Going into Haven was always like pulling a thick blanket over his head. Charles had been to the town a few times in the past four years, but every time he had felt like something was trying to neutralize who and what he was. At first it was almost a relief to open his mind, to drop his shields, but after a while it was simply… disturbing. The effect wasn’t limited to the town center either. It encompassed a wide area around Haven and the weird feeling began about five miles before the town’s official limits.
Charles had wondered about Haven from the first moment he'd heard about it. It was a town for the Cursed, it was a true haven for them, and they lived peacefully together with those who had voluntarily moved into the fishing village. Those without a Curse. Those who maybe had a relative or a friend who was a mutant.
But where Westchester was filled with Cursed who lived and worked with their very active mutations, who trained and wanted to understand what they could do in the safety of a small community who didn’t shun them, Haven seemed to dampen whatever the man or woman or child in question could do.
Charles had yet to find a good answer to that question. And even if there was one, did he want Westchester to be like Haven?
No, he didn’t. The Shifter felt that to accept a Curse meant to live with the potential, not lock it away.
“Less trouble with the Troubles,” Chief of Police Garland Wuornos had said when Charles had remarked on it the first time.
“But when they leave, their gifts will come back, Chief.”
“Haven’t heard of anyone leaving voluntarily yet.”
And that had been that.
Ever since that first visit, neighbor to neighbor, Charles had come back from time to time. Only briefly, never to stay overnight, and always talking to the residents, to their family and friends, trying to find the source of this neutral zone.
So far, no success.
Erik had never accompanied Charles before, but he had been aware of the effects the town had on his lover. So this time he had come along. It was a nice day, sunny, blue sky, cool winds. Ororo had mentioned a shift in the weather and that they might have to consider cutting their visit short.
The Shark didn’t think he would mind getting out of Haven as soon as possible if it truly neutralized who and what he was.
The trip to Haven was spent almost silently. The landscape went by unnoticed. The road needed repairs and some potholes were bone-jarring. It snaked along the rugged coastline with breathtaking views of the ocean and the rough rocks jutting out of the water. Erik had come this way as a shark before, but he had never gone to land. He had never been to Haven, this far north, in all his restless moves from one house to another.
The town was located on a neck of land reaching east from the coast. The long stretch split in two further out and only a few people lived there. Charles had mentioned Haven Beach, which seemed to be a nice location. Three larger islands dotted out into the sea, none of them inhabited, though not for lack of trying, but the rough seas and the lack of regular supplies made it impossible to survive the winters.
Maybe it had been instinctual on Erik’s part to make a wide detour around the place; maybe it had been the fact that so many people lived here. With almost a thousand inhabitants, Haven was one of the largest towns along the coast. Charles had mentioned that the people there were a tightly-knit group, not welcoming to strangers. Cursed were always greeted openly, but those without an affliction were seen as dangerous outsiders.
No wonder, he mused. The Cursed were shunned, cast from home and families in some areas and towns, and some were even hunted. He understood the reservations about newcomers.
The moment the dampening took effect, Erik tensed. Charles looked strangely confused for a moment, then a steep line appeared between his eyes, as if he was trying to pierce the shield that was making him… normal.
“What about Shifting?” Erik asked.
“I actually never tried.” Charles looked torn. “I’m not sure I want to do it now. Try, I mean.”
Erik’s lips became a thin line. He concentrated on a coin in the centre console and tried to lift it, but his powers seemed like switched off.
Anger curled through him.
How could anyone be this cruel? How could anyone think that dampening or taking the Curse away would help those afflicted?
The coin trembled a little and he huffed a dark laugh. Charles raised an eyebrow.
“Anger helps,” the Shark commented. He focused it on the coin and it shot through the air, through the truck’s roof, and away. “Whoops.”
“Erik,” came the mild chiding.
“You’re all for training,” was the only reply. “I’m training. Against this shield.”
Charles fell silent, clearly thoughtful. “We’re two miles from town. The closer we get, the more the effect takes place.”
“You want me to repeat it while in Haven?”
It got him a neutral look, but Erik knew he would do it again. He was angry enough and he suspected it would work.
Actually, it worked really well. The twisted metal that had been the police station’s guard rail was proof of it. Charles looked intrigued, as did Wuornos.
“Anger, hm? Explains a few odds and ends here or there.”
“Anyone ever get angry enough?” Erik asked, ignoring the twisted remains.
Wournos, who was maybe in his thirties, shrugged. “Here, you get all kinds of people. And all kinds of weird. Some’s normal, some’s the Curses. We call them Troubles. They’ve been here for a long, long time. People came to this town because it had something that neutralized whatever Curse was afflicting them” He turned to Charles. “Got what you asked for. It’s quite a collection and I’d appreciate it if you read it here.”
“I will. I wouldn’t ask you for the originals to take with me, Chief. I know how important those documents are.”
“Then follow me, professor.”
Erik smirked at the title. While Charles had graduated and had two doctorates – which had floored the Shark the first time his lover had told him – he wasn’t a real professor.
At least not a college or university one. He had no official classes or students. Everyone called him ‘professor’, though.
The Chief led them into the three-story red brick building that housed the Haven police. Haven was a lot older than Westchester and there had been people living here continuously. Charles had told him that the first settlers had come from Europe, cast out and looking for a new home. They had found it here. The old houses that made up the town center had been restored, but the newer ones were brick. The harbor still existed and people made a living from fishing.
Charles and Erik were led to what looked like an old storage room and now held an ancient desk the size of a billiard table, several shelves, and two chairs. A moth-eaten couch had been shoved against one wall. Boxes were stacked one on top of another.
“All of that?” Charles asked, surprised.
“All we could find. I believe there’s more.”
“Wow,” the Shifter murmured.
Wuornos chuckled. “We got a nice little Bed&Breakfast. Have fun, you two. Lemme know if you want something to eat. Emmi makes a mean chili.”
Charles smiled. “I will.”
And then they were alone.
“I think we should have brought Hank and Raven along,” Erik muttered as he studied the boxes, then took one off the stack. “Anything you’re looking for?”
“Anything on the founding days of Haven. Who came here, what were their Curses. Anything that can tell us how this town neutralizes a Curse so much that it seems to disappear.”
“Not neutralized. Dampened. Anger undoes whatever this is. And the question is, can you still Shift?”
Charles looked uneasy again. Erik closed the distance, sliding a large palm along his jaw, rubbing his thumb over the smooth cheek.
“What do you fear?”
The other Shifter was silent, then closed his eyes, leaning into the caress. “What if it doesn’t work completely? What if I get stuck somewhere…. Halfway?”
Erik leaned in, kissing his forehead. “With cute little rat ears and a tail?”
“I understand, really. Can you feel the Shifter?”
Charles was silent, apparently looking for that point inside him, then finally shook his head.
“Neither can I,” the Shark said.
Blue eyes met gray. Charles wrapped his arms around the other man’s lean waist, hugging him.
“It feels strange,” he murmured into the black shirt. “I’ve been like this all my life and in Haven… it’s like I’m living someone’s dream. Maybe I dreamed I’m a telepath or a Shifter.”
“If you’re dreaming, so am I. We’re sharing a dream.” Erik chuckled, disturbing the wavy hair. “Let’s get to work on this. I’m not planning to stay here over night.”
Charles smiled thinly. “Neither do I.”
As it turned out, they couldn’t leave. The weather annihilated their plans of going back to Westchester. Fog so thick you couldn’t see your hand in front of your eyes made it impossible to walk safely, let alone drive. Charles looked extremely unhappy.
They had dinner at a local restaurant, which was currently not really busy. Anyone with any sense had stayed home. Hettie, the owner, cook and waitress for the evening, served them delicious steaks and cold beer. Charles was trying to act normal, but anyone who knew him would have realized he wasn’t on his game.
Hettie asked them a few pleasant questions, then bustled off to clean the kitchen. Erik played with his nearly empty glass, eyes drifting to the windows now and then. The fog was getting even thicker, if that was at all possible.
“You boys have a good night,” Hettie said when they left after paying.
It wouldn’t be, Erik knew. Charles had gone completely silent as they left the restaurant and he looked lost.
Even the cozy, warm and generously large en-suite room they rented for a night couldn't make up for having to stay in this place. Any other time the charming, ever-green overgrown house that overlooked a now invisible bay – the fog shrouded everything in a world of white that was almost disconcerting – would have been lovely, but now it was more like a trap.
Erik watched his partner as he undressed for bed. The Shark always had a bag with spare clothes in the old truck and it came in handy now. Charles was moving like he was on automatic, but now and then he stopped and seemed to mentally reach for something, then find it missing.
The connection to Erik.
His psychic powers in general.
Gazing out the window, there was nothing for them to see. The porch lights were nothing but faint blobs in the whiteness and beyond that, the world seemed to end. The next house might or might not exist.
Already changed into shorts and a t-shirt, Erik walked over to the semi-undressed Shifter and pulled him into a hug.
“I’m here,” he said, brushing his lips over one temple. “I’m here.”
The telepath held on to him like Erik was his lifeline. “I know. I know you’re there, but it’s… “ He stopped, pressing his head against Erik’s shoulder and inhaling sharply. “I feel like… I’m not me. I’ve been a telepath all my life, Erik! All my fucking life! I’m not any more. I’m missing a limb.” He raised his head, the blue eyes swimming with despair. “And you. You’ve been there for so long…”
Framing the pale face, kissing the soft lips, Erik knew it was wrong to feel this good at the words while Charles suffered from the dampening effect. But hearing those words, knowing how important he was…
Normally Charles would chide him now, aware of his thoughts, open and loving and accepting. But there was nothing and it brought Erik back to reality.
“I’m still there.”
And if Charles got angry enough, he might just pierce the shields. But if he did, things might turn out to be a lot worse than a night of cut-off powers. Anger was never a good controller. Anger was hard to control on its own; add the Curse and it was downright suicidal to hope for a blast of fury.
Charles kissed him again, almost desperate. His hands slipped under the black shirt and Erik was quite aware that this was only going to be a replacement for the loss the telepath felt, nothing more. Well, a little more. He loved Charles and Charles loved him, so it wasn’t meaningless. Still…
But he gave in. He gave Charles what he craved, a sensation other than the emptiness and silence in his mind. He let him feel with his other five senses and he let him guide everything until the other Shifter was ready to be led.
Lying together later, listening to the exhausted man’s soft breaths, Erik cursed the town. Haven might be a safe place for the Cursed, but wasn’t in any way helping. It suppressed what these people had been born with. Erik was one of them and he was proud of what he could do, what he was.
Focusing the anger on the bedside lamp he rearranged the metal into something a lot less pleasing and artistic. Charles moved uneasily beside him and he ran a soothing caress over the floppy hair.
They would leave tomorrow. He would make sure of that.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Unable to sleep, Erik had turned to reading through those files Wuornos had agreed to let them take away. They contained a lot of ancient articles, family trees and newspaper reports. There were no original reports from the first days of Haven, but Charles had founds a few lines from almost four hundred years ago. Any back then there had been a small arrangement of houses.
So Haven was old. And the shielding effect had been there right from the beginning. There had been some notes from one of the early settlers that this land had been given to the new-arrivals by the Mi'kmaq, who had called the shoreline Tuwiuwok – Haven for God’s orphans.
Maybe it was in the ground, Erik mused. But what could influence all kinds of Curses like this? He didn’t believe it was possible. Nothing chemical, no flora or fauna… no freaky geological composition or geographical position.
It had to be something else.
Something that had lasted from the very first day right up to the present…
Had the Mi'kmaq known Curses, too? Had they understood what Curses were and what the new settlers had suffered from?
No one knew. The Natives hadn’t elaborated on their generous gift, their willingness to let the Cursed stay here. Some had been in town for a long, long time, helping some of the worst cases until whatever worked here shielded even them, then they had left. The whole tribe had disappeared from one day to another without a word as to where they were going.
Four hundred years later Haven was still a neutral zone with the occasional Trouble, and still no explanation for the how and why.
Erik let the file he was reading rest on his lap. Charles was still sleeping, though restlessly, and the Shark placed a warm, calming hand on the narrow shoulder. It quieted the other Shifter, but it didn’t help for very long.
Damn this town.
Charles looked like he hadn’t slept at all. His mirror image only showed it to him more clearly. He already felt like crap and his head ached. Not a psychic ache; that he would have welcomed. It was the kind of headache people complained about when the weather changed, when the Highs and Lows chased each other, the ones where the ache came and went as well.
None of his past visits had had this effect on him before. He had been cut off from his abilities, but never so suddenly and so completely. It was as if something in Haven was different, amplifying the effect, and he was suddenly… normal.
Not something he wanted to be. He had never been anyone but Charles Xavier, telepath and Shifter, Omega Cursed. He had accepted his abilities, he had accepted the consequences, and he had learned to live a life where everything about himself, everything he had been since birth, was part of who he was. He couldn’t be anyone else. He couldn’t deny who he was.
Charles rubbed his burning eyes.
He was without an important sense. He couldn’t do what he always did. It was like going blind and deaf all of a sudden, being unable to move freely. His mind was always active, the telepathy always there. He had never noticed how much he was casting about and reading and scanning until the first time he had come to Haven and found that it was like moving through cotton wool for him.
Those Cursed with a physical affliction or a mutation that ran amok with them were happy here. Those like Charles who had incorporated their psychic powers into their very lives and existence would shrivel up and die here. He had yet to meet someone whose Curse was purely psychic, which told him a lot. Wuornos hadn’t mentioned anyone going insane, but there were early notes from the founding days of a psychiatric ward, back then called something else entirely, less than complimentary, and two of the early settlers had gone catatonic.
No, he couldn’t stay here long. Not this time. Something was different and it was getting worse for him.
The shower hadn’t helped much and looking at Erik who was watching him like a hawk told Charles the rest. His lover was angry. Furious. Close to ripping through the shields and doing something they, well Charles, would regret.
So he approached the other man and used physical contact in the hope it would calm him a little. He longed to speak to him through the anchor, but that was like a dead connection to him.
“Please, don’t,” he simply said.
Gray eyes flared and Charles watched the ceiling lamp deform.
“Erik, please,” he repeated. “Don’t. If you lose yourself to the anger… we have no idea what can happen here.”
The Shark snarled. “We’re leaving now.”
“I have the files to return and a few questions to ask.”
“I can handle this, Erik.” At least for now. He had to. He had to make it for a few more hours, as painful as it was.
The Shark begged to differ. But he wouldn’t leave without his partner, so Erik tagged along wherever Charles went. First to see Wuornos and return the files, then to talk to the two journalists in town who ran the Haven Herald. They were a promising well of information on a lot of events of the past, and they remembered those times when the neutralization effects apparently waned enough for the Troubles to raise their heads again.
It was one of those fascinating things about Haven, that every three or so decades the Troubles seemed to surge up. Charles had found several written testimonies of those times and whatever caused them, it only happened sometimes.
Erik would have left his partner with the two nosy reporters if Charles hadn’t been so vulnerable. His protective-possessive instincts were screaming at him not to let the other man out of his sight. Without the telepathy he was like a walking wounded.
It especially showed when Charles wandered off after leaving the Haven Herald, that distant expression on his face, and very nearly colliding with a car. Erik grabbed the startled, shocked-looking Shifter and forced him to look into his eyes.
“We’re leaving!” he snarled. “Now!”
The metal feet of a bench uncurled and dug into the pavement with a soft, crunching noise.
Charles blinked, looking at the result of the power flare. “I think we should,” he said, sounding as shaky as he looked.
“Let Wuornos copy what you need. Someone can bring it to Westchester. Or someone you trust can come here.”
Someone who wasn’t Cursed or didn’t mind feeling normal for an hour or two. Erik sneered. As if anyone in Westchester wanted that. It was why they had come to the old harbor village and not to Haven.
Charles sighed heavily. “Maybe that’s the best idea.”
“It’s the only acceptable idea.”
“I’ve been here before, Erik. I’ve dealt with this. It’s just… more noticeable each time I come here.”
Erik frowned, not liking it at all. “C’mon,” he said gruffly. “We’re leaving.”
After saying good-bye to Wuornos. After working out the transfer of the copies. After warding off two nosey reporters.
Erik was close to releasing his anger again and doing something more than deform a bench or a railing.
The Chief didn’t even bat an eye when they announced they would leave early. He just accepted the decision and agreed that he would copy some files that Charles had found interesting and he would hand them to whoever Charles sent. Raven came to mind. Her Curse was physical and she wouldn’t be under such immense pressure when she couldn’t change her appearance for a few hours. For Charles, Haven was proving to be a challenge.
What surprised Erik was the woman at the Chief’s side. Dark-haired, pale-skinned with a pleasant face and a warm smile. She introduced herself as Lucy Ripley and he had a strange feeling when he shook her hand; it had been an automatic gesture when she had smiled and offered hers. No further explanations were given and the two men were too eager to leave to ask who she was. She could be the Chief’s girlfriend or lover for all Erik cared.
But looking into the rearview mirror, Erik frowned a little. She was watching them leave while Wuornos was already walking back into the station.
Charles felt the tension flow out of him the moment they passed the limits of the invisible barrier that neutralized the Haven area. His mind seemed to open up and he reached for Erik automatically.
The Shark nearly drove the car off the road when the caress touched him. Instead he braked hard.
“Geez!” he exclaimed. “Warn a guy!”
Charles laughed, sounding so relieved and free, Erik’s annoyance melted away and he reached for the closest hand, interlacing their fingers. He squeezed the hand, smiling softly at the other man.
::Okay?:: he thought.
::Perfect:: Charles replied.
The relief washed over Erik’s mind; Charles’ relief, mixed with his own.
The next move surprised Erik even more and he almost banged his head against the car’s ceiling as he jumped in shock as a dark brown rat suddenly sat in a bundle of clothes, smirking at him from black eyes.
Yes, Charles the Rat could smirk. Very well, indeed. Before getting to know this very special man he had never believed it possible.
::Works:. Charles broadcast, so incredibly happy.
::Just be glad I’m a shark and not inclined to flop around uselessly inside a landbound vehicle::
Charles’ mind laughter had Erik grin. It felt good to feel Charles like this, to see and experience his happiness, and to know that he hadn’t suffered anything permanent. That he stayed in his rat form showed how badly the inability to Shift had hit him. While the telepath didn’t change his shape as often and regularly as Erik, he did use his other form now and then. Where Erik enjoyed the freedom the shark gave him, craved the water because it was his element, Charles was landbound and had no imperative to follow.
The rat bounded out of the ancient truck and whisked into the grass the moment Erik stopped and had opened the door. Smiling indulgently the Shark watched the other Shifter stretch his legs. It was a rare sight to see Charles this playful in his rat form and he laughed when the telepath jumped onto the fountain’s ledge, shooting him a challenging look.
::I’m a salt water shark, love::
The term of endearment slipped out and the twitch of soft ears told him that Charles had taken notice. He cocked his head, whiskers spread wide, then he hopped off the concrete and raced toward the beach. Erik followed, jogging after his partner, and shook his head when he discovered the small bundle of chocolate brown fur slide and run and almost tumble down toward their beach.
But he felt his own instinct stir.
::I know I can Shift:: Erik told his lover.
::You want to:: Charles scrambled onto a large boulder, sitting on his haunches.
Erik reached out and stroked gentle fingers over the soft, soft fur. When the white-tipped tail flicked, he caught the lightly furred appendage, grinning at the furball. Charles was a lot bigger than a house rat, about the size of a cat, and had thick, dark brown fur. The tip was an anomaly and while normal forest rats didn’t have it, this one had.
Charles had mused that maybe his Shifter ancestry was a little mixed up since there were rodents like him. They were called rakali, a water-rat with webbed hind legs and waterproof fur. All had white tips. Charles was a landbound Shifter, his ancestry closer to a forest rat, with bigger ears, no webbed feet and definitely no waterproof fur.
Erik had argued that maybe it was the reason why he, the waterbound Shifter, had been so intensely attracted to him, why they had bonded, why he had claimed him as a mate. Somewhere in Charles’ genes was a little bit of rakali.
Well, whatever it was, it made the telepath a very adorable rat, the only Cursed Erik had ever trusted this much this quickly and who he had ever loved this intensely. Sometimes it scared him how much came to the surface when they made love.
“I want to,” Erik said, chasing away those thoughts.
Going into the water would calm his own mind, it would rebalance his soul. Haven had upset him more than anything else in the past years. It was as if the town was stealing part of him, closing a door he didn’t want closed.
Something or someone was responsible for it. Part of Erik wanted to know what it was; another was terrified of finding out the truth.
He went into the water after stripping off his clothes and while Erik hadn’t doubted it, the Shift still undid a knot inside him. He dove and came back up again, surprised to see his lovely rat using the rocky outcropping near-by to close in on where he was. Charles jumped surely and easily, his paws finding purchased where human feet might slip.
Erik poked his nose out of the water and Charles placed his paws on them, the hard nails tapping against the rough shark skin.
::Still got it:: Charles remarked happily.
::Still got it:: Erik agreed, pushing his nose up further. ::Come?::
::I’m not dressed for the occasion::
::I won’t dive. The ocean is calm. Just for a moment::
Charles looked at him, then skillfully hopped onto the shark’s back, paws clinging to the dorsal fin. Erik felt inexplicably happy, a burst of such intensely positive emotions that drowned out everything else. Charles reflected it, though he did broadcast a light apprehension.
::Nothing will happen:: Erik soothed him. ::You’re safe::
::I know. Landbound instinct, I think::
True to his word he didn’t go fast or deep. He just cruised through the calm waters, mentally grinning so hard it would have hurt had he been human.
A sudden thought struck him and with a brief flash of his intention toward Charles he Shifted into his human form, his arms going around the now equally human telepath. They were so close to the beach that their toes touched the ground and Erik maneuvered them even closer before kissing his partner.
::That was the plan?:: Charles teased.
::That was an idea that became a plan. You liked it, too::
A wave buoyed them even closer to the shore and Charles stumbled a little, sputtering a laugh when Erik caught him and nipped at his lower lip. They fell into the wet sand where the water still washed over their lower extremities, enjoying the unusually warm day.
“Why are you interested in Haven?” Erik asked, burying his toes into the slick sand. “It’s hurting you. It actually hurts every Cursed.”
“The town is a haven, Erik. I believe it was founded with the intent to give the Cursed a place to be without their abilities. Those who went there had extreme abilities or couldn’t handle what they were without hurting ones they loved. Whatever makes this place so special, it can be a danger and a blessing, too.”
“It hurts you,” Erik repeated.
“It’s disconcerting and this time was stronger than ever before. I don’t know why.”
Erik scowled and Charles linked their hands, squeezing Erik’s.
“Who is Lucy Ripley?” the Shark asked after a moment.
“I don’t know. I never met her before. Why do you ask?”
He shrugged. Vibes, he might call it. Instinct. Something about the woman was not right and Erik couldn’t put his finger on it. Charles caught those thoughts and frowned a little.
The Shark shook himself and pushed back the other man, settling over the naked form and kissing the soft lips with eager need. Water sloshed around them; his element. Charles laughed, wrapped his arms around the taller form, responding to the contact.
::I’d prefer a bed, Erik:: he murmured, biting the stubbled jaw.
It sent a spark through the predator and he longed for more. He wanted Charles so badly, he didn’t care they were right out in the open for everyone to see.
With another bite Charles nearly sent him over the edge of want into the abyss of mindless need. The Shifter was playing with fire and knowing it. There was a challenge there and Erik growled as he caught on to it. Charles smirked.
And then there was just the rat again and it was racing off toward the path leading up the shoreline and back to the manor. The Shark laughed and grabbed his clothes not far away, pulling on his pants for some decency. Erik was happy to see his partner Shift so freely.
Small Author's Note: the rakali is a real animal. A reviewer called Lisane from FFNet once posted: I'm in Australia at this moment and I saw this pannel about a native water rat, the rakali, with a white tipped tail, and I though : 'OMG, this is Charles !' lol. Is it a coincidence or did you use this rat as a model?
It wasn't, actually. I thought he would look cute with a white tip. After googling the rakali I decided yep, he is cute. And he might have rakali Shifter ancestors ;) There you go.
“That place is creepy!” Raven told her brother forcefully as she slammed a box full of copied files onto his desk. “I’ve got no idea what it is, but it freaks me out. How can anyone want to be there voluntarily?”
Charles riffled through the box, pleasantly surprised to see that everything seemed to be there. Wuornos was a man of his word.
“I don’t know, Raven,” he replied, looking at his disturbed sister. “Some mutants might find it appealing never to be… bothered again.”
Raven, looking her true self with her blue skin and yellow eyes, sneered. “Right! Lie to yourself. That’s the way to accepting you are different. They should be proud of what they are!”
“Raven, it’s their decision. Those who stay there aren’t prisoners. It’s their choice. You can’t force anyone to face their true selves if they are frightened of their abilities.”
She huffed. “Everyone in Westchester would tell them differently. We are different and we’re proud, Charles.”
“You don’t have to tell me.”
“I told it to that Wuornos guy. And the woman who was with him.”
“Yes. She’s… I’m not sure…”
“Raven?” he prodded when she stopped.
“The way she looked at me. So compassionate and calm and… not like you do! You encourage us all. She seems to…” She stopped, unable to find the right words. “Like she’s… like the town. Immune. Cursed, but immune.”
“Immune to what?” Charles wanted to know, puzzled.
“The dampening effect. Like she’s there. She’s so solid, Charles. It’s hard to describe it really. Didn’t you feel it?”
“He was blind and deaf, Raven,” Erik’s deep voice startled her. The Shark walked into the room, hands stuffed in his pockets, gray eyes sharp and alert, scanning Charles. “He was handicapped because of this place. But I noticed her. She was… very solid and too real, to use your words.”
Charles shook his head. “It was the first time I met her. In the past…”
“In the past she wasn’t there and Haven’s effect on you wasn’t as pronounced.”
“She amplifies it?” Raven asked, curious and slightly apprehensive.
“She couldn’t,” Charles argued. “The size of the neutral zone alone would make it impossible.”
Erik frowned, something clearly on his mind, but he didn’t say it, nor did he broadcast it to his telepathic lover.
“Well, whatever it is, I’m not going there again any time soon,” Raven told her brother forcefully. “Send Logan or someone from Westchester. Someone who isn’t Cursed. Haven’s not my favorite place to be.”
With that she was gone. Charles aimed a mental ‘thank you, Raven, I appreciate what you did’ her way and received a light hug. His sister might not be as familiar with his way of communication as Erik was, but she responded gently. Then he respected her wish for privacy and his promise never to read her without her knowledge and left her alone.
Erik looked through the contents of the box, raising his brows. “Lots of stuff.”
“I like to read.”
“I know.” He grinned and picked out a thick folder. It contained endless copies. “I like to read, too, but this puts me to sleep each and every time.”
He leaned over the box and kissed the other Shifter.
“I’m not planning to go back for a while,” Charles said when they parted.
“Good.” Erik’s voice took on a hard edge.
“It’s their free choice,” the telepath repeated firmly. “Just like this is ours. I respect that.” ::So should you::
“I accept that some people want to hide what they are. I can’t accept that every Cursed who enters Haven is forced to lose his abilities!”
“Painfully, Charles! And the Ripley woman is part of it.”
“You can’t know that.”
“Neither can you! You can’t even read her or anyone else in that place.”
Charles met the irate eyes. “I’m quite aware of that, Erik. But it won’t keep me from looking into the foundation of Haven; literally the foundation.”
“It hurts you.”
The telepath sighed. “Not physically,” he answered calmly.
“Erik, I’ve been going for years now.”
Erik growled, then abruptly turned on his heel and left.
Charles felt eddies of anger touch him through their bond. Nothing metal suffered much, which spoke of the metalbender’s firm control over his abilities, but it was only because Erik was actively restraining himself. Normally he would have let the fury run lose.
His lover would come to understand that Haven was important in its own way. And that Charles needed to know as much as he could about it and the effects. Maybe one day a Cursed would come to Westchester who needed more than acceptance and training. Maybe one day they would need to ask Chief Wuornos for help. Or Lucy Ripley.
Charles sank into the old leather chair, thoughtful. Erik saw Haven as a prison, as a way to restrain what the Cursed had been born with. He had suffered too much of the same in his life to easily accept that the town’s people stayed by their own, free will.
While the telepath had suffered from the effects of Haven, he could see the good the town did. There were so many Curses that could be incredibly dangerous. He had found several diaries from the afflicted and their families before. There had been terrible abilities that had exiled those mutants, had set them apart from everyone else. There was a lot worse out there than being a Witchbreed, showing your difference so openly.
Like turning a person into dust by just a touch, and unable to control it among even loved ones. Nightmares coming to life and killing. Causing people to see their worst fears when looking into their eyes. Capturing a person’s soul in a drawing, even if only a sketch, which causes whatever happens to the drawing to happen to the person, or even a place.
Charles understood the need for a safe place. Haven was that place. Not for him or Erik or Raven or anyone from Westchester, but for others.
Erik had turned a rather ugly sculpture into what looked a lot like modern art. He felt calmer now and the need to tear into something was slowly ebbing away.
“Need a sparring partner, Shark?”
Of all the Cursed…
Erik turned around and glared at Logan. “What are you doing here?”
“Your magnetic personality pulled me in.” Logan grinned.
“If that’s supposed to be a come-on…”
“Hardly. You’re so not my type. So? Interested?”
Logan regarded the new work of art. “Sure?”
“Yes,” he snarled.
“Huh. Hope the professor’s into rough sex.”
Erik launched himself on the other Cursed and pushed him hard against the twisted metal.
“Gotcha,” Logan only said.
Erik had no idea how the other man did it, but before he could react, Logan was free, he was on the ground, his knee hurt and his wrist was on fire.
Red edged into his field of vision and instinct overrode logic.
It was on.
Charles looked up from the file he had grabbed out of the box, a thick folder full of copied texts and pictures, and groaned.
“Damnit, Erik!” he exclaimed.
But aside from using his bond to stop the brawl going on outside, Charles had no other way to stop it. And knowing Erik and Logan, this was just something to work off the tension. Erik’s tension. Logan had a keen sense of when he was needed to bring the Shark back down a little. It had become a game that could go from verbal sparring – verbal abuse of the finest order, Alex had once remarked – to trading a few blows. Haven had managed to get Erik in a mood that required a true brawl.
Charles sighed and forcefully erected shields, ignoring his partner’s emotional outbursts.
“Been there. Weird place.” Logan emptied a can of beer, then crushed it. “Can’t say I like what’s going on there.”
He looked a bit disheveled, but no wounds showed. His regeneration made sure of that. His clothes were dirty and there was a rib in his t-shirt. Otherwise, nothing.
Erik shot him a narrow-eyed look, still on his first beer. “The shielding?”
“Yep. Not normal. Whatever happened to the place to make it like that, gets my hackles up each and every time.”
Erik had a bruise on one cheek and there would be more developing under his clothes, but he was feeling rather good and the aches and pains were nothing compared to what had been there before; the rage.
“How often have you been there?”
The other mutant shrugged and grabbed another beer. The six-pack was down to three now. “On and off.”
“Have you ever met a woman called Lucy Ripley?”
“Can’t say I have. Why?”
Logan laughed. “Oh, you’re such a bad liar, Shark.”
Erik massaged his aching wrist. No broken bones. Logan had never broken any bone in his body, just left him with the knowledge that he could have.
“She was there when we said good-bye to the Chief. She set my teeth on edge, like she’s the reason for the sudden intensity of the neutral zone effect. Charles was never this badly afflicted, which is why he visited so often before. This time it was like he was on drugs.”
Logan was silent, eyes on the manor grounds. “Can’t say I recall a name like Lucy Ripley, but when I was there, long time ago, there was this woman in a pub. Young, good-looking, red-head. Said her name was Sarah. Pleasant on the eye. And nice. But… creepy. So much I high-tailed it out of there the very same night.”
“Brunette,” Erik told him. “Natural.”
“You checked?” Logan teased, the amusement chasing away the momentary unease that had crossed his features.
“When were you there?”
“About forty years ago.”
Erik knew the other mutant had some exceptional abilities, like his very speedy, almost instant, regeneration, which also meant he didn’t age. Anyone who thought that was such a fantastic deal would get a different idea when Logan told them a few things about his Cursed life.
Forty years. Long enough for Lucy to be a daughter…
Whoever she was, whatever she was doing or could do, Erik wasn’t planning on pursuing the mystery Haven presented. He disliked the town. Charles would keep on digging because he was curious and inquisitive by nature. Going back would be postponed for a while now.
He emptied his beer and accepted a new can from Logan, who looked rather contemplative.
“Wouldn’t go back there for a while,” he finally broke the silence. “Just my gut.”
“Not planning to.”
“And the professor?”
Erik shrugged. “Probably.”
“No idea if you’re into that kinda thing, but if he starts going on about it, tie him to the bed.” Logan winked. “I’ll help.”
Erik glared at him, but the alcohol and the loose feeling he had from the fight made it no more than a weak scowl.
Logan got up and gave the Shark a sloppy salute, then walked back toward the mansion. Erik nursed his beer, thoughts all over the place.
Haven was bad, his instincts told him. for them. For him and Charles. Especially for Charles. At least as long as Ripley was there.
And even if the woman left, it wasn’t like Erik was looking forward to another visit. He had lived this long without passing through Haven even once. He could live out the rest of his – granted, very long – life without ever going back.
Charles would drive by again. He knew his lover; the other Shifter was fascinated, intrigued, captivated… plain nosy and too naïve sometimes for his own good. He would return. Erik simply hoped that when that happened, Ripley was already gone.
Erik found Charles in his office. Of course. He hadn’t expected him to be anywhere else. With the box of files and other goodies from Haven, Charles Francis Xavier was in his element. Erik had never understood his lover’s penchant for research, reading obscure texts, delving deep into a matter that no one else understood, and then writing a brilliant paper about the subject matter that everyone understood. Charles had a knack for it and it was the reason for his two doctorates. Erik was secretly preening whenever he thought about it.
His loveable little rat.
Now he studied the other man, mentally shaking his head. Shirt sleeves rolled up, top two shirt buttons undone, wearing a patchwork vest that looked like one of the kids from Westchester had knit together as a gift, color mismatched pants – brown tweed, Charles? Really? – and his hair messy from running his fingers through the wavy strands.
He looked adorable.
Looking up, Charles blinked and suddenly smiled. Of course he would pick up on that last thought!
“Feeling better?” the telepath asked pleasantly.
Knowing he looked like he had just lost a bar brawl, Erik didn’t deign the comment worthy of an answer.
Charles scribbled a few more notes, then closed the file.
“Find something interesting?” Erik asked.
“Lots. Just nothing that makes sense.”
“So you got a new project now?” The question came out sharper than he had wanted it to be.
Charles looked up, studying him like Erik was suddenly a very interesting specimen under his microscope. The Shark nearly squirmed when those blue eyes held his. Charles knew him; better and more intimately than anyone ever had before or ever would. He knew everything about him. He knew what was going on in his head without having to read his mind.
“Haven is like Westchester, Erik.”
“It’s a refuge for the Cursed. We deal with those coming to Westchester differently. We want to teach them. Haven simply switches off the Curse until the afflicted leaves. But the idea is the same. I want to understand Haven better, but maybe I never can or will be able to comprehend it completely. I can try, though.”
Erik breathed calmly, trying to tone down the negative emotions.
“You will go back,” he stated.
“One day.” Charles put down the pen and rose, walking around the desk. He reached out to run a feather-light caress over the angry bruise on Erik’s face. “One day, Erik. The town is not malevolent. It’s not an entity. I can prepare myself for what happens to me there. I handled the dampening effect before. This time the shields were so complete, I had never experienced anything like this before. But I can adapt.”
Erik caught the hand and kissed the palm, then pulled his lover into a hard, reaffirming kiss that Charles answered willingly. It gentled, grew more loving, with tender caresses and a soft, telepathic moan of approval.
Charles returned to Haven three months later. The neutralizing effect wasn’t as pronounced as the last time and when he asked Wuornos about Lucy, he received a shrug. She had left.
He noticed the picture of a young boy on Wuornos’ desk, about five years old, but he didn’t ask. He had never inquired about any family, nor had he ever met Wuornos’ wife.
“More questions, professor?” the Chief asked.
“No. I’m still working my way through what you sent me.”
The other man chuckled. “Where’s your friend?”
“In Westchester.” Charles didn’t want to elaborate. Instead he looked the Chief in the eyes, wishing once again he could use his abilities. “I know I have yet to scratch the surface, but I noticed that sometimes, in Haven, your Troubles come back.”
Wuornos’ face closed up. “You don’t say.”
Charles knew he had struck something. “Periodically even. About every thirty to thirty-five years.”
“Haven’t noticed anything, professor. Maybe you read those copies wrong.”
Charles smiled pleasantly. “Yes, maybe.” He hadn’t. And the Chief was hiding something.
He also knew when not to press on and just accept it, at least on the surface. So he said his good-byes again and walked through the growing town, nodding at those he had met before. He had a coffee at the small café that had recently been completely renovated and now attracted its fair share of customers. Watching the people coming and going, Charles didn’t engage in any conversations, just observed. And he watched himself, his powers, feeling no ill effects this time. He was without his telepathy, but it didn’t bother him. Everything was muted, like under a lot of layers he couldn’t push aside. Not like the last time when it had felt like he had lost a huge part of himself.
She made him wonder. A lot made him wonder. Taking the long way through Second Street and down Cove to the harbor, Charles enjoyed the warmth of the day. The ancient pick-up was parked up on Long Bay Road and he drove off to Westchester not much later.
The shielding effect lessened until it was completely gone as he passed that invisible line.
Charles parked the truck and got out, not surprised to see he was already awaited by Raven. His sister looked momentarily worried, then relief washed over her features.
“You’re okay,” she stated.
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“One word: Haven.”
“Haven isn’t evil, Raven.”
“It just drains your powers, makes you normal.” She scowled. “It’s unnatural.”
“I’m not going to argue with you about this. Is everything okay?”
“You were only gone for a few hours. Yes, we’re all fine. Even Erik.” She smirked. “He didn’t bite anyone’s head off.”
Charles chuckled. He knew that. The anchor line was going strong and he knew his lover was okay.
Raven accompanied him into the manor and he greeted the students and other residents as they passed him.
It was good to be home; his home.
Erik echoed the thought.
::You still think Lucy Ripley has something to do with this?:: the Shark asked.
::I’m not sure. She isn’t the source of the shield, but she is part of the town. She’s a Cursed. Somehow I think the Curse only works in Haven::
Erik’s presence radiated sudden surprise. He was at the beach, watching Liam work with his Curse. The young man could influence water and the Erik was ‘supervising’, as he called it. Raven simply said he was a baby-sitter, deal with it, and he and Charles were running a day-care for Cursed.
Charles headed in that direction, smiling a little to himself. ::Those ‘Troubles’ hit Haven from time to time, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be a safe refuge for the Cursed. Something changes periodically and from what I gathered out of those texts I read, and seeing a few old images that were rather grainy, she is always there::
::Omega?:: Erik wanted to know.
::Maybe. Whatever or whoever she is, she is connected to Haven. I have a lot to sift through and I’m quite positive the Chief didn’t hand over everything. He knows who she is, maybe even what her role is::
Walking down the beach access, Charles joined his lover in watching Liam train. He had gotten quite good and it looked effortless how he handled the water pillar, spires and spirals.
“Ancient tales sometimes have a guardian for a specific place,” Charles said softly. “The Mi'kmaq have them, too. Today we know that back in those days it was a normal human being with a Curse. To them it was a spirit, a being of supernatural powers.”
“You think she’s that old?”
The telepath shrugged. “Might be. Maybe it’s something else. Curses aren’t ever passed down throughout generations, but similar afflictions exist. Or Lucy breaks those laws and she is the current heir of something that only the location of Haven brings out. Or she is an Omega Cursed and has lived here for hundreds of years.”
“Coming only when the Troubles start acting up?” Erik frowned. “Sounds unbelievable.”
Another shrug. Charles looked relaxed, watching Liam, appearing happy at his student’s success.
“She’s gone now,” he said. “And Haven has many more questions and mysteries. I’m not sure I really want all the answers.”
Erik bumped their shoulders together. “I’d rather you wouldn’t dig too deeply. Westchester is enough, don’t you think?”
It got him a smile. “Yes, it is.”
They were still in their own founding days. Charles wanted to know about Haven, but he had his hands full with Westchester and all the Cursed at the mansion.
“Exactly,” Erik said.
Okay, so he had broadcast that. He was slipping.
Erik leaned against him, smiling, quite aware that he had caught the telepath. Charles tilted his head until he rested one temple against Erik’s, smiling himself.
“Let them deal with their own problems,” the Shark said after a while where the sound of the ocean had been the only noise.
Charles slid an arm around the lean waist, feeling content and warm and comfortable just sitting there. Erik echoed the feeling.
It wasn’t until almost six months later that Charles finally finished his research into the files Wuornos had given him. He had found massive gaps in the papers. Deliberate gaps, he mused. As if he hadn’t been given all copies he had requested; as if some things had been edited out.
But Charles Xavier was resourceful. Logan had been in Haven before. From talking to some of the other Cursed in Westchester he discovered two more visitors who had felt unwell in the town. One had a contact in Haven, a fellow Cursed who had arrived with him but stayed. She worked in the library and had sent them information on the periods of time missing from Charles’ files.
It was how he discovered that the early settlers had met a woman called Naguset who had helped them establish control over the Curses. Throughout time there had been several noted incidents of a woman coming to Haven whenever things threatened to get out of control, when the neutralizing effect waned for a while. The woman had had many names, but whenever one described her in their journals, she seemed to be the same; with no recollection of being to Haven before.
Charles was still puzzled as to why those shifts in the neutralizing shield happened and how, but the female visitors always got things back into order.
He finally locked everything away, much to Erik’s relief.
“You are obsessed with this,” the Shark remarked.
It got him a huff. “Your ‘interest’ turned into a hunt for something that isn’t your responsibility, or part of this household, or the town. The woman and Haven aren’t your problem, Charles!”
Charles looked into the cold gray eyes, felt the anger within the other man at whatever it was that Haven nurtured and protected, what it did to mutants. He finally nodded slowly and approached the Shark. Slipping a hand along his waist, Charles pulled the taller man closer, kissing him gently.
::I know we have enough on our plates out here. I just couldn’t resist the puzzle::
::I can:: came the low, dark growl. ::Let them be. They never came to us for help, we won’t throw ourselves at them either::
Erik wrapped his arms possessively around the other Shifter. Charles smiled and kissed him again, this time with more intent. Erik didn’t resist. He was actually quite actively taking part and his hands were already tugging Charles’ white shirt out of his pants. Naked skin was caressed and the telepath hummed in appreciation.
Images appeared in Erik’s mind and the next thing he knew, Charles had pushed him against the wall, into one of the drapes, and his mouth was thoroughly ravaged by the other man. Erik curled his fingers into the waistband of his lover’s pants, drawing him closer, his tongue battling against Charles' for dominance while in the same breath submitting to the man's need. It was a primitive need, something from very deep inside him, something that targeted Charles Xavier as its victim, its prey, while also recognizing it as a fellow hunter and dominant. It was confusing and simple in one.
They separated, breathing hard, eyes wild and dilated. A flush covered Charles’ fair skin and his hair looked unruly. He had never looked more desirable and a longing rose with the desire, a longing so primal it shut out everything else. The Shark was ready to strike, to claim, to show everyone that this man belonged to him.
Their bodies were pressed together and Erik’s hands were splayed over Charles’ ass. Something seemed to fizz through him, sizzle along his nerves, settling way down south. Erik drew his lover into a searing kiss that grew more demanding with every second. He was acutely aware of the telepath’s body against his, so perfect, so familiar, but still very new and exciting. His desire rose several notches and a small part in him told Erik to get a room before he completely lost it, thoughts colliding with each other, tumbling around in his head.
They made it to their room, but Erik had no clear recollection how. He was just thankful that they hadn't run into any of the others.
The door had barely closed after them when the two men were at each other again, kissing and nipping, fumbling with zippers and buttons. Erik groaned in frustration and then finally managed to wrestle off the last clothes. That was the moment he was once again pushed against the wall by the whirlwind that was his lover. His adorable little rat. His. Only his. Erik took an immense pride out of the fact that he was the only one who had the privilege of seeing his partner like that. Unrestrained, sexy, desirable, adventurous... just Charles.
Soft but knowing fingers suddenly closed around him and Erik swallowed a groan. His sounds were swallowed by the mouth he loved so much. Charles gave his arousal one more tug, then removed his hand, much to Erik's disappointment. But the other Shifter didn't give him much time to think. He proceeded to kiss his chest, paying thorough attention to his nipples, and by the time he had arrived down south, Erik was ready to scream.
"Charles..." he groaned. "Please..."
A tongue licked teasingly over him and his breath caught in his throat.
And Charles continued to play with him. Erik had his eyes closed, his arms and hands pressed against the wall for balance and to hold himself upright, but then Charles added finger play and it was almost too much.
Metal sang to him, bowed to his command, and he wanted nothing more than to use it to do his bidding. He had already locked the room tightly, but the image of Charles helpless on the bed, the desk, the floor, metal surrounding his wrists, flowing over his body…
::My turn:: the telepath purred, aware of his thoughts.
Yes, his turn. The Shark was bowing to his lover, handing over control. It was a situation Erik would never have believed he would find himself in; ever! But with Charles his life had changed. He had changed. He had given control to Charles before… actually, Charles was always in control. One thought he could stop whatever Erik was doing…
His knees started to buckle at the double stimulation and strong hands grabbed his hips. His lover kissed a flaming trail from his groin to his mouth and Erik was treated to another breathtaking kiss.
"Charles, please..." he begged when they separated again.
"I want you."
Charles’ blue eyes were bright and filled with something Erik knew was in his own expression as well. This was his mate, his Charles. His alone and no one could ever take this, him, from Erik.
They ended up on the bed, Charles on top, something that thrilled the predator in Erik more than he could put into words.
The infuriating mouth nibbled along one side his chest, then gently teethed a nipple. Charles could be such a tease, and Erik loved every second of it. It was what no one else would ever know, see, hear about. This was only for them, for him. Exclusively.
Erik gave up his last hold on sanity when Charles slowly slid into him. He turned himself completely over to the lust burning inside him, flooding his veins. Liquid fire raced up his spine, eradicating his logical mind.
When he finally reached his peak, he grabbed his lover, raking his fingers over the muscular back. Charles gave a hoarse groan as he came, completely still for a moment, then, with a shudder, he fell forward. Erik wrapped his arms tightly around the smaller man. Panting could be heard in the quarters, their hearts hammering, their sweat slicked bodies entangled with one another.
It took Erik a while to really return to the reality around him. "Damn, that was intense," he murmured.
Charles massaged his side in gentle strokes. "It was."
Erik sighed softly, contentedly, and closed his eyes. He felt a soft kiss against his temple, then he was hugged closer. It was how they fell asleep.
fin for this one!