Charles Francis Xavier, Prince of the 322nd Brigade of Third Earth, Deputy Commander of the TEF Heartsteel, and Graduate of High Distinction from the Imperial Academy is late.
Embarrassing, he thinks to himself as he jogs past the long, clear plasma window that gives a full view of the first sun Ignea beginning to peek around the edges of Third Earth as the planet comes around in its orbit, I hope the recruits don’t notice.
TEF Orbit Base Strontium—or the Oh-Bee, depending on who’s speaking—is not the largest base in the Third Earth Fleet, nor is it the most complex in design. It will still take Charles another ten minutes to get down to the loading dock where he was supposed to be twenty minutes ago.
“Ah, Prince Xavier!”
Make that thirty minutes until he gets to the loading dock, and that’s if he’s lucky.
Charles comes to a halt, arranging his face into something that will hopefully pass as politely blank as he snaps to attention. “War-Prince Stryker.”
The War-Prince is emerging from one of the elevator shafts, taking his time as he saunters over to where Charles waits. If his smile was any sharper, it would be a sneer. “And where are you off to in such a hurry?”
Charles keeps his gaze straight ahead, even as the War-Prince begins to circle him slowly. Stryker and his driving need to exert his authority over every last soldier who falls lower in rank are known throughout the entire 322nd and Charles dislikes the man for it. Any other War-Prince would have brought Charles to ease by now.
“Unfortunately I appear to be running late, sir.” Charles answers, holding perfectly still as Stryker leans forward to brush invisible lint off the shoulder of Charles’ uniform. The entire motion is condescending and Charles has to keep himself from gritting his teeth.
“Late?” Styker’s eyebrows rise in mock surprise and he shakes his head as he circles again, disappearing from Charles’ direct line of view. “Running late for what, Prince Xavier?”
“The newest squad of Warriors arrived on the Oh-Bee at zero-five hundred hours, War-Prince.” The position of attention wasn’t formulated to be comfortable, and the muscles in Charles’ back are getting stiff. “I was supposed to meet them at zero-eight hundred hours down in the loading dock. Sir.”
“It’s twenty-three minutes past.” Stryker’s voice is right in his ear, and Charles resists the urge to shiver. “You are exceptionally tardy, Prince Xavier.”
“Hence my hurry, War-Prince.” This time Charles can’t stop himself from gritting his teeth, but he regrets it as soon as the words are out of his mouth.
Stryker chuckles breathily, still right in Charles’ ear. The War-Prince is practically leaning over him from behind, far too close for comfort. “That sort of behavior would not be tolerated on my ship, Deputy Commander.”
“Then it’s a good thing he’s not part of your crew, Commander.” A new voice calls from down the hall casually, and Charles wants to breathe out in relief. “At ease, Xavier.”
The calm but pointed command allows Charles to relax, and he turns around at once, unable to keep a small smile from quirking at his lips. “Good morning, War-Prince.”
War-Prince Erik Lehnsherr comes to a stop a few paces away, tall and imposing in his dark uniform. He tips his head briefly to Charles, but he surveys Stryker with the same amount of love Charles imagines he’d have for a slug of First Earth—that is to say, none at all.
“Commander.” Stryker returns his look of derision with equal fervor, but he doesn’t quite pull off the general aloof and distant attitude that Erik wears like a cloak. “I didn’t realize that you’d be down from Command Quarters.”
“I imagine you don’t realize a lot of things.” Erik replies dryly as he brushes past Stryker. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, my Deputy Commander and I are running late.”
“Good day, sir.” Charles says, and then hurries to fall into step beside Erik, no doubt leaving Stryker white-faced with rage.
Erik keeps his strides long but unhurried, and Charles is content to keep up in silence as they make their way down the rest of the hall. Ignea is more prominent now, splitting Third Earth directly in two—half of the planet’s surface bathed in light, half still in shadow—and the second sun Aureus is visible as well. Charles never gets tired of watching the dual sunrise, no matter how short it lasts.
“You’re late because you were in the labs again, weren’t you.” Erik speaks calmly as soon as they’ve rounded a corner, both the plasma window and Stryker gone from sight.
“Where else could I be?” Charles wonders. “Sir.”
Erik shoots him a glance, and it’s warning enough. “I’m not going to lose you to the scientists, am I?” The word scientists is spoken almost delicately, as if he’d honestly like to smash it but refrains from doing so if only for Charles’ sake.
“Of course not, Erik.” Charles answers with a smile, easily slipping into familiarity. “I said that I’d follow you through a black hole, didn’t I?”
Erik doesn’t show any kind of reaction to that. “What was in the labs today, Charles?”
Charles likes the way his name sounds in Erik’s smooth, First Earth accent. It’s one-of-a-kind. “Oh, it was marvelous, Erik, you should come see—they somehow got a hold of a batch of sea urchin cells from First Earth! First Earth sea urchins, Erik, isn’t that fantastic? Did you ever see any when you lived there?”
“That’s a pity.” Charles replies with feeling. He’s aware that he’s toeing the line of dangerous territory, though, so he tries to bank his enthusiasm a little. “Anyway, we were comparing them to a few samples of cells we have from the sea urchins of Third Earth, making notes on different evolutionary patterns—”
“Why you even bothered taking the officer track at the Academy, I will never know.” Erik interrupts him dryly. “Science is your one true love.”
“That’s not true.” Charles remarks breezily.
Erik shoots him another glance, as if he seriously doubts that. “We have a new mission. You aren’t going to like it.”
“I like missions.” Charles frowns. “Unless we’re being sent to Betelguese.”
“I don’t think you’re legally allowed near that system.” Erik deadpans.
“That isn’t very fair, you see, it was all one big misunderstanding—”
“It was not.” Erik interrupts him easily. Everything Erik does appears easy. Charles might envy him for it. “But we’re not being sent to Betelguese.”
“Well, odds are I’ll like the mission, then.”
“No,” the War-Prince replies, “you won’t.”
Logan Fuck You Howlett, Legionnaire of the 322nd Brigade of Third Earth, Helmsman of the TEF Heartsteel, and (Dubiously A, a lot of people like to add) Graduate from the Imperial Academy is laughing.
Well, alright. Fuck You isn’t really his middle name. But that’s exactly the answer he likes to give to any asshole who likes to ask, thanks.
He’s laughing at the plebes.
“You.” The blond one says. He looks torn between shock and anger, and all the other ones look torn between confusion and fear. “Fuck, why is it you?”
“Wait till your brother sees you, Summers,” Logan says from around the cigar that may or may not be permanently stuck between his teeth, “he’s going to be so damn happy to see your little face.”
“I hate you.” The plebe snaps, and yeah, his anger’s outweighing the shock now. “I signed up for this shit to get away from you both, and now I’m fucking assigned to the same ship? What kind of sick joke is this?”
“Language, Summers.” Logan says cheerfully. “You’ll want to save all that cursing for when you’re breaking your back polishing the floors of all 24 decks for me.”
Baby Summers glowers at him, but wisely keeps his mouth shut.
“Alright, listen up. I’m the Helmsman. I’m also in charge of you little shits until the Deputy gets here, which should be any minute now, but the guy’s a total space cadet if you catch my meaning, so who the fuck knows.” Logan spits out a bit of ash. “He’s also smarter than all of you put together so don’t think you can be cute because of it.”
“And you, sir?” The brown one speaks up. He looks like the calmest one out of all the plebes.
Logan surveys him. “What’s your name, plebe?”
“Armando Muñoz, sir.” The plebe responds promptly from his relaxed position of parade rest. “We’re not plebes, sir.”
Logan grins. “Oh you aren’t, are you? Think just because you graduated the academy you’re all Warriors now, do you?”
To his credit, Armando keeps steady. “That’s what our degrees say, sir.”
“Well guess what?” Logan’s grin stretches across his entire face now. “You’re in space now, plebes. Welcome to motherfucking orbit. Your degrees might say you’re Warriors, but before you get treated like one, you’ve gotta earn it.”
Baby Summers looks like he’s going to explode, so Logan takes pity on him. “Got something to say, Summers?”
“We earned our degrees, dickhead,” he all but spits, “what the fuck do you think they’re for?”
“I can’t wait,” Logan tells him, “to hand you over to Scott.”
Baby Summers is gearing up to fire back but the elevator doors on the far wall slide open with a hiss, and it only takes Logan one glance inside to straighten out his posture entirely, yanking his cigar out of his mouth and shoving it into a pocket.
“Commander on deck!” Logan shouts, one of the many preparatory commands. “Atten-tion!”
At least it looks like the plebes learned something of use at the Academy, because they all snap to, stiff and straight and they’d better hope to god that they don’t have one single hair out of place. Logan’s in his own position of attention, but he’s still grinning like a maniac.
“It’s your lucky day,” he says to the plebes, taking fierce pleasure in how he can see the whites of some of their eyes, “the War-Prince has come down to see you. Good morning, sirs.”
“No need to scare them, Logan.” The Prince is right beside the War-Prince, looking out across the plebes with great interest, bless him. He’s even smiling, what the fuck.
Logan wants to shake his head, but keeps still for propriety’s sake. “There’s every need to scare them, sir.”
The Prince sighs lightly, and then catches sight of Baby Summers in the front row. “Good lord, there’s another one?”
Logan’s grin is back in full force, War-Prince or not. “Just as pleasant as the first one, sir.”
The Prince does not look the slightest bit reassured by this.
“At ease.” The curt command is issued by the War-Prince, and even though everyone relaxes somewhat, it still remains dead quiet.
Even Logan knows when to keep his goddamned mouth shut. The War-Prince is not someone to fuck around with. Ever.
The War-Prince also barely gives the plebes a once-over, something which Logan heartily approves of. “The Deputy and I have some things to go over. They’re all yours, Howlett.”
“Yes sir.” Logan has been expecting this as soon as he saw them both in the elevator. The War-Prince gives him a nod and sweeps away.
“We’ll be leaving for a mission soon, Logan.” The Prince adds, but there’s something funny about the way he says it, like he’s not exactly thrilled. Interesting. “You’ll be briefed later, but make sure they’re all ready.”
“Yes sir.” Logan gives the plebes another wide grin.
“Charles.” The War-Prince has stopped, looking back over his shoulder.
The Prince gives the plebes a reassuring smile that’s much nicer than Logan’s. “Welcome to the 322ndBrigade,” he tells them, and he actually sounds welcoming, Jesus Christ, “and you haven’t officially boarded her yet, but welcome to the TEF Heartsteel.” Then he hurries to catch up with the War-Prince, the two of them disappearing up the long gangway of the ship towering over them all.
Logan watches them go for a moment. He’d wish they’d just get it over with and fuck each other’s brains out, goddamn.
Then he turns back to the plebes—fresh meat— and takes his cigar back out of his pocket and clamps it between his teeth with another grin. “Hear that? Get excited, y’all are with me.”
Charles meets Erik on his very first day of attending the Academy. They are not roommates. They do not meet in the hallway. They do not meet in class. They don’t even meet on campus.
They meet when Charles pukes on Erik’s shoes as he’s stumbling his way out of a bar.
Erik punches him. To this day, he maintains that it was purely reflexive.
Charles isn’t so sure. To this day, he maintains that the blow made him see not only stars, but the whole damn galaxy, and Jesus, Erik, there’s no way a punch that hard could just be reflexive.
Erik maintains that he was angry.
After a lot of sloppy apologizing on Charles’ part and an exchange of comm digits along with a promise of buying new shoes and lunch just to make up for it, Charles and Erik are Friends.
Well, they are in Charles’ mind, and once Charles makes up his mind it’s pretty damn hard to deter him. It takes Erik the better part of two months to finally warm up to him, but Charles is nothing if not utterly persistent so he makes it work.
This is how Charles meets Erik, but it is not how he falls in love.
The elevator ride up to the bridge is quiet. Charles is tense even though he barely knows the full scope of the mission. Erik was right, of course—he doesn’t like it. Doesn’t like it at all. He is in fact certain that someone in the Command Quarters hates him.
“The new Warriors look promising.” Charles says instead.
“No they don’t.” Erik is practically unreadable to the untrained eye, so it’s a good thing Charles knows him so well. As it stands right now, he almost could be amused.
“No,” Charles agrees, “they don’t. I can’t believe there’s another Summers. Why hasn’t Scott ever mentioned he has a brother?”
“Maybe for the same reason you don’t mention yours.”
This is a particularly low blow that stings. “Erik.”
Erik seems to realize this. “Sorry.” He doesn’t sound sorry in the least, but Erik typically doesn’t like to sound like much of anything, which Charles is fully aware of, so it must mean that Erik really is.
Charles smiles. “It’s alright. Just, ah…don’t. Please.”
Erik is looking at him now and Charles nearly feels suffocated by the intense seriousness of his gaze. “I won’t.”
“Thank you.” Charles says to the floor.
The doors slide open and Erik steps out first, with all of his calm, confident grace that makes him move with purpose while Charles mostly feels that he’s just floundering around a lot. The bridge is lit up, stations humming, and is empty save for one other officer.
“Scott,” Charles greets him, “we met your brother.”
Scott actually drops the comm pad he’s holding. “What the actual fuck?” Then he realizes who exactly just walked onto the bridge and he launches out of his seat, snapping to attention. “Apologies, Commander, Deputy. It slipped out.”
“At ease.” Charles tells him when Erik merely rolls his eyes and heads for the main screen. “But yes, Scott, your brother. He’s down with the rest of our newest recruits from the academy—”
“He got assigned to this ship?” Scott is nearly shouting with incredulousness, and then he realizes that he’s interrupted. “Er, sorry sir.”
“That’s quite alright.” Charles is more curious than anything. “Is it really that big of a disappointment?”
Scott hesitates. “Permission to speak freely, sir.”
Charles blinks. “Granted, as always.”
“Alex is a fucktard. Sir.”
“Well.” Charles doesn’t dare look over at Erik. “He can’t be all that bad if he was assigned to the Heartsteel.”
“Yes,” Scott answers flatly, “he can.”
“I’m sure Logan will get him into shape in no—”
“Logan has the plebes?” Scott’s eyes go wide. And he’s interrupted again. “Fuck! Sorry, sir, but just, fuck—”
“Get the hell off my bridge, Summers.” Erik growls, breaking into the conversation. Charles is somewhat relieved, because Scott looks like he’s about to have a stroke or a heart attack, possibly both at once. “Don’t come back until you can control yourself.”
“Sorry, Commander!” Scott snaps to attention, and then takes off at a run.
Charles feels rather winded as the elevator doors slide shut, taking Scott with them. “I’m actually still not entirely clear on the situation. I think.”
Erik sighs. “Raven. Bring up the mission log.”
“At once, sir.” The smooth voice of the Heartsteel’s mainframe answers and a hologram of the ship’s mission log pulls up onto the main screen.
“Hello Raven.” Charles says with a smile, wandering over to join Erik near the captain’s chair.
“Hello Charles.” The AI greets him. He’d never admit this to Erik, but he’s always a little touched by how she always puts the likeness of warmth in her voice when addressing him. The ship’s always liked him, of course, but it’s nothing compared to how she’s utterly devoted to Erik.
“Highlight newest mission.” Erik says. “Read out.”
The mission at the bottom of the log lights up, and then is enlarged across the screen in bold lettering. Raven begins to read. “Mission 003-4504-67. Escort mission. TEF Heartsreel is commissioned to provide escort service to a designated citizen. See attached file for further information. Pick up point will be TEF Orbit Base Strontium—”
“Lovely,” Charles mutters, “that means he’s already here.”
“—and drop off point will be the planet Corellia in the Corellian system. Use of standard routes is permitted as this is not a covert mission. Estimated mission duration is six days; three days to Corellia and three days back.”
Charles is very still. Corellia. Jesus, Erik hadn’t mentioned fucking Corellia.
Erik glances at him briefly. Maybe it’s a silent apology. “Open attached file.”
“Yes sir.” Raven chirps in her smooth, even tone as she complies, and then stretching across the entire main screen is the face of Cain Marko.