It was a well known fact that getting a half-dozen CIA agents and a pair of mutants into and out of the USSR in 1962 was fairly difficult, especially while the USSR was on high alert from the recently installed Jupiter missiles in Turkey. It was made even more difficult by the presence of an additional telepath who seemed dedicated to harrying their progress out.
Unlike the usual method for smuggling out scientists, they intended to leave through Turkey, which meant a long overland route south out of the USSR, over a day and a half by truck, with Charles hiding their presence and keeping Emma from attracting unwanted attention. Charles felt guilty, but the hours where the diamond woman were sedated were the only ones where he could truly relax at all.
"Are you alright, Charles?" Moira asked him as Levene and Erik pulled out canisters to take when they traveled into the nearest town to procure more fuel.
He smiled, and gave her a stiff nod. "Nothing I haven't managed before, love."
"Long nights of thesis work, Charles?" Erik asked, sounding smug and not looking any the worse for wear.
Days out in the Korean wilderness looking for men who had been downed and were hopefully still alive. "Something like that."
Erik was more aggressive than usual, it was not entirely unusual, he'd seen Erik at a low ebb before, when he was bored or particularly agitated, but this was different.
"Are you alright, my friend?"
Erik shook his head in a way that could have meant 'no' or could have just meant that he wanted Charles to back off. Charles could have pried, but he had to save his strength for when Emma was roused again and he didn't want to be distracted. He watched the other man head out with Levene and he stood near their truck, fingers resting lightly on his temple as he scanned the forest and felt for any stirrings that would indicate Emma was coming back into consciousness.
Levene and Erik returned less than a half hour later, but he had a little girl trailing them, not really a little girl, actually, a young woman in her mid teens. A girl who had apparently not heard the adage about following strange men. The girl's presence unnerved Erik, obviously, and he kept his back turned away from her.
"Professor could you..." Levene wiggled his fingers by his temple and Charles sighed, headed over to the girl.
She was pretty, with very dark auburn hair and sea blue-green eyes. He smiled at her, and she smiled back. "Why are you following us?" He asked in English, but it was simple enough for him to hook into her mind, put the question to her mind-to-mind so that she understood.
"Why are you concentrating?" She asked, looking around more, she spoke... something, something slavic, maybe, that obviously Levene hadn't known well enough to send her on her way. "Do you know my father?"
"Your father?" Charles asked, still in English. And he saw Erik whip around, looking at the girl again in shock.
"Him." The girl pointed to Erik. "I remember him... he's magic, I saw him do magic again." And she reached out her hands, fingers splayed and slightly clenched, a perfect mimicry of something he'd seen a handful of times already.
Charles wondered at strange coincidences that had the poor girl thinking that she was Erik's child, and he reached into her mind to push her back towards the village, but he saw a flash, felt smoke burning in his own lungs, heard his voice - a child's voice, female and scared - screaming for his vati. Her memory. He looked again, saw a young man, painfully young, screaming as he was pinned, kept from going into the house by a mob between him and the fire, but... there was no mistaking him, slightly softer, not quite so old and worn by the world, but distinctly Erik.
"What's your name, child?"
"Anya" Charles heard Erik's answer in his own mind, pained and wracked with grief. Erik couldn't have felt what he'd seen, but...
"Impossible," Erik said, voice raw and emotions bleeding everywhere. "She died..."
"In a fire?" Charles asked. "While she looked from the second story window, hand outstretched while you were held back by a village crowd?"
"How---?" Erik's voice broke. "Did you see that?"
"In her mind, yes."
"I---" Erik had descended into incoherence.
He peeked back into her mind, her mother was gone, apparently, abandoned, and she lived in a caravan that would miss her, but seemed to consider her an ill omen for reasons that Charles didn't want to dwell on in the middle of the USSR while the threat to the CIA base posed by Shaw still hung in the air. "Do you want to come with your vati?"
She nodded immediately.
"Well, chaps... always room for one more?" They were already smuggling a telepath, after all, there was room for one young girl, and he and Erik had already made a point of picking up children with nowhere else to go.
* * *
Erik looked over at the girl in the back of their truck, she was looking over at him, shyly, nervous. Charles sat between them - and she was clinging to the telepath's arm tightly, the only one she could communicate with. German was the language of his youth, and between that and his quest to bring down Shaw those skills had never dulled, but the Romani language had long since faded into the recesses of his mind.
He was also trying to decide if it was kidnapping if it was your own daughter. He tried to smile at her, but he thought it might have come out menacing, still, she smiled back at him, still shy.
"Her mother?" He asked Charles.
Charles asked and the girl responded.
"She doesn't know, not with her. She traveled with... some nomads? Gypsies?"
"Romani," Erik answered.
Charles went back to talking with the girl, it all sounded like English to him, but eventually the girl... Anya, his daughter Anya... started to produce a few phrases of English 'hello, my name is Anya', 'I am fourteen years old'.
He watched, annoyed, as they bumped over dirt roads and finally Emma started to stir from her drug induced stupor and Charles had to give up his English lessons to sit on the floor with his hands pressed tight against Emma's temples.
Anya scooted closer, halfway into the space Charles had vacated; another scoot and she was in his space; two minutes later she had scooted once more and nervously put out her hand, resting, palm up, on his knee. He reached out, slowly, his fingers pressing against her palm and then carefully picking up her hand, turning it over like it might break or disappear or never have been. She didn't evaporate, though, no screams, almost a decade old, woke him in his sleep, she squeezed one of his knuckles.
His heart was racing faster than if he had run miles, or even in the moment where he thought he'd had Shaw in his clutches. She was... any moment she would disappear.
"Hello." Her voice was so small, hesitant.
"Hello," he answered. Mouth dry. "My name is Erik."
She nodded. "Vati."
He felt... something. He couldn't have said. Whatever it was it was something he'd long since thought dead. He'd tried, so very hard, right after the war, to forget everything, to curl up in the arms of the one good thing to come from the war and forget Schmidt. He'd thought he might have been able to have something with Magda, something simple, something free of his cursed mutation.
Anya was all of that, sweet, bright, cute as a button, his little girl. He'd thought he had lost her almost a decade ago, more proof that his mutation was monstrous, good for nothing but killing because he could not use it to save his little girl.
He reached out, an arm tentatively circling behind her back and she slid next to him, body plastering to his side, and she started to babble, nothing he could even begin to understand. Charles was no help, however, pressed as he was, his hands on Shaw's telepath's temples.
Erik thought he had lost all faith years ago, but as he pressed his lips against her auburn hair he thought 'thank God' and he meant it.
* * *
Less than a week into their time in Westchester, Anya had decided Charles was her 'mutti'. He had no delusions about his - apparent - masculinity in comparison to Erik, and it wasn't a blow to his ego, but he thought the girl was wickedly perceptive to something that Charles was trying to ignore. Either that or it was just the fact that Charles willingly cooked for two grown men, a grown woman, three teenaged boys, and his sister, nearing thirty but still resembling a teenager.
The children were all dressed for the day, Erik included, in sweat pants, and Anya came down slightly later, her long hair braided loosely behind her head in a way that showed the burn scar that traveled down from just behind her ear - a patch of hair there burnt until it no longer grew - and traveled down under the collar of the sweats.
"Mutti, I want to train today."
She knew that was what they were doing, 'training' for what or why was not something Charles was certain he had the words for, but she had watched as Charles had disappeared into a bunker with Alex - and had run with Hank - and had watched as Erik had run and pushed Sean and Raven to their limits physically. Apparently she saw no need to be left out.
"Absolutely not," Erik answered.
Charles looked at him, arched an eyebrow. Everyone else conspicuously pretended not to be paying attention. "Why not, Erik?"
"She..." Charles could hear the excuses running through his head, 'she's my daughter, she's too young, if I lost her...'
Charles ignored the undercurrent. "A young woman should be prepared for anything."
And so she ran, she ran and laughed when Hank circled the house with her latched onto his back; she oofed and groaned when Moira worked through hand to hand combat with her, designed for her slightly petite frame; she lifted weights with Raven, the two of them somehow communicating with barely a hundred words between them; in the evening she read, sprawled out on the floor next to his and Erik's chess board, the two of them arguing politics while Anya kicked her feet and carefully read 'cat' and 'apple' and 'banana' at them, her questions managing to interrupt before any argument managed to get too heated.
Charles circled through the house - the house that had never felt like a home until last week - checking on each of his students, trading a few words and offering his support, before he wound his way back towards his room.
He paused, looked in the open doorway to where Erik sat next to Anya on her oversized bed, the two of them reading a story together in English, Erik struggling to explain the details in barely-remembered Romani. Charles found himself standing there, half-intruding, half-hiding, as Erik made animal noises and pantomimed actions, and Anya looked at the page and at Erik with rapt attention.
Charles stayed until the end, until the traded 'good night, liebling' and 'good night, vati', and his chest ached, ached for something that he knew Erik could have if he just let himself.
"Another round of chess?" He asked Erik when the man walked out of the room and into the hallway.
He shook his head. "Just a drink, maybe."
* * *
It was so hard and so easy. So very, very hard and so very, very easy. A daughter, alive and brilliant and mostly whole. Erik knew there were nightmares, ones that mimicked some of his own, fire, the smell of burnt flesh, men skewered for daring to stand between Erik and his daughter; Charles was always there for that, fingers brushed against his daughter's temple and soothing away the hurt in a way he ached to allow Charles to do for him.
Charles had never asked, though, although he knew the man must have known about Erik's nightmares. The telepath was out of bed and at her door before Erik snapped awake from the first whimper. Surely Charles knew...
Erik stared into his martini, prodding the pick that held two olives. "You do know what mutti means, right?"
Charles nodded. "I've been called far worse, and very little better." Charles fell silent, tilting his half-full glass back and forth, watching the ice rattle gently against the sides but not drinking. "Is it...? She has a proper mother, though, yes? A red-head."
He wondered how much Charles knew. 'Everything' was what he'd said when they had met, barely a few months ago, lifetimes ago. "When the villagers kept me from rescuing Anya... I killed them. It terrified Magda. My powers were barely controlled, I hadn't used them since..."
A drill, that smile, that smile, pain, a pleasant laugh, a coin pressed tight into his hand.
"Since the war," Charles filled in.
Erik nodded. "I thought I couldn't save her, she was dead... I thought she was. Her body... not even breathing..." He shook his head, trying to remember and not remember. "I always felt Schmidt had made me a monster, but when I couldn't save my own daughter..." That had been the end of it, he'd gone to Israel and joined up with Mossad and after he had never looked back.
"And now? Knowing that she did not die?"
He took a slow sip from his martini, stared it down. He didn't know.
Charles was looking over at him, all naive hope and optimism and yet somehow incredible strength. The strength to banish his daughter's nightmares...
"Nothing has changed, I still want Shaw dead."
The other man nodded, not surprised. "And after?"
Charles had to know that Erik never thought of after, he had never intended for there to be an after. Even if he had survived, what would a man like him do with his life?
Afterwards, Anya would have her mutti, and little need for a vati.
When he looked up, back to Charles, he saw those soul-deep eyes, edges wet, those damn eyes looking at him like he could be anything more than a monster.
* * *
His children were incredible. His and Erik's children were incredible. Sean's flight suit was a success, Alex's chest plate was also a wonderful success, and the weeks ticked by slowly with no sign of Shaw.
Even his little human - Anya - no special mutation beyond her eyes and her hair, had grown by leaps and bounds. Her English was nearing conversational, her reading lagged, but only just; she could beat Charles at a sprint, but not a long distance run; and Erik was currently sporting a rather dashing bruise to his jaw when he had underestimated his daughter.
Charles was sitting next to Erik on the couch, holding a bag of ice pressed against the left side of his chin. "At least you know you have no need to be concerned for her virtue. Young men can be rather intimidated by a girl with a mean right hook."
"You wouldn't stand for a young man messing with her," Erik mumbled. "She's your liebling as well."
He might have felt a little thrill at Erik saying that. Still, he sniffed, imperious. "I am the mutti, however, that means I must judge him from afar while her vati is the one who makes the young man sweat."
Erik snorted. And he could feel Erik's thoughts drift to Magda. Charles felt a flare of guilt.
"I'm sorry," he said, instantly. "She has a proper mother." Not him.
He'd gotten swept up in it. A child. Children were always something that was going to happen after, after college, after graduate school, after Shaw, after training the children. That was one thing he envied Erik for even as it frustrated him. Erik wasn't going to wait for 'after', because he never quite believed there was something for him on the other side.
Erik didn't answer.
"I'm going to go check on her. She was rather distraught, you know, punching her father like that."
Erik took the bag of ice from Charles, fingers brushing and tangling before Charles had a chance to extract himself completely. "Tell her her vati is very proud of her."
He found Anya in the kitchen, sipping hot chocolate - Raven's doing, possibly Sean's - and she was smiling into it.
"What has you grinning, liebling? You look like your father when you do that." She did, her grin could rival Erik's and Charles doubted she really needed the right hook when she had that grin in her arsenal to frighten away young men.
"Sean said that vati would think punching him out was 'groovy'."
"I told him that mutti would think it was groovy. Vati doesn't think anything is groovy."
"No, indeed." He patted the window seat and she scrambled over to join him, sipping and looking out over the grounds where Sean and Alex were playing tag.
"Could you... tell me why we are going to fight?" Anya set down her glass, and looked up at Charles with eyes so like her father's - but so different - that it truly took his breath away. He wished he could have seen Erik with eyes devoid of the same weight that he carried now. "At night, when you are playing chess, vati says there is a war coming. I want to be strong enough to fight, but I don't understand."
There were so, so many answers he could give, and all of them he felt like they should be Erik's to tell.
"The world... has many people in it, and everyone in it is a mix of good and bad, and there is a man who wants to use that little piece of bad to make the US and the USSR fight and hurt lots of people." Charles nodded. "The rest you will have to ask your vati."
"I'm going to find that bad man and... and..." She punched her fist into the palm of her hand. "Punch him in the nose!"
* * *
Anya loved her outfit, it was yellow and blue and snug and it fit perfectly. Her code name was Liebling, and she was going to punch so many bad men in the nose. Her suit had gloves that slipped over her hand and were hard as steel but when she punched it didn't hurt at all because Hank... Beast had done his physics magic to them, and she had a metal harness around her waist so vati could make her fly.
She was ready, but then mutti had made her stay in the jet with him and Moira, and so she listened to mutti, listened as he guided vati with his telepathy, but then something went horribly wrong, mutti was yelling for vati to stop, to not do something, and then he was screaming, screaming so loud that Anya thought he must be dying.
Moira was with him, so she ran out to the beach, her team was there, unharmed, the bad guys were not moving, maybe dead, but some of them were shifting uncomfortably on the beach. Not dead, but no need for her fighting.
The metal in the side of the submarine opened, and Anya watched as the two sides of the mutants staggered to their feet, watched as a body floated out.
"Today our fighting stops!" She could breath easier, her vati was fine. Everything was going to be fine. The bad man hadn't won and there wouldn't be war. Her father had stopped it.
The body fell out and then her vati came out, floating and looking cool and amazing, landing softly on the sand.
He kept talking, everyone just watching as he strode across the sand. But what he was saying made less and less sense. He said humans were their enemy. She glanced towards Moira - she was helping mutti near the submarine. She wasn't the enemy.
Anya wasn't the enemy.
But the boats out in the water were targeting them... vati said so and mutti agreed... And then the missiles were flying and vati stopped them, all of them, turned them back towards the ships, and mutti was screaming again, running at her father.
Anya ran, she ran harder than she ever had and she punched him right in the jaw.
"VATI! I'M A HUMAN!" She shouted, screamed at him. "I'm on your team..."
She fell to her knees, crying, she didn't understand, but the missiles in the air had fallen, crashed into the water, and her father was still sprawled out on the ground, reeling from her punch, and mutti was behind her, a hand on her shoulder while she wept.
He reached out and tugged her, gently, until she was collapsed on top of her and he hugged her tightly, fiercely. "I'm sorry, Liebling... I'm sorry..."
* * *
Erik leaned against the window sill of the kitchen bay window watching Anya run after Azazel, trying to react fast enough to grab his tail before it wrapped around her throat, the rest of the team yelling encouragements.
Her fourteenth try, she grabbed it before he reached her throat, and the fifteenth, and the sixteenth.
Charles came up beside him, offered a cup of coffee.
"Are you certain she doesn't have some sort of super-strength mutation, maybe some super speed?"
His friend just shook his head and chuckled. "No, I'm afraid that bruise was all her, pure, simple, human."
His jaw hurt, he wasn't entirely certain she hadn't broke something, actually.
"My daughter thought I was the enemy..."
Charles made a noncommittal noise that was unhelpful in placating his scattered nerves, and the two of them fell into silence. Erik took a ginger sip of the coffee, needing to be mindful of his jaw.
"What now, Erik?"
He wasn't supposed to have an 'after'.
Erik watched Azazel pop into the air, dragging Anya with him and she scrambled, wrapping an arm around his neck and clinging even when them landed on the ground hard.
She was amazing...
He hadn't let himself see that, he supposed, not completely. She was his and she was amazing and she was human.
"The house is too big, Charles."
"Would you like me to call a contractor to get it shrunk down to a more suitable size?"
Erik shook his head. "No. Obviously the more economical solution is to find more children to put in it."
And they did.