Actions

Work Header

The Courtship

Chapter Text

Five hundred years after the emancipation of the mutants.

Two hundred years after the colonisation of Mars.

One hundred years after static-filled first contact with the extra-terrestrials.

And ten years into the global fixation with puritan fashion...

A Lehmanbot stood in Erik Lehnsherr's New York office, his telescreen head showing the face of a lawyer who was just ending the reading of a will with the words, "and if you fail to marry a mutant of noble blood before your thirtieth year, the estate and funds will be awarded to the German government."

Erik was sitting with his back to the Lehmanbot, staring out of the window and watching the shuttle traffic in the air above the high buildings. His assistant Emma Frost took this quiet moment of contemplation to stick her face in front of Erik's.

"Is this the same Uncle Henry you hate and whose money you have no interest in?" Erik sullenly turned his gaze to Emma. She nodded, "I guess he just made it really interesting."

Erik turned back towards the Lehmanbot. "I turn thirty next month. I need more time."

"Forgive me, Mr. Lehnsherr, but your uncle was very clear on the matter. He feared that perhaps the most important of the mutant houses would be lost to a human/mutant union without some kind of intervention. I'm sure you can see why we must preserve the House of Magneto."

Erik gritted his teeth and the Lehmanbot's head crumpled like paper, sending out sparks. He swallowed, trying to keep his anger down as the doors to his office opened and a second Lehmanbot wheeled itself in, its telescreen head flickering to life with a very bored looking lawyer.

"Shall we move onto the candidate your uncle suggested?" he asked.

"He picked someone out for you?" Emma asked with a surprised laugh.

Erik stood up, scowling at the telescreen as the Lehmanbot adjusted its head to keep it in line with Erik's height. "He picked someone?"

"Yes, your uncle did have a preference. However, if you find a mutant of noble blood, as in ascended from the blood of the first wave mutants, you will still fulfil the conditions of the will. To a degree. Only losing a portion of the allotted fortune."

Erik silently glared until the lawyer faded out of existence. Erik and Emma could still hear him clearing his throat though.

"I think you're making him nervous,” Emma said.

Erik turned his back on the Lehmanbot and scowled at the window instead. He wasn't ready for marriage. To human, mutant or extra-terrestrial for that matter. Now he was being cornered into a union with someone he'd never even met. It appeared the popular cultural commentators had been right. A lot of archaic institutions were raising their unwelcome little heads again, arranged marriage being on top of the pile, especially popular amongst the mutant population.

Erik glared at the world outside the window and muttered, “Who did he pick?”

***

It was the return voyage of the Beagle XXIV from its expedition to Mars and though happy to be returning to Earth, Charles was completely miserable. He vomited, dry-heaved, shuddered and flopped down on the bed. One hand clutching the edge of the bed as if he fully expected to be flung off. He shut his eyes tight and pushed his face against the sheets, hearing the discreet sound of cleaning up being done near the bed.

A moment later his uncle, confidante, supplier of contraband and childhood nanny, who in recent years to save red-faces had been upgraded to the position of personal advisor, said, "I have to say, Charles, I'm not entirely sure space sickness is in fact a real thing."

Charles blearily looked up at the older man who was bald, thin and bore a great resemblance to earlier ageing Xaviers. "I think I'm dying."

His uncle peered a little closer. "No, but you are spectacularly green. Why don't I ask the good captain if he can steer the shuttle a little more gently? That way we can pretend you didn't drink your own weight in home-grown Martian ale."

Charles closed his eyes and clutched the sheets, planting his face against them as the bile began to rise again. The bed dipped and Charles could feel his uncle taking his fisted hand. A moment later he could feel his uncle's temple against his fingertips. Charles jerked as a memory of green grass and rolling hills sucked him in. He was inside it with his uncle who was a living repository of random memories of many Xaviers before him, their memories like files in his atoms, perfectly retained down to the smallest detail.

In the distance Charles could see a man in a wheelchair opposite a man with a billowing cape and helmet. They were so close, yet the hard lines of their body suggested a great distance. But somehow, even from here, yards away and years away, Charles could feel a bond between them.

"Who was watching them?" Charles asked.

His uncle shrugged. "I haven't a clue. I think he was being spied on by a family member apt at shielding their presence. I'm rather glad they didn't know he or she was there. Look at them. The strangest of enemies. The strangest of friends."

Charles watched as Magneto stood, face angled down at the Professor in his chair. The whole day had a quietness about it, as if even the trees and grass and sky wanted to be privy to the conversation of these two men.

Charles smiled, feeling the cool breeze on his face. "Thank you, Uncle Louis."

Louis smiled, his eyes still on the men in the distance.

***

Charles could have kissed the ground when they finally touched down on Earth. A shuttle was waiting to take him and Louis back to the mansion, which was quiet these days, his divorced parents having parted ways to different ends of the globe during his childhood, leaving Charles in the charge of boarding schools and Louis. These days if his parents were in the house at the same time, it usually meant someone had died.

So it was less a surprise and more a terror to find both Charles Claude Xavier and his ex-wife Tabitha Rose Constantine standing in the middle of the library shouting at each other. Charles immediately turned back around to leave, only to be blocked by Louis and be turned right back around again.

"You can't leave, they're your parents," Louis said blandly.

"I think I'm going to be sick again," Charles said.

"Claude, Tabitha. How lovely," Louis said, walking towards his brother and ex sister-in-law with open arms. Tabitha greeted him with a smile and kiss under Claude's glare. Louis then turned to embrace his brother. He looked back at Charles. "Charles? You remember your parents, don't you?"

This earned Louis a glare from Tabitha and Claude. Suddenly he was back at being found charming only by Charles. Charles stepped closer to the trio with a small smile, offering a half-hearted wave.

Tabitha shook her head and went to hug him. "Oh, darling. You are a strange boy."

His father neared with a smile on his flushed face, his figure looking as though it had prospered from its stay in Venice. He patted Charles on the shoulder. "Look at you."

Charles smiled at them both before he couldn't help himself and had to blurt out, "Is someone dead?"

Tabitha placed an elegant cigarette holder in her mouth, touching the tip of her finger to the end of the cigarette to light it with a small burst of flame. She then took Charles by the hand and all but dragged him to a sofa.

"Darling, we have news. Wonderful news. Your father and I have been proposed to for your hand in marriage. Isn't it delightful?"

Charles stared at her and looked at Louis. Louis most cunningly said, "I'll arrange for tea," and then promptly marched out.

"It's the done thing, son," Claude said, taking a seat opposite. "Alliances between the oldest mutant houses. And well, this proposal is somewhat special. It comes from the House of Magneto."

Charles frowned. "You want me to marry someone I've never met so we can be ever so special by having double-barrel names that hark back to our glorious ancestry?"

"Didn't I say he'd understand?" Tabitha smiled. She stroked Charles' cheek and said, "Oh, my little Francine."

"Mother," Charles snapped. "You know how much I dislike it when you call me that. My name is not Francine."

Tabitha sighed. "I know. It's just, when you were a baby you were so pretty and I so wanted a little girl. Oh, at least I had that for those first five years. I've kept the little dresses you know, they're absolutely darling."

"Louis!" Charles called out, sounding panicked even to his own ears.

"Son, you've gone green," his father said, peering at Charles in a way which suggested he would be peering further than just Charles' face in a moment. "You're not experimenting again, are you? We all know how that first time ended."

"Louis!" Charles called out, the urge to force a little compliance onto his parents growing strong.

Louis, being a miracle worker, arrived rushing into the room with a cordial smile and the announcement that, "Tea's on its way. Dear boy, a word?" He grabbed Charles by his arm and hauled him out of the library. "Go. I'll speak with them."

Charles sighed with relief, nodding tiredly. He ignored the flurry of words reaching him from the library as he somehow forced his body up the stairs. It would be much later that the words 'House of Magneto' would wake him from his sleep and etch a frown of curiosity onto his face.

***

“Are you kidding me? Preservation of the species, Charles. Mutant birth rates are at an all time low, which makes sense, if you think about it. Who wants to have kids who are going to get the full might of the government's encouragement to hire them into the police, army, navy, air force, space guard just because they might be better at not getting killed? How about they get jobs behind the closed doors of cushy offices where they get to send humans out to do the dirty work? And that's not all we're fighting against, Charles. Have you read the news feeds lately? One hundred deaths in England from some mysterious flu that only kills mutants. And if you're lucky enough to survive, there's a sixty-five percent chance it damages the X gene for good. I heard Canada's covering up their cases of MU1. We could be dropping like flies tomorrow. And, do you realise how few mutants are left that can be traced straight back to the first wave? There's nothing wrong with preserving a legacy. Especially yours, Charles. Not after everything he did for us.”

Charles blinked at the woman sitting at the end of the dinner table, her blue face very very serious, amber eyes pinning him in his seat. Charles turned to the man on his left, blue, furry and not at all interested in anything but his dinner. He whispered, “I can't remember what I actually said. I think your wife is quite mad, Hank.”

This elicited a laugh from his friend. “She's your best friend. Deal with it.”

Charles scowled irritably in his best friend's direction. “Raven, all I said was, I'm not sure if this arranged marriage thing is for me. Whatever the reasoning behind it. What do you think, Hank? You agree, don't you?”

Hank opened his mouth to speak. Then he turned to look at Raven who had the most heated eyes on the globe and could still deliver the coldest of stares. Predictably, Hank said, “Maybe you should think about it. I mean, what's the problem here? You have your eyes on a human?”

“No,” Charles said, a bit too defensively. “I just... let's just say that experience tells me it's not something I would rule out. I mean, I like humans. I have many human friends and I've had human lovers. What's wrong with marrying one?”

“Oh nothing. Besides a history of oppression and injustice, nothing at all,” Raven said sweetly with a flutter of her eyelashes.

Charles put his fork down with a sigh. “I don't think I'm enjoying these dinners very much anymore.”

Hank snorted and got up. “I'll get the dessert.”

Raven and Charles both avoided each other's gazes for a moment. After a while Raven, very politely said, “I just... we worked hard to be accepted Charles, and even today we're not. Not really. Not when you walk down the street and someone thinks its okay to call you a blue mutant bitch. I just don't think we should help the humans by wiping ourselves out. That's all I'm saying.”

“And I understand,” Charles said softly. “Some of us have the so-called luxury of hiding who we are, if we have to, and some of us have to be prepared to fight every day whether we want to or not, because who we are is written all over us. But it won't always be a fight. It gets better, Raven. I know it does. There's good and bad in all of us, human and mutant.” He smiled at her when she rolled her eyes. “I suppose I just have the Xavier disease of not giving up on humanity quite yet.”

Raven smiled at him, beautiful with her bright grin against her dark skin and fiery eyes. Charles felt like rifling through the pages of her mind to find the latest human to offend her, offer an education on etiquette perhaps. But he did nothing. Sometimes, the best thing was to do nothing and wait for the right time to make a noise, make a fist.

A large pie thumped down in the middle of the dinner table, a little charred around the edges and dangerously bubbling in the middle. Hank was eyeing it with suspicion, before he frowned at Charles.

Charles said, “Hank, it looks like it's going to explode.”

Hank threw down the oven gloves he had bought especially for his old world iron stove that used real logs and possibly small animals. “Let's go out for ice cream.”

“Let's,” Raven said as Charles got up and smiled happily at the prospect of ice cream. “And you can tell us about your soon to be ball and chain.”

“Raven,” Charles warned, receiving a laugh from both his friends.

***

Erik sat bored as the conference room emptied out, sinking a little lower in his seat at the head of the long table. He was severely lacking in energy, every passing moment a reminder that he was going to lose a small and insignificant fortune to a significant thorn in the side of the family if he didn't agree to tying himself to the last eligible Xavier.

Emma popped into view near Erik, aided by his other invaluable employee, Azazel. Erik swivelled his chair around to look at them. Emma was smiling at him in that way she always smiled, as if the very next thing out of her mouth would be blush-worthy, even if it often wasn't.

“Well?” Erik asked her. “What was your reading on, Hollsworth?”

“He was thinking about his mistress the whole time. In vivid detail.” Emma frowned as if to give the matter great thought. “FYI, I think she's faking.” Azazel smirked behind Emma. “Also, someone from the Defence Secretary's office called. Again. They're very eager to talk about potential military applications of the Lehmanbot.”

“Did you give them my answer?” Erik asked.

“I'm working on it. I'm sure there's a polite equivalent to 'go fuck yourselves', boss,” Emma said with an arched brow.

Erik got up and said, “Go fuck yourselves, please?”

Emma looked at Azazel as Erik headed past them and towards the door. “This is why all the money is in public relations.” She caught up with Erik, falling into step next to him. “There's also another pressing matter, bosscakes.” Erik smirked at her. “The Xaviers are throwing a little shindig and your presence is officially requested in consideration of your proposal.”

Erik stopped by the elevator and turned to stare at her. “What proposal?”

Emma blinked at him and then turned to look at Azazel who did the wise thing and disappeared from view. “The proposal your aunt sent to the parents of your intended?”

Erik continued staring, his mouth feeling a little dry. “Anna sent a proposal?”

Emma nodded. “You didn't know? Wow. That Aunt Anna's sneaky. It's why I like her.” Erik glared at Emma. She shrugged it off and said, “I admire that in a person. It's why I let you give me this job.”

Erik ignored Emma and stared at the glass elevator. His proposal had been made. What if Xavier said no? What if he said yes? He couldn't even send Emma to mind-bomb them all. The Xaviers were notorious for a plethora of strange and varied telepathic abilities. One of them was probably listening in on Erik's thoughts even right now.

Erik shook his head. “Think of something, to get around this damned stipulation.”

“I have one idea,” Emma said, as Erik jabbed a button to open the elevator doors.

“We can't kill anyone,” Erik said.

“That was my second idea,” Emma said, getting into the elevator after him. “My first idea is, why not go to this thing and meet this guy?”

“I don't follow,” Erik said flatly.

“Just meet him. See if it's doable. See if he's doable.”

“I don't follow.”

“Sweetie,” Emma said, making it sound more like, 'dummy'. “Give the insane idea a chance. It might work. Let's face it, aside from me and Azazel, not a lot of people really get your sunny demeanour. Marrying someone who doesn't know you might actually be a blessing in disguise.”

Erik gave her a blank look. “You're fired.”

Emma laughed, poking him in the arm. “You're funny.”

***

The Xavier fortune was vast, funding many enterprises to nurture the development, education and rights of mutants. The Xavier line though seemed to have come to a stop at Charles, having otherwise diverted and migrated in many other double-barrel destinations. With the name came the responsibility of being the last real Xavier who could have an influence on the future of mutants, not to mention mutant-human relations.

So from an office in the Xavier Research Foundation compound, Charles looked through grants for funding, plans for research and reports from business ventures. Not that anything was sinking in. He swiped his finger across the screen mounted on his desk, blinking at page after page, a dozen simulations and a dozen more recordings. In the end he went back to look at the recordings from the last Mars expedition, going over his many meetings with XRF's research team. The bumpy ride not withstanding, he kind of wished he was back on Mars.

“Arranged marriage,” he muttered. He scowled at the screen. “It's ridiculous. I mean, just, ridiculous... Display latest news articles on Lehnsherr Corp. please.”

The screen went white before results began to trickle down. In the last three years Lehnsherr Corp. had swallowed up two big competitors, the price of their shares had rocketed so high they could be seen from Jupiter and their premier feat of engineering, the intuitive and intelligent house helper, the Lehmanbot, had become a common feature in the homes of many who could afford such a luxury.

“The Lehmanbot?” Charles leaned closed to the screen, groaning with terrible disappointment. He hated the damn things. They were like mini tanks with a metal torso and a telescreen for a head. And speaking of the little devils, the doors to Charles' office opened and a XRF Lehmanbot slid across the floor, stopping by the desk. Charles gave the creepy thing an uncomfortable look, its telescreen showing Louis.

“We have some uninvited guests, Charles. They say they're from Homeland Security, which is interesting because I'm not sure I feel very secure,” Louis said with a smile.

“Send them in. Thank you, Louis,” Charles said, getting up only to get in the way of the Lehmanbot and spend the next minute doing an awkward little dance with it until he finally just gave up and stood still, waiting for it to leave.

Two men in high collared black suits and no personalities walked in. Charles shook their gloved hands and directed them to the couches in the corner of his office, the windows behind them looking onto the extensive grounds of the complex.

“Homeland Security,” Charles said, taking a seat opposite the two men, both dark haired and of a similar build. “Should I be worried?”

“Not at all, Mr. Xavier,” nondescript humanoid number one said with an incredibly meaningless smile. “We're here regarding the matter of a rumour that's been circulating in regards to you.”

Charles smiled. “I hope it's an exciting one.”

Nondescript humanoid number two said, “Actually, it's of some concern. As you must be well aware, arranged marriages are prevalent in the mutant community and though the government would never interfere in personal matters as an act of cultural sensitivity, the prospect of a forced marriage still has to be investigated.”

Charles stared at the two men. “I'm sorry. You think I'm being forced into a marriage? I am a Class 4 mutant. There's not much that can force me into anything. Besides, you'd be ill advised to act on a silly rumour.”

Both his guests bristled at this. Charles didn't need to read their minds. He could feel their resentment like pinpricks on his skin.

The first one smiled his creepy and completely fabricated smile. “Of course. We were under the impression it was a baseless rumour, but even so, it's our duty to investigate.”

“Why? I mean, it's really none of your business why people get married and to whom, is it? Not unless they're breaking your door down to be saved. And what does it have to do with your department?” Charles asked bluntly. The second one straightened up in his seat a little, eyeing Charles with clear suspicion. Charles frowned at him and said, “You think I'm reading your mind.”

The man smiled, and it was a real smile. It was as if he was hoping Charles was doing exactly that. “Are you, sir?”

“We're both aware that uninvited penetration of another's mind is a prosecutable offence,” Charles said. “Unlike that part of my ability which can't help but sense that you are keeping something from me.”

“Well, sir,” the first one said in an annoying salt of the earth fashion, like some wholesome farm boy. “I'll just come out and say it, because as a law abiding citizen, I'm sure you'll understand. As you say, you're a Class 4 mutant. Now, according to our records, Mr. Lehnsherr is a Class 4 mutant too. There is naturally a concern that a union between the two of you could be problematic.”

Charles stared, dumbstruck. “Problematic.”

“Don't get me wrong, I think people should marry who they want to marry. What a lot of people would not appreciate is mocking the fine institution of marriage for ulterior motives, like strengthening a business relationship-”

“Please,” Charles said. “You can dispense with the bullshit. You're here because your organ grinder is afraid of two powerful mutants getting the silly idea to create something using both their genetic material. Your people are afraid of two strong mutants forming a union, being twice as strong. Most of all, you're afraid because it's a Xavier and a Lehnsherr. It may be five hundred years too late, but there are mutants out there who would still take it as a victory and finally break down the few remaining walls that weaken our causes. And Homeland Security does love its walls.”

Charles received two matching gormless smiles and gormless humanoid one said, “I think we've offended you somehow, Mr. Xavier, and perhaps you've misunderstood our intentions.”

“It's Doctor Xavier, and I think I completely understand,” Charles said, getting up. “If that's all, I have a lot of work to be getting on with.”

“Of course. Doctor,” the first one said, both rising from the sofa together. He stuck his hand out and said, “Thank for your time.”

Charles gave the man a cold look, mutely ignoring his hand. He got the message and left with his colleague, not without a parting smile. Once they were gone, Charles sank back down on the sofa, feeling hot and sweaty, heart beating a little too fast. Just when it looked as though the world was moving forward, something always happened to yank it back a dozen or so steps. God, fear made humans so stupid.

“What's happened?” Louis asked as he walked in. He stopped in front of Charles, worry apparent on his face. “Charles?”

Charles looked up at Louis and said, “I think I want to meet Erik Lehnsherr for myself.”

Louis frowned. “You do?”

Charles nodded. “I do. And I hope he sweeps me off my bloody feet.”

***

Erik stood in front of the mirror, smoothing down his three quarter-length coat and straightening the high collar. He smoothed his hair back for good measure, though it certainly didn't require it. He could see Emma behind him, perched on the end of his bed, legs crossed elegantly, her white suit tailored to perfection.

“I don't need this money,” Erik muttered. “Or the damn estate. Why am I doing this?”

“Because you don't want to be the guy who made Magneto turn in his grave?” Emma asked. “And you don't want to make Anna sad?”

Erik sighed, frowning at his reflection. “No. It seems I don't.” He turned to look at Emma, holding out a hand, which she got up and accepted. “Well?”

“I'd say yes,” Emma said approvingly. “Just remember not to talk too much. That's where you usually strike out.” Erik blinked at her. She pointed at his face and said, “Oh and do that.”

Before Erik could ask what that was, Azazel arrived and said, “Your aunt is waiting downstairs. She hit me with her purse. Twice.”

Erik nodded and headed to the door and flatly responded, “She likes you.”

As he jogged down the stairs, he could see his aunt arching a rather judgemental brow at a painting over the fireplace. He could tell she didn't like it. Maybe it was because Erik was the only one in the family who didn't feel the need to decorate his life with images of the great Magneto.

“Anna,” Erik said.

She turned to look at him, stunning in her full length kimono style dress, her brown hair which was refusing to grey, pinned up in a complicated bun. She was all sharp angles, her features striking. In her sixties, Erik still found her to be as remarkable as she had been during his childhood years.

“That's a terrible suit,” she said. Her statement was good news in the respect that she only ever slipped into German with Erik if she was angry or wanted to remind him that to her he was still the little boy she took into her home after his parents died and loved like her own son.

Erik went to her, kissing both cheeks. “You look wonderful.”

Anna gave him a look and appeared to struggle with remaining stern and then opted to reach up and affectionately tap his cheek in imitation of a slap. “So you are not angry now.”

Erik considered the question. “At having my hand forced? For land or money I never wanted, from a man I wished I never knew? All for a man who died hundreds of years ago. I think I am a little angry.”

Anna took his hand, in hers. “You're right, you don't need the land, or the money. So give it away. Give it to a poor man. Give it to a cause. But not to a government. Not to any government. They will happily fill their coffers, but never give anything in return. People lost their homes in the global mutant hunts. Had their assets frozen. Was any of it returned when the world stopped being mad? It is not just for a man who died hundreds of years ago, my darling. It's because I understand what that man felt.”

Erik swallowed, nodding mutely. Somehow she had the ability to do this. To make him feel young and naïve. Before he could say anything, she smiled, pulling him into a tight embrace, her hand patting his back as if he were still a child who needed consoling. Maybe he did. When she pulled away, she stroked his cheek. Erik took her hand, bringing it to his mouth to kiss it.

“Now, come. A union between the Lehnsherr's and Xavier's is quite overdue,” she said.

Erik smirked at her. “You seem very sure this is going to end happy. Have you considered that this Xavier and I might hate each other? ”

“Your parents couldn't stand each other when they first met,” Anna said with a smile. “Your father only had to open his mouth and my sister saw red. And when they fell in love, well, you couldn't convince them they might have ever had a terrible word to say about each other.”

Erik, whose gaze had been fixed on his aunt as she spoke, looked away, straightening the shirt cuff peeking out of the sleeve of his coat. Anna pulled his fingers away from his momentary distraction.

“We should go. Come,” she said.

Erik nodded, still holding her hand as Azazel deposited them at the steps of the Xavier mansion.

***

The one time Xavier mansion turned academy turned museum turned war time HQ turned mansion again was hosting a modest soiree for friends and family. There was no official reason, even if the official reason was to get Erik Lehnsherr and Charles Xavier acquainted.

Charles stood by the buffet table, drink in hand, Hank and Raven either side of him. He said, “This is amazing.”

“What?” Hank asked.

“I have no idea who these people are are,” Charles said, frowning at the number of cliques spread out from room to room.

“Of course you don't. Isn't that the whole point of having money? You know lots of important people you don't know,” Hank commented.

“Oh, hold on, that's Auntie Imogen over there,” Charles said, relieved he knew someone. Then he remembered her old habit of cheek pinching. “I should probably hide.”

“Hey, have you seen Leo?” Raven asked, putting down her drink. “He's disappeared again.”

Hank sighed. “I'll go look for him. That kid's going to drive me crazy.”

Charles watched Hank and Raven move off in different directions. He finished off his drink and discreetly moved around the room, looking out for familiar faces. There were a few aged Xaviers, not all in name, but certainly in blood. There were close friends and ties. There were his parents in discussion with a woman he didn't recognise. His mother saw him watching and of course, didn't give him the opportunity to approach, bringing the group to him before he could escape.

“Darling, there you are,” Tabitha said. “Anna, this is Charles. Charles, this Erik's aunt.”

“It's an honour,” Charles said, shaking Anna's hand.

Anna held his hand in both of hers, smiling all the way up to her bright blue eyes. “It's wonderful to finally meet you.” She looked around the room. “Erik was here a moment ago. I don't know where he's disappeared to.”

“Oh, I'm sure he'll turn up. Why don't you get to know Charles here?” Claude said, clapping a hand on Charles' shoulder.

Charles smiled, snatching a drink from a passing waiter.

***

Erik walked along the long corridor, looking at the numerous portraits that adorned the walls. Judging by the hairlines, many of them must have been Xaviers. Judging by everything else, many of them must have married into the Xaviers.

“Hi.”

Erik frowned at the portrait in front of him. Then he looked down to find a little blue boy with curious and round yellow eyes. Erik held his hand out. “Hello.”

The boy shook Erik's hand. Well, yanked on a couple of fingers. “I'm Leo.”

“I'm Erik. Do you live here?” Leo shook his head. “Are you breaking in?”

Leo burst into laughter, grinning. “No. I'm not breaking in. I was in the big room and it was too loud so I came to play here. Uncle Charles said he used to play here when he wanted to hide from the grown ups.”

“Did he now?” Erik said.

“Uh huh,” Leo said with a nod. “Are you hiding too?”

“Yes.” Erik nodded. “Like you said, too loud.”

Leo seemed to think over the information. Then he said, “Do you like ice cream?”

Erik thought about it. “I do.”

“I know where we can get some,” Leo said. “But I need help reaching it.”

Erik gave the proposal some serious consideration. “Lead on.”

***

“And so until he was five, he was my precious little Francine,” Tabitha said, smiling and reaching out to stroke Charles' face.

Charles blinked at her, stuck his hand in the way and then downed his fresh drink. Anna watched him do it, possibly marvelling at his ability to hold his breath for so long.

“Tabitha, I think you're embarrassing the boy,” Claude said with a chuckle.

“Oh do stop looking so sour, Charles. You'll understand when you have children. Tell me, Anna, you must have had a nickname for your darling nephew, one he now hates. All parents give their children nicknames. It's quite normal.”

Anna frowned, clearly thinking it over. “I called him Erik.”

Tabitha and Claude blinked at her, both wearing matching frowns after years of disagreeing on everything else. Tabitha said, “Well, it is a rather nice name.”

“Yes yes. A strong name,” Claude agreed. “Like the great man himself.”

“Though there's nothing wrong with Francine either. It was my grandmother's name,” Tabitha said, aiming a smile at Charles.

“Thank you, Mother,” Charles said, placing his glass on the tray of a passing waiter. He felt a tug on his trousers then and looked down. “Leo. Where have you been? Your mother's been looking for you everywhere.”

“It can't be everywhere because she would have found me,” Leo said with a forceful little frown. “And I was helping.”

“With what?” Charles asked.

“I was helping Erik. He was lost,” Leo said, rolling his yellow little eyes as if he was speaking to the dumbest person alive.

Charles frowned. “What?”

“Hello. Francine, I presume.”

Charles looked past Leo to see a man moving close to Anna. Tall, angular and looking far too amused, Charles presumed this was Erik Lehnsherr. And he had clearly heard the wonderful tale of his mother's occasional madness during Charles' childhood.

“What? No. No,” Charles said.

“Erik,” Anna said, “this is Charles Xavier.” Her tone suggested that good behaviour was expected. Charles wasn't sure how this was possible since the first words Erik Lehnsherr had said to him were 'Hello Francine.'

Erik gave Charles a polite nod and Charles said, “These are my parents. Charles Xavier senior. Tabitha Rose Constantine. Oh and, one second.”

Charles waved to catch Louis' attention, stopping him in mid-walk. Louis quickly joined them, his first act to ruffle Leo's hair. “Ah, I see we're all here.”

“This is my Uncle-” Charles started.

Louis, always the social butterfly, thrust his hand out to take Anna's hand, very gallantly kissing the back of it. “Enchanted. You must be young Erik's aunt. Charles Louis Xavier, at your service.”

If Charles wasn't mistaken, Anna might have been blushing ever so slightly. “Anna Stern. Delighted to meet you.”

Louis turned to Erik, giving him a sturdy handshake. “Honoured, dear boy.”

“Likewise.” Erik nodded at Louis. He then looked at the men in the group and said, “You're all called Charles.” Anna seemed to go very still and close her eyes for a split-second.

“Our father was quite mad,” Louis explained with a polite smile. “The tradition has always been to call the eldest son Charles, but I'm quite sure if we had a sister, she would have been called Charles too.”

The group laughed, Erik nodding, while Charles wondered exactly how Louis had managed to enchant everyone within seconds. Maybe there was more to his abilities than he let on.

“If all goes to plan, you can call me Uncle Louis,” Louis said, clapping a hand on Erik's arm. “I've always found Charles to be a rather crusty old name.”

Erik nodded mutely. Charles could see he was having a time trying to figure this clan of mad people out. Understanding seemed to dawn on his face as he turned to Charles' father and said, “And you go by Claude.”

Claude beamed. “Precisely. Once the big brother goes around using his middle name, it stands to reason the younger one has to do something similar.”

Erik turned to Charles with a nod and twitching mouth that suggested he was about to annoy Charles. “And you go by Francine.”

“That's a funny story actually,” Tabitha started.

No. I do not go by Francine. It's Charles Francis Xavier,” Charles said firmly.

He started to move towards a passing waiter and Louis expertly stepped in his way, putting an arm around his shoulders. “Well, is this not a momentous occasion? So many times the paths of these families have crossed, but too much like ships that pass in the night. And here we are today.”

The mood turned somewhat reflective. Anna's eyes were bright and Claude was thoughtfully nodding, Tabitha reaching out to squeeze his hand. Louis appeared filled to the brim with joy. Then Charles looked at Erik and found the other man watching him, amusement still playing around the corners of his mouth.

Charles would have liked to read Erik's thoughts just then, but telepaths were bound by a constantly changing code of what constituted as the acceptable reading of another's mind. So he tried to read the surface of his face, the depth of his eyes, the straight lines of his body. He wasn't a man who wanted to be read. Erik looked away, Anna's hand patting his.

Leo, ignored long enough, pulled on Erik's sleeve, asking him, “Do you want some more ice cream?”

***

Sadly for Leo, there was to be no more ice cream. Raven had gone to great pains to imprint on Charles' mind what happened if little Leo was fed ice cream after a certain hour. It wasn't all true, but it had been convincing. Also, now that he had Leo, he had an excuse to leave the party and spend the evening walking in circles and avoiding Raven and Hank, whilst pretending to search for them.

He was barely out of the room where the festivities were mainly being held when Louis called after him and said, “Charles, I see Raven. You couldn't run to the kitchen and let Hank know, could you? Leave Leo with me.”

Charles nodded. Even better. Hank was a much better listener than Raven. Hank didn't judge. He just zoned out the noise when it got boring and let the babbler babble on. Leaving Leo with Louis, he changed directions and went back through the party crowd and through the smaller rooms that led all the way to the kitchen.

“Hank,” he said, opening the door to find Erik seated at the table with two cups of coffee, one in front of him and the other in front of the chair adjacent to him. “Not Hank.”

Erik smiled. “Your uncle said you wanted to talk to me alone. He was clearly lying, but it seemed like a good opportunity. For more ice cream.” Charles let out a huff of a laugh. Erik nodded towards the steaming cups. “Or coffee.”

Charles nodded, making his way to the table and dragging the seat out from under it, slowly sitting down. “Thank you. I think I could do with it actually.”

Erik took a measured sip of his, placing the cup down before saying, “Your family. They seem like interesting people.”

Charles nodded. “Thank you for not using the word mad. That was very polite of you.”

Erik grinned and it seemed to lift his serious features in a most unexpected manner. A very pleasing manner in fact. Charles picked up his cup and drank, focusing on his burning tongue rather than how Erik had very quickly gone from Erik Lehnsherr to very pleasing.

“I wanted to talk to you about this proposal.” Erik said, a soft wave of apprehension from him brushing past Charles.

Charles nodded. “Please, go ahead.”

Erik straightened up, his eyes on Charles. “My uncle, Anna's brother, died last month. He's left me his land and money, both of which I don't need or want. He was an arrogant and controlling man and we never really saw eye to eye. I'm not sure he even liked me that much, to be quite honest.”

“He must have felt something for you. I mean, he wouldn't just leave everything to someone he didn't care about,” Charles said.

Erik smiled, but there was something sad and heavy about it. “He was a manipulative man. He left me everything on the condition that I marry before I turn thirty. Marry a mutant of his choosing. If I fail to do so, then everything is left to the Euro-Fund.”

Charles sat back. “Ah. Right.”

“Yes,” Erik said. “I refused to go along with it at first, but my uncle knew I would eventually do it his way. We've had to fight for every liberty we have and even now we have to prove ourselves over and over every day, yet when something goes wrong, governments are happy to let everyone point fingers at us for everything that's wrong. They should be the last people who get something for nothing. So, I have a proposal for you, Charles. Marry me and I'll donate my inheritance to the Xavier Research Foundation.”

Charles stared, mouth hanging open a little.

“Your foundation does good work, but the benefactors aren't exactly lining up. I've read the reports. Charitable donations are falling as well as government funding, what little there was to begin with. If you marry me, your foundation gets a boost, not just from the inheritance, but from the name Lehensherr Corp as a business partner.”

Charles was still staring at Erik. At the back of his mind this evening was always going to end with a 'no' for an answer. Erik had just made things complicated. He presented Charles with an opportunity to do more and now he was in the unenviable position of choosing between himself and others who depended on his organisation.

“Erik, I don't know what to say,” Charles said.

“Sleep on it,” Erik said. “There's no rush.”

Charles frowned. “When do you turn thirty?”

“Next month.” Erik smiled. Charles arched a brow at Erik. “Power nap?”

“Those don't work on me and more importantly, this is an insane idea. I mean, marriage. It's... marriage, Erik. It's not business.”

Erik nodded. “I understand. It's why I'll respect your decision. Coincidentally, have you at all tried to find out anything about my company's annual profit, not to mention my business contacts who will fall over each other trying to make me happy?”

Charles laughed. “Erik, you're talking about a marriage of convenience.”

Eric nodded thoughtfully. “Marriage hasn't always been about love, Charles. It's been a way to build ties. Make allies. The civilised human world likes to pretend it's always been above these things. But, I'm openly giving you the choice to enter into an arrangement your foundation will benefit from. An arrangement you can terminate whenever you wish after one year of legal marriage. Charles, I'm not doing this for greed. I'm doing this because that inheritance can be put to a better use. Humans don't really care about mutants. They read the right news feeds, they repeat the right things, but deep down, they don't know a damn thing. So here we are, with a chance to do more.”

Charles felt his mouth go a little dry. Not many images had survived of Magneto and none of the young man who became Magneto. The photographs Charles had seen always obscured the great man's face with that metal cage. One image had survived without the helmet, but that was of a white-haired old man, bowed with grief at his old friend's funeral. But as Charles looked at Erik, he imagined seeing him through the spaces and curves of an old helmet and there was something utterly familiar about that mouth and those determined eyes. The Lehnsherr spirit was alive and well in this man.

“I had a visit from Homeland Security,” Charles said quietly. “They appeared to be very worried about the possibility of us marrying.”

Erik's mouth twisted in distaste. “You and I marrying, it'll mean too much to too many people. Of course you had a visit from Homeland Security.”

Charles looked at Erik, idly scratching under his lip. “When they left my office, I was quite certain I was going to marry you just out of pure spite.”

Erik shook his head. “You don't seem the type to act out of spite.”

Charles raised his brows. “Oh? What type do I seem?”

Erik tilted his head, looking somewhere between puzzled and intrigued. Then he smiled. “Someone who would do anything for a good enough reason.” Erik frowned, his eyes roaming across Charles' face. “You look like him. The Professor. It's...”

Charles smiled. “It's what?”

Erik looked at his coffee cup, a soft smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. “Strange.”

“I can imagine,” Charles said, silly thoughts about the dead, bouncing around in his head. “We should return to the party.”

Erik stood. “Yes, of course. I've taken up enough of your time.”

“No no,” Charles said, getting up too. “I just think we should tell everyone the good news before they get too drunk. The Xavier side of the family's always had a slight problem holding their drink. Well, not so much holding it as putting it down.”

Erik blinked at Charles, followed by a truly confused frown. “You mean?”

Charles nodded. “I do. Wait, that's later, isn't it? I mean, yes, I accept your proposal. And I especially accept your black book of business contacts.” Charles held out his hand.

Erik took Charles hand, slowly shaking it and still looking bewildered. “Just like that?”

Charles nodded. “I've had a fair amount to drink tonight. We should make the most of it.”

***

Heads turned when Charles and Erik walked back together, side by side. Charles felt a wave of something else too, a strange emotion he couldn't quite define.

“There you two are,” Claude said. “We were all wondering where you'd disappeared to.”

“Is everything okay?” Anna asked, looking at Erik. He nodded at her, which made her then look a Charles.

Charles smiled and said, “We have an announcement actually.”

“Oh my God,” Tabitha said, her hands covering her mouth. Charles could see Louis sidling up next to Claude.

Charles looked at Erik, whose face was unreadable. He may as well have been wearing a helmet, Charles thought. “It appears we're getting married.”

Louis lunged at Charles before Tabitha even had a chance. He kissed Charles on one cheek and then the other. Turning to Erik, he did the same with a soft exclamation of, “Dear boy.”

The next few minutes were spent in a flurry of hugs and congratulations and champagne corks popping. Charles was quite relieved when his parents dragged Anna and Erik off for introductions. He floated back towards the back of the room, reaching out for a drink as he went, his eyes on the activity. He felt in a bit of daze. Too fast, this was happening too fast, whatever the reasons. However good the reasons. Charles had no qualms about mocking the sanctity of marriage. Most married people spent their entire lives doing that. No, his qualms were different.

People would be watching Charles and Erik with interest. Questioning their motives. Bringing out hundreds of years of history and examining every microsecond that was spent by the Xaviers and the Lehnsherrs in digging up the idealogical corpses of Magneto and the Professor just to make a point. Both families had done much good, but they had both done damage too, and everyone loved raking up the damage again and again.

The band had started to play, something old and jaunty. Charles wondered if it was to hark back to the good old days when Magneto and the Professor were young men and had their whole lives ahead of them. Louis was pulling Anna into a slow dance, both of them dancing with perfect posture and respectable distance.

“Wow. Not only does he make robots, but he dances like one too.” Charles turned to see Raven grinning at him. “Did I just hear you're getting married?”

Charles blinked hard, scratching his eyebrow before laughing. “I think so. I've really got to start watching my drink.”

Raven stepped forward and hugged him hard. When she pulled back, she continued holding on to him, her eyes locking him in place. “I have a good feeling about this.”

Charles rolled his eyes. “Raven.”

“No,” she insisted. “I really do. I can't explain it.”

Charles peered at her, half-smiling. “Okay. Fine. You're mad, but fine.” He put an arm around her shoulders and drew her close. “Where's that husband of yours?”

“He's keeping an eye on Leo. They were both getting cranky and tired,” Raven said. “Seriously, though, two left feet.”

“What? What are you talking about?” Charles frowned at Raven.

She grabbed his chin and pushed it in the right direction so he could see Erik and Tabitha in a slow dance. Erik was far from having two left feet, but he was holding himself so stiffly it made Charles' muscles hurt. He had that strange expression on his face, the one that said he was possibly slightly amused and paying enough attention to comment and converse, but otherwise was quite happy, if he felt any kind of emotion that is, to talk about something completely different. And there was Charles' mother regaling him with who knew what awful stor--

“Oh, shit,” Charles said, pushing his glass in Raven's direction. “I've got to go.”

“This I have to see,” Raven said, drinking up the contents of the glass entrusted to her.

Charles half-jogged, fast-walked and possibly skipped a little at the end before positively jumping in front of Erik and Tabitha with, “Hello! Could I possibly cut in?”

Tabitha beamed at him. Then when Erik took her hand, bowed to kiss it and stepped back, she beamed at him. Charles reached out towards her for a dance and a quiet word about humiliating grown up offspring. Tabitha grabbed his arm and shoved him bodily towards Erik. Oh, Charles thought, of course. So that was drinking and advanced planning he'd have to think over in the morning.

He bumped into Erik hard enough to dislodge him from his spot, where he probably could have stood like a rock for the rest of the evening if he wanted. Even so, he was the one to grab Charles to steady to him as he wobbled for a moment, threatening to trip.

Charles gave Erik an embarrassed smile and pointed in his retreating mother's direction. “She has a lot of blackmail material.”

Erik's mouth stretched into a smile that wasn't just polite, amused or patient. He held out a hand towards Charles. Charles put his hands up, prepared to lead, but then remembered the age old rule of height trumping all factors when deciding to lead in a dance and readjusted himself.

Erik had very warm hands, firm with a strong grip. Charles stopped staring at them when he realised he was staring at them. Up close, Erik was as impassive looking as he was from any distance. Here was a man with a mind that seemed worth rooting around in. And maybe while he was in there he could help the man loosen up. He was far from having two left feet, but Erik was so rigidly obeying the rules of stepping, holding and poise, he was probably in danger of snapping a few tendons.

Charles opened his mouth to tell Erik something, anything to put him at ease when he heard a commotion that seemed to come from the front of the house. He could see his parents were already making their way out of the room to check, telling guests to stay put. Charles broke away from Erik and followed, his fingers going up to his temple as he searched for voices, thoughts and clues. He was at the front entrance of the house when he saw his mother coming back in.

“Charles, I don't want you to see this,” she was saying, far too serious for Tabitha Rose Constantine.

Charles was surprised to see Erik walk right on ahead and out of the door as Tabitha blocked Charles' path. “What is it?”

Now Claude was coming back in, looking red-faced and furious. “I'll call the police.”

Charles took his mother by her arms and gently moved her aside. “I'm not a child. I'm sure I can handle whatever this is.”

He left Claude comforting Tabitha and stepped outside, seeing the spectacle immediately. Erik was standing half-way down the steps as if transfixed. Two dummies dressed up like Magneto and the Professor, complete in wheelchair, had been left to burn in front of the mansion. Charles slowly descended the steps so he was standing next to Erik, who stood there with a small frown on his face.

“How very twenty-first century,” Erik said.

Charles stared at the burning mess, blocking out the alarmed voices and thoughts that began to surround him and Erik.

***

Erik tapped the bright screen of his datapad and kept tapping until he found the page he wanted, the one where Charles Xavier spoke in his autobiography of the San Francisco riots where effigies of the most renowned mutants were burnt. He had written about his dismay at seeing the humans behave in the way Magneto had always expected them to behave.

How the great Magneto must have been smug with satisfaction, many remarked. But I knew him and I knew there was no satisfaction here for him. He had not been waiting to be proved right. He had asserted that he was right all along and there was nothing in these riots that made him happy or sad. What a terrible thing that he had simply felt nothing. It is what it is, he had said to me, as if it didn't matter at all.

But, I could hardly blame him for thinking that. Not with the effigies that burned on my very own doorstep.

Erik tapped the datapad off, putting it aside as he heard the elevator doors to the apartment slide open. Emma appeared a moment later, crossing the expanse of the apartment to the dining table where Erik sat, pouring a second cup of coffee from a steaming silver pot. Emma took up a seat, pulling the cup towards herself with a sigh.

“What's wrong?” Erik asked.

“I had to walk, can you believe it?” Emma asked, clearly not believing it herself.

“Where's Azazel?” Erik asked.

“I don't know. Wherever he is though he's being all 'I work for Erik, not for you' about it,” Emma said, reaching for some toast. Erik pushed the toast rack in her direction.

“You're both arguing again,” Erik said, drinking his coffee.

“He's an uptight--”

“I don't care,” Erik said flatly. Emma aimed a sulky look at him. Erik gave her a look of warning and said, “Behave. Both of you.”

Emma rolled her eyes, spreading some butter on her toast before taking a large bite, complete with moan of satisfaction. When she was three bites in she said, “I don't suppose you've seen the news yet.”

Erik shook his head as Emma pulled out her datapad, tapping a buttery finger onto the screen and leaving a smudge. “You made first page on the NY Times feed.”

Emma held up the datapad for Erik to see. Secret Lehnsherr/Xavier engagement ends in tears read the headline. He took the datapad and wiped away the smudge covering a portion of the picture featured under the headline. It was a small recording of both Erik and Charles, taken from somewhere behind them. They were both watching the burning mess, with Erik turning to look at Charles who was wiping something from his eye. Over and over that image replayed.

Erik opened his mouth to speak and Emma held up a hand. “Been there, done it. The video and story was submitted by an anonymo. No, I can't meet the editor in person to talk about it and sure, we can go ahead and get the lawyers on this if it's that time of year again where you dump a wad of cash dragging people into a courtroom for pissing you off.”

Erik took a discreetly deep breath. The cutlery on the table still rattled as if it might fly up and out of the room. Emma reached out and took the butter knife with a smile. “Just in case.”

“Get me a call to the Xavier mansion. Then get me Azazel. Then drop everything you're doing and get that editor,” Erik said, standing up. “I want to find out everything there is to know about him.”

Emma smiled, looking utterly thrilled. “Oh, I'm on it, boss.”

Erik nodded, heading towards the stairs. He turned to look at Emma, slice of toast sticking out of her mouth as she snatched up her datapad and hurriedly typed something onto the screen.

“Emma.” She looked up, brows raised in question. “Finish breakfast first.”

Emma nodded, giving Erik a quick salute. Erik turned around and headed for the stairs, wondering how Charles was going to take being on the front page of the city's most widely read news rag and being forwarded to the rest of the world's news sites.

***

Charles stood looking at the huge satellite dish in the distance. It was an old piece of technology no longer in use, but there was a small story about it, more like a rumour, probably not even true, that kept it preserved. There was no reason to believe that Magneto hadn't moved it once to face him, everyone knew how powerful a mutant he had been. But the story about the Professor, the way he simply handed Magneto the ability to control his power. Charles wasn't sure he entirely believed it.

Charles rubbed his forehead and groaned. His head and stomach still felt rather bruised and fragile from the night before, not to mention the morning's expulsions of the contents of the night before. He decided to get back inside, find a nice dark corner to catch forty winks. Far from the excitement of Louis and his parents.

He turned to find Erik and another man suddenly appearing in front of him. Erik nodded to the red man with him and, poof, he was gone, leaving behind Erik who said, “Louis said you were here.”

Charles nodded. “Is everything all right?”

Erik said, “Have you seen the news today?”

Charles shook his head. “Avoided it, to be honest. I take it the impromptu bonfire made some corner of the news pages.”

Erik reached into his long black coat and retrieved a datapad. He tapped it twice before showing Charles the display. Charles rolled his eyes at the headline. Then he saw the accompanying video, grabbing the datapad to blink at it. “I had something in my eye!”

When he looked up, Erik had a strange little quizzical look on his face. He said, “Charles, that recording was taken by someone at the party last night.”

Charles looked back at the display. His heart sank a little. Someone had been welcomed into his home and they did this. He wondered if it was possible the whole stunt was down to one infiltrator. More bitterly than he intended, Charles said, “We're not even married yet.”

Erik gently extracted the datapad from Charles' hand. He was watching Charles closely when he said, “I assume there will be more attempts to frighten us off the idea.”

Charles glared at the datapad in Erik's hand. “Well, they picked the wrong people. Like hell anyone's stopping this wedding. How dare they. How bloody dare they.”

Charles marched past Erik and towards the house. There were things to be done, people to be called. Erik caught up with Charles falling into step with him. “Charles? Where are you going?”

“To make a statement. We both are,” Charles said.

“We are?” Erik asked. “What about?”

“Confirming our engagement,” Charles said, stopping and facing Erik. “Unless you've had a change of heart.”

Erik shook his head. “Far from it.”

Charles gave Erik a pat on the arm. “Good. I think the first order of the day is to contact the NY Reporter and send them a photograph of the happy couple along with a terribly sugary statement of how utterly in love we are and just can't wait to get married.”

Erik smiled, nodding approvingly. “I like the way you think, Francine.”

Charles rolled his eyes and continued walking. “Use that name again, Erik, and you can forget about the whole thing.”

***

Raven could hear Hank laughing. He was trying to keep it quiet, but failing. She rolled her eyes and turned onto her back to see him sitting up in bed and reading the morning news, laughing at the screen in his hand.

“I'm awake,” Raven said flatly.

Hank looked down at her, mouth turning down guiltily. “Sorry. I tried to keep quiet. But... well, take a look.”

Raven took the datapad from Hank's hand, her face already expressing disinterest and irritation at being awake way earlier than she was supposed to be. Then she saw the screen. She saw it, gasped and sat up, eyes wide and grinning.

There it was, an awful picture of Erik Lehnsherr and Charles Xavier in front of a fireplace. Erik looked as unfriendly as he always looked in photographs and Charles looked as ridiculously amiable as he always did. Or perhaps, on second look, maybe Erik looked a little defiant, challenging and Charles looked a bit smug and satisfied. Either way, it made Raven laugh.

“See?” Hank said, grinning wide. Raven grinned back as Hank shook his head and said, “Seriously, does you friend know what he's doing?”

Raven thought back to two nights ago and the not so polite happy engagement message left burning at the foot of the Xavier mansion. She reached out for Hank's hand, squeezing it tight. “I hope so.”

***

Erik leaned back in his chair, letting it swing left to right ever so slightly. His hands were resting behind his neck, fingers linked together, eyes on the large screen on his desk. Another news site was using that photograph, even though it was just to illustrate an article on marriage in general.

He frowned at the screen, remembering when they had the photograph taken. Any apprehension or doubts about the marriage seemed to have flown Charles' head. He was so focused on making a point, on not backing down. Xaviers and their causes.

Maybe nothing ever really changed. Sitting here, Erik knew he was thinking exactly what many Lehnsherr's before him had thought. He had nothing to prove and certainly felt no compulsion to explain his actions.

“Whatcha doin'?” Erik turned around in his chair to find Azazel frowning at the screen, head tilted. Next to him was Emma, smiling at Erik. The screen behind Erik switched off immediately. Emma pouted. “You're no fun.”

“The door to my office is at the other end,” Erik said.

“Sorry, Azazel took a wrong turn,” Emma said with a shrug, reaching past Erik to switch the screen back on. Erik grabbed her hand, making a slapping sound which made Emma gasp and then wink at him. He gently pushed her hand back, receiving a smile. “Don't you have work you should be doing?”

Emma straightened up and smoothed down the front of her pristine white blazer. She glanced at Azazel and he gave her a small nod before disappearing from view. She took two steps towards Erik's desk to perch herself on the edge of it as he followed in his chair, swivelling to look up at her.

She made a face. “You're not going to like this.” Erik nodded. “It's started. People making calls, asking questions.”

“What kind of questions?” Erik asked.

“Well, on this morning's Elevensies, the hosts were asking the audience if they think you wear boxers or briefs,” Emma said, most seriously. Erik started to turn his chair away, but Emma grabbed the armrest and kept him facing her. “If only they knew.”

Erik rolled his eyes and pushed away from the desk to get up. He shoved his hands into his pockets, strolling over the window and looking down at the city below.

“It probably will get nasty, you know, what with people not liking you very much,” Emma said, making Erik snort out a laugh against his will. “Anything I should know about that you wouldn't want the press to dig up? Should probably tell me now. You know how I like to fix things before they break.”

Erik shook his head. “You already know everything.”

Emma snorted. “Right. I also know you're pretty damn good at blocking me when you want.”

“You know everything.” He turned to look at her in the eyes, open and truthful.

She nodded and said, “Then you've got nothing to worry about.” She hopped off the desk. “I got a date with an editor. His wife doesn't know. She doesn't know a lot actually. Luckily they don't have kids so their divorce is only mostly going to hurt him.”

Erik watched her striding off towards the door, throwing out random comments. He called out, “Emma.”

She turned with a questioning look. “Boss?”

“Charles,” Erik said, not quite sure about what he wanted to say. Charles didn't need anyone's protection. He didn't need Erik looking out for him. He knew people would be gunning for them both. Even so, he said, “Watch him.”

Emma smirked at Erik. “Like I'd let anything anything happen to that cutie.” Erik glared. “Oh come on, we all saw the photograph. He's hot.”

Erik blinked at her and the datapad from his desk went flying. Emma flashed, becoming diamond clear, the datapad smashing into her and then onto the floor in pieces. When she turned back to flesh, she grinned, wagging a finger at Erik before leaving with a smile. Erik didn't spare a thought of worry for anyone who had Emma coming after them. In all fairness, they would have done something to deserve the visit.

***

It was hard concentrating on lecturing students when every time Raven spotted Charles at the back of the auditorium, she thought of the engagement picture which had been analysed a million times in the last forty-eight hours. So far, the consensus appeared to be that Erik and Charles were deeply in love, extremely uncomfortable with each other, cynical businessmen and just another example of the odd mutant community with its strange ways and customs. Everyone had an opinion. Especially experts of the human variety.

“When the Neo-Nazi uprisings in Russia finally kicked off the trigger event that would start the Third World War, the U.S. Government was still more concerned with implementing mutant registration, and as the world went to war, this country was seeing the passing of the Mutant Identification Bill and the mobilisation of the Mutant Response Division. But times have changed. Now we're lucky enough to have the Mutant Protection Bill, which, you know, totally different. I know I feel safe,” Raven said with a grin. The students responded with snorts, laughter and thoughtful silence. “Okay, seminars throughout Friday and Monday. I will not be in my office tomorrow. For next time, chapters eighteen to twenty-six of Warren's, A Hundred Years of American-Mutant History, volume one. Thank you.”

Raven turned to shut down the large video screen as students began to filter out of the exits. She fielded questions for a few moments, Charles not far from her sights as he discreetly emerged from the back of the auditorium towards the lecture podium.

He was shaking his head at her when he stopped by the podium, looking up at her from two steps below. “I must confess you are incredibly fetching when you're all educational, with that touch of terrifying cynicism thrown into the mix.”

Raven smiled, narrowing her eyes at Charles. “You're an idiot.”

“Yes, but I'm an idiot who appears to have held onto his hair longer than most Xaviers, and that includes the women. So,” Charles said, finishing the sentence with shrug and smile.

“Ugh, you have become so annoying since you got engaged,” Raven said, packing up her things into her satchel. “And considering it's only been two days, that says a lot about you, Charles.”

“I'm easy to please?” Charles asked innocently.

“Well, the easy part's true,” Raven said with a grin.

Charles gave her a wounded look. “Why can't people just forget a man's wild youth?”

“Remember that party last year-”

“Point made, well done, Professor. Now, could we please go and eat lunch?” Charles said, hopping up on the podium.

Raven slipped the strap of her bag over her shoulder and smiled. “And talk about your robot fiancé?”

“Raven,” Charles warned.

“Did you have to charge him up before putting him in the picture? His batteries looked a little low,” Raven said.

Charles rolled his eyes and turned around, jumping off the podium and making for the entrance. “I'm not doing this with you.”

Raven followed, catching up with him and grabbing his arm. “Uh, yeah, remember when I married Hank? We're doing this.”

To his credit, Charles let her tease him all the way up to the point where the bill for lunch had to be paid, and at that point, Raven wisely stopped.

***

Charles was indulging himself by looking at the research papers from the Mars expedition. He had plenty of work to do with the foundation, but post lunch he had been left with very little concentration. Not to mention the fact that a certain photograph doing the rounds had people calling every five minutes to either congratulate him or to ask him if he was serious.

He was finishing a call when Louis walked in with a grim expression. Charles frowned at him and said, “Louis, if Erik wasn't a Lehnsherr and I was marrying him, what would you say to that?”

Louis blinked, brows rising as he thought about it. He looked back at Charles and very politely said, “I'd say congratulations on bagging a rather successful and attractive young man.”

Charles narrowed his eyes at Louis. “Let me rephrase the question. What's wrong with Erik Lehnsherr?”

Louis sighed. “Nothing as far as I know. Nobody likes a private successful man who hates the press. There are also murmurings of less than legal behaviour on occasion, but come on, who hasn't?”

Charles shook his head. “Just when I think I know you, there's a whole new horrifying side I had no idea about.”

“You're an Xavier. Get use to it,” Louis said. “Now, I have some news for you.”

“About Erik?” Charles asked, sitting up straight.

Louis smiled, visibly amused. “Not everything's about your wonderful fiancé.” This earned him a filthy look from Charles. “This is about the fundraiser on Friday. Our sponsor just pulled out.”

Charles stared. “What? Why?”

Louis shrugged. “Icarus say they want to explore other avenues for sponsorship. They could be right. I mean, what self-respecting mutant needs sportswear? Or branded water for that matter? Besides, it's not like we don't have money-”

“Louis, please,” Charles said, rubbing his forehead. “People see their logo, wear their clothes, buy their health products. We needed them. We needed someone visibly supporting our causes. And now people will notice that they don't.”

“We'll find someone else,” Louis said. “This foundation's been here a long time. If your grandmother was unable to drive it into the ground. I doubt you will.”

“Even so, come Friday, we'll be holding a fundraiser and expecting people to part with their money while the main sponsor has pulled out altogether.”

“Charles. We will find someone else.” Louis stressed.

“Not by Friday,” Charles said, sitting back, sinking into thought. “We need help.”

Louis frowned. “You have someone in mind?”

Charles grimaced. “Actually, I do.”

Louis stared. “Charles. No. I forbid it. It's... what will he think?” Louis sighed. “What will his aunt think?”

Charles frowned at the forlorn look on Louis' face. Louis returned a shifty look and quickly left.

***

Charles opened the door to reveal Erik, dressed very smartly in black shirt and pants, holding up a bottle of wine. Charles smiled, taking the bottle and reaching out to take Erik's arm, pulling him into the house.

“Erik, you shouldn't have,” Charles said, looking over the bottle just as Louis arrived, dressed for an evening out.

“Ah, dear boy,” Louis said, embracing Erik warmly, giving him a hearty pat on the arm when he pulled away. Louis saw the bottle in Charles' hands and took it from him, looking very shocked. “Erik, you're too generous, I think.”

Erik nodded towards the bottle. “I'm not much of a wine drinker and it was just collecting dust.”

“The dust is what makes it valuable,” Louis said, showing the bottle to Charles.

Charles nodded. “Yes, absolutely. I mean, that's... quite, very vintagey. Extraordinarily dusty.”

Louis narrowed his eyes at Charles and shook his head. “It's all just plonk to you, isn't it?”

Charles grabbed the bottle and grinned. “Erik? Drink?”

Erik smiled and gave Charles a polite nod. “Please.”

Louis shook his head. “Well, I hope you both enjoy dinner. And, try not to inhale that wine, Charles. You may want to let it breathe for at least half a second.”

“Goodnight, Louis,” Charles called out as he ushered Erik through the house and out to the back where a table had been laid out under the stars, glass lanterns lighting up the evening. “I thought we should make the most of the fresh air while we still have the weather.”

Erik nodded, eyeing the lanterns. “Good idea.”

Charles cast an eye over the aged label of the wine bottle as Erik stood looking across the grounds, hands in pockets. “Really, Erik, this thing is quite old. Are you sure you want to drink it?”

Erik turned to smile in amusement. “Wine's for drinking.”

Charles nodded, uncorking it. “I cannot argue. Where are my manners, please, take a seat.”

Erik pulled out a chair from the dining table and sat down, descending slowly to allow Charles to seat himself at the same time. Charles suddenly felt a little guilty for inviting him to dinner for reasons that had nothing to do with even attempting to get to know the man he was going to marry. How easy it was to treat this all like a business. Charles looked away from Erik, staring at the ridiculous satellite dish in the distance.

“You seem troubled,” Erik said.

Charles shook his head. “I was just thinking.”

“About Icarus?” Erik asked. When Charles looked at him, Erik was straightening the cutlery laid out in front of him. He looked up at Charles who was quietly staring. “I heard they pulled their sponsorship from some of your events.”

“Yes. They did.”

Erik nodded. “You're worried.”

Charles smiled. “Just a little.”

Erik frowned. “Why?”

Charles shrugged, laughing quietly. “Erik, running a business is one thing, but running the kinds of schemes the Xavier Research Foundation runs, we need visible support. We need to associate ourselves with businesses people know. Successful businesses. The Xavier fortune is not inexhaustible.”

Erik was still frowning. He leaned back, the frown easing. “I thought perhaps you invited me to dinner because you wanted my help.”

“I did,” Charles said quietly. “That's exactly why I invited you.”

Erik's brow was furrowed, his eyes peering at Charles as if trying to read him. “You're worried because you thought I might refuse?”

Charles shook his head, smiling. “I was worried about how to broach the subject. I think I quite foolishly underestimated you. I thought I'd have to court your advice. Charm you into sharing your business acumen.”

Erik was shaking his head. “None of those things are necessary. We'll soon be in a partnership and that affords you many privileges.”

Charles smiled. “It does?”

Erik smiled back. “Of course. Access to the CEO of Lehnsherr Corp. Free business advice. Not to mention that the creators of the ridiculously named Lehmanbot would be very happy to sponsor the events out of which Icarus have dropped out.”

Charles stared. “I was rather hoping you might push a contact or two in my direction. I couldn't ask you to-”

“When Lehnsherr Corp gives you its support, the contacts will come your way without your asking,” Erik said.

Charles felt waves of solid certainty coming off of Erik, without an ounce of doubt. Such confidence. It was a giddying feeling to sit there and let Erik's fearlessness wash over him.

“I must say, I feel as though I'm the one who will be gaining much more from this marriage, Erik,” Charles said quietly, pushing at the fork in front of him with his finger.

When he pulled his hand back, he watched it straighten itself out, and then Erik's face, his gaze the only thing pointed at the piece of cutlery. Erik's eyes flicked up to look at Charles and they quietly held each other's gaze for a moment.

“I think that wine's had enough time to breathe,” Charles said, getting up and turning away from the table to go to the stone wall running low around the house, the grounds stretching out quietly beyond it.

Erik joined him at his side as Charles poured wine into the glasses, though his gaze was on the satellite and not the drinks. Charles waited for Erik to say something, but instead he just stood blinking at the now non-functioning monument. Charles held up the glasses of wine, smiling when Erik took his.

“To partnership?” Charles suggested.

Erik smiled. “To partnership.”

They clinked glasses and drank. Charles swallowed, gulped and shut his eyes before squinting at Erik. “I think it might be dusty on the inside too.”

Erik stared at Charles for a moment and then grinned.

***

“Oh that? That's my grandmother, Beatrice Xavier,” Charles said, holding up his glass of Scotch at the portrait on the wall. Erik nodded, blinking slowly like he had to concentrate. “It was her mother who built the south wing a hundred years ago, just after the war. You see, before the war, this place was a museum and she thought the new wing could continue being a museum.”

Erik nodded. “What happened?”

“Bad year for mutants. The last people she wanted in this house were human tourists looking at the family jewels, if you know what I mean.”

Erik was smiling and frowning as he slurred, “I don't.”

“Well, you know, we've got some things people think ought to be in a proper museum. Historical significance and all that,” Charles slurred right back. “We all know what happened during the Third World War. How many artefacts went up in smoke because they were in museums. More Scotch?”

Erik blinked at the bottle in Charles' hand and nodded, holding out his glass. “It's good.”

“Seventy years old, my friend. Trumps dusty wine any old day,” Charles said, filling Erik's glass and then his own, before pointing at the next portrait. “That's Victoria Xavier, more popularly known as Victor Xavier. He ran off with the neighbour's chauffeur and started a vineyard in Burgundy.”

Erik pointed at the portrait. “There was a film.”

“Yes,” Charles said nodding. “He was played by some very popular chap at the time. You know, from that acting family. Erik, are you sure you're not hungry?”

Erik was nodding, but his eyes were fixed on another portrait. He seemed to drift towards it and Charles followed Erik. “The Professor?”

Charles looked at the painting of the young man seated in his wheelchair, his hands on the armrests and his gaze on the viewer. He seemed unshakable, the way he held himself.

Remarkable.

Charles blinked at Erik, hearing that thought all too loud and clear. He had suspected it, but now Erik's loudly projected thought seemed to confirm it. “You're able to shield yourself from me. Is that part of your ability?”

Erik turned from the portrait to look at Charles. He seemed unlike himself, a little unsteady, a little ruffled, face flushed. “You look just like him.”

Charles nodded. “Apparently so. Could I penetrate your mind at all if I tried?”

Erik smiled. “No wonder you've been plying me with drink.”

Charles thought about Erik's response and then started to laugh. “Let me guess. You're an old fashioned sort. You want to wait?”

Now Erik was laughing. After the laughter died down between them, Erik smiled and tapped his temple. “Go ahead.”

“Really?” Charles asked as Erik nodded. He peered at Erik, compelled to press his fingers to his own temple to focus. He could make out echoes, like residual feelings. He could sense that Erik was rather fantastically drunk, but, he couldn't penetrate the surface of his thoughts. When he tried it was like hearing screeching inside his head. “Your head makes my ears hurt.”

Erik nodded. “I could always do it. Keep out telepaths. Let them in.”

“You know I'd heard that Magneto trained himself to block telepaths, but here you are doing it naturally. Amazing. Your glass is empty, Erik, here.” Erik watched his glass being refilled, looking startled when Charles suddenly gasped. “Do you want to see his room? Old Magneto's room?

Erik blinked at Charles, nodding slowly. “He lived here.”

Charles nodded back. “During the restoration of the house, they somehow figured out which was his bedroom, and since then, it's been kept just as it would have been when he was here.”

Erik frowned. “Why?”

Charles leaned in and whispered. “I'm not quite sure. The Professor's room too. I don't like to go in there, you know, very odd. Do you want to see?”

“Please,” Erik said, not drunk enough to stop being polite, Charles noted as he topped up his drink, using the bottle to point the way.

***

They were both quietly sitting in the small bedroom, on the edge of the bed, staring at the window, bottle of Scotch finished.

“It's small,” Erik said.

“You thought it would be bigger?” Charles asked. Erik nodded. “Well, he was a larger than life figure.”

“He was happy here,” Erik said. “Happiest.”

Charles frowned at Erik's profile. He wasn't so poised, so rigid. He was relaxed, flagging a bit. “You think so?”

“I know,” Erik said, his eyes on the bright white moon outside the window.

Charles bumped his shoulder against Erik's, prompting Erik to look at him with a half-smile of interest. “Do you want to see the Professor's room? It's right across the hall.”

Erik's brows climbed up into his hair. “It is?”

Charles nodded. “Oh yes. Magneto would just saunter across the hall and they'd play chess, drink, talk. That sort of thing. The Professor wrote, those few moments I will treasure until the end of my days. Chapter five. My favourite chapter.” Charles patted Erik's arm, leaning close. “I don't really like going in there. Very odd.” Erik nodded with a look of understanding. “Let's play chess instead.”

Erik picked up his empty glass from the bed and stared at it, while teetering where he sat. “We'll need more drink.”

Charles patted his shoulder. “You're a man after my own heart, Erik. Let's get ourselves a small drink, shall we?”

***

Charles moved the piece slowly across the board before lifting his finger off and sitting back to give Erik a challenging look. Erik frowned. “That's not allowed. They can't move diagonally.”

Charles squinted at the piece. “Are you sure? I'm fairly certain the horses can move how they bloody well like.”

“You're thinking about the queen. These aren't horses. They're knights.”

Charles stared at Erik who looked far too amused. They both burst out laughing. Charles said, “I think I remember why I hate this game. I mean, they look like horses. Call them horses.”

Erik lifted up a black knight and nodded. “For you, Francine, I will call them horses.”

“Don't, Erik. We'll come to blows over that name,” Charles said with a grimace.

Erik beckoned Charles closer. He leaned in until they could both smell the scotch on each other's breath. “My middle name? Maximilian. Hate it.”

Charles nodded thoughtfully. “Rather farty old name. I suppose Francine's not so bad.”

Erik nodded. “I like it. Why do you hate the Professor's room?”

Charles scratched his head, shaking it afterwards. “The pressure, you know? Every Xavier has to live up to him. No wonder half of them went mad or died young. How do you live up to them? Those remarkable men who came before you. Sometimes... I feel crushed by the weight of this place.”

A loud thump signalled that Erik had stopped listening. Charles looked at him lying on the couch, face planted on a cushion. Charles rubbed his eye and nodded. “It is getting a bit late isn't it?”

“What's this?” Charles looked up to find Louis in the doorway, staring at Erik. “What did you do to him?”

Charles stared at Louis. “Nothing. He's just had a bit too much to drink. Actually, we both drank about the same, but I don't feel so bad.”

“Of course you don't. Thanks to generations of Xaviers dousing their livers with alcohol, we don't actually need that organ anymore. He on the other hand is probably dying of alcohol poisoning.”

Charles gave Louis a long look. “What's going on?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you're acting strange,” Charles said, faculties not affected enough to miss that Louis was indeed acting strange.

“I am merely worried about the impression this is going to make on his dear aunt if she finds out. She's not like us. She's a sensitive and sophisticated woman,” Louis said, his words faltering a little as his gaze shifted to nowhere in particular.

“I think you're worrying about nothing,” Charles said, waving his hand and getting up, and then waving bodily for a moment.

“Well, of course you're going to say that,” Louis said, casting Erik's slumped form worrying looks.

“Because I'm not a sensitive and sophisticated woman?” Charles asked slowly.

Louis glared. “It's a pity they abolished capital punishment.”

Charles frowned. “I think you mean corporal punishment.”

“Oh I know what I mean,” Louis said as Charles rolled his eyes. “Now help me get him up the stairs and into bed. He's not leaving until he's sober enough to tell Anna we're not as debauched as almost all the Xavier biographies are suggesting these days.”

“I don't know. I think the one on Matilda Xavier was rather on the money.”

Louis walked into the room and grabbed Erik from under his arms, waiting for Charles to hoist up the other end. They both shuffled up the stairs and into one of the guest bedrooms after Charles had managed to drop Erik's feet several times. Then they carefully lay Erik down, Charles doubling over afterwards to get his breath back as Louis removed Erik's shoes.

“Thank god,” Charles coughed. “I think I'll get some sleep too.” He turned to go, finding himself being roughly pulled back by his elbow, Louis glaring at him again. “This is about not being a sophisticated woman, isn't it?”

Louis pointed to the bed. “Stay here. He's your fiancé. It's doesn't behoove--”

“Behoove?”

“Behoove you to get him drunk and then run off for a good night's sleep. He might wake up and need an explanation as to where he is. I want Anna to be sure that we're looking after him as we would a member of our own family.”

“Oh my god,” Charles said slowly.

“She's become a good friend, that's all,” Louis said instantly. Charles folded his arms and shook his head. “I'm going to bed now.”

Charles nodded, narrowing his eyes at Louis. “Sweet dreams. About Anna apparently.”

Louis went rigid and stern. “I would never. She's a-”

“I know. A sophisticated woman,” Charles said. “You know, it really is good to know that the Xavier tradition of being distracted by a pretty face is well and truly in our past.”

Louis glared. “Goodnight, Charles.”

Louis walked off, as poised and dignified as possible in the shadow of his epic schoolboy crush as Charles turned towards the bed where Erik was blissfully passed out. Charles sighed, slumping onto the edge of the bed and removing his shoes. He lay down next to Erik, watching him closely until he also fell asleep.

***

Charles awoke with a start, feeling hot and bothered. He had the intense feeling that someone had been watching him, standing there in the doorway opposite the bed. He slowly crawled out of bed, walking out into the corridor, just for a quick look. He hadn't expected to see anything, but there it was, a shadow at the end of the corridor. A figure retreating.

Charles ran after the figure, which was always the thing to do in a big creepy dark house in the middle of the night. Charles rounded the corner and ran up a flight of stairs, rushing down another corridor. And then he abruptly stopped.

There at the end of the corridor stood a man, framed by a window which was being beaten by rain. He was a dark shape in front of the window, lit up every time lighting struck outside, colouring everything around him.

Charles took cautious steps forward, watching as the man began to slowly turn. When Charles made out the cape and the curve of a metal helmet, his feet automatically rooted themselves to the floor and this time he knew he wouldn't move again.

The other man was coming closer and closer, his steps slow and measured. It made Charles' heart speed up, thump loud in his chest, right up into his head. He tried to see the man's face, but all he got was a flash of bright eyes shrouded by shadow, even as the man stood so close that Charles could have reached out and touched him.

The man was completely still, a shadow looking right through Charles. He lifted up his hand, upturned as if offering something. He held it aloft with elegance and promise. Charles shook his head. He didn't understand. He stumbled backwards until the back of his legs hit something. Then he turned around and saw the figure in the wheelchair.

For a moment it was like looking in the mirror, but Charles took in the set of the mouth, the odd sad serenity of the gaze, and he knew this was the Professor. Charles watched both men as they stared at each other silently in the middle of this dark night. Magneto with his outstretched hand and the Professor as frozen as a sculpture until he very slowly shook his head.

Magneto stepped closer and strands of moonlight manage to penetrate the shadows long enough for Charles to see part of a face through the opening of the helmet. A defiant line of a mouth. Watery ice cold eyes. They wore the same sheen as the Professor's eyes. Charles felt his head spinning and his guts were in his mouth as he wobbled where he stood, reaching out for support. When he looked up again it was to see Magneto tilting his head at Charles, observing him closely before whipping around and striding away. Charles looked down at himself, seated in the Professor's wheelchair. His hands were shaking on the armrests and there was grief and pain and... he felt so alone. Even in this house filling to the brim with mutants, he felt so alone.

“Erik!” Charles called out, lurching forward and reaching out to grab someone who wasn't there.

He desperately tried to reach for the fading shadow in front of him until the corridor was gone and instead he was looking at the door. He was on his knees in the middle of the bed, half-crawling towards the edge. He looked around at the room and remembered what he was doing here and the fact that he had been rather bad at it since Erik was missing.

The strip of light under the bathroom door said Erik was probably still close by. This was confirmed by the retching noises from inside. There was silence for a moment and then coughing. More silence. And then more retching. Charles climbed off the bed and tried opening the door. Thankfully, it was locked. There really was nothing as bad as having a hangover in the presence of someone being quite violently sick.

“Erik? Can I get you anything?” Charles asked, knocking on the door. The reply was another prolonged sound of vomiting. “Erik, I am so sorry.”

***

Once his body was no longer attempting to rid itself of bile and vital organs, Erik got off the floor of the bathroom, flushed, and rinsed his mouth out with mouthwash and then water. He opened the door and palmed off the light, stepping back into the bedroom. Charles had migrated to the side of the bed Erik had woken up on and he was lying on his back with one leg hanging onto the ground, one hand on stomach, the other shoved under the back of his head. He appeared to have fallen asleep waiting.

Shaking his head, Erik stripped off his shirt and trousers, hanging them both over the back of a chair and turned the bedroom light off, walking around the bed to lie down on the other side. Charles made a small startled sound as Erik sat down and the bed dipped. He slowed his descent, lying down as quietly as possible.

It was when he shut his eyes and felt himself floating back towards sleep, Charles said, “So... do you still want to marry me?”

Erik opened his eyes, grinning up at the ceiling. “Go to sleep, Charles.”

***

Erik awoke early next morning, no matter how much his body protested. He needed to get home, shower and then maybe fall into a coma for the next twenty-four hours. His head felt like there was a mutant parade going on inside and his stomach felt as though someone had spent the night punching it. He also had a chess piece in his trouser pocket, which he had no recollection of stealing.

He left Charles hugging a pillow and made his way downstairs. Azazel would be appearing at any moment and Erik figured it was best to slip out of the front door without disturbing anyone. Until Louis yelled half-way down a corridor and ushered Erik back into the house and the kitchen.

“You really ought to eat something,” Louis said, pulling out a chair at the breakfast table. Erik smiled and sat down. “It'll help with that slightly green pallor.”

“I'll just have a coffee,” Erik said. “Thank you.”

Louis smiled obligingly, filling a cup with coffee for Erik and taking a seat at the table. “I hope you got some sleep last night. I sensed a bit of a commotion.”

Erik thought back to the night before. He'd woken up terrified and then the next thing he knew he was emptying out the contents of his stomach. He couldn't remember his dream, but something didn't sit right about it. It had felt all wrong, like the fear he felt wasn't his own. Erik smiled, lifting his coffee cup to his mouth and then thinking better of it when a wave of nausea rolled through him.

“I slept fine.”

“And Charles?” Louis asked. “I thought I heard him walking around. He used to have night terrors as a child. We'd find him wandering the corridors scared out of his mind. We'd all wake up feeling quite scared out of our minds. You see, in heightened states of brain activity, some telepaths are prone to, well, an emotional leakage of sorts.”

Erik smiled. “I was a little preoccupied last night. Seventy year old Scotch doesn't come out as great as it goes in.”

Louis chuckled, nodding. “I hope you're feeling better now.”

“I am. Thank you,” Erik got up, pushing his chair back under the table. “Tell Charles I enjoyed myself. And I'll call him about the fundraiser to smooth out the details. I should go. Azazel should be arriving any minute.”

Louis got up, embracing Erik as he stood there rather dumbly. “Yes, of course. I'll see you soon, I hope.”

“Of course,” Erik said, walking along with Louis as they made their way back through the house and to the front door, where Louis held the door open with a smile. Erik nodded to him and walked out, seeing Azazel already patiently waiting.

“Azazel,” Erik said, receiving a nod as the other man extended an arm towards Erik. “Straight to the bathroom if you don't mind.” He took a deep breath through his nose, clenching his jaw tight.

Azazel arched a brow and then smiled, clearly amused. He clasped Erik's wrist and within a blink of an eye Erik stood in the middle of his bathroom, the short and fast trip giddying enough to make him grateful for the proximity of the toilet bowl.

***

Hank was talking. He had been talking for a while. It was the day for monthly meetings with heads of divisions, which was ironic because Charles felt as if his own head was at this moment in the process of division. It didn't help that little Leo was in the corner of the office having a loud conversation with his imaginary friend. Charles frowned at the boy who was now laughing at something particularly funny.

“Not that I don't adore my godson, but-”

“You already asked that question,” Hank said with a sigh. “Suspected MU1 outbreak at his school? They sent all the kids home.”

Charles nodded slowly. “Right. And you've-”

“Run every test. He's fine. You know, except for the talking to imaginary people part,” Hank said with a nod.

“Excellent. Are we about done here?” Charles asked, squinting at the datapad in front of him, his eyes feeling as if they were bleeding rather than seeing. Hank was staring at him. “Oh god, we've barely begun.”

Hank poked his own datapad and both his and Charles' screens switched off. “You look like crap that's been crapped on.”

“Don't be silly,” Charles said, slipping further down in his chair. “I don't feel anywhere near that good.”

“What happened? I thought you were seeing Lehnsherr last night.”

“I was. I did. I expect to be hearing about his impending marriage to someone else very soon,” Charles said. “There he was helping us out of our rut with the fundraiser and I somehow managed to get him drunk out of his skull. I've never heard someone throw up so much, which is amazing considering I'm friends with your wife.”

Hank looked appalled, rightly so. “Makes sense why you're still single.”

“We're not all early bloomers like you and Raven,” Charles said, letting his head drop back as he closed his eyes. “I had one of those awful dreams again.”

Hank was quiet for a while before asking, “Yeah?”

“Yes. I saw the Professor and Magneto. Magneto was asking the Professor for something, but the Professor refused and Magneto left and... I woke up terrified.”

“Of what?”

Charles opened his eyes, turning his head to look at Hank. “I have no idea. Maybe I wasn't terrified at all. Maybe he was.”

“Have you told Louis?”

Charles shook his head. “He'll worry and start bolting down all the windows.”

“We could do more tests,” Hank said. “Considering your uncle's ability, it makes sense your abilities extend in a similar direction.”

“Wonderful. He has access to generations of Xavier memories and I'm somehow able to tune into the depressed echoes of the departed in that bloody house. We should celebrate,” Charles said, forcing a smile to soften the bitterness in his voice.

Hank was nodding thoughtfully. “Imagine if that is what you're doing. I mean, sure, maybe you're having dreams about things you've heard way too many times, or maybe you actually have the ability to somehow fine tune these fading telepathic signals in your dreams. Professor X was a very powerful telepath. There's no telling what he's left floating around that house. You're a class 4. If anyone's going to pick up a signal, its going be you.”

Charles smiled. “Lucky me.”

Hank turned the datapads back on with a small smile. “I don't think you realise how lucky.”

Charles thought back to the nightmare of watching Magneto turning away and disappearing into the dark. Maybe Charles was lucky after all. Lucky enough to not be the man who wanted to join Magneto so many times.

***

“Baby's first hangover?”

Erik turned onto his back and aimed a sour look at Emma who was lying next to him on his bed, propped up on one elbow and looking amused. He grabbed her hand and practically slapped it onto his forehead, closing his eyes. He could feel Emma's fingers pressing gently against his forehead. After a moment he opened his eyes and frowned at her.

“You need more water. Not a telepath,” Emma said, slapping his forehead lightly. Erik jerked his head away with a scowl, pushing her hand back. “Aren't you working today? You're not even married and already the business is suffering.”

Erik propped himself up on both elbows and gave Emma a thoughtful look. “I want you to do something for me.” Emma looked Erik up and down with open appreciation, arching a perfect brow. Erik rolled his eyes and said, “Icarus. Find out what's going on with them.”

“Find out? No need. A little bird told me the new CEO is thinking about a re-branding. They want to do a little rising from the ashes. Sales are down and frankly they're boring. They're hoping a new image change might attract investors, not to mention customers.”

“I want a piece,” Erik told Emma.

She nodded. “How big a piece are we talking?”

“Big,” Erik said.

“What did they do? Upset your cute little mutant sensibilities?” Emma asked smoothly.

Erik smiled, nodding. “Something like that.”

Emma frowned at him for a second. Then she got up from the bed, wrapping her coat around her and tying it up with an elegant bow. “Water, plenty of it. And eat something, will you? You're making me hungry.”

Erik flopped back down on the bed as he watched her leave. A few minutes later, she was sticking her head around the door and grinning. “You have a visitor.”

Erik slowly blinked at her. “Did you tell them to-”

“It's Charles Xavier.”

Erik kept his rude suggestion to himself and sat up, nodding to Emma. “I'll be right out.”

He threw off the clothes he had been lying around in for most of the morning, quickly pulling on a pair of black sweat pants and sweatshirt, pushing up the sleeves and not bothering with the few buttons it had. He dashed into the bathroom, splashed his face with water, wiping it quickly and finally left his bedroom. From the stairs he could see Charles standing by the fireplace and looking at the painting above it, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his khakhis. His white shirt seemed crumpled, like maybe he had spent a portion of the day horizontal too.

Smoothing his hair back, Erik hurried down the stairs. “Charles.”

Charles turned to smile at Erik. “Erik, hello. Sorry for the impromptu visit. I hope you don't mind.”

Erik shook his head. “Of course not. Is everything all right?”

Charles looked a little embarrassed. “I tried to call you at the office and was told you wouldn't be in today. I wondered it was possibly my fault.”

Erik smiled. “Of course not. I think it was the Scotch.”

Charles grimaced. “I am so sorry.

Erik smiled, gesturing with his head for Charles to follow him into the kitchen. “Coffee?”

“Tea?” Charles asked, taking a seat behind the large counter, Erik on the other side, running his fingers across the buttons of the shining black wall unit.

“No tea,” Erik muttered. “We'll do it the old fashioned way.” He went to the other end of the kitchen, opening a cabinet and retrieving a copper kettle. He filled it with water and put it on the black cooking pane next to the wall unit before opening another cabinet and taking out a large metal container, from which he took out a handful of tea leaves that went into the kettle.

“Thank you,” Charles said as Erik turned around to face him, his hands resting lightly on the edge of his side of the counter.

Erik nodded and said, “Hungry?”

“Oh, no, not really,” Charles said, shaking his head.

“Toast?” Erik asked.

“God, yes, please,” Charles said. He waved at his stomach. “It's been that kind of a day.”

***

They ate their tea and toast on the balcony, Charles leaning over the edge and looking down at the street below, Erik behind him, seated at the black iron table.

“You have a wonderful view,” Charles said, taking a bite of his toast.

Erik glanced at Charles, his short hair being ruffled by the breeze, his body flush with the balcony wall as he leaned against it. Erik looked away at his teacup instead, watching the steam rise from the cup until Charles pulled up a chair opposite.

“Did you catch up on your sleep?” Erik asked, looking at Charles whose eyes were still a little pink tinged. “Louis seemed to think you were suffering from night terrors.”

Charles pulled a face. “Yes. I used to get them much more often as a child. This one wasn't too bad. Fell back to sleep quick enough afterwards.”

“You think something might have caused it? Stress?” Erik asked.

Charles nodded thoughtfully. “It's possible. Things have been rather hectic of late.” He clamped his mouth shut then, reaching for his tea. Erik could almost sense how much Charles wanted to add something else.

“What?” Erik said. “There's something else.”

Charles smiled, not looking at Erik. “My friend has a theory. He seems to think these aren't dreams, at all but rather I'm picking up echoes of events that have happened in that house. He thinks that somehow sleep allows me to magnify these echoes that are always there, but usually blocked by too much other activity.”

“What do you think?” Erik asked.

Charles looked up finally. He seemed tired. “I think the Xaviers have made it their life's work to obsess over one man. Maybe it would be more strange to not dream about him.”

Erik quietly snorted. “Believe it or not, I understand.”

Charles grinned, shaking his head. He sighed. “I'm sorry. I forgot who I was talking to. I'm sure it hasn't been easy being descended from the great Magneto, looking just like him.”

Erik frowned. “Why do you say that?”

“What?”

“That I look like him.”

Charles was frowning, as if unsure himself. “Well, you look of a similar build. I suppose, working backwards from the pictures we've seen of him as an old man.” Erik waited quietly and then Charles said. “He looks like you in my dreams. As much of him as I've ever seen. I think I'd forgotten until last night. You look remarkably like him.”

Erik leaned forward and covered Charles' hand, which had fisted itself against the table. “Stress. Probably not helped by my throwing up seventy year old Scotch.”

Charles laughed, pulling his hand away, his forehead creasing with something like regret. “I think it's time I got going.”

“Do you have to be somewhere?” Charles shook his head. Erik shrugged and said, “Stay. Stay for dinner.”

Charles pulled a face. “By dinner you mean?”

“Toast,” Erik said with a grin.

Charles made a show of pretending to think it over and replied, “Why not?”

They spent most of the afternoon on the balcony, conversation naturally moving towards the impending fundraiser. When the rain started somewhere around early evening, they quickly ducked inside and took up on the couches in front of the fireplace, Erik making another round of tea and toast. He stood waiting for the kettle to boil, watching Charles sitting on the couch, one arm resting along the back, the other squeezing the bridge of his nose. He looked like a young man with the burden of an old soul.

Whatever was troubling Charles vanished from his expression as Erik set down the tea and toast. “Ah, thank you.”

Erik nodded, handing Charles his plate and then sitting down on the opposite couch with a sigh. He picked up his own plate and bit into a slice of toast. No more headache. No more tender stomach. No more nausea. The day was finally looking up and opposite him, Charles was quietly laughing.

“What?” Erik asked.

Charles shook his head. “It's nothing. I just don't think I've ever sensed so much satisfaction coming off of a man eating toast.”

Erik held up his toast and said, “I like toast, Francine.”

Charles sat back with a sigh, “It's like you don't want me to marry you.” Erik laughed, watching Charles paying his toast too much attention now, clearly about to broach a subject. “You know, it hasn't escaped me that you've not mentioned our pending nuptials.”

Erik nodded. “I thought we could both do without the pressure of over thinking it this early.”

Charles was nodding in agreement. “I'm not sure I want to think about it at all. But, it has to be done. And there's also the matter of our co-habitation afterwards.”

Erik nodded and said. “Okay. Small wedding or large?”

“Small.”

“Venue?”

“My family will try to convince you it should be on the grounds of the mansion.”

“I accept,” Erik said. “Would you like to live here with me, or have me live with you, or should we start looking at an apartment or house that would be convenient and acceptable to both of us?”

Charles blinked. “Oh. Um. You have a wonderful apartment.”

“But it's not your kind of thing,” Erik said.

“Yes. And I thought the mansion might not be yours,” Charles said, screwing up his face.

Erik leaned forward and said, “Charles, after a year we can go our separate ways. For a year, living in your house won't be a hardship. I spend most of my time working anyway.”

Charles nodded slowly, as if some realisation was dawning on him. “Yes, I do see your logic. So, small private ceremony, followed by you moving into the mansion. You'd be fine with that?”

Erik leaned back. “More than fine.”

Charles was nodding, clearly impressed. Then he shook his head with a quizzical expression. “What the hell do people need wedding planners for exactly?”

Erik shrugged and continued to eat his toast.

***

Forty-eight hours before Friday came the news of Lehnsherr Corp extending its charity work to sponsoring some of the Xavier Research Foundation events. Charles wasn't surprised by the media commentary that followed. It was all part of a continued mutant takeover, one pro-Human League spokesman proclaimed. Another commented on the significance of Erik's gift to Charles. It was almost like an old fashioned wedding ring, she had snorted on the morning news. Others questioned the motive of XRF departing with Icarus in favour of greener pastures, especially as reports over the last few days were revealing the extent of the company's troubles. How typical that a mutant had sided with a mutant rather than a failing human company.

“I'm sorry, could you possibly change the channels?” Charles politely asked the barman who nodded, turned around, keying in a new set of channels, this time all sport.

The fundraiser was in full swing, the sound of music and merriment almost drowning out all other sounds. His opening duties done, Charles had taken up a stool at the bar which was discreetly hidden in the curves of the large hall.

The barman placed a drink before Charles, which he picked up with a happy sigh. “To learning lessons badly.”

“To your amazing constitution,” Erik said, raising his Martini glass for Charles to clink against.

Charles smiled and said, “It's just the one.”

“Of course,” Erik said, smiling as he lifted his glass for a sip.

Charles found himself trying to think of a way he could thank Erik for his involvement on this night. He had released news of his support without fanfare. He had turned up with his assistant in tow, posing for photographs under her direction and delivering a short and sharp speech on the importance of backing great causes. Even Louis had been lost for words.

As Erik had stood on the podium, revealing on the large telescreen the sizeable amount of the first donation of the night, his donation, Louis had stood next to Charles, clapping his hands along with everyone as he told Charles, “I'm beginning to think he's one of his Lehmanbots. Programmed for perfection, just like it says on all the advertising.”

Charles had looked up at the podium, smiling as he shook his head. “He's admittedly rather remarkable.”

Remarkable or not, around strangers Erik was still being the rather prickly and stand-offish man Charles had read about in the news. It didn't take a mind reader to see Erik had little time for people who spoke to him as if they were friends and had only known him for seconds. He was very polite with them, painfully so. But here, as they sat at the bar, Erik was a man Charles had gotten drunk with, a man he spent a rainy afternoon with, talking business, eating toast. The man who was fast becoming a friend. It seemed almost too easy, the way Erik's presence in his life made sense, seemed right. The speed at which it had become so welcome alarmed Charles a little.

“You're frowning, Francine,” Erik said, placing his glass on the bar.

Charles instantly eased his expression into a smile. “Am I?”

Erik inclined his head towards the crowd behind them. “By the end of the night, these terribly egotistical people are going to cough up enough money to make them feel important and for you to put into your foundation. It's a good night. Stop worrying.”

“They're not all here for ego, Erik. Some people care.” Erik had a wry smile on his face. Charles let out a small huff of laughter. “At least, I hope they do.”

Erik was nodding as he lifted his drink. “To hope then.”

“To hope,” Charles said, drinking.

No sooner had Charles felt himself finally relaxing, the klaxon blare of the fire alarm went off, making people freeze where they stood. “Brilliant,” Charles said, getting up. “Just what we need.”

Erik was up too, following close behind as Charles yelled over the crowd, directing those closest to him towards the nearest exit. For a moment it became difficult to move, too many people packed into one space as they slowly shuffled out. Charles was jostled a few times. He hissed when someone's jewellery scratched across his hand, before he was moving slowly again until they all spilled out into the grounds.

Charles stood looking up at the building, another product of an obsession with ancient designs. It was almost grimly Gothic. Charles was trying to latch onto any stray thoughts he could find, something to pinpoint the actual fire, if there was one. Someone grabbed his arm, pulling him away from the building.

Charles scowled. It was hard to get a fix with other mutants in the vicinity, but there was no panic within the building, no sense of fear or urgency. At closer inspection, seeing through the eyes of those inside, there was no fire to be found. Charles sighed and looked down at the pressure around his forearm to find Erik holding his arm, the other man's gaze directed up at the building. That was when Erik's two most trusted colleagues appeared in a burst of swirling red.

“False alarm,” Emma told Erik, before turning to smile and wink at Charles. She looked down at Erik's hand on Charles' arm, telling him, “He said yes, sweetie, you don't have to hold on so tight.”

Erik promptly let go, giving her a filthy look. “Are you sure it's a false alarm?”

“There are a few heat-seekers in the crowd. They're adamant there is no fire in that building,” Emma said. “There's probably a glitch in the system. We zapped into security and none of the alarm-cams show an alarm being activated.”

“Yes, well, we still can't go back inside until the fire marshals decide it's safe and by then the party mood is definitely going to be dead,” Charles said. He caught sight of Louis stopping to talk to a couple. It took seconds for the anxious looks on their faces to fade as Louis stood there smiling. “Louis!”

Louis looked up and excused himself, moving through the crowd to come to Charles with a thoroughly unimpressed look. “I take it you know it's a false alarm.”

Charles nodded. “I do. But we're stuck here until someone turns that bloody thing off and says it's all right to go back inside.”

Something about Erik shifted in such a sharp way, that Charles turned to look at him. Not just Charles, but Emma and Louis too, Azazel eyeing them all with interest. Erik was simply looking at the building rather serenely. The alarm silenced.

“Erik,” Charles admonished.

Erik looked at him and shrugged. “It wasn't working properly anyway.”

Charles rolled his eyes, shaking his head. Then he sighed. “Well, I suppose it's not like you broke the thing.”

It was forty minutes before anyone was allowed back into the building and a further twenty before Charles and Louis joined the guests, after a rigorous question and answer session with the building manager. The atmosphere wasn't too bad inside the hall, in fact, some people were rather amused by the momentary panic and now happily indulging in drinks, listening to the band play, dancing, and talking.

Charles found his way to a flute of champagne and an empty seat from where he watched couples in a slow dance to a slow song. Charles could see Emma and Azazel in more of an embrace than a dance, he all red and black, she ice white. For all her suggestive smiles, what Emma really wanted was quite evident.

“Doctor Xavier, hello,” a man said, blocking the view by dragging out a chair to sit opposite Charles. He was a rather overly perfect looking figure. Not a hair out of place. Teeth that were far too white. Skin that was far too unwrinkled for a man of his age. “Andy. Andy Raines. I'm with The Globe. Your office was kind enough to include us in this wonderful event here.”

Charles nodded. “It's a pleasure. We're keen to spread the word about the foundation's work.”

“Well, I have to say, it's going to be hard not spreading the word. It's quite a shindig you've thrown tonight. Think you'll raise a lot of money?” Andy asked with a smile.

Charles smiled back. “Yes, I do. There are a lot of generous people here.”

“Did you know about your fiancé’s donation? Or was that a surprise?” Andy asked.

Charles felt his face contort through a series of expressions. “It was not planned, if that's what you're asking.”

“Oh, I would not even suggest that,” Andy said. “I could see the surprise on your face, Doctor. I think everyone could.”

Charles stared at Andy, feeling a sudden loss of humour and patience. “Mr. Raines, I think you have all the story you need for tonight.”

Andy leaned in, as if he was about to divulge a great secret. “Well, that's the rub, Doctor. I have a great little article on your good work and the success of this event here, but I'm just a writer. My editor's going to see this little thing here and he's just going to shove it down at the end of the page under a bunch of links and no one will know about all this good work you're doing.”

Charles arched a brow. “And how would you remedy this situation?”

“You and Mr. Lehnsherr, you're kind of top page material right now. Only snag is, your fiancé’s not really news friendly. I heard he punched out some guy's tooth once. Right about the time he stopped using doors to go in and out of buildings,” Andy said, glancing back at Azazel. “Now, if I could maybe sit down with the two of you, get a tiny little interview about this happy occasion and the upcoming happy occasion of your marriage, we could give this great cause here a little exposure. Know what I mean?”

“I think we know exactly what you mean,” Erik said, appearing next to Charles.

Andy was looking up at Erik looming over him and he suddenly didn't seem so sure of himself. Erik took Charles' drink from his hand and put it aside, before pulling Charles up so they were side by side, Erik's arm sliding around his waist. Erik pointed at Andy. “Take a picture.”

“What?” Andy almost stammered.

“I said, take a picture,” Erik said quietly, while Charles watched him with a frown.

“Erik, what are you-”

“It's all right, Charles,” Erik said as Andy held up a recorder pen, aiming it at Erik and Charles. “Go ahead, take a picture.”

Andy snapped off a few pictures and lowered his pen, frowning. “Thank you, Mr. Lehnsherr.”

Erik pointed at the pen. “Keep recording. I think Charles' foundation does a tremendous job helping mutant causes and I think it's a great honour to be a part of it here today. We're both delighted by the success of the evening. On a personal note, we couldn't be happier and are very much looking forward to married life. Get all that?” Andy nodded mutely. “Get that to the top of the page, maybe you'll get an invite to the wedding reception.”

Andy continued nodding as Erik pulled Charles away from the table and towards the dance floor. He was looking for something inside his pockets, pulling out a white silk handkerchief after a moment, handing it to Charles. “Your hand's bleeding.”

Charles looked at the back of his right hand where a small cut had made a big bloody mess. He made a face, wrapping the handkerchief around his hand. “Thank you, Erik. You could have just said nothing, you know. Did you really punch someone in the face?”

Erik stopped, holding out his hands for Charles to take. “Actually, his face punched me in the hand.”

Charles smiled, placing his hands in Erik's. “What a novel way of looking at it.”

“Sometimes the world just makes better sense backwards,” Erik said.

Charles laughed quietly before peering up at Erik in open curiosity. “I don't quite understand you, Erik. Why do you let people believe the most awful things about you? There's so much more to you.” Charles stilled, feeling himself falter. At the back of his mind he could hear an echo of something long gone.

Erik had stopped moving. “Charles?”

Charles looked at him, feeling startled. “Yes. Sorry, what?”

Erik frowned. “What's wrong?”

Charles nodded, finding the discreet rhythm of the dance again. “I just... there used to be this old saying about feeling as though someone just walked over your grave. I think I just found out what they meant by it.”

Erik's forehead was creased with worry lines, his eyes watching Charles with concern. Charles smiled at Erik. “Your dancing appears to have improved. What happened?”

Erik's expression eased as he replied, “I've been drinking.”

Charles huffed out a laugh and smacked his head against Erik's shoulder. “Your aunt is going to hate me forever.”

***

There was pressure. All over. Pain. But the anger was worse. It managed to eclipse everything else. Even the fact that air was escaping from his lungs and it was getting harder and harder to hold on.

And then, arms enclosing around him, pulling.

Erik gasped, sitting up as his heart stuttered inside his chest. “Damn it.”

His hand was gripping the back of the couch and his neck was hurting from where the armrest must have been digging in the whole time he slept. He swung his legs off the couch and smoothed his hair back from his forehead, stopping mid-way when he saw Emma's reflection on the glass coffee table. She was seated in one of the armchairs opposite him, legs elegantly crossed and a smile on her face.

“Bad dreams, bossy?” she asked. “Since when?”

“Since never.” He looked at his watch. He still had enough time to wake himself up properly before his next meeting.

“Okay,” Emma said so normally and unobtrusively, it actually made Erik feel awkward.

He gave her a firm look. “It's nothing.”

She nodded, picking up the datapad from the coffee table. He knew she was looking at The Globe's Monday morning front page, complete with Erik and Charles looking like ancient Russian royalty, if their barely there smiles were anything to go by. Even so, Erik had been quoted to the letter and commended for his amiable interview.

“Amiable? Let me guess. Your cutie put a mind whammy on this guy,” Emma said, holding up the datapad.

“There was no need,” Erik said, leaning back and crossing his legs, stretching his arms out across the back of the couch.

“But you do agree that he's your cutie,” Emma said with a grin that left Erik staring at her. She clamped her mouth shut and diverted her attention to the datapad, tapping into it before holding it up again. “Seen these?”

Erik hadn't. He shook his head as Emma got up and walked around the table to join him at his side, scrolling through a batch of photographs under an article by the NY Reporter. One picture had him and Charles at the bar, smiling. Another had Erik just behind Charles, his hand on Charles' back as they moved into the crowd to leave the hall. Another was from outside the hall, Erik pulling Charles along. And finally, Erik and Charles dancing.

“If anyone still had doubts about the motivations behind this marriage, they were dispelled last night at the annual XRF fundraiser where both Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr appeared to be very much in love,” Emma said, reading the last few lines of the article.

Erik frowned at the pictures and then looked up to see Emma's eyes on him, a strange little smile pulling up the corner of her mouth.

“What do you think? Convincing, huh?” Erik leaned back and stared at her in confusion. “Let's just say I brought a date with me last night and when we left he was convinced he had quite the scoop.”

“You took these,” Erik said, realisation finally dawning.

“I did. I've got quite the eye, don't you think?” Erik held back exactly what he thought. “You're angry. Why?”

Erik got up. “I have to call Charles.”

“Why?” Emma asked. “I'm sure he won't mind.”

Erik turned to glare at Emma. “You don't know him.”

“Neither do you, sugar,” Emma said, frowning at Erik.

Erik blinked at her. She was right. He didn't know Charles. Not really. But, somehow he knew Charles wouldn't want these innocent moments to be manipulated just for playing games with the press.

Or maybe Erik was the one who didn't want this.

Emma was up and moving towards him, peering at him as if he was insane. She took his arm, pulling for his attention, asking a number of questions in the simple raise of an eyebrow. Erik pulled away and walked off, well aware that behind him Emma had a smug little smile on her face.

***

It was a remarkable picture taken from the perfect angle. It looked like an awfully intimate moment, as if Charles was resting his head on Erik's shoulder, rather than planting his face on Erik's shoulder in embarrassment. He scrolled back to the first one at the bar. Erik was so at ease, so not the same man Charles had seen in other press photos. A completely unguarded moment. Erik couldn't be happy about this. He could never appreciate a private moment like this being exploited.

Charles grimaced and went ahead with pressing the call button on his desk. Erik answered within seconds with, “Charles.”

Charles cleared his throat, the last few nights beginning to catch up with him. “Hello, Erik. I take it you've seen the more popular news feeds by now.”

“The photographs from the fundraiser. Yes. Emma took them. She thought it would be a good counter to all the speculation about the legitimacy of our engagement,” Erik said, as if carefully choosing his words.

Charles chuckled. “You mean it doesn't as sound romantic the way you just put it?”

Erik was quiet for a moment, but there was the small sound of a huff, a laugh maybe. “I didn't know she was going do this. I hope you're not offended.”

“I've been in worse,” Charles said. “I can't say I like it, but it's probably not any better than us staging our happy couple photograph. At least these are truthful in the respect that we're both friends.” Erik was very quiet. “I mean, we are friends, aren't we?”

A beat and then, a tone of voice which Charles knew held a smile. “Of course we're friends.”

Charles smiled. “I take it you wouldn't have found Ms. Frost's actions completely objectionable if we weren't both involved.”

“I'd have to say she's quite brilliant,” Erik said, clearly fond of Emma. “But if it's all the same, I think I'd prefer to stay out of the news feeds.”

“I couldn't agree more,” Charles said. “I'm sure we can keep a low profile until the big day, if we try.”

“How adorably naive, Francine,” Erik said and Charles knew Erik was probably sitting there quite amused at Charles' expense.

“Don't be so cynical, Erik,” Charles chided. “You can do anything if you put your mind to it.”

“Well, yes. You can,” Erik said.

“Now you're just purposely being obtuse,” Charles said with a smile.

“You make it so easy, Charles,” Erik said. Another quiet pause followed. Charles wondered if this new found ease they had with each other also played on Erik's mind. Erik broke the silence by saying, “Anna has invited us to dinner.”

Charles was nodding slowly. “I think I'd quite like that.”

“Do you think you parents might be able to come?”

Charles made a face. “Mother's back in England. Father's in Venice. I could bring Louis. In fact, I'm quite certain he might come along even if I don't ask.”

“Excellent. Wednesday night?” Erik asked.

Charles nodded. “Yes, that'll be perfect.”

More silence before Erik said, “I'll send Azazel, around seven.”

“Thank you,” Charles said, compelled to say more for some reason, but unable to do so.

“Charles,” Erik said quietly.

“Yes?” Charles answered all too quickly.

After another too long pause, Erik said, “I'll see you on Wednesday.”

Charles swallowed, nodding. “Yes. See you then.”

“Goodbye.”

“Bye.”

The call went dead, Charles' eyes sliding back to the datapad and the image of him and Erik. A flash of his nightmare momentarily prodded his mind, of Magneto forever reaching out and the Professor forever wishing he could close the gap between them, holding back because it was the right thing to do. He wondered if out there somewhere there were two old souls still reaching out towards each other, the way they did in his dreams.

He wished he knew why he couldn't stop thinking about it.

***

“When you get married, will you live with Erik?”

“No. Erik will be living with me.”

“Won't he miss his house?”

“It's not a very attractive house. I told him it was though. I didn't want to hurt his feelings.”

“Lying is wrong.”

“Yes, it is. Never lie.”

“You did.”

“I did. I did a bad thing. Although, you see, I liked his balcony, so I wasn't completely lying.”

“Is Erik a manbot?”

No.Why would you say that?”

“Panther says that he knows how to make manbots because he is one.”

“Yes, but Panther's parents named him Panther.”

“Why is it funny that Erik likes vanilla ice cream?”

“Is it funny?”

“When I told Mom Erik likes vanilla, she laughed and said, I bet he does.”

“Ah. Your mother has an alarmingly juvenile sense of humour.”

“That's what Daddy said. Here, look after this.”

Leo shoved a fireman figurine into Charles' hands and ran off, disappearing much in the manner that he had appeared. Charles put the figurine in his pocket and got up from the couch, leaving the living room to go down the hall and into the kitchen where Hank was preparing dinner.

“Your wife's a nuisance,” Charles said.

Hank gave Charles a sharp grin and continued stirring a pot on his vintage oven. “What can I say? She's happiest when she has material to torment you, Charles.”

“Yes. She's getting a lot of mileage out of this wedding business,” Charles said, peering at the dark rich broth in the pan Hank was stirring. “You know, I've been feeling a little off today. Maybe I ought to have something light.”

Hank might have growled a little. Luckily, just then Charles heard the front door open, followed by the sound of belongings being dumped on the floor and then the thump thump of shoes being discarded.

“That sounds like the organised arrival of the lady of the house,” Charles said.

“Yeah? Say that to her face,” Hank dared with a smile.

Charles snorted. “I don't have a death wish.”

Raven walked in, throwing her coat over the back of a chair and going to Charles. She gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek, before giving Hank a succession of kisses, followed by a cautionary look at the cooking pan. “Are we experimenting again?” she asked.

“It's good,” Hank assured her. She turned around and widened her eyes at Charles, grabbing his hand and pulling him to the table. “Sit sit. So. Hi, Mr. Xavier-Lenhsherr.”

Charles pulled his hand from her grasp. “We're not getting married in the dark ages, Raven.”

“The news tells it differently. From all the stuff I've been reading, and trust me, I have been reading all the stuff, this guy is wooing you and some.”

“What?” Charles asked, his voice a notch higher than usual. “He is not.”

“Come on. The sponsorship. The donation. Those pretty pictures?” Raven lay her hand on her chest and sighed. “It's beautiful. I might cry. Hold me?” Charles folded his arms across his chest and glared. “Too much?”

Charles sat back. “Louis and I are having dinner with his aunt on Wednesday.” Raven smiled. “Oh, for heaven's sake.”

“What? I didn't say anything!”

“It was the way you didn't say it,” Charles accused. He sighed and said, “It's all getting rather surreal.”

“Second thoughts?” Hank asked, wiping his hands on a towel and pulling up a seat.

Charles shook his head. “No. Yes. Maybe?”

“Why?” Raven asked. “I thought you were okay with the whole arranged marriage thing. And Mr. Lehmanbot's not so bad, is he?”

Charles stared at Raven. “No. Mr Lehmanbot's not bad at all actually.” He frowned. “Please don't call him that.”

Hank and Raven looked at each other and then they looked at Charles with matching bright smiles. Charles continued to frown at them and they just continued to grin.

***

Hank's cooking still heavy in Charles' stomach, he returned to the mansion in an unusually reflective mood, wandering around the dimly lit corridors. The Xavier estate had changed much over the years, extending outwards, upwards and downwards. The X-Men underground facility was still there, corridors of metal, empty and filled with echoes. The main heart of the mansion was still the same with the Professor's study kept as he would have kept it, his bedroom as if he might sleep in it.

Magneto's bedroom kept as if he might return one day.

Charles stopped in front of the portrait that had drawn Erik close. There he was, a young Professor X, painted with that chair in full view, a look of cool defiance in his eyes, a determined set to his mouth. It almost dared the viewer to question his strength. Charles doubted that anyone had ever managed to successfully do so.

“What do you think he was thinking?” Charles asked, knowing Louis was standing close, looking at the same portrait.

“We can only guess,” Louis said. “No one will ever really know.”

“I think,” Charles said quietly, “he was angry.”

Louis stepped closer, looking at the painting and then at Charles. “What makes you say that?”

“This was painted a year after he lost the use of his legs. After he and Magneto parted ways for whatever reasons,” Charles said, almost unable to tear his eyes away from the Professor's hypnotic gaze. “He looks angry.”

Louis put his hand on Charles' shoulder, gently pulling him around. “You know you couldn't possibly know that.”

Charles smiled, feeling oddly giddy. “Just a wild stab in the dark.”

Louis was frowning at him. “Are you all right, Charles?”

Charles nodded, patting his uncle's hand. “I'm fine. Just unusually morose about the departed. Can't be helped I suppose, living in a mausoleum.”

Louis barked out, “Ha! I see you've decided to revisit your teenage rebellion.”

Charles snorted. “Hardly. I'm just tired and cranky and probably need to be burped.”

Louis chuckled, embracing Charles with one arm. “It's been rather hectic. I don't blame you if you are a little morose. The Xavier mansion like the Xavier name can be a heavy burden to bear at the best of times. You ought to get some sleep. You look tired.”

“I'm fine,” Charles said. “You know Hank's cooking. It can be rather exhausting to digest.” Louis nodded with an amused smile. “I think I will go to bed actually. It's been a long day.”

Louis patted him on the back. “Sleep well.”

“Goodnight, Uncle Louis,” Charles said with a small smile, walking away from the eyes watching him in the portrait.

***

Sleep didn't come easy. In fact, for weeks now, dreams that had plagued him as a teenager were once again assaulting his mind. Even when there was nothing frightening in the dream, he awoke feeling such terror. Tonight he was stuck in a dark maze, navigating using his hands which felt along endless walls. He was searching for something important, but it was out of his reach. When the dark walls fell he was blinded by white light and he reached out to block the sun, though it spilled between the fingers of his outstretched hand.

Erik, please.

Erik lurched up from the couch making a strangled sound. He stilled and looked around the living room. He'd fallen asleep for mere minutes and now half of Anna's belongings were embedded in the ceiling. He looked up at them, his mouth open as he stared.

“Everything all right?” Anna asked from the doorway, one eyebrow arched at him.

“Fine,” Erik swallowed, getting up.

Anna pointed up at the ceiling. “That is not fine, Erik. This is an antique candelabra in the middle of my ceiling.”

Everything slowly floated back down as Erik felt his breathing return to normal. “Sorry.”

Anna gave him a cross look and began to replace some of the objects to their original spots, eyeing the mess on the floor from her pierced ceiling. “How long have you been having the bad dreams again?”

“I haven't,” Erik said, sullenly. Anna gave him a rather hard stare. Erik returned it in kind. “I'm fine.”

“Last time you had these nightmares, you were sick,” she said. “Not sleeping, not eating. It's not fine.”

“Last time I had these dreams I was a boy,” Erik said, sitting back down on the couch with a sigh.

“So you are having them then,” Anna said. She frowned. “What is it? Is something troubling you?”

Erik nodded. “I think I'm experiencing puberty again.”

Anna gave him a very stern look and Erik grinned at her until she turned and went back to worrying about making her house presentable for her guests. Erik let his grin fade and sat back, trying to wash away the taste of memories that didn't feel like his own.

***

“How do I look? Is it too much?” Charles sat on Louis' bed watching him standing in front of his full-length mirror, smoothing down his long tailored jacket. He was currently mournfully looking at his hairless head. He sighed. “So many advances in science and they still haven't found a cure for baldness.”

Charles frowned. “Yes they have.”

“I'm not having anyone touch a single cell of my body. You can't trust doctors. Humans or mutants,” Louis said, buttoning up the coat from his shoulder to waist. “I don't think it's too much.”

Charles started to laugh, coughing when Louis gave him a sour look. He grinned and got up, joining Louis and throwing an arm around his shoulders. “You look very dashing.”

Louis frowned, eyeing Charles. “You couldn't find a newer suit to wear?”

“Afraid not, Mother,” Charles said, looking in the mirror at the all black ensemble. “Besides. I like this one.”

Louis nodded and looked at his watch. “Right. Well, looks like we have some time.”

“Excellent. I'll open a bottle...” Louis glared at Charles. “Of tea. I was going to say tea. A bottle of tea. No? Suit yourself.”

***

Azazel deposited Louis and Charles in a wide hallway with a tiled floor. The three of them stood there silently for a moment, looking at each other. Azazel rolled his eyes and then brought his fisted hand to his mouth, coughing loudly. This prompted Anna to stick her head into the hall with a pleased smile. Louis appeared to become instantly useless. Charles looked at Azazel who smiled at him in amusement. Then he was gone, leaving behind a pretty parting signature.

“Louis, Charles, hello,” Anna said, both arms outstretched. Louis took her hands, leaning in to kiss her on both cheeks, full of charm. Charles hid his smile when she came to him.

“Anna,” he said, kissing her cheek before offering her the bottle of wine in his hands. “A little something.”

“Wine,” Erik said, entering the hallway with a small smile. “How thoughtful of you, Charles.”

“Louis assures me it's very dusty,” Charles told Erik, smiling as Louis and Anna both eyed him and Erik who was grinning.

Anna ushered them all into a spacious sitting room. It was all rather different from what Charles expected. He had envisioned a home that was either like the Xavier mansion or like Erik's very modern apartment. Foolishly, he hadn't considered that Anna's home would be independent of other people's legacies or lifestyles.

Her home was a spacious three storey house in a quiet street on a slope that headed down towards woodland. It was large rectangular block, layered like a cake, its interior dark and warm using soft and muted colours, as if someone had brought the woodland inside. It was a home without memories of great men and women. Just a home.

“Charles?” Anna asked, as if maybe she'd called him a few times perhaps. Charles looked away from the greenery through the window and back at her, no idea what question was being asked.

“Wine,” Louis provided.

Charles smiled at Anna. “Oh, please. I was just admiring your home. It's quite beautiful.”

Anna gave him a curious little look, smiling. “Thank you, Charles. Erik, why don't you show Charles around?”

Erik nodded as Anna walked past him with a smile, affectionately patting his hand as she left the room. Charles looked at Louis who was watching Anna depart.

Quite predictably he said, “Why don't I leave you young people alone?”

Erik's mouth twitched despite the fact that he was standing there as stiff as a toy soldier. They both watched Louis straightening to his full height and taking a deep breath as he left the living room. Then Erik and Charles looked at each other, unable to keep a straight face any longer and promptly burst out laughing.

***

“And those are just the bedrooms,” Erik said as they stood on the landing of the second floor.

“Which is yours?” Charles asked, straining to peer up at the doors up on the next floor.

“None,” Erik said flatly. “I don't live here anymore.”

“Stop being so literal, Erik,” Charles said, already climbing the stairs. “You know exactly what I mean. And I thought this was a tour of the house.”

Behind him Erik was quiet, but Charles did feel a strange warm wave of something like comfort, a strange serene pleasure. He looked back to frown at Erik whose brow creased in reply.

Erik sighed. “Straight ahead.”

Charles smiled and jogged up ahead, regretting it when his chest objected and he found himself coughing and wheezing in a rather unpleasant manner, all the way into Erik's childhood bedroom. Erik was watching him like he was contagious.

“Don't look at me like I have the plague,” Charles said.

“Actually, I was looking at you like a man who drinks too much and wheezes up two flights of stairs,” Erik said.

“It's awfully lucky I've said yes to this arrangement. I can't imagine anyone actually wanting to marry you,” Charles said with a smile, clearing his throat.

Erik laughed and went to lean against a dresser as Charles looked around the room. It was clean and bare. There was a bed, a wardrobe, a dresser, a desk and chair. Charles turned to aim a very unimpressed look at Erik. Erik smiled and shrugged.

“What were you expecting?” Erik asked, looking very smug.

Charles shrugged. “A snapshot of the young Erik Lehnsherr, I suppose.”

Erik pulled a face, looking away at the ground. “There's nothing particularly interesting about the young Erik Lehnsherr.”

“That's your opinion,” Charles said. “I'd quite like to know the boy who lived here and turned into this rather annoying man in front of me.”

Erik huffed out a laugh. He looked around the room, as if trying to remember. Then he frowned and looked at Charles. “If you really must see, I suppose I can show you.”

Charles looked at the bare room and then at Erik. Erik held up a hand and wiggled his fingers next to his head, a gesture which left Charles staring at him as if Erik had just pulled out a gun. Erik noticed, stepping forward.

“Are you all right?” he asked. “You look awful.”

Charles rolled his eyes, going to sit down on the bed, Erik following and sitting down next to him. “I'm fine. I think I have a head cold or something. So, you grew up here.”

Erik nodded. “After my parents died, I stayed with Anna for a while and then with my grandfather in New York. He was never able to persuade my father to join the family business and hoped I might take an interest. Which I did. We both agreed that for all my parents' good intentions, they achieved very little as historians of mutant social evolution.”

“You don't really believe that do you?” Charles asked quietly, looking at Erik's unreadable face.

“They used to leave me with my grandfather so they could dig up more pieces of that fortress on Genosha. They knew Genosha was disputed land. They knew humans didn't want our kind going there, and they went. They died in the attacks, for what?” Erik asked quietly. “Mutant pride?”

Charles gave Erik a small smile. “For what they believed perhaps.”

Erik laughed, though it sounded hollow. “Maybe the Lehnsherrs are just cursed. There hasn't been a happy family for generations.”

“No such thing as a happy family, my friend,” Charles said. “My parents spent most of my childhood drinking and hating each other and I spent most of my time bouncing back and forth between New York and England, all the while having it impressed upon me what an honour it was to be descended from the great Professor X. If he could see us now. His descendants, mostly drunks and deviants, with the exception of a few almost normal people, Louis being one of them and even about him I have some serious doubts on occasion.”

Erik frowned. “What do you think it will mean for us if Louis and Anna decide to marry?”

Charles thought it over and nodded. “Well, since I'm marrying you, and Anna is your aunt, that makes her my aunt, which would then make Louis my uncle.”

Erik nodded back with a very serious look as Charles gave him a pleased smile. “What a novel way of looking at it.”

“Sometimes the world just makes better sense backwards, Maximilian,” Charles said, smiling at the way Erik closed his eyes, his mouth opening in a silent little laugh of surprise.

Erik sighed then, giving Charles a put upon look. He leaned forward, his hand disappearing under the bed and when it reappeared, it was pulling out a large leather trunk which made Charles move aside to accommodate its presence.

Erik knocked on the trunk and then held out his hand towards Charles. “Anna put everything in here for safekeeping.”

Charles looked at the trunk and said, “Erik, I do believe I want to agree to your marriage proposal all over again. Please tell me this contains embarrassing photographs.”

Erik flopped back on the bed and shot Charles a look of annoyance, which was easily deflected with a satisfied smile. While Erik lay on his childhood bed, fingers linked behind his head and legs crossed at the ankles, Charles opened the trunk and carefully looked at the items that caught his eye. There were worn out paper books, a worn and torn sweater which surprised Erik by its continued existence, a few school discs, a few datapads of varying age. Buried under countless items was a wooden box with chess squares on its surface. When he shook it, he couldn't hear the sound of pieces. There was something else inside it.

“What's this?” Charles asked, getting out of his crouch on the floor to sit on the bed, next to where Erik lay.

Erik took the box with a frown, opening it. Inside it was a black photo album, its screen dusty and scratched. He held it in both hands, blinking at it, dull waves of grief flowing off him. “It belonged to my parents.”

Charles nodded. “Should I put it away?”

Erik appeared to think it over, before inching away from Charles slightly. “I haven't seen it in a while.”

Charles nodded, lying down next to Erik and propping himself up on an elbow to better look at the screen. Erik pressed a button and it flickered to life. A woman was walking along a dusty path, pointing at something in the distance. She turned to laugh at whoever was behind the camera, showing sharp features and bright grin.

“My mother,” Erik said, pressing the screen, skipping through blank files to another image, this time his mother talking to a young man who without a doubt was Erik's father.

“Where was it taken?” Charles asked.

“Israel. It's where they met, while studying together,” Erik said. He pressed through a few more blank screens.

This time it was her in a simple white summer dress and him in a black suit with white shirt and black tie. They were dancing, paper lanterns hanging in the background. Both were completely unaware of anyone else. Erik let out a small laugh.

“Their wedding day,” he said. “They eloped apparently.”

Charles smiled. “That was probably wise of them.”

Erik nodded, skipping more blank spaces until his father appeared, holding a toddler, encouraging him to wave at the camera. The child didn't wave, kicking his feet instead. Anna came into view, young and grinning, waving at the camera before taking it. Erik's mother then joined his father, stroking the child's head and taking his hand, teaching him to wave.

Charles looked down at Erik's face. His mind was closed, giving off no more than its quiet hum. All Charles was really getting from Erik was a faded dull ache. All the same, it made Charles want to soothe away the remnants of Erik's grief. He reached out and pressed his thumb over Erik's, holding it down on the button until the album switched off. Erik was blinking at Charles' hand for a moment before he turned to face Charles, looking up at him, his eyes pale and wide.

Erik lowered the album so it lay on his stomach and Charles felt Erik's thumb slip from under his to slide on top and ever so lightly slide down, over his knuckle, and down until it came to a stop at his wrist bone. His forefinger then lightly stroked the inside of Charles' wrist, so light that the touch was barely there. Erik's hand slowly moved to circle Charles' wrist. All the while his eyes roamed across Charles' face, lashes lowering as his gaze moved to Charles' mouth. Charles inched close.

“Erik, there's a call for you! It's Emma!” Anna called up.

Erik stilled, loudly exhaling from his nose. He glared somewhere past Charles' ear for a moment before abruptly sitting up. He tossed the album into the trunk and leapt off the bed, right over Charles, striding towards the door. Then he stopped by the door to turn and look at the trunk. Charles watched the trunk shut itself and disappear back under the bed, Erik smirking at Charles as he left.

***

“What?” Erik snapped at the telescreen.

Emma frowned and then pouted. “Well, that sounds like you're not pleased to see me. Did I interrupt something important?” Erik glared silently. “Maybe I'll just have to give you the good news about your piece of Icarus pie later then.”

Erik arched a brow at her. Then he smiled and said, “You have my undivided attention.”

Emma smiled. “You're cute when you're all business.”

***

As Charles made his way down the stairs, he could hear Erik from behind a closed door, in quiet conversation with his assistant. He stopped at the bottom of stairs, clutching the bannister as a wave of dizziness hit. His legs were trembling and he had broken out into a sweat, his face feeling hot.

There was something else too, something he couldn't quite pin down. The way his head was increasingly feeling as though it was stuffed, all his thoughts muffled. Louis' presence felt so much further than Charles knew it to be. Charles took a deep shuddering breath, coughing when his lungs didn't quite manage the intake.

By the time the cough subsided, Erik was opening the door and stepping out, smiling when he saw Charles. The smile turned to a frown quickly. “Charles, I think you may have more than just a head cold.”

“I think I may have a cold cold.”

Erik nodded. “Can I get you anything?”

Charles pointed to the front door at the end of the hallway. “Fresh air actually. It's a bit warm in here.”

Another worried look from Erik. But he said nothing, nodding and walking on ahead to open the door. They both stepped outside onto the street. The breeze was crisp and cold, carrying over the smell of grass and greenery from the woods. Charles closed his eyes and sighed, feeling a little relief.

“Better?” Erik asked.

Charles nodded, looking around at the quiet street. “Much.”

“You ought to see a doctor,” Erik said. “You're beginning to look grey.”

“I bet you just have the best bedside manner,” Charles said, eliciting a quiet laugh from Erik. “Okay. I think we can go back in.”

Charles turned to go, but Erik was suddenly in front of him. He was unsure about something. A little scared perhaps. He looked everywhere but at Charles, before finally meeting his gaze.

“About before,” he said quietly. “I...”

The thought was left unfinished. Charles had closed his eyes, everything spinning around. He stumbled in an effort to gain some equilibrium. Erik was holding him, his arm grabbing him around his waist while Charles was sinking with leaden limbs. Erik was calling him from somewhere under water, from inside bubbles and Charles was sinking further down.

Maybe the Xaviers were as cursed as the Lehnsherrs, he thought as everything turned black.

***

Raven was in her study when the door opened a crack. She frowned at the lack of footsteps or announcement. When she turned in her chair, Hank was standing there in the doorway, looking at her blankly.

“What is it? What's wrong?” Raven asked, looking past Hank to catch a glimpse or sound of Leo.

“Louis just called,” Hank said. “Charles is in the hospital. They think it's MU1.”

Raven stared at Hank before turning back around, reaching for her main computer screen, tapping it to life. A few seconds later she had the most recent news feeds running. There was a single image playing on all of them. A picture from an obviously hidden recorder, a room on the other side of a window and Charles unconscious in bed. This was cut short by a shout, the man or woman behind the recorder turning to see a furious Erik Lehnsherr stalking forward.

Louis stepped in front of Erik, clearly calling out for someone else while putting a placating hand on Erik's chest. A moment later a woman and man appeared. The woman reached out and took Erik's wrist, while the man simply placed a hand on Erik's shoulder and all four vanished from view, leaving no more than a few swirls of red. The picture went dead.

Raven switched off the screen and got up. “Can you stay with Leo? We can't take him to the hospital.”

“Of course,” Hank said as Raven walked out, past him and into the corridor. He turned and grabbed her arm, pulling her back and telling her, “He'll be fine.”

Raven nodded blankly. She smiled, though her eyes prickled. “I know. It's just... it's Charles.”

“You're not the only one who loves him,” Hank said. She nodded and stepped into his embrace, letting him hold her tight.

***

Erik was standing in front of Charles' room, silently looking through the glass window into the large sterile white space. Inside there was a small plastic enclosure which housed Charles' bed, along with machines and monitors.

“So, that pretty much makes you the major shareholder in Icarus stock,” Emma was telling him quietly, without any real enthusiasm. “I told them we'll set up a meeting to finalise the details when we're ready. Erik? You listening there?”

Erik realised he hadn't spoken in a while and said, “Fine.”

Emma was quiet for a while. Erik knew that behind him she was probably sharing a look with Azazel, carrying out Anna's instructions to not let Erik out of his sight, especially after what happened with the filming intruder.

“Erik,” Emma started.

“You better go,” Erik said, cutting her off completely. “ I need you back at the office.”

To her credit, Emma refrained from saying anything and all Erik could hear of her was the sound of her footsteps as she walked away, leaving Azazel to stand guard over Erik, as he stood guard over Charles.

In the distance, Louis was talking, heading back up the corridor to join Erik in watching Charles. He was telling someone, “Azazel came immediately and we were here within seconds. The very first thing they tested for was MU1. Myself, Erik and Anna tested negative. I can't say any of us really jumped for joy at the news. Not with Charles so sick. But they've got us on the medication as a preventative measure.”

“I knew he wasn't feeling well,” a woman told Louis. “I just never imagined it would be this.”

“I don't think any of us did,” Louis said, stepping close to Erik and gently laying a hand on his arm. “Erik, this is Raven. Charles' very best friend. They've known each other since, well, since they were children.”

Erik turned to look at a blue woman whom he didn't know, but found to be familiar. Her gaze was distracted by the window into Charles' room. For a while they all just stood and watched Charles in his plastic enclosure.

“Anyone know what happened to that guy who was filming?” Raven asked.

“The hospital's taking him to court,” Louis said. “Not that it matters. He's using his five minutes of fame to spout rubbish about how terrified he was of Erik when he got caught filming. It's got all the other big mouths pressing for mutant neutralising tasers again.”

“Might is right,” Raven said absently. “Only when it comes to dealing with mutants though.”

She turned around then to look at Erik, her yellow eyes reading him carefully. After a moment, she said, “He's going to be okay. Trust me. I know him. He's really stubborn.”

Erik nodded, looking into the room, feeling utterly helpless for the first time in years.

***

Charles sat up with a gasp. He was shaking all over, the cool night air from the open window pricking his skin with goose pimples. He blinked until his eyes adjusted to the darkness in his bedroom.

“Charles. What is it?” Charles looked beside him where Erik was slowly sitting up to peer at him. “Are you all right?”

“Bad dream.”

Erik moved closer, his hand cupping the back of Charles neck. Erik kissed his jaw and whispered in his ear, “Come on, back to sleep.”

Charles pulled away, shaking his head. “I can't sleep. I just... I have the strangest feeling.”

Erik was quiet for a moment. Then the bedside lamp suddenly switched on, lighting Erik up in a warm glow, making his eyes seem ridiculously pale. Charles found he could do almost nothing but stare at Erik who seemed so perfect here, next to Charles in this bed.

“I feel like we're not really here,” Charles whispered.

Erik frowned, his mouth widening into a smile. “Where else could we be?”

Charles shook his head. There was something terrible in his chest. Something like a black secret, tied up and struggling to leak into his mind. It was something that made him want to hold Erik so tight Erik would never be able to leave.

Erik appeared to realise that not all was well. Charles could see he was thinking over options, making minor plans, never one to sit passively and wait. Finally, he grabbed a handful of the blankets and pushed them away before straddling Charles and slowly pushing him back down. He slowly to came to rest over Charles, propping himself up on one elbow.

Charles stared up at Erik, Erik who was watching him calmly. “We don't have to sleep. We can talk.”

Charles managed a small smile. “What if I don't want to talk?”

Erik nodded with an amused smile. “Then no talking.” He leaned down and pressed a kiss to the corner of Charles' mouth.

What a strange kiss it was. Without the heat of someone's breath. Without the touch of lips. Charles lurched up against Erik in inexplicable panic. Everything became dark. He heard the sound of heavy cloth flapping in the wind, he thought he saw the glint of red metal. Everything was terrifyingly silent and his hand felt like it was on fire.

***

The machines gave out a panicked wail in Charles' room and within seconds there was a flurry of activity, white coats all headed in there. Erik, Louis and Raven all jumped up from their seats, unable to cross the threshold of the room, helplessly looking at Charles who was obscured by the people surrounding his bed.

When Erik looked across at Louis, it didn't fill him with hope, the other man standing there with his hand covering his mouth. Erik looked back at the window, his hands fisted by his sides. For all his money and all his ability, he couldn't do a single thing. He could only stand here and watch, waiting for someone else to save Charles.

He didn't realise how deep his fingernails were digging into his palms until he felt Raven's cool touch, her hand wrapping around his until he had to open his hand, letting hers slip into it. Erik looked down at her hand and then at her. There was something so familiar about her, something so comforting that Erik felt slightly undone.

The wailing stopped and Erik looked back up at the window. Raven's grip on his hand tightened and he knew why. Had the panic stopped because the emergency was over or had it stopped because there was no longer anyone to panic about?

They could all see the doctor emerging from the plastic enclosure and back towards the corridor. She stepped outside and lowered her mask, peeling off her gloves and depositing them in a bin by the door before putting her hands under an anti-bacterial scanner and cleaner.

“Doctor Calero,” Louis said, sounding terrified.

Calero held up a hand and said, “Mr. Xavier, it's still the same prognosis. Your nephew is very sick, but we're doing the best we can. MU1 effects different people in very different ways and unfortunately Charles seems to have been effected by a particularly aggressive strain. We're trying to counter it with similarly aggressive treatments and there's no reason he can't fight it. But, it'll take time before it starts getting better.” She gave Louis a small smile. “If it means anything, he's putting up a really good fight.”

Louis nodded. “Can we go inside?” She didn't seem pleased by the idea. Louis said, “We've all be tested and we're all taking your drugs as a precautionary measure. Charles is inside that thing. We'll just be in the room. So he knows he's not alone.”

Calero said, “He's in a coma, Mr. Xavier. He may not-”

“He's a telepath,” Erik said sharply. “He'll know.”

Calero stared at him, clearly not appreciating the tone of his voice. She nodded. “Fine. Make sure you follow the contamination guidelines and stay out of the quarantined area. Two at a time only.”

Louis was nodding. “Of course. Thank you, you've been very helpful.”

The room was emptying of the nurses and another doctor, all of them following Calero who was issuing them with further instructions. Louis immediately went inside. Raven looked at Erik, inclining her head towards the room.

Erik shook his head. “Go. I'll go later.”

Raven nodded and went inside, joining Louis at his side by the bed, as close as they could get to the plastic wall between them and Charles. Erik returned to the window, looking at the enclosure that hid Charles from view, hoping the telepath knew he wasn't alone.

***

“Your move,” Erik said, leaning back in his seat.

Charles looked at the pieces. He seemed to be well and truly pinned down, his king so well protected that his pieces had nowhere to go, while Erik's pieces were now spread out and ready to attack

“I think,” Charles said carefully. “This is some kind of hallucination. And I'm fairly certain I've had this realisation before. I've certainly played this game before.”

Erik tilted his head slightly at Charles, clearly intrigued. “Did I win?”

Charles looked at the chess board. He frowned when he saw that his king was lying on its side, even though the game wasn't over. “I don't think either of us won.”

“Sounds like a long game,” Erik said.

“Yes. It does, doesn't it?” Charles said, watching his fallen piece as if it might do something miraculous.

“Here,” Erik said, reaching out and taking Charles' king, standing it upright once again. “This game's gone on long enough. Let's start a new one.”

Charles watched Erik reset the chess pieces on the board. Erik finished and held out a hand for Charles to make the first move. Charles deliberated for a moment and then finally made his first move. Erik caught Charles' hand just as it pulled away from his piece. He was rubbing the back of Charles' hand with his thumb, as if trying to rub something out.

“What?” Charles asked.

“Look at it,” Erik said. “Look at your hand.”

Charles looked and after a while he finally saw the blue and yellow mottling on his skin and at the centre of it was a small red cut pulling at his skin painfully. Even as he stared at his hand, he saw the blue and yellow spreading to his wrist. Erik let go.

“Your move,” Erik said, leaning back in his seat.

Charles frowned at the pieces.

***

Erik opened his eyes. Though instantly awake, his head and body felt heavy, his skin too warm. In front of him Azazel was standing by the observation window of Charles' room, quietly peering inside.

Erik said, “Are they still in there?”

Azazel turned to look at Erik, appearing very unimpressed. “Raven said she will be back in the morning. Louis has gone to call Xavier's parents.”

Erik scowled and stood up. “Why didn't you wake me?”

“You haven't slept in days,” Azazel replied.

“You're not my mother,” Erik said, looking at the lonely little enclosure that housed Charles.

“No, but I am your friend,” Azazel said. When Erik gave him an annoyed look he added, “You think I put up with you for the money?” Azazel shook his head and snorted.

Erik turned his gaze away from Azazel, looking into the room. “I'm out of my depth here. I don't know what to do.”

“You can't control everything,” Azazel said. “I know you Lehnsherrs find that hard to accept, but some things are out of your hands.”

Erik frowned, something suddenly scratching at the back of his mind. He walked past Azazel and into the room, going to Charles' bed. He looked awful inside that plastic tent, breathing through a mask, wired up to machines, almost as pale as the sheet covering him. This wasn't something Erik had wanted to see, not when he knew how vibrant this man could be, how full of mirth and life.

Erik let his eyes run over Charles, finally settling on the back of his right hand. There it was. The cut still hadn't quite healed, the skin red and pulling around the dark scab. The skin had a strange blue tinge, almost hidden by the shadows.

“What is it? What are you looking at?” Azazel asked.

“I don't know,” Erik said. “Yet.”

***

Louis had come back looking frustrated by his call to Charles' parents. He also looked as worn out as Erik felt. So maybe it wasn't the best time for conspiracy theories. Erik went ahead anyway and Louis was shaking his head within seconds of hearing what Erik had to say.

“Wait. You think the cut on his hand has something to do with his being sick,” Louis said. “Erik, he has MU1. It's a mutant virus.”

Erik nodded. “And there's no proof that this is an airborne virus or even transferable through contact. Nobody knows what causes it.”

“Your point being?” Louis asked testily.

“My point being that the night of the fundraiser, Charles somehow cut himself and days later he's sick and fighting for his life.”

Louis was clenching his jaw and giving Erik the hardest of stares. “And? So? Even if what you're suggesting is true, how does it help Charles now?”

Erik opened his mouth to reply, but no words came out. He had no answer to this. How would knowing that someone had done this to Charles deliberately help in saving his life?

“I don't know,” Erik said. “I just have a feeling that someone is behind this.”

“Damn it, boy! Not everything is a conspiracy against mutants!” Louis snapped. Erik stared silently as Louis turned away, rubbing his forehead. When he turned back, he quietly said, “You have every right to be here, Erik, but please, please go home and get some sleep. Charles' parents are on their way. I don't think there need to be four of us here.”

Erik nodded sharply. “I completely understand.”

“Erik,” Louis said, starting what sounded like the beginning of an apology.

“Azazel,” Erik said.

He felt a hand clasp his arm and a moment later the hospital disappeared from view, showing him instead his dimly lit apartment. Azazel let go of his arm and came to stand in front of him, his expression thankfully as pitiless as ever.

“I need you and Emma to do something,” Erik said, quietly. Azazel nodded. “I want all the security footage from the fundraiser. I want to know about everyone who got close to Charles that night. If someone's responsible for this, I want to know who it is.”

The lights flickered across the apartment and Azazel looked up warily. “What are you going to do now?”

“Nothing,” Erik said. “You should go.”

Azazel's head turned towards the sound of twisting metal somewhere it couldn't be seen. He nodded and promptly vanished. Erik closed his eyes and tried to breathe calm into the mounting anger he was feeling, but after that first sound of all the lights shattering around him, everything was just white noise and all he could do was try and contain the anger between his own four walls.

***

Charles walked into the kitchen. It was in the Xavier mansion, but it looked positively ancient. He turned several times, unsure of what exactly he was seeing. When he stopped turning, he saw the blue girl grinning at him.

Charles frowned. “Raven?”

She was smiling at... no, right through him. He was seeing her, but she was seeing someone entirely different and she was so young. She was so the Raven Charles had known, yet... this was... real. This had happened. Had it?

Charles grimaced, his head clouding with pain. When he looked at his wrist, the blue and yellow had climbed as far as the crook of his arm.

And then, everything was blue and yellow flickering inside his head.

***

The buzzer sounded, announcing the elevator's arrival and rousing Erik from his restless sleep of barely an hour. He got up from the couch and made his way down the steps from the living room and into the hall. The elevator doors opened and revealed Azazel smiling widely.

“You're not Azazel,” Erik said as Azazel's brows climbed up into his hair innocently. Erik sighed and said, “He doesn't use the elevator.”

In the blink of an eye, red skin turned blue and the body shrunk and reshaped into the figure of Raven. She gave him a sheepish look and said, “I was worried I wouldn't be allowed up here.”

Erik nodded and turned away, “You were right to worry.”

He went back into the living room, surveying the damage from the night before. Everything that could twist and shatter was littered around the apartment, rendered useless and smashed to pieces.

“Wow. Someone start world war five in here?” Raven asked from behind Erik.

He turned and gave her an impatient look. “What do you want, Raven? I'm busy.”

“I talked to Louis this morning. He told me what happened last night. I thought you should know he feels pretty bad about what he said to you,” Raven said.

Erik picked up burnt out datapad from the floor. Totally useless. He dropped it right back where he had found it. “Doesn't matter. He had the right.”

“Which is why you came home and threw a giant tantrum?” Raven asked. Erik turned to stare at her. She instantly grimaced apologetically. “That's not... that came out wrong.”

“Why are you here?” Erik asked.

She sighed, looking at the debris strewn across the floor. Then she looked up at him, arms open at her sides. “I like you.”

“You like me,” Erik said flatly.

She nodded. “Yeah. Go figure.”

Erik frowned. “Thank you?”

“What Louis said, you're wrong. He had no right to say that,” Raven said quietly. “I saw the way you were looking at Charles at the hospital. Like you wanted to shake him until he had no choice but to wake up. So... I like you.” She looked around the apartment and smiled. “And this kind of makes me like you a little more. Of course, if Hank ever trashed the place because I was sick, he'd be in a lot of trouble.”

Erik found a smile somehow creep onto his face. “I don't think he'd mind.”

Raven cleared her throat, blinking away any evidence of the emotion that was probably creeping around the eyes of everyone who cared about Charles.

“So,” she said. “You think someone might have deliberately poisoned him with MU1.”

Erik nodded slowly. “Perhaps.”

She nodded back and said, “Okay, let's talk about that. You want a hand with all this first?”

Erik shook his head, scrubbing a hand over his face. Watching him, Raven walked over to Erik, bits of broken glass crunching under her shoes, before she leaned forward and put her arms around his waist. Erik stood there frozen for a moment, but after a while he tentatively put his arms around Raven and they stood there in comfortable silence.

***

Frowning over her cup of coffee, Raven shook her head. “I can't believe someone would do this.” She snorted then. “Actually, maybe I can.”

Erik turned away from the balcony edge to see her seated at the table where he had sat with Charles not so long ago. Raven was watching him with that strange worried look again. It unnerved Erik somewhat.

“So, what happens if and when you find whoever did this?” she asked him.

“We'll find out exactly what's in Charles' system instead of the doctors treating him for every strain of MU1,” Erik said.

“I guess we'll also find out why this is happening,” Raven said.

Erik barked out a bitter laugh. “He's Charles Xavier, that's why this is happening. The golden boy of mutant causes and cordial relations with humans. Money, success and moral fortitude – it sticks in people's throats.”

The table at which Raven sat shook ever so slightly, humming and vibrating. Erik looked at it, calming himself down. He turned his back to Raven and looked over the balcony at the city below. Why didn't humans understand? If all mutants joined forces, they could have it all. But all they wanted was equality. What would it take for humans to understand this?

“Nothing's changed,” Erik said quietly. “So many people sacrificed so much, and nothing's changed.” Raven said nothing. She was quiet for so long that Erik had to turn around, just to look at her. She sat there staring at him, uncertainty and confusion written across her face. “Raven?”

She shook her head and smiled at him. “Sorry. I was listening. I just... I think you managed to scare me somehow. That's rare.”

“I'm sorry. That wasn't my intention,” Erik said, running his fingers through his hair as he blew out a measured breath. “How is Louis?”

She shook her head. “He's looked better. Charles' parents were at the hospital this morning. They didn't exactly have a calming effect. Not to mention he kind of wishes you were there. I think he thinks you're not coming back.” Raven gave Erik a careful look. “He's wrong, right?”

Erik looked back at her, straight in the eyes. “What do you think?”

Raven smiled. “I think Charles needs to wake up and marry the hell out of you.”

Erik smiled and sank down in the chair opposite Raven, picking up his coffee. It was blissfully strong, enough to make him grimace. Just as he set his cup down, Azazel materialised in the living room with Emma on his arm. They promptly came out onto the balcony. Azazel nodded at Raven, pulling out a seat for Emma and then taking up the seat opposite her.

“Are we interrupting?” Emma asked, reaching for Erik's coffee and taking a sip before pulling a face and putting it back.

Erik shook his head. “Raven, you know Azazel. This is Emma.”

Emma held out her hand and Raven shook it with a smile. “Hi Emma.”

Erik looked at Emma. “I take it you have something.”

Emma smiled, nodding. “Of course, sweetie.” Erik glared. It changed nothing. “We've got the security recordings like you wanted.”

“And?”

“And it's going to take some time,” Emma said. “You have any idea how many people your little cupcake shook hands with on that day?”

“Well, if you need any help, I'd be more than happy,” Raven said.

“Here's the thing,” Emma said, placing both hands on the table and looking at both Raven and Erik. “Azazel has come up with a really good idea, which I think might help us to narrow down what we need to look for on the recordings.”

All eyes turned to Azazel. He blinked at them, no intention of being a tool of exposition. Erik and Raven turned back to look at Emma who was rolling her eyes at them all.

“On that night, there was one person who was practically glued to Charles. If anyone saw something, it was him,” Emma said.

“Who?” Raven asked. “Louis?”

Emma shook her head slowly and smiled before turning to look at Erik. She leaned towards Raven and held up a hand, whispering behind it, “I think it's kind of cute.”

Despite all the emotions whirling inside him, Erik felt his face flush for all to see. “Get to the point.”

“It's simple,” Emma said, lifting two fingers to her temple and then aiming an over the top stare in his direction.

“You're a telepath,” Raven said, catching on. Emma nodded, still sitting there with both fingers glued to her temple, arching a brow at Erik who finally smiled at her antics.

“Well?” Emma asked Erik. “You going to let me poke around in there?”

Erik leaned forward and grabbed her wrist, pulling it down to the table. He nodded. “Yes. I am.”

“Wow.” Emma stared, looking a little startled. She looked at Raven. “I've been trying to get in there for years. He must have it bad.”

Raven, Emma and Azazel all grinned. It was enough to make Erik want to jump off the balcony. But that would have to wait until Charles was awake and suitably punished for all this.

***

Charles was watching the news on the telescreen behind the bar and he was talking about something. Erik was only half listening. He was more interested in Charles' profile. The easy relaxed way he was leaning on the bar, the slight flush high on his cheeks, his hair freshly cut and making him look far too young for that suit.

“Wow,” Emma said from where she stood next to Erik.

Erik frowned and turned to look at Emma who stood in a flowing white evening dress, long gloves that went up beyond her elbows and her pinned back elegant hairdo. He stared at her in confusion.

“I'm in your head,” she said, as if it wasn't the first time she'd said this. “Remember?”

“Why are you dressed like that?” Erik asked.

“I didn't like the dress I was wearing that night,” she said, looking at him like he was an idiot. “Did you actually hear a word he was saying that night or did you spend all of it just undressing him with your eyes?”

“This is pointless,” Erik said, the memories moving on around him, speeding up as Emma watched closely.

“I wouldn't bet on it,” Emma said. “There's a reason we keep the memories we keep. There's a reason why this is still sticking in your mind. There's something you don't like about this memory.”

“How can you tell?” Erik asked. He wasn't sure if he was aware of his like or dislike for this memory. It seemed strange that someone else could know.

“Telepath,” Emma said. “When we look into someone else's head, we don't just see the memories. We see the horrible sticky stuff on the other side of the memories too. Even if you don't know its there.”

Suddenly they were part of a moving crowd and Erik was behind Charles, reaching out to place his hand on the small of Charles' back, gently guiding him away from people who were happily jostling everyone in their way. Emma looked at Erik with an expression he'd never seen on her face before. Something soft and surprised. He looked at her, expecting her to say something. She reached out and held his arm, letting Charles move on forward.

Then everything stopped.

Erik and Emma both moved through the frozen crowd, stopping behind Charles. He and a woman appeared to be mid-collision. It was hard to see between them, where the memory lacked information, but over Charles' shoulder they could both see the eyes of the woman, slanted downwards instead of towards the exits. Charles was holding himself strangely, his arm at an angle, perhaps as if something had made contact and surprised him.

Erik fisted his hands by his sides. He remembered the night so well. He remembered Charles with his inexhaustible patience and hospitality. Someone had come here to do this and now, Charles was –

The room exploded into light and noise. Erik was holding up his hand, blocking out the sun. He had a strange feeling that he could lift up the Earth in the palm of his hand if he wanted to. He could move a mountain, hold aloft the biggest creatures in the seas. And somehow, Charles was a part of it. There was a burning bright light inside of Erik and Charles was the one who had lit it and now Erik knew how to make fire.

***

“Erik, damn it, wake up!” Raven said, shaking him by his shoulders.

Erik jerked awake, staring up at her. Somewhere, Emma made a sound like relief. Erik sat up slowly to see Azazel holding Emma up as she knelt on the ground by the couch where Erik lay. There was blood on her shirt. When she looked up at him, dazed, there was blood running from her nose and down her mouth and chin. Erik sat up, rising to his feet as Azazel helped Emma to the couch, Raven taking a seat next to her, rubbing circles on her back. Azazel looked at Erik, worry and guilt mixed into one.

“You could give a girl a warning, you know?” Emma said sounding breathless. “Let me guess, that's never happened to you before. It's a first right?”

“Stop joking for once,” Azazel said sternly. “Are you okay?”

“Peachy keen, honey,” Emma said, still shaking. She looked at Raven. “I could really do with a drink.”

Raven nodded and got up to go. “I'll get you some water.”

Emma grabbed her hand, pulling her back. “I could really do with a drink.” Raven looked at her for a second and then smiled, nodding. Emma turned to Azazel and made a face. “And I might need to change. Bloody's not really my colour.”

After a moment's deliberation, Azazel disappeared. Erik took a few tentative steps before sitting down next to Emma, watching her carefully. She looked back at him, all the playfulness gone.

“Baby, that's some real sticky stuff in there.” Erik nodded, looking down at his hands. “Want to tell me what the hell that was?”

“Nightmares,” he said. “Old nightmares.”

Emma frowned. “I dunno. That seemed recent. And old.”

“I've been having some of them again,” he said, wanting to move away from the subject entirely. “I'm sorry. I put you at risk.”

“It wasn't your idea,” Emma said. “Blame Azazel. He gives great guilt gifts.”

Erik didn't find the situation humorous, nodding mutely. She bumped her knee against his, smiling. “Lighten up, boss. We've got bigger fish to fry.”

He arched a brow at her. “You have a plan, Ms. Frost?”

“I do,” she said. “I know what our woman looks like now, so Azazel and I will go over the recordings and see if we can pull an image. You get back to your honey. It's where you want to be.”

Erik shook his head, laughing quietly. When he looked back at her she was watching him with a familiar expression. That strange soft look he had seen in the midst if his memories.

“What?” he said.

“Does he know?” Emma asked him softly. “About how you feel.”

“I don't know what you're talking about.”

“I am talking about how terribly in love you are with him,” Emma said plainly. “You're not falling for him at all. You're way past fallen, Erik. What I felt inside your mind, the things you feel for Charles Xavier... it's like being hit by a tornado.”

It was a hard thing to deny. It was as difficult to confirm, especially considering that he hadn't even admitted it to himself. Erik looked at Emma and said. “Bloody really isn't your colour.”

Emma groaned, falling against Erik. He put his arm around her, resting his cheek against the crown of her head. They stayed there like that until the others returned.

***

Azazel deposited Raven at her house and then Erik at the hospital, before returning to Emma. Louis was exactly where Erik had seen him the last time, outside Charles' room, looking in with a forlorn expression. He turned towards Erik just as he arrived. Erik nodded in greeting.

“Erik,” Louis said, looking both relieved and tired. He stepped closer, taking Erik's forearm in his grasp. “I am so sorry.”

“It's fine,” Erik said. “You don't have to-”

“No,” Louis said. “Please, hear me out. I need to say this. I didn't send you away because you don't belong here. I was... I was-”

“Frustrated because you can't do anything,” Erik said flatly. “Besides stand here and wait for him to either live, or die. For all our abilities, we're at the mercy of things we can't control. Like I was saying, you don't have to explain.”

Louis' eyes glittered with unspent emotion as he nodded. He gave Erik a shaky smile. “I'm glad you're here.”

“Where else would I be? After all, we're family now,” Erik said quietly. “Aren't we?”

Louis embraced Erik tightly, giving him a firm pat on the arm. He smiled at Erik with something like pride perhaps. “We most certainly are.”

“I'm inclined to agree with that.” Erik frowned and turned to see Anna behind him, holding two coffee cups. She gave him a look and said, “There other ways to travel besides Azazel.”

Erik smiled, moving to the window of Charles' room. Anna and Louis fell into quiet conversation behind him as he stood there watching Charles, still locked away in his plastic prison. Erik had an intense feeling of there being nothing but walls between him and Charles and that maybe it would take an eternity to knock every single one down.

“You can go inside, you know,” Anna said, Louis watching Erik from her side. “I'm going to see if I can persuade Louis to get some fresh air. You stay with Charles.”

Erik watched Anna and Louis walking away down the corridor. His brows climbed up a little when Louis took Anna's hand in his, as if this was how it had always been for them. As if they'd always been together. For a moment, Erik couldn't tear his eyes away from them. He turned back towards the room, pushing open the door and walking in. Erik dragged one of the seats up close to the bed and sat down in it.

He looked at the plastic veil that separated him from Charles. Then he watched the metal fastenings on the outside snap, one, two and three. He leaned forward and reached for Charles.

***

Charles opened his eyes. That smell could only mean one thing. He was in a hospital. There was a reason he was lying in a too small bed in a too white room, too warm, too bright. He couldn't figure out how any of these things could possibly contribute to his well being. He looked down at himself, white sheets, a white hospital gown. In some cultures, white was a colour of mourning, wasn't it? He couldn't remember. Memories, dreams, realities – they were all bleeding into each other in his mind. He thought of a cocktail, before all the clouds of colour were mercilessly mixed together.

“Charles?”

He slowly turned his head to see Hank who was watching him with worry. “Where's Raven?”

Hank frowned. “You don't remember?” Charles blinked sleepily, shaking his head. “She left with Erik.”

“Erik?” Charles asked, something hurting hard in his chest, pushing up behind his eyeballs.

“I'm going to get the doctor,” Hank said, looking worried.

Charles shut his eyes and tried to think. Why would Raven be with Erik? He opened his eyes, looked around the room. Hank was gone too. Charles had enough and sat up. An unexpected cry of pain escaped his mouth and he almost toppled to the side, his hand flailing out to restore some kind of balance. He stared wide-eyed at the motionless shapes under the white sheet. The shapes that would be legs if he could feel them. But all he felt was pain above a space where he felt nothing. He grabbed the sheet and flung it away.

It floated up and back down slowly, like a falling white sky that sounded like the flapping of wings. Suddenly, it was completely snatched away from him and Charles was looking up at Erik. Erik was watching him, his forehead creased with worry. Charles rubbed his eyes and remained lying in bed, blearily blinking up at Erik.

“You were talking in your sleep,” Erik said.

“Was I?” Charles asked roughly.

“Will you be waking up today?”

Charles rolled onto his side and looked at the window pane. It seemed strange, malleable instead of hard. Like it might wobble if he touched it.

“I thought I was awake,” Charles said quietly. He rolled back towards Erik, finding him seated next to the bed, silently staring at Charles. Charles frowned. Everything was so muddled.

“Look at your hand,” Erik said without moving his mouth.

Charles looked at his hand and then his arm and then all the way to his shoulder where his skin had taken on a strange scaly blue appearance. Such a rich blue and the patterns were so organised, so efficient in their symmetry. Charles looked at his skin and whispered, “Remarkable.”

Erik leaned forward, reaching out for Charles. His warm fingers closed around Charles' hand. Charles looked at their hands. Erik's grip was firm, his skin warm. His thumb was idly moving across Charles' skin. When Charles looked back at Erik they were back in his childhood bedroom on that narrow bed under the window.

The sun was sinking outside and the light was dimming inside, slowly turning everything into shades of gray. Except for Erik's eyes which seemed to hold a light all of their own. Erik's grip around Charles' wrist was light, almost teasing. Charles felt his breathing becoming shallow as he inched closer to Erik's face.

Charles closed his eyes and chastely pressed his mouth to Erik's, holding onto the feel of Erik's hand.

“This didn't happen,” Erik whispered against Charles' mouth.

“Maybe in another lifetime,” Charles whispered back.

Erik's lips changed beneath Charles', stretching into a smile and he moved closer, eliminating the breathing space between them, opening his mouth and drawing a kiss from Charles. It felt as real as the touch of his hand.

***

At noon the doctor came and everyone was left waiting again. Calero drew the curtains this time, spending thirty minutes inside while Anna sat with Louis, never pulling her hand away from his. Erik stood leaning by the wall, arms folded over his chest, head heavy with exhaustion and the echo of nightmares. Damn you, Charles Xavier, he thought, before brooding on the ridiculous familiarity of the thought, unable to remember damning anyone in recent years.

The doctor finally emerged, her entourage following and hurrying off. Louis was up on his feet, eager for news, Anna hovering protectively as Erik pushed away from the wall and stepped closer.

“There hasn't been any change, I'm afraid,” Calero said. “But, things haven't gotten any worse.”

“How comforting,” Erik said dryly. Calero gave him a look.

“You were in there quite a while,” Louis said. “I was worried something was wrong.”

Calero shook her head. “We decided to take the skin sample. If what you said is true, about the cut on Charles' hand, then maybe we'll find traces of the original chemical used in the tissue around the cut. It may match up to something on the MU1 database. Having said that, the chance of that will have declined each day since he was brought in. Still, it's worth investigating.”

Louis nodded. “Thank you, Doctor. Thank you.”

Calero smiled at Louis and Anna, giving Erik a more stern look as she departed. It earned Erik a smack on the arm from Anna. Erik ignored it and said to Louis, “You told her about the cut.”

“Yes,” Louis said. “I thought she ought to know. It might help somehow.”

Erik gave Louis an approving nod. “Good thinking.”

Louis gave Erik a small smile and went back into the room, taking up his post by Charles' bed. Anna meanwhile was watching Erik closely. “Charles' parents were asking after your health,” she said. “They will be back later. You should-”

“No,” Erik said curtly. Anna frowned at him in question. He added thoughtfully, “I don't think I can offer them any comfort.”

Anna kept watching him, as if uncertain about something, but after a few seconds the creases of her forehead smoothed out in some quiet realisation and she nodded, reaching out to squeeze his hand in hers. “Then I will,” she said, while Erik nodded mutely. “You don't have to.”

Erik nodded, pulling his hand away, fisting it by his side as he turned towards the window to Charles' room once again. Louis was sitting in the seat recently vacated by Erik. He was frowning at the plastic tent in concentration. Erik peered at Louis with interest.

“Louis' trying to coax Charles into one of his memories,” Anna said. “Trying to talk to him.”

“It's not working?” Erik asked.

“No,” Anna said. “He says he's finding it hard to reach Charles. Claude tried too before. Tried to reach into Charles' mind, but he said it was like trying to climb a wall that just keeps getting higher.”

Erik watched as Louis leaned forward in his seat, frowning at the prone figure inside the enclosure. After a few moments, he sat back looking dejected. Louis then turned to see Erik on the side of the window. He offered what Erik expected was a smile for his benefit. How typical of the Xaviers, Erik thought rather angrily.

***

Raven leaned against the kitchen counter, eyeing the call-screen on the wall. She quickly went towards it and stopped, taking a step back. Then she reached out and hit 'call' anyway, quickly tapping in Emma Frost's calling card. The call load graphics spun for a while before a small circle expanded to reveal Emma wearing a quizzical expression.

“Emma, hey, it's Raven.”

Emma nodded. “I can see.”

Raven smiled. “Right, sorry. I just wanted to know how it was going. Hank's going to be home late and Leo's having a sleepover at a friend's. I'm free if you need any help, or anything.”

Emma frowned, looked away and nodded at someone. She looked back at Raven and said, “Send me your location coordinates?”

Raven sent off a message to Emma and a minute later she and Azazel appeared in Raven's kitchen, both holding datapads in their hands. Raven waved at them, remembering they travelled faster than most. Emma threw her white coat over the back of a chair before she slumped onto it, putting her datapad on the kitchen table, while Azazel took up a place next to her.

“I take it it's going slowly,” Raven said, looking at Emma. She pointed at the drinks unit. “Coffee?”

Emma nodded, closing her eyes. Azazel looked at her and smiled, telling Raven, “Please.”

Raven fixed three cups while Azazel said, “We've made a little progress.”

Raven stilled, halfway through placing the coffees on a tray, blinking at Azazel from behind the kitchen counter. “Really?”

Emma angled her head to look at Raven blearily. “Really. You have a little girl's room?”

Raven pointed to the stairs just outside the kitchen door. “Straight up, second on the right.”

Emma nodded, slowly getting up and making her way upstairs while Raven brought the coffees to the table and sat down opposite Azazel. “Is she okay?”

Azazel was still looking at the stairs. “I think she's still hurting from this morning.”

“Do you have any idea what happened?” Raven asked.

“She hasn't said,” Azazel said. He picked up his datapad, “She did find this though.”

Raven took the datapad and looked at it. It was a collage of images, all different angles of one moment. A woman passing close to Charles, their bodies looking as though they might press together for a moment. In some images, Charles was obscuring her face. In others, her hair hid most of her face. The most they seemed to have of this woman was a glimpse of bright eyes, a straight nose and her curled blonde hair.

“Can you get a better picture?” Raven asked.

Azazel nodded, taking the datapad and tapping the screen a few times. “This was picked up from one of the security cameras over the catering entrance. She's the closest we could find to the composite image pulled from the angles we could get. It hasn't matched with anyone on the guest list yet.”

Raven looked at the woman in her fine black dress with her bouncy hair and light make up. She seemed so utterly harmless and there she was just striding in, playing with a ring on her finger. Raven shook her head. “Who is she?”

Azazel shrugged. “No idea. We have half of the guest list left to sift through, but most guests don't enter through the back door.”

Raven frowned at the datapad and wondered why this woman would want Charles Xavier dead.

***

Charles stopped walking, looking down at his feet as his toes curled into the sand. He couldn't remember how he got here, but here he was. The sky was bright, the sun in his eyes no matter where he looked, shining off the waves in the sea. He turned around to look at the rest of the beach, finding it curving away from him. Looking down he saw he had left no footprints. Just two straight lines that disappeared into the distance.

The sound of something flapping loudly behind him made him turn. He stumbled backwards when he saw the figure before him. The brightness of the sun made the figure into a featureless dark shadow, the world behind him perfectly yellow and blue. Not that his identity mattered. Charles could make out the shine and curve of a helmet. He could see the cloak billowing away from the other man.

Charles shut his eyes as the glare of the sun entered his head, sharp and bright. He held his hand to his head, pushing his fingers against his temple. When he opened them again he was no longer on the beach, but in a large spherical room. He was sitting down, contained by a neat suit, framed by a wheelchair. Up ahead stood the man in the cloak, shoulders squared, his figure imposing.

“Why are you helping us?” Charles asked, the words foreign in his mouth, spoken by another.

“I'm not,” was the reply. “I'm helping you. You'll find them and give them sanctuary.”

“The sanctuary we offer isn't just for them,” Charles said, the pain of longing under those words so strong, it made him gasp. Charles was falling forward, out of the wheelchair and onto sand, onto knees that could feel the grit beneath them.

Charles clutched his head. There was no birdsong. The waves crashed against the land in silence. The strong breeze pushed against him unannounced. His head pounded and all he could hear was his own heart as he sank downwards, down into cold water and dark, his arms reaching out to anchor himself to something.

Reaching out and closing and holding on tight.

***

Erik lurched forward in the chair. He tried to fight between gulping in air and breathing deeply to control the bile rising up towards his mouth. He was shaking, as if someone had just pulled him out freezing cold water, shivering. It a took a moment to realise the lights had been dimmed low in Charles' room and that Anna's coat had been covering Erik like a blanket, before he threw it onto the floor on waking. He picked up the coat, slowly rising to his feet and looking at the prone figure in the bed.

Weeks ago, Erik's life consisted of sitting in his office and making money, or sitting in someone else's office, being courted and still making money. On a very good day, he wouldn't have to speak to anyone, see anyone or hear anyone – the money would simply get made. It was the way to be noticed in the human world. Money was power. When you flashed your wealth, people stopped to listen, even if they didn't care. Some hated that power in the hands of a mutant. It was good motivation to continue making money.

Yet, here he stood, hoping Charles would open his eyes and utter a single word. Any word. It didn't matter. Here Erik stood, despite knowing he could do nothing to fix this situation. Usually all it took was throwing money at the right person. He stepped close to the plastic enclosure.

“Charles.” Nothing, of course. Erik sighed. “Come on, Francine,” he whispered. “Stop being so stubborn.” Still nothing. Erik backed away, turning towards the small window.

After a moment, the door to the room opened and Anna said, “You're awake.”

Erik turned to see her. He walked across the room and handed over the coat he had woken up with. “Why did you let me fall asleep?”

“You have something against sleep?” Anna asked.

“I have something against sleep in uncomfortable hospital chairs,” Erik answered, moving past her and into the corridor where it was somewhat brighter and there was more breathing space.

She followed him out. “I hope you're going home tonight. Your not sleeping or eating isn't going to make Charles wake up any sooner.”

Erik rolled his eyes and said, “I'm fine. You don't need to worry about me.”

He turned to leave, intending to call Emma and find out how the search was going. Anna put a hand on his arm and gently pulled him about. “I am worried.”

Anna looked as though she could do with a good night's sleep too. Instead she was here worrying about Erik. He said, “Is Louis still here?”

Anna nodded. “I'm going to see him home in a minute. As soon as Charles' parents get here.”

Erik stared at the door to Charles' room. It was strange how he wanted to be in there and yet he wanted to be as far away as possible from seeing Charles lying there like he was already entombed. He had no desire to see the faces of Charles' parents as they sat there and hoped they wouldn't have to bury their son.

Erik nodded. “I'll go back to the apartment. Sleep for a while.”

Anna looked surprised, but gave an approving nod. “Good. You can back tomorrow. Rested.”

Erik doubted there would be much rest, but it would give him a chance to return in the morning, better equipped to believe that it might be the day Charles would wake up.

***

Raven was in the bathroom when she heard Hank arrive. She quickly finished up, hoping she could get down before... oh, too late, she thought as she heard-

“Raven? Are you in the kitchen? Oh. Hello... sorry, who are you?”

Raven jogged down the stairs and into the kitchen, reaching for Hank's waist as she walked around him and leaned up for a kiss. “Hey.”

“Hey. Hello.” Hank frowned and then gave her a polite look before nodding towards Emma who had a computer projection taking up the whole dining table and Azazel who was peering silently at a datapad. “Guests?”

“Hank, this is Emma and that's Azazel. They're friends of Erik's,” Raven explained.

Hank nodded. “Oh. Nice to meet you. How's he doing?”

“Not exactly Mr. Sunshine,” Emma said absently, reaching out and touching a projected image from the fundraiser guest list. “Not that he ever has been.”

Hank turned to Raven. “Any news on Charles?”

Raven shook her head. “Louis said it's pretty much the same. Brainwave readings are a little erratic, but it's not like anyone has an idea what a telepath's brain is supposed to be doing on a good day.”

Hank gave a nod of understanding and looked at the mess of datapads and overlapping projections on the table. “What's all this?”

Raven pulled out a chair and nodded towards it. Hank gave her a pensive look and sat down, watching her take the seat next to him. “We think someone infected Charles with MU1.”

“What? On purpose?” Hank stared at her, an incredulous expression on his face. Azazel pushed a datapad towards Hank, pointing at the screen. Raven watched as Hank eyed all the images. He shook his head. “This isn't much to go on.”

“Charles' hand has a cut,” Emma said. “It wasn't there at the beginning of the night. You want to take the chance it was just someone copping a feel and taking a memento?”

Hank stared at Emma. “Of course not. But you need more than this. We need to find out what strain of MU1 this is and if we can counter it, or reverse whatever damage it might be causing. You think you can get all this from half-hidden faces?”

“No. But we can from this.” Emma smiled, taking his datapad and reloading it to show him a composite image next to one of their number one suspect.

“You know who she is?” Hank asked.

“No,” Raven said. “We've spent the whole day looking at the guest identification badges. She doesn't match. Not that we thought she would.”

“What about the staff?” Hank asked.

Azazel shook his head. “Nothing.”

“Well, at least you have her face.”

Emma snorted at Hank. “Yeah, and exactly where do we start looking for Madam Assassin? She could be anyone.”

“Sure,” Hank said. “But she might be a someone of interest. Someone who's on a file somewhere.”

Raven was frowning at Hank. Her eyes widened and she said, “The IFRD?”

Azazel gave Raven a confused look. “The what?”

Emma was nodding, and not looking impressed. “The IFRD. International facial recognition database. Yeah, great idea, but no good. You need top level security clearance for access to that. Even the cop squad don't have that. We'd need someone in the Bureau to get into that and they're not really mutant friendly.”

“More explanation please,” Azazel said. “What is so wonderful about this database?”

Raven explained, “It's a database of persons of interest to the state. Basically? People the government think might cause problems. Of course, they get to define what the word problem means which lets them add writers, journalists, doctors, teachers, you know, anyone with an opinion that doesn't fit in the NY Reporter, alongside actual criminals. ”

Azazel nodded with understanding. “There's a good chance we could find this woman?”

Hank said, “A very good chance. The Bureau would have every member of the population in that database if they could do it, criminal or not. Everyone's proclivities, abilities and politics available at a glance from a single image of a face.”

Raven was nodding. She looked at Azazel and Emma. “Think you guys can find a way to access the IFRD?”

Emma scrunched up her face in an expression that did not project confidence. “Not without a man on the inside.”

Hank nervously cleared his throat. Raven blinked at him as he said, “I... I might know a man on the inside.”

Raven stared. “You might?”

“Who?” Emma asked. “And, how?”

“Me.” He sighed and shook his head. “Charles made me promise not to say anything, but he never said anything about getting sick and hospitalised either.”

“I don't understand,” Raven said.

Hank leaned forward and quietly said, “The IFRD database is linked to a secondary database. One that's used for only profiling mutants, whether they're a threat or not. The government won't force us to register anymore, so instead they have the Bureau fishing for information in other ways and then storing it under the pretence of national security.”

“Yeah, well, that still doesn't explain why you have an in, sweetie,” Emma said.

“I don't. Not technically.” Hank grimaced. “Not legally.” Everyone's expressions eased with some form of understanding. “Charles thinks the IFRD and its offshoot are both dangerous. There are things on those databases the Bureau doesn't need to know. Between us, we kind of hacked it.”

Raven was back to staring at Hank. “You hacked it. To do what?”

Hank took a deep breath and nodded. “We might have introduced a few programmes that routinely cause data loss and irreparable software damage. Not to mention some liberal weeding and editing of records. It's easily done once you've got access.”

Emma blinked at Hank in open awe. “How can you be sure you won't get caught?”

Hank shrugged. “I'm a genius. Kind of runs in the family. Probably why I was on the database.”

“Was I on it?” Raven asked.

“With all the rallies you've been to? Yeah, pretty much,” Hank said before giving a sharp nod and adding, “But, not anymore.”

Azazel laughed quietly. “Charles Xavier. Engaging in illegal behaviour. I like it.”

“He's not doing it for kicks,” Hank said. “He's doing it to protect people like you and me.”

Azazel gave him a polite smile. “I didn't mean to offend. I admire a man who would push boundaries for his principles.”

“Look, I'll run the image through the programme,” Hank said. “See if we can find something on this woman.”

“What about Erik?” Raven asked. “Shouldn't we tell him?”

“No,” Emma answered, shaking her head. “If it's just a dead end... let's just see what we find first.”

Hank nodded and got up. “Okay. Well, there's no time like the present and not to mention there''s really no time to waste.”

Emma was up and swinging her coat around her shoulders as Azazel got up and walked into the middle of the kitchen, waiting for his travelling companions.

Emma put her hand in Azazel's, grabbing Hank's in her other hand and looked at Raven. “Coming?”

Raven nodded firmly and reached for Azazel's hand. “Let's go.”

“Where are we going?” Azazel asked Hank.

Hank gave everyone a very bland look. “Downstairs, in the study.”

Emma grinned and winked at Raven. “We can still hold hands, right?”

***

Erik was drenched by the time he stepped into his apartment. The night time rain had provided suitable cover from people who might have otherwise turned to look in his direction and the cold had provided a jolt that countered his exhaustion. He peeled off his jacket and threw it onto the couch, wiping the rain from his face with the back of his arm, the shirt sleeve too wet to absorb anything. Wet and cold, Erik poured himself a tumbler of Scotch, downing it one go, grateful for the quick heated burn of the liquid as it went down.

It was slow progress up the stairs to his bedroom, as he thought of Anna with Louis, Emma with Azazel and Raven with her family. Even Charles, trapped in his plastic prison, stuck somewhere in his mind, had his parents watching over him. Wearily he stripped off his shirt, before unzipping his boots and ridding himself of his trousers, his skin damp underneath. He could have left the clothes where they lay on the floor, but the comfort of habit made him pick them up and throw them into the laundry chute in the bathroom.

He stood under the hot spray of the shower for an eternity, eyes closed with his face angled up. Somewhere from the recesses of his mind, a memory floated up near the surface and Erik could almost feel the presence of arms closing slowly around him, a body pressing in behind and the whisper of his name in his ear. Right into his mind perhaps. Erik let his head fall forward and opened his eyes, staring at the black tiles on the other side of the stream of water. There was a memory, something from his dreams. He blinked, trying to remember it. His hand went to his ribs, cupping the curve of bone under flesh. There was a memory there.

But that was the way with all dreams, whether they were made of euphoric substance or dark terrors. They all seemed real. They all seemed like memories. Erik turned off the shower, grabbing a towel from the rail on the wall and wrapping it around his waist. He dimmed the lights in the bedroom before throwing back the covers of his bed and getting in. The telescreen on the wall opposite was blinking with unread messages. Erik ignored them and aimed the remote control at the screen, instantly bringing up a news feed direct from the same corporation that owned the NY Reporter. It was usually a good idea to follow the opinions of the people you disagreed with the most.

He sat back, craving a distraction. He was tired, but as Anna had guessed, he wasn't much for sleep. Erik opened up the bedside draw, pulling out a small silver case from which he extracted a single dark brown cigarillo. Replacing the case he felt around for the lighter. When he didn't find it, he brought his hand out and waited for the light to come flying into his palm. Lighting up, he took a drag and let himself slip down the bed a little, not enough to lie down, but enough to comfortably watch the screen through the haze of smoke in front of his eyes. It wasn't long before he half-lay there with heavy-lidded eyes, on the edge of sleep, even as he brought the cigarillo to his mouth.

Then the news item changed and his eyes widened a little with interest. It was a shot of the exterior of Grey Memorial Hospital, the hospital where Charles was cocooned away. A reporter stood outside, sometime earlier in the day, far too cheerful looking for the story.

“Any news at all on Professor, I'm sorry, I mean of course, Doctor Xavier,” asked the in-studio news anchor.

“Not as yet,” the reporter chirped back in response. “All we know at this stage is that he is still in critical condition as he has been for some days now. We've tried to contact the Xavier family as well as representatives of Erik Lehnsherr, who of course everyone must know by now is Charles Xavier's fiancé, but as yet no one has made any further statements. We will bring an update as soon as we have one. Not a happy time for the Xaviers, Ken.”

Back in the studio the irritating anchor Ken was half-smiling as he commented on what a month it had been for Charles Xavier. Enough excitement for a lifetime, he said. Erik peered at the screen through narrowed eyes, grateful for the white mist of the cigarillo smoke. He really didn't need to remember that man's face.

Erik let his head fall back, blowing out smoke, watching it escape and disappear completely. On the telescreen they were still discussing Charles, his work, his family and now his possible future with Lehnsherr Corp. Not Erik, but Lehnsherr Corp. Clearly, for some people, this was nothing more than mutant money making more mutant money. Erik allowed himself a very small smile, even though it was tinged with bitterness.

Eyes back on the screen, the thought struck Erik that he wasn't the only one watching this. There was someone out there waiting for Charles to die. Someone was out there watching this and waiting to become a confirmed killer. Erik took another drag and filed the thought away for later.

***

Raven looked at the others in the study. Emma and Azazel looked baffled and Hank was watching Raven for a reaction. She said, “Are you sure?”

“Raven, you saw me run the analysis three times. I'll do it again, but I don't think it'll be any use,” Hank said.

“This doesn't make any sense,” Emma said. She pointed at the screen. “That is her. That's the woman. Right? I mean, you can all see that, right?”

“Emma,” Azazel said with a sigh. “We all see it.”

“Then how can the records say this is a woman who died three years ago? Clearly she's not dead,” Emma asked. She arched a brow at Hank. “Maybe this is some of your creative editing gone wrong.”

“She's from the main database,” Hank said. “Sandra Rifkin, human, activist. We wouldn't have altered her record.”

“Oh,” Raven said quietly, shutting her eyes tight. “I don't believe this.”

“What?” Hank asked, pushing away from the desk and getting up, moving closer to Raven where she sat on the edge of his desk.

Raven was nodding at the screen. “That is our woman. That's exactly who we saw on the security recordings.”

“She looks good for a three year old corpse,” Emma said.

Raven gave Emma a look and then with a blink of an eye covered herself in another skin. Done right, she would look just like the woman on the computer projection. From the looks on everyone's faces, she had made her point very clearly.

“The Sandra Rifkin on the database probably did die three years ago. The Sandra Rifkin on the recording, was probably not human,” Raven said quietly. “It was probably someone like me.”

She returned to her own skin, with relief, remaining quiet as the implication set in for the others. Hank was visibly incensed by the idea. “A mutant? No. It has to be something else.”

“Oh please,” Emma snapped. “Like what? A twin? A clone? A ghost? What? Face it, big guy, this was done by one of our own.”

“We just have to find out which one of our own and for what reason,” Azazel said quietly enough that Raven found it more troubling than Emma or Hank's outbursts.

“And once we find her? Then what?” Raven asked.

The looks on Emma, Hank and Azazel's faces said that their plans most definitely did not involve sitting down and talking.

***

“Your move,” Erik said.

Charles watched the plastic pieces. They all looked the same. Each one as powerless as the next. Each one insignificant in this game. Each one a shimmering shade of blue. Charles closed his eyes, “I can't think straight.”

“Try,” Erik said. “Make your next move.”

Charles shook his head, eyes shut tight, head pounding and his ears feeling as they were filled with blood. “I can't.”

There was warmth spreading across his hand. The tightening of fingers, the heat of someone else's skin. Charles opened his eyes blinking at the pieces. His hands were on his knees and nothing appeared to exist past the translucent board and pieces.

Charles reached out and moved a knight. His pieces drained of colour, once again in play.

***

Raven sat at the kitchen counter, one eye on her datapad, the other on her breakfast. In the background she could hear the morning news. People fighting for the ownership of the moon, countries laying claim to a barely settled Mars, fights of independence breaking out in the United States of Asia. Raven figured the word 'mutant' would eventually turn up in conjunction with either mad-looking loud people, criminal activity, moral deviance or the latest takeover bid of some poor defenceless human owned company.

She snorted and continued reading her latest mail until she heard Hank's footsteps on the stairs. Turning around on her seat, she caught him padding down the hall and then back again, stepping into the kitchen, dark blue bathrobe over lighter blue skin, his fur still looking a little damp from the shower.

She smiled and waited. He smiled back and said, “Not that I don't encourage you making new friends instead of scaring our old ones, but why are Emma and Azazel passed out on our couch, Raven?”

“We kind of stayed up after you went to bed.”

He sighed, reaching out for Raven. She hopped off the stool and took his hand, pulling him close. He held her and said. “I'll pick Leo up from Panther's house. You... you do what you have to do.”

Raven pressed her cheek against Hank's chest. “What about you?”

Hank said, “I might work from home. The labs can do without me for a day or two.”

Raven reached up and pressed a kiss to Hank's mouth, holding onto him a little longer before she let him go and sat back down, watching him go about making his breakfast.

“So, did you and your new friends actually find anything?” he asked, peering at some empty unwashed glasses. “Besides the liquor cabinet?”

Raven grimaced. “Well, we have a little more on Sarah Rifkin. Died three years ago in a collision, aged thirty-two. Worked as an information specialist with City Hall, which is maybe something we can follow up. Her name shows up on a lot of petitions, mostly ones that were designed to make our lives harder.”

Hank placed a pan on his beloved old stove and turned to look at Raven with a frown. “Someone wants to make it look like the mutant hater's not dead?”

“I have no idea. If this is someone who can change their appearance, then we really need to figure out why they would pick Rifkin and not someone alive.”

Hank was nodding thoughtfully. “So a good place to start would be mutants who might have had a vested interest in the activities of Ms. Rifkin and an enduring grudge.”

“Or we could go and find the registered mutants on the Bureau's cute little database,” Emma said from the doorway, white clothes crumpled, hair pulled back into a tight ponytail.

“That's a very high number,” Hank pointed out.

Emma nodded. “Sure. But, not if you take away all the people we're not looking for. All the mutants registered on the Bureau's database have their class, ability and current known location categorised. Want to know how many mutants there are in New York who have an ability that includes altering their appearance?”

“How many?” Raven asked.

“Twenty-three, of which nine are registered members of the criminati,” Emma said. She smiled rather triumphantly and added, “I say we figure out how they're connected with Rifkin first.”

“And if none of them are the one we're looking for?” Hank asked.

“We come up with a better idea.” Emma shrugged and then pointed in the general direction of the living room. “I should wake Azazel. We need to swing by and check in with the boss.”

Raven nodded. “If you need anything.”

Emma nodded back and smiled, “I know. I'll call you.”

***

Erik was viewing the latest data logs on his screen with great interest when Azazel and Emma appeared on the other side of his desk. Both looked tired and slightly bemused.

“What?” Erik asked, switching of the computer display with single jab of the forefinger.

Emma shrugged. “We just figured you'd be at the hospital.”

“I've already been,” Erik said. “No miracles yet.”

Azazel arched a brow at Emma before silently walking away from the desk and taking up a seat on the couch. Emma remained where she stood, frowning at Erik. “So, you're back at work now?”

“What would you have me do?” Erik asked quietly. “Play the grieving widow?”

“He's not dead yet,” Emma said. “And, by the way, if this is some new coping strategy, I suggest you drop it before you start. Really not doing anything for your already too fluffy personality, boss.”

Erik gave a her long measured look, keeping his mouth shut. When he realised he had no words to offer other than bitter and frustrated ones, he looked away, swivelling around in his seat to stare at the New York skyline. It was a particularly miserable and cold day out there today, everything smudged into shades of gray.

“I can't do anything at the hospital,” Erik said. “Besides watch and wait.” He swivelled back to look at Emma. “And I appear to be of little or no comfort to everyone else there.”

Emma looked a little guilty. It didn't suit her very much. She knew it too, because the next thing she said was, “I could wear something really skimpy if it helps.” Erik smiled as she turned to earn a glare from Azazel. She shrugged and said, “What? Like it doesn't benefit you at the same time?”

Azazel sighed and rolled his eyes, sullenly looking away. Erik said, “Maybe later. I was hoping for now you could just give me some good news. Find anything from the security footage?”

“Well, we have a face,” Emma said.

“Nothing else?” Erik asked. “A name, perhaps?”

“Working on it,” Emma said, while Azazel was most certainly paying too much attention to his shoes.

Erik nodded. “Who is Sarah Rifkin?”

Both Azazel and Emma were staring at him. Emma's expression changed first and she decided not to hide her annoyance. “God, you're an asshole.” She turned to Azazel. “He's been monitoring our datapads.”

Azazel blinked at Erik. He didn't seem so much offended as he did disappointed. “You don't trust us?”

“I trust you implicitly,” Erik said, directing his gaze at Emma. “Even when you lie. Especially when you lie, Ms. Frost.”

Emma rolled her eyes. “We have the name of a dead woman and a bunch of mutants who may or may not not be involved. We didn't want to get your hopes up, so sue us.”

“Mutants,” Erik said.

Emma wouldn't look him in the eyes. It was Azazel who answered, “Perhaps.”

“A mutant did this?” Erik asked, the words sticking in his throat.

“We 're not sure,” Emma said. She looked up at Erik. “Glad you know now?”

Erik got up slowly, turning his back on Emma and Azazel as he stared at the window. He could make out his own reflection, a dark shadow staring right back. A mutant wanting to kill Charles of all people. It made Erik' stomach turn.

“Rifkin,” he said. “What do you know so far?”

“She's dead. Has been for three years. Worked at City Hall. Human.” Erik frowned, shaking his head at Azazel. “Raven has theorised that a mutant impersonated Rifkin.”

“Why?” Erik asked.

Emma shrugged and said, “She has quite the record in anti-mutant petitioning. Five years ago she was involved in campaigning for the police being allowed the discretion of using ability neutralising stun guns.”

“A pity she didn't live to see the bill go through,” Azazel said.

Erik shoved his hands into his pockets as he paced a while before sitting down on the edge of his desk. He frowned at Emma. “How did you get your list of mutants?”

“Hank McCoy helped,” Emma said. When Erik's frown deepened, she added, “Raven's partner. We were camped out at their place last night. Hank seems to have provided the Xavier Research Foundation with access to the IFRD.”

Erik stared. “What kind of access?”

“The not very legal kind,” Emma answered.

“The kind we were unable to achieve,” Azazel added with a smile.

Erik was impressed and it must have showed because Emma said, “You can't steal employees from your fiancé. That's pretty low. Even for us.”

Erik went back to his chair, sitting back and swivelling to face Emma. “How many mutants do we have?”

“To start with, nine,” Emma said.

Erik gave Emma a nod. For the first time in over a week he was feeling something other than helpless. “Continue.”

***

Everything was spinning around. Charles stumbled in an effort to gain some equilibrium. Erik was holding him, his hands gripping Charles tight around the arms while Charles was sinking with leaden limbs. Erik was calling him from somewhere under water, from inside bubbles and Charles was sinking further down until... pop, like a bubble, like a dream.

“Charles?”

Charles looked at his hands gripping Erik's arms which were holding him up. He blinked a few times and said, “What happened?”

“I don't know,” Erik said quietly, getting a better hold of Charles. “I thought you were about to pass out.”

“I was,” Charles said with a frown. “I thought I did.”

“Inside,” Erik said, all but dragging Charles back into the house and straight to the living room.

“What's the matter?” Louis asked as he watched Charles being gingerly deposited on the couch. “Is everything all right?”

“I think we ought to leave dinner to another day,” Erik said. “Charles isn't feeling very well.”

“Nonsense, I'll be fine,” Charles protested.

“Charles,” Erik said. “You almost fainted.”

Charles pulled a face and looked at Louis. “It's true.”

“How terribly Victorian of you,” Louis said.

Charles glared and turned his attention to Anna. “I'm so sorry, I appear to have made a mess of what looks like was going to be a very lovely evening.”

Anna smiled. “Another time. You need to rest. Get better.” Her voice seemed strange, like an echo underwater for a moment. She was still smiling as she said, “Especially for your uncle. He's sick with worry, you know.”

Charles looked at Louis who was standing with his back to the room, looking out of the window. There it was again, that warmth on Charles' hand, that tight insistent grip. He looked down to find Erik's hand, squeezing his fingers.

Charles looked up and frowned at Erik. “Still dreaming?”

Erik said, “I have to go. I'll come back later.”

Charles watched Erik's hand withdraw itself, his own remaining motionless on his knee. He slowly brought it up to his head, his fingers pressing against his temple as he focused his concentration.

He listened quietly, for anything, for the smallest passing thought available.

Nothing. Nothing at all.

***

Erik found himself in a large homely living room filled with sunshine streaming from a large window. Behind him was a medium sized telescreen and opposite him was a large very comfortable looking couch, a dark brown blanket rumpled at one end of it and cushions piled at the other. The coffee table had an empty plate with crumbs next two a cup of half-finished coffee.

Emma poked Erik in the arm and said, “We'll let you know if we have anything.”

Erik nodded, feeling a shift in the air as Azazel and Emma left him alone in the room. Not for the first time, Erik wondered if it would have been a better idea to arrive on the other side of the front door to the house, rather than right here in the privacy of someone's home. Especially when he saw the tall and lean blue man standing in the doorway, frowning.

Erik opened his mouth to speak, but the man held up a hand and said, “Don't. I'm getting used to it now.” He walked all the way in and held out his hand. “Hank McCoy. We haven't officially met.”

Erik nodded. “I saw you at the Xavier Mansion. I spoke to Leo. Bright boy.”

Hank seemed to warm to that remark, smiling and nodding for Erik to follow. “You dropped by at a good time. I've been running some checks on the database again. I take it Emma and Azazel told you?”

“They did,” Erik said, following Hank down the stairs into a dimly lit but spacious room lined with shelves of rare books and disc boxes. “I was a little surprised that Charles would sanction such a thing, much less be a part of it.”

Hank pulled out a chair for Erik, smiling with clear amusement as he sat down opposite. “Charles is very clear about what constitutes as good and bad in his book. I think it allows him to cross a lot of lines people wouldn't expect.”

Erik nodded thoughtfully. “You've known him a long time?”

“A while. Some years ago he read a paper of mine and called me up in the middle of the night,” Hank said with a grin. “He was so excited, babbling on about potential and possibilities and I was half-asleep and thought someone was crank calling me. He turned up the next day to apologise and offer me a job. Within a year I had my own lab, I'd met Raven and I had Charles as a mentor and a friend.”

Hank stopped there, clamping his mouth shut, sad eyes turning to look at the screen on his desk rather than Erik. Erik was almost grateful the other man was taking the time to handle his own grief. It was a selfish thing to think, but what words could Erik offer to the people who had loved Charles much longer than... well, much longer.

Hank blew out a breath and gave Erik a sidelong look. “So, how are you holding up in all this?” Erik looked at the data streaming down the screen near him. He found himself at a loss for words, surprised when Hank said, “Don't answer that. I think I can guess.”

Erik pointed at the screen. “This tapped into the IFRD right now?”

Hank shook his head. “Right now it's cross-referencing a number of databases. What we really want is anything and everything on Sarah Rifkin and the kind of psychotic... person she might have annoyed. Someone who might have a grudge against Charles.”

“What do you think the chances are that we'll find anything?” Erik asked.

Hank was blinking at the screen, chewing on his bottom lip before gave Erik a straight look and said, “Slim. Whoever did this could be gone by now, along with whatever strain of MU1 they used. Our best bet right now is for the hospital to find out what strain they're dealing with and helping Charles to fight this thing off.”

“And what are the chances of that?”

Hank was nodding. “Better. I've got the full resources of the Xavier Research Foundation working with the hospital. We've had people working on MU1 ever since we heard the first reports. We will find something. Not to mention that people have survived MU1. The survivors outnumber the fatalities, but you just don't hear about it on the news. The longer Charles hangs on, the more likely it is he'll pull through.”

Erik sat back and looked at Hank, wondering how much of what he was saying was for his own benefit. “The doctor I spoke to said the chemical compound used to poison Charles will have broken down in the body within hours.”

“The tissue samples we have from the hospital are undergoing rigorous analysis. Yes, it would have been better if we'd done this on day one, but... it's not over yet.”

“Hank! Are you in the basement?” Raven called down.

Erik looked up at the stairs, Hank already on his feet. “Be right back.”

Erik nodded, watching Hank jog up the stairs. In the meantime, he took out his datapad, pressing a call for Azazel who answered almost immediately, listening quietly as Erik said, “Find our mutant later. I need you to do something else first.”

***

Charles lowered his fingers from his temple, resting his arm on the table before him. His glass was empty. Again. His hand was stinging, the cut feeling more like an insect bite than anything else. He unwrapped the silk handkerchief, now ruined, and looked at the back of his hand. There was swelling around the small cut, the skin pink and tender. The cut itself had clotted and stopped bleeding. Charles wrapped the handkerchief back around his hand, the tightness proving somewhat comforting.

The hall was empty now, all the guests gone, the cleaners beginning pick up the mess. Louis was off in the distance, still arguing with the manager. And there, by the doors to the foyer, there was Erik. He was with Emma and Azazel. Emma was saying something with a smirk on her face, something Erik was trying very hard not to find funny. In the end, he gave both his companions a stern look and turned away from them, allowing himself a small smile out of sight.

Charles waved at him as he neared, watching Erik swipe two glasses from a forgotten tray and a half-full bottle of Champagne from a table. He placed one glass in front of Charles, filling it before sitting down and pouring himself a drink. He was leaning back in his chair and smiling at Charles. It was a smile Charles had taken to bed that night.

“What?” Charles asked with a small laugh.

Erik leaned forward and said. “A successful evening, don't you think?”

Charles nodded, holding up his glass. Erik picked up his own and promptly clinked glasses with Charles. “Thanks to you.”

Erik shook his head. “Those people were here for you, Charles.”

And Charles had wanted to ask-

“What?” Erik asked, “What did you want to ask?”

Charles covered his face, wondering why his hand trembled. His chest shuddered as he breathed out and managed to say, “Okay. We're not here.”

Erik was suddenly pulling him to his feet, taking him by his arm and towards a dance floor full of people, the tables once again full of guests and chatter. Charles looked around, unsteady on his feet.

“Your hand's bleeding,” Erik said, giving him a handkerchief.

They danced and Erik had an easy smile softened by drink and Charles' head swum with Champagne. Charles moved closer and Erik had closed the gap between them and later Charles ran the scene through his mind until he fell asleep.

The music stopped.

Charles was alone, stranded, arms hanging down by his side. Blood dripped from his hand, the drips making the only sound in the hall.

There was woman. This was new.

Her eyes were on him as she walked the ribbed circumference of the dance floor. In her gloved hand was a glint of silver that shone into Charles' eyes, renewing the pain in his hand.

“What did you do?” Charles gasped as he fell to his knees, cradling his hand close. He looked up at her, his head heavy. Her mind didn't match her face. She was leaving even as Charles shuddered on the floor and shouted after her, “What did you do to me?”

She was gone and Charles was alone.

***

“What did he tell you?” Raven asked Hank as she put away a box of groceries.

“Nothing. Besides, it's too early. I doubt Emma or Azazel will have found our mutant yet,” Hank said.

Raven gave Hank a long thoughtful look. “I figured he'd be out there with them. He doesn't seem the type to sit around and wait.” Hank nodded, shoving one hand in pocket, the other idly scratching the back of his head. Raven had to ask, “What?”

“There's something no one's brought up yet,” he said tentatively. Raven had an idea what he was about to suggest. “The police. We have a suspect, or at least, we have a face. Why are we sitting on this?”

“No point,” Erik said appearing in the doorway. Hank and Raven both turned to look at him, Raven feeling a little caught out. “We only found the images because of Emma's little trip into my head, which would be completely dismissed. In the meantime, the media will catch wind of it and before we know it the politicians will be calling to tag all mutants like common pets. However, if the tests on Charles' tissue samples can prove he was poisoned, then maybe someone will sit up and look at those images, which might somehow find themselves in the hands of interested media outlets. Don't get me wrong. The police are perfectly capable of doing their jobs. When you apply the right pressure.”

Raven shook her head. “Wow. And I thought I was cynical.”

Something beeped in Erik's pocket and he turned to Hank, telling him, “I'll have something for you in a moment actually.”

Hank frowned. “What is it?”

That was when Azazel appeared in the kitchen with Louis who looked rather tired and a little bewildered. Erik asked him, “Did you get my message?”

Louis nodded. “Yes. What is all this, Erik?”

“Yes, Erik,” Raven asked with a little annoyance as she took in Louis' dark circles and tired eyes. “What is all this?”

“Did you find the coat?” Erik asked Louis.

“Yes, of course. He has an awful habit of just stuffing things back into the closet. I found this in the pocket.” Louis reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief with blood stains that had now turned brown. He handed it to Erik. “This is what you wanted, yes?”

Erik nodded. “Yes.”

“Good,” Louis said. “Now tell me what the bloody hell is going on.”

Erik turned to Hank, holding out the handkerchief. “That night? I gave Charles this when I saw his hand was bleeding. He had it wrapped around his hand the whole night and it looks like its been in his coat ever since. Do you think-?”

Hank snatched the handkerchief. “The fibres might have traces, yes. This is, this is good. This is really good.” He looked at Azazel. “Um, it would be really good if I could get down to the lab. I mean, right now.”

Azazel gave Erik a rather stern look and then turned to Hank, holding out his hand. Before he could go, Louis said, “I do hope you're not expecting me to make my own way back, young man.”

Azazel clapped a hand on Louis's shoulder and then in a swirl of red they were all gone, leaving Erik by the door and Raven behind the counter. She smiled at Erik who gave her a bemused look.

“You had lunch?” she asked. Erik shook his head. She rapped her knuckles on the counter top. “We'll have lunch then.”

Erik gave the counter a look before slowly shrugging out of his black jacket and neatly hanging it over the back of a chair. He took up a place at the counter, looking up at her.

Raven grimaced and said, “I know. It's kind of disgusting. One week old laundry, right?”

The corner of Erik's mouth twitched up into a smile. “It's very disgusting.”

Raven was laughing quietly. “But, you can't help loving the guy regardless, right?”

Erik tilted his head at her, squinting in thought. For a moment she thought he might just say something worth holding over his head once this was all over and they had the luxury of happiness again. He just smiled and said, “What's lunch?”

Raven shrugged. “Eggs?”

Erik nodded. “I like eggs.”

“Good.” Raven nodded back. “It's pretty much all I can cook. They're not very good.”

Erik got up and walked around the counter. She stood next to him, frowning as he looked around the kitchen and found a pan, placing it on the stove. He saw her questioning look and shrugged. “I make good eggs.”

Raven smiled, nodding. She pointed at the refrigerator. “I'll get them for you.”

***

Charles sat up, shaking his head clear before getting to his feet and looking around. Frowning, Charles walked off the empty dance floor, passing a table with an open champagne bottle. Picking it up, he took a swig and then walked on, shouting, “Louis? Louis!”

No response. Not even a spark of Louis' thoughts. It was Erik and not his uncle who emerged from the shadows, his coat missing, the front of his white shirt unlaced to show a generous expanse of chest. Erik looked down at it and then back at Charles, arching a brow.

“Yes,” Charles said slowly. “You're right, no time for all that now.”

When he looked at Erik again, he was once again dressed impeccably respectable. What a shame, thought Charles.

“Your head seems clearer,” Erik said.

“It is,” Charles said with a nod. He looked down at his hand, pulling up his coat and shirt sleeves. The blue tone of his skin had faded somewhat. “I suspect it's connected to this. Whatever this is.”

He turned to frown at the dance floor where he had woken up. He'd seen something there, hadn't he? A woman... it was already fading from his memory. He turned and pointed at Erik. “I'm dreaming. Or hallucinating. Or both. The good news is, you feature heavily in both cases, which makes it somewhat more bearable.”

But there was something else smeared onto the back of this dream, hallucination, whatever it was. He focused on it until something hard appeared in his fisted hand. Charles frowned, bringing up his fist and slowly opening it. A silver coin. Both sides looked smooth, though Charles' fingers could clearly feel a raised pattern. His heart beat in a strange panicked rhythm as he stared at the coin.

“You'll need to concentrate harder,” Erik said, voicing Charles' thoughts. Charles shook his head. The coin wouldn't be smooth if he was meant to see the pattern. “Go ahead.”

Tempted, he thought about it for a second. A sharp pain lanced through his head and he immediately dropped the coin, stepping away from it as if it might turn into a sea of acid and consume him. His hand stung and Charles brought it up to his face, seeing it once again wrapped in a handkerchief. Images flashed through his mind in a quick succession. The woman. Her look. The sharp pain. Someone else's fleeting thoughts.

“Charles?” Erik said as they slowly swayed to the music, snapped back into a comforting memory.

Charles nodded thoughtfully, looking at his bandaged hand on Erik's shoulder, concentrating as hard as he could.

***

Raven folded her arms and sighed as she watched Calero inside Charles' room. Louis was next to her, his anxiety quite palpable.

“They just keep going in there, doing more tests,” he said.

Raven nodded. “Calero said it could take up to forty-eight hours before we see a change. If they identified the right strain.”

Louis said, “Two weeks he's been lying there. People are talking about him like he's already dead.”

“He's going to be okay. I know he is.” Raven firmly told Louis. “Have you seen Erik?”

Louis nodded. “Every night. I caught him this morning too. He said he was dropping by on his way to work, but I expect he's still obsessed with looking for this poisoner.”

“Emma and Azazel are chasing down everyone on their list. Erik's pretty much living in my basement.”

“What's it going to achieve?” Louis asked. “We'll find out one of our own did this to Charles of all people. I'm not sure I want to know.”

“Why not?” Raven said. “Someone tried to kill Charles. They shouldn't get away with it. Human or mutant.”

Louis shook his head, but said nothing, his attention soon turning to Calero who was leaving the room and stepping out into the corridor. “Doctor.”

She smiled at Louis and Raven. “The next batch of tests should have something. They're going down to the lab right now and considering the Xavier Foundation just gave us a tonne of data from their findings, we should have the results soon.”

“But you can't tell us anything now,” Louis said, disappointment evident in his tone.

Calero looked back at the room, frowning a little. “His readings are levelling out, that's positive. We're still not sure what to make of his brain activity, but like I said before, there's not a lot of research on the inner workings of a telepath's brain. They're a particularly cagey bunch when it comes to sharing.”

“You have no idea,” Raven said with a smile. She looked at Louis who seemed exhausted as if he hadn't been allowing himself the benefit of fatigue until the moment Calero had uttered the word 'positive'. Raven reached out and took Louis' hand, squeezing it hard. He looked at her and nodded.

“Thank you, Doctor Calero,” Louis said. She smiled and left them both outside Charles' room. Louis patted Raven's hand and gave a firm nod. “He's going to be fine. You're right. You're quite right, Raven.”

Raven smiled, looking at the figure in the plastic enclosure. He looked pale and frozen, a million miles away, but Raven told herself he was coming back.

***

Erik hit sync and felt the datapad in his pocket vibrate as the information from Hank's terminal transferred over. His eyes were itching, his vision beginning to swim from so much fixed staring and now Hank was stomping down the stairs of the basement too loud for Erik's liking.

“What a surprise,” Hank said. “You know, I see you more than I see my wife and son.”

Erik said, “I asked you to provide with me access, you said no. I have no other choice-”

“But to break into my house and use my things, yeah,” Hank said with a nod and sigh.

“I didn't break in,” Erik said.

“Having Azazel teleport you here does not make it legal entry,” Hank said, falling into the chair opposite Erik. “For that you would need to knock.”

Erik pointed at the computer terminal behind him. “You could just give me access.”

“It's bad enough you know I have this, let alone giving you free reign,” Hank said. “Charles would have my head.” Erik scratched his stubbly cheek, not remarking anything in return. Hank nodded. “You still think he's not going to wake up.”

“I never said that,” Erik told Hank.

“You didn't have to. It's why you're still here looking for someone to pin the blame on,” Hank said.

“I'm here because whoever did this might be on the database,” Erik said. He pointed at Hank and added, “Someone who might like to do this again.”

“Someone who took a shot, missed, and probably won't risk it again,” Hank countered. He shook his head. “Have you seen this morning's news?”

“Any reason I should have?”

“Just a picture of you leaving the hospital, looking like you've been sleeping rough,” Hank said with a frown. “I'm surprised you let yourself get snapped, what, like three times this week? You strike me as more careful.”

Erik smiled thinly. “Rough week.”

Hank was peering at Erik with something like suspicion. “You know, if you wanted to share what's on your mind, I could actually be of help to you.”

Erik pondered on the remark as he eyed the computer on Hank's desk, still filled with endless and tiring lines of information. Erik nodded and said, “Plan B.”

“Plan B? For?”

“Catching a killer,” Erik said.

Hank was quiet for a moment. Then he nodded and said, “I'm listening.”

***

Concentration was the key.

If he concentrated hard enough, focused, he could navigate his own dreams, reach out beyond whatever it was that had him locked inside his own head.

Immediately, as the thought took shape, Charles was flipped onto his back and pinned to the bed. He looked up in surprise, finding Erik smiling at him. "But wouldn't you rather stay here?"

Charles narrowed his eyes at Erik. "But here isn't real, is it?"

Erik ground down against Charles, making him squirm. "Isn't it?"

Charles let out a strained breath. "I'm quite sure it isn't. Pity."

Erik sat back, straddling Charles' thighs as he smoothed his own hair back with both hands. He looked as disappointed as Charles would have him look in this situation. Charles felt a strange pull inside his chest, looking up at Erik who was so close yet felt so far away. Charles reached out to stroke Erik's thigh, feeling no real warmth there.

Erik took Charles' hand, blinking at it, inspecting the tops of Charles' fingers. Charles looked at his hand, the blue fading still, the way the fog in his mind seemed to be clearing. At that thought, for just a moment, Erik's head appeared to be encased in a metal helmet. It flashed bright in Charles eyes, as if he was being blinded by sunlight. He pulled his hand from Erik's touch as if he'd been burned.

Erik stared at Charles in silence before quietly asking, "Dreams within dreams?"

Charles frowned. "Maybe."

"You don't seem sure."

He reached out and grabbed Erik's hand, pulling him down until Erik was blanketing Charles' body. "I'm not. Sometimes I think I'm remembering."

"Remembering what?" Erik whispered into Charles' ear.

"I'm not sure," Charles answered with a frown.

"This never happened," Erik said. “Did it?”

"I think I wanted it to," Charles said, and there was that strange pain in his chest. Like something heavy. Something twisting. The pain of terrible unfulfilled longing. "I thought about it."

Erik pulled back and met Charles' gaze. "When did you think about it?"

Charles swallowed hard. "I... I don't know. This is someone else's dream. Isn't it?"

Erik kissed along Charles' jaw. "Is it?"

Charles blinked up at the ceiling which turned to clouds and sky as the bed turned to sand. He kept the image in his mind, forcing it to clear, to make sense. Erik held him all the while.

***

Erik sat still in front of the counter, perched on a stool while Emma, Azazel and Raven stared at him from Hank and Raven's kitchen table. Hank was somewhere behind Erik, busying himself making sandwiches and mostly just making noise.

Erik wasn't sure exactly why Emma, Azazel and Raven were looking at him like he'd just suggested making a human sacrifice. They only shifted their gaze when after a lot of banging, something crashed loudly upstairs. Everyone looked at the ceiling.

“Leo?” Raven called out.

“I'm okay!” was the reply. “I didn't break anything!”

Raven closed her eyes and sighed before getting up. “I'll be right back.”

This left Azazel and Emma looking at Erik with tired and annoyed eyes. Erik scratched his jaw and said, “Is anyone going to say something?”

“We've been looking for our poisoner for days,” Emma said. “Days.”

Erik opened his mouth to speak, but Azazel cut in, holding up a hand. “We almost got arrested for impersonating police officers.”

Erik heard Hank stop his chopping. “Were you impersonating police officers?”

“That is beside the point,” Azazel said. “I haven't slept in three days.”

“No one's slept in three days,” Emma said, her voice sounding slightly brittle. Erik looked away, suitably guilt-ridden. “Also, are you living here now?”

Erik gave her an even look. “The database is here.”

Emma nodded. “Okay. Because you have an office, remember? A whole building actually. It's part of your business. Remember that? The days we used to break into places to help you make more money? The good old days when we could actually find you when we needed to talk to you?”

“Wait... what... you really did that? You broke into-” Hank started.

“No,” Erik said to Hank who was now hovering instead of chopping. Erik could feel a stare of judgement poking him between his shoulder blades. He said, “You have illegal access to a highly confidential database.”

Hank was quiet for a moment. Then he very wisely said, “It's a valid point.”

“Thank you,” Erik said. To Emma he said, “I take it you don't like the new plan.”

“Babycakes, I love the new plan. The new plan is my best friend. Couldn't you have come up with the new plan before the old plan?” she asked.

“This is why you've been courting the press,” Raven said, leaning against the door frame, looking squarely at Erik. Erik looked at her mutely. “The elusive Mr. Lehnsherr's been caught leaving the hospital looking unnaturally dishevelled. I thought something didn't seem right.”

Erik said, “I needed to make sure they were watching.”

Emma snorted. “You're a walking legacy. Of course they're watching.”

“Whoever did this is watching too,” Erik said. “Waiting to hear that Charles is dead. If the press find out he's made a recovery-”

“So does our poisoner,” Raven said with a nod. “And then?”

“We wait,” Erik said. “We wait for the job to be finished.”

Hank appeared from behind the counter, placing sandwiches on the table. “And you want Raven to pretend to be Charles long enough for the press to get a picture.”

Erik nodded. “Just a glimpse.”

“And what if no one turns up?” Raven asked.

“What's to stop them?” Erik asked. “There's been no mention of foul play to the press or the police. Everyone thinks Charles just has a straight forward case of mutant flu. No reason to be careful.”

Everyone stared at him as if he had planned it this way all along. Erik remained calmly seated, facing the mixed looks of surprise.

“And then what?” Raven asked. “We hand over whoever it was to the police?”

Erik hadn't thought past finding the perpetrator. All he knew was, he was looking for someone and he had to succeed in finding them. “You're not the only one who cares about Charles,” Raven said, making Erik look up into a challenging hot gaze. “You don't get to be judge, jury and executioner, Erik.”

Erik nodded thoughtfully. If Charles lived through this, there would be no need to be anyone's judge, jury and executioner.

If he didn't. Well, that was something Erik was trying not to think about.

***

The beach again and him, the one who wore the helmet, watching Charles. He wore that yellow and blue suit. That metal helmet. He was not the Magneto everyone knew.

When he raised his arm and opened his fist, it made Charles stare in terror. He watched something rise up from Magneto's hand, something metal.

Then he spent an eternity, watching a coin float towards him, someone else's terror nestling inside his mind.

***

Raven peered out of the window. If anyone was watching her, it was being done very discreetly. Erik stepped close to her and looked outside before gently pulling Raven away and closing the blinds. He stepped back and looked at her, his eyes moving from her head to toe. There was a flicker of something other than calm in Erik's gaze. Raven immediately changed her skin back to her natural blue from the image of Charles.

“Think they got that?” she asked.

Erik looked at the window and nodded. “They know Charles is in this room.”

“I hate to think how,” Raven said with a sigh, falling into the chair by Charles' bed. She took a good look at him. “I've never gone this long without talking to him.” Erik was silent behind Raven, still. “Can't imagine... if he.”

Raven laughed quietly at herself, shaking her head. She pressed her fingertip to the corner of her eye, rubbing the wetness into her skin before it could form into anything else. She needed Charles to tell her everything would be okay, but here she was alone.

Or at least, that was what she thought until she felt the firm pressure of a hand squeezing her shoulder. She turned to look at Erik's hand, the comfort there as subtle a presence as the man himself. She pressed her cheek to the back of his hand for a moment before standing up and facing Erik, transforming once again into Charles.

“Feel like taking a little walk with your fiancé?” she asked, holding out her hand.

Erik looked at her, the corner of his mouth turning up slightly. He nodded and placed his hand in hers.

***

The coin floated closer and closer and closer.

Charles felt his breath get shorter, his skin begin to burn. Tears obscured his vision, but he could still see Erik before him, hidden away inside that helmet.

They were looking into each other's eyes. When the cool metal touched the skin of Charles' forehead, they were still locked together in each other's gaze.

And as Charles willed himself to wake up, he was still caught up in the colour of Erik's cold and hungry stare.

Remember this, he told himself, remember.

And he screamed.

***

For the first time this evening, someone walked into Charles' darkened room. She was looking at the tent with curiosity, her hand going to the pocket of her white coat. She reached in and pulled out a syringe, one hand yanking open a flap on the tent. Then she stopped, stepping back when she realised that nothing lay within the tent but a plastic dummy. When she turned towards the door, Erik was there, stepping into the room.

“Is everything all right, Doctor?” Erik asked. Calero blinked at him. She mustered a smile and nodded. Erik stepped towards her, his eyes on the syringe in her hand. “Were you looking for Charles? He's been moved upstairs. As you know.”

“Erik?” Raven was on the threshold of the doorway behind Erik, no longer hidden in the shadows of the room across the hall.

“It's Doctor Calero,” Erik said quietly, not moving his eyes from the woman in front of him for a second. “She seems to have forgotten where Charles is.”

Calero suddenly lunged forward, aiming the syringe at Erik. Erik watched it whip out of Calero's hand, drawn to him by his will rather than her intent. He opened his hand and let it float into his palm, Calero stopping in her tracks and staring at Erik.

Looking at the syringe Erik asked, “Is this what you used the first time?”

Calero was watching him with wary eyes now. Erik reached out slowly, spreading his fingers. He could feel metal on her, though he couldn't see it. He turned his hand, willing the metal to move to her throat. Moving and wrapping. Tightening bit by bit. Calero's hands were at her throat, her eyes wide as she choked.

“Erik, what are you doing?” Raven asked. Tighter, he thought, tighter. “Erik!”

And then it happened, the illusion broke. It was as if Calero had never been there. Instead there was a man dressed in dark browns, his black hair floppy and his brown eyes red and watering. He was pulling at a chain wrapped around his throat, the metal tags peeking through his fingers. Erik brought his hand away and a moment later the man dropped to his knees, gasping for breath.

“Who are you?” Raven now came to stand next to Erik, staring at the man. He was massaging his throat, coughing and trying to breathe as he looked up at Raven. She pointed at Erik. “Or maybe you want him to ask all the questions.”

“Drake,” he gasped, his head hanging down for a moment. “Drake Nestor.”

“Why are you trying to kill Charles?” she asked him.

“I don't know what you're talking about,” Drake said, standing up unsteadily. Erik looked at the chain around his neck, watched it as it tightened around the liar's neck, this time very lightly. It was enough to make him flinch.

Erik told Raven. “Get Emma. She'll get him to answer our questions.”

“Why don't you get her?” Raven asked.

Erik smiled and answered, “Because our friend would prefer you stayed. I seem to have made a bad impression.”

Raven glared at Erik, but turned to go, telling him, “Don't do anything stupid.”

“I wouldn't dream of it,” Erik told her with a probably far too pleasant smile.

He waited a few minutes before he shut the door with a simple thought, letting the syringe float from his hand, moving ahead of him as he stepped towards Drake. The syringe stopped first, right in front of Drake's forehead, the mechanisms inside it dying for Erik to tell them what to do.

“This is probably where I'm supposed to say I won't hurt you. You don't have to be afraid,” Erik said, standing inches in front and above Drake. “But as you may have gathered, you should be very afraid.”

“What the hell do you want?” Drake asked, unable to keep a tremor from his voice.

“I want you to talk. Why did you try to kill Charles?” Erik asked. He could see he was about to get a reply filled with bravado. “Think before you speak. I'm not in a humorous mood.”

“I don't know what you're talking about. I'm in the wrong room.”

Erik nodded. “Look at your hand. Careful, you wouldn't want to slip on the syringe. I assume.”

Drake's eyes flicked down to look at his left hand. He was seeing the nail of his thumb slowly changing, atom by atom turning to something cold and hard and metal.

“What are you doing?” Drake whispered. Erik stopped, leaving the nail looking strange and unreal.

“You have a choice, Mr. Nestor. You can talk. Or you can watch me turn you into a lump of metal. Piece by piece,” Erik said softly. Drake's eyes were wide, unbelieving. “Don't tempt me to prove myself.”

The man swallowed. “Look, some guy paid me, okay? I got nothing against your friend. I needed the money. I got a kid-”

“Someone paid you to do this?” Erik cut off his sob story. “Why as Sarah Rifkin?”

“Who?”

“The woman whose face you wore when you poisoned Charles,” Erik said.

“I dunno. He had some grudge against her. Guy's crazy.”

“Does he have a name?” Erik asked.

“He never gave me a name. He just walked up to my table and said he had a proposition. He said he'd call me when he needed me.”

“Not good enough,” Erik said, and the syringe pressed a little closer.

“No! Wait. Wait wait. I, uh, my buddy tailed him, okay?” Drake said breathlessly, his eyes turned up at the syringe waiting at his forehead. “I know where you can find him and I can tell you what he looks like. That's as good as a name, right? Right? Come on, get that thing away from me.”

Erik reached into his jacket and retrieved his datapad, holding it up for Drake to see. “First, the address.”

Drake shakily reached up and tapped the details onto the screen. When Erik looked at the datapad, it was already searching out the location.

“It's an antiques place. I think he owns it,” Drake said. “He's always around. You can't miss him. He's got this birthmark on his forehead. And, and he has this patch of white hair, right on the back of his head.”

Erik nodded and put the datapad back into his pocket. He held his hand out for the syringe, letting it float down into his palm. Drake sighed, his chest shuddering with relief, face covered in a sheen of sweat. He gave Erik a wary look. “What are you going to do with me?”

Erik shrugged. “That depends entirely on whether Charles Xavier lives or dies. For your sake, let's hope it's the former and not the latter.”

Drake opened his mouth to say something, stopping when Raven, Emma and Azazel appeared in the room. They looked at Erik. He stepped away from Drake and held the syringe out towards Azazel. “Get that to McCoy. Might prove useful.”

“Did he tell you anything?” Raven asked.

Erik nodded. “He did. And tomorrow afternoon, after some severe reflection, Mr. Nestor is going to go to the police and confess everything.” Erik looked at Emma. “He's going to be thorough. He's going to do his utmost to help the police find everyone involved in this. Is that clear?”

Emma's mouth turned up in a smile. She turned to look at Drake who rightly looked very suspicious. “Crystal, boss.”

“What? I'm not doing anything. I already told you everything-”

Erik nodded to Azazel who took Emma's wrist in one hand and reached out to take Drake's shoulder in the other. A burst of dark swirls in the room and they were all gone. Erik was left with Raven watching him, silent eyes asking questions.

“Someone paid him to kill Charles,” Erik said. “He doesn't know the name of the man. But he knows enough to lead the police to him.”

Raven nodded slowly. “What now?”

“We hope the police can catch who's behind this without someone having to draw them a diagram,” Erik said.

Raven nodded and said, “And you're not at all curious.”

Erik smiled and said, “Not at all.”

“Why don't I believe you?”

Erik shrugged and said, “You're too smart for your own good?”

“Or I know... I feel like I know you,” Raven said quietly, as if asking herself rather than telling him. “The way I know Charles.”

“Too smart for your own good.” Erik turned from her, opening the door and waiting for her to step into into the corridor before they started to walk away from the now deserted room.

“Want to come with me to see Charles?” Raven asked. “His folks left about an hour ago.”

Erik thought about the address on his datapad scratching the inside of his jacket and urging him to go and find this man, but then Raven linked her arm with his and he thought about sitting with her, waiting for Charles to wake up. Something about it appealed to him – a night spent with someone other than just himself.

Besides, the best time to buy antiques was early in the morning.

***

Raven almost always slept the sleep of the dead. She slept deeply and dreamed rarely. But curled up in the uncomfortable chair near Charles' bed, she slept fitfully, dreaming all manner of nonsensical things. Things about Charles, about Erik, herself. When she woke, her head ached as if she had been gritting her teeth throughout her sleep.

She stretched out of the impossibly uncomfortable position she had curled up in. Everything hurt, the worst of it her neck and back. She turned to look at the chair next to her, staring at it and sighing. Of course Erik was gone. He probably left the moment her eyes closed. Hell, the moment she turned her back on him he had probably slipped away.

It was true that she didn't know Erik, but she had recognised a spark of obsession in him. He wouldn't be able to leave this to the police. Whatever his intentions, he was going to go and find the man who had set this all in motion. Raven got up and went to Charles' bedside. Erik, out of curiosity or a misplaced sensed of revenge, was going after the man who had done this.

“He won't do anything stupid. I know. I mean, I don't know, but... he's not that stupid. Right? Right?” Charles lay as still and as comatose as he had for two weeks.

“Um.” Raven turned to look at the doorway where Hank stood, hand raised in greeting.

“Hey.” Raven lifted her hand up.

Hank was frowning at her. “What?”

“It's Erik,” she said. “I think he's about to do something really stupid.”

Hank nodded slowly, frowning at Charles' protective enclosure. “Is this what happens when rich and famous people get engaged?”

“Hank.”

Hank held up his hands. “Right. Okay, what do you want to do?”

Raven left Charles' side and went to Hank. “Emma. She'll know where he's headed.”

***

Erik lifted his cup of coffee, drinking it far too hot. All the while he kept his eyes on the large shop across the street. It was a corner building with a white brick façade, harking back to a more classical age of design. The long thin windows were tinted enough to glimpse inside.

The lights came on eventually, half an hour after Erik arrived and ordered his coffee. Bit by bit light flickered inside until the outlines behind the glass became sharper and clear. Erik put his cup down when he saw movement, a figure inside the shop. Erik couldn't make out the man's features, but someone was inside now and the doors were about to open.

Erik stood up, leaving his coffee unfinished and exiting the café. He jogged across two lanes of morning traffic as he made his way across the street. As he stepped inside, he took a good look at the objects displayed in the cool airy space. Some were encased in glass units and others mounted on small plinths.

His eye was drawn to a glass unit holding a large volume, aged but in almost pristine condition. He went to it, looking at the cover which announced it as the Memoirs of Magneto. Erik heard footsteps, but didn't turn, allowing whoever it was to make their approach.

“A rare edition of five hundred pages on why mutants can only find freedom through fighting,” a voice said from behind Erik. “The perfect counter-balance to the Professor's six hundred pages of peace, love and understanding. You know what intrigues me about both books?”

Erik turned around and saw the man who was speaking to him. He was of a fractionally smaller build, his hair a dark brown, a too self-satisfying smile on his face and a birthmark on his forehead, telling Erik everything he really needed to know.

“What intrigues you?” Erik asked.

“We still don't know a damn thing about these two men. Everyone knows about Magneto and the Professor, about what they wanted and where they thought the other one failed. But we still have no idea about exactly why they fell out, or even how they met or what the hell Magneto was doing at Xavier's mansion all the time he was there. But, I suppose you're already familiar with those grievances, Mr. Lehnsherr.”

“You have me at a disadvantage,” Erik said.

The man held out his hand and smiled a bright and wide smile, one that Erik didn't trust. Erik offered a brief and curt handshake. “Sebastian Shaw at your service. Tell me, Mr. Lehnsherr, there's a been a rumour for years that Magneto's memoirs were written from a number of journals, some of which might still exist. Do you think an admirer of the House of Magneto might allow himself to be a little excited?”

“I would always recommend that you not base your business decisions on rumours, Mr. Shaw,” Erik replied.

“I like it.” Shaw grinned, pointing at Erik. “What can I do for you, Mr. Lehnsherr? I would have thought you're a man who already has everything he wants.”

Erik stepped around Shaw to look at a painting instead of the other man's irritating smile. “Not everything.”

“Were you looking for something in particular?” Shaw asked.

Erik stared so hard at the painting it became nothing more than a nonsensical collection of colour. What was he looking for? He looked at the open door of the shop and the people walking by outside. Somewhere in the corner an assistant was cleaning one of the units. He turned his head in Shaw's direction, not bothering to look at him.

“I was hoping we could talk in private,” Erik said.

First a thoughtful silence and then, “Of course. I'll be right back and then we can go to my office.”

Erik turned around and nodded, receiving an amiable smile. Shaw turned to walk away and Erik saw the small patch of white at the back of his head, just like Nestor had mentioned. Erik would have liked to throttle Shaw without asking any questions, but the man's body was devoid of any metal and even Erik had reservations about wrapping something valuable around Shaw's throat.

Shaw went to his assistant first, quietly telling him something, pointing at a few cases as he did so before going to the back of the shop and disappearing through a door. Shaw probably knew why Erik was here and maybe now he was running. Erik followed, going through the same door. In the small corridor on the other side was another door, slowly closing. Erik could hear Shaw's receding footsteps and followed.

He found himself at the top of a staircase that led down to some kind of store room. He could see shelves and tables overflowing with boxes and unwrapped valuables. He couldn't see Shaw though. Erik slowly and quietly made his way down into the basement, keeping his senses wide open to catch Shaw, but then something threw him off balance. The door to the basement clicked shut and as it did he felt a shudder run through his body.

He descended the stairs, looking at the various objects in the dense basement. There were metal objects here. Objects he could see, but couldn't feel. He opened his palm to bring something to him, anything, it didn't matter. But nothing came. Erik shut his eyes, gritting his teeth.

Erik heard a sound, a shuffle, and quickly turned around, just in time to catch Shaw lunging at him. Erik threw his arms around Shaw's waist, tackling him to the ground before smashing his fist into Shaw's face. Still, Shaw managed to twist Erik off and even as Erik recovered, Shaw bodily threw himself at Erik, sending him crashing into the side of a metal table, face first.

As he rebounded, he fell to the floor where Shaw laid into him with a barrage of kicks. Just when Erik thought he could make a grab for Shaw, the other man was bringing something down. It connected with Erik's brow, hard and wooden, narrowly missing his eye. Erik slumped on the floor, overcome by the taste and smell of blood. His vision was blurred, bloody in one eye.

Shaw used the flat of his foot to turn Erik onto his back with a hard shove. He was standing over Erik, a deep cut on the bridge of his nose and blood running out of both nostrils. He was breathing hard from the exertion of his assault, limping away to lean against a table. Erik blinked up at him, dazed.

“I knew you'd come,” Shaw was saying. “Today, tomorrow. Next year. Doesn't matter. What matters is, I knew we'd finally meet. And look at you, here you are. Here we both are, as fate decreed.”

Erik coughed, spitting blood and eyeing Shaw from where he lay.

“Have you ever heard of Colby Grey, Erik? Grey was a scientist. A mutant. He came up with an interesting theory that mutants have the ability to preserve themselves beyond the scope of human genetics. He suggested we might have the ability to save and transfer ourselves down our own bloodline, allowing us to regenerate into new vessels, complete with access to the memories of our dead selves. Reborn as our own great great great grandchildren. He called it Mutant Regeneration Theory, but I think you can guess what he was really talking about.”

Erik gave Shaw a hard stare, pushing himself up to his feet slowly. His ribs flared in pain and his head spun as he reached out to steady himself against a shelf. Shaw watched him with interest the whole time.

“Reincarnation,” Shaw said. “He was re-writing the rules of reincarnation. People called him crazy, but there were mutants who knew what he was talking about.”

“What does any of this have to do with you trying to kill Charles?” Erik grated out.

Shaw's expression grew lax. He almost seemed in a daze for a moment, utterly lost in thought as he aimed his gaze at Erik, staring at him as if he wasn't using his own eyes at all. As if he was looking at Erik from somewhere completely new.

“Colby had a follower. A new age oracle. She predicted the return of the first wave mutants. She said they'd all rise again, that Magneto would return and take his rightful place in the war against humans.” Shaw tilted his head at Erik. “She said it would all happen again. Magneto and the Professor.”

Erik's head snapped up to stare at Shaw. “What are you talking about?”

Shaw stepped close to where Erik was standing, barely holding himself up. “I knew your face before I even saw it on a screen. I knew your face in dreams I had as a boy. This face. You don't believe me? I'll show you.”

Shaw turned around and hurriedly limped away to a cluttered desk. Erik looked around the room, flexed his fingers as he urged metal to come to him. Nothing. There was a bronze statuette in an opened crate nearby. Maybe enough to knock Shaw out if he got the chance. Erik took a few steps to get him closer to the crate before he was forced to reach out for the edge of the table nearby, gripping it hard.

Shaw was returning with a large book which he threw in front of Erik. “Open it.”

Erik tentatively opened it with blood stained fingers. The book contained sketches that were dated back to decades ago. Each one was an image of him and yet, not him. It was his face, yes, but there was a strange severity to the features that Erik had never seen in his own reflection. Even his hair was as angular as the stern lines of his face.

And there were countless sketches of eyes. Piercing sharp gazes, pale and cold. Sometimes in colour, sometimes in hurried dark pencil which had ripped the paper. Erik's eyes, staring so hard and so hungrily. Erik shook his head and shoved the book away, staring at Shaw who had never taken his eyes off Erik.

“I did those. All of them. Some of them probably when you were a boy. I knew your face before you even grew into it,” Shaw said quietly. Erik frowned at him as Shaw's hand came up slowly to reach for Erik, gently stroking the back of his head. “Tell me you remember. Tell me you know my face.”

Erik stared at Shaw. Something about the way Shaw seemed to be staring right into Erik's soul terrified him, but no, he did not know this face and he was glad. He pulled away from Shaw, shaking his head. Shaw looked at him, smiled and drew back, slowly stepping away. He opened up his arms towards Erik.

“Doesn't matter. What matters is you're here and you know you have a role to play,” Shaw said with a happy smile. “You, Magneto, will help the mutants rise and you'll start by getting rid of the most traitorous mutants. The Xaviers. And I will have helped put you on that path,”

Erik shook his head, giving Shaw a disbelieving look. “You're insane.”

“I also have you locked in a room where you can't use your abilities. I'd ask you to remember your manners, Erik.” Erik didn't ask the obvious question. He couldn't care less. Shaw went ahead and elaborated with a bitter smile. “I had to level the playing field. Just in case. See, a few years after it manifested, I completely lost the use of my ability. A defective gene. Runs in the family.”

Erik huffed out a laugh. “You're going to keep me here?”

Shaw shrugged. “I just want to talk to you.”

Erik snorted in disgust. “About what? Killing Charles? Your reincarnation fantasies?”

Saw reached inside his white jacket and pulled out a black metal pistol, holding it up for Erik to look at. “Twentieth century. Still works. Can you imagine a time when people were afraid of small metal projectiles? This little thing here.”

Shaw took out a bullet from his pocket and loaded it into the chamber, snapping it shut when he was done. He pointed the gun at Erik.

“Do you dream?” Shaw asked quietly. Erik stared at the gun, feeling an unnatural panic rise in his chest, his gut twisting. It's all right, everything's all right, he found himself thinking. “I'm waiting for an answer, Erik.”

“Everyone dreams,” Erik said.

“Night terrors?” Shaw asked quietly. “Dreams that feel like memories. And when you wake up you feel like this is the dream.”

Erik shook his head. “No.”

“When did they start? Twelve? Thirteen?” Shaw asked. “Did you ever lose control of your powers while you were dreaming?”

Erik shut his eyes, shaking his head. “No.”

“I dream about Magneto,” Shaw said. “Not the white-haired hero of the mutant masses. When he was you. Young. Angry. He's watched me in all my dreams. And you don't even know my face.”

Erik violently swept everything in front of him off the table, ignoring the several points of pain that flared at the movement. Shaw's book fell back open on the floor, sketches scattering out, Erik's own face staring back at him. He blinked down at the images, tremors running through his body. He could hear a faint vibration of metal somewhere, his anger somehow bleeding past Shaw's defences and the presence of metal creeping up Erik's spine like a low buzz.

“Remarkable,” Shaw whispered, noticing it too. “But then, it's you.”

Erik turned to face Shaw and as he took a step forward bits of metal debris rattled and flew away from him. Shaw watched the way Erik's body was fighting the security defences, eyes wide with awe and sick curiosity. He cocked the gun at Erik.

The lights in the basement switched off, the air conditioning cutting off too with a loud clunking sound. Erik could hear the door opening, aggressive shouts and footsteps descending. Somewhere in the dark Shaw still had his gun and Erik held his hand up, feeling for it. He felt nothing when the gun fired, the bullet hitting something that smashed on impact.

“Weapon on the floor, now!” someone shouted, focusing a thin beam of light on Shaw. “On your knees, asshole!”

A light was similarly shone in Erik's direction as he was commanded, “On your knees! Hands above your head. Do it!”

But Shaw wasn't prepared to go easily. With a yell he darted towards Erik, something glinting in his hand. Erik willed the weapon away as Shaw collided into him, throwing him on the ground and crushing his already abused ribs.

“Tell me I was there,” Shaw hissed, gripping the front of Erik's jacket as two men struggled to pry him off. “I was there. I was a part of it. You said I made you into a weapon. I made Magneto.”

“Fucking asshole's crazy,” someone grunted, finally pulling Shaw off as the lights in the basement came back on.

Rough hands grabbed Erik and turned him over, pushing him down hard against the concrete floor. His vision swam from the pain. He was being cuffed, thin partially-metallic fibres tightening around his wrists.

“Sir?” someone said over Erik.

“He's a mutant. You know the regs.”

“I don't think he looks in any shape to fight, sir.”

“He's a mutant.”

Something cold touched the back of Erik's neck and then there was a jolt of heat slowly spreading under his skin, followed by complete blackness.

Chapter Text

Raven left for the first precinct as soon as the news feeds started overloading with one story about a police raid on an antiques shop. The as yet unconfirmed rumour was that business tycoon Erik Lehnsherr had been arrested along with antiques dealer Sebastian Shaw.

Out of breath, she was at the station thirty minutes after the news broke, breaking through a crowd of hungry reporters. Somehow she managed to navigate her way through the crowd and into the building and main incident room. There were officers milling around and paying no attention to the raised voices in a corridor at the end of the room.

“Don't due process me, bub,” a gruff voice snapped. “Tranquillisers are only to be used when mutants present a visible threat. From where I'm standing, your officers are a little confused about how threatening Mr. Lehnsherr was acting.”

“Look,” a man snapped back. “Your guy was found in suspicious circumstances and my men had to make a decision. We treated Lehnsherr the way we would have treated anyone else in that situation. He doesn't get special treatment just because he's a rich mutant.”

“No. He just gets the special treatment reserved for most mutants.” Raven moved towards the corridor when she heard Emma's voice.

At the same time a woman rushed past Raven so quickly they both almost collided. Raven watched her knock on the door and disappear into the office when she was gruffly told to come in.

“What is it, MacTaggert?”

Raven moved towards the opposite wall to look through the slim gap between the door and frame. Through it she saw Emma looking pale and angry and next to her a man with a very familiar intense stare. Another man was with them, wide-shouldered, thick-haired and in a suit that fit neatly over a lean body.

She could just about see the woman who had walked in, MacTaggert, slender of build and brown haired. She said, “Sir, you'll want to see this. It just came in from the hundredth precinct. It's... you should read it.”

There was silence for a moment before Raven heard, “Do the press have wind of this yet?”

“No, sir. Not yet,” MacTaggert replied.

“Take these people to Lehnsherr. I want them out all of here.”

“These people still have questions,” the gruff man said.

“I will gladly answer them in the courtroom. Your man's free to go. Take him before I change my mind. MacTaggert, get them out of my office.”

“Sir,” she replied.

Raven saw the door open and MacTaggert walking out and waiting for the others. One of the men with Emma stepped towards the door but then turned back for some final words for the chief.

“I'll be seeing you in the courtroom, Chief,” he said with a smile that was laced with contempt. “Buy a nice suit.”

“MacTaggert!” the Chief exploded.

She grimaced and shut the door, glaring at the man before walking on. Emma and the two men followed, completely ignoring Raven until she called out for Emma who turned and frowned at her. Raven looked down at herself, seeing her pale hands. Of course. Police stations and their mutation inhibitors.

“It's me, Raven,” she said.

Emma stared at Raven. She looked visibly annoyed. “I prefer you blue. And him, red.” She pointed to the man with the intense eyes.

“Azazel?” Raven stared at the pale-skinned, light-haired man. He gave her a mute nod. Raven sighed and asked Emma, “Have you seen Erik yet? Is he under arrest?”

Emma shook her head and took Raven's hand, pulling her along. “No. He's in custody. For his own good apparently.”

“I'm sorry, who are you?” MacTaggert asked, holding up a hand before Raven could go further.

“Family,” Azazel and Emma's friend answered before Raven could. MacTaggert looked at them with suspicion and continued leading on, allowing them to follow. The man held out his hand to Raven and said, “Logan.”

Raven shook his hand. “Raven. You guys have any idea what's going on?”

Emma shook her head. “All we know is that someone placed an anonymous call to the cops about some suspicious mutant activity at Shaw's place. Which is pretty lucky if you think about it. Can you imagine what would have happened if they had told the police a mutant was possibly in danger? They'd all still be out to lunch.”

MacTaggert said over her shoulder. “How could you possibly know about that call?”

Emma shrugged. “You know how it is, us mutants. There's just no telling what we can do. Are you going to arrest me now?”

MacTaggert shook her head. “You know, you hate humans for thinking all mutants are the same, but where do you get off thinking all humans are the same? We're not all out to get you.”

“That's sweet,” Logan said. “I feel a mutant human group hug coming on.”

MacTaggert snorted, marching on. They all followed in silence until they reached a quiet underground level. She made them wait at the main desk under the scrutiny of an officer who was looking at them with open suspicion, amongst other hard to conceal emotions. It was over ten minutes later that the door opened again and Erik could be seen coming up the corridor. MacTaggert was hovering, ready to give support and Erik was almost shaking with his stubbornness to keep upright unaided.

When he reached them, Emma and Azazel immediately went to him, taking up a place under each arm. Erik's fingers fisted the coat material at Emma's shoulder as he looked at her and nodded in some silent communication. Logan was staring at him with quiet fury before he turned his gaze on MacTaggert who at least had the decency to look ashamed.

Raven frowned, her stomach tying into a knot as she stared at Erik. There was dry blood down one side of his face and even in his hair. There was a bloody and painful cut at the top of his lip, extending upwards. Still, he looked across at Raven with clear and bright eyes that made her smile for him.

“He seen a doctor?” Logan asked MacTaggert.

She looked at the officer behind the desk. “Powell?”

He scrolled through his datapad and said, “We're still waiting for the medic.”

“You're still waiting for the medic?” Logan asked, voice low. “He can barely stand.”

Powell glared at Logan. “I don't appreciate that tone, sir. I think you should calm down.”

Logan grinned, looking rather manic. “Sweetheart, I'm calm. You'd know if I wasn't calm.”

“Logan.” Erik said, his voice low, but stern. “We're done here.”

Logan turned to MacTaggert. “Are we done here?”

She nodded slowly. “I'll show you out the back.”

Logan said, “Why? Afraid the press might see this?”

“Your friend would have looked worse if our guys didn't turn up. So how about you check the attitude?” Powell snapped.

“Officer,” MacTaggert snapped. “How about we let these people leave before you get slapped with another court order.”

“Ma'am,” Powell said, grudgingly.

MacTaggert looked at Emma. “Take your friend home. If things were handled badly here, its your prerogative to ask questions and get answers. But now's not the time.”

Logan snorted, shaking his head as Emma grunted, “Logan!”

“Erik!” Raven gasped as he seemed to slump forward, hanging like a rag doll.

Logan exchanged places with Emma. She went to peer at Erik's face, lightly slapping his cheek. He mumbled something incoherently, which made Emma laugh a little, though when she turned away from him, her eyes were glassy. Raven bit her lip.

“It's the sedation,” MacTaggert said quietly. “It'll wear off.”

Erik gave a choked laugh, arching a brow in her direction. Then he nodded at Azazel. “We're leaving now.”

Azazel told MacTaggert. “We need a place without your inhibitors.”

MacTaggert nodded. “Fine. Come with me.”

They all followed MacTaggert up towards the back of the building and into the deliveries loading bay. Between one step and the next, Azazel was once again himself and when Raven looked at her hands they were blue.

“I'll be in touch,” MacTaggert said with a nod to Logan.

“I'll be waiting,” Logan said bluntly before nodding to Azazel.

Azazel reached out for Raven and Emma took Logan's free hand. They all gladly left MacTaggert alone, appearing in Erik's bedroom a second later.

Raven frowned, watching Logan and Azazel laying Erik out on top of the bed-covers. Erik was blinking slowly, forehead creased with confusion or perhaps pain.

Emma knelt down beside him on the bed and placed her hand gently against his face as she told him, “Sleep.”

Raven frowned. “Shouldn't we take him to a hospital?”

Logan was taking off his jacket and rolling up his shirt sleeves, sitting down next to a sleeping Erik. Azazel came to Raven's side and gave her what appeared to be a reassuring nod. She watched Logan nod to Emma who then pressed her hand against Erik's forehead and closed her eyes. Her face twitched in discomfort until she jolted, her eyes snapping open.

“His ribs,” she told Logan.

Logan nodded, reaching towards Erik's shirt and shoving it up his torso. Everyone grimaced at the livid bruising over Erik's left ribs. Logan pressed his hand against them and his face took on a look of deep concentration. They watched him for what seemed like forever, but couldn't have been more than a minute.

“Fuck,” Logan mumbled before his eyes rolled back into his head and he toppled backwards off the bed, falling on the floor with a thump.

Raven stared at him and looked at Emma who was running her hands over Erik's ribs, now bruise free. When she looked up she was smiling.

She caught Raven's look and then spotted Logan on the floor, completely unconscious. She waved a hand. “Oh, don't worry about him. He'll be fine. That's his thing, healing and regenerative abilities. Though, the former is limited. As you can see.”

Raven gave her an incredulous look. “We couldn't just go to the hospital?”

“He doesn't like them. Or doctors.” When Raven frowned, Emma added, “But apparently, he makes an exception for comatose Xaviers.”

Raven looked at Erik, his face still an obscene mess. She shook her head. “What happened?”

“After you called, we put in an anonymous call to the police,” Azazel said, “I have a feeling they got there just in time.”

Emma snorted. “In time for what? Getting off on arresting the richest mutant in the city?”

“In time to find him alive. The news feeds are filled with Shaw's affiliations with extremist mutant groups. I hate to think about what he wanted from Erik,” Azazel said flatly.

Raven sighed before Logan caught her eye again. “Are we just going to leave him there?”

***

Images were flickering through Erik's mind quicker than he could catch them. The only thing he could see was one image underneath them all. The face of Sebastian Shaw, the wide grin on his face drowning under bright blue light.

Erik awoke with a quiet gasp, his eyes snapping open to find himself staring up at his bedroom ceiling. He was in pain, but not as much as he had expected. He felt his ribs, finding his shirt missing and only a very dull ache. Erik made a tentative effort to sit up.

“Take it easy, bub, you've had an exciting day.”

Erik turned back to see Logan occupying the other side of his bed. He was sitting there with a datapad on his lap and Erik's cigarillo box open on the bedside table. Erik pulled himself up, swinging his legs off the side of the bed, turning his back to Logan completely. Someone had kindly taken Erik's trousers too, leaving him in his shorts and allowing him to see bruises he hadn't realised he had sustained.

“What are you doing here?” Erik said.

“I'm your lawyer,” Logan said.

“I don't need a lawyer in my bedroom.”

“How times have changed.”

Erik turned back slightly, frowning at Logan. “My ribs.”

“You're welcome,” Logan said flatly.

Erik shook his head, turning away. He started to say Logan shouldn't have, but found himself abandoning the argument before it could begin. Instead he made an attempt to get up on his feet.

“I don't think that's a good idea,” Logan said, just as Erik stood. The world seemed strange for a minute, as if everything might turn to water, but it settled and Erik remained stable on his feet. “You should probably sleep the sedatives off.”

Erik ignored Logan, heading for the bathroom. He relieved himself first before taking off the shorts and stepping into the shower. The water stung mostly over parts of his face, but the heat was already driving away the aches in his body.

“Hey, think you can tell me what happen down there?” Logan asked from the doorway after Erik had been in there a while. Erik shook his head, putting his palm against the wall and leaning. “Okay, you're done here.”

Logan turned off the spray, holding out Erik's dressing gown, but making no move to be helpful. Erik took the gown and pulled it on. He caught his reflection in the mirror. A huge bruise had bloomed around his right eye and a cut was visible on his brow. On the left side of his face was a similarly ugly cut on his top lip. Erik stared at the injuries, but all he could see was Shaw's face and that manic smile.

Erik turned to Logan and said, “Drake Nestor. Did the others fill you in?”

Logan frowned at Erik. “Yeah. The guy who went for Xavier.”

“Any news on him?” Erik asked, moving past Logan, back into his bedroom to get dressed. Logan was quiet enough that Erik turned away from his closet to look back at the other man. “What?”

“It's serious, isn't it? You and Xavier,” Logan said, his voice low and thoughtful. Erik frowned at him and turned back to the closet, pulling out a shirt and pair of trousers.

He was still dressing when Emma walked in and said with surprise, “He's up.”

Logan gave her a sour look and headed for the door. “About time. I'm done babysitting.”

Emma frowned at him as he left and then at Erik. “You guys have a fight?”

“It's just Logan being Logan,” Erik said, buttoning his shirt. He grabbed a pair of socks and boots, sitting down on the edge of his bed under Emma's gaze.

“So, what? You're not going to say anything?” Emma asked.

“About?” Erik focused on his socks, on the fastening of his boots and then smoothing down his clothes as he stood up.

“About?” Emma said icily. “About you telling me and Azazel to send off Nestor while you went after Shaw. What the hell were you going to do? Kill him? Why did you need to go there at all?”

“I don't know!” Erik snapped. He calmed his breathing when he heard the rattle of objects around the bedroom. “I just needed to see him.”

“What happened, Erik?” Emma walked up to him, her eyes on the dark red cuts on his face as he shook his head. “Erik.”

Erik grabbed her hand, pulling it to his temple, holding it there and inviting her in to all his thoughts, every word he had exchanged with Shaw. Words he wished he could forget. She snatched her hand away as if she'd been burned, staring at Erik with an odd sheen over her eyes as she swallowed.

“We're all sitting around with our destinies planned out? Flesh puppets waiting around for the assholes who blew it the first time around? I don't think so, honey,” Emma said quietly. “He's just an insane little man.”

“Erik,” Azazel said, walking into the room and stopping when he saw Emma and Erik, standing there locked in each other's gazes. “Anna just arrived. She's downstairs and she's angry.”

Emma smiled at Azazel, the effort looking painful. “And the good news is?”

Azazel gave them both a nod and replied, “Raven called from the hospital. The groom just woke up.”

***

Raven stood watching on the other side of the window to Charles' room. Calero was in there with a nurse, both of them putting Charles through new tests. The tent from around his bed was gone and she could now see that over two weeks of being cocooned had left Charles looking pale and sickly. He still seemed to have little mobility, lying still as Calero spoke to him and ran diagnostic rods across his body, but the way his fingers twitched said he couldn't wait to sprint out of the hospital.

“Raven,” Louis said as he joined her at her side with a smile. It was amazing how the tiredness and strain of waiting had simply vanished from his face.

“Claude and Tabitha?” Raven asked.

“I just put them in a shuttle,” Louis said. “They're going back to the mansion. I suspect they'll remain here until Charles is back on his feet. Did you call Erik?”

“I spoke to Azazel. Erik was still out when I called.”

Louis grimaced. “How is he?”

Raven couldn't help but mimic the look on Louis' face. “He looked bad.”

“Anna was furious when she saw the news,” Louis said. “I tried to calm her down, but I don't think it did much good. Why would it, I suppose? Erik's like a son to her.”

Raven smiled, seeing the soft look on Louis' face as he looked at Charles through the window. Charles noticed, raising his hand ever so slightly in a wave of sorts. They both waved back.

Louis sighed, quietly telling Raven, “What a strange experience this has been.”

“It's been pretty weird.”

“Erik has turned out be... he's an extraordinary young man,” Louis said thoughtfully. “There were times when I looked at the way he was sitting there by Charles' bed, I could have sworn they'd been together for years and not days. He's certainly the Lehnsherr who's going to succeed where others failed. He and Charles are finally going to bring the Houses of Magneto and Xavier together in peace.”

Raven smiled. “Only took five hundred years.”

“Why, the blink of an eye, my dear,” Louis said. The door to the room opened, Calero and the nurse stepping out. Calero nodded to her colleague and he left swiftly. “Doctor, how's the patient?”

Calero smiled, evidently pleased. “Your nephew is doing remarkably well for a man who just spent over two weeks in a coma.”

“What about the virus?” Raven asked.

Calero nodded. “The drugs are working and combating the virus very nicely. He should be going home very soon at this rate. He's tired and a little weak at the moment, so I would let him get as much rest as possible. Not too many visitors.” She smiled and turned to leave.

“Oh, uh, Doctor?” Raven called out. Calero turned, brows raised. Raven said, “Highly inappropriate, but-” She stepped forward and hugged the doctor, tight but brief, eliciting a laugh from the other woman. “Thank you. For everything.”

Calero smiled and said, “Ms. Darkholme, not that we didn't try our utmost best, but if Doctor McCoy hadn't given us the lab results from the fibers identifying the poison, the prognosis could have been very different.”

“Well, thank you for not ruling anything out,” Raven said.

Calero smiled at her and Louis. “I'm just doing my job.”

“Thank you,” Louis said, watching her depart. He took Raven's hand and pulled her into Charles' room, smiling at his nephew.

Charles smiled at them both. Raven pulled away from Louis, letting him take a seat as she hopped onto the edge of Charles' bed, fitting herself along his side.

“You are not allowed to do that again,” Raven said, poking his arm.

Charles nodded, putting on a very serious face before answering with an incredibly rusty voice. “Never.”

She took in the exhaustion around his eyes, his pale skin with an almost blueish tinge to it, making the flushed colour of his cheeks and irritated rims of his eyes stark in comparison.

“Two weeks?” Charles said, his voice sounding unused and painful.

“Two weeks and three days,” Raven said. Charles gave her an incredulous look, blinking at her rather comically. “What's the last thing you remember?”

“I think... Anna's wallpaper. She has actual and wonderful wallpaper in her home.” Charles frowned, squinting until he almost had one eye closed. “And Erik's childhood room. I'm fairly sure he was being very difficult about letting me see it.”

Both Louis and Raven laughed. She looked at Louis, catching his gaze. No doubt he was thinking about the Erik they had gotten to know recently, just like her.

“What?” Charles asked. “What's that terribly unsubtle look about?”

Raven smiled at Charles and started to fill him in on two weeks of waiting.

***

“What were you thinking?” Anna snapped, her words square and angular with anger.

Erik remained seated on the couch, one leg crossed over the other, the fingers of one hand tapping the armrest. Somewhere in the kitchen Logan, Emma and Azazel were being as discreet as a black spot on a white wall, deathly silent and clearly listening.

“Are you hearing me, Erik?”

“Every word,” Erik said.

Anna gave him a frustrated look. “This man, he could have killed you. Why did you need to go to him if you already had him incriminated?”

“Curiosity,” Erik answered.

“Damn it, Erik!” Anna said angrily. “You have a reputation to think of, a name.”

Erik nodded. “Of course. The House of Magneto. All of us paragons of virtue. What was I thinking of, sullying such a great name?”

Something or someone seemed to fall over in the kitchen, the sound loud and screeching. Erik could hear Logan remark, “Smooth.”

Anna didn't appear to notice, her gaze fixed on Erik. She frowned at him and he had to look away, in no mood for indulging her disappointment in him. But then she sat down next to him, taking his hand, covering his bruised knuckles with her fingers.

“Erik, you are the best of the Lehnsherrs,” she said simply. “It's your name you have to protect. The reputation that you've made for yourself. You've become the man your parents wanted to see. Don't let anger put you on a different path. This man, Shaw? He is nothing.”

Erik looked at her and she smiled. “Charles is awake and well. This man is under arrest. So let it be now.” Anna leaned close and kissed Erik on the forehead, while he sat mildly bewildered.

When she pulled back with a pat on his hand, Erik looked away from her. “I wanted to see who could hate Charles so much. All I found was a madman.”

Anna said, “What if something had happened to you? What would I do, Erik?”

Erik smiled a little. “Shout at me, I expect.”

Anna shook her head. “This is not funny.”

“I dunno. Seeing you yell at him never really gets old,” Logan said, emerging from the kitchen, Emma and Azazel close behind.

Anna got up, giving Logan a look. “Azazel, please take me to Louis. He'll be at the hospital.” She looked down at Erik, holding out her hand which he took. “See Charles in the morning. Sleep tonight, please.”

Erik gave her hand an assenting squeeze and let it go. She smiled at him and went to Azazel, putting her arm through his and giving him an elegant nod before they both disappeared. Erik stood up from the couch slowly, drained.

Emma was shaking her head at the empty space where Anna and Azazel had stood. “Dame's got class.”

“And a fine one at that,” Logan said.

Emma frowned at him. “I said, class, you big ape.”

Logan shrugged and added, “That too.”

Emma sighed and said, “I'm out of here. I need to sleep.”

Logan said, “I'll drop you.”

“Another time, maybe,” Emma said, “when I have enough stamina for your kind of dropping off, which as I recall involves hitting every bar in this town before you literally do just drop.”

“Lightweight,” Logan snorted.

“We're not all trying to pickle our brains, honey,” Emma said, crossing the room and heading towards the corridor. Erik tried not to glare at her for deserting him, receiving a wink from her. As she stepped into the elevator, she called out just before the doors closed, “You two play nice now.”

Logan pulled one of his many faces of irritation and nodded at Erik. “Emma and Azazel gave me the run down on everything up to you running off to get tranqued by the cops. We still need to sit down and run through what happened between you and Shaw.”

Erik tiredly ran a hand over his aching face. “There's not a lot to tell.”

“Then it shouldn't take too long.” Erik looked at Logan, hoping he was clearly projecting his lack of enthusiasm, whilst furiously trying to block out the images of Shaw's sketches. Logan frowned at him before his expression relaxed and he held up a hand. “Or, we could do it tomorrow. When you're not full of government sanctioned narcotics.”

Erik nodded as Logan picked up his jacket from the nearby armchair, along with a too full leather satchel which he slung over his shoulder. He rifled through his jacket pockets until he found what he was looking for, lighting up a cigarillo, blowing out his first breath with great relief.

He gave Erik a look as he turned to leave. “I'll see you tomorrow.”

Erik grabbed Logan's arm just as he took a step to leave. Logan frowned at the hand gripping his forearm. Erik said, “Shaw and Nestor. I don't want them to walk away from this.”

Erik found himself under Logan's scrutinizing gaze, his eyes narrowing as he read Erik's face, very obviously travelling over the cuts and bruises. He gave a slow nod, blowing smoke from the corner of his mouth.

“They won't.” Erik withdrew his hand. Logan gestured with his head towards Erik's face. “Want me to take care of that?”

Erik thought about Charles seeing this colourful palette of crazed violence. Erik could visit later, leave while Charles would be sleeping, just to satisfy himself that Charles was alive and well. Erik had felt he had been manhandled enough to last a while.

He shook his head. “It's fine.”

Logan nodded, taking another smoke of his cigarillo, this time thinking nothing of making Erik the recipient of his smoke. When he drew the cigarillo out of his mouth, he used it to point at Erik. “I need a drink. Get some sleep. You look like crap.”

Logan walked away, striding down the corridor towards the elevator, leaving Erik alone in the apartment seconds later.

Charles was awake, Erik thought as he went to the windows to look at the New York skyline which was slowly being blanketed by evening. Alive, well and awake. Despite the best efforts of Shaw and Nestor, both Erik and Charles were still here. Erik stared at the windows, watching the sun set, orange and fiery.

He could make out his barely visible reflection in the glass, tilting his head, looking for that hateful gaze. That gaze which Shaw had drawn over and over. Wide glass eyes, watching something entrancing. Something unmissable. Erik touched the edge of the reflection, reaching out for his own face. He could still hear the hiss of Shaw's voice, insistent and sure.

I made you into a weapon. I made Magneto.

Erik stepped away from the window and ignored his reflection in favour of the sun which was setting beautifully tonight.

***

Charles was drifting asleep, his mind running over the events of the day. He had woken up out of a black fog, or perhaps, maybe it was more like rising up from a tar pit, weighed down and fighting for clarity. Someone had yelled at him and the most likely candidate was Raven. Doctors and prodding followed. Then family, friends and hugging followed. Then it was evening and Louis and Anna were ushered away from his bedside, instructed to return in the morning. Charles was to rest, despite him pointing out that he hadn't spent almost three weeks sprinting around the hospital.

Yet, despite not sprinting around the hospital for almost three weeks, he felt tired. His body felt tired and his mind felt as if stuffed with cloth, all the way out into his ear canals. It was almost like being under water, sinking one moment and bobbing back up the next. He couldn't wait for the drugs to be out of his system and for his senses to be back online the way evolution had intended.

He continued to drift towards sleep with his thoughts rotating in his mind and though deep sleep would come easily, a whisper of cloth had him instantly awake. Still, he kept his eyes closed. He could hear light footfalls, someone trying very hard to be quiet. They stopped, far from the bed, remaining still for a long time. Then finally, another sound of movement, a twisting against fabric and the slightest squeak of shoes on the tiled floor.

Charles opened his eyes and though the lights were at their dimmest, Erik's tapered frame was easy to identify even under the long black coat as he attempted to leave the room. Charles allowed himself a small chuckle and Erik stopped in his tracks. He half-turned about, his face looking severely sharp, half in shadows. The corner of his mouth was turned up in amusement.

“You're taking strong and silent to ridiculous heights,” Charles said, his voice still unsteady from lack of use.

Erik turned completely around, amusement loitering around his mouth. “I didn't want to wake you.”

“I think I've slept enough for a lifetime,” Charles said quietly as he watched Erik step closer, his face finally coming into full view when he sat down in the chair by Charles' bed.

A quarter of his face was coloured purple/blue and an inch from the end of his brow was a dark vertical cut, deep and painful looking. In the opposite quarter of his face was a cut that ran up from his lip, the surface around it looking painful and bruised. Erik sat there watching Charles as if he had no more than a scratch.

“I hear you've been busy. Solving mysteries. Fighting crime,” Charles said, smiling at Erik, who frowned. “Raven. Can't keep a secret to save her life. She said if you hadn't asked Louis to rifle through my dirty laundry, the situation could have been rather different.”

Erik shrugged. “Doesn't matter now.”

Charles laughed. “Says the man who ensnared my would be murderer.”

Erik's mouth twitched, half a smile for half a second. “I had help.”

“Yes, I heard. You all made quite the team.”

Erik looked at his hands which lay linked together in his lap. “We all had quite the incentive.”

Charles looked away and smiled. “Ah.”

“Ah,” Erik said, looking up and smiling too.

Charles let his head loll to the side as he sighed and looked at Erik's bruises. “You're not going to say a thing about the state of your face, are you?” Erik's answer was to slowly shake his head. “This Shaw. Why-”

“He's sick,” Erik said simply. “A sick and deluded man.”

“Yes,” Charles said. “One who pulverised your face.”

“He took me by surprise,” Erik said, very seriously, which prompted a laugh out of Charles.

“I believe you, completely,” Charles said. They both chuckled quietly, until Charles felt compelled to look away from Erik's terribly pale eyes for a moment, before he was drawn back to the colour of his bruises. “I hope you didn't lose too much sleep because of me.”

Erik gave Charles a long thoughtful look, his eyes somehow picking up even the dim light, looking as if they were glowing ever so slightly. Quietly, he said, “No, not too much.”

“Good,” Charles said, voice falling to a whisper as he recognised the lie. “I would hate that.”

Erik's face seemed to soften, despite the harsh colouring of his bruises. “How are you?”

“The doctor said I could be going home in the next few days.”

Erik nodded. “That's good to hear.”

Charles gave Erik a long look, letting Erik see he was being closely observed. “You should go. Sleep in a proper bed instead of these awful hospital chairs.” Erik frowned at him and Charles elaborated, “One of the nurses told me that a particular visitor has been keeping me company at night. She described him as handsome, but rather prickly.”

Erik arched a brow at Charles, smiling. Somewhere under the weight of drugs and exhaustion, Charles felt a string being pulled inside his chest, followed by a bloom of warmth that went all the way up to his cheeks and all the way down to his knees. Selfishly, it made him want to reach into Erik's mind and leaf through anything labelled 'Charles Xavier'. But his mind was blurred with drugs and illness, everything out of reach. It made his head hurt. Charles let his eyes shut for a second, easing some pressure.

He meant to wake, to keep talking to Erik. Though Charles felt as if he had fallen unconscious barely a day ago, waking to find out weeks had passed, it felt different with Erik. It felt like an eternity had passed since they had spoken to each other. Since they had lay on the bed by the window in Anna's house. Too long. Charles forced an eye to open as he felt himself precariously approaching the edge of sleep.

Erik was sitting there, head hanging to one side, a furious frown marring his forehead and eyes shut. His mouth was slightly open, as if it might purse around a word any moment. Or maybe he'd been thinking to say something when he fell asleep. Charles blinked at him slowly, extending tendrils of his mind to coax Erik open a little, to feel a little of what he was feeling.

Nothing. Just the noise of Charles' own mind and the empty dull sounds of the hospital, heartless echoes of the night and irritating whispers of people. Even with the drugs, there should have been something surely, errant thoughts curling into emotions.

Charles could feel himself falling asleep, wearing the same frown as Erik.

***

It was a tap on his shoulder that had woken Erik. He turned his head to see Azazel waiting by his chair, looking tired enough to make Erik feel extremely guilty. He stood up immediately, giving Charles a quick parting look, finding him asleep. Turning to Azazel, he nodded, promptly feeling a hand clapping him on his shoulder. They arrived by the foot of Erik's bed, where Azazel gave Erik a light shove. Erik sat down with a frown.

“Orders from your aunt. But I stop at tucking you in,” Azazel said.

Erik nodded, blinking at Azazel. “I'm glad to hear it.”

Azazel gave Erik a parting two-fingered sloppy salute and disappeared. For once, Erik felt too tired for his neat and regulated existence which required a man to sleep in clothes meant for sleep and required a man to tidy away his things before he slept. For once, Erik fell asleep in his bed without removing even his shoes.

It was no surprise to wake and find Logan staring at him as if he'd metamorphosed into an insect. Well, it was a surprise to find Logan there so early, but the look on his face wasn't anything that needed explaining.

“What time is it?” Erik croaked somewhat embarrassingly, lifting his head up to look at Logan. “What are you doing here?”

Logan's expression was somewhere between unbelieving and annoyed. “Almost seven. MacTaggert's coming down to see you today. No idea about what. Could be an apology, could be a prettier pair of cuffs. We need to get your story straight before she gets here.”

Erik sat up and said, “Like I said before. There's not much to tell.”

“Yeah, well, like I said, it shouldn't take long,” Logan said. Erik grit his teeth, annoyed with the prospect of having to visit the ugly situation all over again. “Hey. If there's something going on here that could get you into deep shit, I need to know now, bub. You got that?”

Erik looked up at Logan and slowly told him, “I'm not an imbecile.”

“Well, stop acting like one then,” Logan said. “I'll wait for you downstairs. Let's get this out of the way.”

***

Charles watched another nurse walk past his room. He could hear the sound of the nurse's shoes on the floor. He could hear her talking to the man she was accompanying. He could hear voices and noises beyond them. He could hear the noises in his own room. He hadn't realised the world was this noisy all the time, each noise harsh and abrupt, ugly unlike the soft and wispy nature of people's thoughts and emotions. It was almost as unbearable as the first bloom of telepathy in his youth, that uninvited barrage of other people's thoughts.

Louis stepped into the room, his appearance unannounced. Louis usually felt like well-being and warmth and something Charles had once felt during a stormy night, Louis next to him on the couch, telling him dreadful stories that wouldn't scare a toddler. Charles couldn't sense any of it. Louis was just a body and face and words and actions. That silent part of him which spoke to Charles so naturally was absent.

“Charles, there's a police officer here to see you,” Louis said. “I told her I'd make sure you were up to it first.”

Charles nodded, sitting up in his bed. The people around him were only forthcoming in terms of gossip, not the actual reality of the fact that someone had wanted to kill him and done a very good job trying. “I'm fine, Louis.”

Louis frowned at Charles and said, “Are you sure? You seem off.”

Charles forced a smile. “I'm fine. Besides the whole coma thing. I want to meet this officer. You and Raven have been absolutely useless as informants.”

Louis smiled, nodding and leaving the room. He returned with a mousy haired woman in a black uniform, pistol strapped to her thigh. Her hair was pulled back in a tight pony-tail and her appearance was meticulous in its seriousness and neatness. She had clever eyes. But then, Charles was guessing. It was all guesswork now.

She stepped close to the bed and held out a gloved hand. “Doctor Xavier. Officer MacTaggert.”

“Officer.” Charles shook her hand.

MacTaggert looked at Louis with some apprehension. Charles followed her gaze. Maybe this was something Louis could do without hearing. “Louis, I think I could have that sandwich now, if you don't mind.”

Louis gave Charles a worried look, before aiming an altogether different kind of look at MacTaggert. Clearly he was ignorant of the fact that his silent warnings were no real match for the loaded pistol she was carrying. “Of course not. I'll be right back.”

He left, slowly, shutting the door behind him under Charles and MacTaggert's joint gaze. When he was gone, she turned to Charles and said. “Doctor, you're aware the hospital filed an official report with the police on your case?”

“I hear it's the protocol.”

She nodded. “Yesterday a man by the name of Drake Nestor gave himself up at the hundredth precinct, confessing to attempted murder. He's signed a statement in which he admits to using his mutation for illegal purposes, impersonation in this case, damaging public property, the fire alarm system in the building where you held your fundraiser, and finally, poisoning you with an illegally obtained strain of the MU1 virus.”

Charles nodded slowly. “Someone's certainly been busy.”

“We'll be liaising with the hospital for blood and tissue samples they took from you, to match with vials of chemicals that were found at Mr. Nestor's residence. Nestor also named a second man in his statement, a Mr. Sebastian Shaw.”

“Yes, I saw his arrest on the news. Several times actually,” Charles said.

“Mr. Nestor pointed the finger at Mr. Shaw as the man who paid him to kill you. Mr. Shaw, as you may be well aware, is also under investigation for attacking your fiancé. What I'm curious about is how Mr. Lehnsherr found out about Shaw's hand in all this. I mean, it's pretty obvious why he went to see him, I just can't figure out how he knew to go there.”

“How do you suggest Erik could have found out about Mr. Shaw's involvement?” Charles asked politely.

“I don't know,” MacTaggert said with a smile. “I was hoping you might know.”

Charles smiled back and said, “You wouldn't be implying telepathic intervention, now would you? The police do still love a good spot of entrapment.”

“I'm not implying anything, but I will remind you that telepathic intervention is a criminal offence. Nestor's statement as backed up as it is with evidence, is too perfect. And if any amount of tampering comes to light, evidence or no evidence, he'll walk from this. And he shouldn't.”

“It's a comfort to know that an insignificant thing such as evidence still holds no water against mutant interference. In any case, you're barking up the wrong telepath. I appear to have lost the use of my abilities. My doctor can confirm this,” Charles said.

MacTaggert frowned. “I didn't know that was possible.”

“The MU1 virus can incapacitate abilities,” Charles said. “It's widely documented.”

MacTaggert looked away for a moment. Charles couldn't tell if it was out of sympathy or good old professional detachment. But then she looked at him and said, “I'm sorry.”

He smiled at her, shrugging. “It's hardly your fault. Tell me, is there any chance the news outlets might have reason to stop implying Erik is in cahoots with a mad mutant fundamentalist? It's all getting bit tiring.”

MacTaggert replied, “I'm sure a statement will be made soon enough. There's no doubt about what your fiancé was doing at Shaw's. At least, not in my mind. What's highly problematic is how he knew to go there. For his sake I hope he doesn't have a telepath in his employ. Especially if you want to see Shaw and Nestor get what's coming to them.”

Charles tilted his head at her. “Why, Officer, that almost seems like you're trying to be helpful.”

MacTaggert said, “I like the law. I like the way it's meant for everyone, human or mutant. Your fiancé was just too rich, arrogant and mutant for some people's liking and he got a raw deal because of it when they brought him in. That's not how the law should work.”

Charles gave a quiet laugh. “An honest officer. Miracles in this day and age, who would have thought it?”

MacTaggert gave him a wry smile, straightening out her jacket. “I'll let you rest. Thank you for your time, Doctor.”

MacTaggert opened the door and left. Not half a second had passed and Louis walked in looking incredibly distraught. He was staring at Charles as if he had just found out Charles was dying. Again. Charles shut his eyes and sighed.

“Damn it, Louis,” he muttered. Louis had moved closer when Charles opened his eyes, hovering by the bed. “You were listening.”

“Of course I was listening,” Louis said. “I knew you were keeping something from me.”

Charles shook his head. “I was going to tell you. I... I was still hoping I was wrong. I was hoping that perhaps tomorrow morning I'd wake up and everything would be normal.”

Louis gripped Charles' hand. “You're getting nothing?”

“Not even a drip,” Charles said, regretting his forced smile which only faltered when he displayed it for Louis' benefit, his eyes stinging. “I can't feel anyone. Not a soul.”

“What did the doctor tell you?” Louis asked.

“She said there's no guarantee I'll ever get the use of my abilities back,” Charles said. “It's rare in these cases.”

“It's too early, Charles,” Louis said, squeezing his hand. “You mustn't think this written in stone.”

“I know,” Charles said quietly. “But I have to deal with the possibility that I may be like this for good.”

“You'll still be Charles Xavier,” Louis said.

“Yes. Just too mutant to be human and too human to be mutant.”

“It doesn't matter,” Louis said. “It's no one's business but your own.”

“It's a part of the mutant registry as we speak,” Charles said, swallowing hard. “As soon as it went on my medical record in fact.”

“So what?” Louis asked. “That's privileged information. The press have no freedom there.”

“No,” Charles said. “But the law does.”

Louis frowned. “What does that matter? You're not a criminal.”

“If Erik and I were to marry, his lawyer would have access to the registry,” Charles said.

“Why on earth would he be looking?”

“To make sure I'm the man Erik's uncle wanted him to marry,” Charles answered. “Charles Xavier. Mutant.” Louis was frowning, his grip around Charles' hand loosening. “It was his uncle's dying wish that Erik marry into the House of Xavier. That he marry a mutant. Erik stands to lose his inheritance if he doesn't comply.”

“And you think... you think he'll turn his back on you?” Louis asked, looking like he couldn't believe what he was hearing.

“I think Erik would never break a promise,” Charles said. “And I won't have him throwing away his inheritance just to keep it.”

Louis stared at Charles. “I take it you're going to discuss this with him before you make an idiotic decision.”

Charles looked away, scratching at the corner of his eye, realising his decision was quite obvious. “He's done enough for me. I can't expect more.”

***

“And?” Logan prompted Erik.

Erik picked up his coffee and took a good long sip, while he thought about Logan's question. What was he supposed to tell Logan? Shaw's ridiculous theory? His ranting at Erik for not recognising Magneto's supposed maker? Where the hell could he even begin?

“Today, if you don't mind,” Logan said, tapping his stylus on his datapad.

Erik lowered his coffee, staring at the remnants of the breakfast Logan had prepared. “He started ranting. About mutant wars. About me being Magneto.”

“Yeah, right. Quit playing around.” Logan said, after he barked out a laugh. Erik looked at Logan quietly, feeling a strange rage simmering under his skin. Logan stared at him. “You're not kidding.”

“He thinks we're all empty vessels waiting for the return of the first wave mutants, carrying them in our DNA like genetic time bombs. He thinks one day these time bombs will go off and they'll just step in and take over and he wanted to help, by killing Charles.” Logan was listening quietly, as shocked as he could ever look. Erik turned his gaze away and said, “Then he pointed a gun at me and then the police arrived and they pointed some guns at me. You know the rest.”

Erik finished his coffee while Logan remained silent for a while before his stylus went back to its tapping and scratching. After a while, Erik had to ask, “Have you heard of it, Regeneration Theory?”

“Yeah,” Logan said flatly. “I've heard of it. Smells like crap, if you ask me.”

Erik mustered a smile and said, “You're not afraid you're suddenly going to spring-”

“I'm not that guy,” Logan said, looking at Erik without his usual hardness or defiance. “That guy had his shot. They all did. No one should get to fuck up and have another chance.” When Erik didn't say anything, Logan said, “Right?”

Erik nodded mutely, aware that Logan was watching Erik with a look that almost seemed like concern. “He got in your head. Doesn't mean you have to keep him there.”

Erik sat back and looked at Logan. “Are we done?”

Logan looked at the datapad and nodded. “Just one more thing. We can't tell the cops you cornered Nestor and got Shaw's location out of him, so what are our options?”

Erik shrugged. “You're the lawyer, you tell me.”

Logan was mid-scowl when they both heard a noise from the direction of the kitchen. A moment later Azazel walked out downing a glass of water. He placed the empty glass on the table and nodded at Erik.

“I just took Anna back to the hospital,” he said. “Saw Officer MacTaggert.”

“Any idea what she was doing there?” Logan asked. Azazel shook his head and Logan turned to look at Erik, thoughtfully scratching his chin. “Maybe she's there to grill Xavier on what the hell you were doing at Shaw's place. What does he know?”

Erik thought about Raven and then couldn't help but smile. “I expect he knows everything.”

Logan mimicked his smile and said, “Well, ain't that just grand? Okay, so he knows you're the asshole who couldn't leave well enough alone and went for Shaw. And he probably knows how you found Shaw too.”

“I don't think Xavier would be inclined to reveal any of what he knows,” Azazel said, earning a glare from Logan. “I do think the police would be obliged to inform him of Drake Nestor's confession. Which he will have made yesterday.”

Logan was nodding. “Which means Shaw should be up to his neck in crap by now. That just leaves one thing. Why the hell you went to see Shaw.”

“May I?” Azazel asked, receiving a frown from Logan. Azazel pulled a small old-fashioned business card from his pocket, handing it to Erik. One side had Shaw's business details and the other had a date, time and the name 'Charles Xavier' scrawled on the back. “For you, I believe.”

Logan got up and snatched the card from Erik, reading it and then giving Azazel another frown. “What is it?”

“It was left for Erik at the hospital. I think the police will recognise it as Nestor's handwriting and ascertain that he acted upon Shaw's instructions to deliver this, inviting Erik to meet with Shaw.”

Logan's brow raised as he turned the card over in his hand. He looked at Erik and said, “You should be real glad Frost likes you, bub. She's dangerous.”

***

Raven sat back in her chair, watching the news on her desk screen. Morning lectures were finished and the afternoon comprised of grading, reading and more grading. Which was why she was sitting back and doing nothing at all, a forgotten book open on her lap, feet up on the edge of the desk. The media seemed to be experiencing a mass orgasm over Erik's so-called arrest. They all wanted to know what his dealings with Shaw were. They were all delving into Shaw's past. They were all asking about the silence of the police and Erik's representatives. The word of the day was conspiracy.

“Jerk-offs,” Raven sighed and muttered. Someone gave her door a lazy knock. Raven sighed and looked back at the door. “Come in.”

She was surprised when the door opened and Emma walked in looking like the least likely person to step onto campus in her elegant white coat, long white leather boots and furry white hat. Raven presumed that Emma had left a wake of appreciative looks on her way down to the dungeon offices.

“Hey,” Raven said with a smile. “What are you doing here? Is everything okay? Is Erik-”

Emma held up a hand, rolling her eyes. “I'm sure he's fine. I was just passing by and thought I might drop by, say hello. Hello.”

“Really?”

Emma walked into the office, Raven twisting around in her chair to follow her, watching her falling back on the beat up sofa. “Well, actually, this is kind of embarrassing.”

“What?” Raven asked.

Emma very plainly said, “It occurs to me I don't have a lot of girlfriends. Unless you count Logan. And sometimes Erik, when he's menstrual. I think both those guys are seriously synchronised or something. Anyway, I find you extremely tolerable, so here I am.”

“Wow. Thank you, I think. And I honestly have no idea why you would have a lack of girlfriends.” Emma smiled, but past the smile, there was a strange tightness around her eyes, a strain about her mouth. She was every bit the liar her friend Erik Lehnsherr. “So, what did you want to do? Braid each other's hair? Talk clothes? Talk clichés?”

Emma's mouth remained a slight and stiff smile. She frowned at Raven and said, “You know, I was pretty comfortable. I had no reason to come down here and work for a pay cheque. But I did it anyway, because I didn't want to be just another genetic addition to the House of the White Queen. I did it because I wanted to choose my own path.”

Raven nodded slowly. She understood completely. Anyone who could trace their family back to the first wave carried a strange burden. An obligation to preserve a history of pain and anger.

“But what if there's no getting away? No such thing as a path of our own?” Emma asked, her eyes on the books that lined Raven's shelf of rarities.

Raven frowned at her. “But there is. We're on it right now. Aren't we?”

“Right.” When Emma looked at Raven, she seemed afraid, though she was nodding in agreement. Raven gave Emma a long look, trying to read her expression. Emma smiled at her, clearly aware of Raven's thoughts. “Don't waste your time, sweetie.”

Raven laughed quietly. “Okay. Then just tell me. I mean, we're girlfriends. Right?”

Emma gave Raven a tilted smile. “Right.”

“So?” Raven prodded.

“So,” Emma said slowly. “Erik showed me his little exchange with Shaw. Let me tell you, honey, that is one special snowflake.”

“What did you see?” Raven asked quietly, trying not to think of Erik's dazed state at the police station.

“Sticky stuff.” Emma's jaw twitched before she manufactured a smile. Raven didn't question her. She felt a compulsion to not go any further. Emma continued. “He's a devoted follower of Regeneration Theory. The theory that all mutants carry a genetic copy of a past self or selves. One that can be triggered into taking over. Like some kind of disease in waiting.”

Raven knew the theory and it instantly made her bristle. She snorted and said, “It's about as plausible as most human reincarnation theories.”

Emma smiled at her. “But we're not human. Our evolved little bodies are so much smarter. So much more rabid about survival. Humans fall over and die. We fall and we adapt to falling just so we can fall over and over again.”

“Okay, if you want to see it that way. But there's another way. One more theory that gets more human support than mutant. Why? So they can keep fearing us as unnatural monsters. Almost like we're some kind of supernatural demons with powers that extend beyond death. We're not. We're just people living our lives. I don't care about where my bloodline's been. I am here now and I'm living the life I want to live.”

It was true, Raven told herself. There was nothing in her life that felt incomplete. She was who she was and it was what she wanted. She nodded and said, “Yeah. I get to be me. That's all that matters. Screw that half-assed pseudo scientific crap.”

Emma looked past Raven's shoulder and Raven followed her gaze to a demonstration poster stuck on the wall. Mutant and Proud it yelled, a fist of defiance under the lettering, against a backdrop of blues and yellow. Raven turned away from the poster to look at Emma who seemed a little amused.

“What?” Raven asked.

Emma frowned and said, “Logan and Erik make really crappy girlfriends.”

“What about Azazel?” Raven asked with a grin.

Emma looked down at her nails and smiled. “Well, he's a different kind of girl entirely.”

***

“Great,” Erik heard Logan as the elevator doors opened. He walked across the living room to look down the corridor to the elevator. There stood Officer MacTaggert.

“Going down?” she asked Logan as she stepped out.

Erik couldn't see Logan's face, but he felt the arch of his brow. He said, “Change of plan.”

MacTaggert smiled and left him to scowl at the back of her head. She gave Erik a firm nod as she came up the small corridor and into the living room. “Mr. Lehnsherr.”

“What can I do for you?” Erik asked. Behind MacTaggert, Logan was making his way back in, taking a seat on the armrest of the couch near him.

“Nothing, you'll be happy to hear,” she said. “I've just been to inform Doctor Xavier about the arrest of a man called Drake Nestor. He's confessed to his and Sebastian Shaw's involvement in trying to take Doctor Xavier's life. As for the matter concerning you yesterday-”

“You mean the illegal arrest?” Logan asked.

MacTaggert turned to look at Logan and said, “Mr. Lehnsherr was never arrested. He was taken into custody, pending an investigation into the circumstances of-”

“His arrest?” Logan asked with a smile.

“Logan,” Erik said, without the heat of a reprimand.

MacTaggert said, “Mr. Shaw has admitted to attacking you, but you might be required to give evidence at some point about the exchange between you two, not to mention the purpose of your visit.”

“He was buying antiques,” Logan said dryly.

MacTaggert didn't acknowledge the remark. She just gave Erik a stern look and said, “Whatever your reason for going down there, I hope you'll keep in mind for the future that you can't take the law into your own hands. I don't care how much you pay your jackass lawyer.”

Erik twisted his mouth into the best smile he could muster under the circumstances. He doubted it came off as anything close to a smile. “Thank you for your advice. Will that be all?”

With slight hesitation, MacTaggert said, “The investigating team found a portfolio of sketches in Mr. Shaw's establishment. I assume you've seen the contents.” Erik gave her nod. “We found more, in his house. Sketches, paintings, printouts.”

“Yeah yeah, and under the law you have to give full disclosure on any material concerning parties involved,” Logan said. “We get that. You can copy whatever you found to me. I'm his lawyer, I've got full authority on this.”

MacTaggert nodded, not breaking away from Erik's gaze as she quietly said, “That's a good idea, Mr. Lehnsherr.”

“Do you have them with you?” Erik asked. She nodded and Erik held out a hand. “I want to see.”

“Why?” Logan asked. “The guy's insane. You really want him in your head?”

“I need to see.” Erik gave Logan a look and turned back to MacTaggert. “Show me.”

MacTaggert had a grim look about her as she took her datapad from her pocket. She tapped the screen a few times before handing it to Erik. He took it, turning his back on the other two to look. More sketches, pinned to a large wall. Sketches, printouts of articles and screenshots from video footage. Pictures of Erik that had been taken at official events, pictures of him on the street, in cafés and restaurants and a whole mixture of other places. Swipe after swipe of the screen, pictures of Erik over the years. He froze upon seeing a particular one.

“What is it?” Logan asked, coming up next to him. He saw the picture Erik was looking at, a sketch of Erik where his eyes had been scribbled out. When Erik went to the next image, it similarly had his eyes blacked out. More images, all the same.

“Enough,” Logan said quietly. He pulled the datapad away from Erik's grip, handing it back to MacTaggert and telling her, “Like I said, send me a copy.”

Erik frowned, foolishly blinking at the rug beneath his feet. He could feel MacTaggert hovering closer, just before she asked him, “Are you all right?”

“Will there be anything else?” Erik asked. He didn't need worry or sympathy from agents of the so-called law. When she shook her head in reply, he told her, “Then thank you for your visit.”

MacTaggert said, “Thank you for your time. I'll let myself out.”

Erik watched her turning and almost marching out of the living room. She was pointedly staring ahead when she got into the elevator, her eyes turning to Erik just as the doors shut.

“Weren't you leaving too?” Erik asked Logan, his skin crawling from the way he knew Logan was standing there behind him, watching him like he was some kind of ticking time bomb.

“I still am. Just a different destination,” Logan said. Erik turned, frowning in question at Logan. “I'm going to head down to the hospital. Find out what Xavier and MacTaggert talked about.”

“There's no need,” Erik said.

Logan's expression was incredulous. “Yeah, there is. I'm not sitting around with half a story so I can get spanked in court. I need to know what he's told her.”

“Then do it later,” Erik said.

No,” Logan said resolutely. “And if that's not good enough, get yourself another dancing monkey, because, sweetheart, I am done with this crap. I am not Azazel and I am not Frost.”

Erik ran a hand through his hair, clutching it at the back of his head for a few painful seconds as he turned away from Logan. He thought about Shaw, how his madness spanned years, as evident in the much more youthful images of Erik. How it spanned layers of insanity, visible in the way Erik's eyes were blacked, painted, scratched, burned and ripped from various images.

A ripple of metallic vibrations sounded throughout the apartment, almost in time with his heartbeat. One-two, one-two, one-two, one-two. Erik closed his eyes, brow creased with concentration. Shaw was meaningless. He was just one man. A man who had meant nothing, meant nothing even now and would never mean anything to Erik.

He felt Logan's hand cupping the back of his neck, squeezing slow and firm. Erik narrowed his focus to the song of metal in Logan's blood, an ever so slight hum of adamantium. A reminder that mutants of all the old houses came with their own bloody histories. Erik was nothing special.

Metal objects clattered to the ground throughout the apartment. Logan's hand pulled away. Quietly, almost gently, he asked, “What are you so afraid of?”

Erik felt a thrum of energy within him, something that was never quite in control, something that had always been yearning to break free, yearning to tear through metal, turn it to water, turn it to air. It was wrapped around a ball of rage and anger that came too easily, an anger Erik didn't quite understand or recognise.

“Me.”

Logan sounded frustrated when he said, “You're not Magneto.”

“No. But neither was he in the beginning.”

***

Raven sank down into the tub full of water with relieved sigh, watching the screen on the wall. The media was in fresh frenzy now the police had released details of Nestor and Shaw's arrests. Mutants trying to kill mutants and the poor humans stuck in the middle of the violence. Raven shook her head in dismay.

She felt a hand stroke the back of her head, looking up to find Hank, who was perching himself on the edge of the bath. “Looks like there's a new circus in town.”

She watched the screen where the channel was once again running the footage of officers storming Shaw's shop, a helpful picture of Erik in the corner of the screen, looking his arrogant best. “Same circus,” Raven said. “Just a few new acts.”

Hank leaned down, kissing the top of her head. “Dinner's almost ready.”

Raven nodded, her eyes remaining on the screen as a segment started up on the chequered histories of the oldest mutant houses. Five hundred years later, and the Xavier Institute was still at the top of the list as the place where it all started to go wrong.

Humans, Raven thought, never learn.

***

Charles was watching the telescreen high up on the wall when Erik arrived at the hospital. Erik saw him sitting in bed, transfixed, almost as pale as the sheets. When he walked in, he appeared to startle Charles whose face went through a range of emotions. First he seemed surprised, then pleased and then something made his smile falter before he forced it back in place.

“Hello, Erik,” he said. Erik gave him a nod in greeting before eyeing the utterly predictable news displayed on the telescreen. He stood by Charles' bed, watching in silence as Charles quietly said. “I'm sorry they're so fixated on you.”

Erik shrugged. “Every story needs a villain.”

Charles looked discomfited, brow creased as he looked at Erik. “They're ignorant.”

“Patience eventually defeats ignorance. At least I think that's how the Professor put it.”

“And sometimes optimism defeats logic,” Charles said thoughtfully.

“Never thought I'd hear an Xavier quoting the great Magneto,” Erik said quietly. Charles looked down at his legs under the bedsheets, his forefinger idly tapping the spot beside his thigh. “Something's bothering you.”

Charles looked up at Erik. He seemed to be bracing himself for something. Then his face took on an odd serenity, as if between one breath and the next, he had made a decision. “Your proposal.”

Erik stilled for a moment as the realisation dawned on him. Then he thought, ah, of course. “My proposal.”

“I...” Charles said. “The timing is...” He stopped, squeezing the bridge of his nose. He shook his head and looked at Erik. “It's not going to work. Erik, I'm so sorry.”

Erik was quiet, letting it sink in, listening to the news chatter. He looked at the telescreen for a moment, nodding. “I should go.”

“Erik, let me explain,” Charles said tiredly.

“That's not necessary. I told you before, I would respect your decision.” Charles stared at Erik and after a while Erik found it impossible to stand before him so impassive, all Lehnsherr poise and control. He turned away, telling Charles, “I have to go.”

Outside, Erik told Logan, “He's all yours. Azazel, office.”

Logan was frowning at him, like he could sniff diseases of the heart from miles away. “You're leaving?”

“Just get what you need from Charles,” Erik said. He nodded to Azazel, who thankfully without question yanked him away from Logan's curious gaze and no doubt from Charles' prying mind.

***

“And the Charles Xavier, Erik Lehnsherr story takes another twist. There are rumours that the engaged couple may be splitting under the recent strain of an attempt made on Mr. Xavier's life. Our correspondent Remy LeBeau reports. Remy.”

The spoon from Raven's hand clattered down into her bowl as she stared at the screen, Hank going very still next to her on the couch, half-way to taking a bite of toast. They both looked at each other for a second.

Raven grit her teeth and said, “Really? This is how we're finding out what's happening to our friends now? Remy freaking LeBeau?”

“Yeah. Good old Remy. I thought he was in prison.” Raven sat back and glared at the screen. Hank very carefully said, “Look, Charles only just got out of hospital yesterday. Please don't be the reason he goes back in.”

Raven held up her hands. “It's okay. Really, it is. I'm not mad.”

“That's not like you,” Hank said.

“No, I'm not,” she reaffirmed. “It's not my business. They're grown men. There's probably logic at work here. It's not even my business.”

“You already said that.”

“I mean, Charles can keep screwing around until he turns into Louis and I'm sure Erik will find someone who's always wanted to marry an uptight Prussian Tsar,” Raven said with a nod, while Hank arched a brow at her. “Why should we care?”

Hank was quiet for a moment. He then sighed and said, “We're sticking our noses in this, aren't we?”

Raven threw up her hands. “Someone has to! I can't believe Louis didn't say anything. God, after everything that's happened.”

Hank scratched his chin, watching the news report. “Maybe it all just got too much. The press have been on them from day one and then all that stuff with Charles. I dunno, I can kind of believe it.”

Raven sighed, leaning into Hank's touch as he stroked the back of her head. “Well, it's all wrong.”

Hank shrugged. “Sometimes things just don't work out. That's life. Maybe they're just not meant to be.”

“I don't believe in meant to be. I believe in make it happen.” Raven shook her head and snorted. Hank seemed to go very still and silent. She frowned and turned her head to look at him, finding herself the recipient of a very intense gaze. “What?”

Hank flung his toast aside and all but fell upon Raven, making her yelp and then sigh. “Okay. Maybe we'll make it happen later.”

She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, kissing him and forgetting everyone else for the moment.

***

“The stipulation's clear. You either marry Xavier and you keep everything, or you marry another blue blooded mutant and you lose twenty percent. There's no get out,” Logan said, sitting on the other side of Erik's desk. Erik wasn't really listening. He was watching three metal spheres suspended in the air, spinning as they orbited an invisible body. Round and round they went. “Xavier's out of hospital, by the way.”

Erik expected that Logan was waiting for the spheres to drop out of the air as if Charles had that kind of power over Erik. Erik opened his hand and let them serenely float down into his palm, closing his fingers around them. He said, “We don't need a get out.”

“We don't?” Logan arched a brow, casting a dubious look at Erik.

“I am done with this shit,” he quietly told Logan. “To hell with the inheritance.”

“That's mutant money, bub. Mutant money you're handing over to greedy, selfish, mutant-hating humans,” Logan said. Erik opened and closed his hand around the small metal spheres before setting them into motion in his palm. “You'll have Magneto spinning in his expensive tomb if you walk away from that treasure chest.”

“Good.” Erik looked up at Logan, hearing a pleasing hum from the spheres as Logan stared at him, dumbstruck. He let them hover out of his hand. “Let him spin.”

Logan gave him a slow nod, looking too sympathetic for Erik's liking. “What about Anna?”

“I tried it her way,” Erik said, getting up. He held his hand out, the spheres following, his hand closing when they were in his palm. Standing by the large window behind his desk, he cast his eyes down at the city. “Now we move on.”

“Oh yeah?” Logan asked dryly.

Erik tapped the window, eyeing one of the tallest structures in the distance. “The mayoral election will be upon us soon.”

“Sorry, sweetheart, I don't see the folks in this town voting you in for anything but a ticket out of here,” Logan said. Erik turned around, back against the window, smiling at Logan. “And, just to be clear, I'm not breaking into jack-shit for you.”

“Stryker Tower's still in trouble,” Erik said. Logan shrugged. “I think we should help.”

Logan frowned, clearly confused, possibly a little disgusted. “They built that place to honour a guy who wanted all mutants dead. You should be first in line to tear it down, not save it.”

Erik wagged a finger at Logan. “The mayor is going to save it. We're just going to be the helpful mutants safeguarding a human legacy, ensuring the mayor a second term.”

“And pissing off a whole bunch of people. Can't you find a better way to make this guy your bitch?” When Erik smiled, Logan said, “Right. You don't want to find another way. You want some advice?”

“Not especially,” Erik said, shoving his hands into his pockets.

“Find a different way to get over Xavier,” Logan said. “One that doesn't involve being a pain in everyone's ass.”

“I'm not under him, that I need to get over him,” Erik said slowly. “We had an arrangement. One that he decided to terminate. The chance of that happening was always there. Deals go sour. It happens in business all the time.”

Logan was smiling. “Bet you really got him hot under the collar with that attitude.”

Erik sat down in his chair, ignoring the stupid expression on Logan's face. “It's better this way. He's still alive this way.”

“It's not your-”

“Shaw went after Charles because of me,” Erik said, nipping this argument in the bud. “We both know that. Doesn't matter if it's my fault or not, I'm still the reason Charles almost died.”

“So I suppose if Xavier turns up here tomorrow and he's changed his mind again, you'll have no problem turning him away, you know, to keep him safe and all,” Logan said. “Right?”

Erik looked at Logan for the longest time and then with great irritation, he answered, “I think it's time you left. Unless you'd like to leave permanently.”

“Touched a nerve, buddy?” Erik slowly aimed two fingers at Logan, turning them slightly. Logan's chair very slowly moved around so he was now facing away from the desk. He got up and turned to arch a brow at Erik. “Yeah. The whole not being under Xavier thing. Good luck with that. Don't tell me how it goes.”

Erik tilted his head at Logan, imitating an expression of patience and tolerance until Logan gave him a roll of the eyes and swiftly left, muttering under his breath. Erik opened his palm, watching the small marble-like spheres spin up into the air. He sat back and watched them spin round and round, until he finally couldn't help but think of Charles and only Charles. He closed his eyes. The spheres dropped onto the desk with a clatter, rolling off and onto the floor where they rolled away from Erik's interest and attention.

***

Charles was annoyed the moment he stepped into the kitchen and found Louis watching the telescreen. It was the same damn news articles on rotation. Again and again they showed a pallid looking Charles failing to adequately sneak out of the hospital. He looked dazed, being guided into a shuttle. Louis and Raven looking grim as they got in afterwards.

Where was Erik Lehnsherr in all this, the reporters wanted to know. Lehnsherr, who of recent appeared to have been nothing but grand gestures was now intriguingly out of the picture, certain mudslingers commented. The way the story had been spun was alarming in its creativity. Suddenly the histories were coming out to catch all the typifying features of these spawn of the first mutant houses. The human friendly Xavier and the human-hating Lehnsherr, predictably parting ways.

The news footage on the screen switched to an image of Erik. He was inside a building, behind a glass wall, shaking hands with another man and looking very sullen. Charles could see Azazel and Emma with him. All three seemed unaware of being filmed, until Emma patted Erik on the arm and said something. Erik looked past the wall of windows and promptly turned his back on it, continuing his conversation before Azazel whisked them all away. All the while, the reporter droned on about Shaw, Nestor and the breakup of the year.

“They're making him out to be the villain in this whole thing,” Charles said with dismay. “Despite everything with Shaw and Nestor.”

“Well, I suppose, if the helmet fits,” Louis said with a shrug. Charles stared at him. “Not my words. Of course, you could probably put an end to this, you know.”

“Please, don't start,” Charles said with a grimace. It wasn't even noon and already his head was throbbing. He rubbed his forehead, trying to ignore the telescreen's constant chatter.

“Headache?” Louis asked, receiving a nod. “You have to stop pushing yourself, Charles. Doctor Calero said you can't force your abilities to return.”

Charles shook his head. “I can't think like this. My head feels like it's going to explode.”

Louis gave him a kind look. “That's what you said when your abilities manifested. Remember? Other people's thoughts in your head, their emotions. But you learned to control it.”

“This is different. I'm not the one in control here.” Charles blankly stared at the kitchen table. People might as well have been cups and plates to him, slabs of unthinking concrete. He pulled a face at his own thoughts.

They sat silently for a while, listening to the so-called news, until Louis broached a subject he couldn't leave alone. “You should talk to him,” he said. “Tell him what's happened.”

Charles rubbed the back of his neck. “And then what? Watch him lose his inheritance when his uncle's lawyers find out I'm not as mutant as they'd like me to be? Or have Erik tell me that-” He stopped, not quite sure how he'd even entertained the thought.

“What?” Louis asked very gently. “Have him tell you that you're not quite mutant enough for him?”

Charles stared at Louis, swallowing the lump in his throat. He felt like a stupid little boy thinking ridiculous things because he was too scared to think straight.

“You were willing to marry him if it meant more support for the foundation, but when it comes to your own happiness, you can't wait to throw it away.” Louis leaned back and smiled. “Well done. You're every inch an Xavier.”

Charles gave Louis a scathing look. “I've made my decision. If Erik can accept it, you can too.”

“I suppose. I mean, according to the news he's already moved on.” When Charles frowned, Louis nodded to the screen.

Charles looked at the top left corner of the split screen. Another long distance shot of Erik in a foyer with a man, both peering at the same datapad. The man being fixated on by the cameras was standing close to Erik, his hand on Erik's back as they both talked.

Charles pulled a face. “Logan? That's his lawyer.”

“Ah,” Louis said. “So someone he knows and trusts. Makes sense.”

Charles stared at Louis. “Nothing about what you just said makes sense.” Louis shrugged so nonchalantly it was the opposite of nonchalant. Charles shook his head. “You're ridiculous.”

“Am I?” Louis asked. “Or am I being quite perceptive in noticing that this lawyer fellow is rather protective of Erik and that perhaps there's an underlying reason?”

“Do you mean a reason besides being paid to protect his client?” Charles asked.

Louis's expression soured considerably. “Get back to me when Erik sends you the invitation to his nuptials with this Logan fellow.”

“If that were to happen, I would be nothing but happy for Erik,” Charles said firmly.

“Oh really?”

“Yes, really.”

Really?”

Yes.”

“Ha!” Louis said.

“Fine!” Charles said. “Clearly I won't be as thrilled as you, but I'd be glad Erik was happy. I should think he deserves it.”

“And what about you, Charles?” Louis asked. “Don't you deserve to be happy?”

Charles threw his hands up and laughed, shaking his head. “Have you known any of the Xaviers to be happy?”

Louis snorted. “That old chestnut never won anyone an argument.”

Charles took a shuddering breath, trying to retain some semblance of calm. “I just want to move on. People break up all the time. Xaviers break up all the time. It's not the end of anything. It's just life.”

“Yes,” Louis said. “But you forget, it doesn't have to be. It can be different. You can make it different. We can't all be sacrificial lambs like the good Professor. It's why the world isn't peopled with heroes. Someone, on occasion, has to be selfish and do what's best for them.”

Charles nodded and stood up. “Well, on that note, I'll do what's best for me and go sit elsewhere. Preferably where I don't have to put up with this particular brand of motivational speaking.”

“You do that,” Louis said with a nod and smile as Charles gave him a filthy look and turned to leave.

Two steps into the corridor and there stood a familiar face. A familiar, albeit rather angry face. Charles looked back at the kitchen, wondering if he could still find an ally in Louis. Deciding he'd rather jump into shark infested waters than go back to Louis for any assistance, he faced his friend.

“Raven,” he said. She glared at him. He smiled and very foolishly asked, “How are things?”

***

Erik was lying on the couch in his office, looking through messages on his datapad when Emma sauntered in, eyed his empty chair, spotted him on the couch and then promptly walked over, shoving his legs off the couch to sit down with a sigh.

Erik sat up. “You came without Azazel?”

“Wouldn't be the first time.” Erik made a face at her. She rolled her eyes and said, “His parents are in town. I have to make like I don't exist. Apparently, I'm not exactly what they have in mind for their baby. Talking of precious little boys, how are you sweetie?”

“Still in charge of paying your wages,” Erik said. Emma pouted as Erik put his feet up on the coffee table, crossing his legs at the ankles and folding his arms over his chest.

“You know, you look pretty good for someone who's not getting laid.” Erik ignored the remark. “Finally sleeping now you're not up all night watching over your cutie pie, huh?”

Erik gave her a quiet look, one without warning or irritation. He hoped she would see it for a simple request to leave this subject alone. She looked back at him with regret dampening her smile. Somehow having Emma feel sorry for him was worse than her teasing. He turned away, only to have her elbow him in the ribs.

“The nightmares,” he explained. “They've stopped.”

Emma was quiet for a moment, frowning. “How often were you having them?”

Erik thought about it, all those times he closed his eyes and he was suddenly sinking into terrors that belonged to his childhood. “Most nights.”

Emma stared. “Why didn't you say something? I could have helped you.”

“Remember the last time you were in my head?” Erik asked her. “Remember what happened?”

“Sticky stuff,” she said quietly, falling into silent contemplation. After a moment she asked him, “How long?”

Erik shrugged. “A few weeks. It started the night I stayed at the Xavier mansion. I woke up dreaming of things I hadn't dreamt about since I was a child.”

“And now they're gone,” Emma said. Erik nodded. “You've been under stress. Now you don't care about the inheritance, Charles is well and there's no wedding. No stress. No nightmares. Clear and healthy skin.”

Erik nodded absently. “Everything back to how it should be.”

Emma watched him for a while before asking, “So how come you look so miserable?”

“I look the way I always look.” Erik picked up his datapad, touching the screen and bringing it back to life. Emma made a strange little thoughtful sound, a 'hmm' of interest before she leaned in and took his arm in a hug of sorts, sighing while Erik just frowned in confusion. “What?”

“I've seen you look different. Want me to tell you when?” She was blinking at him, armed with the truth. Mutely, he shook his head. She shrugged and said, “Exactly.”

***

“Remy. LeBeau,” Raven said, holding up her hands and staring open-mouthed at Charles, still somewhere between shocked and disgusted. “That's how I heard about you and Erik. From LeBeau.”

“God lord, when did he get out of prison?” Louis asked with a pleased smile. Raven stared at Louis who was comfortably sitting in an armchair, while Charles sat miserable in the corner of a couch, favouring the fireside. “I should give him a call. Where did you meet him?”

Raven shook her head. “I didn't. He's got a spot on some news rag of a show and of course they've got him covering this.”

Louis pulled a face. “Oh dear. I expect he's still a little angry with Charles. That was a rather untidy break up if I recall correctly.”

Charles closed his eyes, letting his head drop into his hand, while Raven made a face and said, “How do these people even know?”

Charles sighed, looking at her tiredly and waving a hand. “I haven't a clue. No one's said anything and I doubt Erik has. Do you honestly think we'd be making press statements before telling you?”

Raven's shoulders slumped. Charles looked awful, exhausted and still too pale. She went and sat down next to him. “What happened? Is it really over?”

“Raven, it never really started,” Charles said. “When we agreed to marry, circumstances were different and now it doesn't seem like a very good idea anymore.”

Raven put a hand on his knee and said, “What changed?”

Charles' eyes were roaming over her face. There was something different about his look, something missing from his gaze. He looked away and said, “I did.”

“I don't understand,” Raven said.

“My mutation. It doesn't work anymore,” Charles said with a firm nod, giving her a steady look, as if it was all par for the course. “Mutant lite, as I heard someone call it at the hospital. Doesn't sound so awful when you put it that way, I suppose.”

Raven swiftly leaned forward and encompassed him in a hug, quietening him in the process. “Charles, you idiot. Why didn't you tell me?”

Charles cleared his throat and spoke into her shoulder. “I thought I could pretend it wasn't true. Just for a little while.”

When she pulled back, Charles' face was flushed, his eyes dry but red rimmed. She took his hand, giving it a squeeze and shake. “MU1?” Charles nodded. “I heard in some cases abilities become dormant for weeks, maybe even months, but they eventually manifest again. It could happen to you. I mean, you're a Class 4.”

Charles gave her smile. She could see it was all for her benefit, after all, she wasn't the one missing a piece of herself. “I suppose we'll just wait and see.”

“And why isn't Erik waiting with you?” Raven asked quietly.

“It's complicated,” Charles said.

“I'm pretty smart,” Raven said. “I'm sure I can handle it.”

“Raven,” Louis said, his voice sounding a little thick. “Why don't we leave it for now? How about some tea? We'll talk about something else.”

Charles was pointedly staring at the fireplace, his jaw clenched. Raven nodded at Louis. “Yeah. Sure.”

Charles got up quickly. “Tell you what, I need a drink, so I'll get the tea while I'm at it. You two talk.” He gave Louis a stern look and said, “About something else.”

Louis sighed. “Of course.”

Charles left looking grateful while Louis slowly got up, walking across the room to take a seat next to Raven. She immediately said, “Everything. Spill. Now.”

“He doesn't think he's mutant enough for Erik. Oh and if Erik marries non-mutant, or I suppose non-manifesting mutant in this case, he doesn't get his inheritance from some evil uncle or something. I don't have all the details,” Louis said, sitting back.

Raven stared at him. “I totally get why Charles spent our whole childhoods keeping secrets from you.”

“Secrets be damned,” Louis scoffed. “All I know is, my nephew is miserable and I want it to go away. Do you understand me, Raven?”

Raven arched a brow. “I'm sorry, do I look like some crazy person who's just going to march into Lehnsherr Corp and yell at Erik until he gets back together with Charles?” Louis frowned, raising a finger to say something, but Raven was up on her feet. “Because that is what I'm going to do. Seriously, dumping someone because they can't use their abilities anymore? Why doesn't he just go the whole way and wear a cape and helmet too?”

“Oh dear, Raven, listen-”

“Later,” Raven said, already half-way across the room as Louis trailed behind her. “I thought he was different. Turns out, he's a Lehnsherr through and through.”

“Raven, listen to me, you're making a terrible mistake,” Louis said.

Raven turned around in the corridor, bringing Louis to a halt. “You want Charles to be happy, right?”

“Of course I do,” Louis said, “But, you've got it all-”

Raven held up a hand. “Tell Charles I had to go.”

Louis wore a pained expression, his face awash with conflicting emotions. Then he stepped forward and gave her a hug, pulling back to tell her, “I'll just say in advance, please don't kill me. I probably should look into doing a better job of keeping secrets. It's almost certainly why a lot of people think I'm not a Xavier at all. That and not being an alcoholic and having had many women-”

“Too much,” Raven said, turning around and resuming her course. “I'll be back.”

She thought she might have heard Louis mutter, “That's what I'm afraid of.”

***

Erik sat back in his chair, fingers linked over his stomach as he sleepily watching the skies darkening over New York. He could see lights blinking out, leaving black spots on tall buildings, people having ended their day to go home.

“Hey, I'm making tracks,” Emma called out from the door to his office. “Come on. You're buying me a drink.”

Erik eyed the blinking beacon on top of Stryker tower. Blinking away hopefully despite the building forever on the verge of closure or demolition. How he hated that red light in the distance. Often, he wondered if he could reach out from here and pull it all apart.

“Coming,” Erik said. A long moment of quiet followed before he heard Emma actually leave. Erik let his head fall back as he closed his eyes. There were so many things spinning around in his head, he didn't know what to tamp down first. Behind him, the door slid open again. “I said I was coming.”

The lack of a response or movement made Erik stand and turn, finding Raven by the door. Emma slipped in behind her, looking at Erik for a cue. He gave her a shake of the head and she retreated back outside into her own office.

He stepped towards Raven, reading the stillness of her face, the intensity of her gaze. That she was annoyed was plainly clear. About what, Erik was probably going to find out soon enough. He said, “What is it, Raven?”

“You,” she said, unhelpfully. Erik frowned, unable to respond in any other way. “I don't get you, Erik.”

Erik found himself smiling, though without any real humour. “What is it exactly that you don't get?”

“The way you were when it looked like Charles was dying,” Raven said. “I thought you cared about him.”

“I do,” Erik said. “I would be by his side in a moment if he needed me.”

Raven snorted. “Unless he's not a mutant anymore, right? I guess then you'd have to think about it. Magneto would have been proud, seeing you turn your back on Charles in the worst way possible. Typical. You can stop counting on a Lehnsherr once you stop being the perfect mutant.”

Raven stopped, looking away from Erik. She appeared a little stunned by the choice of her own words. Not as stunned as Erik felt, standing there as he was once again shoved back under the shadow of a man he had never wanted to emulate.

Raven looked up at him. “Say something.”

“He rejected my proposal,” Erik said flatly, watching as Raven frowned at him. “He said it wouldn't work. I didn't stay to hear his reasoning.”

Raven was still frowning. “What?”

Erik walked past her to the coat stand, taking his coat and slowly pulling it on as he went over the words Raven had thrown at him. “Clearly your friend is of the same opinion as you, that a Lehnsherr will never accept a less than perfect mutant for his partner.”

Raven grabbed his arm hard, just as he made to leave the office. “Erik-”

“I'm tired, Raven, go home,” Erik said. She shook her head. “What do you want?”

“Charles can't use his abilities anymore,” she said quietly. “Don't you care?”

“Your friend almost died because some psychopath thought Charles was in my way,” Erik said, pulling his arm out of her grasp. “It's because I care I walked away.”

“You said you'd be by his side in a moment if he needed you. Well, he needs you.”

Erik gave her a hard look. “I'm the last person he needs.”

Erik stalked out of the office, Raven following him into the outer office where Emma sat waiting on the edge of her desk. She hopped off as Erik walked right past, ignoring her. “Hey! I thought you were buying me a drink!”

Erik didn't respond, stepping out into the corridor and ignoring the last few office lingerers who were bidding him goodnight as he strode past them and into the elevator. The glass doors closed and on the other side Raven stepped into view with Emma at her side, both of them watching him as he descended, Raven's words still echoing in his ears.

***

Charles walked down the long portrait gallery of a corridor. When he was a young boy, he would walk past these portraits and give his ancestors all fitting names. With the exception of the Professor who stared at him with serious eyes and a mouth that though smiling appeared to have no real knowledge of happiness.

“I suppose we're both more similar than I would have liked,” Charles mumbled, staring at the portrait as he stood there with his hands in his pockets. “Crippled in one way or another.”

A whisper at the end of the corridor drew Charles away from the maudlin portrait. He frowned, walking towards the noise.

“Hello? Louis?” he called out. No one replied, not Louis or any of the staff.

won't bring you peace

Charles swiftly turned about, eyes wide open. The corridor was empty, but the words could have been whispered into his ear. Charles concentrated hard, trying to search out the smallest inkling of a feeling or a thought, but his blasted mind was shut off from everything. Pain shot through his forehead, right into his left eye. Charles grimaced, holding his hand to his head, his body feeling chilled all over. Something ran down his lips and when he touched his fingers to his mouth, he found them stained with blood.

“Wonderful,” Charles muttered, holding his hand to his nose as he searched his pockets for a handkerchief.

He walked away from the portraits, his head throbbing. By the time he reached the living room, his nose had stopped bleeding, his handkerchief now covered in unpleasant splotches. He crumpled it up and shoved it into his pocket, his attention turning to voices behind the living room door. Raven was back after having disappeared and left a tight-lipped and shifty Louis.

“That's what I was trying to tell you,” Louis was saying.

“Well, you could have tried harder,” Raven snapped.

“You think you two might be the reason your friend's still single?” That was Emma Frost. Charles had been about to open the door, but now his hand was pulling back from the doorknob. It went very quiet inside, and then Emma said, “Okay, I'm a telepath. I know you're out there.”

Charles rolled his eyes and stepped inside, finding Raven and Louis standing in the middle of the room, both scowling. Emma was sitting in an armchair with Azazel stood behind, silent and observant. Possibly bored. Charles really didn't blame him.

“What's going on?” Charles asked.

Raven smiled at Louis and asked him, “Shall I?”

Louis glared at her and then turned to Charles, giving him a sheepish smile. “We may have another Remy-like cross-communication situation.”

Charles stared at him and then turned to stare at Raven before, with great concern, asking them, “What have you both done?”

“Your uncle told Raven about your mutant malfunction and Raven here called Erik a giant ass for bailing on you. Actually, she might as well have just called him Mr. Magneto,” Emma said with a smile.

Raven covered her face. “Emma, please. I feel awful as it is.”

“Honey, you told the man Magneto would have been proud of him. History tells us that's only a compliment half of the time.”

Raven dropped her hands and sighed in Charles' direction. “I am so sorry. I thought he walked away because... you know.”

“Raven, I'm afraid you've just made a complete buffoon of yourself, not to mention me,” Charles said. He turned away from her with a sigh, falling into the nearest chair. Louis was looking at him as if he would speak. Charles said, “Don't. Not even a word. I'm disowning you both.”

Everyone fell silent. Raven and Louis were both shooting each other accusing looks and Azazel was quite wisely looking at his watch, no doubt wondering what he was still doing here. Emma was looking around the room with interest.

“So, this is the Professor's mansion. I always thought it would be more creepy.”

“Well, there's been a lot of remodelling,” Louis explained. “Although, we still have a fair amount of creepy corners left. I could show you-”

“Unbelievable,” Charles said, shaking his head.

Louis smiled sheepishly at Emma. “Perhaps another time. We still appear to have a situation right now.”

Azazel sighed, long and laboured, before looking at Charles. “There is no situation. Erik knows why you did what you did, which is of no consequence now because he has washed his hands of the inheritance. Which also changes nothing as he feels it would be safer for you both to remain apart. Which I am sure will make no difference, as with the people you have in your life, Mr. Xavier, I am sure you'll never be quite safe.”

“Hey!” Raven objected.

“How dare you?” Louis said, quite offended.

Charles stood slowly, taking a step towards Azazel, frowning. “Safer apart? What does that mean?”

Emma was wearing a rather enigmatic smile. It was clear she had no intention of offering an explanation and Azazel had stiffened as if he was suddenly a guard on duty.

It was Raven who said, “He thinks it's his fault you almost died.”

Charles laughed quietly, more an exhalation of surprise. “That's ridiculous.”

“We've all told him that. He's not a great listener,” Emma said.

Charles rubbed his hand over his mouth, scratching his jaw. “And the inheritance? He's just going to let it go to waste, is he? All that money just going to some government bodies who won't do a damn thing with it to help mutants. Did you try to talk him out of it at all?”

Emma shrugged. “Once he's made up his mind, that's pretty much it.”

Charles shook his head, “He's being a fool.”

“He's in good company,” Raven said.

Charles rubbed at his forehead. There was no cushion of mingling emotions, no buffer of thoughts overlapping each other. Things that had once made Charles feel insane were now the missing buffer between him and the sharpness of words and faces. It was almost too much to bear.

“You're right,” Emma told Raven. “They're both kind of like peas in a really twisted pod.

“I agree with Logan,” Azazel said.

“Logan?” Raven asked. “Why? What did he say?”

“We should leave them to solve their own problems,” Emma said with a big smile. She looked at Azazel and nodded.

Charles had very little time to grasp the situation or ask what the hell was happening because suddenly Azazel was behind him, clapping a hand on his shoulder, there was a burst of red and then it was immediately darker and colder.

Charles turned and frowned at Azazel who responded by pointing past him and saying, “Behind you.”

Then he was gone.

Charles blinked stupidly, finding a forest before him and to the left of him. To the right of him was a large lake and finally, behind him was a very sturdy looking wood cabin. Charles headed towards it, not really a man comfortable with nature or things with sharp teeth that perhaps lived in nature, doing whatever it was they did in the woods this late in the evening.

The door was shut, but unlocked. Opening it, he peeked around it before walking in. It was spacious inside, despite it all really just being one room which encompassed a small kitchen on the left and a living room on the right. There was a narrow staircase between the kitchen and living room that headed up towards the bedroom or rooms. It was all very old world. Charles wasn't sure he could see a modern appliance. There was a large stove in the kitchen, the kind for which Hank would go mad, all black and dark. The sink was large and clunky. The kitchen cupboards were made of chunky wood and the fridge was large and obtrusive. In the middle of this all was a dark wood table with four chairs around it.

The living room portion was no more than a large beaten up couch with a coffee table in front of it, facing a large fireplace with an armchair to its left. Charles searched for a light switch or panel on the wall. He finally found a switch by the staircase, pushing it down until it clicked. The lights flickered indecisively for a moment before the room was slowly filled with a low glow. The light as low as it was brought the warm colours of the woodwork as well as the couch and red/brown striped rug to life. Charles could also now see that under the window of the wall on the right side of the room was a bookshelf with paper books in varying states of tatter.

“-think you're doing?” Charles turned towards the door at the sudden exclamation. There was silence for a moment. It sounded like confusion. “Why did you bring me here?”

“Ask Logan.” That was most certainly Azazel.

No no no, Charles thought, realisation dawning on him. He lunged towards the door, running out, just in time to see Erik shout, “Azazel!”

Azazel was gone and Erik was standing there in the small clearing outside the cabin, breathing hard and looking furious. After a few angry breaths, he turned around and looked at the cabin, his expression instantly morphing from anger to surprise as he saw Charles standing on the small porch, watching him in silence.

It was chilly, yet Charles felt himself warming considerably, his face burning. He was glad the sun's light had faded, greying out the tell-tale signs of how good it felt to see Erik again. Even with the muted colours of evening, Charles could see Erik's bruises were all but gone, the remainders left behind like fading smudges. He seemed quite pale and unreal standing there surrounded by the dark of the forest, the black of the lake.

Charles mustered a smile. “Hello, Erik.”

Erik stood watching him stiffly. His smile was small, controlled. “Charles.”

Looking around at his surroundings, Erik stopped when he saw the lake, his gaze lingering for a moment. When he turned to face Charles, he seemed to have found his annoyance again. Charles watched him approach the cabin, walking up the steps only to stop on the third one, leaving his eyes level with Charles' nose.

Erik's gaze flicked up to look Charles' in the eyes. He gave a small nod and said, “You look good. Well.”

“So do you,” Charles said, eyeing the line above Erik's mouth which had been been a gash only days before. The bruising around his eye had faded considerably. Charles opened his mouth to say more, but Erik was moving past him and into the cabin. Charles silently followed.

Closing the door behind him, Charles leaned against it to watch Erik walking around the cabin, his eyes roaming over everything. A few seconds later he was running up the stairs. Charles craned his neck up to look at the ceiling, hearing the noise of things opening, shutting, falling. When Erik returned, his steps were heavy with defeat, his expression sullen.

He frowned at Charles and said, “Do you have a datapad, communicator? Anything?”

Charles shook his head. “No. You?”

Erik sighed, scratching his neck absently. “No. Azazel grabbed me right after I emptied my pockets.”

Erik's eyes were looking over the kitchen cabinets, but his thoughts seemed elsewhere completely. He walked off towards the kitchen, opening the cupboards and rummaging around. When he was done, he sighed and walked across the width of the cabin to fall on the couch. Charles stared at him as he sat there, both arms stretched out across the back of the couch cushions.

Erik looked up at Charles and gave him a rather irritated smile, waving one of his hands towards the armchair. “Make yourself comfortable. We'll be here a while.”

Charles scowled at him. “Where is here exactly?”

“Logan's cabin. No communication ports unless he's put some in since I was here last. No shuttle ports nearby. No communication exchange. It takes half a day just to ride to the nearest grocery store.” Erik's jaw clenched before he said, “We're stuck here until Azazel comes back for us. Which I suppose is the point of this whole exercise.”

Charles stared at the sour look on Erik's face for a while before he finally did go and sit down, falling back into the armchair. There was of course a huge subject sitting in the room, waving its trunk about and prodding both of them to start talking. Charles almost felt crushed by the need to get it out of the way, now they were here.

Erik was looking at him silently. Who knew what he was thinking or feeling with that impassive face of his? It could've been the same thing that was on Charles' mind, it could have been something entirely different.

“I'm sorry about Raven. I take it she made quite a nuisance of herself,” Charles finally said.

Erik's mouth twitched in a smile. “I'm sure you wouldn't have done the same for her.”

“I have a feeling I would be even more embarrassing.” Charles said, grimacing slightly. He looked about the cabin and said, “Won't Logan mind our being here?”

Erik seemed a little bored. “Probably his idea. He thinks everything can be solved by running away from civilisation and becoming a Zen master in the mountains.”

Charles nodded. “That probably explains the lack of distractions.”

Erik stood up with a sigh and headed back to one of the kitchen cupboards. When he returned, it was with a bottle of Scotch and two small glass tumblers. He handed the bottle to Charles, placing the glasses on the table before he went to the bookcase, crouching on the floor and peering past the books into the depth of the shelves.

Charles admired the bottle in his hand and whistled at the date. “Are you sure you want to open this? I don't think your friend will approve.”

“He should have thought about that before he had Azazel bring us here,” Erik said, pulling something out from the shelf.

Charles opened the bottle and poured while Erik sat down opposite, opening a small wooden box, folding it out into a chess board while chess pieces fell from within it, scattering onto the table. Charles set the bottle aside and rounded up the white pieces, setting them out as Erik laid out his own side before removing his coat and throwing it over the armrest of the couch.

With the board set and his sleeves rolled up, Erik snapped open the top two buttons of his white shirt and leaned back, picking up his glass and taking a moderate gulp. He pulled a face, all squint and teeth, setting the glass down.

“Good?” Charles asked with a laugh. Erik nodded, face still easing out of its scrunch. Charles picked up his glass and held it out. “To Logan's good health then.”

Erik picked up his glass and clinked it against Charles', before nodding to the chessboard. “Let's play.”

Let's play indeed, Charles thought, carefully planning his first move.

***

I'm drowning again, Erik thought, I'm drowning again and being pulled apart and I don't even care. It's not important what happens to this body.

you can't

There was so much to struggle against. The voice in his head, the metal he had latched on to, now pulling at his limbs. The cold hands of the water slowly but surely tiring his body.

Erik, please

Erik almost flew off the couch as he jerked awake, head snapping forward. He gripped the armrest to control his shaking body and racing heart. Closing his eyes, Erik swallowed, waiting until he felt some measure of calm. Opening his eyes, he saw Charles who was opposite him, slumped asleep in the armchair, neck bent at an uncomfortable angle. Erik stared at him a while, a voice still echoing uncomfortably in his head.

Brushing his hair back with his hand, Erik got up from the couch gingerly. He wobbled slightly and looked down at the coffee table to see Logan's Scotch was half gone. The chess game appeared half finished and he had no recollection of it even getting that far. The light was still on, the quiet hum of the generator going at the back of the cabin. Erik went and switched the light off, now that morning was insinuating itself into the cabin, brightening it up with natural light.

Erik made quick use of the bathroom, before very quietly leaving the cabin, stepping outside into the stinging sunlight. It was all very idyllic and peaceful, but wood and grass didn't hold the same attraction as metal did for Erik. These elements of nature didn't sing to him in the same way and even looking at the lake made his insides cold and heavy with his nightmare still drawn around him like a cool wet cloak.

Rolling down his sleeves he walked away from the cabin, his feet keeping automatic distance from the lake. His shirt was half hanging from his trousers, so he pulled the rest of it out with a sigh as he got down on one knee first and than sat back with a thump. The sun had warmed the ground, but the breeze was chilly, easily climbing inside his clothes. More importantly, chasing away the last remnants of sleep.

He turned his head a fraction and looked back at the cabin where Charles was still asleep. It was his voice, wasn't it, Erik asked himself. That voice in his nightmares.

It had always been his voice.

***

Charles blinked awake, frowning when he didn't recognise his surroundings immediately. Ah, yes, the cabin. He peered at the chess board and Scotch, recalling an evening of slow careful drinking and slow careful playing. Clearly the pace had worn both of them out before they could finish either drink or game. Feeling rather pathetic, Charles got up and went to the kitchen, getting himself a glass of water.

Through the window over the sink it was sunny and cheerful, a bright autumn day, still temperate enough for Erik to be sitting out there in his shirt, frozen there, legs drawn up, arms balanced on his knees as he twisted grass or a stem of something between his fingers, all under a focused gaze.

As Charles moved around the cabin, finding the bathroom, nosing around the small neat bedroom, he thought it was best to leave Erik to his thoughts. Let him sit there, selfishly keeping his burdens to himself, twisting at pieces of grass. After all, who was Charles to go and interfere in anyone's business? Who was he to make someone else's decisions?

It was something he asked himself even as he stopped next to Erik and said, “Good morning.”

Erik squinted up at Charles. “Good afternoon.”

Charles smiled, scratching the back of his head before taking up a cross-legged position next to Erik. “We're still here.”

Erik nodded and said, “Bastards. Every single one of them.”

Charles laughed, which provoked a smile out of Erik. Charles tilted his head at Erik and asked, “Not too awful is it? Being stuck here?”

Erik put a piece of grass between his teeth as he peered at Charles, as though he was giving Charles' question considerable thought. Chewing on the end of it, he said, “No. Not too awful.”

Charles grinned. “Just a bit.”

“Just a bit,” Erik affirmed with a quiet laugh.

Charles leaned back on the palms of his hands with a sigh, turning his face up towards the warmth of the sun. A shining Zeppelin was drifting by overhead, proudly displaying a large Stark Industries logo. “Think we could ask them to give us a ride?”

Erik looked up at the sky with a frown, tilting his head a little before reaching out his hand, spreading his fingers so the sunlight seemed to split between them before falling across Charles' face.

Charles laughed and lurched forward, grabbing Erik's hand and pulling it back. “Not funny.”

Erik's laugh was something new, something Charles' hadn't heard before. Something that bubbled out from his chest, matching an ebullient grin. Charles grinned too, looking away from the brightness of Erik's face. He was still holding Erik's hand, holding onto long fingers that flexed in his light grasp. Charles let go, fisting his own hand against the ground. When he looked up at Erik again, he was being watched by pale eyes reflecting the brightest planes of the sky. Charles dropped his gaze to Erik's hand, splayed over the grassy ground. He very slowly and gently laid his hand over Erik's, aware that Erik was watching.

Charles looked up and Erik's gaze followed. He reached out, touching Charles' bottom lip with the pad of this thumb. The touch of his fingertips was light on Charles' neck. Slowly, his fingers and thumb met to hold Charles' chin, drawing him close. Erik pressed his mouth to Charles', light and unmoving for a second. When Charles pressed in further, pressuring Erik's mouth to part, he felt Erik's lips smile against his, accepting and inviting at the same time.

Charles surged towards Erik and should have toppled Erik to the ground, but Erik's arms slipped either side of him to hold him tight. They both clung to each other, the first kiss turning into the second, the second into the third and the fourth into another. Charles felt so greedy he could barely breathe or think, scraping his teeth over Erik's mouth, licking into it to coax out more kisses.

Between their bodies, Erik's hands scrabbled at Charles' shirt, smoothing his palms over it before slipping under and then moving down to grip is hips as he tasted Charles' mouth, his jaw, his neck, only to return to his his mouth again. Charles panted as Erik's hands came around to the front of his waistband, shaking as they opened the fastening of his trousers. A moment later, Erik had one arm around Charles' waist, holding him tight as he pushed him onto his back.

Erik looked down at him with hunger, face flushed and eyes dilated with arousal. He kissed Charles slowly, moving his mouth from Charles' lips to his chin, down his throat. Charles closed his eyes against the brightness of the sun, focusing on the feel of Erik moving down the length of his body until he came to a stop, his breath warm on Charles' bare skin. Charles reached out across the ground, fingers grabbing at blades of long dry grass, crushing them in his hold. His other hand reached down finding the soft tufts Erik's hair, running his fingers through them.

Charles gasped when he felt Erik's mouth close around his cock, all wet heat and soft pressure. As Erik's mouth slid up Charles' length, Charles grabbed hard at the grass, his stomach convulsing over and over. A swirl of Erik's tongue made his hips buck, thrusting into Erik's mouth. Erik made a noise of surprise, but then his hands came up to grab Charles' hips, pushing them down, holding them in place as he sucked, nestled between Charles' legs. Charles opened his eyes a crack, ignoring the sun to look down his body at Erik's head bobbing up and down as he sucked. With a gasp he let his eyes drift shut and his head drop back, keeping his hand in Erik's hair. A moment later he was arching off the ground, coming hard with a spasm and jerk, his arm flying up across his eyes, hand fisted tight.

With his body limp and utterly spent, Charles slowly blinked up at the sky finding it cloudless and calm. The trees seemed silent too, undisturbed by the light breeze, their branches unmoving, their leaves dying second by second. Everything appeared to have come to a perfect standstill. Erik coughed and Charles looked down at him, stroking his hair. Erik moved his head slightly, and Charles could feel the press of Erik's cheek against his thigh as he lay there breathing hard. Charles could even feel the flutter of eyelashes, eyelids lazily opening and closing.

“Erik,” Charles said, his voice sounding as if it was being scraped out of his throat, though he had no recollection of taxing it even a bit. Charles tugged on Erik's hair. “Erik.

Erik reared his head, his eyes casting Charles an electrifying gaze as he all but slid up Charles' body. Erik frowned at Charles and Charles realised his hand was still fisted, now lying by the side of his head where Erik pried it open, freeing blades of grass that had left dark smudges on his palm, which Erik rubbed into the skin with his thumb. Charles leaned up to press a kiss to Erik's mouth.

Erik tried to move away. “Don't. I just-”

“I don't care,” Charles said, pulling Erik down for a kiss, tasting himself in Erik's mouth. He reached down between them to cup Erik's erection through his trousers, hard and straining against the fabric. “Here, let me.”

Erik gave no resistance as Charles pushed him onto his back, rolling on top of him. He made quick work of unfastening the opening of Erik's trousers. Flattening his hand, he slipped it under the soft fabric of underwear and smoothed his fingers down Erik's cock, finding it hard, the head already wet. Erik's face was flushed with a sheen of sweat, his eyes drifting shut and then drunkenly drifting back open.

Charles lay there half on Erik, their bodies diverging at the waist. Linking his fingers with one of Erik's hands, Charles pushed it across the ground until it was level with Erik's head. Erik gave him a lazy smile and then threw his head back when Charles began to slide his grip up and down in earnest. He let his head drop forward, forehead resting against Erik's cheek for a moment, concentrating on the consistent rhythmic movement of his hand, the sound of Erik's breathing, the sound of more blades of grass being ruthlessly plucked from the ground. Erik's hand clenched painfully around Charles', his body making a single sharp movement as he came.

Charles pressed his face into the crook of Erik's neck, closing his eyes. His fingers fingers sticky with come idly stroked Erik, exploring through wiry curls, soothing his spent prick. He could make out a heartbeat, strong, loud and finding its natural pace again. Maybe it was his. Maybe it was Erik's. It was all the same thing now. Charles lifted his head to find Erik blankly gazing up at the sky. After a moment, his eyes turned Charles' face instead. He leaned up to brush a chaste kiss against Charles' lips, but Charles pushed back, insinuating his tongue into Erik's mouth.

When they pulled apart, Erik reached down and covered Charles' hand, for a moment directing his ministrations, guiding the light strokes as he sleepily gazed at Charles. Charles nudged Erik's cheek with his nose. Erik's fingers closed around his then and finally pulled Charles hand away. Charles bumped a kiss against Erik's jaw and rolled onto his back, wiping his hand off on the grass before reaching down to fix his clothing, while Erik did the same next to him. They both lay side by side for a while, watching the sky together. The Zeppelin they had spotted earlier had moved further along, lazily drifting into the distance.

“So, you've decided to throw away your inheritance,” Charles said quietly. Erik slowly rolled towards Charles, pressing his mouth against Charles' shoulder. Charles reached out and stroked his fingers through Erik's hair. “You don't have to.”

Erik looked up at him with a piercing bright gaze. “I know.”

Charles' mouth twitched, a smile pulling at the corner. “But you're going to anyway.”

“You didn't have to hide losing your abilities,” Erik said. “But you did it anyway.”

Charles squinted, face warming with something like embarrassment perhaps. “So, now what?”

Erik gave him a thoughtful look, before pulling back and getting to his feet. He nodded towards the cabin and said, “Breakfast?”

“Don't you mean lunch?” Charles asked, sitting up and holding out a hand.

Erik grabbed his hand, hauling Charles to his feet. Charles pressed a kiss to Erik's mouth, allowing himself to be led back inside.

***

“Is this a joke?” Logan's voice was low and dangerous and he looked as though he might leap across the table in the small booth and strangle both Emma and Raven at the same time. Raven looked at Emma, directing Logan's attention. “Frost?”

Emma shrugged and said, “This isn't what you wanted?”

Logan's brow furrowed so hard, it was going to leave a dent in his forehead. “What?

“You said-”

“I know what I said. How did you take that to mean using my cabin as a couple's retreat?”

“I put two and two together-”

“And made twenty-two?” Raven asked with a grin. Emma gave her a reproachful look which utterly failed when she couldn't hold back her own grin.

“You two think this is funny?” Logan asked with a glare. “Get Azazel up there now.”

“I can't,” Emma said. “He's spending a few days with Ma and Pa and he's incommunicado until he gets back. His folks might have heard a message I left for his ears only and now he's keeping everything away from their ears.”

Logan gave her a hard look, leaning back and folding his muscular arms over a chest that was well defined even under his shirt. He nodded at Emma. “You're really pushing your luck.”

Raven sighed, holding up her hands. “Guys, keep it for couples therapy. How about one of you tell me what I'm doing here? I already know my best friend's been abducted and taken to this love shack. You didn't call me here for that.”

Logan and Emma shared a look as Logan said, “We have a plan to save Erik's inheritance.”

“I'm not doing anything illegal,” Raven said.

Emma looked shocked, staring open-mouthed at Raven. “How could you even-”

“She's met you,” Logan said dryly.

Emma's offended expression immediately disappeared as she smiled at Raven, touching her arm. “It's only a little bit illegal.”

Raven nodded at Emma with a smile and said, “You seriously need some help.”

“Like I said, she's met you.”

Emma shot Logan a filthy look and turned to Raven. “Look, for this inheritance to go through, the lawyers need to establish that your friend can still, you know,” she said, wiggling her fingers by her head.

“Which he can't,” Logan said. “But we know someone who can.”

Emma smiled and waved at Raven and then as if to be completely clear, she pointed at herself and said, “He means me.”

Raven frowned. “Where do I come in?”

Logan leaned in and said, “Henry's lawyers want to see the happy couple today. They're a little concerned about all the rumours. We need you.”

Raven remembered her momentary charade at the hospital, being looked at by Erik's wounded eyes. “You want me to pretend to be Charles?”

“That won't be necessary.” Raven turned to see Charles beside her, smiling and waving at her in a rather goofy manner. “It's good, isn't it? It's a projection. Not as sophisticated as what you can do, but it'll hold up.”

Voices neared their booth and Emma promptly re-appeared as herself. Raven turned to look at Logan and said, “You want me to be Erik.”

Logan pointed at her. “You got it.”

Raven stared. “This is a bad plan.”

Logan shrugged. “Yeah, we know, but it's all we've got.”

“What about using the law? You're a lawyer, right? Wait, are you a lawyer?” Raven asked, her face caving under the incredulity of it all. “You think these people are just going to waltz in look at our faces and buy it? I doubt it'll be that easy. Something you might know, if you were a lawyer. Do you know a lawyer?”

“Can it, will you? I've got it all figured out. They've got a telepath on their team, but she's no match for Frost. Frost'll be able to cover herself and you. If they ask you any tricky questions, Frost's going to tell you what to say,” Logan said, tapping his temple. “All you both need to do is play the happy couple for an afternoon. Once we have this in the bag, it's up to the real couple to decide if they're going to go the whole way or not.”

Raven blinked. “Is this why you got them out of the way? I bet Erik didn't agree to this, right?”

“Hey, I told you, I had nothing to do with forcing them to mate or whatever the hell's going on here,” Logan said.

Emma really did look offended this time. “You told me your plan and said, 'all we need to do now is find a way to get them out of the picture',” she said, imitating Logan and earning herself an irritated glare from him. “I got them out of the picture. Bub.”

“You're a real pill, you know that?” Logan said, shooting Emma a narrow-eyed look.

“What does Azazel think about all this?” Raven said.

“He thinks we're playing matchmaker?” Emma said with a grimace. Raven shook her head in dismay and Emma pouted in her direction. “It's a white lie.”

“Raven, are you doing this, or not?” Logan asked.

“Well, when you ask so sweetly,” Raven replied. “I just hope it's not all for nothing.”

Logan made a face. “The main stipulation in the will was hooking up with Xavier. Everyone on this planet pretty much knows they're seeing each other. We don't need to convince anyone you two are Xavier and the groom. We just need to convince them that Xavier's still firing on all cylinders.”

“Don't worry, darling,” Emma said with Charles' voice, sounding far too indecent. “I'm sure I can handle it.”

Logan narrowed his eyes at Emma as Raven said, “Okay, you're freaking me out now.”

***

Erik scooped scrambled eggs out of a pan and onto thick pieces of toast. Putting the pan aside he picked up the plates and added them to the cups of tea on the kitchen table. Charles looked up from the tattered paperback he had rescued from the back of Logan's bookshelf while Erik had insisted on playing host. Charles closed the book and set it aside, looking at his plate with a small pleased smile that possibly had surprise sitting on its corner.

He looked up at Erik and said, “Looks delicious.”

Erik sat down opposite Charles. “Dig in.”

Charles did exactly that, closing his eyes and moaning around the first bite. Erik shifted in his seat and concentrated on the contents of his own plate, while Charles said, “I had no idea I was so hungry.”

Erik sat back, drinking his tea, finding himself smiling behind the cup as he watched Charles enthusiastically tucking in. Erik replaced his cup and said, “Looks like there's enough food for a few days. Logan must have stocked up for our stay.”

“You seem to know your way around your lawyer's home very well,” Charles said, reaching for his tea. Erik smiled at Charles. He couldn't stop it, his cheeks pulling at his mouth in terrible amusement. Charles coloured slightly, cheeks pinking. “Not that I'm prying.”

“I've been here a few times,” Erik said. “Logan is under the misapprehension that nature is peaceful.”

“You don't find it peaceful?” Charles asked.

“Peace is a state of mind. If you're going to find it, you'll find it anywhere. If you're not going to find it... Besides, nature lacks what cities are made of.”

Charles raised his brows in question and Erik held up a hand, a knife flying through the air and slipping between his fingers, twirling its way through them effortlessly. Charles' expression dimmed somewhat and Erik remembered why. He put the knife on the table as Charles displayed a plainly forced a smile.

“Sorry...”

“Don't,” Charles said. “A blind man doesn't expect everyone else to gouge out their eyes.”

Erik gave Charles a look and pointed out, “A blind man wouldn't have seen that.”

Charles smiled. “Don't be so obtuse, Erik. You know what I mean.”

Erik smiled back, a strange warm pleasure creeping across his face at being chastened by Charles. Tentatively, he asked, “What's it like? Not being able to use your abilities?”

Charles stared into his teacup, as if transfixed by it. Absently he replied, “I'm not sure it's sunk in yet. Mostly it's just frustrating. I keep forgetting that I'm not shielding myself, it really is this silent. When I try to open my mind and nothing happens, that's when it hits. The reality that something might be quite irrevocably broken. For good.”

Erik felt the mask of impassivity he wore crumble somewhat, his brow creasing, his mouth clamping shut. Charles saw his face and shook his head. Softly, he said, “Don't make this your fault, Erik. You didn't do this to me.”

But that was how it felt. There was a great watery weight in Erik's chest. His heart kept telling him that he had broken Charles. He had hurt him in some terrible way. How could this not be true? Wasn't it right in front of him?

“Shaw did this because of me,” Erik said, running his finger along knife before him. “If I hadn't come into your life, you would still have your abilities.”

“Do you think removing yourself from my life now is going to keep me from harm?” Charles asked, his voice quiet and restrained. “Isn't that a rather stupendous assumption?”

Erik gave a sharp nod. “Yet, you're the one who broke things off.”

“That was different,” Charles said. “If your lawyers find out I'm a non-manifesting mutant your inheritance is gone. It's a fortune, Erik, one that could help people.”

“And who gave you the right to make that decision? Who gave you the responsibility of helping every hard done by mutant?” Erik asked, the small amounts of metal in the kitchen making their presence known, creating a collective sound like the hiss of a snake. Charles didn't even bat an eyelid. “I would have stayed. No matter what.”

Charles' eyes turned glassy and Erik's anger abated, dampened a little. “Couldn't you have stayed as my friend?”

Very firmly, so he couldn't be mistaken, Erik replied, “I don't want to be your friend. And you're a liar if you think that's what you want.”

Charles swallowed, looking down at his cooling breakfast, his finger tracing the edge of the plate. After a moment he rested his elbow on the table, resting his forehead in the palm of his hand. Erik realised Charles had said his piece for now. His mouth curling with annoyance, Erik left Charles where he sat, jogging up the stairs and turning into the bathroom.

His clothes smelled like the grass and dirt from outside, not to mention the lingering smell of sweat and sex. Erik stood in the doorway, looking down at the stairs. He couldn't hear anything, though what was he expecting? He unbuttoned his shirt, the water starting to run behind him. There really wasn't much more to say for now.

***

Logan was standing by the window behind Erik's desk, eyes on the datapad in his hand, while Raven sat in Erik's chair, swinging side to side as she watched Emma pacing back and forth, every inch of her looking like Charles Xavier. It was a strange sight, watching her walk around the office, silently muttering to herself in concentration, strange little expressions passing across her face which didn't belong on Charles'.

Raven swivelled around to look up at Logan. “What's she doing?”

Logan stared at Raven. No doubt he was having trouble seeing Erik just as Raven was having trouble seeing Charles. He looked at Emma and said, “Pooling everything she knows about Xavier.”

Raven swivelled back to look at Emma. “Is it working?”

Emma turned and put her hands in her pockets, flashing Raven a huge smile. There was a strange twinkle about her Charles. He seemed to almost glow.

“What do you think?” Emma asked.

“I dunno,” Raven frowned. “There's something off.”

Emma grinned and said, “Would you say I seem almost too perfect?”

Raven nodded slowly, “Yeah. Yeah, I think so. He's actually way more cranky.”

Emma took up a seat in front of Raven, leaning forward conspiratorially. “Guess who sees his cutie pie like this? Here's a clue, I took a walk through his head recently.”

Raven may have giggled. At the very least, it was certainly interesting to see Charles the way someone else saw him. Someone who appeared quite smitten. Raven turned her head to grin at Logan who was eyeing Emma's projection with a bland expression. He didn't seem particularly moved.

“They should be here soon.” He nodded at Raven. “Remember, listen to Frost. She'll talk you through the whole thing.”

Raven nodded, smiling. “Anything else?”

Logan poked a finger at the corner of Raven's mouth. “He doesn't smile this much.”

Raven pointed at Emma's grinning Charles. “He does around him.”

***

let it go, you have to let it go

Erik sat up, water splashing all around him. His heart was hammering in his chest and he was shaking, shivering in the middle of the bathtub, staring into the water with wide eyes. Taking a deep breath, Erik looked around, remembered where he was before he slowly lay back down and sunk low into the fading warmth of the water, still shivering as he stared up at the ceiling in silent anguish. His mind wandered to those few days without Charles, those few nights of dreamless sleep. He closed his eyes against further thought, only opening them when he heard footsteps stopping on the threshold of the bathroom. Erik pushed himself up a little and turned his head to find Charles standing in the doorway. Charles held up his hand in a wave of sorts before leaning against the door frame.

“I cleared away the dishes,” Charles said quietly. “I thought it was the least I could do after you cooked and didn't even eat a single bite.”

Erik closed his eyes and sighed, letting his head loll back. He was so tired. Everything seemed harder with Charles around. And yet, this was what he wanted. Charles Xavier by his side.

“When you went to see Shaw,” Charles spoke after a moment, prompting Erik to open his eyes. “What happened?”

Erik stared at the wall opposite. He almost felt physically unable to tell Charles, like his jaw had frozen shut. He felt pathetic asking Charles, “Does it matter?”

“He paid someone to kill me,” Charles said, far too kindly than he needed to. “It matters a little.”

Images assaulted Erik's mind, images of his blacked out, scratched out, hated eyes. “He thinks I'm Magneto.”

Charles said nothing. They were both silent for a while, that name taking its time to bounce off the walls. Erik lowered his gaze down to the fingers of one hand, the skin looking shrivelled up from too much time in the water.

“He said it would all happen again. Magneto will rise and the most traitorous mutants have to die. You have to die.” Erik stopped, each word so weighty they felt like rocks in his mouth, threatening to choke him. He couldn't even blink, his gaze stuck on the wall in front. “He was talking about regeneration.”

“Ah. That old fairly tale,” Charles said. There was an undercurrent of anger in his tone, barely there, but noticeable all the same. “Why did he attack you?”

“I'm not the man he was hoping to see,” Erik said. He should have been reassured, but he all he could feel right now was cold and numb.

Charles didn't respond and Erik finally turned his head to look at the other man. Charles was stood there watching Erik, face fixed in silent and unreadable contemplation. Finally he said, “You look like you're freezing. Maybe you should get out.”

Charles pushed away from the door frame and picked up the white towel that was hung close by. Erik sat up and slowly stood, stepping out of the tub under Charles' unwavering gaze. Charles met him halfway across the tiny bathroom, bringing the towel up and gently pressing it under Erik's jaw, his throat, his chest and then sliding it down his stomach until Erik grabbed his wrist hard. The towel fell to the floor, ignored by both men.

“One friendly fuck per friend,” Erik said quietly.

Charles grimaced, his fist tightening in response to the firm grip around his wrist. “Erik.”

“Tell me what you want,” Erik said, skin chilled, but heating in anticipation anyway. “Forget everything else and just tell me what you want.”

Charles looked up at Erik, brow creased slightly, eyes focused on Erik. “I don't think I want to be your friend either.”

“And no more inheritance talk,” Erik insisted. All these complications, he wanted them all gone, every single obstacle.

“No more inheritance talk,” Charles said quietly, pressing the palm of his free hand against' Erik's chest, turning him, slowly pushing him until Erik's back was against the door frame. Charles sighed, leaning forward and kissing Erik on his collar bone. “No more talk.”

Erik nodded, something like a knot in his stomach loosening. Placing a hand on Charles' cheek, he drew up his face, pressing a kiss to Charles' mouth with an almost grateful sigh. “No more talk.”

***

Raven was sitting in a large briefing room with a long table that was obviously expensive, but ultimately so slick it was boring. She sat between Logan and Emma, opposite a team of four lawyers. The first one was a woman somewhere in her forties, sharp black suit and tight bun. She was simply known as Ms. Black and she hadn't uttered a word since her arrival, which explained why her lipstick was pristine. The telepath, Emma had whispered into Raven's mind.

The second was a man of a nervous disposition, Jay Rollins. Every time he got nervous, he seemed to fade a little. Mostly it happened whenever Logan open his mouth. The third was a man in his fifties, quiet and grouchy, Bernard Hayes. He appeared only to be interested in his datapad. And finally there was the mouthpiece, Janos Quested. He was spending most of his time arching a brow in Emma's direction and smiling rather lasciviously.

He flicked his well kept mane of black hair back, telling Charles Xavier to, “Please, call me Janos.”

Would he? Emma prodded Raven's mind.

Nope. He'd look like he was sucking a lemon and insist on being called Doctor.

And if I know Erik, he'd be lunging across the table inviting a law suit right now.

Raven smiled at Janos and said, “Why don't we stick to the formalities?”

Janos frowned at Raven and then at Emma, before looking back and forth between them. “You're talking to each other. How sweet.” Janos looked at Ms. Black and there was a silent pause before he looked back at Raven and said, “Mr. Xavier appears to be very protective of you.”

Raven just glared. She'd seen Erik do it and it worked well enough for him. It was Emma who said in Charles' smooth tones, “I'm sorry, I was under the impression you were here to ascertain whether I'm still fully functional after my little MU1 scare. Not if I use my mouth to speak with my fiancé.”

The corner of Ms. Black's mouth went up a notch as Janos said, “Oh no no. Please, do not be offended. This is a happy occasion. If there was silence between you two, that would be more worrying.”

Haynes looked up with a frown, as if someone had just tapped his shoulder. He went still and then it was Rollins who looked at Black and then at Raven. Raven looked at him and said, “What?”

Rollins instantly started to fade a little. He said, “Nothing really. Ms. Black just asked me if I thought something was not quite right with you.”

Raven nodded, envisioning Erik's impassive face and feeling an odd warmth in her head which Emma assured her was just her presence, shielding Raven and sending distorted messages to Black. “And?”

Rollins shrugged. “Well, you do seem a little different?”

Logan snorted. “Different? As in getting married different? Almost getting killed different? Almost seeing his fiancé die different? Having you geniuses grill the happy couple different?” Rollins fidgeted while Ms. Black frowned at Logan and then smiled with curiosity. He smiled back and said, “No point trying, sweetheart. This coconut's not for telepathic cracking.”

“Yes,” Haynes said, totally ignoring Logan. “I suppose you have been through a rough time, Erik. Still, I can't tell you how much it pleases me that you're carrying out Henry's wishes. You are doing something wonderful for our people.”

“Can I ask a question?” Raven asked. Both Emma and Logan looked at her, surprised, maybe worried. Haynes nodded. “What if Charles' mutation was dormant? What if you couldn't pick up any telepathic activity from him right now?”

Haynes sighed and said, “Well, then I'm afraid you would have to marry someone else. Or lose your inheritance.”

“But he's still Charles Xavier. The same Charles Xavier Henry wanted. Isn't he?” Raven asked.

“It's not just about preserving a name,” Haynes said seriously. “It's about preserving a longer legacy. If you both decide to have children, which we all hope you do, something amazing will come from the genetic mixture of these two bloodlines. Your child could be the most important mutant on this planet.”

“He could also be a fireman,” Emma said. When Raven looked at her, her expression was so Charles it made Raven smile. “Besides, even if my mutation was dormant, I hardly think it would affect my children. After all, there was a time when the majority of mutants were born to humans. Remember?”

“Everything has to begin somewhere, it's a pity we had to begin as humans. Your children will have an advantage. Being born to a human, you may as well be born broken,” Haynes said, getting up and giving Emma a nasty little smirk. He nodded at Logan and said, “I'll transfer the paperwork to you tomorrow morning. As far as we're concerned, it's mazal tov.”

Janos, Black and Rollins followed Haynes, getting up and gathering their things, no time for niceties, just business. As they reached the doors, Logan surprised Raven by calling out and asking, “What happens if Xavier's abilities nosedive after they marry?”

Haynes turned around slowly, looking at the seated trio. He had a very disgruntled look on his pasty face. “Well,” he said, “Then what a waste of time and money this will have been. Good day, Mr. Logan. Mr. Xavier. Erik, give my regards to your aunt.”

Ms. Black marched out, followed by an almost invisible Rollins, Haynes way ahead of them in the corridor. Janos looked at Logan, Emma and Raven and shrugged. “Hey, I'm only in it for the money.”

He winked at Emma and left. Logan was quiet next to Raven, but she felt as if she could physically touch the wall of anger around him and on her other side, Emma was silent too, looking like a very angry Charles. Raven looked down at her hands, or rather, Erik's tight-fisted hands.

“Who wants to get wasted?” Logan asked, voice low.

Raven nodded and said, “Yeah.”

Emma was already up. “I'm buying.”

***

The world had narrowed down to the impossible space between Charles' and Erik's sweat-slicked bodies. Charles lay over Erik, cock deep, his hand hooked under Erik's knee, encouraging his leg to draw up and let Charles in deeper still. Erik writhed beneath him, panting hard into the pillow. Charles gripped one of his hands, fingers entwined with his moments before now curled into a tight fist. When Charles thrust slowly into tight heat, Erik broke his dignified silence, moaning as though he could no longer bite it back.

Charles smiled, catching a whisper of a curse, whispering back, what was that? into Erik's ear. Erik shook his head with a huff of frustration as Charles closed his eyes and pressed his forehead between Erik's damp shoulders, changing pace from slow thrusts to short snaps of his hips which made Erik gasp into his pillow.

Charles would have said he'd like to stay like this forever, on Erik, in Erik, around Erik, but words seemed ridiculous. What Charles wanted to do was push into Erik with his mind, joining the strands of their pleasure into an infinite loop. But no matter how much he tried, Charles' mind was trapped in his own head. It was with pure frustration that he pressed his forehead against Erik, his hips thrusting harder than he intended.

Erik, he thought, God, Erik.

you were in my head!

Charles lurched up, seeing stars and black spots as he was stopped by Erik's hands on his shoulders, gently pushing him back down. Charles stared at Erik, eyes wide open, his hand reaching to grip Erik's arm and anchor himself.

“Charles?” Erik asked Charles, patient and quiet.

Charles nodded, feeling a little frantic, confused that he was on his back and Erik was looming over him. Charles reached up to rub his forehead, pain flaring up in his eye. He stammered, “I... I think I was in your head.”

Erik gave him a confused look, nodding slightly. He held up a hand to indicate Charles should remain where he lay and climbed off the bed, leaving the room and appearing moments later with a towel in his hand. Sitting down, Erik pulled Charles' hand away from his forehead before pressing the towel below is nose.

Quietly he told Charles, “You're bleeding.”

Charles took over holding the towel, blinking up at Erik. When he couldn't bear the look of worry creasing Erik's features, Charles turned onto his side, pulling off the rubber still on his now limp cock. When he turned back, he smiled shakily and said, “Well, that's killed the mood.”

Erik adjusted his position, drawing his legs up so his toes disappeared under the pillow, his arms loosely hanging over his knees, one hand over the other wrist. “You said you were in my head.”

Charles sat up gingerly, pulling the covers over his lap, Erik arching a brow at the action before the corner of his mouth lifted in amusement. “I heard you. You told me I was in your head. You didn't feel anything?”

Erik smiled. “Not in my head, Charles.”

Charles stared at him for a moment and then let out a huff of laughter, looking down at the covers as he wiped at his face with the towel again. “This. Is absolutely humiliating. I'm so sorry.”

Erik gave Charles knee a squeeze, watching as the other man sighed, letting his head fall back against the headboard. “It was so loud and clear. I felt it.” Charles bit the inside of his mouth, shaking his head. “Maybe I'm going mad.”

“Maybe it's... like a phantom limb,” Erik said quietly. “Gone, but not forgotten.”

“For a telepath, that may as well be madness.” Charles nodded thoughtfully. Looking at Erik, dejectedly he said, “I don't think I'm going to be able to do this.”

Charles looked away as soon as his eyes stung. This night had already been embarrassing enough. But then Erik reached out, prodding a knuckle under Charles' chin. He spoke quietly as though someone else was in the room, spying on their conversation. “There's much more to you than your abilities, Charles. You are... rather remarkable.”

Charles mustered a smile though he felt as if there was a hard marble stuck in his throat, forcing itself down into his chest, forcing itself up into his eyes. He swallowed down whatever awful sound was coiling up in his throat and shook his head. “It's like the whole world's suddenly shut me out. I don't think I've ever felt this alone.”

Erik leaned forward. “But you're not. You're not alone.”

Charles stared at Erik, clenching his jaw and forcing his face into composure, just in case it cracked. Erik moved onto his knees, leaning in close and pressing a kiss to Charles' mouth. He pulled at the bloodied towel, throwing it aside before closing his arms around Charles and deepening their kiss. After a moment, it was Charles who gently pushed at Erik until they were both lying down, Erik on his back and Charles blanketing his body.

Charles kissed Erik's collar bone, reaching between them to rid the portion of the bed covers that had travelled with him. At the same time, Erik opened his legs, bracketing Charles' body in between his thighs. He looked down at Erik's face, reaching out and stroking his fingers from cheek to jaw, to chin, to mouth, dipping his head and gently kissing Erik's bottom lip before covering his mouth completely.

you were in my head

Charles kissed Erik harder, hard enough to imprint it on his mouth and on his mind, all the while asking himself, exactly when had he ever been in Erik's mind?

***

Raven downed her beer and shook her head. “It's three in the afternoon and I'm sitting here drinking when I should be grading papers.”

Logan didn't respond, knocking back his whiskey like it was water. On Raven's other side, Emma took a sip of her wine, replaced the glass on the bar and sighed at her reflection in the mirror opposite.

“You okay?” Raven asked her.

Emma nodded. “Mr. Haynes was quite the vile specimen.”

Logan now turned to stare at Emma along with Raven. “What's with the accent?”

Emma shrugged. “I rather enjoyed Charles' accent. I may keep it. For a while at least.”

“Gonna need another.” Logan held up a hand to catch the barman's attention. He nodded towards Raven's beer. “You drinking?”

Raven shook her head. “I'm going home to hug my family and sober up.”

Logan's mouth quirked up in a little smile as he nodded. He leaned forward, past Raven, and asked Emma, “What about you?”

Emma slipped off her barstool and picked up her coat from the vacant seat next to hers. “I'm calling Azazel and demanding he comes home and attends to my needs.”

Raven smiled at Emma. “Need a hug?”

“Please,” Emma snorted.

“Hey,” Logan said, pointing at Emma. “Five 'o’clock sharp, my place, you and Azazel.”

Emma's shoulders slumped and she looked honestly disappointed. “Why can't we pick them up in the morning?”

“I want them out of my cabin,” Logan said, very seriously. “I mean it.”

“God,” Emma muttered, twisting around and marching out of the bar.

Raven turned and looked at Logan. “So...”

“Don't,” Logan said. “Go on. Go home to your family.”

“Fine. Try not to drink the bar dry,” Raven said, bumping the back of her fist against his arm. He gave her wink. “Oh, and by the way, there's a redhead at the end of the bar, checking you out. She's kind of cute.”

Logan frowned at Raven before turning his attention to the end of the bar where a woman was sat with her drink, her eyes on the view screen suspended behind the bar. She looked away from it with a frown and then back at Logan, catching his gaze. She smiled politely from behind unruly red bangs and black reading glasses when he gave her an acknowledging nod. After that her eyes turned to her datapad on the bar and Logan turned to stare ahead with a frown.

“What?” Raven asked. “You don't like redheads? I take that personally, you know.”

Logan shot the woman another glance, shaking his head. “I'm just trying to place her. She looks familiar.”

“Which happens to be the most successful pick up line, trust me, I know. Go,” Raven said, prodding his shoulder. Logan glared at Raven and then took another discreet look at the woman, slowly slipping off his seat, finishing his drink in one go. “Oh my god, are you going?”

Logan froze and turned to look at Raven. “You just told me to.”

“I know, but I had no idea you would.” Logan was staring at her, so Raven nodded and said, “But you should. She just checked out your ass. That's always a good sign.”

Logan nodded thoughtfully. “That is a good sign. Even I know that.”

Raven nodded and gave him a thumbs up, watching him turn and stiffly walk to the end of the bar where he tentatively approached the woman. Raven smiled, watched for a moment and then with a small sense of satisfaction, turned away and made her way home.

***

It was night when Charles awoke. Erik had spooned up against him, his hand a limp weight on Charles' hip, Erik's breath warm on the back of Charles' neck. There was light stealing into the room, illuminating planes and edges, but it wasn't coming from the window. Charles sat up slowly, gently moving Erik's hand away as he peered around the room, his eyes falling on the strip of light under the door.

He carefully got out of bed, pulling on his trousers and shirt before walking towards the door. At the door, he stopped to look back at Erik who had moved over to Charles' side, wrapping his arms around the pillow. Charles turned back towards the door and reached for the doorknob, turning it quietly.

He opened the door and slipped outside into a long corridor. It was so brightly lit Charles found himself squinting. The ground was smooth and tiled under his feet, like marble. The ceiling was composed of bright white light panels and the walls were a discreet grey. Charles stepped into the middle of the corridor and peered towards the end.

There was what appeared to be a large circular metal shield that covered the wall at the end of the corridor. Charles walked towards it, watching it grow as he neared. On closer inspection the shield appeared to be engraved with a large X. No, he thought, not a shield, a door. Charles came to a stop before it, hearing the metal of the door creak, thud and shudder, as if it was stuck. Charles reached out to touch the door.

“Stop.” Charles snatched his hand away at the harsh command and turned towards the voice to find Erik who stood glaring, a hard look in his eyes. “Get away from there.”

“What is it?”

Erik looked at the object in question, swallowing. “A door.”

Charles nodded. “To what?”

Erik replied, “I don't know.”

Charles was staring at Erik with wide-eyes. He gave a disbelieving laugh and said, “Then we should open it. Find out what's behind it.” Behind Charles, the door made another noise of protest. Charles turned towards it and said with a note of realisation in his voice, “Look at it. It's just sitting here waiting to be unlocked.”

“Charles,” Erik said quietly, hating the desperation he could hear in his own voice.

“You're afraid. Why are you afraid?” Charles was staring at him, frowning with confusion. Erik looked at the door. He could see a distorted reflection of himself. He seemed coloured in all wrong. Red. There was so much red.

The corridor began to shake, tiles popping up from the ground, steel girders slicing out of the ceiling and up from the floor. Charles fell against the wall. Bury the door, Erik thought, just bury the door.

“Erik! Stop this!” Charles yelled as the corridor began to cave in around them. “Erik, please! Calm yourself!”

Erik stared at the door as it gleamed threateningly. He shook his head and murmured, “I can't let you open it.”

“Why?” Charles yelled over the din of flying debris. “What's so important? What are you so afraid of, Erik?”

“Enough,” Erik grated out. “Enough of this.”

A part of the ceiling fell completely, metal girders falling down and embedding themselves in the ground. The chaos was moving closer and closer towards Charles who watched with wide unbelieving eyes. Then he looked at Erik and shook his head. His hand shot out, fingers outstretched and suddenly Erik felt like he was being hit by a wave.

Erik would have yelled out, but he was too busy gasping for air, sucking in a breath as if he hadn't been breathing for minutes. He lurched forward, trying to scrabble away from the arms that were holding him tight, wrapped around his middle, a warm and flush body against his back.

“Erik, it's all right!” Charles said, sounding frantic. “It's a dream. It's not real. It's a dream. We're awake. It's fine.”

Erik stopped struggling as the words sunk in, though tremors continued running through his body, his breathing was rapid, still hard to control. As the fog in his mind cleared, he could hear items in the room falling to the floor. Erik realised there was a harsh breeze coming into the room and looked up to find the window broken, the daylight on the other side providing some relief. Then he realised what Charles had just said.

He turned around slowly in Charles' hold to look at him.“What do you mean we're awake?”

Charles' face was flushed and now Erik's senses were clearing, he could see the other man was breathless and looked as dishevelled as Erik felt. “I was in your dream. I was in your head.”

Erik pulled back, frowning. “Are you sure?”

“I'm the one who woke you up, Erik,” Charles said as Erik stared silently. Charles took a deep breath and asked, “What the hell are you keeping in that head of yours?”

***

Dressed and reasonably more settled, Charles headed down the stairs and grimaced when he saw the state of the cabin. There was either metal debris everywhere or things that had been pierced or broken by metal. The living room appeared to have been smashed to pieces thanks to all the metal in the kitchen and the fridge was on the other side of the room. Well, half of it was.

“Oh dear,” Charles said, making a face as he stood at the bottom of the stairs, looking at the carnage. Erik jogged down the stairs, stopping behind Charles, slapping his hands onto Charles' shoulders and poking his head past Charles to peer at the room. “Erik, it looks like a bomb hit this place.”

Erik made an uninterested sound and squeezed past Charles to go stand in the middle of the room, surveying the damage. Charles noticed that unlike him, Erik was no longer in yesterday's clothes, wearing a bulky black sweater and black jeans. Charles couldn't quite figure out if they belonged to Logan or if Erik just happened to have clothes lying around in the cabin. Either way, he felt enough of a seed of jealousy to feel rather happy about the fact that Logan's iron stove seemed to have exploded and acted much like ancient heavy artillery.

Erik was prodding at something on the floor with the tip of his boot, tilting his head to look at it before he lost interest and turned to frown at Charles instead. “How can your abilities still be there, if you can't use them?”

Charles blew out a breath, picking up a toppled chair which had survived the metal attack. “I don't know. Maybe it's a psychosomatic blockage. Maybe, I can use them, but not consciously. What else could it be? I mean, how else could I just be walking around inside your dreams?”

Erik nodded absently. “I'm sorry you didn't have this realisation in a more pleasant manner.”

Charles snorted, picking up a twisted pan and replacing it on the floor when he realised the sink was no longer in the kitchen. “Don't be. I've had my fair share of nightmares. Though, I must say I don't envy you. That was quite terrifying.”

Erik gave Charles a shrug. “It's nothing new.”

“You've had this dream before?” Charles asked.

Erik frowned, recalling the most recurring nightmares. “No. Not this particular one.”

“Do you think it means something?” Charles asked. When Erik frowned, he shrugged and said, “It's been a stressful time. For both of us.”

Erik sighed, letting his head fall back as he quietly groaned. He looked back at Charles, giving him a firm stare. “They all mean something. Something that's ultimately meaningless usually.”

“So... you're not a man who's keeping secrets in some big subconscious vault?” Charles teased, smiling at Erik.

Erik grinned at him, walking across the room to close the distance between them. “I'm saying, Charles, we all have our vaults and I'm happy leaving mine closed, if a little disturbed that you were so adamant about opening it.”

“I'm not sure any of us know what we're doing in dreams. I suppose I just thought if I opened the door, you'd stop being so afraid,” Charles said earnestly, looking up at Erik. “But, you're quite right. It's up to you if you'd rather keep certain doors closed.”

Erik nodded at him, the corner of his mouth lifting in a slight smile. It was strange standing so close to Erik, allowed to touch, allowed to kiss. Allowed to take him straight back to bed where Erik would say yes to everything. It made Charles' skin warm all over. It was all so strange and new, navigating this new territory. Maybe Erik was thinking the same thing, because he looked away with an amused smile before crouching down in front of Charles.

Charles watched him as he picked up a broken cup, turning it around in his hands. He looked up at Charles, waving the cup. “Think I'll have to buy him a new one?”

Charles stared for a second before a small laugh burst out of him. “Erik. I think you're going to have to buy the man a new cabin. Speaking of which, I think your friends have forgotten about us.”

Erik dropped the cup and stood up, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his jeans with a shrug. “So? You're not scared of being alone with me, are you, Charles?”

Charles snorted, arching a brow at Erik. “Hardly.”

Erik took a step forward, closing the gap between them and leaned in very close, tilting his face as if he might kiss Charles. He asked Charles in a quiet whisper, “Are you sure?”

Charles stood there, honestly considering the answer in light of the fact that he could see behind Erik there was a hole in the wall where there used to be a window. He turned his gaze down to Erik's mouth, which was close, unmoving and yet utterly inviting, his breath warm on Charles' face.

Charles looked up at Erik's hooded eyes and said, “I'm quite sure I couldn't be afraid of you if I tried.”

Erik seemed mildly startled, the playfulness lost from his face as he inched back to look at Charles with wide pale eyes and a slight amount of wonder written across his face. He gave Charles a nod, his mouth morphing into half a smile and Charles leaned into Erik, pressing a kiss against his smiling mouth, feeling Erik's arm close around his shoulders, the other one finding Charles' hand, squeezing it firmly. New territory it might have been, but Charles couldn't remember ever having felt so at home.

“What the fuck is this?”

Charles frowned, mouth half-pursed and on its way into another kiss. He opened an eye, the one closest to the questioner, letting it slide until three people came into view. Charles extricated himself from Erik's hold, not easily done as Erik seemed intent on holding on, thoroughly amused by Charles' sense of propriety, going by the expression on his face.

Charles looked at the faces of their three guests. Well, technically their host and two guests. There in the middle of the mess that used to be a cabin were Logan, Azazel and Emma. The two men were staring at the carnage, while Emma was smiling at Erik in a very triumphant manner. Azazel frowned at a piece of the stove that was embedded in the ceiling and then took a step back.

“Don't even think about disappearing, bub,” Logan said without looking at him. He turned to Erik. “A word?”

Erik stepped forward and Charles found himself taking a step with him, blocking his way with an arm. “I know exactly how this looks, but there's an explanation.”

“Charles, it's fine,” Erik said, pushing down his arm and moving towards the door where Logan was waiting, looking uninterested in any explanation.

“Bad dreams, sweetie?” Emma asked, turned towards Erik, but looking at Charles as if she was... the telepath, of course. How strange it felt to be at the mercy of someone else's ability. She wouldn't be probing his mind, no telepath would do that without good reason, but like a sponge she would be absorbing everything he couldn't shield. She shrugged at him and said, “You're broadcasting kind of loud at the moment.”

Charles turned his attention to Logan. “Like your friend said. Bad dreams.”

Logan seemed to sober a little, whereas now Erik's demeanour became more prickly. He gave Emma a disapproving look before shoving past Logan and walking out of the cabin, Logan leaving calmer than he had appeared. Azazel was shaking his head in the direction of the fridge.

“So, what shape is the bedroom in?” Emma asked.

“As the heart of the storm, not nearly as bad,” Charles said absently. “Though most of the bathroom is outside now.”

“See? Told you they'd make it to the bedroom,” Emma said, grinning at Azazel who in turn smiled in quiet amusement.

Charles rolled his eyes, moving to one of the broken windows to peer outside. Logan was silently standing there watching Erik who had his back turned to him, one hand on hip and the other one rubbing the back of his neck. Slowly he turned to look at Logan, his words too far away to carry over to Charles' ears. He was asking Logan a question, to which Logan nodded. Erik stared at him unhappily.

“What did they use to say curiosity did to the cat?” Emma asked, stepping in front of Charles and blocking his view.

“Killed it. But then, when you have eight lives to waste.” Charles scowled at her and tried to step around her. Emma blocked his path, forcing Charles to ask, “Is something wrong?”

“Besides Logan's beloved cabin being turned into kindling?” Emma asked.

“Don't insult my intelligence,” Charles said. “This isn't about the cabin. It's something else. Is it something to do with Shaw?”

Emma frowned, quietly asking him, “Why would you say that?”

“You're asking me that even after knowing what Shaw did?” Charles said.

Emma sighed and turned back to look out of the window, letting Charles take up a place beside her. “It's not Shaw. He's still locked up and should be locked up for a very long time. Just some business Logan took care of and Erik would have preferred left alone.”

“And by business you mean?”

“Money, honey,” Emma said. “I mean, money.”

Charles watched Erik pacing for a while before he stopped and pointed at Logan, laying out what seemed like a list of demands. Logan held up both hands in surrender and said something before he took on a stance of boredom, scratching at one of his sideburns.

“Is it true you dated Remy LeBeau?” Emma asked, her eyes still on the two men.

Charles frowned. “How do you-?” And then he remembered Louis, worse keeper of secrets alive. “Oh. Sadly, yes.”

Emma was nodding. “Me too.”

Charles turned to stare at her. “Really?”

She shrugged. “He has a thing for telepaths.”

Charles made a face. “There's no washing away the shame, is there?”

Emma was grimacing. “Not unless you're using lava.”

They were quiet for a moment, Azazel shuffling around behind them, presumably compelled to make an effort in making the place look a little tidier.

Charles smiled and said, “Are you trying to bond with me?”

She shrugged and replied, “I like Erik. I guess it means I have to make nice with his boyfriend. It's like a rule or something.”

“A rule. According to?”

“She's blue and mouthy,” Emma said with a smile. “I'll give you one guess.”

Charles smiled too, watching the conversation between Logan and Erik turn quiet and less aggressive. “I hated his shiny suits.”

“They made me want to gouge out my eyes,” Emma said. Azazel coughed somewhere behind them. Emma told him, “Trash talking former lovers is not against the rules.”

Azazel suddenly appeared between Erik and Logan. He quietly said something, which made the other two men nod in agreement. He then put a hand on Logan's shoulder, disappearing with him as Erik made his way back to the cabin.

“Damn it, I just drove him into the arms of another man,” Emma said, turning away from the window to smile at Charles. He laughed quietly, watching for the door to open.

Azazel appeared in front of Charles, startling him. He turned to Emma, pointing at her and then beckoning her with a finger. She wrinkled her nose at the gesture and took his outstretched hand, winking at Charles before they disappeared together. The door opened and Erik walked in, pink-cheeked and pale-skinned from the cold evening air. He looked around the cabin, smiling when his gaze found Charles.

“Sorry,” Charles said. “I didn't mean to butt in back there.”

Erik shook his head. “It's fine. Are you ready to go?”

Charles patted down his shirt and trousers. “I believe I have everything.”

On cue, Azazel appeared between them. He arched a brow at Erik and blew out a breath. “Tomorrow, we talk about leave.”

Erik smiled, reaching past Azazel to hold his hand out towards Charles. Charles stared at the proffered hand like an idiot for a moment, before feeling something like a fountain of warmth spring up in his chest. He pushed away from the kitchen cabinets, or what was left of them, and reached for Erik's hand, allowing himself to be pulled close. Azazel put a hand each on both their shoulders and a flash of red later, they all stood inside the front door of the Xavier mansion.

Erik gave Azazel a nod before turning to Charles. “Walk you in?”

Charles smiled, shrugging nonchalantly. They made their way to the living room where Louis was most likely to be, walking in silence, hands hanging limp by their sides. This time it was Charles who looked down at Erik's hand and slyly inserted his fingers into Erik's space. Erik smiled, looking down at their hands as their fingers played before linking together. They came to a stop by the living room door which was closed, the sound of the telescreen floating out into the hall.

Erik put one hand on Charles' hip, the other still twined with Charles' fingers. He used his hold on Charles to back him up against the wall, stepping close until he was leaning against Charles, the contours of his body pleasantly pressing against Charles. Erik dipped his head down and kissed Charles at a slow leisurely pace, licking into his mouth, tasting his lips.

“You can stay, you know,” Charles whispered quietly.

Erik nodded. “I will. Just not tonight.”

“Business?” Charles asked, receiving a nod. He smiled and said, “Well, in that case, when might I see you again?”

Erik grinned at Charles. “Are you asking me out on a date?”

Charles gave it a good deal of thought and nodded. “You know, I think I am. Dinner tomorrow? Unless that's unbearably too soon.”

Erik snorted, making Charles laugh. “I think I can endure it.”

“Tomorrow then,” Charles said, aware that his hands had migrated into the front of Erik's sweater, reluctant to release him. “You best go before Azazel quits.”

Erik covered Charles' hands, moving in and pressing his lips against Charles' before pulling away with a mischievous tilt to his mouth. “Goodnight, Francine.”

Charles rolled his eyes as Erik grinned at him, walking away, turning around once to tip an invisible hat in Charles' direction before he resumed his path. Charles stood in the corridor for a while, watching Erik leave before he pushed open the door to the living room and stepped inside.

***

Erik awoke to the sound of someone turning on the telescreen. The volume wasn't high, but it was enough to prod at Erik's awareness until sleep was no longer possible. He seemed to have slept without incident, he thought with some relief, not to mention some remaining embarrassment over having reeled Charles into his nightmares.

Opening his eyes, Erik found the warmth part of his face was pressed into was a thigh. He scowled at it and peered up to find Logan watching him thoughtfully, cigarillo in mouth. Erik jerked back immediately, turning onto his back and blinking against the morning light, ears being assaulted by more speculation over his impending nuptials.

“Switch it off,” Erik demanded, his voice rusty with sleep. He covered his eyes and sighed.

Logan snorted as the reporting on the news became increasingly flowery and over dramatic. “That right? You and Xavier exploring ancient rituals to make your vows special?”

“What are you doing here so early?” Erik asked.

Logan grabbed his wrist, pulling Erik's hand away from his face. “Haynes just sent over the official okay.”

Erik gave Logan a look, yanking his wrist back from Logan's grasp. “We already talked about this.”

“No, what we did was argue,” Logan said.

Erik sat up slowly, running a hand through his hair, feeling Logan's eyes on his back as he hunched over to clear the cobwebs of sleep from his mind. “Charles and I... it isn't a business proposal. It's not about money. Or mutants, before you start.”

“Do you have any idea about the shit we pulled to make sure Quested had the right telepath on his team?” Logan was shaking his head when Erik turned to look over his shoulder. He knew exactly the kind of shit his team had been pulling for years. He smiled slightly, earning a filthy look from Logan. “I hope Xavier's worth it. And you're a dick.”

Logan scowled at the telescreen as he brought the cigarillo up for another smoke, averting Erik's gaze as Erik pondered the more pertinent of his words. Charles was worth it, he thought, worth a loss of fortune. But there was a strange hollow feeling in Erik's chest that he was the one who would ruin this. He was the one who would ultimately break this thing between him and Charles.

“Your cabin,” Erik started.

“Not the first time one of your dreams trashed my place. Which one was it?”

“New,” Erik said quietly, thinking back to that strange and awful dream.

Logan aimed a frown in his direction as Erik reached out a hand, fingers pointing to the cigarillo. Logan wordlessly passed him it and Erik closed his eyes, taking a drag before exhaling with a sigh. He moved back to sit up against the pillows, one hand cradling the elbow of his smoking arm, Logan at his side, quietly watching him.

“You didn't come here to tell me about Haynes giving me his blessing.” Logan's forehead creased in irritation. Erik took a drag and extracted the cigarillo from his mouth, blowing smoke out towards Logan whose eyes narrowed. “Well?”

“Got a message from MacTaggert. I saw you were copied into it. She's sent the last of the visuals they got from Shaw's place,” Logan said, watching Erik closely. “More sketches, paintings. That kind of thing.”

Erik thought about the images he had already seen, all those variations in the ways his eyes had been erased. It couldn't be any be worse than that. Despite the thought, a chill ran down his bare spine. Logan took the cigarillo away before Erik's grip could grow any more lax.

“Did you look?” Erik asked. Logan nodded. “And?”

“Nothing worth seeing, if you ask me,” Logan said, his face completely not giving away whether he was lying or telling the truth. “But it's your choice if you want to look.”

Erik watched the telescreen. The news had finally moved onto some other unlucky persons of interest, people Erik didn't recognise or care to know about. Wasn't Shaw just another one of these people? Why did it matter what he did, what he thought of Erik?

Why did Shaw matter at all?

“Unless it's about his trial, I don't want to hear about him again.” Erik turned to Logan and added, “Ever.”

“Suits me just fine.” Logan appeared satisfied with that answer, giving Erik a nod and getting up. “So... the deal with the inheritance.”

“Is done,” Erik said. Logan rolled his eyes and turned to go, muttering under his breath about performing monkeys and jackasses. Erik felt for the traces of adamantium in his blood, watching Logan jerk back as if thin air had pulled on his arm. Logan turned and frowned as Erik said, “Thank you.”

Logan gave Erik a long thoughtful look, before nodding, even though it came with a customary scowl. His expression eased somewhat, and then he said, “You're still a dick.”

Erik smiled in amusement as Logan left, reaching towards his bedside table to retrieve a fresh cigarillo, now that Logan had left a craving behind. Erik's datapad caught his eye. A small green light was already blinking, alerting him of new messages. His hand ignored the draw he had been reaching to open and picked up the datapad, tapping it awake. A list of messages expanded in front of him and there it was, a message from MacTaggert.

Throwing the datapad aside, Erik decided to take a shower.

***

Raven sipped her coffee, eyeing Emma over the top of her cup with suspicion. Her friend was uncharacteristically tight-lipped this morning. Amiable as ever, but not so forthcoming.

"So, have you guys talked to Erik about the meeting with Haynes?" Raven asked.

Emma's eyes slowly travelled to the side and back again. She seemed to be involved in some kind of private conversation with herself before she answered, "I'm not allowed to say."

Raven frowned. "Excuse me?"

"My boyfriend is threatening to withhold certain privileges if I continue to meddle in affairs that should be left alone," Emma said with a resolute nod.

Raven shook her head. "I want your life, just for one minute."

"I have a hard life," Emma said defensively.

"I had to spend my whole night grading just to catch up with my workload," Raven said, her tired eyes pulling her head into a definite ache.

Emma smiled, giving Raven a knowing nod. "And by grading you mean?"

Raven rolled her eyes. "Grading."

Emma sighed. "Oh. That's sad."

"You were telling me about Erik," Raven said.

"Of course I wasn't," Emma said, pulling a face.

Raven pointed at Emma. "Listen, sweetie, if you want girlfriends, you have to obey the girlfriend code."

"Which is?" Emma asked.

"No secrets. Secrets are just things we hide from our partners so they don't worry themselves into an early grave because we can't help being idiots," Raven explained.

Emma shook her head. "You're wasted in academia."

"Erik," Raven said. "What did he say?"

Emma looked thoughtful. "He said he's done with Henry trying to turn him into something he's not. His uncle was obsessed with Magneto. Spent a lifetime trying to convince Erik he has some legacy to preserve. This inheritance? It's just old Henry being a manipulative bastard from the grave and I guess Erik's done with it.”

“So why say yes to it at all?” Raven asked.

Emma shrugged. “It meant a lot to Anna. But she knows she can't push him into it a second time. Once his mind is made up about something, I don't think there's a person who can change it.”

Raven sat back, mulling the situation over. “Where does Charles fit into all this?”

Emma frowned, looking out of the window into the early morning hustle and bustle of commuters. For a moment it seemed she was staring at her own reflection. She turned to Raven and said, “Don't you ever wonder where we all fit into this?”

Raven shook her head. “How do you mean?”

“All of us, tiny rocks orbiting big stars. You, from the House of Mystique. Me, the House of the White Queen. We all know were Logan hails from. Look at us, all of us with the names of people who haven't been around for hundreds of years. Doesn't it make you think?”

Raven scrunched up her face. “Have you ever looked in a book of mutant baby names? Charles, Erik, James, Logan, Scott. Do you have any idea how many of the kids I teach have those names? I know five Emmas. Three Ravens. I met two Ororos just last week. I've lost count of how many Jeans I've met since grad school. I hate to say this, but mutants? Not so adventurous when naming babies.”

Emma gave a nod, but seemed unmoved overall. “Do you ever have nightmares?”

“Everyone has nightmares,” Raven said.

Emma smiled, tilting her head at Raven in curiosity. “Do you?”

Raven picked up her coffee, evading Emma's gaze. “Why don't you just take a look and find out?”

Emma's smile faltered, her expression darkening. “No thanks.”

Raven sighed. “Emma, what's wrong?”

“Humans. They dream differently,” she said. “Did you know that?”

“No. How do you know that?” Raven asked with a small smile that encouraged a pull at the corner of Emma's mouth.

“Their dreams are like transparent film. You can see right through them. Mutant dreams? You can't see through them at all. Too much-”

“Sticky stuff,” Raven said quietly. She mustered up a smile and said, “Maybe that's just telepath-vision.”

Emma shrugged. “Mutant-vision. X-ray genes. Who knows? Just one more enviable mutant trait.”

“Stop,” Raven said softly. “I know what you're thinking about, but regeneration theory? You're talking about genetic ghosts. Being haunted by our own DNA. It's... too out there. It's radical mutants clutching at straws, hoping for a return to mythical glory days that never really existed. This is what matters, the now and the here where we can really make a change. Where we can be exactly who we want to be. Life is for the living. Not people who died hundreds of years ago and left us with their names. If we're in anyone's orbit it's because we gravitate towards our own, people we trust. Not because of some genetic destiny. You need to let this go, Emma.”

Emma smiled, eyes sparkling with amusement. “Like I said, you're wasted in academia.”

***

Charles sat at Hank's desk, reading over the lab results displayed on the screen before him as Hank hovered behind. He was looking at the virus that had nearly killed him and had left him without his abilities. “Where the hell would Shaw get something like this?”

Hank pulled a chair from one of the unused lab terminals behind him and sat down next to Charles. “With the right money and contacts, you can get anything.”

Charles swivelled to face Hank, pointing at the screen. “And you lifted this from the handkerchief?”

Hank nodded. “I did. And, just so you know, I was both grateful and disgusted.”

“Noted,” Charles said. “What about the syringe Nestor had with him? Same compound?”

Hank shook his head. “That was a toxin. Looks like they wanted to finish what they started. And quickly. We're lucky Nestor didn't stab anyone with that thing.”

Charles blinked, sitting back in his chair as he rubbed a hand over his mouth. He pulled a face at Hank. “What do we know about Shaw?”

“Nothing. Why would we know anything about Shaw?” Hank said, shrugging.

Charles gave Hank a very patient look. “Hank. I'm most certain you didn't spend your time over the last few days sleeping like a baby.”

Hank huffed out an annoyed breath. “We don't have a lot. Stable family background, no siblings. Manifested at fourteen, but thanks to a recessive gene, a few years later he completely lost the use of his abilities. Went to college a few years later, had a breakdown, spent some time in and out of a few mutant psych wards and then finally took over his father's antiques business. In recent years, he's been associated with various radical groups. Personal interests, art and early mutant history. And no, we've never had any dealings with him. Neither has Lehnsherr Corp. Well, not any officially documented dealings.” Hank paused. “Or unofficially documented. Do you think your boyfriend will mind I hacked into-”

“I can't hear this.” Charles held up a hand. Hank stopped, stared and then visibly let Charles' words sink in, nodding slowly. Charles tilted his head to the side and considered thoughtfully. “I suppose he technically is my boyfriend... Do we know what the situation is with Mr. Shaw right now?”

“I know he doesn't deserve to be called 'Mister' anymore,” Hank said, looking thoroughly amused.

Charles smiled. “Of course, I mean it in the loosest sense of the word.”

“I called Darwin,” Hank said. “He knows the investigating officer. Apparently Shaw's being very cooperative. A gentlemen, was the word he used. Darwin also said he's undergoing a psych evaluation. Could take some time.”

“I don't suppose we have access to his testimonies,” Charles said.

“We're not that good, Charles,” Hank said. Then he smiled and added, “Yet. Besides, do you really want get inside this guy's head?”

Charles thought about it, this gentlemen killer. Co-operative, yet cold enough to pay a man to kill. “No. I don't think I do. And it's not like madness needs a motive. Perhaps it might be more interesting to see what motivated Mr. Nestor.”

“Money,” Hank said flatly. “A heap from what I hear.”

“Well, I suppose it's some comfort that I'm not considered a cheap kill.”

Hank shook his head in dismay, while Charles smiled, though he felt himself sobering rather quick, realising once again that he wasn't shielding himself from the bombardment of errant thoughts. No, he would probably never have to do that again, thanks to the efforts of Nestor and Shaw.

Hank leaned forward and shook Charles' knee, snapping him out of his morose thoughts. “Charles?”

“Sorry, I was just thinking.” Charles said. Hank looked well aware of what kind of thoughts must have been occupying Charles' mind. “It's good to be back at work.”

“It's good to have you here. Sticking your nose in the labs where it's not really needed. But welcome, of course.”

Charles laughed. “Just making sure the place is still standing. A lot can happen while a man's in a coma.”

Hank nodded in agreement. “Like Mr. Lehnsherr becoming the new owner of Icarus Industries?”

Charles stared. “No. Really?”

“Yup. You might think he took it a little personally when they pulled their sponsorship.” Charles blinked at the thought as Hank leaned forward and frowned. “Your eyes are dilated. I take it things are good between you and Erik?”

Charles gave Hank a dirty look, but his heart did an embarrassing little flip-flop anyway.

***

Erik wasn't quite sure what his nerves were about. He hadn't felt like this the first time he met Charles. In fact, that could have been any business meeting. He knew what he had to offer and he knew he was in good standing. And now he stood here feeling... yes, nervous. Erik frowned at the door, his hand feeling a little clammy around the cool bottle of wine. Azazel cleared his throat and snapped Erik back to attention.

“Will that be all?” Erik turned to look at Azazel, nodding.

“Have a pleasant evening.” Azazel gave him an amused smile and vanished.

Erik glared at the empty space left by Azazel and pressed the buzzer on the door, ignoring the snap vibration of the datapad nestled inside his coat, another message demanding his attention. When the door opened, it revealed a smiling Charles in a crisp white shirt with the top two buttons undone, tucked into tweedy brown trousers with dark leather boots. He looked relaxed, pink-cheeked and bright-eyed. Erik felt laughably awkward, all in black, like a dark cloud hovering on the doorstep.

“Hello, Erik,” Charles said, his eyes flicking up and down the length of Erik's body. Erik nodded as Charles stepped back to let him inside. He pointed at the wine. “May I?”

Erik handed the wine to Charles, watching him put it on a nearby table without even glancing at it and then stepping right into Erik's space, reaching for his face and drawing him into a kiss. Erik immediately wrapped his arms around Charles, bringing their bodies together, relaxing into the kiss and sinking into it with a contented sigh.

Charles pulled back after a moment and quietly said, “Sorry. It was either this or babbling incoherently while spending an hour planning a suave way to launch myself at you.”

Erik grinned, in no hurry to let go of Charles. “I'm not sure I could wait an hour.”

Charles laughed, nodding at him. “Really?”

Erik gave him a shrug and small smile. This was all so strange and new. Truly new. Entering into a friendship with Charles had seemed so familiar, so easy. Having Charles here, in his arms, this truly felt like alien territory. It was almost frightening.

“I know,” Charles whispered, gently pulling away from Erik's hold, but reaching out to tug on the opening of his coat. “This is all a bit surreal, isn't it?”

Erik nodded in agreement, giving Charles' hand an idle brush of his fingers. “I thought you couldn't read minds anymore.”

Charles shrugged. “Maybe I can read you.”

“Oh?” Erik arched a brow at him. Charles nodded. “Should I worry?”

Charles gave him a mock look of suspicion. “I don't know, should you?”

Erik frowned, peering at Charles as if he could see into the other man's mind. He reached out and pressed two fingers to Charles' temple, closed his eyes and said, “No.”

Charles laughed, pulling down Erik's hand, keeping it in his warm grasp. “It doesn't work that way. Come on, let's go open this bottle of wine. I see it's another dusty one.”

Erik allowed Charles to step away, rambling on about wine, before yanking him right back. Charles twisted around to frown at Erik in question. Erik looked at him, really looked at him. A moment like this demanded words, some affirmation of what Erik felt. But of course, this was precisely the kind of moment for which there were no words. So he just looked and kept on looking.

“Aren't you hungry? Dinner's...” Charles trailed off quietly. Erik answered his question anyway, nodding mutely as his fingers shifted to tighten around Charles'.

Charles looked down at their hands and then pulled Erik towards the stairs.

***

There's a beach.

There's someone reaching out.

There's someone lying broken, someone standing beaten.

There's someone watching, looking away with disappointment.

And it can't be just her heart breaking. How can any of them stand there unbroken?

“Raven? Raven.” Raven opened her eyes to find Hank leaning over her, shaking her shoulders gently. She turned towards him, blinking. Her eyes were wet and her chest felt heavy. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Raven said quietly, her voice unsteady.

“You were crying,” Hank said softly, smoothing her hair back. “It's just a bad dream.”

Raven stared at him, her mind still clouded by sleep. She couldn't remember the dream, but she felt like her heart was still breaking. She closed her eyes and covered her face with one hand, the other fisted against Hank's chest, stifling her sob.

“Hey, hey. Come on,” Hank whispered, kissing the back of her hand when she wouldn't pull it away from her face.

She took a deep shuddering breath, wiped her face and swallowed against the tight feeling in her throat. Hank moved next to her, wrapping an arm around her waist and kissing her shoulder. She stroked the arm that held her.

She smiled weakly. “That was... God, that was stupid.”

“Dreams can seem very real,” Hank said quietly.

Raven felt the strange sorrow return in a wave, her face crumbling. She turned onto her side, nestling against Hank, letting him hold her as she cried.

***

Charles huffed out a small laugh, dipping down to kiss Erik's mouth before Erik rolled him onto his back, crushing both their chests together. Charles almost couldn't tell whose limbs belonged to whom. Erik seemed to begin where Charles ended. At the end of his fingertips was Erik's warm skin. At the end of his mouth was Erik's kiss. Between his thighs was Erik's body sliding in. At the end of every gasp that escaped Charles' mouth was Erik ready to swallow the sound.

Charles clung to Erik, needing to keep him close, fisting his hands against Erik's back as he drove into Charles with desperate groans, his hand moving down to grip Charles' thigh hard enough to leave reminders. Charles moved up against Erik, craving friction, achingly hard.

“Erik,” he managed to gasp, shutting his eyes and pressing his forehead against Erik's shoulder.

Erik let go of his thigh, his hand re-appearing between their bodies and beginning to pump Charles' cock with purpose and intent. Charles gave up on exclamations, his words only half making it out of his mouth before they turned to huffs against Erik's sweaty heated skin. He came with a hard jolt that would make the muscles across his body ache into morning.

Erik pressed his mouth against Charles' temple, his hand, covered with come, going to back to Charles' thigh, sweeping up to the curve of his buttock. He was moving in and out of Charles with urgency and greed. Over-sensitised, Charles clenched his jaw, eyes shut tight as he held onto Erik who was driving into Charles over and over. Charles felt so overwhelmed with unrelenting pleasure he almost wanted to pull away. Erik was making small sounds, his face turned into Charles' hair, his body burning like a furnace, trapping Charles between him and the bed. Charles could have stayed like this forever.

Erik came with a growl, almost a sob, his body going still for an endless moment where everything was silent except for the sounds of their ragged breathing. His arms appeared to tremble as he lowered himself completely, stretching out over Charles, his face hidden in the crook of Charles' neck. Charles swallowed, blinking up at the lighting fixture that now seemed like a silver spider with blurred orbs at its feet. Biting his lip, he stroked the back of Erik's neck with a trembling hand.

Erik moved after a moment, almost as if he couldn't lift his weight. He pressed a lazy kiss to the corner of Charles' mouth as he withdrew from Charles' body. Charles winced and Erik's eyes turned to him, brow furrowing slightly. Charles smiled at him, nudging his mouth with a short kiss and Erik reached between them to deal with the annoying business of removing the now unwanted rubber from his cock, tying it off, his eyes searching for a place to deposit it. Charles solved the problem by taking it from Erik's hand and flinging it away from bed. Erik made a face which only made Charles laugh.

Erik lay down on his side, one arm folded under his head, his fingers loosely flexing. The forefinger of his other hand playfully stroked up Charles' sweaty sternum, to the dip below his throat, up to his chin and then came to rest on his mouth, worrying his bottom lip. Charles lazily blinked at Erik, his eyelids feeling heavy.

“Don't sleep,” Erik said quietly. “There's still dinner.”

“We'll call it breakfast.” Charles sighed contentedly, closing his eyes as Erik withdrew his touch altogether. He could hear Erik laughing quietly and pried his eyes open to frown, though his mouth was already smiling. “What?”

“No stamina,” Erik teased.

Charles scrunched up his face in objection, letting his eyes shut again. “I spent two weeks in a coma.”

Erik moved closer, enough that Charles could feel his breath an inch from his own mouth. He very delicately pressed his mouth against Charles, smiling as he whispered, “If you think I'm going to let you sleep that easily, you're mistaken, Francine.”

Charles smiled against Erik's smile and opened an eye.

***

Erik awoke when he felt sunlight forcing his eyes open. He was lying, no, teetering, on the edge of Charles' more than spacious bed. Charles was lying sprawled in the middle, most of the sheets wrapped around him and face half-buried in his pillow while one arm was haphazardly thrown across Erik's stomach. Erik carefully moved out from under Charles' possessive appendage as Charles simply turned his face away and continued sleeping.

Erik's clothes were draped over the back of a chair, as opposed to Charles' whose clothes lay where they had fallen. Erik fished out his datapad from his coat and quickly scrolled through the recent messages. It was still there, the one from MacTaggert, bold and red, urgently requiring his attention. He couldn't quite bring himself to delete it, though he felt no compulsion to open it either. In the end, he sent off an alert to Azazel, put the datapad aside and headed towards the bathroom.

Charles still wasn't awake when he returned from showering. In fact he had now turned onto his side and curled in on himself, looking nowhere near waking up. Erik sat on the edge of the bed, watching him after having pulled on his boots. He felt an urge to reach out and poke Charles awake, but then felt foolishly childish and let him be, venturing out of the bedroom.

Louis was seated at the kitchen table, lifting a cup of coffee to his mouth, when Erik walked in. He finished taking a sip, replaced the cup and said, “Charles, you've done something different with your hair.”

Erik smiled. “Louis. It's good to see you again.”

“Likewise, my boy, likewise. Sit sit. Coffee? Toast?” Louis asked, getting up and pulling out a chair for Erik.

“Just coffee, thank you,” Erik said sitting down and eyeing the telescreen. Morning news was as dismal as ever. Vehicle on fire somewhere. Angry crowd somewhere else. Starving masses in another place. And elsewhere, the mutant problem. Erik looked away, a bitter taste in his mouth.

Louis placed a cup of steaming coffee in front of Erik. “Milk, cream, sugar?”

Erik shook his head. “No, this is fine, thank you.”

“Just black? Far too strong for me.” Louis was nodding as he sat down. “Mind you, you do look as though you didn't get much sleep last night.”

Erik stared at Louis' completely serious and innocent face. He chewed on the inside corner of his mouth before asking, “You're not going to stop, are you?”

Louis grinned at Erik, looking overjoyed whilst Erik felt slightly doomed. He sighed and drank his coffee. He could hear a sound in the distance, somewhere outside the house, an arrival. After a while, there were footsteps on the hardwood floor towards the kitchen.

“Is he awake yet?”

Erik sighed, slumping as he shook his head at Louis before turning around. “Raven.”

Raven beamed at him. “Erik. What a pleasant surprise. You looked tired.”

Erik pointed at Raven and Louis in turn. “You both need to find better entertainment.”

Raven grinned, fetching herself a cup before she took a seat opposite Erik and poured herself a coffee from the brass pot on the table. “Are you kidding me? No one's more entertaining than Charles. So, you stayed the night?”

“Yes, Raven, I stayed the night. And before you ask, yes, we also had sex,” Erik said plainly. “It was good. We'll probably do it again.”

Raven and Louis stared at him before they both looked completely devastated. Louis sighed and said, “Why, he's not even slightly bashful.”

“Ugh,” Raven said. “I guess we'll just have to get our kicks from Charles. It's adorable, Erik. You'll love it.”

“You both make me very sad,” Erik said with a nod. “And Azazel should be here soon, so I think I'll pass on the entertainment.”

“What?” Raven said, looking distressed. “It doesn't work if you're not here. You're the reason he's going to go red and squirmy. If it's just me and Louis, it doesn't work.”

Erik shook his head. “I think next time dinner should be at my place.”

Louis snorted, leaning towards Raven and covering her hand. “Like they even ate dinner. I had to put it all away when I got home last night.”

Raven looked far too scandalised for it to be real. She spoke to Louis while she eyed Erik and said, “They didn't even get to dinner? Wow.” She leaned towards Erik and confided, “And we pretty much go on like this for an hour until Charles gets really mad.”

“And you're in charge of young minds?” Erik asked. He lifted his cup in a toast. “The future just became a lot more frightening.”

“Wake up call for Mr. Lehnsherr!” Emma's voice emanated from one of the rooms at the end of the corridor.

“We're in the kitchen!” Raven called back.

Seconds later, Emma walked into the kitchen with Azazel in tow. She immediately looked down at Erik and flashed a big smile, while Azazel stood back as polite as ever, even though the corners of his mouth carried more amusement than usual. Erik started to get up, but Emma put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down, taking a seat at the head of the small table.

“What's the rush, sweetie?” Emma asked before looking at Louis. “You know, I ran out without breakfast this morning. A gal couldn't get some toast could she?”

“My dear, think nothing of it,” Louis said, getting up. “In fact, let's all have a nice hearty breakfast. Please, Azazel, do sit down. Poor Erik here must be famished, what with missing dinner last night.”

Erik squeezed the bridge of his nose as Raven turned to Emma and said, “They didn't even make it to dinner.”

“Oh, honey, that is so cute,” Emma said. Azazel sighed next to her, receiving a swat on the arm. Erik gave her an impatient look, which she just brushed off. “Considering the pain in the ass you've been lately, you're going to let us have this, okay?”

Erik sat back and folded his arms. He supposed he owed his friends just the smallest amount of teasing latitude.

***

Charles awoke with a yawn and a groan, smiling up at the ceiling and lazily recalling the night before. Stretching his arms out wide, he could feel the aches and pains popping across his body. They were pleasant, each ache and each pain laced with a memory of how Erik placed it on Charles' body. Erik was gone, which made Charles sigh with slight disappointment, but his coat was still draped over the back of the chair by the window, which meant he wasn't far.

Which meant he was probably with Louis. Louis, who probably called Raven because they were both sixteen year old girls. Charles sat up slowly with a groan. He knew exactly what he'd have to endure the minute he would appear downstairs, with poor Erik made to endure it with him. Grimacing, Charles got out of bed and dragged himself in and out of the shower. He picked up his trousers from the night before and pulled them on, along with a long-sleeved white t-shirt he couldn't recall depositing on top of his dresser.

Towelling his hair, Charles smiled at Erik's black coat, hoping Erik might come up for it, rather than Charles having to go downstairs and have Louis and Raven lobbing catcalls in his direction. He turned to look for his shoes, towel coming away from his hair and accidentally knocking a datapad off the dresser. It was a slim black tablet with a shell design, not one of Charles. As he picked it up, the screen flashed on at the accidental brush of his thumb.

He turned to put it down with Erik's coat, but a message unfurled on the display. The header had the name Moira MacTaggert and the preview pane beneath showed the first page of an attached document. Charles brought the datapad closer and touched the preview pane which opened the document fully, displaying the first page in full so now Charles could see completely what he had only seen in part. Where he could only see the top of a helmet, he now saw the man who wore it.

Charles blinked at the image and touched the screen. An image of Erik, his eyes angrily painted out in a stripe of red. Charles' hand shook as he touched the screen again. A sketch of Erik staring right out of the screen, his eyes as cold as ice, shining like glass. Charles touched the screen. Again and again, all images of Erik. Each image, perfect. Those eyes could have blinked they were so real, so right.

Except, the next image. Erik's eyes, they weren't really eyes, at least, one of them wasn't. The right one was a coin, staring out at Charles like an eye. A strange sound escaped from Charles mouth and his body grew cold as he stumbled backwards.

The coin. A coin Charles knew.

A coin he could see floating toward him, cutting into him.

“Erik,” Charles whispered quietly, the datapad falling from his hand.

***

The coffee cup slipped from Erik's hand and smashed onto the stone floor. He stared at it, his heart racing. His felt as if he was burning all of a sudden and his limbs felt like weights. A searing sharp pain lanced through his skull and he staggered up to his feet, almost blind and deaf to the voices around him.

“Erik? Are you okay?” Louis was standing beside him, his hand on Erik's back. “Erik?”

Erik looked at the spilt coffee and shattered cup. He managed to mumble an apology, his mouth feeling rubbery and not quite under his control. He made a move to pick up the pieces, but Azazel was already helping Louis to clear them away, while Raven went to fetch a cloth to mop up the spillage.

Emma put her hand on Erik's arm, making him look at her. “What is it? What's wrong?”

Erik shook his head. There it was again, the pain shooting through his head, tremors threatening to pull apart his body, a deafening sound in his ears.

Erik

Erik turned towards the dark corridor. No, he thought beyond reason and logic, no. He pulled away from Emma.

“Hey, where are you going?” she asked.

He shook his head. “I'll be right back.”

“I'll come with you,” Emma said.

Erik turned on her. “Stay here. I need to see Charles.”

He hurried down the corridor, his legs like water and his body feeling as if it might crumble with the next step. Climbing the stairs was like trying to climb a mountain, every step creating metallic movement close behind him. He stumbled down a corridor that didn't seem so long the first time he had walked down it, but now felt like miles as he staggered along before finally stumbling into Charles' bedroom.

Charles was standing there, his eyes open wide and looking vacant, blood having run from his nose, over his lips and chin, onto his t-shirt, onto the floor at his feet. His eyes were red-rimmed and tearful, his face wet, though he wore no expression of grief or sadness.

“Charles,” Erik grated out, trying to ignore the high pitched sound in his ears, cutting through his brain.

“Erik, what a pleasant surprise. So good to see you again.” Charles said softly, his voice dead and flat. Erik stepped into the room and Charles' gaze followed him, though it still remained peculiarly unseeing. “May I ask you something? Why are you on their side?”

“I don't understand,” Erik said, gritting his teeth as he felt another jab of pain behind his eye. He clutched at his head, grimacing. “Are you doing this, Charles? Are you doing this?”

“Why fight for a doomed race who will hunt us down as soon as they realise their reign is coming to an end?” Charles asked, his voice dull and flat.

Erik shook his head in frustration. “I don't know what you're saying. I don't understand.”

“I'm sorry for what happened in the camps. I truly am,” Charles held out his hand and spread his fingers. It was like being hit by a sledgehammer and Erik flew across the room, smashing into the dresser before he landed on the floor with a hard thump. Charles stepped towards him, standing over him as he lay there dazed, cuts on his face stinging sharply. “But everything I did, I did for you, to unlock your power. To make you embrace it.”

Charles reached out towards Erik, frowning as if torn over something. He tilted his head at Erik and said, “There's so much more to you than you know. Not just pain and anger.” His expression became unreadable again. “And you're just starting to scratch the surface. Think how much further we could go. Together.”

“Stop this!” Erik hissed, an ugly black fear in his chest expanding, terrifying because he didn't know why he was so afraid. Quietly, he begged, “Stop this, Charles.”

“I don't want to hurt you, Erik. I want to help you,” Charles said. “This is our time. Our age. We are the future of the human race.”

Erik stared at Charles, grabbing the front of Charles' bloodied shirt. “Whatever this is, we can get through it. You and I, Charles. The two of us, together. But you have to stop this. Please. Charles.”

Charles swallowed, prying Erik's hand away as fresh tears rolled down his flushed face. He shuddered and drunkenly stumbled back, grimacing, his hand fisted against his head as his face became distorted by pain.

“No. Please, Erik. No,” he begged, trapped in some place Erik couldn't see.

Erik watched him, feeling utterly hopeless. “Charles.”

“Please, Erik,” Charles said, his expression taken over by pure terror as he began to breathe harder and harder. His eyes were wide with fear as he blew out a breath and then another and then finally let go of a blood curdling scream.

Erik's body became rigid and he clutched at his head with both hands, his vision filling with blinding light. He could hear the smashing and breaking of objects, as if they had simultaneously exploded. His mind was being assaulted by pain and images, memories that didn't belong to him even though he saw his own face in them, heard his own tortured screams, the feelings attached to them curious and gleeful.

He screamed as he saw someone else's memories of his suffering.

“Stop,” Erik choked. “Charles, please.”

Everything stopped.

The room became silent as if it was Erik who could no longer hear. Shaking, he looked up, tasting blood in his mouth. Charles stood before him, face blank, his arms lifted slightly by his sides. There was a strange glow to him, his skin tinged bronze, unnatural and eerie, his pupils blown so wide and black, the blues of his eyes were almost invisible.

Erik lay on the floor, his body almost convulsing, the pain in his head excruciating and his heartbeat erratic. Charles came towards him and Erik tried to move away, his back colliding with the dresser. Charles fell to his knees before Erik and leaned down until he was close enough to kiss Erik. Erik watched a fresh line of blood from Charles' nose roll down his lips just before he pressed his mouth to Erik's and set the whole world ablaze.

And then Erik remembered.

He remembered it all.

***

“I don't like this, get Logan,” Emma had told Azazel soon after Erik left.

“It's probably nothing,” Raven said, though she had a strange feeling that something was not quite right.

Emma shook her head, looking more ruffled than Raven had ever seen her. “Something's wrong. I can feel it.”

Louis moved towards the corridor. “I'm going to check on Charles.”

Raven moved to follow just as Azazel re-appeared blocking the doorway, Logan with him.

“What's the emergency?” Logan asked irritably. Emma put a hand on his arm, fisting the material of his shirt. Raven could now see she was shaking ever so slightly. Even Logan looked worried. He covered her hand with his. “Frost?”

She shook her head and when she looked at him, Raven saw tears in her eyes, brow furrowed in confusion. Her whole body appeared to shimmer momentarily, diamond bright. “I don't know. It's bad. Really bad.”

There was no time for further questions. The windows of the kitchen blew out like a bomb had exploded. The noise of smashed objects was coming from all over the house, along with the rattle, flinging and screech of metal. Everyone in the kitchen stared at the knives that had flown up into the ceiling.

Logan's gaze turned to the iron candelabra hanging over the kitchen table twisting as if it was made of metal snakes. “Where's Erik?”

“Upstairs, with Charles,” Emma said from where Azazel was holding her up. Logan gave her look, Raven recognising the concern in his eyes. Emma nodded. “Go.”

“Azazel,” Logan said, gesturing towards the corridor. He looked at Raven. “Coming?”

She nodded as Azazel helped Emma to a seat, telling Louis, “Please, stay with her.”

Logan, Azazel and Raven ran up the stairs and down the corridor to Charles' bedroom, coming to a sudden stop at the threshold. They found Erik on the floor, lying on his side, his arms limp before him. His eyes were half-closed, his gaze fixed ahead, one side of his face covered in small superficial cuts, blood running out of his nose and colouring his mouth. He was deathly still.

On his knees at Erik's head was Charles, almost bowed over, as if he might fall. He was shaking, his hair damp and limp. When he looked up at Raven with bloodshot eyes, she almost gasped at the state of his wet and flushed face, bloody like Erik's.

Logan was the first to walk into the room, which looked as if a storm had passed through it, smashing through wood and glass, leaving twisted metal in its wake. He stopped to look out of the window as if something caught his eye. Raven followed his gaze. The ancient satellite dish in the distance was slowly turning. Logan turned his back on it and crouched down by Erik's side, his hand gently settling on the fallen man's shoulder.

“You hear me, pal?” Logan asked quietly. “Erik?”

Erik remained still and silent, while Charles continued to stare off into the middle of the room, his fists clenched in his lap. Logan gave Raven a tight-lipped look before turning to Azazel and nodding. Azazel slowly made his way in, frowning at Erik in his current state. Then without another word, he put his hand on Logan's shoulder. In the next second, all three men were gone.

Raven stepped forward, moving to stand before Charles. He finally looked up, his face a map of devastation. She knelt down before him and covered his fisted hands as he closed his eyes and shook his head.

“It's okay,” she said. “I'm here.”

Charles folded forward with a sob and Raven held him.

***

Candles flickering one by one – numbers branded onto skin, one by one – pain, so much pain – anger – loneliness, gaping cavernous loneliness – a grip, a man, pulling him from the depths of the cold – you're not alone, ErikI felt your agonythere's more to you than just pain and angerkilling Shaw won't bring you peaceno, Erik, you did thisI prefer, Magneto – pain, still pain – anger – loneliness – a man in a chair, still trying to pull him from the depths of the cold – Are you sneaking around in here, Charles? Whatever are you looking for?I'm looking for hope – The war is still coming, Charles. And I intend to fight it, by any means necessary – And I will always be there, old friendCharles!

***

Erik blinked up at the ceiling. Dreams, memories, whatever they were, continued to float in front of his eyes, wispy one moment, too solid and clear the next. He could see Charles even now, bronze and golden, almost fiery as his eyes blazed black, tendrils of his thoughts peeling back the layers of Erik's mind, picking locks, opening doors. Flooding his mind.

He sat up slowly, running his fingers through limp hair. There was an almost finished bottle of whiskey on the coffee table and a crystal tumbler next to it, woefully empty. He blinked at the dark liquid, his insides already burning at the thought, but he was sick of lying in a daze, sick of trying to muffle what had happened.

Erik let his head drop, shutting his eyes, elbows digging into his knees, palms pushed against his aching eyes. After a moment he got up and padded across the floor, something metal and gritty digging into the soles of his feet and catching on the bottom of his sweatpants. He stopped by the window to look down at the city. It was grey and dismal, the rain relentlessly pouring, smashing against the window pane.

Erik blinked at his reflection in the glass. He looked defiant, but for whom was this defiance? The man in the reflection? Erik reached out and pressed his finger against the cool pane and pushed it up, in an arching curve, down, up in an arching curve and then down again, tracing the lines of a non-existent head-piece.

A flash of numbers, green/blue on cold pale skin, made Erik withdraw his finger from the glass, as if he'd been burnt. He stared at his reflection, seeing a frightened man before he looked down at his bare forearm, the sleeves of his sweatshirt rolled up. He ran his fingers across his skin, all the way to the inside of his wrist. No numbers. No needle had touched this skin. Still, his fingers trembled and he pulled down his sleeves.

There was a whirring sound at the other end of the apartment, emanating from the hallway. Someone was coming up in the elevator and thanks to the distinct taste of adamantinium in the air, Erik could fathom a good guess about the identity of the visitor. He squeezed the bridge of his nose, getting his wits together before walking across the room. He picked up the bottle of whiskey and headed for the kitchen.

By the time Logan found him, the whiskey had been put away, Erik had splashed water on his face to force wakefulness upon himself and the smell of coffee was strong enough to mask the fact that he had showered days ago and had been drinking steadily ever since. Erik was sat at the counter, coffee and datapad before him, his eyes skimming past meaningless story headings as Logan walked in, his eyes scanning the kitchen before they settled on the white overturned cup in its saucer sitting next to the fresh pot of coffee. He walked in heavily, looking tired and sulky. Logan turned the empty cup on the counter the right way up and poured himself some coffee. Then he stood there on the other side of the counter, leaning with his palms pressed down against the smooth black wood. Erik blankly looked up at him.

Logan shrugged, shaking his head slightly. “So, what? Nothing? You've been holed up here for almost a week and all I get is a lousy cup of coffee?”

Erik placed his cup back in its saucer after taking a sip and said, “Are you hungry?”

Logan flashed a tight grin. “Funny. Funny guy, especially for someone who looked like a zombie five days ago.”

“What do you want?” Erik asked him quietly, patiently.

Logan slumped a little, looking much less gruff than he seemed to have intended. He gave Erik a long look and said, “What do think?”

Erik swallowed down an ache in his throat. “I'm fine.”

“You haven't left this apartment since... whatever the hell it was happened between you and Xavier. You look like crap and you smell like a bar. You want to convince me you're fine, you're sure as hell going the wrong way about it, slim.” Logan leaned forward, his coffee completely untouched and forgotten. “What happened? What did he do to you?”

No. Please, Erik. No.

Erik flinched. A five hundred year old plea that had fallen on deaf ears rang through his head, followed by a scream Magneto had never known. The cup in Erik's hand clattered on the saucer before he could put it down. Logan had gone silent and still, closely watching Erik.

“His abilities,” Erik said, voice feeling gravelly. “They came back. I just happened to standing in the way.”

Logan frowned, but didn't dispute the explanation. The weight on his brow eased a bit and he said, “His brain overloaded and fried yours? How do you even know that's what happened?”

Erik looked down into the rich brown of his coffee. “We were connected. I could feel his telepathy expanding out of control, feel myself being dragged along.”

Logan nodded. “Okay. And why does that have you drinking and hiding?”

Erik saw a fleeting image of light glinting off steel, heard the sound of sharp blades. He saw Logan and imagined him with a manic grin, the kind a man with no regard for his own life might have. It made his head hurt, the way these memories, these crystal clear snapshots kept flickering in front of his eyes.

“More to the point,” Logan said very quietly, “what the hell is that look on your face about? It's scaring the hell out of me and I don't scare easy.”

Erik tiredly blinked at Logan. “What look?”

“Like someone just died,” Logan replied.

Erik let the corner of his mouth twitch in a small bitter smile. “No one died. We're all alive and well.”

“You say that like it's a bad thing,” Logan said.

Erik got up, done with the conversation, moving towards the door. Logan darted around the counter and came up behind, grabbing Erik's arm and pulling him back. Erik sighed, wearily turning to look at the other man impatiently.

“Everyone's worried,” Logan said. “Whatever it is, either get it out, or get over it.”

Erik pulled at his arm. “I just need some time away from the office. Let the ringing in my head stop.”

Logan looked suspicious, but he let go of Erik all the same. “And Xavier? You talked to him?”

“He needs some space,” Erik said after carefully thinking about his answer. Sternly he added. “You make sure Emma and Azazel know that too.”

“You two sure need a lot of space,” Logan said. “If he's got his abilities back. Shouldn't you be calling a wedding planner?”

Erik reached for the door, opening it and holding it open, aiming a patient smile at Logan, one that pulled tight across his face. Logan shook his head in dismay and made his way out, Erik tailing behind him until they reached the elevator and Logan stepped inside, turning around to go back to his obvious assessing of Erik's state of being.

“I'll be back,” Logan said, slapping the control panel on the inside of the elevator. He gave Erik a nod as the door began to slide shut, parting with, “Take a shower, will you? Or at least get some sleep.”

The door slid shut and the elevator whirred away from the apartment, leaving Erik all alone again. He stood motionless, eyes fixed ahead, memories spiralling about his ears and at the corners of his vision. He saw a man fling open his arms, baring his teeth and steel claws appearing from between his knuckles. He saw a woman glow, eyes blown black and flame red hair. He saw a man in a wheelchair, so serene it had to be a lie. The world seemed to spin at a dizzying speed and not for the first time, Erik had no choice but to be dragged along.

***

Charles sat with his back pressed against large bookshelf, a huge tome lain forgotten in his lap for a while now. Every day there was a new frenzy to search out things newly remembered. Things the Professor had left in this place, this large tomb of his. One day it was a milk bottle, buried out on the grounds by a young child. The trees nearby had grown taller, wider, been chopped down, been replanted and in some cases disappeared altogether, yet there it was, a milk bottle, buried and forgotten. It contained no more than a favourite marble, hidden for safe-keeping. The sight of it had been embarrassingly overwhelming and Charles had been thankful for the cover of a rainstorm.

He reached into his pocket and extracted the marble, bringing it up in front of his eyes. It was a cloudy little sphere with lines of blue/green running through it and it shone as the bright sunlight breached the window directly behind it. If Charles closed his eyes, he could feel his small clumsy hands sealing the bottle with the marble hidden inside. He could feel the dirt on his hands. His shirt was too thin and it was cold that day. His mother wanted to know what he'd been up to to get so filthy. The maid, Tilly, helped him wash his hands, cleaned his face with a flannel. The maid. How did you manufacture the name of a maid?

Charles' eyes snapped open at the sound of the marble hitting the floor and rolling away. He blinked a few times, swallowing hard and pushing the book out of his lap, letting it fall aside with a thump. He rubbed his face with both hands, rubbing the exhaustion from his eyes. He'd been holed up in the old library for three days now, sleeping on the battered couch which had seen better days. This part of the house had always seemed a novelty, still furnished with ancient relics, countless shelves with glass doors holding actual books. Not to mention a wall of shelves archiving all things Professor X, the Xavier Institute, the Brotherhood.

Magneto.

Charles stared at that corner of the room, all those shelves of material on one man. Books written after he died. Articles written during his life. Pages of love and pages of hate. An image flared in his mind and he felt himself lying in someone's arms, the bottom half of his body somewhere between numbness and fading pain. He felt cold even under a bright sun and he was staring into a pair of shocked eyes, feeling stunned himself as he thought, did you just do this – what have you done?

Charles shut his eyes, tears he hadn't felt welling up rolling down his cheeks. He sniffed and quickly wiped them away, looking at the book he had discarded. It had proven useless. He picked it up and stood on wobbly legs that were numb from sitting too long. Charles replaced the book on its shelf and closed the glass door, locking it with a tiny key that gleamed between gold and copper.

“What are you looking for?” Louis asked him quietly, standing by the half-open door.

Charles rubbed his face before he turned to look at Charles. “Nothing in particular.”

Louis nodded, eyeing the shelves. “You're just methodically going through every shelf for the fun of it.”

“Something like that,” Charles replied, snatching his sweater off the floor and pulling it on as Louis watched him, tried to get a read on him. It would take so little to breach his thoughts now, so frighteningly little. “Did you want something?”

“Not really,” Louis said, walking further into the room. “Other than finding out what's going on in that head of yours.”

Charles gave a small laugh, regretting it when it sounded rather brittle and ragged. He evaded Louis' gaze and turned to pick up an empty glass from where it sat on top of some priceless sideboard. “Trust me, you're better off not knowing.”

“Knowing what?” Louis asked.

Charles gripped the glass in his hand for a moment and then finally looked at Louis. “If it's all the same, I'd rather not talk about this right now.”

Louis gave him a nod and turned towards the window. “They've cleared up the satellite site, by the way. After it stopped spinning the wretched thing just fell apart. I suppose it's just been rotting away on the inside all this time.”

Charles joined Louis at his side and looked of the window. The unmistakable blot on the landscape was missing. It had fallen apart days ago and moments after Emma had called Raven to let her know Erik had finally woken up. It appeared that more than just memories had been unlocked.

“I suppose we'll just plant a few more trees,” Louis said absently. “We don't have nearly enough of the blessed things.”

Charles was supposed to laugh, but Louis had faded away at his side, shrunk away and hidden at the back of Charles' mind as he found himself standing outside, looking at the satellite. When he turned his head he saw Erik slowly reaching out, the fingers of his hands splayed as if he could touch the metal in the distance. Charles could feel the blanket of calm in his mind, his senses still floating on that moment of peace, that memory which glowed in the darkest corner of his heart. He could have moved a mountain in that moment and he didn't even know it.

“Charles!” Louis snapped.

Charles felt himself rush back to the present and suddenly there was a heavy thump of objects hitting the floor. He turned to see the room looking as it had done moments ago, but all the furniture slightly off and out of alignment with each other, a few smaller objects fallen on their sides, lamps and vases.

Louis sighed and said, “Clearly your telekinesis is not as temporary as we thought. Might I suggest trying to learn a little control? We're running out of furniture for you to obliterate.”

Charles grimaced. “Sorry. It's... new. It's taking time.”

Louis gave Charles a gentle pat on the back before moving his hand to squeeze Charles' shoulder, letting his hand remain there. “I won't intrude on this, Charles, you know I won't. But, to be completely honest, that's mostly a lie to give you a false sense of security, because given half a chance I'll do a bloody decent job of intruding if it means getting you out of this gloomy room and telling me exactly what's going on here.”

Charles frowned at Louis and then smiled, nodding. “Well, at least you're honest.”

“The point I'm making is, you're not alone, Charles. You have friends, family.” Quietly he added, “You have Erik. He doesn't strike me as a man who will be angry at the manner in which your abilities returned. Not from what I've seen of him.”

Charles swallowed, nodding. “What if when they returned I unlocked memories in his mind he wanted to keep locked? What if I forced myself into his mind and wrenched those memories open?”

“You would never do something like that, not intentionally,” Louis said, frowning at Charles..

“I ripped into his mind and broke down every door I could find,” Charles said flatly. “Intention's not worth a damn, I should have stopped myself. I should have found a way to stop it from happening. He didn't want to remember. He fought so hard.”

“Remember what?” Louis asked with evident frustration.

Charles shook his head. “Believe me when I tell you, you're better off not knowing.”

Louis held Charles' by his wrist, peering at him with stern eyes. “Try me.”

Charles gave him a look, pleading with Louis to let it go, but Louis shook his head, waiting and before Charles could stop himself, he had reached out to Louis and taken him into his mind. They both stood in a room. Charles looked around this bedroom, his bedroom. No, this wasn't his bedroom anymore, was it? It used to be someone else's, a very long time ago. Charles went to the window and looked outside, his heart skipping a beat when he saw Erik.

There he stood wearing a gray tracksuit, his hair almost sternly combed back. He appeared to be lost in thought, staring at the satellite dish he had moved earlier in the day. Charles couldn't remember ever having seen someone look so lonely, so lost. He wanted to reach out and tell Erik, he wasn't the only one who felt alone. He wasn't the only who had felt adrift for years, incomplete. Charles watched Erik turn and look up at the window, smiling down at Erik, raising a hand in a still wave. Erik smiled back, revenge, Shaw and anger all forgotten for the moment.

“Stop! Stop it,” Louis gasped and there they were in the present, as if they'd never left it. Charles blinked at Louis who seemed pale and shaken. “Magneto... he looks... Erik looks just like him. How is that even... how can you-?”

“Have the same faces,” Charles said quietly. He swallowed and said, “It's not something I'm particularly keen thinking about.”

Louis said nothing, reaching out for the nearby sofa and slowly sitting down as he held his head in his hands. After a while he looked up and shakily said, “So, regeneration theory. A bit more than a theory I'd say.”

***

“Oh my god. Have you read this?” Raven asked Emma, pointing at the datapad in her hand. “Some guy in Oregon has a secondary mutation which allows him to grow an external pouch for carrying a foetus to term. After the baby's extracted, the pouch just falls away, like dead skin. Can you believe this?”

Emma angled her head to look at the datapad as she sipped her coffee. “I'm sure guys will be queueing up for that genetic modification.”

Raven shook her head, staring at Emma in disbelief. “How does that even happen? For thousands of years women were squeezing out something the size of a melon out of something the size of a lemon and it's a guy who develops the better delivery mechanism? Evolution sucks.”

“Honey, in case you hadn't noticed, inside the city limits, no one has to squeeze anything out of anything these days,” Emma said, leaning back to look out of the window of their diner booth. “Also, not sure about the pouch. I don't think it would suit Azazel.”

Raven snorted and put her datapad down, picking up her coffee. “Why aren't you at work?”

“I have an appointment at two. Azazel'll come get me if anything happens before then,” Emma replied. “I'm surprised you could make it to lunch. Shouldn't you be busy moulding the minds of the future?”

“No moulding this afternoon. Laundry folding, yes, mind moulding, no. Besides, we haven't really had an opportunity to talk properly since... well, you know.”

“Since your best friend went nuclear?” Emma asked, her brows raised. Raven grimaced. Emma just shrugged and said, “Well, he did. I felt it. I thought Erik wasn't going to wake up after that. I tried to get into his head. He threw me right back out without evening knowing. Logan? Tried his healing trick and passed right out.”

“How did you wake him then?” Raven asked quietly.

Emma shook her head. “We didn't. Just when we stopped arguing and agreed we had to take him to the hospital, he woke up and Anna threw us all out. I saw him the day after. Looked like a ghost. Felt like a ghost.”

Raven frowned. “How does someone feel like ghost?”

Emma looked at Raven and said, “Erik's always been good at shielding himself, but this time when I saw him, it was like he wasn't even there. It was like trying to listen to someone from the other side of a thick metal door.”

“Isn't it possible for someone to shield themselves that well?”

“No,” Emma said. “Besides, Erik's not the one who padlocked his mind from telepathic intrusion. Your friend did that.”

Raven stared. “Charles? Why would he do that?”

“No one would do that unless they were trying to protect something very important from being discovered,” Emma said. “In your friend's case, I'm guessing he doesn't even know he's done it.”

“He was pretty out of it when I found him. Stayed with him all night and he didn't say a single word,” Raven said quietly. When I woke up in the morning, he was lying there next to me, just staring, with this really sad look. Like... I dunno.”

“Like he's never seen you before,” Emma said. “Like he's seeing you for the very first time.”

Raven nodded slowly. “Maybe.”

Emma sighed, shaking her head. “Erik's still brooding. Which means Anna's pissed with everyone. Logan's more foul-tempered than usual, which means Azazel's more irritated than usual, which means it's Martini's at ten for me, once when I wake up and once when I sleep. If I sleep.”

“Not sleeping?”

“Bad dreams,” Emma said irritably. “They must be infectious or something. What about Charles? Think he might be in the mood to call his honey some time soon? Kiss and make up? Gives us all an excuse for a party?”

Raven shrugged. “No idea. He's being annoyingly elusive. Louis says he's become obsessed with the family archives.”

“Hmm. Fancy that,” Emma said.

Raven frowned. “Why?”

Emma pulled Raven's datapad across the table, casting an eye on the latest reads as she said, “He's not the only one rifling through the family closet.”

***

Several levels below Erik's apartment was a vault hidden away in the sub-basement levels. For years it existed as a place to keep precious items safe. Now it felt like more of a shelter. Erik stood on the marble steps near the thick steel doors, looking into the black cavernous room. All the Lehnsherr treasures were encased in glass cases and a warm glow of dim lighting.

Erik walked up to a tall glass case. Inside it was a dark mannequin wearing a smooth red helmet, a dark burgundy suit and a long regal purple cape. The mannequin was lifeless, featureless and almost a shadow in this room of shadows. Yet, those clothes, that helmet. The man who wore them was not hard to imagine. The hardest thing about looking at what remained of the great Magneto was the sudden memory of holding that helmet, the smoothness of the metal under Erik's touch. He could remember lifting it and putting it on.

The glass Erik had held in his hand dropped and smashed on the floor. He realised his heart had sped up, the chill gone and replaced by too much heat under his skin as his hands shook. He took a harsh breath and looked away from the non-existent stare of the mannequin, down at the too shiny black floor, faced with his own startled reflection, almost as dark as the mannequin wearing Magneto's apparel.

“Erik?” He slowly turned to see Anna by the doors. She walked down the steps and joined Erik at his side, eyeing the broken glass by his feet. She pulled him away from the mess and said, “You'll cut yourself.”

Erik let her pull him away mutely as she took him by his hand and led him back to the steps, pulling him down to sit next to her. “I couldn't get anything out of your friends. They're very loyal when they want to be. It's how I usually know things are bad.”

Erik gave her a tired look. “Why are you here?”

“I had a call from Louis. We discussed some things,” she said.

“Oh?” Erik asked.

“Well, mostly it was Louis' insisting that just because we have ridiculous nephews, it's no reason why we can't go ahead and wed,” she said, looking bemused. Erik stared at her for a moment and then smiled. Anna's eyes shone slightly and she smiled with him. “That's better. You Lehnsherr's and your sour moods.”

Erik pulled away from her grip so he could wrap his own fingers around her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Did he say anything about Charles?”

“Do you care?” Anna asked gently.

Erik stared at her, hurt by what felt like an accusation, no matter how softly spoken. “Of course I care. I couldn't stop if I tried.”

“Then speak to him,” Anna said. “He thinks he hurt you. You want him believing that?”

Erik stared down at the floor, looking away when he remembered there was nowhere to run from the reflective tiles in this damn place. “He didn't mean to. He didn't even know what was happening until it was too later. I felt it.”

“And what did happen?” Anna asked in a soft coaxing tone. “Tell me.”

Erik laughed quietly. “You wouldn't believe me if I did.”

“That's what Louis said,” Anna told him. “And I'll tell you, like I told him, you won't know unless you tell me. Whatever it is, my darling, don't keep it to yourself. Not when you don't have to.”

Erik looked at her, considering her words before he turned his head to look at the glass case holding Magneto's apparel. How sad it looked, that dark empty space beneath the helmet, how hollow. This is what he never had, Erik thought as he squeezed Anna's hand in his, the kind of love that stopped you from pushing everyone away, embracing loneliness even when you didn't have to.

You're not alone, someone had once told Magneto, never catching any of the thoughts past the immediate relief where Magneto had reminded himself, but it's better that I should be. Had it been better? Erik asked the question and searched for the answer amidst all the hopes, dreams and disappointments Magneto had left behind in these memories. The answer was simple and it was enough to make Erik start talking.

***

Raven had reluctantly made her way home after a long lunch with Emma and somehow ended up in the local park, sitting on a bench and watching the people who filtered through. It was November and hardly park weather, but a few people were still braving the crisp cold to idle around, wrapped in dark long coats and thick scarves. She watched them pass her by, walking dogs, jogging, taking brisk walks or quietly contemplating like her.

She was still disturbed by the events at Westchester, finding Charles so shattered, his surroundings even more so. She couldn't stop seeing Erik lying almost lifeless, his face without expression, yet still making her wonder what horror he'd just seen. There was a strange scratching at the back of her mind, something that made her heart flutter. She could only think so much about Erik and Charles before it started up and made her want to distract her mind.

On this occasion, the moment she felt that flutter she headed home, breathing a sigh of relief as she stepped into the warmth of her home. She could smell something sweet and bready, one of Hank's welcome kitchen experiments. Dropping her bags in the hall and hanging her coat over the bannister, she walked into the kitchen and went to Hank where he was sat at the table, already pushing away his datapad to turn his face up for a kiss. Raven smiled, sliding an arm around his shoulders and insinuating herself onto his lap before gently kissing his mouth, stroking a hand down his cheek. He pulled away and frowned at her before narrowing his eyes in mock suspicion.

“Is this about the pregnant guy in Oregon?” Hank asked.

Raven narrowed her eyes right back at him and said, “No.”

“Ah,” he said. “Because if it is, the answer is yes like it is to everything. But I'll warn you now, I can't think of anything better than seeing a pregnant man to put you off sex for life. As ideas for contraception go, that's a winner.”

“Didn't put you off sex seeing me look like a beached whale,” Raven said dryly.

Hank smiled, his eyes travelling up and down her body as he shook his head. She gave him a smirk and a second later her form rippled to display the later stages of her pregnancy with Leo. She hadn't known a woman could push the word 'curves' to such a limit until Leo. Hank reached out and smoothed his hand around a bump that wasn't really there.

“You're perfect, Raven,” he said quietly. “You've always been perfect.”

Raven rippled back to her normal state, letting Hank tighten his arms around her waist as she asked, “Where's Leo?”

“Upstairs, doing his homework,” Hank said, voice muffled somewhere near her throat. Upstairs the sound of running could be heard before a loud thump put it to an end, followed by guilty silence. Hank sighed and drew back. “Upstairs, pretending to do his homework.”

Raven grinned. “So he won't go to college. We'll use the money for a cruise.”

“Okay, so a little less perfect than you were a few seconds ago.” Hank raised his brow at her. Raven pressed a kiss against his temple and got up to pay Leo a visit. Hank called out behind her, “Hey. You okay?”

Raven looked back and smiled. “Yeah, I'm okay. Everyone has bad dreams, right? Even you.”

Hank gave her a slight nod, gaze troubled, but mouth reassuringly smiling anyway. “Still not heard anything from Charles?” She shook her head. “And you're not marching over there to fix it?”

“Nope,” she said, feeling that familiar flutter, that scratching at the back of her mind. “Not this time. I think this one's between Erik and Charles. We should probably sit it out.”

“We?” Hank asked with amusement.

She grinned. “Yeah. We. Always, we.”

Hank flashed back a bright sharp smile that stood out against the blue of his skin and fur before returning to the datapad on the kitchen table. Raven watched him for a few seconds before turning away and shutting the door on that scratch at the back of her mind.

***

There was a man wearing the cape of a dark shadow before Charles, floating above him, his arms outstretched. Under the helmet, the face was hidden, excluding two pinpricks of ice that were staring right at Charles. Charles blinked up at him. The new memories were allowing him to see details his dreams had never possessed, yet surely, he was dreaming even now, seated behind the eyes of a man in a wheelchair, gripping the armrests with cold hands, heart torn between loyalty and betrayal, love and sorrow.

“Say something,” Charles whispered to the phantom before him, watching as he angled his head and the pin pricks narrowed in his direction.

“Not much left to say, old friend.” The voice was heavy with sadness, and stubborn, filled with grit.

“No. I suppose not,” Charles conceded, feeling a shift inside the Professor's mind, his putting down the foundation to a new path. “Was that all, Erik?”

The phantom floated closer and Charles felt his heart clench as the sharp lines of Erik's face were revealed inside the cage of his own making. His mouth was twisted into a bitter smile one end, sad and unmoving the other.

“Magneto,” he corrected, not for the first time.

Charles felt his lips tremble into a smile of their own as he shook his head. “Not to me, Erik.”

The caped man looked at him for a long time and his smile lost its bitterness, his sharp gaze warming. Wordlessly, he turned away, the sound of his cape like heavy flapping wings.

Charles blinked, slowly and stiffly propping himself up on his elbows as he looked around the Professor's room. The couch was not five hundred years old, but it was authentically uncomfortable as the one that had originally occupied this room. How Charles hated knowing this. He got up and closed the window, the air far too chilled now, ignoring the images from scenes outside it prodding at his mind.

Shutting the door he took a step to leave, but his eyes became stuck on the door across the hall. Suddenly that door had become the more frightening to open. No one was behind it, yet Charles imagined opening it and finding him there. Not his Erik, but a man who had lived here for a small while a long time ago. A man's whose dreams still haunted this house. Not his Erik, yet... yet Charles stood there pressing his fingers against the wood of the door.

“Charles?” Damn Louis, following him about the house like a nursemaid. Like Charles needed watching. “Are you all right?”

Charles turned away from the door and blinked at Louis. “That is by far the most fucking stupid question I have ever been asked.”

Louis frowned, clearly offended. “I was worried. You were fondling woodwork. Again.”

“Well, I'm fine and I'm clearly not fine, and that's how it's going to be for a while, maybe forever,” Charles said with a sigh, leaning against the door with a thump. He muttered, “That bloody bastard. That bloody bloody bastard.”

“Who?” Louis asked as Charles pushed away from the door and started walking off. “Charles?”

“The saintly Professor, of course,” Charles muttered. “I'd kill him if he wasn't already dead. And stop following me, I'm not mad.”

“No, you're just muttering mad things like your grandfather used to. Entirely different thing,” Louis said, trailing behind as they descended the stairs. “Where are you going?”

“I need a drink,” Charles said, rubbing his forehead. “Or two.”

“No, what you need is supper and sleep,” Louis insisted, following Charles into the living room and all the way to the drinks cabinet before moving in front of it to obstruct Charles. He gave Charles a stern look. “I have no idea what you're going through, but I do know that drinking won't solve anything. It's possible I may be the only Xavier to have worked this out. I'd always hoped you'd be the other one.”

“I don't know what to do, Louis,” Charles said, shaking his head. “Other than pretend none of this is happening.”

Louis reached out and squeezed Charles' arm reassuringly, not that it had the desired effect. Charles still felt compelled to get stinking drunk. Louis looked as though he was about to drag Charles out of the room, away from the location of the best liquor in the house, but as luck would have it, the comm-system chimed, alerting them to an incoming call from an unrecognised caller.

“Whoever it is, I'm not here,” Charles said immediately.

Louis nodded, holding up a hand to shush him. “Answer. Yes, hello.”

There was a long pause before the voice, which was most unmistakably Erik's, said, “Louis.”

Louis let out a breath and looked at Charles who suddenly felt his legs turn to water at the sound of Erik's rusty voice, laced with exhaustion and things Charles couldn't bare to think about.

“Erik,” Louis said quietly. “How are you?”

“Fine,” Erik said, voice too thick and heavy for him to be fine. You liar, Charles thought. “Is Charles there?”

“I'm here,” Charles said, cutting Louis off even as he opened his mouth to reply. Awful silence then as he waited for Erik to say something. His throat felt so dry, his voice was a croak when he said, “Erik?”

“Can I see you?” Erik asked. There was a sound, a brush of something. Charles could almost see Erik standing there running his fingers through his hair.

Charles nodded before realising Erik couldn't actually see him. “Yes. Tomorrow? Is that too soon? I mean, whenever you're-”

There was a most perceptible shift in the air, something days ago Charles would have picked up easily, but not in the way his senses registered it now, the way Azazel's arrival seemed to alter the whole molecular composition of the room, the way his body had just tunnelled through time and space to appear. He almost felt breathless as he turned to nod at the other man.

“Can I see you now? Please?” Erik asked, even though Azazel was right there, already holding out a hand.

Louis looked like he was going to protest, but Charles shook his head, already reaching for Azazel.

***

Erik finished his drink and placed the tumbler on top of a glass case that had never really peaked his interest before. He tilted his head at the contents as he heard Charles offering Azazel a quiet, “Thank you.”

The vault echoed with Charles' footsteps as he made his way deeper into the room, closer and closer to Erik. Erik started to turn, but Charles hurriedly said, “Wait. I... could you just stay there for a moment? I'm not sure I can look at you and say this.”

Erik felt a horrendous tremor move across his face, but he nodded mutely and stayed where he was, his eyes locked on the glass case before him.

“Erik,” Charles said, sounding winded, breathless, turning the name into one syllable. “I'm sorry.”

Erik frowned, turning his head slightly towards Charles' voice. “Sorry?”

“These memories, you didn't want any part of them and I... I'm so sorry,” he said quietly. “I just want you to remember one thing, Erik. These memories don't belong to us. We're not these people. These men lived their lives and died a long time ago and they do not get to live out their regrets through us. You're not him This... please don't let this change you.”

Erik smiled slightly, blinking away blurred vision. “Does it feel like there's a part of him alive in you?”

Charles was quiet. When Erik shifted his vision he could make out Charles' reflection in one of the many glass cases. He was so still, he looked as though he himself was one of the things being kept safe, right inside the case that held Magneto's clothes.

“Does it?” Erik probed. “All those regrets and hopes. Doesn't it feel like he's right there, in a corner of your mind?”

“No,” Charles said stubbornly, though his voice cracked as he answered.

“No?” Erik asked. “I feel like he's here. Magneto. Just behind my shoulder. Pleading and prodding to talk to his old friend one last time.”

“We're not them,” Charles said quietly, sounding as if he was trying to convince himself. “These are just genetic memories and we happen to be the poor saps stuck with them.”

Erik reached into the glass case and extracted the artefact from within. He turned around and looked at Charles who seemed pale and tired, his sweater and trousers looking crumpled and slept in, hair slightly unruly even for its short length. He had noticed the object in Erik's hand, his eyes becoming wide, mouth slightly open in shock. As Erik neared, Charles took a step backwards as though the helmet in Erik's hands might harm him.

Erik stopped inches away from Charles, holding the grey metal helmet before him. “There's something he desperately wanted to say. Something he wanted to do. Let him finish it. You're right, we're not these men, but let him finish this anyway.”

Charles grimaced at the helmet and shook his head. Erik ignored the tear that slipped down his face and landed on the helmet and took a step closer, looking Charles in his pink-tinged eyes and holding out the helmet. “The man who wore this regretted very little, Charles, but he did regret one thing and that was hurting the one person he cared for the most and if he could have gone back and changed it, he would have. He'd have gladly handed this over. I know it's late, but... forgive him.”

Charles was staring at the helmet Erik couldn't bear to look at anymore. Each glance brought him memories of slipping it on, shutting out the Professor, shutting out everyone. Shutting out the world and choosing loneliness when he didn't have to be alone. How he hated it and how he hated Magneto for cutting out his own heart.

Charles shook his head and stepped further back, looking as if he might bolt, but then froze, his eyes fixing on something behind Erik. Erik watched as Charles all but floated past him towards a dark corner of the room with a case that held a blue and yellow bodysuit.

“He kept it,” Charles said, his voice barely a whisper. “He kept it all that time.”

“He was one of the X-Men,” Erik said, catching a scent of sorrow from memories of removing that suit and clutching it for one last time. “Even if it was just for a brief moment.”

Charles' head dropped and Erik caught the soft sound of a breath inhaled. Charles was standing there shaking his head. After a moment he said, “I hope that fool didn't go to his grave thinking the Professor didn't forgive him. He loved him. How could he not forgive him?”

Erik felt a breath shudder in his chest, a place in his mind cooling as if a breeze had blown across it. Charles turned around, shoulders sagging and an exhausted look on his face as he slowly closed the distance between himself and Erik, his eyes turning to the grey helmet. He looked up at Erik after a moment and smiled a weak watery smile. “I'm telling you right now, Erik, it's me or the bloody helmet.”

Erik smiled, despite every inch of him feeling brittle. He looked at the helmet in his hands and uncurled his fingers, letting it fall to the floor with a loud thunk before holding his hand out to Charles.

***

“I am Magneto and I will destroy you all. Bam! Bam! Puchhhhh!” Raven grimaced as Leo lay on his stomach in his room, using a small dinosaur figurine to topple over various robots and monsters. “Oh no, ruuuuun!”

Raven cleared her throat and Leo instantly threw aside the dinosaur, sitting up in a cross-legged position and picking up his datapad. Raven shook her head and said, “Yeah. No.”

Leo dropped his datapad in his lap, his whole frame sagging as he pouted. “Can't Panther come over?”

“No. It's a school night and you two already spend too much time together,” Raven said, taking a place on the floor in front of Leo. “Plus, his name's Panther.”

“Panther's mom and dad let him do anything,” Leo complained, slapping down an innocent robot.

“No they do not,” Raven said, picking up the datapad and eyeing the colourful display. “Now, what are you supposed to be doing here?”

“It's for a stupid test,” Leo said. “It's boring.”

“What's boring?” Raven said with an amused smile.

Leo shrugged. “I dunno.”

Raven picked up the discarded dinosaur and held it up, wiggling it in front of Leo. “Magneto?”

Leo shrugged again. “Why does it even matter?”

Raven blew out a breath, looking at the little ridiculous model in her hand. “That's a big question. You don't think it matters?”

Leo scrunched up his face, turning his nose up at the question. “Billy Hoover says he was mean and hated humans and his mom and dad think people should get over him already.”

Raven blinked. “Get over him already? Wow.”

“Was he mean? Did he hate kids?” Leo asked with a curious frown. “Billy Hoover says Magneto was a bad guy.”

“Magneto,” Raven said thoughtfully, “was... a man who did a lot of bad things and a lot of good things. See, when he was around, not all humans liked mutants very much. Some humans were pretty mean and Magneto was mean back and he made a lot of noise about humans mistreating mutants. Some of it was bad noise, admittedly... most of it. In any case, thanks to him and Professor X, some humans finally realised they didn't have to hate mutants and things started to change. Maybe he was a bad guy, but you know what, you should figure that out for yourself. Billy Hoover's not exactly a fountain of knowledge.”

Leo was staring at the floor, mouth slightly down-turned, eyes blinking contemplatively. Then he looked up and asked, “Do you think Magneto was a bad guy?”

Raven blinked. Leo was still a little too young to introduce her own unpopular theories. She had always felt a little more leniency towards the man than most and it didn't always go down well. She thought very carefully and said, “I think... I think he was... a guy who did some unfortunate things.”

Leo frowned at her. “Professor X would never be friends with a bad guy.”

Raven smiled, leaning forward and poking Leo's forehead lightly. “An old fart once said, a friend is one soul divided between two bodies. So, no, Professor X would never be friends with a bad guy. See? Now you're thinking.”

“Is it true Magneto rode a dinosaur called Barney?” Leo asked.

Raven sighed. “I really need to check out what they're teaching you at this school.”

“Hey guys, what's going on here?” Hank asked, walking in hands in pockets, smile on face.

Raven smiled back at him. “History lessons.”

“Ah,” Hank said as Leo took his dinosaur from Raven and stood him upright. Hank sat down next to Raven, picking up a fallen robot while telling her, “I just spoke to Louis.”

Raven frowned. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah,” Hank said slowly. “Charles called him from Erik's apartment. Something about not worrying if he's gone for a day or two. Louis says he has every intention of worrying and feels better knowing if someone else is worrying too.”

Raven narrowed her eyes at Hank and shook her head. “I think I'll pass on worrying this time.”

Hank made a face and said, “What if they get themselves into a pouch situation? Like pregnant guy from Oregon?”

Raven grimaced as Leo quite promptly asked, “Dad, where do babies come from?”

“Oh, um,” Hank stammered, not his usual confident self at all. “Well, um...”

He looked at Raven for support. She jumped to her feet and turned to leave, telling Hank, “You're on your own.”

“Raven? Don't you dare,” Hank hissed quietly as she left, hearing Hank ask, “Leo, son, why is that dinosaur wearing a cape?”

***

Charles awoke to the mother of all headaches. His stomach was somewhere in his mouth and his skull felt as though his brain and expanded beyond its confines. He had a vague recollection of the day before. There was drinking. A lot of drinking. In fact, there may have been a goal attached to it to show Erik how much a person could imbibe alcohol and not die. There was also drunken laughing and cursing as they both toasted and damned the dead and after that things got a little hazy.

Fingers carded through his hair and Charles turned to find Erik next to him, looking as though he had been awake for a while. There was a quiet and thoughtful expression on his face, serene enough to calm a momentary flutter in Charles' chest.

“Hello,” Charles croaked, which made Erik smile.

“Hello,” he replied, giving Charles' hair a gentle and playful tug. Charles hoisted himself up on his elbows, coughing and clearing the rattle in his chest as he looked around the room, whilst Erik lay back, linking his fingers behind his head and watching Charles with clear amusement. “You don't remember a thing, do you?”

“I remember plenty, just not what I need to remember,” Charles said, finally deciding that this was not his bedroom and not Erik's bedroom and judging by the dreary décor and oddly dirty cleanliness of the place, this was in fact a motel room. And that was when it all came back. “Oh my god.”

Erik gave a small huff of a laugh as Charles thumped back down and closed his eyes. “I take it you remember.”

“Please tell me I didn't really attempt to carry you over the threshold,” Charles said, turning to look at Erik. Erik's mouth twitched in answer and Charles covered his face with both hands. “I dropped you.”

Erik laughed and Charles took away his hands to see the bright look on Erik's face. This, he thought, be like this forever. Erik must have seen something of Charles' thoughts on his face because he leaned in, tenderly touching his thumb to Charles' jaw and pressing a kiss to his mouth.

When they pulled apart, Charles shook his head and grinned. “I can't believe we did this. I'll probably be disowned.” He paused, watching Erik already grinning. “I can't thank you enough.”

Erik smiled and moved to completely cover Charles' body with his own, propping himself up on his elbows while Charles took great pleasure in squeezing Erik's biceps appreciatively. Erik dropped his head down to kiss him and murmur, “You can try.”

Charles grinned, kissing Erik's quietly laughing mouth, telling him, “Oh, I certainly will.”

Erik moved a few blessed inches closer and Charles bracketed Erik's body with his thighs, rubbing the pads of his feet wherever he found firm warm flesh. Erik hummed with contentment, beginning a slow thrust against Charles, kissing along his jawline. But, just as Charles decided to get a little more demanding, someone knocked on the door and stopped them both in their tracks, both their heads moving in tandem to look in the direction of the intrusion before they frowned at each other.

“Are we expecting someone?” Charles whispered, receiving a shake of the head. “Azazel?”

“We took the shuttle,” Erik said quietly, already moving from the bed and ducking down to pick up his trousers. Charles got up too, pulling the sheets with him and holding them around his waist. Erik pointed at his own temple, before putting on his trousers.

See who it is.

Charles prodded the mind outside the door, seeing a covered tray held by someone with rather overwhelmingly kind thoughts. Charles said, “A complimentary breakfast for the new couple. I think we must have been quite vocal about our newly acquired marital status last night.”

Erik smiled and went to open the door as Charles gave him a narrow-eyed look. A woman somewhere in her fifties with too blonde hair and wearing a bulky sweater and jeans, badge reading 'Liz', handed Erik a covered silver tray.

“Compliments of the Howl Inn,” she said with a smile, which immediately made Erik arch a brow. “We don't usually do this, but I thought I'd make an exception for a pair of newly-weds.”

Erik was looking at the tray in his hands, something warm and peaceful curling off him and reaching for Charles. He nodded at Liz and said, “That's very kind. Thank you.”

“Well, you don't want to be eating at the diner across the street, not if you're planning on enjoying the honeymoon. That's a home cooked breakfast right there. You boys eat it up.”

Charles was about to add his thanks when a man appeared from behind Liz, thrust a recorder into the room and aimed it at Charles before running away shouting, “It's them! It's Xavier and Lehnsherr!”

Erik stared at the doorway, a stunned expression on his face as he stood there bare chested and holding a breakfast tray. He slowly turned to blink at Charles and for a moment Charles could imagine the tray in his hand hurtling out of the room and decapitating the man who had just fled with a story.

It was Liz who spoke, looking from one to the other and asking, “You boys in some kind of trouble?”

***

“And tell me, Liz, how does it feel to have two very famous people choose your motel for their wedding celebrations?”

“Well, I didn't know who they were when they booked the room. I just thought they were a very nice couple. They even apologised for all the rude reporters camped outside waiting to pounce on them. To be honest, I don't blame them for running off to get married in the middle of nowhere. Especially with you people following them around. Haven't you got anything better to do?”

Hank cleared his throat and then slowly turned his head to look at Raven who sat beside him in bed, arms folded over her chest. “Any thoughts?”

Raven blinked at the telescreen, that ridiculous picture of Charles in a bed sheet still on display. “Well, on one hand, I'm going to kill him. On the other hand, that's their life now, right there. And on the third hand-”

“A mutation mostly desired by young mutant males-”

“On the third hand,” Raven said, turning to grin at Hank, “I'm going to kill him, through laughing. Hard. Really hard.”

“You are a bad friend,” Hank said, grinning and shaking his head. “A bad bad friend, Raven.”

“No, bad friends go and elope without sharing with their best friends,” Raven said, pointing at Hank. He blinked at her finger and arched a brow. She curled the finger, knocking her knuckle against Hank's chin. “But I'm still going to hug the hell out of him. Both of them.”

“Now I'm jealous,” Hank said, but Raven took care of that by pulling him down into a kiss.

***

Eloping,” Louis said with a shake of his head. Either side of him, Charles' parents were glaring at both Charles and Erik, while Anna sat quiet and unreadable, Azazel behind her. Erik wondered if he should have invited Emma and Logan too, just to get everyone's objections out of the way in one go. Charles elbowed Erik hard and he tuned back to the Xaviers airing their discontent. “I mean, really. Eloping.”

“I must say, Erik, I'm disappointed,” Claude said. “It's not the way we do things.”

Erik bit his tongue, but Charles appeared to have more trouble. “Actually, it was my idea. The timing seemed rather perfect and I asked Erik if he would marry me. Right there and then. So, if you want to be disappointed in anyone... well, I'm your man.”

Erik looked at Anna, finding that she was already waiting for him to turn and seek out her reaction. She smiled at him and Erik smiled back, before turning his attention back to his in-laws. “Charles and I are agreed that we'll throw a reception to make up for this. We had no intention of cutting anyone out.”

Claude sighed and looked to Tabitha who seemed won over much more quickly. She shrugged and said, “It's not like we can un-elope them.”

“And besides,” Charles said, aiming a smile at Anna, “It's not like we won't get to see another wedding. Soon. I hope.”

Louis started to cough, possibly choke, lurching into the middle of the room and demanding, “Enough, enough. So they eloped, who cares? The important thing is they're happy. Why don't we drink a toast to the happy couple and talk lavish wedding receptions?”

Everyone seemed in agreement, while Erik leaned in towards Charles and whispered, “Well played, Francine.”

“I hate you,” Charles said, his smile saying something entirely different.

***

When Raven reached the mansion, still mid-repairs, there was a definite sound of laughter and merriment coming from the living room. She and Hank were greeted warmly by Charles' parents first, receiving warm hugs from Louis, a kiss each from Anna and an extremely sheepish smile followed by tight embraces from Charles before he led them both away to the couch, letting the others continue with their conversations. He sat down on the coffee table in front of them, positively beaming.

“So, how's married life treating you?” Hank asked with a grin.

“The ball and chain not around?” Raven asked, looking around with a frown.

“You're both idiots and you deserve each other,” Charles said. “Drink?”

“Really, Charles, eloping?” Raven asked. “I mean, you've both been jerking around all this time, you couldn't wait long enough to give everyone a nice day out?”

“You're not pregnant are you?” Hank asked, mock seriously.

“Oh, Hank, did you hear about the man in Oregon? We really must to talk to him,” Charles said, eyes going a little wide.

“Hey,” Raven said, snapping her fingers in front of him, “focus. Why didn't you call me? You could've said something.”

Charles sighed and looked back at the others momentarily before turning back to his friends. “It was all very quick, spur of the moment. One minute we were drinking and the next minute we were in this back of a bar come licensed wedding grotto of sorts being married by this grizzly old fart.” Raven watched as a smile grew on Charles' face, some memory clearly resurfacing. “We asked him to make it as quick as possible and then practically ran into the motel down the street.”

Raven was fully aware that next to her Hank was also staring at Charles. Much more tactfully than Raven, Hank asked, “Where did you get married? An Elmore Leonard novel?”

Raven added, “I feel really sticky after hearing that. Well done on having a story to gross out your unborn children.”

***

“Talk about the wedding of the year,” Emma said smoothly, smiling at Erik from where she sat perched on one edge of his desk, Logan grinning around a cigarillo on the other end. “I mean, honey, you went all out. The attire was adorable.”

Logan chuckled a little too hard, continuing to smoke up a cloud in front of his face, while Azazel stood off to the side, coughing and waving away drifts of smoke. Emma meanwhile held up her datapad and pointed at the photograph of Charles, startled, half-naked and slightly debauched. Perhaps, more than slightly, if Erik was to be entirely honest with himself. He tilted his head at the photograph and tried not to smile.

“You know, as wedding photographs go, this is a winner,” she said. “I will never delete this. Ever.”

Logan laughed low and dirty, turning to grin at Emma while Erik threw them both a filthy look. Logan saw the look and shook his head. “Glare all you like, bub, but you've had this coming.”

Erik turned his gaze to Azazel, hoping he was effectively communicating a request to get these clowns out of here. Azazel coughed, sniffed and nodded towards Logan, “He's right. For once.”

Erik sunk a little lower in his chair and waved a hand. “Continue.”

***

Charles stopped in the middle of the large hall which was being used as the main space for the festivities. It had been decorated in a variety of shades of white. Who knew white could have this many shades? The room appeared to sparkle between the table settings and bits of drapery that hung over the windows. There was a small stage for a band and a telescreen next to it for who knew what embarrassments.

Charles sighed, feeling a strange detached bemusement emanating in a quiet corner of his mind. “Look what they've done to your house, Professor. They've turned it into a cake.”

“I think it looks wonderful,” Louis said, walking in and patting Charles on the back. “I honestly didn't know the mansion would be up to hosting the reception, but look at this, will you?”

Charles snorted. “You won't be saying that when the east wing falls on our guests heads in the middle of your toast.”

“You are a funsucker, aren't you?” Louis said. “Any news from Erik?”

Charles nodded. “He'll be home in time. I think the rest of his things should turn up this afternoon too.”

Louis was positively beaming. “It'll be wonderful to have more then just the two of us knocking around this place, won't it? I must say, I'm surprised Erik's not opposed to moving in. He doesn't seem the type for musty old houses.”

Charles didn't say that the overwhelming feeling that curled off of Erik whenever he stepped inside the house was home, so achingly strong. He said, “I think he enjoys your company. Can't imagine why, what with you being a complete old bore.”

Louis barked out a laugh, patting Charles' back. “Ah, and here I was thinking you could persuade that young man to Mars if you wanted.”

Charles laughed off the comment, his face warming all the same. “Honestly, Louis, have you just gone and invited everyone you've ever slept with? Seems rather much for what I thought was going to be an intimate affair.”

“Well, it was, until Claude and Tabitha stuck their oars in,” Louis said. “Not that it matters. If memory serves me correctly, I've never known you to have lasted more than ten minutes at any family gathering. As far as you're concerned, the kitchen is well stocked.”

Charles gave Louis a sharp nod. “And I thank you.”

Louis nodded back and looked around the room, frowning. “That is an awful amount of white, isn't it?”

***

“You know, I didn't put on this monkey suit to come down here,” Logan groused.

“I didn't ask you to come. You invited yourself, remember?” Erik said quietly, following the officer down the long pale green corridor.

“Why do you want to see him anyway? I thought you were done with the guy,” Logan said.

“Not quite,” Erik said, the officer in front coming to a stop by the door at the end of the corridor.

“He's through here. You're not to touch the patient. Please stay on your side of the table at all times. If he gets excited, there's a buzzer under the table. We'll be in as soon as you press it. I still don't think you should be in there without a member of staff, Mr. Lehnsherr. This place is wired to suppress mutations. If he goes crazy in there, you could get hurt.”

“I'll be fine. Thank you, Officer.” Erik smiled at the man. The black-clad man gave Erik an acknowledging nod and opened the door for him. Erik stepped inside and Logan began to follow. Erik turned, holding up a hand. “I won't be long.”

Logan frowned at him, his expression slowly morphing into an irritating scowl as he stepped back and asked the officer, “Can I smoke out here?”

“This is a government building,” the officer replied without humour.

“So, that a yes?” Erik heard as the door shut behind him with a loud metallic clunk, the beauty of its composition slightly blurred by the building's inhibitor's on full blast. Not that they dulled Erik's abilities even a bit. Not anymore.

Erik turned from the door to look at the man in the spacious room. He sat on the other side of a white table, in white hospital issue pajamas, blinking at Erik with a curious smile and eyes that looked like bruises. Erik could only stare at the scar on his forehead, something twisting in his chest as he did so. He looked away, unbuttoning his long coat before he pulled out the chair opposite the patient and sat down, crossing his legs.

“Erik,” Shaw said. “What a lovely surprise. But, shouldn't you be somewhere else? Playing happy families?”

Erik smiled. “I'm flattered you take such an interest in my personal affairs.”

“Why, Erik. There's no one else worth taking an interest in. I wish you knew that.” Erik said nothing, keeping his expression bland. Shaw frowned, clever eyes narrowing, face tilting as he peered at Erik. “You seem different. I like it.”

Erik quietly told him, “There have been some developments.”

“Married life?” Shaw asked, smiling with a twist of disgust to his mouth. Erik said nothing, his eyes flicking down to look at Shaw's hands as they lay clasped on the table. He looked back up at Shaw's greedily observant eyes. His smile showed teeth this time. “Why are you here?”

Erik placed his hand flat on the table and leaned forward slightly. “I remember.”

Shaw frowned, eyeing Erik's hand with suspicion. “Remember what?”

Erik thought about it. What memory to offer Shaw first? Where to start? But then, the easiest thing to say was, “Everything.”

It didn't appear to click for a moment and Shaw sat staring at him in visible confusion. But then his eyes widened and he was moving back in his chair as if seeing someone other than Erik altogether. His hands curled into fists and his eyes took on a glassy sheen as he smiled.

“You remember,” he murmured, closing his eyes and letting his head drop back a bit. Erik felt his face unable to keep its bland mask in place when Shaw closed his eyes. He could feel anger and disgust creasing his disguise. He snapped it back in place when Shaw looked at him again and said, “You're here to tell me everything, aren't you?”

“Yes,” Erik said quietly.

Shaw leaned forward, eager and hungry. “Tell me. Tell me what you remember.”

“I remember him,” Erik said quietly. “Everything he did. Everything he thought. Everyone he ever cared for. Everyone he ever lost.”

Shaw nodded. “And?”

“And everyone who was there with him, right from the beginning to the end. I remember all of it,” Erik said, seeing elation in Shaw's eyes. “But I don't remember you.”

Shaw's face fell slowly, like he couldn't quite make sense of Erik's remark. “What?”

Erik shrugged. “I have no recollection of your face or your name. I'm very sorry. I know how much it meant to you. But I'm afraid we can't always have what we want.”

“You're lying,” Shaw growled.

Erik smiled, frowning and shaking his head. “Why would I lie about a thing like that?”

“I don't know! But you're lying!” Shaw shouted before hissing in pain, his hand flying to his head, right over that scar. It made Erik's breath stick in his chest for a moment. He swallowed, allowing a weak smile to flicker across his mouth.

“I've upset you,” Erik said, getting up as Shaw stayed there, grimacing and holding his head. “I should leave.”

Shaw peered at him from where he sat, features twisted between distress and confusion. He's not the same man, Erik told himself as he turned towards the door, we're not the same men. But damn it, he couldn't stop hearing the gunshot. Five hundred years had done nothing to dull its sound. Erik reached into his pocket, his hand closing around a coin.

“I brought you a small token,” Erik said. “A gift for you to remember me by. It's very rare. If anyone can appreciate an artifact, it's probably you.”

Erik turned and held out his hand, letting the coin float up and towards Shaw where it hovered in front of his eyes, slowly turning to reveal one side. Shaw stared at the coin, confusion crossing his features, but not recognition as he reached out and took it, continuing to frown at it in his hand, a thick tear falling from his eye.

“Please. Don't leave,” Shaw said hoarsely.

Erik looked at him. He felt unexpected pity and, somewhere in the back of his mind, something close to peace.

“Goodbye, Mr. Shaw,” Erik said, turning to knock on the door, stepping outside into the smoky corridor. He walked past Logan, telling him, “We're done here.”

***

“They do look cute together,” Raven said. “That you must admit.”

Charles watched as Anna and Louis danced, looking the perfect fit. Even though the room was full of people and noise, they both appeared quite separate and in their own little world. Charles took a sip of his Champagne and nodded. “I'm inclined to agree. Oh my god, is that Remy? Who the hell invited him?”

“I think he's someone's plus one,” Raven said as Hank sidled up next to her. “Hey. Did you check on Leo?”

Hank nodded. “He's doing a fine job of corrupting the other children in attendance.”

Raven grinned at Charles. “That's my boy.”

Charles laughed and said, “Certainly is.”

“Charles!” Tabitha called from somewhere behind him. He turned to see his mother in a subtle red dress, expression as sparkly as said dress. He couldn't help but smile as she approached. “There's a call for you. I've put it through to the kitchen, since it's probably where you're going to go and hide anyway.”

Charles' smile dropped on the floor with a splat as he sighed and said, “Thank you.”

She smiled and reached up to pinch his cheek before turning to Raven and Hank and demanding to know, “Why are you both standing here instead of dancing?”

Hank pointed downwards. “Two left feet.”

Raven made a sad face. “It's true.”

Charles shook his head at all of them and said, “Will you excuse me a moment? Urgent business in the kitchen.”

Raven turned to Hank as Charles left, telling him, “We're so not going to see him again tonight.”

Charles ignored the lot of them and left the far too loud room, glad to be out in the quieter corridor, hoping Erik would turn up soon, though he wasn't running too late yet and... ah. Charles stopped for a moment, just letting the presence at the other side of the house register for a moment. He was grinning by the time he reached the kitchen and pushed the door open to find Erik seated at the kitchen table with an amused little smile on his face. There were two Champagne flutes on the table, one before Erik and one before the empty chair adjacent to him. Erik looked up at him from where he sat, quietly waiting. Charles smiled and went to him as Erik stood to meet Charles halfway, shutting the door with an invisible nudge.

***

From the Dailies Show 2511

“Hello! Welcome to the Dailies Show, I am your host Darlene Baxter and the huge news is the big rich mutant wedding! Yesterday, on FX-CNT, Senator J.D Wellington expressed dismay at the union of two very powerful and influential people. Who happen to be mutants. Apparently, we can expect to start worrying for our lives pretty soon because you know how it is. These mutants, getting married, going off on honeymoon, having kids, paying taxes, arguing about who put the trash in the chute last. Ugh, bastards... Yeah, I know, I got nothing. Oh except that clip of Wellington gushing when his rich republican banker son married Senator Wolsey's rich republican media tycoon daughter. Nothing to worry about here, move along.”

The Maurice and Tanya Show

“Now, the MU1 virus essentially turned off your X gene which is widely known for being responsible for the abilities and appearance of a mutant person. Obviously, it's a shock, life changing, I imagine.”

“It is, yes. For me it was like losing one of my senses along with my identity.”

“Terrible, terrible.”

“Absolutely, and I sympathise, I really do. But, having said that, is it not easier now that no one can point you out in a crowd and harass you because you're a mutant? I mean, would you say the MU1 virus was a blessing in disguise maybe?”

“No. I would never say that. Every person, human or mutant, wants to be accepted for who they are in their entirety. As for being harassed, the people who knew of my mutant abilities and saw my appearance and disliked me before I got sick are the same people who dislike me now. They wouldn't accept me as a human. And they shouldn't. I'm not. I would rather be a mutant and be hated than be accepted for something I'm not. I may have lost my abilities and I may look human now, but I am a mutant. And I am still proud to be one.”

From News Night

"I'm sorry, but are you saying that it's all right for any reprehensible human to marry another equally reprehensible human and then be allowed to pass on their values to their children, but somehow very different for two mutant people?"

"No, no, that's not what I said. You're putting words in my mouth now, Saira."

"Well, what are you saying then? Because it sounds to me that the issue here is very much the refusal to recognise mutant people as, well, people."

"No, you're twisting my words, Saira. The issue is not the recognition of the work done by mutant people. The issue is of certain individuals who will marry in order to abuse the legal benefits of a marital contract. Here we have two extremely wealthy businessmen whose marriage has come out of the blue. This either points to an ulterior motive for the joining of these particular two houses, as the mutant community call them, or is more evidence of the outdated practice of arranged marriage prevalent in certain communities."

"Aren't the motives behind marriage a private matter?"

"No. Not when certain people present a danger to the wider community."

"By which you mean the majority human population. Is that not a rather skewed view of mutant human equality?"

"Mutant people live longer, are stronger and those like Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, Class 4 mutants, posses terrifying abilities. In what sense have we ever been equal?"

"Do you feel that humans are in danger?"

"Yes, I'm afraid I do."

"Despite the four world wars that fall entirely upon humans. One of which saw massive mutant casualties despite them being, as you say, stronger than humans."

"All wars have casualties. And I think we're drifting far from the issue here, which is the transparency of mutant activity."

"So, freedom for all? Nonsense?"

"You're twisting my words."

"Harold Reynolds, thank you for your time."

"Thank you, Saira."

From EBC World Service

“Protesters expressed dismay at the wedding of two of the most influential members of the mutant community, entrepreneur Erik Lehnsherr and scientist, philanthropist Charles Xavier. We heard what a particular man had to say.”

“It is an abomination! God created this earth and Mars for the human race. We were made in his image and mutants are not human. Their defects are not human. They should not have legally sanctioned unions. It is not natural. They are turning the world into a place that is less God-fearing with all that evolution talk. And I am sick of it.”

“Strong words in New York. This is Giles Grey, New York, for the EBC. And, mutant and proud, as it happens.”

Entertainment Daily

“Let's talk about the couple of the year.”

“Yes! Let's. Julian, Erik Lehnsherr. Lehnsherr? Is that how you pronounce it? Doesn't matter, because his new husband has an equally unpronounceable name, the socialite Charles Xavier.”

“Erik and Charles. Charles and Erik. On the front of every datapad this week, am I right, Troy?”

“They are hot stuff, Julian. The happy couple eloped last week, which we think is due to Erik being much more private and reclusive than Charles, who has been seen falling into taxi-shuttles many a time after a wild night.”

“The Xaviers do have a reputation for partying hard, Troy.”

“Yes, and a source tells me that the reception they held for friends and family was the party to be at this year. I think my invitation got lost somehow.”

“You wish, Troy, you wish. Now, weren't the newly-weds supposed to go to Mars for their honeymoon?”

“It's the place to go if you want to get away from prying eyes, especially if you're not single, Julian, so we think Erik is definitely in the driving seat of this relationship. Let's see a clip of them at the NY Space Port.”

“Charles! Charles! What's it like being a married man?”

“Wonderful. I recommend it.”

“Are you looking forward to the honeymoon? Charles!”

“Yes, we both are. Thank you.”

“Erik! Erik! How about a photo?”

“Erik!”

“Erik, how's married life?”

“And that was the point, I think, where Mr. Lehnsherr disintegrated the reporter's equipment. Hopefully they'll finally get to take that honeymoon after the court hearing.”

- the end

Chapter Text

In the three days they had been in Monte Carlo, the paparazzi had snapped at least six different instances which made Erik and Charles look like a couple on the brink of breaking up. One photograph had shown Charles stumbling down stone steps, from where Erik had clearly given him a too hard shove. Another had Charles pinching the bridge of his nose after taking off his sunglasses, looking upset with an aloof Erik walking on ahead, the possible perpetrator of Charles' misery. Another had Charles trying to pull away from Erik, his domineering German husband? Trouble in paradise the news feeds seem to suggest a little too gleefully.

Charles smacked the tablet down on the table making the cutlery jump up and back down beside his breakfast. Opposite him, Erik’s mouth was clamped shut, but his cheeks were flushed and his eyes were sparkling with mischief.

"Why aren’t you angry? They've turned you into some kind of eighteenth century rogue and me into a weeping damsel," Charles said with a frown, a gentle hum of contentment surrounding Erik. "Shouldn’t you be twisting the ore of the planet into a giant fist or something?"

Erik raised his brows. “Would you like me to?”

Charles thought about it. He thought about it long and hard. He’d like that very much in a private fantasy sort of way, but sharing that information with Erik would open him up to an eternity of merciless teasing. So, wisely, and unconvincingly, he replied, “No?”

Erik grinned and lifted his coffee cup to his mouth. Drinking it with too much satisfaction, he made it look so indecent Charles was worried the paparazzi might burst in and take pictures of him as evidence of mutant deviancy. Putting his cup down, he said, “Stop reading the news feeds. You know it’s pointless.”

"You’re not even German," Charles said with a frown. Erik smiled and leaned back with a sigh. Crossly, Charles told him, "No, really, why are you so damned amiable about all this? I thought you liked nothing more than exploding paparazzi cameras. So much so that we had to wait months before we could have our honeymoon.”

Erik leaned forward and looked Charles in the eyes. “Well, there is one thing I like more.”

Charles tried to put on a bland expression, but then ended up laughing, before he narrowed his eyes and said, “Strictly speaking it’s more than one thing really, isn’t it?”

Erik gave a shameless shrug and Charles almost forgot about the tablet in front of him. Almost. It was hard to ignore the piece that was still being posted all over the place, Erik swearing at reporters in elegant French after they accosted him and Charles outside their hotel. Almost immediately the commentary followed, demanding apologies, calling Erik rude and hostile, a bad example of a member of the mutant community. Charles had momentarily tried to argue the case of the critics, until Erik clarified that the best kind of mutant was one without a voice. The mutant who didn’t rebel, didn’t fight, didn’t shout, wasn’t that the homosapien’s favourite mutant?

"Not all humans, Erik," Charles had said, hating the way the professor's tone had somehow snuck into his voice.

"Just the ones we meet," Erik had said with a bitter smile and eyes so sharp that Charles felt he was standing five hundred years ago, arguing with a man in a metal mask.

Erik’s knuckles stroking his cheek snapped him out of his maudlin thoughts and Charles looked up to see Erik standing beside him, exposed skin looking tanned against the white bathrobe. Charles let himself be pulled up from his chair and into a loose embrace and gentle kiss.

"Tomorrow we should go out," Erik whispered. "And we should laugh. And smile. And be happy."

Charles smiled, muttering what he suspected was Erik's reasoning. “So they can see us and begrudge our happiness a little more?”

Erik frowned at Charles, shaking his head slightly. “No. Because we are happy. Aren't we?”

Charles stared up at Erik. That gentle hum of contentment had expanded into a cloud of warmth. Charles had felt it before, emanating from Erik so powerfully it made him feel a little giddy. That was happiness. All the hatred in the world couldn’t tarnish it.

Charles nodded, his throat feeling tight. “Yes. Very much so, Erik.”

They shared a long kiss, languidly swaying against each other for a moment, Charles’ hands sneaking their way to loosening Erik’s robe.

"I thought we had plans," Erik said, watching Charles’ ministrations.

"We do. After you explain some of those things you like more than exploding cameras," Charles said. He looked up at Erik and smiled. "This time… in French."

"And you look so innocent, Francine," Erik said, shaking his head.

Charles sighed, stepping back and folding his arms across his chest. “Well, this marriage failed in record time even for an Xavier.”

Erik grinned, pulling Charles right back into an embrace, one Charles wasn't inclined to leave at all.

 

The End