep at all as he cradles Charles’ head in his hand and strokes through his hair until Charles hums happily and sinks back into sleep.

Chapter Text

“I want to try,” Charles says.

Erik shakes his head. “No. Out of the question.”

“But Logan thinks it might draw him out into the open.”

“I don’t care what Logan thinks,” Erik snaps. “I’m not risking you like that. No.”

Charles folds his arms over his chest and gives Erik a hard look. “You’re all out of options, Erik. It’s been weeks since you’ve had a decent lead. And I want to do this. You don’t get to tell me ‘no’.”

Erik sighs and moves a packed cardboard box from off one of Charles’ kitchen chairs before dropping down onto it. There are boxes everywhere, along the walls and stacked on the counter and table. Earlier he’d offered to help Azazel move them, now that Charles has found another apartment. One that is more accessible. One that doesn’t make Charles startle awake in the middle of the night certain there’s someone there.

“I just want you to be safe,” Erik says. “And making a public statement antagonizing Shaw is dangerous.”

Charles’ eyes soften a bit but he doesn’t give in. “It’s even more dangerous not knowing where he is. And you can’t keep a security rotation on me forever. I want this over with.”

“Where the hell was I when the two of you concocted all this?” Erik asks.

Charles smiles gently at his irritable tone and wheels over to his side, taking his hand and squeezing.

“We might still get something out of Trask,” Erik says.

“Maybe,” Charles says. “But how long will it take to finish the investigation of SCL?”

Erik groans and looks at Charles with bleary eyes. “I wish there was more you could tell me about Shaw.”

“You already know everything I do,” Charles says.

Erik looks past Charles to the near empty kitchen. “And about the night you were taken from here.”

“There were two people in my apartment that night, that’s all I know.”

“Shaw,” Erik says. “And Frost most likely. I just still don’t understand how you weren’t able to tell he was there. He drugged you to suppress your telepathy, so obviously he was worried about you using it against him.”

“Well, if you figure it out,” Charles says, with just a hint of bitterness, “you let me know.”

Erik looks down at their linked hands and rubs his thumb across Charles’ knuckles. “Moira’s got a telepath coming down from another agency upstate to help us out. She’s supposed to be the best there is.”

“You’re going to use a telepath to try and track down Shaw?” Charles asks. When Erik nods, he frowns and says, “Why not use me then?”

“There are a number of reasons,” Erik says. “You’re a civilian. You aren’t trained for this. Even if you were, it would be a conflict of interests. And do you honestly expect me to believe you haven’t already tried?”

“Before any of this happened,” Charles says, “Hank and I were working on a project that would allow my telepathy to extend far beyond its normal range. If I got back into the lab, then –”

“No. And that’s the end of it. You’re pushing yourself too hard, too fast. Your doctor told you to take things slow. I remember, I was there.”

Charles gives him a dark look and withdraws his hand. “I’m releasing a statement, then, at the very least. I’ll let Logan know in the morning.”

“I told you already,” Erik says, “it’s dangerous and out of the question. I thought I’d made that clear?”

***

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Erik says into the microphone, doing his best to ignore the stares of all the news anchors bustling for a good shot and the irritating flash of their cameras. “Good afternoon to you all. I would like to introduce an incredibly brave man, Professor Charles Xavier. In regards to Sebastian Shaw and the recent serial murders, Professor Xavier will be giving a brief statement and a statement only. No questions afterward, please.” He offers Charles a tight smile as he adjusts the microphone, then steps off to the side to join Logan.

“Hello,” Charles says, “I’m Charles Xavier, and before I begin, I’d first like to say something to the family of Robert Drake.”

“I hope you’re right about this,” Erik murmurs to Logan.

“You told me a while back that killing’s not his motivation,” Logan says. “And you were right. But he does enjoy breaking them. Prides himself on it. Look at everything he’s done to the kid. I bet he thought he broke him. And now he’ll know for sure, he hasn’t.”

“That doesn’t sound like a good thing,” Erik hisses.

“To Robert’s family,” Charles says, “I just wanted to say, please, don’t give up hope. Robert was there, in Grace Gardens, where I was being held. He was alive. And I truly feel that he lives still.”

Logan gives Erik a sideways glance. “I worked a case once in Vancouver. Serial rapist. The last girl that worthless sonofabitch got his hands on went public when the others wouldn’t. Tore him apart on the evening news. Made sure everyone knew what a goddamn coward he was. We knew he was watching. And she told him, and everyone else, that she wasn’t afraid of him. That no matter what he did, he couldn’t break her.”

“To the hospital staff, the New York State Police, and the New York Police Department,” Charles says, “I want to say thank you.”

“And?” Erik asks Logan. “What happened?”

“He saw himself as this big unstoppable force,” Logan says, “and so when he saw she wasn’t afraid of him, and listened to her tear him down publicly, he got sloppy. He came after her again, and when he did, we were waiting.”

“And finally,” Charles says, “to Sebastian Shaw, the coward who murdered all those people, those children, and who tried to kill me, I want you to know, that while you may think you’ve broken me, you haven’t. I’m not afraid of you. And I won’t rest until you’ve been brought to justice. I’m going to make certain the world knows you for what you are and what you have done.”

Erik exhales slowly and hopes the anxiety isn’t showing on his face when Charles wheels himself over to them afterwards.

“That was good, kid,” Logan says, patting Charles on the shoulder.

Charles gives him a small smile, then turns his attention on Erik. “Erik? What did you think?”

“I think you did great,” Erik says, and smiles tentatively back at Charles as his smile grows wider.

***

Erik is in his office with Logan when Moira comes bursting through his door, Sean close on her heels. “They found him,” she says, a gleam of triumph in her eyes.

Erik nearly tips over his chair standing. “Shaw?”

“Jason,” she says. “In Trask’s lab.”

“He was in some kind of weird deep freeze chamber thing,” Sean says, gesturing with his hands.

“And we finally have a paper trail,” Moira says. “The police in Reno didn’t turn up anything in SCL, but after the warrant was issued to search Trask…”

“Bingo,” Sean says.

“Trask sang, then?” Logan asks.

“Like a canary,” Sean says, plopping down on the chair in front of Erik’s desk. “The “cure” Stryker mentioned is legit.”

“We have detailed research on it,” Moira says, “but unfortunately, no samples.”

“There weren’t any in Trask’s lab?” Erik asks.

Moira shakes her head. “Trask’s lab or SCL. Trask claims all the samples were destroyed but no one’s buying that.”

“Stryker was letting his own son be used as a guinea pig,” Sean says. “And if that’s not bad enough, Trask let it go on record that he’s been receiving live donations from Stryker and Shaw both over the past several years.”

Live donations?” Erik asks.

“Shaw was having deliveries made to him,” Moira says. “Live patients for Trask’s experiments.”

“He’s been selling their organs on the black market,” Sean says.

It’s quiet for a long moment. Erik and Logan exchange a look, then Logan asks, “Where the hell was Shaw coming up with mutants to just hand over to Trask?”

“Patients from his own psychiatric hospital,” Sean says. “I found he’s had some escapees over the years that were never recovered. What do you want to bet none of them actually escaped?”

“And Stryker’s apparently been picking up homeless mutants and taking them in to Grace Gardens,” Moira says. “People whose disappearance would have a better chance of going unnoticed.”

Erik shakes his head in disgust. “Trask? He didn’t happen to give a reason for Shaw being so invested in creating this so called “cure”?”

“None,” Moira says.

“When did you say your telepath was coming in?” Logan asks.

“Wednesday,” Moira says. “9 am. Officer Grey. Other departments have had really good luck with her on past cases.”

Erik nods. “In the meantime, I’d like a transcript of Trask’s interrogation.”

“You’ll have it on your desk by the end of the day,” Sean says. “But there’s one more thing you should know.”

Erik lifts his gaze from where he’s jotting down some quick notes for Wednesday.

“There was a folder in Trask’s lab full of nothing but shit on Xavier.”

“Charles has a history as a mutant rights activist,” Moira says.

“Mutant and Proud,” Sean says.

“He was a big opponent of the Psionic Monitoring Commission,” Moira says. “He was actually invited to speak on several news stations.”

Briefly, it feels as though something’s clicking into place, though Erik isn’t sure what.

“He made himself pretty visible for a while there,” Sean says. “I’m not sure who put together all that information on him, but seeing as how he stands for everything Stryker hated, I’d be willing to make a guess.”

***

Charles is in the living room of his new apartment, reading, when he senses someone that doesn’t belong moving around out back behind the building. He lives on the ground floor now, on a tree lined street with a small fenced in yard just outside his sliding glass door.

Erik stays with him most nights, but is still at the department. Charles reaches out for Ororo and finds her in the same spot as before, sitting in her car parked out on the curb in front of the building, pondering dinner now rather than Logan’s forearms. In the apartment above his, Raven has fallen asleep while watching a movie, and Azazel is busy stirring something on the stove.

He closes his book and carefully transfers himself from the couch to his chair. He should call for Azazel. He could be at Charles’ side in under two seconds. He should. But he doesn’t.

Instead, he wheels himself to his sliding door and peers out into the backyard before slowly opening the door. He narrows his focus, hunting for Shaw in the dark.

If he finds him, he’ll kill him. The certainty of his own thinking frightens him.

He moves past the door and out onto the stone patio, looking all around. He knows he sensed someone lurking around here somewhere but can’t find them now. He strains his ears and hears nothing but the sounds of traffic and a couple of dogs barking intermittently down the street. He stares at the wheelchair ramp leading into the grass, considering heading further out into the yard when he suddenly seizes on Erik’s mind.

He follows along with Erik as he enters through Charles’ front door, walks into the apartment, and at the flare of panic at not immediately finding Charles, soothes him and urges him toward the backyard.

“Hey,” Erik says, coming up behind him, “what are you doing out here?”

Charles doesn’t answer right away, focusing again, stretching himself out in all directions, searching. There’s no one to be found. “Nothing,” he sighs. “I just thought it was a nice night to sit outside.”

Erik makes a soft sound of agreement. “I sent Munroe home,” he says, his hands falling to Charles’ shoulders, his thumbs digging in ever so slightly. “Come inside,” he says. When Charles doesn’t move, he slides his hands down Charles’ arms and bends forward, his breath on the back of Charles’ neck. “I want to take a bath.” Charles tips his head back slightly to look at him. “I want you to come with me,” he says.

“You want me to take a bath with you?” Charles asks.

Erik’s answering grin is wolfish. “I’ll wash every inch of you.”

Charles snorts. “Yeah? Yeah. Okay.” He looks back out across the yard one last time, then turns and follows Erik inside.

***

“I have a physical therapy appointment tomorrow,” Charles murmurs, Erik’s fingers combing through his wet hair.

“Do you want me to take you?” Erik asks.

“No. Azazel’s already offered. I was just telling you.”

“Charles?” Erik presses a kiss against his bare shoulder.

“Hmm?”

“Are you alright?”

Erik’s voice is a whisper. Charles’ eyes flicker open, watching the water drip out of the tub faucet before his gaze moves to his legs stretched out in front of him. Erik presses another kiss to his shoulder. Charles leans back against him, turning his head to kiss Erik’s neck. “No,” he admits softly. “But I hope someday I will be.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

They’ve gone over Charles’ injuries in great detail already. Charles has discussed it with everyone, from Raven to his doctors, to his new landlord, to his damned stepfather. He’s tired of talking about it. But he also knows that that’s not quite what Erik means. They’ve discussed the physical repercussions and the new limitations he never expected to apply to him, but he’s been slow to give away any of his feelings on the matter. Besides his occasional angry outbursts, he does his best to keep everything locked away.

“What do you want me to say?” he asks.

“Anything,” Erik says. “Anything at all.”

His fingers are on Charles’ side now, stroking slowly up the ladder of his ribs. Charles swallows and closes his eyes. “I’m angry,” he says, voice a low whisper. “I’m so angry.” He feels Erik nod, his nose brushing the back of Charles’ head. “And I’m sad. I get overwhelmed sometimes by just how much. Every time I try to sleep, I feel like I’m having a heart attack, I can’t get my pulse to slow down. I’m afraid but I don’t know of what. When I wake up, there’s a moment where I don’t remember, then I do, and I keep wishing it was all just a bad dream, but it isn’t, and I get angry again. And I scare myself. You don’t understand how much I want to hurt him. I’ve never wanted to hurt someone before.”

“It’s okay,” Erik says. “Believe me, it’s normal.”

“Not for me,” Charles says. It’s quiet after that, the sound of the dripping faucet echoing off the tiled walls. “I wish I could have met you under different circumstances.”

He feels Erik’s hesitation, his hope to say the right thing, the words forming carefully in his mind before he speaks them aloud.

“I wish the circumstances had been different too, that none of this had ever happened to you. But I don’t wish you to be different, if that’s what you’re thinking. I think you’re perfect, no matter what.” He kneads gently at Charles’ sides and presses a kiss to the top of Charles’ head, his next words mumbled against Charles’ hair. “You’re going to come out of this okay. I promise.”

Charles smiles and places a hand over the top of one of Erik’s. “You think I’m perfect?” Another nod against his head. He turns to kiss Erik’s neck again, his lips on Erik’s skin, a trace of smugness entering his tone as he says, “You really like me, then.” Erik snorts. “Good,” Charles says. “I really like you, too.”

Erik’s hands on his sides travel higher, sliding against his chest, stroking against his nipples, softly at first, then harder when the act elicits a quiet moan. They’ve been together like this before, rubbing slow, warm hands against each other, teasing each other to hardness. They’ve jerked each other off, and twice Erik’s had Charles’ cock in his mouth, but beyond that, they’ve gone no further, Charles not offering and Erik never pressing, now though, Charles thinks he’d like to try. He shifts under Erik’s hands, pressing himself into the contact, a moan that quickly turns to a sound of frustration leaving him when Erik’s hands suddenly fall away.

“Erik?”

“You should lie down,” Erik says, voice a breathy murmur against Charles’ ear.

Charles reaches for his hands again. “I don’t want to lie down. I want –”

“If you were lying down,” Erik says, lips brushing the sensitive shell of Charles’ ear, “it would make what I want to do a whole lot easier.”

***

He can hear his own heartbeat crashing in his ears, so loud he knows Erik must be able to hear it too. It’s not his first time. Not by a long shot. But it feels strangely like it is, nerves making him tremble, breath shivering out of his lungs.

I want this, he reminds himself, closing his eyes, trying to focus on the warm softness of the bed beneath him, the damp coolness of his wet hair on the pillow, on Erik’s gentle hands rubbing up and down his sides. And it’s the truth, he does. But he’s scared. He can’t tell what Erik wants. He can’t think beyond the tangle of thoughts in his own head.

His fingers slide back and forth against the sheets. Erik kisses his stomach and all his muscles jump. He bites down hard on his lip, terrified he might cry.

“Charles?” Erik’s thumb rubs soothing circles against his hip.

“I want this,” Charles says to the ceiling. “I swear to God I do but I’m – I don’t know. I’m nervous.”

Erik sits up, carefully moving out from between Charles’ legs and crawling back up the bed to lie beside him, his head on Charles’ pillow. He stills Charles’ hand in its fretful plucking of the sheet and gives it a reassuring squeeze before rubbing up and down Charles’ arm.

“We don’t have to do this,” he says. “We don’t have to do anything if you aren’t ready.”

“Don’t say that, it makes me feel foolish.”

Erik’s hand stills on his bicep. “Why?”

Charles takes a deep breath and exhales it slowly. “Because I’m not a virgin. Because I’ve done this. I’ve done so much more than this. Believe me. If I’d met you before – all this, I probably would’ve ridden you until the sun came up and that would’ve just been our second date.”

“Not on our first?” Erik asks. Charles can hear the smile in his voice.

He turns his head on the pillow, looking at Erik. “Well, I do have standards.”

Erik scoots himself closer, his arm winding around Charles’ waist, his nose brushing Charles’ as he tilts his head and kisses him. “You shouldn’t feel foolish,” he says, after. “I’m perfectly fine just jerking you off or going down on you. Or not. Whatever you want. Nothing that you don’t.”

“You’re hard,” Charles says. He can feel Erik’s erection against his hip.

“I can jerk myself off,” Erik says. The smile’s back in his voice again. “Would you like to watch?”

“What do you want?” Charles asks.

“I told you,” Erik says, serious now. “Nothing you don’t.”

It’s nearly dark in the room but the streetlight outside cuts a swath of light into the room, falling across the bed and letting them see each other’s faces. Charles takes Erik’s hand and holds it. “I want you to tell me what you like.” He cuts Erik off before he can protest. “I want to know. What did you like to do before?”

Erik studies him closely before he speaks. “I – I don’t know. The usual, I guess.”

Charles snorts. “We’re talking about sex, Erik, not your favorite order of coffee.”

“Alright,” Erik says, exhaling though his nose. “My – Magda, she used to – I used to, I mean – I used to like pegging. And rimming. This feels sort of new to me, Charles. It’s been a while.”

Charles’ skin tingles agreeably, the sudden image of Erik on his hands and knees, a long black strap-on thrust into him, shooting straight to his groin. He thinks of the dildo packed away somewhere in the boxes he hasn’t bothered unpacking yet. He thinks very pointedly about Erik sitting on his face while Charles shakes him apart with his tongue. That he feels entirely ready for. He strokes Erik’s knuckles with his thumb encouragingly. “How long’s a while?”

“There hasn’t been anyone,” Erik says, “since she left me.”

“No one?” Charles asks. “Not even a one night fling?”

“I have a reputation for being married to my work,” Erik says.

Charles licks his lips, feels his heartbeat increase with what he’s about to ask for. “Would you like it if – because I would very much like to –” He makes a frustrated sound, unable to decide how to phrase the request, and finally just shoves the image at Erik: Erik with his ass in Charles’ face while Charles slowly licks him open.

Erik makes a sound like the air’s just been punched out of him. “You don’t have to,” he whispers.

“I believe I just said I want to. Very much.”

The moment stretches out while they stare at each other, a heavy silence in the room punctuated only by their breathing, Erik’s only slightly harsher than Charles’. And then they’re both moving. Charles situating himself higher up on the pillow and Erik crawling on top of him, facing his feet, bracketing Charles in with his hands and knees.

Once Charles has settled, he coaxes Erik back into a better position, urging his knees to spread. Charles’ pulse is hammering. Erik’s mind is a riot of anticipation, his limbs quivery as Charles pulls his cheeks apart. He’s still damp from the bath.

At the first swipe of Charles’ tongue, Erik swears, then moans as Charles grips him hard by his hips and begins mouthing at him, gentle at first, then more insistent, hooking out small needy sounds from Erik with each short, sharp jab of his tongue.

Charles,” Erik shouts, hands twisting in the bedsheets as Charles circles his hole with the tip of his tongue and licks a wet stripe up to his tailbone. “Charles…” His legs spread wider, his back arching, all his weight falling forward onto his elbows, a low moan escaping him as Charles works his tongue in deeper, then withdraws, pressing soft kisses to the back of Erik’s thighs before licking again at his hole, Erik’s body shuddering when he pushes in deep again.

“I need –” Erik says, cutting himself off with another moan.

What? Charles purrs in his mind. This he can do. Taking his partners slowly apart is something he’s always been good at.

“More,” Erik gasps.

Charles is hard, his cock throbbing in time with his pulse. Not without a little bitterness, he remembers the reckless vigor from all the times he’s fucked before. He wishes for it back. He wants to shove Erik down on the bed and fuck him until he can’t think. Until the only word he’s able to say is Charles’ name.

“I want you to fuck me,” Erik pants.

Charles feels a pang in his chest. “I want that too,” he says.

Erik pulls away from him, nearly toppling himself onto Charles in the process as his shaking arms give out when he tries to move. He manages though, crawling forward and turning, looking down on Charles with arousal darkened eyes. “I want to fuck myself on your cock.” His chest rises and falls rapidly. He swallows thickly. “You can say no.”

Charles’ head is ringing, his cock begging to be touched. “There’s condoms and lube,” he says, gesturing to his nightstand.

Erik yanks the top drawer out of the stand by its brass handle without so much as touching it, rifling through its contents until he finds lube and a condom. The drawer slides itself home just as Erik rips open the condom and leans over Charles.

Charles’ breath hisses out of him, his cock twitching at the brush of Erik’s fingers, Erik rolling the condom down over him.

“I want you, Charles,” Erik whispers, bending to press wet, open-mouthed kisses against Charles’ belly, his chest, Erik’s teeth brushing his sensitive nipples.

Charles whimpers, fingers threading into Erik’s hair, giving an impatient, gentle tug. He has no idea what’s written on his face but it has Erik scrambling for the lube, tipping it into his palm before the warmth of his hand is cupping Charles cock, engulfing him as he slicks Charles with firm, callus roughened strokes. Charles’ lips part, his head tipping back against the pillow.

“Okay?” Erik asks, voice rough.

Charles nods and closes his eyes, shivering at the sudden loss of Erik’s warm hand. He can feel Erik moving and when he opens his eyes to look, Erik is rubbing slick against his own entrance, the motion choppy and fast. And then he’s settling himself over Charles’ hips, one hand coming to rest flat against Charles’ chest while the other briefly takes Charles in hand again, pressing the head of Charles’ cock to Erik’s entrance.

Charles makes a choked off sound, eyes fluttering closed again, startled by how good it feels, as Erik slowly starts to sink down on him, sheathing the head of his cock in blissful pressure.

“Oh, God,” Erik moans, his body curling in on itself, his fingers clenching against Charles’ chest.

He sinks down slowly, burying Charles inch by inch to the hilt, overwhelming Charles with consuming heat and more of that unbelievable pressure, so good it’s almost unbearable.

“Fuck,” Erik moans, “it’s been too long.”

Charles’ hands fist in the sheets. It takes an effort to drag his eyes open. “Too much?”

Erik shakes his head. “No,” he grinds out. “It’s good. You feel good.”

Charles thinks absurdly again about the thick dildo packed away in his things and wonders if Erik would let Charles use it on him. He doesn’t have a tight enough reel on his thoughts, his mind spun open with pleasure. Erik catches hold of the thought and groans.

“Yes,” Erik pants. “God, yes.” His hips move in small, fitful circles, trying to fall into a rhythm. His cock, long and flushed dark at the head, curls against his belly. He has both hands on Charles’ chest, his head tipping back as he finds an angle he likes, rocking himself faster.

Charles’ fingers curl around Erik’s cock, finding it wet, dripping with precome. Erik cries out loudly, clenching around Charles, making Charles groan, and thrusts against Charles’ hand, his hips rising and falling in waves, rocking harder, faster, harder again back-and-forth on Charles’ cock.

Charles’ orgasm flutters at the base of his cock, just out of reach, his belly clenching, heat unfurling in his groin. He knows he’s making a weird face, his features twisting with pleasure and need, and doesn’t care.

Erik can’t see him anyway, his eyes are screwed too tightly shut, his mouth hanging open, letting out a series of cries, each one harsher and louder than the last, as he rides Charles with raw abandon, his cock heavy and leaking steadily against Charles’ fingers as Charles clumsily strokes him.

Charles can’t focus. He’s going to drown in the scalding hot pressure gliding back-and-forth on his cock. Someone stomps down hard on the floor above them, the ceiling fan rattling. Raven, Charles thinks blearily, and then doesn’t think at all because Erik is coming, his mind whited out with pleasure, his body clenching rhythmically around Charles’ cock, intensifying that wonderful pressure.

The heat spreads within Charles, flowing outward from his groin, rolling through him and washing him out of himself. He hears himself cry out hoarsely, body seizing with tension, then releasing blissfully with the first spurt of his cock.

When he comes back to himself, Erik is carding gently through his hair. He smiles at Charles drowsily and carefully lifts himself from Charles’ flagging, sensitive cock, making them both wince. For a long moment he sits on the edge of the bed and breathes before rising on wobbly legs, stumbling toward the door, returning with a glass of water and a damp cloth that he uses to wipe his come from Charles’ chest. Charles smiles at him gratefully and pulls off the condom, tying it off and dropping it over the side of the bed into the small wastebasket.

The glass of water he drinks halfway down before turning himself onto his side, feeling warm and loose in a way he hasn’t in a long time, rubbing his cheek against his pillow with a contented sigh. Erik lies down beside him, drawing the blankets over them both and cocooning himself around Charles. His hand is soothing on Charles’ skin, stroking up the ridges of his spine and into his hair. He presses tired nonsense against Charles’ hair and Charles closes his eyes, on the verge of sleep.

Charles doesn’t even know yet what they are to each other. They just are. But he knows he’s falling fast in love with Erik. “What are we?” he whispers, before he can think to stop himself.

Erik is quiet for so long worry hooks his chest, his eyes blinking open to see, but then Erik kisses him, long and deep, and it feels like an answer.

Chapter Text

Erik presses play again, listening for the second time to Bolivar Trask’s interrogation. Remy LeBeau, the detective from Washoe County’s voice crackling through his earbuds as he reads once more over the transcript.

He jumps past the presentation of facts and evidence against Trask to the moment when Trask begins denying his guilt, LeBeau cutting him off with a dismissive, impatient, “Bolivar.”

Erik can almost see LeBeau shaking his head, can see him smiling disbelievingly.

“Before you waste my time,” LeBeau says, “know that I don’t ask questions I don’t already know the answers to.”

Not true.

“Stryker’s already rolled over on you. He’s pinning you as the mastermind behind all this.”

Also, not true. Stryker is dead as a doornail but Trask doesn’t know that yet.

“We know about the serum. We know about Jason – kid looked like a goddamn freezer-pop when the medics came for him. We know about the kidnappings. We know about the murders. We know all about Grace Gardens.”

Erik imagines LeBeau ticking everything off one by one on his fingers. Trask’s breathing shudders slowly in, then out.

“Different mutations yield different results,” LeBeau says. “Isn’t that right? You were being paid to produce a serum and mutant cadavers weren’t in high enough supply.”

There’s a pause on the audio where Erik only hears LeBeau shuffling papers.

“You want to tell me about that wave of serial murders here in Reno a few years back?”

LeBeau’s greeted with silence. Slowly, almost sympathetically, he tells Trask, “You know Shaw’s staff are all pointing their fingers at you, Bolivar.” Silence. “Do you know what they do to guys like you in prison? Guys who murder kids.”

“I didn’t murder any kids,” Trask says at last. He sounds like he’s going to be sick.

“No?” A disbelieving huff of a laugh. “Who did?”

Silence.

“You know, Bolivar, there’s an easier way to go about all this. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. You help me out. I help you.”

Still, LeBeau’s met with silence.

“You tell me everyone who’s involved. You tell me about the serum. You tell me where Sebastian Shaw is. And where Robert Drake is. And maybe I can help you out. Maybe help you get a private cell to call your very own. If not – general population’s gonna love you.”

The silence stretches out for nearly a whole minute before Trask says, “I don’t know who Robert Drake is. I don’t ever – they don’t tell me their names.”

“Who?” LeBeau asks.

“Shaw,” Trask says. “And Stryker. They just – I don’t ask questions when they bring one in.”

“One what?” LeBeau asks.

“Mutant,” Trask says.

There’s a long static hush on the audio as LeBeau pauses. A slight edge to his voice when he speaks again. “Well,” he says, “I’m gonna show you a picture of a mutant, Robert Drake, right now, and you’re gonna tell me if you’ve ever seen him. In person or otherwise.”

There’s a pause. Shuffling. And then Trasks’ voice. “No,” he says. “I’ve never seen him.”

Are you sure?”

“Yes – yeah, I’m sure.”

“Where is Sebastian Shaw?” LeBeau asks.

“I don’t know.”

Bolivar.”

“I swear I don’t know. We never – we don’t discuss anything together outside of our work.”

“When did you last have contact?”

“Two – no – three weeks ago.”

“When you describe your “work”,” LeBeau says, “are we talking about the serum? Or the murdering of innocent people?”

“What? No!” Trask cries. “My work is advancing the betterment of our world. Please, you have to – these people are the scourge of society. Poor. Promiscuous. Always expecting handouts. Many of them with police records or pushing dangerous leftist agendas.”

Ah,” LeBeau says, “So you’re doing society a favor then. Is that what I’m to understand here?”

“Shaw knows how dangerous mutants are,” Trasks says. “He always told me. We were on the same page. I don’t understand why he –”

“Is that why we found Jason in your lab?” LeBeau asks. “He was too dangerous?”

“Are you aware, Detective,” Trask says, voice high with nerves, “that the boy murdered his own mother by forcing her to commit suicide? These people we’re talking about, are not victims.”

“Is that what you tell yourself to justify what you’ve done? What you do? That they deserve it?”

“I’m not a murderer,” Trask insists.

“Is that what the serum is for?” LeBeau asks. “Because “curing” them is the equivalent of – what? “Saving” them? You think they need to be saved, Bolivar? You want to shed light on the failings of society?”

“The only failing by society,” Trasks says, sudden and vehement, “is the failure to enact the Psionic Monitoring Commission and the abolishment of the Mutant Registration Act.”

Another static hush fills the space between Trask’s outburst and LeBeau saying, “This doesn’t look good, Bolivar. Unless you give me something to work with here, you’re gonna rot for this. The jury’s gonna hate you.”

“I – no, this isn’t my fault,” Trasks wails.

“You’ve bloodied your hands creating this serum. A serum that furthers your own personal agenda as you just admitted all nice and neat.”

“But it was commissioned by Shaw. It belongs to him. We were going to test it on Jason first, at Stryker’s request. Because he is dangerous. What I created isn’t wrong. It’s not illegal.”

“People are dead because of you, Bolivar,” LeBeau says. “Do you not understand that? You chopped ‘em up and now they’re dead. That’s all the jury’s gonna care about. Doesn’t matter if you believe you were cleaning out the gutter.”

“No,” Trask says weakly.

“Tell you what,’ LeBeau says, “I’m gonna give you one more shot to help me here. Tell me where Shaw is.”

“I’ve already told you, I don’t know.”

“Where is the serum?”

“Gone,” Trask says. “Shaw took the finished samples after his last visit. There were more. But they were -- lesser in quality. I destroyed them. I swear.”

LeBeau exhales heavily. “Do you know that Shaw is a mutant?”

Silence.

“Or should I assume you were unaware, given how you’re such a fan of his?” When Trask doesn’t answer, LeBeau says, “You want to tell me why a mutant would commission this serum of yours. Because there’s no way this sonofabitch is planning to use it on himself and he sure as hell didn’t do it out of the goodness of his heart to help out poor ole Captain Stryker’s son.”

“He said he wanted to make the world a better place. He wanted a better future.”

“That’s a load of shit,” LeBeau says.

“I don’t know then,” Trasks says. “I swear to you. I don’t know.”

Erik skips forward to the end for no other reason than the fact that Trask’s whimpering makes him smile.

“Alright,” LeBeau says, “we’re done here for now.”

“Detective?” Trask says. “Wait. You said – you said if I helped you out.”

“You didn’t give me anything, Bolivar.” The smile in LeBeau’s voice is unmistakable. “Not a damn thing.”

“But I’ve been cooperative.”

“Barely,” LeBeau says. Erik hears him shuffling papers. Hears a chair slide against the floor.

“No, I’ve – Are you going to help me?”

Help you with what?”

A pause. “Detective, I can’t be put in general population.”

“Guess you should have thought of that earlier then,” LeBeau says.

Erik hears a door click shut and Trask’s sudden, desperate moan. “Detective!?” he calls. “Detective!?”

Erik hits stop on the audio.

***

“My mother wants to meet you,” Erik says, dragging his thumbs firmly down either side of Charles’ spine.

Charles makes a soft sound, his fingers curling slightly against the duvet. He’s lying face-down on his bed, cheek resting on his pillow, Erik straddling his hips, digging into knots Charles hadn’t even known were there.

“I told her Saturday night,” Erik says. “Assuming nothing comes up. And if it’s alright with you.”

“Do you think she’ll like me?” Charles asks quietly, his eyes slipping closed. Erik finds a particularly tense spot in his lower back, kneading gently, and Charles shivers.

“She’ll love you,” Erik says. He’s quiet for a long moment, thinking very hard about something. Charles’ eyes flicker open. “I love you,” Erik says. He tenses immediately after, his hands stilling on Charles’ back. His anxiety rolls over Charles like a wave. “Maybe it’s too soon,” he says quickly. “Maybe I shouldn’t have –”

“No,” Charles cuts him off. “It’s not.” Erik is pulled taut as a bowstring above him, waiting. “Erik,” Charles says, “I love you, too.”

Erik’s mind radiates a burst of sudden warmth and happiness. Charles laughs, soft and fond. “I can’t believe you didn’t know. That night I kissed you? I think I was already in love with you then.”

“Inappropriate,” Erik says. And after a pause. “Me too.”

Charles knows without having to look that Erik is smiling. He lets himself dissolve into the bed with a sigh as Erik continues the massage, chasing away the last traces of tension. He’s fluttering right on the edge of sleep. The last thing he feels just before he drifts off, is Erik’s lips, gentle and warm against his temple.

***

In the middle of the night Erik receives a phone call from Moira telling him Robert Drake has been found and to go to the hospital.

“He’s in really bad shape,” Muñoz tells him, once he makes it in. “We got a call about a body in Central Park and when Hughs went to check it out, turned out to be Drake.”

“Moira said he was just lying under a bridge,” Erik says.

Muñoz nods. “Somebody dumped him.”

“Shaw,” Erik says, a hunch already forming as to why he’d deliver Drake to them alive.

He requests Drake’s blood be tested, and the results, once they come back, are conclusive. There is no difference now, between Drake and a baseline human.

***

“My parents will be thrilled,” Bobby says. He stares numbly up at the ceiling. His voice is like gravel.

“They don’t know?” Logan asks.

Bobby slowly shakes his head. “I didn’t tell them. I can’t stand the idea of it. I asked my doctor not to tell them either.”

“Did he tell you why?” Erik asks gently. “Shaw?”

“He told me I was helping him create the future,” Bobby says. His lips curl into a snarl. “That I was special. That I should be proud.”

“Do you have any idea where he is now?” Erik asks.

“No,” Bobby says. “I don’t remember a whole lot. I was given a drug. I don’t know what it was.”

“He had you overdosed on suppressant,” Logan says. “How do you feel now?”

Bobby huffs out a breath. “Like shit.” He drags a hand over his face. “He seemed jumpy though. Last I remember. More than once I heard him and that bitch Frost arguing.”

“About what?” Erik asks.

“She was threatening to leave him,” Bobby says. “He didn’t like that. He kept saying he couldn’t do it without her.”

“What?” Erik asks. “Couldn’t do what without her?”

“Dunno,” Bobby says.

“Where was this?” Logan asks. “Were you travelling? Were you holed up somewhere? Was there anyone else around?”

“I heard Shaw talking to someone, another man, I think. Or men. It’s hard to remember. No one ever said anything to me and I didn’t see anyone. Just heard them through the door. I had a room. I was mostly alone. I had a real bed for the first time in -- I don’t remember how long. He’d give me his food when he was done with it. I didn’t want to eat it but I did.”

“Were you in a hotel?” Erik asks.

“I really don’t know,” Bobby says. “Maybe. There was a TV. Not where I was. I could just hear it sometimes. They were watching the news I think. The night that he -- or maybe it was the night before -- he watched something that really got him going. He was so pissed.”

“What was it?” Erik asks, glaring at Logan because he’s sure he already knows.

“I couldn’t tell,” Bobby says. “I think it was about him. He injected me with that shit right after. Told me I was creating the future.”

Erik and Logan are halfway down the hall, heading for the exit when Drake’s nurse calls them back.

“He’s remembered something,” he tells Erik. “He wants to make sure he tells you before you go.”

“What is it?” Erik asks, standing beside Bobby’s bed.

“He doesn’t hate you,” Bobby says. “I was supposed to remember that. He admires you and knows you’re just doing what you believe you have to do. What they’ve convinced you you have to do. I don’t know why he wanted me to tell you that.”

“Who are they?” Erik asks. “The police?” Unease settles in his gut at the thought of that piece of shit admiring him.

Bobby shakes his head and reaches for the juice-box on his bedside table. “I don’t know.”

***

“He’s still in the area,” Erik says, his voice a near growl. “And if he’s so damn close, then why the hell hasn’t she been able to find him?”

Lehnsherr,” Logan says sharply, shaking his head.

“I’m doing everything I can,” Jean snaps. “But you’re talking about one mind in a city with a population of 1.6 million. And until recently I didn’t know how far I needed to reach. It takes time.”

“You’re supposed to be the best,” Erik says. “That’s what everyone keeps telling me.”

“Dammit, Erik, enough,” Logan says.

“It’s been four weeks!” Erik shouts. “She’s had four weeks! And he is still here. He never left and he wants us to know it. Why!?”

“He’s arrogant,” Logan says. “He thinks he’s untouchable.”

“That’s not it.”

“Of course it is,” Logan says. “He created a goddamn “cure” and he wants us to know it works.”

Why does he want us to know it works?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Logan says. “Whatever the hell he thinks he’s planning, it won’t fly. We’re gonna find him.”

“Right,” Erik bites out, “because we’re doing such a fantastic job.”

“You just said he’s still in the area,” Logan says. “That narrows down the search.”

“Maybe,” Jean interrupts, “maybe he has a way of blocking out my telepathy. Of cloaking himself somehow.”

Erik and Logan both turn to look at her, Erik silent while he considers. “He took Charles from his apartment,” he says eventually. “He shouldn’t have been able to do that, but Charles never knew he was there until Shaw was on top of him, and then, he still couldn’t do anything to stop him.”

“We’ve got the inhibitor collars to suppress mutant abilities,” Logan says, “but I’ve never heard of any device that could block out a telepath.”

There’s something niggling at the back of Erik’s mind, and he sinks down into his chair, rifling through the case file for the notes he’d left himself after questioning Charles in the hospital. Scanning back through them quickly, he finds nothing to aid him, but as he visualizes once again the memories Charles had shown him, he remembers something he hadn’t given his attention to before: the moment Stryker had walked into the renovated autopsy room, looking down on Charles splayed open on the operating table.

“Are you sure he can’t…” Stryker said, his tone anxious.

“Read your mind?” Shaw finished, smiling widely. “Absolutely not. I assure you, he’s quite well managed. Aren’t you, Charles? Still, if you would prefer, the new tech’s proven resistant, last week we even wired it into a helmet.”

***

“Let me help,” Charles says, watching Erik pace back and forth in front of his sliding door, afternoon sunlight spilling bright across the floor. Erik is shaking his head before Charles even finishes getting the words out.

Why?” Charles asks.

“I have enough people working on this,” Erik says.

But they aren’t getting anywhere,” Charles says. The words sound like an accusation but he doesn’t care.

Erik’s gaze flashes toward him briefly. “I don’t want you involved.”

“I’m already involved,” Charles says. “What do you want me to do? Pretend like nothing ever happened?”

Of course not,” Erik says. “Just… Charles, listen to me, I understand, really I do, but –”

“Stop it!” Charles snaps. He can’t stand that tone Erik uses with him sometimes; soft and sympathetic and forcedly patient. “Stop talking to me like I’m a victim.”

Erik flinches. “I wasn’t,” he says, but before he can finish, there’s a loud crack accompanied by a cloud of black smoke.

“Charles?” Azazel says. “Raven and I were going to have stuffed peppers for dinner. Do you want some?”

Charles stares hard at Erik, his fingers curling and uncurling against the arms of his chair. “I don’t need protecting, Erik. I have told you before, I can take care of myself. I am sick of being coddled.”

“Am I interrupting something?” Azazel asks.

“No,” Charles says. “Erik was just leaving for the department.”

Erik takes a step toward him. “Charles –”

“I’m a telepath with a teleporter,” Charles says. “I’ll think I’ll be just fine without you for a couple hours.”

Erik doesn’t move right away. He looks at Charles, clearly wanting to say more.

“It’s fine,” Charles says. “Just go.”

Erik’s hand brushes Charles’ shoulder on his way to the door. He hesitates. “I’ll see you tonight?” The inflection of his voice makes it a question rather than a statement.

Charles nods stiffly. Erik is still waiting in the doorway, watching him. Charles exhales through his nose, turning his chair around to face him. “Yes,” he says, gentling his tone. “I’ll see you tonight.”

He waits, mentally following Erik until he’s halfway to the department, then he withdraws and turns himself to look at Azazel. “I need you to do something for me.”

“Of course,” Azazel says. “What is it?”

“I need you to take me to my lab.”

***

“Are you sure about this?” Azazel asks, watching him place the helmet for what Hank had named ‘Cerebro’ on his head.

“Positive,” Charles says, closing his eyes.

“But you said you weren’t sure it works properly. What if something goes wrong?”

“Nothing’s going to go wrong,” Charles assures. “I have to do this. I have to try. Now turn it on.”

Azazel doesn’t move. His tail flicks anxiously. “Charles –”

Now,” Charles commands.

“Your sister’s going to kill me,” he hears Azazel mutter, just before he’s swept up in the current of thousands of restless minds. He grits his teeth for a moment, forcing himself to focus, seeking only the mutants within the city.

“How are you going to find Shaw if he has a way to block out telepathy?” Azazel whispers. He’s inches from Charles’ face, his breath ghosting over Charles’ skin. 

“I’m not looking for Shaw,” Charles answers.

He’s startled by how quickly it hurts. And how much. His head is killing him, a ceaseless, throbbing pain behind his eyes, but he won’t let himself stop. A tumult of voices fills the inside of his head until there’s room for nothing else, all blending together until they sound like one endless scream. He almost throws up. He almost throws off the helmet. It’s only been minutes, maybe seconds, but to him it feels like it’s been an eternity. But then he finds her, suddenly and unexpectedly, lounging on a sofa in a penthouse suite.  

She jumps to her feet the second she senses him, throwing up her shields, determined to keep him out. She’s strong, far stronger than he anticipated, but the discovery of her has woken something ugly and cruel inside him.

He makes it hurt, feeling vicious pleasure at her scream of pain, the jaws of his fury closing tight around her mind, sinking into her with sharp, jagged teeth.

Azazel,” he grits out, exhilarated, “I’ve found Frost. She –”

Frost writhes in his grip, striking out at him with a stinging blow that sends him sprawling back into himself.

He exhales harshly and reaches quickly for her again, snatching her up from out of the tumult as if he were a bird of prey, capturing her mind with shredding, talon-like savagery.

She’s shocked by his brutality, crying out in agony, and it’s the thought she has, that she and Charles aren’t so very different after all that finally makes him stop.

When he opens his eyes, Azazel is right where he left him, watching Charles with a strange expression, his head tilted at an odd angle. Belatedly, Charles realizes he’d been speaking aloud while struggling with Frost. Violent things Azazel likely never expected to hear from Charles’ mouth.

He swallows thickly and doesn’t meet Azazel’s eyes. “I have her,” he says, “and where she is –”

“Is where Shaw will be,” Azazel finishes, nodding.

“I’ll hold her,” Charles says. “But you have to go. Hurry. Get the police and take them to her.”

***

Charles looks tired but viciously pleased. Erik feels the dangerous tug of a proud smile and forces his mouth into a thin, flat line.

“Frost’s been taken into custody,” he says. “Discreetly thanks to you and Azazel. It seems Shaw has access to more than one penthouse in Manhattan. He kept this one under an alias. He’s expected back later tonight. Muñoz and Summers are already in position. They’re waiting for me. Hughs is here to take you home.”

“I can help with Shaw,” Charles says. “Let me be there when you bring him in.”

“You’ve done enough,” Erik says. “More than enough. Now let Hughs take you home.”

Charles frowns up at him, on the verge of protesting, so Erik very pointedly keeps his thoughts wide open. He thinks about everything he’s lost and about everything he can’t afford to lose.

There’s nothing to read on Charles’ face as he does this, but slowly, grudgingly, Charles sinks back into his chair and nods. Erik takes his hand and squeezes.

***

Charles feels a nauseous combination of excitement and fear. It will all be over with soon. Shaw will be arrested and forced to face justice. He just prays no one gets hurt in the process.

Beside him on the couch, Raven holds his hand while they wait. She’d shown up to the lab right behind Erik, after Charles had called her, explaining what he’d done and how Azazel had left to get the police and take them to Frost. She was furious, as expected, but also relieved. She wants this over with as badly as he does.

“How long do you think it’s going to take?” she asks. “Don’t you think we should have heard something by now?”

“Half the department’s gone to arrest them,” Charles says. “And they have that telepath from upstate. I’m sure everything’s going to be fine.”

Outside, the sky is darkening, threaded with pink and orange as the sun sets. Chares tries keeping himself from worrying by contemplating simple things: what colors he should choose for his new apartment, what vegetables to plant in the tiny garden Raven wants to grow now that they have a yard, the classes he’ll teach in the fall.

“I’m worried about Azazel,” Raven says.

He nods, staring out the window. He can’t let himself think about Erik. “Everything’s going to be fine,” he says again, more for himself than for her.

Another twenty minutes has passed when there’s a knock at the door.

“Thank God,” Raven says, jumping up from the couch to answer it.

Charles is still staring out the window. Night has fallen, streetlights flickering on all down the street. He frowns when he realizes he doesn’t know who’s on the other side of the door.

“Raven!” he cries, turning himself to follow. “Don’t!”

It’s too late. Raven already has the door open. She falls against the hardwood floor with a heavy thud as Shaw backhands her across the face and steps into the apartment, closing the door quietly after himself, a silver helmet on his head.

“Raven?” Charles says her name, but she doesn’t respond. “Raven?”

She’s unconscious, but appears unharmed. Somehow he has to keep her safe. He lifts his gaze from her prone form to Shaw leaning against the door.

“Charles,” he says, giving Charles that familiar sickening grin, “I’ve missed you.”

“Whatever you’re here for,” Charles says, “let it just be between you and me.”

Shaw smirks and pushes away from the door, stepping closer. “I’m afraid that’s not possible. You see, I’m here for the detective. And you, well let’s just say you’ve made things difficult for me.”

He needs time, and a way to somehow get that damn helmet off of Shaw. “I don’t understand,” he says.

“Metallokinetics are extremely rare,” Shaw says. “William was going to gift him to me. But then there was that little problem with him deciding to blow his brains out. You can’t imagine my disappointment.”

Shaw stares off into the distance for a moment, shaking his head, and Charles chances a glance at Raven. She’ll be alright, so long as Shaw doesn’t touch her again. Slowly, he edges himself between her and Shaw.

The movement catches Shaw’s eye and he looks at Charles and smiles. “Are you familiar with the Victor Creed story? He had a regenerative healing factor. Nearly indestructible.”

“He was a murderer,” Charles says, voice low.

“I admired him” Shaw says, “and his appetite for destruction. He hated humans, almost as much as I do. But then I discovered the esteemed detective. He did the impossible, and killed poor Victor, tearing apart an entire street in the process.”

Charles narrows his eyes in confusion. “I still don’t –”

“Understand?” Shaw says, circling Charles, assessing him with his eyes. “He has so much untapped power, so much anger, and no one to guide him. I could do that. Imagine what we could accomplish together.”

“Erik? You actually think Erik would be willing to, what? Join you?” The idea is laughable. “He would never do that.”

“He would,” Shaw says. “Because I have this.” He pulls a syringe from his pocket. “I should thank you, I suppose. Because of you, the serum is a success. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he says, holding the syringe up to the light.

“If you hate humans so much,” Charles says, “why would you create a cure for mutation?”

“It’s long been a dream of mine,” Shaw says, “to take up my rightful place in this world as its leader. Humans, once I no longer have need of them, will be exterminated, and any mutant that would dare to oppose me will be treated with this.”

“And William Stryker,” Charles says, “he was alright with helping you to create all this, knowing in the end what you had planned.” There’s nothing for him to do but keep Shaw talking and pray someone comes in time.

“William,” Shaw laughs. “The only thing he knew was that I was creating a “cure” and that was good enough for him. All he ever wanted was for his son to be rid of his “disease”. He was willing to pay any cost. We experimented with so many different mutations. We even used his own son. It’s why I had to create this,” he says, tapping at his helmet. “So I could control him. It proved rather useful with other matters too, as you’re by now aware. He didn’t work out for us in the end, sadly. But you…”

Charles hates himself for trembling. He forces himself to stare back at Shaw as his circling comes to a stop right in front of Charles, the syringe still held tight in one hand.

“You,” Shaw says, “were just what I needed. William picked you out himself, and once I saw you, I knew you were something special, and I had to have you. What I didn’t expect, was that you would cause me so much trouble. I mean, just look what you’ve done to me tonight. You lost me my dear Emma.”

Charles swallows, feeling like he might be sick. He can’t make himself ask. If Shaw escaped arrest, then he’s certain people were hurt, maybe even killed. A swell of panic rises up in him that he desperately quashes back down when he has the sudden thought that there might be no one coming to help him. What if everyone were dead? But no, that can’t be true. Shaw said he had come for Erik.

“You don’t know how useful she is,” Shaw says. “She can make anyone do as I ask. For instance, turning off security cameras or handing over the key to a tenet’s apartment.”

“My landlord,” Charles says.

Shaw nods. “She’s incredibly talented. You could have been too, if you had just been good like I asked.” He sighs, staring pointedly at Charles’ chair. “But now, well, just look at you. Look at what you’ve been reduced to. It didn’t have to come to this. If you had just followed my rules. If you had proven to me that you could be good. But you couldn’t. You can’t.”

Charles can’t move. He has to keep Shaw’s focus on him and not Raven. But Shaw’s voice has that same dangerous edge from the day Charles fled into the woods and Charles can’t help himself from twitching with the urge to get away.

Shaw is right in front of him, his hand lashing out to grab Charles by his shirt, dragging him from his chair. “You think I’m a coward? That I can’t break you?”

Charles winces as Shaw drops him to the floor and rolls him over onto his back with one foot.

“You want me to know that you’re not afraid of me,” Shaw says. “Isn’t that what you said? Do you know what I heard? You weren’t thorough enough, Sebastian. I want more. That’s what I heard. That’s why you’ve done all this, isn’t it? You wanted to see me again. You wanted it then. And you want it now.”

“No!” Charles pushes back as Shaw crouches over him.

Shaw makes an irritated sound, setting the syringe on the floor and pinning Charles’ wrists together with one hand. “Why don’t you and I have a little fun while we wait for the detective, hmm?”

“Erik won’t join you.”

“He will,” Shaw breathes hot across his face. “Because like I said, I have this.” The syringe is back in Shaw’s free hand. “And I have you.”

Charles squirms as Shaw brings the syringe close to his face, trying in vain to pull his wrists free.

“Tell me how good it was,” Shaw says. “Tell me how much you liked it. How you want me to do it again. Now I know why those men at the bar kept coming back for more. You were so tight.”

He’s far too strong. Charles can feel the tip of the needle against his throat, and squeezes his eyes closed, desperate to be anywhere else. They fly back open when he hears the telltale crack of Azazel entering the apartment.

In a movement that’s almost slow-motion, Shaw’s eyes go wide, turning his head at the same moment Azazel vanishes, reappearing at the other side of the room with Shaw’s helmet in his hands. Shaw looks back down at Charles quickly, pushing the needle into Charles’ skin, but before he can press down on the plunger, Charles is already tearing into his mind.

It all comes back to him. His abduction. His captivity. Shaw torturing him on an operating table. Shaw raping him. The fall down to the reservoir. The way he’d lain broken and unable to move after with the sun cooking him and the flies biting him.

Rage, hot and consuming, boils up under his skin. He’s going to kill Shaw. But first he’s going to make it hurt. A sick thrill runs through him as he pushes himself to his elbows, watching Shaw scream and writhe on the floor, clawing at his own skull.

I’m like you remember? Charles hisses. And like you I have some rather special talents of my own.

Azazel has Shaw’s helmet tucked under one arm, looking warily between Shaw and Charles both as he stoops down beside Raven, gently touching her cheek.

Look at you, Charles snarls. Look at how disgustingly pathetic you are. He forces Shaw to meet his eyes, pulling an inhuman sound from Shaw’s lips. End of the line, Charles says.

Another tortured scream bursts from Shaw’s mouth, his body arching up off the floor, when Erik is suddenly in front of Charles, gripping him by his arms. Charles startles, he hadn’t even noticed Erik coming in.

“Stop,” Erik tells him, inhibitor collar in hand. “Charles, stop.”

He can’t. Shaw deserves this.

You’re better than this, Erik thinks.

No,” Charles says. The savageness of his tone is frightening even to himself.

Shaw moans weakly, bleeding profusely from both nostrils, his eyes rolled back in his head.

I know, Erik thinks. Believe me, I know. But this isn’t you.

Charles’ gaze flicks from Shaw to Erik. You don’t understand what he’s done. I have to -- he deserves this. Why would I -- why should I?

“You’re better than him,” Erik says simply and with so much conviction, letting Charles see himself through Erik’s eyes, letting him see all the goodness and strength and stubborn determination he has inside himself, and everything Erik fell in love with.

“You’re better than him,” Erik says again, and Charles lets go.

He crumples in on himself, closing his eyes, gasping harshly. Erik gathers him into his arms, his hand cupping the back of Charles’ head, smoothing against his hair.

“I’ve got you,” Erik murmurs. “I’ve got you.”

Charles!” Azazel’s voice cuts through the crashing pound of his own heart.

Charles jerks his head up, flinching at the sudden flood of rage pouring off of Shaw.

Shaw rolls to his hands and feet, lunging for Charles and Erik in one quick, fluid motion.

Charles snares Shaw’s mind just in time to hear the deafening, close boom of a gun being fired. He blinks his eyes and Shaw’s blood spray is on his newly primered wall. He blinks again, wide-eyed and stunned, gulping in a mouthful of air. He touches the back of his own head and his fingers come away clean. He swallows. He still feels the bullet passing through Shaw’s skull as if it were passing through his own.

His bones are rattling inside his skin. He slumps against Erik, pressing his face to the warmth of Erik’s neck, to the pulse pounding rabbit fast in Erik’s throat, inhales raggedly and cries. 

Chapter Text

5 years later

 

Sunlight dapples the courtyard behind the Mutant Community Center, a warm, gentle breeze blowing through the trees.

“Aww he likes you,” Raven says to Logan, Kurt giggling, bubbly and bright as Logan tickles the bottom of his chubby foot.

“C’mere little guy,” Logan says, taking Kurt from Azazel’s arms.

Kurt blinks his large surprised eyes at Logan and then his face scrunches and he starts to cry. He wiggles and twists. Looks at Erik. Reaches for him.

Erik takes Kurt instead, grinning smugly at Logan while murmuring nonsense to Kurt.

“So, have you given any more thought to volunteering?” Raven asks Logan.

“I don’t know,” Logan says, leaning back and crossing his arms over his chest. “What would they want me for?”

“Target practice,” Erik says. “Some of the kids are capable of high energy blasts.” Azazel laughs. Erik flashes him a grin that disappears the moment he catches Raven frowning at him. “Azazel thought it was funny,” he says, turning his attention back to Kurt.

Kurt shrieks and burbles happily, tugging on Erik’s tie. “You’re going to be a terrible influence on my son, aren’t you?” Raven says.

“Probably,” Erik says without looking up. Logan snorts.

Raven shakes her head but she’s wearing a faint smile. “Sean’s volunteered,” she says as Sean joins them at the picnic table sitting just outside the Center’s back doors, plopping himself down beside Erik. Sean nods in her direction, his mouth stuffed full of chocolate chip cookie.

“Your mother’s not going to be happy until she’s recruited every last mutant in the city,” Erik tells Kurt cheerfully. He looks at Sean. “You got those from Charles’ classroom didn’t you?”

Sean looks at the two cookies in his hand reverently and nods.

“Were there any left?” Erik asks hopefully.

Sean shakes his head, shoveling in another cookie. “Charles should make more.”

“Charles should – I made them,” Erik says hotly. Kurt looks up at him, sucking his own tail. “Your uncle’s taking credit for my work,” Erik says to him.

You should make more,” Sean says, “and bring them to work.”

Logan laughs. “Please, for the love of God, Lehnsherr, bring homemade cookies to work.”

Erik looks at him grimly and asks Sean, “Was Charles about ready?”

“Yeah,” Sean says. “He’s just finishing up. A couple of the kids’ parents wanted to talk to him about some science project he’s setting up.”

“What d’they got you doing in there, kid?” Logan asks Sean.

“Choral Director,” Sean says.

Erik eyes him doubtfully. “I didn’t know you could sing.”

“There are a lot of things you don’t know about me, Lehnsherr,” Sean says very seriously. “I can sing. I’m a freaking expert at hang-gliding. I’m a Dance Dance Revolution champion. And it’s worth mentioning my lovemaking prowess is second to none cause I have a date tonight.”

“With who?” Erik laughs.

“MacTaggert,” Sean says, waggling his eyebrows.

“Get out of here,” Logan says.

“It’s true,” Sean says. “The Lieutenant is hot under the collar for me.”

“Alright,” Raven cuts in. “Enough. Give me my son.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Sean says, folding his hands obediently in front of himself on the table. He smiles at Kurt as Erik passes him off, sucking in a deep breath and puffing out his cheeks. Kurt gives a pleased shriek and points at him. “I hear you’re thinking about kids, Lehnsherr,” Sean says, still smiling at Kurt.

“Charles and I have talked about it,” Erik admits. “Maybe. In the future. Assuming one of us ever works up the courage to propose.”

“Well congratulations, man,” Sean says, clapping Erik on the shoulder. “Your day is fast approaching.”

Sean,” Raven says loudly, swatting him.

What?” Sean yelps. “Oh, right. He doesn’t know.”

“You knew he didn’t know,” Raven accuses.

“What?” Erik looks between the two. He ignores Logan snickering and looks to Azazel for help. “I don’t know what?”

Azazel shrugs back at him.

“It’s a surprise,” Raven says. “You’ll find out tonight when Charles takes you to dinner.”

“Charles is taking me to dinner?”

“Yes, and for God’s sake don’t wear that awful magenta tie.”

***

The cityscape shimmers off the Hudson River, the restaurant Charles has taken him to shadowed and close and lit with candlelight.

It’s pretentiously stuffy, high priced and overdressed, but they have a table off to themselves, tucked away in a private corner, and between the light wavering on the water and the warm candlelight flicker on Charles’ face, Erik concedes it has its merits.

He smiles at Charles and takes a sip of his water.

“You don’t like it,” Charles says suddenly as he’s setting his glass back down.

That makes him pause. He rubs his thumb against the light condensation on his glass. “It’s just a tad bit much,” he admits. “I probably never would have come here on my own.”

“Most people don’t,” Charles says, folding and refolding his napkin. He looks through the window to the river and sighs. “I’m sorry. I wanted it to be special.”

“Charles,” Erik laughs softly, reaching for his hand. “I don’t need any of this. Just you. You’re what’s special to me. I want you.”

Charles offers him back a faint smile. “You want to get out of here?”

Erik squeezes his hand. “Don’t you have something you want to ask me first?”

Charles’ paling is visible even under candlelight. “You know.”

“I can feel the ring in your pocket,” Erik confesses, amused. He feels stupidly giddy. “It is for me right? You don’t have someone else on the side?”

Charles stares at him dumbstruck.

“God, you’ve changed your mind,” Erik laughs.

“No,” Charles chuckles, coming back to himself. “It’s not that. Not at all. I’m just…”

Erik searches his eyes. “You’re nervous,” he says with disbelief.

“Course I am, you great idiot,” Charles says, smile bright, eyes brighter. “What if you say no?”

Erik’s smile can’t possibly grow any wider. “Ask me.”

Charles reaches into his pocket, producing a small black velvet box. He hesitates before flicking it open, looking at Erik hopefully despite already knowing Erik’s answer. The white gold band shines in the candlelight.

“Ask,” Erik says.

Charles looks at him, soft and fond and helplessly in love. “Will you marry me?”

Erik pretends to think about it for all of two seconds before he leans across the table, stealing a kiss from Charles’ beloved mouth. Then another. And another.

“Yes,” he says, soft against the warm curve of Charles’ lips.